Sharpening Phase of a Distance Running Program

What is it and why is it important?

In the base building phase, we built a base of miles, our commitment and put structure in place. We added volume until we had 25-40 miles per week. In the strength building phase, we added tempo/threshold runs and hills to challenge our cardiovascular system by adding stress to improve our lung capacity and to strengthen our muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. Next we move on to the sharpening phase. During this phase, we focus on interval training at the track. These runs should be done at 90-100% effort (maximum heart rate) and breathing is heavy--you are at the peak of your oxygen consumption. These workouts are meant to help us learn how to manage physical stress, practice competition strategies and practice response to the mental aspects or performing. This phase should train your body to utilize oxygen better and remove waste buildup in the muscles.

What is happening to our bodies and minds during this phase and what are the benefits?

With interval workouts, we introduce running for a specific distance at a specific pace with a specific recovery.

Benefits of interval workouts:

  • VO2 Max increases--we are able to take in and utilize more oxygen
  • Train muscles to efficiently absorb, deliver and utilize oxygen while removing waste products: carbon dioxide and lactic acid
  • Improve fast twitch muscle ability--more force is generated with each step along with a higher contraction of muscles
  • Focus on improving running form on a flat surface
  • Practice patience during some moderate physical discomfort
  • Increase strength
  • Faster running drills so that running goal race pace will seem easier
  • Teaches pace and muscle memory
  • Long intervals with short recovery stresses the anaerobic system and pushes up the anaerobic threshold
  • Improve mental toughness
  • Improved neuromuscular coordination

As in the base building and strengthening phases, we are teaching the body and mind to adapt to a specific stress until it is no longer stressful and then moving onto a different stress in the next phase. (IIP: Introduce, improve, perfect)

What else should we focus on during sharpening?

If you are lifting weights, this is the time to cut back a bit because stress from the running workouts may make you more prone to injury. Yoga can be beneficial.

What about rest and recovery?

Rest and recovery continues to be an important aspect in the sharpening phase of our program. Your body needs time to recover from muscle fatigue. Your body also needs time to flush the lactic acid out. Be sure to incorporate a few rest days. Optimum nutrition should continue to be a focus so that you are performing your best.

Final thoughts

I hope that you are seeing your long runs getting easier and your body getting stronger. You have made a huge investment into your training and it is going to pay off at your goal race. At this point it is all mental, so keep repeating those mantras.

The Importance of Glycogen and Running – How to Avoid Hitting the Wall

I have heard so many stories of runners hitting the wall…and have experienced it myself. The way to avoid it is actually pretty simple when you know a little about the physiology of the body. Have you ever bonked or hit the wall? If so, it happened when your body ran out of glycogen too fast.

Glycogen Basics

Glycogen is a sugar that is stored in your liver and muscles and is the fuel that a distance runner’s body prefers to use. Your body chooses to use glycogen first because it is easy to burn and fat is used as the backup fuel. A finite amount of glycogen can be stored at any one time: 400 grams in the muscles and 100 grams in the liver. This is enough to get you through 20 miles. The calculation is as follows: 500 grams of carbohydrates (glycogen) at 4 calories per gram = 2,000 calories. The burn rate for calories on a run is around 100 calories per mile. So 2,000 calories would last 20 miles.

How Glycogen and Fat are Used for Energy

Glycogen is broken down into glucose for your body to use as energy. The harder you run, the more you burn. It is important that you don’t burn through it too quickly and that you replace lost glycogen throughout the run so the key is to consume calories before you feel tired. Why? Because it takes about 30 minutes for the glucose to reach your bloodstream after you consume it. You have also been training your body on the long runs to switch over to burning fat when you get into the later miles. But burning fat for fuel is less efficient and you will slow down, so it is best to keep the glucose levels steady.

What is Happening When You Bonk or Hit the Wall?

When liver glycogen depletes, is causes a drop in blood sugar. You might feel light headed, lack concentration and have heavy legs. Serotonin increases, which makes you tired and dopamine decreases—which is the feel good hormone. To get back on track slow your pace after taking some nutrition and wait to feel better. The way to avoid the wall altogether is to consume calories while running so that you don’t deplete the stores.

Carb Loading Before the Race

In the three days leading up to the marathon, you should increase your percentage intake of carbohydrates to 70%. Your caloric intake should remain the same so as you increase carbs, you will decrease your protein and fat calories. You also need to increase water consumption because water is needed to help store glycogen. For every gram of carbohydrate that you store, you also store three to five grams of water—so you may go up a bit in weight, but it is just water—so do not worry, you will burn it off at the race! The bonus is that you will be well hydrated. Cutting back on miles leading up the race helps your body reduce glycogen consumption—and your stores will be full by race day. In the hours leading up to the marathon, eat high glycemic index foods to increase blood sugar and glycogen stores. Some good options are: bananas, potatoes, white rice, oatmeal, popcorn, white bread and rice cakes. In the two hours leading up the race, do not eat anything.

Replacing Glucose During the Race

If you are using energy gels, energy blocks/chews or beans, start taking these an hour into the race. You will want to take 100-200 calories per hour. Follow this with a full 8 ounces of plain water. A good way to remind yourself to take in calories is that when you are coming up on a water stop, take your nutrition in advance of getting there and then grab a cup or two of plain water. If your digestive system is sensitive to eating on a run consider liquid nutrition like Tailwind or Skratch which includes both calories and electrolytes. If you combine this with other semi-solid and solid nutrition, be sure that you follow it with plain water.

Hopefully by now, you have experimented with this and are feeling good by mile 20 on the training run. Try to stay mindful throughout your long training runs and marathon—you will be so thankful that you did and will enjoy the experience so much more.

Running Clothing Basics

Most of us have been running for quite some time but when the weather starts to change, we all need a refresher course on what to wear. Plus, the manufacturers of clothing make improvements each year and so now is the time to upgrade your wardrobe—out with the old and in with the new. Today, I will cover some basics that you should consider when buying running clothing and choosing your outfit for the run. First and foremost, it is extremely important to purchase clothing that was designed for running. If you do, it will most likely encompass all of the basics. Let’s get into some of the details below.

Wicking material – Probably THE most important thing to consider is the material that the clothing is made from. You want to choose clothing that is made of wicking material and might also be called “technical” fabric. What does the material do? It keeps moisture away from your body so that you don’t get overheated in the heat or freezing in the cold. It also dries quicker than fabrics like cotton. Technical clothes are mostly lightweight and stretchy so that they will fit your body well.

Light reflection/bright and light colors – Most clothing that is designed for running will have reflectors placed in strategic areas so that you can be seen if you are running in the dark like we do! Also pay attention to color. Purchase bright or lightly colored fabrics. In the summer, you want to wear light-colored garments so that sunlight is reflected. Bright colors will help drivers see you while you run on the roads.

Compression – This is not a necessity but can greatly help you on your runs. Compression clothing is available in shorts, tights, shirts, socks and sleeves. Wearing compression clothing stimulates circulation and pushes blood back to your heart while adding warmth to the body. It helps with muscle containment and vibration and reduces swelling.

Hard shell/rain vests and jackets – For rainy and windy days when the weather has gotten colder, you will want to have one of these jackets in your running wardrobe. Considerations when purchasing one:

  • Breathability - When you run, you sweat and if the sweat has nowhere to go because of restricted airflow, you will be soaking wet. The body is an amazing machine that perspires in order to cool, but you need to have air hit the sweat in order for the body to regulate temperature and mesh panels let the heat out. Look for a jacket with mesh panels that work as a vent and vent flaps that overlap the mesh. The mesh panels can be in a number of places on the jacket—in the armpits, along the sides or horizontally along the back.
  • Water and Wind Resistance – Your jacket should have some water resistance—more if the fabric is tightly woven, but will not be entirely waterproof. If it is especially windy, you may opt for a jacket that has fewer mesh panels. Again, the more tightly woven the fabric, the more protection you will have from the water and wind.
  • Insulation - If the weather is especially cold, you may want to wear an insulated vest/jacket. Choose something where the insulation is breathable.

Important Minerals for Runners

It is important to eat a diet that is rich in the 16 essential minerals for a variety of health reasons but today I want to focus on how minerals keep your body in tip top shape for running. While it is best to get minerals from food sources because they are more readily absorbed by the body, runners will need to supplement with electrolyte replacements to account for mineral loss through bodily fluids. Below are some minerals that are especially important to runners.

Runners need healthy/strong bones and eating the rights foods should reduce your risk of stress fractures. Bone is alive and is constantly being broken down and replaced in your body. Good news is that running actually helps to strengthen your bones. The minerals that specifically help create healthy and strong bones are Calcium, Fluoride, Magnesium, Manganese and Phosphorus.

  • Calcium: dark leafy greens, rhubarb, legumes
  • Fluoride: grape juice, drinking water, tea
  • Magnesium: bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, chocolate, molasses
  • Manganese: bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, tea, molasses
  • Phosphorus: broccoli, potatoes, almonds, beer, soda pop

In our training program we work on our aerobic capacity by continuously adding time to our runs. We physically train the lungs to work more efficiently. Looking for a food boost that will help with aerobic capacity and aerobic endurance? Eat foods that contain Iron and Zinc.

  • Iron: dried fruits, dark leafy greens, enriched grains, legumes, cashews, chocolate
  • Zinc: green peas, legumes, nuts

Running is easier with a healthy heart. And while running, our heart works to pump blood to areas of the body where it is needed most. What is the best mineral for a healthy heart? Potassium is the go to.

  • Potassium: bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, legumes, almonds, coconut water

I am sure that you have noticed development of your muscles since you have been running. Big score for runners is that more muscle leads to higher fat burning. Looking to support muscle growth and function? Calcium, Chromium, Iodine, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium and Zinc fit the bill.

  • Calcium: dark leafy greens, rhubarb, legumes
  • Chromium: apples, broccoli, whole grains, nuts, beer, red wine
  • Iodine: strawberries, corn, baked potatoes, sea vegetables, lima beans, tea, iodized salt
  • Magnesium: bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, chocolate, molasses
  • Potassium: bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, legumes, almonds, coconut water
  • Sodium: bananas, leafy greens, table salt
  • Zinc: green peas, legumes, nuts

Finally, let’s look at energy and endurance--this is especially important for long distance runners. If you want to boost your energy and endurance, focus on foods rich in Magnesium.

  • Magnesium: bananas, leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, chocolate, molasses

If you are eating a well-rounded diet that is mostly whole foods including lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, you should be getting the appropriate minerals that you need day to day. To account for mineral loss through sweat and urine make sure that you are replacing them through electrolytes by supplementing with an electrolyte replacement that includes the minerals that maintain the body’s fluid balance: sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Strenthening the Feet and Reducing Foot Discomfort for Runners

We have been racking up a lot of miles and I am sure that you are starting to feel some discomfort in your feet after the long run. Think about it…we are taking 180 steps per minute, so for each mile that we log at a 12:00 pace, we are taking 2,160 steps. That means that on the long run this weekend you will be taking almost 40,000 steps—all before 9:00 am. Pretty incredible considering that many people set goals to take 10,000 steps in a day—we are knocking it out of the park! So, what is going on with your feet and why do they feel so sore after the run? And most importantly, what can you do to combat the soreness and fatigue?

Some basics about foot anatomy

Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 muscles, 31 joints and over 100 ligaments. Considering that the human body only has 206 bones, the fact that the feet together have 52 of those is pretty remarkable. Did you know that there are more sweat glands per inch on your feet than anywhere in the body? There are 125,000 sweat glands in each foot that release nearly a cup of moisture every day, keeping those babies nice and moisturized.

Some of important components of the foot that relate to running:

  • The Achilles tendon makes it possible to rise up on your toes, run and jump.
  • The plantar fascia aids in support and stabilization of the foot during running. As you begin a step the heel lifts up and the plantar fascia tightens to form the curve of the arch and provides a strong push off with the toes.

What is causing the discomfort and what can I do?

The first thing to look at is your shoes. Do they allow for your feet to swell on the long run? If you are wearing shoes that have a lot of wear, your feet might be trying to accommodate and your biomechanics might be thrown off. Be sure to get fitted by a professional at RunOn and a rule of thumb is that your running shoes should be at least a size bigger than your regular shoes. You should have a thumb width distance from where your toe ends and the end of the shoe. They should fit snug around the ankle so that your foot doesn’t slip in and out.

I have to ask a personal question--are your toenails trimmed? I keep my toenails extremely short and you know why? I have lost toenails from running in the past. Your toenails can rub against the inside of the shoe or even cut the adjacent toes. I go to a nail salon for a pedicure but I cut my nails before I go because the nail technician won’t usually cut them as short as I like. Black toenail can happen from excessive rubbing or Morton’s Toe. This is the official name for the second toe being longer than the big toe (how many of you have it? I do!). Be sure that the toe box of your shoe is wide and long enough to accommodate this. With black toenail, the blood is pooling under the toenail. You can either wait until it falls of or see a podiatrist to get some help. You might also have a thickened toenail—which is caused by repeated trauma to the nail. I am particularly susceptible to this often have a black and thickened toenail all in one. This sucker will stick around for as long as you let it but if you want to get rid of it, you can file it down. Use an emery board to file the top of the nail and new growth should come in over time.

You might not have built up the strength in your feet that you need for the long runs. We are so used to wearing shoes that support our feet that we don’t build the muscles that are necessary. Your arches might have fallen or you might have weak feet. Try to walk in your bare feet as much as possible to build those muscles. While you are walking, focus on lifting the arch of your foot off the floor. Think of your foot having four corners—the big toe, the little toe, and the two sides of the heel. Make sure that your weight is evenly distributed on all four corners. I have some strengthening exercises later in this post. Wearing compression socks will be a huge help with this—they stabilize and increase the blood flow.

Blisters can form for a variety of reasons—from shoes not fitting properly to wearing the wrong type of sock. If the blister is not causing pain, leave it alone. But if you are like me, you won’t be able to leave it alone. I usually puncture it with a sterilized needle and then squeeze out the liquid. Keep it clean and dry as much as you can. You can try aloe to speed the healing if the skin has come off the top exposing the raw flesh underneath. There are also a lot of special products that you can buy to put over the blister—which can protect it on the run. Some people even swear by duct tape but I have never tried it. Be sure to wear socks that are specifically made for running in order to keep your feet dry and to support the foot.

What can you do?

Simple quick fixes:

  • Use a tennis ball to massage the bottom of your feet. Place it under the arch of your foot and roll it along the arch.
  • If your feet are swollen after the run, put them in an ice bath.
  • Feet aren’t swollen but just sore? Soak your feet in warm water with Epsom salt.
  • Skip the high heels and cowboy boots! (There are some crazy people out there who have run a marathon in high heels to raise money for charity. I am crazy but not THAT crazy.)
  • Wear compression socks to support the feet.

Exercises to stretch and strengthen your feet (start by doing each one 3 times a day and hold for 30 seconds each; increase time as you become more comfortable):

  • Lie on your back and bend your knee into your chest. Take a strap or belt and place it on the ball of the foot, holding the strap on each side of the foot with your hands. Start to extend the leg, bringing it fully straightened. Everyone’s flexibility will be different so you might not have your leg at a 90 degree angle with the body. Once the leg is straight, pull down on the strap so that your toes are coming closer to you and your heel becomes higher than the toes. Repeat on the other side.
  • On the floor, sit up tall with your knees bent, back flat. The bottoms of the feet are facing each other and knees are splayed out to the side. Lean forward and weave the fingers of one hand between each of the toes of your opposite foot. With a firm grip, stretch and massage the toes and the ball of the foot.
  • Place a towel on the ground and sit with your feet flat on the towel, knees bent at 90 degrees. Scrunch your toes try to grab the towel with your feet and pull it toward you
  • Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart. Try to lift just the big toe on both feet, keeping the other toes down. Then try to do the exact opposite: lift all the toes but the big toes. Lift the big toe and baby toe up as you press the three middle toes down. Lift the three middle toes up while pressing the big toe and baby toe down. This one is very difficult at first but with practice you can do it! Most people who pronate, or roll to the inner arch, have a hard time lifting the big toes and most people who supinate, or roll on to the outer edges of the foot, have a hard time lifting the other toes.
  • While sitting in a chair, slowly take the ankle in circles in both directions clockwise and counter-clockwise
  • Place some marbles or other small balls on the floor. Use your toes to pick them up
  • Stand on a slanted board with your feet fully planted and toes fully spread apart. Rise up onto your toes and hold, pressing down through every toe
  • Stand up straight and shift your weight to your left leg. Flex your right toes up toward the ceiling and then curl the toes to pull at the ground, scrunching your toes to move the right foot forward an inch at a time. Repeat on the other side
  • While standing up straight, press the heel, big toe joint and the pinky toe joint into the floor and lift the arch of your foot. Balance and hold for 10 seconds
  • Hero pose: come onto your knees with the knees separated hip width distance and the heels of the feet separated a little wider than the hips. The tops of the feet are flat on the floor. Gently sit the hips down in between the heels. If this feels okay, bring your elbows down to the floor behind you. If this feels okay, start to walk your elbows forward until your back is flat on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Toe pose sequence: begin on your hands and knees with a folded blanket under your knees. Your knees and feet should be slightly apart with the shins parallel with each other. Turn your toes under so balls of feet rest on floor. Sit back on heels with knees resting on the floor. Place hands on tops of thighs. Hold for 30 seconds. Next, lift your knees off the floor so that you are squatting and balancing on your toes. Hold for 30 seconds. Next, bring your heels to the floor and sit in a squat with feet flat to the floor. You may need to separate the feet apart wider to bring your heels all the way to the floor
  • Downward-facing dog: begin on your hands and knees with the wrists below the shoulders and the knees below the hips. Curl your toes under and press your hips up, bringing your body into a 90 degree angle with the floor. Lengthen through the arms and the legs. Next, come up on your toes, lifting the arches of your feet as high as possible and then extend the heels down toward the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.

How Running a Marathon is Like Having a Baby

One can make the comparison of having a baby with many different things, but none can quite compare to running a marathon. If you haven’t given birth, you are about to find out what it is like. And if you haven’t run a marathon….well, you are going to get a taste of that too.

6 months pre-birth/pre-race

Oh my gosh! I am having a baby/signing up for a marathon. Am I ready for this? What can I expect over the new 6 months? I am so excited to be embarking on this adventure and I can’t stop talking about it. I post on Facebook to share my good news. The congratulations are rolling in. I feel so special and this is an experience that will be truly unique. My husband and I are in this together—what could be a better shared experience?

3 months pre-birth/pre-race

Wow, on one hand these months have flown by with planning and preparation and on the other hand, there have been some challenges. After my initial excitement, reality set in. I was riding high and then realized that my life was about to change—big time. I have been caring for myself in a way that I never had before. I have been paying close attention to what I eat. Some things make me sick while others make me feel great and I feel FAMISHED all of the time! I am trying to balance proper nutrition while watching my weight—which is really hard to do. I am staying active so that I can prepare for the big day. I am sleeping all of the time but feeling more tired than usual. I have increased my water consumption and am spending a LOT of time in the bathroom. This is more planning than I thought I would need to do, but I am finally starting to get it. Emotionally, I am still very excited, but am also getting a little nervous. Will the day go as expected? Have I thought of everything that I needed to think of? Is my “team” ready to cheer me on? Oh—better work on my breathing exercises!

1 month pre-birth/pre-race

The big day is all I can talk about and I think my friends are getting sick of hearing about it. The day will be here before I know it—I have butterflies just thinking of it. As time has gone on, the physical demands have become greater. There are days that I feel on top of the world—beautiful, healthy and happy and there are others when I feel like total crap. What was I thinking? I…just…need…to…power...through. But from a physical perspective, I feel like my body is ready for this amazing thing to happen. I have been caring for myself in the way that I should. I just need to get to the big day.

1 week pre-birth/pre-race

I have my bag packed and I am ready to go. It’s almost show time! I have thought through every scenario. What if it takes longer than I expected? I am okay with that because I have worked hard to get to this place and the goal is to finish. What if I get sick or injured? I am sending positive energy out into the universe so that I will feel amazing when the day comes. Will I get through this without pain killers? Of course I will! I will celebrate with the ultimate pain killer at the end—champagne!

The big day

I am so incredibly nervous even though I know that I have done my best to prepare for this. The time is now and there is no turning back. I am more ready for this than anything in my whole life. My hubby will cheer me on from the sidelines—my biggest supporter in this adventure of a lifetime!

At the start of labor/race

Oh, I have butterflies. I feel like I am going to vomit I am so nervous. My team is here to cheer me on but I know that the only person who can do this is me. So many emotions are flooding through me—happiness, excitement, fear. I am tense because I just don’t know what to expect. My team is rubbing my shoulders, breathing with me to calm me down and pumping me up for the miracle—yes miracle—that is about to happen.

One hour/five miles in

Man, I feel GOOD! This is not going to be hard at all. Sure, there are small waves of physical discomfort but nothing that I can’t handle. Everyone around me is in good spirits and the energy is positive. I am focusing on my breath and making small adjustments with my body to make myself more comfortable. Time to sip some water and settle in for this amazing experience.

Two hours/ten miles in

All of those horror stories that you hear are so not true. People say this is painful? I feel GREAT! My body feels strong and I will easily make it to the finish line. This is smooth sailing baby! Wait...did my water just break or is that my (hydration vest) bladder leaking???

Three hours/fifteen miles in

Getting hungry….very hungry. And my body is starting to feel some moderate discomfort. Everyone around me seems to have the best intentions. They are cheering for me but I don’t think they know exactly how I am feeling. They are all smiles and laughter and I am trying my best to put on a happy face. Do they think this is easy? I am starting to wonder what I signed up for. I know that I am over half way there, but there is still a long way to go. How can I distract myself? Okay, I know…I will try to remember the words to the songs from the Sound of Music. “The hills are alive….” Oh no…..here comes another wave of discomfort. Breathe, breathe, breathe….okay where was I? “….with the sound of music….”

Four hours/twenty miles in

Oh good Lord. What have I gotten myself into? I look at my husband and say “How could you make me do this? I hate you!” Those breathing exercises that I learned? Well, they don’t seem to be working right now. The discomfort is increasing every moment and I can’t seem to take my mind off of it. I think that my team is getting a little impatient with me…I guess I shouldn’t have snapped at them. But they keep saying things like “almost there” and “you can do this”. What the heck do they know??? Am I almost there and can I do this? I feel like crying but know that if I do that I just might not be able to finish. I keep repeating my mantra “Mind over matter”.

Five hours/twenty five miles in

I can’t feel my body—which is actually a good thing--the body is an amazing machine that protects you from feeling extreme pain. More people are around—with smiling faces and encouraging words. I can hear my blood pumping in my ears. I am sweaty and gross and have removed most of my clothing and you know what? I don’t even care! Strangers all around are seeing me at my worst but I have one mission and that is to finish this thing. Here comes my second wind. Breathe….push through…I am truly almost there.

Finish line

Oh glory days! The end is truly near—I can see it. I can’t hear a thing and only see the smiling faces and lights all around, cheering me on. No more pain or discomfort. Everything that I have worked so hard for is coming to fruition in this final moment. I cross the finish line and am handed my baby/medal and I am overcome by the most amazing feeling of accomplishment and love that I have ever felt. I take a breath now that it is all over and collapse, a sweaty mess, in tears of euphoria. Just wow!

The aftermath

Hmmmm…a little sore and fatigued but that really wasn’t that bad and my feelings of happiness have replaced anything negative that was going on inside my head. This healthy body of mine got me through a physical experience like no other—I survived and thrived! I celebrate with a huge meal, some champagne and a bath. Then my hubby says “When do you want to do the next one?” Doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all…….

***Disclaimer: In doing my research for this, most women say that having a baby is MUCH more difficult than running a marathon. So, what are you afraid of? Just do it! (The marathon, that is.)

Running in the Heat and Humidity

It looks like this summer is going to be a hot and humid one and we are feeling the effects of the heat already. As the temperature rises, your body is working harder to cool you down. Your heart rate increases and breathing becomes more rapid. Add some humidity to the mix and it feels even hotter. What is going on and how do we adapt?

What is going on in the body?

When you run in the heat, your overall body temperature rises. The more body mass (insulation) you have, the more heat your body generates and as you age, you become less adaptable to the heat. When your temperature rises, the blood in your body starts to go to your skin to cool you off through sweating. Air circulation helps the sweat to evaporate and cool you down. But, high humidity prevents the sweat from evaporating from your skin so that your body can’t cool. There is no easy way to calculate the heat index, but here is a handy chart that I found.

When your blood is going to your skin that means that less blood is available to send oxygen to your muscles. This is going to slow you down. Every 5 degrees rise in temperature above 60 degrees can slow your pace by 20 to 30 seconds per mile.

Top that off with each of us loses a different amount of sweat and sodium so the amount of water and electrolytes that each of us needs is going to be different.

How do you best prepare for running in heat and humidity?

Take your time to ease into it. It takes a few weeks for your body to acclimate to the change. During the acclimation period, slow your pace down a bit while keeping the effort the same.

Picking the appropriate clothing is important as well. Wear lightly colored technical clothing and keep it as minimal as possible. If the temperature is above 70 degrees, wear shorts and a tank top. A visor will help to keep the sun out of your eyes while allowing the heat to evaporate through the top of your head and sunglasses will be important as our runs go later into the morning because your eyes can be damaged by the sun.

Our scheduled runs are at the coolest part of the day. Be sure that when you are running on your own, you plan your run for early in the day. Try to run on a route that has shade.

As we have mentioned so many times, hydration will be the most important thing that you can do to keep your body cool. Keep hydrated on all days, not just the ones where you run. Electrolytes become even more important for fluid absorption and retention as you are sweating and losing water, so pay special attention. Your urine should be the color of straw. Darker than that means you aren’t drinking enough and lighter means that you are drinking too much.

You can use a sauna to increase your hyperthermic conditioning. By spending time in the sauna, your body will go through some interesting adaptations including increased blood plasma volume and blood flow to the heart. More plasma means that your blood will flow easily and will take longer to get sticky and thick. Spending time in the sauna will also teach your body to have a lower core temperature and increase your sweat rate. Using a sauna should be done in moderation and be sure to wipe the sweat from your skin when you emerge from the sauna because you just released some toxins from the body.

How about after the run?

You are most likely going to feel a bit more fatigued that you normally do. Your body is still working hard to cool down long after you are done with the run. The blood is going to the skin instead of to the muscles and so recovery is going to be slower. Take your recovery days seriously.

Take an Epsom salt bath. The skin is the easiest way to get lost minerals back into the body. Add two cups to a warm bath, soak for 30 minutes and then rinse in a cool shower. The Epsom salts will also help with muscle fatigue.

Keep hydrating! Your body is about 70-75% water so keep your cells happy and healthy through hydration.

I hope these tips are helpful to you as you acclimate and remember that sweating is a good thing—it means that your body is doing what it should be doing!

Important Vitamins for Runners

It is important to eat a diet that is rich in the 13 essential vitamins for a variety of health reasons but today I want to focus on how vitamins keep your body in tip top shape for running. It is best to get vitamins from a food source rather than taking supplements because they are more readily absorbed by the body. There are some vitamins that are especially important to runners.

Runners need healthy/strong bones and eating the rights foods should reduce your risk of stress fractures. Bone is alive and is constantly being broken down and replaced in your body. Good news is that running actually helps to strengthen your bones. The vitamins that specifically help create healthy and strong bones are Vitamin A, Biotin (Vitamin H), Vitamin D and Vitamin K.

  • Vitamin A: yellow and orange fruits and vegetables and dark leafy greens
  • Biotin: avocados, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Vitamin D: mushrooms, fortified grains and sunlight (many people need to supplement Vitamin D)
  • Vitamin K: cabbage family, dark leafy greens, sprouts and oils

In our training program we work on our aerobic capacity by continuously adding time to our runs. We physically train the lungs to work more efficiently. Looking for a food boost that will help with aerobic capacity and aerobic endurance? Eat foods that contain Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), Vitamin C and Vitamin E.

  • Thiamin: melons, acorn squash, beans, lentils and nuts/seeds
  • Riboflavin: dark leafy greens and almonds
  • Folic Acid: apricots, melons, dark leafy greens, red/orange vegetables, legumes, lentils and nuts/seeds
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers and cabbage family
  • Vitamin E: dark leafy greens, nuts/seeds and oils

Running is easier with a healthy heart. And while running, our heart works to pump blood to areas of the body where it is needed most. What is the best vitamin for a healthy heart? Vitamin A is the go to.

  • Vitamin A: yellow and orange fruits and vegetables and dark leafy greens

I am sure that you have noticed development of your muscles since you have been running. Big score for runners is that more muscle leads to higher fat burning. Looking to support muscle growth? Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 fit the bill.

  • Vitamin B6: non-citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, legumes and tofu
  • Vitamin B12: fortified cereal, soymilk and nutritional yeast

Finally, let’s look at energy and endurance--this is especially important for long distance runners. If you want to boost your energy and endurance, focus on foods rich in Niacin (Vitamin B3), Vitamin C and Choline (not a true vitamin but an essential nutrient). Note: Endurance athletes are at risk of being deficient in choline, so load up.

  • Niacin: asparagus, mushrooms, potatoes and nuts
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers and cabbage family
  • Choline: cooked broccoli and Brussels sprouts and peanuts

If you are eating a well-rounded diet that is mostly whole foods including lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, you should be getting the appropriate vitamins. If there is an area above where you feel you haven’t reached your optimum level in running, take some time to focus in on the vitamins that will enhance how you feel.

Should I run or exercise when I am not feeling well?

Should I run or exercise when I am not feeling well?

As we get deeper into our training schedule, we hate to miss a run, fearing that we will lose some of the fitness that we have gained. But what if you start to feel a bit under the weather? The winter weather seems to bring a fresh crop of viruses with it and the spring weather brings all types of allergens in the air. Running and being physically active is a boost to the immune system and does wonders for your mental state of mind.

Most doctors agree that you should use the “neck rule” when deciding if you are well enough to run.

If you have symptoms below the neck (chest cold, bronchial infection, body aches, fever, fatigue), you should rest until you are feeling better. If you have a fever over 99 degrees, you should skip the run because your core body temperature can rise—which is not a good idea! Give your body a chance to rest and allow your immune system to help fight the illness.

If you have symptoms above the neck (runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing), then by all means, get out there! But, if those symptoms feel like they are progressing to something more serious like a sinus infection with pressure in the nasal cavities, then you should take a rest for a few days. Sometimes even when a fever isn’t present, sinus infections can lead to pneumonia.

Below is a handy flow chart that you can use to determine if you are well enough to run.

   

Mental Toughness

We are starting to get into our longer runs and our bodies have gotten used to the physical stress. Now is the time to work on the mental aspect of running. Committing to a program and setting goals takes a lot of hard work and determination. We have made that promise to ourselves and are doing the work but sometimes our thinking can get in the way of our goals. We might decide to sleep in instead of getting up for the run—rationalizing that we will get it in later. (We always regret missing a run and never regret when we show up.) We choose to cut our long run short—rationalizing that we don’t have a goal race and so it doesn’t matter. (We miss out on that extra fat burn.) We don’t show up for the hills because they are hard—rationalizing that when we do run a race, it won’t have hills like the ones in Lakewood. (These “speed” workouts make us stronger so that our easy runs are easier.) We skip the track workout—rationalizing that we are fine with running our easy pace in the race. (We might grow to love something that we didn’t love before.) We don’t come out to run in the rain and cold---rationalizing that it will be unbearable. (Showing up for those runs helps us learn to run in any condition—and easily get through it.) I could go on….

We need to continue to build a high level of self-motivation. We have to wake up each morning, ready and willing to do the work, even when we are tired and stressed, when conditions aren’t ideal and when we don’t like the workout that is planned. What I love about running with a group is that we can support each other through it all.

You have the foundation to build upon:

  • Love of running – you have chosen this form of exercise to keep yourself fit and healthy. Remember when you first started? Think back to the reason that you signed up. You had a goal. For me, I had just turned 40 and wanted to be fit for the first time in my life. I also wanted to hike the Mont Blanc mountain range in Europe. Each day when I got up to run, I thought of those goals and soon enough, my love for running grew. What is your story?
  • Determination – you come out to run even when you are tired or aren’t feeling your best. You continually push yourself to run more miles, increase your pace and run the next race. You might have encountered obstacles along the way—an injury, tough work schedule, family commitments—but yet, you still coming back. The hard work has paid off. Reflect on how far you have come!
  • Discipline and consistency - you continue to practice, practice, practice until you have mastered it. The more you run, the easier it becomes. Your hard work pays off in more ways than one.
  • Faith in yourself – you came to this class knowing that you can tackle these workouts. You know that you can physically get through it. Keep that faith!

So, how do you get through those days when you don’t feel like showing up? How do you finish a run, when you feel like there is nothing left in the tank?

  • Think positively. Find your own personal mantra and repeat it to yourself. Be grateful for all kinds of weather. Look around and take in the beauty of nature. Be thankful for having a healthy body that allows you to be physically active. Think about the people that inspire you—whether they are fellow runners or elite athletes. Run the mile you are in and enjoy it.
  • Visualize the end result. On race day, see yourself crossing the finish line with a huge smile on your face and getting the medal you worked so hard for. Think of your family and friends cheering you on and the sense of pride they feel that you did it! On training days, think how great you are going to feel at the end when you finish strong. Keep replaying that vision in your mind when it starts to wander to negative thinking.
  • Focus and set your intention for the run. Take an aspect of your running and make that a focus for the day. Keep revisiting that aspect throughout the run. Some ideas are breathing, vertical oscillation and cadence.

Know that where the mind goes, the body follows. Building mental toughness is helpful in reaching your full potential of physical limits. Be the cheerleader for yourself that you are for others. Every single day, get out of bed and say “I can do this!”

Running Form and Efficiency

Most of us have been running for quite some time and I think it is helpful to check in on running form and efficiency on a regular basis. The goal is to stay pain- and injury-free and enjoy our time on the road. Have you ever been sidelined with pain or an injury? I sure have and every time I could tie it back to something in my running form. My stress fracture most certainly was due to running with my toes turned in, which in turn made me land on the outside of my feet instead of mid-foot. My fibula was taking a pounding and before long I had to take a break while I healed. Another time, I had a strain in my piriformis. That happened from running on the left hand side of the road. That strain led to one hip being higher than the other. I had to work with a chiropractor and a muscle activation therapist to get things straightened out. By focusing on form, we work to eliminate the chance of injury. As we start to increase our weekly mileage, we need to be especially cognizant of this because when you are tired, your form can fall apart.

Cadence refers to the number of times your feet touch the ground in one minute. The aim is 180 beats per minute and you can use a clip on metronome or use an app on your phone until it becomes natural. Working to keep at 180 steps per minute will increase efficiency and decrease fatigue. Think about your tissues being like rubber bands. When stretched and released they snap back forcefully. With a longer stride and slower cadence, the elastic recoil is less forceful, which will make you work harder. Cadence at 180 leads to efficiency because there will be no pause at the completion of the leg follow through. By keeping the cadence up, your stride will be shorter, preventing braking and will also give you less contact time with the ground.

Relaxation is key to getting through a long run. Many of us hold tension in our bodies and specifically in muscles when we run. We need listen to our body to troubleshoot—looking for tension and fatigue in a method called Body Sensing. You do a scan from the top of your head all the way to your toes finding those areas that are tired and giving them a rest while recruiting other areas to do the work.

Running softly will reduce the impact on your bones and joints. When you are running, the impact when you touch the ground is equivalent to 3 times your body weight. With a hard landing, the impact will vibrate up through your legs. Listen to your feet when you are running….what do you hear? Your feet should hardly be making any noise--your steps are light and quick with no shuffling or dragging of the feet.

Mid-foot strike allows you to get your foot under the hip to propel your body forward. If your foot lands out in front of you, you will strike on the heel, working against gravity and causing a braking motion. Landing on the toes will cause your calves to get tired very quickly. When you have the foot land under the hip, your center of mass will continue to move forward--using momentum to move you rather than energy. Think of the push-off as a clawing motion, pulling the ground back as you launch forward.

What does good posture look like? Imagine a straight line drawn from your shoulders to hips to heels. When you run, all of these parts should be in a straight line. Here is more:

  • Spine is elongated, you are running tall and core is strong. Your energy should be coming from this place. Alignment off? Breathing will be harder as the shoulders slump forward.
  • The belly is pulled in and the pelvis is at neutral. Alignment off? Your butt will stick out in the back and you will bend at the waist. You might experience lower back soreness because the back muscles are strained. This can also lead to the hip muscles having to work harder.
  • Your neck is in line with the spine—which means that you aren’t bending the neck to look down at the ground. Your eyes do the looking. Chin is level. Alignment off? Your head weighs 15 pounds. When the head drops, the shoulders hunch over and you will have less lung capacity.
  • Shoulders are relaxed down away from the ears and there is no tension in them. Alignment off? You might get cramping in your neck and generally have tension throughout the body. Shoulders drawn too far back will make you lean back instead of leaning forward, which will slow you down.
  • Elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle and close in toward the side of the body. The elbows are pulling straight backwards, which helps the legs move forward. Alignment off? You will have too much rotation through the torso, wasting a bunch of energy. This can also cause your hips and legs to rotate instead of moving straight ahead.
  • Hands are relaxed with thumbs on top. Alignment off? Tension will go up the arms and if thumbs are pointing inward, there might be more rotation through the torso…which leads to wasted energy.
  • Straight line from the hip to the knee to the ankle to the toes and knees are soft. When running you are moving forward on a sagittal plane. Everything pointing forward means that the body moves forward. Alignment off? A variety of things can occur. You could have IT band tightness, soreness in the knees, stress fractures…the list goes on and on here.
  • Why fight against gravity? Lean forward at the ankles in order to use gravity to help you move forward. The ankle lean also keeps your body in the correct alignment (see posture above).

Finally, RunOn! offers a great class called Good Form Running. Many people say that it is the best $50 they have ever spent.

Strength Building Phase of a Distance Program

What is it and why is it important?

In the base building phase, we built a base of miles and our commitment and put structure in place. We added volume until we had 25-40 miles per week. Next is the strength building phase. During this phase, we add a few components: tempo/threshold runs and hills. These runs should be done at 83-92% effort (maximum heart rate) and breathing is fast but controlled. These workouts are meant to challenge your cardiovascular system by adding stress to improve your capacity and to strengthen your muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. This phase should help you feel stronger, breathing should get easier and over the course of the 7 weeks, the tempos and hills should become easier.

What is happening to our bodies during this phase and what are the benefits?

With tempo runs, we introduce faster-paced training that will get your body used to running at a comfortably hard pace for a set amount of time. We also introduce hill workouts which serve to strengthen your leg muscles and place the same demand on legs as weight training.

Benefits of hill running:

  • Leg muscles are recruited into working harder on the uphill because you are using your body weight as resistance
  • Calf muscles learn to contract more quickly
  • Through conditioning, you will get over the psychological hurdle of seeing an upcoming hill on the run or on race day
  • You will learn how to properly pace yourself by keeping your effort steady
  • You are forced to use your arms when running up the hills—this is the best place to learn to drive the elbows back because it really does help to move you forward
  • On repeats you are learning to build your tolerance to lactic acid—do you feel the burn?
  • You are challenging your cardiovascular system
  • Training on the hills is speedwork in disguise

Benefits of tempo/threshold runs:

  • Fast twitch muscle fibers gain more endurance
  • Your efficiency and stamina will improve with increased speeds
  • Your aerobic capacity will improve and your body will learn to use oxygen more efficiently
  • Your body will learn to flush the lactic acid buildup so that over time you can run harder and longer

The focus here is increasing aerobic capacity, efficiently flushing lactic acid and building strength in the legs. As in the base building phase, we are teaching the body and mind to adapt to a specific stress until it is no longer stressful and then moving onto a different stress in the next phase.

What else should we focus on during strength building?

Proper form on the hills is important. Below are my tips for good hill form:

  • Uphill: stay relaxed on the first 2/3 and then speed up on the last 1/3; use higher turnover, smaller steps, same amount of effort (so pace may slow); bring the knees up a little higher and put the foot to the ground with purpose; think of driving the legs backwards
  • Downhill: start out the downhill by lengthening your stride; lean into the downhill until your body is perpendicular to the hill; try to get the foot to land a little behind the hip which means that you are putting the foot down a little sooner than if you were on the flats

If you are lifting weights, focus on the upper body along with strengthening where you might have imbalances.

What about rest and recovery?

Rest and recovery continues to be an important aspect in the strength building phase of our program. Your body needs time to recover from muscle fatigue—something that you might not have been feeling much toward the end of the base building. Your body also needs time to flush the lactic acid out. Be sure to incorporate a few rest days. Optimum nutrition should continue to be a focus so that you are performing your best.

Final thoughts

I hope that you are seeing your hard work pay off through the time and miles that you have put into this training program. Bravo for sticking with it and working so hard!

Yoga for Runners

Yoga is the perfect complement to running. Muscle tightness and structural variations in the body can lead to obstacles when exercising. Practicing yoga will help to address the muscle tightness and bring alignment to your body. How can yoga help? Read below.

Strength and balance

Many times an injury or chronic pain while running is caused by an imbalance in your body. One quad is stronger than the other. Legs are strong while core is weak. You have more flexibility in one ankle. Your knee hurts and so you start to shift your weight unevenly. Running has forward movement along one plane using mostly the muscles in the lower body while yoga moves in all directions involving muscles in many parts of the body. Yoga helps to bring your body into balance, alignment and symmetry. In yoga, you strengthen your muscles while creating stability.

Flexibility

Running tightens and shortens the muscles and is high impact. Yoga is all about elongating the muscles and softening the hard parts while being low impact. In yoga, you also continuously work toward increasing your range of motion.

Body, mind and breath

Both running and yoga require integration of body, mind and breath. The breathing pattern in running involves quick, shallow inhalations and exhalations. Yogic breathing focuses on slow, deep inhalations and long exhalations using all parts of the lungs. Practicing this type of breathing will lead to greater lung capacity. More oxygen to the lungs means more oxygen going out to the cells in your body and removal of carbon dioxide and toxins. Employ these same principles while running and you will find that your mind will be at ease which will in turn, help you relax, releasing tension, tightness and stress from your body.

Restoration

Practicing relaxing, restorative poses can help runners recover faster after long races and hard workouts. It will also help prevent the soreness caused by the buildup of lactic acid. Yoga is great for releasing toxins from the body.

So, what type of yoga should you do to complement running? For the amount of running that we do, I believe that we are getting a good amount of cardiovascular exercise and so yoga for runners should be more about stretching and restoring. I love Hatha and Restorative yoga for these reasons. Hatha is great because you are holding postures for a set amount of time. You are contracting muscles for a set period of time and it is strengthening the muscles along with connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). Restorative is my favorite! You can use props to stretch muscles out a little more than what your body weight would do and it is especially helpful in building strength and stability in your body.

Now, let’s get into some postures. Each posture below should be held for at least 5 full breaths. In yoga, we focus on a 6 second inhale and a 6 second exhale so 5 breaths should take one minute. Breathe in and out through the nose. Use active movements in these postures. What I mean by that is that you will use the muscle strength to move you deeper into the posture rather than using a hand to pull something closer/push something out. Also focus on using the muscles to move you rather than momentum. These are some of my favorites.

Butterfly

Sitting on your mat, bring the bottoms of your feet together. Place your hands around your feet and sit tall without the back rounding. Actively try to bring your knees closer to the floor. For deeper stretching, lean forward while keeping the spine long.

Cow Face

Come up onto your knees, crossing the right leg over the left—knees are tight together. With the ankles out wide, sit down between them making sure your sitting bones are on the floor. Interlace your fingers through the toes. Spine stays long. For a deeper stretch, flex your feet, squeeze your legs together and keeping the spine long, start to lean forward. Repeat on the other side.

Intense Leg Stretch

Sitting flat on the mat with the legs stretched out in front of you, bend your knees and then adjust so that the fleshy part of the glutes are out from under you. Sandwich your chest against your knees, grab the big toes with your peace fingers and with the spine long, start to lengthen the legs forward.

Hero Pose/Reclining Hero Pose

Come into a kneeling position with the knees at hip width. Bring the heels wider than the hips and start to lower your hips down between the heels. If this feels ok then bring your elbows down to the floor and start to walk your elbows forward until your shoulders reach the floor. Raise your arms over your head and grab opposite elbows. An advancement in this posture is to bring the knees closer together.

Pigeon

Come onto all fours, squaring the body off with the wrists below the shoulders and the knees directly below the hips. Bring the right knee forward to the right wrist and slide the right heel over in front of the left thigh. Slide the left leg back until the hip is over top of the heel. Bring the elbows down to the floor, lengthen your arms forward and then place your forehead on the floor. Repeat on the other side.

Child Pose

Come into a kneeling position with the knees and feet together. Lower the hips down to the knees. Fold at the hips and bring the forehead to the mat. Bring the hands back beside the hips and start to bring the shoulders closer to the floor, opening up the upper back.

Separate Leg Forehead to Floor

Step the feet apart wide. Feet are parallel to each other so heels out and toes slightly in. Bring the arms out wide parallel to the floor. Lengthen through the spine and fold forward at the hips. Bend your knees and grab the feet from the outside bringing all fingers underneath the feet. Pull the elbows in close to the shins, start to straighten the legs and lift the hips. Spine should be long and neck is in line with the spine. Bring the weight forward to the front of the feet for a deeper stretch. You can also engage the quads to allow the hamstrings to lengthen even more.

Ragdoll

Separate the feet hip width distance. Fold forward at the hips. Once you are down as far as you can go with straight legs, grasp each elbow with the opposite hands. Allow your head to hang.

Pyramid

Step the left foot back and place it at a 45 degree angle. Right foot points forward. Legs are straight. Reach your arms behind you and grab opposite elbows. Keeping the spine long and the legs straight, start to pivot forward at the hips. Stop pivoting if you feel the spine start to round. Neck is an extension of the spine. Repeat on the other side.

Corpse Pose

Lie down on your back with the heels together and the toes flaring out. Arms are at the sides of the body with the palms up. Chin is tucked slightly so that the neck is long. Close your eyes. The only part of your body that is moving is your belly rising and falling with your breath.

I challenge you to incorporate a little bit of yoga into each day. You can do it anywhere. Stuck on a phone call at work? Close your office door and break out your mat. Watching TV at the end of a long day? If you aren’t using your foam roller, do a few of these poses. Before you head out to lunch, take 15 minutes to complete the poses listed above. Here is a great website that you can use to get in tune with your breath while you practice: http://doasone.org/.

Enjoy and Namaste!

Nutrition for Distance Training

When it comes to nutrition, different approaches work for different people. In my studies over the past few years, I have read numerous books and articles and attended several seminars about nutrition for running. There are many different philosophies and unfortunately, nutrition is not an exact science. So the bottom line is that you have to try different approaches to find out what works for you. Great news is that we are only in the beginning stages of this training program and we have plenty of time to learn how to fuel our own unique bodies on training days which will ultimately help us prepare for race day.

Running puts a big demand upon your energy levels and means you must look carefully at the food you eat and when you eat it. Get in tune with your body. If you are struggling to even get out of bed in the mornings, or if you run out of energy during a run, then you are probably not getting enough energy. Food + rest = energy. We want to work toward optimizing our performance, endurance and recovery.

The Building Blocks of Your Diet

Complex carbohydrates provide slow and steady fuel—this is what you will burn on your run. Focus on whole foods with high nutrient content like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Whole foods take time to digest in your body—you won’t have blood sugar lows and highs and the energy will be released slowly. Include lots of carbs in your diet but stay away from processed foods, refined sugar and flour.

Protein is essential for repairing and building tendons and muscle. It also helps with regulating hormones. Your protein sources should be high quality, such as legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds.

Fats are important too. Your brain is fueled by fat so if you want a clear head while running, be sure to include fat in your diet. It also lubricates your joints and protects your organs. Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, flax seed oil, canola oil, and avocados are the healthiest fats to consume. Try to increase Omega 3 oils (flax seed oil, hemp oil) while reducing the amount of Omega 6 oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed).

Water consumption is especially important for runners because of the loss of fluid on the training runs. Beverages without caffeine like herbal teas, sports drinks, and fruit juices can be counted toward your daily fluid goal. Drink throughout the day to keep fluid levels up and your body evenly hydrated.

Vitamins and minerals will play an important factor in your running performance and endurance. You should get almost everything that you need from eating a healthy and well balanced diet of fresh and whole foods. Women should take care to get enough iron in their diets and supplement if your levels are low. Most people are deficient in Vitamin D these days, so I recommend taking 2,000 IU per day (more if you have had blood work that shows you are deficient). B12 gives you an energy boost and vegans and vegetarians must supplement. It is water soluble and your body will use what it needs and the remainder will be eliminated. And finally, I also take iodine. This helps with energy and regulating body temperature and many of us don’t get as much as we need.

Planning Your Meals

The timing of your meals will be crucial to the success of your running performance. Eat too little and you might run out of energy. Eat too much or the wrong thing and you will feel discomfort.

Since we run early in the morning, your meal the night before should be a meal rich in complex carbohydrates (think whole grain pasta, baked potato, rice, and quinoa). Try to avoid spicy foods which can interfere with sleep. Many people cannot tolerate too much fiber the night before (like a salad) but if you have very regular digestion, this should not be a problem. I would suggest that if you are having a salad, pair it with a potato or one of the grains mentioned above so that you will have energy remaining in the tank.

In the morning, try eating something small that is easily digestible like a banana, toast with peanut butter, a small serving of oatmeal or a rice cake. Avoid high acid fruits because you will get indigestion. Many people can go without eating before the morning run. I typically don’t eat anything if the run is less than 6 miles. Over 6 and I have a banana.

After the run have a juice within the first hour. It is good to have something that is easily digestible and also to replace some carbs. (Don’t forget about electrolyte replacement too!) Once an hour has passed, eat a meal of protein and carbohydrates—this will assist with muscle repair.

Try to find the approach that works for your own unique body. It might be helpful to keep a food diary or sign up for a free app to track what you are eating and how it makes you feel.

Base Building Phase of a Distance Program

What is it and why is it important?

At the beginning of a running training program, we need to work on building a base of miles. We are also building our commitment and putting structure in place. We focus on adding volume only; adding volume and speed at the same time increases the risk of injury. These runs should be done at 60-70% effort (maximum heart rate) and at a conversational pace. We increase our mileage slowly (by no more than 10% per week) so that our bodies have the chance to adjust to increased demand. This is especially important at our pace because we take more time to run the distance, which means more contact with the ground, more time in the heat and greater hydration needs.

What is happening to our bodies during this phase and what are the benefits?

We are slowly building intensity to boost our fitness level without getting burned out by increasing miles too fast. Our bodies are going to adapt in the following ways:

  • Left ventricle in the heart expands, the part of the heart that sends blood out to the body (stroke volume increase)
  • Resting heart rate will decrease
  • Red blood cells increase, which carry more oxygen to the rest of the body
  • Blood plasma volume increases, putting more liquid in the blood so that it can move more freely
  • More and larger mitochondria are built--this is the power plant of the cell and where the aerobic energy is liberated and builds endurance
  • More capillaries, which are the smallest arteries delivering oxygen from the blood to the muscle cell
  • Increased storage of fuel in the muscle cells (glycogen storage)
  • Insulin sensitivity goes up, the hormone that pushes glucose into the muscle cells
  • Muscle fiber alterations--slow twitch are better at handling aerobic performance; fast twitch gain more endurance
  • Neuromuscular system is more coordinated
  • Stiffening of the connective tissue so we are more springy and have better energy return
  • Improved running economy in how oxygen is used, increasing aerobic conditioning
  • Muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia get stronger
  • Change in perception of discomfort
  • Reprogramming of our conscious and subconscious mind
  • Stress response decreases
  • Increased energy as the weeks progress
  • Less accumulation of lactic acid and carbon dioxide
  • Lower body fat and less fat under the skin

The most important benefit here is increasing aerobic capacity and conditioning. As we increase distance, our body relies on aerobic energy vs. anaerobic energy. This takes time and discipline and that is why we spend six weeks focusing on the base. Developing our aerobic capacity is what is going to get us through the longer runs. We are also teaching the body and mind to adapt to a specific stress until it is no longer stressful and then moving onto a different stress in the next six weeks. Here is a nifty chart showing the splits of aerobic vs. anaerobic energy contribution for some popular distances.

 

What else should we focus on during base building?

One of the basics of good form running is cadence. Cadence is the number of times our feet hit the ground per minute—basically leg turnover. We are going to focus on a cadence of 175-185 steps per minute. Now, this may sound really fast, but this has nothing to do with pace. You can run a 6:00 mile and a 12:00 mile at 180—the only thing that changes is that your stride lengthens out the back the faster you go. Why is this important? Because the longer you are in the air, the harder you will hit the ground on landing and that causes landing shock to your arches, ankles, knees and hips. Sticking to a cadence of 180 results in quicker and lighter steps, which equals less injury and better efficiency.

We should also incorporate some cross training during this phase. It is an active rest for the running muscles but we are getting added cardiovascular benefits.

What should we expect on an easy run?

I actually like to think of this run as easy to moderate. Easy because we aren’t gasping for breath, but moderate because we are challenging ourselves to a certain extent. The easy run is a shorter run—our longest easy run will be 7 miles. In a few weeks, we will incorporate some drills into the run.

What should we expect on a long run?

The long run is a steady run at easy conversation pace. The long run should be no more than 1/3 of our total weekly mileage. It helps our bodies adapt to fluid loss, glycogen depletion and we will rely more on fat as fuel (yay!). We build up the long run slowly and the benefit is that it is moderately challenging and our bodies should adapt and recover quickly. We will also increase our emotional and psychological ability to handle discomfort on longer runs.

What about rest and recovery?

Rest is a very important component of base building and is built into the schedule. Our bodies need time to recover. Nutrition plays a huge role in recovery. Eating lots of vegetables will help speed up our recovery. Why is that? For one, blood is drawn to the stomach when we eat foods that are not easily digestible. We want the blood to go to the muscles so eating foods that pass easily through the body is ideal. We need to eat food that easily turns into energy that we can use and is nutrient dense. The best foods for this are raw, high alkaline (green veggies), whole foods and non-stimulating foods.

Final thoughts

We are early in our training program and you may be feeling some fatigue. Hang in there—it will get easier as the weeks progress. Remember that most of us are adding miles to what we had been running and we may experience a little fatigue. It will pass! Just put the time and the miles in and soon a 5 mile run will seem easy.

Dates – the Perfect Snack During and After a Run

Runners continuously question what to eat in order to have the best performance. The answer is dates! They are easily digested and primarily glucose so are perfect for the boost of energy that you need during a long run. You can simply slip some seeded dates into a plastic baggy and store in your running belt for easy access. Plus, below is a link to an AMAZING recipe that you can make to eat after the run. But before that, let’s get into the health benefits of dates:

  • High in fiber, prevents LDL cholesterol absorption and moves waste through the body. In turn, there are reduced risks of colitis, colon cancer and hemorrhoids
  • Anti-inflammatory—helps reduce the risk of arthritis, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s
  • Anti-oxidant and offers some protection against colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung and pancreatic cancer
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces stroke risk
  • Strengthens bones
  • Boosts nervous system health and improves brain activity
  • Alleviates seasonal allergies because they contain sulfur
  • Perfect supplement for people suffering from anemia--increasing energy and strength
  • Contain vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, riboflavin, folate, A, B6 (improves brain performance) and K
  • Contain minerals potassium (controls heart rate and blood pressure), iron (helps carry and balance oxygen in the blood), calcium (required for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve impulse conduction), manganese, magnesium (anti-inflammatory and required for bone growth), phosphorus, sodium, zinc and copper (required for production of red blood cells)

What is there not to love about dates? Seems like the perfect food to me. Check out my recipes for Date and Nut Balls.

Celery Juice – the Natural Way to Replace Natural Electrolytes

Do you ever reach for your electrolyte replacement drink only to pucker up because the drink is too salty or worse, way too sweet? Have you looked at the list of ingredients and scratched your head, wondering what some of those mystery ingredients might be? As a runner, we are so careful about the food that we put into our bodies…don’t you want to be just as careful with your fluids?

Experienced runners know how important electrolyte replacement is. During a run, you lose sodium and potassium through sweating. You must replace these minerals so that you can replace and retain the fluids that you just lost.

You all know that I am the juicing queen and my go to electrolyte replacement drink is so simple—celery juice! Did you know that every cell in your body is bathed in a salt solution? If there is an imbalance, dehydration can occur.

Celery juice has these amazing health benefits:

  • Replaces lost electrolytes and rehydrates the body
  • Contains potassium and sodium to stimulate urine production
  • Reduces inflammation—an added bonus for runners and for people with chronic anti-inflammatory conditions
  • Promotes healthy kidney function to eliminate toxins
  • The sodium in celery is very safe for consumption, even for people that are salt sensitive or are on a reduced salt diet
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Alkaline so helps balance the pH of the blood
  • Contains anti-cancer compounds
  • Eliminates and prevents kidney and gall bladder stones
  • Has a natural laxative effect
  • Natural calming effect—leading to better sleep
  • Contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C
  • Contains minerals potassium, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and sodium

So now that I have you excited about celery juice…how do you get started? Many stores these days carry fresh squeezed juices. But if you make it at home you are assured of the freshness and get the most nutrients out of it because you are drinking the juice immediately after juicing. If you are new to juicing you might not want to go hard core like me and drink straight celery juice (or maybe you do!). Below are some yummy recipes. Just put all of the ingredients in the juicer and in no time you will have a delicious drink.

Recipe 1

  • 8 stalks of celery
  • 1 apple
  • ¼ inch piece of peeled ginger

Recipe 2

  • 6 stalks of celery
  • 2 carrots
  • ½ peeled lemon
  • small bunch of parsley

Breville sells great juicers but if you want the mother of all juicers, check out the Norwalk 280. We bought ours about a month ago and it is everything that I imagined. I read about it in the book The Gerson Therapy--a great book that I will write a review about in my next blog post.

Just try it--you will be amazed how great you feel when you have this immediately after a run. So refreshing and the cells in your body will thank you!

Nutrition & Hydration for Runners

Have you ever wondered why you see runners that always seem to have better endurance than you? What is the secret that gives them that extra edge to keep running without running out of fuel? Are you confused about what to eat and drink before a run? After hours of exhaustive research and trial and error these are the secrets I have uncovered.

As an active athlete, refining nutrition helps remove stress from the body and speeds recovery. Optimizing your nutrition will improve your ability to burn fat as energy, reduce your cravings, produce less joint inflammation, improve mental clarity, and enable quick recovery from exercise.

When you go for a run, the blood in your body is being directed toward your muscles and toward your skin in order to cool you off. If you want to be an efficient running machine, it is important to eat foods that are easily digestible so that the blood is not drawn to your digestive system. For optimum performance, you will want to eat food that easily turns into energy that you can use--nutrient dense foods that are easily assimilated.

Nutrition/hydration before the run: With proper nutrition you can work harder and perform better. The body first burns simple carbs before switching to complex carbs. You want your fuel to be simple so that your body will only burn the simple carbs and won't need to covert the complex carbs into energy. Avoid large amounts of acidic protein before a run as it will cause cramping. Protein is for building muscle, not fueling your body.

  • For workouts of high intensity over a short period of time (less than 45 minutes), eat simple carbs such as dates, bananas, mangos, papayas or coconut oil.
  • For workouts of moderate intensity over a moderate period of time (45 to 90 minutes), take in some alkaline protein such as hemp, flax seeds or almonds. Have you tried hemp or almond milk? Yum!
  • For workouts of low intensity over a long time (more than 90 minutes), eat a combination of simple carbs and alkaline protein (3:1 ratio). On these runs you will train your body to use fat as fuel by running at a slower intensity.
  • Ensure that you are fully hydrated from the day before. The old standard calls for 8 glasses of water per day, but take into account the size of your body. Smaller bodies might require less, larger bodies might require more. Don’t wait until you experience the signs of dehydration. Keep a bottle of water with you during the day and drink from it regularly. Beverages that are not diuretics count toward hydrating. Things that don’t count—coffee, soda and caffeinated tea.

Nutrition during the run: Prepare for your runs by having the right nutrition and hydration on hand.

  • For runs with a duration of less than 30 minutes, nutrition is not needed. You will be burning the glycogen stores and the snack that you had before the run will get you through.
  • For runs with a duration of longer than 30 minutes, nutrition should be taken every 15-20 minutes once you hit the 30 minute mark. Some convenient options are energy gels (Gu), energy blocks/chews (Gatorade) and beans (Jelly Belly Sport Beans). They help to keep your blood sugar level steady and include electrolytes. Some even contain caffeine. Always follow gels/blocks/beans with a drink of water.
  • You should be hydrating every 15 minutes. A good rule of thumb is to drink 4-6 ounces every 20 minutes. Warmer weather will require more fluids at a higher frequency.
  • Do you tend to have salt deposits on your face after a run? If so, you will want a drink with a higher level of electrolytes, so don’t water your drink down. While running, you lose sodium and potassium through sweating. If you don’t replace those, your body won’t retain the fluids that you have consumed and you can experience muscle cramps.
  • Do you have to consume a drink containing electrolytes? The answer is a resounding YES! If you don’t sufficiently replace electrolytes during your runs and only use water, you can risk over-hydration. There is a condition called hyponatremia, which is low blood sodium concentration. Drinking too much water can cause the sodium in your body to become diluted. Your body's water levels rise your cells begin to swell. This can cause health problems, from mild to life-threatening. Women should be especially careful because a women's sex hormones affects the body's ability to balance sodium levels.

Nutrition after the run: On your run, you have broken the muscle down and now you must feed it.

  • Immediately after the run, eat a simple carb—something with very little fat and no fiber. Have a green juice or a pudding snack, definitely something that is liquid or near liquid.
  • 45 minutes to an hour after the run, incorporate a high quality digestible raw protein. The carb/protein ratio should be 3:1. Good protein choices are hemp, quinoa, nut butters or hummus. Pair this with some fresh veggies.

With proper planning, you can enhance your performance and truly enjoy every run!