Marathoners: How to Finish Strong

With the Twin Cities Marathon just a month away, thousands of runners are asking themselves one thing: “Will I be ready for 26.2 miles on race day?” There are a lot of factors that go into determining the answer to that question, but here are a few tips to help increase your chances of finishing strong, whether you’re a first-timer or seasoned marathon veteran.

Get to the Starting Line Healthy

Maybe you haven’t exactly stuck to your training plan. You haven’t hit your weekly mileage targets, your long run targets, or both. Maybe you’ve been battling a nagging little injury or two. If that’s the case then the best advice I can give you is to take it easy! Cramming more mileage into this last month isn’t going to do much at all for you fitness-wise, and if you make an injury worse or fail to finish a planned long run, it will decimate your confidence, too. The best way to finish a marathon strong is to start it strong. So keep running, but listen to your body now more than ever, and honor your rest days!

Stop Eating (and Drinking) Junk

When you’re putting in lots of hours training for a marathon you get hungry. Really hungry. In my case, it’s like 17 year-old football player hungry. This can lead to lots of rationalization for making poor food choices. Let’s face it, rarely are we presented with the opportunity to eat virtually whatever we want and not gain weight, but running 30 or 40 or 50 miles a week presents you with just such an opportunity. But if you are to be successful on race day, you must resist the urge to fill that calorie void with junk food. Pizza, burgers, beer, dessert, cheese on top of everything, fried whatever – it might all taste like heaven, but it’s hell on your body. Now is exactly when your body needs nutrition that will help it recover from your workouts and make the physiological adaptations necessary to get you through the upcoming 26.2 miles of pavement pounding. And that can’t happen on junk. You know what’s healthy and what isn’t, right? So eat lots and lots of that instead.

Avoid the Three Ts

Tightness, tension and being tired can cause major problems for runners, especially as race day draws nearer. If you think of your body as a machine, introducing any one of these negative elements can be like throwing sand into the works. At first you may not notice, but over time, the constant abrasive grinding wears down the critical small gears, eventually leading to a total system breakdown. Luckily, combating them is easy. All you need is 15 minutes a day and some discipline.

Dedicate 10 of those minutes to using a foam roller, massage stick, lacrosse ball or other implement to work out any areas of tightness you have. Spend about 20 – 30 seconds on each area, and work just up to the point of discomfort, never pain. The key to this is to do it consistently, every day. Using a foam roller to loosen up tight muscles and connective tissue before a run is a great idea, but know that it will be helpful whenever you can squeeze it in.

Spend the other 5 minutes practicing meditation, deep breathing, or some other stress-busting technique. If there is a time of day when you notice yourself feeling particularly tense or tired, try taking a break to consciously relax then. The more consistent you can make this habit, the better. Simply noticing when you are tense and taking a few deep breaths throughout the day will help, too, but it’s not a substitute for that small but dedicated chunk of time to disconnect from the demands of your day.

Most of us can improve the quality of our sleep without even addressing the amount of time we spend in bed each night. A few tips for getting more of the restorative deep sleep your body needs include: turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime; close curtains/blinds/shutters to make your bedroom as dark as possible; and turn down the thermostat (ideal sleeping temperature is around 60-65 degrees for men and 65-70 degrees for women).

If there’s a common thread running through all of these tips it’s to be kind to yourself. Listen to your body, give it what it needs, and protect it from what it doesn’t. And that includes the most important part of your body – your mind.

Free Class – Runners Workshop

Run Like A Badass!

Are you just getting started or looking to increase or improve your run?  Perhaps you are an ‘Asphalt Warrior’ who just wants to spice things up a little?

Running is a physical and mental challenge and can be monumentally rewarding, it can be one of the most dynamic love/hate relationships of your life but many would-be runners stop as quickly as they start.  An ache or a niggle that could have been prevented or worked-through become the reason (or excuse) for things grinding to a halt.

A Race Week Checklist for New Runners

For new runners, that last week leading up to your first race can give you the jitters. You’re excited, but you also don’t know exactly what to expect. Aside from wondering if you’ve trained well enough for the race, you worry about the logistics of getting to the starting line on time, with everything you need. You wonder what you should eat in the days and hours leading up to the race. In short, you’ve got a lot of unanswered questions.

While there’s no shortage of articles offering practical tips for new runners, I wanted to go a step further and give new runners (or those returning after a long hiatus) a practical, day-by-day checklist to follow the week leading up to your first race.

You can read my article at Active.com, and if you enjoy it or find it useful, please don’t forget to share it!

Running For Weight Loss

Warning: This is a nerdy post that involves math.

In a recent assignment for Active.com, I was tasked with simply laying out how many calories a person could expect to burn doing various types of running workouts. As I did the research for the article, it quickly became clear that there was nothing simple about it at all.

First I examined the variables that can determine the rate of calorie burn for a particular individual, given a particular running workout. Contained within that problem, there are actually two sets of variables – one set relating to the individual’s physical characteristics, and the other set relating to the workout itself. Where the individual is concerned, age, total body weight and body composition are all significant factors, while hormonal influences on metabolism play a smaller, and largely indefinable role. When it comes to the workout itself, pace and incline are the two primary factors, with running surface and wind having much smaller influence.

Since I didn’t want to set up a performance testing lab in my loft, I looked for the best online calculators that could give me a decent average for number of calories burned while running. It turned out that in looking for the best, I had to settle for the least bad. While most web-based activity calculators take bodyweight and running pace into account, it pretty much ends there. I was surprised that none of them used age, which has been shown to be pretty reliably correlated with relative metabolism, and I was disappointed to see that the few that used body composition did so as a function of gender (as a group, women tend to have less muscle and more fat per pound of body weight than men, but individual statistics vary widely). In other words, any online calorie calculator you use is bound to be pretty inaccurate. Using a wearable device or app-based calculator that accounts for more of your personal data, and especially one that uses GPS to track elevation gains during a run, will be much more accurate (but still not perfect).

I couldn’t just write that in the article, though, so I ended up using my favorite online calorie calculator at ExRx.Net to get ballpark calorie burn estimates for a number of different workouts. While that was fun and exciting for me (I’m a numbers nerd, especially where exercise is involved), I was blown away when I clicked on a link below the walk/run calculator that took me to this Walking and Running Energy Efficiency Page. If you hate charts and graphs with statistical dots, you don’t have to look at that page. What it says is simple to understand and hugely gratifying for me, since I have been saying it to my clients for years:

Running burns way more calories than walking does.

“Duh!” you’re thinking. But that’s because you didn’t look at the chart/graph. Running at the same speed as walking burns up to 70% more calories. If a person walks at 3 miles per hour, he or she burns roughly 52 calories per mile per 100 pounds of body weight. However, if he or she jogs at that blindingly slow pace, the calorie burn increases to 89 calories per mile.

And here’s something I was really shocked to learn: Although walking faster increases the number of calories burned per mile, running faster has the opposite effect. Yes, the slower you run, the more calories you burn per mile. The reason why is that it’s so inefficient for your body to jog at a slow pace, but that efficiency improves as you run faster and faster. For those who want to lose weight, this adds new fuel to my argument about Why You Should Run Really Slow.

Note that the “per mile” bit is important, though. If you only have twenty or thirty minutes to get in a workout and you want to maximize calorie burn, then running as fast as you can during that time will burn the most calories (because you’ll be covering much more distance than if you run slow). However, if you’re going to log two or three miles on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll actually be doing yourself a favor (calorically speaking) by throttling back to the slowest possible pace you can keep and still be jogging but not walking. Here’s a little math to illustrate the different options you have:

You weigh 200 pounds (keeping it simple for math purposes)
You walk at 3 miles per hour for one hour = 3 miles
3 miles X 52 calories/mile X 2 (this is the weight factor) = 312 calories burned

You jog at 3 miles per hour for one hour = 3 miles
3 miles X 89 calories/mile X 2 = 534 calories burned

You run at 6 miles per hour for 1/2 hour = 3 miles
3 miles X 81 calories/mile X 2 = 486 calories burned

You run at 6 miles per hour for one hour = 6 miles
6 miles X 81 calories/mile X 2 = 972 calories burned

So, you can see that you burn many more calories per minute by running faster, but not per mile. It really just depends how fast you are willing/able to go and for how long.

If you hate jogging, no matter how slow, or you have some physical limitation that doesn’t allow it, then you can still get a really good calorie burn by walking, as long as you push the pace. Adding an incline will also increase calorie burn a significant amount, but if there’s a choice between going faster or going uphill, you can probably squeeze out a few more calories by maxing out your pace over flat terrain than walking or jogging more slowly uphill.