Tag Archives: diet

Feeling tired? It’s probably one of these things

I can’t tell you how many years in Seattle I battled lethargy despite a busy schedule full of theatre commitments I was very into. I definitely became one of those guys who pounded coffee and energy drinks in the afternoon or evening, to try and keep the motor going for that night’s action.

Needless to say, I’ve since figured out how terri-bad that approach was for my health. I still indulge in the occasional afternoon cup of coffee (decaf if it’s around), or a caffeine-free vitamin/energy drink like FitAid (which they sell at Whole Foods in Chicago).

But generally the only stimulant you’ll see me take anymore is a morning cup of coffee.


Of course, the problem of lacking energy goes well beyond what stimulation you’re giving yourself. Pretty much everyone struggles with low energy and feeling tired, and I’m still to this day no exception.

The difference between the 2011 Me, who would pound a 5 Hour Energy before a show performance to keep from falling over, and the 2018 Me… is that 2018 Me knows the reason for feeling tired comes down to one of these four things:

Lack of sleep:

The most obvious one. If you’re not sleeping well in general, let alone haven’t slept well the night before, you’re probably going to flatline at some point in the day.

A good general rule is that, for every 1 hour of sleep, you get 2 hours of not wanting to fall asleep. If you get 8 hours of sleep, you should be able to get through the other 16 hours of the day reasonably alert before heading to bed.

But… if you only get 4 hours sleep, then you may be okay until about 8 hours after you awake. For example: If you stay up until 3 am, then wake up at 7 am… even if you seem okay to go to work that morning… things will probably feel manageable until about 3pm, at which point you should crash hard enough that no energy stimulant can really save you. Get home and get to bed ASAP.

I’ve noticed this is pretty much what happens to me after a night of short sleep, to the hour. And of course, even before that crash moment, a lack of sleep can leave you feeling worse for wear even after a cup of morning coffee.

Sleep is not overrated! It is in fact very underrated, especially as you get older.

Lack of nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet:

In the past, whenever I felt like garbage, I often looked back at what I had recently eaten and notice a lot of crappy processed food: Pizza, instant meals, fried foods, etc. I clean up and eat healthier for the next meal… and I feel better over the next few days. In some cases, I may even feel better as soon as the next nutritious meal.

You are definitely what you eat, and I would suspect a lot of people who feel down and lethargic all the time, let alone get sick a lot, probably don’t eat good food in its whole natural form. They probably ate nothing but stuff out of packaging.

Lack of water:

It’s more than a song by The Why Store. It’s more than a detriment to exercise. It’s often a key reason people feel lethargic.

And it’s one of my basic initial tests, not to mention one of my quickest remedies, when I suddenly find myself low on energy. If I drink a few ounces of water and suddenly feel more alert and ready to go, I know my low energy was due to slight dehydration. I’m surprised at how often this is the cure to low energy.

People tend to fall into two polarized camps with water. There are the people who carry a water bottle and drink water religiously throughout the day. And there are people who don’t really think about water at all and only drink when it occurs to them.

Many of the latter probably drink a lot of processed drinks and even alcohol instead. I imagine they feel terrible a lot (except when they first get drunk).

Your blood viscosity increases when you’re dehydrated, and slower blood means slower energy production for your body. Of course you’re going to feel tired.

Water also helps flush waste byproducts from your body, as well as bacteria, viruses and whatever else. When your blood is thicker and dehydrated, those byproducts sit in your system and induce some degree of response from your body. And then you feel like crap, at best. Sometimes, you begin to feel sick. It’s possible you could exercise and sweat it out, but either way you could use some more water.

Of course, what kind of water you drink matters too. If your tap water quality is garbage, maybe use a good filter or even get distilled water. Vegas tap water was awful, and may have also caused my kidney stone in high school. I have my suspicions about the effects of Chicago tap water on the psychology of the locals, and thus I make sure to drink distilled water as much as possible.

But that’s icing on the cake of the main point: You probably could use more water. Drinking any water typically is better than drinking little to none.

Lack of outdoor activity:

Rampant depression in Seattle is often blamed on the weather. The fallacy goes that cloudy weather equals sadness.

As someone who enjoyed cloudy weather, I don’t get that at all. Or actually, now I do:

People in Seattle use the rainy weather as an excuse to not go out and do anything. They sit at home a lot like hermits, let it be a mental barrier to their engaging the world, and then wonder why they’re depressed.

Meanwhile, I went outside and did something every single day, rain or shine, whether or not I had to work that day. I never let the weather stop me from going outside.

Believe it or not, the clouds do not stop the Sun’s UV rays from reaching Earth. Clouds do filter some of it, but you still get Vitamin D from the sun if you walk outside during cloudy weather. People are depriving themselves of Vitamin D as well as fresh air and exercise… just because it’s not sunny.

(Also, given the weather is such a factor for them, I wonder why many of these people didn’t just move south, where cloudy weather isn’t as present)

Now, some depression has a deeper root cause, some of it more within our control than others, and we can get into that some other time.

But for many people who claim seasonal depression, they probably live their lives with a forced habitual inertia. And they’d probably be surprised at how much better they felt if they got outside and took a long walk every day, no matter what the weather was like.

If they’re up for more than a walk, they may also be surprised at what running, sports, etc., can do for their outlook and their general energy… not to mention their overall health.

There’s plenty of time to indulge in indoor hobbies and other activities. Make some time to get outside, especially if you feel tired and/or emotionally down, and you might find you have more energy than before.


Okay, that last bit got a bit preachy. I have heard the “I’m tired” song and dance a few too many times, from people that probably could have put the above ideas to use.

But seriously I find that whenever I feel tired, even over a long stretch, it often comes down to deficiencies in one or more of those four things.

  1. Sleep
  2. Food quality
  3. Water
  4. Outdoor activity

I’m not claiming any of this will cure cancer or anything like that (… though, if it does, drop me a line and let me know where to pick up my upcoming Nobel Prize).

But you might be surprised at what it does to your chronic fatigue syndrome, or to a lesser extent your overall low-energy.

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Recovery, sleep, diet: It’s all connected

One of the biggest problems I’ve had over time with recovery from hard/long runs and races hasn’t been soreness or lingeirng fatigue. It’s been sleep before and after the run.

Before the run, anxiety can mess with your state of mind and lead to keeping you awake, which obviously impacts the run itself and everything beyond. After the run, you can be so revved up long after you’ve relaxed that it can keep you awake.

This is obviously a huge recovery problem, because sleep is just as if not more important than your nutrition and rest patterns. If you get poor sleep, it messes with just about everything else you do from that night until you get caught up… if you do.

Obviously, a hard or long run revs your heart rate up and taxes your body to a point where following the run it may not totally come down before going to bed that night, even if you lay out all day. What probably happened in a lot of those cases was that I went to bed with a heart rate and state still close to activity-level. Even if I got to sleep, I usually didn’t stay asleep for suitably long.

My game plan yesterday went beyond my route and in-run fueling. I also had food ready with big meals planned for the afternoon and evening. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of going to bed hungry, especially after a 20 mile run.

For lunch I ate about a pound of baked chicken, with four cut+baked potatoes in olive oil, a pretty large meal. I probably drank about a gallon of water between the end of the run and the end of the night. Even after indulging in too many veggie chips around sunset, I made sure to bake and eat three chicken thighs with some more potatoes that evening. I hit the hay around 10:30 and slept pretty well this past night.

This will be important after the Chicago Marathon for one key reason: I have to go back to work the next morning. I can’t afford to be so revved up after a marathon that I sleep 3 hours, and then work all the next day at a gig I can’t take a sick day from.

If I can set a routine to house a big post-race meal, then house two other big meals during the day, with the last meal being an hour or two before bed, plus make sure not to go and do anything else… I think I can calm the motor enough to get to sleep and stay there until morning.

We forget that our bodies are ecosystems, and the different elements of recovery (rest, nutrition and sleep) are all connected.

  • Rest periods can’t do their work if you don’t get suitable nutrition and enough sleep.
  • Nutrition can only do its work if you get needed sleep, and you give your body the inactivity to allow rebuilding.
  • Sleep can’t happen if you’re not effectively fed, and you cannot slow the motor enough to allow yourself to get there.

So in the past I’d struggle with sleep and focus on why I can’t sleep, instead of doing the right thing and looking at how my eating patterns and other habits contribute to my ability to get to sleep and stay asleep that night.

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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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Cleaning up my lifestyle (further)

With a career change came a shift in my lifestyle. I had also re-gained about 5-10 of the pounds I had previously lost during the last few months at my old job, despite a high volume of regular running. The resulting self-reflection led me to make wholesale improvements to my lifestyle.

Granted, my habits weren’t terrible to begin with: My diet and lifestyle at the start of 2018 was dramatically improved over 2015, let alone 2010-2014, let alone further back etc. But you don’t gain weight randomly. Even though I logged my food and found I was about even with my estimated calorie burn, I apparently was storing more than I could use. Along with my career situation, something clearly wasn’t right.


 

I cleaned up my diet in varying stages over the years, but over the past few months have really simplified it. At this point I’m challenging myself to eat as much whole food (cuts of whole meat, raw fruit, vegetables, rice) as possible. There are a lot of reasons for this.

  • It’s easier to track whole food items in Fitbit, and a lot harder when you eat something complex/processed, especially from a restaurant where you’re not privy to the ingredients let alone.
  • Processed food typically costs more per serving than its whole food counterparts. You’re paying for, among other things, satiety combined with immediacy. Sometimes I need that for whatever reason (it’s convenient at the end of a tiring day with few prior meals to house an Eastside Cafe frozen pizza and immediately get that 80-95 grams of protein, plus a bunch of calcium etc from all that fatty cheese). But usually I can find the space to prepare a fulfilling meal from whole food myself at home.
  • Processed food lacks key nutrients… especially dietary fiber, protein, and the underrated potassium. Plus, there’s far too much inflammatory and water-retaining sodium in processed food, and in many cases far too much fat. Since I run every day and am active in general, I need all the nutrients and as little garbage I can get.
  • You have no idea what 90% of processed food’s ingredients are, what they come from, what it does to your body long-term, etc etc. To get into the nuances of this would probably send us both into seizures, so let’s leave it at that.
  • Processed food is engineered to generate cravings to eat more food, which defeats a key reason to eat food (satiety i.e. not feeling the need to eat more food).
  • Hormonal balance and healthy hormone production is predicated largely on getting enough nutrients. Processed food is nutrient poor and disruptive. Whole foods closest to their natural state are nutrient rich.
  • I’ve found more ways to efficiently prepare and port whole, natural foods. I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with canned sardines, and now that I’ve found I can combine them with white rice prepared at home, they’ve become a lunch staple at work.

One problem that emerged at my prior job is that I started buying lunch more often. Previously I had brought food and eaten that every day, but even eating that food I was also sneaking out for hot bar meals. Granted, as I ran at a higher volume leading up to Vancouver I needed the extra nutrition. But that nutrition was also highly processed and was probably a key factor in my weight gain… not just for insidious extra calories, but the processed food probably wreaked havoc on my biology with inflammation and compromised hormonal function.

Changing careers coupled with a break from marathon training allowed me space to experiment with my eating habits, with different food choices (which granted were limited based on what I was doing for work and when: you have more freedom in some work situations than others).

Currently I’m on work assignment in an area close to two supermarkets with hot bars. Of course, hot bar food is not only partially processed, but expensive.


 

I wasn’t getting as much sleep as before. I woke up more during the night, woke up earlier, went to bed no earlier. I had plenty of time to sleep, yet my sleep was being disrupted.

This is something I still work on, granted. It’s a matter of forming the needed habits to eliminate the habits and sources compromising my sleep:

  • Remember to shut off all electronics, as well as disconnect power sources to those electronics, before bed. When I shut down my mobile and turn off the power to the modem and router (my laptop is already shut completely down at the end of every night), I find I sleep better. And while the evidence is disputed, there is evidence that electronics do interfere with sleep even when they’re off.
  • Call it a night during the 10pm hour. If I let my attention span drift and keep me awake through 11pm, that’s when sleep becomes a problem. Not only does it limit the hours I can sleep but it means more blue light later in the night, which is known to interfere with sleep.
  • Eating a satisfying meal within a couple hours of bed that doesn’t leave me wanting once I do lay down to sleep, since I know that hunger keeps me awake and can wake me up during the night.
  • Using my window A/C to keep the room reasonably cool during the night, as summer warmth does interfere with my sleep.
  • Making sure I get in solid exercise, usually at least a run, because I notice that on days I don’t exercise much I also tend not to sleep well.

 

Even though I avoided it because I run and need plenty of calories, I started intermittent fasting again. Basically, I skip breakfast and my first meal of the day is lunch, usually around 12:00 noon or 1:00pm. Along with the obvious tendency to eat less since I’m eating one fewer meal a day, going 12-16 hours between dinner and this 1st meal also improves fat burning during that time while helping to reset hormonal function. I definitely feel a difference, more so than hunger pangs. I’ll have black coffee and water in the morning at work, and that’s usually it.

This also improves the digestion and utilization of that 1st lunch meal, since your body is primed to get after whatever food you finally give it. At my current work assignment, it sets the metabolic table well for that 5pm run home from work. And that sets the table well for effective digestion of dinner later than evening. I definitely eat fewer calories, but I don’t feel at all broken down as I worried I would before if I ever went back to fasting. Quite the opposite.

There’s more I can say about Intermittent Fasting but I’ll save that for another time. Basically, I’m now at a place where it works well for me.


 

Since getting my act further together, my weight has gone back down to about 163-164 lbs, about 5 pounds down from where it had re-peaked during the end of my last career. My body fat has receded from 17-18% to a better 15-16%.

More to come on that front, but it’s looking good for now.

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Things I wish I had done in marathon training

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

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

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

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

12 THINGS I WANT TO DO NEXT TRAINING CYCLE:

1. Better defining phases of training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Strategically use compression gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Implement downhill running workouts, early in training

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

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

8. Keep cross training simple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. EAT CLEAN ALL THE TIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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