BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Okay, so it has been a really nice fall so far until this week. Thursday, I went out for my run and it was my first below freezing run of the year. Not bad for December 7th. Time to layer up and get out there. It wasn’t so bad. But tomorrow looks like it’s going to be 21 degrees at 8:00 in the morning when I am planning to head out. In mid-January, that’s not going to seem so bad but since I’m not acclimated yet, that is going to seem like that trip to deepest Siberia I have always dreamed of or maybe not so much. I hate treadmills but the running can’t stop. So, it’s time to review the cold weather strategy, suck it up and get back out there.

Rule #1 is dressing for success. Remember the 20 degree rule. Wear enough clothing that you would be comfortable just standing around if it was 20 degrees warmer. If it’s 25 degrees, wear enough that you could just sit outside if it was 45 degrees. Layers, layers, layers! That is the key to doing it right. For me tomorrow, 21 degrees will be a 3 layer day. I’m talking about upper body layers. A long sleeved wicking shirt, then a short sleeved wicking shirt, all topped off with a running jacket of some sort will do the trick. I never wear more than 3 layers. If it’s that cold I will throw in the towel and come back another day. Time to cross train inside. Cover your head or at least your ears with a hat of some kind and cover your hands. Gloves are okay but mittens are better. Socks make great mittens. You can wipe your sweat or your snotty nose on them and just throw them in the washer with the rest of your nasty sweaty running gear. Below the waist, running tights or pants are always in style and will keep you warm. Warm legs are less likely to get injured. Socks for the feet come in different weights. I like my double layered socks made by Wright Sock. Besides being warm, they are nice for preventing blisters. How do you know if you have enough on? If you are nice and warm when you start out, you are overdressed. If you are shaking and shivering from the cold before you start, you might want a little more.

Dressed for winter success – layers, hats, gloves

Rule #2 is staying dry. Once again, layers are the key. Layers of wicking material will suck away the sweat while the air between the layers keeps you warm. If you get wet, you are in trouble. Really, I do mean potential big-time trouble like frostbite trouble or worse. So, leave the cotton shirt at home to wear after your shower while you sit in front of the fireplace having that well-deserved cup of hot chocolate. Don’t step in puddles. If there is a deep puddle, even if there is a covering of ice, stay off it. You might break through and soak your foot. Wet body parts just get cold.

Rule #3 is watch your footing. I just mentioned ice. You are way more likely to have a problem due to slipping on ice and busting your head open than you are to freeze up your lungs or watch your fingers fall off from frostbite damage. I have friends who have put screws and other homemade traction devices on the bottom of their shoes. Forget it. Just stay the hell off any ice you see. If there’s not a non-icy path you can follow, just give it up. Come back to run outside another day. Get on your exercise bike or even jump on the dreaded treadmill. Running on icy roads is just not a gamble worth taking. One more thing here. Snow and ice aren’t the same thing. You can run on snow. It gives you a little traction. If you go outside and find out once you are too far gone that the conditions are icier than you thought, try to step where there is snow and avoid any black ice spots.

Notice all the dry road and this one chose to run on the icy spot.

Cold weather myths are plenty. People look at me like I’m nuts when they ask what my distance runners do in the winter since they can’t go outside. I ask them why they think the runners can’t go outside. They just stare like I’m a slave driver. I have never had a runner come back in that didn’t work up a sweat outside. Now I do draw the line at certain temperatures. I think around 8 degrees is as cold as I have run in and I don’t ask my team to go outside below 10 degrees but I know they could if they wanted to. The myth is that your lungs will freeze up. I see that all the time in the obituaries when all those young runners die from frozen solid lungs. Come to think of it, no I have not ever seen that anywhere ever. It just doesn’t happen. Frostbite, maybe. Frozen lungs, not so much. One of my favorite stories comes from my first year of coaching high school track. It was about 15 degrees and very windy. I’m sure the wind chill was about zero. I told the girls, I am not going to ask you to go outside. You can if you want but it is not a requirement today. They all looked very relieved until Kristen, our all-state 3200 runner, looked at me and said “I’m going out”. Every single one of those girls dropped their heads in shame and then followed her. Now that is leadership. The best part was that every one of them came back sweaty. No frozen lungs or frostbitten fingers.

To sum it all up, winter running is awesome. It is less dangerous than running in high heat and can be a beautiful peaceful time to run outside. Just use your common sense, dress right and watch your step.

Total breakdown in common sense is pictured above. Who is the bigger fool? I think it’s the moron who took his baby out for a winter run in the stroller in icy conditions. If gramps frostbites his nipples he can only blame himself. If the baby in the stroller gets cold, his dad is in big trouble.

Keep running my friends!

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Running with my Podcasts

One of the persistent challenges I’ve experienced in my running routine over the years is exactly that… sometimes it gets a bit, well… routine.  Sometimes there are phases when it feels like I’m always running the same route for the same amount of time, same clothes, same shoes, same everything.  And even worse, sometimes there are phases when you have to make a few compromises in order to maintain your routine.  Specifically, I’ve been logging some treadmill runs lately – for a variety of reasons.  Namely, the treadmill at the gym near my office is the only reasonable place for me to log a few miles over the course of my lunch break.

If you’re one of the many runners like myself who find treadmill running to be a significant challenge simply because of the boredom factor, then you know how tedious this can be.  I’ve had other phases when I’ve logged treadmill runs with music and that got me pumped up for a while.  But eventually even the playlists get really repetitive and the same songs fail to get me excited.

My current infatuation is listening to podcasts while I log miles on the treadmill.  Instead of dreading my treadmill time, I look forward to it because I get the excuse to settle in and listen to some dialogue on my favorite topics.  The free material available feels virtually limitless – I have subscribed to podcasts on topics ranging from running itself and fitness in general to business, meditation, happiness, and cooking.  (Yes, now I not only indulge in watching other people prepare food on television, but I also listen to them talk about it on the radio.  Are we traveling back in time??)  Nonetheless, the point is that whatever you’re into, there’s probably a podcast about it.  And unlike your twenty favorite workout songs, your podcast content can vary every single time you step on the treadmill.  Maybe you like fiction – you can listen to short stories and series – drama, sci fi, mystery, whatever you like!  Or documentaries?  Biographies?  Politics?  News?  Science?  Health and wellness?  Personal improvement?  Oh my gosh, life won’t even be long enough to listen to all the good content!

I know it won’t work for everyone.  Some people just aren’t into listening to “talk.”  I thought I wasn’t either.  But now I’m so obsessed with podcasts that I haven’t even bothered to listen to music – either on the treadmill or on the commute – in literally months, maybe years.  I only use my podcasts on the treadmill.  I’m still a purist when running outside – no earbuds for me.  Maybe this is why the novelty and excitement still remain when it does come time to hop on the old mill.  Perhaps if I used podcasts during every run, whether inside or out, I’d get burnt out.  But so far, I’m still hooked.

Let’s not rule out books on tape either.  I haven’t tried this on a run yet, but a good friend of mine got a lot help from Ayn Rand while powering through a marathon last year.  (Atlas Shrugged can help you cover a LOT of miles… )

So to summarize – I’ll admit this may not be for everyone, but if you haven’t tried it yet, think it over.  Doing something new can make running exciting again when it’s starting to get dull.  And sometimes a little variety is all we need to get re-enchanted with the whole ritual!

Can You Be a Champion?

There are lots of good runners out there. What sets those who reach the very top apart from the rest? Is there something they know that the rest of us don’t? Do they work harder? Are they more disciplined? Were they just born with better genes than those finishing after them? Being a track coach for 28 years, I wonder about these things.

I have had the good fortune of coaching 3 different girls who became individual state champions in the state of Ohio. They hold all our county distance records and two state records. Why were they so good? The obvious answer is it must be the coaching but I want to see if maybe, just maybe, there might be another factor in there? Since there have been several hundred who didn’t make state champion status, it struck me that it is possible the stellar coaching I provided isn’t the deciding factor.

So, I thought I would go directly to the source and ask them what made the difference. I sent them each a 10-question survey and they were all gracious enough to take the time to answer the questions and I found it very interesting. It’s time to share the results. DISCLAIMER TIME! This is not valid scientific research. The sample size is too small and surveys are misleading and rely on memory which is more subjective than objective. Below are the questions.

  1. Regarding your diet, are there certain foods you made sure you always ate? Are there foods you avoided? If you avoided certain foods, did you never eat them or just limit them?
  2. Did you make sure you always got a lot of water or did you drink as your body told you that you were thirsty? What was your thirst quencher of choice?
  3. Rest – Did you have a rigid sleep schedule? Were you an early riser or a night owl? If you remember, how many hours a night did you sleep?
  4. When not working out did you make sure you were not being active or did you have a life that was pretty much the same as your friends as far as being active if something was going on?
  5. Extra workouts – Did you do anything outside of what I assigned to you as far as working out? Examples would be core work, strength training, cross training or just getting in some extra miles occasionally. If you did extra, what did you do and how much of it?
  6. What if anything did you give up that most of your classmates did. For example, did you go to many Friday night football games? What things like that did you sacrifice and did it bother you?
  7. Were you an organized person with good time management skills or did you wait until the last minute to get things done?
  8. Did you try to learn about your sport? Were you interested in training theory or the “why” of what workouts we did. Did you follow the stars of the sport. If yes, was it the other high school stars or the national and international level stars?
  9. Did you or your parents spend a lot of money on things such as training gear or personal trainers or training equipment? If so, what in particular?
  10. Was it all worth it?

Now let’s see the answers. I took each of their answers and came up with a group answer where appropriate.

  1. Regarding diet – They were all over the place with that. Two were extremely careful with their food choices, one not so much. The interesting thing to me was that the two who were more careful, had different opinions on what were the best things to eat. They all agreed that limiting or eliminating junk food was a good thing but two were more careful about it than the other.

  1. Hydration – Again the two who were more concerned about their diet were more careful about staying well hydrated while the other drank something if she got thirsty.
  2. Rest – There was a little more agreement on this. They all had fairly regular routines regarding getting to bed at a decent time. Our non-concerned about food girl probably wasn’t as concerned about getting sleep so much as she was just tired from all the training and went to bed at a good time for that reason.

If you work hard enough, you too can sleep this soundly.

  1. Recovery – When not working out, one was completely off her feet while the other two were much more active and kept busy with more of the things that teenage girls like to do with their friends.
  2. Extra workouts – All of them did some things outside of practice. With the coach’s blessing, two of them did extra core and strength training. The other admitted to putting in extra miles. Since that was during cross country season and not track season, I’m not sure if that was with the cross country coach’s knowledge or not.
  3. All of them gave up Friday night football games. Two didn’t want to be on their feet the night before a race. The other just didn’t care about football. Otherwise it was again mostly giving up things they didn’t like anyway but for two of them, it was more for the benefit of their running as opposed to just not caring about the things they gave up.
  4. Organization – This one made me laugh. I could have written out their answers before they sent them in. Two were very organized and stayed ahead of commitments like homework while the other was a last minute person who knew she worked better under pressure such as a looming deadline.
  5. Knowledge of the sport – The three of them were different in this one too. One did not want to know why. She just wanted to know what. Tell her what to do and she did it. Don’t bore me with the details of how this is benefiting me. Another really enjoyed learning what was happening inside of her with each workout but didn’t get wrapped up in following the big names of the sport. The third wanted to also know what each workout was accomplishing and in addition knew the names and stats of every major stud in the track world. Somehow she found track meets to watch on TV or her computer that I never even knew existed.
  6. Does it take a lot of money? – That depends on your viewpoint. If buying shoes whenever you need them (which as we all know can be expensive) is a lot of money in your opinion, then yes it takes money. Two of them had GPS watches and some fancier workout clothes. But none of them paid for expensive gym memberships. One belonged to the local YMCA. None paid a personal trainer in the off-season. So, I think the answer here is no, it does not take a lot of money.

Do you think anyone has ever bought one of these?

  • Was it all worth it? This was the only question where there was resounding agreement. YES IT WAS ABSOLUTELY WORTH EVERY MINUTE, EVERY PAIN, EVERY DROP OF SWEAT! Years from now when they see each other, and talk about the good old days, it won’t be math class they talk about, it will be track and cross country. Memories were made that they will cherish for a lifetime.

So, what is the answer? What is the common denominator that all three of these girls share? Once again, no science here, just observations from their old coach. Each of these girls believed in herself. Each expected to not just be good, but to be the best. Each knew they could win. They didn’t just think they could win. They KNEW they WOULD win. Second place was unacceptable.

Each of the girls obviously had some good genes and made the most of them. I have coached other talented runners but it was a rare event when the natural talent combines with the burning desire to be the best and make the most of that talent. Too many times people with natural talent skate by based solely on their talent and do well without working or sacrificing. But when the natural combines with the driven, watch out! Are you that person? I hope so.

Keep running my friends!

A New Running Challenge: Running While Pregnant

I’ve decided to give you all a reprieve from hearing the riveting tales of rehab from my self-diagnosed tendinitis this week.  Instead, I’m going to talk about the other challenge in what was poised to be such an incredible year of running for me.

Maybe you’ve tried it too?  I’m talking about running with a baby on board.  I’m currently about 22 weeks pregnant – only about halfway, and I’ve already noticed how much this has changed my running life.

Sure, it started off pretty normal.  In late July when I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t feel any different.  I kept trying to do the same pitiful workouts I had been doing anyways.  (They were pitiful because I was already dealing with my Achilles discomfort and trying to figure out how to keep running enough miles without hurting myself – my recipe for prolonged injury.)  I was signed up for two races – a 10k and a half marathon, and I didn’t want to allow my training to falter despite that tendinitis, so I kept after it even though I probably should have taken the whole month off.  Stupid!!

In any case, the month of August was a little different.  I started to feel yucky throughout the morning and afternoon, and hitting the gym or the road was a little less enticing.  I was lucky enough not to be the sickest of the sick, and once I got going, a run would feel fine, but I started to give myself a little more leeway.  What would have previously been a 30 minute run, I now gave myself permission to end at 20 minutes.  (Healing tendon plus morning sickness?  That seems like a fair compromise, right?)

I kept busy with a few more cross-training opportunities, a little biking, some hiking.  (Ok, walking.  This is Ohio – it’s just walking in the woods.  To call it anything more glamorous would be a misstatement of facts.)  Nonetheless, I was depressed to watch my high mileage year take a deep nose dive!  And it only got worse from there.

When September rolled around, still not feeling my absolute best, generally tired, and hopelessly under-trained for my upcoming races, I officially ran one of my worst 10k races EVER.  I had already decided to downgrade myself from the half marathon a couple weeks later to the 10k option, and when the race was spontaneously (and mysteriously) cancelled at the last minute, I was probably the only one who did a tiny dance inside.  I was capable of being terribly empathetic towards the race directors.  (“Oh, how awful!  Certainly not your fault.  These things happen!  So sorry to hear how some people are really overreacting.”)  At least I wouldn’t have to go embarrass myself again.  While the rest of the racers probably woke up and treated themselves to a long run that morning, I instead ran two miles, then proudly picked up my race medal and t-shirt like a real hero.

The training didn’t suffer simply from morning sickness and tendinitis, however.  I haven’t gone for a very long run in quite a long time, but I’m curious to know how far I could even make it these days without a pee break.  Remarkably early in the pregnancy, I noticed one unpleasant side effect on my running.  Each footfall seemed to cause something to slam into my bladder leading me to believe that I needed to hurry off to pee despite having just gone before I started the run.  Once I come to a stop, it becomes clear that I do not, in fact, have to rush off to pee because my organs are no longer hammering my bladder.  This is terribly confusing and unpleasant, and I can only imagine how this gets worse with 18 more weeks to go!

By October, I was beginning to struggle with yoga as well.  This remarkably tiny person seems to take up an awful lot of room in my abdomen somehow.  The twisting and bending are getting more difficult.  It’s as if overnight everything I do has turned into an ab exercise (e.g. crawling over my //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=eightee-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B0000635WI&asins=B0000635WI&linkId=2127d8bdd158a3355447cb4c51e6d321&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff“>Snoogle to get out of bed to pee several times in the middle of the night).

Speaking of the middle of the night, how much do you enjoy cutting back on your sleep and trying to save your exercise routine?  I don’t.  But I can no longer achieve that peaceful sound eight hours I used to enjoy.  Oh yes, I’m getting to bed on time.  But now my brain no longer desires to be asleep for eight hours.  At 4:00 a.m., I often find myself perfectly lucid trying to decide between laying around for a couple hours or just getting up and starting my day.  (This does not lend itself to after-work workouts at all.)

So now, I have two big questions.

  1. What will the next 18 weeks of my running life look like?
  2. What will the rest of my running life look like?!

While I’d like to imagine that my Achilles will heal nicely and I’ll get back to business as usual, I fear that I’m being a bit naive.  When I say that I’m not sleeping enough right now, I would guess that new moms the world over are laughing hysterically at me, saying things like, “Just wait…”  And how does one just pop out of the house for a little jog with an infant around?  I can’t put him on a leash and take him along like the dog.  It’ll be nearly a year before he’s a candidate for the jogging stroller.  (And even then, that’s a whole extra workout – but a challenge that I welcome!)  Needless to say, as with almost everything in life, the challenges are far from over, but I’ll continue to navigate them because going for a run is one of a very few things on the top of my list of stuff that matters most to me.

Happy running, y’all!

Puke on the Track

The final piece to our training puzzle is the maxVO2 workout. Once again, it’s all about oxygen. Lactate threshold training allows you to burn more of your fuel in the presence of oxygen. Running economy allows you to do more with the oxygen you can process. Max VO2 training allows you to flat out get and use more oxygen.

Definition: According to Webster max VO2 is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during a specified period of usually intense exercise.

Who needs to work on this and how do we do it? Runners who are looking for that workout to put them over the top need this one. If you are striving for being the best of the best, looking to win your league championship, crush the others in your next 5k, or you have plateaued and just want to bring your time down some more, then this is what you want to add to your workout routine. Who doesn’t need it? I don’t need it or want it. My days of PR’s are long past. These workouts are the ones where we occasionally get to see puke on the track. I don’t enjoy them, and never did. My running now is for fun and good health. But if I was still looking to shave a few seconds off my mile time, this would be what I would add.

The max VO2 training can take you to the top

The max VO2 workout is a more intense session. You are running at 90% or more of your maximum heart rate. Because of this it isn’t as long as the other types of training workouts. The typical pattern is an interval session with shorter intervals with recovery time between the intervals equal to the amount of time spent on the work. For example, 10×400 at 80 seconds per 400 with 80 seconds of rest between each 400 was a session my state champion 3200 runner did. Now she was able to run 3200 meters (2 miles) under 11 minutes. So, the intensity of the run is based on where you currently are in your fitness. For a thorough in-depth explanation, buy the book Daniels’ Running Formula by Jack Daniels.

There are several variables in this as there are in any workout that involves intervals. How fast for each interval, how many intervals, how much time between intervals, how long is each interval, how often you should do this workout, and what to do during the recovery period between each interval.

Let’s start with how fast your max VO2 intervals should be. As a rough rule of thumb, your 2 mile race pace will take you to your max VO2 heart rate. There is no need to go faster in an interval workout than this if your purpose for the workout is to improve your max VO2. Once you have reached your maximum heart rate, going faster won’t make your heart beat any faster. There are other types of workouts with other purposes that require a faster pace but not this one. If you can run a 2 mile in 16 minutes, then that is 2 minutes per 400 meters. So, let’s start here. This runner is going to run at 2 minutes per 400 meters for each interval. If your interval is 600 meters long it should take you 3 minutes to complete each one. If it’s 800 meters it should take you 4 minutes. Is it okay to go faster? I will stress again there is no value in going faster for this. Once you have reached 100% of your maximum heart rate, you only risk hurting yourself by going faster. You will get to go faster as your race times indicate you are in better shape. Once your 2 mile time goes down, let’s say to 15 minutes, then your 400 max VO2 interval pace would drop to 1:52.5 per 400. But, you say, I don’t have a 2 mile race on my schedule. The Daniels book has tables that can give you the proper pace based on just about any distance you do actually race. Do base it on an actual race time and not what you have done in practice.

How long should the interval be? How long and how many go hand in hand. Since you are going 2 mile pace, you obviously can’t do intervals longer than 2 miles. My opinion is that the length shouldn’t go beyond 3 minutes for each interval for this type of workout. I rarely have my runners go beyond 2 minutes. The whole reason for breaking the session up into intervals is to allow more work to be done at that pace. Going back to my earlier example, my 3200 runner was able to do 2.5 miles (10×400) at 2 mile pace by breaking it up into segments where she could not have done that much work without the recovery breaks. It’s hard to make the run too short. Running 200’s is just fine but you need to do more of them. If this is your first attempt at max VO2 intervals just do a few. Let’s use this as an example:

1 mile easy warmup

4 x 400 meters at 2 mile race pace

Equal amounts of recovery time between each 400

1 mile easy cooldown

Stretching and post-workout recovery food

There now that is an entire workout. If this is too easy, then next time do more 400’s. You can increase how many you do until you can’t do more. Remember this is the workout that crushes souls and can bring puke to the track. In general I would do them until you think you could maybe, just maybe do one more. Then stop before doing that last one. We want to save your maximum effort for race day. We see lots of workout kings and queens who fall flat on race day but dominate in the practice sessions. Don’t do them at a faster pace until your 2 mile race time indicates you should. The mistake so many newbies make is to think they will get more benefit out of running them faster. No, just do more of them. It’s okay to always do 400’s but that gets boring. Switching it up to 200’s or 600’s or whatever is fun, but just keep them short enough so you can do a few of them. Trying to do 1600’s at 2 mile race pace just doesn’t allow you to do much of a workout.

The recovery period is important. Keep it equal to the time of the work. If your interval is 80 seconds, then recover for 80 seconds. If it’s 2 minutes then recover for 2 minutes. If it’s 45 seconds, then recover for 45 seconds. Not rocket science. Should I walk or run or stand around during the recovery? Number one, stay on your feet. If you can’t stay on your feet and have to lay in the grass then you are either going too fast or you have done too many. Standing still allows your muscles to tighten up. I prefer walking or a slow jog. Either one is fine.

Recovery shouldn’t look like this

Last of all is how often a max VO2 workout should be done. Once per week is enough. Your body needs time to recover from this one. An easy day of easy running or nothing at all should follow it. If you are on a track team or coaching a track team, consider race day as a max VO2 day while planning your training schedule. During the competitive part of the season, it’s okay to have two max VO2 sessions per week if you are counting race days as such but don’t overdo it.

To sum it all up, I am happy to watch other people do these sessions. I’m not into puking or pushing my limits that much at age 62. I can also accept it when Mr. Interval trainer blows past me in the last 100 of the local 5k. But if you are still in possession of that competitive edge and looking for the “secret” workout to shave those few extra seconds off your time, this could be the one for you. But after you finish your race, don’t forget to turn around and cheer for us slower people as we finally make it to the finish.

Please don’t rub it in too badly when you crush me after your max VO2 workouts.

Keep running my friends!

My Rehab Log

In my last entry, I outlined a two-week plan to rehab my Achilles tendinitis.  Here’s how my two weeks transpired!

Day One: I wear my new compression socks on a 30 minute jog.  I love the compression socks!  Not only do I like the way they feel, but I also look cool.  Bonus!  Had a fun and productive run, but definitely felt my soleus/Achilles throughout, and by the end of the run it was consistently painful.   Went through my additional rehab moves (calf raises, icing, foam rollilng), then vowed to reduce my planned weekly mileage to only 6.

Day Two: Woke to find that I was still feeling a little discomfort in my Achilles area as well as some tightness on the sole of my foot.  Rowed for 20 minutes, did some lunges (3 x 10), and did normal rehab.  Two mile walk later that day.  By the end of the day, I began to face the reality of the task ahead of me, and I further reassessed my plan and vowed to take two full weeks off of running and then reassess my progress.

Day Three: Completed a 30 minute bike ride on the stationary bike at the gym.  Why is it so much more difficult for me to work hard on a bike?  I find it challenging to push myself to the same heart rate as I would on a run.

Day Four: Another 20 minutes of rowing.  I would be starting to get frustrated except that I have high hopes of keeping my non-running period contained, and I remind myself that I’m already making a dent in my two weeks.

Day Five: I start with yoga – a welcome change of pace.  It’s challenging in a totally different way from running.  It reminds me how valuable cross-training can be and that I need to do it anyways – not just when I’m struggling with running.

Day Six: I’m surprised today to find that I wake up feeling a little sore in some muscles I haven’t used in a while.  I’m forced to acknowledge that perhaps cross-training has been good for me. Maybe I wouldn’t be dealing with injury if I’d made a point of including more cross-training in my daily life.  A little tired from the first half of the week, my workout today is a kind of pathetic 30 minute pedal on the spin bike at the gym with very little fanfare.

Day Seven: After a full week, I’m still lacking a little pep, and my sole “activity” today was a two-mile walk with the dog.  My legs are feeling healthy though!

Day Eight: This morning, I continued my quest to include fitness in my daily routine without running.  I started with another flow yoga class that made me feel bendier and fitter and aware of all the muscles I’ve been needing to work out.  As I leave yoga class, the first snowflakes of the season are falling outside, and I decide to add another stop to my route home.  I pop in to Front Runner, my favorite local running store, and I chat with an employee, explaining that my current pair of shoes is ancient and that I’ve been having some Achilles pain and tightness.  We assess the shoes together, noting the significant wear on the heel relative to the forefoot, concluding that I’m likely a heel-striker.  To confirm, he sets me up on the treadmill where I break my “no-running” rule for a few minutes of slow jogging in my sock-feet while he video tapes my stride.  We play the video back in slow motion, finding that I have a neutral stride (no excessive pronation), and I do, in fact, consistently strike heel-first.  Next I stepped up onto a foot-scanner and learn that I have an exceptionally high arch and a slightly narrow but otherwise unremarkable foot.

I was immediately emailed this extremely cool summary of my results!

As I’ve been running in a very worn out Nike Free with a 6 mm heel drop, we conclude together that perhaps I should try a shoe with a little more heel and that the cushion of having a new shoe will likely be beneficial as well.  I select an Adidas Boston (cousin to the Boston Classic that I was loyal to for years until they stopped making them… ) with a 10 mm heel drop but still very light weight.  Riveting information, right?  In any case, I’m hopeful that the slight changes will have an impact on my recovery, but I vow to leave the shoes in their box for the next week while I continue my week off.

Day Nine: I complete another 25 minutes of rowing and some core exercises.  Rowing is super boring, but the silver lining is that it’s easy to listen to my podcasts while I row.  I don’t run with earbuds in when I’m outside, so exercise combined with entertainment is a unique treat I’ve been enjoying during my cross-training phase.

Day Ten: More rowing! More core exercises!

Day Eleven: Today I add one more cardio option to my break and spend 30 minutes on an elliptical machine.  Although the motion is similar to running, I don’t notice any problems with my calf.  Have I mentioned that I’ve also been doing my calf raises daily?  I have.

Day Twelve: I head to the gym and start out by biking again, but after 15 minutes, I realize I’m not working that hard, and I head to the treadmill, put it on a slight incline and … walk.  Got the old heart pumping though, and it was better than spending my lunch break sitting around!

Day Thirteen: I take my first totally lazy day off.  With scheduled activities all day, I never found time for any cross-training.

Day Fourteen: After another busy day, I once again conclude that light physical activity is better than the alternative (sitting on the couch while I note my sedentary lifestyle in my running journal).  Thus, we end our work week with an hour long walk around town followed by pizza.  (#workout … right?)

Day Fifteen: Day 15 is actually my fourteenth and final day without running.  I rowed for 20 minutes today, and I have grand plans of going for a run tomorrow morning.

Eager to see how things go, I’m planning no more than 20 minutes for tomorrow with plenty of recovery time before the next run.  And I’ve also decided that after my two week experiment, if my structured attempt to gradually add running back to my routine isn’t successful, then I’ll officially call in the professionals and get that doctor’s referral to physical therapy if I need it.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.  More updates to come!

 

Doing More with Less

Kind of a deceiving title for the fourth of five in this series on training. The topic is running economy which along with lactate threshold training and max VO2 training make up the big three factors in who’s fast and who’s not so fast.

All along we have been talking about how to get more oxygen to your muscles and how to use that oxygen. So, what happens to those who just can’t get any more capillaries or make more mitochondria? Well, then it becomes a matter of making the most of what we do have. Running economy means just that. How much can you do with the oxygen you are bringing in? It’s not always the one with the highest lactate threshold or highest max VO2 that wins the race. Frank Shorter, the most famous marathoner in the history of the USA did not have great stats on his max VO2. His was around 70 while many of his competitors were in the 80’s. What Frank had was great economy.

Think of your car. The little tortoise might have a small engine on not be able to get up to 85 mph on its best day. But if it gets 45 mpg, it’s going to go a long way on a lot less gas. The same holds true for your body. If you have great economy, you can run faster and further with less oxygen than other runners on the same amount of oxygen.

Economic tortoise kicking ass

So, how do we get better economy? The exercise physiologists have lots of long explanations for how to get there but I would suggest two no-brainer strategies for achieving a better economy. Get stronger and don’t waste energy. Nobody will argue that these sound like good ideas. Let’s start with getting stronger.

Why get stronger? Your speed is determined by your stride length x your stride frequency (cadence). A stronger runner can take a longer stride more easily than a weaker runner. Be careful here though. A long stride isn’t always the answer as we shall see when we talk about wasting energy. How do you get stronger? The next time you visit the gym, count all the Kenyans in the free weight area. Did you see more than zero? If so, you know Satan just donned an overcoat because Hell just froze over. The weight room does have some benefit but there is a lot of controversy over whether distance runners get much out of it other than injury prevention.

Gym rat, very strong legs but poor runner  (side note: will probably die from complications from steroid abuse)

Can we get stronger from just running? Yes, if you do the right kind of running. Hill repeats are the ticket. Plyometrics are another good thing. Plyometrics are more risky so let’s concentrate on hill repeats. Find a hill, any hill. If it’s not steep, it should be long. If it’s steep, a short hill is fine. One day per week, run up that hill several times. It doesn’t have to be an all-out sprint. Just a solid effort getting up it with a recovery jog of walk back to the bottom is what you need. How many? Start with a few and gradually add to it each week until you feel like you got a good workout. If you can’t stand up the next day or have to waddle while walking, you did too much. Back off and don’t get so greedy next time.

Leg strength earned on the hills

The other thing on the checklist is to not waste energy. Good form is the key. What is ideal form? There is no one way to run. We all have different body shapes so we all need our own efficient style. But there are a few key things on the list.

  1. Good posture – run tall, don’t lean way forward or backwards
  2. Relax what isn’t being used – don’t tighten up your hands or shoulders or your face
  3. Arms – keep your elbows at about a 90-degree angle and don’t cross your midline with your hands as you run
  4. Stride length – while we like a nice length to your stride, over striding is the worst thing for running economy. Your foot should not land way out ahead of you. That slows you down by making you brake each time you take a step.

 

Over-striding

So, let’s get out there and make the most of what we already have while trying to maximize our aerobic capabilities. Good luck and always ….. keep running my friends.