Beginner’s Corner: Beating the Blues

It happens to all of us sooner or later. Especially newbies. The excitement of starting a running program has begun to wear off and all of a sudden, you feel tired and bored with running. Every time you even think about going for a run, you come up with plenty of  reasons not to go.

The alarm goes off and instead of hopping out of bed, you roll over. Or you come home from a long day at work and instead of a rejuvenating run, you grab a beer and head for the TV for Seinfeld reruns.

Sound familiar? It should. The motivation to run is something that comes…and goes. It could be seasonal (it’s especially tough in the summer) or you’re just plain tuckered out. Or, you feel stressed by the job or the screaming kids at home. It’s hot and humid and some days even a short run feels unbearable some days. Or maybe you’re just bored silly staring straight ahead day after day on the treadmill.

Whatever it is (or isn’t) staying motivated to run 12 months a year is tough. Maybe even impossible. Beginners and experienced runners all lose their mojo at some point.

The key is recapturing it so you can keep going and improve. And the key to recapturing that motivation, is to make changes in your running. It doesn’t matter what you change as much as simply making a change.

Switch your goals, plan for new ones. Instead of training for a marathon, set your sights on getting faster in a 5-K. Add more speed days. Reduce the length of your long runs or go much longer. Or substitute a strength training workout in the gym for a hill day.

Maybe you need to add an extra rest day to your schedule. Start taking a yoga or Pilates class. Maybe add a spinning class or try pool running. Or find new running routes around town. Possibly, you need to hook up with a different training group and meet new training partners. Run at a different time of day. Make plans to go to a new race in a city you’ve always wanted to visit.

There’s all sorts of solutions to break the ho-hum routine of running. You may not need to make major changes, but some change is good to shake up the routine.

Here are some tips that will help you stir the mix and get you fired up again about running this summer:

O Develop new training routes. Too many of us stick with the same roads. Even the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail, the Scenic loop or Speedway gets old after awhile. Seek out a new course in a different part of town—even if it means driving. A change of scenery can make all the difference.

O Make new running friends. Join a different training group to do long runs or speed work. Or do different workouts with your regular training partners. If you only do long runs together, try just doing shorter, easier runs with your group. Or meet at the track once a week.

O Run earlier or later. If you’re a morning runner, switch to the evening. Or vice versa. If you can’t make such a radical switch, run a half hour earlier or later. Or go for a noon run, rather than eating lunch.

O Replay great movies in your head. What’s your favorite? Spinal Tap or To Kill A Mockingbird? It doesn’t matter. While running, entertain yourself by replaying the classic scenes in your head. Or replay your life. Pick a year and rehash everything (no matter how minor) that went on, but stick with that year.

O Buy new shoes or a new running outfit. A simple investment in new running gear might be just what you need to get excited about running again.

O Sign up for a new class. Learn how yoga, Pilates or kick boxing. If Tai Chi looks interesting, give a try. Ever tried deep-water running? Go for it. Can’t swim? It’s about time you learned.

O Leave your watch or GPS at home. Don’t time your run. Just run in any direction your feet take you and for any length of time which feels reasonable. Be spontaneous.

O Take five. If you’re still having a difficult time finding the motivation to get out the door, tell yourself you’ll only run for 10 minutes. Usually after just a few minutes of running, you’ll forget all about it and keep going.

Sometimes that’s all it takes to get a new ‘tude about running. Change your routine, make new goals, take a class and you’ll be back to your old self in no time.

If not, it might be time to take a break from running. That’s fine to take a week or two off. That’s usually all it takes to find your inner mojo again.

Beginners’ Corner: Water Works

My calendar says it’s still somehow spring, but in the ATX we know better than that: Summer has arrived. And if it’s summer, you don’t need me to tell you that the heat and humidity around here makes running pretty darn tough. That is, running on land.

There’s another, cooler way to run at least some of the time during our brutal blow torch of a summer: Deep-water running. It’s still running, but your feet never touch the ground. Or, in this case, the bottom of a pool.

Deep-water running has been around forever, but most runners hold their nose and only even contemplate doing it when injured. Make no mistake about it, deep-water running is an excellent aerobic workout when you’re injured because there’s no impact whatsoever–the chief culprit of most running injuries.

But deep-water running is more than just for injured runners. It’s a great summer alternative to dry land running. It gives you a break from the pounding and complete relief from the disgusting three-digit temperatures and oppressive humidity we enjoy so much in Austin during summer.

One of the beauties of deep-water running is how easy it is. All you need is a pool (or lake) to get a terrific workout which is roughly equal to your dry land training but without the oppressive heat and/or pounding.

First, find a pool with a deep end. It doesn’t have to be extremely deep, just deep enough so that your feet won’t touch bottom. Because you’ll be running, you will also need some room (preferably, your own lane) so as not to get in the way of the lap swimmers or kids playing Marco Polo. Try to stay out of their way and hopefully, they’ll stay out of your way.

Barton Springs is perfect. So is Deep Eddy. Another good option is Dick Nichols Pool on Beckett in South Austin. There are plenty of others. Best bet is to go early before the crowds get there. Lunchtime or early morning is usually when the lanes are the most crowded.

Your next step is to find a partner to “run” with because the No. 1 complaint  runners have is that pool running is incredibly boring.

It can be. So get a training partner who you can “run” with. Being able to chat, bitch and gossip the time away will make it pass quicker.

If you can’t get a training partner, get a boom box and blast some high-energy rock ‘n’ roll if the lifeguards will permit it. Anything to get you motivated to do this because it will take some degree of motivation to get into the water and run.

You will look like an oddball running in the water, but bite on this: Doing a pool run of 45 minutes is not any different—aerobically–than a dry land run of the same length. So if you’re injured and want to stay in shape or you just want an alternative to the blast furnace, hop in.

Pool running is much better for your actual running than swimming. Even if you are a good swimmer, swimming is great for the upper body but does almost nothing for the legs. Plus, unless you are a great swimmer and able to do a huge amount of intervals, it doesn’t do as much for a fit runner as running in the water will.

The first thing potential pool runners want to know is whether they’ll need a floatation belt. You don’t. I know this is somewhat controversial, but you won’t sink if you don’t wear a floatation belt. Even skinny wimps like me do just fine without any floatation aids designed for pool running. But if you’re simply not comfortable in the water, go ahead and wear one. A water-skiing belt works just fine too.

If you don’t wear a belt, you’ll be working a little harder to maintain a comfortable position which will tax your aerobic system a bit more and give you a better workout. This winter when IBM 10-K winner Matt Kutugata was injured and resorted to a pool-running regimen, he started out with a floatation vest but found he couldn’t get a good enough workout. So he ditched it and was able to get his heart rate up higher and “run” harder.

To begin a pool workout, all you need to do is start your runners’ watch, hop into the deep end and begin to run. Move your arms and legs as if you’re running on land. Try not to bounce up and down in the water, but maintain a steady cadence. Breathe normally.

The first thing you’ll notice is you’re going very slow. That’s because water is a heckuva lot denser than air so it provides much more resistance which is another good thing because it works your quads, calf muscles and hamstrings without placing any impact stress on them.

You will be moving through the water, but you’ll be going so slowly it’s almost imperceptible how little you move. For ambitious runners, this is kind of a downer at first because we want to go as fast as we can. But in the pool, your speed doesn’t really matter. The training effort (time spent pool running) is what counts; the laps don’t.

If the pool is crowded, you may have to just go back and forth in a lane. Or in a tight circle. So being slow actually helps in reducing the water you cover. Again, Barton Springs is ideal because there’s so much open water and you shouldn’t get in anyone’s way if you go early enough.

Continue running and try not to pull with your hands or kick your feet. Don’t cup your hand to provide propulsion. Simply, use your hands in same up-and-down motion and rhythm as running. It will be harder to pull your legs through than on land, but that’s what is providing such a terrific workout.

One major difference between running on land and in the pool is your heart rate is much lower in the water because the water makes you so buoyant (and it’s cooler, especially if you’re running in The Springs).

To get your heart rate up, simulate a speed session. Try running hard for one minute, recover for a minute and then follow with another minute of hard running. Do 10 of those.  Or sprint hard for 30 seconds every minute. That’ll get your heart rate up.

Or, try doing a fartlek workout. Run hard for five minutes, recover for two, run hard for 10 minutes, jog recover for three. Or run hard to one pool ladder and recover as you run to the next ladder. Mix it up and add variety by simulating your dry land workouts.  Do whatever it takes to make it interesting and get your heart rate elevated.

You don’t need to wear goggles because your face should be above water most of the time, but sometimes the chemicals in the pool (especially early) can irritate your eyes. Generally, I wear goggles when I run in the pool just to make sure and give my eyes some protection from the sun.

There are also some water-proof iPod like devices, but I’ve never found that they work particularly well. A boom box works best—if the lifeguards will allow it.

I’ve been running in the pool for years and even do it as a supplement when I am not injured. I live near the Nichols pool and what I like to do is run an easy 20 minutes to the pool, jump in and “run” for another 30-40 minutes. Then, run home.  For me, that doubles the amount of running I normally do on land, but without having to kill myself in the summer heat.

When Kutugata was injured, he would long runs in the water and finish each one with 20 minutes of swimming. You don’t have to “run” that far, but topping off each pool run with a swim is always a good idea.

Assuming you aren’t injured, use pool running to supplement your regular training. Instead of running on dry land, substitute one or two pool runs per week this summer. Again, running in the water is just like running on the land—except without the pounding and heat.

Is pool running boring? Well yeah it can be. But if you can get over it, pool running is an ideal way to stay in shape this summer so when—or if—it gets cooler again, you’ll have stayed in top shape and can immediately plunge back into full-scale training.

Hop in.

Beginners’ Corner: Are Sports Drinks Worth It This Summer?

Sports drinks are everywhere. They have become so common that you can find a cooler full of sports drinks such as Gatorade, Nuun and PowerAde at any gas station, convenience store or grocery store (except Whole Foods) in Austin.

Gatorade—by far, the industry leader—has become almost as generic as Kleenex. No soccer game or football game is complete without a bottle of Gatorade. And the post-game celebration of dumping the Gatorade cooler on the coach is such an institution, it has long ago become a sports cliché.

What about runners? If you’re training through our beastly summer months, do you need to consume sports drinks?

The answer is absolutely not. You do not need to drink sports drinks to be a healthy, well-hydrated runner. Sports drinks will not provide you Michael Jordan-like leaping ability. Despite the pitches, drinking a sport drink will not transform you into an All-World football player. Nor are you likely to break the marathon world record—even if you drink a bottle at every mile.

Still, the value of sports drinks can sometimes be lost in the hyperbole and over-the-top advertising that we’re bombarded by.

To be sure, for a runner, sports drinks provide very tangible benefits for one important reason: You sweat. And if you run in the ATX this summer, you will sweat a lot. Buckets of it.

When you sweat, you lose small amounts of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. These are two of the minerals that you need to help maintain proper water balance in your tissues.

Obviously, drinking water before, during and after running helps you stay hydrated. The difference is the commercial sports drinks include these electrolytes in their formula. The sports drinks provide sodium and potassium which allows you to absorb water better into your body than drinking just plain water would. Sports drinks also have a small amount of carbohydrates. On long runs, muscle glycogen is depleted and the sports drink can replace lost carbs and slightly extend your endurance.

But the greatest ingredient in any sports drink is water which is–of course– invaluable in itself. But the carbs in sportsdrinks also help the body absorb the water in the sports drink faster than if you drink just plain water.

On a long run this summer and/or in a fall marathon, the greatest value of a sports drink is helping you to stay ahead of dehydration. Sports drink will help in that regard, but so will plain old tap water.

Still, the most important difference between hydrating with water and sports drink are the carbohydrates. You will run better and longer if you can replace the water you are losing through sweating and the carbohydrates you are depleting with a cold sports drink. The carbs help to maintain a normal blood sugar level as you’re running and are a vital source of energy.

Without any doubt, you can extend your endurance by consuming a sports drink on a long run and/or during a marathon. How much you drink depends on your size, but drinking four to six ounces of sports drink every 20 minutes is usually adequate.

The other significant advantage of sports drinks is the taste. Most runners find they like the taste and when the sports drink is chilled, we are more likely to drink more of it than just plain water.

Drinking more will offer better protection against dehydration, even during (or after) an easy training run. Taking a good guzzle of a sports drink after you run will also speed your recovery by rehydrating you quickly.

Yet another advantage of sports drink is as a pre-race or run snack. Pre-exercise food is important so your body is completely fueled. But some runners just can’t tolerate eating much (if anything) before a hard summer run or race.

If that sounds like you, a cold sports drink is an ideal a pre-race “food.” It’s easy to digest, provides useful carbohydrates and quite obviously, the fluids pre-hydrate your body so you don’t start a hot summer run on “empty.”

Bottom line: Are sports drinks worth it? If you want to run safely and hydrated through the summer, they are. Sports drinks are a valuable food for just about any runner.

The Runner’s High: Real or Illusionary?

The runner’s high is getting some good press again as researchers have concluded that it is a very real, tangible by-product of running. Simply said, the runner’s high does exists. It is not an illusionary, mythical condition.

If you’re a new runner, you’ve probably at least heard something about the runner’s high and wondered what the heck it is exactly. It’s that elusive, but feel good fix some runners talk about all the time like it’s some sort of magical state of heightened awareness.

It’s not. The runner’s high feels nothing like some drug-induced feeling of euphoria. Instead, it’s a mild, post-run buzz that has more to do with contentment and satisfaction than anything else.

Here’s the inside dope. More than 35 years ago, researchers discovered that the brain produces its own mood-elevating drugs. Because these drugs act in a similar way that morphine does, they were tagged with the name endogenous morphines. Today, they’re just called endorphins and they are the naturally occurring drugs—if you will—that can lead to the runner’s high.

Endorphins can have many effects on the brain, but mainly they control pain and elevated moods. What triggers these naturally occurring drugs is stress, be it physical or emotional.

So a physical stressor like running can flood the brain with these endorphins that then block the transmission of pain messages to your consciousness.

Thus, you feel no pain. Not bad. It gets even better.

With the endorphins carousing through your system after a hard run, you may have a relaxed, comfortable feeling. Some describe it as a sensation of being able to run as long as they want without much effort.

The condition suffers from the description of being “high”. You’re not high (in the drug sense), but the post-run feeling is usually described as unusually enjoyable and very relaxed.

Nice. Where can I get some of those endorphins?

First off, research indicates that you have a better chance of triggering the endorphin rush by running hard and fast.  You can still trigger them on a long, slow run, but your chances increase with the effort since endorphins are related to the amount of stress you’re encountering.

To quantify the effort, researchers say you need to run at least 75 percent of your maximum heart rate to stimulate the release of endorphins into your system. If you’re jogging slowly for 20-30 minutes, there usually isn’t an endorphin rush because you aren’t pushing yourself. Without stimulating max heart rate, you don’t gain any endorphins.

Interestingly, research into the distance you need to run to have an effect on  the endorphins, is inconclusive. Some studies show that six miles is far enough, while another indicates that an hour isn’t long enough.

It depends on the individual runner. Some runners can trigger a major endorphin rush in only 30 minutes of running—if they are running hard enough. While others, can run for more than two hours with no discernible effect. But most runners ordinarily trigger the endorphins on relatively hard, long efforts.

Armed with this knowledge, it is entirely possible to trigger your endorphins on a regular basis. For example, if you only run two or three very easy miles at a time, and wonder what the big deal is about the runner’s high, wonder no more. Instead of very easy running for two or three miles, step up to the plate and run harder, much harder and you should be able to trigger them.

That’s the trick—harder running at 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. It can be hills, a race or a speed workout, but that 75 percent of maximum heart rate is generally the sweet spot. Again, that’s why hard workouts (or races) seem to trigger the endorphins much more than a relaxed, casual run.

This might also explain why veteran runners seem to experience endorphin rushes on a more regular basis than beginners. Veteran runners are typically running harder and longer more often than beginners and consciously or not, know how to go to the well to trigger the pleasant flood of endorphins.

But it isn’t just running that triggers endorphins. The brain doesn’t know the difference between aerobic sports. Swimming and cycling seem to work just fine, provided you can move well enough to get your heart rate up to 75 percent of its max. For the same reason, lawn bowling, darts, golf or sailing doesn’t work.

Not every runner experiences the endorphin rush. Some just don’t for reasons we don’t fully understand. Older runners, for example, have fewer endorphin episodes than younger runners because endorphin production drops as you age—regardless of your speed or intensity. Fortunately though, your endorphins never just disappear completely.

So endorphins are real. So is the strangely great feeling you can experience after a hard, fast run or race.

Bottom line: You can get high on running.

Beginning Runner Issues Asked and Answered

If you’re training for your first race this fall as part of the Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge or even thinking about entering your first 5-K, it’s important to understand that not every run will go perfectly. Some are wonderful and easy; some aren’t. It’s simply the nature of the activity.

Typically, what holds many beginning runners back is the fear that running will hurt and be self-inflicted torture. Beginners tend to have stereotypical notions that any running is painful and there is overall muscular discomfort. They fear not being good enough. Or looking foolish and out of shape.

Fear not. Beginning a running program properly can be done easily and pain-free. The key is avoiding some of the pitfalls all runners make when starting out.

Here are some of the most common mistakes beginners make—and easy solutions.

1. Too far. You were too ambitious and attempted to run two or three miles your first time out which was too great a distance. Your friends run that far, but you couldn’t. Just trying it was painful and discouraging.

Solution: Run by minutes, not miles. Don’t worry about how far you cover; merely run by time. Start off with two minutes of walking, followed by a minute or two of slow jogging. Alternate walking and jogging for 15 minutes and gradually progress from there.

 

2. Too fast. You tried to run a set distance in a certain time and flamed out. Trying to run fast was painful and left you wheezing and out of breath.

Solution: Slow down. When you run, run easily at a comfortable pace. You should be able to carry on a conversation with your running partner while running. If you can’t, you’re going too fast. Ease up. At this stage in your development, speed is not a goal. Fitness is. That comes with being able to sustain the activity.

 

3. It hurts. If even slow jogging just a minute or two is painful, you might not be ready for it.

Solution: Stick with walking for a good month or two before you attempt to run. You need to get used to being on your feet and doing some aerobic exercise before starting to run. Take your time and walk. Gradually increase your distance and pace. Eventually, you’ll get aerobically fitter to the point where you can start a running program.

 

4. You hated it. The run was no fun at all. You always hated running and you still do. You remember your old football coach punishing you with laps and all that negativity came flooding back the moment you started to run.

Solution: Out with the old, in with the new. This isn’t punishment. Running or walking should be a relaxing, energizing time of day. Nobody is watching over you with a stopwatch or whistle. Chill out and think positive. Banish your old conceptions of running to the garbage bin.

 

5. You’re bored. You know you should run, but you find it boring.

Solution: Go to the Butler (Lady Bird Lake) Trail or one of Austin’s beautiful parks. Find a partner to run with who you enjoy spending time together. Take your dog. While running, try solving some problems that confront you. Or empty your brain and enjoy some stress-free, relaxing time. If you’re running on a treadmill or track, get off and explore all the great spots Austin has for running.

 

6. Too hot. Fall’s finally here, but it might be too hot to run at certain times of the day. Trying to fight our humidity and heat, is a losing battle.

Solution: Go early. It’s cooler in the morning and the air is fresher. For many Austin runners, it’s the best time of day. If you can’t run or walk early in the cooler air, at least go later at sunset. Avoid the heat.

 

7. You’re still too hot–even in the morning. Let’s face it, running at any time of the day is rough when it’s still warm and humid.

Solution: Wear as little as possible. Don’t wear sweatpants or tights; merely wear some lightweight, breathable running shorts and a light T-shirt. Don’t make the mistake that sweating a lot will get you get in shape faster or burn more calories. It won’t.

 

8. Your feet hurt. They get hot and sweaty and you feel like your tennis shoes don’t provide enough cushioning. Chances are they don’t.

Solution: Buy a pair of running shoes. You must get running shoes and not just any type of athletic shoes such as basketball, cross-trainers or tennis shoes. Running shoes are designed to cushion and support your feet. Go to one of the three RunTex stores for expert fitting and advice.

 

9. The sidewalks feel too hard. You’re right about that: Sidewalks are too hard for daily running. The surface is also uneven and often crowded with pedestrians.

Solution: Go to the Town Lake Butler Hike and Bike Trail. The dirt surface isn’t nearly as stressful on your body as a sidewalk and it’s a lot fun more to run there. If the trail isn’t readily accessible, run on some quiet roads facing traffic. Any asphalt road is better than a sidewalk.

 

10. Your legs are sore afterward. The big thigh muscles on the front (quadriceps) and back (hamstrings) are sore. You’re even stiff the next day.

Solution: Some soreness is normal. If you haven’t run in several years, your leg muscles will take a week or two to adapt to this new activity. After finishing your  run, stretch your leg muscles for a few minutes. When you get home, gently ice your leg muscles and take some Advil or Aleve to ease the soreness. Go for a walk later in the day.

Bored With Running? Here Are Some Quick Fixes

It happens to all of us sooner or later. Especially newbies. The excitement of starting a running program has begun to wear off and all of a sudden, you feel tired and maybe even a little bored with running. Every time you even think about going for a run, you come up with plenty of  reasons not to go.

The alarm goes off and instead of hopping out of bed, you roll over. Or you come home from a long day at work and instead of a regenerating run, you grab a beer and head for the TV for Seinfeld reruns.

Sound familiar? It should. The motivation to run is something that comes…and goes. It could be seasonal (it’s especially tough on cold, winter mornings) or you’re just plain tuckered out. Or, you feel stressed by the job, school or keeping with the kids at home. Some days even a short run feels unbearable. Or maybe you’re just bored silly staring straight ahead day after day on the treadmill.

Whatever it is (or isn’t) staying motivated to run 12 months a year can be difficult. Maybe even impossible. At some point, beginners and experienced runners all lose their mojo.

The key is recapturing it so you can keep going and improve. And the key to recapturing that motivation, is to make changes in your running. It doesn’t matter what you change as much as simply making a change or two.

Switch your goals, make new ones. Instead of training for a marathon, set your sights on getting faster in a mile or 5-K. Add more speed days. Reduce the length of your long runs. Or substitute a strength training workout in the gym for a hill day.

Maybe you need to add an extra rest day to your schedule. Start taking a yoga or Pilates class. Maybe add a spinning class or try pool running. Or find new running routes around town. Possibly, you need to hook up with a different training group and meet new training partners. Run at a different time of day. Make plans to go to a new race in a city you’ve always wanted to visit.

There’s all sorts of solutions to break the ho-hum routine of running. You may not need to make major changes, but some change is good to shake up the routine.

Here are some tips that will help you stir the mix and get you fired up again about running:

  • Develop new training routes. Too many of us stick with the same roads. Even the Lady Bird Lake Trail, the Scenic loop, Exposition or Speedway gets old after awhile. Seek out a new course in a different part of town—even if it means driving. A change of scenery can make all the difference. Or if you can’t part with your favorite long run loop, the next time run it in a different direction.
  • Make new running friends. Join a different training group to do long runs or speed work. Or do different workouts with your regular training partners. If you only do long runs together, try doing shorter, easier runs with your group. Or meet at the track once a week. Or do some running drills together.
  • Run earlier or later. If you’re a morning runner, switch to the evening. Or vice versa. If you can’t make such a radical switch, run a half hour earlier or later. Or go for a noon run, rather than eating lunch.
  • Replay great movies in your head. What’s your favorite? Caddie Shack or To Kill A Mockingbird? It doesn’t matter. While running, entertain yourself by replaying the classic scenes in your head. Or replay your life. Pick a year and rehash everything (no matter how minor) that went on, but stick with that year.
  • Buy new shoes or new running clothes. A simple investment in new running gear might be just what you need to get excited about running again.
  • Sign up for a new class. Learn how to do yoga, Pilates or kick boxing. If Tai Chi looks interesting, give a try. Have you tried Body Pump? Try it. Ever tried deep-water running? Go for it. Can’t swim? It’s about time you learned.
  • Leave your watch or GPS at home. Don’t time your run. Just run in any direction your feet take you and for any length of time which feels reasonable. Be spontaneous.
  • Take ten. If you’re still having a difficult time finding the motivation to get out the door, tell yourself you’ll only run for 10 minutes. Usually after just a few minutes of running, you’ll forget all about it and keep going.

Sometimes that’s all it takes to get a new ‘tude about running. Change your routine, make new goals, take a class and you’ll be back to your old self in no time.

If not, it might be time to take a break from running. It’s fine to take a week or two off. That’s usually all it takes to find your inner mojo again.

10 Commandments To Run Safely Every Day (and Enjoy It)

Regardless of your ability, speed or body shape, the greatest challenge almost all runners face—especially beginners—is staying healthy. By the very nature of the aerobic benefits of running, we are certainly healthier than our sedentary counterparts, but runners tend to pick up all sorts of niggling injuries.

Usually our injuries aren’t too serious, but even the little things tend to slow us down. Fortunately, most of the common running injuries can be avoided if you follow the rules of healthy, injury-free running.

1. Stretch after every run.

Running tends to shorten and tighten the primary running muscles of the legs, hips and back. Over time, the muscles contract and if this happens to you enough, you will get injured. Guaranteed.

Conventional wisdom used to suggest you stretch before you run. Baloney. Stretch after each and every run. I’ll say it again: Stretch after every run when the muscles are warm and pliable.

Consistent, proper stretching is what counts. Set up a routine of stretching all the major muscle groups—primarily the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, Achilles and calf muscles—and devote at least 15 minutes of stretching each and every day. Even more if you’re an older runner.

If you don’t know how to stretch properly, join a yoga class. There are dozens of yoga classes in Austin at health clubs and yoga studios that cater to runners. A qualified instructor will show you the proper poses, how to hold them and what to do. Once you learn the poses and stretches, practice them. They aren’t complex.

Try to stretch within 10 minutes of completing every run

2. Wear a high-quality running shoe which you rotate every 300-350 miles with a new pair.

It is absolutely essential to your running health that you buy a quality running shoe which fits your feet and biomechanics. To find that shoe, you must go to a running specialty store (hint: RunTex). There is no other reliable way.

Once you have that right shoe, stick with it. Don’t buy the latest shoe with all the cool gizmos just because your friends like them.

But even the best running shoe will wear out over time and lose its ability to cushion and support the foot. Once that happens, it’s time to buy a new pair. Any delay in replacing a worn out shoe places you at risk to injury.

But when is a shoe worn out? Hard to say. Each shoe, each runner is different and the maximum mileage you can get out of a shoe differs greatly. Suffice it to say, a good pair of running shoes should last at least 300 miles and as long as 500. But not much more

Don’t wear your running shoes around town or for walking, tennis or aerobics or you’ll reduce the mileage you can get. Best bet is to only wear your primary pair of running shoes for running. And it’s much better to replace a pair of shoes a little too early than too late

How can you tell when your shoes are shot? Again, there’s no set answer, but you should be able to notice a lack of cushioning. A normal easy run in a worn out pair will result in abnormal aches and pains (due to reduced cushioning). Monitor how your body feels and think back to when you bought the shoes.

Better yet, mark on your training log when you bought the shoes and first began training in them. Or mark the date on the tongue of your shoes when you first started running in them. Calculate your miles per week (that’s why it helps to keep a training log) and multiply those miles by the weeks you’ve been running in a particular pair. If the mileage approaches 300, it’s time to consider buying a new pair within the next few weeks. If the mileage exceeds 400, buy a new pair immediately.

3. Walk in, walk out.

Every run should start and finish with a walk. Whether you’re leaving for a run from your front door or running on the Lady Bird Lake Trail, begin every run by walking a couple of minutes. When finished, do the same thing.

Walking accomplishes a few things. It’s a brief transition from being at rest to moving (running). During this short walk, check out my various aches and pains, warm up your legs, adjust shoelaces and determine if you’ll need to add or shed any clothes before taking off on a run.

The walk out is a little different, longer and more enjoyable. Loosen your shoes, take off your sunglasses, cool off a bit, grab a water and bask in the endorphin rush of yet another satisfying run. It’s a moment or two to celebrate a good run by enjoying the sweat, the effort and the glorious day.

4. Avoid sidewalks.

Austin’s sidewalks are hard, cracked and full of pedestrians. They are an awful place to run. Sidewalks are made out of concrete and concrete is so hard (eight times harder than asphalt) that—over time—it will crush your legs. No surface is worse. Avoid sidewalks at all costs. If you have to drive a short distance to avoid the sidewalks it’s worth it in the long run.

The best surface for running is a smooth, dirt trail such as our Lady Bird Lake Trail. But there are plenty of other good running trails in Austin in parks and neighborhoods

5. Uphills are great; downs are not.

There’s no question that hills are an integral part of any runner’s training program. Hills provide quick results in terms of building strength and power. That is, the uphills do. The downhills don’t.

Obviously, uphills are much harder to run than the flats or downhills. The problem with running down the backside of a hill is it places plenty of stress on your back, knees and shins. The pounding of a downhill is a killer. And since there isn’t much of a training effect going down, it makes good sense to gently ease your way down. Or even easier: simply walk the steepest parts to save wear and tear on your body. Especially when doing repeats on some of Austin’s steepest and most formidable hills

6. Ice is cool

One of the greatest masters runners was a New Zealander by the name of Jack Foster. Jack died a few years ago, but at one point he was the fastest masters marathoner in the world. And his “secret” was that he finished every run by hosing down his legs with icy water drawn from a deep well. Foster said that’s what horse trainers do for their thoroughbreds after every workout and race. He theorized, “If it’s good enough for horses, it’s good enough for me.”

Too right. An icy, cold compress applied right after you run and stretch, reduces the muscular inflammation that results from any run. Left unchecked, this inflammation can worsen into a full blown muscular strain or tear. Ice keeps the inflammation under control.

It doesn’t matter what you choose to use as long as you use something—ice cubes in a plastic baggie, ice baths, commercial frozen gels, frozen veggie packages—to ice your legs within a half hour of running. Or just spray your legs with a garden hose for a few minutes while watering your plants and vegetables.

7. Take one day off a week.

Writing a zero down in your training log can be a good thing. The type of dedication where you never miss a day of running can be self-destructive. Especially if you dutifully slog out a few miles just to avoid having to write a zero in your training log.

My buddy, Brigham Young University coach Ed Eyestone never trained on Sunday during his great career because of church and family obligations (he has six daughters) and because his body needed a rest. So does your’s.

8. Run by time, not miles.

Here’s a newsflash: Your body doesn’t know the difference between a five-mile run and a 45-minute run. You might, but your body doesn’t recognize any distinction. But here’s the problem: we’re addicted to mileage. What sounds better? I went for a long run of 20 miles or I went for a three-hour run? Of course, we’ll say the 20-miler.

But thinking in terms of miles is counterproductive because we tend to become obsessed with the weekly and monthly mileage totals as if that is an end in itself. But it isn’t. Getting in shape and staying healthy is the goal, not padding our training logs with impressive mileage totals.

9. Pause that refreshes.

Many of us grew up in the era when football coaches refused to allow players to drink during practice. The belief was not drinking somehow made players tougher. Unfortunately, such ignorance didn’t make them tougher; it made some players dead.

The same held true for running. Not any more. Now everyone recognizes the importance of proper hydration in football—and running. We have Dr. Robert Cade of the University of Florida to thank for that. He developed Gatorade (named after the Florida Gators) and as coaches, football players and runners now know, a properly hydrated athlete is a better athlete.

You can take that another step. A properly hydrated runner is a healthier runner. Especially older runners who are more susceptible to running injuries. As you age, the blood and oxygen supply to your muscles isn’t as good as when you were in your teens or early 20s. If you are dehydrated during or after a run, it can only aggravate the situation. That’s one reason older runners have more muscle strains, spasms and pulls as they age. They’re dehydrated. Drink up.

10. Have fun.

This is a no-brainer. If running isn’t fun, enjoyable or at least a satisfying experience, why even bother? Sure we all want to stay healthy, fit and trim but you can accomplish that on a stationary bike in a health club. But that’s not any fun.

Having said that, running isn’t quite as high on the adrenaline-rush, fun scale as say, downhill skiing. Or surfing. Or sky diving. Or street luge.

Running’s different. A good run, a completed marathon gives you a sense of accomplishment, an inner glow, a feeling that you’ve done something for yourself and only yourself.

Use Ice (Never Heat) To Treat Sore or Strained Muscles

Just the other day, I finished a run with some friends and while we were stretching, a relative newbie came up and asked me the best to treat a sore calf muscle that had been bothering him. He was diligently stretching the calf after every run, followed immediately by placing a heating pad on it and then taking a heated whirlpool.

Yikes! Heat for a sore, inflamed muscle? Wrong. Inflammation is heat, I explained, and after you heat up a sore muscle by running, the last thing it needs is more heat which prolongs the inflammation.

Ice baby, that’s what he needs.

Ice. It’s simple, doesn’t require a prescription or cost anything and is as close as your freezer. Ice is almost always nice.

It’s the runner’s best friend. Ice promotes rapid healing of sore muscles, relieves inflammation, feels soothing and has no side effects. And you can recycle it time and time again.

All athletes learn the value of ice at some point. Especially runners who suffer from all sorts of muscular aches and pains that need quick attention.

But runners, who are new to the sport like my friend, generally reach for a heat course first to treat a sore muscle. It’s a common enough mistake, but one that should be corrected as soon as possible.

Let it be said as simply and direct as possible: Your first line of defense should almost always be ice for any minor muscular injury such as a strain, ankle sprain or common shin, Achilles, calf, soleus, hamstring or foot soreness. If after a hard run or race, there is any lingering muscular pain or soreness, reach immediately for some ice.

Ice. Almost never heat. Heat might feel good and comforting on a sore muscle, but go for the cold.

Here’s why. After a muscle is strained or injured, inflammation follows. Blood vessels at the site of the injured muscle expand which causes pain and swelling.

Placing a bag of ice on the injured muscle as soon as possible, quickly reduces the swelling which can also reduce the pain or soreness. It also reduces any possible downtime due to the injured muscle.

Inflammation is heat which raises tissue temperature and is the body’s way to increase circulation in the injured area. Ice does just the opposite. It reduces inflammation by preventing swelling and actually decreases the blood flow to the injured muscle which reduces bruising and pain.

That’s why sitting in a hot tub, whirlpool or Jacuzzi is just about the worst thing you can do for sore or injured muscles (especially right after a hard race such as a half marathon or marathon). Soaking an injured muscle in hot water (or using a heating pad) will increase the inflammation, rather than lessen it.

You may have heard that some elite runners put their legs in a bathtub of ice after workouts or races. They know that inflammation generated by the hard workout or race, can be knocked out by the ice which also prevents swelling and hastens recovery. It isn’t easy or especially comfortable, but a 10-minute ice bath is one of the best things you can do for tired, sore muscles.

Heat’s OK, but only four or five days after the muscle was injured and the swelling has gone down. At that point, heat can increase circulation in the injured area which will promote healing. Many runners alternate heat with ice, but only after the swelling has subsided. Some runners also use a heat source to warm up a leg muscle—typically hamstrings and calf muscles—before a workout.

But after a muscle has been strained or injured, use ice as soon as possible to reduce the severity of the injury.

Using ice properly, is easy. Just fill a large plastic bag with ice and apply it to the injured muscle. Put a towel underneath you to soak up the melting ice. Apply the ice for 15-20 minutes. If the ice is too cold or your skin is too sensitive, place a thin towel between your skin and the ice.

There are also commercial cold packs that can be refrozen. These work OK, but some don’t get cold enough to be as effective as ice.

What also works great is a bag of frozen vegetables, preferably peas. Again, just apply the frozen veggie bag to the injured muscle and leave it on for several minutes.

The other common way to apply ice is by filling a paper cup with water and freezing it. You then peel some of the paper off the cup and massage the injured muscle with the ice.

Just remember: Ice over heat. Ice is the best friend any injured runner will have.

Long Run Facts About Summer Hydration

By now, we all have had the wisdom of drinking plenty of fluids in summer drummed into our collective heads. Drink before, during and after hot, steamy summer runs is clearly an important fact of the running life here in the ATX. Our bodies are mostly water so it’s obvious that hydration is key to maintaining a proper balance of fluids that allow us to run despite our brutal summer heat.

But there are some other issues that always crop up as they relate to summer hydration.

Here are some FAQ’s (and the answers) that runners have about proper summer hydration during training and racing:

Q: In races around town, I always see runners dumping cups of water over their heads. Is this a good way to cool off during summer races and longs runs rather than just drinking plain water or sports drink?

A: Nope, it isn’t. Despite what you might think or have heard, dumping a few cups of cool water over your head does not cool you off or lower your core temperature. Certainly, wetting the skin by running through a sprinkler or dumping water over your head feels good, but it simply doesn’t cool you down at all by lowering your body temperature. In fact, some researchers believe that pouring water over yourself during a hot-weather run or race inhibits efficient heat transfer. Bottom line: Dumping water on yourself won’t keep you cool or hydrated. The only way to stay hydrated is to drink. There is no substitute. The only way to cool off is to stop running and get in a shaded, air conditioned area or jump in Barton Springs.

Q: How much should I drink while running?

A: Impossible to say because every runner has different hydration needs. However, on hot-weather runs, plan to drink 6-8 ounces (or more) every 20 minutes or so.

Q: How do you do that on a long run?

A: It’s tough. If you are in a marathon training group in Austin such as Gilbert’s Gazelles, Austin Fit, Rogue, Twenty-Six Two or one of many others, you’re in luck as there will usually be water jugs spread out along the long-run courses. If not, there are three ways to stay hydrated: Bring fluids with you either with a refillable bottle or a hydration belt, cache fluids along the course the night before or carry money with you to buy drinks at convenience stores along your run. And one more: Garden hoses. When desperate, you can sneak a drink from someone’s hose or sprinkler. Finally, if you want to always be near drinkable water and don’t want to carry it or buy some along the way, stick to the Butler Hike and Bike Trail where there are water coolers and drinking fountains every few miles on the trail.

Q: Can I drink too much during a long run or marathon?

A: You bet you can. You can overhydrate during a marathon or long run if you are out on the course longer than five hours and drink to excess. The condition is called hyponatremia and it is potentially dangerous. But you have to drink an awful lot of water or sports drink over a long period of time and most people can’t drink that much without feeling bloated. Nevertheless, be aware that it is possible and take proper precautions.

Q: What’s better during a race or long run: water or sports drink?

A: Sports drink is different than water. It has nutrients, electrolytes and some carbohydrates. Water doesn’t have any carbohydrates at all. During a marathon or long summer run, replacing the carbohydrates you deplete during the course of the run is important. Both water and sports drink will keep you properly hydrated (after all, any sports drink is mainly water), but only a sports drink such as Nuun, Gatorade or Powerade has added carbs. Best advice: Drink a combination of both. Have some sports drink and follow it with water the next time you drink.

Q: Does using a sports drink in shorter races such as a 5-K help?

A: It probably does, but just a little. In addition to keeping you hydrated, the carbs from the sports drink will help you maintain your speed in the final mile or two of even shorter runs or races. Drinking sports drink will give your muscles a little bit of extra energy in the closing stages of a race. Best advice: Drink 8-10 ounces before the race and try to grab a cup every 20 minutes or so during the race or run.

Q: Is it better to drink cold water or sports drink rather than luke-warm fluids?

A: Probably. Your body absorbs fluids better if it’s cold. In addition, cold fluids simply taste better so you’re likely to drink more fluids and do a better job of staying adequately hydrated.

Q: Are all sports drinks the same?

A: No, they taste differently and have different levels of sugar and other ingredients that effect the taste.

Q: I don’t like the taste of any sports drinks. I’ve heard some marathoners used to drink Coke during races. Does that make sense?

A: No, it doesn’t. Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers used to drink defizzed Coke during marathons in the ‘70s, but it was for the caffeine (which may extend endurance), not for the hydration benefits. (Beside, they didn’t have the luxury of sports drinks at the time.) If you don’t like sports drinks, try a variety to find one that suits your taste buds. There are plenty of taste options. If you still don’t like any of them, stick with water.

Q: Is coffee OK before a hot long run race?

A: Sure. A cup is fine, but any more than that may have a negative effect because you’ll have to urinate so much on the run.

Q: I carbo-load before long runs and marathons. Can I also water-load?

A: Not really. You aren’t a camel and can’t store water like one. If you drink too much, you merely flush it out by urinating continually before you run. What you can do is make certain you begin the long run or race completely hydrated. But not overhydrated.

Q: Is there anything else that works to stay hydrated?

A: There is one way that you can improve the body’s ability to retain water during a long run or marathon. That’s by using glycerol in your water. Glycerol is a liquid that when properly diluted in water and ingested before running, lowers your urine output, increases your sweat rate (so the body says cooler) and since it’s cooler, lowers the heart rate. Drinking water properly diluted with glycerol can result in a 20 percent improvement. Two problems with using glycerol: Getting the dilution exactly right and the awful taste it brings to water. But it works.

Q: Which foods are good for rehydration purposes?

A: The best foods are fruits such as strawberries, oranges, pineapples, blackberries, cantelope and peaches. But the absolute best fruit to replenish fluids after a run is watermelon which is practically all water anyway.

Q: Is beer a good fluid to rehydrate with after a long run or race?

A: Sorry, no. Beer dehydrates you (because it promotes urination), rather than replenishing fluids. It’s a great way to celebrate a successful race, but reach for 16-20 ounces of cold water or sports drink before you blow the froth off a few beers. If you don’t, you may find yourself further dehydrated.

Start rehydrating immediately after a run or race. You need to replace the fluids you’ve lost and the sooner you do this the quicker you’ll recover. And then, you can have a beer.

 

Beginners’ Corner: Bananas Are The Perfect Runners’ Food

You know the old maxim that your mother probably told you: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. If you’re a runner—especially a newbie–that should be amended to include bananas. Without a doubt, eating a banana every day is one of the best fruits for your general health and success in races and training.

For many of us, bananas were the first solid food we ever ate. Good thing too. Bananas are the perfect health food—for runners and non-runners alike.

From a runner’s perspective, bananas are nature’s energy food. They are easy to eat and transport, taste great, offer plenty of quick carbs and—get this—are 75 percent water. So not only do bananas fuel your run, they keep you hydrated—a real key in hot, humid Austin. It’s no wonder that aid stations in marathons, ultramarathons and triathlons are often well-stocked with bananas.

Bananas are so omnipresent that we tend to take them for granted. In America, 95 percent of us have eaten bananas in the past month and on a per capita basis, Americans eat 26 pounds a year. That’s more than apples and oranges, making bananas the most popular fruit in the country.

Aside from their obvious nutritional value, the best aspect of bananas are their availability. There’s no seasonal fluctuations with bananas. You can buy ripe bananas every day of the year.

Bananas grow on huge plants that can be as high as 30 feet and live for 30 years or more. Harvested year-round, there usually isn’t a commercial fluctuation with prices. Even though most commercial bananas are grown near the equator, they can grow anywhere where there is ample sunlight and warmth such as California.

Bananas are an especially important fruit for runners for a myriad of reasons. Nutritionally rich, bananas are a great pre-race food because they are so easy to digest and form a barrier in the stomach which prevents nervous stomach knots. Plus, the pectin in the banana (a fiber), absorbs water in the colon and helps to control diarrhea.

Still, the nutrients that are the big payoff. A banana has about 28 grams of carbohydrates which is more than any other fruit. These carbs allow the steady release of glucose into the bloodstream which preserves the glycogen in the liver and muscle for later in the race. Eating a banana in midrace is also a good nutritional strategy to avoid bonking in the final miles of a marathon or triathlon.

Bananas have plenty of magnesium and potassium—two important electrolytes that are lost in sweat and play a role in late-race cramping. Plus, the calcium and protein in bananas build strong bones and repair muscle damage. Bananas are also rich in B vitamins, antioxidants and the vitamins A, C and E that counterbalance the damage of free radicals.

So clearly, if bananas aren’t on your weekly shopping list, they should be. When you go to the grocery store, you’ll notice some of the bananas might not be quite ripe. That’s OK.

As soon as you get home, remove them from the grocery bag and allow them to breathe. That’s right: breathe. All types of fruit are living things that give off a gas that quickens the ripening process. Bananas have so much of this gas they ripen quickly. If you need to quicken the ripening, place them in a paper bag.

Once they are ripe, they can be refrigerated. The peel will turn black and ugly, but the fruit inside is fine. You can also freeze bananas for a couple of months either peeled or wrapped in plastic.

The best advice for runners is to eat a banana every day. Before a race, eat one an hour before the starting time.

On a daily basis, use bananas in smoothies, eat them in cereal or bake them in casseroles or utilize them as a topping in desserts. But the best way to eat a banana is to peel it and enjoy the fruit.

Eating a banana every day will supply you with plenty of delicious nutrients and carbs to fuel your run.