Category Archives: Marathon

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

No intros. Let’s get to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Mini-sharpening period for tune up races. My speedwork was either a bit scattered or a bit flat in how I applied it during the last cycle. I didn’t follow a concrete progression for my speedwork, and the workouts I did late in the training cycle were not substantially different from the workouts I did early in training.

I plan to stage it out a bit more this time around, not focusing hard on marathon level effort until the final few weeks. As most recommend, I plan to focus more on maximizing speed during the early training stage, which will allow me to focus  on tune-up races.

If I train for specific endurance in the 3-4 weeks leading up to those races, to maximize performance in those races, it could have substantial long term benefits as I move on to more marathon endurance training post race.

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

I don’t think I need to go that far, though. It’s entirely reasonable to do several races during an 18 week training cycle as tune-up races. And it’s reasonable to run them with a serious effort, as doing so provides secondary training benefits. Most of them can double as a long, quality tempo training session.

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

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

I probably won’t go full Daniels 2Q and devote two days a week to killer 12-16 mile runs with extended threshold and marathon pace segments, at least not right off the bat. To avoid burnout it’s best to do those closer to the race, as my training peaks.

I may not need to run a 20 miler next time around, but I can definitely benefit from running a 16 miler where, say, 10+ of the miles are at marathon pace.

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

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

8. Run every single day, even if just a little bit. Running every single day for 2+ months worked very well for me during my last couple months of training.

It happened basically by accident: When I discovered I had run for 10 straight days, I decided to try and keep the run streak going since I still felt good despite no days off. I ran for 70 straight days right up to the Chicago Marathon, and felt great at the end.

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

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

Again, I want to take a page from the Hansons and do my long runs at more of a moderate pace, rather than the easy pace most recommend. I obviously don’t plan to race these long runs, or even do them at marathon pace just yet. But I want to go out at a fast cadence and try to hold that cadence as long as reasonably possible.

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

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

As I did before Chicago, I plan to taper the last 14 days by heavily reducing my volume while doing virtually all of the my running at marathon pace. The pace not only feels surprisingly comfortable, but feels ingrained once you get to the start line. However, if I were to run a lot at that pace for six weeks, I would either risk burning out, overdoing easier runs due to prematurely ingraining the pace, or stagnating development in some other way.

I’m no fan of the muscle confusion fallacy, but development is best served by altering elements of your training every few weeks.

Prior to the final few weeks, I won’t run marathon pace for more than 25% of any speedwork in a week. A few miles once a week are fine in the early going, but running at that pace isn’t necessary.

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

If I have a goal pace in mind, I can review the Daniels or Hanson equivalent pace in a tune up race, like a 5K or 10K, and see if I can run that pace.

Or, if I don’t have a goal pace in mind, I can use the pace I run as a gauge of what I can do, and adjust my workout pacing going forward.

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

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

I want my max weekly mileage by the 6th week of training to be my absolute max. As I scale back to lesser training mileage I can easily slide into the other kinds of training and racing I want to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

That’s the marathon prediction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Training ambitions, and the unexpected prime obstacle to meeting them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Ideas for marathon recovery

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

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

Eat a lot of protein everyday

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

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

Walk as much as you can get away with

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

Take it easy on the caffeine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Hiccups, but the Chicago Marathon is done

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

I had never had anything like that happen to me before. I was on pace for 4:10-4:20 and feeling good physically, when suddenly I began hiccuping so badly I couldn’t breathe. I tried holding my breath, tried stopping, drinking water… nothing could stop them. At best, 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°F (15-20°C) 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. All temperatures are in Fahrenheit (the calculator on the site can be adjusted to Celsius).

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As you can see, 65°F (18°C) at even a mild 40% humidity can feel like 101°F (38°C) 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°F (25-35°C) afternoons with 60-75% humidity. Even running at slower paces, my heat indices this summer have been in the 130-145°F (55-60°C) 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+°F weather (15+°C) 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:

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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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