Category Archives: Running

Three Valuable Tips for Beginning Runners

1. You should run as slow as you can

You absolutely need to run slow. Slower than you think. Run as slow as you need to in order to keep running. As a newcomer to running, you will struggle to run for any amount of distance, and chances are likely you will quit early unless you first focus on running far as slowly as you can get away with.

A parallel: Competitive walking has a rigid set of rules that constitute what exactly constitutes a walk, and it’s a good guide for the minimum of what you need to do for your movement to qualify as a run.

A key point in race walking is that your back foot must be on the ground until your front foot plants on the ground.

Conversely, if your back foot comes up before your front foot impacts the ground, then you are technically running. See how slowly you can get away with safely doing this, and you may be surprised how slowly you are allowed to run.

2. Take each step as soft and easy as you can

Another key reason you want to run slow is to make it easier for you to run without having to hit the ground hard.

A telltale sign that a runner is outrunning his/her normal capabilities is that their feet hit the ground hard and loud. This isn’t just aesthetically displeasing, but it’s not healthy. You’re jarring your joints, muscles and ligaments all the way up the chain from your feet up into your core, and risking long term injury. In fact, this is largely where common runner ailments like shin splints and IT band pain come from. You basically just stress those parts of your body until they hurt.

In dance and some theatre circles, performers get taught how to step as softly as they can. There’s usually no real method taught to this, but performers often work at it until they develop the locus of control to step softly. I guess it incidentally helped that I studied theatre and dance before becoming a serious runner, as learning this inadvertently, eventually helped me develop better running form.

But you don’t need to dance or do theatre to learn to run soft and easy. Stand up. Find some open space. Take a step forward as softly as you can. Take another step forward as softly as you can. Repeat. Take your time and relax while repeating this. You may find that your body naturally moves and adjusts with you. Eventually your body just knows how to move to comfortably make it work. It also probably feels silly to do, but work with it.

Now try to do it quickly, but stay as relaxed as possible. Do it consistently and quickly enough, and all of a sudden you’re running that way. It may not be fast or intense, but it works.

The home run trot that I previously advocated is basically just this. It’s exactly what baseball players are doing. They’re just running as easy and comfortable as possible. Their feet are definitely not slamming into the ground.

3. Eat something with protein within an hour after every run

Recovery is something even experienced runners aren’t great at doing. Most don’t think at all about taking in nutrition within two hours of running, or realize that the half hour after running is a valuable window for refueling the body.

While carbohydrates may be valuable for glycogen restoration, what you do need for sure is protein. You just did a bit of damage to your muscles, and they need protein to rebuild. Consume at least 15-30g of protein.

I’m not saying you should pig out. Just eat a protein bar, some nuts or seeds, or drink a glass of milk, if nothing else. If you are in fact planning to eat a meal like breakfast or dinner right after running, great. Mission accomplished.

I can get into all the science as to why processed junk doesn’t help you as much as whole food, but in a nutshell you’re better off eating something healthy. If you’re in a bind and options are limited, then eat what you must. But given the option, try to eat whole foods in as close to their natural form as you can.

How well you bounce back between workouts is largely a function of how you recover. What you eat or drink soon after the run matters.

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Replacing long runs in extreme weather with multiple runs

My sister’s boyfriend runs multiple half marathons and shorter races throughout each year. Living in the Las Vegas desert, where temperatures top 100 degrees Fahrenheit through most of the year, long runs are impractical.

You can’t run outside in such extreme heat for more than half an hour, not even in the morning (as temperatures don’t drop below 80 degrees many days, and that’s already rather hot for running). And running 10+ miles on a treadmill, if the gym will even allow it, isn’t psychologically feasible for most.

So how does he train for half marathons? He runs them in the neighborhood of 1:40, so he clearly gets in excellent shape for them. But he attests he certainly doesn’t do long runs. So what does he do?

Here’s how he outlined it for me (and I’m describing this some in my words rather than his):

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How to run in snow and ice

Snow finally hit Chicago hard for the first time this cold season. While 4-8″ isn’t anything close to a record, it means runners here finally get to deal with snow and ice.

Walking in snow and ice itself is an acquired skill, which puts running in snow and ice on a whole other level. Being a winter runner, I have enough first-hand experience and knowledge to help you continue to train outdoors in cold conditions.

The standard caveats apply: Layer accordingly, dress as if it’s 20 degrees warmer since you will warm up while running, and of course should the weather get suitably severe (blizzard conditions, massive snow or ice, thunder-snow, and dangerously low temperatures and windchill) you should go ahead and stay inside.

Barring that, here’s some key tips to running in snow and ice.

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Ensure your running fitness by building a Running Floor

Finding it hard to keep up with mileage demands? Finding yourself taking days off and skipping workouts?

If you want or need to run, but find much of your workout schedule daunting or find you don’t have the time you want/need to run… the key is to do a little bit of running rather than no running at all.

For example:

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100 mile weeks are for elites. You should run as much as your life allows.

Despite talking about adding mileage to my training… I’m not worried about building a lot of new running volume. I peaked at 50-55 miles my last training cycle, and that’s probably fine as a max average for this next training cycle. Like most, I don’t have the natural speed to run more than that given my available time and physical capacity.

Elites who run 100+ miles a week also run easy 6-7 minute miles, can run speedwork with 4:00-5:00 minute/mile paces, and can knock out those 100+ miles a week in fewer than 8-9 hours per week of running.

Another important point: Virtually all elite runners are sponsored and can build their entire lives around training because running can be their job. They can spend virtually all the time outside of training relaxing and focusing on recovery.


Meanwhile, working class runners do not have that luxury. We also have to navigate the stressors, work and competing demands of everyday life. Those who live in big cities also have to commute a lot on foot. Eliud Kipchoge is not battling hordes on the subway to get to a day job, and then weaving his way through the neighborhood to get groceries and pay bills, while also training to run a 2:00:00 marathon for his next race.

So, barring the speed to run easy at 7:00/mile plus some resourcefulness and extra ambition… most of us shouldn’t run more than 60-70 miles a week. Not only are most of us not built to reasonably run that kind of volume, but we’ve got so much other work to do everyday that we risk burnout and injury going beyond that.

If your easy mile pace is more like 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 12:00 or slower per mile… your volume should be lower until you pace improves.

I’ve written a bit about this before, but we should look at our training volume in terms of time required than in terms of just mileage.

I offer the following guidelines, hodge podged together from the principles of other top running minds (Daniels, Hanson, Fitzgerald, Higdon, etc).

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Now that it’s cold, you need a better warm-up

As Chicago temps have now dropped to their traditional late-autumn 20’s and 30’s Fahrenheit, my hands and feet are now feeling quite cold at the start of runs.

Previously, it only took 1-2 miles before the generated heat of my running warmed my hands and feet back to normal. But during the last couple runs, I’ve found it taking as long as 30 minutes for my feet to warm up to normal.

That’s a long time to tempt frostbite in your feet. And keep in mind it’s been mostly dry. If I was running through slush or snow, the resulting moisture could have exacerbated the problem.


Did something change? Am I suffering from circulation problems?

No way. The answer is simple: I’ve gotten fitter, and that ironically has made warming up on cold-weather runs harder.

In previous years, regular runs required a greater effort from me than they do now. That greater effort means more heat, which with normal run-elevated circulation warms your limbs up sooner.

While better fitness means faster paces at easier effort, the easier effort doesn’t produce warmth as quickly, meaning those cold hands and feet are going to stay cold longer unless I push the pace hard (which for various reasons I’d rather not do in these runs).


Now, acclimation will help. As I grow accustomed to being out in the cold, my body will better sustain comfort or warmth in cold weather. By January I will probably not need 30 minutes of running to comfortably warm in clear conditions.

In the interim, however, this isn’t going to fly. With trail races coming up this winter, I will be facing some non-clear conditions and thus need to figure out how to warm up quickly.

I’m not about to tire and wear myself out with tempo sprints and strides before every long run, overheating myself before the real workout starts just to get my feet warm. There has to be a better way.

And there is.

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The Control Rest Day Baseline, and using it to successfully carb cycle

Yesterday with the day off I did nothing, in terms of training. No running, no strength work, nothing particularly strenuous. I actually drove to get coffee, since I had vehicle-related errands to run that day. I did a minimum of walking… not easy to do in Chicago when you live in Wrigleyville and you do most of your business on foot.

Okay, big deal, just a rest day, right? Well….

… it had been a while since I’ve taken stock of my working basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the rate at which you would burn calories in a day if you did nothing but lay or sit there. For men my size and age, this is somewhere around 1650-1700 calories.

You do more than sit around all day, so to find your baseline calorie burn you multiply that BMR by a standard multiplier.

  • Sedentary people who drive everywhere and never exercise can use 1.2 as their multiplier. You multiply your basic BMR by 1.2 to get your actual basal metabolic rate.
  • If you get any exercise once or twice a week, or you walk to get around everyday, your multiplier may be closer to 1.3.
  • If you work out every day it may be as low as 1.5 or as high as 2.0, depending on what you do for workouts.

Of course, I can’t just set my baseline at 1700 calories multiplied by a standard multiplier. My daily activity can vary widely, as a Chicago local who gets around on foot and runs a lot. Even if I don’t run, I may walk anywhere from 20ish minutes a day to several miles, and there’s no rhyme or reason relative to my training as to how much walking I do. Plus, this completely ignores strength training and any other physical activity.

I’ve had days where, with identical training (or lack thereof), I’ve burned anywhere from 2100 calories to over 4000. So, plugging my estimated general activity into a BMR tool and spitting out a number isn’t necessarily going to help me.


I still want to get enough to eat, while not overeating. I still do have tracker data that shows an average weekly calorie burn, which is around 3000 calories per day during training. But there’s more to it than that:

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Volume: The key to base training

Most training plans, whether or not they map it out, follow at least three general phases.

  1. There is a base training phase, where you establish the volume and habits you will generally follow throughout the training cycle.
  2. There is a fundamental phase, where you develop speed and aerobic endurance.
  3. And then there is the final sharpening phase, where you work more specifically on preparing for your goal race as well as taper to heal up in the days/weeks before that race.

(Some split that 2nd phase into separate development phases, one where the 1st part is speedwork-centered, and the 2nd is built around tempo and endurance with that tempo.)

Most people follow a pre-written training plan, which usually starts with a minimal weekly mileage that gradually builds throughout the plan. The base training may establish an initial pattern of speed/tempo workouts, but the volume typically is low and increases during the life of the training plan.

I do think we get it backwards.

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The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

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Chops: A personal statistic for tracking training volume

Chops

A snapshot of my Google Docs training log, which outlines mileage, time spent in “hard running”, time spent doing hard exercise or similar labor, estimated walking distance, lifetime training miles since 2016, and my personal stat “Chops”, described below.

I keep a Google Doc spreadsheet log of all my training sessions: Mileage, any speedwork mileage, time spent in strength training plus other active/intentional physical effort, and estimated distance walking.

I also track known lifetime training mileage, and a self-created stat called Chops.

Chops is named after the musician term chops, which describes a performer’s current musical skill. Similarly, my Chops number provides an estimate of how many miles I can comfortably run at full strength over the following week.

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Quick thoughts on how to find comfortable, fast, efficient running form

Think quick. Think low. Think short, swift movements.

If you’re trying to run fast, I’ve talked about how most fall into the trap of longer, lunging strides… instead of shortening up enough to where they can turn their feet over more quickly. The latter will cover more ground in the long run, and is a much more comfortable way to run faster than usual.

When starting your run, begin with a trot, and gradually accelerate the turnover of steps in that trot.

Many also fall into the trap of swinging their arms far too much, extraneous movement that wastes energy and not only tires you out more quickly but slows you down.

The only directions your arms should drive is back. Your arms should naturally repel back forward, allowing you to drive them back once again. In fact, and this is admittedly from various running form texts, your arms should ideally not swing in front of you at all. The farthest forward your elbows should come is right beside your obliques.

And your arms ought to be low, and stay low. Yes, I’ve seen (and know) plenty of runners who run comfortably with their arms high in front of them. Like a baseball pitcher with a high leg kick, it’s a quirk that works well for some and their style. For most, the most efficient form for your arms is low and driving back while not propeling far forward.

A good way to think about running is to run with the feel a hovercraft… or like a plane taxi-ing along the runway. The latter glides along the pavement, occasionally firing the engines just a little bit, enough to move itself forward.

If you’re not sprinting, look to find a rhythm that feels like you’re briskly gliding low along the pavement. Your legs aren’t lifting too high with each step. Your arms are low to the ground. Your steps are smooth, swift, so short and imperceptible that if you didn’t know any better you’d swear you had no legs and were in fact gliding like a hovercraft.

This smooth rhythm also making slowing down or stopping for obstacles easy and seamless, as well as gliding back into your desired pace once you’re running again.

At the very least, it feels a lot better than grunting and pushing out hard steps to try and run fast. You may find smooth is faster anyway.

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Strength runs, or a backpack of pain?

When I first began running in Chicago, I would run home wearing my backpack. I did it largely out of necessity, because at the end of a busy day I needed to get home, and the end of a busy night was often the only real time I could get in a run.

At the time, the weight (my bag usually weighs around 8-10 lbs) slowing me down was not a particularly big deal since I didn’t run all that fast anyway. Covering the distance consistently and building my aerobic fitness was the main goal.

But as I began training more seriously, at a higher volume, running with that weight on my back was not the most useful form of training. I began leaving my bag at home and coming to work with only what could fit in my pockets, so I could run after work as unencumbered as possible. My wallet, phone, keys, etc still added a few pounds, but that was more manageable.

The thing is, while walking with a backpack is no big deal, running with a backpack can beat up your upper body if you’re not used to hauling weight all the time. Admittedly, I’m not. The few times I had done it since, it was an unusually arduous experience even at a slow easy pace.

Along with your lower body’s typical glycogen needs, now your upper body and core muscles are demanding glycogen and post-run protein to handle the shifting extra weight as you run. Plus, this can leave your upper body feeling sore.


This morning I ran to work with my bag on, a straightforward 5K route to my workplace from home. After work, I ran back with the same bag on, albeit at an easier pace than the morning’s run. Having improved my conditioning over the last few months, this run felt a lot steadier and more comfortable both ways, and I don’t feel sore right now.

I’m not in a hurry to get back to the gym, but this could help me develop upper body strength if I can consistently, comfortably do this two way run during the workweek.  And it would further prepare my running muscles, as I’d do other runs, not to mention races, with 8-10 lbs less weight than I do during these work haul runs.

The key is for these runs to not be painful ones. If it becomes painful, then I’ll stop doing them. Until then, if it makes me stronger, then let’s go for it.

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Why do your legs itch when you run?

Many experience itching on their legs whenever they go out to run, regardless of weather and regardless of what they’re wearing. Why?

Well, nothing’s biting you and you don’t have some sort of skin condition. So over the counter remedies aren’t going to do you much good.

The reason your legs itch is because when you start running, you activate previously dormant nerves in your legs. The sudden stimulus compels your legs to send the sensation of itching up your nerve fibers back to your brain.

So your legs itch, and the temptation is to think that something’s happening on your skin. But the reality is that your legs are basically waking up and using more energy. Often, if you continue running through it, the sensation passes.

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Practicing fueling during marathon training

A lot of people struggle with fueling during a marathon because they aren’t used to running with food or drink (beyond water or maybe Gatorade) in their stomach.

I have a fairly strong running stomach. I’ve even gone as far as to eat pizza before heading out on a speedwork workout, and done well (in no small part thanks to having a bunch of fat and carbohydrates at the ready thanks to the pizza). I obviously wouldn’t recommend going that far, but I have on many occasions eaten a full meal and then gone out on a run without trouble.


Yesterday I segmented 11 miles into three separate runs, as I ran to the Loyola women’s hoops game, then back towards home.

After the game, before my 2nd run to Montrose Beach, I stopped at Raising Canes and treated myself to a Box Combo with some lemonade, because why not.

But instead of waiting a bit for the meal to digest, I immediately crossed the street onto the LUC campus and took off for Lincoln Park.

I bring this up because, while I didn’t feel sick running with such a disgusting meal in my stomach… the inevitable gas you’d expect from your stomach led to a realization.

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Final thoughts on Vancouver 2018

StanleyPark

Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC Canada

I didn’t go on a lot about what happened with the 2018 Vancouver Marathon, which I had to DNF at around 5K due to heat exhaustion.

There was a lot going on in my personal life right when that race occurred, which undoubtedly impacted my health leading up to the race.

My work situation had been stable until about a month before the race (for various reasons, mostly beyond my control), to the point where I decided to resign shortly after I returned from Vancouver due to how bad the situation had gotten. It felt like, and still feels like, exactly the right decision. My working life even without the full-time salaried stability got a lot better since (EDIT: And I’ve since been hired on full time in a new career that’s much better in too many ways).

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Using the glycogen equation

I’ve referenced this a few times. Jonathan Savage crafted an equation, out of 1993 research from Dutch professor JA Romijn, that estimates the percentage of energy you use from glycogen, vs fat, based on your effort relative to your VO2max.

y = .0021x² + .7896x – 21.031

… where X is the percentage of your VO2max and y is the percentage of caloric energy that comes from glycogen.

So, for a simple example, if I do a run at an effort equal to 70% of my VO2max:

(.0021 * 70 * 70) + (.7896 * 70) – 21.031


10.290 + 55.272 – 21.031


44.531 % from glycogen

Note: Yes, this is a massively reductionist estimate, ignoring all sorts of factors, not to mention the VO2max percentage is itself a guesstimated assumption based on what you believe is your VO2max, with your given x-percentage probably based solely on your running pace and/or heart rate. But correlative observation and evidence indicates that it’s more accurate than other methods, so here we are.

Anyway… at 70% effort, if I burn 123 calories per mile, then 54.8 of those calories will come from glycogen, with the rest coming from fat.

If (based on other quantitative assumptions) we can say I have 1208 calories of glycogen stored in my lower body, I can run about 22.0 miles at this effort before my lower body runs out of glycogen.


Now, this number probably seems low to many experts, who are used to assuming that the glycogen rate is closer to 65-70%.

At the same time, most coaches and runners are used to pushing harder on regular runs (even recovery runs) than they should. Many run their marathons harder than their bodies probably should, and it figures they burn out of glycogen before mile 20. So it would figure that most would assume a 65ish% glycogen burn rate.

Even Daniels‘ metrics flattens the slide on his similar VDOT metric, where as you drop below an 80% effort it flattens the change in the percentage of max until it assumes a rough minimum of about 80%. I would posit you can (and many do) their comfortable easy runs at far less than 80% of VO2max.

More than anything the Romijn/Savage Equation, while counterintuitive, is probably closer to an accurate estimate of glycogen use than other estimates. It’s one I go by.

Where am I going with this? Basically, this equation has some uses.

  • Let’s say you are trying to eat low carb, or at the least carb cycle to improve your insulin sensitivity and in turn how well your body utilizes ingested carbs. If you’re doing serious endurance training, you probably do need carbs. If you know your training volume and intensity, you can figure out how many carbs you can eat on a given day to fuel or offset the glycogen your body will burn that day.
  • This can help you get an idea of what pre/post workout or race nutrition you need to fuel or recover from your workout. Your protein needs should remain fairly static, and of course you need not worry too much about recovering fat since we all carry so much. But your carb needs can vary dramatically.
  • Similarly, this can help you figure out an accurate fueling plan for a marathon or longer race. By knowing exactly how much glycogen you need, relative to your estimated glycogen body storage, you now have a hard figure of carbohydrate calories you know you need to ingest. You can plan accordingly.
  • This can also help address the larger question of how many carbs you need on average. Perhaps you can set a low baseline, like 100-150g a day, and then add carbs based on how many you may burn in a typical week. The equation can give you a fairly accurate number.

There are I’m sure other examples. I’ll leave it to you to find possible ways to utilize this data.

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