Marathon Training Tip #5: LESS IS MORE


LESS IS MORE–The Value Of ‘Cutback’ Weeks

During these first several weeks of training, most of us have been slowly and steadily increasing our mileage in terms of both the length of our long runs and our aggregate weekly mileage–and I’ve heard from many of you about the tremendous progress you’ve made, both physiologically and psychologically.  Congratulations!

For some, each of these weeks has brought about new records – covering more miles than you’ve ever run before.  For others, speed, strength and endurance are improving noticeably.  What once seemed a tedious pace is now your ‘conversational pace’; I even overheard one runner comment that she is now able to sing(!) while running at a pace that used to have her gasping for breath.

Even runners who are not running longer or faster than ‘ever before’ are beginning to notice progress in their performance–progress that is often measured by their wanting more weekly mileage, a faster pace and longer runs. (“We want more!  We want more!”)

Then we look at our training schedules (anticipating another new ‘best performance ever’ in the week ahead) and we discover our progress is suddenly diverted.  “Why am I running shorter distances next week instead of MORE?

It seems counterintuitive that we reduce aggregate mileage and the length of our long run just as measurable progress lies before us.

Reduced mileage weeks are called ‘cutback’ or ‘step down’ weeks in training.  These are planned points in training and a very important component of the training regimen—where ‘less’ actually becomes ‘more.’


For the last several weeks we have been building up our mileage, with a consequent toll on our bodies.  We have built a base, improved our fitness level and added stress to our bodies.  This is positive stress.  Our bodies are getting stronger from the additional time on our feet, from the longer distances covered each week AND from the ‘rest days’ along the way.  In fact, the greatest advancement comes from the rest and recovery following the increasing mileage.  Utilizing rest days and cutback weeks, we discover ‘Less is More,’ as our bodies begin to derive MORE benefit from LESS running.

Cutback weeks are like the walking intervals in a run-walk training schedule; or like the recovery intervals in a speed workout.  Cutback weeks allow for muscle recovery before we again increase the stress levels which will come with increased training in subsequent weeks.

Less running, more improvement.  Less is More. 

Cutback weeks are important and should be followed as scheduled.  Lower mileage – in terms of individual workouts and weekly mileage – sprinkled throughout the schedule promotes a stronger body, better adaptation for the next phase of training and sets the stage for improved performance with less likelihood for injury.  Following the cutback, we are better able to safely increase mileage again.  Without cutback weeks, athletes are more susceptible to injury or mental fatigue, sooner or later in training.

And there’s an added bonus of cutback weeks:  For many runners training for a marathon, it’s often common for ‘life to get in the way’ of training.  Illness, injury, work, social or family obligations – each can hinder training.  If workouts (especially long runs) are missed, it is not safe to continue the schedule as if all training runs were completed.  Strategically incorporated cutback weeks can help ease the transition back to your regular training schedule—and I encourage you to (please) contact me with any “getting back on schedule” questions you may have to assure there is not a risk of “over-compensating” for missed runs or overtraining.

Enjoy the cutback week.

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®



Care To Dance?

Heading into the last week of June, now is a really good time to measure the commitment each of us is making to our marathon training…

During the week, I try to do three ‘run’ workouts—either ‘easy runs’ and/or speed workouts; and I include a couple of cross-training days—either bike, swim, or strength. (If I were a yoga person, that would count as a cross-training day as well.)

Add-in my weekend long-run, and my commitment is to train 5 or 6 days a week.

Okay. That’s me. Do I train 5 or 6 days EVERY week? Some weeks it’s only 4 days, but most weeks its 5 or 6. (Please don’t train 7 days—our bodies DO need a “rest and recover” day!)

What about you?

If ALL you’re doing are the weekend long-runs and maybe just one or two weekday workouts—you really need to do more. And if ALL you’re doing is running 5 or 6 days a week… stop that(!), and add a couple of cross-training days to your schedule as well. (For most of us, too much running can be as great a risk of injury as too little running. And besides, cross-training helps develop other muscle groups used in endurance running.)

The point is, now that you’ve made the commitment to run the Marathon, be sure you’re making the commitment to train for the marathon… and right now, while it’s still early in the training season, is a great time to commit (or re-commit) to your training schedule.

Having and following a ‘proven’ training program will help get you to the ‘START’ on October 7 with confidence, and with the least likelihood of injury; and will get you to the ‘FINISH’ line with the certainty that on race day… you ran your best.

And “running your best” on Marathon Day is the best any of us can do.

(My apologies to all of you who ARE following your training schedule, which I’m sure is MOST of you—but there are others who need a little ‘kick,’ and my writing here is my only way to reach them.)

The old joke about the tourist visiting New York City and asking, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and being told, “Practice. Practice. Practice.” applies to marathon training as well… “How do I get to the ‘FINISH’ line of a marathon?”

“Training. Training. Training.”

One day at a time.

One week at a time.

Week after week. After week.

All of which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about training… from Muhammad Ali, “I run on the road, long before I dance under the lights.”

For Team RMHC, the ‘big dance’ is October 7—so put on those “dancing shoes” (whether they be NIKE, Brooks, Mizuno, Saucony, Asics…) and GET OUT THERE!

Keep training safe.

And (of course), keep running strong.





Marathon Training Tip #4: Patience and Tolerance

Patience and Tolerance:

The last few long runs have coincided with a variety of conditions including rain, cold weather and heat in alternating runs.  As we move into summer, we will have much more experience with heat and we need to prepare for and acclimate to heat. For those who have done much of their winter and spring training on a treadmill, we also learned that running outdoors is a lot different than running on a treadmill.

The common thread in dealing with weather changes and the variation from treadmill running to outdoor running is practicing patience and tolerance.

Be patient during these “transition” weeks.  Yes, whether experienced marathoners or first-time endurance runners–we’re excited about starting our training.  And the adrenaline with a group in training is similar to the excitement on race day, as we stand in our starting corrals waiting with anticipation for the gun to go off.

In both these situations, patience is the key.  Do not start your training or your race too fast.  Remember to be patient.

Be kind to yourself in these early stages of training; and be tolerant of weather conditions.

Heat and Humidity

The transition from winter to spring to summer brings with it unpredictable weather changes.  We have a few days of nice cool spring days followed by days filled with humidity, rain and heat—especially here in Chicago where we can often shift from cold, rainy days to a steam bath overnight.

Our bodies are amazing machines, with built in thermostats.  Our bodies work to keep us warm when we run in cold weather, and cool when we run in warm weather.  Sweating is the very efficient way our bodies have of cooling us off and allowing us to exercise safely in warm weather.

However, on hot and/or humid days our bodies do not cool us as efficiently—causing us to overheat.  When we overheat, our core body temperature rises and our cardio-vascular system must work extra hard to cool ourselves off.  Our bodies do adjust to the warmer temperatures, but this takes time.  Usually 2 -3 weeks of time is needed for our bodies to gradually and fully adjust to increased temperatures and humid conditions.

During this transition phase, we need to slow the pace of our runs and monitor for signs of heat related illness.  From sunburn to heat exhaustion or worse, our bodies warn us of dangerous levels during training.  Listen to your body.  When feeling fatigued or light-headed, slow the pace of your runShorten your run if need be.  Getting-in an extra few miles is not worth the trade-off in becoming ill due to heat and humidity.  If a light-headed feeling persists, stop running and seek a cool, shaded area.

Increase fluid intake – we lose more water and minerals (electrolytes) while adjusting to the heat and humidity of summer.  Continue eating a balanced diet to maintain energy and electrolyte balance throughout training and in the days leading up to a long run.

Remember to apply sunscreen, but not too much.  Too much sunscreen can act as a deterrent to the evaporation process.  Apply sunscreen and reapply periodically as necessary.

And be patient.  Our bodies will adjust provided we help the process.

Transitioning to Outdoor Running from Treadmill Running

I heard a number of comments recently from runners who have performed most of their training runs on a treadmill.  Mostly, the comments questioned why running outdoors seemed so much more difficult and slower than treadmill running.

Some questioned the heat and humidity, others questioned their own physical conditioning.

While heat and humidity play a role in transitioning to the outdoors from the treadmill, there is a more fundamental difference between the two.  Running on a treadmill takes less effort for the athlete.  The belt moves at the pace set by the runner and the runner lifts his legs.  In contrast, when running outdoors, there is friction between the runner’s feet and the ground; the runner propels her body forward against the forces of gravity; and there are the natural elements of heat, humidity, wind and related features of nature.

Measuring one’s level of exertion–on average, a runner will be 15 – 30 seconds per mile slower outdoors compared to running on a treadmill—takes practice.  Like transitioning from cool weather to hot and humid weather, the transition from treadmill running to outdoor running requires patience and tolerance.  In time the transition will occur, and that improvement will be noticeable.

Bonus tip – drying wet shoes

Many of us have had the experience recently of running in wet (rainy) conditions.  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”®


“Ah, Summer… “

Well, the good news is… it’s finally summer.

The ‘not so’ good news is… it’s finally summer—which means hot summer temperatures and humidity, like this past weekend here in Chicago!

So please consider this message my (not so) subtle “reminder” about training and running in the heat.

(“Oh Charles, do I HAVE to read this? I KNOW all this stuff.”)

(Yes, I know you know it. We all know it… but this message is about doing it.)


Regarding ‘hydration’—keep yourself well hydrated throughout the week, not ‘just’ when you run.

AND, be sure to add an electrolyte replacement (a sports drink like Powerade or Gatorade) to your fluids consumption during your long runs, to help replace the sodium and potassium your body loses as you sweat. (And if you just can’t “stomach” these drinks over long periods of time, try an electrolyte capsule that you can swallow with water—like ‘Endurolytes’ by Hammer Nutrition, or SaltStick Caps.)

If you’re not already carrying fluids with you when you run, I (strongly) encourage you to do so. Quite simply, you’ll have a better training and running experience if you do.

(If you haven’t already done so, go to your local ‘specialty running store’ and check out all the different types of “hydration systems” that are available. There’s a reason why so many choices are available—because carrying fluids with you is a good and smart thing to do!)

And finally… s-l-o-w down!


Running in hot weather takes a LOT more effort and energy than running in more ‘normal’ temperatures, and if you try running at your ‘normal’ pace in the summer heat, you’re only going to feel a LOT more exhausted and ‘defeated’ at the end of your run. (And who needs that?!)

In really hot weather, slow your pace by :30 or as much as :60 per mile—you’ll feel a whole lot better about your performance, and about yourself.

And of course, (please) try to run your weekend long runs early in the morning, before the temperatures begin to rise, and before the sun gets too high in the sky. Remember the ‘rule of thumb’ that running adds about 15 degrees to the ‘thermometer’ temperature—so if you’re running in 80 degree heat it’s really like running in a “feels like” temperature of 95 degrees! (Yikes.)

And if at all possible, schedule your weekday runs for early morning as well—which will likely be the coolest part of the day. (And if you start your day with a run, it’s likely to be one of the “coolest” parts of your day as well!)

By running in the early morning you’ll never have to miss a training run because you were ‘running late’ at work, or were just “too tired” to begin your run later in the day.

(And as you might imagine, “running late” does NOT qualify as a training run.)

Every week, I sign these messages by saying ‘train safe’… and (especially in the heat) that means following the basics of good hydration and ‘listening to your body’ when it begins to say (or SHOUT) “Hey! Slow down. It’s not a race… it’s a marathon!”

DO these things, and you will “train safe and run strong”… and you’ll be able to keep running (and enjoy running!) for a whole lifetime to come.

Which is a VERY good thing, indeed.

In fact, “If you run every day until you are 90 years old, I guarantee that you’ll live a long life.

(Many thanks to Bill Rogers, former American marathon record holder for those words of running wisdom…)

Keep training safe.

And (of course), keep running strong.



A Love Letter, of Sorts…

As we begin Week 3, and as my ‘running legs’ start catching-up to my training schedule, I am again reminded of just how grateful I am to be a runner. And how much I love running.

First of all, I love that I can run… ‘health’ wise, and ‘knees’ wise.

And I love that I have the desire to run, and make the time to run.

I love the group of “rogue runners” I run with every Saturday, and the larger community of runners of which I’ve become a part.

And I love that running is so totally NOT “work” (as in “9-to-5/Monday-Friday” work).

I love the fact that while running takes a lot out of me, it always gives back more than it takes.

And I love the way running makes me feel—not just while I’m “out there” running, but also when I’m done and I have that satisfied (and often goofy-looking) smile on my face that says, “Yeah, I’m a runner.”

And that’s my wish for each of you as well… that you also learn to love running (if you don’t already); and that running will always be a part of who you are, how you define yourself, and how you are defined by others.

(I’ll never forget someone introducing me to a friend of theirs, after I ran my first marathon, by saying, “This is Charles. He’s a marathoner.”)

(Insert “YOUR NAME HERE” in place of mine, and see how it looks.)

(Pretty cool, eh?)

And so, in the spirit of “loving to run”—and to encourage you to experience the sheer joy that running can help make possible in your life—I share the following advice, adapted from “The Runner’s Rule Book” by Mark Remy:

“RUN LIKE A DOG–Dogs don’t care where they are, what the weather is or what time it is. They don’t know their resting heart rate and they hardly ever bother to wear a watch. They just love to run. And every time they do, their whole face and body and tail telegraph one simple message:

This. Is. AWESOME. I’m runnnnnning!

And if you’re so inclined, I encourage you to try the ‘Run Like A Dog’ training workout: Walk 2 minutes. Jog 4 minutes. Stop. Sniff. Run 1 minute. Freeze. Run really fast 2 minutes. Walk 1 minute in any direction but forward. Stare 5 seconds. Pee. Repeat two more times. Run home. Collapse on the floor.”

Thank you, Team RMHC runners for ALL that you’re doing to train and run and fundraise to support the children and families served by Ronald McDonald House Charities and #KeepingFamiliesClose!

Train safe. Run strong.





When “Life Gets In The Way” Of Training

Five months is a long time to commit to a training program and sometimes “Life gets in the way” for all of us.

Some of you have already looked ahead at the training schedule and compared it to your vacation, travel and work schedules to see if you’re likely to miss any training runs–particularly any of the weekend long runs.

Do you wonder if or how you need to make up for the missed runs?

Missed workouts fall into two categories.  First, we have the expected deviations from training – planned family vacations or a work commitment which affects training.  Second, we have the unexpected deviations – catching the flu, sustaining an injury or a last minute engagement.

Understand and plan for various circumstances along the way.  And remember that all is not lost if you miss a workout, or even several workouts.  Anticipating and adapting to training interruptions helps keep our focus on the goal–which is crossing the line on Marathon Day.

Let’s start with the ‘expected deviations’.  If you have vacation plans or a travel schedule which conflicts with some training runs, you can ALWAYS bring your running gear “on the road” and still ‘get in the miles’ (or minutes) your schedule calls for.  (Even without “mile markers” we can run the required miles by knowing our approximate running pace. If you run 10-minute miles and need to run 10 miles… simply run “out” for 50 minutes, then turn around and run back to the start!)

If that’s not possible, we should always make alternate plans.  We can review the time away from training and reconfigure the workouts around the conflicts (see below, beginning “A common mistake…”).

‘Unexpected deviations’ can usually be accommodated as well.  Of course, we must first examine the reason for the training deviation in order to determine how to get back on the training beam.

If you miss some training runs due to injury, especially an ‘overuse’ injury, increasing mileage or the intensity of the workouts too soon will likely cause a re-injury, often worse than the original one.  If you miss a workout due to family, work or social commitments you don’t always need to make up for the missed workout.  A shorter run during the middle of the week does not need to be made up.  Chalk this up to “life’s circumstances” and move on with your training.

A common mistake of runners is to try to make up for all missed runs.  Sometimes we double up on the mileage of the missed workouts and pile two or more workouts into a longer workout.  Sometimes we reconfigure the training week to eliminate ‘rest’ or ‘cross-training’ days with the result that we run too many consecutive days, mistakenly believing that the skipped runs in the past count as extra ‘rest days’ that need to be compensated for by adding several consecutive running days in order to ‘catch up with the training program.’

Not true.

It seems counter-intuitive, but once a workout is missed, it cannot be made up without consequences – usually negative consequences.  Don’t become so consumed with the mileage and the schedule that you jeopardize health, training or long-term performance—the truth is, that over 20 weeks and hundreds of training miles, missing a training run, even missing a few training runs is NOT going to affect your overall performance. [Go back and review Training Tip #1 on Quality over Quantity]

Safety comes first when training.  When workouts are missed, we will adjust training in a way to assist you in SAFELY returning to training.

(If you EVER need help ‘adjusting’ your training schedule to accommodate either expected or unexpected deviations, please write to me and I will be happy to assist.)

Coach Brendan

“Good form will carry you through”®


“The Strength of the Wolf”

For many of you, this past Saturday was the occasion of your first “official” weekend long-run.


If you’re part of a group training program (which I hope you are) you’re likely to have seen LOTS of ‘first time’ marathoners, and LOTS of (nervous) smiles.

(And lots of “OMG! Am I really doing this?” looks.)

At the same time, you’re likely to have also heard lots of support and encouragement from your pace leader—and from every ‘alumni’ marathon runner—all echoing the same (experienced) sentiment… “Yes, you really ARE doing this. And yes, you really ARE going to run and complete the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 7.”

And there will also be lots of good training advice along the way, like this week’s training tip from Coach Brendan about ‘LSD runs.’ (And no, it’s not what you’re thinking.)

And speaking of training… if you haven’t already signed-up for a training program—please, please do that, ESPECIALLY if this is your ‘first-ever’ marathon experience.

You’ll have a better training experience and a more successful marathon experience if you follow a ‘proven’ training program.

And if you can join a ‘group training’ program for your weekend long-runs, I strongly encourage you to do that.

Running with a group—in the company of others who share your commitment to training and who will support and encourage your training efforts—will TOTALLY make your training easier and more rewarding, and something you actually look forward to doing.

(And yes, the day WILL come that you actually “can’t wait” to get up at 5:00 AM on a Saturday to go out and run 10 miles.)

(That would be, 5:00 AM. In the MORNING.)

(On a Saturday!)

The best way I’ve found to describe the “dynamic” of group training comes from a quote by Rudyard Kipling, “The strength of the wolf comes from the pack. And the strength of the pack comes from the wolf.” (From “The Law of the Jungle.”)

There’s simply no better explanation of what happens when running with others.

YOUR strength as an individual comes from the group around you; and the strength of your running GROUP comes from the collective participation of each individual in that group.


(To say nothing about the accountability you’ll feel to ‘show-up’ to run. And the guilt you’ll feel if you don’t!)

For those of you not in the Chicago area (and therefore not able to join either Coach Brendan’s or CARA’s group training) check-out your local ‘specialty running store,’ where you buy your running shoes, apparel and gear… it’s very likely they’ll be able to suggest a marathon ‘group training’ program in your area.

And if you just can’t find a ‘group’ training program to join, sign-up for Coach Brendan’s FREE ‘virtual’ (online) program… then make sure to run your weekend long-runs on a path (or route) where you’re likely to be with other runners. By running in the company of other runners, you’ll find yourself drawing strength from them; just as they will draw strength from you.

Finally, to help kick-off this year’s marathon training season, please consider this advice from ‘The Runner’s Rule Book’ by Mark Remy, whenever buying new running shoes: “BEFORE YOU TAKE YOUR NEW SHOES OUT OF THE BOX, YOU MUST SMELL THEM. Open the box. Peel back the tissue paper. Behold those pristine shoes. Then lift the box to your face and breathe deeply. Mmmmmmmm. Smells like potential.

And possibly toxins.

But mostly potential.”

Train safe. Run strong.