Category Archives: Marathon

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, whenever it seemed I had gotten them to stop. I’d 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, 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 this summer have been in the 130-145 degree range. Needless to say, that prepares me fairly well for the worst heat the Chicago Marathon could offer me.

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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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:

The Yasso 800’s is used as a marathon predictor workout, about 3-4 weeks before your goal marathon.
You run 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 meter reps 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.

The standard caveat regarding runner ability:

A lot of what I’m about to say below assumes you’re not a hardcore runner logging elite-like volume (70+ miles per week).
When you’re pumping out 70+ miles a week, you probably already run high-volume speed workouts like this on a regular basis, and can probably run the Yasso’s at a strong pace, such as your 5K pace or better.

For experienced runners relatively new to the marathon:

The more volume you 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 mile long run is the first time you’ve ever run 20+ miles, scale those 4:15 Yassos back to a 4:30 projection.

You should already be running a lot of miles.

If you’re training for marathon, you should be logging more than 20-30 miles a week during training. Probably way more.
40-50 miles is probably the minimum during marathon training that will produce a good marathon effort, assuming you don’t already do several marathons a year.
Personally, I feel a lot of self doubt having run 30-50 miles per week, even though many would say I’m in pretty good shape to run my next marathon (while many experienced runners would say I’m not even close).

Speedwork is not a race. Don’t run the reps like a race.

As with any interval workout, you should not race these reps: Don’t do them hard. Don’t pick up the pace and “kick” at the end of the rep.
Run every rep with a steady effort wire to wire, where once you finish you could run another few miles at that exact pace if you had to.
The reps in the Yasso workout are supposed to be a barometer of your capabilities. Running closer to your max effort will not give an accurate picture of those capabilities.

These Yasso paces should be easier than running a 5K

According to most reliable pace charts (Daniels, McMillan, etc)… you should be able to hit a desired Yasso goal at about your 10K pace or slower.
If you give more like an 8K or 5K effort to hit your pace on these reps, not only may the workout be 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 Yasso 800 pace consistently for all 10 reps.

How easy is your active recovery period between reps? That matters.

If your inter-rep recovery is a jog instead of a full rest, the following is a good barometer of whether or not you’re going too hard: If you need to walk or stop, you went too fast.
If your version of the workout allows a full stop to rest, then a good barometer of whether you went out too hard: You cross the line not feeling like you could have kept going another 800+ meters at your pace.
Again, you never want to race to the finish of these reps, reaching the line needing to stop for a total rest. 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 need 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.
Many runners mistakenly pace their recovery jogs at more of a normal running pace. This is too fast. These recovery jogs should be super easy and casual. Imagine you’re working yourself back from a leg injury and you’re doing a test run just to get back in the swing of things. That’s the pace and effort you should put into recovery jogs.
Another 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.

The key reps are the reps BEFORE the last one.

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 your reps.
It’s your performance while tired in the later reps that paints the most accurate picture of your capability. Bear in mind the tendency many runners have to do the final rep hard in an effort to finish the workout strong. Rep 10 will probably look stronger than the other later reps.
Pay closer attention to how reps 7, 8 and 9 look, where you’re tired but not emptying the tank with a final flourish because you know you still have more reps to do.

Another effective estimate: Take the average of your 5 slowest reps.

Few can fake 6-10 good, accurate reps.

If the pace of your individual 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, then later reps are much slower.
  2. In some cases you may start your reps super easy, realize you have more in the tank than expected, then pick up the pace in later reps (like a negative split in a race). Along with being a psychological tendency among runners… this can indicate you didn’t warm up effectively beforehand.
  3. If your rep times consistently bounce back and forth by 12+ seconds per rep, you are either trying (at least on some reps) to hit a pace you’re not 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 bouncing around, 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 not only experimented with fueling during runs as training for marathons, but also because given the scope of the run I needed to take in that fuel.

I have tried a wide range of fueling options, as recommended by various sources, and found that all have their particular advantages and disadvantages.

Ultimately, in a long distance race I prefer to drink 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 tough it out and drink water… maybe whatever sports drink they have if I feel like it.

But again, I’ve tried a variety of different fueling sources during workouts. 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 your hands onto 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 you try to eat them while running. Getting them out of the package 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 or after 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 your 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 ounces. For very long runs, this might not be enough fuel.

Verdict: I used raw agave on long runs 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 carrying fuel for these runs is 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. Gels are even more viscous, making it harder to extract from the package and consume. You typically need to wash them 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 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 water and providing glycogen-rich calories. When running races, most race hosts provide Gatorade free of charge just as they do water. Gatorade is also a lot more widely available at stores, usually at a cheap price. If you’re lucky stores sell bottles out of a refrigerated case, making it doubly refreshing!

Disadvantages: Gatorade is 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 you down during running until you drink it and it’s in you.

Also, Gatorade can only carry so many calories: A 32 oz bottle only has about 240ish calories. 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 the Gatorade 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.

If it’s hot outside, liquid warms. 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 down 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 contains 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 chews are not cheap: A typical pack of 6 can cost $2.50-3.00.

As with other food, eating chews during a run can make it hard to breathe.

Also, if you need more than one 150-200 calorie pack (which I certainly do in marathons and other similar long runs), they take up considerable space once you carry more than 2-3 of them. When I attempted Vancouver I had to wear two fanny packs, with one holding just my Clif Shot Bloks for the race.

Because chews are a solid (albeit soft) food, they can be a choking hazard if consumed while running. They don’t always go down easy so you sometimes need to chase them with water. I abhor stopping a race completely just to eat them.

Verdict: For workouts, chews aren’t at all necessary. I won’t consume them for any race shorter than a marathon. Whether I pack them for a marathon depends on what I feel my overall glycogen needs will be. The more aggressively I plan to run the race, the more glycogen I will need. And the less glycogen provided on course (e.g. if a race provides calorie-free energy drinks instead of Gatorade), the more likely I will go with Clif Shot Bloks as my fuel.

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.

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