Simple Cues To Help You Optimize Your Running Form To Run Faster and Help Avoid Injury

 

Hello Runnerrunning form image 2s,

In the last blog, I discussed the key aspects of optimal running form, especially in relation to body position, feet, arm swing, hip extension, and rhythm or cadence. In this post, I will share simple cues that you can use in order to help improve your running form in these areas. It is best to focus on only one or two of these at a time, for a few weeks, until they start becoming automatic, and then you can move on to another cue. Also, I recommend focusing on this cue for 10-20 seconds every 5-10 minutes, otherwise you will most likely be mentally exhausted at the end of your run, especially a long run! Another possibility is to focus on a cue while you are performing strides. If you are not familiar with strides click here to learn what they are and how they are beneficial.

So, here are a few cues to help you optimize your running form:

  • “Run tall”
    • Helps you engage your core, thus improving running posture, and also helps with hip extension, so that you can generate more power during your stride
  • “Imagine someone in front of you grabbing you by your shirt and lifting you up at the chest”
    • Similar to “Run tall” in that it forces you to engage the core
    • I like this cue better because it can also help with forward lean and helps prevent overstriding
  • “Extend the hips”
    • Focus on extending the hips when the knee is at its highest point until impact with the ground
    • Increases power, and thus speed, as the glutes are activated, and will create a recoil or rebound force with the ground, thus generating passive energy to propel you forward– hip extension, increases power of stride and thus speed
  • “Watch the horizon and try to limit it to a slight bounce”
    • Helps you create the right angle to propel yourself forward, so you are not moving too vertical or too horizontal
    • Helps you avoid contacting the ground too long and being too bouncy (up-and-down) with your stride
  • “Hip-to-Nip”
    • Stimulates arm swing, which facilitates coordination between the arm and opposite leg
    • Helps improve cadence and thus, running speed
  • “Think of knees as headlights that you shine straight ahead”
    • Helps engage and open hips to minimize risk of several common injuries including plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome (knee pain), which results from inward collapse of hips, knees, and ankles
  • “Put your foot down underneath you”
    • Helps prevents overstriding
  • “Leave the ankle/foot alone”
    • Helps minimize the loss of energy caused when activating the muscles of the lower leg and hamstrings
    • Activating these muscles can increase risk of injury
  • “Lean from the ankles”
    • Helps facilitate appropriate forward lean, which can improve speed

The key is to make gradual changes and to prepare for alterations in form by conditioning the body, which will be discussed in future posts.

I offer running evaluations to assess running form and can help you identify the cues that would be most beneficial to improve your running form.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Cindy Kuzma. “Hips”. Sports Medicine Clinic, Boulder, CO, February 2015.

Road Runners Club of America Certification boulder, CO, May 2013.

Steve Magness. Science of Running. Origin Press, 2014.

 

Keys To Optimal Running Form

running form image

Hello Runners,

When I see other runners, I can’t help but notice their running form. In my head I will say things like, “They should relax their shoulders”, “They should swing their arms”, “They should use their hips more, so they get knee lift and aren’t shuffling their feet.”

Running form is critical to optimize your running performance and help minimize the risk of injury. This article is the first of a series of articles related to running form and how to improve it.

So how should you run? I’ve listened to and read advice from different running coaches, exercise physiologists, and biomechansists. I’ve implemented these recommendations myself, and I wanted to share with you what I have found to be the most important aspects of efficient running form.

Here are the key aspects to running form:

  • Body position
    • Your body should be upright, thus requiring you to engage the core muscles. You should think of “running tall.” To help increase your speed you should have a slight forward lean from the ankles. It is important that this lean not come from the waist.
    • Your head, face, shoulders, and arms should be relaxed.
    • You should look ahead on the horizon with you chin slightly tipped down
  • Feet
    • As soon as your knee comes forward put your foot down underneath you. You should land slightly on the outer portion of the foot and ideally land on your midfoot, close to the center of your body.
    • As you land, the ankle should be in the neutral position, not in a flexed or extended (pointed toes) position.
    • Allow the heel to settle on the ground.
    • Push the big toe down allowing it to act as a locking mechanism before the foot leaves the ground, ensuring the foot acts as one entire unit. Do not try to get any extra propulsion by pushing off with the toes consciously. Instead, forward propulsion should come from hip extension (see below), and the foot should just be along for the ride.
    • Allow the foot to come up off the ground on its own, don’t actively contract the calves or hamstrings to pull the foot up towards the buttocks.
  • Arm swing
    • The arms and legs should work together in a coordinated fashion. When the left leg is forward, the right arm should be forward and vice versa. When the arm stops moving forward and is about to reverse direction, the opposite leg should reach its maximum backward movement before switching directions and coming forward, the opposite leg and hip should be at their maximum extension backwards
    • Your shoulders should be relaxed. Your arms should be bent at the elbow to form an angle of slightly less than 90 degrees between your forearm and upper arm. Have your hands lightly cupped like you were holding a fragile object that you didn’t want to drop, but that you didn’t want to crush.
    • The arm swing occurs from the shoulders, so that the shoulders don’t turn or sway. It is a simple pendulum-like forward and backward motion without crossing of the arms in front of the body.
    • Swing the arms so that the hands brush the top of the hips on the backswing and then swing them forward to the nipple line or slightly above.
  • Hip extension
    • Your power comes from extending the hips. Think of the hips as pistons that move up and down.
    • Focus on extending the hip and then leave it alone until you would extend it again. Do not actively contract the hip and/or hamstrings to bring the foot up behind you. This is a waste of energy. Allow the elastic energy you generated by extending the hip and impacting the ground automatically bring the foot up and forward.
    • Once the hip is extended, the recovery phase starts. The recovery cycle of the leg will happen automatically. The lower leg will lift off the ground and fold so that it comes close to your buttocks then pass under your hips with the knee leading. Once the knee has led through, the lower leg will unfold and it is then runner’s job to put it down underneath them. Ideal landing is close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee. Don’t try to actively move the leg through the recovery phase, this is a waste of energy and slows the recovery phase cycle.
    • How close the lower leg comes to the buttocks depends on the amount of hip extension. Ideally, the closer the leg comes to the buttocks the better because the leg will cycle through the recovery phase faster.
  • Rhythm
    • Control your rhythm (or cadence) and speed through arm swing and hip extension.
    • Your cadence should be between 160-200 steps per minute.
    • Breathing rhythmically

In the next post, I will discuss cues you can use to make any needed changes to your running mechanics.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.

I do offer running evaluations to assess running form. Please let me know if you are interested or would like more information.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Adam St. Pierre. Running Mechanics presented at USA Triathlon Certification Training, 2015.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training. Victory Belt Publishing, Inc. 2014.

Jack Daniels Daniels’ Running Formula Second Edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2005.

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy of Running.

Road Runners Club of America Coaching Certification Course

Steve Magness. The Science of Running. Origin Press, 2014.

USAT Training DVD Series. The Run with Bobbie McGee.

Goals Set the Direction, But Habits Are Best For Becoming The Runner You Want to Become

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)

Happy New Year Runners!

Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit, and will probably make the same resolution next January. Why weren’t they successful? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop, that are most important to our success.

I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits, and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few insights that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to become a better runner and achieve your running goals.

Goals are helpful in that they provide us direction. Such as if we were flying from Los Angeles to Maui, it is helpful to know which direction we need to go. However, if we set a course starting from Los Angeles to land in Maui we would not arrive, if we did not make adjustments along the way. Similar with our running goals. We may have a goal of completing our first marathon, or breaking four hours, or qualifying for Boston, however if we don’t develop the proper plan, get in the runs and support work (dynamic warmup, cool down, strengthening exercises, and cross-training) and develop other important habits, we’ll not optimize our training. Instead, we may develop an injury and we won’t develop the endurance and/or speed necessary to achieve our goal.

Take Small Steps with a System-Focused Approach, Instead of Goal-Focused

One important principle from Atomic Habits is developing systems that set you up to become the person necessary to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. Thus, to become a better runner such things as: proper training and nutrition plans, running form, support work, sleep, and hydration are important. If these are implemented on a consistent basis, incremental progress will be made leading to improved running performance, which then lead to better race results.

One of my favorite coaches of all time is the late Coach John Wooden, who had his players focus on making some small improvement each day that would help improve their game. These small improvements compound over time, like when you invest in mutual funds. Wooden put the emphasis on improvement and not on winning basketball games and national championships. As a result, some of Wooden’s players became some of the best basketball players in history (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton), and his teams won ten national championships, including seven in a row.

It is interesting to note that Wooden did not win his first national championship until he had been coaching at UCLA for 16 years! So, it took him a while to develop and successfully implement a system that would maximize his players’ performance, as well as his own coaching abilities. Similarly, if you are growing bamboo. It takes a significant amount of time for a bamboo plant to lay down an extensive root system. Then, all of sudden, a whole bunch of bamboo appears!

A systems-first mentality also allows you to fall in love with the process rather than the product/goal and you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. This is important because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. The goal-first mentality forces us to delay gratification until the next milestone is reached. The goal-first mentality also creates an “either-or” conflict in which you are either successful or a failure. Also, a goal-oriented mindset can create a “yo-yo” effect, which once the goal is achieved, you revert back to old habits. This is common with those trying to achieve weight loss.

So, it can be more beneficial to focus on what you want to become, instead of what you want to achieve, and develop the habits or systems to do so. If instead of waiting until we achieve our goal, we can achieve satisfaction in performing the steps along the way, we will be much happier and are more likely to make good habits automatic. Early on we may want to set up a rewards system for when we are completing the habits that we need to become the runner we need to become. Therefore, if we complete our run and the important support work, then we reward ourselves appropriately. For example, I reward myself with ten minutes of additional guitar-playing time. Over time you may not need the reward system because you automatically include support work on your run days.

So, again even though your goals will direct you, what’s most importance is the system you implement to become the runner necessary to achieve those goals. If you develop the habits and put in the work, the results will follow, just as they did for Coach Wooden.

 Identity Focus

Another important aspect of Atomic Habits is to become identity-focused, instead of goal-focused. Your habits are consistent with the identity you have for yourself. So, in order to change your habits, you have to change your identity. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight, they could change their identity to that of a healthy person, instead of focusing on losing a certain number of pounds. They can then focus on making decisions consistent with what a healthy person does, and could ask themselves, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?”

Similarly, if you have a time goal and/or want to be a Boston qualifier, your identity could be I’m a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or a “Boston qualifier” and put your focus on the habits necessary or consistent with being a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or “Boston qualifier”. You can then ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that would get these results?” Therefore, you would begin developing the sleep habits (such as 7-9 hours of sleep per night, because while you are sleeping the important adaptations to your training are occurring), nutrition habits (proper nutrients to fuel you and support adaptations), and support work habits necessary. You may also determine that it is necessary to work with a coach, so that you optimize your running form for performance and have an optimal training plan.  You may also need to develop the mind-set of focusing on improving as a runner from year-to-year, and appreciate that it may take a couple of years to break 3:45 in a marathon, or qualify for Boston.

Habit Stacking and Designing Your Environment

Techniques such as habit stacking and designing your environment (make it obvious) may help you facilitate the habits consistent with your identity of being a “sub-3:45 marathoner”, for example. After my runs I grab a glass of water to begin hydrating and focus on “relaxing my legs” by doing gentle leg swings, gradually increasing the range of motion. I perform these close to our designated workout room, which has my yoga mat, resistance band, dumbbells, foam roller, and lacrosse ball all laid out in full view (designing my environment). This cues me to perform the rest of my support work, including my strengthening exercises and cool down (habit stacking). Also, I usually play music I enjoy while performing these, which makes it easier to perform. I’ve performed this routine so many times that it has become automatic, and I recommend setting up a similar situation for yourself.

I will touch upon other important principles from Atomic Habits and other behavior change strategies in future blogs, to help you become the runner you want to become and help you achieve your goals along the way.

Summary of Key Points

  • Success is the product of daily habits
  • Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results
  • Identity the person you want to become and develop the habits consistent with that identity
  • Consistency of habits is important. Start small and implement a proper reward system for immediate gratification once you’ve completed these habits. These habits should soon become automatic.
  • Focus on improvement over time, such as year-to-year, as a runner, not just a one-time goal

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help.

I don’t want to leave you with the idea that goals aren’t important. They have their place, as far as providing direction. Also, there are other steps you should take before beginning your training. Click here for a post from last year on goal setting and here to learn of other steps you should take before you begin training.

Also, it’s not too late to get started on training, if you are planning to run a spring half- or full-marathon. I began my formal training for the Colfax marathon last week.

Finally, I plan to lead a half- and full-marathon training group this year for fall half- and full-marathons. The group will meet once per week in Louisville (CO) for a run, and participants will be provided with a 16-week training plan. If you are interested, or would like to learn more, please contact me at brian@denverrunningcoach.com

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.  Avery: New York, 2018.

Overcoming Challenging Runs with Mindfulness and How You Develop Your Mindfulness Muscle

marathon1

“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua J. Marine

Hello Runners,

Recently I’ve had some really challenging runs including a 20-miler. Certainly the further we get into marathon training, the more challenging the workouts can be, whether it’s a 20 mile run or a tempo or marathon goal pace run for a sustained period of time.

In these situations, as well as those in other areas of our life which require us to push ourselves to help us grow as a person, we need to get uncomfortable being uncomfortable. Obviously, easier said than done. This is something that elite runners are able to do quite well, and there are probably aspects in your own life in which you do this well. Maybe it’s with your job and/or juggling multiple responsibilities. Maybe it’s giving an important presentation or networking.

As Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness share in Peak Performance, when you begin to feel uncomfortable during a tough workout or event it can help to have a conversation with yourself such as, “This is starting to hurt now. It should. I’m running hard. But I am separate from this pain. It is going to be okay.”

This touches upon the importance of being mindful and developing mindful fitness, which you can apply to other aspects of your life such as giving a presentation, dealing with a challenging client, dealing with a challenging child, etc.

By being more mindful, you create the space for you to choose how you respond to stress, instead of having an automatic response to stress. While you are immersed in the challenge, you can use mindfulness to remain calm. After a challenge, mindfulness lets you choose to turn off stress and transition to a more restful state.

Developing mindfulness is like developing a muscle. One great way to do so is through mindful meditation, which I do for a few minutes each day, typically first thing in the morning and before I go to bed.

Research studies have shown mindful meditation to be extremely helpful in overcoming stress in military personal, and it can help athletes in all sports manage stress, improve focus, and enhance performance.

To be mindful is to be aware of your thoughts and actions in the moment, without judging yourself and without being distracted by stressful experiences from the past or stressful anticipation of the future.

Guidelines for Mindful Meditation:

  • Choose a time to meditate when other distractions are minimal. A great time might be first thing in the morning or before going to bed. Another option might be during your lunch break.
  • Find a quiet, comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck, and back straight but not stiff
  • Set a timer so that you are not distracted by thoughts about the passage of time
  • Begin breathing deeply, in and out through the nose
  • Allow your breath to settle back into its natural rhythm and focus on nothing but the sensation of breathing, noticing the rise and fall of the abdomen with each breath; if thoughts arise, notice them and don’t suppress them. Acknowledge your thoughts and use your breath as an anchor. You might visualize your thoughts as puffy white clouds and watch them disappear across the sky. Direct your focus back to the sensation of your breath.
  • As you conclude your meditation session, sit for a minute or two, become aware of where you are and then gradually get up.
  • Meditation can be a challenge itself because our mind can be super active and it can be difficult to quiet the mind. So, start with one minute and gradually increase the duration, adding 30-45 seconds every few days.
  • Consistency is important in building your mindful muscle, just like building any other muscle. Along those lines frequency of meditation is more important than duration.
  • Apply your growing mindfulness abilities in everyday life and have calm conversations with yourself during stressful periods
  • Realize when you want to “turn it off” and then choose to leave stress behind. Pausing to take a few deep breaths helps to activate the brain’s command and control center, instead of allowing the portion of the brain that responds automatically to take over.

You can also use guided meditation to develop mindfulness. This may be easier, especially if you are just starting out. Some apps which will guide you include Insight Timer, Headspace, and Pranayama. (Disclaimer: I have no associations with Insight Timer, Headspace, or Pranayama.)

So, incorporate a few minutes of mindful meditation into your day and strengthen your mindfulness muscle to help your performance during difficult training runs and your next event.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

P.S. If you know anyone who might benefit from this post, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.

 

References

Peak Performance. Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. Rodale, Inc. New York, 2017.

Beyond Training. Ben Greenfield. Victory Belt Publishing  2014.

Jha AP, Stanley EA, Kiyonaga A, Wong L, Gelfand L. Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion. 2010 Feb;10(1):54-64.

Jha AP, Morrison AB, Dainer-Best J, Parker S, Rostrup N, Stanley EA. Minds “at attention”: mindfulness training curbs attentional lapses in military cohorts. PLoS One. 2015 Feb 11;10(2)

Solberg EE, Berglund KA, Engen O, Ekeberg O, Loeb M. The effect of meditation on shooting performance. Br J Sports Med. 1996 Dec;30(4):342-6.

Zanesco AP, Denkova E, Rogers SL, MacNulty WK, Jha AP. Mindfulness training as cognitive training in high-demand cohorts: An initial study in elite military servicemembers. Prog Brain Res. 2019;244:323-354.

Gaëlle Desbordes, Lobsang T. Negi, Thaddeus W. W. Pace, B. Alan Wallace, Charles L. Raison and Eric L. Schwartz. Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 01 November 2012.

Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes. What are the benefits of mindfulness, July/August 2012, Vol 43, No. 7

Lillian A. De Petrillo, Keith A. Kaufman, Carol R. Glass, and Diane B. Arnkoff.  Mindfulness for Long-Distance Runners: An Open Trial Using Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE). Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, Volume 3: Issue 4, Pages: 357–376.

Rachel W. Thompson, Keith A. Kaufman, Lilian A. De Petrillo, Carol R. Glass, and Diane B. Arnkoff. One Year Follow-Up of Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE) With Archers, Golfers, and Runners. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, Volume 5: Issue 2, Pages: 99–116.

Lucia Bühlmayer, Daniel Birrer, Philipp Röthlin, Oliver Faude, Lars Donath. Effects of Mindfulness Practice on Performance-Relevant Parameters and Performance Outcomes in Sports: A Meta-Analytical Review. Sports Medicine, November 2017, Volume 47, Issue 11, pp 2309–2321.

 

Should I Take Salt Tablets During My Long Runs and Half and Full Marathons?

Fueling-for-marathon-hydrating

“Strive for balance. Then shall you find harmony.”

Hello Runners,

In my last post, I discussed strategies you can use for running in the heat.

Another important consideration, when running in the heat, is replacement of electrolytes.

What Are Electrolytes And Why Are They Important?

An electrolyte is a substance that will conduct electricity when dissolved in water. They are essential for many of the body’s functions such as:

  • Skeletal muscle contraction for you to run (specifically the muscle needs calcium, sodium, and potassium and when these become unbalanced this can lead to muscle weakness or excessive contraction)
  • Heart function to deliver the oxygen and nutrients to your muscles to produce the energy you need to run
  • Nervous system function
  • Fluid balance
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Maintain proper blood pH

All important functions necessary to keep you alive!

An imbalance of electrolytes through loss can result in cramping, twitching, weakness, and if not addressed, seizures and heart rhythm disturbances.

The important electrolytes include: sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, phosphate, and chloride.

How Are They Lost?

Electrolytes are lost in sweat when we run. They can also be lost during a bout of diarrhea or vomiting.

How Should You Replace Them?

There are a number of different options for replacing electrolytes lost during exercise. Since balance between different electrolytes is important for them to function properly, I don’t recommend taking something that replaces only one or two electrolytes, like salt tablets.

Also, I don’t recommend many of the popular sports drinks including: Gatorade, Powerade, Propel, Vitamin Water, Accelerade because they usually contain lots of sugar/high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients, which can upset your stomach.

Here are some sources of electrolytes you might try (disclaimer: I have no affiliations with or investments in any of the companies that produce these products):

Tailwind nutrition endurance fuel

Nuun tablets

Lyteshow liquid concentrate

Ultima replenisher mix

Optimal Electrolyte by Seeking Health

Vega Clean Energy

Skratch labs mix

Coconut water in the refrigerated section of the grocery story by any of the following brands: Harmless Harvest, Unoco, Liquitera, Vital Juice or Juice Press

Another option is to make your own using by combining the following:

  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • ¼ cup of lime juice
  • 1 ½ cups of unsweetened coconut water
  • 2 cups of cold water

I recommend experimenting with at least a couple of these during your training to find the one that works best for you to use for your event.

The amount of electrolytes you will need to take depend on several factors including: the temperature, humidity, your sweat rate, as well as your initial levels of electrolytes. The recommendations for electrolyte replacement typically focus on sodium. Typically, it is recommended to replace 500-1000 mg/hr of sodium for long runs and events, such as half- and full-marathons, as well as ultras and triathlons. However, you may need to adjust this depending on sweat loss. And remember, you will also be taking other electrolytes, along with sodium, to stay balanced.

You should continue to consume electrolytes after your long run or event (~500 mg sodium, along with other electrolytes).

In addition, it is important to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet because they are a great source of electrolytes.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

P.S. If you know anyone who might benefit from this post, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.

 

References

Bob Seebohar “Nutrition for Triathletes” presented at USAT Certification Training 2014

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/electrolyte-water#what-it-is

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153188.php

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Electrolytes panel – blood. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:464-467.

DuBose TD. Disorders of acid-base balance. In: Skorecki K, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, Taal MW, Yu ASL, eds. Brenner and Rector’s The Kidney. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 17.

How to Adjust Your Training to Summer Heat

Summer-running-top-tip-to-help-running-in-the-heat

“A secret to happiness it letting every situation be what it is, instead of what you think it should be.”  – Loubis and Champagne

Hello Runners,

Summer is certainly in full swing in Colorado and throughout the rest of the country.

I certainly felt the effects of the heat during my long run today, which resulted in a slowed pace and even having to cut the run short, because I started too late in the morning.

So, a couple of quick tips to help you better train in the heat include staying well-hydrated before, during, and after your runs. Also, run early in the morning or early evening and wear light colored high tech lightweight wicking fibers.

Here are a couple of other recommendations that I wanted to share with you:

Adjust Your Running Pace Accordingly

You should adjust your pace with increased heat and humidity, instead of trying to complete a run at a specific pace not adjusted for heat and humidity, and become discouraged that you didn’t achieve this pace. One way to adjust your pace is by feel. So, if your training plan calls for a long run at an easy pace, make sure to adjust the pace, so that it still feels easy, even with increased temperature and/or humidity.

Fellow running coach Jeff Gaudette has a pace calculator based on temperature and dew temperature (basically relative humidity). If you know these you can use this calculator to adjust your pace accordingly for an easy, tempo, or race pace training run:

https://runnersconnect.net/training/tools/temperature-calculator/

Beware of Proper Recovery

The summer also offers challenges as far as proper recovery. If we have to start our run earlier in the morning to beat the heat we may not be getting enough sleep at night. This can add up over time and result in us being more fatigued during our runs, especially if we are not adjusting our sleep schedule accordingly. Thus, you may need to adjust your expectations and pace accordingly, as well as your sleep schedule.

In addition, we tend to be more active with other activities during the summer, whether it’s yardwork, doing a hike or being at the beach the day before a run. These can all affect our running performance. Again, this will require us to adjust our expectations and our pace.

Recovery Between Workouts May Be Slowed

Our body is designed to stay in homeostasis to keep us alive, and this includes for our body temperature. During the summer months, more of your blood is being diverted to your skin to cool you, rather than transporting oxygen to and nutrients to your muscles to help them recover. Thus, recovery between workouts will be slowed and your muscles may not be repaired and as strong for your next workout.

Therefore, it can help, as Coach Jeff Gaudette recommends, to include an additional recovery day during your training week. You may also want to include an occasional down week. This can help you catch up on sleep, allow you to enjoy a consequence-free hike or day at the beach, and can help you avoid overtraining and getting frustrated with what appears to be a lack of progress.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

P.S. If you know anyone who might benefit from this email, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.

Make Some of Your Long Runs More Challenging Than Your Marathon To Make Your Marathon Easier

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell

Hello Runners,

Over the past few weeks I’ve been incorporating hills and trails on some of my long runs. These runs have been really challenging and my paces have been about a minute less than my goal pace. However, I’m getting some great benefits from these runs that are going to help me on marathon day! I used this strategy for the last marathon I ran a few years ago, and while I watched many runners struggle in the last five miles, I was still strong. In fact, several spectators made comments of that nature.

If you are running a flat marathon, such as the Chicago Marathon, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at how strong you feel by incorporating some tougher long runs in your training. If you are running a marathon with hills, especially at the end, such as the NYC Marathon, then you will be stronger on these hills.

Fortunately, I’m able to run from my house to areas with hills, trails, and both. Here are some benefits to running in such areas:

Benefits of Running Hills

  • Great leg strengthener, especially for quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and muscles connected to the ankles providing great support for our knees and ankles to help minimize risk of injury and increase running pace
  • Our muscles are made up of different muscle fiber types. You may have heard of these. Basically, we have Type 1, or slow-twitch fibers, which we predominately use when we run a 5k, half- or full-marathon. However, for longer events, such as marathons, these fibers need a break from continually contracting. This is when we use our other muscle fiber types, especially the intermediate, Type 2a fibers, to give our Type 1 fibers time to recover before using them again. Basically, cycling between different fiber types during marathons, allows us to keep running. While the Type 1 fibers are great for endurance, the Type 2a are great for endurance and speed. Training on hills helps strengthen these fibers and helps improve their endurance performance, so they can help us out more during our marathon. This can result in a faster running pace, minimization of fatigue towards the end of a marathon, and allows us to be stronger on any hills we encounter during our event.

Benefits of Trails, Especially with Rocks

  • This is great for running form because it forces us to pick up our knees more, which improves running cadence (number of steps you take per minute). Unfortunately, I was not as focused on getting over some of the rocks on the trail I was running on a couple of weeks ago. I tripped and did a face plant resulting in some nice cuts and scrapes on my hands, elbows, knees, stomach. Fortunately, it wasn’t worse than that! So stay focused when running, especially in rocky areas!
  • Running on trails can provide some nice variety to our training, and often will require the use of some different muscles to help stabilize us more, especially muscles connected to the ankle joint. This can help with running form as well, in that it can improve our stability when you have one foot during your marathon or other event.

So, I recommend incorporating some tougher long runs early on in your training. I would focus more on flatter long runs on roads, or hard packed trails with minimal rocks, during your last 2-3 months of training. This will allow you to run closer to your goal event pace.

Also, you will need to appropriately balance these tougher long runs with your runs during the week, so that you can allow for recovery and still complete these runs. This is certainly something I keep in mind when developing training plans for the runners I coach, and for my own training plan.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, if you know anyone who might benefit from this email, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

How To Get The Most Out Of Your High Intensity Runs

“Comfort, the enemy of progress.” – PT Barnum

Hello Runners,

In my last post I discussed the importance of VO2max for your aerobic fitness and performance. I also talked about how you can improve VO2max. One thing I mentioned was an appropriate progression over 3-4 weeks, so that you continue to get the benefits of each workout as your body becomes more aerobically fit.

Whether it is improving your VO2max, lactate threshold, speed, etc. there are several variables you can adjust in your progression from week-to-week to get the most benefit out of your workouts. They include the following:

Number of repetitions

One way to make your workout more challenging from one week to the next is to increase the number of work bouts you perform. For example, in week one you might perform four work bouts, week two five work bouts, and then six work bouts for week three.

Length or duration of work bout

A second way to accomplish progression is to increase the length or duration of work bouts. So week one might be 30-second work bouts, week 2 45-second work bouts, and week three 60-second work bouts.

Pace or effort

Generally, I don’t change this variable alone during a progression, however I might change it if I’m changing the length or duration of a work bout, such as when I’m doing Fartlek runs. Usually if I increase the length or duration I will slightly decrease the pace, such as performing the work bouts at a pace that is 5-10 seconds/mile slower. Or, I might perform work bouts of the same duration at a slightly faster pace from one week to the next. If you include hills as part of your progression (see below), the effort may be the same from week-to-week, but obviously your pace will change.

Recovery time

Another way to make a workout more challenging from the previous week is to cut the recovery time. For example, the recovery time may be twice as long as the work bout for the first week, equal to the work bout for the second week, and half the time of the work bout for the third week.

Surface in which you perform work bouts

A way to add variety and challenge to a workout is to add some hills during the second or third week of the progression after running in a flat area during the first 1-2 weeks.

So, try changing one or more of these variables from one week to the next for your higher intensity workouts to make them more challenging, so you continue to benefit from these workouts. However, be sure to make adjustments that are appropriate and keep in mind the goal of your workouts. That is are you trying to improve VO2max, lactate threshold, etc. It is important to know the purpose of each workout, so that you are performing a workout that will most benefit you. This is certainly something I spend a significant amount of time with for the runners I coach and for my own workouts.

Here is an example of a four week progression for Fartlek runs. This is something I would include early in training to help your body adjust to performing higher intensity workouts:

Week 1:

  • Perform dynamic warmup
  • Run 20 minutes at an easy pace
  • Perform 6 30-second work bouts at a comfortable hard pace (~ your 5k pace, if you’ve done a recent 5k) in a flat area
  • Recover with a slow jog for 2 minutes in between work bouts
  • Run for 10-15 minutes at an easy pace
  • Perform cooldown

Week 2:

–              Perform dynamic warmup

–              Run 20 minutes at an easy pace

–              Perform 6 40-second work bouts at a comfortable hard pace (~ your 5k pace, if you’ve done a recent 5k) in a flat area

–              Recover with a slow jog for 2 minutes in between work bouts

–              Run for 10-15 minutes at an easy pace

–              Perform cooldown

Week 3

–              Perform dynamic warmup

–              Run 20 minutes at an easy pace

–              Perform 6 40-second work bouts at a comfortable hard pace (~ your 5k pace, if you’ve done a recent 5k) in a hilly area

–              Recover with a slow jog for 2 minutes in between work bouts

–              Run for 10-15 minutes at an easy pace

–              Perform cooldown

Week 4

–              Perform dynamic warmup

–              Run 20 minutes at an easy pace

–              Perform 6 60-second work bouts at a comfortable hard pace (~ your 5k pace, if you’ve done a recent 5k) in a flat area

–              Recover with a slow jog for 2 minutes in between work bouts

–              Run for 10-15 minutes at an easy pace

–              Perform cooldown

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, if you feel anyone can benefit from this email, please share it and “Like” our page.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

VO2max: What Is It, Why Is It Important to Your Running Performance, and How Do You Improve It

Hello Runners,

There are three factors that are most important to your running performance and can affect whether you finish an event pumping your fists in celebration, or hanging your head in disappointment.

These factors are your running economy (basically how efficient you are when you run), your lactate threshold (maximum pace you can sustain for a prolonged period of time), and your VO2max or maximal oxygen consumption.

One of my workouts last week specifically focused on VO2max. For this particular workout, I performed a dynamic warmup and then ran at an easy pace for 20 minutes. Then the real fun began! I performed 40 second work bouts in a flat area (a track for example) at a hard pace. I focused on form during these work bouts to maximize my speed and effort. After each of these work bouts, I did a slow jog recovery interval for two minutes and then repeated for a total of six work bouts. I finished my run at an easy pace for approximately 10 minutes. Then I finished up by performing stability, mobility, and strengthening exercises and foam rolling. This was a challenging workout!

What Is VO2max?

VO2max is the maximal amount of oxygen our body can use to produce energy by aerobic energy systems when we are running at maximal effort, and is considered the “gold standard” for assessing aerobic fitness. VO2max is affected by our body’s ability to take oxygen into the body and deliver it to our running muscles, which incorporates our cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and blood vessels. Another important determinant of VO2max is the muscles’ ability to extract oxygen from the blood and use it to produce energy. This involves our “mighty” mitochondria in our muscle cells. The mitochondria are the powerhouses that will extract oxygen and use it along with carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in our body to the produce energy for us to run.

How Is VO2max Measured?

There are labs that will assess your VO2max by measuring the volume and composition of the gases you inhale and exhale while running. This test is usually performed on a treadmill in which the speed and/or incline is increased every 2-3 minutes. Basically, run until you feel you can run no more, or it is deemed that the test needs to be stopped for safety purposes. The test typically lasts ~12-15 minutes. As you might guess, it’s a hard test! In addition, you need to wear apparatus that will allow the volume and composition of gases to be measured. Here is an image of a typical VO2max testing setup:

vo2max testing

It is also possible to have VO2max measured outside while running on a track, although this requires sophisticated equipment.

VO2max can also be estimated based on time to run a mile. The advantage of this is that it doesn’t require sophisticated equipment and having to wear potentially uncomfortable apparatus. I offer this estimate as part of my running evaluation I do with runners. I can also offer this to runners who may not be able to do an in-person running evaluation with me.

It’s most helpful to repeat the measure of your VO2max after at least three months, to see if it has improved with your training.

What Factors Affect My VO2max?

There are several factors that affect VO2max including genetics, gender, age, fitness level, and training.

How Do I Improve My VO2max and Thus, My Running Performance?

There are several ways to improve VO2max depending on your fitness level. For beginner runners just running frequently and increasing the duration of your runs can significantly improve your VO2max, especially over three months.

For intermediate and advanced runners, it is more difficult to improve VO2max. However, hard work bouts in which you are running several minutes at ~95-100% of your current VO2max can help improve it. I recommend starting with hard work bouts for 30-40 seconds. Recover with a slow jog for 2-3 minutes between these bouts. Repeat for a total of 4-6 work bouts. Over the next 2-3 weeks, I recommend a progression in which you increase the time of your work bouts. This will depend on what’s appropriate for you. For runners I coach, we discuss how these work bouts went each week, as well as their fitness level to determine the appropriate progression. In addition, you should have been recently cleared by your physician to participate in vigorous physical activity. Also, you should have performed some previous speedwork, such as Fartlek runs, before engaging in VO2max work bouts.   

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, if you feel anyone can benefit from this email, please share it.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

What To Do When A Race or Training Run Doesn’t Go Well

“Successful People Don’t Fear Failure, But Understand That It’s Necessary to Learn and Grow From.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Hello Runners,

I hope your running is going well.

As I mentioned in the last post, I did a 5k during Memorial Day weekend. It was a nice, low-key 5k. There were about 20-30 runners. Certainly no frills, but it was a free 5k and you got your time at the end. Plus, it offered the opportunity to run in a competitive environment (or non-competitive environment, if you wanted) with other runners. I mainly used it for some variety in my training and as a measure of my aerobic fitness early in my marathon training.

I certainly enjoyed the event, and it’s nice to have this option only 5 miles from my house every Saturday.

I had a couple of goals for this race, which I did not achieve. This certainly will happen at some point during our races or training runs. When this happens with runners I coach, we discuss what happened and how to move forward.

So, instead of beating ourselves up for less than expected results, I recommend that you learn from your performances that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped. However, before we focus on this, I recommend considering the positives from the race or training run, and asking yourself, “what did go well?” I’m sure you will be able to find some silver lining.

After you have identified the positives, I recommend taking some time to reflect upon what didn’t go well and why that might have been. If you could do the race or training run all over again, what would you do differently? Was it not being properly hydrated or fueled? Did you make a bad food choice the morning off or night before? Maybe you realize that you need to improve your fitness and/or speed and can focus on this more.

Here are a few things that I learned from my 5k that might help you:

Pacing

One of the biggest challenges with races is getting caught up in the race environment and what other runners are doing. I’m certainly guilty of this, and it happened to me for this particular 5k. I started at the front and within the first minute I was in third and wanted to win the race. I went out too fast in the first mile and got distracted from my goals, which included a negative split (running second have faster than the first have). As a result of going out too fast in the first mile, I had to slow my pace in the second mile. I was able to use self-talk to push myself through and actually ran the third mile faster than the second, but I didn’t achieve my goal of a negative split. Now, in a 5k, this wasn’t a significant issue because the race is short enough that I only had to struggle for a short time. This same approach would not work well on marathon day! So, this is something I need to be careful of. A friend of mine actually did go out too fast in a recent marathon, and unfortunately for him, the last 11 miles were a struggle, and the result was disappointing.

Know the Course As Best As You Can

Beware that there may not be race volunteers at every turn and some turns may not be well marked. This was the case during my 5k. Although most of the course was straightforward, there was some confusion that I and another runner had shortly after the first mile. Although it didn’t cost a lot of time, it did cost some time, and certainly at that point my chance of winning the race was gone. You should also be familiar with the race profile and know when and approximately how long and steep the hills are, if there are any.

Improve Fitness

Certainly this race was a good assessment of my fitness, and made me more aware of the difficulty in breaking three hours is a marathon. Yes, I was able to run a slightly faster than goal marathon pace for this 5k, but it’s a 5k, not a marathon! Therefore, I will need to be consistent with all of my remaining training, including all of my runs and other aspects of my training that support my running, including strengthening exercises and cooldowns, so that I can get the most out of my runs.

Adjustments to Running Form

Something else I’ve thought about are any adjustments to my running form that might help me improve my efficiency and speed. One thing I have been working on for a while, is incorporating more forward lean. After my 5k, I decided to incorporate a drill in my dynamic warm-up to make this adjustment more natural. For those of you who are intermediate or advanced runners and consistently incorporate core strengthening into your training, I recommend incorporating a slight forward lean, from the ankles, into your running form. You can practice this during your dynamic warm-up for 30-60 seconds, until it becomes natural:

  • Stand perpendicular to a full-length mirror, so that you can view your body position from the side
  • Engage the core muscles to stand erect
  • Slowly lean forward from the ankles, until the point in which you fall forward
  • While doing so, make sure that your body is in one plane, and that you are not leaning from the waist or head and neck
  • While you are leaning forward, imagine yourself being pulled up and forward by the top of your shirt. This cue will help you keep the core muscles engaged.
  • Once you start to fall forward, catch yourself and return to the starting position
  • Repeat

When you are running, you should lean from the ankles just to the point where you start to fall forward. Now you have gravity helping to pull you forward, thus you don’t have to work as hard. This is a key component to chi running and is one reason why chi running is effective. However, make sure the lean is coming from the ankles and not waist, neck, etc.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, if you feel anyone can benefit from this post, please share it.

Your friend and coach,

Brian