What I’ve learned about running from non-runners

Credit: http://www.runnersworld.com

Today’s run (street): 4.5 miles
Yesterday’s run (treadmill): 3 miles

Have you ever started a conversation about running with a non-runner and ended up regretting it? Like politics, religion and parenting, running is a subject that generates strong opinions. Generally speaking, most runners — even those at different ends of the performance scale — will agree on running related topics. Whether we run seven or eleven minute miles, we all sweat, have to deal with weather and wish we were faster. But discussions with non-runners can sometimes go like this.

Non-Runner: What did you do this weekend”
Runner: I did a couple of long runs on Saturday and Sunday.
NR: Wow. I’ll bet your knees are hurting today.
R: Running doesn’t hurt your knees. In fact it’s been proven that running is good for your knees.
NR: Tell that to my my friend [sibling, spouse, friend of a friend, guy I work with…] who used to run until it ruined their knees.
R: Do you run?
NR: No! I don’t want to hurt my knees and besides running is so boring!
R: Nice talking to you.

If you think I’m exaggerating, I had this conversation with someone at work this week. Others have warned me of other potential maladies, including heart attacks. I will say that the majority of conversations I’ve had with non-runners are positive. I’ve heard just as many people tell me they admire runners and wished they had the patience or discipline to run themselves.

I haven’t been much of a runner this week myself, as my increasingly busy work week has cut into my workout time. I took a vacation day yesterday so I could go out east to the Atlantis Aquarium in Riverhead. We needed to get on the road early and I opted for a treadmill session to save time. Conditions were humid, so I did what I could to move air around the treadmill room. I used the big floor fan and set the built-in fans on the treadmill console to full power.

That helped, but only so much. Although I only covered three miles, it felt like six and I was wishing for a nap on the way to the Aquarium. We had a great time in Riverhead, and Atlantis is always a good experience. After a tough week, it was nice to do our first family activity since the kids began their summer break.

This morning conditions felt more like spring than summer. It was 65° when I went out and the humidity was far lower than on Friday. I’ve felt ambivalent about my workouts lately, but today everything worked. The air felt cool throughout my entire run and I was pleased with my stride. I’ve been reading an article excerpted from Meb Keflezighi’s new book and tried to do some of the things he recommended to improve to my form. I felt that today’s run was one of the best I’ve done this year.

Scattered thunderstorms are expected to start tonight and continue through most of Sunday. That’s disappointing. But you know, weather conditions are just one of the many problems we runners face. I know a few non-runners who would tell you that.

Not a step back, but not what you’d call progress

Disappointing cadence

Today’s run (street): 4.6 miles

I wasn’t sure what to expect on today’s run but I hoped I would find it easier to reach my targeted performance numbers after seeing some improvement yesterday. To my dismay, I felt less energy this morning and I hoped that I’d rebound during the run. Although I did quickly get into rhythm, I found even the first couple of miles difficult. I wasn’t sure if I’d started too fast, or if I was simply too tired.

I’ve read numerous times that an ideal (non-competitive) pace will allow a runner to maintain a conversation while still providing some level of challenge. For most people, that’s 75-85% of max heart rate. A check of the data from today’s run showed that I stayed primarily between 76 and 79% of max for the first 3.75 miles. Even though I was primarily at the lower end of the HR scale, the going felt difficult.

My response was to pick up the pace and, for the last 3/4 of a mile, I kept heart rate between 80-86% of max. In terms of technique, I adopted an almost bouncing stride that I hoped would translate to greater speed. It did, but it still fell short of today’s expectations. My cadence, even after using my new form, never got out of the middling range. The one upside is that getting my HR into the higher 80% range is good preparation for harder workouts.

I don’t know if I can return to doing 8:00 minute range training paces, but even if I can’t, I still have lots of room for improvement.

Being a down to earth runner isn’t always good

 

Today’s run (street): 4.3 miles

This week has been a challenge, but I’m not complaining. I’m working on some interesting projects that have required me to spend long days in the city. I’m hoping all the walking I’ve done this week has provided some conditioning benefit. My running frequency has suffered a bit, but in terms of mileage, I’m not too far off track. Last weekend I decided to move my minimum training distance from three to four miles, so I’ve done over 8 miles coming into the weekend.

This morning I went out in 40 degree weather for my first run since Tuesday.  I started easy and picked up the pace about midway through. At one point I started thinking about the way I run. Elite runners are fast because their form keeps them off the ground most of the time. In comparison, I find that I spend a lot of time on terra firma. In the moments that your foot is touching the ground, you’re not moving. That explains a lot about my speed.

I experimented with opening my stride hoping that it might make a difference. After reviewing my Garmin’s performance data, it looks like it did improve my pace from that point forward. Tomorrow I’m excited to run with the authors of two excellent blogs: She is Out Running and The Petite Pacer. They are both great runners and I hope I don’t hold them back too much. I’ll try to convince them of the benefits of long slow distance.

Mid-foot running, what used to be right is wrong

Coffee bad good, land on your mid-foot heel

Today’s run (street): 3.25 miles

There are some things that are constantly reported by the media in terms of safety and/or health benefits. Coffee is one. Years ago I read that consumption of coffee is tied to nervous system impairment and hyper-stimulation of the adrenal glands. Recent studies now position it as a super-food with minimum health risks related to the over-consumption of caffeine.

Another subject is barefoot-style running. Back in the olden days (pre-80’s), running shoes were minimal in design and people suffered injuries when running. The answer to that was generation after generation of over-built and highly cushioned running shoes with corrective technology to control pronation. But the injury rate remained exactly the same.

Following studies at Harvard University and publication of the book Born to Run, minimal shoe design returned to the marketplace and an emphasis was put on mid-foot landing and “natural” running style. These shoes have captured almost 10% of the market and I’ll admit that I’ve bought into it as well.

Today, the New York Times published an article in their Well blog, with research supporting heel striking as the “more physiologically economical running form, by a considerable margin.” What!?? I was very surprised to read this, because the minimalist approach seems more logical. Why wouldn’t a shoe that supports a bio-mechanically correct stride be the better choice?

According to the studies, heel striking seems to facilitate more efficient energy expenditure. This is the opposite from everything I’ve read before about the subject. I’m not sure what to do with this new information. I’ll probably continue to use lighter, flatter and more minimally constructed running shoes because I prefer them. Besides that, despite all my efforts to run with an efficient mid-foot stride, my outsoles still show quite a bit of heel wear.

Why golfers don’t get better and runners don’t get faster

Working towards the perfect swing

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

When I was a kid, my dad was into golf and he spent a lot of time focusing on technique that would improve his game. I can recall the various devices made up of ropes and whiffle balls (I called them his toys) that he’d swing in the house in hopes of improving his swing. Did they help? I’m not sure, but I should ask him.

Bringing this to today, I know people who are equally focused on improving their golf form. There are numerous magazines, websites and TV shows that provide tutorials and theory on ways to optimize your golf skills. With all these resources, you’d think anyone could measurably elevate their game. Yet, despite this help, most people can’t get past a certain level.

Running seems to be that way for me. I read Running Times, Runner’s World and Trail Runner magazines and pay attention to articles about technique and performance. I practice some of what I read and occasionally see results from the changes I made. But at the end of the day, I still run about the same race pace as I did three years ago. On a daily basis, I’m a little slower. 

I ran my daily route 19 seconds faster today than yesterday. To get where I want to be requires me to run that course 3 minutes faster than I did today. Until I commit to really doing that core and hill work, speed play, and intervals, I’ll never find myself running sub-9:00 paces on a daily basis. Resources are great, but only if you actually use them.

One good run deserves another

Today’s run ( street): 2.5 miles

It’s been ten days since I fell after one of my morning runs and I still have some nasty abrasions to show for it. My right leg, near the outside of my knee, is still in tough shape despite daily care. The injuries are healing but they still sting and this morning it was fairly uncomfortable.

I’d prepared for an outside run after checking last night’s weather. It was chilly, but I dressed for it and took off hoping that I’d fare better than the last three times I’d gone out. After reaching the top of the first road it was clear that I was past those issues. My form was more fluid and my stride felt more open than it had the last few times I’d run. I experimented with arm swing as a method to increase cadence. I think that was helpful on the roads that had inclines.

The run went by quickly and despite the fact that my Garmin had trouble locking in (and subsequently under counted my distance by .14 miles), I ended up running my fastest pace since my 5K in early October. I’m glad to finally have a decent run after some disappointing experiences. One good run is great, but will I be ready to compete again by the 13th?

Good long run on cloudy Sunday morning

Today’s run (Bethpage State Park): 6.6 miles

Yesterday’s experience landing on a sharp rock made me concerned that I would end up with a real injury. My foot felt tender after that run so I iced it for about an hour before we all headed out. I wore an old pair of Brooks Adrenalins in hopes that the cushioning would protect the bruise as I moved around. I didn’t give it much thought after that and I went to bed hoping my foot would be back to normal by morning.

I woke up at 4:00 AM to the sound of driving rain and wondered if my morning run would be a washout. I returned to bed and when I woke up at 5:30 I saw that the rain had moved out. I watched the local weather report to be sure that was the case and headed off to Bethpage State Park for a run. My plan was to go out for about 5K and come back for a total of 6+ miles. My foot felt okay and I hoped that would continue once I hit the bike trail.

It actually felt chilly when I stepped out of the car and I did some dynamic stretches while the Garmin 210 acquired its signal. As soon as the satellites locked in I took off, attacking the first hill that begins right after the start. Soon I was bounding down the long hill, maintaining a mid-8:00 pace. I knew I was running harder than planned because my breathing was labored and I slowed down until I felt more comfortable.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Bethpage bike path feels like it’s a predominantly uphill route no matter which direction you run it. My foot felt fine and the Hattori’s were doing their job. I watched my form and felt energized on the hills. With cloudy skies and the early hour there weren’t a lot of runners on the trail.  Every few minutes I’d encounter clumps of people either walking or running together and an occasional cyclist.

I concentrated on the way I was running (arm position, posture, strike) and decided to block out the final hill from my thoughts. I’d deal with it when it came along, no sense wasting effort dreading the inevitable. By the time I reached that hilly stretch I was feeling a little tired but I put in some additional effort and did my best to surge on the steepest part of the hill. I’m not sure if it made a difference but I am definitely becoming less intimidated by that final challenge.

It’s been a good week of running despite taking two rest days and I credit the Hattori’s which have noticeably improved the experience. I’m pleased with my form and I’m hoping that it will translate into better efficiency (and therefore speed). Even if that’s not the case, I feel like I’m running better right now than ever before.

First post-half marathon run

Today’s run (street): 2 miles

This morning I returned to road running for the first time since Sunday’s half marathon. Yesterday’s elliptical session yielded good results and it gave me the confidence to push  a little more today. I’d already tested the soundness of my knees and legs with some strides up and down the corridors of my office yesterday morning. It was just after 7:00 AM and there were few people around so I didn’t feel ridiculous running the few hundred feet in my black oxfords. That “running” confirmed my belief that I was ready to do it for real.

Although the temperature was showing 58° on the local news channel it felt colder than that when I stepped outside. The driveway was wet and I thought it was raining but that turned out to be runoff from my neighbor’s sprinkler system. I started easy with short strides and a relaxed cadence but everything seemed to be in working order. The first half mile was run deliberately, but with a runner’s form. As I ran that first segment I thought about my last half mile on the race course and how hard it was to simply propel my legs as I came through Eisenhower Park toward the finish line. My stride felt much more natural this morning.

I ran the second mile 1:20 faster than the first and this further validated my belief that moderate activity after a long run helps restore muscles, speeds recovery and increases performance. I’ll go out for a long run this weekend and then take some time to run intervals. I’m curious to see if building my base and also training for speed will yield the performance that has eluded me lately.

Running to the edge

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles at 8:59

I don’t know if I’d call it running fast but I am definitely running with more urgency this week. Instead of falling into my normal pace I’ve attempted to push myself a little harder, enough to feel like I’m running and not “jogging.” My expectations for performance are lower in the early morning, especially when it’s hot and humid. Most of the time my pace at 4:00 AM averages about 15-20 seconds per mile slower than when I run at 8:00 AM. I also run slower in the summer months and the combination of these two factors has put me into the mid to high 9:00 range for most of my weekday runs. After reading some recent articles in Runner’s World, Running Times and Men’s Journal about performance and race training I decided to break free of my default morning pace and run with a constant focus on speed and form. I’m not pushing past my comfort zone but I’m traveling on the edge.

The temperature on the local station said 75 when I went outside but I immediately sensed that the humidity was back in full force. Ignoring that, I set out quickly and managed to keep my pace brisk over the first street that goes slightly uphill before it connects to another road that descends at about the same rate. I noticed that, despite the humid air, the moderate temperature and the lack of sun made for decent running conditions. I pressed on experimenting slightly with my stride and form. I followed some different roads to alleviate the tedium of always keeping to the same streets and that made it interesting. The new route helped distract me enough to maintain a fairly energetic run.

Throughout the run, I concentrated of front foot landing which was not that easy in my Brooks but I managed to land that way more often han not. I also tried to get more lift on my ascending leg while keeping my stride shorter to increase cadence. Sounds pretty technical but it translated to a decent time, just barely under 9:00 minutes, better than almost any other run I’ve done of late. This weekend I’ll be doing a longer run in preparation for the Dirty Sock race and I don’t plan to incorporate any speed technique for that. Tomorrow and Friday I will continue to push to the limit — and hopefully push those limits even further.

The Tarahumara have made me a faster runner

I’ve been enjoying the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall for a number of reasons. First, because it’s about ultrarunning, a subject that fascinates me. Second, because the author takes amusing pot shots at Dean Karnazes, whose book I just finished. Mostly I like it because it centers on the Tarahumara – the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyons. The Tarahumara society is represented very positively, almost utopic, with running as the core activity of their lives. The Tamahumara are incredible runners who can run a hundred miles or more without resting. There is a lot of discussion in the book debating the benefits of modern running shoes compared with the purer technique of these people who run with simple rubber bottomed sandals. I believe that the growing interest in minimalist running has been fueled by this book.  I’m not ready to give up my stability running shoes but I am interested in some of the techniques mentioned in the book.

I’ve been constrained to the treadmill over the last couple of days so I decided to run in the neighborhood this morning provided that conditions were safe. I’m home today so I waited until 7:30 AM to go out, thinking that the extra light would improve safety. The roads were almost completely free of ice and snow and I set off thinking about the Tarahumara method of running – smaller steps and upright form – and decided to try it out. I’ve read that increasing the number of strides per minute helps to increase speed. I usually run at around 80 steps/min but today I averaged 84 with the first half of my 3.63 mile run averaging slightly higher. The running felt easy, almost too easy, and I imagined that I would return home to discover I was pacing close to 10 min per mile. I had great energy on the run and I had planned to cover about 5K but took some extra roads near the end because it felt so good. When I completed my run I was surprised to see that I averaged 9:06 per mile. It was such an easy experience that I questioned the accuracy of the Garmin and immediately checked my route on Gmaps which verified the distance and pace.

I am still amazed that I maintained such a decent pace without working very hard. There could be many reasons for this: the time of day, the amount of rest I’d had or the perfect 25 degree weather. I’m hoping it was due to the new technique and I will try again tomorrow, perhaps pushing my speed a little to see how that works. I only averaged 81 steps/min when I hit my 5K PR in November so I’m very curious to see how that equivalent amount of effort would work with a cadence of 84. I’m optimistic that I’ve found a way to improve my speed without a lot of extra work. I’ve learned that nothing good is easy but in this case I’ll happily make an exception.