Living vicariously through first-time runners; a journey to Alaska for Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon 2008

Sean Sullivan and Dave Brewer of TNT OregonI love what a marathon does to a person.

Take the 110 pound lady that was on the bus back to the airport with me after this weekend’s Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage. She was telling me that she was hungry and needed a snack. I reached into my bag and pulled out a small bunch of bananas, offering them to her, but thinking that she might pick one and hand the bunch back. I watched in awe as she scarfed down the whole bunch.

Another runner told me that she had been eating constantly since the race ended. She wondered aloud to me that it didn’t seem normal that she had eaten 4 muffins from the breakfast bar and was still hungry. Normal, I offered, doesn’t typically apply after a marathon.

I spent this weekend running and walking alongside the crowds at the Mayor’s Marathon race, which is becoming a favorite of mine on my yearly travel calendar. Most would expect that the scenery would be spectacular (it is), but there is something more that is special about this race. I think it is the level of transformation that’s going on here with the multitudes of first time runners in the event. There’s just something about flying to the furthest reaches of our country, to a land where the sun doesn’t really go down, that amplifies the impact of a race which turns people from normal beings into people who can snarf down three bananas and still be looking for more food.

I’ve grown to form a special fondness for the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon. Not only is it the only race course on which I’ve seen both a bear and a moose, but the special excitement of visiting this spectacular place on the Summer Solstice makes it that much more appealing.
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Training: How important are rest days?

Megan asks the following question:

I am training for my first marathon and get antsy on my rest days (I’m taking two of them). Is it ok to do the elliptical on rest days since it’s such low impact and using different muscles than used for running? Or would that lead to over training?

First, I think that the importance of rest days is critical in any well designed workout schedule. Recovery is an important part of the process that leads to improvement. You push your body in your workouts and your body responds by changing to meet the challenges that you have placed on it — it is during your recovery time that all of the good stuff really happens. Recovery and sleep — or rather a lack of enough recovery and sleep — are real limiters to performance improvement.

Before I continue on with the question, let me back up a minute and add that your workout program needs to have aspects of both “quality” and “quanitity” to it. “Quality” means workouts that really push you and cause you to improve your running efficiency. “Quantity” is more a matter of time spent exercising in order to have your muscles repeat the motions of your running at the pace that you want to run your marathon. You need both elements in a training program, but it is the quality side that improves your performance. Too often people lean more to the quanity side — or even do only workouts aimed at amassing miles.
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ING New York City Marathon Virtual Training Program with Team in Training

Team in Training, in conjunction with Coach Joe English of Running Advice and News, is proud to announce the availability of slots into our virtual training program for the 2008 ING New York City Marathon. 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of the first Team in Training event at New York in 1988.

There are only 50 slots available and these are sure to go fast!

We’ll get you ready to cross the finish line at the ING New York City Marathon with:
– personalized training by coach Joe English, editor of Running Advice and News
– training clinics on technique and nutrition by experts in those fields
– weekly podcasts and e-mails from Coach Joe to keep you going
– an on-line discussion forum for team participants
– your own personal Web site for online fundraising
– travel and accommodations in New York City

Participants in the program will raise money to help find cures for leukemia, lymphoma and blood cancers. Now in it’s 20th year, the Team in Training program has raised over $850 million to find a cure.

In order to participate in the virtual team in training program, participants must raise a set fundraising minimum. There is a $50 registration fee to start the program.

If you’d like more information about this unique opportunity, please post a question on this page or visit the TNT web-site by clicking here.

Join us in New York for the greatest marathon around!

Running Advice and News


Triathlon: Some easy workouts to help ease the bike-run transition (T2)

This past weekend, I spoke to a group of triathletes about the bike-run transition (AKA “T2”) in triathlon and I mentioned that there are two aspects to this transition: the gear change and the physical transition of the legs from biking to running. When I mentioned that leaving T2, a triathlete’s legs might feel like cement, most everyone nodded in agreement.

Changing the gear is the easy part. Transitioning the legs is a bit more difficult. The truth is with some practice, you’ll get used to the feeling and you should, over time, be able to run nearly as fast after riding your bike as you can when you haven’t been riding first. But there are some workouts that can help you learn this skill more quickly.

Here are three workouts to give you lots of practice with the bike-run transition:

In the gym — Go to your local gym and find a spin bike and a tread-mill that are near one another. Start by spinning on the bike for a period of time (say 15-20 minutes) long-enough to get your legs warm and into the feel of pedaling. Then hop off the bike and jump on the treadmill and run for 2-3 minutes. After that jump back onto the bike for 5 minutes or so and then get back on the treadmill for another 2-3 minutes. Repeat this back and forth process for 30-45 minutes and then cool-down on the treadmill. The nice thing about this workout is that if you have a spin bike with caged/strapped pedals, you can usually do it without having to change shoes for the transitions. This gives you quicker transitions between biking and running.
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Training: Adapting marathon training schedules to fit your needs

One of our readers asks the following question about using a “generic” marathon training schedule:

“I’m training for my first marathon. I have been following a training schedule that I found online on I started training early and will have 4 weeks left before the actual marathon when I’m done the training schedule. What should I do with those extra 4 weeks?? I’m on my 5th week now.”

This is a great question and the answer really depends on your running background and your training needs.

While I may not be able to tell you exactly where to spend those extra four weeks, I’ll give you a little insight into my thinking when I approach this every season — as the number of weeks in each training season varies, I do this for my training groups all of the time.

First, I would look at the number of weeks in your schedule and just ground myself in whether you have a lot of time or a little bit of time:
Short training schedules: If you have 15 weeks or less, then the time is tight for a first-time marathon training schedule. With a shorter training schedule, you’re going to have to ramp up your distance more quickly than a longer one. With this type of schedule, I would typically add the extra weeks in the early portion of the schedule to bring you up more gradually and avoid the risk of over-use injuries. You might do a few more runs at the 6-10 mile range, before moving on to longer runs for example.
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Training: Can I really finish my marathon?

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

I’ve been spending a lot of time dealing with my first time marathon runners the last couple weeks as they get ready to run their upcoming races and there is clearly a common question on their minds: can I really finish this marathon?

Can I finish my marathonI hear it in a lot of different ways. Sometimes people come up to me and say, “I don’t know if I can run 6 more miles” after finishing a 20 miler. Sometimes it’s the shaking voice and nearly tears version of the question, “I just don’t know if I can do this,” and other times its a more subtle, “I might need to adjust my pace goal — I don’t know if I can run 26 miles at that pace.”

All of this is the mind dealing with a difficult challenge that lays ahead of the body. These runners’ minds are playing out scenarios in their heads. Things like “if that 20 hurt bad, then what’s 26 going to feel like?”

Getting through these feelings takes a little bit of a leap of faith.

See through the season these runners have come along way. They don’t remember the fact that they started out running 3 miles in their first practice four months ago. They don’t remember the days when they didn’t drink enough fluid or eat enough calories or prepare for their runs properly. They don’t realize that in running 18 or 20 miles they become a little running machine that can be turned on keep going for a long, long time.
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Training — Dealing with late season injuries before a marathon

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

A reader named Lucy wrote me last week asking a question that reads in part:

Last Thursday, I was pushed off the road by a truck and slightely twisted my left ankle. I ran 2 more miles following this incident and did 10 on Sunday, without problems. Yesterday I had to run 6, but just couldn’t deal with the pain on my ankle, calf and shin. It only hurts when I run though. I can walk, bike, or water-run with no pain. Here is my question: until I can run again, hopefully in 10 days or so, can I simulate a long run by doing time on the elliptical, or bike for 4 consecutive hours?

Although Lucy’s particular injury is unique, this situation comes up every season. Lucy explained in her question that she is about six weeks away from her next marathon and she’s looking for help in deciding what to do in the mean-time. I would frame this problem like this: when a runner injures herself just before a marathon for which she’s been training, what should be her strategy in the closing weeks before the race?

There are three areas that I would look at in answering this question for a particular runner: 1) how bad is the injury, 2) how many weeks are there until the race, and 3) how fit is the runner?

How bad is the injury?
The first factor to look at is the severity of the injury. If the runner is only injured to a minor extent and can rehab the injury in a 1-2 weeks, then chances are that their marathon plans are not going to be badly disrupted. Often when runners hit their peak mileage, overuse injuries like shin splints and IT Band issues pop up. In many of these cases, taking a week or two to let the injury heal will put the injury behind the runner and then they can continue on with their training or — if this is really close to the race — just extend their taper by a couple of weeks. In these cases, the runner may want to consider backing off their pace goal somewhat, but they should still be able to compete in their target race.
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Commentary: Our badge of honor

It’s been three days since the Boston Marathon and I’m so, so, tired.

It’s not just tired, it’s this sort of wrecked feeling. Like all I want to do is stay in bed motionless kind of wrecked.

I’m coughing and hacking, because I caught that post-race cold that I always catch. I don’t know where they come from, but the day after a race, I just always catch one and it usually lingers for awhile. I read something about immune system function being depressed after races, which is usually why people get sick, but that’s all too much for my brain to process right now.

The funny thing is that I didn’t particularly run that hard out there. I was busy shooting a film of the race, so I was starting and stopping and it took my over five hours to cover the course. But I’m wrecked just the same.

I saw this young woman in the airport in Chicago on Tuesday night. She had her Boston jacket on and was sort of limping slowly down the concourse. I made eye contact with her and then said, “you look like I feel,” to which she couldn’t even work up the energy to smile. She was far worse than me. She was in serious pain and wanted nothing more to be lying in bed somewhere, not walking through O’hare at 11:00PM eastern time.
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Coach Joe goes to Boston: Getting there.

This is the first installment in my personal journal of my experience at the 2008 Boston Marathon. My regular reader knows that I tend to write detailed, often very personal accounts, of my own races. Well with running’s most exciting weekend on tap, I figured this would be something you might like to read about. So here goes.

Chapter 1: Getting there.

Yesterday was a long, long day. Actually, it’s been a long week. I haven’t slept much and it’s been catching up with me. On Saturday night it was the London Marathon, up ’till 4:45AM watching and writing about the race. Then it was tax day on Tuesday. Hey, with a business to run and a new baby at home, those taxes just don’t file themselves. So it was 1:45AM into bed on Monday night.

Wedesday I was preparing for this trip. There was a lot to get ready. I plan to not only run the Boston Marathon on Monday, but to write about it, photograph it and capture some of it on video. Putting together the three notebook computers, three cameras, and all the accoutrements took some time and energy. And then on top of that I had to think of a way to transport the stuff that will go with me in the race, something that I’ve been working on for awhile now. Anyway, all of this added up to 1:20AM in bed on Wednesday night.

That does’t sound too bad. But our flight was at 6:00AM on Thursday morning. So after getting into bed at 1:20AM, it was up again at 3:15AM to get myself and my family out the door to the airport.

This all has left me a little tired. Thankfully, it’s only Friday today and I have a few days to catch up.

The trip almost ended at the airport. I dropped my wife Stacy and my six month old son Cash off at the curb and then headed to the parking lot to deposit my car in long-term parking, something I’ve done a million times before. In all of the times that I’ve parked at Portland’s long-term parking, it’s never taken more than say 10 minutes to catch the little bus and get back to the terminal.
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Training: Did I go out too slowly in my marathon?

Jen Meller at Mile 11One of my athletes named Jen wrote in the following question about pacing after her race last Sunday — a half-marathon. This is an excellent question that underscores both the concepts of understanding pace and the unique nature of running at a particular speed.

First, here’s the question:

I finished the 1/2 marathon in 1:54. My pace was 8:42. Not bad. I felt pretty tired coming up the Steel Bridge at the end, but still managed to finish in an all out sprint. And when I say all out, I mean ALL out. My question is, if I had that much sprint in me at the end, I obviously didn’t push myself hard enough during the race . . . so how do I figure out how to do that? How do I learn how fast I should be/could be running? I have a feeling I could be a lot faster, but how do I get faster and how do I figure out what fast is for me?

First, Jen can and will get a lot faster by continuing to do speed work and good quality workouts. As we’ve discussed at great length here, running faster is what makes you faster, not running longer. In working with Jen, I’ll encourage her to include track workouts, tempo runs, and other up-tempo running into her workout plans so that she continues to get faster.

Now, on to the question of why the big sprint at the finish and whether that really means she ran too slowly? My answer is that the big sprint finish probably doesn’t tell us that much about whether her pace was too slow in the rest of the race.
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