Marathon Training Tip #13: Finding Your Marathon “Race Pace”

Finding Your Marathon “Race Pace”

At this point in training, it’s natural to eye the calendar – looking ahead (with a mixture of excitement, anxiety and confidence) to October 8 when we toe the line for the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Our perspectives (and our goals) have likely changed since Memorial Day weekend when we ‘officially’ embarked on our training ‘journey’. We have either improved beyond what we thought possible at the beginning of the season, or we may have fallen a little ‘off track.’  Either way, now is a good time to reassess our goals and to find our marathon “race pace.”

I raise this point now, because many of you have asked how to set a realistic time goal for Marathon Day.

Some of the questions – “What is the difference between my long run ‘training pace’ on Saturdays and how fast I can (or should) run on Marathon Day?”

“How do I determine how fast I should be running on Marathon Day?”

“How do I run the marathon faster than my Saturday ‘LSD’ (long slow distance) pace if I haven’t been running faster all season?”

For many of you who are running your first marathon, and especially those who are fairly new to running, the long, slow distance pace of the Saturday long runs IS your marathon pace.  You are training your body by building the endurance to run 26.2 miles on Marathon Day.  Your efforts will be rewarded with a finisher’s medal on October 8 (and with a very satisfied smile on your face)… and there is no pressure (and no need) to run any faster on race day.  Enjoy the experience and savor the accomplishment.

For others, the goal of achieving a particular finish time is beginning to come into focus. Review the goals set at the start of the season.  Ask yourself, “Are those goals still realistic?  Can I run faster?  Should I run faster?  Or do I need to adjust my goals to a slower race pace in order to finish safely?”

So how DO you determine a realistic Marathon Pace?

Our race day predicted finish time should be a realistic and achievable goal. Use objective criteria, based upon the results of your training to date, and preferably, race finish times (from other ‘events’ in which you may have participated) throughout the summer.  Look at recent race results; compare those finish times and distances to predictors for the marathon distance.  One such predictor calculator can be found at: http://www.marathonguide.com/fitnesscalcs/predictcalc.cfm.

In addition to these predictor calculations, check your training logs to see how you felt at the end of the long runs this season. If you have consistently noted you could have run longer at the LSD pace, coupled with the predictor, you are in good standing.  If, however, your training logs noted that you often struggled to maintain the pace during the training runs, and felt completely spent at the end of the training run, that is an indication that the training runs have been a bit too aggressive.

You’ll note that the pace per mile for these ‘predicted’ marathon finish times will likely be faster than the LSD pace of Saturday long runs—especially for ‘veteran’ or improving marathon runners. For these runners, your speed component is developed on the shorter runs during the week—specifically ‘tempo runs’ and ‘speed workouts’.  These shorter workouts are paced faster than our goal marathon pace to improve our bodies’ endurance and speed.  And since these are shorter than the long weekend runs, we are able to recover more quickly from these more intense workouts.

For veteran and improving marathon runners, the pace for marathon day should be set somewhere between your LSD runs and the speed/tempo runs–generally, between :45 to 1-minute quicker per mile than your weekend ‘LSD’ runs. (But again, for ‘first time’ marathon runners, your Saturday ‘LSD’ training pace IS your “race pace”.)

Examining our current physical condition and “preparedness” will help us establish a realistic and achievable race goal, and the correct race pace. If you have run races (any distance from a 5K to a half marathon can be a good marker) during the summer, use the predictor to set realistic ranges for race day.  If you have not run any races, run a few midweek workouts at an established distance (for example, 5K or 10K distance) and check the predictor.

Once a Marathon Pace is identified, we’ll have the opportunity in the remaining weeks to practice running a portion of our long Saturday runs at Marathon Pace as another check on how realistic and achievable we’ve set our goal

Examining fitness levels and reviewing objective criteria helps to establish race day goals which are specific, measureable and realistic.

And achievable.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®

Marathon Training Tip #12: Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Putting Your Best Foot Forward — Shoes… trying, buying (and drying)

The most basic pieces of running gear marathoners use – and the most often overlooked while training – are our shoes. They’ve been with us every step of the way since Memorial Day—and they bear the brunt of all those training miles.

As we are now in the ‘dog days of training’, this is an appropriate time to assess the condition of our running shoes. The expected useful lifetime of a pair of running shoes is between 300 – 500 miles.  The variance depends on our body type, running style (biomechanics) and how we care for our shoes.  Even if our running shoes were brand new in the first week of training, this is a good time to think about getting a new pair of shoes and begin “breaking them in” for Marathon Day.

We can’t always tell how worn the shoes are merely by looking at them. If the shoes have been worn for indoor running or if you have not run through rain or puddles, the shoes may look to be in good shape.  If you’ve run through puddles and mud, the shoes may look worse than they are—but regardless of how they may appear, after a few hundred miles the midsole of the shoes typically breaks down, and the important protection shoes offer to the feet (indeed, to our entire body on landing) diminishes, leading to aches, soreness or even pain.

Some telltale signs that we need new shoes – little aches and pains in the knees, hips, shins and/or ankles.

Even if you’ve not yet experienced any soreness, shoes still may need to be replaced. Look at the opening of the shoe.  See if the shoe has “fishmouth,” where the opening is flexible and looks like a fish opening its mouth when you apply a little bit of pressure on the back or the side of the opening.

Another checkpoint is the “landing spot” of the shoe. If you typically land on your heel or the rear of the foot, check the heel wear to see if the heel is noticeably worn in one spot. If that’s the case and you have over 250 – 300 miles on the shoes, it’s time for new ones.  If you are a ‘toe runner’ – check the landing pads under the balls of your feet to see if the treads are worn. And if you are a ‘mid-foot’ striker, look for uneven wearing of the treads compared to the rest of the sole.

In preparation for race day, our shoes should have between 50 – 100 miles on them (with 75 being an ideal target). This distance allows for a breaking in of the shoes on some long runs, but not too many miles.  Look ahead at your schedule; determine how many more miles you’ll log before race day.  Count backwards to be sure your ‘marathon day’ shoes won’t have too many miles on them.

If the shoes you’re currently wearing still have some miles left on them, you don’t have to throw them out or stop running in them completely. Usually, I rotate two or three pairs of shoes while training for a marathon. This allows me to switch shoes, one for long runs and one for shorter runs in preparation for marathon day–with the new shoes used for short runs, and a few weeks later, for long runs (and the old long run shoes are relegated to shorter runs for a while).

The process of breaking in shoes is helped if you buy the same brand and model shoe you’ve been wearing and in which you’ve been running. If you feel the need to switch brands or models, now is the time to do that– allowing ample time for your feet to adjust. (Although if what you are wearing now ‘works’ for you, please don’t try a new brand or model so close to the marathon.)

Finally, when buying shoes – purchase shoes in the evening or after a run. Our feet may be slightly bigger then and the shoes will be fit better for running.

Bonus tip – drying wet shoes

When our shoes get wet, it is important to dry them thoroughly before running again (another reason for a back-up pair for rotation, by the way). To dry your shoes, DO NOT THROW THEM IN THE WASHER OR THE DRYER.  Instead, remove the laces and the sole inserts and dry them separately.  Stuff newspaper into the toes of the shoes to absorb moisture.  Position the shoes against a wall, heels up (toes down); and replace wet/damp newspaper after 3-4 hours. This will expedite the drying process.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®

 

Marathon Training Tip #11 – Overtraining

OVERTRAINING—More is NOT Always Better

Wow, have you looked at the mileage in training? Our long runs are getting longer – this week may be the farthest distance you have ever run (or ever thought of running).  And for veteran marathoners, the increasing mileage brings new challenges in fitness and performance.

Most of us are aware of changes that take place throughout our training. Distances which once seemed daunting (if not impossible) seem manageable.  And even if we’ve previously run long distances, our fitness has improved to the point where we are capable of running quicker than we did 10 weeks ago AND feeling stronger at the completion of the run.  We may have lost weight, or noticed our clothes fit better; friends and family may have commented on how good we look.

And about now you may be saying to yourself, “Just imagine, with the progress I’ve made in ten or twelve weeks, what will happen if I run even longer and faster? Won’t the extra miles or a faster training pace add to my performance?  If 25 miles this week is good, wouldn’t 35 be better?  Can I run a minute per mile faster this week?”  It’s about this time that the competitive juices begin to stir the soul–whether competing against neighbors and friends, or against our internal self and the runner we want to be (or believe we are).

Unfortunately, more is not always better.  While there may have been tremendous improvement in our fitness and performance since the start of our marathon training, more miles and a faster pace at this point in training is more likely to lead to poorer performance and a higher risk of injury instead of improved performance.

Regardless of our running history, unfettered increase in intensity or mileage at this point in the training cycle is usually counter-productive. It is the law of diminishing returns—with too great an increase in intensity or mileage, our bodies may exhibit signs of overtraining – pushing our body past improvement and towards injury or burnout.

Each of us reacts differently to overtraining, but there are some key markers to monitor. The most common marker is an increase in our resting heart rate.  I recommend measuring resting heart rate at the beginning of the season; but if you haven’t yet measured your resting heart rate, it is not too late to determine a baseline.

Take a measurement of heart rate upon awakening and before getting out of bed. If you train with a heart rate monitor, wear it to bed and check the reading first thing in the morning.  If you do not have a heart rate monitor, take your pulse by placing your fingers on your carotid artery (at the base of the neck), count the number of beats for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to determine the number of beats per minute.  Measure resting heart rate for 3 – 5 days and take an average of the count.  As we train and become fitter, our resting heart rate will drop and at some point level off.  With stress through overtraining, our resting heart rate will usually increase.  An increase of 3 – 4 beats per minute is a significant change and indicates the need to reduce training temporarily.

In addition to resting heart rate, other signs of overtraining include wide variances in behavior. Some people sleep a lot more, others so much less you may seem to have insomnia.  For other folks, it could be a significant increase in food consumption or not eating at all.  Mood swings to either extreme are other markers.  In all cases, it is deviation from our normal behavior which is the indicator.

Of special note is when we miss some of our training, especially long training runs. Many runners want to make up for ‘lost runs’ only to overload their system.  If you have missed some training, review Weekly Tip #3 (‘Missed Workouts’).  Be cautious of overdoing training in these circumstances.

Even with increasing mileage, we should recover from a long run by the second day. If soreness persists beyond the second day after a long run, heed the warning signs.  A minor injury now, left untreated, usually leads to a more serious injury down the road.  Better to take care of an injury at the outset than to ‘push through’ the injury, hoping it gets better, despite more intense training.

Rest days and cross-training days are critical counterbalances to overtraining. Rest days allow for more recovery for tired muscles.  Cross-training continues to build aerobic fitness without the jarring stress to our joints (ankles, knees and hips).  Adding extra miles or increasing our pace (without adequate rest and recovery) leads to negative performance; or it becomes too difficult to maintain the same pace on a 12 or 14 mile run as you had on a 6 or 8 miler—and race times plateau or get slower and we feel abnormally fatigued or frustrated.

If you are exhibiting signs of overtraining, cut back on the intensity and duration of training. Even a few days off will help the body return to normal, and it will be safe to return to training.

Ignoring the signs of overtraining invites a higher risk of injury.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®

Marathon Training Tip #10 : Goldilocks and the three Marathoners

Goldilocks and the three Marathoners: Learning what type of runner you are:

In the childhood story, Goldilocks enters the home of the three bears. She tastes the porridge on the kitchen table only to find one bowl too hot, one bowl too cold and the third one, juuust riiiight!  And when she lays down for a nap after eating (like many of us on a Saturday afternoon after a really long run), she finds one bed too hard, one bed too soft and the third one, juuust riiiight!

Each of us is Goldilocks. We have embarked upon our marathon training a different athlete (or non-athlete) than we were in our youth – invariably, each of us used to be younger than we are today. And, we are not the same athlete we will be on October 8 when we traverse the streets of Chicago in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Our selection of schedule and our pace per mile on the training runs should not be what it was “X months or years ago” when we last ran on a regular basis. If you have taken some time off from serious running and training, don’t expect to pick up the training at a level you were at before a break in training (even if you ran a marathon last fall!).

And we are not the athlete we will be on October 8 when we toe the start line of the Chicago Marathon.

Train the athlete you are currently – based on tangible measurements like how you feel during the training runs and shortly after the workouts – not the athlete you think you are, were or will be. Over the course of the 19-week training period, our fitness level improves and we are able to run or run/walk longer distances and usually at a faster pace.

During the long run and the easy pace runs during the week, you should be able to speak in complete sentences during the entire run. When finished, you should feel as though you could run at least another mile or two at the same pace as the training run.  These measurements will guide you in pacing.

This is not to say training should be easy. After all, if training for and running a marathon were easy, everyone would do it.  Training is a challenge of both mind and body – there will be and should be times when our training feels difficult.  But as we move through these phases, we realize that being outside our comfort zone makes us better athletes.

The first several weeks of training are a time when we search for balance in our schedule and the proper paces on each of our workouts. Often, we find that our first choice is either too hard or too easy.  And like Goldilocks, we need to find the schedule and pace(s) which are juuust riiiight!

This is a great time to assess the progress made so far in training. After 8 or 9 weeks, we have a better idea of (i) our current condition; (ii) how training fits into our life commitments (work, family, nutrition and sleep); and (iii) tolerance – how our body responds to the training.  If we have started too aggressively, we likely feel extra tired or sore – and perhaps a bit frustrated that we are unable to train as the athlete in our mind.

If we started too conservatively, we are at a point in training where we recognize the tolerance level and based on the results, may be ready to move to a more aggressive schedule.

Be honest in your assessment of training so far. Goldilocks was happiest when she found the porridge and the bed which was juuust riiiight!  Follow her lead in training.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®

 

Marathon Training Tip #9: R.I.C.E.

R.I.C.E. – When you listen to your body, “R.I.C.E. is very Nice!” PLUS BONUS TIP OF RUNNING SAFETY – HEAT AND LIGHTNING

As we proceed with training, the combination of our aggregate weekly mileage and everyday life can often result in levels of fatigue, stress and pain (both physical and mental) that may not be considered “normal” or typical–and (if left unattended) can lead to injury. We will address some of the physical issues here; and those that are psychological in a later marathon training tip.

Many of you have asked questions about little aches and pains, some of which have developed into more significant injuries. Common questions include: “Is this something to worry about?  What do I do for treatment?  Will this fatigue or soreness or injury impact my ability to complete my marathon training and reach the start line on October 8?”

[And, inasmuch as some of you ‘raced’ a Half Marathon this week, this is a good time to review how we feel at various stages of our training and what to do when we feel a bit ‘spent’.]

Training injuries take various forms. First of all, it’s important to understand that it is common for one (or more) part(s) of our body to hurt or feel sore during or after a training run or a ‘race’ like RNR Chicago. Often, this soreness goes away quickly with no lasting effect.  This is to be expected.  As mileage increases, muscle soreness and fatigue is common, though this type of soreness will usually subside within 36 hours.

Other injuries are more traumatic and may last a short time; while still others are more significant and long-lasting. In the case of significant pain (regardless of duration), or of pain and swelling lasting more than a few days – stop running(!) and seek professional advice to diagnose and treat the injury.  Seeking professional medical advice and seeking early treatment will almost always prevent a minor injury from becoming a serious injury.

In many other situations, soreness (usually in our legs) develops, and we are able to continue with training since the soreness ‘doesn’t hurt too much.’  Minor aches and pains are to be expected as mileage (long run, weekly and season aggregate) increases.  Listen to your body when soreness develops.  If muscle fatigue or soreness lasts more than 36 hours, it is a sign to reduce training and seek medical advice.  Trying to run through the early stages of what might be (or become) a serious injury can negatively impact recovery and future training if not handled appropriately.

Whenever seeking professional advice for any type of training-related injury, check the credentials of the doctor or physical therapist before or during your visit. I always recommend seeking the advice of a medical professional who either (i) is an endurance runner or (ii) treats endurance runners as a primary practice.  The reason?  Medical professionals who understand the nature of the source of the injury and the mindset of an endurance athlete are better able to balance their medical advice–weighing the consequences of a runner’s desire to return to training as soon as possible with benefits of longer-term treatment.  A medical professional who treats endurance athletes is less likely to say “stop running” without a more complete diagnosis and treatment plan to safely return to training IF, WHEN, and AS SOON AS practical.

The most common method of treatment for minor injuries is R.I.C.E., which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

The first element, REST, is often overlooked and often the hardest treatment to follow.  With a desire to continue our training (or to train more or train harder), rest is a concept many runners don’t like to follow–but it is the first (and possibly the most important) step in our recovery.

A common error I see runners make all too often is returning to running much too soon after an injury, or returning to training at “pre-injury” levels of exertion—when a s-l-o-w and steady return are what is right and best.

Taking a day off from training, or taking a few days or even a week off from training allows the body to heal itself. If soreness persists after a few rest days, or if soreness recurs when running after a few rest days, your body is telling you to seek medical advice.

Failure to rest an injury usually sets in motion a chain reaction. When we try “running through” pain, our body will often compensate for the injury by finding a way to run which alleviates the soreness.  However, this usually leads to a change in our gait or stride, and a breakdown of the good running form we have developed. In this way, our body often ‘overcompensates’, resulting in a secondary injury, usually on the opposite side of our body, resulting in multiple injuries with which to deal.

Many of our injuries result in swelling of joints—particularly ankles or knees. Minor injuries are usually effectively treated with ICE to reduce swelling and inflammation.  Muscle soreness beneath skin level is often due to inflammation of muscles, tendons and tissues.  Whether treating joints or muscles, ice is most effective in reducing swelling and inflammation when applied during the first 48 hours after the injury.

Recommended methods of icing:

  1. Lay an ice pack over the affected area, with a small towel between the ice pack and the skin for protection. This is referred to as ‘passive icing’ and an ice pack may be left on the affected area for 15 – 20 minutes. If you don’t have an ice pack, try using a bag of frozen peas or corn – which will mold to the area being iced.
  2. For lower leg (along shins or Achilles) soreness, a form of ‘aggressive icing’ can be used. When icing the area along a bone or big muscle group (shins, calves, quadriceps), use a small paper cup (easier to hold in your hand and the paper can be torn away as the ice melts), filled with water and which you have kept frozen in your freezer. Gently rub the affected area in circles, starting with a small circle and widening the circle for 5 or 6 revolutions, reverse the flow into smaller circles. Icing areas such as an Achilles tendon is a little different, and an effective technique is using two small ice cubes, applying one ice cube on either side of the Achilles, rubbing up and down the tendon from the heel to the lower calf. This method should be applied for no more than 2 – 4 minutes at a time, as prolonged aggressive icing can damage the skin and underlying tissues. Limit this exposure.
  3. Where possible, use a barrier between the ice and skin. A small kitchen towel or even a paper towel can reduce the effect of ice on the skin. Icing an area for too long can cause skin burns.
  4. Do not use any of these techniques to the point where the area becomes numb or burns. If these occur, immediately remove the ice.

When an area of our body is injured, blood flow to and around the area is affected as our body responds to the trauma. COMPRESSION helps circulation.  Wearing compression socks or wrapping the sore area with an Ace bandage helps maintain good circulation and helps the healing process.  If using an Ace bandage, do not wrap too tightly as this can reduce circulation, not induce better circulation.

Finally, ELEVATION of the affected area will help recovery.  For lower body injuries, lay on a couch or bed, with the leg elevated at a level higher than your heart.  Gravity helps remove excess blood accumulation around the injured area (a naturally-occurring protective mechanism in our body), moving blood into our torso and reducing inflammation and swelling from the injured area.

For minor injuries, R.I.C.E. is nice!

Always listen to your body and train safely.

 

BONUS TIP – RUNNING SAFETY (HEAT AND LIGHTNING)

We are into the toughest part of the summer months when heat and humidity in many parts of the country reaches dangerous levels. High temperatures and heat indices means there is a significant danger to our bodies if we run too long in hot and humid conditions.

It takes about 14 days for our bodies to adapt to high temperatures and high humidity. During and after this adaption phase, our bodies can suffer significant and long-lasting heat related illness and injuries.  To lessen or avoid heat illness or injury, do not run outdoors when the temperature or the heat index exceeds 100 degrees.  Even at lower levels (in the 90’s) reduce exposure.

A few alternatives:

  • first, run shorter distances or times thereby reducing your exposure to heat;
  • second, run early in the morning (preferable as temperatures are usually the lowest in the early morning) or late at night – times when heat and humidity are lower;
  • third, split your runs into two segments a few hours apart in order to allow your body to recover from heat stress.

If you notice signs of heat stress – lack of sweating, headaches, nausea or light-headedness, stop running and seek a cool place to cool your body temperature. IF this persists after your run, seek medical advice and do not run while these symptoms remain.

 

With the summer months, many of us live in areas where thunderstorms are routine. With thunder comes lightning.  Lightning is a dangerous natural phenomenon and can be deadly.  If thunderstorms and lightning are present, do not go out for a run.

If you are on a run when thunderstorms or lighting occur, seek shelter indoors or under a concrete viaduct or similar structure. Standing under a tree is NOT a place to seek safety.

When lightning is present, after seeking shelter, do not resume you run for at least 20 minutes after you see lightning. Give at least 20 minutes to allow the lightning and the thunderstorms to pass.  If lightning strikes or flashes again, the 20 minute timer goes back to zero and once again allow at least 20 minutes to pass before leaving shelter and resuming your run.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®

Marathon Training Tip #8 – Mixing Things Up!

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 LSDs, or may be slightly faster or slower than LSDs.

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”®

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 products to see what 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 an hour to hour and a half 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”®