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.

Springing into Action

It’s the time of year where many runners who hibernate during the dark and cold Winter months take their first few miles of the year. It’s also the time of the year for Newbies! Perhaps inspiration from a friend or family member, a stress in life is forcing a change, something has sparked the interest in the sport – new runners are testing out their running legs. If you’re new and flirting with the idea of running, or you’re coming back from a serious hiatus, here are some tips and tricks for getting started.

  • Check your shoes. If they are over 6 months old, you’ve used them for walks or time in the gym, or they don’t feel supportive or fresh anymore, get a new pair! Your feet are important. There is no “magic” shoe. Just see what feels right to you. Most decent running shoes will run you about $85-150.00.
  • Start where you are! It can be humbling for the first run ever, or the first run back after some time off. Aim for 20-30 minutes out there. Maybe it can’t all be a run. Maybe it can. No matter what, go at an easy/moderate effort. It’s important to ease into the sport.
  • Avoid cotton socks. Blisters can plague runners, but cotton socks are usually a leading variable. Running socks are a bit more expensive, but worth the investment.
  • Lots of runners want to know their data – how far they went, how fast, elevation, calories burned, heart rate, and so on. If that sounds of interest, I’d recommend investing in a running watch. You can find gadgets between $100-700.00 – depending on how high-tech you want to get. There are also a dozen or two apps you can download on your phone. I find the apps to be less accurate, but it’s a cost effective place to start – especially if you don’t know what your relationship with running will be.
  • Recruit a running buddy to help with accountability and reduce pressure in speed or distance. Focus on simply making running a consistent part of your life for 3-12 weeks. Run with a furry friend, push the stroller, simply build a habit and allow your body to slowly adapt.
  • Don’t compare yourself with anyone else. Your journey with running will be uniquely yours. Your paces, body, mental capacity, preference in route and weather – embrace all of it and own it.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations without dismissing your potential. It’s important to accept where we are at that time. For example, signing up for a marathon 18 weeks out from the 1st run of your life or in months is not advisable. But is a marathon 12 months from now? Sure! And can a 5K or 10K be a realistic and attainable goal in 18 weeks? Definitely. The same could be true with setting the goal of running without stopping around Central Park – for example. But can you run to Battery Park from Riverdale? That’s a bigger goal and realistically would take more time. The sky can be the limit, but maybe not by tomorrow.
  • If your schedule is stressful, add your runs to your calendar. Make gym dates to stretch, cross train or weight train. If you know you’ll be most successful at consistency if you run before work, plan to always run in the morning and start your day off right. If you thrive on a lunch time run, lace up and get in that afternoon sunshine. Set yourself up for success. Reduce obstacles.
  • Accept that your running journey can change and adapt. This doesn’t have to be a serious sport. It can be fun, a stress reliever, or whatever it is you want. It can be a lone experience or a social activity. It can be incredibly competitive and driven. Make it yours!

Running Streaks, and why I hate them

Before you decide to be a “streaker,” pause for a hot second and ask yourself WHY? This time of year, running streaks are very popular. It makes sense. It’s getting colder, its often dark, peak goals are in the past, and runners are looking for motivation or accountability to be active. Toss in social media, and most runners will decide to commit to a streak without a second thought.

Here’s the problem: there are times when you should absolutely, 100% take a complete rest day. In fact, it’s irresponsible and plain stupid to not. Streaks, by definition, mean no rest or off days for said duration. Sure, some streaks only require a mile a day, and others more. Yes, you could go take that mile or 5K super easy. But why, if your body is saying “PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NO!!!,” do we blindly stick to the streak? I’ve heard of runners plagued by the flu lace up their shoes and drag their carcass on a run because they didn’t want to break their streak. Runners taping up an injured quad to get in their miles. Take a step back with me. Doesn’t that sound absolutely insane?

The whole “no rest days” thing is not something a coach would EVER support. I don’t understand why runners think that it makes them badass or dedicated to train everyday. Again, it makes you stupid. Because REST is when we rebuild from the training. Rest is just (if not more!) important than some of the runs. Rest greatly reduces injury risk. I don’t know if many streakers or “no rest day” folks out there who don’t wind up injured. And you guessed it – they are injured because of their looney training choices.

I see plenty of other reckless goals out there: a marathon a month. A half marathon in every state in a calendar year. The goal of clocking 2000 miles in the year. Can some runners do those things? Absolutely. But should they, or should you? The risk is really high. Wouldn’t it perhaps be more reasonable to plan to run 4 marathons a year, and think long term? For the record, 4 marathons is still a lot for most marathoners. It’s fine to attempt something. We don’t surpass our goals or expectations without risk. But measured risk over reckless risk. Remember that just because somebody else can do something, it doesn’t mean you can. We are all incredibly unique. Focus on yourself, not your running buddy.

In NYC, I deal with a ton of runners who partake the NYRR’s 9+1 program. Essentially, you run 9 races and volunteer at one event in a calendar year, in exchange for a guaranteed spot in the NYC Marathon. I understand the reasons behind the system, but as a coach, I despise the 9+1 concept. I’ve encountered dozens of runners who should not be lacing up for a run anytime soon, dragging their bodies through a required race. The injuries that could have been avoided are compromised because of that damn race on their calendar. It’s a struggle to guide an athlete towards their goals, but to toss in an navigate 9 races in the mix. Sure, some are easy. Others, not so much. The amount of times I have “highly advised” a runner to sit out a 10K or the 18-mile tune-up race for their own benefit, but they “need” to do it for their marathon spot – far more frequent than I care to admit.

It’s important to understand that running can be a life-long journey. It can be a journey with few injuries or burnout. But it can also be a short and tumultuous journey if taken fast and furious. This isn’t to say you should not do the 9+1 or to decide to go for a running streak. But don’t lose sight of the big picture. Is running everyday in December worth potentially having no spring race season? Listen to your body, and be ready to toss the streak if your body tells you to.

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.

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.

Training Specificity

img_6298-editWhen planning your running season, it’s tempting to choose a bunch of varying goals. I love when runners have an array of goals and events. The challenge is often spacing them out in a way that is safe and realistic. Most of us are running for personal glory or fun, not a qualifying time or prize at the finish line. However, it can become quite hard to plan a season when it involves broad goals.

I LOVE when runners come to me with a variety of goals: PRs in the 1 mile and Half Marathon within the year, for example. Are those two VERY different goals? Absolutely! Will they need different kinds of preparation? Yes. Is it impossible? No.

Here’s the thing: the better you want to get at one distance, the more you need to structure your training for that goal. Specificity and reason for training become crucial when targeting a goal. But when you have multiple goals, it’s often necessary to slightly release on the gas for that first goal in order to accommodate the other goals. Many times you will be successful at nailing multiple goals if they complement one another.

For example, say you really want to focus on the 5K this year and want to shave down some considerable time. Placing some 10K races or 1-mile races into the calendar can be of benefit to that 5K goal, all while having fun and going out to race. The bonus is that you may find you also PR in the 1-mile and 10K, because the speed training for a 5K will probably benefit those distances, too. But trying to PR a 5K in the same season you want to tackle a 100-miler – now that’s where things get tricky. For one thing, injury risk will usually go up when you start combining very high mileage and speed workouts into every week. Not that it can’t be done, but for many of us these waters are hard to navigate.

The important thing for most runners to keep in mind and think about is how to achieve their goals while staying healthy, and to list which races are the priority that season. If you stay healthy, perhaps some goals need to be held off for the following year. We need to remember to look at the big picture: races will be there. You can be too, if you don’t do something stupid and put yourself on the injured list.

This is often where a coach comes in handy. It also becomes necessary to be honest with yourself. You know how you recover. You also know if your body naturally prefers certain distances or types of training over others. You should use your years of experience to help access and navigate what’s best for you. Take a look at the entire calendar year, and be sure to budget time for rest and recovery before hopping into training for the next goal the minute to cross the finish line.