Make Some of Your Long Runs More Challenging Than Your Marathon To Make Your Marathon Easier

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell

Hello Runners,

Over the past few weeks I’ve been incorporating hills and trails on some of my long runs. These runs have been really challenging and my paces have been about a minute less than my goal pace. However, I’m getting some great benefits from these runs that are going to help me on marathon day! I used this strategy for the last marathon I ran a few years ago, and while I watched many runners struggle in the last five miles, I was still strong. In fact, several spectators made comments of that nature.

If you are running a flat marathon, such as the Chicago Marathon, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at how strong you feel by incorporating some tougher long runs in your training. If you are running a marathon with hills, especially at the end, such as the NYC Marathon, then you will be stronger on these hills.

Fortunately, I’m able to run from my house to areas with hills, trails, and both. Here are some benefits to running in such areas:

Benefits of Running Hills

  • Great leg strengthener, especially for quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and muscles connected to the ankles providing great support for our knees and ankles to help minimize risk of injury and increase running pace
  • Our muscles are made up of different muscle fiber types. You may have heard of these. Basically, we have Type 1, or slow-twitch fibers, which we predominately use when we run a 5k, half- or full-marathon. However, for longer events, such as marathons, these fibers need a break from continually contracting. This is when we use our other muscle fiber types, especially the intermediate, Type 2a fibers, to give our Type 1 fibers time to recover before using them again. Basically, cycling between different fiber types during marathons, allows us to keep running. While the Type 1 fibers are great for endurance, the Type 2a are great for endurance and speed. Training on hills helps strengthen these fibers and helps improve their endurance performance, so they can help us out more during our marathon. This can result in a faster running pace, minimization of fatigue towards the end of a marathon, and allows us to be stronger on any hills we encounter during our event.

Benefits of Trails, Especially with Rocks

  • This is great for running form because it forces us to pick up our knees more, which improves running cadence (number of steps you take per minute). Unfortunately, I was not as focused on getting over some of the rocks on the trail I was running on a couple of weeks ago. I tripped and did a face plant resulting in some nice cuts and scrapes on my hands, elbows, knees, stomach. Fortunately, it wasn’t worse than that! So stay focused when running, especially in rocky areas!
  • Running on trails can provide some nice variety to our training, and often will require the use of some different muscles to help stabilize us more, especially muscles connected to the ankle joint. This can help with running form as well, in that it can improve our stability when you have one foot during your marathon or other event.

So, I recommend incorporating some tougher long runs early on in your training. I would focus more on flatter long runs on roads, or hard packed trails with minimal rocks, during your last 2-3 months of training. This will allow you to run closer to your goal event pace.

Also, you will need to appropriately balance these tougher long runs with your runs during the week, so that you can allow for recovery and still complete these runs. This is certainly something I keep in mind when developing training plans for the runners I coach, and for my own training plan.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

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Your friend and coach,


VO2max: What Is It, Why Is It Important to Your Running Performance, and How Do You Improve It

Hello Runners,

There are three factors that are most important to your running performance and can affect whether you finish an event pumping your fists in celebration, or hanging your head in disappointment.

These factors are your running economy (basically how efficient you are when you run), your lactate threshold (maximum pace you can sustain for a prolonged period of time), and your VO2max or maximal oxygen consumption.

One of my workouts last week specifically focused on VO2max. For this particular workout, I performed a dynamic warmup and then ran at an easy pace for 20 minutes. Then the real fun began! I performed 40 second work bouts in a flat area (a track for example) at a hard pace. I focused on form during these work bouts to maximize my speed and effort. After each of these work bouts, I did a slow jog recovery interval for two minutes and then repeated for a total of six work bouts. I finished my run at an easy pace for approximately 10 minutes. Then I finished up by performing stability, mobility, and strengthening exercises and foam rolling. This was a challenging workout!

What Is VO2max?

VO2max is the maximal amount of oxygen our body can use to produce energy by aerobic energy systems when we are running at maximal effort, and is considered the “gold standard” for assessing aerobic fitness. VO2max is affected by our body’s ability to take oxygen into the body and deliver it to our running muscles, which incorporates our cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and blood vessels. Another important determinant of VO2max is the muscles’ ability to extract oxygen from the blood and use it to produce energy. This involves our “mighty” mitochondria in our muscle cells. The mitochondria are the powerhouses that will extract oxygen and use it along with carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in our body to the produce energy for us to run.

How Is VO2max Measured?

There are labs that will assess your VO2max by measuring the volume and composition of the gases you inhale and exhale while running. This test is usually performed on a treadmill in which the speed and/or incline is increased every 2-3 minutes. Basically, run until you feel you can run no more, or it is deemed that the test needs to be stopped for safety purposes. The test typically lasts ~12-15 minutes. As you might guess, it’s a hard test! In addition, you need to wear apparatus that will allow the volume and composition of gases to be measured. Here is an image of a typical VO2max testing setup:

vo2max testing

It is also possible to have VO2max measured outside while running on a track, although this requires sophisticated equipment.

VO2max can also be estimated based on time to run a mile. The advantage of this is that it doesn’t require sophisticated equipment and having to wear potentially uncomfortable apparatus. I offer this estimate as part of my running evaluation I do with runners. I can also offer this to runners who may not be able to do an in-person running evaluation with me.

It’s most helpful to repeat the measure of your VO2max after at least three months, to see if it has improved with your training.

What Factors Affect My VO2max?

There are several factors that affect VO2max including genetics, gender, age, fitness level, and training.

How Do I Improve My VO2max and Thus, My Running Performance?

There are several ways to improve VO2max depending on your fitness level. For beginner runners just running frequently and increasing the duration of your runs can significantly improve your VO2max, especially over three months.

For intermediate and advanced runners, it is more difficult to improve VO2max. However, hard work bouts in which you are running several minutes at ~95-100% of your current VO2max can help improve it. I recommend starting with hard work bouts for 30-40 seconds. Recover with a slow jog for 2-3 minutes between these bouts. Repeat for a total of 4-6 work bouts. Over the next 2-3 weeks, I recommend a progression in which you increase the time of your work bouts. This will depend on what’s appropriate for you. For runners I coach, we discuss how these work bouts went each week, as well as their fitness level to determine the appropriate progression. In addition, you should have been recently cleared by your physician to participate in vigorous physical activity. Also, you should have performed some previous speedwork, such as Fartlek runs, before engaging in VO2max work bouts.   

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, if you feel anyone can benefit from this email, please share it.

Your friend and coach,


Have Fun with a 5k Early in Your Marathon Training

Hello Runners,

I encourage you to consider running a 5k in your first two months of half- or full-marathon training. I found an organization called Park Run ( that does local free 5ks throughout the year.

First, running a 5k can be a nice change from the normal routine of weekend long runs, which your body and mind will greatly appreciate! If you do most, or all of your training alone, a 5k will be a great opportunity to be around and connect with other runners. In addition, being in a race environment can be motivating and inspiring and help you enjoy and appreciate your training more.

Also, a 5k early on in your training can be a great way to determine your baseline fitness. Your performance from your 5k race can be used to predict your performance in a future half- or full-marathon, depending on your training for the next 12-16 weeks. This training will need to include long runs and other workouts that appropriately stress your aerobic system, such as progression and threshold runs.

Your pace for a 5k can be used to determine paces for your training runs by using prediction calculators. I use races and prediction calculators with almost all of the runners I coach, to tailor their workouts, so they are getting the most benefit, while training at paces that are most appropriate for them.

There are several online calculators that can be used including:

However, you need to use these intelligently in predicting your future half- or full-marathon pace. This includes taking 5-10 seconds off your 5k time and then plugging into the predictor calculator. Keep in mind this is a projected pace for these events, and certainly not a pace you would run these events at now. After all, you won’t have done long runs much more than 8-12 miles at this point.

You should aim for a negative split in your 5k. That is to run the last half of the 5k faster than the first half. The easiest way to accomplish this is to keep a consistent pace for the first three miles and then speed up for the last 200 meters or tenth of a mile. Also, Coach Jay Johnson, in his book Simple Marathon Training, recommends running the first mile very conservatively, including running the first half mile at a pace that is challenging, but comfortable. He says don’t worry about those people who pass you because most of them will be running a positive split (slower second half of the 5k). He suggests a negative split race is a better predictor of your aerobic fitness than a positive split race.

Make sure you recovery well from your 5k. You should perform a cooldown after the 5k, including walking and then stretching/foam rolling. Also, I recommend a brisk walk or other low to moderate cross-training the next day for approximately 30 minutes. You may want to take the following day off from running completely before resuming your running.

So, go out and enjoy a 5k!

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,




  • Simple Marathon Training, Jay Johnson.

2019 Marathon Training Day 1: Importance of Proper Warm-up

June 6 sunrise medium version

”Dreams and dedication are a powerful combination” – William Longgood

Today, I officially kicked off my marathon training for 2019 with my goal to break 3 hours.  However, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am also going to enjoy the journey and enjoy my training runs!

No matter what your goal, whether it is your first marathon, or to set a new time goal, building an aerobic base and working on running mechanics early on is important. Also, it is important to perform a dynamic warm-up (see today’s tip below, which includes a video with a dynamic warm-up you can perform). I alternate between the warm-up in the video and the warm-up that I did today. The warm-up I did today consisted of the following:

  • Leg swings forward and back with bent knee: I bent my knee as I lifted my leg forward and then lengthened it as I extended my leg behind me. Be sure to keep your pelvis stable. I performed 10 repetitions on each leg
  • Leg swings forward and back with straight leg: Similar to the leg swings above, but with the leg straight, instead of bent at the knee
  • Leg swings side-to-side across the body with straight leg: Similar to leg swings forward and back, except now swinging the leg across the body and in front of the other leg. I performed 10 repetitions for each leg.
  • Leg swings side-to-side across the body with bent leg (at the knee): Similar to the leg swings side-to-side above, except bend at the knee
  • Front lunges (stepping forward with one leg, 3-5 repetitions for each leg)
  • Lunges at a 45 degree angle in front (3-5 repetitions for each leg)
  • Side lunges (stepping to the side with one leg, 3-5 repetitions for each leg)
  • Lunges at a 45 degree in back (3-5 repetitions for each leg)
  • Back lunges (stepping straight back with one leg, 3-5 repetitions for each leg)

Today’s run was at an easy pace, in a relatively flat area. I ran for about 32 minutes. Depending on your fitness level and last time you ran, you may want to start with 20 (beginners) – 40 (more experienced runners) minutes. Just keep the pace easy!  I have a long time before my marathon, so I have plenty of time to build up my speed. And don’t worry if the pace is not even close to your goal pace for your next marathon. My pace certainly wasn’t for this run. Enjoy the run and the sights and sounds around you. Hopefully they are enjoyable. J It certainly was enjoyable run for me!

After my run, I did the following strengthening exercises for about 10 minutes:

  • Leg swings forward and back (10 repetitions for each leg, both straight and bent leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side (10 repetitions of each for each leg, both bent and straight leg)
  • Single-leg stand (~30 seconds on each leg)
  • Prone planks (~30 seconds)
  • Side planks (~20 seconds on each side)
  • Supine planks (~15 seconds)
  • Clamshells (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Quadrupeds (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Double leg hip bridges (10 repetitions)
  • Toe yoga (10 repetitions for each foot)
  • Fire hydrants (5 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (5 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (5 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balance (~20 seconds on each leg)

After this I did about 10 minutes of foam rolling.  I focused on the hip flexors and quadriceps, as well as hamstrings and calves, which are areas commonly tight in runners, including me.

I will go into more detail on these in future posts. So stay tuned…

Recommendation: Perform the dynamic warmup included in the video posted below, or perform the dynamic warm-up that I mentioned above. This may take you 10-15 minutes if you are just getting used to the exercises, but take the time now to begin learning and doing them. After the dynamic warm-up, perform a 20-40 minute run at an easy pace, in as flat an area as possible. You may perform the exercises I have listed above, if you are familiar with them and can perform them properly. If not, I will provide instruction on them in future posts. I highly recommend a cool-down with foam rolling, static stretching, or active isolated stretching. At a minimum do some static stretching, as I will be discussing cool-down in more depth in a future post.

Tip for the Day: A dynamic warm-up is a must before all of your runs to begin activating those muscles important for running. Some of the injuries that occur in runners can be attributed to not performing a dynamic warm-up. So, don’t let injuries prevent you from achieving your running goals, take 5-10 minutes and perform a dynamic warm-up. This is as important for you as the run itself.

Dynamic warm-ups, which involve motion, have been found in research studies, to be much more effective in facilitating engaging the appropriate muscles for running than static stretching or no warm-up at all.  Thus, these muscles will immediately support your running and make you more efficient and effective, while reducing your risk of soreness and injury.  Here is one of the dynamic warm-ups that I typically use:


Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.

Be your best self today


Your friend and coach.