So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Changing Your Definition

My buddy Justin posted this up on my social media wall the other evening, not many minutes after a perfectly decent rowing ergometer workout at my local fitness gym...

I swore last year to not deride people who purchase fitness center memberships in January but never use the facility after March, or how infuriating the first two-to-three months of the year can be for persons who have a well-developed workout habit.  The smart "resolutionists" at least take advantage of the "complimentary" fitness assessment; they know how far they have to go to meet the airbrushed (and most-likely "cosmetic-surgeried") image of quote-unquote "fitness" plastered on billboards.  When it comes to that 'oh, gosh, I'm THAT unhealthy?' revelation, perhaps ignorance to a certain degree is bliss.  Some would prefer to not pay the extra dough to have someone beat up on them for the next three/six/twelve months...or longer.

As a runner/triathlete-type, I have near-epistemological opinions about what does and does not constitute fitness.  It used to be if it had nothing to do with swimming, bicycling and running I preferred to avoid it at all costs.  An Outside Magazine story on climber-turned-hard-core-fitness-trainer Marc Twight, and ESPN's telecast of the CrossFit Games caused me to channel my own inner Pontius Pilate and re-ask: 'what is fitness?'  But that's what philosophy - and coaching - is all about, isn't it?  Believe it, test it, re-work it, retest, and repeat.

So, this year I've decided to engage in some personal resolutions, not necessarily run-focused, but resolutions which will most likely carry over into life pedestrian:

Read more - I refer often to three or four good training books, but this last year provided me the opportunity to branch out and read works in genres I hadn't touched since college.  If coaching had only to do with the heart, lungs, muscles and skeleton the learning process would be simple.  Ah, but there are brains, minds and souls; opinions, concerns and fears involved.  And the scariest territory of any fitness enthusiast or athlete would have to be that space which is between the left ear and the right ear.  Luke Humphrey's "The Hanson's Marathon Method" is on my short list of acquisitions.  A conversation with my step-son, Scott has inspired me to re-read Phil Jackson's 'Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior."  Expect a few nuggets in the future from these minds.

Recover more - Reading is a great form of recovery from both the physical and mental stress of training, as well as the stress of the work day.  Contrary to the opinion of some of my co-workers.  Recovery is everything you are doing when you aren't working out: Sleep, food, massage, hydration.  Those are important, but don't forget the Bowerman-esque "hard day-easy day" theory, or Bannister's training impact.  Contrary to the dictum of the great Hungarian coach Mihaly Igloi, 'every day hard training must make,' we don't need to do every workout at one-hundred percent intensity.  When's the last time you had a rest day marked on the training schedule?

Resist more - Several definitions of resistance can be covered here.  Weight training, or cross-training which involves friction (rowing ergometer, elliptical trainer, indoor cycling) can raise heart rates a touch and strengthen muscle groups which are important for running performance, without the worrisome impact which can make joints (especially older ones) ache.  The second form of resistance comes in the form of avoidance; like unhealthy food and drink choices (here I am most definitely speaking to myself!), of toxic persons and situations, and workouts which become contests.  Ah, but none of us have ever treated a Sunday morning long run as a long race, have we?

Destination race - There's nothing like putting a target race on your training calendar to encourage a training focus.  My wife is much better at finding opportunities to travel and race within days of a conference or a business meeting.  Besides, you can only run the "Rancid Possum 5K" course and drink the same post-race beer so many times before things...get...old...  We have one "destination" race already on the calendar, and I suspect two or three more will soon follow.

I hope these thoughts will encourage you to look a little more closely at your running and fitness habit and see if there's something which cries out for a little change this next year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Under The (Needle) Gun

I've recently become a fan of two tattoo-focused programs on cable television; not a surprise to my wife, since I also enjoyed watching the three TLC tattoo-related reality series' "Miami Ink," "L.A. Ink" and N.Y. Ink."  The latest two are "Tattoo Nightmares" and "Ink Master," both of which are on the 40-something year-old, (seemingly-) male-interest-focused cable channel Spike.

My wife, to a lesser degree, also enjoys watching these programs.  She's adamant about the fact she will never get a tattoo, but I'm more than welcome to get another one when I feel compelled to expose my tender self to the ministrations (and needles) of artist and machine.  She likes the really good pieces shown on "Ink Master" and cringes as much as I when she sees the "Tattoo Nightmares" badly in need of some sort of cover-up.  I guess art, even if the skin is the canvas, is never really bad; just varying degrees of beautiful.

Art, tattooing...and have a lot in common, if you take a few minutes (and a beverage of choice) to consider the similarities.

Discomfort or pain is the first quality which immediately comes to my mind.  One need only refer back to the ever-quotable Steve Prefontaine, who once said, "A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding."  Anyone who has raced on the track, road, or trail; has laid out their muscle, heart and sinew as a near-daily, daily, or twice-daily offering to the racing and training gods can quickly say that the day's run or race is a willful exercise in patient suffering, in much the same manner as a client receiving ink.  Ask an artist where they gain their inspiration, and some will refer to either their own or someone else's physical or psychic pain.  Two words to anyone who might doubt this:  Frida Kahlo.

During the other week's "Ink Master" episode, one of the competing tattoo artists, Jamie Davies, was chided by the judging panel for having no tattoos (exposed or not) on his body.  The panel of three tattoo artists and one rock musician, recommended (before removing him from the competition) he receive a few tats of his own, just to know how it feels to expose skin to needle gun.  How many writers prefer to scribble in journals rather than engage in the (sometimes self-glorifying) act of writing web logs, lyricizing, or performing poetry at open microphone nights?  You might doodle in notepads and sketchbooks, or noodle on guitars, but does it mean that everything you do needs to be laid out for public scrutiny?

There are pieces I've seen people get put on their body which, when I asked them the story behind the ink, they had nothing to say.  Marines who get the eagle, globe and anchor are about the only group...okay, Ironman triathlon finishers, too...where no story really need be elicited.  Except, perhaps, that of "Parris Island or San Diego?"  Or "Which course?"  Yeah, you have that one guy who a couple of years ago said anyone who finished the 140.6 miles anywhere but Hawaii did not merit  being called an Ironman, or sitting to receive the "M-Dot" tattoo until they did.  But he's an army of one in that particular war.

A tattoo, especially a nice one, usually leads me to first ask the story behind the tattoo, then the name or location of the tattoo artist.  If the story isn't compelling - and most of the really good pieces I've seen have one (it usually means the person wants to remember or communicate something special to them) - it doesn't matter who inked you.

But I go back to what we might call the "Jamie Davies Syndrome" when it comes to training and/or coaching.  First, and most important to me as a coach, is to ask an athlete who wants to do a particular event, especially if they're on the verge of entering uncharted territory (like an IM70.3 event when they haven't done a lot of long-distance stuff, or attempting a marathon straight-off-the-couch) "is there a compelling reason to do this event?"  They need to understand the degree of pain and discomfort (physical, psychological, social and emotional) involved to make it to completion.  Good-looking multicolored tattoos which take up half a thigh or shoulder and impress the daylights out of the public will have you sitting on the business end of one or more needles for a few hours.  Marathoners look at my "credentials" as a runner, rather than the outcomes of my athletes, and get a little bit cross-eyed.  My failures as a coach have come from the trial-and-error of other plans on myself; not unlike letting someone else run a gun over my flesh.  A good coach is one who knows and understands the pain you're going to go through, and, most importantly, won't let you go too much of the pain in training.

Don't let the regret of a bad training experience get in the way of a potentially good "story."

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Different "Army-Navy" Game

Since 2005, I've worked the technical side of running events, laying out and measuring road courses and doing grunt work for triathlon events.  I used to tout them in a 'matter-of-fact' fashion, but nowadays my signature block says, "extensive list of worthless certifications available upon request."  Most of the "worthless certifications" were the result of participating in enough running events to think, after the second beer, then say out loud "I could put on one of these."  

One of my favorite Clint Eastwood lines did not come during the most recent election cycle, but during his 1973 movie, "Magnum Force," where he says..."a man's got to know his limitations."  After one-too-many afternoons picking up aid station coolers and driving the sag vehicle while the event director was drinking beer with the athletes I went back to the technical support side of the running world.  Back to maps, paperwork, phone calls and e-mail from first-year event directors, and looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly of road races.

In the last month I participated in the behind-the-scenes details of two events; a 5K put on by the Chief Petty Officers Association, and a 5K/10K put on by the Special Forces Association.  So, this comparison of good, bad and ugly is a different version of last weekend's Army-Navy game.

Army-Navy has always been special for my family.  In the football-(sub?)conscious Deep South, team loyalty often has little to do with the school they matriculated (I went to a Division-II school.).  The Bowens and their extensions up and down the family tree have almost all been Navy people; my Uncle Billy (Renn) and I the only ones to serve outside of the Sea Service.  (My friend Chuck, a retired Navy Chief, reminds me I've served longer as a Navy civilian than Air Force enlisted.)  

We've all got a short list of what makes a running event stand out from its contemporaries.  My coach, Dale Fox, used to tell stories of runners who would drive to several race locations each Saturday and Sunday morning in the hope of picking up overall hardware...and a hundred bucks.  They knew the pecking order, and would look for the vehicles of athletes they could beat, and those they couldn't.  When I ask experienced racers the things they use to choose one road race over another, most will mention the course, the pre-and-post-race experience, the awards, and the shirt.

Course - Some runners like a scenic course.  Most racers want an accurate distance.  All want to be safe.  ARMY: The 10K was measured for certification after a course change.  However, the race director moved the start point 100 yards.  5K distance not measured for certification after course change.  Both courses had entire lanes of roadway and crossed twice over a bridge.  No intermediate split markers or split timers.  NAVY: Certified 5K course, which had cones laid down the center of two-lane secondary roads and a single lane of a major road.  Split markers and a split timer at the first mile.

Play-by-play:  Army wins toss, elects to receive.  Penalties stymie initial Army drive; settle for field goal.  Navy takes long grinding drive and scores.


Post-race - Entertainment, food and beverages; doesn't have to be a full spread, but you got to keep the runners happy until the results are ready.  ARMY:  There was some issue with the keg which never was resolved, but there was cold canned beer, as well as water, fruit, barbecue, live music, and free massages for race participants.  NAVY:  Old bagels, water and fruit.  And an iPod with tunes from back when I was in high school.  I like Journey, Foreigner and Fleetwood Mac, but I'm certain the younger participants would have preferred newer stuff.

Play-by-play:  Army quick-strikes for touchdown, point-after attempt hits right goalpost.  Scores a safety on ensuing kickoff.  


Awards - Age-group and overall awards should be both meaningful and of good-quality.  Something you'd post on your "I love me" wall.  ARMY:  Carved wood SFA7 logos all over the place.  Five-year age groups, overall, masters, grandmasters, etc.  Someone inhaled a lot of sawdust.  NAVY:  Ten-year age group (I finish as first runner over age 50 -- heck, age 40 -- and receive first in 50-59 age group) medals; overall male/female, oldest/youngest runners receive painted oars.

Play-by-play:  Good field position leads to Army ball control drive, scores touchdown but leaves Navy time for one more short drive.  Navy scores field goal to close out first half.


Shirt - great race shirts are advertising for future events.  Lousy race shirts are car wash fodder.  ARMY:  Black, short-sleeved cotton-technical blend shirt with SFA7 logo and original (contest-designed) artwork on front, sponsors on back.  NAVY:  White long-sleeved cotton shirt with small dog-tag logo on front, sponsors on back, several names misspelled.

Play-by-play:  Navy receives second-half kickoff.  Three-and-outs lead to poor field position for Navy; punt blocked out of end-zone.

SCORE:  ARMY 27 - NAVY 10 

Cause - Runners will support a race for a cause they can support.  ARMY:  Scholarships for children of soldiers killed in action.  Marketing in social media, on-line registration sites, local running clubs.  NAVY:  Rewards leading to prosecution of person/persons who shot and killed an active-duty sailor.  Marketing nearly nonexistent outside of on-line registration; single flyer seen at base bowling alley day before event.  

Play-by-play:  Good field position following Navy kick; return to ball control drive and Army touchdown.


Intangibles - These are the little things which could fall under the overall race experience, but someone is going to point them out to you the week after as you're busy patting yourself on the back.  ARMY:  When I go into the Starbucks around the corner (as an event non-participant) and the racers are there in a line for the bathroom.  

Barista: "Can I do anything else for you, sir?" 
Me: "Get rid of the line in front of the bathroom?"  

Public bathrooms could only handle two men/ladies at a time...1,500 people might have been a little too much.  NAVY:  Porta-johns, about a dozen, for 200 people.  I'm certain they were hoping for closer to 600, but that goes back to the marketing thing.  ARMY:  Race director/staff are/were Special Forces officers and enlisted.  These guys know how to plan, adapt, improvise and overcome obstacles.  NAVY:  Chief Petty Officers, most of whom were/are members of the "three-mile-a-year" club, sans racing experience.

Play-by-play:  And the hits keep on coming.  Army grinds out one more long drive for a touchdown, but leaves enough time on the clock for Navy to kick a desultory field goal and warm up their lungs to sing "Navy Blue and Gold" first...for the first time in about 11 years.

If you're a race director, or you aspire to be one, perhaps some of these observations will save you a couple of wrongly-spent dollars and a couple of nightmares.

If you call me, however, I won't be available.  At least until race day.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

See Me? Hear Me?

One of my friends had a "close encounter of the motor vehicular kind" last week.  At first glance, the entire scenario appears torn out of the middle pages of one of my favorite running novels, John L. Parker, Jr's. "Once A Runner."  His post-encounter commentary - with a few minor edits - follows:

"Dear Rogue Driver:  Thank you for taking the opportunity to play 'will my insurance cover this?'  You chose to run through a posted four-way stop intersection and only look to your left.  I, on the other hand, approached from your right.  Even though I was decorated more like a flashing Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, you somehow failed to notice me.  Your failure to notice me initially cost you a size 11 dent in your hood, as well as the loss of two windshield wipers and the driver's side mirror."
"I appreciated your creative use of expletives as you drove angrily next me over the next several yards; you failed to appreciate the possibility that I might have been sufficiently prepared for such an encounter.  I was physically warmed up, as well as mentally and emotionally-charged as a result of the very angry music to which I was running.  I could gladly accept my failure to cleanly evade the initial obstacle outweighed your failure to exhibit your mastery of the English language.  However, your effort to compensate for my greater level of failure by cutting me off, then climbing out of your car to take a swing at me was a big mistake.  In my humble opinion, that was definitely unacceptable."
"I sincerely hope the hospital trip to seal your lip and stitch the cut under your left eye serves as an object lesson:  Just because a man wears short running shorts does not necessarily mean he lacks the ability to loosen a load of rubbish out of your skull should you attempt to run him off the road.  In order to save your face and motor vehicle from any further damage it would be wise for you to, at the least, look both ways before violating traffic laws.  Sincerely, M.J."

I know M.J.'s actions are likely going to make life more difficult for the next runner "Rogue Driver" encounters.  And, as always, it is impossible to glean the salient details of a runner-meets-angry-motorist story from the point of view of the runner.  But we perhaps can take away a few points:

The three most important qualities for safe running near motor vehicle traffic are "visibility, visibility and visibility."  Well, only if you're a realtor.  The two qualities other than visibility might be "hearability" and "communicability."  Light-colored clothes, reflective gear, lights; all of these items ought to be part of the runners' wardrobe, and especially during the winter months. 

I'm not going to beat the "music headphones are evil and should be destroyed" drum, but please find a way to keep the volume - if you're going to wear them on the run - low enough to hear what is going on around you.  Runners tend to listen to music in order to dissociate, get away from the messages being sent to the brain.  Sometimes getting away means not getting the important message that an auto or a person are approaching. 

Lastly, if you have to defend yourself physically, make certain (as Parker wrote) you can control "the preliminaries."  A means of exit that a car cannot follow is good; a means of collecting information for the local law enforcement is better.  It doesn't hurt to carry a smart phone with you.  Those little cell phone cameras do things which exceed documenting your friends on Saturday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pie? Why Yes, Thank You

When it comes to danger, the 16 weeks of the calendar year which contain the (autumn and) winter holidays from Hallowe'en to St. Valentine's Day can be much like treading through the swamp.  Especially if you like sweets and pastries.

Early on, it's candy corn and bite-sized chocolates.  We still have enough daylight to add on an extra mile or two to make up for the itty-bitty indiscretions.  And then we turn the clocks back for daylight saving time, just in time to be surrounded by darkness. 

So now we're hip deep -- and getting deeper -- into it.  Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas, Chanukah, Christmas, New Year's; the deepest point of the muck and mire.  Pumpkin pie...latkes...fruitcake...the extra beer...the champagne toast at's all there in your face, even at the workplace (save for the booze!).  Each holiday has it's share of temptations social and gastronomic.  While one misstep isn't going to slide you down a bacon grease-covered pole to a pudgy purgatory, a series of poorly-thought-out decisions can destroy months of hard-earned fitness and disciplined weight control.

I have varied my approach to the holidays from year to year:

Training continues without change - every social function, dinner party and snack item takes a back seat to the daily or twice-daily workout.  This is often the least desirable option in the mind of our spouses or family members, especially the ones who did not understand our running and fitness passion in the first place.  Some cities are more holiday event-focused than others.  I regularly receive e-mails from runners taking time to visit family members.  They usually asked if they could join in a group workout, or if there was a race during a particular weekend.

Short, easy workouts - many have heard the adage, especially when talking about the budget: 'a million dollars here, a million dollars there, next thing you know you are talking about real money.'  Same thing goes for workout duration.  A holiday social function after work hours can really place a damper on that 60-minute run you originally had on the training plan.  And, worst of all, you know there's going to be all that fantastic finger food you never get during the rest of the year.  There's no law (at least in most work places) that says you can't take your walking shoes into work and exchange your midday bologna-and-cheese sandwich and chips at the desk for an energy bar and a 30-minute stroll outdoors.

Rest - some coaches have their athletes on planned periods of rest or decreased intensity; one day a week, one week a month, and some to the point of even one month a year.  I have my doubts the top athletes allow themselves to go completely couch potato for an entire month.  But the down month can be a good time to engage in less-intense, non-sport-specific activity.  I remember hearing multiple Ironman World Champion Peter Reid talk about spending his down time "like a normal human being" cross-country skiing and watching television with close friends.

A 30-day period of complete rest, especially during the holiday month, seems a supreme test of willpower to me.  When given the choice between no pumpkin pie and no workout, and pie and the (seemingly irrational) desire to get off the couch for 60-to-90 minutes...

I like pie.  I'll fit my workout in some time during the day.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Three-Percent Solution

Boy, was THAT painful.  Probably the second-worst race I've ever run in my entire life.  The only one worse was a four-miler I tried to run while suffering from an upper respiratory infection/chest cold/creeping the same time of the year.

I definitely cannot lay the blame for a lousy race performance at the feet of November.  I've had great races in autumns past; residue of good training and race fitness.  Neither of the above are things which I've had for - heck, a while.

This weekend's Tyler Jefferson Memorial 5K was a test event for this coach, and one he miserably failed if not graded on a curve.  I knew I wasn't going to have a replay of last year's Metairie Cemetary 5K "Run Through History" result, but I didn't think I would run THAT poorly.  Since late May I have had the ability to amble and ramble for 90 minutes to two hours, to laugh and solve the world's problems over the course of 7-or-8 miles.

But that ain't training.

Everyday fitness and runner fitness, much less (5K) race fitness, are two different physiological states.  Seven-minute pieces with one-minute recoveries will get you (comfortably?) to the first mile split, after which either reality sets in (your brain asks for your 'recovery piece...') and the remaining two miles or so become very, uh, entertaining.

I did mention "graded on a curve," right?  In this case, let's say my raw score was failing, but because the overwhelming majority of my fellow participants were as badly unprepared for running more than 1.5 miles as I (typical active-duty military "three-mile-a-year-club" members) I managed to pull a passing grade out of my running shorts.

Have you ever heard the maxim: "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king?"
In this case, I raced a more-smart race than a handful of my fellow competitors because I knew EVERY LAST INCH of the course, every turn, and every tangent.  Before I started to measure courses I took the time and effort to look at the course map provided at packet pick-up.  Brian McMahon taught me how to run tangents on a race course, and it's a lesson I've retained for the last ten years.

You can't go into a road race, shut your mind off & expect to run your best. Smart pacing & smart training will keep a racer in the pack with their peers, but precious seconds can be wasted or gained in a road race by knowing the course & running the shortest possible distance.

There aren't many races I run not on a certified course. I want to know the distance is reasonably accurate (USATF says this is "not short"). This way I can tell how well my training has progressed (or in this case, digressed) over time. When I show up for a race, I can guarantee I will be asked two questions:

- Is the course certified?  When it comes to Pensacola and some of the surrounding area, if I am at the race, the answer is "yes."

- Did I measure the course?  I teach other persons to measure, or at least to understand what I do, so they can educate the local running populace.  If the race is local, the answer is also most likely "yes."

Worst of all, after a race, runners will confront me and say their GPS receiver showed the course to be too long.  I can choose to launch into a highly-technical (and highly-boring) discussion of USATF protocols and GPS limitations, or save my $25 entry fees and drink coffee at home.  Life's too short for me to to let others treat me shabbily.

But back to my "grading on a curve..."  I spent the latter half of the race dragging young Sailors along the shortest possible distance they could legally take on the course.  Some people may say it's an unfair advantage.  I like to call it "free speed."

I explained this to a younger race participant, one of whom were amazed to find out just how inefficiently he might have run that morning.  I used a standard 400-meter track as an example:
- The width of one lane of a standard 400-meter running track is 1.25 meters.
- An athletic track lane distance calculator ( shows the distance around a 400-meter track, in lane three (3.75 meters out from the inside rail) is 415.71 meters.
- Multiply the additional distance by 12.5 (the number of laps in a 5,000 meter track race) and the total distance is 5,196.375 meters.
- The width of one lane of a two-lane roadway with a shoulder is approximately 3.75 meters, a little over 12 feet in width. So you can add up to an additional 200 meters of distance to run if you're one lane of road out from the tangent...50-60 seconds additional time.  How many of us would like to drop up to a minute off our 5K time?

A set of legs, a heart & lungs in the best of shape can be defeated by a brain that's not prepared on race day. Know the turns on the course, run the tangents, take up to three-percent off your performance...without additional training.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Need A New Window Sticker

BoudreauxIMFL.jpg(NOTE:  This post is dedicated to my (Iron)friends Betsy and Aaron.)

Before leaving the house last Wednesday morning (the day after the election), I took a couple of minutes to remove a couple of political campaign decals from the rear window of my car.

(Don't worry. This is not going to be a politically-motivated topic of discussion. While the athletes I coached had a very good idea of my political philosophy; the track was always a "politics-free" zone. The Sunday morning run, on the other hand, has become an exercise in political humor. We always have THE PERFECT SOLUTION to the world's problems figured out at some point between mile two and mile six. Of course, by the time we hit breakfast we are no longer in a position to execute the master plan.)

There was no need to inform my fellow citizen of my election vote. It was definitely high time to move on with life. But it seemed, the morning after, all I saw on my social media account were commentaries by people unable or unwilling to step away from the political junk food. No, there is nothing wrong with being politically conscious, but the "Monday morning-quarterbacking" was best left to the media on Wednesday. Any longer than that was going to place me in a state of depression which rivaled the state of stress I was in during the days leading up to the election.

My, how our approach to politics can be much like the way we approach an endurance event. We can prepare for months, and in some cases a year or more, for a single day's madness. At the end of the event, we can engage in an all-too-brief time of celebration (or anti-celebration), after which comes the post-event let-down/depression. The second half of the classic 'existential dilemma' question: "What now?"

ANALYSIS: It’s time to do a little soul-searching. How did the race go? This can be looked at in the very-gray shades of subjectivity, as well as the black-and-white of race time, overall place and age group standing. The good and the bad of a race can exist right next to each other. There have been races where I ran a personal best, yet I knew clearly the things which left me completely stressed-out before, or cost me precious seconds during the race. There also have been races which I ran a slower time than I hoped, but everything around the event preparation and execution was technically-perfect.
So, what did you do well; what made you feel ready to toe the line for the gun? Don’t hesitate to consider how you trained the weeks before or what you ate during the last couple of days before the race. You don't necessarily have to be superstitious & do the exact same thing before every race, but this exercise can help you to learn the (smart) things which prepare you the best.

Take a close look to see if there were perhaps there were some tactical miscues, a warm-up which was too long, too short, or too intense, or (heaven forbid...none of us have ever done this...) one-too-many beers the night before the race. There’s always room for improvement, and if you're really honest with yourself you’re going to have no problem finding things which might be changed. HOWEVER, don’t dwell on the positives or the negatives from the race any longer than 30 minutes.

CELEBRATION: It is fun to compare notes with your running friends; even talk a little smack which you’ll eventually have to back up; you’re only as good as your next race. There’s nothing like earning hardware, and some age groups are tougher than others. Make certain to appreciate the efforts of all of the athletes; you’ll be amazed at the longevity of some & the speed of others. Respect given leads to respect earned. Perhaps you didn't earn an award, but you ran a personal best or helped someone else to have a great race. Don’t worry. Trophies break & get dusty, but the memory of a PR lasts a long time.

AFTERMATH: A running companion of mine put it well: “The day after I run a good race I go for an easy run. The day after a bad race I go for an easy run.” But, there were many times when the day-after runs were more intense than the previous day. Recovery is where the performance gains are made.

Two post-race recovery rules-of-thumb I like to follow, and often use when laying out plans for an athlete:

Light activity, but no running - one day for each hour of racing. If the race lasts less than an hour, take a day.

One day of easy running (no speed work or racing) for each mile of racing. You can hit the track on Tuesday after a 5K on Saturday, but should run easy for the next week after a 10K.

There are only so many good races a runner can run each season, which depends on base fitness, intensity of workouts, strength and ability to recover after a race. The best runners can stay at peak fitness for six to eight weeks, the citizen-athlete for a much shorter period. Too many races in too short a time can lead to disappointment & injury. Listen to your body & do what feels right for you.

THE NEXT GOAL: Time to sit down and plan for your next goal event. You’re only as good as your next race, so don't focus on the last one you did for too long.

Friday, November 2, 2012

You Ran the NYC Marathon, and All I Got Is A Damp, Dark Apartment

hurricane-day-after-431x300.jpgIf there's any population which understands the phrase "life turned upside down," especially after tropical storms or hurricanes, it is the residents of the Gulf Coast.  We live in "Mother Nature's Great Big Trap Shooting Range" from June to December.  Storms hit...everything is transformed into what appears to be a bad camping trip: 

Central heat and air is replaced by darkness and humidity.  

Regular (healthy) meals are replaced with Meals, Ready to Eat (meals, rejected by everybody?), or the desperate backyard grilling of everything which is thawing in the freezer.  

We suffer from a lack of warm showers, lack of e-mail, and lack of phone communication for a couple of days to a couple of weeks. 

Our water comes from a bottle. 

Our coffee fix goes from Community or Starbucks to freeze dried.  Lukewarm freeze-dried.

And then there's the upheaval which takes place in our running lives.  If our favorite run routes aren't debris-strewn they're still underwater.  Or worse, without street lamps and traffic signal.  Our first long run after Hurricane Ivan almost saw half our group killed by a car driving all over a slick, darkened road at 6:30 in the morning.

All we wanted was to get our lives back to "quote-unquote normal."  Our next local road race was initially scheduled for two weeks after the storm, but no races were run downtown for probably a year.  Small scale when compared to New Orleans, but unsettling nevertheless.

When I raced the 2006 Crescent City Classic; the hotel in which we stayed still had an armed security guard.  My first reaction during the race was that things were clearly back on the road to normal.  However, I quickly learned this was not the case.  The first clue was the amazingly large mound of wood, refrigerators, tree limbs and home materials which made it impossible to see across the neutral ground from the window of the parish school bus.  In fact, I would have been hard-pressed to say it was neutral ground.  Second, my friend Scott and I went for an easy eight miles the next day; as we went up Esplanade we saw vacant lots.  These weren't vacant last year, dude.

So now New York City and much of the tri-state area are a mess because of Sandy.  While there are probably a few persons who registered for the New York City Marathon (at $216) and made their travel and lodging plans who really, truly want to run in New York regardless of the conditions, should it be at the expense of the millions of residents of the area, from Hoboken to Queens, to the Lower East Side, who really could use the infrastructure being squandered on a bunch of selfish endurance enthusiasts?

Don't be too surprised if the crowds along the 26.21876-mile course are a little on the sparse side this year, or if the signage says things like "Will Cheer For Electricity," Or "Dude, Where's My Generator?"  Or "You Ran the NYC Marathon, and All I Got Is A Damp, Dark Apartment."

Best sign idea for the weekend would have to be - and you can send this on to the New York Road Runners Club and Mary Wittenberg:

"W. W. F. D. - What Would Fred (Lebow) Do?"

Friday, October 19, 2012

Better Living Through Chemistry?

Suzanne and I were on the west coast...of Michigan, last week, for our son's wedding.  We were changing into our fine attire and lacing up our tennis shoes - a 'fashion statement' if you're not a runner; otherwise it's another day in rubber soles - when Suzanne asked, "do you have any ibuprofen?"

"Well, no," was my reply. 

When Suzanne and I travel, the first thing/s packed are (one or more pairs of) running shoes, shorts, socks, t-shirts, and my Garmin 310XT.  Whatever space I have in my luggage after that goes to "civilian" clothes once the personal care items, electronic device chargers, reading materials and drugs are tucked away.  This was not a "typical" road trip for me; I did not plan on running, therefore I did not expect to endure (my) "typical" running-related aches and pains.  Fortunately for me there was a store up the block from the reception hall, so I was able to grab up a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) of choice, in this case ibuprofen. 

Suzanne can get pain relief from almost any over-the-counter NSAID (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen being the most common versions), whereas I am a little more picky.  I have to be.  I rummaged through the kitchen cabinet, desperately searching for ibuprofen last week, when Suzanne pulled out a box of "ibuprofen with diphenhydramine" capsules.  I graciously declined, and informed her that the Benadryl she offered along with the ibuprofen would make the ache go away to my satisfaction, but I would be on the couch for the afternoon.  Sometimes I'm anal retentive like that.  (One of the few times where my 14-year medical transcription career was beneficial after college.)

So why can some folks take any NSAID and others (like me) require a specific compound? 

When we do damage to ourselves the body begins to repair the damage through the inflammatory response.  This response involves the release of enzymes and chemicals which begin the restoration of damage...and transmit "it hurts when I do that" messages to the brain so we will stop doing what hurts.  NSAIDs are divided into two categories: selective inhibitors and non-selective inhibitors, based on the enzyme which is inhibited from production (and transmission), known as COX-1 and COX-2.  Inhibit the COX-1 enzyme too much and you run the risk of ulcers, stomach bleeding, and prolonged bleeding time.  Most of the over-the-counter NSAIDs are pretty much non-selective, which means they inhibit  both enzymes in varying degrees.  Selective inhibitors (all of which require a prescription) focus more closely on the COX-2.  Runners who might be taking drugs to thin their blood, or bruise easily might want to take an NSAID other than aspirin, since aspirin can slow the clotting of blood for 4-to-7 days, where other drugs only slow blood clotting for a few hours.

The best over-the counter NSAID for each person, like any training plan or shoe, depends on age, cause and severity of the pain, as well as what your stomach can tolerate.  After a week take the time to figure out if the drug helped ease the inflammation with no side effects.  A single-blind test of over-the-counter NSAIDs found naproxen gave greatest relief from pain, followed by aspirin and ibuprofen.

But NSAIDs do not heal pain, they decrease the inflammatory response and the pain messages sent to the brain.  No drug can replace the common sense factors of rest, analysis of what caused the pain, and correction of the causes.  After you figure out what happened then it's time to get back out on the road.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Instant Running?

I was "batching it" last week, as Suzanne was out of town at an internet telephony conference.  There are benefits and drawbacks to these one-week separations.  The benefit, I guess, you could say, is that I become sort of a hermit; I focus all of my attention on taking care of the dog, as well as my training runs/cross-training.  That meant I had to wake up early enough to feed and walk the dog before getting ready for work.  We do have a coffeemaker with a timer on it, which if I prepare accordingly will awaken me with the aroma of mountain-grown goodness.  Unfortunately, we ran out of "real" ground coffee and I had to settle for freeze-dried instant coffee. 

When you're desperate enough, even freeze-dried coffee tasted pretty darn good.  I wrote myself a little mental note: "stop at the local grocery by the gym; don't forget the beans, stupid."  But, naturally, all I wanted to do once my afternoon workout was completed was get home, change out of my wet soppies, feed the dog and grab a cold beer.  Each morning I kicked myself in the behind for my laziness.  Each evening I conveniently forgot the need to go to the store.  Until Suzanne got home and we needed to go shopping to replace the freezer-to-table, microwave-friendly entrees with frozen veggies, bread, meat, and our other "real" food staples.  Oh, and beer.

We are a lazy, "instant" generation.  I can hear all of the responses from here:  "Duh," you say.  Microwave ovens make freezer-to-table entrees possible for even the most ham-fisted and inept of cooks.  Writer/chef Anthony Bourdain dedicates a chapter in his book "Medium Raw" to the need for culinary literacy for all persons, not just married women.  Face it.  You never know when you're going to have to fend for yourself. 

But we always have a deadline standing in our face; a target which we need to hit at least once a year, sometimes twice.  How many persons do you know who race one event a year; train for six weeks, eight weeks, do the race, then nothing for the next 40. 

It happens every October in my workplace.  The training manager who works next to administers the twice-yearly fitness testing and weigh-in.  If I had a dollar for every time an instructor questioned him, "how soon do I have to be fit?"  Duh.  Isn't that part of your profession?  Aren't you supposed to be ready to go do your job whereever your employer (and mine) tells you? 

The great New Zealand running coach Arthur Lydiard didn't have a lot of nice things to say about American runners, which probably had a lot to do with the American "overnight success" mentality.  He said that to become a good runner (besides winning the genetics and parenting lotteries) it took "...a lot of hard work for five, six, or seven years.  There is no secret formula.  There is no shortcut..."

Unless you're participating in a program where there's at least one pop icon serving as a judge, I cannot think of any other "American Idol." "The Voice," or "X-Factor," I can think of no human endeavor where success occurs quickly or instantly.  Definitely not running, as I've seen while watching the ups and downs of guys like Dathan Ritzenhein.  Or in rehabilitation; my own stumbles and failures have made me much more compassionate, or at least emphathetic, to the struggles of persons who "would love to run" but are perplexed by physiological, psychological, or economic (and when I say economy, I'm talking time, which definitely is a limited commodity) barriers.

It's easy to go the "microwave" route and focus on running for that all-too-brief period of the year, ending up with something that really doesn't satisfy the taste buds and looks like, well, like something that's been microwaved.  There are smells, sights, sensations and feelings which can be found from running throughout the year...even if most of the mileage is done on a treadmill...which we all need to "read," to "loan out" to our friends, and perhaps to "write about" on occasion.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pump Up Or Chill Out Pre-Race? It's Not That Big A Stretch

In Running With The Bulls, Chris Lear describes a scene at a collegiate cross-country meet where one team huddled up before the start and chanted "Motivate!  Motivate! Ooh, aah, gonna kill somebody!  Ooh, aah, gonna kill somebody!"  The Colorado University coach or one of the runners made a comment along the lines of "yeah, that's going to work..." 

I can't say I've seen anything quite that agressive when I've looked across the start corral, but then again, I haven't been inside the music player of every running enthusiast.  There are most likely as many shades of "pump-up" or "cool-down" on race day as there are shades of race-day attire.  So what is the best state to be in so you can run your best race?

Donohue, Miller, Beisecker, Houser, et. al. (2006) studied the effects of brief yoga exercises and motivational preparatory interventions in distance runners.  They had participants to a one-mile baseline run, then randomly assigned them to participate in either brief yoga exercises, motivational shouting exercises, or no preparation about 20 minutes before a second one mile trial. 

Participants assigned to the motivational intervention improved their running performance significantly more than those assigned to the other two conditions (British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 40, Ed. 1., Jan 2006).  But if you're not into screaming bloody murder just before a race to pump you up, perhaps you might want to try the yoga. 

Men's Journal magazine provides a series of yoga poses they, and coach/author Sage Rountree, propose will "make you a better runner, improve running form and balance."  While Rountree is quoted in the article, "We're not trying to get runners to touch their toes or get their feet behind their head," there's a yoga pose where the runner takes their leg behind their head.  "We're trying to keep them fluid through the range of motion they use for running," she says, "so there isn't a hitch in their stride" which leads to lower extremity overuse injuries.  Some of the poses are below.  If you are interested in the rest of the poses you can either grab up the September 21 edition of Men's Journal or check on-line at

Low Lunge - To get into the Low Lunge, put one foot forward and lunge so that the front knee is over the front ankle and the back knee is down. Move the hands from the floor to the knee and, if steady, overhead. Hold the position for five to 10 breaths and then switch legs (always do both sides in yoga).  This position works all kinds of muscle groups – thighs, groin, abs – and improves flexibility in the split-legged position that's similar to a running stride.
Low Lunge With Twist - From the Low Lunge position, Twist your torso toward the front leg, putting one palm on the ground and the other hand on the knee. Hold for five to 10 breaths. This will stretch the outer hip and the IT band of the front leg, both of which tend to be tight in runners. The twisting should also relieve some tension in the lower back.
Downward-Facing Dog - Start on the hands and knees, with your knees below the hips and the hands just in front of the shoulders. Then, walk your knees back six to 10 inches, turn the balls of the feet to the floor, spread your fingers wide against the mat, and lift your hips into an upside-down V. Hold for 10 breaths.  This is a traditional yoga pose that lengthens your back and stretches everything from the arches up through the shoulders. It also builds upper body strength so you don't end up with tree trunk legs and broomsticks for arms.

Child's Pose - This is a mild stretch for the lower body which can also help with focus and relieve tension. Get into a kneeling position. Then lay your stomach on your thighs and put your head on the ground. Your arms can be lengthened in front of you or simply rest, fingers pointed behind, next to your legs. You should feel lengthening through the back and stretching in the hips, thighs, ankles, and feet. This is a resting position, so you can hold for 10 breaths or stay longer.

Squat - Also called the Garland Pose, the squat in yoga isn't all that different from the one you've done at the gym, form-wise. To get into the position, squat with your knees over your toes – legs at a 45-degree angle from the midline – and hold your hands together like you're praying. The heels don't necessarily need to touch the ground. Hold for five to 10 breaths. The squat stretches the back, inner thighs, calves, and feet – everything that tightens up from running. This encourages a fluid range of motion and helps with plantar fasciitis and ITBS.

Locust - The Locust is a simple and essential pose for distance runners. To do it, lay on your stomach with your hands by the hips, then lift your torso, arms, and legs simultaneously. Hold this for five to 10 breaths and repeat three times.  It's not as easy as it looks. This position strengthens the muscles in your neck, back, and the backs of the arms and legs. You'll find that it improves your posture, especially toward the end of a marathon-length run, when those core support muscles start to give way. Plus, you'll have a little more protection from lower back injuries.

Legs Up The Chair - Legs swell, sometimes for a few days, after long runs. You can wear compression socks, which seems a little silly during warm summer months.  Another way to help the body recover is to move your seat to the base of a chair or coffee table and rest your calves on top of it so that you have 90-degree angles at the knees and hips. Stay there for 20 breaths or more. This will help with cramped, swollen legs, and will also encourage relaxation after an intense run.

Rountree also believes yoga improves focus before and during the race, when mental staying power is as important as physical endurance.  Her most recent book is "The Runner's Guide to Yoga," and is published by VeloPress.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Core Workouts? Is That Little "Something-Something" Worth It?

Let’s say you’re a middle-of-the-pack 5K runner.  You probably spend five or six hours a week doing a weekend long run, one or two speed workouts, and the social group/recovery runs.  Maybe you do an hour, perhaps two, of cross-training, which could be swimming, spinning or pumping iron at the local gym.  But you feel compelled to add a little "something-something" to your training regimen which will improve your 5K time, if you only knew what would be the most efficient use of your time. 
Maybe someone suggested you work on your core – the muscles at the abdomen, hips, and back which transform that slinky of our human spine into something a little more resilient.  Is focusing on your core really help you run better?  How do you know if your core is strong?  And what kind of exercises will give me a strong core?
Sato and Mokha (Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Vol.23, Ed.1, 2009) placed a group of runners on a six-week core strength training program to see whether their run performance, ground reaction force (how their limbs contacted the running surface), and lower extremity stability would improve.  Both the control and the treatment groups improved their 5K time at the end of the six-week study (which the researchers attributed to several variables), but the group which was placed on the core strength training program had a greater run time improvement, and no perceived change in stride mechanics (from ground reaction force variables) or lower leg stability. 
What differed from previous studies on the benefits of core strength training was the higher training volume (four times rather than two a week in other studies), as well as a two-week progression in set volume; the subjects continually had to adapt to an increased stimulus.  The exercises used in the study included:

Abdominal crunch on a stability ball.  Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor at about shoulder-width apart. Place your arms crossed on your chest, or hands behind your head. Walk your feet out a few steps until your lower back is on the ball, then curl your torso up until your shoulders are up off the ball. Hold the position for a moment, then lower and repeat.

Back extension on a stability ball.  Lie prone, with your upper torso draped over the ball, and your fingers and toes on the floor. Extend your spine and lift your head and your chest. Return to the starting position.

Supine opposite arm/leg raise.  Begin on your hands and knees.  Your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are directly under your hips at right angles to the floor.  Make your legs and feet parallel and hip distance apart.  Take a moment to slide your scapula (wing bones) down your back so that your shoulders are away from your ears, your chest is open, and your scapula are settled on your back, not poking up.  Extend your right arm straight in front of you and your left leg straight behind you at the same time. Your arm and leg will be parallel to the floor. This is the pose that reminds some people of a bird dog.

Hip raise on a stability ball.  Start by lying down, arms out, palms facing down. Rest the lower legs on the ball.  Lift the hips upward until the body is straight.  Slowly return to the starting position.

Russian twist on a stability ball.  Lay on ball, with shoulder blades on ball and hips pushed up high off ground.  Place hands together, or hold a single dumbbell.  Keeping your hips up, turn your shoulders to the right so they are perpendicular to the ground.  Twist back to the starting position, then twist to the other side.

I have bad news and good news about core workouts.
First, the bad news:  While core strength training may be an effective training method for improving performance in runners, you might end up with not much more than a strong set of core muscles.  When I reviewed the Outside magazine “Ten Biggest Fitness Myths” article, the question was raised whether whether core-specific training benefits athletic performance at all. In one study, a group of collegiate rowers who ­added an eight-week regimen of core exercises to their regular rowing ­workouts wound up with stronger cores, but their rowing performances remained the same. A group of Division I varsity football players were also tested, and researchers found almost no correlation between a strong core and athletic performance.
The good news is not only that the the law of specificity still works - running not only can help make you a better runner- but new studies show that running does work your midsection. 

Six-pack abs, and a better 5K time.  Gee, what a great idea!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Frog Soup

The change in the air temperature during the past couple of Sunday morning "sorta-(long) runs" have made things more enjoyable.  I'm still not where I want to be but I'm better off than I was.  But it got me to thinking about the story about how to boil a frog.  You take a pot, and water, and the frog.  But the water has to be just right, not too hot and not too cold, or else the frog will find a way to get out.  Get the water nice and warm; make the frog comfortable, then slowly turn up the heat on the water.  By the time the frog realizes what has happened...soup.
I've been making "frog soup" out of my Sunday morning group: The run starts out with the group chatting about stuff and me not saying too much for the first couple of miles.  By the time we get to the (four-mile) mid-point, the pace has slowly ratcheted up to the point where the rest of the group, when they can finally speak, beg to have the pace slow down.  My friend Ron Young used to do this to me on Sundays...and Wednesdays... The difference is that Ron would do it so smoothly, over the course of three-or-four miles, that by the time you realized you were in over your head it was too late.

I've met people who can push their fellow racers into the hurt locker during a race, but very few know how to walk their fellow racers "down the hallway" and "open the door" for them.  To develop this skill I believe it takes a blend of two different kinds of workouts in the training schedule: the progressive tempo run and the "good build-up" track repeat.

The "good build-up" track repeat is one of several key repeats I enjoyed using with my training group.  Any "build-up" repeat we did was broken into thirds; the first one-third of the repeat would be run at about 5K race pace, the second one-third of the repeat was for a smooth acceleration to about 75-80 percent of perceived maximal effort, and the final third would consist of holding that 75-80 percent effort.  If the effort dropped off at the last few meters the athlete knew they had accelerated too much in the middle third.  The repeat could be as long as 400 meters, but I preferred to use 300 meters starting at the front of the track straightaway for several reasons; the athlete knew exactly where the acceleration zone began and ended, and there was no curve to confound maintaining a consistent effort in the final third.  Best of all, I could limit the recovery to the 62-meter distance across the track infield.  Sure, you could explode at the 100-meter mark, but the ideal was to roll-up the intensity so that your effort as you exited the curve was right at 75-to-80 percent.

The progressive tempo run is an extension of that good build-up over the course of a 20-minute tempo.  Start the first ten minutes at a comfortable pace, just a little slower than 65 percent effort.  Once the ten-minute point is reached it's time to slowly pick up the pace, just a little bit every minute or every block or every telephone/electric/light pole, until you're at that tempo run pace or a little faster in the last couple of minutes.

It's great to have the ability to pull the trigger and unleash a kick at the last 187 meters of a 5,000 meter road race, but a good racer can turn their fellow competitors into "frog soup."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Are You Injured?

 Perhaps you should listen to your spouse.  Thanks to my friend Scott (Knaves) Nance.  And my wife.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Strength Training? Heavy Weights Won't Do "Squat"

To look at my leg muscles it would be hard for most anyone to say I need to work on leg strength. I have a set of quadriceps, a by-product of years of windy bicycle rides in the New Mexico desert, which make sprint cyclists a little nervous. However, I wasn't blessed with a well-balanced musculature, which may be the reason (besides overuse, and stubbornly not taking extra rest days when needed) for some of my biomechanical problems in the past.

The hack squat.
 About five years ago, my friend Jay Yanovich had me on a very simple strength-training plan.  The plan consisted of little more than a 20-minute warm-up on the elliptical trainer, followed by three sets of 15 hack squats, performed in a very slow and deliberate manner, with very light weight resistance. "If you do them right," Jay said, "your quads will quiver near the end of each set." Each set of hack squats was interspersed with a set of 10 assisted squats at the side of the hack squat rack. After the squats I would use a "stretch machine" to work on my flexibility. After the initial shock of (over-)firing large muscles wore off during road runs, I could sense some surprising power in my legs, especially at the latter end of short races.
Researchers found a strength training program, added to endurance running, improved run performance in recreationally fit women when compared with run-only training. This week I'm looking at a series of exercises which can be done either at the local gym with the lower extremity machines or dumbbells, or at home with a set of dumbbells.
Muscle endurance, without bulk, is the balance runners need to find when approaching a strength training program. To increase muscle endurance without hypertrophy, the exercises should involve 12-to-15 repetitions for two to three sets, and have about a minute of rest between sets.  If weight is added, make certain it is no more than half of what could be lifted for one repetition.
Most of the exercises below can be done with or without a weight and (except for the first) focus on one leg at a time. If a movement aggravates or causes pain, avoid doing it or ask a strength trainer whether an alternative exercise exists.

LEG RAISES: Hang with the arms from a horizontal (chin-up) bar. Slowly lift both feet (keeping the legs straight) simultaneously toward the ceiling until the legs are parallel to the floor. Slowly lower the legs back to the starting position and repeat. Try to not swing the legs as you transition from one repeat to the next.

CALF RAISE: Stand with the ball of one foot on a raised surface such as a stair with the sole of the foot parallel to the floor. Slowly raise onto the toes, then slowly back to the starting position. Do not lef the heel drop below the level of the forefoot. This exercise can also be performed using dumbbells.

SEATED CALF RAISE: Sit on a bench with your feet flat on the floor. Place a dumbbell on your knee, balanced with your hand. Extend your foot so that your heel is off the floor and your foot is on its toes. Slowly lower your heel back onto the floor. Repeat this exercise with the other foot.

LUNGES: Start the exercise standing upright. You may use dumbbells or a barbell for extra weight. While keeping the back straight, lift one leg and lunge forward as if taking a large step. Bend the knee until the quadriceps muscles are parallel to the floor. Keep the quadriceps and lower leg at a right angle to minimize stress on the knee. Return to the upright position and repeat the exercise with the other leg.

STEP-UPS: Facing a stable chair, box or step 12-to-18 inches high with hands on hips, step up onto the raised surface one foot at a time so your are standing on top of it. You may add resistance by holding dumbbells in each hand. Step down backward, one foot at a time, to the starting position. Repeat the exercise starting with the opposite foot.

Remember while doing any strength training to breathe throughout the exercises; exhale on the movement and inhale on the return. Also make certain to maintain a neutral position (back/hips) throughout the exercise, use a weight which can be controlled throughout the entire exercise movement and do not lock your joints (knees, in the case of lower extremities) at any time during the exercise; use the almost complete, but not total, range of motion.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Want To Run Strong? You Need (To Be) A Dumbbell (Or Two)

I wrote in an earlier posting about my first trip to an area which for many runners is “the dark side;” the weight room. The weight room can be a scary place, especially if you’re a ‘typical’ recreational runner. But the only thing which scares me more than a weight room is asking for advice and counsel from a fitness trainer, especially one who rarely works with runners. My marathoner, Deena, works as a massage therapist for a local fitness center. Many were the evening track workouts where she would show up stiff and sore: ‘Coach, the trainer kicked my butt today in the gym; he had me doing…’ She was one of the fittest persons working for the gym, so the management would have her be the “guinea pig” when a new trainer came on board. A fitness trainer who doesn’t understand that running is more than ‘cardio” or warm-up for their training regimen can have runners doing all sorts of exercises which can make them feel worse than the worst track interval workout or over-distance run through which they’ve ever suffered.

My friend Jay Yanovich is a physiology guy and a former ultra-runner.  He served as my strength coach during some of my best years of running in my early 40s.  He limited my unstructured routine to a few short resistance exercises; after the initial shock wore off on the roads, the routine put some surprising power into my legs. Regrettably, once I got into triathlon (especially swimming) I dropped everything having to do with weights.

As I mentioned the other week, it's time to get back to where I once belonged.

Kelly, Burnett, and Newton (2008) investigated whether a strength training program, added to endurance running, would improve 3-km run times in a group of recreationally fit women when compared with run-only training. The strength-trained group was found to improve their 3K run time, while not significantly, compared to the group which only ran. Not surprisingly, the lifters also were stronger when lower body strength was tested (parallel squat and hamstring curl), and stronger in the upper body, as measured by bench press data. But did they become bulky, which is often a “reason” women give for not weight training? Not only did the researchers find no difference in VO2max or running economy in the lifting/running group, but there were no changes in the body composition. Women are less likely to get bulky (if lifting for muscle endurance) because of their hormone make-up.

Michael Leveritt, author of the upper body strength training section in “Run Strong” (Human Kinetics, 2005) describes the varied outcomes of strength training – muscle strength, muscle power, muscle hypertrophy, and muscular endurance – and recommends that to increase muscle endurance without the hypertrophy (getting “bulky”), the exercises should involve 12-to-15 repetitions for two to three sets, about a minute of rest between sets, with a weight at about half of what could be lifted for one repetition. Leveritt’s sample upper body program can be performed in about 30 minutes and focus on the back, chest and shoulder muscle groups, with some assistance from the biceps and triceps. The movements are running-specific, done with alternating movements of the limbs and mostly in an upright position. The routine includes:

Lat Pulldown.jpgLat Pulldown - place hands on bar in a grip wider than shoulder width. With knees under the pad, bend the elbows and pull the arms out and down until the upper arms are parallel to the floor. Extend arms back to starting position.

Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press.jpgAlternate Dumbbell Chest Press - lie flat on your back on a bench. Dumbbell in each hand, one arm extended straight up from the shoulder, the other arm bent at the elbow to 90 degrees. Bend the elbow to lower the dumbbell down until that elbow is bent 90 degrees. At the same time, contract the chest and straighten the other arm so that it extends straight up from the shoulder.

Seated Row.jpgCable Seated Row - from a seated position, with the hips and knees slightly flexed, grasp the pulley handles with both hands. Bring the handles toward the trunk while squeezing the shoulder blades together and down. Keep arms close to the body during the movement. Return the pulley handles back to the starting position.

Alternating Dumbbell Press.jpgAlternate Shoulder Press - from a standing position, begin this exercise with one arm extended straight up from the shoulders and the other arm with the elbow bent at 90 degrees. Bring the dumbbell in the hand of the straight arm downward until the elbow is bent 90 degrees. At the same time straighten the other arm so that it extends straight up from the shoulders. Maintain tension in the trunk to stabilize the body throughout the exercise.

Lat Deltoid Raise.jpgDumbbell Side Delt Abduction - from a standing position, lean forward slightly while holding a dumbbell in each hand, with hands extended straight downward from the shoulders and elbows slightly bent. Bring the arms outwrd and upward with elbows only slightly bent until the arms are outstretched and parallel to the floor. Return hands to the starting position.

Dumbbell Row.jpgDumbbell One Arm Lat Row - place the knee on a bench with the shin along the length of the bench. Bend forward at the hip so that the spine is almost parallel with the bench. Hold a dumbbell in the opposite hand with the arm extended straight downward from the shoulder. Raise the dumbbell while bending the elbow until the upper arm is parallel with the floor, keeping the arm close to the body. Lower the dumbbell to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.

There are several other exercises which can be used for strength training, depending on the individual runner’s strengths, weaknesses and imbalances. Remember that the goal is to increase the muscle strength – and running performance – with as little increase in muscle size as possible.
Next post will outline some lower body exercises which can be incorporated as part of a strength training program.