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.

Tips for Beginner Runners

The new year is on the horizon, and you have decided you are going to take up running! Great! Here are some tips to help you ease into a new sport carefully, so that you reduce injury risk, build as a runner, and have fun. Be patient and remember to accept that you can’t be an expert in anything overnight. Enjoy the journey and learn from your experience.

  • Start where you are! Nobody begins as an expert. If day #1 is literally day #1, simply start from today. Keep all running to a 4-5 out of 10 perceived exertion for the first 3-6 weeks to carefully build up strength and adaption to stress. You’ll be improving cardio strength, bone density, stamina and build mitochondria. Most of us start by running way too fast, and our bodies skip a very important step. Even if you can only hold your run for 1 minute – start there. Walk/runs are a normal place for many people to start. Alternating walk/runs for 20-30 minutes per day, 3-4X per week, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll adapt.
  • Consistency is key – just like with anything new. Put your runs on your calendar with meetings and social events. Prioritize and then carve out that time to running. If motivation is necessary, recruit a running buddy for the journey, or listen to a podcast you love while running.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other runners! You don’t know their journey. But you do know yours. It’s new and in it’s infancy. Enjoy this new adventure.
  • Buy actual running shoes. Running can be a low-tech and fairly inexpensive sport, but investing in the right footwear can be a game changer with comfort and injury-prevention. While there’s no magic shoe for everyone, your magic shoe is one that feels like “home,” and supports the demands and needs of your body.
  • Once you’ve built some consistent runs throughout the week for 4-6 weeks, it’s time to start extending the long run and tossing in some speedier efforts. The long run should always be at an easy/comfortable pace, and you’ll build endurance by learning to spend extended time on your feet. Aim to increase long runs by 15-20 minutes, or 2 miles. Enough where it’s a reach, but not so much where it’s a shock to the system. Plan to build the long run for 3 weeks, pull back for one, and then rebuild.
  • Celebrate little victories! We don’t see or feel changes due to a new routine overnight. It takes a little time to adapt and grow. So don’t focus on the instant gratification. Instead, focus on that day or that week, and then own that accomplishment of successfully completing your runs!
  • Be mindful of hydration and nutritional changes. The odds are good you’ll need more water while embarking on a run journey than you did before. Sip water throughout the day, and be sure to hydrate after every run. It’s not necessary to drink throughout a run that lasts under 90 minutes if you go into it well hydrated. Always plan to refuel after your runs with a meal or snack that includes some carbs and protein to help aid recovery.
  • Rest days are important. While obviously you can’t run sporadically and get better, you adapt to the hard work while you rest. So get sleep. Get in 2-3 total rest days per week while starting out, spread throughout the week. It’s tempting to go balls to the wall. While that motivation and drive is great, it can lead to overtraining injuries and burnout – both of which can often be avoided.
  • Mix it up. Take a different route. Run inside and outside. Take a treadmill class (like with me at Mile High Run Club!). Recruit a running buddy. Switch up the time of day you run. You don’t know in the early stages what’s your best groove, so mix it up until you find it.
  • Have fun and set a distant goal! This should be an activity that brings something positive to your life, and enriches you. Not every run will be rainbows and unicorns, but most of the runs should feel physically and mentally good. Perhaps sign up for a 5K or 10K race in a few months and recruit your friends. Race in costume. Set a time goal. This sport is unique to you, so make it yours!

Tips for Handling the Not-so-Good Races

Races that go well and exceed every expectation make running feel so incredibly liberating. They are satisfying, empowering and simply fun. It’s these races that usually motivate us to keep signing up and racing.

But what about the races that don’t go well? The ones that fail to meet expectations? Sometimes they are a fluke. Other times they are an indicator of other things. It’s important to listen to the signals, watch patterns, learn and adapt.

Here are some tips for handling and dissecting a race that fails to meet expectations, and ways to adjust on the race course:

  • If the race is a goal, be sure to taper that week. Catch up on sleep and try to rest legs so they feel fresh for race day. If a taper or rest isn’t possible, know that performance may be compromised in a big way.
  • Weather is a variable we cannot control. Some runners love cold weather. Others do remarkably well in humidity. Be honest with your strengths and weaknesses. It’s wise to choose goal races at times where weather is to your favor.
  • Be realistic about physical capabilities and mental ones. Some days, our bodies are simply not ready. Other days, and these are the hardest to accept, our body is capable but our minds aren’t – or they give up.
  • It’s common for many runners to go out too hard early in a race. This will almost always backfire. If you know that’s your tendency, try to BREAK THAT HABIT. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect the results to change.
  • When out on the course, and you can tell it won’t be your day, learn to not toss the race. If the A goal or objective isn’t in the cards, find a B goal. For example, yesterday I ran the Ted Corbitt 15K in Central Park. For various reasons, it was not a good day for me. So I decided to set the goal of holding onto Marathon Goal Pace – which humbled me as holding onto 6:50s didn’t feel as easy as I thought it would! But being 6 weeks out post-Frankfurt Marathon, and only 2 speed workouts in that time, I have lost some speed fitness. That’s okay! I had to accept what I had, and then work within those perameters. I didn’t love that, but I had to accept it and work with who I was in that moment.
  • Be honest about your goals, and how tangible they are. This is a tough one. It’s easy to dream big and find that goal time. But how likely is that goal for you? And when? That’s the tough part – honestly assessing potential, the training, the head space and the course. It’s okay to try something and fail! It’s okay to say “okay, I’m not there yet.”
  • On that note, be honest about whether you were truly ready for that goal that day. Our bodies are constantly changing and growing. Just because your running buddy is ready for a breakthrough race, that doesn’t mean you are. Don’t compare yourselves to others. Instead, celebrate those successes your friends or team mates have! Their success doesn’t make you a failure. You are your only competition when thinking about improving.

The good news is that the bad races make the good ones that much sweeter. Truly. Someone who always succeeds begins to forget just how special and amazing it feels. Struggling is normal. It makes you human. But if there are patterns, don’t ignore them – the good and the bad. The good: you’ve been doing something right for yourself in preparation and on the course. The bad: something, or many things, need to change.

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.

 

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.

Racing Weight, Body Image and the Scale

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Clothing size and the number on the scale can often torment or define the happiness of many of us. I’ve been very open about my relationships with food, body image, and an obsession at times with my size and the number on the scale. In today’s blog I’d like to discuss that number on the scale in regards to running and athletic performance, but also to address the human struggle.

I’m asked all the time about body weight and speed. It makes sense that the lighter the runner, the faster and more efficient the athlete. This is true in a lot of ways. Runners chasing down a specific time goal often look for the lightest shoe they can handle. Every step, stride, arm swing – that takes energy. When every second counts, so does every ounce. HOWEVER, athletes need to be careful to not lose too much muscle. An athlete who is under fueled and lacking good strength will be prone to injury, poor form, and can feel their training plateau because they are not fueled for training or racing. So there needs to be a safe, realistic, and honest assessment of finding that sweet spot. Extra weight isn’t good, but neither is being under weight. For my athletes, I always promote eating to support their training needs. Usually extra weight tends to disappear, but the athlete is also successfully fueled to knock those hard runs out of the park. This isn’t to say that runners always lose weight. Some can gain weight, as their appetite increases and perhaps they get a little carried away. It’s a balance. And a process.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life - 119-122lbs.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life – 119-122lbs.

There have been times in my running career where I gained weight while training (and no, not muscle), and times where I have dropped a lot of weight. I’ve experienced the consequences of both. I’ve lost some speed when heavier. I’ve also been injury prone when lighter. It was a journey for a long time. But after my lowest weight, in 2011-2012 – about 119-123lbs., and suffering an injury, a few things changed for me. One, I started weight training in 2013. Not stupid 5lb. shit. Seriously lifting weights. This was also when I got my Personal Training and Nutrition certifications, and my view on the human body changed. But most importantly, this was when I STOPPED weighing myself every damn day. It had become an obsession. A game. Something I could control. I never starved myself to be super skinny, but I trained to lose weight, period. I trained stupid. Once I stopped training like an idiot and weighing myself, a few things changed. I gained muscle from head to toe. I had muscles in my upper body I’d never seen before. And you know what? That was fucking awesome.

Since 2013, I have been consistently (more or less – there are certainly weeks where I don’t make it to the gym!) lifting heavy. In early 2015, I added heavy lifting for my lower body. Not only have I become a much more efficient runner, my aches, pains and injuries have thankfully been almost non-existent. I hop on the scale every few months (maybe, if that?), and have been a consistent 131lbs. for the last 3 years. I’ve been proud to be 131lbs., 5’7″, and strong. I want to be an example that the number on the scale doesn’t define shit. Strength does.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

One thing that has been consistent since 2011 – I track my calories and activity. Like a hawk. I measure and weigh most food I prepare. I read serving sizes. I’ve gotten really good at eyeballing food that I don’t prepare. I track it all. I also track all my activity. Not just the training, but sleep, standing and sitting. I know exactly what I’ve consumed/burned per day, the average per week, month and year. That knowledge means I am always accountable. Yes, it helped me to drop to an unhealthy weight/composition in 2011, but it also helped me gain weight back in the form of mostly muscle, and fuel my training needs appropriately. And yes, it means I have to hold myself accountable and enter in all that data, but for my training, goals and general health, it’s worth it.

Now, I found myself taking a hard look at my goals for 2016. My goal for Berlin Marathon (EIGHT weeks away!) is fucking ambitious. So I looked at my data. A hard look. The amount of miles I can safely run per week. The types of workouts. The best way to fit in strength training. And my current body. I stepped on the scale in May, and clocked in my consistent 131lbs. I looked in the mirror and was honest. Not “self loathing, wah I wanna be skinny” assessment, but a purely “how do I do everything I can to be my best” assessment. I decided if I could drop 5lbs. carefully between May and September, losing body fat and minimal muscle, I would be improving my odds for achieving my goal on race day. And so, I have been working for weeks to whittle that number down. This week the scale has read 126lbs. and 125.4lbs. on days where I was well hydrated and fed. Goal achieved! Now I need to maintain that number. There’s a part of me that is eager to take that control of the scale to the next level, and try to drop more. I’ll be carb loaded on marathon day, and that will mean gained weight. But there’s the sane and rational side of me that knows my body and that I need to stay injury-free, and fueled for my training.

My relationship with the scale is rarely healthy or happy for long. Which is why I rarely use it. I’d feel bad when that number went up, or happy and in control when it would hit a new low. Which is silly. And so I usually measure myself by my athletic abilities, and how clothes fit.

I joke and brag about my love for pizza, Chinese food, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I do genuinely love them all. So very much. And I eat all three quite frequently. But I also fuel my body with lots of fresh fruit, veggies, dairy and lean proteins. Those calorically high loves are accounted for and tracked. And I train like a beast. My body doesn’t look or act like it does because I sit on my butt or train sporadically. There is a ton of sacrifice (sleep and a social life), and sweat, tears, frustration and grunt work that goes into what I look like and what I accomplish. I’m a work horse. Plain and simple. What I lack in talent, I make up for with effort. I also have learned to value rest days. Those are the days we are actually rebuilding and getting stronger!

That scale. That number or letter in every article of clothes. They do not define any of us. We often let them drive our motivation, confidence, and our self worth. Often those numbers sabotage us in achieving our goals. But those numbers can change. One way or another. Take that control. Take your body and recognize that you can do anything you want to with it. Anything. It’s pretty fucking incredible. You could train it for anything and everything. Sure, it takes time, sometimes failure, and always hard work – but it’s possible. Once we begin to see our bodies as anything other than the obstacle, the sky is the limit.

Tips on what can make/break a runner

This week’s blog is about the best and the worst. As an athlete and a coach I have experienced and witnessed countless smart and poor choices in both training and racing. We often learn from expert advice or from our own experience, and so in hopes this blog helps you avoid bad choices and make many good ones, here are some of my favorite good/bad decisions a runner can make.

The Good:

  • Track your training. If you use a GPS device, this is quite easy. Track the miles, effort, and pace. This information is incredibly valuable. Many runners I know have data from the last 5-10 years!
  • If you are seriously training for a goal race, you need to keep a watchful eye on the forecast. Adjust training days or expectations for weather. There’s absolutely no excuse for missing a long run because it rained on Saturday. Plan to move your long run to Sunday or get creative.
  • Train with purpose. This sometimes means running or training LESS. If you don’t know the reason for your training that day, you should question why you are doing it.
  • Treat yourself like an athlete. This means eating, sleeping, and drinking like one. Set yourself up for success.
  • Be cautious. If something feels injured, DO NOT continue to run through it. Overtraining and injuries can usually be avoided. You are not brave, tough, or dedicated if you train through injuries. You are stupid.
  • Show up early to races. My athletes who achieve their race day goals usually get there early, and give themselves ample time to warmup, relax, hydrate, and prepare in every way necessary. Showing up frazzled and last-minute is usually the recipe for disaster. Respect your goals.
  • Learn how to fuel your body. Our bodies are pretty smart, and usually give us clue, cues and advice as to what works and what doesn’t. Like your training, make note of your fueling needs, schedule, etc.
  • Communicate with your coach! Though your coach can’t be a mindreader or do the work for you, they are there to support you. It’s impossible to be supportive when the coach doesn’t know how to help you. If you don’t have a coach, rely on your team or running buddies for support. The running community can be extremely knowledgable and supportive!

The Bad:

  • Skipping the taper or recovery. Elite athletes know to respect these important steps to training, so why are any of us the exception to this step? Respecting the taper doesn’t mean pausing all training, either. I’ve had plenty a runner “not run” during the taper, which is almost as bad as blowing through the taper at high speed. Training cycles exist for a reason. If you don’t understand them, do some research or ask a coach.
  • I have never heard a runner say “I shouldn’t have listened to my coach,” but I hear “I should have listened to my coach” all the time. If you hired a coach, there’s probably good reason for it. Trust that person you are paying good money to guide you!
  • Eating something new the night before or morning of a race or long run. This rarely ends well.
  • Trying new socks, shoes, or a new outfit for a marathon. Your long runs are dress rehearsals for everything – including wardrobe. Trying something new risks blisters, chafing, bloody nipples, and general discomfort – none of which are supportive of a successful race.
  • Winging it on race day. While plans don’t always pan out, having no plan at all is like dancing with the devil. Study the race course, and have a plan on pacing, fueling, and how you are mentally breaking up the race distance.
  • Giving up before you begin. It’s impossible to have a good run or race if you doom it before you start. Yes, speed workouts, long runs and races usually hurt. But dooming yourself sets you up for failure.
  • Just as one good race or workout doesn’t define you as an athlete or human being, neither does one bad one. The athletes who learn to really care about their goals but also keep a healthy perspective are usually the ones who succeed and enjoy running for life.