Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Little Tempo Run

I awoke, yanked from my dreamy slumber, aware of two things: My twin tapping my shoulder complaining of hunger and the wind buffeting the house. It was 7:30 AM. My two best running buds, Rick and Travis, had already been running for an hour. Good for them. I'd just slept 9.5 hours straight. I was feeling lazy.

Today's run called for 2 mile warm-up, 5 miles between 7:45 and 7:50, and a 3 mile cool-down. Now, I have to admit a few things. While I might be "warm" after two miles, I am usually not ready to kick it into a decent pace quite yet. I also knew that the 5 miles at that pace was going to be a challenge to finish. Or, so I thought. And once I did finish, I was going to need a walk break to recover, and it was really the last three miles that were going to be hard. I knew I'd be excited and challenged enough to finish the "hard" part.

So, I considered two alternatives. One, flip the cool-down and warm-up miles (3 first and then 2), or two, run all 5 up front and when I was done with the workout, I was done. I decided to take it by feel. I ran my first mile especially slow, asking nothing of my body yet, 9:14. I then gradually worked the pace down, and by 3 miles was feeling good, but decided I'd feel even better if I just kept going. So, I finished the 5 easy, and was feeling great and ready to work.

I locked the next 5 miles in at 7:47 pace, and started counting backwards from 39:00 minutes. When I had 8 minutes to go, my mind was thinking maybe I was tired.. and I really did have to convince myself it would be worse to say I couldn't do the run; or didn't do the run than it would be to just hang in there. But, I found as I approached 4 minutes to go, I was getting so excited I'd nailed the run, that my energy surged, and I actually wanted to pick UP the pace.

I am quite pleased that I did well, and found the 7:47 surprisingly comfortable to hang at for awhile!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Treadmill Running

Yesterday, one of the athletes with whom I am working asked me: "Is it OK to do all of my training on the treadmill for the half marathon coming up in March?"

I thought it was a great question, especially as we head into winter. I know his goals well, and where he is, so he received a very specific answer. But, as I was running today (outside for the first time in a week), I decided to explore this topic a little more deeply as a blog entry. In short, it really depends.

I used to go outside and tough it out under any conditions. My first 10-miler ever was when the air temperature was 10 F, and the winds were blowing heavily. I ran dressed like the Pilsbury dough boy, with a scarf wrapped twice around my nose and mouth to help me breathe. I've run in rain, freezing rain, pouring rain, sleet, wind, mud, ice, snow and triple-degree temps. I've been caught on the trail with the tornado sirens going off as a twister touched down less than 6 miles from me; and I've been caught on the trail, alone at night, only to find no light whatsoever available to me and more than a few miles to go. So, it's not that I am not tough enough to brave some questionable conditions.

Running on the treadmill has more than just those obvious benefits--protecting you from less than agreeable conditions.

But, there is one caveat: The treadmill needs to be calibrated, accurate and of very high quality. Treadmill speeds and distances can vary wildly, seriously misleading you into believing that you were running a specific pace or distance. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. The less expensive, fold-up treadmills are far less accurate. There are a few brands (e.g., Precor) that have come out on top of numerous speed and distance accuracy tests. If you consistently run on a particular treadmill, make sure you've done your research.

Here are some advantages of treadmill running:

1. Pace teaching. I've run so many miles on my treadmill at specific paces, that I easily and quickly settle into desired paces and hold it steadily. I've "learned" exactly what certain paces feel like. I honestly believe it's so many miles on the treadmill that have given me the "machine like" quality to my legs and pacing that I've developed.
2. Safety. Ok, rather obvious, but there are definitely times it's just flat out more safe to run indoors (late at night, icy conditions, lightning).
3. No cheating on the treadmill. You are forced to hold the pace (as long as you can hang on) until that portion of your run or workout is complete. If your treadmill is accurate, this is a no-brainer. You can't slack off.
4. Lower impact than road running. This can be great if you are recovering from an injury, but also a good measure if you are always running on asphalt or concrete. I wouldn't want to run all six of my weekly runs on roads, and sometimes the trails are not convenient to get to.
5. Successful hard workouts. If I have a particular workout coming up that requires a very specific pace over a certain distance (like 1K repeats), and the workout seems rather challenging, I will more often than not do it on the treadmill to be sure I'm nailing it. This is especially true if the paces might be impacted by terrain other than a 400M track (which for most of us isn't readily available).

And a few disadvantages of excessive treadmill running:

1. Burnout. Too many runs back-to-back on a treadmill become quite monotonous. I've learned to deal with runs of up to about 9 or 10 miles pretty easily, but beyond that, I really have a tough time. And it isn't a physical thing, it's all mental. I just get bored and my mind wants me to stop. And after several days of nothing else, I just dread hopping on the moving belt.. and sometimes call it the "dreadmill."
2. Lack of strengthening supporting tendons, ligaments and muscles. Let's face it; if you only run on a treadmill and then suddenly go run a single track trail with a few rocks and roots, if you're lucky, your stability system (e.g. peroneal tendons) will only be sore. Worst case, you will be far more likely to roll your ankle or otherwise hurt yourself.
3. Preparedness for road running (impact). Yes, the treadmill is lower impact. A lot lower. If you are going to be competitive on road racing, you need to do at least some of your miles on the road to prepare your musculoskeletal system for the rigors of what's coming.
4. Learning to pace on your own. Sure, treadmill can help teach pacing, but if you don't go out and verify that you can hold your pace and practice it without the treadmill, don't expect it to work on race day.
5. Inability to deal with race day conditions. If you've never run in wind, cold, heat, mud or other inclement conditions, you might be surprised on race day. You should experience each of these to some degree if you ever expect to race in such conditions.
6. Lack of hills. I hate hills. Really. Those of you who know me know that I will go to great lengths to avoid races with hills if I care about my time. But, that being said, running hills as either part of your regular run or as striders at the end or even full-on hill repeats will make you more powerful. And if race day has hills (up AND down), you'd better have practiced on a few of them.

A few tips on successful treadmill running:

1. Treadmill isn't equivalent to running outdoors. Lack of wind, a moving belt, etc., make the treadmill just slightly easier than an outside run. Set your treadmill to a 1% incline always as a baseline equivalent.
2. Break up the run. Consider even something as simple as one minute at one pace, the next minute at another, and go back, alternating minutes. Expand to longer times, and possibly vary many slightly different speeds. It gives your mind something to look forward to. If your goal is to run 7.5 mph for the whole run after a warm-up, try varing between 7.3 and 7.7, inching up and down as certain minutes tick by.
3. Mark the segments of your run. You might have seen my "10 beads" entry. I keep a stash of pretty, hand carved bone beads in the windowsill by my treadmill. I just move them one at a time from the left to the right of the treadmill when I am doing intervals or segments of a fartlek of any kind. I used to have a string of beads across the front of my treadmill, and I would slide beads to the right as certain percentages of my run were complete.
4. Watch a movie or t.v. show, or listen to an audio book. Ok, this is only for the easy runs. If you are running hard, you won't be able to concentrate. But, this can be a great way to click off the miles if you are just trying to put some distance onto the belt.

Treadmill running can be a great supplement to your training. But don't let it rob you of the joy of running outdoors! Most of us didn't fall in love with the sport at the gym.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vitamin "Do"

People make fun of me when I travel and they see the regimen of supplements I take every morning. Actually, all day long it takes me to spread things out, take multiple doses, etc. I guard my secret mixture, both in contents and quantity, because I really do believe some of what I take gives me a competitive edge (in addition to just helping me stay healthy or make up for a lack in diet).

But, there is one supplement in particular I take that is getting a lot of attention lately. For the record, I've been taking it in high doses long before it was "cool." It could be the most powerful supplement I take, impacting my health, athletic performance and is a key factor in my injury prevention. And if you aren't taking it yourself, you should add it to your mornings (and quite possibly evenings) as well. What is it?

Vitamin D. It's not just for your bones. After Deena Kastor's bone cracking injury in mile three of Beijing in 2008, and subsequently testing positive for a Vitamin D deficiency, it is widely known in the athletic community that Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption and an important preventative for stress fractures. But, new evidence suggests there are other reasons athletes should be taking high doses (some sources suggest up to 2,000 IU per day if you are getting little to no sunlight).

"Activated Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that regulates over 1,000 human genes. Recent research indicates intracellular Vitamin D levels in numerous human tissues, including nerve and muscle tissues are increased when inputs of its substrate, the prehormone Vitamin D, are increased. A consistent literature indicates physical and athletic performance is seasonal; it peaks when Vitamin D levels peak [due to ultra-violet ray exposure in sun light], declines as they decline, and reaches its nadir when levels are at their lowest." (Source)

"Although few studies have looked closely at the issue of Vitamin D and athletic performance, those that have are suggestive. A series of strange but evocative studies undertaken decades ago in Russia and Germany, for instance, hint that the Eastern Bloc nations may have depended in part on sunlamps and Vitamin D to produce their preternaturally well-muscled and world-beating athletes. In one of the studies, four Russian sprinters were doused with artificial, ultraviolet light. Another group wasn’t. Both trained identically for the 100-meter dash. The control group lowered their sprint times by 1.7 percent. The radiated runners, in comparison, improved by an impressive 7.4 percent." (Source)

"More recently, when researchers tested the vertical jumping ability of a small group of adolescent athletes, Larson-Meyer says, “they found that those who had the lowest levels of Vitamin D tended not to jump as high,” intimating that too little of the nutrient may impair muscle power." (Source)

Even training outside, you might not get enough: "[Earlier this year,] researchers found that many of a group of distance runners also had poor Vitamin D status. Forty percent of the runners, who trained outdoors in sunny Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had insufficient Vitamin D." (Source)

It's a simple, inexpensive add to your routine, and well worth it. Hmm... or, maybe we should all organize a week-long sunny, tropical cruise during the winter just for runners! It's 15F here this morning. Brr.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

10 Beads

I'm now convinced the human body is capable of a lot more work when you think you're tired and want to quit. The effort required to complete a tough interval session, or race, or anything that pushes you close to that edge becomes mental. Because when you are running at an uncomfortable pace or for an uncomfortable amount of time, you can always just stop. It's simple. (Now, I'm not talking about pressing through a workout that you should really modify because your body is feeling particularly flat on a day, or over trained.)

My lazy body urges me at the slightest pressing, "Hello? It's me again. Um, I think I'm kind of tired. *Yawn* See?" Or, say, "Could we just take a bit of a break? Maybe, rest our feet up on the couch and eat some bon-bons? That sounds like a lot more fun than this."

Yesterday marked my first day of a little speedwork / interval work since the end of 5K season in May 2009. While I feel I have lost little strength and endurance from Chicago (I am running very strong since about three weeks after the marathon), it is evident the 5K sharpness I used to recognize has waned. I'm hoping to acquire a new 5K PR (<22:00) at the end of January in my favorite Kansas City race (the Groundhog 5K / 10K). Thus.. I need to do a little work!

In preparation for that, Vince gave me 10 intervals at a decent pace (a nice little intro to get my feet moving again). Typically, my mind has trouble keeping count (yes, I'm blonde) after about the fourth interval. So, I had the clever idea of starting with 10 beads, and moving one from the right to the left for each interval. This actually ending up being a fabulous idea, as my mind was able to visualize an end to the work, measure progress, and know that with each interval, I had less and less to go each time. And I ended up feeling better and more focused as each hand carved bead moved, thrilled when I had only one bead to go. Sometimes, it's the little things...

Sunday, November 15, 2009


"How much faster do you think you can really get?" echoed in my ears. I didn't really have an answer, but I had a feeling. Not the kind of feeling that I'd maxed out my ability and was on my way down (as suggested by the question). But, a warm, swelly feeling in my chest. "Just you wait and see..." I thought.

For those of you who followed my other blogs, particularly my work to qualify for Boston (where my singular goal was to run a 3:50 marathon yet having a current PR of 4:16 and change), you'll know how far I've come. And as I approach my 43rd birthday in January 2010, the question was probably a fair one. After all, it was only four years ago I couldn't break 30:00 in the 5K, and only a few years before that I had no hope of doing anything like running... ever.

I've just really figured out how to race in the past year. And I am just grasping what it takes to get faster. This blog is the "what comes next" after finally qualifying for Boston. 22:00 isn't going to be my PR for the 5K, nor is 3:38:22 going to be my PR for the marathon. I will write about my training / runs, my diet, my thoughts, my races, my set-backs, my victories.

I promise.. this is not the peak. I feel the potential burning through me. Now, it's time to bring it!