Thursday, April 26, 2012

Weight Control

Managing your weight can benefit you as a runner in a few ways. 

Carrying less weight means you need less force to accelerate that weight, (force = mass x acceleration) Newton's second law. Less force over a distance is less work (work = force x distance).  As a runner you are always accelerating and therefore applying force as you speed up/slow down, push through the friction of the air, push up against gravity, and overcome frictional losses of your foot landing on the ground.  A smaller mass to accelerate means less force you must apply and less force means less work.

The energy consumption of humans running is approximately 1 kcal/kg/km, regardless of speed.  Running 1 kilometer for a 90.7 kilogram (200lbs) person will consume 90.7 kcal of energy, however a 77.1 kilogram (170 lbs) person will consume roughly 77.1 kcal of energy.  This means less weight (mass) also yields a more efficient runner, requiring less energy to travel the same distance.

Having less body mass also means you generate less heat since you perform less work, you can also dissipate heat easier.  Heat is generated by muscle as it performs work.  Maintaining lower heat allows you to perform at higher levels for longer periods of time.

Some running sources say that you can cut 2 sec/mile from your pace for each pound that you lose.  Losing 10 lbs can cut your marathon time by nearly nine minutes, or a 5k time by one minute.  Of course there are extremes where you will no longer benefit from this weight loss as it begins to cut into your muscle mass.

Sample Results of Metabolic Test for 27 Year Old Male

Your baseline metabolism (also called: basal metabolic rate: BMR, or resting metabolic rate: RMR) is the amount of energy, in the form of calories, that your body consumes/transforms in a day if you were just to sit around.
You also have two other sources of energy consumption on top of your baseline metabolism: daily activity such as going to the grocery or walking around the house, and your exercise. The sum of all of these is your daily metabolic burn or consumption, measuring in calories.

In order to maintain your present weight, you must eat as many calories as your body burns.  To lose weight you must eat less than your body burns.   This can be done by burning more, eating less, or both.  I would recommend not starving yourself or changing your eating drastically as it will have detrimental effects on your baseline metabolism and you will not lose weight.  Instead, you should target to eat approximately your baseline metabolism every day. This will mean that you are running a deficit of the calories you consume through activity and exercise which will cause you to burn your fat reserves and lose weight in a safe and healthy way, and at a reasonable rate (about 1-2 lbs per week).

You can determine your baseline metabolism by taking a test administered at a clinic or fitness center.  You may need to search for local doctors offices or ask your doctor where you can take this test.  I was able to get mine tested through a program at work.  The test takes 10 minutes.  You breathe into a tube as you would normally breathe, while resting in a chair.  They also put a clamp on your nose to make sure all of your exhaled breath is analyzed by the machine to determine your resting metabolic rate.  It works by using indirect calorimetry, burning 1 calorie requires 208.06 milliliters of oxygen.  This relationship means caloric burn rate and oxygen intake are related and interchangeable.  The machine measures the volume of air exhaled and the concentrations of oxygen in the exhaled and inhaled air to determine how much oxygen was consumed and converted.

The result of this test will help you plan you diet in a way that helps you lose weight effectively and safely.

Korr makes metabolic testing equipment

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Shoes! A (sort of) Book Review

Last week I decided it was time for a new pair of kicks. My GelExcel33's were well past their prime with 550+ miles on them - I was through the soles and actually wearing into that white stuff in areas - yeah, not so great to run in when you're in the throws of marathon training. I'd been tossing around the idea of going minimal.  If you're not familiar with the term, minimalist running is supposed to mimic running barefoot; minimalist shoes contain no arch support, no cushioning, and no large chunk of material under the heel. This, supposedly, promotes a good mid-foot strike instead of a heel-to-toe rolling landing/push-off; also, apparently all of the muscles in your feet and calves will become balanced as they will now all need to work in synch to keep you moving. So it sounds pretty good, right? Run better, stronger, and with less injury.

I walked into a new local running store excited to try out some minimalist shoes.  The gentleman working that afternoon, who turned out to be the owner, asked me what I was looking for, and when I said I wanted to try something more minimal that what I was currently wearing, he asked me why. Having not expected this question (and therefore not prepared a carefully crafted response) and feeling a bit defensive, I offered, "Well, I just read Born to Run." This was apparently not the answer he was hoping for, a look of complete annoyance crossed his face. Great...this shopping experience was off to a fantastic start.

I was surprised, really, at this comment from the owner. My impression of Born to Run, written by Christopher McDougall, was that it was incredibly interesting and inspiring; a very well written account of the author's personal experiences with tons of factual information blended in.

The book describes a tribe living in the canyons of Mexico, separately almost completely from modern civilization. This tribe, the Tarahumara Indians, run.  All the time. At all ages. For crazy long distances. Without shoes. This last bit is the key to their beautiful, injury-free running form - no shoes.There are accounts of the Tarahumara coming to the US to compete in famous ultra-marathons, sponsored by shoe companies. They would start the race in their flashy new shoes, and after several miles, remove them and finish barefoot! 

While McDougall describes his experience traveling to Mexico with several US elite runners for a race with the Tarahumara, he also looks into the history of the running shoe, how and why it evolved as it did, and goes further, into the history of human beings, and how we may have evolved the way we did just so that we could be distance running machines.

Born to Run is fascinating. It's a must-read for every runner, offering a prospective on the sport that will get you thinking about your running style and keep you motivated for a long time.

So back to my shoe-buying...

Willing to oblige me, the owner brought out several pairs of shoes, each with a varying degree of minimalism, and our discussion started as he helped me into the first pair:

Point: "There are more running-related injuries today than 30 years ago."
Counter-point: "There are more runners today, the percentage of injuries is the same." I had to concede here because I couldn't remember the actual statistics - darn, I'm usually really good with numbers.

Point: "Wearing a shoe with tons of support stunts the development of muscles in your feet and legs and causes imbalance."
Counter-point: "People cannot move from a highly stabilized shoe to one without any stabilization - this will lead to injury."

And so it went on for a while and, I have to admit, I was completely impressed with the owner's knowledge, not only on subject of minimalism, but also on each shoe that he had in his shop. In the end, we agreed that minimalist running is all about progression. Moving from a highly stabilized shoe to a minimalist shoe may take years, with many intermediate steps down in stabilization. Minimalist running is about understanding your body, knowing when you are strong enough to make the next step without risk of injury. For me, I started with a pretty chunky shoe in August 2010. By Spring 2011 I wanted something lighter, and then I got rid of my arch suppport in Winter 2011.

In talking with the owner, I hadn't realized that I was running in basically the lightest version of Asics out there. I tried a very minimal Inov-8 shoe, but decided instead on the adidas Boston 3's. Making a drastic change to complete minimalism in the middle of marathon training, maybe not such a good idea; changing from cushiony Asics to the adidas with more feel is good enough for now!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Running, an Individual Sport

While there are ways to make running a team sport, such as relays, track meets, and cross-country teams, it is still by its very nature an individual sport.

To me that means that I am responsible for what goes into my running, and I get all the benefits of what comes out.  I can't go out and run awesome and feel great if I don't put in the time to train and practice.

Another similar individual sport is golf.  The thing I like about golf is that if you put in hard work, you will see results.  While you may have good days and bad days, if you are a beginning golfer you aren't going to go out and shoot under par on 18 holes, because there is not that much luck involved.  You need to be a skilled golfer to do that.  This is the same for a beginning runner, you will not go out run 6 minute pace in your first 5k.  You have to train and improve your skill to reach that level, you don't just get there from being lucky.

The one thing luck can give you is people that positively influence you, or train with you as a partner or team.  Even then, it is ultimately up to you to put in the practice and training necessary for you to improve.  And when you do improve or achieve your goal, it is OK to feel good about it.  It isn't selfish to feel good about your accomplishments. That good feeling is the motivation to put in the effort to get there in the first place.

So go out there, put in the work, get the results, and feel good about it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How I Got Started Running

In January 2010 I made the commitment to getting in shape.  I was 25 years old and only 2 years into my professional career.  I was busy, just like everybody else, working a 40 hour schedule and taking two graduate school courses with 10-15 hours of school work and class a week.  I enjoyed typical fast food drive thru visits to Burger King, McDonalds, or Taco Bell.  I wasn't doing myself any favors, and my life was getting shorter one day at a time, maybe more.
I decided to make a change for a few simple reasons:

  • I wanted to build confidence
  • I wanted to be more physically fit
  • I wanted to improve myself
  • I was tired of being unhealthy
It's selfish to live an unhealthy lifestyle.  Trust me, your friends and family don't want to see you die of a heart attack when you are in your 40's.
In 2009 I weighed around 225 lbs.

Getting Started
I started by doing what my friend Rob did.  I walked a little bit, and then jogged a little bit.  I did that two or three times a week around my class schedule and I did absolutely nothing to change my diet.  I just focused first on being more active, diet can come later.  It was winter in Ohio, so I walked and ran on a treadmill, which was good since it allowed easy control of my pace.  It was NOT EASY at first, but the determination I had to get back in the game drove me.  I remember a few of my first workouts went like this:
Walk 0.5 miles, run 0.5 miles, keep alternating. 4 miles total.
After I started getting better at that, I began to run more and walk less.
Walk 0.5 miles, run 1 mile, walk 0.25 miles, run 1 mile, walk 0.25 miles, run 1 mile.  4 miles total.
Then once I started getting batter at that, I could begin to run without walking:
Run 4 miles. 
Run 5 miles. 
Run 6 miles without stopping by middle of March, 2+ months into training.
This progression did not happen overnight, this took weeks of sweaty shirt drenching progress.  By early March, my old body had begun to melt away, I saw the ‘1’ digit on the scale for the first time as I dropped below 200lbs.  I must tell you that carrying around 25 less pounds felt so great, it made me want to do more.
I eventually took the running outside when the weather got nice.  Running on the road and trails is different than the treadmill, and I’d say it’s harder, but in a good way.  I think it has to do with the body being more naturally suited to moving on the ground, but I don’t know for sure.

Sept 2009-225 lbs.
Lucky to run a sub 8 minute mile.

I ran my first race with my new girlfriend, now fiance, in June.  It was a 5k, and I finished at 23:30.  That was pretty exciting for me.  We began running and training together all summer.  We did a few more races that fall, 5k, 4 miler, 5 miler, 10k.  In the following winter, we decided to train for a half marathon in May, and a duathlon (2 mile run, 10 mile bike, 2 mile run) in June.  The training meant my fiance and I were now spending 4-5 days per week in the gym or running outdoors instead of the 2-3 days when I first began running.  We enjoyed the increased time commitment because running was no longer as challenging as it was when I began.  It was fun running at the gym, and talking to and socializing with other runners there.

After completing the half marathon  (1:37:30), we decided a marathon was in our future. As with most

March 2012-180 lbs
Can run a sub 6 minute mile,
or 20+ of them sub 8 minutes.

new marathoners, the goal of my first marathon, the 2011 Akron Marathon, was to simply finish. We put in 11 weeks of training, a total of 300 miles.  This training was heavily focused on moderate pacing, and controlling our heart rates, especially on the weekly long runs.  We scouted the course on 3-4 of our long runs including running 20 miles of the course 3 weeks before the race on a Saturday morning.  When race day came, after tapering we were both totally excited about the run.  We both couldn't sleep as we were only dreaming about the run.  The weather was perfect, and the crowd support was awesome.  We were very happy to finish together with a time of 3:56:57, 3 minutes under our goal of finishing under 4 hours.
After finishing a marathon, it is hard to tell yourself that you will not do it again.  You begin to enjoy the structure that the training brings to your life and if you are like me you also enjoy the sheer amount of food you get to eat while you continue to lose weight. 
We registered for the 2012 Surf City Marathon.  With one marathon under my belt, this was my first real chance to open up and see what I had in me.   We trained for 15 weeks, a total of 500 miles.  I also began to eat less junk food, and less red meat.  I still enjoy a big burger every now and then, but I now try to eat more fruits, vegetables and grains.
I finished Surf City in 3:27:01, an improvement of nearly 30 minutes over the Akron Marathon less than 5 months earlier.  It felt good to finish in under an 8 minute pace, although I definitely started feeling it after mile 20 as expected when my pace slipped into the upper 8 minute range.  I still held on and finished without walking.

By this time I had dropped to 180 pounds on the scale, an astonishing loss of 45 pounds over a two year period.
Currently we are training for the 2012 Missoula Marathon in June.  The plan calls for 17 weeks of training totalling 630 miles.  We are 6 weeks into the plan and it is going great so far.
The Blog
My fiance and I started this blog to be a resource to beginning runners so we can share what we have learned over the past few years as we have started running. 
Hopefully you'll get some good tips and ideas that will improve your running skill and enjoyment, and help you meet your personal commitments of getting in shape, being healthy, and living an active lifestyle.

Start Running, Week 3

For week 3 we'll continue to step up the workout.   You now have the basics down and are ready to focus on increasing your running endurance and walking less.  Don't run faster than before, just walk less and run longer.  Be sure to keep your pace at a level where your breathing is controlled.  If you are huffing and puffing, then slow down as your aerobic level isn't ready to sustain that level yet.  It takes 6-18 months of training to raise your aerobic level to it's maximum (improving your VO2 max).  You should be breathing at a level where you could carry a conversation or be able to breathe through your nose with your mouth closed.  This is the level of activity that will give you the greatest boost in your aerobic level, running faster and breathing harder will not improve your VO2 max, and it will not burn fat.
Week 3 Plan
Day 1: 1/2 mile walk, 1 mile run, 1/4 mile walk, 1 mile run.  2.75 miles total.
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: 1/4 mile walk, 3/4 mile run intervals. Do three.  3 miles total.
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: 1/4 mile walk, 1 mile run, 1/4 mile walk, 2 mile easy run/jog.  1/4 mile walk, 1 mile run. 4.75 miles total.
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest -or- Optional 1/4 mile walk, 2 mile easy jog.
Extra Curriculars:
  1. Register for a 5K race in your area that is coming up in 8-10 weeks.
  2. Find out about local running groups in your area either online or at your local running store.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bad Days

We all have them - at home, at work - even our hair has them. So why do we expect our running lives to be exempt from bad, horrible, awful days?

I don't know. I do it, too. Yesterday during my 5th of 6 half mile intervals I practically had a breakdown in the middle of a fairly busy park because my scheduled 5K-10K pace was actually turning out to be worse than my half-marathon pace. So naturally I decided that regardless of my efforts, I am in fact getting worse at running, I will never be able to run a fast half marathon again, let alone a decent 5K, and obviously I've hit my prime and everything will only go downhill from here.

I'm usually a very rational person. Seriously. But I'm also very competitive, to a fault. For the most part, this is great for my running. I set very high standards, and then push like crazy to meet or exceed them. And when I do, I feel amazing. But this makes it very tough to accept the days when I just don't have it.

I really wish I could provide some wisdom here. A list of 10 reasons why bad days are actually awesome. I tried, but nothing. So instead, here's a list of the things I tell myself...

1. Training isn't racing and shouldn't be. If you able to run your race pace every training run then you're running your races too slow!

2. There are always compounding factors to a bad run. Call them excuses, but last night's tossing and turning, this morning's horrible meeting, the traffic jam on the way home, that huge handful of jelly beans you ate as you ran out the door, the 50 mph winds that you can't seem to escape no matter what direction you run, some of these are real reasons that you shouldn't expect your body to perform at its highest level.

3. One event does not define a trend - one bad run has little to no reflection on your actual ability as a runner.

4. Tomorrow is a new day so stop mourning the loss of your running career, get out there and get it back!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Making the most of your Rest Day

I woke up this morning, stepped on the scale, and was slightly disgusted. Even with the 16 miles I had run yesterday morning, Easter Sunday, with its delicious brunch, large dinner, and basket full of candy, had taken its toll.

Usually, I love Rest Days. But today, all I wanted to do was get out there and put a few mile dent into the number that I read on the scale. Not allowed. My body needs a day to recover and rehydrate. So instead of running, I turned on my go-to Pilates workout: 10 Minute Solution: Pilates Perfect Body. In total, it's a 50 minute workout, with 10 minute segments for abs, legs, arms, total body, and stretching. The DVD is set up such that you can do the entire 50 minute workout, or pick any one of the individual segments.

For me, this is the perfect Rest Day workout.  It focuses on strengthening your core - your abdominal and lower back muscles - which are so important for runners but sometimes overlooked. Also, timing your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth with each movement helps you effectively use your breathing. The exercises leave you "feeling the burn" but don't raise your heart rate enough that you're tired or sweaty, which would thus defeat the purpose of Rest Day.

Most importantly, this workout concludes with a little more than 10 minutes of comprehensive stretching. If there is one thing that I need to be better at, it's stretching. And the stretches here aren't your typical bend and touch your toes, count to 10. The stretches force you to focus on your movements and concentrate on lengthening your muscles while maintaining your balance.

Finishing this Pilates workout should leave you feeling physically strong, mentally renewed, and a little better about that bag of Whopper Eggs you demolished the day before! You'll definitely be rested and ready to face tomorrow's run!

Start Running, Week 2

It's week two of the Start Running plan. W'll step up the workout slightly, but we'll keep the four days of rest to make sure your body has plenty of time to recover and rebuild muscle between these workouts.  I'm sure your legs, ankles and knees are pretty sore after the first week, but that soreness will fade and you'll soon be able to go run for miles without being sore the next morning.  It's important to know the difference between muscle soreness and pain.  Learning the differences will help you identify if you are doing anything to cause injury versus just getting a good muscle building workout.

A warm up and cool down should begin and end your workout, this is typically just a couple minutes of slow walking and stretching your legs and arms out.  Your run pace should be comfortable, not fast. A pace of 9:30 to 12:00 minutes per mile is normal for a beginner depending on age, fitness level, and gender. 

Week 2 Plan
Day 1: Half mile walk/run intervals.  4 miles total.
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Half mile walk/run intervals.  3 miles total.
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Walk half mile, run half mile, walk half mile, run 1 mile at easy pace, walk half mile, run half mile.
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest-Week 3 will be more running and less walking.

Extra Curriculars:
  1. Make an appointment to see your doctor for a physical.  Be sure to tell them you have started to run and ask if you are healthy enough to train for a 10K.
  2. Visit a local running store.  Tell them you are new to running and would like their help in selecting a new pair of shoes.  They should take good care of you and help you select a shoe that is right for your foot.  Be sure to get sized, and make sure the shoe has enough room in the toe to and hold your foot snug to prevent blisters.  Don't be afraid to spend a good amount of money here.  A good pair of running shoes will last you 400-500 miles and help prevent injuries.  Consider the purchase your reward for making the commitment to get into better shape through running.
  3. Start looking for local 5K races in your area that are coming up in 2-3 months.  Consider signing up to give yourself some additional motivation for training.  Races may seem scary at first, but you'll soon find out that they are extremely fun and exciting activities.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sugar Fix

You know the feeling when you're pushing really hard, maybe running up a long hill or kicking it in for the last quarter mile of a race? The muscles in your legs slowly turn to stone. It takes several minutes post-hill or post-race for them to feel normal again.

This stone-like sensation is caused by a buildup of lactic acid in your muscles. Lactic acid is a byproduct of the chemical reaction that pulls sugar (glucose = fuel) from your blood and burns it for energy. The amount of lactic acid produced depends on how hard your muscles are working.

There are several "zones" that your body will normally go through during a workout: aerobic and anaerobic. These zones correlate to your heart rate, which increases as your muscles work harder. Each of us have a maximum heart rate, MHR, which is the maximum number of times your heart can beat per minute (generally, this number does not increase or decrease with fitness level, but may change with age). If your heart rate is 70% of your MHR, or less, you are in the aerobic zone.  Conversely, if your heart rate is above 70%, you are in the anaerobic zone.

The aerobic zone is also called the "fat-burning" zone because your body is using oxygen to turn stored fat into energy. There are many positives to training and running in the aerobic zone: energy production does not produce large amounts of lactic acid, so your muscles do not tire as quickly; energy production from fat is very efficient; and the more you train in the aerobic zone, the better your body will become at converting fat to energy!

When you are in the anaerobic zone, your body is demanding energy now! It burns the sugars in your bloodstream in the absence of oxygen, creating lactic acid. If you are in the lower end of the anaerobic zone, the amount of lactic acid produced is small enough that it can be dissipated by your bloodstream.  However, when your legs are pumping, propelling you up that hill, the lactic acid builds up in your muscles quicker than it can be removed, hence the stonelike feeling.  As your body works to dissipate the lactic acid, your legs will feel better, but you'll be left with much less energy for the rest of your run, and for that next hill!

So what can you do? Refuel! Getting that glucose in your blood back up to a reasonable level as quickly as possible is very important, especially if you are part-way through a long race. So eat some sugar!

Of course there are many practical options available, from GU energy gels that contain caffeine for that extra kick to Clif Shot Bloks which taste like delicious fruit chews.  But what about something a little more fun? Maybe a handfull of Starburst(R) Jelly Beans or Candy Corn? After all, what could have more sugar than Candy Corn! If you compare the nutrition facts and look at the top ingredients, candy does provide a large amount of sugars, but specifically formulated energy gels and chews contain slightly more complex carbohydrates which will fuel your body for longer and may actually be easier to digest; they also contain amounts of potassium and sodium - other essentials that your body desperately needs during a tough run. My recommendation? Indulge sweet treats once in a while, but for general training needs, and especially on race day, stick to the products specifically formulated for athletes.

Happy running, and happy refueling!

IT Band Recovery

The key to happy running is healthy running, to stay healthy you need to prevent injuries.  The best prevention is to follow the rule of Gradual Progress be sure to get rest and don't overdo your training.

However, if you are like me and thousands of other runners, you will have the unfortunate experience of an injury sometime during your training. The causes and types of injuries are numerous from bone fractures, to foot injuries, to iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS).  ITBS is one of the more common running injuries that typically appears after a quick increase in the amount of training or miles you put in.

You can minimize the impact of an injury by continuously sensing your body and if something begins to not feel right, you should stop what you are doing immediately before it worsens.  In numerous cases, people with the start of an injury make it much worse by forcing themselves to push through the pain.  That is not the correct thing to do, and you will regret it later during the weeks or months spent recovering.

The iliotibial band is a length of fibrous tissue (not muscle) that runs along the outside of the femur between the hip and knee.  It's purpose is to stabilize your knee and hip.  Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is the name given to the pain resulting from inflammation caused by rubbing of the iliotibial band against the outside of the knee and hip.

My ITBS started as a dull but painful sensation on the outside of my right knee.  I knew it was bad when the pain began to get worse during my run.  Note: If the pain is getting worse, you are making it worse and you need to stop immediately.  After I had stopped, there was a sudden sharp pain.  If you experience any injury, it is best to diagnose it properly by going to your doctor to ensure that you don't think it is something different like runner's knee.  However, runner's knee is typically associated with pain around the cap of the knee, and ITBS is associated with pain on the outside of the knee (right side of right knee, or left side of left knee) and possibly pain or popping on the outside of your hip.

I took a day or two off, and tried to go out and run again.  The pain came right back after a mile or two.  After doing some online reading, I discovered that recovery can take at least a week or longer for the pain to go away.  I also discovered that ITBS can be caused by supination or over-pronation, running on banked roads, running up or down steep hills, or muscle imbalance (hip abductors, gluteus medius).

I took a full week off, no running.  I did a few basic strength training exercises targeted towards my hip abductors and gluteus medius.  A popular exercises is 'clamshells'.  To do a clamshell, lay flat on your side with your knees out in front of you, bent at 90 degrees.  You rotate the top knee up/out, and then back.  Repeat for 10-12 times on each side.  You can increase the resistance of this stretch by using a latex resistance bandtied into a loop wrapped around your thigh near the knees.  I also did some basic lunges, and walking.  A new pair of running shoesto replace the previous pair with 500-600+ miles seemed to also help.  A product that was recommended to me by my local running shop was a simple high-density foam roller (shown below).  The roller is used to apply firm pressure to the IT band to allow it to safely stretch out to remove tightness which causes friction on the outside of the knee and/or hip.  I began to do this daily before each run to reduce tightness.

A foam roller can help safely stretch out a tight IT band before and after a workout.
After a couple of weeks, my running was back to normal and I was happy to have that ITBS problem behind me.

Running Injuries

Click to View Full Infographic

Thursday, April 5, 2012

For the Ladies!

Only 37% of the marathon field at the 2012 Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, California, were women. But 61% of the Surf City Half Marathon participants were women, and if you combine both the marathon and half marathon participants, 57% of the 16,581 runners were women!

What does this mean? From local running groups to 5K's to half marathons and beyond, you can be sure that there will be plenty of fellow female support - in short, there is no better time to get out there and start running! To help, below are some tips that I've picked up along my way.

1. Invest in a good pair of shoes. A good friend of mine was working hard to get in shape for her first half marathon, only to have to drop out a month before the race due to plantar fasciitis - an injury that could have been prevented with proper support.  The shoes I'm running in today are the ASICS GEL-Excel33. It's worth the time to visit your local running store and have them fit you with a shoe that will support your foot and personal running style.

2. And, of course, a few good bras! My favorites are the adidas TECHFIT Bra and the Nike Pro Compression Bra. Like regular bras, you may have to try a few brands and styles before you find the perfect fit, but a good bra will make all the difference in comfort while you're running!

3. Headbands are a necessity. I have long hair. And I tend to get grumpy when I cannot keep my hair out of my face while running. Instead of giving in to my urge to cut it all off (an urge I unfortunately succumbed to during a Mexican vacation which left me with a sunburn and very bad hair for longer than I'd like to remember) I braid my hair and use these: Scunci No-slip Grip Headwraps. They might be a bit tight at first, but true to their name, they don't slip and work like a charm!

4. Find a running partner. Running with a friend, significant other, or local running group is a great way to stay motivated! If you find yourself without a partner, grab your iPod shuffle. and hit the road!

5. Find a favorite running trail. You'll find yourself looking forward to your runs so much more if you enjoy the scenery along your route. Don't be discouraged if you find a trail that you love but it's longer than you're capable of today.  Walk part, run part, and look forward to the day you're able to run the whole thing!

6. Get a great bag to tote your gear! If you're headed to the gym on a rainy day, or maybe out to a Saturday morning race, this bag will be perfect for toting shoes, water bottles, a banana, and flip-flops and a dry shirt, post workout or race!

7. Finally, get a racing outfit! Tiger Woods wears red and black every Tournament Sunday, it's just one more way that he knows it's go time. Come up with your own color scheme and race attire, I guarantee it'll help psych you up! And go wild with colors, when I'm not running, my go-to is a grey t-shirt and jeans, but on race day, I love this combo!

Gradual Progress

The rule of gradual progress for distance running is a valuable tip I picked up from the book Chi Running. The author, Danny Dreyer, explains that everything that is a great accomplishment comes through a gradual development sequence or progression.  If you are building a house, you would start with excavating and pouring a foundation, then building the walls, then putting on the roof before you start to finish the inside and move your things in.  If you didn't follow that sequence, it would be a disaster.
He applies this principle to distance running. It is important to set reasonable expectations as you start running, and allow your body to make the necessary changes to help you through the stages of development as a distance runner. Injury prevention is often overlooked by most individuals new to running, but a sudden injury will quickly put a stop to your progress as a runner.  Injuries are irreversible, so the only way to not have them is to prevent them before they happen, otherwise you are faced with weeks, maybe months or years of recovery.

There are many other great tips in the book Chi Running.  It's an easy read with great pictures to help you improve your running on a mental and physical level.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You'll feel better when you're done!

I hate running! A common thought among beginners and even those that have been running for years. It's hard. Some days a mile feels impossible.

But you don't quit. You keep pushing, find the energy to take the next step, and finish your run. And it's an amazing feeling that is all your own.

Growing up, I was always around fitness.  If I got up early, I would find my mom in our basement, working out to recorded episodes of classic 80's workout TV. I watched my mom teach aerobics while I ate my Happy Meal and played in the kids' room at our local fitness center.  I even sometimes joined in her summer afternoon water aerobics class, splashing around to Calloway's "I Wanna Be Rich" ( you know you love it).

But growing up, my family wasn't runners.  We played tennis, and instead of running cross country or track, I played on the high school tennis team.

I didn't start routinely running until after college, after gaining the "first year of real work, along with a commute" 15 pounds, and finding that I needed an efficient way to get in, and stay in shape. I had run a few 5k's, and maybe a mile or so on the treadmill once a week, but I didn't consider myself a runner, and definitely didn't think I had the physical makeup of a distance runner.  I'm shorter, with an stockier athletic build, not long, lean muscles that seem so perfect for running miles and miles. But I started slowly, walking a mile to warm up, and then running a mile or two, and walking again as a cool down.  I found a 6 mile running trail nearby, 3 out, 3 in, and fell in love with it.  Most days I would walk at least half of the 6 miles, but when I was feeling really great I would run 4 or 5.  The first day that I ran all 6 miles I remember feeling invincible. I think this is when my addiction began.

But I'm not saying I'm always jumping out of my pants, barely able to contain my enthusiasm to run. You've heard of Catholic guilt? Well, I've got it, but in a slightly different form.  On days that I'm exhausted and would rather pour myself a delicious beverage and sip it slowly, my mom's voice is inside my head: "Get out there. You'll feel better when you're done!" Surprisingly, 9 times out of 10, I do. And to that 10th time, I say, " Pour me another glass, I've earned it!"

Start Running, Week 1

If you are new to running, I would like to welcome you and say that I'm glad you are making the commitment to get in better shape, improve your health, and dedicate yourself to a hobby that is motivating and positive for you and those around you.  Many people have also made the same commitment and it has changed their lives.  Some run for fun, others have goals of completing half or full marathons and possibly qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  It is important to keep your goal in mind every time you run.  Running doesn't have to be a chore, it should be something positive that you are doing for yourself.

The first few weeks of running are hard, and may cause you to rethink your commitment.  I'll give you some tips on how to get started, remain positive, and prevent getting burnt, out or even worse injured.  I'll also provide a basic plan to follow.  Plans are great to keep you focused and structured, and keep you from doing too little or too much and burning out and quitting.

Week 1 Plan
Every running plan should incorporate two basic things: running and resting.  As you become a better runner, more details will become incorporated such as cross training, speed-work, and long runs, but at the beginning it's these basic things.

For week one, I want you to pick three days to workout and you will have 4 days of rest. 
Each workout day will consist of walking and running intervals.  This will boost your cardiovascular system and begin to build muscle.  A warm up and cool down should begin and end your workout, this is typically just a couple minutes of slow walking.  Your run pace should be comfortable, not fast.  I repeat, not fast.  This is not a race, so don't treat it like one. A pace of 9:30 to 12:00 minutes per mile is normal for a beginner depending on age, fitness level, and gender.  You need to have discipline in your training, and follow the rule of gradual progress.  Gradual progress means that you can't immediately become great, you need to improve a little bit at a time as you train, get more fit, and gain more experience.  So here's the plan:

Day 1: Half mile intervals of walk/run/walk/run.  3 miles total
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Half mile intervals of walk/run/walk/run.  3 miles total
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Half mile intervals of walk/run/walk/run.  3 miles total
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest, get ready for Week 2

Don't worry about it if you need to move the days around, just try your best to get in 3 days of working out and 4 good days of rest.  Those rest days are when your muscles are rebuilding, they are very important.

If you are running outside and don't have distance markers, I recommend trying out  There you can plot out an outdoor course in your neighborhood or local park.   Once you create a few courses you can use them over and over again, and change them up by running different routes each day.

If the weather doesn't cooperate, it pays off to join a gym to have access to a treadmill.  I always recommend running on a treadmill at 1% incline to better represent outdoor running.

You can run in the morning before work or school, or at night after work or school, or whenever your schedule allows.  I have noticed that I typically have less energy at the end of the day making the workout more challenging, which can be good or bad depending on how you look at it.

You may be wondering what equipment you need to get started. Luckily running doesn't require much. As you run more you will begin to form preferences for your apparel and gear as time goes on.  I will also talk about some of the items that have worked well for me personally.
  • Athletic shoes, preferably good flexible soled running shoes. We'll talk more about that later, but for now anything with a nice flexible sole will work to get you started.
  • Athletic socks.
  • Athletic shorts or pants.
  • A towel, it's nice to wipe sweat from your face.
  • A water bottle, hydration is very important!  I have found that bicycle style water bottles are great for running, they are easy to use while running and won't spill all over you. 
  • A plain t-shirt will work, but shirts with breathable fabric will be more comfortable and chafe less.
  • A sport watch.  Just a basic sport stop watch with a lap memory will help you track your mile paces as you run.  I recommend the Timex Ironman series.  They make watches for men and women.

Now is also a good time to start a workout tracking sheet.  Keep track of the distances or times that you run each day.  This data will turn into valuable information as you begin to improve.  You will begin to see gradual improvement as your training progresses both from the data and your physique.  Seeing that is great motivation.

Have fun.  See the Week 2 post for next weeks tips.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Great Gift Ideas for Runners

GPS Watches:
Garmin Forerunner 305
This GPS watch is the classic. This model includes a heart rate strap, and USB cable for downloading training results and courses to your computer.

Garmin Forerunner 405CX
This is the updated version of the Forerunner 305.

Nike+ GPS Sport Watch powered by TomTom
Only has 3 hour battery life, not recomended for marathon running/training.

The Ironman series of watches by Timex are a classic staple of running. Lightweight and feature packed, with large lap-memory and a big display.

Heart Rate Monitors:
Measuring your heart rate is the best way to analyze the amount of effort you are exerting while training, making a heart rate monitor a valueable and essential training tool.

Pedometers, like this model from Omran, keep track of the number of steps you take each day. Many come with cables for dowloading step data to your computer for history tracking and analysis.

Music Players:Apple iPod Shuffle
An affordable, lightweight, and long lasting MP3 player that is perfect for using while running indoors or outside.

Apple iPod Nano
Everything we love about the shuffle, with a touch screen.


Water Bottles:
Fuel Belt offers a wide line of water bottles, including belt models that make carrying them easier. They are available in many sizes and colors.

Polar makes an insulated water bottle that keeps your drinks cold. Great for running and cycling.

Camelbak makes a variety of backpack styled water bags like the Hydrobak 50oz, available in different colors.

Energy gels like these from Gu and Cliff provide essential nutrition for long training runs and races to keep you from hitting the wall.

Powdered electrolyte drink mixes replinish the electrolytes lost in sweat helping you to recover from training more quickly.

Gear Essentials
Look for shirts made from breathable fabrics. Brooks makes high quality running apparel used by the pros.


These brightly colored jackets made by Brooks are good for improving your visibility to motorists.

A light colored hat can keep the sun out of your eyes and keep your head cooler when running outdoors on a sunny day.


If buying as a gift, be sure you know their size and shoe preferences. Some runners consistently buy the same brand and model.
Asics Gel Nimbus 13

Brooks Pure Connect

Tifosi makes a variety of affordable sport sunglasses.

A good quality sport sunscreen won't wear off with sweat. Should be SPF 30 or greater. Don't wait until it's too late!

Runners need a way to carry all of there gear around when travelling or going to a race. A nice bag from Asics or Adidas are perfect for carrying shoes or a change of clothes.

Resistance Bands are great for toning and strength training.


Born To Run

Chi Running


Without Limits

Spirit of the Marathon

Chariots of Fire


A magazine subscription is a gift that keeps on giving, with new issues covering the latest in training tips, stories, and reviews of runnign gear.
Runners World

Running Times

Fun Stuff

Gift Cards:
Let that runner get whatever they have their eye on! Amazon sells almost everything that a runner could want.