Category Archives: Marathon

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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What’s a good middle ground for a marathon training taper?

After today’s 20 miler, I’m officially tapering from here to Chicago.

That’s probably not a big deal to most experienced marathon runners, who were traditionally taught to do their longest run three weeks out from their goal race, and then taper from there.

But Jonathan Savage has found from various research that 3 weeks may actually be too long. The Hanson Brothers seem to back this up in their methodology, with a 2 week taper that’s so light that many muse that the Hanson Method doesn’t have a taper at all.

Of course, many also claim that a 20 miler is unnecessary, yet even knowing the arguments here I am beating my legs into the ground over 4 hours on a Saturday morning, logic be damned.

Still, the logic behind a shorter taper is sound.

  • You may end up peaking too early and losing fitness from the extended draw-down in volume and intensity during that final 3 weeks of training.
  • You want to peak at a time where you get to the start line with the maximal benefit from that training.

The Hansons’ program specifically has you do your last quality workout 10 days out because they posit you see benefits from a key workout after 10 days, and to push yourself anytime in the last 9 days before the goal race needlessly damages and tires you out ahead of your goal race.

That said, for many the 3 week taper seems to work anyway in part because:

  • Remember the old adage that it’s better to get to the start line undertrained than overtrained. It just works out well for most that they get to the line rested, even having lost some fitness.
  • A marathon is such a brutal experience anyway that most don’t notice during the race any fitness they may have incidentally lost from peaking too early.

Does that mean a 3 week taper is the best approach before a marathon? Possibly not.

Still, some say it’s akin to debating what kind of protein shake you’re gonna put in the bottle for the end of your upcoming workout. The workout is ultimately the more important thing, while the contents of your bottle are relatively trivial.

Likewise, debating which day to begin your taper doesn’t seem nearly as important as how you’ve trained overall the first 15-29 weeks, how consistently you’ve run, what kind of training you’ve done, how you’ve recovered, etc.

Tapering perfectly isn’t going to substantially improve a subpar training cycle. And while there is some chance a poorly done taper could damage your effort on race day, it’s not necessarily going to undo a very good training cycle (… unless your actions get you injured or sick).


However, especially after a variety of unfortunate unforeseen setbacks derailed my effort at Vancouver this May, I would like to give myself the best possible opportunity to have a good experience at the Chicago Marathon. So I don’t terribly mind putting some effort into tapering well.

I decided to meet all this conflicting advice in the middle with the following general plan:

Week ending September 16 (this one):

  • Peak mileage (53 miles).
  • High intensity (2 tempo/speed workouts, plus 2 strength training sessions).
  • Peak long run (20 miles).
  • Eat a ton of protein rich food.

Week ending September 23:

  • Slightly lower but still fairly high mileage (42-45 miles).
  • Peak intensity (3 tempo/speed workouts, 2 strength training sessions).
  • Sizable but not peak long run (13-16 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Eat another ton of protein rich food.

Week Ending September 30:

  • Substantial draw down of mileage (25-30 miles)
  • Draw down of intensity (only one strength training session, plus caving to the Hansons’ recommendation and doing the last tempo workout 10 days out).
  • Even shorter long run to stay honest (10-13 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Don’t eat a ton of protein rich food but maybe 0.75 tons.

Marathon Week, ending October 7:

  • Nothing but easier, shorter runs. Make sure they’re still regularish runs (3-5 miles).
  • Include either some brief tempo segments or do the runs at a moderate intensity.
  • The key to this week is to maintain running chops and not lose substantial fitness.
  • Runs done the final 3 days will not exceed 5 miles, and will likely be more like 2-4.
  • And, of course, run the actual marathon that Sunday.

The idea:

  • I think everyone across the board has the same idea when it comes to overall volume. You want to peak your weekly mileage about 3 weeks out (and most people focus on the long run or the quality workouts, without focusing on the volume of all the runs done during the week) because after that you want your body’s now accelerated ability to handle and recover from that level of pounding… to catch up at an accelerated scale, against less overall volume.
  • You do still want to get in strength training, speed sessions, tempo work, etc., because your body is still netting benefits from this work, and to eliminate or reduce it would lead to a dulling of the anaerobic/moderate caliber fitness you have developed during the last few months. I have seen for myself a performance dropoff when I cut down on intensity for a few weeks, whether or not I cut down on volume.
  • I think, along with getting scared of an upcoming race when they’ve neglected training, people training for a marathon get scared of overtraining in the final taper weeks, and thus they go overboard on the taper: Too many days off, lots of too-short runs, frequently cutting off workouts early. That as much as anything is what leads to a preliminary loss of fitness ahead of any race, let alone a marathon. I like the idea of still running everyday if you’ve already been doing it for months… just at somewhat less distance while still at enough distance to be more than a recovery run, and like Savage recommends making sure to maintain intensity as you draw down mileage and to not cut that out too soon.
  • That said, I do think the Hansons have the right idea in cutting all that out at 10 days out, and focusing just on easy running, since at that point you have done all you can do to get ready. Just keep your chops over the final 10 days, allow your body to catch up to all that training, and get to the start line ready to go.
  • If anything, the one new stimulus I’d add and practice is working on in-race fueling. One mistake I think I made in previous training cycles is to start practicing fueling during runs way too soon, and not giving myself the chance to do long runs with no water or nutrition to experience full depletion. This time around, I’ve kept in-run fueling to a minimum: Today’s 20 was probably the first time this cycle I brought any nutrition with me (two Larabars and water), and on half my long runs I didn’t bring any water. Now, with the volume and intensity having been ingrained, I can practice here and there with taking water, Gatorade, chews or whatever else every 1.5 miles or so, instead of trying that at the same time as trying to develo aerobic fitness or hit tempo. I have the space to find something that suits a rhythm.

As always, this is just one view, and I’m not saying any of this is the perfect answer to tapering. But I do think this approach may work better than the alternatives.

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The treadmill as a tempo training tool

Yesterday I got on the dreaded treadmill. I generally will not train on one, but during my last training cycle I discovered that it has one very good use: You can work on running at a specific tempo, since treadmills are set to move at a given tempo!

I finished Wednesday’s Yasso 800’s with an average interval of 3:59… indicating that I can potentially run a marathon in 3 hours 59 minutes. I did some basic math and found this would take a pace of 9:07 per mile, about 6.6 mph.

So, still in my work clothes and thus carrying about 6 extra pounds, I set the treadmill to 6.6 mph and ran that for 30 minutes. I had no trouble physically maintaining pace, but by about 7 minutes in I was (true to form) already losing patience with the treadmill, and by 10 minutes I considered cutting it short at 20, while wanting to stick to the plan and push out 30 minutes.

The key to staying focused and getting 30 minutes done: I imagined being at mile 25 of the marathon, knowing at that point I would be in some pain but definitely very tired and wanting to stop, and knowing that at that point there was no other way to the finish line but to tough it out and run that last 10-12 or so minutes. It would probably feel worse than this moment on the treadmill, and if I couldn’t handle 30 minutes of this crap in a gym then how could I expect to handle 4+ hours and those final miles on race day?

I kept my cadence and ground out the minutes, getting to 30:00 and being able to cool down and shut the machine off.

Despite the lack of outdoor air resistance, I felt like that 30 minutes on the treadmill was harder than running that pace would be outdoors on race day.

  • First of all, I was tired after a long workday.
  • I was wearing my slacks (with stuff in my pockets), my sweaty t-shirt I couldn’t take off in the gym, and my dress shirt tied around my waist. That’s 6 pounds I won’t carry on race day. Plus the wet shirt and the slightly warm indoor conditions prevented sweat evaporation.
  • I’m running in place, with no scenery passing by me to help guide me visually. My only frame of reference is the clock.
  • Because the treadmill moves at a set pace, I cannot slow down or speed up as needed to maintain comfort. I didn’t change the dreadmill’s tempo during the run.

So I felt good about the workout, even if I didn’t feel good doing it. The tempo is one I could definitely maintain, and if I can handle it in contained, uncomfortable circumstances, I get the feeling I can handle it on race day.

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The Bulls**t 20, or: Does it count if you split the miles up between runs?

During a visit to my hometown Vegas last fall, my sister’s boyfriend (who like me runs a lot, but runs a lot more half marathons, and definitely runs faster than me) enlightened me on his approach to long runs when prepping for half marathons.

On days he decides to run long:

  • He’ll wake up in the morning and run 4 miles at a brisk pace.
  • Later, during the afternoon, he’ll run 4 miles again but as more of a regular distance run.
  • Towards the evening, he does a final 4 mile run but very easy, like a recovery run.

He never does a full 10+ mile long run during his training, but he consistently runs half marathons in the 1:40 range. So far be it from me or anyone to call his “long” run days a problem, as it clearly works very well for him.

In fact, it actually sounds like a great idea, though granted part of the reason he does this is necessity: The Las Vegas heat is oppressive, and going for 2 hour runs in 100+ degree (Fahrenheit) heat is not only impractical but very dangerous. If he’s going to train for half marathons, the only way to get in the distance for long runs is to either get up far too early, or to break the distance up into shorter runs.

Not until I began this current marathon training cycle did I think to try and apply his approach. Obviously I have no trouble going on 15-20 mile runs, and Chicago’s conditions usually allow for it. But if I know I already have the aerobic capacity to run 3+ hours… could I not get the benefit of that mileage without excessive damage if I broke the run in half? Or shortened the long run to something in the 2.0-2.5 hour range, while doing a later recovery run for the rest of the distance?

This would allow me to get in all of the mileage, without drifting into the 150th minute danger zone where in various theories you’re no longer getting aerobic benefits from continuing and are only doing physical damage to yourself. If I did a long run, broke it off before I reached the danger zone… then did a later run after some time to recharge and refuel to cover the remaining distance, does that not serve the same overall aerobic benefit, as well as provide the workload benefit, without the risk of damage from an overlong run?

Last week I went to do a full 20 miler. Danger zone be damned, I always try to do a couple of uninterrupted runs that blow through it and simulate to some extent working through the later miles of the beating that the marathon will provide me. The 20 is technically a run most runners shouldn’t attempt, but like many I find a psychological benefit from powering through 76% of the race’s mileage.

I always try to map out or estimate a route for a desired distance, and I thought a long run to, through and from Northerly Island near Soldier Field and the Museum Campus would get me 20 miles. The threat of rain did not cut it short, and despite running the final miles through a downpour, I thought I had logged enough (I don’t rely on my inaccurate tracker to log miles, and instead manually map and log runs afterward to get an accurate reading).

Well, I log the run and was disappointed to find that it was only 18.6 miles. Though I had taken some longer detours through Lincoln Park, the whole route didn’t add enough distance to get to 20.

However, later that day my sore body felt up for a brief recovery run. I went outside around sunset and completed a typical 1.6 mile neighborhood circuit to get to 20.2 miles on the day.

Does that count? Purists would say no, of course. They would claim a 20 miler can only be one single 20 mile run. Of course, who is to say they’ve ever fathomed or considered breaking up a long run like this?

They would even say that my decision to go out for a 2nd run might have been dangerous. To be honest, it didn’t feel any more dangerous than extending the 18.6 mile run another 1.4 miles on the spot (presuming I knew at the time I was short). I was beaten and very tired by the time I returned from the 18.6, and had certainly done my fair share of wear and tear. I feel like it would have been more risky to press on in that state, than to go out after several hours of rest (and a meal or two) and take a short, easy run around the neighborhood.

A few weeks prior I took a 17 mile run, where more than halfway through I stopped at a hot dog stand because I was hungry and thirsty. I got a plain hot dog and some Powerade, ate and drank it, and then resumed my run. You could basically argue that was a flash version of the broken long run, where I did a 12ish mile run, then followed it quickly with 5 more miles… albeit with the two runs being about 10-12 minutes apart.

And today, I ran 17 miles. However, I ran 13.1 (a half marathon!) before stopping at Whole Foods in Edgewater for breakfast, right around 150 minutes after starting. After finishing, I walked to a nearby corner, resumed running and ran all the way home, about 4 miles. Same sort of deal. Was this a 17 mile run? Or was it a 13 mile run capped by a separate 4 mile run?

I think it counts, and I don’t anticipate any Running Police coming to my home to take me in for not doing the whole run at once anytime soon. Maybe a Bullshit 20, where you do a long run less than 20 miles and then make the rest of the distance up in a later run, is not a real 20 mile run. Maybe doing 150 minutes, and then making up the difference in a run later is a healthier way to do a 20 miler that’s just as effective.

As problematic as results based analysis can be, I guess we’ll see how it works for me when I run the Chicago Marathon next month.

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Some Keys to the Yasso 800’s

– The basics of the Yasso 800’s: 10 reps of 800 meters all as close to the same pace as possible. The average pace of the reps should correspond with your potential marathon time. For example, if you can consistently run the 800’s in 4:05, that indicates you can run the marathon in about 4 hours 5 minutes max. Some experienced marathoners find this estimate is fast by a few minutes, which is why I refer to the estimate as a max.
– A lot of what I say assumes you’re not a hardcore runner logging elite-like volume. When you’re pumping out 100+ miles a week, you probably already do speed workouts with volume like this all the time and can probably nail your 5K pace or better. The more volume you can run per week and/or the fewer marathons you’ve done, the more you should scale back the Yasso projection, e.g. if you run 100 miles a week and can run 800’s in 3:05, maybe estimate something closer to 3:20 for your marathon. Or if your 20 miler is the first time you’ve ever run 20+ miles, scale those 4:15 Yassos back to a 4:30 projection.
– Also, obviously, if you’re training for marathon, you should be logging more than 20-30 miles a week during training. Probably way more. 40-50 is probably the minimum if you don’t already do several marathons a year. I feel a lot of self doubt having run 30-50 per week, and many would say I’m in pretty good shape for Chicago in October (while many would say I’m not even close).
– As with any interval workout, you should not race these reps: Don’t do them hard. Don’t pick up the pace at the end of the rep. The rep should be steady wire to wire, and at the finish you could go another few miles at that pace if you had to. It’s supposed to be a barometer of your capabilities, and going closer to your max is not going to portray an accurate picture of those capabilities.
– According to most reliable pace charts (Daniels, McMillan, etc… don’t @ me, Pfitzinger-bros; his pace benchmarks are as faulty as his training methods)… you should be able to hit a desired Yasso goal at about your 10K pace or slower. If you’re giving more like an 8K or 5K effort to hit your pace on these reps, then not only is the workout inaccurate, but unless you run 100+ miles a week and do workouts like this all the time you probably won’t maintain the stamina to nail that pace consistently for all 10 reps.
– If your inter-rep recovery is supposed to be a jog instead of a full rest, a good barometer of whether or not you’re going too hard: Whether or not you can jog at a trot during the recovery interval. If you need to walk or stop, you went too fast.
If allowed a full rest, then a good barometer of whether you went out too hard is if you cross the line not feeling like you could have kept going another 800+ meters at your pace. You never want to race to the finish, or get to the line needing a total rest. Intervals should be run wire to wire at a pace you’d expect to maintain in a race, meaning you should cross the line able to keep running at that pace if you had to.
If at first you can jog your recoveries but then you have to walk or stop at later recovery intervals, it’s not only possible your intervals are too fast but also possible that your recovery jog was too fast. Recovery jogs should always be at a pace that would normally feel too slow. Most runners tend to run recovery intervals too fast (Hint: Your regular running pace is too fast). An analogy I find accurate is to observe a baseball hitter’s home run trot: That’s the effort you want to be putting into a recovery jog.
– Pay close attention to the results of reps 7, 8 and 9. In fact, you could average just those three reps and may get a more accurate Yasso 800 estimate than estimating the average of all reps. It’s your performance while tired in the later reps that’s going to paint the most accurate picture of your capability. However, bear in mind the tendency many have to do the final rep hard in an effort to finish strong. Rep 10 is probably going to look stronger than the other late reps. Pay closer attention to how reps 7, 8 and 9 look, when you’re tired but you’re not emptying the tank with a final flourish because you know you’ve got more reps to do.
– Another effective estimate method: Take the average of your 5 slowest reps. Few can fake 6-10 good, accurate reps.
– If the pace of your reps varies substantially (let’s say by more than 15 seconds between your fastest and slowest rep):
1. Most likely, you went out too hard. For most runners their reps in a speed workout typically vary like this: The first reps are very fast, and then later reps are much slower.
2. In some cases it happens when you start your reps super easy and then pick up the pace in later reps (like a negative split in a race). However, this indicates you didn’t warm up effectively beforehand.
3. If it consistently bounces back and forth by 12+ seconds per rep, you are either trying (at least on some reps) to hit a pace you’re not yet totally capable of running in a race, or you’re not taking full rest periods. If you’re in the middle of a Yasso workout and you see your times doing this, focus going forward on running a comfortably brisk pace that’s a tick slower than you want to run (whatever that means to you), and try to hit the same pace on the remaining reps.
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My observed pros and cons of different kinds of running fuel on long runs

In many of my long training runs I have not only experimented with fueling during runs (as training for doing so in races), but have also done so because given the scope of the run I needed to. I have tried a wide range of fueling options, as recommended by various sources, and have found that all have their particular advantages and disadvantages.

Ultimately, in a long distance race I prefer to utilize Gatorade if they have it on course. Barring that (e.g. if they use a no-calorie sports drink like Nuun), I’ll bring Clif Shot Bloks. For anything shorter than 10 miles I’ll often just tough it out and drink water… maybe whatever sports drink they have if I feel like it.

But again, for workouts I’ve tried a variety of different fueling sources, and here’s my observed advantages and disadvantages for each:

Bringing small snacks (e.g.a protein bar or granola bar)

Advantages: Something like a protein or granola bar feels a lot more satisfying than other fuel sources while running. It’s usually closer to actual food! They often contain protein and fat, which are more satiating.

Disadvantages: Small snacks can make a mess, or worse yet fall out of my hands on the ground more easily. Because they must be eaten, they can pose a choking risk, or to lesser extent make it hard to breathe when I try to eat them while running. De-packaging them can be more of a pain than the quicker consumption afforded by drinks and gels.

Verdict: While I’m never against bringing a snack with me, it’s something I won’t go out of my way to do. I definitely won’t turn down a protein bar for the road before a run, however.

Syrups

I have experimented with different kinds of syrups, such as honey and raw agave, mostly going with raw agave due to its viscosity making it easier to pour from a gel flask. I would consume these intermittently throughout the run.

Advantages: They are a dense form of quickly digested sugar carbohydrate, which provides much-needed glycogen during a long run. A single ounce can contain about 100 calories (25g) of pure sugar. This buys muscles time and distance before exhausting  glycogen stores.

Disadvantages: These sugars are simple and the body may only use this fuel to maintain bodily functions rather than fuel your lower body muscles. Both are sticky and can create a mess even if you do not spill. Honey in particular is very viscous and may flow too slowly from a container during a run to be useful. Practically, you need a container to dispense these syrups such as a gel flask, and these typically only hold 5-6 oz. For very long runs, this might not be enough fuel.

Verdict: I did raw agave for a while, but I’m probably done with using it as a long run fuel source. Thankfully I’ve built up the endurance to finish 15-20 milers without fuel, so it’s no longer necessary like before.

Gels

The most commonly used form of fuel in long distance races. These are typically sold in single use disposable 100 calorie packs.

Advantages: Unlike syrups and other sugars, gels are specifically engineered to quickly provide glycogen for your muscles rather than just general function. Gels typically come in single use packets and are more easily portable.

Disadvantages: Gels taste nasty (don’t @ me about the flavors having gotten better, runners. A better tasting version of motor oil still tastes like motor oil). Though portable, the gels are still messy, possibly more so than syrups. They’re even more viscous, making it harder to extract and consume. I typically need to wash it down with a lot of water. You also have to find a way to dispose of the used packets. In races runners tend to do the worst: Dropping used packets on the ground behind them, for other runners to slip on. This alone turns me off of them, but the other stuff doesn’t help either.

Verdict: Hell no. As I say to people when Papa John’s pizza arrives, how the hell do you people eat this crap?

Gatorade

The classic sugar and electrolyte solution in a bottle or mixed in a container of varying size. You drink it while working out and it replenishes you.

Advantages: Drinking Gatorade kills two birds with one stone, hydrating you with an electrolyte-packed drink that also provides glycogen-rich calories. When running races, most provide it free of charge just as they do water. It’s also a lot more widely available at stores, and usually at a cheap price. If you’re lucky they sell bottles out of a refrigerated case, making it doubly refreshing!

Disadvantages: It’s liquid, meaning it has more weight and takes up more volume than other fueling options. A typical bottle of Gatorade can weigh anywhere from 1-2 pounds, which slows me down during running until I drink it and it’s in me.

Also, it can only carry so many calories: A 32 oz bottle only has about 240ish calories, and if you need 500+ calories in fuel for something like a marathon, that’s not going to cut it. You simply can’t carry that much Gatorade.

If it’s mixed in person instead of bought factory-made (Hint: The Gatorade served at races is often mixed on-site), there’s a chance it may not be mixed correctly, and you may not get the full caloric benefit… defeating a key purpose of drinking it. Also, if it’s hot outside, liquid warms… and Gatorade tastes like a nasty sugar soup when it’s warm.

Verdict: I find Gatorade terrific and if it was healthy to do so I’d drink a ton of it after workouts (Hint: you’re supposed to drink it while working out, not after; it’s literally sugar water). If carrying it wasn’t too much of a burden I’d carry a bottle with me on every long or intense workout. But if I want it for a long run I’ll have to find a way to get some during the run, then house it before continuing. Or pay someone to carry it behind me while riding a bike. (Hint: I’m currently NOT accepting applications for this role)

Chews

Clif Shot Bloks. Honey Stingers. These are gummy like things you chew before or during a workout to provide the same sort of sugar-loaded energy as gels or Gatorade. A typical small pack will contain 150-200 calories, and some versions contain caffeine.

Advantages: Like gels and Gatorade, chews are engineered to digest quickly for use as muscular glycogen, and are a perfect fuel for races and key runs. A typical package provides 150-200 calories of workout-friendly sugars in an easily chewable pack. The packs are esaily portable, and in my experience they do charge up your workout quickly once ingested… even the non-caffeinated versions.

Disadvantages: Compared to other fuel options these are not cheap: a typical pack of 6 chews can cost $2.50-3.00. Like with other food, eating it during a run can make it hard to breathe.

Also, if I need more than one 200 calorie pack (which I certainly do in marathons and other similar long runs), they take up considerable space once you’re carrying more than 2-3 of them. When I attempted Vancouver I had to wear two fanny packs, with one holding just my Bloks for the race.

Also, because they’re a solid (albeit soft) food, they can be a choking hazard if you consume while running. They don’t always go down easy and I sometimes need to chase some with water. I abhor stopping a race completely just to eat them.

Eating a small meal ahead of time

Whenever I have time, on the morning of a race or a long run I try to have a quick breakfast sandwich with a shot of espresso before heading to the race site.

Advantages: This not only sates me but effectively pre-loads my bloodstream with some ready-to-use fat and glycogen, boosting my capabilities, saving the glycogen in my muscles to some extent. A bonk becomes quite unlikely when I eat right before a run.

Disadvantages: I don’t always have the time, space or means to prepare/eat a small meal before a run. In some cases, I may need to take a crap shortly after a meal… not ideal during a run! There’s some prep (that I won’t get into) the day prior I can do to avoid the possibility of this, but it’s still an unwelcome possibility.

Verdict: I always, always try to eat a meal a couple hours before a race. On occasion if there’s time and space I’ll try and eat breakfast before a morning long run. I’ll definitely make sure to eat 3ish hours beforehand if a hard/long workout takes place in the afternoon. But I just did my last 18+ miler early in the morning with no food in me and none taken during the run. So outside of races it’s certainly not necessary.

Breaking the run in half and then eating at halftime

I’ve done this more recently. Basically, I go on a long run, but at some point past the halfway mark I stop for a bit to eat and something to drink, chill out a bit, then resume shortly after finishing the meal.

Advantages: This can help ease the hard work of a long run, by breaking the run into two shorter runs. The fuel from a meal definitely feels welcome after several miles, and comes in handy for those last miles. It can help get a head start on recovery from the initial part of the run. Also, I get to take a rest.

Disadvantages: As mentioned before, my bowels may act up with food in the tank, especially if I resume running right after eating. It’s also possible that I cool down to the point where I need to once again warm up or ease into the 2nd half of the run. I’ve typically felt better after stopping (I tend to handle working out right after eating fairly well), but sometimes I do come out of the meal creaky.

Verdict: If I’m training for a longer race, especially if I’m late in the training cycle… breaking up the long run might compromise the value of that long run. I mitigate this by only stopping after having run for 2.0-2.5 hours, which is the back wall recommended for most long runs anyway. Extending the run after that isn’t a problem with a break. Otherwise, I have no problem breaking up a long run with a halftime meal.

In fact, I did so twice over the last few months! My first crack at 20 miles (which sadly only went 19.45 due to a miscalc) had a halftime where I stopped in Edgewater for food and drink at Whole Foods. And last month I stopped at a hot dog stand near Navy Pier during the back end a 17 miler, treating myself to a hot dog and some Powerade. Hit the spot.

Not eating at all

This is what I do most often! This is what most people do for most runs. You don’t worry about fuel, and just do the damn run. For most runs this is totally fine. Even for most longer runs this is totally fine. To do the longest runs this way can be challenging, and can also be rewarding training depending on goals for the run (e.g. running to deplete your glycogen stores to practice running in that state).

Advantages: Not worrying about fuel makes long workouts a lot simpler. I won’t have to worry about timing fuel intake or other distractions. I also train my body to handle glycogen depletion on longer runs, which better prepares me to handle key late points in races such as the marathon.

Disadvantages: If I’m training for a marathon, practicing fueling is valuable and this could be a lost opportunity to either practice or experiment with fueling in-race. Based on the length of the run, I could bonk during the run, perhaps increase the likelihood of injury, illness or some other setback. Not fueling could also compromise performance on some longer runs (maybe I want to practice some tempo segments), which depending on my goals could be an issue.

Verdict: If it’s not a race or a dangerously long distance, running without fuel is the way to go. If it’s very long or I need to practice marathon fueling, then I really should bring some fuel.

In Conclusion….

I’m hungry.

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Breakdown at 5K. DNF.

It’s unfortunate for me to report that due to illness, related in part due to somewhat high heat at the race, I had to drop out of the Vancouver Marathon at about 5K.

I actually knew at around the 3K or 4K marker that I was in trouble and probably needed to drop out. The forecasted heat for Vancouver struck a little early, and within 3K I struggled badly with it. I also had struggled to sleep well the last couple nights and that compounded the issue. I was laboring badly at a level I expected would strike closer to 30K than 3K. I was suffering clear effects of heat exhaustion, and continuing past 5K seemed infathomable.

I walked past the 4K marker, and at the 2nd aid station (5K) I took a sizable quantity of water, stepped off-course, removed my bib and started a long walk back to the hotel. Within minutes of walking strategically under shade I already felt better and knew I had made the right decision.


The good news is that by DNFing early, I avoided the substantial wear and tear expected from the marathon, meaning if desired I can resume training as soon as I have good reason to do so, rather than needing to take weeks to recover.

I had netted a lottery spot in this October’s Chicago Marathon, and having planned to run it I was somewhat concerned about my ability to bounce back from Vancouver and begin training for that. But now that’s not a concern, and (after a bit of time off) I can begin training for that at my leisure.

It’s my first ever DNF in a race, and I figured if I ever did so at a marathon I’d have done so after 20 miles than after 2. But while disappointed I don’t feel bad… only that I made the right decision.

A marathon dress rehearsal run, and discussing in-race fueling options

Yesterday’s 6 mile run wasn’t so much about training, because at this point of the taper I’m pretty much as trained as I’m going to get.

The goal of the run was to practice marathon fueling. Never minding that the Vancouver Marathon uses low-calorie Nuun as their electrolyte hydration at aid stations (which isn’t effective like Gatorade because Nuun is low calorie and the calories in Gatorade are important to avoid late-rate bonking)… even if they used a better solution, race mixed drinks are typically mixed on-site, often poorly so and leaving your cup short on the actual electrolyte solution.

——

If I haven’t effectively implied it, one of my primary race goals is to avoid hitting The Wall, the moment of 100% glycogen depletion when you bonk and just have nothing left in energy. I’m obviously not a marathon expert by any means, but anyone who says it’s unavoidable is wrong.

For those wondering why they hit the wall late in a race… pretty much every resource points to a lack of effective in-race fueling. Your body burns mostly carbs when running at any pace beyond a recovery jog, and the faster/harder you’re running the more proportionally you burn carbs. At my size I burn about 120 calories per mile run, and at over 26 miles, that’s over 3200 calories burned.

Despite my weight loss and fitness, I still carry a good portion of fat. But fat burns glacially in exercise compared to carbs. While you can train your body to proportionally burn more fat, your fat will never burn anywhere close to as fast as carbs will during a run. Carbs become glycogen, which is your body’s primary fuel during a run. No matter how much fat you have… as soon as you tap out your available glycogen, you bonk. You’re running on auxiliary power and your body acts like it. So I have to make sure I get enough carb fuel to offer a chance of avoiding the wall in the final miles.

(Yes, your pacing and general hydration are also factors, but those are far easier to control. And all of this never minds that no matter what I’m absolutely going to be very sore and tired in the later miles. I accept that.)

According to the Hansons’ fueling formulas, my lower body stores around 1200 calories of glycogen, and should burn about 1000-1200 calories of fat throughout the race. If I properly pace myself I need about 600-750 calories in pure carbs to finish the marathon without hitting the wall. I also should ideally do it frequently in smaller portions rather than every half hour or when I pass the aid stations.

Even if courses provide nutrition, your best bet is to carry this nutrition yourself and consume it regularly throughout the marathon (which adds the benefit of allowing you to pick nutrition that works best for you). Plus, I still need to be able to physically get myself to a food resource and then back to the hotel, so I’m better off overkilling a little bit on what I carry and consume since my effort doesn’t end at the finish line.

Since I’m not Eliud Kipchoge with custom engineered drink bottles waiting for me every 5K, and point to point van service for transport… I’ve needed to figure out what to carry with me. I only have so much space in a belt pack, and carrying a 32oz bottle of Gatorade will obviously slow me down more than it’s worth, as every extra pound you carry adds 3-5 seconds to your mile time. What I use has to work effectively, and be portable.

Over the last few months I’ve worked on in-race fueling on various runs. I’ve experimented with gels (one packet is 100 calories), chews (one 6-chew packet is 200 calories), honey (a full 6oz flask is 568 calories), and for a while made a go with the minimally viscuous raw agave in a gel flask (6oz = 485 calories).

The agave is portable and easily consumable, but its simple sugars only replenish certain glycogen stores (albeit important ones for the body, like in the liver) and aren’t fully utilized by the body to run. I still found myself fading or even bonking late in 2.5+ hour runs despite consuming it every 10-15 minutes in-run… whereas the more engineered electrolyte sugars of Gatorade and similar drinks did keep me going.

I have found Clif Shot Bloks useful, but there’s an obvious problem: Trying to chew and swallow something while actively running at a decent pace makes it a little hard to breathe, which in turn makes it hard to effectively run until you’ve swallowed (and hopefully washed down) a given blok.

And, as I’ve found out the hard way, you definitely need to chase anything you consume with water or the issue will become much more difficult. In a race that will already be very taxing, those little aggravations could more quickly exhaust my energy stores before the end of the race… which defeats the purpose of fueling in the first place.

——

So anyway, I sampled the shot bloks once again yesterday while carrying 20oz of water. Perhaps active water use after consumption would help. Perhaps practice would help. They are the easiest and least messy of my fueling options, and if I can make them work it’s a better solution than gel, which is not only really messy and tastes like flavored motor oil but doesn’t feel good in digestion. I took one blok every 10 minutes and washed it down after swallowing.

The good news is despite attacking Cricket Hill (up and down) three times during the run, I felt energized after the run as compared to tired (as I often am when I take a similar run after work). The issue remains that, even with water, the moments between the blok entering my mouth and when it finally goes down remain difficult for my breathing and in turn my running. My heart rate did spike the first 3 times I fueled but stayed level the subsequent times… but my pace wasn’t great relative to my active heart rate, and I suspect repeating this process 8-24 times could slow me down and further complicate an already complicated marathon situation.

Now, I could just do it anyway, which I think is not a bad Plan A given this is already going to be a difficult race, and having usable fuel for the haul that works is better than not having such fuel. I think no matter what I’m going to bring Shot Bloks for the race, and if no better method presents itself I will just suck it up and pop one every 10-15 minutes until I cross the finish line.

I can also consider loading up a gel flask with agave and carrying it as well, saving the Shot Bloks for every 30-60 minutes or so, and just taking the agave on the regular. Both sources are palatable and digest reasonably well, and (though I will want to attempt using them together at home or in training to make sure nothing happens) I think having an adequate supply of both will cover my fueling bases.

The race has an interesting (possibly Canadian?) wrinkle, supplying bananas to runners at an aid station around mile 19. Aside from the concern of runners recreating a Mario Kart course with discarded banana peels, I think taking and eating one at the opportunity would also help. Bananas are my most common post-run carb-replenish fuel, so digestion is no problem.

And of course I plan to stick to a pre-race ritual: Eating a breakfast sandwich and chasing it with a shot of espresso a couple hours before the race. The nutrition from this must be important: Every time I’ve done this, I’ve raced well.

——

Admittedly, a lot of the above is talk-it-through thought process on my part. I’ve given this a lot of thought, because being able to finish the race with dignity regardless of finishing time is a high priority for me, and I know fueling in-race is vital to that happening.

Hot is not as hot as you think when you’re running

As the Vancouver Marathon approaches I’ve kept an eye on the 10 day forecast, not so much for any inclement weather on race day (Vancouver’s climate is mild and chances are good it’ll be clear), but to monitor the likely temperature. This marathon will already be difficult enough on its own, but the effect of any excessive heat will magnify multifold as I enter uncharted territory in the later miles.

The forecast already called for mostly clear skies and temps over 60, but as days pass the forecasted high temp for race day has grown and now sits at 71’F. The forecasted temp at gun time is currently 60’F, and given my anticipated pace I will likely finish during the 12pm-1pm hour, right as the heat begins to peak.

The London Marathon felled countless runners not too long ago as temps reached 73’F, and not a few people scoffed at runners collapsing in a temperature we’ve been so conditioned to believe is perfectly comfortable that we set thermostats there as a default. Such opinions are clearly the product of people who don’t run regularly.

A key reason we’re advised to dress in winter as if it’s 20 degrees warmer is because your core temperature while running will increase to a point where it feels at least 20 degrees warmer. This remains to some degree true once the weather warms up, and greatly exacerbates the effect of outdoor heat.

You are after all elevating your heart rate and burning about 90-120 calories per mile… and your body when in continuous motion produces heat. Cold can feel normal. Normal feels hot. And any temperature above normal can get dangerously hot.

The standard ideal temperature has been posited at around 50-55 degrees, though I find the ideal overall range for running is between 40 and 60 degrees. Jonathan Savage posits that outdoor temps can begin to slow you down from heat at as little as 50 degrees (you can see the calculated effect here). And of course, the bigger you are the better your body retains heat, which while great in a Chicago winter can feel brutal during a run in warmer weather. (It’s one of a bunch of reasons I worked on losing weight in recent years)

I recall running the Soldier Field 10 last year, and even though the temperature never got above 62, I began to feel overheated in the later miles. Pacing and other factors (plus the distance at the time) may have contributed, but I do recall feeling substantially hotter at the end than past races. I felt weak at the time for having been so affected by such seemingly mild temperatures, especially when racing calculators like the Daniels Tables indicate that’s barely above the threshold (60 degrees) at which heat begins to affect you.

Looking back now, knowing that heat can begin to affect you at 50 degrees, I now realize that I wasn’t too far out of line. If we follow the winter wear 20 degree postulate, my body by that point probably felt like it was about 80-85 degrees outside.

It’s little wonder that at last September’s Great Race 10K in Pittsburgh, where temperatures reached a race-historical high of 87, runners were collapsing and required medical attention at the finish line. I ran that race and had to physically stop between aid stations around mile 4 to avoid illness myself. I finished, but I passed many EMTs attending to fallen runners towards the end, and even watched another runner collapse to the ground amidst more EMTs at the finish line. For all of us racing, that 87 degree temperature felt a lot more like 105-110 degrees as we reached the finish.

What’s beautiful weather for a bystander can be dangerously hot weather for a runner. That 60 degree start time temp at Vancouver may or may not feel hot when we start. But by hour 2, the likely 65 degree temps will feel more like 85-90, and it’s going to get worse as we enter the 10K marathon badlands of miles 20-26 (or for Canadians, kilometers 32-42). As the temps hit 70, it’s going to feel like 90, and if they run out of water in Stanley Park it’s going to get real bad for slower runners.

So now my race planning requires another wrinkle. Never mind making sure I properly fuel and pace myself. I now need to figure contingencies for hydration in the later miles, just in case the compounding effects of marathon exhaustion and heat make the difficult potentially unworkable. Because the latter portion of the race will be at noon, there won’t be much shade as the sun will be directly overhead. And, because the later miles are along the Stanley Park Seawall, it’s not particularly easy to drop out if you must.

I know for sure I’m bringing a water bottle, along with taking liquid at all the available aid stations. The best plan will be to:

  • Either dial back my overall planned pace by about a minute, or do the classic racing no-no of banking time at my original planned pace early, then dialing back the pace for good once the heat becomes noticeable, to minimize my exposure to the worst of the heat.
  • String to my running belt my running cap and perhaps a towel/cloth of some kind, for cover. The cap can be wet as needed. I could also pin my bib to my shorts, begin the race with a tech T over my singlet, and remove the T to use as a towel in lieu of a towel.
  • Aggressively top the water bottle off before entering the park at mile 20 (32K).
  • Absolutely stop and walk/rest through aid stations.

I’m still fairly confident I’ll finish Vancouver as expected. This is all just part of the planning that I was already setting in place for a tough race. But it speaks to a greater point: Don’t underestimate the effect of the heat on your running.

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Taper madness, no. Taper dilemma, perhaps.

My biggest dilemma with the marathon taper is not the so-called taper madness. In fact, with as much volume and intensity as I put into runs and life each week I’m honestly thrilled with any chance I get to rest. So when you tell me to cut volume, I’ll cut all the volume I need to without a second thought.

No, the biggest dilemma was *how* to taper, not necessarily cutting runs because of course you ideally should run the same number of times each week (barring injury, not running as usual atrophies your growth and throws your body off)… but in shortening those runs figuring out if I should do shorter runs closer to goal pace and ditch any long runs, or just do a slightly reduced volume at easy pace, still do a (not as) long run, and focus more on promoting recovery.

You run as you train, and I should probably do some volume of running at my goal pace if I expect to run capably at that pace on marathon day. You can get away with hardly running at your desired pace and then nailing it in a shorter race. But in a marathon I realize your body is going to revert to habit over the final miles as you tire. If you’re used to running 10:00 miles in your everyday runs, your body’s going to have a real hard time nailing that 8:30 goal pace when you’re in hour 3+ fighting yourself not to slide into your everyday habit of running at 10:00 (or slower).

Plus, the Hansons say that adaptions to any given training usually kick in after 10 days, and anything done closer to the marathon than that typically isn’t going to grow your ability or do anything other than put more wear on your body.

At the same time, you don’t want to lose aerobic training benefits by not doing any running beyond short 3-5 mile runs. You may not develop any further adaptions in time for the marathon by doing a long run a week before… but you can certainly *lose* aerobic endurance capacity by not putting any such work in during the last two weeks before a race.

I know, because I have: I’ve heavily cut volume at times for recovery reasons, then found myself struggling to complete easy mid/long-range runs I used to finish with little trouble. Comfortably running my goal pace doesn’t help me if after 10-15 miles I’m so gassed from suddenly running much farther than I had in the last two weeks that I can’t keep up.

I wavered back and forth on how to approach this past week (because either way the last week before the race is going to be all shorter easy runs anyway). But I eventually decided to err towards being more aggressive on my regular runs early in this week, while easing up later in the week and finishing with a couple of longer runs… not terribly long of course.

I took today off after a team speed workout yesterday, and that was probably good to have that sequence of events breaking up the week. Tomorrow I’ll run a more typical 6ish mile run, and then Saturday I’ll knock out a comfortable 10-11 miles before taking Sunday off and making the final week-long descent towards Vancouver. For these last two runs I’ll be willing to go brisk but shorten my stride and go with quick easy steps if it starts to get a little tough.

That’s probably the best way to approach a taper, or at least the first week of a two week taper. Shorten up and do a little bit more with tempo early on, hit a quality workout, and then soften up on pace demands while getting in a couple of longer runs to end the week.

Things I wish I had done in marathon training

I’m running the Vancouver Marathon in Canada in less than two weeks. At this point I’m into the taper, and at the point where adaptions from any further quality training wouldn’t be manifested until after the day of the race. So making any dramatic changes to my training plan, aside from skipping a run if I’m feeling unduly worn out or sore, would not benefit me further. Beyond tomorrow, I’m basically as trained for the marathon as I am going to get.

I recognized the importance of developing and sticking to a single training plan, and feel good about having trained consistently over the past 3-4 months. I took days off and reduced volume as needed, but otherwise stuck to my overall basic plan cycles as intended.

– 45-50 miles max per week, with average around 35-40.
– One longer than everything else long run at least every other week
– 1-2 quality workouts per week (speedwork, tempo run, or at least a training run harder/faster than the others)
– 2-5 other easy or recovery runs per week surrounding those, with easy runs replacing quality workouts when applicable.
– At least one rest day per week, with others taken when needed due to soreness, substantial fatigue or other life events.
– If I ran a race, that always replaced the long run, or the long run was moved to at least 4 days before or after the race.
– Consume at least 20g of lean protein and an accordant amount of clean carbs (like fruit) as soon as possible after any workout longer than 30 minutes.

That said, I still throughout my training have read up on various training methodologies and ideas. I made a point not to implement anything new that would dramatically shift my existing schedule or training focus. But there are things that, looking back now, I would have implemented or explored given the chance to go back and start over… which of course I can do when I run another marathon!

12 THINGS I WANT TO DO NEXT TRAINING CYCLE:

1. Better defining phases of training

Most experienced runners who have followed training plans or worked with coaches know a quality training plan generally follows a series of phases: Base building, speed development, strength building (aka being able to hold existing and newly developed speed over long-distance), and then specific final-touch training/prep for your race.

Most of the training plans I examined admittedly didn’t itemize these phases. The closest any came was the Hanson Method, which differentiated between focusing on speed work before switching to “strength” work (longer training segments closer to your goal pace). All of them assume the trainee is beginning from a basic, reduced volume of running. Even the Daniels plans, while the plans for shorter races did break out training by phases, only listed plans as a single 18+ week block or a single repeatable 4-5 week cycle.

When I laid out my final plan, I basically did so the same way. As a result I jack-of-all-traded training on speed, tempo, endurance… mixing everything in on the regular but never really giving any single element the due focus that would have yielded better improvement. My training runs stagnated whether or not I took extra time to rest, whether I did reduced or higher volume. Prior to the recent Lakefront 10, I didn’t feel fully prepared for my prior tune-up races and the results showed that.

I think part of the problem was I didn’t break the plan into focused phases, where I’d spend four weeks building a base, four weeks focusing only on speed and running economy workouts, four weeks holding a closer-to-goal tempo over miles, etc. Like in life, I find when I focus on a main task or goal, my results are better. While the consistent volume of my training was a plus, the sameness of a lot of my training may have been a problem.

So, next time I will make sure my training plan has a clear base phase, a clear phase of speed workouts, a clear phase of longer tempo work, and then a ramp towards the race.

2. Spend quality time every week at your goal race pace

Jonathan Savage offers the taper recommendation of doing all your runs at your goal pace. However weird that sounds to you (and while intriguing I’m not totally sure about that recommendation myself)… the idea, to get used to the feel of your pace, is a good reminder of the importance of regularly practicing your goal pace. You are the product of your habits, you play like you practice, ten thousand hours blah blah blah. You get where I’m going with this.

I worked a single tempo run of varying moderate-long lengths into my training, a Hanson concept, once a week over an extended period of training. The Hansons had the right idea, but I think it would have been more productive to do more goal-tempo running at shorter distances, more often. Going from several days of easy running with maybe one other hard workout… to having to run at a moderately fast tempo for 5+ uninterrupted miles is a little excessive and tough.

But I recall how Hal Higdon would recommend new runners train for a 5K: Start with three short-ish runs a week, take all the other days off. Make those short-ish runs a bit longer each week, until finally you’re running 3 miles at a time around week 7. Boom, you’re ready for the 5K. It’s how I got into running, and I found his plan easy to implement.

If I have a goal pace in mind and it’s do-able, it’s certainly easy to run it in shorter chunks several days a week, probably within other easy training runs. Running a bit faster for a couple miles in or at the end of a 6 mile run is not a big deal. Get used to it, then I can run it for 3 miles, then 4, etc. If I still want to do the long tempo run once a week or two, I can, but then at least I’m not doing it cold turkey every week. I’m just extending what I’ve already been practicing. Way easier to get accustomed to running at that pace.

3. Using the treadmill as a training gauge rather than a training tool

I hate the treadmill and have made no secret of this to anyone who knows me. It’s also practically not as effective a form of distance-run training as running outdoors. I will (and do) run all winter in sub zero temps before I’ll ever commit to running regularly on a treadmill.

But recently, while trying to internalize and hone my goal pace, as well as desired training paces, I discovered its obvious value: You can set the machine to that pace, and you’ll have no choice but to run at that pace.

Now, I’m not about to do a 4+ mile training run on a treadmill just because I want to make sure to run an 8:30 mile. But ahead of tempo training for that pace, I can certainly get on the treadmill and run some at the 8:30 pace (plus other related paces) to get a handle on how the cadence for that pace feels, if it’s feasible or too slow for me, etc., before I go out on the road and work to replicate that pace.

I’ve been doing this more over the last week or two after having figured this out, but now that I know I’ll make sure to use it early in training to help the rest of my training.

4. Strategically use compression gear

It’s a mother’s-love thing and a little funny to me. But I told my mother about my finish at last November’s Las Vegas Rock N Roll Half Marathon: I passed an older, struggling man dressed as Elvis just in sight of the finish line. I cheered him on with something like, “Keep it going, Elvis! You’re almost there!” As I turned to continue, both my calves seized up with cramps. Never minding this weird reverse-karma, I hobbled at pace and finished just fine.

I guess I could have hydrated a bit better but it was more amusing to me than anything. My mother responded to this by immediately mail-ordering me a pair of Zensah calf compression sleeves.

At first, I wore them a couple of times (including in a subsequent race) and found them constrictive. That’s what they’re for, right? So I said maybe I shouldn’t use them.

Except there were a lot of points where I struggled with sore, stiff calves, had to work on my feet all day before training that evening, and discovered wearing them was very helpful during those more-painful work/training days. They provided much needed support, helped circulate blood etc, and I found my calves would feel better after a day or three of use.

So now I do wear them somewhat regularly as needed. Thanks, Mom!

But next time, I can see wearing them on a more scheduled basis, such as the day or the Monday after a longer run, a race or other hard workout. They may not help me run faster, but they may help me accelerate recovery to those muscle fibers while also providing lower body support so I’m not overcompensating and risking injury elsewhere.

I also started doing the same with my compression pants and shorts. Aside from wearing them in workouts, I’ve also worn them to work under my work clothes. Sure, in part that was a product of wanting to layer against extreme cold, but after tough workouts I immediately saw a similar benefit in recovery. They can be of use beyond just workout days.

5. Worry less about hydration before a run, and worry more about it during the run

The key benefit I’ve seen from making a point to hydrate before going out on a training run is having the extra need to take a piss at multiple times during the run.

Yes, I get thirsty and dry during runs, and I’ve found that happens whether or not I hydrate before the run.

Not a lot to unpack there. I need to make sure to bring water or train near water, and of course if running a race that problem’s mostly solved. But unless I’m dry as the desert before going out, there’s no need to drink any extra water ahead of a training run. Whatever water I take in during the day is enough.

6. Use your big hills, whether or not your goal race has hills

On my longest runs I would go far south of my Wrigleyville home, as far south as Soldier Field… as I would want to run up the sledding hill before running back down the zig-zag ramp and heading back north. It was a good challenge in the middle of a 15+ mile run.

However, as I charged up and down Cricket Hill at the end of the recent Lakefront 10, I wished that I could have put in more hill work. I’ve had and taken my share of opportunities (which I needed since the early portion of Vancouver has some challenging hills), and my schedule did impose limits on how often I could access said hills for said hill work.

But given the opportunity to plan for it, you can definitely incorporate it. Next time I want to spend a lot more quality time with Cricket Hill, and to a lesser extent the slight uphill near Grant Monument in South Lincoln Park. Hills are an easy way to build lower body strength.

7. Implement downhill running workouts, early in training

The big thing though is that on top of your traditional uphill intervals… I wanted to take up Savage’s recommendation to do downhill intervals. Downhills really beat up your quads, but the quads heal substantially stronger and more durable after a few weeks.

Obviously it’s too late now to try this (and even if not you have to do so carefully + not too fast, as downhill running can be more dangerous). But it’s definitely worth a shot early in the next training cycle.

8. Keep cross training simple

During this training cycle I joined a gym and took advantage of two cross training cardio machines I like: The stationary bike and the rowing machine. The latter was a full-body substitute or rest day exercise, while the bike was often a cooldown bookend to my standard Northwestern-to-Loyola training runs.

I’m sure there was some slight training benefit, but I suspect the bike did little more than further aggravate the soreness and fatigue in my legs, while the rowing machine simply wore out muscles I could just as quickly and easily train with heavy weights (while also making my hands hurt). Plus, neither burned a substantial amount of calories, and part of the goal is to keep a calorie burn similar to training days. I would have accomplished just as much by walking another mile.

Hal Higdon always recommends walking as the primary form of cross training, and lately I put more time on running-days-off towards just taking a long walk. It’s relaxing and probably as effective. That said, there are still various hormonal and health benefits to basic weight training (I don’t push heavy weight or do a ton of reps), so I’ll continue to do that.

Next time around, if I need to cross train I’ll just take a long walk and do some light weight work a couple days a week.

9. A 20 miler is okay, as long as you get to and do several runs at 16

Almost every major training scribe slams the idea of a non-elite runner running more than 16 miles for their longest marathon run. The idea is that elites who swear by the 20 can finish it in 2.5 hours, which many cite as the longest period you should spend on a single training run (running longer isn’t believed to benefit your aerobic capacity but does damage your body, and may require you to miss training). For most to run 20 would take them 3-4 hours, which goes beyond that itemized threshold.

I did a lot of 15-16 mile runs leading up to the 20 I planned to do (anyway) about a couple weeks ago. I topped three hours on those runs, so I was already in theory beyond the aerobic-value threshold. But I found that I felt about the same after those runs as I did after other long runs, and was able to bounce back into regular training in the next day or two.

I ran 20 and though I hurt for various reasons (many totally within my control: I didn’t fuel and hydrate as effectively as I wanted to, and even bonked at mile 19), I got it done, was totally able to resume training normally two days later, and it was a valuable hurdle to clear.

Because here’s the thing with the 20: It’s not necessarily about physically prepping you for the marathon any more than a 16 would. It’s psychological, about stretching yourself to a long enough distance that the remaining miles don’t seem so daunting. If you physically get through 20, you can see yourself battling through another 6.2188 (just a hair over 10K). Some may like to argue that shouldn’t matter, and if you’re experienced at running the distance then it probably doesn’t. But to those who haven’t really run it, I say it does. It certainly did to me!

But a key to this, what I think made sure I passed the 20 with flying colors, is that I did a lot of longer runs in the weeks prior to attempting 20. If I did one 16 miler, and then tried to do 20, I probably would have broke… because my body wouldn’t have been accustomed to that kind of distance. I do wish I had done more than a couple, though: The 20 would have hurt a lot less.

So I think next time I’ll probably do a 20 again, and I’ll certainly make sure to get in several 16’s over a few fortnights leading up to it. And hopefully next time I hydrate and fuel well enough not to bonk at mile 19.

10. EAT CLEAN ALL THE TIME

My diet overall has been about 60-80% healthy, built around baked chicken, vegetables, rice and plain pasta, and I do all my cooking with unrefined coconut oil. I still have eaten my share of processed food, not necessarily as cheat meals but as protein-dense fill-ins for the self-prepared whole foods I should have eaten instead (Eastside Cafe sausage pizzas are allegedly a terrific source of protein, by the way).

During last year, running regularly, I got my weight down to about 160 from about 170 (I originally weighed as much as 193 but worked that down beforehand). Then suddenly in autumn it began creeping up again, and recently topped out at 170-172 again. I tinkered with elements of my diet, managed my calorie intake against my burn, and of course ran a lot, but I just couldn’t get my weight to trend back down. In fact it took effort just to keep it even.

I noticed that when I ate most processed food for dinner I either woke up strangely hungry or didn’t feel as rebuilt/rested/fulfilled as someone who ate 180 grams of protein should. I realized that maybe the metric load of processed nutrients might not be as useful to a busy, rebuilding body as more natural whole foods.

I ate more green vegetables, more home-cooked baked chicken, lighter snacks like popcorn, etc. Suddenly the weight began peeling off again, without any adverse effects. I suspect in the short run the loss of water weight from eliminating processed sodium is a factor, but I also suspect the more nutrient-dense food is having its effect.

So, aside from any celebratory meals after Vancouver, and a beer or two during random events, I’m probably going to stick to cleaner whole food at home and at work. I don’t think I can healthily peel much weight before Vancouver, but I can definitely shed a few more pounds before the next race.

11. Strategically use intermittent fasting to moderate body fat and calorie intake

I used to intermittent fast (the process of eating all your meals in an 8ish hour window, so that you go 16ish hours without eating… the easiest way to do this is to skip breakfast), and it worked well for me, especially with losing weight in a healthy way. But this was before I began running. When you need to make sure you’re well fed and not catabolically broken down in any way before a 6 mile run that will catabolically break you down even more, it’s more important to ensure you’re properly fed than to torch fat. So I religiously avoided it… until recently.

With the above mentioned weight problem, I decided to experiment with fasting in the morning on off days, and on a select basis before some lighter training sessions. Any other day (or even any day where I wake up unusually hungry), I just eat breakfast as normal. I found I have better energy overall, and this is something I’ll probably want to do on a touch and go basis going forward.

12. Know how to start ANY race, let alone the marathon

Everyone knows but few actually do it: You want to start races conservatively instead of going out hard. You want to start slower, build to your tempo, and then finish fast. I knew this, but only in my last race (the Lakefront 10) did I actually apply it to the letter.

In my previous races I struggled to keep a fast pace (often slowing badly down the stretch, especially in anything beyond the 8K distance). This last time, I went out very deliberately and let everyone who wanted to pass me. I eventually settled into a comfortable pace that turns out was a bit faster than I expected, and over the final 5 miles I ended up passing a lot of people while comfortably maintaining my improved pace en route to a smashing PR.

This was a vital happy accident, as the key to not crashing and burning in this upcoming marathon will be to go out slow and patient as everyone else around you gets too excited for their own good, so that I can find my pace on my own time and finish on my own terms. It was important for me to experience what it felt like to successfully do it right.

And of course it’s something I will want to do in order shorter races going forward, including tune up races. In the Lakefront I crossed the 10K marker in what would have been my PR at 10K. If I apply it effectively to every other race, I anticipate I’ll be able to smash other PR’s, even if I’m not training for those distances.

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Better luck next time, obviously. But for now, I need to focus on THIS time. I run Vancouver in 11 days!

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