Too much of a good thing?

Is there a point where the number of miles you run begins to hurt your performance? Some say yes. The goal is to reach race day healthy and uninjured. There is a point for every runner where you have reached your potential and adding miles only places you at risk for injury.

How many miles you run depends on a lot of things (This should be the standard answer to any running question) and everyone is different (ditto). Amount of sleep, life schedule, how long you’ve been training, and injury disposition are just a few.

Here are some basic rules to keep in mind as you increase your miles:

  1. You need to run higher miles for longer races. This seems to make sense since your body needs to be accustomed to running the distance you are going to be racing.
  2. If you want to finish strong and hit higher performance goals, you need to run more miles. If you just want to finish a race, then your miles can stay lower.
  3. Quality over quantity. If you are doing quality runs (speed work, long runs, hill climbs, and the like), you should reduce your miles because of the added stress the more quality runs put on it.
  4. Another point on quality. If you want to hit a particular pace during a race, you need to train at that pace.
  5. 10% golden rule. Increase your miles slowly to allow your body to adapt to the stress of the added miles. Experts agree that increasing by 10% a week is safe and effective.
  6. Re-read the bold sentence in paragraph one (I’ll put it here just in case you don’t want to scroll up. The goal is to reach race day healthy and uninjured).

Here are some general guidelines:

5K: Beginner 10-20 miles a week; mortal 20-25 miles per week; Elite 70-80 miles per week.

10k: Beginner 15-25 miles a week; mortal 25-30 miles per week; Elite 80-100 miles per week.

Half Marathon: Beginner 20-30 miles per week; mortal 30-40 miles per week; Elite 100-110 miles per week.

Marathon: Beginner 30-40 miles per week; mortal 30-50 miles per week; Elite 100-140 miles per week.

Ultramarathon: Beginner 55-65 miles per week; mortal 60-75 miles per week; Elite 120-150 miles per week.

Now that we have an idea about how many miles, we need to know how frequently. Most coaches and trainers recommend running four days a week and taking one complete rest day every week or one every two weeks. Elite runners are running twice a day on run days to get their miles in. They run a high quality run in the morning and then easier miles in the evening.

Most marathon and under plans schedule a run three days during the week and then a long run on the weekend. This format lets you do a quality run in the middle of two easy runs during the week. Then it gives you a day off before your long weekend run and a day off after your long run to recover. You can choose to add in strength training or some type of cross training on one or two of your non run days which can help you become a more balanced runner.too much of a good thing

What’s Your Fear?

fear

Sometimes our fears can hold us back from doing the things we enjoy or at least enjoying them to the fullest. I have a terrible fear of heights and so far it has not limited my ability to finish a race. It has, however, impacted my enjoyment of a few races, training runs, and hikes. In fact, I was recently hiking Angel’s Landing in Zions National Park and it ended the hike prematurely.

Maybe you like your fear and believe it is healthy. If that’s you, you can probably skip this post, unless you have a friend who has a fear barring their progress. Then maybe there is something here to help them.

Some fears are easier to deal with than others. The more intense the fear is, the longer it is going to take to overcome. The roots of the fear don’t really matter when it comes down to dealing with them. Sometimes we have no idea where they came from and sometimes we know exactly why we developed a fear of a situation.

The process for overcoming a particular fear of this nature is pretty much the same. Some fears which may impact your ability to continue in a race or at a minimum your enjoyment of the race are: heights, water, the dark, and animals/insects.

Slow exposure at low intensity is essential to overcoming most fears. In order for me to overcome my fear of heights, I have to expose myself to situations which trigger my fear. I don’t want to start with something that is going to make the fear worse or disabling. I just want to trigger it enough to make the situation challenging. Even a small challenge is a great place to start. I have done this and my fear has reduced in many situations. Shear drops still scare the crap out of me causing vertigo and shaking.

You can use this same strategy with fear of water and the dark. If it is animals and insects think about starting with step two. The reason I say that is, because some animals and insects are actually dangerous to be exposed to. If you have a debilitating fear of bears or black widows you don’t go out and snuggle up to them.

Step two is knowledge. For animals and insects, find out which are in the area where you live and run. Educate yourself on how to tell if they are in the area and what to do if you see one. Take precautions such as running in a group, wearing a bear bell, or carrying some pepper spray (research which animals this is effective on.

Knowledge as it relates to heights, water, and the dark is all about experiences. The more experiences you have the more confident you are going to become in dealing with scary situations. One thing I tell myself is that the trail that scares me is just as wide as any other trial I run on and I don’t fall and fly into the bushes or trees. I fall right on the trial.

I identified two other fears which can hold you back, but are different in nature. First is injury and second is failure. None of us want to get injured, but we do. All we can do is take precautions to prevent injury, listen to our bodies, and draw upon our experiences and training.

Fear of failure holds people back from taking risks and trying new things. Everyone fails at something. It sucks but we turn it into a lesson as much as we can. Even if the only lesson is we have more work to do before we make a second attempt.

Talking about our fears with others, helps us realize we are not the only ones who have dealt with these situations. Others can also offer you support and suggestions about how to face your fears.

Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

Overwhelmed by Training?

recovery

As a beginning runner it can be overwhelming when you stare down at your first training program regardless of the distance you are training for.

When you are returning to running after an extended break, you have an advantage over those who are just getting into the sport. You at least know what you are getting into, and you know what it takes to get to where you were before your break.

Even with this knowledge, and sometimes because of this, training can be overwhelming.

A friend of mine recently contacted me about getting back into running after having a baby. She was running consistently prior to getting pregnant and the birth of her daughter. But, having a little one who needs you much of the time makes running or exercising in any way more difficult.

Her goal is to run a 50 miler one year from now. This is an entirely achievable goal. It will take the entire year for her to get there with the lowest risk for an injury. She will have to follow the golden rules of running: 1. never increase your weekly miles by more than 10% and 2. Reduce your miles by 20% every fourth week to allow your body to recover and gain strength.

How do you get going without feeling like you will never reach your goal?

Use a calendar and track your progress. Small progress and improvements, are still improvements. Breaking your training down into smaller bites such as week by week, makes it seem more manageable.

If you post your training program where you can see it everyday (my recommendation to stay motivated and accountable) don’t post the entire thing. Just hang up one or two weeks and then check off each day as you knock them out.

Beginning runners should start with a shorter distance such as a 5k or 10k. Completing shorter distances with more manageable training programs builds confidence in your ability. It is also easier to find 5k and 10k races. Participating in events every three months helps keep you motivated and training.

A couch to 5k training program can be anywhere from eight to twelve weeks depending on your fitness level when you start. It’s easy to overestimate our ability to run, so start easier than you think and then increase the difficulty and distance once you have a better understanding of what your body is able to do.

The other thing I recommend to new or returning runners be gentle with yourself. You’re going to have set backs, even elite runners have bad days. We are more harsh with ourselves than anyone else is.

Keep things small, set goals, track progress, and be gentle with yourself.

Rest

rest

Have you ever sleep a good eight hours only to get up more exhausted than when you went to bed? We all have. Just because you have gone to sleep does not mean that you have rested. There are four types of rest: Physical, sensory, emotional, and mental rest.

Everyone is familiar with physical rest. You lie down and don’t move your body more than necessary to remain comfortable. The importance of physical rest is pounded into every runners head. It’s essential to making gains in strength and speed. Without it, our bodies break down and we get injured. Even if you are getting eight or nine hours of sleep a night, it may not be enough to keep you going at a high level of training. Take a look at the other types of rest.

Sensory rest is when you rest your senses. Sensory overload can effect anyone. Everyone has a different tolerance for the amount of sensory input they can handle before they have a total melt down and withdraw from the stimulation. Young children are particularly vulnerable to sensory overload. But so are adults especially when it is multiple senses. It’s okay to check out for a bit. Close your eyes, cover your ears, or just go into a dark room. It’s like pushing the reset button. Allowing your senses to rest even for a brief moment keeps them fully available to you when you need them.

Emotional overload is one of the most significant forms of exhaustion I’ve ever experienced. It makes me feel tired for days. Preventing emotional overload is not always possible. One of the reasons it’s so draining is because it comes when you aren’t expecting it. Life throws a curve ball at you and there is no getting around dealing with it. This can be the death of someone close to you or a crisis in your life. It can also happen when you are taking on the emotional problems of those around you. The best way to rest your emotions is to step back and ground yourself in the present. Try to let go of worries about the future and guilt over the past. Just be present.

Mental rest is all about stopping the Tasmanian devil from stirring up your thoughts. Whirling thoughts keep you up at night and make you feel flighty during the day. You jump from idea to idea. Your ability to focus on one thing is thirty seconds at best. The result from all this; mental tiredness. The way to rest is the same as it is for emotional rest. Step back and ground yourself.

To really recover and continue to push our bodies, a full body and mind rest is essential. It’s hard to do and somedays it will be impossible. For me, running makes it much easier to take advantage of all four types of rest. It clears my mind of thoughts and lets my emotional baggage fly away on the wind. Out on the trail my senses get the sweet taste of nature and my body burns off all the energy so I slide into sleep quickly each night.

Rest fully and run Happy.

Run Your Own Race

running hills

I’m writing this blog post to talk about an issue my running partner and I have had to discuss recently. I’m pretty sure other running partners and groups have had to address this same struggle. So I thought I would share my experience.

Carbo (as he likes to be called) just finished his first 100 mile run. I ran the same race, but it was my sixth 100. I’ve been training at the 100 mile level for three years and running consistently for 10. He has been training at the 100 mile level for one year and training as a runner consistently for a year and a half.

Given just this information, you’d expect some differences in our ability and knowledge of running. So here is the struggle when running with a training partner or group. What do you do when one or more of your runners are not able to keep pace for whatever reason?

As the runner who is not able to keep pace you feel like your group is leaving you behind and you feel like you are not as good as the others. You begin to question yourself, your running ability, and your training. You feel bad you can’t keep up and you also feel angry or hurt because they are not waiting for you.

As the runner who is pulling ahead you feel bad because your group is not able to keep up. You wonder if you should slow down. You hope they are not sick or injured. You know they are struggling and you want to help.

I think these feelings are rational and understandable by anyone who has run with others on a consistent basis and formed the bonds of friendship.

So what do you do? You run your own race.

Think about your goals and your groups goals, are they different? If your goal is to complete a specific distance in a specific time, you need to stick to your training and let your friend know why you are not waiting. If your goal is just to run with your friend, by all means slow down and let them set the pace. It’s the same for the other side. If you can’t keep pace, ask yourself what your friend’s goals are. If they are different let them go and do what you need to do to meet your goals or get stronger to keep pace.

Is your runner who is falling behind, injured or anything else that may be holding them back? Obviously you want to know if your friend is hurt, tired, over training or anything else that may be slowing them down. You might be able to help them resolve the issue and if they are hurt encourage them to stop and take care of themselves. On the flip side, know your body and listen to it. There is no shame in taking time off to take care of yourself. Continuing to push to keep up, will only make you fall farther behind and could result in serious injury.

How long do you think the struggle will continue? Short term differences in pace are going to happen. If you are recovering from a race or illness you can fall behind. Don’t stress about it. Let your body recover and then get after it. If there are differences in strength or ability, do what you need to do to get stronger and faster within your own limits. As the faster runner, help your friend become a better runner pass along information or strategies you’ve used to get to where you are. If you believe this will be an ongoing struggle you will have to think about going your separate ways at least as far as running is considered. This is a hard decision to make, but with communication and understanding you can still remain friends and run together on easy days.

Is there value to both runners to work through this struggle to become stronger runners? Every situation offers a lesson if you are open to hearing it. Usually, the longer you ignore it the worse it gets. There are a number of lessons in this situation: listen to your body and take care of it, learn new training strategies, push yourself beyond what you think you can do (so long as you are not injured or over training), communication goes a long way, and whether or not your new training is working.

Realizing your limits and accepting them is hard. We are all different. Running with others is a great way to push yourself and to make gains in your training. You have to run your own race. You have to make decisions which put you in the best spot to accomplish your goals. Maybe this is a little selfish. I’m sure some people think so. And I would tell them, their goals are just different and that’s okay.

Even if you train individually at times and together at others, when you both reach the finish line, you can always celebrate together.

Don’t worry Carbo, I think this is a short term struggle.

Do You Shy Away from Bad Weather?

run in the rain

Last Saturday evening I looked up the weather conditions for the next day. I needed to know what to wear for my thirty-mile run. I never questioned whether or not I would actually run, just what to wear while I did it. I laughed when I saw it. Rain, rain, and more rain. There was a 90% likelihood of rain from six in the morning until nine in the evening.

I went to my running clothes dresser (yes, I have so much running gear it has it’s own dresser). I pulled out my long pants, extra gloves, and rain jacket. Of course I was going out, even if it rained the entire time. And wind, I was sure there would be wind on the island. I don’t think the rain comes to the island without the wind.

I’d run in wind and rain before. Salt Flats 100 consisted of approximately 20 plus hours of wind and rain and lots of it. Thirty miles in the rain wouldn’t be a problem. Anyway, I am staring down a one hundred miler in just under two weeks. Conditions could be just as bad or worse on race day. It’s always good to have some difficult runs under your belt going into a one hundred, so when you have to dig deep to get through a tough section of the race, there is something to hold on to.

Runners run in all types of conditions, unless they don’t. Some runners choose not to run if weather conditions are not at their standard. If you run ultramarathons this is a bad strategy. It’s bad strategy for a race of any distance.

One hundred miles is a long way to go and a lot can happen during that time, including rapidly changing weather conditions. This is true for running relays which last for twenty-four to thirty-six hours. We’ve all heard the saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad gear.” I think this is true for the most part. You do need to have the right gear to run in severe weather conditions and if it’s really bad it only makes it bearable. But bearable is better than not being prepared.

Running in different weather conditions should be a part of your training plan. It’s just as important as mimicking the elevation change and terrain of your race. Ideally, race day will not throw out any situation, which you have not already had to deal with at least once, and hopefully more than once.

When one of my runners tells me it’s raining or cold or whatever outside, I tell them, “suck it up, butter cup.” If the complaining continues or is echoed by another runner, they get the classic, “nut up or shut up.”

rain running quote

Anti-Gravity Treadmill

Alter-G

Stress fractures can put full out stop on running, which is a problem if you like to run a lot. It also makes training for a one hundred mile race very challenging. The anti-gravity treadmill is the solution to this dilemma.

An anti-gravity treadmill lifts a portion of your body weight off your feet. How does it do this? You wear a pair of skintight neoprene shorts, which zip into an inner tube. It’s a little like being in a swimming pool. The “inner tube” fills with air and calibrates your weight. Once it’s done you choose how much of your body weight to take off your feet in percentages. The technology was developed for the use on space shuttles.

The anti-gravity treadmill allows you to continue to actually run, unlike the elliptical or other machines you find at the gym. It also maintains better running form than you can in a swimming pool and continues to condition your body to the impact of running although at a lesser degree. The anti-gravity treadmill allows you to maintain your aerobic fitness.

Not only has the anti-gravity treadmill made it possible for injured runners to maintain fitness, but many elite athletes are using the anti-gravity treadmills in their weekly training. It allows them to increase their miles while reducing the impact on their muscles, joints, and tendons. The treadmill is also being used to encourage overweight individuals to start running. It reduces the impact on their bodies as they begin a training program. It also gives them an idea of what it feels like to run without all the extra weight.

Anti-gravity treadmills range in cost from $75,000 to 25,000 depending on the model you choose. This, of course, limits those who have access to them, let alone own one.  It’s much like a typical car loan with payment of about $550 a month for five years.

The downside, other than the cost, is it’s a treadmill. If you run outdoors all the time or in the mountains, running on a treadmill is a huge challenge. It’s boring, although slightly less boring than running in the swimming pool.

Audiobooks, story apps, and/or music are essential (at least for me), on any treadmill and this one is no different.  I do have to say, after not being able to run at all for four weeks, the anti-gravity treadmill is a little piece of heaven.

Discouraged

discouraged

I have to apologize for not posting any blogs last week. I couldn’t find the motivation to write about running when I can’t run due to the stress fracture in my right foot. It’s been five weeks since I have been for an actual run. Over the last nine years of running, I’ve never taken more than one week off to rest after a race or to rest a minor injury. I am running in the swimming pool and on the anti-gravity treadmill, which lifts a portion of your body weight off your feet.

Last week my mind was empty of possible topics for blog posts. In fact, I have been trying not to focus on running or the lack thereof in my life currently. I continue to spend the same amount of time doing aerobic exercise as I was running, but now I’m doing it all at the gym… on machines.

So how do you cope with being injured and unable to participate in your sport for an extended amount of time? First off, you remember what your goals are long term not just the next week or month or even the next year.

My long-term goal is to run until I can’t draw breath. I remind myself of this when I’m at the gym for four hours on Saturday and another three on Sunday. If this doesn’t get me past my pitty party, I try to remember how it feels to cross the finish line of a one hundred mile race.

Another way to stay motivated is to focus on your short-term goals. My short-term goal is Buffalo 100, which is in eleven weeks. I’m determined to run the race, even if it means I’m coming right out of the gym to do it. Because I am going to run Buffalo, I want my fracture to be as healed as possible, so I don’t refracture it by going out to run too soon.

Having a secondary sport you use as cross training or just another sport you enjoy in addition to your running is an excellent way to keep active and stay off the discouragement train.

A supportive family and friends who can keep you laughing and active will also help.

Keep your heads up, the sun always rises, you just have to hold on long enough.

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.