How to Train for Your First Marathon

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I start training for a marathon if I’ve never done running before? – Jordana

A: Hi Jordana (pretty name btw). There are a lot of ways to train up for a marathon, but most only focus on the physical aspects. When going from the couch to the marathon, your body and mind need time to adapt to the demands along the way. For this reason, I recommend to go the route of slow progression to the marathon distance.

The best way to eat the elephant is one bite at a time. It is quite overwhelming to get up off the couch and think, “Okay, today is the first day of my marathon training.” It’s such a huge goal – it can overwhelm rather than inspire, not to mention it can quickly lead to burn out from jumping into too much too soon.

Rather than thinking marathon, think 5K. Find a run-walk program that guides you to get up and running a 5K in the next three months. I have a few free plans here [link:] that can get you started (Zero to Running is a solid strategy to get going). This is the time to be more conservative as your body will make the most gains early in your running program.

As you complete the program, graduate to a 10K and focus on training for the next two months to build to that distance. Again, the more gradual your climb in distance early on, the less risk you’ll experience burn out and injury. Plus, with time, your mental strength develops right along side your body and detours the negative emotions that can sneak up and bite you when you jump into too much distance. Every race becomes a mini goal and gives you a sense of accomplishment on your journey to the marathon.

After you cross the line of your 10K, set your sites on training up for a half marathon. With your 10K base of training investing a solid 12-14 weeks will give you enough time to adapt, run longer and stronger. Upon finishing the half, you’ve earned your wings to train up for the marathon. At this point, if all feels well, you can continue your training from the half marathon right up to the full distance in 10-12 weeks. This gives you time to recover post half, build your distance to the mileage necessary to run the marathon distance and include a taper as well.

Other ingredients that will help in your new running journey include flexibility (foam rolling, massage and stretching), strength training and cross-training with lower impact activities (i.e. Zumba, cycling, swimming or elliptical).

Finally, be mindful of your body along the way and stay in tune with aches and pains. It’s your body’s way of communicating with you that you’re likely resting too little or pushing too hard. In most cases, a day or two of easy cross-training or rest will do the trick and heal the minor little aches.

Your goal to run a marathon is quite ambitious, so just make sure to give yourself time to complete your goal in stages. Good luck on your marathon quest.  One race at a time!

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

Posted by Coach Jenny Hadfield | Posted in Fitness

What You Should Know About Creatine

Creatine is one of the most widely used and well-researched supplements on the market. In fact, the creatine market in the United States alone is estimated at $14 million per year and over 50 percent of professional football players report using the supplement.

Readily available in pills, powders and sports drinks, many athletes and fitness enthusiasts try creatine at some point, so it’s worth knowing all you can about the supplement.

As always, before taking any exercise supplement, discuss it with your doctor to be sure that it will not have any negative interaction with your medications or preexisting conditions.

What It Is and What It Does

Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally created by your body. It is also available in fish and red meat. Creatine is converted to creatine phosphate and stored in the muscles, which allows your body to use it immediately.

To understand why it’s so important to have creatine phosphate readily on hand, we have to understand how muscle contractions are powered. The primary fuel for all muscle movements is adenosine-triphosphate (ATP). The problem is that our muscles can only store enough ATP for short bursts of activity and it takes a relatively long time to synthesize. To compensate for this and speed up the process, a common compound, adenosine-diphosphate (ADP) steals a phosphate molecule from the creatine phosphate. This creates more ATP for immediate use.

Because creatine supplementation gives you excess reserves of this backup fuel, it primes your body for high-intensity, short-duration exercise like sprinting or weight lifting. Since you have extra fuel available, you should be able to do more reps and run longer, subsequently getting a more effective workout.

The research on creatine is mixed, although the majority of studies show that creatine can help to improve explosive speed, strength and lean muscle mass. Creatine doesn’t appear to be useful in long-distance endurance training, however.


According to the Mayo Clinic, many frequent users of creatine supplements ignore and exceed the recommended dosages. This is likely because serious fitness enthusiasts are either taking bad advice, or they figure they can’t get too much of a good thing.

The general recommended dose is 20 grams of creatine per day, divided into four doses of five grams each. The duration of the supplementation will depend on your goals and there are plenty of conflicting opinions out there. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking creatine for 4-7 days for enhanced athletic strength and performance. Smaller maintenance doses of five grams per daycan be taken after that.

Although traditional gym wisdom supports cycling on and off creatine, this assertion has come under fire. There is no evidence to support that cycling improves the efficacy of the supplementation or that it will prevent side effects as long as you follow the recommended dosages. Despite this evidence, many people still cycle creatine.

Considerations and Potential Side Effects

Some people seem to have no response to creatine. Recent research suggests that these people may simply have a naturally elevated creatine reserve already.

Allergies to creatine are possible and will cause a rash, itching and/or shortness of breath.

Gastrointestinal discomfort as well as bloating from water weight are both common side effects of creatine supplementation. You may also experience muscle sprains or cramps that could lead to more serious injuries.

Although creatine was linked with kidney damage in the past, this connection has been weakened by modern research but not severed. Both kidney and liver functions may be altered, so users with preexisting conditions in these particular organs should talk to their doctor first.

Creatine has the potential to alter insulin activity, but more research is necessary. If you have diabetes or hypoglycemia or are undergoing any treatments that could affect your blood sugar, you should use caution taking creatine.

Have you taken creatine supplements? Share your experience with us in the comments.



Postpartum Fitness: How to Get Back in Shape After Having a Baby

After giving birth last fall, one of the first questions I had for my midwife was, “When can I exercise again?” I ran until I was 7 months pregnant, when I had to hang up my running shoes due to health concerns. So I couldn’t wait to get moving again. (Information on keeping a safe running routine throughout pregnancy can be found here.)

But starting a fitness plan postpartum requires that you take special care. Whether you’re an athlete eager to get back into your favorite sport or you’re looking for a way to shed the pregnancy pounds, you can safely get in shape after having a baby.

Getting Started

Being active boasts a bunch of health benefits for new moms. Exercise can boost your energy, reduce postpartum fatigue, fight stress, improve your mood, strengthen your muscles and help you lose weight. Plus, you’ll be setting up lifelong healthy habits and be a good role model for your child.

Before you head to the gym, though, you’ll need to get the OK from your doctor or midwife. Delivering a baby takes a toll on your body, and it can take weeks to recover (or even months if you delivered by cesarean section or had a difficult childbirth). Rest is usually best in the first few weeks after having a baby.

Experts say that most postpartum women can do some light walking as soon as they feel up to it. In general, women who delivered vaginally can start more vigorous exercise at 6 weeks postpartum, and women who delivered by C-section can engage in more intense activity 6 to 8 weeks after childbirth. But know that every woman is different and recovery times vary. Always ask your doctor how long you should wait after the birth of your baby before resuming or starting an exercise program.

Sticking With It

Still, even if you have clearance from your doctor, wait until your body feels ready before you move from walking to more intense activities. Once you feel ready to exercise, follow these tips for success:

·         Ease into it. Doing too much before your body is healed can be a recipe for disaster. You risk injury if you jump into intense exercise too soon. Take it slow and, in time, you’ll be able to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workout sessions.

·         Have realistic expectations. You just had a baby! You are likely sleep deprived and stressed. If you don’t have the stamina for your planned workout one day, don’t sweat it. Just take a walk instead. Remember that even a little bit of exercise is better than none. Pop baby into a jogging stroller and get going! (with luck he’ll even finally fall asleep!)

·         Stay well hydrated. Be mindful to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. This is especially crucial for breast-feeding women because you lose fluids during nursing sessions. Drinking enough water throughout the day can help you feel more energized and combat fatigue.

·         Plan ahead if you’re breast-feeding. In the first few months postpartum, you may feel more comfortable if you exercise immediately after nursing your baby. Note that working out will not negatively impact your milk supply.

·         Watch for warning signs. If you have bright red vaginal bleeding that’s heavier than a period, stop exercising at once and get medical help.

New moms: how do you make time for fitness? I like to multi-task; I used to lift weights and do jumping jacks while my son played on his activity mat.


The Many Benefits of a Morning Workout

Not many of us wake up, hop out of bed with full energy and can zealously tackle our workout first thing in the morning. The natural inclination is often to put if off, generally until the end of the day, when all the other important things like work and school have been accomplished.

But is this wise? What are the benefits of a morning workout, before you go about the rest of your daily activities?

Start The Day Off Right

In a recent post, we discussed the fact that a balanced breakfast can help to set a healthy tone for the rest of your day. Morning exercise seems to have a similar effect, for several reasons.

First, numerous studies have shown that exercise can improve your sense of well-being and overall mood. For longtime exercisers, this won’t come as a surprise but it has important implications. If you exercise first thing in the morning, elevating your mood, you are more likely to eat healthier foods and enjoy your day more.

Additionally, once you experience these benefits, you’ll want to continue exercising so that you can keep enjoying them. Speaking to U.S. News, Julia Valentour, program coordinator for the American Council on Exercise, said that “People who exercise in the morning are more likely to make it a habit, as there’s less chance of scheduling conflicts that get in the way of exercise.”

Razor Focus!

Closely related to the improved sense of well-being is a heightened alertness throughout the day. Although you have to drag yourself out of bed and struggle to start your workout, once you do you’ll wake up quickly. Not only will you be able to give your workout your full attention but, by the time you get to work, you’ll already feel awake and accomplished.

A key factor to consider when discussing how to set a good tone for your day is the effect that exercise has on your metabolism. Recent research has shown that not only do our bodies burn calories during exercise, but that increased caloric burn continues for hours after. One study found that men who biked at a high intensity for 45 minutes burned an extra 190 calories over the 14 hours following the workout. Other studies have backed these findings but, they all note, that low or moderate intensity workouts don’t show the same substantial results.

Sleep Better

It may seem counter-intuitive, but waking up early to work out may help you sleep better. A quality night’s sleep is dependent, to a large extent, on regularity. We need to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Scheduling your workout in the mornings can be a valuable step toward creating a regular sleep pattern.

Research also indicates that people who exercise at night or in the evenings have more difficulty falling asleep than those who work out earlier in the day. Not only will the improved sleep help you be more focussed and energetic, but sleep plays an important part in weight loss. Several hormones that control your appetite and metabolism are regulated by your sleep patterns so creating a healthy sleep schedule can have a positive effect on those systems as well.

Avoid Conflicts

How often does your day go exactly as you had planned? Things pop up unexpectedly that force use to make last minute changes. We may have to work late, deal with some emergency or handle an errand we forgot about, and any of these things can suck up the time you’d planned for your workout. By taking care of your exercise as soon as you wake up, you lessen the chance of something else getting in the way.

What benefits have you experienced from working out in the morning? Please share them with us in the comments.


What is the Best Way to Recover After a Race?

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I recover after short and long races – 5K to marathon?  ~Jeff

A: Great question, Jeff! The short, sweet, tweet-sized answer is – invest one day for every mile in the race. Although this is very general, it can work in keeping things simple. So, the shorter the race, the shorter the recovery necessary and vice versa.  This is why you can race multiple 5Ks in a season with less risk than racing multiple half or full marathons in a season.

The longer answer is it truly depends on a host of variables including: your running experience, your training season, your health, stress, nutrition, race intensity, the elements, age and more! I know that’s a mouthful and quite a lot to think about, but ultimately it comes down to creating your personal recovery program and understanding that every post-race recovery is unique. That way, you tune into what works for you, learn to optimize your down time and ebb and flow with all types of recoveries.

Contrary to popular belief, post-race recovery doesn’t mean sitting on the couch watching your favorite reality TV show. It simply means getting off the structure of a training program for awhile to let things heal and rejuvenate – much like the winter season or a good night’s sleep. Our body functions in cycles and when you begin to train and race in cycles, you make the most of every season. The fun part is it allows time to explore activities you may have ignored due to training. There are a myriad of options for active recovery and here are just a few ways you could go for each race distance.

5K – 10K:  

In-Season, Post-Race Recovery:

Day 1 – Rest, massage or very light, low-impact activity for 20-30 minutes (cycling, elliptical)

Day 2 – Cross-training with lower-impact activities for 30-45 minutes at an easy effort level, plus flexibility exercises (foam rolling, stretching)

Day 3 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 4 – Cross-training for 30-45 minutes at an easy to moderate effort level

Day 5 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Continue on with your 5K training regimen, adding higher intensity and longer duration runs back into your regimen if all feels well. If you have any aches or pains, invest a few more days of easy effort runs and cross-training to assure recovery.

Post-Season Recovery:

Weeks 1-2:

Include easy to moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter and flexibility exercises, keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour. Reward yourself with a massage!

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus a strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Easy effort run – 60 minutes on a new trail, route or path

Sunday – Rest

Weeks 3-4:

Include moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter, a harder effort short run and flexibility exercises, still keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour.

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Alternate one week with a longer, slower run (45-60 minutes) with a shorter, harder effort run (30-40 minutes – Fartlek, which is a form of road running in which the runner varies the pace significantly during the run)

Sunday – Rest

Half Marathon Marathon:

Longer races require long training seasons and more effort and stress on race day. Therefore, at least 3-4 weeks of low-key, unstructured activity is a great way to fully recovery mentally, physically and emotionally. Here is an example of what that might look like for a runner that normally trains four times per week, plus cross-training.

Week 1 – Keep the effort easy and activity short:

Monday – Rest, massage and very light flexibility exercises

Tuesday – Cross-training for 20-30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Cross-training for 30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Friday – Rest day or light walk for 30 minutes

Saturday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest or light walk for 30-45 minutes

 Week 2 – Keep the effort easy, and build the activity time slightly:

Monday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Tuesday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Thursday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 3:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60-70 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 4:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Moderate effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Thursday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Friday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes or cross-training

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 70-80 minutes (or hold at 60 minutes if that’s more comfortable), plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

Antioxidants, Free-radicals and You

“Antioxidant” has become one of the most persistent, and successful, buzzwords in the fitness industry. The substances are portrayed almost as microscopic superheros, patrolling our bodies to fight against the evil free radicals. Prevailing theories tell us that antioxidants fight cancer, aging and just about every other disease and condition out there. But emerging science has shown this view to be a potentially dangerous oversimplification of a very complicated system.

What is the role of antioxidants, then? Are free radicals really the villainous molecular marauders that they’re made out to be? Is there any harm in antioxidant supplementation?

Poor, Misunderstood Free Radicals

Even at the molecular level, everything likes to be in balance. One of the ways that molecules maintain their balance is by having pairs of electrons. When a molecule has a lonesome, unpaired electron, it becomes a thief and tries to steal an electron from a neighboring molecule. The victim now becomes a thief, trying to replace its lost electron. These are free radicals and, through their criminal activity, they damage cell walls and cause disease.

It is true that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging further cells but this is only part of the story.

Free radicals aren’t all bad and, in small doses, may even be vital since they are used in energy production at a cellular level. Certain free radicals, like those produced by hydrogen peroxide, actually play a key role in a healthy immune system. This means that megadoses of antioxidants, which destroy these free radicals, may be counterproductive, according to several studies.

The Science

The chief study that points to the benefits of the much maligned free radicals was conducted in 2010 by researchers at the Department of Biology at McGill University of Montreal, Canada. The study found that worms that had higher levels of free radicals actually live longer than normal worms. Additionally, when the worms were given antioxidants, their lifespan returned to a normal length. More research is needed, though, to fully understand this relationship as well as the effects in humans.

It also worth noting that, despite all the positive press, there is no research that conclusively proves all of the touted benefits of antioxidants. In fact, beta carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C have all produced lackluster results in studies on human. Beta carotene supplementation actually increased the risk of lung cancer by 28 percent and the death rate by 17 percent, in one study. An extensive U.S. Women’s Health Study also suggested that vitamin C supplements could accelerate atherosclerosis in diabetics.

Should You Supplement?

Each of these studies on various antioxidants are performed with a pure extract of the substance and point to something interesting: Taking supplements that contain the purified forms of the compound is no substitute for a diet high in fruits and vegetables.

The tests that initially led to the fame of antioxidants were performed in a test tube, not in the human body. When they were reproduced in humans, researchers found that the antioxidants had little to no effect since the human body only uses specific forms of the substances and excretes the rest.

People who already have a deficiency in a given antioxidant, vitamin E for example, are the exception. But you should only supplement under the direction of a doctor since even these substances can have side effects when taken in large doses.

As is the case with most health and fitness topics, balance is the key. Science still cannot full explain the relationship between free radicals and antioxidants, apart from knowing that they are both important in the right doses. The safest course, then, is to stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and let your body do the rest.


5 Healthy Alternative Thanksgiving Meals

There’s a reason Thanksgiving dinner leaves you wanting to fall asleep in the middle of the ballgame, and it’s not just the fact that you ate until you had to unbutton your pants. The quantity was certainly a factor, but the quality of your meal — all those simple carbohydrates, the heavy gravies and the extra helping of dessert — not only gives you an immediate energy crash but pose some serious threats to any health or weight-loss diet you had in the works just a few days earlier.

When you’re planning your Thanksgiving feast for this year, keep your most important centerpiece dishes, but consider swapping out some of your sides with these healthier alternatives:

1. Veggie Platter

Yes, we’re aware that the veggie platter you lay out every year is the one plate that’s still mostly full when it’s time to put away the appetizers. This isn’t because of the veggies, though. It’s because you’ve set it on the same table as those cookies and the meat-and-cheese board. This year, offer only veggies, plus maybe a little fruit. Folks will still want to munch, but they’ll munch much better. Great seasonal candidates for platterdom include celery, carrots and broccoli crowns. Although they’re not in season this time of year, it’s not too hard to get some bell peppers and cucumbers to add to the mix.

2. Fruity Salads

It almost isn’t Thanksgiving dinner until somebody breaks out the bowl full of Jello with fruit in it. That wobbly bit of wonderful may taste good, but it’s got about as much sugar in it as the dessert pies. This year, jettison the Jello. Replace it with a varied green salad made of crisp greens, some cheese and sliced apples or pears. Throw some nuts or dried fruit on top to garnish. If you don’t want to experiment, try this salad with figs and almonds.

3. Soup of the Day

Soup is a quintessential holiday food, a steaming bowl of yummy that reminds you how warm it is inside at the table. Lots of soups are high in sodium and the simple carbs that thicken the broth — especially if you’re serving it out of cans. One of the best things about soups is they’re very forgiving, so experiment with scratch-cooking a nice pumpkin soup this year. It’s a verified superfood, low on sodium and carbohydrates, and thematically matched with Thanksgiving culinary expectations.

4. Lose the Potatoes

With apologies to Idaho, potatoes are among the worst foods you can choose from a health standpoint. A simple baked potato has the same effect on your endocrine system as a bottle of soda. Try replacing your mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes with steamed green beans or carrots. Make them a bigger hit by adding a simple garlic sauce for the beans, or a honey glaze for the carrots. For an alternative that better matches the color and texture, try mashed cauliflower.  It’s nutritious, lacks the starch, and you can spice it to match anybody’s taste.

5. The Upper Crust

The trouble with your fruit and pumpkin pies is the sugar content, much of which is in the pastry crusts most people put at the bottom. By switching to a low-sugar crust, you can enjoy this holiday must-have while cutting down on the calorie load. Another trick is to simply make less dessert. Nobody needs four helpings of pie — so get an accurate head count and cook accordingly.


Can Your Workout Be Destroying Your Muscles?

If you’ve ever used any piece of cardio training equipment you’ve seen it: the “heart rate zone chart.” This handy reference tool provides you with some research-based general guidelines for where to keep your heart rate to achieve specific fitness goals.

The target zone for most people, and the focus of most exercise programs, is the “weight loss zone.”

Although there is merit to the “weight loss zone” and related programs, people often take it a step further and claim that exercising above this zone will make your body burn muscle for fuel. However, this has also led to many bodybuilders choosing to avoid cardio altogether during their bulking cycles so that they don’t risk losing any muscle.

But what’s the science at work here? Is the fat loss zone real? Is it possible to work out so intensely that you actually burn muscle?

The Fat Loss Zone

It is true that the fat loss zone exists but it is often misrepresented. Your body will not burn a higher amount of fat in this zone but it will burn a higher percentage. It’s not a matter of whether your body is using carbs or fat for fuel, because you are always using both — in different proportions — depending on the needs at hand.

According to, exercising at lower intensities forces your body to use about 50 percent of both carbs and fat. At higher intensities this mixture switches to about 35 percent fat, 65 percent carbs, but your total caloric expenditure is much higher so it will likely balance out.

For example, if you run at eight miles per hour for an hour, you burn about 860 calories and 300 of those are from fat. A lower-intensity exercise, like a jog at five miles per hour, will burn 600 total calories with 300 from fat.

Muscle For Fuel

Is there any point at which your body will start to use muscle for fuel? Yes, but you’re not likely to reach it during an average workout. Muscle is precious, used for literally everything you do on a daily basis and your body isn’t eager to destroy it. Using muscle for fuel is called a catabolic state and occurs only during periods of starvation. Interestingly, crash diets can create catabolisis by restricting the caloric intake so much that the body has no option but to turn on its own muscle for fuel.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no correlation between exercise intensity and whether your body burns muscle or fat for fuel. The researchers concluded that, when it comes to conserving muscle, exercise intensity can be left up to you.

Can You Work Out Too Hard?

Although it’s not likely that your workout will destroy your muscles, is it possible for you to work out too hard? Of course it is. Working out too intensely puts you at an increased risk for muscle overuse and other injuries, which can put you out of commission for a while and throw off your exercise routine.

Listen to your body when deciding on the appropriate exercise intensity for you and your fitness level.


Running Through Your Performance Highs and Lows

Ask Coach Jenny

 Q: How come some days I feel like I can run forever and then other days I feel like I can barely make a few miles? ~Andrea

 A: That’s a great question, Andrea. There are many reasons that contribute to the highs and lows, and one of the most significant is how you go about running day to day, especially if you’re training for an event.

It is easy to get caught up in running by a certain pace (ex. 9:30 per mile) now that we have all these wonderful speed-distance devices that tell you the pace as you run. Remember the days when we would have to drive the distance to see how far we ran? I do…

There is something that gets lost when we train by pace – we tune out what is going on in our bodies. When we do that, we risk over- or under-performing on any given day. Pace should be the outcome of your run, rather than the target and here’s why.

Let’s say you go for your planned run today for four miles and it is 90 degrees outside. Your plan calls for an easy-effort run but your mind is set on running at a 9:30 per mile pace, which is normally an easy effort. You end up running in a hard zone due to the heat. Your next run is a tempo workout where you run at a specific pace that is comfortably hard (8:30 per mile) but you’re fatigued due to the hot run, so that tempo pace now feels extremely hard (red zone). In time, your body fatigues and that can result in a host of challenging runs or contribute to “dead legs,” where your legs simply don’t have any strength.

Training by pace and pace alone defeats the purpose of the run. When you train by effort and how your body feels (heart rate and your breathing rate), you’re always training in the right zone on the given day. On that 90-degree day, you can still run easy by slowing your pace and running at an effort where you can still talk. This may even require run-walking intervals to keep your body cool. On the flipside, when it cools down and you have a strong day because you haven’t trained too hard – you will run stronger than that calculated pace. It all starts with tuning into your body, listening to your breath and flowing with what the day brings. When you run in the flow, your body adapts more efficiently and fatigues less.

Take this timeless challenge and let me know how it works out for you. Invest three weeks in running by your body and breath. Run hard on your hard days and easy on your easy days – but do so in the rhythm of your body rather than your watch or speed-distance monitor. It will change your life forever…

Other variables that can negatively affect your performance include:


The quality of sleep greatly affects your running performance. Have you ever pulled an all-nighter and then went for a run the next day? It’s hard and results in higher heart rates, lower energy levels and an overall tough run. Invest in quality sleep for at least 7-8 hours each night.

Your Cycle

This doesn’t quite apply to the men. However, as women, our menstrual cycle has a rhythm all of its own with highs and lows. The highs you may recognize as the days when you feel like Wonder Woman and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. This typically happens between days 7 and 15 around ovulation. The lows happen 7 days before menstruation and the first few days of your cycle. The great news is our bodies have a built in flow – where you can run harder around your strongest days, and ease back on the throttle and take an easy-effort week during the challenging days around the cycle. Doing so keeps in alignment with the natural flow of your body. By the way, there have been world records set during menstruation, so it doesn’t translate to poor performance.


You are what you eat. If you eat low quantities of fuel on a low-calorie diet or miss meals, it will instantly translate to tough runs. In the same light, eating highly processed, low-quality fuels can also have the same effect – icky runs. Keep a fuel log and begin to take inventory of what you eat. Making small changes to good, clean fuel sources will increase the likelihood of better runs more often. Stick with foods that have a short ingredient list of things you can actually pronounce – vegetables, fruits, protein sources and healthy fats.


This is a silent energy killer. It sneaks into your life and subtly zaps the energy right out from underneath you. Whether it is due to work, deadlines, family, loss or relationships, stress sucks the life out of your runs. Invest in yoga, meditation or even breathing deeply for one minute during the day. Being mindful of the stress and making efforts to decrease and manage it will greatly improve the quality of your life performance on and off the roads.

As with any old habits, remember that they die hard, so start improving your runs with small changes that you can stick with over time. It may take quite a bit of practice to break the desire to train by pace, but it will pay off exponentially in the long run – literally and figuratively.