Category Archives: Coaching

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Sofia from my high school running team after a "soaking wet run." She has already started drying her shoes!

It’s been raining in South Florida for what feels like four days straight! And many of us refuse to be kept inside (or on a treadmill) for so many days in a row…So we go out there and run in the rain! Our clothing and shoes end up soaked (as do we)! And drying most of our belongings is pretty straightforward…right? Well, not so with our sneakers/running shoes. How do you correctly dry your running shoes after they’ve been soaked in the rain?!

Well there is a right way (see below) and a wrong way (throwing them in the dryer at high heat and hoping they don’t melt or shrink!). Here is the correct way:

  1. Take your shoes off.
  2. Take the insoles out (orthodics too if you use them) and stuff the shoes with newspaper. (Make sure the shoes are filled with the paper but don’t stuff in so much that you change the shape of the shoe!).
  3. Place shoes in a warm, dry area with circulating air (near a vent, dryer, etc.) or out in the sun – as long as the rain has stopped! Back in the day, when you could fit your shoes under the refridgerator – this was a good option. Not sure you can still do that with most new kitchens.
  4. Change the newspaper after an hour or so – and maybe a couple hours after that, depending on how wet the paper gets. (Most likely will have to do this consistently until your next run – 24 or so hours later.

This is another good reason why we should all have at least two pairs of running shoes that we alternate. It’s good overall they say…and of course for reasons like this.

Of course, if all of this work is too much for you…and you live in a really wet climate where you are constantly drying your running shoes, you may want to invest in a “shoe dryer.” Yes they have them…Here is one recommended option! The Peet Shoe Dryer

Running Can Make You Smarter!

It’s true, running can make you smarter! Us runners have been saying it all along (right?!), but now there is proof! I read this article in this past week’s NY Times and had to share…

Here is the direct link to the article.

And here are some important notes I pulled out of it.

  • Using sophisticated technologies to examine the workings of individual neurons — and the makeup of brain matter itself — scientists in just the past few months have discovered that exercise appears to build a brain that resists physical shrinkage and enhance cognitive flexibility. Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.
  • A team of researchers led by Justin S. Rhodes, a psychology professor at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, gathered four groups of mice and set them into four distinct living arrangements. Group 1: sensual and gustatory plenty; Group 2: sensual and gustatory plenty PLUS avenues/vehicles to exercise; Group 3: empty space just standard food, etc.; and Group 4: no sensual and gustatory plenty, but ability/vehicles to exercise. And in the end? It turned out that the toys and tastes, no matter how stimulating, had not improved the animals’ brains. Only one thing mattered: whether they had a running wheel! Now that’s persuasive!
  • And here is why: Exercise though seems to slow or reverse the brain’s physical decay, much as it does with muscles.

I should add the article included much more information about the creation of new brain cells, etc. and whether this is happening…and the debate over they type of exercise needed (walking, jogging, running). Regardless, it’s another reason for us all to lace up those shoes and get out there running!

“Female long distance runners are like wine, they get better with time”

Elite Runners at Start of Rock n Roll Half Marathon - Miami Beach (2011)

With my big 30th Birthday coming up tomorrow…I thought it was appropriate to write a blog post on running and aging and how they actually do go together. And it’s what gives me hope as I continue to train and compete. I mean there has to be something to look forward to, right? So here it is:

According to experts, female long distance runners typically peak in their late 20s and early 30s. See exhibit A:

  • At the 2008 NYC marathon there were 41 elite women. There average age was 33, Two thirds were 30 or older and nearly a half were 35 and older. Some of the famous names were Paula Radcliffe 34, the eventful winner, Gete Wami 33 and Catherine Ndereba 36, the fourth place finisher.
  • And it is not just NYC marathon, just look at this list of 2008 marathon winners;
    • 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon- Constantina Tomescu of Romania, 38 Years young.
    • 2008 Berlin Marathon – Irina Mikitenko,  36 years young.
    • 2008 Chicago marathon – Lidiya Grigoryeva, 34 years young.
  • Most recently, the 2012 Marathon Olympic Trials in Houston, TX results:
    • First Place: Shalane Flanagan (age 30)
    • Second: Desiree Davila (age 28)
    • Third: Kara Goucher (age 33) — also a mom

I’ve also heard that women often peak post child birth. The questions then become: Are women peaking in these longer distances because of age or because we typically are not competing in such long distance races (as the half and full marathons) until post college and therefore are naturally older? And are they improving post child birth because of some endorphin released in to the system, because we can handle pain better, or just because women are often having babies around this age? Well, I went out on a search for these answers and more and learned some in the process.

According to RunningTips101.com expert resource Coach Rick Rothman, “Most of the time, endurance athletes peak ten years after they begin.” (This would make sense as many of us start freshman year of high school, which would put you at 14 or 15 years old.) He adds: “Many times, women tend to start running later in life (not always). But, there are many factors; it’s too much of a generalization to say women peak in there 30’s.”

According to Physiology of Sport & Exercise, 2nd Edition: “In general, maximal muscle strength peaks between the ages of 25 and 35. Beyond that age range, the ability to lift weight declines at a steady rate of about 1.8% per year. Of course, as with other measurements of human performance, individual strength varies considerably.” This strength peak has to correlate to running.

Another outlet explained the following: “The physical peak for most humans, in most sports, is between 25 and 35 years of age; during this peak period, the well-conditioned athlete can create a confluence of muscular strength, peak cardiovascular and oxygen transport, speed and reaction time, and mental capabilities (including the ability to deal with competitive pressures), all bound together by a desire to succeed.” I like that answer – and can 100% relate to it. As an athlete, discipline and maturity make training and competing much easier. The emotional baggage that I feel kept me from “peaking” in my high school and college years, I personally feel has since disipated. To the point that I often look back wishing I could tell myself to relax, not worry so much, and just go out there and run. I can recall Coach Rothman telling me that before a big cross country race my senior year of high school. He said “Go out there and just run, have fun.” He had a few jokes in there that I’ll leave out for now!

More interesting insight that I found from Advameg, Inc.: “For sports in which strength (both muscular strength and bone density), oxygen uptake, and cardiovascular efficiency are vital to success, the aging process may be slowed, though never halted or reversed. Since 1950, the average age of world champion distance runners in the 3-mi (5,000 m) races through to the 26-mi marathons (42.2 km) ranges between 28 and 32 years of age. From this peak of ability, runners will continue to perform at levels close to their personal best into their late 30s and early 40s; performance then declines at a rate of approximately 2% per year through age 80. Swimming, which like running places a premium on cardiovascular strength, shows a similar regression from best performance times as an athlete ages. The success of female swimmers at early ages (there have been numerous Olympic gold medals and world records set by female swimmers under the age of 20) is related to both the earlier physical maturation of female athletes, as well as the physical dynamics of the female swimmer in the water; the progressive decline in the performance of female swimmers due to age is similar to that of male swimmers. Consistent with these physiological constants, the oldest gold medalist in the history of all Olympic track and field events was Patrick McDonald, an American hammer thrower, who won the 1920 competition at age 42. The oldest Olympic track champion in the 1,500-m race was 31-year-old Albert Hill of Kenya, in 1988. Female competitors have the added variables of prospective pregnancy and child-rearing, which will remove the athlete from intense training and competition for an often-significant period. Childbirth may also change the physical shape of a female athlete, particularly in a widening of the pelvis, which may impact subsequent athletic performance.”

Which of course brings us to childbirth. Does it help or hurt female runners? As I noted earlier, third place 2012 USA Marathon Trials finisher Kara Goucher has a new baby. A great article in Time Out Chicago Kids touched on this subject:

“Research shows that there may be physiological benefits to having kids, from a tapering effect that allows chronic injuries to heal up during pregnancy to a surge in the hormone relaxin—which loosens pelvic and cervical joints for delivery, and hangs around the body after childbirth, possibly making a woman’s gait longer, smoother and more efficient. Also, pregnancy increases your blood volume, says Jim Pivarnik, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University who has studied pregnant athletes. As blood volume rises, so does red blood cell count, improving a woman’s efficiency at utilizing oxygen—which means running faster at the same effort. The problem is that all of these effects are hard to measure. (Obviously, researchers aren’t thrilled with the idea of turning preggos into lab rats.) Pivarnik estimates that any residual blood-volume benefit has diminished by about eight weeks postpartum. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman—even at the elite level—who’d race that soon after having a child. When it comes down to it, labor may make the most difference. Enduring hours of contractions and delivery—and sometimes C-section recovery to boot—may raise women’s pain threshold. Lincoln Square resident Jessi Merecki, a 38-year-old mom of two, says slashing 92 minutes off her pre-kiddos marathon best was due to “a combination of mental toughness from being a parent and physical toughness from childbirth.” She’s on to something, according to Pivarnik. “I would hypothesize that if being a mom is any help [to running], most of it would be mental,” he says. “Active moms may find that they’re more efficient and focused in training because they have so much more on their plates. It’s like that Yogi Berra saying, ‘90 percent of this is half mental.’ ” Read the full article here.

Post 30? Does the improvement continue?
According to RunningForFitness.org, “From the 30s onwards, a number of physical changes take place in the average person’s body.  Aerobic capacity decreases, muscle mass reduces, muscle elasticity reduces, lung elasticity declines, bone density reduces, the metabolism slows, body fat increases and the immune system becomes weaker. These changes will have an adverse impact on running performance. The fall in aerobic capacity, reduced stride length, reduced leg strength, and reduced ability to store energy all contribute to deterioration in performance.  In general, it is thought that running speeds over any distance deteriorate by about 1% a year from a peak at some point in the 30s; and we appear to lose aerobic capacity at about 9-10% a decade.”

Now of course that doesn’t mean older individuals can’t run…we’ve all seen the skinny, old guy in the bun huggers at the local 5K and 10K races and he seems to be doing alright. It just means that we shouldn’t expect to see many 50, 60, 70 year old marathon winners. Or better yet, expect it from ourselves. However, at age 30 there is still plenty of time for me (I hope)…and I believe I’m just hitting my 30-year-old peak marathon stride!

Pick Up Your Pace to Gradually Improve

I just returned from a late night track meet in Coral Springs. While there I had a lengthy conversation with a parent about his daughter and how to get her moving faster. As he said, she’s been putting in the time and effort and running the distance asked of her. How do we get her faster? Not faster in terms of sprinting, but faster in her mile, two-mile and 5K races. And this I believe is a pretty common question for runners of all ages and levels. “How do you improve your pace in races? How do you drop from a 28 minute 5K runner to a 25 minute 5K runner? And/or a 22 minute 5K runner to a 19 minute 5K racer? The answer is pretty simple. Pick up your training pace!

It seems pretty simple and it in fact is. Pick up your training pace and your race pace will in turn follow. Get your body used to running 8 minute miles for distance runs and racing at a 7 or 7:30 pace will be a breeze! Now is it that simple to pick up your training pace? Of course not or everyone would do it. It takes discipline, want and some pain in the beginning. You are going to need to go beyond the comfort zone. Find a running partner, teammate, whomever, that is faster than you during training runs and stay with them. Don’t let them leave you, don’t fall behind, because by you sticking with them, you are in essence training your body to handle faster paces – during training and most importantly racing.

When I started running in high school, I was very lucky. I joined a team where there were five older girls who ran together as a pack for every single distance run. And they didn’t run as a slow pack; they were moving! I, the new freshman, wanted to stay up with them. Call it embarrassment, a need to prove myself, whatever…but I stayed up with them. At first it was impossible…but I gradually stayed on their shoulders, tucked behind their pack for longer and longer distances, until I stayed with them for entire runs day after day. And that is what allowed me to improve my times so rapidly. Would it have been easier to watch them run off together and leave me behind jogging at my own pace? Sure, but then I would have been stuck in that comfort zone forever.

I advise runners all the time to put in the effort to stay with the “faster” pack – whether it be a training run or race. Because eventually, if you try it enough, you’ll soon be a part of that pack. A more recent example is my training this past year. In the fall, I primarily ran with the girls team at an okay pace. The guys team always seemed way ahead. After the girls did not qualify to states in cross country, I was forced to run with the guys. And I struggled for the first few days. It was a whole new (and much faster) pace. But after about a week, it got easier and eventually became my new pace. A month or so later – during a weekend training run – staying up with the boys for an 8-miler felt like nothing! It was also during this time that I dropped both my half marathon time and my 5K race time (finally breaking 20 minutes after being stuck in the 20s and 21s for much of the fall road racing season)!

The aim of the game: Train your body to withstand a faster pace. And training, racing, everything will get easier!

More information on picking up your pace while running available here.

Injured? Try Pool Running!

Unfortunately with running sometimes comes injury. This is probably more prevalent in areas like South Florida where there is little trail (or soft) running and primarily concrete sidewalks – where the pounding on your joints is heavy. It takes a definite toll on the body, the bones, tendons, joints, muscles, etc. I can recall in high school, my mom offering to schedule pedicures and foot massages to ease some of the stress on my very active feet.

With injury, any athlete (but especially a runner) has to take time off, cross train, ice and rest the problem area, etc. For runners, the best cross training of course are those exercises that keep the heart rate up and the endurance high (i.e. swimming, biking). In fact, as I tell my high school runners, there were athletes in college that I knew of that literally did 90% of their training in the pool or on the bike and then competed in meets. Their bodies were either extremely fragile and/or they were coming back from an injury and didn’t want to risk aggravating a sore knee or tendon. But the point being – they did well! They were able to keep their endurance up just with cross training in the pool and/or on the bike.

So, running is always going to be the best form of training for a runner. But biking and swimming aren’t so bad. In order to help those that are wondering what to do on the bike or in the pool, I’ve include some suggestions.

  • Biking: Pretty self explanatory here. Just get on a bike and ride! Don’t pay attention to mileage though. Odds are you will make it much farther than you would running. Stay on the bike for 8 minutes for every mile you intended to run. (For example, if you were supposed to do a 5 mile run, get on the bike for 40 minutes.) Note that this should be strenuous enough biking that it gets your heart rate up and you sweating!
  • Swimming or Pool Running: Swimming is a great alternative to running. Some say it is the best form of exercise. You get nearly every muscle in your body working; it builds endurance; and best of all – there is no impact or pounding on the body. But for us runners, a great alternative is Pool Running. And I’ve spent a lot of time this past Track season with my high school runners in the pool – running. Here’s how to do it: Get in the deep end where your feet are not hitting the bottom of the pool and run. In other words, tread water, but simultaneously keep your farm. Move your arms and legs as if you were running on the street. Keep your back straight and shoulders high. It doesn’t sound bad but I promise you will feel it quickly. It not only works on endurance (I was out of breadth after the warm-up), but you will feel muscles that you didn’t feel before (including your abs). Again, just like biking – 8 minutes for every one mile you planned on running. If you are replacing a hard track workout in the pool, I’d recommend adding a few reps and picking up the speed of your running just like you would on dry land. Sprinting is very possible in the pool! I should mention the aqua belt that many people recommend – if you have one definitely use it…as it will help your form and you can still get in just as good a workout. If you don’t have one, not to worry. Investing in one is optional. Pool Running is interesting though – as good swimmers typically find it easier to float than non-swimmers. But try it out and let me know how you did!

Here is a good article about pool running and ways to make it fun from Runners World Magazine. (Running in the pool – and being in one place for upwards of an hour – can get pretty boring. And bringing an iPod in the water is not such a good idea!)

And here is a pretty good video of what Pool Running should look like. (This guy will have to do until I have a chance to videotape me or someone else running underwater!)

 

Need to Build Speed? Try Running Hills

Great article from Running Times Magazine on building speed by training on hills. From experience, it gets the leg turnover going while going down hill…getting your legs used to moving faster. Try it out – and even if it doesn’t help your speed immediately…it is tons of fun! (Remember to allow your arms to go and spin like windmills…this will keep you running fast and balanced so that you don’t fall.)

For those Floridians wondering where to find hills? Options include bridge runs (Linton Blvd in Delray Beach) and/or parks and former landfills-turned-parks (Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach, and Dyer Park in Palm Beach Gardens west).

It’s the worst-kept secret in running: If you want to improve strength and speed, run hills.

Recently, I did a trail run in Seattle with Tony Young, the world record-holder in the mile for men age 45–49 (4:16.09). Tony stopped at a point where the trail split, and he pointed up one fork, a 300m woodchip incline.

“See this hill?” said Tony. “If I beat you for the masters cross country title in December, this hill will be the reason why.”

Tony’s faith in the power of hills has precedent. In the 1960s, New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard used hill training to propel his country’s distance runners to international acclaim. Sebastian Coe relied on hills for the strength that netted him 11 indoor and outdoor world records in the late ’70s and early ’80s. And the slopes of the Great Rift Valley have lifted Kenyans to domination of the world distance scene for decades.

So why don’t more runners make hills a centerpiece of their training?

Simply put, most runners don’t understand how to train on hills. We pick hills that are too long or too steep. We run them too fast. We allow too little time afterward to recover. The result is a poor training effect at best, injury and burnout at worst.

Before we charge willy-nilly up the nearest mountain trail, we need to understand the training adaptations we’re after and the best way to achieve them.

WHY DOES HILL TRAINING WORK?

A weight lifter looking to improve his maximum bench press doesn’t add lighter-weight reps to his workout. He doesn’t do his reps more quickly. Instead, he increases the weight on the bar, thereby increasing the force required to complete his reps.

It’s the same with running. If we want to get stronger and faster, we must increase the force requirements of our workout. Tempo runs, time trials and fast reps on the track are good, but they don’t generate maximum force. Hills do.

“Running up hills forces the knees to lift higher, one of the most desirable developments for any runner, because this governs stride speed and length,” wrote Lydiard (with Garth Gilmour) in his book Running With Lydiard. “It also develops the muscle fibers, increasing power.”

In fact, we can target all three types of muscle fiber (a “fiber” is what we call a muscle cell) with hill training: slow-twitch (Type I), intermediate fast-twitch (Type IIa) and fast-twitch (Type IIx). Slow-twitch produces the least force of the fiber types, but it works aerobically and takes a long time to fatigue, making it perfect for endurance activities. Intermediate fibers produce more force than slow-twitch, creating the long, powerful strides associated with middle-distance running. Fast-twitch fibers produce the most force of all, but they function anaerobically and are useful only for short bursts.

HOW DO WE TRAIN ON HILLS?

When I attended La Canada High School in the 1970s, we had one of the best middle-distance programs in Southern California. One year, our school of 1,500 students boasted nine runners who could break 2:00 for the 880. Our secret? Coach Pat Logan employed a regimen of long hill runs for endurance, long hill reps for strength and short hill reps for speed.

When we run, we recruit our muscle fibers in a “ladder.” We use slow-twitch fiber first, add intermediate fiber as the required force increases, and recruit fast-twitch fiber when our force requirement is greatest (e.g., sprinting up a steep hill).

Once we know how the ladder works, we can design hill workouts that target each type of muscle fiber and train those fiber types to work together more effectively.

Full article here.

Ice Baths: The Pain & The Glory

After a run with my South Florida Runs group a few months back in Boynton Beach, a few runners were mentioning that their muscles were tired/sore from recent hard workouts (including hills, etc.). Others said the lactic acid build-up in their muscles was holding them back. I briefly mentioned taking ice baths and how that can help. The majority of college and university athletic centers have metal ice baths designed for the athletes. That’s pretty telling that they work! (Side note, I have read up on many athletes that met their significant other while in an ice bath; while this probably won’t happen in your personal bathroom, it’s just another benefit of the ice bath.

Here is more information on the practice:

For recovery after a long run, tough workout or race, nothing beats an ice bath. Soaking in a tub (or container) filled with water and ice will help reduce inflammation of tissues and joints, relieve soreness, and speed up your recovery. Here’s how to take an ice bath.

  • Fill your bathtub with cold water, and slowly get in. (I know many runners that have used clean/new trash cans so that they could stand instead of sit.) Let your body adjust to the temperature. (Note: If you have running partners, share the bath – just make sure you are wearing bathing suits!)
  • If you really don’t like the cold, it’s fine to go in the tub wearing running tights or sweatpants and a sweatshirt or towel (wrapped around your upper body). You’ll still get the same benefits.
  • Dump one or two 5-pound bags of ice into the tub. (At my size – 130 lbs – I need to use two bags…Otherwise the ice melts way too quickly.) You can also ask someone else to dump the ice in – as inflicting pain on yourself is sometimes difficult.

Stay in the tub for 10 minutes. Your legs will turn red. If you feel extreme numbness, get out sooner.

Background information on why ice baths work:

Ice Baths: Cold Therapy
Ice baths are one of the most effective ways to offset the damage done on a run.
By Nikki Kimball; Nikki Kimball, a physical therapist in Bozeman, Montana, was named USATF’s Ultrarunner of the Year in 2004, 2006, and 2007.

Long runs are essential to the training distance runners because they enable the body to adapt to running greater distances safely and efficiently. Unfortunately, long runs also increase the runner’s risk of injury, which can result in unplanned—and unwelcome—time off. One simple way to offset the risks inherent to long bouts of running is cold-water immersion, known to many runners as the ice bath.

Cryotherapy (“cold therapy”) constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, which reduces swelling and tissue breakdown. Once the skin is no longer in contact with the cold source, the underlying tissues warm up, causing a return of faster blood flow, which helps return the byproducts of cellular breakdown to the lymph system for efficient recycling by the body. “Ice baths don’t only suppress inflammation, but help to flush harmful metabolic debris out of your muscles,” says David Terry, M.D., an ultrarunner who has finished both the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and the Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run 10 consecutive times.

Though you could use individual ice packs, cold-water immersion generally produces a greater and longer lasting change in deep tissues and is more a more efficient means of cooling large groups of muscles simultaneously. The discomfort associated with sitting in a tub full of ice water scares off some athletes. I admit that after my long runs I’d rather reward myself with a hot shower and a big plate of scrambled eggs than an ice bath. However, I have been running ultramarathons for nearly 10 years without any significant injuries, and I credit my ritual of post-workout ice baths for much of my orthopedic health.

Over those years, I’ve discovered tricks to make the ice bath experience more tolerable. First, I fill my tub with two to three bags of crushed ice. Then I add cold water to a height that will cover me nearly to my waist when I sit in the tub. Before getting in, I put on a down jacket and a hat and neoprene booties, make myself a cup of hot tea, and collect some entertaining reading material to help the next 15 to 20 minutes pass quickly.

Though scientific research exists to support the use of ice baths to promote recovery, no exact protocol has been proven better than others. In general, water temperatures should be between 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit, and immersion time should ranges from 10 to 20 minutes. Among top runners, I see ice bath techniques that vary within and on either side of these ranges. My favorite method is the post-race soak in a cold river or lake with fellow competitors.