Category Archives: Health & Nutrition

The Toughest Days on the Schedule [a rest day]

Is it just me?  Am I the only one that feels this way?  I think rest days are the toughest ones on the schedule.  I mean… well… think about it.  If you think God made us to run, then our bodies should be clamoring to run.  And today, mine is.  It is screaming out with every fiber of its being.  The message is loud and clear:  “Go, Run, Play!”

Maybe the first and last words of that command would be okay, but my schedule says no running today.  My mind says no running today.  I have qualified for Boston three times now with schedules that included at least 1 rest day per week, so I know it works!  We need this day to recuperate before the big Saturday pace run and the long Sunday run.  With no rest, these runs could go flat, or much worse things like injuries and overtraining could sideline me for a while.  So, I faithfully take the day off.

Still, my body cries out: “Go, Run, Play!”

Is it just me?

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Happy Running!

Strength Training to Cure IT Band Pain

I have spoken with quite a few runners recently that have IT band pain.  After watching their running form, I come to the conclusion that many of the IT Band issues stem from two types of problems: weak glutes or extreme pronation.

weak gluteus medius (2)

Research shows that people with IT band pain tend to have weaker glute muscles than the average runner.  This being the case, many people’s IT band issues can be cured through strength training. Weak gluteus medius muscles cause excessive hip drop, which allows the knee to buckle inward, putting stress on the IT band by squishing it.

overpronation

Extreme pronation can also cause an imbalance that puts pressure on the IT band in similar way.  Beyond the typical pronation issues, extreme tends to cause the runner’s knee to buckle inward as they land.  This buckling towards the inside causes pressure on the IT band as the outside of the upper leg (the home of the IT band) is shortened.  In these extreme cases, wearing shoes that are designed to prevent pronation are not enough to stop it.  This, too, can be addressed with strength training.  The goal in this case is strong and flexible feet, ankles, and calves.

Here are the exercises that I recommend for alleviating (and eventually eliminating) IT band issues:

Glutes/Abductor

Lower Leg, Ankle/Pronation

Both AreasMAKE SURE YOU FOCUS ON BALANCE AND FORM

If you have not been doing these exercises regularly, then take it easy on yourself.  Start with just a few repetitions on each exercise.  Gradually build up the number of reps and/or the distance.

For most people, this strength training will gradually alleviate and eliminate your IT band pain.

Make sure you focus on good form.  Doing them in bad form may aggravate your injury or even cause a new one!

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“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”

    — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Running in Cold and Icy Weather

What adjustments do you need to make for running when the cold weather appears?

Pace

According to a formula worked out by Tom “Tinman” Schwartz, our running paces are not only slowed by heat, but also by cold temperatures as well.  Schwartz found that 53 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for the runners in his study.  The farther the temperature moves away from 53 (hotter or colder), the slower the pace they would achieve with the same effort.

For example, you can expect a time increase of 1.66 percent when the temperature drops to 30 degrees, a 3 percent increase at 20 degrees, a 5.33 percent increase at 10 degrees and an 8.33 percent increase in time when the temperature hits 0 degrees.  The formula may vary slightly for runners of different body types, but the trend will still hold true for all.

My point is that you need to give yourself a break and not expect to run your best pace in freezing temperatures.  Thankfully, however, training through these cold weather months will pay off.  Persevere!

Attire

Personally, I am quite comfortable running in 40 degree weather if I have the proper attire.  Below 30 degrees begins to become uncomfortable.  Thankfully, there are ways to get more comfortable in cold weather.  You can adjust to cold weather by adding layers of clothing.  This gives it a big advantage over running in the summer.  After all, there is a limit of how much clothing you can remove to adjust for heat.   :)

For the cold temperatures, dress in light layers.  A huge coat or heavy pants will weigh you down.  Light layers can hold your body heat effectively but have the added advantage that you can take them off if you get a little hot.  Light layers also have the advantage of allowing you to maintain good running form.  Cover your head and neck.  Mittens are often better than gloves, but wear whatever you are comfortable wearing.

Barefoot & minimalist shoes might not be the best choice on the coldest days.  I believe it is possible to get frostbite on your feet even if the rest of you is toasty-warm.

Ice & Snow

Please be careful when it comes to slippery conditions.  One slip is all it takes to injure yourself.  It is better to take an extra rest day than it is to risk your health.  Moreover, that little slip can lead to a much longer rest if you have to wear a cast!  I’m aware that those that live in the north probably see snow and ice is just a way of life, but you at least have to be careful.  Take extra care and slow your pace down in these conditions so you can live to run another day.

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!” — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Wise Running: The Truth About Cramps

I will tell you two truths about cramping up front and then explain them:

  1. Nobody fully understands all of the reasons for exercise induced cramps.
  2. Since we don’t fully understand the causes, we also don’t know of an ultimate solution.

Electrolytes and Cramping

Most people think of electrolytes as the key to avoid cramping.  If you avoid running low on sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes, then you can avoid cramping, right?  Maybe not.

Research trying to establish a correlation between muscle cramps and low levels of electrolytes in the blood of athletes have shown no significant relationship between these two variables.  This makes it highly unlikely that electrolytes are the culprit for the average runner.  Does this mean that I do not believe in the electrolyte tablets that I am taking?  No.  First, these studies are correlational.  The big limitation of correlational research is that it can’t prove that one variable is the cause, or not the cause, of the changes in another variable.  Hence, we need other kinds of more carefully crafted research before we can negate the possibility that my electrolyte tablets are helping me.stretching

On the other hand, I do believe that it is possible that only some of us need the electrolyte supplements.  I have two things that make my electrolytes lower than they should be:  genetics and eating habits.  Genetically, I have ADHD.  As an ADHD person I am aware that I use up electrolytes faster than the non-ADHD population.  Making matters worse, I have never eaten as many vegetables as I was supposed to consume.  I believe these are the best sources of electrolytes.  I think there is a good chance that if I ate more veggies, my need for the supplements would fade.

Beyond Electrolytes

While electrolyte supplements may or may not help, there are are several other theories about why muscle cramping might occur.  Insufficient fuel on a long run (>13 miles) can mean that your muscles simply cannot work properly.  In addition to proper fueling, cramps can be caused by overdoing it.  If your effort in a race is significantly more than you have done in training, your muscles may not be able to handle it.  Finally, short muscles may contribute to your cramping.  Working one side of your legs much harder than the other side for a long time may cause your muscles to become shorter and tighter.  The imbalance between the sides can cause cramping.

My Recommendations

The fact that there may be many causes for muscle cramping means that you should use a balanced approach.

  • Electrolyte Supplements  – I have not given up on my supplements, but the research definitely calls into question whether the average runner needs them.  When I do use them, I use them primarily as a preventative measure.  In doing that, however, I try to use as little as possible.  Experience is the best teacher.  I started with none and then gradually added some when I had issues during or after the workout.  Over time, I began to understand how much I need.  Electrolyte supplements are not cheap; don’t use them if they don’t help you!
  • Salt Tablets or Packets –  Studies have found that if your are experiencing cramps, one way to halt them is consume table salt.  They found that it the effect it has is to stimulate the brain to stop the leg cramping.  It does not stop because of the sodium, just the salty taste is enough.  Salt, therefore is not a preventative measure.  It is used after the cramps occur.
  • Stay within Your Limitations – Operate at the level of intensity for which you have trained.  Going beyond that can push your muscles too far.  They will rebel!
  • Stretch regularly AFTER exercise – Static stretches before exercise can hurt your performance.  Stick with dynamic stretching and warming up before exercise.  Static and dynamic stretches throughout the day after the workout, however, can lengthen and relax the muscles.  That can reduce or eliminate cramping altogether.
  • Hydration - The current recommendation of experts tend to be to drink to thirst.  This literally means let your body tell you how much to drink and when.  Others still recommend 4- to 6 ounces every 20 minutes.  Just as with the electrolyte supplements, you will have to figure out what is best for you.  Pay attention to how your body responds and learn what it needs for optimal performance.

Electrolyte supplement may or may not be helpful, so make sure you try the other recommendations too!  If you do stretch, stop and relax.  I don’t care if you are in a race.  Until you relax, your cramping is unlikely to subside.  When the muscles calm down, gently stretch and move them.  If you must continue after that, do so gently and paying great attention.  It is better to have a slow race time than to have an injury that will slow you down for months.

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!

wise running logo 7_25_12

 

 

50 Pounds Lighter: Why, When, and How?

Almost a decade ago, I weighed 50 pounds more than I do today.  I knew I did not feel comfortable at that weight, but everyone told me I looked healthy.  Hence, I was not too concerned.  The day that changed that was the day a nutrition expert came to our church to give a talk.  After the talk, she used her fancy gadget to measure my body fat percent.  I was 5 pounds of fatabout 20% fat.  Then I did the math.  20 % of 210 pounds is 42 pounds.  I had 42 pounds of fat.  Have you ever seen what 5 pounds of fat looks like?  Here is a picture.  Each of the hosts are holding 5 pounds of fat.  I was carrying more than 8 of those blobs on my body!

This info was too much for me.  Something had to be done.  I did a little exercise now and then.  I would run 3 miles every week or two.  I would jump on the trampoline with my kids.  I knew however that you exercising is not the most effective way to lose weight.  It can be done, but you have to be willing to make the increase in exercise be a permanent one.  Besides, research shows that changing your diet is more effective than changing your exercise for successful, permanent weight loss.

Remember This:
If you want to lose weight, exercise is not the right place to start.
Your diet has a much larger impact on your weight than your exercise.

Lifestyle Change 1:  Changing How Much I Ate

I knew that I had to change my diet.  I had watched many people failing at dieting in the past.  The thing that most of them had in common was that they made changes that were too drastic to be able to maintain.  I decided that I would start out by only changing one variable:  how much I ate.  I decided NOT to change what I ate, figuring that I could change that after this part had worked.  Hence, I did not stop eating fast foods and the other things that dieticians disdain.  No, I just cut back on my calories for the day.

I did not starve myself.  I know that that cues the body to store fat, which is the opposite of my goal.  I set up a little spreadsheet with and schedule of how many calories to eat during each part of the day.  I did not cut out nay meals or snacks, just consumed fewer calories at each stage throughout the day than before.  I was also determined to not deprive myself of my ice cream.  I saved an allotted number of calories for the ice cream that I always had in the evening.  I did not have as much as before, but I had some.

No depriving.  No skipping meals.  I merely cut back about 300 calories a day for several months.  I lost 20 pounds through this method and it never came back.  It was a lifestyle change.

Lifestyle Change 2:  Regular Running

I had leveled off at around 190 pounds and maintained that weight +/- 5 pounds for several years.  The second stage of weight loss occurred when I started running again.  I had taken about 24 years off of regular running, so any increase in mileage would make a difference.  I went from maybe 3 miles a week to around 25 miles per week.  Over the next several months, I gradually lost weight until I leveled off at around 180 pounds.  I was thirty pounds lighter after these two lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle Change 3:  Changing What I ate

The third lifestyle change was not my choice.  I was sick for 6 months and eventually we guessed the problem: gluten intolerance.  The transition to gluten-free living was quite difficult.  I had to give up real bread (gluten-free bread is NOT the same).  Especially at the beginning stages, my GI system was quite frail.  I had to eat simple whole foods as much as possible.  I had to avoid red meat for a few months.  I still do not each it very often.  I gave up all dairy products for the first few months too.  My diet revolved mostly around plant-based foods:  legumes, fruits, & veggies.  During this time, I ended up losing about 20 more pounds and leveled out at about 160 pounds.  Although I have added some foods back in, I maintained most of the changes in what I eat.  as a result, I remain leveled off at 160 pounds +/5 pounds.

So there you have it.

  • Exercise accounts for only about 20% of my permanent weight loss.
  • Changes in how much I eat account for 40% of my weight loss.
  • Changes in which foods I choose to eat account for 40% of my weight loss.

None of these changes were exercises in starvation.  None of these changes were radical shifts in how much I worked out.  They were relatively mild.  My weight loss journey took several years.

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!

wise running logo 7_25_12

 

 

Running 101: Blisters and Chafing

cross country shoesRunning is awesome.  We love running fast and running far.  What we don’t love so much is the blisters and chafing that can come with it.  If you are a veteran runner, you have probably mastered the art of avoiding these painful skin ailments.  If not, here is some basic info to help get you started down the road to relief.

What Causes Blisters & Chafing?

Heat, moisture, and friction are the killer combination that cause skin to gradually weaken and become irritated.  Eventually irritation becomes damage.  The bloody nipple is the scourge of distance runner.  Ouch!  There are other areas that chafe, too.  These can be even more painful!  Blisters, of course, are usually on the feet.  We are all familiar with these.

Preventing Chafing

The best cure for blisters and chafing is prevention!  If you know the areas that chafe, then you can proactively use these techniques to avoid that chafing:

  1. Sometimes it is as simple as changing your clothes.  For example, I used to get chafing where my thighs rubbed each other.  When I switched to Under Armour underwear, the thighs no longer touched each other.  Problem solved.
  2. Applying a skin lubricant, such as Body Glide, will often solve your problem before it starts.  This handles the nipple chafing that I used to get when running over a certain distance.
  3. Other people use a combination of home remedies that they have tried.  Ask your running friends what they do!

Preventing blisters on your feet can be a bigger challenge.  You are coming down on your feet with the weight of your body. Any movement that your feet do within your shoes can potentially create friction and lead to blisters.  Here are some common strategies for avoiding blisters:

  1. Change your socks.  Cotton is not good.  Get a specialty wicking running sock.  Also make sure that the socks have a snug fit.  Even when wet, there should be no bunching or gathering.  These cause blisters every time!
  2. Moisturize with lotion regularly.   Even though moisture is a part of the equation, soft, moist skin is less prone to developing a blister.  Lotion.
  3. Put a layer between you and your socks.  Mole skin or a similar product can take the heat instead of your skin.  A layer of petroleum jelly can accomplish the same thing.  Some people even use two pairs of socks.
  4. Change your shoes.  Your shoes should be comfortable.  Not so loose that your feet slide around a lot.  Not so tight that your toes can’t wiggle freely.  Your toes should not be rubbing on the front of the shoes.

Healing from Chaffing & Blisters

For chafing, I personally apply triple antibiotic ointment on the area and simply avoid contact as much as possible.  I will put a band-aid over the affected area while I am running until it goes away.

For blisters, my first strategy is to let it heal on its own if at all possible.  When I succeed, this becomes a thick callous right where I need it.  It will prevent a future blister.  If it is too big or too painful, then you must drain it.  Clean a needle with alcohol and lance the blister carefully.  Gently press the blister to push the fluid towards the hole to let it escape.  I follow this up with triple antibiotic ointment and a band-aid.  I try to make sure the band-aid is on tight enough to not allow the blister to fill up again.  Then I try to avoid contact as much as possible.

Can you run on a blister?  Yes, unless it is huge and taking a thick layer of skin with it.  I dealt with this once.  I finally had to stop running for a week while my foot healed.

Take care of your skin and your skin will take care of you with less pain and more gain.

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & future runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Hydration for Running

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Your body is mostly water.  It only makes sense that a hydrated body functions better.  If you want health and performance, you will keep your body topped off with liquids as you go.  So, on a hot day, you might drink as much as a cup of water or watered down sports drink every 15 minutes. If you put it in as fast as you sweat it out, your body will thank you by staying healthy and performing as best as it can.  On the water hydration coupleother hand, it is possible to drink too much.  Current recommendations are to drink to thirst. If you are thirsty, drink.  If you are not thirsty, don’t. Any way you handle it, make sure you have access to plenty of water and/or sports drink while you run.

You should still be careful after the run! Most of us continue sweating long after the last step of the run.  Hence, it is important to keep your tank topped off!  There are now quite a few choices for sports drinks to recover after the workout.  The top choice remains the same as it has always been… good old water!

Electrolyte Supplements

Water is not all that leaves as we sweat!  We also lose minerals that play a critical role in our bodies.  They are called electrolytes.  Without these minerals and enough water, the muscles begin to cramp.  Muscle cramps are painful and cause damage.  Even if you do not reach the point of cramping, failing to replace the electrolytes means poor performance and frustration.

For some, simply drinking a sports drink provides enough electrolytes.  Other need more than the amount offered through sports drinks.  Electrolyte supplements come in powders, tablets, pills, & capsules.

Even though I require much more electrolytes than the average runner, I use the strategy of taking as little as possible.  You discover this by starting with the minimum suggested dose on the supplement label.  How do you know if it is enough?  Personally, I know that I have not taken enough Endurolyte Capsules if my leg muscles are twitching as I am relaxing after the run.  If so, I will take another capsule or two until it subsides.  Over time, you begin to learn what is right for you.

Regardless of which drinks and supplements you use, it is your job to make sure you get enough.  Your body is depending on you and so is your running performance.

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run!

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Gluten, Running, and Me

not okayLess than one year ago, I was so sick that I could not walk down the hall without being completely exhausted.  I started getting a little fatigued in March of 2012, DNFed a race in April, and by June I was bed-ridden.  Too exhausted to go anywhere.  I and my doctors took educated guesses but got nowhere.  We looked at iron deficiency, I tired eating organic foods, I had lots of tests, and even an MRI.  No answers.  Finally in September, I tried a gluten-free diet.  I was clearly improved after 2 weeks.  After about 6 weeks, I qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time.   Gluten was obviously the culprit.  Gluten makes me fatigued.  If I have a little gluten, I feel a little fatigued.  If I have a lot, I get very fatigued.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives the final product a chewy texture.  Gluten is not just in bread. gluten is used as a binding ingredient in many different foods.

How I Avoid Gluten

Since gluten is such a wonderful ingredient to use, it is terribly difficult to avoid.  While packages are getting better about identifying wheat and/or gluten, there are still a lot of hidden dangers out there.  Here are my basic strategies to avoid gluten:

  1. The best way to avoid gluten is to stick with simple, whole foods that you prepare and cook yourself.  If an item has more than two or three ingredients, I try to avoid it.
  2. I avoid eating out as much as possible.  I used to eat out a lot, but now I consider it dangerous.  Restaurants may have gluten-free menus, but that does not guarantee that the cooks and servers were careful in preparing and delivering the food.  When I do eat out, I try to go for simple foods.  Steak, potato (not fries), and plain veggies are my staples when eating out.
  3. Pot lucks meals are great for bonding with people, but represent a minefield.  See rules 1 and 2.
  4. When you decide you want to add another food to your diet, make sure you only try one new food item!  That way, if you feel fatigued the next day you will be able to know when/where it happened.

Recovering from Gluten

My initial recovery from the fatigue caused by gluten was very challenging.  The gluten issue made my digestive system very weak.  As a result, I could not effectively digest many foods that do not have gluten.  It was months before I could once again eat meat, ice cream, and other essentials of daily living.

I started with a very short list of foods:  rice, quinoa, corn.   I also used a gluten-free vegetable-based protein powder to make sure I got enough protein.  I had trouble getting enough calories while my digestive system recovered. I avoided dairy and quickly realized that most meats were too tough to digest well.  I tested one new food each day until I figured out a list that I could handle

My weight dropped 20 pounds in two weeks while I struggled to find foods I could digest easily.  Peanut butter and raisins became important sources of calories for me in those early days.  They are packed with nutrients AND they provided enough calories to maintain my weight.  They still remain staples of my diet.  Every time I go away for a day or more I make sure too pack peanuts and raisins.  When I struggle to find safe food, I can rely on my stockpile of peanuts and raisins.  Manna!

In the 8 months since I went gluten-free, I have been able to add many foods back into my diet that were initially too difficult to digest.  I can eat meat once again, but not very frequently.  A simple cut of steak is 10 times easier to digest than ground and/or processed meat.  I can order a gluten-free pizza at a trusted restaurant about once a week without concern, just not within a week of a race.

Getting  Glutened

From time to time, a restaurant or a friend will inadvertently include gluten in my food.  I will feel it the next day.  Even if it was a minute amount of cross-contamination, I can tell.  This is especially true on days where I am pressing my limits on speed and endurance.  A small amount of gluten will be evident in the fact that I just can’t maintain the pace I would otherwise be able to manage.

In order to recover as quickly as possible, I use the following strategies:

  • Return to the simplest foods that aided my initial recovery.
  • Take Gluten-Ease or any other source of gluten enzymes.  This will not cure you immediately, but it will expedite the elimination of the gluten that is in the system still causing damage.
  • Take probiotic capsules and eat yogurt.  This will help restore balance to your digestive system more quickly.
  • Take a glutamine supplement.  Not only does it help recover from a running workout, but it also helps rebuild the lining of your intestines that was damaged by gluten.

If you have a relatively small gluten intolerance like me, it may only take a few days to recover.  If you have Celiac disease, it may take months.  Eat clean until you feel better and beyond!

A Word About Gluten-Free Products

Gluten-free is a tricky term that can mean many different things.  Here is what I have learned:

  • To be sure that a product is truly gluten-free, it must claim on the package that the product is routinely tested to make sure there is no cross-contamination.  The second-best indicator is if the package claims that it is produced in a wheat and gluten-free facility.
  • “Naturally gluten free” means that they have not tested the product for contamination.  They did not purposefully add gluten, but you don’t know if it is contaminated or not.
  • Most things labeled as gluten-free are what I call “replacement products” because they are made to replace items made with wheat and or gluten.  These products are never really the same as their wheat-based counter-part.  I have never had a gluten-free bread that tasted or acted like bread.  You will be much happier if you do not expect replacement products to be the same as what they replace.

In the end, my best advice is to stick with simple foods.  The staples of my current diet are:nutrition fruit

  • peanuts
  • raisins
  • bananas
  • plain yogurt
  • fruit – especially berries
  • beans
  • brown rice
  • olive oil
  • eggs
  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • any vegetable that is colorful and yummy
  • plant-based protein powder
  • glutamine supplement
  • cheese  [I still can't process many cheeses.  Colby Jack is my staple]
  • ice cream [I try to stick with ice cream that has 5 or fewer ingredients.]

I am NOT saying that this should be your diet!  I am saying that you need to find the foods that your digestive system is good with AND provides the nutrition that you need to run hard and be healthy.  This was my journey, and I am still learning as I go.

Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!

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The Gift of Running,by P. Mark Taylor, is available in both paperback & e-book

Paperback Version – Amazon.com $9.00

Ebook Version – Kindle Store $2.99

Ebook Version for Nook $2.99

Marathon Nutrition

...about the same time as the last one...

Carrying my calories on a Fuel Belt.

Amy left this note for me on Facebook:

“I was just curious if you had any tips or blogs or any help on nutrition for running a marathon! I ran my first Marathon about a week and a half ago. It did not go to well, I got really dehydrated and hit the wall fast, after that ! 17-23 turned into the death zone! Anyway I did train but my stomach is just not that good and cramps a lot! So it is hard for me to drink a lot and eat much of anything while I run! Also I lost weight training which is okay but I do not want to lose weight again! I am going to start my training up again in June for the Chicago Marathon. I would just like to feel good while I run and I know the key to this is nutrition! Distance wise I felt I was prepared! I am pretty sure I did not eat enough food before, looking back now! So if you have any pointers, info, book whatever I would love to hear it!! If it matters I do not run to fast but would love to pick it up for next Marathon! However not feeling like death would be great !!”

Amy, you are not alone!  When I first started running marathons, I didn’t even like to drink on the run.  The idea of drinking 4-6 ounces of every 2 miles seemed crazy.  That is one of the reasons that I had trouble starting at about mile 17 on my first marathon as well.

Marathon Nutrition is a tricky thing.  For most of us, our bodies will begin to run out of resources somewhere between mile 15 and mile 17 if we are not careful before and during a marathon.  I will split the nutrition advice into three stages: training, tapering, & race day.

Nutrition During Training

Before I get specific about foods and supplements, let me make one comment about weight loss.  Marathon training means an increase in weekly mileage and a gradual increase in the distance of your weekly long run.  As your mileage increases, your need for nutrition increases.  As a result, marathon training is not very compatible with weight loss.  You need more carbs during marathon training, not fewer.

As for the specific foods to eat to maximize the benefits of your training, the answer is simple: eat healthy.  Instead of cutting back on food to get healthy, you should be changing the kind of food that you eat.  As with any time, you need a balanced diet.  You also need to eat less and less processed foods while increasing the amount of simple natural foods.  Dietician Cassie is always talking about striking a balance at each meal with PFC: protein, fat, and carbohydrates.  In marathon training, it is still ideal to balance these three, with an increased emphasis on carbs.  While carbs are the focus in the last days of the taper, you must keep eating healthy fat and a good amount of protein at each meal.  Here is my blog post about protein for runners.

Some folks, including me, need a little extra help from supplements during marathon training.  I need extra the electrolytes offered through capsules, tablets, drinks, & powders.  I mostly stick with Endurolytes Capsules from Hammer Nutrition.  Each electrolyte supplement has different directions to follow.  Personally, I need more than the average person.  I know that I need more electrolytes when my leg muscles are twitching a little bit while I am relaxing after my workout.  Finding your electrolyte balance during  training & especially on your long runs can save a great deal of pain and cramping during the marathon!

Nutrition During the Taper

The taper is usually about two weeks of gradually lowering your mileage and effort as you approach the marathon.  Nutrition for most of the taper period is no different from during the rest of training.  It is normal and healthy to gain a few pounds, especially during the last week before the marathon.  Your body knows what is coming and is storing energy, electrolytes, and water.  This weight gain is good.  You will use it all during the marathon, I promise!

In the last 48 hours before the marathon, you will no longer stick to the protein/carb/fat balance that you normally consume.  You will gradually reduce your intake of protein and fat while increasing your healthy carbohydrates.  You also want to shift towards carbohydrate sources that have less fiber.

Jeff Galloway makes the following suggestions:

  • Rules:
    1. Don’t try anything new.
    2. Go through the same schedule and foods that worked for you in training.
    3. If you hear sloshing in your stomach, you don’t have to drink for the next 30 minutes.
  • 24 hours and before: Plenty of liquids all day long, especially electrolyte fluids. Before marathons you can eat extra carbohydrates.
  • 18 hours before race: Start eating small meals, every 2-3 hours. Keep drinking fluids. After lunch, cut out red meat, fried foods, dairy products, fats, nuts, and roughage.
  • 12 hours before race: Don’t overeat. Only light, digestible foods like energy bars, bread, small sandwiches, which you’ve tried before long runs and races. Keep drinking water and electrolyte fluids. Avoid salty foods.

Nutrition on Race Day

Before a marathon, you need to have a substantial number of calories in the morning.  One expert suggests consuming enough easy-to-digest carbs to provide 200 calories for each hour you are awake before the race.  Keep it simple.  Avoid fat of any kind on race morning.  Whatever you eat that morning, get it in your body about 3 hours before the start.  As the start approaches, shift to your race fuel.  (gels, sports drink, …)

Water mostly, with some electrolyte fluid, in small, regular amounts.  Cold water is absorbed quicker. I recommend 6 oz. every hour, 8 oz. on hot days.  If you want Vitamin C, take it two hours or more before the race.

DURING the marathon is even more complicated.  For a half marathon, most just need one or two gel packets to make it through.  There are mathematical formulas involved in the calculations for marathons and other races longer than the half marathon.  At 160 pounds, I know I personally have to consume around 1,100 calories through gels and sports drinks along the marathon route in order to avoid running out of energy.

Here is what Lucia Mahoney from FitBodyNutrition says about fueling during the marathon:

  • under “normal” conditions, the average runner needs 16-32 fluid ounces per hour of exercise. For best absorption, drink 1/2-1 cup of fluid every 15-20 minutes. You will require more on very hot or humid days.
  • for every pound you lose on a run, 2 cups of water are required to replace.
  • 1 pound of sweat = loss of 500 mg sodium (the equivalent of 1/4 tsp of salt)
  • dehydration will increase body temperature, reduce blood volume and thereby weaken muscular endurance and strength. Result —-> you slow down
  • your gel or sports drink should include electrolytes; studies show that ingesting electrolytes (remember: sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium) during the run will improve performance and help delay fatigue. Electrolytes are important for muscular contraction and for optimal absorption & retention of fluids
  • **how much do you need?** Carb intake during prolonged exercise should be approximately .5-1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per hour. A 165 lb (or 75 kg) athlete would therefore need 37.5-75 grams per hour. That is equivalent to 2-3 gels or 1-2 gels plus 8-20 ounces of sports drink per hour (most gels contain 20-25 grams of carbs and sports drinks contain 12-14 grams/8 oz)
  • important: each gel must be taken with 8-10 ounces of water (not sports drink) to promote absorption and avoid gastrointestinal distress

Remember This:

Start your eating and drinking within the first mile or two.
If you start your fuel and water intake after 2 miles,
you may have already ruined your marathon.

Be careful to consume enough of everything your body needs to succeed at the task that you are asking it to accomplish.

Train hard, eat well, & enjoy the run!

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Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

 

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & future runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

 

 

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Stretching Before Running

wise running logo 7_25_12

When I was young, I stretched because my coaches told me to stretch. I have never been that  flexible, but I never really understood the benefits. Here are the things that we are typically told about stretching:

  • Stretching prior to any type of exercise gets the muscles ready for the more intense exercise that follows.
  • A well-stretched muscle moves through a full range of motion with less effort. Therefore, stretching prior to physical activity will help you conserve energy and thereby improve performance.
  • Because our muscles get cold and tight from hours of sitting or standing at our jobs, periodic stretching will keep the blood flowing and allow the muscles to move through a full range of motion.
  • A muscle is more flexible when it is warm and stretched, and it is less likely to tear or overstretch from an abrupt movement.
  • Stretching increases the blood supply to the muscles and joints.  This keeps the muscles supple and healthy.
  • After a workout, stretching your muscles will keep them from immediately shortening and tightening as they cool down.

stretchingIn high school, I ran both cross country and track. My cross country coach had us stretch before running and encouraged stretching after the workout. Our head track coach, however, made us run a mile first and then stretch. Both seem like pretty good ideas, but which is right? I have great respect for both of those coaches, so I am going to say that I agree with both coaches MOST of the time.

Right now, however, I am suffering a round of tight muscles in my calves. Over the past few weeks, when I stretched BEFORE the run it felt very artificial.  My muscles would not stretch unless I forced them. Bad idea! They just would not budge until I pushed to the point of pain… and the led to more pain and more tightness. In short, stretching a muscle that will not cooperate is a bad idea.

Does that mean that I should run without stretching? I tried. Bad idea. It just forced the muscle to stretch under duress, just like stretching before the run. That led to worse pain and increased tightness.

How do you stretch a muscle that is firmly against the idea? Stretching first is bad and stretching after a mile is bad… where do you go from there?

The Technical Truth about Stretching

An extensive meta-analysis of the research on stretching reaches two unavoidable truths:

  1. Static stretching, the old method of stretching and holding a stretch before your run, can reduce your power by as much as 5.5%.
  2. Dynamic stretching through gentle movement and gradually attaining your full range of motion is much safer and more productive.

You can find a lot of dynamic stretching ideas out on the web, but here is what is working for me:

  • Warm up the sore & tight muscles by slowly and carefully moving through their comfortable range first.  Not by running, but just gently going through your comfortable range of motion.
  • After the muscles begin to warm up, the comfortable range of motion will begin to gradually increase.
  • Take that warm-up/stretch combination as far as your muscles will comfortably allow in a few minutes.
  • Begin to run at an easy pace and gradually increase your speed.
  • Stop to do a little more dynamic stretching if you feel the need.

This may not be new to you, but I was never told to warm up the muscle and stretch simultaneously. I suppose you could say that I am employing a combination of the advice of both of my high school head coaches. It just goes to show that the lesson that you teach to youth may be lost on them in the moment, but they can keep learning from that advice years later.

I continue to have some tension in those muscles, but it gets better every day. When my muscles rebel, I placate them with my new process of warm-up & stretching.

If you have been struggling with a tight muscle and just can’t find the right process to loosen it up, you might give it a try.

Be careful. Don’t overstretch.

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The other item to add is about devices for stretching.   Here are the two products that I use to aid in the stretching process, not before a run but hours before or after.  They are both designed to work out knots in your muscles by rolling – like rolling out dough with a rolling pin.  You lay on the foam roller and use your body weight to apply pressure.  A lot of runners have found relief.  I most recently rescued my knees by using the foam roller.

foam roller

View Foam Rollers

the stick

View “The Stick”

The Stick, on the other hand, has handles and you press down to apply pressure.   I found this tool especially wonderful for my calves.  Oh, yes!

I hope these work for you as well as they have worked for me.  :)

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“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

_____________

Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

 

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & future runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life