Ask Amber, Running Coach: 23rd Sept 2022

Amber Sayer is a USATF-certified running coach, and has been training runners for 13 years. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics, and is also a NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer.

As a runner herself, Amber has PRs of 17:07 in the 5k, 28:52 for 5 miles, 1:20:19 in the half marathon, and 3:01:02 in the marathon.

Amber enjoys working with runners of all levels and helping them achieve their goals.

We asked our readers to send her their training questions for her to tackle!

For this week’s installment of Ask Amber, we have three runners who have questions about their goals, health, and cross-training workouts.

runner tying their shoelaces

Question 1: Post-Marathon Goals

Good morning!

I hope you are able to answer my question for your column. It’s a long one!

I’m soon to be 46 years old and (fingers crossed) will run my first marathon soon. It’s been a goal I’ve had my entire life. I was never much of a runner and I distinctly remember telling my future husband (at the time, we’ve now been married 21 years!) that I was going to run a marathon. 

After so many years and recovering from life and injury after injury (and broken bones, including a stress fracture in my pelvis that took me out for 6 months) I’m mere weeks away. I could be in better shape, admittedly, but I feel overall pretty happy with where I’ve managed to push my fitness. My husband and I started a medical clinic about a year and a half ago and it’s horribly time-consuming. 

So, after all that buildup, my question is pretty simple: what now? We live in rural Nebraska, so I train on a treadmill for safety sake. There’s not really any close races. 

How do I deal with reaching the end of a lifetime of wanting and working? I’ve built my life around this goal and yet, I can’t go through marathon training again unless I trim my projected finish time in half! I’m aiming for a very realistic and entirely achievable 4 1/2 hour marathon. Long runs are taking away 3 to 3 1/2 hours of time with my family on Saturdays. What is the “next goal” that won’t stress my body? I need to reach for something, I just know it. But what am I reaching for? What is lofty enough to keep me driving forward? Can I even cut a marathon time down that much? Will I feel satisfied with running half marathons and 10ks? (I can drive to Omaha or Lincoln for those a few times a year). 

Thank you for reading this far! Broadly, I’d say so I’ve run a marathon 🤞🏻now what?

Jessica Singer

running on asphalt

Hi Jessica,

Congratulations on being so close to a bucket list goal. I hope your race is spectacular.

I can definitely understand your feelings of “what next” and the anxiety of anticipating the loss of a huge goal.

Clearly, you are ambitious and goal oriented, which will always serve you well as a runner and in life.

I don’t think there’s a really easy answer for your situation. Rather, I think it will take a little bit of introspection to decide what will motivate you next.

For me, I have always felt a bit of a letdown or “post-marathon blues“ after the big race is over because even if it went really well, there’s a bit of a loss or morning of the excitement of chasing a dream and realizing it’s going to finally come to fruition.

Can you try to plan another marathon or half marathon for next year that you can travel to as a destination race?

That would be the new excitement since you would be getting to travel to a course or destination you’ve always wanted to see.

Given your geographical constraints, I would recommend trying to be as creative as possible with your running goals. 

Perhaps you can set goals like trying to better your 5K, 10 K, or half marathon times on the treadmill. You can do virtual races as well. 

There are some fantastic virtual races all year long that you can run on any outdoor course.

If you have to do all your runs on the treadmill, try setting training goals like committing to do one speed workout per week or strength training twice a week.

You might consider training for another race but fundraising for a charity as you do so, or training for an ultra marathon or a trail race.

Basically, you need to find a running goal that speaks to you and only you can really decide what that may be. With that said, check out this list we put together of almost 100 running goals.

Do any ignite your flame?

No matter what, when race day comes, put it all out there on the line. You’ve worked so hard for this goal and to achieve something so meaningful for so long will be nothing but pure joy.

Congrats!!

Amber 

man running on trail

Question 2: Aqua Jogging Workouts

Hi Amber,

I hope you can answer my question if you have time. I have a question about pool jogging. I’m in a walking boot cast and my doctor said the only exercise I can do right now is swimming or pool jogging in the deep end of the pool where my feet don’t touch. I can’t swim so I tried the water jogging yesterday and it was ok but I felt like I didn’t know if the form was right and I just did 15 minutes because it was boring. Is this enough? I’m sure it’s harder than running? Do you have any tips about my water jogging form or water workouts?

Thanks

Grayson Boino, Rutland, VT

Hi Grayson,

Thank you for submitting your question, and I’m sorry to hear about your injury! Running injuries are frustrating, but it’s great that you’re taking advantage of the permissible cross-training options to try and maintain your fitness while you heal.

Pool running, often called aqua jogging or more generally, deep water running, can be a fantastic workout for runners, whether or not you’re injured.

You’re right in that you have to fight against water resistance, so it’s challenging on the muscles and can be a great cardiovascular workout. With that said, it’s hard to compare the difficulty of aqua jogging versus running on land because it really depends on your effort or intensity level.

Obviously, you can’t really measure your pace in the water, but to best replicate your running workouts, try to simulate your form and cadence as closely as possible. 

Many people make the mistake of moving their legs too slowly in the water, but try to keep short, fast strides with a cadence of 160 steps per minute or more. This may feel really tough and awkward at first, so build up gradually, and shorten your stride.

A flotation belt can help provide the buoyancy you need to support proper running form and an upright posture. Make sure your hips are stacked under your shoulders and not back behind your body as they might be if you were swimming.

Pump your arms vigorously.

In terms of workouts, I usually recommend essentially a 1:1 conversion from your running workouts once you’re comfortable with the technique. 

This means that if you would run 30 minutes outside, run in the pool for 30 minutes. If you would do a 20-minute tempo run after a warm up, do the same in the pool.

Because there’s no impact in the pool, you can actually do more intensity that you would on land, meaning you can do intervals most days of the week if you feel like it.

I’m a big fan of fartlek-style pool workouts, with ladders or pyramids of intervals like 30, 60, 90, 120, 120, 90, 60, 30 seconds. You can do several rounds depending on your workout length.

Let us know how it goes. Focus on your healing. We will be sending you good thoughts for a speedy recovery.

Amber 

two women running

Question 3: Running Post-COVID

Hi Amber!

It’s been about a month since I had Covid and my heart rate during my easy runs are still higher than normal. At 21 years old, I normally pace my easy runs at around a 8:45-9 minute pace with a heart rate around 150-155 while now it’s around the high 160s and much more difficult. Lately, I’ve been trying to run slower at around a 9:30-10 minute pace to keep it around 150 bpm. I continued to run while I had mild symptoms like fatigue, aches, cough, and runny nose which probably wasn’t the best idea. Do you know if this is a common problem with runners? Or do you know how long it might take for my heart rate and running to get back to normal again?

Thanks so much for your help!

Mia, D.

runner silhoutted by sunset

Hi Mia,

Thanks for writing in. I’m sorry to hear that you had COVID, but I am so glad that you are okay.

Your symptoms are in line with what many people are experiencing post-COVID, even if they weren’t particularly sick.

In most cases, it sounds like your heart rate during exercise should start to creep back down over time, but sometimes there may be changes in the autonomic nervous system that seem to perpetuate an elevated heart rate.

For example, some people develop postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), so it might be a good idea to speak to your doctor or get a cardiology consult just to be sure.

It also has only been one month since you were sick. That sounds like a while but most evidence is showing it may take 6-12 weeks for the cardiovascular system to recover after COVID-19.

For now, I would try to back off on your intensity a bit and if you’re not feeling closer to normal in the next couple weeks, I’d strongly encourage you to check in with your doctor.

I hope you feel better soon,

Amber

Send us your questions! Email Amber at amber@marathonhandbook.com.

lady running and happy
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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