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 upcoming races.
Racing season is upon us! Good luck to everyone training for a race. Feel free to email us at email@example.com with your running questions, whether pertaining to a race, general training, nutrition, mindset, injuries, or anything in between.
Question 1: Training At Altitude
I live in Breckenridge, CO around 9600 ft above sea level and I’m currently training for an ultra in Moab UT. Knowing training at altitude is a lot harder on the body in general, should I follow a miles for miles plan or go for more of a time on the legs?
Thanks – Camilla, Breckenridge, CO
Great question, and how exciting for you that you’re training for an ultra.
It must be gorgeous where you run, and I’ve heard Moab is as well.
It looks like the elevation of Moab is about 4000 ft above sea level, so while running there would likely feel a little more difficult than usual for someone who lives at sea level, for you, it should feel quite a bit easier.
In terms of whether you should follow a plan based on miles or go for time on your feet, I think it mostly depends on your goals.
Many people run ultras and just focus on finishing as the target goal, since the distance itself is a huge accomplishment.
If this is true for you, or if this is your first ultra, I’d definitely recommend shifting to minutes or time on your feet rather than miles.
You’re right to think that the workouts you’re doing at altitude are much more physiologically demanding than running at sea level because of the relative lack of oxygen.
For this reason, the risk of overtraining or anemia can be higher.
With that said, because the race isn’t at sea level (so it is still a bit more demanding), if your goal is a certain finish time or if you’d like to maintain a specific pace for the race, I’d suggest following a mile-based training plan with the caveat that your long runs should maybe just be focused on time on your feet rather than following the prescribed distance to a T.
Basically, with this approach, if you’re following a training plan that is based on mileage, do all the speed workouts and tempo runs as written, but convert the long runs to time.
For example, if you have an 8-mile tempo run, follow that as written but if the long run is 20 miles, aim for running for a time that’s equivalent to running 20 miles at goal pace.
Since this approach is if you have a specific time goal, just multiply the 20 miles by your goal pace (say, 10 miles per hour), so you’d run 200 minutes for the long run, not worrying about the distance you cover.
Let me know if that makes sense and have a fabulous race!
Question 2: Running Two Marathons Close Together
I am running the full marathon in Chicago this year and about 5 weeks later, the NY marathon.
Do you have any recommendations as to how to train in between these two runs? I.e. should I focus more on recovery runs and sprints or should I do another long and slow run?
Thank you for any insight or recommendation you might have.
This is a great question and a surprisingly popular one, despite the rigor of running two marathons so close together!
The main thing to consider here is your goal.
Which race is your “A” race?
Unless you’ve done a lot of marathoning with races close together, it’s probably not advisable to plan to race both all out.
Five weeks isn’t really enough time to fully bounce back and recover from the first marathon to empty the tank again at the second.
If Chicago is the priority, which I would recommend because it’s easier to do this way, I’d run your normal taper before Chicago.
After the race, take a week off, focusing on recovery modalities like foam rolling.
The second week, I’d do a few easy runs and cross training.
The third week, I’d do a modest amount of training, replicating the training you did three weeks before Chicago, with a long run of 14-18 miles, depending on how you feel, and similar speed workouts you did.
The fourth week, I’d do a little more volume and intensity than you did two weeks before Chicago, with a long run of about 10-12 miles.
The last week leading into the race, taper for the New York City Marathon as you did for Chicago.
On the other hand, if New York City is your goal race, I’d use Chicago as a tune-up.
Use the race to practice your pacing.
You might take the first 10k easy and then do 15-18 miles at goal pace and then finish as a relative cool down.
Or, run the whole race easier than you plan to run in NYC and just practice your fueling, soak in the experience, etc.
After the race, take a couple of days off, focusing on recovery.
Then, resume training.
For long runs, I’d do something like off the first week, 16-20 the next (depending on how hard you ran in Chicago and how beat up you’re feeling), then 14-16, 8-10 miles the week before, and then your NYC Marathon race.
In terms of the rest of the training, follow a similar workout structure as seen on your training schedule the last 4 weeks leading up to the marathon, but that first week or so after Chicago needs to be all about recovery and rest.
Question 3: Pacing for Half Marathon Training
My name is Christine Nemirovsky from Cambridge MA. I’m running my first half marathon in November. I’ve started Thomas’s half marathon training plan this week and had a few quick questions (if it’s ok to ask them to you). I’d like to run the half in 2:12 which would put my pace at 10:04. Which is much slower than my 5K or 10k pace (8:50 and 9:12 paces) but I’m not 100% sure I can do it faster for 13.1 miles – lol. That being said….What pace should I focus on running for my training runs, pace runs and long runs? Lastly, will these paces change as the weeks go on or should I keep it the same?
Thanks so much 😉
Signed, a nervous but very excited first time half marathon runner,
Christine N. (43 years old)
Thanks for writing in and congratulations on your goal to run your first half marathon—what an awesome (and doable!) step up.
We hope you love the half marathon training program.
I think setting a goal of 2:12 is reasonable since it’s your first half marathon, and just finishing is a major accomplishment.
With that said, I think if we look at your previous race performances, a goal time for the half of 2:06 is possible.
If I’ve done the math correctly, your 5k time is around 27:23 and your 10k time is just over 57 minutes.
Using a race time predictor, both of these results come in just shy of 2:06 for the half (predicted time of 2:05:58 from the 5k and 2:05:46 from the 10k).
Although these algorithms aren’t perfect, they are usually pretty close, so these results tell me two things about you, bearing in mind that this is a brief snapshot as your performance as a runner:
- You’re pretty consistent in your performance, since both races predicted a half marathon time only 12 seconds apart.
- You’re actually slightly better over longer distances, which is evidenced by the fact that your 10k performance predicts a slightly faster half marathon.
The latter tells me that you probably will be a fantastic half marathon runner, and might slow down even less than predicted.
You might be one of the types of runners (like myself!) that may not have a ton of raw speed in a sprint but can kind of go, go, go at the same pace for a long time.
All this is to say, unless you have some strong attachment to 2:12, I’d readjust your goal to 2:06 and train based on that pace, which works out to 9:37.
If this is feeling way too fast for your current fitness level (especially if those 5k and 10k races were a long time ago), definitely feel free to start your training program at 10:04 pace (for 2:12).
Your training pace does not have to be static. If it starts to feel too easy—or if you use heart rate training and see you aren’t hitting the right training zones—you can dial it down to something faster.
I believe the 2:06 effort is a more appropriate target for you though.
If your training goes well, I’m guessing you’ll actually finish a bit faster, knocking down the doors of 2:04.
Does this make sense?
Let us know if you have any questions and how the race goes!
Feel free to submit your questions to Coach Amber at firstname.lastname@example.org.