• coachmk

Sleep is Food, Don't Starve.

Long before she had a website, Coach MK had a private Google Group for her 1:1 clients. We are (slowly) republishing work from that vault, over here.


Most people categorize runners by pace figures.  "Oh, she's an 8-minute miler and I'm just a 12-minute miler".  These pace figures are totally banal and tell me nothing (does she usually run that pace figure?  Should she?  Does that figure match any average pace for her races longer than 10k?). I tend to categorize runners by how far down the rabbit hole they've traveled. Some will just show up for group runs and occasional races; for these guys, running is mostly social and goals are theoretical at best or made up at worst just to participate in the flow of a conversation ("what kind of pace are you thinking today?"  "10s FOR SURE!"  "Dude, where's your Garmin?"). I consider these guys 'on the surface'. There is no real pressure to travel down the hole, but the temptation can be hard to resist.  Over time, some runners will start poking their heads into the rabbit hole.  "I think I want to do a half/get faster!  What do I need to do?"  


Those poor guys don't know that the rabbit hole is actually a greased chute; some runners will never see the bottom.  Others will find a fingerhold at the end of a stage and REFUSE TO MOVE to the next one once they realize how greasy the hole is; they are scared of what will come next.  I don't blame them.


  • Stage 1: “I’m a runner!” : joining a running group or spending more than $100 on running shoes. Hooray for good decisions!

  • Stage 2: “I’m running my first (X)!”: running a distance longer than 2 hours, either alone or as part of an event you didn't realize would take 2 hours. Bless their hearts.

  • Stage 3: “I’m training for my first (X)!”: signing up for an event longer than 2 hours on purpose.  This is when people do Google searches that lead them to Hal Higdon and begin a process they consider to be ‘training for an event’. Bless their hearts.

  • Stage 4: “I’m training for NOT MY FIRST (X) with the (Y) pace group!” : signing up for run training AND/OR buying an expensive GPS watch that tells you where you've been not where to go; this allows people to obsess about paces. Bless their hearts.

  • Stage 5: “I’m getting serious about training for NOT MY FIRST (X) so I am hiring (a coach/nutrition expert)!”: some will will do one but not the other because this is seen as "getting serious" and the expense harder to justify since you're broke from the Garmin purchase, the shoes, the sweat-wicking run clothes, the race entries, the race PHOTOS...bless their hearts.


WELCOME TO STAGE 5! Let’s talk about nutrition.  Sleep is food! Don’t Starve!!!!!!!


I've been practicing sleep hygiene ever since I started detoxing from my old job.  For 7 years I lived in Hong Kong and traded live Asian stock markets for clients based in the US. Going to sleep was nerve-wracking since shifts in the US market or the value of the dollar could change a gain into a loss; knowing you could wake up to disaster made going to sleep impossible.  I would go for runs to wear myself out, then yoga to relax (sometimes 2 or three classes back to back); nothing really worked.  


When I started grad school I had to get my act together and sleep hygiene was a huge step in that process.  After grad school, sleep hygiene was the key to managing an intense job with equally intense marathon training.  It is impossible to practice with newborns and difficult with toddlers but it is worth considering since it helps keep everything in place; most of us are worthless and totally unmotivated without enough sleep and fumble through everything we do until we can get back to bed.


It starts with 'backing into' a bedtime.  For me, the math looks like this:


  • my kids have to be at school at 9:15am; it is a 7-minute drive away

  • I want to spend one quality hour with my children minimum each morning, so I need to be done by 8am.

  • My showers usually take 20 minutes, so I need to be in MY shower NO LATER THAN 7:35 

  • I need 6 minutes to foam roll and 3 for Bosu work (the rest can happen after I take the kids to school, I try not to make any appointments between 9:15-10am for that very reason); 7:25

  • takes me 7 minutes to drive home from Wash Park or the gym; need to hit my car no later than 7:20 but 7:15 is ideal 

  • Most of my morning runs are at least 60 minutes in duration, some are 75.  Need to start by 6 or 6:15

  • It takes me 7 minutes to drive to the Park; I need to be in a warmed car by 5:53am.

  • The sitter arrives at 5:45am.  I do my silly toes and longer warm-ups in the backyard while my car warms up

  • My alarm goes off at 5:30am; I sleep in most of my run clothes and head downstairs to unlock the door for the sitter and put on my gaiters and run shoes.

  • I am good to go on 7 hours of sleep per night but 8 is ideal; pre-sleep wind-down takes 30 minutes and needs to end by 10pm

  • This means the pre-sleep wind-down needs to start at 9:30pm.


This means dinner needs to happen by 6:30pm since I need 3 hours between food and sleep;

Aaaaand that’s all the structure I can handle so I refuse to make plans in between or deliberately take my time in between school drop-off and dinner. Ask anyone who knows me, I view start times as aspirational. I’m almost never on time. I’m cool with it. My husband….bless his heart. The military really drills start times into your skull; when he’s driving, we are that creepy couple circling the block at 2:45 because someone told him the party started at 3pm.


Have you ever looked at your calendar and realized that you booked 2 things back to back and forgot to add in travel time?  Most of us do that CONSTANTLY, ideas of what needs to get done but no room to maneuver, then we feel bad about ourselves for not doing as much as we had wanted to, and stay up late either getting everything done or worrying about everything we didn't get done...and we don't sleep enough so the next day we are even FURTHER off track.


If you're not ready yet, if this is just one step farther than you're willing to go with your training, if this sounds like TOO MUCH discipline, that's totally ok.  There is no race to the bottom of the rabbit hole (at least, no shirt and no medal....YET!) so take your time. We need Silly Toes for pre-run rituals, and I have something similar for pre-sleep rituals that I am more than happy to share.


Just remember, you did this to yourself. You set the goal. You registered for the event. You bought the watch. You hired the coach. Now you need to make time to train, and sleep is a critical component of training. It's the original performance-enhacing drug, take as much as you need.


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