Category Archives: Marathon

The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

When is a Race Eve Carb Load beneficial?

I think there is a set of situations where a carb load might be a good idea. Whether they all funnel into one common situation or they all exist on their own, I’m not certain.

They of course depend on what your diet has been throughout the training cycle.

And of course, you are best off eating minimally processed foods. Pasta and its sauce are probably as processed as you should get. Pizza and fried food should remain out of the question until your race is over.

The key question: Have you been restricting your diet recently, whether you’ve done so throughout the training cycle or just recently?

A runner who has been cutting weight, a runner who has eaten lower-carb, or a runner who has intermittent fasted… may have a sufficient glycogen deficit that a carb load right before the race could benefit them.

Cutting Weight: Obviously, a runner cutting weight has been operating at a long term calorie deficit. Presuming training has proceeded without injury or other issues, the muscles may have spent considerable time somewhat depleted of glycogen. A big carb meal following some body-priming rudimentary activity (like a shake-out run, cross-training session, or a walk) could help maximize the available stores on race day.

Low-Carb Dieting: Few runners follow a low-carb protocol due to fast running’s extended usage of glycogen. Keto-style dieting is typically practiced by weightlifters, whose intense physical activity is typically limited to a weightlifting session maxing out around 60 minutes.

The runners who do practice low-carb diets tend to be recreational runners who either don’t run far when they do, run at a very easy pace when they do run long distance, or ultra runners who run those races at a lower, fat-burning-friendly intensity, and only eat carbs during those races, when they’re needed.

Still, provided their bodies can comfortably handle the re-introduction of carbs, low-carb dieters can also top off their glycogen stores by eating a carb-rich meal the day before.

Intermittent Fasting: Runners who practice intermittent fasting do tend to eat a lot during their limited feeding window. Depending on when they eat, it’s possible they may have sufficient glycogen stores. If they consume most carbs before or after their workouts, they’re more likely to have substantial glycogen stores. Otherwise, it may benefit them to top off their glycogen stores with a carb-rich meal the day before.

That Aside…: Barring any restricting dieting, it’s more likely that a carb-load isn’t going to provide much benefit over any other healthy meal. If you’ve been getting enough to eat throughout your training, especially following most of your workouts, you probably have enough glycogen stored whether or not you pound rotini until nauseous 15 hours before your race. The marginal utility of a carb-rich meal is minimal at best.

One notable exception: If you have been rather active in the day prior to Race Eve:

  1. First of all, you should have been resting up and minimizing activity ahead of your race. Any muscle wear/damage sustained will not fully recover before the race. Take it easy to cut your losses on any damage.
  2. A carb-rich meal eaten shortly after any activity will result in greater protein and glycogen processing and storage. Basically, what you eat will be put to greater use than if you hadn’t been active.
  3. Any muscle wear/damage from the last day will mostly remain, unfortunately. Any protein consumed (combined with sleep) will heal a bit of it, but you’ve now depleted yourself a bit ahead of the race. However, any glycogen lost will probably be restored, and possibly more.

Is a Race Eve Carb Load beneficial for races shorter than a marathon?

As long as the meal doesn’t cause a bunch of water retention, isn’t so heavy it adds weight to your body, and of course doesn’t make you feel ill… it can be beneficial to eat a carb-rich meal the night before any race between the 5K and the marathon.

Going back to the dieters… a glycogen top-off could help some runners on race day. Some extra protein could help with healing if the runner gets good sleep the night before. A Carb-Load meal would mostly help runners who have been eating low-carb or have been substantially restrictive with their diets leading up to the race.

But generally the window where this may be beneficial for sub-marathon races is even smaller than with marathoners and ultra runners. You’re not going to completely deplete your glycogen stores in anything shorter than a 20 mile race. In most race distances you won’t even come close.

This is a case where your body of work with your diet becomes paramount. If you practice a sound diet, that should be more than enough for your glycogen stores.

Rest and recovery in the days before a sub-marathon race are much more important to your performance than what nutrition you manage to successfully take in the day before. You can do more to hurt yourself from a Race Eve buffet than help.

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Practicing fueling during marathon training

A lot of people struggle with fueling during a marathon because they aren’t used to running with food or drink (beyond water or maybe Gatorade) in their stomach.

I have a fairly strong running stomach. I’ve even gone as far as to eat pizza before heading out on a speedwork workout, and done well (in no small part thanks to having a bunch of fat and carbohydrates at the ready thanks to the pizza). I obviously wouldn’t recommend going that far, but I have on many occasions eaten a full meal and then gone out on a run without trouble.


Yesterday I segmented 11 miles into three separate runs, as I ran to the Loyola women’s hoops game, then back towards home.

After the game, before my 2nd run to Montrose Beach, I stopped at Raising Canes and treated myself to a Box Combo with some lemonade, because why not.

But instead of waiting a bit for the meal to digest, I immediately crossed the street onto the LUC campus and took off for Lincoln Park.

I bring this up because, while I didn’t feel sick running with such a disgusting meal in my stomach… the inevitable gas you’d expect from your stomach led to a realization.


My hiccups from the Chicago Marathon? They were certainly a product of the volume of nutrition I had put down during the race. Because I had put it down faster than my stomach could digest it, most of it sat there and bubbled for several miles. My wind/stomach pipe assembly, battling between taking in air at a moderate running pace and holding stomach contents back from randomly upchucking during said run… finally began to give, and suddenly there are hiccups.

I didn’t have hiccups during yesterday’s running, since the pace was a lot easier. I also didn’t have hiccups during long Chicago Marathon training runs where I practiced taking in nutrition, because the pace of those runs were a lot easier.

It was only on race day, when the effort was more intense yet I took in a high volume of in-race nutrition, that hiccups reared their head.

Clearly, my key to avoiding race hiccups is to either practice taking in less of my desired nutrition (probably not the best idea for a marathon), or to practice taking in my desired nutrition on more intense tempo runs (to get my body trained to do so at that intensity over distance).


Most tend to either put no practice into in-race fueling during their training, or they fuel casually throughout too many runs, which may not fully prepare their body to handle a long distance endurance event.

Many, like I did, will make the mistake of practicing fueling on long runs, but only on those long runs. Therefore, you get used to doing so at an easy pace, but on race day you run faster than that, and your body’s not prepared to fuel on the run at that pace.

The marathon fuel training sweet spot:

After you have stretched out your tempo runs, or after you have added some marathon tempo to your long runs, practice fueling with your desired fuel every few miles on your marathon pace runs.

This gets the body used to handling fuel during a race effort. The run itself may not be a peak training effort, but it’s not necessarily the run itself you’re working on. You are working on handling fuel at a faster pace over a longer high-intensity effort.

Much like how training your running muscles and strength training other parts of your body often are best done with specific, separate focus… training your internal organs to handle fuel at a race effort is a skill and set of muscles that need to be gradually trained.

If your marathon fueling plan is more serious than ‘take some Gatorade or whatever the race makes available every few miles’, then it’s just as vital to train in taking that fuel in as it is to build up your specific running endurance or your speed.

Just maybe don’t practice with chicken fingers and lemonade from Raising Canes. Perhaps consume something healthier.

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Final thoughts on Vancouver 2018

StanleyPark

Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC Canada

I didn’t go on a lot about what happened with the 2018 Vancouver Marathon, which I had to DNF at around 5K due to heat exhaustion.

There was a lot going on in my personal life right when that race occurred, which undoubtedly impacted my health leading up to the race.

My work situation had been stable until about a month before the race (for various reasons, mostly beyond my control), to the point where I decided to resign shortly after I returned from Vancouver due to how bad the situation had gotten. It felt like, and still feels like, exactly the right decision. My working life even without full-time salaried stability has gotten a lot better since.

Continue reading

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12 things I want to do more in my next marathon training program

No intros. Let’s get to it.

1. More hill running. Brad Hudson swears by hill runs as an easy form of strength training, as well as a recovery aid after long runs. Jonathan Savage also swears by downhill running as a way to develop quad strength and endurance.

I want to try and do both during training… regular uphill running after long runs, and downhill runs as a harder workout early in the training cycle.

2. Sunday long runs instead of Saturday long runs. Previously I did my long run Saturday to give myself Sunday to recover before the workweek.

But this was during my previous career, which required a lot more walk commuting and where I used a standing desk. While that had many benefits, my new conventional sit-down career and its quicker, easier commute allows me much more physical downtime. Plus, I’ve improved my ability to get sleep after long runs, another factor in why I previously ran long on Saturday.

The hurdles to running Sunday have been eliminated, and since my next marathon will likely fall on a Sunday, it’s best to do the long runs on those days.

3. Greater emphasis on maintaining pace through consistent quick cadence. I’ve already been working on this as I’ve resumed running. But, in prioritizing volume during my last training cycle, I think I ran a low slower than I needed to.

This is hindsight being 20/20, but I realize I have better speed than my 11 minute mile long runs indicate. Plus, as I saw in tapering and the marathon, I have no trouble maintaining a faster cadence (and pace) on long runs.

I need to take a page from the Hanson Brothers and do all my distance running at as quick of a cadence as I can reaosnably maintain.

4. Mini-sharpening period for tune up races. My speedwork was either a bit scattered or a bit flat in how I applied it during the last cycle. I’m planning to stage it out a bit more this time around, not focusing hard on marathon level effort until the final few weeks.

As most recommend, I plan to focus more on maximizing speed during the early training stage, and this will allow me to focus better on tune-up races. If I train for specific endurance in the 3-4 weeks leading up to those races, to maximize performance in those races, it could have substantial long term benefits as I move on to more marathon endurance training post race.

5. Tune up races! I didn’t really do many tune-up races in my previous cycle, and to be honest I do miss shorter races. I almost decided to take a year off from marathons not because of how tough training is, but so I could do more shorter races instead.

I don’t think I’ll need to go that far, though. It’s entirely reasonable to do as many as 4-5 races during an 18 week training cycle, as tune-up races. And it’s reasonable to give them a serious effort, as doing so provides secondary training benefits.

6. More multi-pace workouts, especially during long runs. I’ve always mixed in fast-finish moderate runs, and dabbled with Daniels-style multi-pace long runs last year, during an extended test run of a marathon training cycle (I didn’t actually plan to run a marathon that fall, but did want to practice stretching out).

The latter are tough, and it may have been a little early in my development to do them. But now, having improved my ability to manage moderate pace in longer runs, I think it may benefit me to incorporate multi-pace long runs.

I don’t think I want to go full Daniels 2Q and devote two days a week to killer 12-16 mile runs with extended threshold and marathon pace segments right off the bat. I think to avoid burnout it’s best to do those closer to the race, around the peak cycle. I may not need to do a 20 miler next time around, but I can definitely benefit from a 16 miler where, say, 10+ of the miles are at marathon pace.

7. Varying the pace and intensity of regular distance runs. Over the last year I’ve done nearly all of my regular runs at around the same pace. That pace was somewhat faster during the Vancouver cycle than it was during the recent Chicago cycle. Lately as I’ve resumed running all of my runs have been substantially quicker than either.

But I think as I ramp up to training mileage it would be a good idea to take a standard hard/easy approach to those regular runs. Perhaps one day I can go moderate, and try to sustain an 8:30-9:15 pace… and the next I give myself total permission to take it easy and go as slow as I’d like. This can allow me to add maximum mileage while still giving myself permission to push myself some, while scaling back enough to allow those regular opportunities.

8. Run every single day, even if just a little bit. This worked very well for me during my last couple months of training. It happened basically by accident: I discovered I had run for over 10 straight days, and decided to try and keep the streak going because I still felt good despite no days off. I ran for 70 straight days right up to the Chicago Marathon, and felt great at the end.

My body seems to respond better to quick, easy runs as recovery instead of full rest. Many good runners run every day. I think it might work out (barring an actual injury) to just run 7 days a week, and when feeling particularly tired to just run a couple miles that day instead of outright resting.

9. Train to optimize high-moderate pace, for optimal aerobic support. Like many, I would previously opt to slow down my longer runs to preserve stamina. While this did allow me to run 20’s and other long runs, it didn’t help translate my speed to longer runs. My speed at shorter distances indicates I can run faster at longer distances.

Again, I want to take a page from the Hansons and seek to do my long runs at more of a moderate pace, rather than the easy pace most recommend. I’m obviously not going to race these long runs or do them at marathon pace just yet. But I want to go out at a solid cadence and try to hold that fast cadence for as long as reaosnably possible.

I’m no longer concerned about whether or not I can run long, since I clearly can. Now it’s about translating my speed to the longer distances by working on the specific endurance of running faster over longer distances.

10. Don’t emphasize marathon-pace until the final six weeks before the next marathon. While it’s important to do a bit of marathon pace training periodically throughout the training cycle, I also don’t want to peak too early. And it’s not as important to do marathon pace running until the final few weeks before the race.

As I did before Chicago, I will taper by heavily reducing my volume while doing virtually all of the my running during that time at marathon pace. It feels ingrained once you get to the start line, but if I were to do that for six weeks I would either begin to burn out or would lose my stamina from not being able to do longer runs.

Prior to the final few weeks, I’ll make sure not to do marathon pace for more than 25% of any speedwork in a week. A few miles once a week might be fine in the early going, but isn’t necessary.

11. Use accordant tune up races as goal pace benchmarks. Pace prediction calculators will use results from your other races as estimators of how you will do in other races, including the marathon.

If I have a goal pace in mind, a key will be to look at the equivalent pace in a tune up race, like a 5K or 10K, and see if I can run that pace. Or, if I don’t, to use the pace I run as a gauge of what I can do, and adjust my workout pacing going forward.

12. Peak early… with training volume. While I don’t want to peak early overall, I do have a lot of things I want to work on: Speed over longer runs, mixed workouts, other race distances.

It’s hard to work on all those things and increase your mileage during training. So, my plan is to focus during off-season and base training on building up higher mileage and to try and peak mileage before I get to foundational training.

By the 4th-6th week of training, I want to have experienced my max mileage, so that as I scale back training mileage I can easily slide into the other kinds of training and racing I want to do.


Thanks for humoring my lengthy list of personal training ideas.

More to come shortly on my upcoming personal marathon training goals.

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Can the 5K help predict a marathon time in lieu of Yasso 800’s?

Recently I floated the value of using an 8K as a marathon time predictor shortly before your marathon, in lieu of the popular Yasso 800’s workout.

While the 8K/10 can cut out a middleman and give you the same result as the Yasso’s, possibly more accurate since the breaks are removed… as I mentioned, it can be difficult to find an 8K to race.


I’ve done some more research based on Daniels’ pace recommendations, and I realize that a 5K may provide a similar prediction. This may work better for most people, because 5K races are a lot more common and easier to find, register for and complete.

Of course, the following assumes:

  • You’re trained to run the marathon distance, and can comfortably run at least 2.5 uninterrupted hours.
  • Your workouts haven’t been a substantial struggle to complete (aside from finding the time to do them, and making the proper effort to recover from those workouts)
  • It also helps if you know your goal pace, though this is not necessary.

Basically, you simply run a 5K at your best sustainable effort for the 5K distance. Do not taper for this 5K, and do not plan for rest days afterward. This is not going to be a max effort 5K.

If you know your marathon goal time, a starting guideline is to aim to run the 5K about one minute per mile faster than your marathon goal pace. It doesn’t have to be exactly this, but if unsure how fast to run the 5K this is a fine starting point. And if that seems too fast for you… your marathon goal time might be too ambitious for a full 26.2, even if you’ve been able to hit it during marathon-pace workouts.

Either way, the best effort guideline for this race: Run the 5K as if you have to also do a regular workout tomorrow. You don’t want to take it too easy, but you don’t want to exhaust the tank to try and PR.

Running the 5K by feel honestly will produce the most accurate result. Run at a steady pace you can hold for 3 straight miles, and avoid the instinct to finish hard and kick at the end.

If at any point in the 5K you feel you can go faster, you may increase your pace just a little bit. But don’t exhaust yourself before the finish.

The harder the 5K is to run, the less likely you can hold for 26.2 the marathon pace it will predict. Your aerobic fitness is part of what’s being estimated, so it’s important this 5K be a challenging but otherwise aerobically comfortable effort.


Run the 5K. Once you have your 5K finish time, it’s time for some math.

Step One: Take your total time in raw minutes: Take the seconds, divide them by 60, and add that decimal to the whole number minutes.

For example, let’s say an aspiring marathoner who run 50 miles a week and has knocked out his/her 20 miler… subsequently ran the 5K in 24:24.

24 seconds is equal to 0.4 minutes, which added to 24 whole minutes makes 24.4.

24:24

24 seconds / 60 = 0.4 minutes

24 minutes + 0.4 minutes = 24.4 minutes.


Step Two: Now, multiply that number by 0.16.

24.4 x 0.16 = 3.90

This number is the number of estimated hours it should take you to finish the marathon.

Step Three: You can take the decimal in this hours estimate, and multiply that by 60 to display the number of minutes.

0.90 hours / 60 = 54 minutes

3.90 hours —-> 3 hours, 54 minutes

5K Marathon Prediction: 3 hours, 54 minutes


According to the 5K prediction, a trained marathoner who can knock out a 5K in 24:24 can likely run their marathon in 3 hours, 54 minutes.

If the above hypothetical marathoner were to run the Yasso 800’s, they likely could complete their 800 reps in an average of 3 minutes 54 seconds.

If they ran the 8K/10, it would take them roughly 39 minutes on the dot.

But the 5K can give them the same estimate, in a fraction of the time and effort. The only extra effort is in doing the math.

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The Yasso 800’s marathon predictor workout: An idea for a simple (and not so simple) improvement on the workout

The Yasso 800’s are a classic marathon predictor workout, where the average/median/whatever of your ten 800 meter reps should correspond to your likely marathon time, e.g. averaging 3:45 per rep indicates you’ll run the marathon in 3 hours 45 minutes. (I’ve previously written some tips and thoughts on handling the workout.)

The workout’s accuracy can depend on a lot of things…

  • How easy the reps are
  • How much rest you’re taking between reps
  • How closely your reps are to your average rep time, whether all your reps are the same or if they’re all over the place
  • Whether you hold steady throughout the workout or get slower as it progresses
  • And of course how adequately trained you are to run the marathon distance

Of course, it’s a bit crude as a predictor. From common sense, how can a series of 800 meter repeats predict how you will run for 42,195 uninterrupted meters, 3-4 weeks later? The workout doesn’t match the race in any way. You certainly won’t run the 800’s at the same pace you plan to run the marathon (BTW if you did, and manage to match your prediction at the marathon… then you certainly could have run the marathon faster). You will likely run the Yasso 800’s at something close to 5K pace, while your marathon pace will be closer to a sustained moderate effort.

But let’s be real: It’s very difficult to predict how your training has prepared you to run your upcoming marathon. There’s no real adequate predictor workout for the distance, because the distance itself is beyond most human capabilities. You can easily run the distance of a 5K in a workout. You can’t reasonably run a 26 mile workout unless it’s a long run, and few will run that far in their longest runs. It’s very hard to do.

Bart Yasso‘s workout is a somewhat reliable approximation of what runners can do. It’s based on his vast experience, and how the relative effort in the 800’s indicates the corresponding pace at which you can run a marathon when adequately trained. His workout came about from finding a clear correlation that proved largely true for most trained marathoners who successfully attempted the workout. It does match up for many, even when for various reasons it doesn’t match up for others.


I think there’s a better, more accurate form of this predictor workout. But it requires more discipline and is of course more difficult… even though the format is a lot simpler:

  • Run an 8K with your best even-paced effort.
  • Divide the time by 10.

That’s the marathon prediction.

The premise: The Yasso 800 workout consists of 10 reps of 800 meters. 10 multiplied by 800 is 8000 meters, aka the exact distance of an 8K.

The key difference in this 8K workout is that you’re removing all of the rest breaks, and running every inch in one uninterrupted go.

The hard part of course is that maintaining a steady pace in an 8K becomes a lot harder. It’s important that, like running a good workout rep, you don’t necessarily race the 8K as you normally would. You focus on maintaining a steady effort that at the finish line you could theoretically continue running for a few more miles.

In effect, it’s like an 8K run at 10K pace. Or, to brutally simplify it, it’s one 8000 meter rep at 10K pace.

The Yassos are broken into 10 more easily manageable reps. It’s a lot easier to maintain your pace for 3-5 minute bursts than to figure out and hold a suitable pace for 30-50 minutes. You have to know how fast you intend to go, start at that pace, and then ensure you hold it until you cross the finish.

But you’re already planning to do that at the marathon, right? Ideally (though many best laid plans get laid to waste on a marathon race day), your plan is to run at your chosen pace for all 26.2 miles. If you can hold a pace for 26.2 miles, why should a slightly faster pace over 4.971 miles be all that tough?

 


I realize 8K pace is substantially tougher than marathon pace, and that’s one reason I suggest running an 8K test at something closer to 10K pace… along with bearing in mind that you may have a tune-up coming up or having just passed, and that you are after all in the final phase of training for a marathon. You don’t want to kill yourself trying to run a baller 8K that’s not your goal race.

I realize a key element to the Yassos is that you get to stop and rest, minimizing the strain of running those 8000 meters at a fast pace. I realize that if you run an 8K, you’re possibly going to run a slower pace than you ideally would for Yasso’s, which typically can be done at 5K pace.

But here’s the key, stated as a rhetorical question: Wouldn’t that make an 8K time divided by 10 a more accurate prediction? Many say that Yassos tend to predict about 5-10 minutes fast. Many say the Yasso prediction tends to be too optimistic. If you are forced to maintain a slightly slower pace for 5 straight miles… won’t that offer a more possible prediction for your race?

Also, even though it’s not a race specific workout to run an 8K at 8K pace… neither is running 10 reps of 800 meters at 5K-10K pace. What does that have to do with finding and sustaining marathon pace? At least an 8K’s uninterrupted effort is more specific to what you need to do in a marathon (run somewhat hard, without stopping).

And in the Yasso’s, with those shorter reps, it falls into the same trap as most interval speedwork: It’s easy to outrun the workout, and run the reps harder than you would run in a longer race. Give yourself enough rest, or take in enough energy, and you could race 10 really good reps that aren’t at all indicative of what you could do in a 5K, let alone predict how you’d run the marathon.

It’s no wonder so many people find Yasso 800 predictions fast.


I would recommend trying an 8K Divided By 10 (8K/10) test in lieu of Yasso 800’s. In fact, I wish I had thought to do it in past training cycles. I definitely will do it next time.

If you’re doing speedwork, an 8K/10 can replace a speed session for that week, which would still allow you to do a tune-up half marathon the week before or after if desired.

8K races are not easy to find, I realize, like 5K’s, 10K’s and Half Marathons. While reasonably popular, it’s a somewhat odd distance. They come and they go.

Those in Chicago running a spring marathon (like Boston!) could use the Shamrock Shuffle for this. Barring that, a late August or early September 8K could work for the peak fall marathon season (some Illinois towns outside of Chicagoland do offer late September 8K’s).

Outside of that, scour Running In The USA and see if any are available nearby within 3-5 weeks of your goal race. If not, I challenge the RAM Racings of the world to put one up if there isn’t one available in a given area.

Of course, the easiest way to make an 8K test happen is the hardest one to find the discipline to do: Map out 5 miles, and run it out yourself… or go find a full size track and knock out 20 laps in one go. I’ll be frank: If you have the discipline to train for and run a marathon, you should be able to find the discipline to make yourself run an 8K on your own at 10Kish pace. If that’s what it takes and you want to try this, I have faith in you.

No matter how you do it if you dare… run at 8K, divide your finish time by 10, and that’s probably as good a prediction of your marathon time as any Yasso 800’s workout could give you.

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Training ambitions, and the unexpected prime obstacle to meeting them

Given I currently have some extra time on my hands, I’m reviewing my upcoming schedule in preparation for winter training. I want to work towards 60-70 miles a week this next training cycle, which may sound scary to the uninitiated until I mention that I was topping 50 miles per week without much trouble during Chicago Marathon training.

While I’m open to staying with a training load around 40-50 miles per week, I do want to stretch out and give 60+ a shot by extending my weekday runs, making sure I go 120-150 minutes on Saturday long runs, and mixing in some brief morning or lunchtime weekday runs in addition to my typical postwork runs. If it turns out to be too physically demanding, I can always scale back to a more regular workload, but for all sorts of reasons I’ll get into someday I believe I can now handle the larger workload.

That said, the biggest obstacle to running more miles isn’t whether my body can handle it, or even the wear on my shoes (my budget is tighter than it was a year ago, but I can always buy another 1-2 pairs of training shoes if I need it).

The problem is whether or not I can eat enough to compensate for all the extra calories I would burn.

I’m looking to get my diet super clean going into this next training cycle, as well as make it more affordable and simplified. An optimal diet that served all of the above only fed me about 2400 calories. That is well and good for weight loss, if I’m not running more than a couple miles every day. I would obviously be running much more than a couple miles per day.

Again, every mile I walk or run burns about 125 calories. I have actually been walking more the last few days, and have hit 3000 calories burned the last couple days despite no running. It’s fairly easy for me to burn calories when I’m active, and during my 30ish miles per week training days I would easily burn 3300-3500 calories.

If I’m running closer to 9 miles per day, that’s an extra 600-650 calories per day I’d burn, and even if I make the extra effort to take it easy in the rest of my life, I’ll easily burn 3500-3600 calories per day.

Okay, you may say… you’re looking to cut fat anyway, and this would be a great opportunity to shed some more of it, right? What’s the harm?

One of the reasons you don’t want to run a huge calorie deficit is the risk of muscle wasting. While it’s in general considered a cardio exercise, running requires substantial lower body strength, and along with depleting glycogen stores you break down lower body muscle. Proper nutrition allows you to rebuild those damaged muscles as well as restore your glycogen stores.

You’re already playing with fire when you run a calorie deficit, and being able to do so safely during training requires some mindful planning and execution. Even then, you should not run a deficit of greater than 500 calories a day. If I’m going to burn 3500 calories a day, I need to take in about 3000 calories to prevent myself from burning out or getting hurt.

And I probably should not take in as much fat as I have. I’m not looking to go low-fat with my diet revisions, because again the body absolutely needs dietary fat. But I do want to work on staying within 80-85g of fat per day, which means the answer to my dilemma is not as simple as committing to pounding a frozen pizza every day.

And as much as I’d like to go paleo or similar, I don’t want to compromise my performance or development by avoiding carbs and the needed glycogen.

Okay, so just eat a bunch of carbohydrates, right? Well, easy to say sure, since I’m going to burn them every day.

But there’s only so many carbs I can stomach. Most healthy carb-rich foods can be very dense and contain a lot of insoluble fiber. I found during my “sure, I’ll carb load” diet phases in previous years that the most carbs I could handle in a day is about 400-500g. And I could only hit that mark now and again: On a daily basis I can’t consistently consume more than 350g of carbohydrate.

Right now I’m eating about 300-400 calories of potatoes with dinner. I can probably handle about 3-4 bananas at most, and eating all of the above means taking in an uncomfortably large amount of insoluble fiber. Either way, I don’t think I can stomach much more than that.

Plus, your stomach can only process so many nutrients before just passing the rest or storing the difference as fat. Carbs do get stored as fat once the window closes on your body’s absorption capabilities. So eating a ton of carbs isn’t really an easy solution.


So, looking at my diet, after factoring in the foods I do and can consistently eat… I realized I had a deficit of about 600 calories if I want to train at a higher volume. How to cover it?

One answer is to swap out potatoes (at least on some days) with semolina-based pasta. I mentioned fusilli as a pasta of choice, though organic elbow macaroni is an option as well thanks to its density. Both provide more carbs in a meal (as many as 60g extra, plus some extra protein) than potatoes do overall.

However, potatoes provide a ton of potassium that pasta does not. It can be possible to supplement the traditional way: By making pasta with marinara sauce. I eat my pasta plain with salt, broth and coconut oil for seasoning. But a cup of marinara sauce adds about 800mg of potassium, which would cover most of the gap.

While it’s not totally my cup of tea, I’m not opposed to quickly heating a cup of marinara or similar pasta sauce and dumping that onto the pasta for dinner with my chicken. And, while not as much, pasta sauce also comes with a few extra carbohydrates.

I also find that sometimes at work I need an afternoon snack. If I commit to quick-prep oatmeal, that can provide some extra carbohydrate on key days.


All of these options of course have a common problem: They’re processed foods. And while inexpensive, it gets away from the whole food philosophy I’ve been working to follow and maintain with my diet. I wouldn’t want to eat these items exclusively, let alone every day.

None of this is to say I’ve found the solution. These are mostly just the options I’m considering ahead of 2019. The good news is I don’t have to find an answer now. Go-Time for this plan would be about 2.5 months down the road.

But it does present an interesting dilemma: If you want to train high-mileage, how do you make sure you get enough energy to eat to maintain that workload?

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Ideas for marathon recovery

My only expertise with this, aside from cobbling together ancedotal evidence and glancing at research, is the fact that I’m feeling alarmingly well for two days after a marathon, and based on my experience recovering from other races and hard workouts.

This is aside from the obvious advice to take extended time off and to rest when in doubt.

Eat a lot of protein everyday

Eat more protein than you typically would. Eat as if you just did a hard workout, even though clearly you haven’t worked out today, and shouldn’t.

I’m eating around 150-180g a day. I usually eat closer to 130-150g.

Walk as much as you can get away with

Yes, generally you should rest as much as you can, and I’m not suggesting you go on a massive hike. But generating blood circulation and some (slight) added stress can help kickstart recovery processes in your body. A 10-30 minute walk, even multiple times a day if you can stand it, can help accelerate the rebuilding process.

Take it easy on the caffeine

Maybe you drink coffee or tea. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you used it in training or the race, and maybe you didn’t. Ideally, you took it a bit easy leading up to the race, and probably didn’t have a whole lot on race day.

If you like it, don’t give it up, but stick to your cut-back volume for now, while you’re not planning on being particularly active. It can interfere with sleep if you re-up your intake while your body’s not burning as many calories as usual. And this is a time where sleep is very valuable for you.

The more you’re on your feet, the better your soreness will feel

The worst your soreness will feel is if you’ve been stationary for a while, and then decide to get up. As you’re on your feet for some time, the soreness will not be as present and noticeable. Again, circulation helps. And so does warming up those damaged muscles a bit. Also, the more activity you can manage during the day, the easier it will be to get to sleep, which again is important to recoery.

So make sure to get up and move around with some regularity, soreness or injuries permitting.

Once your 1-2 week rest period has passed, consider another form of fitness training in the short run.

While you could certainly get back to running once you’re ready, and perhaps you even have a race to train for right away… if you’ve got time before your next training cycle has to start, it may be beneficial to switch things up and train in something different, whether it’s weight training, circuit training, yoga or Pilates, a squats or push up challenge, playing a sport, etc…

Giving your body a different kind of workout not only promotes overall fitness and perhaps develops your running ability in different ways, but it also strengthens your core, a valuable asset once you return to training primarily as a runner.


I’m starting to feel better already, and I’m thinking in part it’s from having done a few of the pre-training ideas.

If you’re on the mend following a marathon, some of these ideas may be worth trying. Consider them.

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Hiccups, but the Chicago Marathon is done

I had a bad case of the hiccups at mile 14, and it impacted my breathing while running to where I had to run/walk the rest of the way. But I did finish in a bit under 5:26.

I had never had anything like that happen to me before. I was on pace for 4:10-4:20 and feeling good physically, when suddenly I began hiccuping so badly I couldn’t breathe. I tried holding my breath, tried stopping, drinking water… nothing could stop them. At best, if it seemed  had gotten them to stop, I could resume running for 1-3 minutes. Then they’d come back and I’d have to slow to a walk again.

The resulting run/walk was a miserable slog, and it definitely exacberated any exhaustion I was feeling. If finishing wasn’t so important to me, I’d have possibly dropped out. It was somewhat aggravating knowing in the later miles I was in condition to run at speed, but this was holding me back.

I ran/walked until 40K, where I decided hiccups be damned that I would run the rest of the way, and I did. I even kicked hard like a 10K at the finish.

I feel great about finishing. I don’t feel great about the hiccups derailing my run. I am still sore and tired, and if there’s one saving grace it’s that the forced walking might have made the run less of a beating on my body. We’ll see how I feel over the next few days, but I notice I’m having an easier time walking and taking the stairs than others, even though definitely it’s a struggle.

It does feel good as well knowing I can certainly improve on 5:25ish, that I’m more than capable of 4:00-4:15 and possibly better the next time out. If I can figure out over time what caused the hiccups, I can run the next marathon without any… hiccups.

Now it’s time for two weeks off.

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Do I ever take an offseason?

My final shakeout run is in the books and I feel ready to go for tomorrow’s Chicago Marathon. I definitely feel way better and a lot more physically/mentally ready for tomorrow than I did while ill and sleeping poorly right before Vancouver.

Tomorrow, effective no later than 2pm CDT, I begin an imposed two week minimum hiatus from running. This is a rule created by the Hanson Brothers that bookends their training plans in Hanson Marathon Method. While I don’t necessarily train their way, it is a rule I plan to follow.

Never mind how much damage I’ll have to heal from. From a pure healing standpoint, you could easily begin easy running in as little as the next day, provided the running is easy and brief enough. I can do recovery runs after 20 milers with little problem.

Hal Higdon recommends you take about 3 days off after a marathon before trying any running. Even then he recommends you take it very easy and ease back into a regular schedule.

The real reason to take a break, along with physical recovery, is to take a mental break, free up those hours I’d otherwise devote to running and do some other stuff with my evenings. I definitely have some other projects and work I’m looking forward to doing during the break.

The most obvious time to take an offseason is right after a marathon, where a runner needs the recovery time anyway. The famous Kenyan runners actually will sit around and not run at all for as much as two months before resuming training. Frank Shorter’s famous quote goes, “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another.” The offseason is meant for many to re-set the mind before committing to train again.

During an offseason a runner might run some, but nothing resembling training for particular fitness let alone a race. Week One for that can begin down the road.

Once I got serious about running again, I’ve definitely taken breaks. I don’t know if I’d full out call them offseasons, as when I take them fluctuates depending on various factors.

For one, I began serious training in a traditional spring-to-fall schedule, and eventually decided I wanted to run in winter. At that time I took a break in late summer in 2017, then resumed training in the autumn as others were running their marathons and wrapping up their training. I also took another break, after weeks of general training, before beginning training in January for Vancouver this past year.

For there to be an offseason, however, there has to be a defined season to train. And in my case, winter is my favorite time of year to train, but I don’t know if November to May would be considered my “season” just yet.

This time around, obviously, I’m going to take a way more conventional break following the Chicago Marathon, which I suppose you can call an offseason. I not only will take a two week break from running, but I want to focus primarily on other physical training during November and December.

After light strength training during this training cycle, I would like to improve my upper body strength, core strength, overall flexibility and conditioning ahead of resuming training in winter. I’ve got a strength and conditioning program or two that I’ve previously worked with and think will serve me well with two months of daily committed effort. I’ll get more into this once I’m at that point and knee deep into it.


 

Meanwhile, for this training cycle, there’s one more important task remaining at hand. I will talk with you again following the Chicago Marathon.

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The ideal running temperature vs most people’s ideal temperature

One thing I find annoying is right before a relatively warm race when the obnoxious race emcee says, “It’s a perfect day outside for a race!” You can clearly tell from such a statement that the guy never runs, ever.

Because while 60-70 degrees feels amazing if you’re out for an easy walk, or laying out in the sun… that temperature enters the somewhat-warm zone for distance runners in a race, who are moving a lot faster than a walk and producing a lot of body heat throughout their run. Add in substantial humidity, which interferes with the evaporation of sweat, and now it begins to feel really hot.

Jonathan Savage created a ‘perceived heat index for runners’ calculator to accurately show what a runner’s “heat index” is for a given pace at their height and weight, depending on the temperature and humidity.

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As you can see, 65 degrees at even a mild 40% humidity can feel like 101 degrees Fahrenheit for a runner my size (5’10”, 160 lbs) running at a 9:05/mile pace.

To be fair, that’s mild compared to how most of the summer has felt for me, running in 80-95 degree afternoons with 60-75% humidity. Even running at slower paces, my heat indices have been in the 130-145 degree range. Needless to say, that has prepared me fairly well for the worst heat this Sunday’s Chicago Marathon could offer me.

Thankfully, the forecast indicates it won’t get that bad. Projected temperatures are slated around 60-65 degrees for the race, with overcast and 80-90% humidity due to a sizable rainstorm slated to hit Saturday (and BTW Chicago runners, might want to get that shakeout run in early during the brief moments it’s not raining).

The heat index for race day could be anywhere from 100-115 degrees depending on what the temperature is, but it’s still milder than I’ve experienced all summer, plus it will be pretty much overcast so the sun won’t be adding to the heat that much.

In any case, I’m not big on clapbacks or “educating” people, but the next time someone attempts to point out that 60+ degree weather is perfect running weather, you may want to throw some knowledge at them about how running changes everything.

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On how the body uses energy during a race, why runners hit the wall in a marathon, and what can be done about it

A key fundamental issue with the marathon is that the distance is farther than the human body can capably race in one go without consuming fuel during the race.

Long story short, aka I’m about to paraphrase a ton of science without citing any sources:

Continue reading

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On marathon cheaters, the Boston Marathon, and the importance of Derek Murphy’s Marathon Investigation

Every year, following applications, the famous Boston Marathon (which requires non-charity-runners to run a tough qualifying time to automatically qualify for their race) amends their quaifying time after the fact as a cutoff. They simply cannot accept every submission that Boston-Qualified (BQ’d).

This year the Boston Marathon’s amended cutoff for the 2019 race was close to 5 minutes faster than their posted 2018 standard at 4:52, a full 91 seconds higher than last year’s cutoff.

5 minutes may not seem like much to an observer: “Just run a bit faster next time”.

  • There’s nothing you can do about your application this year. You can only try to qualify for next year’s race, whose benchmark has yet to be set (and will likely be even more difficult)
  • When you run a 26.2 mile race as fast as you can, finding a way to run that whole race just a minute faster, let alone 5+ minutes faster, is for many impossibly difficult.
  • Preparing for and running a 26.2 mile race is extremely tough. It’s not like a 5K where you bounce back in a couple days and could run one again right away. Most runners require 2-4 weeks or more to recover from the physical damage of running a marathon, which the human body was not designed to do. (In fact, in the historical origin story of the race the guy who ran the distance to warn generals of an impending battle… dropped dead at the end)
  • Anyone who has run anything close to a marathon, let alone the actual race, would understand how insane the idea of lopping 5 minutes off a well-executed PR can be.

Okay, that sucks, you say. A lot of people want to run Boston, and the Boston Marathon has got to cap who gets in. That’s tough, but fair.

There’s one big problem: Many of the people who got in this year… cheated to get in. And every year, countless runners who BQ in another marathon did not do so legitimately. That wouldn’t be a big deal… if by illegitmately getting in they did not deprive another runner who legitimately BQ’d.

How do people cheat?

Continue reading

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Some thoughts on why I believe it’s perfectly acceptable to do nothing but short runs during a 14 day marathon taper

According to the Hanson Brothers, it takes approximately 10 days to see adaptive results from a hard training session. So any challenging training within 10 days of a marathon will not produce any new benefit by race day.

Because non-injury muscle damage from harder workouts can take up to 14 days to heal, working out hard or long enough to cause that damage within 14 days of a marathon only hurts your performance since the damage may not heal in time.

Therefore you want to avoid any challenging workouts within 1.5 weeks of a marathon, and want to avoid any lengthy, damaging workouts within 2 weeks of said marathon. Basically, no long runs or max intensity speedwork within 14 days, and no speedwork within 10 days.


The big mistake most make with a taper is to take more days off than before and to reduce intensity along with reducing volume. They go too far with tapering by tapering everything about their training, instead of just the volume.

By various accounts, most who actively taper get to the line practically rusty from sudden, extreme undertraining or lack of training. You still want to train as regularly as before, just without all of the volume or any high intensity.

Of course, you don’t want the shorter runs to be TOO intense, or else you’ll do damage that won’t be repaired by race day. So the key is to do less volume, but at a greater (albeit minimally damaging) intensity than before.

Ideally, your easy running has been at a truly easy pace. If you do your regular runs at too hard of an intensity, it’s harder to to taper at a higher intensity without entering a danger zone. But then again, if your regular runs were indeed too intense, you probably have gotten injured or burned out, or been forced to take many days off, between week 1 and the taper.

The ideal intensity middle ground? Marathon pace! The Daniels’ theory is that during a single workout you can handle M-pace at up to 20% of your weekly training load. It should be a challenging but easily sustainable pace, what some would call medium or moderate intensity, and during a shorter taper run there’s no way you should get anywhere near the Daniels’ recommended 20% volume max.

If you’ve done marathon tempo runs during your training, none of your shorter M-pace taper runs should be any longer than the shortest sustained tempo run. Otherwise, a good imposed limit for any M-pace taper runs is 30 minutes.

If I have a planned mileage for a day that would take longer than 30 minutes at M-pace, I just do most of that run at an easy pace and then do 5-15 minutes of M-pace running at the end.

Jonathan Savage goes as far as to recommend that during a taper all running should be at marathon pace. That can work, though I find that approach a bit restrictive. For this taper I started by running easy with a little bit of M-pace running early in the taper as volume was still close to my typical training. Then I increased M-pace running as the race draws closer and my volume tapers to its lowest.

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My current three-phase taper workout

I assure you that at some point I’ll go into my complex taper schedule methodology, which is way beyond the scope of what I’m going to share here instead.


Basically, for my marathon taper I’ve fallen into a daily workout schedule that follows three distinct phases, all of which are pretty easy for me.

  1. Leave work and immediately start an easy run towards the gym. This can be brief and allow for a train ride or a walk if desired, but this week I have run the entire way to the gym. From where I’m at this is about 2.5-3.0 miles depending on the route I take.
  2. After arriving at the gym and walking inside, I get on the treadmill, set it to my desired marathon pace and run for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on what mileage I’m planning to run that day. This is a straight tempo run: No intervals, no phases, just that tempo until I’m done.
  3. Get off the treadmill and go lift weights following a reduced version of my weightlifting plan: Each day I focus on a different muscle group, and do a full workout when I get to that particular muscle group. But for every other group I just do one simple set of 6 reps at a minimally challenging weight (just heavy enough to actually seem like a workout). With the focused section, the whole workout might take 10 minutes but usually takes more like 7 or 8.

After that’s done, I walk out of the gym and either go to the store for food, or go home. Simple as that.

I have felt quite refreshed by the end of the workout the last three days. I haven’t run more than 4 miles each day, though a good chunk of those miles have been at manageable-but-demanding M-pace.

I’ve also still been walking a considerable amount, before during and after work. In fact, instead of catching the bus I’ve just walked the 1.5 miles home most days this week. This is a relaxing coda to the workout, and provides some extra calorie burn ahead of cooking dinner once I return home.


Regardless of how you desire to structure your taper or easy weeks, this might be an approach worth considering. Despite lifting weights every weekday, I don’t feel sore in my upper body, since most of the lifting is low-pressure. And the faster running on the treadmill, while demanding during the run, hasn’t worn me out overall.

Some running experts could argue I’m cutting mileage TOO much if I’m doing nothing but 2-4 mile runs. But, to be honest… having tapered for previous races in a fuller conventional schedule, and having taken extended light-training stretches during prior training… I find a fortnight of light volume doesn’t wipe out my stamina at all.

In my previous experience, in fact, I’ve taken long runs after 3 weeks of short runs and days off and found I had tons of energy throughout the long run. The only reason I haven’t taken days off this time around is because I find I lose some sharpness when I do take days off, but I can maintain energy and sharpness even without days off if I just reduce the volume. A steady diet of short runs has done me good.

Now this weekend, in lieu of a long run, I’m going to skip straight to the treadmill and give it 20-25 good minutes at M-pace, both days this weekend. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the pace, and by next weekend I’ll be looking forward to running that pace, outdoors, for a lot more than just 3 miles.

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Marathon Emergency Power, aka The Galloway Method

Even when first training seriously and comparing different marathon training books, I never gave Jeff Galloway’s Marathon book a second look. And even now I haven’t really given his method much more than a cursory glance.

So personally I can’t necessarily recommend it, even though his approach is probably a great one for a lot of new marathon runners.

Basically, Galloway advocates run/walking the entire marathon. You find a running pace you can maintain for 2-5 minutes at a time, and for all of your training as well as the entire race you run for 2-5 minutes, then stop for a 1-2 minute walking break, then repeat until after a few eternities you finally finish.

His approach clearly works, because to some extent thousands of novice marathoners end up using his approach… whether they want to or not. Once many runners hit the wall around miles 13-20, they have no choice but to run/walk the rest of the way.


But, even if you’re a more serious runner who takes pride in running out all your training runs and races… what if in a marathon you could use his approach consciously, in advance of a worst case scenario of hitting the wall hard, as a back-pocket emergency approach?

For example: Instead of hitting the wall in mile 18 and being forced to drag yourself over the final 8.2 miles… you initially feel yourself struggling badly in mile 16. You decide right then and there to run 3 minutes and walk 1, then repeat… from that 16 mile point forward, feeling like you have a little bit in the tank.

You take food and drink from every available aid station, and only if you feel you’ve found a 2nd wind do you resume a normal uninterrupted run as normal. And while it’s possible you end up run/walking the whole rest of the race, you at least are able to handle those last 10 miles with some sense of dignity and not feeling like death. Perhaps you could even run out that last whole 1.2 miles as your “kick”.


I now realize that, when I stepped to the line in Vancouver this May feeling ill and overheated… I possibly could have finished the race, had I committed to running the entire race easy and using something like Galloway’s method. It would have taken 5 fairly grueling hours, but instead of feeling unwell at mile 3, I could have slowly navigated the race mile by mile, at an easy pace, possibly felt good enough to high five all the old men and women shuffling alongside me, and gradually made my way to the finish line.

Of course, at the time I had no idea I could use an approach like I described above. And for all I know my ego would not have allowed it anyway after having trained as hard as I had to run the whole race. This is little more than 20/20 hindsight, and the humbling experience of a DNF was probably necessary for me to even entertain the notion today.

Galloway’s book has runners going as far as 25-30 miles in training using his simpler run/walk method. And, to some extent, some of my experienced (faster) runner friends have knocked out 30+ miles in a day through a similar approach… running 5-7 miles at a time, stopping to rest for a while or eat, and then continuing.

So say what you want about stopping or walking: For finishing a marathon, it absolutely works.

In fact, this is how a lot of ultramarathon running is done. Since many of these races require 12-24 hours to complete, even the winners are expected to stop and rest for extended periods.


I practiced a variation of this after work on Friday, running at a threshold-level pace for 2-4 minutes, then walking for a minute, with the clock running the entire time. And it was doubly useful since I wasn’t feeling well at the time. I managed to polish off a couple miles at about a minute faster per mile than usual.

I would have gone the rest of the way home. But again, I wasn’t feeling well, and though I could have finished I decided to cut the run short.

Still, along with the rest of my race-day gear, I will have an emergency plan in my back pocket, thanks to the wise words of a man whose book I haven’t really read. “You can do it!”, indeed.

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