When I Fell in Love with Running

The moment I fell in love with running began with a failure. It was August 1998 -- I was 12 years old. I had just started middle school in the Bronx and was commuting solo from New Jersey without the protection of my parents or companionship of my younger brother.

Growing up, I loved playing Little League soccer and baseball in my small, suburban hometown. While I was not always the most gifted player on the team, I practiced hard and earned respect from my coaches and teammates. I was a key forward in soccer and starting pitcher in baseball.

So naturally, at my new school, I wanted to join the soccer team, the most prestigious given its winning record and competitive selection process. But on the first day of tryouts, I quickly realized my new classmates played on a whole other level! They demonstrated better dribbling skills, body control, size, and strength. I was cut.

I was still desperate to play a team sport. The only team I could join at that point was boys’ cross-country, and lucky for me, there were no tryouts. How hard could it be to run a few miles? I figured that even if I didn't enjoy it, running would get me in shape for winter swimming and spring tennis.

Our cross-country practices and races took place in the 1,146-acre Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx with miles of cinder trails, including forgiving "flats" circumscribing the park and less forgiving "back hills" tucked away in the woods. Van Cortlandt was conveniently located a short half-mile jog downhill from my school and full of continual movement. Blue, black, maroon, and orange uniforms would crowd the wide-open flats -- athletes warming up, running, meditating.

My first week of cross-country preseason was more grueling than anything I had ever done before. The middle school and high school teams practiced together, and after our warmup and stretch, we were all ordered to run into the back hills for seemingly endless repeats of the 1.2-mile loop until we could no longer pick up our legs. I would feel myself getting progressively slower on each loop. When running up the last hill, I remember screaming encouragement to myself that escaped only as feeble grunts. Practice was a constant battle with pain. Everything hurt!

After practice, the saving grace was cheap pizza and a can of Coke at Broadway Joe’s across the Park. And after a race, we splurged on heavenly carrot cake from Lloyd’s, a hole-in-the-wall bakery that probably laced its frosting with something illegal. I would then trudge back onto the subway to go home and tackle a pile of homework. I soaked my legs in warm baths and applied copious amounts of Salonpas (the Japanese version of Bengay), praying that my legs would not feel like bricks forever. I knew that almost half of those who came to preseason every August dropped out before the season started, and I was determined not to quit. 

As I persevered through cross-country practices and races, I often surprised myself by exceeding my own expectations. Every time I overcame pain, set a new record, or placed higher on my team, I gained confidence. I looked forward to testing and expanding my mental, physical, and emotional limits. Running began to fill me up with positive energy. I took my coach’s words to heart: “Pain is necessary. Suffering is optional.” I understood that the pain I experienced was temporary. It would go away and be replaced by a wonderful feeling of accomplishment -- a runner’s high.

It was this routine that made me an avid runner: the warmup to Van Cortlandt Park, the camaraderie, the gut-wrenching workout, the pain, the runner’s high, and of course the pizza and carrot cake! My failure in soccer turned into some semblance of success with running.

Running is now a part of my identity. It speaks about me, and it speaks to me. I will always remember the Van Cortlandt Park back hills and when I first fell in love with running.

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5 Lessons I've Learned From My Athletes

On March 31, 2012, two weeks before I ran the Boston Marathon, I officially became a running coach. I completed my first coaching certification through USA Track & Field in Brooklyn, NY. And few weeks after Boston, inspired by running the oldest and most iconic race in America, I completed another certification through the Road Runners Club of America. From these programs, I learned about training theory, biomechanics, running psychology, coaching ethics, and so much more. I was eager to use what I learned not only in my own training but also with prospective athletes training for their first races or personal bests.

I started by creating training programs for friends and coaching friends of friends. I would even run with some of them to correct form, distract them from the occasional pain, and motivate them to run longer and faster. Without a doubt, the greatest reward of being a coach is seeing athletes accomplish goals they once thought was impossible. While the inherent nature of coaching involves helping others learn, in the process I also learn from them. Here are five lessons I’ve learned from runners I’ve coached over the years.

1) Know Your Value
In my first year as a coach, I did not charge for my time. I didn't feel I had the credibility, and I was simply happy to share my passion and expertise and see runners improve. It wasn't until one of my clients told me that he would feel more accountable if I charged. Sure enough, turning coaching into a job made both my athletes and myself more incentivized to do better. Price is often a proxy for quality, so over time, I've been able to become more aware of and confident in my value as a coach and raise my fees.

2) Have a Trusted Network
Despite my desire to solve every problem, I know that I'm not a doctor, registered dietician, or licensed therapist. I've developed an ability to identify and diagnose numerous running-related injuries and health conditions but I’ve also learned when to share my opinion and when to recommend the advice of professionals. As a result, I maintain a trusted network of specialists that I can recommend when I'm not the expert; for example, if there are symptoms of strains, fractures, low bone density or hormone levels, poor eating habits, or mental health challenges.

3) Dance in the Moment
It's easy to transfer knowledge and impart wisdom from experience. But I've realized that good coaching requires being able to "dance in the moment" - what I would define as being present, listening actively, and asking questions to help runners grow rather than just teaching and mentoring. Coaching is about unlocking one’s potential to maximize performance. It requires creating trust, hearing and reacting to the person while noticing energy, mood, and tone, and asking open-ended questions. Dancing in the moment allows athletes to create possibilities and solutions themselves.

4) Let Life Happen
The very idea of a training plan reflects order and structure, but life demands us to be flexible and nimble. Factors such as certain health conditions, personal and work conflicts, and the weather will deter training and racing. I have spent months coaching a runner with significant performance gains and personal bests in the process only to be met with a goal race where it's 80F degrees at the start. Rather than having an athlete play "catch-up" or feel regret, I tell my athletes to focus on what's ahead and what you can control. Strive for progress, not perfection. There will be another day to train and another race to run.

5) Find Inspiration
While I aim to inspire others as a coach and runner, I find my own inspiration from my athletes. Helping others through their challenges and enabling them to achieve success helps me with my own struggles. I am constantly reminded to never take the sport too seriously and instead remember why we run: to test and expand mental and physical limits, to connect with inner thoughts, and to understand ourselves better. Inspiration will help you become more confident and passionate in what you do. When I see others finding joy in running, I know that I have succeeded as a coach.

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When and How to Run in the Heat

Last weekend's heat wave throughout the central US and East Coast forced many runners to wake up before the crack of dawn or take their runs indoors to the treads. With the heat index - what the temperature feels like when you combine air temperature with relative humidity - rising above 100F, several large races such as the NYC Triathlon and NYRR Marathon Training Series 10-miler were even cancelled. With two months of summer left, we will likely experience a few more heat waves, and you can prepare yourself better for the next one.

A heat index above 103F (e.g. 88F & 75% humidity or 94F & 50% humidity) is considered dangerous. Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are likely, and heat strokes are possible with prolonged running. When the index is above 125F (e.g. 92F & 85% humidity), a heat stroke is highly likely as the process of evaporating sweat from your skin is limited, and your body cannot regulate its temperature. This can cause your central nervous system to shut down and lead to brain damage. You might be surprised to know that the heat index is calibrated to only shady conditions, so if you are exposed to direct sunlight the value can be 10-15F higher! Here is a handy Heat Index calculator and chart.

When to Run in the Heat
Since the heat index value is often understated, I recommend athletes to not run when the index indicates "danger" or "extreme danger". Be smart and run on the tread or swap a run day with an indoor cross-training day. Look at the forecast the day before a run and optimize when to run for the lowest heat index, which means sacrificing your beauty sleep and waking up early when the air temperature is low or staying patient until the evening when the relative humidity is low.

There is no benefit complaining about weather that you can't control. What you can control is when you run and your attitude. I spend time with my athletes helping them get into a more relaxed and positive state of mind before hard workouts and races, because I truly believe mental strength breeds physical strength. Other runners' complaints about the weather should not affect you. Run the higher road. In the words of Andre Agassi, "control what you can control".

How to Run in the Heat
Surviving hot conditions will require you to adapt your 1) gear, 2) nutrition, 3) pacing, and 4) mindset. By doing so, you will be fine running outside even when it is hot and the heat index indicates "caution" or "extreme caution".

1) Gear
Keep your clothing to a minimum, e.g. a singlet or sports bra and split shorts. My fellow coaches Tim Downey and Kyle Axman keep it simple by running shirtless at all times. Your kit should be light in color, lightweight, and ideally have vents or mesh. You'll notice many pros cut holes in their singlets for races in the heat. Use nip guards and a healthy amount of lube in areas where you experience chafing. Just be careful where and when you ask for lube - a running specialty store or race expo are fine but Whole Foods or a bar may not be!

In addition, use sunscreen if you anticipate direct exposure to sunlight. A visorwill help keep your head cool and prevent your body from overheating. A light cap is ok; however, a cap without ventilation on the top will be counterproductive by trapping heat on your head. I have forced myself to become accustomed to wearing sunglasses to protect against UV damage and avoid using extra energy from squinting and tensing my face. One of Meb's secrets is that wearing sunglasses also helps reinforce good form - your head is steady and your shoulders back and relaxed to keep your sunglasses secure.

2) Nutrition
Electrolyte intake is crucial given we lose more electrolytes, and at a faster rate, in the heat. Before, during, and after runs, try having an electrolyte sports drink instead of just water. NuuN tablets and SaltStick are worth first experimenting with and then using routinely. Ample hydration and electrolytes will prevent the common occurrence of "cardiac drift" in the heat, where your heart rate increases over the course of a run even when your effort is the same. Dehydration causes your heart to work harder to pump your blood and deliver oxygen to muscles.

In the heat, I either pre-plan water stops or carry a bottle with an electrolyte drink. While carrying a bottle adds extra weight, I alternate between my right and left hands and use the bottle to reinforce good form, like the sunglasses trick, holding it by my sides instead of by my chest and driving straight up and down with my arms.

3) Pacing
With a cautionary heat index, focus on your rate of perceived effort rather than a specific pace. During your first week of running in warmer weather, listen to your body and adapt gradually over the ensuing couple of weeks. It's ok, and arguably more beneficial, if you run a slower pace to maintain the same effort as you did in cooler weather. When heat spikes even post-acclimatization, perceived effort is be your guiding principle. This could include a longer warm-up, cool-down, and recovery breaks or a more intentional run/walk strategyto better manage your heart rate.

4) Mindset
You will most likely not be racing a marathon in the heat and humidity, though even if you do, you'll be mentally and physically prepared. I have raced a handful of marathons when it was over 80F at the start, including my first Boston in 2012Safely use hot conditions to build your mental strength. Your body will experience physiological changes to sweat faster and pump blood more easily, becoming more efficient at cooling itself. The improved blood circulation delivers more oxygen to your muscles, building your mental confidence as well as your aerobic capacity and physical strength.

If you experience symptoms of notable dizziness, lack of sweat, muscle cramps, or nausea, stop your run and cool yourself by seeking shelter and cold water or ice. If symptoms persist then seek medical help. It is not smart to run in peak heat conditions simply to act tough or impress someone. Remember to control what you can control: prepare your gear, nutrition, pacing, and mindset ahead of time, and you will wish it were hotter and more humid out...said no runner ever!

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The Ins and Outs of Training Plans

The Ins and Outs of Training Plans

As we enter mid-July, runners start to follow training plans for fall races. Next week marks 19 weeks until the Philly Marathon and JFK 50 Mile, 16 weeks until the NYC Marathon, 13 until Chicago and the Staten Island Half, 12 until New Hampshire and Maine, and 11 until Berlin and the Hamptons Half. In case you weren't keeping track. And just one week to the Greater Yellowstone Adventure Series if you want to join me next Saturday in Montana!

I'm often asked when you should start training and what comprises a good training plan. I will share my thoughts on both, using experience from coaching athletes of all levels and racing over 50 marathons myself. Feel free to reach out with questions.

When to start a training plan?
It is no surprise that this depends on the runner! Your age and current level of fitness, weekly mileage, race experience, injuries or conditions, and life schedule are all factors to consider. I have coached runners to a goal-pace half or full marathon over cycles as short as four weeks to as long as 20 weeks. A training plan beyond 20 weeks can become mentally and physically exhausting and lead to overtraining, unless you are truly starting from scratch. Overtraining syndrome occurs when you train beyond your body's ability to recover. You experience energy depletion, diminished performance, and persistent soreness in your muscles and joints.

For healthy and active runners with race experience, 12 to 16 weeks for marathon-specific training and 8 to 12 weeks for a half is often sufficient. If you anticipate work travel, personal conflicts, or medical conditions interfering with training, it can be helpful to have more flexible and slightly longer training cycles, such as 14 to 20 weeks for a full and 10 to 14 for a half.

My athletes ask me how long of a plan I follow. As someone who has run six to eight+ marathons a year since 2011, I hold a higher base of mileage and use marathon races as long runs. I plug in shorter and easier runs for a couple of weeks after a race to recover and fill in the gaps with quality interval training and mid-distance tempo and long runs. If you race frequently, race preparation should focus more on tuning your strength and recovery.

What makes a good training plan?
In a word: personalization. I have my athletes first answer questions about their fitness habits, current mileage and pace, race goals, motivations to run, running shoes, health, and nutrition. This allows me to create a customized plan to maximize return on training time. I believe the most important consideration of any training plan is to stay injury-free. It is crucial to prioritize health and continuously make adjustments, such as switching the long run to a different day, incorporating specific strength exercises for aches and pains, or swapping out less specific workouts like cross-training.

In general, key components of an effective half or full marathon training plan include interval training, tempo runs, and long runs. A few months ago I shared example workouts for each.

  • Interval Training: often referred to as "speedwork", helps to improve your aerobic capacity by making you quickly adapt to different speeds and become a more efficient runner.

  • Tempo Runs: also referred to as lactate threshold runs, are done at a pace that’s faster than your half-marathon pace, but just slower than your 10K pace to increase the time it takes for your body to accumulate lactate and fatigue.

  • Long Runs: enhance your entire physiological system—including blood flow, energy production, bone and muscle strength—while giving you mental confidence needed for the race.

How to train effectively
From my experience coaching and racing, I have developed a few key principles to consider:

IntervalsAvoid back-to-back days of intervals. For most runners, one interval training session a week is most effective to balance improving endurance with staying injury-free.

Tempo runsGradually increase the length of your tempo runs over a training cycle. Work up to 6 to 8 mile tempos for a half and 10 to 13 mile for a full.

Long runsDon't put long runs on a pedestal. Have weeks where you practice running the day before or after long runs to simulate running on tired legs. For advanced runners or those training for an ultra, incorporate weeks with back-to-back long runs.

Easy runsEasy runs should be as easy as possible. Ignore your watch. This is critical if you are doing more than four runs per week. Easy runs coupled with intentional recovery sessions help achieve weekly mileage while letting your body regain strength after harder efforts.

Build-upKeep the build-up in mileage around 10-15% per week with step-back or recovery weeks. Weekly mileage increases are a gentle, rolling progression instead of up and to the right. Avoid playing "catch up" with a plan if you miss a session, focusing on what's ahead.

PacesTrain faster to run faster. Running too often at half marathon goal pace for a half or marathon pace for a marathon can be mentally taxing; instead, use 5k or 10k intervals and tempo efforts to be more confident running faster than goal pace.

Cross-trainingThe closer cross-training can mimic running form and activate running muscles, the better. The elliptical, stair-master, and swimming, which keep your torso upright and hips forward and use your arms, core, and quads and glutes, are better forms of cross-training.

Strength-trainingCorrect muscle imbalances and reduce injury risk with specific strength exercises at least twice a week. Last month I wrote about exercises that build a strong foundation for running.
 
NutritionHave a nutrition plan and practice itNutrition, rather than your training, is often the reason why you hit a wall in a race.

TaperTaper smarter and shorter. Taper about 10 days before a race, maintaining normal training until then. Studies show longer taper periods cause too drastic of a change in routine and anxiety.

RecoveryRecover as hard as you train. More mileage means more recovery and more sleep. Rest is important to maintain good mental health and optimal performance. And invest in your favorite tools of the recovery trade.

Training plans require motivation and discipline. Prepare to commit time and effort, mentally and physically, to follow a plan. As Eliud Kipchoge says, "To win is not important. To be successful is not even important. How to plan and prepare is crucial. When you plan very well and prepare very well, then success can come on the way.”

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Running at High Altitude

This past weekend, I traveled to Colorado to run a marathon in Rocky Mountain National Park, which started at 9,134 feet! The first 10k of the race was downhill, dropping to just below 8k feet before climbing back up and leveling out. Not having spent much time at high altitude and being afraid of heights made me somewhat anxious. Would I get altitude sickness, pass out, and be gobbled up by a bear? Or would I trip on the trail and tumble down a cliff into the abyss?

High altitude is considered to be above 8k even though lower altitudes can still cause us to feel lightheaded, have a higher average heart rate, and compromise performance. For every 1k feet in elevation, you experience a loss of about 3% in oxygen molecules per breath, or almost 25% oxygen loss for 8k feet of altitude. In February I ran a marathon in Utah that started around 5k feet and immediately felt myself short of breath, working significantly harder to average a 6:45 minute/mile pace.

At elevation, air pressure is reduced so every breath you take has less oxygen compared to sea level. As a result, your body has to produce more red blood cells that carry oxygen to your muscles. And because the body is making more red blood cells, it increases the volume of plasma (the non-cell part of blood) so the blood doesn't get too thick. Your body works harder to do basic things like breathe, think, walk...not to mention run!

To run effectively at altitude, you should make adjustments in particular to your training, nutrition, and goals.

Training
The best way to prepare for altitude is simply to train at altitude. For many of us, that is difficult to do without taking a bus, flight, or jet pack to high elevation areas. More interval and hill training will help expand your aerobic capacity and heat training will help your body get used to a similar plasma-building process - though without the extra red blood cell production. These techniques will give you strength at higher rates of perceived exertion (RPE) at altitude.

Two devices I have incorporated into my training are a high-altitude chamber that decreases air pressure and oxygen and a portable altitude mask that filters oxygen out of the air as you breathe. While these are helpful at simulating altitude, they still can't beat exposure to the actual conditions. Give yourself 4+ days before a race to acclimate and let your body produce more red blood cells. For my Colorado marathon, I unfortunately did not have that luxury and landed at 10pm the night before - don't try that at home! However, for what it's worth, some coaches do advise arriving as close to the start for a high altitude race to prevent the onset of acute mountain sickness (AMS) that typically starts within 24 hours at elevation with symptoms beginning as soon as 6 hours after arrival.

Nutrition
Your body needs to have a higher level of carbohydrates, hydration, and iron stores to perform at altitude. Carbs need less oxygen than protein to metabolize in your system and provide sufficient energy for a long distance race. It's also very easy to become dehydrated because you breathe out more quickly and lose water through respiration. With the air drier and humidity lower, sweat evaporates faster, not triggering your normal urge to hydrate. Be aware that your body at altitude is more sensitive to diuretics like caffeine with lower levels of oxygen and body moisture. Finally, your body benefits from iron to create red blood cells. Eat iron-rich foods such as greens and lean red meat!

Goals
You need to prepare yourself mentally that running at altitude will be harder and demand a higher RPE. That mental strength will allow your body to expand its limits in tougher conditions; nevertheless, you should manage your expectations and adjust your sea-level goals. Run by effort rather than your typical paces. Next month, my friend and I will be taking on another high altitude marathon in Madison, Montana, which is apparently the "highest road marathon on planet earth." It starts at 9.2k feet and within a few miles peaks at 9.6k feet before leveling off to finish at 8.6k, with an average of 9k+ altitude. I will be approaching it with a little more confidence and preparation and a little less anxiety and fear! I still hope to encounter a bear.

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A Strong Foundation

At this time of year, as many runners come off spring races and gear up for fall half and full marathons, I wanted to write about the importance of strength training, including visualizations of key exercises to consider incorporating into your routine and build that strong foundation.

It's easy to get caught up with multiple runs per week and ignore strengthening the muscle groups you use the most when training. Stretching is not considered strengthening. Neither is cycling nor swimming which I would classify instead as cross-training. Strength work corrects muscle imbalances and reduces the risk of injuries, enabling you to maintain good form when you run. Good form lets you manage your energy better and run faster for longer.

Below are my top 10 exercises and what common running injuries each of them can help prevent. The exercises may not make you sweat or produce that runner's high. They also won't immediately cure you of any ache or injury you may be dealing with. However, doing them consistently, two to three times a week, will make you a stronger runner in the long run!

1. Monster Walks
Activate muscles in hips and glutes, especially hip extensors and abductors; helps prevent runner's knee and IT band syndrome

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2. Clamshell Side Plank
Incorporates spine and core mobility as well as hip stability; helps prevent knee, hip, and IT band injuries

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3. Lateral Lunge
Works gluteus medius, hip adductors/abductors, and hip flexors; helps prevent hip tendonitis and groin strains

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4. Lunge to "A" Stance
Improves balance, core stability, and quad strength; helps prevent runner's knee

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5. Single Leg Squat
Strengthens and stabilizes lower body muscle groups; helps prevent runner's knee, IT band syndrome, shin splints

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6. Sumo Squat
Emphasizes balance, glutes and inner thigh adductors; helps prevent hip strains and pirformis syndrome

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7. Bridge & Hamstring Curl
Targets glutes and hamstrings; helps prevent sciatica, high hamstring tendinopathy, pirformis syndrome 

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8. Wall Runner
Activates hips, quads, and glutes; helps prevent runner's knee and hip injuries

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9. Ankle Eversion
Strengthens fibularis muscles and stabilizes ankles; helps prevent foot/ankle pain, peroneal tendonitis, shin splints

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10. Ankle Inversion
Strengthens tibialis muscles and stabilizes ankles; helps prevent foot/ankle pain, tibial tendonitis, shin splints

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The Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon is the oldest and most iconic race in America, and its clout is well-deserved. Held on the Massachusetts holiday of Patriots’ Day each year, the Boston Marathon links the marathonian fight of a 26.2 mile race with the American battle for liberty started at the Revolutionary War. We saw that struggle for liberty in the 1967 race, when Kathy Switzer defiantly became the first woman to run the marathon. And we saw that triumph over adversity after the terrible bombing in 2013, when the city and running community rallied to be forever “Boston Strong.”

The marathon itself is unlike most other majors since it is point-to-point and net downhill, preventing Boston from ever being a world record course, per IAAF rules. Yet it’s the only marathon you have to qualify for. It starts in the small village of Hopkinton and travels east to Boston until you make that right turn on Hereford Street and left on Boylston. The 300+ feet of downhill over the first 6 miles immediately tests your discipline to control the pace and preserve your quads. It then levels out for the next 10 miles as you pass the Wellesley scream tunnel and drop to the bottom of the infamous Newton hills.

There are four, humbling hills from miles 16 to 21 that truly define the race. They come at a time when your legs start to fatigue and your energy begins to fade. After the last "Heartbreak" Hill, the final miles take you through Brookline, past Coolidge Corner and Fenway Park into beautiful downtown Boston. Newbury Street. Copley Square. Trinity Church. The much awaited blue and yellow finish line.

I am grateful to have run the Boston Marathon six times. It has taught me discipline to hold back early in a race and go hard late, especially when those hills come at the end. It has taught me humility when conditions are not in my favor. It has taught me to take strength from your community and to be there for those who share your passion and values. And it has taught me to know my priorities in life and know why I run. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot about our sport and about myself along the way.

In my first Boston in 2012, I was sweating before the race even started, partly because of nerves, but mostly because the weather was 85F and rising. Not a day to set a PR! On the bright side, I was able to truly enjoy the race, the incredible fans, the Wellesley girls giving out kisses, and the Boston College guys giving out beer.

In 2013, the weather was perfect. I crossed the finish around 1 pm with no idea what would happen an hour later. When the bomb struck, the race was halted and many did not finish. I could not fathom an attack on a sport that is so mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging while being so rewarding at the same time. Running makes us each feel unstoppable and yet for a moment in time, we stopped. The 2013 race devastated the running community, the city of Boston, and the entire world. 

The aftermath showed us how strong we are as runners, bringing us closer to support those affected and to support each other, regardless of our backgrounds and abilities. It gave our running more purpose, understanding that we never know when something will be taken away from us. Every step, every mile, and every finish line is a gift.

As a result of this resilience and renewed appreciation, the 2014 Boston Marathon will always be my favorite. Nothing stopped the running community. The energy, the compassion, the support from everyone - runners, volunteers, fans, spectators - was unbelievable. It was my fastest Boston yet, and to top it off, one of my running heroes, Meb Keflezighi, became the first American (male or female) to win the race in almost 30 years.

In 2015, Patriots' Day fell on April 20, the same as my wife's birthday. I made the decision not to sign up, even with a qualifying time. As much as running is a gift and a priority, our loved ones are too. I knew I would return, and I ran again in 2016, 2017, and 2018. The weather last year was quite the opposite of my first Boston: freezing rain and 20mph headwinds! As I like to say, if you wait for perfect conditions, you won't be able to weather the storm.

I will be running my seventh Boston this year, and I have accepted that it will not be my best. After finishing my last two marathons in December and in February, I took about 5 weeks off running due to a hip labral tear and strain. My body is more fragile and less invincible than it once was. I have hardly had a chance to rebuild my mileage and speedwork. Nevertheless, I will keep showing up and continue on my journey to be a better coach, runner, and human being. Always for Boston. Always Boston Strong.

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Thank you Anisa for editing this post!

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Marathon Training: 3 Workouts to Try

As we start to feel the crisp spring air and runners prepare for spring half and full marathons, I'm often asked what comprises a good marathon training plan. I'm a believer in custom programs that I can tailor to my athletes, since everyone has different abilities, goals, and opportunities to improve, from endurance and speed to strength and flexibility.

A typical week of marathon training includes an easy run, interval workout, long runs, strength and cross training days. 

Easy runs help achieve weekly mileage while letting your body regain strength, especially after a hard interval workout or long run. Interval workouts improve your aerobic capacity by making you quickly adapt to different speeds and become a more efficient runner. Long runs enhance your entire physiological system - blood flow, energy production, bone and muscle strength - while giving you mental confidence needed for the marathon.

To complement the running, strength training corrects muscle imbalances and reduces the risk of injuries, enabling you to maintain good form when you run. And cross-training improves your cardio-respiratory system without as much weight-bearing as running.

Three running workouts you can incorporate into marathon training include a 16 mile long run with a tempo progression, a pyramid workout, and 8 - 10x 800m repeats. I will describe them below and also share WHY they matter.

1. Long run with a tempo progression
Instead of running long runs only at a pace slower than your goal pace, incorporate a long run that gets progressively faster to develop discipline and simulate pushing through fatigue. For example, a 16 mile progression long run progression has 6 miles at an easy warm-up pace, 8 miles at your tempo pace, and 2 miles at a recovery pace.

  • 6 miles warm up @ easier than marathon pace or 65-70% effort

  • 8 miles tempo @ progressing from half marathon to 10k pace or 80-85% effort

  • 2 miles cool down @ easier than marathon pace

This workout will make your marathon goal pace feel easier, by running at faster than goal pace during a long run. You learn how to control your pace early, so you can push hard late in a race. As you accelerate during the tempo portion of the run, you practice opening up your stride length with a higher knee drive and increasing your stride rate with faster arms.

2. Pyramid workout
Pyramid workouts are ones that increase in length and then decrease. They help you master your pacing since the interval paces on the way "down" mirror the intervals on the way. 

  • 1 mile warmup

  • 400m @ 1 mile pace, 2:00 active rest

  • 800m @ 5k pace, 3:00 active rest

  • 1600m @ 10k pace, 4:00 active rest

  • 1600m @ 10k pace, 4:00 active rest

  • 800m @ 5k pace, 3:00 active rest

  • 400m @ 1 mile pace, 2:00 active rest

  • 1 mile cool down

I like to say one of the best ways to become a faster runner is to train faster. This pyramid workout forces you to change gears and get used to running outside your comfort zone at the beginning AND the end. Work on controlling your breathing since deeper breaths from the diaphragm get more oxygen in your bloodstream and muscles, giving you more energy and endurance.

3. 800m repeats
Yasso 800s is a classic marathon workout that involves half mile repeats at roughly your 5k pace or 90% effort. For marathoners, the magic of the Yasso 800s is that the time it takes for 800m intervals can be a good benchmark for your predicted marathon finish time in hours. So if you can do 8 - 10x 800m repeats in 4 minutes, you should be able to run a 4 hour marathon, provided other factors such as your mileage and running economy are on par. This workout is a good one to repeat every 3 weeks in a training plan to measure and see improvement.

  • 1 mile warmup

  • 8 - 10 x 800m @ 5k pace, 400m active recovery

  • 1 mile cool down

The focus of 800 repeats should be on consistency with form and pace. Run tall, arms driving straight up and down from the waist, legs landing underneath the hips. Controlled breathing. Find a pace you can hold for all 8 - 10 repeats. By training at your 5k pace or faster, you increase your VO2 max, or the maximum amount of oxygen that you can use during running. The more oxygen you can deliver to your muscles, the longer you can sustain running at a certain pace.

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Why Do You Run?

I asked this question last week and was amazed at the many reasons we have for why we run. My answer has certainly evolved over the last 20 years from when I started middle school cross-country running to now racing marathons and coaching athletes, but my fundamental reason has remained the same. 

I run to test and expand my physical and mental limits. I run to let go of the mundane and connect with my thoughts, developing a self-awareness of who I am and what I want to achieve. Every time I conquer my only competitor, the little voice telling me to quit, I become a more confident, passionate, and disciplined person. I run to replace any weakness or ignorance with strength and consciousness. In life, there are many obstacles, but as I keep running, I know I can triumph over any hurdle. I hope to always run and always run knowing why.

I am including below several of the responses I received - thank you for sharing why you run!

For many of us, running is a form of meditation:

I run because it’s the greatest stress reliever - almost like a moving meditation. It’s my time to zone out, be alone, breathe, and re-center myself.
-Mary Beth
I run to find calm. Running is a form of meditation for me - it helps me disconnect from all of the stresses and distractions in my life, and reconnect with myself (and others who join).
-Chris, training for the Maine Coast Marathon
I can’t stand still, but when I run, my mind can wonder in a meditative state.
-Patrick
Running is my meditation. It gives me escape and focus at the same time, and the challenge of it keeps me coming back for more.
-Katie H., training for the NYC Half Marathon
“I run for mental, emotional, & physical health (but mostly mental). I find myself worrying less about the things going on in my life after a good run, it puts things in perspective, and it gives me time to meditate on a thought or go blank. It also teaches me about perseverance, and taking things one step at a time, literally!
-Aris, training for the NYC Marathon

The meditative nature of running extends to its simplicity:

I run because it’s the purest form of exercise.
-Steve, training for the Brooklyn Half Marathon
I run because it’s so efficient. I can get out the door and start my workout immediately. It’s free, I can get my heart rate up immediately, and I can reap all the benefits that exercise provides, like improving my cardiovascular health, maintaining bone density, and burning calories.
-Alice, training for the Spring Fling 10K
I run because of the amazing convenience. Just put on the shoes, and go. Anywhere. Anytime of day.
-Patrick

And Patrick's thoughts are echoed by his daughter Celine!

I run for the simplicity. The world becomes less complicated and you can escape from anything. The simplicity also allows room for reflect or introspection. It’s the best therapy I’ve ever had and it’s never been about competition. For me, it’s about exploration and connecting myself with my surroundings. I love feeling exhausted at the end of a run and the endorphins are always a huge bonus!
-Celine, training for the New Zealand RacingThePlanet 250K (next week!)

We evolved as humans largely because our ancestors survived by out-running animals. Each of us was born with the innate ability to run. And as a result, it's only natural that running helps us understand our minds and bodies better:

Running is happiness! I run to gain perspective and minimize stress. I run to push my body and see how far or fast it will take me. Each new mile or faster split is a small accomplishment to celebrate. I find comfort in the routine of a training plan. I run to understand myself better.
-Christina, training for the NYC Half Marathon
I run to train my mind to be even stronger!
-Shirin
I run to continuously show myself that I can accomplish a goal I once thought was impossible.
-Jen, training for the Berlin Marathon
I run because running has allowed me to overcome my body image insecurities. Instead of focusing on weight and appearance in the mirror, running makes me feel strong and proud of what my body can do.
-Jess, training for the NYC Half Marathon

Running also helps us understand others better:

I run to spend time with my husband and try to understand what he likes so much about it!
-Aditi

And regardless of our abilities, running can make each of us feel on top of the world and find meaning in life:

Running allows me to engage in the world around me, and it offers me something meaningful and new every single day.  Running helps me find whatever I’m looking for and whatever I need, whether I fully realize it or not—community, peace and respite, intensity, dreams of lofty goals, freedom of the outdoors, youthfulness, metaphors about hard work and sacrifice. In a variety of ways, running makes me a better and more fulfilled human being.
-Lauren, training for the 2020 Olympic Marathon trials
I’m not a very ‘good’ runner in any measurable sense. I’ll never break the tape or set a record but I love it, and part of the reason I love it is precisely because I’m not good at it. I love it because it pushes me to try harder. I love that during a run the rest of the world ceases to exist, and I go to a place where all I’m focused on is the next step. I love that it shows my kids that effort and perseverance matter and that you should always try to improve. But most of all I love the happy, powerful, and exhausted feeling at the end of a run where I feel like the world is my oyster.
-Roshni, training for the NYC Triathlon
I love running because it makes me feel unstoppable. Am I the fastest runner? No, definitely not. Do I FEEL like the fastest when I’m sprinting in Coach Raj’s class? Hell yes I do. What feeling is better than that? Starting my day off with a run makes me feel like I can take on whatever the day will throw at me.
-Katie W., training for the Shape Women’s Half Marathon

And finally, we run because we can. From my experience as an Achilles guide and running in the 2013 Boston Marathon, I remind myself that every mile is a gift. Every finish line is a gift. Knowing that we don't know when something will be taken away from us. Being grateful for every step we take:

I started running just to add something different into my workout routine - I’d get 30 minutes in and call it a day, pretty much dreading every second. But over the past few months, something has clicked. Running has become almost therapeutic. It’s the only thing I do regularly that both calms me and excites me, brings me down to earth while also challenging me to be better. I shock myself everyday with how far I’ve come, and more importantly, I’ve become grateful to have 2 legs to run on. There are many people who want to get out there and see the world this way, and I consider myself lucky to do it whenever I want.
-Noelle, training for the NYC Half Marathon
I run because it’s a shame not to. As long as my body can still execute a workout that’s so hard, so mind-clearing, and so perfect that even I’m surprised, I’ll take every ugly run and disappointing race that comes along with it. Running shows you what you’re capable of, but you have to put up with a lot to earn that. Running is a gift.
-Anisa, training for the NYC Half Marathon
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Reading About Running

"Running a marathon is just like reading a good book. After a while, you're just not conscious of the physical act of reading." -Frank Shorter

I often receive requests for book recommendations on running, whether for training or pure pleasure. Ideally books on training become pure pleasure! Reading about our sport gives us a better understanding of its history, science, and culture. It also helps you discover why you run and perhaps inspire new running goals. I am sharing my top 5 book recommendations below, though my full list is a lot longer. Let me know your favorites too.

1. Physiology - Why We Run: A Natural History
This favorite is a surprisingly easy-to-read, fascinating perspective on how humans have evolved because of running. Our ancestors were able to survive by outrunning animals who have fewer sweat glands, and as a result, less endurance capacity. Each of us has the innate potential to be an efficient runner, even ultra-marathoner, largely due to physiological traits we possess, such as our long Achilles tendons and the stretchy nuchal ligament in our necks.

2. Memoir - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
My post about What I Think About When I Run was inspired by Murakami's memoir on his training leading up to the 2005 NYC Marathon and the large influence running has had on his life and his writing. Murakami's insights are so raw and genuine that they will shed new light on your motivation for running. As he puts it, "I'll be happy if running and I can grow old together."

3. Fiction - Once a Runner
One of the most gripping running books about the quest to run a four-minute mile, this book will make you actually look forward to those brutal speed workouts. It beautifully describes the hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and rituals required of runners, regardless of ability. There is also a sequel and prequel if you are hungry for more miles.

4. Anthropology - The Way of the Runner: A Journey Into the Fabled World of Japanese Running
I mentioned this one last week, but it's worthy of more. It may be surprising that Japan is the most running-obsessed country on earth with relay races called ekidens that have Super Bowl-like viewing popularity. The author Adharanand Finn, who has also written about the Kenyans, immerses himself into the Japanese way of training and reveals incredible wisdom from their running form, teamwork, and competition.

5. Training - Daniels' Running Formula
Coach Daniels' book in many ways is the bible for training plans, using specific intensities to improve endurance, strength, and speed. There is a focus on how to incorporate six components - your cardio system or ability to transport oxygen, your muscles' ability to use oxygen, your ability to cope with and minimize lactic acid, your maximum oxygen uptake capacity, your leg turnover, and your form and efficiency.

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Why and When to Run the Tread

The current polar vortex spreading across the Midwest and Northeast is causing runners to wisely seek safety on the treadmill. I recently shared tips on winter running but later realized I have yet to write about why and when to run on a treadmill, largely because I used to hate it, perceiving treadmills to be mind-numbing and a cop-out from running outside.

Born and raised in New York City, I still do everything I can to brave the cold, layer up and run, praying I don't finish the run with less body parts than I started with. The rise of streaming content platforms like Netflix and virtual training apps like Zwift provides some entertainment, but it wasn't until I started teaching treadmill classes that I began to find appreciation. I now incorporate treadmills in my athletes' training and my own while being very intentional on why and when! I'll include a workout for you to try with modifications for duration if you make it to the end.

Treadmills can help you master your pacing, correct your form, and do effective hill and speed training. Over time, I have developed a good sense of knowing the pace I'm running +/- 10 seconds without looking at my Garmin. Those newer to running can benefit from getting a feel for fixed speeds and starting to know your target paces like the back of your hand, which enables you to become a more efficient runner in the long run (pun intended!).

In addition, running in place allows you to analyze and improve your form especially if you can see yourself in mirrors or have someone film your posture, gait, and foot strike - hard to do outside unless you have a personal pacer and coach.

Finally, if you don't have convenient access to hills or a track, treadmill running is a good way to build mental and physical strength with inclines (some with declines or simply add risers) and intervals, using the bright console and moving belt to keep you honest. It's often hard to find hills steeper than 4% grade outside or just the motivation to sprint at an uncomfortable speed.

It's also important to be conscious of the drawbacks. Because the moving treadmill belt pulls your legs back, you use glutes and hamstrings less than you would running on static ground where you propel yourself forward by extending your legs backward without any assistance. As a result, treadmills are more quad dominant and create imbalances in the hamstring-glute function. This is exacerbated for runners who spend most of their days sitting at a desk, shortening and tightening lower leg muscles.

Moreover, relying too much on the tread will not prepare you for the randomness of race day weather and terrain. I've experienced everything from blazing heat to heavy rain, sleet, and headwinds, and I know that practicing running in all conditions will certainly make you a tougher and stronger runner.

And, when traveling, while it's tempting to use a hotel gym's treadmill, one of the many reasons why I run is the chance to explore a new city on foot - case in point, a recent run in Havana, Cuba where I was being drafted by a local half marathon champion (or so he claimed) who later in the run tried to sell me Cuban cigars!

As a result, I recommend limiting the treadmill to specific hill- and speed-work and doing your best to take your run outside as often as possible with safety first. If you need more distraction on the tread, a shameless plug to take a class at Mile High Run Club in New York City, where I combine coaching on form, pacing, and breathing with only the BEST music and a Burning Man inspired light show.

Below is a 60 minute treadmill workout you can try for yourself with modifications to make it 30 or 45 minutes.

L1 = Recovery (50% effort)
L2 = Marathon Pace (65-70% effort)
LL3 = Half Marathon Pace (80% effort)
ML3 = 10K Pace (85% effort)
HL3 = 5K/3K Pace (90% effort)
L4 = 400M Pace (100% effort)
M = minutes, s = seconds
Incline set to 1.0 unless stated otherwise


2M L2 / 90s L1
3M: 2M L2, 1M LL3 / 90s L1
4M: L2 Incline 2.0/3.0/4.0/5.0 / 90s L1
5M: (1M L2, 90s LL3) x 2 / 2M L1
6M: (1M L2, 2M LL3) x 2 / 2M L1
5M: (1M L2, 90s LL3 - ML3) x 2 / 2M L1
4M: L2 Hill 2.0/4.0/2.0/6.0 / 90s L1
3M: 1M LL3, 90s ML3, 30s HL3 / 90s L1
2M: 1M ML3, 1M HL3 / 90s L1
1.5M: 60s L3, 30s L4 / 2M L1
1M: 1M L4

30M option: remove one of the 4M intervals, both the 5M intervals, and the 6M interval
45M option: remove both the 5M intervals

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What I Think About When I Run

I am often asked what I think about when I run, especially when I'm running for 2+ hours! Running is more than just a form of exercise to push your physical limits; it's an opportunity to connect with your thoughts and develop an increased self-awareness. But similar to remembering a dream, I have a hard time remembering what I thought about during the run so I will do my best to break it down for you. 

I think about the route and my pace, my form, mental tricks, the surroundings, random things happening in my life or that I need to do, and what I can look forward to when done!

Route and Pace: The first thing I think about and visualize is my route and goal pace. I have a route in mind for most runs - a simple out & back, a fun loop, hills for breakfast - but sometimes I'll come up with one in the first mile. Route planning is accompanied by pace setting, which is generally by feel for easy runs but more intentional during speed workouts or harder long runs. Thinking too much about pace for every run is mentally exhausting and makes running less fun!

Form: As a coach, I spend a lot of time observing, analyzing, and correcting form, and I use form cues myself to correct my own form when I feel myself slouching or zigzagging and motivate myself especially when running uphill and downhill. I know I don't have perfect form, but the mere awareness and cues make me more efficient.

Mental tricks: I truly believe running is more mental than physical. Mental strength expands your physical abilities to become a stronger runner. Some tricks I use include breaking down a run into smaller, digestible segments like three segments of six miles each, reciting mantras in my head such as "easy, light, smooth", "just relax", and "fight for it!", and reliving past runs or races where I overcame a similar mental block or fatigue that I feel in that moment.

Surroundings: I distract myself with the people and sights around, finding things to smile at to get rid of a grimace or jaw-clenching. It could be runners flapping their arms, a stunning sunrise or skyscraper, or just ridiculously cute dogs and kids. In a race, I'll be more tactical and draft strong runners holding a steady pace or reel in those not practicing nutrition or maintaining form. Smiling helps me relax, lower perceived effort, and even improve running economy or use of oxygen.

Stream of consciousness: A large part of my thinking is totally random! I remember an e-mail I need to respond to, pasta I need to buy, or laundry I have to do. I will make up acronyms to keep track of these things and repeat it to myself to remember afterwards. I never know what random thought I will come up with during a run, yet there's almost always a new idea that just comes to me.

Reward: I will deliberately think about a post-run reward at least a few times during a run - brunch with my wife and friends, a delicious oat latte, or game day for my sports team. This also takes the form of picturing myself finishing the run and getting that runner's high. Positive mental images help me relax and run my best.

Regardless of what you think about when you run, the time you spend running is your time. Your time to not only push yourself mentally and physically but also let go of the mundane and simply reflect. Fill yourself with positive energy and let your mind wander. Running will make you a more confident, passionate, and thoughtful person.

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2018 Recap and 2019 Goals: New Year, Same Process

Happy New Year! Welcome to the first Thursday Tempo of 2019 and #21 since I started last year. You can find my past editions on runwithraj.com/blog.

I enjoy setting goals for many aspects of my life from my career and relationships to lifestyle and fitness, usually at the start of the year but also throughout. They are a mix of realistic and ambitious ones, similar to my philosophy of setting two goals for a race. This newsletter was the product of one of my goals last year: to create more content as a coach!

About half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but less than 20% of those who do stick with them. We make resolutions when it’s a new beginning or a “new you”. The start of the year is the most obvious one, but it can also be a new week or new season. And we (including me) often fail because we overestimate our abilities and underestimate the time and effort needed to stay the course.

So how can you set yourself up for success? You don’t have to tie your goals to a certain date like January 1 or certain duration like one year. Make it less about a resolution and more about something intrinsically important to you. When you set a goal, you should also chart a path to succeed, anticipating roadblocks that could arise and how you would respond.

For example, if you feel too lazy to go for a long run, have a piece of fruit and/or peanut butter beforehand. Use a habit loop (cue → routine → reward) to keep it up. The “cue” could be a certain time of day, the “routine” could be a run, and the “reward” can be watching an episode of your favorite show - ideally while stretching post-run!

Here’s how I did against my 2018 fitness goals:

  • RUN: 1,914 miles running - on average: 6x run/week, 6 mi/run, and 7:45 min/mile

    • Missed: My first stress fracture in 10 years paused my running for two months and reduced my total miles by 25% vs. the last several years. Rough.

  • RUN: 6 marathons including Boston #6, 5 new states (GA, MD, MO, ND, WA) and three top 3 overall finishes

    • Hit: I squeezed in a final marathon on 12/30 to hit my goal of 6 marathons and bring my 50 states goal to 35. Woohoo.

  • SWIM: 163 miles swimming - on average: 3x swim/week, 1 mi/swim, and 1:47 min/100 yd

    • Exceeded: With less time running, I blew my swim mileage goal of 90 miles out of the water. Ha ha.

  • STRENGTH: 79 hours of strength training - 2x strength/week for a total of 465 exercise hours or 76 minutes/day

    • Hit: I met my goal of 70 strength hours, spending more time on total body strength and in classes like City Row and Tone House.

  • COACHING: Coached 5 new athletes 1:1, taught 2,147 unique athletes in my classes, published 20 issues of Thursday Tempo

    • Hit: I achieved my goal of working with 4 new runners 1:1 in addition to all the runners I am grateful to coach through Mile High Run Club, Achilles, and Google. Inspired by my 2018 goal to create more content, I launched Thursday Tempo and posted more on social media, including my favorite series - 26 marathon tips before the NYC marathon.

So, what’s in store for 2019?

I haven’t set a marathon time goal in a while, since doing 6-8 marathons each year has made it hard to train for a PR, but I’m excited to perhaps go for it this year. I’ve also wanted to run two marathons in a single weekend both under 3 hours ever since I tried this with Indianapolis then Columbus and missed Columbus by a few minutes. I did run back-to-back two more times in  Iowa/South Dakota and Alabama/Mississippi but without a time goal and just to survive!

I want to work 1:1 with more athletes, whether in person or remote, and am off to a good start training 6 new athletes, all who have been fantastic to work with already. And finally, I will continue to brainstorm, test, and maybe even start my next big idea! I have some thoughts on what this could be and will be sure to keep you posted. 

  • RUN: 7 marathons: 5 new states, Boston #7, and NYC #8 as an Achilles guide

  • RUN: Marathon <2:50 OR 2 back-to-back (Saturday/Sunday) sub-3:00 marathons

  • SWIM: 125 miles swimming - 2x swim/week

  • STRENGTH: 75 hours of strength training - 2x strength/week

  • COACHING: Coach 10 new athletes 1:1, coach 2,000 new athletes in classes, 2x subscriber growth of bi-weekly Thursday Tempo

Feel free to share your goals with me so we can keep each other accountable. I'm here to help you hit and exceed them. Let's go get it!

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Tools of the Recovery Trade

The number of tools for recovery has exploded, from vibrating foam rollers and massage balls to compression therapy and electric stimulation. Don't get too excited, no adult content here. What ever happened to the Stick? Or the blue styrofoam roller? Not to mention the simple and still best recovery method "RICE" (rest, ice, compression, elevation). I'll explain the benefits of a few recovery tools and offer a guide for how you can recover from your runs.

I always tell my athletes to recover as hard as you train. Recovery lets your energy, strength, and immune system return to optimal levels for performance. We all want to recover faster so we can make improvements in our fitness. End each run with active recovery or a slower walk or jog, instead of abruptly coming to a stop. This allows your heart rate to gradually come down and prevent your blood from pooling in your lower body, which can cause dizziness or faintness from insufficient blood flow to the heart and brain. 

Static stretching after your cool down will improve your flexibility and lengthen key muscle groups such as the lower back, hamstrings, and hip flexors that get tight from running. Make sure you consistently give your body some loving stretches after your run. It's easy to say but hard to commit to doing!

Foam rolling, a technique for self-myofascial release, enhances stretching by breaking up muscle tension and pushing new blood to fatigued muscle tissues or fascia. Foam roll on longer muscle groups like IT bands and calves. The more you foam roll, the more your muscles respond to it. And foam rolling should not be a race - take longer, more measured rolls with deep breaths to help your muscles relax and recover.

Complement rolling by using a hard ball to loosen localized and deeper soreness, with a golf ball for your feet or a lacrosse ball for your glutes. My favorite way to roll the plantar fascia is actually with a frozen water bottle, which has the double benefit of reducing inflammation and stretching muscle tissue.

So is it worth it to add the allure of vibration to your foam rollers or massage balls? Vibration therapy adds power to the myofascial release, relaxing muscles at lower speeds and breaking down scar tissue at higher speeds. But research on incremental benefits of vibration therapy is still mixed. Since it simulates the effects of mild exercise, it has been shown to help increase range of motion before activity. And as a product tester myself of the Hypervolt, I find its hand-held portability and quietness to be efficient but more of a nice to have than a necessity.

Finally, compression therapy like NormaTec recovery boots, an advanced form of compression clothing, has evolved into a truly social experience with runners relaxing in lounge chairs in big, black puffy boots, sipping green tea and discussing their mile splits. Recovery boots provide massage and push lactic acid out of the limbs to re-create the feeling of "fresh legs" though research on compression therapy mostly finds its benefits to be no better than active recovery and massage.

While there will continue to be sexier ways to recover, research also reveals that your expectations play a large factor in your perceived recovery. So simply believing that foam rolling, massage or ice baths work will help you recover better! Develop a recovery routine that works for you. And you can never go wrong with a Stick, golf ball and a little bit of RICE.

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My Favorite Track Workout: Yasso 800s

Track SZN is upon us. My favorite track workout that I do a few times leading up to a marathon is the well-known and often-dreaded Yasso 800s: 10 repeats of 800m intervals with a consistent 400m recovery in between each repeat. Basically 2 lap repeats around a track until you collapse!

For marathoners, the magic of this workout is that the time it takes for 800m intervals is your predicted marathon finish time in hours! So if you can do 10x 800m repeats in 3, 4 or 5 minutes, you should be able to run a 3, 4 or 5 hour marathon. This equates to approximately your 5k pace for each 800m interval.

You can start doing the Yasso 800s 12 weeks out from your goal race and do them every 3 weeks, with your last one being 3 weeks out from race day. While you can do them every week, spacing out Yasso 800s in a training plan allows you to truly measure and see improvement to build confidence. And you will dread them a little bit less. Early in a training program, I will start with 5 repeats of 800s and work my way up, adding 1 or 2 repeats each workout to get to 10.

Focus on CONSISTENCY in each repeat and each recovery. Don't compromise form. Start a bit slower than your 5k pace until you find a pace you can hold for multiple rounds. Work with a friend or coach to keep you accountable. If you find yourself finishing the last repeat a lot faster, then re-adjust and dig deeper for next time!

number of factors influence training, starting with your mileage base, your pace, your ability to consume oxygen or VO2 max, heart rate and lactate threshold zones. So simply nailing Yasso 800s isn't enough. If you find your marathon time is faster than your Yasso 800 time, you aren't pushing hard enough on your 800s and need to increase your speed. If your marathon time is slower than 800s, then you aren't putting in the long runs and need to improve your endurance.

Remember that every runner is different. Know your strengths and weaknesses, whether it's speed, endurance, or mental strength. And every run is different. Keep training conditions and how you are feeling that day in perspective. Catch me in class this weekend for a treadmill version of Yasso 800s: 8 rounds of 3.5min intervals alternating between inclines and 10k/5k pace. Or head to the track and try it out for yourself!

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Temps may Drop but Running won't Stop

The first snow today in New York City welcomed many of us to winter running. But it's only cold if you're standing still! While it's easy to bring the run indoors onto the tread, it can also be beneficial to the mind, body, and soul to get out there and run in chilly weather.

By making the decision to brace the cold and run outside, you immediately build mental resolve. And the more you push through barriers, the easier it will be the next time. One of my running coaches once told me that if you wait for the perfect conditions, you will never improve.

Running outside also burns more calories since your body and heart have to work harder to pump blood and deliver oxygen to muscles. This means that your glycogen and fat stores are depleted a bit faster, so proper nutrition is still important. An extra donut is allowed.

To run outside when temps dip below 45F / 7C, use tech and wool blend fabric for your gear, starting with a good winter hat and gloves. A hat or headband should strike a balance between warmth and breathability and include sweat-wicking fabric such as Brooks' "DriLayer" or Nike's "Dri-Fit." Gloves should be wind-resistant with a thick shell and soft lining, otherwise your hands will still feel cold and numb!

My personal favorite cold-weather accessory is the balaclava, which covers the whole head and neck usually with an opening for your eyes and nose, a common item for skiers and burglars. Try not to creep up on someone when wearing your balaclava. Finding one that is light and moisture-wicking will protect you from frigid wind chill.

For your top layer, consider one made of merino wool which breathes and manages moisture better than other fabrics without being itchy. I often run just in a merino wool base layer unless it's really cold or snowing when I'll add a lightweight outer layer that is wind- and water-resistant. For bottoms, consider slim and supportive tights, adding an inner liner as necessary.

I always advise avoiding the outdoor run when conditions are especially slippery or there's a lot of black ice. Be safe above all else. Freshly packed snow can be more manageable and fun to run on. Traction cleats that attach to the bottom of your running shoes will enhance your stability on snowy roads or trails.

Don't let winter end your outdoor run. Having the right mindset and running gear is all you need. The first few minutes will be painful, but your body will quickly adapt. Think about how good you will feel after, and have a warm post-run incentive like hot chocolate with marshmallows. Bring out that inner winter warrior. Personal bests are earned in the winter!

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Marathon tips for 26 days

#26. Know the course.

Regardless of the race, one of the first things you should do, perhaps before even signing up for a race, is looking at the course map and elevation profile. Know where the uphills, downhills, flat stretches, and sharp turns are. You should also check for aid stations and what the race will have so you can adjust your own nutrition plan. If you're local, practice running the course. There's no excuse not to train on the same hills you'll be racing on. If the race is a few hours away, you can even consider a day trip!

#25. Pace yourself.

This is easy to say but hard to do! If your first mile is a steep hill like NYC's Verrazzano Bridge, take it around 30 seconds slower per mile than your goal pace to avoid building up lactic acid too quickly. Steep downhills should also be conservative. You can run them at or slightly faster than goal pace but nothing too crazy. Force yourself to hold back early despite the ability to run faster. Having a pacing strategy helps, whether it's even splits with adjustments based on perceived effort for hills, or breaking the race down; for example, ease in to your goal pace for the first 10K, stay right on it for the middle, and go hard late in the final 10K. The marathon is NOT a race like the 800M where you go all out and hang on for dear life!

#24. Be weather-proof.

Depending on race day conditions, I've almost always brought extra layers to the start of the race that you can shed before the start or in the early miles. Extra layers include a thin hat, gloves, arm warmers, fleece tops/bottoms, and even a poncho, socks or shoe covers for heavy rain. Be prepared for any weather. I've run marathons in 30F freezing rain or snow and 90F degree sun! Force yourself to train in all conditions, as long as it's safe to be outside, in the heat, in the rain, in the cold. It will give you confidence to power through no matter what the wind brings on race day!

#23. Train faster to run faster.

Weekly speedwork is key to setting a PR. It is supposed to be hard and maybe not so fun, so embrace it. Learn to love it. Training fast improves your running economy and makes that marathon pace feel easier. My favorite marathon specific workouts are Yasso 800s and mile repeats.

#22. Break it down.

Start breaking down 26.2 into smaller segments like every 5 miles when you take an energy gel - more on nutrition to come. This will make the marathon feel more manageable. Remember all the hard miles you ran in training. Mental toughness is critical so don't give in to periods of self-doubt.

#21. Test your fitness.

Do a 1/2 marathon race or workout to test your fitness around this time. A good race provides a powerful mental and physical lift. With 3 weeks out (today!) add progressive speed to your final long run, doing the last 6+ miles slightly faster than your marathon goal pace. Learning how to increase effort on tired legs is key for the marathon. 

#20. Rest & x-train.

Running is high-impact so know when to rest especially after a race or hard workout. There is not much more to gain in the last few weeks. Listen to your body and recover to regenerate muscular strength. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. X-training such as cycling and swimming can maintain aerobic fitness while loosening up your muscles too.

#19. Gel + water + salt.

Have a nutrition plan and stick. to. it. I do a PowerGel + water every 4-5 miles. Sports drink every 2 after the first gel. SaltStick tablets at miles 12 & 18. Practice nutrition during your training even if you don't need it. And if you sweat a lot be more liberal with salt which replenishes electrolytes and prevents cramping. Finally, try avoiding caffeine from here on and then use it on race day for a BOOST.

#18. Shoe dog.

Now is the time to break in a fresh pair of shoes that you are used to and will race in. Replace shoes every 400 miles or based on wear & tear. Many runners buy shoes that are too light, tight, or pretty like every Nike shoe. Marathons requires ample support so use lighter shoes only after you have the foot strength. Consider parallel lacing to increase comfort and reduce pressure on the navicular and try a pair of toe socks if you get blisters to eliminate friction!

#17. Have a mantra.

Find a running mantra that speaks to you. A single word like "Relentless" or "Fighter". A short phrase like "Stronger by the Mile", "Light and Smooth" or "This is What You Came For". Remember it. Ink it on your hand. And recite it out loud especially when it's tough. Start using your mantra during your final training runs so on race day you have an association. Each time you repeat it, your brain and body will respond and stay on target. Change your thinking, and you'll change your performance!

#16. Set 2 goals.

Set an ambitious goal AND a more achievable one. Your ambitious goal could be a certain time or distance goal. Your achievable goal could be a more realistic time or just to finish and feel strong! Having 2 goals allows you to manage factors out of your control. Goal-setting has been shown to increase motivation and improve performance. The more specific the goal, the better. Remember that everyone has different abilities - focus on your process and your goals!

#15. Create your own experience.

"Everyone experiences a race differently. It’s okay to listen to other people’s experiences, but ultimately you get to choose how you experience the NYC Marathon course. Keep an open mind. Focus on the things you can control (your sleep, diet, training and race prep) and don’t worry about the things you can’t (the weather, time left to race day)." -Coach Fitz

#14. Negative split mindset.

Start the race with a negative split mindset: finishing the second half faster and stronger than the first. So when you hit 13.1 on this bridge, you mentally and physically shift into a higher gear. If you conserve energy early, you will have more in the tank late. Train negative splits too, no matter how easy or fast your run. My 1st NYC in 2010 was a +14min split (disaster!) but 5 of my last 6 NYCs have all been negative. Having run more than 50 marathons, neg splits produce faster times and stronger finishes...I promise.

#13. Visualize success.

Picture yourself overcoming hard parts of the course, finding your kick and crossing that finish! Intentionally create positive mental images, like receiving and wearing your marathon medal, in your taper runs and before sleep. These visual triggers of success will help you relax and run your best on race day.

#12. Take the bridge.

There is a profound silence as you climb up Queensboro since no fans are allowed on it. IMO the toughest part of the race. You will see people dropping off. Maintain your focus and effort when climbing this hill. Keep the torso tall, arms straight up & down, high knee drive and short stride. Light and smooth. Learn to embrace the silence and the challenge. Use it as an opportunity to #takethebridge and prove yourself!!

#11. Taper time.

Stay loose and stretch early and often. Now is the time to reduce running volume to allow your body's energy, strength, and overall health to return to optimal levels after extended training. Consider your final hard run (5-6 mile tempo) 7-10 days out. Incorporate strides or quick 100m bursts at the end of easy runs next week. Focus on getting to the start healthy- staying hydrated, taking vitamins, eating a balanced diet. Avoid trying anything new!

#10. Use the crowd.

Feed off the energy of the packed crowds as you head up 1st Ave for the next 3 miles - my favorite part of the race! You will see thousands of runners shimmying ahead of you. But be sure to control your pace as it's easy to run too fast here without realizing. Don't chase after the person who passes you, regardless of how good-looking the person is. Settle in to a rhythm and take it all in. And stage your fans further up 1st for extra motivation!

#9. Use form cues.

As you fatigue, your form can start to fall apart which means you spend more energy keeping everything together. Give yourself form cues to stay efficient and on track in these final miles. Run Tall! Elbows In! Arms Faster! Knees Higher! Keep your hands and feet pointing straight ahead like you're a train on parallel tracks. Full. Steam. Ahead. Driving straight up and down. Keep that foot strike directly underneath with a nice and quick cadence.

#8. Conquer the beast.

Instead of dreading the last 6 miles from the Bronx, look forward to it. Look forward to the Beast showing up during the race. A stitch, heavy legs, a mental block. Get it under control. Have your own fight with the Beast, whatever form it may take, and show who's boss! You can't hate the Beast and expect to conquer it. The only way to truly conquer something...is to love it.

#7. Dress the part.

Have the right clothes for the start and the race. Bring extra layers to stay warm before. Try to run in as few layers as possible, ideally a singlet and shorts as you will get warm. Bring a thin hat, gloves, and arm warmers that you can throw off or keep. Weather for next Sunday looks perfect but who knows - in case the Gods change: use a visor or nylon cap and split shorts if it’s raining. Use vaseline or nip guards to prevent chafing. Practice carrying your nutrition in shorts, in hand, or in a belt so it doesn't fall out immediately. And finally, run in your club gear or write your name on your shirt or bib for extra crowd support!!

#6. Keep calm and relax.

This may be the most useful tip about racing. Relax in the buildup this week. A little anxiety is normal but don't add to it. Relax in your last couple of runs and get enough sleep. Relax on race morning and stay positive. You are ready. Relax during the race itself, in your mind and in your body - your face, shoulders, hands - which will help conserve energy. And most importantly, relax postrace with a brew of your choice. My favorite is the Miles Marathon Session IPA by SingleCut Beersmiths.

#5. Turn that grimace into a grin.

Smile at the crowds, at the funny signs, at other runners. Smile at the fact you are running the greatest 26.2 miles in the greatest city in the world. When you feel the pain, and you will, start to smile. It will help you relax, lower your perceived effort and actually improve your running economy or how you use oxygen. You'll notice the marathon GOAT Eliud Kipchoge use this tactic in the last few miles of his marathons. 

#4. Make carbs and salt your friends.

Make carbs are a large (~80%) part of what you eat this week - pasta, bananas, potatoes, bagels, oatmeal - to increase energy stores in your muscles and liver. Don’t simply eat more of everything. And a huge meal the night before is a myth. Have carbs, some protein, avoid too much dairy, spicy, fatty, or high-fiber foods. Hydrate with electrolytes especially Saturday. Plan your race morning breakfast 2 or 3 hours before to restock glycogen. I like a banana, bagel with almond butter, a small energy bar and water with NuuN. Don't eat anything you've never tried and don't overthink it. Let your gut guide you. You will be fine!

#3. Thank a volunteer.

Even if you're racing for that PR and making every step count, you can still make eye contact and give that nod or say "thanks" to volunteers - aid stations, course marshals, medical experts, and security. It will make the volunteers feel good. And it will make you feel good!! Try it! The NYC Marathon would not be possible without the 12,000+ volunteers like them.

#2. Expo efficiency.

Be efficient at the expo if you go after work today or tomorrow - it's easy to spend hours on your feet trying new goodies in running heaven. Stick to what works. Don't be brainwashed or intimidated by random things you have never heard about. Buy a few extra gels or electrolytes if you're running low. Take that photo with your bib or name on the wall. But wait to buy that finisher's swag...until after you finish! Getting the expo out of the way yesterday or today means you can focus on putting your feet up and relaxing on Saturday.

#1. Have some freaking fun!

Don't put any single marathon on a pedestal. Unless you're maybe trying to win the whole thing. Have confidence in your training and get pumped for an amazing and memorable day! Line up loose, start easy, remember nutrition and go hard late. Re-read the last 25 tips. And if you remember just one, have some FUN out there!

Every Mile is a Gift

In the summer of 2011, a co-worker named Brian asked me if I was interested in being a NYC Marathon guide to a visually impaired athlete, as part of the organization Achilles International. I remembered running alongside and cheering on Achilles handcyclists in my first NYC marathon the year before but didn't appreciate the number of visually impaired athletes who also finish the marathon every year.

Even though I had run just three marathons at that time, I accepted the challenge of guiding Mariusz from Poland to a sub 3:15 marathon in NYC, with the help of Brian and another guide. While I felt honored to be part of Team Mario, I was also nervous. What if I couldn't keep up with Mario? Or what if I failed in my duties as a guide that caused Mario to get hurt? Or not meet his goals? To gain more confidence, I started attending weekly Achilles workouts in Central Park leading up to the race. I immersed myself in a community of volunteers who were guiding and encouraging people with all types of disabilities to walk, jog, and run.

In my right hand, I held on to a white string or "tether" that a visually impaired athlete also held in his or her left hand. Initially, I stayed within inches of my athlete for protection. This restricted our respective arm swings and led to a slightly awkward running form. But with practice, I quickly built trust in myself and with my athletes and was able to extend the tether and create a foot of space, allowing our arms to swing more freely and have a smoother running motion.

Doing something so simple as holding on to a string and calling out a turn or bump in the road truly empowers Achilles athletes to achieve hope and joy and stride with incredible grace and strength. At the marathon that year, when Mario and I turned right on 5th avenue into Central Park, he felt the increasingly loud cheers of the crowd and the fresh scent of the woods, and I could see him sensing rays of light shining through the fall colors of the trees and smiling. He exclaimed, "We're in Central Park!" I will never forget Mario's happiness in his ability and opportunity to run in arguably the greatest park in the greatest city in the world.

I'm humbled, grateful, and inspired every time I volunteer with and coach Achilles athletes. What I'm reminded of the most is that "every mile is a gift." Every finish line is a gift. Knowing that we don't know when something will be taken away from us. As Amby Burfoot, former Boston Marathon winner and Runner's World editor says, marathons teach you great humility because it is difficult and you are often defeated along the path.

As I recently recover from injury and as I continue to guide others, I am truly grateful for every step we take. Cherish your path and stay positive and resilient through ups and downs. Find a way to help others do the same, and it will make you appreciate that every mile out there is truly a gift.

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Taper Time

With 10 days until the Chicago Marathon, which several of you are running, I am sharing some insights on the "taper" period. Tapering refers to the intentional reduction of running volume in last weeks leading up to a race.

Research has shown that an effective taper can lead to a 3% performance improvement or several minutes when it comes to the marathon. Tapering allows your body's energy, strength, and health to return to optimal levels. Peak training depletes glycogen, wears down muscles, and suppresses your immune system.

The amount of fitness gains you can achieve in the final two weeks leading up to a marathon is almost negligible, so be sure to listen to your body. Most marathon plans call for a 3 week taper and 20-30% reduction in mileage each of those weeks with little or no training faster than your race goal pace. Some plans cut volume more sharply and focus on high-intensity efforts, some cut volume less and maintain routine, and some are in between.

What has worked best for me through plenty of experimentation is tapering about 12 days before a race, maintaining normal training until then. Longer taper periods caused too drastic of a change in routine and anxiety. I felt like I was running after a long vacation. In my taper period, my last hard run will be a 5 - 6 mile tempo run (between half marathon and 10k race pace) one week out. I incorporate strides, or fast ~100 meter bursts, at the end of a few easy runs in the last week.

Regardless of what works for you, don't go too easy or too hard during your taper! Focus on getting to the start healthy - staying hydrated, taking vitamins, and getting a balanced diet in the last two weeks. Here are my other taper tips:

  • Avoid upper body strengthening in the final two weeks while maintaining stretching and light core work

  • Ensure adequate and good carbs, fats, protein; remember electrolytes in the days before

  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol and caffeine, especially as the post-race beer can be an incentive and the mid-race caffeine can be a performance boost

  • Avoid trying anything new from apparel and shoes to nutrition and lifestyle

  • Stay off your feet and conserve energy the day before; if possible, go to the expo two days before

  • Reflect on and take strength in all the hard work and training you have done - running hills, speed, and tough weather conditions!

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A New World Record

Eliud Kipchoge has won his last 9 marathons, setting a world record in 2:01:39 at Berlin. Aside from that, Kipchoge and I have a few things in a common. We are the same height, same weight, have a birthday just a few days apart, and share a similar passion and philosophy for the sport of marathon running.

Last Sunday, I woke up really early to watch him break barriers in the Berlin Marathon. Ever since I ran the London Marathon in 2015, which Kipchoge won and where I set my PR at the time, I've been fascinated by his remarkable composure and consistency. I've watched his last 5 marathons including his mesmerizing Breaking 2 attempt last year, one of the greatest athletic performances ever.

What impresses me most about Kipchoge is his mental game, his motivation and discipline, which as he describes results in his consistency. Consistency in winning but more importantly, consistency in improving as a runner and expanding the limits of the human body. As Kipchoge says:

"It's not about the legs; it's about the heart and the mind."

“The difference only is thinking. You think it’s impossible, I think it’s possible.”

"Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions."

“If you don’t rule your mind, your mind will rule you. That’s the way I think about this sport.”

"Pain is nothing more than a mindset. Distract yourself with other thoughts - the joy of running, the finish line ahead. Then the pain fades."

These sayings of Kipchoge reflect his mental resolve. He believes what he is says and puts it into practice. Kipchoge rarely talks about placing or winning leading up to a race; instead, he focuses on how to prepare and trust the process to result in success.

Kipchoge's performance in Berlin was especially impressive as the weather was on the warmer side and two of his pacemakers dropped out early. In fact, he accelerated when his last pacemaker dropped and achieved a negative split in the second half of the race.

I will continue to follow and learn from the journey of the toughest and fastest male distance runner of all time. I remain hopeful we will see Kipchoge break 2 hours or give us another world record in the marathon before his racing career is over!