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6 Training Tips to Steal From Boston Marathoners

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Today marks the 121st Boston Marathon and this morning, thousands of runners will toe the start line of the 26.2-miler, the oldest annual marathon in the world. The race is known for its history but also its challenging course: It starts with several fast downhill miles—so people tend to begin too fast and find themselves tired and with aching quads by the time they hit a series of notoriously tough hills late in the course.

To race Boston takes not only hours and hours of long runs and speed work in prep but also strategic training for strong legs and good pacing. Read on for lessons learned from training for the Boston course—and tips about how you can use them to be a better runner yourself, whether or not you'll ever hoof it up Heartbreak Hill.

1. RUN IN THE RAIN. 

Getting wet while you work out sound less than pleasant? Get used to it. "Race day in Boston often presents runners with imperfect weather, like rain and cold," says Michael Meliniotis, a coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City, and an age group runner who has finished 13 marathons (including three in Boston). "To manage those conditions, you need to experience them first." That means if you have a outdoor run planned and it starts raining, don't take your miles to the treadmill; make yourself jog in bad weather now and when you encounter rain or sleet or snow later, it won't seem like such a big deal. To keep from slipping, shorten your stride a bit. And to make it a little more comfortable, make sure to wear a waterproof running jacket and hat, suggests Ali Baldassare, a Precision Running coach at Equinox in Boston. "Staying as dry as possible will reduce your chance of chafing or getting blisters, and it helps keep your core body temperature warm," she says.

2. DON'T GIVE IN TO THE WIND.

Along with occasional showers, Boston runners are also often hit with heavy spring winds. "Depending on how strong and persistent the wind is, it can sometimes feel like you're getting punched in the stomach or slapped in the face over and over again," says Baldassare. It takes a lot more effort to run into the wind than when there's no breeze, so she recommends maintaining a consistent effort level and not paying attention to your pace. And help yourself out a bit by wearing form-fitting clothing, she says: It'll cut down on some of the resistance.

Wind at your back? That can give you an awesome boost, but there's a lesson to learn with a tailwind too, says Meliniotis. Take note that it's helping you run a little faster, and if the breeze stops, don't try to keep up the same pace, he advises—as you could end up raising your effort level too much and zapping your energy too soon.

3. DON'T GO OUT TOO FAST.

Competitors in any road race tend to start speedier than they planned to because of adrenaline and the excitement of the starting line—but it's even easier to begin too fast in Boston because the first four miles are a steady descent. Keeping your pace on track is both a science and a feeling. Wear a Garmin or other watch with GPS and check in on your speed every mile or two, then adjust your pace if you need to. However, Baldassare recommends not keeping your eyes glued to your wrist but paying attention to your breath and how your body feels to judge your effort. "During a race, your target pace might feel ‘easy’ because your adrenaline has kicked in and you settle into your groove. The mistake happens when you're feeling good and you think you can do more, or run faster. Don't. Hold back and save it for when you're going to need it the most—the last few miles of your race."

4. STRENGTHEN YOUR LEGS

The early downhill section of Boston may seem like a breeze, but it actually gives legs a beating, especially your quads. In addition to practicing running downhill often, doing leg exercises like lunges can prep your quads to better handle the impact. "Strength training is crucial and such an integral part to any good running program, especially when it comes to hill running," says Baldassare. Also, focus on engaging your abs and glutes to take some of the impact off your quads and spare them from some soreness later, suggests Meliniotis. It can also help to take quick, light steps on the downhill and make sure you're not over-striding, he says; to do so, pay attention to where your feet go and try to make sure they're always landing directly under your body.

5. RUN HILLS THE RIGHT WAY

After the initial decline on the Boston course, runners hit a set of rolling hills. Your approach should vary depending on whether you're heading up or down, says Baldassare. On the uphill, she recommends leaning into the incline from your ankles and to move your arms more. "Pumping your arms parallel to your body revs up your energy," she says. Then when you crest the hill, don't put on the brakes! "Too often I see runners go into recovery mode down a hill," says Meliniotis. "Downhills are not recovery, they're an opportunity. Think about it as a roller coaster and you're gaining momentum." As far as form goes, continue to lean forward slightly so you don't land on your heels, which can hurt your knees.

6. SAVE SOME ENERGY FOR THE END OF YOUR RUN

Probably the most well known feature of the Boston course (besides the pumped-up cheer section in Wellesley) are the Newton Hills, including the infamous, dreaded Heartbreak Hill. They're fairly tough on their own but can feel downright torturous if your quads are already aching from the first two-thirds of the race. The secret of powering up tough terrain late in the game: Run some hill repeats at the end of your workouts. "It'll train your body how to efficiently use energy later on, when you're tired," says Baldassare. “The more your legs become accustomed to the energy demands of your running, the better they’ll be able to adapt and perform.”

A version of this story first ran in 2016.

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3 Reasons Why Your New Year's Resolutions Fail—and How to Fix Them
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You don’t need a special day to come up with goals, but New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to build better habits. The problem is, by the time February rolls around, our best laid plans have often gone awry. Don’t let it happen this year: Heed these three simple tips for fail-proof resolutions.

PROBLEM 1: THEY’RE TOO OVERWHELMING

Let’s say your goal is to pay off $5000 worth of credit card debt this year. Since you're giving yourself a long timeframe (all year) to pay it down, you end up procrastinating or splurging, telling yourself you’ll make up for it later. But the longer you push it off, the bigger and more overwhelming your once-reasonable goal can feel.

Solution: Set Smaller Milestones

The big picture is important, but connecting your goal to the present makes it more digestible and easier to stick with. Instead of vowing to pay off $5000 by the end of next December, make it your resolution to put $96 toward your credit card debt every week, for example.

In a study from the University of Wollongong, researchers asked subjects to save using one of two methods: a linear model and a cyclical model. In the linear model, the researchers told subjects that saving for the future was important and asked them to set aside money accordingly. In contrast, they told the cyclical group:

This approach acknowledges that one’s life consists of many small and large cycles, that is, events that repeat themselves. We want you to think of the personal savings task as one part of such a cyclical life. Make your savings task a routinized one: just focus on saving the amount that you want to save now, not next month, not next year. Think about whether you saved enough money during your last paycheck cycle. If you saved as much as you wanted, continue with your persistence. If you did not save enough, make it up this time, with the current paycheck cycle.

When subjects used this cyclical model, focusing on the present, they saved more than subjects who focused on their long-term goal.

PROBLEM 2: THEY'RE TOO VAGUE

“Find a better job” is a worthy goal, but it's a bit amorphous. It's unclear what "better" means to you, and it’s difficult to plot the right course of action when you’re not sure what your desired outcome is. Many resolutions are vague in this way: get in shape, worry less, spend more time with loved ones.

Solution: Make Your Goal a SMART One

To make your goal actionable, it should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. When you set specific parameters and guidelines for your goal, it makes it easier to come up with an action plan. Under a bit more scrutiny, "spend more time with loved ones" might become "invite my best friends over for dinner every other Sunday night." This new goal is specific, measurable, time-bound—it ticks all the boxes and tells you exactly what you want and how to get there.

PROBLEM 3: YOU FELL FOR THE “FALSE FIRST STEP”

“A false first step is when we try to buy a better version of ourselves instead of doing the actual work to accomplish it,” Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch tells Mental Floss. “The general idea is that purchasing something like a heart rate monitor can feel a lot like we're taking a step towards our fitness goals,” Ongaro says. “The purchase itself can give us a dopamine release and a feeling of satisfaction, but it hasn't actually accomplished anything other than spending some money on a new gadget.”

Even worse, sometimes that dopamine is enough to lure you away from your goal altogether, Ongaro says. “That feeling of satisfaction that comes with the purchase often is good enough that we don't feel the need to actually go out for a run and use it.”

Solution: Start With What You Already Have

You can avoid this trap by forcing yourself to start your goal with the resources you already have on hand. “Whether the goal is to learn a new language or improve physical fitness, the best way to get started and avoid the false first step is to do the best you can with what you already have,” Ongaro says. “Start really small, even learning one new word per day for 30 days straight, or just taking a quick walk around the block every day.”

This isn’t to say you should never buy anything related to your goal, though. As Ongaro points out, you just want to make sure you’ve already developed the habit a bit first. “Establish a habit and regular practice that will be enhanced by a product you may buy,” he says. “It's likely that you won't even need that gadget or that fancy language learning software once you actually get started ... Basically, don't let buying something be the first step you take towards meaningful change in your life.”

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6 Tips for Achieving Your Fitness Resolutions in 2018
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If the holiday season makes visions of sugar plums dance in your head, the caloric austerity plan you have in mind for the new year will feel like a rude awakening. Between snacks, drinks, and the main meal, the average American consumes over 4500 calories on Thanksgiving Day alone, and with a calendar full of holiday parties, this over-indulgent lifestyle usually persists until January 1.

For anyone who’s planning to pursue a fitness- and health-related New Year's resolution, it’s important to start preparing before the clock strikes midnight on December 31—it's nearly impossible to make a drastic lifestyle change at the drop of a hat. Use these expert tips to get a head-start on your fitness goals in order to maximize your success.

1. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE DEDICATION NEEDED TO MAKE A CHANGE.

It takes a lot of patience and persistence to follow through on your fitness goals. “The problem that most people run into is that they don’t think through what they’re getting into,” says Dean Gavindane, a certified personal trainer and CEO/co-founder of SuperMe Performance.

Gavindane says that underestimating the level of commitment needed to stick to a new fitness routine is common because people see their fitness goals “as a sprint instead of a marathon.” Understanding that your new diet and workout routine won't achieve results overnight is the first step to shedding pounds and toning up.

2. START COUNTING YOUR CALORIES.

Losing weight is a simple math problem: Eat fewer calories than you burn each day. In order to count calories effectively, you therefore need to know how many you are taking in through your food as well as how many you are expelling when you exercise. Use a fitness tracker and a calorie-counting app to help you make smart snacking choices during the holidays.

3. KEEP A FOOD DIARY.

Jen Hazzard, cross country coach and adjunct chemistry and physics professor at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, has her clients keep a food diary where they record what they eat on a daily basis, using each day as a benchmark for the next. She says the diary is a way to be honest with yourself and to change the way you think about your nutrition changes. “I avoid the term diet,” says Hazzard. “It suggests giving up things you love for things you don’t like. You should never make fitness about denial, but about finding a middle ground. A good start to finding that middle ground is treating certain meals like rewards.”

Hazzard also says that by cutting out processed and junk foods, you’d be surprised at the quantity of healthy food you can consume without gaining weight. There’s no shame in filling up the pages of your food diary as long as they’re healthy foods.

4. STICK IT OUT FOR 66 DAYS.

Hazzard has also worked as a consultant for a wellness program called Commit to 66, which is based on a 2009 study that showed the average length of time it took participants to form a new habit was 66 days [PDF]. It's important to remember that 66 days was the study's average, so it may take you more or less time. What’s important is setting a long-term goal to help you curb your impulses as well as keep from getting discouraged.

5. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT WITH FITNESS.

It's easy to get in a rut at the gym (do you head to the elliptical every time you're there?), but keeping an open mind about your physicality and trying new things is an important part of shedding weight. "Simple yet effective exercises and workouts can be done in several different ways depending upon the time allowed and equipment provided,” says Tiffany Tatlock, a certified personal trainer, meal planner, and competitive bodybuilder.

6. INCORPORATE BODYWEIGHT WORKOUTS INTO YOUR ROUTINE AT HOME.

If a gym isn’t available for you (or if it feels sub-Arctic outside and you can't bear to leave the warmth of your home) it’s still possible to get in a great workout, no equipment required. Here are some body-weight circuits that Tatlock has suggested that can be performed at home and aren’t very time-consuming.

Set 1:
Floor Touch Squats (10 reps)
Wide-Grip Push-Ups (10 reps)
Squat Jumps (10 reps)
Full Tuck Crunch (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 2:
Forward and Backward Lunge (10 reps each leg)
Tricep Dips (10 reps)
High Knee Skips (10 reps each leg)
Bicycle Crunch (30 seconds)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 3:
Flutter Kicks (30 seconds)
Swimming Plank (10 reps each side)
Diagonal Squat Thrust (5 reps each side)
Toe Touch Beetle Crunch (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 4:
Lateral Lunges (10 reps each leg)
Close-Grip Push-Ups (10 reps)
Single-Leg Skater Squat (10 reps each leg)
Vertical Leg Lift (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Set 5:
Plank (30 seconds)
Skydiver (30 seconds)
Tick-Tock Squats (10 reps each leg)
Spinal Rock-Up (10 reps)
Rest (60 seconds)

Completing sets one through five marks one round, and Tatlock advises performing up to five rounds in your workout session. “Effective and great workouts are all about giving it your all,” Tatlock says. “Typically, three to four of these sessions per week can be effective when the gym isn’t achievable.”

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