How to Train Smarter to Avoid Fatigue

I was catching up with a fellow coach this week who told me she wasn't seeing a step change in her performance and felt burned out. I asked when was her last complete rest day. It took a while for her to remember.

As a marathon runner and triathlete who fears losing fitness with any break, I've experienced this too. My "rest days" often include cross-training like swimming or strength training. Actual rest days, and more importantly intentional rest days, are often forgotten.

But there is growing research that shows extended rest is important to maintain good mental health and optimal performance. How much rest is the tricky part, since our minds and bodies may need different amounts of time to recover.

It turns out that our fitness does not diminish as drastically as we think with an extended period of rest. Our bodies adapt to "defend" our fitness level, keeping older blood cells in circulation for longer to deliver oxygen to our muscles. Indeed, an elite athlete like 5-time Olympian Bernard Lagat, running his first marathon at age 43, has taken five full weeks off running each year since 1999 to recharge mentally and physically.

Of course, the longer and harder your training program, the longer the break you may need. In order to prevent both mental and physical fatigue, here are a few of my guidelines to train smarter:

  • Don't increase weekly mileage by more than 10% per week, knowing your limits on total weekly mileage
  • Avoid training programs that are too long (e.g 16+ weeks for a marathon) to prevent fatigue
  • Find a better balance between running and cross-training, and speed-work and easier effort runs
  • Approach improving one step at a time, training at your current race fitness until you achieve a new PR
  • Plan complete rest days or full week, a massage, trip to the spa or float pod, listening to your body and resuming training with renewed strength

Coach Joe Vigil once said, "There is no such thing as over-training, only under-resting." One of my mantras I tell my athletes is rest and recover as hard as you train. Ensure proper sleep and nutrition. Try running without your GPS watch from time to time. No one has ever wondered if an injury was caused by an additional rest day!

Recovering hard in Grand Teton National Park - Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Recovering hard in Grand Teton National Park - Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The Hardest Part about being an Athlete

The hardest part about being an athlete is the injuries. Not the aches and pains, but the kind of injury that puts you out of commission for a couple of months. I just learned a few days ago from an MRI that I have a stress fracture in the good ole calcaneus (heel bone), perhaps similar to what kept Jordan Hasay out of Boston this year. 5 weeks in a boot. Listen to my heart go ba-dum, boo(t)'d up. 6-8 weeks before running.

Over the past 10 years and 80+ races, I've been blessed to be healthy for almost the entire time. I had a tibial stress fracture in 2008, before my first marathon, and a broken jaw in 2012, before my first full Ironman. Both were setbacks that kept me out for a few months. I have had minor aches and pains, from mild Achilles tendinitis to a literal pain in the butt (sciatic nerve related) but have managed to train, race, strengthen, and recover through them.

When you know you can't run for an extended period of time, it is crushing - mentally, emotionally, physically. You no longer have your daily runner's high, that training run to catch up with a friend, or the upcoming race to push your limits. But as a friend and Olympic-caliber marathoner recently told me, the opportunity to reset brings its own value.

If I can't run, I can still coach. If I'm not coaching, I'm cheering. I will also use the time off my feet to work on other areas of my fitness. In addition to abiding by doctor's orders with physical therapy, nutrition (supplemental calcium & vitamin D), and recovery, I can focus on building more total body strength. I can improve my swim and bike fitness without any impact. And I can reunite with my old friend - the erg machine - or that fancy water rower these days!

It is important I don't rush back into running and listen to my body, taking extra time for the heel...heal! This will help me avoid imbalances that occur if I try to compensate due to a lingering injury and reduce the risk of future injuries. 

There will always be a comeback from injury. And it will be epic.

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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!


Your Running Sole Mate

Making sure you have the right running shoes will help you run longer and prevent injury. Choosing a shoe is not just about picking the coolest pair of Nike's or your school colors but also about understanding your gait, pronation type, and foot strength. Take advantage of free gait analyses from running stores like JackRabbit, Marathon Sports, or Fleet Feet or running coaches like myself who can record you in action and observe your pronation, foot strike, and toe off. Buying the right pair of new shoes won't make you a better runner, but running in them will!

In short, pronation refers to the way your foot rolls upon striking the ground, with under-pronators landing on the outside of their feet and over-pronators landing on the inside of their feet. Runners with high arches typically under-pronate and those with low arches or flat feet tend to over-pronate. As a result, the shoes of under-pronators will show the most wear on the outside while those of over-pronators will show more wear on the inside part of the heel and big toe.

Normal pronators, or those who push off evenly and have less distinct rolling of the feet, have a similar amount of wear along their heels and forefeet. You should know that pronation is OK! It is a natural movement of the body but it should directly influence your running shoe selection.

Under-pronators need a "neutral" shoe with cushioning along the outside to encourage a more natural foot motion and avoid strong impact. Over-pronators need a "stability" shoe and motion-control to distribute the impact more effectively. Normal pronators do best in stability shoes that offer moderate pronation control. Foot strength will also be a factor to help determine the level of cushioning; for example, lighter shoes may require you to start with low mileage and only gradually increase to get used to lower levels of support.

When I tested the 6.5 oz Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoes, a big deviation in many ways from my Brooks 10 oz stability shoes, I noticed considerable wear and tear after 100 miles! As beautifully engineered and designed as they are, I needed more stability and regretfully returned them to the lab.

According to Strava, over the past 4.5 years, I've run just over 11k miles across 29 different shoes, with the most common being 6 pairs of Brooks Ravennas and 5 pairs of Brooks Adrenalines, both being medium-arch stability shoes that support my fairly normal pronation, which has allowed me to also experiment with more neutral shoes like the Brooks Launch and Brooks Ghost.

My top three other shoe tips:

  1. Feet swell when running, especially running distance, so go at least 0.5 to 1 size up. I go a full 1 size up from my dress shoe size. I learned my lesson the hard way when I raced shorter distances and developed a tibial stress fracture, very likely the result of a snug shoe!
  2. Replace shoes every 300 to 500 miles based on both the wear and cushioning of the shoe. Use a fairly new but broken-in shoe (~50 miles) for races. For beginner runners, wear your new shoes everywhere - it will increase your odds of running! 
  3. Use a parallel or different lacing technique to increase comfort and relieve pressure from the top of the foot by not allowing the laces to cross over the middle of the metatarsals. Combine this with a pair of toe socks to help eliminate skin-to-skin friction and you are well on your way to being a shoe dog.

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.

Just Breathe

Controlling your breathing is an important part of running, since deep breaths get more oxygen in your bloodstream and muscles, giving you more energy and endurance. While I rarely think about my breathing when I run, I do intentionally focus on it when my breath is shallow, when I experience fatigue, or when I feel a stitch.

Our diaphragm is a muscle that we need to train and use for deeper, more controlled breaths from the belly rather than shallower breaths from our chest. Deeper breaths send oxygen into the bottom of the lungs, increasing the amount of oxygen we can consume and our VO2 max. You can test this by seeing your belly rise and fall when you take deep breaths and your belly remain mostly still when you take shallow breaths. You should also inhale and exhale from your mouth to maximize oxygen intake (or both your mouth and nose). Using just your nose will result in shallower breaths.

The technique of rhythmic breathing coordinates your foot strike with inhalation and exhalation in an odd/even pattern, so you land alternately on your right and left foot at the beginning of every exhalation, when your diaphragm relaxes and you have less stability in the core. This is done to balance the impact stress of running on both sides of your body. Always exhaling on the same foot is similar to carrying a backpack on only one shoulder. In short, instead of an even inhale on 2 breaths and exhale on 2 breaths, try inhaling for 3 breaths ("in-2-3") and exhaling for 2 ("out-2"). Try this while resting, then walking, then running.

Some research also suggests that intentionally holding your breath - for example, during short sprints, can simulate altitude training and allow your body to adapt to lower levels of oxygen. As a result, your muscles become more efficient at extracting oxygen from the bloodstream. If you want to experience this challenge, do 2 sets of 8 sprints of about 5 seconds holding your breath, every 30 seconds. It will be mentally challenging, and you should certainly avoid this if you have any heart, lung, or high blood pressure condition.

Finally, a tip when you do have a side stitch while running: when inhaling, tighten your abs on the side where you feel the stitch for a couple of seconds and then exhale and relax your abs. This will feel like holding your breath then letting go. Repeat this 5-10 times to make your stitch disappear and get your breath back under control!

In TRAILS We Trust

I learned a lot about myself and trail running this past weekend at the XTERRA Big Elk Trail Marathon outside Baltimore in the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area.

In short, in all my prior marathons, I had never come as close to a DNF as I did in this race. It was a 2 loop 13.1 trail course, and after just a few miles of ankle-twisting switchbacks, steep inclines and declines, log jumping, stream crossing, and rock hopping, I was ready to downgrade to the half marathon when I finished the first loop.

As I crossed the line to complete the half, I pulled into the aid station for a few cups of Gatorade. Before I could find the race director to state my downgrade or DNF, a volunteer told me: "You're in 3rd, keep going!" There were at least 5 people ahead of me running the half marathon but I didn't realize only 2 people ahead of me doing the full. I pulled it together, mentally and physically, and kept going, reminding myself that I could keep a steady pace and be stronger the 2nd time through the technical course.

Here are 3 reasons why you should try trail running:

1) The Escape: Immersing myself in nature by running through oxygen-rich, shaded woods made me feel raw, energized, and connected to something bigger - Mother Earth. It's extremely humbling to escape the bustling city life and find yourself sidestepping rocks and running through mud. The constant variety of trail running has actually been shown to increase endurance, strengthen the core, and burn more calories than a comparable road run.

2) Lower Impact: While the obstacles will be challenging, the surfaces of trails are softer than typical asphalt or concrete on daily runs. I created less impact on my body while building more strength in muscles to stabilize the core and legs. Your connective tissue becomes stronger with each step and less prone to injury.

3) Better Technique: All the dodging forced me to shorten my stride and increase my turnover. Even though my pace was a bit slower than an open road marathon, my cadence was about the same, and I felt myself landing more on the forefoot than the heel. Shorter and faster strides and mid-/fore-foot landing require less energy and result in more efficient running.


Know your Pace(s)

As you do more training and more races at different distances, you should begin to know your goal paces like the back of your hand. If you are early in your training, you can focus on perceived effort below and use Hanson's handy calculator.

The main ones to focus on are: 
1) Marathon pace: 65-70% perceived effort. A pace you can sustain for a few hours
2) Half-Marathon pace: 80% effort. A pace where you start to feel comfortably uncomfortable
3) 10k pace: 85% effort. A pace where you are short of breath and can't hold a conversation. 
4) 5k pace: 90% effort. A pace you can sustain for less than 30 minutes and will be out of breath by the end.

While most of your training may be done at an easy run pace, often slower than your marathon pace, or at your marathon and half-marathon paces, one of the best ways to become a faster runner is to train at faster paces.

Lactate threshold workouts tend to be in between your half-marathon and 10k paces, where lactate accumulates in the blood at a faster rate than it can be removed. Improving your LT allows you to run faster for a longer time, before lactate levels become intolerable resulting in physical fatigue. This can be achieved by longer, Tempo runs, which take place at a pace faster than your Half-Marathon but just slower than your 10k pace

Your VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen that you can use during running, can be expanded by more running at or faster than your 5k pace for longer. While it's hard to be training for a 5k and a marathon at the same time, mix in the occasional shorter distance races in your training or maintain consistent speed work at 5k and 10k paces to improve your LT and VO2 max!

The Benefits of Cross-Training

Cross-Training can benefit your running, especially in the base and build periods of a training plan. You'll find in the peak and taper phases, you'll have less time and energy to cross-train, but it can still help keep you strong and fit.

It includes anything from swimming (my favorite) and biking to rowing, stairmaster (my 2nd favorite), elliptical and more. We cross-train to improve our total body strength and flexibility. Running causes some muscle imbalances that you may or may not be aware of and cross-training helps correct these and prevent injury.

Incorporate cross-training to keep your exercise routine fresh. Swimming is a full-body workout with zero-impact, improving your cardio-respiratory system by imitating that oxygen-deprived state. Biking is a perfect complement by strengthening quads to reduce the risk of knee pain, one of the most common injuries. Maybe even sign up for a triathlon! And bonus if it includes an escape swim from Alcatraz in San Francisco!


Make your Warm-Ups Dynamic

Dynamic warm-ups allow you to activate and warm up the muscles you will use for running, whether an easy run or an interval workout. They increase blood flow which in turn increases mobility. The common analogy of your muscles to a rubber band is accurate - a cold and brittle rubber band snaps whereas one that is warm and flexible can be used repetitively. Research has shown that static stretching of cold muscles is more likely to lead to injury than if the muscles are warm and more elastic.

Here are a few of my favorite dynamic stretches that mimic more functional motions, improve flexibility, and keep your muscles warm and elastic.

1. Squats: Feet hip width apart, toes angled out 10-15 degrees. Lower your body as far as you can, sink your hips back and bend your knees. Inhale down, exhale up. Add a small jump if you’re feeling it. Objective of squats is to activate your quad and glute muscles and strengthen your core.

2. March --> High Knees: Lift the opposite arm and leg. Knees drive straight up, elbows drive straight back. This motion builds endurance of hip flexors, muscles that lift knees and open up your running stride. Increase the pace of your arms and legs to transition into high knees, and just like that, you're running.

3. Reverse Lunges:  Step one leg halfway back, allow your hips and knees to flex to lower your body. Let your front leg pull you forward and alternate. Inhale back, exhale as you stand up tall. Lunges engage your hamstrings, glutes, and calves, which are all needed to climb hills.

4. Butt Kicks: Kick your heels up toward your glutes as high as you can. Don’t be afraid of contact. Keep your torso tall, head steady. This running movement helps increase your cadence.

Love to FART-lek

If you're new to Fartleks, it means "speed play" in Swedish, a type of workout that alternates between slower and faster running or playing around with your speed. If I tell you that you're very farty, you know what I really mean!

By alternating between an active recovery pace and 10k pace, for example, fartleks help build your aerobic capacity or endurance. After some dynamic stretches and an easy warmup, a traditional fartlek workout may involve 1 minute on (i.e. 10k pace) and 1 minute off (i.e. active recovery pace).

One variation I have been incorporating is a 4 minute effort where you start with your marathon pace for 1 minute, increase to your half marathon pace for the next 1 minute, ease back to your marathon pace for 1 minute, and then finish with your 10k pace for the final minute. 2 minutes of active recovery. Repeat 5 times. Play around with that final minute, finishing faster each effort with your 5k, 1 mile, or 400m pace.

I love fartleks because they make you quickly adapt to different speeds and become a more efficient runner. This will condition you to become faster over a longer distance. You train your mind to become stronger and not give up, so you can push through any mental block as you master knowing and varying your various pace zones.

Finally, fartleks are fun! Hence the "play." They can also mimic the intensity of a race, e.g. if you're running in a pack and a few people surge ahead and you want to stay with them or if you want to lead a surge yourself!

Why Should You Run Hills

Hills build mental and physical strength and are necessary to incorporate in your training especially when your goal race is hilly. But even if you are targeting a flat race, hills are still extremely effective for form correction.

1. Drive straight up and down. As you climb a hill, notice how your arms have to pump straight up and down and your knees lift a little higher. Your elbows are tucked in and driving straight back. Any side to side motion wastes energy and becomes magnified running uphill.

2. Lift those heels up. You are toe-ing off the ground to run up, landing more on your toes or the balls of your feet. Your heels may never even touch the ground when climbing hills as that slows you down. Hills are a great way to practice a forefoot strike and getting those heels off the ground. I should be able to high-five your heels if I'm behind you.

3. Faster stride rate. Hills may demand a shorter stride length but they will certainly make you increase your stride rate or cadence. Increasing our cadence makes us a more efficient runner so we can become faster over a longer distance on flat ground.

The next time you run hills, remember these 3 things. Pump those arms and knees straight up and down. Lift those heels up. Quicken that feet turnover.



Running Tip #24. Smile at the crowds, at the funny signs, at other runners. It will relax you and make racing easier and more fun ! Research from Psychology of Sport & Exercise actually found that smiling improves running economy (oxygen use) by 2%, which is more meaningful over longer distances like the marathon. You’ll notice Kipchoge uses this tactic too. Turn that grimace into a smile!


Running Tip #23. Make sure carbs are a large (~70%) part of what you eat this week (pasta, potatoes, bread) to fuel you on race day. Don’t simply eat more of everything especially as you are tapering.
A big meal the night before is a myth. Have simple carbs, some protein, avoid too much dairy or high-fiber. Hydrate with electrolytes the day before. Plan your race morning breakfast 2 or 3 hours before to restock glycogen. I like a banana, bagel with almond butter, and water with electrolyte tablets like NuuN!