My First Ragnar Trail Relay: Just Don’t Blow Up, The Fajita Lesson, & Astronomy

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The Ragnar Trail Relay came to Aspen, CO last weekend. I ran the race with seven other people, mostly from my wife’s company. We were the Kenzan Running Club. This was my first Ragnar. It was unique among the races I’ve run. I like to recall specific moments after events like this and reflect on what I saw and felt. Experiences like this are the highlights of my life. The memories and emotions are important.

Most teams were eight-person teams like us. The race consisted of three loops: the green easy loop, yellow medium-difficulty loop, red hard loop. We all ran all loops once. I ran first (green), ninth (red), and 17th (yellow.) We were finished when runner eight crossed the finish line.

The Kenzan Running Club immediately post race.

The Kenzan Running Club immediately post race.

The night before

My wife and I camped out the night before the race. It was COLD that night. There was frost on the ground and tents in the morning. We slept well. Sleep was limited from there on out. It also didn’t stay cold.

Fortunately for us, some other teammates got to the camp site early and grabbed a prime spot. We were close to the toilets and the transition area. A word to the wise: If you do this race, get there early. Very early.

Don’t blow up

Teams were put into flights with the slower teams starting earlier and faster teams starting later so everyone would finish within a certain window. Flights left every half-hour starting at 10 am. We started at 1 pm. I was the first runner. The first loop was very warm, high 70s. No shade. Heat throbbed off of the parched trail. The temperature climbed.

The challenge in an endurance event is to take a very hard effort and spread it out over the entire course of a race. Every runner has started out too fast and paid the price at some point later in the race. That’s not good. At the same time though, you don’t want to finish thinking, “I could’ve run harder.” Another wrinkle was the fact that the race required us to run again and then again.

A few people passed me. Whenever I’m passed, I listen to their breathing and I watch how they move. Do they run strong and relaxed or brittle and tense? If it’s the latter of those two, then I know I’ll probably catch them sooner or later. I like passing people. I don’t win trophies and I’m not a top runner, but I truly enjoy beating other runners to the finish line, especially if I did it by running smart.

My mantra was, “Just don’t blow up.” That meant run my race, not someone else’s. Don’t give in to the urge to charge ahead early just to catch someone. If someone passes you, let them. Be patient. Wait until the end is near to hit the gas.

The most shade anyone would see on the trail.

The most shade anyone would see on the trail.

My coach made the analogy of holding on to an electric wire, the type used to keep cows away from the fence. You can hold on for a little while but you can’t hang on to that thing forever. If you grab ahold too tightly, too early, you’re cooked. You blow up which means you screwed up. The blow-up/electric wire paradigm played on a loop in my head throughout the race.

I was very pleased with my conditioning and performance. I was never overly sore and none of my joints hurt. I was especially happy with my downhill running as I had to do a lot of it in the dark on very tired legs. I never crashed or flew off the mountain into space.

A well-run operation

The organization and execution of the race was impressive. From what I can tell, the Ragnar race is a complex thing with a lot of moving parts. Everything seemed to operate smoothly. I didn’t detect any crises or surprises on the part of the staff.

Parking for team vehicles and shuttles to other parking areas worked very well. I was very grateful to see well-marked trails, especially at night. The workers were organized and helpful. The campground was crowded but very adequate. There was plenty of water available and food for purchase if you wanted/needed any beyond what you brought—and there were free ice cream sandwiches!

Now this is really important: The port-o-potty situation was excellent! The effort and efficiency in maintaining and cleaning those things was phenomenal! Thousands of people using those things over and over, round the clock—especially in the heat!—was a true marvel. What a relief to have access to mostly clean, well stocked toilet facilities. Don’t think I’m joking. This is a huge thing.

Epic view from the red loop. This is why we do this.

Epic view of Snowmass ski resort and from the red loop. This is why we do this.

The Kenzan Running Club

Our team was a very compatible group of people. We got along very well, had a lot of laughs and were very comfortable around each other. Everyone was well-prepared. We happily shared space, food, equipment, and encouragement.

To expand beyond our team, my impression of all the Ragnar competitors was very positive. I didn’t see any drama or dumb behavior. I saw no meltdowns, freak-outs, arguments, or fights. I did see a lot of courtesy, encouragement, and the always appealing magic energy that is shared among people suffering together. We passed each other and were passed while exchanging kind words. The camp site was somewhat crowded but we all made do and lived comfortably together. The trail running community tends to be a laid-back, respectful group.

Between runs

Managing rest was a challenge. We made constant efforts to avoid sunburn and drink lots of water. Staying off my our feet was a priority. We all spent a lot of time chasing shade as the sun passed over us from east to west. We were already spending a lot of time in the sun and any time spent in the cool shade was essential to feeling human. Lying in the grass under trees was heavenly and refreshing.

The Red Loop & the Fajita Lesson

The world isn’t perfect and neither was my race. Here’s the story:

There was a complimentary dinner Friday evening between my first and second runs. I had two thoughts:

  1. I’ll need a lot of calories for this event.
  2. I should have enough time between my first run and the second run for the food to digest and I’ll be OK to run. (On this point, I think we all felt like our next loop came much faster than we anticipated.)

Thus I ate a pretty big plate of chicken fajitas, onions, peppers, tortillas, guacamole and cheese. The magnitude of my gamble might seem obvious to you right now. It’s obvious to me now but due to some sort of faulty psychology, I thought my decision was reasonable. And it was hot…

Fast forward 2-ish hours. I felt okay and I continued to feel well enough during the long, steady, climb at the front of the 6.7-ish mile red route. I started at 8:10 pm. Twilight was coming on. I didn’t need the lights yet but I would soon. (More on night running in a moment.)

Almost time for moonset in Aspen, CO.

Almost time for moonset in Aspen, CO.

Fast forward a little further and it was time for a 2 mile, high-speed nighttime downhill dash over fast, swoopy terrain. There was jostling and sloshing. My digestive system lodged a prolonged protest. I knew this race would be tough and I welcomed the challenge. I didn’t welcome this. I began to fantasize about those port-o-johns. I thought my teammates might have to hose me off at the finish. By some combination of force-of-will and supernatural providence, I was saved. No hose down needed. That’s enough about that.

Running at night

This was a new thing for me and I enjoyed it tremendously. During my second run, the red loop, the hardest run of the race, I saw day turn to night. To my left, as I ran along the high ridge line I watched the pink sunset fade to black. On my right, a massively swollen blob of a moon rose and dominated the sky. I don’t see that happen every day. It was a stunning sight and a unique experience. (I took a pic while high up on the ridge line but it was no good. You’ll have to settle for the one up above which was taken after my 2nd loop at about 4 am. That’s not the sun.)

My wife, ready to march into the night.

My wife, ready to march into the night.

The early nighttime atmosphere was electric. There transition area buzzed with powerful energy. Music blared and thumped. A bonfire blazed. Everyone had on their nighttime running gear. We all looked like we were about to do battle with the Cylons, Klingons, and/or the Decepticons. We were sharp, confident, and energized. This was all happening before the wee hours, before the music got turned down so we could grab a few moments of sleep, before the deep fatigue set in and we were zombified.

Looking up at the mountainside from camp we saw the continuous trickle of bobbing little lights. Those were runners descending from the red and yellow loops back to the start/finish area. I wish I had a picture of that for you.

The finale

My final run started around 4 am and ended about 40 minutes later. For me, anything before 5 am isn’t morning—it’s night. This was far outside my experience. I had maybe three hours of sleep before the final leg but I felt OK. It wasn’t as cold as the prior night which was good. This was the yellow loop, or the middle-difficulty loop. I was grateful that the red loop wasn’t my last loop and I was very happy to avoid more exposure to the heat. Runner number eight came through and I was off.

The climbs were tough on the last two loops but the descents proved difficult both from the the fact that it was night and that my legs were very tired. The challenge was to descend as fast as possible without the legs collapsing and careening down the mountainside.

I like descending. There is a focus that’s required to run fast down a mountain. It puts one very much in the moment. It’s meditative. It’s not like sitting in rush-hour traffic. I passed a lot of people and only one person passed me. He was moving much faster than I.

Our final runner came in several hours later, between 11 and noon. A couple of our team fell and got skinned up a little but no one had any major injuries or issues. The race finished at 6 pm. We were grateful to be through before that.

Finished before the sunrise.

Finished before the sunrise.

The trails for this race were not very technical at all. They were smooth and relatively free of rocks and roots. Compared to most of the Denver-area trails on which I trained, these were sidewalks. That was probably a good thing for night running.

My lights were the Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp and the Nathan Zephyr Fire 300 flashlight. A lot of people ran only with a headlamp, but several articles I read about night trail running suggested a headlamp and a handheld light. I liked having both. I could see both the trail at my feet and further down the trail.

If I had it to do over, I would’ve brought a little less gear with me on the red loop. I brought more than I needed to drink and a winter hat and gloves that I didn’t need.

I might’ve also done a night run during training, just to get feel for the lights. I don’t think I missed without a night run though.

For anyone thinking of doing this race I strongly suggest you familiarize yourself with trail running. This was very challenging. I wouldn’t recommend it for a green beginner. That said, it wasn’t overly brutal. It was very doable. The vast majority of us were very mortal.

That’s most of my story. Our stats are below. Follow this link for a look at all the teams’ stats. I think we did well. Several of us want to do it again.

Kenzan Running Club
Finish Time
22:59:51
Overall : 82 / 227
Gender : 47 / 126
Categ : 35 / 99
Race No 181
Gender Mixed
Category Open
Status Finished
Splits
Split Name
Time
Time From Prev Leg
Loop 1 Green 00:40:32 00:40:32
Loop 2 Yellow 01:19:45 00:39:13
Loop 3 Red 03:00:30 01:40:45
Loop 4 Green 03:48:33 00:48:02
Loop 5 Yellow 04:40:19 00:51:45
Loop 6 Red 05:55:50 01:15:31
Loop 7 Green 06:35:32 00:39:42
Loop 8 Yellow 07:10:30 00:34:57
Loop 9 Red 08:26:52 01:16:21
Loop 10 Green 09:09:07 00:42:15
Loop 11 Yellow 10:01:45 00:52:37
Loop 12 Red 11:29:07 01:27:21
Loop 13 Green 12:18:18 00:49:11
Loop 14 Yellow 13:01:06 00:42:48
Loop 15 Red 14:20:57 01:19:50
Loop 16 Green 15:00:05 00:39:08
Loop 17 Yellow 15:43:38 00:43:32
Loop 18 Red 16:59:41 01:16:03
Loop 19 Green 17:54:44 00:55:02
Loop 20 Yellow 18:41:27 00:46:43
Loop 21 Red 20:21:08 01:39:40
Loop 22 Green 21:06:29 00:45:21
Loop 23 Yellow 21:49:06 00:42:36
Loop 24 Red 22:59:51 01:10:45

||Hide

http://www.racetecresults.com/MyResults.aspx?uid=16432-2143-1-58655

Running Injuries and Running Performance: A Podcast and an Article

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Injury and performance exist on a sliding scale. At one end we are completely broken down, hurt, and unable run/bike/swim/lift/fight/hike/etc. At the other end we’re performing at our peak. Probably every active person has been injured and I’m willing to bet that every active person would like to perform their very best. This post is for runners in either or both camps.

Runners are often injured. According to a review of literature in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, rates of lower-leg injury ranged from 19.4% to 79.3% among study subjects. The magic questions are 1)Why do we get injured? and 2) How do we overcome injuries?

I think it stands to reason that if we hurt while running then very likely it’s the way we run that’s the problem. Running requires complex coordination among many parts and systems. It is mind boggling to try and dissect running form, find the problems and then either teach or learn new, helpful techniques.

Meanwhile, if we’re not injured and we’re able to run, then we probably want to know how to run faster and more efficiently. How do we we achieve these goals? These questions aren’t easily answered. With all that in mind, I found two resources that may offer some very valuable information on these issues.

The first is the Physio Edge Podcast 049, Running From Injury with Dr. Rich Willy. At about the 20:30 mark Dr. Willy gives some good external cues to help promote running form that may help with IT band pain. The cues involve the knees and the hips:

  1. If the knees cave in too much while running: He puts brightly colored tape on the outside He has the patient run on a treadmill facing a mirror. He tells the patient to push the tape out toward the walls.
  2. If the hips are adducting too much: The runner runs on a treadmill facing a mirror with the waistband of their shorts clearly visible. He instructs the runner to keep the pelvis level by keeping their waistband level.

Listen to the podcast to get all the details.

Next is an article from the always informative Alex Hutchinson at the Sweat Science column at Runner’s WorldWhat Makes a Running Stride Efficient? Hutchinson discusses a study from Loughborough University in England that looked at biomechanical factors

“For running economy, three variables stood out: vertical oscillation (measured by the up-and-down motion of the pelvis; less is better); how bent your knee is when your foot hits the ground (more bent is better); and braking (also measured by looking at the motion of your pelvis; less slowdown as your foot hits the ground is better).

“Overall, these three variables explained 39.4 percent of the individual differences in running economy—and the vast majority of that (27.7 percent) came from vertical oscillation.

“For running performance, four variables stood out: braking (as above); the angle of the shin when your foot hits the ground (closer to vertical is better); duty factor (basically a measure of how long your foot stays on the ground relative to your overall stride; quicker is better); and the forward lean of your trunk (more upright is better).

Overall, these four variables explained 30.5 percent of individual variation in race times, with shin angle (10 percent) and braking (9.9 percent) as the biggest contributors.”

Something I always appreciate about Hutchinson’s writing is that he lays out some of the errors in thinking that we might encounter when we assume that employing new running techniques will automatically equal better, faster, pain-free running. Are these characteristics of efficient runners chickens or eggs?

“For example, you could imagine a study that compared elite runners to ‘regular’ runners and found that the elite tend to have more highly defined calf muscles. It doesn’t necessarily follow that doing a whole bunch of hardcore calf exercises will make you faster. It’s more likely that a whole lot of training, combined with some genetics, has given elites more defined calves. Fixating on getting better calf muscles would be distraction that’s unlikely to help you, and takes away from things that really would make you faster, like running more.”

That said, (and he mentions this) it may well investigating new strategies based on these findings. From my experience in helping people with their running, aiming to achieve these biomechanical outcomes can help. (This post offers a few cues that I’ve found useful to use with runners.)

Ideally, you should be videoed while running.Trying to adjust your gait without knowing how you’re currently running might be near impossible. Video is a very powerful tool when it comes to making adjustments to sporting techniques and I highly recommend it.

Definitely read the article and listen to the podcast if you think you need help with your running or if you’re a coach who works with runners. And if doing it yourself isn’t getting you the results you want then I strongly suggest you employ some sort of running coach to help.

I’m Training Like A Mother.

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That title doesn’t make a lot of sense. Or, it does make some sense and that last word denotes something that shouldn’t be said in polite company.

What I’m really saying is that I’ve connected with a running coach. Mary-Katherine (MK) Flemming, an RRCA-certified running coach, reached out to me after my last blog post. She’s a mom who trains moms. Other than being a humanoid-type creature with two arms, two legs, and a head, I may not be her standard client/athlete. I’m not sure who/what I had in mind for a running coach but I probably wasn’t thinking about joining a mom-related sort of organization. Call me a backward chauvinist caveman—but what can I say?—my brain just wasn’t tuned in that direction. I’m very glad I kept an open mind though.

We talked and I was very pleased and impressed with what she had to say. I respected and admired her intense curiosity about running, management of planning, strength training, rest & recovery, and how to coach dedicated runners who also live normal lives. MK, like me, has been through various setbacks to her running career yet she persevered. I was excited to see someone who shares my passion about physical activity and performance. You can read about Mary-Katherine’s background and credentials here.

Further, she was able to answer all my questions and she helped me realize there were a lot of questions that I’d never thought to ask. Questions such as:

  • How does one incorporate both road and trail running when training for trail races?
  • How should runs be progressed based on heart rate? (She’s very much into HR training.)
  • How does one manage biking, hiking, and weight training while running?
  • I’d read Steve Magness’ Science of Running and I wanted to talk with a coach who was familiar with those methods. She follows his work and spoke on his methods..

Heart-rate training is a cornerstone of MK’s training plan. You can read about her approach here and you can hear her discuss heart-rate training here. Her training approach is influenced heavily by Coach Phil Maffetone. The essence of the strategy is that by spending a lot of time training at a fairly low heart rate (determined by this formula), you train your engine to burn fat for fuel and you build a significant and broad aerobic base. A strong aerobic base then allows for trainees to better develop anaerobic power and speed, avoid injury, and ultimately race their best.

I’m about a week into the plan and I feel good. If I hadn’t had the experiences that I have, then I would say I’m surprised at how easy the runs have been thus far. It seems that a lot of us runners need to ease down a little, run a bit slower and rest more. MK discusses this interesting and very common phenomenon in this podcast interview.

I’ve seen similar challenges with some of my clients. For some of us, sweating and picking up heavy things is fun and we love it.  We plan our day around or workouts. Or weekends feature extra long bouts of exertion. Even our vacations are built around strenuous activity which we enjoy.

But rest? That’s a tough one. We think that if we don’t lift/run/ride/swim enough then we’ll get weak and fat. The truth is that we CANNOT get stronger/faster/better if we don’t rest enough and recovery adequately. This is one huge reason to employ a coach. You may think you can do it on your own, but very often professional help is absolutely a great investment. To learn more about employing a coach, check out the training programs of the Train Like A Mother Club.

 

Sport Metabolism Testing at the CU Anschutz Health & Wellness Center

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Doing my best Bane impersonation. Might be good for Halloween.

I’m currently training for some road and trail races. Part of that training process is running at different paces to elicit various training effects. Those paces are built around such factors as the aerobic threshold and the lactate or anaerobic threshold. (The definition of those terms are beyond the scope of this blog post. To understand them I suggest you read this from endurance coach Joel Friel.)

Up to this point I’ve used pre-made running plans such as the Run Less, Run Faster and the Hanson’s Marathon and Half-Marathon Method. Those books prescribe paces based on 5k and 10k race finish times. From those race times it’s possible to

I bet its hard to run in that coat.

The Batman villain Bane. I don’t know what his VO2 max is.

predict race finish times of distances up to the half marathon and marathon. Along with race finish times, training paces for speed, tempo, and long distance runs are also derived. I’ve discovered

those training paces, particularly tempo run paces, are too fast for me. Rather than blunder around trying to solve the problem by myself, I sought help.

Testing at Anschutz

A few days ago I visited the sports performance lab at the Colorado University Anschutz Health & Wellness Center in Denver. I underwent the sport metabolism assessment. The test started with a 12-minute warm-up on a treadmill that went from walking to jogging to slow running and running up to a 9:10/mile pace. That was followed by a five-minute rest. (The test conductor explained the whys and hows of the warm-up and rest period. I won’t go into all the information but now I use that process before all my runs. Essentially it enables me to perform better.)

The fun began after the rest period. I ran in two minute intervals. Speed was increased after every two minutes. This process was repeated until I was nearly blue in the face and I couldn’t run anymore. It took about 12 or 14 minutes to hit my limit.

As you see in the pictures, I wore a mask connected by a tube to

Running & bleeding

Running & bleeding

a computer. The computer measured my O2 intake and CO2 expiration. This gas analysis allowed us to see at what paces my aerobic and anaerobic thresholds exist.

Not only did we analyze my breathing, but we also analyzed my blood via a finger prick delivered near the end of each two minute stage. I can’t tell you what joy it is to combine bleeding with intense running…

(For cycling performance testing, the same test is done on a type of stationary bike.)

What did I learn?

I NEED TO SLOOOOW DOWN.

From my speed workouts to my tempo runs to my long runs I should run slower. Running faster isn’t just about running faster — and I knew that! Countless running articles and books preach the idea and I thought I had it figured but I was wrong. The big points and the factors that need improving are these:

Fat metabolism:

I need to spend 80% of my time running for base endurance. In this zone, I use mostly fat for fuel. This works out to a pace of about 11:30/mile. Prior to the test I thought this pace was about 10:00 to 10:30/mile. The good news is that an 11:30 pace is really easy!

Anaerobic Threshold:

My AT occurs at a 7:45 pace. I should be able to maintain that pace potentially for a full marathon. But right now, when I hit my AT I crap out quick! I need to gradually nudge my ability along. If I run at or over my AT (which I have been doing) then I overwhelm my ability to function at that pace. So now my tempo runs are 9:10/mile.

Anaerobic training:

This is speed work and this is where I will improve my VO2 or my ability to utilize oxygen. The pace for this work is 8:40/mile. I had been running my speed work at about 8:00/mile.

What else?

First, the idea that I can get my tempo/race pace down to 7:45/mile is fairly exciting to me. It means I might be able to hit a 3:30 marathon! That’s a powerful motivator for me. All the slow miles I’ll need to put in won’t be done aimlessly.

I’ve said it for the past few years and I’m saying it again: I need to work with a coach. I’m a certified running coach but it’s not something I practice much. As the saying goes, “The lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.” I need an objective set of eyes on me. A good coach can adjust my training schedule where a book or a pre-made running plan cant. It makes sense to work with someone who coaches runners on a regular basis. I am considering several resources:

What to Read: Advocating for the 5k, New Fitness Trends, Chemicals in your Food (Aren’t Always Bad)

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Big benefits from the 5k

“Everyone thinks the marathon is the Holy Grail, when a lot of people should really be doing the 5K,” Jason Karp, exercise physiologist.

In the running world, many of us want to progress from the 5k to the 10k, half-marathon all the way to the marathon—and maybe beyond!  More is always better, right? We think 5ks are for beginners and marathons are for the truly fit and powerful among us. And ultra-marathons? Those are for the real champions.

Well, I suggest that more isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more. Maybe we should reconsider our view of the 5k. (Remember, the 5000m is an Olympic event. It’s not always easy.)

The 5K, Not The Marathon, Is The Ideal Race argues that for most people and most fitness goals, the 5k is the optimal distance.

The latest fitness trends

“Below are the newest and niftiest fitness programs that have been gaining in popularity, and the odds that they will attract the most disciples in 2016.”

In terms of fitness, exercise and strength training, I believe there is very little new under the sun. Lift heavy things. Sweat often. Eat right most of the time. Rest, recover, repeat. Those are the big-picture concepts that have built healthy humans since forever.

That said, if someone wants to make money in the fitness business, presenting this picture in new packaging is a wise idea. Further, if some sort of new fitness trend grabs someone’s attention then all the better. I believe that anything that gets someone to exercise and stick with it is probably a good thing.

Who’s afraid of chemicals?

“If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, then you shouldn’t eat it, right? Unfortunately, it appears that idea may not be the best advice nor very accurate.”

Those of us who value good nutrition tend to avoid processed foods in favor of those in a more “natural” state. The idea sounds reasonable. Many processed foods are unhealthy garbage. Cookies, crackers, breakfast cereal, many frozen meals and all sorts of packaged foods come with lots of calories but very little nutrition. If you look at food labels you often see a laundry list of strange-sounding substances that bear no resemblance to any sort of food we’ve ever heard of. These types of foods often go hand-in-hand with obesity and poor health. In contrast, we know that fruits, vegetables, minimally processed dairy, meat, beans and whole grains are generally healthier for us.

Internet gurus and quacks such as Vani “Food Babe” Hari, Dr. Oz, and Joseph Mercola have engaged in fear-mongering and misinformation which has led to confusion among consumers. (They’ve made a lot of money doing it too.) These people have told us that we must avoid all chemicals at all cost lest we be struck dead at any moment! The horror!

Here’s news for you: Everything is a chemical, including water, aka dihydrogen monoxide. Further, the central tenet of toxicology is “the dose makes the poison.” This means that a wide array of substances from alcohol to sugar to formaldehyde to chlorine to even water can become deadly at a certain dosage. Meanwhile lower dosages may pose no threat at all.

With these concepts in mind, I like the article from Science Driven Nutrition titled The truth about food ingredients. It’s brief and gives a rational breakdown of why many (but perhaps not all) chemicals in our foods are safe.

 

 

 

Colfax Marathon 10-Miler (A Late Update)

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The Colfax Marathon, half-marathon, 10-miler and marathon relay happened on May 15 and here’s a quick update on things.

A good cause

I ran the 10-Miler to help raise funds for The Gathering Place which is a Denver shelter for homeless women, their kids and the transgender community. I’m very pleased and grateful that a total of $2343 was donated by my tremendously generous friends, family and clients. My original goal was $2000 and I’m thrilled to have gone over that goal. It’s all going to a very good cause that helps a vulnerable segment of my city. I look forward to helping The Gathering Place again in the future.

Race results

Here’s the rundown of the numbers:

Post-race nonsense and a medal.

Post-race strangeness and a medal.

  • Net time: 1:21:36
  • Pace: 8:09/mile
  • Overall place: 81 out of 1014 runners
  • Overall men: 52 out of 325
  • Division, Men 40-49: 11 out of 77

I won’t be winning any ribbons or prize money any time soon, but I’m very pleased with those results. Eight minutes per mile was my most optimistic hoped-for pace. This was on a course that started downhill and ended uphill. In three of my last four miles I averaged just under 8:00/mile. That’s pretty decent, I think.

Several things went well. First, it was a cool, cloudy day. Heat dissipation is a massively important thing for good running performance. I’m about 200 lbs. so I generate a lot of heat and I need all the help I can get.

My training went well. I ran the most I’ve ever run over the winter. I built a plan based loosely on the Hansons Marathon Method. I did speed work one day a week, tempo work on another day and a longer run on the weekend. In between those main workouts I was typically running shorter slower runs to build my aerobic abilities. These short/slow recovery runs were vital! They weren’t “junk miles.” They had a purpose which was to condition my aerobic energy system. I think it’s likely that more such running will help me be faster in future races.

I tapered the week before the race by cutting distance but I kept some of the intensity of the speed and tempo work. I replaced some of the runs with bike rides as well.

Finally, I believe I did a good job of maintaining a sensible pace at the beginning of the race. It’s always easy to launch out of the gate, run too fast, then crap out in the second half of a race. That didn’t happen. I ran within my limits and I was able to put on strong finish.

What I love about running is that there’s always room for improvement. There’s always an opportunity to do better than last time. Some time (sooner rather than later I hope) I’m going to enlist a running coach to help me get better. I’d love to run a sub-8 min/mile 10-miler or maybe half-marathon.

Colfax Marathon & The Gathering Place: There’s Still Time to Donate

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The Colfax Marathon, marathon relay, half-marathon and 10-miler (my race) are all coming up this Sunday, May 15. I’m trained up and ready for a fun dash from Lakewood to beautiful Denver City Park. I’m feeling good, strong and injury-free. The weather should be cloudy and cool which is good for a 200 lb. runner such as myself.

I’ve been raising money for a great organization called The Gathering Place which is a drop-in day shelter for homeless women, kids and the transgender community. I’m very happy to be helping the TGP do their wonderful work and I’m grateful to everyone who has donated thus far. Thus far my friends and family have donated $2343.10. I would love to hit $2500 (or more) by Sunday. If you haven’t donated or if you’ve already donated and you still have some spare money sitting around, then you still have time. Follow this link if you’d like to donate.

So It’s Your First Race…

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Running your first race should be exhilarating, challenging, life-affirming and, of course, fun. I find races to be very emotional. There’s a type of excitement near start that I don’t find many other places. There’s more to this process than just showing up and running though. Thoughtful preparation pays off big-time for an optimal race experience.

Any new experience is guaranteed to come with some surprises. If you’ve trained hard and done everything in your power to ensure a successful race, then you don’t want anything to detract from all that effort. To minimize the chances of trouble, here’s a rundown of things you may want to think about as you prepare for the big race.

Getting to the race

Is your race out of town? If so, do you know how to get from your hotel to the race? How long will it take? If you’re racing at home, how long does it take to get from your house to the race? Set your alarm appropriately. (My suggestion: Set it a little earlier than you think you need to.)

Will you drive to the race, take public transportation, ride a bike or travel by foot?

If it’s a weekend or holiday, what’s the public transportation schedule? Are there street closures for the race? If so, what’s your route to the race?

Exactly where does the race start and finish?

Where do you want to meet your friends and family after the race?

How about bathrooms? Where are they? Early morning race jitters can demand multiple trips.

Sometimes the answers to these questions aren’t obvious.

Sleep

You should aim for a good night of sleep two nights before your race. It’s very typical that you won’t sleep well the night before a race. You’ll have some jitters and if you’re away from home then your normal rhythms and habits will be altered. Don’t worry too much about it. You’ll be fine, but get good sleep 48 hours prior to your event.

Gear and clothing

Many races allow you to drop off warm-up gear and extra clothing. If that’s the case then where do you leave things and where do you pick them up?

If you’re traveling what do you need to pack? By race day, you should know what sorts of things are essential. The Road Runner’s Club of America gives the following checklist:

  • shoes
  • insoles or orthotics
  • socks
  • shorts
  • underwear
  • long sleeve shirt
  • short sleeve shirt
  • tights
  • jacket
  • gloves or mittens
  • headgear: winter hat, cap, visor, headband
  • watch
  • race number if picked up early
  • safety pins or race belt to which attach race number
  • course map
  • race instructions
  • change of clothes for afterwards
  • athletic tape
  • skin lube or powder
  • sunscreen
  • water bottle or hydration pack
  • sunglasses
  • towel
  • pre-race food/fluids
  • post-race food/fluids
  • wallet/money

Depending on the weather, you may or may not need things like a winter hat or gloves. If you’re racing in a Spring or Fall race, especially in places near mountains or the water, then the weather could change radically and quickly. Don’t assume the weather will be what you expect it to be. If you think you might need it, then pack it! It’s much better to have a piece of gear and not need it than to need it and not have it.

I like to start packing several days beforehand. I always seem to almost forget something. If I start packing early then it’s far less likely that I forget anything.

Finally, race day is not the day to try anything new. No new shoes. No new clothes. No new caps, glasses, socks, or anything else. As the RRCA stresses, “No new is good new.”

Nutrition

Breakfast

If you’re a morning runner then you have it figured out. What did you normally eat for breakfast while training? Stick with it. If it’s new, then don’t do it! You might pay for it with some nasty GI troubles.

If you’ve been running in the evenings and your race is in the morning, then it may take a little more thought. The pre-race meal varies widely from person to person. Generally, you want to eat anywhere from 1-2 hours prior to the race. You want to have enough time for the food to digest, but not so much time that you’re famished at race time.

My GI tract is fairly calm and I can tolerate a fairly wide range of pre-race meals. Other people are the polar opposite and they need to be very precise in the timing and content of pre-race food.

Fruit and yogurt, oatmeal, UCAN, or a smoothie are a few examples of things I like before a race. I’d avoid the steak & eggs trucker special if I were you.

Race nutrition

If your race is something like a 5k then food during the race isn’t much of an issue. It’s not long enough to demand much in the way of sustenance. Water’s probably the only thing you’ll want.

If your race is longer then you may need some calories during the race. Similar to breakfast and race gear choices, this should be determined in your training. Some things to consider:

Will you carry a hydration system and your own food? Will you carry a hydration pack or a hand bottle?

If you plan on eating/drinking from the aid stations, what foods and drinks to they provide? Have you used those products in your training? Recognize that consuming anything that you’re not accustomed to while running may cause you some digestive woes and grind your race to a potentially messy halt… or at least a walk.

Finally, your swag bag will likely contain various snack-type items such as gels, bars, electrolyte drink mix or something similar. If it’s unfamiliar to you then don’t eat it before or during the race. Save it for after.

If you remember nothing else regarding nutrition practices then remember this: No new is good new. (Have you heard that before?)

Running your race

Don’t start too fast.

Your first race! Adrenaline! Excitement! You’ve trained hard, you’re wide awake and you feel electric! Today’s the day for greatness! … And you start out too fast.

I am nearly certain that anyone who’s ever run a race has started out too fast. I have! Some time later that fast start has to be paid for with a slower pace. At worst, it can reduce you to a walk to the finish line.

(I think it’s not only inevitable but also essential that everyone experience a too-fast start at some point. It’s not fun but it’s a very valuable learning experience. It teaches humility and respect for proper pacing.)

No matter how good you feel, no matter how exceptional and strong you believe yourself to be, you won’t do your best if you launch out of the gate too fast. If you’ve been training with paced runs then you’ll know your race pace. Stick to it even it feels way too slow. If you haven’t used paces before then pay attention to how you feel. Pay attention to your breathing and effort. Remember that your hard effort needs to be spread over the entire distance of the race. If you’re feeling strong later in the race then that’s the time to pick it up a bit. Don’t do it at the start though.

Temperature

Spring and Fall morning races may be cold at the start. It’s tempting to bundle up and feel toasty warm. The problem is that once you start running you’ll be hot as hell. If it’s a cold day then you should be a little chilly at the start. You should be a little uncomfortable. Generally, I find that if my hands and ears are warm then I’m comfortable. (Turns out cooling and heating of the hands can have powerful effects on performance. If the topic interests you then read this from Peak Performance )

Finally

This racing thing can be a lot of fun. If you do some planning then it can be a smooth experience. Experience is the best teacher. The more you race the easier the preparation becomes.

Running Technique: 3 Simple Cues

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Running form is a frequently discussed topic among injured runners and runners looking to perform better. How should we run? Is there one ideal way to run? Should we run on the forefoot, mid-foot or heel? Does our core matter? What should our upper body do when we run?

There are many schools of thought in the running world and there doesn’t seem to be any ironclad consensus on any of these questions. If you’re running pain-free and you’re performing as well as you’d like then I don’t believe you should change your running form. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If, on the other hand, you experience pain when you run or if you’re not as fast as you’d like to be then some technique changes may be in order.

Run tall.

A lot of us run in a hunched type of posture that resembles the way we sit (and sit and sit…) in our work chairs or in our cars. This hunched position may be problematic and may be contributing to running problems. To address this issue:

Imagine a chain is attached to the top of your skull. That chain pulls you up. It lengthens your spine and makes you tall. See if you can feel this long, tall spine as you run. As part of this process, keep your gaze up and out toward the horizon. Don’t stare at the ground directly in front of you. This tall posture should help with some of our other running form considerations.

Tight hip flexors may contribute to a hunched posture. The following stretch sequence may help.

Run light.

The impact of the foot hitting the ground is worth considering as it concerns injuries. Recent evidence suggests runners who hit the ground lightly are injured less than runners who hit the ground hard.

You may run with earphones and you may be unaware that you stomp and pound the ground with each footfall. So to run light, remove the earphones and pay attention to the sound you make.

Imagine you’re weightless. Your strides are feathery light, and energetic. You don’t pound the ground but rather you glide across gossamer.

Another way to run lightly comes through this skipping drill:

Use a short, quick gait.

One way to lighten the impact of running is to drop the foot very nearly under your hips. This should result in your shin being vertical or near-vertical. Look at the picture. Try running like #2. The skipping drill from above can help you feel that foot landing directly below your hips.

Runner #1 is pounding. Runner #2 is running lightly.

Want to run lightly? Run like #2.

Don’t concern yourself with whether or not you’re hitting on the heel, mid-foot or forefoot. Where the foot lands is more important than on what part of the foot hits first.

Quickening your cadence too much can be a problem. There is an obvious point at which gait can becomes too quick and inefficient. An excellent way to work on your cadence is to use a metronome. Kinetic Revolution has a great article that discusses research on cadence as well as how to introduce metronome running into your training. The article also links to a digital metronome that you can download.

Change takes work.

Running may seem like something we should all be able to do. In fact, most of us can execute some version of movement in which we rapidly put one foot in front of the other. Kids learn to run without detailed instruction and without much in the way of typical running injuries. Shouldn’t adults be able to do the same thing? Maybe or maybe not… If we hurt while running or if we think we’re too slow, then some sort of alteration to our running style may make sense.

Changing your gait takes some tinkering, some awareness and mindfulness. It won’t happen automatically. Physical therapist Rick Olderman helped me to change my running gait. He once said that “if it feels normal, then you’re doing it wrong.” He meant that in the early stages of changing how we move, it should feel weird and unnatural to us. Learning any new skill requires some struggle and awkwardness. If you practice frequently and work at it then things should improve at a reasonable rate.

Personally, I never listen to music while running. I pay attention to how I run, where my foot falls, how I move. I don’t want to fall back into bad habits.

Finally

I can’t guarantee that any of these changes will result in either a pain-free running experience or a podium finish in a race.Time with a physical therapist, podiatrist, chiropractor and/or a running coach may be what you need.  That said, these cues have helped my running as well as several of my clients’ running experience. I’ve also incorporated things like the short foot drill, ankle dorsiflexion work, and a wide variety of single-leg squats and lunges (here, here, here for instance) to improve my movement competence. Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts to consider when we run!

Achilles Tendonitis Progress

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My Achilles pain was getting better and then it flared up again recently and it has stayed flared for a while. This has been an ugly aggravation as it was a serious regression. Now, I’m very happy to report that my Achilles tendon irritation seems to be fading away. I’ve done three short-distance run/walks with no pain. (Will it stay gone is the real question.) What has helped?

Time off

Initially I thought that simply changing the way I ran would allow me to side-step whatever healing process that needed to take place. I revisited several technique changes that helped me overcome a past bout of Achilles pain. I discovered that there was no magic fix. Minding my technique is a good idea but it seems my tissues still needed time to heal.

Heel lift

I put a 1/4 inch heel lift in my shoe. The idea is to give a little bit of slack to the sore tendon.

To this point, I made sure not to do much in the way of stretching the tendon. It’s often a mistake to think that if it’s sore, it must need stretching. In fact, the damage to the Achilles may have been brought on by it’s being stretched too much and/or too fast.

Eccentric strength work

I’m continuing the work I wrote about in the last blog post. Runner’sConnect.net has a comprehensive guide to both Achilles pain rehab and prevention strategies. I won’t rehash it here.

Extensor hallucis brevis work

I think this has been a BIG ONE. I believe that part of my problem stems from my inability to adequately anchor to the ground the distal end of my first metatarsal, aka the ball of my big toe. How might that affect my Achilles tendon?

Too much of this may over-stress the Achilles and cause pain.

Too much of this may over-stress the Achilles and cause pain.

If I can’t secure that first met head to the ground then I have a weak foot tripod as the Gait Guys have described it.That means that my foot might pronate in an uncontrolled way which can result in something like the image to the right. Too much of that done too often and/or too fast could over-stress the Achilles causing damage and pain. To form a solid foot tripod, I need to be able to secure the center of my calcaneus (heel bone), first metatarsal head (ball of the big toe) and the fifth metatarsal head (ball of the little toe.)

(To be clear, I can’t say this is The Cause for anyone else’s Achilles problems. Someone else may be able to run with lots of pronation and feel fine.)

How did I know I had difficulty getting that met head to the ground? I’ve been videoed running and I could see this extended pronation occurring. I could feel it as I tried doing the exercise in the following video. This gets into what seems like some real minutiae. For me, it seems pretty important. Also, I don’t believe this movement is trained in the eccentric strength protocol I mentioned above.

Metronome running

I’ve read several discussions (here, herehere) on running cadence and loading rate as it pertains to injury risk. Essentially, by using a quicker cadence we should load the tissues of the foot for less time per foot fall thus resulting in less stress to those tissues. That’s exactly something I need.

I went back to using a metronome when I run so that I can make sure to keep a quick pace. I set the metronome from 170 to 180 bpm and matched my cadence to the beat. It’s definitely a quicker cadence than what I’m used to. Seems I’ve backslid some on minding my cadence. Going forward, I think it will be a good idea to periodically run with a metronome to ensure that I’m staying quick on my feet.