Dream Gym

I’ve posted about Team Abby who keep me in good health and all that jazz. I’ve posted about some of my favorite boutique gyms in the city that I cannot get enough of. In keeping with telling you guys about people, places, and workouts I love, I have to share a really cool new workout I did at Chelsea Piers last week.

Meghan from Chelsea Piers contacted me to see if I’d be interested in coming down to their Performance Center and giving their new high-speed treadmills a go. First thought, “Ummmm, I’m not really fast enough to require a high-speed treadmill.” But I figured, what the heck? May as well give it a shot. Told JB what I was doing and after a long pause he said, “I just have this vision of you jumping on and flying off the back of it.” You doubt my abilities? Pshh. Check yourself.

I brought along someone who would require a high-speed treadmill for her runs, Speedy Elite, to test run the ‘mills and give me the perspective of a pro athlete. Off we went to New Jersey the Hudson River to run fast.

Fancy sign = fancy gym

The Performance Center at Chelsea Piers is all official and stuff. Hidden in the back near the rock climbing wall, the room boasts two high-speed treadmills and a Computrainer set up for a classroom of bikes. Indoor cycling at it’s craziest! They have the machines to measure VO2 max, lactic threshold and a whole physiological assessment center for those of you who want to get down and dirty with your body’s numbers. The treadmills look deceptively bare.

No TV. No music. No nuthin.

This is imperative. Why? Because, unlike the ‘mills at your local gym, these high-speed treadmills are capable of going up to 29 MILES PER HOUR and up to a 40% INCLINE! No distractions necessary. There’s even a special way to get on and off because it’s going so fast.

One. Two. Three. JUMP!

John, our trainer, was all about safety and form. A man after my own gym-etiquette heart. As I’ve said countless times before, treadmill running can be extremely beneficial to all runners. Why? Exhibit A: When you run fast on a treadmill, your stride is stronger, longer, more natural and your foot strike is more efficient (mid-sole to toe instead of heel-toe).

12.0 incline + 7.0 speed = more powerful stride

Stronger legs = better form, fewer injuries and faster times. Simple as that. The other benefit is that you absolutely cannot slouch at this speed and incline. If you do, you fall over. So, you are training to run tall which will, in turn, actually allow you to have a better stride on your long runs. Oh, and you MUST use your arms, which I am constantly reminding my run club to do during our speed workouts (you know who you are). Win, win.

High knees are an old favorite of running coaches everywhere. We all strive to have stronger hip flexors and the quick pace of a high knee drill provides just such an exercise for this overused muscles group. The look a little different on the high-speed treadmill.

25.0 incline + 6.0 speed = DON'T LET GO!!!

I am really impressed by the thought that went into the design of these machines and the workouts that come along with them. I’m a big proponent of running drills for EVERY runner, not just the speed demons like Speedy Elite. Too many casual runners are missing the basics of form and strength required to have good form. And good form while running is just as important as having good form in the weight room.

Some purists say treadmill running isn’t “REAL” running. Call me. Let’s talk that one out. Drills, speed work, hill work, form, foot turnover and pushing your anaerobic max are all things you want to do in a controlled, safe environment. You can run faster on a treadmill–that’s a good thing. Faster workouts translate to faster race times.

No, you’re not propelling yourself forward like you are doing outside or on a track. But the beauty of drills like these is that you do them and then jump down to the indoor track below to test the newfound speed on land.

1/4 mile indoor track in Manhattan. What?!?

Oh, but if you desire another sort of cardio machine, they have those, too.

Cardio anyone?

And an awesome lounge area where you can kick back and have a post-workout juice. Or sushi.

Sushi, juice, coffee, nap?

This gym really has it all. They have a 25 meter indoor pool, two sun decks, the rock climbing wall I told you about, crazy amounts of cardio and weight equipment, a sand volleyball court, several full-length basketball courts, every class and club sport you can think of and everything else that goes along with Chelsea Piers (driving range, ice skating rink, etc.). This is my Dream Gym.

They didn’t pay me to say any of this. The demonstration was complimentary. You must have one of their trainers work with you to run on the treadmills, but you do not have to be a member to do that, which is cool. Many thanks to Speedy Elite for coming along with me and running waaaaaay faster than I did on those things.

For those of you looking to improve your running times this Fall, think about investing in a couple of sessions on the high-speed treadmill. Kick-ass workouts = results.

Now go out and run!

Short Distance Challenge

Are you crazed right now? I am. SOOOOOOOO busy. Despite the fact that I didn’t have classes this week, I still found myself struggling to make time for my workouts. They haven’t been as long as I would like nor have I been able to get to a class of any kind. Bummer. Or is it?

Presents had to be wrapped and shipped. Oh, hey thanks for overcharging on the holidays, UPS.

Some runners get hung up on distance. I get it, marathoning is all the rage right now and more people than ever are taking up distance running. I think it’s awesome. Welcome, one and all, to our running community! And a very special community it is…

Image courtesy of Adidas

But there is more to running than just marathons and long runs on the weekends. I’ve actually found that my shorter runs have been kind of awesome. I am focused, fast and 100% tuned into my workout because I just don’t have the time to fool around. Result? Kick-butt speedy runs! And I like it. In fact, I am about to pose a challenge to you. For the next two weeks, right into 2012, I would like to challenge each and every one of you to only run short distances. No more than 5 miles total for a run.

Why?

  1. It’s (probably) something different for you.
  2. The next week or so is likely a busy one for you and shorter workouts = workouts more likely to be done.
  3. Challenges are fun.
  4. Speed workouts are scary.
  5. What better way to start the New Year than with a new challenge?

I know I’m crazy-busy right now with my Physics final tomorrow, last-minute trip prep, doctors visits, flying tomorrow night, the whole family will be together over the weekend, there will be baby cheeks to distract me from my workouts…as much as a long run would be nice, I just don’t see it happening.

Multi-tasking: liquid iron lunch + one-handed blogging! Busy girl.

The added bonus of doing short, hard, fast workouts is that it kicks up your metabolism and makes you a stronger runner. And since I plan on eating Mrs. Obi-wan’s cookies for breakfast, lunch and post-run snacks, the hyped-up metabolism sounds like a good idea for me!

Here are some ways to break down your runs over the next two weeks so that they’re shorter, harder and faster. Don’t forget to always warm-up for a mile:

  • Out and back: Negative split this by timing yourself on the out part and beating that time on the way back
  • Ladders: 400m-800m-1600m-800m-400m *repeat* (best done on a track)
  • Hills: duh, find a hill and try to run it at the same speedy pace over and over again OR run in a hilly park and sprint the hills while your recover on the flats
  • 5K race: Map out your own 5K race route and time yourself…maybe you’ll PR!
  • 1 minute Dashes: On Dasher, on Dancer! 1 minute sprints followed by 1 minute jogs can be done just about anywhere and if you’re really kicking your own butt, this workout takes 30 minutes max to wipe you out
  • Yasso 800s: They’re not just for marathon training! Try to run each 800m sprint at the same pace 4-5 times with full recovery in between

Are you up for the challenge? Come on now, runners. Let’s RACE into the New Year stronger and with new workouts that challenge us instead of the ‘ol 5-miler.

Who’s with me? What are your holiday running plans? Are you doing a Jingle Bell Run? Share it in the comments.

Now go out and run!

I’m A Newbie: 3 Ways To Finish Strong

The end of a race is the hardest. You’ve started out conservatively, you maintained a steady pace, you remained calm on the crazy uphill portions and now you’re down to the last few miles, meters, feet and it’s HARD. How could you have ever prepared yourself for this? Well, I’ll tell you but a first, a little story.

My junior high school cross country coach was a dad from our community. He wasn’t a teacher, but a volunteer who took time out of his day to coach this rag-tag group of 11-14 year-olds while we ran around our local park. He was a nice man. He was also fond of the bullhorn during races. Whenever we got within about 600 yards of the finish line, we could hear his voice blaring out over the crowd and he was always saying the same thing, “Finish strong, into the chute. Keep going, you’re looking good.”

*Sidebar: Chute? This is before timing chips and you had to cross the finish line in between two ropes-a chute-as they shouted off times and stay in line as they took your bib number. High tech, right?

To this day, it’s the thing the Obi-wans and my siblings say to one another whenever we’re finishing something: a race, a class, a project, a long day…“Finish strong, into the chute.” It reminds us that we’re near the end and we have to give it all we got. If you can hear Coach, you’re almost there. Run harder!

And this is how I learned to run harder at the end than at the beginning.

In order to finish strong, you can do three key things during training:

#1. Negative split runs. You increase your pace every mile/half mile, depending on what distance you’re training for. Excellent training tool, especially for those of you who go off the line as though you’re at the Kentucky Derby.

#2. 5K finish workout. You run your long run at whatever pace you normally run long runs and take the last 5K to try to run at your 5K/10K pace. You’ll learn how the end of a race feels and how to remain calm while pushing your body. Great for marathoners.

#3. Middle of the run sprints. During a midweek run, take your middle 2 miles and break it down into 4 x 400 yard sprints with jogging recoveries in between each repeat. Then continue on and finish your run. It’s a great way to make sure your first half is the same speed as your second half, even with those speedy sprints in between.

Each of these workouts will train your body and your mind to stay focused in the middle of your race and to work harder at the end. If you do the same pace for every run and never vary your strategy, it’s difficult to anticipate what the end of a race will feel like. And trust me, you want to prepare yourself for those last 3 miles of a marathon because they will make or break you. Give these tricks of the trade a shot and you’ll be ready to go on race day!

Now go out and run. And “finish strong, into the chute!”

 

Want To Run Faster?

I wondered for a long time how to get faster. In my cross country days, sometimes it would just happen. I wouldn’t have to think about it because I would just show up to practice every day, run at the meets and suddenly get faster towards the end of the season. As I went onto my non-competitive running career, I didn’t find it to be so easy. That is, until I started studying. Amazing what one can learn from books!

You know what I found out? If I want to run faster, I have to train faster. Rocket science, right? Well, it was to me at the time. When I looked back at my best (and most favorite) cross country season at St. Francis with Coach Moustache, I realized that he created our workouts based on this very principle. Speed days were hard. I mean HARD. We pushed each other and ourselves to beat that dreaded stopwatch as he shouted out our times for 400, 800 and 1200 meter sprints. Guess what happened? By season’s end I was running my fastest times and moved up to #4 on the team (I started at #7 of 7 girls…not so great).

The more I studied, the more I learned that simply running more was not enough to make me faster. Yes, it helped me get in a little bit better shape, but in order to get faster, I’d have to train harder. So, I made weekly speed workouts and hill repeats part of my schedule. I ran them fast, hard and felt myself on the brink of vomiting more often than I care to share with you, but it DID make me faster. A LOT faster. Like, a minute faster. In the running world, that’s equivalent to going from bench pressing 45 pounds to throwing up 500 pounds without breaking a sweat. That’s how it feels to me, anyway.

The moral of the story goes like this: if you want to get faster in races, you have to train faster. Every run should not be done at the same pace every single time. Speed workout should be done at your speediest. Tackling hill repeats should be done with maximum effort every single time. Short races are an awesome opportunity to see how fast you can go after a few weeks of speed drills. You must teach your body to process oxygen and other nutrients faster and get it to your muscles and lungs so you can be a speed demon. Remember, if you’re not working at a 10 (or as Monty Python says, 11), you’ll never get over that hump to find out how fast you can reeeeeally go.

Work hard and you will see results. Loaf around on your runs and you’ll stay where you are. It’s your choice. But just for kicks, what would happen if you gave speed a shot?

Now go out and run!

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Newsflash: Running is not always what one would call comfortable.

Sometimes you go out for a run and it’s amazing and you feel like you’re floating on air and everything is falling into place and there’s no better sensation at that moment than running. And then there are those runs where you go out and it’s torture the entire time and you want to stop, sit down and crawl into the fetal position. I felt the latter during my first (and several other) marathons.

This is me around mile 21 during my very first marathon in New York City:

Don't let the smile fool you. I am hating ever minute of running down 5th Ave.

At this, and several other points during the marathon, I was jogging my brain for excuses to stop that wouldn’t bring shame upon me and my family. Mind you, it was 75° when we started on the Verazzano Bridge at 10:15am. By the time this photo was snapped, it was well into the high 80s and we were all suffering. But (ignore my terrible running attire and the 10 extra pounds), do I look comfortable? No. Was I feeling good? Not on your life.

I have had the experience of feeling relatively good during marathons, but never comfortable. I believe that to be a successful distance runner, or athlete for that matter, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Six year, six marathons later...Comfortable? No. Feeling good? You betchya!

Once you can accept that your feet are going to hurt, your arms are going to be tired, your hips are going to tighten, your calves are going to burn, your tummy is going to rumble (or, as mine does on occasion, quake) you can relax into all of those feelings of discomfort and focus on what you’re doing. Running a marathon is more mental than anything. You have to let yourself feel all of what you’re feeling and then let it go in order to have a good run. If you dwell in the pain, it will consume you and no good comes from that, I promise.

When you’re working it out in a speed/hill/tempo workout, you should be very uncomfortable. Working at an uncomfortably fast pace, pushing your lungs and your heart and your muscles, this is what will help you achieve new levels of speed. That is what conditions your body for those long runs and prepares your mind for the pain you will have to, on some level, ignore in order to get the job done.

P.Diddy is in pain, but he's getting the job done. It was the 1st marathon for both of us.

When you can zen out about the pain and set it aside as something that will just “BE”, you can move onto more important things like your form, your fueling, your stride, your pace. You have so many more important things to be thinking about out there, why clutter your mind with a little thing like, “My feet hurt.” You’re running a marathon/half-marathon/10K/whatever. Your feet are going to hurt. Instead, think about what inspires you. Think about why you are there and how amazing it is that you are doing it. Think about all you’ve accomplished just by showing up and toeing that start line. These are the things that get you past the pain. Your mind can only focus 100% on one thing at a time, why not make it something positive?

Listen, I’m not saying you should ignore serious pain, but don’t sweat the small stuff. Go out there and get uncomfortable. And then get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You can do it. And when you do, finishing is even sweeter.

You don't remember the pain, just the glory of the finish. First finishes are even more memorable.

Now go out and run!