What are the pros & cons of continuing to swim and bike while training for your standalone running event? TriDot coaches, and Boston qualifiers, Jeff Raines and Elizabeth James answer this and more! Gain key insights into your run event preparation as the coaches debunk some marathon myths, highlight key training sessions, and discuss how long your long run should be. Be prepared for your event with recommendations for pre-race planning, what to wear, and how to best pace your race.
TriDot Podcast .056:
Triathletes on the Run: Nailing Your Next Half or Full Marathon
Intro: This is the TriDot podcast. TriDot uses your training data and genetic profile, combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire, and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation and let’s improve together.
Andrew Harley: Welcome to the show, everybody. They say the first guy to ever run a marathon immediately died from exhaustion following the effort. So, of course, now we all do it for fun. Wouldn’t that dude be surprised to know that? Today we’re talking about training for distance road races as a triathlete. I’m joined by the top two runners on the TriDot staff. First up is Coach Jeff Raines. Jeff has a Master’s of Science in Exercise Physiology and was a successful D1 collegiate runner. He’s qualified for the Boston Marathon multiple times and has raced over 120 triathlons, competitive sprints to full distance Ironmans. Jeff has been coaching runners and triathletes since 2009. Jeff, ready to have a little marathon podcast session here?
Jeff Raines: I cannot wait to hit the ground running today, Andrew.
Andrew: The reoccurring running pun there.
Jeff: Never gets old. I never run out of those.
Andrew: There’s a new one. There’s a fresh one! Up next is pro triathlete and coach Elizabeth James. Elizabeth came to the sport from a soccer background and quickly rose through the triathlon ranks using TriDot. From a beginner to top age grouper to a professional triathlete. She’s a Kona and Boston Marathon qualifier who has coached triathletes with TriDot since 2014. Elizabeth, thanks for joining us to talk long distance running.
Elizabeth James: Well I am glad to be here. I may not have all the witty puns that Jeff Raines does, but...
Andrew: I thank you for that, personally.
Elizabeth: I am equally excited.
Andrew: I am Andrew the average triathlete, voice of the people, and captain of the middle of the pack. Today we’ll get warmed up then we’ll talk through crushing your next marathon or other long distance road race. Then we’ll cool down with a TriDot athlete sharing their own fascinating and fun marathon story. It’s going to be a great show. Let’s get to it.
Warm up theme: Time to warm up! Let’s get moving.
Andrew: From the fastest marathon dressed as a vegetable to the longest scarf knitted while running a marathon, a quick trip to the Guinness Book of World Records’ website reveals so many weird, but fun, marathon records. So, Jeff, Elizabeth, if you were setting out to accomplish a new obscure 26.2 mile race record, what record would you be aiming to set?
Elizabeth: I don’t know if it’s super weird, but the thought that first came to mind—and this may already be out there—but going back to my first love for athletics, I would combine my previous participation in soccer with my love for running and I would be going for the fastest marathon while dribbling a soccer ball.
Andrew: Ah, okay, very good. You put the ball at your feet and you’ve got something else to do the whole time. Keep it controlled, keep it away from other runners’ feet. If you kick it a little too far and it bounces off someone else’s feet you’re going to have to go out of your path to get it back.
Elizabeth: I think it would be a good challenge.
Andrew: That would complicate things for sure. Alright. Jeff Raines, what would you be looking to set as a new marathoning record?
Jeff: Well, a few years back I actually thought about attempting a Guinness World Record. It was one where you push a kid in a stroller. I have a 2 year old, a 4 year old, and one on the way. I thought about attempting that a few years ago. It was like 2:40:00. I think it was recently broken. I think it’s 2:31:00 now.
Andrew: Oh, wow.
Jeff: I can’t do that.
Andrew: Jeff, let me ask you this. How much would I have to pay you to attempt in public to run the fastest naked marathon?
Jeff: Oh my gosh. (Laughing) I’m blushing.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Everybody can’t see his face right now.
Andrew: What’s the number that would get you to the starting line naked for a marathon?
Jeff: Would it be at night?
Andrew: I’ll tell you for me when I was thinking about this it would be a lot of fun to set the fastest marathon record while recording a podcast. How on brand would that be for me at this point? Here’s the thing…the thing is, we could pull this off because you guys are faster than me. Jeff, you’re faster than both of us. You could carry the microphones for us and the recording equipment. Get two little handheld recorders. You can run next to us holding out two recorders and Elizabeth and I can chit chat. We can have the fastest podcast episode ever recorded at the marathon.
Jeff: Live during…
Elizabeth: There we go.
Main set theme: On to the main set. Going in 3…2…1…
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Andrew: For triathletes especially who are used to getting on the run course already fatigued, the stand alone road race is an intriguing chance to really see what we can do in our race day shoes. Today, Jeff and Elizabeth will be talking us through long distance road racing to help us peak just in time for race day. I know you both love the marathon distance maybe more than anything. You both have stupid impressive marathon PRs that I know you’re too humble to brag about. Maybe at some point in the episode today I can pry your PRs out of you. Let’s start here today. Take me back to your first marathon. Where was it? How did it go? Elizabeth, let’s start with you.
Elizabeth: My first marathon was my husband’s and my first marathon. We ran the Lincoln marathon in Lincoln, Nebraska. As we’re walking to the starting line, Charles is just puking in the flower beds of the sorority houses. He says, “It’s just from nerves. We’re going for our first marathon distance. It’s going to be alright.” But when he’s on the side of the road puking his guts out at mile 10, he then discloses that he has a 100 degree fever and decided to start the race anyway.
Andrew: Charles, Charles, Charles…
Elizabeth: Yeah. Gosh. To make matters worse, he is wearing these tiny yellow shorts and little green tank top.
Andrew: In true runner fashion.
Elizabeth: Because he and his buddy, who also came for the marathon, decided that they were going to make it this costume party, as well. They dressed us as Prefontaine, mustache and all. Charles and I both are incredibly stubborn. We had promised each other that we were going to do this first marathon together. Try as I could to convince him to drop out or complete the half instead of the full, he wouldn’t do it. He was like, “No. We’re doing the marathon.” Try as he might to convince me to just go and run it without him, I wouldn’t do it either. I was like, “No. We said we’d do it together.” So we jogged and walked and waited for him to puke for the next 16 miles. Kind of a long day. We finished. He is just ghost white, has crazy fever sweats, puke on his shirt. I’m not even tired. I don’t even know if I was even sweaty. It was a very lackluster experience for me.
Andrew: If that was my first marathon I’m not sure I would go back to do it again.
Elizabeth: Quite the experience there. That was the first one. We kind of joke now that my first marathon was the next spring in Lincoln again. That one went much better, as you can imagine. It was a huge personal best for me. I actually got to run and that was a little more what I expected it to be. Yeah, that first one was kind of a doozy.
Andrew: I’m just glad Charles survived it and I commend your patience on the day. Charles, to his credit, has supported you on very many marathons since then. Jeff Raines, what was your first marathon?
Jeff: Mine was the Dallas marathon. An interesting side story going into it—the year before, a buddy of mine out of college was going for the Olympic trials B standard at the Dallas Marathon. At the finish line he was going to propose to his girlfriend who was also on our track team. What intrigued me was that you could do a five person marathon relay, so some of the other track guys were going to do this relay and pace our buddy. Then we logistically were able to get on buses after our leg of the marathon to rush to the finish to be there so we could all see him give the proposal. So anyway, doing that relay…I think my section was 5-6-7 miles, whatever it was. Just seeing everybody out there and what they go through and how he trained and all of that, motivated me. So I went out the next year and…
Andrew: Did it by yourself.
Jeff: I did pretty well and ended up qualifying for Boston in that first one. But the Dallas Marathon holds a special place in my heart for all those reasons.
Andrew: Very good. When we talk about marathon training, we have to jump straight to this: a lot of athletes ask that come from a triathlon background and they’re interested in doing a standalone marathon or half marathon. The question is this: can you effectively train for a stand alone run event with TriDot? Or is it just better to jump into a running only program to prepare for a race like that?
Jeff: I have multiple athletes that I coach that are just runners. I shouldn’t say “just” runners. They use the TriDot platform for their running. A few of them will incorporate swimming and biking as their cross-training. A few of them are just straight runners that will never touch a bike or swim. So the answer to the question: yes, you can effectively train for stand alone running in TriDot. You change your preferences to run only and then you can also inside of that manipulate the volumes. Low, standard, or high volume of those disciplines. Then you can also add a strength component to that, as well. Absolutely, the TriDot platform accommodates runners and triathletes.
Elizabeth: Just to point out, I did not qualify for the Boston Marathon on my first marathon attempt, unlike Jeff Raines who did. I didn’t qualify for Boston until I began training with TriDot. All of my best marathon performances have been while using TriDot, as well. I was following a running only program. I was doing that for a number of years. I had done quite a number of marathons and just never saw the improvement that I did until I started training with TriDot. So can you do that to train for marathons? Yes. I’ve had incredible success on my Boston qualifying performances doing that, too. I know there’s a number of athletes that have similar experiences qualifying for Boston. Running the 3 hour marathon following their optimized TriDot training. Athletes are able to put a running event, whether that be a half or full marathon into their season planner. Just like TriDot will optimize an athlete’s training for a triathlon, it’s going to optimize their training for that running event also. There’s no need to switch to a different run program. You’re not missing anything. You’re not missing key running sessions. TriDot includes those “key run sessions” with your weekly long run, your speedwork sessions, your aerobic work. As Raines was saying, you’re complementing that running with a well-rounded program that already incorporates cross-training and strength-training.
Andrew: Since it’s optimized, you’re not lacking running. You don’t need more running. You’re getting the running you need to be ready for that race. Not just to complete it, but ready to do your best at it.
Elizabeth: To have your best performance.
Andrew: I’m thinking back…we have a staggering number of Boston qualifiers in the TriDot family, who every year annually qualify for Boston and go and race it. There are several I remember posting their pictures racing from Boston in the TriDot family. So definitely a lot of fasties out there training for their marathons and their half marathons on TriDot. Two of those fasties are the two of you. I would be remiss to not give you the opportunity to tell us how fast you are. I know the people want to know. I would want to know. I’ll even brag on you in this way. Both of you PR’d your marathon just this past calendar year. We’re not even talking about at some point in your younger days you were super fast. Even now you’re running your fastest marathons you’ve ever run in this season of your life. Elizabeth, what is your marathon PR that you just set this past year?
Elizabeth: My PR is 3 hours and 59 seconds. I am desperately working on those 59 seconds to put a 2 in the hour column. But something I’m still very proud of. And that sub 3 hour attempt, I hope to get there soon.
Andrew: We’ll all be rooting for you and can’t wait to see it. It’s going to happen sooner than later. I believe that. Jeff Raines, what is your absurd marathon PR that you’ve set here fairly recently?
Jeff: Let’s just say I’m knocking on the door of dipping under 2:50:00. I’m very, very close. To point out what Elizabeth was saying earlier, my first one I did go out and do decent. I’ve had a lot of horrible ones since then. But I will say after spending a number of years in TriDot...that was 10 years ago…Having spent a number of years—5, 6 years on TriDot—I’m in my mid-30s now. I’m not 24, 25 years old anymore. Because of TriDot, I am now much, much faster than I was straight out of college. Because of TriDot, I’m hoping to dip under 2:50 soon.
Andrew: Jeff, your half marathon PR is what? 1:15:00? 1:14:00?
Jeff: 1:15:00. Yes, sir.
Andrew: I have never run a marathon. My first marathon will be in my first Ironman. So that’s going to be great. You talked about how the cross-training of swimming and biking while training for a marathon can be good. I’ve seen athletes on our TriDot Facebook group. They will put a marathon on their race calendar. They’ll report that it adds a swim session to their week and they ask why. You guys as coaches will give them an answer. Tell me what that answer is? Why is it that swim and biking can serve as such great cross-training for prepping you for a marathon?
Elizabeth: Cross-training is an incredibly important part of a run training plan. Swimming and biking are excellent cross-training that can complement your run training. For example, the zone 2 bike sessions can increase your aerobic capacity. The interval work on the bike is going to help build that leg strength. The swim sessions are also going to help with aerobic capacity. In fact, they can be great recovery. One of my favorite weekly sessions is an aerobic swim after my long run. After putting in those longer miles it just feels great to hop in the pool and take a nice aerobic pace. A little cooler water. Elevate the legs a little bit. Great recovery session there, too.
Andrew: Your body in that scenario, you’re still getting the stamina benefits of working out. You’re just not spending the time on your feet. But in the time pounding pavement in running shoes, if you’re only doing running and training for a long road race, you’re just pounding the pavement. I always think to my poor knees and my poor feet that get injured quickly. If you can build up some of that endurance on the bike or in the pool, that’s just less time you’re having to pound the pavement on your joints and your legs in anticipation of one of those longer races.
Jeff: My best times in 5K and above since college, 10 plus years…have been now because I’m cutting my run volume in half, but I’m adding the cross-training aspect of swimming and biking in the other disciplines now has made me faster. Overall, I’m putting more minutes of training per week in, but I’ve cut the actual running on foot in half and it’s made my running faster than it’s ever been. 5K and above. Something…a lot of that is attributed to what we call doing the right training right. TriDot knows the conditions at which I do my training every single day and my paces and zones are changed throughout the day as the weather changes in my unique city, keeping me safe.
Andrew: Which, Jeff, we now have a whole podcast about that. If people can go back and listen to podcast episode 48 it talks about environmental normalization and how TriDot does that for you. I hadn’t really considered how valuable that can be in your day to day marathon training now.
Jeff: It’s crazy. Supplementing other disciplines and normalizing the day to day paces inside of each day is a game changer.
Andrew: Another big factor in marathon training that…it’s not a myth because the long run is just a staple to long distance training, right? You’ve got to build your stamina up. But some people really want to make sure they run the full 26.2, 13.1. They want to get the mileages in before race day. Some people believe in keeping it under that. How long do our long runs need to be in preparation in a long distance road race.
Jeff: Knowing what your current threshold is by doing an assessment and then converting that threshold out to the distances—13.1, 26.2—then applying the E-Norm (TriDot’s E-Norm Environmental Normalization) and then training at percentages of that is what you want to do. An example, if I’m 4 months out from a marathon and I ran a 20 minute 5K and it says I’m supposed to run a 3:20:00, what TriDot will do it take into account the heat and humidity projected for that day and the elevation gain it’s going to say you’re fit enough right now to run 3:20:00, but you’re probably not going to break a 3:45:00 because of all those elements. Then TriDot will train you at your percentages of the time that you’re going to spend on your specific race day on your specific course.
Andrew: So it’s not so much about training to complete that distance it’s training to be able to run at that pace for the amount of time you’re going to be on course on race day.
Jeff: Exactly. So that stamina…the secret to running fast on race day is to be able to hold certain percentages of your threshold for longer durations. So what we need to do is get our threshold as high and as fast as we can so then we can build that stamina around that. That’s podcast episode number 10. A lot of people have that little birdie in the back of their mind that they just have to know that they ran 20 miles or 22 miles before the marathon.
Andrew: Just to beat that inward anxiety about running that far.
Jeff: There’s no magic number that you need to run. The world will tell you that you might want to hit at least 65-80% of 26.2 miles for your longest long run. Arguably, your longest long run needs to be 2 to 3 weeks out to give you time to recover a little bit there. But, really, for most people it tends to be around 15 to 21(ish) or so miles. Really, it’s all about a certain percentage of the time that you’re going to spend on race day and you’re going to build up to that. Certain people can handle or have different capacities to handle that stamina before race day. It’s different for everyone.
Andrew: Not every session has to be a long run. What are the other run workouts, Elizabeth, that athletes should expect to see in their road race training cycle?
Elizabeth: I had briefly mentioned earlier that TriDot optimizes an athlete’s training and includes those key sessions that you would see in what would be the run only training plan, such as your long run, the interval work, the easy runs. To expand on that a little bit more, based on an athlete’s training stress profile and how much intensity they can handle within a particular session and within a cycle of training, intervals will be prescribed for the athlete’s to maximize their upcoming race results. Raines alluded to this a little bit earlier, and we dive into even more specifics of the various interval sessions and the importance of following those prescribed paces for the purpose of continuing to develop your functional threshold. That’s what you’re holding a percentage of as you increase the stamina and build up for race day. So you’ll see those interval sessions that help develop your threshold. Then you’ll have, as you mentioned, the long run sessions, for the purpose of increasing your stamina for the duration of the event that you’ll be running, whether that’s 13.1 or 26.2 or beyond. Those sessions are complemented by the zone 2 or the aerobic run sessions. Those easier runs enhance your aerobic capacity. They can serve as an act of recovery. They further your run durability. Those are the three main types of run sessions that you would see.
Andrew: Every run serves a purpose.
Elizabeth: Yes! And it should!
Andrew: Every run has its place in the rotation. Guys, there are flatter marathon courses, there are hilly marathon courses, there are mostly downhill courses that athletes seek out to not have to run uphill. There’s even courses that take you off the beaten path and are off-road, half marathons, marathons, ultra runs. So tell me, how does the course affect how we train for a run event?
Jeff: Good question. This has to be brought up on this podcast. So everyone thinks…well, not everyone…but let’s say a newbie or someone wanting to attempt their first marathon or maybe even let’s do the opposite of the spectrum. Maybe there’s been someone on the cusp of trying to qualify for Boston for a number of years or a certain season…
Andrew: Or maybe just a certain time.
Jeff: Yeah! A certain time and they can’t do it. So a lot of people will choose a flat or even net downhill marathon. You even see people choosing the fastest course allowed in the state that is a net downhill, but that is still Boston legal. So people do all this research for these flat or downhill…
Andrew: PR friendly courses.
Jeff: Exactly. I would argue that those courses for some—for most even—are harder. You think, “What? A course with hills in it can be faster than a net downhill?” Absolutely. That’s what people don’t understand is that on the super long flat course, on concrete, on pavement, all that pounding on a flat course, you use the same muscle groups the entire time. There’s a level of vibration fatigue. Even on net downhill courses, the stride is elongated on downhills. A lot of people will have a breaking effort or a breaking aspect to their stride. That just wreaks havoc on your quads, putting on the brakes each step. A lot of people will get cramping and break down those miles 14 to 19. So a little bit of undulation, I would argue, is a faster course. Not just huge long climbs, but a little bit of undulations change the muscle groups, change the posture. Gives you little breaks here and there. Ways to change up your stride a little bit, and combat those crampings of that steady state and just pounding, pounding, pounding all day long.
Elizabeth: To expand on that a little bit, our form and our posture does break down on some of these different terrains. In terms of training for the event, we do need to take those things into consideration, but it’s not like if you’re training for a hilly event you only go and train on hills. Your body is going to know the effort, but it’s not going to necessarily know I’m training on a hill right now or I’m not. There’s things in terms of technique and form that need to be taken into consideration. My training for a hilly course and a flat course doesn’t have a lot of difference between them.
Andrew: Maybe a few isolated sessions you’ll try to find a route that matches that course, but for the most part you just do the session.
Elizabeth: You’re working on the form. You’re working on the technique. But in terms of interval sets that develop my threshold, I’m going to have those no matter what course I’m racing. I’m still going to have the long run. What terrain I’m doing that long run on might vary a little bit, but it’s not like if you’re training for a hilly course and you live in a flat area you can’t be successful either. That’s an absolute possibility.
Andrew: Even with mixing in swim and bike sessions to cross train and doing the right training without totally just excessive junk miles, inherently we will spend a lot more time in our running shoes training for a long run event. Jeff, are there any kind of shoe rotation considerations we should be making as the miles start adding up?
Jeff: I would encourage you to do the majority of your training in your heavy, more traditional shoe. In that traditional shoe category, it has a 3 to 400 mile life expectancy. There’s a debate out there, even marketing tools: “Our shoe lasts 600 miles before you have to replace it.” Stuff like that. I’ve pretty much worn them all out there. 400 miles tends to be the max for most. A lot depends on the terrain that you’re running on daily, your weight, and how much you beat up the shoe. Typically about 300 miles in to the life of your more traditional shoe, you need to start mixing in a newer model. Start breaking that in as you’re finishing out the last little bit of life in your previous shoe. Ideally in a perfect world you’d have three different types of shoes. Your race day, “flat,” minimal lighter weight, sleeker race day shoe. You might have the one I was talking about—a heavier trainer. More traditional.
Andrew: A little more of a drop.
Jeff: Absolutely. A little more carbon rubber, stiffer, heavier on it. Stuff like that. Then you have your middle weight shoe for a little bit of both—tempo runs, fartleks, and maybe for assessments or super hard track workouts, you can wear that lighter race day shoe. I would still argue that 70 to 90% of your running needs to be in that more traditional, drop shoe. That drop being 8 to 12 millimeter offset. Anything, arguably, flatter than an 8 mm offset, the ramp inside the shoe, tends to be understood as going in that more minimal direction. So just kind of know what you need. About 6 to 8 weeks out from that big key A race. That long distance run race is when I start to mix in that more race day shoe.
Jeff: So don’t be in too big of a rush to do a lot of training in that super sleek, lighter weight shoe if you’re not used to it.
Andrew: Just enough that you’re familiar with it.
Andrew: So you put in the training and race day comes. Is there anything athletes need to know about navigating the pre-race environment? Or is packet pick-up and showing up similar to a local triathlon?
Jeff: I would say the day before, do it quickly. Do it early. Get out there. If it’s an outdoor packet pick-up, don’t stand in the sun all day. If it’s a giant expo, just get in, get your stuff. You can shop after the race. Spending a lot of time in expo waiting in lines trashes those legs. Get in, get out, get off your feet. Do the race, then worry about the fun swag later on. But a lot of people…I call it race eyes. I see it a little bit more in Ironman because it’s a 17 hour day.
Andrew: Race eyes?
Jeff: I call it race eyes. The race morning people are so in the zone. They’ve got these big bulging eyes and they may bump you, run into you. It’s all about them. Here, now, get out of my way. It’s me. My race is coming up. They just have these frantic movements and stuff like that. What I would say is leading up to the race—whether it’s race morning or the day before. Don’t be frantic. Try to enjoy what you’re doing. Stay calm, cool, and collected. You burn a lot of nervous energy, especially if it’s your first one. So try to take your time. I’ll also say that you’re going to talk to a lot of people. In line the day before picking up your packet. Race morning…
Andrew: I do that trying to keep my mind off the race.
Jeff: That’s a great thing to do. At the same time, people want to tell you their life story. They want to tell you every injury they had along the way. Every dog that chased them. You could stand there for two hours the day before the race and all these things. Don’t take anyone else’s advice that you learn or heard of the day before. “You do this. You use these types of socks? I might need to do that.” You go buy something new and get blisters by mile 8 and you’re in trouble. Don’t take someone else’s advice on those pre-race environments and adopt that philosophy into your next day race. Stick to what you know and what you’ve prepared for. One last thing is if you’re getting out there early, you’re walking through thousands of people, essentially, and you’re corralled in a certain corral—A, B, C, D—some people start two or three streets a half mile away from other people, depending on how big the race is.
Andrew: So you need to know in advance which corral you’re a part of know, where to show up, where to go to, and know how to navigate where to line up pre-race.
Jeff: Yes. Do all that research. Get out there early. Also know…because you can get stuck in crowds. Not only before the race, but during the race, even. That 26.2 mile race may be 26.8 or 27 point something miles because you’re stuck in crowds. If there’s a left hand turn coming up and you’re stuck way on the right-hand side of the road then you’re stuck in the race. We’ll talk about tangents later. But position yourself in a smart, efficient way at the start line.
Elizabeth: I’m so glad we’re talking about this question as pre-race is crucial for having a great day. Jeff had already mentioned so much great stuff about the days prior—packet pick-up, what to expect there. Just a couple more things to touch on for the morning of the event, we’ve got a couple recommendations there. We’ll shorten it down to three. One, I’d say know your bathroom availability and plan accordingly. As part of your preparation and pre-race routine, know where the bathrooms are. Think about where you can go and what the lines might be like. You might also want to consider bringing your own toilet paper, as well. That seems to be a good staple. You will appreciate that and I’m sure a couple other people around you that maybe didn’t think about that will appreciate it, too.
Andrew: You can be the savior of their day.
Elizabeth: Yes, for sure. The importance of the corrals. Know when your corral opens and closes. I’ve seen it before where the race officials will close those corrals and it doesn’t matter that you were 30 seconds late. You are no longer in that corral. You have to go further back. That could mess a little bit with your race plan, as well. Knowing when your corral opens and closes is also going to play into that bathroom availability and planning your morning timeline. Within that timeline, I’d say the third thing to touch on for some pre-race things to consider is make time and find an area to warm up. The corral area is usually very crowded, so you may need to find a side street and plan for that. I’ll usually do that 10 minute jog then find a side street to do some of those dynamic exercises and strides before getting to my corral with a little time to spare.
Andrew: The longer the race, the more important pacing ourselves appropriately can become. How do we know what our race pace should be and what are your top tips for staying on pace?
Jeff: I’ll say this, first of all: a lot of people want to bank time.
Andrew: Banking time, if someone is unfamiliar with that, that is…if you want to run an average 9 minute mile, you run faster than that early on so that when you start getting tired you’ve banked that time.
Jeff: I will say that is the biggest mistake. You can make up a minute or two in the last couple miles of the race by going out conservative, feeling good, and finishing strong. But once you’re hurting in a race, you’re typically not going to get it back. Especially going into that first one. So everyone has an idea of what they’re capable of, but I will add that…be cognizant. Starting two weeks out of the race, you know the weather’s going to change 20 times between 15 days out and race day. Just watching the wind direction—is it going to change during the race? Is it going to be 20 miles per hour or 5? Is it going to be humid? Just knowing a little bit of those environmental conditions, but also knowing where the hill’s at. Where they’re at on the course. I will say that 9 times out of 10, runners tend to run a little bit harder on an uphill than what they need to. I will say that in my experience, marathoners—even if there’s a hill or two inside of that one mile—they like to run even splits the entire race.
Andrew: Yeah, so they’re working too hard for that mile.
Jeff: Yeah, so that “harder” mile with that hill in it, they might run effort-wise 45 seconds harder that mile just to run an even mile split, the same mile split as they did on the flat mile before that. So don’t be afraid on those hilly miles to let the overall average pace fall a little bit, because you’ll make them up on the others. Have a strategy, know the course, get with your coach, and understand how to adapt to those hills and those environmental conditions.
Elizabeth: I’d say the other thing that’s just fantastic is RaceX because RaceX is going to outline your pace per mile for your best results. One thing that I would say as a tip for staying on pace is just to take it one mile at a time. So know what the course is like. Know if there’s going to be a hill here. If it’s a downhill, what the effort needs to be. Focus on that current mile. Each mile that you can do staying within your race plan is a win. Tips for staying on pace: don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Just take it one mile at a time. One win at a time. Then conquer the next mile when you get there.
Jeff: I would say be patient. If you’re feeling good, just wait, just wait, just wait. Give yourself that mile mark. For me, it’s mile 15. Now I’ve been patient. I will reward myself by being able to maybe knock 5 to 10 seconds off that next mile.
Andrew: Something that a lot of road races offer that triathlons can’t, just by nature of the sport, is they’ll have pace groups. Or they’ll have a pacer. Oftentimes it’s guys working the race. They’ll have a sign 3:30, 3:40, 4 hours, 5 hours. So if you’re trying to hit a certain time you can run with that guy the whole way, knowing that he’s going to hold that pace for that pace group. Is this a good strategy if you’re shooting for a good time? Or is it better to ignore that and run how RaceX tells you to run?
Jeff: I’m going to go ahead and answer that. Pacers, pace groups can be good and bad. A lot of it depends on if that pacer of the pace group…are they going to run in the center of the street the entire race? We alluded to tangents. If you run in the middle of the street…courses…Boston qualifier courses or certified courses, I would even say (they don’t have to be Boston only) they mark the distance based on perfect tangents. So if there’s a turn a half mile down, they’re going to take the tangent the shortest distance between two points of that entire half mile stretch before the turn comes and that’s how they create 26.2 miles. So if you run on the center of the street and there’s a bunch of rights, a bunch of lefts in that race, you could easily add a whole entire mile to your race. You might see 27, 27.2. There’s hardly ever been a race where I’ve ever crossed the finish line at 26.2. It might be 26.25, 26.3. So if you’re not taking perfect tangents, you will add a lot of time, or a lot of distance to your race, which will knock down your average pace. You can even ask that pace leader, “Are you going to run in the center of the street? Are you good at taking tangents? Are you cognizant of that?” So you could keep them in view, but you may want to leave the group to take a tangent or something like that. But bigger races will have these pace groups. Bigger races also announce on their website, “The 3:00 to 3:10 group will have this person. They’ve done this 10 times before. Here’s their credentials.” A lot of times their contact info will be on there. So a month, two months, three months before the race. Shoot them an e-mail, “What’s your strategy? Are you going to run perfectly even splits? Are you going to negative split? Are you going to bank time? I may or may not want to do that. My coach has me doing this.” Reach out to them if you can, but I would say know the strategy that you’re going to do beforehand. Has that person done one of these pace things before? Stuff like that. There’s a number of reasons in how they can help you or how they can hurt you. It depends on how serious your goals are. If it’s your first one and you’d just love to break 4 hours, then run with that individual, by all means.
Elizabeth: I won’t repeat everything that Raines said there, but I would 100% agree that running with a pace group and knowing what their strategy is will help you decide if that’s going to be an appropriate thing for you. To add to that, don’t be afraid to break away from that group when it doesn’t serve your own race strategy. It happens that pacers have bad days, too. You also don’t want to be fully reliant on them. They can get off pace. They can have GPS issues with their watch.
Andrew: Pacers have feelings, too.
Elizabeth: Yes! Whether that’s needing to back off and not necessarily stick with the group for a portion of that where they would be pushing harder than what’s serving your race plan, or going ahead of the group when your race is going well. Be prepared to follow your own race plan, and if it just happens to meet your plan and you have some company along the way, then that’s a bonus.
Andrew: A dreaded thing in the long distance road racing world is hitting the wall and/or bonking. I’ve heard some people say the wall of the marathon at wall 23. Some people tell you it’s at mile 19. Some people tell you it’s at mile 21. But everybody dreads the idea of getting deep into that race that you’ve trained so hard for and hitting the wall, bonking, running out of energy. What does this look like and how can you avoid it happening to you?
Jeff: Well, Andrew, even the best fall down sometimes.
Andrew: There’s a song for that.
Jeff: Literally, fall down in marathons and running. And there’s hitting the wall or bonking. The human body isn’t designed to run all out for that distance. It’s tough. It’s such a unique distance. Hitting the wall, bonking is typically a nutrition aspect. You run out of energy stores to hold that aggressive of a pace for that long. Typically I see it’s when people race a little bit harder than they trained or maybe they didn’t hit or follow their training plan perfectly and then they go out. Or maybe it’s what we alluded to earlier—maybe you did some sort of test or assessment, 5K, 10K, or a half marathon, and you used a simple online converter. “I ran this for a shorter distance so I should be able to hit this for a long.”
Andrew: It might be too aggressive or incorrect for your ability.
Jeff: Yeah. Maybe you didn’t take into account hills and environmental conditions and stuff like that. Or what I also see a lot is that people train in a certain location then they travel a couple hundred miles away, a couple states away to go do that big fun A race and the altitude differential is different, the temperature, the humidity is all different than the conditions of which they trained in. So there are a lot of things that could happen on race day. Maybe the food that was available for you traveling is a different pre-race meal than what you had. So there’s so much that go into race day and so many things that can hinder you. All those things together, one of all those things…all of that can factor into bonking or hitting the wall. Typically it’s not having that nutrition strategy. The human body can only store up and have enough energy and stores to last about 60 to 90 minutes at a hard intensity. So you have to refuel inside of a marathon. You have to eat. You have to drink. If you don’t do that correctly then those energy stores run out.
Andrew: So just like we preach with triathlon, it’s practicing that in your long sessions, and training and knowing what your body needs calorie wise to get you through a race of that duration and then keeping yourself topped off on the energy stores on race day, right?
Jeff: I think hitting the wall and bonking is a whole podcast on itself. Essentially what it is--it’s a defense mechanism. You’re late into the race, your energy stores are low, and your body is in an alert alarming state. It’s trying to let you know, “Hey, I’m running out of my energy stores here. The gas light is on.” So your body is literally trying to slow you down. Cramp. Stop your muscles. Stop your body, so you can recover.
Andrew: We need a podcast episode called “Debunking the Bonk” and talk all about that. When you spectate at a marathon, not unlike a triathlon, actually, there’s this pageantry of colors between the run shoes and singlets and arm sleeves and compression socks. Every runner is geared up a little bit differently. Is there an optimal attire that we should wear for optimal performance? Or is marathon culture just wear what you like to wear and there isn’t any pros and cons?
Elizabeth: I would say that optimal attire is light, comfortable, and weather appropriate.
Andrew: That’s a good way to summarize that.
Elizabeth: I’m going to emphasize the weather appropriate there. My best running performances have been in very different attire, from shorts and a singlet in a marathon I ran last fall to rain jacket, hat, and gloves during Boston 2018. I’ve had very different (albeit very appropriate) attire for those races for the last couple of years. So you’re going to want to wear something that gives you an optimal body temperature, whether that’s a couple layers or a rain jacket to stay warm or light clothing with shorts and a singlet to stay cool. And then something that doesn’t create a lot of additional drag. So you want it to fit well and you don’t want more drag than would be necessary to keep your temperature at that optimal place.
Andrew: So 26.2 mile long course does not always end up being 26.2 miles on our watch by the time we’re done. Jeff, you’ve already mentioned this in talks about the tangents and running them. Because if we aren’t smart out there we can find ourselves easily running way further than intended. So, Jeff, you’ve mentioned running tangents, but what are all the strategies that you have for running the course as efficiently as possible?
Jeff: Good point. So a tangent is defined as the shortest distance between two points. So we want to take the tangents to get as close to 26.2 miles as we can, that yields a faster finish time. Some things that I will do is if my nutrition is not in jeopardy, I will skip aid stations. I don’t drink at every single aid station that is available for me in a stand alone half or full marathon. If there’s a left hand turn coming up and the aid station is on the right hand side of the street, I’m not going to run all the way across the street and add 10-20-30 feet to my race to grab an ounce of water to then turn around to get back to that spot before that turn. So that one or two ounces of water isn’t going to speed me up enough to negate that five or eight seconds I just added by going to go grab that cup of water. So I would know on the map, where are the aid stations on the course? Where do they coincide with the tangents and the turns? I would know I’m going to skip the mile 3 one because at mile 4 or 4.5, the aid station is placed at a better spot for me. So knowing the course and knowing where the aid stations are. Also know the slopes of the road. If there’s a bunch of left hand turns or you want to take a perfect tangent, but that means the entire race your left leg may be longer than your right leg because the slope, so one of your legs takes more torque, let’s say, or more ground contact time than the other leg. That’s probably the leg that’s going to start cramping first. So know that I have a three mile straight section before a right hand turn. So maybe I want to run perfectly in the middle of the road and take a longer tangent to get to the middle of the road. Don’t just run straight to the middle of the road, but take some time to gradually work your way to the middle of the road so you’re spreading out that slope evenly. The left hand side of the road may slope up toward the middle of the road and then it’s going to slope back down the other direction as your approach the right hand side of the road, because that’s water run off. My wife is an engineer for the state at TXDOT (Texas Department of Transportation). Those little things like that—knowing the sloping of the roads and as you run across it. So you may say this five mile stretch you’re allowed to run on that middle stripe. You know what? These turns are so short, they’re only a quarter mile. It’s okay to run on the slope because it’s only a quarter mile because it’s going to make your tangent much shorter. So things like that can take minutes off your finish time. If you’re going to run in the middle of the road, a lot of times there are reflectors or sewer lids, drain grates that you’re going to run over. So if you’re in a pack of 10, 20, or 30 people sometimes you don’t see those reflectors. I see people all the time rolling ankles or falling.
Andrew: It’s not like cycling in a pack where people call out obstructions coming up.
Elizabeth: Or even the big posts on bicycle paths or cones. There’s some dangerous things you’ve got to be aware of.
Jeff: Lastly, in headwinds make a smart decision. It may be worth it for you to tuck behind people and draft. It’s perfectly legal to draft in running. Even in triathlon on the run you can draft. You can’t on the bike. But you may say, “Oh my gosh! This unexpected headwind just hit me in the face. This is crazy. I don’t want to fight this for x number of miles.” So it may be worth it for you to tuck behind someone--even if it hurts your pace a little bit--to save that energy rather than fight it the whole time. So wind direction is another one to be aware of.
Andrew: Particularly on these longer races where you do have a longer duration that you’re out there running for to save a little time. Slow down a little bit. Tuck in behind someone and save the energy for later. That’s a good point.
Jeff: Even if you know the person you’re drafting off of isn’t taking perfect tangents, it might still be worth it to you to add a slight bit of distance to your race knowing that you’re negating that by conserving energy on the headwind.
Elizabeth: That’s where—going to back to the pace groups—they can be beneficial, too. You’ve got built in wind blocks there if it’s following your race strategy.
Andrew: So as a coach, let’s wrap up today with this one. There’s been so much marathon wisdom in this episode. As coaches, what would you guys consider to be that top piece of marathon wisdom? That tip or piece of advice you want to be at the forefront of your athletes’ minds as they line up to start their longer distance road races? What would you say that tip is for you?
Jeff: You know, almost the whole podcast here in one sentence would be this: be patient. Again, don’t bank time early. Take the tangents. Run with joy. Enjoy what you’re doing. Don’t get too caught up in everything. “Oh my gosh, I’m three seconds off that mile,” and let it ruin your entire race. You’ll hear this a lot, “Don’t trust a fart.”
Andrew: It had to be said.
Elizabeth: We couldn’t do the podcast without that, right?
Jeff: Sorry, guys. Don’t do anything new on race day that you haven’t done in training.
Elizabeth: Mine is a little shorter. I would just say, “One mile at a time.” If you go in thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to run 26 miles,” or “I’ve got to hold this pace for hours and hours,” it can feel daunting. Just take it one mile at a time. One win at a time. One foot in front of the other. It’s going to be a good day.
Cool down theme: Great set everyone! Let’s cool down.
Andrew: Completing a marathon is a grand achievement, for sure. For every marathon run there is a corresponding story with what happened out there on course during those 26.2 miles. I threw out a post on the I Am TriDot Facebook group inviting athletes to share their favorite marathon race day stories. We had some fantastic submissions. A big thanks to all of the athletes that took a moment to send me a story. There are stories of fighting through an injury. Stories ending in marriage proposals. Stories of knocking down PRs and qualifying for Boston. Truly some great stuff out there from you all. I’m going to share one today and we’ll definitely share some more of your marathon stories on upcoming episodes of the podcast. Today’s story comes from Heather from Pennsylvania. This is her account of completing the Marine Corps marathon on a rainy day that also just so happened to be her birthday.
Heather: Hello, TriDot Ambassador Heather Macklan here. One of my most memorable marathon race day stories has to be the Marine Corps marathon from last October 2019. There was very, very heavy rain in Quantico. I remember hopping on the train going from the hotel to the starting line. A couple of my friends joined me. They were doing the 10K so they had different starting point than I did for the marathon. We parted ways. I was in the opposite direction. So there I was getting off the train in my poncho. I had dry shoes in a bag so I could swap them out and at least start the race with a dry set of sneakers on. Interesting story—I was in the port-a-potty line. So many of us in races have been in that port-a-potty line, pre-race. You never know who you’re going to meet. I met a woman named Molly. Small world--I have a daughter named Molly. Instant connection. Her dad was a Marine and he happened to pass away 4 months before the race due to illness. We shared a special moment together. She won the lottery that year to race and felt like it was meant to be. We really connected. I only spoke with her for about 15 minutes, but I will never forget that conversation. She totally gave me the motivation to suck it up that day and to power through all the insane weather. So we had a rolling start. At the beginning I had my dry Hokas. I threw them on, started running, and slowly ripped the poncho off and took it to a trash can. This race was interestingly enough on my birthday. Why not run a marathon on your birthday? I had all the right intentions. I was all hyped up. They announced my name with about 30 others at the start and wished us a happy birthday. Thank goodness I was not the only one crazy enough to run in this horrible rain on my birthday. Mile 5 I saw a guy with a, “It’s my birthday,” written on the back of his shirt. I slapped him on the back and said, “Happy birthday! Mine too.” At the same time we both looked at each other and said, “What were we thinking?” I kept running. Told him to have a great race. About midway through the race there was a blue mile. It’s a silent mile honoring all of the fallen heroes. Very, very emotional experience to go through dry, as well as wet. They had pics of those who lost their lives fighting for our country. Several Marines were lined up holding flags as we ran through this area. Ponding water at this point was filling the roads and the running trails. I kept telling myself to keep going no matter what. Every step was one step closer to the finish line. It was very emotional to see all of the Marines holding up those flags in this terrible weather. It gave me so much more motivation to continue. During mile 23 the sun finally came out. It was a 5K left until I was going to cross that finish line. The rain did not cool things off. The sun was very bright and the temperature rose quickly along with loads of humidity. It was a beautiful finish. It actually brought tears to my eyes at the finish line. I high-fived quite a few Marines as I crossed. They placed the finisher medal around my neck. I felt like it was an invaluable experience. The soggiest race I ever ran. Flights in D.C. were grounded for 45 minutes during that race. I found out, post-race. But what was awesome was there were still people cheering all along the race course. The rain didn’t hold them back from showing amazing support. I will never forget that experience. That was the last race that I participated in before COVID-19 interfered with our race schedules and our lives. It makes me appreciate what I was able to experience even more.
Andrew: That’s it for today, folks. Thanks so much to Heather for sharing the story of racing in the rain at the Marine Corps marathon. Listen, we do a lot of random things on the cool-downs of these podcast episodes. I want you all to realize that putting your stories on our podcast is my absolute favorite way to cool down our shows. Everyday athletes like you and me are the heartbeat of endurance sports. I never get tired of hearing different folks’ stories. If you, like Heather, have had a memorable day racing a marathon or an Ironman or any other endurance event, please let me know. I want to put your story on the show. Head to TriDot.com/podcast and click on “Leave us a Voicemail.” Right there, on the website, you can record your story into your phone or computer and they go straight from our website to my e-mail inbox. A big thanks to Coaches Jeff Raines and Elizabeth James for talking marathon and half marathon training with us today. A shout-out to TriTats for partnering with us on today’s episode. We’ll do it all again soon. Until then—happy training!
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