The Importance of Speedwork

Most athletes that reach out to me have at least one thing in common: They want to get faster. And how do we get faster? By running faster! While that’s a bit of an oversimplification, speed work is an important tool in the tool box you’ll use to build yourself into a faster runner.

The physiology

Shorter, faster speed work such as hill sprints, flat sprints, strides, and 1500 meter to 3K paced intervals is, at it’s core, neuromuscular work. When I talk about “Neuromuscular work” I’m referring to the communication between the brain, the nerves, and the muscles. This includes coordination, proprioception, and chemical changes in the body. This communication happens at all paces, but some of the biggest improvements in neural communication come via specific work that can lead to improved biomechanical efficiency, improved economy, increased power, and improved fatigue resistance across all subsequent paces. Even if you never plan to race anything shorter than 50K, these improvements can lower your “all day” pace dramatically!

Think about this: When racing the marathon, we use less than half of our maximal stride power at marathon race pace. If you increase your stride power with speed work by only 5% the time improvement from power efficiency improvement alone can be huge. This, coupled with a reduction in energy cost and a bigger pool of recruitable fibers can lead to less fatigue, better movement, and more enjoyable running.

While these workouts are done mainly for neuromuscular reasons, they’re also highly aerobic. Which means in addition to the adaptions listed above you’ll also be increasing cardiac output and teaching the body how to shuttle lactate to be recycled as an energy source during faster running. The latter can be achieved by manipulating the workout to include both faster and slower reps within the set to aid buffering (that’s for another post all together).

The application

First we start with a small block of hill sprints working from 2 x 8 seconds all the way to 12 x 12 seconds at a near maximal effort over a handful of weeks to improve power and reduce the risks of injury. Once you’ve completed this phase, you’re ready to find your paces. Choose a race up to 13.1 miles or perform a 5K time trial at a track or on a flat route to assess your current fitness. Plug your time trail or race time into Jack Daniels’ VDOT calculator to get a good idea of what your current quality work paces should be. If you don’t want to use the VDOT calculator you can use Hansons, Tinman, or McMillan if you prefer – they’re all fairly close and will do the trick.

I use Jack Daniels because he is the OG of pacing. Coach Daniels defines short reps as follows: Reps are fast, but not necessarily “hard,” because work bouts are relatively short and are followed by relatively long recovery bouts. Recoveries are to be long enough that each run feels no more difficult than the previous run, because the purpose of Reps is to improve speed and economy and you can not get faster (nor more economical) if you are not running relaxed. If it takes 3 minutes recovery between Rep 400s, then that is what is needed. Reducing rest time between individual work bouts does not make for a better workout, in fact it probably makes for a worse workout because the short rests could increase the stress and lead to poor economy. Think of Reps as similar to current 1500 or mile race pace.”

Here’s an example of a short speed session I did the other day in which the actual work equated to less than 5% of my current weekly volume:

2 miles easy + drills (A,B,C skips,  butt kicks, side skips, and strides)

2 X (8 x 200) meters in 00:35 each with 200 meter walk/jogs in between. 800 meter jog in between sets. Last 200 meter rep as an “all out tag”

3 mile cool down.

If you’re against doing track or road work, that’s ok! A lot of our Ultra athletes tend to shy away from the track for various reasons. For trail runners, something as simple as 8 x 45 seconds hard, 2 minutes easy will do the trick. All you need to do is perform the “on” portions at a pace you feel you could ONLY sustain for a mile. If you’ve never run an all out mile, that’s ok. Simply imagine what it would be like and trust yourself; our minds are amazing governors.

The timing

Timing is important. Where you inject specific work in a block matters. While we use strides and surges throughout a given training block, the majority of your speed work should be done towards the beginning of your plan to elicit the aforementioned adaptations before moving on to more specific work. A very generalized block layout of quality work for a North American trail runner would look something like this:

Base phase // Hill sprints and short reps // Speed work at 1500m to 3K // Work at 5K to 10K // Specific endurance.

This is not an exclusive path. Training emphasis can change throughout your training cycle based on how the athlete is responding. Your week will also include a number of other workouts ranging from easy runs to long runs to lactate threshold. Marathoners and ultra marathoners will have much less speed work and much more specific endurance work, vertical gain, and volume than half marathon an below will, but all runners should include speed work throughout their plan.

Caution

For marathoners and ultra marathoners, once the speed phase is complete, keep this type of speed work to a minimum and maintain the adaptions with hill sprints, strides, and surges. Once you enter the specific endurance phase of training for your race, the goal is to maintain the positive adaptations that you obtained during the speed phase, but to keep the body from relying  heavily on glycogen during workouts.

Also, remember that this type of the work can be hard on the body, especially if this is the first time you’re introducing this type of stress. The impact forces can be extreme and injuries can happen if introduced incorrectly. That’s not to say you should be afraid to implement this type of work into your training, in fact, you should embrace it! However, it’s always a good idea to work with your coach to build safely as you’re becoming a speed demon.

Happy running!

Fall Running Tips

Summer is officially OVER! A lot of our athletes here at Upper Left Distance Training are happy about that, because cooler weather means easier long runs, faster workouts, and less lugging around of loaded hydration packs. With all perks of cooler days though, there are still some things to keep in mind.

Remember to hydrate. Even though it is cooler and you’ll need less water than on those blistering summer afternoons, you still need fluid to perform to the best of your ability. Fluid loss does occur, even in cool climates, so remember to stay hydrated! Your performance and recovery depends on it.

Do dynamic stretches. Muscle activation and increased blood flow is always important before you head out for your run, but especially so as the cool temperatures roll in. With cooler days your muscles may take a little longer to warm up, so prepare them by going through your dynamic routine before you head out the door. This is a good habit to get into regardless of the season.

Wear reflective clothing. I don’t do a ton of road running these days, but when I do I’m always shocked by the blatant disregard motorists have for pedestrians. And with shorter days drivers will be less likely to see you, even at well lit cross walks. Make yourself visible by wearing highly reflective running gear and NEVER cross in front of a vehicle before you’ve made eye contact. Always assume a driver hasn’t seen you until you know otherwise.

Upgrade you shoes. Technology is awesome these days. Go to your local running store and find a shoe with slip resistant rubber for wet roads (such as the Adidas Boston Boost) and don some deeper lugs for the muddy trails (visit your local running shop). An easy way to reduce you risk of injury is by not slipping and falling on your ass.

Remember the 20 degree rule, but be prepared in the mountains. One of my least favorite feelings is being wet and hot. If you live in the PNW you’ve experienced this at least once: you thought it was sub zero out there so you layered up, but it was 45 degrees and raining. Once you shuffled out of your igloo and got moving, it felt like it was 65 degrees and your were running in a parka. In a moment of panic you tried to peel your water resistant shell off, but it wouldn’t budge! OH NO! I THINK IT SHRUNK AND I’M STUCK!!! GET THIS OFF ME!!!!!! That’s a little dramatic, but you get the point. Remember that while it is much cooler outside, it will always feel 20 degrees warmer than it is 15 minutes after you start running.

That’s not to discount the importance of being prepared in the mountains though. Weather patterns often change and shift dramatically, even in low elevation mountain ranges, so be prepared. You need to consider windchill in wilderness environments as well. Always bring a pack with extra calories, a filtration device, an emergency blanket and light-weight rain shell pants and jacket at the very least. Better safe than sorry!

Take care of yourself. With the awesome fall running weather comes flu and cold season, so be kind to your immune system. Take your vitamins, stay hydrated, eat healthfully, get a flu shot (if that’s your jam) and SLEEP! I’m always on top of our athletes about sleep. Sleep is the best activity you can do for your recovery and well being. Even 30 extra minutes per day could change the way you live and run.

 

I hope these tips help you as you move through this wonderful season.

Feel free to reach out if I can help you with anything else!

Cheers,

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Three Killer Hill Workouts

When I ask an athlete where they feel they could use improvement, the most common answer I get is: “I want to be a stronger uphill runner.” Well, don’t we all ?! There will likely never be a point in your running career where you feel you don’t need to improve upon your uphill ability; it’s always a work in progress.

Below are 3 examples of tried and true hill workouts we use here at Upper Left DT to improve uphill strength, power, and economy. It’s important to thoroughly warm up with easy running, drills, and dynamic warm ups before performing any of the following.

 

VO2 Max intervals

VO2 Max intervals are a great way to improve your aerobic capacity as well as aerobic efficiency in an uphill environment. By performing these types of hill intervals regularly you will increase your uphill speed throughout your entire pace spectrum (from easy pace to maximal uphill pace).  You will also increase your ability to tolerate and clear high levels of lactate, which directly compliments your threshold work. These workouts are a key piece to becoming a well rounded trail runner.

Example: 8 x 2 minutes uphill at a RPE of roughly 9 to 10 (Rapid breathing, unable to hold a conversation, only able to speak one word at a time) with easy walk jogs back down for recovery.

Make it more challenging: end with 2 x 10 second all out (100% effort) hill sprints to increase pure power and muscle recruitment.

Threshold

Uphill threshold runs can either be continuous runs from 15 to 25 minutes, or uphill “cruise intervals” of 5 to 10 minutes in duration. These are run at perceived 60 minute race pace, just like traditional Lactate Threshold workouts, but uphill. If you don’t have a hill this long where you live, no worries! Set the the treadmill to 8% incline and get it done.

Example: 20 minutes uphill at perceived 1 hour race pace.

Make it more challenging: 2 x 10 minutes uphill at 1 hour race pace with full speed downhill running back to the start between the 10 minute intervals. *Be cautious with downhill workouts as they put an extreme amount of stress on the lower extremities.

Fartlek

Fartlek hill work is by far one of my favorite workouts. The best part about Fartlek is the adaptability of the workout based on how the athlete is feeling that day and what we’re trying to accomplish. The main systems targeted can easily be changed based on how hard you choose to run each interval, but the main goal here is to HAVE FUN.

Example: 4,3,2,1,3,2,1,2,1 Minutes uphill at a moderate to hard effort with easy walk/jogs back down the hill in between intervals.

Make it more challenging: Run the 4 minute intervals at perceived 10 mile race effort, the 3 minute intervals at perceived 10K race effort, the 2 minute intervals at perceived 5K race effort, and the 1 minute intervals at near maximal effort.

 

Work with your Coach implement any of these sessions into your regular training regimen and see the results for yourself!

 

Three Treadmill Workouts to Boost Your Trail Running Game

I coach a handful of athletes who don’t have access to big hills, especially mid week, but that doesn’t stop them from developing into bad ass trail runners! We work with what we’ve got, which sometimes means treadmill workouts. Like the great coach Jack Daniels said “Don’t waste your time wishing for things you don’t have. Do your best with what you do have.”

The following workouts (depending on how they are executed) can elicit a number of positive adaptions, including: an increase in strength, an increase in power, better uphill efficiency, a higher VO2 max, improved lactate buffering, and extended endurance at a given pace. Work with your coach to modify these workouts based on your current ability and goals.

 

Classic Intervals

 

How it works: Check out the course profile of your upcoming race and determine the average percentage of incline on the prominent climb(s). This will be the percentage you bring your treadmill to during your “on” segments. Warm up with a 20 minute easy jog, then set your treadmill to your estimated race pace for your upcoming event via RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) and perform 1 to 5 minute intervals (depending on your experience level, skill level, and the purpose of your workout) 4 to 20 times at your determined incline percentage with equal jogs at zero percent incline in between for recovery. Cool down with a 10 to 20 minute jog.

 

The Yates Hill Fartlek

 

This workout was suggested by one of our athletes; an army veteran and state worker in Washington who was given similar training while serving in the army. It’s become a team favorite!

How it works: Grab a deck of cards. Remove a set (2 of each) cards Ace through Queen. This can be a total of 4 to 24 cards; adjust accordingly based on your experience and skill level. The number on the card coincides with the percentage of the incline you will be running (Ace for 1% Queen for 12%). Warm up for 20 minutes at an easy jog, then set the treadmill to your estimated race pace via RPE. Pull cards at random setting the treadmill to the percentage of incline that coincides with the card you pull. Perform uphill intervals of 30 seconds to 5 minutes (depending on you experience, skill level, and the purpose of your workout) with equal jogs at 0% incline in between for recovery. Cool down with a 10 to 20 minute jog.

Not only is this a great way to elicit the physiological adaptions mentioned in the introduction of this article, but to learn how to adjust psychologically to changing terrain and discomfort on the fly.

 

Classic Uphill Tempo

 

How it works: Look at your upcoming course profile and determine the longest climb(s). Find an average percentage that coincides with that climb. Warm up for 20 minutes with an easy jog before setting your treadmill to your estimated race pace via RPE. Set your treadmill to the percentage associated with your goal race’s climb(s) and adjust the treadmill speed to maintain the RPE associated with your goal race pace. Run uphill for 10 to 30 minutes (depending on your experience, skill level, and the purpose of your workout). Cool down with a 10 to 20 minute easy jog.

 

A lot of trail and ultra runners aren’t fans of the “dreadmill” but the fact of the matter is that it’s an effective item in your tool box that can aid in your success, especially if you’re unable to make it to the trail head daily due to family or career obligations. Executing these simple and effective workouts as one of your quality sessions each week will change the way you attack hills on race day.

Have fun!

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.

Basic Return to Running Training Plan

Maybe you’ve had a lengthy injury, illness, a surgery, or maybe you just took a hiatus from running because you needed a break. Perhaps you’re a brand new runner and don’t know where to start! Whatever your story is, you’re here now,  you’re ready to run, and that is awesome! As exciting as it may be though, it’s best to come back (or start) slowly to reduce your risks of injury or re-injury. So get ready for the anticlimactic truffle shuffle back to running greatness.

What follows is a basic, 8 week, get-back-to-running-safely training plan. Many athletes don’t see the value in working with a coach during this time, but if you can afford it, do it! Your situation is unlike anyone else’s. There may be similarities, yes, but no one is like you. This is a great time to work with someone who can support you and help direct you through both growth and set backs as you move forward.

This is also a great time to make strength training not just a priority, but a habit. Work with your Coach and Physical Therapist to devise a weekly strength plan that you’ll be able to stick to as you move forward. And remember to listen to your body. If at any time you experience discomfort, don’t be afraid to step back from your routine for a few days and hit the stationary or elliptical. Whatever you do, stay positive, smile lots, and be thankful for movement.

8 week plan with the “Long Run” on Sundays

Week 1 – 3 to 4 days per week, 21 minutes of 1 minute jog / 2 minute walk

Week 2 – 3 to 4 days per week – 32 minutes of 2 minute jog / 2 minute walk

Week 3 – 4 to 5 days per week – 30 minutes of 2 minute jog / 1 minute walk

Week 4  – 4 to 5 days per week – 32 minutes of 3 minutes jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 40 minutes 4 minute jog / 1 minute walk

Week 5 – 4 to 5 days per week – 30 minutes –  4 minute jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 48 minutes 5 minute jog / 1 minute walk

Week 6 – 5 days per week – 30 to 48 minutes – 5 minute jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 45 minutes 20 minute jog / 5 minute walk / 20 minute jog.

Week 7 – 5 days per week – 36 to 45 minutes – 8 minute jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 45 minutes 20 minute jog / 5 minute walk / 20 minute jog

Week 8 – 5 days per week – 32 to 48 minutes – 15 minute jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 45 minute jog.

WELCOME BACK!

 

*This training plan should only be used if you have been cleared to exercise by a qualified medical professional.

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.

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(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.