Doggone. The temperature went up two degrees in the space of time it took me to think about how I was going to start this piece (originally scribbled 19 July 2008). For those who need a more objective measure, that was approximately one minute, from 6:48 to 6:49 a.m. And yes, I'm feeling less than motivated to head out to the track this morning.
Wait a minute. Coach Mike, unmotivated?
It's not just the heat or the bugs that makes me think twice. I have no races planned for the next four months, so I'm doing a long (boring) cycle of base training; swimming two or three times a week, bicycling once a week, and running as often as weather and other conditions permit. When you don't have anything on the immediate horizon for which to prepare, the forecast of working out alone (especially when base or maintenance training) can make any athlete reconsider their workout.
Sure, there are times you need to suck it up and go out, regardless of what your friends are doing. But it's nice to know you are not the only one suffering through a workout. Sometimes that's the only saving grace; knowing there is someone else insane enough to get up earlier than the rest of the world, or get out and run a few thousand meters of repeats with you while the rest of the world is at a ball game or concert.
Yes, I know we all need to have a life outside of running (or swimming, or triathlon). So, I do appreciate the athletes I train who take time out of their week (or weekend) to slog along with me. The prospect of seeing them at the track (during the week) or at the seashell (mid-week or on the weekend) gives me one more good reason to get out and run.
ASK THE COACH:
Do you have any thoughts on stretching?
I think a lot about stretching (some of my thoughts are printable!), but I don't do much more than work on my achilles tendons. Some runners prefer to not stretch and never have, others do it religiously. If you're going to do it, I would recommend two things:
First, don't stretch unless your muscles are warm, following at least five minutes of activity. A cold muscle will not stretch, and is more likely to tighten up more if you try to stretch it cold.
Second, stretch gently and naturally, with slow, smooth movements. You can stretch without throwing your leg up on a countertop, bleacher bench or trash can. Stretches which keep your feet on the ground are better. Those 'throw-your-leg-on-the-bleacher' stretches are probably going to instigate the stretch reflex, and you'll end up with a muscle that's more tight than when you started.
For this weather, do you have any particular sport drink recommendations? For those of us on a tighter budget, does water work just as well keeping us hydrated?
Water works great for hydration. It has no calories and no evil after-effects, unless you're running for four hours and you run low on electrolytes, but that's another issue. If you're running for no more than an hour and you can stand the taste (or lack of taste), water will do well.
However, once you get beyond an hour of exercise, you need to think about replenishing carbohydrates and electrolytes. Depending on weight and intensity of activity, you'll need between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrates each hour; that's 16 to 32 ounces of Gatorade (200-400kcal). If you drink Accelerade during that same activity it will take 18 to 36 ounces (150-360kcal) to replenish, and you also get 7-15 grams of protein with the deal.
My recent favorite sports drink is PowerBar Endurance Sun Tea formula; I picked up a canister at Running Wild after a friend’s recommendation. A 16-ounce serving contains 42 grams or carbohydrates (so 12-24 ounces per hour), plus 480 mg of sodium and 25mg of potassium, so I don't have to worry about electrolytes. On top of that, there's 25mg of caffeine and a very light flavor. It mixes well and doesn't leave any gunk in your bottles, either.
Suzanne doesn't like Gatorade or Accelerade at full strength, but she liked the taste of PowerBar Endurance at normal strength. If caffeine isn’t your cup of tea (pun intended), PowerBar Endurance also comes in Lemon-Lime and Fruit Punch.
The best thing you can do is find a drink that meets your needs and stick with it. I can justify spending a little more for a good sports drink when I know it will help me perform well in workouts and on race day.
We've been told to take it easy this summer until it gets a little cooler. How easy is easy, and come fall, how long does it take to recover our strength and get back into racing form?
Just like the workout regimen, easy is in the eye of the beholder. I can tell usually by change in form or footstrike when an athlete is fatigued. Your challenge is to know it for yourself and to be smart enough to back off or pull the plug.
Being in racing form is not a question of how long as much as a question of when. You cannot be at maximal fitness throughout the entire year. You can maintain base through the entire year by running long, aerobic mileage. But the question of racing form is a function of how developed your base is, what variety of speedwork (tempo runs, short specificity, long specificity) you've put in, and how gradual your buildup is intended to be. Longer, more gradual build-ups lead to higher and more extended peak periods of six to eight weeks. Shorter, steeper build-ups lead to lower and shorter peaks.
Ask yourself, 'What is my goal race?' 'How am I going to get there?' 'What am I going to do to make certain I am at my most ready?'