Friday, June 7, 2013

Top Tips from Tom

Since I can't run or do martial arts right now, I spent Monday evening at Sports Basement where Coach Tom was giving a presentation for SF Tri Club called "Marathon 101." Now at this point I feel like I have graduated to at least Marathon 102, but I'm not used to having Monday nights free & being in the running store interacting with people and listening to people talk about running seemed like a better option that sitting at home on the couch drowning my sorrows in chardonnay & cookies & cream.

(Sidenote: I did make a pretty mean batch of cookies & cream this weekend. Oh my god. Incredible.)

Hi, my name is Angela and I will never be a food blogger

In addition to many of the things you'd expect to be covered in a talk called "Marathon 101," Tom shared a few things that I have never heard from a running coach before, so I am passing them on to you. (And just so you know he's not some rando off the street, Tom qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials three times, trained with the Nike Farm Team (now the Oregon Tack Club Elite), then coached the Nike Farm Team, then coached 7 women to the Olympic Trials, including this awesome lady. So...y'know. He knows stuff.)

So what did he share that was news to me?

1) Don't worry about your form so much. At higher speeds it's worth paying more attention to because of the intensity of what you're putting your body through, but at marathon pace, he told us, however your body wants to run is probably more or less how you should be running. (The exception to this rule is if you're having injuries or persistent pain somewhere -- then it's worth looking at your form to see if it's the cause.) At marathon pace, your aerobic fitness is 99.9% of the game & for most people form just doesn't really come into it all that much.

This is totally what it's like when I hydrate.
2) Drinking a few ounces of fluid right before the gun can go a long way to helping you stay hydrated the whole way. I knew that once your heart rate goes up, the blood supply to your digestive system decreases in order to supply your muscles, but apparently once you're running, your digestive system shuts down almost completely. (Sidenote: Yes, we know that sometimes runners suffer from shall we say "gastrointestinal distress," but apparently this is most of the time due to movin' & shakin', not your digestive system actively doing anything.)

This is the difference, he told us, between having water five minutes before the gun & having it thirty seconds before the gun. Five minutes before, and it may go right through you in 10-20 minutes (particularly if you're already well-hydrated); 30 seconds before, and your stomach / kidneys / etc. basically go offline before they can absorb it & decide you don't need it, and instead you just get a "slow drip" of extra hydration. Tom referred to drinking almost immediately before the gun as "your first water station." I almost always drink right before a race, but usually several minutes before, not < 1 minute before, so this was good to know.

3) By the same logic, solid / gel fuel is probably not doing all that much for you. Because of the digestive system basically shutting down to divert blood supply to the muscles, you don't get those calories at anything close to the rate that you would be normally. They don't hurt anything (unless they actively upset your de-activated GI tract), and there is some benefit, but Tom's opinion seemed to be that endurance athletes worry about it probably more than they should. You may get more of the calories from a sports drink because your body has to do less to break that down than something in solid / gel form.

ur doin it wrong dude
4) SLEEP!! We learned that although people may disagree with this or that theory of physiology or this or that training plan or this or that nutrition philosophy, one thing we have unequivocal evidence about is how getting enough sleep (or not) effects endurance athletes. If nothing else, he told us, elite athletes around the world have one thing in common, and that's that they sleep 8-10 hours a day consistently, and it is one of the easiest ways to affect your performance, for better or worse. [File under: Things I Will Never Ever Ever Do Right.]

It turns out that deep sleep is when our bodies release human growth hormone, or HGH--yes, the same anabolic steriod that athletes are prohibited from using, because it improves healing, builds bone & muscle, & improves performance so dramatically that it makes competition unfair. Why are anabolic steroids so effective? Because they simulate deep sleep! (This article from ESPN does a great job of summarizing the science & going into more detail.) So if you want to dramatically improve your performance, you can start pumping yourself full of HGH, or you can get an extra couple of hours of sleep per night. (Sure, I'm about as likely to get 10 hours of sleep per night as I am to run 100+ miles a week, but still! Fascinating.)

Thoughts? Like I said, this was all news to me.


  1. I think how useful gels are depends a little on how functional your GI tract is/your metabolism as you run/your pace. On a long slow run, I can easily absorb a gel; during a race, I split the gels in half and take them with water to get some absorption. The faster I'm going, the more blood supply is diverted and the less functional my gut is. So the better I get, the tougher fueling gets! :)

  2. I agree with Gracie about fueling. Also, I just finished Matt Fitzgerald's "New Rules for Marathon Nutrition" and he takes the position that most people "bonk" because they don't get enough carbs per hour, and that it's nearly impossible to get enough carbs from sports drinks without drinking too much, volume-wise. Maybe because Coach Tom is used to coaching elites who are only out there for 2-3 hours for a marathon, so fueling during the race does not factor in as much. I think the average marathoner would definitely benefit from gels/chews since they're out there for 4-6 hours.

  3. I am fascinated by the drinking before the start gun thing. I really want to try it but am nervous in case it goes t*ts up in a race!!!! I might try it on my runs this week!!