From Zero to Fartlek

Welcome to the holiday season when everyone wants to lose 10 pounds, eat their faces off, join a gym, live at the open bar, and party like it’s 1999.

In the running world, this means a whole lotta Newbies. For me it means a whole lotta questions.

No worries, Newbies. I got you.

Some people will tell you to run as far as you can every day and you’ll build up to whatever distance you want to run. Eh. Not so much.

You’ll likely feel like this if you just go out and run as far as you can until you can’t anymore. That’s no fun.

When you start a running program, you’re better off working at speed and strength first and distance second.

What’s that you say? Isn’t it all about getting to that golden 26.2?

26.2 or bust?

You gotta get stronger before you can go longer. Guess what makes you stronger? Fartleks. No, it’s not a dirty word. Yes, it does make everyone giggle when someone says it.

But, seriously, it gets the job done.

Speed play.

…and you should too!

Running fast for short periods of time at your maximum speed will make you stronger. It will make your body work more efficiently to get oxygen to your muscles. It will help make those longer runs easier.

It doesn’t have to be all structured or anything. You don’t need a fancy Garmin to track your distance and pace, any distance at your max pace will do.

So. True.

In the winter, I do a lot of these types of workouts on the treadmill because I’m the girl that slips and falls all the freaking time. Add ice to the mix and I’m a gonner for sure.

So, yeah, get a long run in once a week and an easy one, too. But make the majority of your first two months of running shorter bursts. Increase the distance and time of the bursts, add a few more in every other week, and do some on hills. These drills will make you a stronger runner faster than just plodding through mile after mile day after day.

Oh my god, does that sound boring. Running is fun, I swear!

Happy runner, even in the beastly heat of a NYC Summer. It’s weird how I long for those days.

And if you haven’t experience that “runner’s high” yet, don’t worry. I’ve been “back” to running for about three weeks now and I haven’t had one run that was easy and felt good, either. It takes time.

Now go out and run/fartlek!

Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays: Square One

Hello!

I am slowly making my way back into the “normal” world, which includes getting back to some sort of “normal” blogging habits. These days, I have a completely different idea of what “normal” is for me and here I am, at Square One. The home of all things new, scary, uncharted, and otherwise completely unknown to me.

Square One is a scary place.

Starting a few weeks ago, I was working on walking. Yes, walking. Walking from here to there, up and down my block, slowly and scared of being pushed or shoved by one of my fellow New Yorkers. I was scared I would get hurt. I was scared I would get too far from the safety of my apartment and not have the energy to get back.

Square One is a humbling place.

When was the last time you needed someone else’s help to wash your hair? Can you even remember? I can. It was three weeks ago this Friday. As I traverse Square One, I had people cooking, cleaning, fetching things from the store, walking with me, helping me change my clothes and, yes, washing my hair. I am humbled by their kindness toward me.

Square One is a place for new beginnings.

Because of what I’ve been through, my life will be forever changed. I will never be the same and that is A-OK by me. I just assume (possibly overoptimistically) that I’ll come back even stronger from this. I certainly will have a perspective from the patients’ side that not many other run coaches, physical therapists and personal trainers have. The experience of starting over again at Square One is entirely unique.

Square One has offered me a chance to start over and in a better place than I was a month ago. Sure, it’s scary and humbling a totally new beginning. But the point is that it’s another chance. I get another chance to build from the ground up, to start at Square One and blaze past the finish line and into a whole new future as New and Improved Abby.

That’s my BTAT today. Here I am. Square One. And loving everything it offers.

How ’bout you? What’s your BTAT on this fine Tuesday? Have you ever been to Square One? Tell me all about it.

Now go out and run!

Why You’re Injured

So, I’ve been a runner for going on 22 years. I started off running in 5th grade track and graduated to a full mile in 6th grade during my first cross country season. The next year is was 1.5 miles and by 8th grade, I was running 2 mile races. High school cross country introduced me to the 5K and freshman year of college was my first 10K (Bolder Boulder, baby!).

I was always very active. Not fashionable, mind you, but active. I never did learn how to stop properly in my roller skates. I always just ran into the grass.

It was a very slow progression. From 1-6.2 miles in 8 years. From there I started running LONG distances and ran my first marathon in 2003. I have run 9 marathons in 9 years.

And I’ve only missed one month of running due to an overuse injury.

One month.

It was an overused/underdeveloped left side gluteus medius and one month off of running + 3 months of rehab got me to my fastest marathon to date (3:46).

Post-injury Marine Corps Marathon. PR!

One month.

Why? Because it took me 8 years to get to 6.2 miles and 11 years til I ran my first marathon. That’s why.

If you understand connective tissue, you’ll understand why so many people experience overuse injuries when they decide to just “pick up” marathon running as a hobby in their 20s and 30s. Ladies, you have a huge strike against you. Estrogen contributes to the break down of connective tissue. Yay for being a woman. So, on top of all the repetitive movements that are making your newfound hobby hurt a little more than you expected, your hormones are actually working against you.

Ugh. The “why me?” of being injured is probably the most frustrating thing that I hear from newbie runners. Why you? I’ll tell you why:

  1. Because you did too much too soon.
  2. Because you didn’t rest and recover from your last marathon/half marathon/longest race.
  3. Because you don’t lift weights.
  4. Because you don’t take rest days.
  5. Because you don’t run enough for your body to get used to it.

If you go from 0 to 26.2 in a year, I guarantee you will have an overuse injury by the time that year is out. You may not even make it to your marathon because you will develop ITB syndrome, tendonitis or some other overuse injury. Promise. The odds that you will develop an injury can go up considerably when you look at your weight, diet and gait.

How do you get around this? Easy. Don’t go crazy.

Yes, it would be cool to run the New York City Marathon this year. You will not be ready by November. Try for next year. BETTER YET, try for 2 years from now and build up gradually. Sure, a half marathon in August may not kill you, but it will definitely not make you stronger. Why not shoot for a 10K instead?

Race For the Cure 5Ks are all over the country–and for a good cause! Lots of t-shirts with “boobies” written on them. Pretty sure you’re not gonna see that in Boston.

Don’t drop all of your other fitness habits just because you want to run. I still spin 2-3 days a week during first half of marathon training season. I also lift throughout the entire year to keep my muscles strong and to increase the density of my connective tissue, which is a very slow process.

Don’t go crazy. Take your time. If you do it right, you can start running now and be able to run for the rest of your life. If you do it wrong, this might be the only race you ever run.

Your choice. Run forever or run for now?

Tell me about your injury. When did you finally seek treatment? Share with us so we might learn from you!

Now go out and run.

Getting Started

When I first started running at the age of 10, it was a pretty simple idea. Do what coach tells you to do in practice and then run as fast as you can in the race. Done. I didn’t think about pace, strategy, speed workouts or rest days. I did what I was told and that was that. Well, come to find out, it’s still pretty simple but just not that simple. I’ve heard people say, “I’m just going to run X miles every day and I’ll build mileage that way” when asked about their training strategy. That’s isn’t necessarily a terrible way to go, but I have found another route to be more effective and less painful.

If a novice runner comes to me for advice on how to get started, I provide them with this 3-month Get Started program. Do these runs three days a week for the designated weeks and you will be on your way to your first 5K!

Month One, Week One-Week Two:

-5 minute walking warm-up                                                                                                              -1 minute run (at an out-of-breath pace)/2 minute recovery walk-repeat for 21 minutes    -4 minute walking cool down (a continuation of your 2 minute walk recovery)

Month One, Week Three-Week Four:

-5 minute walking warm-up                                                                                                              -.25 mile run/2 minute recovery walk-repeat 6-8 times                                                            -5 minute walking cool down

Month Two, Week One-Week Two:

-5 minute walking warm-up                                                                                                               -.5 mile run, 2 minute walking recovery-repeat two-three times                                              -5 minute walking cool down

Month Two, Week Three-Week Four:

-5 minute walking warm-up                                                                                                               -1 mile run, 3-4 minute walking recovery-repeat two-three times                                             -3 minute walking cool down

Month Three, Week One-Two:

-5 minute walking warm-up                                                                                                              -2 mile run                                                                                                                                          -5 minute walking cool down

Month Three, Week Three:

-5 minute walking warm-up                                                                                                              -2.5 mile jog

Month Three, Week Four:

-3 mile jog

Definitions:                                                                                                                                   Run: A pace that doesn’t allow for you to hold a conversation beyond a few words you can spit out between breaths.                                                                                                                   Walking recovery: A pace that allows you to fully catch your breath before you go into your next run (as slow as you like since this doesn’t add to your mileage)                   Warm-up: A brisk walk that is almost a run                                                                           Cool down: A walking pace that first allows you to catch your breath and then becomes a comfortably fast walking pace.                                                                                                   Jog: A run at a conversational pace that is meant to be kept consistent throughout the workout.

Here’s the thing, your body was meant to run in a way and at a pace that is specific to you and your gait. That gait is most natural at a faster clip than at a super-slow jog. When your legs have a chance to stretch out over a longer stride, you engage a variety of muscles at different points in your stride, which makes for less strain on one muscle group (I’m looking at you, quadriceps). I’m not saying that you aren’t a good runner if you run 10-12 minute miles, I am saying that you will feel better and run more comfortably at a faster pace for fewer miles at a time (until you can build into the longer miles) than at a slower one. When you run slowly, you run right on top of your hips because your stride is so short. This makes life very difficult for your quadriceps and your hips, but doesn’t let your fabulous hamstrings and glutes get involved. Stride it out, people! You can build mileage this way, too, and avoid those overuse stress injuries so many novice runners experience.

Yesterday, my client Tampa said to me, “I started running my 3 mile runs at 9 minutes per mile (instead of her regular 10 minute pace) and I feel soooooo much better! And it didn’t even feel that different.” I love it when that happens! You go, Tampa!

See? You can do it! You can run

So give it a try. Run faster for shorter distances and build your mileage that way. Now go out and run!