Category Archives: training

Inhale-Exhale

Breathing is something we all do without really thinking about it, unless it’s not going well. We become very aware of our breathing when it is a struggle regardless of the thing that is making it a struggle. The athletes who, I believe, are the most aware of their breath is swimmers.

A swimmer has to have a rhythm for their breathing. All other athletes we can just go and not think about it too much until we’re huffing and puffing and even then, we merely recognize it and adjust a bit or push through. Not swimmers. A swimmer has to coordinate every movement to make sure they are able to breath when needed.

Being aware of your breathing has benefits to many aspects of your life not just running (which is what we really care about, if we’re being honest). It can reduce stress, improve physical health, and increase self-confidence.

Deep breathing releases endorphins and those make us feel good and are a natural pain killer. It promotes better blood flow and increased energy through the extra oxygen. The increase in oxygen gives your body the tools to rebuild injured muscles and build muscle.

Breathing properly can reduce anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious about something take a few deep breaths and see what happens to how you feel. Deep breathing has a relaxing effect on our body and our mind, which helps relieve you of anger, sadness, and other uneasy emotions. It reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps with better sleep.

Deep breathing helps with posture. An upright posture has positive effects on many aspects of your physical health. Your internal organs function better when they are not all squished as you hunch over at a desk or table. Your spine stays healthy preventing lower and upper back pain. It massages your organs such as the heart, stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas.

Deep breathing strengthens your immune system. Oxygen attaches to hemoglobin in your red blood cells allowing your body to metabolize nutrients and vitamins. It also removes toxins from your blood like carbon dioxide.

Deep breathing makes sure oxygen gets to all the important parts of your brain. You’re able to think more clearly and more creatively. Nerves run throughout your body sending messages from your brain to every body system and muscle. Oxygen is one of the nutrients the brain, spinal cord and nerves need to make communication quick and effective.

How do you do this deep breathing?

Ideally you would spend a few minutes each day and complete the following for two sets of ten. Sit with your back straight and tall or lay on your back. Exhale all the air from your lungs. When you think you can’t get anymore out, try a bit more. Pause for one second and then begin to fill your lungs slowly until you can’t take any more in.

Another option is to send a few minutes throughout the day being aware of your breath and make sure you’re sitting straight and breathing into your belly and not your chest. Make the breaths deep.

Hurts to Breath

Diaphragm cramp or side stitches, call it what you like it’s unpleasant. There are only theories as to why you get side stitches when you are running (or doing other sports activities). The most widely held belief is a muscle spasm of the diaphragm and/or its supporting ligaments.

Your diaphragm muscle assists you with breathing while you are running and because your need for oxygen increases when you’re running, your diaphragm works harder. The thought is that it gets tired and/or the surrounding tissues get tired and then the muscle spasms.

The second theory is improper breathing (oh yeah, you can breathe the wrong way). This theory ends the same as the above, a fatigued diaphragm and surrounding muscles which leads to spasms. The difference is breathing too shallow. Shallow breathing means your muscles don’t get enough oxygen and then get tired easier.

So what’s the proper way to breath when you are running? Deep with your belly not shallow into your chest. Breathing deep into your belly opens blood vessels found deep in your lungs and fills your blood with more oxygen. Most people breath with their chest, only filling two thirds of their lungs. To tell if you are belly breathing, lay on your back and lay your hand on your stomach. If your hand rises and falls you’re belly breathing. Most of us have to make a conscious effort to belly breath.

The third theory is we don’t time our breathing with our foot falls properly. When you are running try inhaling for three steps (right, left, right) and then exhale for two steps (left, right). This five-step rhythm will alternate your exhale from your right foot plant to your left. You have to think about it for a while when you’re first learning to do it, but it will reduce your side stitches. Practice it for a few minutes every mile and pretty soon it will become automatic. If you are climbing a hill or doing speed work, change it to a 2:1 ration for inhalation and exhalation.

The fourth theory is poor running posture, aka running with your shoulders rounded and your upper body bent forward. One belief is that hunching over like that compromises nerves in the abdominal area and then they become irritated and trigger the pain you feel and call side stitches. The other belief is that the hunching puts more weight on your diaphragm which causes it to spasm and get tired.

The final theory is dehydration. I’m not going to go into this one. We all know it’s critical to hydrate before, during and after our runs. We know we have to take in electrolytes if we’re running for more than about 60-90 minutes (depending on pace and temperature outside: faster and hotter=more electrolytes).

Bottom line: breath deep with your belly, use rhythmic breathing, pay attention to your posture, and hydrate.

Running Sucks

There are shirts out there now that say, “Running Sucks.” And there are the 0.0 stickers for cars mocking the 26.2. Everyone has heard, “My sport is your sports punishment.”

Running is hard. And let’s face it, we runners, we like doing hard things. It’s just who we are, but we all reach those points during training or during a race, where we wonder what we are doing out there and why we put ourselves through it over and over.

The best way to deal with these types of setbacks or low points is to be prepared for them. Don’t fool yourself by thinking that you are going to love every second of running. You don’t love every second of anything in your life.

It’s okay to have days where you think running sucks. It’s okay to have a whole week where you think running sucks. In fact, you can do it for a whole month if you really want to hold onto it that long, although, I don’t recommend it.

The first thing you need to know about these times where running sucks, is they go away, but only if you keep running. When you are out there running on cloud nine, loving every breath and footstep, file those experiences away to pull them out when running sucks.

Knowing why you run is sometimes difficult to put into words, but having an idea or a million reasons why you run and reminding yourself of those reasons can get you moving again.  Having goals that you are striving for can keep you moving when things are hard.

Look over your training, and make sure you have only been increasing your miles by ten percent and that you have been taking a rest week every fourth week by decreasing your miles by twenty to twenty-five percent for the week.

If you are one of those people who train seven days a week, try taking a day off a week for two or three weeks or a day off every other week. I know this is hard and I know the mental games that must be played to make this work, but it could be the fastest way to pull you out of a slump.

Review what is going on in your life. Are their extra stressors or just a constant high level of stress? Stress makes you tired and if it lasts for a while, you lose your motivation to do things you love to do even when they are the things relieving some of the stress.

No matter how much running may suck when you are out there, NOT running suck more.

 

Light it Up

I passed two people walking their dog along the trail this morning at 530 a.m. in the pitch black. As I passed them one said, “Oh I guess we can run with our headlamps.”

Now, I’m sure all of you know you can run with a headlamp. It does take some getting used to so give yourself some time to adjust. You’ll likely be a little slower at first until you gain confidence.

You don’ t need to use a headlamp either. You can use a flashlight or something else that will light the path in front of you. If you choose to use a flashlight as your primary source of light (I have a tiny one as an emergency backup) make sure it has a wrist strap in case you fall.

I wear my headlamp around my hips rather than on my head. Whenever I wear it on my head it slides with my sweat, it bounces a bit, or I get tunnel vision. The other problem I have with it on my head is that it wipes out my night vision completely. If it’s around my hips I don’t have these problems.

There are a few things you’ll need to figure out if you try wearing a light around your hips: first, make sure your shirt is not going to bounce over the light; second, you do have to turn your body to see in another direction with the light, but you may not need the light unless you’ve obliterated your night vision or it’s really freaking dark.

Okay so we all know we need to have a light.

What are the things we need to think about when purchasing a headlamp?

  1. How far do you need to be able to see? If you are running trails you need a brighter light. There are lights out there that are self-adjusting for brightness
  2. The beam width. A spot light is going to be brighter to see farther, but a flood light is going to show you more width.
  3. Battery life. You don’t want to be changing batteries mid run. Although you should always have spares with you. When you’re looking at battery life, think about the different settings of the lamp. Bright is going to use more life. Steady beam is going to use more than a flashing beam.
  4. Weather resistance. Rain, snow, heat, can your light handle it? Another thing in this vein is how durable is the light. Trail runners fall. Make sure your lamp can take a bit of a beating.
  5. A lighter light is usually more comfortable. How much does it weigh? Some headlamps have a overhead strap which can add to the stability and is good for a lot of uneven trails or technical stuff where you are really getting around. Look for something in the 6-7 ounce range.
  6. User friendly. Let’s face it, if you’re an ultrarunner and you need to figure out why a light isn’t working or change batteries on your own at mile 80, a three-year-old better be able to figure it out.

Trackers

Runners like numbers. We want to know how far we’ve gone, how fast we were, how much we climbed/descended, what our heart rate was and on and on. As much as we love numbers, it’s also important to keep things in perspective and enjoy the run for the run, so leave your fun toys at home once in a while and just run.
If you’ve been in a sports store or a running store recently, I’m sure you’ve seen the numerous watches that track every bodily function and your place on the earth at each moment. There are a lot of options out there. When you are in the market I would suggest doing some research. Here are some starting points:
Keeping It Simple
Mio Slice ($100): this little guy tracks your heart rate and makes recommendations about how much activity you should be doing each day. It’s tracking is very accurate. You can track steps, distance, calories burned, and sleep. It’s compatible with iphones and android. Battery life is five days.
Polar M200 ($120-150): tracks heart rate, speed, distance, and route.  connects with an app you can download on your phone. It has a running program adjustable to your needs. Battery life is 6 hours in GPS mode.
Polar M400 ($130): does everything the M200 does plus tracks altitude, calories,  steps and sleep quality. It’s waterproof to be used in all weather conditions. it has a bigger numbers on the display and it’s battery life is 8 hours in GPS mode.
Going Big
Garmin Fenix 5S ($700): this guy comes in three sizes in case you have smaller wrists. It is a multisport tracker with a barometric altimeter, magnetic compass and wrist band heart rate monitor. It measures stride, cadence, ground contact time, bounce, and estimates your VO2 Max. Battery life 24 hours in GPS mode
Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR ($500): a multisport trainer, waterproof up to 100m. It has 80 pre-set modes and sport specific metrics. It tracks your basics such as location, pace, heart rate, speed, altitude. Battery life 12 hours in GPS mode (other models have longer battery life if needed such as the spartan ultra 26 hours).
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier ($300)
This one runs on 4G LTE, bluetooth and Wi-fi so you can take calls and respond to text messages without your phone nearby. It’s compatible with android and IOS. It tracks your altitude  distance, location, pace, heart rate and more. It’s water, dust, and extreme temperature resistant. Batter life up to three days with mixed use and screen set to turn on/off automatically

Race Director

Three years ago, before I became a race director, I used to look at different areas where I ran and think, “Oh it would be cool to put on a race here.”  I don’t think that much anymore. Just kidding I do, but being a race director is a lot of work.

Race directors (RD) are amazing people (and not just because I’m one). Putting together a race is a lot of work. There are a lot of moving parts that need to move together by race day.  My race is a 5k and 10k called Run for Home. It has become easier over the three years, not because there is less to do, but because I know what I need to do and who to contact to get things done.

A RD doesn’t get paid for the hours spent filling out permit applications, waste management plans, and Americans with Disabilities plans.

They don’t get paid for creating race maps, talking on the phone with parks and recreation, local police officers, barricade companies, t-shirt companies, medal companies, and event companies.

They don’t get paid for days they spend seeking donations to support the race and prizes they can raffle off at the race. They also don’t get paid for gathering and organizing all the volunteers for the event.

RD’s are volunteers who love the sport and love runners.

So where do all the race fees go?? Alright, so I will say that some of the big races have employees who get paid, but most, dedicate the sweat and blood out of love. Still where do the race fees go?

Race fees pay for t-shirts, medals, permits (city and county), liability insurance, local law enforcement, port-a-potties, recycling bins, hand washing stations, reflective vests for volunteers, food and water that doesn’t get donated, bibs, timing company, start/finish arch, posters for advertising, registration websites, advertising with any other media. There is a lot of places for money to go and nifty new things always show up.

If you’re thinking about putting on a race, here are some tips:

  1. Pick a weekend that doesn’t have a lot of other charity events.
  2. Submit an application to the city or county where the race is going to happen. If you expect a large number of people you may need an additional application/permit for a “mass gathering.”
    1. Start contacting anyone required for the permit. There is usually paperwork that has to be filled out and submitted.
  3. If you are using an event company for the timing or start/finish line make sure they can be there on the date you’ve chosen.
  4. Start planning early: get your race listed on race calendars, hang up flyers, and start getting everyone you know to register.
  5. Gather your volunteers and make sure you know what you need them to do and how many you need. You may need police to close roads or to get barricades to direct traffic/runners away from each other.
  6. If you’re doing food of some type, you need to have the department of health check it out.
  7. If you are doing a raffle or getting sponsor, you have to start months before the event.
  8. There are lots of websites that you can use for race registration. I use Registermyrace.com
  9. Figure out if you are doing race day registration and if you are how are you going to accept payment: Square readers are awesome.
  10. You’ll have to order shirts and medals three to four weeks in advance.

 

 

Losing it?

One of the most frustrating things that happens when you take time off running is you lose your hard earned fitness and have to work your ass off to get it back. We all know the longer you have to take off of running the more you lose. This is definitely something I have struggled with as I’ve been coming back from two rolled ankles and a strained hamstring. Anyone who has been forced to take time off running due to an injury knows you go through the whole grief cycle, which I’ve written about and you can find it here.
There are two aspects of losing it: the mental side and the physical side. Let’s start with the easier of the two: the physical side. There’s been lots of research about how quickly fitness is lost when an athlete has to take time off after an injury or just because they are burnt out. We lose the most fitness right up front 20% in the first three weeks. Ouch. after that things level off and up to three months you retain 80% of your fitness. For those athletes who have trained for a long time the impact over time is less because you have a stronger base of fitness. What the experienced athletes lose is what they have most recently gained. You go back to your baseline. As much as this steep drop in fitness loss sucks, it is easier to get back to where you were than it was to get there in the first place.
You can slow the loss and maintain fitness by cross training that makes sure your aerobic system keeps working at the level you had it and doing strength training to minimize the amount of muscle strength you lose. Sport specific fitness is definitely going to take a  hit though so don’t get discouraged when you go back and are sore after a run that would have been a walk in the park pre-injury.
The mental side of it, in my opinion, is the harder of the two that you work through. Depending on how long you are injured, you may have developed a maladaptive coping skill telling yourself it doesn’t matter and maybe you do something other than running. Sometimes it can go as far as, I just don’t want to run anymore. Telling ourselves these things when there is no end in sight or we when we are catastrophizing is a way that we cope with the loss of running, which has becomes a indispensable part our life and who we see ourselves as.  The problem with this, is it makes reviving the motivation to get back out there more difficult. The best way to regain motivation is by remembering the things you love about running, which can trigger those feelings of loss all over again that you were trying to avoid in the first place. See my article on working through the cycle of grief link above.
Once you are back out there, you have to get over the fear of another injury. This takes time and building trust in your ability and self confidence. The only way to build these is to get out there. Give yourself permission to go at your own pace by taking it slow and run easier routes for a bit. It helps if you come up with a plan of action. A plan will help you come to terms with the fact that you can get back to where you were.
A critical element to maintaining motivation and avoiding a lot of self recrimination is to not compare yourself to where you were and where you are. This is a particularly difficult one for me. Try to remain positive and every time this thinking pattern pops into your head, counter act it by reminding yourself that you had to work hard to get to where you were and it’s possible to do it again because you know how and you know you are strong enough mentally and physically to get there. The other half of working through this is accepting where you are. Berating yourself and dwelling on the fitness you’ve lost is not going to help you move forward. It doesn’t change where your current level of fitness is at.
It is not easy to come back from an extended voluntary or involuntary break from running, but runners are a tenacious bunch who like challenges and this is just one more hill to climb.
I’ve also blogged about the safe way to return to running after an injury. You can find it here.
Here is a post about how to run in the swimming pool. Boo!
There is also something called forced rest depression which I talk about here.