Ask Coach Jenny
Three Great Half Marathon Questions from Heidi: Cross-training, Long Runs and Nutrition
Q: I am training for a half marathon and in my training there is one day of cross-training and one day of rest every week. Is it okay to run two days in a row or should I look at spacing out the day of rest and cross-training so I run in between?
A: Running back to back days is okay. However, if you are new to running or to the half marathon distance, running every other day will allow more time to recover and therefore allow you to run stronger in every running workout. It also depends on the age of the runner, as many 40+ year old runners perform their best on 3-4 runs per week and focus on quality over quantity. This is also the case for runners who struggle with recurring aches, pains and injuries. Cross-training, especially when it is low impact (elliptical, cycling) is a form of active rest for your running muscles and a fantastic tool for making it healthfully to the finish line.
Q: My training plan calls for three shorter runs, one speed or hill workout, one cross-training workout, one long run and a rest day per week. What is the best day to fit my long run in? After my day of rest? After a day of speed work?
A: Although the long run is run at an easy, conversational effort, due to the progressive distance, it is considered a hard run on the body. When you train at harder efforts during the speed/hill and long run workouts, it is optimal to follow up with rest or cross-training to allow the body to adapt and grow stronger.
Here is one example of how you could plan your training week:
Monday: Short Run
Tuesday: Speed/Hill Workout
Thursday: Short Run
Friday: Short Run or Cross-Training
Saturday: Long Run
A great time for the long run is on a day when you can invest the time to get it in and recover. For many runners, this is the weekend. It is also best to space the hard workouts a few days apart to assure recovery. The key truly is to develop a recipe that works for your body. If you find your energy levels fading, you’re developing aches and pains or just not feeling strong for more than a few days, you may need to tweak your program to match the flow of your life. For instance, if this is new for your body, you may recover faster by replacing one short run with a low-impact cross-training session. That can boost motivation, alleviate burnout and decrease the impact on your body – allowing it to adapt to the demands of the long and hard effort workouts.
Q: If I am training for a half marathon – what are the best supplements for me to take to get the most out of my runs and which ones are best for my body?
A: Nutrition plays a vital role in your overall life performance, not just on your runs. A good place to start is by taking a personal inventory of your fuel. That is, plug in what you eat on a daily basis for a week to evaluate the types of foods (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and the quality in terms of nutrients. Making sure to consume a balanced diet with clean foods is the first step in making sure you’re getting the nutrients you need. Clean food refers to foods with a short list of ingredients (5 or less) that are natural in their essence – fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (including legumes, turkey and lean beef) and whole grains (brown rice, qunoa).
From there, taking a gender-specific multivitamin can be used to complement that part of your diet. It is common for endurance runners to have low iron, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. It is best to talk this through with a doctor, as taking too much of one vitamin can upset the balance in your system and create other issues. If you want to take it to next level, get tested to identify exactly what you need. It may cost a little up front, but you’ll know where your weak spots are and can make changes in your diet and supplements to create balance.
Hopefully these tips can keep you heading in the right direction in this complex game of race training. It’s great that you’re focusing on optimizing your workouts and nutrition. It will make you a stronger runner, not only in this race, but for life. Good luck in your training, Heidi.