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.

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!


Glass City Recap

I ran CIM in the beginning of December and then took some time off. I was going through a lot of life changes so for the first time in a long time, running took a backseat on the priority list. I’ll have to admit, I didn’t really miss the training aspect. I still enjoyed the daily routine, but not the regimented routine I have been undertaking for the last 25 years!

As life began to sort itself out, I began to be accustomed to my routine. For a long time I had to be selfish with running (or at least I thought) and that left a lot of daily tasks to my wife. That always made me feel guilty and over time I think it was things like this that really affected our feelings towards each other. I always was an early riser, but it was usually to scramble to get around to meet the guys for an early morning run. Now I was getting up at the same time, but getting a couple hours of productivity done, school lunches packed, kid fed and dressed, and making sure bags were packed. Even after all that, I was out the door running by 9 am.

I started getting the desire to train again, but knew I had to change the approach a little bit. Not the philosophy, but just how this segment was to be approached. I had done two marathon segments in 2018 and ran two in 2017! I hadn’t even thought about that until writing this.

I had played around with more recovery and less mileage because I thought my body couldn’t handle what I used to do.

The truth is, it can’t, but it could handle a lot more than what I was doing. That’s a little off topic, as I still needed to change this segment. I had a ton of marathon work in my system, so I wanted to work on just being able to run faster. I hadn’t done much of anything under 5 minute pace (per mile) in a very long time and I want to get back to where that feels comfortable. However, this winter was pretty rough and I did a lot of simulated efforts on the treadmill. When I got outside, I tried to run faster. During the the last 6 weeks, I was able to get in the staple workouts of a Simulator and a 2×6 miles. I was pretty confident, at least in my ability to run respectable, but honestly, I knew it was going to be a little bit of a crapshoot.

Overall, from the first week of February until the week before the race, I averaged about 105 miles per week.

Not bad by any means, but a little less than what I averaged before CIM and about the same as what I averaged before Bayshore in May. I felt good physically. My back was in decent shape and my head was clear. My stress levels had decreased significantly. So, heading into the Glass City Marathon, I had two goals- 1) Was to compete for the win and 2) Run under 2:20.


The nice thing about this race was that it was close- about an hour away from home. Nikki and I still got a hotel room in Toledo, but just for convenience. Given the fact that our hotel for Boston two weeks earlier was in the 4 figures, this was nothing! We checked in and then headed over to the expo to pick our race packet up. Part of my elite entry included helping out for a couple hours at the expo, so I fulfilled that duty. Talking to the elite athlete coordinators gave me a lot of info and I knew the competition I was going to be racing against the next morning.

As expected, the weather deteriorated over the evening and into the night, but all reports said the rain was going to be gone, which was my biggest concern.

There is nothing worse than a cold rain. The morning was cold.

About 36 degrees, but the rain had stopped. However, the wind was steady at 10-15 mph and gusts up to 20+ mph. Woof! Oh well, I was honestly just glad it wasn’t 75 degrees! It did warm up a bit- I think starting temp was 39 or 40 degrees, but the wind was still there.

As I stood on the starting line I was pretty calm, but anxious to get going. I wanted to see how this thing was going to unfold. The half marathon and the full marathon run together for the first 9-10 miles, so I knew there’d be a good range of paces at the start. The race started and of course all the local hero’s went blowing by for their few minutes of fame. I was glancing around at bibs to see who was full and who was half marathoners. There was a couple guys that were on there own and then everyone else seemed to just kind of pack up. We started looping around the outside of the U of T campus and I tried to tuck in away from the wind. It was funny because there was so much back and forth with the pacing, so I just tried to stay calm. All was pretty well through the first 5-6 miles. I just ran my pace and let those young guys throw the sneaky punches. Looking at my splits, I was pretty steady at 5:18 ish pace. Miles 5 and 6 were 5:12 range, but I think we were with the wind.

However, by 6 miles, they must have tuckered themselves out and all of a sudden I was in front. Knowing the field, I knew that I had to set myself up for the best chance to win, so I stayed on the pace. I never pushed the gas to the floor, but I stayed honest at 5:18-19 pace. It was cold, and it was windy, so the field started falling apart. Pretty soon it was just myself and the eventual winner. From miles 7-15 we worked through a nice neighborhood and then into a big metropark and were on a bike path. We ran side by side all the way through 15 miles. I never felt like I was over the edge, but I felt like that was as fast as I could go without getting over the edge.

As we exited the park at 15, we made a right hand turn and this guy just blasted it. I ran 5:15 for that mile and he just dropped my like I had made a pit stop, or something.

To make matters worse, we were dead nuts straight into a headwind, too.

So, there was the break and he spent the next two miles putting a big distance on me. At that point, it was a matter of holding on. It just stunk because he was too far ahead to be in contact and I was all alone with third being a couple minutes back. No man’s land is incredibly lonely.

I am proud that the gap didn’t get any worse. At mile 20, or so, the biker next to me told me the gap was about 50 seconds and that’s where it stayed. As we headed back to campus, my calves were starting to cramp and my quads were fried. I was just spent and managing myself.

The wind definitely played a role with me. I looked at a couple calculators and a 10 mile head wind can add 10-20 seconds per mile, pretty easily. I would say that you throw in the factors of dehydration, being tired already, and then running completely alone for 10 miles and there’s a lot going on there. All in all, it was 2:22 and second place. I competed for the win for a long time and was on sub 2:20 pace for 20+ miles, but it ended rough.

Post Race

Now’s the time for too much information. I didn’t pee for almost two hours after the race. When I did, it was so brown I thought it was blood. I am telling you this because it’s important. I dehydrated myself really bad and that also had an effect. The thing is, I was really good with gels. I took 5 Isagenix Fuels. One right before and four during the race. However, it was so cold I couldn’t grab water.

I would be surprised if I took in 10 oz of water during the whole run.

That’s such a bummer, too. That’s a rookie mistake and it’s frustrating for myself. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and you always have to remember the basics!

The next couple days were brutal! I could barely walk. However, by Saturday, I felt good and went for a 3 mile jog. It was slow, but spring had finally come and I wanted to get some sun in! I ran the next week until mothers day. My hip was a little sore, but now it’s all good. I even started doing strides this week!

Moving Forward

I feel like I have one or two more chances at a Trials qualifier.

Right now, I need to step back from the marathon. I want to race some shorter races and get to where I can handle some things I haven’t done in a long time. My plan is to build up with a 5k and a 10k in June and July. Then run the Crim 10 Miler in August. From there I’ll transition right into marathon training for Indy on November 9th. I think there will be quite a few guys going after sub 2:19 and it’s a great course and race. It should be fun! I also want to get back to more strength. I keep saying it, but it’s my downfall!

At the end of the day, training for Glass City helped me transition to a new chapter of my life. I didn’t win, but I raced hard. I learned how to train without the reliance of a team. And I feel good with a lot of things in my life and my family! So, here’s to the rest of 2019.


Marathon Tempos: 2019 Update

In 2018, I did a podcast on tempo runs, and it really discusses how Marathon pace should feel. That post is still relevant and will be unless our physiology drastically change. If you haven’t read or listened yet, I encourage you to do so HERE.

Over the last several years, as more and more people have read the HMM books, some questions have arisen. I have had this discussion several times now about how the book and the plans are meant to fit a wide spectrum of people. Now as more and more people have read the books we can dive into discussions about how to make things more specific to your individual needs. So today, I want to comment on the four most common areas of specificity when it comes to the marathon tempo runs.

The first is “Small Jumps vs Big Jumps” in marathon training.

By this I mean, are you making a big jump in goal pace or are you making a small goal in pace? I would say that anything within 10 seconds per mile of what you have currently run is probably within your standard of deviation already. So, if your current marathon pace is 9 minutes per mile, then you probably hit 8:50 per mile fairly regularly in training and doesn’t represent any major adjustment to pace. However, if you ran 8:50 per mile instead of 9:00 pace, then you run nearly 5 minutes faster for the marathon!

Funny how small increases in pace over 26.2 miles can drastically change the outcome of your race…

Anyway, let’s use that same 9:00 per mile pace and now you want to run 8:30 pace. For some of you, that new pace might represent a pace that looks more like your half marathon pace than it does your marathon pace. This, obviously, is a big jump in pace and is going to drastically alter how your marathon tempo runs feel, especially the early ones. Even a four mile tempo will probably feel more intense than your speed work! I will discuss how to handle this in a minute but recognize that if you are making a big jump in pace, you’ll need to exercise a certain amount of caution and recognize that your early tempo runs may feel harder than what your later tempo runs feel.

Building on the jump in pace, the next logical step is how your early paces feel versus later tempo runs feel.

The basic assumption here is that you are coming off a rest and are now starting a buildup to a marathon.

Now, if you aren’t coming off a rest, but simply moving from one segment to another, then chances are your early tempo runs will feel easier than they should and that’s a sign of trouble.

However, that’s another discussion for another time. For now, let’s assume you are coming off rest, and are making a small jump in paces. If that’s the case, then marathon pace will feel uncomfortable, but not super taxing. This is mostly because you have slightly decreased fitness levels and this slightly above your current marathon ability. The idea that is that as your fitness improves (and it will quickly) your marathon pace will feel easier as you go on- to a point. Now, as we mentioned, if you are making a big jump in paces, the marathon tempos will feel difficult. They might even be discouraging. However, if you are committed to the goal, I say give it several weeks before deciding if it is too much. We’ll discuss ways to combat this later on.

The third area is your progression of fitness:

The whole goal with a training plan is to improve your level of fitness. So, in theory, MP should feel easier, right? For some, it might, but for most, there are confounding factors involved that will affect how you actually feel. In reality, I have only had pace feel slightly easier. What’s more important is that unless I was overtrained, I never felt worse. So, I felt roughly the same for a 10 mile tempo later in the segment as I did during a 4 mile tempo 8 weeks prior. Even more important than that, my confidence increased as I felt more comfortable (or familiar) with the new pace. Notice that I am differentiating between easier and comfortable. I find this to be true for modest increases in pace and for those who are adjusting to the bigger increases in pace.

The fourth is the effect of cumulative fatigue and its effect on your “feel” of tempo pace.

Using that early four mile tempo, it feels hard because your fitness is at a lower level. When you get to those 10 mile tempos, you are doing them with several weeks of hard training in your legs. So, your fitness may be leaps and bounds higher, but the fatigue you feel is not allowing your tempos to feel easier. Now, under normal-heavy training, tempo runs will still be hard and the first couple miles might not be wonderful, but you will settle into a pace and end up being just fine. If you are overcooked, what you’ll see is that effort will increase, but your paces will be slower and slower. If this is the case (which is usually with the “big jumpers”) then you may need to reconsider the pace that you are trying to attempt.

How do I combat this?

For big jumpers- a segment that focuses on getting other race times down

So let’s assume that you just ran a marathon and it went well. Now, you want to jump in and start training for another one, but you’ve gotten the idea to make a go at that once impossible BQ. It’s still a big jump of 15 minutes, but what the heck!

Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t. However, what I am saying that you will not want to jump right into it for your next segment. Let’s say you ran an end of April marathon and were thinking you want to make a go at it in the fall. What I will see is a lot of people will want to jump right into another marathon attempt to try and reach the deadline for Boston. For those who don’t know, if we are in the year 2019 and you want to run the 2020 Boston marathon, you need to have your qualifying time by early September of 2019. So, what we have seen is a number of “last chance” Boston qualifying races for that weekend of the deadline. The problem is this doesn’t give the person who is trying to make a big jump in performance enough time to adjust to that new level. Those just needing a couple minutes is another story. They can probably make that turnaround.

What I would propose is that the person take their recovery, then utilize the rest of May, June, July, and part of August to work on shorter races.

I don’t particularly care if it’s a 5k/10k segment or a half marathon segment, but just something that shifts the focus. The reasoning is that if the person trying to make the big jump is aiming for a new goal that doesn’t line up with anything that they have run in the past, then it’s going to be a hard go trying to run that new pace for 26.2 miles. Let’s pick, say a 10k, goal that is more in line with what would suggest that the marathon goal is possible. That way, we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket, we are giving our body an opportunity to train at faster paces, but not be under the grind of marathon training. Then, once you come back to the marathon, the paces won’t be as daunting and you’ve hopefully increased your fitness enough to tolerate the new paces. Essentially, we have made an attempt to bridge the gap between where you are at and where you want to be.


Break up the tempo runs early, treat as rust buster workouts

This is something that I will do in many of my other Final Surge plans. Essentially, these

are soft toss workouts. Something that you are confident in hitting, but an introduction to

new marathon paces. It can be pretty simple like 6-8×800 meters at your goal marathon with short recovery jogs. Each week, simply lengthen the distance of the repeat until you get to where you are more comfortable at doing a straight up tempo run.

  1. Add a day of recovery.

    I am a big fan of going Monday, Thursday, Saturday or going Tuesday, Friday, Sunday. I also like our alternator and 9 day cycle to spread out your intense workouts to a more manageable recovery period.

  2. Start from slower to faster (or fast to slow?)

    You can employ this strategy regardless of whatever strategy(ies) you employ from above as a supplement. There are really two ways to approach. The first is to start your tempo (or marathon repeats) at your current marathon pace and progressively work towards your goal marathon pace. I personally like this method the best, as I like to have your train how’d you should be racing. However, there the other side of this, too. That would be to start at your goal marathon pace and simply hold it as long as you can. This, I feel is acceptable when you want to test yourself after a few weeks, but it’s not something I’d attempt on a weekly basis. I feel like frustration would lead to doubt and more negative self talk. Regardless, the end goal would be the same, and that would be to accumulate more time, each successive workout, at your goal marathon pace.

How am I going to go another 16 miles at this pace?

This is what I want to end with because it’s probably the biggest question I see in the Facebook group after they do a 10 mile marathon tempo. It’s certainly a valid question. I have talked about it in this post (the how do I know I am ready). However, I will say, if you are hitting your 10 mile tempos within a few seconds per mile and not adjusting any of your training to get there, then you have a good chance.

If you get through a 10 mile tempo and felt like you just raced the workout, then you might be in trouble- especially if you are trying to take a big jump.

If you get to that point where it was a hot mess or you just can’t even come close to that goal pace, then you really have some decision making to do. If you are ok with rolling the dice, then go ahead and roll the dice. However, if you are ok with splitting the difference and scaling back to a smaller personal best effort and building that bridge (rather than potentially burning that thing all the way to the ground) to BQ land then now is the time to make that decision.

Need a plan? Check out all our training plans and our Run Club 

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.


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.

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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Increasing mileage: the 10% rule?

I recently received an email from a runner who just bought my book Hansons First Marathon and was very concerned that the book didn’t follow the 10% “rule.” I know a lot of coaches, coaching handbooks, and online courses promote 10% increases in weekly mileage. It certainly sounds like a nice idea, but how does it stack up in the research department? Better yet, does it stand up in the practicality standpoint?

Luckily for us, there has been a recent interest in this very topic. In December of 2018, a meta-analysis was published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. They looked at all articles involving running-related injury as a result of training load, were randomized trials, included ages 18-65, and used runners as subjects. What’s amazing to me is that they began with a database of over 8200 research studies and by the time they were screened for eligibility, only four studies met all the criteria! What this immediately tells us is that this subject has not been looked at with thorough criteria of sound scientific principles. To me, that begs the question then, who settled on 10%? I don’t know the answer to that. It’s just one of those things where somewhere along the lines, somebody made an assessment and it’s just stuck.

So, as far as what did make the criteria, what does the data say? Unfortunately, even with the 4 studies that made the cut, there remain issues. Mainly, the lack of definition of “sudden increase” in training. From one week to the next, from day to day, a rolling average? There wasn’t continuity. However, in one of the four articles, there is some data to extract. All four studies showed that injuries increased with mileage, but failed to define the increase. In the fourth article though, three groups were looked at, 10% increases, 10-29% increases, and 30% increases. The biggest takeaway is that the 30% increases resulted in higher injury rates. The other two groups also resulted in injury rates, but there was no difference in incidence. What this tells us is really two things. The first is that there needs to be more research and clearly defined terms in this area. The second is that when considering mileage as the source of training load increase, that smaller relative increases may not have any more impact on injury rates as does moderate relative increases.

From a practical standpoint, I feel like there a few factors to consider when deciding how much to increase your mileage. The first is where you are currently are with your running. Believe it or not, with a lower mileage runner, we can probably be a little more aggressive, in terms of percentage increase. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.


10 Miles/week 10% Increase 20% Increase 25% Increases
Week 1 11 12 12.5
Week 2 12.1 14.4 15.63
Week 3 13.31 17.28 18.75
Week 4 14.64 20.74 22.5
Week 5 16.1 24.88 28.13
Week 6 17.71 29.85 35.16
Week 7 19.48 35.83 43.95
Week 8 21.44 43 55


By looking at the chart above, you see that we are using a starting point of 10 miles per week as the starting baseline. In this example, we are using this for a new runner and only looking at running volume. I am excluding other training variables, like intensity, for now. If you start at 10 miles per week and increase your mileage by 10% per week, it would take you two months to build to 20 miles per week. On the flipside, if you believe what research is indicating, and increase by 20% per week, we can knock that time in half. I’ll discuss this more in a second, but let’s discuss the 25% column. You can see at week four, we are almost the same as 20% and just over 20 miles per week. However, after that, you really start increasing the mileage. To double your mileage in 4 weeks is one thing (when starting low), but to the more than double that number again in the next 4 weeks is another issue. To me, when starting at a low number like 10 miles per week, the sweet spot for increasing weekly volume is 20-25% to get to a weekly mileage in the 20-25 miles/week range.

But why do I need to increase that fast?

Won’t I get hurt? Why am I referencing for 4 weeks? Why are 20-25 miles important?

These are all questions that I found myself asking while writing this, and I assume you are asking something similar. So, part of the answers to these involves the research, while the other involves my observations from coaching. Four weeks appears to be a good amount of time to build just your mileage before adding some other source of training load increase. We can do that in four weeks and not significantly increase the risk of developing a running-related injury. I can get a runner to focus on just adding mileage while keeping the intensity low, not take forever to do it, then allow them to get into a training program. I like the 20-25 miles per week because it opens a lot of doors to whatever it is you want to do. Once you get to 20-25 miles per week, you can maintain that, start adding intensity and run a pretty solid 5k within the next 6-8 weeks. If you are marathon training, it allows us to add “slower intensity” and longer run while scaling back the rate at which we increase the volume of training. We are still gaining fitness, but we are adjusting the variables at which we increase.

Now, everything we have talked about so far was to get a runner from initial lower mileage to a solid base level to then start structured training. So, the initial focus was simply more mileage at easier paces, then allowing to shift away from adding mileage as fast but insert more intensity. Once we get to a level of about 30 miles, I don’t think you can continue to add mileage at that 25%. It’s almost a reverse scale. The below chart shows where I think you can be confident in increasing mileage and where I would use caution and where I don’t think it’s a good idea at all.


10% 15% 20% 25% 30%
30 miles 3 Miles 4.5 Miles 6 Miles 7.5 Miles 9 Miles
40 miles 4 Miles 6 Miles 8 Miles 10 Miles 12 Miles
50 miles 5 Miles 7.5 Miles 10 Miles 12.5 Miles 15 Miles
60 miles 6 miles 9 Miles 12 Miles 15 Miles 18 Miles


Think about it this way. At lower mileage, you have a lot more room. You may be able to add another day for a couple of the increases. Then start increasing your long run on the weekend, then a mile to a weekday run, etc. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you simply can’t just add another day or more mileage to your runs. You’ll also be at a point where you are doing structured workouts and so you’ll be increasing your training load based on that, too. So, by increasing your mileage while doing workouts means you’ll be adding volume, frequency, and intensity. Increase all three by too much at the same time and that is where the body begins to break down.

To summarize, when starting at a low weekly volume, take 4-6 weeks and add volume through easy running at a rate of 15-25% per week. Then back the rate of increasing volume to allow for the addition of intensity, along with gradual increases in daily volume and frequency of runs.

Up until now, all the discussion has been centered around the first time getting to a weekly volume. However, what if you are coming off from planned downtime (post-race)? Or, what if you were training at a lower volume, say for a shorter race, but want to get back up to a higher volume for a marathon segment? Overall, the general theory is the same for my athletes. As long as the volume is something you were able to tolerate previously, then you can certainly be much more aggressive than 10% per week increase.

My general rule of thumb is that the first week of running is about 50% of the desired weekly mileage.

So if you want to be at a peak of 50 miles per week:

  1. Then I’d run 25 miles that first week.
  2. The second week could see an increase of 25%, to 31.25 miles.
  3. The third week could be a 20% increase, to 37.5 miles per week.
  4. Then the 4th week could a 10% increase to 41.25miles. At this point, you are about 80% of the peak mileage and healthy place to start introducing workouts.

That’s a summary for what I do post-marathon, but if you are coming off a shorter race like a 5k or 10k, you can probably get away with a 2-3 week buildup and then start workouts during the 3rd or 4th week back. Granted, this is all dependent on the fact that you are healthy or the source of the problem has been addressed.

To me, the biggest takeaways are that there’s not a lot of research to show that 10% should be a hard and fast rule when increasing your mileage. Like a lot of items in training, it’s dependent on your factors. It’s also more about a relative percentage that makes the most sense. A 30% increase at 10 miles per week is a lot more reasonable than a 30% increase at 50 miles per week. Lastly, I feel like we have had much more success when focusing on mileage first at low intensities before slowing the rate of volume increase to accommodate more intensity. Granted, if you know you are injury prone, maybe focus on become more resilient before trying to make big jumps, or explore common themes when you became injured- it may not be the mileage at all. Experiment with what you can tolerate, but don’t think you have to be suck in the 10% rule. 10-29% appears to be the same in risk for developing running related injuries. Keep that in mind the next time you are designing your plan.

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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.

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 6: The Taper

Ahh, you’ve made it through the training and now it is time to cash out the fitness account that you’ve been depositing into nearly every day for weeks. This should be a time to be excited, but for many, it’s a time to completely lose your mind!

Many refer to this as the taper FREAK OUT!

It doesn’t have to be that way.

With any of our marathon plans, you’ll see a taper of 10-14 days. By most people’s definition of taper, a better word is probably you peak for 10 to 14 days. I say that because a lot of people argue that we don’t taper. Anyway, when you think about the purpose of a taper, it’s pretty simple, right? We are cutting back from the hard training we have done in order to be completely rested and to rock and roll.

Done right, and you can improve your performance by 2-3%.
Done poorly, and not only will you reap the benefits, you’ll actually lose some fitness! So let’s make sure we do this right!

The biggest mistake I see people make is cutting way too much from their training during the taper.


Think about when we are building your training- what’s the number one thing people tell you? Don’t add too much too soon! Well, the opposite is true when tapering. If you take away too much too soon, it’s detrimental. You’ll probably feel sluggish like you got too much sleep. Now, cutting too much can come in several forms. One is just straight up cutting their weekly mileage. This is the no-brainer, but when we start chopping away mileage, we tend to start cutting out days we are running and the intensity we are doing. If we do this for more than a couple weeks, then not only do we feel sluggish because we are out of routine, we can actually start to detrain! To me, the key to cutting back is smaller percentages in mileage and workout frequency, but maintain your daily intensity.


When we start cutting back mileage and workout frequency, we tend to think that we should automatically feel like a million bucks. When we don’t, we tend to think something is wrong. Personally, I feel like the more we keep our routine (even if we modify what we do on those days), we minimize this. Needless to say, the old phantom aches and pains always seem to show up in the last couple of weeks. You may find yourself wondering why your left big toe all of a suddenly hurts for no apparent reason. Chances are, it’s nothing. I don’t have a scientific reason why this happens but it does. I think it’s one of those things where we are hyper-aware. Think about coming back from an injury and you are in your first few runs back. You are constantly thinking about the injury and if it’s ok. We know it’s healed, but why do we keep feeling it? The same thing here we are just going through every joint and muscle, making sure it’s ready to perform in a few days.

The third biggest concern I see is nutrition.

This is tricky because it’s my experience that a lot of runners aren’t eating enough of the right foods at the right time. Many times, they just aren’t eating enough in general. When you get to the taper, they cut it back even more because they aren’t “training as much” and they really do themselves a disservice. Now should be the time to make sure the muscles have the fuel they need to recover from the months of training and to allow you to perform on race day. The flipside of that is people will sometimes start the carboload a little early and find themselves packing on a few to many pounds over the last two weeks. To me, the best thing to at this time is to eat to what the day calls for. Mainly I am talking about the right amount of calories. Short day = less calories and a long day/SOS = more calories. However, I am also talking about the timing of your calories (especially for SOS), and also the types of calories. Once you get to 3-4 days out, then you can start carboloading, but don’t save it for the day and night before.

The last thing..

I want to talk about self-doubt. This may creep in throughout the course of the training but will be multiplied with the issues we have talked about above. The most common is that a run during the taper doesn’t feel as great as it was expected too and the feeling is that your fitness has suddenly disappeared. Then they start noticing the aches and pains, then they think they’ve put on ten pounds. Pretty soon their mental state has spiraled out of control. We’ve all been there and I’ve done it before, too. What’s worked for me is trying to recognize the negative thought as soon as possible and stop it with a positive thought.

Go back to a tough workout you nailed.

Think about a situation where you could have given up, but you found a way to get the job done. Recognize that what you are going to do is very tough and it is going to hurt, but also recognize that you have put the work needed to accomplish your goal.

The last couple of weeks is time to physically recover from all the training. It’s not a time to let you believe that your fitness has suddenly disappeared and you aren’t going to reach your goal. Keep your routine, while gradually cutting the work back. Eat to your needs until the last 3-4 days. Combat negative thoughts with positive thoughts and keep present with why you are running this race to begin with. Let the taper work for you so that you can reap all the benefits of the months of work you put it in and sacrifices you (and maybe your family) have made.

Check out Hansons First Marathon book for yourself!

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.


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:


  • 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.


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!

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,