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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.

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.

 

 

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!

 

 

compression_socksSurvey the start line at any road race these days and more and more knee socks are popping up.  Compression socks are one of the most popular new accessories for distance runners of all speeds.  Look more closely, and compression clothing of all kinds are now found on athletes of all ages and abilities.  Are they for you?

 

For decades, compression socks have been recommended by doctors to help with circulatory problems, including varicose veins, diabetes, and deep vein thrombosis / blood clots.  The increased elastic strength of compression socks, particularly around the ankle, acts like a pump of sorts, elevating the amount of pressure on veins and therefore decreasing their diameter and increasing the blood flow velocity.

 

While these benefits were previously sought by individuals who were forced to sit or stay put for long periods of time, non-active individuals with these circulatory concerns, and even post-op / bed-ridden patients in needs of some assistance with blood flow during recuperation, over the past several years, compression socks have become popular among runners who seek these benefits as performance aids.

 

Belinda Byrne of Melbourne, Australia, along with many colleagues in various studies conducted over the past fifteen years, has provided much cited research supporting the conclusion that compression socks aid in preventing deep vein thrombosis (a worry for those runners who travel home via long airplane rides soon after marathons).  Byrne has more recent work that also suggests compression socks aid in recovery by helping muscles clear more blood lactate faster, and that socks worn below the knee are also effective, compared to the previous model of medically prescribed compression socks that extended up through the thigh.

 

These recovery benefits appear to be generally accepted and are backed up with other research finding self-reported post-run/ race soreness decreases with the socks.  However, those looking for a mid-race performance boost from compression socks find a more limited field of supporting evidence.   A few studies suggest an increase in anaerobic threshold of a couple percentage points (Scanlon, et al. 2008; Kemmler, et al 2009), but many more studies found a lack of distinct or statistically significant performance advantage by wearing the socks.

 

Like many other distance running accoutrements, the usefulness of compression socks is defined by a combination of personal preference and experience, coupled with scientific evidence.   In this particular case, compression socks can cost as much as $60, so their use might require a bit of an additional investment as well - a financial commitment to be balanced with the enjoyment found in running and the importance of that experience going well.  The field of compression garments and their use by endurance athletes is a continually growing business, where new information (much with direct commercial motivation) continues to evolve.

 

If you struggle with delayed onset muscle soreness after long races, or wish to assist your legs in their efforts to recover quickly and train hard again, compression socks are a worthwhile tool with which to consider and experiment – how you feel they help you is often the most important variable.  However, it is also worth remembering that the most crucial aspect of your race plan is the training you put in, and compression socks won’t take the place of that.  Stay focused on good habits, and hard work, and perhaps compression socks will provide the opportunity to recover in time to go for it more often.

 

 

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Everything on your runcoach schedule has a purpose, and the long run is no different.  In many half marathon and marathon training cycles, the long run seems like the tent pole of each week, the looming square on the calendar, by which the week is assessed as successful or otherwise.  When asked about how our goal race training is going, we as runners often respond with data on our long run progression.  Those numbers play a huge part in how prepared we feel for the big day, but what other purposes does the long run serve?

 

Increased Capillarization

Long runs increase mitochondrial production and the distribution of capillaries (small blood vessels) in your muscles.  Mitochondria take nutrients and convert them into fuel that can be used by each cell.  Increased capillarization means a growth in the surface area of a muscle assisted by the network of small blood vessels.  We all know what it feels like to wish we had more energy and oxygen delivered to our leg muscles.  Long runs help achieve that exact aim.

 

Efficient Storage and Burning of Energy

Long runs typically are done at a non-hurried, aerobic pace of approximately 65-80% of your maximum heart rate (note that your pace chart might list “easy” and “long” as the same pace).   Running for long periods of time at that effort level and approximate heart rate can both teach your body to store more energy (glycogen) because of depletion caused by previous long runs, and burn more fat as a percentage of energy used than shorter, harder runs.

 

Race Simulation

Long runs teach your body to prepare physiologically for the stresses it will undergo on the big day, but they also are an opportunity for increasingly realistic dress rehearsals for things like mid-run fueling (Which drinks or gels work with your stomach?), and race day clothing (Will these shorts chafe?).  Other than successfully receiving a chip time, there should be very few things you do on race day that you have not yet practiced on a long run along the way.

 

Mental Prep

When your longest lifetime run is 6 miles, beginning a marathon training cycle can seem daunting to say the least.  However, as the distances increase, so will the number of times you have tried something new, endeavored to complete a run longer than you ever have before, and have had to employ belief in the face of an undetermined result.  A race the length of a half or full marathon is guaranteed to include some high points and low points.  Long runs help equip you to weather these ups and downs on race day with the confidence of an experienced athlete even if your marathon bib is your first.

 

Undoubtedly, long runs are a crucial piece of the machinery in your preparation for your goal race.  While preparing your body to handle the physical rigors of race day, they also build confidence and help your mind develop strategies for convincing you to get to the finish line on time.  While the race is the goal, long runs are a fantastic way to measure our growth as runners along the journey, and remind us of the many joys and lessons running can provide on any given day.

 

 

 

tired_runnerYour legs suddenly feel dead, your breathing is labored, the weather seems too hot, too cold, too windy to possibly make the whole distance at the planned pace.  Now here comes a side stitch, and your knee suddenly feels weird when it never has before.  When the watch is consulted, the pace is the regular pace, a pace you know is well within what training has predicted.  Unfortunately, it is still just a few miles in to a long race.

 

Welcome to the rough patch.

 

A “rough” patch or a “bad” patch – whatever word is more familiar – is a common occurrence during a long workout, run, or race.  Sometimes, for various reasons, things just don’t seem to be going as easily as they should, even when justified, late race fatigue is clearly not the reason.  While experienced racers can lean on previous races where they have been able to emerge from tough stretches to have a good day by the end, the rough patch feeling can be scary for a first timer.

 

The first thing to know is that these periods can and will occur, sometimes for a mile or two, sometimes for even 5K.  The second thing to know is that a calm demeanor and confidence in your training will carry you even as you don’t feel as fresh as you wanted.  Afterwards, you’ll realize that 10-20 minutes later, you began to feel like your recognizable self again. Next time out, you will feel better about the eventual passing of these rough patches.

 

While you are “keeping calm and carrying on,” here are a few tips for actions you can take to weather the patch.

 

Reset your posture

If you feel like you are slumping, your core is mushy, and your posture is dropping, raise your hands above your head straight up for a moment, stretching the spine and engaging your core and upper body into a taller position.  Drop your hands back into your normal arm swing, and enjoy a more efficient and taller body posture, and hopefully a few minutes of easier running.

 

Focus on slowing your breathing pattern

Deep breaths from your diaphragm make a much bigger impact on the distribution of oxygen to your muscles than shallow panting.  To calm yourself, and distract from the temporary rough patch, focus on slowing your breathing pattern into a 2 or 3 beat slow and deep inhale (in-in-in-out-out-out) rather than a quick in and out pattern.

 

Focus 10-15 meters ahead of you

When the race suddenly seems way too long for how you currently feel, avoid focus on an intimidating horizon ahead or a mile marker you can barely make out in the distance.  Keep your head neutral (chin is level, neck extending naturally from the shoulders) and focus on the road going by 10-15 meters in front of you.  Before you know it, you’ll be arriving nearer to the next mile marker, where a quick glance won’t seem as defeating.

 

Consume some calories

Sometimes, a rough patch might occur due to a drop in energy or dwindling hydration.  If this is the case and things are going south quickly, it may be tougher to regain your normal energy level in a timely enough fashion to fix things (it may be more than just a rough patch).  However, sometimes a gel packet or a cup of electrolyte fluid can cause significant improvement in how you feel.  Obviously, the best bet is to consume enough on schedule so that type of rough patch can be avoided. If you have missed the mark in your race day nutrition execution, don’t discount the chance to right the ship at least partly.

 

Force yourself to think logically

If you did your longest runs in training at a pace faster than what now feels way too fast at mile 5 of a marathon, remind yourself of how your body is physically prepared to handle the stress of the current pace, regardless of how you currently feel.  You have empirical evidence on your side.  Don't let some nerves, some spotty race day nutrition, some lethargy from tapering, or another reason have you questioning your capabilities.  Remind yourself repeatedly how well you have done in training to lead to this point and how your body has come through before and will again.  By the time you win the argument, you might already be feeling a bit better.

 

Go for the small wins

If you are going through a tough stretch 3-4 miles into a half marathon or 8 miles into a marathon, thinking about the remaining miles can be daunting.  Consciously focus on a nearer term goals to help you build mental momentum.  If you are at 8 miles, focus on getting to 10, at which point you can focus on staying in it mentally until the half, at which point you can remind yourself you are over halfway home.  If you are at a race with a turnaround, commit to arriving at the turnaround before reevaluating whether or not you can continue at your current or planned pace. Many times if you refrain from evaluating your situation (currently a bummer) right then, you will find yourself in a more hopeful spot in a while, after which your desire to finish strong will help carry you toward the banner.

Merriam-Webster defines fitness as a noun with the following two meanings:

 

  1. The condition of being physically fit and healthy
  2. The quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task

 

Although running can (and we hope it is) a long-term, healthy lifestyle activity with no end in sight, it also encourages the occasional evaluative exercise – periodic tests  where runners can challenge themselves against their expectations for either or both definitions.

 

Occasionally, the average runner will succeed in both, and if you train with runcoach, we want to make sure that success is more than occasional.  Sometimes, we as runners succeed in the first by measurements taken in the doctor’s office, while being held back from succeeding in the second due to forces beyond our control, like weather, hills, or water stations that run out.  Likewise, we can be capable of a certain task or distance, but perhaps not the one we need (fast, but no endurance, lots of endurance, but no speed), or with the health required to actually complete the job on the day (blister, turned ankle, flu).

 

We value being physically fit and our health as important running goals, because they allow for a more vibrant, full, and long live, and provide a broader platform from which to choose our pursuits; race goals included.  Fulfilling purpose in a race allows us to apply the first definition to a specific aim, guided perhaps by workouts geared exactly toward the type of preparation needed. This is where we come in.

 

Runners often approach a fitness goal with both aims in mind.  Unfortunately, these dual goals can be knocked off track by tangential aims which are temptingly close to these core definitions, but which often can draw us away from the mark.  Weight loss can be good for overall fitness if indicated by a medical professional, but is definitely not always synonym for the achievement of fitness.  Likewise, The ability to accomplish a task is not the same as being properly prepared to do it safely.  How many of us have heard of or know people who have completed marathons off of woefully inadequate training.  They have made it, but the next day, we don’t envy their body’s task as it recovers.

 

The good thing about both definition of fitness is that the evaluation of whether or not we have met the mark is completely subjective.  Sure, there are generally understood measures of health, but only we know what aspects of overall body fitness are the knobs we need to twist first and most often.  Similarly, the “task” we are trying to be suited for is completely open for our own interpretation and therefore the accomplishment can be legitimate even if celebrated by us alone.

 

While according to Merriam-Webster, either of these definition are labeled “fitness”, ideally, the goals you choose will incorporate a consideration of both.   If you are able to marry your best interest in the sustainable long-term with a nearer term concrete goal or task, you’ll walk away with not only just fitness, but fitness to spare.

 

 

Marily Oppezzo has her Masters in Nutritional Science, is a Registered Dietitian, and is a PhD candidate at Stanford University. She has years of clinical and research experience, has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in nutrition and sports nutrition, and is committed to sharing accurate health information to the public. She is also a personal trainer and group aerobics instructor.

 In this edition of Ask the Practitioner, we ask Oppezzo a few questions commonly encountered among recreational runners of all levels.

1.  What is carbo-loading?  Also, if I am running a 5K or 10K, is this something I need to be doing the same way as I might for a marathon?

 

Carbo-loading is when runners increase carbohydrate consumption for 1-2 weeks prior to race day in order to “load” or expand glycogen storage in the interest of prolonging fatigue during the marathon. The studies that have found carbo-loading benefits have shown it at levels of 7 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight, sometimes even higher. One recent study showed that those runners who consumed 7 g of carbs per kg body weight the day before the marathon ran on average 6.3% faster than those who didn’t carbo-load (Atkinson et al., 2011). Exciting! But be sure if you are doing this to avoid too many high-fiber, whole grain sources of the carbs, especially the day before the race.  While research has shown men to benefit from carbo-loading by simply shifting their calories from fat and protein towards carbohydrate-rich food, women only increase their glycogen stores if they also increase their energy intake (one study specifically had them eat about 33% more calories than weight-maintenance levels).

 

Carbo-loading won’t help you for races less than two hours, so no need to bagel-up on a 5 or 10k.

 

 

2.  If I'm trying to train for a half marathon or marathon distance partly as a effort to lose some weight, what is some advice you can give about how to do this safely even as I am ramping up my training?

 

Good for you! Training for a long distance race is a great way to lose weight, but you’re wise to check on how to safely do this. To lose one pound, you generally have to burn about 3500 calories (ish) more than you eat. Start off by going to a site such as http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/calorie-calculator/NU00598 to get a rough estimate of your caloric needs based on your sex, weight, height, and current activity levels. Then, shave off about 15% of that to achieve a deficit to help you drop the weight. While many weight-loss diets recommend a cut of 500-750 calories to achieve a 1-2 pound weight loss each week, it will be difficult to sustain your training levels for anything more than a 500 calorie deficit.

 

To optimize training recovery and performance, you should consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes after your running workouts. You should still follow these guidelines, but because you are trying to lose weight, you will have to plan ahead to shave the calories from other meals or places in your day. The specific recommendations for carbohydrate replenishment are .7 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight within 30 minutes.  If your run was extra intense or exceeded 90 minutes, continue this carb rule every 2 hours for 4-6 hours post-workout.  For protein, to help with muscle repair, have 20-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes post-run.

 

My recommendation?  The best post-workout drink appears to be chocolate milk, as it has the optimal ratio of carbs to protein, and is quite portable (and yummy to boot!)

 

You should weigh yourself weekly, and aim for a slow progression of the weight loss: 1-1.5 pounds per week. If you stay on top of this, you can tweak your caloric deficits accordingly on a weekly basis, especially as your mileage increases. Rapid weight loss will take away too much of your needed, and metabolically active, muscle tissue, as well as hurt your training. So…patience is key.

 

PS- Weight loss will get harder as you become more fit (what an awful truth that is!) So, as training goes on, you will want to switch up your workouts by incorporating intervals into your routines, where you periodically increase your heart rate to a high level with recovery breaks in between bursts. Research has shown that interval training can elevate your “post-run” metabolic burn more than a steady state aerobic workout. It’s a fun way to spice up your training as well as help overcome any plateaus in your weight-loss progress.

 

3. I used to get up and run right away on an empty stomach.  Why is this not a good idea, and what are a couple tips for improving this aspect of my training?

 

If you are highly trained, you could probably get away with it. But it’s best to have something in your stomach to break the 8-hour plus fast you had during the night.  When you wake up, your liver glycogen is almost “half empty” because of the fuel you used to keep yourself alive throughout the night.  Before you run you should try at least to get 100-200 quick energy calories, something easily digestible such as fruit juice, dried fruit, or even some yogurt.  Keep it right by your bedside even so you can munch or sip while you put on your running shoes.

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