The fact is, there are simply different physical, logistical, and psychological challenges when you're a six-plus hour marathoner. That's why 26-time marathon finisher Latoya Shauntay Snell recently took to Instagram to share a few tips specifically for these back-of-the-pack participants. We wanted to learn more, so we hopped on Zoom to pick her brain about the strategies she's found to work for her, along with her best advice for newbies.
First and foremost, Snell underscores that you can't underestimate yourself simply because of your pace: "The finisher medal is still the same," she says. "The distance is the distance—no one can say you're not a marathoner. You are putting in an effort, and honestly it's an effort that would probably intimidate some of the faster athletes."
Ready to get started? Here's how.
1. Find a training plan that takes your goals and challenges into account
Most generic marathon training plans you find online aren't designed for people running six-plus hour marathons. "You're not gonna really get the benefit of a cookie-cutter marathon plan," says Snell. "The jargon completely changes for us."
For instance, she points out, speed workouts aren't going to be the most useful if your goal is just to complete the race. Training that focuses more on hill workouts to get your legs used to elevation changes and tempo runs to understand how to pick up the pace over the distance are going to be more beneficial to you on race day.
Snell also adds that she may not get much out of a "30-minute easy run" when she's running 16-minute miles. "That doesn't give me much time to really train," she says. "With the wrong method, I might be under-training." That's why she always makes sure to follow mileage-based plans rather than time-based ones so she truly prepares her body to be on her feet for multiple hours. "I need to know what it feels like," she says.
Of course, slower miles take up more time, and you need to factor that into how long it will take you to train for a marathon. Snell plans for this by lengthening her marathon training blocks to 20 weeks to give herself the wiggle room to only train four days a week. She'll also sometimes break up long runs—if she doesn't have the time to finish 18 miles all at once, for instance, she might do two nine-mile runs in a day.
If you don't have the means to hire your own coach who will work with you on a training plan geared to your needs, Snell recommends checking out the Slow AF Run Club, which offers a training platform for slow runners. It was founded by her podcast partner and one of Well+Good's 2023 Changemakers, Martinus Evans, who recently published a book called Slow AF Run Club: The Ultimate Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Run.
2. Build your mental resiliency
While any marathoner needs serious grit to make it to the finish line, there are extra challenges when you're out on the course for so many hours—especially once the crowds start thinning and infrastructure like signage and water stations are being taken down.
"There's something that, psychologically for me, it doesn't matter how many times I've done this, it starts to wear down on you after a while where it's just like, I'm envisioning myself being home," Snell admits. Slower athletes need to build their ability to stick it out through those moments of self-doubt, she says. "The 'wall'—when it starts to get tough—may show up several times versus the traditional one to two times," she warns.
Use your training to practice pushing through when you're tempted to quit early, and figure out which mental strategies work best for you, whether it's repeating a mantra to yourself or relying on a playlist that you know will pump you up.
3. Plan to carry what you'll need
Most sports dietitians recommend marathoners take in about 100 calories of fuel every 30 to 45 minutes, along with water. For six-plus-hour marathoners, that's more gels to carry, and if races don't have water stations every mile (or if they break them down after four or five hours), it may require bringing water along with you, too. Snell also recommends packing electrolyte tabs since you'll likely be sweating for so many hours straight. Some runners may even carry anti-chafe balm, sunscreen, or band-aids.
This may mean wearing a hydration pack, or stuffing your pockets to capacity. Snell, who's a big fan of Osprey's fanny packs, reminds runners not to get caught up questioning whether they look like "real runners" or trying to copy the habits of three-hour marathoners (who don't need the same things that slower runners do). "Other people may look at you a little funny and say, 'Oh, don't you think you're carrying too much?'" she says. "You're not fueling for them. You're fueling for yourself."
4. Do your race research
Many marathons have a six-hour time limit, and anyone who takes longer won't have access to amenities like fueling stations, or even open roads. "I always encourage people to do their research," says Snell. Look up what a race's policies are, as well as its reputation among back-of-the-pack runners.
"For instance, New York City Marathon does not allow hydration packs," says Snell, but they do keep water stations open for a long time, and there's tons of crowd support to look after you no matter how many hours you take to finish.
If you decide to take the risk on a race that's not particularly pace-inclusive, you'll need to make sure you have a fully-charged phone so you can access the map (or to print out a map and carry it with you). Snell also says that you may need to set up your own support system on the course to make sure you have ample water and fuel if you aren't able to carry it yourself.
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5. Find the right running buddies
Not all running groups are accommodating to slower runners. But running with other people can be a game-changer—it can both improve your running skills and boost your motivation. The key is finding people who respect your goals and effort, even if they're faster than you.
"Find someone who is going to meet you where you are," says Snell. "They'll hold you accountable, but not in a super judge-y way where they're making you feel guilty for your pace or the way that you show up."
6. Don't let fear keep you from trying
If you're even the least bit tempted to run a marathon, Snell encourages you to go for it, no matter how fast or slow you run. "You know, there are so many people who don't even try because they get so wrapped up with the idea of, I don't wanna be last," says Snell. "We fear the idea of being forgotten or left behind or laughed at."
But she points out that, most of the time, these scenarios simply don't happen. And when they do, Snell reminds herself of all that she's accomplishing, no matter what anyone else does or says. "I cannot get caught up in the narrative that somebody else is trying to paint for me, versus the narrative of: I was brave enough to show up, I was brave enough to be consistent during this journey, and I'm gonna be brave enough to finish this."
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