Running Q&A

Running is my favorite form of exercise for a number of reasons. It’s affordable because all you really need is a pair of running shoes, it a quick way to burns lots of calories, you can do it almost anywhere in the world, and it’s a great activity to do with your spouse, kids, parents, siblings, friends, etc. I recently received a note from a childhood friend who was an amazing soccer player growing up but she just signed up for her first half marathon and has never really tried distance running before. She’s a single mom with a young son and she had a few questions about running and it meant a lot to me that she turned to me for advice. We both decided that these questions are probably questions that other new runners have, so I turned it into a Q&A blog post. If you have any other questions, or if my answers just confused you more, feel free to shoot me an email at And if you want to see past running posts just search “running” in the search block to the right.

Q1. When you train are you always outside or always inside, and does it matter? I have mostly been going to the YMCA since I can put my son in a playroom and run on the treadmill, but I find that my runs are VERY different on a treadmill. While they are the same distance, I tend to go up and down with my speeds a lot, and also I tend to be faster and more tired from these workouts. When I run outside (without my son, which is rare) I have a steady pace and just kinda go… What’s your experience? Do you find that it’s harder to run outside if you mostly train on a treadmill? Or is it good to mix it up?

A1.  I’m the exact same way!  I almost always run faster on the treadmill than I do outside (except for when I’m racing).  I often adjust the speed every .1 miles to get my heart rate up and then to recover after each sprint.  It makes the run go by faster when you do “speed play,” so I think that’s why I do it.  I don’t think it makes running outside harder, I just think it’s different.  I think it’s good to mix it up if you can, but either way you’ll be surprised with yourself when it comes to race day!

Q2. On that same note, with my treadmill runs, I’ve really been enjoying interval workouts (the kind where it’s like “set the machine on 6 for two minutes, then go to 8 for 30 seconds, recover with 1 min at 5, etc”). Is this a good tactic for training or should I be trying to focus on getting a steady pace for a long time? Does it matter? I just mix it up to get my heart rate up and also to not get bored.

A2.  I am a BIG believer in interval workouts on the treadmill.  I think it’s a wonderful way to ensure you don’t get bored and it’s a wonderful way to rev that metabolism and get your heart rate up.  When I started running again 6 weeks after having Jack I did all of my running on the treadmill because it was winter and because I couldn’t run with Jack yet.  I did intervals on almost every run.  My favorite thing to do is warm up for about 5 minutes at a moderate pace and then run .1 miles at 6mph, .1 miles at 8mph, .1 at 6.1mph, .1 at 7.9mph, etc. working back and forth until you meet in the middle.  Then I’ll jog slowly until I feel like I’m recovered and will do it again.  If you’re more of a beginner then just do the same thing but at a lower speed.  Even little “pick ups” of a tenth of a mile can really help build your endurance and your speed.

Q3. Speaking of boring, do you have any tips or tricks for this? Obviously music is key, but I even sometimes find myself over that. I think runs outside definitely help… maybe I should try a podcast or something.

A3.  I have always listened to music when I run but for this past marathon I started listening to podcasts and I loved it!  I listened to Young House Love Has a Podcast, which is a husband and wife blogging team and they’re funny and quirky and talk about design and DIY.  I highly recommend it.  I quit listening to music while running with Jack just so that I can be more aware, and then listened to podcasts on my long runs when I ran by myself.  On the day of the race I listened to music and it was a really nice treat because I hadn’t heard all my usual songs in a few weeks!

Q4. This is a doozy: I love running outside but when I do I usually have to push my son. He is so heavy… 45lbs to be exact…I have been finding that pushing him combined with the Atlanta hills has doubled the exertion for the same distance for outside runs… Do you have the same experience, and what do you do? Sometimes I feel like perhaps I could cut a scheduled run down a bit if I’m pushing him, but that feels like cheating in my over analyzing ex-athlete mind. Thoughts? Would you ever feel like runs are like TWICE as difficult when you’re pushing Jack?

A4.  Running with a stroller is such a great workout!  I feel like it really revs my metabolism and I did the majority of my week day training runs with Jack.  My runs were much slower than they would have been if I had run by myself, but in the end I think the strength training aspect of stroller jogging helped compensate for my lack of speed work.  I also tried to run the distance that was on my training schedule but I often cut it short due to time requirements or because running with a stroller really is a strenuous workout.  I was only 3 minutes off of my best ever marathon time and this race was crazy hilly, so I think all in all it’s ok to occasionally skimp a little on the distance when you’re running with a stroller.

Q5. How often are you strength training? Does it make a difference?

A5.  To be honest, I didn’t do much strength training for this race.  We moved across the country, I had to “play Army” for a few weeks, and Jack learned to crawl and then walk all while I was training for my marathon, so I was really distracted and focused primarily on running.  I think 2 or 3 30 minute workouts a week is plenty, and I didn’t even do that.  I did go to hour long physical therapy sessions twice a week for the last 2 months of training so there was some strength and core training involved in that, but I really didn’t do a great job of fitting it in.  A strong core and upper body does help with running, especially towards the end of the race when fatigue sets in and you start to lose your form, so if you can fit it in a couple times a week that would be great!  I almost always use the Nike Training Club app when I do strength training and it really helped get me back into shape after having Jack.   

Q6. How big of a difference do shoes make? I have crappy ones now and am thinking of investing but a lot of “good” running shoes are pricey so I just wonder if it really is worth it or not to splurge.

A6.  I don’t think you need to splurge on expensive shoes.  The pair I trained in and race it was from the New Balance outlet store and cost about $60, if that.  I know that I like light shoes with minimal bulk so I’ve been able to find pairs that fit those specifications.  For a while I did wear a $100 pair of shoes but they stopped making that kind and I gave the outlet store pair a shot and was pleasantly surprised.  Quality shoes are important, but I don’t think they necessarily have to be crazy expensive.  Just make sure they’re real running shoes, and not just “trainers.”

Q7. Diet- I know eating balanced helps to make runs easier and just help me to feel better overall, but does your diet change on “long run” days? I know I’m going to be more starving than normal.

A7. On long run days I’ll eat a piece of toast with some peanut butter on it before my run, and then I’ll have a big breakfast with waffles, bacon and eggs after the run. Running does make me hungrier than normal but I tend to try to eat healthful foods that fill me up. I eat chickpeas very often and those are a great source of protein and fiber. I eat lots of Greek yogurt for protein and I top it with walnuts and fruit. I also eat a lot of cereal. For some reason that’s my “go to” when I’m starving at the end of the day and want one more thing to eat before bed. Lean meats, lots of veggies, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes…these are some of my favorite things to eat and they really do help fill you up. I definitely splurge often (ice cream and chips with guacamole are two of my weakness) but as my mom always says, “everything in moderation.”

Q8. Do you ever walk? I feel (back to that ex-athlete thing) that when I walk I’m a quitter… and I know it’s so mental and perhaps not even necessary. I’m just curious to whether you ever do take a moment to walk through any of your training runs?

A8.  Yep.  Sometimes I just am not feeling a run so I’ll take a walk break.  Sometimes I’ll randomly get a breathing cramp that won’t go away, so I’ll talk a walk break.  It’s important to listen to your body if you’re too uncomfortable.  I’d say that I only stop to walk on 5% of my runs though, and unless you’re a true beginner you shouldn’t be walking too much.  On race day I never walk, except at water points so that I can actually get water or gatorade into my mouth.

Q9. Do you ever break up the runs? I think I’m asking this because in my mind at the moment I feel very intimidated by a long run over 6 currently. BUT I do feel like I could, for instance, totally do two runs of 4 miles in a day (morning/evening) and feel just fine about it- is that defeating the purpose? Have you ever broken them up to get your miles in?

A9. I sure do! If you break it up you’ll likely feel fresher for your second “leg” so you can probably run a little faster than you would have if you had run it all at the same time. It’s important to complete your long runs all at one time so that mentally you know you can do it on race day, but if you need to break up the shorter runs occasionally don’t feel bad about it. You’re still getting your mileage in! I did this on a few of my 6 or 8 milers because I didn’t have enough time to do it all in one shot.

Well I hope you all enjoyed this little Q&A on running.  If you like fitness posts please let me know in the comments and I’ll try to do them more often.  All of your comments and feedback are appreciated more than you know!

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Katie Vail
Katie Vail

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  1. January 23, 2017 / 4:25 pm

    I'm an interval runner because I get SO bored on a treadmill, but usually my time to workout is in the evening when it is dark. I struggle/get annoyed with having to constantly change the speed (beep beep beep with every button push). Any tactics or ideas to find a treadmill at the gym that you can set it and go?
    XO, Amanda @

  2. January 23, 2017 / 4:54 pm

    The ones that beep are so annoying! I've found a few that you can set the speeds you want and the duration and it'll do all the switching for you. I can't remember what the brand of treadmill was though! It was pretty neat and made intervals so much easier. Some also have pretty decent preset workouts that have interval training as an option. I think it's all treadmill dependent. Thanks so much for stopping by, Amanda!

  3. January 24, 2017 / 12:03 pm

    This is super interesting to read. I'd love to know what some of your favorite workouts are on the Nike app, and I also miss your workout diaries.

  4. January 24, 2017 / 8:46 pm

    Hi Holly, I'll work on a post with my favorite Nike workouts! Thanks so much for the feedback on the workout diaries. I wasn't sure how they were received which is why I stopped doing them. I'll definitely consider doing them again!

  5. February 2, 2017 / 5:39 pm

    Perfect timing as I am currently training for my first half marathon (19 March)! What brands of fuel do you suggest taking during long runs? There are so many on the market and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed trying to find one. Thank you!

  6. February 2, 2017 / 6:38 pm

    What a great question! I should have added that here but didn't even think about it. I like GU gels that have caffeine in them. I've vanilla, blackberry and lemon lime are all pretty good. My brother is an ultra runner and he likes those stinger wafers that have honey in them. Also, the past few marathons I've run I've eaten Swedish fish (the candy) and they're so good! Sometimes you need a little something but can't quite stomach another gel, so running with a plastic baggie full of Swedish fish works well. Try everything out on a training run though! You want to know how your stomach will react. Good luck on your race! You're going to do great!

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