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Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

118-Marathon-Runner-Costume-33322Even the most experienced among us was once a rookie.  Those of us who have raced for years at shorter distances can also feel like beginners when it comes to the humbling aspects of the longer events.   Whether you are trying something new this training cycle or hope to in the future, read on to inoculate yourself against these common pitfalls.

 

Don’t OverEXPOse yourself

Two to three weeks of taper, deliberate sleep hours, and careful treatment of your body cannot be completely undone by spending hours walking and shopping at the expo on the day before the race, but it definitely won’t help!  Resist the urge to spend hours walking up and down the aisles of the expo at your first big race.  If possible, visit the expo two or three days before when there are smaller crowds.  If you have things you need, like a particular souvenir for someone, some gel packets, or a container of body glide, look at the map before heading over.  Then, stick to your list and keep a hard time limit after which you promise yourself  (in advance) that you will leave.  Combined with what may include lots of walking to get into the facility and any other activities you may do, minimizing the walking at the expo is in your best interest to keep the legs feeling fresh.

 

Read My Lips, No New Gear (the day before the race)

A rookie racer might be tempted to try cool new shoes (without breaking them in), a new pair of shorts (without testing if they will chafe), a new fueling item (my friend said this gel works really well for her!), and so on.  The enticements of the expo can make this one even more difficult.  As the saying goes, “dance with the girl you brought.”  Your weeks and weeks of training have helped you to figure out the shoes, shorts, and fuel that will work best on race day.  You’ll be a bit nervous anyway – no need to leave more to chance with the essentials!

 

Keep Anthony Boudrain away from your table

A fun new city, maybe a great dinner spot the night before your race…seems like a great time to ask the waiter what the “specials” are, right?  Wrong.  Running a marathon or a half marathon can be a gastro intestinal adventure with a number of twists and turns, and there is no need to court danger.  Avoid adventurous eating the night or two before.  Plan on eating food that your system will recognize and that you know will digest according to plan.  Again, you might have some butterflies anyhow.  Do not risk anything here.

 

Hydrate, but don’t overdo the water

One of the most common tips a newbie racer likely hears is to STAY HYDRATED.  However, too much water in the final day or two before a race can wash crucial electrolytes from the system when they are needed most and leave you in the portapotty when the gun goes off.  Balance your water intake with a sports drink your body trusts.  Very light yellow or almost clear urine is a good sign you have consumed enough.  If you proceed incrementally, you should only need to sip a bottle the morning of the race, thus lightening the near term load on your bladder.

 

Plan to Work and then Work the Plan

With a first big race looming on the calendar, a race plan or splits schedule towards a goal time can be helpful to ease the feeling of the unknown going into the race.  When a big wave of adrenaline carries you out to sea on the first few miles of the race, do not fall prey to the urge to throw your plan out the window.  Stick to the plan you have formulated when thinking logically and with plenty of time.  If during the second half of the race you realize you have undershot the mark, you will still have a chance to finish strong.  However, the reverse situation (going out way too fast and trying to hang on for dear life) can be much more difficult.  Use your first race as an opportunity to try something new.  This debut experience will then establish a baseline and create a springboard that will give you the confidence to move on to faster and more adventurous performances in the future.

treehouse-dishes-up-some-alphabet-soup-24750
Quick Guide to Running Lingo

 

Like athletes in many other sports, runners have a vocabulary that may seem completely foreign to beginners.  Even experienced runners may be confused by some of the lingo.  At runcoach, we’re here to help!  Read on for a list of some common running terms.

 

For more info on specific terms used in your workout schedule, mouse over terms on your pace chart or contact us with your questions!

 

Negative Split/ Positive Split

Contrary to what these terms might imply, usually negative splits are more fun than positive splits.  A negative split is when the second half of your run, race, or interval is faster than the first half.  A positive split means you slowed down in the second half.  It only takes a few painful positive split efforts to remind you of the difference!

 

Kick

This is a general term for the final part of the race when an athlete is really going for it.  Another term used when talking about the kick might be “change gears.”  The runner increases frequency of their stride cadence and embarks upon a faster pace or harder effort level.  Don’t start kicking too early!  Make sure you have enough energy left to sustain this pace through the finish line.

 

Shake-out

This term can be used to describe a run that is light and easy and done just to get the kinks out.  We often describe the last run before a big race as a shakeout.  You might hear, “I went on my three mile shakeout this afternoon, before heading to the pasta dinner.”

 

LSD

Although running can indeed provide that “natural high,” when athletes refer to LSD, they are usually talking about Long Slow Distance, which is known on our runcoach schedules as aerobic runs or Easy / Long pace.

 

Fartlek

Eeeew!!! No, no, fartlek is a term for “speedplay” in Swedish.  It can mean a semi-unstructured run with varying periods of up-tempo running interspersed with easy recovery running.  These days, fartleks are often structured, but unmeasured sets of work at a perceived effort, such as 8x 2minutes comfortably hard with 90 seconds of easy running in between each.

 

Hitting the Wall

No need for a definition if you have felt it even once.  Hitting the wall can be described as a sudden and steep decrease in energy level and ability to perform at the previous pace due to the onset of fatigue, a lack of fueling, or both.  Mile 23 is a fairly common place to “hit the wall” in a marathon.  See “Bonked”.

Chip Time vs. Gun Time

In races where your time is recorded by wearing a computer chip that is read while traveling over mats along the pavement, you will often be given 2 different times in the race results.  The gun time is the time elapsed since the race was started,.  The chip time is time that begins when you actually cross the starting line mat.

 

PR or PB

These stand for Personal Record (usually US speaker) or Personal Best (usually everyone else).

 

Taper

The portion of your training cycle where you cease the really difficult workouts and attempt to get cumulative rest with lighter workouts while preparing for an upcoming race.

 

Bandit

A competitor running in the race without having officially entered.

 

Rabbit

An athlete charged with setting an early pace for the benefit of (usually) the top athletes in the race.  The rabbit usually then drops out at the agreed upon time, although there are examples of races where the pacer continued on and won!

 

cropped_little_girlDownhill running may seem like a breeze, but runners hoping to do it effectively should consider a few tips before heading down the mountain.

Avoid stepping on the brakes

Instinctively, most runners heading downhill will extend their foot out in front of them on each stride, essentially braking themselves and preventing themselves from losing control.    If on a steep hill or an area with uneven ground, this may be necessary as a safety precaution, but if on a manageable grade, this puts needless stress on the knees, hips, and quads.  Instead of concentrating on slowing down via longer slower steps, try to land on the foot as similarly as possible to your regular stride.  What would qualify as good running form on flat ground also qualifies downhill.  Try to replicate it as much as possible.

Lean in!

It is difficult to make up ground or extend a lead over others on an uphill grade.  With such a steep cost required to extend or quicken each stride, the benefits may wash away in fatigue by the time you reach the crest of the hill.  On the downhill, the cost and effort is much less, and effective downhill running can provide an opportunity to change the dynamic of a race by the time level ground is reached.  To run downhill effectively, you must lean forward in the direction in which you plan to go.  On flat ground, the ideal body posture includes an ever so slight forward lean from the ankles.  Maintain this on the downhills.  This lean will also make it easier to take more frequent steps and avoid landing with your foot out in front of you, absorbing needless stress.

Pick up the cadence

The only way it will be possible to both land on your foot similarly to when running on flat ground and to lean forward at the same time is to quicken the cadence of your strides.  A more rapid rhythm in your stride will help you accomplish the form cues you need to minimize needless stress and possible injuries to your body.  It can also be a catalyst for you to implement these form cues to keep up with your stride rate once you have adjusted the mental metronome.

Confidence will take practice

Most runners internalize and repeat a more defensive downhill approach due to an understandable desire to stay upright and avoid just tumbling down the hill.  It can pay dividends in a hilly race to consciously practice downhills of varying grades to build confidence with the feeling of leaning into the descent.  Golf courses (when available to run) can be a great location to practice a more aggressive approach without a large contingent of observers and with a forgiving surface.

Although many races have famous hills – Boston’s Heartbreak Hill, Bay to Breakers 12K’s Hayes Street Hill, and the Doomsday Hill at the Lilac Bloomsday Run, many experienced athletes will cite the effective management of the downhills in these races to provide the crucial difference.  At the Boston Marathon, it can be seen some of the pros running with“reckless abandonment” while navigating the final five miles of net downhill from the top of Heartbreak to the finish.   This takes practice, particularly if “reckless abandonment” is not a typically appropriate description of your running style.   Choose some low key tune up races with hills, include hilly terrain on a regular basis during workouts, and stay mindful of your form.  This can help set aside some of the fear of falling and focus more on getting to the finish line as rapidly as possible.

Whether contending for a win at the Marathon Majors or hoping to just complete your first marathon or half, avoiding injuries and working out effectively is a shared goal by all.  Reckless abandonment may continue to prove an inappropriate description for your approach down hills, but by using just a few tweaks to your approach, at the very least your PRs might have a shot to improve!

 

As many of you come off successful spring race seasons let’s consider our recommendation for a return to training and racing. Previous blog posts have touched on the basics of the immediate recovery period, and now let’s focus on the transition back to running.

 

After the race and subsequent recovery period has come and gone, sometimes runners are left with a bit of “no man’s land”.   This period can be a dangerous time, as the temptations to jump right back into it are great and the exaltation or disappointment from the previous goal race are still fresh.  Rather than a curse, this period can also be a blessing, a time to lay tracks for the better runner you hope to become when things heat up again on the training schedule.

 

A time of recovery is a great opportunity to broaden your range of competency on a variety of fronts.  Even if cross training is a part of the weekly schedule and has been for years, switching things up can provide an opportunity to find an even better complementary activity to your regimen.  Always swim or water run as your go-to cross training activity?  Try cycling or the elliptical machine.  Sign up for the yoga or Pilates class you don’t usually have time for, but have been excited to try. Cycle to work or other daily destinations when you don’t have to allocate tons of time and energy for running.

 

If you worked through a manageable but bothersome injury while race training, now is the time to rehabilitate.   If the goal race period seemed like the wrong time to introduce yet another routine into the mix, now is the right time.  Begin a maintainable core strength routine and work through any initial soreness while you don’t have your hardest running workouts to recover from as well.  Do the rehab exercises on that balky ankle you have been ignoring or regularly roll the IT band that always causes trouble when you begin to ramp up mileage.  In other words, prepare your body to handle the challenges of your next training cycle better than ever.

 

Running stores will have lots of options for shoes and injury prevention tools, but time and interest are needed to identify the current risk level of a shoe change, the addition of a foot care insole, or other “gear shift”.  Now is a great time to incrementally adjust to new things that can be highly beneficial long-term.

 

Most importantly, a period without a looming goal can be a perfect time to build the good habits that will serve you well when the schedule requires more strenuous efforts and careful timing.  Whether you are changing shoes, adding a new cross training element, or focusing on good nutritional or sleep patterns, practicing these good habits now will allow them to effective  with your regular routine.  While your fitness level may fluctuate as you move toward your eventual goal, good habits developed in transition can assist you in reaching each rung of the ladder in a sustainable and confident way.

 

 

April 17, 2013

On Boston...

Boston_StrongFor many of us, running is our escape from the pressures of every day life.  A lot of avid runners find refuge in running for their clearest thinking and most meaningful conversations.   Running is often the longest stretch of peace we have all day.

 

Running the Boston Marathon is the closest many of us will get to the other side of the coin, the running experience had by the world beaters and the elite, appreciated by hundreds of thousands of cheering, screaming, and even kissing fans along the route from Hopkinton to Copley Square.   Our solitary or locally shared, mind clearing pursuit becomes the chance to enjoy the solidarity felt among those thousands who also wear their bright yellow or blue race shirt or jacket (and even their finisher’s medal) the following day in the airport or walking through the neighborhood in the days before.  Boston is the one race the folks in your neighborhood understand is a big deal.  They know that to go and compete, you must be very dedicated, fast, or both.

 

For the city of Boston and the towns of Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley and its wall of screaming students, Newton, and Brookline along the way, the marathon is part of a larger and most American of traditions in the form of the Patriots’ Day holiday, a ritualistic morning first pitch at Fenway Park, and the pride of an entire region in hosting an event so steeped in the identity of the roads it travels that the mile markers and start line are permanently painted on the black top all year round, and Heartbreak Hill has become one of the most famous stretches of pavement on earth.  It is a day where every year, the world turns its attention to their city and appreciates the traditions they have grown up holding dear.

 

The Boston Marathon will always be known for all these things, but as of yesterday, it will of course now be known for something entirely different as well.

 

The events of April 15 will remain seared indelibly into the memories of those who ran that day, those who witnessed the unfolding tragedy, and those who traded pride and hopeful waiting for anxious delays of minutes and hours while waiting for family and friends who never were able to enjoy the triumphant crossing of the finish line on Boylston Street. However, no loss of innocence or disappointment in the broken promise of a day dawning with such hopefulness will compare to the losses of the victims or their families.  What has always been an afterglow of accomplishment and celebration was yesterday and will continue to be replaced by mourning, nagging fear, and bitterness at the havoc wreaked.

 

Yet, both Bostonians and the marathoners who make the ritual pilgrimage to these streets are made of tough and tested leather.  Undoubtedly, both will greet the days to come with stiff resolve, and an unwillingness to let those who would strike fear in the hearts of all of us gain the upper hand.   As those gathered for the race return home and to the regular routine, we can all be a part of the process of healing, being mindful of the peace that running can bring to ourselves and those close to us, and the community spirit of a city that has welcomed those hoping to test themselves in a pinnacle of their running lives for 117 years.   For thousands of runners and the nearly 200 victims, the finish line remains uncrossed.  Let us continue to cross further finish lines in the weeks, months, and years with confidence and mindfulness, with each one reinforcing the power of collective good to overcome those who would have it otherwise, and to return the finish line itself to a place of triumph rather than loss.

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A few thoughts on stress fractures and training

Stress fractures are one of the most common injuries treated in sports medicine clinics.  Normally labeled as overuse injuries stress fractures occur when muscles and ligaments are not able to bear the loads placed on them.  They then transfer those demands to bones, which develop a small crack as a result.

As runners put significant demands on the leg muscles with each and every step, leg muscles and bones are conditioned to bearing a high level of repeated stress.  Stress fractures can require 6-12 weeks of time off of running plus an incremental period of reintroduction to weightbearing activity, they are certainly worth avoiding if at all possible!

What are few common risk areas to be aware of when training?

Listen to your body

When running hard and long, muscles break down and begin a regenerative process with proper recovery.  However, shortcutting this process results in putting great demands on muscles.  If the muscles have not adapted, they are not prepared to again bear the new stress.  Your runcoach schedule is based on large amounts of data from thousands of training cycles by runners of all ages and abilities, and is intended to provide sensible recovery at every stage of training.  Even so, each runner’s body responds slightly different.  If you feel sore and tired for more than 3 days or before the next significant workout or long run, many factors can be at play.   Don’t be afraid to take a day off here and there as most training cycles are designed to be followed to 90% completion 

Bone health is important

Bone health is important for a variety of general health reasons and is crucial in the avoidance of injury for runners.  Females with a family history or personal past of osteoporosis, and / or an irregular menstrual history may be at increased risk for bone injuries.  They should seek preventative advice on how to improve these measurements through diet or other means before an injury requires more acute attention to general bone health.  Even if bone density is not a problem, both men and women can benefit from core work, plyomtetrics and other strength exercises to help the body’s stabilizing muscles decrease the stress passed on from muscles to the bones.  Check out our full body workout for a few simple ways to make a positive preventative impact in this area.  http://runcoach.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&task=category&id=10:core-exercise-videos&Itemid=444

Avoid making several big changes to your training all at once

Enthusiasm is one of the greatest assets a runner can have.  After all, the miles can be long and motivation can wane at times.  Sometimes, a new trainee will embark on  a road toward an ambitious goal with the hope of turning the page or starting fresh on a new stage of life.   Even as that mentality is powerfully effective in helping an athlete out the door each day, raising mileage, while wearing a brand new style of shoes, while trying to adhere to a different diet, while scheduling a rigorous series of races one after another can be a recipe for setbacks.  If possible, pick one variable at a time to tweak – one knob to twist – and make sure your body has handled that change before next big adjustment comes.

The human body can handle a significant amount of activity.  Listen to your body and allow it to recover, maintain good health and healthy habits for the long term, and refrain from greatly adjusting more than one or two variables at once to hopefully stay one step ahead of the injury bug.

bench_croppedRunning a marathon or half marathon is by definition a long and difficult task.  After all, when we speak of anything long and difficult, we often refer to it as a “marathon,” or compare things completely unrelated to athletics as “marathons” instead of “sprints”.

 

Unsurprisingly, training for a marathon includes a wide variety of lengthy tasks, the difficulty of which make the journey arriving at the starting line at least half the battle.  Mentally, runners can be so committed to the audacious adventure that rest and recovery seem like cheating or wimping out.

 

Wrong.

 

Hard workouts and rest are like a Rorschach test for the body.  The outline or fitness created by all the hard work is defined by the shape it has created for itself, but the shape we see is also dependent on the negative space shaped by the remaining parts of the picture.  This is the rest and recovery.  If the rest portion of the picture isn’t well planned and defined, it makes it difficult to see the shape it has left.

 

From what are you recovering?

The motions of running require a great deal of eccentric contraction of the muscles.  That is, a muscle working in the lengthened position.  This type of demand, particularly over the repeated requirements of thousands of strides, causes a lot of trauma to the cells of muscle fibers, which break down and need to regenerate.

 

Among other effects, running hard also results in a sharp increase in the production of the hormone cortisol.  This hormone, which appears in a response to the physical stress of the quality workout, also suppresses the immune system, which may take a full few days to return to normal after a hard effort such as a race or a workout that breaks new ground.

 

How long should recovery take?

Over a period of time with adequate rest, the body adapts to the mechanical stressors by learning to absorb and consume more oxygen, synthesize more glycogen, absorb more amino acids, and more.   As the muscles are broken down in tiny little traumas, blood flow aids in bringing reparative ingredients to the site of these traumas.  This blood flow can also bring inflammation.  All told, plan on about 24-72 hours for the cycle to result in a muscle prepared to forge more new ground.

 

The soreness often felt on that “second day” is also known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS.  In the long run, this process results in an adapted muscle ready to go farther, go faster, or maybe even both.  However, if a runner repeatedly breaks down a muscle that is not ready once more for heavy work, a cycle of degradation without regeneration will almost always lead to an injury or an eventual period of recovery longer than would have occurred if regularly scheduled recovery had occurred along the way.

 

Notice how your runcoach schedule will not offer you three consecutive calendar days where you run a track session, then a tempo run, then a long run.   Life’s difficult weekly agenda might encourage back to back workouts, but it is almost always advisable to leave at least a 48 hour period between the toughest days of the week.

 

Does everyone need to rest the same amount?

Age, gender, experience, volume (30 miles per week or 90 miles per week?) are all variables which may affect how much time is advisable to wait between hard bouts on the schedule.  If your performance falters repeatedly on the workout following a particularly difficult challenge, it is better to organize the schedule to allow more rest in between than to dogmatically hold on to your current layout and risk injury or prohibitive fatigue from pushing too hard too close to the last time.  Likewise, if you repeatedly catch a cold or have a similar repeated response to upping your mileage or completing a sequence of very taxing runs, consideration of additional recovery is important to allow the immune system to do its job and keep you on the path toward race day.

 

Does recovery only mean sitting around?

Certainly, sleep and rest can help speed the regenerative process, but recovery is also when you remember to bring a snack for after the workout and can replace carbohydrates and proteins immediately.  Recovery is when you roll and stretch to leave the challenged muscles loose and in the best position to heal.  Recovery is rehydrating and replacing electrolytes both during and after a workout or long run.  All of these proactive things can help speed the time you need before advancing out the door again for the type of epic run or workout that makes marathon and half marathon training special.  Not every runner recovers at the same rate exactly, but rest assured, all runners do indeed take a rest.  Our job is to help you along the path that includes rest that is planned so the next training and racing vista can remain in view.

 

 

 

nervousWhat differentiates a race from a workout?  The chance to run down the middle of the road, the mile markers, the thousands of other people alongside?  Externally, perhaps.  Internally, on the other hand, a big difference maker is often adrenaline.

Races are a test – a test of fitness, a test of wills, and a test of your ability to handle the elements and the unexpected.  All of the variables, both known and unknown, coupled with the anticipated pain that may precede the finish banner, combine to generate the butterflies that turn stomachs in the day or two before the race.

On the surface, it may seem preferable not to be nervous at all – to feel calm, cool, collected, and carefree heading into a race.  Then again, the term “adrenaline rush” is familiar to many as a performance-enhancing asset.  What is going on?

Adrenaline, or epinephrine, is a hormone released in response to stress  - it increases heart rate, aids in the conversion and use of glucose from glycogen for energy, and relaxes the bronchial muscles to allow for greater respiration needs (among other effects).  Oftentimes, adrenaline is associated with the “fight or flight” response to great danger or acute stress, e.g. the mother who lifts the car off the ground to save a child, etc.

In a race situation, adrenaline can be helpful – increased release of energy, greater respiratory ability, blood flow increased through the arteries – all these things are good for performance and result in noticeable increases in strength and ability to withstand pain.

While adrenaline can be helpful, nervousness can also be debilitating if it takes over completely.  It is important to maintain a balance that allows the utilization of the positive effects of adrenaline without succumbing to the fear of the unknown.

For runners, one oft overlooked aspect is how well we manage this balance.  Develop some loose routines that can provide a road map before races.  Without being to tense and specific, having a series of repeated tasks (lay out clothing, pin on number, tie chip to shoe, set up morning coffee, etc) can help distract from the difficult aspects to come on race day.  Keep up with your log on runcoach or use a written tool to keep track of training and provide a welcome reminder of all the hard work put in – your success won’t be a fluke and your preparedness can be verified.   Familiarize yourself with the course and its topography – any tough hills are far less intimidating when expected. Practice positive self-talk in workouts so you are prepared with encouragement to yourself when the going is difficult and the pace comes less easily.

Of course, all of these strategies may not always account for the complete list of potential unknowns on race day, nor do these remove the painful physical demands very possibly required to yield the desired result.  Adrenaline, however can close that gap, and should be welcomed as a bi-product of the stress / nervousness that produced it.    Combat fear of the unknown with preparedness and facts, and celebrate the arrival of nervousness as the precursor to the adrenaline that helps make race day special.

urlWhether your running style more closely resembles the tortoise or the hare, an efficient stride is a goal we all share.  It is very difficult and sometimes counterproductive to completely overhaul your natural form.  However, here are a few tips you can try out on your next run to help you get to the finish line with less fatigue and a few less ticks on the clock.

 

Avoid taking long, bounding strides

When attempting to speed up, many runners try to take big long strides.  Sure, when traveling quickly, the space between each footfall will increase due to that speed generated by a more powerful push off.  However, purposely increasing the length of each individual stride often results in a harder more abrupt footfall, greater forces landing on the heel as it extends out in front of you, and a longer time spent on the ground (slowing down) before transitioning to the push off phase of each stride.

 

Instead of decreasing the frequency of your strides when attempting to give it some gas, quicken your cadence.  Taking more frequent strides results in smaller landing forces and less time on the ground absorbing them.  A quicker rhythm also allows your body to stay aligned over your feet, which helps you line up all the power producing muscles (glute, hamstring, quad, calf) for more production out of each stride, without straining the stabilization capabilities of those muscles and ligaments.

 

Keep your hands loose

It is not uncommon to feel tense, tired shoulders after a long run, but that tension and the mid-run fatigue it may cause can be reduced by keeping your hands loose.   Rather than a tight fist or fingers fanned rigidly straight out from the palm, loosely curve the fingers back toward the thumb on each hand, as if lightly holding a very thick rope.   With your thumb, pretend to hold a saltine or a potato chip to your loosely curved fingers.  Squeeze too hard and it breaks, too open and it drops.  Tight hands reverberate tension through the arms, up to the shoulders and the neck.  Loose hands help dissipate that tension and helps runners avoid draining needed energy from the hard working lower body.

 

Swing your arms north and south, not east to west

If running forward, avoid movements that deter your progress.  When your arms are swinging backwards and forward, they are helping propel you along the desired direction.  When they swing across your body, they are acting at cross purposes with your goal.  Although arms naturally may have a slight angle inward that causes the elbow to stick out slightly, neither hand should cross the imaginary line down the center of your torso.   Let them hang down from your un-hunched shoulders with an elbow bent at about 90 degrees, and keep them swinging “north and south”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mile_markerMany runners have begun to enjoy the luxury of GPS devices measuring their daily runs.  Frankly, many runners have become so reliant on these measurements that success or failure is defined at least as much by the watch readout as how the run or workout feels.

 

Those who use a GPS device on a daily basis are naturally inclined to strap them on for race day, only to be quite annoyed by the discrepancy between the race’s official measurements and what the GPS device indicates.  Technology advances year after year, and when paying several hundred dollars for a gadget, it is a let down when the measurement appears to veer so widely off the mark.   Alternately, we may place blame on the race management, assuming a poorly measured course or sloppy monitoring.  More likely than either scenario, the discrepancy probably occurs due to the different ways in which the watch and the race record your distance traveled.

 

GPS devices measure the time it takes to receive signals traveling at the speed of light from multiple satellites orbiting the earth.  A couple dozen of these are currently in the skies, and they are arrayed so that at any one time, four or more are visible to any point on earth.  The watch essentially then builds a three or four way Venn diagram by overlapping the readings taken by each to confirm a fairly accurate location.   This is called triangulation.  Still, under a clear sky in the middle of a desert, an accuracy of a few meters either way is probably the best possible result.

 

Most importantly, GPS does not measure the distance you travel in a continuous fashion.  It take readings at different points along your route every few seconds, again maybe varying in a radius of 3 meters to 10 meters or 30 feet to each side.  What was a straight path for your actual travel, may be a fairly zig-zag line of plotted points as read by your GPS device.   Add in periodic blockages due to overhanging trees, tall buildings, and even loud noises (yes!) and you will begin to see how your watch’s measurements are a helpful guide, but by no means a perfect representation of the actual route you traveled.

 

Certainly many low-key races may not seek or receive certification by the sport’s domestic governing body, USA Track & Field (USATF).  However, most worth doing have received this certification, and certainly all of the big ones.  When the question of GPS discrepancy was posed to the “dean” of Northern California course certifiers, Tom Knight, he encouraged reading the self-termed “generic response” Doug Thurston, the Director of Operations for the Competitor Group (Rock ‘n’ Roll series, Carlsbad 5000, etc) has developed after countless inquiries on the subject.

 

Thurston’s main points are summarized briefly as follows:

  1. Courses are measured by using the shortest possible route (tangents) to ensure that when the distance is reached, no one could have run less.  Of course, that means in a crowded race, everyone is pretty much guaranteed to run at least a bit longer than this minimum measurement.
  2. ALL certified courses (ALL) include a “short course prevention” cushion, of about 5 feet per 5K or 1/10 of 1% of the distance.  For a marathon, that is about 135 feet, and is evenly distributed throughout the race, not placed at the end or the beginning.
  3. Courses are measured with a calibrated counter on the wheel of a bicycle, called a Jones-Oerth counter.  It is calibrated using a 1000’ steel tape and registers as frequently as once every three inches.

 

In short, anything that measures in a zig zag pattern is going to differ from a method that takes the shortest possible straight line between two points.  GPS devices are great tools that have allowed us to understand our daily running in a very useful quantitative way.   Course certifiers have a specific charter, method, and rigid canon of regulations to follow, their only goal being to provide the most accurate measurement possible under the ground rules.  Although we’d all enjoy if our watches marked exactly 5000 meters when we hit the finish line of a 5K, the fact that it often reads more or less shouldn’t steal any of our joy – either way, you’ll want to come back and improve your time on that course next year!

 

 

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