Nutrition Basics: Macronutrients

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

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

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

Role of macronutrients:

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

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

How CHO is metabolized in the body:

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

Ok, so are carbs bad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three protein pathways are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to go from here?

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

 

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.

RACE WEEKEND

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.

Love the HMM philosophy, but want to try a new plan? Check out all our options HERE

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About Us

In 2006 I began coaching athletes online as a way to supplement my income (and put my master’s degree in exercise science to work) as I continued to pursue my own running career. Since then, myself and our coaches have been a part of thousands of personal bests from the 5k through the marathon, hundreds of Boston Qualifiers, and dozens of Olympic Trials qualifiers.

Our core values stem around three components. The first is to learn and to teach. Learning comes from continuing to expand our coaching knowledge base to be completely encompassing of the runners needs. Learning also comes from our athletes. We learn how to make our philosophies fit practically into the real world. With that, it’s our core belief to take what we know and pass it on to you. I have a thorough belief in teaching a person why they are doing something in training because then they are a lot more likely to buy into a philosophy. They are also providing themselves with a foundation of information to apply as they grow as a runner.

The second core belief is building community. Despite never physically meeting the majority of athletes we work with, community is important. Forming relationships, encouraging others, and receiving motivation from others who have done what you are going through makes us all better. Whether you are an Olympian or running your first marathon, being part of the community is key. It’s what makes this the best sport in existence!

Lastly, as these values build into each other, motivating you to be the best runner you can be is our third core value. We don’t want you finish a race and hate the sport. We want you to finish and start thinking about how you an become better. How you can make running a priority in your life and part of your lifestyle. We do that by showing you the tools of the trade and through a community of support and experience.

Are you ready to become the best runner you can? We’d be happy to help!

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.

First..

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.

Second

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!

Running your first marathon: Part 2

https://media.blubrry.com/hansonscoaching/p/s3.amazonaws.com/hansonscoaching/media/HFM2.mp3 Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS | More

First time marathon series: Part 1

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

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

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

  1. Am I running now?

  2. Have I run a race recently?

  3. What is my goal for the marathon?

  4. How much time can I dedicate to training?

  5. Am I injury prone?

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

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

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

  1. Make running a habit.

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

  2. Establishing a starting point.

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

  3. Pick a race and start training.

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

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

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

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

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

Strength Workouts

Faude, et al. Sports Med 2009

Faude, et al. Sports Med 2009

This is a typical graph of an blood lactate vs work intensity chart looks like, but I recognize that their is a lot going on here. While I believe most people have the general idea here, but I think if we take an in depth breakdown of this graph, you’ll be able to understand the makeup of our “strength” workouts.

Let’s start with the solid line with data collection points. The line represents blood lactate levels compare to intensity. It is no surprise that as we run faster, the amount of lactate produced is greater. Remember back to our physiology discussions and lactate is a by product of glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose). At lower intensities it can be “recycled” at rates close to production. The faster we run, the less the recycling can keep up. Now, it’s important to note here that lactate or lactic acid in itself isn’t our cause of fatigue, but fatigue and lactic acid amounts are closely associated with each other.

Then, you see the two vertical dashed lines. The first, labeled “Aerobic Threshold’ and represents where lactic acid is first rising above baseline levels. Typically, this signifies when carbohydrate becomes the majority fuel source over fat. For beginner and poorly aerobically developed runners, as well as those who are carbohydrate dominant with their diets, this will occur at pretty easy paces. Regardless of population, marathon pace will be beyond this point, it just might be a matter of how far beyond.

The second dashed line is labeled MLSS, or in this particular graph, anaerobic threshold. MLSS stands for Maximal Lactate Steady State and aptly, is the last point at which lactic acid levels will stay steady per a given pace. Essentially, once you are at a pace beyond that point, your lactic acid levels will continue to rise, even if you stay at a given pace. Regardless of running population, marathon pace will be below this. In fact this point typically represents a pace that you can maintain for about an hour. So for most people this is about 10k to 15k pace. For elite and world class athletes, this pace might represent 20k to half marathon pace.

Along the top of this chart you see “zones” labeled. The zone on the far left is your easy and regeneration (or recovery) running. The middle is your moderate to high aerobic running. This would include harder long runs, tempo runs (marathon pace), strength, and half marathon pace work at increasingly harder paces approaching MLSS. The third zone is your fastest running and would include 10k and faster paces.

Knowing what these points represents is crucial to understanding how and why workouts are set at the intensities they are. Knowing that increases the likelihood of a runner not going overboard on paces when knowing that faster doesn’t necessarily stimulate the desired training adaptation.

For this discussion, I want to focus on strength and why it’s important to adhere to specified paces. First, let’s discuss the terminology of the strength workout. We describe strength as MP-10 in shorthand.  Reading that would be Marathon Pace minus 10 seconds per mile. Or if your goal marathon pace is 9:00 per mile, your strength pace would be 8:50 per mile.

Now, some of you can see already where you get into trouble- you are running your tempos at your strength pace. I’ll admit, lines can become blurry.

Over the last few years, I have come to conclusion that the four hour marathon is where these lines may not be a perfect fit.

However, that is not a go ahead to go full throttle, either. There has to be some sort of guidelines to adhere to.

In nearly all of our marathon training programs, you won’t be engaging in the strength workout phase until you’ve started doing longer tempos. I consider longer tempos anything that is taking you over an hour. Now, given that definition, you’ll naturally settle into a pace that’s going to be slower than your MLSS deflection point. So, clearly the pace you are running for the tempo is slower than MLSS pace. If not, then you are just blatantly running too fast and need to either dial it back or evaluate what your goals are. This isn’t to say that you are faster than what what your marathon pace is, but we can fix that too.

How you ask?

Well, let’s go back to our 9:00/mile example. Let’s say that’s your goal marathon pace, but you’ve been cheating down most of your tempo runs to 8:50. Ok, fast, but at that pace not crazy (the faster you get the less room for error you will have though). So, you get to where you are starting your strength workouts and since you’ve been averaging 8:50 pace, you settle on doing your strength at 8:40 pace.

That’s fine, I don’t necessarily see a problem with it, BUT here is what you have to pay attention to.

  1. Don’t lose sight of what the goal of the strength work is. Refer back to HMM
  2. Does this pace now go beyond where your MLSS pace would be? If so, then that’s faster than the desired pace or effect of the workout. If you know right away, that 8:40 pace is right around your 10k pace, then it’s too fast. We just did that segment during the speed work! However, many of you don’t know what your other race paces are, so the next two questions will be more practical.
  3. Does this now affect your ability to complete the strength workouts? This may be measured in a couple different ways. One, if you progressively get slower throughout the workout then your strength is too fast. Two, if your recovery jogs become recovery walks or get extended in length/time, then your strength pace is too fast. Your strength repeats and rest jogs should be about equal pace throughout the entirety of the workout (not necessarily effort though)
  4. Does this affect the pace at which you can complete your tempo runs? Let’s say you willed your way through a strength workout and kept it fairly even, but now you are really dreading that tempo run a couple days later. You may be able to power your way through for a couple weeks, but if your strength is too fast, then over time you will lose the ability to recover enough to maintain those tempo runs.

How should strength workouts feel?

The simple answer would be, “harder than your tempo runs, but easier than your speed.” To expand on that, you will often hear marathon pace runs described as comfortably hard, but I think that depends on ability and what your definition of “comfortably hard” is. To me, 8-10 mile tempos (which is about where you’ll be once you start the strength) should be a significant effort, but one that you feel you could extend a few miles if you really had to. Speed work is a much more anaerobic effort, in which you’ll get the “lactic burn.” So, you may be feeling in your legs or even like your lungs are going to catch on fire. Strength should feel like your balancing a fine line between being a sustainable effort vs. crashing and burning.

Granted this might take a couple times to get down, but that’s why I try to always start people out with 6×1 miles or even 800’s at strength pace. The biggest mistake I see people make on the first strength workout is that they overestimate their fitness and underestimate the recovery. They are coming off doing a bunch of speed work that’s way faster (but a lot more relative recovery) and see that they are doing repeats and a pace only slightly faster than marathon pace. So, usually through a combination of running too fast and not maximizing the recovery jog, they get to the 3rd or 4th one and realize they’ve dug a hole they can’t get out of. Remember, speed work usually brings acute discomfort. It’s usually an eye opener from the get go. Strength workouts should sneak up on you. The same effort for the last few should feel fairly hard compared to the first one or two. That’s when you’ve done it right- think slow cooker. You are slowly building that lactic feeling. Never fully recovering from the repeat prior and letting the discomfort slowly add to each successive repeat.

Strength workouts are probably the hardest to adjust too. With speed, you know you need to run hard. With tempos you know that you need to know what marathon pace feels like and you spend the most amount of time practicing it. With strength, you’re really in a tweener zone. Somewhere between really hard and kinda hard. The biggest thing is to learn from mistakes quickly and try to follow the guidelines I have provided. If you can do that, you’ll get it down, not to mention, find out what your abilities may be.

How strict is your plan?

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

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

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

What trying to create a “buffer” tells me

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

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

  2. You don’t believe in yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is there marathon work in my speed segment?

Why is there marathon work in my speed segment?

Why is there marathon work in my speed segment?

Recently, I received an interesting question from one our coached athletes in the Online Run Club. Essentially, they were following one of our plans for a shorter distance- a 5/10k plan, I believe.

What they asked was:

“Why is there a marathon pace workout during a speed segment?”

Ah! So, think waaay back to reading the Hansons Marathon Method, or our blog on training philosophy. I will respond to your question with my own question: “what is one of the pillars of hansons training?” Insert Final Jeopardy music. That’s right, it’s balance! We never stray too far from any one aspect of training.

So, during a marathon segment, one can ask why we are doing repeats at 10k pace when we are training. In this case, why are we doing marathon pace work during a segment for a much shorter race? As I mentioned, it’s all about maintaining balance, but why? How?

The Mental Part:

The physiological reasons we give a runner marathon pace work is simple. These are a great way to improve overall stamina, or ability to cover distance at a given pace. It also helps improve general endurance, which is simply being able to cover a set amount of distance. This might not seem like a big deal, but while a marathon is 97% aerobic, even going down to a 1 mile run all out, 80% of your energy contribution is coming via aerobic sources. Simply, regardless of distance, having a high revving aerobic cardiovascular engine is going to be vital for your success. Now, that doesn’t mean that we need do 10 mile tempos every week, it does mean we can’t completely abandon that source of training stimulus simply because we aren’t racing that distance- much like we don’t with speedwork during a marathon segment.

The How:

Now, as to the “how,” there a number of places that a marathon pace workout can be inserted into your training that’s not a marathon segment. The first is during a general fitness, base building, or a regeneration phase of running. In any of these situations, marathon pace work, mainly in form of repeats, tend to be a great way to add more structure into a program. It can help subside the urge to get into faster work too fast and avoid burnout before you are ready to race.

The second area is actually during a tough stretch of really fast work. We always talk about speed being the top of the roof. Referring to the percentages above, even at 5k racing, only 20% of your fueling needs come from anaerobic sources. However, when we are in a race specific stage, we are doing a lot of workouts in a row that are focusing on the top end (Faster than 10k pace) of our capacities. If you are like me, you struggle after doing a bunch of these fast workouts in a row. So, what I will do is swing back around with a marathon pace repeat workout that hits on the aerobic component, but gives us a break from the constant barrage of lung burning “get down” speed.

Now, as I mentioned, the marathon work I am talking about isn’t necessarily a 10 mile tempo run every few weeks. In fact, I rarely even go further than six miles total of marathon work.

Most of the time I prescribe something like 6-8 x 800 meters or 4-6x 1 mile at MP. Rest will be pretty short. 1 minute to 800 meters depending on where it’s placed in the segment. Early segment will have longer recovery because the purpose is more about getting back into routine, than anything. Later in a segment, you should be more fit, so the rest should be shorter.

Long Run Options:

Another favorite is mixing up a long run in place of a workout. For instance, if someone has been doing a bit of speed and has had some extra days off during the week, I might take that long run and mix it up on a person. One thing I like to do is a cutdown of 6-10 miles. The runner would warm up 1-2 miles, then do a progressively faster run over a set distance. I might start at a minute per mile slower than current marathon pace and work down to marathon pace or slightly faster. Then cool down another 1-2 miles.

It’s a good way to get a quality long run in without finding a day to add another workout.

Another one of my favorites is a moderate distance long run of 12-14 miles, but in the middle I will add 4-8x 2-3 minutes at marathon effort with the same time recovery jog. Again, it’s a great way to not miss a long run, but really stress some of the aerobic components we sometimes miss out on during a speed segment.

The Wrap:

So there you have it! The why and the how of putting marathon pace work in your non marathon segments. It’s a way to offer up the balance  in training that we stress, provide an opportunity to see how marathon pace feels after some progression, and even offer up non marathon runners a way to practice patience. It may even be a nice transition for those who are on the fence about a marathon to help build confidence in moving forward with that goal. The main reason though is that it does provide a great physiological stimulus, builds specific endurance, and helps break up a string of really tough 10k and faster workouts to help bring us back from burnout. Like most workouts, to make this work, you have to use restraint. Faster is not better here or we defeat the purpose of the workout. Hopefully, this helps answer some questions or gives you some ideas for your own training!

Speed Work: Do I use my actual paces or equivalent?

A number of loyal HMM followers have posted an interesting question that is not entirely addressed in the book. When approaching speed work, should I use my equivalent speed work or my actual speed work? This is a very relevant question to consider. Since our speed is in the beginning of the training plan, we don’t want it to be too fast or we will overcook ourselves before making it to the starting line. On the other hand, we don’t want to train too slow and not add get enough training stimulus.

 

What will happen most of the time is a person may have some shorter races under their belt, maybe even some marathons. For their next race, they have a set goal- say qualify for Boston or break four hours. So, what they will do is plug that goal time into a calculator and then just take down the training paces based on that time. What will happen from time to time is that the paces for the speed work won’t line up with what they have actually run. What should they do?

 

Like I said above, you really need to balance training too hard with not training hard enough. You also have to be consider what the goal of the speed work is for a marathon training segment. Our goal during the marathon is getting in work that’s faster than marathon pace, not necessarily getting faster in the 5k/10k distances. Along with that, you should really consider if running the faster of the paces may feel fine now, but will it dig a hole that’s too deep to get out of when the training gets into higher volume, longer tempos, and longer long runs? What’s unfortunate is you may not find that answer out until it’s too late.

 

When should I use the faster of the two paces?

Ok to use:

  1. You have one through a marathon training segment before
  2. You recover well
  3. Aren’t taking big jump in training

 

If you can check two of the three off from this list, then I think you will be ok going with the faster of the two pace options (actual versus equivalent). For the most part, I feel like this will fit more advanced runners who can be a little more aggressive. However, don’t be afraid to dial back if you get a few weeks in and aren’t responding well. It’s better to adjust now and avoid burnout.

Not Ok

  1. You have struggled with overtraining in the past
  2. Don’t recover well from speed
  3. Are trying to make a big jump in training

 

If this is describing you, I say take the conservative approach and give yourself a better chance at success. This is especially true if you are a beginner at the marathon and venturing into uncharted territory.

 

The best thing to do, is look at your numbers and then look at your schedule. If the schedule is already looking daunting to you, then don’t make it harder than it already is. If you’ve been through a few before, and know what your body needs, then be a little more aggressive. As with all things, monitor how you are feeling and make sure your general recovery strategies are in place. Set yourself up for the best possible opportunity for success when it matters- race day!