Walk This Way

Say the words ‘walk’ and ‘race’ in the same sentence to a runner and you’re guaranteed to get a strong reaction. Some runners would rather DNF than walk in a race, while  others use regular walk breaks as a racing strategy. I’m somewhere in the middle – I don’t think I would ever walk in a 5k, maybe for a quick water break in a 10k, and definitely in a marathon. The half marathon has always been the gray area for me. I’ve taken walk breaks during a half, but usually only to suck down a GU or grab a shot of water. This weekend’s race, however, has given me a different perspective on those walk breaks.

When I registered for this half marathon over a month ago, I envisioned having time to build my long run back up to 10+ miles, and maybe even squeeze in an 11 or 12 mile long run. Didn’t happen – not even close. While my weekly mileage was ok (running 3-5 miles almost every day), my long runs consisted of one 8 miler, one 9 miler, and one 10 miler. Even though I ran the 10 miler along the beach, which is my favorite place in the world, it was a tough slog in the final miles. The night before the race, my only goal was to make it across the finish line. Period. My only strategy for surviving the 13.1 miles was to take a walk break after each mile – same as I did in the marathon.

There were a lot of positives about this race (which is why I registered for a mid-July half marathon). It was only a 40 minute drive, it was in one of our favorite nearby cities, and along a beautiful route we were familiar with. And for me, a lover of all things hot, I was fairly sure I wouldn’t have to freeze waiting at the start line. The only negative was what we thought was our lack of training.

The race didn’t disappoint. The course was beautiful and just right – not too easy and not too challenging. The race was small but very well organized, and even though it was a loop course, heading out the second time around wasn’t as mentally challenging as we thought it would be. Our Garmin wouldn’t load, so we ran completely by feel. Starting at mile 2, we walked briefly after each mile marker. Somewhere around mile 7, I realized that I felt a whole lot better than I thought I would, and our running segments between walk breaks felt a bit faster than our usual half marathon pace. Normally this realization would freak me out and make me think that feeling that good early in the race meant disaster toward the end, but not this time.

At mile 11 we picked up the pace and stopped the walk breaks, and as we crossed the finish mat I realized I had something left in the tank. Usually at the end of a half marathon I feel like road kill that’s been run over twice. We finished in 1:55:41, which isn’t a PR, but certainly not our slowest time. Was it the walk breaks? Was it starting the race on fresh rather than over trained legs? Was it a combination of both?

Here’s my analysis, and my plan for future halves. The walk breaks helped, both mentally and physically. I wasn’t afraid to push the pace between mile markers because I knew I’d get a short rest soon. Future plan – keep the walk breaks, and don’t be afraid to run hard between the breaks. Running without Garmin is the way to race. Not knowing my pace helped keep the mental monkeys away. I wasn’t worried about my pace being too fast or too slow, because I didn’t know my pace! Future plan – leave Garmin at home. A long run of 10 miles is plenty long enough to run a decent half. I believe consistent weekly mileage, even if the runs weren’t terribly long, was more effective than putting all my effort into a weekly long run. Future plan – cap the long run at 10 miles, and keep the weekly  mileage consistent.

This race was full of ah-hah moments and surprises, but the biggest surprise of all was nabbing 1st place in my age group. Sweet!

first place-The Human Race

Who could resist a race with this name?

See Jan Run – Saucony Stride Lab Assessment

BRC cherry creek

Boulder Running Company-Cherry Creek

In the heart of Denver, CO, within the upscale community of Cherry Creek, lies a runner’s paradise. It’s called Boulder Running Company Cherry Creek. Since it opened in early April, many runners have made a pilgrimage to admire the latest and greatest running store in Colorado, and to take advantage of a state-of-the-art running assessment that was previously only offered to elite runners, or non-elites who could lay down a lot of cash.

stride lab

This isn’t me, but this is the magic green treadmill, and a glimpse inside the Stride Lab.
Photo Credit: BRC Facebook Page

I made my pilgrimage in May, and after admiring all the shiny new running shoes, clothes, and gear, it was my turn for a visit to the Saucony Stride Lab. A little background on the lab – the unassuming, narrow green band in the center of the lab is actually a $150,000 treadmill. There are only 11 others in the country, and this is the only one located in a retail facility and available to the general public. The other super mills are kept in research and university facilities. Why did they put this one in a running store? According to my tester guy, Saucony will use the data from all the running assessments for product research and development. They’ll make note of how many runners would benefit from certain types of shoes, and of course, what shoes the runners being tested are wearing. If not Saucony, why not?

After receiving a brief rundown of what the assessment would entail, I slipped a neon yellow belt around my hips (so the cameras could more easily gauge any hip drop), stepped on the treadmill, and he fired it up. The goal was to bring me from a walk to an easy pace, and have me run at that pace for about a minute. I was supposed to run “naturally” and not look at my reflection on the huge screen in front of me (yeah, I didn’t peek at all). While I was running there were 4 cameras filming me from various angles, and the treadmill was measuring the force of my foot strikes, whether or not I struck harder with one foot than the other, and how much side-to-side movement I generated. The belt was quite a bit more narrow than a normal treadmill, so I really had to concentrate to stay in the center. The minute passed quickly, and I really didn’t want to stop.

While my tester guy was letting his fingers fly over the computer keyboard to gather the test results, I was surprised to realize I was really nervous. What if I had something horribly wrong with my stride? What if I looked like Phoebe in the episode of Friends when she ran through Central Park with her arms and legs flailing? It calmed my fears a little to know there is a physical therapist “in residence” so if something was broken, I could consult with a professional to help me fix it. Luckily I didn’t see Phoebe while watching my film, and amazingly there wasn’t much wrong with my form.

There was a lot of data, and in addition to the foot strike/lateral movement analysis from the treadmill, the cameras assessed a variety of things; my vertical displacement (up and down movement), how my upper body moves, any hip drop, angle of my knee at impact, amount of hip extension, body rotation, degree of pronation, where my foot strikes the ground (heel, midfoot, forefoot), and where it lands in relation to my body. Then the computer analyzed angles, forces, etc.

My results – I have a very efficient, “almost perfect” stride. I’m a moderate heel striker, but I roll through quickly from heel to midfoot to toe, so he didn’t suggest changing anything there. I strike the ground evenly with both feet, not too hard or too softly – all ok there. I have very little up and down or side-to-side movement, my upper body rotation is what it should be, my arms match my stride and are placed appropriately (don’t cross the body, my hands don’t go too high, etc.). I don’t over stride, and he felt like my cadence is appropriate. No hip drop (thank you clam shells and glute bridges), my hip extension is good, my knee angles are good, my shoes keep my feet from pronating too much (he said I don’t need the Superfeet inserts I sometimes use), and my Brooks Adrenalines appear to be an excellent shoe choice for me. His only suggestion was for me to work on going from a very straight back to a slight forward lean (from the ankles), which would make me a bit more efficient.

I was so relieved at the assessment results, and really wanted to get the “almost perfect” part in writing, although he was only referring to my running form. Having an analysis like this done has been on my wish list for such a long time, and I still can’t believe it was absolutely free! If you’re anywhere near Boulder Running Company Cherry Creek, I encourage you to make an appointment in the Saucony Stride Lab. It’s well worth your time!

Have you ever had a gait assessment done? Did it help your running?

5k: Fearsome or Fun?

When I started running almost 20 years ago, I didn’t know there was any distance other than the 5k. I assumed racing always meant running as fast as I could for a little over 20 minutes, fighting through that moment of I-think-I’m-going-to-hurl at the end, and doing it all over the following weekend. I didn’t mind the pain because I didn’t know any differently.

Enter the 10k and half marathon, and exit the 5k. Once I discovered I could race longer distances without so much pain, I was all in. The 5k went from being my go-to race to my avoid at all costs distance. And because I love the bling, when I found out I got a medal for just finishing a half instead of having to win it like in the 5k, that became my go-to distance. During three years of half and full marathon training, I continued to vilify and avoid 5k’s. They were too short, too painful, not worth the entry fee…and the list goes on. Those things may have been true at the time, but this was also true – as I got older I couldn’t stand seeing my times get slower, and the thought of not winning the races I had won in the past was more than enough to justify my 5k avoidance.

Well, it’s a good thing I hadn’t made a public statement about never racing 5k’s again, because sometime during last winter’s polar vortex, I got awfully sick of long runs (long being anything over 6 miles). I decided to make this my year of shorter and faster, and began the search for nearby 5 and 10k’s.

Super Day Trophy

It came with a pair of Asics running socks and a gift card to our local running store inside-sweet!

After dipping my toes in the shorter and faster races with the Bolder Boulder 10k and achieving the goals I’d set, I figured it was time to bring on the pain. My first 5k was on a local course that I run at least once a week, mostly because it’s only 5 blocks from my house. My only goal was to win my age group, oh yeah, and to finish under 24:00. I eeked out a time of 23:58, and won my AG. Painful? Absolutely! It didn’t take long to get reacquainted with the I-think-I’m-going-to-hurl feeling, and it wasn’t pleasant, but it also wasn’t fatal.

Six days later (yesterday) I toed the line at another race –  the Firecracker 5k in Ft. Collins, CO. I was a lot more nervous for this one. The memory of the 5k-induced pain was still fresh in my mind, and there are a lot of fast people in Colorado! My only goal was to finish in 23-something (and not to have my lungs or legs  explode).

Because I stink at pacing, I took off with the rest of the crowd way too fast and figured I’d pay for it in the end. Something happened at the start of mile 2 though. My legs and lungs were burning, but I realized it was still do-able. My mind wanted to slow down, but my body was ok (sort of). I knew the last mile was a slight downhill, and as soon as I passed the mile 2 marker, I sped up. This is huge for me! I was in pain, and I wanted to slow down, and my mind was giving me plenty of reasons why I should, but I didn’t! I pushed it hard to the end, and I can’t remember the last time I was in that much pain. It hurt, and no, it wasn’t a good hurt (there isn’t any such thing).

Firecracker 5k

Earned not given.

Finish time-23:39, only 2 seconds slower than when I ran the race 3 years ago! First place in my age group too. I came home with a beautiful hand-made pottery plate that says I did good. More importantly, I came home with the realization that I could push myself so much harder than I ever thought I could. Speed isn’t going to come as easily as it did 20 years ago, and it’s going to hurt – a lot – but I’m finally ok with that.

Power or Plank?

Kettlebell Swing

Is this the new king of core?

Can you hold a plank for more than a minute? Do you diligently hit the mat for your daily dose of core work before or after every run? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might want to consider trading in some of your planking time for some good old strength and power work.

Open any running magazine and you’re sure to find at least one article extolling the virtues of core work for runners. Planks appear to be the king of the core exercises, with most people aspiring to spend as long as possible in the plank position. The internet is full of plank challenges, where the win goes to the person who can hold plank the longest. Some experts, however, are challenging the power of the plank. One of these experts is Dr. Greg Lehman, a physiotherapist, chiropractor, strength & conditioning specialist, and spine and biomechanics expert.

Dr. Lehman believes that general strength and power training for the whole body should be a runner’s first priority, and that hips and calves are the true driving forces and power producers in running. The muscles that are usually thought of as the core (erector spinae, obliques, rectus and transverse abdominis) aren’t big contributors to running mechanics. In fact, these muscles are worked at less than 30% of their maximum during running. According to Dr. Lehman, running itself is like an endurance workout for the core. Why spend more time on what we’re already getting? If we’re going to spend time training our core muscles, we should focus on strength rather than more endurance.

So which exercises should we do to train our core for power? Grab a kettlebell and do some swings. Traditional deadlifts, med ball slams and throws, and tuck jumps are also good choices. The beauty of these exercises is that they work so many more muscles than just the core. If you really miss the plank position, do stability ball rollouts or stir the pot. One exercise that made it to the top of Dr. Lehman’s list is the side plank with leg lifts. This one works the hips too.

Strength and power are becoming more prevalent in the running world. Both are proving to be important for preventing injuries as well as improving running economy and performance. Training the body as a whole instead of as individual pieces not only leads to improved strength and power, it also saves time. Next time you work your core, think power instead of plank.

What are your favorite core exercises? Do you consider the plank one of the essentials?

Running With Fred

Love Running

This is Fred’s race motto.

Some of my running friends and I have a special racing buddy – his (or her) name is Fred. None of us know what Fred looks like, but we’ve all encountered him in various races. Sometimes running with Fred is the goal; other times it’s what happens when a good race goes bad and we’re searching for something positive in the remaining miserable miles.

Fred means fun, Fred means running for the sake of running, without worrying about the time on the clock. To be honest, I’ve never raced with Fred – yet. There’s something about pinning on a number that bring out the psychotic speed demon who is never really satisfied with the numbers on the finish line clock. I’ve always envied my friends who race with Fred, because they’re the ones who are going to keep toeing the line at races long after PR setting is behind them. They’re the ones who embody what running is all about, because we’re all going to start slowing down at some point, and if time is our only goal, eventually the running will stop.

Today I’m registering for a race that will have to be run with Fred. It’s a half marathon, and it’s in 4 weeks. My longest run in the last 6 months has been 8 miles, and I’ve done that, ummmm, about 3 times. Now throw in a week’s vacation right before the race, where long runs most likely won’t happen, and the picture of a drastically undertrained “racer” is even more clear.

But (there’s always a but), the race is in one of my favorite cities, only a 40 minute drive from my house, and it’s on the routes my husband and I have run on so many times. The best part – it’s at the end of freaking July!!! I love summer running, I love being hot during a run (yeah, I know…), and I love the fact that I don’t have to drive to the wilds of Montana and start at the top of a mountain to run a half in July.

Get ready Fred. You and I have a date on July 26th in Ft. Collins, CO.

Battle of the Spouses

running love

So painfully true!

“Comparison is the Thief of Joy” – Theodore Roosevelt. It certainly is when it comes to comparing my running with my husband’s. Every time we register for a race, Mr. Comparison sneaks in my window and helps himself to my stash of joy.

I started running almost 10 years before my hubby had ever even laced up a pair of running shoes. During our first year of dating, he’d ride his bike to the local races and cheer me on at various points in the course. He followed me along the course during my first marathon. During our second year of dating, he decided to try running himself. I remember having to run backwards at times so he could keep up, and the first 5k we ran together was my slowest finish time ever. Later that same year we ran the famous Bolder Boulder 10k, and although he finished behind me, it wasn’t quite as far behind me as I thought it would be. I’m pretty sure this is when Mr. Comparison started getting interested in my joy.

Fast forward one year to another Bolder Boulder. We started together, and our (his) goal was to finish together. I’m not proud of this, but during the race I tried my best to shake him off. Every time I looked over my shoulder, there he was! We crossed the finish line together, and I believe it was Mr. Comparison who handed me my goody bag and beer.

Now my hubby is so much faster than me, it’s not even funny. We don’t race shorter distance races together anymore (for obvious reasons). When I decided to move up to half marathons he hesitated at first, but was soon running along right beside me. Of course, he’s now faster at those too. The only place I still have him is in the marathon distance, which isn’t exactly a major victory for me. (I’ve only run two, and he’s done one.) During the final miles of the Long Beach Marathon in 2012, I was feeling like dancing and he was dying. If the marathon was my favorite racing distance, I’d be content to let him have the shorter races, but it’s not. I love the shorties!

When I try to figure out what happened, I usually console myself by reading articles explaining why testosterone makes men faster than women. My husband’s theory is that it’s because I’m not willing to suffer as much as he is during a race. Please! This man can’t stand to be in pain – a headache sends him to the couch for hours, and when he’s actually sick, no one in the entire world has ever felt as bad or been as sick. No, I don’t believe it has anything to do with who’s willing to suffer the most. Maybe it is the testosterone, or him having more fast-twitch muscle fibers, or…who knows?

I suppose I should just get over it and realize he will be forever faster than me, rather than keep hoping he’ll take up cycling or golf. My running friends who have running spouses share my pain, so perhaps it is does have something to do with that little hormone he has and I don’t. Other than lacing his morning coffee with estrogen-laced birth control pills, I think my only viable alternative is to take advantage of having a spouse who understands my shoe shopping addiction, and order a new pair of running shoes!

Does your spouse run? Is he/she faster than you are?