Category Archives: Training

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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On foot pronation, and why I (mostly) don’t worry about foot support

When I decided to get serious about running a couple years ago, I went to a Roadrunner Sports store to get a good pair of shoes. I didn’t know nearly as much as I do now, but I knew the cheap worn out Avias I had run in for years were due for replacement.

I decided I would blow a good chunk of change on a legit pair of shoes. Knowing I didn’t know much I decided to get upsold: Sometimes I’ll let a salesperson take control of the transaction and sell me, knowing that if at any point I smell a rat I can quickly extract myself and leave.

And Roadrunner definitely tries to sell (it’s actually a key reason I avoid going to one these days; it’s like the Best Buy of running shoe stores). They have a stride test they do in part to upsell you some pricey insoles, and I went ahead and did it. They discovered that, while my left foot landed just fine, my right foot had a tendency to pronate (collapse inward) quite a bit.

I didn’t tell them this, but I knew that was in part to a bad right ankle injury I suffered in 2008. I’m fairly sure I didn’t break it because I was able to walk on it (albeit with great difficulty after it happened), but there had been lingering pain for years afterward, and I imagine that the excess pronation was compensation I had built it while recovering from it.

They offered to make me a set of $70 insoles that would address the issue, and knowing little at the time I took them up on it.

They brought out a trio of standard issue shoes and I settled on what felt the most comfortable to run in: The Saucony Ride 9’s. I still have those shoes and while they’ve piled up over 300 miles I do run in them from time to time.

The insoles felt better to run in at first. But when I developed come-and-go knee issues a few months later, I arbitrarily ditched them and tried running with just my shoes’ standard insoles. That ended up feeling better, and I’ve never worn insoles since.

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Over time I improved my running form, often in response to my recurring pain and injury issues. I suspect that played a role in why that pair of insoles, which helped me feel better when I originally used to, became a source of discomfort over time. They were designed to address a problem that I gradually shed over time.

That said, virtually everyone’s feet pronates in some way, and my right foot does still pronate to some degree. Since fixing my form I have had no problems regardless of what footwear I’ve used… with two notable exceptions. And they led me to retire two pairs of shoes I bought. Both were New Balance Fresh Foam model shoes.

A few months after that Roadrunner visit, I mail-ordered several pairs of New Balance shoes to suit varying running needs. Most of them I still run in today, but one of those pairs were a set of Fresh Foam Zantes. I not only noticed discomfort running in the Zantes that I didn’t experience in other shoes, insoles or not (I hadn’t yet ditched the insoles), but eventually I saw that my right foot naturally collapsed inward while walking or running in them. The shoes provided no side support, to the point where they formed around your stepping pattern.

I quickly retired the Zantes after less than 100 miles, and experienced no problems with the other shoes going forward.

Somewhat more recently, I purchased an inexpensive pair of New Balance Fresh Foam Cruzs after having read some good reviews, and seeing how stylishly the all-black shoes fit with work attire. They felt soft and okay to run in at first, but after a few runs I felt my right foot rolling inward more often than any of my other shoes. Soon after I began to notice the shoe’s form giving in the direction my foot was rolling, just like the Zantes.

Even though I still have the Cruzs, they’ve essentially been de-commissioned: I don’t do any serious running in them anymore. They may get used for an easy run here or there, or be worn with the right clothes in a non-running setting.

Basically, the New Balance Fresh Foam model clearly exacerbates any issues with my right foot, and could pose a great risk for injury. So it’s best for me to not wear them on runs.

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A lot of runners, shoe salespeople, doctors, etc., fixate on pronation and how to fix it, even though everyone walks and runs with some sort of natural pronation. It’s a natural flexibility built into our feet, and it’s similar to common illnesses like colds: While in some cases it may become a problem to where you need to treat it… most of the time it doesn’t require treatment, and many actually tend to overtreat it.

The body moves as a system, and any issues one may think a product of pronation may be a collective product of other fundamental issues: Running stride, lack of core mobility, overreliance on leg muscles like the hamstrings and quads, a lacking usage of the glutes, a lack of upper body and overall balance, etc., not to mention dynamic issues like overstriding, pushing harder than is necessary on runs, etc.

My pronation issue was, unbeknownst to me, a byproduct of other fundamental issues up the chain, with my stride, my muscle usage, my overall balance and so on. Fixing those helped fix any problems that contributed to any pronation problems… even if my right foot still tends to naturally give inward.

I don’t concern myself with foot support in shoes, because I realize the important thing is to improve how your body moves. The way you move can contribute to problems up and down your body, and supports are little more than a bandage or a pain medication for a greater problem. Insoles and supportive shoes would not eliminate the problem leading to my excessive pronation or ankle/knee pain. Improving my stride, however, would fix the problem while eliminating the need for the bells and whistles.

The last couple years in fact are the first time since my 2008 injury that I’ve felt no random or occasional pain in that right ankle. I imagine that lingering pain was in part due to form problems that once I ran seriously I worked on fixing. By fixing the stride issues, it eliminated the key contributing factor to that recurring problem… much like figuring out the source of an insect problem in your home and eliminating the source.

Now that I compared human kinesthetics to pest control, I will break this post off and move along.

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Running outdoors in winter: Gear and Training Basics

As someone who has run throughout the dead of some winters in Chicago (aka Chiberia), I think I understand what cold weather running gear and training approaches are useful, let alone necessary.

A key point: When it comes to gear and layers, people forget that regardless of the outdoor temperature you do warm up as you run. So what seems like acceptably thick attire the moment you step out the door may be 20 degrees too much within a mile of running. You actually want to dress about a layer too thin when you go out for a freezing run, or else you’ll find yourself either a) ironically overheated or b) looking for somewhere to hold those extra layers once you take them off during the run.

Plus there’s a threshold at which, provided you can maintain an uninterrupted run, you will warm up to a comfortable level almost regardless of how low the temperature gets. I find that the warmness I feel at mile 2 of a 0 degree Fahrenheit run isn’t all that different than how warm I feel 2 miles into a 20 degree or 30 degree run.

That said, however, you should still layer appropriately for the temperature and conditions. After all, you will eventually stop, and once you stop your body soon goes back to a normal sense of temperature. When that happens, bitterly cold once again feels bitterly cold.

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So, what is my threshold for cold weather gear vs going out in more “normal” attire? At what point do I need to:

Wear a jacket? For me this threshold is 42-43 degrees Fahrenheit (5-6 degrees Celsius). Again, you warm up during a run to where your personal heat index feels about 20 degrees warmer (12’C). Ideal running temperature is in the 40-60 (4-16’C) degree range, and even when just walking I find myself avoiding long sleeves and coats until the 45-50’F degree range (let’s say 6-10’C). So only when the temperature reaches the 30’s (below 0’C) do I reach for the windbreaker.

Add a 2nd top layer? However, as we go from autumn to winter, I’ll add a long sleeve top at 30 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The goal is to not need to take that off once I warm up (though I don’t mind removing a jacket and tying it around me during a run once I get warmer). Once I’m acclimated to the winter, I may stick with just the coat into the high 20’s, or maybe even forego the coat for just a sweatshirt if I know I’m getting inside for good after the run… but beyond that I will definitely wear a long sleeve as a 2nd layer.

Below 20 degrees, I will wear all three top layers: A regular t-shirt, a long sleeve top, and a jacket. Unless acclimated for cold weather, I will add another layer of thermal legs and a 2nd layer of socks at this stage. I also will cover my hands, and wear my fleece Carhartt 2-in-1 cap.

The key to handwear is not to wear gloves, but some sort of mitten-style cover. As you run, air quickly passes over the surface of any gear you wear. With gloves, freezing air can pass between all your fingers, which can quickly make them cold and defeat the point of wearing the gloves. With mittens there’s no path for the freezing air to pass between your fingers, better allowing your covered hands to stay warm.

I actually will wear a clean pair of old wool (or similar fabric) socks over my hands, rather than any gloves or a formal pair of mittens. I have mittens, but find carrying and wearing socks less of a pain, plus the fabric does a better job of keeping my hands warm.

My mother made me some fleece scarves years ago, and they work wonders as fleece does the best job of retaining heat in freezing weather. While I wear them more frequently when just walking, I may wear them while running once the temperatures drop to the single digits Fahrenheit and below, and when windchills drop into the negatives… conditions where leaving any part of your body uncovered can be dangerous.

If I’m running from work in winter, I will wear thermal legwear underneath my slacks below 30 degrees since my outer layer isn’t compressive. I will also keep my dress shirt on as the 2nd layer, and wear a sweatshirt/coat over it. While having these work layers can be a bit of a pain in the hotter summer, they’re a welcome thicker layer in the dead of winter.

As for footwear… in clear conditions, I will do all I can to continue to wear the same shoes I run in during summer. If conditions are going to be wet, I will try and wear my somewhat-waterproof Topo Hydroventures, which also have added tread (typically for trail conditions).

I do have a pair of winter-specific New Balance MW1400’s, a high top shoe that pretty much doubles as a pair of winter boots. They insulate well, and if needed you can certainly run in them (in fact I’ve put about 80 miles of running on them since getting my current pair two years ago). But usually I wear those when expecting to navigate substantial snowfall and other mush, since they insulate from those conditions. If I am wearing the 1400’s, I typically don’t expect to run before I return home.


Aside from the Carhartt cap, which has a specific and useful design, and the footwear I mentioned above… I won’t recommend any specific brands. Most of them provide the same benefit, and what matters more is that you have the needed gear for the needed conditions. Buy whatever brand you like, or whatever brand is conveniently, affordably available.

As for navigating snow and ice, and avoiding slips… I’m so well versed in navigating icy conditions that years ago I wrote a piece about how to do so. I can comfortably navigate icy conditions, avoid bad spots, and rarely have I slipped and fell during a walk let alone a run.

I realize others are not as used to handling those conditions. If you don’t feel comfortable with your ability to handle ice during a run and are pretty sure you won’t be… then definitely stick to the treadmill when conditions warrant.

If you want to give running in the ice cold a shot, I start with one (hopefully obvious) piece of advice: TAKE IT SLOW.

Run as slowly as you can get away with while getting used to working around or navigating ice patches. Not only is it entirely possible to run comfortably over icy conditions, many in Chicago (myself included) do it all winter every winter.

Another key, which is easy for most since many consider the winter their offseason, is to curb your mileage and quality workout expectations for the season. I pretty much go full Lydiard during the winter and do nothing but longer, easy running. I back off on pace and focus on just completing my runs safely.

The only thing resembling speedwork I may attempt outdoors in the coldest of winter are hill sprints, which aren’t so much done for pace but as a low-key extra strength workout. And I wouldn’t even call them sprints, so much as “brief runs up an incline at a somewhat higher intensity than usual”. Obviously I only do them if the conditions on the given path are suitably free of dangerous ice. Any tempo work I feel compelled to do either requires dry conditions or a treadmill inside somewhere.

And yes, if, say:

  • I look down the road and see sheets of ice everywhere
  • I’m slipping far more often than I can comfortably handle
  • The lights are out and I can’t see anything at all
  • I step in what turns out to be a puddle in icy weather and now my feet are wet
  • Suddenly the wind is gusting and the windchill turns negative
  • Suddenly an assload of snow starts falling

I’m not averse to turning back or even full-out stopping the run. I may want to train during winter, but I’m not crazy.


So WHY do I bother running in the dead of winter? Couldn’t I just take a hint from Chiberia and take the winter off like most other runners do?

  • I like running and want to keep doing it
  • I can handle being out in cold conditions
  • I actually do better with extreme cold than I do with extreme heat
  • In terms of not being harassed by other people on the trails, winter is actually the best time to run. Few people want to go outside, let alone train. You don’t have the trails totally to yourself, but there’s rarely anyone messing with you
  • My favorite races take place in late winter or spring, meaning I need to train during winter
  • Getting outside and staying active means I stay healthy. A key reason many people get depressed and out of shape during winter is they stop going outside once it gets cold.
  • I like eating but I don’t like getting fat because I eat more than I burn.

Alright, so do I ever take a offseason?

Sure, but that’s another post for another time. Until then….

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My take on running apps

Virtually all reasonable running apps track the same essential information free of charge:

  • Run distance
  • Run time
  • Pace
  • An estimate of calories burned
  • Net elevation increase
  • A weekly total of all of the above
  • A map of the route you took, whether manually mapped or tracked via your watch/phone’s GPS
  • Functionality to post viewable data from your runs on social media

All seek to upsell you more features to get you to pay for an advanced version of their free service… which usually offers more detailed reporting on tracked data, and access to specific training programs.

Strava is the Beyonce of running apps: It has a large, somewhat manufactured and evangelical fanbase, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best app to use. One free feature Strava does provide that other apps don’t is a Foursquare-like geocached comparison of your performance along a given route versus other runners who have taken that same route. This can turn running a particular route into a competition with other runners… if that’s your thing.

Many other running apps are perfectly suitable for tracking your runs. MapMyRun, Runkeeper, Nike+, TrainingPeaks and so on allow you to suitably track this information.

While I use a Fitbit, its run tracking leaves a lot to be desired. While it does monitor run time and hear rate in conjunction with your tracker, you’re not able to map runs manually, leaving you completely at the mercy of your enabled GPS tracking to map any runs.

As I’ve said before, GPS is often inaccurate as a run tracker due to location-drift, regardless of your location. You’re tracked by a satellite in space periodically pinging your device. Even if a GPS tracker doesn’t screw up your tracked route, the tracked route often drifts off-path into buildings and other surrounding terrain, screwing up your tracked mileage by as much as half a mile on a 60 minute run. This can make tracked stats like pace per mile a completely inaccurate number, much like trying to use an abacus on a wobble board.

Thus any stats based off of my Fitbit, like pacing, mileage or stride length stats, are too inaccurate to be useful. I have noticed that other people’s mapped data from other trackers like Garmin have similar issues.

I still use my tracker to time runs and get heart rate data plus step count, but I map runs manually elsewhere to get the remaining stats.

Screenshot (Sep 18, 2018 7_59_10 PM)

Personally, I track all my runs on Runkeeper and have since I seriously got back into running years ago. I wouldn’t call it the *best* app, but it’s suited my tracking needs just fine. I have yet to discover through research any app that will allow me to port my historical data without losing valuable information (this always seems to be met with a subjective counterargument that said information isn’t valuable).

One free feature on Runkeeper I find useful is the ability to track mileage on your different pairs of running shoes. I like to know how many miles I’ve put on every pair of shoes and where they are in their respective lifespans. Other apps likely do this, but I appreciate that Runkeeper has the feature.


All this said, I still utilize a Google Doc (pictured below) on top of this to track my runs as well as my planned training schedule. The doc easily allows me to view my training progress over longer-term periods, as well as see how future training may impact my development. And one key value over Excel is that by being stored in the cloud, I can access it anywhere regardless of device.

RunLikeHell-2018-09-18

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The key to finding a useful app for anyone is to figure out what data you want to accurately track, and then utilize a combination of tools that will allow you to accurately track that data.

Some just want to know approximately how many miles they run. If you have a Garmin GPS tracker, then that tracker’s app is probably fine by itself, even if the results are a bit inaccurate. Some couldn’t care less if they ran 4.15 miles and the app only says they went 4.00. As long as they know that weekly total of, say, 35 miles is pretty close to what they did, that’s enough for them.

To a lesser extent, this is true of Fitbit, though I will say a built-in GPS will be much more useful than GPS tracking that relies on your phone. The transmission between devices can lead to highly inaccurate results. Ditto simply using an app and your phone. I will note that at first I used Runkeeper’s GPS tracking, but at times I would get wildly inaccurate maps that ended up useless. I finally just decided to enter runs manually afterward and that’s worked better for me.

Some may want to track their pace, and most won’t want to put in the amount of effort I do to verify that pace. If you can accept some degree of inaccuracy from your tracker, and the tracker tends to be mostly consistent in how it tracks (and how inaccurate it is with) your route, then you may be fine with the GPS tracking.

Just don’t take the pace readings as gospel: If it says you ran an 8:00 mile, and it’s important to you that you know that you ran exactly an 8:00 mile or better, you may want to double check your distance on a map of your route, and calculate it out.

If you can see that your tracker tends to be consistently inaccurate (say, it always measures your pace about 10 seconds fast), then that can make your readings useful provided you know to make that adjustment afterward.

For speedwork, it’s often a lot easier, especially if on a track. If you know exactly how far an interval is, your measured time is enough data to figure out your pace with a calculator. I would go off charts and the math rather than your tracker’s pace reading. Your tracker may give you a pace that’s inaccurate, but 400 meters is always 400 meters.

In any case, the best app for running honestly depends more on your needs and equipment, more than on the quality of the app itself.

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Habits are your true running “motivation”

Yesterday I snuck out and ran a couple of recovery miles, which even the day after a 20 miler is not a terribly big deal to most runners, even if they think you should take a full day off after your longest run.

The run, however, extended a streak: I have run every day since July 30, a streak of 49 days and counting.

I keep a Google Doc log of every run I do, on top of more detailed run logs in Runkeeper. (I’ll soon go into more detail on what the Google log looks like, but I digress)

Every single day since 7/30/18 I’ve gone out for a run of at least one mile (my personal minimum for that day’s running to count). No run has been shorter than 1.44 miles, and my average run length has been 5.76 miles. Obviously the longest run was over 20 miles.

Do I feel burned out? Am I nursing any injuries? Have I felt burned out throughout this 49 day run streak? No, no, and no.

Previously, I would run 3-6 days a week, taking complete days off after particularly hard workouts, to varying effect. But I later found that if I just go for a short, easy run of 20-30 minutes on a particularly beat-up day following a hard workout or a series of heavy runs… I found it actually speeds up my recovery. By the next day or the day after I feel recovered and normal again.

Yeah, I’m generally a bit weary, and I do feel a tinge of lingering soreness over several days. But I don’t feel that soreness much when running and it actually passes after a few days, even given I’ve run every single one of those days (including some higher mileage runs or speedwork).

If anything, I think the daily practice of running has strengthened me over time, even if the length of many of these runs wasn’t particularly long. It’s helped carry me through tougher, longer workouts.


I understand the plight of people trying to find their motivation for workouts, because I’ve been there as often as anyone else. In fact, there are a lot of days (including during this streak) where I didn’t really feel like going out and running. But then I went out and ran away, and it was done.

It helps that I’m willing to run in street clothes right after work, that I always wear running shoes that facilitate a run, and thus don’t need to laboriously change into running gear to run like most people. Needing to change clothes to run is definitely a habitual hurdle, and by eliminating it I’ve greased the groove (as Pavel Tsatsouline would say) to more easily keep the habit going every day.

But my biggest step was developing the habit of walking out the door at work and running home (or as reasonably far towards home as I can). It’s not even a big deal anymore. It’s actually become quite easy to log 20-30 miles a week, and all I need to concern myself with is adding mileage here and there.

It’s actually a bigger deal, and in some ways a shock to my body, if I don’t run that day. The hardest part of Chicago Marathon recovery, honestly, may be not running at all for a couple weeks during a mandatory healing period (so yes, my plan is to forcibly end my run streak at 70, the day after the Chicago Marathon).

Every decent book on writing will tell you this: You’re honestly not going to find motivation most of the time, and the key to doing something more often is to build the habit of doing it every day into your daily life.

You don’t have to run out the door at work in your street clothes and run home (though it would certainly help!).

  • You could force yourself out of bed in the morning and run a few times around the block.
  • You could change clothes at work during lunch time, take a few loops around the complex, and change back before pounding a quick lunch.
  • You could join several free fun run groups and run with them every week.
  • You could force yourself to come home from work, immediately change into your gear and go out for a run (this in fact is what I did for the first year or so after I began running seriously again).

In fact, my recent blog posts are admittedly me working on a new desired habit: To write seriously every day about topics I care about, with information I believe can help other people. I used to write a ton, and then stopped for a while. I wanted to seriously write again, so here I am.

Habits, above all else, are how we change our behaviors for the better. We replace old, counterproductive habits with new, productive ones. If you’re looking for motivation, you’re better served looking instead to form new habits that get you to do the things you’re seeking motivation for.

I’ll conclude by pointing you to two excellent resources on the subject of habit forming:

  • Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called The Power Of Habit. The book is full of fascinating case studies on how habit formation has shaped all human behavior. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand any of it either. Duhigg’s writing style is very down to Earth and tells a lot of real-life stories.
  • As for more direct understanding and application of good habits I cannot recommend enough the writing of James Clear. His articles are a timeless resource for the subject of self improvement as well as understanding human behavior. Plus, he has just released a new book entitled Atomic Habits. I highly encourage you to at least read through some of his writing, if you haven’t yet. If you like the writing on his site, you’ll almost certainly like his new book.
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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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Does running make your butt smaller?

People are asking some funny questions these days.

Obviously, how your running affects your butt size depends on various factors.

  • The original composition of your butt (muscle vs fat)
  • Your entire body’s composition (muscle vs fat)
  • The amount of running you do
  • The intensity of the running you do
  • Your diet
  • What other exercise you do, and with what body parts

Unlike the calories per mile question, this is not a question with a clear consistent answer that can be cross applied.

Generally, however, if you carry a lot of fat, and a lot of fat is in that butt… running a lot more than before could make your butt smaller, sure. You’ll burn more fat over time and that can reduce the cushion around your… tushion.

However, that also depends on what you eat, and how you eat differently once you’re running more. Are you eating a lot more food now that you’re running? Are you cleaning up your diet? Are you eating the same, but now running a calorie deficit every day due to all that running?

Generally, if you eat more than you burn, you’re not going to lose weight, and thus will probably not lose butt. If you eat the same as before but exercise more, you will probably lose weight, and thus probably lose butt as well.

Of course, the flip side is that using your lower body muscles more will make them stronger, and possibly bigger. Proper form does utilize the glutes. It’s entirely possible your butt muscles get bigger. But this probably isn’t going to make your butt bigger overall, unless you:

  • Eat more to compensate for your extra running and thus maintain your rear-located fat storage
  • Take anabolic steroids or other performance enhancing drugs that help produce substantial muscle gain after heavy training and diet

There’s also the converse, that if you eat too little and allow your muscle tissue to break down… this could in kind lead to an overall lean-down of your body, which in turn would lead to your butt also getting a little leaner. But it’s very hard to train a lot for an extended period with this sort of nutrition depletion, without suffering burn-out and having to abandon training.

And, finally, there’s genetic predisposition. Basically, some people are genetically inclined to have a big butt, and even when they clean up their diet and exercise their… butts off… their butt is still going to remain big. It’s like Pacific Islanders who tend to have naturally huge calves. They can slim down and change their habits all they want, but even if they lean out they’re still going to have large calves. Such is life with such genetics.

You may still see results (especially if you were overweight), but there may be only so much you can do to reduce the size of particular parts, including the posterior. But (butt?), on average, running a little (like, a couple times a week) probably won’t reduce the size of your butt all that much. Running a lot, however (like, almost every day), possibly will. Either way, if you eat a lot, and eat even more when you’re running more, it’s more likely you don’t see results.

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The home run trot: How learning to run easy finally got me into serious running

When I got into running years ago in Seattle (and this was a couple years before I got more serious about it), I did some research on training since I wanted to do more than just go out, run and see what happened. At the time, all of my running was either of the “chase after that bus that’s about to take off” variety, of playing pickup sports with friends.

I had (what I didn’t yet know was called) anaerobic speed, but I had little aerobic endurance. Growing up presumably with asthma, I grew up thinking I just didn’t have the lung capacity of others and thus I probably just wasn’t built to run too far (attempt to run track be damned).

However, having not had anything resembling an asthma attack in decades, and having proven since then that I could run a few city blocks without stopping, I had an intuitive suspicion that I could run a couple miles without stopping. And though I couldn’t really run more than a few blocks without doing so at the time, I felt I could find a way to bridge the gap.

I had previously dabbled with the classic Couch to 5K program, and could see the logic in the stop and go approach. But I wasn’t too fond of it, I still had a hard time running more than a few blocks without stopping, and so I went looking for perhaps something a little more directly applicable.

I stumbled upon the training pages of Hal Higdon, and (though his basic 5K program doesn’t include this language anymore, the 8K program does) I was drawn to his 8-week Novice 5K program. It included these simple instructions:

Run: Put one foot in front of the other and run. It sounds pretty simple, and it is. Don’t worry about how fast you run; just cover the distance–or approximately the distance suggested. Ideally, you should be able to run at a pace that allows you to converse comfortably while you do so. This isn’t always easy for beginners, so don’t push too hard or too fast.

I had a revelation. In race walking there are very specific rules for what constitutes a walk versus a run, how your feet must leave and strike the ground and so on. I realized I could follow those rules in reverse. It didn’t matter how slow I was going. As long as the way my feet moved technically constituted a run, I was technically running.

Most people intuitively believe that to run your legs must extend a certain length, you must expend a certain amount of effort, to be a true run. I felt the same way, and like most I ran with more of a bounding, lunging cadence as my regular motion. But what if I stepped as lightly, as quickly and as easily as possible in what could be defined as a run?


I gave it a shot. One evening in Seattle’s hilly Queen Anne I stepped to the end of the block, having mapped out a 1.5 mile route that matched the distance Higdon recommended in the Novice 5K plan’s first workout, and like the instructions said put one foot in front of the other.

My plan was to go as far as I could before I needed to stop. I was to go no faster than I comfortably could, to step forward no farther than I comfortably could. I didn’t stop at all until I reached the end of my 1.5 mile loop.

I was thrilled. I, having never been able to comfortably run a mile in my life, just ran 1.5 miles without needing to stop for the first time ever. I never even felt all that distressed. I didn’t have a stop watch at the time, and I’m sure the time was very slow. But that didn’t matter at all.

Part 2 is a long story short: From there I just went out every other evening and ran the prescribed workouts the exact same way. I never had to stop before the end of the workout in any of them, and by the last week I was finishing 2.5-3.0 milers in as much time as it originally took me to finish that first 1.5 mile run.

I had no goal race in mind or anything. The only final goal I had was to run 3 miles without stopping. And at the end I did.

And then… I just stopped. Thing is, I was practicing theatre at the time, and around that time (welcome) projects and classes (which involved clown and theatre movement, both very physically demanding practices) began competing more heavily for my time and energy. So running took a back seat. It wasn’t until years later, as I began detaching from the arts scene in Seattle, that I began running more. And once I got to Chicago my running practice really… uh… picked up the pace.


All this is to say that the magic key that allowed me to break through from “fast guy who can’t run far at all” to “experienced runner who can go and go and go” was to shorten up my stride to something easier and consistently attainable.

In fact, I’d say the crux of most developing runners’ struggles can be tied to the continued belief that a regular run must utilize this aggressive, lunging stride people consider a running step, in order to count as a run. I see most runners out on their “easy” runs pushing hard, still struggling to carry on conversations and breathe at the same time, even though they should be running easy enough to converse normally.

What runners do is of course their business as long as they don’t physically impede on anyone else’s. But I say if most runners shortened up their stride until running didn’t require more than a slightly deeper breathing rhythm than usual, they’d probably:

  • Avoid most injuries
  • Be able to run a lot farther and a lot more often than they currently can
  • Ironically might in the long run be able to run faster.

Despite my current typically plodding 11ish minute mile pace on easy runs, and despite approaching age 40, I’m still breaking PRs and it’s become more and more comfortable to run interval paces that even a year ago I struggled to hit. While I certainly could run a few miles in a 9-10 minute per mile pace instead, I’d also get a lot more tired a lot more quickly, and it’d limit my ability to run on subsequent days.

Why do that if it’s not necessary?

If I could provide a physical example of what this easy running style should feel or look like, the one example I come back to is a baseball player trotting around the bases after a home run. That’s what it feels like, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what it looks like when I do it.

So, if you find yourself struggling to run too far, if you keep getting hurt or always feel too burned out to run more than 2-3 times a week, or anything similar… shortening up your stride and doing your run as this sort of “home run trot” might be worth a shot. It certainly worked for me, to say the least. It’s probably the biggest contributing factor to my growth and development into what I can do today.

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My keys to a successful running diet

I’ve gotten pretty good at consistently eating a solid diet that successfully augments my training, and I’d like to share some of my keys to success with you.

The standard disclaimers:

This is based on my experience, a truckload of trial and error over years and years, on habits that have consistently produced positive results for me.

Who am I to say any of this works? Well, I am an experienced distance runner…

  • who wasn’t an experienced runner 4 years ago
  • who has lost 30 lbs in those 4 years to achieve an average healthy weight (5’10”, 164 lbs and falling)
  • who (while no Adonis or Achilles) is in decent shape and good health at what is soon to be age 40
  • who runs 30-50 miles a week during training
  • who pretty much doesn’t get injured or burn out anymore
  • who runs basically every day, with my typical run being about 4-6 miles.

Your mileage may vary:

The more experienced you are, and the more volume of training that you do than I do, the more fruitfully you can dismiss and blow off any of this advice.

The less experienced you are and the less you work out, the more likely this advice (however imperfect) can help you.

Take or dismiss it at your own leisure or risk. I am fairly sure none of this general advice will hurt you if you generally follow it… any more than anyone else’s general advice.

Blah blah blah see a doctor before beginning any training program or making any changes blah blah blah. We’re adults.

My keys to a successful running diet:

Aim to eat a maintenance amount of calories during training.

Even if you could afford to lose a few pounds, you’re better off trying to finish even (calories eaten close to or equal to calories burned) than to run a calorie deficit during a training cycle.

Unlike most sedentary people or strength trainers, you actually need those calories. You burn way more calories on a run than people do in the gym. You actually do have a use for carbohydrates, not to mention fat, as your body utilizes that energy on runs. And with all that work, you need all the protein you can get afterward to help rebuild your damaged muscles.

It’s okay to fall short on calories some days, especially if you’re trying to cut fat. If you’re not training for a race, you’re free to run a healthy deficit (500-1000 calories max below your burn per day). But ALWAYS get enough protein. Always make sure you get your needed vitamins and nutrients. Everything else can fall short.

It’s okay to eat at a surplus some days. If possible, try to do so before or during long and intense workout days.

Eat more protein than you think you need.

Eat protein like an entry level bodybuilder: Consume each day at least 1 gram of protein for every 1 lb of total lean body mass (2.2g per kilogram), when actively training.

If not training for an events, a good benchmark is 1 gram of protein for every pound (or 2.2g/kg) equal to 75% of your bodyweight.

There are conflicting opinions on the recommended amount, but 1 gram per pound of lean body mass falls in the middle of most modern recommendations, and makes sense for an endurance athlete who obviously isn’t trying to get swole (extra muscle mass slows you down!), but does need to maintain muscle tissue during training. This is the level at which I’ve found the most consistent, sustainable satisfaction and results.

It’s definitely okay to go over that protein benchmark during and after intense training. The myth that excess protein damages your kidneys has long since been proven false.

Try to get all of your protein from whole food (e.g. meat, legumes). Avoid leaning on protein shakes, unless you find it very hard to prepare or port protein-rich meals during a typical day… or you are vegetarian/vegan. Even then, stick to a max of one protein shake per day. One item that is not a myth is that protein shakes not only lack various key nutrients present in protein rich whole foods…. but excess protein shakes can cause gas and other intestinal problems.

Eat more carbohydrates when needed. Otherwise take it easy on them.

Carbs are best ingested en masse before hard workouts, and immediately after the hardest workouts. Having them in your bloodstream helps you during workouts, and the glycogen lost from hard workouts can be more quickly replenished during meals eaten within 2 hours of a workout.

Eating a bunch of carbs the day or two before a monster workout or a marathon can be helpful for topping off your glycogen stores, but the classic pasta binge before a marathon is a bit overrated. If you’ve tapered your training and been eating a solid diet leading up to the race, you’re probably fine: The decreased exercise combined with your normal diet has probably topped off your glycogen tank for you.

How much? I generally don’t try too hard to count, but adding enough to get within 500 calories of your daily burn has been a fine general benchmark.

Meanwhile, on rest days you should eat far fewer carbs and more natural fat. If I wasn’t training for a marathon I might even do a keto or primal style low-carb diet. Granted, that’s extreme, and just sticking to green vegetables and fruit for carbs on such a day is probably fine.

Eat Clean fat:

I’m talking about fat naturally occurring in whole foods (meat, avocados, some nuts). I only cook with virgin coconut oil or pure olive oil.

Fat is necessary for effective organ function. Also, providing fat for your body during busy days discourages your body from storing fat or converting carbohydrates to fat. Recommendation: Whatever fat comes with your daily whole-food-based protein is probably enough. That’s probably more than the RDA, but it’s not something crazy like 200g either. Typically I’ll finish a 3000 calorie day having consumed about 90-120g of fat.

Eat a minimum of processed food.

This has been preached to death. But I even add in “healthy” processed food like protein bars, or anything in a box really. The extra sodium and other additives lead to water retention, making your heavier and slowing you down.

I’m not opposed to some pizza or a bag of chips here and there. But it’s always bookended by clean, whole food.

Drink water, 100% juice, and milk.

Coffee and tea are fine (but if you add sugar you better be planning to run that day).

Don’t even touch a sports drink unless you’re actively in a long run or a speedwork session.

Gatorade is specifically engineered for use during exercise. You’re not supposed to drink it otherwise. It literally is sugar and salt water.

Eat potassium rich foods and make sure you get enough potassium almost every day.

Your heart and your muscles need potassium to function. Yet most people don’t get close to enough (typically 4000-4500 mg per day). A lack of potassium undermines intense activity, and can be dangerous in some situations.

Bananas. Avocados. Potatoes. Natural cuts of meat. Fruit and vegetables. 4500mg is the RDA benchmark for a reason. Most people fall well short of this.

Don’t supplement: Seek to eat foods that provide it. MUCH better this way, plus you get other needed nutrients.

Take a suitable multivitamin.

You can get all your needed vitamins with a perfect diet, but your best effort will probably come nowhere close to getting them all. Take a multivitamin. Even if you piss a lot of it out, your body will utilize much of it and cover whatever gaps your diet has left.

Recommended: Get a reliable brand that recommends taking 3 pills a day, and just take one with a meal. This way on a tough day you can take 2-3, but you minimize the risk of overdose.

My mother was a mark for Source of Life, a brand specializing in whole food based multivitamins. They’re fine but they’re pricey. Don’t sink to getting a flaky mainstream brand like Centrum, but I’ve found 365’s multis at Whole Foods to be reliable and affordable.

That said, there are some key vitamins a multi tends not to provide that you should supplement separately.

Take a Calcium Magnesium citrate combo supplement, as well as the MK 7 form of Vitamin K2.

Magnesium helps you sleep (which itself is super important for training) and regulates various hormone functions. Most people don’t get enough magnesium. A lack of it can facilitate burnout. Most multivitamins don’t include magnesium in their blends. Take it after dinner.

Calcium is more well known for fortifying bones, and while milk/cheese can be a reliable source of calcium, I don’t consume a ton of either so I make sure to supplement. Since calcium and magnesium go well together they are often sold as a combo vitamin. Calcium citrate is better absorbed than the more common calcium carbonate, and magnesium citrate is better absorbed than magnesium oxide. So a Cal-Mag Citrate supplement is the way to go.

But! Calcium can be harmfully absorbed by the arteries instead of your bones… without the presence of Vitamin K. Most multis provide it but don’t readily supply in an absorbent form. So if available I’d recommend taking a Vitamin K2 supplement in the MK 7 form.

Take a Fish oil supplement, if you aren’t eating wild caught salmon.

Omega 3’s in fish oil reduces overall inflammation and promotes good heart health. If you eat farmed salmon it won’t have as much omega 3 as wild caught salmon.

Salmon is pricey and I find it easier to just take a supplement. Whole Foods sometimes has salmon oil, which I prefer to take. But honestly you can take just about any fish oil supplement and as long as it doesn’t contain soy products you’re probably good.

Most brands ask you take 3-6 pills a day. Just take one after dinner.

If you’re frequently under stress and it’s not easily within your control, take ashwagandha or SAMe.

Ashwagandha is an herb that has all sorts of alleged health benefits, but the one known benefit I’ve experienced is that it helps buffer you against stress. I find a bit of the edge comes off the day when I’m taking it.

My mother was big on SAMe, a supplement originally used to help treat joint pain and similar issues but was later found to have positive effects on depression and stress. You cna call it a super version of ashwagandha if you’d like, as I’ve found it does have even stronger stress-relieving effects on my mental state than ashwagandha. And it also does have a positive effect on joint health and relieving inflammation. SAMe however is a lot more expensive than ashwagandha.

Recommendation: Whichever one you decide to take, just take one pill per day max. And cycle your usage: 8 weeks on max, then 4 weeks off.

A good time to take it is during the latter stages of training for a goal race, and then to stop using it for a while once the race is done. This controls cortisol, helps manage mood, and like magnesium helps you sleep better.

If you’re going to eat junk food, eat protein rich junk food.

I’m not against pizza or hamburgers or any of that.

Surround those meals with super clean meals or intermittent fasting, plus plenty of water. Definitely work out those days, and/or the following day, to ensure you burn those junk calories ASAP.

The Andy Morgan Night Out Rule For Drinking:

Andy Morgan is this guy. He’s a bodybuilder who has perfected a combination of training, intermittent fasting, and proper nutrition into an approach he calls Ripped Body.

The rule: If you’re going to go out and have a night of drinking alcohol, get in all your needed protein for the day BEFORE you head out for the night.

Consider anything good you eat during the night to be a bonus, though if you do eat during a night out you’re probably going to eat junk.

Yes, you’ll probably overeat for the day. This is not a big deal. Make a point to go for a run and eat perfectly clean the next day if it bothers you.

Also (this is not his rule, but mine): Before you go to bed that night, drink 16 oz of water. And you should be drinking water throughout the night of drinking as well.

Should you let yourself go after a race?

The only races after which it’s okay to let your good eating habits completely go for a little while are marathons or longer, where you plan to take some time off. But get back on the wagon no later than a week later. Any race that’s shorter, and you really should just treat it as a hard workout: Keep eating well, keep training.

In conclusion:

This approach has worked very well for me, and I think it can work well for others. I realize the advice scratches the surface, and I invite you the reader to do research on any of this if you so desire.

But I follow this approach 80-99% of the time (sure, I deviate and go off the wagon like anyone… but these are also strong habits that make it easy to go back to and stick to them). It has helped me maintain a high volume of running and to stay healthy, without the use of any sort of artificially performance enhancing substances.

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Running after work… and I mean right after work.

As I do most days, I walked out of work, and soon after began running.

This is actually how I’ve gotten most of my weekly training volume for the last couple years. When I worked in Evanston I would run 5-6 miles to Edgewater and catch the train home. When I worked in the Loop I would sneak through the Riverwalk onto the Lakefront Trail, maybe through Streeterville instead, and run 5-6 miles that way. Now from Goose Island I run through Lincoln Park down to the waterfront and go 4-5 miles.

Yes, I’m in my work clothes. I take off my dress shirt and tie it around my waist. I am wearing work-friendly running shoes, but otherwise I’m wearing my slacks and got my wallet/keys/etc in them. Because of this I’m usually carrying about 5-6 lbs more than I would be in typical running gear. I’m sure this helps when I run races in more dressed-down running gear.

Yes, I even do this in the dead of winter. I’m usually wearing a couple more layers during that time of year, and I might keep the dress shirt on (wearing a sweatshirt/coat over it), but it’s the same idea. It certainly warms you up!

Having previously trained after returning home like most evening runners, I’ve found this approach to regular runs a lot easier. Instead of commuting home, changing into running gear and then knocking out a run… I knock out the run right away after work, and I’m done by 7pm at the latest.

Wearing work gear and other extra weight really isn’t that annoying. And yeah, running right after work can be a tiring pain in the ass some days. But overall it’s a huge time saver and an efficient, easy way to log dozens of miles during the week.

Now, I don’t always do this. On speedwork days I typically return home and change before going to those workouts. Some easier days I’ll just return home, and then take a quick run near home later on. Every now and then I’ll be able to knock out a run in the morning instead.

But usually, I finish work, go outside, and just run home. On most weeks, it’s the easiest 25ish weekly miles I can log.

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My Fitbit Daily Tracking Benchmarks

Thanks to my mother, I’ve owned a Fitbit Blaze since Christmas of 2016. Previously I had already been tracking data like my runs, my meals and other exercise on a Google Doc. So getting a tracker that easily kept track of all that and more was a huge deal.

I still map my runs manually (for accuracy, as the GPS utilization isn’t accurate in Chicago), while using the timer, step counter and heart rate monitor to track those items.

Along with those items, I have set a series of daily activity and diet goals based on my activity, training and weight loss that I feel has gotten me to where I need to be.

My Fitbit Physical Benchmarks:

16,000 steps

As someone who lives in a big city and does a lot of traveling on foot, I’ve always found that 10,000 is a bit too easy for me to reach (rare is the day where I don’t log at least 10K-12K steps), while 20,000 requires quite a bit of work (if I go on a fairly long run I can get there).

The bar that requires just enough effort in a day to reach has been 16,000. That’s around 7 miles of walking or running.

10 floors

This is the standard Fitbit benchmark, and that works just fine for me. On an easy day, I may get to sunset well short and need to take a hike up the stairs at my apartment building. Often, the elevation changes in my running are more than enough to account for well over 10 floors.

Right now I’m working at an assignment that requires some stair climbing between the train stations and the building itself. I often sit down at work having already climbed 6-8 floors.

That’s probably all I’m looking for with that.

90 minutes of activity

The standard benchmark was 60 minutes, but again I commute on foot, and I found this a bit too easy to reach most days. Asking 90 minutes usually requires a lot of walking or some sort of serious workout, whether a run or a lot of time in the gym or similar.

On some lazier days I may get to sunset with less than 15-30 minutes, but usually I hit 90 minutes almost by accident, often in the middle of a run.

3000 calories burned

Given my diet, I find 3000 calories to be the sweet spot for a required daily burn. And sure enough, given my daily activity it seems to be a consistent benchmark. On lazier days I can finish at 2200-2500 calories, but often with a workout and any amount of extended activity I can get to 3000 without a problem.

My record calorie burn in a day right now is 5400, which of course was on the last day I attempted to log a 20 miler (after which I logged a recovery run in the evening, making it a Bulls**t 20).

6.0 miles

I barely track this, since if I hit the other benchmarks I almost certainly traveled six miles between walking, running and anything else I was doing during the day.

But it’s a fine barometer later in the day if I find myself short on most goals. If I’m short X miles, then traveling the needed miles to get to 6 will likely get me to the other goals.

Afternoon activity: 250 steps every hour 3pm-8pm

I find Fitbit’s forced tracking of hourly 250 step goals annoying, but also in some way helpful. I set it to a tolerable minimum: 5 hours during the afternoon and early evening.

At least here it asks me to find 250 steps during a time when energy and attention span tends to flag. Getting up and walking a bit to meet the silly machine-demanded goal can help clear my head and keep me moving.

Other notes:

  • If my resting heart rate goes up by more than 1 bpm over 24 hours, or goes up on consecutive days, I usually take preventative action: Get to bed earlier, drink more water, eat more protein, relax, or change up training in light of recent activity. Often I’m well aware of likely causes for this (short sleep the night prior, tough workout the day before, etc).
  • I try to avoid consecutive days with a calorie surplus, unless I’m about to go on a massive workout or race, like a 20 miler, a hardcore interval session, or a marathon.
  • If I gain weight day over day, I often look to either run a calorie deficit, intermittent fast for the next day, or both (which is fairly easy). If planning to do more than a recovery run, I will definitely avoid going short on calories and instead just intermittent fast during the morning.
  • I make sure to consume no less than 130g protein, and aim for at least 140g. Busy as I am, I need the protein to re-build muscle and other key tissue etc. If I miss both benchmarks I at least get as close as I can with protein intake, and aim to exceed both the following day.
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The Bulls**t 20, or: Does it count if you split the miles up between runs?

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

On days he decides to run long:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some Keys to the Yasso 800’s

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

Since my previous workplace provided relatively cheap access to local gyms (access I still have for at least the next few months), I decided to take advantage and bookend many of my runs with a brief strength workout… or as I call it, swolework.

I have an on-again off-again relationship with strength training. I first started pushing weight while living briefly in San Antonio during 2000, as my apartment complex had a freely available fitness room with weights and I wanted to take advantage.

I sampled various fitness books on lifting weights at the store and bought the simplest, most accessible yet comprehensive volume I found: Bill Pearl’s Getting Stronger. Even today, you will not find a more comprehensive and point-blank summation of all the different functional barbell, dumbbell and machine weight lifting exercises you can do for every major muscle group than you will in this large paperback book.

Sexy basic workout plans like Stronglifts and Starting Strength are obsessed with heavy compound lifts like squats/deadlifts/benching at max weight. But I still find the approach of training more specific individual muscle groups at a manageable weight the real winner for most non-bro, non-powerlifter trainees. I’ve always found the most results keeping a workout plan simple.

Throughout the subsequent 18 years I’ve stopped and started strength training workout plans depending on my situation or needs. I’ve also done various Bodyweight resistance training plans, from comprehensive programs like Mark Lauren’s You Are Your Own Gym or Adam Rosante’s 30 Second Body… to simple barebones programs like One Hundred Push Ups or the RCAF’s 5BX.

I’ve seen results with all of them, though they’re fairly tough to follow (even being able to do them at home), especially if you’re doing anything else… such as running every day.

Once I got into running it became impractical to compound fairly taxing miles of running with any strength training beyond the basics. Even a relatively slight strength training routine can cause enough upper body and midsection soreness to compromise my running and other day to day life if I’m not careful.

But it’s not like I avoided it completely. Sometimes after a store fun run we would do some basic core exercises. Runners do benefit some from supplemental strength training. I just didn’t want to do too much and compromise my running.

Once I regained access to the gym about a year ago, I rarely did more than spend a few minutes on the exercise bike or rowing machine, or perhaps some basic stretching.

After a while, I drifted back towards the machines and weights and started doing a slight amount of post-run lifting. And I mean a single set of six relatively light reps for each of what I consider the basic upper body muscle groups (Chest, Shoulders, Back, Triceps, Biceps), before stretching or hitting the exercise bike to cool down.

After changing jobs my access to the gym got curtailed, so I didn’t strength train for a while. But recently the bobsled skids to the gym were greased again and I’ve decided to step up my strength training. I experimented with and eventually adopted an adapted approach of what >Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes has referred to as the 320 Method.

In Cortes’ 320 Method, you start with 3 sets of 10 reps total (spread in any combination among the 3 sets, like 3-4-3 or 5-3-2), using the maximum weight you can push for 5 reps. Then you work your way up to 20 reps spread over 3 sets (hence the term 320). Once that becomes easy, you add weight and go back to 10 reps over 3 sets, repeating the process.

Admittedly, that’s not exactly how I do it.

Like before, I train chest, then shoulders, then back, then triceps and biceps in that order. Starting with my chosen chest exercise (usually a chest press, but I’ll switch to flys or something else as desired), I choose a weight I find challenging to lift but that I can capably push for 10 reps (if needed I’ll do a preliminary test rep, to gauge if possible, and may reduce weight if needed before beginning).

1st set: 10 reps at that weight.

2nd set: 6 reps. If the 1st set was easy enough, I add weight for these reps. If it was fairly challenging, I’ll stay at the previous weight for the 6 reps.

3rd set: 4 reps. Again, I’ll add weight if the previous reps were easy enough to indicate it’s possible. Otherwise, I stay at the prior weight.

  • I always try to do the sets as 10-6-4. I am open to changing the number of reps for a given set as needed, but my goal is always to do 20 reps spread over 3 sets (3-20). And typically, you want to do the most reps during that 1st set and the least reps during the last set, as subsequent sets should become more difficult.
  • I never try to max out with these lifts. Since it’s supplemental, I’m not aiming for GAINZ or to get SWOLE AF with these lifts. It’s entirely possible I do all three sets with the exact same weight, or even that today’s workout was lighter than the weight I used in the last workout.
  • In fact, to take a page from Planet Fitness and their somewhat silly Lunk Alarm policy… I do not want to ever grunt while lifting, or use momentum to jerk the weight up or down. I want all movement to be in clear control from start to finish. If I have to grunt or jerk, the weight is too heavy. If necessary I’ll end the set early to reduce the weight. And unless the grunting/jerking happens during the last rep and I know it’ll be easier to lift the next set after some rest, I may reduce the weight before the next set.
  • I want to finish the last set feeling like I could do another set or two if needed. Usually, I’ve run several miles prior to this plus am looking to run some more the next day, and am not looking to pile on a substantial amount of needed additional recovery.
  • Some people thrive on slammed workloads, but also get to sit around a lot more than I do outside of training. I commute on foot, on top of running home from work. I need to be able to walk out comfortably, get out of bed comfortably the next day, and get on the road to run comfortably the next day. I don’t need to prove anything to anybody in the gym.
  • Afterward I may dynamic-stretch with some leg swings, possibly plank a bit or work the abs for another 3-20 segment on the sit up machine. Since my core’s already doing substantial work to maintain balance and form during my runs (which often occur right after an 8 hour day at work), I’m not looking to seriously bomb them ahead of another run the following day, any more than any of the other muscles I’ve worked out. If I feel my core hasn’t been engaged much that day, I’ll give it a bit of a workout. But otherwise I’ll let it be.

How often do I train at the gym? Right now, about twice a week. If I have a killer weekend run or a race planned, I may only go once, and not at all during the 2-4 days leading up to the big run. Again, this is supplemental, and about augmenting whole body health as well as my running. The bell curve threshold before it begins to hurt my training and life is pretty shallow, so I don’t want to overdo it.

A typical workout:

Chest Press on machine (70% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total between them

Shoulder Press on machine (70% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total

Lat Pulldowns on machine (80% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total

Tricep Pushdowns on machine (80% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total

Bicep Curls on machine or w/dumbbells (80% max) – 3 sets, 20 reps total

30-60 seconds rest between all sets and weight workouts. Use your judgment.

Dymanic Leg Swings – 3 sets, 6 each side.

Rowing Machine – 20 minutes

  • Doing the lats and arms closer to my max is nothing more than a personal choice based on my capabilities and feeling they can more comfortably handle weight closer to my max without risk of injury than my chest or shoulders. Those numbers are not hard and fast: I just find that the weight I typically use for those workouts are at that proximity.
  • This weight workout takes about 15-20 minutes, with rest breaks. The leg swings take maybe a couple minutes, and the 20 minutes on the row machine is also just a preference. Some days I won’t do any in-gym cardio or stretching at all, and just leave after that. It can depend on a variety of factors, including how difficult my prior run was.

None of this was to get all Bill Phillips on you and give you a comprehensive strength training program for runners. I just wanted to show you how I handle strength training, based on my needs/limits and my past experience with other workout plans.

It works for me. Maybe something like this can work for you.

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My observed pros and cons of different kinds of running fuel on long runs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syrups

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

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

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

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

Gels

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

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

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

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

Gatorade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chews

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

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

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

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

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

Eating a small meal ahead of time

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

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

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

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

Breaking the run in half and then eating at halftime

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

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

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

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

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

Not eating at all

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion….

I’m hungry.

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