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.


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!


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.”


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.

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.

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!

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.


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.


Thank you Anisa for editing this post!


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.


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!


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 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.


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!

Work-Run Balance

You can get better at your job by running. Running doesn't just help you physically. Running has clear mental and emotional benefits which are relevant to your everyday work:

  • Focus: Running teaches us to complete a goal, whether distance, time, or even just to finish. Speed workouts and races often require you to vary intensity over the course of a run, requiring a deeper level of focus. That mental toughness to push through pain or fatigue will help you navigate complexity in your job and succeed in completing any project. 

  • Creativity: Running encourages you to constantly think of new strategies and workouts but more importantly, it helps your brain get into an expansive or "alpha" state to increase reflective and creative thinking and solve any problem.

  • Confidence: Running in a race, whether 5k or ultramarathon, gives you confidence, a valuable skill to use for networking, project management, and presentations. It turns out that confidence is one of the most important predictors of running performance as well as promotion likelihood.

  • Discipline: Running faster requires good discipline to know your paces and when to push or hold back. Training for a longer race like a marathon will require discipline to follow a training program and not overdo it.

  • Stress relief: Running increases your energy and productivity while decreasing anxiety and stress. Channel these feelings into your next run!

Berlin Marathon, 2014

Berlin Marathon, 2014

The Runner's Rule Book

I'm sharing 10 of my favorite rules from Mark Remy's everyday and often unspoken rules of running, adding some perspective from my racing and coaching.

1. Expand your Definition of Fun
Fun may include waking up before 6AM to log 6 miles, running up and down a bridge or around 400-meter circles, paying a random organization to run on public roads and blistering your feet, sometimes on back to back days.

2. Have Mercy on the Slow
There will always be someone slower than you and someone faster than you. When running with someone slower, make it a point to remain a half a step behind to avoid pushing the pace too much and showing off.

3. Learn and Love the Farmer's Blow
A process by which you clear your nostril of mucus by pinching shut the opposing nostril and exhaling forcefully, ideally off to the side to avoid your snot rocket exploding on someone else.

4. Acknowledge Fellow Runners in Public, But be Cool about it
A Garmin watch, tan line, race tee, or running shoe are some ways to spot a fellow runner in the wild. An acceptable form of acknowledgement includes brief eye contact and head nod...and that's about it. Runners are dignified and understated, not golfers.

5. Running on the Beach is Overrated
It's never quite as good as you believe and can lead to more issues from annoying sand that can never be removed to attractive sun-bathers that will distract you and cause you to run into a child. Stick to a run around town or on the tread.

6. Running at Night is Underrated
I realized this during my first Reach the Beach relay, running at 3AM with proper reflective gear (try the amazing fyrfly one!) and headlights. There's something about running through the stillness of the dark, along your own path of light, that makes you feel like you are gliding.

7. Be Careful Where and Whom You Ask for Lube
A running specialty store or race expo are fine but Whole Foods or a dive bar may not be. 

8. Non-Runners Don't Care That Much About Your Running
I learned pretty quickly after just a few marathons that non-runners don't care about mile splits or wind speed and humidity. Save it for the community.  

9. Having a Million Things to Do is an Excuse For Running, Not An Argument Against it
Running will help you clear your mind, organize your thoughts, and return to your tasks with renewed clarity, energy, and even creativity.

10. When You've Finished, Wipe the Track Down for the Next Runner
Just kidding!

Instant Motivation

Signing up for a race will bring instant motivation and help you find a running routine. It doesn't matter if the race is 1 mile, 5k, a marathon, or stair climb. It doesn't matter if it's one week out or six months out. As Mark Remy says, "a race - weeks or months away - is the proverbial carrot, dangled out there for you to pursue."

To solidify the commitment, sign up with a friend or group of friends. This way you will have not only a goal on the calendar but also a support group to keep you accountable for achieving it.

So how do you find races to sign up for? My favorite source is Running in the USA, a site that lets you find races by date, type, distance, and location. It even has a "Double Stater" gadget designed for marathon maniacs like me that shows you races on consecutive days in different states, sorted by miles between cities.

Marathon Guide, Strava, and Facebook are places you can also find reviews and commentary for races to help you narrow down all the choices. Did you know there are 12 marathons that take place every year in Nebraska and 120 in California? Massachusetts has 8 stair climbing races. Read reviews about the course, logistics, and fan support.

Look for a course that excites you, whether it's the surface, scenery, elevation, altitude, or even something fun like the number of live bands. Choose a well-organized race to avoid issues like taking the wrong turn, aid stations running out of water, or waiting extremely long for bag check or a bathroom! Races that offer free pics are always a plus.

Finally, you can stalk your friends' and your own racing at Athlinks, a LinkedIn of sorts for runners that has the most comprehensive database of race results across the globe. Signing up for a race will let you see the results of your training, experience the running community at its best, and enjoy post-race treats. Just be sure to avoid the post-race bagels. It's a runner's rule that they must be dry and taste like aspirin.


Find Your Finishing Kick

As a marathon runner, I used to downplay the importance of a finishing kick at the end of a race. I didn't think of myself as a sprinter or having fast-twitch muscle fibers. After all, how can a few super fast seconds at the end of 26 miles even make a difference?!

I found that I did have some kick at a 49K race in Anchorage, Alaska in 2015, where I was in the lead but overtaken with 200m to go. I told myself that I still had something left, using both mental and physical strength to regain the lead and break the tape in a photo finish! Since then, I incorporate specific training to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers and continue working on my finishing kick.

Data suggests that for almost all mid- and long-distance races, except the 800m*, elite athletes employ a "sit and kick" pacing strategy where you see a spike in running speed at the end of a race. So HOW exactly do you find that finishing kick?

We are born with an innate ability to use safety reserves when we're about to stop, regardless of what happened leading up to it. Then there is the physical aspect of having strong fast-twitch muscles. The more fast-twitch fibers we can activate, the more power and speed we can produce. And the more efficient you are in using your muscle fibers throughout the race, the more you will have left to use at the end. The two are related, because you need to tell your brain that you have and can use that leftover stored energy!

Functionally, a fast finish is either the result of a faster stride rate, longer stride length, or combination of the two. Drills to practice improving each one will help you improve that kick. The best way to train is doing a high number of shorter intervals such as 100m or 200m at maximum effort, focusing on your cadence and stride length and getting your legs used to running faster than normal.

With a higher number of reps like 10x 200m or 20x 100m, you will condition your body to run fast when the legs are tired, which is exactly how you will feel at the end of a race. It's key to maintain a strong and smooth form even during these sprints - running tall, face relaxed, arms driving straight up and down from the hips, legs landing underneath you, controlled breathing.

Finally, a supplemental way to shift your body to use fast-twitch muscle fibers is through plyometric training, where your muscles exert a maximum amount of force in a short amount of time. Single leg hops, split squat jumps, and pogo jumps are all good to do up to 2 times a week with 3x 10 repetitions. Combining a strong mind with short intervals and plyometrics will help you find that finishing kick and not let anything or anyone get by you!

*Athletes racing the 800 employ a "gun to tape" strategy where they go out hard and just try not to die, finishing at a slower speed than they started. Although, females do show a small uptick in speed compared to men who don't!


How to Fuel your Running

One of the most common questions I receive is about nutrition. While I am not a nutritionist, I will share insights from my years of running and coaching experience, so take this with a grain of sea salt (pun intended!). Poor nutrition is the largest cause of "hitting the wall" - when your glycogen, or storage of carbohydrates, is depleted. The amount of glycogen you have in your muscles has been shown to be directly correlated with how long you'll last on a treadmill test to exhaustion. Good running nutrition should keep you healthy and fuel your training!

Your ideal running diet should focus on foods like organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats like nuts and avocados, fish, and grass-fed (whenever possible!) meat and limit or avoid refined grains, fatty meat, highly processed sweets or added sugar, and fried food that deplete glycogen faster and can lead to weight gain. I love plenty of good carbs (60-70% target of your diet), and the absolute amount should also be proportional to training load; more/less carbs with more/less miles during your peak/taper periods. Make sure to get protein within 30 minutes of finishing a workout or race as protein helps your muscles heal faster and accelerate growth.

On the question of being vegetarian or "pescetarian", I have experimented with both and found it hard to get sufficient protein from tofu, beans, and eggs or sufficient iron from spinach and lentils. Iron builds the red blood cells that carry oxygen which muscles require, especially as you increase the intensity or distance of your runs. You should also be aware that the ideal diet I described often produces gas in the GI track. It can't stay there forever, and the runner's code allows you to pass gas freely when you run! Pretend the gas is propelling you forward like a booster rocket.

For race day nutrition, I almost always have a bagel with Justin's almond butter and a banana, ideally 1.5 - 2 hours before the race. Before a training run, my stomach has become accustomed to eating as soon as 15 minutes before, but it's usually something small and delicious - a Honey Stinger waffleUNREAL peanut butter cup, or piece of fruit like Marathon Mangos (wink!). Avoid experimenting with anything you're not used to. A lot of dairy doesn't sit well prior to running. The most important ritual is to hydrate as early as 48 hours before a race, water plus electrolytes like MaurtenNuuN, or Zym, to prevent dehydration, cramping, and heat-related conditions.

Have a nutrition plan during the race and stick to it: a gel like PowerGel plus water every 5 miles or 30-45 minutes. Sports drink every 2 miles after the first gel. Electrolyte salts like SaltStick at miles 12 and 18. I ran my first 8 marathons with gels that had half the sodium and without any additional salt and felt I was about to cramp or did cramp by miles 18-20. Switching to gels with more sodium and supplemental electrolytes has eliminated that feeling!

Finally, try using caffeine strategically, by avoiding it a few weeks before a race and then using it on race day for an extra kick. You will discover the right amount of caffeine to suit you and your stomach. Academics believe caffeine lowers perceived effort by shutting down brain receptors that detect adenosine, a molecule associated with mental fatigue. Some also say caffeine enhances muscle contraction while others say it enhances fat oxidation to give you more energy. To me, the mental effects are enough!

Practice your nutrition plan during training, even if you feel like you don't need it. If you sweat a lot or if it's warmer, be more liberal. You'll find what works for you, but only if you train your nutrition too!

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Why You Should Have a Goal...or Two!

Setting goals will help you get the most out of your training. You should have a goal for each workout, which can be as simple as an escape from life or as specific as hitting certain paces during intervals. But more importantly, you should also have longer-term goals that you work towards with each workout. My advice for these longer-term goals: have 2 goals - an ambitious one 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! Having 2 goals allows you to manage uncontrollable factors that make your ambitious one nearly impossible so you can still hit that achievable one.

There is ample research by psychologist Edwin Locke that goal-setting increases motivation and improves performance. More specific and ambitious goals (sub 4 hour marathon) leads to more performance improvement than easy or general goals ("try your best") do. Your short-term goals give you the opportunity for immediate reinforcement and feedback whereas long-term goals provide an outcome for you to work for.

My contrarian advice with your goals is also to embrace the power of negative thoughts and anticipate obstacles from having a bad day or brutally hot weather. Plan ways around these obstacles ahead of time so when they come at you, and they certainly will, you'll be ready!

Finally, find a way to share your goals. At Mile High Run Club, I encourage our runners to put their goals out into the universe and write them on the wall. Tell your goals to your coach, your friend, or your pet, so you can be held accountable and barked at!

My ambitious goal is to run back-to-back sub 3 hour marathons in a single weekend. I came close a few years ago, breaking 3 on Saturday but finishing a few minutes over on Sunday. I may try again this September but the races I'm considering are both hilly! My realistic goal is to run a Boston Qualifying time minus 5 minutes at least once each year. Although these are both time goals, I make sure to set other goals at the start of the year too.

What are your goals? Let me know so I can help you achieve them!


What Goes Up Must Come Down

When we think of hills, we often think of running uphill but overlook the fact that going down, down, baby has its benefits too. The burning sensation in your quads after running hills is from the downhill pounding when your muscles lengthen, not from the uphill climbing when muscles contract. Mastering downhills with the right technique will put less stress on your legs and help you run faster.

3 tips for downhill running:

  1. Avoid over-striding: Your feet should strike the ground underneath you near your center of mass, instead of out in front which produces a braking effect. Over-striding results in landing on your heels, placing more strain on your body. Drive from your hips, lift your knees, and increase your stride rate to land softly on your mid-/forefoot, springing right off again.
  2. Run tall and forward: Rather than look at your feet, keep your gaze out and down the hill with your posture upright. Engage your core and find a slight lean forward from the hips to battle the tendency to lean back and slow down. Keep a slight bend in your landing leg to avoid absorbing all the impact in your knee.
  3. Let it go: Let your mind and body go. This means not thinking about falling or braking and instead opening up your stride and using your arms to balance. Run with confidence and purpose. This is the only time where I will tell you it's OK to flail your arms like a chicken and not drive straight up and down like an antelope.

Suggested workout:
Stay focused on downhills during your training runs. There's no need to seek out steep drops and introduce excessive impact unless you're training for a trail race. Use gradual declines, ideally on softer surfaces, and start with 5 downhill repeats for 30 seconds to 1 minute each at your 10k race pace or 85% effort. Jog back uphill at your recovery pace, working up to 10 repeats at 5k pace or 90% effort over the course of a training program.


Staying Cool in the Heat

As we face the peak summer heat, it's important to stay cool to get the most out of your training. When the temps warm up, let your body adapt to the heat by focusing on your rate of perceived effort. 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 should be your guiding principle!

Here are my 5 tips on running strong during heat:

1. 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/Zym 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 almost always 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, holding it by my hips instead of chest and driving up and down instead of side to side.

2. Sun protection: Don't forget sunscreen for those hot and sunny days. A light cap or visor will help keep your head cool and prevent your body from overheating. I often also wear sunglasses to avoid squinting and using extra energy. Like the bottle, sunglasses can also help reinforce good form - your head should be steady and your shoulders back and relaxed to keep your sunglasses secure. My favorite brands include Lululemon and Tracksmith for a light hat and Goodr for sunglasses.

3. Apparel: Keep your clothing to a minimum, e.g. a singlet and split shorts. 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 vaseline in areas where you experience chafing.

4. Speed work: Do your best to accommodate speed work at the lowest temps of the day, ideally pre-sunrise or post-sunset. You put extra strain on your heart and body and can risk heat illness when running hard intervals in the heat, so be smart and feel free to even take your speed work indoors on the tread.

5. Mental & Physical strength: You will most likely not be racing a marathon in the heat, but even if you do, you'll be mentally and physically prepared. Use the heat to build your mental strength. Your body will also 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 aerobic capacity and physical strength.