Hey! Coach Kyle here.
During a recent long run my left calf was starting to tighten up a bit.
I was ready to end the run and head home, halfway through the workout, when I tried something.
What I did was move from my habitual whole/midfoot landing to more of a rearward landing, which loads the calves less.
This gave my calves some relief and that left calf which had been tightening up was good to go for 10 more miles after just a half mile of me changing my footstrike!
Can purposefully changing your footstrike mid-run help delay fatigue or cramping?
To elaborate more on this topic, one could purposefully change footstrike during long/hard runs to give the legs some relief my changing how the muscles are loaded. On a micro level the muscle fibers themselves cycle out fatigued fibers and in fresh ones, but if you change your whole footstrike on purpose you’re taking it to the macro level.
Research during marathons show that as distance and fatigue set in, people move to a more rearward strike. This is a way your body changes the loading locations, but if you possibly spend a half mile or mile here and there with a more rearward strike before fatigue requires it, maybe you can run a slightly bit better for the entire distance!
Recently I was emailed a question from a Florida runner who has a Colorado half marathon coming up.
His concern was that he has never really ran in temperatures under 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the half marathon will likely be in the range of 20-50 degrees.
What to do?
When I had an athlete from Florida run the New York City Marathon he drastically over-dressed according to what most people would recommend, but the late 2016 NYC event was much cooler than what he was used to. This meant that 50 degrees for him felt much much colder than how comfortable it would have felt for me.
So my initial thought is the athlete is going to have to bundle up because 40 degrees will feel very chilly for a Florida runner even though I would be in shorts!
Next consideration is that the half marathon will have the body generating a great deal of body heat. While the start and early miles may feel very cold the runner will warm up drastically.
So my recommendations and thoughts are:
Pre-race is a different story. If the event is an outdoor start and very chilly the participants are best to really dress heavily so they do not get too terribly cold before the race even starts. Most events will have areas for you to ditch extra clothing if you must. If you have a car or family/friends there to take something from you that you do not want to lose, that’s an option as well.
Marathons are difficult events.
You hopefully spend a number of months training specifically for the day as well as any number of months to years as a runner before that.
During training, you execute long runs, practice nutrition, and nail down your gear choices. Let us not make the day any more of a challenge than it needs to by selecting a logistically challenging event!
I recently had someone on Instagram ask me about holding on to their running form over long distance races.
This person suggested they were competitive over shorter distance races but once it comes to going beyond the half marathon he struggles to continue his form.
Let’s first discuss why form breaks down
Fatigue sets in and your form primarily changes because your brain is attempting to give relief to expired muscle fibers by using more fresh ones.
Thus during a long distance hard run runners very commonly start with a more forward landing footstrike and progress (digress?) to a more rearward landing heel strike. Different foot strikes use and load the legs differently, so your body is doing this to bring in fresh muscles and reduce the load to other areas of the body.
You may also notice your cadence (step rate) decrease and/or your stride length increase.
What can you do to preserve your form over long distances?
There are a number of “simple” methods.
Marathon fueling is tricky.
During training you can get away with minimal fueling during even your longest runs, since it is not best effort or for as long of a distance.
It is easy to make the mistake of thinking you can/should get away with that fueling strategy during your marathon and that if you are going to fuel more during the event you can get away with not practicing.
Let’s take a look at what I suggest for marathon fueling.
There are a number of case studies of sorts that looked at what works for non elite and elite athletes during the marathon.
In 2013 researchers worked with a number of non-elites participating in the Copenhagen Marathon. Half of the runners used a freely chosen fueling strategy and the other half used a specific fueling plan of 60g carbs, 24ml water, a bit of caffeine and salt each hour.
The groups were matched by 10k time trial when sorted so they would have expected to have similar marathon times. However not surprising the freely chosen fuelers had an average time of 3:49 and the fuel scheduled runners had an average time of 3:38. It’s also important to note that gastrointestinal issues were not different for the two groups.
Even the elites follow this same basic strategy. Another fun case study looked at three elite Canadian marathoners and noted what their nutrition strategies were during the events.
They each consumed on average about 60g/240cal of carbohydrates and about 20oz of water hourly.
It’s important to note that all of the athletes in both events were using a carbohydrate mixture of glucose and maltodextrin. Doing this allows you to much more rapidly absorb the calories vs a pure glucose source.
Also while elites and non-elites do typically differ in their weights and race times the fueling strategies are similar. Elites typically can run the marathon at a higher percentage of their VO2 max so use more carbs vs fat during the event.
So, how do you do this during your marathon?
You may think this is a lot to take in, and if you’ve been habitually under fueling then it may feel like it at first.
The half marathon I recently ran had aid stations every 2-3 miles for the marathon, which is fairly frequent. 3-4 is a safe bet for just about every marathon you’ll run.
Elites have their own aid stations where they have their personal bottles at. They typically grab them on the go and down it over the next half mile before ditching the bottle. That’s why you rarely see elites holding bottles.
For us regular folk it is slightly more difficult. If you have an aid station every 3 miles and you’re running a 4 hour marathon that is 2 aid stations hourly. While you don’t want to slow down too much at every aid station, coming to a jog to grab 8-12oz of water and a gel will improve your time and decrease your chances of hitting the wall. Another option would be to carry a throwaway bottle with you for the first hour so you can skip the early aid stations.
I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing this during your long runs. Gels are the most often used in studies because they’re easy to track and use, but many runners also experience GI issues with gels. Taking them slower, such as half right way and then half a few minutes later and always with water can help. If you prefer fluid only calories or using something like gummies, use what works best for you!
The Evolution of Carbo-Loading | Matt Fitzgerald | “You aren’t still putting yourself through a depletion phase, are you?”
What not to eat before a marathon | Tad Kardis | “I follow a low-residue aka low-fiber diet during the last 24 hours. The purpose of that is to make sure my GI tract is as empty as possible when the gun goes off. If you haven’t run across the pictures of people who don’t do this, I don’t recommend you go looking for them. Eww”
Feeling rundown in the month leading up to a race is common since you’ve been hopefully building up your training specificity and volume for a number of weeks and months now.
That means you have something to taper from.
In the below video, I compare the daily breakdown and regeneration of weight lifting to the monthly and weekly breakdown and regeneration with running fitness.
When you have events 1 day to 3 weeks apart, they are close enough that the damage done during the first race can potentially negatively influence the second event.
To run your best on both days there are a few considerations you must be mindful of.
1) Properly Pacing
If the first event is longer than a half hour and you run it at best effort, you’ll probably have some sort of fatigue the week after. When the event is 5 miles to 26.2 miles it could take a week to a month to actually be regenerated from the race if done at best effort.
This means you may have to take the first event at a less than best effort if you do not desire it to hinder your running ability at the second race. A half three weeks before a half is cutting it close, but a 5k a week before a half should be no problem for most people. In the former example doing the first half at a 9/10 effort and the second half at a 10/10 effort will likely result in the best average time between the two. Yet for the latter example you can probably do the 5k at best effort and it should not hinder the half.
2) Regeneration After the 1st Event
If you give your body the opportunity to adapt after the first race, if you’re lucky you can even benefit from it for the second run. This mainly comes down to following a reverse taper to rest and ease back into running gradually and eating well before, during, and after the first race.
3) Tools to Speed Recovery
There are a number of “tools” you can take advantage of after a race to speed up your recovery. What you should be aware of is that these may decrease the adaptation (benefit) you get from the first workout, but in most cases when you’re under a time crunch for a second event you’re not looking to benefit from a race.
First is curcumin, the powerful anti-inflammatory in tumeric or ginger, can possibly decrease muscle damage when taken after a hard training session. This is not something to use too often, as this decrease in muscle damage and inflammation likely results in less benefit from the workout. But like I said, you’re not racing to get better (that’s what workouts are for).
Second is the ice bath. Much like curcumin, this may decrease fitness adaptations from a workout but after a race it may speed up how quickly you are able to return to full strength.
Assuming you’ve put in adequate training, pacing is the most important consideration when it comes to racing well.
Sleep, your race nutrition, hydration, gear, etc. All are secondary to proper pacing.
Having perfect calorie intake during a marathon can not save you from running the first 10k too fast. But, pacing can salvage a marathon that you didn’t eat adequately during or before.
Below is my general pacing strategy that can work for just about every race distance!
Run this fairly easy, it’s ok to let people pass you. Even during a race, what you feel to be easy will be faster than your general running pace.
Speed up a bit to a hard but controlled effort. You’ll likely repass a few people. Your pace may or may not increase.
Best effort. You’ll pass people who took off at the beginning and have since expired. You may throw up. Your only salvation (and my race mantra) is that “the faster I run the sooner the pain will end.”
Here is a rough plan I give to my athletes after an event that includes at least 1.5 or so hours at race effort.
Feel free to modify it to your own needs and how your own body feels. Please please please do not run with tight muscles. Doing this influences your entire run gait and risks injury.
Generally, it is recommended that an athlete may require one day before another key workout for every mile at race pace. I think it’s a pretty decent recommendation.
It is important to recognize that even though you may feel ok, you’re not! 2+ hours at race pace is no longer a workout and may be more like a traumatic event for your body.
If you allow your body to recover properly, you hopefully will even benefit from the long race with some quality adaptation. However, if you push it, you are likely to injure yourself and potentially delay training even further.
Days 1-7 Post Event
Day 1 Rest / Walk
Day 2 Rest / Walk
Day 3 Rest / Walk
Day 4 30-45 minutes cross training
Day 5 EZ run of 20-40 minutes
Day 6 Rest / Walk
Day 7 30-45 minutes cross training
Days 8-14 Post Event
Day 8 EZ run of 30-60 minutes
Day 9 15 minutes more of cross-training than you ran yesterday
Day 10 Same amount of cross-training as the previous day
Day 11 EZ hour run
Day 12 EZ hour run
Day 13 Same amount of cross-training as previous
Day 14 Rest / Walk
Days 15-21 Post Event
Day 15 EZ hour-ish or longer with a few short 30 second strides during the run (we’re finally starting to wake up the legs again!)
Day 16 EZ run, no strides, a bit shorter than yesterday
Day 17 Similar to day 15
Day 18 Rest/Walk
Day 19 EZ hour with strides
Day 20 EZ hour with strides
Day 21 Rest/Walk
Now, you just completed a week with 5 runs and some strides. You are at a point where you could start resuming more serious training and adding back in strength work.
ning can be anything that is not going to fatigue you. Cycling, swimming, hiking, elliptical, gentle yoga, etc. Have some fun and maybe try something new!
During this period of regeneration, none of these are workouts. They should be stimulating, but not fatiguing. Almost consider them warmups for a workout that never happens. Take them very very easy and relaxed. Don’t run with a GPS if that helps you slow down.
If you feel like you should stop, stop. Walk home. End the session. That’s good advice for any workout at any time of the year, but especially important in the period of time after a marathon.
The listed run durations are just estimates. If you topped out at 40 miles a week during marathon training, you may want to reduce these times. If you topped out at 90 miles, you may be able to run a bit longer.