Written by Laurel Richardson

Hidden Traps in Goal Setting

For every wild goal set, there are countless articles and resources on the topic. And if you’re reading this now, the chances of you already being an ambitious goal-setter, whether it be in sports, in life or in both is pretty high.

I’ll start by sharing a personal story. I share this because your time and energy are your greatest resources and I know that if you set a goal you’ll go after it full speed, pun intended, which is why your goals better be meaningful to you. Otherwise you’ll be squandering these resources instead of spending your time on something you really care about brings you personal satisfaction. 

Years ago, I set a goal to run 30 marathons before I was 30. I was 24 at the time and I’d run 1. I told everyone about it. They were so impressed. I wore that goal around like a badge of honor. I simultaneously over and undertrained for it and ran a whole 1 marathon more. When people asked about how it was going, I lied and said it was great, but in truth, I was tired, and stressed and quite frankly, uninterested. I realized my excitement in the sound of 30 before 30 didn’t outweigh that I made that goal for all the wrong reasons.  I made it up because I wanted something that gave me structure, sounded cool and made me stand out. This goal wasn’t inherently bad, but it wasn’t the right one for me. From the outside, no one can tell your goals are right for you, but you can, especially if you look out for these common traps in goal setting. 

Shoulding Yourself

Please solemnly swear not to set goals because you feel like you have to. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking the seemingly logical next step, i.e. half-marathon to full marathon, or forcing yourself to pursue something because that’s what other people are doing or that’s what you would’ve done in the past. Look out for this especially after you’ve just completed a big race or achievement. If you’re not ready to jump back in, physically or mentally (pursuing something big takes both!), give yourself that time. 

If a goal starts with, I really should… Stop. Don’t should yourself.

Chasing Just a Number

Look, we’re all chasing numbers – paces, best times, placements, distance milestones, kudos – that’s the wonderful simplicity of running. Let these numbers propel you, but also explore why you want them and what they mean to you. You don’t need to justify it to anyone else, but be clear on the driver of this pursuit of a number. The driver will continue to motivate and move you forward, whether you achieve it or not.

Ask yourself: What about achieving this is important to me? (i.e. personal pride, because this number is the culmination of all the time I choose to dedicate and carve out for myself, because I want to show my kids that anything is possible, etc.) Almost any reason is a good reason, just make sure you have one.

Seeking Approval

Who hasn’t chased something because it sounds impressive? There’s nothing wrong with setting big goals that you find impressive, the trap here is catching when you set goals primarily because you think other people will be impressed. By default, they probably will, but it’s likely not enough of a reason that will be meaningful to you in the long term. On a tough run by yourself in bad weather, you won’t care if you’re impressive.

Ask yourself, if no one knew or was interested in me achieving this, would I still pursue it? If I never got another kudos, would it stop me in any way?

 

Being a Groupie

Choosing goal races with friends is one of my favourite parts of running. Let the group dynamic motivate and inspire, while also maintaining clarity on what you personally want. Maybe this is the year to do a group trip to a destination marathon, but maybe it isn’t. When you do this, just make sure there is something independently yours as well. 

Ask yourself, would I do it alone? There’s no question of IF you could do it alone, it’s WOULD you do it alone. We’re better together, but you alone are stronger than you know.

Choosing Someone Else’s Trajectory

“That person in my group is suddenly faster. I should be that fast too. That person raced almost every weekend. I can do that too.” 

We’ve all had this internal dialogue. Take inspiration from what others have made possible, but don’t compare or copy too closely. You are unique, and your background and trajectory are different too. Using someone else (even if that someone is just you from a different time in your life) as your success metric will do one of two things:

  1. It could hold you back from surpassing what you think you are capable of based on what they are capable of. 
  2. It could cause you impatience and resentment towards yourself for not reaching your arbitrary expectations.

Reflect on your goals and how you came up with them. If it’s by way of someone else’s achievements, continue to check in on whether it’s still a good fit for you. 

Letting it take care of itself

With a strong purpose and a clear goal. You still need tangible means to get there. Seek an overarching plan that works back from your goal from the day you want to achieve it to right now. Remember that your goal isn’t someday, it’s an actual day, so the little wins and decisions you make today will help you get there. 

Consider setting habit-based goals that you can start now. If you have a coach, this is something they can support you with too.

Let’s keep this goal conversation going as you head into 2020.

While we would love to stick to the roads year-round, it’s not always possible depending on where you live. Cities like Ottawa and Edmonton are known for their hard-hitting winters, and many of our athletes will have to resort to running on the treadmill to safely fit their workouts in.

When to take your workout indoors

We are most often asked when is it too cold to run outside. There isn’t really a temperature that we set the limits at. You aren’t going to do damage to your lungs by breathing in the air at temps that most of us experience from coast to coast in Canada. If you dress appropriately you should be okay running outdoors at temps as low as -30C. 

Our biggest concern when it comes to deciding whether to brave the elements or stay inside is the footing. If the ground underfoot is terrible because of ice, black ice, any colour ice and you risk falling and busting yourself we think the treadmill is a pretty decent option. It’s also a pretty good idea if there is a blizzard and you can’t see 5 inches in front of your face. Running outside might not be safe in those conditions, so break out a singlet and shorts and head inside.

If you’re taking your workout indoors and don’t have a backyard fitness shed, start with your local gym. Be aware that most gyms have a 20-30 minute maximum time use. Best case, try to find one where there is no limit at all, but be warned many treadmills shut down automatically after 60 minutes. I learned this the hard way, by falling on my face when the treadmill stopped dead unannounced!

But how do I run on the treadmill vs. outside?

The same way you run when you are outside, one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again. Some pro-tips: 

  • Do not try to change your running gait in any way. It might take a minute or two to find your groove on the tmill, and even though it might feel strange, your gait should be more or less the same as it is running outside.
  • Load up your mp3 player (remember those!) or phone with a good mix of tunes or a few podcasts. Some of our coaches’ favourite shows include ESPN 30 for 30, the morning shakeout podcast, and The Rich Roll Podcast to name a few.
  • It’s always shorts and singlet weather! Inevitably it’s going to get much hotter on the treadmill than out in the winter air and snow. Just as you want to dress properly for the colder temperatures, you’ll want to adjust for indoors. That means wearing shorts and a singlet, even if it might feel cool to start. You’ll thank us later.
  • Next, set up a fan if you’re using your home set-up or get on a treadmill at the gym that is close to a fan or air vents. 
  • Lastly, especially for workouts with pace work or long runs, bring a water bottle to stay hydrated. And while you’re at it, bring a towel to wipe off the ridiculous amount of sweat that you will expire.

But what about adding intensity?

Go by effort in the early going and always err on the slow side for everything from easy runs to hard workouts. If you try to match your outdoor running paces while running on the treadmill you’ll likely run into some troubles. Whether it is mechanics or comfort level or treadmill running conditions, what someone can handle outside and on the mill do not always correlate. Give yourself a big range of goal paces/expectations in your first few workouts. After a handful of easy runs and a few workouts you should be able to match your treadmill paces to the appropriate intensity efforts (ie, easy run, tempo run, etc). But, don’t bother comparing your indoor running self to your outdoor running self, this is a recipe for overdoing it/hating the treadmill.

Depending on the treadmill, you’ll need to be able to convert your paces/effort to miles per hour or kilometres per hour. We often refer to this website to help us with the conversions. While there are a bunch of cheat sheets out there that can help you, it’s best to shift to thinking about your running in terms of duration (ie minutes), rather than distance (ie kilometres or miles). There isn’t any science behind this, it’s just something that from our experience helps with both the logistics of prescribing workouts and helping to breakdown the time on the treadmill into manageable chunks.

Not all treadmills are calibrated properly or the same. Two identical side-by-side treadmills at a gym may not be calibrated the same. That being said, do your best to get on the same one time and time again.

Into the weeds: vary your approach depending on the workout

Easy runs

Set the incline to 0.5-1%. Although the research is mixed on this, we believe that setting the treadmill at this slight incline best mimics running outdoors. 

Add some variety by adding in a few hills throughout the run or a bit of a progression. Don’t up the incline or pace so much that it turns the easy run into a harder workout, but enough to keep things interesting and help pass the time.

Examples:

  • 1-2min @ 3% every 5minutes of the run, starting 15minutes into the run.      
  • increase speed by 0.1mph every 5minutes.

 

Workouts

Tempo runs 

These should be your go-to workouts on the treadmill. Even if you get a stretch of bad weather and are forced to be on the treadmill for weeks on end, the majority of your workouts should be tempo effort type workouts. 

Examples:

Break up tempo pieces, even with some short little breaks. You will need the breaks mentally as much as physically. The physiological gains really won’t be all that different than a continuous tempo. For example, Instead of 45min straight do 3 x 15min with 1min recovery. 

Tempo runs that have progression built into them are also a great option. Try 3×9 minutes, broken into 3/3/3min, increasing the paces by 0.Xmph at the 3 and 6-minute marks of each interval.

Interval workouts:

You’ll really need to tweak your recoveries on the treadmill compared to the traditional interval workouts you’d do outdoors. When coach Tony Tomsich was coaching at the University of Alaska he would have his athletes jump off the treadmill for their recoveries between intervals. This prevents you from having to speed up and slow down the treadmill for the recoveries and provides a nice mental reprieve. 

If you’re too afraid to attempt jumping off and on for recoveries be sure to add at least 30seconds to your usual recovery times, to account for the time to slow down and speed up the treadmill. The key to getting your heart rate down and getting a proper recovery in between each interval is to go really really slow, like almost walking pace. This will allow you to get your heart rate down and ready to nail the intervals. We don’t recommend doing intervals shorter than 90seconds. You’ll just spend too much time pressing buttons and changing paces. Instead, pick workouts where you can hit a good intensity but that aren’t so long as to be too hard mentally.

Ex: 8 x 3minutes at 10k pace (2minutes recovery)

Above all else, the treadmill takes some getting used to, so be patient and don’t be afraid to reach out to one of our coaches if you’re in need of some guidance. If you’re one of those winter warriors who like to battle the winter conditions, check out our guide to winter running before hitting the roads.

While winters are mild in Vancouver, where Mile2Marathon first started, that’s not the case for the rest of Canada. With the eastern provinces getting hit with colder temperatures and ample snowfall, winter running can be a challenge. You may already be looking out your window at a winter wonderland.

If that’s the case don’t be discouraged, many great long distances runners have trained through a great Canadian winter. How does the saying go…. “what doesn’t break you, will make you stronger.” While that’s true and good motivation to get you through the winter, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure you bound through the snow without setback. 

Be safe 

Injuring yourself by slipping and falling is a concern with winter running conditions. Sometimes the road is cleared better than sidewalks, and you’ll be relegated to running on the roads. Try to find quiet roads to run on.  Be sure to run against traffic so you can see what’s coming at you. Snowbanks can get very high after a few snowstorms and drivers may not be able to see you crossing the road. Pay extra attention at intersections and when drivers are turning right. Wear a headlamp and reflective gear when running at night. It’s as important to both be seen and be able to see. 

Modify your footwear

For running in the winter, you’ll want to swap your footwear for an option that provides a better grip while running on snow. There is a wide range of winter running shoes available, most with a Goretex or similar weatherproof upper and a grippy outsole to give you better traction on snow and ice. If you want to use your regular shoes, there are some traction devices that can allow you to do that. Yaktrax is a popular choice, however, these can cause some modifications to your gait that may cause new overuse issues. Another option is to put good old fashion 3/8″ sheet metal screws in the bottom of an older pair of runners or in shoes specifically designed for this, like the Saucony Mad River TR. This option is only recommended if your entire running route is going to be on packed snow or ice, like the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. Nearly 8km in one direction, you should all come to check it out this winter! 

Plan your route 

here are several things to consider when planning your run that you don’t really have to think much about during other times of the year. Since you may be relegated to running on the roads, try to plan a route that is in a low traffic area, this is one instance in which living in the ‘burbs may be an advantage. You should also plan out an approximate time or distance for your route, nothing worse than running too long or far in the snow. You should also be conscious of the wind direction. Start your run into the wind and try to finish with it at your back. If you run with the wind at your back during the first part of your run you’ll get hot and sweaty and then when you run into the wind during the second part of your run you’ll get cold very quickly. 

Dress appropriately

Layering is very important in winter. We recommend a windproof outer layer, and insulated and wicking mid-layer that moves sweat away from the skin. Your body temperature increases with running so dress for conditions that are warmer than it is. You should feel chilled when you go out, but your body temperature will increase and you’ll warm up quickly. If you’re heading out during the early mornings or into the evening, add a reflective outer layer and a headlamp to ensure you’re seen. 

Don’t be afraid to adjust 

When the snow is too deep or the weather is simply too horrendous to do any safe, quality running it’s better to adjust your scheduled training for the day, by either cutting your run short, finding an alternative, or pushing your workout off til a better day. It’s better to alter the schedule a little bit in this way than try to push through and potentially end up slipping and falling and tweaking a muscle that then hampers you for weeks or months afterward. 

Pay close attention to any aches & pains

Speaking of tweaking a muscle, you have to read your body really well when running on snow and ice. There’s a good chance that you’ll be a bit sore the day after running on snow, especially loose snow. Running on loose snow is similar to running on sand, it requires the use of many more stabilizing muscles than running on solid surfaces. So, if you’re sore the day after running on loose snow, it may not be reason for huge concern, as you’re waking up some stabilizers that have been dormant for a while. But, if you feel a particular muscle getting tighter and tighter during exercise, this may be more serious and cause for concern. So, tread carefully…

When in doubt, hit the treadmill

This is always an option that we don’t want to deter you from. Sometimes the elements just aren’t worth braving, and a run on the treadmill is a better option.  If you find your mind starts to wander or you bore easily on the treadmill, throw on some tunes or your favourite podcast to help pass the time. We promise the treadmill isn’t all bad. 

“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

There are hundreds of resources with advice on pregnancy, exercising while pregnant, postpartum comebacks. It’s a lot. As a team committed to coaching many women who are also parents with full lives outside fo their running shoes, we set out a couple of months ago to hear from our own community.

Vancouver athlete and physiotherapist, Steph, was kind enough to share her story of running through pregnancy. More than 30 weeks in, she reflects on what she believes has allowed her to continue to run, feel good, and what she’ll consider when thinking about her postpartum comeback.

It’s been over 30 weeks running while pregnant and I have to say so far so good! I may have slowed down, dropped my miles and the faces in my pace group have changed, but I’m still out here, and couldn’t be happier. Since the day I found out I was pregnant I’ve treated every day I get to run as a gift, not a given (which is a really good lesson, pregnant or not) and my M.O has been to listen to my body.

At first, running really helped with my nausea, and since I’ve run almost my entire life, the guidance from my healthcare providers I could continue as I had been as long as I could still talk during my runs and that I didn’t feel dizzy. I’ve gradually slowed down, taken out a lot of my speed workouts, dropped my weekly mileage from 50-60km to now 30-35, in addition to dropping my paces 1min/km. Every week and every day is different in this whole human growing journey, and it’s been really important to let go of training plans, pace goals, and expectations and to listen to what my body needs.

Early on I added in an extra day of cross-training in the form of weights, pilates or boxing. I’ve always strength and cross-trained at least 1-2 days per week, which I believe is SO important to running strong and staying injury-free… sorry runners, but you can’t just run. I definitely think it’s a huge part of why I’ve avoided some of the common back, hip and joint pain of pregnancy.

Now that I’m into the third trimester and the finish line is in sight (obviously that’s what I’m visualizing), I’ve started to think of what my postpartum journey will look like and plotting my comeback. As much as I’m looking forward to setting some running goals again, my number one goal is to do it safely! I’m not in a hurry. My goal is to run forever and to enjoy it forever which means taking it slow and listening to my body and the experts.

I believe a huge misconception out there is that you can return to running after 6 weeks when your doctor or midwife clears you. However, most OB’s and midwives are looking at the healing of your pelvic floor or cesarean surgery not function which in my opinion, is WAY more important! It’s why I’ve been seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist and why they will be the opinion I’ll follow when it comes to returning to exercise and running.

Recently return to running guidelines have been released (a 40 page doc from PT’s in the UK, US and AUS), and the recommendations from this study, looking at LOTS of expert studies, state that “running is not advised prior to 3 months postnatal or beyond this if any symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction are identified.” Having this information has helped me set expectations on my own return.

As for the rest of my journey, I’m hoping to continue running for as long as possible, but I’m trusting my body (and my physio) to tell me if and when I need to stop. I know running will always be there for me, it’s not going anywhere and neither am I! It may be tedious and involve a lot of patience when it comes to my comeback, but I’ll get there and I know I’ll be back chasing my M2M teammates around the track when my body says it’s ready to go!

Spoiler alert: this is for runners with a marathon goal race.

So you’ve registered for a marathon or your reluctant lottery entry got you into the Berlin, Chicago or New York City Marathon? Good for you! Hopefully, you also have one or two shorter races lined up before you pack your bags. That’s right, we’re talking about tune-up races, people! The purpose, timing and even the distance of tune-up races can vary quite a bit depending on the distance of your goal race. In this case, we’re talking about those 42.2 kilometers of pure exhilaration we call the marathon.

 

Why should I race before my race?

One: It’s fun to know where you’re at. Typically you can figure this out with your coach from your workouts. But a race can be a great (and also fun) indicator, especially if you’re training for the marathon for the first time or you feel like your workouts are at a new level.

Two: It’s the perfect practice environment. It’s so valuable to simulate your marathon pace and you’ll get the chance to practice everything you’ll do race weekend. It’s like a dress rehearsal before the big show. You can wear what you’ll wear in Chicago, eat what you’ll eat in Berlin, fuel like you’ll fuel in Sacramento, and drink water like you’ll drink water in New York freakin’ City. Dialing in on what works and what doesn’t at a tune-up race is not only smart, it is essential.

 

Three: Nothing beats the thrill of racing. We often see athletes so focused on an uninterrupted block of training that they’ll go months without racing and forget what it’s like to race. Hello, logistics and porta-potties! This can create a big mental barrier for athletes come marathon morning. Simply going through the process of pinning on a race bib, getting to the start line, and running in the company of others can be valuable.

When should I race?

Couple things you’ll want to think about and talk through with your coach:

  • How much time you’ll need to recover after the tune-up race?
  • When will the marathon taper begin?
  • How will the race impact your weekly training?

Runners often tackle a half marathon as a tune-up race before a marathon, and typically this is the race distance we will recommend for our athletes. Whether your goal is to run the half marathon all out or as a workout at marathon pace, this distance is most beneficial before your marathon. This will allow you to simulate your plan for the 24 to 48hrs prior to the marathon, with considerations around nutrition (carbo-loading and hydration), racing shoes, racing gear, on-course fuelling, and more.

Common running knowledge says that you shouldn’t race a half within four weeks of a goal marathon. In our experience, however, the best bet is actually five or six weeks out, to prevent any staleness through the final segment of training. But, roll with us here, we would argue that if you’re using a half marathon to practice marathon pace, it can be run within two weeks of a goal marathon. You’ll likely have already started a bit of a taper and 21.1km at your goal marathon race pace is a solid indicator that you’re on track. The danger here is that you will not be disciplined enough to stick to goal marathon pace and run too hard and then fail to recover for the marathon. For this reason, this tactic isn’t our first choice. 

Yo, what about the 5k and 10k?

Talk to your coach. Often these races can replace a weekly workout! We’re 100% on board with shorter tune-up races to simulate a race environment, practice competing, and work on developing a positive mental mindset around race day.

What does my tune-up performance actually mean?

If you’re looking for an indicator of marathon specific fitness, it’s hard to find that perfect race or race distance that does the trick. If you’re in the thick of marathon specific training and knock out a personal best time in a half marathon tune-up that’s likely a good sign that you’re on the right track for marathon race day. The strength and endurance needed for both of these distances are similar. On the flip side, a half marathon is only half the distance of your goal race (that’s high math!). If you haven’t put in the specific training for the marathon, your half marathon tune-up race isn’t likely to indicate a whole lot.

Not all tune-up races will go well. Because sometimes they don’t. This does not mean that your marathon won’t go well. While in the midst of training for a marathon you may be more tired than after the marathon taper, so your legs just might not have that extra pep in their step that you were expecting even though your fitness is high.

Lastly, it’s all about the process when it comes to tune-up races. Make a point to connect with your coach on what makes sense to add or remove from your schedule so that you’re excited about the upcoming season of running. See you on race day!

During a marathon build, we can get so focused on hitting the miles, nailing the workouts and perfecting our recovery routines, that we forget the crucial piece of nailing down our marathon fuelling plan. 

Science tells us that no one can get through 2hrs+ of running without their muscles becoming depleted, and for them to continue to work, we need some kind of fuel. Nike’s famous Breaking2 project put the spotlight on the importance of fuelling, with scientists and athletes heavily invested in finding the perfect fuel and strategies to break the 2-hour barrier. 

Building a fuelling plan

The early weeks of your marathon build provide the perfect opportunity to build a fuelling plan. This means considering what you’re going to use for fuel, how much of it you’re going to take and when you’re going to take it. 

Start with research

Find out what products will be available at your goal race and decide if you want to use that fuel, carry your own, or some combination of the two.

How to pick the right fuel for your marathon training and racing? 

The most common forms of fuel are gels and sports drinks. At the end of the day, all these products are just different combinations of sugars that convert to carbohydrate (CHO). CHO is what your muscles crave and need to keep you going on race day.

Picking your fuel is an extremely individual choice. What works for your training partner might not work for you, so try out a bunch of different products during training to find what you like the taste of and what agrees most with your stomach. Practice taking fuel on your long runs or long tempos, since these best simulate the blood flow through your gut will experience on race day.

We suggest trying the fuelling products (gels and sports drinks) that are available on your race course first, and going from there. If the fuel available at the race doesn’t work for you, try something else that you will carry in the form of gels or blocks and gummies. Though sports drinks can be a great option, they are harder to carry than gels, so unless you’re getting bottles handed to you every 5km, stick to your own fuel or the aid stations.

How much should you be taking in? 

We cannot stress enough how important it is to practice the amount you need to take in. 

We suggest some minimums that you should aim for, based on the grams of carbohydrate in your fuel. This information can be found on the packaging for most products. Focus on consuming at least 30grams of CHO per hour. Most gels have between 20-25 grams of CHO in them, but you’re unlikely to suck out every gram of gel as you frantically stuff it in your face mid-race. 

Rule of thumb: subtract 5grams the number of carbs in your gel and you have what you’re actually getting in. To hit 30grams, you need to be taking down, at minimum, roughly 1 and 1/3rd gel per hour, or 1 gel every 40minutes.

If you’re using a sports drink instead, you can change up the concentration of the drink to get in more CHO. Instead of adding the standard 1 scoop of powdered drink, add 1.5 scoops. See where that lands you.

What’s the maximum? It’s when your GI system shuts down, which you’ll only find out by practicing fuelling. Be sensible here – you don’t want to completely ruin a training run by trying to take down 200grams of CHO per hour. Most athletes can handle between 60-80 grams of carbs per hour. 

When to take in that fuel?

Early and often.

Start by taking fuel 5-10minutes before the race, and then take on fuel at consistent intervals throughout. We suggest every 20-30minutes of running, taking roughly the same amount of fuel each time. 

A common mistake in fuelling is that people often wait to start sucking back gels until they feel like they need it. If you wait, it’s going to be too late, as all of these forms of fuel are going to take a while to kick in and deliver the energy you need. 

Gels are usually taken with water, something that you should also be practicing on your long and tempo runs whenever possible. Unlike fuel, hydration is much more dependent on race day conditions. Hydrating properly is a strategy in itself, so we’ll save this topic for another time. For now, make sure you’re washing down those yummy gels with some water.

If you’re a coached athlete you know this cycle well. Your coach writes you a workout or a block of training in TrainingPeaks (TP), which you upload after completing (or you forget, but at least you did the workout, right?). Your coach reviews the training gives you some feedback and writes the next block of training. And on and on the cycle goes.

While the GPS data gives insight into paces, distance and the quantitative side of training, it often only tells part of the story. What about the fact that you were running on four hours of sleep, or got a killer cramp on the second repeat? The point is, your post-workout communication is an important piece of the puzzle and there is a lot of qualitative information that makes the coaching experience far more complete. Without context, we only have half the story.

In our experience as coaches and athletes, communication, or lack thereof, is often the number one factor in injury and poor performance.

Post workout communication is one of the keys to making the coach-athlete relationship successful, keeping you injury free and progressing towards your goals.

Post-activity comments are an awesome communication tool that allows you to tell the story of your training. With each workout, long run, or pre-race nervous breakdown, your post-activity comments weave the pieces of your training journey together.

So, what are we looking for in your comments? 

1. Be yourself

We want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly from your workouts. The more real information you are willing to share, the easier it will be for us to get to know you and build a strong coach-athlete relationship. Similarly, don’t try to twist the story to “impress” your coach. We won’t judge you for missing your paces or calling it quits on a bad day. This is all valuable information for us to use in planning your training.

2. Be consistent

You don’t need to write something every day, but a comment once a week tells a much better story than 3 comments one week and none for the next 3 weeks. The hard workout and long run days are most important. So if nothing else, give us something to work with on those days.

3. Be concise

You don’t have to write 3 paragraphs after a 30-minute easy run. A couple of quick thoughts go a long way, or you can use the scale in 1-10 scale in Training Peaks to describe your effort and how you felt. This is quick and easy to use and provides a whole lot more information to your coach than you might think. 

Leaving comments in TrainingPeaks can also serve as your personal training log. These can be helpful later on when you wonder how you felt the last time you did a specific workout or what went well in your last marathon build up. 

Finally, these comments reflect your personality and help us get to know you as a person. Whether it’s something funny that happened on a run or a humorous reflection of the pain that the workout put you through. These can be equally as important to building a strong relationship with your coach because at the core running is a journey that we all enjoy and we want to be able to share those unique memories with someone who can relate.

Fitting a shorter distance race, like racing a 5km, into your training plan should be an easy thing to do no matter what your current training focus and goals are. There are several scenarios that you might find yourself in when trying to fit in a fast and fun 1 mile or 5km race. We see two scenarios that are most likely this time of year:

  1. You are treating a shorter distance race as a hard workout not unlike any other speed workout day or
  2. You are treating it as a goal race for which you’re really trying to optimize performance.

Here are some things to keep in mind to make sure you hit it right on the day:

Treating a shorter distance as a really hard workout

This is a good option for many if this race isn’t your main focus and just want to have some fun. You can add in a 1 mile or 5km race in your schedule in place of a regular speed workout or tempo run and get back into the swing of training again the next day because the distance isn’t long. There are still some things to keep in mind when doing this because this isn’t going to be easy, shorter distance races are really intense, like hands on knees dry-heaving at the finish line intense. Fun right?

What to keep in mind:

  1. Pre-race
    • In the week leading up to the race, keep overall volume the same but make sure your easy runs are very easy
    • Add an extra day of strides in the week prior. And make sure the strides are given some focus at the end of a run, as opposed to just being an afterthought. The added turnover will come in handy on race day.
  2. Post-Race
    If you’re going to jump right back into regular training after a hard short distance race you need to be diligent about post-race recovery. What you do in the minutes and hours following a race of high intensity can really impact your recovery and ability to jump back into regularly scheduled training.
    • Do a proper cooldown – a slow 10-20min jog to flush out all the ‘junk’ you accumulated during the race
    • Fuel well immediately following, hitting both the 20min window and the 2hr window for post-workout fuelling
    • Address any niggles immediately
    • Resume training as regularly scheduled

Treating a race as just that, a race

If you’re going to go hard and race all out you have to respect the race, even if it is one quarter or even one eighth the distance you usually compete at. Ideally, you would include a proper taper into your training for any goal race. The 5km is not different.

What you need to keep in mind:

  1. Pre-Race Taper
    • For a 5km, you should start to bring down the total running volume at least 5 days out from the race
    • Cut the volume of your long run the week prior to the race
    • Make your last speed workout 4-5 days prior to the race
    • Make the easy days extra easy
    • Add an extra day of strides to your training
  2. Post Race
    You won’t need to take the same amount of recovery time after a 5km race as you would a marathon or a half-marathon. Many high-level track athletes race distances between 1500m and 5000m on consecutive days or several times in the space of a week during their peak racing season. It’s possible to recover quickly. If it is a goal race, you’ll still want to do the following:
    • Be diligent about your recovery immediately after the race
    • Take 3-4 easy days before resuming proper training
    • Consider a rest day the day following the race. This could look like complete rest or some active recovery like swimming or pool running
    • Give your mind a bit of a rest too, like after any goal race

For many of you, your goal race for the spring season is done and dusted. Whether the distance was 1 mile, the marathon, or something in between and no matter if you met, exceeded or came up a bit short of your goal, now is most definitely the time for a bit of rest and recovery.

We all need to respect the need for downtime. It’s as important to listen to your body now as it is when you are in the thick of training. At M2M we usually recommend you take a full week off from running after a marathon. You put your body through a lot of trauma out on the roads and trails. If you find you can’t sit still during this time off from running it’s okay to do some other low-impact or non-impact training. A return to full training should happen gradually over the next 2-3 weeks. Even if your goal race was shorter than the marathon you should still take a few rest days and a few weeks away from structured training.

Take some time for your mind

Too often we see athletes neglecting this aspect of recovery. It’s important that we respect the mental fatigue from a big training block and goal race. 2018 Boston Marathon Champ, Des Linden, said it best after this year’s race.

There is just no way you can stay focused and ‘on it’ day in and day out 52 weeks of the year without experiencing some mental burnout. So even if your body is feeling recovered, take some time off for your mind.

Coping with the post-marathon blues

Many athletes find the transition time between seasons very difficult. I can remember that time well – the post-marathon blues were something I often experienced during my career. You’re out of routine, eating like crap, drinking more than usual and your future goals are a bit unclear. And that is ok.

The transition period is definitely the time to indulge, spend more time with friends and family (that may have been a bit neglected when you were crushing all those miles prepping for your goal race), and do some non-running activities on your bucket list.  It is also a good time to try something new in training or racing. Sign-up for that trail race you’ve always wanted to do or start that strength training routine you’ve neglected for so long. Mixing it up a little should help you to get rolling again later this spring.

So what’s next?

If you haven’t planned out your racing schedule for the fall, now is a good time to do that too. Sit down with your coach, talk about your goals and make a plan to achieve them. This has always been something that helped me kick start my training again after a little downtime. Getting those goal races set in stone can help you visualize what the training will be like over the next few months.