Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Washing It All Down. Hydration Fundamentals

"If you are not in control, you are out of control" - Unknown

Last week, I talked about basic endurance nutrition, and now we have to wash it down. As much as we all know we have to drink, it sometimes gets hard to figure out what's right and what's a little ways from right. Now, I've been doing this thing for a long time and try to read everything about training for first timers that comes down the pike, but even I get confused as the pendulum swings from one thing to another. I think the bottom line is if you know the basics of hydration (drinking), you won't get yourself into some unnecessary trouble.

What you are about to read has some of the bias that I have developed over the years of doing many, many endurance runs, and I think everything I tell you is a very safe guideline. In a recent book, "Waterlogged" by noted author Dr. Tim Noakes, he graphically debunks decades of tried and true theories of rehydrating. His work also states there is a lesser need for electrolytes and carbohydrates during an endurance event. Now, Dr. Noakes has forgotten a lot more science than I have ever tried to learn, but when you've been running and racing endurance events for over three decades like I have, I have a real problem replacing a foundation that has supported the marathon and ultra community concerning something as simple as hydration (some call it set in my ways!)...so here I go with my views, but I encourage you to read "Waterlogged" and see what feels right to you and then try it out in training.

Dehydration diminishes performance because it thickens the blood, decreases the heart's efficiency, increases the heart rate, and raises the body temperature. After a marathon, even on cool days, a body core temperature of 104 degrees is common. The body is cooled by sweat, and to sweat, a constant supply of water is needed.. most runners can lose 1-2 quarts (2-4 pounds), or more, of sweat per hour. On a very hot day of hard running, I've read a runner can lose up to 4 quarts (9#). Serious symptoms may develop as fluid losses exceed 2% of body weight. In a 150# runner, that's just 3#! A runner must slow their pace 2% for every 1% of body weight loss due to hydration - this could mean the difference of 5 minutes to a 4 hour marathoner! Usually, drinking 6 ounces every 20' will deter hydration, but that can be difficult late in a marathon. I remember at the Marine Corps Marathon one year, I was finding it pretty hard to swallow any more water at about 22 miles. I was about to throw my still half-filled cup to the ground when a well trained Marine yelled at me "You have to drink the whole cup SIR!" I still remember that marine to this day.

Sugar in drinks is beneficial in keeping up your blood sugar, which will spare using your muscle glycogen for fuel. It takes 5-7 minutes to reach the bloodstream once absorbed in the intestines. I recommend you drink sugared drinks (Powerade, Gatorade, etc) in all runs longer than 90'. Don't rely on thirst - it is a poor indicator of fluid loss, and although you can never keep up with your fluid loss, you can minimize the hole you're digging. Dr. Noakes says to drink to thirst, but I honestly believe that by the time you feel the thirst, your fluid deficit is way more than you can ever catch up on.

Research in the last 2 years has reversed the age-old thoughts that caffeine beverages are diuretics (make you pee). They are diuretics to the same degree that plain water is!! You drink water, you need to pee. The same with caffeinated beverages, no more, no less. As a matter of fact, caffeine will help your endurance as it frees fatty acids into the blood stream that can be converted to energy in the muscles and spare some stored glycogen (the carbohydrates you ate last night).

OK, so now we get to drinking too much!! What?? How can that be? Well, since the marathoning boom of the past decade or so, something called Hyponatremia has reared it's ugly head. Hyponatremia means "low blood sodium". This is caused by excessive fluid consumption which lowers the ratio of sodium/water in the blood. Who's most at risk? Well, my 30+ years of marathon coaching and 15 of those as a TNT Coach taught me that walkers and women are the most susceptible. Why? Well, a couple of reasons. Walkers are going to be out there longer and not sweating as much. And, they usually carry their water and drink constantly. As far as women go, they sweat less then men (as much as 30% less), and (here's Coach Al's slant) they listen to their coaches more than men, and if the coach says drink, drink, drink, they'll do that to excess! Men usually will go down their own merry independent paths and drink what they THINK they need - usually too little - but women will do most of the right things. In this case, you definitely don't want to overdo it. Drink to stay hydrated - don't overdrink. If you drink sugared drinks with electrolytes, this will help, but still, don't overdo it! Hyponatremia will make you nauseated, headachy, confused, extremly fatigued, and can cause severe muscle cramps. Much of the time, these symptoms can be confused with dehydration and the well meaning volunteer will make you drink MORE...the one thing you don't need.

I like to carry a water bottle with me - you really hardly notice it if you have one of those handheld ones with a strap you can get at The Trak Shak for about 10-15 bucks. If you'd rather wear a belt with a water bottle, that's fine too, but the point is to stay hydrated. Of course, during your Saturday runs, The Trak Shak Long Run Crew will put out coolers for you every 3 miles or so, and during the actual race, you won't have any problem with frequency, but during those weekday runs (assuming that you're training!), you might tend to be a little more lax. So, what this does is begin you at a deficit the next day, and like a rock rolling downhill, your training can get worse and worse, simply because you're drying yourself out. Just get in the habit of tanking up at each opportunity during the run, and all through the day when you're not running. And with that, you've eliminated one of the major pitfalls of marathons runners.


Good luck with your training and I'll see you on the roads - AL


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Simple Explanation of Long Distance Fueling

"Run slowly, run daily, drink moderately, and don't eat like a pig." - Dr. Ernest van Aaken, German Coach

One of the hardest things for an endurance athlete to learn is how to handle this doggone eating thing. If you read running or health magazines regularly, you'll see the pendulum swings pretty often as to what's best to eat. What I find best is don't get sucked in with fads and stick with what has worked over the millenia of long-distance running. Sure, you're burning lots of calories that you weren't before, but that doesn't give you a free rein to stuff yourself like a Sumo wrestler. Let your body tell you what it wants, and if that food is high in calories, or fat, OK, eat it, but in moderation. Try to lean towards the more healthy foods, but you don't have to eat like a rabbit either. Most athletes are going to get the greater percentage of their calories from healthier foods by naturally gravitating there, but they don't deny themselves the foods that make them happy. I'm not a big dessert eater, but three of my favorite desserts are: toasted pound cake with vanilla ice cream, warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and warm peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Do we see a theme here? Warm and vanilla!!!! Probably an apple and wheat germ would be healthier, but don't even try to talk to me about it. If you want chocolate, go for it, but don't eat that 1000 calorie bar convincing yourself it's an Energy Bar! If you have to have fries, fine. Just don't super-size it! If a double whopper cheeseburger with bacon is your thing, well, I can't help you. Moderation with training, moderation with eating, moderation with alcohol, and moderation with letting the little things bother you. Follow that during your training and you'll be fine. As our training gets into the more difficult weeks, just always think of yourself as the athlete you are becoming. Keep your negative thoughts to a minimum. Think like an athlete, eat like an athlete, train like an athlete, and whether you're running, walking, swimming, or cycling, BELIEVE you are an athlete.

But, above all, to get back to the main gist of this post, you better fuel your body well. One reason I really enjoy endurance sports is that it takes more than just brute strength or mental fortitude to get you to the finish line. Once, I was asked "What exactly defines an endurance sport?" My answer was any sport where you have to replenish the fuel your burning DURING the event is an endurance sport. If you run out of fuel, it flat ain't there folks! Nobody wants to hit the wall, because the wall means running out of gas. Now I'm going to try to whittle this down as simple as possible or you'll fall sound asleep pretty quick. There is a literal ton of stuff on the web about sports nutrition and most of it is boring to me - AND I LOVE THIS STUFF! The good news is that it's pretty doggone simple.

The body's preferred fuel for any endurance sport is muscle glycogen. This is the body's storage form of carbohydrates. If you run low during your training, your sessions really suck and you feel like you're running through mud. If you drain your supply during a race, it's curtains! So, first and foremost, you need to have your diet revolve around carbohydrates. As I said, the pendulum swings periodically, and lately it has swung to some program that says "Nah, you don't need carbs...eat more fat!". Yeah, let me know how that's going when you're deep in your race and your muscles are screaming "forget something?". Now, I'll say this once (no I won't, I'll repeat it every time somebody brings it up) - A LOW-CARB DIET HAS NO PLACE IN AN ENDURANCE ATHLETE'S TRAINING!!!!! Please say that's clear enough. I believe carbs should provide 60-70% of your diet. This consists of whole grains, pasta (run fasta, eat pasta), fruits, veggies, and lowfat dairy foods.

Next comes protein. All of training is a constant process of "teardown, repair, buildup, and adapt". Protein is needed for muscle growth and repair. You will not burn protein for energy unless you went severely off course for a few days and are in a starvation situation, and although I've seen runners bonk for several reasons during a marathon, I can't remember starvation being one of them. Both carbs and protein are best replenished right after your training session. Studies show there is rapidly closing window for replenishing when you stop. Eating a carb/protein sports bar or drink within 15 minutes of stopping will get "soaked in" twice as fast than if you waited 2 hours. And doing it within 2 hours will get absorbed into your starving muscles much faster than if you waited until your evening meal. Good sources are lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. After a run, you can eat a carb/protein bar or (my favorite) drink one of those Boost drinks with added protein. Proteins should consist of about 15% of your daily diet.

Finally, we come to fat. Fat is an important energy source, it's just that to burn fat for energy is literally as slow as molasses! Burning carbs is something like 19X more efficient, but unfortunately, we have a limited amount of that precious stuff. Through training, we teach our body to burn fat more efficiently and your body can say "Hey cool, we can save our glycogen for later on.". Now fat should consist of about 20-25% of your daily diet, but there's a catch - a gram of fat has twice as many calories as a gram of carbs or protein. How much of a bummer is that? M&M's are soooooo good!!! They're SUPPOSED to be eaten by the bagfull! Well, whatever. I just fall back to my eating standby stated in the first paragragh...Don't deny yourself the foods you love, just don't binge on them. Try lowfat alternatives (that doesn't mean you can eat twice as much).

OK folks, that's it for the eating basics. Now, go celebrate, because October is National Pasta Month. Man, this is better than Christmas. Next week, I'll talk about the washing all this food down (hydration). Until then, train smart and if you have any questions, just ask. Can't be simpler than that.

I'll see you on the roads - AL

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Importance of Consistency

"In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted, if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.
Tom Seaver, former baseball pitcher

OK, you guys are getting week one under your belts (waistbands?) and you can honestly tell everyone you are officially training for a marathon or half marathon. Of course, the more people you tell, the more this "idea" becomes the "real deal". Please follow the schedule at the Mercedes Marathon Website and click on "training". I know some of you want to run longer, but to be successful in endurance events, you have to physiologically change the way your body is going to burn fuel. It wants to use high octane carbohydrate first, but it doesn't have enough to go as long as a marathon, so it has to burn some sludge (usually referred to as fat). No matter how thin you are, you have a truckload of fat. It's just that it's very inefficient to burn by itself, so if we can teach the body to burn a useful ratio of carbos and fat, we can ration out the fuel supply to get to the finish line. How do we do this. Ta-da! Coach Al has arrived!! You run slow, you run progressively longer with your runs, and you try to be as consistent with your training as possible. EVERY run on the schedule doesn't have to be done, but if you cut too many corners.... well muchacho, you've got a hole in the boat.


During the 4+ month training period, there are about 19 long run Saturdays that range from 8 miles to 20 miles. Sure they build on each other, but each ONE is not critical to the whole training picture. The long runs are the key to endurance training, but you have to absorb the whole picture. You'll have some great runs, and believe me, you'll have some absolutely horrible runs. The same goes for your runs during the week. Hopefully, you'll have more good runs than bad...I almost guarantee you will if you train consistently. I can't preach common sense hard enough (I always picture God sitting on his throne saying "I gave them common sense...why don't they use it"?). The training schedule is etched in clay, not stone, so approach it as a very strong guide. All your coaches are there for you to squeeze us dry of any information you want. We have run dozens of marathons between us and I have coached over a thousand runners to their marathons or half marathons, and although I sometimes look like I have no idea what's going on, I'm pretty sure the mistakes I've made will benefit you and can make this easier for you. Trust the program Natalie has put together and Monica is leading you through, trust your common sense, and mostly, believe in yourself. You have to train, but it's not magic or voodoo, just a long run. OK, a very long run, but a very trainable goal. Once, the billionaire, H.L. Hunt was asked what his philosophy was for garnering his billions. He said, "Decide what you want, decide what you're willing to give up to get it, set your priorities, then go after it." Couldn't have said it better myself.

You don't need a PhD to put one foot in front of the other. There's a lot of ways to successfully pull this off, but sitting on the couch, eating Cheesy Poofs is not one of them! It takes about 6-8 weeks for your body to really believe you're serious about this and starts making it a habit (that's why Health Clubs make a mint in January - you sign a year contract, but quit after a month). Go easy, follow the schedule, and be flexible. Get in the habit and email me (262coach@gmail.com) if you have ANY questions (I know all my State capitals, but let's keep the questions running related, ok?).


I'll see you on the roads - AL

Monday, September 29, 2014

Things I've Learned in 35 Years of Marathoning

"Listen to others. Learn from yourself" - Ann Trason, ultramarathoner

Ok, if you're just beginning to train for your first half or full marathon, you will learn a ton of stuff in a very short period of time. However, you will learn much more from your experience (mistakes) than you will ever learn from magazines, books, or your coaches. Here are a few I've learned from doing these long things for over 3 decades...and I'm still learning.

1) DRINK – Dehydration is the #1 cause of not finishing the marathon or completing a long run. You must drink consistently, but the latest theory is to drink to your thirst needs, rather than a set amount. I usually carry a handheld water bottle so I sip the whole way, but I also drink at every aid station.

2) GO OUT EASY – you will ease into a comfortable pace this way. If you go out too fast or try to make up lost early minutes too quickly, you will use up your carbohydrates too early and when you switch to fats for energy, you will be forced to slow down. "Don't run the first half like an idiot". Of course, the 2nd half of that quote is "Don't run the 2nd half like a wimp".

3) Don’t charge up the hills and don’t break too much coming down the hills. You expend a lot of energy on the uphills, so take it easy with a steady rhythm. Despite hundreds of miles of training, the quads are still usually undertrained and unfortunately they are the muscles that slow you on the downhills. Let gravity take you for a ride, lengthen your stride, and hit the pavement as smoothly as you can.

4) Don’t stuff yourself at the pre-race pasta dinner, especially if there is an early AM start. A post-race pasta dinner or pizza and a beer is a much better idea. Worry about your carbohydrate loading during your training, not the night before the race. You will have been essentially carbo loading for the past 4 months by the time February rolls around, so the night before is not going to make a giant difference.

5) Energy Gels work – I used to be a skeptic, but too many times in marathons, ultras, or long training runs, I have noticed a lack of fatigue and maintenance of pace 10-15 minutes after ingestion. Generally, during a race, you'll want to take one every 45 minutes or so.

6) Training programs need to be flexible, not rigid. If you feel rotten, ease off on the training for that day. If you have an injury, run or walk relative to what the injury will allow. The most important rule of marathon training is arrival at the starting line strong and healthy.

7) Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Any clothes or shoes that are a bit uncomfortable at home are going to be the devil out on a long run or during a race. NEVER race in something new! NEVER run in something tight.

8) Don’t complain about the weather. Adapt to it by training in it. My rule is to never run in lightning or ice. Rain is not dangerous. Cold is not dangerous. Running in heat can be dangerous and in most cases is stupid. “There is no inappropriate weather…only inappropriate clothing”.

9) Tapering for 2 weeks before a marathon is just as important as training for 20 weeks. Those 20 weeks of smart training can go right down the tubes because of the fear you’ll get out of shape if you back off the last 2-3 weeks. The opposite is true. You will heal, rebuild, and increase carbohydrate storage. Studies show the muscles will actually increase their strength during the taper period.

10) Walking won’t kill you (or slow you down that much). Keep moving forward. A set ratio of run/walk FROM THE BEGINNING will conserve strength, spare carbohydrate usage, and keep you from hitting the mythical wall. If you are trying to run the entire marathon and feel yourself slipping into deepening fatigue, it’s best to begin a walk/run ratio for a couple of cycles and see if you regroup. Don’t wait till you’re forced to walk. If you walk for a minute every mile, you'll only lose about 20 seconds per mile on your pace. That converts to less than 10 minutes total for the whole 26.2 miles.

11) Racing once a month (like a 5k) will help you gauge your fitness and boost your coincidence. You learn about the jitters before the race, how to drink during the race, how to “race” with a crowd, and how good it feels to hit a finish line and earn that shirt.

12) Don’t overdress – Regardless of the temperature, you will warm up in less than 10 minutes. Trust me! If you feel comfortable standing around in the parking lot before a winter run, prepare to be quickly uncomfortable because you over-heated. Dress like it’s 10-20 degrees warmer. On real cold days, wear gloves and a hat. And "HotHands" are a special gift from God to runners like me that hate the cold.

13) If you finish a marathon, never, ever, be disappointed with your accomplishment. Finishing a marathon is something only one-tenth of 1% of the population has done. Regardless of your time, you are fit, you've shown tremendous commitment, and most of all, you deserve to feel good about yourself.

I'll see you all on the roads - AL







Monday, September 22, 2014

And Now It Begins

"Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out" - Robert J. Collier

So, you've decided to (maybe) sign up and train for the Mercedes Marathon. Good for taking that first step. Throughout this process, Natalie Ferguson and her crew will lead you down the training road. Her schedule for the marathon and half-marathon are on the www.mercedesmarathon.com site, and she will schedule runs every Saturday from the Trak Shak in Homewood. Training with a group is so much easier than trying to do this alone.She is planning an informational meeting at the Trak Shak on September 25th at 6pm. Unfortunately, I will have to miss this meeting due to being in Boston playing grandpa to my two grandchildren. However, my main input to the training will be writing weekly posts on this site concerning all aspects of training. In the past, I have coached many runners to their first marathons, and take great pride in that. However, now we have many excellent coaches and resources in the Birmingham area and I find my best way to help you is present a timely subject each week that is easy to understand and backed by experiences gained by my own successes and many errors. Please comment as you feel moved to do so, or email me if you have a specific question.

When you dove into this marathon thing, you knew that it would take dedication and commitment. No artificial ingredients here. You train right, you improve. You train once in a while, or train haphazardly, well then, don't expect to come across the finish line with a big "yippee" smile on your face. You can't go to CVS and get a marathon pill. Dr. Phil can't talk you through it. Oprah can't give it to you. That's what makes this experience so different from other races you've trained yourself for. You're putting it on the line. "I'll get up early, I'll get out in the rain, I'll freeze my running butt off, and I'll do it every week".

If you don't try to climb the training ladder quicker than the schedule tells you, if you honestly assess your past and present abilities, and if you're consistent with your training, every cell in your body will learn! That's what training is: tear down, build up, adapt. If you tear down faster than you can build up, then that's where trouble brews. Be patient with the training. No guarantees, but most of the time it works.

If you're really going to do this long distance thing, you'd better be committed to the program. It certainly changes your lifestyle. You young chickens will find yourselves cutting those Friday night bashes a little early when you know you have to get up and put in a Saturday 15 miler! Don't worry. it'll become a habit - you'll stay away from (most) bad food, you'll go to bed a little earlier, you'll bore all your friends and coworkers talking about running, and you'll pay more money on your running shoes (that you spend one hour a day in) than you do on the shoes you spend all day in. Eat like a marathoner, drink like a marathoner, exercise like a marathoner, and most of all, think and act like a marathoner. Be confident in what you're doing. Less than 1/10th of 1% of the population has run a marathon.

As we're about to enter the base building phase of your training, sometimes the most difficult part of the training is just getting out the door. Even experienced, highly trained athletes have trouble on some days. Early on, temptation not to train is pretty big when something seems to be in the way, but the more you get out there, the smaller that temptation devil gets. Oh, there'll be days that you "just don't want to". And that's OK. Just don't have too many of those days. Your body will adapt to the training if it figures out what the heck you're trying to do. Give it a chance. It'll be tough at first for you first timers, but go easy on yourselves and things will fall into place - it always does. Just know your limits and set realistic goals. But, as my friend, Jerry Dunn used to say, "Challenge your limits, but don't limit your challenges". Try these simple things to get the wheels rolling:

Keeping a diary will help, because nobody wants to write a big, old, fat zero in the diary. Seeing all these completed workouts will impress not only you, but all your friends who pick up the diary you "accidentally" left on the coffee table in the TV room. This will also help you find where you strayed from the program right before you got injured.

Goal setting shouldn't be a problem, especially at the beginning of the program when you're not exactly sure of the enormity you've gotten yourself into. Sitting at your desk saying "I think I'll run a marathon" is a lot different from getting up in the rain and the cold to train for that elusive carrot. You have to keep that carrot in front of you. Tell every one you know what you're going to do - that'll keep you honest!

Group training is a big boost to getting in your training, but that's only one day a week, so try to arrange to meet a training partner on those other days - you don't want to listen to them ragging you because you didn't show up. You'd rather run on a day you don't want to than hear that!

Finally, follow a schedule. That doesn't mean any schedule is set in stone, but if you know you've got a shorter day today and a longer day tomorrow, you're more apt to get out there. You can pick up 25 books about training and find 25 different schedules, and they probably all work, not because of the guts of the numbers of miles, but because they reinforce consistency. Just running with no plan breeds more off days, easier runs, and lack of the training "hunger".

Now, some things about when do you run. All the time!!! EXCEPT when there's ICE or THUNDER. Then you're on your own. Training for any endurance sport is all about dedication and consistency. You can't do it now and again, or just when you feel like it. You do it for a few weeks and it becomes a habit.

I'll see you on the roads - AL