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 ...
Summer vacations can be tough for runners. On the one hand, when we’re off work, we may assume we’ll have plenty of time to run. But on the other hand, the demands of family activities, travel and even jet lag can leave us with little energy or time to exercise. But with some smart planning, you can sneak in a bit of exercise to keep from falling too far behind in your training. Start with these four tips:
1. Develop an exercise routine you can literally do anywhere.
Whether you find yourself in an airport, on a tropical island with no roads or in a hotel room with a sleeping child, sometimes you just can’t run outside and need to improvise. In cases like these, turn to a set of exercises that can be done anywhere and without any equipment. It’s surprising how much exercise you can get with simple movements like pushups, situps, burpees and lunges. Start with 10 of each and try to do three or four sets, or as many as time allows. Change the intensity by varying how many you do and how fast you do them. You can also add weight to exercises such as squats or side lunges by simply wearing a loaded backpack or holding something else traveling with you.
2. Get creative.
Runners are creatures of habit and love to work from a plan. But when you’re traveling, try to avoid getting hung up the specifics of a workout. Remember: Something is better than nothing. I recall being on a small island in Thailand where the longest road was only a quarter mile – a serious, well, roadblock, to my plan to run 20 miles as a part of marathon training. So I swam in the ocean for a few hours instead. And guess what? I still met my race goals. The key is to stay flexible and creative and to emphasize making something happen.
Runners experience many ups and downs as they go through the days and weeks of their training routines. Some days feel great. Other days? Well, not so much. If you ever find yourself scratching your head wondering why your last run felt so horrible, ask yourself these five questions to shed light on the possible reasons:
1. What did you do in your workout yesterday?
Much of what dictates your energy levels during runs is related to where your body is in the recovery process from previous workouts. The first question I ask myself when I’m feeling particularly crummy is, “What did I do yesterday?” An especially long run or taxing speed workout can require at least 24 hours of recovery time. Depending on a runner’s level of fitness, this amount of time can stretch out to 48 hours or even longer. It’s important for runners to keep track of their workouts and to try to keep some space between the longest and hardest ones. When not fully recovered, most runners have difficulty achieving their workout goals.
Coach Joe’s Tip: Try to spread long runs and speed workouts across the week, placing two to three days between your hardest speed or “quality” workouts. Completing two intense, quality workouts in a week is a good goal for most runners.
2. What did you eat yesterday?
The energy you put into your body in the form of food also affects your energy level. The food you eat before your workouts gives you energy to fuel them, while what you eat after workouts provides you the tools you need to recover. If runners don’t eat enough carbohydrates the day and morning before workouts, they’ll be low on fuel. Without fuel, there’s no energy. And, if they don’t eat enough protein after their workouts, they’ll hamper the body’s ability to recover properly.
Coach Joe’s Tip: Runners should plan their eating to support their workout needs. Aim to eat complex carbohydrates (including bread, rice and pasta) the night before a long workout. Eat or drink at least 15 grams of protein – about the amount in a container of yogurt – in the first hour after a workout to give your body a better chance to recover.
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.
Ready to take on the new year with some running resolutions that will make you stronger and faster? By setting some simple goals for yourself, you can do just that. Here are four easy-to-monitor, year-long resolutions to get you started:
Nothing sharpens your racing skills better than getting out and doing it. In fact, too many runners have a yearly goal race and then are wracked with terrible nerves on race day. You can solve this problem by simply adding one race to your schedule every month. That way, you’ll go through the process of registering, picking up your bib, getting dressed and racing once every four weeks. Not only will you get lots of practice, but you’ll also get used to running under the pressure of competition. Don’t worry: These can be local 5Ks or other low-key (even free) races. Something is better than nothing!
2. Reserve one day a week for stretching.
Runners should place a heavy emphasis on stretching and lengthening muscles to undo some of the tightening caused by running. A great way to do this is to set aside one day each week to stretch – and nothing else. The best thing to do is to take a yoga class on this day, but you can also just go to the gym and spend a good amount of your normal workout time (say, 45 to 60 minutes) stretching your body. Doing this will give you a nice, relaxing recovery day, too.
It’s springtime and that means that us runners are starting to train a little harder. The winter may have left you a little out of shape. It could be that you had such terrible weather that you couldn’t get outside much (that’s you on the East Coast) or it could be that you needed a break between racing seasons. Either way, it just could be that you’re hitting the pavement again and you might be feeling pretty pokey. My advice: don’t be a hater, be a lover.
Of course, I’m talking about self-love and hatred in this sense. On the one hand, it’s very easy to “hate” ourselves for “getting so out of shape” or “not being as fast as I was last season.” But you have every reason to love yourself right now.
First, you’re back out there doing it. That in itself is progress. Compared to those that are still watching March Madness in the sports bar, you’re doing something positive. Sometimes starting is the hardest part, they say. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on taking those first steps.
Second, it’s normal for it to feel hard when you start again. You will have lost some fitness, maybe put on a few pounds, or just generally forgotten what it feels like to run. Whatever the case, it won’t feel all magical and happy when you start back at the beginning of the season. The good news here is that you will spring back quickly. In a matter of weeks, you’ll be feeling much more positive that you started again and feeling much better to boot.
Over the past couple of seasons I have been asked a number of times if CrossFit would be a benefit to my runners and triathletes. Since I hadn’t tried it myself, I thought it was time to get some in-depth experience with it and provide you all the answer: will CrossFit benefit you as a runner or triathlete? Oh, the things I do for you, my dear readers. Over the course of the next few months I’ll be weighing in — both literally and figuratively — to tell you what I think of the whole experience.
I went into this with my mind open, ready for a new challenge and certain that I would be humbled a few times in the process. So far, I’m right on track.According to Wikipedia, CrossFit is “promoted as both a physical exercise philosophy and also as a competitive fitness sport. CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, girevoy sport, calisthenics, strongman and other exercises.”
From a methodology stand-point, CrossFit makes good sense for both runners and multi-sport athletes. CrossFit puts an emphasis on several things that benefit endurance athletes. First, CrossFit aims to strengthen the body, in particular the core, hips and legs. From a power production stand-point on the bike and run this should be a benefit to many athletes. In addition, CrossFit puts an emphasis on stretching and flexibility, especially around the hips. Being able to increase the range of motion of those tight runners’ hamstrings and quads will hopefully reduce injuries and lengthen strides. And finally, CrossFit includes a great deal of shifting between activities. Quickly moving from muscle-group to muscle-group — typically done under time pressure — is good to help triathletes with their transitions on race day.
My strategy was to get started: pick a gym, get myself enrolled and add this to my workout routine in the early “strength building” portion of my season. Ultimately, I wanted to add 2-3 CrossFit workouts to my week during the three months of January through March when I’m focused on building base and strength and my racing activity is moderately low. In my case, I traded off my 2-3 traditional “weights” workouts in the gym for my new CrossFit routine.
Picking out a “Box”
The first thing that you’ll need to do is find a CrossFit gym, which is called a “Box” in the CrossFit lingo. You may be surprised, or even a little over-whelmed with the number of choices you may have. In my local area there were almost too many to count. I visited a number of Boxes and decided based on three factors: 1) proximity to my house, 2) a structured introduction program and 3) a welcoming attitude. Thankfully, CrossFit T9000 in Hillsboro, happened to be the closest one to my house, but it also turned out to have one of the best introduction programs I experienced. There’s a lot to learn and many of the skills require a close attention to detail. Those Boxes that invest in you up front are helping you to avoid injury and get more out of the workouts once you get started.
Last weekend I was walking into a transition at a local race and I overheard a common exchange. One athlete asked the other how she was feeling and the other answered her back, “I’m scared to death!” So many times I have heard this expressed — and often in exactly those words. I can almost feel the pounding heart and the sweaty skin.
These words “I’m scared to death” have real power. Of course, when we say them we’re not actually scared “to death.” It’s not as if Jaws is about to surface beneath us and bite our legs off or Jason is going to jump out from behind a tree with an ax and end our races with a mortal blow. (Although these days with the Zombie runs and other themed races, it could happen!) But the power of these words tells a lot about what’s going on in the mind.
“Scared to death” is an expression of fear. If you look it up in the dictionary the definition is “extremely scared.” The word “scared” itself means, “thrown into or being in a state of fear, fright, or panic.” The question is not whether we are actually scared before a race — as many people actually are — but rather do we really want to be in a “state of panic or fright” before a race? The answer, of course, is no.
What we want to be is control of our emotions, thinking clearly, and ready to do what we have trained to do. Achieving a clear head is not so easy when we’re seeing spots with fright.
It seems that the length of the longest training run for your marathon training has become a sort of hot-button topic in the coaching World. There was a time when just about everyone agreed that 20 miles was enough. Somewhere along the way, we’ve seen two diverging trends: 1) coaches advocating a much longer run, perhaps up to the full 26 miles and 2) coaches focusing on time or intensity, rather than a specific distance. I land somewhere in the middle, assessing each runner or walker individually.
I was asked a series of a questions for an issue of a national running publication on this topic and I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject. I was answering this on behalf of my work with the Team In Training (TNT) Program, as I am a national adviser to the program. The views below are my own and should not be attributed to the entire organization as many people have different opinions on this topic.
1) “Why don’t most marathon training programs include at least one long run of 26 miles?”
Coach Joe: I take a holistic view on runners and assess what’s best for each individual. It is a myth to me that every runner has to follow the same formula to be successful, when every runner comes to the starting line with different goals and having different capabilities. For many years we topped out all of our training plans at 20 miles, because this was a good balancing between the amount of training necessary to finish the race and the potential risks of getting injured in training. We now recognize that the recovery period and risk of injury both get progressively greater as the activity goes over 20 miles, but we also acknowledge that faster runners may benefit from going longer than 20 miles.
So in today’s world it makes sense to look, for example, at runners that are banging out 20 miles in under two hours and give them the opportunity to run 22 miles in training (which is only a few minutes longer at their pace). At the same time we may have participants that could take six hours to finish 20 miles at a slower run/walk pace and in those cases we may want to limit the length of their workout to a maximum duration to ensure that they don’t get injured in training. Our philosophy is to get participants to the starting line of their race, rather than having them get injured in training, so they can at least participate in the event that they set as their goal.
I’m always proud of people when they finish marathons. I was talking to one of my runner friends last week who had just finished running her third marathon. I told her that I was proud of her and I felt like she didn’t quite believe me. “I am too,” she said in a slightly tentative way.
The back-story here is that she hadn’t trained much for this marathon. In fact, I would almost say that she hadn’t trained at all. She did a little bit of running and maybe did one long-ish run. I believe that her hesitation was that she didn’t do much to prepare and hadn’t followed a marathon plan. But as I said, I am always proud of people when they finish a marathon. I was proud of her. Here’s why.
First, the training for your marathon is intended to prepare you mentally and physically to meet your goals in finishing the event. Your training then needs to be designed to help you do what you are setting out to do. If you’re trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials then your training will have to incorporate the right amount of work to help advance that goal for you. But if your goal is simply to finish the race, then the load might be lighter — especially if you are already in good physical shape.
Second, your marathon training is intended to help you avoid an injury in the race itself. If you were to do absolutely no training and then go try to run (and probably walk) 26.2 miles, you run the risk of some pretty serious injuries or at least a very lengthy amount of time hobbling around on very very sore legs. Marathon training programs are designed to slowly increase the distance over a period of time, because this is the best way to avoid suffering a major injury in the race. I like to imagine a marathon training plan like a set of stairs. To get to the top you take one step at a time. If you try to jump from the bottom to the top in one big leap, you risk really hurting yourself.
Sometimes you just have to do it. That tough workout that’s looming on paper in front of you. You need to get out and do it, but something is blocking you. Whether it be fear, anxiety, or just general fatigue, there are days when you just “don’t want to do it.” It’s times like those when you need to take choice out of the equation.Let me tell you a story to illustrate this point. As you may know from reading this blog, I have had my own struggles with doing tough workouts lately. But last Friday my friend came over for a run. I needed to do intervals and I was going to bring her along for the ride. We walked out the door and I said to her, “we’re doing intervals today.” She grimaced and said, “oh, man.” But off we went and we both did them. The workout was tough, but it went fine and we were both happy afterward for completing it.
What I had done is taken the choice out of the equation for her on that day. Rather than asking, “do you want to do intervals with me?” I told her that we were doing them. Had I asked, she would have most likely said no.
Many people that come to us running coaches perform in the same mind-set. We hand them a daily plan and they just do it. If they were left to their own devices, they wouldn’t attempt the same kinds of workouts. They’d probably run a lot more junk miles and maybe even take more days off. But in the context of working through out plan, a “coach says so” attitude takes over and they just do the workouts that have been assigned. What they are doing here is removing their choice from the equation — or to put it differently, putting the choice in someone else’s hands.
If you need a boost in getting over some hurdle, let me give you a few ideas that might help. These ideas shift the personal choice decisions going on in your mind and make it harder to say “no” or take easier choices. In spirit of getting in the best workouts, try some of these:
Work out with a partner — there is nothing like a little bit of peer pressure to get you to perform. Rather than going to the track alone, go with someone. You don’t have to run the same speed, but just the sheer act of going with someone will likely get you there and get you going.