How to Troubleshoot Common Problems During Training

AS WITH ALL things in life, runners experience highs–like the energy surge after a run or the boost in confidence that comes with a new personal record–and lows. As a coach, one passion of mine is to channel my “inner Shaggy and Scooby” and attempt to figure out the mystery of those not-so-great things, like calf pain, dizziness, or maybe the inability to improve or make it through a challenging workout.

This week, I found myself channeling Shaggy several times. Here are a couple common issues that you might relate to:

Case #1: This runner is training for her fourth marathon. However, during this cycle, she’s been unable to finish a run longer than 22 kilometres. Her symptoms included muscle soreness and stiffness during longer efforts. To try to address it, she would take stretch breaks, drink fluids, and consume gels at regular intervals.

To start my twenty questions with her, I asked about her long run progression schedule and if she had a solid foundation of training going into the season, both of which weren’t the issue since she was gradually increasing the long run distance every other weekend and ran shorter long runs in between. Each week, she would run 3-4 times, rest 1-2 days and cross-train in between, so that wasn’t the culprit either.

Then we got to her pacing, and the light bulb began to shine brightly. Her strategy was to run the longer workouts at a specific pace that was faster than her previous marathon finish times but on target with her goal marathon finish. But that’s not how it works. The goal and mission for the long run is to train at an easy, conversational effort level to build endurance and allow for efficient recovery.

Although the long run effort level is easy, the high mileage itself is considered a hard workout. So when you run these workouts long and at a hard effort, it’s like racing every weekend, causing fatigue to set which affects your ability to finish strong. Once she modifies her long run training strategy to run at an easy effort level, she’ll run strong all the way through to the end. This, in combination with shorter, harder-effort workouts mid-week will help her improve her marathon finish time.

Case #2: This runner is training for a half marathon. Whenever she runs beyond 10 kilometres, she gets nauseous and has to stop. She has a solid pacing strategy with run-walk intervals but has issues with gluten intolerance.

My initial questions were all related to nutrition since sometimes having too much sugar in your belly can create nausea. But she had tried almost every product, drink, gel and fluid possible. It happened with a myriad of pre-run meals, so it wasn’t related to her diet. We also talked about how she timed her fueling, and that didn’t pan out either.

Then I dug into the specifics of how exactly she fuelled on the run. That’s when the light bulb moment happened. Turns out, she was training with a bladder-type hydration pack with a tube and mouthpiece. I asked how many mlx she consumed, and it was only around 450mLs for a 3-hour run. My years of adventure racing and the use of a bladder taught me that when sipping from a tube, we don’t consume very much.

More specifically, you don’t have reference to how much you’re drinking because you can’t see it. According to nutritional scientist Dr. Stacy Sims, women should consume about 600mls of fluids per hour–she wasn’t even getting that in the entire run! Nausea is a common symptom of dehydration, so I’m putting all my money of the lack of fluids is the culprit here.

As you can see, solving runner’s mysteries is a matter of asking questions and looking at things from all different angles. Doing so can turn a “Rut-ro” moment into a thing of the past!

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