So it’s the New Year and you find yourself in that no-man’s land (or woman if you are one) of neither being completely out of shape but certainly not fit. You’re in that murky twilight where nearly every run is a chore but you're not running enough to get in shape. It is not an easy task getting over this hump. I feel the best way to get out of this funk is to take the following four steps: Pick an event, get a plan, track your progress and get with others.
1. Pick an event or Goal.
Ask local runners or search the internet to find a race that sounds intriguing. Make sure this race is approximately 12-18 weeks in the future. When preparing for any race distance it is advisable to allow time to adapt to the new intensity and training volume. When you find the appropriate race for you, SIGN UP! Signing up for a race and thus making a monetary commitment usually creates a sense of obligation that will help keep you motivated.
2. Get a Training Plan.
Make sure your plan considers what fitness level you are in NOW, not what level you would like be in the future. That way, your plan will incorporate the appropriate intensity and volume at the beginning and build from there. Ideally, consult a running coach (www.grahamrunning.com) to create a plan that is appropriate for you. If you can not consult a coach, create your own plan by reviewing your favorite running book or website and then adapt a plan that fits your needs.
3. Track your progress.
This can be done by having a benchmark race at the beginning of the process and then revisit the same race distance 4-6 weeks later. Tracking can also be achieved by performing a speed work session early in your preparation and then recreate the exact same session again 4-6 weeks later. Obviously the conditions should be as similar as possible; such as heat, humidity and time of day. If you run your benchmark workout in 55 degrees and then revisit 6 weeks later when it is 80 degrees you will not get an accurate assessment of your fitness improvement.
4. Connect with others.
Find a running group or training partners that have similar goals. If you are in the Atlanta area try group runs at Phidippides. Ideally, if you have secured a running coach you will have group workouts during the week. This can be a priceless motivator to a runner. The accountability can have a massive effect. If you know you have a group meeting up that expects you to show it can be extremely powerful in combating the downswing of motivation that might occur during training.
One of the best workouts I have done in my running career is what I call
The workout consists of a 16 mile run split into two segments. The first segment is 13 miles run at a comfortable long run pace and the next segment is 3 miles run hard. A brief (1-2 minutes) break between segments for water or a shoe tie is acceptable. “Hard” is somewhere between your half marathon and 10k race pace. The hard effort is a challenge and usually takes 2 or 3 attempts to achieve the faster end of the range.
Ideally, you should find an accurately measured and flat 3 mile course to perform the hard effort. If you cannot find a flat route try to make the route as fair as possible (this can be difficult in Atlanta but try your best). If you plan to do this workout more than once, I would suggest you run the exact some course so you can compare efforts.
This workout is a combination workout. You will challenge your aerobic conditioning (long run portion) and your lactate threshold (hard portion). Both of these energy systems are vital to improving half marathon performance. Also, this workout will allow you to accelerate even when fatigued.
The genesis of this workout came in the summer of 1993, while I was a student-athlete at Georgia Tech. That summer, I was fortunate to participate in an exercise physiology study involving a new sports drink.
After a brutal VO2 max test to determine our various physiological parameters the professors could then begin the study. The study consisted of three 20 mile runs around the small athletic fields on campus. The 20 mile trials were spaced two weeks a part. The first 17 miles were to be run at comfortable long run pace and the last 3 miles were to be “hard”. Keep in mind we were preparing for 8k and 10k cross country races.
These tests were rough. Although they started early in the morning, the heat and humidity were horrendous. The summer of ’93 was abhorrent; there was a 7 day stretch where the high temperature did not go below 100 degrees. Normally we would do our runs at Kennesaw Mountain or the Chattahoochee River where there was a sliver of respite from the heat. The athletic fields offered no such sanctuary. Several of us overheated and needed to be packed down with ice after the tests (yours truly included).
Despite the heat issues the results were pretty dramatic. The surprise wasn’t so much of the study results (I don’t really remember that part) but of the positive effects of the three trials on my fitness level. After the third trial there was a noticeable improvement in my fitness level. When our season began, with few other dedicated workouts under my belt, I was able to accelerate with 3 miles to go and run strong all the way to the finish.
During the summer of ’94, in the spectacular Grand Teton area of Wyoming, I recreated the same workouts on my own at altitude (but no heat). Later that fall I was honored to become Georgia Tech’s first NCAA All-American in Cross Country. I feel that the workout above, as well as great in-season coaching and training, helped give me an edge the entire season.
I recommend that runners always try to negative split their long runs. That is, run the second half faster than the first half.
As long as you are within your long run pace range at the beginning make sure you stay conservative throughout the first half of the run.
In the second half, assuming you feel good, purposely accelerate throughout the remainder of your run. Ideally, you will finish your run at the faster range of your long run pace.
If you are feeling unusually fatigued after the first half, feel free to maintain or even slow down in the second half.
However, if you have a history of always slowing down in the second half it is likely that you are too aggressive in the first half. Slow down at the beginning and plan to wait until later to push it.
One of the biggest issues I see with runners is a lack of pacing abilities. If you are the type that runs races and always seems to fade or slow down considerably during the latter stages of the event, this article is for you.
So you toed the line at your last event having attended several of the following to improve your running:
hot & cold yoga sessions, correct your lousy running form classes, core training for weak abs, and multiple nutrition courses.
When the gun goes off, you take off with guns blazing well faster than your recommended pace. After one or two miles your heart throbs, your legs turn to Jell-O and you slow down to a snails pace, nearly crawling to the finish line. You might be thinking well at least my core is strong, my chi is centered, my nutrients were nutritious and my form looked good. But, what you should be thinking is “why is my pacing so bad!”
Don't despair, this article will help.
Practice your Goal Pace
The best thing you can do to "hone" in on your pace is to visit a local track or accurately measure 100 meters in your neighborhood. For this exercise you need to forget GPS for a moment. The inaccuracies of GPS are such that it will only serve to frustrate you. Even an error of 1 second per 100 meters will lead to 16+ second error per mile (1609 meters). In order to "hone" in on your correct pace a 16 seconds per mile error is unacceptable.
Once you have an accurate 100 meters available do the following workout:
1-2 mile easy warm up
6 x 100 meters at Goal Pace [90sec-2min rest in-between]
100 meters at 8:03 pace = 30.18
1 mile easy cool down
During the 100 meter repeats you should focus on your breathing, leg turn over and arm action. Get a sense for what that speed feels like. If you listen to music when you run, turn it off. Music may be a huge motivator but it can be distracting when attempting to focus on your pacing speed. Every runner should be able to “sense” their appropriate pace just by tuning into their running mechanics and breathing. This can be achieved with practice.
Doing the above workout the day before a race is a fantastic idea. The 100 meter repeats activate your muscle memory. If you are able to successfully perform 4-6 x 100 meters at your race pace it is very likely you will start your race at the correct pace.
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My mom, a reinvigorated runner at 71 years old, reported to me recently that several years ago when she was running consistently a rather unfit colleague asked her flippantly “Why do you do all that running?”. She thought for a moment and then said “well so that I can do the things that I like to do.” Those things were run 5k and 10k races, hike in the national parks, site see in Great Britain, Italy, Spain, walk the dogs, climb stairs with ease….or in other words live life to the fullest with no worry about debilitating health issues.
What a great point. I can’t really say that I have ever run because it is necessarily healthy for me. Early in my running career it was to improve, then to run certain times, then to qualify for certain things. But in those endeavors I realized the power of achieving an elite fitness level. The lure of distance running can be simply the feeling of empowerment. When one has the ability to run 20 miles at a decent pace with little effort, to run trail runs that ascend from 7500 feet to nearly 11,000 feet with no water, sports gel or really anything but a watch or to know, like my friend Maurya, that if you get stuck at work in an ice storm in a city with no ability to handle ice, you can run home in about 20 hours faster than others.
So that brings me to this summer. I had the opportunity to attend Jeff Galloway’s running retreat in Squaw Valley California. It was an fantastic experience in an amazing place. However, I also realized I was only about 3 ½ hours from Yosemite National Park. Yosemite has been on my bucket list for years. I had been to Yosemite before. The problem is that I drove past the park in the dark. At the time I figured I would be back in the next couple of years and thus I vowed to return. Sixteen years later I still had not returned. So, while at this retreat, I heard the advice of my old man….
At 5:30am, in true “Just Go” fashion, I grabbed my running shoes, an inadequate amount of water and a few mini Baby Ruth bars and jumped in the car. I drove as fast as I could to get to the park. After 3 ½ hours I had arrived at the park entrance. As I inched my way up to the ranger at the entrance gate he asked me “So where in the park are you trying to get to?”
“Ideally I want to get to the Valley,” I responded, thinking of John Muir's exploits and Ansel Adams’ photographs.
“Well from here it is a FOUR hour drive to get to the valley due to the fire detour,” he stated and handed me a supplemental map. What the hell! There was zero chance I was going to drive an additional 4 hours. I drove into the park determined to find an alternate plan. I pulled into the first visitor center and sought out another ranger.
“I need a trail, regardless of difficulty, that will get me to a good view of the valley and Half Dome,” I desperately asked a young ranger. He looked me over and could tell I was fairly serious and then leafed through his stack of papers.
“Okay, I think you will like the trail to North Dome. It has an incredible view of Half Dome and the Valley. But, it is 5 miles one way, therefore 10 miles total.” He went on to explain how to get to the trail head and basics about the trail.
CrossCup Meet Program
The approach of autumn means cross country season is about to be in full swing. Cross Country has always been my favorite running medium. Unlike track & field, cross country has one event to determine the winner. All runners anxiously toe the line at the same
time in a mass start. All eyes glaring down the course for the best angles. The start is a blur of spikes, elbows and dust or mud. At the start, in really large meets, the spiked feet of the competitors make an audible reverberation like a herd of horses. In cross country you can run on any terrain imaginable…grass, dirt, sand, pavement, creeks, mud, outdoor roller-skate rinks (yes I ran across
one during a race). You name it; it could be on the course. Hills on the course can help you separate from other competitors. Blind curves can aid you in a “you can’t catch what you can’t see” situation. Rarely do you see boring tactical races but usually just an honest race of fast starts with a series of moves and counter moves to determine the champion. Cross Country is truly running at its
Very early in my running career, I think some time in 9th grade, I dreamed of running cross country races in Europe. The stories I had heard, likely exaggerated, left me curious and intrigued. Stories such as: you'll be running in mud up to your neck and if the weather did not permit mud they would ship it in from somewhere. A few years back, I got my chance to run in a genuine European Cross Country Race.
With the support of the Atlanta Track Club, and some investigation on my part, I was able to run the first meet
of the IAAF Cross Country Circuit. The ASLK CrossCup Meeting in Brussels, Belgium was my destination. The IAAF XC Circuit is a series of 8-9 international (mostly European) XC meets that culminates with the World Championships in March. In this series of meets, quite possibly anyone fast could show up, that is anyone
such as Olympic medalists and World Champions.
Once we arrived in Europe, we spent a several days sightseeing. I will give you a quick summary: Paris was fantastic, Berlin was decent, Amsterdam was pretty cool but unfortunately we did not get to see much of Brussels but the drivers are nuts! When I go back, I think I will race first and site-see after. I do not recommend trying to
see most of Europe the week before a big race.
After the whirlwind sightseeing tour, we arrived at the headquarters hotel in Brussels and settled down
to focus on the race. My goal in this race was to finish in the Top 25 and thus score at least one IAAF Grand Prix point. At the hotel, I was able to realize just what I was getting myself into. The list of the participants included the
2nd through 9th place finishers from last year's World Championships, as well as the European Champion
and other Olympians. Once I read this list I could not help but say aloud, "I am gonna' get my ass kicked!" My sister, my travelling companion, very eloquently stated. "Well, you'll get it kicked by the best!" I thought to myself,
that's a good point. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain at a meet like this.
The day of the meet was one to remember. The meet started in the morning with young children who ran 1000 meters and ended with the Senior Men's 10.5K race (my race). In-between were hours of age-group competition at various distances. The meet was a real event. The crowd was surprisingly large. There were a few thousand spectators at least. Anyone who has been to a cross-country meet knows that crowds are rarely an issue. There were clusters of young Belgian fans following the Kenyan contingent trying to get autographs while they warmed up. Another impressive item was the media coverage. There were TV stations actually covering the meet!
One odd thing about European meets is that the distances tend to be arbitrary. For- instance, my race was 10.5K. Not 10K, but 10.5K. Why? I haven't a clue. Another peculiarity is that despite having plenty of space, they tend to run several small loops. The loop was over 1200 meters, and we ran it 8 times. Most U.S. meets try to avoid such repetition. Maybe it was to make the race more fan friendly.
When it came time for my race, I wasn't the least bit nervous. I was, however, beaming with
excitement. I was about to run the most competitive race of my career and get a first-hand lesson on how the Big
Boys do it in the Big League.
The gun went off and what followed was a flurry in long spikes and MUD. Within 100 meters, a shoe of the
runner just ahead of me shoveled up a piece of mud the size of a softball and managed to hurl it 20 feet into the air. This mud ball was heading on a direct course to hit somewhere on my person. For a split second, I thought it was headed for my face, but I must have misjudged it because it landed dead in the middle of my chest with a thud. I then realized that the stories and rumors I had heard were by most accounts true.
The course was not that hilly, but it was certainly slow. The 1200 meter loop consisted of several finger-loops
and plenty of mud. The earth beneath seemed to soak up the rain in a way that the ground felt like a swamp. Very few sections of the course were firm enough to get a good push off. These conditions made for a very exhausting race. I felt that I had raced a half marathon.
In the end, I finished 42nd out of 110 runners well short of my goal. However, 42nd actually received
prize money! A race official was in the finishing chute handing out wads of Belgian Francs to finishers that were due. I think I received 50 Belgian Francs or about $27! My time for the 10.5K course was 35:05. I finished a full 2:50 behind the winner, Richard Limo, a 20-year-old Kenyan. I didn’t have my greatest race but even with a great race, I may have been 27th, only a mere 1:50 behind the winner.
For me the important point is I that gained experience by running in one of the best cross-country races on
earth. Was I humbled by my experience? Absolutely. Did I learn valuable lessons about racing? Definitely. The main thing I learned about myself is: I would rather be a small fish in the biggest pond than a big fish in a small pond.
Do you ever wonder how much fuel to take in on a long run? The Portman Calculator can help. You simply plug in your activity (running), intensity, duration and your weight and the calculator generates a recommended fueling program. I think it works pretty well. You will create a real problem for yourself (fading, bonking, dying etc.) if you do not fuel enough during your long runs. You can also over do it leading to bloating and stomach distress.
Nice work by the group this past Tuesday. We played on Hillpine, arguably the toughest hill in Atlanta.
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