Runners Connect Thu, 02 Jul 2015 21:37:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 9 Ways to Overcome The Negative Thoughts in a Race Mon, 29 Jun 2015 09:00:05 +0000

The mental aspect of racing is almost more important than the physical training you have done to get there. These 9 tips are great for switching your perspective when those negative thoughts emerge.We hear that running is 90% mental, and we know that once you let those negative thoughts come into your mind, they can quickly send you backwards as your thoughts spiral out of control. So why is there not more out there helping us with the mental aspect of running?

We have all been there.

That moment in a race when you start to believe the plea to slow down, and you start to actually believe the “I cant do this” thoughts.

Before you know it, you are questioning why you put yourself through this. Then you go even further and start to question your sanity; “why would anyone PAY to do this?”.

What feels like a lifetime later, the finishing line comes into view, and suddenly your second wind arrives.

You power past people in that straightaway, feeling strong, crossing the line and feeling that rush of endorphins; THAT is why we do this, but it is hard not to feel disappointed in yourself.

If only I kept up my pace, and didn’t have that funk in the middle, who knows how much faster I would have run.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Is there anyone not nodding their head?

Runners are in it Together

Before I go any further, I just described this situation, and I am an elite runner. EVERYONE has those thoughts from time to time. Everyone has had those races, even elite runners, and you should find some comfort in that, knowing that when you are struggling, if you look to your left and right, the chances are, those people are going through those same emotions you are.

Recently, I interviewed bestselling author and sports psychologist Dr. Stan Beecham, who gave great advice for how to get the most out of your racing, even when things are going wrong. I strongly encourage you to take a listen. It was a really interesting interview, and you will learn a lot about how successful runners are able to overcome those moments of doubt.

You might be wondering:

What can we do to make sure we do not let ourseslves spiral out of control? How can we give ourselves the best chance of success in a race, without changing anything physically?

Like your muscles in your body, your emotional state has to be trained to deal with that pain too.

1. Training the Body and the Mind for Pain

Have you ever noticed that it is much more difficult to push yourself in a race or a workout after you have not done it in a while. That is one of the reasons, actually, the main reason those rust buster races are usually not great.

It is not so much physically, but we forget what it feels like to push through the pain. We forget that running may bring us happiness, but it also hurts, a lot!

When you are forced to step away from it, all you can see are the good parts of racing, but you forget that in order to achieve that moment where your hands are in the air, beaming with pride, you had to go through some real pain to get there.

Like the old saying goes, anything worth having is worth fighting for.

Therefore, tip number one is that you need to keep doing it.

Persevere and trust that you will get stronger, you will get better at handling the pain, and each time you race, you are taking a step forward, getting stronger, even though it may not seem like it at the time.

2. Thinking about the Finish Line

When we are in that moment of a race where we have to make a decision of whether we are going to push through the pain, or give in to the voice telling you to slow down, as I mentioned earlier, we often forget why we are doing this.

Travis Macy talked about these “why goals” in much more detail in his podcast episode.

Remember, you want to get that feel good, hands in the air, proud moment at the finish. If you think about that moment, and how good it is going to feel, it may just be enough to kick you back into gear, and make you realize that you are actually not hurting as bad as you thought.

Or that you want that end goal no matter how much it hurts. If you visualize yourself crossing the finish line, huge smile on your face, you are probably going to wake yourself up enough to get through the rough patch. We talked about this in more detail in our post on visualization.

3. Take the Pressure Off

Often we go through these mental struggles because we feel like we are going to let someone down.

We wonder about what others are going to think or say if we do not have a good race.

We wonder what will happen to our self worth if we do not succeed in running. Especially in our sharing culture, we think about what we NEED to do too much.

Remember, at the end of the day, it is just running. It is just putting one foot in front of the other. It does not say anything about who YOU are, and you have more to offer this world than just being a runner.

You will still be you, and your family and friends will love you no matter whether you finish first, last, or even if you DNF. I actually wrote more about this on my personal blog post; Be Brave, Be Strong, Be You.

Reminding yourself of this before the race, or even during, can be a great way to change your mindset to see that there is no need to be nervous, this is just a reward for your hard work.

These mental tricks from @Runners_Connect are going to help me in my next race
Click To Tweet

4. Run for Something Greater than Yourself

Running is an individual sport, yes, but that does not mean there are not other people involved.

We each have our own support network, filled with friends, family, physical therapists, coaches, or whoever else yours may include, but those people support you and believe in you.

Here’s the deal:

Sometimes when a rough patch hits in a race, it helps to take your thinking away from “I” and dedicate a mile (or minute) to each member of your support network instead.

This usually works best with the marathon as it shifts your thinking away from how long you have to go, but instead you are just focusing on one mile at a time, and giving your best for that person who has given you their time and support, and most of all, believed in you.

That being said, it can work in a shorter race, if you think about how much those people mean to you, and how good it will feel to hug them afterwards when you have accomplished your goal.

Another way of looking at this, is to think about your team. If you are a part of a team of runners, or running for a charity, you want them to be successful, you want them to earn the respect they deserve. By shifting your focus away from I, it helps you to  get rid of that whiny voice in your head, and focus on other people instead.

5. Use Mantras

This one is fairly well known, but different for each of us.

We all have our own phrases or mantras that help motivate us, and which one works for you will depend on the experiences you have had in your life.

For me personally, I love the Rocky Balboa movies. Cheesy, yes. Old, yes. Completed unrelated to running; yes, but I love it. I love comparing myself to Rocky, thinking that I am the one who has nothing but sheer grit compared to many other runners who have all the resources in the world. My favorite quote is this:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!”- Rocky Balboa

As I am sure you can guess, this is a little too long to recite in a race (but I do actually know it word for word!), I therefore say to myself, “keep moving forward” amd that is enough to motivate me most of the time.

Here’s the secret:

Look around you. Think hard about a favorite quote, and find some way of reminding yourself of it, using one word or a few words. And do not be afraid to change if you find one is no longer working for you.

When I raced the London marathon, my word was “believe”, and I even went as far as to write it in big letters on the insdie of my forearm. When I struggled, I looked down at it, and it reminded me of why I was doing this.

This is one of the most powerful ways to overcome a struggle in a race, and you can personalize it to you!

6. Focus on Your Form

This one is often used by elites towards the end of a race. This is a great way of distracting yourself, while giving yourself the best chance of success. As we tire, our form tends to break down, which means we become inefficient, which makes it even more difficult to run faster, or even maintain.

By focusing on your form, you can focus on the mechanics, rather than the pain. This is especially useful for hills during a race. We have a great post on how to run up and down hills correctly. Think about those points when you are having a hard time. It may just be the distraction you need.

7. Counting as Distraction

Just like focusing on your form is a distraction, another tactic is to count. Paula Radcliffe used to count during the tough patches of her world record setting marathons. She chose to count to 300 as she knew that would be about a mile for her.

For most of us, 300 is not going to be enough to reach a mile, but the technique works the same.

Here’s the deal:

By keeping your mind focused on doing a cognitive task, it is not able to think about how much you are hurting, or spiral out of control with negative thoughts. I actually tried this in my previous marathon segment, and found that although it only worked for a few miles, sometimes those few miles, or even just a few minutes of distraction are all you need.

It helps you to focus on the present, rather than the future (or what you have left to go).

8. Think About How Far You Have Come

When we are running, it can be hard not to look at how far we have to go, instead of how far we have come.

This can be in the sense of the race itself, the training segment or even your entire running career. Everyone has setbacks, everyone has challenges, yet it is how we overcome those challenges that makes us stronger.


During that moment of doubt, you need to think about what you have overcome to get to this moment. Here are some of the important ones, and you can fill in the blanks yourself:

“I did not come this far to give up now”

“I did not spend all those hours…… to quit now”

“I did not overcome….to not make myself proud”

“I did not travel all this way for……”

Usually, by reminding yourself that you have been through worse, and likely been through moments where all you wanted to do was be able to run, to be able to test yourself and be in a race.

Well, now is your opportunity, and if that previous struggle taught you anything, it should be that we need to make the most of every opportunity as we never know what is going to happen. Now is your time to do it for yourself, not for anyone else, but because eyou were the one who put in all those hours of hard work to get here, so you are going to do it to get the result you deserve!

9. Have Fun!

This one is THE most important, yet the one we most often forget.

I was only reminded of this in the London Marathon this year, but at the end of the day, we run, and especially race because we enjoy it.

We WANT to be out there.

We all have our own sources for the joy in running; it may be the finish line, it may be the wind in your hair, it may be the comraderie with other runners, it doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you find YOUR joy in running.

Sometimes we can be tempted by other things, we can put pressure on ourselves, or think about the bad, but if you just focus on going out there and enjoying it, you will probably find (I definitely do) that you have a more positive experience AND you run faster!

9 Tips and Tricks from @Runners_Connect for how to stay focused during a race
Click To Tweet


Unfortunately, at the end of the day, racing does hurt. It is going to test your mental strength, and no amount of tips or tricks will make it hurt any less. However, that pain is what leads us to the moments of pride; because we know the struggle we have been through to get to that moment.

Hopefully you will be able to use at least a few of these for future races of your own to stay strong in your weakest moments. If you have a tactic that you find especially helpful, share it with us in the comments. Maybe your suggestion will be what really helps another runner!


]]> 0
Bone Stimulators & How to Return to Running After a Stress Fracture Mon, 22 Jun 2015 09:00:29 +0000

We research bone stimulators to see if they speed recovery of stress fractures, and provide a program proven to help you return to running quickly & safely.A stress fracture is a runner’s worst nightmare.

It can completely shut down any plans for a season of racing, and worse, the only treatment is that dreaded four-letter-word: rest.

Even one or two unplanned days off can be irritating if you’re a serious runner, but being required to take four, six, or eight weeks off to let a stress fracture heal can be truly agonizing.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to speed up that recovery period?

Recently, some doctors have been prescribing a special machine called a bone growth stimulator which uses pulsed waves of ultrasound in an effort to get stress fractures to heal more rapidly.

Today we’ll take a look at whether this technology can help you get back running faster following a stress fracture. Then we will discuss new research on how to return to running as quickly as possible once your fracture has healed.

The stress fracture treatment you have been waiting for?

Ultrasound bone growth stimulators have been used to treat regular bone fractures with fairly good success. A 1994 study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery randomly assigned sixty-seven patients with fractured tibias to either an ultrasound bone growth stimulator or a placebo device.1

Both the patients and the doctors were “blinded” to which treatment they received, so there would be no potential bias in interpreting how well the bone fractures were healing.

The patients who used the placebo device had fully healed from their broken bone in 114 days, while the patients who used the ultrasound bone growth stimulator healed in only 86 days.


Bone stimulators are also used to treat nonunion fractures, a situation where the bone on each side of a fracture does not heal back together, though the research is less clear on whether ultrasound bone stimulation is helpful in these cases.

A 2012 review study concluded that low-intensity ultrasound waves were effective at speeding up healing in “fresh” fractures, but a lack of quality studies prevented the authors from endorsing it for nonunion fractures.2

The pulses of ultrasonic waves generated by a bone growth stimulator claim to speed up bone healing by increasing the cellular uptake of calcium in bone cells and speeding up the rate at which new bone cells solidify.3

These claims are based on research in lab rats with artificially-induced fractures, so it’s unclear if these same benefits extend to stress fractures as well.

Does it really work for most fractures?

To date, only one peer-reviewed clinical trial has investigated ultrasound as a treatment for stress fractures.


A 2004 article by J.P. Rue and coworkers at Johns Hopkins University studied twenty-six US Navy recruits with tibial stress fractures.Many of the sailors had stress fractures in both legs, so the study involved a total of forty-three fractures.

Much like the 1994 study, half of the patients were assigned an ultrasound bone growth stimulator to use for twenty minutes every day, and half were assigned a placebo device that did nothing, and again, both the patients and the doctors were blinded to who received which treatment.

Unfortunately, the ultrasound treatment did not lead to any decrease in healing time—the sailors who got the fake treatment recovered just as fast as the ones who got the real thing.

It get’s worse:

Rue et al.’s study is particularly disappointing because it’s fairly well-designed. Though twenty-six subjects is on the low end of what’s acceptable for this kind of experiment, results from studies with significantly fewer participants have been trumpeted if the result is positive.

Navy recruits are also an ideal population, because recruits are all about the same age and live very similar lifestyles. Further, the training that was done which led to the stress fracture is also very similar from patient to patient.

Is it worth the price tag?

What’s the bottom line?

Because of the relative strength of this study, and the absence of any other research supporting the use of ultrasound waves for stress fractures, bone growth stimulators do not appear to be worth your time and money as a runner.

Some doctors still may prescribe them for stress fractures with a high risk of nonunion, like navicular stress fractures, but only your doctor can make that call.

Ultrasound bone growth stimulators are exorbitantly expensive, and worse, they are marketed as “single use” devices—you, or your insurance company, pays $2,000 to $4,000 for a machine programmed to render itself inoperable after only a few months’ worth of use!

Still, because of the research demonstrating the benefit of ultrasonic waves in stimulating healing in fresh fractures, more research should be conducted on using ultrasound bone stimulators to promote healing in stress fractures.

Ever considered a bone stimulator to heal your fractures faster? @Runners_Connect had some interesting findings
Click To Tweet

What can I do to help my stress fracture heal?

Rue et al. suggested that future studies could try higher power ultrasound waves, treatments longer than twenty minutes, or multiple uses per day to see if a stronger dose would have a measurable effect.

Until that research rolls in, however, we still don’t have a “magic wand” that can speed up how quickly a stress fracture heals, but we can offer you our best advice on how to promote recovery.

Exclusive bonus: Download our full Stress Fracture and Shin Splint Prevention Routine. It’s a PDF with images and descriptions of the 4 most effective prevention and rehab exercises for runners with shin splints or stress fracture issues. Download yours for free here

Conservative Treatments

  • Use this time to reflect on your training. Look at what you could have done for this injury develop. Look especially at the past 3-4 weeks to see if you overdid it at any point. This helps to accept what has happened, and learn from it to prevent it occurring in the future.
  • By looking at images, or once your body recovers enough to run, look at your stride. Are you over striding? We have a great post on heel striking, over striding, and cadence to help you reach the magic number of 180 steps per minute or more. This will put less stress on your joints, and reduce your risk of injury.
  • Look into other health issues that may have played a part in your susceptibility to fractures.  Amenorrhea in females is a major concern, and also a major health risk even outside of running.
  • Once you have recovered, incorporate more lower-body strength training into your regimen. Muscle size and strength are linked to bone size and strength; additionally, there is some evidence that stronger muscles will absorb more shock, leaving the bone less vulnerable to high impact loading.
  • Consider your lifestyle. Are you trying to do too much? Maybe you are on the verge of overtraining. If your body is worn down, it becomes more susceptible to injuries.

Aggressive Treatment

  • If you have a history of tibial or metatarsal stress fractures, you could look into a custom orthotic. Some doctors have proposed that custom orthotics can alter how forces are transmitted up your leg, theoretically leading to lower peak stresses on the bone. Be aware that this theory currently has no experimental evidence to back it up! We have some differing thoughts on custom orthotics.
  • If you have a history of tibial fractures, consider running in thin, low-profile “minimalist” shoes. Wearing a thin shoe will force you to maintain a high stride frequency, and will also encourage a midfoot or forefoot strike, which should reduce impact loads on your leg.
  • If you have a history of metatarsal fractures, move towards the more cushioned shoes. Minimalist shoes put increased stress on your foot and metatarsals; some doctors have warned that wearing minimalist shoes can even increase your risk for a metatarsal stress fracture.
  • Take a calcium and vitamin D supplement that provides 200% of your RDV of both. This carries a small risk of kidney stones if your dietary calcium intake is already high, however.
  • Change the surface you typically run on. Try to run on soft, natural surfaces like dirt trails and grass fields. However, there’s no experimental evidence that runners that train on any particular surface are more or less at risk for injury. In fact, there’s some suggestion that soft surfaces may increase the loading on your bones somewhat, as they demand your body maintain a higher overall leg stiffness. You’ll have to experiment with running surfaces to see what type you feel is more beneficial for you.

I wish there was a magic wand to heal stress fractures, but this guide from @Runners_Connect is the the next best…
Click To Tweet

How to return to running safely

We already know stress fractures are some of the most frustrating running injuries you can get. We have already discussed that the time off is non-negotiable, but worse, if you try to return to running too quickly, you could reinjure the stress fracture and have to take even more time off!

Until recently, there hasn’t been much in the way of guidance from the scientific literature.

However, a review article on stress fractures published last October in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy by Stuart Warden, Irene Davis, and Michael Fredericson, three of the top running injury experts in the country, outlines an easy-to-follow program to safely return to 30 minutes of running after a stress fracture.1

We’ll take a look at the program and discuss how to follow it.

Is this program for me?

Here’s the deal:

If you’re very new to running and 30 minutes is about as far as you’ve ever run, this program might be too aggressive for you.

Additionally, this program is only for low-risk stress fractures. Most stress fractures are low-risk, meaning that they tend to heal up quite nicely during your time away from running.

But a small subset of stress fractures are designated high-risk stress fractures, meaning they are known to be prone to delayed or incomplete healing, or can easily progress to a full-blown bone fracture.2

Fortunately, the vast majority of the stress fractures that runners get are low-risk. These include fibular stress fractures and most tibial and metatarsal stress fractures as well.

High-risk stress fractures include femoral neck stress fractures, navicular stress fractures, and talar stress fractures, among others.

High-risk stress fractures require more time off and a more gradual return-to-running program. If you’re not sure if this program is right for you, talk to your doctor.

Walking completely pain free?

This is important:

To begin the program, you must first be totally pain-free during and after walking unassisted (i.e. without crutches or a walking boot) and doing all of your usual daily activities for five full days.

Every run session consists of 30 minutes of activity with progressively more jogging and progressively less walking, and each session is separated by a rest day.

When doing your run sessions, it’s probably best to stick to a flat, even surface to minimize stress on your body.

How to return to running

The initial stage of the program involves progressing from a 30 minute walk to a 30 minute jog over two weeks.

During this stage, all running is done at an easy jog—defined as 50% of your usual pace.

If you typically ran at 9-minute-mile pace before your injury, your jogging during the first three weeks should be done at 13:30 mile pace (9:00 x 1.5).

Once you’ve progressed to 30min of easy jogging, the next two weeks are spent progressing from 30min at 50% of your usual running pace to 30min at your usual speed.

Finally, the last week is spent progressing towards running daily.

You must remember:

There is a caveat to all of this: as you progress through the schedule, you must remain pain-free both during and after your run sessions.

If you feel any pain, you must take a rest day and move back to the last session you were able to complete without pain, progressing again once you’re able to do it pain-free (during and after).


By following these guidelines, you can safely transition back to 30min of daily running at your usual pace in as little as five weeks.

This might seem like a long time to be away from training, but don’t forget, you can do as much cross-training (check out our podcast with Physical Therapist Jeremy Stoker) as you like as long as it doesn’t irritate your stress fracture.

Hopping in the pool for an intense aqua-jogging session on the “rest” days in this schedule is a great way to maintain your fitness while you transition back into running.

Returning to running after a stress fracture can be scary. This @Runners_Connect article is helpful
Click To Tweet

]]> 0
How RunnersConnect Marathon Training Plans Compare to Other Popular Programs Mon, 15 Jun 2015 09:00:31 +0000

Looking for a training plan for your next marathon? This comparison looks at why RunnersConnect is the best choice for you to run your fastest marathon yet, have a great support network & reach your running goals!Finding a training program that works for you is an essential component to achieving your goals.

Not only do you need to find a plan that fits with your individual strengths and weaknesses, but you need to believe strongly in the philosophy behind the plan.

My biggest mistake early in my running career was believing I knew it all. As such, I never put my full faith in the training philosophy of my coach.

I thought there was a better way, I’d get caught up in the latest “fad” training idea, and I always wanted more mileage and harder workouts.

The problem with this approach is that it’s short-sighted.

I focused on the immediate aspects of one “training system” but didn’t try to think long-term about the philosophy – how did things fit together, how did it compare, what were the strengths and weaknesses?

Once I understood this, I was able to better compare specific training philosophies and training plans and find what worked for me. When that happened, I developed the trust in the system that allowed me to record new PRs after months of bad races.

As a coach now, I am frequently asked how our training philosophy and training schedules at RunnersConnect compare to some of the other well-known and popular training plans available.

This is a great question because I believe, like I was in my own training, you can only be truly successful if you believe in the plan. Having faith in your plan and understanding its nuances helps build confidence in your fitness and abilities.

In this article, I am going to outline the differences between our training philosophy or approach to the 5k and 10k compared to some of the more popular plans or programs available.

Some notes before we get started

1. I can only compare our philosophy to those I know well, have studied, or worked under myself. If I don’t mention a coach/program specifically, let me know in the comments and I can try do some research. However, the plan must be publicly available in some way.

2. It’s important to remember when comparing any two training philosophies that there isn’t only one way to train. While there are certainly training concepts that apply universally, the specifics of how to approach a race can be different. Obviously, each coach believes in their system.

3. If you have no intention of ever using us as coaches, that’s ok. I still think this can be a valuable read as you’ll get to learn different approaches to training and definitely some ideas you can implement in your own plan.

4. This comparison is in no means written as a way to besmirch any of the following plans or coaches. I actually really like some of them. It’s simply a means to compare our differing approaches to the same goal – helping you run faster.

5. Finally, I have no doubt that for the plans mentioned below that offer personalized coaching options they would accommodate your needs. This is simply a comparison of philosophies based of generally available plans and literature produced.

Compare @Runners_Connect, Hal Higdon, Hansons, McMillan & Pfitzinger training programs for your next marathon
Click To Tweet

Ready to get started? Jump to the plan you’d like to compare…

Hal Higdon

The RunnersConnect philosophy

First, it’s helpful if you know our overall approach to training so you have something to compare it to if you’re not currently coached by us.

Our overall approach to training is that as a runner gets closer to race day, we want their workouts and training to become more and more specific to the demands of the race.

This progression is generally called “general to specific”. In essence, your training is split into two these two phases:

The general phase occurs at the start of your training cycle and is designed to slowly build each energy system to its highest fitness before starting the race specific phase.

During the general phase you slowly build upon each component (speed, strength, long run, mileage, etc.) so that no particular energy system is left behind. You start at whatever fitness level you’re at and by the end of the training cycle, your aerobic development, speed, and threshold are at their maximum levels simultaneously.

Here’s a good way to visualize how this works:

The general phase can also be broken down into subsections with a particular focus. For example, if you’re a little weak on speed, workouts can have a more speed development focus whereas if you need to develop your aerobic system, you can target more threshold runs in this phase

The race specific phase is typically 10-12 weeks long, depending on your fitness level and training history. It occurs directly after the general phase and comprises the last 10-12 weeks of your training before the race.

As the name implies, race-specific training means training to the specific physiological demands of your race distance.

In a marathon specific training phase, your goal should be to develop your aerobic threshold, improve your ability to burn fat as a fuel source when running at marathon pace, and increase your muscular endurance. The more you can develop and target these systems, the faster you will be able to race.

In almost all runners we coach, our goal is to build them up to their highest level of overall running fitness during the general phase and then target their training specifically in the final 10-12 weeks before their marathon.

Aerobic threshold

Here’s where it gets interesting:

Imagine you are a hybrid car.

Your muscles are the engine, glycogen the gas power and fat electric power. Just like a car, you can run using both glycogen and fats depending on how hard you need to work. And, similar to a car, your personal gas tank holds a finite amount of gas (glycogen). Fully carbo-loaded, you can store 1320kcal to 2020kcal glycogen in your liver, muscles and blood combined.

Depending on your size and fitness, running utilizes about 1kcal/Kg/Km. Let’s say you weight 175 pounds (80kg) you need about 3360 kcals (80kg x 42 km) to make it through the race.

Therefore, the stored amount of glycogen of 1320 to 2020kcal is far less than the 3360kcal needed to finish the race. Since it’s impossible to eat 2000 calories during the race, we need to find a way to conserve gas (glycogen) and run as efficiently as possible on electric (fats).


Like a hybrid car, the faster you run, the more you need to rely on gas (glycogen). Luckily, running aerobically requires only a little gas and is mostly electric. But, if you just run very easy, you’re not likely to finish in a time you’re happy with.

So, we need to find that optimal balance between electric (fat burning) and gas (glycogen burning) that allows you to get to the finish as quickly as possible.

Aerobic threshold is defined as the fastest pace you can run while using the aerobic system as the primary energy pathway

In essence, aerobic threshold is that optimal pace between fat and glycogen usage. Thus your marathon pace, and thus your finishing time, is directly correlated with your aerobic threshold.

Awesome! @Runners_Connect makes understanding Aerobic Threshold and how to fuel for a marathon easy!
Click To Tweet

Burning fat as a fuel source

The problem with using fat as an energy source is that it’s not a very efficient provider of energy. It takes a while for your body to be able to oxidize fat into usable energy for the body. The faster you want to go (and thus the more energy your muscles demand) the less efficient fat becomes.

However, you can train your body to become more efficient at burning fat as a fuel source. This can occur by targeting this system specifically with workouts/mileage, the way you structure your workouts and long runs, as well as your nutrition.

Here’s the deal:

The big mistake I see a lot of runners make is not paying any attention to improving their ability to burn fat as a fuel source in training. They either don’t know about it, are following antiquated training methods, or are simply given wrong information.

Our marathon training philosophy is designed around training this specific system as often as possible in training. I don’t often see other training systems with this goal.

Improving muscular endurance

The final big piece of the puzzle is muscular endurance. You can have all the glycogen in the world, but if your muscles are not up to the task of running 26.2 miles, you’re going to have a crappy race.

The challenge is that running the full marathon distance in training is not recommended (due to how long it would take to recover). So, we need to get creative in training to simulate the fatigue and develop the muscular endurance needed.

To accomplish this, we can do two things:

First, we can implement what coaches call the theory of “accumulated fatigue“. Basically, this means that the fatigue from one workout accumulates and transfers to the next so that you’re always starting a workout or a long run a little tired from your previous training.

This type of training helps your develop the muscular endurance without needing to run the full marathon in training.

Second, you can implement specific workouts that are designed to fatigue your legs and muscle and then have you train and run at marathon pace. The nice thing about these workouts is that they occur all in one session and can help simulate different types of fatigue you’ll experience on race day.

This is an interesting post from @Runners_Connect about all the components of training for a marathon
Click To Tweet

Long runs

As you may already know, I tend to believe that most runners and training schedules overemphasize the long run. Here’s why I think that is a critical flaw and how we approach things instead:

As we’ve discussed already, the primary goals of training should be to increase aerobic threshold, utilize fat more efficiently at marathon pace, and build endurance.

So where does the marathon long run fit in with these 3 goals?

Aerobic threshold

Research has shown that your body doesn’t see a significant increase in aerobic development, specifically mitochondrial development, after you’ve been running for 2 hours. As a 3:45 marathoner, your easy long run pace is likely between 9:30 and 10:00 mile. So, a 20-22 miler will take you a little over 3 hours to finish.

Moreover, running all easy pace, which you’ll need to do to run for 22 miles in the middle of training, never challenges your aerobic threshold. Not one mile trains you to run at aerobic threshold. You can’t improve an energy system if you never train it.

Compare this to what we suggest, which is instead running 16-18 mile long runs with a 4-5 mile fast finish (at marathon pace).

The total time running will be closer to 2:30, which still provides the aerobic development you need and is similar in comparison to a 20-miler due to how aerobic development flat lines after 2 hours. More importantly, you spend 4-5 miles running at aerobic threshold (while tired).

The added benefit is that reducing your long run volume makes you less susceptible to injury and reduces your recovery time.

This allows you to be more consistent, remain injury-free, and have the energy to perform marathon-specific workouts and more mileage through the week.

When running a 20-22 miler, it takes you almost all week to recover so you never have a chance to do the race-specific work you need.

Fat utilization

Here’s the deal:

It’s easy for your body to burn fat as a fuel source when running easy. However, to teach your body how to burn fat as a fuel as a fuel source you need to run at marathon pace while you’re already low on glycogen. This forces the body to use fat as a fuel source (at marathon pace) and therefore become more efficient at doing so.

20-22 miles of all easy running = 0 miles training to burn fat while running at marathon pace

16-18 miles with a 4-5 mile faster finish = 4 to 5 miles training to utilize fat as a fuel source while running at marathon pace.


You might be wondering:

Yes, running 20-22 miles is good for muscular endurance. But, the longer you run, the more you susceptible to injuries you become. Your form begins to break down, your major muscles become weak (thus relying on smaller, less used muscles), and overuse injuries begin to take their toll.

Moreover, you never run at marathon pace while tired.

Your muscular endurance is improved while running easy, but not when trying to run at marathon pace, which requires different recruitment of muscle fibers.

This approach is not very specific to what you’ll experience on race day and why your body isn’t capable of pushing through it.

Compare this to the muscular fatigue from a 16-18 miler with a fast finish.

You get 4-5 miles of running at marathon pace while tired.

Moreover, our long run philosophy is to always buttress the long run against a steady run the day before. For example, you may run 1 mile easy, 6 miles marathon pace, 1 mile easy on Saturday and then run your full long run on Sunday. Because of the harder running on Saturday, you start Sunday’s long run not at zero miles, but rather at six or eight miles, since that is the level of fatigue and glycogen depletion your body is carrying over from the previous run.

Compare our long run approach to the traditional 20-22 mile easy approach

Total miles at MP = 0. Total miles for weekend = 22

Total miles at MP = 11. Total miles for weekend = 26

Learning a lot about marathon training specifics from @Runners_Connect, you can too!
Click To Tweet

Hopefully, that helped give you an overview of our philosophy and how our marathon plans are structured. Now on to some more popular plans…

Hal Higdon

Of all popular training programs, I’d say Hal Higdon is probably most different from our training philosophy. The two main differences are the focus (or lack thereof) of race specificity and the emphasis on long runs.

Race specificity


Our overall approach to training is that as a runner gets closer to race day, we want their workouts and training to become more and more specific to the demands of the race.

In a marathon specific training phase, your goal should be to develop your aerobic threshold, improve your ability to burn fat as a fuel source when running at marathon pace, and increase your muscular endurance.

The more you can develop and target these systems, the faster you will be able to race.

In Hal Higdon’s programs, I believe the idea of race specificity is somewhat ignored.

Here’s why:

The mid-week workout rotates between hill repeats, 800 intervals and basic tempo run. In my view, that’s a lot of VO2max and interval training for an event which relies very little on these two physiological elements (the marathon is 99% aerobic).

Since the marathon requires running at your aerobic threshold and burning fat efficiently as a fuel source at marathon pace, I believe swapping these workouts with lactate clearance runs, steady state efforts, and other more marathon-specific workouts makes better use of the mind-week workout day.

Long runs

Hal Higdon’s plans follow the traditional marathon philosophy of running multiple slow, easy 20 milers. As you already know, I tend to believe that long, slow easy runs are overrated, especially for those running over 3:30 minutes or who are running less than 50 miles per week.

This is interesting:

Research has shown that your body doesn’t see a significant increase in aerobic development, specifically mitochondrial development, after you’ve been running for 2 hours. As a 3:45 marathoner, your easy long run pace is likely between 9:30 and 10:00 mile. So, a 20 miler will take you a little over 3 hours to finish.

Moreover, running all easy pace never challenges your aerobic threshold. Not one mile trains you to run at aerobic threshold.

You can’t improve an energy system if you never train it.

Finally, research has also shown that the longer your long runs, the greater your chance of injury.

By reducing your long runs (and getting more marathon specific) you can reduce injury risk and recovery time (allowing you to do more mileage and marathon-specific workouts during the week).

Our approach is to use marathon specific long runs, such as fast finish long runs and surge long runs, to better simulate the specific demands of the race while reducing wear and tear.

As an example, it’s easy for your body to burn fat as a fuel source when running slow (the energy demand isn’t high). However, to teach your body how to burn fat as a fuel source at marathon pace, you need to run at marathon pace while you’re already low on glycogen. This forces the body to use fat as a fuel source (at marathon pace) and therefore become more efficient at doing so.

20 miles of all easy running = 0 miles training to burn fat while running at marathon pace

16-18 miles with a 4-5 mile faster finish = 4 to 5 miles training to utilize fat as a fuel source while running at marathon pace.

I’ll admit, running 20 miles is good for muscular endurance. But, you never run at marathon pace while tired.

What does this mean?

Your muscular endurance is improved while running easy, but not when trying to run at marathon pace, which requires a different recruitment of muscle fibers. This approach is not very specific to what you’ll experience on race day and why your body isn’t capable of pushing through it.

Compare this to the muscular fatigue from a 16-18 miler with a fast finish.

You get 4-5 miles of running at marathon pace while tired.

Learn about Hal Higdon (and others) training programs, & how they compare to @Runners_Connect
Click To Tweet

Hansons plan


Having spent a few years training with the Hansons, a good portion of our marathon training philosophy echoes the Hansons plan. Specifically, as outlined above, we believe that the long run is an integrated part of the training, rather than a specific number you need to hit, and the volume needs to correspond to your weekly mileage.

Likewise, we believe that overall mileage and marathon specific work is the key to running your best – not long, slow 20 milers.

Our approach to the marathon differs mainly in how we approach the long runs.

Our harder long runs are always preceded by a steady run (marathon paced run) the day before. The volume of this run depends on experience level and mileage. In addition, long runs almost always contain some type of faster running – fast finish or surges.

The goal of the steady run the day before the long run is to capitalize on accumulated fatigue. By running marathon pace the day before the long run, you lower your glycogen stores and fatigue the legs in a very marathon-specific fashion so that you’re essentially starting the long run with miles already in your legs.

Don’t get me wrong, the Hansons plan has the same goal – I just think adding the steady the day before is more specific. Plus, the extra stimulus is needed to help boost the shorter long run for more overall quality throughout the weekend.

We also have a few workouts and long runs the Hansons plans don’t have, which I think help with marathon-specific readiness. For example, we include what we call “marathon surges” which are an innovative way to help teach your body to burn fat as a fuel source while running at marathon pace. These types of workouts can help you conserve glycogen and prevent bonking.

Finally, I also find the Hansons plan structures training on goal marathon pace (and 10 seconds faster) rather than current physiological fitness.

While this distinction seems slight, I think it’s critical and something most runners get wrong.

In order for you to become fitter, you need to run in the right effort and pace zones.

For example, if your goal is to run a 3:10 marathon, then under the Hansons plan you’ll be doing marathon pace runs at 7:15 or 7:05 pace. However, if your physiological fitness level is actually 3:20 for the marathon, then 7:40 pace is your physiological aerobic threshold (marathon pace).

Running 7:15 or 7:05 pace turns this workout into a high end threshold run rather than an aerobic threshold run. As such, you’ll have run 0 miles at aerobic threshold. Sure, your overall running fitness will improve, but your marathon specific fitness won’t.

Jeff Gaudette of @Runners_Connect explains why RunnersConnect plans are better than Hansons (& others)
Click To Tweet


The main difference between RunnersConnect and McMillan is how we approach the phases and progression of training.

McMillan envisions the base or general phase like a pyramid. The pyramid model is based on the idea that you begin with a large aerobic base, transition to strength work such tempo runs and hill work, add in speed work, and then peak at the end of the training cycle.

McMillan’s methods are based mostly off the Lydiard system, which has been shown to be highly successful, specifically because of it’s focus on aerobic development.

However, my main argument against the pyramid model is the notion that aerobic development, lactate threshold, and speed have to be trained independently of each other. I believe, if done correctly, you don’t have to run months of just mileage or taper off your tempo runs as you introduce speed work.

When you train using the typical pyramid model, you’re forced to revert back to a base building period after each training cycle and you lose many of the of the strength and speed gains you’ve made at the top of the pyramid.

Therefore, you spend a good portion of your next training cycle just trying to get back to that level of speed and strength, instead of constantly improving the current point that you’re at.

My approach is to use what we call the “diamond” model in the general phase, which is designed to slowly build each energy system to its highest fitness before starting the race specific phase.

During the general phase you slowly build upon each component (speed, strength, long run, mileage) so that no particular energy system is left behind. You start at whatever fitness level you’re at and by the end of the training cycle, your aerobic development, speed, and threshold are at their maximum levels simultaneously. Here’s a good way to visualize how this works:

The general phase can also be broken down into subsections with a particular focus. For example, if you’re a little weak on speed, workouts can have a more speed development focus whereas if you need to develop your aerobic system, you can target more threshold runs in this phase

This post comparing training programs from @Runners_Connect is awesome!
Click To Tweet


Pftzinger seems to follow a very “traditional” marathon formula, which is quite different from how we approach the marathon and is similar to the McMillan marathon training approach.

First, Pfitzinger begins the training plan with lactate threshold workouts and transitions to VO2max workouts as the race gets closer. This is the more traditional pyramid structure I discussed earlier with McMillan.

As you might remember from the outline of the Hal Higdeon approach, our marathon philosophy is focused on marathon-specificity. Particularly, I believe that the closer you get to race day, the more specific your workouts need to be to the demands of the marathon distance – handling the volume, burning fat as a fuel source at marathon pace, and improving aerobic threshold.

In the Pftizinger plan, you’re actually getting farther away from marathon specify as you get closer to the race. You’re working on your VO2max and anaerobic capabilities, which have little bearing on your marathon performance.

Second, weekly mileage seems to be a large component of Pfitz plans – it’s almost how you select your plan.


I feel that mileage itself needs to be individualized to the runner – background, tolerance and injury history. Otherwise, you’re often just running miles for miles.

More importantly, I believe the focus shouldn’t be on the total mileage you’re running, but rather the percentage of miles you’re running at race pace, easy pace, Vo2 max pace, etc. I think approaching mileage in this way helps prevent junk miles and helps keep the training marathon specific.

To illustrate, throughout the entire Pftizinger training plan, you’ll run 44 miles at marathon pace. This is a very small percentage of your overall mileage – depending on the specific mileage level you choose, only about 4%. While again, we don’t use “stock” mileage plans (it’s individualized) the number of miles at marathon pace three times (12%) that of Pftzinger.

Finally, as we’ve discussed a few times now in this comparison post, we focus on shorter, quality long runs that incorporate accumulated fatigue and marathon specificity whereas Pfitzinger follows the more traditional quantity and volume of long runs.

Since I have discussed this already above, I’ll simply link to those sections if you want a recap (or you skipped it).

Looking for a training plan for your next marathon? This comparison looks at why RunnersConnect is the best choice for you to run your fastest marathon yet, have a great support network & reach your running goals!

Why an individualized approach matters

Here’s the deal:

Like many coaches, I am not a big believer in stock or template training plans. I strongly believe that there is too much individual consideration that needs to be taken into any training schedule.

Yes, I understand I am in the business of selling training and coaching, but I still believe a personalized plan is always going to be better than a stock plan – regardless of the training philosophy.

Specifically, mileage, number of training days and paces are critical elements of a training plan that are trivialized by template schedules.

They simply assume that you’re running a certain number of miles or days per week based on your “experience level”.

However, beginner, intermediate and advanced designations for a runner can vary widely in mileage and tolerance for training. The only mileage progression and total that will work optimally for you is one that takes into account YOUR background and injury history.

Likewise, factoring in your strengths and weaknesses is critical to maximizing the effectiveness of a training plan.

By targeting your weaknesses and using your strengths to your advantage you can ensure that each and every workout is progressing you forward.

As an example, a session of 200 meter repeats is somewhat wasted on the runner who has an abundance of natural speed while it’s essential to runners accustomed to marathon success.

Finally, getting your paces correct is essential for targeting the right energy systems. A lactate threshold run performed at 10-15 seconds faster than your actual threshold means you actually ran zero miles training your threshold and improving that system.

It was a wasted workout.

By getting your training paces correct you can maximize each session.

That’s why we addressed all three of these issues with our custom training plans.

You get a plan specific to your strengths and weaknesses, tailored to your mileage levels, and assigned exact paces to target the right physiological systems.

If you’re interested in receiving a customized training plan based on our training philosophy, you can start a free 14-day trial of our RunnersConnect membership.

It’s a free opportunity to see what a customized, race-specific schedule can look like for you.

Plus, you get coaching support from our coaching staff, access to our live coach chats, our supportive community of over 350 runners, and out insiders library of articles that guide you every single day of your training.

The plans then start as low as $37/month (yearly) or $49/month monthly.

Hope you enjoyed this little comparison!

I signed up for the @Runners_Connect training plan after reading this awesome comparison, you should too!
Click To Tweet

]]> 6
Menopause and Running: This is What You Need to Know Mon, 08 Jun 2015 09:00:18 +0000

Senior Couple In Fitness Clothing Running Along BeachThere are some running related topics that come up over and over:

What should I eat before I run?

How do I get rid of a side stitch?

What can I do about my shin splints?

But there are other topics you wonder if you are even allowed to talk about them as they seem to be so taboo. Yet these are the things that need to be discussed.

To date, there hasn’t been much attention given to menopause/perimenopause and the impact on running.

Perhaps it is because the number of female masters runners was much smaller in previous decades. Or it could be that there just isn’t much research into this area.

Whatever the case, I think it’s time we bring it out on the table, don’t you?

Female #Mastersrunners check this out, a post about menopause and how to handle it
Click To Tweet

Masters Running and Menopause

My friends and I—masters runners one and all—can tell you that we have felt some of the typical symptoms of approaching menopause.

From insomnia to moodiness to hot flashes, we’ve all enjoyed the fun that comes along with this unique time in life. We at least have each other to commiserate, so that helps!

The average age for reaching menopause, which is defined as the cessation of menses, is 51 in the United States.

When you take into account life expectancy rates into the 80s, most women spend a good third of their lives combined in menopause transition (MT), which can last up to 10 years; menopause; or post-menopause. That’s quite a lot of time spent dealing with the fall out from the changes.
Here’s the deal:

A big drop in estrogen production, which causes most of the symptoms, accompanies menopause. Typical symptoms include: skipped periods, hot flashes, insomnia, weight gain, urinary incontinence, and headaches. Some women also experience anxiety and signs of depression.

Clearly, for runners, losing restorative sleep, gaining weight, and potential incontinence are not desirable conditions.

Many physicians offer patients in this category hormone replacement therapy (HT), which has been shown to offset menopausal symptoms. HT is not without its own potential downsides, however, so many women choose to go the route of acupuncture or herbal medicine.

The best news is that exercise does seem to help alleviate some of menopause’s detrimental effects. A 2006 Finnish study by Kirsi Mansikkamaki, et al, found that “physically active women showed higher quality of life, when compared with to inactive women.”

Similarly, the “Exercise Prescription for the Menopausal Years” by Kimberly Perez, et al, recommended that women in this phase of life should implement a comprehensive exercise program that includes cardiovascular, resistance, flexibility and neuromuscular training. Taken in whole, these forms of exercise can reduce the impact that women would otherwise experience.

For runners, specifically, the biggest issue with which to be concerned is bone health, according to Jason Karp, PhD, and author of Women and Running. “Estrogen is the single biggest influencer of bone health, so when a woman loses estrogen, she loses the protective effect on bones,” he says. “A post-menopausal runner needs to do everything else she can to strengthen bones to avoid stress fractures.”

That said, there are several steps you can take to ensure bone health, including:

  • Strength training—While running, a weight-bearing exercise, goes a long way toward promoting bone health, some studies suggest that resistance training is even more critical. If you aren’t already strength training twice a week, add it in now. It will also help offset the loss of muscle mass that occurs through menopause.
  • Get your vitamin D levels tested regularly—If you are deficient, talk with your doctor about how to make that up through some form of supplementation. Vitamin D is crucial to calcium absorption.
  • Eat a diet that includes multiple sources of calcium, including dark leafy green vegetables.
  • Get short windows of time outside, sans sunscreen, to allow the sun to help with your vitamin D stores. After 10 to 15 minutes without sun protection, however, it’s time to slather it back on.


As to other symptoms of menopause that can impact your running life, lifestyle changes can help offset them. Earlier bed times or naps, if possible, can assist with occasional insomnia.

Exercising before it is terribly hot out in the summer, especially as we found masters runners are affected by the heat more—and wearing layers in the winter—can help with those hormonal temperature swings. And seeking out help via alternative therapies like acupuncture can also be beneficial.

What’s the bottom line?

Menopause and its fall out are quite real. Finding ways to minimize its impact are key and within reach with a concerted effort.

Finally! A post about Menopause for Female Runners from @misszippy1 for @Runners_Connect
Click To Tweet

]]> 2
How to Use Age Grade Calculators Effectively Mon, 01 Jun 2015 09:00:30 +0000

Age grading calculators are common for masters runners striving for improvement, but are they reliable? We find out and explain how to use them correctly.A few weeks ago we gave you some suggestions on how you can accept change and progress as a masters runner from our expert masters runner Amanda Loudin. One of the suggestions she made was to use age grading tables to keep your motivation levels high while competing against others. We even created an age grade calculator for you, which you can download yours for free here.

You might be wondering:

Are age grade calculators even reliable?

Today we are going to look into just that. We will dig deeper into the age grading system to clear up some misconceptions, and see how reliable age-grading systems are for determining how good your performance really is.

The emergence of age grade calculators

If you’ve run in or perused the results of a large road race recently, you have probably noticed percentages listed next to each runner’s time, labeled “AG” or “Age Grade.”

It’s no secret that runners slow down as they age. The slowdown is not as steep or intense as you might think, but it definitely exists.1

Age grading is a statistical attempt to measure the relative strength of a performance for an athlete of a given age. Most people agree that a 55-year-old running a 20:00 5k is a more impressive time than a 25-year-old running 19:00, even though the younger runner’s performance is faster in an absolute sense.

If we compared the best 5k ever run by a 25-year-old to the best 5k ever run by a 55-year-old, our 20:00 runner would be closer to the age group record.

Age grading systems quantify exactly where you stand relative to the predicted all-time best for all runners of your age.

Why a predicted best, and not the actual age-group world record?

Here’s the deal:

If you relied on the current world record, the age grading system would require frequent updates and revisions, and you wouldn’t be guaranteed a smooth progression when moving up in ages.

For example, if the all-time best 5k for a male 58-year-old was 16:00, but the all-time best for a male 59-year-old was 15:58, the same performance would be worse for an older runner, which doesn’t make sense.


To get around these sorts of problems, age-grading calculators use a smoothed curve to predict the best performance for a given age level. This curve is derived using statistical analysis of top performances, and is extremely close to the actual all-time bests for every age from about 16 to 50, but actual all-time bests jump around outside of that age range.

This post from @Runners_Connect is so helpful for understanding age grading for masters #runnersconnect
Click To Tweet

Do you have it all wrong?

Age-graded performances are commonly misunderstood as being percentiles—e.g. an age-grade of 68% meaning you are faster than 68% of all runners your age.

What the percentage actually does is measure the fraction of your race time that is equivalent to the predicted all-time best for your age and sex.

This sounds awfully confusing, but all it means is that the age-grade calculator divides the predicted best ever performance by your race time.

So, if you are a 49-year-old woman who has run a 10k road race in 40 minutes, and the predicted all-time best for that age is 34 minutes, your age grade percent is 34 ÷ 40 = 85%.

How does that help me compare?

This is perhaps not quite as meaningful as a percentile, but your age-grade percent allows you to compare your current times with your PRs from when you were younger.

By converting your bests from high school, college, or your prime racing years into age-graded percentages, you can see if your times are as good or better than you were as a younger runner.

This is interesting:

Some age-graded calculators will even use the slowdown factor in reverse, spitting out what your equivalent time would be for a runner in his or her prime.

How reliable is age grading?

Age-grading as a concept is great, but there are a few drawbacks to the current methods used.

First, there are several different “versions” compiled by different statisticians floating around, and these will produce slightly different results when you plug in the same performance level.

Further, as records are broken, the models will eventually need to be updated. Though a smooth curve prediction of age-group bests will last longer without revisions, as more and more records get broken, the formula will gradually get less accurate.

The Howard Grubb / Alan Jones age grading calculator, which is probably the most commonly-used variant, gets updated about every five to ten years.2

Any method based on single-age all-time best performance will be significantly impacted by outlier performers. Often, great Masters athletes will go on a multi-year tear, setting single-age records for every age they pass through.

This is crazy:

In compiling the data for an updated age-grading table in 2006, Alan Jones writes that he was forced to toss out all of the performances of Olga Kotelko, who set dozens of single-age world records for several track events in her 80s and 90s, because they were so far superior to anything else.3

If he had included them, it would have skewed the entire prediction curve for women’s performances!

A better method would probably be to use a predetermined “depth marker” as a standard, like the 20th-best or 100th-best all-time performance, but this would massively complicate the data collection process.

You are probably wondering:

Age grading doesn’t take into account your actual rank among runners of your age. Even if your age-graded percentage hasn’t budged in twenty years, you’re probably still ranked much higher now relative to your peers—think of how many fewer people run at age 60 compared to age 40!

It would be nice if there were another method of rating performances by “age rank” (your position relative to all runners your age, not just the best). Maybe that can be the next big project for running statisticians!

Confused about how age grading works? Read this post from @Runners_Connect
Click To Tweet


All in all, age-graded performances are a pretty reliable indicator of how close you are to the all-time best runners of your age.

As long as you understand how age grade percentages work and know how to use them, they can be help you stay competitive with yourself and with other runners well into old age.

Exclusive bonus: Download our Age Grading Performance Calculator. It’s an excel spreadsheet that makes it easy to calculate your age graded performance to compare yourself against those young guns or your former self. Download yours for free here.

]]> 0
Is Your VO2 Max High Enough to Prevent Heart Disease? Mon, 25 May 2015 09:00:50 +0000

A recent study found that individuals with a higher VO2 Max were not only at a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers, but by increasing your VO2 by a minimal amount, you can seriously reduce your future risk. We show you how to find yours.As Runners we believe our sport is truly the best out there. We know how great our community is, how supportive we are of one another, and we understand how runners are able to make a 180 degree turn from “never running again” to signing up for the next within a matter of hours.

People run for a lot of reasons:

It’s fun, it’s exciting, it lets you spend more time outdoors, and it’s good for your health.

This final point is important to many runners, and there’s quite a lot of evidence that exercise can help ward off debilitating conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Is Running the cure?

A scientific study published last month is making waves in the medical community, but not because it contradicts this common knowledge. Rather, it found that yes, being aerobically fit does reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers, but it also reduces your risk of death even if you’ve already got cancer or heart disease.

The study, published by Susan Lakoski and colleagues in JAMA Oncology, tracked almost 14,000 men over a period of 38 years.1

At the study’s outset, the men—most of whom were age 40 to 50 at the time—underwent a thorough medical exam, which included a graded exercise test on a treadmill to determine their aerobic fitness level.

Over the subsequent four decades, the researchers used records from Medicare to track the rate of colorectal cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and heart disease among the study’s participants. The researchers then sorted the study’s subjects into categories based on their performance in the graded exercise test.

Here’s the deal:

Statistical analysis, which controlled for possible confounding variables like smoking status, showed this:

Among men who were healthy at age 65, those whose aerobic fitness test was in the highest 20% had a 55% lower risk of developing lung cancer and a 44% lower risk of developing colorectal cancer when compared to the least-fit 20% of men.

The most fit men also had less than half the risk of death from cardiovascular disease when compared to the least fit men.


Even among those who were diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, the men who were aerobically fit in midlife fared better than those who were not.

Among men who developed lung, prostate, or colorectal cancer after age 65, the fittest 20% reduced their risk of death from cancer by a third compared to the least fit 20%.

It gets better:

The fit cancer patients’ risk of death from heart disease dropped even more, plummeting two-thirds compared to the unfit patients. The authors note that reducing cancer survivors’ risk of death from other diseases, like heart disease, will be increasingly important in the future, as cancer survival rates are steadily improving.

Does this apply to me?

This is all fantastic news for runners, but how do you tell if you’re fit enough to be in that top 20%? The authors of the study used a fairly simple treadmill test, but reproducing that test requires a specialized treadmill capable of very steep inclines.

However, the actual data collected from the treadmill test wasn’t very complicated—they just recorded how long each man lasted on the incremental test before quitting from exhaustion.

The researchers used a formula to derive an estimate of the men’s VO2 max (a standardized measurement of aerobic fitness), then used these values to sort the men into high, moderate, and low fitness groups.

How do I compare to the runners in the study?

If you want to check how you stack up against the men in this study, you can estimate your VO2 the old-fashioned way with a twelve-minute time trial for distance. This test, called the Cooper Test, dates to 1968, when a young Air Force Major, Kenneth Cooper, published a method of rapidly and accurately estimating aerobic fitness levels in military recruits.2

The test itself is very simple:

  1. Head over to your local high school or community track
  2. Run a short warm-up,
  3. Measure how far you can run in twelve-minutes

The effort should be evenly-paced, but all-out.

Calculate your VO2 Max:

  1. Distance covered in meters-509.4
  2. Divide by 44.73.
  3. That number, within a margin of ten percent or so, is your VO2 max

For example, if Bob ran 2157m in 12 minutes

2157-504.9= 1652.1


You might be wondering:

How reliable is the twelve-minute Cooper test is compared to the progressive exercise test used in Lakoski et al.’s scientific paper?

Kenneth Cooper’s original study found the 12-minute run has a 90% correlation with a laboratory-measured VO2 max. The progressive treadmill test used in the JAMA Oncology study has a 92% correlation, so they’re pretty similar.

The top 20% of men Lakoski et al. averaged a predicted VO2 max of 45.5, which means they’d be able to cover just over over 2500 meters (nearly 1.6 miles) on the track in twelve minutes.

Not too shabby when you consider that the subjects were mostly men in their forties and fifties, not sporty twenty-somethings.

The least fit 20% had a predicted VO2 max of 29.4, meaning they’d be expected to cover about 1800 meters during a twelve-minute Cooper test.

Find out if your VO2 max is high enough to prevent heart disease
Click To Tweet

What if my VO2 is low?

If you head out and run the Cooper test, only to come back disappointed at your lack of fitness, there’s some good news:

Health benefits aren’t reserved only for the fittest athletes. Lakoski et al. found that even small increases in VO2 max conferred a reduced risk of lung and colorectal cancer.

Increasing your fitness just enough to make it 160 meters further in twelve minutes could drop your risk of lung cancer by 17% and your risk of colorectal cancer by 9%!


There are some important limitations to Lakoski et al.’s study.

First, they were only able to study people who got sick after age 65, since that’s when Medicare records start being generated.

Second, this study didn’t directly examine the effects of training to improve your aerobic fitness, only static differences among the population.

Finally, and most glaringly, this study only examined men—presumably, another study is in the works on the five-thousand-plus women enrolled in the same observational cohort.

Despite this, the findings of this research are good news for male runners. Not only does aerobic fitness help prevent cancer and heart disease, it also helps you stay alive if you’re unfortunate enough to get them!

Testing your own fitness level is quick and easy, and translating predicted VO2 max values from the research into a tangible distances gives you some useful fitness targets.

Great post from @Runners_Connect about the relationship between heart disease and VO2 Max
Click To Tweet

]]> 0
How to Prepare for Running in the Heat as a Master Mon, 18 May 2015 09:00:17 +0000

Running in the heat can be tough, but did you know as a masters runner you are at a disadvantage? These simple tips explain how to successfully run through the summer at every age.We’re headed into the summer months.

Those days when even running in the early morning brings a good dose of heat and humidity. It impacts our race times and sometimes even the quality of our daily runs. Runners Connect even looked into how sunscreen impacts your performance when running.

If you run with a group, like I do, you know that there’s a wide range of hot and cold tolerance from one runner to the next. In my group, for instance, there are two or three girls who are still wearing full-length tights as the temperatures approach 50. I, and a few others in the group, am in shorts and maybe even short sleeves at that point.

I’ve always been someone who tends to overheat in races.

Those gals who wear tights to my shorts never worry about hot marathons, however I’ll avoid the possibility like the plague—I’ve never run a fall marathon before the month of November, for instance.

Aging and Heat

As I’ve aged, I’ve found heat to be more of an issue.


I thought maybe it was just my imagination, but it turns out there is evidence that masters runners don’t dissipate heat as well as their younger counterparts.

A 2013 study by Joanie Larouse, et al, investigated the ability of older runners to handle heat, and found that as early as the age 40, heat can be a bigger factor for runners.

The study examined the sweat and heat loss rates of 85 men, aged 20 to 70, as they rode stationary bikes over four, 15-minute sessions separated by 15 minutes rest between each.

With each additional set of exercise, the older participants sweat less than their younger counterparts, first beginning with the oldest age groups and working its way down all the way to the 40 to 44 year old group.

Other Factors Involved?

Interestingly, VO2 max and fitness levels were similar among all the participants, so when it came down to it, the only variable was age.

What’s the bottom line?

The researchers concluded “aging may have a larger influence on whole-body heat loss capacity than the fitness level or specific physical characteristics of the individual.”

This definitely falls in line with what own experience since turning 40, and I’ve heard from several masters’ friends who have dealt with it as well.

Great advice and how to overcome heat as a masters runner from @Runners_Connect
Click To Tweet

What can you do about it?

We know that we cannot change our age, and that means we need to be careful with some aspects of our running, like being at a higher risk of calf injuries.

Racing Schedule

One step I have taken is to ensure I am scheduling my most important races at times, or in locations, where the odds are low of heat being a factor.

As mentioned above, for instance, this means my fall marathons have all been in November, or my spring marathons no later than March, with the exception of Boston.

I’ll do half marathons or 10-milers a bit outside those parameters, but pretty much shut them down for the months of June, July and August. Shorter races and shadier trail races, however, stay on my summer schedule.


The study found that managing the heat became more difficult the longer the masters exercisers were at it.


There’s also the option of working very hard to acclimatize, which is actually your body’s way of relearning to utilize its sweat mechanism.

For most folks, acclimatization takes about two weeks each spring. You can jump start this by wearing extra clothing while training or by training indoors in a warmer environment.

I also like to take one run each week throughout the summer and slide it from my usual early morning time slot to the afternoon, ensuring I practice running in heat.


“Precooling” is another method worth considering.

You may remember that in several of the recent summer Olympics, the temperature has been less than ideal for some events, in particular the marathon. Athletes like Deena Kastor opted for cooling vests and staying inside until as late as possible prior to heading out into the weather.

Here’s why:

The thinking is that the longer you can stay cool before running in the heat, the longer you can go before experiencing its detrimental effects.

A 2013 review by M. Ross, et al, of studies on precooling effects found that it is indeed a beneficial step to take.

Give your body a chance to precool before running by doing things like wetting your hair or hat with cool water, staying inside air conditioning until the last minute, and/or wetting your shirt down.

Evaporative cooling, which occurs when you pour cool water on yourself, is in fact more effective than trying to drink an abundance of cool liquids, too much of which can even lead to hyponatremia.

At a race site, staying in air conditioning isn’t likely an option, so finding shade, moving as little as possible, and pouring cold water on yourself prior to the race are your best bets.


Finally, keep in mind that warmer temperatures are a sign to adjust your paces no matter what your age, but especially as you cross over into masters’ territory. Your PRs are likely not going to happen in July, and many of your training runs will likely be off pace, too.

Scaling back, and letting go of your pace ego, is a great way to go in the summer.

And when temperatures start to drop come September, all that training through the heat will pay off in spades.

Your body had to adapt to using oxygen effectively in the heat. When the cooler temperatures hit, your body will be able to thermo-regulate beautifully, producing faster times at less effort. THAT is the time to pick a race and go after those younger folks!

Learn about how the heat affects you as a masters runner from @Runners_Connect
Click To Tweet

]]> 2
How Quickly Can You Recover From Overtraining? Mon, 11 May 2015 09:00:47 +0000

We now know overtraining is not just for elites, if you are struggling with symptoms of fatigue. This guide will explain the best way to bounce back quickly, and how to return to running safely.Following on from our previous post, Are You on the Verge of Overtraining, this article now focuses on how to recover from overtraining when you realize that you have gone too far. We will show you how you can return to running as quickly as possible.

Let’s start with the bad news:

If overtraining or Under Performance Syndrome (UPS) has really taken hold, it can take many months to make a full recovery.

You may be suffering for a long time with any combination of chronic fatigue, insomnia, inability to train, loss of appetite, poor running performance, ongoing illness, depression and weakness.

It’s not a great place to be. If you do find yourself with UPS, try to the down time constructively. While you’re resting and recovering, analyze how you got there, and how to make sure you go never go there again.

You might be wondering:

How quickly can I get back?

Don’t rush your return to training. It can take 6 months-2 years to make a full recovery from UPS. Cancel your races, training camps and tear up your ‘schedule’. Accept that this could take some time.

Dr Mark Wotherspoon – Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine and Southampton Football Club in the UK – recommends a multifaceted return to exercise and a package of support, coaching and therapy.

Sleeping is a massive part of recovery” he explains “rest as much as possible and don’t seek the magic bullet that doesn’t exist.

Hunting for a quick fix or a nutrition supplement to ‘cure’ you wont’ help. Give yourself time, rest, tick over and slowly build back up.

With my athletes they might do 20 mins on the exercise bike at 50-70% of their Max Heartrate twice per week. When that goes ok, then we’ll increase it to 30 minutes. It’s a slow and gradual return to play”.

You might consider:

Dr Wotherspoon also suggests that athletes benefit hugely from psychological support, counselling and possibly even anti-depressant medication.

Avoiding UPS in the first place

There are a number of practical ways you can assess your training and the signs and symptoms of UPS before it takes hold. Using a combination of these methods should help you gain a better insight into your training, performance and recovery and stop UPS in its tracks.

Training Diary

Keeping a detailed diary may help in the prevention of overtraining and will aid your return to sport if you’ve already slipped into the realms of UPS.

It can be useful to record your training volume, distances, and times, along with variables like your weight, resting heart rate and make a note of sleep and work volume.

Here’s the deal:

This continual monitoring and adjustment allows you to get more in tune with your body’s signals and learn to balance training with rest. Be honest and if you’re regularly writing comments about being run down or exhausted, take a step back and think about to adjust your training load and life stressors.

The Daily Analyses of Life Demands for Athletes (DALDA) — First produced in 1978 by Dr Brent Rushall at San Diego State University and later revised in 2011- is a self-report sport-specific tool to help athletes monitor their individual stress response, training load, and signs of overtraining.

Using a tool like the DALDA may help to monitor your training and help avoid UPS or manage a return to training. Becoming more aware of your own personal response to training, rather than following a set plan, is a crucial skill for all runners, and the DALDA may be key to that ‘intuitive’ approach.

I think I overtrained. Learning how to pull myself out of it thanks to @Runners_Connect
Click To Tweet

Heart Rate

Your resting heartrate can be an indicator of recovery status. Get to know what your resting heart rate is, and measure it each morning before you get out of bed.

A rise of 5-10 beats from your normal rate is an indication that you may not have recovered from a previous session, you are excessively fatigued and you would benefit from either resting altogether or having a lighter session that day (easy running at no more than 70% of your maximum heart rate).

Recovery heart rate is another helpful measurement. Check your heart rate 2 minutes and 5 minutes immediately post exercise. Look at how quickly it drops and how long it takes to get to 10-20 beats above your pre-exercise rate.

Here’s why:

If your heart rate is failing to drop as quickly as in previous sessions, it can again be an indication of insufficient recovery, fatigue or stress.

Training Heart Rate

The secret to making sure you never suffer from UPS again could well be:

Monitoring your training heart rate. If doing repeated bouts of too much high intensity, high volume training is part of the reason you’re overtrained, then it makes sense to monitor this aspect of your training in future.

When you start back running:

Keep your heartrate around 70% of your maximum and allow your body time to build a solid aerobic base without too much stress.

Be strict with yourself. If you find your heartrate creeping up, then slow down (walk if necessary), and keep it to the right zone. If you don’t know your maximum, try using the Maffetone method (180 – age) to get your ‘training heart rate’. Maffetone suggests subtracting another 5-10 beats from this figure if you’re recovering from illness or overtraining etc.

It might feel slow, but it gives you structure for your training and permission to slow down. Spend 3-6 months training like this before you consider speedwork, marathons or racing.

Think you overtrained? Check out this post from @Runners_Connect to speed recovery
Click To Tweet


Depletion of carbohydrate stores is clearly linked with a rise in the stress hormone cortisol, thereby reducing immune function and the body’s ability to fight infection. We covered this in our post about running while sick.

Chronically elevated cortisol levels leave us wide open to coughs, colds and upper respiratory infections as well as having a catabolic effect (breakdown) on muscle tissue.

Here’s what you need to know:

Timing and volume of carbohydrate intake is critical, not just for performance during training and racing, but to protect the immune function and allow the body to recover from the stress of training. The use of carbohydrate during lengthy endurance and tough interval sessions may be useful in preventing carbohydrate depletion. We covered this further in our post showing you how to eat yourself out of overtraining.


A study on overtrained v’s non-overtrained runners found that the athletes suffering from UPS consistently neglected their recovery nutrition. They also took in fewer calories, less protein, and less carbohydrate immediately post exercise than the non-overtrained runners.

A recovery meal or drink comprising a mix of protein and carbohydrate should be taken on board within 30-40 minutes of training. This can even be as simple as chocolate milk, but we have a post on other foods you can eat after a run if you would like more information.

Think smarter, not harder

UPS is, on the whole, largely preventable:

An understanding of where your training ‘threshold’ lies (given your current life stressors) is, without doubt, the key to avoiding this debilitating condition.

Balancing your training schedule, lifestyle, and race goals needs to be the main consideration. This may mean adjusting goals and psychologically assessing what you want to get out of running and competing.

A marathon PR may be possible in theory if you had nothing else to do, but combine it with a new born baby, sleep deprivation, and a high stress job; and overtraining is only a small step away.

The body and mind can only take so much. Training and racing is just another ‘stress’.

Try this:

Instead of pursuing a PR every time, enter some fun off-road races or even a triathlon or adventure race. This will take the pressure off, and will allow you to focus more on what sports psychologists call ‘process goals’ – simply enjoying taking part rather than obsessing over the ‘outcome’.


Of course if you want to perform to your best you must train hard and push yourself to your limit; but the key is learning what that ‘limit’ is for you as an individual.

Forget what your fellow club runners do and don’t blindly follow a training schedule which, given your lifestyle, may be entirely inappropriate.

Learn to listen to your own body, get in tune with the signs and signals and trust what it tells you. Work out how to balance training with life and don’t beat yourself up so much! Stay healthy, train hard and rest well.

Overtraining is not just for elites, learn how to recover quickly from @Runners_Connect
Click To Tweet

]]> 0
Are You on the Verge of Overtraining? Mon, 04 May 2015 09:00:48 +0000

More recreational and beginner runners are suffering from overtraining. Are you one of them? We will help you speed recovery to get back to running faster
Subliminal (or maybe not so?) messages all around us tell to keep pushing harder; “sweat is fat crying”, or how about the more traditional “go hard or go home”. You know how we feel about taking it easy on your recovery days, and we have talked about how you can run 23% faster if you run 80% easy, but what if you have already overdone it, and you managed to avoid the dreaded “i” word, but you just feel exhausted on every run.

We know just how awful that feels:

Each coach at Runners Connect has been there before, and we want to make sure you can recognize the symptoms, so you can get back to feeling good while running as quickly as possible.

Overtraining syndrome might not be something you’ve ever thought about or even heard of, but according to Dr Mark Wotherspoon, Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine at and Southampton Football Club in the UK, it’s on the increase, especially amongst recreational and beginner runners.

We are going to show you how to self diagnose overtraining, so you can get on your way to recovery quickly.

What is overtraining syndrome?

The term ‘overtraining’ can be misleading as it implies that ‘training’ is the root of the problem, when in actual fact, the individual runner’s ability to recover is the key factor.

‘I actually prefer the term Under Performance Syndrome (UPS)’ explains Dr Wotherspoon ‘Overtraining syndrome implies that the athlete is engaging in a high volume of training, when in fact what’s far more important is the volume of training in relation to what’s going on in the rest of your life.

Here’s the deal:

Your body isn’t a machine and it can’t cope with a full day in the office then 3 hours of training on top. We’re seeing more and more recreational and club level athletes who are trying to juggle families, a full time job, and trying to train like a professional athlete. It’s just never going to work and will inevitably lead to breakdown’.

It is often only with the benefit of hindsight that runners fully recognize periods of overtraining. Ironically the normal reaction to poor results is to increase the volume and intensity of training even more, putting the ‘underperformance’ down to not training hard enough.

The spiral of overtraining and poor performance then begins, and if not caught in time, leads to full blown overtraining syndrome. It can be difficult to define the line between training hard and overtraining.

Listen to this:

‘UPS develops on a continuum’ explains Dr Wotherspoon ‘the initial stages are known as ‘over-reaching’, where the runner may be fatigued, but after a few days rest can recover and resume training. However, if you ignore those initial signs of tiredness and mood changes, continuing to train without sufficient rest; you could end up with full blown UPS; and recovery could take months.

The difference a few days can make; over reaching takes a few days to recover, overtraining…
Click To Tweet

Symptoms of UPS

Dr Richard Budgett , Chief Medical Officer for the 2012 Olympic Games and former Director of the British Olympic Medical Centre is one of the world’s leading experts on UPS.

A rowing Olympic gold medallist in 1984, he knows a thing or two about exercise and has dedicated his career to research and treatment of UPS in endurance athletes. He defines UPS as “a persistent, unexplained performance deficit (recognized by coach and athlete) despite 2 weeks of relative rest”.

It gets worse:

Despite years of research, there is still no official diagnostic test for UPS, and it is notoriously difficult to diagnose and quantify. In addition, signs and symptoms of UPS are complex and multifactorial.

He suggests however, that if an athlete is showing a number of the following symptoms and other medical conditions have been eliminated, then UPS must be suspected:

  • History of heavy training and competition (relative to lifestyle)
  • Decrease in training capacity (especially ability to recover from sessions)
  • Drop in performance
  • Fatigued, washed out, drained and lacking in energy
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Sleep disturbances (found in 90% of cases) insomnia, nightmares, poor sleep quality
  • Frequent infections (particularly upper respiratory tract)
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Mild muscle soreness, general aches and pains
  • Increased incidence of injuries

Full list of the signs and symptoms of Under Performance Syndrome (Overtraining) to refer back…
Click To Tweet

Dr Wotherspoon agrees. “There are three main parts to UPS” he explains “Immune suppression is the first. People train hard, don’t get enough recovery, they become immune suppressed, suffer from colds and illness and keep training harder and harder, further suppressing the immune system.

Second is more psychological. We often see months of low-grade depression, which has gone before UPS. Athletes fall into a cycle of low level depression, low mood and lack of sleep. This is a much bigger part than many people realize.

Thirdly, performance in races and training drops off, runners are exhausted and run slower times, but then train harder to try and improve their performance, this leads to even lower performances and a vicious circle”.

How long to recovery?

If you recognize a number of these symptoms or patterns, it could indicate that you are on the verge of UPS. Budgett advises that, depending on the severity and duration of the symptoms, you need to significantly reduce the volume and intensity of your schedule or even stop training altogether.

Hopefully within 2 weeks of rest or light training, you should start to see some improvements and be able to gradually build back up again. Also, spend this time reassessing your training plan, pay attention to good nutrition and get as much sleep as you can.

Who gets it?

The risk of overtraining syndrome is something we all need to be concerned about, not just elite runners.

Although it’s thought that around 65% of elite endurance athletes will experience some symptoms of ‘overtraining’ during their sporting careers; what’s more worrying is the rapid increase of UPS in recreational and average club level runners; due to combining heavy training with an already stressful lifestyle.

This is surprising:

It’s thought that more than 20% of beginner and club level runners may suffer extended periods of overtraining syndrome at some point in their lives.

If you have a typical ‘A type’ personality, you’re more likely to be at risk.

Characteristics such as being driven, determined, successful, high achieving, and competitive are regularly seen in those who suffer. “You do have to do a reasonable amount of exercise to suffer from UPS” says Dr Wotherspoon “Cycling and triathlon are becoming more common, and people find they get quite good and then want to push on, compete in their age group and they try to train like a professional athlete. You just can’t do that on top of a full day at work”.

More than 20% of beginner and recreational runners (65% of elites) may suffer extended periods…
Click To Tweet

Training type

Research has shown that athletes who undertake prolonged periods of high volume and repetitive training are most at risk. It would seem that lack of variety and lack of recovery are the two biggest risk factors – yet another reason to mix up your training and keep things fresh.

Periodization in the training program is therefore paramount. This basically means that the schedule must have periods of hard training or ‘over reaching’ with planned phases of recovery allowing the body to repair and adapt.

Runners often find it hard to accept that it’s essential to rest and are scared to take a day off. But it’s during those essential ‘recover’ phases when the body gets stronger and faster.


What amounts to ‘too much’ training for one runner, will be insufficient for another; we’re all different.

What’s the bottom line?

Learn to listen to your body, get in tune with the signs and signals, and act on the feedback.

If you’re constantly weary and struggling through training, then back off and cut your training load down before overtraining takes hold. UPS should not be inevitable and if caught in time you can head it off, recover and learn from your mistakes.

Training doesn’t have to be hard all the time; have the confidence to do a bit less and take more rest days. More isn’t always better.

Next Monday we are going to cover what you can do to Recover from URP, but until then, if you suspect this may be you, take a read of our previous posts on the topic:

Defining the line between hard training and overtraining

The causes and symptoms of overtraining 

Eating yourself out of overtraining

How fatigue, illness, and overtraining can affect your resting heart rate

This post may have saved me from falling into the overtraining trap; take a read!
Click To Tweet

]]> 0
Are You Too Big to Run an Ultra? Mon, 27 Apr 2015 09:00:47 +0000

Ultra runners definitely have a "look", but does this mean if your body is not the same as a typical ultra marathoner that you will struggle to run well? We show you the science of how this is not the case, and what factors do affect your performance.When you go to an ultramarathon event for the first time, you might find ultra runners a bit intimidating. You may even consider if you want to still compete in the event. Do I really belong here?

Ultra runners are rail-thin, outfitted with gels, sports drinks, and other supplies, and look like they’re built to run for miles without so much as breaking a sweat. Some have beards that would make Grizzly Adams jealous.

Of course, ultra runners are also known for being as nice as they come, but you can still see why a newcomer might wonder whether their body was built for an ultramarathon.

We are going to show you what we found about size and running faster in the ultra distance races, and then give you the training advice you need to get started with your ultra marathon plan.

Factors affecting ultramarathon success

With the increasing popularity of races beyond 26.2 miles, there are a lot of opportunities for researchers to investigate which types of people perform best over very long races. We already looked at how age affects your ultra marathon ability. Now it is time to look into another variable; size.

Do slightly-built, lightweight runners have a distinct advantage in the ultramarathon?

A slew of studies published by researchers in Switzerland, led by Beat Knechtle at the University of Zurich, suggests they might.

In a 2013 study, seventeen participants in a five-day, multi-stage ultramarathon were weighed, measured, and examined before the race.1 Then, once the researchers recorded the finish times of the runners, they used statistical analysis to determine whether variables like height, weight, and body fat percentage would be predictive of race performance.


Most measurements, including (perhaps surprisingly) height and body fat percentage, showed no correlation with finish time. However, higher body mass and having a larger upper arm circumference were both associated with slower finish times.

Interesting read! @Runners_Connect found no correlation between height or body fat percentage and ultra marathon…
Click To Tweet

It makes sense too:

More weight to carry around will slow you down, especially in your upper body, where strong, powerful muscles don’t “carry their own weight” like strong legs do.

Notably, calf or thigh circumference were not associated with slower race times.

The findings concerning upper-arm circumference were in agreement with an earlier study by several of the same researchers. In that study, the researchers used a similar protocol, measuring nineteen male finishers of a 750-mile, 17-day race across Germany.2

This time, only upper arm circumference predicted finish time, not body mass. Other factors, like body fat percentage and height, were also not associated with finish time.

How does this compare to research focused on more (pardon the oxymoron) reasonable ultramarathon races?

One study examining competitors in a 24-hour race found no association between body size measurements, but did find that personal best at the marathon was associated with a better finish in the race, with faster marathoners covering more ground over the day-long competition.3

A 2010 study examined 169 runners competing in a 62 mile race again found higher body mass, higher percent body fat, and larger upper arm circumference associated with slower race times.4

Reliable explanation for variability?

Fortunately for larger runners with an inclination to try an ultramarathon, these factors, though statistically significant, only explain 20-40% of the variability in race times. The same 2010 study found that training volume and training speed were much stronger predictors of finish time, with more training and a faster training pace being associated with faster finish times.

Likewise, another study of 62-mile ultramarathon participants found that training volume and marathon personal record were the best predictors of ultra performance, far stronger than body size.5

Marathon PRs and training volume are better predictors of ultra marathon success than body size
Click To Tweet

How much of an advantage does it give?

The science shows that there is probably a small advantage to being lighter and skinnier, especially in your upper body. Notably, being tall doesn’t seem to be a disadvantage at all. We already found that bigger runners do not have any higher of an injury risk.

Big biceps, however, don’t do much to help propel you up a rutted trail when you’re doing a fifty-miler.

Whats the bottom line?

It’s not worth fretting about whether or not you are “built” for the ultramarathon—you have a lot more control over how you train and how you prepare, and since these have a bigger impact on your finish time in a super-long race, it’s a much better use of your time to focus on increasing your training volume, doing some faster running, and even dropping down to the marathon to improve your PR if you want to run well in an ultramarathon.

How to train for an Ultra

To help you with this, here is a quick review (and a link to a more in-depth guide) on optimal training for the Ultra. Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Build a solid foundation
  2. Make injury prevention a priority
  3. Be prepared for accumulated fatigue
    • Back to back long runs of 3 hours on Saturday followed by 3-4 hours on Sunday will get your legs used to running tired
  4. Run at “forever pace”
    • Consider using a heart rate monitor to bring the pace down if you struggle to keep it easy enough, but you should be running at a pace you could “run all day” at
  5. Use the split run method
    • Break a 25 mile run up into a 15 mile run in the morning and a 10 mile run in the evening
  6. Continue to cross train, especially long bike rides over hilly terrain
  7. Stay in the here and now
    • Accept that there will be many ups and downs in the race, but you can only focus on the mile you are in, and keep going even throughout those moments your mind is finding reasons for you to stop

For further tips, check out our post on How to Train for an Ultra.

I feel much better about the ultra marathon after reading this post from @Runners_Connect about body size and…
Click To Tweet

]]> 0