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Athlete Q&A: Marathon Training with Ryan Hall

He may not have made it to the NYC Marathon this year, but he's still got the right stuff.

Q1: What's your training like? Do you have a set goal per day or week?

I like to work off the seven-week cycle, a seven-week buildup. I take the seventh week as a down week. I don't like to work off of mileage. I work off of minutes that I run because it makes more sense to me. I like to just pay attention to how long I'm on my legs rather than forcing myself to go a certain amount of miles if I'm really tired and running really slow. I listen to my body.

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Q2: How much do you run during a training day/week?

I typically run twice a day. The first week of training for a marathon, I run only once a day. I start out running 30 minutes a day and do that for a week. The next week I'll get up to an hour a day. I'll start with 30 minutes on Monday, 45 minutes on Tuesday, and then gradually work up to an hour a day. I might start some light workouts that week as well. The third week, we start double days. I'll run an hour every morning and a half hour every afternoon. By the sixth week, I'll increase the length of my afternoon runs up to an hour as well, but that's really as high as I get when I'm doing an hour every morning, and an hour every afternoon.

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Q3: What are some mistakes newbie runners make?

I think the biggest mistake that people make is not having the right pair of shoes for the workout they're doing. When I was younger, I would have just one pair of shoes that I would wear for every single run. Now, I literally have five or six pairs of shoes depending on the workout I'm doing. For example, if I'm doing a long run, I like to wear a midweight shoe, something where I'm callusing my legs getting used to running in lighter-weight shoes similar to what I'm going to race with in a marathon.

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Q4: Can you give us an idea of what your diet is like?

I try to buy things that don't have a lot of preservatives. I typically eat a lot of fruits and veggies (I have a pretty high-fiber diet). I also watch my salt intake to make sure I'm not retaining a bunch of water. You don't want to feel heavy and bloated out there on the race course. I try and vary my carbohydrate intake as well, so rather than one huge pasta dinner the night before, I spread it out over a two-day carbohydrate-loading period. The other key to nutrition is to have lots of small meals throughout the day

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Q5: What does your daily meal plan typically look like?

I'm kind of addicted to pancakes, so I have a pancake every single morning. I put muscle milk in there so that I get more protein. I use this special teff flour that is gluten-free and really high in iron. It's in a lot of injera, the bread that Ethiopians use, and I think it's their secret to success. For lunch, I usually have a massive salad and sandwich. I love Panini sandwiches, so whatever we have left over in the fridge, I'll throw into a sandwich. I like to use sourdough bread because it's a low glycemic index food, so it goes into your blood system slowly rather than fast so you don't spike your insulin level. It gives you more constant energy throughout the day. My go-to for dinners are sweet potatoes, I love sweet potatoes. I also love salmon, that's a great way to get your fish oils in. I think fish oil is extremely important for running, so I'll have that and a ton of veggies, maybe like a veggie sauté. Dinner is a good time to take in your fiber, because if you're running twice a day, you really can't take in a bunch of fiber before training or you're going to have some problems while you're running.

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Q6: When you're running a marathon, you're obviously going to encounter some moments of extreme discomfort and pain. How do you push through 'the wall?'

I think the biggest thing is don't overthink it. When I'm in that last six miles of the race and in a ton of pain and digging hard, sometimes there's nothing going through my head. I'm just in the moment, putting one foot in front of the other as fast as I can. Don't overthink it. Don't put a bunch of pressure on yourself and think, "I have to go harder than I've ever gone before." Don't think about the wall, just take whatever comes your way as it comes and don't worry about the miles ahead. Just control the moment that you're in at that time, and get through that mile you're in.

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Q7: What advice would you give to amateur runners?

I want to stress the power of progression. When I first started running, I remember five miles felt like such a long way for me. I remember my first 40-mile week. I ran 40 miles throughout the week. It just felt like such a big achievement. I couldn't imagine ever doing more than that. It's just amazing how your body responds to training. I'm reminded of that every single training buildup. When I first start my training, I can't run one mile at marathon pace, and then six months later, I can run 26.2 miles at that pace without stopping. I like to encourage people to not obsess on where they're at, keep your eyes fixed on where you're going and realize that your body is capable of so much more than you think.  

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