An Inside Look at Training for the Boston Marathon

By Jonathan Levitt Feb 22, 2017

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Being born and raised in the Greater Boston area, Marathon Monday (ahem, Patriot’s Day) has always held a special place in my heart. When I was younger, I loved it because we got the day off from school. As I grew older though, I began to appreciate the day not just as a day off, but more because of the athletic feats those running in the historic Boston Marathon were performing.

Fast forward to the present day, and I’m looking forward to this day more than ever. This year, I’ll be running the storied race for the second time, competing in my 5th marathon, and for the very first time, I’ll be aiming for a sub 3-hour finish.

As the Sales Manager, and member of the InsideTracker team since 2014, I’ve learned a lot from the regular usage of our platform and it has helped enormously with my training and racing. In the coming weeks, I’m hoping to share some of what I’ve learned so that you may integrate it into your training. Stay tuned below as I provide a weekly recap of my training and nutrition leading up to race day and beyond.

A Brief Background

This will be my second time running Boston. I ran it for the first time in 2015 just 6 weeks after running the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. My time? 3:27. I PR’d (by 9 seconds). My goal for that race was to simply have as much fun as possible from all the way from Hopkinton down Boylston Street, and that I did. This time I’m still looking to have fun, but I’ll be gunning for that elusive sub-3.Are you race ready?

February 1st - February 13th: This is How it Starts

Like any new routine or habit, the idea is to start off slow… as a year-round, avid runner, I like to think there’s never a slow time for me (besides the offseason!), but here’s a look at my last two weeks, the start to my Boston training.

To really kick this off, how about showing what February running in Boston can look like? Last Thursday we got about a foot of snow. We all worked from home that day, so I took the opportunity to head out for an afternoon run while it was really coming down. 45 minutes later, this...!

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The week wrapped up with a long run along the Marathon course, from my apartment, again in the snow. I love running this route. It’s always chock-full of other runners, and people are often handing out water along the way too. I went through Coolidge Corner and then out towards Newton, turning around at the Newton Firehouse, or about what would be the 17-mile mark of the race. Despite the snow and wind, or perhaps in spite of it, I was shocked to see how many other runners were out there with me. That’s how we do it in Boston! The run was a little over 15 miles, with 4 faster pickups at marathon pace. My long runs are laid out as 27 minutes easy, 3 minutes marathon pace, and repeat, for the duration of the run.

Are you ready to optimize your training?

I’ve been spending more time focusing on nutrition particularly surrounding harder/longer workouts to help maximize the work I’m already doing. Dinner was inspired by my InsideTracker recommendations: sweet potatoes with steak, broccoli and shrimp. I’m working on boosting iron levels, and shrimp is higher in sodium, which is necessary after a sweaty run.

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Week of February 20th: Strength in Numbers

This last week was fun, and it was my strongest week of training in a long time. I had three key workouts scheduled (two happened), plus a long run, with two (turned three) recovery runs, two strength training sessions, one swim, one yoga class and one full day of rest. Tuesday was one of the hardest workouts I’ve done in a while: 5x mile repeats, on a treadmill because it wasn’t safe (read: icy) to run fast outside, adding elevation.

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The workout looked like this: 7:03 @ 2%, 6:58 @ 3.5%, 6:50 @ 1.5%, 6:55 @ 2.75% and 6:50 @ 2%. Since Boston is such a unique race course (downhill at first, uphill from 17-21 then downhill again), the goal has been to start to simulate hills with some fatigued legs.

This workout ended up being equal parts mental and physical since I hate the treadmill. I spent most of it thinking about getting to the next minute and trying to be more present, knowing that all pain (and success) is temporary, and fleeting, as Timothy Olson was saying on the podcast I was listening to. The pain won’t last, but remembering how you toughed it out will stick with you.

The joke was on me. My legs were trashed the next day. While not painful, that workout definitely lingered, and I bailed on the planned stadium run because of  the pounding it causes on the descent. Instead, I opted for 45 easy minutes around the Charles River with a friend, trying hard to stay upright the whole time since the snow had started to melt, then froze again.

Sunday was the most fun long run I’ve had in awhile. After a week of 20 degree runs, it was almost 60 for this week’s long run, which was a 15-mile out and back along Heartbreak Hill. We’re getting to that time of year where those hills feel like one giant party; there are people out playing music, handing out water/snacks and having a good time all the way from the Newton Firehouse to that beautiful (and quad crushing) downhill at Boston College.

Are you ready to optimize your training?

One of the changes I’ve made with training over the last few months has been swimming after my long run, either immediately after or 3+ hours later. It’s amazing how refreshing and revitalizing it feels, especially after a tough hilly run. Try it out if you can, and let me know how you feel afterwards!

February 24th: It’s Go Time

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As I mentioned, I popped in recently for another InsideTracker test. When you’re just getting into race-specific training, or entering heavier training, testing is a good way to see what your body is capable of... as long as you’ve got a baseline to compare it to. Are you handling the load well, or is it time to pull back a bit? Or, is it giving you license to train harder? I’ve been extremely diligent with sleep and nutrition lately, averaging more than 8 hours a night of good, quality sleep. This leads to the body handling the training better than ever, and recovering as needed. My latest round of results showed most of the performance markers at or near the top of the optimal zone. My goal for my next test (likely in April) will be to see those now-optimal markers further outside the optimal range, just in time to pull back with the taper. I shared the results with my coach, and he’s going to modify and add a bit more to my program. If I’m curious to know how I’m handling this, I might test with our (non-fasting required) High Performance panel in mid-March just to make sure I didn’t do too much, still with enough time to scale back before the taper.

In equally good news, my ferritin didn’t go further down. It remains optimal, along with vitamin D, two markers I’ve been paying the most attention to, as they’re directly related to energy and recovery.

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Going forward, over the next few weeks from a nutrition/supplementation perspective, I’ll be focusing on quality sources of iron, along with making sure I get in enough calories (and carbs!) to sustain a few 50+ mile weeks, with swimming, strength training, and yoga added on. Sleep will remain a high priority, and vitamin D will become more consistent, along with probiotics post workout. I’m working to eat more fish and have more substantial breakfasts to facilitate better recovery. We’ll see how it goes!

Two of the markers we test can provide great insight into caloric intake, and whether you’re eating enough to sustain your activity level. Somewhat surprisingly, many of the athletes we work with, don’t!

Are you ready to optimize your training?

When SHBG and cortisol are both high, it can be an indication of the need to add additional calories. In my experience, animal proteins help the most. One of the best things you can do when training hard (besides adequate sleep!) is to ensure you’re recovering properly and eating enough!

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If you’re training for Boston this spring too, now’s the perfect time to get going with InsideTracker’s guidance. But don't just take my word for it, our friend Michele from @NYCRunningMama said it best!

I’d really urge anyone who is training for a goal race to spend the money and get this done – at least once to see what your numbers are. It’s not cheap BUT think about how much $ you spend on gear, race entry fees, race travel, coaching, etc. Hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. How much time is spent training for that event? Wouldn’t it be worth it to spend a bit more to ensure that you are setting yourself up for the best race you can run? I’ve learned so much about proper supplementation and how I should be making more of a concerned effort to eat certain foods on a regular basis – or ways to ensure that what I’m eating is getting absorbed by my body.

I’d be happy to help you dig through your results and recommendations to help get to that start line in Hopkinton (or any other race) in the best shape possible!

Week of February 27th: Upping the Mileage

This last week wrapped up the hardest block of training I’ve ever gone through, particularly from an intensity standpoint. The week started with a mile swim to help recover from the 15-mile long run the day before. As I’ve mentioned, swimming, or even just being in the water, can have a pretty substantial impact on speed and quality of recovery.

Tuesday was a v02 max day, and one of the hardest workouts I’ve done in months, of 6x800m at 2:55-3 (averaged 2:58), then a few minutes super easy, then 2x400m at 100% effort with 5 minutes in between.

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I planned on doing this workout with a few friends at the Harvard University track, but there was snow and ice all over… change of plans. One of the benefits of Boston running is the ever-available Charles River route (particularly the Esplanade) almost no matter the weather, thanks to support from New Balance, who makes it financially possible to plow almost immediately, every time it snows.

Are you ready to optimize your training?

Anyways, I took off along the river for some speed. After my 5th rep (I HATE the penultimate rep. Always.) I ran into my amazing friend Emily who was putting in some serious work of her own. Seeing a friendly face was exactly what I needed to battle through that last longer rep, knowing that is exactly what she was doing too. I ended up seeing her again about 15 minutes later, after the speedwork was wrapped up and gave her the biggest and best mid-run hug I’ve ever experienced.

Later that day, I learned that it was National Margarita Day (seriously, who makes this stuff up?) and after a pit stop at the pool for a 15-minute swim and some strength training, it was only right to go celebrate with a few friends.

After all, there’s a lot of research on the benefit of socialization post-workout and its ability to actually improve recovery, so call that an excuse for post-workout plans!

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The following two days I was scheduled for a 45-minute and 55-minute easy run, then hill sprints on Friday. My legs were trashed both days and didn’t feel any better on Thursday evening’s run, in addition to having a funky hamstring. I decided to be super cautious and swim Friday morning instead of another hard day, because no single training session is worth risking the next few weeks/months. I’ve been guilty of that before; trying to squeeze in an extra session on tired legs, and in one particular instance it led to 2 months off of running after I pushed just a little (ok, way) too far.

Saturday ended up being a morning of hill sprints, with a long run Sunday and a tempo planned for Monday morning, followed by a few much easier days. My hips and glutes were pretty sore after the long run, so instead of swimming post long run, I ran another mile, this time in the pool. 25 minutes later, I felt absolutely amazing compared to earlier in the day. If you have access to a pool, swimming post long run is great, and pool running (deep water or shallow!) is even better!

Weekly miles: 45 miles over 5 runs

Weekly swims: 3

Weekly taco count: 8

 

The First Week of March - Feeling the Fitness

After a challenging month of February, the fitness finally seems to be catching up. For those training for Boston, we’re entering that part of the training cycle where if things are going well, your job becomes simple: do not screw this up. Rest becomes more important, nutrition becomes more important to enhance recovery, and every little pain feels like the end of the world.

I entered this week feeling as fresh as you can after a 50+ mile week. In past marathon cycles, I’d see several weeks north of 50, getting closer to 60 during peak weeks. My highest mileage ever was an extremely annoying 59.8 miles. The key with training is to always adapt and change, whether that’s physiologically or structurally. I’ve been working with my coach for about 4 years now, and to put it plain and simple, we have a lot of data. A large enough sample to know what workouts I respond well to, what makes my body feel trashed, and what overreaching looks like.

Last year I DNS’d two marathons. I had a stress reaction that came as a result of my aggressive goals for the spring. I was pushing mileage higher and higher and not focusing enough on the little things; foam rolling, supplementation (hello vitamin D and magnesium) and core work.

Having data drives decision making; whether that’s knowing what foods are best for your body, or how to modify training to achieve better results. Knowing where my limit seemed to be, keeping in mind the fact that I go straight from a workout into the office (stress is stress is stress!) and don’t have the luxury of focusing on recovery after an 11-mile morning of intervals, we’ve adapted. More time in the pool, multi-tasking with Normatec at home (worth every penny), and less miles. I still do a good amount of recovery/regen miles, but I’m not out there putting in 10-mile recovery runs like some others are able to do (I wish!!).

That being said… the hard work portion has been getting harder. My favorite workout last week was more marathon pace work: 20 minutes at 6:57, then 5 minutes at 100% effort, which ended up being 5:40/mile, at about 170bpm, or as Garmin says, MAXIMAL.

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Marathon training is all about learning to run fast on tired legs and there’s no better way to do it than all out.

Saturday was a two hour long run, or as I captioned it on Strava, “One Mile For Every Degree, plus Three,” as it was 13 degrees at the start. This was one of those “too hot, too cold” type runs where I never really got comfortable, nor did I feel mentally “in it” for the first half of the run. I didn’t carry water and chose not to refuel with my GU because I didn’t want to take my big gloves off to fish it out of my pocket. I relied on Gatorade and jelly beans that were available from volunteers standing outside passing it out to strangers and seemed to snap out of my funk about 60 minutes in, after taking in some sugars.

I did this run as an out-and-back to the Newton Firehouse and back over the Newton Hills, and picked up 15 or 20 seconds per mile at the turnaround, as it was a pretty strong headwind going out. What amazes me about Boston runners is that no matter what, there are always tons of others out there, cold, hot or anything in between. There were hundreds out there crushing their miles.

Are you ready to optimize your training?

After the long run, I scooted immediately over to the Janji store, where we had a yoga for runners + nutrition talk event with Karen Fabian of Bare Bones Yoga. Karen took us through an hour long routine targeting hips, glutes and other key muscles for runners to focus on, followed by lunch and a brief talk about using nutrition for an edge.

I wrapped up my highest mileage week in a long time with a sushi dinner with my girlfriend and two of her friends who were in town for the weekend.

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Not pictured: a bunch of appetizers and what I ate for “first dinner” (a chicken salad sandwich)

Fish/shellfish, specifically salmon and octopus (it’s high in iron!) show up for quite a few of my InsideTracker recommendations, so I love going out for sushi as an easy way to get in a wide variety of delicious choices.

Weekly miles: 52 (strong!)

Tacos: 3 (weak!)

Week of March 13th: The Asheville Half

Monday was supposed to be my big workout of the week, with an untapered half marathon scheduled for this past Saturday. For the last few days though, my hamstrings have been a little tight and Saturday’s cold long run certainly didn’t help. I swapped Sunday’s run for a swim and was too nervous to test out the hamstring again with a workout on Monday, so I opted for an indoor, slow, controlled (and warm!) treadmill run to test it out.

The test went well, and I was back on track for Tuesday’s track workout: 6x800 followed by 3x400 at 100% effort. I did a similar workout two weeks ago, with one less 400. I averaged two-seconds slower on the 800’s, but dropped the 400’s down by an average of 7 seconds per rep. It felt way easier too; I was trashed when I did this the first time around, and the same for the time before that when it didn’t even include the 400’s. This time it felt great. Talk about fitness gains.

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I wrapped up on the track and later that morning flew down to Fort Myers, Florida, for a quick trip to talk to a bunch of athletes. We met Kate, the Twins dietitian, for a sushi dinner and had a good time talking about all things food. After a few warm miles down in Florida, it was back up north… for 18 hours. Thursday afternoon I flew to Charlotte to meet a runner friend for the most incredible tacos I’ve had in a long time. I had fish and steak tacos, two foods InsideTracker suggests to eat more of. Plus tacos. Because, tacos.

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We then drove to Asheville, the site of the Biltmore/Asheville Marathon and Half that Saturday morning. The race was killer. The first 6-miles were almost straight uphill. My friend and ultra-runner extraordinaire, Devon Yanko’s mentality when confronted with a difficult obstacle in a race is to “work the problem,” which was on my mind the moment we started climbing (within the first half-mile). The problem here? The whole freaking thing was apparently an uphill.

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I reeled it in and thought of some of the more brutal workouts and long runs I’ve done lately, especially the mile long hill repeats where Tim Olson’s “this is all fleeting” mantra was conveniently playing on a podcast. While it seemed like it would go on forever, these hills HAD to come to an end; I saw downhills and a flat portion on the course map so I knew the whole thing wasn’t actually a climb.

I started chatting with another runner who caught up to me just after the last downhill portion. He made a comment about how our beards add drag, and how, to scale, we were probably running 5 minute miles, flat. It was perfect timing as my legs were starting to feel the relentless hills. We talked southern hospitality and he said it's like people are giving you a "verbal hug" every time you talk to someone new. We ended up running the next 5 miles together, pretty much stride for stride until the last mile. When it came time for the final kick, Jeff sat back a bit as I took off. I finished about 15-seconds ahead, turned around and gave him a big (non verbal) hug.

I thanked him for the push, and he thanked me for the pull. We chatted for a bit before I took off for a few cool down miles. The best part about this race? The complimentary massages that took place immediately afterward (take note, race directors!!). After a lot of climbing and then quad smashing downhills, this was exactly what I needed.

Are you ready to optimize your training?Later on (while I was crushing a burrito bowl) I found out I placed 2nd in my age group and 12th overall in the half. I was just happy to not be running the full marathon the next day, which was starting in snow and in the dark due to daylight savings.

My legs have been feeling great lately, with a focus on rest and protein intake before bed. I tried out goat milk recently, after reading our Lead Nutrition Scientist wrote a blog on the different types of “milks” that are available. I learned that goat’s milk is easier to digest, so I gave dairy milk a try again for the first time in at least 10-years and it was great! I’ve been drinking it before bed and adding in whey protein as well, which helps reduce cortisol and promotes recovery. If cortisol and recovery is an issue for you, give it a try, it seems to be working for me!

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Weekly miles:  43

Weekly tacos: 8, including 3 as breakfast tacos

 

Week ending March 20th: The Cold Came Back

Just when we thought we were in the clear of the cold, Mother Nature decided to smack us in the face with bitter cold snow and ice. I decided to take my tempo workout with a faster finish indoors and onto the treadmill for fear of my tendons and falling on my face.

The workout was a warm up, 20 minutes at marathon pace (MP), 5 minutes easy (x2, so 40 @ MP total) and then 5 minutes at 5k feel. The MP on the treadmill felt a little harder at low 7’s than it does on the roads. The 5 at 5k was 6 flat and I added a steep hill (a la Heartbreak) about 75% through each of the MP segments. Throughout the whole workout I was thinking “this doesn’t hurt… yet. Make it hurt.” I made it through 60% of the 5k feel before it reaaally started to hurt, where the legs turned to lead and I wanted to slide right off the back of the treadmill.

The 40 minutes averaged around a 7:03 pace and the 5k was at 6 flat. This workout will be repeated again next week and I hope to be able to run it outside to see how it compares to a treadmill effort which I find mentally more challenging.

My favorite meal of the week had a St. Patrick’s Day flair of Guinness braised pot roast which was then followed by my favorite recipe from the Run Fast, Eat Slow cookbook of Double Chocolate Teff cookies, which are nice and high in iron (and taste!).

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As the miles continue to rise, I’m making it a priority to ensure I get in enough calories along with iron-rich foods. Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, or SHBG, (often when paired with higher cortisol, particularly in men) can indicate the need for more calories, specifically from protein, to help maximize recovery and ensure you’re getting in enough to offset all the training. High SHBG is common in endurance athletes, as shown below, and limits available (free) testosterone thereby limiting the body’s ability to recover.

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This combination is one of the most common areas of improvement we see for endurance athletes; the need to increase calories yielding the potential for improved recovery and better performance, almost entirely through nutrition rather than any sort of training modifications. It’s a way to get more results out of the work you’re already doing!

Are you ready to optimize your training?

Weekly miles: 46

Weekly tacos: a sad and lowly 2, consumed en route to meeting friends for dinner. Can never be too careful on long run days!

 

Week ending March 27th: The Last/Longest Long Run

Here we go. One more big week of training, then it’s taper time. Since Boston will be a goal race, my coach and I are working to get to a peak form of fitness, which can only occur a couple of times each year. One of the higher risk ways you can do this is through max effort work, which Monday's workout consisted of: all out 150's. I love these types of speed workouts; short duration, explosive and hard. I did this one in a quiet neighborhood in Brookline and quickly learned that this was the time of the morning where everyone walks their dogs, so as soon as I wrapped up my workout I cooled down via petting all the puppies. Day. Made. There's also science behind this in regards to cortisol... as if you need another excuse!

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Tuesday brought a 12+ mile tempo, done as a ~95 minute commute into the office. As our friend Mike Wardian has talked about in the past, one of the best ways to fit in extra time into your day is to run/cycle commute. The workout: 2x20 minutes at marathon pace (7:04 and 7:01) and then 5 minutes at 5k feel (5:57), which felt manageable. One of the main goals of this training cycle has been to get comfortable and familiar with race pace.

Boston on my mind

Throughout the week, all I could think about was my upcoming longest long run, or a 2:30 effort from Ashland back to Boston. I met up at Marathon Sports to take a bus out to Ashland (around mile 2) for what’s come to be known as “Charity Saturday” – It’s like a preview of the main event. The crowd support and water stops were about 10x better than the coverage at my first (and second) marathon, which is awesome. You don’t have to carry any water because there are tables every mile or so, along with snacks, music and all that good stuff.

These stops are hosted by people who live nearby/on course, or the various charities that have teams for the marathon. Most of the route was also covered by police, so we had help at intersections as well, because there’s nothing worse than needing to constantly stop and start when you’re 15+ miles into a longer run. I ran with a friend who is faster than me for the entirety of the run. He’s a better climber than I am and pulled me along the Newton Hills when I wanted to slow up, particularly up Heartbreak Hill which we hit at about mile 17 of our run (it will be ~mile 19 in a few weeks) and when he wanted to slow up through Brookline, I pulled him right along.

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Photo credit: Marathon Sports (thanks for hosting the run!) and Saucony

I ended my run in Kenmore Square, 20 miles from Ashland. There’s a Whole Foods nearby that I had planned to grab a snack from and wander home from there (about a mile), but I was so hungry and overwhelmed at the same time that I couldn’t decide what to get, so I grabbed a Lacroix and jumped in a car home. As soon as I walked in the door my friend started shouting TAPER TIME TAPER TIME TAPER TIME to which I laughed and rolled onto the floor before eating everything in sight.

That afternoon I headed over to the BU pool for a 20 minute pool run, which felt amazing on my tired legs. Pool running is low impact and restorative for sore muscles. I finished the day with a platter of sashimi made up of fish and octopus, which is super high in iron and b12, two energy and endurance related nutrients.

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Sunday was Race Mania Expo, which is a race expo not associated with a race, along with seminars and breakout sessions aimed at providing education for athletes on nutrition and training. We hosted Mike Wardian who spoke on two panels: An Elite Ultra Runner’s Guide to High Performance Training and Racing, as well as a panel with Ryan Hall, Dave McGillivray (Boston Marathon race director) and Becca Pizzi talking about the World Marathon Challenge.

Mike was entertaining as always, while also providing some awesome insights as to how we can all improve. He talked about setting big goals for yourself and trying to make your training more “invisible" meaning working it into your day instead of scheduling additional time for it, such as running commutes or a lunch workout. The full presentation can be found on his Facebook Page.

Mike shared his 4 tips for how "you can do it all too" (his words below):

Invisible Training: Train with least impact possible, especially around family

   1) Wake up early… I know, not what you want to hear

   2) Commute: Use your commute wisely

   3) Lunch: try to work out every chance you get if training requires doubles/triples

Goals

   1) Set BIG audacious goals that scare you

   2) Write your goals down and make them public

   3) Create a plan to achieve your goals

Ask for help

  You'll be surprised by how much support you will get from  people when they know what you are trying to achieve

Embrace Challenges

  Things are not always going to be smooth, that is a good thing and how we grow – EMBRACE THE SUCK. It will make you stronger!

Track Everything

1) Write down your progress

2) What can be measured can be managed

3) What you can’t see can hurt you

Those last two lines explains why Mike uses InsideTracker, in order to maximize the decision making process when it comes to supplementation, nutrition, and recovery. I'll be popping in for my last test before Boston later on in the week to see the impact of a heavy month of training and what I can do during the taper. Knowledge is power! 

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Weekly miles: 56

Weekly tacos: 10 (it was a good week)

 

Week ending April 2nd: Time to Retest

This week started off with a November Project workout in Somerville on an abandoned on-ramp. Yes, you read that right. November Project Monday’s are located at a different place around the city each week, and this week we did a group workout alongside some very confused early morning commuters.

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Photo credit: November Project Boston

Sometimes it pays off to not look ahead. I got through my 20-miler and Monday’s recovery run to November Project without seeing Tuesday and Wednesday’s workouts, which was certainly a good thing. Tuesday brought another v02 day, of 6x800 with 4x400 all-out added on at the end. Those 400’s were done mostly in the mid 4’s, with that lovely burning feeling going on in both the legs and the lungs. This workout was done as part of a commute to work, as we’re fortunate to have the MIT track exactly a mile away from our office door. I’ve completed a version of this workout a couple of times over the last phase of training, adding an extra 400 each time around. The first time, I did it when it was just 6x800 and it felt super hard as it was my first track workout in a long time. As the long runs got longer, these 800m repeats felt more and more manageable, and the 400’s became a chance to push the throttle and see what I had left in my legs at max effort while working with fatigue. Embrace the pain, get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Are you ready to optimize your training?

The next day was my longest marathon pace tempo, of 2x25 minutes at marathon pace, of which I averaged 7:08 on some very tired legs, followed by five minutes at 5k feel, which was significantly slower than the last time I did this workout with less MP work (and not immediately following a track day). Including strides, it ended up being exactly a half marathon in the same time I ran my second ever half, at 1:37. I finished this run up at home instead of as a commute so I could eat a little bit more for breakfast, which I started cooking and then hopped into the shower while it was cooking… peanut butter sandwich in hand. Marathon hunger is real.

Later that day, a friend messaged a group of us that work in the area to see if we wanted to check out a new BBQ place. After a half marathon that morning, not too many things would have sounded more appetizing. I ended up with brisket and pulled pork with brussel sprouts and collard greens on the side.

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The following morning I went in for another InsideTracker test, 24-hours after I had wrapped up two days totalling about 25-miles of work. I was expecting and hoping to see some of the markers slightly elevated such as the liver enzymes, cortisol and perhaps a drop in testosterone. Liver enzymes went up, though cortisol and testosterone improved, staying within optimal indicating I am working hard, yet recovering quite well.

Back in February I got my results back and showed them to my coach. I thought I was training hard, yet the results showed I was in a well rested state. My coach said we were going to turn it up in March, since the bloodwork gave me the all clear to hit that next level. March ended up being the hardest month of training I’ve ever gone through, with my most solid 20+ miler, and quite a few back-to-back hard days and a half marathon tune up race.

The impact? Liver enzymes elevated, creatine kinase elevated, while testosterone/free testosterone and cortisol actually improved. Hello progress and good recovery!!

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Great news. The February test gave me the license to train harder than I’ve ever trained, and the end of March draw showed that there was some slight overreaching, as planned.

The markers I was most interested in monitoring during this eight-week period were pretty much all of the ones included in our High Performance panel, a cost effective option for athletes. Beyond that, I also saw an improvement in glucose and cholesterol…. FINALLY.

The biggest change here? Our dietitian said I needed to be more consistent with oatmeal, having it 1-3x/week was not enough. I bumped that up to 5+ times/week, and added in chia, psyllium husk, and peanut butter. I added a serving or two of fish per week, to the tune of 2-3 times/week, up from once, while also increasing meat consumption because I crave it during higher volume weeks. I also learned that moderate alcohol consumption (specifically red wine) improves both LDL and HDL cholesterol. As the miles continued to increase, so did the frequency of a daily glass (or two) of wine while relaxing. I guess that helped in more ways than one!

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Now what would have happened if I saw results similar to March’s, in February? We see it all the time; athletes training harder than they’re recovering, leading to an increased risk of injury and burnout. Elevated cortisol and/or decreased testosterone (or just trending up and down respectively) can be a sign of overtraining and should be watched carefully.

Curious to see where you stand? Reach out, let us know your goals, and we’ll help you get set up!

Weekly miles: 38

Weekly tacos: 4 

Week Ending April 9th: The Taper Crazies

After a 90-minute-long run Sunday, I was expecting to feel nice and refreshed for Monday’s 40 easy minutes. WRONG. It was as if all of March had caught up to me in that one single run.

My quads were sore, my calves were sore, and my pace was slower than a normal easy run. On top of that, I felt like I was getting sick with a sore throat and a few sneezes. Tuesday turned into an unplanned rest day with a whole lot of soul searching and trying to remind myself this is all normal and that I still had almost two weeks to feel better before Marathon Monday.

As the week went on, I felt better and worse, even in the same day. I loaded up on Echinacea, berries, vitamin C, and more water than usual (with a few Nuun tablets) and decided I can get sick and healthy again before race day.

After the off-day Tuesday, I had another pretty flat run on Wednesday on my way home from work. Instead of another pity party this early on in the taper, I turned to Amelia Boone (Spartan Pro and badass ultrarunner) and Caroline Burckle (Olympic medalist in swimming), two athletes I’ve become friends with through our “Rest Day Brags” project on Instagram. Both of these athletes know what it’s like to win and be at the top of their game, and with that comes experience. I explained my situation and the fact that I’ve never trained this hard for a marathon, and asked for some advice.

Amelia’s first response? “Yep! Totally normal. Everyone says to trust the process (and I’m horrific at it), but apparently, it works for a reason. It’s a mental game now.”

Caroline followed up with many of her thoughts, starting with “It’s VERY natural, in fact, it is the only way. If I feel superrrrr good before a race, it’s worrisome.”

My friend Devon Yanko weighed in as well, and echoed a similar sentiment: “If you don’t feel ‘slow, fat, injured and out of shape’ during taper week, you aren’t doing it right. It really is amazing how our brains do that to us. It’s why they call them the taper crazies, not the taper awesomes.”

I asked one our exercise physiologists more about why this happens:

It mostly has to do with your body getting back to homeostasis after kicking in that sympathetic nervous system for so long with training. Your parasympathetic nervous system now wants to recover so your body fights with itself. Think fight or flight vs rest and digest.

You can be feeling amazing (or, at least, good) during the whole training cycle and then BOOM it all hits you like a sack of bricks. You’ve been training pretty much every day for the last 8-16 weeks, then all of a sudden you change things up on your body. It can be mentally challenging (and scary) to go from feeling so good to feeling so bad, with your goal race quickly approaching. It helps knowing everyone goes through this when you’re training hard for a race.

Are you ready to optimize your training?

In addition to turning to my community for support, I also turned to my coach, Steven Stam, and asked “what’s one way to keep your body in training mode so you don’t peak too early?”

We use 100% effort workouts (and in general, higher efforts than the rest of the cycle) to stimulate the proper systems, doing this with less intense volume but more intense repetitions. Basically, whatever we're doing during the taper, it is run harder, for less time. This way you’re still getting the body to respond to the training stimulus, but “resting” and recovering at the same time. In this stage, there’s no v02 max work, no longer long runs, no longer tempos. We're just trying to shock the system and get out. This is not suggested for a runner who is just beginning or training for their first marathon. The idea with a taper (for any level) is a mileage drop, while maintaining (or even increasing) intensity, all the while trying to prepare all energy and muscular systems for the big event.

After Steven and I spoke, he confirmed the "taper blues" I was feeling were  totally normal. Sensing a trend here? I told him I wanted to stick with the following day’s workout as planned. It was a shorter version of a longer tempo that I’d done before: 20 @ MP, 5 @ 100% effort. I knew I’d crush it and wanted to run it as a confidence booster. I was excited to rev it up and shake off some dust that had building up. I hit the 20-minute marathon pace segment at 6:56 and it felt wonderful. Next up was the speeeed, which always requires a little self pep talk along the lines of “this is going to hurt. And be fun. And hurt. A lot. NOW MAKE IT HURT.”

 strava workout.png

I captioned this one “Attitude Determines Altitude” on Strava. Success starts with the right mindset.

This will be the last post before Marathon Monday. If you’re racing Boston for the first time, it is everything you’re expecting and more. Everything you’ve heard is true. Yes, the first 6 miles are downhill, and yes, you will go too fast. Yes, the Wellesley College girls will kiss you. No, nobody talks about the giant climb after you go through Wellesley center over the highway. Need a lift on the Newton Hills? Look to November Project at Mile 18, the positivity and craziness will carry you to Boston College where they’re partying harder than anyone else. Beacon Street is mostly a downhill, with a couple short inclines. Here is where you can start smiling a little bit wider now. And be sure to say hi to my colleague Ross at mile 24 – he gives great high fives! Wave to the crowds. Ask them to cheer and scream; they will.

 mile 18.png

You’ll soon see that glorious Citgo sign. That means Mile 25. You get dumped out into Kenmore Square where you may find yourself the center of attention. SCREAM HERE. Proceed on Commonwealth Ave, yes there’s another short climb nobody talks about. Turn right on Hereford (HELLO MT. HEREFORD, EVERYONE TALKS ABOUT THIS). Left on Boylston. Look a half mile down towards Copley. RUN. Scream your freaking heart out.

You’re about to become a Boston Marathoner. See you out there!

Citgo.jpg

Weekly miles: 44

Weekly tacos: 4 

Stay tuned for more, and follow me and my journey on Twitter and Instagram!

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