Fostering Healthy Habits for Running and Life

The current political and social climate being what it is has led to more and more individuals preoccupied with family life, health, and personal achievement to the point that there seems to be very little room left for much else. Add to that the complexities involved in varying lifestyle choices and these days the average person is just concerned with trying to balance their hectic agenda with minimum intrusions and affect to their standard routine. Many people like the “idea” of fit and healthy and will often do the minimal amount to maintain somewhat of a proper diet and exercise to warrant no ER visits without many realizing that fit and healthy is so much more than food and the odd exercise session. It is a conscious decision to live in harmony with nature while maximizing the gifts (physically, spiritually, and opportunities) we have been blessed with. Things can seem even more exhausting for a runner and fit fanatic like myself, for whom constant diet and exercise is par for the course as healthy living is a prevailing occupation.

The challenge to juggle a regular daily schedule topped off with training, which is often the case for a runner, means that some area of life almost always ends up being neglected. Over the years, I’ve learnt by trial and error that finding the right balance often means the ability to compromise and sacrifice the things we want for what we need. Of course I’m a work-in-progress and learning new things everyday, but in the event you’re open and constantly striving for healthy perfection, as I am, here are a few things I’ve learnt over my running years:

  • Goals are as necessary as breathing. They provide a basis or template to guide your actions and hold you accountable, ensuring that you’re not here, on this earth, just taking up space. List them, update them, revise them and accomplish them.
  • Recognize each day as an opportunity to gain headway in your pursuit of what sets your soul on fire. First things first. Wake up with intent, put your plans before God and allow Him the space during the day to help you carry them out.
  • Determine to love yourself and treat you with the love and care you deserve or no one else will. This means making a studied effort to eat foods that contribute to your physical health and overall well-being. Particularly, snack healthy.
  • Rest well. Getting between 6-8 hours sleep at night allows you to be rested and ready to face the day. A quick power nap during the day, for those who can’t quite make the necessary 6-8 hours, works wonders to help you finish the day strong.
  • Exercise daily. A quick run or slow jog or any other type or combination of exercise (at least 30 minutes) that strays from your routine and increases your heart rate, gets your adrenaline pumping and engages your core muscles encourages good health, engages you productively, helps you sleep better, and leaves you feeling positive and empowered.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things, which has the power to draw you out of your comfort zone, shake up a boring routine, and cause you to engage and develop new skills and abilities. In fact, challenge yourself ever so often to explore your limits and boundaries in the areas of sport, exercise and adventure. This will add variety and fun to your running and/or journey and keeps life interesting.
  • Contribute to and/ or invest in what you are passionate about. Whatever form it takes, make it meaningful and beneficial to those less fortunate. There are few things more important that letting others know they matter and nothing more rewarding than being a blessing wherever you can.
  • Enjoy running or what you do. While it may be hard and challenging a lot of times, remember nothing worth having ever comes easy. Stay committed by constantly giving yourself pep talks; becoming a member of the community (eg., join a running club or group) who will provide encouragement, support and accountability; educate yourself on the sport; and sign up for some short races and fun runs. It’s like getting indoctrinated into a lifestyle and will change your life.
  • It is often said to surround yourself with yay sayers and it’s true. Giving yourself the best support network there is can help you to realize your true potential. This can take the form of people in your circle, activities, and things; for example, running gear, sneakers and running- related paraphernalia take up a huge junk of my closet space and can be seen throughout my apartment. It speaks for what I’m about and keeps me focused on what matters to me.
  • See failure, and it will come, as an opportunity to try again only with a better idea or a better plan. Don’t allow it to define who you are or what you do. Ask yourself what was the lesson learnt and go out there next time and crush it.
  • Finally, it is often said we are our worst critic; while it is necessary to hold yourself to a high standard, don’t be afraid to recognise and reward yourself when you’ve earned it. Yes there will be, try as you might not to, those berating sessions and self-recriminations but also be the one first one to clap yourself on the back, give yourself a high five, or a hug, and take the credit when it’s due. Reward yourself for your achievements and for a job well done. Be your number one fan (but don’t go crazy). Stay humble and real and above all else, like Shakespeare says, “to thine own self be true.”

In closing, I’d love to tell you that all this is easy and will just get itself done if you say it often enough but the truth, and most of us know this, is that nothing gets done without application, commitment and an overall can do attitude powered by gratitude for who you are, what you have ( ie., your abilities) and the opportunity you have to make a difference in your little corner of the map. An attitude of gratitude will go a long way in cultivating an environment of growth, success and personal excellence.

How to make Running Fun

 Dreamstime.com

Dreamstime.com

For many people running is categorized as hard and can hardly be described as enjoyable. For them, it’s complexing that others can embrace a sport that literally takes your breath away and sometimes quite painfully so. I posit, that it is precisely this that captures runners’ imagination. It challenges them to take a seemingly solo gig with little excitement and make it something fun, something happy, and something that’s even anticipated.

The age of technology and social media have made it so easy to rally around just about anything: to garner support, incite action and encourage others to join you in living adventurously. Running is a no brainer really – aside from its health and many other benefits – it has tremendous potential to change your typical everyday routine and bring out your fun side. Of course it all depends on what your goals are. And, even if you have serious goals like losing weight or running a marathon, there is still fun to be had. Indeed, fun must be had or else it’ll be a long and lonely road quite literally.

Lucky you, I have it all figured out (wink) – not really. Here are a few ideas I’ve picked up along my running way; thought I’d share with you. If you’re just starting out:
  • Find a running buddy or group; the leader usually has the scoop on how to encourage, challenge and support your goals while mixing some fun in there
  • Make goals; small, measurable ones. It feels super when you get to check them off
  • Keep it regular and add variety; different courses and different workouts encourage consistency and provide enjoyment
  • Sign up for a fun race; obstacle, mud or color run. It’s something to work towards and look forward to
  • Embrace the challenge and the difference running brings to you physically and to your life in general; new community, new friends, good health, new habits and even new goals
  • Show up with the right attitude; sleep well and plan accordingly, this will allow you to be ready and excited to get out and have fun

If you’re a running veteran beware; it’s easier to fall into a routine and a rut if you’ve been at it for some time. In this case, it behooves you to take stock periodically to make sure the correct attitude, level of enthusiasm and challenge still inspire your runs. If it’s not, it maybe that you need to shake things up a bit and so a sit down with your group leader/ coach may be necessary to help figure things out. On the other hand, even super heroes need to rest sometimes, and so it could be time for a break, to give yourself time to shift gears and refocus.

With all that said, it really won’t amount to anything if you’re not open-minded and armed with the right attitude. I’m of the view that attitude amounts to at least 50% when getting a job done. For running fun, you need at least 75%. I think that’s totally doable. Don’t you?

Tips to a PR in the TCS New York City Marathon

Chief Petty Officer Noah Bray from Coast Guard Sector New York crosses the finish line at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon, Nov. 2, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons.)

Chief Petty Officer Noah Bray from Coast Guard Sector New York crosses the finish line at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon, Nov. 2, 2014. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons.)

It’s nine days to Marathon Sunday here in New York City. For a lot of runners that means nine days of excitement, anticipation and tapering. For many others it may mean nine days of trepidation, anxiety and stress. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the emotional spectrum, your feelings couldn’t be more valid as it relates to this marathon. Trumped as perhaps the best and one of the more challenging marathons out there, the hype is real and you will need all of your wits and will to master this course and wring a PR out of it.

The competitive runner understands that each race is different and that despite a well-executed training plan one has to be ready and willing to look at all avenues and consider all possibilities if the aim is finishing within a goal time.  As it is, the TCS New York City Marathon boasts a field size of 50,000 runners, the largest in the world, who are geared up to run the race of a lifetime hoping for the experience of a lifetime. It will be their special time on the running world stage where everyone gets a moment to shine – a shot at glory – if you will.

As a two-time New York City (NYC) and all-round ten-time marathoner I have found this to be a tough and challenging course if you’re running for a goal time. If you’re simply wanting to finish, then you can easily do that, the crowds will get you there. However, if you’re looking for a personal best, a PR or sub 3:30, whether you’re a newbie or a repeat marathoner, you may want to bear these pointers in mind:

  • November’s weather can be very unpredictable. In the days leading up to the race pay careful attention to weather advisories and prepare your body by eating well – carbing up, hydrating well and resting well. This is standard pre-race procedure and will serve you well on race day in being alert, focused and feeling energised.
  • Use a foam roller or the stick the night before race day to get out any kinks or muscle tightness. Roll out leg and thigh muscles especially, it leaves you limber and loose and ready to run.
  • Dress appropriately. Use layers that can be efficiently discarded on course since it’s very likely that the start will be cold. I like to run at least the first three miles with a heated sheet so my body temperature slowly builds to comfortable race temps, then I discard it.
  • First time marathoners or first time NYC marathoners should be wary of the start. If you’re in the early corrals, the start can be really packed and chances are you’ll be running toe-to-toe with other runners for a few miles, be prepared to adjust or slow your pace to accommodate this.
  • Engaging in dodging and weaving in the early segments of the race utilizes a lot of energy and can cost you later on. It is better to follow the crowd while awaiting the opportunity to increase your pace.
  • It is also very easy to get caught up in the crowds and excitement in the beginning, be wary of going out too fast too soon; pace yourself and stick to it until you’re at least half-way there.
  • Ideally, you want to go for a negative split and up the ante at the halfway point, just be careful to increase gradually.
  • To stay properly hydrated and energized, I would suggest a grab and go strategy at each fuel station indulging in a brief sip before discarding.
  • Alternate between water and Gatorade if available.
  • Add energy gels every four miles after mile 8 (miles 12, 16, 20, 24).
  • Try not to stop at the fuel stations and stick to the outside of the pack in order to get to the middle or end of the tables to grab your fuel so you don’t get caught up in the rush at the onset of the stations.
  • Drink just enough fuel. This a good strategy that will save you time, energy and discomfort as you want to minimize or eliminate any bathroom breaks or any stop as this will impede your goal time.
  • Appreciate the crowds and volunteers who are there to make your race experience an amazing one. Buy into the cheers and raves and encourage them with a smile, a wave, a clap and/or a thank you; it adds to your momentum especially in the latter part of the race when you’ll be needing all the encouragement you can get.
  • At this point it will be helpful if you have a number, name, country, or cause on display that the crowds can tie you to. They will use it to call you out and cheer you on and you’ll appreciate that.
  • Look out for the Queensborough bridge ( you cross five bridges in the NYC Marathon), it’ll be around mile 16, at this point you’ll be on the threshold of tiredness and pushing real hard. If you can keep the momentum going up this seeming mountain then you’ll be rewarded on the other side with the rising crescendo of voices, all cheering for you. What a thrill! You’re treated to the screams and cheers of what feels and may very well be a million spectators, from all over the world, as you enter 2nd Ave in Manhattan. This is the reason you run, there’s no greater feeling for a runner than right there and then. Remember that and own it.
  • Running down Fifth Ave from the Upper East Side in Manhattan may feel like the toughest part of the race for some, it appears to go on forever ( for about four miles) lean into it, use the energy of the crowds to push you and provide momentum heading into Central Park at 72nd Street.
  • Now is the time for what I call the fishing strategy: keep your eyes on the runner just ahead of you and slowly aim to pass him or her ( as if to reel them in). This will do two things: give you an immediate goal , which feeds your competitive spirit, and take your attention off yourself and whatever discomfort you may be experiencing.
  • Use the downhill in the park, lean into it and glide. On the other hand, power through the inclines feeding off the crowds and knowing that you’re almost there – less than a mile and a half away at this point.

Finally, getting out of the park and onto 59th Street/ Central Park South, it’ll be your quarter mile final stretch before heading into the park once again at Columbus Circle. You’ll hear the roar of the crowds, see the flags lining the roadway to the finish line area as you get into your final turn, the voice of the announcer and spectators will be urging you on; enjoy it, smile for the camera, finish strong. You did it.

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.

 

 

Team: Run Faster

Usain Bolt, 3x Olympic champion 100m, 200m

Usain Bolt, 3x Olympic champion 100m & 200m

Which runner do you know that doesn’t want to run faster? Who wouldn’t want to do a better time or run a faster PR? No one I know. Rarely will you find a runner who is contented with just being average; and if you think you have, then I’d go so far as to say, they’re visitors ( for want of a better word) and not really runners at all. Runners are a mostly competitive lot. Whether we’re competing in races or among each other or even with ourselves, the goal is always to improve. While improvement can vary to include better form, more endurance and/or strength, it ultimately translates to becoming more pace efficient or a faster runner.

One can never be too run savvy, not unless you’re an élite or pro and even then, I’m sure they keep up with relevant and new information as it pertains to the sport. They must in order to stay on top of their game and so too should we. As such, here are a few pointers I have found that ishelps with increasing speed and can make you a faster runner:
  • Speed work: tempo runs, hill repeats, interval and fartlek training increases your anaerobic capacity. It’s important to keep these speed workouts short and focused to avoid over-training.
  • Racing: 5ks and 10ks are good for cultivating a competitive spirit and encourages you to put your best foot forward each time through establishing PRs and pitting yourself against others.
  • Rest and Recovery: Just as important as training is resting. The body needs time to recover and heal itself after racing and training hard (reducing inflammation and joint pain and speed up healing times when you’re injured), it’s why any good training plan includes rest days. Sleep is also very important for this reason as well as to improve performance.
  • Cross-training: builds strength, develops complimentary muscles and fosters all-round better performance ( breathing, flexibility, endurance) which translates into increased speed.
  • Protein and Muscle Recovery Supplements: provide a faster turn around and an added energy booster pre and post workout.

In essence, there really is no magic to faster running. While there is such a thing as a natural fast runner, he or she still has to work to harness that ability. For the rest of us, we simply have to work harder. Practice really is everything. As is the case with anything, so it is with running; the more you do it, the better you become. Next week I’ll touch on some approaches to proper running form that can also help improve your pace; but for now, let’s stick to the standard methods above that has worked for me and many other successful runners.

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