We provide discussions focusing around The Hanson's Marthon Method, as well as many other running topics. Luke Humphrey has been a member of the Hanson's-Brooks Distance Project since 2004, qualifying for 3 Olympic Trials, finishing in top 12 in the NYC marathon, Boston marathon, and Chicago marathon. He is the owner of Luke Humphrey Running and has helped runners of all abilities since 2006.
As a coach or an athlete, we look for guides as to how much work is an appropriate amount for a given athlete. I have mentioned this before, but again, often we discuss the 80/20 rule in training- 80% of our work should be easy and 20% hard. The question then becomes what is hard and what is easy, and in terms of hard, how should that look? So, I’d like to break down some general guidelines. In terms of the 20%, for most of my athletes, that’s going to be anything faster than half marathon pace. However, when talking about true definitions of hard, researchers will argue that 20% is anything harder than the lactate threshold, or the pace that you can hold for about an hour. Race pace, that’s anything from 10k pace to just under 20k race pace for my fastest athletes.
Right now, let’s look at threshold work. Now to be clear as mud, the term threshold has a lot of names. The most current is LT2, which stands for 2nd lactate threshold. In practical matters, it’s the point where blood lactate starts to accumulate exponentially. You have probably also heard the terms anaerobic threshold, lactate threshold, the onset of blood lactate accumulation, or maximal lactate steady state. These are the same thing.
Ok, got it? Good! Now, what you want to know- how much can I include in my weekly volume? Well, the rule of thumb appears to be that I can include about 10% of my weekly mileage in the form of threshold work.
Now, I must caveat this with the point that, when reading this, don’t think that every week should include 10% threshold work. No, we are just saying that when including threshold work, these should be your guidelines.
What kind of workouts should I be doing?
At the basis of theory, you have two options. The first is the traditional tempo. The second would be repeated at your LT. Is either of them better than the other? I wouldn’t say that, as both have a place in training and they both have different features. So, any type of runner would benefit from incorporating both.
Most coaches agree that a 20-minute tempo at LT is the staple of building stamina in the endurance runner. Now, coaches will extend those out based on ability. For example, coach Joe Vigil talks about extending these out to 6-8+ miles for his elite runners. On the other hand, Jack Daniel’s talks about doing longer tempo runs, but slowing the pace down, the further you go so that by the time you get to about 60 minutes, the pace is much closer to the marathon pace than the original threshold pace.
As a lower mileage runner, a 20-30 minute tempo run might essentially be your 2-3 miles allotted for a threshold allowance for the week. It might also be a pretty tough run. If you are a higher mileage runner a 20-minute tempo might be 4 miles, but you are under that 10% allotment. We then have an issue- do we get that extra few miles in another workout, make the current workout longer, or just let it go? That’s where LT repeats can come in for both groups.
LT repeats would be like any other repeat you did for speed, just a little slower (maybe) and less recovery. You might end up with a little overall volume. Overall, we are looking at repeats that are maybe 3+ minutes in length with a pretty short recovery. For most athletes repeats of 800’s to km’s are the Goldilocks distance.
6-10 x 800
5-10 x 1k
4-8 x 1200
These would all be staple workouts.
like the repeat for a few different avenues. One, when just building up. These make a lot of sense for all groups. Whether you are just starting as a beginner or just the beginning of a segment.
Boston Challenges Part 3: Race Day Weather
In the third part of this series, I want to discuss the race itself. In particular, the challenge of the potential weather. This comes in two parts. The first is the time of year the race is and the second is the different start and finish locations.
Today, let’s discuss the potential weather. In a dream year (2011), you get solid temps and a 30 mph tailwind. What’s interesting is that was the world’s “best” time that was not allowed to be a record, but now 2:03 for the men’s isn’t anything and you can just strap a pair of special shoes on your feet for instant fitness. Eh, I digress. In any case, the weather in Boston can be a crapshoot mainly because of its location off the water and that it’s in mid-April. So, you can expect anything from a Noreaster to a taste of July heat and anything in between.
How the weather is, will affect people differently. For my southern friends, you tend to do better in the warmer years, because the temps are usually a lot closer to what you have been training in. When it’s cooler, it feels cooler, but you are still okay because it’s like us in the summer. The heat provides certain adaptations that carry over to colder weather. Regardless of where we are at, we get those benefits during the summer and it makes the 50-degree day on race day that much more productive.
However, if you are used to training through the snow and cold all winter and then all of a sudden you get even a 65-degree day, then it’s a big shock to the system. It feels even warmer than it really is. What’s that saying, 60 degrees in the spring is shorts weather. 60 degrees in the fall is sweater weather. This potential for a warm day feeling like a hot day is real and it’s difficult for those who train in the colder climate to be ready for it. It’s just one more challenge that we have to account for in training.
So how can we?
* The treadmill. You instantly put yourself in a warmer environment and surround yourself with higher humidity. We have discussed this in previous Boston blogs.
* Sauna or a hot tub after a cold run. This can be of benefit, but BE CAREFUL. If you have blood pressure issues, this probably isn’t the best option.
* Hot shower immediately following a run. Same issues as above.
* Overdressing during the day. Make yourself hot, but not during exercise.
We will discuss these options in depth during our Boston Marathon Training Group, starting December 4th, 2023. Join us: https://bit.ly/459jiYk
Challenges of Boston: Winter Training
In part one, we talked a little bit about timing, but more specifically how training starts at maybe the worst timing of the year- the holiday season. Today, I want to expand once into what will really affect a lot of people- the winter months!
Where I am at, in metro Detroit, winters aren’t too bad through the end of December. We might get some snow, but there’s been plenty of times when we don’t have any snow on the ground. The problem is, once January rolls around, the average high is below freezing and whatever snow we get is usually stuck until March! We might not get a ton of snow, but it’s usually very cold and the wind chill is brutal. The interesting thing is that, if you just go over to the other side of the state, in the Grand Rapids area, they get a ton of snow due to the lake effect off of Lake Michigan. The bottom line is that it is cold, dark, and windy. We tend to have poor footing and are wearing a bunch of layers. The cold affects performance in a number of ways. Training in it can seem like we are going backwards and knowing our true fitness level is often difficult.
If you are in a warmer climate, you are probably at an advantage and you don’t necessarily need to take this post in any further. By the way, if that is you, we are so jealous! For those who deal with this kind of weather, I probably don’t really need to explain the challenges it provides us. The biggest thing I can do is offer some guidance on how to approach and navigate.
When it comes to winter running and how to navigate, you know exactly what is going to be said and I can hear the collective “Ewww! No way!” or the macho acting tough and trying to tell me it’s not real running. Okay, sure whatever. Honestly, if a person is doing a base plan, or they are running 30-60 minutes a few times a week, then yeah I love the ability to get outside and embrace the cold. However, there’s a big difference between getting your daily exercise and training for a marathon. I want to run outside, I am definitely in the camp of “if I can, I’ll run outside.” However, over the years, I have seen so many athletes (and myself) develop issues in their feet, achilles, hips, knees, and calves from trying to just do everything on poor footing. I am 100% convinced of that. With that…
Balance time outside with time on the treadmill.
Invest $10/month and join Planet Fitness and commit to doing at least your easy runs on poor footing days to hitting the treadmill. While you’re at it do 20 minutes of strength training afterwards! Even if you only need it for January and February, you’ve spent $20 and kept yourself healthy. Say you use it once a week for two months, that’s $2.50 a run to just give your body a break. I feel like the ROI on that is pretty good.
The biggest thing I want to do by encouraging you to be open minded about a treadmill is more about just giving your body a break from the constant poor footing on sidewalks and streets. Secondly, every once in a while it’s not a bad idea to use it as a checkpoint with something like a harder long run or a tempo run just so that confidence is not all lost. We can adjust based on temperatures and recognize that if I am wearing five pounds of clothes, my performance will probably be affected. But, every once in a while it’s nice to not have to worry about all of that stuff.
The biggest complaint I get with doing runs on the treadmill is that I can’t run fast on a treadmill, I get bored, or I just get dizzy or vertigo. I want to discuss running fast in a second but quickly address the last two. Getting bored does suck. Podcasts and music will only do so much. I see it as an opportunity to get attentive to yourself- focused on what you are doing.
Are your fastest races your workouts?
I read an interesting article from Steve Magness the other day, “How the need to prove yourself in practice can ruin your race day.” In the beginning, he listed some crazy fast workouts he did before a race but then faltered on race day. He came to two conclusions which I thought were great:
* Getting fit is easy
* If you are sufficiently motivated, it is easy to train yourself into the ground.
Over the rest of the article, he discussed how it was a coach’s job to make sure you expressed the fitness you had gained in training in the form of quality race results. He also discussed how it was his own security that probably pushed him into training so hard, but not seeing the results that he wanted. In the end, he quickly touches on how as coaches, we can’t just say it’s mental (on the part of the athlete) and really work through the physical to dial in why the races aren’t producing results that the fitness is indicating. I have thought about this a fair amount and I think back to an inside joke we had at Hanon’s where we would experience an incredible training segment and then end with a disappointing result. We’d call it, “Leaving our race at Stoney.” Stoney Creek Metropark is where we did the vast majority of our workouts, particularly for marathon segments.
It was a quick post, probably by design, but I finished wishing there was a little more. What I wanted to see was more of a tie-in from the two fantastic bullet points to the title of the article which is something I experienced myself and what I see many of my athletes struggle with. So, how does leaving your races in training relate to the idea of getting fit and how easy it can be to train yourself into the ground? Let’s take a crack at it.
The link between getting fit is easy, and ruining my race day… what is the link? That’s what I sat down and really thought about. I had a conversation recently about this idea. We were talking about how some people are surprised when they sign up for coaching or buy a plan and they are expecting these top-secret workouts and there really aren’t any. Personally, I have a saying that if I can just get a healthy person to run 40 miles a week for a few months, I can make them a pretty darn successful marathoner. So, it really is fairly “easy.” I guess that maybe easy isn’t the right word because you have to do work and that is not necessarily easy. The right word is probably simple. The process of getting fit is relatively simple. If you can be consistent and do a little bit of work across the spectrum of paces, you can get pretty fit after a few months. Where this relates to ruining your race day is when we try to take it simple and make it complicated by focusing too much on data and metrics or doing fancy workouts that don’t have any bearing on what you are trying to accomplish. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have simply taken what an athlete usually does and moved it a day over for more rest, or went from 6 workouts every two weeks to 4-to 5 and see how much they improved in a single segment. I mean going from thinking that they will never hit a goal they’ve spent years attempting, to having to set a new faster goal at the end of this segment.
This ties into the second part of this, which was that if you are motivated, it’s quite possible to just run yourself into the ground. There’s a lot to this. For one, I would say that the vast majority of people I work with, regardless of ability,
Cooling strategies for the marathon: Hype or Real?
We have talked a lot about adjusting workouts due to heat and humidity for quite some length, but what about strategies to cool ourselves before or during workouts so that we don’t have to adjust our paces? I wanted to explore this a little bit more as I thought about people attempting last-chance qualifiers in early September and even those racing into the middle of October. I mean, I have run the Chicago Marathon wearing gloves and a beanie in 34 degrees and I’ve slogged through it at 80 degrees. That early fall weather can be hit or miss.
I had thought about the ice vest, and even own one, but never really considered it. However, recently I came across an article from the Sports Performance Bulletin that looked at head cooling. This article mentions different methods like an ice vest, along with cold fluid ingestion, mouth rinse, palm cooling, and neck cooling, which you can probably deduce really is focusing on tricking the brain that you are cooler. After a brief mention of these, the article shifted focus to head cooling, which I found to be really interesting.
Head cooling has been looked at using a spray bottle, with some decent results. However, it’s not really practical. Low and behold, there are actually running caps that hold about 300 grams of ice. The study in here looked at a company called “Iced Cap” and I know from an Amazon search that Nathan also makes one. The thought in looking at this is that having the cooling effect right next to the brain would have a greater impact on the central nervous system.
The gist of what was done was those triathletes were tested doing a sub max run of 10 minutes and a 5k time trial afterward. They did this with a cooling cap and without, as well as, did the tests on two different days. Their forehead temperature was measured, times, and then thermal discomfort was measured. They did these tests on a treadmill with an ambient temperature of 90 degrees.
What they found was probably not a big surprise. Forehead temperatures were lower throughout the tests. Also, times were, overall, faster when wearing the cap. Lastly, thermal discomfort was lower throughout. However, by the 5th kilometer, the difference was negligible. This makes me wonder if it was simply because the runners were nearing the end of a 5k and putting themselves in a hurt locker. Or, was it because they really were losing the effects of the cooling hat? That got me searching for some other info available and came across an article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. It looked at wearing a cooling vest for 30 minutes during a warmup and then performing a 10 km time trial. Statistically, there was no significant difference in performance between groups. What also stood out to me was that heart rate responses were similar and while core temperature was definitely lower in the vest group before the start of the time trial, there was minimal, if any difference by the end of the 10k time trial.
Looking at these two different articles, it becomes clear to me that from a practical standpoint, there’s not a lot of benefit to these cooling mechanisms for the marathon. The longer the race, the less effect you will see. So, for a 5k, there’s a good chance you can see some performance improvement, but by the time you get to the 10k, the benefits are pretty much lost. Extrapolate that out to the marathon and it’s probably a washout scenario.
I was really hoping to have better news, but it just doesn’t seem like there’s a strong benefit with anything with pre-cooling and attempts at cooling through cold fluids that will help with anything past 25 minutes, or so. It would be interesting to see if you could take one of the caps and test the theo...
Best options for adjusting workouts to heat.
Alright, as summer gets ready to peak, some of you are questioning why you decided to train for a September or October marathon! Many of you are not hitting your paces and question not only your sanity but your fitness levels too! Well, I can assure you that if you can trust that your training is still working, that good things can happen this fall. Now, that is not the big idea here, but rather, what I feel are your best options for adjusting your workouts so that you don’t dig a hole too deep to get out of. Before we go into this though, I have to preface with some tough love. The only way you’ll get anything out of this is if you are open-minded and trust me that if you adjust your workouts in some capacity you will be fine.
You all know the basics- run early or late, and adjust your paces, so I won’t rehash all of that. Instead, let’s blend some adjustments we can make, but still feel like we are getting in what we need to.
First things first, we need to acclimate to the weather. Even if we aren’t racing in it in the fall, we have to acclimate. If done right, it can make you a much stronger performer. So, with that, your easy runs should just be outside soaking in all that heat adaptation. On the other hand, we have to balance that out. We really can’t push it in even moderately extreme conditions six days a week without consequence. And, what I am going to share doesn’t have to be done all the time, but if you really need a break from the heat and humidity, then these ideas can pull you back from the edge on occasion.
* The most obvious way we can adjust (beyond adjusting our paces), is to bring workouts inside to the treadmill. I know, it’s a dirty word for a lot of you. And the “hardcore” is going to explain to me how you’re not a real runner, or whatever. That’s cool. Having heat stroke doesn’t make you a runner at all for a while, maybe worse. For speed workouts, I am probably less likely to do this. Personally, I have a fear of blowing off the back end. So for speed, I might just turn into a hill workout on the treadmill.
* Do hills instead. Any shorter speed workout with repeats that are in the 1-5 minute range can be turned into a hill workout instead. Hill work is speed in disguise.
* Turn into a fartlek. Fartlek is really more about effort over time instead of pace over distance. So, if we are running in the heat, we can say, go do 8×2 minutes at a hard effort instead of forcing yourself into 8×600 meters at 8:00 pace. It takes the pressure off the goal of the workout to be at a certain pace.
* Strength is an oddball intensity for a lot of people. For the 4-hour and above crew, it’s not much different than the marathon pace, so you might be fine just doing these as they are written. For the 3:30 and faster crew, you do start creeping closer to lactate threshold territory, so you do need to be careful as to not go over that here and then have to cut the workout short because the intensity with the duration put you in the danger zone.
* If running a fall marathon, strength workouts wouldn’t really be hitting until late August and into September for October marathons, so adjusting these will probably not be a point of action for most of you. I would say that for many of you, strength pace is probably the earliest you’d feel comfortable doing on the treadmill. You can always use our treadmill calculator and create that perfect combo of speed and grade to get the job done.
* To be honest, from Mid-June through the end of August, I rarely give my athletes big continuous tempos ...