Step Up Your Game with These Four Marathon Training Strategies

Step Up Your Game with These Four Marathon Training Strategies
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Q: How do you know someone is training for a marathon?
A: Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

The runner who is training for a marathon will probably talk about their long run — because everyone knows that the long run is key to marathon training.

They might also talk about their weekly mileage, because let’s face it, saying something like, “I ran 45 miles this week” tends to impress.

{This is where the conversation partner might respond, “45 MILES? I don’t even like to drive that far!”}

When you’re training for your first marathon, worrying about the long run getting longer and the weekly miles piling up is enough. But when you move onto your second, third, fourth marathon and beyond, and begin chasing those alphabet-soup goals – PR, BQ – you’ll have to step up your game.

Here are four workouts — or rather, marathon training principles — that enable runners to take their training up a notch.


1. Run the day after a long run

Back-to-back long runs are a staple in the training of ultra runners and those preparing for multiple-day races such as Disney Running’s Dopey Challenge. But you don’t have to be training for a 50K (or longer), or running a 5K-10K-13.1-26.2 on four consecutive days to take advantage of the benefits of running the day after your long run. Those include, but are not limited to:

  • Recovery. Moving (vs sitting on the couch all day) is said to cause increased blood flow to the extremities, which facilitates easier delivery of nutrients to the muscles, which aids in recovery. Boom.
  • Mental toughness. Chances are, the last thing you want to do the day after a 16- or 20-miler is get out and run some more. This is especially true for those who are not used to it. So, do it anyway. Prove to yourself that you can, and in the last four miles of that marathon, remember all those times when you did!
  • Endurance. Imagine your leg muscles as a piece of stretchy fabric. On your long run day, you stretch and release, stretch and release, and stretch and release this fabric for several hours, creating multiple tiny tears in it. But not to worry, it is a magical, self-repairing fabric – it just needs a few days of lighter stretching or rest and it’ll be good as new, even stronger. What happens if you run the day after your long run? You will still stretch and release your magical fabric, but because many of its fibers will still be torn, you will have to use additional ones for that particular job. By running on the day after a long run, you teach your brain to recruit muscle fibers that were not used in your long run. Specifically, it can now work on recruiting intermediate fast-twitch fibers, or Type IIa fibers, to pitch in and help do the work of slow-twitch or Type I muscle fibers during long-distance events. Those come in handy in the last miles of a marathon!

How to do it:
On the day after your long run, get out for anywhere between three and six super-easy paced recovery miles.

2. Run two-a-days

The benefits of two-a-days are similar to those of running after your long run: added endurance, mental strength, and not least – it’s a way to add more time on feet as you work on building your total mileage.

How to do it:
The first run, preferably in the morning and typically 40 to 60 minutes long (but could be longer, depending on total weekly mileage), is a structured progression or negative-split run. Put your legs through the paces, starting at an easy warmup pace for 15 minutes, then pick it up each 10-15 minutes, running the last block at a pace that feels hard. The second run, at least several hours later and preferably in the evening, is a super easy-pace short run. Just get out there and run on dead legs. Alternatively, run a fartlek in the morning and a shorter, easy recovery run in the evening. The first run is usually harder, but not as hard a workout as, say, mile repeats on the track or a tempo run.

3. Throw some intervals into your long run

Assuming that you are going out to run a distance that you have built up to already – i.e. if you have a 16-mile run on your schedule, this is not your first time in a training cycle running 16 miles – add some short fast-pace intervals in the beginning and towards the end of the run. Benefits include recruiting different and more muscle fibers, working on mental toughness, and emulating what the last few miles of a marathon feel like.

How to do it:
Break up your long run into four parts. The first is a two or three-mile warmup at an easy pace. The second part is four to five intervals of five minutes running at threshold pace (a pace you could sustain in training for 20-30 minutes, but hardly longer), with two-to-three minutes of easy pace in between. The third part is even-pace running at your typical long-run pace, and the fourth part is another block at four to five times threshold intervals with recovery. The last recovery interval can be longer, 10 to 15 minutes, and you’re done. Assuming you do this on runs of 16 miles or longer, you better believe that the second threshold intervals block will feel similar to miles 22 to 26 of your marathon!

Alternatively, instead of fast and short threshold intervals, add some two- to three-mile blocks at or slightly below race pace, with a mile recovery at easy pace in between. It’s a way to practice race pace in a safer way than doing it in 10-mile or longer chunks of your long run, which might challenge you too much and compromise recovery.

4. Never neglect the good old boring easy run.

There is nothing special or complicated about the easy run, yet many people neglect it and run all or most of their runs harder than they should. So it is worth saying this time and again: running easy will not slow you down! On the contrary, slowing down might just make you faster, because it will give you more adequate time to recover. This way, you can put in the hard work where it matters: the long run, the tempo run, the progression run, the hill repeats. In between these workouts, run slow and easy, keep that blood circulating round your legs, but don’t beat them up — you’ll need them later.

And that’s about it: four marathon training principles that can help you step up your game. Train with purpose, race with heart – and go get that PR!

Why Can’t I Run Faster?

Why Can’t I Run Faster?
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For runners, PR-chasing creatures that we are, getting faster is a common goal.

  • I want to get better at running. Therefore, I want to be able to run faster.
  • I finished my marathon in X:XX:XX. I want to finish the next one in less than that.
  • I want to run as fast as, or faster than my friend/ sibling/ spouse/ running partner.

So let’s talk about getting faster, and specifically, about the misconceptions surrounding it. Because what is the point of pursing a goal if you’re going about it the wrong way?

Run Faster

Here are the three most common myths about becoming a faster runner that I’ve come across over the years. They are holding many runners back, diverting their focus from things that could actually bring results. (We’ll talk about those, too.)

1. MYTH: My running form is bad.

I get these emails so often:

“Hello. I’m looking to hire a running coach. [Gives some background about his or her running history, talks about wanting to get faster, finish a certain race under a certain time, etc.] But I think my running form is really bad and I need a coach to see me run and tell me what I’m doing wrong.”

To which I wish I could reply:

“Hi! When you run, are you putting your left foot in front of the right? Are you then putting the right foot in front of the left? Do you then repeat that all the way to the finish line? If the answer is yes, you are doing it right.”

Saying that would be rude, of course. So I try to explain that “bad running form” often gets a bad rap — and why. We blame a lot more than we should on bad running form: injuries, inability to run faster, even hitting the wall in a marathon. But in the vast majority of cases, that’s an excuse. It’s a myth that has been so generously profitable for the running shoe industry, that many millions of marketing dollars go into keeping it ablaze.

The truth is, you are not a slower runner because you are heel-striking or pronating. You will not get faster as a result of simply changing your stride. But, your form will improve as a result of getting faster, as the body will naturally find the most efficient way of running from start to finish line. That’s how our brains are programmed to work.

This doesn’t apply for those competing at an elite level or professionally, of course. (I don’t think professional or elite runners would waste their time with this blog, anyway.) If you’re in this category, you have your team of experts who analyze your stride, and coaches who work with you on even the slightest tweaks in form. At the professional level, these things matter.

As for those of us who run for our health and race in the back, middle, or even relative front of the pack: we have a lot more to gain from just getting out there to train, consistently. And if running like Phoebe makes you feel happy and free: go for it every once in a while!


2. MYTH: I’m in the wrong running shoes.

Were you fitted for your shoes in a specialty running store? Did an employee see you run and recommend several options based on your stride and running volume? Did you you pick the pair that felt most comfortable? Then chances are, your shoes are not the reason you are not running as fast as you’d like to run.

The same goes for all of running gadgets and gear. A special sports bra with a built-in heart rate monitor or a $600 running watch will not make anyone run faster. Running shorts that leave you a bloody chafed mess at the end of a marathon are not the reason you slowed down and didn’t meet your goal. They were a contributing factor, but the truth is, somewhere out on that course, someone else was also a chafed bloody mess and they were able to push through the pain.

Running gear that fits your body and needs is a huge plus and we are blessed to be living at a time when so much is available to make our running comfortable. But not having the best of the best, or having something that you think is not the best for you, is not what is holding you back.

3. MYTH: I’m not running fast enough in my training.

This is a potentially dangerous way of thinking, as running too hard all the time would most certainly have the exact opposite effect of making you a faster runner. (Read more about slowing down to go fast here.)

Yes, if you are running at a 10 min/ mile pace in all of your training runs, chances are you will not be able to run a half marathon at an 8 min/ mile pace. But this doesn’t mean pushing yourself to run an 8:30 min/ mile in every single run. Before your body adapts to the faster pace, there is a good chance that it would break down with an injury or out of sheer fatigue. Worst case, you’d be looking at needing weeks or months to recover from overtraining syndrome.

So, you’ve read this far (thanks for sticking with me!), and you probably want to know: what, then, is the way to get faster? Well, here it is:

The Secret to Becoming a Faster Runner…

… is simple.

It is a combination of time, consistency, persistence, smart training and proper recovery. That is all!

There are no shortcuts – no gear or tweaks to your running form – that would make you faster. But with hard work, the right kind of work and over time, you will improve. In my training, I always follow these five principles:

Don’t run too hard all the time. Structure your training to incorporate easy days surrounding your hard-work days.

Don’t race too much, or train hard all year long. Take a few weeks or even a couple of months off after a big race. Stay active, but do things for fun. It’s important to have an offseason and de-train a little. You’ll come back refreshed, rested and ready to get after it and become even stronger – and faster – for the new season.

Be consistent. Don’t be one of those people who hang up their running shoes for three months after finishing a marathon, and only get back into “training” 16 weeks out of their next big race. If you’re training for marathons or ultra marathons, chances are you love running. So turn running into a lifestyle.

Be patient. Time is on your side, so give yourself time. Maybe you won’t go from a 4:20 marathon to a 3:40 marathon in one season. But can you can go from 4:20 to 3:50, to 3:35 (!) over the course of two years? Set realistic goals, smash them and celebrate your success!

Enjoy the process. None of the above would be doable unless you really love running. Running is hard, running fast is hard work. If running feels like a chore, or worse, you don’t enjoy it and look forward to lacing up those running shoes… then maybe it’s time to find another hobby.

Holiday Gift Guide for Runners and Triathletes

Holiday Gift Guide for Runners and Triathletes
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Greetings, Shoppers!

Welcome to December: the month of Mall Madness, Parking Lot Rinse-and-Spin, and Shopping with the Zombies.

Wouldn’t you rather be out on the trails?

Lucky for all of us, these days we can buy most anything we want online. The problem is, there’s so much stuff — how do you find just the right gift for your the runner or triathlete, fitness lover or adventure seeker in your life?

Here, as has become my tradition over the past few years, I share with you a few of my favorite things that not only have reasonable price tags, but are made by small businesses that are helping communities and making a difference in the world of endurance sports.

Read on, and you might just find the perfect stocking stuffers, white elephant or Secret Santa gifts for this year. (Check out my suggestions from last year, too.)

So, Dear Santa. This holiday season I’d like you please to bring to my fellow athletes:

1. This “Do Epic Shit!” tank from Betty Designs


When it comes to dressing the female athlete, Betty Designs can do no wrong. Founder and owner Kristin Meyer has truly revolutionized women’s cycling, swimming and triathlon gear with her bold, edgy kits (check out the Fly collection!) — and has plenty of casual wear items, like this tank (and trucker), to enable you to make a badass statement off the race course, too! I have a few friends who’ve done some truly Epic Shit this year and you can bet they’re getting these for the holidays!

2. This “I just PR’d a little” tank from Skirt Sports


Skirt Sports revolutionized women’s running in a way no other gear company – even Nike! – has done over the years. More than a decade ago, founder and CEO Nicole DeBoom created the first ever running skirt. She has since made it her mission to empower women in sports and inspire them to be active, no matter what size they wear, and feel good all the while. There are too many skirt models that are as cute as they are functional (hello, thigh pockets, back pockets and mini key-pockets!) and I do have my favorites, but if you’re looking for a fun tee that makes you smile, you can’t go wrong with the “I Just PR’ed a Little” tank.

3. This Gone For a Run Wine Glass

They have pint glasses for runners and triathletes, too!


4. This 2017 Runner’s Streak Calendar

Well, technically it’s a Daily Desk Calendar and yes, I know no one actually needs a big ol’ paper block to remind them what day it is any more. Wouldn’t it the perfect source of daily inspiration for those crazies you know who “streak”, a.k.a. run every day, though? Or anyone, really, who loves running. Right?

5.This Location Coordinates Necklace


Are you shopping for someone who just completed an epic race or achieved a long sought-after goal? Help them commit that special place to memory – and a piece of beautiful jewelry – with this hand-made destination necklace from PlaidLab Studio. (Check out her Etsy shop more unique, handmade pieces.)

6. The new COMPETE Training Journal by Lauren Fleshman and Róisín McGettigan

This will be my third year of tracking my workouts in these journals. I started with the Believe Training Journal when it first came out and am now on the final weeks of the second edition. Lauren Fleshman and Roisin Dumas update the content each year, so the journals are a daily source of inspiration, in addition of helping me keep track and periodically look back on my training and goals. The perfect gift for an athlete who seeks consistency and adding structure and purpose to their training!

7. This Hyperspace lava-colored tee


Know a dude who loves bikes and Star Wars? Score! Can’t go wrong with this t-shirt. I got that for HusbandRuns earlier this year and can attest to the high-quality material. (Indeed, it is very soft.) You’ll be supporting Endurance Conspiracy, an athlete-owned and managed company in Boulder, Colorado. Plenty more fun tees, tanks and truckers available on their website.

8. This Tank, T-shirt or Trucker designed for bike lovers

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Shameless plug for a tank I made for myself with CafePress and decided to make available to others to buy – because why not? CafePress lets you order all sorts of t-shirt, tank and hat models – I like the racer-back tanks for their versatility. I can wear them on short runs, post-run, or to hang around the house whenever I’m in a summery mood! Check out the other stuff in my Race With Heart shop, too.

9. The gift of (non-athletic!) style


Last, but not least: If your athlete friends and loved ones are like me, they spend more time in (and money on) athletic gear than they do in “real-life” clothes. And shopping for clothes? It’s a nightmare. It’s ironic, really, that I have such a fun time buying matchy running clothes or cycling kits, but cannot for the life of me put together a decent outfit for a work meeting, casual day out and about, or a night out on the town.

Enter Stitch Fix. I’ll admit I resisted it for a very, very long time. I thought it was one of those “monthly box” blogger fads. But a few months ago I caved in and gave it a try — and I swear, no exaggeration, it has changed my life. Well, my wardrobe! I now have outfits that look good — and different from my usual “jeans and free race t-shirt” getup.

The quick-n-dirty on how Stitch Fix works:

1. You create an account and fill out a super detailed questionnaire about your style and preference. The more details you give, the more information your stylist will have when picking clothes for you! Visual help from Pinterest boards or your Instagram account are super helpful.

2. You schedule your fix and a stylist (human being) will select five pieces for you based on your preferences. Once you receive your fix, you’ll try them on and decide which ones to keep and which ones to send back in the prepaid envelope they’ve included in your box. Also included in the box is a style card with recommendations on how to pair the clothes with other stuff from your closet. Personally, I just paired them with each other, because my closet was so outdated!

3. The $20 stylist fee will be applied towards the items you decide to keep. If you keep all five, you’ll get a 20% discount.

4. You can schedule to receive new “fixes” as often as weekly, or spread as far as every three months. You can reschedule a fix at any time.

5. That’s it!

Phew! I didn’t mean to make this so long, but I’ve actually been so excited to finally get some decent items in my wardrobe without having to go to the store and try things on (and end up buying jeans, which I’ll later match with race shirts, anyway).

If all that sounds appealing, grab a Stitch Fix gift card — your friends will be thanking you for a long time!

Happy shopping, happy gifting – and many, many happy miles on the trails!

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are referral/ affiliate links.