Advanced versions of strides and accelerations for runners

The homestretch of a track at night

When runners ask online about ways to improve their running form or increase their footspeed, a common response is “add some strides.” It’s assumed or implicit in such a response that everyone knows what strides are and how to do them optimally.

As with many things in training, it’s worth spending some time to dig into what constitutes “doing strides,” and how we might incorporate them into training in a more thoughtful way. 

Read more

Podcast: How to fuel for a marathon (plus show notes)

I recently appeared on Joe Sell’s excellent Marathon Running Podcast for a second time to talk about fueling and nutrition for the marathon (see my first appearance here in case you missed it).

The impetus for this podcast was my recent blog post on how to plan fueling for elite marathoners who have “bottle service” at their race, but in the podcast we talk about fueling for all kinds of runners.

We had a great time and went really in-depth on the science behind optimal fueling (both hydration and sports drinks + gels) for marathoning. Check it out here!

Read more

How to prepare water bottles and gels for elite marathon racing

Getting your personal water bottles placed at aid stations in a road race is one of the perks offered to people fast enough for elite or sub-elite status at major marathons. It’s amazingly convenient to be able to place your own nutrition and hydration along the course, but since this perk is such a rarity among the broader running population, there’s very little information out there about how to change your nutrition strategy if this is an option for you.

The advantages of personal nutrition are manifold: you’re free to choose the form and flavor of the nutrition you consume, you don’t have to physically carry the gels and fluids with you, and you can drink out of an actual water bottle, which is much easier than drinking out of a paper cup.

Additionally, marathons sometimes make questionable decisions about the official hydration sponsor; I know of more than one major race that has historically offered a low-carb or calorie-free hydration mix as their official fluid at the general public aid stations! Using your own nutrition frees you from worrying about this problem.

A few of the athletes I’ve worked with over the years have been fast enough to get “bottle service” at major city races, and I’ve learned a few tricks from other coaches and athletes for how to optimize a nutrition plan for this scenario. Let’s say you’ve just qualified for the elite field at a big race, and you find out you get to supply your own nutrition–what do you do? In this post, I’ll walk you through how to design your fueling plan and how to prepare the bottles themselves, using an example from a real athlete and a real marathon.

Read more

Getting the cool-down right

Several years ago I wrote about getting the warm-up right, and I still believe that many runners neglect the warm-up to their own detriment. But after you work out, what about the cooldown (or, less commonly these days, a “warm-down”)? How long, how far, and how fast should a cooldown be? Getting to a place where we can answer these questions is going to require getting a framework in place where we understand why you should cool down in the first place.

Understanding the reasons for doing a cool-down after a workout

Like much of the accumulated lore of running, the common rationales for doing a cool-down at all contain a healthy mix of physiology, bro science, folk wisdom, and true coaching wisdom. Allegedly, the cooldown is supposed to gradually reduce your heart rate, pump “lactic acid” out of your muscles, and condition your legs to running while tired. Failing to cool down is again allegedly supposed to make you feel more sore the next day, and harm your recovery capabilities. Needless to say, each of these rationales has a hefty amount of myth alongside perhaps a kernel of truth.

Instead of trying to consider and analyze each of these claims in turn, I think it’s better to break the question of “why do a cooldown” into smaller parts: who is doing the cooldown, what workout does it follow, and what training goals are we trying to accomplish, both in this workout and in the longer-term training plan.

Read more

Cadence lock: Why GPS watches have a hard time measuring heart rate during running

Does your GPS watch report bizarre, dramatic spikes in heart rate in the middle of your run? I received a text message from a friend recently with this screenshot of his heart rate and elevation data from an easy run:

This was from a typical run on pretty mild to moderate hills. At first glance, you might think that running uphill triggered an abrupt increase in heart rate, but unless this coincided with an abrupt surge in speed, such a big spike in heart rate seems very strange.

Looking at this plot, it seems like one of two things is happening: either (a) my friend’s watch is seriously mistaken about his heart rate, or (b) my friend should see a cardiologist.

Even though companies like Garmin or Apple or Fitbit keep their data processing algorithms pretty close to the chest, my PhD research involves a lot of work with wearable technology, so I have a pretty solid understanding of what’s going on under the hood when a GPS watch is estimating things like running speed or heart rate. What could be going wrong here?

Read more

Blog update and podcast/media roundup

Well, it’s been a while! As you may have noticed, Running Writings hasn’t seen an update in quite a while. Perhaps for good reason—I’ve been working on my PhD in biomechanics at Indiana University’s School of Public Health, which, as I’ve discovered, leaves very little time to spare.

Every time I think up an idea for a blog post (and I have had dozens!) I realize there’s one more dataset to analyze, one more paper to revise, one more grant to apply for, one more skill to learn. So, though RW hasn’t seen any updates, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, and I’ve been learning an incredible amount of new things about the science of running performance and running injuries. But all of that work keeps me very busy, and unfortunately I haven’t had much of a chance to share what I’ve been up to with the people who follow Running Writings.

Read more

How much slower did you run at the 2018 Boston Marathon because of the weather?

After this year’s incredibly windy and rainy Boston Marathon, I was curious to find out how much slower the race was. I’ve published analyses of courses and conditions in the past, such as with the infamously hot Grandma’s Marathon in 2016, and when I (correctly!) predicted that the new course for the Twin Cities Mile … Read more