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”®


Finding Your Greatness

For most of us, running 26.2 miles is about the challenge of achieving something we may never have believed possible.

It’s about hope. And courage.

And faith.

It’s about measuring the endurance that’s in us today, and discovering the strength that is possible tomorrow.

And owning that strength is what each of us will do on October 8.

And it’s that sentiment that’s reflected in the NIKE “Find Your Greatness” campaign from a couple of years ago—sharing the notion that, “Greatness is not in one special place, and it’s not in one special person. Greatness is wherever somebody is trying to find it.”

As you continue your marathon training, my wish for each of you is to have the faith that the greatness you are looking for will be inside of you as you stand at the “START” on Marathon Day.

At this point, as we begin the second half of marathon training season, I simply encourage you to do all you can, the best you can… on every remaining training run, through every remaining training week.

Which is all any of us can ask of ourselves.

And to carry in your heart these words from Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never, never give up.”

(Thank you, Sir Winston.)

Have a (really) good training week ahead, as you to discover all the greatness you are capable of achieving.

And thank you, for ALL that you are doing to train and run and fundraise to support the children and families served by Ronald McDonald House Charities!

Train safe. Run strong.




SO Ready

Well, it’s the end of July… and a time when most runners are approaching the halfway mark in their marathon training.

It’s a time to look back and feel proud (and smile!) about everything you’ve achieved so far (including a “steamy” long-run this past Saturday here in Chicago); and a time to look forward, with anticipation (and a bit of ‘anxiety’?) to all you are about to achieve in the weeks ahead.

And it’s a good time to honestly assess how you’re feeling ‘body-wise’… a time to take stock of all those joints, tendons and muscles you’ve been ‘beating-up’ on—especially as long-run distances and weekly aggregate miles begin to (seriously) increase.

To that point, I recently attended a clinic about the most typical running-related injuries and was reminded that, over the years, I’ve had ’em all—including shin splints; “runner’s knee;” plantar fasciitis; as well as Achilles tendonitis and IT band issues.

(I know, I know, “What a wreck!”)

The good news (if there can ever be “good news” when talking about an injury) is that all these injuries are rather common to runners, and all are rather treatable—provided they’re acknowledged and diagnosed early.

In fact, one of the ‘big lessons’ these injuries taught me is that the body has an AMAZING ability to heal itself, if we’re just patient enough (and smart enough) to allow it to BE amazing!

(In other words, consider seeing a sports physical therapist; and rest—when you know rest is what you should be doing.)

(Enough said.)

If any of this sounds like I’m talking to you, check out Coach Brendan’s marathon training tip this week, “R.I.C.E. Is Very Nice.”

(That’s ‘Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.’ Although on more than a few Saturday evenings that has become, “Rest. Ice. Craft beer(s). Elevation.”)

Oh… and about that ‘anxiety’ you may be feeling about the second half of the training season (especially for those who just ran their ‘first ever’ half-marathon, or their first 12 or 14 mile long-run)—the truth is, before you get to the ‘START’ on October 8 you’ll probably run four or five half marathons… considering that you’ll be completing long runs of 14, 16, 18 and 20 miles.

Now, I share this with you not to freak anyone out (“WHAT! I’m going to run 5 half marathons!”)—but rather to highlight the fact that by following your training schedule, you will be SO ready (in body, mind and spirit) as you line-up and stand at the “START” on Marathon Day.


Have a great week ahead.

(In fact, have a great ‘whole second half’ of the marathon training season!)

And please… train safe.

And (of course) run strong.



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.



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”®

One Mile At A Time

Yesterday was the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon here in Chicago…

… and there’s a good chance that if you ran that race you might now be saying to yourself, “Oh. My. Gosh. How am I EVER going to run 26.2 miles?”

And if you didn’t run the R ‘n’ R Half you likely ran a 12 or 14 mile long-run (or will soon), and may be asking yourself this very same question.

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 half; 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 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 now—at this point in your training—PLEASE 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!)

And to those Team RMHC runners who just ran their ‘first ever’ half marathon, or their ‘first ever’ 12 or 14-miler–CONGRATULATIONS!

(And, “Woo-hoo!”)

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 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”®