Dan Churchill runs by the Hudson River while training for the New York City Marathon. Photo credit:
Dan Churchill

Endurance training: Dan’s tips to run the distance

Dan Churchill

I love an endurance event. If I’m not in marathon training for my fifth NYC marathon, I’m crossing the Harbour Bridge in the Sydney Marathon, finetuning my running nutrition, or stepping up to ultramarathon training for the gnarly Leadville Trail 100.

The question I get most is “Why?” The answer is pretty simple – I love the challenge. It’s something to focus my attention on that forces me to remove myself from the stress of work.

There’s a meditative nature to the process that helps me enter a really zen state.

While the endurance training I do is often with friends, ultimately it’s just you out there on the big day. It’s a mental challenge, which I love. You’re battling your mind telling you to stop or rest – these things are chipping away at your mental state and I really enjoy stepping up to that.

For me, training for and finishing a marathon is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. And I know I’m not the only one who loves hitting the pavement. So lace up and take a run at my top 9 fueling and training tips to help you go the distance.

1. Prioritize simple sugars when training

No.1 on your marathon nutrition hit list is glycogen, a complex carbohydrate that is the first energy source your body reaches for during high-intensity activity. The problem is, you carry only a limited amount of glycogen in your liver and muscles.

When those stores are used up, your body turns to other sources of energy – like fat, which is less efficient and can hurt your performance. So before your longer training runs, and the days leading up to your event, shift away from foods that take longer to eat and digest like fats, and prioritize eating simple sugars like:

  • bananas

  • rice

  • bread

  • cups of noodles

  • the pancakes below

Centr's oat pancakes served with sliced bananas, chopped walnuts and drizzled with maple syrup.

To give your body the glycogen fuel it needs, keep it simple (and delicious) with Dan’s Oat Pancakes with Banana & Walnuts.

Some runners turn to energy gels or bars for their glycogen needs. I’m not a huge fan, but if you really need the quick hit of sugar and energy they can come in handy.

2. Don’t forget the 'fourth macro'

When I’m training for a marathon, I’m focused on supporting my brain, immune system and muscle contraction. One way I do this is by prioritizing color on my plate – I like to call it ‘the fourth macronutrient’.

Phytonutrients, the natural compounds that give fruits and vegetables their colors, play an important role in the immune system and protect your body from environmental stressors. This is especially important because your immune system can become suppressed when you’re in heavy endurance training. So extra greens and anti-inflammatory foods are top of my list.

Centr’s Zesty Chicken Salad with Fresh Blueberries, which is rich in phytonutrients.

If it’s got color, it’s got goodness. Support your immune system through training with colorful, veg-filled meals like this Zesty Chicken Salad with Blueberries.

As I get closer to a race, I also avoid sauerkraut and kimchi. Sometimes the gas exchange that happens when you consume fermented foods can upset your stomach, especially if your system isn’t used to it.

3. The first thing to give out will be your legs

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re preparing for a certain type of event. But it’s not just your aerobic capacity that’s going to be tested in a marathon – it’s often your legs that will give out first.

So I’m always complementing my running with strength training to support my legs and joints. Any load-bearing and unilateral work that involves your joints and mobility will give your body extra strength for the long haul.

If you’re not sure where to start, try these workouts on Centr to break up your event-specific training:

  • Mobility workouts – e.g. Functional Training, Pilates

  • Bodyweight workouts – e.g. HIIT, HILIT

  • Plyometrics with Bobby

  • Stretching sessions

4. Recovery is about more than rest days

My recovery routine includes foam rolling, a compression gun and hot/cold therapy – there’s a reason you see pro athletes (plus Chris in his Nat Geo series Limitless) jumping into an ice bath or hitting the sauna after training! Shocking your body in this way has been proven to fight inflammation and increase blood circulation, along with a whole lot of other benefits.

Sleep is the other crucial element in your recovery. When I spoke to Dr. Steve Lockley from the Sleep Medicine division of Harvard on my Epic Table podcast, he gave some great simple tips for maximizing your sleep:

  • Sunlight exposure during the day

  • Avoiding blue light at night

  • Establishing a consistent sleep schedule

If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, the Centr Team can help with more science-backed fixes.

5. Try breathwork to overcome mental blocks

You need to breathe to perform well on the big day. Sounds obvious, right? But a different approach to your breath could make all the difference when the pressure is on.

For me, this is all wrapped up with mindfulness. Everybody’s mental blocks when facing a big challenge will be different, but practicing breathwork before you hit the starting line will help you physically and mentally, creating the right passages in your neurological system.

There are a whole lot of meditations for breathing and performance on Centr that help me get into the zone.

Chris Hemsworth sits cross-legged on a pool deck, with his eyes closed meditating.

Find the calm and focus that will carry you over the finishing line by practicing your breathing in a meditation with Chris.

6. You need more than water to hydrate

It only takes a 2 percent decrease in hydration for your performance to drop. Yes, you need water, but when you’re sweating at ‘big event’ intensity, electrolytes are also a must.

You lose anywhere between 350-700mg of sodium per hour of exercise and up to 2800mg of sodium during more extreme training and endurance events. This is a lot to replenish through salty foods alone, so getting electrolytes through supplementation is key.

The most common forms of electrolyte supplements are powders (drink mixes), effervescent tablets, or pre-mixed bottled drinks. But you can also DIY – Centr’s dietitian Angie Asche likes to make her own hydration drink using watermelon, coconut water, lime and a little salt.

7. Use the ‘tapering’ technique

You’ve probably heard of ‘tapering’ – it’s a big concept in endurance sports preparation. What it means is that at the peak of training for an event, you start to reduce the load on your body, because it’s as prepared as it is going to be.

In marathon prep, this means doing close to the longest run you’ll do in the lead-up, then lowering your run distances.

When your body and head space are ready, you then switch to 2 weeks of recovery so you feel completely rested going into the event. For me, that looks like gentle shake-out runs and mobility sessions (light workouts or stretching).

You’re not racing anyone but yourself.

8. Don’t get too caught up in the distance

What do you do when you’re halfway through a grueling event and feel like crap? My advice: don’t get too caught up in the distance.

Functionally, at this point, you can make the decision to either continue pushing or chill your pace. Just remember that no matter what you choose, you’re not racing anyone but yourself.

In the moment, focus on your why, not how much you’re hurting. I like to draw on the support of my training buddies, the crowds cheering from the sidelines (you may not have met them, but trust me, they’re cheering for you!), and think about the charity I’m supporting by running. These are huge motivational factors for me.

Through the pain, I always remind myself to enjoy it. Even if I’m the last one across the line, I crossed the line – and I did it for me. I know you can do it, too.

9. Find your support crew

There are some people who love running on their own. As for me, I like to mix it up. If I’m clocking up miles solo, I’ll have a podcast, audiobook, or Ed Sheeran pumping in my ears. But there is nothing better than having a community running or training with you.

Marathons take effort and showing up with your buddies day in and day out to put in the work and do what it takes to succeed is truly a special experience.

If you think about the NYC Marathon: 55,000 runners all moving and experiencing the same challenges together. There are so many opportunities to build a support network within that huge group.

Dan Churchill

Australian foodie Dan Churchill is taking his fresh, healthy and colorful approach to food to the world as chef and co-founder of New York eatery Charley St. Dan has a Masters in Exercise Science, and was a strength and conditioning coach before switching focus to nutrition. He makes healthy eating easy, and workout challenges sweaty – always with an emphasis on fun.

Dan Churchill

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