core strength

Beginner’s Corner: The Importance of Developing Core Strength

 

Glance at just about any issue of a fitness magazine and you’ll see a cover proclaiming the need for “rock-hard abs.” That is, a six-pack of abdominal muscles that are so muscular and spectacularly ripped they look like they were photo-shopped. (Sometimes they are.)

Crazy, isn’t it? Maybe yes; maybe no. It would seem that the rock-hard abs we hear so much about have little appeal to distance runners. Strength, endurance and a good set of lungs are the key for us, not crowd-stopping, washboard abs.

Not so fast. The aforementioned abdominals are truly at the core of running well and free of injury. The core portion of the body between the rib cage and pelvis is your center of running power. The stronger it is, the stronger you will be.

Before we go any further, the core muscles are composed of the four abdominal muscles, three lower back groups of muscles and the muscles of the buttocks, hips and pelvis. That’s a lot of muscle that must be strong and work well together. Why this is so key is these core muscles are the starting point for all movement during a run of any length.

The downside to a weak group of core muscles is an inability to maintain good posture while walking, standing or running. If the core can’t stabilize the spine properly, your running will be less efficient (it will take more energy) which means you’ll get tired sooner and move slower.

Making matters worse, weak core muscles also places the runner or walker at a greater risk of injury because—again—the spine isn’t properly stabilized. The type of injuries that are common with runners because of a weak group of core muscles are low back pain, inflammation of the pubic bones, stress fractures of the hip and pelvis and tendonitis in the hip, pelvis and groin.

So clearly, a stable, strong group of core muscles is necessary for runners—especially runners who spend all day tied to a computer.

A good core stability strengthening program should be added to any runner’s daily workout. It can be done as easily and simply as adding crunches or sit ups to your daily post-run stretching routine.

Such holistic activities as Pilates and Hatha yoga can also add to your core strength. Both Pilates and yoga place a strong emphasis on stability and balance as well as flexibility and strength of the core muscles.

For a runner with limited time, crunches or sit ups are the most time efficient way to develop core strength. Leg lifts and reverse sit ups can also help.

But all these exercises must be done properly. For example, take sit ups. The best way to do sit ups, while protecting the back and getting maximum benefit, is to lie flat on your back on the floor or ground.

Do sit ups like this:

  1. Lie on your back with feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bend your knees and place your legs on a low table or chair at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Rest hands underneath the neck. Don’t clasp them behind the neck.
  4. Press the small of the back into the floor to protect the back against twisting which can lead to injury.
  5. Lift the back and head toward your legs. Keep the small of the back on the floor.
  6. Breathe normally. Don’t hold your breath.
  7. Activate the abdominal muscles by rolling your shoulders toward the knees, but don’t bring your head up against the thighs. It isn’t necessary. Also don’t twist at the top of the sit up.
  8. Lower the back slowly to the starting position and repeat.
  9. Never push through back pain.

Move up and down slowly and try to do two or three sets of 10 every day. As your core strengthens, you’ll progress quickly and be able to build up to doing 20 or 30 sit ups at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

running quotes

Beginner’s Corner: Draw Inspiration From These Great Running Quotes

 

We can often draw inspiration from other runners who have experienced many of the same highs and lows in training and racing as we have. Regardless of your level of ability or fitness, there’s a commonality among runners who share the pleasures (and pains) of training and racing.

Here are some great quotes—as compiled by former Runner’s World colleague, Mark Will-Weber in his book, The Quotable Runner—that are funny, entertaining and motivational. They demonstrate that all runners are of the same race—the human race.

Pick out the ones that work best for you, print them out and tape the best ones to your refrigerator or computer. They may help get you through your next tough workout or race.

 

“The marathon is a charismatic event. It has everything. It has drama. It has competition. Every jogger can’t dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon.”—Fred Lebow, founder, New York City Marathon

“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.”—Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania, New York City Marathon champ

“The difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry blank.”—Dr. George Sheehan, cardiologist, philosopher, writer

“Start slowly, then taper off.”—Walter Stack, runner and philosopher

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.”—Oprah Winfrey, TV talk-show hostess, actor, marathoner

“Running helps me stay on an even keel and in an optimistic frame of mind.”—Bill Clinton, former President of the United States

“Avoid any diet that discourages the use of hot fudge.”—Don Kardong, 1976 Olympic marathoner

“In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.”—Fred Lebow, founder of the New York City Marathon

“Some might say that it’s easier to be the runner than the runner’s family.”—Rob de Castella, ’86 Boston Marathon winner

“It used to be that I’d eat to run. The more I ran, the more I needed to eat. Now I run to eat.”—Tom Fleming, two-time New York City Marathon winner

“Workouts are like brushing my teeth. I don’t think about them; I just do them.”—Pattisue Plumer, U.S. Olympian

“If you put down a good, solid foundation and build one room after another, pretty soon you have a house. You build in your speedwork, your pace and increase your ability to run races and think races out. Then it’s possible to run the way we do.”—Rod Dixon, 1983 New York City Marathon champ

“I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality and the last part with your heart.”—Mike Fanelli, coach of the San Francisco Impalas

“Running is my meditation, mind flush, cosmic telephone, mood elevator and spiritual communion.”—Lorraine Moller, ’92 Olympic bronze medalist and Boston Marathon champ

“Hills are speedwork in disguise.”—Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic Marathon champion

“I lean with the hill. I know I’m doing it right if it feels like I’m going to fall on my face but I don’t.”—Ed Eyestone, two-time Olympic marathoner

“We marathoners are different from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”—Emil Zatopek, Czech great who won 1952 Olympic marathon

“Women are beautiful because they run, and they run because they are beautiful.”—Dr. Ernst van Aaken, early proponent of women’s marathoning

“The five S’s of sport training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill and spirit. The greatest of these is spirit.”—Ken Doherty, runner and author

“The mind is everything: musclespieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.”—Paavo Nurmi of Finland who won nine Olympic medals

 

“God has given me the ability. The rest is up to me. Believe, believe, believe.”—Billy Mills, ’64 Olympic 10,000-meter champion

“A lot of people run a race to see who’s the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts.”—Steve Prefontaine, one of the greatest American runners, who died prematurely in a car accident

lungs

Beginner’s Corner: The In’s and Out’s Of Breathing

 

One of the first questions beginning runners invariably ask is: How should I breathe? There are all sorts of cute answers to that fundamental question, but clearly breathing is important for any runner. Obviously so. But how you breathe can also spell the difference between running well and laboring with every step.

We inhale air either through our nose or mouth. Those are the only two ways. The mouth is larger than the nostrils so you can inhale and exhale more air through the mouth. While running, you need more air than when you’re sedentary so it only makes sense that the most effective way to breathe while running (or even walking) is through the mouth.

Not only are you able to inhale and exhale greater amounts of air, but it’s also easier and a more relaxed way to breathe. If you breathe through your nose while running, your facial muscles will tighten and your jaw will have a tendency to clench.

While running and breathing in and out through the mouth, some air will naturally come in through the nostrils but it’s not a huge factor and you won’t have to concern yourself with it.

As you begin to run, merely open up your mouth slightly and breathe through your mouth in a relaxed, comfortable way. Your pace at the beginning of a run should be very easy so you won’t have to worry about sucking in huge amounts of air. Just breathe normally and your pace should be easy enough that you should be able to chat with your running friends. If you can’t converse comfortably and you feel yourself out of breath, you’re going too fast. Slow down.

Your actual breathing should be done with short and shallow breaths. You don’t want to get into a breathing pattern of taking long, deep breaths on every inhalation or you won’t be able to run very far.

However, when you run up a steep hill that requires plenty of effort (think Mount Bonnell, Ladera Norte or Jester) and you feel yourself running out of breath, a deep inhalation (or several) once at the top may be necessary to “catch” your breath again. Or, at the end of a run or race where you speed up to max speed and find yourself running out of breath, you will naturally breathe harder for a few moments until your breathing returns to normal. But ordinarily, heavy breathing isn’t something you would do while running or walking.

The general rule is if you can hear yourself breathing while running and/or it takes a conscious effort, you are simply running too fast. Heavy breathing is OK for a couple of minutes (again, such as on a hill or at the end of a race), but only for a few minutes. After that burst, you should slow your breathing pattern and get back on a normal running and breathing pace.

There is one other type of breathing and it’s a very specific type. It’s called belly breathing and generally it’s only used to either get rid of a side stitch or to recover from a hard hill or a spurt of fast running. Belly breathing is useful on occasion because you can actually inhale more oxygen and get rid of more carbon dioxide on your exhalation than breathing into the chest through your mouth. When you belly breathe, you use your stomach muscles to inhale. When you do, the stomach balloons with teach deep inhalation and flattens with the exhalation. Your chest remains mostly still.

If you are troubled by a side stitch during a run or race, five or six inhalations through the belly is usually enough to get rid of the stitch. It’s also a good way to recover from a fast section of your run or race (sduch as on a hill) that necessitated heavier breathing. But even though belly breathing brings more air in and forces more carbon dioxide out, you can’t belly breathe for very long because it takes so much effort.

Stick with breathing through the mouth into the chest. Develop a regular breathing pattern that is in sync with your stride. Don’t overthink it, but eventually your stride and breathing will naturally match up. Again, when running fast or over some hills, you will have to quicken your pattern but breathing while running should come easily and naturally.

If it doesn’t, slow down.

 

 

winter-runner

Beginner’s Corner: What To Think About On The Run

One of the questions runners are invariably asked by non-runners is: What in the heck do you think about while running? It’s a good question. Keeping your mind occupied and yet engaged while doing a long run by yourself is always tough.

You can’t spend all your time thinking about your form and breathing or even your next race. Running 20 miles on a Sunday morning by yourself takes a long time and if you can think less about your running and more about your life, time will pass quicker.

(The best remedy is always to run with a training group or several friends. But some runners still prefer to run alone or aren’t part of a group.)

One study of runners actually found that runners had more energy during their long runs if they focused their thoughts away from their running and more on daily concerns, the scenery, their jobs and family. These are called dissociative thoughts. Associative thoughts are when your mind is focused on running.

During a race, your mind should work differently than on a training run. Competitive races usually require the runner to do plenty of associative thinking about the demands of the race, strategy and pacing. The longer the race, the harder this is. In a marathon, most runners spend time fluctuating between dissociating (thinking about things, other than the race) and associative (thinking about the next aid station, picking up the pace, running up and down the hills, etc).

The trick is to keep your head in the race by thinking ahead to what needs to be done and monitoring how you feel, without becoming overwhelmed by these thoughts.

But on a long solo training run, the best advice is to only spend a small portion of your run actually thinking about your run. The rest of the time dissociate away. Let your mind drift and wander, settling on a vexing problem, a memorable day at the lake or a pleasant period in your life.

Here are some good topics to pass the time on your next solo long run:

1. Childhood memories, including important incidents that you may not have thought about in years.

2. Selecting a particular year of your life and re-examining it month-by-month in as much detail as possible.

3. Your next marathon. And how you’ll feel at various points of the race.

4. Former relationships. What went right and what went wrong. Remember the good and not-so-good times.

5. Films. Make a list of your 10 favorites and see if you can remember the names of all the stars. Or examine in great detail a particular director’s work or a genre

6. Great races you’ve run. What went into each race and try to figure out why you ran so well. (Forget the bad ones.)

7. Work-related issues. You’d be amazed how easy it is to solve problems while out on a run.

8. Your next vacation. Where and when.

9. What you’re going to eat and drink when you get home after the run.

thinksport for runtex

Beginner’s Corner: Protecting Your Skin From the Summer Heat

As runners, we tend to pay far more attention to the inner workings of our body than the outside. We run and walk in the summer heat and oppressive sun and assume if our legs are OK, we must be fine.

Maybe, maybe not. We may suffer in silence as our skin takes a beating. There is simply no doubt about it, if you plan to run in Austin this summer, your skin will feel the effects of one or all of the following: sunburn, chafing, windburn or just plain, post-run itchiness caused by dry skin.

The more you’re outside this summer, the more protection and attention you need to pay to your skin. Fortunately, almost all issues runners have with their skin are more of an annoyance than debilitating, but it’s enough of a problem that dermatologists now have a term for it: “runner’s skin.” What that means is a loss of skin tone, changes in skin color and the appearance of premature lines and wrinkles.

Of course, the irony is running makes us healthy and aerobically fit, but often our skin looks so much older than it should.

Even worse, is the increase of skin cancers. The American Cancer Society predicts there will be 55,000 new cases of melanoma—the most serious form of skin cancer—reported this year. That’s almost double the number of cases that were reported in the United States just 15 years ago and part of that growth is attributable to the increase in people who exercise and do not use sunscreen. In addition, those of us who sweat a lot when running are more susceptible because sweat tends to magnify the sun’s rays on your skin.

If you’re the typical Austin runner who spends plenty of time in the summer sun, you are at risk. To reduce that risk of skin cancer, use a sunscreen of at least SPF-15, possibly higher. Waterproof products are best. Also wear a hat and sunglasses (you can burn your eyes too) when running.

You should also consider a periodic dermatological exam to check for growths or moles or changes in skin color or tone. For some reason, women suffer more lower-body skin problems, while most men have upper-body skin issues.

Dry Skin

Although skin cancer is the most deadly form of skin problems, the biggest problem most runners have is dry skin. If your skin is dried out repeatedly from running in the sun, it’s not going to hurt you, but eventually it will wrinkle and flake and look leathery. One reason this afflicts runners so greatly is because the skin cells dry out as we run because of all the evaporation that goes on due to sweating.

Our skin will dry out anyway as we age, but to prevent premature wrinkling from dryness, the skin must maintain a certain moisture. If the skin is moist enough, it will remain flexible and soft. If not, it cracks and becomes brittle like a baseball glove left in the sun.

The only good thing about running in Austin during the summer—at least, as it relates to our skin—is the high humidity. The humidity makes running difficult, but low humidity, such as runners have in Arizona, Colorado, California or Nevada is tougher on your skin because it dries out the skin even more.

Another habit that runners have that puts a big hurt on the skin is taking a blazing hot, post-run shower. All that does is cook the skin and removes the skin’s natural oils from it that keep it moist.

Water can help you keep the skin moist, but you must use a moisturing cream right after your shower. Then, pat yourself dry with a towel. After that, apply another layer of moisturizer.

Using a high quality moisturizer is the key. Its active ingredients trap the water in the skin, keeping it moist. You don’t necessarily have to buy the most expensive moisturizer, but you do want a product that retains your skin oil without clogging the pores. Look for an ingredient called noncomedogenic. This is usually found in mid-priced moisturizers such as Neutrogena. If you’re a guy, ask your wife or girlfriend.

Apply the moisturizer all over your skin, especially your legs. Any area exposed to the skin should be moistened after running.

Sunburn

 

Austin runners are constantly exposed to the damaging effects of the sun all summer. It’s even worse if you have fair skin and blue eyes. But prolonged exposure to the sun carries with it a high risk of burning. Especially during our lengthy summer.

You are most likely to get burned during the summer while running between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is when the harmful ultraviolet light is at its peak. Clearly, early-morning running before the sun has risen (or after it has set) is the best time to avoid the harmful effects of the sun.

By now, everyone should be aware of the absolute necessity to use sunscreen to protect the skin from sunburn. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that 30 minutes before going outside, apply one ounce (two tablespoons) of sunscreen SBF 15 or higher to your entire body. If your skin is normally quite dry, you may even need to apply more than the one ounce.

The downside to sunscreen from a runner’s perspective is it does inhibit sweating on hot, dry days (if we ever have any). It doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the sweating process on warm, humid days. Best advice is to use a sunscreen on a consistent basis so the screen penetrates the skin for maximum protection.

Chafing

As any marathoner knows, chafing can be a major drag. Especially in the summer when we are drenched with sweat on long, hard runs. Regardless of where you chafe, it can slow you down and even force you to stop running.

Chafing occurs when skin rubs against skin (between the upper thighs) or when skin (such as the nipples) rubs against clothing. When that happens, the skin becomes highly irritated and can crack and bleed. The heftier you are, the more susceptible you are to chafing. Major problem areas for men are under the armpits or in the lower groin; for women, it’s where the sports bra meets skin. Both men and women suffer equally when it comes to chafing of the nipples.

What to do? Experiment with different clothing (shorts, shirts and bras) and find the combination which works best for you. Sometimes new clothing causes the worst chafing; washing seems to soften the fabrics and minimize the problem. That’s why it’s important to wear the clothes you intend to race in on several long runs to take the “newness” out.

Fortunately there are several products that help. Body Glide is a terrific lubricant. When applied in a high chafe area, it works extremely well to negate the friction. So does petroleum jelly but it gets a little messy. If painful nipples plague you, there is a commercial product called Nip Guard which protects the nipples. Some runners simply use Band Aids over the nipples during long runs or marathons for protection.

But for some runners—usually heavier ones—not even Body Glide seems to work against chafing of the thighs. If that’s you, you may need to wear longer shorts made out of Lycra or some other synthetic to prevent the chafing of your “thunder thighs.”

The Skin Cancer Foundation Recommends

Seek the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Avoid running at noon during the summer.

Apply suncreen with a SBF of 15 or higher every day.

Apply one ounce of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside to exercise.

Wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses.

Examine your skin every month for growths or moles.

Avoid UV tanning salons

 

summer heat

Beginner’s Corner: How To Get Motivated To Run This Summer

 

Getting properly motivated to run or race, is an emotional state that all veteran and beginning runners want to attain. But that motivational state can be elusive. Especially in the doldrums of summer when even an easy run can feel like a chore.

Motivation is the lifeblood of all training and racing. Without it, a simple run is difficult and a race can be agony. But the highly motivated runner, is almost always a highly successful runner.

Simply put, motivation is the measure of how much (or how badly) an individual runner wants to achieve a specific goal. For every runner, there is a different source of motivation. The key is finding what works for you.

If you find that you lack motivation to run, it’s important to ask yourself why you are even running. Is it to get physically fit, lose weight, accept a challenge, build confidence, learn a skill, or to compete and win your age group? Finish a marathon?

The point is you need some good reason to run. Without one, you’ll undoubtedly be under motivated and lack all resolve to run.

Everyone has different reasons to run (or should have) and you may find you run for a combination of reasons. But the important aspect is you don’t want to find yourself wondering why you are working so hard toward a particular goal.

Reinforce why you train and visualize the outcome and rewards you will receive.

All too often runners will say, “I am waiting to get motivated.” The implication is that another person or coach, mentor or friend will somehow motivate them to new heights. But real motivation must come from within you and not someone else.

This is one reason why children who are pushed too hard by crazed, overzealous parents (or coaches) often lose interest in a sport. The child has lost the internal motivation to play because it isn’t fun any longer and generally they quit soon after.

Runners are motivated by accomplishment, self actualization and the attainment of realistic goals. Once this has been done it will spur you on to greater and greater heights.

Remaining motivated is at its most difficult when you are far from your goal, such as a marathon six months down the road. This is when you have to maintain your long-term focus by setting short-term goals while still working toward the ultimate goal.

That’s why races interspersed throughout a long marathon training schedule are usually a good thing to keep you motivated as a reward for all the training.

Another good way to stay motivated during a long marathon training period is to join one of the numerous marathon training groups in Austin. Other runners who are training for the same goal are often great sources of motivation.

One external motivating influence is inspiration. Inspiration is an emotion that causes us to aspire to even greater levels of achievement. It reinforces our own personal reasons to continue working toward our goals.

Even so, motivation can be a fleeting emotion. It comes…and goes. Fatigue, stress, emotional issues, overtraining, hot weather, time constraints and injuries can all conspire to reduce our motivational levels.

But that’s OK. Sometimes, all it takes is a day or two off from running to rest and refocus and restore your motivational mojo. Running should add to the quality of your life, not hinder it.

Certainly, a positive mental outlook supports and enhances motivation. Avoid negative self-talk and doubters; focus on the positive and surround yourself with supportive, upbeat people who encourage and celebrate you.

Staying motivated isn’t easy, but if you remind yourself why you are training, look to your sources of inspiration and keep a positive mental outlook the rest should fall into line. Realize that motivation comes from within—and is boosted by accomplishments.

Motivation, just like training, is a building process. Each goal you attain builds self esteem and confidence, providing increased motivation for your next goal

 

splashWalkRun1

Beginner’s Corner: FAQ’s On How To Start Running or Walking

I want to start running. What do I need to do first?

Make a firm commitment this week to begin a walking and running program. Don’t waffle or put it off because of the heat. Commit to walking or running several times a week. At least four times a week. Set a goal of walking or running a 5-K race (3.1 miles) by the end of the summer.

What do I do to get started?

If you haven’t run at all, start your beginning running program by walking. Try to walk continuously for at least 20 minutes. If that’s too much, try 10 minutes. Once you can walk for 30 minutes, try running slowly for 2-3 minutes at a time. If that’s too much, go for a minute. After the running portion, continue walking for another 10 minutes and try running again for 3-5 minutes. Work up to where you can run and walk continuously for 30-40 minutes without stopping. Speed doesn’t matter. As you get fitter, you can reduce the walking and increase the running. Do this four or five times a week. If you’re consistent, you will progress quickly and within a month, you should be able to run for 20-30 minutes without stopping.

Should I go see a doctor first?

Not necessarily. If you’re healthy and don’t have a history of coronary disease, it probably isn’t necessary. But the US Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has formulated the following criteria to determine whether you should see a doctor before beginning any exercise program. If any of these apply to you, consult a doctor before beginning a walking or running program.

  1. You are 60 years or older and have not been exercising regularly.
  2. You have a family history of heart disease.
  3. You have had a heart attack or some form of heart trouble.
  4. You often feel faint or experience breathlessness when climbing stairs.
  5. You have high blood pressure. You experience pains in the chest, shoulder or arms.
  6. You have an existing medical condition that might need special attention when exercising (asthma, diabetes etc.).

I’m overweight and want to lose weight. Should I begin a diet when I started running?

No. Walking or running will burn calories quickly and raise your metabolic rate. Your body will need proper nutrition and hydration for running or walking. If you go on a diet when you begin your exercise program, you may not have enough energy to complete your walk or run. Rather than dieting, you may want to reduce your intake of less healthy, fatty foods and increase your consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods.

What do I need to get going?

Not much. One of the beauties of running is its simplicity. If you’re walking, merely wear some loose fitting clothes and a good pair of running shoes. The heat is oppressive in Austin at any time of the day so if you’re running, wear lightweight running shorts and bring some water with you.

Are tennis shoes or basketball shoes OK for running?

Nope. You will need to buy a good pair of running shoes. Tennis shoes or shoes made for aerobics, basketball or volleyball won’t do. Neither will cross-trainers. You need to buy shoes specifically made for running. Running shoes offer the best cushioning, support and durability of any athletic shoe and if you buy the proper pair, it will go a long way to protecting your legs and feet from injury. Again, you need to wear running shoes. If there’s any doubt, take your current pair to one of the five RunTex stores and have an expert check out your shoes. If they aren’t suited for running, get fitted for a proper pair.

How much should I spend on running shoes?

Expect to pay between $90 and $110 for a good pair of running shoes. You can spend less, but you will sacrifice cushioning, durability and support if you do. To get properly fitted in the proper pair of shoes for you, go to RunTex which specializes in nothing but running shoes. The RunTex salespeople are trained to fit you in the best shoe for you. This is critically important to safe and healthy running.

If I wear a sweatshirt and pants to sweat more, will that help me lose weight?

Absolutely not. Actually the effect will be just the opposite. Wearing heavy clothes will make you sweat more, but you will heat up so much (especially in our summer heat) it will reduce the length of time you can walk or run. The time you spend exercising will help you lose weight; not the water you lose when you sweat.

Will running hurt?

Hurt no, but it will be uncomfortable at first. You will be undertaking a completely new aerobic activity and you’ll be using muscles in different ways so some discomfort is normal. You’ll also be working your cardiovascular system harder than if you have been sedentary. But this is a good thing. It will take a few weeks to allow your body to adapt to the new activity. If there is some pain—whether muscular, skeletal or in your breathing—stop running and allow it to pass. Try it again the next day and if the pain returns, you should check with a medical professional.

Is running outside better than on a treadmill?

Yes and no. They are different experiences. Running on a treadmill is safe and you’re protected from the elements (especially in the summer), but the treadmill pulls the ground underneath you and since there’s no wind, it is easier than running outside. You should do at least some of your runs outdoors in the elements. The Lady Bird Hike and Bike Lake is perfect for starting a running program.

When I run outside, where should I go?

Your first priority should be safety, but secondly you want to run someplace that you can enjoy. The Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail offers 10 miles of mostly flat, hard-packed dirt trails with drinking fountains along the way. Other than the Hike and Bike Trail, try to run someplace where you’ll enjoy being outdoors. The greater the enjoyment you get out of your runs, the more likely you will be to continue with running and improve.

Should I breathe through my nose or my mouth?

Both. But mainly through your mouth which will allow you to suck in more oxygen than if you breathe just through your nose.

I’m always out of breath. What am I doing wrong?

You’re running too fast. Running will cause you to breathe harder than you’re accustomed to which is a good thing. As you become better conditioned, the huffing and puffing will decrease. If you are out of breath or can’t carry on a conversation while running, slow down. You should be able to chat with your running partners. If you can’t, you’re going too fast.

I get these side stitches. Why?

Side stickers or stitches are normally a cramp of the diaphragm (the muscle just below your lungs) This is very common among beginning runners for several reasons. Often, the abdomen muscles aren’t strong enough to support the jostling of the diaphragm which running causes. As you get stronger, the stitches usually disappear. Another reason you might have stitches is you’re running too fast. Slow down. If stitches occur, breathe deeply and push the air out of your abdomen. This tends to stretch the diaphragm and lessen the stitch.

long run

Long runs: How far and how many you should do

The twin objectives of every marathoner (or half marathoner) are to train his or her best to cover 26.2 miles on marathon day while reaching the start and finish line healthy and injury-free. The key is finding the right balance between doing enough training to run well and yet remain free of injury.

Why this is tricky is simple: The more you train and the longer and faster your runs are, the more susceptible you are to injury.

This is especially true of the long runs that are so essential to marathon success. When your long runs cover 18-22 miles (or longer), the possibility of injury increases. This greater risk of injury occurs because when you run that far your muscles become extremely fatigued (hence, the training effect) and lose some of their ability to absorb road shock. As the muscles fatigue in the closing miles of a long run, your running form will also deteriorate. Fatigued muscles and poor form in the latter stages of a long run, means you run a higher risk of injury than say on an easy five-mile run.

And yet, that’s precisely why a long run is important: to strengthen your muscles and prepare them for the stresses of a marathon. But that’s also why long runs are risky business. The more long runs you do (and the longer and faster they are), substantially increases your risk of injury.

Exactly how far your long runs should be, how many you do in preparation for the marathon, what pace you run and when you do them is based on your running history, experience and goals for the marathon. The longer you have been running and the more ambitious your marathon goals are, generally means you should be doing more long runs during your training (and better able to handle them) than a novice marathoner.

Clearly, a beginning marathoner can’t run as many long runs (or run as far or fast) as a veteran. In addition, if your goal is just to finish the marathon, means you won’t have to do nearly as many long runs as someone who wants to run a specific, personal best time.

If this the Livestrong Austin Marathon on February 17th is your first marathon and your goal is just to finish, your longest long run should probably be about 20 miles. It’s possible it might be a little less (based on your prior running experience), but it certainly shouldn’t be more than a mile or two farther. One long run of 20-22 miles should be sufficient. Two would be better, but only if you have been running and racing for at least a year. If not, your other long runs should be limited to 18 miles and you should probably get at least four to six long runs under your belt.

For most marathoners who want to run their best time at Livestrong, six long runs of between 18 and 22 miles should be plenty. If you have previous marathon experience and have handled long runs well in the past, adding another couple of long runs (going up to a total of eight or nine) should help you in the final miles of the hilly marathon.

If you are a vastly experienced marathoner who is focused on running a personal best, you may want to move up to 10 to 12 long runs. If you have tolerated the 20-plus milers well in the past, you might consider doing at least one long run of 24 miles. But only one.

It is important to build up to your ultimate long-run distance gradually. There are two ways to do this—time or mileage. Mileage means you add one mile per week to your long runs, skipping every third week.

For example, if your current longest run was 12 miles, you should be prepar to build up a 20-miler over 11 weeks. Using this as an example, in week 1: 13 miles, week 2, 14 miles, week 3, shorter long run of 10 miles, week 4, 15 miles, week 5, 16 miles, week 6, shorter long run of 10-12 miles, week 7, 17 miles, week 8, 18 miles, week 9, shorter long run of 10-12 miles, week 10, 19 miles, week 11, 20 miles. By now, you should be well on your way.

If you choose to increase your long runs by time, simply add 10-15 minutes every week to your long-run mileage. But continue to back down with a shorter long run every third week. Doing so in this manner, gives your body time to adapt to the increasing stresses of the longer runs.

How often and how fast you do your long runs is a subject of great debate. Some marathoners do a 2-2 ½-hour run on a weekly basis, year ‘round. But in a marathon buildup stage, it is safer to space the long runs out, alternating long-run distances (for example, one week 18, the following week 12) or simply alternating weeks. One week you run long run; the following week, you either run a race or do a moderately easy semi-long run of 10 miles or less). Or, some training programs, do one long run every two weeks.

There is no right answer which works for every marathoner, just as there is no definitive answer on long run pace. Some coaches advocate long-run pace should be two or three minutes per mile slower than marathon pace. Others, suggest it should be about 90 seconds a mile slower. All agree you should not attempt to do an entire long run of 15 miles or more at marathon goal pace.

My answer to what your long-run should be? It depends on the length, terrain, weather and purpose of the long run. Generally, a long run begins at a rather conservative, conversational pace for at least the first hour. After that, the pace can be picked up to anything from 25-30 seconds a mile faster than what you’ve been running. Or you can try to hammer a section of the long run for a specific length of time (usually 45-60 minutes) and then back off. Or finishing the final hour of the long run at marathon goal pace. Or do an entire long run of 12-14 miles at marathon goal pace.

There are no pat answers, but beginners should usually stick with a conversational pace (that is, a pace they can maintain a conversation without being winded) which they can continue for the length of the run. Marathon coaching guru Jeff Galloway contends that no long run pace is too slow. Slower isn’t necessarily better, but it’s less stressful than a tougher pace.

But if you’re experienced and want to set a personal best, you will have to vary your pace on the long runs and do at least parts of some long runs quicker than a jog.

One of the best long-run workouts you can do is two complete laps around Lady Bird Lake. Although it can be crowded, it’s flat and there’s water available at various spots.

Here’s how you can maximize results from this 20-miler: Run the first lap easy and relaxed, making sure you hydrate along the way. But for the second lap, try to run it five minutes faster (30 seconds per mile). Or run the entire second lap (or at least the final eight miles) at marathon goal pace. Either way, it should be a tough long run (especially if you didn’t start slowly enough) but a great marathon simulator.

A Lady Bird Lake long run is obviously mostly flat, but to prepare for the Livestrong Austin you need to do  a few of your long runs over several sets of hills such as Mount Bonnell and Mount Barker, Exposition, Rain Creek, Scenic and any of a number in Westlake Hills.

Since you’re right here, it also only makes sense to run as much of the Livestrong Marathon course as possible on various long runs, including Exposition, South Congress and the tricky three-tiered San Jactinto hills.

Some long-run tips that should make the workouts easier:

  1. R&R. Rest the day before each long run and recover the day after every one. Treat each long run almost like a race and chill out the day and night before.
  2. Load. Carbohydrate-load the day before every long run. Load up on carbohydrate-rich food just like you will in the days leading up to the marathon. Find out which foods work best for you. Make more than enough the night before and you can pound some the leftover carbs when you finish the long run.
  3. Pre-hydrate. Every marathoner knows the importance of drinking during the run, but many begin their morning long runs already in a dehydrated state. Drink at least 20 ounces of water or Gatorade before you start every long run.
  4. Go early. An early morning long run is always better than later in the day. There’s less traffic and pollution and it’s cooler. Livestrong Austin starts at 7 a.m. so even if you generally aren’t an early-morning runner, doing  long runs early will help you get used to running in the pre-dawn darkness.
  5. Don’t overdress. Unless it’s extremely cold, all you need to wear is a long sleeve T-shirt, shorts and possibly some light gloves and a hat. Don’t wear a jacket or tights unless it’s below freezing.

 

Water works

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.

Sports Drinks and Summer

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.