Runners Connect Wed, 27 Aug 2014 10:55:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Importance of Setting the Right Race Time Goal (and How to Find Yours) Mon, 25 Aug 2014 10:00:10 +0000 You’ve picked out the race, booked your hotel, and confirmed your flights. Everything is ready to go for your next big race.

Now it’s time to set a time goal so you can get training!

If you’re like most runners I coach, picking your goal time is a somewhat arbitrary process.

Usually you pick a goal designed to get you under some barrier like two hours for the half marathon, four hours for the marathon – or to qualify for a specific race (Boston being the most common).

While this seems reasonable – after all, how critical can selecting a goal time be – I believe setting a time goal that is too ambitious is the most common reason runners get injured, plateau, and race poorly.

So, if choosing the right goal is that important, how do you determine what your goal time should be? What’s wrong with shooting for the stars and laying it all on the line?

In this article I’ll walk you through why setting an arbitrary goal time is a dagger to your training and provide you with a simple 3-step system to make finding your goal time a breeze.

The dangers of setting the wrong goal time

1. Not targeting the right workout efforts

The most immediate problem with choosing the wrong goal time is that almost all template plans are based on your goal finishing time.

As such, the workouts and the paces you are assigned to run all assume you’re targeting and hitting a specific physiological effort. However, if you are not at that level of fitness, then the workout is wasted because you didn’t accomplish the objective. Here’s an example:

In marathon training you’ll be assigned workouts called aerobic threshold runs. Aerobic threshold is defined as the fastest pace you can run while using the aerobic system as the primary energy pathway. Aerobic threshold is important because it’s the pace that is the perfect balance between fat and carbohydrate utilization. The faster your aerobic threshold pace, the faster you can race the marathon without bonking.

To target aerobic threshold you need to run at aerobic threshold pace, which is roughly current marathon pace. If you run too fast you’ll actually be running a lactate or anaerobic threshold run – a workout that targets a different energy system. Here is a specific example:

Let’s say your goal is to break 3:45 for the marathon (8:35 per mile pace) and you base your training off this. But, your current fitness is more like a 4:00 marathon, which is 9:09 pace.

That means when you’re trying to run aerobic threshold runs at 8:35, you’re WAY too fast to target your aerobic threshold properly. At almost 40 seconds a mile quicker, this is more a high end or anaerobic threshold run.

Sure, it’s going to get you fitter overall, but it’s not going to help you improve in the marathon. This is exactly why you keep getting fitter and maybe even PRing in shorter events but bonk or fall apart during the marathon.

In short, when your goal time is off, all of your paces are going to be off. That means you’ll be running all the wrong effort levels and negating the most important benefit of your harder workouts. You’ll be wasting your time training.

2. Increased risk of injury

The second major flaw in training for the wrong goal time is that it dramatically increases your risk of injury.

Typically, runners will choose a goal pace that is too fast. As such, the balance of hard work and recovery is thrown off, which leads to overtraining. Here’s another example to exemplify this idea:

A tempo run is designed to be a moderate or medium-effort workout. Your training plan therefore assumes that you’ll be recovered and ready to run hard again or perform a long run just a couple of days later.

However, if the tempo run was too fast for you, then the effort level was also increased. This means you won’t be as recovered for your next training session as planned. This fatigue slowly builds up throughout the weeks of marathon training until you become overtrained or your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones give in and get injured.

3. Ruining race day with bad pacing

Finally, race day pacing is one of the most crucial elements to having a successful race. In fact, studies have shown that running the first mile of a 5k race more than 6% faster than goal race pace considerably reduces performance; so much so that almost all the subjects that ran faster than 6% failed to even finish the race.

In the marathon, running too fast for the first few miles will burn through your glycogen stores faster. This will lead to you bonking and having a terrible race.

Once again, we’ll use the example from the aerobic threshold run to illustrate this concept.

To hit your goal time of 3:45 for the marathon, you start out at 8:35 or 8:45. However, if your fitness is currently is more like a 4:00 marathon (9:09 pace) then you’re already running 20 to 25 seconds faster per mile at the start of the race. You’re race will be doomed from the start. It won’t matter how “bad you want it”, you’re going to bonk.

How to find your goal pace

Now that you understand the pitfalls of choosing the wrong goal time, how the heck do you decide what pace you should shoot for?

Step 1: Establish a baseline

The first thing you need to do is determine what your current fitness level is.

If you’ve run a race recently, you can use this time to extrapolate what you could run for a longer or shorter distance. Greg McMillan has a great calculator on his site here.

If you plan to race the same distance again, no calculations are needed. We can simply use this time as your data point for step 2

If you haven’t run a race recently that you feel reflects your fitness or a good effort you have two options:

  1. You can race a 5k. This is your best choice if your goal race is more than two months away. The race doesn’t have to be big or fancy. You just need a race effort.
  2. If you have no races available, you can do a one mile time trial. This option is recommended if you have 1-2 months between now and your goal race because it can be incorporated into training quickly and a mile won’t leave you too tired to pick up training where you left off.

Whichever method you choose, just enter your time in the calculator mentioned above and you can extrapolate to any race distance.

Step 2: Factor in your likely rate of improvement

Now that you have your fitness level established we can use your training history to help determine your rate of improvement.

If you’ve been running less than a year and improving with each race, you can expect about a 6 to 8 percent improvement in performance over the course of your training. As an example, if your data point shows you’re in 4:30 shape for the marathon, you’d be looking at a goal time of about 4:08 to 4:13.

If you’ve been running for more than a year but you’re still PRing in most races and increasing your commitment to training, you can expect a 4 to 6 percent improvement to your performance. As an example, if your data point shows you’re in 4:00 shape for the marathon, you’d be looking at a goal time of about 3:45 to 3:50.

If you’re more experienced and have been training for many years, then you should expect a 2 to 4% improvement in performance. As an example, if your data point shows you’re in 3:20 shape for the marathon, you’d be looking at a goal time of about 3:12 to 3:16.

Since I know calculating percentages of race pace and goal times can be difficult, you can download our calculator here if you need help.

Step 3: Adjust and adapt

Finally, your rate of performance isn’t something that is standardized. While I’ve given you some good guidelines to follow, every runner is going to be different.

After three to four weeks, if you think you’ve gotten fitter or you want to measure your rate of improvement to determine if you’re making progress towards your ultimate goal, run another race. Try to keep the race as integrated with your training as possible (for example, run the race in place of a hard workout) so you don’t impact your long-term progress.

With the new race data, you can plug your time back into the performance calculator from step 1 and see how much your goal pace has improved.

I hope this in-depth look at the science of choosing your goal pace helps you avoid one of the most common pitfalls and sets you up for a great training segment!

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The 5 Recovery Mistakes You’re Making That Are Hampering Your Recovery From Hard Workouts Mon, 18 Aug 2014 10:00:10 +0000 Recovery is one of the most important elements of training. In fact, I’d argue it’s even more important than the hard workouts you do.

Without recovery, training is just wasted time with no opportunity to actually improve. It’s no wonder then that runners focus, or should be focusing, so much of their attention to recovery.

Unfortunately, like many aspects of training, many runners are unintentionally hampering their recovery thanks to pervasive myths based on outdated science. In this article, we’ll look at five of the most common ways runners get recovery wrong and how you can make sure you don’t fall into these traps.

Mistake #1: You’re taking Ibuprofen or Advil

Like many runners before you, when faced with a slight twinge, inflamed tendons, or delayed muscle soreness from training, you may have popped a few non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs for short), such as ibuprofen and Advil.

However, as our understanding of inflammation has evolved, we now know that anti-inflammatory drugs can actually limit or cancel out the very training benefits we’re so desperate to achieve.

Our outdated view of inflammation suggested that inflammation delayed healing and removing it as quickly as possible would aid in the recovery process. But, we now understand that inflammation is a crucial first-step in the body’s natural healing process.

Inflammation is the body’s way of activating specific cells (mainly leukocytes, monocytes and macrophages), which help to repair the muscles. You can still recover without inflammation, but it will likely take longer without the help of these cells.

Moreover, we also know that anti-inflammatory drugs can actually limit training adaptations. One study on the effects of Ibuprofen on skeletal muscle showed that taking ibuprofen during endurance training canceled running-distance-dependent adaptations in skeletal muscle. Another study confirmed in the laboratory that the use of NSAIDs after exercise slowed the healing of muscles, tissues, ligaments and bones.

The research is clear. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil and ibuprofen after a workout will result in slower recovery times.

Mistake #2: Ice baths

Now that we understand a little more about the role of inflammation in recovery and for training adaptations, we need to reassess the use of ice baths as well.

Like NSAIDs, the goal of an ice bath is to reduce inflammation following a workout. But, we now understand that inflammation may actually help promote recovery and training adaptations. Moreover, reducing inflammation may inhibit fitness gains.

So, where do ice baths fit in now?

The Nike Oregon project (thanks to Steve Magness and Dr. Jeff Messer for outlining how the Oregon project uses ice baths) actually changes their use of ice baths depending on the phase of training they are in.

In the adaptive phase, when the athletes are trying to derive as much benefit from workouts as possible, they do not ice bath.

For the average runner, this type of phase would be when you’re hitting your hardest workouts (i.e. after a gradual build-up) and before the taper or the last 2 weeks of training.

In the restorative phase, when athletes are preparing their body’s for competition, they do use ice baths.

This is because in the last two weeks of training, you’re not looking to enhance fitness from a workout (since you can’t benefit from a workout in that short amount of time) but rather to feel as fresh and strong as possible.

You’re takeaway – don’t ice bathe after your hardest workouts or on a daily basis. Use ice baths in the final weeks of your training to help your body feel rested and strong for race day.

Mistake #3: You’re taking antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress

Oxidative stress, a term used to describe the release of hormones and other chemicals in response to physiological stress, is believed to inhibit recovery and suppress the immune system. As such, many runners take antioxidants, like vitamin C to help reduce this oxidative stress and therefore recover faster.

But , like inflammation, our previous understanding of how antioxidants work is being challenged. It’s now understood that trying to block or reduce all oxidative stress can be detrimental to training adaptations.

First, “oxidative stress is essential to the development and optimal function of every cell,” write Peternelj and Coombes in their research.

In the context of exercise,these reactive oxygen species are part of the stress on your body that induces improvement. Blunting that oxidative stress will lead to less adaptation from the stress.

Moreover, further research has demonstrated that Vitamin C supplementation prevented the creation of mitochondria, the “power plants” of your muscle cells that are essential for endurance performance.

Therefore, loading up on antioxidants after a workout is not recommended. You should still eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that provide a healthy, natural source of antioxidants, but skip the pills.

Mistake #4: Not eating correctly after a workout (no food or not the right ratios)

Providing your body with the right nutrients to recover after a hard workout is essential to repairing the muscle fibers and providing your body the fuel it needs to stimulate recovery.

Many scientific studies have determined the optimal time and the amount and ratio of nutrients needed to be consumed in order to maximize the recovery process.

Ideally, nutrient intake should begin at least 30 minutes after you finish your run and continue for about an hour to 90 minutes after. (read more here)

During this time, you should consume a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. This means that for every 4 grams of carbs you consume you also need 1 gram of protein.

The first mistake many runners make is not eating anything within this recovery window. The most common reasons include (1) not being prepared with something to eat or drink; (2) not being able to stomach foods after a hard run; (3) or trying to lose weight and believing this will help.

To optimize recovery after a workout, you must eat within 1 hour, ideally within 30 minutes. If you can’t stomach solid foods, try recovery beverages (almost every company makes one) or even chocolate milk.

The second, more common mistake, is the consumption of too much protein post-workout.

Like most runners are hard-wired to think, more is better right? Not in the case of protein post-workout.

The consumption of too much protein after a workout will inhibit your body’s absorption of the carbohydrates by slowing the gastric emptying rate.

That’s why the optimal ratio is set at 4grams of carbohydrate for every 1 gram of protein. You should aim for 100 to 300 calories total.

Mistake #5: Not stretching, massaging or foam rolling

The concept of stretching has caught some major flak in the past few years (and rightfully so), which has resulted in many runners finishing a workout without properly treating their muscles.

The problem is that we lump all types of “stretching” into one big group with static stretching; yet, not all types of stretching are bad.

In fact, other types of “stretching” such as yoga, mobility drills, active isolated stretching and even foam rolling and the stick (which I consider akin to stretching) can be immensely helpful when it comes to promoting recovery.

Incorporating dynamic stretching after a run (active isolated stretching, drills, and mobility exercises) has been shown to help improve flexibility to help you execute the biomechanically sound movement patterns when running (such as proper hip extension).

Drills and mobility exercises have also been shown to help improve neuromuscular function and can serve as a cool down to help deliver blood and oxygen to the muscles that are in need of repair.

Foam rolling can also be a huge benefit. And, I am excited to announce a new guide to foam rolling we’re producing in a few weeks. It will be the most comprehensive guide available, so stay tuned.

In the end, you must expand your concept of stretching to better understand how it fits in with your recovery from hard workouts.

I hope this article helped open your eyes to some of the potential mistakes you’ve been making in your quest to enhance recovery. I know I certainly made all of them in my running career and I am grateful to know better now!

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How to Get the Benefits of Altitude Training (Without Going to Altitude) Thu, 14 Aug 2014 10:00:26 +0000 If you follow elite running news, you’re sure to hear plenty about the high-altitude training camps around the world that are frequented by top runners between races.

Places like Flagstaff, Arizona, St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Iten, Kenya all have a few things in common: they’re situated at high altitudes, they have plenty of good roads and trails to run on, and they’re home to a lot of very fast runners.

There’s been a lot of research into the benefits of altitude training in distance runners, but let’s face it—the odds of you finding the time to spend eight weeks living in a cabin in Flagstaff are not good, no matter how much of a benefit altitude might have.

But surprisingly, there are still some useful lessons for the rest of us that can be learned from research into altitude training.

The training camp effect

Early studies into the effects of altitude on the human body’s athletic performance were fairly straightforward: scientists would conduct some initial performance testing on a group of athletes, take them up to high-altitude, train for a few weeks, then return to sea level and carry out the same tests again.

One example is a 1967 study by John Faulkner, Jack Daniels (who would later go on to write the best-selling “Daniels Running Formula”), and Bruno Balke.

Faulkner et al. took five runners and 16 swimmers up to 7,500 feet above sea level for a three week training camp.

Following a return to sea level, all of the athletes had more red blood cells in their blood, and the runners improved their performance on a VO2 max test and in time trials (though interestingly, the swimmers did not).

However, it doesn’t take an exercise physiology PhD to spot a problem with this kind of study: it doesn’t have a control group which does the same training, but not at altitude, as a reference.

As pointed out by Damian Bailey and Bruce Davies in a 1997 review article, only about 30% of the scientific studies on altitude training extant in the literature used a control group.

Only three of the 27 studies which did include a control group found a statistically significant improvement in aerobic fitness when comparing high-altitude training to equivalent sea-level training.

But this doesn’t mean that the runners, swimmers, and cyclists in these studies weren’t improving—they often did get more fit! But whether or not they were at altitude didn’t usually make a difference.

And here’s where things get relevant for sea-level residents like you and me: the most plausible explanation for what causes the improvement in the athletes in these studies isn’t the stimulus of being at altitude, but the vast improvement in training, recovery, and quality of life.

Takeaway message

There’s no denying that the “training camp effect”—heading off to a low-stress location, spending more time getting in quality workouts and solid recovery, and training with other athletes with similar goals—can have a profound impact on your fitness, whether that training camp is at 700 or 7,000 feet above sea level.

There’s been a lot more high-quality research into altitude training since Bailey and Davies’ review study, and altitude training, especially “live high, train low” strategies (which involve living at high altitudes, then driving or even taking a plane to sea level to do high-intensity workouts), is a part of the yearly training routine of most professional runners in the United States and Europe.

But it’s still important to remember the training camp effect: even if altitude on its own is beneficial, so too is a training camp!

By contrasting the ideal “training camp” for you with what your typical daily routine consists of, you can figure out what kinds of things are holding you back.

Here are some examples and a few tips

  • You probably don’t get enough sleep, you likely could eat a bit better, and you could make more of an effort to get some workouts in with other runners with similar goals. Try to improve just one of these things this week. Short on time, fine-tune your diet. Changing your diet too difficult? Get some extra sleep. Focus on just one thing this week!
  • Maybe you can’t block out a month-long sojourn to the mountains, but you can turn a long holiday weekend or a vacation into a mini-training camp. This is especially useful if you have a big training block coming up (as most of you might with upcoming fall marathons).

In the end, it’s about taking this message and acting on it.

De-stress, sleep in, eat better, and get some quality workouts in. Even if you’re not a pro runner, better training coupled with better recovery is sure to lead to improved race performances.

If you’re interested in giving yourself your own training camp effect in preparation for your big fall race, we still have 2 slots open for our 3-day training trip to Zap Fitness Thursday, September 4th through Sunday September 7th.
Here are the details.

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Why Doing Shin Exercises With a Theraband Won’t Help you Avoid Shin Splints Mon, 11 Aug 2014 10:00:18 +0000 Shin splints are perhaps the most common injury for beginner runners.

Unfortunately, thanks to the constant spread of outdated information, the treatment for shin splints remains unhelpful.

Stop me if you’ve tried this – ice, take some ibuprofen to reduce swelling, and grab the theraband to strengthen the shin muscle.

I’m willing to bet that hasn’t worked.

Sure, the ice and ibuprofen probably helped reduce the pain. But, the injury likely came back.

In this article, we’ll look at what is really causing your shin splints and outline a specific strengthening routine you can implement to actually get results.

The role of the shins and common reasons for injury

shinThe “shins” are actually a group of muscles and bones that make up the front, lower part of your leg.

For runners, the most well-known muscle in shin area is called the tibialis anterior, which is responsible for dorsiflexing and inverting your foot.

However, the primary bone runners are concerned with is the tibia, although the fibula can present problems as well.

The role of the shin bone during running is to help absorb and dissipate the impact generated with each foot fall.

Much like a beam on a bridge or in a skyscraper bows slightly when it’s supporting a lot of weight, your tibia bends backwards slightly on impact with the ground, putting compressive forces on the medial side of the bone.

In healthy runners, the stress a bone experiences after a long, hard run is not a problem.

The body responds to the stress on the bone by remodeling the tibia to be stronger and thicker.

This is why shin problems are more common in less experienced runners: their bone has not yet adapted to the stresses of a high-impact activity like running.

How to strengthen and prevent injuries

The outdated theory on preventing shin splints was that tightness or weakness of the shin muscles caused them to tug at their insertion point, irritating the periosteum, a thin, skin-like structure that envelopes the tibia itself.

This is why you may read about doing shin strengthening exercises with a theraband as a common treatment for shin splints.

Unfortunately, because a weakness of  the tibialis anterioris (shin muscle) is not the real cause of shin splints, strengthening the tibilias anterior will only help prevent shin splints slightly. (Mostly because it’s such a small muscle and its primary function is dorsiflexion of the ankle, not shock absorption.)

In reality, improving calf strength, abductor strength and pelvic stability are a better approach to preventing shin splints.

The calves are the largest muscle group in the lower leg (more on them here) and research has shown that strengthening them will help you stabilize the tibia with each impact.

Moreover, the size of your calves is directly related to the size and strength of your tibia since the tibia “grows” in response to the muscles around it.

Likewise, several studies have demonstrated a strong connection between hip abductor strength and shin splints.

Specifically, studies have shown that runners with shin splints had significantly worse hip abduction strength and had significantly more motion in their torso and hips when they landed and pushed off compared to healthy runners

Therefore, the most effective strengthening exercises for strengthening your shins and preventing shin splints are going to be calf raises and hip abductor strengthening exercises.

Shin splint prevention routine

So now that we know all this new information about the cause of shin splints, how can you develop a routine to prevent them?

Below is a sample of four exercises from our Strength Training for Runners program, which also includes injury prevention routines based on scientific research for 8 of the most common running injuries.

These four exercises are designed to target the abductors and the calves. Of course, we have plenty of additional exercises to choose from, but this should help you get started right away.


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Instructions: Keep the pelvis perpendicular to the floor rather than rolling backwards, which is a way to cheat this exercise. Work up to 20 repetitions and for additional difficulty, wrap a theraband around your knees. It is not OK to substitute this exercise for the multi hip machine at the gym!

Donkey kicks

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Instructions: Keep your abs tight and your back flat. Imagine placing a broomstick on your back and keeping it in place throughout the entire movement. Perform 15-25 repetitions per leg.

Hip thrusts

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Instructions: At the top of the movement your body should be in a straight line from your knee to your head. Beginners can thrust on both legs while advanced runners can rest their foot on a medicine ball or swiss ball for added difficulty in balance. Perform 15-25 repetitions each leg.

Eccentric Calf raises

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Instructions: Slowly lower yourself down from a step with one leg and use the other leg to raise yourself back into tip-toe position. Perform up to 25 of these exercises and add a weight with a backpack once they become easy.

If you’re currently experiencing shin splints or they have plagued you in the past, incorporate this routine into your training two to three times per week.

Now you’ll be targeting the real cause of your shin pain rather than strengthening a muscle that really doesn’t contribute to the injury.

Notice to fans: We’re re-launching our Strength Training for Runners Program!

  • We’re adding 4 brand new routines (an advanced hip, advanced core, advanced leg circuit and new marathon cramping routine), taking our total to 24 running-specific strength routines
  • We’ve re-shot many of the videos and added video descriptions for all of our injury prevention routines
  • We’ve moved all the content online so you can access anywhere, stream the videos and download the material the way that best suits your style.
  • Finally, we’ve revamped our race distance prescriptions based on some of the latest performance research.

Join the early-bird list to get notified when we relaunch, receive exclusive access and a special discount
Get on the List!

*If you’ve already purchased the Strength Training for Runners program, your account will automatically be upgraded. We’ll always take care of you!

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3 Simple Ways to Take the Pressure Off Your Next “Big Race” Thu, 07 Aug 2014 10:00:19 +0000 Goal races at the end of a training segment define a certain timeline for many runners.

Marathoners often spend months on a proper training build-up towards race day and become mentally and emotionally invested in the outcome of the goal race, which is often seen as the culminating result of hard work and desire.

The phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” warns us not to invest all of our energy into one specific project or endeavor lest that endeavor fail and we are left with nothing to show for our effort.

We as runners would be wise to take to heart the words of this Proverb, which can unlock the secret to taking the pressure off of the big race.

To help you along, here’s a simple 3-step system you can use to take the pressure off your next race.

Step 1: Set “non-goal race” related goals within the cycle

Tune-up races

Adding separate goals to a season apart from the big race is, in essence, putting your eggs into separate baskets.

Having 1-3 tune up races during a longer build-up towards a goal race can allow a runner to not only test fitness, but to validate a season.

During my build-up towards the New York City Marathon in 2011, I chose to race the USA 10 Mile Championship as a tune-up race a month before marathon race day.

I placed 5th at the 10-mile Championship running 55:15, far faster than I expected and beating a lot of women I did not expect to beat. It was a great race.

The NYC Marathon was not a great race.

I ran over 10 minutes slower than I hoped, but my season was not a failure because my fitness and mental strength was validated at the 10-mile race.

Tune-up races allow you to focus on smaller goals, one at a time, before the larger goal race, thus taking the pressure off of the goal race, and allowing more opportunities to have a great season and prove one’s fitness.

Personal fitness goals

Forming goals within a season that are not race-related can also help alleviate the pressure of race-day.

When I was a sophomore in college, I made the goal of maintaining an average of 100mpw during my fall cross-country season. I was just as pleased with my accomplishment of high training volume as I was with my accomplishments in the races that season.

Setting personal fitness goals that exist within a season give you a reason to be proud of your training and add confidence that is essential heading into race day.

Personal fitness goals can be anything you want them to be; a certain amount of mileage, a core routine twice a week or a beneficial cross-training routine are all good suggestions.

Step 2: Set checkpoints

A standard marathon build-up is roughly 12 to 16 weeks long. Within that time, it is important to set mental and physical checkpoints that can help you evaluate your progress within the build-up and improve on areas

Every 3-4 weeks during a marathon build-up, I like to have an honest conversation with myself about how my training is progressing. The most important question I ask myself is how I am handling the emotional stress of a marathon build-up.

Runners often discuss the physical hardship and fatigue of marathon training, but few discuss the mental toll that high volume, intense workouts and the looming pressure of race day take on an athlete’s morale.

I’ve often thought of the pressure of an impending race day as a weight that grows heavier and heavier on my mind until it is released by the race itself.

Setting up mental checkpoints in which you ask yourself key questions can help put this “weight” into perspective.

Key questions ask yourself

“How much time each day do I spend thinking about the race?”

If your honest answer reveals that you are spending far too much time thinking about the upcoming race, do something about it; plan ways to take your mind off the race by spending time with non-running friends, seeing a movie or taking up a new hobby that will distract you.

“ Am I feeling worn down by my training or bursting with an over-abundance of mental energy?”

The answer to this question will help you decide whether you need to back off a bit in training or talk to your coach about adding more mileage and harder workouts. Marathon training should leave you “comfortably tired”, using up a large amount of your energy but not completely drying up the well.

“Is running a chore or something I truly enjoy?”

I have had seasons where the answer to this question changed every few weeks. Part of being a committed distance runner is logging the miles even when you don’t feel like it, but if you find yourself dreading every run for more than a week or two, it may be time to give yourself a small break to mentally regroup before race day.

Allowing yourself a step back from running can leave you hungry to compete and excited for race day rather than dreading it.

Step 3: Set multiple goals

Having a set of goals as you approach race day can help lift the pressure of breaking a specific barrier or PR on the big day.

Set yourself a good goal, a great goal and a shoot for the stars goal.

  • A good goal should be a reasonable, very reachable goal, a time that your training indicates you should be able to run even on an “off” day.
  • A great goal should be attainable but challenging, perhaps a new PR or a time that breaks the nearest barrier (for example, 4:10, 4:00, 3:50).
  • A shoot for the stars goal is a personal, dream goal that you believe you could accomplish if absolutely everything goes right on race day and your legs have that magical feeling of being able to run forever. This can be anything you want it to be; the sky is the limit.

If you are having trouble with goal setting, talk with your coach about what may be a reasonable goal for you to shoot for.

Arming yourself with these tools as you head towards race day will help you to step back and enjoy the process of a season build-up without overly stressing about the outcome of race day.

Of course, it is natural to experience a certain amount of anticipatory pressure as you approach your goal race, and it can help to look at it through the eyes of famed sprinter Michael Johnson who said, “Pressure is nothing more than the shadow of great opportunity”.

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How Body Weight and Sweat Rate Impact Your Ability to Run in the Heat Mon, 04 Aug 2014 10:00:49 +0000 Heat regulation during exercise is a very relevant topic this time of year.

In previous articles, we’ve looked broadly at thermoregulation—the five-dollar word for how your body handles heat production—during exercise, but today we’re going to examine one specific facet of running in the heat: the differences in heat management between males and females.

Men and women differ physiologically in a number of ways.

Race times are the most obvious among these, but women often suffer from different injury patterns than men, have, on average, different body composition, and also have small biomechanical differences in running form.

Do any of the differences between the sexes have an impact on handling the heat during a hot run?

At the meta-level, what does this data tell us about running in the heat that all runners can use to their advantage?

Running in the heat for men and women

On first inspection, there are a number of biological differences between men and women that should have a significant impact on thermoregulation during exercise.

These were discussed in a 2001 review article by Hanna Kaciuba-Uscilko and Ryszard Grucza of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

For starters, men tend to be taller, heavier, have lower body fat, and sweat sooner and more profusely during exercise in the heat.

The differences in body size should confer an overall advantage to women: being smaller means that the ratio of your skin surface area to your body mass is larger—this allows for better radiation of excess heat.

On the other hand, an earlier and stronger sweating response, plus lower body fat, should both improve heat loss in men.

How do these differences stack up when it comes to actually measuring heat management during exercise in the real world?

Measuring heat management during exercise

A 1995 study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology studied 12 well-trained male and female marathon runners during a 25-mile simulated race on a hot and humid day. Core body temperature was measured during and after the run.

The researchers found that the women had a lower body temperature in the final six miles of running, and lost less fluids to sweat during the course of the run.

The smaller body mass of the women likely allowed more efficient heat loss, necessitated less sweating, and thus less dehydration (which itself can cause problems with heat management).

The findings of this study are particularly useful because the authors were careful to make sure that the men and women were all running at the same intensity relative to their fitness—heat regulation is strongly dependent on individual effort level, so a very fit runner will be able to handle, say, eight-minute mile pace much easier than a less-fit runner on a hot day, because that speed is a lower intensity relative to his or her fitness level.

However, women don’t have the upper hand in all situations.

As pointed out by physiology researchers Samuel Cheuvront and Emily Haymes in a 2001 article on heat tolerance in marathon runners, women’s smaller size and lower sweat rate could work against them in dry, extremely hot weather.

Conclusion and how you can apply this research

  • When the ambient temperature is hotter than your skin temperature, having a high skin surface-area to mass ratio actually works against you, and lower sweat rates can hamper your ability to stay cool when dry air is sapping away all of your perspiration. Fortunately, this only comes into play on very hot days, when the air temperature is close to or over one hundred degrees.
  • Cheuvront and Haymes also cite research showing that, once you control for factors like body size and fitness level, women and men handle heat very similarly under most conditions, a point agreed to by Kaciuba-Uscilko and Grucza.
  • In most real-world situations, women will maintain the same core temperature as men when faced with similar workloads, given equivalent body sizes.

So, there are a few situations where gender might make a difference in the heat: in hot and humid conditions, women as a whole might have a slight edge thanks to more moderate sweat rates and their smaller size.

In oppressively hot, dry conditions, men should (on average) have the upper hand with their higher sweat rates and larger body mass. Outside of these two extremes, and when effort level and body size are controlled for, there’s no significant difference in how men and women handle the heat.

Knowing this data, you can now adjust your race paces and performance expectations when racing in hot weather.

Adjusting your expectations and paces early can dramatically improve your performance and ability to handle the conditions.

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5 Ways to Fix Your Running Injuries Using Mindful Movement Thu, 31 Jul 2014 10:00:37 +0000 As runners we pride ourselves on being fairly resilient creatures, which makes it all the more difficult when we find ourselves having to accept the fact that a niggle we’ve been trying to ignore has reached such intensity or duration that we have no choice but to seek help from a health professional.

What type of health professional we choose to see, be it a sports therapist, physiotherapist, osteopath, chiropractor, etc., often depends on either a recommendation from a fellow runner or maybe a little home spun self diagnosis via Google, but ultimately we are looking for someone to fix us.

In anticipation of the appointment, we hope the issue is at worst a muscle strain because we know a bit of massage and ultrasound can fix that.

We hope it is not a tendon or a ligament because they take longer to fix.

We pray to the running gods it is nothing skeletal as that conjures up images of slipped discs and everlasting pain because we know there is not a lot anyone can do to fix bones, apart from surgery, and that’s really not a road we want to go down.

Despite the conditioned belief that in times of pain we need a pill or a professional to ‘fix us’, modern pain science suggests that this tendency to disconnect ourselves from responsibility and place ourselves in the hands of a third party can actually slow down our recovery.

Lying on a treatment couch whilst a therapist rubs, twists, pulls and pokes us may result in us leaving the clinic pain free, limping less, able to lift our shoulder, turn our head, etc. but as many of us are probably all too aware this ‘fix’ can often be temporary.

So we go for another session of treatment, and another.

Research actually suggests that stronger our belief that the actions of the therapist are ‘fixing’us, e.g. having our spines ‘clicked back into position’, the higher the danger of us becoming dependent on their help, until months or even years have passed of us getting ‘fixed’ without actually getting fixed!

So, what does this mean for you? Should you stop seeing a therapist? How do you get “fixed” without becoming dependent?

The Therapist’s Role

Before we continue, please note that I am not saying do not go seek help from a professional.

Apart from that being professional suicide on my behalf, this article is not about you putting up with ongoing pain or trying to deal with it all yourself.

As a runner there is a lot you can do to manage pain in the initial onset but as a general rule if the pain has lasted over four days or is forcing a change to the way you move, you should definitely go seek advice from a health professional.

However, the key word is advice.

Yes, therapists have many ways of helping reduce pain and increase movement but the most important role of a therapist is to help you manage yourself. This should include explanation and education as to what is going on, and most importantly provision of a clear, structured plan detailing what you need to be doing/not doing over a specified time period to start fixing yourself.

The Brain’s Role

In order to help you understand why you taking control is so important when it comes to dealing with pain and injury, we need to take a closer look at how neuroscience is changing our understanding of manual therapy.

Deep tissue massage, myofascial work, mobilisations, stretching, acupuncture – all of these can serve to help decrease pain and increase mobility in the short term.

However, despite the traditional belief that these techniques directly affect our muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia, modern research suggests that the changes in tension, mobility and pain we experience after these manual treatments are more likely to be the product of temporary changes to the nervous system.

In other words, although having a therapist rub, twist, pull and poke us may make us feel better and closer to being ‘fixed’, it is unlikely the treatment alone will provide a long term solution.

To promote long term changes, you need to be in control, you need to be the one doing the moving. Only you can fix the more important of your two bodies.

Body Maps

Yes, you read it right – I just said two bodies.

I am referring to what could be regarded as far as pain goes as the more important and significant ‘virtual body’ that each of us carries in our brains, referred to as Body Maps.

A basic understanding of the relevance of Body Maps when it comes to dealing with injury and pain can help runners appreciate the importance of performing rehabilitation correctly and in doing so potentially help us to not only speed up recovery but also avoid the frustration of chronic reoccurrences.

Body maps are probably one of the most exciting discoveries of modern day neuroscience.

All of our physical body parts are represented by neuronal networks in the brain, referred to as body maps.

As far as pain goes, the body map is reality.

If your body map says your foot is on fire, you will feel like your foot is on fire, even if you don’t even have a foot! (Read more about phantom pain in ‘An Introduction to Understanding Pain’.

The exciting thing about body maps is that they are always changing size, shape and organization, a process called neuroplasticity.

The better the size and quality of a body map, the better the perception and movement of the physical body part it represents.

When you practice a movement, the body map representing the physical body part involved grows in size. However, if you stop using a particular body part, e.g. when you are injured and/or in pain, the body map for that particular body part becomes ‘blurred’ (also referred to as ‘smudged’).

In other words, if you don’t use it you lose it.

Mindful Movement

When a body map becomes blurred, the brain’s perception of the body’s movement becomes distorted.

Its powers of assessing a particular situation become hindered and it becomes threatened unnecessarily.

As we saw in ‘An Introduction to Understanding Pain’, if the brain feels threatened it outputs pain. We are not saying that pain is all in your head, we are saying that in order to restore the brain to a less threatened state we need to restore the integrity of the blurred body maps.

And that will not happen by having someone else rub, twist, pull or poke our physical body.

Blurred body maps are cleaned up by us performing goal orientated, concentrated movements, in other words mindful movement. The simple act of slowly and carefully drawing the alphabet with your toes can often result in a sprained ankle hurting less when you try and walk on it again.

You have not affected the physical structures of the foot; you have filled in some of the gaps on the body map in your brain. If moving in a certain way is regarded as threatening by the brain, changing the movement slightly so that you can perform it in less pain and with more coordination will encourage reintegration of body maps, a less threatened brain and nervous system, and therefore less pain.

Mindful Movement in Rehab

The existence of body maps and neuroplasticity has huge implications when it comes to performing rehab.

First of all, it reinforces the fact that if you want to move better and be in less pain, you have to do your exercises!

The second is how you perform the exercises. Too many clients I see rush through rehab, in other words they just go through the motions.’

Research shows that restoring size, shape and organisation to our body maps is best achieved by:

  • Active Movement– i.e. you performing the movement, not a third party.
  • Concentration – be mindful of what you are doing and how your body feels.
  • Breathing – focussing on breathing whilst moving is a great way to enhance concentration.
  • Goal Orientated – e.g. rather than just twisting your ankle round, try drawing the alphabet.
  • Novel – new movements will stimulate the brain; experiment, explore.

To incorporate the above factors, you may only need to tweak you rehab slightly.

Set yourself goals, stay attentive of what you are doing, practice different tempo’s, explore different ways of breathing, discover new ways of performing the same exercise but with body parts in slightly different positions.

Imagination is the only thing that can hold you back. Make it mentally challenging, make it fun!


Many of the above elements of mindful movement are already waiting for you in a multitude of group classes: Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi – any class that involves slow, controlled, purposeful movement will potentially help restore and improve body maps.

I do not recommend classes performed in time to music for mindful movement as this defeats the whole purpose of individual exploration.

Calm, soothing music in the background may well help you achieve the desired state of relaxation and concentration, as will suitable lighting and temperature.

You may need to have a look around for an instructor you feel comfortable with as a positive connection with him or her is vital for you to be able to remain focused and enjoy the experience. The advantage of an instructor is they can provide you with feedback, something that has also been shown to help improve the revitalizing of body maps.

If you are performing rehab with your therapist, they too should be providing you with feedback and suggesting novel ways of moving in order to stimulate the nervous system.

A rub, twist, pull or poke before the rehab can often help to reduce pain and free up some movement, but as a rule always follow it up with some active movement.

Your body, your brain, your movement… you fix it!

Happy Rehab!

Matt PhilipsMatt Phillips is a Run Conditioning Coach, Video Gait Analyst & Sports Massage Therapist with over 20 years experience working within the Health & Fitness Industry. Follow Matt on Twitter

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Does Sunscreen Affect Your Performance When Running in the Heat? Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:00:10 +0000 Summer is kicking into high gear across the country. For runners almost everywhere, that means running in the heat.

Hot weather can cause a whole set of problems, but something that’s often neglected is the effect of the sun itself.

Sunburn can be a real pain, but some long-time runners claim that sunscreen clogs up your sweat pores and makes you overheat.

But does this hold true or is it yet another old wives’ tale?

Should you hesitate to lather up with sunscreen before your next big race or important workout?

Sunscreen and the heat

The effects of sunscreen on your body’s ability to regulate heat production during exercise isn’t a particularly popular research topic, but there are still three solid studies which examine the issue.

The first and oldest is a 1984 study that looked at the effects of sunscreen on heat regulation in high and low humidity conditions.

Wells and colleagues had 16 men ride stationary bicycles in hot and humid as well as hot and dry conditions either with or without a mildly protective (SPF 8) sunscreen applied to their exposed skin.

Wells et al. found that sunscreen did not have any significant impact on physiological variables like heart rate, oxygen consumption, and sweat loss, but the sunscreen did cause an increase in skin temperature in the hot but dry condition.

The researchers hypothesized that the sunscreen impeded the evaporation of sweat, leading to increased heat buildup on the skin.

However, there were a number of flaws with this study, as pointed out by Declan Connolly in his 1994 Ph.D. thesis at Oregon State University.

Skin temperature

Wells et al. had their subjects complete a static amount of work (100 Watts of cycling) instead of adjusting the workload to be proportional to the subjects’ fitness. Additionally, some—but not all—of the subjects drank water during the course of the experiment, and Wells et al. did not report how they calculated skin temperatures.

These deficiencies led Connolly to conduct his own study, which consisted of 22 men undergoing a 45-minute stationary bike ride at 55% of their VO2 max in a hot and fairly dry lab. Each subject underwent the test twice, once while wearing sunscreen (SPF 15) and once while not wearing sunscreen.

Connolly also found no significant differences in heart rate, oxygen consumption, or sweat loss between the two conditions, but in contrast to Wells et al., Connolly found a decrease in skin temperature in the sunscreen-wearing cyclists.

Connolly hypothesized that the sunscreen improved heat loss by “wetting” the skin, aiding the evaporation of sweat from the skin.


Finally, a study commissioned by the US military that was presented at an Australian conference on performance in extreme conditions also examined sunscreen’s effects on cyclists.

Seventeen well-trained male cyclists rode for 60 minutes at 60% of their VO2 max in two trials, one while using sunscreen, and one without.

The researchers found that sunscreen use did not affect any performance or heat-regulation variables, including skin temperature.

So, the balance of evidence to date indicates that sunscreen has no measurable detrimental effects on performance or heat regulation.

Though Connolly and Wells et al. found conflicting evidence related to skin temperature, this didn’t seem to have any impact on heart rate, core temperature, or oxygen consumption.

If sunscreen really were impeding performance by increasing heat buildup, we’d expect to see an increase in some of these variables.


It is important to note that these three studies, which represent the entirety of the scientific research on heat regulation and sunscreen, have some significant shortcomings.

  • All three studies involved indoor exercise in simulated heat—sunscreen, of course, is designed to be used outside, in direct sunlight. And riding a stationary bike in a lab is significantly different from a normal bike ride or a run because of the lack of airflow.
  • In the real world, when you go for a run or head out on the roads with your bike, you create natural airflow simply by moving forward, which impacts how well your body gets rid of excess heat.
  • Finally, the sunscreen used in these experiments is relatively weak—only SPF 15. Stronger sunscreen might have a more measurable impact on heat regulation.

For now though, it looks like using sunscreen isn’t going to impede your ability to run fast.

Moreover, performance is a small sacrifice in comparison to the very real dangers of skin cancer. Your next long run is going to be challenging enough—no need to add to it by finishing beet-red and sunburned.

At least until there’s more robust research done on using sunscreen during exercise in the heat, runners should have no reservations about slathering up with sunscreen to protect their skin.

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How Do You Pace the Ultramarathon? Mon, 21 Jul 2014 10:00:45 +0000 Track fans had their eyes fixed on Sacramento in July for the USATF outdoor track championships, but that wasn’t the only championship event in the running world. That weekend also played host to the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile ultramarathon that’s arguably one of the most storied ultra-endurance events in the world.

The big story at this year’s Western States was a strong push through the first 60 miles of the race by Max King, a latecomer to ultramarathoning who boasts very impressive track and marathon credentials, including a national-caliber 3km steeplechase PR.

Alas, Max King faded in the final third of the race, passed by eventual winner Rob Krar, who finished the hundred-mile trek in just under fifteen hours.

For the better-known running distances like the 5k or the marathon, it’s pretty well-accepted that even pacing is the best strategy (here’s some research). But how about the ultramarathon?

Does the ideal pacing strategy change when you push out your race distance far beyond the length of a marathon?

Identifying the ideal pacing strategy

A study published in 2004 by Mike Lambert and a team of other researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa looked to find some answers to these questions.

In the study, Lambert et al. analyzed the 10km splits of 67 high-level ultramarathoners at the 1995 and 1997 IAU World Challenge, a 100 km ultramarathon.

By sorting the runners into groups based on their finish time and applying statistical analysis to their intermediate splits, Lambert et al. were able to identify what type of pacing strategy led to a good race outcome.

Fast runners vs slow runners

Unlike many ultramarathons (including Western States), the course at the IAU World Challenge is a flat loop course, which makes comparing split times much easier.

Unlike the pacing of elite runners in shorter events, everybody at the IAU World Challenge 100k slowed down over the course of the race—even the podium finishers.

But critically, the most successful runners were the ones who slowed down the least.

The fastest group of runners only ran their last 10k loop 15 percent slower than their first, and they were able to maintain their initial pace up to about 50 km into the race before slowing at all.

The pacing of the slower runners dropped off by 40%, and they started to slow significantly earlier. Even the middle-of-the-pack ultramarathoners slowed by 25-30%.

Further, the fastest runners also had less variability in their splits, meaning they didn’t have any big surges or drastic drop-offs in pace.

Now, some of this might be incidental: a runner with stomach problems or one who tripped and fell would obviously have more split-to-split variability than one who didn’t.

Low split variation and gradual slowdown

And one of the study’s other findings—that the faster runners started out at a higher speed than the slower runners—is almost surely correlative, not causative.

But the combination of low split variation and a more gradual slowdown in the best ultramarathoners makes a strong case for efficient pacing in the ultramarathon.

Why do runners slow down?

This still doesn’t provide a direct answer as to why even very successful ultramarathoners tend to slow down in the latter portions of the race.

Lambert et al. propose a number of different possible reasons.

  • First among these is fueling: even with very high carbohydrate intake, there comes a point where your body’s ability to absorb carbohydrates limits how fast you can run, because faster paces necessitate higher carbohydrate utilization and you can only absorb carbs so fast.
  • Interestingly, Lambert et al. point out that this threshold occurs around 40-50km in most people when running at a moderate pace, right around where the best runners in their study started to slow.
  • Alternatively, muscle fatigue or simply pacing mistakes by the slower runners could account for much of the slowdown.

Whatever the cause, it’s not unique to ultramarathon running.

A 2008 review study by Chris Abbiss and Paul Laursen at Edith Cowan University in Australia cites research on Ironman triathlons and long-distance cycling races that shows a similar progressive slowing of pace in the later stages of the competition.

Unlike in a 5k or even a marathon, a progressive (though gradual) slowing of pace after about 50km (31 miles) appears to be part of the ideal pacing strategy—at least according to the research published to date.


Scientific evidence isn’t always in-step with the latest training and racing strategies, but it does help explain the reasons behind the phenomena we observe on race day.

If you are shooting for success in your next ultra race, you should maintain your goal pace as evenly as possible for as long as possible.

Although some slowing is probably inevitable after running for a few hours, you should do your best to keep the slowdown as gradual as possible.

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A Detailed Look at the Diet of an Elite Marathoner Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:00:03 +0000 jeffrey-egglestonIn 2014, Jeffrey Eggleston was the 3rd American at the Boston Marathon.

At the time, it was a big PR and one of Jeffrey’s best races to date (He also finished 13th at the World Championships in 2013).

Not to be outdone, Jeffrey traveled to Australia earlier in July to compete in the Gold Coast Marathon.

This time, he lowered his PR to 2:10:52, becoming one of the fastest American Marathoners this year.

In our continuing series on marathon nutrition, we asked Jeffrey to detail his training and pre-race diet for the marathon.

Finding an effective diet is an individualized journey because each person’s training and nutritional demands are different, such as variations in mileage, intensity, running experience and goals. Moreover, each runner’s body responds differently to foods.

For some, following Jeffrey’s diet would work great while others may have gastrointestinal problems or feel sick.

The goal here isn’t to provide something you should necessarily copy, but hopefully it helps you connect the theoretical to the practical and highlights some of the principles that will help you fine-tune your nutritional approach.


Diet of elite marathon runner

I hope this in-depth look helped you visualize how to structure your diet when training for the marathon.

For reference, Jeffrey runs about 120 miles per week on average and peaks at about 140 miles per week when training for the marathon. You can follow his blog and some of his training here.

Does this help you structure your nutrition plan?

Answer any burning questions?

Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to help.

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