Monday, January 24, 2011

Treadmills and Freezing Temperatures

“The road to success runs uphill.” **Willie Davis**

       I am enjoying being back to running, but is hasn’t been a perfectly smooth road. Ups and downs are part of every runner’s routine, and I’m certainly no exception. What makes runners different is our ability to stick to our running plan even when we feel like skipping a run or just quitting and going home. It can be a serious challenge to squeeze a run into an action packed day with everyone placing endless demands on your time.

       The hardest part about coming back from an injury is facing the fact that getting back to 100% is a slow process. There are so many components to a good run and each item that is missing adds exponentially to the difficulty of finishing the way you want. While out with an injury, it seems like, “If I could just run, everything would be fantastic.” So when you finally hit the road for your first run, the lack of speed, heavy legs, and screaming muscles are very frustrating! The injury is healed and feels good, but everything else that has been out of use complains loudly making you feel like you will never be a runner again, or question whether you were ever a runner to begin with. Being back to running does NOT mean being back where you left off.

       This past week I finally ran a 25 mile week, but 20 of them were on the treadmill. My goal is to maintain this as my average for the next several months, moving more and more runs to the great outdoors (weather permitting). I will not dive into structured race training, but focus on strength training to build up my hips and core. It is weird for me not to fill my calendar with races, planning my life around structured runs and preset distances, but I can live with the adjustment.

       Running so much on the treadmill has been interesting. I have heard many people over the years complain about running on the roads after spending a lot of time on the treadmill. We are told to set it at an incline to replicate the effort of being on the road, or to set it on a decline to replicate the pounding. In the end everyone agrees that running on the treadmill is easier than running on the road. It may be lack of wind resistance, or the fact that you are not propelling yourself forward, but I find the biggest difference to be mental. When you are on a treadmill you pick a speed, dial it up, and run. It takes will power to not reach up and dial it down when you get tired, but if you can distract yourself with a TV, MP3 player, or chatting with the friend on the next treadmill, you can cease to think consciously about your pace and just keep up with the belt. On the road it is a very different matter. As my mind drifts, I relax and slow down, sailing along at an ever slowing pace until something catches my attention and makes me realize I have dropped my speed and heart rate into a lower zone. Tempo runs in particular are easier on a treadmill. No need to think, just program in the plan and go.

       I also think treadmills produce a different muscle balance. We use so many muscles when running, to keep balanced, move forward and get the next foot out for the next step, but the treadmill leaves some of this out. On a treadmill you don’t work as hard to balance because it is such a smooth consistent surface, devoid of surprises like pine cones, dog poop, or driveway entrances. With the belt moving under you, there is no engagement of the muscles to push your body weight forward. The one advantage is that the process of getting the next leg up and out in front of you is the same. Since treadmill running is easier, you can run “faster” and engage more fast twitch muscles for the same heart rate.

       One other issue with treadmills, I frequently get vertigo and have to grab the hand rails to keep from falling off. On the road or trail, I have been known to close my eyes for a few seconds at a time, but if I do that on a treadmill my head swims and I crash into the hand rail (which is more than a little embarrassing in a crowded gym). I also feel very disoriented and off balance when I get off a treadmill so I have to stand still on it long enough to get my bearings (also mildly embarrassing).

       All and all, I would say treadmills have their place, but I’d rather be on the road, even when it is uphill. (Except today since it is 1 degree Fahrenheit as I type.)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Just a little 5K

     I’m running again for real, YAY! I say for real meaning I have put in some solid runs and my foot gets better each time. So far I have had no setbacks and I intend to keep it that way! On the treadmill I have worked up to 5 miles and on the road I have run up to 4, including runs on consecutive days, without issues and put in 16 miles this past week. Not a huge distance, but a nice slow return to full miles.

     On Friday I decided to test out my foot with a 5K. Our fitness center holds races every month, but they are just for personal edification. They have a timing clock, people at key intersections to point the runners in the right direction (on the way out, but they disappear on the way back,) and a water stop at the turn around, but no bibs and no one to record your time but yourself.

     I arrived at the gym early enough for a good warm up of a little over a mile with a couple of short strides at the end. Not only was I worried about my foot, but my RA has been flaring in my left hip from slipping on ice so I knew I wasn’t going to push hard. There was a small group of maybe 20 or so runners wearing various levels of clothing. When it is 27 degrees Fahrenheit outside, it is very easy to tell the fast runners from the slow ones. The slow runners look like they are dressed for an Arctic expedition and the fast runners are in shorts and sleeveless shirts! I was somewhere in the middle, but more on the bundled up side, mostly because I was afraid of freezing to death if I had to walk.

     The “director” yelled “GO!” and about half the people heard him and took off, dodging around the confused people that were still standing still wondering what everyone around them was doing. They got the point shortly and we all trundled out of the parking lot and down the road.

     One of the surprises that you find as you progress in distance running is that the distances shrink. The first time you run a 5K, it seems like an incredibly long distance, but by the time you are running 25 to 30 miles a week, 3 miles seems like nothing. Apparently, if you haven’t run outside in months, the distance stretches again and suddenly 5 kilometers seems like a million miles. By the time my Garmin beeped for the 1 mile mark, I felt like I had been running forever instead of 9 minutes! The one comfort was that the leaders were not passing me on the return yet.

     Our path led us through the golf course that has big fountains blasting out of the frozen ponds. This has an effect like snow making equipment creating a mountain of snow around the jet of water so it looks like a little white volcano. On we went, out and around, winding down the crooked street. There was next to no traffic so I drifted back and forth across the road cutting the tangents, pretending I was in a competitive race. Next, the front runners started passing me. I’ve done this enough time to know that this did not mean I was close to the turnaround! One more curve and I could see the poor girl, bundled like Nanook of the North, handing out water cups. I had my own bottle so I didn’t take one, but I did thank her for being out there.

     By this time, I was finally starting to feel fully warmed up and confident. The runner that had been pacing off me for the first mile and a half began to flag. I could tell he was struggling to match me, but as he was petering out I was getting into my groove. I realized after we wound back through the golf course that the orange cones and pointing people were gone. This was my first time through this part of the base so I was glad I could see a couple of runners making the next turn. Unfortunately, after I turned the corner, the runners ahead of me were nowhere to be seen. All the buildings on base look the same so I had a small panic moment wondering where I should turn, but finally found my way back to the gym. My final time was 28:13 which made me happy, but my splits were all over the map. I didn’t run full out and I felt a bubble in my hip most of the way, but my foot was okay and next time I can push a little harder. My total mileage for the week (Mon.-Sun.) was 16 miles with plans for 18-20 next week.

     One last side note: I have started working with a personal trainer to balance my muscles, rebuild my calf, and strengthen more of my body. If it makes me a faster runner, that will be a great perk, but mostly I just want to be fit and healthy and fix the tilt in my hips!

Edited to add: PS  No, I did not run barefoot :-)  When it is below freezing I wear either Vibram Treks, or Teva Proton water shoes.  For the 5K I wore the protons.  I wasn't sure about the course and didn't want salty ice water seeping into my toes.  The protons can be worn with regular wool socks and are basically a neoprene boot so unless you step in water up to your ankle, feet stay dry.  I must admit though, my feet were actually to hot!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What I Teach My Beginning Runners

What I am teaching my beginners

     People are always telling me, “I can’t run” or “I hate to run.” These statements make me sad because the vast majority of the time the person is not only capable of running, but they can learn to enjoy it too. With my beginner group, my goal is to give them the tools to learn to run and love it.

     We start with form. Everyone that knows me knows I’m a huge proponent of barefoot running because it is gentle on your body and the fastest way to learn the posture and form that is the way our bodies were designed to run. The best time to learn this form is when you are starting out. There are many great websites out there to fill in all the details and ongoing questions but here are a few to get you started. The running barefoot, Barefoot Runners Society, and the barefoot forum on Runner’s World are great resources. If the idea of running barefoot is just too far out for you, you can achieve the same style through Chi Running, Pose Running, and Evolution Running. However you do it, it is important to learn proper body mechanics and most people are shocked to hear that landing on your heels is bad and that a good distance runner should NOT look like a Gazelle racing across a meadow. Distance running is definitely where Turtles can shine. Take a lesson from those turtles, they don’t bounce down the road!

     The next thing I teach is to learn to run SLOW! Running is running. If you always have one foot touching the ground, you are walking. When, for even the briefest of split seconds, you have both feet off the ground you are running. I don’t care if your forward motions amounts to less than 15 minutes per mile, if you leave the ground you are running. Allen Leigh, who is in his 70’s and still an avid runner, started his running career by learning to run in place in his living room before he ever ventured onto the road! Once you learn to run smoothly you can start adding minutes to your running and work on the next goal which is running increasing amounts of time. 30 minutes is a great goal! In that 30 minutes you can take a 1 minute walking break every 5, 10 or 15 minutes or however often you are confortable, but learning to be on your feet for 30 minutes and getting into the habit of doing so 3 or 4 times a week is an important goal.

     Running should not hurt! If running even a few steps makes you winded or sore, you need to back up and work on a walking program until this is no longer the case. When you can walk for half an hour, begin adding in a little running just for a minute or even 30 seconds at a time. Keep your pace to a conversational one. You should always have enough breath to talk, if not then take a walking break or slow down. Running at a speed that increases your fitness and makes you a healthier stronger person does not mean keeping pace with the local track star. Whatever pace gives you a good workout is the pace that is best for you. If everyone out there with you is passing you, that is okay, you are passing all the people that are at home in front of the TV! When my friend and I trained for our first half marathon in 2009, we chatted and blabbered through our weekend long runs that started at 5 miles and worked their way up to 10. Most of the time our pace was around 14 minutes per mile (mpm), roughly the same pace as a good brisk walk. This begs the question, “Why bother running if you can walk that fast?” That would kind of depend on your goal. My goal is fitness, and I know that as I get stronger, I will get faster and that I will need to go faster to maintain the heart rate that gives me a good work out. That 14 minute per mile pace evolved into an 11 mpm pace in less than a year.

     This takes me to the last thing I ask of my beginners. Sign up for a race. Local 5Ks are a real eye opener for new runners. The first time I ran a 5K was the first time I ran 3 miles without walking. The excitement of racing plus my competitive nature pushed me to a whole new level. The crowd made it fun! Running a race is not really about winning, it is about getting out there, meeting other runners, and having a really good time. You find out really quick that the skinny chick that looks fast may just be a recovering couch potato who barely eats and will have to walk half the distance to finish, and the person carrying a whole lot of extra weight may be an endurance power house that will finish, shower, and change clothes before the last person crosses the line because they have a strong heart and big muscles hiding under that extra weight. Sure, an overweight person has to work harder and so probably won’t win, but my point is that you can’t judge a book by its cover, especially in endurance racing. After my first marathon, I heard someone complaining that a “little old lady” was leading the 4:30 pace group (that means she was in charge of carrying a sign that indicates she will maintain a steady pace and cross the finish line in 4 hours and 30 minutes.) I pointed out that that I regularly get left in the dust by little old ladies and that particular little old lady finished almost a half hour before me without breaking a sweat!

     Last, but not least, the issue of weight loss. Most people start running with one major goal: to lose weight. I have to be honest with you, it will take you at least a year to build up enough speed and mileage to burn a really significant amount of calories during your weekly runs. HOWEVER, that is no reason to give up. The best way to do it is to look at running as part of a new lifestyle that incorporates cardio (stationary bike, elliptical, stepmill, rowing machine, aerobics, or walking), weight training, and diet changes along with your running. As you become a stronger runner, more of your time will shift to actually running, but the fastest way to lose weight is to alternate days with running and cardio. If you don’t have a reasonable way to get to the gym, you can always walk on your non-running days. Walking uses different muscles and will still give you a good dose of exercise without the risk of injury that comes with running every day when you are a beginner.

     My final thought is for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis or any other disease that slows you down. Nothing is impossible to overcome. You have to take advantage of the good days to make gains and those gains will help you though the bad days. I know runners with cancer, auto-immune diseases, heart problems, and even cerebral palsy. They enjoy their vigor and strength when they can find it and muddle through the weak days knowing there are better ones ahead. We start small with range of motion exercises, water jogging, walking, anything to get moving and keep going. I personally cannot find a middle ground, it is either keep pushing or curl up and die and I am definitely not ready