Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Confessions of an iPod Noob

I have to admit it...up until just this past month, I've never owned an iPod. Shocking, I know. I never ran with music and rarely found myself in situations where one would be useful, except for the gym, but they have tv and music stations on all of the treadmills to help there. Rebecca, on the other hand, is the proud owner of 3! But, I never had any interest in one, so I never bothered to borrow one of hers. So I just continued on with my life as a non-iPod user.

But then came along my team at work's holiday party in December. We had a raffle, with the top prize being an iPod Touch. Sure enough (even though I wasn't even paying much attention during the drawing), I won it! I was now faced with the task of figuring out what to do with it. Of course, Rebecca being the master iPod queen, helped set everything up and I was good to go chock full of music and podcasts.

After a couple of runs with it, I can see why people like to run with music. However, I keep the volume very low and just use it as background noise. I can still hear my breathing and footsteps. So when I am out there running solo, the company of something else on long, quiet runs is kind of nice.

But that is not what this post is about. If you've made it this far, there is a story to tell about my run at the gym last week. Due to some terrible wind, I had to move my normal weekly tempo run indoors. When on a treadmill, one needs some type of alternative distraction, otherwise the monotony is just brutal. So I set out for about an hour or so of running varied paces with the my new running buddy, my iPod.

After about 15 minutes of warm up running at an easy pace, I jumped into my main set and began picking up the speed. Shortly into the set, I glanced down at my watch to check my rising HR and make sure it matched where I should be.

(A quick side note about the treadmills at the several gyms I've been to - they are all calibrated differently and are usually WAY off, which each one reading out differently. For example, a 9:00/mile pace on one I frequently use is usually about the equivalent of an 8:20/mile and it trickles down the faster you go. So I usually use HR as a back up to help self-calibrate the treadmill to find my proper paces. At this point, I know what my different running paces feel like, so it isn't really difficult. It's just a matter of using my HR as a secondary guide to make sure it matches my feel. Just make sure you either use a properly calibrated footpod or a HRM to find your pace. Don't rely on the treadmill. Otherwise, you may not get the intended benefit of your workout if you are running faster intervals!)

As I was putting my arm back down toward my side, it slightly caught the headphone wires. And you probably know what happened next. Unfortunately, it wasn't my headphones in my ear that popped out. Oh no, those stayed secure (which on any other occasion is a great thing). My brand new iPod took a nice little bunny hop off the treadmill pocket it was sitting in and onto the treadmill belt. And because I was running at about 6:30/mile pace at the time, the belt flung it nicely off the treadmill about 5 feet behind me! In an immediate reaction that I am still trying to figure out how I managed to do without hurting myself badly, I turned to my side and jumped off the mill as I neared the edge of the belt while it still ran and picked up my helpless iPod. In the same motion, I jumped back on the mill and tried to continue on as if nothing happened. Luckily, there were no casualties...except my ego as I'm sure others looked on to see the highlight of their day.

I've been told this happens to everyone at some point. Anyone else have that happen before?

So the lesson of the day is to watch out for those pesky headphone wires! Actually, I did learn a valuable lesson that is practical to maintaining running form. The key to not snagging your headphones is by completely eliminating your arm crossover. For me, this tends to happen most often during harder running sets when I get tired and my form starts to falter. So it gives me another thing to focus on...gotta look at the brighter side of things!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Increasing Flexibility

One of the keys to not only racing faster but also staying healthy is maintaining a flexible body. For most people (including myself), this is a challenging thing to achieve. Most people who sit in chairs all day, or cycle a lot, find that they have very limited mobility in the lower and upper body. This is primarily due to the hip flexors being in a shortened state (bent) and also the shoulders being rolled in (due to poor posture). I have always struggled with this, but I am here to say that I have come across a resource that has significantly helped me improve my flexibility over the past 1-2 months. I came across this resource, while taking one of the training courses for becoming a running coach. And let me just say, that resource alone, has significantly improved my flexibility. But before I get to that, let me first tell a personal story of my struggles with flexibility.

I've always prided myself on the fact that I am the least flexible person in the world. It's one thing to not be very flexible, but it is another to be truly inflexible. How inflexible?

Well, when I was growing up, we had to do the "sit and reach" test in PE class (anyone else remember that?). It was a simple test where they put a box at the end of your feet with your legs extended, while you reach as far toward your toes as possible. The box contains a measuring stick, where you get a score based on how far you can reach. We were always told that a score of around 30 was normal, which was essentially the distance of reaching your ankles. I sat there and watched some people in my class reach past the box, where they actually had to grab an extra ruler to measure how much further. Well I knew I wasn't going to be doing that! So i sat down, extended my legs and began to stretch. And then our PE teacher told me to actually stretch. I was! How far did I get? I couldn't even touch the box and barely made it past my knees! They had to take that same ruler and measure it the other way from the box to get my score, which turned out to be a score of 12....worst in my class. Ever since then, I have always maintained that same lack of flexibility. I've tried yoga and had some limited success, but the 30-60 minute routines typically proved too time intensive for me to consistently fit into my schedule. I can typically go past my knees, but it is still horribly inflexible when compared to others.

So when I found something I could do that takes only 10 minutes, I was instantly hooked. While doing something similar to this routine 3-5 times a week (sometimes every day), I have achieved far more noticeable gains than anything else I have ever tried. In fact, he was the one who taught us in the training class! If you are having a difficult time with flexibility, I strongly recommend this simple routine - watch each of the videos here to help best understand exactly how to do each stretch.

As a frame of reference, I have about 20% more mobility in my hips and in a straight leg stretch on a good day, I can nearly get to my toes. This helps me every day with my running and ensuring proper form doesn't break down. If it can improve my flexibility, it can definitely do the same for you! There is still hope for the inflexible people of the world!

Monday, December 20, 2010

On Becoming a Running Coach

From my earliest days as a high school sprinter/cross country runner, I was always interested in learning more about running and the reasons behind why we do the workouts we do. Not everyone was, as some just showed up and ran their workouts. I somehow knew it would come in handy later on in life.

As an unofficial "coach" for many friends and family, I've helped a number of people move in the right direction and take on some of their goals. And although not everyone likes to listen to me, I usually am trying to be helpful ;) I'm just glad there will be others who are interested in hearing what I have to say, because I've got a ton of stuff up there in that brain of mine!

So when an opportunity recently came up to become a coach at one of the local distance training programs to prep for the National Marathon, I jumped (or ran?) at the chance.

It's one thing to be a self coached runner and be responsible for your own progress, but it's another thing to take on the responsibility of others. As a coach, your responsibility lies in looking out for what is in the best interest of that particular athlete. Everyone is different and each person requires a different application of training. It will certainly be a challenge to find out what works best for some, but not others. In the end though, I'm really there to support them, encourage them to work toward their goals, and provide as much (or as little) assistance as they need.

Our program began just a few weekends ago, with the past few weeks of introductory runs - in the neighborhood of a nice little 8 mile jaunt. This week's biggest challenge was the snow/ice on the trail. Rather than extending the run distance, running 8 miles on that kind of surface honestly felt a lot closer to 10. Over the next few weeks though, that distance will surely increase. I'm really looking forward to the challenge ahead for both myself and the runners as we begin to take on the challenge of the marathon.

Stay tuned for more updates in the future!

Friday, December 17, 2010

2010 Jingle All The Way 10k Photos

Because I ran in the middle of the race, there weren't many photos of myself that I could find. So I'll leave you with the 1 photo I found, along with a number of the more "interesting" ones I could find out there.
I'm pretty sure I try to run with my eyes open!

And here was the female winner - who says you can't dress up a bit and still win a race!?

Some highlights below (left to right):

- Captain America
- The Snowman
- The Grinch
- Not sure what this guy is doing (high stepping it in?
- Why bother with the bag check when you can run the whole race with your stuff!
- Contestant for the ugly sweater contest?
- Santa joggler
- Milk and cookies for santa

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Running in the Cold

How to handle the recent cold spell when air temps were 20F, with 25 mph winds, and wind chills near 0:

- Base layer thermal: Check
- Technical layer on top: Check
- Wind resistant jacket as outer shell: Check
- Reflective vest for night running: Check
- Base layer boxer briefs for extra warmth: Check
- Warmer 2 layered running tights with wind resistance: Check
- Running gloves: Check
- Wind resistant hat with ear flaps: Check
- Headlamp for night running: Check

To be honest though, after about 10 minutes of running, I forgot how rough the conditions were. It became pretty enjoyable being the only one out there running. Who needs the treadmill anyways!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jingle All The Way 10k Race Report

Being a competitive athlete, I try to enter each and every race expecting a PR. After all, that's what we train so hard for. But sometimes, I need to be reminded that a PR does not necessarily have to be the goal of each and every race. Despite my race plan, things changed after talking to Rebecca the day before the race. I quickly became aware that this race should be more than just another PR. So I decided to just have fun for a change. Typically, we run 1 race together each year - the Turkey Trot. Well since this year we were traveling during that time, we never got to do that. This would be our chance to make up and (for me) to have fun doing it.

Despite not necessarily having a time goal, I know pretty objectively what Rebecca is capable of running at any time (contrary to what she may think she can run, which is usually slower than I know she can run). So in my head, I was targeting 60:00, which is what I believed she was capable of running. And I try to make it a fun game of being the pacer to get things to work out ideally. For me, that involves consistent feedback from her and me monitoring her as we move about the course. And when the plan does work out, I get just as much joy and adrenaline in seeing her success, than I do when I achieve my own.

So with that in mind, we set out with some friends to run the race, where I would serve as the pacer. I set out to utilize a negative split race strategy, which is always ideal. The only complication is that Rebecca loves the run/walk. She does best when she has those breaks built in there. So we set out with a 9:00 run/1:00 walk strategy and I just hoped I could nail the paces to get us to the finish line sub-60. Here were our splits:

Mile 1: 9:51
Mile 2: 9:39
Mile 3: 9:37
Mile 4: 9:37
Mile 5: 9:27
Mile 6: 9:09
Last .2: 7:56 pace

We went out the first 5k in 30:30 and finished the 2nd 5k in 29:05, giving us a solid 1:25 split. Each mile was faster than the previous one and Rebecca really booked it at the end to nip me by 1 second ;) Who said I'm not chivalrous!

For her recap, you can read it here. Despite rough racing weather, it was a great race and a fun time. Stay tuned for hopefully some fun pictures from the race.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pre-race Thoughts - Jingle All The Way 10k

It's about time for another race! The Jingle All The Way 10k. Last year when I ran this race, it was about 40 and drizzly. This year's forecast - 40 and rain. Lovely! Well, I'll just have to make the best of it. But this time, I'm bringing a crew of family, friends, and coworkers to share in the holiday running spirit!

The good news is that I can learn from last year's race. The biggest thing I learned was not to over-dress. You know, the whole 20 degree rule - dress like it was 20 degrees warmer, because that's how you'll feel once your actually running. Last year, I wore a hat, gloves, running vest, etc and by the time I got to mile 3, I was cooked! This year, I'm thinking I'll be able to pull off running in tights and a long sleeve shirt with no hat, no gloves and no vest. Trust me, it'll be much better to be a little cold early on.

As far as the race goes, I ran it last year in 42:05, which I am pretty sure I'll handily beat, considering the last 10k I ran this year was in 41:37 in April and I am coming off the fitness from my recent 1/2 marathon. Based on some recent baseline tests (which I'll get more into in another post), I'd say I'm ready for a big PR. While I don't like to list specific time goals, I will say I'm expecting to knock a fair amount off that time. How much? You'll just have to come back and see!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Training Manifesto - Part 5

My intent of this series is to document my thoughts (as of today) about what I know and how it is influencing my training moving forward. I have read quite a bit recently, as I mentioned in my previous post. After having the time to think about all of the information and map it to myself, I have developed a few principles that I plan to follow and believe apply to most others. Each principle consists of a section below.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Changing Training Stimuli

Around this time last year, I wrote about the base training methods I incorporated into this year and the fact that I feel strongly of its importance to the majority of people that don't come from a strong aerobic/endurance background. That a solid period of base training builds the foundation for which we add everything else on top. Without it, you can still get fast quickly, but you bring more risk into the equation, such as injuries, which I personally try to avoid where possible. You also limit the potential increases you can see across a season, because this method typically leads to plateau, as I've witnessed firsthand in prior seasons.

So back to the point of this post. After I stopped seeing returns from the training I was doing, it was important to change the training stimulus. After your body gets used to one kind of training, changing things up is a surefire way to earn some new fitness. While base training certainly had its place, the type of training that gets us ready to race is the kind that begins to incorporate more of the faster stuff. And while I specifically stated that intervals, tempos, Vo2Max , etc workouts can be dangerous, they are also the most effective workouts at getting us "race ready". So the ways to incorporate them into your training are to first establish that foundation of fitness and THEN slowly incorporate the "sexy" kinds of workouts into the plan. And that is where you really start seeing the results by adding to the base you've already established.

But the magical gains you achieve from this type of training aren't necessarily the kind where "more is better" works. And I think that is where a lot of people get lost. It is a fine line of dancing between high levels of fatigue (overtraining) and improving your fitness. As the saying goes - "It's always better to enter a race 10% undertrained, than 10% overtrained or injured".

The things I'm specifically cautioning against are adding in too much interval/tempo work too quickly or running too fast "because you can". The problem with these kinds of workouts is that the potential to do more harm than good is so great. A little bit of speed goes a long way. However, a lot of speed does not necessarily go further. Just because you CAN run 8 x 800m @ 6:00/mile pace doesn't mean you SHOULD. For one, if the pace is too fast for your current level of fitness, you're not utilizing as many muscle groups, which means that those great adaptations that are intended to result from this kind of work won't happen. Additionally, you're likely to become too fatigued from this 1 workout to actually run other quality workouts. The point of your training week is to do all of your workouts, not have 1 awesome workout and struggle through the rest of them. Similarly, your goal is not to set PRs in training sessions. Typically, if this is happening, you're running too hard. Races are when you set PRs. Save those big efforts to race days. Fatigue can manifest itself over time in your body and denial is a surefire way to let things get too far in the negative.

So how do you know when you've hit too much fatigue? Well one way is to actually listen to your body. It sounds simple, but it is really hard for self coached athletes to understand that it is ok to take an easy day or even (gasp) a day off. It is during this much needed down time where the fitness is gained through muscle regrowth and recovery. Of course, nutrition also plays a huge role in that as well...crap in = crap out (but not in the lightening your load, kind of crap way ;) ). The other way to check your fatigue levels is by tracking your training. You can do this by perceived exertion, how you feel when you wake up, or through several online tools (and I'm sure others) that use algorithms. Use one of those methods, because it is the only way you'll keep track of it.

So what I am really trying to say is this: Once you have established your base and begun incorporating these more stressful activities (and really any time), listen to your body to determine when it is appropriate to take off and go easy. And when you decide on a "hard" workout - run it within your abilities, not what you wish you could run or what you could run because you wanted to prove it. Use your recent performances to determine what is a realistic pace. If you just ran a 25 minute 5k, you probably shouldn't be running 6:00/mile 800 repeats, even if you can. Improvements take time and patience and without both, it is difficult to keep up and meet your goals. Think about it this way - If you have to think about it and question what you are about to do, err on the side of caution. There is always tomorrow to hit it hard. Play it safe, stay healthy, repeat, and improve your fitness. I think that is a good plan to follow.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Introspective Runner

Don't think I haven't thought about writing...I have. Trust me. Its just that every time I start writing, I lose my train of thought and any post I write turns to mush. I have so much up in my head right now, but none of it has wanted to come out. I think I can sum up the whole situation as being more of an introspective runner these days. I like sharing and hearing other's thoughts. That is part of the reason why I started this whole thing. But lately, it has all been locked right up in my head and I can't explain the shift. Whatever is it though, has been working pretty good. Let me explain.

Being more introspective has its perks. I feel more in tune with my body and mind, like they are in synch. My run mojo is as high as ever. The past month or so of running has gotten more focused. Following my half marathon, I had to take about a month to give myself that downtime. The mental and physical break we all need each year. You simply can't go year to year without having some type of downtime. It just isn't a process one can maintain for a very long time. And we're all planning to be doing this for a long time, right?

So anyways, that downtime happened to coincide with a slight calf issue I was dealing with as a result of my race, which worked out well, because it forced me to physically slow down and focus on the basics of strengthening and becoming more flexible. Since then, the mileage is back up and the calf is much improved. I can feel some tightness occasionally, but I have a much better handle on it now than before. Part of that was due to new shoes that, although they were neutral, didn't seem to be supporting my leg the same as the shoes that I had been wearing previously. So I gave them up and went back to wearing the same model I've been wearing for nearly a year, Brooks Ghost, which I am now on my 4th pair of, but also bought a 5th so I'm not tempted to change shoes again. I'm sticking with what works!

Anyways, I'm hoping to get back here posting, because I think some of the thoughts I wanted to post about are starting to come back. At least it feels that way now.


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