Long Runs and Junk Miles

Beginning runners like to know what the best way to get better at running is. That’s easy. Run more. Plain and simple. Don’t make it any more complicated than that. I should quit right here but I can’t help myself and now I’m going to complicate it some.

How much should I run? How often should I run? How fast should I run? All good questions. So, let’s start with the basics. What happens when we go for a run? If you don’t go too fast and your heart is not pounding out of your chest and you can actually talk some while running, then you are doing an aerobic run. That is good for the vast majority of our training. Running aerobically (in the presence of oxygen) is the most efficient way to run. Training aerobically helps your body get better at running aerobically. This means your body gets more efficient at getting oxygen to the muscles that need it and once there, that oxygen is used to help turn food into useful energy.

There are a lot of things in the chain that brings oxygen to the muscles. You need lungs to take in the oxygen. You need blood to take the oxygen from the lungs. You need pipes (arteries and veins and capillaries) to transport the blood. You need a heart to send the blood where it is needed. You need mitochondria in the muscle cells to use that oxygen. You need various enzymes to speed along the chemical reactions that take place in the mitochondria where the oxygen is used to help make ATP (our useful energy supply) from the food we eat.

All of these are things that can be improved. Your heart can get stronger. Your blood vessels can stay clean and you can make more of them. You can have more hemoglobin in your blood to carry the oxygen. You get the picture. How do we do that?

We run more. The best run for that is the long run. What is a long run? How far is it? That is totally dependent on what kind of shape you are in. For an Olympic distance runner, don’t even think about calling it a long run before 10 or more miles is up and that is probably just the beginning. For the experienced age group racer, it might be 6 or more miles depending on their current fitness. For the beginner just getting their feet wet, it might be a mile. It’s really just a run that is longer than what you are used to doing on the other days of the week.

During that long run, the goal is to go fast enough to get your heart rate up a bit but not going crazy. Then just keep on going. This forces your body to use oxygen as well as it can. Once your body sees that it is going to be needing oxygen more than normal, it will start preparing for that. Your body is smart. It will build more mitochondria. It will make more of the enzymes that are used during the aerobic process. It will make your heart stronger and more efficient. It will even help you create more blood vessels. That is one of my favorite perks. More blood vessels is what we call collateral circulation. The more of them we have, the harder it is to have a problem if one of them gets blocked.

Blood vessels, the more the better!

How often for this magic long run? No more than once a week. Doing it too often will end up breaking down something and you won’t be running for a while as you recover from your overuse injury. So, let’s say you are usually running for 3 miles at a time or 30 minutes if you go by time instead of distance. Try once a week to step this up to 4 miles, then 5, then 6. Weekends are the best time to do it just because you usually have more time and it gives a great name for a running blog.

 

The fastest way to get faster is to run more. Try building up to the long run. It will surprise you what you can do. Keep running my friends.

It’s a great feeling to look into the distance and know you can run to whatever you see.

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Lactate Threshold Training

Just to recap the last two posts on training, we have seen that muscles derive their energy from ATP. Also, more ATP can be generated from the food we eat if we can break down that food aerobically as opposed to anaerobically. So how do we do that? There are 3 ways to maximize our aerobic ability. We can increase the level of intensity at which we are still able to be aerobic. We can improve our ability to get oxygen to our muscles. And we can learn to be more efficient with the oxygen we are already using. Without getting too technical, these are done with base training, lactate threshold training, max VO2 training and running economy training. So, let’s go. One at a time. Today it’s my favorite workout. Lactate threshold (LT) training.

What is your lactate threshold? It is the highest intensity at which you can work out without increasing the amount of lactate (lactic acid) in your blood. Yes, you are producing lactate right now. I don’t care if you are laying on the couch with the remote in your hands and doing nothing more than salivating over Giada’s latest creation on the Food Network. Anyway, you aren’t feeling the effects of the lactate you are producing because your body is able to clear it out as rapidly as you are producing it with an abundant supply of oxygen. But as your workout intensity goes up you produce more and more lactate and at some point, you produce more than you can clear out and the level of lactate in the blood starts to rise and you feel the effects. This point is your lactate threshold and we want to make that point higher. That way you can run faster without feeling the effects of that buildup of lactate. How do we do that?

It’s really simple. We train at or near our lactate threshold. By pushing that limit, your body responds by increasing its ability to clear out lactate and voila! You begin to raise your lactate threshold.

Exercise physiology lab testing

So first, you have to figure out what is your pace at your lactate threshold. Most of us don’t have access to an exercise physiologist’s lab for extremely accurate measurements and most of us don’t need to. If you are close, that’s probably good enough. If you are training for the Olympics, maybe you should seek out a coach with access to that lab. But for us weekend local 5K runners, rules of thumb work pretty well. The simplest rule of thumb is to figure the pace at which you can run a 10K is about your lactate threshold pace.

For a better way to figure it, buy a book. Not just any book. Buy my absolute favorite training book. Daniels’ Running Formula by Jack Daniels. No relation to the bourbon as far as I know but there is nothing that says you can’t enjoy both the book and the bourbon.

In his book, Dr. Daniels has some tables that give you a number based on your current fitness. Your current fitness is determined by your race times. So, let’s say you just ran a 24:39 5K. You look it up on the table and that corresponds to the number 39. You then take the number 39 to the next table which gives you your proper pace depending on what type of workout you are doing. For lactate threshold training, 39 gives you a pace of 8:22 per mile or 2:05 per 400 meters for a lactate threshold run.

Now you know your pace. What do you do with that? You run at that pace for some of the workout. It’s not rocket science. It is exercise physiology which I think is more fascinating than rocket science but when Dr. Daniels does all the work for you, it’s easy to make a workout. Now, you can only do so much at that pace in a workout. Also, you can’t do an LT workout every day. You have to have appropriate recovery to get the benefits from any type of workout. On my team we don’t do LT work more than once per week. So, let’s be more specific.

One way to do the workout is with a steady run at LT pace of a distance you can handle. At first you won’t be able to do all that much. But after a while it’s not out of the question to do a couple continuous miles or even more at that pace. This workout would start with an easy warm-up run, then your LT run at whatever length you can handle, then a bit of a cool down run. I’m not a big fan of this workout because you just can’t do as much LT pace running as I would like.

My preference is what Dr. Daniels calls cruise intervals. These are shorter runs of 3 to 5 minutes at LT pace broken up by very brief rest periods. Our better runners I have coached can do 5 LT pace runs (intervals) of 5 minutes each with a 1 minute rest between each one. The LT intervals get the runner’s heart rate up to the LT level while the brief rest allows them to do more overall at LT pace. The heart rate does drop during the rest period but not that much and it gets right back up to where we want it quickly during the next interval. This lets them do more overall work at LT pace without seeming too hard.

How much is enough for you? The bonus of LT workouts is that you should actually feel pretty decent when it’s over. So, you should stop when you feel like you could still go one more. I would rather see my athletes do one too few than one too many. Also, I would rather have them err on the side of running too slowly as opposed to too fast. Remember you want to push the LT limit but don’t go over if you can help it. Otherwise, you are now doing an anaerobic workout and you won’t be able to do as much as you could if you stay at the proper pace.

To sum it all up and put it into practice, try this. Once per week do an LT workout in place of one of your usual easy runs. Then do your other workouts during the rest of the week. It takes a while for the benefits to kick in. Don’t expect any great changes for at least 3 weeks. It takes a good 3 weeks to adapt to any workout. Just keep repeating that one for the first 3 weeks before you consider adding to it. When can you increase the pace? That is dictated by your race times. When you race times begin to come down, then you can increase your LT training pace. If the workout is getting too easy after a few weeks but your race times haven’t dropped yet, you can increase the number of intervals or the length of each interval but not the pace. Good luck and keep running my friends!

The guy in green obviously does his share of LT training, the rest of the pack, not so much.

ATP: Your Muscles’ Source of Energy

Alright, we all agree we want to lower that 5k time. We are going to train with some proven science. What is the next step? To me, the next step is understanding just what we are trying to do with each workout. Workouts go better when we know why we are doing them. So, let’s get started.

Just to get this out of the way first, I am assuming that the vast majority of readers are more interested in distance running as opposed to sprinting. This is for you. ATP (or adenosine triphosphate)  is what powers your muscles. But what about carbs or fats? The carbs and fats and to a lesser extent, protein, are broken down to let your body form ATP. How do we best form this indispensable molecule? Without it you are at a standstill. Without it, your legs don’t move, your heart stops beating, etc. Bummer! Fortunately, there are several ways to make ATP.

ATP being used to run

The simplest way, and also your muscles favorite way to make ATP, is by breaking down carbohydrates, glucose in particular. Glucose is readily available in most cases. Glucose is stored as glycogen in the body. The body has different ways to break it down. It can be done aerobically or anaerobically. Aerobic means in the presence of oxygen. Anaerobic means without oxygen. Which is better? If you break down glucose aerobically, you generate 38 molecules of ATP for each molecule of glucose. Anaerobic breakdown of glucose gives you only 2 molecules of ATP. For you science nerds the term for the breakdown of glucose is glycolysis. Glycolysis is latin for “I like to toss around big scientific sounding words for the breakdown of glucose”. A third way to get ATP is with a molecule called creatine phosphate. We won’t worry about creatine phosphate because it only gives you enough ATP to last about 5 to 7 seconds.

Let’s think this through. Thirty-eight or two ATP’s? After much deliberation, I have decided that I would prefer to make 38. How do we do make sure we are breaking down our glucose aerobically? The easy answer is that you can do that as long as your effort isn’t too great. So, if I want to average 19 minutes per mile for my next 5k, that will be all aerobic. I’m not overly interested in completing a one-hour 5k. If I want a faster time, I have to increase the intensity of my run. Once it  goes past a certain point my effort starts to become anaerobic. Where is the cutoff in intensity between aerobic and anaerobic? There is no cutoff. No matter how fast you run, you are still taking in and using oxygen. Therefore, you are making some ATP aerobically. But you have a limit as to how much oxygen you can take in and use at any particular time. So, now we add in some anaerobic glycolysis (yes, I said glycolysis, I admit I’m a science nerd). We get that extra boost with more ATP but there is a downside. The dreaded lactate or lactic acid!

The two molecules only differ by one hydrogen atom and are both part of the same chain of events.

For our purposes, we can use the terms interchangeably. If you talk to a real honest to goodness exercise physiologist, they can explain that it’s really a lot more complicated than this and that lactic acid has an undeserved bad reputation. But for our purposes, think of it as evil.

Note how evil these actual pictures of lactate molecules are. They don’t even smile.

Too much lactic acid eventually brings you to a screeching halt. You are making lactic acid right now. Just being alive makes you generate ATP and without going deep into the chemical reactions, that ultimately results in lactic acid production as a by-product of the process. The good news is that until you are doing something that requires a more intense effort, you can turn that lactic acid back into something useful again and you don’t even realize it was there. As your effort increases, let’s say from a walk to a slow jog, you start increasing your lactic acid production. Now you step up to a faster pace and your lactic acid production steps up with it. Luckily, your body is removing that lactic acid to the best of its ability as you go. The pace increases again and again and again. At some point, the effort is making enough lactic acid that your body can’t keep up with it and it starts to build up. The point where your production of lactic acid surpasses your ability to remove it is called your LACTATE THRESHOLD. Note the bold lettering for that term. It is to remind you this is something important and will be critical to your training.

Back to where we were, trying to figure out how to use our glucose aerobically instead of anaerobically and therefore generate more ATP per glucose molecule and run a faster 5k. A slower pace is one option but not if you are trying to run fast times. Better options are to increase your available oxygen, raise your lactate threshold or learn to run more efficiently on a given amount of oxygen. These are known as VO2 max, lactate threshold and running economy. Each will be the subject of one of the next three entries on this site from me. Enough science for now. Now, get out there and keep running my friends!

So, You Want to Be Fast

You want to be fast? Yeah, me too. Having coached several state champion high school runners, I get asked a lot for advice. My first question is, are you willing to do what it takes? I mean we all want to be fast, but are you really willing to do what it takes? Most of us middle aged and beyond runners aren’t really up for the grind of hard core training. But understanding a few concepts can help you make the most of the training you are already doing. Is this your picture after running half way around the block?

Would you rather this be your picture after mile 9 of your next half marathon?

Well, let’s get a few things out there right now. First, just because I have coached some state champs doesn’t make me an awesome coach with all the answers. It actually means I have coached some very talented girls and haven’t made enough mistakes in training them to derail their chances. Nobody can make an untalented person into a champion. But we can all improve, just not indefinitely.

Second is the secret workout. What is it? You tell me because as far as I know there isn’t a secret workout that only the best runners know. The real secret is that consistency is the key. Training on a regular basis is the only way to truly improve. No matter what your workouts are, consistency is the key.

Third, and maybe most important is that the rules of exercise physiology apply to everyone. Yes, even you. We may not like it, but you can’t get around the science of training. So, for my next few entries on this site I will be talking about the various workouts we do and how they work and a little of the science behind them.

First lesson: Do you get in better shape when you do a workout? Surprisingly, the answer is no. At the end of the workout you are in worse shape than when you started (assuming you did enough for it to be a worthwhile workout). Now that doesn’t seem to make sense. But here is the explanation.

If you do a good workout, you will put some stress on your body. It should be more than what your body is used to doing during the other 23 hours of the day. During the workout, the stress you are applying to your body tears down your muscles and other parts of your body. The benefit comes later. Once you are done working out, your body shows just how smart it is. Your body prepares itself for the future. It thinks “if this fool is going to do that again, I had better be ready for it”. So, if you recover long enough, your body will repair the damage you have done and then make itself even better than it was before. A little stronger, a little faster, a little more capable of dealing with the stress of the workout you did.

Now if you wait long enough before doing your next workout, your body will relax and go back to its original level of fitness. It takes work to stay at the higher level of fitness and your body won’t waste its time maintaining that higher level unless it needs to. So, the key is to do your next workout at that window in time where your body has improved its fitness over the original fitness level but before it has time to revert back to the original sloth-like level of fitness the average couch potato enjoys.

Then the magic happens when you repeat this cycle. Workout – recover – workout – recover, etc. It sounds too easy. But that’s the rule. Stress yourself, then rebuild yourself to be better prepared for future stress. Why can’t we all do that? Because, we like to watch TV, we like to lay on the couch, we like to eat junk food and veg out. Workouts are hard. They don’t have to be killers but they should be at least slightly uncomfortable. Otherwise they aren’t providing any stress to your body.

Frequently asked questions:

  • How much workout do we need? Just enough to push your body beyond what it normally does. More is not better. If you get greedy and try to do too much, you will go beyond stress and enter into injury territory. One of the most common problems encountered by new runners is the too much too soon thing. If a little running is good, a lot must be better. Shinsplints, plantar fasciitis, patellar tendonitis and many other overuse injuries have a field day with over eager rookies. A good rule of thumb is to not increase your mileage by more than 10% a week. That can be hard when you are starting with zero miles. Obviously, you have to take a leap of faith and work your way up but just be careful. When in doubt, opt for a more gradual increase in your workouts.

 

  • How much recovery do we need? That depends on a lot of things. At my age, I need more recovery than my high school runners do. I try to avoid running on back to back days. But I’m 62 years old. A younger runner can run on back to back days. Olympic runners train every day, some days twice. But they worked really hard and for many years get to the point where they can handle it. If you are younger and want to try to run more than every other day, just don’t do back to back intense days. Alternate hard workouts with easy days or cross training days.

 

So, for my next few entries on our site, I want to cover the following topics. No heavy science, just a simple explanation and how they can help you shave time off that next 5K or just be able to take a brisk walk without having to stop and take a break on the nearby park bench to catch your breath.

Energy systems (this sounds really boring but is important for distance runners)

Max VO2

Lactate Threshold

Running Economy

How do champions think?

Keep running, my friends!

Running Safety

Running is just downright awesome! You aren’t reading this unless you already agree with that. However, it can also be dangerous like most activities. Just remember you will be fine unless you cross one of the safety red lines. That’s a term I just made up for something you do to put yourself in danger or get seriously hurt or worse. For the most part, common sense rules the day. But where do the dangers lie?

Weather extremes, bad footing, health issues, cars, bad dogs or bad people can all turn a run turn into a nightmare. Let’s take these one at a time and how to deal with them.

Beginning with weather is easy. NEVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS run during an electrical storm. If you hear thunder, there is lightning. Don’t mess with this one. It isn’t worth it. Lightning doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t kill often but it does kill people who think it won’t hit them. So, if there is thunder, don’t go for an outdoor run. It’s as simple as that. If you’re into treadmills, go for it but not outside. Rain itself is no problem. If you don’t like to get wet, then don’t go outside but it won’t hurt you. If it’s heavy and you get wet shoes, watch out for blisters but getting rained on won’t kill you like lightning.

What if it’s too hot or too cold? Too hot is more likely to be dangerous than too cold. You can only take off so many layers if it’s too hot outside. How hot is too hot? That depends on the person and how far you are going. If you live in the south and are acclimated to heat, then you can probably run in hotter weather than I can. While in Savannah on a vacation I was on a trolley tour of the city and saw 3 different runners out at noon in 103 degree heat. That didn’t appeal to me. I hope they weren’t going far but they were out there. I don’t recommend running in that much heat. If it’s too hot, plan your runs for early in the morning or late in the day or once again, think treadmill. I wish I didn’t hate treadmills but they just aren’t an option for me. Stay well hydrated and cut back on mileage. Proving how manly you are in the heat is a recipe for disaster.

Too cold? It has to be really cold before it’s too cold to run. Your lungs will NOT freeze. That just doesn’t happen. But you can get frostbite. Be careful of ice (more on that later). So, how do we handle the cold? Dress for it. Layers are always the answer. A rough rule of thumb is to wear enough that you would be comfortable just standing around in temperatures 20 degrees warmer than you are running in. For example if it is 40 degrees out, wear enough that you would be okay wearing what you have on if you were sitting outside in 60 degree weather. Just like when it’s too hot, you might need to cut back on your mileage if it’s too cold. I have run below 10 degrees but I know others who have gone way below that.

Bad footing is another danger. Ice is the number one danger to running surfaces. Snow is okay but ice is not. During the winter, if the roads are icy, try to stay off to the side so under that snow you have grass or dirt which provides a much better surface. If it’s icy, once again don’t chance it. Hit the treadmill or take the opportunity to cross train. The ice won’t last forever unless you are living in the tundra. Even there, global warming might eventually give you an ice free surface but moving south would be a much better and predictable solution to permafrost.

Potholes in the road or ground are something to keep your eyes open for. Pay attention! Run when it’s light out or on a well lit street if it’s dark out. Stepping in a hole can bring on a career ending injury or if not that bad, a sprain or break which will set you back a long way.

Underlying health issues are a big deal. Anyone from elite athletes to raw beginners can be struck down at any time. Our most famous example is Jim Fixx who wrote The Complete Book of Running. It was the ultimate book for the first running boom in the 1970’s. Fixx died of a heart attack while out for a run at age 52. People used this as a reason to disparage running but the truth was that Fixx had underlying genetic problems. So, it pays to get a good physical before taking up running and make sure your doctor knows you are planning on working into a running routine. When you hear of younger people such as high school athletes who keel over at their sports practice or during a game, it is usually from an undiagnosed genetic cardiac issue. Although it can also be from heat stroke or dehydration. The lesson here is to ease into the running lifestyle, eat healthy and do everything you can to be healthy overall. If we are running to get healthy, it just doesn’t make sense to let the running make you unhealthy by doing too much too soon and dropping over.

Cars can be runners’ public enemy number one but only if runners do stupid things. Count on cars doing stupid things. Assume that every driver is an idiot and they are all texting and playing with their radios. So, what do we do? If you run on the roads as most of us do, try running on the berm instead. ALWAYS run facing traffic. You learned that in kindergarten. It still applies. When a car is coming, get out of the way. I spend a lot of time running in people’s yards. I’m not a big fan of sidewalks as the concrete surface of a sidewalk is harder on your knees and ankles than the relatively softer asphalt, but for short periods, I will not hesitate to run on the sidewalk if there is one. The best way to avoid cars is to run on trails if you have access to them. Nice soft surface and no cars. Yay! While cars can be a major danger, it will only be if you let them. Unless a car veers off the road to go after you, I believe it is your own fault if you get hit by a car while running. It might not be your fault in a legal sense but you can avoid it by paying attention.

Prevention is the key thing for bad dogs. Avoid routes where you know there are loose dogs. I love dogs but I have been bitten twice while running. What really pissed me off was that the owners were nearby and didn’t do anything. I won’t get into what you should do if you do get threatened. Google has all kinds of information. Just know that you will not outrun a dog. Pepper spray is not a bad thing to have if you are in unfamiliar territory.

Worse than a bad dog is a bad human. Girls, this is especially important for you. Like it or not, the fact is you are a target. Pepper spray is good for this purpose too, but just like with bad dogs, prevention is the key. Don’t run alone or in unfamiliar territory. Try to stay away from isolated areas. If someone or a car starts following you, run straight to the nearest house and bang on the door for help. If you just get a bad feeling, head for the nearest help. Better safe than sorry.

Does this all sound like running is a bad idea? Well it’s not. Running makes me happy and just takes a little common sense. See how happy runners are?

Keep running my friends!

Snot Rockets and Other Assorted Body Fluids

Everyone deals with body fluids. Without them we would all be dead. Really, we wouldn’t even be dead. We would never have existed at all. But runners deal with some body fluids on an up close and personal level that many non-runners never deal with. Today we will discuss some of the most important ones and hopefully answer some of the questions everyone is too afraid to ask at the risk of sounding dumb.

Photo of red blood cells

First let’s talk about the life and death fluids. Blood and sweat (yes sweat). Blood is often referred to as lifeblood. For obvious reasons, we can’t operate without blood. It carries all the good things to our cells and all the bad things away. For runners, the big thing we want is blood with good oxygen carrying capacity. That happens in your red blood cells which are the home to hemoglobin which in turn carries the oxygen. If you are anemic due to an underlying physical problem or anemic because you have lost blood in some way, you aren’t going to run at optimal capacity. Donating blood is a good thing for society but not for a runner right before a race.

The best measure of your oxygen carrying capacity is your serum ferritin level. This is NOT a routine blood test done at your typical physical. If you want yours tested, you are going to have to specifically request it from your doctor. It’s not a big deal but just isn’t done routinely. Tables found in books will tell you the normal value for serum ferritin is anywhere from 10 to 50 or more. You might be able to function in everyday activity with a level of 10 but you sure aren’t going to do any successful distance running on that. For an active endurance athlete, you really want to be closer to 40 or more. This takes iron. The whole vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian thing will be the subject of future blogs but I will say this for now. You can get enough iron on a vegetarian diet but it is a lot harder than it is for those who eat meat. Personally, I believe there is a lot to be said for a vegetarian diet but my mouth waters every time I drive past a field of black angus cows. Besides liking the taste of burnt cow, I like the easy source of iron and vitamin B12 (which is the one thing you just can’t get from plants). So, get your iron and stay hydrated. Without those, your blood will not be at optimal performance capacity. Should we all take iron supplements? Absolutely not! There is a small percentage of the population that has a problem called hemochromatosis. They are genetically predisposed to an overload of iron in the blood which can lead to disastrous consequences. So, take it if you need it but don’t take a supplement without your doctor’s recommendation.

Photo of female runner

Runners do not glisten. We do not perspire. We sweat. We sweat buckets and we are proud of it. Sweat is included in the life and death fluids because without it, we are in big trouble. Sweat’s job is to keep you cool as it evaporates from your skin. If you are ever working hard and stop sweating, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY! That is a sign of heat stroke which can kill you. Running in extreme heat is not just uncomfortable, it can be a recipe for major problems. People often ask me how I can run in the winter. My answer is always the same. You can dress for the cold but it’s easier than in the hot temperatures of summer. There is only so much in the way of layers you can take off and stay cool and out of jail. Once again, the advice is to stay hydrated with one small caveat. It is possible to overhydrate and end up with a life-threatening case of hyponatremia. This is too little sodium in the blood. As you sweat, you also sweat out salt which is part sodium. Sodium is a vital part of your physiology and too much or too little are both problems. Hyponatremia is not a common problem and I have never heard of it outside of a marathon but I’m sure it has happened elsewhere. For the really long runs, sports drinks with electrolyte replacements can be helpful.

Now on to the other, less talked about, the bathroom body fluids hereafter referred to as poop and pee. Poop and pee, we all do it and nobody likes to deal with it. Pee is easy. Go before you run and you aren’t likely to run into a problem with it. If for some reason you are prone to having to pee during a run, it will be important for you to plan your route so there are convenient stops along the way that don’t involve dropping your pants behind a tree.

"Do not urinate" signage

Poop is another subject entirely. Who hasn’t started out their run feeling great and before long you know something bad is brewing in your gut. The best plan is just like pee, try to go before you run. That doesn’t always work but is more likely to work if you can plan your run around your bathroom schedule. Now if you have a problem like irritable bowel syndrome, you have a much bigger problem than just worrying about pooping your shorts on a run. Find yourself a good gastroenterologist and try to get it under control. There are lots of good treatments out there and they just might make your life so much better. Having said all of that, what happens if despite all your efforts and precautions you are out on a run and you know you just aren’t going to make it back in time?  Start looking for a place to go. It’s not a crime to cut a run short to avoid disaster. If you are in town, look for a fast food place or anywhere with a public restroom. If you are in the deep woods, good luck. Deal with it as your ancestors did. Last of all what if you are in the middle of a race and you have to go or maybe you just aren’t sure if you can make it or not?  If there is a porta-pot on the route, use it. Don’t take the chance. Don’t trust a fart near the end of a race. Been there, done that. Predictable outcome. Not pretty!

Picture of Porta-pot

This could be your best friend

Our final body fluid involves an art form known as the snot rocket. If your nose runs and you don’t have a tissue or handkerchief (I’m talking to you old-timers who actually have used handkerchiefs in your lifetime) you have a few options. One is to let it run down your face. No thanks, not for me. Another is to wipe it on your shirt or sleeve. Not the end of the world. Your shirt or sleeve is all sweaty and nasty anyway and it’s going into the washer. If it’s winter, I like to wear socks on my hands instead of mittens or gloves. They can wipe a nose and go right into the washer no problem. The last option is the snot rocket. In the book “The Night Before Christmas” after delivering his presents, Santa did a curious thing. He lays his finger aside of his nose and giving a nod up the chimney he rose. Some think this is magic, others believe it is pure science using rocket propulsion. Maybe Santa uses magic. But he does demonstrate perfect form in the following picture.

Picture of Santa from The Night Before Christmas

The technique for a proper snot rocket is to first use the index finger to close off one nostril. Tilt the head to the other side. And blow out with a sharp strong burst of air. Rookie rocketeers will end up with snot all over themselves until they learn the technique. But once you have it down, you will recognize the proper consistency of snot needed for a proper snot rocket and the right amount of force necessary to expel your rocket far enough away from you so you don’t coat your shoes with mucus. A word of caution here, never snot rocket or spit until you have checked to make sure a fellow runner is not in the danger zone. Coating a fellow runner with either substance is not cool in any way. Snot rockets are not the exclusive property of guys. I have seen a lot of girls who have perfected the technique.

Body fluids, a fact of life. Keep running my friends!

OHSAA Track and Field Championships

“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. These words are known to everyone over a certain age as the intro to ABC’s Wide World of Sports back in the last century. Here in Ohio, every year on the first weekend of June we get to experience our own version of this with the ultimate track and field event for any high school athlete. Having been the girls’ track and field head coach at St. Thomas Aquinas for the last 16 years I have had a ringside seat for this track meet. In 15 of those years we have had girls from Aquinas qualify for the meet and the last 4 years we enjoyed a very high level of success. There were highs and lows. But it has been pure excitement to watch. These girls have definitely experienced the thrill of victory on occasion and the agony of defeat on others. But each one, no matter the outcome, has experienced the opportunity to take part in the dream of every high school track athlete in Ohio.

Who gets to participate in the meet? It’s only those kids who through a combination of natural talent, hard work, and good luck qualify at one of the four regional meets. Make no mistake, natural talent is a prerequisite. On a talent scale of one to ten, it’s the coaches job to turn fives into sixes or sevens. Take an eight and turn them into a nine, nines into tens. The nightmare is when a coach takes a nine or a ten and turns that athlete into a solid seven and ruins their love for the sport. Fives don’t make it to the state meet no matter how hard they work. There must be a decent level of natural talent. Fact of life, accept it.

Hard work is a no-brainer as necessary on the road to the state meet. There might be someone out there somewhere with SO much natural talent that they can skate through to the state meet but that would be rare and they don’t last long. Work is required both on the track and in the classroom to remain eligible to compete.

But let’s not underestimate the role of luck. Luck comes in a lot of areas. First, a child needs to be in a situation where there is a track team with a decent coach. They need to be lucky enough to live in an environment where they are supported in their efforts and not consumed by trying to survive a hard life in rough circumstances. Some kids might have to work to help their family put food on the table instead of indulging in sports. Some might be responsible for helping with their younger siblings or an ailing parent. Not everyone is free to pursue school sports.

Luck plays a role in keeping someone healthy. Stepping in a rut and spraining an ankle the week before the state meet can happen. Having a classmate who brings their germ ridden body to school when they should be home and passing on their cold or flu happens all the time. Underlying medical problems like asthma can flare up at the wrong time.

We have been through it all. Pulled hamstrings, asthmatic attacks, lack of willingness to work, you name it. These are frustrating. But when it all comes together and that magic strikes, you can forget all the rest and just relish the moment. In 2015, the girls team from St. Thomas won the state meet with a fabulous showing, winning 5 of the 17 events and scoring 69 points. In 2016, they went one better. Both the boys and girls track teams from St. Thomas won their state track meets. Only four times in Ohio history has that been done. What an awesome feeling! The miles logged in the middle of winter, the gut wrenching interval workouts, the repetition over and over trying to get a movement in the field event correct, and what seems like a long, long road becomes worth every painful minute.

2017 was another story. We had natural talent. The girls definitely worked hard but the luck component didn’t kick in for them. They had some great moments with their fourth straight win in the 4×800 relay and finished 2nd in the 4×400 relay but illness raised its ugly head and kept them from doing as well as they might have in the individual events. What do you do then? What comes next? Well, the sun did actually come up the next day. Nobody is expected to just forget all about not doing as well as they hoped. But before anyone starts getting too down, it’s time to add some perspective here.

The next morning, my family all gathered in downtown Columbus for a 10k race. Before the race began, we were watching the customary kids’ fun run and the kids were having a great time. Some were putting it all out there while others were distracted by the fanfare and stopping with the hope of being carried by a parent to the finish. They aren’t stupid. They were tired and wanted a ride on the mom or dad express. But towards the end of the line of kids coming in was a mom pushing a jogging stroller with a kid who looked about 4 or 5 in it. He was happily waving his plastic sword around to make sure the way was clear. Then about 50 yards from the finish line, Mom stopped and let the little boy out of his stroller and he proceeded to run to the finish……. on his two prosthetic legs! Not a dry eye anywhere in the house after seeing that. So good that those parents were raising him to participate. He looked as happy as any other kid in the race. So, I was reminded that no matter what my time would be in the upcoming 10k, it just didn’t matter. I am so happy to have been able to participate and gain a huge portion of perspective.

(Pictured above is not the actual boy we watched)

So, if you set your goal and reach it, congratulations to you. If you make your attempt and it doesn’t go the way you want, keep your head up and be glad you had the chance. This leads me to conclude with one of my all-time favorite quotes and it comes from Teddy Roosevelt.

            “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”      

-Theodore Roosevelt

Keep running my friends, the sun will rise no matter your finishing time!