How Not to Hit a Wall in Your Next Marathon

All runners – and, heck, even many non-runners – know of “The Wall,” that infamous barrier that looms 20-plus miles down the road in a marathon. Legend has it that “The Wall,” as its name implies, is an obstacle of such proportion that it can reduce even the swiftest among us to a dead stop. But here’s the catch: This wall doesn’t really exist.

There are, however, a number of things that runners do, or fail to do, that lead to them to run out of gas late in a marathon. Here are four of them – and how to avoid them:

1. They go out too fast.

runner 2Perhaps one of the most misunderstood principles among runners is that the speed (or pace) they can sustain declines by about 15 to 20 percent as the race distance doubles. Put another way, if a runner can run a 5K race at a particular pace, his or her 10K pace will be 15 to 20 percent slower. The same runner will slow down a similar amount going from a 10K to a half-marathon, and then again from a half-marathon to a marathon, and so on. Without understanding this rule of thumb, most runners don’t know how much they should slow down in a marathon as compared to shorter races. As a result, they inevitably go out too fast in the first half of the race.

Coach Joe’s Tip: An easy way to understand your true marathon pace is to run a 5K race and then use a race result prediction tool to calculate what your goal pace should be for the marathon. After figuring out that pace, practice it during training and then run it from start to finish on race day.

2. They haven’t trained enough at the right pace.

Understanding your target marathon pace early on is important because it gives you time to practice running that pace. Doing so forms the muscle memory needed to repeat that action over and over again. On race day, you want your goal pace to feel natural, rather than foreign. Keep in mind that varying your running pace by just 15 to 20 seconds a mile requires big changes to your step rate (or cadence), stride length and gait – patterns you don’t want your body to default to during the race.

Coach Joe’s Tip: Spend time practicing your target marathon pace in training. Each week, aim to complete one progressively longer run (increasing the distance by 2 miles every other week until you get to 18 miles) and one shorter run (4 to 6 miles) at your marathon goal pace. Try to also run 18 consecutive miles at that pace at least twice while training for the race.
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5 Factors That Make or Break a Workout

Runners experience many ups and downs as they go through the days and weeks of their training routines. Some days feel great. Other days? Well, not so much. If you ever find yourself scratching your head wondering why your last run felt so horrible, ask yourself these five questions to shed light on the possible reasons:

1. What did you do in your workout yesterday?

Runner1Much of what dictates your energy levels during runs is related to where your body is in the recovery process from previous workouts. The first question I ask myself when I’m feeling particularly crummy is, “What did I do yesterday?” An especially long run or taxing speed workout can require at least 24 hours of recovery time. Depending on a runner’s level of fitness, this amount of time can stretch out to 48 hours or even longer. It’s important for runners to keep track of their workouts and to try to keep some space between the longest and hardest ones. When not fully recovered, most runners have difficulty achieving their workout goals.

Coach Joe’s Tip: Try to spread long runs and speed workouts across the week, placing two to three days between your hardest speed or “quality” workouts. Completing two intense, quality workouts in a week is a good goal for most runners.

2. What did you eat yesterday?

The energy you put into your body in the form of food also affects your energy level. The food you eat before your workouts gives you energy to fuel them, while what you eat after workouts provides you the tools you need to recover. If runners don’t eat enough carbohydrates the day and morning before workouts, they’ll be low on fuel. Without fuel, there’s no energy. And, if they don’t eat enough protein after their workouts, they’ll hamper the body’s ability to recover properly.

Coach Joe’s Tip: Runners should plan their eating to support their workout needs. Aim to eat complex carbohydrates (including bread, rice and pasta) the night before a long workout. Eat or drink at least 15 grams of protein – about the amount in a container of yogurt – in the first hour after a workout to give your body a better chance to recover.
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A Super Charged Recovery Waffle Recipe #running #triathlon

running-advice-bugIn my video this week on post-workout recovery foods I mentioned our Super Changed Recovery Waffle Recipe. In this post you’ll find the recipe and directions for making them!

SuperchargedThe background on these waffles goes something like this. Our 8 year-old loved waffles (as do many kids) but we wanted to see if we could pump up the nutritional value in them for him. Adding things like protein and greens in foods that your kids actually like is a real bonus after all. What we found is that he liked these so much that they became his favorite breakfast item. Corrin actually came up with the idea and thus they became known as “Coco Loves you Waffles” in our house.

These waffles keep really well in the fridge. After making a batch, I put them in plastic bags and they keep for up to a week. They can be popped into the toaster and ready in a minute or two. This makes them great a recovery breakfast item after a long run, when I’m too tired to think about cooking and want something hearty in a hurry. These waffles are high in protein, which will help speed your recovery.

Surround the waffles with a glass of milk, some breakfast meat and some fruit to get yourself ready for your day.

Here’s the recipe:

Coco Loves You Waffles
1/3 cup Inspiration Mixes Ol’ Fashioned Pancake and Waffle Mix
1/3 cup VEGA Proteins and Greens Vanilla Flavor Powder
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla or gluten-free vanilla
3 eggs or egg substitute
3 tablespoons oil
3/4 cup milk or milk alternative (e.g. soy, almond, coconut)

Whisk together the vanilla, eggs, oil and milk. Add waffle mix and VEGA powder. Let stand for 1 minute. Scoop about 1/3 cup of batter into your waffle maker and cook for 3-4 minutes.

This amount makes about 3-4 large waffles in our waffle maker. The amount will vary depending on how much batter goes into your waffle trays.

Eat while hot. Let the left-overs cool. Place leftovers in plastic bags and refrigerate. Reheat in the toaster when ready to eat.

A note on gluten. I use a gluten-free waffle mix, because my son is gluten-intolerant. You can likely use a regular waffle mix, but I haven’t tried that myself.

We hope you enjoy!

Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA & RUN Time


Training — How Long Should I Wait Until I Can Try Again?

running-advice-bugWe have another version of a common question this week. Often people want to know when they can run a second marathon after they’ve hit the wall and fully depleted themselves. Crystal writes in asking the question in a different way- when an injury crops up early in the marathon, when can you take another swing at it. Here’s Crystal’s question:

“I just ran my first marathon. Was projecting 4:30 and was on pace to do so when my knee blew out (likely ITBS) and I had to limp/walk the second half and finished in a horrible 5:30. I know I can do better and want to do another marathon in 2 months from the first. If I take 2 weeks to heal and start training again, do you think another marathon is feasible? I know the general advice esp. for newbies is not to pack too many marathons into a short period of time, but given my knee issue, I couldn’t run for half the marathon and I actually don’t feel that spent. Any advice would be much appreciated!”

First, let’s review the differences between this question and the one that I posed above. In the more typical case, the runner has run to the point of fatigue and usually has hit the proverbial wall in their race. The desire then is to get back out there and try again. In those cases, the answer has to do with the length of the recovery from that first race. In most cases, runners recover within 2-6 weeks from a marathon, but that number is highly dependent upon how deeply the runner tapped into their reserves — or exceeded them. In other words, the bigger the bonk, the longer the recovery. In some cases it can take months to recover fully from a marathon in which the runner has pushed themselves far beyond their limits, for example in a case where the runner suffered severe dehydration or heat illness. The mental damage can take even longer to heal from incidents like these.

But let’s take a look at Crystal’s situation in a bit more detail. Here, Crystal suffered an injury and only actually ran the first half of the marathon. While the second half was a struggle for her, it most likely didn’t fatigue her to the point that running the whole marathon would have. This is why she says that she actually doesn’t “feel that spent.” Provided that Crystal completed a full complement of training for this race (meaning she made it through one or more 20 mile runs successfully) and was trained and ready to go, then she had the fitness there to complete the race. So the typical recovery from a marathon gone bad may not be that much of an issue here.
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Training — How Slow Should My Long-Slow Distance Runs be?

running-advice-bugA runner named Gina writes in with a very common question that has to do with pacing in the longest runs in a marathon training plan. Here’s the question and my answer:

I think I’m running too fast on my shorter training runs and I don’t know a) if that’s a problem and b) how to force myself to slow down. According to the McMillan running calculator my tempo runs shouldn’t be faster than an 8:38 and my easy runs should be between 9:36 and 10:06. I pretty much have to force myself to stay at a 9-minute mile for the majority of my runs–even those that get near 11-12 miles. When I run a 10-minute mile I feel like I’m going backwards. Part of this is definitely that I’m pressed for time and part of it is that I just like to run fast (a relative term, but fast for me!).

In fact, many running plans suggest that their runners slow down between 1 to 2 minutes per mile when they doing their longer/slower runs. These runs are usually called the “long/slow distance runs” and this pace may also be used in other “recovery” runs. The idea here is three fold:
1) To maximize the amount of time that you spend out on your runs — because if you can slow the runner down and make what would be a 2 1/2 hour run last 3 hours that’s 30 more minutes logged on the feet. This means that on race day, you will have run closer to the amount of time that you’ll be expecting to run in the race, but with less effort.
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Training — What Causes Race Day Fatigue?

running-advice-bugA reader named Sarah wrote in with a question about a marathon that didn’t unfold quite as she had expected. After her training going well with three long runs of 20 miles or more and plenty of other miles, she came into the race prepared but then something went wrong. As Sarah writes:

“I really struggled with sleep the week before the marathon. Was particularly anxious and just keyed up for some reason. I traveled with friends and we stayed at a hotel. I woke up Marathon morning feeling okay, but I didn’t have my usual nervous excitement. I was excited about running, but it just felt different. I knew my training was good, but my taper was terrible with the bad sleep and anxiousness. So we get to the race and I started and felt okay. It takes a few miles for me to lock in and get that “i can run forever” feeling. Well, mile 5 comes and goes and it’s not locking in so much. Mile 8 comes and I’m starting to panic because everything feels incredibly heavy and the thought of running the full seems to be very daunting at this point. My legs felt like I was carrying 20 pound weights on each leg. I tried getting my mental game on to get me though it, but it wasn’t happening and I was struggling…”

So the question is what went wrong on race day. It would be easy to say that the fact that Sarah struggled with her sleep the week before the race might have had something to do with her performance, but I don’t think this is really the culprit. It is fairly typical for marathon runners not to sleep well for a few days before their key races and this has been shown in research to have little impact on their marathon performances. There are a few other things here that seem more likely to have come into play.

There are two likely causes for what amounts to an unusual fatigue on race day and both of them have to do with the taper portion of the marathon training cycle. The first is a lack of recovery from the longest training runs that come right before the taper and the second is a taper that doesn’t include enough speed work to keep the body “fresh and fast” going into the race. Let’s look at both of these in turn.
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Training — How do I adjust for a long run gone bad?

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

Corinne from Idaho wrote to me with a common question that involves a run that doesn’t quite work out as planned and then dealing with the after math. While her question is quite specific, I’ll provide some of the essence of it from her note:

I ran 18 miles last week [in preparation for an upcoming marathon]. I was scheduled for 20 miles this week, but, due to weather issues, pushed it to today. . . .I thought I was full of energy and ready to run today, and I’ve gotten to 8 and I’m burned out. I feel tired and worn out, and I’m freaking out because the marathon is so close. What do I do? Do I give my body some rest and shoot for 20 on Sunday? When I have a bad running day I get so discouraged thinking I’m doing a crappy job.

What’s happening to Corinne is that the timing of her long runs isn’t giving her enough time to recover and the results are very discouraging for her. As you see from her question, she ran 18 miles last week and then had been scheduled to run 20 this week. That means that she had planned to increase her mileage from something lower to 18 and then to 20 again on back-to-back long runs. The crash in energy is most likely due to a lack of recovery time between the two runs.

What’s really important here is the spacing (or recovery) between the longest workouts at the macro level. We talk a lot about the recovery needed on a daily basis between workouts — which we’d consider to be at the micro level” — but here we’re talking about the longer recovery cycle between our longest workouts. For a long workout of 18+ miles for most people, runners need to plan about two weeks between those runs for full recovery. When a runner attempts to very long runs in less time than that, we usually would expect what Corinne described — the runner feels great going in, but then bonks along the way. The body simply wasn’t ready to go again and decided to cut its losses.
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Question — How many miles to make a marathon ‘just another run’?

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

Here’s a question that came in from a reader named Bridgette:

“How many miles do you have to run each week to make a marathon ‘just another run’?”

Well Bridgette, good question. Let me start by interpreting the phrase ‘just another run’ to mean not needing much recovery from the marathon. So I think what you’re asking is how many miles you need to run to be able to have a quick recovery from a marathon.

Let’s approach this first by saying that the number of miles that you run each week isn’t going to be the determining factor here. The issue that will dictate how quickly you recover from the marathon is the intensity that you run the miles and then the effort level at which the marathon is run.
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Training — Why am I struggling late in my training season?

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

A reader named Jessica writes in with a great question that sounds all too familiar:

I am two months away from my first marathon – and I feel like I am becoming a worse runner. My runs are becoming more difficult, even in the beginning. The first 4 miles feels like torture. Its ruining my confidence. Is there anything I can do to loosen up my legs prior to a long run?

The first thing to keep in mind Jessica is that late in the season runners often begin to struggle. This is due to the fact that your training is cumulative in nature. You’ve likely been training consistently for a number of weeks or months and your body hasn’t had a chance to recover from those workouts completely. This is the nature of training: we place the body under stress and the body reacts to that stress by growing and adapting to the physical load being placed upon it. However, it takes awhile for this adaptation to happen. So while the workouts are complete, the process of adapting to them goes on long afterward. In this time, you are continuing to train and this is the source of much of the fatigue.

The second thing to keep in mind is that it can take as much as two to three weeks or more to see the benefit of any one particular run. As your long run distances have been increasing, again, you’ve continued to train and your body is racing to recover and adapt to the workouts. It’s in this recovery and adaptation period that you’re feeling fatigued and tired, which makes you feel like your going backwards in your training, rather than forward.

Another thing that you mention is the fact that it seems to be taking longer to warm-up at the start of runs. Again, this is normal as the season progresses. It isn’t uncommon to take 10 miles to really loosen up when your long runs get really long. This is in part due to the fatigue that we’ve already talked about, but it is also part of the adaptation itself. You’re training yourself to go longer, so the body takes a bit long to get all of its processes spun up during a long workout.
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Video — Tapering for the Marathon

running-advice-bugIt’s time for Episode 16 in our series and this time we’re at a new location: our backyard pool. No, this one’s not about swimming or cross-training, but we’re talking about recovery for the next couple of weeks. We kick off this section of our discussion talking about tapering for the marathon.

In this episode:
— What’s a taper?
— Does everyone need to taper?
— How long should a taper be?
— What should you do during the taper?
— Was Coach Dean’s year-long taper a good idea?

This video is part of our Desert Series, in which Coaches Joe English and Dean Hebert get their lips smackin’ about all things marathon running. There are over 30 episodes in the series and they come out every week on

To watch the video, just click the play button in the video window below.

There’s much more coming. We’ve filmed over 30 episodes in this series and we’ll be rolling them out each week. To visit our video page with links to all of the episodes in the series, click here.

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