The recently held Berlin Marathon lived up to its potential for fast times and then some, with Dennis Kimetto shattering the existing world marathon record by 26 seconds and becoming the first human being under 2 hours and 3 minutes. If you are keeping score, that is an average pace of 4:41 per mile, or essentially the equivalent of running 105 laps around a track and hitting 70 seconds on each one.
Performances like this can seem so many light years away that the average athlete may feel that they can barely relate. Yes, Kimetto covered 26.2 miles in an amazingly fast time, but looking beneath the surface, races like his can yield connections that can encourage us all, even if we are in the middle or the back of the pack.
The Berlin marathon benefitted from the mano a mano duel Kimetto staged with his mentor Geoffrey Mutai. Although we aren’t yet looking for Must See TV or world fame with our distance exploits, having a complicated race plan can sometimes add more stress than it is worth. Some top quality races have huge fields of aspiring world class athletes, but the race may become strategic as a result. If a fantastic time is the goal, nothing beats an old fashioned foot race with one or two people. The mind can’t drift and so stays alert, and the athlete is able to race at the optimum pace indicated by training. Toward the end you can race for the finish, but until then remind yourself of your confidence, tell the truth about your training log, and wait patiently for your turn.
October 04, 2014
Throughout your training, you likely have given a lot of thought about how you will handle the challenges of race day. Another day worth giving a fair amount of consideration is the day before the big day. Before it sneaks up on you, here are a few general tips for making sure your “Goal Race Eve” sets you up for success.
Get the your pre-race shakeout done before noon
Certainly, many athletes have been successful when their schedules require them to do whatever pre race shakeout walk or run they have planned later in the day. However, doing these few miles earlier in the day will likely put you in a spot where you are exercising at the time of day you will be on race day, and give you the maximum amount of recovery. While probably minimal in actual physical benefit, it can make a difference to an athlete looking to feel in rhythm.
Avoid walking around aimlessly at the expo
If possible, take care of your bib number pick up two days before, when the process will likely be less impacted by crowds and nerves. If you want to order an official race shirt for a family member or yourself, you can often do that online. If that isn’t an option or the expo is only open the day before, be strategic. Decide what, if anything you need (want) to purchase, and make deliberate progress to accomplish that efficiently. A big race expo could keep an athlete busy for hours, with myriad vendors hawking various energy bars, drinks, clothing, and other gadgets. There is a time for testing all these things, but hours on your feet and a bunch of weird stuff in your stomach the day before is not a winning formula. Be mercenary. Get in and get out.
Plan your morning checklist
Sometimes nerves can get the best of us in the lead up to a race. Many athletes find comfort in knowing that they just have to check off a series of steps and can focus on the doing rather than worrying if they forgot anything. Lay out your exact outfit and pin on your bib. Have your breakfast food ready and a bag packed with extra long sleeves, cold weather gear, or whatever you need for a meteorological surprise. Riding a train or parking where you need change or funds? Have that ready so you aren’t standing in line for a fare card or digging through your car for change. Let the race be about the race, and not about these mundane details.
Stay in charge
When friends and family are just as pumped up about race day as you are, they unfortunately don’t have an outlet like you will. This can lead to some over enthusiastic ideas, too much excited energy and chatter, and epic plans that may not have anything to do what is best for you. Gently make clear that your itinerary the day before is your itinerary, and while you appreciate their love and support, on this particular day, you need to prioritize the race.
Eat early, and in moderation
A lot of thought is often put into a pre-race dinner, but one important one is how your body will deal with that dinner in the hours between dinner and the race. Plan to eat a bit earlier than normal. With many races on Sunday, Saturday night can mean a bit of a wait in a restaurant, etc, pushing you to a later time of day when you actually are chowing down. Eat familiar foods that you know will sit well - no risk taking. Even if you are doing a marathon the next day, keep in mind that your body can’t suddenly process a huge amount of food in a short time. What isn’t used, is discarded, which can be a distraction on race morning.
Hydrate early and not only with water
Hydration is a key part of your race day prep, and it is important to make sure you aren’t trying to accomplish it on the morning of the race. Throughout the several days before the race, include enough water and sports drink (for electrolytes) that your urine is very light yellow. You are in good shape if that last day before the race, you are able to carry around a bottle for the occasional sip and top off.
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.