My Running Coach Answers Your Questions

This time around the marathon rodeo, I’m working with a running coach, Marc to help me meet my goals. I get lots of running questions, and I’m no expert, so I opened up my blog to questions from you and passed them along to him.


Hi everyone! Welcome to my guest post on Theodora’s blog. Theodora collected questions for me to answer and I happily obliged!

My name is Marc and I blog at two places: and at Currently, I’m a professional runner for the Brooks Haddonfield Running Co. team. When I’m not training and teaching (at my alma mater), I’m a high school track and cross country coach, and I coach distance runners online. If you have any questions about anything I wrote about, have more questions for me or if you’re interested in having me coach you, you can email me at To find out more about my online coaching, please check out

Let the questions begin!! (Ed note: did anyone else think Hunger Games and “let the games begin” when you read that? Or just me?)

Aubrie asked “Why do most marathon training programs only include a 20 mile long run…why not run a full 26 miles before the race?”

Most marathon programs only offer 20 mile long runs because anything over that distance is “over-kill”. The body can only withstand so many efforts or bouts of such long distances before it starts to break down. The marathon distance itself is very long and attempting to do training runs at that distance is not logical or good for the body. I understand the need to be prepared for the distance, but there’s a fine line between being prepared and being injured or fatigued from doing too much in one go. There’s a reason why many runners only run 1-2 marathons a year – because the distance takes so much from the body.

Also, the really long runs – more than 18-20 – tends to take too long to recover from. So if you’re only running a moderate amount of miles in the week, you are sacrificing the rest of the week’s mileage for the mileage in one run. It’s almost better to spread the long run out over 2 days and still be able to run during the week.

Typically the long run should be no more than 25-30% of your weekly total. When it becomes much more than that, it makes it increasingly hard for you to do the other work necessary to run a marathon well.

Margaret asked about cross training and its benefits. She also wanted to know what she can do to avoid overtraining on the “running side” of training for the marathon. Is it possible for her to equate a hard tennis game with a certain amount of running mileage?

Having a coach is a great way to oversee your training and to make sure you aren’t going overboard, as you said you did in your last marathon build up. Doing non-running activities is a great way to build cardiovascular strength, but keep in mind, you’re running a marathon…and to be at your best for the marathon, you have to run. If you feel you are unable to get in the appropriate mileage that the marathon requires, I would suggest dropping down to a half marathon – it’s significantly less stressful on the body and you can still train at a really high level and get just as much satisfaction from the half as you can from the full.

If you build your mileage slowly and smartly, and take rest as seriously as your running, you should be fine. I don’t think it’s completely necessary for you to be doubling and tripling to “get everything in”. If you plan in advance, I think you can eliminate most of the extra workouts you’re doing. I do believe, however, that swimming, biking, using the elliptical, etc., is a great way to supplement your running. This is where having a coach can greatly help create and maintain a schedule that works for you.

As far as what can I say a 50 minute tennis match is worth in running miles? My rule of thumb is this: If you’re a 10 minute/mile runner, then every 10 minutes of cross training (swimming, hard biking, elliptical, vigorous hiking, etc.) is worth 1 “running mile”. I keep track of my running miles and my cross training mileage differently. I note that I ran 30 miles this week + I cross trained for 10 miles.

Kimra asked about the 10% rule and whether it is a myth or reality. They also asked about why training plans included speed work.

Is it a myth, is it reality?

Both. Think of it like this: Is it smart to go from 50 miles to 100 miles in back to back weeks? No. The 10% rule is good in this regard. Build slowly, let the body adapt to the new training and then build again.

What about this one? 10 miles one week, 11 miles the next? You’ll never build your mileage to anything substantial or worthwhile if you use the 10% rule. This is where I believe there is flaws in that rule.

If you’re an experienced runner – running for years or have higher mileage – I think you can be a little more liberal with your week to week mileage. If you’re new or injury proned, I think you have to build more slowly. It’s really about what you can handle and how much time you can devote to the non-running portions of your life – eating well, sleeping enough, icing, stretching, massaging, etc.

Speed work:
I think you’re using the word too generally. Speed work, in your sense, is anything faster than regular run pace. However, there are plenty of paces between all-out (sprinting for 400 meters) and basic running that are very beneficial to completing any race distance.

Threshold runs and tempo runs are, in your definition, speed work because they are faster than basic running. However, they aren’t all-out by any stretch of the imagination. Tempo runs are steady state runs – where you’re running “comfortably hard” for a set distance. The pace is usually a pace in which you can hold for 1 hour. Threshold runs are slightly faster

(10 – 15 seconds per mile faster) because you are taking short breaks in between each effort.

An example of a tempo run would be this: 2 mile warm up, 4 miles at tempo pace, 2 mile cool down.

An example of a threshold workout would be this: 2 mile warm up, 8 x 800 meters at threshold pace w/ a set recovery after each effort, 2 mile cool down.

(Take note that I didn’t give specific times because every person’s threshold and tempo paces are different. I wouldn’t want Person X to do Person Y’s threshold pace because there is a very high likelihood that it’s not threshold for Person X.)

Unless you use a heart rate monitor or use a Jack Daniel’s VDOT calculator, then I would avoid using a generic workout (with times provided) you find online/in a magazine. No two people have the same threshold and doing someone else’s workout will force you to run much higher or lower than threshold and you’ll either be working way too hard, or not hard enough.

Morgan asked about training plans and if I use one plan for everyone or if I tweak it to fit for everyone.

I look at a few factors, including: training history, commitment level, injury proneness, and the level of their goals. The more favorable all of these factors are, the more work we can do and the more fun I have being creative. I like a challenge as much as another person, but when someone can run a lot, has lots of time to commit, doesn’t get injured often and wants to be really good – that’s when coaching is really fun.

I created a general plan – for example, Sunday long runs, Tuesday and Friday workouts. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday are easy days. The first weeks are about building mileage, and then you start adding in workouts. That’s the general plan that I use, then it varies for each individual. No two people I coach have the exact same plan. With that being said though, some people do the same workout or have a similar looking week, but overall everyone has a similar general “plan”, but not the same workouts within the plan.

Think of it this way: everyone who makes chicken noodle soup, uses most of the same ingredients, but it’s up to the chef (coach) to add in his special ingredients that make up the soup what it is at the end. They might add more chicken (threshold workouts) or broth (basic runs) or vegetables (mileage)…

Katherine asked about icing and its benefits. (Ed note: I am a recent convert to ice baths, and I can’t say enough good things about the benefits of them.)

Icing is definitely necessary. Running is as much recovering from runs as it is from actually running. Icing helps remove inflammation from muscles, tendons and ligaments. The faster you can recover from a workout, the sooner you can do the next workout, which eventually turns into doing more work, and the more work you can do, the faster you’ll be.

Jordan asked about how to “read” a workout and what a particular workout would entail (“Dist: 4 mi, inc warm; 2 x 1600 in 8:54 w/ 800 jogs; cool”).

Your particular workout should be translated like this:

Do a 1 mile warm up; stop. Then do 1 mile (1600m) in 8:54. Take 800 jog. Do a mile in 8:54. Take 800 jog. Stop. Do a 1 mile cool down.

Hopefully you are doing a workout that is designed for you and not a generic workout you found online somewhere. Don’t do workouts that aren’t geared specifically for you – you may be working out much harder than you need to, and when you do this you are more susceptible to injuries, fatigue and burnout. You should find a coach or a program that takes your desires and needs into consideration and works with you as an individual.

Erica asked about coming back from injury and trying to run a marathon.

I would say if you were fully healthy and was training (even sporadically) that it would be less than ideal to run a marathon in 100 days. That being said, it’s still possible, you might just not get what you’re looking for as far as ease or even completion time. Being hurt now, I’m not sure it’s in your best interest to try and force a marathon and the training you need to do to finish (well). As a coach, I would suggest a 10k or a half marathon for this cycle. It’s good to get out of marathon shuffle at least once a year anyway, and since this is a less than ideal time frame to train for a marathon, it may come at the right time to work on your speed.

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you want to run the full or not. But doing a shorter race this fall will spice up your training, put less stress on your body coming off an injury and you’ll be able to recover from the actual race and be able to put in the necessary work for a spring marathon. Best of luck!

Elizabeth asked about strength training and if her current workouts (yoga, hot yoga and Pilates) are enough.

If you’re doing all of that cross training and yoga, my suggestion would be to stick with it. I’m a huge believer in doing what you find fun, enjoyable and more importantly, what works for you. Not to mention, during yoga, you’re getting in a hard strength training already. I might supplement your current yoga routine with a 20 minute session of core exercises (a week) and maybe 2x a week do 30 pushups, crunches, lunges and squats. They might take you 10 minutes a pop. So you’re looking at 1 more hour of work a week. If you can’t squeak that in, I wouldn’t be terribly worried. Stick with what works for you.

Bridget asked about nutrition during training runs.

Personally, I take gu. I won’t bring one with me on any run shorter than about 1:45, and even then, I don’t always use one. But what’s good for me isn’t necessarily going to be good for you.

Some people prefer Shot Blocks, others prefer different types or flavors of gu. Honestly, it’s trial and error. You have to find what sits well with you and what you are comfortable consuming.

I would go to your local running store and see what people like. Some flavors are terrible, others are more tolerable. You might find something homemade is better than anything you can buy in the store. Go for it! Just remember, anything you use on race day, you should be fully aware of what it’ll do to you from using it in training.

I would also focus on your nutrition outside of when you’re running. Eat a well-balanced diet. Minimize the foods that you know are bad for you. Remember, “crap in, crap out”. So eat healthy, and you’ll find you have more energy during your training runs just by eating a little better.

If you have more questions, feel free to email Marc (his email address above) or leave comments here.

10 comments on “My Running Coach Answers Your Questions

  1. Margaret

    wow, Marc, you know your s****, this was a very helpful response. I can now see the benefit of having a running coach. I have one more question if you don’t mind. I recently bought a running watch with the HR monitor, and my resting heart rate is awesome, my running HR is crazy though, I think maybe crazy high, but it tends to beat 180+ for the duration of my run. Is that something to be concerned about, what’s a good range? Thanks!

  2. Lauren

    I have been struggling with the fact that 20 miles is my longest training distance for a few weeks now and Marc’s answer above makes total sense and just eased my fears. I have 20 miles this weekend and now I’m excited to do it and start tapering like I’m supposed to :)…thanks for the excellent Q&A!

  3. Laura

    loved reading this! i’m currently in a running class in college and while it’s totally kicking my butt, i’m loving seeing how i’ve already progressed in a month

  4. Kayla @

    Thanks for the info. This is really helpful! I just finshed my second half marathon ever (and in this year) shaving 9 minutes off my first half time (PR now at 2:20 and aiming to slowly but surely get towards 2:00 :). I figured with a third and maybe 4th half on the calendar for the rest of teh year I could get myself a garmin and heart rate monitor. Do you or your coach have any heart rate training suggestions?


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.