The Long Run – myths, science, and why not everyone should run 20-milers

The long run. The cornerstone of marathon training. The weekly run that is essentially “dress rehearsal” for marathon day. It’s the run most runners stress about, and the one that over times builds confidence and endurance fitness. A marathoner cannot be prepared for race day without consistent long runs under their belt, but there’s a lot of opinions, beliefs and falsehoods regarding the long run – especially the magical peak mileage number. It’s important to understand that coaches will have their own reasons for how long they take the long runs, and (hopefully) there’s science-based factors considered. Most non-coaches toss out “20 miles” as the long run distance every marathoner should hit. But I’m going to attempt to shed some light onto the reason for the long run, what mental and physical adaptions occur, the different types of long runs, and why the 20-miler staple is actually not always the correct number. So strap in, cause here we go!

In general, the long run’s purpose is to build endurance fitness, aerobic base, running economy, and prepare the mind for the marathon. Running for hours at a time is physically demanding, but arguably just as challenging to mentally handle. So the big questions and debates for the long run usually come down to pace/effort and distance.

The mileage total should vary per athlete depending on a few things. The natural speed and marathon goal is perhaps the biggest variable. Jack Daniels, arguably the best marathon coach alive, famously recommends capping the long run to 2.5-3 hours across the board. He suggests that a training run lasting beyond that time offers big risk in injury and burnout. Here’s the challenge – depending on the pace of that athlete, a 3-hour run could mean 22 miles or 15 miles. Let’s use three fictional athletes below as an example:

Athlete A is an elite marathoner, with a marathon goal pace of 6:00 minute miles or a 2:37 finish goal. Most long runs should be MGP (Marathon Goal Pace) + :15-60 seconds per mile, so if Athlete A runs a 20-miler at 6:45s, they’d complete the distance in 2:15.

Athlete B is an experience marathoner, with a marathon goal pace of 8:00 minute miles, or a 3:30 finish goal. Most long runs should be MGP (Marathon Goal Pace) + :15-60 seconds per mile, so if Athlete A runs a 20-miler at 8:30s, they’d complete the distance in 2:50.

Athlete C is a marathoner, with a marathon goal pace of 10:18 minute miles, or a 4:30 finish goal. Most long runs should be MGP (Marathon Goal Pace) + :15-60 seconds per mile, so if Athlete A runs a 20-miler at 10:45s, they’d complete the distance in 3:35.

So based on the above, you can see that the 20-miler equals very different stresses on the body. The slower the runner, the more steps and more time one will spend out there, and that equals stress. Athlete C, based on Jack Daniels’ method, should never be running a 20-miler. Instead, it would be recommended that athlete caps the long run to 3 hours, or embraces a double, or other training methods. The mentally hard part: Athlete C would cover less than 17 miles in 3 hours. Most athletes will say they need 20 miles. How can they be ready for a 4:30 marathon finish if their longest long run is 3 hours? The answer is that the long runs don’t stand alone. Runners are going into them with tired legs and additional runs throughout the week. When you add the training up, the taper, the crowd support, ideal weather, etc – the fitness will carry through.

RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) often recommends the 20-30% rule in terms of the long run. The long run distance equals only 20-30% of the athlete’s weekly mileage. This means an athlete running 40-mile weeks should cap the long run to the 8-12 mile range. An athlete running 80-mile weeks finally runs that coveted 20-mile long run. Now, most runners I coach never make it to 80-mile weeks. That’s pretty serious business. But I’d also argue that a decent percentage do run 20-milers. Should they? Well, in my opinion it then goes back to the Daniels theory above. Most runners will not thrive on 80-mile weeks. Though many do run at a pace that allows them to safely clock long runs at or near the 20-mile peak.

Elites like Ryan Hall have been known to clock 26-30 mile long runs. But at his easy pace, he’s still never out there for more than 3 hours. The stress of running for 3 hours versus 5 hours, at an effort that feels 60-70% effort, are two very different stress levels. We also have to consider that someone like Ryan Hall is running 120-140 mile weeks. So for him a 26-30 mile run isn’t a crazy percent of his weekly mileage. It’s unrealistic for us to compare components of our own training without looking at the whole picture.

There are a few different types of long runs, and it’s important to understand them.

Long Slow Distance: The standard long run, where the focus is time on one’s feet to build endurance, practice fueling, and getting acquainted with tired legs. For these runs, pace is usually MGP + :15-60 seconds, or a comfortable/conversational pace. The LSD run can be given by distance or time – for example: run 20 miles or 3 hours – whichever comes first, at an easy effort or MGP + :30 seconds per mile today.

Progressive Long Runs: These long runs are fairly advanced, and start off as a LSD run does. However during the second half, the runner slowly picks up the pace towards MGP. This run teaches the runner how to speed up on tired legs, and break the habit of going out too fast. As one can imagine, this is a higher stress long run than the classic LSD.

Two-a-Days: These long runs are ideal options for runners dealing with an injury or at a pace where a 3 hour runs won’t get them close to a mileage total they feel prepares them for the marathon. Dividing the run between two runs within in 8-10 hours gives the body time to recover and is essentially less stressful than running say 5 hours at once. The second run of the day will obviously happen on tired legs, which is helpful for marathon preparation. However, the two-a-day run doesn’t simulate the marathon, as the marathon will be covered all at once. So there are some clear advantages and disadvantages to this option.

Aside from all of the physical adaptions and stress, most runners feel strongly that they need to 20-miler in their training to feel confident and ready at the starting line. That confidence is incredibly important, and is a good reason why a coach may make an exception to everything above to give that athlete the mental edge. Personally, I know I would have been freaking out if I hadn’t clocked 20-milers leading up to my first marathon. In fact, I capped my long runs to a 23-miler. BUT I also honestly didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t have the resources out there now, or a coach. Knowing what I know now, I’d be willing to accept less than a 20-miler during my marathon training if that’s what was advised. However, even when training for my first marathon, my easy runs were under 8:30 minute miles, so I wasn’t out there much longer than 3:15 on that 23-miler.

It’s tricky to choose what’s appropriate for each athlete. Do we risk injury to give mental edge? Do we prioritize health and accept that the runner may feel unprepared because their long runs never got close to that magical 20-miler? It’s super challenging to hear a runner give me their laundry list as to why they need 20-milers (or longer) when they are typically finishing in the 4:45-5:30 marathon window. Science screams that I need to put my foot down, but that athlete is screaming the opposite. It’s like walking a tightrope. At the end of the day, I usually take it case by case, but I usually side with science, being conservative, and instead doing other things to promote mental edge and confidence for that marathoner.

How to be the wisest, strongest and happiest runner possible

Dear Runners, we need to talk. The statistics with runners and injuries is enough to make someone not want to lace up. However, much of the injuries runners encounter are 100% preventable. Sure, there’s a percent of runners who will be injury-prone for reasons they cannot control – one leg slightly longer than the other, a trauma from years ago, overuse from a childhood activity, and poor genetics. But that’s a small percent of runners. YOU are often responsible for those aches and pains. This isn’t about pointing blame, but informing, educating and perhaps preventing injuries in the future by making different choices.

  • Most runners, novice and experienced alike, tend to try to skip some crucial training steps. We can sometimes get away with blowing through or skipping some things, but it’s usually a matter of time before it backfires. You may not feel the consequence until weeks or months later.  Here are some things we can all do to improve our running experience – we’ll feel stronger, faster, fitter, healthier, and be able to make this sport a life-long activity instead of one sidelined with injury.
  • Start slowly and build base mileage. If you are new to running, start SLOWLY. Accept where you are and start there. It takes time to adapt to stress. Marathoners, it’s pretty risky (and stupid) to go from sitting on the couch to being 20-16 weeks out from a marathon. BEFORE the official training begins, you should have anywhere from 4-12 weeks of base mileage under your belt. Many marathoners skip this. Think about it – in marathon training you’ll be doing some speed runs and some long runs – both of which are high stress. If you don’t slowly prepare for the simple stress of 20-30 miles of easy running BEFORE that, you are in for a world of pain. This is why I never want my runners to rush their marathon training. Plan ahead. WAY ahead. It’s always better to do something right.
  • If you feel little aches and pains, don’t ignore them! They are signals that something isn’t happy. Address it asap. If caught early, most little problems can be managed. If ignored, it will most likely turn into a big problem. Going to a doctor or physical therapist shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing or failure. Quite the contrary – it means you are proactive in your training needs.
  • Lots of runners talk, and make it sound “badass” when they’ve pulled their bodies through races injured. Honestly, they aren’t badass. They are idiots. And them “bragging” about this achievement does nothing good for this sport. I’ve done some pretty dumb things in my running career, and I’d be the first to say “Don’t do what I did. It wasn’t worth it.” Part of this macho culture has stemmed from the plethora of races out there and peer pressure. It’s stupid to race every weekend, or back-to-back days. Yes, I’ve done it. Not in years, and there’s good reason. Pick and choose. You’re a human. If you want to be out there and it’s a social activity, volunteer or cheer.
  • Work on your weaknesses and don’t compare yourself to other runners. Some runners can run every weekend and somehow appear to never be injured – but they are not the norm. I’d also wager a guess that at some point will backfire, or they could race better if they raced less. Spend time working on your weaknesses. If you have incredibly tight hamstrings, don’t ignore that! If running causes discomfort in your foot, figure out why. If you are proactive about your body, you’ll reduce injury risk big time. I’ve found many of my athletes (and myself) have benefited greatly from serious strength training.

With my private clients, I try to be like a hawk in terms of keeping an eye on aches and pains. I also stress on day one that I want them telling me the second something doesn’t feel normal. At Mile High Run Club, I see hundreds of runners per week, so obviously I don’t know the individuals on a super personal level. I am asked probably a dozen times per week (so almost once per class) about injuries. Many runners expect me to diagnose them. That’s a tough one. First, I can’t diagnose  I’m not a doctor, and that’s way beyond my realm of expertise. And second, that runner decided to sign up and show up for a tempo run – so that means they think whatever is plaguing them can be run through without consequence. The amount of times I say “rest for a few days and then see a medical professional” is outrageous. I’m also asked pretty frequently by runners for my opinion on them running a race incredibly undertrained or injured. The answer and advice should be a no-brainer, but it’s not. Because running is something “everybody does” or “pushes through.” Or they signed up and can’t stomach the idea of not crossing the starting line. If it wasn’t a priority to train for, or something hurts, the race shouldn’t happen. If you are wanting to run a race and are clearly injured, ask yourself two questions: will I be in pain out there – and – will this race make the injury worse? If the answer is “yes” to either one, don’t lace up. If you don’t know the answer, you need to talk to a medical professional.

Running isn’t bad for us – not our knees, our feet, or heart, etc. But doing literally ANYTHING with poor form, a bad plan, or without balance – that’s bad. Too much cross training, too much lifting, too much water, too many vegetables – it turns the good thing into a bad thing.

Lastly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Your body may need different things than the next runner. Basic training principles apply to all of us, but you are unique. I would recommend you spend your time with fellow runners and coaches who promote and support good habits. It will make it easier to feel less peer pressure. If everyone in your camp is injured, overtrained, or simply burned out, be careful. We are often a reflection of the people we choose to spend our time with. I intentionally choose to prioritize running, racing and socializing with runners who are healthy and have what I’d call a “healthy outlook” on most things running, nutrition and life.

Boston Marathon 2018 Recap

As most have heard, the weather on Patriot’s Day was anything but kind. Marathoners are pretty tough people, and Monday demanded our mental strength to carry when our bodies succumbed to the elements. I often preach to my runners that they need to learn to train in most elements because we never know what we’ll be handed by Mother Nature on race day. Monday was a reminder of that. Not surprisingly, the runners I know who preformed best were the Winter Warriors and the Ultra Marathoners.

The biggest takeaways from my 4th Boston finish:

  • Dress and pace for your body. I found protecting my hands with two layers for the first half of the race incredibly helpful. I know that I’m not great at regulating core temperature. I had originally planned to race in shorts, but the forecast continued to change and predict cooler temperatures on Sunday, and so I made a last-minute purchase of tights at the expo and am SO GLAD I did! Shorts may have been a big downfall. I bought the last pair of XS tights at the expo – so the lesson: don’t attend the expo at the very end if you need something for race day. I got super lucky.
  • Athlete’s Village was a muddy mess. My feet were soaked in cold mud for literally 2 hours before the start. I had never imagined the school to be so flooded. I should have brought a throw-away pair of sneakers. And a thousand trash bags. I was ready for the cold, but the wet feet for hours was a bad surprise. The pre-race and post-race was the worst part of the race.
  • It’s incredibly tough to tear open GU with frozen hands. It’s tough to stomach drinking cold water when your body is freezing, it’s impossible to untie/tie a shoe with frozen hands. Going to the bathroom with soaked and frozen tights and frozen hands was also quite challenging. Big shoutout to Kevin. A rock in my sock became an issue, and I paused at mile 19 or so to attempt to take off my shoe. I was pretty unsuccessful. When I saw Kevin and the QDR crew at mile 20, I ran over and asked for help. He helped me solved the rock in the sock problem and I’m so glad he did!
  • The crowds were a little lighter than other years, but when the rain changed to a downpour, they’d cheer even louder. I am so appreciative of the folks who chose to weather the storm. It was a really nasty day to be outside, and the crowd support made the journey a bit less painful.

My calves felt like they were on the verge of cramping due to the cold around mile 14. I did everything I could to prevent cramping from happening, which meant changing my stride, form and pace in the late miles. I knew I was better off adding a minute to each mile than cramping and needing walk and stretching breaks in the elements. At the finish, I could barely lift my legs. My hips were in incredible pain, so cold and tight, and I wasn’t confident I’d make it to my hotel without a wheelchair ride to medical. Marni and the cup of hot cocoa at the finish line were the only reason I didn’t end up in a wheelchair.

The finish line never disappoints. I was emotional early in the race, a few times during, and then totally lost it as I got closed to Hereford Street. All of the hard work, the years of training, the humbling runs, the BQs, the PRs, the countless hours I’ve struggled on the track alone – the final 600M of Boston Marathon make it all worth it. Nothing compares.

I went into Boston for “fun,” and then to “make memories” once I saw the weather was going to be horrendous. Memories were made. Many of the memories weren’t great. Some downright sucked. Others were amazing. The marathon tests us all. There are highs and lows. Some have more lows. But that’s where the lessons are learned. Of the 3 hours, 26 minutes and 22 seconds I was on the course, I’d say 3 hours were pretty painful, uncomfortable or terrible. But I did it. I’m mentally and physically exhausted. I can tell my immune system is a bit compromised. But I’ll be stronger in the future because I didn’t give up. I excited to rest and recover. I know it’s necessary to hit the “pause” button after a race. I’m eager to dive into training for St. George Marathon, but also happy to chill out before I start that journey. There has to be balance. Work hard, recover hard. I haven’t decided if I’ll run Boston in 2019. I want to digest and process.

Boston Marathon – What Weather?

Boston Marathon, 2015.

Boston Marathon. For many runners, it is essentially the magic unicorn of marathon running. For many runners, qualifying is a goal. It takes some of us numerous attempts, years of hard work, and some soul-crushing attempts. But there is nothing like Boston. Once you’ve stamped that qualifier, you are in for one epic ride. There are few things that compare to the feeling of being in your corral in Hopkinton. Being around thousands of other runners who all met a time standard, whether on first attempt or 10th – the energy at the starting line is something unique.

As I sit on my Amtrak ride up to Boston for my 5th attempt from Hopkinton to Boylston Street, preparing for what will be perhaps the worst weather I have yet to trek 26.2 miles through, I am filled with peace. No nerves. No negativity about the weather. If I’d planned to really race my best tomorrow, I’d be a stressed out mess. But each marathon has taught me something new about myself and the sport. With this being my 18th (or 19th?) marathon, I have learned to accept the things I cannot control and to instead focus on the things I can. Bad weather is part of marathons. It’s a big part of Boston Marathon. These less-than-ideal days make the good days that much more rewarding when they happen.

I’ve probably stalked the forecast a good 100 times in the last week. No joke. But I keep reminding myself that no matter how much rain or headwind we have tomorrow, it’s better (and probably safer) than a hot and sunny Patriots Day. No matter the weather, this is Boston Marathon. I’ll be out there in good company with other strong and accomplished marathoners. The best marathoners in the world will be leading the way. The crowds will still be strong, cheering on and celebrating, because it’s Boston.

If you are running tomorrow and freaking out (a natural reaction – especially if it’s your first Boston!) here are a few tips:

  • Don’t fight the wind. Don’t fight the wind. DON’T FIGHT THE WIND. Instead, LISTEN to your body and exertion, and draft behind a group of taller runners whenever possible.
  • Don’t go out too hard. Boston is a pretty fast course. The biggest challenge is the Newton Hills (mile 17-21.) Don’t be scared of the Newton Hills. There are downs to counter the ups. But they are at a tough place in the marathon. The first half of the course is pretty fast, and it’s tempting to go out hard and “bank” time. Try to resist that urge. You risk hitting those hills with quads that are tanked from the downhills.
  • Do stay warm and dry pre-race. Use the tents in Athlete’s Village. Bring layers. Bring plastic bags. You lose energy shivering and try to stay warm. You want your energy for your 26.2 mile journey.
  • Do still hydrate early and often on the race course. Despite cool and wet conditions, you’ll still be sweating and burning up your glycogen storage.
  • Do take in the energy from the spectators. Give high fives, cheer, hoot and holler! It’s BOSTON MARATHON!!!! Make the most of this experience. You’ll make memories no matter what. Choose to make them good ones.
  • If Boston IS your goal race, don’t lose hope that the PR is out of the cards. Yes, the odds are sadly not great. But you know your training. You know what you’ve trained through. You know your strengths and weaknesses. Just go to the starting line at peace with a few backup goals, just in case the wind is too much.

For many of us marathoners, this unicorn is the height of our marathon racing in a few ways. Aside from a few marathons that offer some perks for speedy qualifying standards, most of us are never going to make it to Olympic Trials. Boston is the “reach” goal. It’s special. It’s a race that should be saved for that BQ (my opinion) and then means so damn much once it’s achieved. No matter the weather, tomorrow will be a day. An opportunity. So we’ll get a little wet and run into some gnarly wind for a couple of hours. I can find few better ways to spend a Monday.

Setting Goals, Assessing Weaknesses, and Moving Forward

Last week I posted about the importance of the off season. Today I want to personally share how I handled my off season, and what lessons I learned about myself as an athlete in my latest marathon cycle, and how I’ll plan to make changes in the future. It’s important to understand that our bodies will adapt and change to anything we toss at it – with time, consistency, and a solid combination of work and recovery. It’s always easier to be the coach than the athlete, and I’ve worn both hats for myself for the last few years. While I know my body and my strengths and weaknesses, it’s not without its challenges.

Frankfurt Marathon Training: In Spring I dealt with my first injury in 5 years. I have a heel spur in my left foot that became irritated, and plantar fasciitis stemmed from that heel. They were essentially one big issue. While I ordered special orthotics, put my foot through electrotherapy (not pleasant nor cheap!), and did everything I could, I was also asked to stop running at full body weight. So with Frankfurt, my goal marathon, waiting in the wings on October 29th, I knew the clock was ticking. I ran the entire month of June at 50-80% of my body weight on the Alter-G at Finish Line PT. The monthly membership there was beyond worth it. I was able to run – which I needed physically and mentally. In July, 15 weeks from marathon day, I was given the green light to run outside. I had 15 weeks to go from base mileage on an Alter-G, to chasing down a PR. There were times my foot still hurt leading up to Frankfurt, but at least I knew how to manage it. With a pretty short window of time, I decided to be conservative with mileage. My highest mileage week was maybe 45 miles. My longest run, 20-milers. I supplemented my training with 5-7 hours of weight training per week.

Frankfurt Marathon Reflections: Moving forward, I’d ideally have had a few more weeks of official training, and some time to build solid base mileage outside. That’s my hope for my fall 2018 goal. Also, if I’m honest about my weaknesses, I fell apart late on the course. The weather was tough, and that made me lose my head game. However, my body was capable of more than I accomplished out there – even in those conditions. Therefore, some longer long runs (21-23-milers), and some more negative-split/progressive long runs are what I’ll need to develop a stronger mental space for those late miles. I’ll also plan to increase weekly mileage a bit for next fall. I know I’m not a high mileage athlete, but I think I can add a bit more and still feel healthy and strong.

The Off Season: I’m incredibly disciplined as an athlete. Despite the fun foods I post on IG (and don’t get me wrong – I love all foods!), I also track everything I consume – the good, the bad – I track it all. I’m also disciplined with my training. I can eat a lot because most of the time I burn a lot. I’m training 2 hours per day, on average. That buys me a lot of extra calories. But during the last 4 weeks, I’ve allowed myself to relax. In fact, while in Mexico for a week’s vacation, I didn’t track a single calorie or activity. For the first time in a VERY long time, I gave myself a guilt-free, no rules, do what you want, vacation. I ordered guacamole with everything. I inhaled corn chips like it was my job. I ordered margaritas and buckets of beer without hesitation. It. Was. Fabulous. The month of November had minimal training (some lifting in the gym and minimal mileage), and I tried to really relax, reflect on my training, my accomplishments and my weaknesses, and how to better train and race in 2018.

Moving Forward: So after a training cycle that, despite the bumps along the way, still lead to a marathon PR, I have reflected, rested, and am ready to get back to work. I have no idea how much weight I’ve gained in the last 4 weeks. I refuse to weigh myself right now. I should be focused purely on the training and adapting. Race weight isn’t the focus at this time. But my mind is ready, and my body feels recovered from the marathon – and that’s what’s most important.

My goal race for early 2018 is the Saint and Sinners Half, in Nevada. I ran it last year, set a 6+ minute PR, and won. This year I am going back and hoping to break 1:20. That’s a blazing 6:05 minute mile average. I could NEVER do that on the average half marathon course. But this one is 1200 ft. net downhill, and I run downhill really well. You better believe I’ll be getting my quads and calves ready. I’ll then run Boston Marathon. No goals in time for that right now. I will simply see where my fitness is after the half. I may offer to pace a friend or team mate. I’m not putting any pressure on Boston. Last year I neglected the recovery necessary after the half, and I think that’s what began to cause my foot issues. I won’t make that mistake again. After Boston, I’ll plan for a little off season, and then gear up for a fall 2018 marathon. Right now I’m seriously considering Saint George Marathon. It’s known for its 2000+ net downhill, and being a beautiful course. Again, downhill races aren’t without their challenges. But I know how to train for that and I think that would be a great course for breaking 3 hours. But for now, my eye is on the Half in February. I have 12 weeks.

Advice for You: Above you can see how I’ve handled and structured my goals. As you look towards 2018, space out your goal races in a realistic manner. We cannot do everything. Give your body TIME. Rushing into something, especially a marathon, can be quite risky. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. What should you focus on this year? Put together an organized plan, hire a coach, or find a running club. A clear plan will reduce injury risk and help with motivation and consistency. Lastly, take and embrace the off season. You will come back better.

 

The Reason for the Off Season

The off season. Most runners are really bad at this. It’s incredibly tempting to cross that goal finish line fired up and ready to dive into the next goal. Even if legs feel great within a day or two of that goal race, it’s important to relax and PAUSE. I completely understand that post-marathon high. I clearly remember days after my first marathon, signing up for two spring marathons with all the enthusiasm in the world. We feel invincible, fired up and inspired. PAUSE. Injury risk is incredibly high within the days/weeks following that goal marathon. Even if you FEEL good, trust that there are things that are broken down and rebuilding. Remember that just like the hard work and the taper, a reverse taper is necessary. The best marathoners in the world take an off season. None of us are the exception. How long or dramatic of an off season an athlete needs will vary. But when in doubt, be conservative.

During your off season, use that post-run high to push you towards recovering and rehabbing any aches and pains. Spend the time to lay out your goals for the following 12 months in a realistic way. Honestly look back over your strengths, weaknesses, and what should perhaps be the focus of your future training. We all have natural talents that translate to running. We also will all have natural weaknesses. The more you know yourself, the better you can train in the future.

Looking towards 2018, I’d advise a few tips for planning:

  • Be aware of any travel you have planned. Out of town weddings, vacations where training may be compromised, etc – honestly factor those things into your calendar for next year. For example, I try to plan vacations where training conditions aren’t completely compromised during marathon training. Certain climates and locations are more or less supportive of training. Can you have gym access? Factor that in now. Or plan that vacation to the islands or with day trips for AFTER that goal race and during your off season.
  • Make sure you budget some recovery into your calendar. Runners want to do everything, and this can be dangerous. Do NOT plan races in back-to-back weekends. Pick and choose. Otherwise injury risk and burnout will at some point occur.
  • Choose races you WANT to do! The options are overwhelming. Think about you and why you want to run a specific race. Is it a fast course? Ideal weather? Scenic? Bucket list destination race? Friends and family want you to do it with them? Do what’s important to YOU, but be realistic. For example, as great as NYC Marathon is, it’s rarely that PR course. So if you want to knock your marathon time down or fight for that BQ, there are FAR better options out there. But if you love that course, then compare previous accomplishments to that course and that course alone.

When you slowly exit your off season (coach is doing that this week after 3 weeks completely off from running – okay, I went for 2 very easy 4-milers in that time), build back carefully. For example, don’t dive into a track workout on your first run back. Ease into things with a week (or weeks!) of easy-effort running. Then you can begin to think about adding intensity. Your body won’t lose everything during the off season. It will bounce back quicker than you think. But stay patient and conservative. Think big picture. And finally, while easing back into those miles, focus on FUN! Embrace a little structure-free running.

Race Report: Frankfurt Marathon

First and foremost, I apologize for neglecting my blog for much of 2017. That’s about to change! Second, it has been an incredible year. I am so humbled and proud of the hard work my roster have brought to the table. It’s an honor to do what I do every day.

In June 2017, I was forced to take 4 weeks off from running. With it being my first injury of any kind since 2012, I consider myself lucky. I was allowed to run on an Alter-G at a fraction of my weight while working on recovery and rehab for a heel spur and plantar fasciitis. With my goal marathon on October 29th, the clock was ticking. Once cleared to run outside, I had about 15 weeks until race day. That’s definitely not ideal for building fitness for a marathon PR, but I decided I’d do what I could with the time I had. Despite a few bumps along the way, training went smoothly and I felt my fitness return pretty quickly.

Fast forward 15 weeks, and I was hopping a flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I’d picked Frankfurt Marathon for a few reasons. It’s incredibly flat/fast, weather is usually ideal, and it’s well organized. It was also an excuse to go explore a new city! Ironically, the weather wasn’t looking awesome as I was en route to the airport – winds with heavy gusts. I knew I’d have to rethink my strategy for the conditions, but decided not to panic but to accept the weather and make smart choices. I still really wanted that 2:59, but had also accepted that the weather would be a variable I cannot ignore.

Race morning I was relatively calm. I ate a banana and a donut, had some coffee, and headed to the starting line. The temperature was cool. But the wind was picking up here and there. My coral was mostly men. Not surprising, as marathons in Europe are a heavily male dominated sport. I could see the 2:59 pacers, and my plan was to try and tuck in behind them and draft behind them in the wind if and when it would be an issue. The pace group took off a little fast compared to my watch, and I opted to listen to my watch and be perhaps a little conservative than risk going out too hard. I settled into my effort, and the first 10 miles felt incredibly smooth.

The big mistake I made: my watch was in miles, the course was in kilometers. I grabbed a pace bracelet and stupidly got it in miles and not kilometers (hello, jet lag brain!), so I didn’t have a way to verify on the course if my watch was correct or not. It turns out I was a little behind pace, setting me up for a nice little negative split for the second half if the predicted winds would be at my back. A lot can happen in the marathon, and I told myself to relax and be patient. Head wind gusts became a factor around miles 15-17 off and on. Nothing terrible, but also not ideal. Otherwise, everything felt good. My foot felt 100%. My body felt solid. My hydration was solid. I was feeling smooth out there and optimistic. The tail winds predicted never really happened. Instead, air was still for a little while. Then as we neared the city again, head and cross winds began to pick up. With no pace group near me (the 2:59 pacers had slowly disappeared in front of me), I tried to tuck in behind every man possible and draft. I could feel my effort increasing as my paces began to slip.

With a 5K to go, Chris was there yelling at me to push for the 5K. I clearly remember thinking “F*ck!!! A whole 5K?!?” as I did the math and knew breaking 3 hours was definitely not in the cards and now a PR was in jeopardy. In the final 5K, for the first time all morning, I was being knocked sideways by strong gusts of wind. I was exhausted, over it, and trying to simply focus on the finish line. Despite my effort, I could not will myself to lock those 6:50s in my body at that point.

The finish line of Frankfurt Marathon is really spectacular. It finishes inside an arena with thousands of fans screaming. When my watch went off at 26 miles, I knew my watch was off, and that it was going to come down to seconds for a PR. I stopped looking at my watch, and told myself to use every ounce of energy towards the push to the finish line.

I crossed the finish line in 3:03:21. A 9 second PR from last year’s Berlin Marathon, and good enough for 3rd American Woman. Am I happy with the finish time? No. Absolutely not. I’ve never been so disappointed by a PR in my life. But I know I ran a smart race. I know I trained wisely. I made thousands of smart choices day after day. Looking back, there are things I can definitely do to improve as a marathoner. Weather is the wild card. But I can do more negative split long runs, or longer long runs in the future. I’m eager to learn and make adjustments to improve. In the 18 marathons I’ve finished, I’ve learned something new about myself as a human and a runner. It’s important to accept that we are all unique, and to honestly learn from strengths and weaknesses.

I would absolutely recommend Frankfurt Marathon to anyone looking for a flat and fast marathon. It was a pretty amazing day. And the days following the marathon were really fun. Food and drink is everywhere. If you enjoy baked goods and beer, Germany is for you. Frankfurt is an incredibly friendly city to travelers from all over the globe.

A few tips: I highly recommend spending the money on direct flights while traveling for an international marathon. Between time zones, jet lag, change in altitude, etc – the extra money is worth it. I also recommend booking a hotel that’s in a central location and walking distance to the start/finish line. The hotel location, comfort of the room, and so on are all variables to consider for race weekend. Do what you can to run your best. Stick to bottled water if somewhere new, and prepare race morning food the day before.

I am now taking a little off season. Legs and feet feel decent and were a little sore and tired for a couple days post-race. Even when feeling good, injury risk is high after racing a marathon. I’m allowing my body to fully recover, mentally process what I can work on, and think about my 2018 goals. I am excited for my athletes racing NYC Marathon and Philly Marathon. The marathon journey is always filled with highs and lows. Perhaps what makes the distance so incredible to me is that there are never any guarantees. It’s a race distance that can empower and crush. It just depends on the day.

How to Successfully Train and Race Injury-free

Running is often a sport or activity associated with injuries. And for good reason – the percent of runners in physical therapy, on the injured list, or running through pain is alarmingly high. While doing anything repetitive and strenuous isn’t without injury risk, I’d argue that many injuries can be prevented. It’s always my first priority to keep my runners healthy, as an injured runner simply can’t achieve their goals. I’d also say that I am asked more about injuries than anything else with my runners at Mile High Run Club, and I see literally hundreds of runners each week. Preventing injury can be tough because it takes self control, a clear plan, and a good sense of your own body and what signals to listen to.

Too much too soon and overtraining are the big contributors to injuries and aches and pains that can be avoided. For many of us, too much too soon is a big one. In an ideal world, while building mileage after an off season, injury-related hiatus, or picking up running for the first time, you need to ease your body into the demands of running. Our brains often adapt faster than legs or lungs, and so there is often a tendency to go from 0-60. Runners should build base mileage for 3-6 weeks before adding the stress of speed or long runs. Honestly, many of us build minimal base mileage. Sometimes because we are simply super enthusiastic to be running, or a race was tossed onto the calendar with perhaps not enough time to sufficiently build base, train intensely, taper and race. The first thing we typically toss is the base mileage.

Try to keep in mind that physical adaptions take time. Our cells and fibers are stressed and broken down during activity, and then adapt, grow and improve. Without building mitochondria, improving bone density, lung capacity, and introducing the basic stress of base mileage (easy running), injury risk goes way up because our bodies aren’t ready to handle high mileage, speed workout, and long runs. The adaptions from stress don’t occur when we are running, but instead when we are resting. So skipping rest days in the name of progress is actually counter productive. So if you are coming back into running at virtually no miles, build carefully and with purpose. Everyone will be different, but you may simply start by running 4 30-minute runs throughout the week, mostly nonconsecutive days. On those rest days, be sure to hydrate, sleep, and maybe focus on foam rolling and stretching. Where we all start is going to vary based on experience, fitness, and if injury was the cause of the running hiatus. But easing into running should simply be that and nothing more.

The last time I was injured (November 2012), I was forced to take 8 weeks off entirely from running, and then cleared to ease back into the swing of things very carefully – with no speed runs until at least 1 month of easy base-mileage building. I remember how excited I was to be cleared to run. But I also remember how incredibly humbling an easy 30-minute run felt. When I was cleared to get back to speed runs, I was incredibly slow and I was working very hard for numbers that used to represent my easy runs. It can very frustrating. There can be the temptation to then go a little crazy and hit training hard every day. But perspective and a clear plan can help us keep our heads about us.

Overtraining can also lead to injuries. I tend to see these injuries in a few different types of runners: extremely competitive and talented athletes running 70-125 miles per week, and those who perhaps are running 30-60 mile weeks, but also do a ton of other activities – crossfit, fitness or dance classes, or runners who simply take their “recovery run” days too fast, actually not giving their body the runs that should feel super easy. Now, this also isn’t me saying runners should only run. In fact, I’m a coach who is a firm believer in supplemental and supportive training. But the training should complement your training schedule and not compromise it. We are all different. For example, I have found personally that minimal mileage but time lifting heavy in the gym has kept me feeling stronger and more efficient as a runner than ever, and I have luckily not been injured since 2012. Other runners may find weekly yoga helps their tight hamstrings, or that boxing helps their core and upper body strength.

At the end of the day, there should be purpose behind training days and days off. Know the purpose. If there really isn’t one, why are you doing it? Sometimes “because I want to,” or “for fun” is a totally fine reason. Just be honest about where you are in your running journey and how to protect your health. If you are injured, there go all those goals and races.

Post-Marathon Advice

corky_fitness-2642finalwsharpeningflatwebSo you just ran your goal race for the season, and are riding a high and eagerly filling your calendar for next year. First, congrats! It’s an exciting feeling to finish your goal race – especially a marathon. It’s also common to set new goals, get excited for the future, and get back out on the road to get back to work!

Relax. Rest. Recover. Most marathoners jump back into running or running hard way too soon after their goal marathon. I understand the excitement. And many runners get nervous they will lose the fitness they spend literally months building. The idea of taking a few weeks off sounds unacceptable. There’s a fun half marathon in a week or two. There’s that Turkey Trot – I can’t possibly miss it!!!! Yes. You. Can. You need to remember a few things after crossing that finish line. The choices you make in the few days/weeks following that goal race can have huge implications on your future as a runner. I know, you may feel decent. But that doesn’t mean your body is actually recovered. In fact, injury risk is extremely high after a goal marathon, and immune systems usually drop briefly. This is your prime opportunity to get sick. Or injured. And you may not feel injured until a few months from now.

It’s a blessing but also a curse to have so many races hosted every weekend. The feeling of missing out, skipping an opportunity, not running with friends – I get it. But it usually isn’t worth going and putting your body through stress when it isn’t ready. The consequences could mean being forced to stop running for a few months or even a few years. And don’t underestimate mental burnout. Your brain needs some time to rest, reset and be on board to train for your new and exciting goals.

Maybe now you are on board with the recovery for a few weeks, but not happy about it. Okay, here are a few tips and things you can do to enjoy this time while losing minimal fitness and staying active in the running community:

  • Volunteer or go cheer at upcoming races in your area.
  • Ease into some easy cross training a week or two after your marathon.
  • If you dealt with injuries during training, address them now. See a doctor or physical therapist. Address weakness, tightness, and habits. We all have them.
  • Revamp your nutrition and cut back a bit on all those carbs and focus on fruits, veggies, lean proteins – try new recipes and have some fun in the kitchen!
  • Maybe try yoga, pilates, and a weight training routine during your recovery.
  • Catch up on sleep, your social life and any projects that were on the back-burner while marathon training.
  • Throw a party to celebrate your achievement! You may inspire a few friends to run the next year.
  • When the dust settles, write about your race experience. What worked well, what was tough or a mistake, and be honest. Your running journey will adapt over time. Learn from each race.
  • When you ease back into running, do it with no pressure or expectations of time. leave the watch at home and go by effort and simply enjoy the miles.
  • Trust that your body will bounce back and loss in fitness will be minimal, while injury risk will be extremely low and your body and brain will be ready to dive back into working hard.

Congrats again on your recent achievements! Now recover. As I say to my athletes, the rest and recovery is just as important as the hard work. Now is the time to really embrace that process. I want you clocking happy, healthy, and strong miles for years to come.

Running Injuries, Goals and the Gym

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot's of time in the gym. Pretty good PR - 3:03:30.

Berlin Marathon. Low mileage, lot’s of time in the gym. Pretty good PR – 3:03:30.

It’s that fun time of year when there are literally dozens of races every weekend – from small 5Ks and 10Ks to some very large half marathons and marathons. The running community is filled with taper nerves, stories of recent race experiences, and reflections and goals for the new year. It’s a pretty awesome time to be a running coach and to watch the weeks and months of careful planning and training begin to pay off with some really incredible race finishes, personal records, and lessons learned.

I find that the journey can vary quite a bit per person. We are all different, and we adapt to training, goals and work load differently. I couldn’t help but notice while I was out for an 8-miler today how many runners I passed with medical tape, braces or bands on their body. It made me a little sad, angry, ad motivated to blog about it. In the non-running community, most people still assume running is bad for our knees. In fact, I cannot count the amount of times an acquaintance or total stranger says something negative about running and joints when they hear I run and coach runners. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

This isn’t to say that repetitive wear and tear doesn’t have consequences – cyclists, swimmers, dancers, tennis players – each sport has it’s own chronic injuries due to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints used repetitively. However, when done the right way, we actually usually stay far healthier and active when we use our body instead of sitting on our butts. Can running mess up knees? Sure. That will vary per athlete, their genetics, history, form, training practices, and overall strength. I come from the philosophy where most injuries are preventable, and most runners you see taped up simply didn’t train well. Usually they took on too much too soon (mileage or stress), or are incredibly imbalanced and could benefit from some serious strength training, cross training, stretching – or all of the above. Most injuries are preventable. Some obviously are not, and require immediate medical attention, and the diagnosis and advice should not be ignored.

Here’s the funny thing – most injured runners will willingly admit how much they are in pain, or how much their potential has been compromised, but yet they won’t take the necessary time off to rehab and recover. As a coach, I cannot help someone who isn’t willing to take the help. That may be the toughest part of my job. Knowing what needs to happen, but having an athlete unable to accept the work load, recovery, etc – to get there.

And so after witnessing all of those taped up runners today, I thought about myself and my running. I haven’t been injured (thankfully!) since 2012. I was forced to take 8 weeks off from running back then, and it was the worst two months ever. I swore to myself I would do what I could to avoid the injured list in the future. And so I finally began to take my own coaching advice. I also began to really listen and learn from my body. Dare I say, I began to train smart. Even when clocking 100-mile weeks while Ultra Marathon training in 2014, I quickly learned I needed to eliminate all speed work and simply focus on mileage. And when I shifted back to shorter and speedier goals, I cut mileage way down, and spent just as much time weight training as I did running.

In fact, that’s what struck me today. While training in 2016, my mileage was lower than most years in the past, ranging from 35-60 miles per week – including when marathon training. I’d cap my runs to 5X per week – no more, and 2 total rest days. I also spent a ton of time lifting heavy in the gym – upper and lower body – 2-3X per week for each. And for me, that combination lead to two of my three fastest marathons ever, within a 6-month span, and minimal aches and pains and no injuries.

And not only did the above combination work for me, I made myself be incredibly smart and conservative when hopping into any other races. Did I miss out on some incredible race opportunities this year in NYC? Absolutely. Did I have regrets or FOMO? Sure. And peer pressure is a bitch. But somehow I stuck to my guns, and my goals were clear. And so I didn’t add anything potentially harmful to the big goals.

Not every runner can spend hours in a gym. Or many simply don’t want to or refuse to prioritize their time. I get it. If you are very busy and love to run, you want to spend your free hour running – not in the weight room or on an elliptical. You want to be outside in the open air. I can totally relate. However, if you start to think about the longevity of your running career, and the specificity of your goals, you may start to view your training and choices a little differently.

So when you hit your off season, whenever that might be, I encourage you to take a hard look at your running and training history, and how your body has responded. Are you healthy? What hurts and why? Were your time goals achieved? How do you mentally feel? Listen, learn, and adapt.