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 Second Chances 
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Second Chances
by: Sandra Prior

After seven marathons and a flawless training season, Debbie Neethling entered her eighth marathon with hopes of breaking four hours. But when race-day temperatures soared into the high 20s, her pace - and her expectations-plummeted. She ended up finishing in 4:35, which was a personal worst. ‘There's not much to say except hot and horrible,’ says Neethling.

Afterward, she wondered what most runners do when race-day mishaps - whether it's extreme weather or food poisoning - dash their hopes of a good effort or a fast time: Should I try again soon while I'm still in shape? It's a tough question that requires an honest assessment of your experience, expectations, and what you put your body through on race day. If you're just coming off your first marathon or half marathon, take a pass. Your body needs time to recover from the shock of training and the race. For first-timers, definitely no way.

And if your marathon left you feeling depleted or, worse, injured, that's another sign that you should sit it out. Take your losses, regroup, and try again six to nine months later.

But if training went well and you're healthy, all is not necessarily lost. With the right mix of rest and quality work, you can sharpen your high level of fitness, and redeem your racing hopes in the very same season. Here's how.

Time it Right

If you are going to try again, when should you? Elites often rebound in a week or two, but most coaches suggest that regular runners wait at least four weeks to race, and preferably more.

That's because months of marathon training - and the race itself - leave tiny tears in the muscles and bones. Those tears can heal as long as you give them time. If you come back too quickly, those microscopic tears turn into stress fractures.

Some coaches suggests eight weeks between races, to allow enough time to rest, gradually build up mileage, and taper again for a second-chance effort.

The overriding factor in your planning, coaches say, should be how much effort you put forth in the first race. If you ran at full-tilt for only half the race, or covered the entire distance on very easy effort, you should be able to bounce back within a few weeks. But if you pushed hard through the heat for 42.2km, or bonked at the 32km mark and had to walk to the finish, it's a good idea to wait six to eight weeks before you race again.

Start your training for the next race with plenty of rest. If you ran the whole marathon, take a week off from running. In the first few days, walk and do nonimpact activities to flush the lactic acid from your legs. Gradually add low-impact cross-training and stretching. It can be frustrating not to run - especially when you've got lots of pent-up energy - but the rest will pay off.

You're not going to lose your conditioning. Your body has been under stress for four and a half months. Everything is vulnerable and the potential gain, as far as conditioning, is so minimal that it's not even worth the risk.

Take it Easy

After a week, add back distance carefully. Most coaches recommend a middle-distance run, which, depending on your fitness level and experience, should be anywhere between 13 and 24km two to three weeks after race day. You might also include tempo work before the race just to get the fast-twitch muscle fibres firing. Top-rated coaches suggest a 10km or half marathon at marathon goal pace at least two weeks before the marathon to ‘feel’ your goal pace.

Training your expectations should also be a key part of preparation the second time around. Try not to put too much stake in your next race. After all, you still won't be able to control the weather on race day, and so many other factors that could impact on your performance.

Letting go turned out to be the trick for Neethling. She had already signed up for another marathon, which was six weeks later, and was planning to do it with her 21-year-old son, who was running in his first marathon. She felt great, and ended up finishing in 4:00:34. ‘I went to that starting line with a great frame of mind,’ Neethling says. ‘There was no pressure, so I was doubly thrilled with my time.’

About The Author
Sandra Prior runs her own bodybuilding website at

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Mon Feb 21, 2011 12:03 pm
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