Stay Inspired and Running this Winter

Source: Rush University Medica Center

Source: Rush University Medical Center

Winter has to be the hardest time to stay committed to a running plan. I mean, there are so many challenges facing the inspired-new-year-goal-oriented person. There are those brutally cold and snowy days: days when all you wish for are PJs all-day long. Then there is the issue of shorter days: less daylight hours means less time to run especially if you’re going solo. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s still the issue of getting all cloak and dagger like and layering up, which is such a bother really. Add to that much more extreme weather and/or a fluctuating weather pattern, which is uncertain at best, and your chances of catching the flu or a virus become highly probable. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.

There isn’t much more one can do but stay focused and committed. Sure there are a lot of hurdles weather-wise and many personal and physical adjustments to consider but this is one instance where the grass is really greener on the other side. During this time, more than anything, a runner needs to embrace his or her strengths and be flexible with the intent of adapting: time, effort, pace etc., to remaining on point for the duration. It can only help that lacing up and getting out is hell on the dreaded winter blues and puts runner’s joy on a whole new level.

As is often said, this too shall pass. Below is a video clip I discovered on YouTube by “Just Another Runner”  that explains why running is my happy place and may help to keep you inspired. Take a look.

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Training Day: long-run Saturdays


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For the past four weeks or so, I’ve been in training mode preparing for the Boston Marathon in April. Seems I’m always in-training these days, though I did have a few weeks off last November. No matter, the important thing is to get it in so as to be up and ready when the big day comes. To this end, I’ve been paying mind to the necessary components of a good training plan, particularly the long run aspect. I should stress that all parts of a plan are important; however the long-run, for me, is of great significance because of two things: the opportunity to develop strength and endurance and, in the latter phase of training, the opportunity it presents to simulate your race day strategy.

Developing strength and endurance happens over time, it involves steadily increasing mileage and alternating workouts to encompass building speed, stamina aka endurance and running efficiency. Any good training plan, for the average runner concerned with running a marathon goal time, will include speedwork: interval training, some hill work, tempo runs and long runs and rest days. The long run builds slowly over weeks (between 16-22 weeks) of training up to two weeks before race day. During this period, the focus is on building endurance through getting the body accustomed to running for longer periods each week, gradually increasing mileage to the point where one can confidently and comfortably complete 20-22 miles. For example, in my training, my long runs may start at around week 8 with 12-13 miles (which is really a bit of a medium-long run) to which I will add-on a couple of miles each week.

From early on, it’s important to plan these days and decide on which works best for you. Turns out Saturdays are ideal for my long runs as I’m mostly off from work and I can choose to either rest longer in the am ( during winter anyhow) and run later in the day or get it in early and have the rest of the day off. Usually, I try to get to bed at a decent hour the night before so I’ll wake up rested and ready to go. Also, I try to eat my carbs and hydrate well leading up to Saturday; this is all to make sure I’m in the best place to accomplish my mileage without killing myself. Most times it works out great, I clear my schedule and leave my day open for running and I’m able to do just that.

As it gets closer to crunch time – by then I will have racked up the necessary mileage and developed the level of endurance I need – I’m able to use my remaining long runs to simulate race day. On these runs, the focus is on running efficiency: pace, hydration and strategy. The idea is to perfect a plan based on the above in as near to similar conditions as race day to help project performance on that day; this will help to build confidence and race preparedness. I’m under no illusion that mastering the long-run will ensure stellar performance on race day. On the contrary, there are no guarantees in running as so much is particular to that run and that day. What your training long-runs do is give you the ability to control what you can and give you the confidence – ammunition if you will –  to go out there on race day and do the best you can.

Life Happens; Incidentally there’s Training, Marathon Fever, Boston Registration and 9/11 Memorial Tributes

blisstree-911

blisstree.com

Last weekend after two weeks of endless pain from having oral surgery done, I ran away to Georgia. I’ve always been able to retreat to the peachy state to re-establish a measure of peace and some semblance of balance in my life. Why run? Well.. figuratively speaking of course, since it was all I could do to get my thoughts together and I was on the verge of freaking the hell out considering my Chicago run coming up early next month. I tell you, not being able to eat and run nor sleep is no fun, but especially sucks when you’re smack dab in the middle of training. So here I am freaking out, wasting away ( losing weight), and I take off to Georgia to primarily attend a wedding and get a run in during my short stay. Sunshine, peace and quiet, friends, big roads and less traffic, wide open spaces, the Savannah River and the blanket of nature provided the necessary salve to my aches and pain. Returning to New York I find myself in Marathon city in the thick of training, Boston registration looming and Sept 11 memorial tributes.

Not surprisingly I came back on the mend after discovering the miracle of wine – I’m of the view it preserved my sanity. Back home, back in running form, and really I just dive in, back to the gym and back to getting Chicago ready. I’m working on bumping up my diet even though my mouth is still tender and eating is such a pain; but a runner has to do what she has got to do. Quite a bit on my agenda in the next couple months, there’s the Chi marathon, registering for Boston 2017 and volunteering at NYC marathon and of course training doesn’t stop as.. hopefully Boston’s up. All this as the weather cools down and we enter the training period I like the least. I will try not to anticipate that at this time.

We’re sweltering a bit these days but I’m not complaining, I’m gonna squeeze as much sunshine as I can out of these last fall days with the hope that it’s not gonna be too bad moving forward. So steamy days aside, where I just hunker down at the gym, it’s good getting back in the game and enjoying the vibes of the city. This is Marathon season and no city does it like New York as New Yorkers prepare for the largest running event of the year. It’s an exciting time to be in the city and to be a part of the New York City Marathon. But before that, I run Chicago and past experience does not lie. It was a phenomenal run and I plan on making that happen again.

While Marathon fever is in the air, New Yorkers are very somber this weekend with remembering the attacks on the World Trade Center and the City of New York 15 years ago. It’s a sad but also strong time for the city that will go down in history as a time when the state of New York rallied together to foster hope, community and support to all those affected that tragic day. We remember and pay tribute to all those who lost their lives then and subsequently in relation to those events. While all this is going down this weekend, I have my long run planned for later, which I always do in remembrance of the victims of 9/11. I’m reminded that I have the opportunity to run, which is more than they will ever have. I am thankful.

Run Faster Still with Better Form

The Olympics games are over. Bummer of course, but life goes on as must we. As promised, taking up where we left off last week, here are some practical tricks/tips, if you will, to speed up your everyday runs and help with better form. As you will see not all of running is hard work, there are various ways we can tweak workouts to make allowances for a bit of fun.

1. Run Hills – whether as part of speed work training or as part of  your long run, at least once a week, hill repeats are bound to make you faster as it develops aerobic capacity, leg strength and running economy.

2. Sprints – weekly sprints can add variety and fun to your workouts while increasing stride power and running economy, even better if you can get on the tracks to do so.

3. Proper Arm Movements – can power your runs and ensure running efficiency. The forward and backward motion of the arms should remain short and to the side while running and should increase in power and momentum with increase in gradient and speed.

4. Core Exercises  – strengthens the core which allow runners to tap into more force and speed out on the road. Core work can also be fun and easy to do as it can be as easy as a crunches in front of the television or a Barre or Pilates class.

5. Good Breathing Technique – allows for better oxygen distribution through the body which ensures you’re able to run at aerobic capacity longer. As such, using the nose and mouth while inhaling and exhaling will get the maximum amount of oxygen to the muscles.

6. Staying Focus by Looking Ahead – staying in the zone by keeping your eyes ahead while running/ racing and giving oneself small goals to reach will keep you pushing the pace and elimate the chance of getting distracted.

7. A Hot Running Playlist: songs that make you sing out loud, shake and get your adrenaline flowing will add a boost to your step and some sparkles in your eyes maybe?

8. Forefront Running – runners who land on the forefront of their feet and not the heel has a faster step turnover which translates into a faster pace.

9. Stretching and Yoga – practicing good stretching techniques before and after runs guards against injuries but practicing specific yoga poses for runners increases flexibility and fluid, limber movement, which boosts speed and  has the added benefit of aiding recovery post workout.

10. Less is Better – when all is said and done running efficiency can be achieved with as little as possible in the way. Do away with all the extra layers and embrace the minimum in terms of running gear to get a faster time or pace.

I’m sure there are lots of other ideas on this topic so please take the time to share whatever has worked for you as we’re all in the business of getting better at our running game. And please, give some of these a go, you’ve got nothing to lose but time off your last run.

 

 

Overtraining: How to Identify it and its Effects

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dignityhealth.org

If you’ve been running for any period of time, chances are you have either succumbed to overtraining or only just been able to head it off. It is posited that more than half of all runners will overdo it at least once in their running career (competitor.com). After much debate and analysis, I believe overtraining was the reason for my underperformance at the Boston Marathon earlier this year. Overtraining or Under Performance Syndrome (UPS), according to Dr Mark Wotherspoon, Sport and exercise Medicine Consultant, develops on a continuum with the initial stages being that of ‘overreaching’ – fatigued but being able to recover and continue training with a few days rest – to developing full blown overtraining, a persistent, unexplained performance deficit, despite two weeks of relative rest – if sufficient rest is not gained. The main difference between the two is the recovery period.

It’s difficult for the average runner to determine at what point they’re in the overtraining zone since it can be confused with basic fatigue from training or overreaching. This unawareness poses more of a threat as a runner is more likely to rest inadequately and train harder if he or she feels as though they are underperforming, which can then propel them over the edge into an overtrained state. Despite this, some coaches agree that there are subtle signs to help you recognize when you’re in danger of falling victim to overtraining.

Continuous Elevated Resting Heart Rate: it is recommended that you check your heart rate every morning before getting out of bed for a period of time to determine its elevated state, an indictator of overtraining.

Decrease in training capacity, performance, and continuous feelings of fatigue and lack of energy.

Moodiness and Depession coupled with feelings of increased anxiety and irritability.

Prone to sickness and infections: many of us know this as having a low resistance, which can be brought on by stress, fatigue and overwork.

Increase incidences of injury: tired, overworked muscles coupled with feelings of stress and fatigue can make the body susceptible to injury, more so recurring ones, which never get the time to heal properly.

Disturbed Sleeping Patterns or Insomnia: overtraining affects the body’s ability to rest well causing you to wake up earlier and or have trouble falling asleep.

Prolonged bodily aches and pains and muscle soreness.

While there are varying  life factors that can give rise to any one of these symptoms, experts argree that if a runner is exhibiting three to four of these symptoms  simultaneously then there’s a very good chance of he or she is suffering the effects of overtraining. The caveat to this is that there really is no help for it aside from giving the body the rest it needs to recover and heal properly. Rest, an adequate diet – with the necessary vitamins, and a lot of sleep is the best prescription. The extent of rest needed will depend on the individual and their body’s recouping ability. For some it might be two weeks, for others four or anywhere up to eight weeks. The important thing is to listen to your body and give it the rests it needs so that you can resume running and training and become a better, faster and more efficient runner.

Sources: competitor.com, runnersconnect.net, mensfitness.com

Aerobic Running

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source: ic.studyhealth.com

I’ve been running for a number of years and have never given much thought to the science of aerobic running and its counterpart anaerobic running. Sure I’ve heard the term, and translated it to mean, that if I can hold a short conversation while running then that’s aerobic and it’ll do. Besides, I’m not much of a fan of running and talking, as I prefer to dial-in to what’s happening in and around me, thus silence please has always been my motto. Thing is, all this time with my limited understanding of the term, its application and ability to improve my running, I may have inadvertently put myself at a disadvantage in the PR department.
As it is, after my last race, I’ve been pretty sensitive and receptive to any information that could help shed some light on my performance that day, hence the topic today. According to runneracademy.com, aerobic running is the state of exercise where your body has enough oxygen for your muscles to produce the energy they need to perform. See I wasn’t too far off; if you’re running and you’re able to maintain a short conversation as when you’re doing an easy run, you’re engaging in aerobic respiration. Science has it, that this state of running is extremely important to runners and will allow your body to become stronger while recovering from harder bouts of exercise (underarmour.com, Health & Technology blog).
The case is made for spending at least 80% of your running in an aerobic state to become a faster runner. Some coaches  even argue that aerobic base training is integral to a successful runner’s training plan. This type of training, championed by Matt Ross USAT, USATF, USAC coach, is a period of reduced volume and intensity, working in the presence of oxygen – slowing it down in order to get faster. Matt argues that it is impossible to train hard year round, without taking regular periods of reduced intensity as this is sure to affect your performance negatively even if you don’t fall suspect to overtraining, injury or just plain burn out. In an article on active.com, Aerobic Base Training: Going Slower, to get Faster, he says,  “the idea behind base training is to train your aerobic energy system specifically and solely. Prolonged aerobic training produces muscular adaptations that improve oxygen transport to the muscles, reduces the rate of lactate formation, improves the rate of lactate removal and increases energy production and utilization. These adaptations occur slowly over time.” From my understanding, this period of base training teaches your body to utilize fat more efficiently as its main source of energy as it is the primary source of fuel for the aerobic energy system as oppose to carbohydrates, which is mainly what drives anaerobic running. As you would have guessed by now, Anaerobic running is the out-of-breath, all-out, over-your-threshhold kind of running, when your body does not have sufficient oxygen and therefore will be unable to sustain the current pace for a long period of time.
A lot has been written about how the body utilizes and expels carbon dioxide and water natrually while we run aerobically and produces lactic acid when we switch to anaerobic respiration. The danger lies where there becomes a build-up of lactic acid and therefore a byproduct of its production – hydrogen – because of a low supply of oxygen in our system. This leads to extreme fatigue and thus the inability to sustain such a state. We can see how that is a problem for a marathoner or long distance runner. Ideally you want to utilize aerobic running for the most part of the marathon, switching to anaerobic running to finish off or finish strong, as we like to say. What that will look like for each runner will differ as we all have different fitness levels. For this reason coaches recommend performance testing to determine accurate individual zones which leads to a better understanding of one’s lactate threshold and thus one’s aerobic fitness level. 
I suspect I’ve only scratched the surface on this important area of running performance and only just begun to grasp its significance in training for the marathon in particular. Even the tevhnical jargon (LTHR, VO2 max, heart rate/ individual zones) isn’t Greek anymore and true to form, I’ve made a concentrated effort to apply its wisdom in training for my next big one coming up in July. I expect there won’t be results as immediate as I would like and maybe not even in July, but I figure to give it a start and in the words of Coach Matt, “the sooner you get started, the faster you’ll be.” I’m hoping anyway.

All the fuss: The Marathon Taper

Source: running magazine.ca

Source: runningmagazine.ca

Yes, I had to go there. While so much have been said about this important component of marathon training, some of us may still be a bit confused with all the information and cross information out there. Tapering is concisely defined as a reduction in training before a big event (runnersworld.com). Well, simple enough right? Except, with runners, it rarely is. There are many differing views on the form, duration and intensity this Taper should take. I, for one, think the concept is important but “tweak-able” as there is no one-size-fits-all in running, only a training method or plan tailored to suit the individual runner.

A comprehensive marathon training plan will include the taper element if only to make sure of its success, as it is nearly impossible to think of the human body undergoing the rigorous training inherent in such a plan and not be given the time to regroup, recalibrate and detrain..for want of a better word. Some pros argue 3 weeks, others say two. Really, it should fall somewhere in-between there but largely be based on your level and intensity of training. Studies and reports across the running spectrum has lauded the benefits of tapering to your marathon performance and goal time, siting improved and sustained race-day performance: increased energy, strength, confidence and endurance as ways in which runners benefit from this training mechanism. Pros and coaches alike also agree that during this period of – cutting back – the body re calibrates itself through muscle repair and recovery, increases muscle glycogen, and boosts muscle power, while the mind de-stresses, which reduces mental fatigue and enhances mental efficiency. It also allows for an important factor, reducing the chances of over training, which  can lead to a less-than-fresh feel heading into the race and even put one at risk for injury leading up to race day.

Experts say the key to a successful taper to ensure maximum efficiency on race day is to find the right balance between three key training elements: duration, mileage and key workouts (competitor.com). For me, that means I’ve cut down my mileage to around 75% this week, next week I’ll bring it down to 50%, while my focus is on running longer intervals at tempo and marathon pace with my speed work dropping to 1 day p/week for 1 hr. I have one medium long run planned this weekend at marathon pace and 1 hr of cross-training at the gym. Next week, leading into the weekend, will see a slight tweak to this plan as I eliminate the medium long run, which will pretty much wrap up my tapering as I head to Boston and Marathon Monday.

I tend to be not much of a rule person and have more-often-than-not found my way by finding what works for me through trial and error. However, in the last couple years, I’ve come to trust the taper method to take me through a race and to the finish line, that is, the few times I’ve not been injured. And so, true to form, I’m in full taper mode and trying my darndest to still the chit chatter of voices in my head that bemoans my current reduced-running state. It’ll be alright I’m sure; listening to your body is key and so is finding the right balance that works for you.

 

 

Carbs and I go Running

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Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates — one of the basic food groups — are important to a healthy diet (livescience.com). They are to runners what crack is to an addict. We crave it..we need it..we can’t run without it – not efficiently anyway. Bad analogy I know but you get the point. While many diet fads are trying their darnest to get folks out there to quit the carbs as a requirement for weight loss, so not true by the way, we pack it on in the name of running; and so what if we actually enjoy it.

Good Carbs                                                                                                                                        Carbs are good, scratch that, carbs are great for you. They are a necessary ingredient to your diet and a main source of energy for runners. In fact, tired, fatigued, listless, unable to complete your running workouts of late? It could well mean your diet is low in this primary fuel source. Numerous studies and information by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics particularly support a diet rich in whole grains and protein for athletes. While I am well aware that we are all in the days of counting calories, it is important to note that the emphasis is on simple carbs with naturally  occurring sugars like those found in dairy, fruit, vegetables, legumes and some whole grains (these provide more of a quick bursts of energy) and your more complex carbs or starchy foods like potatoes, corn and other whole grains. These provide more sustained energy levels needed to carry you through your workouts and runs.

Carbing Up with Power Carbs                                                                                                      Most runners readily agree that carbing up is all part of the marathon training plan and should come into play just around the same time as tapering does – 2 weeks out from the big day.  The truth is carbs are a steady part of my diet throughout the year; all I do different now that race day is fast approaching is be a bit more focused in my selections, which just means eating more carbs as I tone down my running and thus storing up on my energy level, as much as possible, for the marathons. Some of the best carbs, which can be taken pre, post and during workouts to boost up and recover include: bananas, berries, old-fashioned oats, whole wheat pasta, tomato sauce, whole grain bread, energy bars, Gatorade, brown rice and low-fat yogurt (competitor.com).

An Evolving World not so much an Evolving Diet                                                                 The world has evolved from diets  once thought of as either vegan or omnivore as most of us were. Changing times have seen the advance of gluten-free, paleo and other types of diets, most with the aim of getting you to eat healthier, which is a laudable thought if only it is wholesome and sustainable. While each person is different and may respond differently to different foods, a proper and healthy diet consist of carbohydrates. All things in moderation being the watch words. As such, I’m having a guilt-free, carb-enhanced two weeks and have only two words for you,  simply decadent😜.

When it’s OK to Tweak Your Expectations

Running is so symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles. You might feel that you can’t but then you find your inner strength, and realize you’re capable of much more than you thought. -Arthur Blank

If running has taught me anything it is the art of adaptation; art, because surely it’s something that you learn and develop over time with practice. Not everyone can flow with the tide and adjust themselves – their attitude and training – to effect the necessary changes that may be needed at the drop of a hat.

As a runner, this is precisely what you can be called to do even at the height of training. How well I know. Post 13.1 race last weekend, I made the decision to alter my pace and strategy for the Boston Marathon in about four weeks. I’ve convinced myself that it’s for my good; to ensure that I have a good race and finish strong. To this end, I’m looking at a 3:45:00 finish and will pace myself accordingly. Taking the course into consideration, it appears mainly downhill and flat and should require a steady medium pace until the hills roll in; this is where real effort and training will come into play.

More than anything, I aim to be careful of the mind game that plays out amidst the fervor of supporting crowds and other runners; the penchant I have for increasing speed when I feel strong and I’m surrounded by like-minded runners. This will present a very real challenge for a competitive runner as myself, as I will have to be careful to stick to a predetermined plan with the option to speed things up only in the final leg of the race. But we’re talking adaptability here and I’m holding myself to a high standard with nothing more or less than a personal desire for success as my motivation to follow through.

It never fails to move me how resilient and strong we can be. How often do we doubt ourselves and out abilities – we being our own worst critics – yet when placed in circumstances that require more than we seemingly have, we, more often than not, exceed our own expectations. I envision a time when belief in ourselves will propel even the believed weakest amongst us to soar to unimaginable heights; when the races we run will be those that we’ve only dreamed about. Truly, we are stronger than we think.

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Source: sandiegonewsroom.com

Why a Tune-Up Race Is Important

irish

Four weeks out and I figure now is as good a time as any to gauge how I’m holding up in a half marathon – my practice run – and hopefully I get the pot of gold aka a PR.

While there are many reasons for running a tune-up race when training for a marathon, chief among them is the opportunity to ascertain one’s state of preparedness for the big event. This can be done by running a simulation race of sorts to mirror the actual goal race or as close to it as possible given the difference in distance and course. The idea is to practice pacing, breathing and fueling so as to work out any kinks that may arise. I have already decided I may have to adjust my marathon goal pace with the discovery of my recent condition; however, I’ll wait and see how this run goes before making a decision.

Hence my dress-rehearsal tomorrow at the St. Pat’s Rockaway Half Marathon. Thirteen miles along the broadwalk with the ocean stretching into infinity might turn out to be just what I need heading into Boston – at least I’m hoping. While there are no shortage of races to choose from around this time in these parts, I chose an unknown course and a relatively minor half in order to have a quiet and focused run. I will have a slight strain going in, even so, I’m hoping for a PR to satisfy my training thus far and build my confidence as I head into a final week of full-out running before slowing it down in the two weeks before the marathon. With that in mind, I’m testing out my racing strategy of starting out with a moderate pace and slowly building to a fast finish.

That being said, we all know things rarely work out as planned and there’s still the uncertainty of the weather to contend with; be that as it may, I plan on only concerning myself with the things within my control. Even though God’s got those as well, He especially holds the unknown in His more-than-capable hands. Wish me the luck o’ the irish or even better.. I’ll take your prayers.

            🍀💚😜💚🍀

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