Posts

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.

As always, thank you so much for your support! If you need a training plan, please check out our hundreds of options from 5k to 100 Miles.  If you need support from a coach, take a look at the Online Run Club.

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.

As always, thank you so much for your support! If you need a training plan, please check out our hundreds of options from 5k to 100 Miles.  If you need support from a coach, take a look at the Online Run Club.

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!

First Marathon Series Part 5: Understanding Marathon Fatigue

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

The short answer is- it depends!

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

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

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

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

Cumulative Fatigue:

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

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

Overtraning:

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

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

Soreness:

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

Warning sign of injury:

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

Knowing the difference is key to management.

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

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

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

 

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 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

How strict is your plan?

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

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

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

What trying to create a “buffer” tells me

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

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

  2. You don’t believe in yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Running: Performance

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

Running in the Snow

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

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

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

  1. Extra weight:

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

  2. Decreased range of motion:

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

  3. Poor surfaces:

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

  4. Reduced force of muscle contraction:

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

  5. Decrease in lactate threshold:

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

  6. Increase in use of carbohydrate:

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

  7. Increased intensity at same pace:

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

  8. Dehydration:

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

 

How much do these factors all add up to?

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Hansons Marathon Method: should I reduce my mileage at the beginning?

Many times a runner is already running the weekly volume that the training plans start out at. This prompts the question, “do I need to lower my mileage at the start of the training plan, or can I keep going at my current mileage?” Anyone who knows me at this point, knows what my immediate response will be, “it depends.” There really are cases to be made for keeping on with current mileage, as well as, reducing down to match what the plan is asking you to start at.

When you should reduce back:

  • If you have looked at the plan in entirety and realize it’s going to be the hardest training plan you’ve ever followed. This can be a combination of weekly mileage, workouts, and workout volume.
  • You are already doing workouts. By this I mean, speed, strength, tempo, anything of intensity.
  • You have been running for more than 2-3 weeks already and are at 85% of your weekly mileage.
  • You never took significant down time after your last major race.
  • You have a nick, a trouble spot, or are actually injured.

The reason these are important factors boils down to two things. The first is the length of time you will then make the training plan. With the two main Hansons Marathon Method plans, you are looking at 18 weeks of structure. This is already a long time. If you now turn it into a 22-26 week training plan, then you are asking for trouble late into the training plan and will turn cumulative fatigue into plain old overtraining. The second is that not only are you making the training segment loner, you are making it longer at a higher level. This is a combination that more often, than not, leads to injury, staleness, and overcooking. It’s by design that the plans start out a little easier, especially the beginner.

Consider reducing the mileage as hitting a refresh button to the plan. I know many of you are worried about losing fitness, but I can assure you that you won’t lose much at all. With two weeks completely off, you’d lose about 5% in performance. All I’m asking is to reduce your mileage. It’s all about getting you to peak fitness for race day, not the 4 weeks prior to your peak race. If you haven’t already, check out my blog post on Getting too fit too fast.

I would take a step back if you have any one of the above scenarios that apply to you.

When you should keep on keeping on

Despite what I just said, I do see a couple scenarios where it might be best to just keep on with what you are doing until the training plan keeps up with you.

  • You are currently injury free, but have come off a long layoff (4+ weeks of no running). The biggest issue here is that you have already had a lot of time off and you really want to make sure that you are ready to get into a long training plan. So, where before you might be starting a plan with an already fitness that’s high enough, you might be trying to get your to a decent starting point. It wouldn’t do you any good to cut back when you already cut back for several weeks.
  • You are currently NOT doing any SOS days. To me, the mileage is secondary to intensity. What I mean is that usually the mileage is fine as long as the intensity is low. It’s usually the higher intensity for extended periods of time that will overcook the runner. So, if you are running, but just keeping it easy, then I don’t usually see problems later on.
  • Your weekly mileage is 40-60% of what your peak mileage will be. While intensity might be the bigger factor in overtraining, if your mileage is continually near peak, you go back to making that segment too long. If you’ve been running at say 30 miles per week, with no SOS, and the training plan starts at 20 miles a week, then I don’t see a need to scale back to reach the prescribed early mileage.

At the end of the day, you just don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’ll be regretting your decision six weeks out from your marathon. With beginners and first time Hansons Marathon Method users I tend to be more cautious. With these runners, I know the training is going to be hard for them, but they might think it’s too easy at the start. If they have never been through cumulative fatigue before, it’s my job to make sure they don’t overdo it too early in the program and then go straight through CF and into injury, illness, and overtraining. Hopefully, these scenarios can help guide you in making the decision that best meets you where you are at! If you take anything away, I want you to recognize that you should start a plan fresh, recharged, and not already too close to peak fitness. You want to reach that peak fitness in the last 4 weeks, not the last 8 weeks!

 

4-6 Weeks out from marathon? Your top 5 things you need to know.

The last 4-6 weeks of your marathon training means a lot is going on. You are tired, you are hungry, and the training is at its most grueling. So many times one of two things happen. One, the training gets scaled back because that always seems to be the easiest to blame. The truth is that is the source of your dilemma, but also necessary. The second thing that can happen is a runner can push through or neglect certain things and become overlooked or injured. You can see our dilemma here. There is a delicate balance between following the plan versus crossing the fine line of cumulative fatigue and overtraining. The truth is, that we focus all our success and our failure on the numbers of the calendar when there’s so much more to this jigsaw puzzle of marathon success. So, what I have done is compiled my top 5 list of things that need to be done during these last weeks of training to make your marathon as successful as possible.

  1. Check your shoes.

    Anyone who follows the Hansons Marathon Method (HMM) knows, you put in a lot of mileage. Let’s say you averaged 35 miles per week for the first 12 weeks of the program. That means you’ve put in 410 miles by the time you reach the hardest part of the training! Given that info, you’ll easy put on another 300 miles over the remaining 6 weeks, plus the marathon itself. Many of the athletes in our groups get to the meat and potatoes and start feeling their body beginning to break down. New shoes will help in a big way!

  2. Practice your fuel plan!

    I cannot stress this enough. By now you should have decided what you are using, especially if you are just going with what the race is offering. You should be practicing fueling on tempo runs and long runs. You should be trying at the intervals you are going to be taking in nourishment during the race. So, if you are taking gels at 45 minute intervals, practice at those intervals. If you are taking cups every two miles, maybe invest in a handheld and practice at those intervals. Missed our talk on GI distress? View Here

  3. Make your day to day recovery a top priority.

    I’m not talking about dropping $1500 on compression boots or $90 on a cryotherapy three pack. I am talking about the simplest forms of recovery that are most often overlooked.

    1. Adequate protein intake. What is training? It is the purposeful breakdown of tissue in order for that tissue to adapt to higher workloads. If you don’t provide the muscles with the ingredients you need, you just continually break down tissue. Then you are broken down. 20 grams of high quality protein for every meal, after exercise, and before bed.
    2. Replenishing glycogen: You don’t have to carboload every day, but if you did a workout, you need to replenish those glycogen stores. SOS days and Long runs at this point of the schedule? You should aim for 5-7 gram of quality carbohydrate per kilogram (weight in pounds and divide by 2.2) of bodyweight.
    3. Rehydrating: Know your sweat rate. Weigh yoursell (butt naked) before and after your runs. Know how much you are sweating and replace that fluid throughout the day. Don’t be surprised if you are drinking 2-3 liters of fluid a day. Set an alarm at 15 minute intervals to remind yourself if you forget to drink.
    4. Rest: High quality sleep. That protein before bed will help. Lay off the tablets, smart phones, and tv in bed. Make it cool and dark. If you can’t get 8-10 hours a night, make sure the 5-8 hours you get are quality!
  4. Race strategy finalized.

    This means goal pace settled on for the most part. It also means how you are going to break the race up. How are you going to approach the hilly sections? How are you going to approach the flats? Where are you going to try and make a move? How long are you going to hold back for? Finalize and visualize the rest of the way in. Look for course videos on the race website or YouTube to help you picture the race as it is unfolding.

  5. Understand the difference between cumulative fatigue/aches and pains versus a developing injury.

    This is number 5, but it should probably be number one. Cumulative fatigue is when you are tired, something is sore, but not sure if it is one thing or everything. You step out the door and wonder if you’ll make it through the run. You finish the run and you are surprised that you were actually on the faster end of your easy pace range. Huh, how did that happen? On the other hand, over training is when you feel all those things, but you are slower. In fact every run gets slower and slower. If that’s the case, you’ve crossed over and need to talk to a coach about what to do. Third, an approaching injury is when one specific thing hurts. Or maybe it takes it longer and longer to warm up on a run. It continually worsens over a few days. If that’s where you are at- see a physician who runs and let them treat you. Don’t just accept the idea of taking time off as that only heals symptoms, not the cause.

If you can abide by these five items, you can survive your last 4-6 weeks of marathon preparation. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming training runs on lack of attention to detail. Finally, take these last few weeks on a day to day basis. It is hard, that I fully understand, but it will all be worth it in the end!

Modifying your marathon plan for a race

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In our open Facebook group we have about 3,000 members (at the time of this) and so thanks to them I have a nearly unlimited source of blog topics. A right now, a frequent question we are getting is in regards to modifying the training plan in order to fit a race in. I always chuckle at responses people give. Some are so hardcore that they feel like the schedule is the Written Word and will “scold” a person for even thinking about racing during the marathon segment! Others live for racing and would race every weekend if budget and relationships were not an issue. Their responses are the complete opposite. The truth is, well, it depends on the situation. Like anything in life there is a time and a place for everything. So let’s take a look at what our options.

My General Feelings on racing during the marathon segment

There are a lot of people who become discouraged with me when I discourage them from racing very much during a marathon training segment. For me, every race (during the marathon segment) should serve a purpose. If a person is just running the local 5k to beat a rival, but then still want to have lofty goals for the marathon, then I always have to ask them what their big picture goals are. For one, racing a 5k in the middle of a marathon segment won’t do too much for your confidence. You’re not 5k sharp, you shouldn’t have the ability to run your best 5k while training for 26 miles. If you do, then I would be concerned. If you are a new runner who’s never raced any distance very much, then you’ll see improvement, but for any seasoned runner that shouldn’t be the case.

I see two, maybe three cases, for running a race during the marathon segment. Even in these scenarios, it should be at specific times during the segment. This we will discuss later on, but for now let’s discuss the three scenarios. One is if you are trying to establish a baseline for training. Let’s say you haven’t raced anything in the last few months, and aren’t really sure what kind of marathon time you should be training for. At specific times during the segment, a race can be beneficial to get a baseline for your marathon training goals. The second scenario is performing a dress rehearsal for the marathon. The purpose here is not trying to test fitness, but rather to go through every detail that you will on your big race day. If done right, the race is not set up for the person to race all out, so they have to go in not expecting a personal best. The last scenario is if the race falls into a time when a long tempo can be replaced. Every segment runners will complain that they struggle doing the tempo’s by themselves, and there’s a race that would be a perfect substitution. While I understand the desire to have a little extra motivation to perform well on a long tempo run, I also know human tendencies. I know that more times, than not, that runners will not heed speed limits and then dig themselves a hole that takes away from other training and sets us back. I am always a lot less likely to give full on green lights for this option.

So now that we know how I feel about racing during a marathon segment, let’s discuss what to do with that training plan of yours once the rage registration is paid for.

For short races (5k or 10k)

Since the speed is done in the beginning part of the training segment, the urge is to run these short races during this block of training. Honestly, the logic here is sound, if you can race responsibility.  These are races I typically see as beginners using to establish their baselines for marathon training, rather than setting personal bests. Advanced runners may have races they run every year and they fit in fairly well with being able to do their speed workouts and substitute for shorter tempo runs.

For those with no race experience:

Below shows Weeks 5 and 6 of the classic marathon plan. This is a great time to establish a baseline for not only your goal marathon effort, but also the workouts leading up to it.

Week Monday Tuesday Weds. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 5 Off 5 Easy Off 4 Easy 5 Easy 4 Easy 6 Easy
Week 6 4 Easy 12×400 Off 5 Tempo 4 Easy 8 Easy 8 Easy

Here’s how I’d adjust with a race on week 5:

Week Monday Tuesday Weds. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 5 Off 5 Easy Off 5 Easy 4 Easy 5k Race 4 Easy
Week 6 4 Easy 12×400 Off 5 Tempo 4 Easy 8 Easy 8 Easy

If you can’t find a race specifically on week 5 of your plan, then you set up a time trial for 3.1 miles and use that data, but even being in Michigan, I feel like I can find a 5k race almost any weekend. This way, you can take your race time, establish a marathon goal time and now put all the correct paces into the plan.

For Advanced Marathon Plans:

Here is what weeks 5 and 6 look like in the Advanced Plan.

Week Monday Tuesday Weds. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 5 6 Easy 5x1k Off 6 Tempo 7 Easy 8 Easy 12 Long
Week 6 6 Easy 4×1200 Off 7 Tempo 6 Easy 8 Easy 10 Easy

When and how I would adjust

Week Monday Tuesday Weds. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 5 6 Easy 5x1k Off 6 Tempo 7 Easy 8 Easy 12 Long
Week 6 6 Easy 4×1200 Off 8 Easy 6 Easy 5k/10k 8  Easy
Week 7 6 Easy 3x1M Off 7 Tempo 7 Easy 8 Easy 14 Long

When you race on Saturday of week 6, make sure your warm up is at least 2 miles. Then make your cool down long enough to get the 10 miles in that were scheduled for Saturday. Essentially, this will still give you an extra recovery day with Sunday being a shorter easy day. This should allow you to pick right back up with the schedule on Tuesday. Make sure you focus on recovery as soon as race is over (3R’s Rehydrate, Refuel, Rest).

Overall, your best bet to race short is early in the segment. Nothing longer than a 5k for beginners and 10k for advanced. With the right timing, you won’t miss much training- one Tempo that’s sandwiched between two similar distances and no long runs will be missed. After Week 7, the Tempo runs become 8 miles and doesn’t make sense to compromise these with a shorter race.

For Longer Races (15k to 25k):

Once we get past the speed workouts and into the strength, I always feel like it’s time to be all in for marathon training. This is when our training is solely focused on running a good marathon. So, if you do have to race, it has to be something that makes sense from a marathon performance standpoint. In all honesty I am talking about an opportunity to replace a long tempo run with a long race, but with speed limits.

What the Beginner plan looks like

Week Monday Tuesday Weds Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 11 5 Easy Strength Off Tempo 8 6 Easy 8 Easy 16 Long
Week 12 5 Easy Strength Off Tempo 9 5 Easy 8 Easy 10 E/L
Week 13 7 Easy Strength Off Tempo 10 6 Easy 6 Easy 16 Long

Weeks 11-13 are common times people get the urge to race and it’s probably when it makes the most sense for longer races as you’ve no progressed from speed to strength workouts. The structure of the Advanced plan will look the same, just different easy day mileage.

How to adjust under different scenarios.

Saturday race on non long run weekend (16 miler):

In our example, let’s stick with weeks 11 through 13 of the Beginner schedule. Week 11 would require no adjustments.Week 12 would be the race week and will be your week of adjustments. First, scratch the 9 mile tempo on Thursday and replace it with Saturday’s 8 Easy. Friday would stay the same. Saturday would be your race and would take place of your tempo. Sunday should be a day to focus on recovery, but still get in 6-8 easy miles. With this, overall mileage for race week will actually be pretty close to what was scheduled. The few extra easy days between the strength on Tuesday and the race on Saturday can be a nice respite without taking time off or cutting mileage, too. The following week shouldn’t need adjustment as long as you really put your emphasis in recovering after the race through Monday.

Saturday race on a long run weekend:

First off, try to avoid this. I recognize that race dates will not care when your 16 mile long runs are, but if you can, avoid this. With that said, I attempt to live in reality. With that said, you have a couple options. Let’s say there’s a 10 mile race on week 13 of your training plan. Your best option would be to take Sunday’s long run to Thursday and shorten the distance up to 10-12 miles, depending on your experience level. Then keep Friday the same and “race” on Saturday. If you make the warmup and cool down longer your total mileage for the day will be close to what the long run would be. Just make sure that Sunday and Monday you run very easy and put a recovering high on your priority list.

Sunday “dress rehearsal” race:

Your best opportunity for this is 3 weeks out, or week 16 of the schedules. All your long runs are completed by now and you will have amassed about all the fitness you can by then. You’ll have only 2 SOS days left after this week is completed. Let’s look at weeks 16 and 17 of the Advanced plan to see how this shakes out.

Week Monday Tuesday Weds Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
16 6 Easy Strength Off 10 Tempo 6 Easy 10 Easy 10 Easy
17 8 Easy Strength Off 10 Tempo 7 Easy 8 Easy 8 Easy

An adjusted plan:

Week Monday Tuesday Weds Thurs Friday Saturday Sunday
16 6 Easy Strength Off 10 Easy 10 Easy 6 Easy Race
17 8 Easy Off Strength 7 Easy 10 Tempo 8 Easy 8 Easy

The biggest thing people will point out to me is that the tempo on week 17 has been moved to Friday, which would give you 9 days out. My first response would be that if you were that concerned about doing things by the schedule then I wouldn’t even be writing this! More seriously though, I would say that this is your last SOS day and still have 9 days to be recovered. Also, the two days is important after a big effort on the Sunday of week 16. I feel that if you did a half marathon and then came back and did a strength workout after one day recovery then you’d put yourself at a bigger risk for injury. Staying healthy that last two weeks is top priority.

I didn’t cover every scenario, but this gives you an idea of what you should be looking to do as a far as a race distance, when to do it, and how to approach. If done correctly, you can scratch that itch to race, but not hurt the big picture goal of the marathon for the current training segment.

 

Elite Level Workouts: should you attempt?

I recently received an inquiry from someone using a plan of ours. His question was in regards to when he should do the infamous “Simulator” workout. For those who aren’t familiar with this workout, it’s essentially a 26.2 kilometer effort at race pace. With warmup and cool down, it would total about 22 miles for the morning. Over the last few years it’s become our big test effort to see if we were ready for our actual attempt in a few weeks. In any case, his question got me to asking my own questions. One, how many people read about a monster workout they read about in a blog or magazine article and just decided to rock it without truly knowing the ins and outs of the workout? Second, is it ok (I mean in a non segment sabotaging way) for the average to competitive runner to attempt these monster workouts?

It’s only fair to speak to the big Hanson workouts and I realize that many of you have no idea what I am talking about. With that, let me start with explaining these workouts.

2×6 Miles

This is the OG of Hanson’s workouts. When I came to the program in August of 2004, the 2×6 was the one I was warned about, the one everybody had marked on their calendars! Here’s a quick breakdown of what we would do:

3 mile warm up
6 miles @ goal MP minus 5-10 seconds
10 minutes (most of us jogged or prayed)
6 miles faster than the first attempt
3 miles cool down
Spend the rest of the day crying to your mama.

Total of 19 miles

This is a very tough workout, but it would certainly tell you if you were fit.

Now for the specifics. We would do this workout about 3 weeks out from the race. If you weren’t sure, this is a marathon segment workout. This would be our primary litmus test in a marathon segment. Going into this workout, there wouldn’t be a bunch of extra rest- maybe an extra day of recovery. We would typically only have an extra day of recovery afterwards, too. I have lost track, but I have done this workout close to 20 times since the fall of 2004. It never has gotten easier and as the Miles rack up, it seems to get harder every time.

So, should you do it? Well… it depends. For most people it does not make sense and I’ll explain why. The main reason is that essentially the 2×6 mile is an extended version of a workout that we give everyone in our classic programs- the 2×3 miles. This workout is the toughest of the strength workouts and is placed late in the training plan. In perspective, they are the same workout for different groups. The elites are running 120-140 miles, while the plans are about 50-60 miles at peak. So, percentage wise, the work is about the same. Personally, I don’t prescribe the 2×3 for most people more than twice and that’s only if they are really fit and a seasoned vet. Now, if a person is running more mileage, it’s a fair to adjust the 2×3 mile up a tick. Let’s say if you run 70-85 miles per week, that you are just fine to try a 2×4 mile. If at 85-100 a 2×5 mile workout and then anything over 100 miles per week you can give the 2×6 mile a shot.

The Simulator

2-3 mile warm up
26.2 kilometers at goal pace. Hopefully on a course you can simulate the race course on.
2-3 mile cool down

22-23 miles total.

A little history as to why we even do The Simulator. I know this because I took part in the first one. We did it before we sent a big crew of guys out to Boston in 2006. In northern Oakland County we have lots of hills and dirt roads. We had a stable full of fast runners, so we certainly didn’t need to look very far to find competition. So, Kevin and Keith designed a course that gave us a great look at how the course would feel and was 26.2 kilometers so that we could visualize each mile (except it was a K). It really was a situation where we could get a race feel and go through our routine without big travel or looking for a competition. We had 10 of the fastest guys in the country right there. Aso, it probably kept us under control. We all have a itch to dial the pace up a notch when actually in a race. This was a way to pull the reigns in a bit.

So, should you do it? To be honest, this is why I do say to run a half marathon 3-4 weeks out from your goal race BUT to not race it all out. I tell athletes to warm up, start the race at marathon pace and only pick it up after 10k. We also don’t have the athlete taper much. Maybe only a few miles because the day f the race will be more mileage than usual. We’ll also do an extra day easy before and after the race, but mileage will stay constant.

The pros of traveling to a race include allowing you to go through the entire routine of traveling and getting into an actual race situation. However, if you know you won’t be able to execute your race plan, it might be best to stay home. The other consideration is this, with our plans you are doing regular long tempo runs anyway. In the ODP we do a ton of marathon pace workouts, but aren’t doing 10 mile tempo runs every week. Throughout the course of the year we do, which allows us to spread them out more than we would for recreational runners. My point being, you get tons of practice at running 8, 9, 10 straight miles at your goal pace. You might not need to throw in an even longer one just to say you did it.

Deciding Factors

When doing these big workouts, there are two big factors that dictate if you should take into play when considering these big marquee workouts. The first is that you have to be able to do these workouts without taking a big dip in training. Adding an extra easy day, or two, at the same mileage you always run is fine. However, if you essentially have to have a mini taper to even attempt, I don’t think it makes sense. At the end of the day, a string of consistent workouts is going to yield much better results than crushing one workout. The second is how you can recover from this big workout. Some of this might just be experimenting because you might just not know until you try. However, if you try it and it completely wipes you out for the next three days, it might not be a good idea to try to keep doing that. My advice when doing these big workouts are to focus on the basics- rehydrate and refuel. After that, if you have to go right into work, wear good compression garments. Full tights would be best, half tights and socks would be fine. Here’s where an ice bath or a cryotherapy session might do wonders. At this point of the program, the majority of your fitness is there and we created a lot of extra damage that may warrant desperate measures. Another simple measure might be a big dose of antioxidants or tart cherry juice, BUT NOT anti inflammatories. You don’t want to be popping Advil to get through the next 3-5 days of discomfort. I am also ok with giving yourself an extra easy day, but at the same mileage your typically run.

At the end of the day, I think most people believe our schedules are hard enough. The need to do an elite level workout might be tempting, but consider the big picture. If it jeopardizes your ultimate goal then workout bragging rights isn’t worth it. Besides, in our case it’s the workouts that are in your programs that inspired the elite level workouts.