Tired, sore, feeling like marathon training is taking over your life… yes, folks, we are reaching the peak weeks of fall marathon training. With big stops on the racing calendar in Berlin, Chicago, Toronto and NYC just weeks away, I tried to reflect on what has gotten me through the toughest weeks of training in the past. That’s right, we’re talking about finding your mental edge.

Over the past few weeks and months, we’ve shared our thoughts on recovery and nutrition, two key components no matter where you are your training. But when you’re deep in the trenches of marathon training, because yes, it can feel like that, I’m turning to my mental process and approach at this time of year — what I am doing to motivate myself to get out the door, to stay focused, and to enjoy the process. The one thing I keep coming back to is visualization, specifically race day. Whether I’m grinding through a tough patch in a long run or plodding along on an easy recovery run, I often find my mind wandering back to race day.

Running has become so much more than training your body, with so many in the running community talking about how they gain a mental edge. Heck, the world marathon record holder, Eliud Kipchoge, countlessly refers to his mental game and approach when asked about his success, yet he rarely talks about the actual running.

When your mind sees you accomplish a task, it begins creating the neural pathways to have it come to fruition. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy at its finest. The more you visualise, and the more senses you add to the experience, the more convinced your subconscious will be that you can accomplish a difficult task.” 

— Deena Kastor

 

So, how exactly do I practice visualization?

Start by setting aside a few minutes in your day to visualize both race situations, and carry these scenarios into your training sessions. Whether you’re pushing up the hills in Vancouver or battling the heat and humidity of the East Coast, all of these scenarios playing out in training offer the perfect opportunity to flex your mental strength to successfully run through anything on race day.

Be realistic — There is no guarantee as to how you are going to feel on race day. Visualize yourself both pushing through the suffering and having a great day. What do you need to tell yourself to get out of that deep, dark hole? Or better yet, what will help you find that extra gear if you’re having a good day?

Visualize the course — look over course maps, and create routes in training that mimic the terrain you will experience on race day. Overcoming these obstacles in practice will help prevent any panic on race day and allow you to focus on other more important variables.

Relax — When sitting down to visualize, give yourself the best shot of making them realistic by creating the space you need to get in the zone. Whether that’s sitting in a quiet room, or heading out for a recovery run, do what you need to get into a calm space (breath deeply, calm your mind, think positively).

“Learning to take control of your thoughts begins with paying attention. Then, ask yourself if your mindset is serving you in the best way possible and begin playing with your words and tone.” — Deena Kastor

We’ve sprinkled in some quotes from one of running’s greatest, Deena Kastor. If you’re looking for a read to get you in the zone come race day, her book Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory is a great place to start.

Some other books we love are Grit by Angela Duckworth and The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremo. While these are resources we love, what works for you is going to be very personal. We highly encourage you to take some time to explore what’s out there for yourself and develop your own practice for finding your mental edge.

 

“What’s the most difficult part of coaching?” 


This question from my massage therapist (that interrupted my daydreaming) is still lingering as I stare at the shifty ceiling fan above me. Ceiling fans never quit. They will go on and on and on until someone makes them stop. Or they break on their own. They have different speeds of intensity, and if left stagnant, they collect dust. The answer to his question is so clear to me — it’s holding people back from this same relentless spinning around and around and around. Yep, this is an oversimplified analogous take on running but I do believe there’s so much we can learn from the world around us if we pay attention.

There are many overworked concepts tossed around in running circles. “Recovery” is high on this list. By definition, recovery is the process of regaining health. Intellectually we understand its importance and why it exists, and yet, athletes can take this simple principle for granted.

Culturally, we see social media or watercooler conversations celebrate suffering and long hard efforts. This happens in both the workplace and in training. Sure, we should all want to work hard to get where we’re going, but heck, we can’t do much when we’re going full tilt exhausted, under fuelled, sleep-deprived, and crossing that blurry line into burnout. Muhammad Ali is a great teacher in this regard: “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

Like Ali, there are far too many great thinkers out there to write another list of the strategies to recover well. The experts can do that. If you want to start somewhere in understanding what we need as humans when it comes to slowing down or dialing it up, go read Brad Stulberg’s Twitter feed (he says it like it is).

What I can add to this discussion is my own personal experience. Amusingly, as I looked at when to carve away time to write my thoughts for this post, I was up against recovering from a long solo 38k run around Manhattan. Nothing like being in the work to empathize with those you’re writing for. Recovery for me looks like getting high-calorie food and fluids in my body immediately after this type of effort. Sometimes I’ll use a foam roller, sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I’ll plug in the heating pad for my legs, sometimes I won’t. I try to spend as much time as possible off my feet and do something that’s unrelated to running. Lastly, and most importantly, recovery is sleep. I don’t bargain with sleep and I don’t stress about it. (I know there are parents reading this and your sleep patterns will surely look different). With the influx of apps and companies out there selling sleep these days, this essential human behaviour can become overwhelming and stressful. That is counterproductive. For a solid take on sleep, listen to Matthew Walker, a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.

To add a few other practical ideas, when I started working with Dylan he was the first recognize that I couldn’t turn around from a hard Sunday long run and do a workout on a Tuesday. That’s not the athlete I am (I need more time) and through some trial and error, my hard efforts are very rarely stacked closely together. This is a solid reminder to keep communication open with your coach around how you’re feeling and to note when workouts just don’t seem to feel right. The seven-day training cycle is arbitrary and definitely not a one size fits all strategy.

As a lifelong dabbler in a broad range of sports, my athletic experience is deep enough to know that everything worth doing takes time. And in some cases, this has meant taking months away from running after a big marathon to fully recharge (physically and mentally) and focus on other things. All of my athletes take time off formal training after their marathons to prolong their passion and development in the sport.

So, back to that looming question from the RMT, yes, one of my greatest challenges as a coach continues to be helping athletes recognize when to turn off or ramp up. Just like that darn ceiling fan, every speed serves a purpose. On the flip side of this, some of the most meaningful moments as a coach have come when an athlete displayed the self-awareness to take a step back to recharge so they could show up for their family, work and future training in all of the right ways. Those are the big wins.

Recovery isn’t just about running, life is busy and full, having the ability to share what’s going on in your life with your coach is essential to creating an effective individualized training plan. The same goes for sharing your running goals with your colleagues so that they can understand you a bit more. Empathy, perspective, and communication are everything here.

Let’s keep pushing the dialogue that rest is not counter to work, it’s part of it.

Yours in running,

Coach Kate

When programming the Long Run for our athletes, it can often be met with fear and trepidation. Like it or not, the long run is the key ingredient in a marathon training plan. To help work back some of that fear, and help you master the art of the long run, we’re shedding some light on key components of this workout:

  • the purpose;
  • different approaches;
  • and some key considerations

The Purpose

There are a ton of physiological benefits and adaptations that your body will make during and after a long run that are hard to mimic otherwise. One of the most important purposes of the long run is teaching your body to burn fat and spare those oh so precious glycogen stores. You’ll also achieve increases in mitochondrial volume and capillaries inside your muscle fibers and a few other fancy scientific things. It also gives you the best opportunity to work on your running economy at or near marathon race pace. And then there’s the mind – the long run will test your mental strength, focus, and determination like nothing else. All of these components are attempts to prepare you for battle during the final 10-12k of the marathon, when both our body and mind start saying “No. Please, No.”

So, what’s the best way to achieve all of these wondrous effects and outcomes of running long?

There is so much information out there and so many types of long runs people are doing, it can be hard to figure out which are most effective for you. We see two main types of long runs as being important in everyone’s marathon training plan:

  1. The Long ‘Easy’ Run
  2. The Marathon Pace Long Run

The Long ‘Easy’ Run

The main purpose of this long run is spending time on your feet and your goals are to teach the body to burn fat efficiently and callus your legs and mind to running on tired legs.

For the long easy run, you should run aim to maintain about the same pace the entire run. That pace should be in the ‘easy’ or aerobic zone.

These runs will be your longest of the training cycle, and depending on your experience and ability level can build up to be as far as 40k. Yes, you’ll be out there for a while, so grab some friends or some good tunes and get ready to roll.

There’s nothing easy about the long run at a consistent, but easy pace. You should be well prepared for these runs and the test they will put on you mentally and physically. But remember all of those fancy scientific adaptations you’re going to be making while out there and how they’ll benefit you at the end of the day.

The long easy run should be done at most every other week. On the weeks in between, we recommend the Marathon Pace long run or some variation of it.

The Marathon Pace Long Run

You heard us correctly, this one is all about running at or near to marathon race effort for long sustained durations of time.

Don’t worry, you won’t go nearly as long at marathon pace as you will during your long easy run. We recommend tapping out at 90minutes or 25k of running at marathon effort. Any longer than that and you risk injury. When you tack on a 15-30min warmup and cooldown, you’ll still end up with a big day of work on these type of runs.

The goals of these runs are to teach your body to manage fuel and run economically. When running at this faster pace, your muscles are going to be eating up your glycogen stores at much faster rates than when you’re running long easy. These workouts, especially the final 30minutes of them, most closely mimic how your body will react in the later stages of the marathon. What better opportunity to practice your race-day fueling strategy than on these runs.

Before you lace up and hit the roads, there are a few more things to consider that will set you up for success.

  1. Recovery – if the best workout to conquer the marathon is the long run, why not run long every damn day? Besides probably not having enough time in your day to do so, the long run also takes time to recover from. We often say that a long run ‘stays in the legs’ for 7-10 days. But, that doesn’t mean you should take every day between the long run off or very easy, which leads us to the next point….

  2. The big picture – although we’re talking up the long run as the most important type of run during marathon training, it’s far less effective if it’s the ONLY run you do. Our point is that the long run is most effective when part of a well-rounded training plan, that includes an adequate amount of weekly running volume and to a lesser extent intensity. We often see people sacrificing training runs throughout the week in order to ‘rest up’ or ‘save their legs’ for the long run. But this common practice can often hinder the effectiveness of the long run. The long run is most effective when approached on tired legs, or at least legs that aren’t fresh as a daisy.

  3. Fuelling – You’ve heard of hitting the wall, right?  Sure, the science tells us that the human body only stores enough glycogen to get through ~2hrs of aerobic activity. But through a combination of your training and practicing taking on fuel (to replace the stored glycogen), you can break through the wall. All long runs should be viewed as an important opportunity to practice fuelling.