First Steps To Achieving Your Running Goals for 2019!

June 9 2018 pic 1 distant goal

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  – Lao Tzu

Hello Runners,

Happy New Year! I hope that 2018 was a great year for you. If so, and even if not, I hope you a looking forward to an amazing 2019. I know that I certainly am! This year is my 35th year of running and I will be training to improve upon my marathon PR, with the ultimate goal to break 3 hours. My plan is to run a late summer or early fall marathon and will begin training next week. I plan to use the first couple of months of training for fitness training, before I transition into marathon-specific training, since I took about three weeks off from running while recently visiting New Zealand, which was awesome!

This fitness training will allow me to build my aerobic base and focus more on my running form (running economy) to make myself an efficient runner. The emphasis for my marathon-specific training will be to continue improving my running economy and aerobic fitness and then to build speed.

Depending on your goals and current fitness level, you may not need to train as long, however, if you have taken some significant time off from running, or if you are a beginner who is planning to complete your first marathon, you might consider taking at least 1-3 months to progressively build your aerobic fitness before engaging in marathon-specific training. I also strongly recommend performing strengthening exercises that will help you improve your form and minimize the risk of injury.

Next week, I will begin daily posts of what I did for my training, as well as recommendations and tips. You can access these posts at under Blog Posts. For those who opted in through my website to receive emails with tips and recommendations, I will send weekly summaries, so that you are not being constantly bombarded with emails! However, you can also access the daily posts, as I just mentioned. The tips and recommendations can help guide you to improve your running performance, although you may consider a more customized training program to meet your specific needs.

I believe the beginning of each year is a great time to assess your health, fitness, and running form. This is a great time to meet with your physician, if you haven’t recently, to assess for cardiovascular disease risk factors, hormone and various vitamin and mineral levels.  Assessing these can help you identify any areas that may need addressing, so that you can maximize your running performance and your health.

I strongly recommend the following post for guidelines on what assessments to do before you begin your training for this year:

I want to talk a little bit more about iron and vitamin D, which I mentioned in the articles above, since these are commonly low in runners, and so vital for performance and health.


  • Why it’s important
    • Iron is a primary component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to your exercising muscles for energy production to allow you to run
    • Thus, iron levels can affect running performance
  • What test(s) are best to assess iron levels?
    • Serum ferritin test
    • Tissue-mineral analysis, very accurate, but very expensive!
  • What do I do if my iron levels are low?
    • You should discuss your test results with your physician, and if your levels are low discuss supplementation options with your physician
  • What should you consider as far as selecting a supplement
    • Most important factors are safety, absorption, and effectiveness
    • Choose natural forms: ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate, and ferrous sulfate, NOT the ferric forms of these
  • What type of supplements are best?
    • I recommend a whole food as opposed to a synthetic supplement
    • Whole food supplements will display: “100% Whole Food”, “From Whole Food Source”, “Naturally Occurring Food Sources”, “Food-Based” or something similar
    • Beware! “Natural” does not mean whole food based and is often primarily synthetic
  • Why are whole food supplements better?
    • Generally, more effective and safer than synthetic supplements
    • You get a better balance of nutrients and synergistic effects, which are better for your health and performance
  • Are there health issues with high iron levels?
    • Yes, so you should be tested and discuss supplementation with your physician before taking any iron supplements
    • High levels of iron are toxic and can lead to heart disease
  • Who doesn’t need an iron supplement?
    • Generally, men and postmenopausal women because body’s stores are high enough

Vitamin D:

  • Why it’s important
    • Affects all aspects of health including: bone health, maintains nervous system, heart function, normal blood clotting, fights colds and flus, plays an important role in cancer prevention
  • What test is best to assess Vitamin D levels?
    • 25 hydroxycholecalciferol (yes this is a mouthful and not super easy to say!) test
  • Best source
    • Production in the skin when contacted by the sun’s UVB rays
    • This is a problem though in most areas of the U.S. during the winter months because it’s impossible to get enough UVB exposure then, therefore you will most likely need to supplement during winter months
  • What do I do if my Vitamin D are low?
    • You should discuss your test results with your physician and if your levels are low discuss supplementation options with your physician, especially for the winter months
  • Should I supplement all year around?
    • Probably not, because your body can most likely produce enough vitamin D from sun exposure, except for the winter months. Again, you should discuss this with your physician
    • For the non-winter months you should get enough vitamin D as long as you are getting about 10-15 minutes of sun exposure at noon or early afternoon at least twice per week on the face, arms, hands, or back without sunscreen
  • What are the best supplements for Vitamin D?
    • Food-based which specifically say vitamin D, mixed form of vitamin D, or primarily vitamin D3 (active form of vitamin D)
    • Probably the best is high quality cod liver oil (although not super yummy), although be weary of mercury toxicity
    • Another option is a vitamin D-only supplement, I usually take the one by Thorne Research (vitamin D3/K2). You can check, which is a great source for quality of supplements (they do charge $35 per year)
    • You should take any vitamin D supplement with food, especially fat to help with absorption
  • Are there health issues with high vitamin D levels?
    • Yes, so you should be tested and discuss supplementation with your physician before taking a vitamin D supplement
    • High levels of vitamin D have been associated with certain cancers

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.  Next, we’ll talk about running shoes and attire, as well as running in the cold and wind.

Be your best self today.

Your friend and coach,



–              Beyond Training by Ben Greenfield. Victory Belt Publishing, Inc. 2014.

–              Super Nutrition Academy, Yuri Elkaim (Registered Holistic Nutritionist)


All the information presented in this blog post is for educational and resource purposes only.  It is there to help you make informed decisions about health-related fitness issues.  It is not a substitute for any advice given to you by your physician.  Always consult your physician or health care provider before beginning any exercise program or taking any supplementation.  Use of the advice and information contained in this blog post is at sole choice and risk of the reader.

Coach Brian Hand has no ties or investments in Thorne Research and does not receive any form of compensation for mentioning Thorne Research or their products in this blog post.

What Are Your Vitamin D Levels and Other Important Testing for Runners and Triathletes

I hope that you are all psyched for achieving your goals for 2015! I know that I am! I came within 27 seconds of attaining my marathon goal for 2014 (3:05) and this year I want to achieve that goal and get closer to my ultimate marathon goal (breaking 3 hours)! Not bad for a guy who was repeatedly told by his cross-country coach that he had no talent.

Last month I talked about goal setting. In this article I want to talk about the importance of having a checkup and blood work done before you get too far into your training for 2015. This is important because you want to insure that you don’t have conditions that could lead to serious injuries or health issues that could put you out of training for several months or longer. So, if you haven’t done this recently, I recommend meeting with your physician for a checkup and to have blood work done. You should be assessed for the presence of heart disease and/or risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Back in the 1980s there was a runner named Jim Fixx who died while out on a run. Jim helped me get into running with his book The Complete Book of Running. Jim had been a smoker throughout his life and his family had a history of heart disease. Jim took up running to improve his health and he helped get many others into running, including myself with his books. Unfortunately, he had heart disease and died one day on a run. He was 40 when he died.

In addition to being checked for heart disease or heart disease risk factors, women who are postmenopausal, or who are pre-menopausal and have irregular or no menstrual cycles, as well as anyone who is especially thin, should be assessed for bone mineral density. Low bone mineral density, referred to as osteopenia or osteoporosis, can increase the risk of fractures.

Finally, you should also have blood work done to check for the following:

– Lipid (cholesterol) profile

– Fasting blood glucose (sugar) levels

– Complete blood count (CBC), which includes testing for red blood cell (RBC) count, hemoglobin, and hematocrit (the percentage of blood composed of red blood cells)

– Levels or concentration of ferritin, which is a measure of your body’s iron reserves

– Vitamin D levels

– Cortisol levels

Lipid profile and fasting blood glucose levels are important, however the focus of the rest of this article will be on red blood cell count, iron, vitamin D, and cortisol. I will talk more about cholesterol and blood glucose sugar in future articles relating to nutrition.

Red blood cell count and iron

Why are red blood cell and iron levels important?

– Red blood cells and iron play vital roles in carrying oxygen to your exercising muscle, as well as other tissues

– Lower than normal levels of these can result in iron deficiency anemia, which can result in fatigue, heart rates higher than normal at lower exercise intensities, shortness of breath, sluggishness, light-headedness, paleness, loss of appetite, poor recovery, and subpar performance

What causes iron deficiency?

– Diminished dietary iron intake

– Excessive iron losses

– Often occurs in women up to the age of 50 because of iron losses every month during menstruation

– Those who are on a vegetarian diet may be at higher risk

– Running can contribute to iron deficiency because of loss of iron in sweat and through breakdown of red blood cells (hemolysis) that occurs through repeated landing of the feet on hard surfaces, an increased speed of red blood cell movement through the bloodstream, and acidosis from high-intensity training

– Iron-deficiency anemia affects 3-5% of all women in the U.S.

– 26-60% of female athletes are affected by iron deficiency

What if you are iron deficient?

– Talk to your healthcare provider about taking an iron supplement

– Adequate diet including daily intake of iron-rich heme and non-heme foods

– Heme (more readily absorbable form of iron) foods include: red meat and dark poultry

– Non-heme foods include: dried fruit, dark greens, beans, whole grains, and soy foods

– Increase absorption of iron by including foods containing vitamin C

– Consider using a cast-iron skillet for cooking acidic foods such as spaghetti sauce

– Cook foods for a short amount of time in a minimal amount of water

– Consume iron-fortified foods

– For vegetarians consume plenty of legumes, nuts, and seeds and foods rich in vitamin C

Vitamin D – Vitamin D is vital for numerous functions in the body. Sunlight initiates vitamin D synthesis in the body. However, because it is February, vitamin D will not be produced in high enough levels due to sun exposure only. Last February when I had my vitamin D levels checked I was surprised to find how low my levels were. So I have had to use a vitamin D supplement to help raise my levels.

Why is vitamin D important?

– For absorption of calcium for bone health

– Vitamin D contributes to a variety of other important functions in the body too extensive for this article!

– Some research has suggested relationships between vitamin D intake and cancer prevention, increased immunity, and blood glucose regulation

How Do We Get Adequate Vitamin D?

– Sunlight

– Fatty fish, such as salmon (I highly recommend wild caught) and tuna, and foods fortified with vitamin D

– Supplements


What is cortisol?

– A major stress hormone

– Regulator of the immune system

– Can negatively impact sleep, mood, bone health, ligament health, cardiovascular health, and running performance

– Primary function is to increase the breakdown of muscles in the body, inhibits the uptake of glucose into the body’s cells, and increases the breakdown of fats

What are the effects of higher than normal cortisol levels?

– Causes the body to be constantly breaking down muscle

– Causes suppression of the immune system

– Lowers levels of other important hormones including testosterone and DHEA (dehydroepiaandrosterone)

– Can increase risk of development of upper respiratory tract infections

What can cause increased levels of cortisol?

– Overtraining

– Training in a carbohydrate-depleted state (following a low-carbohydrate diet)

– High-intensity and long-duration training

Signs that your cortisol levels may be high, besides having these levels measured, include: mood swings, lack of motivation to run, and loss of muscle and appetite

How do you control cortisol levels?

– Daily nutrition is important which includes consuming enough carbohydrates to support your energy needs

– Research has also shown that including glutamine and branched chain amino acids (BCAA), which you can typically get by eating whole foods, during your post exercise nutrition plan can help

Please contact me at if you have questions or comments.  I would love to hear from you!

See you on the road or trail,