26.2 Every Month

More than anything else in the whole world, I like to help people change their lives. Not in big ways, mind you. I’ll leave that to Oprah. But in small ways, like exercising and changing health habits for the better.

In a perfect world, I could be with every single person who needs me to work them out and counsel them every day. Obviously, I can’t do that. I’m not Santa Claus, after all.

You thought you had problems (Image courtesy of geekartgallery.com)

So many people want to start a workout regimen and don’t know where to begin. Some people are on the extreme side of overweight and can’t just “go out and run”. Some people have never exercised before and would be clueless in a gym. Here is my advice for you Newbies out there who are starting from scratch.:

Walk.

Walking is just as good as running if you can’t run. It’s exercise, it’s a natural motion for your body, it’s weight-bearing and cardiovascular. It’s great! Here’s the catch, I want you to commit to walking a marathon every single month. You read that right: 26.2 miles every month for a year. Are you up for the challenge?

I bet you are.

You can walk one mile a day (taking one day off a week in the 30 & 31 day months).

Walk 2 miles every other day.

Walk 1 mile every other day and 2 miles on the weekend.

I don’t care how you do the math, but I want you to do it! Take your kids for a walk before or after dinner every night. Walk with your spouse and leave the kids at home for 1 mile every morning/night. Trade off walking time with your spouse so you can each have some quiet time. Do whatever it is you have to do, but DO IT NOW.

This athlete has one leg and is running. What's your excuse again? Oh yeah, you don't have one.

Figure it out. Start now. You can do this.

If you want to change your life and start exercising, it’s going to take commitment, hard work, and support. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. While I was prepping for my procedure on Monday I watched the documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”. I was so moved by the people I saw in the film who decided that their life was worth living and they made the changes necessary to keep on living. It was inspiring. Watch it, it’s on Netflix Instant Steam.

26.2 every month for a year. Are you with me? Tell me you are and let’s get the show on the road.

Now go out and run–or walk!

Q & A: Make-Ups & Take Downs

Happy Pi Day, all you Mathletes out there! I like to call it “Pi(e) Day” and treat myself to a slice. I mean, who doesn’t love pie? I’m partial to fruit pies, cherry being my favorite. Though, nothing says home to me like apple pie.

Back on the topic of running, since this is a running blog and not a pie blog…though, I’m sure there’s a delicious pie blog out there and if someone knows of it, please send it my way, here are some recent questions I’ve fielded from newbie runners.

Q. If I miss a run, can I make up for it by tacking on mileage tomorrow?

A. Hmmm…tricky question. This depends entirely on:

  1. How seasoned of a runner you are.
  2. How healthy you are.
  3. What you are training for.
  4. How much mileage you missed.
  5. What type of workout it was.
  6. Where you are in your training.

The list of factors is endless. In general, my suggestions are thus (with respect to the above factors):

1.  Beginner: Maybe add 20% to the next run, other than that skip it and move on. Intermediate: If you feel up to it, add 50-60% of the missed run to your next workout. Advanced: Lazy bones-why did you miss it in the first place? Add a little              onto every workout for the rest of the week to make up the mileage and hit your weekly total.
2.  You’re injured: leave it alone and run when you’re better. You were sick: come back slowly and don’t worry about the missed mileage. Healthy: see above.
3.  Nothing special: add a little more to each workout. 15K or less: add 50% to the next two workouts (whatever they are). 1/2 marathon & marathon: take the next long run day and either do half the mileage in the morning and half in the evening of the same day OR do two long runs (70% of your longest long run) on back-to-back days.
4 & 5.  If you missed a recovery day, shakeout run, or other “easy” workout, forget about it. Move on. If it was a long run, see above. If it was a speed day, tack on a fast 5K or 10K to the next long run you have to work that anaerobic threshold.      6.  If it’s early on or you’re tapering, don’t sweat it. If you’re in a high-mileage week, do what you can with the above answers, give the circumstances.

Q. I’m injured but I still want to run my race in a few weeks. What can I do?

A. Don’t run. Seriously. It’s not worth ruining your body for one race. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of races in your future if you are smart and take yourself down now. If you put yourself through the ringer and run a long-distance race injured, you run the risk of sidelining your running career for good. Is it worth it? For one race? Didn’t think so.

If you’re determined to participate because you’ve shelled out serious dough to register and get there (I feel your pain), then consider taking yourself down to the half-marathon instead of the full or the 10K instead of the half. Something might be better than nothing and if you make this decision early enough on in your training, you’ll be able to adjust your schedule and maybe even take some much-needed rest days.

Always seek the help of a physical therapist when treating injuries. They have neat little tricks and tools to help you feel better faster. Trust me. I’ve been there. Your future health is so much more important than one race.

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!

When To Get a Run Coach

Ahhhhh, marathon season. In the age of social media, blogs and internet articles, advice is in abundance. What should you eat? How many days should you run per week? What should your mileage be? How do you deal with a pesky IT band problem? What are the best shoes for you? The “answers” are everywhere and everyone swears they’ve got the silver bullet to get you across that finish line.

But sometimes you need a coach.

Ryan Hall has famously dropped his coach after a bummer finish in Chicago. Kara Goucher split from Alberto Salazar this fall and I haven’t found out whether or not she has a new coach/team yet. There are plenty of other examples of famous, extremely successful professional athletes who don’t have coaches. Gina Colata from the New York Times wrote about the conundrum between getting a coach and going it alone this week (she’s keeping hers, by the way).

So, how do you know when you should bother trying to find a coach?

1. You’re changing your distance. There is a HUGE difference between running a half marathon and a marathon. They are completely different beasts and should be treated as such. A coach can help guide you through the trials and travails of adding on mileage without beating your body up.

2. You want to get faster. Sometimes it’s a simple difference in workouts that will make you faster. Sometimes it’s having someone tell you what your goal pace for a weekly speed run should be. Sometimes it’s being held accountable for your workouts and effort. Coaches can help with all of this and have lots of tricks to help you PR.

3. You keep getting injured. Good coaches are excellent at being bossy. They tell you when to back off the speed or mileage and when to see a physical therapist/acupuncturist/massage therapist/orthopedist about a nagging injury. They’re also the ones who can help with strength-training routines to combat common injuries (or, at least they should be).

4. You need motivation. Coaches are excellent motivators. I remember Coach Mustache my freshman year of high school. He never said an unkind word to me or berated any of us the way you might imagine a coach would and we all ran our BUTTS off for him. He just knew how to motivate us (Conference! Regionals! Sectionals! State!).

5. You’re new. Get. A. Coach. Pleeeeeeeease. There are some tricks and tips they can offer you that will make running so much more enjoyable, thus increasing the odds that you will keep on doing it. Remember, “most people don’t run long enough on their first wind to realize they have a second.” Don’t be that guy. It can be discouraging. Get an expert’s advice.

There are certainly bad coaches out there and, as noted in the NYT article above, there isn’t any national overseeing body that certifies running coaches. However, making sure your coach has some sort of education where anatomy and physiology are concerned is key. Also, your coach should be a runner. That might go without saying, but I’m going to go ahead and say it since a certain trainer seems to be spouting advice all over TV about how to run a marathon and he/she HAS NEVER RUN ONE. I mean, seriously.

If they haven’t been through the hell at mile 23, I’m tuning out. Just being honest.

Anyway, there are great coaches out there and it’s even better to join a team where you can commiserate with others about how much hill workouts suck and that marathon course is super-fast and what’s your goal time at this weekend’s race? Teams are great and they usually have multiple coaches with different training styles, so find one you like. Find one you gel with. Find one you trust. And then GO FOR IT!

Now go out and run!

 

Beat The Runner’s Plateau

In every running career, there will be many plateaus. Sometimes they sneak up on us and we don’t realize they’re happening until we see stagnant race times. Sometimes it’s our running buddies who ask “are you alright?” when we’re lagging behind on every. single. run. Sometimes we find ourselves dreading the everyday run because it just doesn’t feel good anymore. Runner’s plateau sucks.

It happens. Now let’s talk about how to fix it.

First things first. You have to be honest with yourself and ask a few hard questions:

Am I varying the speed and distance of my workouts? This is the most common reason I find for newbie/semi-seasoned runners. If you want results, you gotta mix it up.

Am I cross-training enough (or at all)? Another mistake people make is to think simply running will make you faster. Not true. Aerobic + Anaerobic workouts make you faster.

Am I putting forth 100% effort in my workouts? Only you can answer this question.

Is my schedule the same every day/week? Yikes. Isn’t that boring? I’m plateauing just thinking about it.

Am I getting enough rest? Sleep is where our muscles heal and grow. If you’re not sleeping, neither of these very necessary things are happening.

Do I have a goal? Running for the sake of running is intolerably boring. Even if it’s a 3K/5K Turkey Trot, set a goal. Work for it. It takes the monotony out of the running.

These are the important questions to ask because they will provide you with the answers to get out of your running rut, over the plateau and into a new gear in your running. And we all have multiple gears, like cars, that we can train into and find as we get in better shape. It’s kind of a cool thing when you find yourself pushing and easing into a newer, faster pace.

But that doesn’t just happen. Here are some suggestions to get out of your running rut:

-Substitute one run for another form of cardio. Try swimming or indoor cycling. You never know, you might find you looooove triathlons. Get off your legs and into something new.

-Grab a faster running friend once a week for a short, hard run. Scary, I know. But it helps.

-Join a gym and try some strength training classes. A change of scenery and pace might make you appreciate the solitude and quiet many of us experience on a run.

-Mix it up. Don’t do the same workout for two weeks. Nothing the same, every workout is new and different. No run route is the same. No distance is the same. No class is the same. Try it.

-Kick it up a notch. Indoor cycling (aka “spinning”) is a great way to challenge your cardiovascular system while not beating the hell out of your legs. Push as hard as you can during one class a week and see if you notice a difference in your runs after a month.

-Take a break from running. I know, I know. Runners hate this suggestion. But, seriously, taking a one week/one month break from running to find new ways to move might be just what you need to get back into it with a fresh perspective.

-Set a goal. Sign up for a race. No better way to push yourself than to set a bar to reach and work as hard as you can.

Plateaus are bound to happen to everybody, even (and maybe, especially) the pros. How you handle them is up to you. You can wallow in it and complain about it or you can switch it up, work a little harder, try something new and discover something else about yourself: you have another gear. Who knew?

Now go out and run!

What do you do to get beyond the plateau???