Category Archives: Training

KINeSYS: The best running sunscreen I’ve ever used

Before last year’s ill-fated Vancouver Marathon, I visited the race’s Expo and did some opportune shopping for in-race items I would need, such as Clif Shot Bloks.

I also needed sunblock, but was wary of being suckered in when I encountered the people selling KINeSYS, a Vancouver-based brand of sunscreen. However, it had several qualities that quickly drew me in.

  • It didn’t contain the highly reactive and dangerous carcinogens oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.
  • It sprays on, like other athletic sunscreens.
  • But! It doesn’t leave the tell-tale disgusting film that other sunscreens do. Since it’s oil free, it absorbs into your skin leaving it feeling far more normal, and doesn’t smear all over your clothes or getting into your sweat and your eyes.
  • Because of that liquid consistency, it sprays directly toward your skin, more like a liquid than an aerosol. You won’t lose valuable sunscreen to the air, or end up breathing any of it in.
  • It’s also fragrance free, so you don’t end up with an overt weird sunscreen smell.
  • It comes in a portable 1oz spray bottle that can easily be carried on your person at the race, allowing re-application in mid-marathon to be easily done. It’s also a travel-acceptable size, allowing you to fly with it.
  • It didn’t cost too much more than typical sunscreens. The $8.99 listed on the company’s Amazon page is pretty much what I paid in Vancouver BC (in Canadian currency). They have other types they sell at different prices, but the base $8.99 variety worked just fine.

Since I don’t need to use sunscreen terribly much, I still have the original 1oz bottle I bought back in May 2018. But if I needed more sunscreen I absolutely would order this again.

Those of you who run a lot in sunny, hot climates, and want to improve the quality (and lower the health risk) of the sunscreen you use, I’d absolutely recommend trying KINeSYS.

Funny how the Canadians do sunscreen better than we do.

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Feast or Famine Winter Training: A blessing in disguise?

Chicago’s freezing weather has forced me to hibernate for days at a time. Last week’s brutal -50°F windchills knocked out a couple days, and this week a combination of sub-10°F temperatures with stiff 20-30 mph winds have compelled me to flex in a couple of days off.

This has led me into a feast/famine schedule, where I’ll run 4-5 days in a row, then run very little for a few days, then repeat. If Chicago’s weather can stabilize into something consistently tolerable, I’ll resume a more normal training schedule.

But I realized this schedule is very similar to one that emergency workers (hospital medical staff, firefighters, law enforcement) follow, along with to some extent expo workers.

They work long hours for several days in a row, then they get several days off in a row. In the case of emergency staff, working a regular 8 hour shift is often impractical when attending to real-time emergencies. In the case of expo staff, they work when convention services are needed, and those periods often come in peak-season blocks rather than everyday on a 40 hour schedule.

Obviously, there are drawbacks to life with such a schedule. No one ever argued this was an optimal schedule. However, not only do workers put in entire careers on such a schedule, but (taking a bit of a logical leap here) it’s entirely possible that runners could to some extent do fine on the same schedule.

In fact, runners kind of do. We train hard for goal races in 8-24 week cycles… then we take longer breaks before resuming training for the next goal. Even the famous elite Kenyan runners take weeks or months off following their marathons.

We couldn’t train as hard as we do unless we took breaks at some point. Sometimes, injuries or life force those breaks. But many end up taking them by choice or other willing circumstance. It’s during these breaks that the body and mind rebuild, allowing us to train hard the next time around. You don’t grow stronger during training, but during the recovery between bouts of training.

So back to this strange-to-many feast or famine schedule: Imagine 4-5 days straight of moderate running, with a long run at some point, perhaps a speedwork session early on… then 3-4 days of no training, or perhaps a short run or two during that period… before another 4-5 days straight of moderate/long running.

That moderate period might really beat you up, but then you get that long subsequent period to heal up from all that work. You’re possibly almost chomping at the bit to get back at it two days before you resume training. By the time you get back to longer runs, you’re physically and psychologically fresh.

The latter situation is actually the idea behind a marathon taper. You spend months grinding yourself to get ready for the race. Then you scale back your training to too-little-running, so that your body and mind can heal up and running can become fresh again once it’s time to run the actual race.

I won’t go as far as to say everyone should do this. If I had it my way, I’d have trained normally over this past month, instead of having to stall training for 2-3 days due to severe weather.

But in a way the severe weather was an opportunity to rest up and recover. So long as I maximize the time to train while the weather is good, the time off could maximize the recovery and growth from that training.

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Finish strong at races by training with fast finish runs

You should never do in races what you don’t work on in training. Runners want to negative split and finish strong. But then they do all their runs at an even pace. Or the only time they run fast is when they do speedwork.

In so many other ways, runners do most of their running in an entirely different pattern of behavior, routine and other fashion than they intend to do so in their races.

This is not to say your workouts should all be dress rehearsals for your races. In many cases (like a marathon) this is impossible. However, in sports a typical practice usually works on specific elements and routines that athletes will utilize in the actual competition. A workout should whenever reasonable provide opportunities to work on things you will need to do specifically in a race.

Obviously a regular run works on running. But races are run at a harder pace than a regular run. Of course, you can’t just race all your workouts without risking injury or burnout. And of course you do want most of your running to be easy intensity for the same reasons.

Still, you can work on one key pattern of behavior that you will utilize in a race: You can work on finishing a typical run faster and stronger than you did the rest of the run.

The value: As you tire in a race, you have to work harder to maintain your pace later in the race than you do at the start. Thus it helps to practice giving more of an effort at the end of a run to simulate this demand and help you practice working within that state. It doesn’t unduly tax you to do it in the final few minutes of the run, the way it would for you to run hard the entire length of the run (as you would in a race).

An easy example: You go on a 45 minute run. You start easy and do most of the run easy. But in the final mile or the final 10 minutes, you pick up the pace to something “comfortably hard”, fast and a little challenging, but something you can steadily maintain for a mile or so. You stay at that pace or better until your run is done.

This fast finish run isn’t unheard of. In fact, a lot of coaches recommend it. Hal Higdon’s advanced 3/1 runs are basically this. Matt Fitzgerald’s training plans feature lots of fast finish long runs.

I actually used to do this when I first started seriously training. When I used to listen to music while running I’d go for a run set to LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33, with the goal to return to my starting point by the end of the 46 minute track. Sometimes, with the song approaching it’s end I’d be a little too far from the finish and I’d feel compelled to speed up to get there in time.

Turns out, without my realizing it, I was basically doing the fast finish run. It’s probably one of many key factors that led to my substantial improvement.

So, whether or not you want to time it to music, a great way to practice race-day running is to finish some (not all, but some) of your regular runs a little faster. Practicing that end-of-race “kick” in workouts will better prepare you to kick for real at the end of your actual races. Plus, it’s a sneaky way to work on “speedwork” without having to devote an entire tough workout to it.

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The FIRST Marathon Training Approach: Who’s it good for?

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I want to talk a bit about the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training‘s unique training program, known mostly as FIRST.

This is not a review of Run Less, Run Faster… the book that Runners’ World eventually put out about the method, though if this approach works for you then I recommend you check out the book. This is more of a review of the method itself.

The Basics of FIRST, in a Nutshell

  • Over 16 weeks you only run 3 days a week, with 1 day between the workouts plus 2 days off from running after the longest one.
  • All of the workouts are quality workouts. There is a speedwork session, a tempo run, and a long run. None of the workouts are a simple distance run. Every running workout has a specific challenge, and is intended to be difficult.
  • You are expected to cross train aggressively two additional days each week, most typically the day after the first two workouts.
  • Speedwork sessions are track style reps ranging from 400m to 1600m. These sessions are fairly light for speedwork: You’re never asked to do more than 12 reps, and that’s for the 400m repeats. These workouts shouldn’t last more than 45 minutes.
  • Midweek tempo runs range from 3-8 miles, and are done around 10K-15K pace.
    The paces for the long run are rather fast compared to other methods, run about 30-45 seconds faster than your 10K pace. This is approximately close to most methods’ marathon pace, so you are effectively doing your long runs as marathon-pace workouts.
  • The long run starts at 10 miles, peaks at 20 miles, and the average long run is around 16 miles, which incidentally is around the max long run of some methods. Because of the hard pace demanded, they’re designed not to last more than 2.5 hours.

Who Does the FIRST Approach NOT work for?

People who don’t do speedwork. FIRST is not for a speedwork beginner. All of the workouts demand some degree of tempo running, so you need to be comfortable with hard, pace-centered running.

Winter runners. Icy conditions do not lend themselves to hitting goal tempos, and FIRST demands you do every run at a tempo. You need traction with the ground to run fast, and slippery winter conditions don’t allow it. FIRST is best done during a conventional warmer season.

People who do best with lots of easy running. Every single workout is a higher intensity workout. If you prefer to run easy in workouts, do another plan. Don’t come near this one.

People who don’t want to cross train. One of the hidden keys to FIRST’s success is the low intensity cross training sessions you’re supposed to do between run workouts. This is where aerobic fitness is low-key developed. If you just do the run workouts, that aerobic fitness likely doesn’t develop fully (though, if you handle the entire plan, your anaerobic fitness should be vastly improved). And FIRST is adamant that you’re not to do any running on the non-run days. You’re basically doing another plan if you do.

People who want to log heavy miles. Because you only run three days a week in FIRST, and two of those workouts are somewhat shorter than typical marathon training runs, your total mileage is capped fairly low. If you feel you train best with a high mileage volume, you’ve got to do another plan.

Runners whose race pace is fairly close to their everyday running pace. If you’re more of a casual runner, FIRST is already a pretty tough fit for you. But if your race pace is fairly close to your regular running pace, you’re not going to get much more value from this plan than any other random running plan… most of which will do more for you than FIRST. You probably need more frequent, everyday running than anything else.

Injury or burnout prone runners. Because every FIRST workout demands a high level of intensity, and you’re assured of three challenging workouts every week, it’s very likely someone not equipped to handle the training load will get hurt or burn out.

Runners who lack cross training options. You need to be able to cross train to do FIRST effectively, and this requires you have access to a bike, a pool, a gym, etc. If you don’t, you may as well pick a plan that only asks you to run.

Who Does FIRST work for?

Experienced runners who do best with intense sessions. Similar to people who swear by Pfitzinger, highly trained runners who thrive in hardcore run workouts will probably get more out of FIRST. They may not be fond of the lack of running on off days, but perhaps the hard cross training makes up for it. Speaking of which….

Triathletes. Because FIRST demands cross training, triathletes who like to train in other aerobic disciplines (cycling, swimming) will enjoy the ample opportunity to work on their other sports… or at the least use those other sports as a recovery/development break from marathon training.

Hardcore runners who don’t have a ton of time. Someone who has a busy life but likes to train hard will like having a schedule of only three workouts per week. FIRST is more easily fit into a busy schedule.

Older experienced race runners. Athletes who like training hard but find age catching up with them could find FIRST ideal. Older athletes tend to do best by cutting back on volume and getting the most bang for their buck on less frequent workouts while perhaps cross training on the side. FIRST does not mess around with junk runs, and older athletes may get growth from the less frequent but more focused run schedule plus the cross training sessions.

Experienced runners who struggle with hitting goal times. To be honest, many experienced runners who struggle to nail a goal time could find substantial growth from FIRST’s focused, tempo oriented workouts. If your every workout demands a particular tempo, then you have no choice but to learn to hit tempo. You will find out early if a goal time is unrealistic, and can build subsequent workouts around a more feasible goal time. But the most important part is that a runner will get better at running at a goal pace.


No verdict. FIRST can be a quality training method for some runners, while it’s a bad idea for others.

Personally, I’m intrigued by the method, but the necessity of quality cross training makes it a no-go for me. I’m currently not part of a gym, and don’t own a bike. My cross training is limited to walking, mild strength training, and other physical errands. Also, it’s currently winter in Chicago, so if I was going to do it at all it would need to be during the peak summer season.

Also, for older and injury prone runners, Don Fink’s IronFit marathon method may be a better fit for this sort of training. While it similarly asks for three quality workouts per week, the pace demands aren’t as strict, and IronFit provides the flexibility for you to run on non-quality days if you prefer over cross training.

Still, Furman tested this method on various randos years back and those runners found immense marathon success with it… even without the cross training.

If you think FIRST can work for you, check out their book on the method, Run Less, Run Faster.

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So you want to run the Dopey Challenge?

As part of Walt Disney World’s Marathon Weekend (yes, for those who didn’t know, Disney World hosts an annual marathon!), they hold a series of preliminary races: A 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and the full marathon on Sunday.

Imagine someone trying to run all four races on the exact same weekend. Well, not only do people do it, but Disney’s race organizers actually award people medals for doing it. They call it the Dopey Challenge (I presume the eponymous dwarf’s name is used to reflect how smart of an idea they think it is), and they award large medals to anyone who successfully completes the Challenge.

You may ask: Who in their right mind has any business doing this? Presuming you think you could do it… how could someone train for this as something more than a masochistic exercise? Is there a best way to train for it? Is it possible to race the Challenge, rather than just trying to survive it?

Hal Higdon is the only person of any kind to actually put forth a training plan for the Dopey Challenge. And his traditional-style plan is fairly basic, asking for a series of progressively longer runs every fortnight to prepare for the races. Pretty much all the prescribed running is easy, the focus being on developing the aerobic endurance for the Challenge through sheer volume, at the expense of any sort of performance.

As he would attest, there’s a lot more to the Dopey Challenge than meets the eye:

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Learning race pace with an accessible mixed-tempo long run

In light of my previous thoughts on tempo running… here’s an idea for a long run workout. Basically, it’s like a long, stretched out low key speed workout.

  • Warm up with easy running for about 1 mile.
  • Run 10 minutes at your desired marathon /half/15K/whatever tempo, or (if conditions won’t allow it) at a similar relative intensity
  • Then run easy for 5 minutes.
  • After that, again, run 10 minutes at tempo.
  • Then, again, run easy for 5 minutes.
  • Repeat until finished.

It’s pretty simple in structure, even if in practice it’s not so easy.

  • This is basically an interval workout built into a long run.
  • You can practice race pace or intensity within the challenge of a long run, without having to hold that pace for the entire run or build the entire workout around it.
  • Later tempo reps in the workout help simulate the fatigue of later miles in an injury-safer controlled setting.
  • You challenge yourself for a few minutes at a time, then catch your breath and recover with easier running.
  • And throughout all of this, you’re also getting the important aerobic development of a long run.
  • This workout is a fine middle ground for intermediate runners training for a 10K or longer race, who want to improve their race times or hit a goal time.
  • It may be more productive and efficient than doing a hard midweek speedwork session, and then a separate long slow run on the weekend.
  • Even if you fail in some way at running your desired pace… you still get all the benefits of a speedwork session AND a long run, without unduly taxing yourself.

In fact, if you don’t have a ton of training time during the week, doing this on the weekend as your only non-easy workout might work best for you. It can be your one key workout, while you can mix in whatever easy running you can do through the rest of the week. It takes a lot of pressure off of training, while ensuring you still do quality training that can prepare you for race day.

Another great aspect about this approach is, for most mid-pack marathoners, the tempo segments usually line up perfectly with the amount of time it takes to run between water/aid stations. You can carry hydration or other fuel, and practice fueling/drinking every time you hit a rest interval.

Sure, the easy run intervals are much longer than it would take you to get through an aid station. But this is not a full practice for a race, and you don’t want to subject your body to a full race during a workout anyway.

The easy running not only pads this into a true long run, but gives you ample time for your body to recover for the next bout of tempo.

If you want to seriously practice race fueling during this workout, you can take a swig of water/fuel right at the end of an easy segment, and make sure to hit a full dose once the tempo segment ends.

Or, if you plan to keep running hard while drinking/fueling at aid stations, it may be best to fuel in the middle of a tempo segment, to practice doing so at full speed.

 

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Injuries, your aerobic fitness, and your neuromuscular fitness

person seating on bench while holding knees

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Most common injuries happen because your aerobic fitness improves before your neuromuscular fitness does. You aerobically can run faster, but your bones/muscles/tendons/etc can’t handle running faster yet.

This is actually one (of many) reasons many running minds oppose tempo running. You’re often asking a lot from your body’s structure before it’s built up strength to handle it. While I don’t consider that a damning argument against tempo running, that’s a valid point.

This is also a key reason most recommend you do most of your running at an easy pace. You may be aerobically able to run faster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your body is ready to run faster. The best way to help your body build the strength to run faster over time is to ask it to run a lot, rather than to ask it to run faster.

The high volume of lower stress running builds the strength and endurance that will facilitate faster running later. Obviously it’s still a good idea to do some faster running, but not too much.

If you struggle with shin splints, IT band issues, knee/ankle/hip problems or muscle injuries… you may want to keep running, but slow way down.

You also will want to work on your form and make sure you’re not slamming your feet into the ground, unnecessarily torqueing your body or bearing weight on your joints, etc. This is to some extent a contributing factor to recurring injuries.

But for the most part, your recurring injuries are from running too hard too much too soon as your aerobic fitness grows ahead of your neuromuscular fitness.

If you want more info on the relationship between aerobic and neuromuscular fitness, the book Build Your Running Body is a great all-around running resource for this and other subject. It’s definitely worth a look.

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The Debate on Tempo Runs and the Lactate Threshold

There are two schools of thought concerning tempo runs, aka extended runs done at or above your lactate threshold, the point at which your muscles produce too much lactic acid for your muscles to absorb + clear, causing your muscles to feel weary (among other tired effects).

As your fitness improves, the pace at which you hit your lactate threshold should get faster. This can allow you to run farther at faster paces. For any race distance beyond a sprint this is of course very important.

The traditional school of thought is that tempo running at or above the threshold strengthens your muscles’ ability to clear excess lactic acid, and therefore your threshold will increase over time.

Another school of thought is that a lot of aerobic running at a sub-threshold pace over time will increase that threshold, plus higher intensity running at shorter bursts will improve your running economy and in turn that threshold.

Who’s right? To some extent both camps are right. The question is which camp’s approach is most beneficial.

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Quick thoughts on a slippery 10K track workout

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In the sunset darkness of the Wilson Track, with snow pellets coming down, there was one set of footprints coating the growing frost in Lane 3. That was me.

I ran 3 x 2 mile repeats last night at the Wilson Track. The 3x2mi is a 10K workout from Greg McMillan that while demanding will clearly show the pace you’re capable of running in a 10K. I’m not only training for the Tour De Trails 6 Miler but also the Mardi Gras Chaser 10K in early March… along, of course, with the Vancouver Marathon.

Thanks to snow flurries and general cold overcast throughout the last 24 hours, the track had some dubious patches of water and generally required some caution for use. I stuck to lane 3 as that was the inside-most lane enough to use in its entirety; even then, I had to ride the outside edge in some spots along the home stretch to avoid overlapping inside puddles.

However, snow pellets came down as I began my 2nd rep. Never mind hitting me in the face on the front stretch… pellets began coating the track surface, limiting traction and slowing me down while demanding more of my lower body to maintain form and movement. Nothing keeps your stride compact quite like trying to run tempo reps on a frosty track.

Most would have stopped a speed workout in this situation, unable to meet pace expectations and fearing falls and injury in the conditions… especially in footwear like mine: I was wearing my Topo Athletic ST2‘s, flats primarily intended for racing and speed running. I had the added bonus in wearing the least suitable running footwear for icy conditions!

However, along with knowing how to run in snow and ice, I also realize a tempo workout can still serve my desired purpose in less than ideal conditions. They’re about more than hitting a goal time.

Instead of disappointment in reps at a pace below my PR time, I see I can capably run a 10K at a pace 20 seconds slower than my PR in icy, increasingly slippery conditions.

Plus, with three trail races still to come, I also need to prep for running fast on uneven, probably slippery conditions… as I had to in the Tour De Trails 3 Miler a couple weeks before. Maintaining the best pace I could on a frosty track that didn’t provide great traction helps develop lower body muscles that will need to do serious work in next month’s 6 Miler plus the longer trail races beyond.


Now, not everyone should do this, and I wouldn’t keep a speed workout going every time ice started coating the surface. There are a lot of winter days where I’d bag a planned speed workout and do something else.

But this was one day where, as the conditions grew farther from ideal, the workout still provided growth opportunity and still served its purpose. Quality workouts intend to prepare you to race, not just hit a goal time.

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Hansons Marathon Method: Who’s it good for?

HansonBookI want to talk a bit about the Hanson Brothers’ training methods, which are outlined in their famous book Hansons Marathon Method.

I won’t go as far as to review the book in this write-up, but I do want to talk about the Hansons’ training approach relative to other training, my experience with marathon training and where I see this approach working well or not so well. I suppose it’s more of a review of the training method than a review of the book. But the book itself is a good read with some unique ideas, and if the approach may work for you I totally recommend checking the book out.

The basics of the Method, in a nutshell:

  • Over 18 weeks, you run six days a week… except for the 1st week, where you begin the plan in midweek instead of the 1st day of the week.
  • The plan strictly regiments each workout, with all quality workouts and days off happening on the same day each week.
  • Unless you do the novice “Just Finish” plan, you are expected to do a speedwork session and a marathon tempo run every week. These workouts are expected to be done during midweek, on Tuesday and Thursday.
  • The weekend long run ranges in distance from 8 to 16 miles, but is not supposed to go longer than 16 miles. As many running minds do, the Hansons emphasize maxing out the long run at about 2.5 hours.
  • The day off always falls between the speedwork and marathon tempo run. The speedwork precedes the day off, and the marathon pace tempo run follows the day off.
  • Long runs are always preceded by back to back medium-long regular runs.
  • The authors strongly recommend the long run be run at a more moderate pace (not quite race pace, but a bit faster than other easy runs), contrasting most advice to do long runs at a very easy pace.
  • The speedwork intervals in the early part of the plan are done at 5K or 10K pace. But later speedwork features longer intervals at a “strength” pace that’s about 10 seconds faster than marathon pace, akin to half marathon pace.
  • Unlike most plans, The Hansons’ plan does not include tune-up races, and the authors strongly discourage any racing during the 18 week training plan.

Cynicism Time! Who does the method not work for?

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Can Low-Carb Diets Be Good For Runners?

A lot of fitness enthusiasts support eating low-carb lifestyle diets adapted from the traditional Atkins diet… typically with labels like Keto and Paleo, as well as carb-limited variants like the Bulletproof, Carnivore or Primal diets.

The obvious problem for runners interested in these diets is that running is the one form of exercise that demands a LOT of quick-burning glycogen, which can only be properly supplied by a diet rich in carbohydrates. Running minds like Hal Higdon and Matt Fitzgerald outright recommend avoiding low-carb diets and to build your diet around 60+% carbohydrates. Fitzgerald in fact found in his research for his book The Endurance Diet that pretty much every elite coach and endurance athlete he consulted with subsisted on a diet rich in carbohydrates.

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Orange Theory: Who and what it’s good for

OrangeTheory

Got a few friends, both runners and non-runners, who are really into working out at Orange Theory, a chain of gyms built around a somewhat interactive, competitive series of high intensity aerobic circuit training workout classes.

Long story short, participants aerobically work out hard for about an hour between numerous stations, and the establishment keeps score of your vitals on a big monitor, along with esoteric stats like “splats” (a metric measuring how long you hit their key orange heart-rate level).

As with such gyms, pricing is a bit of an investment for most working class individuals. While OT gyms offer free introductory classes, taking any more after that at a given location requires a membership. They want you to make a commitment up-front, though if you buy a membership you are free to use it at any OT gym available.

Tiered memberships cost from around $60 for 4 classes a month to $150-175 for unlimited classes. The heart rate monitors require an additional $5-10 to rent (and you can outright buy them for around $75-100). Additional classes on limited plans can be purchased for around $20-30 each.

This pricing isn’t relatively outrageous considering yoga, Pilates and other workout studios ask generally the same amount. However, someone looking into a new gym habit probably will be somewhat averse to forking out $60-200 a month just to work out. Of course, while they can either join a gym for $15-50 a month, or go run and do bodyweight exercises on their own for free… the direction of a coach or teacher is a key reason people look to fitness classes in the first place.

… I guess that was a little long to be a long story short. Whoops!


I’m a supporter of group fitness classes. A lot of people could use better fitness, could use some coaching, and these classes provide valuable direction in both. Whether people prefer this, yoga, Pilates, dance technique classes, chic dance variants like Pure Barre, etc…. if you enjoy these group classes, can consistently do it safely, and it gets you to actually work out when you otherwise wouldn’t, then yes: DO IT.

There are certain people who benefit more from it than others, of course. And in the case of runners, it can absolutely benefit some of them. I’ve seen it benefit several I personally know. Likewise, I wouldn’t outright say to certain runners that they should stay away, but there are also some cases where it doesn’t work as well.

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The Best Running Technique for Speed

So you want to run fast? Can’t blame you. We all do. I’ve talked about this before but I’ll make a point of it again:

The mistake most people make when they try to run faster than usual, such as in speedwork and in races, is to a) run physically harder, as in put forth more effort, and b) to reach farther with their steps and try to cover more ground with each step.

All the above serves to do is tire you out more quickly, and while this may be great for sprinters who need only maintain this effort for a few seconds… this is not a good way to run a race farther than, say, 400 meters. And pretty much every race you pay to run is a lot farther than 400 meters.

What you want is to maintain efficiency, while repeating your most efficient running motion faster than usual.

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Meeting the (Jeff’s Birthday) Challenge

This year I decided to participate in Jeff’s Birthday Challenge, a week long virtual event that NoCal ultra runner Jeff Fleming decided to put up for the week of his 49th birthday.

The details to the challenge are in the link, but basically anyone willing could participate, and while the scope of the challenge is up to you the crux of the challenge was to post about your running for the challenge, cheerlead others… and eat cake (or anything similar) on Sunday (Jeff’s birthday) to celebrate completing the challenge.

Also, you were to do some running that involved any of these key numbers (the relevance of which is discussed in the link): 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 49, 69 (#nice).


At someone’s random semi-recommendation, I decided instead of cake on Sunday I would eat donuts from Firecakes right after every run I could.

I decided I would run 49 miles for the week of the Challenge.

And while this admittedly came to me a day or two into the Challenge, I decided I would do a run that somehow hit all of the other numbers.


DonutsChallenge

Mission Accomplished:

Monday: 5.86 miles: 2.56 mile run to go and get the donuts after work. After the donuts were safely delivered at home, another 3.30 mile run in the neighborhood.

Tuesday: 5.23 mile haul run home from work, with my backpack on.

Wednesday: 5.81 mile haul run from work that took 69 minutes (#nice).

Thursday: A 4(.05) mile run during a lunch break at work.

Friday: 10.45 miles: A 2(.32) mile run during a lunch break at work. Then, after returning home from work, a frigid 12K+ evening run that actually totaled 8.13 miles.

Saturday: 8.60 miles: First a 6(.03) mile run during the early afternoon. Then, a 2.57 mile run around the neighborhood during the evening.

Sunday (today): A 9(.02) mile run during the mid-afternoon.

Total: 49(.02) miles.

I had a chocolate frosted donut after a run every day except for Thursday. The run was during the workday, and by the time I returned home it was so long after the run I didn’t feel it was right to eat one. However, I did eat two on Saturday, one after each run.


This was fun, and it was also a good way for me to restore high volume to my training, as I had struggled to get in more than 30ish miles into my previous weeks due to various schedule factors and other concerns. Making a point to get all that running in helped me close the gap.

I’m glad I was able to do it. Would be nice to do it again next year!

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The Hike-Run: A commuter’s easy hedge between recovery days and missed training runs

On Thursday I had a morning run scheduled but didn’t manage to get it in.

I work late Thursdays, and taking a normal run after work closer to bedtime wasn’t a practical solution. In my experience, running too close to the end of the day revs me too far up to be able to get to or stay asleep. A shorter run might be okay, but I didn’t want to basically toss out Thursday as an off day with a very short run.

Carrying my backpack at 7pm, not being particularly interested in taking the train or bus, with the sidewalks still being a bit icy from previous snow, and having nothing to lose… I impulsively decided to experiment with what I’m now calling The Hike-Run. It ended up working out so well over 5K that I have decided to implement it as an easy training practice.

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The Hike-Run is an easy run done while carrying weight, whether in a backpack or while wearing heavy gear… basically, the weight of gear you’d be carrying during a hike in the wilderness (even though clearly the north side of Chicago is not the wilderness). Typically, you’ll find opportunities to do Hike-Runs before or after work, while out and about wearing a heavy coat or boots… or while commuting on foot while carrying a bag of stuff.

You typically can do the Hike-Run when you’ve got somewhere to go, and you’re not willing to do a full run with the gear, but need to get some training mileage in and know you probably won’t have much of a chance to do so otherwise.

You start your timer and start at a jog, a very easy sustainable running pace. At any point, if you want to slow to a walk or stop, you not only can, but you don’t need to stop the timer (runners often will stop their timers when they need to stop the run). You’re timing the hike, not a full run. It’s just a comfortable run where you have full permission to slow or stop as much as you please. And of course, you could just not time the Hike-Run at all. You log the mileage covered, and that’s that.

I’ll use my tracker to time the Hike Run as a hike rather than a run, so that the time result isn’t any sort of big deal or factored into any metrics. The only thing I track is the miles (more or less) ran.

The key is just to run most of the way. The Hike Run gives you permission to slow, but is not intended to be a full hike where you run occasionally. If you just want to walk, then just walk and don’t worry about timing it or running.

Ideally you do regular training runs or recovery days most of the week, and the Hike-Run is just a convenient hedge between a full rest day and getting your mileage in. Or, as I did this past Thursday, you use it to supplant planned running that you otherwise can’t get in.

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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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