Late Marathon Fade (but not hitting the wall)

Luke Humphrey Running Books!

This past weekend’s marathon mayhem (The first sub 2 hour marathoner and a new world record in the women’s marathon) provided a perfect opportunity to answer a question some posed to me some time ago-

“How to avoid the late marathon fade?”

Now many of you are saying “Nutrition!” While that might be part of it, the reader was really referring to a smaller loss of time later in the race, which may or may not be directly related to proper fueling. What’s interesting is that you can feel however you want about the sub 2 hour spectacle, the shoes, and doping (I forgot the Al Sal ban!) but along with all that, there’s been a lot of research into how much all the little details add up in order to eek out that last bit of performance. It has led to new revelations and expansions into what really happens in fatigue.

In a July Outside Magazine article titled The real reason marathoners hit the wall, Alex Hutchinson provides some great insight from research regarding critical pace. This article was written after the first sub 2 hour attempt and what researchers had looked at.leading up to the attempt. Ultimately, they found two areas of interest- critical pace and anaerobic capacity.

Now, what is critical pace?

That’s a great question. At its simplest definition, it is really the point that separates really hard work from not as hard work. How is that for muddy water? Now, in 1991, Joyner proposed that

“Running economy then appears to interact with VO2max and blood lactate threshold to determine the actual running speed at lactate threshold, which is generally a speed similar to (or slightly slower than) that sustained by individual runners in the marathon.”

Interestingly, he then proposed that a 1:57:58 marathon is possible by a runner with a VO2max of 84 ml/kg/min and a lactate threshold of 85%- both of which are similar to Eluid Kipchoge. So, for this, you are essentially looking at the pace you can run at your lactate threshold as what your marathon pace may be- if you are an elite.  Now there’s a few tests one can do to determine your CP, but coach Tinman Schwartz has determined that it’s roughly the pace you can hold for 30 minutes. So, so for many of you, that’s somewhere between 5k and 10k pace.

The other aspect being looked at was the idea of anaerobic capacity. How Mr. Hutchinson describes this is that look at it as a tank full of work you can do above your CP. The further above your CP you work, the faster the tank depletes. So, what that appears to mean (for elite runners) is that marathon pace is a percentage CP, anaerobic capacity, and the pace you can run that at.

Now, for the research at hand- the runners CP was tested using a 3 minute sprint when they were fresh, and then after 20, 40, 80, 120 minutes of running below CP. What they found was that at 120 minutes of sub CP running, CP actually started to decline and did so by about 9%. As for anaerobic capacity, that declined steadily from 40 minutes by 10%, down to a 23% reduction at two hours. What’s interesting here is that elite marathoners can run within 4% of their CP for the marathon. What this means is that even if a pace feels comfortable at the start of the race, it may very well reach a sudden point where it no longer does.

How nutrition plays a part

By taking in 60g of Carbohydrate (via Maurteen) per hour, the reduction of CP was minimized. Carbohydrate did not affect anaerobic capacity. As this depletes, you may slow down very minimally, or you may be forced to stop in your tracks.

What this means for the mortal runner

As mentioned, elite athletes can run a pace within 4% of CP, or the pace a person can hold for 30 minutes. It’s safe to say that recreational runners are going to be much less than that. I haven’t seen anything concrete, but I find it that around aerobic threshold (where you first begin to see a major deflect in blood lactate, is a safe bet. The more trained you are, the closer you get to being able to hold a faster pace, reflective of LT.

What it also means is that the slower you are, the easier it’s going to be to cross into the danger zone and start depleting your anaerobic capacity. It’s all a fluid threshold because what is your CP at the start of the race may decline by halfway. The bottom line, any amount you go beyond what you are capable early on will be that amount plus some when you reach the back third of the race. For more highly trained runners, you will “bleed the tank” overtime and your slow down will be much less pronounced.

In terms of nutrition, we know that anaerobic capacity is dependent on glycogen stores already in the muscle, even though it appears that ingested CHO during the event doesn’t alter the capacity. However, we saw that carbohydrate intake during the marathon will reduce the decline of CP significantly.

How do we improve CP and or anaerobic capacity?

  1. Improve running economy.

    This can be done a number of ways. Can be done through losing (fat) weight, improved strength and mobility, better fuel utilization, improving form, and strides.

  2. Training at CP-

    as coach Schwartz has described, CP will affect primarily your intermediate muscle fibers. If you train with a lot of speed, then you’ll make them look more like fast twitch fibers. If you train them more like 10k/half marathon, you’ll get them to look a lot more like slow twitch marathon fibers.

  3. Don’t neglect carbohydrates in replenishing glycogen stores

    and take in 30-60g of CHO per hour during the event. Implement strategies to preserve glycogen stores during the event.

  4. Be careful with your pacing.

    Even if you feel comfortable and you think today’s the day, wait for the second half to be aggressive.

This is an extremely limited look into even the smallest of marathon fades, but it can explain a lot of what happens to runners, even when they get the vast majority of the details right. There’s other factors to look at, but believe me, it’s a rabbit hole. One thing at a time!

Nitric Oxide and Running Performance

Nitric Oxide? It makes me think of pushing a button on my car dashboard for a little boost! However, NO is an important neurotransmitter important for nerve signaling, nerve signaling, tissue turnover, and blood vessel dilation

 

Seems like most research focuses on the dilation part and exercise as a performance enhancer via delivery of oxygen and removal of waste products. Along with that dilation comes an improvement in running economy and time to exhaustion. In terms of running economy, I have seen 5% thrown around. To put that in perspective, that’s higher than what the Nike Vaporfly’s claim to obtain and have taken the running world by storm.

 

So, who does that benefit? Running economy will benefit those running long distances (half marathon and above) while time to exhaustion will benefit shorter times. While we do produce NO in our bodies, we often don’t eat the right amino acids, or enough, to see a performance benefit. We also see a drop in natural NO production as we age. 

 

The research can get dicey because of the way it is set up. What worked for older athletes, didn’t have the same effect on younger athletes. The dosages that worked on 1500 meter runners, didn’t affect the longer distance runners. What worked for recreational runners didn’t exactly show promise for elite runners. There’s a lot of factors like dosage, quality of ingredients, and length of studies that come into play. With that said, let’s look at some practical advice.

 

For older and less trained athletes, you should take a single dose of 60-70 ml of nitrates 2.5 to 3 hours prior to your workout or race. Keep in mind that levels of NO will stay elevated for some time. These groups will see more response on fewer amounts, so max the response on the least amount of dose. 

Custom or Pre-Made Training Plans for any distance!

For younger and more trained athletes, you should be at two doses of 60-70 ml of nitrate. You folks have things like naturally higher levels of NO and training adaptations that are going to make seeing a response require a larger dose. The same time frame applies here. 

 

NOTE: Unless you are building up to a goal race, these shouldn’t be taken every day as it can blunt the natural production of your NO. 

 

Ok, so, the second way to do this, is to do a gradual supplementation of 3-15 days, leading up to a goal race. Using the same two groups I just discussed, let’s determine the probable length of time to NO load. Less trained or older athletes may want to stay in a single daily dose for 3-7 days. The younger or more trained athletes may want to do a single daily dose for 7-15 days. 

 

What I will do for a workout: 

 

Night before a workout: 1 60 ml bottle of Amped Nox

AM before workout: 1 60 ml bottle of Amped Nox

 

What I will do prior to my goal marathon:

5 days prior to marathon: 1 bottle of Amped Nox nightly

 

HOWEVER: After reading more into the updated research, I think I am going to extend this out to 10 days prior to the race of a nightly dose and then one bottle the morning of the race. 

 

Interested in what I use? Check out my supplement site.

My last attempt at a 4th Olympic Marathon Trials

It always surprises me when people are interested in my training as I feel like it is pretty mundane. Even more so, I am now a middle aged man with a business to run, people to coach, a husband and a father. So, maybe that’s it? Maybe there is a twinkle of inspiration in there? To see if the grey haired (what’s left of it) can muster up one more performance? I hope so. For one, I’d like there to be a few good races left. Better yet, if you can show people who you can relate with in life that,

“If he can do it, maybe I can too!”

..then I am all for it. Besides, if it ends up being a complete train wreck, people like seeing that too…

So, as we enter the end of summer 2019, the qualifying window for the Olympic Trials is starting to close. To qualify for a 4th Trials in the same event would be a big deal to me. That would mean a career that had spanned 2004 to present! As I am now in my late 30’s, things don’t come as easy as they used to. For one, finding the time is harder, my responsibilities are far greater, and the lags in motivation sometimes linger a lot longer. Given all that, when you look at the number of late 30 somethings trying to chase that dream dwindling, I don’t think it’s due to ability. Rather, I think it’s due to just moving on. I am in a unique situation. As much going on, I have a unique opportunity to still put in a solid couple hours a day of training a day in, so let’s give it a shot!

Alright, so let’s preface this with where I am currently at. I ran the Toledo Glass City Marathon at the end of April. It was a cold and windy day, but still managed a 2:22:47 and second place. Obviously not where I need to be to get under 2:19, but I think I was pretty close to breaking through. My mileage was solid and had some really decent workouts. I took a couple weeks pretty much off and then started building back. Truth be told, I probably tried coming back a little too quick. I could still run, but my darn hip would get me every time I tried to run hard. So, I ran what I could tolerate and worked on strength and mobility. It finally went away and I was able to start building my mileage towards the end of July.

As you can see, nothing crazy, just a nice buildup. 

 

week 1-3

Week 1a 14 mile long run.
Week 26×800 and 4×200. Nothing fast and was probably like marathon pace. Just trying to ease the fear of jumping back into workouts. Then on Sunday, a 16 mile long run.
Week 316×400 meters under 75 seconds with 400 meter jog recovery. On Sunday I did another long run of 18 miles.

Week 4 - 5

Week 4A 6×1 Mile @ Marathon effort and then a 20 miler on Sunday.
Week 5No workouts, as I was gone at a conference until Wednesday (the 4 miler day). Did get a really solid 22 miler in on Sunday. I did want to try and get a workout in during the week but it didn’t happen.

 

Overall, I have been getting more detail work in, too. I have been trying to get 10-15 minutes of core, strength, or plyo work in a day. I have also averaged 2-3 days per week of getting strides in.

So there you have my “pre-season.” Now I’ll start my 9 day cycle. As far as volume, I don’t see myself much above 115 miles per week because I really feel at this point I really need to take some of my time and focus on the detail work. I think my 115 goal and 15 minutes/day of detail work is a good compromise. We’ll find out!

Stay tuned for how this week shapes up! 

 

 

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More Nutrition: Eating to Body Type

We have talked about body type before at LHR, mainly as a determinant of what type of runner you are. However, as we have expanded our conversation  into nutrition, body type has come back into the picture. This time to really determine if body types change how we should eat. (Hint: I believe it does). Let’s take a quick look at the differences.


Ectomorph

  • Light and lean
  • Long limbs
  • Fast metabolism
  • Excess energy burnt thru activities like fidgeting and heat
  • Easily satisfied, rarely hungry (forget to eat)
  • SNS dominant, thyroid dominant (fight or flight)
  • High carbohydrate tolerant

They can easily maintain a “lean-normal” to a “lean-athletic” body fat percentage. This person may struggle to put on muscle. General nutrition guidelines would look like this: Ectos: 55% carbs, 25% protein, 20% fat.

So, what does this look like? For men, each day may include:

Men:

  • 6-8 palms of protein dense foods
  • 6-8 fists of vegetables
  • 10-12 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods
  • 2-4 thumbs of fat dense foods

Women: 

  • 4-6 palms of protein dense foods
  • 4-6 fists of vegetables
  • 7-9 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods
  • 1-3 thumbs of fat dense foods

Mesomorph

  • Medium and balanced, naturally muscular
  • Middle of road metabolism
  • Excess energy usually builds lean mass
  • Normal appetite, hunger, satiation
  • More hungry if active
  • Testosterone and growth hormone dominant
  • Normal carb tolerance

The trained person will have above average muscularity with “lean-normal” to “lean-athletic” body fat. They may have denser bones than average. Their diet may be composed like this: 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat and look like the following.

Men (daily intake):

  • 6-8 palms of protein dense food
  • 6-8 fists of vegetables
  • 6-8 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods
  • 6-8 thumbs of fat dense foods

Women (daily intake):

  • 4-6 palms of protein dense foods
  • 4-6 fists of vegetables
  • 4-6 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods
  • 4-6 thumbs of fat dense foods

Endomorph

  • Heavier, more body fat
  • Slow metabolism
  • Excess energy gets stored as fat
  • Often sensitive to appetite and hunger cues. Less sensitive to satiation and satiety cues.
  • PNS dominant (conserves energy, increases digestion and gland activity)
  • Lower than average carbohydrate tolerant

This person will have denser bones than average. They may have a fair amount of lean mass, but still have a relatively higher body fat. There diet may be composed like this: 25% carbs, 35% protein, 40% fat. In more practical terms, it may look like the following:

Men (daily):

  • 6-8 palms of protein dense foods
  • 6-8 fists of vegetables
  • 2-4 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods
  • 10-12 thumbs of fat dense foods.

Women (daily):

  • 4-6 palms of protein dense foods
  • 4-6 fists of vegetables
  • 1-3 cupped handfuls of carb dense foods
  • 7-9 thumbs of fat dense foods

Take-Aways and Caveats:

What I want to point out here is that at no point is a macronutrient scaled back so far that another macro has to make up for it. We are simply maximizing (or minimizing) a macronutrient to reach the body’s needs. I can’t stress enough that the body needs all three of the macronutrients, but not necessarily in the same proportions that other people require. This is simply an easier way to individualize nutrition to your needs.

The second point I want to make is that these guidelines are for eating outside what we call the workout window. The workout window is the 1-2 hours before your workout, the workout itself, and then the 1-2 hour recovery window after the workout. Now, personally, I don’t refer to easy runs as workouts. These are usually short enough for most people where they don’t drastically alter your daily nutrition needs. I am referring to SOS days, or speed, strength, tempo, and long runs. These runs are usually long enough and intense enough to drastically change glycogen stores, even if you are “fat adapted” and we need to replace those calories with quality carbohydrates. With all the options out there nowadays, finding real food and/or quality options is no longer an issue.

Pre-exercise guidelines have been discussed previously, so we won’t enter those discussions again. During your workout, general guidelines are 30-45 grams per hour of exercise. This may be a gel(s), or the right mixture of fluid. There seems to be a little bit of mixed thoughts on protein or BCAA’s during exercise, but some say 15g of BCAA per hour will help with performance. Finally, recovery is of the utmost importance if you want to improve your ability to perform and perform more. Again, there’s a bit discussion of how much is needed, but I would recommend at least 15-20 grams (up to 40 grams) of high quality protein or BCAA. Then I would say 80g of a mix of high glycemic/low glycemic carbohydrates. A 2:1 ratio of glucose to fructose to enhance replacement of what you have utilized during the workout.

Once outside your workout window, assuming that you have adhered to workout nutrition, keep your nutrition to the recommendations given your body type. This is just one strategy to employ when trying to individualize your nutrition, but still maximize performance. Hope this helps you navigate the waters a little bit!

 

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Nutrition: Diet Definitions

Last time, we talked about macronutrients and the importance for balance in general health as well as performance. I hope that’s what everyone took out of it, at least. At the end of the day, balance is key and if there are major swings to focus on one macronutrient, the swing really should be short term and recognized that it may not be a sustainable option for long term (years). At the end of that discussion, I mentioned where I would like to take that conversation. One of the areas included what the definitions of diets actually contained and why the lack of continuity can blur the lines between what we think we are doing and what we actually are. So, today I’d like to explore an article from Burke, et al. (2018) that serves as a guide to understanding diet and exercise strategies. This entire article will be in reference to this article. I will share the link at the bottom of this post!

Let me first discuss that I am moving beyond general strategies here for overall health and talking mainly about running performance and adaptation to training.

High CHO diet

This is what we traditionally think of when we talk about endurance athletes. However, there is no clear definition of what this actually is, other than it is considered a daily diet. Definitions of a high CHO diet range from anything over 50% CHO, 60-70% CHO, 500-600g of CHO per day, or 7-10g/kg of body weight! The underlying premise is that all endurance athletes have a daily need for high amounts of fuel and these are met by high CHO intakes to support hard training. Overall, it’s not recommended to be using in isolation because it’s a poor correlation with muscle fuel needs for training.

Very interesting, huh? If you take anything from this diet is that it’s broad and based off the original research done in the 1960’s. So, this would really be seen as the starting point for endurance athletes. Don’t take away from this that CHO is not needed in larger amounts, but rather that there’s more info needed on an individual basis. Things like- type of exercise, volume, intensity, etc.

It goes back to what you have heard me say before- “Eat to your daily needs.”

Luckily, there’s been a number of updates to that original research that we can build from.

High CHO availability:

CHO spread across the day and is targeted at optimizing glycogen stores by exogenous supplies to meet the fuel demands of the days training/event. Amount is based on goals of training and body weight. Daily intake from 3-12 grams/kg of BW. Basically, we are going to make every run a focus for providing carbs right before, during, and after a run. Then the rest of the day might be a lower overall intake of CHO.

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The potential problems are that it may take some guesswork and experimentation on your part to really nail down what works. In really high volume training (2+ sessions/day or 25+ hours per week of training) a person will probably have some training sessions that are low CHO availability.

Peridozed High CHO availability:

Essentially, the strategy as above, but now we decide which ones to make available based on the goals of the training. Each single session may have a different approach based on where you are at in training. So, early on, we may make all easy runs and shorter long runs low CHO availability, but keep high intensity SOS days a high CHO available day. Then, the closer we get, all SOS days may be high CHO available and keep shorter easy days at a low CHO availability. Two studies shown this to show performance improvements, but subsequent competitor studies have not been able to replicate.

Nonketogenic low CHO/high fat:

CHO availability is chronically (up to months) below muscle needs so that adaptations occur to promote fat oxidation. However, it is high enough to avoid ketosis. Typical: 15-20% CHO, 15-20% protein, and 60-65% fat daily intake. Or, CHO can be less than 2.5 grams/kg of BW. One important factor here is that this in combination with a moderate endurance program of less than 5 hours per week. I think that last sentence is pretty key to this! In context- It has been shown that this can up to double rates of fat oxidation, but this has not been shown to be in association with endurance performance overall.

I think there are some very important aspects to look at with this. The first is that there’s no doubt that it can increase fat oxidation and thus probably improve overall body composition. This alone will probably improve endurance performance.

If you weighed 200 pounds and lost 25 pounds of non excess fat, then yes, you will run faster.

However, this is only going to be true up to a point. Also, the amount and intensity of exercise you should be doing with this is pretty low- basically meeting the AHA guidelines for everyday health. I just think you are limited with the situations where this will be successful- especially long term.

Ketogenic LCHF:

A person severely restricts their CHO intake to less than 5% CHO (or 50 g/day), while protein is 15-20% and fat is 75-80% of daily intake. The basic premise is that this type of diet will produce very high rates of fat oxidation within 5 days to 2 weeks. However, extreme fatigue can occur for the first 3 weeks. Overall, exercise seems to be sustainable up to about 75% VO2max, but higher intensity exercise is not tolerated well, if at all. Another factor involved is that the severe restriction of food minimizes nutrient density and variety.

Thinking about the exercise tolerated makes sense. When we discussed macro nutrients, we talked about the body’s back up is to make glucose out of non glucose sources (both fat and protein), but it’s extra steps and it’s slow. The glycogen and glucose required for higher intensity exercise simply can’t be met with these back up mechanisms. I think it goes back to the level of athlete and their desired goal/outcome.

To wrap up, this is all pretty interesting.

For one, the body is really good at making due with what is being provided to it. Also, I think that what works for a lower level athlete isn’t particularly going to work for a higher level athlete. I am referring to both ability and amount of training.

Third, I think it’s important to note that these long term “diets” aren’t really suitable for more than a short period of time.

For instance, a high carb diet might only really be needed for a few days before a marathon. Meanwhile, a LCHF diet may be exactly what an overweight runner needs to shed some weight before starting a training plan and then can eat a more balanced diet. Lastly, what’s interesting in these diets is that the two main variables are fat and CHO. Why not change the amount of protein? For most endurance athletes, I would almost say that you keep CHO at 50-55%, fat at 15% and then protein at 30%. I’d have to work the numbers based on grams per kg of BW, but who knows? I mean, we know CHO needs are slightly higher, but so are protein needs. If we boost protein a little, we can maintain or build muscle during hard training, have a place to store glycogen, and we still change our body composition for the better. Ah well, maybe another time!

So next time, I think we continue on with the article I referenced and look at the more short term strategies and sequences for workouts and tapering (loading). I believe that propels us more into the idea that our “diet” really can shift from day to day. While one day may require a lot of CHO to replace what we utilized, another might not require as much. All in all, I think we are starting to paint the picture that from 10,000 feet, saying calories in, calories out is fine. However, as we zoom in, there’s more to it than that. Until next time!

 

Nutrition Basics: Macronutrients

I have gotten into my fair share of “discussions” regarding nutrition. As a coach and a simple observer, I could see that certain fads were just not healthy in the long term. I couldn’t explain it from a data standpoint, but my intuition always told me that any extreme swing in a nutrition plan couldn’t be healthy long term. I know how to write workouts and place them in the right place in a training plan, but that only takes you so far. Looking at my athletes, most of them know how to string days of training together, but don’t know how to deal with the details of training. So, I decided that I needed more data to accompany my intuition and decided to earn a nutrition coach certification. This certainly doesn’t make me a dietician, but certainly more equipped.

The question now becomes, “where the heck do we start?”

I don’t want to get into a major physiological discussion, but I do think it’s incredibly important to understand the role of macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein) in the body and how we utilize them to fuel our exercise.

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Role of macronutrients:

Carbs (CHO) are subject to a lot of scrutiny these days. Blamed for making people fat and unhealthy. The truth of the matter is fat will also make you fat and unhealthy. Protein will also make you fat and unhealthy. If you overeat any combination of these three, you will become fat and unhealthy.

From a simple view CHO are readily available and primary source of energy in the body. Your brain prefers carbohydrates, but also helps maintain body temp and internal organ function. Utilizing carbohydrate as a fuel also indirectly helps you preserve and build muscle mass (so that your body doesn’t have to break down tissue to do so). Your body likes carbs and needs carbs to support a healthy body and exercise. It’s the type, volume, and timing of eating carbs that get people hung up. There’s also some individuality based on body type you are,  that we will get into another time.

How CHO is metabolized in the body:

  1. Glycogenesis- taking glucose and storing it as glycogen
  2. Glycogenolysis: Taking stored glycogen and converting to glucose
  3. Glycolysis: Taking glucose and turning it into pyruvate
  4. Krebs Cycle and Electron Transport Chain: Produce Acetyl-CoA to ATP, CO2 and H2O
  5. Gluconeogenesis: Turning non CHO sources to glucose. This can be
    1. Pyruvate from glycolysis
    2. Lactate from glycolysis
    3. Most amino acids
    4. Glycerol from triglycerides

Ok, so are carbs bad?

Well no, absolutely not- as long as we are eating the right volume and the right kinds. As far as volume, that depends on what we are doing and our body type. For now, let’s look at the type. The big thing is fructose, or as we tend to see it, high fructose corn syrup. It is certainly true that if you overeat this stuff, you set yourself up for a whole host of potential problems. Current research is suggesting that over 50g of fructose per day is the threshold. HOWEVER, whole food sources like FRUIT, does not contribute to this number because of their water, fiber, and vitamin content. In America, we are obsese, and there’s no way around it. We are inactive and we eat a ton of junk.

Over 20% of the average American caloric intake comes from sweeteners.

So what does 50g of this look like in real life?

  1. A 32oz soda = 50 g
  2. 32 oz sports drink = 50g
  3. 1 bag of Skittles = 24g
  4. Honey nut Cheerios and orange juice = 45g
  5. Grande Frap = 39g
  6. Gas station protein bar: 25g

You can see how easy it is to over consume these products and contribute way to much to our daily needs. However, to say that we need to go low carb is relative. Within a standard deviation of mean intake, 68% of people fall. 18% of people probably need more CHO than average and 18% probably need less. For most people, it’s about going low processed sugar and simply eating more real food.

Fat is also a nutrient that sometimes gets a bad rap, but fat is crucial for plasma membranes, hormones, transport of other nutrients, and of course, fuel. There are a number of mechanisms that fat is metabolized in the body.

  1. Fat transport and lipogenesis- Mostly as free fatty acids
  2. Fat mobilization and lipolysis- breakdown of triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol.
  3. Fatty acid synthesis- system of enzymes that synthesizes fatty acids
  4. B-oxidation- breaks fatty acids into Acetyl CoA (remember that one?) It’s efficient, but it’s slow and it requires oxygen.
  5. Ketone formation- when CHO is low, the liver can make keytones as a glucose substitute to keep brain, muscles, and blood cells healthy.
  6. Cholesterol synthesis and catabolism

I think most people understand the first four of these. When we exercise at a low to moderate intensity, move around, walk down the hall, take the steps, etc, that fat is a great fuel source for those. However, the 5th option, the ketone formation, is all the buzz these days. With a view of carbs being bad, it makes it easy to think it’s completely fine to substitute the carbohydrate intake with a higher fat intake. However, this system is really viewed as a back up and is not the body’s preferred system and we don’t really know what the long term effects are. The diet was really intended for children with epilepsy. Permanent ketosis can lead to high blood lipids, lowered white blood cells, optic neuropathy, lower bone density. Children ultimately developed hydration problems, constipation, decreased bone mineral density, and kidney stones.

Part of the issue I see with ketogenic diets (and high carbohydrate diets for that matter) is lack of continuity in definitions. I see some where it’s  percentage of 70-75% fat for a diet and then I see others where it’s an absolute limit of 25-50g of CHO per day.

To me this is particularly dangerous as the brain alone needs 130g of glucose to function properly.

Looking at it from a logical standpoint, I wonder why I would load up on a source of energy that I already have an abundance of, but then limit the source of fuel that I have very limited stock piles of. Even if I burn a higher rate of fat, I am significantly increasing the amount of fat in my diet. Then I wonder how the limit of foods is good for overall vitamin and mineral intake. Now, to be fair, I don’t feel that a daily high carb diet is the way to go for all people either. I do think that somewhere along those extremes is a good middle ground to burn more fat, but not deprive yourself of crucial elements to overall health and performance. I realize I will get a lot of pushback on this from some people who swear by ketogenic diets, and I will welcome that discussion later. However, for now just bear with me as this is just a general discussion of macronutrients.

Protein is the final  macronutrient I want to discuss today. Like the other two we have discussed, it’s vital to everyday health and running performance as long as it’s consumed in the right manner. Protein is crucial to giving our body strength and structure, make enzymes and hormones, helping our immune system, and transportation.

The three protein pathways are:

  1. Protein turnover (synthesis and breakdown)
  2. AA catabolism and deamination
  3. Transamination

In terms of providing energy, we need to look at deamination. In deamination, AA are broken down and the portion that remains is called a carbon skeleton. That carbon skeleton can then be converted into one of the following:

  1. Glucose
  2. Ketone bodies
  3. Cholesterol
  4. Fatty acids
  5. A product needed for Krebs cycle where it would ultimately be resynthesized into ATP

These conversions are all seen as backups to when we are under duress of starvation or fasting and isn’t intended to be the primary source of energy.

When you look at use of energy during a marathon and it’s typically less than 2%.

From an endurance athlete standpoint, how much do we need for optimal intake? A healthy sedentary person needs about 0.8g per kg of body weight. An athlete needs anywhere from 1.2-2.2g per kg of body weight. Endurance athletes would probably fall in the middle of those ranges. I think max rate of digestion is something like 3.6 g/kg. This increased rate isn’t for fuel, but rather to help rebuild and repair the muscle damage we create with heavy training.

At the end of the day, if we eat too much excess dietary fat, it gets stored as fat. If we eat too much carbohydrate we increase carbohydrate oxidation. This impairs fat oxidation and causes more dietary fat to be stored. Finally, excessive protein increases protein oxidation and also causes a decrease in fat oxidation. The end result that if you overeat any macronutrient, your body will store more fat.

When we engage in a certain diet, we ultimately gravitate towards high or low CHO. A lot of old school endurance athletes feel like they need to be 60% and above on CHO intake daily. Now, the new school is suggesting that high amount of daily fat is where it’s at. We also tend to muddy the waters between what is ok for a sedentary person and a person in full-blown marathon training. Either way, if a strategy beyond eating an overall balanced diet is extended for a long period of time, then you definitely increase the risk for many nutrient deficiencies and potential health issues.

Where to go from here?

I think we talk about the definition of diets. We can also discuss the idea of “Fueling the day.” Finally, we can talk about safe strategies to decrease fat weight, maintain muscle mass, and improve performance.

 

 

Marathon Long Run Part 2

Last time, we talked about long runs that were more simple, but not any less easy. This week, we will expand on those foundational types of long runs and into more race specific long runs. These runs already assume that you have built your general endurance and are now into more race specific phases of your preparation. I’ll discuss a few instances where that could change, but for the most part, these are all long runs that would occur after you’ve done general training. I would also say that most beginners and first-time marathon runners should put their focus in being able to cover the ground and then maybe doing these types of runs in the future.

Fast Finish

This was my first introduction into next level training, right here. I don’t quite recall who started it, but my first experience was from Khalid Kanouchi, the Moroccan marathoner and later US citizen. He was a favorite at the Chicago Marathon in the early 2000’s and he would always chat a bit with us Hanson guys at the Chicago races. He told us a staple of his marathon training was the “Fast Finish” long run. A few of us were really on board and begged Kevin and Keith to let us try it and they did! I still remember the day we tried it the first time. We always had a Sunday group run n conjunction with the Stony Creek Running Club and we’d rotate sites. One location was way out on the dirt roads at this middle school in northern Oakland County. It was a tough loop with tons of dirt roads, hills, and the school had a track behind it. So, being who were as a team, hit the long run pretty hard, ran straight to the track, where we had left our flats, and then ripped a 3200 meter (basically time trial against ourselves). I think I ran about 9:50 after putting in a hard 18 miles before. It was hard. It was a real gut check, but it was fun. Part of it was because of the track, part of it was because it was something new. However, it’s not something I’d do all the time! Plus, we definitely made mistakes on that first one, like changing into our racing flats and taking a 5-10 minute break in there. The run evolved for us over time. We don’t change into flats and we just go straight into it from our run. Now, that typically happens where we can let it rip for a few miles down the Paint Creek Trail where the trail is flat.

Some key points to this long run:

  • Done in the last 6-8 weeks of a marathon segment.
  • I wouldn’t do in successive weeks, follow a tough long run with an easier long run the following week
  • Don’t need a lot of these 1-3 during that time is plenty good.
  • Really focus on the recovery aspect after these. Pushing yourself to that limit on already fatigued legs will require extra attention from the recovery department.
  • From my experience, just getting down to marathon pace is tough enough for most people I have given this run too. No need to make it harder for those chasing BQ’s and new time thresholds. This will still teach you that you can push through late in the game, even when tired and that’s a major component to this long run.

 

Squires Long Runs

The Squires Long run comes from Coach Squires of the Boston Track Club from the Bill Rogers and Greg Myer era. The long run is a great way to accumulate time at marathon pace for the week, but also bring the average pace of your long runs down. To me, it is a great tool to learn how marathon pace feels throughout the course of time- from when you feel fresh, to when you are tired. This will pay great dividends to those performance minded runners. If you can learn to associate effort to pace and do so when fresh and when tired, you can take your performance to a whole new level! I think this is also a great long run for those who struggle with traditional marathon tempos. We can accumulate a lot of time at marathon pace while not just logging mile after mile at pace every week. However, I have to add, that you do need to learn to be able to do that, but this would be a nice break from that monotony. If you aren’t familiar with what these runs are, they are essentially long runs with a fartlek in the middle to second half of the long run.

  • Can actually start these earlier in a training cycle, say 8-10 weeks out from the marathon if you are more of a seasoned marathon vet.
  • Use first few miles as a warm up and progress into moderate paces before starting the marathon pace “fartleks.”
  • Start with small amounts of time, say 8 x 2-3 minutes at marathon pace with 2-3 minute jogs. Each long run you do, up the time. So, if you do this 3-4 times throughout the training cycle, you may be up to 10 x 7-8 minutes at marathon pace. Ideally, recovery would stay about the same, at roughly 3 minutes.
  • Recovery between each marathon pace effort is still in your easy to moderate pace.
  • Cool down the last couple miles of your run.
  • This is a run you want to be fueling for. Allow yourself to keep the effort high by providing the fuel needed for the intensity.
  • Post run recovery is as important as the effort given during the run!

The Combo

If you are in our Facebook group, I have offered this one up for a long time. If you are really tight on time in a particular week, but still have your long run, then this is a great compromise. If you have done the 10 mile tempo, then this is nothing new to you. You have probably done this on plenty of Thursdays already!

  • Use first few miles as a warm up, gradually increasing from easy to moderate to long run pace.
  • Then do your assigned tempo mileage at goal MP. Ideally this is done for longer tempos, say 8-10 milers.
  • Set up so the last 1-3 miles can be used as a cool down.
  • This should be a fueled run. You will already be going to the well pretty deep. Don’t dig it so deep you can’t get out.
  • Post run recovery is crucial. Get on your refueling, re-hydration, and hopefully, rest as soon as you can.
  • If you do this on the weekend, you are typically doing in place of a tempo run during the week, so you may need to adjust the days before and after.

The Mega Long Run

Ok, here it is! For all you 40 mile a week runners who love your 20 milers! I am just kidding, so no hate mail, please! I think it is an important long run type to discuss. Now, admittedly, I have never given a mega long run to an athlete, and I don’t have any personal experience with this long run. Just want to be completely up front with you.

The mega long run can mean a couple of things. It can be described in terms of mileage or in terms of time run. When people talk to me about it, they usually express in terms of mileage, usually something like 20-24 mile long runs. If someone does a 22 mile long run using the classic Advanced plan, this is about 40% of the weekly mileage during the last 8-10 weeks of the training plan. If following the plan, the longest long run would be about 29% during the same week.

Sometimes, mega long runs are described in terms of time. For instance, coach Greg Mcmillan says he will prescribe a long run up to 30-45 minutes longer than what the person is planning on running during the marathon. So, if a person is trying to run a 4 hour marathon, then he may give them up to a 4:45 long run. This doesn’t mean that they will cover something like 30 miles because they are running slower than goal pace. They will just be putting in a lot of time over what they plan on racing for.

Do I agree with the mega long run? Well, it depends! I think that when you are new to HMM style training, then no, I am quite reluctant to give the green light on the mega long run. I have just experienced too many people doing it on their own and then not being able to tolerate the rest of the training. Now, if you have done a couple of cylces of our training and seem to be thriving, but need a new stimulus, then I can see doing a run that creeps up into the 40% range of your weekly mileage. HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean you scale way back during the week in order to accommodate this run.

Now, when referring to a mega long run by time, I think you have to look at from a different point of view. If you are following one of the HMM plans and are running long runs at 10 minutes per mile or slower, then a 16 mile long run is already taking at least 2.75 hours. What I think makes that work is that idea that the day before, you are putting in a significant easy run of 8 miles, or at least another hour and 20 minutes. So within about 24 hours, these runners are putting in roughly 4 hours of running. That is a significant amount and stimulates all the adaptations needed that would also be provided by the mega long run by itself. The other aspect I want to look at is from a practical standpoint. Using the examples from above, a 4:30 marathoner (which is about 10:15 per mile), could in theory run 5:15 for a long run. That seems completely brutal to me and I personally feel like that will cause more harm than good. This is because we deplete ourselves so much and begin to break down so much that we really run the risk of being in a position of fatigue that takes way too long to recover from. If I gave a person that run, they would probably be too beat up to do much for the next week! To me, I feel like I can get so much more accomplished from backing the long run down and being able to train the next 7 days as I normally would. I do understand that extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary responses. However, I also think the risk far outweighs the reward for run over 4 hours. Now, where I do see this run working is for runners racing at under 3 hours. Going for a 3-3:30 long run will help these runners, but not dig the training whole too deep. I think a run like that would suit these runners about 10 weeks out from the race and maybe again at about 6 weeks out from the race. As long as they can really put an emphasis on recovery after and fueling during to preserve stores and muscle structure, then I think they will be ok.

 

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Wrapping up..

Phew, that’s a lot of variations to the long run, especially for the marathon. I can’t stress enough that you have to take a serious look at your own ability and where you are at. It’s nice to get some ideas, but you also have to be careful not to get yourself into a position that you can’t recover from later on. If you are a beginning runner, focus on building your general endurance first and then start adding in another training cycle. If you are attempting these types of long runs, put a lot of focus into fueling and recovery. I also suggest that you follow each of these long runs with a more traditional long run. Adding too much intensity and duration for too long isn’t productive either. Keep the balance of easy to hard. Train hard, but recover too.

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Marathon Long Runs: Part 1

The marathon long run should seemingly be simple, right? Just go out and run a long way because our race is going to be over 26 miles! In its simplest form, yes, that’s about all there is to it. However, the marathon is a simple event on the outside, but when factoring in all the things that make running a successful one possible, we see there’s a lot more to it. Like fueling, central fatigue, pace, effort, the goal of the race, goal of the run, and on and on. For a lot of years, even today, runners are all about the 20+ milers. How many can we fit into our training plan? Ok, that’s fine but what else are we doing during the rest of the week? Doesn’t that matter too? I know we have discussed this before, so I won’t keep at it. The truth is, that we tend to compartmentalize our lives and our training. Everything is in our own little bubble and nothing else affects anything outside that bubble. The truth is, it’s all lumped together. It’s runny and intertwining. So, what I want to do today is explore the different variations of marathon long runs, where they would fit, and who should consider these.

Luke Humphrey Running- Long Runs

Luke Humphrey Running- Long Runs

However, first, I want to just touch on why the HMM method has worked for so many people. I won’t dive deep into it again. If you want a full discussion, please consider the book, or for a nutshell discussion, this blog post. However, the basic assumption is that training should be kept in balance so that all aspects needed can be trained. For most people and the mileage they are running,  16 miles works well. It’s about 25-30% of the weekly total and takes anywhere from 1:45:00 to 3:00:00 for most abilities. So, it’s a good middle ground. Now, going beyond that, or outside the long run bubble, it fits extremely well, because you are doing a marathon tempo on Thursday, an easy day Friday, then a longer 60-80 minute run on Saturday, finishing with a long run on Sunday. Not only that, but you come back and run easily on Monday and do a more intense workout on Tuesday. So, as you can see, there’s not any downtime before or after. That catches a lot of first timers off guard. I get a lot of emails from folks who said they’ve done a lot of 20 milers and are going to keep doing them during their first go-round with HMM. I urge you to reconsider that idea. If you haven’t done a plan that does what HMM does during the week, I’d really think about keeping that long run pretty basic. You will already be pushing up against that fine line of training hard and overtraining. The last thing you want to do is blow right past that line. Now, after saying all that, there’s a lot of different ways to adjust your long run depending on your ability or what your goal is.

Long Slow Distance

This is your traditional “easy” long run. The most basic development we are trying to build with this is our basic endurance. For a lot of people, it’s simply about being able to know that they can cover the distance, correct? This is why a lot of people tell me that they mentally need the 20 miler, so that they can feel confident that they can even cover the full distance. With this run, we are building the foundation of endurance performance through the same adaptations we would build with an easy run. We also prepare our muscles, tendons, and bones to be able to handle the demands of running that far.

Who is it for?

This is the foundation of long runs and is for all levels of runners. From introductions to long runs, to the elite, the nice easy long run should be a staple. From this run everything else builds. For instance, it’s an easy transition from this type of long run, to say, a fasted or fueled long run. As we get into the other types of long runs, we see a lot of options. An LSD type of long run might easily be pushed aside, but I encourage you to come back from it every now and then. It is the perfect way to get something in above and beyond a regular easy day, but still, allow yourself to be able to recover from a previously hard week or be ready to rock an upcoming hard week.

The timing of LSD runs:

For the beginner, this type of run might be all that you focus on. There might be a lot of trial and error with these, too. There is a lot of temptation to start out a little quick, only to find yourself fading the last several miles. Initially, I think that’s fine because it can teach some valuable lessons about patience, dealing with discomfort, and encourage you to develop pacing strategy. As you become more fit and endurance improves, focus on running these even or negative split. Try not to get in the habit of going out even harder and fading.

For everyone else, the LSD run is probably what you’ll start off with. If you are starting off down time or a shorter race segment where the long runs were shorter and not a priority, then this is the initial long run I would start using. As I mentioned, it’s also a long run to come back to every few weeks.. If you have a “down” week, this is a great way to get a long run in, but keep the stress of it down and allow the body to recover.

 

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The Moderate/Steady Long Run

This is the next logical step in progression and you might even drift into these types of long runs without even trying. Ideally, it’s picking up your pace as the run progresses, but I see a lot of runners start out moderate and fade to the slower end of their pace range. If you have read our books or used our training pace calculator, you’ll see Easy (sometimes A and B), Moderate, and then Long run pace. Many times people will view that as hard lined zones that they have to stay in for an entire run. The truth is, that it is a spectrum. For beginners, they may start out at the slower end of the easy range and put their focus on just being able to cover the distance. That’s perfect. That’s all we are looking for. As they improve and covering the distance is no longer the issue, we can pursue running these faster. A more experienced runner may still start out in the easy range of the zone, but as they warm up and get into it, they will gradually pick up the pace and be well into the moderate zone. By definition, it’s still a pretty comfortable run from a breathing standpoint and we aren’t necessarily testing any thresholds, but we have shifted away from that LSD type of run.

Who is it for and when should I do it?

This might be the goal of the newer marathoner or newer runner. They may want to be able to shift away from general endurance building to specific endurance building by the end of their training segment. For more experienced runners, it might be where they start out at in the beginning of their training, or consider it a maintenance type of long run. The beginner might have this as their “Big Test”  a few weeks out from their race. The veteran runner might use this as a long run to begin their taper.

Fasted/Depleted long runs

I want to talk about this next because the next logical step in long runs is whether, or not, you are fueling before and during these. These are also the simplest factors to manipulate during a long run. The fasted long run has really caught a lot of buzz over the last few years, but I think it is a bit misconstrued. So, let’s first discuss what it actually is.

The fasted long run is just as it sounds. It is a long run where we run fasted. These are also sometimes referenced as depletion runs. However, to me, depletion would mean something different. It would mean that you deplete your stores on your run, but didn’t necessarily fast before the long run. Despite that difference, I found it hard to find any research on those differences. So, for sake of ease, depletion and fasted are the same. The glycogen stores are and/or continue to be depleted throughout the run.

The reason people are doing fasted runs is to try and to get the body “fat adapted.” By that, I simply mean that you have two primary sources of fuel. The combination of fat and carbohydrate represent about 95% of our fuel sources for exercise. The problem is, we have limited stores of carbohydrate and we can “burn” through our stores relatively quickly. Under the idea of the fasted run, if we have low stores of carbohydrate to begin with and let the body use up the majority of the rest, then we can trigger certain adaptations to help avoid the problem in the future. One adaptation is that we will trigger the muscle to store more glycogen to try and avoid that situation again. The second is that we can train the body to utilize more fat across the pace spectrum.

Should you try fasted runs?

I did a quick google search and there’s a ton of articles regarding the fasted run. There’s lots of talk about potential benefits and timing of these runs, but I think you really have to be careful with these. For one, the depletion of fuel sources won’t do anything if you don’t replace that fuel as fast as you can after the run. In other words, you have to recover really well from these runs in order to reap the benefit. Another risk you run is a compromised immune system. Given that, I think the level of runner and the timing of the run are really important.

For the beginner, I am hesitant to prescribe these types of long runs for a few reasons. The first is that if this is their first marathon or are used to pretty low weekly volume and low intensity, then they are already going to make really great strides with the adaptations we talked about through the increased training. There is no need to add another source of stress to the body and risk running well past the point of hard training and into overtraining. The second is that the beginner runner needs to make sure that their general endurance is there before they are worried about eeking out a couple more percentage points in potential performance. The risk just isn’t the reward. Furthermore, the beginner runner needs to practice with fueling, dealing with contents in their stomach, and having the fuel to cover the distance.

The more advanced runner may utilize this run, but I think the timing has to be right. Some people like to do these later in a training cycle, but I tend to disagree. I actually think that these make more sense in the earlier part of the segment. I will discuss other types of faster long runs in another post, but the basic premise of any training is to be doing the most specific work during the last stage of your training cycle. To me, that means we transition from general training to specific training. In this case, that means from doing long runs at a slower pace that would occur with fasted runs, to being fueled and covering the long runs faster (even down to MP for significant portions of time). When you do the early long runs in a fasted state, I feel you set yourself up better. One, the long runs are shorter. This means that they are long enough to deplete your glycogen stores, but not so much that you greatly increase the risk of illness. Don’t take that as a reason not to fuel up after the run! Remember, the fuel afterwards is what allows the body to adapt. If you want to try these, I say early on is ok. Anything in the last 6-8 weeks of a marathon cycle should be fueled and performance based. Again, we’ll discuss those options in the next post.

One final point I wanted to make about these types of runs is the idea of doing these types of runs without even trying. What I mean is that how many of you go to sleep, wake up, and head out the door to get your run in without having food? A lot of us do. Say the last thing you ate was at 9 PM, then you got up at 6 am to go run. I know, a lot of you are laughing and wishing you could sleep in until 6 am! But, that would 9 hours without eating. Then you go for a 60 minute run. That’s a minimum of 10 hours before you get something to eat. For some of you, that might be over 12 hours. The point is, that you are already depleted, then deplete even further during your run. While it may not be to the extreme that a long run would be, it’s still enough of a trigger to stimulate the training adaptations. It might not be at the dose that a long run would be, but if you do that 3-5 times per week, the overall stimulus is pretty high. So, consider that as you look into mapping out how you want your long runs may look. Even the beginner runner will probably be providing the same stimulus that an advanced runner is even though they aren’t purposely running long runs at a fasted state.

The Fueled Long Run

Now, I feel like this really deserves its own section because it is often overlooked. A fueled long run is simply that, running the long run fueled. To me, that also includes practicing the fueling during the long run. I think that all levels need these in their schedule, even if it is simply to become accustomed to taking in fuel during your runs, which will play huge dividends on race day. It has been shown that the stomach can adapt to handling fuel if it is consistently exposed to having fuel during exercise. With that, if you are a beginner or haven’t really practiced with fueling, then I recommend starting at the beginning of your training segment and staying consistent with practicing. If you are doing some of the more intense long runs we’ll be discussing, then fueling before and during will be crucial to the success of those long runs.

There’s a couple of other benefits to these long runs that I’d like to mention. The first is that I am a big believer in replacing what you’ve lost during training. In this case, it’s glycogen that we are worried about. By fueling a little before and during the long run, you limit the amount of carbohydrate that you have to make up for during the rest of the day. This can go a long way in giving your body the right amount of fuel that is needed for optimal recovery. When I recommend carbohydrate requirements for workout days, they often balk at the idea of eating that much. If you make a dent in that number before and during the long run, you take away a pretty decent amount from what you then have to make up for from doing the long run. That number then seems to be a lot more manageable. For instance, if I tell a person they need 500 grams of carbohydrate on a long run day, they often say that’s too much. However, if they took in 50 grams before and then another 50-100 grams during the long run, that’s 100-150 grams off from that total of 500 for the day. That makes a big difference. Then, if you can get them to be on point with recovery, they will actually take in over half of that total of 250 grams within an hour or two of waking up and completing the long run. Workout nutrition can go a long way in making sure you are getting in what you need to replace.

What we’ve talked about today are the first four long runs you should really have mastered. In the next discussion, I will go into more advanced long runs that you can build into as you increase your training expertise.

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First Marathon Series Part 7: Race Day

It’s finally here!

It’s race day! Much like with the taper, now is a time to be rewarded, but is often a time for anxiety. You had a training plan and it got you to the starting line of the race. Now, having a plan for the race will get you through the finish line. Let’s talk about the top areas I see with athletes.

First, the question of following a pace group, or not?

I am always on the fence about this. It’s a situation where a pacer is usually volunteering their time and doing this to help you succeed. You always want to be grateful for that help. However, I have seen so many times where a pacer tries to “put time in the bank” over the first half and fade into the goal time. Or, since it’s sometimes it’s not a pace that the pacer is used to, they have a tough time being consistent with pacing. Given those concerns, a pace group can be an invaluable resource to you.

The key is, to not just blindly follow the group for the first half.

Use your pacing skills that you have acquired through training. Use your GPS and give yourself a buffer of 5-10 seconds either way, per mile. If the group is gone in the first few miles, don’t worry. Trust yourself and follow the plan. They will be back- rather, they’ll be fading and you’ll be maintaining or surging. If you are in between pace groups, start with the slower group and see if you can work up to the faster group over the second half of the race (or really the last 10k). Having this motivation will help keep you in the fight, keep your brain thinking, and keep motivation higher.

Another question I get is if they should warm up, or not?

Ultimately, you don’t want to start any race “cold,” but you also have to be conservative with your fuel sources. After all, you are running 26.2 miles already. In Hansons First Marathon: Stepping up to 26.2 the Hansons way, I go into specific ideas based on time goals, but the following is the basic idea: The faster you are, the more thought you will want to put into the warm up. In general, I would say that you’d want to at least some sort of dynamic warm up. Things like leg swings, bodyweight squats, lunges, and arm swings. Those really looking to compete, I recommend more- up to 10 minutes of jogging, dynamic warm up, and strides. However, practicality will really dictate what you can do. Those waiting around in a corral won’t have the luxury of jogging around for 10 minutes. However, doing bodyweight squats may be an option. In really big races, you might have to use your walk up to the start line as your warmup.

Third, having a fueling plan is crucial.

At this point, you should be really familiar with what you are going to do for fuel. Whether you rely on things like gels, chews, or self supplied fluids versus what the race is going to provide should already be decided. You should have already been practicing with whatever it is you are going to be using. Chances are, the first timer will rely on what the race will provide. When I first started running marathons, races tended to have one gel station and that was late in the race. Now, more and more races are realizing that this is a futile practice and are providing more stations earlier on. This is a great thing!

Waiting until mile 18-20 to take fuel is like trying to use a garden hose to put out a house fire.

Too little too late. Practice with your calorie sources during training and use throughout the race at regular intervals. The moral of the story- start early, stay regular. Plus, I think this gives you something to put some focus on later in the race as everything begins to get tougher.

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Lastly, let’s talk about strategy itself.

Originally, I was going to talk about this and then the idea of expecting the race to get tough. However, these go hand in hand, especially as we talk about the second half of the race. I always like the idea of starting big and then working small in a marathon. Otherwise, we tend to scare the heck out of ourselves. So, what do I mean by that? I’ll use myself as an example. Like you, I look at a pace sometimes and wonder how the heck I am going to maintain that the entire way? The idea is simply frightening. So, what I do is back it up to a distance where I know I can run that pace for. We always did the infamous “simulator” workout that would end up being about 16 miles at goal marathon pace, so that would be where I started. I knew I could get to 16 miles. Then I would analyze how I felt on that day. So, maybe I would feel like I could have went another 2-3 miles that day. That would put me at about 19 miles. Then, I would think about how much the taper would add on to that, so I’d say another few miles. That’d put me at about 23-24 miles. Then it was going to come down to how well I executed the race plan, nutrition, and grit.

This leads me to the last part- it is going to get tough.

Expect it to get tough. Accept that it is going to get really hard!

Those last few miles might take a lot of mental fortitude (to quote my college track coach). If you know it is going to happen, but you also know that everyone else is going through the same thing, then it makes it a lot easier to deal with. At that point it’s less about the training you’ve done, but how well you can accept the discomfort and maintain. That’s the point where you might only be thinking about getting to the next stoplight or the next block. Pick a landmark or a group of runners and focus on getting to it. It may be a time where it feels like you have a long ways to go, so focus on how far you’ve run, not how far you still have to do.

Whew, so I don’t want to end this on a downer, but I think it’s super important to put that on the table. One of the reasons you decided to run a marathon was because it was going to be an incredible challenge. Crossing that finish line will provide you with such a sense of accomplishment! You’ll now be a marathoner and that is such an incredible accomplishment! I can’t wait to hear when you join the club! I wish you the best with your training.

First Marathon Series Part 5: Understanding Marathon Fatigue

When you run a race like a 5k, or even just doing speedwork, the discomfort is very acute. The lungs are burning and the level of discomfort is visceral. It’s not very pleasant, but you are aware of the “lactic burn” as it is commonly referred to. When training for these types of races, we have to space very carefully as to not overdo it, or to not become over trained. Some will even say to develop acidosis. Fair enough, and I would say this is true for 5k and 10k training. Maybe even up to half marathon training, depending on the person. But what about marathon training? Do these rules apply? Does the body react the same way?

The short answer is- it depends!

When I see a lot of newer runners start running and even new marathon runners (that have run shorter races) start to get into heavier training, there is a “whoah!?” kind of point. Is this supposed to feel like this? Am I coming down with an illness? Am I on the verge of being hurt? Learning to differentiate discomfort from training fatigue and becoming sick and/or hurt during marathon training is a skill that can literally make or break you.

You see, what I have found is that marathon training consists of a lot of vagueness and exceptions to the rules. It’s easy, until it isn’t anymore. If you are fresh during the last 6-8 weeks, then you probably aren’t training hard enough.

If you don’t feel like taking a nap as soon as you get up in the morning, you probably aren’t training hard enough.

On the other hand, if you broke your foot from running too much, then you obviously took it too far. Learning to know how it feels to be in that grey zone is where the magic of marathon fitness happens. My marathon mentors, Kevin and Keith Hanson, called it cumulative fatigue. Where you couldn’t pinpoint your tiredness or fatigue to one single workout, rather the culmination of workouts over the course of several weeks.

Cumulative Fatigue:

To me, there are two key components to developing Cumulative Fatigue versus being overcooked. The first is the timing where you are feeling the fatigue. If you are early into your marathon training or have more than 8 weeks to go, and you are feeling burnt out, then you are pushing too hard. Usually when I see this, it means that the person has done their workouts and easy days too hard, too often. A lot of times they have the attitude that if fast is good, then faster is REALLY good. Like I said, marathon training is easy- until it isn’t. There can be other factors involved too. Things like general recovery- hydration, nutrition, sleep, etc. Things we might have been able to get away with with lower levels of running will be exploited as we ramp up the volume.

We can talk about what to do in this case, but I have a previous podcast that covers this for us. You can check out HERE.

Overtraning:

The second thing I look for when discerning from CF and overtraining is performance. If someone is getting overcooked then performance will start trending downwards. It might start off with a poor workout, but will be followed up with a few more in a row, then it’s time to start looking at being past Cumulative Fatigue. When a person is at the stage of developing CF, they may not feel like doing a workout. They not be that motivated to do it, either. However, once they get warmed up and past the first mile, they settle in and realize that everything is just fine.

Now, the question will come up about differentiating soreness vs an injury. When to worry and when to just note that it’s part of training? There’s some quick things to help differentiate:

Soreness:

  • Both sides of body
  • In center part of muscle
  • Appears after a change intensity or volume
  • Improves after a warm up
  • Doesn’t affect form
  • Generalized

Warning sign of injury:

  • One side of body
  • Towards a joint
  • Appears daily
  • Worsens during a workout
  • Worsens or remains during day
  • Affects form
  • Localized

Knowing the difference is key to management.

The only other thing I would add is that if you feel like you have to take ibuprofen to get through a run, then you are probably already hurt. All the ibuprofen is doing is masking the pain. Without sensing the pain, you are probably only making it worse.

If you pay attention t0 the warning signs, you can take get a jump on it and hopefully prevent it from getting out of control.

A couple days off is a lot better than a few weeks.

 

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At the end of the day, just keep an even keel. A bad day isn’t the end of the world and a good day doesn’t mean you are ready to get after that world record (yet). A day off isn’t going to make all you’ve worked hard for disappear. On the other hand, lots of pretty decent days will add up.

It’s like the old question on savings: would you rather take a $1M lump sum or take a penny and double it every day for a month.

My advice- take the penny and double it every day. You won’t notice much difference for the first 25 days, but dang that last few will blow your mind!

That’s it for this week! If you have liked this series, please consider taking a look at my book Hansons First Marathon, or the OG’s Hansons Marathon and Hansons Half Marathon. Thanks for reading and listening!

First Marathon Series: Part 4

Now you have a philosophy in place and a plan to follow. Let the fun begin! As you get started, it can seem daunting, especially if you are a newer runner. You may seem like there’s no hope you can run 26.2 miles at a pace faster than you are currently running for 5 miles. That’s a common feeling but don’t get down on yourself. This would be a great spot for something cliche like “Every journey begins with a single step.” While true, I think we are beyond that. You need a way to look at this from a practical standpoint. Since I began coaching in 2006, I’ve learned a few things about people and trying to train for a marathon. So, here are the top five things I have learned (that we haven’t discussed already).

  1. Build general endurance before specific endurance
  2. Add days to a week before time to days
  3. Take yourself where you are at, not where you need to be in a few months
  4. Allow the time to adapt to what you are doing
  5. Be wary of old wives tales- Two in particular (10% rule, Have to get in a 20 miler)

Building your general endurance before your specific endurance. While it seems redundant, there is actually a difference. When talking about general endurance, I am referring to just being able to cover the distance without a set pace. When referring to specific endurance, I am referring to running set distance at a set pace. For example, maybe you have gotten to the point where you can cover 10 miles. However, if I told you to do that 10 miles at marathon pace, you might not be able to. Covering the 10 miles is general endurance, but covering it at marathon pace would be specific endurance.

The reason this is important is because our first goal with training is to simply build the amount of distance you can cover in training. This is by day, by week, and by month. The more ground we can get you to cover, the better your GE will be. If we focus on intensity first, or SE, then we limit what we can accomplish over the course of the day, week, and month. You can cover that 5 mile loop at 10 min/Mlb, but not 8 min/mile. We need to lay the foundation of handling easy mileage first, then worry about speed. What does this mean for you? Don’t race your training buddies regularly. Don’t race yourself on the same loop every day. Your goal isn’t to set a new Strava record every time out.

Add days your week before time to your days. Our end goal with marathon training is to get you to run at least 5 days a week. If you are running 3 days per week, then I would want to take  3-5 weeks and add a 4th day, then a 5th day. If you’ve been running 30 minutes on the original 3 days, we’ve still added an hour of running to your week, but we’ve take you from the three to the 5 days. Now, we don’t really have to add any more days the rest of the way and can focus on adding the volume over the rest of the cycle.

Take yourself where you are at now and not where you need to be in a few months. I get this one a lot. A runner will get a training plan, recognize where they are at,but see the mileage and the workouts that they need to be doing in 3 months and panic. This creates a lot of self doubt and can sabotage your training before you even get started. I recommend only focusing on the week or two ahead of you.

Before you know it, you’ll be doing more than you ever thought possible. When things do get tough, look back at where you started and how much you have improved. This can be enough motivation to spur you on.

Allow yourself time to adapt.

On average, it takes about 4-6 weeks to adapt to a new stimulus. What I see with runners, is they push this. Cardiovascular fitness improves pretty quick. You may take a couple weeks off and your first run feels like you’ve taken a year off, but by the end of the week, most of those feelings have subsided. You stop feeling awkward. You feel better even though you are running the same pace. Your body reacted pretty quickly. Now, bones, ligaments, and tendons are a different story.

Here’s a common scenario:

a high school kid runs track in the spring and then says adios to any sort of organized running for the next 8 weeks. When they start cross country in the fall, they answer coach with a “Sure, Coach!” When asked if they ran over the summer. So, Coach puts them in what they assume is a reasonable workload. The kid feels like they are wearing cement shoes the first few days, but starts to come around. Runs are getting easier and they push it a little more. All is good for the next few weeks. Boom! Down they go with shin splints, tendinitis, or the dreaded stress fracture.

Why? Things were starting to feel pretty good? The truth is that the three amigos listed above adapt at a much slower rate. For instance, bone can only be repaired at the rate new cells are made. The average bone cell has a life cycle of 90 days, so I’d breakdown rate exceeds repair rate, then it simply can’t keep up. Breakdown occurs and the inflammation process begins. Allowing yourself some time to adapt is crucial- plus it teaches you patience. Patience is invaluable in the marathon.

Lastly, be wary of old wives tales in running.

The main two I am thinking of is the old 10% rule and that if you want to succeed in the marathon, you have to run a 20 miler. Both of these have been around a long time, but the truth is, that they both try to oversimplify training. They say that this one variable is going to make or break your marathon. In reality, it’s everything that you are doing in training that will contribute to getting hurt, staying healthy, and not hitting the wall in the marathon.

Since I brought them up, let’s look at both of these myths a little closer. The main one is the 10% rule.

This rule is pretty simple- that a person shouldn’t increase their mileage more than 10% per week.

The idea behind it is simple- that we control the rate of loading on the bones and tendons of the legs. This goes back to what we talked about before- that physiologically you’d be fine, but structurally, your body couldn’t keep up with the training load and start to break down. On the other hand, if you are so conservative, you’ll never reach your goal. It will take too long!

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Let’s look at a common beginning mileage of 15 miles per week.
That’s 3 miles/5x per week.

So, to get to 30 miles per week by adding 10% per week, it would take you 8 weeks to do that. 2 month of tedious mileage addition! There’s got to be a better way. Here’s what I propose:

For under 15 miles per week, I think you can add up to 30% of your weekly mileage. Using our previous example, that would be 15 + 4.5 miles for a total of 19.5 miles. Let’s just round that up to 20 miles. Now, let’s jump the next week by 20%. So our 20 miles would mean an additional 4 miles could be run. That’s a total of about 24 miles for the week. Then, let’s say we jump by 15% the third week. This means 3.6 miles can be added for a total of about 28.5 miles. Now, the 4th week, let’s say we jump another 10%, or 2.5 miles. This puts us at 30 miles per week. Boom! We cut it in half and will be just fine IF, this is the big caveat, we spend that 4 weeks just focusing on easy running to build our volume. THEN, maybe we stay at that 30 miles per week without many additions. Maybe we add a little longer run in there or one marathon pace workout. The key is that, we focus on the mileage first, get to a point where we have the base to start adding workouts. In the second scenario, by the time 8 weeks rolls around, we now have been at the 30 mile mark for 4-5 weeks and have already added workouts. If we were less aggressive with the mileage, we would have taken 8 weeks just to get to a point where we were comfortable with the mileage.

The keys to this:

  1. Focus on only one aspect to start, or at least make sure you aren’t running intense workouts and increasing your mileage at the same time.
  2. The lower the mileage, the bigger percentage you can initially increase by. As mileage increases, the smaller the percentage your increases should be.
  3. This is for first time increases in mileage. If you have been running 30 miles per week, take a week off (lower mileage), then you don’t need to take 4 or 6 weeks to get back to 30!

Now, as far as 20 milers go, I have been talking about this for years and already have a lot of info out on it. Check out this blog post for a much more detailed discussion.

Running your first marathon: Part 3

Currently, LHR has a Facebook group north of 10,000 members. The vast majority of these folks are using, have used, or thinking about using one the HMM plans or a plan I created. Many times runners are asking for advice about how to adjust our plans to fit components of other coaches. Sometimes they are expressing their concerns about using our plans and looking for confirmation in their decision. The biggest concern is the long run, but that’s a topic all its own. For the sake of this discussion, this desire to fit pieces from other plans or worry about the plan they are choosing creates two main coaching concerns.

The first is this piece meal approach to putting a training plan together. Someone might take our plans as a template, but then add a little Hal Higdon, a dash of Jeff Galloway, and a sprinkle of Jack Daniels (or a shot- who knows). Then they’ll say, well I am following Hansons or LHR. The truth is, they aren’t following anyone. All of these coaches built their plans on a system and they work as a whole. What makes our long run work is what you are doing the other days of the week before the long run. What makes the other coaches successful is the structure of their plans. Now, if a person is an experienced marathoner and has tried a number of methods, then they do know what works for them. I am in no position to critique that. The big caveat however, is that works for them. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for you. For your first marathon, I strongly believe you find the philosophy that resonates with you the best and go with that. The next time around, then try another philosophy if you want.

The second concern I get comes from the apprehension about starting a plan. With our plans in particular, folks will focus on one area and say that it’s not a good program, but they don’t see the entirety of the plan. Unfortunately, newbies see that and then start questioning themselves and their decision to follow a program. Luckily, when they ask these questions in the Facebook group, they get plenty of reassurance. More to the point, what I have found with a lot of these runners is that their concerns are with following a plan, but then they also question another plan that they chose. What that tells me is that they are lacking the confidence that they can cover the marathon. It’s less about what plan they choose, but their own self doubt. The worst schedule to the biggest believer will probably be successful. The best plan to a non believer will probably end up a failure. Along these lines, people are quick to offer advice. While given with good intentions, I think is critical for the recipient to take it with a grain of salt. Again, what tweaks were made by one person, may not be the tweaks you need.

At the end of the day, I recommend doing some research. Take a few of the popular philosophies and check them out. Seek out Dr. Google and maybe buy a few books. On my site, there’s podcasts and tons of blog posts to start out for free. Then if you want a book, you can pick it up for $10 on Amazon, or something. You are already going to be entering uncharted territory, so don’t try to forge your own path yet. There’s lots of ways to get to the finish line.

After all of that, I can just tell you are begging to ask- “Luke, what’s your philosophy, then?” If that’s the case, then I am happy to tell you.

My marathon coaching philosophy is built around three areas:

  • Knowing what and why you are doing something in your training schedule. This makes it easy as a coach to have an athlete buy into a program. It also makes the path to self confidence much smoother.
  • Train to grow, not to survive the training. I see this so many times where an athlete trains aimlessly (without knowing why or what they are doing). They train so hard that they are ultimately just making it through the plan with nothing left for the race. My goal is to teach you (#1) and this helps you train to compete at peak level, not on fumes.

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  • The 4 pillars of performance

    1. Balance in training.

      Touch on all aspects of training from easy jogging to speed development (relative to event) and even supplemental work.

    2. Appropriate intensity for a given day.

      By maintaining balance in training, we touch on all paces. There’s no need to “cheat” paces faster than they need to be.

    3. Consistency in training.

      A single workout doesn’t make your training segment and one bad day doesn’t take it all away. However, a bunch of pretty decent days will make you incredibly fit. Being inconsistent do to over-training, injury, or illness on a consistent basis means you are always trying to get back to where you were before you can move forward.

    4. If you can adhere to the first three pillars, the fourth will be easy. You’ll handle more mileage in a week, a month, a year. And more mileage allows you to hit all facets of training. Hitting all facets of training for long periods of time will take you to levels of performance you never thought possible.

 

That’s it in a nutshell. To read more about our philosophy, training methods, and training plans for the first time marathoner, please check out my book Hansons First Marathon: Stepping up to 26.2 the Hansons way. For more resources, coaching, and other books, then check out my site, www.lukehumphreyrunning.com