Starting the new year right - During the holiday season it is easy to miss training sessions, or quit early because of work, family and social commitments. However, if you managed to train three or four days a week, for a minimum of 30 minute each session, you will not have lost all the conditioning you struggled to gain over the previous year. To get back on track, and start the new year right, it might be fun to enter a 5k or 10k fun run on new year's morning, or the following Sunday. Don't procrastinate... get up, lace on your shoes, and begin a fresh new year of running.
Recovering from your marathon - When you finish the race, do not sit down. Keep walking around, and immediately begin to re-hydrate and carbohydrate load. For this you may use soda (pop), fruit juice, sports drink, fruit, cookies, muffins, energy bars, and things of that sort. The important thing is to start this loading process immediately. As soon after the race as possible take a 20-minute cold (not warm or hot) bath or shower. Take another cold soak later in the day, and again over the following several days. The long cold soaks and the carbo-loading will help speed recovery, and the cold soaks will greatly reduce soreness. On the other hand, warm or hot baths or showers (or hot tub) will slow recovery, and may cause further muscular damage due to an increase in intercellular pressure. Do not run a step the three or four days following the marathon, but long walks and gentle stretching (as long as they do not hurt) are fine... and continue the cold soaks.
Measuring improvement - Wear a chest-strap type heart rate monitor during your longest run of the week. Note your heart rate just as you finish the workout. Carefully measure the time it takes your pulse to drop from the working rate down to 100 bpm (beats per minute). If your pulse stalls at 101 or 102, use that as the benchmark instead of 100 bpm. Take this measurement weekly, and as your fitness improves, your pulse will drop more quickly. If your pulse fails to drop, that indicates something may be lacking in your training program.
Hot humid summer weather - Hot, humid summer weather doesn't have to put a stop to your training. Running before the sun is up, or late in the evening will keep the sun from baking your brains. Even more comfortable is to workout at the gym in front of the air conditioner or a big fan. The best indoor exercises for the distance runner are: treadmill, elliptical/orbital trainer, stairclimber/stepper machine; spin/stationary bike; leg-press machine. If you combine running with the machines, the running should be first, followed by the gym workout.
A faster marathon in two weeks - Two weeks before your final long run, begin losing 10 excess pounds. Your final long run should take place two weeks before your target marathon, and be 20 miles in length or three hours (whichever is less). Enter the marathon fully rested, pain and injury free and pace correctly based upon an extrapolation from a recent 10k race or five mile time trial. Do all the above, and you can expect to improve your previous marathon time by 8 to 15 minutes.
Avoiding repetitive stress syndrome - Most running injuries occur early on, and are usually the result of doing too much, too soon, with too little rest - then continuing to run after feeling the first hint of pain. Begin training at a relatively easy level and make only moderate weekly increases in distance or speed (not both at the same time). On alternate weeks slightly decrease the intensity or duration of your workouts, and increase again the following week. Using this "leap frog" approach, instead of unrelenting increases, will help you avoid the pitfalls of repetitive stress, and will result in greater fitness gains.
Black toes do not have to be your problem - Discolored, bruised and painful toenails are relatively common among marathoners and ultradistance runners, but they don't have to be your problem. Be sure your running shoes have about a thumb's width of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe, and that the toe box is relatively high and wide. If there still isn't enough space, experiment with wearing thinner socks. Some runners experience heel slippage when they get their shoes long enough to prevent black toe. If your heels are slipping up and down (causing blisters) adding a layer or two of moleskin to the inside of the heel counter will improve the fit.
Becoming an ultrarunner - Marathoning is to ultrarunning what climbing an extension ladder is to Swiss Mountain climbing... an entire order of magnitude more difficult. If you wish to become an ultrarunner, first follow a well thought out plan to get in the best marathon shape possible. Then learn to run multiple marathons in close succession, so they become an integral part of your training mix. After frequent marathons become a "normal" part of your running life and hold no fear, it is time to tackle a 50 kilometers race for training. Once that hurdle has been leaped and you are uninjured and not exhausted, you are ready to begin training for 50 milers (and beyond), and ultradistance trail races.
Treadmills save the joints - One of the major hurdles to leap, in training for ultras (even marathons), is getting in sufficient training distances to fully prepare, without "destroying" your knees, hips, ankles, feet and lower back. The treadmill, because its surface is far more forgiving than the road, trail or track, will allow you to train further without adding a great deal of extra impact stress. Treadmill running is not the same as the "real world", so it should be used only for a portion of your training - not as a substitute for the out-of-doors. In addition, to most closely simulate running in the out-of-doors on the flat, the average angle of incline should be set at three percent. To make the training more interesting, you may vary the angle of incline, up and down, and back again, between 2%, 3% and 4%.
Run or rest? - Rest is one of the most important, yet one of the least considered aspects of training. Ultras, which often require drastic amounts of mileage - especially for the weekly long run, also require an extended taper of at least three weeks, ending with three or four days of zero mileage just prior to the race. While many "driven" runners train up until the last moment, this is futile and at the best results in exhaustion, and at the worst, injury. It takes the body about two weeks to register the positive effect of training, so any running at the end does nothing to increase ones level of fitness. It is best just to rest, eat well and prepare mentally (dreaming of the successes to come).
Eating on the run - The fuel stored in greatest abundance, for the endurance athlete, is intermuscular fat, not carbs (glycogen) as is commonly believed. While this energy rich fuel is there ready for the taking, the body must be trained over time to open the petcock and allow it to "flow". To train the body to make use of intermuscular fat, it is necessary to run on empty. That is, if you run in the morning, it is okay to drink coffee (if you drink coffee), but you should eat nothing before your run, and take only water during your run. If you run mid-day, or in the evening, you should do so at least several hours after you take on food of any sort. While this may prove difficult the first few times, you will eventually find you have much more energy, and that energy will last longer... this is true during the marathon as well.
Leap frog to improve - Ten percent weekly mileage increase? Somehow the idea has been "written in stone" that the recommended weekly increase in mileage is 10%. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ten percent is the maximum increase, beyond which pain and injury are almost guaranteed. Better is to increase 5% weekly. Even better than that, is to leap frog. Leap frog? Go up ten percent one week, then down five percent the next week, and up ten percent the following week. This procedure challenges the body, allows for recovery, then challenges the body once more. Improvement in conditioning, be it cardiovascular, muscular or the strengthening of your support structure (bone, joints, tendons) takes place during the recovery stage. Continually pushing forward tends to exhaust the body, and exhaustion leads to trouble. Pushing forward, retrenching, then striving again will provide the best results, in the shortest time, with the least chance of injury.
Secrets to building speed - Training faster, makes you faster, and probably the single best way to begin building speed for distance, is to always run with friends who are slightly faster than you are. Training with faster friends assures that you are running at the edge of your ability, and making every step count. When running at the track, place yourself in a lane to the right of your partners. This will require that you run slightly further than your friends, and you will be forced to run slight faster on the curves to keep up. Finally, enter all the 5k and 10k fun runs you can find. These short races are far more enjoyable than regular training, help you develop pacing skills, build speed, and most importantly, add to your growing T-shirt collection.
Rest days are for rest - Actual improvement in fitness occurs during recovery, not during the exercise itself. But this is not the only reason to take days off during the week. Most running injuries are caused by repetitive stress syndrome. Hence, days off are not only because you may feel tired, but to prevent structural breakdown from unrelenting pounding. Beginning runners should take two or more non-consecutive days off a week. Experienced distance runners, no matter how macho (or "macha") should take at least one day off a week. If your goal is to establish a non-stop training streak, by all means, avoid days off. However, if your goal is to stay injury-free and perform at the top of your potential, year after year, and mile after mile, rest and recovery are essential. A rest day is not an easy day. It is a day when you do no lower-body training at all. Finally, please remember that training is not a contest. The contest is the contest.
Your most important training tool - Apart from a firm, stable pair of running shoes, probably the most valuable tool for the distance runner, is a detailed training log. Grid off both sides of a full sheet of poster board into 8x8 squares. This will give you sufficient room for 16 seven day weeks, with an extra space at the end of each week for totals. In addition to daily distance (or time), morning pulse and weight, you should also record subjective comments: felt great; difficult run; beautiful day; right hamstring tight; could have run forever; left knee feels achy; tired; full of energy. If you develop pains or problems, you can go back though the training log, discover where you might have gone wrong, and avoid those mistakes in the future.
If you have distance training and racing questions that you would like answered on this webpage, you may contact Dr. (Mad Dog Mike) Schreiber directly, though his award winning website, www.training2run.com or by sending him e-mail message. There is no charge for this service.