Marathon Training Tip #8: Mixing Things Up — Variety IS the Spice of Life

Mixing Things Up — Variety IS the Spice of Life

Regardless of our individual experience level, the first several weeks of marathon training is generally all about finding and running at a ‘comfortable pace’.

In the past, we’ve talked about Long Slow Distance (‘LSD’) Runs being run at a ‘conversational’ pace; and we’ve talked about weekday runs as ‘Pacing Runs’–which may be at the pace we comfortably run our LSD’s, or may be slightly faster or slower than LSD’s.

Throughout my coaching career, I’ve come across many runners who want to run every workout at the same pace, never deviating.  I’ve heard athletes say: “I really only run at one pace, so why do I need to run faster or slower on some days?”  Others say they’re going to run their race at a certain pace and need to practice by running all their training runs at that pace to build consistency.

Research shows that our bodies adapt when training.  Adaptation means that as fitness improves, further athletic improvement develops by modifying our workouts and changing the pace at which we train. Alternating easy days and hard days improves our fitness and strengthens our bodies (and our minds), – enabling the body to adjust to the positive stresses of marathon training.

There is no universal definition of a ‘hard’ or and ‘easy’ workout.  These are relative terms based upon our individual fitness levels and response to training.  A hard or easy workout is defined by how hard or easy the workout is for the individual.  Yet, the theories set forth below are the same regardless of how fast or slow we run.

If we train ‘hard’ all the time, the risk of injury increases due to the aggregate stress of training and, perhaps, overtraining without providing the necessary recovery time for our bodies to heal and to replenish spent glycogen and other energy stores.  To counter this risk, easy running days, rest days and cross training days are built into your training schedule allowing your body to recover from harder workouts.  Cross training days allow for aerobic activity, but no pounding on our joints and running muscles.  ‘Easy’ running days help build endurance while reducing some of the ‘pounding’ absorbed by our bodies on harder running days.  Rest days allow more recovery time.

On the other hand, if we run at only an ‘easy’ pace in training or on race day, we are always working the same muscles at the same level.  Running all training runs at an ‘easy’ pace makes us as susceptible to overuse injuries as running ‘hard’ all the time–as the lack of variation often overworks the same muscle groups with the same stress levels on each run.

Moreover, if we run at only a single ‘comfortable’ pace we are less likely to ever learn and know our capabilities.  We don’t magically get faster unless we run faster on some of our workouts—working our cardiovascular system and our muscles differently.

“Net-net” — it’s the same theory, whether running hard or easy—to maximize training effectiveness, “mix it up.”

So “mix it up’… a variety of workouts strengthens our bodies and our minds with the added benefits of reducing risk of injury and making us a little faster.  Even one or two variable workouts each week helps with performance on race day.  These workouts are not meant to leave you drained, but to add a little spice into training.  Think of it as adding a chili pepper into a meal for a change of pace.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®



One Mile At A Time

For most of us, this past weekend included a 12 or 14-mile long run…

… and if this was your longest long-run ever—or if you’re training for your ‘first ever’ marathon—you might now be saying to yourself, “Oh. My. Gosh. How am I EVER going to run 26.2 miles?”

Now, I’m not saying this question has crossed your mind—but there’s a darn good chance that if it hasn’t, it will. It might happen after finishing a summer half marathon; or maybe after your 14, 16 or 18-miler… you get to the point where you say to yourself, “Can I really run any farther?”

And the truth is, YES… you really can.

And when your schedule calls for it, you DO run another mile (or two)—because weeks and months of marathon training have improved your strength and endurance to the point where those “one or two more miles” ARE inside of you.

All you have to do is reach for them.

Reach deep if you have to. Or “dig deep” if it takes digging.

But they’re there.

And it’s that strength (and the mental awareness that you have that strength) that will enable you to successfully complete your next long-run.

But for right nowat this point in your trainingPLEASE don’t think about running 26.2 miles!

If you’re running 12 miles, think about running 14. If you’re running 14, think about running 16.

(So here’s what I do… for every 2-mile increase in my weekly long-run, I think of it as running “just one more mile, out”… and I KNOW I can run “just one more mile!”)

And to those of you who have asked yourself, “How am I EVER going to run 26.2 miles?”

Oh… you will.

One mile at a time.

To that point, one of my favorite NIKE running posters says it best, The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.”

(How perfect is that!)

Many, many thanks (again!) to each of you for ALL that you are doing to train and run and fundraise to support Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Keep training safe.

And (of course), keep running strong.




Marathon Training Tip #7: Fueling Up

Fueling Up

Fatigue and some muscle soreness are common at this point in the season–often due to increased aggregate mileage and training.  But another frequent cause is inadequate nutrition, and several of you have asked how to ‘fuel up’ in order to minimize these effects.

Increases in weekly mileage as well as longer ‘long runs’ have our bodies craving additional fuel to support our increased activity (and consequent caloric burn).  This will continue throughout the season.  As fitness improves, our metabolism increases its ability to process additional nutrients.  As endurance runners, our nutritional needs are different from the general public and even from athletes in power sports (such as weight lifting).

For runners, the best source of “stored fuel” results from a balanced diet throughout the week–not just by ‘carbo-loading’ the night before a long run.  Maintaining a balanced source of carbohydrates, protein and fat, together with proper hydration (water and sports drinks for electrolyte replenishment) should be what every marathon runner strives to achieve.

Simply stated, the most efficient source of fuel in our bodies is glycogen.  Through a chemical process, our bodies synthesize carbohydrates into glycogen, which primes and “feeds” our muscles when exercising.

Glycogen is stored primarily in our muscles and in our liver.  Generally, we store enough glycogen to run about 20 miles.  But a marathon is longer than that distance–so as we train, our bodies begin to compensate by learning to store and burn our fuel more efficiently.  (This is the purpose of Long, Slow Distance Runs on the weekends as we discussed in Marathon Training Tip #2.)

For an endurance athlete, the dietary proportions should be approximately:

Carbohydrates:  55-65%

Protein: 20-30%

Fat: 15-25%

We can vary the percentages from week to week, but the highest source of caloric intake for endurance runners should come from carbohydrates.  Fat and protein are essential building blocks as well, but in lesser proportions.  Protein rebuilds muscles which are damaged while running and fat is a critical secondary source of fuel.

Several of you have asked how to manage hunger and fatigue on long runs– recognizing that no matter how well we eat during the week, we still have ‘fuel needs’ immediately before and during on our long runs—and afterwards as well.

It is best to consume some food about 1.5 – 2.0 hours before a long run.  Eating approximately 1.5 – 2.0 hours before a long run allows us to process our food and void before our long run.  A few hundred calories will be sufficient (good examples – a small container of yogurt, a half bagel with some peanut butter or honey, or some fruit).  Practice different foods and products to see what best suits you.

If you regularly drink coffee in the morning, it is ok to drink coffee before a training run but take note of how you process coffee and allow enough time to ‘reprocess’ any coffee before the run.

During a long run, many runners use gel paks or blocks (‘gummy-like’ cubes); or ‘sport beans’ (jelly bean-type products).  Most of these products are primarily carbohydrate replenishment.  The best time to use these products is before we expect our glycogen stores have been depleted.  If you are maintaining a well-balanced diet during the week, these products have little benefit until 60 to 90 minutes into your run.  However, different products affect our bodies differently.  Practice using a gel pak or blocks or beans on a short weekday training run to be sure the product does not upset your stomach.

In addition to fueling with gel paks or blocks, sports drinks are important during a long run as well.  Sports drinks contain electrolytes (sodium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, to name a few).  When running long distances, it is common for runners to sweat a great deal, which flushes many electrolytes from our system.  Many of you may have noticed a white residue on your face or body either during or after your run – this is salt (sodium) excreted during a run.  Too much salt loss can result in fatigue and illness.  Salt or electrolyte tablets can replenish a loss of sodium.  Most sports drinks contain sodium as a primary ingredient.

Finally, gel blocks and paks should be taken with water.  Do not mix these products with a sports drink at the same time.  Water is the most efficient supplement to disperse the carbohydrates and minerals in gel paks and blocks throughout our system.  Sports drinks are formulated to disperse their electrolytes and supplements efficiently.  However, combining a gel pak (or block) with a sports drink overloads the system and has an adverse effect on the distribution of nutrients through our bodies.  If you feel the need for both gel paks or blocks and a sports drink, alternate the two products throughout your run.

After a long run, there is a window of opportunity to replenish nutrients lost during a run.  Our bodies will process carbohydrates and protein best when consumed within 30 minutes of ending the long run.  Our bodies will continue to expedite the carbohydrate and protein reload for up to two hours after a long run, but the first 30 minutes are the most opportune time to replenish.

A favorite ‘post run’ recovery drink for many runners is chocolate milk—an excellent and healthful way to keep yourself ‘mooo-ving’ after your run.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®

Lesson Learned

A couple of years ago I was pretty much ‘sidelined’ because of a rather nasty plantar fasciitis “issue” that resulted in my only being able to run one day during the week, and a much shortened Saturday long-run… and even then, both these “runs” were really more walking than running.

I was a mess.

But then I saw a sports physical therapist and was encouraged to understand that even though I couldn’t do my normal run training, I could still do strength and core exercises, and even bike and swim. Which is exactly what I did.

Okay, so I wasn’t running. But what the heck… at least I was still ‘out there!’

The “lesson” this injury taught me, and the lesson I want to share with you… is that even if your training schedule is interrupted—either by the weather, injury or by a (too) busy schedule—there’s a really good chance you can still do something.

On extremely hot and/or humid weekends, if doing a 12 mile long-run seems

“just impossible,” try running 8 or 10 miles instead… and run at a slower pace! (Honestly, the effort it takes to run a slow[er] 10 miles in the heat will be more than equivalent to the effort it takes to run 12 miles under more ‘normal’ conditions.)

And if your work and/or family schedule doesn’t give you time for a 50-minute weekday run, run 30—an idea celebrated in this quote by runner, mother and author Kristin Armstrong: “There is a freedom in running… a liberty and indulgence every time I run. Even if all my day affords is just 30 precious minutes, I am reminded—even if not one single thing on my calendar reflects it—that the adventure is still out there.”

And if you just don’t have the ‘inclination’ or opportunity to run on a given day, do something else… like stretching, or strength work. Or take out your bike and ride! Or “go jump in the lake” (or pool, or ocean) and swim!

But please, I encourage you (just as I was encouraged) to challenge yourself to still DO SOMETHING!

Because “something” is ALWAYS better than nothing.

Train safe. Run strong.



Marathon Training Tip #6: Races and Training

Races and Training

The goal is set – completing the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 7, 2018.  Long run distances are increasing as is the aggregate weekly mileage, and it’s likely that we’re feeling more and more comfortable about our ability to run further; and for some of you, further and faster.  Distances which seemed daunting just a few weeks ago are less intimidating now.

We are still focused on our marathon training goal and our schedule.  But what about those other races our friends are running between now and marathon day – 5K’s, 10K’s, maybe even a half marathon like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon or another half marathon later in the summer?  Should we be running those also?  If so, how do these races fit into our training?

Shorter races provide perspective on how fast we can run.  A 5K or 10K allows us to run faster than we do on our LSD runs on Saturday, and allow for recovery time before our next long run.  Longer distances of 10 miles or half marathons help measure our endurance and progress since May.  We can measure improvement based on finish time and recovery time from the race.

Ultimately, each training workout in your schedule and each race should contribute and have a purpose in the overall goal – crossing the finish line of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 7, 2018.

Before toeing the line at another event, ask yourself two questions – (i) What are my motives for running the race? And (ii) How will the race result(s) affect my goal on Marathon Day?

Motivation for running a ‘mid-season’ race varies – to challenge myself, to measure my progress, to mix up my training workouts, to get the feel for running a race; and each is valid.

Race results (and recovery) may affect your individual training and marathon goal(s) as you ask yourself, “am I pleased with the progress I’ve made so far” (evidence that your training is working and that you’re moving towards your marathon goal); “was the initial goal too passive, or too aggressive;” “should I modify my training; or should I stay the course”?

These other races are good to run, and incorporating such events into the training schedule requires planning and modifications of the training schedule.  In some cases, the long run mileage on the schedule is the same or very close to a Sunday half marathon distance.  When this happens, simply switch the workouts for the Saturday and Sunday runs, making Saturday a rest day and Sunday the long run.

If there is a race of 10 miles or longer which you wish to run, and the training mileage is significantly different, please contact me to modify the training program, not just on race weekend, but in the week before and after the race.  Always check the schedule to see what workouts are scheduled the week before and the week after the race in order not to overload the system and to allow for adequate recovery before Marathon Day.

Shorter races such as a 5K or 10K are easier to work into the training schedule – but still require a look at what has preceded the race and what will follow.  Racing places a higher stress on the body and recovery from shorter, faster races are important

While some races can be good, too much of a good thing can lead to overtraining, injury or burnout.  Usually, a simple fix is available by switching a few workouts in the week before and after the race.

Remember that our “goal event” for the season is the Chicago Marathon on October 7.  Other races before than can be fun, can be a measuring stick for our progress and can fit into training, just don’t overdo it by planning too many races or running too many miles in training weeks around your races.

Racing and correlation to marathon finish time

There is another reason for racing, particularly for those who are training to hit a specific finish time target in the marathon.  For those of you running your first marathon, and especially those who have not run many races, an occasional race will allow you to get the feel of a race day environment.

For those who are experienced racers, your race times from various races can be used to see if your goal marathon finish time is a realistic one for your training. I have correlation charts which indicate what goal finish times should be for shorter races to target a specific marathon time.  It is not as simple as taking your half marathon time and doubling it for your marathon finish time.  For example, if your goal is to run a 4:00 marathon, the correlation is a half marathon finish time of 1:55 – 1:57.  There are other correlation times for shorter races as well.

If you are targeting a certain finish time (and I recommend this for only those who are experienced runners and who have run at least one other marathon previously), please contact me and we can look at your race times from 5K to half marathons to see if you are ‘in the ballpark’.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®



Grinding It Out

Weeks 6 through 10 on the training schedule are when many runners begin to lose a bit of marathon training ‘focus.’

They’re no longer the “first few weeks of training” that come with their own high levels of adrenaline and energy; and they’re not yet those 14, 16 and 18 mile long-run weeks that demand and require our greatest effort and endurance.

Instead, these are the weeks that test our commitment to training consistency, and truly test our determination to be ‘marathoners.’

Ray Kroc’s book about McDonald’s Corporation (which he titled, “Grinding It Out”) is all about consistency and determination—so I’ve come to think of these weeks as the “grinding it out” weeks on the training schedule… weeks that shape and strengthen the very foundation on which the second half of our training will stand.

Or fall.

Yes, there will be hot (and humid!) summer days ahead—like this past weekend here in Chicago. (Yikes!) Or days when work, travel or family make it tough to exactly follow your training schedule—and when that happens, you will need to adjust your training.

But that’s okay!

And honestly… a few ‘day-to-day’ changes to your training in the context of an 18-20 week training schedule is not going to make any measurable difference in your marathon day performance.

So go ahead and make the changes that ‘life’ (or the heat!) are leading you to make, continuing to do ALL you can, the BEST you can on any given day, or in any given week—always keeping your focus on the rather amazing achievement waiting for you on October 7.

And for anyone having a bit of a ‘motivation’ problem getting out the door to run, consider this anecdote…

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be eaten. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or gazelle–when the sun comes up, you better get running”

(I LOVE that!)

Keep training safe.

And (of course), keep running strong.