Guest Blog Post from Heather Tanner

Heather Tanner is a 3-time Olympic Trial marathon qualifier, 2004 USA World Half Marathon Team Member and decorated NCAA Cross Country and Track & Field Athlete during her time at the University of North Carolina and Stanford University. Tanner is currently preparing for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials and offers her advice on fueling for the marathon to runcoach and movecoach trainees.

There are many things to worry about in the final days leading up to a marathon. Like mapping out a race strategy in line with your fitness so that you don’t end up becoming intimately acquainted with the “wall”. Like taking care of the not so little things such as sleep, nutrition and stress management to ensure that you can get to the starting line healthy. Point is, fueling strategy really shouldn’t be one of those worrisome things. As long as you practice your fueling method in the long runs leading up to the race and have figured out a way to ensure regular carbohydrate replenishment during the race, you will be ok on this front.

During my first marathon experience (Columbus Marathon, 2003), I was a novice on many fronts and broke some major cardinal marathon rules (most importantly: don’t start a marathon injured, ever!). I had no idea what I was doing on the fueling front either and recall being alone at the expo the day before, trying to decide what type of fluids to try (water or maybe that new, strange-tasting Accelerade?) and how many gels I might need (is 1 or 2 enough?). As was inevitable, my hip injury helped me avoid hitting the wall, by slowing me down in the form of 8 stretching breaks. Not pleasant, for the record. Let’s just say fueling probably would have gotten the better of me had something else not have gotten there first.

Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some amazing runners over the last 10+ years and have since followed a few simple yet important guidelines in order to avoid the “bonk”:

1.) Take fluids as EARLY as possible – Do not pass the early water stations by. I typically try to take fluid at every station available, sometimes both water and the race-provided electrolyte beverage. This often means fluid consumption at least every 2 miles. You may only successfully take in a couple of ounces per cup, depending on your speed and your ability to coordinate moving and drinking at the same time, so it’s better to focus on frequency of water stops.

2.) Take your gels SLOWLY – Your digestive system can only absorb about 1-1.5 grams of carbohydrate per minute. An average gel contains 20-22 grams of carbohydrate. The quick math here means that your body can’t keep up with you very well if you down the whole gel in one second. In addition, gel consumption becomes even slower if you do not consume it with adequate fluids. I may take a gel every 4-6 miles during the course of the marathon (4-5 gels in total), but I take each one in slowly.

Note: Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, US Olympian and VP of R&D for Gu, told me about me this slow Gu consumption method after she had a successful marathon in cold “frozen Gu” weather (CIM, 2001 – 2nd: 2:37:57). Her Gu had formed into a cold, solid state and she was only able to consume small amounts at a time as it thawed. Despite this, Magda felt properly fueled.

Logistically, slow gel consumption can present some challenges. I prefer to hold onto the packet and take a small amount every minute or so, i.e. “sipping” on the gel. It can become a sticky mess, and the only helpful thing I can offer here is that this is all less annoying if you are wearing gloves. If you prefer other types of fuel, there are options that are already conveniently partitioned into smaller caloric chunks. Think Sport Beans or Clif shot blocks. Always intersperse gel consumption at or near water stations and practice this slow fuel consumption method in training.

3.) Ingest electrolyte-based drinks, not just water - This is another fairly obvious one, but not always followed. Research has supported evolution of sports drinks over recent years and many are purportedly optimal for electrolyte replenishment during the marathon. If you have the choice, it’s best to use beverages backed by science and your own experience. Osmo, UCAN, GuBrew and Nuun are some good newer beverage options with solid science to support their use. The more common beverage choices serve their purpose for most of us too though (Gatorage, Powerade, etc.).

    The same slow carbohydrate absorption rule may apply for your electrolyte drink, but remember that these drinks are often significantly diluted, which can be a good thing. If the race-provided drink tastes too concentrated, try to balance it out with more water consumption at the next station. This may help your digestive system to absorb the carbohydrates more easily.
    Also, if you are at all at risk for hyponatremia, or essentially over-hydrating, counterbalancing your fluid intake with an appropriate volume of electrolytes is even more important. The risk threshold for hyponatremia is known to apply to those who consume approximately 8 oz of fluid (any type) every 20 minutes (a lot!) and this risk is even higher if that fluid is water alone. Don’t over drink.

    4.) Adapt your strategy for weather conditions – Heat and/or humidity will of course greatly increase your rate of sweating and will necessitate increased fluid consumption. Stay on top of that early. Potentially equally damaging in a different way, extremely cold conditions may interfere with your desire to consume fluids. You could then be at risk for dehydration and subsequent muscle cramping if you do not drink according to your normal plan, despite your perceived lack of thirst.

    5) Don’t worry if something goes wrong – If you miss a water station, or an untrained child volunteer throws the cup all over your shirt at mile 16, do not panic. It will be ok as long as you’re following rule #1. Make it up for it at the next stop by grabbing both water and electrolyte drinks.

    I try to remember these themes as I race, but do so in an unscientific way because, in most cases, there are many other elements you cannot control over the course of 26.2 miles. You don’t want to create an overly specific fueling plan in case it becomes difficult to execute. One missed water station and you could find yourself in an unnecessary tailspin of distraction. Based on your individual body composition, it is certainly possible to estimate the precise amount of carbohydrate, electrolyte and fluid you should consume over the course of a marathon. It is extremely difficult to make that precision happen in real life, particularly if you are not fortunate enough to have the luxury of elite water bottles placed at regular intervals over the course. Fortunately, by keeping these general guidelines in mind, you can still get pretty close to optimal fueling and feel good come mile 26!



    We're 2 months into the New Year.  Seems like a good time to revisit the goals we set on 1/1/15.  Here's a look back at a great article by Dena Evans from 2010.

    Goals seem like a good idea at the time.  They motivate us to start, they provide good fodder for conversation, they keep us organized.   However, if they are truly going to be accomplishments we look back on with pride, these goals must also include the risk that we might not pass the test.



    Winter Running

    January 09, 2015
    Winter has arrived!  The days are getting shorter, temperatures are dropping, snow is falling and roads are getting icy.  Are you starting to doubt that you’ll keep your fitness goals on track all winter long?  We’ve got you covered!  Here are some tips to maximize your training opportunities: 
    1. Apparel makes a huge difference! You don't have to spend a lot of money on expensive gear, but layering is key.  Plan to wear an outer layer that blocks the wind and an inner layer that wicks the moisture away from your skin.  If it's extemely cold, add a mid-layer.
    2. Don't overdress.  You'll definitely warm up as you start moving so pretend you are going to workout in weather that is 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it actually is.
    3. Run or walk in daylight whenever possible so you will be able to watch your footing.  If you must workout in the dark, always wear a reflective vest and bright clothing.
    4. Give yourself extra time to warm up.  Your muscles will need it.  Start out slowly and gradually increase your pace.
    5. We sometimes forget to drink enough water when it's colder.  Be sure to drink both before and after your workouts to avoid dehydration.
    Treadmills can be boring, but if you can't find a safe trail or road, don't be afraid to head indoors.  Just keep these 2 tips in mind:
    1. A treadmill ‘pulls’ the ground underneath your feet, and there isn't any wind resistance.  Both of these factors make treadmill workouts a little easier.  Setting the treadmill at a 1 or 2% incline will offset these differences.
    2. Be careful not to alter your form.  It can be tempting to start leaning forward at the hips or to grasp the handrail.  Look for a treadmill in front of a mirror so that you can make sure you maintain your normal form and posture.


    imagesThanksgiving Day has quickly become the single biggest day for road racing in America, outstripping runner-up July 4 by several hundred thousand participants.  According to industry organization Running USA, over 800,000 people participated in a Turkey Trot in 2012, with that number sure to rise.  With so many of us out walking and running this Thursday, here are a few tips for getting the most out of your Trot experience.

     

    DO make it a family affair

    There are few better chances to have your family participate in what may typically be seen as “your weird distance habit.”  Extended families are often together on Thanksgiving morning, and a multigenerational activity appeals to all.  With a morning start, a family Turkey Trot leaves plenty of time for food prep, football viewing and gratuitous consumption.  Light hearted family peer pressure can ease a reluctant exerciser through the threshold and even give them a goal for next year’s Thanksgiving holiday, while having a family group along eases your stress for bailing out and “missing out” while getting in your workout or race solo.  With kids races abounding, the little ones can get the wiggles out as well.

     

    DON’T take yourself too seriously

    Turkey Trots come on a Thursday, often after hectic travel and a scramble to get out of town at work and at home.  You might have even gone to the local watering hole on Wednesday night to convene with your high school friends.  While it is a great idea to get a workout in on a Thursday and give it a go, you might not be in an optimal condition for a personal best effort.  Keep it fun, think family first, wear a costume, get your heart rate up, but don’t sweat the outcome.

     

    DO include service in your Trotting

    Another great motivator for participating in a Turkey Trot and bringing others is the chance to incorporate service into the outing.  Many trots include opportunities to donate canned goods or other items for local families in need.  Even if not, the race may benefit a local organization for which the donation of a race entry or other contribution may make a big difference.  Turkey Trots can be a great way to visibly demonstrate your thankfulness for health, a roof over your head, food on the table to look forward to and other blessings.  Any way to pass it forward to others offers an opportunity to highlight your attitude of gratitude, even if that means visiting a soup kitchen or other volunteer effort as a group following the race.

     

    DO enjoy the benefits of getting in workout before all that food

    Even if you just feel a bit better tucking into an overflowing plate now that you have already gotten in a few miles that morning, setting the pattern of incorporating regular exercise and prioritizing it can help you navigate the tricky world of a holiday season that seems to encourage overindulgences around every corner.  Set the tone and follow through so you arrive at the new year without a big hole out of which to dig.

     

    DON’T forget to adjust your schedule

    Make sure you include your racing in your runcoach training calendar as well as on your Goals and Results feed, so we can make sure you have the proper spacing between this effort and your next challenging tasks.  Because a Thursday race is a rarity, your training rhythm may be a bit off from usual for the next several days.  Stay healthy and on track by making sure your schedule has all the information it needs to help you look back on your Turkey Trot effort as a positive day.

     



    On the 12th day til Christmas, Lester “Trained With Friends
    On the 11th day til Christmas, Lester “Followed the Plan” 
    On the 10th day til Christmas, Lester “Checked his Gear” 
    On the 9th day til Christmas, Lester “Dressed for the Elements
    On the 8th day til Christmas, Lester “Listened to Coach Tom
    On the 7th day til Christmas, Lester “Stayed Focused” 
    On the 6th day til Christmas, Lester “Hydrated” 
    On the 5th day til Christmas, Lester “Fueled Properly
    On the 4th day til Christmas, Lester “Warmed Up with Meb Keflezighi” 
    On the 3rd day til Christmas, Lester “Cross Trained"
    On the 2nd day til Christmas, Lester “Recovered” 
    On the LAST day til Christmas, Lester “Celebrated the Journey


    63-Free-Retro-Clipart-Illustration-Of-Man-Carrying-Big-Bag-Of-Money-With-Dollar-SignWith the holidays around the corner, spending an extra few dollars on your next goal race or the gear to get you there can challenge the budget.  With so much giving to do, here are a few ways to stay on track by taking advantage of some great bargains.

     

    Register early and save big!

    In many cities, and for lots of walkers and runners, a big local race is often a yearly goal, regardless of what else is on the calendar.  Oftentimes, these races offer deep discounts for next year’s event when you are at the expo for this year’s race, or via email at what may seem like a far too early time to make the commitment.   Registering early can save a large percentage of the last minute or race weekend fee, and can help you commit well in advance and stay on track. Consider it, especially if you have maintained a pattern of registration for some of the same events year in and year out.

     

    Want a fitness test without paying big bucks?  Try cross country or an all-comers track meet.

    Many recreational runners and walkers don’t consider themselves cross country or track and field athletes, but these races are often low cost ways to mix things up and compete between big goal efforts.  Many all-comers track meets only charge $5-10 to compete, and provide the most fail-safe, flattest course on which you can measure your 5K or even 10K fitness – a track.  Although the change of scenery found on the roads may be more your style, an indoor meet during a snowy winter or a lit track on a dark night may prove a better alternative for a hard effort every once in a while.  Since cross country races for adults tend to cater towards club athletes and not the general public, they tend to have modest fundraising expectations and lower entry fees.  Cross country may also provide a solid shorter alternative to longer trail runs, with much of the same types of course challenges and fun.

     

    Run a Relay!

    You may want to take part in a local event, but may not be quite prepped to run the entire distance or able to justify the entire entry fee unless you are well prepared.  Some longer races offer relay options, which are a way you can both share the experience with friends as well as take part at a lower price point.  Again, the earlier you register, the better the price!

     

    Crack the code!

    Before you sign up for your next race, consider if there may be any discounts to that race for groups to which you already belong.  Check your email for discount codes you may have been sent through a running or walking club, a local retailer, a gym or fitness center, or another running connection you may have.  If you know you have a group of individuals or part of a club that may want to run a race, go ahead and ask if you can get a discount for bringing a group.  The worst the race management can say is no, and for a couple of seconds of checking your email, the worst you can find is nothing – this time.  $5 or 10% off might not make a big dent in your budget once, but over the course of a year or two, taking advantage of any code available to you can make a difference, particularly if you end up saving others a few more dollars.

     

    Many races exist to help others, and there is a time when a full donation is the appropriate thing to do and is done gladly.  However, taking advantage of opportunities to save here and there can help allow each of us to race a bit more, which helps everyone involved.

     



     

     

    There is a lot of advice available for prospective marathoners and half marathoners taking on a big challenge.  Much of that advice focuses on topics related specifically to how to physically and mentally complete the race.  All of this well intentioned information, including all the good stuff that comes from this blog, misses a few subtle aspects of a goal race that are often overlooked.  Here is some of that "secondary" advice!

     

    Be able to answer the question:  “Why are you doing this?”

    You may or may not ever be asked throughout this entire process.  If you are asked or just find yourself wondering, you should know.  It helps give you tremendous focus and motivation when preparing and when battling through the tough spots of the race.  When you finish, it helps the whole project have tremendous resonance.  This may be a no-brainer for many with clear causes, but for those who have entered on a whim, it is worth unpacking the deeper reason for the commitment needed for the race.

     

    Have a ride ready

    There can be a great deal of angst about the pre-race logistics, but often, the post-race getaway plan is an afterthought.  When the ground stops feeling like a treadmill and the sweat starts to chill, you will be glad of a clear cut way to a soft seat and the comforts you most desire in recovery.  Goal races often take a village and this part is one where you can maximize your support network effectively.

     

    Channel Ferris Bueller in the last miles

    The last miles of a marathon or half marathon can be very tough and require great focus to find the finish line.  But like that teenage sage Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Now, no one is suggesting you actually stop unless you need to!  However, the actual race itself, which once seemed so long, will be over in a flash.  Enjoy it, look around, celebrate your presence at the farthest point you may have ever traveled on your own two feet, and try to soak it in.  Those sights and sounds help you remember the experience and remember it fondly even after the sore muscles are recovered.

     

    Stay on the yellow line

    Most cities like their roads to drain when the rain or snow falls.  This means, many roads tilt to the outside on either side of the roadbed.  Running or walking along a cambered road for a few miles may not be a big deal to your brain, but traveling along an uneven / slanted surface for many miles when working hard or fatigued can take a toll on IT bands, hips, knees, or other parts of the body.  Follow the yellow line and keep yourself on the path to injury-free recovery.

     

    Smile when you pass the cameras

    Sometimes mid-race pictures lose a bit of sheen due to the unfortunate effects of gravity.  A winning smile can help keep the focus on the excitement inside and the pride in having the courage to be out there. Even if you aren’t enjoying the exact moment, make the effort to smile.  This will buoy your mood and give you the boost you need to make it to the next smile point along the way.

     

     

     

     

     



    running-formEvery runner or walker has a slightly different style.  Each of us move a bit differently, but if you are looking for a few quick and subtle tips to start with as you begin to train for a goal race, or are an experienced athlete looking for reminders, here are a few key concepts to keep in mind when trying to move efficiently.

     

    Relax and drop your shoulders

    Hunched up shoulders are tense shoulders.  Tense shoulders take energy away from where you need it and result in a fatigued feeling well before you have earned it.  Try to keep your shoulders low enough that if your arms hang at about 90 degrees, your hands will brush your pockets (or where your pockets would be) when you swing your arms.

     

    Keep your head neutral

    As you run, ideally your body should stack up in a column leaning barely forward. If your head is tilted forward looking at the ground or your chin is up due to fatigue, it disrupts the efficiency of this line and quickens the onset of that achy, tired feeling many athletes get in their upper back toward the end of longer efforts.  Keep your eyes on a spot around 15 yards ahead so your head sits in line with the rest of your spine, and avoid the distraction of an achy upper body for a few more precious miles.

     

    Concentrate on a crisp stride cadence

    Many athletes grow up assuming that longer strides will help an athlete cover more ground, faster.  While it is true that while sprinting, you might cover more ground per stride, your stride rate is pretty quick.  Concentrate on the rate aspect of the equation, rather than the distance.  When you take long, bound-y strides, all that time in the air just results in a greater decrease in speed by the time the next foot hits the ground.  Concentration on keeping a crisp stride rhythm can provide a welcome distraction when tired, and also helps keep your body in line.

     

    Engage your core

    The less your midsection vacillates or rotates per stride, the more efficiently your body can move forward.  Drawing your navel to your spine (figuratively) and using that tightened core to help your posture can make it easier for your legs to cycle under you efficiently, your arms to swing front and back, instead of side to side, and for your body to get to the finish line with less strain and hopefully less time.

     

    There are innumerable exercises to help athletes improve their efficiency while striding (try these suggestions from a previous blog post). Sometimes these can be intimidating to recreational athletes, but these small tweaks can make a difference without feeling the need to completely overhaul your form. Experiment and see if the suggestions above can make a difference.

     

     



    Marathon-0013Over the course of a 13 or 26-mile effort, music can be a welcome distraction.  And after a few of these, bands or music along the course become a part of the day worth looking forward to.  Occasionally, there are some renegade bands or neighborhoods that will greet the athletes streaming by with some unexpected tunes, but more likely than not, there are some tested and true tropes that will appear like the daily mail.  See if this rings true for your next goal race or brings back fond memories of your last.

     

    Fanfare

    Goal races like marathons or half marathons are often signposts indicating the culmination of weeks and months, maybe years of hard work.  Race organizers know this, and rarely miss a chance to set the tone with music usually associated with the grandest stages and ultimate opportunities.  “Olympic Fanfare and Themecan set the mood, or in the case of the New York Marathon, a ritual playing of “New York, New York after the starting cannon sounds.  These songs mean to celebrate your achievement, and with a wink, remind you how awesome it is that you get to do such an amazing race as the one you are doing right now!

    Movie Tunes

    Without a scientific study it is hard to know for sure, but no experienced marathoner would be surprised if the Rocky theme was awarded the most played song award.  Those familiar notes are there to remind you that you are in a fight! You can win! All that training is going to pay off! “Rocky along with the song from the opening credits of Chariots of Fire, and “Eye of the Tiger” are not there for subtle encouragement and secondary meanings.   Those songs are played and received as direct reminders of your purpose and your ability.  Listen and heed - the finish line is coming!  While the Chariots of Fire tune is a good song for the first few miles when the runners and walkers are thick across the road and optimism is high, playing “Rocky” or “Eye of the Tiger” too early implies that you should be tired and need encouragement.  Those are best deployed for the second half of the race.


    Cover Band Music With an Inspirational Sweet Spot

    Any band signing up to play along a half or full marathon must consider what overtly or even vaguely inspirational songs are in their wheelhouse.   Failing that, they must consider if they can play any songs that have lyrics related to running or even just the word “running” anywhere in the song. For many cover bands, this list includes “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty,  “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, and  “Where the Streets Have no Name” by U2. For the guitar alone this last one works wonders on the tired spirit, but when you belt out “I wanna RUN” for that first line, you know you are legitimately helping people!  Urban selections might include “Runnin’” by the Pharcyde or “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae.  With a barely more subtle subtext than the overt anthems, these songs help to remind you (in case you forgot) that you should be running, moving, walking, progressing.  Just in case you did indeed forget.  Failing that, many of them have a good beat, which works just as well.

     

    Highly inappropriate or sad songs

    Sometimes, the best-laid plans go awry, and the playlist wasn’t quite as thoughtfully considered as it might have been.  For example, “Tears of a Clown” is probably not a winner (true story – it has been played), and other sad songs might greet a walker or runner who has the misfortune of passing a band who is now playing on vapors, exhausting the last drops of their repertoire.   Sometimes, a cheer station or a neighborhood lets loose with a song that nobody remembered had a line or two of completely inappropriate language or verbal imagery.  Better bet is to play the same solid songs three times each rather than a ballad, a sad song, or an explicit tune played over the loudspeaker to the entire neighborhood.  It might be boring to the band, but the runners and walkers only get the one moment.   A few depressing thoughts as well as a smile due to the randomness of the choice can occur as a result of these.  Even concurrently.  Additional note:  “We are the Champions” or “Celebration” by Kool ‘n’ the Gang should never be played unless the finish line is in sight.  That’s teasing!


    High School Bands and Various Cultural Music Sources 

    Sometimes school bands volunteer to support the local athletes in the big race or a band with a specific cultural musical specialty signs up to help.  What they may lack in anything resembling tunes that relate to running, they often contribute doubly in energy and spirit.  Sometimes it is their tunes and even the actual incongruence of the music with the situation that end up resonating as a fond memory in the days and weeks after the race.

     

    Hype man

    One of the many great informal traditions of a large running and walking event is the occasional neighborhood individual equipped with a microphone, a speaker, potentially some background music, and a great deal of energy.  Kudos to these folks, willing to just call out bib numbers, shirt colors, Sharpied names, and other filler for hours.  Never underestimate the power of having your name called over a loudspeaker, and never underestimate the ability of a well-timed musical distraction to make the finish line seem just a bit closer.



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