How to choose your next goal after a marathon

Running a marathon is a thrill – no matter if you set a Personal Best or crawl home to the finish line.

marathon

Either way, running 26.2 miles is an achievement that most people will never accomplish. It takes guts, perseverance, and a fitness level that sets marathoners apart from mere mortals.

Despite the enormous achievement, many runners feel lost after the race.

And I don’t blame them (I certainly languished after I ran my 2:39:32 PR at the Philadelphia Marathon). After dedicating about six months to training, what do you do after you’re finally done with the marathon?

Do you try for another marathon?

Do you focus on an entirely different type of race?

Or perhaps take the rest of the year off and enjoy a life of leisure and potato chips?

While many runners dream of not running, we know that it’s not in our DNA. Like one of my athletes told me recently:

It’s a slippery slope! We love running – but at the same time, we curse it.

So how do we balance our need to run with the need for time off? How do we stay excited for running?

Q&A with Coach: What to Focus on After a Marathon

In my mind, there are only three big areas that you can focus on after you race a marathon.

I dive into each one in the latest episode of Q&A with Coach. But I also go over optimal marathon recovery so don’t miss it:

Topics Discussed and Resources:

The most important aspect of post-marathon running is to have a plan… even when that plan is to have no plan!

Take about a week off, enjoy a week or two of easy running, and then start training again for your next goal.

If you need help, we have a Season Planner Worksheet that helps you answer a lot of tough questions:

  • How many tune-up races should you run before your main goal?
  • What distance should those tune-ups be? How close to the goal race?
  • How long should your entire season be?
  • What are the 3 phases of training that should be present in your season?

You can download the free worksheet here.

Best of luck to all those racing Boston today!

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Marathon Pacing: 6 Lessons Learned from a PR Near Miss

There’s no better feeling than crossing the finish line with a new Personal Record. Missing that PR might make all that training feel like a waste, but it doesn’t have to!

Failure

Note from Jason: This post is written by Christine Sandvik, one of my former athletes who has written for SR in the past on morning running and running beyond the marathon.

I had just passed the Mile 26 sign when I finally allowed myself to check my Garmin. After sticking with the 3:30 pace group for the first half of the race, I had steadily pushed about a minute or so ahead of them over the next 13 miles.  

The end was tantalizingly close.  After a training cycle filled with highs and lows, a new PR was finally well within my reach.

Or so I thought.

I ran my marathon PR of 3:29:42 at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Even though I had run several strong marathons since then, I had been unable to better that time.  But I had pushed through sickness and training challenges, and I was convinced that today was the day.  

With less than 0.2 miles to go, I looked down and saw my Garmin hit 3:29.

What?  How was that possible?  I hoped my glycogen-deprived brain might just be misunderstanding what I saw, but that wasn’t the case.  Even if I conjured up a sub-6 minute pace to the finish, I wasn’t getting under 3:30 today.  

What had gone wrong with my marathon pacing?

I hit the finish line in 3:30:08, proud of my strong, consistent effort, but overwhelmingly disappointed by such a near miss.  Once I got over the initial disappointment, I took a strategic look back at how I could have eliminated those frustrating 26 seconds.

Marathon runners know just how many variables go into producing a strong race and the ever-elusive PR.  Training is just one of those variables.  

Race day produces its own set of challenges, and nailing your goal marathon pace while trying to focus on nutrition, weather, crowds and unexpected issues like bathroom breaks can be overwhelming.

Learning how to manage your marathon pace is a skill that you can hone with time and experience.  But I’m hoping you can take advantage of my mistakes (along with what I did right!) to shorten your learning curve and earn that PR.

Lesson 1: Let workouts dictate your marathon pace range

Training for a marathon is a lengthy process, full of ups and downs.  You will probably never experience the “perfect” training cycle, where you run every workout as scheduled and hit your target paces every time.  Life usually conspires to get in the way.

My training leading up to the Miami Marathon on January 29th was no different.  I had nearly 3 months of “perfect” training before things got challenging.  I was hitting all my scheduled mileage, nailing workouts, and my marathon pace runs were suggesting that my race pace might be faster than I originally thought.

But then the holidays came: life got overwhelmingly busy and I got sick.  I took a cutback week, and then was forced to take another when I just couldn’t shake a nasty cold.  

My final long run, a 22 miler with half the miles at goal race pace, started out ok and quickly turned into a disaster.  I walked.  I cried.  And self-doubt rapidly set in.  I know better than to beat myself up over one crappy workout, but knowing what you should do and actually doing it are two very different things.

I tried to put the long run behind me and less than a week later ran a strong medium long run with marathon pace miles.  It gave me a bit more confidence, but I still wasn’t sure about my current fitness.

Given the ups and downs in my training, and knowing that Miami had the potential to be hot on race day, I had to plan my race pace accordingly.  Just like having “A”, “B” and “C” race goals is an ideal way to go into any important race, knowing the pace range that will get you to those goals is also a necessity.  

On a perfect day, I was hoping to get close to 3:25, around 7:50/mile pace.  Given that my last month of training hadn’t been too spectacular, I was just hoping to get close to 3:30 (8:00/mile pace) and earn a PR if the conditions allowed.

When planning your goal race pace, be honest with yourself in evaluating where you are at and what you hope to accomplish.  Look at your long runs and marathon pace miles and be realistic with what you can handle.  Think about the course profile (flat or hilly) and the potential weather conditions.

On the other hand, don’t sell yourself short! I may have let my missed mileage and final long run get into my head more than they should have.  My body was ready to be pushed on race day, and I had a little too much left in the tank when I crossed the finish line.  

Although it’s tough to remember in the moment, one bad long run or missed week of hard training will not ruin an entire training cycle.  Challenging stretch goals, along with a little faith in yourself, are the best way to continue to grow and improve as a runner.

Lesson 2: It’s all about restraint

If you want to run a marathon PR, negative splits are the most efficient way to get you there.  And that means running with restraint in the early miles of your race.  

As much as we hear this advice, we’re often terrible at its execution.  The excitement of race day is hard to resist (Jason’s 2014 Boston Marathon is a great example of this!).

But be strong. Hold back.  You will ALWAYS pay for it in the later miles if you don’t.  With over 26 miles ahead of you, you’ll have plenty of time to ease into your appropriate pace.

Running with restraint is one of the things I did well in Miami. Maybe too well.  My splits show that I was gradually dialing down my pace as the race progressed.  But in retrospect, I may have held myself back too much given my goal.

MIAMI RACE SPLITS:

When you run with restraint, you walk a very fine line between holding back too much and not enough.  On a flat course like Miami, you want to run about 5-10 seconds slower than goal race pace for the first 1-3 miles, then run your target pace through mile 20, and then push yourself over the final 10k. I was probably too cautious in the first half of the marathon and didn’t push hard enough to make up that time in the second half.  

On a rolling or hilly course, pace becomes secondary to effort.  The goal is to keep your effort level roughly the same through the first 20 miles, even though your pace will vary with the terrain.  

On a course like Boston with lots of downhill sections early in the race, restraint is especially important or you’ll pay for your mistake in the final miles!

Lesson 3: Making up time: bathroom breaks and other unexpected issues

No matter how well you plan your pre-race hydration, fueling, and bathroom visits, occasionally you will need to make an unexpected stop on course.  Looking back, I should have trusted my instincts and made one last bathroom stop prior to lining up at the start.  I was worried about getting to my corral on time, and tried to convince myself I’d be fine.

I held out until mile 4, then was forced to dart in the port-o-pot as quickly as I could.  Understandably, that mile was my slowest at 8:24.  I knew I shouldn’t push too hard, too quickly to catch up, but I was feeling a little panicked about the unexpected stop.  As a result, my next mile split was 7:28, significantly faster than I intended.

I was lucky.  Throwing in a mile that was closer to tempo pace didn’t cause me to blow up (and looking back, the ease of that mile might have been a sign I could have been pushing a little harder).  But what I did was risky.  Don’t try to make up the time all at once.

A better approach would have been to make up the time gradually over several miles.  Because I was still following the pace group at that point, my goal was to get them back in sight.  But I didn’t need to rush and push the pace quite so hard.

If you need to make an unexpected stop on course, try not to panic.  As long as you feel up to it, pick the pace up ever so slightly (no more than 5-10 seconds per mile, max) and before you know it you’ll be back on track.

Lesson 4: The mental side of pacing: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Mental tenacity is an essential component of distance racing.  The more resilient you can make yourself through both physical and mental training prior to race day, the more you will benefit.

When you’re racing longer distances such as the marathon, your mind can go from blissfully happy to utterly panicked in a heartbeat.  Even when you’re feeling good physically, moments of doubt may begin to run through your head.  Knowing when to pay attention and when to quiet the chatter can make all the difference.

Maintaining an even pace and hitting negative splits late in a race is as much about mental focus as it is about physical training.  You have to plan ahead for the rough patches so that you know how to deal with negative emotions and sensations as they arise.

For some, it helps to broaden your focus.  Look at your surroundings or rock out to some motivating music to keep moving forward.  For others, it may help to narrow your focus.  Clear your head by focusing on a specific physical technique, such as your cadence, arm swing, or your breathing.

I used both techniques in Miami.  When the course turned into a headwind or the rain got heavy, I turned inward and focused on a steady, aerobic effort.  When the opportunity allowed, I tried to appreciate the surroundings.  And near the end, I turned to music to carry me through.  

I had plenty of moments of self-doubt, but I was able to let them go by focusing on one mile at a time and tackling teach one in a specific, actionable way.

Even though we are physically trying to maintain a certain minute per mile pace throughout the marathon, it’s our brain that will help us stay consistent.  So remember the following:

  • Rough patches will (usually) pass.
  • You can hold your pace longer than you think.
  • Pay attention to specific physical sensations and address them if necessary.
  • Distract yourself if it helps.
  • Turn inward and increase focus when needed.
  • Take each mile as it comes and don’t get ahead of yourself.

Lesson 5: Pace groups – yes or no?

The Miami Marathon was only the second time I decided to follow a pace group, with the goal of earning a new sub-3:30 PR.  Pace groups can be a useful tool, and most pacers work diligently to get you across the line in the designated time.  But there are definitely pros and cons to sticking with a group while racing.

I decided to start with a pace group in the first half of the race to relieve the mental burden of maintaining an appropriate pace.  It allowed me to settle in and follow the leader.  But in an effort to stick with the group, I pushed too hard to catch up after my pit stop, and then could have pushed ahead of the group from miles 7-13.

Because I chose to put complete faith in the pace group leaders for 13 miles, I never looked at my Garmin.  I lost awareness of my own sense of pacing for the race, which hurt me in the later miles. In the end, the pace group ran slower than anticipated and even though I was slightly ahead of them, I still fell short of my goal.  

Remember: pace groups leaders are not infallible.  The choice to follow them is a personal one, but my caveat is always to stay aware of your own pacing and respect the need to slow down or speed up in various parts of the race.  

Let the camaraderie and group effort carry you where it can, but trust your intuition and run your own race.

Lesson 6: Use your watch or GPS strategically

Marathon Pacing 101

This was my biggest mistake on race day.

I tend to race by feel and avoid looking at my Garmin.  Learning to run by feel is an essential skill you should practice often.  When you are trying to run a certain goal pace for a race, it’s critical to spend a lot of time at that pace in your training.  You need to learn how that pace feels and what it takes to maintain it.

Being overly reliant on your GPS device can be detrimental.  Why?

  1. GPS devices can be unreliable in remote locations or in the middle of cities with lots of tall buildings that interfere with reception.
  2. Focusing on pace on a hilly course will prevent you from running by effort, forcing you to work either too hard or not hard enough.
  3. If a race isn’t going as well as you hoped, staring at your pace can be demoralizing.  Watching the miles go by increasingly slowly can get into your head and ruin your race.

But watches and GPS devices DO have their place!  They can help prevent you from going out too fast in the early miles, and remind you when it’s time to push yourself late in the race.  

Had I paid attention to my time with 10k to go instead of several hundred yards, I could have easily shaved 30 seconds off my time.  Needless to say, I won’t make that mistake again.  Run by feel as much as possible but use technology when you need it!

Even for experienced runners, effective marathon pacing is a challenging skill that can require you to be a Zen master one moment and a drill sergeant the next.

I hope the lessons I’ve learned can help you pace yourself to a new PR in your next race!

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4 Fun Running Workouts That Will Put a Smile on Your Face

Running is often considered a boring sport. But that’s only because non-runners don’t know how to have any fun!

Fun Running Workouts

Running can be enormously exciting – if you challenge yourself.

There are so many opportunities to spice up your training:

  • Tired of the roads? Trail running is more fun, serene, and exciting
  • Want to challenge yourself? Run track workouts for a more controlled environment
  • Bored? Vary your shoes, workouts, goals, and training surfaces

There are nearly countless ways to make running more fun.

But today let’s focus on one that every runner can implement this week: the type of faster workouts that you run.

Over my nearly 20 years of running, I’ve encountered more types of workouts than I can really count. Everything from workouts on the track, trail, road, and hills to sessions that focus on aerobic development, 5k-specific fitness, or maximal velocity.

Depending on your goal, there are a wide variety of workouts to help you build your fitness.

I’ve previously touched on some of these fundamental workouts:

We’re doing something different today: we’re focusing on fun workouts (yes, there exists such a thing!).

This post is an excerpt from my book 52 Workouts, 52 Weeks, One Faster: A Workout A Week for the Next Year.

Fun Runs, With or Without a Group

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” – Proverb

You can’t train seriously every day of the year. Even elite athletes take extended periods off from running or hack around doing fun workouts.

When you just can’t bring yourself to get on the track or you need a break from the structure of an interval, hill, or tempo workout then try something fun.

These workouts are less structured, based more on “feel” and some don’t even include any fast running. They are meant to rejuvenate your body, stimulate your mind, and give your body a break from the rigors of serious training.

You’re going to need a partner for most of these workouts. Running with a group, especially when you’re not being competitive, is a fun way to enjoy your training and add a much-needed social element to running.

Enjoy yourself. Smile. Have some fun.

Barefoot Running

Yes, barefoot running is a workout! It’s challenging and works all of the small muscles in your feet and lower legs that have atrophied through years of shod running.

If you’re new to running without shoes, start with 1-2 minutes on a soft surface like an artificial turf field, grass, or golf course. Keep the pace easy and take the next 2-3 days off from running barefoot.

Gradually increase the time you’re running barefoot until you can run about a mile. Most of the strength benefits of barefoot running can be realized in a mile run per week (or two half-mile runs).

Indian Run (Group Fartlek)

This workout is best done with at least five people. In a single file line, the last runner in the group has to catch up to the front of the pack. She then becomes the leader and can run as fast or slow as she wants to.

Different paces are encouraged to vary the workout and keep things interesting. The other runners don’t know how fast the leader will run so the element of surprise is constant.

You can also run this workout on a hilly course to “run the terrain” and make sure everyone is paying attention. Find a local track club, group of friends, or round up your old running buddies and hit the roads.

Dice Workout

Preferably run on a track, the Dice Workout is a fun way to break up a hard day and is usually reserved for when you are not in a race-specific training period.

For this type of workout, 600-1000m intervals work best. Before each rep, roll a die – each number corresponds to a pace pattern that you’ll run for the entire rep. The paces aren’t exact, rather it’s the effort that counts.

For example:

  • 1 = alternate easy / medium / hard every 100 meters
  • 2 = alternate easy / hard every 200 meters
  • 3 = run the whole interval at a medium effort
  • 4 = run the whole interval at a hard effort
  • 5 = alternate medium / hard every 100 meters
  • 6 = alternate easy / medium every 100 meters

Pace Perfect

This is a fun workout that develops your intuitive sense of pacing. It’s not to be run fast. Instead, go your normal distance run pace.

Pick a loop that’s between 1-2 miles. You’re going to time the first loop on your watch and note the time. Run another 3-5 loops and use your watch’s split feature to keep track of every loop’s split time.

But the key here is not to look at your watch after the first lap. Try to run the same exact pace for every single loop, while splitting your watch to keep a record of your actual times.

You’re only allowed to look at your watch when you finish. How close were you to running an even pace?

Want More Workouts?

There are obviously a lot more workouts that you can run – these are just the fun running workouts! In the full book, I cover:

  • Endurance is King – Become an Aerobic Powerhouse
  • Sprinting 101: Distance Runners Need Speed, Too
  • Fartlek Workouts (Skip the Track)
  • Hills = Strength
  • Get on the Pain Train: VO2 Max Workouts (and more)

You can check out the full table of contents on Amazon here.

More importantly, I want to challenge you to think differently about the workouts you complete and the structure of those workouts.

Get creative. Think differently. Challenge yourself to run a unique workout (while still moving toward your goals).

And I’d love to hear from you!

In the comments below, let the Strength Running community know about your favorite workout.

How is it run?

Why do you run it?

When in the training cycle is it completed?

I’m looking forward to learning more about your favorite workout!

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3 Hill Workouts for Strength, Speed, and Injury Prevention

Hill workouts are the unsung hero of speed work. Any runner can do them – and every runner will benefit.

Running Hill Workouts

Throughout my running career, hills have been used strategically in many types of workouts.

In high school, we ran hill repetitions and circuits. Sometimes, we ran them before or after other types of fast work (diabolical!).

In college, we ran similar workouts but added long repetitions and reps with “cruise recoveries” (in other words, even the recovery was run at a quicker pace).

Those were brutal…

And tellingly, we ran hill workouts during every season: summer base training, cross country, indoor track and the spring outdoor track season.

If the goal race was 10k or 800m, hill workouts were on the schedule.

That shouldn’t be surprising. Frank Shorter famously said, “Hills are speedwork in disguise.”

But I think my favorite sentiment about hills comes from this anonymous quote:

Most of us try to avoid hills, but what’s so good about that?

Think about it: flat tires, flat hair, flat returns, and the ultimate – flatlining.

Life happens on the hills. They’re opportunities to prove to yourself that you’re stronger than you ever imagined.

If you never attempt the ascent, you’ll never know the thrill of swooshing down the other side.

Hill workouts are hard and unpleasant. They challenge your endurance, speed, and strength.

There’s no other workout like hills.

And that’s just why they’re so valuable.

Why Are Hill Workouts so Beneficial?

Running uphill (against gravity) stresses your body in a unique way that you can’t mimic on flat land.

That stress results in some fantastic adaptations and benefits:

  • There’s less impact running uphill so it’s easier on your joints and connective tissues
  • Hills “force” you to run with better form, reinforcing a more efficient stride
  • Running up steep grades builds power more safely than running fast on flat terrain
  • Hills provide the most specific strength work runners could ask for
  • Hill workouts build strength, speed, endurance, VO2 Max, and every other metric runners care about!

While hill sessions aren’t too race-specific (unless you’re training for an entirely uphill race), they have a valuable place in any training program.

And since they’re so versatile, they can be used at any time during the season – the early base training phase, the middle competition period, or even late in the season during the taper.

It all depends on how the hill workout is completed.

When Should Hills Be Used In Training?

ALL DAY EVERY DAY. NO EXCUSES.

Ok ok, I got carried away. I just really like hills. Let’s take a look at this graphic for a better visual:

Hill Workouts

To recap:

  • Hill sprints: outstanding workout that can be done anytime during a training season. They’re very effective at accomplishing their goals.
  • Short reps: very helpful workout best done in the mid or later stages of a training cycle.
  • Long reps: Best done during the earlier phases of training, but can be done (less effectively) during the middle stages of training
  • Hill circuits: a good workout for the middle or later phases of the training cycle. Not my preferred type of workout though

Pay less attention to the y-axis – the “Effectiveness” of the workout. All are effective, just at different things (i.e., hill sprints are great for neuromuscular training but long reps are better for aerobic fitness).

The real measure of a workout’s value is in how it’s used, when it occurs, and the workouts that come before and after them in the entire progression.

Let’s look at some types of hill workouts and how to best implement them in your training plan.

Hill Workout #1: Short Reps

Short hill repetitions are the traditional workout that most of us think of when we envision a hill workout.

They’re usually 60-90 seconds in length with a jog down recovery (you turn around at the end of the rep and run easy down to the bottom before turning around to start again).

They’re usually done at about 3k-10k pace on a 4-7% grade hill. In other words, they’re short and fast!

They’re a classic VO2 Max workout, helping the body increase its ability to deliver and process oxygen to hard-working muscles.

But there’s also a significant strength aspect, making this a great workout for those who struggle with injuries.

Here are a few examples of short hill rep workouts:

  • 10 x 90sec hills at 5k Pace
  • 8 x 60sec hills at 3k Pace
  • Descending ladder: 3x90sec, 3x60sec, 3x45sec starting at 10k Pace and getting progressively faster

There’s a lot of flexibility in designing short hill rep workouts. Vary the pace, length of rep, and number of reps to suit your needs.

These hill workouts are best incorporated into the middle or late stages of a running season as you’re focusing more on power and speed.

But of course, like most things in running, there are exceptions. If the reps are shorter, with longer recoveries, they can be used in the early phases of training as a precursor to more challenging workouts.

Hill Workout #2: Long Reps

Long reps of 2-4 minutes hold a dear place in my memory: I’m terrified of them.

Once per season during college cross country, my coach had us run 5 x 3min hills with a jog down recovery. The pace was hard and the undulating terrain made them particularly challenging.

Thinking of that workout – “We’re going to Pig Hill today” – still makes me nervous 12 years after my last Pig Hill workout. While they weren’t as intense as short reps, they seemed more challenging mentally because of their length.

These types of hill workouts can be used for a variety of reasons:

  • Early strength-building during the base phase of training
  • A type of tempo workout (if the pace is kept under control)
  • A replacement for shorter hill reps if an easier day is needed

Since a slower, but longer hill workout like this is more aerobic, it’s best used in the earlier phases of training.

Hill Workout #3: Circuit

Hill circuits are usually the most challenging of any type of hill workout because the recovery jog is done at a faster pace.

This reduces the amount that you’re able to recover between repetitions and makes the workout more aerobically demanding.

Here are a few examples:

  • 8 x 90sec hills at 5k effort, jog down recovery at marathon effort
  • 8 x 45sec hills at 3k effort, jog down recovery at 10k/half marathon effort

These sessions are similar to track workouts with “cruise recoveries” where the rest period is run at a more challenging pace.

Because the recovery is demanding and the pace of these reps is fast, it’s best to use these workouts in the middle or later stages of a season when the goal race is at the half marathon or shorter distance.

The harder the workout, the more appropriate it is for the later stages of a training cycle because it will get you into peak shape sooner.

And you can only maintain peak shape for a brief 6-8 week window in most cases.

Bonus Workout: Hill Sprints

I’m including hill sprints in this post – even though I don’t consider them a “workout.”

Like strides, hill sprints are more like drills that you do after a run. They’re only 8-10 seconds, but these short, max-intensity sprints up the steepest hill you can find pack a powerful punch.

Because the hill is so steep – and the pace is literally as fast as you can go – they recruit as many muscle fibers as possible, helping you:

  • Increase stride power
  • Engage more muscle fibers
  • Improve running economy
  • Strengthens muscles and connective tissues (helping with injury prevention)

If you’re injury-prone, they should be a regular addition to your program. Here’s more info on hill sprints or check out this video demonstration:

Note the recovery: it’s just walking! I take my sweet time between reps since this is a speed development workout.

Who Should Run Hill Workouts?

Short answer: everyone!

Every runner stands to benefit from the power, speed, and strength gained from structured hill workouts.

But there are a few key groups of people who will reap disproportionate rewards from hills.

If you’re injury-prone, hills are a safer alternative to road or track workouts because there’s less impact force distributed throughout your legs.

They also reinforce proper running form. It’s more challenging to over-stride or have poor posture while running uphill.

Finally, hill workouts build very running-specific strength. It takes a strong runner – both muscularly and aerobically – to run quickly up a steep hill.

And stronger, more economical runners are always less prone to running injuries.

If you’re a new runner, hills build more skill and power (which are not common facets of fitness that beginner runners typically focus on during training).

The exception here is if you’re still in the first few weeks of your running journey. With such a low training age, it’s best to focus on hill sprints and running hills at your easy pace on a regular run.

If you’re training for a hilly race, it’s clearly important to build some hills into your training program.

While hill repetitions are not the most race-specific type of workout, they do build the power and strength to be successful on hilly race courses.

And it’s important not to discount the psychological benefits of being comfortable on hills. Without practice, a hilly course might seem overly daunting on race day.

You can also check out even more hill workouts in my book, 52 Workouts, 52 Weeks, One Faster Runner.

Your turn: What types of hill workouts do you run? Do you structure them differently?

Let us know in the comments below – I’d love to learn more about how you use hills in your training.

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Author Matt Fitzgerald on “The Endurance Diet”

Have you ever heard this famous line among distance runners?

If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything.

It’s a common way for runners to justify eating whatever they want. If the caloric needs are high enough – the logic goes – then any fuel will do:

  • Just rocked a great long run? Bring on the pizza and soda!
  • Had a successful race? Treat yourself to a burger and fries (and maybe a beer…)!
  • Running higher mileage than usual? A nightly bowl of ice cream can’t hurt…

The problem, of course, is that you’re not a furnace burning anything and everything for heat.

You’re a runner who needs nourishing food to recover quickly, promote health and longevity, and fuel your training.

You wouldn’t put olive oil in your car and expect it to run well… would you?

You wouldn’t put a gallon of gasoline in your car and expect it to cover 150 miles… would you?

Of course not!

Diet is more important than most runners realize – and the effects of poor eating habits can derail anybody’s running:

  • If you don’t eat enough, you’re more prone to running injuries and won’t run as quickly during races or workouts
  • If you eat too much, you’ll gain weight and running economy will suffer
  • A sub-par diet results in poor recovery (and could result in weight gain, too)
  • A sub-par diet also causes low energy levels outside of running

But if you dial in your nutrition then performances will improve, recovery will be faster, and you’ll just feel better.

And I think every runner would benefit from that.

To help optimize our dietary choices and approach to fueling, I invited author Matt Fitzgerald onto the podcast today.

Matt Fitzgerald: “Eat Like an Elite!”

Endurance Diet

Over the last several years, Matt has been investigating the eating habits of professional endurance athletes around the world.

And his findings are powerful. World-Class runners in the United Sates, top swimmers in Australia, and champion triathletes in South Africa all have one thing in common: their diet.

There’s overwhelming evidence from around the world – and indeed, from every type of endurance sport – that the best runners in the world all eat the same way.

Matt calls this approach The Endurance Diet and outlines five foundational habits that shape how elite runners fuel their training.

Whether you want to get faster, lose some weight, or just look more like an elite runner, then this approach will work for you.

On the Strength Running Podcast, we talk about these five core habits:

  • Eat everything
  • Eat quality
  • Eat carbohydrates
  • Eat enough
  • Eat individually

And do you know why I’m so adamant about this approach?

It’s not because I really like Matt’s last name (but let’s be honest: it has a nice ring to it).

It’s not because it gives you permission to eat carbs, unhealthy foods (in moderation!), and enough to feel satisfied.

It’s because it works!

I spoke with numerous Registered Dietitians to create Strength Running’s nutrition content – and every single one of them is on board with this approach. These nutrition experts:

  • Have advanced degrees and certifications in nutrition
  • Advise Olympians at the world-class level
  • Appear on television as thought leaders in the diet space
  • Consult with pro sports teams like the Boston Red Sox and Orlando Magic

I’ve always said that if you’re going to model your behavior after someone, model it after the best.

Check out the show on iTunes or Stitcher (and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes!).

Links and Resources:

If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to thank Matt on Twitter. I know he’ll appreciate it!

This episode of the Strength Running podcast is sponsored by Generation UCAN, a very different type of fueling product that stabilizes blood sugar and delivers steady energy with no GI distress.

They have a patented preparation process for corn starch, which creates a fueling product that works very differently than anything else on the market:

  • Their “SuperStarch” results in no GI distress because it’s not sugar-based
  • With no sugar and longer-lasting energy from more complex carbohydrate, there’s no crash or cravings post-run
  • It allows you to use less fuel overall because there’s no crash

I’m proud to partner with a brand that I use myself, that’s trusted by elites like Meb Keflezighi, and works so well.

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Dathan Ritzenhein on Strength Training and Marathon Fueling

Dathan Ritzenhein is one of the best distance runners in US history. And he’s here today to help you run faster.

Dathan Ritzenhein

Ritz has more career highlights than there are spectators at the Boston Marathon (ok maybe not but still!):

  • 3x Olympian at the 10,000m and marathon distances
  • Former US Record holder in the 5,000m (12:56.27)
  • 3rd fastest American marathon time in history (2:07:47)
  • Three-time USA Cross Country Champion
  • Two-time Foot Locker National high-school Cross Country Champion
  • Half-marathon PR of 60:00 (2nd best HM time in US history)

A Generation UCAN-sponsored athlete, he is now preparing to run the River Bank Run 25k this May.

When I started running back in high school, Ritz was emerging as a cult figure on the high school running circuit. As a senior, he smashed the US high school 5,000m record with a staggering 13:44 performance.

This came on the back of his two repeat national championship victories in cross country.

As you can imagine, he was a celebrity among die-hard HS running fans.

After seeing his dominant XC performances, his 5k record, and also his mind-bending 8:41 3200m performance (also a national record), Dathan became one of my favorite runners to follow.

And he’s on the podcast today to talk about his training, marathon fueling, strength work, and the lessons he’s learned from coaching himself.

Dathan Ritzenhein: Strength, Fueling, and More

I kicked off the episode with an embarrassing story – one I debated sharing but I thought it was funny. Enjoy!

On more serious topics, we chat about:

  • His injury prevention approach that’s helped him rebound after so injuries (stress fractures, hernias, Achilles problems, and more)
  • His favorite confidence-building workout
  • His go-to meal after a marathon
  • Eating pop-tarts the night before racing a marathon
  • How his training has changed since turning pro

You can download the episode and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or here on Stitcher.

Resources, Links, and Books mentioned on the show:

This episode of the Strength Running podcast is sponsored by Generation UCAN, a very different type of fueling product that stabilizes blood sugar and delivers steady energy with no GI distress.

They have a patented preparation process for corn starch, which creates a fueling product that works very differently than anything else on the market:

  • Their “SuperStarch” results in no GI distress because it’s not sugar-based
  • With no sugar and longer-lasting energy from more complex carbohydrate, there’s no crash or cravings post-run
  • It allows you to use less fuel overall because there’s no crash

I’m proud to partner with a brand that I use myself, that’s trusted by elites like Dathan Ritzenhein, and works so well.

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Injury Prevention Essentials for Bigger Runners with Coach James Dunne

If we’ve met – or you’ve seen pictures of me – it’s clear that I am not a big guy. Actually, I’m tiny.

I’m no bigger than Shalane Flanagan…

At 5’7″ and 125 pounds, I have the stereotypical runner’s body. And I love it.

I’ve always been very comfortable in my skin, though it wasn’t always like that. I played basketball through middle school, always wondering when that growth spurt would (finally!) hit.

Alas, I’ve been waiting since 1998. When I started running in high school, I had an important decision to make: do I continue with basketball (knowing that I’d likely never play on Varsity because of my size) or run indoor track instead?

I chose track – and my thin frame proved advantageous. Looking at the body types of Olympians, it’s clear that the stereotypical body for distance runners helps you run faster.

You carry less weight. You’re more economical. And you can therefore run a lot faster.

But did it help with preventing running injuries?

Are lighter runners less likely to get injured? Are heavier runners more likely to get hurt?

I’m not quite sure… so I dove into the latest literature and invited James Dunne on the Strength Running podcast.

James Dunne and Running Heavy

James doesn’t look like the “typical” runner – he’s 6’6″ and 250 pounds. A former professional rugby player, James has a degree in Sport Rehabilitation and is fully insured member of the British Association of Sport Rehabilitators and Trainers (BASRaT).

He’s the founder of Kinetic-Revolution and has an ongoing fascination with the functional biomechanics of running (in other words, how you move while running).

In this far-reaching discussion, we talk about quite a few issues:

  • Should overweight runners be more worried about injury?
  • Is gaining weight more important for injury risk than being consistently overweight?
  • Does training for weight loss differ than training for a race? How?

Check out this episode on iTunes (or Stitcher if you have an Android device).

Show Resources & Links:

A big thanks to James for coming on the podcast. Be sure to say hi on Facebook if you enjoyed the show!

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How the Best Runners in the World Recover and Prevent Injuries (and a free book)

I’ve always been fascinated (ok, borderline obsessed) with how elite runners train and schedule their running.

After all, if you’re going to learn about running, why not do it from the best runners in the world?

And whenever I get a chance to read about how the elites train, I jump at the opportunity. These books have changed my perspective on running because they offer a glimpse into the world of professional athletes:

So it should be no surprise that combining my two passions – elite training and injury prevention – has me salivating.

Seeing the daily recovery strategies from professional runners is exciting. These are athletes who run up to 120+ miles per week and compete at the highest level of the sport.

For them, staying healthy is a job requirement. Recovery between hard sessions is critical, especially when you’re frequently running twice per day.

And I’m thrilled to announce a new resource to inspire you and give you a few new strategies for staying healthy.

The Little Black Book of Prevention & Recovery

Over the last few months, I’ve been working with a blockbuster group of professional runners to bring you their most tested and proven recovery ideas.

If you’ve ever been curious how elite runners handle all that running without getting hurt every day, this book is for you.

If you wonder what recovery options a pro prioritizes, you won’t want to miss this book.

And the best part? It’s completely free!

Download the ebook here.

Elite Runners on Injury Prevention

You’ll hear from:

  • Dathan Ritzenhein – 3x Olympian, 3x National Cross Country Champion
  • Amelia Boone – 3x World’s Toughest Mudder Champion
  • David Roche – 2x National Trail Running Champion
  • Kelly O’Mara – professional triathlete
  • Ian Sharman – 3x winner of the Leadville Trail 100
  • Devon Yanko – 100k National Champion and 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier
  • Joseph Gray – Mount Washington American Record holder and World Mountain Running Champion
  • Andy Wacker – Trail Half Marathon National Champion
  • Max King – US National Ultra Running Champion and 2x winner World Warrior Dash Champion

Each of these world-class athletes shared their favorite recovery or injury prevention strategy – and the responses are incredibly varied.

You’ll hear about post-race recovery, why you should eat a LOT, how to return to running after an injury (and what mistakes to avoid), and the virtues of eliminating busyness from your life.

There’s a lot more than I can include in this post, so get your copy today.

I want you to have every advantage possible in your training – and there’s no better way than learning from the best.

But I have one favor to ask: please apply at least one principle to your own running. Instead of passively consuming this info, do something with it instead!

Only by applying new concepts and training ideas will you reap the rewards.

Using this book you can try a new post-run recovery technique.

Or change how you approach the other 23 hours of the day when you’re not running.

Or even update how you behave at the office (see Amelia Boone’s thoughts on being a runner while working full-time).

Get the book here.

One last thing: it would mean the world to me if you shared this article on Facebook. This book is free and took a lot of time and resources to make for you – I hope you enjoy it!

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Matt Frazier on Eating Healthy and the Habits that Support Hard Training

My college coach used to say, “Don’t burn the candle at both ends.” What he really meant was, “Don’t drink too much and stay up late chasing girls.

healthy habits

When you unpack that nugget of wisdom, it’s clear that the lesson is about so much more than running.

Because while your long runs, weekly mileage, and faster workouts are all important, they won’t help you improve if you don’t prioritize a healthy lifestyle.

Without proper nutrition, you won’t have as much energy to tackle your training.

Without enough sleep, recovery will be sub-par and some of your hard work will be wasted.

Without reducing stress, the risk of over-training and injury increases (and you’ll rarely feel good).

So it makes sense to give yourself every advantage and set yourself up for success, especially if you’re gearing up for a big race or attempt at a personal best.

Before all of my marathons – especially my 2:39 PR at the Philadelphia Marathon – I joked with my friends that I became a monk in the months leading up to the race:

  • I slept as much as possible
  • I came home early from seeing my friends and I didn’t drink as much
  • My easy runs were VERY easy
  • My foam roller became my new best friend
  • Post-run fueling was prioritized over being late to work (sorry boss)

When you get these “little things” (which are not so little) right, it makes training much easier to accomplish.

After all, success in running depends on the lifestyle that surrounds the training.

So the topic of today’s podcast is different than what I normally publish – but it’s just as critical to your running.

Matt Frazier on the Healthy Habits that Support Running

When I have a sticky problem, I reach out to Matt Frazier.

In just the last few years, Matt has implemented  a staggering number of changes to his life:

  • He adopted a vegetarian diet – and then vegan
  • No Meat Athlete was born and quickly became a world-wide movement
  • He improved his marathon from 4:53 to 3:09 to qualify for Boston
  • Not wanting to settle, he started running ultras – including a 100-miler
  • He’s given up oil and experimented with other habits like journaling, meditation, and fruitarianism

If you’ve ever tried to start a new healthy habit, you know how difficult this can be on top of your other obligations like work and family.

And I wanted to know how to make all of these “little things” easier to implement in your life.

Because if you’re not sleeping well, eating right, and eliminating stress the other 23 hours of the day, then running a longer distance or racing a Personal Best is going to be that much more difficult to achieve.

You can listen on iTunes or – for our Android users – on Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources

Will you join us next week?

I mentioned on the show that this was just an excerpt from the full interview available to members of Team Strength Running

The team is my absolute favorite SR program for a variety of reasons:

  • It brings runners together! We have hundreds of members from all over the world, of every ability, and all of them love running
  • Our Training Plan Library is extensive (and growing) with more than 30+ plans for 5k – 100 miles, base-building, weight loss, and more
  • Every month there’s a new guest expert like OCR pro Amelia Boone, sports psychology professors, pain management specialists, and a lot more
  • Coaching! Once you’re on the team, your success is my priority. Join our regular, live Q&A sessions to ask any of your running questions (no matter how weird or silly they seem)

We don’t open very often – but we will soon!

I’ll be sending out more info to the runners who want to hear more about the team. Is that you?

If so, hop on the list here. You’ll be the only runners to know when we’re finally open soon.

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Injured? How to change your training when you can run again

Nursing a running injury is demoralizing. You’ve lost fitness. You can’t do what you love. And you feel like your progress has stagnated.

running injury

During my own running career, I’ve had countless injuries. Some were minor while others (like my ITBS injury) lasted six months.

After six months of being sedentary, wishing I could just take a few steps without shooting pain near my knee, and more reruns of House than I care to remember, I was finally able to start running again.

That experience – and what I’ve since learned about strategic injury recovery – prompted me to overhaul my approach to injury management.

My new approach has resulted in:

  • Only one major injury from 2009 – 2014 (I’m very proud of this considering the annual injury rate is around 70% for runners!)
  • Powerful results from my clients with injuries as diverse as patellofemoral pain syndrome, Achilles tendinopathy, and plantar fasciitis
  • Invitations to speak about injury prevention at the National Endurance Sports Summit at Princeton University

My #1 goal is to elevate the sport of running: to help runners get stronger, healthier, and a lot faster.

Any other goal is simply a distraction.

So you can imagine I love it when I hear from my runners:

And much like other areas of life, testing is what helped bring my injury approach from haphazard to stunningly effective.

But it wasn’t always that way…

The “Normal” Way of Treating Injuries

Most runners use a “Try Everything, Try Nothing” approach to injuries. They throw a bunch of treatments, ideas, and tactics against the wall and hope something will stick.

But this approach has no overall strategy. It has no progression to get you from injured and unable to run to healthy and able to run pain-free.

This mirrors exactly how I dealt with injuries in college. If something started to hurt, I’d ignore it and hope the pain would just go away.

Then it wouldn’t and I would ice the painful area. Then I’d sit in the warm bath at the trainer’s before going to practice.

Without fail, it would still hurt. So I’d take a week off from running, sporadically ice my leg, take some ibuprofen, and spend a little more time than usual doing some random core exercises.

Sometimes it would work. Sometimes I’d still be in pain a week later.

This entire process drove me crazy!

Why wasn’t my treatment approach formalized and put into a specific protocol – with detailed, daily steps to help me run again?

The answer is that at the time, I didn’t know any better. I had only been running for 6-7 years and my running geekery had yet to truly blossom.

Now, things are different. I’ve upgraded my approach after I:

  • Learned more about the sport during the USA Track & Field coaching education course
  • Read a few (ok ok, too many) books about running
  • Worked with thousands of runners on their own injury struggles

And while I’ve been called a magician, a “bloody little ripper,” and accused of having “mystical powers,” none of that is true.

I just tested many types of injury treatment approaches very well (you can get a sneak peak here).

The Testing Approach to Injury Management

When it comes to returning to running after an injury, there are a lot of unknowns. You might ask yourself a lot of questions:

How should I increase my mileage after my injury?

What should my first run back look like?

How should I modify that first week of running?

There are no clear-cut answers. But there is an approach that helps.

Episode 32 of Q&A with Coach goes into more detail about this testing approach to post-injury running.

Ultimately, it does depend on several factors:

  • the nature and severity of your injury
  • the amount of training time you missed
  • your history with injuries
  • whether you have a goal race coming up

To help with your individual situation, any coach needs to ask a lot of clarifying questions. Doing so helps whomever is giving you advice have a clearer picture of your unique injury.

If that interests you, then you’d love Team Strength Running where I do live Q&A’s with the team every few weeks.

Every member has the opportunity to ask their personal, individual questions and get immediate feedback. It’s my favorite aspect of the program.

We’ll be opening soon to those who want to get every advantage with their training:

  • A library of 30+ training plans that prioritize injury prevention, weight loss, ultra marathons, and even base training
  • Live Q&A’s with me
  • A new expert interview every month
  • Access to our private community to meet other members, share stories, and encourage each other
  • Team discounts on gear, programs, and clothes

Want to learn more? Sign up here and I’ll let you know more about the program next week.

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