Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rest is not a 4-letter word!

If you look around the blogosphere these days, you'll see that there are plenty of people out there on the D.L. Heck, I'm trying to stay off of it myself right now. One thing that can help all of us is to step back and rest when we need it.

I know it's a hard thing to do; no one wants to miss training. But sometimes, when we're run down, or when we're aching, it's the right thing to do. A couple of days off in these cases is usually worth it's weight in gold.

Rest is important even when you're not feeling tired or sore, too. Unless you're an elite, you need to schedule in at least one rest day per week. When you work your body hard, that's great. But if you want all the benefits of that hard work, let it rest for a day and catch up. Skipping rest can lead to a downward spiral of overtraining, injury and burnout. Don't go down that road.

I'll leave you with one final thought--a couple of times in the past when I've been injured, I could look back at when that injury first started bothering me. I said to myself, "I wish I'd just taken a couple of days off." Had I done just that, what turned out to be long-term injuries might have only amounted to a few days off. Learn from my mistakes!

Monday, November 15, 2010

On race day--DON'T overdress!

Coming off this weekend's marathon, I was reminded once again of how many people overdress for their marathons. People--just say no!

The general rule for running is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer than it is. If it is sunny, then take it down even more. I know it can be cold at the start of a race, but that's where throwaway clothes come in. Don't give into the temptation to overdo your clothing--you'll only pay for it later.

An example--at my marathon on Saturday, the start was only in the upper 30s, but it was sunny, not a cloud in the sky. I dressed in shorts, a singlet, and added a long-sleeved throwaway shirt on top. Standing at the start in the sun, it became apparent that I wasn't going to need that shirt even for one mile, so I tossed it before the gun went off. I did, however, keep my gloves on. This was perfect. By about mile 6 or so, I had taken off the gloves. By the final miles, I was a bit warm. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I had more on.

As the miles passed by, I saw runner after runner overdressed, some in full tights and long-sleeved shirts. And you know what? Those were the people who faded. You see, when you overdress, you sweat--a ton! And that sweat contains valuable electrolytes that your muscles need. Don't throw your race by overdoing the clothing.

Remember--if you're not cold when you start and for the first 10 minutes or so, you've got too much on. Practice it until you get it right. Your legs will thank you!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mastering Master's

As I've pointed out before, I'm a master's runner. For me, and most people over 40, that means that running today is a bit different than it was 10 years ago. Not different bad, but different in the sense that I've had to make a few changes to how I train.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the tips I've learned and recommend for staying healthy, and speedy, after 40:

* Recover after races and hard efforts--It used to be that I could race a 1/2 Ironman on a Sunday and be back on the track doing speedwork two days later. No longer! I find that recovery takes longer these days so I always reward my race efforts with an easy week. I also make sure I am feeling fresh before adding in a second day of speed; often I stick to just one speed session/week. I don't find this hurts my times any, but it goes a long way towards keeping me healthy.
* Strength train--Once you're in your 30s, you begin to lose muscle mass. If you don't do adequate strength training, that loss can add up to injury from muscle imbalances.
* Stretch--Just like muscle strength, flexibility takes a dive as you age. Take the time to stretch after each run. Bonus points for yoga or pilates.
* Cross-train--I love to swim and I find that getting in the pool even once or twice a week helps my body work out the kinks from running. A short spin on the bike can help as well. It's all about keeping those non-running muscles engaged to help support your running muscles.
* Eat a healthy diet--It's important no matter what your age, but as you get older, getting those nutrients, carbs and protein into your system at the right time and in the right quantity count more than ever.
* Rest--Time off your feet, preferably asleep, helps your muscles repair damage.
* Get a massage when needed--If you have the time and money, do it regularly. If not, get one when you feel your body breaking down or after a long/hard race.

I hope these ideas help. Feel free to add any others--I'm always in the hunt for ways to keep my body healthy and feeling like it did 10 years ago!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fight the post-race blues

Quite often, when we train for a big event, we spend months concentrating on it. We sacrifice for it, obsess over it, and then, the big day comes. No matter how it turns out, there's sure to be a letdown afterwards. Here's how to get beyond it:
  • If you just completed your big event, no doubt you put some things aside while training. Maybe you skipped a girls night out; maybe your closets and drawers could use some attention; or perhaps there are some volunteer opportunities in which you've wanted to partake. Whatever the case may be, now is a great time to refocus your energy on the things you've neglected.
  • Look for some crosstraining opportunities. Do you like to ride you bike? Swim? Or maybe try something new like rock climbing. Now is the perfect time to switch it up and give your tired running muscles a break.
  • Look at the race calendar for next year. Pick out a few events and start thinking (not training) about them. This will help you get excited about your running and avoid the letdown the often follows big events.
  • Rest! Your body needs it. The easiest time to get injured is when jumping right back into hard training after a big event. Even if you feel "fine," deep down your muscles need this break. You've earned it, now take it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What pace should you run?

If you have a goal time in mind for your next race, you need a game plan going into it. Figuring out what pace to run for a given race distance can be tricky, but there are several ways to do it.

Generally speaking, the most accurate way to figure out a realistic pace for an upcoming race is to base it off of your most recent race time. If you've done a 5k and are getting ready for a 10k, work off the 5k time. If you're running a marathon, using your most recent 1/2 marathon time will be your best baseline for determining a realistic time. If you have a big gap in between an upcoming race and the last time you raced--six months or a year or so, for instance--then doing a time trial of two to three miles on a local track is going to be your better gauge.

Once you have a time to work from, there are a few different calculators you can plug the data into and come up with a number in the right ballpark. A few to try:
They will all probably give you different information because they use different formulas, but you can at least get a good feel for how hard you should/can go at your next race. Use the information to incorporate some training at that pace. For instance, if you have a 1/2 marathon coming up, spend some time once a week or every other week running some miles at that race pace goal. The more your body can get used to this pace, the easier it will be to tap into it during a race. 

Now go get that goal time!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The big day is what?

The hard work is done. You've logged countless miles getting ready for your big race and the day is finally here. Now all that's left to do is execute. Avoid these common mistakes and you'll finish like a champ:
  • Taking it out too hard--This is probably the number-one race day blunder. To avoid it, begin by seeding yourself accordingly. If you line up with the front of the pack, you'll likely get caught up. A mile or two in, your body will tell you that was a mistake. Practice starting your runs at an easier pace and gradually increasing the speed towards the end to help keep you in check on race day.
  • Showing up at the race at the last minute--Big races in particular can be logistical nightmares. Avoid getting stuck in long lines by giving yourself time to get parked, into your race-day outfit, and properly warmed up. 
  • Waiting until the last minute to hit the loo--Sounds silly, but the lines can get very long at the porta-potties! Get in line as soon as you arrive so that you're not still there when the gun goes off.
  • Skipping the water stops--Yes, taking in fluids while running can be tricky, but practice it in advance and it will be easier. Or consider walking through the aid stations. Whatever you do, don't skip the chance to hydrate.
  • Wearing too much/too heavy clothing--Many races start early in the morning when it's still cold. But once you get moving in your race, you'll heat up fast--faster than you would in training, in fact. So bring a throw-away shirt and/or pants to keep warm and then toss them at the start or a mile or two in. Most races collect this clothing post-race and donate it.
 By combining your training with the right approach to race day, you're sure to enjoy the event. More than likely, you'll leave the race chomping at the bit for the next chance to do it again.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On race day--no new is good new!

So it's the day before your big race and you're at the expo. You spot some really cool shoes you've been wanting to try out. You buy them and throw them on your feet the next day for your race. WAIT!

Rewind that scenario--go to the expo, enjoy it, maybe even buy a few things. But don't try any of them on race day.

When you're racing, there's a hard and fast rule--no new is good new. You want to make sure that everything you're wearing, ingesting, doing, is something you have tried before. That means no new gels. No new shoes. No new super cute skirt (sorry fashionistas) unless it's a model you've worn before.

Race day brings with it stress you wouldn't normally have on a training day. If you add something into the mix that isn't tried and true, there's a good chance it could come back to haunt you. The new nutritional products could cause GI distress. The new clothing might cause uncomfortable chafing. Running a different pace than what you had planned and practice could result in a blow-up.

After all your hard work to get to the start line, you don't want to see your race fall apart because you decided to try something new. Stick with the tried and true and then a few days after the race, break out that new shirt or whatever fun thing it is you bought at the expo!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Speedwork 101

When you're a new runner, or even if you've been at it for a while, understanding some of the pacing terms can be confusing. Tempos? Marathon pace? Fartlek? What does it all mean? Below I've listed some of the common terms and what they really mean:

Fartlek--This is a Swedish term that means speedplay. Basically, after warming up, you can throw in a variety of distances and paces to challenge yourself. For instance, you might run a ladder--2 minutes hard/2 easy, 4 minutes hard/2 easy, 6 minutes hard/2 easy, and back down again. Or, you could choose to go hard from one streetlamp to another. It's a less structured workout than others and for that reason, it can also be a lot of fun.

Pace runs--If you have an upcoming event that is important to you--say a 1/2 marathon or marathon--running varying distances at your goal pace is a great way to get your body to learn what that feels like. So say you have an upcoming 1/2 marathon and your goal is a 9-minute pace. After warming up, spend 2 to 4 miles running at that 9-minute pace, and then cooldown.

Intervals--These are shorter periods of fast running followed by short periods of recovery. You can run intervals on the road or track. Shorter intervals, which can range from 200 to 800 meters, are probably best run on the track, are most suited for shorter races, like 5ks or 10ks, and should be run hard. Between each one, jog easily but don't recover completely. Longer intervals, from 1,200 to 1,600 meters, are often run around goal race pace. Mile repeats at 1/2 marathon or marathon pace, is one example.

Tempo--This is one of those murky terms that seem to have many definitions. I personally like, and feel as if I benefit from, tempo efforts. Tempo might be described as "comfortably hard," a distance you can maintain for a few miles, but at an effort that challenges you beyond your normal aerobic pace. See? Murky. For me this ends up being around a 10-miler race pace. How long you hold it varies widely too, but I'd recommend anywhere from two to five miles, depending on your fitness level.

Keep in mind that no matter what type of speedwork you choose, you should first have a solid base underneath you. Ease into it with shorter distances or fewer repeats. Don't be tempted to run back-to-back speedwork either--this will only invite injury. And if you're just getting started, you don't want more than one day per week of speedwork in your routine.

Feel free to email me with any questions.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Easy Peasy

When we're training for an event, it's easy to get caught up in wanting to do lots of speedwork in order to improve. Speedwork is important, don't get me wrong--you have to go fast to be fast. But the majority of your running should be at a much more sedate pace.

Keeping the majority of your miles easy will serve a few purposes. For one, it helps stave off injuries. For another, it trains your body to tap into fat for fuel. And you know what? Most of us have enough fat on our bodies to sustain for an entire marathon! But all that fat does you no good if you haven't trained your body to access it.

How much time should you spend doing speedwork? Assuming you have a good base under you, speedwork should account for about 10 percent of your weekly total. So if you're running 30 miles per week, a safe amount of speedwork would be 3 miles per week. The more experienced you become, and the more miles you add to your base, the more time you can spend at faster speeds, within reason.

The rest of your training should be at a more relaxed, fairly conversational pace. On long runs, aim for a pace a minute to a minute and a half slower per mile than your marathon pace. Don't know this pace? One easy formula for determining your pace is to train at 80 percent effort or less--80 percent of the pace you could run the same distance in a race (assuming that's 100 percent).

So the next time you're tempted to pick up the pace on your long run with buddies, hold back a bit. Your running will thank you in the long run.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Marathon Virgin?

It's late August, and that means fall marathon season. For many of you, this will be your first time taking on the 26.2 distance. You probably have lots of questions about how to make it to the big day in the best shape possible. I've designed a list of FAQs for first-timers--read on to find the answers you're seeking:

  • Do I need to run the full 26 miles before the race? In a word, NO! The full marathon distance takes a lot out of you, especially if you've never run it before. Taking on that distance in training would require too much recovery time, resulting in poor training sessions afterward. For a first timer, I'd recommend not going beyond 20 miles as your longest training run.
  • How often should I drink/eat on my long training runs? This is a very individual issue. I'd recommend trying different combinations of drinks/gels, etc. to figure out what works best for you. As a rule, though, I'd suggest hydrating a couple of times each hour and trying to take in calories, like a gel, about every 45 minutes to an hour.
  • How often should I increase my mileage? Hopefully you've given yourself enough time to safely build up your mileage leading up to the marathon. Each week you'll likely be adding on miles. That said, the general rule of thumb is to add on no more than 10 percent of volume each week. So if you ran 30 miles last week, you can add three more this week.
  • Should I incorporate speed work into my schedule? This is a tricky one and depends on your level of fitness coming into the marathon plan. If you had a good base starting your plan, I'd recommend spending one day a week concentrating on speed. For the marathon, the best approach would be to run at your goal marathon pace for a certain period of time. For instance, try starting with three one-mile repeats at goal pace and increase the amount of time you spend at marathon pace over time.
  • I'm tired/feeling sick/feeling pressed for time--should I skip a run? Every marathon plan should have a little wiggle room in it. If you're feeling especially tired/beat up, or may be getting sick, take an extra day off to recover. As long as you are getting in 90 percent of your planned volume, you should be just fine. 
  • When should I start my taper? I'd recommend starting to cut back about 3 weeks out from your event. Your body needs this time to recover from the demands you've placed on it. Gradually take your volume down over the 3 weeks until in your final week, you probably won't even run 20 miles total. 
I hope I've been able to answer some of your questions. Feel free to email me at if you have any others I haven't touched on, and good luck on your big day!