Thursday, November 26, 2015

Facing The Long Run

"At first, people will ask why you're doing it, but eventually after the hard work pays off, they will ask how you did it." - Steve Prefontaine

Ok, so, if you're training for February's Mercedes Marathon or Half Marathon, gradually the miles keep building for the long runs. I want you all to remember the main goal is to FINISH. All through this training over the past several weeks, you have been following a training program that has been made up with a series of goals. These have been given to you in daily and weekly distances. All you have to do is complete those runs - "Your coach says go and you go until he/she says stop!". That seems easy enough, and with running together in a group, it does get easier and your progress is recorded by the fact that 7 or 13 or 15 miles are no longer "impossible" distances. The goal of you getting better (going further) is being met each and every week. So, as you approach the longest runs of your training, how do you approach them? No different! The goal is to complete it. No time goals. No middle of the run goals. Just finish. When the BIG DAY arrives, you approach it the same way - think of the half marathon or the full marathon as just the long run for that week (ok, a very long run). You are feeling stronger because of the training you have put in.

If this is your first long race and it has been going well you may think to yourself that "Maybe I can finish in... (fill in the time blank)". STOP THINKING LIKE THAT!! It's the devil talking! It will lead you down the road of ruin. This will be the first time for most of you. You're almost there (almost is a relative term). The effort will be exhilerating and in some ways painful ("it's a good hurt, doc"). Some folks will tell you that the marathon is more mental than physical. Well, that's a credible thesis and something to think about, but you better be in pretty doggone good shape to be moving forward for 3 - 6 hours (or longer). I've been in plenty of races where I've said "It's supposed to be more mental but it sure is feeling mighty physical right now". It's hard enough without the pressures of setting a time goal. Now listen to this carefully because this comes from the bottom of my coaching heart. I NEVER want one of you first-time runners to be disappointed after doing your first half or full. After you do the first one, there will be plenty of curbs in plenty of cities to sit on and whine about "falling apart" and not setting a new world record. For now, let's finish climbing this hill one week at a time till you see those finish line balloons.

You look back and wonder how you've lasted this long. Well, you've lasted the same way you'll do the long run this Saturday - by breaking it down into small, manageable pieces and only focus on the portion at hand and not the entire enchilada. When you look at the weekly schedule, the question is always "What's the long run this week?", not how many miles do you have to run during the 20 weeks you train. When I used to run a marathon for a specific finish time, I used to hit my watch lap counter every 3 miles, that way I break the run into just 8 parts. The point is that whether you're doing a 5K or a marathon, you've done the training and all you have to do is monitor yourself over the run so your body does what you trained it for. On Saturdays, there are coolers out every 2-3 miles, so use those as parts of the whole. It's a lot easier to think in terms of 3 mile segments than to say "I've got 15 miles to go". Start your run slowly and ease into a comfortable pace that should never feel pushed. That doesn't mean you won't get tired - you're training for a marathon for Pete's sake, but you should feel in control of your pace. Drink early and often. If you train at 10 min/mile, don't expect the Good Running Angel to swoop down on race day and allow you to run 9 min miles! The mind will be your greatest foe - it will use every trick in the book to make you stop doing this foolishness. You MUST practice positive thinking during these long runs. Fatigue, discomfort, tightness, and whole host of other wonderful feelings are all a part of the game, but you know they're coming because you meet them every week, and as a group, you whine together and the next thing you know, there you are back at the Trak Shak with another long run under your belt (elastic waistband). When you start to hit that fatigue point, acknowledge that it's there, but also realize that you're not really feeling that badly (OK, 24 miles into it, you might be really feeling bad, but the balloons are
 close). What you are feeling is the reflection of your effort level. Focus on your breathing, your posture, and your cadence, and this will shift your focus off the fatigue (I didn't say it would eliminate it). Your body is doing what it's been trained to do and that's moving you forward towards the finish line. Think only about what you need to do RIGHT NOW - pace, breathing, concentration. Thinking "I am really tired and want to just sit down on the curb and cry" has absolutely no positive benfits! Relax, concentrate on the task at hand, and perform up to your capabilities.

There's just something about knowing you completed that long run. You marathoners will do a few runs of 17-20 miles and you won't believe it when you finish those runs, but completing the 20 miler in a few weeks will boost your confidence into the "I really think I can finish that thing" category. It's MOSTLY mental to get over this hump, but the long run you've been doing each week is just about the most important element of marathon training because it physically and mentally prepares you for the 26.2 mile distance. I say "just about" the most important element because my own personal bias still leans towards the consistency with which you train, and not necessarily doing a certain distance. If you've been training several months consistently and miss the 20 miler, other than rattling you mentally, it won't physically affect your performance on the day of the run. I always say we should train like they do in England and count our distances in kilometers. That way our longest run would be a nice, round 30K, which is "only" 18.6 miles! But, we live in the good ol' USA and so we'll run like the revolutionists.

Just relax, take each run, each mile, each weekly challenge, one at a time. Before you know it, the finish line is in front of you, and before your heart rate gets back to normal, a new challenge begins.

Stay steady, keep your eyes on the goal, and I'll see you on the roads. - AL

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ouch! My (fill in the blank) hurts! Now What?

"The only way to avoid running injuries altogether is to avoid running altogether - an obviously flawed solution" - Runner's World

So, you new guys all seem to be off to a wonderful start to your delving into the world of endurance training getting ready for Mercedes. As your body tries to figure out what the heck you're doing, you're going to have some aches and pains here and there. Most of them are just the awards of training and will subside as your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons start to strengthen. Most of them will be controlled with a little TLC in the form of ice, anti-inflammatories, and in some cases, rest.

First of all, ice - you need an ice pack in the form of one of those:

1) premade icepacks

2) a 2# bag of frozen peas 

3)you can make your own pack with one part alcohol (use the cheap stuff, not the Jack Daniels) and three parts water. Put it in a ziplock bag, and then bag it in another ziplock to prevent it from leaking all over you and your couch. When you freeze it, it will stay flexible, and not frozen like....well....a block of ice.

4) Put dishwashing detergent in a Ziplock (see #3 instructions for preventing a super mess). Dollar Tree sells 32oz for...well, a dollar of course!  

Put the ice on for 15 minutes. You can do this every hour, but 15 minutes is the magic time.

Then, if you want, you CAN take anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (advil) or naproxyn (aleve) as directed on the package. This is a controversial area, but most running injuries are due to an overuse (inflammation), so an anti-inflammatory seems appropriate. The controvery lies in the fact that the early stage of healing IS INFLAMMATION, therefore, a growing feeling (the pendulum is always swinging) is to avoid anti-inflammatories with overuse injuries. However, if you decide to take them, I like naproxyn because you only take it twice a day instead of three. Now, here's the trick - take it as directed for 2-4 days. The meds don't know if you have a sore knee or a sore little finger, so only a small percentage actually goes to where you want it to go. You have to keep it pumping through your system to put the fire out (sorta like a sprinkler will eventually put the fire out). Remember, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is NOT an anti-inflammatory, it is a pain med. Do not take anti-inflammatories right before you go out to run or during the run - bad idea unless you like playing Russian Roulette with your kidneys. I've had good results at preventing soreness with Tylenol 8 Hour (which surprisingly is the EXACT SAME formula as Tylenol Arthritis - 650mg/tablet). But, if you have to rely on drugs to get through your runs, maybe you don't need to be running. But, I must admit that I certainly understand the mind of a runner and it seems that sometimes a decision is made without being bothered by that pesky intelligent thought process.

Finally comes the question of "Can I continue running?". The "Coach Al" rule of thumb is that if you can run without ANY limp, then it's OK. If you go down the road like you've got a tack in your shoe, then hang up the shoes for a couple of days and do some "active rest" - walking or some other form of aerobic crosstraining until the pain subsides. Don't get so hungup on the mileage thing. If you're crosstraining aerobically, then do these exercises for same amount of time that you would normally spend running. So, if you had a 5 mile run planned and you run 10 min/mile, then you would walk, swim, bike, etc. for 50 minutes, but try to keep the intensity (or heart rate) in the general ballpark that running would put you.

It's funny how all runners will say "Why does it have to hurt now that I'm getting in the groove of this endurance stuff?". Well, muchachos, it's because you've been stressing these tissues for many weeks and they're just asking for you to put some brakes on for a little bit. YOU STILL HAVE OVER 3 MONTHS TO GO!! If you get a little niggle or a knack, you don't necessarily have to stop cold, but going a little slower, avoiding hills and speed work, and just doing those daggum "common sense" things will usually help things straighten out.

Remember that everything is connected in what is called the Kinetic Chain. That's just fancy PT talk for the hip bone's connected to the knee bone...The knee bone's connected to the ankle bone...The ankle bone's connected to the foot bones. PT School was sooooo hard to remember all those lyrics!!!! Anyway, try to compensate for an ache in one place and this will most likely stress someplace else, and voila! You're then nursing a brand new injury or worse, TWO injuries. This training thing is a long road - slow and steady is the best course.

You have to pay attention to those little niggles so they don't become big knacks. Catching them early will ensure that we'll keep seeing each other on the roads - AL

If you have any comments or questions, please either leave it below in "comments", or email me. If you have any problems leaving a comment, be sure to let me know. I think I fixed the bug, but I love comments and I don't want to miss any!

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dang! I Have a Cold! Now What?

"When it comes to running first marathons, there are many lessons that can only be learned on the course, not on the internet." - Hal Higdon

OK, so, every run you're getting closer to THE DAY. You know, THAT day in February. You're entering into the grip of heavier training each week. Since you began training a few weeks ago, your body has been trying to fight off every evil detriment that lurks around every corner to derail your fitness. You're more indoors around sick folks, not to mention all the phones, pens, books, and whatnot that you borrow from all your sneezing, sniffling, and coughing friends and co-workers. They are crammed with germs trying to knock you for a loop just when your immune system is hanging a little low because of all your he-man and she-girl training. So, what happens when you wake up one day and your throat feels like the Great Chicago Fire, your nose is as red as Rudolph's, and you're convinced you have malaria? I, of course, being made of super-human DNA, refuse to let it affect me. However, sometimes. for some reason, my runs feel like I have bowling balls strapped to my legs and my breathing reminds me of my run up Pikes Peak!

When a cold hits, everyone wonders "Is it safe to run or do I let my fitness flow away like the proverbial water under the bridge?". Seriously guys, the rule of thumb regarding running with a cold is that if your symptoms are from the neck up (sniffles, sneezing, sore throat, coughing) then it is usually safe to run EASY if you want to. If the symptoms are in your chest, you have a fever, or your legs feel like two cement pylons, then get a sweatshirt, a cup of chicken noodle soup, put your feet up, and just accept the fact that your boss will probably put more miles in than you will for the next couple of days. Studies continuously have shown that you won't lose any fitness level from your training unless you do absolutely nothing for 7-10 days (depending where your fitness was to begin with).

If you're training for a long distance event and you get a cold, the best thing to do is drink a lot of fluids, back off your running, and let it run it's course, which is going to take 1-2 weeks, no matter what you do. If you try to run through it feeling completely wiped out, you're just going to make things worse because you'll stay fatigued and your body won't be able to fight it. If you have a cold, antibiotics won't help because the cold is a virus and AB's kill bacteria. You can treat the symptoms, keep yourself warm and hydrated and try to get some extra rest. When you finally are up to running again, do some slow, short runs until you get your endurance back. Don't try to catch up on the training sessions you've missed, just ease back into the scheduled program and try to convince yourself that the extra rest is actually going to make you stronger.

Personally, I have found some things you can't do if you have a cold:
1) you can't run without blowing your nose constantly
2) it's hard to cough your lungs up and maintain a smooth running stride at the same time
3) you can't sneeze holding a full cup of coffee!

Again, the rule of thumb is that if all the symptoms are in your head, you can try to run if you want to, but if you're coughing up stuff, have a sore throat, have body aches, or most importantly, have a fever, show some God-given common sense, and bag the run!

I'll see you on the roads - AL

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Training in the Winter Elements

There is no such thing as bad weather - just inappropriate clothing" - some cold ultrarunner

Guess by now you're finding out you have to be very nuts committed to train for a half or full marathon. I remember a few years ago, Nike had an ad that showed some guy running in a driving rainstorm, with the wind blowing, going up a hill. The ad said, "Somewhere, the sun is shining, the air is warm, and the roads are flat...that's where the 2nd place guy trains!". I love that. I always say that I love to run marathons because it is the first distance that you HAVE to train for in order to finish. You can't get through it just because you ran the half mile in High School. We ( the human race) can't store enough fuel for the distance unless we train to burn fuels differently. We do this by running the long runs and teaching the muscle engines to burn fats more efficiently. It sounds like a fairy tale, but if folks like Oprah, P. Diddy, and Pamela Anderson can get out there REGULARLY and do the training, how in the world can any of you have any doubts? But, doggone it, you have to be consistent and that means getting out there in all kinds of rotten weather.

But, you can't trick the marathon. If you don't respect the distance you are about to run by training consistently, it will stomp you like a bug! In the summer, it's easy - shoes, shorts, and a singlet, but when the Arctic winds blow, I am a weenie and it's every long sleeve, tights, gloves, knit hats, and anything else I can get on and still move. Sometimes, I feel like that kid in "Christmas Story" that falls over and can't get up because he has so many clothes on. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but not about that hating cold weather stuff - always have, always will! And as I get older, it gets worse! I want to sweat, I want to feel that sun beating down, I want my shoes to squish when I finish my workout. I don't want to be shivering, I don't want my water bottle to freeze, and I don't want my fingers to be so cold that I can't turn my car door key at the end of my run. So now I see we might see some temps in the low 40's next week, and soon the morning temperatures will be in the 30's much of the time. And although it's not biting, chattering cold, I know it's a slippery slope from here to Absolute Zero. Gotta keep thinking spring is around the corner. OK, it's pretty far "around the corner", but I'm goal oriented. The current 40's are not really THAT cold, but we better prepare now for those wonderful mornings when the frigid winds stat-a-blowin'.

The only reliable trick to running in the cold weather is to learn how to layer. Now, we don't live in Maine, so the chances of getting frostbitten while we're running is pretty slim, but our southern blood is thinner (it's not really, but that's what my grandmother told me) and we feel the cold more. So, the idea is to layer and that way you trap warm air between the layers to keep you warmer. Each layer you put on has a specific purpose: moisture wicking, insulating, wind breaking, rain (or snow) protection. Now for some rules:

AVOID COTTON - good for shopping in, bad for running in. It absorbs sweat like a sponge (up to 17 TIMES it's weight), and you lose body heat faster than you can make it. 

CHOOSE MOISTURE-WICKING TOPS FOR YOUR BASE LAYER - this should fit fairly close to the skin, but not tight - usually a material of coolmax, dri-fit, capilene, or some other brand name. A 2nd layer of similar material may be needed as an insulating layer on REALLY cold days. The 2nd layer should fit looser to trap a cushion of warmed air. On a cold or breezy day, you may want to opt for a lightweight, breathable jacket over your base layer(s). Just plain nylon jackets are not very good because they will form a little tropical rainstorm INSIDE your jacket! You will also overheat if there is nowhere for the heat to escape (even on cold days) so if you wear a jacket, a vented one is best.

If it's raining, you won't melt, but you will get wet (2nd grade science). You'll need a jacket that's at least water resistant and preferably waterproof. GoreTex is the Gold standard, but these can tend to get a little pricey, especially when you factor in the number of times you will actually need it. A few years ago, I found one that sells for about $35 (windproof, waterproof, and very light) at . I have worn this jacket for literally about 7-8 years, in everything from short training runs to 31 mile trail races in an all day rainstorm. Of course, almost a decade later, you can probably find a comparable one with newer (breathable) technology. 

Finally, you will lose most of your heat from your head and your hands, so hats and gloves made with those same miracle fabrics are best. Some are waterproof. ALL of these products are available at the Trak Shak - they support us, let's support them and they definitely know what you need. Next to the wheel, the greatest invention ever is HotHands. These are little disposable chemical heat packs that you put in your gloves while you run and they stay warm up to 8 hours!! For about 60 cents for a pair, these are GOLD folks!! Stock up now!! I keep a BOX in the trunk of my car!

Lastly, there are two words I haven't mentioned so far; windbriefs and insulating sportsbras. There, I've mentioned them!! Look them up. I don't know about the sportsbra, but there have been some mornings I'd almost rather run without my shoes than without a windbrief!!

The key to running in cold weather is the ability to layer properly, not to put on every last stitch of running clothes you own! By layering, you will trap warmed air between the layers, and after 30+ years of running, it still amazes me how much you warm up after about 1-2 miles of running. The rule of thumb is to dress like it's 15-20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature (even I haven't completely embraced this rule-of-thumb). Wind and rain are going to have a lot to say about how you'll dissipate that heat, but there's tons of different materials out there to handle anything Mother, Father, Sister, and Brother Nature can throw at you. Keep your eye on the goal - Spring is March 21st!

I'll see you on the cold and winding roads - AL

Thursday, October 29, 2015

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!) 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. Doesn't it sound more reasonable to keep a steady amount of fluid coming in?

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, so in actuality, it's NOT low sodium, it's TOO MUCH FLUID!! 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, head-achy, confused, extremely fatigued, and may 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. This way, I'm sipping the whole time rather than downing a whole cupfull each aid station. 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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Simple Explanation of Fueling in Endurance Running

"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 your 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 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 low-fat dairy foods. I know somebody will write to me expounding how well they do on a low-fat diet. My stock answer to them is "You'll probably do better with carbohydrates" and drop the argument because I'll never convince them.

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 low-fat 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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

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 beginning to get this training idea 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  (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 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 Monica has put together 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 ( or if you have ANY questions (I know a ton about baseball, but let's keep the questions running related, ok?).

I'll see you on the roads - AL