Simplicity of Running

I’ve been writing about various aspects of running for four years covering training facets, gear, and injury prevention. Despite the complexity of some of these topics, I still believe there is a beautiful simplicity to running.

If you watch animals and children run, they do it with such exuberance and joy. I often think, that’s the way of it. We should all run with joy and the excitement of what it will bring into our lives. I know there are tough days of running. Even on tough days we can find joy in the experience.

We have all of these fancy gadgets and gizmos for running now and new ones come out all the time. These are great tools to use, but they can also be a hindrance. We get so caught up in the numbers whether its distance, pace, or heart rate, that we forget why we first started running and to enjoy the fact that we are running.

A string of tough runs and disappointing race times can lead to a loss of the joy of running and this is when it’s most important to return to the simplicity of it. Ditch the GPS tracking, ipod, heart rate monitor and just get out there. It’s even better if you can hit the trails or a mountain road, if you’re a road runner.

In reality, all you need to run is some good shoes and clothes that don’t chafe. Runners who are able to maintain their interest and love of the sport are the ones who continue to believe in the simple joy of running.

Simply running can teach us many life lessons. Lessons all the gadgets, gizmos, and training plans can’t teach. Running has taught me to appreciate each day, to respect and care for my body, to surpass the “impossible”, set goals and achieve them, and many other lessons.

Running also builds strength of character such as determination, ambition, honesty, self-worth, respect for others, respect for the world around us, humility, belief in our own ability to do hard things, commitment, grit, and tenacity.

Our fascination with the many aspects of running and all the tools out there to “enhance” our running is fueled by our love of the sport. These wonderful tools and loads of information can also rob us of some of that love.

Take one of your runs this next week, and just run. Rediscover the simplicity of your feet hitting the ground, the rhythm of your breath and heart, and the wind brushing across your skin.

Altitude Adaptation

Running at altitude can be a challenge especially when you live at sea level. Altitude begins to impact running performance for most people, who live at or near sea level 0-1600m ft (approx 0 -500 m), at about 5,000 ft. (approx 1500 m). At that point, you can expect about a 1% reduction in performance for every 3500 ft (approx 1000 m).

Altitude sickness becomes noticeable at around 6500 ft (approx 2000 m) and it becomes compelling at 13000- 16000 ft (approx 4-5000 m). If you’re above 16000 ft (approx 5000 m) you can’t really become acclimatized.

Near sea level is 0- 1600 ft ( approx 0-500 m). Low altitude is defined as  1600- 6500 ft ( approx 500-2000 m) and you may have minor impairments. Moderate altitude 6500- 9800 ft (2-3000 m) is where you’re really going to notice mountain sickness if you at low altitude or near sea level. Acclimatization becomes important at this level. High altitude is considered 9800-18000 ft(approx 3-5500 m) and even those who live at the high end of low or the low end of moderate are going to start to feel the effects. At high altitude mountain sickness and acclimatization become critically important. Above 18000 ft (approx 5500 m) is considered extreme altitude and the longer the exposure the more your performance declines and you can’t really acclimatize.

So, what’s going  on? There is lower oxygen levels at higher altitude. Oxygen concentration the air is at about 21%, even altitude. The problem is there is less gas overall, which results in the lower pressure and difficulty in breathing. This translates into less oxygen in your blood so your muscles are  not going to be able to perform at their optimal level.

This lower pressure does have one benefit. There’s less drag from air pressure because the air is not as dense. This is particularly apparent when you are moving fast. However, this is not going to impact the majority of ultrarunners because of the duration and speed at which we run.

When does acclimatization occur? Most of the respiratory adaptation occurs within 5-6 days and then will continue to adapt. An increases in altitude also increases amount of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which makes the heart beat a little faster increasing the amount of lactate released. Adapting to this situation occurs mostly within 2-3 days days and then will improve at a slower pace. Once you’ve been at altitude for 1-2 weeks your body begins to produce more red blood cells and that gradually increases until about 3-4 weeks.

Another change that occurs when you move to higher altitude is that you burn more carbohydrate and less fats. It takes 2-3 weeks for your body to return to its prior “normal” for burning these two sources of fuel. This happens around 13,000-16,000 ft (4-5000 m).

Does training at altitude change your adaptation? Training at altitude can help you adapt quicker because you’re stressing your system, but this only works if you live at altitude. However, a short 30-60 minute run isn’t going to do much. Your want to train at a lower intensity so you can sustain the effort for the longer duration. Live high, train anywhere is the standard recommendation. You get the most benefit when you can train high intensity at lower altitude and long slow distance at high altitude. 

What if you don’t live at altitude, what can you do? Altitude tents. You have to live in them long enough. You need to be in the altitude tent for 12-16 hours a day. If you’re just sleeping in it, it’s not going to be enough to give you a noticeable response. The other factor is you can’t just sleep in their or lay around. You need to be moving around. Altitude masks or other such devices do not work. What they do is exercise your lungs, which can improve your breathing economy.

If you’re racing high and live low, when should you arrive to a race? Ideally you’ll arrive 3-5 days before race day, if the race is around 5000 ft (1500 m). For moderate altitude 6500- 9800 ft (2-3000 m), it’s about one to two weeks. And for high altitude above 10,000 ft(3000 m) you’ll need at least two weeks.

What to do if you can’t arrive 3-5 days before a race or whatever time? The greatest loss to your performance occurs as soon as you arrive at altitude. If you get there the day before the race, you may have some altitude sickness, which improves after 2-3 days. Basically, if you can’t get there 3 days before the race be ready to deal with some issues because of the altitude. One thing you need to keep in mind is that the altitude is going to change your pace and you shouldn’t push harder to make up for it.

How quickly do you loose your acclimatization?  After ten days to two weeks, you’re going to feel some of that loss, but five days doesn’t cause much of a loss. One month of living low and you can’t even tell that the person was acclimatized to high altitude. 

I think we’ve all heard about the benefits of living high and then running at sea level. You do feel great, but may be a little disappointed when you go out for your first run because although you have the benefits of the higher red blood cells, you are also moving through air that is more dense then you are use to running through. Basically, that makes you slow your pace.

High or low, your body needs time to adjust. As does your brain, so you don’t go out pushing hard and not doing a darn bit of good.


Running Preggers: Clothing issues

Sure, you can just wear larger sizes of clothes, but who really wants to do that? It’s much more fun to show off that baby bump, especially, at the gym, on the trail, or out running on the road. Show the world pregnant women are strong and fit.

The problem is maternity fitnesswear is kinda expensive and then you’re only going to be wearing it for a few months. Every woman and every pregnancy is different and will change what clothes you need and when you need them. If you’re planning on future pregnancies and/or you have extra money (after all the baby purchases), buy the clothes that make you the most comfortable, even if they are a little pricey.

Depending on how you’re carrying your baby (high or low) changes what you may need. If your carrying low, pants and shorts can become a problem before shirts do. If you carry high, shirts are a problem earlier in your pregnancy. By the end, it’s all going to be a problem though. Shorts with drawstrings and longer shirts may be the most cost-effective solution.

Sports bras are another ball game all together. You’re going to need a larger size and you may need to go up a size after that depending on how things play out. If you’re planning to breastfeed your baby, you’ll want to invest in some nursing sports bras, plus their just a bit more comfortable than normal nursing bras.

Sports bras are expensive especially as the size increases and you need more and more support. No one wants the girls bouncing around and when you’re pregnant it can be painful. If you’re going to be breastfeeding, it is probably worth the extra cost to get the higher quality nursing bras that have good support since you’ll be using them for a while. But, don’t get them too early because once your milk comes in you could go up another size. You’ll want to wait about five days postpartum before you get more than one (because you might want one to wear home after the birth).

What’s a woman to do, when you know your bra size is most likely going to change throughout pregnancy and the sports bras are pricey? Double up. Yep, wear two bras. It does create more heat, which can result in a slight heat rash for some women. But I can get two cheaper bras for less than a really high quality supportive one. If the girls were going to stay that size forever, I’d buy the more expensive one, but they’re not.

Another clothing issue you may be lucky enough to experience is chafing. Your higher body temperature and blood volume make you start sweating earlier in your workouts. Add that to your not so great fitting clothing and you’ll be investing in Body Glide or other anti-chafing cream.

Good luck ladies!

Running miles: I’ve been able to maintain the 3 miles a day at a 10:30 pace. I’m 31 weeks three days pregnant. I’m supplementing with the elliptical or stair master for the rest of my aerobic workout.

Heat Acclimation

It’s still winter where I live, but if you’re planning on running early spring or summer races, preparing for running in the heat should be on your mind. There are lots of changes that occur in your body when you become adapted to the heat during exercise.

One of the first things is you have a lower heart rate when exercising at a particular temperature. Your blood plasma increases, which allows you to move warm blood toward the outside of your body to dissipate heat. Increased blood plasma also allows you to begin sweating earlier and at a higher rate. Sweating earlier means your body will start sweating when your core temperature goes up by one degree rather than two or three. This head start may not seem like much, but is important for maintaining a lower core temperature.

Without the increase in your plasma volume, you would compromise your cardiovascular output as more energy was shunted to decreasing your body temperature through sweat and moving your blood around.

Now keep in mind that just because you are more efficient at running in the heat, does not mean that you can slack off on your hydration. You are actually losing more fluid because you are sweating earlier and at an increased rate. The change in the amount of sweat lost can be huge. Normal fluid lost for one hour of exercise is 0.5 to 1 liter. As you become heat acclimated, this can increase up to 1-2 liters per hour.

How do you get ready for the heat? run in the heat. hot and humid is difficult to adapt to but you can do it to a point. If it’s winter or just not hot enough where you live, there are still some things you can do. The bottom line is you want to increase your core body temperature to about 100 to 101.5 degrees.

Some options include building a really simple heat chamber in your home, over dressing. If you have the space, create a room that gets really hot. You can use space heaters or stop the clothes dryer from ventilating outside (which will increase humidity too). Ideally, you’ll have a treadmill, but some other type of exercise equipment like a stationary bike or elliptical machine will be all right.

Over dressing is pretty simple. Just put on lots of extra clothing and then go running. In doors is going to be the best, but out doors will work if you don’t have another option. This isn’t an ideal way to prepare but it is better than nothing.

Another, less effective, way is to do some high intensity exercise until your core body temperature is up to 100-101.5 and then go sit in the hot tub or a sauna.

Adapting to the heat takes about seven to fourteen days of heat exposure for one hundred minutes a day. You can do a much shorter period of three to five days and it will help you feel better when running in the heat, but for endurance events the longer period is what you should be doing.

The problem is that heat training makes you tired, so you don’t want to do this super close to your race date, but you have to balance that with not losing the heat adaptation you’ve tortured yourself to develop. Try to complete your heat training 3-4 days before your event.


Where am I? Proprioception.

Proprioceptors are the sensors in your muscles and tendons, which govern your balance. They tell your brain where your body is in relation to itself and other objects in your environment. Having good proprioception is essential to runners, especially trail runners, who are constantly being asked to shift their weight to adjust for the terrain. It’s also important for winter running.

Proprioception is something runners should be working to improve all the time, but it’s even more important after an injury. Injuries to muscles and tendons damage the proprioceptors. If proprioceptors are not functioning properly, you’re much more likely to get re-injured.

Take an ankle sprain for example. It’s your proprioceptors, which would send a message to your brain to prevent the initial roll of the ankle, but if you rolled it anyway the likelihood of rolling it again increases especially within the next four to six weeks after an injury. Injury prevention isn’t the only thing that improves with these exercises. Your speed will also improve.

Here is an easy test to give you an idea where you’re at proprioceptionwise. Stand up, balance on one leg and close your eyes. If you immediately put your foot to the ground because you lost your balance, you have some work to do.

It’s not difficult or time consuming to include a few proprioception exercises into your routine. You can do them after a run or do them when you’re hanging out watching TV. If you have kids, they’ll find the exercises fun and you can make it into a game (and teach them about their bodies). You don’t need any special equipment, but there are things that you can buy to make things more challenging as you improve. A stability cushion is $16.50 on Amazon. A  wobble balance board is $22.

Even if you choose to purchase either the cushion or the board, you should start on the flat ground. Stand on a flat hard surface. Take off your shoes (you can put them back on if it’s too difficult). Now, stand on one leg for 30 seconds. Then do the other leg. If you can do this easily, increase the time to 60 seconds. From there, you can close your eyes.

Other single leg balance exercises that can help improve your proprioception are:
Air Plane: standing on your right leg, hold your arms out like wings, bend over lifting your left leg up and back, and make a straight line from head to your left foot. Once you’ve mastered this. touch your right toes with your left finger tips and then your right, returning to arms straight out between each touch.

Single leg squats: stand on one leg, roll your hips forward and squat. You can bend the leg your not standing on and touch it down onto a step or stool or you can hold it straight in front of you for a piston squat.

Ball toss: stand on one leg and toss a tennis ball at a wall or to another person and catch it while remaining on the one leg.

Here are some exercises you can try on either the cushion or the balance board once you have achieved that level.

Block It

We all get stuck in a rut, but it can be really easy to do with your workout routine. I know I’m guilty of this on multiple occasions, with both my running and with my strength workouts.  There are a few problems with the rut: first, you don’t make any progress; second, you lose motivation; third, it’s boring!

The first is the most important for runners who want to improve. Not all runners want to improve. They are content running their six miles four days a week at a comfortable pace. That’s not me. I want to get better and I like to see progress. Even if improvement isn’t your think, staying motivated to get out there and not being bored the entire time should be enough for you to want to change things up every few weeks.

Many runners work through their training in blocks. Blocks can be four, six or eight weeks long and during each block you focus on a different aspect of your running. That doesn’t mean you drop other aspects of training, they just aren’t the focus point. Other runners switch things around by every other week. And still others, do a rotation over a ten-day period.

Strength Blocks: Starting a block rotation with strength is great because the number one goal of strength training for runners is to reduce risk of injuries. There are three types of strength training typically used by runners. First is body weight. This uses light weights or no weights with high repetitions. The idea is it builds strength and stability without the mass. Second is plyometrics. Plyometrics are explosive movements, such as jumping and springing. These are great but need to be implemented in small dosages especially at the beginning. Third is heavy lifting. Heavy lifting is low repetitions and max weight which strengths your connective tissue. Lifts should be done very slow and controlled. You’re runs during a strength rotation should be lower in intensity because you’re kicking up the intensity with strength training.

Speed Blocks: during your speed block you’re going to have an intense speed workout once a week and then throw in some fartleks during your long run. For your weekly intense session, choose different types of work outs. Don’t just do 800s. There’s nothing wrong with doing a week of 800s, just don’t make it an every week thing. Use pyramids, tempo runs, ladders, or 400s.

Hill Blocks: during your hill block you will have one run a week dedicated to running hills and then you’ll throw in extra hills for your long run. You can run hill repeats or find a long steady climb to conquer. If you’re doing short repeats, walking the downhill is fine, but you’ll have to find some longer downhills to practice downhill running. Downhills will tear up your legs if you don’t build them into your training.

Build Blocks: As endurance runners, especially at ultra-distances, your long run is going to stay in the weekly rotation. However, if you’re not doing a build phase, you’ll only do one long run a week rather than the back to backs. You can also choose to run one long run and then the next day a ten-mile run. But if you’re not in a build block, you’re not increasing the miles on that second day.

The important part is that you are changing things and challenging your body in new ways. Using the same workouts doesn’t get you more of the same results. It gets you a flatline.


Running Preggers: Blood Volume

As an endurance athlete you already have a higher blood volume. Having higher blood volume reduces heart rate during exercise, delivers more oxygen to hard working muscles, sends more blood to the skin for cooling, and furnishes a reserve supply of internal fluid so that sweat rates can remain high during exercises. Your blood volume begins to increase after just a single exercise session and then reaches its peak within a few weeks.

Aerobic exercise typically reduces your blood pressure and your resting heart rate. But pregnancy increases your heart rate and makes your blood pressure fluctuate. Your resting heart rate can increase by as much as 15-20 percent during pregnancy.

The increase in blood volume due to cardiovascular fitness is much less than the increase seen for pregnant women. Pregnancy increases your blood volume, in fact it increases by as much as fifty percent. You need this extra blood because you’re providing for your growing child. During your first trimester, your blood is going up, but not a lot because the baby is so small and has small needs. By the second trimester, you may experience dizziness or lightheadedness as your body tries to catch up on the need for more blood. By the third trimester all this extra blood can leave you with swelling in your feet and joints.

Additional side effects of increased blood volume in pregnant women can include an increase in body temperature and sweating. All the extra blood volume can make your veins more visible and larger.

Blood volume also accounts for approximately four pounds of the recommended weight gain for a pregnant woman (25-30 lbs). Other fluids, not including the amniotic fluid, like water add another 4 pounds. The amniotic fluid is about two pounds.

That’s a lot of extra fluid floating around in your system by the time you reach the end of your pregnancy.

Weekly Miles: at 30 weeks pregnant, I’m still running but I’ve had to reduce my miles a lot. I run three miles a day at a ten and a half minute mile. Some days are more comfortable than others. I’m supplementing with the various elliptical machines at the gym to maintain my cardiovascular fitness. As the belly has begun to stick out more, the maternity belt works better and is able to reduce the pressure I was feeling in my pelvis while running.

Keep running mamas!