Running Demons

We have reached that point during Fall training season when things start to sink in and (sometimes) go awry.

Nagging pains become full-blown injuries.

Long runs don’t just take up a weekend morning, but the entire day because you need an ice bath, massive amounts of food, a nap, and a shower or two. Maybe not necessarily in that order.

I fully assume the position once I am clean and fed.

I fully assume the position once I am clean and fed.

Your nighttime plans are based on whether you need to get up at the crack for a run.

And worst of all (in my estimate), you start questioning EVERYTHING. Your training, your ability to fuel properly, the location of bathrooms on a long run, your coach, your choice of shoes, whether or not you’ll be able to actually finish a marathon or this morning’s long run…

Probably not the best time to have this thought but it happens EVERY TIME!

Probably not the best time to have this thought but it happens EVERY TIME!

…the running demons.

Running demons come from a fear of failure. It’s totally normal. Races are hard, sometimes long, and “we are all cowards at the start line” (Alberto Salazar). The key is not to let those demons get the best of you.

Getting out of your head is a lot like getting out of the door for a run.

  1. Stop overanalyzing it: put your shoes on and just start running.
  2. Run somewhere new: nothing distracts like being in a completely foreign setting.
  3. Go with friends: best distraction everrrrrrr. Added bonus: falling into step and not having to maintain your own pace.

I have known people who are paralyzed by their running demons so much that they get sick the night before long runs. That’s silly. Running shouldn’t stress you out like that. Gain some perspective, get a grip, and try to enjoy it.

Try your hardest and then let it go.

Try your hardest and then let it go.

Stop caring if you PR your long run (why is that a thing?).

Stop panicking when you can’t find your Garmin/it’s not charged/it dies mid-run.

Stop obsessing about the run that sucked.

Stop telling yourself “THIS run is going to suck” (it definitely will if you do).

STOP judging your abilities by one workout.

Try not to spend your time worrying about if the next run will be perfect or if you will totally bonk and have to crawl home and collapse in a heap on your couch (what, has this only happened to me?). Go run. Have some fun.

And remember, it’s RUNNING and it’s supposed to be FUN.

True story.

True story.

Do you have running demons? Are they like Gremlins and they only come out if fed after midnight? I’m a little bit like this–can’t stay up too late or I start to get weird. How do you conquer your running demons?

Now go out and run!

5 Essentials for Peak Season Training

It’s getting to be that time, folks.

The time when runger hits in the middle of the night and when you are hangry at 11am but you’ve already had two breakfasts.

I will have all the cupcakes, please.

I will have all the cupcakes, please.

 

The time when a mid-morning and mid-afternoon nap are both essential and unavoidable.

The time when you spend more time deciding what to wear on your long run than going out on Friday night…except there’s no way you’re going out on Friday night ‘cuz you got 20 miles to pound Saturday morning.

Workout clothes are approximately half my laundry these days.

Workout clothes are approximately half my laundry these days.

That’s right. It’s marathon season. More specifically, it’s high-mileage peak training season. BOOM! Comin atchya.

As we get deep into long runs, early mornings, and electrolyte-infused comas, let’s not forget the 5 Essentials for Peak Season Training:

  1. Respect the rest day. It’s for rest, not for hiking, rollerblading, bike riding, or walking the length of Manhattan Island.
  2. Hydrate all day e’ry day. It’s impossible to play catch up during a run if you haven’t had a sip of water all day.
  3. Sleep. Like, A LOT. As much as possible. Sleep is when the body recovers and heals. No sleep = no recovery.
  4. Eat real food. Vitamins and stuff are totally vital in repairing and building muscles. And don’t forget to eat!
  5. Keep your shoes up to date. Some kicks only last 300 miles, depending on the surface. Make sure your shoes aren’t falling apart on you during the most demanding part of your training cycle.
Also, pretty shoes = faster runner. Ok, I made that up BUT pretty shoes ARE more fun to wear.

Also, pretty shoes = faster runner. Ok, I made that up BUT pretty shoes ARE more fun to wear.

As you ramp up the miles, you’ve got to stay on top of your health. Let the late-night dance parties take a back seat until after your marathon and you’ll be a much happier camper at the finish line!

What are your peak-mileage secrets? Daily naps are probably on the list of every runner’s dream day but not necessarily realistic. How do you take better care of yourself during peak season?

Now go out and run!

The Stretch Question

Is it better to stretch before, after or during workouts?

Ahhhh…to stretch or not to stretch, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the minds of fitness addicts everywhere to stretch at all in order to avoid suffering a the slings and arrows of hamstring misfortune.

You can take the girl out of the theater, but you can’t take the theater out of the girl, ya’ll.

Back to the question and my answer.

After or after warm-up, unless it is active stretching. I never stretch before I run.

Two types of stretching: Active and Static. Active stretching is the kind that happens while moving (think yoga) and static is the standing still and stretching. Active stretching involves flexing and extending the muscles while moving in various directions, allowing for increased blood flow and, in turn, further extension of the muscle fibers. Static stretching has its place, but only after your blood flow has been increased via a mile or so warm-up.

Why?

Well, stretching muscles that aren’t “warm” (ie. your blood flow and heart rate haven’t been increased for any period of time–walking doesn’t usually do it) doesn’t allow for increased flexibility. In fact, yanking at “cold” muscles will likely do the opposite of stretching them and they probably won’t lengthen out the way you’d like them to do. Even more of a bummer, the effects are short-lived and don’t increase flexibility beyond a few seconds or minutes at the most.

Static stretching is ok, too, but only under certain circumstances. You want to have started to sweat at least a little bit before you start any kind of stretching. Warm up for a mile or so and then take 10-15 minutes to get your stretch on while your muscles are still warm. I find that after a long, hard run (like the marathon this weekend!), static stretching is really all I have energy for. It MUST be done while you’re still warm, though, and before your muscle fibers have a chance to shorten and adhere to one another post-workout. You have about a 10 minute window where you can get the most benefit out of stretching post-workout.

Active stretching, like in yoga class or in a dance warm-up, involves constant movement in a variety of directions that get your heart rate up and both flex and extend each of your muscles groups over the course of about 15-30 minutes. This can be used as a warm-up to a run or a cool down from a run. For example, running to a yoga class is a great way to get your workout on and then lengthen those muscles long-term. Making this a regular (weekly) part of your fitness routine will provide more flexibility in your muscles and joints and help prevent injury.

In short, stretching is good, but you’ve got to make sure your body is prepared for it. At least, that’s my opinion of how to get a good stretch on.

Now go out and run!

Getting Motivated And Staying Motivated

For most of us, exercising is a way to stay in shape. Vanity, pride and fear keep us going to the gym, hitting the road and trying that new workout that promises to burn 800 calories an hour (really?). I would argue that mere physical condition isn’t enough to keep runners going. In fact, if getting “in shape” is the reason people start running, it is almost never the reason that they keep running.

We runners are a different breed. Whether you are a 5K runner, a marathoner or an ultra-marathoner, you are a runner and you are different. We do grueling workouts under extreme weather conditions. We build our days, our diets and our social lives around our runs. We travel the world to race the same distance over and over again. We wake up early to pound the pavement or the treadmill.

Our sport is your sport’s punishment.

And we do it willingly.

And happily.

And we’ll do it again tomorrow.

But why do we run? Like I said, the first answer out of most people is “to stay in shape.” I get that. Me, too. But when we dig deeper, it is something else, isn’t it?

For me, it’s a challenge to do something I’ve done for 21 years and see if I can do it better and better every day. I run to prove to myself I can get faster, go farther if I dedicate myself to it. I run against only one person: me.

This is not unusual for most runners. The pros try to beat one another, sure, but we amateurs are out there running against only one person: ourselves. We are our own motivation to keep going day after day.

So how do you stay motivated when the only competition you have is the person in the mirror every morning?

#1. Run with people who are faster than you. I remember the exact moment when I was 14 and I passed the #3 girl on our varsity cross-country team. I had worked hard all season to get into shape and was always 6th or 7th (read: last on our team) but in this race and the ones after it, I was 4th and 3rd. I will never forget how those 6 women pushed me in our workouts to work hard and never give up.

#2. Find a race. Your marathon might be over, but that doesn’t mean your racing season has to be! You’re in probably the best shape of your life when you toe the line at a race you’ve trained 4-6 months to run, why leave it at the finish line? Find a 5k or a 10k to really race in a month or so and start tailoring your workouts to a shorter distance. It will allow you to recover from your long training runs, but keep you from diving headfirst into a training slump.

#3. Run for a charity. I’ve said it over and over again: running for someone or something else is far more fulfilling than just running for yourself. Believe me on this one and go out for a charity you hold near and dear to your heart.

#4. Set goals. I want to run a 7-minute mile. I want to run a sub-4 hour marathon. I want to beat my best 5k time. I want to run a mile without stopping. Set your goal. Map out a plan. Take the first steps out the door. Do it.

You can do anything you want to, you just have to be brave enough to TRY.

Motivation is not always an easy thing to find and it’s even harder to maintain. But if you are proactive about it, you can keep your motivation levels high throughout your training season and have some fun while you’re at it. Besides, if it isn’t fun anymore, why the hell would you still be doing it?

Now go out and run!

Whether you’re a runner or an athlete of a different kind, what keeps you going??

Q & A: Speedy Recovery Tricks

Q. I’m pooped after my long run! Should I take the next day off from working out and lounge around all day?

A. I’d advise against that. It’s counterintuitive, but you’ll actually recover faster from a brutal workout if you do a short, easy workout the next day. Remember the Shake Out Recovery Run? This is the time to do it. You might be a little sore when you start, but by gently moving your body and increasing the blood flow to your muscles, you are providing your muscles with the nutrients they need to rebuild and recover. Take the day after that off to rest and recoup. Maybe you use that easy run to catch up with a friend who’s a little slower or enjoy the scenery. Whatever you do, take it easy but get up and move!

Q. All I want after a hard workout is get into a hot shower and stay there. For hours. That’s cool, right?

A. You know what’s better? Suffering for juuuuuust a few more minutes (10-15, to be exact) in an ice bath and then sit in your hot, steamy shower for as long as your little heart desires. The thing about the ice bath is that it gets your body to chill out and not swell up. When you’re out there running for a while or killing it during a really tough run, your blood is a-pumpin’ and your body’s fluids are moving at a faster rate than normal. When you stop, your body takes a while to slow back down and you can build up fluid (edema) in your extremities (legs!!) which is seriously uncomfortable and hinders your recovery. Ice bath first, hot shower second.

Q. I don’t really need to stretch after a long run, right?

A. Wrong. Right after a run is when your muscles are the most warm and your joints are the most lubricated. Prime stretch time. As you get older (ahem, I am not old, just old-er), these problems become more apparent. You youngsters probably don’t feel creaky just yet, but wait a few years. You will. In order to promote muscular recovery and prevent injury YOU MUST STRETCH AFTER YOU RUN. Seriously, I just watched Spirit of the Marathon, a documentary film that follows various athletes through their marathon training leading up to the 2005 Chicago Marathon. Deena Kastor won that marathon and in the film she talks about the importance of stretching after a run. So much so that, despite her confessed “laziness”, she has her husband stretch her because she knows how crucial that component of training really is. Treat it like your workout: make the time for stretching.

Now go out and run!