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Training by Feel

It is interesting how our experiences shape our philosophy over time. My earliest example was when I started running cross country in high school. I ran track in junior high but wasn’t bothered with cross country. My coach, Mike Noll, was very pace-oriented with an emphasis on negative splits and since it was really my first experience, though that’s how it was supposed to be. The kids that ran in middle school were basically taught to blast off and see how well you could hold on. They were able to get away with it because the distance was a mile and a half. In high school, the distance doubled, which meant that there was twice as long for things to go wrong.

We have all gone out way too hard before and recognize that the time you can lose is on an exponential level!

Needless to say, my college coach was very similar, as are Kevin and Keith. All have different nuances to their approach, but the bases were all very similar. Fortunately, I thrived under those theories and have taken the same approach to all of you who listen to me. When I was a part of the ODP, I had many, many teammates from all different types of programs. And like anything, people struggled with adapting to this type of philosophy, while others thrived. Truth be told, I feel like the people who thrived were the people like myself.

We were moderately talented but really had to execute perfectly if we were to compete at the level we did. So, we had to learn paces by running paces- over and over and over again.

Now, a couple of years ago, I made a post saying as much. A prominent runner replied, “Why not just train them to race?” Now, to be fair, I really don’t think they were being facetious. I genuinely think they were asking as a type of “well why wouldn’t you just do this? I thought about it for a long time. At their level, they could train to win a major race. I was not there, and most of my athletes aren’t at that level. Many of you are training to beat yourself or to qualify for Boston. Things like that. I was trying to run PR’s, qualify for World teams, and those types of things.

So, I sense it already, “aren’t you selling yourself short?”

No, I don’t think so and that is really what I want to cover. I don’t feel like I did, because I feel like when the situation did arise, I had the killer instinct and disregarded pace when I was late in a competitive situation. But it was because of knowing where I was at with pace that put me in the situation, to begin with! I will give you two examples of races, both of which were in the same training cycle.

  1. In 2011, I and a couple of teammates were on the training cycle. Our first race was a half marathon in Naples, Florida. I had never heard of this race before, but somehow everyone and their brother were at this race! So, it was still kinda early in our block and we were training for a pretty fast go. We were all trying to run under 1:04 for the half- pretty close to 4:50 pace per mile. At Naples, I tried to race the crew. There were some guys there like I described at the start. Go out hard and hang on. I was naive and thought it might work and I wanted to race the competition. I knew we were fast, but I disregarded it. By 10k, I was fried. I spent the second half of the race watching people pull away from me like I was stuck in peanut butter. It was pretty disheartening because it was a wasted opportunity.
  2. Now, about four weeks later, I was in New Orleans for the Rock n Roll half marathon. I had two other teammates who were trying to get Trials qualifiers by running a fast enough half time. So, I went in more fit than I was previously, but having no intention to race the leaders. This time the gun goes off and we settle into the pace right away. This time it felt like a jog, but we were dialed in. The two leaders had jumped out early, but by four miles the lead had stayed the same distance. I knew we were on the pace and it felt comfortable. So, I started dialing in just a little bit. My 4:55 miles crept down to 4:50, then I hit 10 miles and I was at my PR! I think it was 48:35 at 10 miles. I hadn’t quite caught the two leaders at this point and it was a critical junction. I thought- Do I have enough gas to get them? Do I have enough time to catch them if I stay at this pace? My decision/reaction was I felt like I was just off the edge enough to push for 15 more minutes. That’s about what I had left to race. So, I buckled down, caught the two leaders, and dropped the one. Then it came down to a sprint the last 800 meters. I was nipped at the line, but the guy who beat me was an NCAA champ, so it wasn’t like I let him have it. The result: A new PR of 1:03:58.

Two races, within a month, with two dramatically different results. 

I know what many of you are thinking- this sounds like I am making the case for training by feeling more than training by pace. To that, I would disagree. I really feel like because I knew my paces inside and out, I, as The Gambler used to say, “Know when to hold’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

The reason is that regardless of the data you use- heart rate, pace, or power, what are you really measuring? You are measuring an intensity level, or how hard something is. I prefer pace because it’s what I have always used and at the end of the day, many of you are training to run certain times, so pace you need to be able to run a certain time for a given distance. But here is the problem.

We put so much emphasis on the data, that we don’t internalize how that effort feels.

We get so wrapped up in hitting the splits that so many of us just say, “Well, I hit that pace so I’m good for the marathon.” The opposite is also true. Or they get into a situation of just going pedal to the medal because they feel that they can, or should.

The point here is that running paces and sticking to paces lets you internalize better how those paces feel over an array of circumstances. For me, I have been doing it for decades and so I know pretty close (without the help of a watch) if I am over the target, or not. But, it was decades of adhering to pace, adjusting as I progressed over time, and then listening to my body on how those paces felt that helped me “race” when the time came. I learned how long I could extend an effort for before I was going to pay the price. I could make better calculations on what moves to cover or when to let it play out. You might get lucky once in a while when just throwing eggs against the wall, but most of the time they are just going to crack under the pressure.

A couple of last things I want to mention here. One is that I am aware that there is a time to really push a workout. To take yourself to the well a little bit. For us, that was always The Simulator and the second half of the 2×6 mile. For you, it might be one of the 16 milers and one of the 10 Mile tempos.

The problem is that you can only go to the well a few times before the bucket comes up dry. Do you want that to be during training?

Probably not. The second is that I like the other data like HR and Power, but I am yet to be convinced that they should be your training guide. Where I like them better is data that you can look back and reflect on. Where you can see trends and aid in adjustments. That’s just me and I know many of you have your own strong feelings.

Ultimately though, as a coach, I want to get you as an athlete to be at this place in your training- Allowing the pace to be dictated by the effort and not the other way around. Easy runs are the perfect example. Let’s say your easy range is 8-9:30 pace per mile. Yesterday you did a hard workout, had little sleep, and are stressed from a project due at work. In an ideal situation, you’d run at an easy effort and if that landed at 9:15 per mile, so be it. Where many of you are at is you see 8:00/mile and force that pace even though the effort is significantly higher than easy.

To get to this point, I want to teach new runners to learn control by strictly adhering to paces, especially early in a training cycle when things are easier.

This means no cheating down your easy runs or any of your workouts.

The temptation is there, but resist! This does mean you have to pay close attention to the data. Things like setting up your ranges on your watch to annoy the hell out you may be a necessary evil. But, this only works if you begin to pay attention to your body, how you feel, and what’s going on internally to begin associating how you react to the paces. Then, over time, you begin to know if you are creeping paces down. If you are running faster, then it’s a conscious effort, not because Right Said Fred is blasting your ear pods. As you are more experienced you can shift the reliance on the technology to reliance on your effort and be really close. If you can get to that point, then that’s where you can really make breakthroughs in overall pacing and being more competitive. You will be able to make much better race decisions and have confidence in yourself.

Is this clear as mud?

Learn your paces by internalizing efforts. The end result is that you, over time, can put less reliance on the technology measuring the intensity and putting it in the best computer ever made- your brain!

A look at the “Big Data”

Ok, so I have to admit that I was awfully intrigued with Amby Burfoot’s new article for Podium Runner. I was very curious to see what insights there’d be into the world of marathon training for recreational runners, or as they were called mid packers. And then someone asked if I’d share my thoughts on this and compare it to my own thoughts on training, so it was a win-win.

Now, before I jump into this, I want to set the tone a bit. A few years ago, Outside Magazine published a bunch of Strava data on marathon performance and training. While it was interesting, I was left with more questions than when I started. Ultimately, I asked myself the question,

“Just because this is what people do, does it mean they should?”

I left really believing that most people could run a lot faster if they just trained a little differently, but hey, that’s my job, right? That’s my responsibility to show that messaging and show how my athletes do it! I do really feel that if recreational runners learned how to train, or at least take ideas from what elites do and modify to their situation, then we’d see improvement in marathon times across the spectrum. Anyway, I simply point out that data shows that US marathon times have declined steadily for decades. Yes, more people are running, so there are multiples of more people running now than in the ’70s and ’80s, but the trends have continued to decline for the last 10 years. So, data shows us what people are doing, but it doesn’t mean it’s the most successful way of doing it.

Alright, Mr. Burfoot gives 5 main points as to what the data suggests people should be doing and I want to address these points one by one. I’d like to give what the data shows and then my take. Right off the bat, though, I am left wondering why I should take his word for it, since he claims that the math is complicated and we should just trust him- that’s always an invitation to not trust something!

Point 1: Training more, even at a slow pace can make you faster.

I agree 100% with this and easy to moderate running is the basis of our programs. It’s not junk miles and anyone who tells you it is, doesn’t understand this principle. Easy running is the foundation that your house is built on. The better/bigger the foundation, the more solid the construction and the bigger the house that can be built. Easy running supports the demands of hard running!

Point 2: Fast training builds your endurance more effectively than slow training.

It depends. If I am training for a marathon, is my time going to be more affected by doing small amounts of training that are really fast or bigger volumes of training that includes lots of longer runs at easier paces? I think part of the problem here is that endurance isn’t defined. The truth is, a combination of these two variables would probably the most complete way of doing things.

In terms of the HMM philosophy, I would say that faster training would be the speed that we do at the beginning of the marathon segment before transitioning to the strength and marathon specific work over the second half of the training plan. I believe it’s also part of the reasoning behind the 3/2 rule: No more than 3 marathons in 2 years so that you can work on faster paces. 

Point 3: Elite runners generally don’t push as hard in training as mid-pack and slower runners.

Yes, it’s a simple percentage game. If I am running 100 miles per week, the percentage of “fast” running is going to be less than if I am running 50 miles per week. My workouts might be bigger in absolute volume and intensity, but from a percentage standpoint, there’s a limit to how much you can do. If we both do 5k worth of 5k pace work in a week, then for me, that’s 3% of my weekly volume. If the runner doing 50 miles/week does the same workout, it’s 6% of their weekly volume.

Now, I will say this, too. When you look at a 4 hour plus marathoner, there is a big blurring of lines. They can go out and run their 4-6 miles “easy” and average faster than their goal marathon time. Citing back to one of the previous points: their general endurance is fine, but their specific endurance is lagging. Lots of reasons why this might be, but usually, their training just doesn’t match the event.

Personally, this is why low volume, minimal days per week plans may make you feel fast, but ultimately give you a false sense of where your fitness truly is.

Point 4: There’s a limit to how far and how hard you can train.

Yes, absolutely. We all have that limit. When I was younger, not married, no kids, and running as a job, I could run 140-150 miles per week at my peak and then recover from it. I coach CEO’s and stay at home moms that train their butts off, but that means 40-50 miles per week. However, the biggest lesson you can learn is what we’ve already talked about- easy days are not your enemy and these, when done right, allow you to run more overall and train harder on the designated days.

Point 5: Adopt a new pattern for your training. Focus on training weeks, not individuals. Alternate your weeks (hard, hard, easy, moderate).

For part number one, yes, agreed 100% and this is the basis of cumulative fatigue. Your fitness isn’t going to come from an individual workout, but rather, the cumulative effects of weeks and months of consistent training.

For the second part of this, there is one main problem I have with this. This is basically what the most successful people were doing. But more successful than who? Oh, more successful than the people who trained the least and ran the hardest. So, it wasn’t the strategy that would yield the most overall success. It was the strategy that was most successful in the group being looked at. It doesn’t mean it’s the most effective.

Secondly, my question is, was that rotation out of necessity? How many people who ran hard for two weeks were forced to take that third week incredibly easy so that they could recover enough to have a little bit harder 4th week? Again, some questions I’d like answered.

To Conclude:

To wrap up, the whole caveat to this is at the very end. 47% of the people running were UNDER-TRAINED. So to me, that makes the case for the HMM. It’s not a just go run 40 miles per week plan with 20 of it coming from the long run. It’s a step up between a common low mileage high long-run plan that will allow you to survive a marathon. However, it’s not an 80+ mile per week plan either. It’s a moderate mileage plan with a lot of easy running and hard workouts. I read this article and was further verified that the HMM is the plan that can take a recreational runner who thinks that 3:35-3:45 is where they’ll be and instead get them to a 3:15-3:30 marathoner with a little more training and a lot of understanding of why you are doing what you are doing.

Hansons Marathon Method books

Why aren’t my easy days feeling easy?

More specifically, the question was,

“Once well into the plan do your easy runs truly feel easy?”

This was asked by one of our Facebook group members and I believe that he was hinting that his workouts were ok, but the easy runs were now an issue of being stiff, sore, and sluggish. As others noted in their response, they felt like it took miles to warm up and shake these feelings, at least to an extent. These are big concerns, for sure, especially if you’ve never been in this situation before. It could be easy to confuse hard training with going overboard. Is feeling like this normal with marathon training?

The short answer is, YES! This is completely normal. Those easy days following a big workout can be brutal. If you were to look at my training logs, it would be common to see an easy day following a workout day that looked like: 8:00/mile, 7:45, 7:30, then 7:00 pace or faster the rest of the way. When I was at peak training volume, there’d be about a 6 week block that could be really tough for the psyche if I were to judge my marathon capabilities by the drop in pace of my easy runs.

Some noted that the easy days were harder than the workout days. I can definitely attest to that. We are more likely to be “in the zone” for the workouts. We may pay a little more attention to diet, hydration, and fueling during the workouts. Our adrenaline is higher and it’s a bigger deal, right? Meanwhile, we often just go through the motions of the easy days. If you find yourself in this position, then I can only say one thing- Welcome to cumulative fatigue! This is where the magic happens, but it’s also a time to be diligent and not drift into overtraining. Easy runs slowing down is one thing, but workouts taking a hit are another.

So, how do we combat this?

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill here, but we can address the symptoms a little bit.

  1. Be on point with recovery nutrition/hydration. That stiffness and soreness means that there is tissue damage. It can’t repair without the right fuel in the right volumes.
  2. If I do a workout in the morning, then in the evening I’ll do some foam rolling. The hours between should be sent making sure you are getting the fluids and fuel you need to stimulate that recovery process. The work being done won’t lead to adaptations- it’s the recovery between the work that leads to the adaptations. My foam rolling won’t be super hard, but we’ll flush things out and work on trouble spots. For me, it’s calves, quads, and hip flexors.
  3. I’ll do a dynamic warm up before my run. This might be as simple as a few bodyweight squats and leg swings. Just something to open up the range of motion and bridge the gap between rolling out of bed and going for a run. That’s a big shock to the body. Check out the complete routines in the book. These don’t have to be long- just a couple minutes. Don’t expect a miracle here, but it can shorten up the warm up period to maybe a mile instead of 2-3 miles.

The last thing I will say about this is that being in this space isn’t bad. To me, it means you are in a place where you are challenging yourself beyond your normal comfort zone. This is where growth happens, if monitored correctly. You do need to be diligent here and not drift past this zone and into an overtraining zone. Again, your biggest indicator here would be decreased performances across the board. Also, being stiff and sore is fine and we can lessen these. However, if you are in a position where you have sharp pains, limp, or pain gets worse as you run, then it’s time to take a step back and get some answers. These signs are all classic of an actual injury. Overall, welcome to the hard training club. Recognize the differences between this and the signs of being hurt to ease your fears. Don’t let the details be an afterthought as these will help you strive during the weeks of hard workouts. The payoff, when kept into the are of cumulative fatigue, is resilience, toughness, and ability to grind it out if need be during tough spots. Those are the things that lead to big breakthroughs. Hope that helps!

Training by Feel

It is interesting how our experiences shape our philosophy over time. My earliest example was when I started running cross country in high school. I ran track in junior high but wasn’t bothered with cross country. My coach, Mike Noll, was very pace-oriented with an emphasis on negative splits and since it was really my first experience, though that’s how it was supposed to be. The kids that ran in middle school were basically taught to blast off and see how well you could hold on. They were able to get away with it because the distance was a mile and a half. In high school, the distance doubled, which meant that there was twice as long for things to go wrong.

We have all gone out way too hard before and recognize that the time you can lose is on an exponential level!

Needless to say, my college coach was very similar, as are Kevin and Keith. All have different nuances to their approach, but the bases were all very similar. Fortunately, I thrived under those theories and have taken the same approach to all of you who listen to me. When I was a part of the ODP, I had many, many teammates from all different types of programs. And like anything, people struggled with adapting to this type of philosophy, while others thrived. Truth be told, I feel like the people who thrived were the people like myself.

We were moderately talented but really had to execute perfectly if we were to compete at the level we did. So, we had to learn paces by running paces- over and over and over again.

Now, a couple of years ago, I made a post saying as much. A prominent runner replied, “Why not just train them to race?” Now, to be fair, I really don’t think they were being facetious. I genuinely think they were asking as a type of “well why wouldn’t you just do this? I thought about it for a long time. At their level, they could train to win a major race. I was not there, and most of my athletes aren’t at that level. Many of you are training to beat yourself or to qualify for Boston. Things like that. I was trying to run PR’s, qualify for World teams, and those types of things.

So, I sense it already, “aren’t you selling yourself short?”

No, I don’t think so and that is really what I want to cover. I don’t feel like I did, because I feel like when the situation did arise, I had the killer instinct and disregarded pace when I was late in a competitive situation. But it was because of knowing where I was at with pace that put me in the situation, to begin with! I will give you two examples of races, both of which were in the same training cycle.

  1. In 2011, I and a couple of teammates were on the training cycle. Our first race was a half marathon in Naples, Florida. I had never heard of this race before, but somehow everyone and their brother were at this race! So, it was still kinda early in our block and we were training for a pretty fast go. We were all trying to run under 1:04 for the half- pretty close to 4:50 pace per mile. At Naples, I tried to race the crew. There were some guys there like I described at the start. Go out hard and hang on. I was naive and thought it might work and I wanted to race the competition. I knew we were fast, but I disregarded it. By 10k, I was fried. I spent the second half of the race watching people pull away from me like I was stuck in peanut butter. It was pretty disheartening because it was a wasted opportunity.
  2. Now, about four weeks later, I was in New Orleans for the Rock n Roll half marathon. I had two other teammates who were trying to get Trials qualifiers by running a fast enough half time. So, I went in more fit than I was previously, but having no intention to race the leaders. This time the gun goes off and we settle into the pace right away. This time it felt like a jog, but we were dialed in. The two leaders had jumped out early, but by four miles the lead had stayed the same distance. I knew we were on the pace and it felt comfortable. So, I started dialing in just a little bit. My 4:55 miles crept down to 4:50, then I hit 10 miles and I was at my PR! I think it was 48:35 at 10 miles. I hadn’t quite caught the two leaders at this point and it was a critical junction. I thought- Do I have enough gas to get them? Do I have enough time to catch them if I stay at this pace? My decision/reaction was I felt like I was just off the edge enough to push for 15 more minutes. That’s about what I had left to race. So, I buckled down, caught the two leaders, and dropped the one. Then it came down to a sprint the last 800 meters. I was nipped at the line, but the guy who beat me was an NCAA champ, so it wasn’t like I let him have it. The result: A new PR of 1:03:58.

Two races, within a month, with two dramatically different results. 

I know what many of you are thinking- this sounds like I am making the case for training by feeling more than training by pace. To that, I would disagree. I really feel like because I knew my paces inside and out, I, as The Gambler used to say, “Know when to hold’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away and know when to run.”

The reason is that regardless of the data you use- heart rate, pace, or power, what are you really measuring? You are measuring an intensity level, or how hard something is. I prefer pace because it’s what I have always used and at the end of the day, many of you are training to run certain times, so pace you need to be able to run a certain time for a given distance. But here is the problem.

We put so much emphasis on the data, that we don’t internalize how that effort feels.

We get so wrapped up in hitting the splits that so many of us just say, “Well, I hit that pace so I’m good for the marathon.” The opposite is also true. Or they get into a situation of just going pedal to the medal because they feel that they can, or should.

The point here is that running paces and sticking to paces lets you internalize better how those paces feel over an array of circumstances. For me, I have been doing it for decades and so I know pretty close (without the help of a watch) if I am over the target, or not. But, it was decades of adhering to pace, adjusting as I progressed over time, and then listening to my body on how those paces felt that helped me “race” when the time came. I learned how long I could extend an effort for before I was going to pay the price. I could make better calculations on what moves to cover or when to let it play out. You might get lucky once in a while when just throwing eggs against the wall, but most of the time they are just going to crack under the pressure.

A couple of last things I want to mention here. One is that I am aware that there is a time to really push a workout. To take yourself to the well a little bit. For us, that was always The Simulator and the second half of the 2×6 mile. For you, it might be one of the 16 milers and one of the 10 Mile tempos.

The problem is that you can only go to the well a few times before the bucket comes up dry. Do you want that to be during training?

Probably not. The second is that I like the other data like HR and Power, but I am yet to be convinced that they should be your training guide. Where I like them better is data that you can look back and reflect on. Where you can see trends and aid in adjustments. That’s just me and I know many of you have your own strong feelings.

Ultimately though, as a coach, I want to get you as an athlete to be at this place in your training- Allowing the pace to be dictated by the effort and not the other way around. Easy runs are the perfect example. Let’s say your easy range is 8-9:30 pace per mile. Yesterday you did a hard workout, had little sleep, and are stressed from a project due at work. In an ideal situation, you’d run at an easy effort and if that landed at 9:15 per mile, so be it. Where many of you are at is you see 8:00/mile and force that pace even though the effort is significantly higher than easy.

To get to this point, I want to teach new runners to learn control by strictly adhering to paces, especially early in a training cycle when things are easier.

This means no cheating down your easy runs or any of your workouts.

The temptation is there, but resist! This does mean you have to pay close attention to the data. Things like setting up your ranges on your watch to annoy the hell out you may be a necessary evil. But, this only works if you begin to pay attention to your body, how you feel, and what’s going on internally to begin associating how you react to the paces. Then, over time, you begin to know if you are creeping paces down. If you are running faster, then it’s a conscious effort, not because Right Said Fred is blasting your ear pods. As you are more experienced you can shift the reliance on the technology to reliance on your effort and be really close. If you can get to that point, then that’s where you can really make breakthroughs in overall pacing and being more competitive. You will be able to make much better race decisions and have confidence in yourself.

Is this clear as mud?

Learn your paces by internalizing efforts. The end result is that you, over time, can put less reliance on the technology measuring the intensity and putting it in the best computer ever made- your brain!

A look at the “Big Data”

Ok, so I have to admit that I was awfully intrigued with Amby Burfoot’s new article for Podium Runner. I was very curious to see what insights there’d be into the world of marathon training for recreational runners, or as they were called mid packers. And then someone asked if I’d share my thoughts on this and compare it to my own thoughts on training, so it was a win-win.

Now, before I jump into this, I want to set the tone a bit. A few years ago, Outside Magazine published a bunch of Strava data on marathon performance and training. While it was interesting, I was left with more questions than when I started. Ultimately, I asked myself the question,

“Just because this is what people do, does it mean they should?”

I left really believing that most people could run a lot faster if they just trained a little differently, but hey, that’s my job, right? That’s my responsibility to show that messaging and show how my athletes do it! I do really feel that if recreational runners learned how to train, or at least take ideas from what elites do and modify to their situation, then we’d see improvement in marathon times across the spectrum. Anyway, I simply point out that data shows that US marathon times have declined steadily for decades. Yes, more people are running, so there are multiples of more people running now than in the ’70s and ’80s, but the trends have continued to decline for the last 10 years. So, data shows us what people are doing, but it doesn’t mean it’s the most successful way of doing it.

Alright, Mr. Burfoot gives 5 main points as to what the data suggests people should be doing and I want to address these points one by one. I’d like to give what the data shows and then my take. Right off the bat, though, I am left wondering why I should take his word for it, since he claims that the math is complicated and we should just trust him- that’s always an invitation to not trust something!

Point 1: Training more, even at a slow pace can make you faster.

I agree 100% with this and easy to moderate running is the basis of our programs. It’s not junk miles and anyone who tells you it is, doesn’t understand this principle. Easy running is the foundation that your house is built on. The better/bigger the foundation, the more solid the construction and the bigger the house that can be built. Easy running supports the demands of hard running!

Point 2: Fast training builds your endurance more effectively than slow training.

It depends. If I am training for a marathon, is my time going to be more affected by doing small amounts of training that are really fast or bigger volumes of training that includes lots of longer runs at easier paces? I think part of the problem here is that endurance isn’t defined. The truth is, a combination of these two variables would probably the most complete way of doing things.

In terms of the HMM philosophy, I would say that faster training would be the speed that we do at the beginning of the marathon segment before transitioning to the strength and marathon specific work over the second half of the training plan. I believe it’s also part of the reasoning behind the 3/2 rule: No more than 3 marathons in 2 years so that you can work on faster paces. 

Point 3: Elite runners generally don’t push as hard in training as mid-pack and slower runners.

Yes, it’s a simple percentage game. If I am running 100 miles per week, the percentage of “fast” running is going to be less than if I am running 50 miles per week. My workouts might be bigger in absolute volume and intensity, but from a percentage standpoint, there’s a limit to how much you can do. If we both do 5k worth of 5k pace work in a week, then for me, that’s 3% of my weekly volume. If the runner doing 50 miles/week does the same workout, it’s 6% of their weekly volume.

Now, I will say this, too. When you look at a 4 hour plus marathoner, there is a big blurring of lines. They can go out and run their 4-6 miles “easy” and average faster than their goal marathon time. Citing back to one of the previous points: their general endurance is fine, but their specific endurance is lagging. Lots of reasons why this might be, but usually, their training just doesn’t match the event.

Personally, this is why low volume, minimal days per week plans may make you feel fast, but ultimately give you a false sense of where your fitness truly is.

Point 4: There’s a limit to how far and how hard you can train.

Yes, absolutely. We all have that limit. When I was younger, not married, no kids, and running as a job, I could run 140-150 miles per week at my peak and then recover from it. I coach CEO’s and stay at home moms that train their butts off, but that means 40-50 miles per week. However, the biggest lesson you can learn is what we’ve already talked about- easy days are not your enemy and these, when done right, allow you to run more overall and train harder on the designated days.

Point 5: Adopt a new pattern for your training. Focus on training weeks, not individuals. Alternate your weeks (hard, hard, easy, moderate).

For part number one, yes, agreed 100% and this is the basis of cumulative fatigue. Your fitness isn’t going to come from an individual workout, but rather, the cumulative effects of weeks and months of consistent training.

For the second part of this, there is one main problem I have with this. This is basically what the most successful people were doing. But more successful than who? Oh, more successful than the people who trained the least and ran the hardest. So, it wasn’t the strategy that would yield the most overall success. It was the strategy that was most successful in the group being looked at. It doesn’t mean it’s the most effective.

Secondly, my question is, was that rotation out of necessity? How many people who ran hard for two weeks were forced to take that third week incredibly easy so that they could recover enough to have a little bit harder 4th week? Again, some questions I’d like answered.

To Conclude:

To wrap up, the whole caveat to this is at the very end. 47% of the people running were UNDER-TRAINED. So to me, that makes the case for the HMM. It’s not a just go run 40 miles per week plan with 20 of it coming from the long run. It’s a step up between a common low mileage high long-run plan that will allow you to survive a marathon. However, it’s not an 80+ mile per week plan either. It’s a moderate mileage plan with a lot of easy running and hard workouts. I read this article and was further verified that the HMM is the plan that can take a recreational runner who thinks that 3:35-3:45 is where they’ll be and instead get them to a 3:15-3:30 marathoner with a little more training and a lot of understanding of why you are doing what you are doing.

Hansons Marathon Method books

Why aren’t my easy days feeling easy?

More specifically, the question was,

“Once well into the plan do your easy runs truly feel easy?”

This was asked by one of our Facebook group members and I believe that he was hinting that his workouts were ok, but the easy runs were now an issue of being stiff, sore, and sluggish. As others noted in their response, they felt like it took miles to warm up and shake these feelings, at least to an extent. These are big concerns, for sure, especially if you’ve never been in this situation before. It could be easy to confuse hard training with going overboard. Is feeling like this normal with marathon training?

The short answer is, YES! This is completely normal. Those easy days following a big workout can be brutal. If you were to look at my training logs, it would be common to see an easy day following a workout day that looked like: 8:00/mile, 7:45, 7:30, then 7:00 pace or faster the rest of the way. When I was at peak training volume, there’d be about a 6 week block that could be really tough for the psyche if I were to judge my marathon capabilities by the drop in pace of my easy runs.

Some noted that the easy days were harder than the workout days. I can definitely attest to that. We are more likely to be “in the zone” for the workouts. We may pay a little more attention to diet, hydration, and fueling during the workouts. Our adrenaline is higher and it’s a bigger deal, right? Meanwhile, we often just go through the motions of the easy days. If you find yourself in this position, then I can only say one thing- Welcome to cumulative fatigue! This is where the magic happens, but it’s also a time to be diligent and not drift into overtraining. Easy runs slowing down is one thing, but workouts taking a hit are another.

So, how do we combat this?

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill here, but we can address the symptoms a little bit.

  1. Be on point with recovery nutrition/hydration. That stiffness and soreness means that there is tissue damage. It can’t repair without the right fuel in the right volumes.
  2. If I do a workout in the morning, then in the evening I’ll do some foam rolling. The hours between should be sent making sure you are getting the fluids and fuel you need to stimulate that recovery process. The work being done won’t lead to adaptations- it’s the recovery between the work that leads to the adaptations. My foam rolling won’t be super hard, but we’ll flush things out and work on trouble spots. For me, it’s calves, quads, and hip flexors.
  3. I’ll do a dynamic warm up before my run. This might be as simple as a few bodyweight squats and leg swings. Just something to open up the range of motion and bridge the gap between rolling out of bed and going for a run. That’s a big shock to the body. Check out the complete routines in the book. These don’t have to be long- just a couple minutes. Don’t expect a miracle here, but it can shorten up the warm up period to maybe a mile instead of 2-3 miles.

The last thing I will say about this is that being in this space isn’t bad. To me, it means you are in a place where you are challenging yourself beyond your normal comfort zone. This is where growth happens, if monitored correctly. You do need to be diligent here and not drift past this zone and into an overtraining zone. Again, your biggest indicator here would be decreased performances across the board. Also, being stiff and sore is fine and we can lessen these. However, if you are in a position where you have sharp pains, limp, or pain gets worse as you run, then it’s time to take a step back and get some answers. These signs are all classic of an actual injury. Overall, welcome to the hard training club. Recognize the differences between this and the signs of being hurt to ease your fears. Don’t let the details be an afterthought as these will help you strive during the weeks of hard workouts. The payoff, when kept into the are of cumulative fatigue, is resilience, toughness, and ability to grind it out if need be during tough spots. Those are the things that lead to big breakthroughs. Hope that helps!

Iron levels and runners

A little while ago, I posted a quick podcast on the role of carbohydrate and overtraining. When training hard by volume, intensity, or both, the lack of carbohydrates has a direct relationship with performance (and mood). The reason I discussed that idea was to try to show people how the idea of overtraining is confused with the idea of cumulative fatigue in marathon training. The problem is, it’s like when your check engine light comes on and the mechanic gives you a range of options from the gas cap not being tight all the way to catastrophic engine failure. There are those two possibilities and about 5 more in between the extremes. Fatigue can be quite the rabbit hole to dive into. However, dive we must, and hopefully, with a few posts, we can cover a lot of the areas we can look at first. Maybe we can avoid catastrophic engine failure.

Most of us are aware of iron and its importance for performance. However, for sake of making sure, iron is a mineral that is crucial for energy metabolism (processing carbohydrates), transporting oxygen, and the acid-base balance in the body. Being deficient can result in weakness, general fatigue, a higher heart rate, shortness of breath, and your performance. The worst part is that endurance athletes can lose iron 70% more than their sedentary counterparts! We lose through heavy sweating, our urine and GI tract, and the mechanical force of our feet crashing into the ground at 180 +/- steps per minute. Women also lose iron through their menstrual cycle. Oh, I forgot to mention- iron doesn’t really absorb that well either.

Before you decide to leave your car on the side of the road and walk it home, let’s finish this out. We can run those diagnostics and get you back on track!

So, to switch away from the silly car analogy, let’s talk about iron stores. It’s kinda like a pantry and your kitchen. You have the stuff you use every day that’s in your cupboards and fridge, but you may also have bulk items stored that fill the backstock. We use our day to day goods. We eat our cereal and cook our hamburger. We get low and take another bag out from the four in the pantry and another pound of burger from the bulk we bought at Costco. Things are all good, right? The problem is, we haven’t been back to Costco in two months and we haven’t been replenishing the long-term storage. So, right now, our day to day is fine because we are pulling from the reserves, but the reserves will only last so long. Iron Deficiency works a bit in the same way. We have iron stored in a blood protein called ferritin. We are training hard, sweating profusely and feet just slapping away at the concrete. No problem though, we’ll just pull from the ferritin. Uh oh, I haven’t been refilling the pantry as fast as I’ve been taking it out. Now we are starting to get into trouble. So, let’s look at the three levels of iron deficiency.

Stage 1:

This is a diminished total body iron content and can be determined by looking at your serum ferritin. Performance may not be affected yet, if the ferritin in the liver is only diminished. Once the muscles have been impacted, then you’ll start to see performance start to drop. This is where we have the pantry and are using the iron here to satisfy needs in other places in the body. (Form red blood cells that we are breaking down)

To be in this state, you are looking at a serum ferritin level of less than 35 ug/L (micrograms/Liter). Hemoglobin and transferrin saturation will still be normal at 115 g/L and above 16, respectively. Honestly, though, a lot of runners don’t feel “spunky” after their levels drop below 50. So, knowing your trends is good. Also, the low end of “normal” is 15 for both men and women. I have had women completely exhausted, get blood work, and have the doc say it looks ok, still normal. I look at it and their ferritin is at 15 or 16! So, make sure you have someone read it that understands athletes. Personally, I get mine done and take it to my chiropractor. He knows where I should be after years of treating me. This is compounded that ferritin levels can rise quickly due to stress, inflammation, and infection, which would give us numbers that are falsely inflated. Go figure!

Stage 2:

At this point the cupboards are sparse. Ham and cheese sandwiches have become grilled cheese sandwiches. When we are at this point, ferritin stores are getting to the point where they can no longer support the full production of red blood cells. You are still making them, but capacity has been reduced. To compensate your body will try to use zinc to make up for the iron that is not readily available. If we are in this stage, ferritin will drop below 20, hemoglobin will still be normal, but another blood protein that carries iron, transferrin will be less than 15% saturated. This means that less than 15% of the protein is carrying iron.

Stage 3:

Now we are at the point where there’s nothing in the cupboards or the fridge. When we get to this stage, hemoglobin is affected. Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, while bringing carbon dioxide back to the lungs. If we get to this point, everything will be lower. Ferritin will be less than 12, transferrin saturation will be below 16, and hemoglobin will be less than 115. If you are at this point, training is going to be pretty darn tough to maintain. Performance will be significantly down. I’d be surprised if you were running anything of any substance.

Improving the situation

We have already mentioned that there’s problems with keeping iron levels up and training hard. We break it down at much faster rates than average people and the bioavailability of iron is less than ideal, much less. You have two types of iron- heme and non-heme. Heme iron is more readily available and better absorbed than non-heme iron, about 40% compared to 5%. Yes, you read that right. Heme iron is found mostly in animal sources, while non-heme is nearly 100% non-heme. Now, non-heme iron is absorbed better when in the presence of heme iron, but you get the point. It’s not easy to get iron from the stomach to the bloodstream.

First step:

Time your iron intake properly. Another reason to make sure you are getting your recovery food in. A meal with iron in it (or supplement) along with a glass juice within 30-60 minutes of exercise improved absorption of iron. It’s also important to note that absorption is better in the morning, too. So, regardless of running, this should be done in the morning. Foods like eggs, bacon, sausage, peanut butter are all higher sources, along with chicken, spinach, and broccoli. On the flipside, milk and coffee reduce absorption significantly.

Second Step

Oral supplements. Working with a sports physician is key here for optimal dosage, but I know many of you take an iron supplement. If you do, a slow-release ferrous sulfate is your best bet. Now, taking every day can create GI issues. Taking with the OJ definitely helps, but absorption between taking once a day and taking every other day didn’t impact absorption significantly but did reduce GI symptoms. There are patches available, too. However, it seems that the absorption rate of these are less than that of oral supplements. But, these are pretty new and improvements are constantly made. These may be a more viable option in the future.

Third Step

IV is all the rage, right now, so why not get an IV? No, don’t! I am kidding. I don’t think you can just get these at the IV shop, anyway. Now, these work with a 100% absorption rate, but you HAVE to work with a physician. Over the years, I have seen some physicians adamant that a person only gets severe problems. However, these have mostly been family physicians that don’t work with athletes. I have seen many sports docs offer it up if the blood work indicated it was necessary. I will say, I have had athletes with ferritin in the 10-15 range and just miserable. They got an IV and set PR’s within a couple weeks. But, it is key to work with a sports physician on this. If you go this route, get blood tested a month later and then again at 6 months after to see what your ferritin is doing.

If you are starting to feel the tiredness, the fatigue, and most importantly, a loss in performance, then something isn’t right.

The first thing I’d look at is your carbohydrate intake. It’s simple to do and it’s non-invasive. Maybe at the same time, you get your blood work done. I know it’s a pain to get a doctor’s order and then go to the blood draw. There are other options now, too. Companies like Inside Tracker and others allow you to streamline this process. Now that you have numbers that are for runners, you are armed with info. If your general practitioner says you are fine, but your ferritin is at 25, you know better. Find a sports doc or a physician that works with runners (or is one). Time your iron at the right time while working with said doc to make a plan for supplementation. My biggest piece of advice- don’t let it get past phase two. Don’t let it go for months. If you are 6 weeks in a plan, tired, and slowing down, let’s figure it out. We can still save the segment. 

 

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Mental Toughness: Putting our attention on where we focus

It’s no doubt that being “mentally tough” is something that can improve your performance, but the way I hear runners discuss, it feels like it is something that you either have or you don’t. Personally, I found it a fluid ingredient to my personal performance. I was mentally tough in my outstanding performances, but was mentally weak in most of my bad performances. What does being mentally tough really entail? Is it a trait or is it learned? Those two things are what I want to explore today.

What I have learned is that being mentally tough may not necessarily be about the amount of discomfort you can force yourself to endure, but maybe more about where you direct your focus. I have talked about this in race strategy discussions before- that early on, I don’t want to focus on too much because the more dialed in I had to be early on, the longer I had to maintain that high level of focus. For me, that wasn’t sustainable and I would often fade. Now, while I think my idea was solid in theory, my wording might have been off. I’ll explain more, later. The point is, that I was never any more, or less, mentally tough in good races than bad, but my focus was probably not set on the right cues. The idea is Limited Channel Capacity, or the ability to hold a limited amount of information at one time. Try to hold on to too much, or the wrong things, then there’s no room for what is relevant to the task and we lose performance.

When we look at those we consider mentally tough, they tend to show the following qualities. One, they have the ability to focus on their own performance, despite any outside personal issues. Look at some of the all time greats in sports and how messed up their personal lives were. They possessed the ability to flip that switch and not think about those things while in their sporting activity. Now, in your own case, that might simply mean leaving what happened at the office, well, at the office instead of bringing it to the track workout. If it’s taking up space in your head during the workout, we tend to miss the physical and internal cues of how the workout is going and it can often be a sup par event.

Maintain Focus

Secondly, they have the ability to maintain focus on their own performance after both success and failure. I have seen so many times that people overestimate their potential after one good race. I have also seen as many people completely disregard their ability after one performance.

At the end of the day, it’s a step, or a learning opportunity towards the ultimate goal.

Moving Forward

Third, the ability to recover from the unexpected, uncontrollable, and unusual events. This is good for right now. As we read of new race cancellations every day, I see both sides of the spectrum. I see people pull back and assess and then I see people who seem to be in complete despair while going right to the worst case scenario. How we decide to handle adverse situations says a lot about our mental toughness.

Ignore the noise

Fourth, they have the ability to ignore typical distractions in the performance environment. So, this might mean blocking out the dude who’s breathing like a locomotive engine instead of getting annoyed by it and letting it take up real estate in your head.

Focus on YOU

Fifth, they have the ability to focus on their own performance instead of being concerned with opponents performance.  This is a big one, and I see so often with people who train in groups. I also figuratively lived and died by this with my own teammates.

The common theme here is making sure you are focusing or concentrating on the relevant things to your performance. With that, there are four practical aspects  of concentration. The first is selective attention. During a run a relevant cue to focus on would be your stride, effort, and breathing. Something irrelevant is thinking about where you are going to eat afterwards or the houses along the course. Second, being able to focus during the event or workout. Here it might be having a rough workout and instead of just moving on, allowing it to set the trend of progressively bad workouts and then missing the goal. Third, what is called situational awareness, or taking the cues in your environment and making decisions based on that. In a race, this might be turning the corner and right into a headwind.

How do you handle this?

Fourth, the ability to shift your focus on the demands. You have different types of attentional focus like broad/narrow, external/internal, and even a combination of broad external or narrow internal. If you are running a marathon, then what you focus on at the start of the race should be shifting as the race goes on. Now, the list of things may not change but the priority of these things may change.

For runners, the last area of attentional focus may be better described as associative and dissociative properties. Association is monitoring bodily functions and feelings. Dissociation is dissociating from pain and boredom, usually via music, that is usually prevalent during long distance racing or even beginners running their first 5k (it’s all relevant). The interesting thing is that dissociation is pretty common for those who are more beginners and recreational because it can make the event more pleasant and can actually decrease fatigue and monotony. On the other hand, faster runners tend to associate with themselves so that they can monitor where they are at. The association to the discomfort allows them to push harder despite the discomfort because they already know it’s coming and they’ve already dealt with it in the past.

The above paragraph is what I was referring to when I discussed ‘zoning out’ until it was time to buckle down. Like I said, my wording was probably off, but I believe in my idea. Over my competitive career, I have found that you can’t be in that associative mindset all the time. It’s just not sustainable without burnout. For example, if I approached the easy day the day following a tough workout, then it would only be a matter of time before I was hurt. When I say intensity, I am not talking about running intensity, but mental intensity. I can’t be like “YES! A 10 mile run! GET SOME!” However, we have to get in that mindset for a 10 mile tempo. The same is true for the marathon itself. Early on, we may be in more of a dissociative mindset, just generally taking information. However, as the race goes on, we narrow our focus to more associative measures and disregard more outside information. To be that narrow focused for 2-5 hours can be mentally draining, especially when you take dropping blood sugar into account!

Don’t get distracted!

The last area I wanted to talk about was some of the issues we have with attention because we get distracted easily, especially when tired. There’s really two area of distractions- internal distractions. In this case we tend to think about past events or future events. I think we all relate to these. Past events would maybe go back to a time where you were in the same position (say the 20 mile mark of a marathon) and things went rough in a hurry. Even though you might be a different runner than you were then, by going back to that place we take away from focusing on the right now. The second is thinking about future events. These are “what if” type statements. For example, “what if I get 25 miles and I completely run out of gas?” “What if my side starts hurting?” “What if I cramp?” These all project the future and take away from the right now and the focus that is currently required for the task at hand.

The flipside is external distractions, in the form of visual and audio. A great example of both the visual and audio is Wellesley College at about the 12 mile mark of Boston. It’s in a spot where you grow from being pretty quiet to just a solid roar of screaming women with all kinds of crazy signs that are not fit for family discussion. The first time I ran Boston, I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting it and it just completely got my adrenaline going.

You instantly go from focusing on yourself in relative quiet to a roughly half mile noise tunnel and kaleidoscope.

It makes you do things you may normally not do- like high five and fist pump. While a great pick me up, it shifts your focus away from things that may not really benefit you a few miles up, when you hit the Newton Hills.

What can you do to improve your concentration?

The biggest way is self talk. I don’t recall where I saw it, but I recall seeing a stat that was to the effect of ⅔ of our internal talk was negative self talk. Yikes! We all have done it. We’ve all been critical of a decision made on the fly. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do anything to improve our performance. On the other hand, Instructional self talk and motivational self talk can improve our performance. The basis of these are self explanatory as motivational focuses on motivation for increasing effort and energy. Instruction focuses on technical aspects of the skill (running). Now, instructional self talk seemed to be better at increasing performance while motivational self talk seemed to work better for exercise adherence. So, while the data wasn’t really looking at experience, I immediately wonder if more novice runners go to motivational places where more experienced go with instructional? Considering the trends in association and dissociation, it wouldn’t be a far leap.

The 6 rules for self talk:

  1. Keep it short and sweet (mantra)
  2. Use the first person and present tense
  3. Construct positive phrases
  4. Say your phrases with meaning and attention
  5. Speak kindly to yourself
  6. Repeat phrases often

The second is routine.

We all have morning routines, right? We try to get our kids into a routine. Why? Because it becomes a habit. It becomes automatic. My theory is this- that if we create something habit, we don’t have to overthink it. It’s on our list of cues, but it’s not overemphasized. In other words, what’s in our routine is not overwhelming our Limited Capacity. I feel like one good example is our nutrition and hydration routine for your race. To those who practice their routine regularly during long runs and workouts, they don’t stress about it as much during the race itself. They know how their stomach is going to react. They aren’t concerned with how they are going to store the gels. It’s already been worked out and isn’t requiring extra attention.  On the other hand, I had athletes who talked about what they wanted to do, but never practiced regularly. On race day they were so laser focused on this, that they let that take up too much real estate in their head and didn’t take in any other cues (or they did and got overwhelmed). Even worse, since they didn’t have a routine, as soon as it got difficult, they abandoned the plan and ended up paying the price by bonking. What other routines can you think of that would carry over nicely to performance?

The last one is self monitoring.

It has been shown to improve concentration and performance. Two major areas come to mind for me and that’s food tracking and training logs. The biggest reasons to track are to see patterns, consistency, and to compare to similar days. This is true for either food tracking and training log. The key though is the detail that you are putting into it. For instance, Final Surge syncs to Garmin Connect (and others) to pull data from your watch and populates the appropriate fields. Oftentimes that’s it. The runner offers nothing else, even though there’s only raw data. Why? Well, to them that’s all that’s important.

They are only concerned with the mileage,, pace and that the day was done. If I am a coach, all I see is raw data and that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.

When I ask an athlete they have to go back and try to sort through that one run 10 days ago with the time between being filled with other runs, work, life, and Netflix Tiger shows. The details get fuzzy. Not only does that hurt a coach’s ability to help, but it also hurts you because we don’t really have anything to compare to later on. If we did the same workout a month later, how do we know if it really went better or worse? The raw data only gives us part of the story. A perfect example would be doing a workout on February 1st here in Michigan and then turning around and doing the same workout on March 1st. On February 1st, you may be in full snowmobile suit with snowshoes on. On March first you could be in shorts and a long sleeve. See where having those details written down may help?

Details help.

They put the story to the headline. I also think that just making it a priority to log in detail cements its importance to you. It’s like wanting to become more organized so you start with simply making your bed every day. One small habit of priority leads to another and another and over time you have completely transformed your mindset, attitude, and physical surroundings.

That final piece really sums it up.

None of these things are massive undertakings. They are small items that often get overlooked, but lay a foundation to changing how we live and how we see ourselves. The fact that they may help us run better is a pretty attractive fringe benefit. The key to all of this is starting small, recognize that it’s going to take time, and you are going to probably catch yourself lapsing. Don’t give up on it. Just right the ship when you see it drifting and stay the course. Over time, I think you’ll notice big changes in a lot of aspects.

 

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Marathon Long Runs: Part 1

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

Luke Humphrey Running- Long Runs

Luke Humphrey Running- Long Runs

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

Long Slow Distance

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

Who is it for?

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

The timing of LSD runs:

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

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

 

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The Moderate/Steady Long Run

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

Who is it for and when should I do it?

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

Fasted/Depleted long runs

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

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

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

Should you try fasted runs?

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

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

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

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

The Fueled Long Run

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

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

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

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.

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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.

 

Custom or Pre-Made Training Plans for any distance!

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.

Custom or Pre-Made Training Plans for any distance!

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

Stress / Recovery Principles

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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.

Custom or Pre-Made Training Plans for any distance!

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.

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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!