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Everything on your runcoach schedule has a purpose, and the long run is no different.  In many half marathon and marathon training cycles, the long run seems like the tent pole of each week, the looming square on the calendar, by which the week is assessed as successful or otherwise.  When asked about how our goal race training is going, we as runners often respond with data on our long run progression.  Those numbers play a huge part in how prepared we feel for the big day, but what other purposes does the long run serve?


Increased Capillarization

Long runs increase mitochondrial production and the distribution of capillaries (small blood vessels) in your muscles.  Mitochondria take nutrients and convert them into fuel that can be used by each cell.  Increased capillarization means a growth in the surface area of a muscle assisted by the network of small blood vessels.  We all know what it feels like to wish we had more energy and oxygen delivered to our leg muscles.  Long runs help achieve that exact aim.


Efficient Storage and Burning of Energy

Long runs typically are done at a non-hurried, aerobic pace of approximately 65-80% of your maximum heart rate (note that your pace chart might list “easy” and “long” as the same pace).   Running for long periods of time at that effort level and approximate heart rate can both teach your body to store more energy (glycogen) because of depletion caused by previous long runs, and burn more fat as a percentage of energy used than shorter, harder runs.


Race Simulation

Long runs teach your body to prepare physiologically for the stresses it will undergo on the big day, but they also are an opportunity for increasingly realistic dress rehearsals for things like mid-run fueling (Which drinks or gels work with your stomach?), and race day clothing (Will these shorts chafe?).  Other than successfully receiving a chip time, there should be very few things you do on race day that you have not yet practiced on a long run along the way.


Mental Prep

When your longest lifetime run is 6 miles, beginning a marathon training cycle can seem daunting to say the least.  However, as the distances increase, so will the number of times you have tried something new, endeavored to complete a run longer than you ever have before, and have had to employ belief in the face of an undetermined result.  A race the length of a half or full marathon is guaranteed to include some high points and low points.  Long runs help equip you to weather these ups and downs on race day with the confidence of an experienced athlete even if your marathon bib is your first.


Undoubtedly, long runs are a crucial piece of the machinery in your preparation for your goal race.  While preparing your body to handle the physical rigors of race day, they also build confidence and help your mind develop strategies for convincing you to get to the finish line on time.  While the race is the goal, long runs are a fantastic way to measure our growth as runners along the journey, and remind us of the many joys and lessons running can provide on any given day.




tired_runnerYour legs suddenly feel dead, your breathing is labored, the weather seems too hot, too cold, too windy to possibly make the whole distance at the planned pace.  Now here comes a side stitch, and your knee suddenly feels weird when it never has before.  When the watch is consulted, the pace is the regular pace, a pace you know is well within what training has predicted.  Unfortunately, it is still just a few miles in to a long race.


Welcome to the rough patch.


A “rough” patch or a “bad” patch – whatever word is more familiar – is a common occurrence during a long workout, run, or race.  Sometimes, for various reasons, things just don’t seem to be going as easily as they should, even when justified, late race fatigue is clearly not the reason.  While experienced racers can lean on previous races where they have been able to emerge from tough stretches to have a good day by the end, the rough patch feeling can be scary for a first timer.


The first thing to know is that these periods can and will occur, sometimes for a mile or two, sometimes for even 5K.  The second thing to know is that a calm demeanor and confidence in your training will carry you even as you don’t feel as fresh as you wanted.  Afterwards, you’ll realize that 10-20 minutes later, you began to feel like your recognizable self again. Next time out, you will feel better about the eventual passing of these rough patches.


While you are “keeping calm and carrying on,” here are a few tips for actions you can take to weather the patch.


Reset your posture

If you feel like you are slumping, your core is mushy, and your posture is dropping, raise your hands above your head straight up for a moment, stretching the spine and engaging your core and upper body into a taller position.  Drop your hands back into your normal arm swing, and enjoy a more efficient and taller body posture, and hopefully a few minutes of easier running.


Focus on slowing your breathing pattern

Deep breaths from your diaphragm make a much bigger impact on the distribution of oxygen to your muscles than shallow panting.  To calm yourself, and distract from the temporary rough patch, focus on slowing your breathing pattern into a 2 or 3 beat slow and deep inhale (in-in-in-out-out-out) rather than a quick in and out pattern.


Focus 10-15 meters ahead of you

When the race suddenly seems way too long for how you currently feel, avoid focus on an intimidating horizon ahead or a mile marker you can barely make out in the distance.  Keep your head neutral (chin is level, neck extending naturally from the shoulders) and focus on the road going by 10-15 meters in front of you.  Before you know it, you’ll be arriving nearer to the next mile marker, where a quick glance won’t seem as defeating.


Consume some calories

Sometimes, a rough patch might occur due to a drop in energy or dwindling hydration.  If this is the case and things are going south quickly, it may be tougher to regain your normal energy level in a timely enough fashion to fix things (it may be more than just a rough patch).  However, sometimes a gel packet or a cup of electrolyte fluid can cause significant improvement in how you feel.  Obviously, the best bet is to consume enough on schedule so that type of rough patch can be avoided. If you have missed the mark in your race day nutrition execution, don’t discount the chance to right the ship at least partly.


Force yourself to think logically

If you did your longest runs in training at a pace faster than what now feels way too fast at mile 5 of a marathon, remind yourself of how your body is physically prepared to handle the stress of the current pace, regardless of how you currently feel.  You have empirical evidence on your side.  Don't let some nerves, some spotty race day nutrition, some lethargy from tapering, or another reason have you questioning your capabilities.  Remind yourself repeatedly how well you have done in training to lead to this point and how your body has come through before and will again.  By the time you win the argument, you might already be feeling a bit better.


Go for the small wins

If you are going through a tough stretch 3-4 miles into a half marathon or 8 miles into a marathon, thinking about the remaining miles can be daunting.  Consciously focus on a nearer term goals to help you build mental momentum.  If you are at 8 miles, focus on getting to 10, at which point you can focus on staying in it mentally until the half, at which point you can remind yourself you are over halfway home.  If you are at a race with a turnaround, commit to arriving at the turnaround before reevaluating whether or not you can continue at your current or planned pace. Many times if you refrain from evaluating your situation (currently a bummer) right then, you will find yourself in a more hopeful spot in a while, after which your desire to finish strong will help carry you toward the banner.

Merriam-Webster defines fitness as a noun with the following two meanings:


  1. The condition of being physically fit and healthy
  2. The quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task


Although running can (and we hope it is) a long-term, healthy lifestyle activity with no end in sight, it also encourages the occasional evaluative exercise – periodic tests  where runners can challenge themselves against their expectations for either or both definitions.


Occasionally, the average runner will succeed in both, and if you train with runcoach, we want to make sure that success is more than occasional.  Sometimes, we as runners succeed in the first by measurements taken in the doctor’s office, while being held back from succeeding in the second due to forces beyond our control, like weather, hills, or water stations that run out.  Likewise, we can be capable of a certain task or distance, but perhaps not the one we need (fast, but no endurance, lots of endurance, but no speed), or with the health required to actually complete the job on the day (blister, turned ankle, flu).


We value being physically fit and our health as important running goals, because they allow for a more vibrant, full, and long live, and provide a broader platform from which to choose our pursuits; race goals included.  Fulfilling purpose in a race allows us to apply the first definition to a specific aim, guided perhaps by workouts geared exactly toward the type of preparation needed. This is where we come in.


Runners often approach a fitness goal with both aims in mind.  Unfortunately, these dual goals can be knocked off track by tangential aims which are temptingly close to these core definitions, but which often can draw us away from the mark.  Weight loss can be good for overall fitness if indicated by a medical professional, but is definitely not always synonym for the achievement of fitness.  Likewise, The ability to accomplish a task is not the same as being properly prepared to do it safely.  How many of us have heard of or know people who have completed marathons off of woefully inadequate training.  They have made it, but the next day, we don’t envy their body’s task as it recovers.


The good thing about both definition of fitness is that the evaluation of whether or not we have met the mark is completely subjective.  Sure, there are generally understood measures of health, but only we know what aspects of overall body fitness are the knobs we need to twist first and most often.  Similarly, the “task” we are trying to be suited for is completely open for our own interpretation and therefore the accomplishment can be legitimate even if celebrated by us alone.


While according to Merriam-Webster, either of these definition are labeled “fitness”, ideally, the goals you choose will incorporate a consideration of both.   If you are able to marry your best interest in the sustainable long-term with a nearer term concrete goal or task, you’ll walk away with not only just fitness, but fitness to spare.



Marily Oppezzo has her Masters in Nutritional Science, is a Registered Dietitian, and is a PhD candidate at Stanford University. She has years of clinical and research experience, has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in nutrition and sports nutrition, and is committed to sharing accurate health information to the public. She is also a personal trainer and group aerobics instructor.

 In this edition of Ask the Practitioner, we ask Oppezzo a few questions commonly encountered among recreational runners of all levels.

1.  What is carbo-loading?  Also, if I am running a 5K or 10K, is this something I need to be doing the same way as I might for a marathon?


Carbo-loading is when runners increase carbohydrate consumption for 1-2 weeks prior to race day in order to “load” or expand glycogen storage in the interest of prolonging fatigue during the marathon. The studies that have found carbo-loading benefits have shown it at levels of 7 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight, sometimes even higher. One recent study showed that those runners who consumed 7 g of carbs per kg body weight the day before the marathon ran on average 6.3% faster than those who didn’t carbo-load (Atkinson et al., 2011). Exciting! But be sure if you are doing this to avoid too many high-fiber, whole grain sources of the carbs, especially the day before the race.  While research has shown men to benefit from carbo-loading by simply shifting their calories from fat and protein towards carbohydrate-rich food, women only increase their glycogen stores if they also increase their energy intake (one study specifically had them eat about 33% more calories than weight-maintenance levels).


Carbo-loading won’t help you for races less than two hours, so no need to bagel-up on a 5 or 10k.



2.  If I'm trying to train for a half marathon or marathon distance partly as a effort to lose some weight, what is some advice you can give about how to do this safely even as I am ramping up my training?


Good for you! Training for a long distance race is a great way to lose weight, but you’re wise to check on how to safely do this. To lose one pound, you generally have to burn about 3500 calories (ish) more than you eat. Start off by going to a site such as to get a rough estimate of your caloric needs based on your sex, weight, height, and current activity levels. Then, shave off about 15% of that to achieve a deficit to help you drop the weight. While many weight-loss diets recommend a cut of 500-750 calories to achieve a 1-2 pound weight loss each week, it will be difficult to sustain your training levels for anything more than a 500 calorie deficit.


To optimize training recovery and performance, you should consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes after your running workouts. You should still follow these guidelines, but because you are trying to lose weight, you will have to plan ahead to shave the calories from other meals or places in your day. The specific recommendations for carbohydrate replenishment are .7 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight within 30 minutes.  If your run was extra intense or exceeded 90 minutes, continue this carb rule every 2 hours for 4-6 hours post-workout.  For protein, to help with muscle repair, have 20-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes post-run.


My recommendation?  The best post-workout drink appears to be chocolate milk, as it has the optimal ratio of carbs to protein, and is quite portable (and yummy to boot!)


You should weigh yourself weekly, and aim for a slow progression of the weight loss: 1-1.5 pounds per week. If you stay on top of this, you can tweak your caloric deficits accordingly on a weekly basis, especially as your mileage increases. Rapid weight loss will take away too much of your needed, and metabolically active, muscle tissue, as well as hurt your training. So…patience is key.


PS- Weight loss will get harder as you become more fit (what an awful truth that is!) So, as training goes on, you will want to switch up your workouts by incorporating intervals into your routines, where you periodically increase your heart rate to a high level with recovery breaks in between bursts. Research has shown that interval training can elevate your “post-run” metabolic burn more than a steady state aerobic workout. It’s a fun way to spice up your training as well as help overcome any plateaus in your weight-loss progress.


3. I used to get up and run right away on an empty stomach.  Why is this not a good idea, and what are a couple tips for improving this aspect of my training?


If you are highly trained, you could probably get away with it. But it’s best to have something in your stomach to break the 8-hour plus fast you had during the night.  When you wake up, your liver glycogen is almost “half empty” because of the fuel you used to keep yourself alive throughout the night.  Before you run you should try at least to get 100-200 quick energy calories, something easily digestible such as fruit juice, dried fruit, or even some yogurt.  Keep it right by your bedside even so you can munch or sip while you put on your running shoes.

vulkan_instant_ice_packWhen one trains for a first-time finish goal, or breaks from a longstanding routine to reach for a time goal, the results can be highly beneficial.  Physical challenges to the body can arise from this new activity, but it can be hard to differentiate between sore body parts that are an acceptable part of the training and recovery cycle, and the start of an injury that should receive a more cautious approach and perhaps professional attention.    When in doubt, runcoach always recommends a visit to a medical professional.   Here are some suggestions for self-evaluation:



Is it the same in both legs?

After a marathon, or a hilly shorter race, both quads might be very sore.  If that soreness begins to ease in concert or acts the same in both limbs even while acute, there is a greater chance it is a function of a natural recovery cycle.  If instead one side remains abnormally painful, then a specific breakdown may have occurred which recovery alone won’t address.


Do you have to limp while running?

If you are literally unable to put full weight on one leg because your body is reflexively protecting it due to acute pain, it is time to stop ignoring it.


Does it persist over a week?

Delayed onset muscles soreness often means that our sore muscles get worse before they get better.  However, that process occurs over approximately a 48 hour period following the event.  If your “no big deal” sore body part is still similarly sore over a week after the stress, and your usual rolling, stretching, icing routines don’t appear to have eased the pain, a more involved problem might be at play. Even if that only means extended rest or adjustment to the schedule might be required, assessment for your own peace of mind might be a good idea.


Are you stuck in a repeatedly poor, or downward trending cycle of a chronic problem?

If a particular problem continues to reappear on a regular basis, and whereas it used to be fine with ice, now it needs Icy Hot, and requires a mile walk before running and two days off after….well, that no longer is an acceptably resolving issue!  Try to keep track of these types of issues in your log, so you can avoid letting chronic issues repeat to the point where you can’t run at all. Instead, investigate with a professional whether or not rest or other treatment in the short term can prevent more time off in the long term.


While these are a few guidelines worth considering, nothing replaces solid medical advice and great preventative care such as regular rolling, ancillary strength work, and adequate rest.  Be proactive and hopefully stay a step ahead of the need to answer the above questions very often!  Remember the body is a remarkably resilient vehicle.  When it is given proper recovery and treatment the results are terrific and a return to running imminent.

cobraThe terms “core” or “core strength” are some of the most common words / phrases heard around the gym or track in recent years.  Many runners would accept the idea that it would be desirable to have a strong core, but rarely do we think about what that really means or why exactly it would be helpful.


What are we actually talking about when we talk about core?

Core strength should not be confused with having a rippling six-pack like a model on an exercise machine infomercial.  Although many people with very well defined front abdominal muscles do have a strong core, it is not one and the same.


The core could be described as your body except for your limbs, but thinking specifically as runners, your core comprises the parts of your trunk that help stabilize you to resist forces of gravity and allow you to effectively operate those same limbs (levers) in the direction and at the speed you want to go.


It is all very plane.

The muscles in the core are what we can most effectively manipulate to change how well the core does its job as we stabilize ourselves in the various directions we want (or do not want) our body to go.  If we want a slight forward lean when we run, or efficiently move up and down hill, we need to have some control over our movement in the sagittal (back and forth) plane.  If we want to keep our balance on rocky terrain, stabilize ourselves with cambered roads, or handle the effects of uneven leg lengths or other forces moving us left and right, we need to have a strong muscles that allow us to affect desired movements in the coronal/frontal plane.  If we want to limit or enhance rotation (usually in running, we want to limit trunk rotation), then we need to strengthen muscles that give us control in the transverse plane.


All of these directions and alignment / stabilization needs require us to pay attention to much more than what we conventionally think of as our “core” muscles.  Instead of just surface abdominals, runners are well advised to pay attention to their glutes, back, hip flexors, pelvic floor, and deep abdominals such as the psoas.  If we stay aligned and so our stride remains true, we give ourselves the best chance to run as efficiently as our given anatomy will allow.  With strengthening of the muscles that provide this stabilization and control over the non-beneficial movements we might make (especially as we tire) in the various planes of movement, we allow ourselves the best chance to keep that stride true even as we fatigue and dig deep.


Time to turn the core-ner!

When the core is weak or inflexible, often the ends of the levers (limbs) attached must take on some of the unassimilated gravitational stress.  Your sore calf, aching shoulders, tender plantar, or achilles might easily be able to count among its assailants a set of trunk muscles that aren’t doing quite enough to dissipate the forces at play.  Whether you currently struggle with an injury or want to proactively get more efficient and improve performance, core strength is always a good priority.


There are many ways to address this via gym classes, videos, and other programs.   However, the important common elements regardless of your favored delivery system should be a comprehensive approach that focuses on the wide variety of muscles from chest to upper legs, and a commitment to consistency on your end.   At runcoach, we have compiled an easy to understand Whole Body Workout with a series of demonstration videos for exercises targeting core muscles.  We encourage you to check it out and use it as your routine or as a starting point for a renewed commitment to core strength.


This year, get on board with a stronger core.  With some hard work on your end, you may end up with washboard abs in time for summer, but more importantly, you will hopefully be able to run healthy and long well into the future.

Sports massage is part of the regular routine for many top runners.  Various myofascial techniques and other treatments can be crucial to keeping muscles recovering on time and effectively for the next challenge.  Although many runners’ schedules or budgets don’t allow for regular massage, many tools have been created to help runners address these needs as well as possible on their own.  Perhaps you have even seen this bewildering array of devices at your last marathon or half marathon race expo, but were overwhelmed with the amount of choices.  Here is a quick guide to a few of the most common devices…


2031PLFoam rollers

Foam rollers are typically cylindrical sections of foam (kind of like firm pool noodles).  The athlete puts body weight on the roller and moves along the muscle, applying pressure to tight spots until they “release” or ease.  Foam rollers are relatively inexpensive, starting at $10-$20, and are widely available in various densities.   They are likely the most popular tool in this area and often referred to as the “poor man’s massage therapist.” Check out our video on how to use the foam roller here




Other cylindrical devices

The foam roller is excellent, especially for general and daily use, and for runners unused to the sensation (i.e. PAIN) of massage or self-massage on knotty spots.  However, when the athlete becomes accustomed to the discomfort or has some more specific / pin-pointed areas of concern, other devices may be able to hone in more tightly on the problem area, or are at least designed to do so.  Some of these span from home-remedy items such as the harder cylinders of PVC tubing, Nalgene bottles, and rolling pins, to commercially available tools such as the Trigger Point grid foam roller or Rumble Roller, to smaller hard roller devices with grooves intended to target the bottom of the foot.  If your target area is clearly identified, small, and/or deep, these tools might provide more immediate or fully satisfactory relief.


For times when you don’t have the space or appropriate location to lie down on the floor (or when you need to travel with a self massage assisting tool), objects like the Stick or the Tiger Tail provide a handheld alternative.  Instead of using body weight downward on your affected body part to move back and forth over the roller, with a Stick or Tiger Tail, you apply pressure manually to the muscle, by holding the Stick with both hands at either end, quickly and firmly rolling the tool back and forth over the affected area to stimulate blood flow and ease tense spots.




While rollers typically move backward and forward, at times, certain spots are positively affected by oscillation in a variety of directions.  A spherically shaped object can often provide welcome relief if this is the case.   Glutes are a good example of a muscle area where a spherical object can help significantly when a cylinder might have more difficulty reaching the tight spot. Again, household items, such as softballs, lacrosse balls, golf balls, and tennis balls, can provide a wide range of densities that cater to the needs and pain thresholds of various runners and their problem spots.  Alternately, commercially designed balls with grooves, bumps, and other features, can meet your needs if they are able to dig in just in the ways that help sort through your tense spots.


R8-IT-Bands-AdductorsThinking out of the box…

Runners can be highly motivated to solve their own injury problems, and from these situations have bloomed many innovative instruments.  The R8 roller essentially used rollerblade wheels (four on each side) and tension through a connecting plastic span, to apply pressure on both sides of a muscle at once, without the need for too much elbow grease on the part of the user.  Backnobbers work through innovative shapes and oddly formed items to reach parts of the body most difficult to reach effectively through other means. Trigger Point also has developed a Cold Roller, a small roller with a gel core that maintains a cold temperature for an ice bath / rolling combo effect.   The Moji 360 takes the Stick concept, subs in ball bearings for the cylindrical loops to facilitate circular motion, and allows for a new dimension to a popular tool concept.  For those with a higher pain threshold, various “scrapers” and long tools can be found to simulate an aggressive muscle stripping from a therapist.


As a company that values the individuality of each runner with a personalized plan to match, we also know that these tools will more effectively and appropriate for some runners than others.  Many running stores will provide opportunities to try them out, and many runners might find the opportunity to experiment by using the tools of other running friends on an initial basis before purchasing one.  With new innovations coming out week to week, we are living at a better time than ever before to address muscle tightness needs by self massage.   We encourage you to investigate the best practices for your body, in hopes that 2013 allow you to have the consistent recovery and performance you are hoping to achieve.

1354465380_horoscope-2013Whether you have just begun training with us for a goal race some time in the future, or have been a long-time runner who needs a bit of motivation or a new goal, the beginning of a new year is a great time not only to set new goals, but to do so in a way that will stick. 


Ensure accountability

If you have a big goal you hope to accomplish, chances are you will be more likely to follow through if you have a mechanism to ensure that any doubt or lapses will be noted and you don’t get off track.  Many times, the term “accountability” takes on a negative connotation, but in reality, a positive motivational tool tied to an accomplished goal can be a decisive element that puts you over the top.


Accountability can take the form of a reward you commit to enjoying upon accomplishing your goal. While that may offer a simple and straightforward way to motivate yourself, consider your rewards in the context of the lifestyle change you are most likely trying to embark upon by setting the goal.  So, if your goal is weight loss as a part of your effort to run your first half marathon,  having a huge blowout meal at the best restaurant in town serve as your motivator to get through your next long run might not be the best reward.  Instead, pick a reward that reinforces the positive changes you hope to make.    Of course we don’t want you to become mercenary so a few guilty pleasures from time to time are perfectly acceptable.


Enlist a friend or family member who knows you well enough to nudge or budge you when you are veering off course.  All of us have times when motivation is lacking in some way or another, and by asking another person to remind you of your goals and keep you on track, you have already ensured that your will power and motivation need not be 100% all the time.  Arranging at least periodic running opportunities with another runner or group will also motivate you to show up and complete your task if for no other reason than the reluctance to stand someone up!


You might not need a big reward to look forward to or need to have others with which you feel comfortable sharing your goals.   Many of you enjoy our online training log for that very reason.  Many of our longtime members indicate they love nothing more than to see a string of blue days in a row!   Another written log or an X on each day of the calendar can be effective tools.  Print out your goal race entry confirmation and post it to your bathroom mirror or write yourself a note that pops up on your smartphone calendar on the days of your tough workouts.  Most importantly, take some time to consider how you typically respond to challenges -  what paves the way for the times your are successful and what stands in your way.  Figure out the simple ways you can keep yourself accountable and hopefully next year you’ll be resolving to achieve some new goals.


Have Fun

Oftentimes, the resolutions we make are as a result of leaving difficult tasks undone.  Things that have been left unfinished for some time as a result of inertia or procrastination are going to be difficult to all accomplish suddenly because of a simple change of heart.    If your goal appears to be an uphill trudge the entire way, look hard for ways to find some fun along the road.    Again, if this is a prescription you are giving yourself to jumpstart a larger shift in behavior or lifestyle, you want to make sure the change is something you can live with and enjoy for some time. 

If you have a choice of races, pick one with a great course, an established fun vibe, or another trait that will make the experience about more than just the run.  If running in the dark gets you down, make sure to set aside time on the weekends to run during the day to give yourself a break from what has been difficult.   Take some time to explore new routes and scenic territory around your neighborhood or city.  Pick a hilly run and stop at the top to take in the view.  Take some time to consider what it is that you really enjoy about running (even if you only enjoy it a little bit), and scratch that itch as much as possible.


Note Incremental Progress

The biggest goals often take a while to accomplish and progress may not always be linear.  If your new year’s resolution is a long distance goal race, it might help (we typically recommend this regardless) to run a few intermediate distance efforts to note fitness progress and encourage you that your are slowly crossing the canyon toward your big day.  In running, as in many other things in life, your result may be subject to forces beyond your control.  Your training could go completely smoothly up until three days before the race, when you catch a cold or turn an ankle.  Creating a field of multiple data points will allow you to evaluate the process rather than only having the one race to either make or break your perspective on your efforts.


Above all else, we encourage you to set goals!  Reach high, assume you will be successful.  Take a step in the right direction today. Making the choice to set a goal to begin with is not an insignificant part of the process.  Once you have, we look forward to helping you get there!

imgres-1Will Drinking Alcohol Affect My Running? Yes, We’re Going There


Even if your regular schedule doesn’t include significant regular alcohol consumption, around the holidays the chances that you will imbibe definitely rise.  Whether it is the office party, home with the family, or New Year’s Eve, you might want to run well the next day despite having one or more drinks the night before.  Does it matter?


Natural ingredients…all good, right?

Alcohol (ethanol), in the form of beer, wine, or spirits, is ultimately a beverage fermented / distilled from natural base ingredients such as grains and grapes.  So, it’s carbo-loading from nature’s bounty!  Not so fast.  The calories (7 per gram, compared to 9 per gram of fat or 4 per gram of carbohydrate or protein) may come in with each drink, but the loss of sodium and potassium via the diuretic impact of alcohol (see below) causes a greater impact.  According to the American College of Sports Medicine, orange juice has four times the potassium as beer, for example – so the electrolyte gain to begin with is minimal.  Further, since there is no essential need for alcohol in the body (unlike carbohydrates, protein, and fat), it is metabolized first, which leads to a quick release into the bloodstream.


Alcohol is also an appetite stimulant. Combine the chemical impulse to eat more with the slower and poorer judgment in play due to the quick release of the chemicals into the bloodstream and the resulting actions might not mirror desirable, sane, and temperate eating patterns during the period of time when drinking occurs.  If the alcohol effects don’t have a big impact, the food consumption impact is also wise to be aware of.


Alcohol, the anti-hydration beverage

In their oft-cited article Alcohol Hangover:  Mechanisms and Mediators, Drs. Robert Swift and Dena Davidson write that alcohol causes the body to increase urinary output (i.e., it is a diuretic). The consumption of 50 g of alcohol in 250 milliliters (mL) of water (i.e. approximately 4 drinks) causes the elimination of 600 to 1,000 mL (or up to 1 quart) of water over several hours.  Losing 1 quart of water before any serious physical endurance activity is a recipe for major challenges, and obviously at cross purposes with the intent for a successful run, workout, or race.   Electrolytes are often drained with that water loss, and the initial sedative effects of the alcohol can often give way to restless sleep.  The next morning, drained of water, electrolytes, and quality rest, a cup of coffee or two adds another diuretic to the mix, and a hopeful ibuprofen puts further pressure on the liver.  Very quickly, one can anticipate that quality athletic endurance performance is in jeopardy.


Alcohol, between the ears

Dr. Conor P. O’Brien of the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin, Ireland, related to the UC San Diego Athletic Performance Nutrition Bulletin that “many studies have shown that alcohol is actually a depressant that takes its toll on several parts of the body, including the brain. It slows reaction times, delays the thinking process, suppresses the immune system, and affects recovery time from injury.”


So, a night of a few drinks can leave you dehydrated, depleted of electrolytes, underslept, with slower reaction times, a suppressed immune system, and longer recovery time.  Is there any good news?


The good news

Over the past several years, a few studies at Harvard and UC Berkeley among others have indicated a relationship between components of alcoholic beverages and good health. Resveratrol (an antioxident found in red wine) has been shown in some studies to have a health impact on par with general calorie reduction over the long term.  A glass of red wine per day is said to have an impact on heart health through other anti-oxidents called flavanoids. Plant products called saponins also can block the body’s production of bad cholesterol.   Many other green shoots are on the horizon, indicating potential benefits from moderate alcohol consumption.  However, not many of these benefits appear to have immediate benefits – on the other hand, Dr. O’Brien states that consumption of several drinks can leave cellular effects in the body up to three days afterwards, and two nights straight of drinking can leave its mark for five.


How to be proactive

Whether drinking is a desired or unavoidable component of the night before running, or part of an unwinding process post-race or run, consider some measures you can take to limit the negative effects alcohol can have on your body and its performance.  Make sure you have eaten before you take the first drink, to slow down the digestive process to a manageable rate for your liver and your brain.  Drink a glass of water before and between every drink to lessen the diuretic effects of the beer, wine, or spirits.  Choose club soda over juice and make sure to include ice in your drink to moderate caloric intake.  Alcohol can inhibit your body’s ability to regulate its temperature.  Anticipate feeling colder or warmer than normal and dress with that in mind.  Practice moderation, stretch out each drink over several sips, and drink at a time of night when you still have a fighting chance for a decent night’s sleep.


As yet one more variable to consider at this busy time of year, the effects of alcohol likely will vary from one runner to another.   Remind yourself of your goals before you raise your glass and stay motivated to keep your consumption moderate.





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