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The Little Things

Every runner I know wants to improve in some way shape or form, and each runner has some idea of how that feat is to be accomplished. This improvement is usually defined as the BIG thing — runners want to increase mileage, run faster miles, attempt hilly runs, run workouts, etc. Each of these aspects of running are usually considered big things, big pieces of the running puzzle that will lead to success.

However, most of the time, runners forget what can be the biggest thing of all: the little things. The little things comprise all the behind-the-scene routines that go unnoticed or undone. When you look at a professional athlete and you hear them speak about their training you think to yourself “wow, they work really hard–two runs a day and four workouts a week seems tough!” Well, I am here to tell you what you don’t see and hear: top level professional athletes work all day long, their job is not just running but doing all the little things after and before that can make the training they do possible. What you don’t see a professional doing is the ice baths or stretching or the technique drills that take up time each day.

Most of my athletes have a constant drive for improvement, so I often hear the refrain: “Coach what more can I do? How can I get better? I have tried everything!” While I know they’re trying hard, it’s almost certain that no one has “tried everything.” So I want to share some of the key “little” things you can do that will greatly improve your running.

  • Ice baths
  • Hip and core strength training
  • Recovery drinks
  • Proper stretching
  • Striders/form sprints
  • Upper body strength
  • Running on softer surfaces.  Ex:  Go and drop a golf ball on the pavement. Watch it bounce.  Now go drop it on the ground/grass.  Get the picture. Now imagine that the golf ball is your legs.  Running on softer surface, can not only improve your ankle dexterity, but it will help you be less injury prone and recover quicker.

While you may already sporadically participate in the above techniques, it should become a daily part of any runner’s lifestyle. This is why I classify these aspects of running as “little things.”

Ice baths and recovery drinks are the best tools a runner can have for sore tired legs and bodies. Hip and core strength along with upper body weights are imperative in running because you generate most of your power from your hips and core — when your legs die you only have your arms to rely on. Most runners claim that they don’t need arm strength, when in fact it is crucial. Lastly, strider or form sprints: with so much focus on endurance, our bodies forget how to run fast… Remind them! Striders and sprints are a great way to work on your form and technique which is the key element in injury-free running. Added benefits of striders are the speed and quickness you keep in your muscle memory.

Each of these aspects will improve your running efficiency if done on a consistent basis. Sometimes the biggest thing of all is actually many small things together. I challenge each runner to go out and attempt to complete regularly each of the little things listed and I can assure your body will show you the benefits and improvements over time.

Coach James

Running in the Heat

I just got back from a midday run and it was HOT! (especially for a person who loves summer). The heat of summer has arrived, and we must take precautions as we acclimate to running in hot, humid weather. Our bodies are far better designed to handle cold than hot and we have a difficult time in an environment that is even a few degrees above normal body temperature. Excessive temperatures can impair performance and lead to dehydration, fatigue and heat illness. Here are a few facts and guidelines that will help us better enjoy our summer training.

  • It takes 2-3 weeks of training in hot conditions to acclimate.
  • On hot, humid days, slow your pace from the onset rather than waiting until you body forces you to slow.
  • Many athletes experience fatigue and dehydration as they adjust to the hotter weather. Don’t worry, this is normal.
  • Runners perspiration rate differ, hydrate accordingly. In addition to fluids needed by daily maintenance, athletes need to replace fluids lost with exercise (weigh yourself before and after runs over a period of time). Drink 2 cups of fluid for each pound lost during exercise. If exercises exceed one hour, a sports drink will replace sugar and salt lost, less than an hour, water is adequate. However, don’t overdo it either. Some athletes adhere to the “more is better” theory, but drinking excessively, can lead to hyponatremia (low salt) which can be potentially dangerous.
  • Recent research has suggested that drinking ice cold fluids helps to combat the core body temperature rise.
  • An acclimatized person can sweat up to 4 liters per hour, while a person not acclimatized can only sweat about 1.5 per hour.
  • Vary time of day you run—morning is the most humid, but temps are cooler and evening is generally hotter.
  • Expect slower times for long distances.
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing that allows moisture and heat to be lost from the body.Wear sun screen and a visor for protection from the sun

Using strategies like these can make a difference in hot weather training.

Happy Summer Running!

The Rope of Hope

Hills are challenging, but so is life. We know we have the strength and the endurance to get up the incline. But facing such a hurdle is intimidating—in running or in life.  So how do we overcome that mental block?  First, relax. It’s hard to do but crucial for success. Then think positively: remind yourself that you know you can do it. Breathe deeply. And take off!  Lift your legs, drive your knees and pump your arms while visualizing that you’re being pulled by an imaginary rope tied to your waist. Let’s face it: we’re hoping the rope will do most of the work and all we have to do is hang on. But we keep moving. We struggle to hold our shoulders back and keep our posture tall; we struggle to look far enough ahead to keep focus; we struggle not to panic; we try to keep the steady rhythm; we force our bodies not to stop and walk; we struggle with the thought of having to do it again.

However, despite all the doubts and pain of running hills, we know it helps make us a stronger athlete.

Some people attack a hill, while others run steady.  Some have a mantra while others just kick into auto-pilot.  It’s hard to find peace with hills as we’re gasping for air.  They often come in a race when we least expect them.  The more we practice the better we can handle them and the less we fear them.

I hope your rope pulls you along with ease and grace and occasionally with pleasure.  And know that if the situation requires it of us, we’re ready to haul a little ass.

Blessings to all of you!

Enough is Enough! How to taper your workouts before a race

As the summer winds down, the reality of a peak marathon season looms disturbingly just around the corner.  The past 16 to 20 weeks has been a combination of long endurance runs, fast track miles, tempo runs, marathon pace miles and recovery days.  There still remains one final phase in your marathon preparation: tapering.

Effective training is only part of the successful race equation.  The tapering process is a technique designed to reduce fatigue that occurs during heavy training, while maintaining the level of intensity and endurance you have worked so hard to achieve.  It is the final phase of training prior to race day.  Tapering involves a reduction in training volume (mileage) and frequency (number) and an increase in intensity of training sessions.

Why taper?

Athletes are extremely susceptible to the mistake of doing too much. Be careful: over-training can lead to your legs giving out on you, muscle soreness, and fatigue when race-time is approaching. It can also cause sleep patterns to change.

Training causes muscle tears, fatigue and depletes glycogen stores in muscles.  Proper tapering produces greater muscle glycogen stores, expanded blood plasma, increased aerobic enzymes, improved running economy and heightened mental freshness.  Research also suggests that high intensity tapers provide physiological changes that include increase in maximum oxygen uptake, increase in muscle fibers, and increase in muscle glycogen storage with proper diet and increase in strength and power.

How you can taper properly

Most data shows that tapering should begin about three weeks out from your peak race. Your last long run should be two to four weeks out (varies depending on the athlete).  The primary goal is to minimize fatigue without compromising previously acquired fitness levels; however, it is important to maintain intensity during this time, provided that you reduce other training variables to allow for sufficient recovery.  In other words, during the taper phase, your volume should decrease from 60 to 80 percent, and the frequency of your training should be reduced by 50 percent, but you should slightly increase your intensity. At the same time, increase your recovery time between sets/reps. (Research varies slightly between studies).

Your body can only store a limited amount of carbohydrates in muscles.  To maximize this, you need to eat well but do not reduce your caloric intake when you reduce your training.  Adequate hydration is important to performance in most endurance races.

Make it personal

These are only guidelines; studies vary on percentage and intensity.  Tapering is a very individualized program—there is no single taper that will be successful for every athlete.  We all respond differently to the same training and racing events.  It is essential that taper programs are specific to the individual as well as to the event.  It is a combination of work and rest.

It’s all in your head

One of the hardest hurdles to overcome in a successful tapering program is your own mindset: many of us insist on getting in just one more run before race day, thinking it will aid in our success. You do not need to do more to be more successful! Always remember—by the time you begin tapering, most, if not all, physiological adaptations for improved performance levels will be achieved.

It is not unusual to feel anxious during the taper phase.  Your body is used to rigorous training, and its absence can leave you feeling like you can’t run a mile, let alone a marathon.  This anxiety is partly due to full glycogen storage, as you aren’t completely depleting it.  Remember that physiological adaptations will not disappear; it would take weeks for that to happen. Don’t worry—you’re doing the right thing! Stay relaxed and confident. You’ve worked hard and it’s time to enjoy the rewards.

Adding Mileage Safely for Running

Avid runners often make the mistake of increasing mileage too quickly. It is better to conservatively build mileage—and thus avoid injury—than to be too aggressive in adding mileage, only to incur an injury.

This column offers suggestions on how to add mileage safely. However, above all, a runner must to listen to his or her body. Pain exists for a reason, and should not be ignored. In order to become a successful long-distance runner, miles must be added gradually, without fear of injury and with plenty of rest.

A common mistake runners make is attempting to build speed while simultaneously building mileage. When you begin training, difficulty is measured by time spent running or distance of a run. Only after a runner has established a solid base should speed be a consideration. It is important to not attempt to increase speed before attaining your desired weekly mileage.

Popular exercise physiologist Jack Daniels suggests that a runner adds no more than four miles per week to his or her total weekly mileage.

Daniels also advises against increasing mileage more than every three weeks. A runner’s body needs time to adapt to the new stresses of the increased mileage. Do not push your body too far. For example, if you are feeling tired or sore at the end of three weeks, hold the same mileage another three weeks before increasing it again. Always remember that recovery time varies for every athlete.

Another frequent mistake is adding days to a running schedule while adding distance to total weekly miles. If you add another day, it is important not to add mileage to the week. Reduce the distance of your runs each day so that the total weekly mileage remains the same, but is spread out over more days. Keep any new schedule for at least three weeks before adding more mileage.

It is essential that athletes develop a solid foundation of technique (see last month’s column) before attempting to build mileage. Then, mileage should only be developed as far as the athlete’s technique can sustain. If you are breaking down form wise, stop!

Injury prevention during mileage building also requires good shoe upkeep. Running shoes should always be replaced every 300-500 miles.

Keeping a daily record of your training will help you avoid increasing mileage too quickly. It’s tricky and dangerous to rely solely on your recollection.

Cross training is a popular alternative for too aggressive mileage addition. Different muscles are used in cross training so therefore you avoid overuse injuries. Water running should be used as a viable alternative that works the same muscle groups.

Consider adding basic strength training to your schedule. When muscles are stronger, your body will be better able to handle the demands of increased mileage.

Finally, regular flexibility exercise such as yoga and Plates help keep your muscles loose, limber, and strong.

Athletes are, by nature, competitive people, and restraint is often difficult. We often push our bodies too far when trying to achieve our goals. However, with the proper education and insight—and the desire to be injury-free for our entire running career—mileage building can be accomplished safely and successfully.