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!

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.
  • 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,

Running your first marathon: Part 2 Play in new window | DownloadSubscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS | More

First time marathon series: Part 1

“Am I crazy for wanting to run a marathon?”

This was a question recently raised in our Facebook group, LHR Running Community, which currently has over 10,000 members from across the globe. The simple answer is “no” in regards to the physically running of the distance. Where the craziness usually lies is in the planning, or lack thereof. It was this question that really inspired me to write Hansons First Marathon: Stepping up to 26.2 the Hansons Way. You aren’t crazy and you have the ability. You just need a plan and I know how to make one for you.

In Chapter One, Establishing a starting point, we start establishing a baseline. Before we can make a plan, we need you to take a look at yourself so that you know what you are getting yourself into. Now, don’t worry, I am not asking you to dig deep into the depths of your soul, rather just looking at your history of running, exercise, and injury. We ask a series of 5 questions to help you think about where your strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Am I running now?

  2. Have I run a race recently?

  3. What is my goal for the marathon?

  4. How much time can I dedicate to training?

  5. Am I injury prone?

Answering these questions a certain way will not dictate whether or not you can run a marathon. There’s a million ways to get to the same finish line. However, what it will do is force you to take a look at yourself and go into this thing with eyes wide open. For instance, answer question number one with a no, then we need to start with the very basics of running. Learning how to start by doing the right amount at the right intensity, then building on top of that without getting you hurt is going to be critical. It also means that if you are looking at a marathon and it’s only 8 weeks away, that it might not be a good fit for where you are at. You are going to need to allow yourself a lot longer to build to the point where you are ready to tackle the distance. So, every answer you give here helps establish the baseline, a timeline, and a checklist of things you will need to make sure you focus on as you take on this journey.

These questions aren’t meant for just the person who’s never run before or even the new runner. They are meant for anyone looking to take on the marathon distance. This includes the novice/recreational runner all the way to the age group ace who’s looking for a new challenge. The thing is, even those who have raced/run the half marathon distance are just that- hallway there. A 5k runner has only raced 1/8th the distance. Whatever you struggle with at 10, 20, 30 miles per week are going to be really exposed when training to cover 26.2 miles as fast as you can. The things you never even thought about while training for your local festival 5k is going to be a major factor in your ability to be successful at the marathon. This isn’t meant to scare you, rather prepare you. The better prepared you are, the less intimidating it can be.

Where to go from here, depends on where you are at. For the brand new runner, I suggest taking the next three steps:

  1. Make running a habit.

    Find a C25k plan that’s 6-10 weeks long. In HFM, I offer up an 8 week plan that takes you from zero to handling 30 minutes of jogging without stopping.

  2. Establishing a starting point.

    This is mainly for a time goal or even just establishing some running paces. Run a 5k. Time yourself on a known loop. Whatever you are comfortable with. Use that to establish some sort of basis for training.

  3. Pick a race and start training.

    For this group, after completing a C25k type plan, I recommend something 18-20 weeks from where you are currently at.

For the recreational runner, you know a little more about yourself. These questions will help you decide on a plan that’s best suited for you, but it will also help you focus on some detail work. Strength and mobility will probably be something to think about adding. However, adding this may need you need to change your approach to the mileage and/or length of schedule you were planning on using. For most of you folks, an 18 week training plan is plenty of time to be ready.

For the competitor, you may need less time, in terms of weeks, but make sure you can tolerate the volume necessary for your goals. If you are training at a pretty high level for most of the year, 12-18 weeks should be plenty of time to be ready. I would say closer to 12 weeks for higher mileage and coming off a racing segment and closer to 18 weeks for lower mileage.

Take a few minutes to look at these questions. There are other assessments I think are important, but we’ll save those for next time. If you are curious to see this discussion in full, to view our plans for first time marathoners, or just to read more about training, I encourage you to check out my book Hansons First Marathon: Step up to 26.2 the Hansons way. You can also follow me on Instagram @lukehumphreyhmm and our Facebook group LHR Running Community. For information on coaching, custom plans, and instant access training plans, visit

I have created a trilogy bundle of all three of my books. Use the code Trilogy at checkout for 30% off the three books. Your purchase from THIS STORE directly supports LHR. Thanks! The code is good through 8/5/2019

How should marathon pace feel?


“So, what exactly should marathon pace feel like?”

This was recently a question that my athlete, Lisa, posed to me. I sat there and thought about it, but ultimately I only came to the conclusion that this was a great question. My answer is, (insert drum roll) that it depends. Unfortunately, a question like this has a ton of different answers  with caveats. However, I do think it deserves a look into because one of the items I always stress is to learn how paces feel.

While thinking about it, I think there’s four major areas we need to look at.

  1. Your strengths as a runner
  2. The timing and length of the workout
  3. How big of a jump you are trying to make
  4. What your goal pace is

Strengths as a runner:

Your strengths as a runner will initially play a role in how marathon pace should feel. We have done a few blogs about finding these strengths and how to “score” yourself. We actually start the Hansons First Marathon book on these premises. I won’t dive into those here, but the bottom line is, the makeup you possess as a runner will dictate how marathon pace feels. If you are a speed demon who loves ripping up the track every Tuesday evening with the local run club, then there’s a chance you dread the Thursday tempo. It seems to be harder to run 6 miles at a pace that’s significantly slower than what you were whipping around the track at a couple days earlier. On the other hand, if you are a person who loves going out and putting in miles, marathon pace is probably your place of refuge.

Timing  and length of the workout.

This could mean the timing of the segment, but also the time of year. For instance, people training for an October marathon will begin their training in early to mid June. If they took some down time and then jump into training, they aren’t very acclimated. This certainly isn’t going to make marathon pace feel very easy. Luckily, you aren’t running very long tempos at that point, but it can certainly be a dream killer.

On that note, the first marathon workouts may be tough because it’s pace and duration . We’ll talk about those making big jumps in a second, but for now we are just talking about the distance at that new pace. Initially, that workout might feel like a lung burner because it’s currently out of the realm of possibility to run that pace for an entire marathon. In some cases, it might actually be more like half marathon pace. However, as time goes on, your fitness will improve. Ideally that pace feels more an more comfortable. Your effort is harder because of the increasing distance of the workout and the pace isn’t your primary issue anymore.

How big of a jump are you trying to make?

Along the lines we have already talked about, the amount of improvement you are trying to make will play a big part in how pace feels. If you have someone whose running their 15th marathon, they probably aren’t swinging for the 30 min PR fences. They are just trying to eek out that 0.5% to 2% improvement or maintain that BQ status. On the other hand, if you have a relative newbie whose just now learning about structured training, they might be trying to hit that walk off homer. For these folks, they are talking about doing tempo runs at what they might have been doing speed workouts at last year. This is going to be a major effort, especially early on for them. Mind you, I am not saying they should or shouldn’t be going for it, rather just pointing out that they might be in the “what have I gotten myself into” camp for a while.

What is your goal pace?

Before I get any emails about being elitist, let me be clear, I am not downplaying anyone’s ability. I am simply talking about training. With that disclaimer out of the way, slower runners will have a harder time differentiating tempo runs from easy days, especially early on. What I have noticed is that the grey area for prescribing paces occurs about that 4 hour goal mark. This is where things get a little blurry. At this point, runners will sometimes be running their easy runs faster than what their goal marathon pace is. Why? For most folks, their general endurance is going to be their limiting factor. In essence, can they just cover the 26.2 miles and keep it together? So, I don’t necessarily worry about these folks as much because if I can just keep them healthy and putting consistent miles in, then they will run pretty well. THEN, we can start really laying out some goals for them.

But Luke, you never really answered the question- how does MP feel?

You’re right, but what I wanted you to think about was all the factors involved and how you personally react to these variables I discussed. This whole layout was for you to think about what you go through on the tempo days. However, I’ve training with the Hanson philosophy since 2004 and I will tell you this. When I was at my highest fitness levels, the 10 mile tempo was always a big workout, but when I ran it, I always finished feeling that I could have went farther.  Not 16 miles, but I felt like I could have gone another 3-4 miles at that pace. I could talk to my teammates in short sentences. I was breathing hard, but I wasn’t labored. When I got to that point, I knew I was ready to go.  If I could do that in the middle of a 120-140 mile week, I knew I could run that on fresh legs for a really long time. For you, that might mean feeling like you could go another 2-3 miles after a 10 mile tempo in the middle of your peak weeks. If you get to those 8-10 mile tempos and they are essentially races, then you are probably in over your head a little bit and need to evaluate goal pace, recovery, overall volume, etc.

Bottom line is that if you struggle early, don’t panic. But if by the time you’ve reached 6-8 weeks to go and you just can’t find your rhythm, then don’t be scared to re evaluate. I think this is especially true for the folks trying to make the big jumps.

Stress / Recovery Principles


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What to train for when past our prime? When is our prime?


I received an interesting question from an HMM user. Essentially, the athlete asked…

How strict is your plan?

If you aren’t aware, we have a very active Facebook group. There are lots of posts or sharing of workouts- usually of when they are crushed. On one the other day, I was mentioned in one of the comments, so I started thumbing through and was caught by one comment on particular. The gentleman wants to run a 3:20 and his comments centered around creating a buffer and not expecting to see a certain pace at any point (or that certain paces have no place in a 3:20 plan).

In another life, I would have been like, “whoah, hold on brotato chip!” Eh, who am I kidding, I still am a little bit. I was definitely taken aback a little bit, because I immediately thought, “what’s going to happen to this guy the first split he sees at that pace that shouldn’t be anywhere in his splits?”

There are two main points I want to discuss in this post. The first is in regards to what I interpret when a person is trying to create a “buffer.” The second is how the runner is going to react when they see splits during the race when they “had no room” for them in training.

What trying to create a “buffer” tells me

  1. You don’t believe in your plan or coach.

    I see this a lot in people when they post about their training in our group. The biggest example of this is the 16 mile long runs in most of our marathon plans. For a lot of people they can’t get past the 16 mile long run being enough because it has been instilled in them that everything in marathon training revolves around the 20 mile long run. Unfortunately, these folks will keep running in circles (literally) for years trying to do things the same unsuccessful ways they’ve been doing them.

  2. You don’t believe in yourself.

    The best example of this is a person who is trying to run a BQ or break a time barrier. Everything about what they are doing or have done in the past indicates that they should be able to run the time they are seeking. However, their own self doubt creeps in and they push the pace faster than necessary because they feel like it will mean they can fade back to their goal pace and even slower, but have enough time in the bank to stagger in under their goal. However, it usually just sets them up for failure during training or the race.

  3. You aren’t putting enough time on the other stuff.

    This is a position I have really changed my thinking on over the last few years. This is thanks to all the interaction with our online run club and the athletes in there. I have always been a high mileage guy and I still am. I truly think that if you want to reach your highest potential, you need to be able to handle mileage. However, now that is with a caveat. Now I would say, train at the highest amount of volume you can that still allows you to incorporate the other aspects of well rounded training- strength and flexibility/mobility. Too many times I see athletes who don’t reach a goal, but instead of reflecting back to what their true training needs are, they just assume that they need to up the mileage the next time. I sometimes seeing runners trying to break four hours in the marathon and putting in 70 miles a week! What I am saying is back that down to 50 miles a week and use the time they would have spent on that other 20 miles per week and address the issues I mentioned. Hint: all runners have something strength related that needs help!

If you aren’t sure where to begin, I suggest reading up on our self tests or getting a gait analysis from an expert.

What makes me worry when someone is preparing for no split to be faster or slower than a certain pace. The thing is, no race goes perfect. Even our best races have moments where we say “if I just woulda.” You really do have to ask yourself the question, “how am I going to handle x or y situation?” When a person is setting themselves up to run the perfect race by trying to force everything in training, I tend to assume that their race is going to end in disappointment. Why? Because most of the time these runners panic when the inevitable split that’s way too slow shows up. This may be due to an improperly placed mile marker, a hilly mile, a turn into a headwind, a drop in concentration, an off Garmin split, or whatever. Instead of assessing the situation mentally, or rolling with the punches, they panic. By panic, I mean they usually either throw in the towel prematurely or they try to push even harder and only fall further behind.

I’m not saying that you should have a “whatever it is is meant to be” type of attitude, but splits will be off. See what the next mile or two brings before getting drastic. The next mile might be fast and you’re right back on average pace. Go through your mental queues- is my jaw relaxed? How’s my arm carriage? Am I on track with my nutrition? Is there a group I can tuck in with to block some of this wind?

Don’t panic- assess, observe, and adjust if necessary.

The best way to do that is to experience these things in training. Be cognitive of how you handle adverse situations during training and apply a system that works for you for race day.

You hear me say often that your training has to resemble how you want to race. If you train in a matter where you push the envelope in training (on a daily or regular basis) that chances are that’s how you’ll race. Training is so much more than running a workout. It’s learning how to deal with a variety of situations. Learning how certain conditions affect you and how to adjust for those conditions. Give yourself a little bit of flexibility on splits with the goal of learning the pace and narrowing the standard of deviation.

Races rarely go perfect and it’s the person who can handle the deviations form those plans best that will be the most successful.

Winter Running: Performance

For my friends who don’t really train through a long stretch of snow, wind, cold, and poor footing for more than a few days, then you may not find much use of this blog. For the rest of you, you are probably like me and wonder if you are literally just spinning your wheels. The end result can be an unwarranted lack of confidence as you head into a winter or early spring marathon. Today, I want to discuss what common concerns I get and then provide you a case study as to why we don’t need to throw our original goals out the window.

Running in the Snow

There’s a few questions and concerns I get this time of year, but the biggest reflect around a sudden loss of fitness (or apparent) because of familiar loops being slower than they were in the fall. For instance, this morning we ran a loop that we run throughout the year. On a normal easy run, I will run 6:30-7:00 minute miles. Last night we got a little dusting of snow which made the sidewalks and side roads a mess. The pace of today’s run was about 7:30 per mile, but it felt like I worked harder than my 18 mile long run yesterday (that was 6:30/mile average). What gives? Over one day, I assume that most people chalk it up to the previous day’s long run and the fact that there is snow. However, it’s like this all winter and it gets in our heads. I am averaging 30 seconds per mile slower all the time. There’s no way I am going to be ready! I get it, especially in this age of social media where we all see our friends just crushing life.

The truth is, even though the paces may not line up, the effort is still there. I know what many of you are thinking- but you hate using heart rate, power meters, and all that, so aren’t you contradicting yourself? Well, maybe, but I say the same things about those tools as I do GPS. That is that they are tools and they all have a place. Here, I don’t mind any of those, as long as you look at those numbers afterwards to really analyse. In a perfect world, and some of my Boston runners got a little lecture about this with hills, is that I certainly want you to know your paces. However, along with that, I don’t want your workouts to be GPS only. Along with keeping track of that data, one should also internally note how they feel at those paces. How do they feel when not pushing hard enough? Too hard? If we note these things and ACT ON THEM, then we can be pretty close at our desired paces because we know what the effort feels like. Further, when we get in a situation where we aren’t in ideal weather, or doing a workout on a hilly route, we know what the effort feels like. Later on we can correlate what paces lineup so that we know that even though we were 15 seconds slow per mile for that tempo, the right effort was there due to a -10 degree windchill (or whatever factors involved). The key here is to recognize effort to paces in better conditions so we can utilize effort in far less than ideal conditions later.

Ok, so how is performance actually affected by the cold?

  1. Extra weight:

    For some of us it is that extra Holiday weight we found lying around the cookie plate. However, think about how many layers you are putting on! I would bet there are times I am wearing 5-8 pounds of extra clothing during the winter. We have all heard the adage of every 1 pound of non energy producing weight (usually referring to fat) costs us 2 seconds per mile at race pace! (Insert Ric Flair: WHOOOOO!) That’s a good 15 seconds plus per mile on an easy run! Just think about how that will affect you on that marathon tempo!

  2. Decreased range of motion:

    Along those lines, with all those extra layers, especially on the legs, we don’t get the same range of motion which means strides are probably a little shorter and we just aren’t as efficient as we are in shorts.

  3. Poor surfaces:

    This one is a given. Poor traction, dodging ice patches, and doing pirouettes along the sidewalk all take their toll on us.

  4. Reduced force of muscle contraction:

    Cold weather will reduce the force of our muscle contraction which means it takes a little more work to run at any given pace.

  5. Decrease in lactate threshold:

    Because we are physically working harder to run, our lactate threshold will be lower. So, say in normal weather your LT occurs at 75% of your VO2max (which would correlate at say half marathon pace) now occurs at say 65%, which might be slower than marathon pace.

  6. Increase in use of carbohydrate:

    Because your LT is lower, you’ll have a higher reliance on carbohydrate. Lactate is a by product carb breakdown, so workouts that normally don’t cause carbohydrate depletion can now put you in the danger zone.

  7. Increased intensity at same pace:

    Because of everything we mentioned, all paces become inherently harder. Then when we see we aren’t hitting paces, we tend to try harder. This tends to only set us back further over the coming days and weeks.

  8. Dehydration:

    I don’t have any scientific stats on this, but winter seems to be a primetime for chronic dehydration. Just look at our skin in the winter. Whether it’s because we don’t think we need fluids in the winter, harder to take in during winter, or what, but chronic dehydration and electrolyte loss seems like it would eventually take its toll on us, as well.


How much do these factors all add up to?

It is hard to put exact numbers. If you want ballpark numbers, you can certainly use our calculator that lets you factor in cold and windchill. This isn’t exact by any means, as you can’t put numbers on some of the factors listed, but it let’s you see how much time really can be affected. When we put it together, we also factored in what you were doing, so easy run paces will be affected less than speed work. You can check out the calculator HERE.

Now, some of you are reading this and thinking that ole coach is blowing smoke, so I wanted to use a case study from this past weekend. HCS Coach Mo Hrezi and I have been running together most of the winter here in Rochester. This winter has been brutal, especially the end of December and into January. December was Michigan’s fourth snowiest in history and we had a couple week stretch where we never got above 10 degrees F for the high. That’s air temperature, not including the wind chill. We have been doing a lot of workouts at Stony Creek Metropark where footing wasn’t the greatest and the temps were tough. The long of the short of it is this- say we were doing 3 miles- 2 Miles- 1 Mile at Stony. Under normal circumstances, we’d do these at about half marathon pace. Mo really wanted to break 1:03 at the Houston Half Marathon, so that would be about 4:48 per mile (ballpark). Mo came close to that for 1 mile, where he had good footing and a wind at his back. All the workouts we did in December and early January amounted to one lousy mile run at his actual goal pace.

Needless to say, Mo ran Houston this past Sunday (1/14/18) and ran… 1:02:11!!!

This was a personal best by nearly two minutes and is the fastest ever run by a Hanson’s ODP member.

The moral of the story is don’t focus only on what the watch is telling you during the winter months. If you keep the faith that you are working hard and putting in the training, that you don’t need to adjust goals (as long as you are racing where weather won’t really be the issue). Take the time throughout the year to know how paces feel and what effort you are putting in to hit those paces. That way, you can have confidence that your fitness is still there and you’ll be ready to fly on race day!

Dressing for winter running

Winter running can have a wide range of effects on people. For some it might mean actually having to wear a shirt on those chilly 65 degree mornings. For others it might mean growing a glorious beard to protect against the snow and wind (at least that’s what I tell myself). I get a lot of questions about winter running, but one of the main ones is, how do I dress for this stuff? To me that’s a loaded question because there’s a lot of variables going into it. In November if it’s 32 degrees I’ll be wearing tights because it’s so cold! If it’s 32 in January? Shoot, I’m breaking out the half tights and debating wearing a shirt (ok, I’ll put a shirt on), but will probably be wearing half tights on a day that warm in January!

In all seriousness, how we need to dress depends on our exposure to the elements. For instance, today was 11 degrees with a pretty brisk wind. However, despite it being that cold, it was actually the warmest it’s been in a while. I actually felt a little over dressed!  On the flip side, today it snowed in Florida! The folks who live there probably thought it was the end of the world today. They probably couldn’t put enough layers on. In fact, I would bet there were people dressed with more clothes on in Florida today, than the Hanson’s Brooks team had on our wind chill advisory morning here in Michigan. Given all that, I still think there are a few truths that we can all use, regardless if winter is a few days a year for you, or if you feel like you’re in the arctic circle with no sun for six months.

  1. The wind is worse than the cold.

    If you can block the wind, I feel like you can take away a lot of the  discomfort in cold weather running. These days there are a lot of wind resistant shirts and lightweight jackets that don’t add a lot of weight, but block out that bone chilling cold. Also, consider something for the legs, or at least the most sensitive region below the waist… Seriously. Find good briefs/undies to run in, especially ones with a wind panel in front.

  2. Focus on extremities like the head/face, hands, and feet.

    Your head loses most of your heat and your face takes a beating in the wind. Offering up protection to your noggin is crucial for those cold and windy days. When I run, my hands are always the first to feel the effects. For others it is there feet. Investing in really good gloves and mittens is a must if you want to brave the elements for any length of time. Even a good glove with a mitten shell will work wonders for blocking the wind and keeping the body heat in around the fingers. As for the feet, you need to be careful. As some teammates found out, you can’t just put a bunch of socks on and shove your foot in your shoe. They did this for a few days, but found their shoes were now too tight and hurt! Get some good light wool running socks.

  3. Dress in layers.

    I recommend your base layer be pretty form fitting. This pulls your sweat away from the body right away and can be dissipated better through the second (or third) layer. The second layer should be fairly loose to allow your body heat to be trapped and be a natural insulator. If wearing a third layer, then this should be your wind breaking layer. For the legs, you will probably be wearing tights. If you find your legs still getting cold, then go ahead and put a wind pant on over the top. They are lightweight, will trap body heat towards legs, but still allow sweat to evaporate. Plus, you’ll get that ever important wind block.

  4. Dress like it’s warmer.

    The rule of thumb is dress like it’s 20 degrees warmer than it is. Now, I understand that if it’s 5 degrees F, then does it really matter if I’m dressed for 25? Well, no, it’s still cold! But if it’s 20 degrees out and you dress like it’s 40 degrees, that’s a big difference. So, take it relative to what the air temp is. The colder is, the less this will matter, but can really make a difference when you are in that grey area. You might be a little chilly the first mile, but your body heat (see above) will take care of you.

  5. Is it the shoes?

    Going back to the socks and feet a little bit. Shoe companies have all developed a couple shoes that are great for winter running. For instance, every winter I get a pair of Brooks Adrenaline ASR (All Season Running). These babies have a more aggressive tread and a water resistant upper. Having these definitely allow me to keep the needed socks minimal with a much better fit. Shoes like these are something to consider if you are dealing with months of treacherous running!

Now, I don’t think anything I just wrote was earth flattening for anyone, but a necessary discussion. I think the real question is “How should I dress for different days?” Like anything, we have to look at what we are trying to accomplish for the day. In essence, the faster you are trying to run, the more we have to think about it.

Easy Days

On a nasty day, an easy run really does become a matter of putting the time in. These are the days I am going to have the most time to let my mind focus on being cold, so I want to be as comfortable as possible. I’m willing to overdress on these days!

Long runs

During the winter, or if it falls on a nasty day for you, the long run is an extended easy day. However, many of us want to run a little faster on the easy days. We also are talking about putting A LOT more time on our feet. While I want to be comfortable, I don’t want to be overheated. I try to keep my regular shoes, unless it’s just completely snow covered. I focus mostly on keeping my feet and hands warm. I will wear a fairly heavy tight with the appropriate, er protection. And then I will usually wear the standard base layer and a warmer jacket or a middle weight shirt and a very lightweight windbreaker.

The faster stuff…

Marathon or faster work does require a delicate balance of how much I’m willing to be uncomfortable, but avoid hypothermia. Up top, I’m less worried about it. I can get by with the base layer, and the thicker warm layer. The tights is where things can get tricky. The thicker the tight, the less range of motion (or the less I feel I can get a full stride). I tend to dress down a level of warmth. When you are running fast, you’ll notice it less.



Given that, there are a couple points I’d like to make with the clothing and workouts. You may have heard the saying that one pound of fat equals losing two seconds per mile. Now, what that really means is that for every pound of weight that is not involved in the propulsion of your body forward, you lose two seconds per mile. So, think about that when you are dressed in your extra layers and even more when the sweat that left your body is now frozen to your outer layer. It’s there and it slows you down. So, when you are working hard to run slow, keep this in mind and focus on effort over pace.

The second point is more about when you are done running. When you are running hard, you’ll notice the cold less. You’ll really be feeling that difference between what the actual temp is and how warm you feel. Now, once you stop, you are a lot more susceptible to getting the bone rattling chill. While I know many of you go straight through your warm up to workout to cool down. If you have the opportunity, I say warm up like you are doing an easy run. Then, adjust your layers accordingly for the workout. Finally, if you can, take off your wet top layers, replace with warm, dry layers, and then do a cool down. If not, then I urge you to get warm and dry clothes on as soon as you possibly can.

With that, you can see how I approach winter running in dress and with specific days. I hope you find soe use of this as it guides you through the tough winter running we endure. Feel free to keep the discussion rolling!

Here’s some other good reads on dressing for winter runnning


Of course, I had this written last night and ready to be published this morning when @sweatscience publishes something to Outside Magazine. Here is another great read on winter running and wear you want to keep your body warmth levels.