There seems to be tremendous interest right now in the health effects of sugar in our diets. Many people say that it is sugar, rather than fat, that is leading people to be overweight. Documentaries like "Fed Up" talk about both the addictive nature of sugar and how the idea of "eating better and exercising more" makes little sense when the environment makes it practically impossible to eliminate sugar additives from your diet in the first place. No matter how hard you try, the deck is simply stacked against you, so the thinking goes. So 21 days ago I set ...
The Boston Marathon is special to many people – runners and non-runners alike. Marathon runners from all over the world aspire to earn their ticket to Boston, and running Boston is often the highlight of their running careers. But if someone asks why Boston is such a big deal, not everyone has the answer on the tip of their tongues. I’m an exception. Here are five reasons why I think Boston has earned its status at the top of the marathon running heap:
1. You have to qualify to run Boston.
The first reason Boston is so unique is that it’s a qualified race. In other words, in order to register for the race, you must have already run a marathon at a particular (relatively fast) pace. The Boston qualifying standard drives many people throughout their careers as a mark of achievement. But while the Boston Athletic Association wants the race to be challenging to get in, it doesn’t want to exclude non-elite runners.
While race organizers tightened the standards to qualify in 2012, they still aim to allow approximately the top 5 to 10 percent of runners into the race. Think about that in contrast to the marathon at the Olympics, where only the top two runners from the United States participate. That’s a much stricter standard, and it’s also an example of how high the bar can be for elite competitors.
2. Even you can run the Boston Marathon.
Despite Boston being a race that requires a qualifying time, it’s achievable for non-elite runners. That makes Boston unlike almost any other “elite” event because many of us have a shot of competing alongside the absolute best runners in the world. When you spot someone wearing a Boston T-shirt or jacket, you know they met a high standard to get there.
Spring for runners means it’s time to hit the roads again. Whether you’ve been indoors training on the treadmill or just taking a break for the winter, spring is a period of transition for your body – not just the environment. Translation: It can be a tough time mentally since you may feel out of shape. But the truth is, the break likely did your body good and you just need a little adjustment period before your running takes off to new heights. Here are four reasons that help justify why you feel a little bit terrible on your spring runs:
1. Your body needs a break.
First and foremost, after a long stretch of running or training for a fall marathon, your body needs a good break. The physical and mental load of running year-round is too much for most runners. By the end of the fall racing season, it’s time to let the mind and body unwind. This is true for all levels of runners, yet many beginners and intermediate-level runners are afraid to take time off for fear of losing momentum. Take a cue from elite runners: Even they take four to six weeks off to catch their breaths, reset their brains and get ready for a brand new season.
2. Your progress is cyclical.
Runners who fear “losing momentum” or “starting over” need to understand that their bodies improve most when their training cycles rotate between hard and easy. Rather than doing the same routine over and over – which can lead to a plateau, or a flattening out of progress – maximize your gains by forcing your body to adapt to new and different training loads. Most good training plans will include an easy phase to build a base, more rigorous training to focus on speed and strength, and goal-specific or endurance training to bring it all together for a race. After all that comes a letdown period, which gives the body a chance to relax. The winter off-season supplies that break naturally for those who take one.
3. You gained weight.
If you embraced your winter break as fully as I did – perhaps by taking a little too much comfort in all that comfort food – you may have put on a few pounds. When you start running again, then, remember that this additional weight will change the way you feel. If you’ve put on, say, 8 pounds, just imagine yourself carrying a gallon of milk along for your run. Of course, the weight is likely stationed more comfortably around your midsection than an awkward milk jug, but the point is that these additional pounds will make it harder to maintain the pace you ran comfortably in the fall. But don’t let those newly sprouted love handles discourage you: A few pounds should naturally come back off when you increase your exercise load. You’ll likely also see some welcome changes in your body, such as new muscle or a more toned physique overall.
As we gear up for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the fastest American runners are preparing to take on the world’s best competitors. At this past weekend’s USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, I got a glimpse of just how good, and how very fast, some of our talented American athletes are. Here are four ways they got so fast – and how you can boost your speed, too:
1. Build muscle.The first thing you may notice about track and field athletes is that most look extremely strong and lean. You might think this is because they have to wear those tiny bun-hugging shorts; but in reality, their strength leads to their speed. A stronger body means more power. Sprinters, for instance, grip the track with spikes in the toes of their shoes, which pulls their front legs backward. Meanwhile, their back legs push their bodies into the air, making them literally leap forward. The greater the strength in their legs and cores, the more powerful these motions become. Generating more power means they go further with each step.
Coach Joe’s get quick tip: To make your legs and core muscles stronger, incorporate strength workouts – think weighted exercises, classes like CrossFit or hill running – into your running routine one to two times each week. By augmenting your runs with exercise to make your muscles stronger, you’ll be a more powerful machine when it comes time to push harder.
2. Quicken your cadence.
When you watch runners on a track, you may immediately notice how quickly they turn over their feet. In fact, most track athletes do so at almost exactly the same rate. However, unlike the cartoon character “The Roadrunner,” these runners’ legs don’t just disappear into a blur of dusty circles. That’s because there’s a limit to how quickly we as human beings can physically turn over our feet. High-level track and field runners tend to run at that limit. Almost all of the rest of us, meanwhile, could stand to improve in this area.
Coach Joe’s get quick tip: Focus on picking up the pace of your foot turnover during one to two runs per week. In order to quicken your cadence, you’ll need to shorten your stride a little – especially at first. Count your steps in a normal-paced run and focus on boosting that number when you’re running foot turnover drills. By increasing your cadence just a bit, you’ll improve your running speed quite dramatically.
Over the past few years, the number of marathons around the world has exploded. Whether you’re interested in running on the Las Vegas Strip at night or meandering quietly through a forest, there’s a marathon for you. But picking out just the perfect race these days can take a little thought. Here are five things to consider when choosing your next great adventure:
Marathons can range from just a few runners to tens of thousands, and the size of the race has a direct impact on your race experience. Conventional wisdom might lead you to think that small races don’t have the same amenities as the largest races, but some small race organizers take surprisingly good care of their limited numbers of entrants. In fact, in some cases, small races might offer more food, drinks and personal attention than their big-city counterparts, simply because feeding 100 people is a lot easier than feeding 40,000. On the flip side, small races might offer nothing at all other than an organized route and a timing system. Aside from services, the size of the race also dictates the number of spectators who’ll be cheering you on (or not) and whether you’ll be sharing the road with cars. Think carefully about what you want the race environment to feel like, whether that be small and quiet or crazy and loud. And make sure to ask some questions, such as what services will be offered on the course or what the environment will be like on race day.
Coach Joe’s Pick: The Fargo Marathon has a reputation of being one of the best in the country, with amazing spectators, as many as 50 bands on the course and an indoor start and finish at the Fargodome.
I once saw a small group of bib-wearing runners doing laps around my local park. After talking to some of them, I realized they were doing a 50-mile race by running 50 laps around the park’s 1-mile loop. This sounded terrible to me. Race courses can take on all dimensions and sizes, so it’s best to check out what you’re getting into before signing up. Marathons can be held on a variety of surfaces, from trails to highways to running tracks, and can traverse anything from industrial parks to the wildest of mountains. Before signing up for any race, read through a description of the course to get a feel for what it’s all about and make sure to check out the “elevation profile” to see how much climbing and descending you’ll have in store.
Coach Joe’s pick: To get out of the city, check out the Big Sur International Marathon near Monterey, California, for spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, crashing surfs and coastal cliffs.
With a surge in popularity, a number of marathons have adopted somewhat unique and unusual registration schemes to prioritize entrants. Even many small races now use lotteries or have short registration windows because they quickly sell out. The Boston Marathon is perhaps the most famous race to require a qualification time to enter, but you might be surprised to find that other races ask for qualifying times in order to prioritize registration or to determine your start order at the race. The bottom line? Plan early and check out the registration process and deadlines so you have the best shot at getting into your dream race.