Alan Green

18 posts

Metabolic Equivalent Minutes

How much energy/calories do we burn during training and race participation?
In order to answer this simple yet complex question we need to know what a metabolic equivalent, (MET), is. This is the amount of energy that a person uses per minute during physical activity and is dependent on the person’s body weight, their fitness level, level of exertion and the duration of the activity.
Muscle cells use oxygen to help produce the energy to fuel muscle contractions. The more oxygen that you consume and burn both during and after physical activity the more calories you will burn. The human body expends approximately 5 calories of energy to consume 1 liter of oxygen. If you use more oxygen during physical activity then you will burn more calories or energy.
One MET is the resting metabolic rate (RMR) of an individual which is approximately 3.5 liters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute (mL/kg/min). This represents the amount of oxygen used while the human body is at rest. If an activity requires 4 METS then it is doing 4 times the amount of work as compared to when resting which will then require 4 times more oxygen and calories.
METS and MET-Minutes:
A metabolic equivalent, or MET, is a unit useful for describing the energy expenditure of a specific activity. A MET is the ratio of the rate of energy A well-known physiologic effect of physical activity is that it expends energy. expended during an activity to the rate of energy expended at rest. For example, 1 MET is the rate of energy expenditure while at rest. A 4 MET activity expends 4 times the energy used by the body at rest. If a person does a 4 MET activity for 30 minutes, he or she has done 4 x 30 = 120 MET-minutes (or 2.0 MET-hours) of physical activity. A person could also achieve 120 MET-minutes by doing an 8 MET activity for 15 minutes.
Two Methods of Assessing Aerobic Intensity
The intensity of aerobic physical activity can be defined in absolute or relative terms.
Absolute Intensity
The Advisory Committee concluded that absolute moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity physical activity is necessary for substantial health benefits, and it defined absolute aerobic intensity in terms of METs:
• Light-intensity activities are defined as 1.1 MET to 2.9 METs.
• Moderate-intensity activities are defined as 3.0 to 5.9 METs. Walking at 3.0 miles per hour requires 3.3 METs of energy expenditure and is therefore considered a moderate-intensity activity.
• Vigorous-intensity activities are defined as 6.0 METs or more. Running at 10 minutes per mile (6.0 mph) is a 10 MET activity and is therefore classified as vigorous intensity.
Relative Intensity
Intensity can also be defined relative to fitness, with the intensity expressed in terms of a percent of a person’s (1) maximal heart rate, (2) heart rate reserve, or (3) aerobic capacity reserve. The Advisory Committee regarded relative moderate intensity as 40 to 59 percent of aerobic capacity reserve (where 0 percent of reserve is resting and 100 percent of reserve is maximal effort). Relatively vigorous-intensity activity is 60 to 84 percent of reserve.
To better communicate the concept of relative intensity (or relative level of effort), the Guidelines adopted a simpler definition:
• Relatively moderate-intensity activity is a level of effort of 5 or 6 on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is the level of effort of sitting, and 10 is maximal effort.
• Relatively vigorous-intensity activity is a 7 or 8 on this scale. This simplification was endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association in their recent guidelines for older adults.1 This approach does create a minor difference from the Advisory Committee Report definitions, however. A 5 or 6 on a 0 to 10 scale is essentially 45 percent to 64 percent of aerobic capacity reserve for moderate intensity. Similarly, a 7 or 8 on a 0 to 10 scale means 65 percent to 84 percent of reserve is the range for relatively vigorous-intensity activity.

Have you ever seen the term MET on a piece of exercise equipment and wondered what it meant? MET stands for metabolic equivalent, which is one way that exercise physiologists estimate how many calories are burned during physical activity. Having a basic understanding of METs and how to use them can help you determine the best physical activities to help your clients achieve their health and fitness goals.
We can use the following table to determine our average energy expenditure per minute during various types of running and is dependent on the speed at which we are running:

4 miles per hour = 6.4 kilometers per hour= 15 minute miles= 9.3minutes per kilometer =6METS
5 miles per hour= 8 kilometers per hour = 12 minute miles=7.5 3minutes per kilometer =8.3METS
6 miles per hour=9.7 kilometers per hour= 10 minute miles=6.2 3minutes per kilometer = 9.8METS
7 miles per hour= 11 kilometers per hour = 8.5 minute miles=5.23minutes per kilometer= 11METS
8 miles per hour= 13 kilometers per hour= 7.5minute miles=4.63minutes per kilometer= 11.8METS
9 miles per hour= 14.5 kilometers per hour= 6.5 minute miles=4 3minutes per kilometer =12.8METS
10 miles per hour= 16 kilometers per hour=6 minute miles=3.73minutes per kilometer=14.5METS
11 miles per hour=17.7 kilometers per hour= 5.5 minute miles=3.43minutes per kilometer=16METS
12 miles per hour= 19.3 kilometers per hour= 5 minute miles=3.13minutes per kilometer = 19METS
13 miles per hour=21 kilometers per hour= 4.3minute miles=2.73minutes per kilometer=19.8METS
Cross country = 9 METS
Marathon =13.3 METS
Running stairs up = 15 METS

How Hip Flexor Stretching Relates to Running Economy

by Erik Bies, DPT, MS
Runners, coaches, and other athletes are always looking for ways to prevent injury and become more efficient and economical while running. In this example, let’s consider our athlete is the weekend warrior with a 40 hour/week desk job or high school student-athlete. This person sits several hours a day, with maybe a 10-minute walking break every hour. Conventional wisdom is that this person will develop a lack of hip extension due to tight/stiff hip flexors. The hypothesis is that stiff hip flexors shortens stride length negatively impacting running economy, defined as steady-state oxygen consumption at a given running speed.
So does improving hip extension range of motion directly affect running economy? According to the evidence, the answer is NO! Though a 20 year old article, this topic has been researched.1 Subjects were young, athletic male college students determined to have “less than normal hip extension” meaning they were unable to passively extend the thigh past 0 degrees. Subjects were divided into a THREE DAYS PER WEEK (yes that is all) hip flexor stretching group and a control group. Despite a statistically significant change in passive hip extension measured using the modified Thomas Test, change in running economy was not statistically significant. The control group (those who did not stretch) actually showed greater improvement in running economy. On average, hip extension improved 9.8 degrees in those who stretched 3 days per week.
What does this mean practically? Improving hip extension through stretching anterior hip structures does not improve running performance at speeds associated with running at paces one could maintain for 10-20 minutes. Could it actually be counter-productive? From both injury and performance perspectives, YES! Consider that running at faster speeds requires sufficient anterior stiffness to withstand the forces generated by some of the strongest torque producers in the body; the gluteals and hamstrings. It has been speculated with good biomechanical evidence that excessive hip extension forces and joint angles are associated with injury to the anterior hip joint.2 Furthermore, improving your stride length is not primarily the result of greater hip joint extension range but rather more distance traveled during the float phase of running. This requires power, the perfect combination of force production and timing. A well-timed and stronger stretch-reflex in the hip flexors generates a more powerful hip flexion moment. Finding the optimal blend of stiffness and mobility at exactly the right time is what is important. Improving economy comes down to practicing a skill and improving timing of force production along with other metabolic processes.
How does this affect you? First, understand the goal of your flexibility exercises. If you are stretching because of hip pain, back off stretching and get assessed by your physical therapist. Stretching could be counterproductive even if you get short-term relief of pain. Are you certain you have limited hip extension? Don’t assume that working at your desk creates short and stiff hip flexors. Videotape yourself from a side view running at fast and slow speeds when you are not fatigued. Even if you notice that your low back is arched and your pelvis is anteriorly tilted, do not assume you have stiff hip flexors. This often is a coordination issue that can be addressed through specific trunk and pelvic girdle movement awareness.
1. Godges JJ, McRae PG, Engelke KA. Effects of exercise on hip range of motion, trunk muscle performance, and gait economy. Phys Ther. 1993; 73:468-477.
2. Lewis CL, Sahrmann SA, Moran DW. Effect of hip angle on anterior hip joint force during gait. Gait and Posture. 2010; 32:603-607.

The surprising science behind why ‘easy days’ and ‘hard days’ make a difference in your workout


Stephen Seiler’s awakening occurred shortly after he moved to Norway in the late 1990s. The American-born exercise physiologist was out on a forested trail when he saw one of the country’s elite cross-country skiers run past – and then suddenly stop at the bottom of a hill and start walking up.
“And I said, well what the heck are you doing? No pain, no gain!” he later recalled. “But it turned out she had a very clear idea of what she was doing.”
Seiler’s observation led him to devote 15 years to studying how world-beating endurance athletes train, revealing that they push harder on their hard days but go easier on their easy days than lesser athletes. But, as research that will be presented this week at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) conference in Minnesota reveals, most us haven’t incorporated these findings into our exercise programs – which means we’re not training as effectively as we should.
When Seiler began analyzing the training of elite athletes in sports such as cross-country skiing and rowing, he found a consistent pattern. They spent about 80 per cent of their training time going relatively easy, even to the point of walking up hills to avoid pushing too hard. And most of the other 20 per cent was gut-churningly hard, with very little time spent at medium-effort levels.
This approach is often referred to as “polarized” training, since it emphasizes the extremes of very easy and very hard efforts. The pattern has now been observed in top athletes across almost all endurance sports, including cycling, running and triathlon. It was popularized in endurance coach Matt Fitzgerald’s 2014 book 80/20 Running. But it’s still not necessarily what athletes, especially less experienced ones, actually do.

In the new study being presented at the ACSM conference, a team led by Ball State University kinesiology researcher Lawrence Judge followed a group of collegiate distance runners through a 14-week season. The coaches were asked to assign an intended difficulty rating, on a scale of one to 10, for each day’s workout. Using the same scale, the athletes were then asked to rate how hard they actually found the workouts.
The results were telling. On easy days, when the coaches wanted an effort level of 1.5, the athletes instead ran at an effort level of 3.4 on average. On hard days, conversely, the coaches asked for an effort of 8.2 but the athletes only delivered 6.2. Instead of polarized training, as the coaches intended, the athletes were letting most of the sessions drift into the middle.
The new findings echo a similar 2001 study by Carl Foster, an exercise physiologist at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, who is among the pioneers of using subjective perception of effort to guide training. The problem, he says, is that athletes have the misguided sense that the easy days are too easy – and as a result, on hard days, they’re simply too tired to push hard enough to get the biggest fitness gains.
To Seiler, who in addition to holding an academic post is a research consultant with the Norwegian Olympic Federation, the willingness to keep the easy days easy – “intensity discipline,” he calls it – is one of the traits that distinguishes successful and unsuccessful athletes.
Of course, the same principles apply even if you don’t have a coach. If you try to hammer every workout, you’ll never be fresh enough to really push your limits; if you jog every run, you’re not challenging yourself enough to maximize your fitness.
Figuring out the appropriate intensity doesn’t have to be complicated, Foster adds. According to his “Talk Test,” if you can speak comfortably in complete sentences, you’re going at an appropriate pace for easy days. If you can barely gasp out a word at a time, you’re in the hard zone. If you can speak, with effort, in broken sentences, you’re in the middle zone.
The hard part isn’t identifying the training zones – it’s having the discipline to adhere to them. Most of us, Foster believes, have internalized some vestigial remnant of the puritan work ethic, conflating hard work with virtue. But to truly push your limits, you sometimes need to take it easy.

Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience) is the author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.

Why 85 percent Effort Is Important

85 Percent Effort Is Important
What does 85 percent effort mean and what’s the significance of that number?
If you have read running magazines, books on running, or any of the hundreds of websites offering running or training advice, you may have come across the following terms:
• Tempo Runs
• Anaerobic Threshold (A/T) Workouts
• Threshold Pace
• Lactate Threshold Pace
• Sub-maximal effort
• Cruise Intervals
• vVO2Max Runs
• Steady State Runs

In some of these more intense workouts you may see 85% as the suggested effort level. For the most part – without getting into minuscule technicalities – most of these terms represent essentially the same workout. Over the last 40-50 years of research on long-distance running, most scientists have drawn fairly similar conclusions. At this MAGIC pace (at either side of 85% of maximal effort) a lot of very special things happen to the human body.

For the beginner/novice level runner: 85 percent is the effort that “feels like you’re doing something.” You know the “no pain/no gain” mentality? Welcome to the threshold where you will soon be in pain if you don’t back off! When you are just getting into it – you may find yourself skyrocketing to 85% in no time at all. This is why WALK BREAKS are so important in gauging your pace to keep you more in the 65-75% range for most of your training. The 85 percent effort level is something to play with very occasionally. Until you establish a true foundation of aerobic endurance (the 65-75% range), the 85% level will be pretty hard on you.

For the recreational runner: 85% is the effort or pace that’s just slightly faster (I mean slightly – about 6-8 seconds a mile – just a step or two quicker!) than your half-marathon pace. Doing some running at this pace a few times a week will help you gradually get more comfortable at a slightly quicker pace in your half-marathons. As you may have figured out already, an improvement of just 6-10 seconds a mile is a BIG improvement in your overall time.

For the advanced runner: 85% is the effort that you begin to feel strong. Somehow when you hit this pace, you get the feeling as though you could “run all day long.” The truth is, if you are truly at your Anaerobic Threshold, you can probably hold this pace for 50-60 minutes (a little short of that “all day” feeling). Since none of us will be running any 50-60 minute half-marathons any time soon – the world record is currently just under 59 minutes – it is important to train sparingly at 85%. The “minutes” workouts, “tempo” workouts, and “cruise interval” workouts you will see on your intensity day will allow you to play in the 85% playground for short periods of time.

For the competitor runner: 85% is the effort that helps you control an opposing runner. If you know where 85 percent effort is for you and you learn to stay “just this side of it” – holding on to your extra gears for later in the race – while the person you are running against is “just the other side of it” and beginning to struggle or fade, guess what happens? Shift gears and good-bye. The “minutes” workouts, “tempo” workouts, and “cruise interval” workouts you will see on your intensity day will allow you to determine exactly where your personal gears are and help teach you how to conserve, accelerate, recover, and GO when you need to!
We follow this philosophy in our

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Workout Of The Week: Recovery Run

Matt Fitzgerald / February 17, 2016

If you asked a stadium-size crowd of other runners to name the most important type of running workout, some would say tempo runs, others would say long runs, and still others would say intervals of one kind or another. None would mention recovery runs. Unless I happened to be in that stadium.

I won’t go quite so far as to say that recovery runs are more important than tempo runs, long runs, and intervals, but I do believe they are no less important. Why? Because recovery runs, if properly integrated into your training regimen, will do just as much to enhance your race performances as any other type of workout. Seriously.

It is widely assumed that the purpose of recovery runs—which we may define as relatively short, slow runs undertaken within a day after a harder run—is to facilitate recovery from preceding hard training. You hear coaches talk about how recovery runs increase blood flow to the legs, clearing away lactic acid, and so forth. The truth is that lactic acid levels return to normal within an hour after even the most brutal workouts. Nor does lactic acid cause muscle fatigue in the first place. Nor is there any evidence that the sort of light activity that a recovery run entails promotes muscle tissue repair, glycogen replenishment, or any other physiological response that actually is relevant to muscle recovery.

In short, recovery runs do not enhance recovery. The real benefit of recovery runs is that they allow you to find the optimal balance between the two factors that have the greatest effect on your fitness and performance: training stress and running volume.

Here’s how:

Training stress is what your body experiences in workouts that test the present limits of your running fitness. You can be fairly sure a workout has delivered a training stress when it leaves you severely fatigued or completely exhausted. The two basic categories of workouts that deliver a training stress are high-intensity runs (intervals, tempo runs, hill repeats) and long runs. A training program whose objective is to prepare you for a peak race performance must feature plenty of “key workouts” that challenge your body’s capacity to resist the various causes of high-intensity fatigue (muscular acidosis, etc.) and long-duration fatigue (muscle tissue damage, etc). By exposing your body to fatigue and exhaustion, key workouts stimulate adaptations that enable you to resist fatigue better the next time.

Running volume, on the other hand, has a positive effect on running fitness and performance even in the absence of exhaustive key workouts. In other words, the more running you do (within the limit of what your body can handle before breaking down), the fitter you become, even if you never do any workouts that are especially taxing. The reason is that increases in running economy are very closely correlated with increases in running mileage. Research by Tim Noakes, M.D., and others suggests that while improvement in other performance-related factors such as VO2max ceases before a runner achieves his or her volume limit, running economy continues to improve as running mileage increases, all the way to the limit. For example, if the highest running volume your body can handle is 50 miles per week, you are all but certain to achieve greater running economy at 50 miles per week than at 40 miles per week, even though your VO2max may stop increasing at 40 miles.

You see, running is a bit like juggling. It is a motor skill that requires communication between your brain and your muscles. A great juggler has developed highly refined communication between his brain and muscles during the act of jugging, which enables him to juggle three plates with one hand while blindfolded. A well-trained runner has developed super-efficient communication between her brain and muscles during the act of running, allowing her to run at a high sustained speed with a remarkably low rate of energy expenditure. Sure, the improvements that a runner makes in neuromuscular coordination are less visible than those made by a juggler, but they are no less real.

or both the juggler and the runner, it is time spent simply practicing the relevant action that improves communication between the brain and the muscles. It’s not a matter of testing physiological limits, but of developing a skill through repetition. Thus, the juggler who juggles an hour a day will improve faster than the juggler who juggles five minutes a day, even if the former practices in a dozen separate five-minute sessions and therefore never gets tired. And the same is true for the runner.

Now, training stress—especially key workouts inflicting high-intensity fatigue—and running volume sort of work at cross-purposes. If you go for a bona fide training stress in every workout, you won’t be able to do a huge total amount of running before breaking down. By the same token, if you want to achieve the maximum volume of running, you have to keep the pace slow and avoid single long runs in favor of multiple short runs. But then you won’t get those big fitness boosts that only exhaustive runs can deliver.  In other words, you can’t maximize training stress and running volume simultaneously. For the best results, you need to find the optimal balance between these two factors, and that’s where recovery runs come in.

By sprinkling your training regimen with relatively short, easy runs, you can achieve a higher total running volume than you could if you always ran hard. Yet because recovery runs are gentle enough not to create a need for additional recovery, they allow you to perform at a high level in your key workouts and therefore get the most out of them.

I believe that recovery runs also yield improvements in running economy by challenging the neuromuscular system to perform in a pre-fatigued state. Key workouts themselves deliver a training stress that stimulates positive fitness adaptations by forcing a runner to perform beyond the point of initial fatigue. As the motor units that are used preferentially when you run begin to fatigue, other motor units that are less often called upon must be recruited to take up the slack so the athlete can keep running. In general, “slow-twitch” muscle fibers are recruited first and then “fast-twitch” fibers become increasingly active as the slow-twitch fibers wear out. By encountering this challenge, your neuromuscular system is able to find new efficiencies that enable you to run more economically.

Recovery runs, I believe, achieve a similar effect in a slightly different way. In a key workout you experience fatigued running by starting fresh and running hard or far. In a recovery run you start fatigued from your last key workout and therefore experience a healthy dose of fatigued running without having to run hard or far. For this reason, although recovery runs are often referred to as “easy runs,” if they’re planned and executed properly they usually don’t feel very easy. Speaking from personal experience, while my recovery runs are the shortest and slowest runs I do, I still feel rather miserable in many of them because I am already fatigued when I start them. This miserable feeling is, I think, indicative of the fact that the run is accomplishing some real, productive work that will enhance my fitness perhaps almost as much as the key workout that preceded it. Viewed in this way, recovery runs become essentially a way of squeezing more out of your key workouts.

Practical Guidelines For Recovery Runs

Now that I’ve sold you on the benefits of recovery runs, let’s look at how to do them so that they most effectively serve their purpose of balancing training stress and running volume in your training. There are five specific guidelines I suggest you follow.

  1. If you run fewer than five times a week, recovery runs are generally unnecessary. Recovery runs can only serve their purpose of balancing training stress with running volume if you run five or more times per week. If you run just three or four times per week, you’re better off going for a training stress in each run, or at least in three out of four.
  2. Whenever you run again within 24 hours of completing a “key” workout (i.e., a workout that has left you severely fatigued or exhausted), the follow-up run should usually be a recovery run.
  3. Do key workouts and recovery runs in a 1:1 ratio. There’s seldom a need to insert two easy runs between hard runs, and it’s seldom advisable to do two consecutive hard runs within 24 hours. A good schedule for runners who run six days a week is three key workouts alternating with three recovery runs, as in the following example:

Monday: OFF

Tuesday: Key Workout (High Intensity)

Wednesday: Recovery Run

Thursday: Key Workout (High Intensity)

Friday: Recovery Run

Saturday: Key Workout (Long Duration)

Saturday: Recovery Run

Most elite runners who train twice a day do a hard run in the morning followed by a recovery run in the afternoon or a hard run in the afternoon followed by a recovery run the next morning. The frequency is twice that of the above example but the ratio of key workouts to recovery runs remains 1:1

  1. Recovery runs are largely unnecessary during base training, when most of your workouts are moderate in both intensity and duration. When you begin doing formal high-intensity workouts and exhaustive long runs, it’s time to begin doing recovery runs in a 1:1 ratio with these key workouts.
  2. There are no absolute rules governing the appropriate duration and pace of recovery runs. A recovery run can be as long and fast as you want, provided it does not affect your performance in your next scheduled key workout (which is not particularly long or fast, in most cases). Indeed, because the purpose of recovery runs is to maximize running volume without sacrificing training stress, your recovery runs should generally be as long as you can make them short of affecting your next key workout. A little experimentation is needed to find the recovery run formula that works best for each individual runner.
  3. Don’t be too proud to run veryslowly in your recovery runs, as Kenya’s runners are famous for doing. Even very slow running counts as practice of the running stride that will yield improvements in your running economy, and running very slowly allows you to run longer (i.e. maximize volume) without sabotaging your next key workout.

Make A High Stride Rate Work For You

Kelly O’Mara / July 15, 2014


Over and over, top runners maintain consistently high stride rates—and so should you. 

Running speed is a function of two very simple things: the length of your running strideand the frequency at which you take those strides. To go faster, either one or the other has to increase.

But, for elite runners, one of those two rarely changes. Top-level distance runners typically run at a high number of steps per minute – between 180-200 – no matter what speed they’re going; simply varying the length of their stride to run faster or slower.

“Fitter people have a little longer stride, but the rate stays the same,” said Jack Daniels, coach, exercise physiologist and author of the seminal book Daniels’ Running Formula,which first included analysis of stride rate.

Daniels’ initial study that established the magic number of 180 steps per minute was conducted during the 1984 Olympics. He counted the stride rates of every athlete competing in every distance from 800 meters on up. Only one racer had a stride rate below 180 steps per minute – and she was at 176. Conversely, over his years as a coach and collegiate physical education instructor, he never had a student above 180 steps. The average recreational runner is closer to 150-170 steps per minute.

That original research has since been duplicated and corroborated many times. In a race in London in 2011, Bernard Lagat outkicked Kenenisa Bekele with a 51 second last lap, but his cadence stayed just over 200 steps per minute throughout the entire race, not increasing as he sprinted for the finish. In the 2011 Boston Marathon, both Desiree Davila and Caroline Kilel held a 180-190 stride rate even as they struggle at the end of the race. Over and over, top runners maintain consistently high stride rates.

The reason a higher stride rate is ideal is two-fold, said Daniels.  Most casual runners run at a slower rate with longer steps. A higher step rate forces smaller strides, which brings a runner’s feet more directly under them instead of out in front, decreases the injuries associated with overstriding, and increases efficiency.

“You’re landing more in the middle of your foot than on your heel,” said Elizabeth Chumanov, from the University of Wisconsin. Chumanov recently co-authored a study where a group of runners ran at their natural stride rate and then increasd that rate by 5% and then 10%. A 5-10% increase was associated with lower forces as the foot hits the ground and a greater engagement of the hamstring and glute muscles as the foot prepares to strike and push off.

Chumanov is now conducting research that she believes will show an increase in stride rate can lead to a decrease in the tension and forces on the knee and, in turn, a decrease in knee pain.

he reason a higher stride rate can reduce injury is because it decreases the amount of time the foot hangs in the air and changes the angle at which it lands. The longer the foot is in the air the harder it hits the ground.

The second reason a higher stride rate can be ideal is related to that push-off. The force from your push-off the ground is what propels you forward. Spending too much time in the air decreases the amount of force pushing you forward. Spending too much time on the ground with each step means you’re, well, stuck on the ground and not running forward. A high turnover pushes a runner forward quickly and strongly.

“You want to just roll over the ground,” said Daniels.

Compared to changing your stride length, increasing your stride rate is relatively straight-forward. A person’s stride length can vary depending on their height, hip mobility, and general fitness.

It takes more energy to run with larger steps, which is why Daniels says that fitter athletes tend to have slightly longer strides. It also requires hip mobility, flexibility, and glute engagement to pull your leg back behind you. Though it was in vogue in the 1970s to try to maximize stride length by throwing your legs as far in front of you as possible, that’s now considered overstriding, which can lead to injuries and is not efficient. Mostly, though, an individual’s stride length can only be increased so much.

Studies done on 100-meter sprinters, who have the longest stride length of any racers, show that over a range of athletes the average length is consistently 1.35 times the runner’s height. In distance running, strides are understandably shorter than in sprints.

The best thing a casual runner can do, rather than worry about stride length, said Daniels and Chumanov, is to focus on increasing their stride rate.

First, count your steps while running. Count how many times your right foot lands in a 30-second period and then multiply by four to get your total stride rate per minute. Then, attempt to increase that rate slightly. It’s easiest to play with your stride rate on a treadmill where you can set the speed to stay the same, said Daniels. You can also purchase a metronome and use it for brief periods during runs to build up your cadence.

However, UK coach and sports rehab specialist James Dunne cautions runners not to become too focused on some so-called magic number for stride rate. Instead, he suggests simple small increases at a time.

“Unnaturally forcing an uncomfortably high cadence too soon can result in its own technique issues,” said Dunne.


About The Author:

Kelly Dunleavy O’Mara is a journalist/reporter and former professional triathlete. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes for a number of magazines, newspapers, and websites. You can read more about her at

Explosive exercises for improving running economy


Improve your running economy and go stronger and longer at any pace.



JUN 2, 2009

What makes a runner fast? Conventional wisdom says it’s high aerobic capacity, or VO2 max. But check out the 10 fastest runners at any race, and the winner won’t necessarily have the highest VO2 max. So what’s the secret? It’s running economy.

According to a new book, The Runner’s Body (Rodale, May 2009), the role of VO2 max has been way overrated. If you want to run faster and farther, the authors say, you’ve got to improve your running economy, or how efficiently your body uses oxygen. Like the fuel economy of a car, the less oxygen and energy you need to run at a certain pace, the longer you can go without ending up, well, gassed.

“Running economy is what’s going to help you run faster longer and cost you less than people around you,” says co-author Jonathan Dugas, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “VO2 max just doesn’t predict performance beyond a certain point.” 

That’s good news because there’s more room to improve economy than VO2 max, which is largely limited by genetics. Here’s how to do it.


Sure, Paula Radcliffe set the world marathon record with her distinct loping gait. But for mere mortals, floppy form means wasted energy. Research has shown that through practice you can become more economical. “The more you rehearse, the more efficient you’ll become,” says running coach Matt Fitzgerald, who co-wrote the book with Dugas and Ross Tucker, Ph.D. You don’t have to analyze your stride; the learning occurs naturally as you gain experience.

Make It Happen: Practice running with good form at a pace that feels comfortable from start to finish. You shouldn’t be huffing and puffing, or moving so slowly that it feels unnatural. Over time, your gait will become more efficient. If you’re a beginner, just focus on logging miles. If you’re more experienced, add speedwork.


Increasing the force in your stride will make your running feel easier. The more powerfully you can push off the ground, the less effort each stride will take, and ultimately it will be easier to run faster. “You’ll feel like you have more strength in reserve,” says Fitzgerald. 

Make It Happen: Try plyometrics—explosive bounding movements that help you push off the ground. These exercises (see “Jump Up to Speed,” below) mimic parts of the running stride and help give you more push-off power on the road.

Build up your all-around body strength, and it will be easier to stay on pace when you’re fatigued. “It’s about being equally strong everywhere, not just having your legs go fast,” says Dugas. Any weaknesses can throw off your biomechanics and cost you more energy. 

Make it happen: Core, back, and shoulder work will help you stay upright. Choose specific exercises that fit into your routine and do them consistently, Dugas says. “It’s most important that you’re just doing something,” he says. 

Jump up to Speed

Exercises to make your running more efficient.

Matt Fitzgerald, a coach and co-author of The Runner’s Body, suggests these three plyometric moves to improve bounding power. Try each of these once a week for four weeks. Do them after a run, or on a nonrunning day with 15 minutes of jogging to warm up.

Lateral Bounding 

Stand to the left of a box or a platform that’s about 12 to 16 inches high. Bend your knees slightly and leap up and over the box so that you land on the floor on the opposite side on the opposite foot. Continue leaping over the box in both directions for 30 seconds.

Single-Leg Box Jump 

Stand on your right foot facing a platform 12 to 18 inches high. Bend your right leg and swing your arms back, then forward, and leap onto the box. Don’t let your left foot touch down. Immediately jump down, landing on the same foot you jumped up with. Keep jumping for 30 seconds, then switch legs. 

Split Squat Leap

Stand with one foot ahead of the other with knees slightly bent. Squat, then thrust straight up. In the air, move the forward foot back and the rear foot forward. Land on both feet and immediately bend your knees to begin the next leap. Start with 16 reps. 


The relevance of proper recovery runs

Runners world:


NOV 10, 2014

The Easy-Day Pace

Are you running your easy miles too fast—or too slow?

In May, Sally Kipyego, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000m, sped to a 30:42.26 win at Stanford’s Payton Jordan Invitational—a pace that works out to 4:56 per mile.

Achieving that pace for 10,000m requires Kipyego to log plenty of hard track sessions and tempo runs. Yet on her non-workout days, she ambles along at 8:30-per-mile pace, sometimes even slower.

“I think most Kenyans do that,” Kipyego says about taking it slow on her easy days. “As long as I can remember, when I was a junior back in Kenya, the easy days were really easy. I am kind of old-school in some ways. You go by feel; you let your body tell you.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Mo Farah, winner of two gold medals at the same Olympics where Kipyego took silver. Until last fall, Farah had been averaging 7 minutes per mile for up to 40 percent of his weekly volume. But as he was preparing for his marathon debut in London, his coach, Alberto Salazar, instructed him to speed up his easy-day pacing in order to get more benefit from all that mileage. Farah now runs much faster; with training partner Galen Rupp, he works down to 5:30 pace on easy days.

If the faster pace leaves Farah with heavy legs, Salazar doesn’t sweat it; he told Running Times in March that the goal of feeling fresh for workouts is overrated. “If you’re always worried about feeling perfect for every workout,” he says, “you may never really get the conditioning you need.”

So who is right, Kipyego or Farah? And more important, what is right for you?


They’re all the other miles—not the tempos or track repeats or long runs. They’re the entries in your training log that make up a large percentage of your weekly mileage total, but with which you don’t bother to record much data: Simply an “8” or a “6” or a “park loop” suffice to remind you what you did that day.

The easy day is the Rodney Dangerfield of distance training: It receives precious little respect. Some hardliners might even use the term “junk miles” for Kipyego’s easy-day running, despite her international successes. Why do we do them? Because easy running—even very slow easy running—provides fundamental adaptations.

n easy days, you’re using mostly slow-twitch muscle fibers. They have a higher density of mitochondria, high levels of aerobic enzymes and greater capillary density than fast-twitch fibers, which are more involved in higher-intensity training, says Dan Bergland, principal sport physiologist at Volt Sportlab in Flagstaff, Arizona. On easy days, “You increase mitochondria and capillaries and blood flow to those muscles, so they’re better able to utilize oxygen,” he says. “Without that, you can’t do the intense runs.”

All runners, and especially beginners and those coming back from injury, benefit from the cardiovascular and muscular-structural development easy running promotes. The base fitness a runner puts down through a preponderance of easy runs enables the athlete to safely progress to other types of training.

Seasoned runners also need easy days in order to maintain hard-earned aerobic fitness and make continual gains in running economy. Of course, competitive runners are interested in moving efficiently at race paces, the primary reason for training at a variety of intensities, in addition to running easy. But even slow running allows for modest gains in efficiency of movement.

More important, it allows for recovery from the hard days. “A runner should achieve a training effect every day,” says Dennis Barker, coach of Team USA Minnesota, “and to me, recovery is a training effect, maybe the most important one. It’s during recovery that adaptations from the hard training take place. If a runner doesn’t recover, the body is not going to adapt, and you’ll either continue digging a hole for yourself or get injured.”


The question, then, is what pace is right, and what do you stand to lose if you go too fast or too slow? In a general sense, an easy run is a low-intensity effort of a short to moderate duration. So a long run, even completed at a relaxed pace, should not be considered “easy,” because, despite the pace, there comes a point where the duration raises the overall intensity out of the comfort zone.

A dozen years ago, Barker began working with Carrie Tollefson, a four-time national champion at Villanova. The transition to working with Barker was initially rocky, because Tollefson wouldn’t back down on her easy runs. “At Nova we were very low-mileage, but we ran hard all the time,” Tollefson says. “And then I came to Dennis and we were trying to hit 85 or 90 miles a week, and I couldn’t do it all. I was always pushing the envelope, but I just couldn’t run a ton plus go really hard in all my workouts, my easy days and my long runs.”

Barker’s solution was to mandate that Tollefson wear a heart rate monitor and keep her easy and long runs within appropriate ranges. It worked. “Slowly but surely, running slower helped me,” Tollefson says. “By 2004 I was having my best year, and that’s when I made my Olympic team. I just needed to grow into the sport and know that it was OK to back off on those easy days and not be so stuck on the watch and always running 6:30 pace. It didn’t matter what I ran on my easy days; they were supposed to be easy.”

Though Barker extols the virtues of keeping the pace relaxed on easy days, that doesn’t mean he sends his athletes out for short jogs. In fact, he’s been known to assign runners hilly routes on non-workout days, to give the run a little extra benefit. But pacing is almost always reined in.

“Pace is the most important thing to keep easy on an easy day,” Barker says. “Many runners can still recover if they run a few more miles, as long as it’s still at an easy pace. But from my experience, they can’t recover if they run a faster pace, even with fewer miles. So pace really needs to be governed on easy days, [but] mileage not quite as much.”

Bergland believes runners can’t really go too slow on their easy days, unless their form starts to break down. At that point, slower becomes counterproductive. In his opinion, as long as your form holds up, lower intensity trumps higher intensity for easy days.

While elite athletes have a finely tuned sense of pace and effort, rank-and-file runners often struggle with it. Bergland advises runners to use 10K race pace plus 2 minutes for easy-day pace, wear heart rate monitors (and aim for 65 to 70 percent of maximum heart rate) or take occasional treadmill runs to monitor pace.


Currently working with athletes across the spectrum of age and ability, Ian Dobson, an assistant with the Oregon Track Club Elite coaching staff in Eugene, Oregon (which is Kipyego’s team), sees runners fail to back off on easy days. He meets weekly with Team Run Eugene Flyers, a group of recreational runners, to oversee workouts. “I see some of them warm up and then run mile pace and 5K pace and marathon pace, and it’s essentially indistinguishable; they’re just running, you know?” he says. “Those people are suffering from this stuck-in-one-pace kind of thing. And it’s because they don’t want to run 11-minute pace, or whatever they really need to be running, on their recovery runs.”

Those who don’t run their workouts hard enough are stuck in a middle ground, in third gear. “The common denominator among most really successful runners, people running at a high level, is a really wide chasm between training-run pace and where they work out,” Dobson says. “It’s kind of counterintuitive, but when total volume is high, your average training-run pace is probably also a bit higher.” He explains that you see this with marathoners—when an elite athlete is running more than 100 miles a week, chances are his average training-run pace is faster than an 800m runner or miler running only 30 miles a week. The miler is running really fast when he’s on the track and really slow when he’s not. Brenda

Martinez, who has PRs of 1:57.91 for 800m and 4:00.94 for 1500m, is a perfect example of this. Under the guidance of coach Joe Vigil, she’ll run 8 × 1,000m repeats at 2:55, but on her easy days, she’ll run 9-minute pace.


While Farah’s 5:30 easy-day pace boggles the mind of most nonelites, he’s within the range of an easy day that a variety of running calculators prescribe. But not everyone is. Take Jason Ryf, who ran the 2013 Boston Marathon in 2:23:06 at age 42. He rarely trains slower than 6 minutes per mile. Most training calculators would suggest that Ryf run his easy mileage in the 6:15–6:40 range, but he just can’t do it. “Believe me,” Ryf says, “I go through the internal struggle quite a bit—’Hey, I should be going slower’—because all the training books would have me going easier. I do plan on it sometimes, but after a couple of miles I’m right back at 6-minute pace.”

But Ryf’s training is solely focused on the marathon. Any racing he does at shorter distances is training for his next 26.2-miler, and his PRs at 10K, 10 miles and the half marathon pale in comparison to his full marathon performances. Were he to spurn the long racing and target other distances, Ryf would attempt to modify his approach. “I would probably try to back off a little bit, so my legs would be fresher for workouts,” he says.

Ray Treacy, whose Providence women were the 2013 NCAA cross country champions, has his athletes running toward the faster end of the scale on most non-workout days and expresses disdain for “jogging.” The veteran coach schedules workouts every fourth day, less often than is typical, and instructs his athletes to go truly easy only immediately following hard training sessions. “The day after the hard workout might be easy,” Treacy says, “but the other two days you’re trying to get something out of it, to improve your fitness. I wouldn’t like to waste a day’s training on going for a jog; let’s put it that way.”

Some physiologists agree with the faster approach. One of those is Bob Otto, director of the Human Performance Lab at Adelphi University. The real question, he asks, is what does a slow run accomplish? In an email to Running Times, he details the downsides of going slow: It provides orthopedic trauma, allows athletes to practice something they would never use in a race and provides insufficient cardiovascular or metabolic stimulus to accrue improvement.

“Conversely, the faster-paced run may provide some cardiovascular stimulus, may enhance metabolic function, mimics the biomechanics of race pace and hopefully provides less orthopedic trauma than the slow run,” he writes. “Although the ideal scenario is to decrease one’s stride frequency to run slower and maintain a similar biomechanical foot strike, we know that most people change their mechanics significantly and their stride frequency moderately. I am an advocate of practicing like you want to perform and find little value in a ‘slow run.'”

For some highly trained athletes, moving too slowly throws them off. Marielle Hall, the University of Texas senior who won the NCAA 5,000m title in June, picked up the pace of her easy days from 8 minutes to about 6:40 over the course of the academic year. “I like to get athletes into a rhythm, whether it’s a recovery day or a general day, and not worry about pace so much. Make sure you’re getting something out of it but not killing yourself,” says Brad Herbster, who started coaching Hall last fall. “I think [Hall’s] base fitness slowly increased. I’d check with her and she never told me it was feeling too fast. So for her it worked out really well. I know some people are really different and some coaches will say ‘Oh, you’ve got to take every easy day really easy.’ And that might work for some, but for Marielle it didn’t.”



Returning, then, to the easy 6-miler you do four days a week before work: Would you benefit from speeding up or slowing down? The answer, of course, depends on your goals, your other workouts, whether you’re hitting a variety of speeds during the week, your total weekly mileage, what your body is telling you each morning—and what time you have to be at work.

“Runners have to pay attention and learn about themselves because an easy day will be different based on how long you’ve been running, what you’re training for, how much mileage you have in your legs, all sorts of things,” Barker says.

While you never need to emulate the program of another runner, you might experiment with varying the pace of those Rodney Dangerfield miles—and test the changes with a race. Maybe you’ll find it’s not the hard efforts—the number of reps or the grade of the hill—that will make the difference in your training program. Maybe it’s what you’re doing on the easy days.


You can calculate your easy-day target pace using a range of methods, from a percentage of current 10K ability to something a little less scientific—perceived exertion—as defined by Roy Benson, exercise physiologist and distance-running coach. We calculate the range for a runner who can do a 40:00 10K (6:26 pace) or a 3:04 marathoner (7:03 pace).

Run type

% of current 10K race pace

% of current marathon pace

% of max. heart rate

Perceived exertion

For a 40:00 10K/3:04 marathon (min/mi)





Very easy; a short, slow run, jogging






Conversational; not fatiguing unless distance is longer than average and/or weather or terrain/course provide challenges






Easy to start, with a progression to near marathon pace; easily sustainable and only moderately fatiguing



Some Advice for Sunday

Runners World

Run a Perfect Race

The alarm clock rings…now what? Here’s how to navigate any course correctly


To race well, you need to train well. Duh.

But there are also race-day logistics to master. Even if you nailed all your workouts, you can still blow everything by tearing around on race morning in a manic panic in search of safety pins, finding yourself at the starting line with a jumble of jingling keys, or getting body-blocked midrace trying to pass an iPod-wearing runner. So to make sure your hard training doesn’t go to waste, we’ve compiled all the advice you need to successfully navigate race day. Our tips start before the start, finish after the finish, and–if employed properly–will guarantee a glitch-free race. (Maybe even a PR.)

Before the Gun

Your prerace goal should be to arrive at the starting line relaxed and ready to run. Here’s how

Lay It Out 
“The night before, lay out everything you’ll need race day on an extra bed or the floor,” says Greg McMillan, a USA Track & Field certified coach in Flagstaff, Arizona. With the race start still half a day away, you can think clearly about all the things you want with you on race morning.

Travel Light
Save yourself the postrace hassle of retrieving your supplies by not checking anything. Wear an old pair of sweats and a shirt over your racing outfit that you can toss at the start (most races donate the clothes). If you need to check your bag, don’t put anything in your sack that you can’t live without “Ninety-nine percent of the stuff gets back to the runner,” says Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon. “But one percent always gets lost in the wash.”

The longer the lines at the Port-a-Johns, the more likely the potty will be out of toilet paper. “So bring your own,” says Rod DeHaven, 2000 U.S. Olympic marathoner.

Show Your Number 
Even though most races time with chips, you still have to wear a number. “Bib numbers show race officials that you are a registered runner,” says Cliff Bosley, race director of The Bolder Boulder 10-K. “They should be visible at all times.” Pin your bib on the front of your racing outfit with four safety pins to keep it from flapping around.
Secure Your Key
Find someplace to stash your car key (note: singular), but not where someone might find it, like in the gas cap, on a tire, or in a hide-a-key under the car (sound familiar?). If the key is one of those bulky computer-programmed jobs, use the valet key instead, and slide it into a zippered pocket, lace it into your shoe, or use a Shoe Pocket, which is a waterproof pouch that Velcros to your laces. You could also hand your keys to a spectating friend–as long as he has a nicer car than yours.

Stash Some Cash
If you have money with you for an emergency, you won’t need it. If you don’t, you will. So pin a $10 bill inside your singlet.

Bag Yourself
They aren’t stylish, but plastic garbage bags do keep you warm and dry. “Cut a hole for just your head, and tuck your arms inside,” says Bret Treier, cochair of the Road Runner Akron Marathon.

Warm Up Wisely 
If possible, warm up by running the first mile or so of the racecourse to get the lay of the land. If you can’t do that, warm up on a nearby road or sidewalk, not in a grassy field. Early morning dew can soak through your shoes and socks.

Line Up on Time
Don’t get there first, since the extra wait will only make you anxious. Instead, watch the clock and keep an eye on runners as they fill in behind the start. Then join in. Many races have signs showing you where to stand according to your predicted per-mile pace. Your race doesn’t have markers? If you’re hoping to run a four-hour (or longer) marathon, don’t line up within 100 yards of a Kenyan.

Go As a Runner
If you must dress up in a costume, “make sure it doesn’t extend beyond your body so that it won’t interfere with other runners,” says Bosley. Elvis jumpsuit? Um, sure. Elvis cape? No.

And You’re Off 

Once the race starts, there’s more to think about than just putting one foot in front of the other

Look For Room
As you ramp up to race pace, try to achieve “daylight” between you and other runners, which is basically two full stride lengths.

Be Patient
Don’t bob and weave through the starting pack like a punt returner. You’ll waste energy without getting very far. Instead, jog or walk with your arms slightly out to help you keep your balance. And be sure not to follow the guy with the headband who has jumped the curb and is sprinting ahead. The race gods will make him trip.

Drink Second
The first water stop in larger races often resembles a crowded subway station at rush hour. As long as you’re not thirsty, go ahead and skip it. “You don’t want to trip or slip on someone else’s cup,” says Treier. “So move over to the double-yellow line and run right through.”

Pass with Caution
Runners with MP3 players likely don’t know you’re approaching. “In a crowded race, runners need to have a level of consciousness about their environment, and people wearing headphones don’t,” says Phil Stewart, race director of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten-Mile Run in Washington, D.C. (That’s why so many races discourage headphones.) So wait until they’re done singing the chorus, then yell, “Passing on the left!” Make sure to give Mr. or Ms. iPod a wide berth–while making sure you don’t cut anyone off.

Steal Some Airtime
Look for TV cameras. If you spot one, move into an open space and simply point at it. Waving and shouting signals desperation.

Slow Down on the Side
If you need to slow your pace, do so gradually and move to the right side of the road, again making sure you don’t cut anyone off, like the ex-Georgia Tech linebacker behind you.

Slow Down on the Side
If you need to slow your pace, do so gradually and move to the right side of the road, again making sure you don’t cut anyone off, like the ex-Georgia Tech linebacker behind you.

Hold the Hoorays
Sure, it’s easy to get animated when you’re a couple of miles from the finish. You’re almost there. Yet yukking it up expends a lot of energy. “I once saw my wife talking, waving, and blowing kisses,” says Treier. “I yelled out: ‘Save it.’ She didn’t listen, and she did not finish with a smile on her face.”

Happy Endings
As you cross the finish line, you’re not quite done yet: the finishing chute stretches ahead

Keep Moving
Once across the finish line, runners are all striving toward a common goal–a cold drink and a shower. If you don’t keep moving forward, you’ll likely get knocked around.

Drink Up
Even though you are no longer running, you need fluids to rehydrate and recover. Take some and keep moving.

Wear Your Hardware
Drape your finisher’s medal around your neck. You need your hands for other things as you continue to move through the chute. Just make sure to take off the medal sometime in the next month.

Eat. A Little
Get yourself some food, but “just your share,” says Gordon Bakoulis, a running coach in New York City. You need carbs to begin postrace recovery, not to feed your entire extended family. Besides, stopping for extra food will only slow things down. And any leftover food is often given away to a charity, like a local food bank.

Find Your Family 
Have a prearranged spot to meet up with your family and friends after the race. Anything solid and immovable is best, like a tree, the front steps of a building, or Mike, who quit running three years ago. Don’t suggest something like the middle of a field, which could be jam-packed with runners come race day. Next, make sure you spot your group before they see you. Now start limping (cue the sympathy violins). But do so with a huge smile on your face

Interesting study on nutritional and ultra endurance

  • eview
  • Open Access

Nutritional implications for ultra-endurance walking and running events

Extreme Physiology & Medicine20165:13

  • Received: 4 June 2016
  • Accepted: 1 November 2016
  • Published: 21 November 2016


This paper examines the various nutritional challenges which athletes encounter in preparing for and participating in ultra-endurance walking and running events. Special attention is paid to energy level, performance, and recovery within the context of athletes’ intake of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and various vitamins and minerals. It outlines, by way of a review of literature, those factors which promote optimal performance for the ultra-endurance athlete and provides recommendations from multiple researchers concerned with the nutrition and performance of ultra-endurance athletes. Despite the availability of some research about the subject, there is a paucity of longitudinal material which examines athletes by nature and type of ultra-endurance event, gender, age, race, and unique physiological characteristics. Optimal nutrition results in a decreased risk of energy depletion, better performance, and quicker full-recovery.


  • Ultra-endurance
  • Energy
  • Nutrition
  • Performance
  • Training


As a crucial aspect of the life of athletes, and a basic element of physical fitness, endurance is significantly impacted by not only physiological characteristics but very importantly, the body’s capacity to effectively utilize nutrients to sustain performance, particularly during ultra-endurance events. Defined as events lasting at least 6 h [1], ultra-endurance events place extreme and unique physiological demands on athletes. Some events span several days, including those that have no scheduled breaks [2]. The diversity in location in which these events are sometimes performed presents athletes with unique challenges including extreme temperatures, increase in altitudes, rapid energy depletion, and the need to consume nutrients during the event. Proper training is important to prepare for such extraordinary physical feats, but nutrition is paramount as these events would not be possible without adequate fuel availability. Nutrition, hydration, and recovery are among the most important considerations for athletes, which require advanced planning.

It has been identified that a comprehensive source providing succinct guidelines and recommendation to both protect the health of these athletes and promote performance is not available. Numerous case reports and field studies [3456789101112131415161718192021222324] show that few ultra-endurance runners and walkers meet recommendations that have been established throughout the literature. In an observational study of 42 amateur runners in a Swiss mountain marathon, researchers discovered that the intake of most participants were significantly below the requisite nutritional recommendations [7]. They further asserted that 90% of ultramarathon runners agreed that nutrition has an important influence on overall performance. This being said, adequate food and fluid intake is related to a successful finish of an ultra-endurance race [724] and an important key to attaining this adequacy seems to be an appropriate nutrition strategy during the race [25]. These findings are possible indicators that the difficulty which athletes experience in meeting standard recommendations could be attributed to various factors. Among these are lack of or poor nutrition education, norms of ultra-endurance sports, the development of physical symptoms including injury, gastrointestinal disturbances, suppression of appetite, logistic challenges with implications for both food preparation in terms of time and available resources/facilities to do so and, by extension, total food intake particularly in those periods of increased needs [152627]. Additionally, dehydration and fluid overload [1426272829] appear to be areas with which have challenges. The myriad of stressors, such as extreme environmental conditions, intense physical exertion, limited sleep, and rationing of food, which ultra-endurance athletes encounter [1426272829], highlights the importance of prior planning where individualized nutrition strategy is concerned. It is clearly demonstrated throughout the literature that there is a need for appropriate education of ultra-endurance athletes, coaches, medical staff and race organizers, based on environmental conditions and course topography. Overarching goals should be aimed at minimizing the energy gap between intake and expenditure, attaining adequate dietary intakes of micronutrients and avoiding over or under hydration. This review will comprehensively discuss recommendations to address these issues.


Energy needs of the ultramarathon athlete

As can be seen in Table 1, ultra-endurance events are highly diverse, but available literature suggest that they result in an energy deficit. Ultra-endurance athletes typically train for 1–6 h per day and many have multiple training sessions per day [30]. It is not uncommon to train for longer than 6 h at a time as some events require more than 24 h of continuous activity [30]. Therefore, as shown in Table 1, quantities of energy intake well above those of the average person are required to fuel the activity for both training sessions and events. With performance as a primary goal, athletes should strive to achieve an energy intake that matches the energy output of their activity, basal metabolic rate (BMR), thermic effect of food, and other activities of their daily life. It is important that ultra-endurance athletes consider these variables both during activity and outside the context of activity as failure to restore energy between training sessions can delay recovery and be detrimental to performance. Extreme energy deficits have been found to be a common feature among athletes who engage in continuous and multi-stage ultramarathon events. This is subsequently associated with poor recovery from exercise and sustained fatigue [1415]. Both inadvertent symptoms such as gastrointestinal challenges and injury, including those that are dermatologically related, increase the risk of insufficient food and fluid intake with and without the addition of environmental challenges [3132]. In competition, field research suggests that ultra-endurance athletes finish their races with an energy intake between 36 and 54% of energy expenditure [1834]. With this in consideration, Ramos-Campo et al. [33] have found that the magnitude of the energy deficit is correlated with performance, which suggests that reducing this energy deficit may be an advantage.

Table 1

A comparison of ultra-endurance walking and running events

Year published




Time length

Exercise mode

Distance (km)

Energy intake

Energy expenditure

Total energy deficit



Nutrition/fluid stations

Self-procured nutrition




1 male


20 h

Running and walking


9600 kcal

10,720 kcal

−1120 kcal

Temperature range: 12–20 °C Wind speeds range: 15–17 km/h


Fluid stations





9 female


7 days



14,270 kcal

20,940 kcal

−6670 kcal




Food: ad libitum

Liquids: ad libitum




1 male

Sydney to Melbourne, Australia

199 h



5972.57 kcal/day



Temperature range: 8–25 °C

Accumulated altitude: 900 m Ascent: 1000 m Descent: 100 m

Food and beverage provided every 15–20 mins. Fluids: carbohydrate supplemented beverage  Food: Potato, rice, pasta, and bread




Australian run

1 male


217 days (data compiled over 2 weeks of this time)




6321 kcal





Food: ad libitum

Fluids: ad libitum




26 (21 male, 5 female)

New York, USA

26.2 ± 3.6 h



7050 kcal

14,340 kcal

7290 kcal

Temperature range: 21–38 °C


37 food stations




Marathon Des Sables

1 male

Sahara Desert

6 days



17,572 kcal

33,776.75 kcal

–16,204.745 kcal

Temperature range: 5 °C(night)–50 °C(day)



Food: ad libitum (dehydrated meals)

Fluids: ad libitum (carbohydrate supplemented drinks)



Tour des Dents du Midi

42 (39 male, 3 female)


7 h 3 min

Running and walking


219–2405 kcal


−1889 to −2470 kcal

Temperature range: 18–30 °C Humidity range: 34–61% at the lowest altitude, and 57–92% at the highest altitude Wind speeds range: 1–21 km/h

Total ascent:2890 m Ascent and descent range: 860–2494 m

15 support stations

Fluids:water, sweet tea

Food: Banana and orange slices, dried fruit mix, cereal bars and grape sugar cubes

Food: ad libitum

Fluids: ad libitum



100 km Biel

11 female

Biel, Switzerland

12.7 h ± 91 min



570 ± 230 kcal

6310 ± 1340 kcal

−5750 ± 1170 kcal

Temperature range: 8–15 °C


17 aid stations

Fluids: isotonic sports drinks,tea,

soup, caffeinated drinks and water Food: bananas, oranges, energy bars and bread

Fluids: ad libitum




1 male

Atcama Desert, Chile

23 days



40,733 kcal

110,791 kcal

–70,058 kcal

Described as: temperate climate

Average altitude: 3103 ± 704 m


Food: freeze-dried foods, snacks

Beverages: coffee



100 km Biel

27 male

Biel, Switzerland

11.5 h ± 119 min



760 ± 300 kcal

7420 ± 1660 kcal

–6660 ± 1650 kcal

Temperature range: 8–18 °C


17 aid stations

Fluids: isotonic sports drinks, tea,

soup, caffeinated drinks and water Food: bananas, oranges, energy bars and bread

Fluids: ad libitum




74 (46 male, 28 female)

Al Andalus Ultimate Trail, Spain

5 days



16,740 kcal

19,155–24,995 kcal

–2415 to –8225 kcal

Described as: hot ambient environment


Aid stations situated 10 km apart

Food: fruit (oranges and watermelon)

Fluids: plain water, electrolyte supplementation.

Fluids: ad libitum




1 male

North Scotland to Moroccan Sahara desert

78 days



5541.2 ± 764.3 kcal/day



Described as: extreme weather conditions (maximum range: 2.8–45.0 °C)

Altitude of ascent and descent ranged between 0 and 2400 m above sea level, with 7 days at altitude 31500 m

Food and liquid provided daily




Glenmore24 Trail Race

25 (19 male, 6 female)

Cairngorms National

Park, UK

24 h

Running and walking


4776.9 ± 2627.3 kcal

13,136.5 ± 2627.3 kcal

–8359.6 kcal

Temperature range: 0–20 °C in 2011 and 3–19 °C in 2012 Humidity range: 54–82%

Average altitude: 342 m (SD 303 m)

Plain water and electrolyte

supplementation every 3 km

Food: ad libitum

Fluids: ad libitum




6 unspecified

Sierra de Gredos, Spain

14 h 6 min



5124.6 ± 531.2 kcal

9856.6 ± 859.8 kcal

–4732 kcal

Temperature range: 8–26 °C Temperature average: 14.9 ± 8.7 °C

Maximum altitude : 2484 m Minimum altitude : 1149 m


Food: energy bars

Fluids: water from various natural sources



South Pole Race

13 (12 male, 1 female)


22.5 days



Faster finishers: 5332 ± 469 kcal/day Slower finishers: 3048 ± 1140 kcal/day



Temperature average: −24.0 °C Humidity: 59.3% Wind speed: 6.6 ms

Altitude range: 2000–2615 m

Snack bags provided (contents: macadamias, chocolate bars, cheese, candy, biltong, muesli, freeze-dried meals, noodles, soup, hot chocolate, coffee, tea, milk)

Food: ad libitum

Fluids: ad libitum




11 unspecified

Castles of Cartagena, Spain

6 h 44 min ± 28 min



1493.1 ± 491.5 kcal

5197.1 ± 488.8 kcal

–3704 kcal


Accumulated altitude: 5391 m;


Food: energy bars, glucose tablets and fruit

Fluids: Water and energy drinks


As in standard marathon runners, attaining an intake that is as close as possible to energy output should be a noteworthy ambition [35]. Both general and environment/activity-specific implications and strategies on how to do this will be discussed in the following sections. However, it should be recognized that other non-nutritional strategies to reduce the risk of inadequate energy intake, such as those to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms and injuries, play a role in achieving this. Common GI challenges that hinder intake include nausea, abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, flatulence, and belching [2636]. These issues are more common as intensity and/or duration increase. Common injuries that hinder intake depend largely on the environment and climate and include blisters, subungual haematomas, chafings, abrasions, and plantar fasciitis [2637]. Climate and environmental-specific injuries include blisters and sunburns in hot temperatures, [26] and frostnip and frostbite in cold temperatures [37].


Given that the majority of an ultra-endurance athlete’s training is spent engaged in lengthy durations of aerobic activity, many of these athletes are well adapted to utilizing lipids via oxidative phosphorylation [35]. However, the energy demands of their specific activity will vary, predominantly depending on the duration, intensity and type of exercise being engaged in [38]. Intensity, duration, and food intake will largely determine how much fuel is being sourced from carbohydrates (CHO), protein, and fat. Although all three are being used as sources of energy at any given time, the intensity and duration are primary factors which determine the extent to which one is used over another. When the athlete is exercising at the standard marathon pace that requires 80–90% of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) or above, carbohydrate will be his or her primary fuel source and could provide up to 96% of the energy being expended [35]. However, at lower intensities in which sufficient oxygen can be achieved, such as walking, much more fuel could be provided from fat [39]. Therefore, the fraction of macronutrient utilization distribution is of considerable dependence on individual and exercise differences as well as carbohydrate availability, with lower availability forcing the body to depend more highly on fat and protein.

Based on the preceding discussion, as well as the observation that elite marathon running is nearly 100% CHO-dependent [40], awareness of CHO intake is important during training and events, especially those for which completion in minimal time is an objective. In fact, many studies have demonstrated that increases in the hourly rate of CHO and overall energy intake are correlated with faster race times in ultra-endurance events [81841]. This suggests that athletes should strive to maximize availability of CHO for their working muscles and reinforce the need for adequate energy to maintain performance.

Glycogen provides a reserve of CHO for the body and low glycogen availability appears to be a stimulus for feelings of fatigue [42]. To maximize fuel storage as glycogen for events, a high carbohydrate diet is generally suggested between training sessions and events [43]. Current recommendations regarding specific recommendations for carbohydrate ingestion have recently been reviewed by Burke and Hawley [44]. Specifically, 8–12 g of CHO/kg body weight/day is recommended, with a more precise amount dependent on the athlete’s training intensity and duration [45]. This being said, the need for high carbohydrate intakes both before and during the event is dependent on whether carbohydrate fuel sources are depleted or limiting for the demands. Increases in intensity, duration, demand of terrain [45], experience level of the athlete [40], and altitude [4647], all, increase carbohydrate needs. It is not a concern of athletes’ about consuming too much as almost all ultra-endurance walking and running events result in a deficit (as shown in Table 1) and narrowing the gap between energy intake and expenditure correlates positively with performance, rather it is a question of whether to pack carbohydrates or fat as the fuel source if they are carrying their own food. Fat provides more energy per gram and if the above variables are towards the lower end and less carbohydrate is needed, packing foods higher in fat will make the athletes carry load lighter and could allow them to narrow the energy gap further. This will be discussed in further detail in the section discussing dietary fat.

Current practices suggest that carbohydrate intakes in the diets of ultra-distance athletes range from 5 to 7 g/kg/day in regular diets during training to 7–10 g/kg/day during the 3–4 days prior to competition [48]. A study by Mahon et al. [49] on mountain ultramarathon runners found that despite over 65% of athletes reporting that they intended to increase their CHO intake in the week prior to the event, no participants came close to their CHO-loading recommendations of 10–12 g/kg/d in the 48 h leading up to the event. This demonstrates that although a high carbohydrate intake is well known to benefit long duration endurance performance, athletes often fail to reach daily CHO targets needed to maximize glycogen storage due to the difficulty in practical application. As carbohydrate intakes both prior to and during ultra-endurance events with demanding characteristics of those discussed above are positively correlated with performance, athletes should strive to consume as close to this recommendation as possible if needed. Possible means of doing so is through frequent consumption of carbohydrate dense foods that are low in highly satiating nutrients, mainly being water, protein, and fiber [50], and high on the glycemic index. Examples include white rice, pretzels, breakfast cereals, bagels, and granola bars.

In addition, to restore glycogen stores between exercise sessions, a carbohydrate intake of 1.0–1.5 g/kg at 2 h intervals for the first 6 h and beginning within the first 30 min following exercise appears to be an effective strategy for recovery [51]. Consumption of carbohydrates during performance has also been shown to be beneficial to best conserve muscle and hepatic glycogen storage and to maintain blood glucose concentration. A carbohydrate intake as high as 90 g/h for the extensive duration of activities being discussed is suggested to maintain performance [43]. Again, however, this appears to have practical difficulties. Mahon et al. found that the average intake of the ultramarathon mountain runners was just 28 g/h. Another study on a 100 km ultra endurance running race found that mean intake was only 43 g/h. Again, narrowing the gap between energy intake and energy expenditure results in improvements in performance and athletes should strive to increase this g/h intake. Some ways in which athletes may be able to achieve this is through fluids, gels, and even whole foods, depending on the athlete’s preferences and gastrointestinal tolerance. Experimenting with different forms of carbohydrate in fluid replacement beverages such as glucose, maltose, fructose polymers, and branched chain starches with high glycemic indices at a concentration of 6–12% are recommended to provide carbohydrate late in exercise as muscle and liver glycogen stores become depleted and the risk of hypoglycemia is increased [52105]. These carbohydrates can also be provided in gel or bar form as it was recently demonstrated that carbohydrates in a beverage are oxidized at similar rates to carbohydrates from a gel [53] and from a bar [54]. Further ways to increase intake during events through management of gastrointestinal symptoms (GIS) will be discussed in the section on gastrointestinal intolerances.


Dietary fat is essential for optimal health and should not be overlooked by those engaging in ultra-endurance events. For those consuming a medium to high carbohydrate diet, a fat consumption similar to that recommended for the general population of 20–35% of energy intake is generally suggested to maintain performance and health [43]. Endurance training is known to enhance an athlete’s capacity for fat oxidation during exercise and fat oxidation provides the greatest relative contribution to energy expenditure during low to moderate intensities of exercise with a peak recently shown to occur at 64 ± 4% VO2 max [55]. Recent research has explored ways in which this can be further up-regulated to enhance exercise capacity and sports performance by reducing the reliance on the muscles’ limited glycogen stores and need to consume carbohydrate during prolonged events. Strategies employed to attain this include consuming a very low carbohydrate (<50 g/day) high fat (>70% of energy consumption) diet for either scheduled periods or permanently [56]. After 2–3 weeks on this diet, the body is able to adapt to using fat at greater contributions, sparing more carbohydrate [57].

With a reduced reliance on carbohydrates as a fuel source as well as the elimination of the need to consume carbohydrates during activity, many potential advantages are presented. The athlete would no longer be required to carry sources of CHO with him or her, worry about attaining enough CHO or risk GIS from eating during activity. However, this strategy also comes at a cost. This reliance on fat limits the intensity of exercise that can be performed and severely restricts the capacity to do anaerobic work [5758]. This is due to the decreased availability of CHO for glycolysis, the body’s fastest energy producing mechanism for intense work.

In a study on mountain ultramarathon runners, Mahon et al. [49] found that those consuming suboptimal amounts of CHO had higher levels of blood β-ketones post-event and that these post-blood β-ketone levels were negatively associated with performance. This further supports the need for CHO intake during prolonged events, given that ketones are an indicator of fat metabolism, particularly if an objective is to complete the event in minimal time. It is also important to note that in non-fat adapted athletes low CHO availability increases muscle protein breakdown [59] and if performed chronically can lead to a loss of skeletal muscle mass. However, naturally during multi-day events, exercise pacing tends to conform to submaximal levels of intensity, often below lactate threshold to preserve limited glycogen stores and optimize fat utilization and the Krebs cycle pathway for ATP resynthesis [60]. This being said, fat adaptation is worth experimenting with for those who consume far below the recommended intakes of energy and carbohydrates for their events, particularly for those who are prone to GIS. Bringing calorie intake closer to energy expenditure using fat also improves performance when compared to a larger caloric deficit without extra fat [6162]. Since fat is more calorically dense than protein and carbohydrate, athletes who must carry their own food should choose high fat food options if it allows them to reach closer to their caloric needs over carbohydrate. Therefore, this strategy may be most appropriate for those competing in ultra-events which have breaks and which athletes must carry their own food.

Although preloading with dietary fat, specifically medium chain triglycerides (MCT), has strong literature support to potentially improve performance based on its capacity to serve as a fuel source and spare muscle glycogen [6364], the majority of studies have found no glycogen preserving effect or improvement in shorter distance endurance performance [656667686970]. In longer duration activities, the research is conflicting. A study by Van Zyl et al. [193] found that performance in cyclists who rode for greater than 2 h in a 40 km simulated time trial had greater performance with supplemented beverages containing CHO+MCT during the trial rather than either CHO or MCT alone. Contrary to this, Jeukendrup et al. [67] also studied long duration cycling activity (180 min) and found that the contribution to energy expenditure was small and did not provide any significant benefit to performance or carbohydrate preservation. The difference in the results of these two studies is likely due to the quantity of MCT ingested by the participants. Van Zyl et al. provided 86 g in total whereas Jeukendrup et al. provided 29 g in total. However, an intake of 86 g far exceeds the recommended maximum by many authors (30 g) who suggest intakes higher than this lead to gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea [717273]. A later study by Jeukendrup et al. [74] attempted to test an intake of 85 g and found that it did indeed decrease performance due to provocation of GIS. At this time, the literature does not support the use of MCT supplementation in ultra-endurance activity.


Protein is a critical nutrient requiring considerable attention by the athlete to ensure proper recovery from exercise and to promote optimal adaptation between training sessions. The protein needs of athletes engaging in prolonged activity are greater than those required for the general population because of the need to repair damaged muscles and synthesize new muscle proteins. It further serves as an energy substrate during activity [75]. The repair and generation of body proteins greatly contribute to athletes’ sought after adaptations to induced challenges and consequent improvements in performance.

Bodily protein stores have been shown to provide up to 10% of the total energy used during endurance exercises [76]. The fraction of contribution is influenced by many factors including intensity, duration and, as previously discussed, the level of glycogen/glucose availability in the body [7677]. When it comes to increased metabolic efficiency with training, a certain degree of metabolic efficiency does occur to mitigate amino acid oxidation with training [95], however, the rate of oxidation still increases over 2 h of endurance activity resulting in a several fold increase compared to resting conditions regardless of training level [9697]. Due to both the use of amino acids as a fuel source as well as muscle damage associated with exercise, skeletal muscle mass seems to decrease in ultra-endurance running events without breaks, as has been shown in a few case reports of ultra-endurance athletes [378]. In contrast, in ultra-endurance events where there are breaks, skeletal muscle mass tends to remain stable [798081]. When muscle loss occurs from walking or running, with the exception of the thigh, it has been shown to occur in all muscle groups with the greatest losses occurring in the lower leg or calf region [38283]. The eccentric contractions involved in running cause the greater portion of body mass lost as muscle mass comparatively [82] to more concentric-based ultra-endurance activities such as cycling [84]. One way in which athletes may reduce the amount of endogenous protein lost, and by extension, promote recovery, is by ensuring adequate glycogen stores going into exercise and by consuming adequate energy during prolonged activity [35]. The following recommendations can also help ensure athletes are recovering lost muscle and preventing loss of skeletal muscle mass during training and events.

While a vast body of research supports a “hypertrophy-centric” view following resistance exercise, recent research highlights a critical role for dietary protein in supporting recovery from endurance exercise. Although the pre-eminent adaptations in resistance exercise compared to endurance exercise may be different, the requirements for amount, type, and timing are similar [75]. Protein remodeling, which is primarily determined by changes in muscle protein synthesis, is an important aspect of the acute recovery process after exercise that ultimately underpins the adaptations (e.g., greater muscle power, aerobic capacity) that accrue with endurance training [75]. Numerous studies have reported increases in mixed muscle protein synthesis following a single bout [8586] of exercise, and both short-term (i.e., 4 weeks) [87] and chronic (i.e., 4 months) [88] endurance training. Such increases in mixed muscle protein synthesis likely reflect enhanced remodeling of muscle proteins that may include mitochondrial-related proteins/enzymes, angiogenic proteins (e.g., endothelial and smooth muscle cells within capillaries), and myofibrillar proteins.

The current recommended intake of protein is 1.2–2.0 g/kg for a general athletic population [45]. Given the extraordinary caloric needs to fuel these unique tasks, it is likely that these athletes are meeting and possibly exceeding this recommendation if they are meeting their energy requirements [76]. In addition to daily protein needs, other factors are also important for optimizing performance adaptations, including timing and partitioning of intake. To maximize protein synthesis, and thus muscle remodeling and recovery [89], it is suggested that endurance athletes consume a minimum of 20 g of protein at 3–4 h intervals to maximize muscle protein synthesis [7590]. The amount required for ultra-endurance athletes and those who exercise longer than 2 h is presently unclear. However, it is likely that their needs would be even higher given the increase in total oxidation of amino acids during exercise as well as the possibility of splanchnic organ tissue damage due to the shunting of blood away from the digestive system during activity [91]. The rate of muscle breakdown is accelerated when muscle protein oxidation exceeds synthesis, which usually occurs in proportion to intensity and duration of the sporting activity [929394].

Currently, ultra-endurance runners consume an approximate average of 12% of energy as protein during racing [98]. It has been posited that supplemental protein or amino acids on top of this intake during an ultra-run may improve performance through provision of amino acids for use as a fuel source and to attenuate muscle damage [99]. Despite the use of supplementary amino acids having been shown to improve performance and decrease muscle soreness in cyclists, a study on ultramarathon runners showed no benefits. Knechtle et al. [100] supplemented 14 subjects with 52.5 g of amino acids immediately before and during a 100 km run and compared them against a placebo group. Contrary to their hypothesis, there were no improvements in performance or effects on parameters related to skeletal muscle damage in the supplemented group. Unfortunately, measures of skeletal muscle damage were only taken immediately after the race. More research is needed to determine if the intake of amino acids during the race would lead to lower values of these markers in the following hours and days of recovery. Therefore, at the present time, evidence would suggest no additional benefit from consuming supplementary amino acids or protein during ultra-endurance running events.

In comparison to resistance exercisers, the immediacy of dietary protein intake after exercise is critical for optimal recovery [101102]. The consumption of a snack or meal with a minimum of 20 g of protein within 30–60 min post exercise is suggested to optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis and attenuate any existing breakdown that is ongoing from the bout of prolonged exercise [75].


As little as a 2% reduction in body mass due to dehydration has been said to result in performance decrements as well as hemorheology, metabolic dysregulation, heat intolerance, and cardiovascular strain [103]. However, weight changes before and after an ultra-distance event do not provide an accurate indication of hydration status and weight loss greater than 2% does not necessarily have serious adverse consequences on performance [104]. Hoffman et al. [104] found that in addition to hydration status being unrelated to changes in weight, runners in a 161 km ultramarathon had a mean weight loss of approximately 3% and that many of the top performers had a weight loss of beyond 2% for much of the race. In other activities such as shorter duration endurance events, hydration needs for an event can be approximated during training through methods such as taking body weight before and after training at a duration, intensity, and environment that mimics that of a competition [105]. However, because reductions in body mass can be attributed to substantial breakdown of body tissues such as adipose and muscle [11] and increases in weight can result from reduced diuresis as well as decreases in intracellular osmolytes including glycogen, proteins, and triglycerides, this would be an ineffective strategy for ultra-endurance athletes. The reduced diuresis is induced by activation of vasopressin secretion and the angiotensin–renin–aldosterone mechanism during exercise and the decreases in intracellular osmolytes causes a shift of water to the extracellular compartment during very prolonged exercise [106]. With the complexity of hydration during these events, hyper-hydration has become increasingly common and is the most reported medical complication to occur during ultra-distance triathlons [107]. This is crucial as this can lead to the life-threatening case of hyponatremia by altering the blood serum to sodium ratio [108]. In fact, this shift appears to be a primary result of fluid overload and is unrelated to sodium losses [109]. To prevent over or underhydration, current available research suggests that the most suitable strategy to maintain hydration is to ‘drink to thirst’ [1527104109110111112].

Urine color (see Fig. 1) can also be used to guide hydration in ultra-endurance running. However, it should be noted that urine concentration (i.e., color and osmolarity) rises substantially throughout the race and increasingly becomes less reliable with duration [15]. Costa et al. found that it is in fact less reliable than relying on thirst as an indicator of hydration status [15]. It is important to note here that substrate metabolism is also altered as a result of dehydration during exercise resulting in greater reliance on carbohydrate as a fuel source [113]. Although the fatigue associated with dehydration is mainly a result of hyperthermia it also results in lower FFA uptake and higher muscle glycogen utilization [114]. Therefore, not only is maintaining hydration important for sustaining an optimal body temperature, preventing immediate fatigue, but it is also important to spare glycogen, potentially preventing or delaying later onset of fatigue.

Fig. 1
Fig. 1

Urine color as an indication of hydration status (reproduced with permission from [196])

Because sweat also contains sodium one might argue that sodium supplementation may be of importance during ultra-endurance walking and running events. Published data has shown that as high as 90–96% of ultra-endurance runners use sodium supplements [2729104]. Although past recommendations suggest a sodium intake of 1.7–2.9 g/L of fluid consumed to allow for fluid retention, more recent data have shown no benefit to hydration [19272829104115] or blood serum sodium levels [192829115] by consuming supplemental sodium during these races. This is likely due to the adaptations that increase sodium bioavailability and prevent losses (e.g. sweat, urine, and feces) which take place in response to periods of sodium deprivation or restriction [115116117]. In fact, sodium supplements taken in excess can result in inadequate weight loss and even unnecessary weight gain [118]. This ultimately results in fluid overload and decrements to performance as discussed above. It is therefore recommended that to best maintain hydration, athletes drink to thirst without using sodium supplementation beyond that taken in food and fluids, even when exercising in high ambient temperatures [104].

Other recommendations for maintaining euhydration during the event pertain to both the use of carbohydrate supplemented beverages and fluid intake before the event. As mentioned in the carbohydrate section, a concentration of 6–12% of carbohydrate is recommended for those that consume carbohydrate-supplemented beverages to achieve rapid absorption, reduce the risk of cramping, and provide energy [52105]. At 2–4 h prior to exercise, to achieve hydration balance going into the event, it is recommended to consume 5–10 mL/kg body weight from water or carbohydrate-supplemented beverage. This will allow enough time for excretion of any excess as urine before the event allowing for a balanced bodily fluid level going into the activity [45].

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamin and mineral considerations are crucial when participating in and training for ultra-endurance activities. When it comes to athletic performance, these micronutrients are particularly important for energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function, and protection of the body against oxidative damage. They also assist in important physiological processes related to synthesis, recovery, and adaptation to exercise. Because of this, exercise may increase the turnover and loss of these nutrients resulting in greater dietary intakes being required. Some vitamins and minerals that athletes need to pay particular attention to are calcium, vitamins D, C, E, and the B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, as well as, beta carotene and selenium for their antioxidant properties.

Calcium and vitamin D play important roles in growth, maintenance, and repair of bone tissue as well as regulation of nerve conduction, and development and homeostasis in skeletal muscle. A deficiency in both or either calcium and vitamin D increases the risk of low bone-mineral density and stress fractures [119]. Calcium can be obtained from food; however, vitamin D is mainly synthesized through sunlight. Serum Vitamin D levels should be tested regularly, especially in athletes who do not receive adequate sunlight daily, such as those who live at northern latitudes (>35th parallel) or who primarily train indoors throughout the year [120]. In those with suboptimal levels (stated in Table 2), supplementation may be necessary. Current vitamin D supplement recommendations suggest 1000–2000 IU per day for athletes [121].

Table 2

Optimal serum levels for ultra-endurance runners/walkers


Serum marker

Optimal serum level

Vitamin C

L-Ascorbic acid

40-60 μM



4.5–5.5 mEq/L

Vitamin D

25-hydroxyvitamin D

75–100 nmol/L

Vitamin E

Alpha Tocopherol

5.5–17 µg/mL


Plasma folate

2.7–20 μg/L

Vitamin B12


35–156 pmol/L



>50 ng/mL



1.5–3.0 mEq/L



84–159 µg/dL

B vitamins play a role in energy production and the building and repair of muscle tissue. There is some data suggesting that to obtain optimal health and performance, highly active athletes may need to double the current recommended amounts of these B vitamins though it is likely that these needs are being met with increased energy intakes [122]. Of particular consideration, however, are vitamin B12 and folate. A deficiency in either of these nutrients results in anemia which can greatly reduce time to fatigue and therefore endurance performance [123]. Because vitamin B12 is obtained through animal products, such as meat and dairy, athletes such as vegetarians or vegans may need to consume supplements with this vitamin.

Iron deficiency will also result in anemia, reducing the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen. A deficiency in iron is common among those engaged in prolonged activity due to up-regulation of the hormone hepcidin. The increase in this hormone is observed hours after exercise and reduces the gut’s ability to absorb dietary iron [124]. Because of this, ultra-endurance athletes should pay particular attention to their iron consumption and obtain regular blood tests to check their ferritin status. Iron absorption can be improved by consuming heme iron found in meat products with non-heme iron found in plant products and vitamin C with sources of iron [125126]. Athletes should aim for blood ferritin levels of >50 μg/L for optimal performance and iron supplements may be considered under the discretion of a health care provider if this level is not being met through dietary sources alone [127128].

Zinc plays a role in muscle repair, energy metabolism, and immune status. A deficiency in zinc can result in disrupted thyroid hormone levels, affecting metabolic rate and performance [129]. It can also reduce cardiorespiratory function, muscle strength, and endurance [123]. Athletes are at high risk of inadequate zinc levels [130] and should therefore strive to achieve adequate zinc intake through zinc-rich foods. They should be cautioned if using zinc supplements that they do not exceed the tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) of zinc (40 mg/day) [131], which can lead to decreases in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and nutrient imbalances by interfering with the bioavailability of other minerals such as iron and copper [123]. Zinc-rich foods include shellfish, green leafy vegetables, and seeds. If supplementation is required, athletes should receive guidance from their health care provider.

Magnesium supports the proper functioning of the nervous and musculoskeletal systems [132]. Deficiency can cause multiple symptoms resulting in decreased performance as it is linked to many pathological conditions of the cardiovascular, skeletal, and nervous systems [133]. Ultra-endurance athletes are at increased risk of this deficiency due to increased urinary and sweat losses induced by magnesium redistribution within the body during prolonged intense activity [134]. In addition, the dietary reference intake of 310–420 mg/day is likely suboptimal for most athletes [135]. Ultra-endurance athletes should have their blood levels of magnesium tested regularly and self-monitor for common symptoms of hypomagnesaemia such as muscle cramps. Supplementation with magnesium is recommended if necessary and dosage should be determined under the discretion of their healthcare provider to avoid toxicity.


Exercise can induce a release of free radicals or reactive oxygen species which have the ability to modify lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids in the body [136]. These modifications are collectively known as oxidative damage or oxidative stress and have been linked to negative health outcomes such as insulin resistance, atherosclerosis, cardiac dysfunction, and injury [137]. Antioxidant vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and selenium can be used to mitigate these effects. These nutrients act in different ways to either remove oxidative species or prevent their reactions from happening [138]. However, because oxidative species also have some beneficial effects on the body, their function is not to completely eliminate these processes, but to keep them at homeostatic, and thus optimal, levels. Therefore, there is a threshold to which antioxidants can provide benefits for performance, health, and recovery. Research on ultra-endurance athletes has demonstrated that their need to prevent oxidative damage is higher given their extraordinary exercise volume [136].

Although more research is needed to examine the effects of these antioxidant supplements during and immediately prior to an event, current evidence suggests little to no benefit [139140]. A study on runners ingesting vitamin supplements (N = 9) and mineral supplements (N = 12) showed that the supplementation did not result in faster race times compared to the athletes without supplemental intake of vitamins and minerals [141]. It is important to note that although ultra-endurance athletes may benefit from ample intakes of antioxidant vitamins and minerals that exceed the current recommendations for the general population, they should be cautioned not to consume these nutrients at levels above the ULs. High doses above the UL can also result in pro-oxidative effects, causing risks of decreased performance, recovery and health [142].

Other antioxidants which have recently been investigated for their effects on endurance performance include polyphenols with the most popularly researched being quercetin, catechins, and resveratrol. These polyphenols are organic chemical compounds mainly found in plants that have strong antioxidant properties [143]. They have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, cardioprotection, and anti-carcinogenic properties in clinical populations [144]. However, few studies have investigated the effects of these polyphenols on performance, particularly in an ultra-endurance population.

Catechins are commonly found in plants such as green tea and cacao. Some human studies have shown positive effects for endurance including V02 max [145], fat oxidation, and insulin sensitivity [146] in an untrained population; however, studies on trained subjects are yet to show benefits [147148149]. It is unlikely that supplemental catechins would be beneficial to ultra-endurance performance.

Resveratrol is present in concentrated quantities in grapes. It’s strong antioxidant properties have shown to be beneficial against degenerative and cardiovascular diseases from atherosclerosis, hypertension, ischemia/reperfusion, heart failure, diabetes, obesity, aging, and neurodegenerative diseases [150]. With one exception, studies to date have only been performed on rodents, and the effects on performance range from extremely beneficial to extremely detrimental [151152153154155156157]. Taken together, these studies would suggest that resveratrol benefits trained rodents and is potentially harmful in untrained rodents. The only human study was performed in untrained elderly participants and the effect demonstrated that supplementation was also potentially harmful through blunting of cardiovascular training adaptations to endurance exercise [151]. Further research is needed before supplemental resveratrol should be taken by ultra-endurance athletes.

Quercetin is found in foods such as red onion, dill, apples and capers and has been studied more extensively than other polyphenols. It provides many health benefits in humans [158] and has shown to encourage mitochondrial growth in rodents [159]. Although quercetin supplementation shows potential endurance performance benefits in cell culture and in vivo animal studies [160161], research on its use as a supplement in humans are less clear. Some studies have reported increased endurance exercise capacity and performance in humans following supplementation with quercetin [162163164]; however, many have failed to find benefits [165166167168169170171]. Of the 2 studies [172173] on ultra-endurance trained subjects, both have shown no significant benefit. Nieman et al. [172] examined the effect of quercetin supplementation on inflammation after three consecutive days of cycling and following an ultra-endurance run. No improvements in performance or attenuation of markers of muscle damage, inflammation, increases in plasma cytokines, and alterations in muscle cytokine mRNA expression were found [172]. Quindry et al. [173] supplemented half of their 63 ultra-endurance running trained subjects with quercetin combined with niacin and vitamin C for 3 weeks leading up to and during a 160 km ultramarathon. The supplement did not fortify plasma antioxidant levels against ultramarathon-induced oxidative stress in blood plasma or improve performance. This being said, a 2011 meta analysis by Kressler et al. [194] encompassing the above research concluded that quercetin supplementation can improve human endurance exercise capacity in a small but significant magnitude (~3%). Based on data showing favorable outcomes for supplemental quercetin [162163164], a daily dosage of 1000 mg could have small potential benefits and is unlikely to be detrimental for ultra-endurance trained populations.

Where micronutrients in general are concerned, there are currently no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)’s in place specifically for athletes. However, the amounts needed in excess of those recommended for the general population are likely dependent on multiple factors including individual variability, training intensity, and training duration. To determine if ultra-endurance athletes are consuming adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals, they should obtain regular blood tests to ensure blood levels are being maintained at levels that are not only acceptable for general health but are optimal for performance (see Table 2). This may be particularly important during times when their training or nutrition changes. It is important to emphasize that regular adequate intake of vitamins and minerals is required for optimal performance and that consuming extra vitamins and minerals through supplementation immediately before or during an ultra-endurance event has not shown to provide any performance, health or recovery benefits [141174].

Gastrointestinal intolerances

During ultra-endurance activities and corresponding training exercises, food and fluid must be consumed while being active to minimize the energy deficit. Because of this, it is no surprise that GIS are a common issue for these athletes [175]. Endeavoring to prevent GIS is important as it is one of the most common cited reasons for inadequate intake during events [176177] and is positively correlated with increasing duration [178]. Running in particular appears to result in more pronounced GIS than other activities [175] as well as a dehydrated state compared with a euhydrated state [179]. There also seems to be an individual predisposition for GI distress during exercise as Pfieffer et al. have determined a positive relationship between GIS during races and history of GI issues both associated with and away from exercise [175180]. Another common issue in ultra-endurance athletes is reduced appetite, which is closely related to GIS as both are subsequent results of splanchnic ischemia. Particularly at workloads above 70 % VO2 max, splanchnic blood flow is reduced to about 30–40% as blood shifts to working muscles and skin to dissipate heat [177].

If the event has no enforced breaks, whole foods may not be an option as they may be too difficult to chew and swallow and could result in GIS. In this case, intake from fluids is a viable option as not only does it provide the energy but also hydration. However, in cases where the prevention of hyper-hydration is important, products such as sports gels can also be supplemented to the racer’s diet. With gels, it has been shown that high doses of CHO (1.4 g/min) are well tolerated by most runners [180]. Against this background, it may be best to determine strategies, such as use of different types of nutritional sources and frequency of consumption to find which methods work best to maximize carbohydrate intake during an event without causing GI distress. One of the possible ways that this could be done is through coingestion of glucose and fructose as a carbohydrate source rather than one or the other. Research suggests that this can increase carbohydrate oxidation from an average of 1–1.26 g/min mainly due to increased bioavailability as the 2 different compounds use different transporters within the gut [181]. With the use of gels as a source of carbohydrates, Pfeiffer et al. [180] showed no overall difference in tolerance between glucose-based gels and combined glucose and fructose gels. However, some individuals showed more symptoms with one or the other gel. It should, therefore, be advised that individual athletes, especially those who experience GI problems frequently, test their tolerance during intense training sessions, ideally under conditions similar to those of the races they aim to compete in.

The intake of the nutrients fat, fiber, and protein, have all been linked to GIS during exercise [182]. To prevent this, food items low in these nutrients, such as bananas, biscuits, energy gels/bars, and sports drinks, are popular food and fluid choices for ultra-endurance events. However, as the duration of ultra-endurance races increases, these food and drink choices have become less tolerable and appealing [183184]. In terms of athletes’ tolerance, individual testing of food and drink intake during training conditions similar to the event they are training for are vital. No matter where the athlete is starting from, another potential strategy is “gut training”, which involves increasing the absorptive capacity of the gut through high carbohydrate dieting and progressively increasing the hourly carbohydrate intake during training [185]. Although the evidence of this is mainly anecdotal, intestinal carbohydrate transporters can indeed be up-regulated [186187] and gastric emptying rates can be enhanced with training [188].

GIS occur less frequently after adequate training or when relative exercise intensity is reduced [189190]. Although more research in this area is needed, experimentation with this strategy during training is likely to present little risk and athletes should dedicate at least some time to gut training. Endurance training itself appears to enhance gastric transit time [191], and higher energy intakes during training further enhance this rate [192]. Cox et al. [187] demonstrated that exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rates were higher after the high carbohydrate diet (6.5; 1.5 g/kg BW provided mainly as a carbohydrate supplement during training) for 28 days compared with a control diet (5 g/kg BW/day) in endurance trained cyclists. The higher rates were attributed to improved absorption, which provides evidence that the gut is indeed adaptable and that this could be used as a practical method to increase exogenous carbohydrate oxidation. Therefore, ultra-endurance runners should strive to gradually increase their intakes as tolerated during training to further approach suggested intakes (kcals/km) for events. This could lead to improvements in performance through greater fuel availability as discussed in preceding sections.


There is a paucity of agreed-on and concrete nutrition best practices for ultraendurance runners and even less demarcating such by event type. From a macronutrients perspective, ultra-endurance athletes need to ensure adequate intake. Generally, carbohydrate, protein, and fat recommendations are 8–12 g of CHO/kg body weight/day, ≥20 g at 3–4 h intervals and 20–35% of energy intake, respectively, and athletes should strive to minimize the gap between energy intake and energy expenditure to optimize performance. However, the practicality of such recommendations needs to be considered on an individual basis and the importance of rehearsal of an individualized nutrition strategy prior to competition cannot be overemphasized. Because micronutrients are crucial and may sometimes be overlooked, special attention needs to be placed on each both in terms of interaction with the body’s internal physiology, other ingested foods and the nature and intensity of physical rigor the body endures. As far as is necessary, and in keeping with advice from healthcare providers, ultra-endurance athletes may use supplements to support training and events performance and aid in recovery. While some recommendations presented are prescriptive in nature based on the findings of various studies, ultra-endurance athletes are encouraged to apply them within the context of their particular training regiment, body mass composition, and corresponding physiological needs. All the literature reviewed indicate that ultra-endurance athletes must take great care in attending to their nutritional needs to maintain good health, promote optimal performance, and reduce the likelihood of injuries. Proper nutrition will result in decreased energy depletion, better performance, and accelerated recovery. With the growing international appeal of ultra-endurance events, significant research is needed to promote the health and wellbeing of athletes. More longitudinal studies are needed to ascertain the precise nutritional and environmental conditions under which athletes perform most optimally based on age, gender, type of event, body type, and other physiological factors.



basal metabolic rate






upper intake level


recommended dietary allowance



gastrointestinal symptoms


adensosine triphospate



The author wishes to thank the US Anti-doping Agency for their permission to use Fig. 1 and my professor, Dr. Greg Wells, for his constructive feedback and encouragement to publish this review.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.



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The 2nd Dimension Of Running

I am going to take a few extracts from Mystical Miles written by Paul Vorwek who is a couch to extreme runner on both tar and trail. The more I read his book the better I understand my own views on running and what makes us runners. It also helps me to coach others in a more holistic way.

” Running begins as physical effort and practicalities: training , stretching recovering; of dealing with injuries, nutrition, sleep and supplementary exercises. This running becomes one of goals and targets; of running measured by achievements, victories, personal bests, training schedules completed and distances run. This is also a world of running filled with technology, gear, gadgets and shoes. Out of this running come all the great athletic events; the races and records, the successes, failures, heroes and villains. 

This first dimension is dazzling, exciting, vibrant, competitive, replete with ongoing achievements and celebrations; a celebration of people their doing and Life.

The second dimension of running is all this and more. This running grows out of the first dimension. This second dimension of running is the running enabled by running. It’s the running inner paths as well as the outer tracks, trails and roads; it’s running the inner and outer into one; it is the running of moon-tan and star -shimmered waterfalls.

The richer miles begin when the body, mind, soul engage with all that lies outside the runner. They grow as the outside world reaches in and engages with deeper parts of the runner, and grow fuller more when the two , when inner and outer become one.

The second dimension of running allows and later requires the uniqueness in each runner, in each of us, to blossom, to let the life in us bloom. It is from running that I learned how rich running can be, how it becomes so much more than just running. While we share some things we are essentially and existentially unique and it is that uniqueness that will colour our running.

In other words: our running, experiences and thoughts will differ, but for all of us they can be incredibly rich.”

” And then,

Sometime in the next day or so I will run. Choose a shirt and shorts. My socks choose themselves, the brightest yellow or green, even if they are a little hole-y. I will tie my laces. I’ll feel a familiar, peculiar, puckering, pre-run feeling as if my skin sensors have been switched on- somewhat like the feeling when the national anthem is played. Anticipation will rush through me as I remember all that running means to me.

I’ll begin. Probably walk a few steps and then lift myself into an easy stride. Step by step, my shoulders, arms and neck will loosen. I’ll know more or less how far and hard i’ll run. My mind will ration and distribute resources, manage the emergency reserve, fill it too if it gets a chance.

Breathing deeper and smiling, I’ll be running real in a real world. If it’s been raining I’ll probably shake the branches of a tree. Will glance upwards and savour stars, first glimmers of sunrise. Or clouds, or the perfect blue.

Most likely, I’ll shout or whoop, or jump on a bench. Unshackled I’ll run faster, feeling the goodness in the day; fostering life, opening myself to love, light, to learning, to experiencing every fragment of beauty and wonder. My legs will churn happily, rhythmically tracing a path over the planet.

Through city, suburbs or across a field, maybe next to a river or sea, welcoming whatever rushes at me, I’ll run. Deeper than any other feelings, will be that feeling fully alive, the enjoyment and satisfaction this brings. I’ll know deep inside that I am satisfied with my life and have a powerful reason to go on.

The road will unwind before me, and I’ll run down it into perfection.”

Read the above extracts from The second Dimension Of Running. Mystical Miles and try to see what drives you to run.

In the beginning it is all about strain and hard work to achieve even a small improvement but if you stick with it you will soon enough find that the joy of running or having a more active lifestyle brings greater rewards than you ever dreamed possible. I know that most often when running I seem serious and focused but inside I am smiling and laughing at myself. I do often write programs for others that reflect what I see inside of them and the possibilities that they might not of realised yet. They say things like I cannot run that fast or cover the distances required, however with a little prodding they surpass even these seemingly insurmountable obstacles and realise that they are better than what they thought.

I also believe that training for an event must be fun otherwise why would we willingly sacrifice so much to achieve something that most times will not matter to anyone else but ourselves. It is when we start enjoying the feelings we experience while training and running that makes us want to carry on with our journey and never actually reaching the end. 

Set what to others seem crazy goals and ideals that are seemingly out of reach and if you do reach them then look for other goals as the journey is most times more rewarding the end goal. Run with others as the company makes hard work feel easy. Run alone when you need to focus on getting through a tough patch or hard session. Run on the road, trail, beach or park to get you motivated to get out the door. When you see that you can survive a tough session while running, you realise that when life feels tough you can and will survive and keep moving forward.

Enjoy the running journey and all the rewards that it will bring.


The importance of using all available training methods to reach your goal

The Maffetone Method, Base Training, and Why You Are Not “Lungs with Legs”

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Are you ready for a monster discussion on base training, the Maffetone Method, and more training geekery?

I definitely am  – and this article is a beast – so grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a wild ride.

Today we’re going to cover several questions and topics:

  • What is “base” or “foundational” training?
  • What is the Maffetone Method?
  • What are the benefits of the Maffetone Method?
  • The (significant) drawbacks of the Maffetone Method
  • How to design a proper base training phase

I rarely discuss specific training methods (“Run Less, Run Faster” for example) unless I have very strong opinions about them. Like CrossFit Endurance!

But I think there’s a valuable discussion to be had about how runners should build their endurance. And the base phase of training is the perfect place to start this conversation.

So first, what is base training anyway?

What Exactly is Base Training?

Let’s see how some famous coaches define base training.

Greg McMillan, of the “McMillan Running Calculator” fame and author of YOU (Only Faster), defines base training as:

Our base training comes directly from Arthur Lydiard with slight modifications for our athletes. There are two workouts that are performed in the base phase. The first workout is a leg speed workout. Year-round, it is important for distance runners to work on leg speed.

Leg speed workouts are NOT heavy breathing workouts. They are neuromuscular workouts to make sure the brain and muscles remember how to turn the legs over quickly. Since we don’t want to breath heavy (indicating a large build up of lactic acid- a big no-no while in the base phase), these workouts include repeats lasting less than 30 seconds.

A good example might be 10 x 150m striding the first 50m, running quickly the second 50m then at 90% of top speed for the final 50m.

You can see that the focus here is NOT on hard workouts – but even so, there is still a weekly session where you run quite fast.

And Brad Hudson, coach to many elites and author of Run Faster, explains the base phase (or as he calls it, the “introductory period”) as:

The purpose of the introductory period is to establish an appropriate fitness foundation that will prepare you for the more challenging and focused training of the fundamental and sharpening periods. Priority number one is to gradually but steadily increase your running mileage…

Other priorities of the introductory period include establishing a foundation of neuromuscular fitness with very small doses of maximal-intensity running and beginning the long process of developing efficiency and fatigue-resistance at race pace with small doses of running in the race-pace range

Bob Kennedy, the dominant American distance runner in the 1990s and first American to break 13:00 in the 5,000m, agrees. In this article, he says:

There are three basic phases to a training cycle: base, strength, and speed. The problem that most athletes have is that they think [the phases] are mutually exclusive. I think that the phase of training is defined by what you are focusing on during that phase.

But you always do a little of all of those things. There’s never a time of year when you’re just running mileage or you’re just doing speed. You’re always doing all of it, it’s just a matter of to what degree.

I also reached out to Jay Johnson, coach to multiple national champions, about what he thinks should be included in a base training phase (or “foundational training” as he calls it):

Foundational training doesn’t need to be so black and white. You can do a progression run that is mostly below [lactate] threshold and it might end with 5 minutes of running that’s just past threshold, yet the amount of lactate produced is minimal and is cleared in just a few minutes of cooling down.

And there is no reason that you can’t be doing strides several days a week.

From these definitions, we can agree that base training is preparatory training. It helps build your foundation so that you’re fit enough to tackle more race-specific workouts later in your training cycle by focusing on endurance but also a small amount of very fast and race-pace running.

So, what can we learn from the top minds in running about base training? Here are a few key points:

  • The focus during an early-season “base” or “foundational” training phase is aerobic development
  • Aerobic development is primarily accomplished through high mileage, long runs, and aerobic-focused workouts like threshold runs, progression runs, and fartleks
  • Base training doesn’t exclude faster running, however: the focus is simply on slower running
  • Strides, small doses of race-pace work, and neuromuscular workouts like hill sprints should be included in the base phase of training

This type of training is very similar to what my college cross country team ran every summer: mostly easy running but regular strides with an increasing focus on hill repetitions and tempo workouts.

What is the Maffetone Method?

Created by Phil Maffetone, the Maffetone Method is a style of training that focuses exclusively on aerobic running. Using a heart rate formula of 180 – your age (plus several corrections for injury, fitness level, health, etc.) you come up with an “aerobic maximum heart rate.”

To build your aerobic fitness (i.e., your endurance), your heart rate should never exceed this number. Most runners use the Maffetone Method for their base training phase, dedicating up to six months of running low-intensity paces that never spike their heart rate over this “aerobic maximum.”

The goal is to improve aerobic development and the percentage of calories burned from fat. Maffetone says on his website:

Some people rely on larger amounts of fat, with the result of high physical and mental vigor, improved health, and better all-around performance.

Those less able to burn sufficient fat must rely more on sugar, resulting in less fat burning each day—a problem associated with reduced health, including low energy, increased body fat and weight, less endurance for daily living, and lower physical fitness.

Phil Maffetone claims the benefits to using his method include reduced inflammation, lower stress hormones (like cortisol), increased fat burning, and the prevention (or REVERSAL) of injuries.

Wow, is this the fountain of youth?! The claims are bold – so let’s discuss the pros and cons of this method of training.

Maffetone Method Benefits & Drawbacks

I can’t agree more with the basic premise of the Maffetone Method: most runners lack aerobic fitness and the best way to improve endurance is through aerobic training.

The majority of runners – particularly beginners and those who start running later in life – must prioritize easy, aerobic running. It’s the foundation upon which more difficult training is built.

But after that high-level agreement, I completely disagree with the mechanics of this method of training. Mostly because, as Mike Smith from Kansas State would say, Maffetone is training “lungs with legs” – and runners are much more than lungs with legs!

There are several great takeaways from this presentation by Coach Jay Johnson:

Most notably, we can say that:

  • Runners are athletes and we must develop more abilities than simply aerobic fitness
  • Without well-rounded athleticism, runners will never reach their potential

You can also read more about the many components of athleticism here.

Maffetone claims his method provides “balanced physical activity” but then only focuses on one energy system  – the aerobic energy system. And within that system, he focuses on the slower end of aerobic development and ignores higher end aerobic workouts like tempo runs at lactate threshold or fast finish progressions.

Brad Hudson believes every energy system should be stressed during every phase of training. In this article, you can see that to get closer to a goal race performance, you have to focus on two types of training: endurance and muscular.

He also says:

We forget that muscles are so important. You have to have the muscular strength to be great. Yes, the aerobic system too—you have to build your aerobic house sometime. So it is really that balance.

Most people get hurt in the transition from what they consider base. And why is that? Because they are not going after the muscles, and it is very foreign to them.

During a base training phase – no matter your fitness level or goals – you must include muscular training that includes very fast running like strides, short race-pace repetitions, or hill sprints, which will all spike your heart rate (briefly) over this “aerobic maximum.”

Alberto Salazar, coach to the 2012 Olympic 10k 1-2 punch Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, believes training is like soup. If you only have one ingredient in your soup, it won’t taste very good. Training is the same; you need all the ingredients included. The other top coaches mentioned in this article agree that base training is not comprised of only easy running.

Finally, there are Phil Maffetone’s claims about injury prevention and general health which are exaggerated and unsupported. He says that:

  • By training aerobically, your injury will “go away” (like magic!)
    • His training methods limit stress and inflammation (but these can be beneficial)
    • Maffetone Method increases physical and mental “vigor” and improves “all around performance”

    Let’s get a few things straight:

    Injuries won’t go away if you simply slow down. Injuries are much more complex than that. You can learn more about injury prevention here.

    Stress and inflammation can be good things! We shouldn’t be constantly limiting our exposure to the effects of training – they prompt adaptation and make us stronger and faster.

    Vague assumptions don’t prove your training method. Claims like more “mental vigor” and better “all around performance” are unsupported, unclear, and too general to be taken seriously.

    What Do Runners Think About the Maffetone Method?

    In researching this article, I came across hundreds of testimonials for Maffetone, successful case studies, and scathing criticisms.

    Success stories for the Maffetone Method (MAF) usually go something like this:

  • I trained at MAF all last year and developed a great base. I only broke out of MAF twice – once for a tune-up half before a full marathon, and then again for the full marathon itself.

    Wound up setting big PRs in both – demonstrating how poor my aerobic conditioning had been.

    But this doesn’t show the Maffetone Method works – it shows this runner simply needed to focus more on his aerobic conditioning and endurance. And any good coach would help him do that, without sacrificing the development of other energy systems.

    And remember: just because something works for you doesn’t mean it’s ideal. Most runners could improve even more if they had smarter training. This idea is covered in more detail in my second CrossFit article.

    But most Maffetone Method criticisms don’t focus on training theory or science. They focus on the fact that training this way is incredibly boring! It’s excruciatinglyslow.

    Here’s a fantastic comment that summarizes a few key points about the Maffetone Method:

    I tried the concept for a winter of cycling training and totally sucked it up for the rest of spring.

    I honestly feel the concept has little practical scientific backing whatsoever and in a general sense is a waste of precious training time.

    Focusing on incorporating a smattering of different training paces ensures that you can fine tune your training in a rather short amount of time to hit a variety of race distances. It also allows one to move into varying aspects of speed work without any significant jolts to the mind/body.

    Sure, you can get faster by running slower in the beginning provided your overall stimulus is greater than before, but you can get even faster by running faster! There’s absolutely no reason to completely eschew faster running or running over a certain speed or heart rate. Limiting yourself to an arbitrary ceiling (and using a one-size-fits-all numerical formula is just that) is not the most efficient or effective way to direct your training.

    Do you really feel you’re going to maximize your improvement running your 20 mpw at the “excruciatingly slow 10 minute/mile”? I don’t think you will.

    Plus, in my opinion, it is a friggin’ SUPER boring way to train!

    I can’t agree with this more!

    One article that I won’t call out specifically encouraged runners to spend six months with the Maffetone Method. It told runners they’d likely experience:

    • changes in body composition
    • more energy
    • lack of injuries and illness
    • higher sex drive
    • Faster race times (with no stress or injury)

    Unfortunately, you can’t get faster unless you stress your body in a new way. And with only excruciatingly slow mileage, you have to do a LOT of it to see measurable increases in performance.

    Just think: if all of your running is easy, where is the stress to prompt you to get faster and stronger?

    How to Plan Your Base Training

    Rather than focus exclusively on one type of training (aerobic) at the expense of race-specific preparation, there’s a better way to plan base training.

    Instead, you’ll want to build a foundation of that includes fitness in three major areas: aerobic capacity, strength, and neuromuscular coordination (or leg speed).

    Aerobic capacity is built through easy mileage, long runs, and workouts like tempos, progressions, and fartleks.

    Strength is also built with high mileage and long runs, but also includes strength routines and core workouts.

    Neuromuscular coordination is built through strides, hill sprints, and small amounts of race-pace running.

    Just like the foundation of a house can’t be built without concrete, plumbing, and reinforcements, you can’t build a running foundation without all of these ingredients. If you do, it’s not as strong as it could be.

    Even marathoners, who will never run “fast” even during their goal race, need all three components included in their base training.

    By working on each aspect of your fitness, none gets “left behind” and you’re more prepared for harder runs later in your training cycle.

    My suggestion? Skip the Maffetone Method altogether and take a more modern approach to base training: include strength workouts, strides or hill sprints, and relatively easy fartlek workouts.

    You’ll get in better shape – and ultimately race faster.

Form Work

Three Tips for Easy Simple Form Work: CHP

The following three tips are the major aspects of from work which helps improve any running style once the basics have been mastered to improve the mechanics of movement.

!. Chest Up. Lift your chest. Take a deep breath and hold that forward position as you exhale. Lydiard says to imagine you have a pulley attached to a harness around your chest. The other end of the pulley is attached to a three-story building a block away. As you run, lift your chest up and forward; it leads the way. Don’t lean forward, just get your chest up and out. It will give you extended lung capacity. Don’t change your shoulders or arms at all. Work only with your chest and you’ll achieve better posture and lung efficiency.

2. Hips Forward. When you pull your chest up it helps pull your hips forward automatically. Before you start running, get your chest up; then put your hands on your butt and push forward. Your shoulders, hips and feet should all be lined up. In this position you can extend your legs for maximum power. Lydiard contrasts this with the typical runner’s position, which he calls :sitting in the bucket.” When your hips are under and forward you’ll the muscles of the calf been used and hardly any exertion in the hamstrings. You should feel light on your feet and run quieter when hips are forward.

3. Push Off strongly with your foot. With your ankle brought into position by a forward chest and hips, a small amount of work from the calf muscle can produce a major effect in push-off power from your feet.

Most runners lean slightly back as they run and must overcome gravity with each step. A wear spot on the the shoe heel indicates this. It’s fine to land on your heel, but don’t stay there. It’s harmful to the knees. The knee cap is pulled tightly into the knee, grinding the cartilage against the bones. When your ankle does the work, this knee tension is reduced considerably.

If you naturally land on your heel, don’t try to shift suddenly to your forefoot. after landing, shift your weight to the midfoot and let the ankle exert its leverage. Gradually make your running an ankle reflex action, which will give you a feeling of floating more than pounding.



The Five Stages of a Runner

The following five stages of a runner are taken from: Galloway’s Book On Running. August 1984.

The Beginner.

Stage One- Making the break

For some it is medical advice or family and peer pressure that gets to to make a decision to start running as a means to reduce weight and feel better. It could be that the medical profession has told you that if you do not become active you will suffer medical complaints. This is a difficult stage as the lifestyle that you have feels comfortable and familiar with all its distractions to keep you from going out to run. It is quite difficult to justify going out for a run when the weather is cold and wet, or hot and windy, or even just wanting to lie in bed a bit longer.

You may find that in the beginning your new running addiction is threatening to your less active friends but do not despair as you will make lots of new friends who are just as crazy as you are about this. Do not stress or fear as faltering and starting over again a few times is all part of the process. By building yourself up gradually with frequent walk breaks it will not take long before you are able to run 5 kilometers without stopping, walking or feeling like dying. DO not expect instant results or pain free movement for the first few weeks, as with anything new it takes the body some time to develop and accept this new you.

Gradually your body begins to change and you find that it is easier to run smoothly and feel good. You start to notice your surroundings and how friendly everyone is who run the same routes as you do. Your body starts to feel strong and you feel more energised and at this point you decide if you wish to remain a beginner or become a jogger.

The Jogger

Stage Two- Entering the New World

Once you become a jogger you feel more secure about your running even it it is sometimes hard to start the run, but unlike the beginner you you realise that you too are addicted to this running craze. You may still feel intimidated by the high achiever types who race and do crazy stuff like marathons and ultra marathons. At this point you realise just how important fitness is to your health and well being both mental and physical. It is at this point that you break away from your old habits and set training routines in place to feed your growing running addiction. After most runs you feel good about what you just did and how much you have achieved.  As a beginner you complained about feeling bored whilst running but anymore as you look forward to your daily run. 

A jogger does not worry about having a plan or a goal they just want to go out and run with as much enjoyment as possible. Those who do feel that they need a plan feel they do not know enough to prepare a plan.- Think about a coach-. Most just read an article or listen to a more experienced runner and then follow this for a while which most often leads to injury. -Think about a coach-. This type of approach quite often leads to an injury or frustration when a goal is not achieved. These plans are not individualised or pertinent to the Jogger. 

Most Joggers prefer company and do well when in a group. They still feel a bit insecure when having to run alone. A Beginner hides within the group while the Jogger identifies with the group. A lot of Beginners will do an informal event like a Park run or a 5 kilometer fun run while the Jogger actually enters an official event or uses the local Park run to achieve a particular goal which is not time based but rather finishing without walking or keeping up with another Jogger. It is during this stage a lot of runners decide that they would like to become competitive and move into the next stage.

The Competitor

Stage Three- When Competition is the Main Driving Force

All of us have a competitive streak even if we try and keep it well hidden. If we control this competitive aspect of ourselves then it becomes a great motivator to push ourselves further and faster. If you are not careful and observant this competitive streak can cause you to loose the enjoyment of your running.

You become a competitor when you start planning your running around racing goals. For most of us it starts innocently enough as you begin to wonder how fast you can actually run a particular distance or event. Luckily not all Joggers enter this stage but remain quite happily as Joggers where others skip this stage and move directly into becoming Runners.

If you enjoy been competitive then this is an exciting stage as you get to see juts how fast you can run and just how far you can run or even far and fast. Your running begins to improve due to the fact that you are training more and you are most likely at this stage under the guidance of a mentor or coach or you have developed enough knowledge to plan your own training. 

It is now vitally important that you keep your competitive streak in check as before long you may realise that the enjoyment of running has lost itself in the drive to excel at all costs. If you miss a work out you are depressed and most likely angry that work, family or social got in the way of your training. During this phase you may train alone or look for small groups of better runners to train with so that you can keep getting faster. You choose events that are likely to give you fast times as the terrain is most suitable or the fields are small and have no big challenges from other competitors. 

During this phase you may loose sight of what works as you feel that if a small change in distance or speed gives you success then more distance and more speed will bring more success. You begin to think that what applies to the mere mortals does apply to you as you are a supremely gifted athlete with all the inherent genetics and the will to push yourself. You will continue pushing yourself even if you always feel tired but cannot sleep peacefully. You become difficult and irritable with family and friends. You push too hard and too far causing an injury or illness or worse still over-training which necessitates a break from your training regimen.  

There are lessons to be learnt from competition and fortunately most competitors to do not to push to the extremes to learn them. Pushing through tiredness and discomfort in a race to achieve a new personal best is not only rewarding in itself, but gives you an idea of what you can do in other areas of your life. Sometimes we need to be challenged to discover hidden strengths which help us cope with the stress of daily life. At the same time experiencing some frustration and pain can help us realise our limitations. By struggling we discover a bit more about the person inside us; we can learn from our mistakes and move to new heights.

The Athlete

Stage Four- Being the Best You Can Be

As an athlete, you find more meaning in the drive to fulfill your potential than in compulsively collecting trophies. You finally have a handle on competition, and it is not the only motivation. Being an athlete is a state of mind which is not bound by age, preformance or place in the running pack.

For a competitor, victory and defeat are tied to performance. Times, flat courses, ideal conditions are all important. For the Athlete, victory lies in the quality of effort. When you run close to your potential on a given day, it is a victory. You internalise competition and transcend it, knowing your limits and capabilities. As you compete you breath in the race, vaporise it, absorb what you need and exhale the rest. Running becomes your own work of art.

Competitors look for races they can win while Athletes look for competition, even though they are not intent on a higher ranking or better performance. They thrive on a challenging competition that is run in the best possible way- from the inside out- and they are, not incidentally, rewarded in the long run by faster times. athletes are also found at the back of the pack, or they mat choose smaller races over the big media events because they do not want to feel lost in a sea of humanity. The Athlete knows when to discard the memory of a bad run and how to make small changes to their training in order to see improvement in their performances.

Great Athletes at any level realise that “success” is in the eye of the performer. There can be success in every experience. If you seize upon the positive aspect of each experience you can string together a series of successes that form a pattern of progress.

Some Athletes reach a level of achievement or satisfaction and retire from competition; a few even quit running entirely. Many choose a reduced level of activity, others maintain a fairly high yet sensible level. Many continue to grow and move into the final and most rewarding stage, the Runner.

The Runner

Stage Five- The Best of All Stages

The final stage of the running journey blends the best elements of all the previous stages. The runner balances the elements of fitness, competition, training and social life and blends running with the rest of his or her life. The Runner is a happy person.

As a Runner the primary focus in life is not running. Running is a natural part of your daily life and if you miss a run you ignore it and move on. If scientists announced that running was harmful to you, you would take not note and move on with your daily run. You get so much satisfaction from your running that it is part of who and what you are. You will enjoy running with others but most of your running you will do alone. You appreciate the the peace and inner reflection provided by the solitary run more than you did in the earlier stages. Great satisfaction comes from being able to mold your body into form, and there is art in combining just the right amounts of strength, endurance, form and performance training. A race can be an opportunity to pull out deep hidden strengths. Once you have learnt these things, the joy lies not in the race, but in the running.

As a Runner you experience the enjoyment of each stage and retain the best of them. You can relive the Beginner’s excitement in discovery, appreciate the Jogger’s balance of fitness and enthusiasm, share the Competitor’s ambition, and internalise the athlete’s quest. Having consolidated and balanced all these stages, you appreciate the creative and positive aspects of each and let them enrich your running life.

If this short summary excites you, read Galloway’s Book on Running and Paul Vorwerk’s Second Dimension Of Running.

The Coaches Tip/handsoncoachalan

In order to be successful as a runner you need to train correctly, eat correctly, rest and get the mix of these three aspects just right. With the constraints and demands of everyday life involving family, social or friends, work and training the need for a coach to assist in drawing up an appropriate training schedule becomes of paramount importance. This is extremely evident when we see just how much confusing and conflicting methods of training to achieve the same result there are. A coach will assist you in getting the correct type of training to suite your goals, commitments and availability so that you achieve without too much disruption to the rest of your daily activities.

If you as an athlete had to try each of the various training methodologies and how they are put in place you would spend about five to six years trying and changing your training program without ever knowing what worked for you and what did not work. Some programs overlap in what they set out for you to use in order to achieve a specific goal so it might work or not depending on how closely you stick to what the program asks of you. Most people getting into running want to achieve their goals without all this confusion and hassle which is why they should consider using a coach to assist them.

A good coach not only keeps up to date with any new training ideas and formats but also has a vast knowledge of all the various training formats and the science and success behind them. A coach is not only a scientist who works with data and input versus output but is also an artist who relates to each athlete on a level whereby together they can modify and adapt a training routine to make it work for the individual.

When working with a training program it could ask you to work at a set heart rate or level of VO2MAX. Most people would ask how do I determine my heart rate level and what is VO2MAX? There are approximately 12 different versions that can be used to determine your maximum heart rate and then the various levels from 50% to 120% depending on where you need to be at any given stage of your training and recovery. These levels include the aerobic as well as anaerobic systems.


How about using your 1600 meter all out effort or 8 kilometer time trial to set training zones for speed and speed endurance sessions. Lets take it that you can run 4 laps of an athletic track in 8 minutes. This is 2 minutes per 400 meters or 30 seconds per 100 meters. Using these figures we can now work out what your approximate marathon time and 8 kilometer time should be. The marathon finishing time should be 3 hours 29 minutes and 45 seconds. This should give you an 8 kilometer time trial time of 36 minutes 15 seconds to 36 minutes 30 seconds.

From the above paragraph it sounds very easy to say that if you can run the 1600 meters at that 8 minute pace then with training you should run the 8 kilometer time trial in 36 minutes or just over. So why do so few people have this ability?

There are a multitude of reasons that this happens, with some of them been, easily identifiable. Howe about the fact that lots of runners train at the same pace every single session. They go out and do their planned run be it a short 5 or 10 kilometer to an 20 or more kilometer run at say for example 6 minutes per kilometer. The next session is their quality day of hills or speed work but they still do each repeat at this same effort or just slightly quicker say at 5 minutes 50 per kilometer. The next session and the one after that the pace stays exactly the same. Yes in the beginning there is a nice improvement in the athletes ability so they achieve better and faster times with what feels like less effort.

A coach will set the program in place so that the athlete will know which days they run at what effort level and for how long or far. They will set easy and hard days with sufficient rest days to recover and for other activities. If you are not rested and do not recover sufficiently between hard efforts or day you cannot push yourself to the correct levels so you plateau out and then start sliding backwards in your fitness and running ability.

Most of you are still probably wondering what is VO2MAX. It is your bodies ability to transport and use oxygen not only to sustain life but also to keep you moving at the required effort level during daily activities, training and running events. At rest all of us use 3,5 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute and as we get more and more active this level rises. With training we aim to improve our ability to transport and use oxygen so that at high levels of activity we feel comfortable.

If you train at 70% of your maximum heart rate your VO2MAX level should be between 55% and 60% of your maximum. Again what does this mean? This means that if you are capable of reaching a VO2MAX level of 42 milliliters oxygen usage per kilogram body weight per minute which is fairly accurate for an 8 minute 1600 meter comfortable effort. Not an all out effort leaving you wanting to pass out. So at 55% of this value you would be at 23 milliliters oxygen usage per kilogram body weight per minute which would be easily achievable but at 60% it goes up to 25.3 milliliters oxygen usage per kilogram body weight per minute.

Again all of this is confusing to the average runner. Which is why having a coach who does all of this for you makes your training and running so much more enjoyable.

If you wish to learn more about the science and art behind the training methodology let me know and we can either set up a one on one session or do a group discussion one evening at the club.


handsoncoachalan/The Coaches Tip

Boost Your Endurance

Seven simple plans for running farther and faster.


SEP 3, 2003

As runners, we all want to increase our endurance, but we’re often referring to two different things. The beginning runner wants to go farther—from 2 miles to 4 miles, then to 6. More experienced runners don’t see much point in running farther. (Isn’t 26.2 miles far enough?) These runners want to improve their speed-endurance—the pace at which they can cover substantial distances.

Fortunately, you can have it both ways. You can follow training plans that build the length of your long runs, and others that improve your speed-endurance.

Using such workouts, thousands of runners have dramatically improved their endurance. Craig Beesley, a beginning runner, extended his longest run from 30 seconds to nearly 3 hours. Doug Underwood, a successful marathoner, wanted to lower his best from 3:50 to 3:30 to qualify for the Boston Marathon. And Deena Drossin, the American 10K and cross-country star, wanted nothing less than to run the marathon faster than a legend, Joan Samuelson.

All three runners achieved their goals. Each used a different method. Which raises the point that exercise physiologist Kris Berg explains in his recent article, “Endurance Training and Performance in Runners,” in the journal Sports Medicine. “After decades of studying ways to improve endurance,” says Berg. “I’m leaning more than ever toward the great gestalt of mind-body wisdom, and encouraging runners to do what feels right.”

In other words, different strokes for different folks. We’re not all the same. Genetic researchers refer to “high responders” and “low responders.” Sometimes we need to take different paths to reach our goals.

Here, you’ll find seven endurance-boosting strategies that have worked for a range of runners. Not all will work for you. But one or more will, and that should be enough to significantly increase your endurance, which means you’ll run stronger and easier than ever before.

Plan 1: Take One Step At A Time

If there is one overarching principle of endurance-building, this is it. Call it gradual adaptation. That is, be consistent, be patient, and build up slowly. This principle applies to all circumstances and all runners—the beginner who’s trying to make it around the block four times, as well as the 36-minute 10K runner who’s training for a first marathon with long runs that stretch to 12 miles, then 16, then 20.

The gradual-adaptation principle is deeply rooted in human physiology, and has worked for about a billion runners since Paleolithic man started stalking wild animals in East Africa 150,000 years ago. It still works today. Witness Craig Beesley of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.

When Beesley began running 2 years ago, he could only manage 30 seconds at a time, followed by 41/2 minutes of walking. But he didn’t let his lack of fitness discourage him. He simply repeated the cycle eight times (for a total of 40 minutes), and made sure he did three workouts a week.

Thirteen weeks later, Beesley was running 30 minutes at a time, and by last fall he had completed his first half marathon in 2:12. Pretty impressive. But Beesley didn’t stop there. He kept running outdoors through the winter months, despite temperatures that dropped to -25° F, and last spring added speedwork to his routine. By May, he was running long runs of 2 hours, 40 minutes, and doing six 400-meter repeats in 1:45. In his near future: a first marathon.

A program can’t get any simpler than Beesley’s, or any more successful. “I’ve increased my endurance and my speed, and I’ve done both without any injuries,” he says. “My family members describe me as a very patient man. Patience combined with persistence is a great combination for success in running.”

What you should do: Whatever your present endurance conditioning, build it slow but steady. We like a program that adds 1 mile a week to your weekend long run, for example: 5 miles, 6 miles, 7 miles. Every 4th week, reduce mileage by skipping the long run. Rest and recover. The next week, start building again, 1 mile at a time: 8 miles, 9 miles, etc.


Plan 2: Run Yasso 800s

We learned about this amazingly useful workout in a casual conversation with Runner’s World race and event promotions manager Bart Yasso, and first wrote about it nearly a decade ago. Since then, literally thousands of runners have told us at marathon expos or in e-mails that the program has worked for them. With the Yasso system, you run 800-meter repeats on a track in the same minutes/seconds as your hours/minutes goal time for a marathon. (So if you’re looking to run 4:30, do your 800s in 4 minutes and 30 seconds.)

Runners are drawn to Yasso 800s by Bart’s unforgettable name, the simplicity of the workout, and word-of-mouth success stories.

Doug Underwood is one of those Yasso fans. A runner for just 3 years, Underwood completed his first two marathons in 3:55 and 3:53, and then was bitten by what he calls the “Boston bug.” He wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and was willing to train harder to get there.

The core of his program: Yasso 800s. Since Underwood needed to run a 3:30 to reach Boston, he ran his Yasso 800s in 3:30, building up to 10 of them in a single workout, taking a 3:30 recovery jog between the fast 800s.

Underwood finished his goal race, the Baton Rouge Beach Marathon, in 3:30:54, good enough for a race entry to Boston. (Boston Marathon organizers offer runners a 59-second grace period beyond the strict qualifying standards.) “I credit the Yasso 800s with getting me there,” says Underwood, who also made sure to log plenty of long runs. “They are tough workouts, but they do the job. If you can run 10 of them at your goal pace, you have a great chance of achieving your marathon goal time.”

What you should do: Run Yasso 800s once a week. Start with just four or five of them at your appropriate pace, then add one a week.

Plan 3: Run Long and Slow

Meghan Arbogast was already a successful marathoner 5 years ago, with a 2:58 to her credit. Only one problem: “I was overtraining and killing myself,” she says.

No longer. Since 1998, Arbogast has been training slower and racing faster under a program designed by Warren Finke, a well-known coach in Portland, Oregon, near Arbogast’s home. Finke believes marathoners should focus on consistent, easy-paced training runs that help them build endurance without getting hurt every couple of months. “A lot of runners train too hard, get injured, and never reach their potential,” he notes.

The Finke program emphasizes “effort-based training,” and he believes in keeping the effort modest (at 80 percent of the speed you could race the same distance) most of the time. “Most runners are probably training at about 90 percent of their race pace,” says Finke. “Running 80 percent is pretty easy, but it helps keep you injury-free.”

The program has certainly turned things around for Arbogast. Two years after beginning Finke’s effort-based training, she improved her marathon personal record to 2:45. And last June, she won the Christchurch Marathon in New Zealand with another 2:45. “I think I can keep improving,” says Arbogast. “The key is to stay healthy and keep gaining endurance.”

What you should do: Do most of your runs at 80 percent of the speed you could race the same distance. So, if you can race 10 miles at 7:30 pace, you should do your 10-mile training runs at 9:23. To convert a race pace to an 80-percent training pace, multiply the race pace by 1.25; for more details, visit Finke’s website. To find a wide range of your equivalent race times, go to the Runner’s World Race Time Predictor.


Plan 4: Make Every Workout Count

When you’ve been running marathons for 25 years and have an advanced degree in exercise physiology, you should eventually learn a thing or two about training. Exercise physiologist Bill Pierce, chair of the Health and Exercise Science department at Furman University, thinks he has. At the very least, he’s found a program that works wonders for him. Pierce, 53, still runs marathons in about 3:10, not much slower than when he first stepped to the starting line more than 2 decades ago.

His secret? The 3-day training week. Pierce follows the usual advice to alternate hard days with easy days, but he takes it to the extreme. He runs only hard days—3 of them a week. On the other 4 days, he doesn’t run at all, though he lifts weights several times a week, and also enjoys a fast game of tennis.

In stripping his training program to its essence, Pierce runs each of his three workouts at a specific target pace and distance. One is a long run, one is a tempo run, and one is a speed workout. “I run at a higher intensity than some others recommend, but I have found that this program has worked well for me for many years,” says Pierce. “It reduces the risk of injuries, improves long-term adherence, and still lets me enjoy the gratification that comes with intense efforts.”

What you should do: Pierce does interval training on Tuesdays, tempo training on Thursdays, and a long run on Sundays. For interval repeats, he runs 12 x 400 meters or 6 x 800 meters at slightly faster than his 5K race pace. On tempo days, he runs 4 miles at a pace that’s 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace. On Sundays, he runs 15 miles at a pace that’s 30 seconds per mile slower than his marathon race pace. You can easily adapt these workouts to your own 5K, 10K, and marathon race paces.

Plan 5: Do Plyometrics

Deena Drossin had already joined the ranks of America’s all-time best female distance runners, including Joan Samuelson, Mary Slaney, and Lynn Jennings, when she first paid a visit to Zach Weatherford nearly 2 years ago. She asked Weatherford, the strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s training facility in Chula Vista, California, if he could devise a program that would give her more leg endurance and quickness.

Weatherford said he wasn’t sure, acknowledging to Drossin that he had never worked with a distance runner before. “But let me think about it, and do some research,” he said.

Weatherford returned with several ideas worth testing, and the two have been working together ever since. “We started with core strength, and progressed to explosive leg plyometrics, always focusing on the basics, and doing quality sessions, not quantity. Runners already do enough quantity,” he says. “In her first plyometrics workouts, Deena hit the ground like this big, flat-footed person, but we kept emphasizing, ‘Get your feet up fast. Get your feet up fast.’ ”

Drossin did jump roping, skipping drills, box jumps, and even high-knee sprints through the “rope ladder” that you often see at football training camps. And then she ran the London Marathon last April in 2:21:16, a personal record by more than 5 minutes and a new American record. “I really felt a difference in London,” says Drossin. “I’ve noticed a considerable change in my running mechanics. My feet are spending less time on the ground, and I’ve increased my stride frequency. At London, my legs did not fatigue at all during or after the marathon.”


What you should do: You could always train with your local high school football team while they work out with the rope ladder. But if that’s too intimidating, here’s a simple alternative: Instead of running strides at the end of several easy runs a week, do a “fast-feet” drill. Run just 15 to 20 yards with the shortest, quickest stride you can manage. You don’t have to lift your knees high; just lift them fast, and move forward a few inches with each stride. Pump your arms vigorously as well. Rest, then repeat six to eight times. Once or twice a week, you can also do 5 minutes of single-leg hops, two-legged bounding, and high-knee skipping, all on a soft surface such as grass or packed dirt.

Plan 6: Run Longer Tempo Runs

We admire runners who refuse to give up on their goals and who keep trying various methods to reach them. By this standard, Patrick Noble, a career Army man who’s now retired and living in South Korea, deserves a lifetime achievement award. In 1986 Noble finished his first marathon in 3:17, feeling both proud and ambitious. “Let’s go for a sub-3,” he told himself.

Thus began the journey. Noble increased his training, and before long he had run 3:04, 3:01, 3:05, and 3:02. You can quickly see what’s missing from this list. A less-determined runner might have given up. Not Noble.

He kept running marathons-dozens of them. In the last 2 years, he ran his 49th marathon. No luck. His 50th. Ditto. His 51st. Nope, sorry. But last May, in his 52nd marathon, Noble broke through the 3-hour barrier with a 2:58:23 at the Camp Casey U.S. Army base in South Korea. And it was a new approach to tempo runs, Noble believes, that helped him dip below 3:00.

The conservative view on tempo runs suggests that you cover 20 to 40 minutes at a pace that’s 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than your 10K pace. Noble pushed his tempo runs up to 60 minutes. “I think the long tempo runs gave me the extra strength I needed,” says Noble. “I also made sure to run very easy the day after the tempo runs, and watched my diet and even gave up beer for 6 to 8 weeks before the marathon.” (Joe Vigil, coach of American marathon record holder Deena Drossin and 2003 U.S. marathon champ Ryan Shay, also believes in long tempo runs to build endurance.)

What you should do: Do a tempo run once a week for 8 weeks. Start with a 20-minute tempo run at 10 to 20 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace, and add 5 minutes to your tempo run every week. Be sure to take 1 or 2 easy days before and after tempo days.

Plan 7: Run Long and Fast

Okay, we know. This is the opposite of Plan 3. You caught us. But it works for some runners, just as the long-and-slow approach works for others. A perfect example of the “high-responders” versus “low-responders” principle.

A recent convert to long-fast training: Scott Strand of Birmingham, Alabama. Last February, Strand improved his marathon personal record by more than 4 minutes with a 2:16:52 in the National Championship Marathon right there in downtown Birmingham. And it was his longer, faster long runs that got him the PR, Strand believes.

“I covered 18 to 23 miles in my long training runs,” says Strand, “and I did the last 9 to 14 miles at marathon pace or faster. That was much faster than my previous long-run efforts of 17 to 22 miles at whatever pace I felt like running.”

This kind of endurance program, based on long, hard runs has been popularized the last several years by marathon world record holder Khalid Khannouchi. Khannouchi does ferocious long runs so fast and sustained that he gets nervous for several days before them. Old school: The only thing that mattered was spending 2 to 3 hours on your feet. New school: If you want to finish strong and improve your times in the marathon, you have to run hard and fast at the end of your long runs.

What you should do: On your long runs, pick up the pace for the last 25 percent of the distance. Gradually accelerate to your marathon goal pace, or even your tempo-run pace. You don’t have to attack your long run the way Khannouchi does, and you shouldn’t collapse when you finish. But you should run hard enough at the end to accustom your body to the late-race fatigue of the marathon.