Tag Archives: Running races

So you want to run the Dopey Challenge?

As part of Walt Disney World’s Marathon Weekend (yes, for those who didn’t know, Disney World hosts an annual marathon!), they hold a series of preliminary races: A 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and the full marathon on Sunday.

Imagine someone trying to run all four races on the exact same weekend. Well, not only do people do it, but Disney’s race organizers actually award people medals for doing it. They call it the Dopey Challenge (I presume the eponymous dwarf’s name is used to reflect how smart of an idea they think it is), and they award large medals to anyone who successfully completes the Challenge.

You may ask: Who in their right mind has any business doing this? Presuming you think you could do it… how could someone train for this as something more than a masochistic exercise? Is there a best way to train for it? Is it possible to race the Challenge, rather than just trying to survive it?

Hal Higdon is the only person of any kind to actually put forth a training plan for the Dopey Challenge. And his traditional-style plan is fairly basic, asking for a series of progressively longer runs every fortnight to prepare for the races. Pretty much all the prescribed running is easy, the focus being on developing the aerobic endurance for the Challenge through sheer volume, at the expense of any sort of performance.

As he would attest, there’s a lot more to the Dopey Challenge than meets the eye:

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The Best Beginner’s 5K Training Plan: Building a winning habit with easy every day runs.

The best 5K training plan for beginners is simple, and addresses the hardest part about doing it: Yourself.

If you’re not a runner but you want to run a 5K, there’s a multitude of training plans you can follow over 8-12 weeks to get ready. The most popular is Couch to 5K, where you follow a run/walk approach 3 days a week and build up to running 3 uninterrupted miles by week 8.

Almost every beginner plan has you run 3-4 days a week, every other day. As I mentioned in a recent post, what derails you on these plans is (somewhat ironically) the scheduled days off.

Intended to help you recover, the days off instead tempt novices back into their old habit of not-running, and prevent running from becoming a repeatable, sustainable habit.

It ironically takes more discipline to maintain a half-time running schedule over time than it does to maintain an every-day running habit. Though starting an everyday running habit is more of a grind in the short run, you more quickly ingrain running as a repeatable habit. It becomes easier to continue training.

Meanwhile, if you’re taking a day off every other day, not to mention a full weekend off each week… it’s very easy to forget or give in to temptation, and skip the next workout.

And the next. And eventually quit running.

This is because you’re not building a repeatable habit. You do a workout one day, but then do no workout the next day.

Imagine if instead of brushing your teeth every day, you brushed them three times a week. Chances are pretty good you’d forget to brush your teeth a lot more often doing it three times a week. However, brushing them everyday quickly ingrained the action as a habit, and you do it without a second thought.

This is the power of habit. And it’s the key to conquering your inertia towards exercise, let alone towards training to run a 5K. The key isn’t just to train yourself to run 3+ miles without stopping. The key is to build the habit of running so that it’s easier to get you to do the workouts you need.

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Can Low-Carb Diets Be Good For Runners?

A lot of fitness enthusiasts support eating low-carb lifestyle diets adapted from the traditional Atkins diet… typically with labels like Keto and Paleo, as well as carb-limited variants like the Bulletproof, Carnivore or Primal diets.

The obvious problem for runners interested in these diets is that running is the one form of exercise that demands a LOT of quick-burning glycogen, which can only be properly supplied by a diet rich in carbohydrates. Running minds like Hal Higdon and Matt Fitzgerald outright recommend avoiding low-carb diets and to build your diet around 60+% carbohydrates. Fitzgerald in fact found in his research for his book The Endurance Diet that pretty much every elite coach and endurance athlete he consulted with subsisted on a diet rich in carbohydrates.

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The Best Running Technique for Speed

So you want to run fast? Can’t blame you. We all do. I’ve talked about this before but I’ll make a point of it again:

The mistake most people make when they try to run faster than usual, such as in speedwork and in races, is to a) run physically harder, as in put forth more effort, and b) to reach farther with their steps and try to cover more ground with each step.

All the above serves to do is tire you out more quickly, and while this may be great for sprinters who need only maintain this effort for a few seconds… this is not a good way to run a race farther than, say, 400 meters. And pretty much every race you pay to run is a lot farther than 400 meters.

What you want is to maintain efficiency, while repeating your most efficient running motion faster than usual.

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Volume: The key to base training

Most training plans, whether or not they map it out, follow at least three general phases.

  1. There is a base training phase, where you establish the volume and habits you will generally follow throughout the training cycle.
  2. There is a fundamental phase, where you develop speed and aerobic endurance.
  3. And then there is the final sharpening phase, where you work more specifically on preparing for your goal race as well as taper to heal up in the days/weeks before that race.

(Some split that 2nd phase into separate development phases, one where the 1st part is speedwork-centered, and the 2nd is built around tempo and endurance with that tempo.)

Most people follow a pre-written training plan, which usually starts with a minimal weekly mileage that gradually builds throughout the plan. The base training may establish an initial pattern of speed/tempo workouts, but the volume typically is low and increases during the life of the training plan.

I do think we get it backwards.

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The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

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Heart Rate: Should It Be Tied To Pace?

Many running guides, metrics, coaches, etc, will talk about your pace in relation to your heart rate, namely your maximum heart rate and what percentage of your maximum heart rate corresponds to a given effort or pace.

What to do in accordance with your heart rate depends on who is giving the advice, from Daniels and other coaches recommending a given heart rate for every pace, even suggesting your fastest runs be done at 100% of your max… to the Phil Maffetones of the world recommending you never run above 75-80% of your maximum heart rate… to coaches like the Hanson Brothers who won’t really discuss heart rate at all, focusing solely on your pace.

And this never minds that few can seem to agree on how to determine your max heart rate. Presuming you don’t shell out for an abusive VO2max or heart rate test, you’re often left to estimate using methods no one can agree on. The conventional ‘subtract your age from 220’ formula has long since been proven inaccurate. Runner’s World floated the result of a 2001 study as proof that the formula is close to (207 – (your age * 0.7)).

Scientists in Norway have found that an accurate formula is (211 – (your age * 0.64)). That’s the formula I use. The max it gives me (currently 185) seems more attainable than other results.

But anyway…. Personally, because I’m a fan of not dropping dead, I tend to avoid trying to hit my max heart rate even when running hard.

The closest I have gotten according to my Fitbit tracker is 184. My Blaze once said my heart rate had hit 187, but that could have been a blip. In neither case did I feel anywhere close to death: They were random occurrences during otherwise typically tough runs or workouts.

In most of my speed workouts and races, my heart rate may reach the 160’s, occasionally the 170’s. In my fastest 5K’s my HR has tapped the low 170’s for a short spell, but otherwise I never get above the high 160’s… even if technically I should be able to hit 185.

I do begin to wonder if along with my aerobic endurance my lower body muscles have sort of a ‘solid state hard drive’ strength to them, where my heart doesn’t need to pump at a maximal rate to keep everything going, where the muscles have the strength and energy systems to keep going with a more high-normal rate of circulation.

Even when running at closer to threshold effort or pace, I find I don’t always get to what Daniels would consider a threshold heart rate. It’s often closer to a marathon effort heart rate, maybe a half marathon rate. Even when I PR’d last year’s Lakefront 10, my heart rate never hit the 160’s until the final couple miles, when I was kicking for a strong finish.

Sometimes during my regular runs I hit the 140’s, but often my heart rate is in the 130’s. On my long runs during the last training cycle, I even hung in the recovery-territory 120’s for much of those runs.

I don’t know if I’m doing things differently, or if my body is wired differently, or what. But I certainly don’t mind seeing results even if my heart’s not having to pump at the rate that experts say it should be for me to get those results.

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

No intros. Let’s get to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An 8-12 week McMillan-Style 8K training plan that will get you ready

The following is admittedly a variation of a plan Greg McMillan has recommended for 10K training. The plan below is a bit more specific about mileage and off-week workouts, but does allow flexibility.

  • This plan lasts a minimum of 8 weeks and presumes you already run at least 15 miles a week, at least 3-4 days a week, and at least two of your runs are 5 miles or more. It’s ideal if you run at least 40 miles per week, but that’s not necessary.
  • If not, spend 2-4 weeks running at least 15 miles per week, at least 3 days a week, at an easy pace… before beginning this plan. The less running you currently do, the longer you need to work on that before beginning this plan.
  • Don’t begin the workouts below until you’ve run 15+ miles 3+ days each week, without trouble, for at least a couple weeks. Week 1 of the below plan only begins the week after you’re able to do so.
  • Pick a goal 8K pace that is attainable, whether you attained it before or it’s within 15-20 seconds per mile (9-12 seconds per kilometer) of a pace you’ve run at this distance or longer. Don’t pick a pace you can’t hold for at least a couple miles uninterrupted.

Starting in week 1, do the below workout once during each designated week. Ideally, do the workout in the middle of the week, but you can pick any day of the week that works best for you:

Wk 1 – 5 x 1 mile (1600m) repeats, at goal pace.

Wk 2 – 5×400, comfortably hard pace, rest 2min between.

Wk 3 – 4 x 1.25 mile (2000m) repeats, at goal pace.

Wk 4 – 5×400, comfortably hard pace, rest 2min between.

Wk 5 – 3 x 1.67 mile (2700m) repeats, at goal pace.

Wk 6 – 5×400, comfortably hard pace, rest 2min between.

Wk 7 – 2 x 2.5 mile (4000m) repeats, at goal pace.

Wk 8 – No speed workout! All easy running.

If you can nail goal pace in the Week 7 workout, you absolutely will nail your goal time.


  • It’s okay for the mile+ repeat distance to be a little long or a little short. If you can run them on a track, measuring the repeats is very easy (one reason I mention the metric distances!) because every lap in lane 1 is 400 meters, and many competition tracks will mark off start lines in each lane for the correct distances.
  • Obviously, trying to do these repeats on a road or trail doesn’t make measuring the right distance easy. The goal is to sustain your pace for each one, so just pick a stretch of path that’s close to the needed distance.
  • If you find yourself falling more than 10 seconds per mile (6 seconds per kilometer) short of your goal pace during the workouts in weeks 1 and 3, you need to dial back your pace expectations.
  • Don’t do the 5×400 reps at max effort, but definitely give a stride-fast effort. Go fast enough that finishing is tough, but hold back enough that you could keep going another 400 meters after the finish if you had to. Let feel be your guide on these repeats. And yes, 5×400 may not be a lot for many of you. This should be a quick and easy speed workout.
  • Aside from the key workouts, you want to do some easy running at least a couple other days per week, probably more like 3-5 other days per week. The fewer days you run, the longer those easy runs need to be. If nothing else, do an easy run 2 days before the speed workout and 2 days after the speed workout. Otherwise, do whatever easy running you want.
  • Don’t skip workouts unless you’re rather sick, or you’re injured. If you’re not going to do a workout, at least run a couple miles that day.

As always: Eat well, sleep well, every day during this training plan. You are the sum of your habits. Take care of yourself.

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Strategic approaches to racing the 10 Miler

While not as popular elsewhere, the 10 Mile race distance is somewhat popular in the Midwest, especially in Chicagoland. Chicago alone has two major 10 Mile races, the Lakefront 10 in April (my favorite race) and the Soldier Field 10 in May. Several others (Quarryman Challenge and Fort2Base) are annually held in the suburbs with high turnout. There’s also the 15K (9.32 miles), the close metric cousin of the 10 Miler, and the Hot Chocolate 15K is another popular Chicago race held in November.

Because the distance is not popular like the 5K, 10K, half and full marathon distances, there’s not a lot of strategic material on how to race the distance. The next shortest popular distance is the 10K, which is over 6K shorter. Most runners approach it similar to a half marathon, even though the distance is about 5K shorter and experienced runners are probably leaving a bit in the tank.

I have run 10 Milers mostly as a long distance run (as the half-marathon runners do), and I ran my last 10 Miler as a marathon-pace tune up. However, having given it some research and thought, I have settled on two strategies for running the 10 Miler

Strategy One: The Hadfield Method

Jenny Hadfield crafted a smart approach for marathoners and half marathoners running their first race, and I think it translates well to the 10 Mile distance for most people. Along with new runners to the 10 Miler, Strategy One probably best for experienced runners who put in less than 65 miles a week.

The Hadfield Strategy, in short:

  • You run the first 60% or so of the race at an easy pace to comfortably maintain.
  • You run the next 30% or so at more of a comfortably hard tempo
  • The final 10% is closer to a max effort for whatever you have left.
  • It’s a great strategy in that it doesn’t necessarily have to be built around pace, but around your perceived effort.

If you’re not too fixed on finding goal paces, you are welcome to stop there. Just run the first 6 miles easy, the next 2-3 miles comfortably hard (if you’re running a 15K, it’s 2 miles), then go for it in the final mile.

However, for more experienced runners, I’m more than willing to recommend something closer to actual paces for Hadfielding the 10 Miler:

  1. Start at half marathon pace, and hold this pace until Mile 6.
  2. At Mile 6, pick it up to a 10K effort. If you can’t hit your 10K pace, then 10K level effort is enough. You basically want to treat this section like the last half of a 10K, except don’t kick or accelerate as you would in mile 5. Just pick it up as if you were trying to run an even 10K with a slight negative split.
  3. At mile 9 (or if this is a 15K, mile 8), kick it up to at least 5K pace or effort. If you have it in you to treat the final mile like a mile time trial or 3000 meter race, then go. But 5K effort is completely acceptable. Get to the pace that you can carry in that final mile to the finish line.¬†(Side note for Lakefront 10 runners: I’d maybe keep it exclusively at 5K effort, because you still have to climb and descend Cricket Hill at the end of the race.)
  4. Once you see the finish line and know you can get there, kick.

Strategy Two: 10 Mile pace, defined.

The other approach is of course to run the entire race at a chosen, suitable pace as you would any other race.

But what would be an ideal 10 Mile pace? Much like an ideal half marathon pace, it’s an intensity reserved for only the most well-trained, durable runners. This is why, as previously implied, it should only be attempted by experienced runners who consistently log more than 65 miles per week.

Top half marathoners race at about their lactate threshold intensity, which most schools of thought refer to as Tempo, Cruise or Threshold pace.

It’s around 85% of your max, and the reason most recommend a slower half marathon pace for most is because most can’t sustain that kind of effort for the time it takes them to cover 13.1 miles. An elite runner can clear 13.1 in a bit over an hour, so it’s not as taxing for them.

An optimal 10 Mile pace is around the high end of Threshold tempo, right before drifting into 10K territory. Most runners can’t sustain that effort for 75-100 minutes, but a fast runner that can clear 10 miles in under an hour can do so easily.

The key gauge is the longest period you can manageably sustain an uninterrupted threshold effort run. If you can’t go at least 6.5 miles straight at that intensity, asking you to do it for 10 is probably too much. Hence the previous Hadfieldian strategy recommending you go by feel, start easy and basically assure yourself an excellent negative split.

A cracky common-sense method for estimating your optimum 10 Miler pace:

Add your half marathon pace and your 10K pace together, then divide by two.

The challenge, similar to a half or full marathon, is holding that pace for 10 miles. A half marathon effort is comfortably hard but somewhat easily sustainable. This pace at its hardest is more like a tempo run you’d only hold for 60 minutes max.

If you have 9-12 weeks training time before the race, you can gauge your actual 10 Miler pace through trial and error testing (and of course make sure you don’t have any speedwork or long runs within 2 days of doing the below):

  1. Pick a comfortably hard pace you think you can maintain for an hour, and run an uninterrupted tempo run at that pace for as long as you can. Aim for an hour minimum. IMPORTANT: If your heart rate reaches 90% of your max or your known 10K effort, stop the workout immediately and note your distance traveled.
  2. If you find you can’t run at least 6.5 miles at that pace, wait a week and try again at a pace 5 seconds per mile slower (3 seconds per kilometer). Again, run for at least an hour and aim for 6.5 miles without distress or other trouble. And again, if you miss the mark, repeat a week later with a pace 5 seconds per mile (3/km) slower.
  3. If after 3 tries you haven’t been able to finish 6.5 miles… just use your half marathon pace as your 10 Mile pace.

That is for all intents and purposes your 10 Mile pace. Train accordingly with that pace until race day.


… now how do you train for a 10 Miler, you may ask?

I’ll get to that at some point, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

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The best Way to Run the Year 2019

chair scenery summer abandon
Photo by Zino Bang on Pexels.com

One project some hardcore runners are into is Running the Year, aka running during the course of a year a number of miles at least equal to that particular year. People may or may not join the linked project to attempt it.

Once you get into the math of what running the year 2019 takes, you realize it’s not an easy feat. To run the year 2019, you have to average about 5.53 miles per day, or 38.8 miles a week. And to be honest, most runners probably could not run that much all 365 days, or 52 weeks, in 2019.

A hardcore marathoner or ultra runner putting in 80-120 miles a week probably reaches 2019 miles in 2019 without trying too hard (… or at least harder than they usually do while training). Many of them probably can reach 2019 miles before the end of May, whether or not they’re training for a goal race.

For most other runners, this is very difficult. I myself peaked last year in 2017 at about 1495 miles, and despite training for two marathons I’m actually behind last year’s pace by about 50 miles.

Granted, this year I took extended breaks, whereas I didn’t really in 2017, and at this time last year I was peaking for the 2017 Las Vegas Rock N Roll Half Marathon whereas today I’m taking two weeks off following a marathon.

Still, if a seemingly compulsive runner like me struggles to get to just 1500 miles, then logging 2019 miles next year probably won’t be a slam dunk if it’s uncharted territory for you.

Plus, let’s be real: You’re probably not going to run every single day, or every single week. Life happens. So banking on running 5.53 miles every day or 38.8 miles every week won’t cut it.


If you want to run the year 2019, and you don’t already run 50+ miles in a typical week, you need a more robust training plan.

It may not be enough to simply train for one or two marathons or ultras. Oddly, training for a marathon or an ultra can hinder your ability to pile up the needed miles.

  • You need to cut substantial miles for a taper in the weeks leading up to the race.
  • You probably need to take time off from running after the race.
  • That’s a month or more where your running is absent or heavily curtailed… which offsets the chunk of mileage you get running 26.2 (or more) miles on race day.

In fact, racing in general can limit your ability to pile up the needed miles. Even in shorter races you’ll need to taper in the few days beforehand, and then you’ll need to take it easy for some days afterward.

Plus, most of the races themselves are a lesser mileage than you may need to keep pace with 2019: 3.11 miles for a 5K, 6.21 for a 10K. You’re often not getting a ton of mileage bang for your buck on race day, plus you’re paying for it by needing to taper or rest surrounding the race.


Now, this doesn’t mean you need to abandon all fun and stick to just long, easy distance running every day for a year to hit the benchmark.

It can be possible, and possibly healthy while maximizing your chances at success, to run the year 2019 while peaking for races, and then taking extended time off during the year.

The key to running the year 2019: You need to run enough volume while actively training to bank enough miles that you can take time off without losing ground.

What is that volume? I’m gonna go out on a limb and set the benchmark at 45 miles per week. You need to be comfortable logging 45 miles per week in whatever way allows you to safely, reliably do so.

  • This can be one speedwork session, one long run, and then nothing but a bunch of longer easy paced runs the rest of the way, each week you run.
  • It can be three 90+ minute runs with a longer long run on the weekend each week, taking a day off between most of the runs.
  • It can be a daily run in the morning, then a run in the evening, every day if you wanted to.

However you do it, you want to make sure you can comfortably bank 45 miles per week pretty much every week you run.

The reason for this is because you will anticipate taking weeks off at a time throughout the year, plus anticipate that you will need to take incidental or unplanned days off throughout the year. If you run 45 miles a week, you can hit 2019 miles in 2019 while taking a bit over 7 total weeks off from running. It creates a substantial margin for error, while allowing you to build breaks into your training plans.

The human body can only handle a maximum of about 24 weeks of uninterrupted training before the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you start to lose more value and fitness from continuing than you gain. If your training doesn’t feature a regular break from training, you’ll want to train in 12-18 week cycles that are bookended by a week or more off from running.

This is no problem if you plan to run a marathon in 2019. But even if you’re not, it will do you good to take a break every few months, if not after any other races you do. Most runners need no coaxing to do this, but hardcore runners sometimes need the reminder. As runaholic as I can be, I realize I should take days off and extended breaks every so often.

This also better allows you to book some races in 2019 if you desire, without doing the aforementioned damage to your Run the Year 2019 goal. By logging more mileage than you technically need, you bank enough time to taper, take breaks, recover, etc, with peace of mind that you’re still ahead of the game.

So, if you’re gonna run the year 2019 this coming year, start by getting comfortable with about 45 miles a week. From there, hitting the benchmark will still take a lot of work, but will be within reach.

 

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Thoughts on ultramarathons

I have no visions of trying ultramarathoning anytime in the foreseeable future. But I realize that at some point, once I’ve done enough marathons, I will at least consider running a 50K (31.07 miles), possibly up to 100K (62.14 miles).

I have running friends who have dabbled in ultra running. In fact, friend and former Fleet Feet Racing Team coach Kyle Larson is (as of this post date) the current reigning back to back champ of the Frozen Gnome 50K.

From what I have learned, ultra running is clearly different in that you really can’t “race” an ultra the way you can race any distance up to the marathon. In theory, any stretched out runner can run 26.2 miles with minimal trouble if they pace themselves slowly enough. It’s racing the distance that poses the ultimate challenge.

However, once you get into ultra distances, you’re really just running at your best easy to moderate pace. And it’s about survival, or finishing the distance within a time window like 12 hours.

Most runners who get into ultra running tend to be sturdier framed, more compact runners who aren’t as speedy in their running but can durably run long distances day after day. These races are often run on trails, so ultra runners tend to train a lot more on rugged terrain.

Ultra runners also tend to wear different footwear than conventional competitive runners, since they log such massive training volume. Shoes like Topo Athletic and Skora, known for their trail-friendly durability, are popular with ultra runners. The more conventional footwear often takes a backseat.

I often play around with Electric Blues‘ complex Daniels Tables to get an idea of goal and benchmark paces for training ahead of more conventional, much shorter races. I also use it to judge the intensity of various workouts as well as the intensity of my training.

I’ll probably go into more detail on how I use this data in a future post (as it’s 9:20pm CDT now, and to get into it now would keep me up until midnight on a work night, as it’s somewhat complex). But I have played around with this to get an idea of the intensity at which a runner can reasonably run an ultra.

A 50K (31.07 miles) is still within the realm of being race-able, though obviously you’re not going to give it the same effort as a marathon. You probably should run it more like a sustained moderate run. In fact (though he didn’t intend his written marathon programs for this), Jeff Galloway’s run/walk training methods are also a great approach to training for a 50K.

It’s once you get into the 50+ mile range that race pace is merely a function of how fast you can comfortably go while running at an easy intensity. A 100K would probably be run at the pace of a gentle recovery run, whereas the real challenge is maintaining that gentle run for 12-16 consecutive hours (while of course working in breaks to use the restroom and to eat, since at that length of time you will need to eat meals of some kind to continue functioning).

Once you’re in the 100 mile range (like the world famous Diagonale de Fous route of the Reunion Grand Raid), you are basically running for survival as much as competition, and you focus on doing what you have to do to stay upright through the finish.

The key aspect to the slower pacing in an ultra is not just the lengthier race in itself, but that you must conserve glycogen and rely much more on burning fat. You simply could not digest enough carbohydrates to fuel a normal race-pace effort at these distances even if you wanted to. Therefore you must master sustained running at a lower intensity.

Thus the fuel for these ultra races tends to be a lot more robust than your typical gels and Gatorade. Runners often swear by bars and other chewy snacks and other whole food. Some will prepare a special bottle as elite runners do for marathons, but these concoctions more resemble protein shakes than eletrolyte solutions in their consistency.

Also, you often have to pack your own food and carry it as you run. These courses are often in remote regions, and you won’t see the robust on-course support that you see at marathons. If there’s an aid station, it’s probably every several miles or so. On a loop course, there might only be one. And what nutrition they might be carrying is fairly limited, more of an emergency supply than something you can rely on. And ideally you want to dictate your fuel intake anyway, so you’re just better off bringing your own gear. Carrying this gear furthers the need to run at a slower pace.


Standard disclaimer: A lot of this can vary from race to race, and many experienced ultra runners have had differing experiences than what’s described above.

Because it’s largely uncharted territory, most experienced ultra runners follow their own approach to doing things that works for them. It remains a vast field of potential in terms of the possibilities for training and for race strategy, even as the popularity of ultra racing has improved in recent years.

I didn’t mean for this by any means to be a complete treatment on ultra racing. I’m hardly scratching the surface, and I’ll probably have more to say on it as I do more research. Plus, again, it’ll probably be a long while before I entertain doing one.

But it’ll be interesting to see if strategies and coaches emerge in the field of ultra running. The possibilities, while not endless, are vast.

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Hiccups, but the Chicago Marathon is done

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

I had never had anything like that happen to me before. I was on pace for 4:10-4:20 and feeling good physically, when suddenly I began hiccuping so badly I couldn’t breathe. I tried holding my breath, tried stopping, drinking water… nothing could stop them. At best, whenever it seemed I had gotten them to stop. I’d resume running for 1-3 minutes. Then they’d come back and I’d have to slow to a walk again.

The resulting run/walk was a miserable slog, and it definitely exacberated any exhaustion I was feeling. If finishing wasn’t so important to me, I’d have possibly dropped out. It was somewhat aggravating knowing in the later miles I was in condition to run at speed, but this was holding me back.

I ran/walked until 40K, where I decided hiccups be damned that I would run the rest of the way, and I did. I even kicked hard like a 10K at the finish.

I feel great about finishing. I don’t feel great about the hiccups derailing my run. I am still sore and tired, and if there’s one saving grace it’s that the forced walking might have made the run less of a beating on my body. We’ll see how I feel over the next few days, but I notice I’m having an easier time walking and taking the stairs than others, even though definitely it’s a struggle.

It does feel good as well knowing I can certainly improve on 5:25ish, that I’m more than capable of 4:00-4:15 and possibly better the next time out. If I can figure out over time what caused the hiccups, I can run the next marathon without any… hiccups.

Now, two weeks off.

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Do I ever take an offseason?

My final shakeout run is in the books and I feel ready to go for tomorrow’s Chicago Marathon. I definitely feel way better and a lot more physically/mentally ready for tomorrow than I did while ill and sleeping poorly right before Vancouver.

Tomorrow, effective no later than 2pm CDT, I begin an imposed two week minimum hiatus from running. This is a rule created by the Hanson Brothers that bookends their training plans in Hanson Marathon Method. While I don’t necessarily train their way, it is a rule I plan to follow.

Never mind how much damage I’ll have to heal from. From a pure healing standpoint, you could easily begin easy running in as little as the next day, provided the running is easy and brief enough. I can do recovery runs after 20 milers with little problem.

Hal Higdon recommends you take about 3 days off after a marathon before trying any running. Even then he recommends you take it very easy and ease back into a regular schedule.

The real reason to take a break, along with physical recovery, is to take a mental break, free up those hours I’d otherwise devote to running and do some other stuff with my evenings. I definitely have some other projects and work I’m looking forward to doing during the break.

The most obvious time to take an offseason is right after a marathon, where a runner needs the recovery time anyway. The famous Kenyan runners actually will sit around and not run at all for as much as two months before resuming training. Frank Shorter’s famous quote goes, “You have to forget your last marathon before you try another.” The offseason is meant for many to re-set the mind before committing to train again.

During an offseason a runner might run some, but nothing resembling training for particular fitness let alone a race. Week One for that can begin down the road.

Once I got serious about running again, I’ve definitely taken breaks. I don’t know if I’d full out call them offseasons, as when I take them fluctuates depending on various factors.

For one, I began serious training in a traditional spring-to-fall schedule, and eventually decided I wanted to run in winter. At that time I took a break in late summer in 2017, then resumed training in the autumn as others were running their marathons and wrapping up their training. I also took another break, after weeks of general training, before beginning training in January for Vancouver this past year.

For there to be an offseason, however, there has to be a defined season to train. And in my case, winter is my favorite time of year to train, but I don’t know if November to May would be considered my “season” just yet.

This time around, obviously, I’m going to take a way more conventional break following the Chicago Marathon, which I suppose you can call an offseason. I not only will take a two week break from running, but I want to focus primarily on other physical training during November and December.

After light strength training during this training cycle, I would like to improve my upper body strength, core strength, overall flexibility and conditioning ahead of resuming training in winter. I’ve got a strength and conditioning program or two that I’ve previously worked with and think will serve me well with two months of daily committed effort. I’ll get more into this once I’m at that point and knee deep into it.


 

Meanwhile, for this training cycle, there’s one more important task remaining at hand. I will talk with you again following the Chicago Marathon.

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On how the body uses energy during a race, why runners hit the wall in a marathon, and what can be done about it

A key fundamental issue with the marathon is that the distance is farther than the human body can capably race in one go without consuming fuel during the race.

Long story short, aka I’m about to paraphrase a ton of science without citing any sources:

Continue reading

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