Q & A: What’s the Point?

So, when I first started running (many, many moons ago), I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I basically just tried to keep up with the boys on my team and hope that I finished in the top 10. This was back when running wasn’t cool and a runner like me could regularly finish in the top 10 at a race.

Oh yes. I was cool. Me and my braces.

Oh yes. I was cool. Me and my braces.

As I progressed in my competitive (snort) running career into high school, I caught wind of how we had different workouts throughout the week. We termed them “easy, medium, or hard” and feared guessed which one our coach would throw at us as we changed for practice after school.

But then I started noticing a pattern to the weekly workouts.

You know, the usual.

You know, the usual.

These days, there is a very specific method to my madness, not unlike the daily torture we were prescribed in high school by my mustached coach.

The physiologic benefits of each run cannot be ignored.

  • Repeats: clearing the lactic acid out of your system
  • Tempo: increasing lactate threshold and practice cadence
  • Long: improve cardiovascular and mitochondrial function
  • Fartlek: improve running economy (how fuel/oxygen is used)
  • Intervals: improve VO2 max

There are cross-over benefits in these workouts but they all do one very huge thing:


Mary Cain is a MACHINE. (Image courtesy of therunningforum.com)

Mary Cain is a MACHINE.
(Image courtesy of therunningforum.com)

Period. End of story.

If you want to run the same times (or slower) and feel the same (or worse), go right ahead and do the same workouts. Be my guest. Doing the same type of run over and over will not change your body, how it functions, or affect your times.

But if you want to feel awesome when you run and get a little faster along the way, it’s time to get down to business with a real schedule. With some real science.

Ron Burgundy knows what’s up.

Not every workout needs to be balls out (in fact, some are purposely BALLS IN workouts) but there is a purpose to every run. Even if that purpose is to boost your mental game.

Now go out and run!

No Time To Run? Run Faster.

Do you ever hear someone tell you that they don’t have time to run? Like, every single run you do has to be 45 minutes-3 hours long or something. FALSE! Guys, running is running, no matter how long you’re doing it for. So go out and get ‘er done!

This is how I look when I'm running reeeeeally slow. At least I LOOK fast, don't I? Image courtesy of my friend, Tampa & luluelmon athletica



  • Warm up for 5 minutes.
  • Run fast (on flat-ish road): 5 minutes.
  • Run 3-4 hill repeats (up super-fast, down super-slow)
  • Run fast (on flat-ish road): 5 minutes.
  • Run 3-4 hill repeats (up super-fast, down super-slow)
  • Run fast (on flat-ish road): 5 minutes.
  • Run home.

25/30 minutes and you’ve got an interval workout done. Don’t have time for that last 5 minute fast run? Cut it out and do what you can do. Think that’s not going to help you in your long runs? Think again.

When you run fast, you require a whole lot more force and control to do it. By running fast for a short period of time, you are putting more strain on your muscles and joints, which is a little like weight training because of the increase in force. Running fast also means you have to have more controlled, tighter, faster movements. This requires more strength, too. It also helps to improve your form because when you run faster, you typically run taller and have a more natural stride.

Bottom line: it makes you a stronger runner.

The physiological benefits of processing oxygen faster and increasing your lactic threshold are well documented and a quick Google search can give you more detail on that. But did you know the you continue to burn calories after a hard interval workout, even longer than a regular ‘ol aerobic workout? It’s true.

So, whether you want to be speedier runner or smaller runner, interval workouts are where it’s at. Keep those long runs in your weekly rotation, but find a hill or a track to get your interval workouts on every now and again. That way, you never miss a run because you didn’t have enough time. This is how I’m managing to keep my Runner’s World Holiday Streak going through a very busy holiday/finals/PhD application time.

What are you waiting for?

Go out and run!

Substituting, Cheating, Calling In Sick (sounds like Summer School!)

Hi all! I hope you’re all avoiding the heat wave that is plaguing much of the country by staying indoors and enjoying modern technology in the form of air conditioning. Remember to take good care of yourself during your hot summer runs! In the mean time, I wanted to take this opportunity to answer a few of the questions I am asked the most by clients and friends regarding training. Here goes!

Q. Can I substitute swimming/biking/elliptical for running?

A. Yes, but with some provisions. If you are substituting for a speed workout, tempo run or hill workout, make sure that you perform intervals in the pool/on the bike/on the elliptical. For example, if you were supposed to do mile repeats, but you’re going to avoid the sweltering heat of the pavement and hit the pool instead, you approximate how long one mile repeat takes you and swim hard for that same amount of time. You recover in between intervals the same as you would if you were running, by swimming slowly (switch to backstroke, maybe!) and then taking off again for another mile repeat.

Basically, you work hard for the same amount of time you were going to run, ensuring that your body will still be getting the benefit of an interval workout. If it’s a recovery run for you, a you want to be as out of breath as you would be for a recovery run (usually just slightly faster than conversational pace).


Q. Can I hold onto the treadmill as I run/walk?

A. Not unless you have some physical disability that keeps you from being able to balance as you walk. If you have to hold on (and you do not have a physical disability) then you are going too fast and cheating yourself in the process. If you do have a physical disability, feel free to hold on by any means necessary and, by the way, good on you for hitting the treadmill!


Q. Does gardening/shopping/cleaning my apartment count as exercise?

A. Technically, yes. However, we don’t count it as a workout. These are what you put under the heading of “Active Rest.” They are a form of exercise, but they do not count towards your workout. Sorry.


Q. Should I run if I’m sick?

A. Only you can decide that. A good rule of thumb is this: If you are sick from the throat down (including stomach, etc.) give yourself a rest. If you have a fever: No way. If you can’t go to work: Nope. If you are having trouble getting through everyday activities, please stay in bed and catch up on your Netflix queue.

If you have sinus stuff or are at the tail end of a cold, a little jog might do you some good. You have to be the judge as to whether or not you have the energy for a run. If you do, go for it. If you start to feel run down during your attempt to hit the pavement, head home and give it another couple of days.

When in doubt, rest. You do yourself no good by pushing your body to do more than it is able to do during a viral attack.


Hope this helps to clear some stuff up for you out there! Now go out and run!