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How to handle missing an important training run

NOV 15, 2023

Minute 1: What to do if you miss a workout

There is a very poor strategy in gambling known as “double up to catch up.” If you lose a $10 bet in blackjack, bet $20 on the next hand. If you lose that, you bet $40 on the next hand. For obvious reasons, this can put you in a very deep hole very quickly. Unfortunately, some runners employ a similar plan when they miss a key workout or long run. According to Canadian Running, “You shouldn’t try to make up a missed workout–here’s why.” Whether it's due to injury or scheduling conflicts, some workouts have to be skipped. Stuff happens, but runners fear losing progress after a setback, so they’ll often take risks. Coming back too soon from an injury and hitting your workouts hard can increase your likelihood of reinjury. Not only that, but it can throw your training schedule out of whack, leading to a dangerously high frequency of intense training sessions. It’s important to remember that downtime isn’t your enemy, and for more on that, check out these: “5 Reasons to Be Okay With Missed Workouts.” While preparing for a race, consistency is your friend. If you typically stick to the plan, missing one workout will be a minor blip in an otherwise successful training program. Runners have some leeway when it comes to missing training days before a race too, and for more on that, dive into the numbers from a Strava analysis in: “How Much Will a Gap in Training Hurt Your Race?” Even missing as much as 13 days of training during a 12-week marathon buildup only slowed runners down by about 4% on average. Sure, that’s suboptimal, but it's far better than gambling with your health.

Minute 2: Try the Run Less, Run Faster method

The value of long runs and increasing volume are well established for endurance athletes. Conventional wisdom will tell you that if you want to run long well, you’ve got to run long often. But if you’re short on time, struggling with overuse injuries, or just want to push yourself harder, you may want to consider this strategy from MarathonHandbook: “Run Less, Run Faster: Low-Volume Focused Run Training Method.” Also known as the FIRST method (named for the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training), this training approach has a few fundamental rules. Run no more than three days per week, complete one long run a week that’s about 65% of your weekly volume, perform two intense cross-training sessions a week, and keep your workout intensity high. Disciples of the FIRST method say they’ve seen a reduction in injury frequency because they’ve eliminated so-called “junk miles,” which some coaches believe add unnecessary stress on the body without much of a payoff. FIRST training also makes use of polarization, meaning that there’s a high variation in the pace you run at day-to-day, which can vary the biomechanical stress on your body. For more info on polarized training, you can read “Polarized training for everyday runners: Part 1.” Lots of runners are guilty of drifting towards a moderate pace every run. That means the recovery runs are too fast, and the workouts aren’t intense enough. By increasing the polarization of your training, you simultaneously increase your time to recover, while occasionally pushing your body to its limit to grow your top speed and aerobic capacity.

Minute 3: Should you supplement magnesium?

If you’re an endurance athlete who cares about healthy eating, the ads in your Instagram feed probably look a lot like ours – shoes, apparel, recovery tools and nutritional supplements. Lately, we keep seeing ads and stories extolling the virtues of magnesium, so we decided to take a closer look. Since many supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, marketing teams are known to make some pretty bold claims without the necessary evidence to back it up, but the Washington Post helped cut through the noise this week: “Should I take a magnesium supplement? Here’s what the science says.” Magnesium is an essential mineral, but Dr. Trisha Pasricha says that magnesium-rich foods likely carry more benefits than a pure magnesium supplement. That being said, there are a few specific conditions that magnesium supplements can address, like constipation, migraines, and certain mood disorders. If you’ve struggled with any of those, supplementation could be the easiest solution to the problem. There are a lot of quick and easy natural sources of magnesium to choose from as well, including oatmeal: “Oatmeal is the secret to better sleep (and you’re going to love this hack).” One cup of oatmeal has 63.2 mg of magnesium, which promotes relaxation and stress reduction. Not only that, but oatmeal also contains nutrients that facilitate the production of melatonin, making it a double-whammy of sleep-boosting substances.

Minute 4: Could cocoa drinks replace your coffee?

As a child of the ‘80s, when we think of a cocoa beverage, we picture a packet of powdered chemicals masquerading as hot chocolate or the milk remaining in our bowl after wolfing down Cocoa Puffs for breakfast. Times have changed since then, but we were still surprised to learn that chocolate drinks and bars containing cocoa could just be a healthier, smoother alternative to a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage. To learn why, take a look at this analysis of the active ingredient in cacao: “What is Theobromine? (Benefits & Effects vs. Caffeine).” Theobromine is an alkaloid similar to caffeine that’s found in cacao beans and certain kinds of tea, and it offers similar benefits to caffeine. An effective dose of theobromine can deliver increased energy, a mood boost, and improved blood flow. In fact, theobromine delivers a slower and steadier kind of energy, which is why some nutritionists call it the marathon runner of stimulants – as opposed to the sprint of energy you get with caffeine. So what’s the best way to consume this marathon miracle food? The answer can be found in part in this story from Healthline: “Cacao vs Cocoa: What's the Difference?” Simply put, cacao refers to the pods, beans, and ground of contents of a cacao plant, while cocoa is the powder left over after pushing the fat out of ground beans. In other words, both contain some amount of Theobromine, and either can be found in certain chocolate and cocoa products. To maximize the health benefits and avoid added sugars and fats, natural cocoa powder could be the way to go. Here are a few good choices: “Natural Cocoa Powder Puts the Generic Stuff to Shame—Here are 4 of Our Favorites.”

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • Lately, we’ve heard some innovative suggestions for mid-race fueling. In Minute 2 of this issue, we discussed the possibility of pickle juice as a sports drink replacement. Then, in Minute 5 of this issue, we spoke about one reader who suggested mustard as an electrolyte replenisher. Well, we’ve got another condiment that needs investigating, and you can hear all about it in: “I Drank Ketchup Packets on My Run, for Science.” The TL;DR for this one is that ketchup is no replacement for energy gels. It looks like it was nothing more than a publicity stunt from Heinz, albeit a pretty funny one. Their clever (fake) promo video is linked here.

  • Where would our feet be without the sage advice of Brian Metzler, our resident footwear expert? Well, potentially in danger of getting hurt. He’s been looking into the latest in super shoe technology and he found that carbon plated shoes may increase your injury risk if used improperly. If that has you worried, you may want to check out Outside magazine’s “9 Rules for Training in Super Shoes” to mitigate the risk and get the most out of your race day sneakers.

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

We’re grateful for anyone who’s ever cheered us on from the side of a race course or sent us a quick pre-race text wishing us luck. The smallest nuggets of encouragement can make a big difference in our mental attitude. Suffice to say, having an entire school line up for a pre-race send-off on race day would transform our whole outlook. That’s exactly what happened to @MrAndersonPhyEd, and you can feel the excitement and energy pouring through the screen in a recent video he shared. Mr. Anderson was on his way to the 2023 NYC Marathon after teaching his last class of the week when he was called into the hallway. Waiting to surprise him was row after row of students holding signs and slapping high fives as he made his way toward the school exit. Even if you’re not a click-on-videos kinda person, you’ll want to check this one out!


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