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How to Become a Better Runner Fast
Updated on May 2, 2012
Unfortunately since most of us learned to run as small children and have since devoted a lot more time to walking (or more likely, sitting), we have seemingly forgot how to do it properly as adults. Most people when they start running, look like the are bouncy walking. Not only is this inefficient and tiring, it is also very hard on the body. Here are some tips to get you from walking to running as smoothly as posisble.
Keep your head up and eyes looking ahead. It is very hard to look down and keep your head level. Your head is always going to try to centre with your eyes. And your head is extremely heavy once outside of your equilibrium. So if you do one thing for now, look up! Try to relax your face and gaze as much as possible.
Stay tall from your hips up. Your upper body should be long and tall, chest leading (almost as if someone were dragging you forward from your heart rate or bra strap.) Lower abs should be engaged which, much like squeezing the bottom of a balloon, should enlongate the rest of your spine. Make sure not to be stiff or immobile though... think toffee stretching out in the sun, a balloon or your spine getting longer.
Your legs should be bend, soft and springy. You can think of riding a bicycle, having the legs of a cheetah or simply having springs for legs. They should never never be straight.
Your arms should be relaxed but driving backwards. Elbows stay at about 90 degrees and arms never cross the midline of the body. Essentially your arms should be going straight forward and back from the shoulder joint and that's it. No other movements. Your hands should be loose but not floppy as if you are holding a baby bird or potato chip (whichever you might not like to crush or drop more). If you find you have floppy wrists, just turn your thumb up.
Your knees should be driving forward in a straight line. Do not lead with your feet but they should appear "straight" as well.
When you land you should be landing on the ball of your foot and softly allowing the heel to touch down (it should almost feel flat footed when jogging slowly). Your feet should stay relaxed. This is almost certainly going to be difficult on your body if you tend to "heel strike" so go at it very very slowly! There are a lot of muscles that need to be strengthened to make this happen. You would never go into a power lifting move without some time at the gym... think of moving towards forefoot running the same way.
The above landing is aided by a forward lean (as is your speed due to momentum)... your legs should stay bent and springy and your upper body tall as you lean forward from the ankle joint (like a ski jumper). You should feel the weight distribute more to the front of your foot even at a stand still.
Never let your feet get ahead of your body. Your feet should always feel like they are landing a bit behind you (again, think road runner). Although it becomes difficult to land underneath your body on your heels, landing out in front of yourself (heels or toes) is asking for injury since it's like putting the breaks on every single step. If you are landing ahead of your body on your toes it will feeling like you are prancing.
What's most important is that you stay relaxed and move with ease. Everything else is icing on the cake and will help you to achieve this state.
Beginner Runner's Stretching Tips
Updated on May 13, 2012
Stretching is an important part of staying supple and injury free. You should you have a static stretching routine after each workout that includes all your major muscle groups, holding each stretch for at least 20 seconds to release some of the tension you built in your tissues during the workout. You should develop an additional stretching routine that lasts longer and is more passive in nature, if possible holding stretches for longer. You can try a yoga or pilates class or video - or just learn a few keys stretches to do at night before bed. It is a great way to unwind anyways. The one time that you should not do static stretching (or stretches that you hold for any length of time) is right before a workout, since you want some tension in your muscle to run. You need not worry about "warming" your muscles up before stretching, so long as you gradual ease into it and stay well within your range. This should always be your goal in stretching... if your muscle feels like it is resisting the stretch, you are likely causing damage. Although, if you prefer to stretch your muscles "warm" you can do a light cardio workout or some dynamic stretches (moving) or take a warm bath.
First 8k Stroller Race of the Year
Updated on May 14, 2012
For my Mother's Day celebration, we drove out to the lovely little city of Chilliwack to run an 8k race called Envision Run for Mom. Before the race, a reporter wrote up a little piece on the run... which you can read at http://www.chilliwacktimes.com/Taking+baby+stroll/6596932/story.html. It was super hot here in Vancouver and I have been battling some serious nerve issues that shut off the muscles in my right leg and kept me out of the marathon last week (and training altogether), so I didn't have hugely high hopes going in... just a nice trial run of the new BOB Ironman race stroller and no better way to spend mother's day than running with Ama and having my husband there with us for support. The gun went off and so did we. The stretch of gravel trail extended longer than I thought it would... from about 3-7k (or about half) which was certainly a challenge into the slight head wind. Funny how a stroller really amplifies everything - like gravel, wind and any type of incline! It is also where we merged coming up on the back of the 5k walker pack. It's a lot easier to cut through crowds sans stroller as well! With a great deal of support and encouragement from those around me that final kilometre, I pushed through (literally) in 31:48. Not a bad time all things considered. Better still... I am walking and sitting fine today - the best mother's day gift I could get - outside of a great day with my husband and daughter (which I also got)!
Diets, what can we all agree on?
Updated on May 18, 2012
There are seemingly more diets out there than there are types of food. No fat, no carbs, no wheat, no dairy, no sugar, no meat, organic... The list goes on. It may seem like there is almost nothing left to eat. However, as seemingly contradictory as these regimes seem, there is common ground.
Leafy greens. I have yet to see a diet that denies you of this low calorie, high nutrient super food. If did exist, I wouldn't want to be on it. I try to include one in every supper. My favorites are kale, spinach, swiss chard, bok choy, guy LAN, beet tops and dandelion leaves. Most of these need to be cooked (some are even toxic if you don't) - which is a good thing because wilting them down allows you to get more in anyway.
Berries. Berries are the kings of the fruit world. High antioxidant, low sugar, low glycemic index, proven to be your winning general in the fight against cancer.
Protein. We don't all agree on how much but it's hard to argue that you should be meeting the daily recommended amount. Protein is key for building your body but it is also satisfying and keeps hunger at bay.
Water. Again, more is usually not better in matters of the body but few of us get enough. We now know that thirst is a great indicator... if we are in tune enough to listen to it.
In the end it's all about what fuels your body and mind best. So listen to yourself first and don't be afraid to try different things out. I find it funny/frightening that most diet programs advocate healthy food in their menu plans but sell you absolute junk nutritional products. You are almost better eating cake from Safeway every snack than a Body for Life Bar! If high fructose corn syrup is the second ingredient and it is loaded with fructose, why do you need to poison it up with sucralose? It is of course laden with artificial flavor and vegetable oils to boot not unlike said cake. There is nothing of quality here and yet people pay big money for them being falsely led to believe they are doing themselves a favor. Same goes for most of the popular nutrition supplement bars and drinks out there... Powerbar, Zone, Atkins. Scary stuff since many people use then every day as one of the corner stones in an otherwise healthy diet. When you look for convenient food, less ingredients is usually better. You should be able to pronounce all of them. Lara, Cliff and Kashi make tasty natural bars... but as they are also high in naturally occurring sugar they are likely to cause a crash. I love Genki Bars for this reason. They are made with lentils so they taste moist and rich but are naturally high in protein and fiber and low in sugar... So you don't get hungry half an hour after eating one. Hopefully more companies will start coming out with products like these as demand increases!
So what are you having for dinner tonight? Me, steamed greens with a chicken breast, berries with Greek yogurt for dessert, and a big glass of water to wash it down.
Race Report - Spartan Sprint Mud Run
Updated on May 29, 2012
My adventurous friend Michelle and I decided to give the Spartan race a try since it was coming to town. I used to joke triathlon was just a "whose the best exerciser?" competition. This is even more true of obstacle racing... And since I spend most of my time exercising in some form or another, I liked my odds of finishing. The race started with a ceremonial flame jump and then burst up a short hill. Next you climbed under barb wire and crawled under a tarp. Michelle and I seeded ourselves nearer to the back - a mistake - seems most of the people at the front of the pack were optimistic than realistic about their fitness and the gas pretty much ran out when they hit the crawl obstacles. I ended up twiddling my thumbs under a tarp with about 50 sweaty heavy breathing strangers... not the best way to start a weekend in my opinion. There was a long trail bit that came next with some over unders so I charged hard to get ahead of the pack. The next major task was to carry some rock filled buckets up and down a hill. I was not prepared for this and neither was my back. My back loves to move. It does not like to brace against a constant load. And it certainly made sure I knew that and wouldn't be forgetting it any time soon. More steep hills, and between two of these hill climbs I went off course, missing a small sign that indicated a right turn up the sharp little bank. Luckily some guys behind me managed enough air to yell me back toward the next obstacle... Pulling a little cinder block. A zigzag balance beam, a rope latter climb and some loss of skin due to cheese grater style rocks at the bottom of a mud pit below razor wire and I was nearing the end. My husband thought it would be funny to tell me I was going the wrong way in the finishing shoot. It wasn't, in fact... funny. I missed the next obstacle (a javelin that was very nearly lobbed into the crowd at my dear comedian hubby) and they needed to drag me back to complete it. I was still confused when the spear left my hand and needless to say, missed. It was not my first set of failure burpees that day but thanks to staying on the rock wall that came next, was my last. Here's a tip... Forget perfect burpees - form does not matter - speed does - so do them fast. On the climbing wall, step on the far side of the block with just a toe so you don't have to hop or shuffle down to take your next step. The last obstacle involved being hit with a giant foam bat by some shirtless guys. I think they had trouble hitting a girl and they barely gave me a detectible tap... yet as I waited for Michelle to cross the line, I was surprised (and entertained) to see and hear some very audible wallops that were sure to leave some very visible marks. I myself had a good collection of gashes and bruises on my lower legs and had to spend two hours rolling my back out that night from the bucket carry but it was worth it! I can see why these races are catching on like wild fire... Who doesn't love a good adventure? I managed to place and qualified for the next round, the Spartan Beast in Squamish at the end of the summer. Since I am not able to run long distances this year due to injury, obstacle racing has certainly filled a nice void. A void created when I am no longer hurting myself.
Race Day Nutrition
Updated on May 29, 2012
I often get the what do I eat and drink and how much question. There is as much variance in this question as there is variance in people and what they require out of their daily diets. In terms of both, you want to find what works and stick to it. Like most things, trial and error within a set of research based boundaries is the only way to do it. But be flexible and willing to adjust as needed. I don't normally take water, but if it's hot... I take some at every station. Make sure you test your prerace meal, nutrition and hydration both in a long run scenario and a faster run (like a tempo). Things that are well tolerated at less intense speeds will often get you when you set out at race pace and likewise, things that stay down for a speed session may not leave you feeling fueled to go a longer distance. Make sure to do your prerace meal every week if possible pre long run and test your nutrition if your run is long enough that you need calories. Again this differs person to person but generally 90-120 minutes is where most people need fuel. Eat something bland and stick with easily digestible carbs. Oatmeal, a bagel, toast, a muffin, pancakes, that sort of thing. Don't worry about omitting the fat and protein altogether, just keep it small and stay away from strong flavors. If you normally do coffee and it works, do it race day. If you have to stop 2k in to pee every caffeinated run, it's not a good idea race day.
In terms of what you eat during the race... There are gels, gummies, bars or drinks in various flavours and concentrations. Experiment until you find one that works and stick with it. Gels are essentially a little 100 or so calorie packet full of sugary paste. Some are fruity, some in pudding flavours. Some are thicker and some thinner. You want to have a good look at the ingredients, some have higher sodium and some caffiene. Gummies are essentially a jujube with electrolytes. I do not recommend bars unless you plan to do a very very long event at a very slow pace and need the feeling of satiety. All of the above should be taken with water (not electrolyte drink) since they are at the peak concentration of what can be digested and the fluid is required for this process. Electrolyte drinks are useful since they can be taken alone but often don't provide enough calories to pull you through a longer event like the marathon... although there are caloric power houses that would fuel you through an ultra marathon event. In either case, do not trust the fuel at the aid stations. They can, and often do, run out of gels. Or you get some wonky yucky weird flavour like pomegranate spinach or something. With electrolyte mix, make sure you've had whatever type they are serving (look at the website) and understand that they can swap it, run out, or mix it too strong or too weak. In short, don't plan on aid stations... but they do make a great plan B.
People differ greatly in terms of how much they need. Generally a big swig of water every fifteen minutes will do it. But some people need far less and some far more. Pregnancy, medication, weather, age, weight, fitness level, illness or surgery, and other factors affect how much water you need. Too much and you'll likely feel heavy, sloshy or need to hit a few porta potties. Too little and not only will you be uncomfortable but your performance will likely suffer.
Most people need 100-200 calories an hour. More is not better as your body only has the capacity to digest so much and any excess will not be digested properly. Digestion also takes a lot of blood flow and exercise shunts blood away from your digestive track to your working muscles... and that's a good thing! If you eat too little however, everything will suffer. You will likely feel heavy, sluggish, bad tempered, and slow way down. You may even bonk... which usually comes in the later miles of a distance event like a marathon... and the gas runs out. Many people attribute this to poor training or lack of will. I think the lack of will thing comes in that carbs fuel the brain, and when those carbs run out, the brain throws in the towel. You always want to eat little and often to unburden your digestive track and because refined carbohydrates digest very quickly... typically within a half an hour. If you ate a package of gummies every hour you would likely be on the sugar high/low ride of your life!
I tend to drink very little water and eat 1 chocolate gel per hour, taking in a little probably even 10-15 minutes. I know people that eat beef jerky. It's all about what works for you - although I would definitely not recommend that latter.
Obstacles on the course. How to train for the Tough Mudder, Spartan, Muddy Buddy, Warrior Dash or a Mud Race.
Updated on May 29, 2012
1. Climbing. You need upper body strength - but more than that, you need grip strength. There will be some component in any race where you need to be able to haul your own body weight across something using your hands. Often this is a rope latter, monkey bars or a simple rope or double rope. Your hands need to be as strong as your arms and all your muscles need to work together so think functional strength. Parks are great... get on the monkey bars and hanging rings... just make sure to train your endurance as well by going back and forth since the monkey bar sets in parks are normally too short to mimic the ones used in most obstacle races. You should also do a variety of pull up type exercises: chin ups, v's, typewriters, mixed grip, kipping, etc. One I like that really works grip strength is hanging from a bar and doing leg raises for your abs or changing your grip to fatigue. You should also know how to climb a rope with your feet because it is way easier. You can go take an aerial or cross fit class and they should be able to teach you within one hour.
2. Crawling. You will spend more time crawling than you have since you were ten months. Get used to it. Find things like benches to crawl under, work on the transitions in and out, crawl uphill and downhill, and do a bunch of different types of crawling. I like crab crawl, tapping opposite arms and legs behind your back, army crawl, crawling for speed, crocodile crawl, spiderman crawl and bear crawl. Pushups and their infinite arsenal of friends should be a staple to build strength and stability for crawling. And don't worry about your hands and knees hurting... You'll be better prepared for the blood and bruising come race day. There are sharp little rocks in the bottom of those mud pits!
3. Jumping. You are going to be jumping stuff so learn how to do it without injuring yourself. Land lightly by bending your knees and landing with soft spring joint by dropping your butt. The muscles should absorb the impact not the joints! Box jumps, skipping, frog hops, burpees, jumping on, jumping off, jumping over, jumping and grabbing (as in the top of a wall) are all important skills. Even in the trail portion of the races, there will normally be logs and whatnot to hurdle so get good at catching air.
4. Lifting. Sometimes you will need to carry stuff, be it a log or a couple of large pails filled with rocks. This one is the easiest to train for. Carry stuff. Buy too many groceries on get your ass home. Help a friend move. Just pick heavy stuff up and carry it... used tires are often free at tire shops and are great for dragging, lifting and flipping. Or fill carpenter's bags with pea gravel and lift those. Just make sure to engage your core and lift with your legs!
5. Running. Do not forget that running is still the major player in a mud race. And not just any running. You want to get out there and do technical trail runs. Steep hills, roots, gravel, mud (obviously), log jumps, uneven ground. I would suggest meeting up with a trail running group or taking part in a handful of trail runs that are the same distance you plan to be racing or further. The run needs to be the relaxing part where you can get your breath back. Do not underestimate the running or your calves will be so cramped and your lungs so seared that you won't be even able to even get up on the obstacles!
6. Swimming and or jumping/falling into water. It depends on the type of course but the Tough Mudder for instance, involves a lot of swimming in freezing cold water. Don't be afraid to get wet in training and find a way to get used to freezing cold water. Be it jumping into the ocean or taking ice bathes. Your body will feel like it is seizing up - if you are taken by surprise it will likely paralyze you. Also, if your race includes an epic drop (like the 15' drop in the TM) find the highest dive platform you can find or a safe place to cliff jump and get used to jumping in toes first with a very sleek hydrodynamic profile.
7. Other craziness. Whether it be getting electrocuted at Tough Mudder, lobbing a spear at Spartan, or getting sprayed in the face with freezing cold water while running down a slippery slope at the Warrior Dash, find out as much as you can what you are up against and get good at that specific skill. I know that a lot is kept secret in the spirit of adventure and spontaneity in obstacle racing but if there are signature stations in the race you are doing, it is good to be prepared. Like a boy scout who knows he is about to be hit with 10,000 volts of electricity every 3 seconds.
8. Playing. Get used to going head long into things and making it happen. You need to be able to use what you have. It is easy to get overwhelmed by a giant wall or tube or half pipe and not give it your all to get up and over. Confidence is a skill that needs to be honed. So get honing and have fun with it. Just have a look at little kids playing in a park, running up the slides and swinging about. They practice being confident and going into things with all their heart. That right there is the icing on the cake.
Moving through Pain
Updated on May 29, 2012
I have started a new blog on using fitness for pain management at http://movingthroughpain.blogspot.ca/
Gear and Race Tips for Muddy Buddy, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash or Spartan
Updated on May 29, 2012
- Shoes are important - you want a thin upper that does not hold water... and serious but not heavy tread... I ran the Warrior Dash in Vibrams. BAD idea smartypants! I was sliding from start to finish and rammed the ends of my toes so hard I could barely walk after. You want light weight trail shoes made for wet slippery climates... like the New Balance XC700. Solomon and Inov-8 also makes a good shoe. Rackets and Runners can get their hands on the NB ones... but order them soon so they are here in time! I ran the Spartan in the NB Minimus and was worried about not having enough tread. Turned out to be the perfect shoes. Remember that your shoes are going to get very wet and test them. I like the minimus because you can even swim in them and they have enough flexibility that you can "feel" and hold onto obstacles with your feet.
- Socks are also critical weaponry. Acrylic is nice... but make sure they are thin and only wear above ankle socks. If they are below the ankle you will likely be starting a sharp things in my socks collection.
- Wear tight clothes or go shirtless. Baggy means saggy. Less is more in the clothing department. You are going to get soaked.
- Use sun screen forgo the hat. You'll probably loose it. If you want to wear one, cool, just make peace with the fact that it may not be on your head at the finish line... so wear an old one.
- Goggles and/or gloves seem to be personal preference. Goggles can help keep the mud out of your eyes... gloves can help you grip and/or save the skin on your hands. Just make sure your goggles are comfortable around your neck when you're running (they even have outdoor goggles with dark lenses) and that you test both the goggles and gloves in a variety of conditions... especially when wet or muddy. You can try mountain biking or kayaking gloves or the sticky ones you find in a hardware store.
- For the longer races, don't forget about nutrition and hydration, as using your whole body burns more calories. You may need to carry a small belt (like a SPI belt... they even have a waterproof version)
- Pace yourself out there - go steady and when you hit obstacles don't pounce or stall. Either way you are wasting far too much energy. Try to stay zen - relax your face. Relax your muscles. Breathe. And have fun, you're probably going to fall or trip or screw up at least once. Who cares! That's the fun of it!
- Lastly, make sure to practice everything. Wear your outfit, shoes, go for a swim in them, run up and down a mountain.