Should I Run in Wildfire Smoke ?

Much of the west is on fire and it’s still early in the season. These early season wildfires have inundated many PNW towns and cities with visible smoke, and with this new blanket of smoke, many athletes are questioning  the safety and practicality of exercising in these conditions. And rightfully so! Is it safe to run in these conditions ?

Let’s break it down!

First off, what is smoke? Smoke is a mixture of different chemicals, vapors, minerals, and particulate matter.  The levels of these chemicals and matter (nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, etc.) vary depending on many different factors relating to the fuel that’s burning as well as environmental factors. The biggest concern for us humans (and our animals) with wildfire smoke exposure, is particulate matter. These tiny particulates (solids and liquids suspended in the air) can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs causing a plethora of serious health issues. Don’t believe me ? (I’ve seen some of you running around out there without masks).  Read the following excerpt from Page 13 of “Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials” Published by the EPA, CDC, USFS, and California Air Resources Board:

“The effects of smoke range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more
serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death … short-term exposures (i.e., days to weeks) to fine particles, a major component of smoke, are linked with increased premature mortality and aggravation of pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Children, pregnant women, and elderly are also especially vulnerable to smoke exposure. In addition, fine particles are respiratory irritants, and exposures to high concentrations can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty
breathing. Exposures to fine particles can also affect healthy people, causing respiratory
symptoms, transient reductions in lung function, and pulmonary inflammation. Particulate matter may also affect the body’s physiological mechanisms that remove inhaled foreign materials from the lungs, such as pollen and bacteria.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I’m willing to risk for a few days or weeks of heavy training. So what are our best options to stay fit while our beautiful trails and streets are blanketed in wildfire smoke ? Is it practical to continue training ? Is it worth it ?

The best thing you can do is take your activity indoors AND reduce the duration. When we exercise, our air intake rises 10 to 20 fold over resting levels, which means you run the risk of breathing in 10 to 20 times more particulates while exercising in a polluted environment. But why do we need to reduce the duration of our activities ? Isn’t being inside good enough ? Well, simply because you’re indoors, doesn’t mean you’re not being exposed to the harmful particulates you can see outside. Even in air conditioned homes using recirculated air, particulate can matter penetrate the structure and it’s ineffective filters, leaving humans susceptible to harmful particulates.

Keep in mind too, that moving your strenuous activity into your garage is not going to protect you from the irritants outside. Because of poor insulation and a lack of air filtration in most garages, air quality in your garage is likely to be similar to the air quality outside. If you do decide to continue exercising indoors at the same volume you have been exercising, consider doing so at a commercial gym, in a newer building, with a high quality air filtration system.

If you insist on going outside, wear a particulate respirator rated N95 higher. Covering your face with a bandana, buff, or even a one strap medical mask will not protect you from breathing in particulate matter. You must use a particulate respirator with a rating of N95 or higher; this will capture 95% of particles, but it must fit properly with a good seal – sorry guys, the beard has to go! Just keep in mind that you’ll be transporting less oxygen to your working muscles and brain; you’ll need to SLOW DOWN, take breaks, and listen to your body.

You can find an approved mask here.

And learn how to properly fit and use your mask here.

Before you make a decision to cease, reduce, or bring your activity indoors, it’s a good idea to check the air quality in your local area by using the EPA’s AirNow website here. The Air Quality Rating scale from the EPA is as follows:

AQI

 

It’s important to note too that not everyone will be negatively effected by short term wildfire smoke exposure. Healthy individuals who do experience symptoms are likely to make a quick recovery and will, in most cases, not have long term health issues due to this type of smoke exposure.  Even so, when any of my healthy athletes ask for my opinion on exercising in smokey conditions, my answer is always the same: Don’t risk it. Keep your global goals in mind. Stay healthy, stay happy, and remember that this too shall pass. This is a great time for unplanned recovery.

 

References:

https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/wildfire_may2016.pdf

https://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/acdsumm.pdf

https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/334-353.pdf

http://www.bccdc.ca/resource-gallery/Documents/Guidelines%20and%20Forms/Guidelines%20and%20Manuals/Health-Environment/WFSG_EvidenceReview_CleanAirShelters_FINAL_v3_edstrs.pdf

https://airnow.gov

https://wildlandfiresmoke.net

 

 

Safely Increase Your Running Volume

Winter can be a tough time to train for a lot of people. The majority of runners I know either had planned down time or forced down time due to a wicked flu season and/or horrendous weather in their region. Any of these things can be a blessing in disguise, as us runners tend to push ourselves very hard year around. It’s important to stay fit year around, but we also need periods of rest and recovery. We can either voluntarily take the time to recover with a reduction in load, or, our body can force us to take that time through sickness and injury.

However, winter is over! With spring comes new light and new energy! The days are longer, the weather is nicer, the flowers are blooming, and summer is on the horizon. Not only that, but the fire is burning HOT for all of those summer races you signed up for.  Now is the time time to see what you’re made of! Now is the time to start your journey towards running or ultrarunning greatness.

As John L. Parker Jr. famously wrote in his novel “Once a Runner” – “You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”

Many Coaches quote this line, but how do you safely implement the “Trial of Miles” ? And without setbacks ? Let’s clarify the latter, first: There may be setbacks. It is foolish to think that anyone participating in this high-impact, repetitive sport will come out unscathed. Don’t let Charlatan Coaches or compression gear companies tell you otherwise: eventually you’ll sustain some type of running related injury. We all get hurt. We can do our best to minimize the risks of injury, but we can’t completely prevent it from occurring. And if we get injured? We also heal. And we achieve even greater things by staying positive in the face of adversity and learning from those setbacks.

But hey! Cross that bridge when you get there.

 

Let’s talk about increasing running volume safely:

 

Run slow.

One of the most common mistakes I see is people running too fast, too often, which leads to nagging injuries, inconsistent training, and subpar results. Slow down! You literally need to run slower to run faster. Unless you’re a nationally competitive athlete or have been running most of your life, the majority of your mileage should be fairly relaxed. This is especially important when you’re increasing volume to a level you’ve not experienced yet.

Be consistent.

Show up! Consistency is key. And it’s easy: you just choose to do it. Don’t skip days. Don’t cut runs short. Don’t make excuses. Consistency leads to better running, less injury, and more speed. 

Baby steps.

The 10% rule for volume increase is slow, archaic, and nonsensical. However, too much, too soon is the number one leading cause of injury in runners. Instead, try increasing your weekly volume by the the number of days you run per week. If you run 4 days per week, add 4 miles. If you run 5 days per week, add 5 miles. Listen to your body and work with your Coach. After a couple weeks of increasing, stay steady and adapt to a given load before adding more mileage.

Light workouts.

When you’re increasing your overall volume, it is a big stressor to your body, especially if the volume is in unfamiliar territory.  It would be too risky to simultaneously increase the duration and/or speed of demanding workouts. Keep strides in your program, or maybe hill sprints, or a set of light surges or fartlek sessions here and there, and every week or two, complete a long run, but keep extremely demanding workouts to a minimum. You’ll have plenty of time for those once you adapt to the stress of your new training load. 

Form Habits.

Get up early. Have something to eat. Drink your coffee. Use the restroom. Brush your teeth. Lace up your shoes. GO RUN. Habits become second nature, and in the thick of training, running should be no different.

Acknowledge fear and then say “Kiss my ass!”

Maybe you’ve never run this much volume in a week before. Maybe you’re nervous to increase your weekly mileage because you’ve heard horror stories of “over-training” or “bad knees” or “heart scarring” from publications looking to capitalize off of your fear. Maybe you have a little self doubt; this is all normal, but to be your best, you must overcome your fears. Believe in yourself! You are capable of amazing things.

Have you been running 30 miles per week ? Take the time to increase to 50. Have you been running 50 miles per week ? Take the time to increase to 70. Have you been running 70 miles per week ? Well… you get it. There is a point of diminishing returns as far as volume goes, so work with your Coach or use common when attacking a bigger training load.

I’m not saying you should go out and pull an Anton Krupicka; running 200 miles per week until you can no longer run at all, but you have nothing to lose by trying something new, and as easy, for your performance as a mileage increase. So long as you are able to balance the stress of running with the stress of your work and family life; push yourself progressively. Build your volume in your program in a smart and productive way with a long term vision. You can be who you want to be. And there’s no better time to make that transition than in the spring time, when the world feels brand new.  

 

“Much is not dared because it seems hard; much seems hard only because it is not dared.” – Prince Wenzel Anton Von Kaunitz

 

Ditch the GPS

GPS is a great tool. I love to use my Garmin for quality workouts where splits matter such as mile repeats on the bike path, marathon pace work, or even for racing Strava segments within the context of on-trail threshold work or race pace simulation. And here at Upper Left Distance Training, we use GPS data integration in your training log to track your runs to the T! This allows me to view your routes, splits, and elevation, which can be very nice for online coaching. But even with all of the benefits, it would do most of us some good to ditch the GPS every now and then.

The problem is that with all of the technology these days, runners are losing their ability to tune into themselves and instead, are relying solely on external feedback such as mile splits and heart rate. While this can be a great tool in certain situations, relying solely on your GPS will limit your potential as an athlete. Our minds (and subsequently our bodies) rely on many cues to regulate our efforts, including our GPS and Heart Rate devices. You will be limited by the feedback from your watch data, so that what you “know” you can achieve will then be based off of the gadgets calculations, instead of your internal data.

I’ve seen this happen in races: “___ is the target heart rate I should be able to maintain for this race.” Great. You’ve just set your bar. Your mind will now act as a governor, not allowing you to break past your self imposed limits. Have you ever seen someone make a kick at the end of an Iron Man before collapsing ? Have you  ever seen someone finish a 100 mile foot race ?  Have you ever heard stories of mothers lifting vehicles off of their children ? Humans are capable of super human feats. That’s a fact that science cannot fully explain. The same holds true, although to a lesser extent, in racing.

Even when using pace per mile to control your easy efforts, we often become reliant on this feedback instead of tuning in to our own bodies. Because of this, athletes will often run too hard in an effort to match up with a pace they’ve been told is their easy pace, when they should instead be listening to their bodies and running even easier for recovery. This is why training by feel can be a far more effective way to train for some athletes. Our bodies are amazing machines and they will provide the feedback we need, we just need to listen. It’s important that you become aware of how you feel at a given effort. The difference between running an 8:30 mile and a 9:30 mile doesn’t matter, so long as the effort was easy and felt easy. The difference between 6:40 pace and 6:30 pace during a threshold run doesn’t matter much, so long as you know what a LT effort feels like.

Past losing touch with ourselves, athletes often get stuck in the data feedback loop with their GPS devices and end up feeling lesser-than by constantly comparing instant external data to their expectations: “This pace is less than what I expected to be able to run”  “I couldn’t run fast enough to get this Strava segment” “My competitors are running faster than me.” “This isn’t enough.” Of course, these are all self imposed expectations that we’re not meeting, but this type of comparison is an unfortunate fact for some athletes who rely too much on technology in training.

The problem too is that when we rely on GPS for every run, we can become stressed by the data: glancing every minute to make sure things are adding up, looking at the split to make sure it was fast enough, wondering why this run felt hard when the GPS and pace calculators tell us it should be easy. This is not conducive to easy, constructive running. We know that stress is stress to the body; it doesn’t differentiate, so why add an extra stressor unnecessarily?  Just as our bodies don’t recognize the arbitrary mileage numbers we’ve given value to in an 7 day period, they don’t always run by the paces in the charts.

It was hard for me to step away from the social validation of Strava, but this is what I’ve been doing for myself recently to reduce that stress:

  1. All easy runs with a stop watch to keep track of time. No GPS.
  2. GPS for any specific pace based workouts (800s, Ks, Mile reps, MP race pace, etc).
  3. GPS with the lap function and pace per mile turned off for tempo and long runs (I then log into Garmin or Strava to see how the splits matched up to how I felt).
  4. At [trail/ultra] races: pace per mile screen disabled. Chrono to keep track of caloric intake. Distance to keep track of aid stations (but don’t do math!).

This is what works for me, and may or may not work for you. Maybe you’d enjoy no watch at all? On a free day when I have nowhere to be, I sure do! Maybe you’re learning to internalize pace and the pace per mile screen is a learning tool at races and pace specific long runs on the road? It’s a great tool that!  Whatever you do, don’t become a slave to technology. Run free once in a while. It will make a world of difference in your training and racing.

How to Avoid a DNF

Recently I went down to Malibu to race the Sean O’Brien 100K in attempt to get a Golden Ticket to the Western States 100 Mile Endurance run. I spent 4 months training specifically for this race, yet 20 miles in, I dropped out. But why?

For most of us it won’t be the weather or the vertical gain or the distance that is the biggest challenge in an Ultramarathon, but our internal battle. It’s unlikely you’ll avoid this battle because it’s natural for the mind to try to stop us from harming the body when you’re doing something that is dangerous and potentially damaging. Our brain is designed to protect us; to be overprotective and to get us home safe. Evolution may not let us avoid the battle completely, but you can certainly minimize the risk of letting negativity overcome you on race day.

My first suggestion? Choose a race that means something to you. You need to have a reason to finish these things. Choose something that excites you and gives you a reason to finish. A good reason. You have to be emotionally invested in what you’re doing or you’ll risk giving up on it. Emotional investment is key to success whether it’s in training, in racing, in a relationship, or at work – you’ve got to care. And not just about shallow things like notoriety, money and success – those things don’t hold up when the going gets tough.

When things do get tough (and they will) you’ll need to stay positive. You’ll feel fear, anxiety, anger, and maybe even a little sadness, but all of those emotions can be overcome with positivity. A good way to do this is simply to smile. Smile at other runners, smile at the volunteers, and if no one is around, smile for the sake of smiling. Studies have shown that smiling releases dopamine, serotonin and endorphins (1). This cocktail of neurotransmitters can help to reduce stress, lower heart rate (2), relieve pain, and uplift mood (3). So, next time you’re racing or stuck in traffic smashing your hands against the steering wheel, give smiling a try and see what happens 🙂

If positivity and your commitment to your “why” are not working, think about consuming some extra calories before you make a final decision. You know those Snickers commercials ? Well, there’s definitely some truth in the saying “You’re not you when your hungry.” Your brain’s primary fuel is glucose. It needs it’s fuel to operate and to regulate emotions. For evolutionary reasons we already have trouble controlling anxiety and anger, but given that some of the same hormones associated with these emotions are released when we’re hungry (specifically when blood glucose levels drop (4))  the feelings are often exacerbated until our brain gets what it wants and needs. This is why you may get “hangry” at the office if lunch is late and it’s also why you might not be thinking clearly a few hours into your race. So, before you make any rash decisions, try eating a few hundred calories at the next aid station, jog for 20 minutes, and then make your decision.

If none of these things are working then you need to be honest with yourself and ask “Is it worth it to continue?” In my case, I ignored the advice I give my athletes and picked a race solely because I had the chance of getting into Western States; a race I don’t really care about, but that would get me noticed by a shoe company and prospective clients. On top of a shallow “why” I’d been struggling with an injury effecting my sciatic nerve for almost a year. It was and is manageable, but once I knew I wouldn’t get a Golden Ticket I wasn’t interested in taking the risks associated with running 40 more miles through the Malibu hills. That was my call in the moment and I don’t regret it. I went home and filled my calendar with races that excite me.

We have this unhealthy “Death Before DNF”  mentality in Ultrarunning that perpetuates unspoken shame in those who do drop out of races. To put it bluntly: it’s bullshit. You should never be ashamed or embarrassed of dropping out of race, whether it’s due to a legitimate health concern or simply because you’d rather spend the afternoon on the beach with your family. And if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re considering dropping out of a race, don’t let the thought of what other people think of you dictate what you choose to do. Do what makes you happy.

Choose your races with passion.

Live your life with purpose.

75469842-DSC_2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612445312

(2)https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24345483

(4) http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/7/1618.full

Tips for Running in the Winter

The alarm goes off. Your spouse is warm. Your sheets smell like fresh linen and summer breeze. You’re sinking into the abyss of heavenly tempurpedic clouds. Are you in Hawaii ? No. It’s 33 degrees and raining outside and right now you have two choices: 1. Peel yourself out of bed, suit up, and get at that 8 miler your Coach prescribed  2. Start the endless snooze cycle until you have to shuffle into the office sans run.

If you’re the highly motivated type, like my friend Joe who is a new dad, works 40+ hours a week, is a part time professor, directs races, volunteers at Ultras, AND trains for 100 milers, then this is no problem, but for the rest if us, the winter struggle is real. So, what can we do?

Sleep more. While getting up before the sun can feel like a chore to some people no matter what they do, others can fair well enough simply by going to bed 30 minutes earlier. Just 30 minutes of extra sleep per night can increase recovery speed, increase response time, and elevate overall mood. Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night and the battle with your alarm is less likely to feel like a scene from Braveheart and more like a scene from the Sound of Music.

Make it a habit. It doesn’t take long to form a small a habit (good or bad) such as snoozing your alarm or getting a donut with your morning coffee, but it takes a bit of time and commitment to form habits that require more thought. Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t take 21 days to make or break a habit. Like most myths, the 21 day myth comes from an outdated piece of literature – a book published back in 1960. A more recent European study found that it can take up to two months before you reach an automaticity plateau while forming a habit. TWO MONTHS of repetition. That requires determination and a bit of patience, much like running. The good news is that once you form a positive habit, it doesn’t take an excessive amount of energy or thought to do it every day. The point? Make it a habit to start getting out of bed in the morning when your alarm goes off instead of hitting the snooze button.

The way you think matters. If you dread running, then you shouldn’t be doing it. Be thankful and grateful for movement and be happy to do it! You are blessed to be able to get up and run every day. Seize it and strive to be the best version of yourself regardless of weather. Get up in the morning and say to yourself “What a blessing it is to be alive and moving! I love to run!” If you don’t love it, why do it?

The three tips above will help you on your journey to winter greatness, however, that doesn’t address the bitter cold and darkness you have to battle. Below are some gear recommendations to make your predawn winter run as first worldy as possible:

  1. A good headlamp. 90 Lumens will do, but nowadays you can get a 300 lumen lamp for under $40.00, so why not? Light up the world! Just make sure it’s waterproof.
  2. A Buff. This essential piece of gear can be worn 12+ different ways to keep your head warm and comfortable. I almost never leave home without one.
  3. A good Baselayer that is form fitting and moisture wicking to insulate your upper body and core.
  4. A weather resistant, collapsible shell for when the rain is coming down and the wind is blowing sideways.
  5. Gloves. Nobody I know likes cold fingers. Some of us (me) loathe cold sausages.
  6. Weather resistant pants or tights.
  7. A moisture wicking sock that fits right and minimizes the chance of blisters in wet conditions. Consider Merino for extra insulation.
  8. Shoes. Consider a shoe with sticky rubber for wet conditions and/or a water repellent uppers for those soggy winter mornings.
  9. Yaktraks or Screws if you live in an especially cold and icey area.

At the end of the day you get the same 24 hours as everyone else (Joe always says this) and you get to choose how you spend your 24 hours. Just like you’ve chosen the lifestyle of a runner, you must choose to get up in the morning and get it done. It’s as simple as that. Wake up. Smile. Be thankful. And choose to run.

Accepting Injury as a Runner

It’s said that somewhere between 50 to 90% of runners take time off each year due to a running related injury. So, it’s safe to say that if you’re a runner, you’ve been injured. Even if you’re one of the fortunate few who get to work with a Coach, a Physical Therapist, a Massage Therapist, AND a Doctor, you most likely haven’t been able to avoid injury. And if you’ve been injured you’ve likely experienced a slew of emotions similar the 5 stages of grief that are felt when we lose a loved one. Why ? Because being a runner becomes part of our identity and when we’re injured and can’t run, it often feels like we’re losing part of ourselves. Tell me if this sounds familiar:

Denial: “I’m not injured. I’ll just keep running. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”

Anger : “Damn it! These damned shoes must’ve caused this! And what do I even pay my coach for if I’m getting hurt?! THE SUN IS TOO DAMN BRIGHT!”

Bargaining: “If I can just run I’ll do less speed work… I’ll run on softer surfaces… I’ll run lower mileage…”

Sadness: [this is often a private feeling]

Acceptance: “I am injured. I need time to heal.”

While it is essential and necessary to process emotions like these, we need not feel all of these emotions in such extremity over a set back in our training. Is it ok to feel frustrated? Yes. Is it ok to feel bummed out? Absolutely! It’s perfectly normal, but if we can skip straight to accepting our injury, we can get on the path to recovery and heal much faster.

You’re most likely an endorphin junkie, so first order of business is transferring all running related workouts to non-impact aerobic activities so that you don’t slip into a fit of endorphin withdrawal induced rage and end up on Judge Judy. Here’s an example: If you had 10 miles total planned for today with  10 x 1 minute on, 1 minute off @ Critical Velocity pace, hop on the stationary bike, warm up, and then hammer out 10 x 1 minute on, 1 minute off @ perceived 10K “run” effort. Most of your non running aerobic maintenance can simply be easy to moderate effort activities such as cycling, elliptical, or water aerobics (depending on the injury). You should also focus on balancing out any weaknesses that may have contributed to your injury, so that you can limit the chances of it recurring.

To keep self pity to a minimum it’s helpful to remember that we all experience struggle. I often think of one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Moore “We are wounded simply by participating in life… To think that the proper or natural state is to be without wounds is an illusion.” This reminds me that I am not special in regards to this injury, and also, that I am not alone.

During your healing process it’s also important to stay positive and  to keep running in perspective. It’s part of who we are, it’s part of what we do and it’s something that we love, but for most of us, it’s not ALL of who we are. I encourage our athletes to order the following in this way: 1. Family 2. Career/Academics 3. Running.

Remember that there are plenty of other enjoyable things in life to focus on while you’re taking time off. Do your best to do other things that bring you and your family joy. Take your spouse wine tasting, go out to eat at a new restaurant, take the kids to a wildlife safari. Use the time that you normally have allotted for running to do other things that matter even more. Make breakfast for the family, walk the dogs a little longer, clean the house, read a book. Enjoy your life!

Your running injury is not the end of the world and you are not alone. You will likely be a stronger runner because of it – just take a look at Shalane Flanagan’s story!  Smile. Balance your body, calm your mind, and move forward. You are amazing and you will continue to do amazing things.

 

 

 

Common Questions From New Runners

As a coaches we get quite a few training questions from new and experienced runners alike, but some questions we get more often than others, so Alicia and I have picked seven common questions we get regularly and answered them below. We hope this helps you in your journey to awesomeness!

  1. How important is my pace?

It’s not important! Well, let me rephrase that: how fast you’re going is not important when you’re a new runner. When you’re first starting out most, if not ALL, of your runs should be at an easy pace. Very easy. That pace will vary each day based on how you’re feeling which is impacted not only by training, but personal and work life/stress as well. Don’t get caught up in specific paces or the pings and chimes of your GPS watch and Strava account as a new runner. There will plenty of time for fast, specific running later in your career, but it has it’s place. Learn to run easy by perceived effort and most importantly: enjoy it!

  1. What shoes should I wear ?

I’m not going to get into the scientific validity of “corrective features” in running shoes, or lack thereof, ain’t nobody got time fo that! Go to your local running store, try on as many shoes as you can, and choose what feels comfortable to you. Don’t let anyone sell you a shoe or insert because they say you’re an “overpronator”.  We ALL pronate to some degree, it’s natural movement and it’s part of the body’s amazing shock absorption process. It’s best to leave the medical diagnosis to MDs and PTs, not to a retail sales associate. When choosing a shoe, I personally like to keep a finger nail’s width of space between my longest toe and the front of the shoe, but that’s my preference. Choose a shoe that feels good to you, however it fits.

  1. Is my form ok? What about foot strike?

Please put down “Born To Run” and forget about footstrike. Our bodies self select what works best for us in that regard and altering it in an unnatural way can result in injury. What you should be more concerned about is your overall form and posture. Follow my tips on form here and remember that with practice, patience and awareness you will start to have better form, but it takes time, and continual work.

  1. What should I eat or drink during my run?

Practice! Practice, practice, practice. The gut is a trainable organ, so you must experiment and practice with eating and drinking on the run to train it. Just keep in mind, no matter how much you try, certain things will not agree with certain people. I have plenty of friends and athletes who can eat PBJ on the run, but if I do that, it will ruin my entire day. Finding out what works for you on the run takes a fair amount of trial and error and possibly one or two lost socks, but it’s essential in your success, especially if you plan on running races that are marathon distance or greater.

  1. What should I eat after my run?

We burn roughly 100 calories (give or take) per mile depending on weight, speed, age, and sex. Now, if our initial goal is weight loss, we may not want to replace all of those calories, but we do want to give our bodies adequate nutrients to repair the damage we’ve done. As training volume and hard workouts increase, we want to aim to replace the glycogen we deplete and aid the muscles in the repair and recovery process. I’m not going to get deep into sports nutrition in this post, but a good rule of thumb is to eat something heavy in carbohydrate within 30 minutes of your run and to eat a balanced meal (protein, fats, and carbs) within 2 hours of finishing. Put good in, get good out. 

  1. What if I miss a day?

Don’t sweat it! These things happen. A missed day now and then is often a blessing in disguise as it gives your body a chance to do a little extra recovering and healing. Where you get into trouble is when you start letting this become a habit: you skip a week because you were on vacation, and then two days when you get back because work was crazy, and the following week you slept in twice… Eventually you can’t maintain the volume planned in your training and you’re forced to adjust your goals.  Becoming a better runner involves a ton of consistency and zero excuses.

Also, keep in mind that training for the marathon distance and above takes a considerable amount of dedication as well as the sacrifice of many social pleasures (I think Seb Coe said that). You need to be honest with yourself when you choose to take on the challenge. There’s nothing wrong with training for Half Marathons or 5Ks! 

  1. How can I get faster?

Patience. The whole first year of running should be mainly easy running with some hills and possibly fartlek. With time and consistency you will naturally become more efficient, stronger, and better at processing oxygen, resulting in faster easy days and many PRs. Be patient, be consistent, and enjoy the run! The rest will come.

 

Do you have questions we didn’t answer here? Feel free to shoot me an email at: upperleftdt@gmail.com 

A Week With The Best: Jacob Puzey

Wow! It’s been a while since we posted one of these! This blog really fell by the wayside with our recent relocation to Ashland. Sorry about the delay here, Jacob! This evening we’ve got Jacob Puzey. Jacob is a lifelong runner, coach, race director, and writer. Despite a slow early start to running, Jacob gradually improved over time and has since won national titles in cross country and on the roads and set a world record of 50 Miles on the treadmill at an average pace of 5:56.  Jacob coaches athletes from all over the world, of all ages and abilities – from newbies to national champions – to help them achieve their running goals.  

How did you start running?

I started running in middle school to get in shape for basketball.   

What has been your biggest obstacle as a runner?

I was uncoordinated.  I was weak.  I couldn’t run upright.  I was awkward – 4’11”, 85 pounds, and size 13 feet.  I wanted to be better, but my body felt like it was getting in the way.

You’re a pro, but do you work work as well? If so, what do you do for a living?

I coach athletes from all over the world and help my wife, Amy, direct a national trail running series throughout Canada.

What is your favorite workout?

Georgetown 400s – A cruise interval workout with a high volume of 400 meter intervals with minimal recovery at a good clip.  Here is an article describing it: http://www.jacobpuzey.com/2014/07/managing-tempo-run-with-cruise.html

Describe a days general diet for you:

I try to not eat animal products before I run as they tend to take longer to digest and clog things up for me.

Morning – Herbal tea, nuts and dates or raisins, apple and nut butter, or oatmeal. I usually eat this throughout the morning as I work.  If I go for a run in the morning then my post run meal will likely be heavier and contain some animal products like eggs.

Lunch – Avacado or nut butter toast, more nuts, cucumber, etc.

I usually run in the afternoons.

Dinner – Starch (rice, potatoes, etc.), Veggies (zuccinni, spinach, kale, etc.), Protein – Steak, chicken breast, fish, etc.

An example of a week from your training log from the past few months:

Mon – Recovery day – easy run about 6 miles or OFF, YOGA, CORE

Tue – Easy day – About an hour of running often pushing a stroller or running with the dog (7-10 miles)

Wed – Workout – Usually something stamina based

Thu – Easy day – About an hour of running often pushing a stroller or running with the dog (7-10 miles)

Fri – Recovery day – easy run about 6 miles or OFF, YOGA, CORE

Sat – Long run or medium long run (90 minutes to 2 hours) + Strides

Sun – Long run or medium long run (90 minutes to 3 hours)

Do you have any tips for new runners or runners striving to reach big, scary goals?

Be patient and think long term.  Establish a strong foundation upon which you can build. It’s all about the base:  http://www.5peaks.com/news/2016/2/5/its-all-about-the-base

 

Thanks for joining us, Jacob!

If you or someone you know is an elite athlete or coach, feel free to shoot us an email @ upperleft@gmail.com to be featured on A Week With The Best.

 

5 Form Tips to Help You Move Smoother and Faster

Running is easy, that’s the beauty of it! Everyone can do it. You put on some shorts, lace up some half decent shoes and put one foot it from of the other. BADA BING! You’re on your way. While that’s true, most of us have a few bad habits, most of which have been developed from years of sitting at desks, sitting in cars, and staring at screens.

Let’s talk about 5 small tweaks to make to your running form that will pay big dividends:

  1. Run Tall – This is one of the easiest ways to focus on good running form. When you “run tall” your body is stacked in alignment with your head over your shoulders, your shoulders over your hips and your hips over your legs. When you run tall, everything else will do it’s best to align while keeping your center of mass over your feet, distributing load, and absorbing shock.
  2. Run Relaxed – So much energy and efficiency is lost when you’re tight and tense. Remember that running is as much of a passive movement as it is an active movement; we don’t want these movements to be forced or feel unnatural. Keep your body relaxed and your shoulders loose. Hold your hands as if you have empty robin egg shells in your palms and move in a smooth, fluid motion with each stride.
  3. Slight Lean – This can be hard to explain if not shown. When we talk about a slight lean, we are talking about the entire body, not just hunching the torso forward. Stand tall. Imagine you have someone standing in front of you with their hand out in the “stop!” signal.  Now lean your entire body a few inches forward into their hand as if you’re a plank. This is how you should feel when you start your run. Fall forward into your stride with your entire body.
  4. Elbows Back – We think and talk a lot about what our feet are doing, but our legs follow our arms and influence our entire stride. The best way to absorb recoil from your stride, to cue your body to remain in upright and balanced position, and to minimize rotation from your torso (which is wasted energy) is to drive your elbows back and swing your arms forward efficiently. To make sure you’re doing this try brushing your hands lightly against your waist line with every arm swing (as if you’re pulling a dollar bill out of your waist band). When you’re looking forward, you should see your hands come in and out (downward) of your peripheral vision.
  5. Increase Cadence – This one can be tricky as our bodies tend to self select things like cadence and foot strike, so use caution when correcting this one. If you’re over striding, which can lead to greater impact and breaking forces, simply try to increase your turnover and shorten your stride. There is no magic number, and while most elite runners seem to select 180 steps per minute (and most coaches suggest to aim for this) somewhere between 165 and 180 is a good goal. At the end of the day though, you should select a cadence that feels good to you.

Focus on these simple tips until they become habits and you’ll become a smoother, faster, more resilient runner.

Remember:

“Run tall, run relaxed, elbows back!”

Happy Trails!

What’s it Like to Run a Marathon?

Marathon training is no joke. It’s endless mornings of 5 a.m. alarms, otherwise, after a long day of work, you have to make time for it in the evening. You have to fully commit.

I starting thinking about running a Marathon at the beginning of the year. After a really good run, a run where I felt like I could take on the world, I signed up for North Olympic Discovery Marathon and I had about 5 months to train. The beginning of the year ended up being a tough one too. I caught a 3-4 week long head cold followed by the flu. As soon as I started feeling like myself again, I ended up getting the stomach flu. Those 5 months I thought I had to train for the Marathon turned into 3.
My training was pretty solid though. Probably about 90% ended up being on the treadmill before or after work. Having a little one at home you have to be creative…  the treadmill and I have become pretty close friends. My longest long run was 18 miles due to lack of time and needing to build up my weekly mileage safely. I was nervous about not reaching the 20 mile long run mark, I was hoping to have at least two under my belt before the Marathon, but if you can run 18 you can rally out 8 more miles, right?
The night before the Marathon my husband and I drove up to Port Angeles to stay at a Bed and Breakfast. We picked up our race packets and everything was starting to feel really real! We went to grab some Pizza (of course) and made our way back to the B&B which was about 30 minutes from the shuttle to the start. We went out for a quick 15 minute shake out, laid out our clothes and gear and laid down for bed.
Our alarms went off at 4:45 and I remember reaching over and turning off the alarm while staring at the ceiling and thinking to myself “Shit, shit, shit.” We quickly got ready, had a cup of coffee, a banana, a roll and then made our way out the door.

Driving out to the shuttle the sun was rising and the air was crisp. The forecast for the day was a high of 72 and sunny along the coast (North Olympic Discovery Marathon is a point to point course, starting at Sequim and finishing along the coast of Port Angeles). We parked at the finish and were on the very last shuttle to the start. That was the LONGEST bus ride ever, the entire time I was thinking “This is a very long way, I have to run all this way back? They must be going too far or maybe they missed a turn…”
The start was at 7 Cedars Casino in Blyn WA. It was a nice cool morning and we were able to sit in the Casino and use the restroom. They even had water and coffee for us. My nerves were high and I couldn’t eat or drink anything… I was just looking at my watch anxious to get started.

NODstart

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I dropped my bag at the bag drop and stood with the 4:15 corral (HA! If only I knew…) Not soon after we were off! We crossed the street and started on the Olympic Discovery Trail, I felt really good and kept reminding myself that I trained for this and I was ready! The first aid station quickly came up and I ran off to use the Porta Potty (the lines were WAY too long at the start) I lost the group I was running with, but didn’t mind all that much.

NOD3

We took off running. This course was beautiful! It’s on a mostly paved trail through the Peninsula. Trees, mountain views, lakes; the last 5 miles being along the coast with ocean views. I felt really good. My pace was much slower than I had wanted, but my plan was to be very conservative in the first 13 miles, save my energy, and go back to my faster pace the last half. The first half FLEW. I looked down at my watch and said to my husband “We’re already half way done?”

NOD4

Honestly, I was a little bummed that it was half way over, I was having a blast. The weather was perfect, I was eating my gels every 50 minutes or so, drinking gatorade at every aid station, and grabbing gummy bears and oranges any chance that I could get. I was enjoying talking with volunteers and sharing all this time with my husband by my side.

NOD5

Mile 16 came and this is when I started to feel tired. I grabbed a handful of pretzels, but after popping a few in my mouth, I started gagging and decided the pretzels just were not for me. We continued to run and I realized that I never picked up my pace how I had planned which meant I wasn’t going to be near my goal time of under 4:30 (I wanted to beat Oprah!). My time goal was lax and I just wanted to go out and enjoy myself, take in the full experience, and finish the distance at that point, so that is what I focused on.

NOD6

I wasn’t able to eat anything after the mile 17-18 mile point and at mile 18 I was in unknown running territory and feeling nervous about what was to come. I knew these next 8.2 miles were going to be tough. My legs were feeling tired and my hips were feeling a little stiff, but I carried on.

NOD7

Around mile 20 I was walking pretty slowly on the uphills and taking my time at the aid stations. I was chugging along as best as I could. I just told myself “It’s only a 10K now! You did this every morning. You’ve made it 20 miles! Isn’t that crazy? You weren’t able to run three miles just a year ago. GO YOU!”  I was really trying to pump myself up; positive talk people! It works.
The final 6.2 were a kind of a blur. My legs hurt, but I discovered that they didn’t hurt any less walking than they did running. The miles just ticked along as I tried my best to focus on the current mile that I was in. “Enjoy this moment… you’ll never be able to experience this exact moment again.” I told myself over and over again. My legs were HEAVY and it took a lot of will power just to lift them up.

NOD8

The final 5 miles were along the coast. There was a headwind and it was a little chilly, but we were SO close. I asked Korey not to let me stop; to keep me going, and we continued to run. I tried stopping any time he would look away and I did get away with a few walk breaks (mostly little itty bitty hills I didn’t want to run).

NOD9

Mile 24 : “Anybody can do anything for 20 minutes…”
The miles creeped along and I heard Korey yell in front of me “You can see the finish, its so close… we’re almost there!” I looked up and yelled back “Its SO FAR AWAY” (Dramatic, I know.. but it really felt pretty far). I thought about this moment a lot during my weekly runs. How is the last mile going to feel? What about the .2? How am I going to feel? What will it be like to cross the finish line? I watched mile marker 26 pass by and knew we only had .2  to go. Less than 2 more minutes of running. We grabbed hands and took off! I heard and saw my family waiting at the finish line. It was an amazing feeling!

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We were handed water and our medals. We grabbed our drop bags and made our way to the food… and someplace to finally sit down… or kinda do a weird slow fall to the ground.

I was a Marathoner. I never thought in a MILLION years that I would say those words. The entire experience was amazing. I enjoyed every moment (even the not so good ones). I did exactly what I set out to do: I had fun. Isn’t that what running is supposed to be about?

If you’re considering running a marathon, DO IT! Take the plunge.