Run, Run, Reindeer


Christmas morning before the sun comes up is one of my favorite times to run, which is saying a lot because I don’t like the winter (Christmas is in the winter in the western U.S.), especially, if there is snow on the ground.

But the snow makes everything so quiet and no one is out driving around Christmas morning. Everyone leaves their Christmas lights on all night and their bright colors red, green, yellow, blues, purples, and white reflect off the snow.

If the sky is clear, the moon light makes the snow look like diamond dust has been sprinkled across the ground. My breath crystalizes as it leaves my lungs, creating a cloud before me each time I exhale. My nose gets chilly as I move through the cold air, which has a slight metallic smell to it during the winter. My feet crunch and pack the snow down as I land and roll from mid foot to fore foot.

I do feel like a little bit of a creeper because I like to watch the lights come on in the houses as the kids wake up to find presents under the Christmas tree. I even look in the windows as I run by to share in the pure joy of children on Christmas morning. I don’t stop and peer through the glass panes, so I figure I haven’t crossed the line into suspicious criminal like behavior where people will start calling the police.

There is no other morning like Christmas morning. Christmas is not my favorite holiday, not even close, but this part of Christmas is the one part that has held onto that Christmas spirit I felt when I was a small child and saw on my children’s faces when they were much younger than they are now.

This year I may not get to run Christmas morning, due to the healing stress fracture in my right foot. But you never know, Santa could grant my Christmas wish even if it’s only a mile.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Speed, Stride Length, and Cadence


Cadence (AKA stride rate) is the number of steps you take per minute. Speed is how much distance you cover in a specific amount of time. In the U.S. this is minutes per mile pretty much everywhere else it is minutes per kilometer. Stride length is the space between your front toe and your rear heel at their widest during a step.

What’s so important about cadence?

A higher cadence reduces injury by lowering the impact of each step. It also allows you to maintain a faster pace for longer because you are a more efficient runner. Most elite runners have a cadence of 180 steps per minute or more. Most recreational runners are running at a 160-170 cadence. You can figure out your cadence by counting each time your right foot hits the ground in one minute while you are running, then times it by two.

Running with a higher cadence automatically results in shortening your stride length and reduces the amount of time you spend in the air. Because of these two things, it reduces the amount of force you hit the ground with and thus reduces the risk of injury. As for efficiency, a faster cadence means less hang time and a less forceful toe off. Over distance, this reduction of energy will help maintain a higher speed.

How do you increase your cadence?

Not everyone should run at a 180 cadence. Beginning runners and runners who typically run an 11-minute mile or slower, should focus on making sure they have proper form and are not over striding before increasing cadence.

The easiest way to increase cadence is by paying attention to it. First figure out what your cadence is currently. Famed running coach, Jack Daniels, suggests running as if you are running on eggshells. Another option is to listen to music with a 180 cadence or a metronome set at 180 beats per minute. Basically, you want light quick steps. When you are first working on increasing your cadence, start with a five percent increase as a goal. So if you run at a 160 cadence, increase it to a 168. If you’re at 166, increase to 174 and so on.

Are cadence and speed connected? Yes, but cadence isn’t the only way to increase your speed. Another way is to make sure you have good hip strength and mobility. Hip strength prevents multiple common injuries such as shin splints, runner’s knee, and ITBand syndrome. When it is combined with mobility, it increases your stride length and power.

I know, I know, I just said you want a shorter stride length. However, with all things running there is no one right way to do things. The thing to be wary of when increasing your stride length is over striding. If you are landing on your foot when it is way out in front of your body, you’re over striding. Over striding causes impact forces to move through your body incorrectly causing injuries to tendons and bones. The increase in length comes from the back swing. In other words, how far back your hip extends before you pull your foot forward for the next step.

You can find hip exercises under my strength-training tab above. Stretching is going to increase your hip mobility. You need to stretch your quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors.

As with changing anything in the way that your body runs, take it slow and pay attention to how you are feeling.

New Years is Coming

new years

It’s that time of year again, new year’s resolutions…

I don’t like the term “resolutions” because it implies there is something wrong in your life and it needs fixing or that there is some type of conflict. I like New Year’s goals much better. A goal is something you strive achieve. You’re moving forward and I like achievements.

The word “goal” has a positive connotation where, a resolution, especially if it is preceded by the words, “New Year’s,” is typically negative or at a minimum cringe worthy.

Word choice has a significant impact on the way we view things, so it’s important to use words that motivate us to keep striving toward our goals until we achieve them regardless of how long they take.

We may slip a little or even stand still and look around to determine where we are exactly, so long as we don’t turn back, we are good.

Winter can be a down time (emotionally and number of miles) for many. Add in the holidays with family, friends, and traveling it can all lead to a few extra pounds which circles around and can make us not feel so great.

How do we get past the winter slump and begin the New Year with determination and optimism? Set yourself a few goals for the next year. They don’t all need to be running related. They shouldn’t be. You should make goals in other areas of your life too.

For our purposes here, I’m talking about running. Pick yourself an early spring race and a goal race a little out beyond the spring race. A goal race is THE race you are really training to run for the year. It’s the big enchilada. All the other races are just filler and preparation.

Once you have your GOAL race, identify the things you need to do to be prepared as best you can for the race. Come up with a time line as to when you will be implementing each of the things on the list to help you reach your goal. It can be anything such as new running shoes, better eating habits, find a running partner, begin trail running, or find a hill for repeats. These things are going to be individual to you and your GOAL.

Checking off each of the things on your preparation list is getting one step closer to that goal.

Achieving a goal motivates us to continue making progress and building our self-confidence to take on things in all areas of life. As you create your lists and write out your goal, choose your words carefully and make sure they are not words you associate with failure or negativity.

Forget something?

forgot shoes

Have ever gone to the gym and forgotten something?

Yes of course, we all have. Have you ever thought about which items make you turn around, go home, and get them? Alternatively, which items do you just run to the store and buy rather than go all the way home?

There ae somethings you can tough it up and go without such as a water bottle (if there is a drinking fountain available), a hair tie, and head phones.

What if you forget your shirt? Most gyms don’t let you workout without one, so your forced to either go get one from home or go buy one. But if they didn’t care, do you? I care. I’d go buy one, even if it was a cotton shirt from the mom and pop shop next door.

Shorts or exercise pants? We have to qualify this one again with, “If the gym allows you to workout in jeans.” For me, this would depend on what I was doing after the gym. If I had to be in a professional setting, I’d go buy shorts. If not, I’d just workout in my street clothes and suck up any chafing problems.

Sports bras for the ladies? I’d just wear whatever I came in wearing.

Socks? I’d go without them.

How about shoes? I’d go without them too. In fact, I did this very thing this past weekend. I had a three and a half hour workout and forgot my shoes at home. I wasn’t going back and it was five in the morning, so no one was open who could sell me some shoes. I had the heels I walked in wearing, but those wouldn’t work at all on the elliptical or any other one of the machines I would be using.

It wasn’t a hard choice for me. I got some raised eyebrows and stares, but I don’t really care. I’m there to do my workout, not to impress anyone.

What have you forgotten and what did you do about it?


Trail to Road

trail to road

Why would you go from running on the trails to running on the road? Of course, some people like running on the road and don’t like the trail, or at least prefer roads over trail. This baffles most trail runners who love the mountains and the challenges and variations they offer. Being in nature and away from the busy, exhaust filled streets of the city is like a mini vacation from everyday life.

Roads can be more convenient for a runner who is pressed for time and cannot drive to the mountains. I admit it is great to be able to walk out your front door and start running. Those runners who are able to do this on the mountains are lucky runners.

Heavy rain and snow can also deter some trail runners from pounding the trail rather than the road. Driving icy roads or roads piled high with snow can be dangerous. The goal is to keep running and not do anything to jeopardize our ability to run, especially for an extended time. Sliding your car off the road or into another car, is not conducive to more running.

So how do we make that transition?

There is research out there that says there is no real difference between running surfaces because our legs automatically adjust their stiffness depending on your shoes and the surface you are running on. When I read these studies, it makes sense and is a simple concept. Our brains adjust our muscle tension based upon our surrounding conditions without our being aware of them all the time.

In my experience, this is not true. I hurt less when I run a fifty-mile trail race than when I run a marathon on the road. Maybe this is because I’m more relaxed when surrounded by a natural forest as compared to a man-made brick and mortar forest. It could also be the variation in the trail and our use of more supporting muscles and tendons to adjust to an uneven surface. All I know is it is harder on my body, and in my mind that increases the risk of injury.

There are a few things you can do to minimize the impact forces of running on the road. First make sure you have a good pair of road shoes. Trail shoes tend to have less cushioning. Second, make sure your form is correct so the force of the impact travels through your body in a way that minimizes it.

The easiest way to do this is to imagine there is a string from the center of your sternum pulling you toward the sun or the moon. This keeps your chest open, shoulders back, and head up. Your knee should be slightly bent upon impact and directly under your center of gravity. Strengthen your hips and your abdominal muscles to be able to maintain proper form throughout your runs.

The smart phone app Treadmill trails shows has videos on your phone of trails and can keep you at least somewhat connected to trails when you can’t get there for whatever reason.

These two things will make that transition more gentle on your body.


How attached is too attached?

hug a runner

We all love our running partners, but what do you do when yours gets injured or isn’t available to run with you?

When you are running with a training partner, it can become hard to run on your own. A training partner provides that extra motivation and accountability when you are struggling to get out the door. They provide a distraction when the miles get hard. They push you harder than you push yourself. And they become one of your closest friends.

Training partners are a wonderful thing to have, but you should always have a back-up. Some runners are just able to self-motivate more than others and getting out there isn’t a problem whether someone is there or not. It’s easier to get lost in your thoughts and work through life when you are on your own.

So what do you do if you are not a highly self-motivated runner, who goes regardless of the availability of your partner?

You can find a running group rather than just one partner. Even if you don’t run with a group, having a community of runners who support one another, but may not running together can make a difference because you continue to be accountable and encouraged. Find a new running partner.

Listen to music, podcasts, or an audio book while you are running. These can provide the distraction you need to pound out lonely miles. There are also smart phone applications built specific for runners. If you are strictly a numbers runner and knowing your stats is enough, the app runkeeper will do that for you. There are apps that provide encouragement, social aspects, and numbers while you run endomondo, may be the app for you.  Zombies, run sends you on missions in a zombie infested world in addition to tracking your miles.

Couch-to-5k is a great app for runners just starting out or for those returning to running from an injury. Runtastic will tell you stories while you run.  Charity miles donates money for each mile you run to a charity of your choice. It’s an excellent way to make your runs count for more than yourself.

There are tons of apps out there if you suddenly find yourself all alone for your runs. Don’t let the permanent or temporary loss of your running partner deter you from maintaining your goals.

Having GI Issues?


Who hasn’t had them? Seeing no hands, I will continue.

Most runners have experienced, “I’ve got to go NOW!” while running. We are talking about having a bowel movement here, so for those faint of heart, turn back now.

What is happening down there to cause all of the trouble?

Blood is shunted to your working muscles and skin (too keep you cool) rather than your intestinal track. The more strenuous your workout the more blood that is diverted to supply your muscles with oxygen and nutrients

Another factor that contributes to GI issues is dehydration. At some point during a long run, you are probably going to become a bit dehydrated and your electrolytes will be out of balance. This can stress your GI as can the jostling and bouncing of running.

Other things that can negatively impact your GI when you run are your diet, your running experience, and the strength of the muscles of your pelvic floor.

There are some things you can do to reduce and prevent yourself from having diarrhea while you’re running. First, you need to track what you eat, how much you are running, and how much time is between eating and running.

If you see a pattern with what you eat and your GI issues, fix it. Try to eat different things with less fiber. Make sure you are not increasing your miles by more than ten percent a week. Your body needs time to adjust to using both the digestive system and your running muscles at the same time.

Anxiety and caffeine contribute to GI issues for many runners too. The caffeine problem can be fixed through the diet and activity log. As for the anxiety, try some visualization and make sure you pack your gear the night before. Double and triple check it if you need to and if you have crazy superstitions go ahead and keep them if it is going to calm you down.

Make sure and plan your route around a few restrooms, just in case. If you’re out on the trail, take the necessary supplies to do your business like the bears.

And remember pine needles are better than frozen wet wipes (just ask spongebunny).


You want me to do what?

frying pan

Taking time off running is never an easy thing to do, but sometimes it is a necessary thing to do. I have never been good at taking time off. I struggle with rest weeks every four weeks and a rest day each week. So when my doctor says, Nicole, you’re going to need to take a few weeks off of running.

It hits me like a frying pan in the face.

Anger, frustration, disappointment, and heartbroken, I felt them all wash over me. Running is my outlet and my balance.

Why do I have to take time off? A stress fracture in my forefoot.

I’ve never had a stress fracture before and it has always been my greatest fear as a runner because I know it takes you out for an extended period of time.

So now what? I don’t want to lose any more fitness than is necessary, and I want to be able to run the Buffalo 100 at the end of March.

The best way to maintain running fitness when you are injured is through pool running. Running in the pool is not fun. It is monotonous. To run in a pool, you use a flotation belt. You are not supposed to be able to reach the bottom of the pool nor do you move very quickly. The faster you move the more out of running position you are. You can sprint all you want, you’re still not going to go any faster. Running in the pool allows you to continue to work your running muscles without the impact, which will aggravate your injury, whatever it may be.

Other things you can do to maintain at least aerobic fitness are cycling and swimming. Depending on the type of injury you have, weight lifting is also a good option. Take advantage of the downtime by working on things you, “don’t have time for,” because running takes up all of your spare time.

Forced rest depression is something all injured athletes have to be aware of and constantly assess themselves for. Exercise floods your body with endorphins that make you feel good and when you lose those, you can fall into a bad place emotionally. It’s easy to do when you are already feeling heartbroken.

The fastest way back to running is by following your doctor’s advice (I’ll admit, I am not very good at this). If you don’t, you will likely make the injury worse or heal much more slowly. You also run the risk of making a soft tissue injury turn into something chronic that will flare up on a regular basis at the most inopportune times.

A stress fracture heals much faster than a full fracture of the bone. No promises here, but I’m committed to being mostly good and to follow my doctor’s advice.