September 27, 2014
Training hard for your big fall goal race is the most important things you can do to increase the odds of success on your big day. Putting in the work may not mean that a challenge or two may yet await when you finally pin on your bib number. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when preparing to greet the morning with a resilient mind.
Create quantitative and qualitative goals
Your primary goal may be to finish, or to hit a certain time, and that may be the guiding light in your training thus far. However, consider all that you have learned or are learning about yourself along this journey. Having goals that take into consideration this gained knowledge and experience, as well as the memorable nature of the accomplishment can be important in case the primary goal appears far off or doubtful during a rough part of the race. Intermediary time goals, goals to keep a certain attitude or pace through various distance markers, goals to consume certain amounts of fuel or fluid at certain times, even goals to promise to smile and enjoy the last few miles or to take a selfie at the finish line can occupy your brain and keep you on track to your ultimate quantitative goal.
Break down the race into smaller pieces
A half marathon or marathon can seem quite daunting when considering the full length. If intimidated or feeling nervous, concentrate on one part of the race at a time. Focus on making it through each 5K or 10K, to the top of the hill ahead, the tree around the bend, or even just to the next mile post. Building a pile of small “wins” along the way can build a growing confidence that will form a crashing wave of certainty once the finish line is closer than the start.
Plan your focus for when a rough patch occurs
Rough patches are common for almost all marathoners and half marathoners. These periods might mean a mile or a few where the progress seems much more hard fought than anticipated. Oftentimes, these patches dissipate and a second wind of confidence follows. Experienced racers can look back and use previous experiences to remind them of the temporary nature of the difficult stretch, but first timers must also be armed with a quiver of motivation when the going seems unexpectedly difficult for a time. Perhaps you had a personal motivation for starting your training, a charitable goal, a family member to which you’d like to pay tribute with a great effort, or other talismanic aspect that served as a catalyst for this entire endeavor. Plan to remember your primary motivation and the reasons why you embarked from the starting line, and even remind yourself with a piece of clothing, or even a note written on your hand or arm.
Wear your heart on your sleeve (or better yet, your name on your chest)!
Spectators love to have something to yell besides “Yay!” “Go!” and “Great job!” Savvy racers looking for a bit of encouragement label themselves to give the crowd something to shout. Even if they aren’t truly your personal cheering section, an enthusiastic spectator yelling for you individually can be an irresistible attraction to carry on.
Station your supporters at strategic points on the course
If you do have the luxury of a bit of a cheering section, consider where you will likely have a tougher time. Certainly between miles 18 and 22, vocal support can help temporarily delay or distract you from the final challenge of a marathon’s last few miles. Knowing where you will see family and friends can also provide the intermediate goals mentioned above, as well as the visual representation of the motivation you need to be strong and maximize the benefits of the training you have done all these weeks. Some racers are fine as solo competitors, but oftentimes the trip to the starting line has taken a bit of a village of support. Enjoying that village’s encouragement along the way can help make the far side of the finish line even that much sweeter.
September 20, 2014
Many of our runcoach trainees are in the middle of heavy training for their fall goal races. As some of the most challenging weeks of the year, this period can often seem like one step after another beyond the comfort zone. Experienced runners will recognize this as a normal part of the training cycle, but if experience is not yet on your side, here are a few tips for making it through the heavy load to the restful period of the taper.
Your full body of training is preparing you – not just the long runs
It is easy to get very caught up with your weekend long efforts, and if one goes poorly or has to be skipped due to an unforeseen circumstance, it can be scary to be even a bit off track. Don’t forget that the efforts you make throughout the week – harder ones as well as the key recovery days, are building a tapestry that provides your safety net. One snag doesn’t mean disaster, and staying confident despite a setback can be good practice in case your race plan doesn’t go absolutely smoothly on the day either.
It’s ok to “look down”
Heights can be scary, unless you are standing on a firm foundation. Your many weeks of work have stacked up, and now you are attempting very challenging tasks. The good news is, you are prepared! Don’t be afraid to look back at your training log to see where you’ve come from when you started. Be encouraged that if you have been able to ascend so far and are doing ok, you will be ok to keep it up just a few more weeks.
Plan for dessert
If your challenge is staying motivated as the training has become more difficult, consider planning something fun to look forward to at the end of your goal race. The planning and anticipation can be a bit of a healthy distraction to keep your mind off the hard parts to come and to keep the goal race day and its aftermath as a red letter day to look forward to rather than be fearful of.
“I can’t” is almost always just down the block from “I will”
Oftentimes the hardest part of a training cycle or race is closer to the end than the beginning. You are a bit tired and have been stretched, maybe mentally and physically. You might be wondering if you have what it takes to go all the way. These thoughts are completely common, but experienced racers know that often the time between these thoughts and the time when the finish line feels absolutely within reach are almost always pretty close together. If you have been training for 12 weeks and you only have four to go, consider that 2-3 of those weeks will have a decreased demand as you taper and doing the math, you only have about one week of tough stuff to endure. If you have made it through 12 weeks, the fact is that you can definitely make it through one more. Take one day at a time and look forward to the moment when you can sniff the finish and you can rejoice in getting through the forest of heavy training. You’ll deserve some congratulations not only for the training itself, but staying calm and confident despite the occasional storm. Savor the feeling!
September 13, 2014
Sometimes, a cold or the flu is unavoidable. While the fall has hardly begun, now might be a time to consider how you can reduce the chances to be felled by an untimely bout with either, especially as crucial race dates loom on the calendar.
Get a flu shot
This one is pretty self-explanatory. They are quick, easy, available pretty much everywhere, including many national pharmacy chains, in the office at many large employers, and finally, at your doctor’s office. Most insurance plans make these free or very affordable, and while they can’t always stop every strain of flu, getting a shot is a lot better than not getting one and having the flu wallop you on the wrong week. Make it happen!
Wash your hands
Without becoming too obsessive about this one, for most of us, there is still room for improvement when making transitions from areas where we have a lot of contact with shared surfaces. More importantly, when you do wash your hands, whether it is before dinner or any other time, soap well for 30 seconds. If you are worried about dry hands, keep lotion handy. Failing all of this, the next time you are at the mall, stop by the local Bath and Body Works and pick your favorite of a zillion varieties of hand sanitizer to aromatically clean your hands when on the go.
Stay hydrated and drink your OJ
Although the science is not conclusive about the ability of Vitamin C to prevent colds, there are some good signs that plenty of C when a cold starts can help decrease its length. Staying hydrated generally helps your body to flush toxins and keep in working order. We hydrate for training reasons, but especially in dry, heated indoor spaces, hydration to stay healthy becomes even more crucial. This advice does not extend to increased consumption of alcohol, however, as it can suppress the immune system and increase dehydration.
If you are reading this, you are probably on your way to a goal race and not likely to be a person who needs encouragement to exercise. Be cheered that the immune system is boosted by regular exercise. However, be cautious that extremely long efforts (think 2 hours or more) can temporarily suppress the immune system, one reason commonly thought for why marathoners often come down with something upon return from a race. With good sleeping, hygiene, and hydration habits, hopefully your strengthened system will help you reap the benefits of an uninterrupted training cycle, while not falling ill after the finish line is reached.
September 06, 2014
Technology has improved our lives in myriad ways. GPS devices have allowed us to track our endurance efforts, recording our pace, distance, heart rate, and many more metrics besides. While providing a wealth of information, our relationship with the technology can become complicated and far more entangled than we could have possibly imagined. These devices are best as a tool to help us train effectively and analyze where we have gone. While possible that your GPS device can provide some accountability, take this quiz and see where you are on the spectrum of maintaining a healthy balance and perspective with your wrist-born tech.
Do you always round off your runs or walks to an exactly even number (5.00 miles, 3.50 miles exactly, 40 miles precisely for the week, etc), even if you are doing a lap around the parking lot or go up and down your driveway three times?
If your answer is yes, you probably enjoy order over chaos, and completion of your goals. You might also like to look at tidy numbers on the screen. None of that is bad in and of itself, but it is always good to remember that training has a purpose and shuffling in circles for 27 meters to make a full mile doesn’t really make you any more prepared for the race. Consider spending a week where you purposely don’t end on an even number in any run. Encourage yourself that your achievement of the total includes the experience of the effort along the way and that your training need not be 100% perfect 100% of the time to be in a position to achieve your goals on race day!
Do you have a floor or ceiling pace under or over which you never go on training run / walk days?
If your answer is yes, you probably are trying to faithfully complete your training efforts at the paces prescribed by your runcoach pace chart. However, always make sure that you listen to your body. If you have a sore / tight muscle, feel tired from the prior day’s workout, are sick, or have another legitimate reason to be in true recovery mode, it is fine to slow dow. Occasionally what felt like your easy pace turns out to be 30 seconds per mile or more. Recovery is key to being prepared for the next hard day. Sometimes, that requires doing a little less and easing off a bit (and being ok with that when you look at your watch).
Now that you have a GPS device on your wrist or in the palm of your hand, do you find yourself checking your pace almost reflexively every 50 meters along your route?
If this sounds like you, you might be just excited to have a cool toy to consult. But, with constant reliance on the watch or app (which is not always 100% accurate due to trees, weather, and other factors), you might also be at risk for missing a chance to understand and gain a feel for what your race pace or other paces might be. While you might want to keep careful track of your mileage, occasionally pick a route you of which you already know the distance, and run it without your watch, gauging your effort based on what you perceive to be the pace. You can log the miles accurately as you have measured it previously and using your total time, can figure the pace. However, you have taken an opportunity during the run to stay in touch with your instincts and listen to your body.
Do you avoid certain routes because of spotty satellite reception (and the shorter distances/ slower paces you might be given credit for on your device as a result)?
If your answer is yes to this one, you are human! We all like to see our best selves recorded and the greatest return on our efforts. However, if the preoccupation with the numbers is causing you to miss out on tree covered paths, excellent trail running, and safe routes on bike paths that travel through tunnels, consider mapping these on the computer and manually entering in the distances, or just noting your estimated differences when uploading your info.
Data is helpful, but we should not become overly reliant on it. As humans, we can use machines and technology to help us to our goals, but nothing replaces the individual effort and commitment we all need to achieve our goals on the day. Continue to trust in your ability and instincts. Let your GPS devices and apps be tools, but only one of many, in your arsenal.
August 31, 2014
Most of us are well acquainted with the need to hydrate during long workouts. If you need a refresher, check out what we’ve written before on some basic rules for hydrating effectively. Once you are committed to the plan of periodic hydration during your workouts, you will need a strategy for how to transport that fluid along the way. There are many different ways of doing this, one for every personality and preference. Check out a few great options, and find out which one will work best so that fluid planning is less a chore, and more a pre-requisite for heading out on the door.
Old School Bottle
There are some folks for whom this article is hardly necessary. Grabbing a water bottle tchotchke from your last corporate retreat, the one the kids won’t need for soccer until the afternoon, or a fresh bottle of your favorite sports drink from the corner store, you can set off on an 18 mile jaunt with a basic water bottle in your hand and hardly notice it is there. Benefits: If you bought fluid from the 7-11, you can just toss the bottle when you are done at the nearest trash can. If you brought a bottle from home, this is probably the cheapest option out there. Drawback: If you like your hands free, this route is not for you.
Hand strapped bottle
If you are unafraid to have weight at the end of your arm, but don’t want to think about gripping the bottle, this option might just be for you. Often, these curve to mold your hand, and allow your mind to wander without worrying about dropping the goods. Benefits: Reusable bottle is an environmentally sound choice, feels a bit more comfortable than a basic bottle. Drawback: These types of bottles are not typically very large. You might need a couple or won’t have enough for an extra long route.
Backpack with straw
Popular with ultrarunners and those who like their hands free, this is a solution that allows a runner or walker to have a ready source of fluids while not needing to grip the goods with a hand or feel the weight around the waist. Benefits: Hands Free, keeps weight of fluid distributed evenly across the back. Drawbacks: Not everyone likes drinking out of a straw, and these systems are not nearly as cheap as a basic water bottle.
This is a very popular option, but some athletes find the extra weight around the waist is a distraction if time is the primary objective. Small bottles are secured at places around a belt, worn throughout the workout. Benefits: Hands free, can add more bottles for some models and increase the amount of fluids you have on hand. Drawbacks: If you are sensitive to extra weight around the middle or a bit of bouncing, this isn’t for you. Also, the individual bottles can be fairly small, requiring multiple for extra long efforts.
Although ideally, your long efforts will include some calorie replacement as well as water consumption, an option always remains to plan your route where you know you can enjoy regular interactions with water fountains. Benefits: Hand free, no weight, water is often cold. Drawbacks: Risky as you never know if maintenance/ construction, or other unforeseen issues might scotch your plans, requires some additional source of calories – bar, gel, etc. Also this method requires you to stop moving for at least a few seconds.
As fluid replacement is such a crucial aspect of your longer training, it is well worthwhile experimenting with a solution you will stick with as your training will greatly benefit with a solid plan in place. Whether one of the solutions above fits the bill or another one is more your style, it is worth the effort to become consistent in this practice and reap the fitness benefits.
Whether you have just signed up for your first goal race or if you are in need of a new or different pair of shoes after hundreds of miles, here are a few terms that will help you navigate the local running / walking store. Familiarize yourself with the below and hopefully your helpful shoe salesperson’s jargon won’t overwhelm you when it comes time to choose the right shoe for you.
If you are a neutral runner or walker, you don’t need too much support to get your foot striking and pushing off in a generally textbook fashion. Neutral shoes don’t provide excessive stability mechanisms or other overtly corrective technology.
Pronation / Supination
These two terms commonly come up in conversation when discussing how a foot strikes the ground and what it does after landing. Pronation is the inward roll of the foot after landing. Some pronation is fairly normal, although some athletes over-pronate which means rolling inward much more severely. This can in some cases lead to knee soreness and other over-use issues, and a shoe that helps guide the foot along a more neutral path might be suggested. Supination, on the other hand, is the outward rotation of the foot after it hits the ground, which may cause other overuse issues or just an uneven wear pattern in your shoes.
Minimal / Maximal / Drop
Minimal shoes have reduced the cushioning aspects of a typical shoe to try and encourage a stride which more closely resembles what we would do if not wearing any shoes at all. Maximal shoes have chosen an alternate route – the more cushioning the better. Despite these seemingly opposing approaches to finding the perfect ride, many of the popular models in each camp have a very modest drop, or difference in height between where the heel and forefoot sit. For example, a four inch high heel shoe has a 4 inch drop, while flip flops have zero drop. Many minimal and popular maximal shoes have 4 mm drop or less, while traditional shoes have 8mm or more.
The firm piece in the heel that helps keep it central within the shoe.
The last is the mold on which the shoe is designed, usually made of a hard surface. Different types of lasts result in differently shaped shoes, and different ways of lasting can result differences in how the shoes are put together.
August 16, 2014
The dog days of summer hopefully allow each of us a bit of time on a hammock or a sandy towel. Even if your relaxation time is just a train or a plane to another work commitment, here are a few selections to consider for runners looking to pass the hours, give themselves a distraction, or just take a break.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Written by Laura Hillenbrand, the author who brought us the story of Seabiscuit, this tale tells the story of Louis Zamperini, 1936 Olympic 5000m runner. While about a runner and a successful one at that, this volume focuses on the amazing trials, tribulations, and will to live Zamperini experienced and displayed after crashing in a B-24 hundreds of miles from land during World War II. With the film version (produced by Angelina Jolie) set to come to movie screens in the upcoming months, you’ll want to get your hands on the book in advance, and find out how the strong will of a committed distance runner played into unimaginable challenges in a completely different context.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
Former war correspondent Christopher McDougall has a foot problem, and a combination of frustration, curiosity, and fortuitous circumstances suddenly find him completely enmeshed in the culture of the amazingly gifted Tarahumara Indian tribe in the Copper Canyons area of Mexico. Examining a variety of aspects of running, including footwear, diet, genetics, and more, McDougall challenges and explores many aspects of running the average athlete seldom questions. If you are curious about why many runners are interested in minimal shoes or barefoot running, this book will lead you right to the source.
Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion’s Long Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream
Runcoach board member Meb Keflezighi became a household name this year with his win at the Boston Marathon, but his resume already included a win at the New York Marathon, an Olympic Silver medal and much more. Years before the accolades, Keflezighi’s family escaped war torn Eritrea to eventually end up in San Diego, where Meb earned a scholarship to UCLA and began his ascent to the top of the distance running world. If you are looking for inspiration from a true embodiment of the American Dream, look no further than this book!
Once a Runner
Most runners would agree – there should be more novels written about distance running! Until that time, you can’t go wrong with a classic of the narrow shelved genre, Once a Runner. The story of Quenton Cassidy as told by author John L. Parker illustrates how one top flight athlete navigates the various crossroads faced while pursuing his singleminded goal of distance running excellence at the glamorous mile distance. Originally self published in 1978, this book has enjoyed several subsequent printings and carries with it an almost cultish cache among many distance running fans. Definitely near the top of the list of the canon and worth a read.
The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It
Even non-runners are familiar with the name Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile under 4 minutes. However, hardly anyone realizes how close it was to being another name that we remembered for the ages, 60 years past that historic day of May 6, 1954. The details of the successful record attempt are enjoyable as the details of the efforts by John Landy and Wes Santee to be the first to achieve the feat as well. Neal Bascomb explores that special time from all angles and provides us with a greater understanding about the well spring from where both Bannister’s mile and the subsequent 1300 or so men who have broken that mark since might have come from.
While there are plenty more worthy tomes available at local bookstores and online, we hope you have a chance to check out these or other great running books, and understand a bit more depth about the historical underpinning of the sport you enjoy.
August 07, 2014
If your usual palette of running or walking routes is dominated by flat paths, there are several reasons why it makes sense to include some hill work in your regular rotation. Similarly, if your favorite loops include plenty of hills, there should be lots of motivation to savor the opportunity to get out there and plug away up the slopes. Even if your workouts are generally confined to a treadmill, raising the incline can also provide a taste of hills
In the past, we have detailed some basic tips for getting up and down hills efficiently. Even if you remember these tips, it is always good to periodically remind yourself of the basics which may have been neglected when other concerns become priorities while out for a run or walk.
Assuming you are moving efficiently and in a way that will help prevent injury, there are a number of good reasons to stick with this type of terrain, even if it is outside of your comfort zone.
Hills help you learn how to manage challenges without stressing out
Races (and even training) can often include unanticipated hurdles to clear, or rough patches. Adding some terrain where the pace may be slightly more difficult to come by or where your rhythm is disrupted can help remind you to move with efficient form. Hills encourage you to focus on slower, rhythmic breathing, which can also help even as the hill is crested. In short, hills help remove distractions and increase concentration on the task at hand. That can help, even if the going is currently a bit more tough.
Hills can turn a fear into a strength
Avoiding hills intentionally or unintentionally because they are difficult might be a way to avoid some more challenging workouts, but they also might obscure an opportunity to develop a new strength. Consider whether you want to approach a hilly section of your goal race with the attitude of dread or one where you tell yourself, “This is my time.” Practice on hills and you might find that you can cover that type of terrain better than others in your typical pace group. Rarely does it make sense to truly charge up a hill in the midst of your half or full marathon effort, but approaching the base of a climb with confidence that you are at least or even better prepared for the challenge than your fellow racers is an extremely positive feeling to have. You can even have a significant impact on your training partners with that positive attitude and help their confidence as well.
Hills can raise your heart rate without the pounding
When your schedule calls for efforts over a certain amount of time with qualitative descriptions for the paces, such as “uptempo,” an uphill path can achieve the desired effort with less gravitational pressure than would be required on a flat or downhill route. If impact related injuries are a concern or even if extended periods of time on hard surfaces are a concern, an uphill route can mitigate some of those stresses while not compromising the desired effort level. You may not be traveling that exact same speed as a flat path, but your cardiovascular system will be similarly stimulated.
Hills are strength work for key muscles
Running or walking up hills places an increased demand on your glutes, and calves, not to mention your quads, which are pushed both on the uphill as well as the downhill portions of your workout. These muscles are key for any goal race where serious fatigue can set in. Including hills sensibly in your weekly routine can help challenge these muscles and prepare them to handle the extraordinary requirements of a lengthy effort over an unforgiving pavement course.
Running or walking hills can be great for these or other specific benefits, but they also can just be a fun new challenge. Embrace what they offer and get the most of your time on the hills. Even if you don’t enjoy the process 100% of the time, it is usually time well spent toward the achievement of your goals. You may not enjoy them at the moment, but you will likely be glad for them when on the victorious side of the finish line.
August 05, 2014
It is amazing how rumors or wives tales can be passed among friends or down through the ages, affecting the behavior of thousands without any basis on solid ground. Even an experienced runner or walker can be operating off of a faulty or outdated instruction manual now and again. Although we bring up these topics periodically in the blog, they are always worthwhile to review.
More mileage is always better
False. Training allows you to prepare for the race task, and extended periods of significant volume could allow you to be prepared for very challenging tasks. It also could leave you injured and unable to do any challenging tasks. Your runcoach schedule is calibrated to consider what you have done in the past and will help you safely progress, prioritizing the goal of arriving at race day ready to do your best. This means planned and regular recovery. Every week will not necessarily include more mileage than the last. Consistent training over time is the best way to gradually increase your volume, but in many cases other aspects of your schedule can make an even bigger difference than merely just mileage alone.
You must carbo-load before every race
False. Race-organized pasta feeds and a sincere effort to prepare as well as possible often lead participants down a road of excessive consumption the night before a race. There is scant evidence that loading up in this fashion can effect shorter races such as a 5K or 10K, and even in longer efforts, fueling effectively during the race can often have a bigger say in the final analysis. Consider also how much a body can process in 12 hours. Consuming 3 or 4 times your typical size dinner must be dealt with, and that process might interrupt your morning more than any lack of energy you were worried about to begin with.
You can train at your current fitness and still progress
True! Hundreds of thousands of workouts for thousands of plans has reinforced our conviction that a training plan based on paces associated with your current fitness level can allow you to adapt and perform at a progressively higher level. Training specifically for goal pace sounds like a great idea, but you might not have figured out exactly how far you can progress in the time between the current day and your goal race day. What if you were actually in better shape than you thought? What if you didn’t progress as far as you hoped? Would you still embark upon that pace? Of course not. We provide the tools you need to make successful race efforts with confidence, knowing you have done the work to support your plan. This doesn’t mean that you never have workouts that include paces faster than what might be your goal pace - your 5K pace will always be faster than your marathon pace, but the data is based on you and your current fitness.
Exercise is bad for you as you age
False. A widely cited and encouraging Stanford University study reinforced what avid runners have felt for years - that running actually has a positive effect on most aging athletes. Senior citizen runners tracked for over 25 years have no increased incidence of osteoarthritis issues in their knees, have lower mortality rates, and generally have delayed onset of mobility and other issues related to aging. Certainly older runners need to take good care of themselves, adjusting their schedule as needed, but sensible running actually appears to benefit a person as they hit the silver years.
Studies have found similar benefits from walking: http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/research-points-to-even-more-health-benefits-of-walking
You aren’t a real runner if you don’t run fast
False. One of the great things about our sport is that it provides an unlimited amount of access points, from walkers to Olympic sprinters and everyone in between. Some of us are triathletes and some of us don’t have time to train for longer distances, sticking with 5Ks. Some of us enjoy track workouts, and others stick mainly to the trails. As the ranks of adult runners and walkers increases, so has the definition of “athlete” broadened as well. Any arbitrary cut off for what constitutes a “real” athlete could be just as nonsensical as saying that if we can’t match Usain Bolt or Meb, why try. Count us among those who are glad the sport is inclusive, and we look forward to supporting you as you achieve your personal bests on the road ahead.