How I ran a 2:50 marathon on a whim while staying healthy and in control throughout the race
On May 1st, I completed the Eugene Marathon. While I’ve completed plenty of Ironman Triathlons, this was my first ever attempt at the distance as a standalone event. I did this race in support of my good buddy, Johnny Kvietkus. This was his first race back following a horrific car accident last summer. Although his sister and nephews would be there on race day, I thought it’d be fun to accompany him. I also had to honor a pact I made with one of my athletes, Tonya.
I promised her if she qualified for the 2023 Boston Marathon during this year’s race (which she did with flying colors), I’d toe the line with her next April. Since I’m not getting any younger, I thought I’d better get my qualifying time sooner rather than later. So I threw caution to the wind and registered three days before the race.
Outside of one 14 miler, my longest run in the past two years was the weekly 12-mile jaunt I do to my in-law’s house for Sunday dinners. I was also sidelined from running for eight weeks in late 2021 due to an unexpected knee issue, which I fortunately recovered from.
If you are prepping for your next marathon, here are six key takeaways from my experience for you to consider as you begin ramping up your training.
1) Stop trippin’ over the long run
You can’t cheat the volume going into a marathon. But to avoid leaving several critical boxes unchecked, don’t structure your training around the long run. When it comes to tackling marathon training, my friend and PT extraordinaire, Mike Studer, sums the long run up nicely saying,
“Stay on your feet for the length of time you project the marathon to take. For example, if your goal marathon time is 3 hours, you may only need to cover 20 miles in long slow distance during your training cycle.”
If running long and slow was all that mattered, I wouldn’t have had the strong race I did. Sure I faded a bit towards the end (see below), but I think the other types of runs were integral to my success.
“The long run is an opportunity to demonstrate confidence, mental more than physical. If a runner can complete 20-22 miles, then what’s 4-6 more?”
For example, I often include the following sessions during a typical week:
45 – 60 minutes at conversation pace, including anywhere from 5-15, 10-30 second strides.
45 – 60 minutes at conversation pace with a mishmash of hard intervals ranging from 1-5 minutes in duration.
60 minutes at conversation pace on rolling to hilly terrain or a 30- 45 minute tempo effort.
90 minutes of running over to my in-laws with an occasional pitstop at Fremont Brewery, turning the final mile into a beer mile 🤫🍻
20- 30 minute transition run off the bike AKA T-run (remember, I’m a triathlete).
These runs challenge coordination, heart and lung function, tissue capacity, power and confidence. As you review these workout sessions, keep this rate of perceived exertion (RPE) chart in the back of your mind.
2) Practice for race day and fuel like you mean it
It blows my mind how much runners and triathletes worry about factors that are out of their control while neglecting what they can rehearse such as nutrition and pacing.
Although I didn’t register for Eugene until a couple of days before, I started considering the race about two weeks out. Given the situation, I knew I needed at least one long run to rehearse nutrition and pacing. A week before Eugene, after a short walking warm-up, I put in a 14-mile effort slightly faster than my projected marathon pace. I knew if I could hold a brisk effort, I’d have the confidence to get it done on race day.
Given the energy demands required to run a marathon, I knew it was also critical to have a clearly defined nutrition strategy.
Everyone is different, but I’ll provide a window into my approach starting the day before. In reality, however, it begins well before in terms of hydration and sound fueling for energy availability.
Fueling the Day Before Eugene
After a 25-minute shakeout run with Johnny on Saturday morning, we went out for a late morning breakfast where I had a monster pancake, a plate of hashbrowns, an egg and one piece of bacon.
For the rest of the day, I snacked on pretzels, nonfat yogurt, and pita during the afternoon before having a sensible pasta dish with some chicken in the evening.
Race Day Fueling
On to race morning…4:30 a.m….RISE & SHINE CAMPERS!
I made sure to get up early and start fueling at least two hours before the start of the race at 7 a.m. Giving your body this amount of time to digest is crucial to ensure everything can break down, exit the gut and be used by the working muscles once the gun goes off.
For breakfast, I had:
1 cup of organic unsweetened apple sauce
1 plain bagel
14 ounces of sports beverage and then sipped on water to thirst before the race
My target for the race was ~60g of carbs per hour, so I planned to consume a gel every 20 ish minutes and then rely on what the aid stations had for the home stretch. Long story short, I nailed my nutrition!
It’s worth noting: I’ve trained my gut over the past several years and have a cast-iron stomach, so please exercise caution in adopting my exact approach because it may not be appropriate for you.
3) Strength training is essential
If there’s one thing a runner should do beyond run, it’s strength train. While running should comprise the bulk of your training as an endurance athlete, strength training ensures we have the requisite capacity to withstand the performance demands of running. This is especially true for masters level (over 35 years old) and geriathlete (over 55 years old) runners. Incorporating strength training:
Improves movement economy
Reduces or delayed fatigue
Improves anaerobic capacity
Enhances maximal speed
I don’t know about you, but what runner wouldn’t want that?! When it comes to running, our bodies need to withstand:
Cumulative loads given the repetitious nature of running
Peak loads considering certain tissues and regions need to withstand upwards of 8x bodyweight force
Energy storage and release since running is a plyometric activity
My strength training included some combination of the following movements and exercises based on where I was in training:
Single leg drill (step-ups, toe taps, long lever bridge)
While there is still a lot of research to be done on strength training, it’s something I strongly advocate for runners. I like to think of strength training as “coordination training under load.” If you don’t already prioritize strength training, any type of strength training is likely to create a positive stimulus. Aim to layer it in 2 – 3 x per week, ideally on non-running or lighter runners days.
4) Prioritize consistency and moderation
Despite many athletes being enamored by heroic or jaw-dropping workouts on social media, nothing promotes physiologic adaptation like measured training day in and day out. If you get overzealous and trip something off such as a muscle pull or tear, be prepared for your training to get derailed.
While adding intensity to a training cycle is important, make sure to get into a rhythm before revving the engine. Furthermore, when preparing to layer intensity into your sessions, be sure to come into the workout centered and ready.
Full disclosure: My marathon performance was the culmination of years of consistent and moderate training while peppering in calculated intensity, which ultimately allowed me to go deep in the well.
5) Focus on what is in your control
Speak to any marathoner, and you’ll learn about the dreaded 20-mile mark. Of course, the “goin’ gets tough,” but don’t let it get to your head. Every course is different and the conditions always vary. The main thing you can control is how well you pace the race leading up to the last 10K.
Stay conservative early at the start, avoid going out too fast and focus on nutrition. Study the course and race accordingly. For Eugene, I made sure to write mantras in permanent marker on my hand to keep me honest but anchored for each segment of the race. There were two hills that hit during the first half of the race and so it was important to stay sensible early on. From there, the course was relatively tame. While my mantras were generally spot on, I should’ve labeled the fourth one GRIND because it sure as hell wasn’t a PUSH at that point.
6) Find a shoe that gives you a boost
Although I typically downplay the role of shoes, if you find a supershoe that feels comfy, springy, and light, you’d be silly not to use it. Worst case scenario, you’ll have a psychological advantage on race day.
Having done a lot of personal testing comparing various metrics (heart rate, pace, effort) between traditional running shoes vs. those with carbon plated technology, I’m someone who undoubtedly benefits from the latter.
If you want to experience what it feels like to run on mini trampolines, this shoe has you covered. Rumor has it that the ASICS METASPEED, the next shoe I’ll introduce into my rotation, is also the cat’s pajamas. I promise to report back.
Aim to find a shoe that weighs less than 440g (pair), feels comfy and has a carbon plate. Otherwise, be prepared to hit the F8 recalculate button post-race, wondering how much faster you could’ve gone and the precious seconds you left on the course.
The most obvious takeaway from the race is how much less of a logistical headache a marathon is relative to an Ironman. I’ll continue to race long course triathlons, but the marathon was a much more enjoyable experience and vibe. You also don’t have to deal with a bunch of stressed out type A triathletes staring at your calves and quads trying to size you up going into the race. There’s nothing relaxing about racing a triathlon. I sometimes wonder why I do them in the first place. Based on my first marathon experience, I can’t wait to race Boston and put in a focused training block to avoid running a second impromptu marathon.
As Dick Vitale would say, “It’s March Madness, Baby!”
To celebrate, I’d like to share some marching madness.
Reflecting over the past two decades of my physical therapy, coaching, and sporting career, if there’s been one constant aside from swim, bike, run, lift, it’s undoubtedly a shit ton of marching.
Marching is a drill that challenges runners from an upright, single-leg standpoint that can be modified in several ways to challenge the performer pending the goal.
I tend to weave in some combination of marching drills throughout most days and encourage you to do the same unless there is some medical precaution or contraindication.
Early in my career, I prioritized static single leg balance drills to a greater degree, but I quickly learned that runners check out pretty damn quick if you don’t put them into motion.
In general, static single-leg balance work for runners is like having a cyclist practice balancing their bike in place — perhaps appropriate if you’re a bike messenger in New York City. Otherwise, there’s probably not a lot of bang for your buck. With that said, I do still incorporate some single leg balance work using my friend Jay Dicharry’sMobo Board, especially after a lateral ankle sprain or if people need to restore foot and ankle capacity following a leg injury.
This blog post will take you through the 7 most common marching drills I prescribe while unpacking the rationale and discussing how to implement them into your routine.
Prepare for Marching
To get started I often have people march barefoot on firm, level ground. This helps you appreciate what your “little piggies” are doing by giving your nervous system more input through the high concentration of mechanoreceptors on the sole of our feet. Otherwise, aim to progress by using a thin, firm-soled shoe.
When performing the marching drills, the goal is to initially find a tempo or pace that feels smooth and fluid. From there, you can work on slowing it down or speeding it up from there. Also, know that it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit wobbly unless you perform in Cirque de Soleil.
Strive for mastery and grace, and remember that mistakes drive (motor) learning.
Baseline Marching – if you’re new to marching, start here. March forward in a smooth, fluid manner. A practical and straightforward way to progress this drill is by rotating your head side to side or by closing one eye at a time. Stick the high knee position for a second, and when going to lower the non-balancing leg to the ground, initiate contact with the ball of your foot before gently lowering the heel to the ground. You can also march to a metronome at different beat frequencies. I often start at 30 beats per minute (bpm) and work up to 120bpm in 30 beat increments. As you go from 30 to 120bpm, you’ll appreciate the greater coordination requirements, not to mention having to hit the ground harder, which is an essential part of the rehab process in preparation for running.
Prisoner March – the prisoner march is a simple progression from the baseline march in that you’re taking the arms out of the equation. This drill promotes getting tall, a common denominator among the world’s best runners. I often find myself prescribing this variation for high school runners.
March to Overhead Reach – this marching drill is sometimes referred to as a “vertical bird dog.” It’s a staple for triathletes I work with because it engenders a sense of being long while challenging overhead mobility. It kind of sounds like freestyle swimming, eh?
3-Way Mini Band March – another variation I often incorporate into a triathlete’s programming. It challenges the shoulder musculature and demands a rhythm and timing element to coordinate/synchronize the movement of the arms and legs.
March w/ Weight Overhead – a great marching drill to challenge a runner’s trunk control. There is no need to get carried away with the weight…a 10-25lb dumbbell or bumper plate is sensible. Holding a dowel rod or broomstick also works well for adolescent athletes.
March w/ Punch – although the arms generally don’t break the plane (forward) of the body with distance running, I like this drill as it promotes a skosh of spinal rotation, which is healthy for your back. Some athletes like holding lightweight (5-10lb) dumbbells when doing this. Perhaps I’m just challenging my inner Bruce Lee by incorporating the punch.
Marching Matrix – this drill is for you if you’re looking to get FONCY by combining a handful of different marching variations in a series. A lightweight (10-15lbs) med ball, dumbbell, or equivalent is all you need, and you’re in business.
How To Incorporate Marching into Your Routine
When it comes to training, I often have runners and triathletes use marching drills at the beginning of a strength training session or the end of a run as part of a walking cool-down to engender a sense of being tall.
Programming marching drills at the beginning of a strength training session is great as it affords an excellent way to check out from your daily grind and segue into your strength session.
For example, I routinely pick one of the marching drills above and have an athlete complete 2-3, 1-minute passes before getting into the crux of the lifting session.
Those athletes who trust me to coach them can attest that I often prescribe a one-minute pass of the march to overhead reach as part of their walking cool-down post-run. There is nothing like having runners wrap up their run with a drill that promotes getting tall and upright.
I also incorporate the marching drills randomly throughout the day as “movement snacks.” Shoutout to Ben Cormack for this phrase. For example, I use the Pomodoro method, where I work in a 25-minute block then take a 5-minute break. During the break is when I do the marching drills. Since many people are working from home, this has become easier, and you don’t need to worry about your colleagues making fun of you. By day’s end, I’m willing to bet that you’ll feel better by implementing a similar approach and be more productive.
Over the past several years, a wealth of research has emerged pertaining to the myriad of benefits of step rate (AKA cadence) manipulation when addressing various running related injuries (RRIs) and lower extremity pain.
The fundamental principle behind step rate manipulation is that by keeping running velocity/speed constant and taking more steps per minute, one is able to effectively reduce their stride length, and in turn the magnitude of each individual loading cycles at the expense of taking more loading cycles. This is readily apparent when stopping to consider the following equation.
Speed= Stride length X Stride frequency
Furthermore, research shows that music serves as a great external auditory cue, especially for endurance athletes, as it results in spontaneous entrainment to the tempo or beat with a greater effect noted in women. One approach to help you apply step rate manipulation to your running involves making use of the RunCadence and Spotify App. Below I will take you through how to use the combination of these Apps to reduce the magnitude of loading of each individual gait cycle if that is indeed the desired goal. Research has shown that as little as a five percent increase in step rate while keeping running velocity constant can reduce shock absorption at the level of the knee by upwards of 20 percent. That’s astronomical!!!
It should be noted, however, that the information presented in this post should not suffice nor serve as a substitute for professional medical advice in the event you are dealing with pain and/or functional limitations. In such instances, we advise you to seek consultation with a trusted medical provider, who specializes in the rehabilitation of runners.
Iphone with the RunCadence App
Let’s Get Started
The first item of business it to determine your step rate or cadence for a given running velocity. To do this, you will have to complete a one-minute test. We suggest conducting this on a treadmill to obtain the most accurate results provided that you are comfortable running on a rotating belt. This is where the RunCadence app comes into play. Prior to completing the test we encourage folks to start with a 5′ brisk walk followed by a 6′ run to get familiarized with the treadmill. From there, stand on the runners of the treadmill and open up the RunCadence App (assuming it’s already been downloaded) on your smartphone and click “TEST.” You will be given a 5s countdown before the test officially starts though we encourage folks to start running once the countdown ensues to settle into your running gait. You will have to hold the phone in your hand for the duration of the test. To avoid compromising the accuracy of the test, we encourage you to avoid looking at the timer on the App. Rather, simply use the treadmill timer and make a note of when you start the test and plan for 70-75s of continuous running to ensure that you fully capture your foot contacts for the entire minute.
How to Determine Your Step Rate for a Given Speed Using The RunCadence App:
Tap the RunCadence App
Tap Ready & Start Running
Run for 1′ w/ phone in hand
Once you have finished the one-minute test, this screen will appear which shows your average step rate as well as +2.5, +5, +7.5, and +10% above your avg step rate. We generally recommend starting with +5% when it comes to gait retraining. This is the value that you will plug in to the Spotify app when prompted. We’ll cover this in more detail below. In the event that you are able to readily adopt the +5% step rate, feel free to increase it to +7.5% if not +10%. While you can increase your step rate above 10%, apppreciate that doing so occurs at a great metabolic cost.
How to Use the Running Feature on Spotify and Plugging in Your Step Rate:
Once you have downloaded Spotify from the app store, simply tap the icon to open it.
When the homescreen of the Spotify app appears, tap the search button centrally located at the bottom of the screen.
In the searchbox, type in “running” then click the search button at the bottom of the screen.
Scroll down until you see “Genres & Moods.” Tap the icon with the running man.
You will have the option to select various types of music so pick the one that suits your fancy 🙂 We often encourage folks to select a style of music with a distinct beat as it lends to better sychronization in terms of your foot contacts.
When you arrive at this screen and are prompted to start running, simply click the “skip” button at the bottom of the screeen and plug in the value obtained from using the RunCadence Test. Consider starting with the “+5%” value.
You are ready to roll/run! Aside from periodic advertisements, you will now have a continuous playlist based on the beat frequency you plugged in. Bear in mind that maintaining a consistent/steady step rate for a given running speed is most easily accomplished on level ground. Hills and softer surfaces may cause you to deviate from the target.
Wishing you HAPPY, HEALTHY, & STRONG Training. Please reach out if you have any additional questions regarding how step rate can be applied to your training. Onward!!!
Disclosure: RunCadence is a for profit IOS App that I developed along with my good friend and business partner, Ben Wobker. It is currently priced at $2.99 and can be found on the App store.
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