Benefits of Running Alone

thinking runner

Do you get lonely when you run alone? I don’t. Sure, it’s nice to have someone along for a run once in a while maybe even a few days a week, but there are benefits to running alone too. Running is a great way to clear your head of all the stresses of everyday life. Talking with others about stresses is helpful, but breathing fresh air and just letting go of it, can be even better.

Running alone gives your brain the space to wander and create. I do some of my most creative thinking when I’m running alone. If you have someone there talking with you, you spend your energy processing what they are telling you and responding to them. This is probably my favorite thing about running alone. During the first twenty minutes to an hour, I think about a lot of things. Thoughts just jump in and out of my head, but then it goes quiet and the magic begins.

As an ultrarunner, you can potentially spend a significant amount of time alone during races and if you don’t train alone and become accustomed to being inside your own head, it can get scary. The critic inside your head is rarely a nice guy. Your mood goes up and down during a 100 mile race and if the race is the first time you are having to deal with that without another person to distract you, it’s going to get ugly.

There is an old saying among runners, never try anything new during a race. That means no new types of clothing, gear, or food. It applies equally well in this situation too.  You want to be able to mimic your race conditions as much as possible during training including elevation, gear, food, terrain, shoes, clothing, drink mixes, and yes the people in your head.

Running one hundred miles takes both physical and mental training. You have to learn to deal with whatever is inside your head or it could get the better of you during your event. The sooner you can learn different strategies for dealing with any self-defeating thoughts and negativity the better all of your runs will be.

One of the most effective ways I’ve learned to deal with this is through awareness. I know the tough times are coming and I know they will pass, so I stay focused on what’s around me. I stay present feeling the ground beneath my feet and taking in any other information my senses are picking up on. Your brain has a hard time criticizing you if you it’s filled with sensory information.

I try not to linger on any negative thoughts. If they just won’t go away, I begin challenging them by coming up with as many experiences I’ve had which contradict whatever the negative thought is.

What do you do to counter act negative thoughts during a race?

Training Season has begun: How to get started

marathon starting

Have you chosen which races you are going to run for the year?

January is the perfect time to start looking at the race schedule and deciding which races you want to conquer for 2015. For those in the northern hemisphere it is cold and dreary outside, having something to look forward to can keep your spirits up when many are fighting seasonal depression.

If you are planning to run a spring marathon say in April or May, your training starts during January. Marathon training programs are sixteen to twenty weeks long. The length depends upon the experience and fitness of the runner.

My runners who are going from couch to marathon get my twenty-week training program and my recommended goal is to just finish the race without injury.

My runners who are active will get the sixteen week program which I adjust depending on their running experience and goals.

There are many free training programs on the internet, but before you decide which one is right for you, you need to be completely honest with yourself about your current fitness level.

If you are not active, but have decided that 2015 is the year of the marathon, pick a fall marathon so you have enough time to build your miles and fitness without being injured. If you are hell bent on running a spring marathon to commemorate something, find a run/walk program and set your goal to finish the race before the course is closed. Twenty-six point two miles is no joke, even if it takes you six hours to finish.

If you are someone who is active, but are injury prone or who doesn’t do any impact sports/activities, you should consider a less strenuous program. Look for something that starts with low miles 2-3 during week one and has only two quality workouts (speed and long run) a week or even better on a ten day rotation.

If you have done marathons before and really want to bring your time down, you should pick up a sixteen week program with up to three quality runs in a week to ten day cycle, but listen to your body and don’t over train.

You cannot cheat the marathon.

The 5k, 10k, even a half marathon you can get through if you do “most” of your training. The marathon is different. If you don’t do the training, you will not finish the race in a good place physically.

I have a marathon training program on my pages Here. It is for runners who have been running about twenty miles a week as a base.

I am more than happy to post something for beginning runners and or injury prone runners. Just leave me a message in the comments or email me at Nicole@ultrarunningmom.com I’d be happy to send you something.

Run off the Weight

I recognize not all runners run just for the pure enjoyment of running. My oldest son does not enjoy running. In fact, he has told me many times he pretty much hates running. He runs because it’s a social event and, in the beginning, he ran because of the physical benefits and new found muscle definition.  For the last two years, he has run on his high school cross country team. They start training in the summer and then the season ends in October. Since the end of last season, he has found other ways, Ultimate Frisbee and weight training, to stay fit. He enjoys these much more than running.

He said he kind of feels bad that he doesn’t like running because he knows how much I love it. Honestly, if he doesn’t love running (or even like it), that’s all right with me. What I want for him is to find ways to stay healthy and fit. I want him to learn the habits of eating well and exercising on a regular basis. Because the older you get, the harder it is to develop and stick to healthy habits.

Many people are drawn to running because they want to look better and lose weight. This is excellent! Of course, there will be hurdles and roadblocks as there are in all aspects of life. You may even have some regression at times.

Some runners begin with high expectations on pace and the way they should feel. When they don’t see the expected improvement in their pace or the way they feel they stop. They give up thinking, “This will never work for me. Why did I even think I could do this?” Hurdle one: lack of improvement. The best counter to this is to have a training program. Start small and work your way up. Have short-term and long-term goals. Register for a 5k in eight weeks and then find a training program. Start with walking nine minutes and running one. For thirty-minute sessions three to four times a week. Lower your walk time and increase the run time by one minute each week. You want your plan to be challenging, but not too much. If it’s too hard then you are likely to get tired, take a few days off, and then a few more…

Seeing the number on the scale drop is pretty motivating, but what if it’s holding steady? Hurdle two: Lack of weight loss. Look at your diet and not just your activity level. Weight must be fought on both fronts. You don’t need to make drastic changes to your diet. First, it’s good to know what you are actually putting in. Keep a food diary for a week or two. Next, make the choice to make one meal a day healthier. Start small and work your way up. In order to lose weight, you have to take in fewer calories than you are burning. Your body will burn the sugar it has stored in your muscles before burning fat. Reducing your sugar/carbohydrate intake and increasing your calories burned each day will lead to weight loss.  

Everyone has bad days, even elite runners who have coaches and nutrition specialists following them around all day have bad days. Sometimes we have bad weeks. Roadblock number one: Negative thoughts/mental state. You can’t let a bad workout or a bad week throw you off. Things will get better. They always do. Keep telling yourself, what goes down must come up. Surround yourself with positive people and put positive affirmations on your mirror in the morning or on the back of your door. Even on the edge of your computer screen. I have inspirational quotes on post-it notes on my wall next to my computer. Whenever, I see one I like, I put it up there. You have to let bad days go, forget about them, and move forward. Every day is a new day.

Some of us get into an “I don’t give a F***,” (sorry about the F, but you know what I’m talking about) mode and just eat everything and don’t go to the gym. Of course, we feel bad later.. sometimes. So, what if I miss a day or two? Roadblock number two: Regression. Let it go. Get back out there. Find a gym partner who can hold you accountable when you are hitting that wall. Every day is a new day. I don’t care if it’s a week, get back out there.

Staying committed to exercising and eating well is hard. I have had my fair share of false starts, changing sports, gym partners, and video workouts. I’ve been 40 pounds overweight. It’s hard to lose. It took me a little over a year! The most important thing is to not give up, set small goals, and then bigger ones. And always celebrate your success.  

DVP is back

My relay team calls me the Dark Voodoo Princess. I earned the name the first relay we completed together because one of my runners was injured and I picked up the rest of her miles. I ended with 31 miles, and my first ultra. My straight forward, no whining attitude also contributed greatly to the name. I’m not very princess like. I’m more anti-princess. In fact, I believe that at least one of my team members is terrified of complaining at all because I would roll my eyes and tell him to “nut up.”

I headed to the gym for the first time since the 100 this morning for a short general strength training session. It felt good to be back. I have been fighting the urge to get out and do something, anything for days. I can tell it is time to get back to it when my leg starts bouncing while I’m at rest, too much pent up energy. And when I start waking up without the alarm at my normal run time.

Today I’ve spent some time constructing my training program for my next 100, which is approximately six months away, Pony Express 100. I’ll attach it to the end. I really want to build more strength overall and in my running muscles. Lean muscle not bulk, of course. Strength training increases your running efficiency by about 4%, reduces injury risk, and increases your speed. Research also shows that strengthening your hips virtually eliminates the onset of IT band syndrome and Runner’s Knee.

Most marathon training programs include speed work, easy days, and a long run each week. Some will throw in hills or alternate speed with hills each week. Ultra running is a little different. There are runners who don’t do any speed work at all because your focus is distance rather than being especially fast. Ultra runners also have to balance out the injury risk of doing the back to back long runs and adding speed on top of that. If you are a more injury prone runner, I recommend cutting out the speed or doing it every other week.

Where to put each type of workout, is determined by how long it takes to recover/benefit from a particular type of workout and your specific goals. Each type of workout focuses on strengthening a different physiological system that contributes to your running ability.

Speed workouts like explosive hills, 200 m repeats with full recovery, and the like train your nervous system, the communication between your brain and your body.  The average runner benefits from these workouts within two days.  VO2max training (anaerobic capacity) such as hill runs and mile repeats, take about ten to fourteen days to benefit the average runner. Tempo runs or marathon pace runs train your body to convert lactate back into energy. They don’t take quiet as long as VO2max, but are still at the seven to ten day mark. Long runs build your aerobic capacity and the benefits from them take the longest to develop, four to six weeks for the average runner.

These numbers can give you a good idea about how to taper for a race. If you know you won’t see the benefits before race day, why tax yourself with a VO2 max run a week before your race and risk being sore or tired.

My training plan includes four running days, but I actually run five because I have running group on Wednesday afternoons. We typically only run three or four miles, so I don’t count it. I don’t really have a rest day, but Mondays and Fridays are my easiest days which is why they bookend my long runs. I also make a couple of big jumps in my miles, which is not something you should do if you are a beginning runner or tackling a distance for the first time. You want to build 10% each week. My miles drop significantly every fourth week to allow for a rest/recovery week. My strength training/hips/ab workouts are posted on other pages of my blog, so check them out if you’d like. Continue reading

Building and Rest Go Hand in Hand

I’m going stir crazy as I taper for Salt Flats 100. All my extra energy, which usually gets spent during my runs is building. My miles will continue to come down until I’m taking three full days off of running before my race. My strength training will stop ten days before the race because it takes about ten days to see benefits from any strength training. Taking time to rest is just as important as building your miles. Without the rest, building strength does not happen. As we push our bodies to go farther and father distances building up to that goal race, our muscles, ligaments, and tendons get micro tears in them. These tears are not necessarily a bad thing, because as they heal we become stronger. But, we have to let them heal.

There are some basic golden rules about building miles, which all runners should know and look for when they are deciding on a training program. The first is never build more than 10% a week. So for example if you’re running three five mile runs a week, you can safely add 1.5 miles the next week. The second golden rule is to reduce your miles by 20-25% every fourth week. If you’re a more injury prone runner, you can change that down week to an elliptical week or a pool-running week.

Pool running is great for maintaining your fitness when you are injured and for letting your body really rest from the impact of running. Pool running is as difficult as you want make it. You get into the deep end of the pool with a floatation belt (you can do it without one, but it is much harder). Most pools have floatation belts you can borrow. Once you’re in the water, you want to maintain an upright position as you move your arms and legs as you would if you were running out on the road. Even when you are running hard in the pool, you should not be moving forward much. If you are, you are leaning too far forward. On a rest week, you just want to take things kinda easy and run for the time it would take you to run your reduced mileage for the day.

Overtraining is an issue many runners struggle with. How do you know if you are overtraining? You feel sluggish, your legs feel like lead even after an easy run, you heart rate is elevated when you are at rest, and your friends and family tell you that you’re being grumpy all the time. Overtraining means you are not respecting your body’s limits, you’re not listening to your body, and you are dancing with the injury demon, who is waiting for the most inconvenient time to strike. If you find yourself in this situation, take two to three days off totally and then see how you feel. If you are okay, start with a reduced week back to running and then make sure you are following all the rules.

Your taper is an extended rest period before a race. It needs to be long enough to allow your body to fully recover, but short enough that you will not lose any aerobic fitness. For a marathon, your taper is generally two weeks long. You can use the same type of taper for a 50k. For a 50 or 100 mile race, your taper is three weeks. Many runners get antsy with the extra energy, but it is important kill the urge to go out and run or do some other physically taxing activity. The idea is for you to be at 100% on race day, so nothing will stand in the way of that metal being hung around your neck or the belt buckle being placed in your hand as you scorch across the finish line.

Enjoy a new book, lay in the hammock for a little longer, take the bubble bath you haven’t had time for, or go to the movie and eat a whole tub of popcorn!