Training Races

Now is the time to begin planning your race calendar for 2018. Many races fill up early, especially, trail races which have more restrictions on enrollment numbers. Plus, it’s fun. Once you have a list of races you’d like to do for next year, pick one as your goal race. This will be the race all of your training will be focused on. It does’t mean you can’t do other races; it just means the other races are training races.

What’s a training race? It’s a organized event that you run in which is not your goal race. Training races are very useful because they keep you engaged and motivated, but they do a lot more than that too. Let’s start with the motivation piece. Motivation waxes and wans through training, especially, if your goal race is months away or if you have a lot of rebuilding and thus a longer training plan. Having shorter races(compared to the goal race) along the way gives you small goals and accomplishments along the way.

The most important function of a training race is it tells you where you’re at in your training and where you need to go. But, for it to be able to do this, your training races have to have at least some of the same race conditions as your goal race. The distance of your training races will depend on the length of your training plan and the distance of your goal race. So, if your goal race is a marathon you’ll want to pick a 10k and half marathon. The half marathon should be about 4-5 weeks from your goal race. The 10k would be earlier. For a 50k you’d choose a marathon about 4 weeks before and maybe a half a month before that. For a 50 miler, you’ll choose a marathon and a 50k. The 50k being about 4 weeks from your goal race and the marathon 3-4 weeks before that. For a 100, You’ll want a 50 miler about 4-5 weeks before your goal race and a marathon 4-5 weeks before that. We’ll talk about adding more in a second, for now lets focus on these two training races.

For these two training races, you’ll want to decide how much effort you want to put into it. I’ll tell you right now, you shouldn’t be putting full race effort into them. About 75-80% is all you’ll want to do because you don’t want to risk injury, but you want to get a good idea of where you are and how your training is working for you. The other reason you don’t want to put in full effort is because it take a while for your body to recover from full race effort and you’ll need to get back to training after the race. This also makes timing of the training race important which is why the longer one should be about 4-5 week before your goal race.

For a training race to fulfill it’s purpose, the conditions need to be as close to your goal race as you can make them. This includes course and difficulty if you can. If it’s off a little don’t worry about it. The timing of the race is more important than matching your terrain exactly. The other part of “conditions” you’ll want to mimic are your prep. You need to prep like it’s your goal race. Practice your nutrition plan just like you’ll do in your goal race, pack drop bags (even if you won’t use them), use the gear you’ll be using in the goal race (even if you don’t need it all), eat your pre-race meal, do breakfast the same, and go to bed at the same time.

Can you do all this as just a regular training run and not do a training race? you can, but the race atmosphere changes things. It changes your mindset, your adrenaline levels, your competitive nature, and race day anxiety. those are hard to produce in a training run. It goes back to creating the same conditions as you’ll face at your goal race.

Tapering before a training race is different because you don’t want to kill your training four weeks before your goal race. However, you do want to do a mini taper and a mini recovery. Cut back your training the three days before the training race and take the day before as a rest day. After the race, take a two days rest and then do an easy run.

What about adding more races into your schedule? you certainly can, but they should be treated like a training run not a training race and certainly not a race. You can practice a lot of the things you’ll be doing at your goal race, but you shouldn’t run it any harder than you’d run a training run. This goes back to risking an injury and depleting your body to the point of it needing recovery days.

Happy planning!

What’s on Your Feet?

running shoes

A big concern when running in the winter is slipping and falling, but if you’re constantly thinking about it, you’re going to fall. At least, that’s what I’ve found out out running trails. The more I think about not falling the more I fall. You have to let your feet, ankles, and brain talk and get out of their way.

Communication between your brain and your feet/ankles is critical, and what you put on your feet can hinder or help. What you put on your feet matters (as if you don’t know that). Take a gander at the bottom of any road shoe. smooth as a baby’s bottom right? Okay they’re not dance shoes but there’s not much to them.

Trail shoes on the other hand, are studded with nubs of all shapes and sizes. They grab and hang on to the surface beneath your feet because of this, trail shoes are much better in the snow than road shoes. Even if you’ve never run in trail shoes before, if you plan to run through snow on the roads, you should pick some up. Another benefit of trail shoes in the winter is many of them are water resistant or have Gortex uppers, which will help keep your feet warmer and drier. My favorite trail running shoes are Solomons because they have the most aggressive tread and the rubber grips well.

After shoes, theirs socks. If you’re a thin sock lover, try double layering your socks. As always, you want to have socks (and other clothing) that pulls the sweat away from your skin and moves it to the outside of the fabric or the next layer of clothing where it can dry without freezing against your skin. Personally, I love Drymax socks. They have a cold weather running sock that is multi-layered with extra protection at the toe. Here’s a list of great winter running socks.

Okay, we’ve got your socks and shoes covered, and now w’ere going to actually cover your shoes for those icy days. Let’s talk ice traction cleats, or just ice spikes. There are tons of brands to choose from now and how aggressive of spikes you want depends on the surface you are going to be running on.

If you know you’re going to be running across sheets of ice and through snow, you’ll want something pretty aggressive like Hillsound trail crampons or Yaktrax summit cleats. This is definitely what I would use on the trails in the winter.

If the ice is just spotty here and there, you’d do well with Yaktrax pro ice grips or something similar. There are lots of ones that have little spikes which are great for walking and some running, but they wear out quickly so buy extra spikes you can replace worn ones with right from the start.

When you’re choosing your spikes make sure they are easy to put on and off with gloved hands and that they are light weight. Spikes are not fun on the bare road, so you may have to pull them off if you hit a long section of road that’s clear of ice and snow.

 

 

 

 

Wind down or wind up

Oh the weather outside is frightful. It’s getting “chilly” here in the mountains of the northern hemisphere. Well that’s how the meteorologist described the 23 degrees Fahrenheit today. Personally, I’d say that’s freezing.

Many runners turn indoors in the winter months and reduce their miles for a welcome and well deserved rest season. I can’t say I blame them. It’s very challenging to get in long runs when the thermostat drops below zero.

Challenging does not mean impossible, however, and if you’re considering an early spring or runcation to somewhere warm, you’ll be doing decent miles all winter long. What’s it take to run outside on very cold days? Creativity and layers, lots and lots of layers.

Let’s start with layers. You want a good thermal base layer that will pull the seat away from your skin. After that, use a lighter middle layer. Whether it’s long sleeves and another pair of pants or a short sleeve and shorts will depend on the length of your run and the temperature. If you need more than a second set of long sleeves and pants, make your third layer wind proof, even if it’s not windy, it will hold the heat in.

Don’t forget your head, face and hands. Keep your lips coated with lip balm and you may need something similar for any other exposed skin. Use hand warmers and mittens over gloves. I do gloves, hand warmers and double layered mittens, which hasn’t failed me yet.

For your head use a balaclava and either a fleece headband or beanie. Make sure your ears are tight to your head. You want as little exposed skin as possible.

Now comes the creativity. Try splitting your long run into two shorter ones on the same day. You can also run part of your run inside either on a treadmill or indoor track. I recommend starting out doors and finishing indoors due to sweat and it being easier to unlayer than layer. Stay where the wind can’t get you, so on narrow roads or trails with lots of trees.

Winter brings a new set of challenges, beautiful glistening runs, discovering new routes or a new perspective on the old ones. We’ll talk about other aspects of winter running including footwear, other gear, and safety training in the posts to come.

Happy Running!

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.

Back Pain?

Back pain is no joke. Many adults and even children suffer from back pain, specifically lower in their backs. There are a whole host of things that contribute to back pain, some are life style choices and some are genetics. Back pain can remove you from daily life activities that are both fun and necessary. Runners are not immune. Running involves repetitive stress and impact for long periods of time, which obviously has the potential to cause some back pain or tightness at some point. Maintaining good running form, following some basic training rules and keeping the back muscles loose will save you from missed work, and more importantly missed running.
Maintaining proper running form and a strength training routine (see mine here)  focusing on the core muscles (including the lower back) is going to go a long way in preventing lower back pain. Running form can make you a more or less efficient runner and it can make you a more or less injury prone runner. What is proper form? First, you don’t want to make big changes to your running form at a time, pick one of these and do it until it becomes automatic and then move to another. If you notice any pain, which you shouldn’t, make sure you are doing it correctly. If any pain continues, reduce it to every other run until it’s comfortable and then increase to every run.
  1. Head up and shoulders back, not uncomfortably but might feel a little weird if you sit at a computer for a long time each day.
  2. Chest up. Imagine a string attached to your sternum about nipple height pulling up to the sun or moon. This is probably the most helpful with aligning your body.
  3. Be aware of your legs. they should be under your body when you land not way out in front, especially downhill otherwise every step is like putting on the breaks and causes major impact to go through your body improperly.
  4. Foot plan should be mid-foot or forefoot. If you are doing one or the other, don’t switch. Basically, you don’t want to heel plant see number 3 above.
  5. Arm swing. Hold a ninety degree angle at the elbow, hands loose, like you’re holding a potato chip. Don’t cross your arms past your mid-line, center of your torso. Your elbows should come up to your hip and swing back until your wrists are at your hip. They should go straight back and then straight forward, a little pull toward the center is okay, just don’t cross over.
Another important factor, is increasing your miles by the 10% rule and taking rest weeks every 4th week (reduce your miles by 20-25% for the week). Increasing your miles too quickly doesn’t give your body enough time to build the muscle to handle the next level of training. Training with big mile jumps leads to over use injuries. Rest weeks are equally as important because they give your body time to heal and get stronger. As we run we create micro tears in our muscles. This is good because they heal stronger and build more muscle. But if you don’t give it time do do that effectively, it will just do the best it can with what it has, which doesn’t work well long term for you.
Self massage on the back. Sure being able to afford regular massages by a professional would be awesome, but not all of us runners have sponsors, which means all our money goes to our shoes and socks… That leaves massaging to our significant others or more often ourselves. The least expensive and surprisingly very helpful are La Crosse balls. Buy two of them from Amazon or a local athletic store and tape them together. Keep the tape smooth and make sure they are secure. Place the taped balls between your back and the wall with the indentation in the middle over your spine. The balls will be on either side. Now slowly raise and lower yourself against the wall. Keep your hips neutral (great squat workout too). Stop on knots for a few 20-30 seconds to see if you can get them to release. Keep going for 2 minutes or longer if you’d like.
A wonderful tool for total body massage (no they don’t pay me) is the Body Wrench, find it here. It’s a bit pricey, but remember it’s an investment in your body and it’s 100% money back guaranteed. You can use it for strength training as well (a 2-fer). It comes with a storage bag and an instruction manual. There are instructional videos online, found here.
Running forever, means we are going to do what we need to do to prevent and fix injuries and pain.

Back Strength and Running

This is the third blog post in a series about how each major muscle group in your body plays a role in your running. Runners definitely don’t want a bulky upper body to weigh them down, but our upper body plays a significant role in our running form and our efficiency. If you don’t pay attention to muscle groups other than the legs, you set the stage for injuries both up and down the kinetic chain. Our muscles don’t work in isolation.
Strength in our back is not only important in running but in daily life. Many people who sit for long durations of time at their job inevitably develop back pain. As a runner it is important to have strength in your mid and lower back to stabilize the spin and pelvis. A strong back is able to evenly distribute the force of you hitting the ground with each foot plant because of this even distribution of force you are less likely to suffer an injury. Back strength also contributes to maintaining good running form without over rotation, and, as we know, good running form, not only reduces injury risk, but it increases running efficiency (are we catching the theme here from the last two posts?).
As you increase your miles a strong back becomes more important because the increase means you will be running farther while your body is tired. This is also true for ultrarunners who train with back to back long runs. Soft tissues break down as we run and there are two things you need to do to reduce this and to help your body recover. First is rest. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, only increase your miles by 10% a week, and every fourth week reduce your miles by 20-25%. The second is strength. Soft tissue breakdown in your back can lead to injuries, especially in your hips and lower legs.
Over rotation of your torso due to a weak upper body causes your hips and legs to turn as well. They need to maintain a forward motion. A weak lower back also puts extra strain on your hamstrings, which can alter your stride and cause injuries in your hips, knees, and ankles.
Using high repetitions and low weight will help prevent building bulky shoulders. If theses are too easy for you, increase repetitions and keep the weight as low as you can. If these are too hard, lower the weight and then the repetitions as needed. By the end of the third set you should feel a burn in your shoulders and it should be difficult to perform the last repetitions.
Here are some exercises to help increase your mid and low back strength. Back extensions three repetitions hold for 15-45 seconds. Planks three repetitions 15-60 seconds. Bird dogs three sets 10-12 repetitions hold for 3-5 seconds at the top
How to perform back extensions: lay on your belly and lift your legs and upper body, hold it.
How to perform planks: get into the beginning push up position and hold. Your stomach should be held tight and your back straight. You can also lower yourself on your forearms.
How to perform bird dogs: get on your hands and knees lift your right arm and left leg straight out. Do the same thing with the left arm and right leg.
Adding strength workouts to your training program can be difficult because you just want to run and it can be hard to find the time. Keep in mind the first goal is to make sure you keep running and strength will help prevent injuries.