Meb Keflezighi: The Molding of a Distance Runner

Meb Keflezighi is one of the best distance runners ever to run for the United States. He’s also humble, curious, thoughtful, and an ambassador to the sport admired by legions of fans around the world.

Meb Keflezighi Marathon

If you’re not familiar with the life and career of Meb Keflezighi, you’re missing out on a story that weaves together the hope of a family, the ambition of one young man, and the American dream.

Meb’s legacy is cemented as a world-class runner: he’s the 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist, winner of the 2009 New York City Marathon and 2014 Boston Marathon, and 4-time Olympian.

He’s also the author of three books guaranteed to get your competitive juices flowing:

Perhaps more impactful is his approach to the sport of distance running and the marathon. Free from any personal scandal, Meb is a true ambassador to running. In 2017, he was recognized as an ‘Outstanding American by Choice’ by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

He’s also run 26 marathons over the course of his decades long career. And anybody who has completed that many marathons at a world-class level has a lot to share.

What the Marathon Taught Meb Keflezighi

Meb Keflezighi 26 Marathons

Last week I had the rare privilege to sit down and speak with Meb for nearly an hour about his life, running career, and what he’s learned along the way.

The result is a moving discussion of the power of family, hope, and hard work that will change your perspective on what it means to be a runner.

In this conversation, Meb and I have a wide-ranging conversation about:

  • His childhood in Eritrea and how it prepared him for distance running
  • The surprises he learned when running his first marathon
  • Why cross-training is so valuable for him
  • How running has prepared him for setbacks in his personal life
  • When running is particularly hard for Meb

We also talk about his new book 26 Marathons and the many lessons he’s learned from each of the 26 marathons he’s run over the last two decades.

Finally, I ended our conversation with a simple question ahead of next month’s Boston MarathonIf you could talk to the entire field at Boston as they lined up in Hopkinton, what advice would you have for them?

I’ve looked up to Meb as a running role model for years so I was thrilled to speak with him. I think you’re going to love this episode.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Notes & Resources:

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving an honest review of the Strength Running Podcast on iTunes and thank Meb on social media for doing this interview!

Thanks Hemp Daddy

This episode of the podcast is brought to you by Hemp Daddy’s Therapeutics. Started by a trail runner, this company helps athletes recover more fully with full-spectrum CBD products like oil, capsules, and lotions.

And with code strength at checkout, you can now save 10% and get free shipping!

CBD is the non-psychoactive component of marijuana and has been linked to greater levels of overall well-being, reduced anxiety and stress, and sounder sleep (the hallmarks of effective recovery).

All of their products are 3rd party lab tested to ensure purity. Use code strength at checkout to get fee shipping and a 10% discount on any Hemp Daddy’s CBD product.

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Dr. Mike Young Explains Metcon Workouts for Runners

There are so many types of training sessions available to runners. But most of us have never tried Metcon workouts – so Dr. Mike Young is here to explain them for us.

Dr. Mike Young

Metcon workouts are also known as metabolic conditioning workouts. They’re high-intensity sessions that can include a variety of modes of exercise.

Us runners are not used to this! Unless you’ve run circuit workouts, you’re probably not used to combining many forms of exercise into one workout.

Don’t be surprised if a Metcon workout includes:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Gymnastic movements
  • Strength exercises
  • Any combination of these forms of exercise

They’re put together to condition the metabolism. In other words, to enable you to work at a near maximum intensity for a prolonged period of time.

They sound very much like a running workout – like a challenging hill workout, for example.

But the crucial difference is that they don’t have to include any running. And that makes them useful for runners who may not be ready for a hard workout (or who want a different, less-specific workout).

I’ve brought Dr. Mike Young onto the podcast to discuss metcon workouts for runners (and more topics) in more detail.

You can also sign up here for our free course on runner-specific strength training.

Metcon Workouts for Runnners with Mike Young

Mike Young metcon workouts

Mike and I aren’t just discussing Metcons. We’re also touching on a controversial topic in the fitness industry: lifting with free weights vs. machines.

Some folks become very passionate about using free weights. They think because machines require very little stability (if at all) then they’re inferior and don’t produce as much gains in strength, coordination, and overall fitness.

But the debate isn’t that simple.

And Mike Young is the perfect person to debunk these myths and explain how and why runners should be interested in Metcon workouts.

He is the Director of Research and Performance at Athletic Lab. A Lead Instructor for both USA Track & Field and USA Weightlifting, he also works with elite athletes and has consulted with the MLS, MLB, NFL, PGA, and NHL.

An internationally recognized researcher, coach, and educator, Mike has the unique distinction of attending all three US Olympic Training Centers as an athlete, sport scientist, and coach.

He has degrees in exercise physiology, coaching science, and biomechanics – not to mention his prowess publishing multiple peer-reviewed journal articles.

This conversation focuses on strength training for runners and how to think more productively about certain types of strength workouts and whether or not machines are appropriate for runners.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Resources & Links from the Show:

While there’s no official podcast sponsor for this episode, we’re celebrating STRENGTH with SR’s free strength course (strength = speed).

If you haven’t yet committed to a strength routine in your training, you’ll learn:

  • How most runners prevent progress by making the same 3 classic mistakes in the gym
  • The real goals of lifting that are specific to endurance runners
  • How other runners have used strength training to improve their Personal Bests
  • Example exercises, full routines, and more

Sign up here to get started!

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How Strength Training Can Result in Massive Marathon PR’s

Can you imagine a football player who did no strength training? It’s hard to imagine. But for some reason, many runners think it’s perfectly fine to skip their own strength work.

strength training for marathon runners

Kevin enjoying the fruits of his strength training efforts

Both football and running are impact sports. In football, you’re getting slammed into the ground after being tackled by other players.

But in running, you’re hitting yourself. Every footstep sends an impact force about 2-5 times your bodyweight up your legs. It shouldn’t be surprising that running has such a high injury rate.

Strength training toughens the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and connective tissues. It gives you armor that protects you from the stress of running.

And just like in football, strength training gives runners higher levels of athleticism, strength, coordination, speed, and power. Without those skills, a runner’s progress is stunted.

Just the other day a runner told me he was “too tired after his run” for strength training. But lifting weights would give him the strength and power to be less tired after his run!

Some runners also learn the hard way that skipping weight training is a risky choice. A runner told me this just last week:

“I didn’t carve out the time and didn’t know where to start! Finally got injured and had to cut back on running, so I figured it out and now I love it!” – Molly

But once we avoid weightlifting mistakes and recognize strength training’s benefits, we’re ready to start running healthier and far more explosively.

Just like Kevin, a runner who finally made the commitment. And his results are mind-blowing.

“I didn’t know where to start with weightlifting”

This counts as lifting weights, right?

Kevin was like most of us: he loves running but was skeptical of lifting weights. He knew it would be useful but wasn’t sure where to start. He just didn’t know what to do.

If you’re like me, you need to be repeatedly reminded of the benefits of strength training

He told me:

I ran a 3:43 marathon followed four months later by a 3:41 marathon. What I had been aiming for was around a 3:30 marathon, or better.

I had been running for about four years but my progression to a faster marathon was moving very slowly. I knew that weight lifting would be a useful tool but didn’t really know where to start.

I’ve found that this is one of the biggest hurdles for runners to clear before they start strength training. There’s always a lot of interest in the high level concept of strength training for marathon runners but knowing where to start can be difficult.

At Strength Running, we’ve made things simple so you can focus on training (not building your training).

“I gained muscle and lost fat. Win-win”

Kevin Marathon Runner

If Kevin has spaghetti arms, Jason must have two-dimensional arms

Kevin decided to invest in a Strength Running weightlifting program. He realized that he’d never commit because he didn’t know how to create a strength training for marathon runners program.

So he offloaded that task to us. And he started to like how he felt!

I really liked what began to happen. My spaghetti arms began to get some muscle. I felt stronger and was happy to see a progression to heavier weights.

I even lost ten pounds, which was a surprise to me. So, I gained muscle and lost some fat. Win, win.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying how you look when you start getting fit. Vanity is a fine motivator, at first.

Kevin agreed, noting that he liked his better muscle tone and weight loss.

But what’s more important are your results. After all, if you look great but run slower, what’s the point?

Let’s see what a strength training program for marathoners could actually do.

“Over the Moon Happy”

kevin marathoner

The steely-eyed focus of a marathon runner

Soon, Kevin was able to put his strength training program to the test:

The program was easy to follow and I planned it around my marathon in June. The program tapered at the end, which was great. So, twice per week to the gym with a plan. Easy.

My June marathon was 3:31. I dropped about eleven minutes from my previous marathon only four months before. I was over-the-moon happy about my results and attribute this improvement to the strength training program.

Then, I used a modified version to get ready for a half marathon in September and achieved another PB of 1:38. Again, ecstatic with the result.

In just a few months, Kevin set multiple, massive marathon Personal Bests. He also lost ten pounds, gained more definition, and ran a half marathon PR too.

What’s even more exciting is that Kevin now has the confidence to think boldly about the future:

I believe that if I continue with program it will get me a 3:15 or faster next year.

Now Kevin has his sights set on the next goal: a marathon that’s nearly a half hour faster than what he ran last year.

This begs the question: can we all be successful like Kevin?!

I think so.

Kevin on “But This Won’t Work For Me!”

kevin finishing marathon

If you don’t raise your hands at a marathon finish, did you even race a marathon?

After Kevin answered some questions for this article, I had a sudden realization. He wrote something profound that can help all of us.

You see, Kevin knows that he’s not a special snowflake – nothing makes him stand out from the crowd as a runner except his burning desire to improve.

And that is the real driver of his success. He knows progress starts from within. Here’s what he wrote:

There is nothing exceptional about me except the determination to get faster. I’m a middle-aged accountant who loves to run and who loves to set personal bests.

I’m going to keep using this program to get stronger and faster. I know that the program works.

Those are wise words. Success can be yours – if you’re determined.

Many runners self-sabotage by thinking that they’re too old, too young, not experienced enough, or different in some other way for a proven training strategy.

Kevin, like other successful runners, understands that strength training works for every runner.

Strength Training for Marathon Runners: What Works?

Many will think that strength training is the reason for Kevin’s success. And that’s partly true! But it’s not the entire story.

See, Kevin improved because of his running. But his strength training program was built for marathon runners – and that extra fitness enabled better running.

Sure, extra strength and power helped him improve. Yes, Kevin ran faster because he was more economical than before he started lifting.

But strength training enabled better training – and that’s what his success can mostly be attributed to.

He reflected on his experience:

When Jason asked me to write something about the strength program, I was happy to oblige. Having used it for a full and a half marathon, I would also recommend the program. I like that I actually have some muscle tone and I like the weight loss. I especially love the PB’s.

The program works and it will work for anyone who is willing to commit the time and energy it takes to complete the program.

Strength training for marathon runners has to enable marathon training.

It should have three main goals. It must…

  • Make you more durable and able to better handle marathon long runs and higher mileage
  • Improve strength to help you feel better and run faster when you’re running
  • Boost running economy/efficiency (which is even more important for longer races)

Bodyweight strength training can accomplish most (but not all) of these goals. And the squat is one of the best:

Perhaps more importantly, marathon strength training should actively avoid some aspects of weightlifting. After all, you don’t have the same goals as a bodybuilder!

At a fundamental level, strength training for marathon runners should avoid:

  • Excessive high-intensity lifting with little rest (circuits or AMRAP – as many reps as possible – sessions aren’t the best options for marathoners)
  • Lifting for endurance with high reps and low weight (you get a very similar stimulus from running so let’s not waste our time)
  • Lifting for hypertrophy with high reps, high weight, and long, frequent workouts (we’re not bodybuilders trying to get the biggest muscles possible)

Sign up here and I’ll send you even more weightlifting mistakes to avoid in the gym.

How to Start Strength Training

If you’re new to lifting weights – or you’ve never lifted specifically to help your running – you’re in the right place!

We’ve built a collection of resources over the years to help you start properly, improve your rate of progress, stay motivated, and learn proper form in the weight room.

Get started here and I’ll send you a video presentation about how to lift for speed.

Strength Training Exercises for Runners

But you’ll also get a series of coaching lessons designed to make strength training for marathon runners simple:

  • The changes that you should expect both in your body and with your running
  • Common pitfalls and training errors that can derail your progress
  • Case studies and examples from other runners just like you
  • Example exercises, form tips, and a lot more

Our goals are to help you train well, reduce your risk of injury, and get as much as possible out of this incredible sport.

Sign up here and let’s see if we can get you to a massive marathon and half marathon PR just like Kevin!

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Do Runners Really Need a Foam Roller?

The foam roller is a trusted companion to runners everywhere. But are we using a foam roller correctly? And are they necessary at all?

How to Use a Foam Roller

Flashback to 1998: I just started running. Smart watches were a fantastical sci-fi dream and Strava didn’t exist (actually, the internet was barely used for running back then!).

During my four years on the high school’s cross country, indoor, and outdoor track teams we spent time in weight room and with the Athletic Trainer.

But what’s surprising is that I never used a foam roller until I went to college! They weren’t very popular with recreational runners at the time – and even our competitive high school teams never used them.

Everything changed at the collegiate level. I was exposed to more coaches, styles and philosophies of training, and recovery methods.

More importantly, the training got a lot more difficult:

  • After running 30-40 miles per week in high school, I started running 60-85 miles per week in college
  • Races got longer
  • Workouts got both longer and faster

It wasn’t an easy transition. In fact, I spent a lot of time injured with the Athletic Trainer.

It was there that I was first exposed to the countless recovery tactics that exist in the world of physical therapy:

  • electric stim
  • chiropractic manipulation and massage
  • hot and cold baths (and heat wraps, ice wraps, and ice cups)
  • Foam rolling and other forms of self-massage

Soon, I was the proud owner of a new foam roller and The Stick. They seemed necessary after all that hard training nearly crippled me…

But were they really necessary? Even though massage feels good, was it actually helping my running?

Foam Rolling for Runners: Benefits

Using a foam roller is a form of myofascial release – like getting a professional massage (without the need to get naked and slathered in oil).

And since I’m a running coach (and you’re reading a running site), I’m going to focus on the benefits of foam rolling for runners.

Those benefits are substantial:

  • Enhanced circulation and blood flow, particularly to extremities
  • By stimulating blood flow, dramatically more oxygen is delivered to sore muscles
  • Relaxation and the promotion of a feeling of well-being
  • Removal of scar tissue or muscle adhesions in the fascia that limit mobility
  • Reduction in stress hormones and inflammation
  • Better range of motion
  • Improved immune function

Clearly, there’s a lot to like about using a foam roller!

For this reason, foam rolling can be a prominent and helpful part of any runner’s training program. It can improve recovery, promote well-being, and help you feel better while running.

In fact, Ian Sharman (4-time winner of the Leadville Trail 100) considers foam rolling an integral part of his injury prevention and recovery strategy.

He talks about how he uses a foam roller in our (free) Little Black Book of Recovery & Prevention.

Avoid These Foam Roller Mistakes

While using a foam roller is a no-brainer based on the evidence – and the injury risk is virtually nonexistent – there are some mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

Mistake #1: Using a Foam Roller at the Wrong Time

First, don’t spend a lot of time on the foam roller right before a hard workout or short, fast race. Excessive foam rolling might reduce muscle tension, thereby reducing your ability to run fast.

Relaxed muscles are great to have – but you don’t want to be too relaxed before a big effort.

Mistake #2: Rolling an Injury

Injured muscles are usually damaged – they’re strained, torn, or overly stretched. For that reason, they’re usually hotbeds of inflammation. And too much foam rolling could increase inflammation and tension in the area.

Also, you might not be doing anything to help yourself recover! For example, runners with IT Band Syndrome have long rolled the IT band because “it’s tight.” But it’s supposed to be tight! ITBS is not caused by a tight IT band.

Instead, runners should foam roll the surrounding musculature while improving their strength.

Mistake #3: Rolling Too Quickly (or too long)

Like any type of massage, you can use a foam roller for too long, too little, or use it too aggressively.

Set a time limit of 1-2 minutes per major muscle. Use slow, controlled, and deliberate movements over the roller rather than quick, fast movements.

And if you find an area that’s particularly sore, tight, or painful, you can spend an extra 20-45 seconds pressing on the sensitive area. But don’t spend much longer than that (you might just further irritate the muscle).

Using a Foam Roller The Right Way

Now that we know what mistakes to avoid, how do we start using a foam roller correctly?

Follow these guidelines:

  • Use slow, deliberate motions
  • Don’t hold your breath! Remember to breathe normally
  • Start with a gentle amount of pressure and gradually increase it
  • Spend 1-2 minutes on each muscle but no longer
  • Avoid injured areas and connective tissue that’s supposed to be tight (like the IT Band)

Almost all of your foam rolling can be done in about ten minutes or less if you focus on the major muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, glutes, and calves.

This video demonstrates several movements for foam rolling these areas:

I also want to encourage you not to overthink foam rolling! It’s very difficult to have “bad form” when it comes to using a foam roller.

Stay comfortable, don’t twist yourself into a pretzel, and remember to breathe.

As long as you’re moving slowly and deliberately while keeping your body in a good position, you’ll be just fine.

Foam Roller Q&A

If you’ve never used a foam roller before, you might have some questions. I’ve put together some common FAQ about foam rolling to help you get the most out of this recovery method.

Who Should Not Use a Foam Roller?

There are several populations that might experience complications from using a foam roller:

  • Folks taking blood thinning medication or who have a blood disease
  • Those undergoing cancer treatments
  • People with osteoporosis

If you find yourself to be in one of those groups, please discuss foam rolling and your exercise program with a doctor.

What if Foam Rolling Doesn’t Work?

It’s true that some areas of your body need more substantial massage than what you can get by using a foam roller.

In fact, in the above video you’ll see that rolling my hamstrings was “easy.” Too easy!

You might want to use a massage ball for harder to massage spots:

  • Hamstrings
  • Hips
  • Arch / Plantar Fascia
  • Soleus
  • Hip Flexors

Always use a massage ball gently at first and increase pressure gradually and conservatively. There’s no need to cause yourself a lot of pain.

What Kind of Foam Roller Should I Buy?

A simple one!

You certainly don’t need anything fancy, complex, or expensive. The affordable versions work well:

If you’re spending a lot more on a foam roller than these models, you’re throwing your cash away.

Should Foam Rolling Hurt?

A little bit! Foam rolling – like deep tissue massage – can be uncomfortable. Releasing trigger points and breaking down myofascial adhesions ain’t easy, after all.

But you shouldn’t be in any amount of significant pain. If you’re experiencing sharp or stabbing pain, reduce the pressure of your foam rolling until it’s more manageable.

Remember: discomfort is fine but pain is bad.

When Should I Foam Roll?

Foam rolling is ideally done after your training session is complete. It can be the final piece to your workout before you hit the shower.

It can also be done as often as every day (no harm in that!) or after your harder workouts and long runs.

Spending 5-10 minutes using a foam roller after a run can be a great way to boost the recovery process and help you relax after a tough workout.

But you can also use a foam roller before you start running. It’s best to do this before training runs rather than workouts or races (for the muscle tension reason we discussed above). Keep it light and don’t over-roll before a run.

Download the Foam Roller Cheat Sheet

While it’s obvious that you would love to watch my foam roller video on repeat, I want to save your eyes from looking at my half-tights for too long.

Download our free Cheat Sheet to foam rolling for runners, featuring a photo guide for:

  • Optimal Positions
  • Common mistakes to avoid
  • Best practices
  • Ideal times for using a foam roller

Get it here and hang it up where you foam roll, refer to it whenever necessary, or make fun paper airplanes.

And hopefully, it will encourage you to foam roll more regularly to enhance your recovery!

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Beth Skwarecki, the Health Editor of Lifehacker, on Health & Fitness Trends

Beth Skwarecki is the author of two books and the Health Editor of Lifehacker. She’s here to dispel fitness and health myths that might be leading us astray.

Beth Skwarecki

You might have come across Beth’s work. As one of the most popular health writers on Lifehacker – a blog with millions of monthly readers – she’s practically everywhere.

Some of my favorite pieces include:

Beth is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the Association of Health Care Journalists. After getting a BA in biology from Alfred University, she received her Master’s in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Rutger’s University.

She also has previously taught nutrition and environmental sciences at the Community College of Allegheny County.

Her two books will interest the science nerds out there:

She’s taking a break from editing health articles to come on the Strength Running Podcast to talk more about health and fitness trends you might have seen recently.

Beth Skwarecki on Thinking About Health

This conversation focuses on the many side aspects of a healthy lifestyle that make running easier.

After all, it’s critical to have a lifestyle that supports running. You can’t train well if you barely sleep and drink a lot…

We’re talking about:

  • DNA trivia for runners
  • How her job has changed her outlook on health and fitness
  • How to engineer a less groggy morning (for the morning runners out there!)
  • Whether elderberry supplements are a waste of money

Beth and I also discuss running in the dark, the cutoff point for running in extreme cold, and the warning signs of frostbite.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Music or Stitcher.

Resources & Links from the show:

This episode of the podcast is brought to you by Hemp Daddy’s Therapeutics. Started by an ultra marathoner, this company helps athletes recover more fully with full-spectrum CBD products like oil, capsules, and lotions.

And with code strength at checkout, you can now save 10% and get free shipping!

CBD is the non-psychoactive component of marijuana and has been linked to greater levels of overall well-being, reduced anxiety and stress, and sounder sleep (the hallmarks of effective recovery).

All of their products are 3rd party lab tested to ensure purity. Use code strength at checkout to get fee shipping and a 10% discount on any Hemp Daddy’s CBD product.

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Lindsey Hein on Elites, Podcasting for Runners, and Training with Kids

Lindsey Hein is the host behind the I’ll Have Another podcast for runners. And after 160+ episodes, she’s ready to share what she’s learned from pro runners around the world.

Lindsey Hein

Lindsey has always been a runner. She ran cross country in high school and after running for fitness and health in college, started running marathons post-collegiately.

To date, she’s run 14 marathons and is currently preparing for the 2019 Boston Marathon. She’s also a RRCA-certified running coach.

Her podcast is one of the most popular running podcasts out there: I’ll Have Another with Lindsey Hein has more than 160 episodes and features the most talented runners on the planet:

Lindsey is in a unique situation after being able to explore the training, lives, mindsets, and careers of so many world-class athletes. I couldn’t help but have so many questions:

  • How do we relate to elite runners who have physical gifts that we simply do not?
  • What separates the best from the rest of us?
  • How do we learn from these runners to enhance our own training?

In our latest episode for the Strength Running Podcast, we discuss the drawbacks and opportunities of interviewing elite runners and more.

Lindsey Hein on Podcasting and Training with Kids

Lindsey Hein Podcast

Lindsey does all of this with four boys (as a father of three, my jaw is on the floor). And as we’re both in the throes of parenting many little children, the topic of time management and goal setting is critical for us. And I’m sure you, too!

We talk about the shifts that have to happen when training as a parent:

  • How does your mindset change when your life includes managing multiple kids?
  • Is marathon training the same when you have four kids? How is it different?
  • Feeling strong vs. racing fast

Lindsey and I also discuss her latest philanthropic adventure: raising $10,000 for The Donna Foundation to fund breast cancer research and support programs. If you’d like to support her campaign, you can make a tax-deductible gift at the link above.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast on Apple Music or Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources:

Thanks Hemp Daddy’s Therapeutics!

This episode of the podcast is supported by Hemp Daddy’s Therapeutics. Started by a Colorado trail runner, Hemp Daddy’s offers full-spectrum CBD oil to help athletes recover more fully.

CBD – the non-psychoactive component of marijuana – can help you:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly
  • Reduce stress and anxiety

Their products are 3rd-party lab tested to ensure purity and come in oil, capsule, or lotion form.

I’ve personally been using CBD oil for about two weeks now and have had good results! I find that I’m able to sleep better (I’ve long had problems staying asleep in the middle of the night) and I agree with the sentiment that CBD products can help improve your feeling of well-being. I’m living it.

Check out all of their options here. Thanks for making this show possible!

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The 3-Step Process to Recover From a Marathon

A marathon is often a bucket-list goal for runners. Months – or even years – are spent training to finish 26.2 miles. But how are you supposed to recover from a marathon?

how to recover from a marathon

Because of its distance at 26.2 miles (or about 42.2km), it takes dedication and a lengthier training cycle to complete a marathon. It’s an advanced race – and requires more serious training than, say, a 5k race.

And just as the training must be more serious, so must the recovery. Racing a marathon results in a lot more “damage” than simply sore muscles:

  • Immune function is suppressed – making it more likely that your body won’t be able to fight off sickness-causing bacteria or a virus
  • Muscle strength is reduced (and inflammation and cell damage persists for up to two weeks after the marathon)
  • Even the heart may be damaged (while more common in beginner runners, all runners should only attempt 26.2 miles when sufficiently trained for the distance)
  • Muscle memory and coordination are compromised, making a repetitive stress injury more likely while running fast in the 2-3 weeks after the race

Most of these issues are far less serious or even non-existent for shorter races, which makes the question of how to recover from a marathon even more important. Both for your short-term happiness, but also your future training!

So no matter if you’re at the back of the pack or trying to race a fast Boston Marathon, prioritizing recovery after the race is critical.

Proper recovery can be segmented into three basic timeframes: the day of the race, the day after the race, and the week after the race.

Let’s dive into the first stage.

Stage 1: The Day of the Marathon

Christie Aschwanden on post workout recovery

Recovery starts as soon as you cross the finish line. Take a photo with your marathon medal and then let’s prioritize recovery.

How to Recover: Right After the Race

Walk for at least 10-15 minutes to cool down, rather than sitting or lying down immediately after the race. This will help two major issues:

  • Low blood pressure often accompanies a sudden stop in running. You don’t want to faint!
  • Walking will promote extra blood flow to clear your muscles and blood stream of exercise byproducts (like lactate, cortisol, and adrenaline)

At most marathons, there will be fluids and food available at the finish line. Take advantage of these resources! As soon as possible, start rehydrating and taking in calories to give your carb-starved muscles the energy they’re demanding.

When you’re able to eat, it’s important to remember that marathon refueling is very different than eating for health. While it’s important to eat nutritious foods, at this point it’s most critical to begin the rebuilding process with calories (any calories!). Focus on a few major principles:

  • Your body is dehydrated. Start drinking fluids as soon as possible.
  • Focus on carbohydrate-rich foods (yes, that includes simple sugars and processed foods. It’s ok after racing 26.2 miles!)
  • Try to eat something wtih protein in it to help rebuild damaged muscles.

After completing a marathon, it’s fine – and even recommended – to treat yourself!

How to Recover: The Hours After the Race

As soon as your stomach can handle more substantial food, aim for a well-balanced meal. But since you did just finish a 26.2 mile race, it’s ok to order that greasy burger, fries, and beer. You can have a more reasonable dinner but for now, focus on lots of food!

Remember that recovery isn’t just about what you do, but what you don’t do:

  • Avoid celebrating your finish with more than a few alcoholic drinks that will increase dehydration and prevent nutrients from being absorbed in your gut
  • Wait 1-2 days to get a massage, which will further exacerbate muscle damage if done too early
  • Try not to stand up for extended periods of time later in the day; now is the time to rest and put your feet up!

Later in the day, after you’ve had a chance to shower and eat, it’s still a good idea to avoid any form of self-massage or other exercise. Your body is in “fight or flight” mode and needs rest.

An ice bath is a helpful tool to help curb the inflammation that is at peak levels throughout your body. Dump a bag of ice in a tub of cold water and immerse your lower body for 10-15 minutes. Then, turn on the shower for a great contrast effect!

To further jumpstart the recovery process, focus on the following for the rest of the day:

  • Continue to hydrate and drink to thirst. Don’t allow yourself to go awhile without drinking fluids.
  • After that much-deserved cheat meal, have your next meal include a lot of nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, healthy cuts of meat, nuts and seeds, and whole-grain foods.
  • Take a nap if possible. Sleep is when the body is most efficient at muscle repair so aim for a 90-minute nap that will allow you to get through a full sleep cycle.

Finally, go to sleep early and ideally try to get as much rest as possible. Your body needs it after a marathon!

Stage 2: The Day After the Marathon

sleep for recovery

How to Recover From a Marathon: SLEEP

After a (hopefully!) good night’s rest, you can continue the recovery process with some light activity. It’s not recommended to run the day after a marathon because of the repetitive impact, but a short, easy walk will promote healing blood flow without compromising recovery.

You can also choose a non-impact form of cross-training. My preferences, in order, are:

  1. pool running (a runner-specific, no-load bearing form of cross-training completed in the water – this is perfect for recovery!
  2. swimming (while swimming is not runner-specific, we’re not trying to build fitness. We’re maximizing recovery)
  3. cycling (not load-bearing, but may be more difficult than pool running or swimming)

It’s preferable to choose cross-training in the pool as the effects of the water will help the healing process. Due to the water pressure, there will be extra blood flow to your extremities that will aid recovery.

Just keep any exercise the day after a marathon extremely easy. The goal is to simply move not “get in a good workout.” And the total time for exercise doesn’t need to be any longer than about 20-30 minutes.

Now is also a good time to get a massage if you can. Keep it light and therapeutic – now is not the time to get a deep tissue or sports massage. Alert your masseuse that you’ve just run a marathon and they will keep the pressure light to enhance blood flow rather than remove myofascial adhesions or scar tissue. That’s best reserved for 1-2 weeks after the race.

Continue to hydrate well and eat nutritious food. Recovery takes 2-4 weeks to complete and it’s ideal to give your body the best fuel possible.

Stage 3: The Week After the Marathon

Most runners rush back into running because they’re either excited because of a big PR they just ran or they want vengeance after a bad performance. Stay patient! It’s best to take at least 5-7 days off from running entirely to let muscles and connective tissues heal.

And more broadly, recovering from a marathon takes more than sleep and great nutrition: it often requires a change of focus!

In this video, I explain recovery on longer timescales:

About three or four days after your marathon, begin some easy, short cross-training sessions like swimming, pool running, or cycling. The goal is movement, not performance, so keep the effort very easy.

You can also start some light strength exercises or mobility work that will help you transition back to running soon. Just avoid heavy weightlifting in the gym – the body is not ready for that yet!

These strength and core routines will be particularly helpful at this stage:

Prioritize sleep the week after the marathon to ensure you’re mentally and physically ready to run after about a week off. Once the time comes, you can start with a very easy 20-30-minute “test run” to see how your legs feel. The goal with a test run is to diagnose any aches or pains and to also see how recovered you feel.

If your legs still feel incredibly heavy or anything hurts, you may need several more days to rest.

But once you start to feel recovered and ready to start running, you can employ a “reverse taper” to get back to your normal mileage.

The marathon is a rewarding and challenging event. But the hard work continues long after you cross the finish line to maximize your recovery, return to running, and hopefully run another personal best at your next race!

Make it your best and download our Season Planner Worksheet. Better planning, better racing.

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How to Optimize Your Post Workout Recovery, with Christie Aschwanden

Today, every runner is looking for an edge that will help them improve. And no area is more robust for improvement than your post workout recovery.

post workout recovery

How should your post workout recovery be structured?

Recovery is the opposite side of the fitness coin: there’s training and there’s recovery.

Runners typically spend all of their time focusing on our training. I’m guilty of over-focusing on training as well – just look at some of my recent articles:

But recovery is necessary to benefit from training. As our guest on the podcast, Ms. Christie Aschwanden, recently told me:

You can only benefit from training that you recover from.

That’s because the recovery process includes adaptation. If your body had its own voice, it might say Wow, that 15-mile run was hard on me. I’m going to build more mitochondria in my muscle cells and better conserve fuel. That way, if this crazy person goes on another 15-miler, it won’t be so hard!

Your body is lazy. It doesn’t want to do hard things so it adapts and gets stronger, more economical, and more resilient so the next time you attempt a challenging run, you’re better prepared.

This is the Stress-Adaptation Process at work:

Stress Adaptation

We cover “training stimuli” all the time here on Strength Running. Today, let’s focus on recovery.

Post Workout Recovery 101

Recovery means much more than what you do – it’s also about what you don’t do.

For example, many runners think foam rolling or taking an ice bath are effective recovery methods. And if you enjoy them, I won’t argue! But what you’re not doing is equally important:

  • Are you using your day off from running to do your own taxes and run 34 errands?
  • Did you plan your big (i.e., stressful) family vacation for your post-marathon recovery week?
  • Do you stay out late enjoying one or several too many adult beverages?

If the answer is yes, then it almost doesn’t matter what you do for your post workout recovery.

Because the addition of stress – whether physical or mental – derails our best recovery efforts. That’s why when I was in college, our track coach was very understanding of poor workout splits during mid-terms. You simply can’t perform physically and mentally at a high level for very long.

We previously discussed a hierarchy of injury prevention strategies and how some tactics are far more effective than others. The same is true for recovery strategies.

I want you to understand the best, most productive, and effective ways to recover from your hardest workouts.

And I’m thrilled to present you with today’s podcast episode.

Christie Aschwanden on Recovery

Christie Aschwanden

Christie is the lead science writer for FiveThirtyEight and a former health columnist for the Washington Post. She’s also a finalist for the National Magazine Award and her work has been featured in DiscoverSmithsonian, and O, The Oprah Magazine.

A fellow Coloradan like myself, Christie was a high school state champion in the 1,6000m run, a national collegiate cycling champion, and an elite cross-country skier with Team Rossignol.

Her new book is Good to Go: What The Athlete in All of Us Can Learn From the Strange Science of Recovery.

She’s on the podcast to discuss individual post workout recovery strategies but also the bigger questions:

  • How do we know if we’re fooling ourselves that something is working (when it isn’t)?
  • Why isn’t it enough to simply ask, “Does this recovery method work?”
  • Overall, have we made recovery too complicated?
  • How do you prioritize mental recovery?
  • If you were to speak to the entire Olympic Team about recovery, what would you say?

This episode is an excerpt of my full conversation with Christie for the Team Strength Running group coaching program.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast on Apple Music, Stitcher, or wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts.

Resources & Links From the Show:

I hope this conversation was helpful as you plan your upcoming running season. After all, there can be no progress without recovery so it’s a critical topic!

To hear more on recovery, we reached out to nine elite athletes to hear their favorite recovery advice. These are the runners who are running triple digit mileage and blazing fast workouts. They ask the most from their bodies and need optimized post workout recovery.

Everything is included in The Little Black Book of Recovery & Prevention – yours free as compliments for being a Strength Running reader.

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Sarah Canney on the 2019 World Snowshoe Running Championships

Meet Sarah Canney, the 9th place finisher at the 2019 World Snowshoe Running Championships. We’re going to show you how cool snowshoe running can be today!

Sarah Canney Snowshoe Running

Running on snow in a pair of glorified tennis rackets was never something I could imagine myself doing. Until now…

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending an hour talking to Sarah Canney. She’s a Road Runners Club of America and USA Track and Field certified running coach in addition to being a competitive mountain runner and member of the 2018 US National Snowshoe Running Team.

In fact, she recently placed 9th at the World Championships in Val di Non, Italy on January 5th.

Now, I’ve never gone snowshoe running. I don’t own any snowshoes. Frankly, I don’t even like the cold.

But after hearing Sarah speak more about the sport and how fun it can be, it’s something I’m dying to try (and you can’t get a better snowshoe running venue than Colorado’s Front Range!)

And while snowshoe running might be a lot of fun, it can also be an extraordinarily helpful method of cross-training:

  • There’s less impact running slower on snow (and less injury risk)
  • It’s incredibly specific to running (in fact, it is running)
  • Because it’s more difficult than running on the road, less time is needed for a great workout

The more and more I think about this sport, the more that I think runners need to try it!

Just look at the trailer, with footage taken from the 2018 race in Spain:

What beautiful footage! I’ve certainly got the itch…

And if you feel like you’re in the mood for a new adventure, Sarah is here to tell you everything you need to know to get started as a snowshoe runner.

Sarah Canney on Snowshoe Running

Sarah Canney Running

Sarah wasn’t always a snowshoe runner. In fact, she only started a few years ago but has quickly made a name for herself.

In this episode, we talk everything snowshoe running:

  • How it’s very similar to cross country
  • The gear and equipment required for success
  • The training: how is it different from running?
  • What you need to know before getting started
  • How difficult it can be and how that relates to pace and effort

We also discuss her running retreat Rise. Run. Retreat. for women and how she’s making a big impact in the world of women’s running.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Music or on the Stitcher app.

Show Resources & Links:

There’s no sponsor for this episode, so please head on over to Sarah’s Instagram and give her a big THANKS for coming on the podcast!

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