Saturday, May 31, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #2- Race Day!

The day you've worked so hard for has finally arrived! All the miles, sacrifices, and pain. Don't blow it now!

Pre Race

- Get up! You need to be out of bed 3 hours before the race starts. Eat a carbohydrate breakfast and drink at least 12 ounces of water or sports drink. Go to the bathroom! I usually drink 2 cups of coffee, but limit that to 1 on race day.

- Gear. Double check your race gear one more time to make sure you have everything you'll need. Take snacks and fluids to the start.

- Hydrate. Stop drinking about an hour before the start so you have plenty of time for bathroom trips. With about 10 minutes to go, drink 8-12 ounces of sports drink one more time.


- Your pace the first mile or 2 is crucial. You want to do everything possible to conserve precious muscle glycogen, because the faster you run, the faster you burn it. Hold back and check your 1 mile split. Slow down if your first mile is faster than your anticipated pace.

-Practice energy conservation. Tuck in behind other runners whenever possible. Focus on smooth, relaxed running. Make it feel easy.

-Drink at the aid stations. A few sips at every stop. I take sports drink or switch to water if I take a gel.

-Carbohydrates. You should try to take in 200-250 calories per hour. These days more often than not you have a choice of sports drinks or gels. While hundreds of thousands of long distance athletes use gels without complaint, distance running expert Owen Anderson is not convinced they are the best choice. "...dump a load of goo into your stomach along with a little liquid, it's hard to know what the actual CONCENTRATION of that carbohydrate will be. That concern is not an esoteric one: if the carbo concentration is too high (too much goo, not enough liquid), the carbohydrate will be absorbed slowly and may even pull fluid into your gut - lowering your blood volume and dehydrating you in the process. If the carbo levels are too low (too little goo, too much water), not enough carbs will get to your muscles, and you'll limp through the final miles of the marathon with sad, glycogen-depleted legs. The commercial sports drinks are formulated just right, I always say, so why not just use them ..."

If you use gel, remember they are very concentrated. Crank Sports, maker of e-Gel, recommends 14 oz of water between each one. You'll start the race with water in your system, but that will need to be replaced throughout the race. Each gel has roughly 100 calories, so if you take 1 gel per hour, you should maintain a drinking rate of 7 oz plain water every 30 minutes. You'll still be at least 100 calories short, so take some sports drink along the way to make up the difference. This is something you'll have to experiment with. I recently took about 6 gels during the Vancouver Marathon over 3 hours with no problem, and I know that I was not drinking 28 oz each hour. I've also carried gels on training runs and not had any problems.

If you go with a sports drink, 4 ounces has 30 calories, so you need to drink 28 ounces per hour to get your 200 calories, or 7 oz every 15 minutes.


"The day of the marathon I watched in amazement as he cut all the tangents in Central Park while Smith ran down the middle of the road. The measurement difference between miles 23 to 25 was approximately 50 meters!(tangents vs. middle of the road). It is my opinion that Rod didn't run one step faster - just every step smarter."

–david katz, well-known expert on marathon course design and measurement recalling Rod Dixon's New York City Marathon victory in 1983.

Don't run more distance than you have to! I've been running shorter distances than my competitors for years. Take the shortest distance at every opportunity.

The perfect marathon is run with even splits. In other words, your goal is to run the second half in the same time you ran the first half. This is very difficult to do, especially for the novice. Hold back early or the last 6 miles will be a very painful experience.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #3- Carbohydrate Loading

Every runner on the planet has heard of carbohydrate loading, and most major marathons sponsor pre-race carbohydrate loading dinners the evening before their race.

A word to the wise- don't get carried away! Some runners think loading gives them a license to eat as much as the last 72 hours, while others focus more on desserts and cookies. In other words, fat loading.

According to the Australian Institute of Sport, if you do it correctly, carbohydrate loading can improve run performance by 2%-3%. That may not sound like much, but 3% translates to 5 minutes for a 3 hour marathoner and 7 minutes for a 4 hour runner. That's not bad!

What's the trick to maximizing the benefits of loading carbohydrates? Over the years physiologists have found modest success with different protocols. Here are 2 of the best.


As you taper your distance, do one last hard but short effort about 72 hours before your race. I like 4 x 800s.

Immediately following your workout, begin your focus on carbohydrates. This study in the European J of Applied Physiology found that glycogen loaded muscles will stay that way for up to 5 days as long as you rest and maintain a high carbohydrate intake. While its ok to start that early, I prefer 3 days.

Research has shown that muscles will stock more if you spread out your intake over 4 hours rather than eating 1 large meal following a hard workout. It makes sense to me that you continue this "carbohydrate grazing" technique following each of your short taper workouts.

A common problem associated with 3 days of carbohydrate loading is the disruption in your normal eating pattern. Your trying to stuff yourself when you aren't very hungry. Your reduced training load along with the extra fiber in many carbohydrate foods leaves you with no appetite.


More research out of Australia has uncovered an effective strategy that may work as well or even better (see Tip #5: The Taper). They found ample super compensation in athletes that performed 1 very hard 3 minute exercise bout followed by just 24 hours of carb. loading ( Do this 2 days before your race and rest the day before.

Since it takes 10 hours or more for any one meal to break down and reach the muscles ( makes sense that what you eat 2 days before may be more important than that big pre race pasta party.

I always try to get a sufficient amount of fiber the day before, snacking on foods like popcorn or whole grain fig newtons. Stick mainly with high carbohydrate foods, but stay with food groups you are used to. For me, that's oatmeal, cereal, pasta, bread, fruit, and vegetables.

Since muscle glycogen is heavy and retains water, maintain a sufficient intake of fluids and keep an eye on the scale. You know you are ready when you are a couple of pounds heavy.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: # 4- Check List

Use a pre marathon check list so you don't forget anything on race day. If you are flying, by all means NEVER put your racing shoes with check-in baggage. Always stow them in your carry-on, along with anything else you consider essential for running your best marathon.

Weather: Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. Will you need plastic garbage bags or extra layers of throw away clothes to protect you from the elements before the start? What about sunscreen?

Nourishment on the course: If you don't know, call the race organizers to find out what they plan to offer at aid stations. Then you'll know what to bring.

Travel arrangements: How are you getting to the start? How are you getting back? Where is the start? Where is the finish? Work this out in advance.

Snacks-Bring plenty to eat. Sometimes you get hungry waiting for the start.

Water- Bring your own water to the race start.

Race gear- Shoes, Socks, Singlet or Top, Shorts, Timing Chip, Sunglasses. Prepare everything the night before. Pin your number on your shirt and lay everything out so you don't waste any time the morning of your race.

Race number belt- If you have a race number belt, it's easier to remove clothing during the race. An alternative is to pin your number on your shorts instead of your shirt or top. More often than not temperatures are warming the longer you run so you may wish to discard something.

Watch or GPS: Don't forget to charge it!

Hat and visor: A hat or visor is nice to have rain or shine. My rule is cap if it's cool, visor if it's warm so I always pack both.

Money- Cab fare, food, or beer after. You never know.

Dry clothes and shoes for after. I like to have warm dry clothes ready to put on after the race. And something very comfortable for my feet.

Camera: Record some before and after memories!

(c) Dave Elger 2008 All rights considered

Coffee Before Breakfast Spikes Blood Sugar

According to the study by University of Guelph researchers, blood sugar levels in people who ate low-sugar cereal were 250 per cent higher if they drank caffeinated coffee before or with breakfast, compared to decaf

This has implications for runners who like to drink coffee with some cereal before running. If you wait too long before running your blood sugar may already be dropping, giving you that light-headed, weak feeling during your run.

Monday, May 26, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #5 The Taper

Peaking for a big race is a matter of properly balancing a drop in miles while maintaining or even increasing intensity of training in the days leading up to your event. Using the correct tapering protocol is one key to a successful peak performance on race day.

According to a study carried out at E. Carolina University as described by Owen Anderson in Peak Performance, experienced runners tapered for a 5K by running just 15% of their average weekly mileage in the week prior to their race. Each day during that final week they performed a descending number of 400 meter intervals at race pace: 8 x 400 the first day, 5 x 400 the 2nd day, 4 x 400 the 3rd day. On race day, the test group improved their 5K times by an average of 29 seconds! Who wouldn't be satisfied with that?

To taper for a marathon, Anderson, founder and editor of Running Research News, suggests starting out 4 weeks before your race with a 75%-50%-30%-15% plan. In other words, a month before your race, run 75% of your average weekly mileage, and the final week cut it to just 15%. He believes runners should drop any slow long runs as the race gets close, with that last week running a tempo-type descending interval program similar to what the E. Carolina runners followed.

Other research cited by Anderson has shown that as long as intensity remains constant, fitness can be preserved for up to 15 weeks despite a drop in volume by up to 67%!

I would not be foolish enough to try holding 15 week taper, but before any marathon I would recommend following these principles recommended by Anderson as closely as possible with one exception. I feel 4 weeks is a bit long for a taper. I like your last hard effort to be the 1/2 marathon trial 3 weeks out, followed by sufficient recovery.

With 2 weeks to go, cut back on the easy long stuff and keep the intensity high with some short intervals. I would substitute 20-25 minute tempo runs if you are not accustomed to high intensity intervals.

Here is another twist. According to Anderson, researchers at the University of Western Australia have uncovered a new protocol for boosting muscle glycogen before a long race. Athletes following a typical high carbohydrate diet were asked to perform a 150 second high intensity session (130 % V02 max) followed by a 30 second all out sprint. The next day muscle glycogen levels were found to have increased by 82% over the day before!

So along with cutting back your distance to just 15% of your weekly average, Anderson suggests performing an all out 3 minute effort 2 days before your marathon, then filling up on carbs and taking the day off before your race.

Anderson also believes it's a good idea to use the 3-minutes of hard running idea at the end of your regular moderate to easy workouts to prevent mid-week dips in your muscle glycogen.

Like anything else, this is something you should test before using prior to an important race. If you use a mini-version 3-4 day version before your time trial, in reality you will be extending your marathon taper out to nearly 4 weeks.

(c) Dave Elger, 2008 All rights reserved

Saturday, May 24, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #6- The Time Trial

On April 20th, Mary Akor ran 2 hr 39 min 34 seconds to place 19th at the Olympic Marathon Trials. On May 4th, just 2 weeks later Mary won the BMO Vancouver Marathon in 2 hrs 37 min 52 seconds.

On April 12th, on a spur of the moment decision, I jumped into the Moab Marathon and ran 3hr 7 min. Three weeks later at Vancouver I ran 2 hr 56 min 36 sec.

First of all, let me say emphatically that I do not endorse running a full marathon just 2-3 weeks before your targeted race. I do believe, however, that there is some value to putting in a hard effort at the T-minus 3 week mark. If you look at this study on downhill running, there appears to be a 3-6 week post workout window that optimizes a protective effect against muscle soreness and tissue damage.

From personal experience, I think an all-out half marathon 3 weeks prior to your marathon is the perfect scenario to minimize tissue damage and muscle soreness on race day. You'll tear down muscle tissue causing some soreness, recover, and go into your race even stronger than you were just 3 weeks earlier. I would be mildly surprised if your legs don't do a much better job handling the pounding compared to any previous marathon attempts.

A time trial also affords the opportunity to give your shoes and other racing gear a dry run. Use this race to go over your pre-race rituals and racing strategy including what to eat the night before, when to get up, how much to drink, eating and drinking during your race, and to get a feel for what kind of pace you can handle.

If there are no half marathons on the schedule 3 or 4 weeks prior to your marathon, plan for and do a solo time trial on your own. It won't be fun, but you certainly won't regret having done it come race day.

(c)Dave Elger 2008 All rights reserved

Thursday, May 22, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #7- The 4 Week Push

For lack of a better description, I am calling it the 4 Week Push. "It" is a key period of time starting 6 weeks before your scheduled marathon ending 2 weeks before.

We all know that unless you are a professional runner or retired, marathon training never goes as well as we'd like. Work, family obligations, and vacations often interfere, and while missing one or two workouts may not be a big deal over 10-12 weeks, I think it might over 4 weeks.

If possible, I highly encourage runners to take this 4 week stretch before your marathon very seriously. This is the time to put aside other distractions and give your workouts a higher priority. Don't schedule any trips, unless of course it frees up your time. Focus on those 3 key workouts- the long run, the interval, and the tempo. Get your rest, eat right, and give those workouts your best effort.

When I turned 40, I stumbled onto this by accident. While I had been doing my 16-17 mile runs on the weekend, I upped a second 10-12 miler to 16-17, so did 2 of those 48 hours apart over a 4 week span leading up to my marathons. It worked beautifully, as I was able to break 2 hr 40 minutes in 5 different races, never running further than 18 miles in a workout.

Too often I've seen runners put in weeks of training, only to sabotage their work by losing their edge in the last month. Don't let it happen.

(c) Dave Elger 2008 All rights reserved

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Findings on EPO Production

Interesting article here in the San Diego Union Tribune about EPO and the possibility that skin plays a role in it's production.

Is it possible that you can boost EPO by sleeping in an altitude tent simulating extremely high elevations with your head outside breathing normal sea level air?

Top 10 Male- 30th Annual Rhody Run, Port Townsend, WA

1. Uli Steidl Shoreline, WA 2 M 36..........................38:19
2. Bereket Piatt Port Townsend, WA 2944 M 16..........42:26
3. Damian Hill Bellingham, WA 1424 M 24...............42:49
4. John Christian Port Angeles, WA 246 M 16...........43:12
5. Steve Mattina Vancouver, BC 2005 M 37..............43:33
6. Sam Hennessey Port Angeles, WA 559 M 18............44:39
7. Donald Young Port Townsend, WA 5 M 44..............45:02
8. Lance Docken Edgewood, WA 1750 M 41................45:27
9. Dave Elger Coupeville, WA 2012 M 54................45:39
10. Michael Cassella-Blackb Port Townsend, WA 6 M 50...45:53

This was a great run- 30th year, with a handful of locals that have proudly competed in every one. rhodyrun

I felt very good- considering 2 weeks post marathon. My last 2 miles were the fastest. I almost feel like I need to start doing some 200 and 400 meter repeats- leg speed is more limiting than aerobic capacity.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #8- Running Efficiency

Running over a distance of 26.2 miles requires a great deal of energy, which will vary dependent on factors such as body weight, heat, wind, hills, and running economy. The greatest marathoners often spend the least amount of energy. They are light, and run very efficiently.

Without making any dramatic changes in your running form that may predispose you to injury, here are a few tips that can help you become a more efficient, faster runner.

1. Take shorter strides. Over striding, identified by landing heel first in front of your hips, is a very inefficient way to run. More up and down movement increases energy cost, not to mention the increased contact time with the road and greater force of impact. On your long runs, tempo, and interval sessions, focus on landing directly under your hips, allowing your foot to take more of a glancing blow with the road as opposed to a hard direct heel first landing.

2. Faster turnover. To compensate for your new shorter strides, make sure your cadence is quicker. According to most experts, the ideal is 180 steps per minute, or 90 per 30 seconds. Time your foot strikes and try to hit that number, letting that tempo eventually become second nature.

3. Use you arms. It takes less energy to move a shorter lever through space. For this reason, elbows should be bent at a 90 degree angle or even less. Arms should swing freely, held close to the body with elbows in. Common errors you will see are elbows held out too far or too straight.

4. Relaxation. The best runners are usually the ones that look the smoothest and most relaxed. While this comes natural to a select few, most of us have to make a conscious effort to run relaxed.

5. Posture. Bending forward or slouching is the most common mistake. Former Olympian Jeff Galloway says "strong, upright carriage is one of the most important aspects of running."

Remember your objective when perfecting your running form- spend the least amount of energy without sacrificing pace.

(c) Dave Elger 2008 All rights reserved

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hot Weather Marathon Running- Look What Can Happen!

Remember 1984? The first Olympic Marathon for women. American Joan Benoit took the gold, but who can forget the finish by Gabrielle Anderson-Scheiss.

Friday, May 16, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #9-Acclimatization-

photo by Jose M. Osorio

Don't let this happen to you!

In April of 2004, the Boston Marathon was run in temperatures that reached well into the 80s. Emerging from an entire winter of hard training, most of the 16,743 finishers were not prepared for such brutal conditions. More than 1,100 runners were treated for heat-related problems that day, and thankfully nobody died.

One man in the 2007 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon was not so fortunate. Conditions at that race, held in early October, became so oppressive the normally well-stocked aid stations ran out of water, forcing race director Carey Pinkowski to halt the race after 4 hours. More than 300 were removed from the course by ambulance, and nearly 11,000 did not finish. One of those was Chad Schieber, a 35 year old police officer from Midland, Michigan, who died from apparent heat-related complications.

The lesson is clear. Never underestimate the importance of preparing for heat. You can be in the best shape of your life but it makes little difference even on a moderately warm day unless you've acclimatized your body.

Heat acclimatization is accomplished through repeated running is hot or humid conditions. Over the course of about 2 weeks of hot weather training, your body adapts by dissipating heat much more efficiently, with the effects remaining about a week after you stop.

The ideal temperature for marathons is mid-40s. As your race approaches, if there is any remote chance of temperatures rising out of the 50s, you would be wise to over dress for all training runs starting 3 weeks beforehand. If it's cool outside, wear 2-3 layers. If it warms up during the day, if possible wait before you start your workout. Plan to drink extra water, and don't forget to weigh yourself before and after your longer runs.

Believe me, acclimatization works. I recall wearing sweats in preparing for my NAIA marathon race back in 1975 and 76, knowing the Arkansas heat and humidity was going to be tough. In 2002, I ran 2hr 59min in the Singapore Marathon, where the temperature at 6:30 am was reported at 85 degrees. At the time I was living in Okinawa, fully aware that even those temperatures were not going to be hot enough without additional clothing.

It may be uncomfortable for a few weeks, but you'll be thankful on race day.

(c) Dave Elger 2008 All rights reserved

Thursday, May 15, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing #10- Other Exercises

While running is very good for you, it's not an all-inclusive exercise. If all you do is run, eventually you'll end up overdeveloping some muscle groups (hip flexors, hamstrings) and under developing others (leg abduction/adduction, and upper body).

Over the years I've noticed these deficiencies becoming more pronounced. When I was younger, I could get away with just running and always felt strong. Now, I know which muscles need the most attention because I can feel it!

1. Weak Back- Neglected by most runners, I feel back discomfort during hilly runs. The fix is back extensions - I do mine on an exercise ball, locking feet under a heavy piece of furniture and resting my waist on the ball. I like to do light dumbbell reverse flys in that position also.

2. Hip Flexors- Mine are very tight. I like to open my hips and stretch the flexors using a standard yoga posture (seen here)

3. Tight Achilles, Lower Calf- Mine are very tight. Fortunately I have no problems but I can feel they need regular stretching with a Pro Stretch , by lowering heels carefully off of an edge or the standard wall push.
4. Upper body- I am weak! I do regular push-ups with push-up bars- only 1 set of 30 followed by another set of 30 arm curls with 15# dumbbells. If I had access to a pull-up bar I would be doing those along with overhead presses.

5. Weak Abs- I do the bicycle and reverse crunches.

6. Tight Hamstrings- Mine are tight and one that is weaker than the other, so I work it with standing curls using an ankle weight- 3 sets of 50. Evening stretching is mandatory.

7 Leg Abductors are weak- Side leg raises using the ankle weight solves this one nicely. I just have to make sure my leg is kept straight and parallel. This exercise is effective for reducing some of the strain on the IT band.

8. Quads are weak- I am a terrible uphill runner. I like the uphill repeats on a bike that I mentioned in #13.

9. Overall lower body weakness: I like the Hindu Squats for developing gluts, quads, and hamstrings. An overall great lower body exercise for runners.

My problem, of course, consistency with all of this. is a great site with pictures of exercises you can do at home.

The bottom line: Don't neglect muscles that never get used, and stretch the muscles that get used the most. Focus on the muscles that you know are a problem. Establish an alternating routine that takes a few minutes a day, and work one set of muscles every other day. Stretch every night!

(c) Dave Elger 2008, All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #11 Nutrition

17 gram fiber lunch

"I remember lunch at school, trying to save lunch money and I'd eat two ice cream sandwiches and then I'd go out and run track practice. I would be starving by the time I got home" - Bill Rodgers interview,

Rodgers, a 4-time winner of Boston and New York Marathons, admittedly did not have the best eating habits, but it didn't seem to slow him down any. Perhaps the most famous American distance runner ever, Steve Prefontaine, was a legendary beer drinker.

Training for a marathon significantly increases your need for energy. You'll probably notice increased hunger and cravings for certain foods. Don't worry, this is normal.

Instead of recommending guidelines for eating, I'll give you my eating routine.

Dave's Diet While Marathon Training

1. Eat when I am hungry. As a runner, I find myself "grazing" most of the day, especially after a morning run of any significance. I probably do not go more than an hour in any given day without eating or drinking calories.

I focus on high fiber foods like whole wheat crackers, nuts, sandwich with whole wheat bread, fruit, vegetables, and popcorn. I'll rarely binge on cookies or chips unless it's laying around. I learned a long time ago not to shop hungry and not to buy the stuff I know I shouldn't be eating. Being hungry all of the time can be annoying, so I usually do not go anywhere without carrying a protein bar so something to curb my appetite.

2. Breakfast. Coffee jump starts every day. Then something to eat. Sometimes I eat breakfast twice- one before running and one after. Whole wheat cereal, oatmeal, 1 egg, and fruit.

3. Lunch. Usually a sandwich or soup with extra vegetables, kidney beans, and whole wheat noodles thrown in.

4. Dinner. I am pretty consistent: Fish 2x week, steak 1 x week, pizza 1 x week, spaghetti or other pasta 1 x wk, chicken 1 x wk. I usually get at least 1 meal a week out of leftovers. Frozen vegetables or a salad, with every meal. Unless it's pizza or pasta, I'll have a potato or rice at every meal. I never eat dessert.

5. Beer- 3 per day (THAT IS PROBABLY 1 TOO MANY!)

6. Timing. I try to eat a light snack before running, and within 30 minutes after. I've noticed that if I wait too long to run after eating (45 minutes or so), occasionally I will notice a drop in blood sugar, which ruins the workout in a hurry.

7. Post long run. I like Slimfast as a recovery drink. It has the ideal 4:1 ratio of protein. Then I'll get a full meal within an hour.

8. Water. Only when I am thirsty. Obviously I drink more during the warm summer months.

If you want specifics, ideally your diet should be around 60% carbohydrates, 15%-20%protein, and 20%-25% fat. I like using Harvard's Healthy Eating Pyramid as a general guide for healthy eating.

(c) Dave Elger 2008 All rights reserved

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #12- Breathing

Have you heard the one about breathing in through your nose and out your mouth? While that may apply to low intensity activities such as meditation or yoga, it has no place, as far as I know, in running.

According to the text Physiology of Sport and Exercise by Wilmore and Costill, the need to breathe increases in direct proportion to the intensity of work. A mild workload such as walking prompts deeper breathing that expands the lungs. As the work becomes more difficult, the rate of breathing also increases.

With the exception of conditions such as asthma or emphysema, breathing should not limit the ability to exercise, even at hard efforts. The volume of air entering the lungs is not the problem- it’s the body’s inability to extract and use oxygen that causes breathlessness when you run fast (inspired air contains roughly 20% oxygen while expired air has about 16%).

Many people are under the false impression that the proper way to breathe while running is to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. I call this “self-induced” asthma, since they are purposely limiting the volume of air delivered to the lungs. This technique has a negative impact on running performance similar to asthma, particularly as speed increases.

Runners should be inhaling and exhaling through both nose AND mouth to a set pattern or rhythm. According to running coach Jack Daniels, most elite runners breathe to a 2-2 rhythm. They breathe in while taking 2 steps and out while taking 2 steps. At an easy pace they may switch to a 3-3 rhythm. One problem with this approach is the habit of always inhaling or exhaling on the same footfall, which some experts believe could be a cause for side stitches. If that’s the case you should consider periodically switching which footfall you are exhaling on, or even changing your breathing rhythm to exhale on alternating right and left footfalls. That gets a little tricky, since you’ll have to adapt an uneven 3-2 or 4-3 breathing pattern (breathing out for more counts than breathing in).

According to DePaul University Track Coach Bill Leach, uneven breathing cycles are effective because pressure within the lung is lower than the atmosphere, causing air to rush in quickly. You’ll want to take a little longer to exhale, since leaving residual carbon dioxide in the lungs can impede the delivery of oxygen on the next inhale.

Fortunately, running at marathon pace does not put you into oxygen debt, however an efficient oxygen delivery system certainly doesn't hurt. The fitter you are, the closer you'll be able to run your marathon at what is called "anaerobic threshold" pace- the intensity where you'll notice breathing becomes labored.

You should be perfecting your breathing rhythm on your long interval and tempo days, running just under or right at your anaerobic threshold. If you are having problems, it will help to practice your breathing pattern while walking before you start running. Over time your new breathing pattern should become second nature.

(c) Dave Elger 2008, All rights reserved

Monday, May 12, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #13- Hills

Mt Fuji Climbing Race - Took me 4 hours to finish this half marathon!

Running hills should be a REQUIRED component of your training if the marathon you are training for has any significant change in elevation, up or down.

Run up a hill and you can immediately feel the difference compared to flats. Breathing becomes labored very quickly, and quads fatigue rapidly. Instead of moving your body mass horizontally, you've added a vertical component that dramatically increases energy expenditure and recruits additional muscle fibers.

There are any number of ways to add hills to your training. Because of added stress on the Achilles tendons, calf muscles, and knees, beginners should proceed with caution. While there are many different types of hill workouts, here are some that are commonly used:

Option 1: Design a 4-5 mile route that includes 2-4 significant hills.
Option 2: Find a hill that measures 300-400 meters and run repetitions up.
Option 3: Find a long hill several miles long (common in the mountains).
Option 4: Find a short, steep hill, and run repetitions up 10-15 seconds hard.

According to Amby Burfoot of Runners Runners World, Dr. Gabriel Rosa, coach of many champion Kenyan runners, uses a strenuous hill workout every 10 days. One favorite is a 13 mile run that rises over 4,000 feet. Pretty tough when your starting point is already at altitude!

How do you fit hills into your training routine? The regular interval day is such a critical piece of your training, I would not give that up to do hills. I prefer to add this workout as a substitute for the weekend 5K or tempo workout twice a month.

Here is hill workout that I like that not many other marathoners are practicing. On one of my scheduled easy or off days, I like doing hill repeats on that 300-400 meter hill with a bike! Stand on the pedals as long as you can to simulate running, but sit when you have to. I think you'll find 5-6 of those is plenty!

Many coaches typically introduce hills early in a marathon build-up, then abandon them after their athletes have built strength and move on to a speed focused phase. Why risk losing the benefits? Stick with them until your taper or switch exclusively to the bike.

(c) Dave Elger, All rights reserved 2008.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #14- Race Frequently

A surprising number of first timers make the mistake of using the marathon as their first exposure to racing. While they may survive, the marathon experience usually goes smoother for runners who have participated in several shorter races beforehand.

1. You'll become more familiar with pre-race rituals such as how early to get up, how much coffee can you afford to drink, how much and when can you eat, hydration, going to the bathroom, and what items to bring.

2. You'll get the opportunity to wear your racing gear to see if there are any problems with shoes or clothing. No doubt you'll pick up some ideas from seeing what others have.

3. You'll experience pre-race anxiety. This is a big one. Nervousness before a race can be overwhelming if you've never experienced it. Taking part in a few low-key races can help prepare you.

4. Racing is a great conditioner! You never run as hard in a workout as you do in a race. What a great opportunity for a quality tempo run.

5. Use short races as a gauge for how your fitness is progressing. Sometimes racing is the only way to evaluate if your training is really working.

6. Use short races to break up your training. Week after week of training with no racing can get rather tedious. You'll want to rest a day or 2 before a short race.

7. Nothing like a good race to give you a great psychological boost.

8. Races are a great place to network. No better place to meet a new running buddy or learn about local group runs.

My favorite distance is the 5K; short, fast, and recovery is quick. Racing a 5k once or twice a month throughout your marathon preparation will not only make you a better runner; it will also make you a better marathoner.

(c) Dave Elger, 2008 All rights reserved

Friday, May 9, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #15- Weigh Yourself Often

Believe it or not, the bathroom scale can play an important role in your preparation for an upcoming marathon.

If you happen to have a few pounds to lose, tracking your weight over time gives you another measure of fitness besides time and distance. According to peak performance online, the energy cost of running is about 1 calorie per kilogram per kilometer, meaning you'll burn an extra 93 calories over the marathon distance if you carry an extra kilogram (2.2 pounds). If that doesn't sound like much, just strap an ankle weight on your back next time you run long and see if you don't notice a difference. Imagine carrying 10 extra pounds!

The scale is also important in monitoring dehydration. Make it a point to always weigh yourself before and after long runs. This is a great tool that tells you exactly how much to drink. Try to prevent losing no more than 3% of your total body weight on any long run.

(c) Dave Elger 2008 All rights reserved

How Well Do You Run For Your Age?

The facts of life for a runner are this- starting around 40 years of age, you start slowing down.

The good news is you can still compare yourself to the open runners by using an age-graded calculator. Just plug in your age, sex, distance, and time, and you'll get a prediction of times you would be running if you were still at your peak. You'll also get a percentile grade for your performance- >90% is world class, > 80% is national class, >70% is regional class, >60% is local class.

My recent 2 hr 56 min, 36 sec marathon predicts a 2 hr 36 min 3 sec time, grading out at 81.2%. I can do better! The week prior to the marathon I ran a 17:40 5K, predicting a 15:16, or 84.9%. Based on past performances, that is about where I should be. If I did 84% in the marathon, my time would be around 2 hr 50 min.

Go to to see how your latest performance stacks up.

(c) Dave Elger 2008 All rights reserved

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #16 Rest and Recovery

Many runners don't take the advantage of rest and recovery between races and hard workouts. As a result, what is supposed to be a key workout sometimes turns into a sub-par effort. Not only that, runners that make a habit of abusing recovery time between workouts are subject to an increased risk of illness, injury, and progressively poor running performance.

In it's most basic form, any marathon training program involves repeated tearing down and building up of muscle tissue. Over time, the muscles adapt by increasing the number and size of mitochondria (responsible for energy metabolism), along with enhanced fat burning enzyme activity. Some fast twitch muscle fibers actually take on the characteristics of slow twitch fibers. There is also a higher capillary density, improving blood flow. All of these changes contribute to an improved ability to process oxygen, which translates to faster running with less effort.

The trick is timing and balancing rest periods between hard workouts. Long runs over 2 hours for example, take longer to come back from than a hard interval workout. Most runners should consider a 2 day recovery following any hard workouts. This 1999 study out of Finland measured complete muscle recovery 3 days following an interval workout.

The typical workout schedule might call for a long run on Sunday, intervals on Wednesday, and tempo run or short race on Saturday. Your routine may dictate something different, so don't be afraid to experiment. Recently, I've been having modest success repeating this 3 day cycle:

DAY 1: very easy 30-40 minutes
DAY 2: intervals
DAY 3: long run easy- 2 hours

DAY 4: very easy 30-40 minutes
DAY 5: intervals or tempo
DAY 6: long run easy- 2 hours

DAY 7: very easy 30-40 minutes

I've found that I can do the long easy run comfortably the day following a 25-30 minute interval session. This schedule allows me to get 2 decent long runs and 2 intense workouts, and 3 easy days every week.

Whatever you decide, never underestimate the importance of good rest before and after hard workouts.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

2: 56:36


1.......20.........Guy Smith...............Vancouver BC................2:49:48
2.......35.........Gerard Cantwell........IRELAND......................2:55:29
3.....37....David Elger.......Coupeville WA...................2:56:36
4.......40.........Mark Shorter....... N Vancouver BC..................2:57:31
5.......49.........Dale Gladman......... Mill Bay BC...................3:01:08
6.......90.........Brian Gross........... Victoria BC..................3:09:09
7.......92.........Wolfram Potthoff........GERMANY.....................3:09:20
8.......95.........Peter Gammon............St. John's NF...............3:09:50
9.......108........Leo Lam..................Vancouver BC...............3:10:42
10......110........Joe Kelly................Prince George BC.........3:11:00

I was very pleased with this race- only 3 weeks recovery from the Moab Marathon.

10K split: 41:12
Half: 1 hr 27: 23 sec
2nd Half 1 hr 29: 13 sec
20 miles 2 hr 14: 08 sec

For full results, go here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #17- Tempo Training

Watch this impressive tempo workout by Ryan Hall prior to his Olympic Marathon Trials victory. Remember, Ryan is one of the best runners in the world, so don't try this by yourself!

Although interval training has been found to be a more effective VO2 booster, tempo training should not be abandoned completely. Mentally and physically, sustained race-pace runs give you the feel for racing like no other workout. Since your training is designed to help you run faster, it makes perfectly good sense to do a large block of your running at race pace or faster.

Along with long runs and interval training, tempo runs are the 3rd primary piece of the marathon training puzzle not to be overlooked. To start with, set aside one day per week, and after a 10-15 minute warm-up, get into your tempo (marathon pace) for 5 minutes, slow to a jog, and repeat.

Here is a sample weekly progression to help you introduce tempo training. As with intervals, you should be schedule an easy workout on the previous day. Remember, this is supposed to be done at marathon pace.

More advanced runners can continue to progress. For me, 60 minutes seems to be the upper limit for a good tempo run.

10 min jog.........5 min tempo, 5 min jog x 2..........10 min jog cool-down
10 min jog.........8 min tempo, 5 min jog x 2..........10 min jog cool-down
10 min jog........10 min tempo, 5 min jog x 2..........10 min jog cool-down
10 min jog........10 min tempo, 3 min jog, x 3..........10 min jog cool-down
10 min jog........15 min tempo, 5 min jog, x 2..........10 min jog cool-down
10 min jog........20 min tempo, 5 min jog, 10 min tempo,10 min jog cool-down
10 min jog....... 30 min tempo, 10 min jog cool down

Saturday, May 3, 2008

26 Tips for Marathon Training and Racing: #18- Interval Training

This is the most overlooked and under utilized type of training, yet has the potential to significantly improve your marathon performance. Whether you are a novice or advanced, I highly recommend that you spend one session per week in your marathon build-up phase to interval training.

Last May I posted this short article comparing intervals to tempo training. Compared to the tempo trained group, interval runners experienced a much larger increase in V02 Max. How does this translate to a better marathon?

Along with a rise in V02, your anaerobic threshold (that speed or heart rate at which you begin to produce lactic acid) also receives a boost. That means you can run comfortably at a slightly faster pace.

I also find long intervals (800 meters) the most effective way get my body accustomed to faster-paced racing. 800 meter repeats are more intense than tempo training, and as the number of repetitions build, so does my ability to race at a faster pace. This is the workout that I also use to work on running form. Staying relaxed and minimizing energy cost while running fast takes practice!

What I really like about intervals is the opportunity to vary the workout several different ways. You can increase the number, decrease the rest interval, lengthen the interval distance, or increase the speed. You can always introduce ladder workouts (200, 400, 600, 800) or pyramids (200, 400, 600, 800, 600, 400, 200).

Here is a sample 12 week progression for introducing interval training to your marathon build-up.

Week 12..... 6 x 400, rest 2 minute between reps.
Week 11..... 8 x 400, rest 2 minute between reps.
Week 10..... 6 x 400, rest 90 sec between reps.
Week 9...... 8 x 400, rest 90 sec between reps.
Week 8...... 4 x 800, rest 2 min between reps.
Week 7...... 6 x 800, rest 2 min between reps.
Week 6...... 8 x 400, 5 sec faster than week 1, rest 9 sec between reps
Week 5...... 6 x 800, rest 90 sec between reps
Week 4...... 10 x 400, rest 90 sec between reps (same pace as week
Week 3...... 8 x 800, rest 2 min between reps
Week 2...... 6 x 800, rest 2 min between reps
Week 1...... 4 x 800, rest 2 min between reps

You want to be fresh for this workout,so schedule an easy workout or take off the day before. I've found that you can easily do a long easy run the day following this workout.

If you've never heard of Yasso 800s, then read this! from

(c) Dave Elger 2008 All rights reserved