Running 101: Flexible Fartlek

The word fartlek is Swedish and means speed play.  That sounds fun!  And these runs or workouts are fun.  That’s the point.  You’re spending time at race or faster than race pace without the suffering of standard speed workouts.  Team ECRP loves having these sessions on their training calendar and here’s why you will, too.fartlek

Fartlek workouts have tons of benefits.  They will help you get faster and improve endurance capacity while getting better at closing the finish of a race.  You’ll also increase your mental toughness and ability to feel your paces.  Heck, it’s even defined as “a system of training for distance runners in which the terrain and pace are continually varied to eliminate boredom and enhance psychological aspects of conditioning.”  So what’s the big deal and how do all of those things happen?

Fartlek work is different from a typical steady state long run because, as mentioned above, it includes short sections of faster running.  It’s also different from standard interval work because you continue to run while you’re resting or recovering.  This unstructured-ness means there’s no end to the fun you can have.  These mixed up ons and offs also keep your heart rate higher for the duration of the workout and that means improved fitness.

Option one for building a workout is to use landmarks.  Pick a road with light posts and pick it up for two on, two off.  Change the pattern each time you run that route to continue challenging both your body and mind.  A second option is to run faster when you feel like it and slower when you don’t.  Hills can also provide a good place for increasing and decreasing effort at irregular intervals.  A hilly road with regular light posts is a fartlek paradise.

Fartlek workouts are also useful at any time during a training cycle.  Since they’re so adjustable the intensity is easy to change.  The variability means you can ramp up speeds while decreasing jog time for race prep but reverse that pattern for maintenance or recovery.  To work on closing speed throw in some faster pick ups towards the end of your session.  When you’re in a rut or want to have some fun on a group run, take off for a low pressure, flexible fartlek.

Coach Meredith

Race Day Ready: 3 Steps

Race day can be stressful.  Of course you’ve trained but simply logging workouts isn’t always enough. You’ve worked hard for weeks on end to hit a goal time and the pressure is on. Luckily there are steps you can take to alleviate some of that stress for lots of success in your next big event.  Here are three additional ways each member of Team ECRP makes sure they’re ready for race day.race day

Practice.  Odds are you’re training.  Whether it’s a marathon or a 5k practice is important.  Prepare by running race pace workouts and figuring out a nutrition plan that works for your body.  Run in all kinds of weather since you never know what race day might bring.  Wear the clothes you plan to race in on a few training runs.  No one wants to miss that new PR because they had to stop for a gear issue.

Visualize.  The mind is a powerful thing and that makes visualization a very useful tool.  Imagine yourself crossing the finish line with your goal time on the clock and the excitement that goes with it.  Picture burning through the last mile of a 5k or struggling through the final 400 meters of a marathon.  Being more familiar with what the race will feel like only makes you tougher.  Get into the nitty gritty of what the weather is doing, how sweaty you’ll be, what it will smell like, who will be there.  You might have to adjust your weather visualization if the forecast changes but flexibility only makes you stronger.

Plan.  Race day can be anxiety creating even if you’re walking to the start line.  Driving can make it worse.  There might be traffic, full parking lots, stressed out runners, confused spectators and a guy with a dog on an extend-a-leash.  Having a plan will eliminate race morning stress by streamlining your path to the start and help you perform your best out on the course.  Look at parking maps, arrive early and pick up timing devices the day before if possible.  Choose a location to reunite with your support team at the finish.  Once a plan is in place you can sit back and focus on running an amazing race.

Use these tips to be physically, mentally and logistically prepared for an excellent race day experience.

Coach Meredith

3 Reasons to Run Without Your GPS Watch

Leaving your GPS watch at home can be scary.  Luckily learning to let go of stats and numbers can be beneficial for lots of reasons.  Also known as running naked, here are three reasons to take a deep breath and start running with a bare wrist.gps watch

1.  Relaxing.  Leaving the watch at home can be absolutely freeing.  No beeps, no splits, no pressure. Lots of runners are very connected to their tech. Discovering that you can rack up miles without it might come as shock.  It is possible, however, and people did this for hundreds of years.  Running sans GPS watch is perfect for recovery runs after a tough workout or race.  It’s also useful for runners in a rut or coming off a big training cycle.  Put the joy in and take the splits out to get back to the core of running: FUN!

2.  See the scenes.  Run the same routes frequently?  Odds are you’re looking at your wrist every time that pesky watch beeps to check on your split.  Since those splits occur at roughly the same spot every time you travel the same route you’re probably too busy looking to notice what’s going on around you.  Abandon the GPS watch at home and open your eyes to scenery you might have been missing.

3.  Run by feel.   Listening to your body is incredibly important.  Easy runs are important and should be easy while hard ones should be difficult.  Running naked is a good way to learn how each type feels.  It can open your eyes to potential a prescribed pace was preventing you from seeing.  If you think a 7:00 mile is supposed to be hard and see it on your watch, you might think you’re working harder than you actually are.  Logging some faster miles without the pressure of a watch can lead to big gains and faster races.

Still need data?  Try putting tape over the face of your watch or sticking it in a pocket.  While you won’t see it, stats will still record for your viewing pleasure post run.

Coach Meredith

Running Gear: Winter Wear

Winter running brings its own set of challenges.  From the potential for nasty weather that includes rain, snow and even ice to fewer daylight hours those winter months can be tough.  One of the toughest things to deal with can be your wardrobe. So, what running gear do you need to tackle those hard winter days?

That’s a hard question.  Some people are comfortable in shorts when it’s hovering around freezing and others throw on a puffer when temps hit 60.  Where you grew up, the weather conditions you were exposed to, what you’re used to and your DNA all play a part in what running gear you’ll want to sport.  Here are a few guidelines Team ECRP uses to help choose what to put on before heading out.running gear

Layers are your friend.  It’s easy to cool off but not so easy to warm up.  You’re better off dressing in more than you think you might need.  Zippers are a nice way to let additional air in and sleeves can always be rolled up.  Do not discount stockings or tucking in your shirt.  Stockings can keep you warm without adding weight and help wick sweat away from your hard working body.  Yes, even for the men.  Tucking in your shirt will help trap heat when you’re chilly and undoing it will let a little cool air flow when you’re warm.

Pretend it’s warmer.  Twenty degrees is a good ballpark.  If the feels like is 50 throw on what you would to walk around when it’s 70.  This accounts for the rise in core temperature associated with exercise.  Highly variable from person to person you’ll want to experiment with different set-ups until you learn what works best for your body.

Accessories like gloves, mittens, hats, ear warmers and wool socks are a must.  Blood goes away from extremities to keep working muscles going and leaves these end of the line body parts vulnerable.  Frost bite is no fun and can happen quickly.  These small running gear additions are easy to stow in pockets when you get warm. Except the socks. They also come in all kinds of fancy colors and patterns, giving you lots of ways to have fun with your gear on what might otherwise be an unexciting run.

Wind and precipitation can also throw a wrench in your running clothing plan.  Waterproof gear can trap heat while getting soaked will make you quite a bit cooler.  A headwind will likewise cool you.  When you turn around, however, the tailwind will warm you up again.  Headwinds also take more than they give.  A big headwind can slow you down almost twice as much as an equal tailwind will help you.

No matter what you wear while you run, have something dry to toss on when you’re finished.  You’ll want to get that sweaty running gear and all of the bacteria it holds sooner rather than later.  How soon?  That depends.  The human body is very adaptable.  It will adjust to any condition you repeatedly put it in if given enough time.  Even though you have those dry clothes handy, it can benefit you to stay in the sweaty ones just a tad bit longer.  This helps your body learn to deal with tougher conditions and could make your next crummy weather run a little less so.

The best way to find what works for your winter training wardrobe is to get out there.  Try different combinations of running gear on short runs.  Most importantly, training in any weather will make you ready to race in whatever conditions show up on race day.

Coach Meredith

4 Reasons to Love the Treadmill

Treadmill.  A running dirty word.  Affectionately known as the dreadmill, ask just about any runner and you’re sure to hear how much they loathe running on one.  They’re inside and they are boring.  Unfortunately treadmills get a bad wrap.  The gym staple can be both a valuable training tool and steady partner.  Here are four reasons Team ECRP (sometimes) loves their treadmills.

Safety.  Hopping on the old ‘mill can help keep you safe.  Running indoors can keep you away from potentially dangerous streets in busy or strange cities.  Especially during dark early mornings, late nights or slippery winter months having the ability to run indoors is great.  Sometimes it’s hard to beat a place where the temperature is controlled, the running surface is dry and the lights stay on.  The softer surface of a treadmill can also keep your body safe from injury.  Reduced pounding and a level belt will help protect tired tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones while staying out of the sun can help prevent skin cancer.

Weather.  There’s bad weather and then there’s bad weather.  Heading for cover every time it sprinkles or the wind picks up isn’t the best way to prep for race day but sometimes mother nature has other plans.  Hurricanes, blizzards and heat waves are all good reasons to stay inside and, maybe, away from windows.treadmill

Speed.  The last chunk of a hard workout is usually hard.  That’s the point, right?  If you really want to push yourself and work on maintaining a hard pace for longer, let the treadmill help you.  The belt won’t unintentionally slow down due to fatigue so as long as your feet keep moving, neither will you.  More time at a faster pace can contribute to faster race times and build confidence.

Hills.  Hill training can be tough for those who live in the flat lands.  Long, steady hills that are safe to run might be hard to find no matter where you are but usually a treadmill isn’t too far away.  Since incline is a feature on almost all ‘mills, put it to good use.  It’s easy to get in a killer hill session while working on both form and strength by pumping up that incline just a bit.

Coach Meredith

Running Strides: Why and When

A staple of any advanced training plan and a must do on any scholastic track or cross country team, strides are a wonderful tool.  Running strides has many benefits and missing out on them might leave speed on the table.  The good news is that running strides is both fun and good for you.  Here’s a guide on how to get the most from the strides you run.running strides

What are strides?
Strides are a short pick-up designed to focus on form.  Each one lasts for 15 to 30 seconds with about 1:40 recovery and reaches close to mile pace on flat ground.  Note that a stride is not a sprint!

Why run strides?
Running strides will improve your form.  It should be exaggerated and focused on during each pick-up with good posture and a relaxed body being paramount.  Strides also help develop muscle memory and encourage higher cadence which can mean increased speeds over the long haul.  These fast bursts at the end of a workout remind your legs that they have the ability to go fast when they’re a little tired.  That not only builds confidence but can help your become more fit.  Spending little bits of time at faster paces adds up to make a once seemingly way too fast race pace closer every time you hit it.

When should I run strides?
Running strides can mix up the middle of a longer run or close out an easy one.  Tossing some in the middle of a session is a great way to build fitness while having fun.  Try not to leave them for the very end of a workout or you might end up skipping them.  Additional times for strides include warming up for a race or before a tough workout.  Since they prepare your body to run fast and work hard using them is a must.

Meant to improve form, have some fun running fast and build fitness running strides is an invaluable and simple tool for everyone.  If you’re not comfortable adding strides to your next easy run, reach out to a qualified coach for help.

Coach Meredith

Running 101: The Right Running Shoes

Running shoes.  There are more styles, colors and types than most people know what to do with.  That doesn’t mean, however, they aren’t important.  The things you put on your feet when you head out the door for a run is ta crucial factor.  Shoes can make you faster, slow you down, protect your foot from debris and help stabilize an unsteady gait.  Making you feel pretty or more fun is usually an added bonus.  Here are a few kinds of footwear you might find while browsing and what each can do for you.

Training shoes.  This is a comfortable everyday shoe with a reasonable drop and amount of cushioning.  Covering 20 miles in these old friends should be no sweat.  You’ll spend the most time with these trusty companions so learn to love them.  There are tons of choices in this type of shoe so get fitted by a professional and make sure your feet are happy.running shoes

Racing Shoes.  New or returning athletes won’t initially need a pair of race specific running shoes.  This special pair of kicks is designed to help you go a bit faster on race day.  With lighter materials and less cushion they’re daintier than your training shoes.  The oftentimes lower drop in light shoes will make your entire leg stretch a little bit more with each step and the firmer build will make each muscle absorb a little more impact.  Those factors put additional stress on your body making them less than ideal for lots of training miles.

Tempo Shoes.  The above paragraph not withstanding, training in the shoe you’ll wear on race day is very important.  You risk a serious injury if you only train in cushioned shoes then go out to race a marathon in a racing shoe.  This lighter weight trainer is somewhere between your race shoe and training shoe, leaning towards the former.

A recovery shoe.  This cushy, comfy shoe is for the easy days.  Recovery running shoes are fluffy and have lots of padding.  They have a big drop to give your muscles a break from all the  stretching and contracting of a lower drop pair.  While the shoe won’t provide any extra benefit like a massage or compression it will give your legs a breather.

A trail shoe (or something else).  A special model designed for the roughness of unpaved, gravel and dirt surfaces not everyone needs a trail shoe.  Typically heavier with a thicker sole running shoes dedicated to trails are a good tool if you’re heading off road.  Additional options include spikes for cross country or track running, racing flats and any other special occasion footwear you can find.

Coach Meredith

Bed Time: Sleep Basics for Runners

There are days when you just can’t stop thinking about it.  Bed time.  Catching up on the sleep you didn’t get last night.  Looking forward to waking up feeling refreshed and strong.  While individual sleep needs can vary greatly there’s no one who can survive without getting all their body needs.  Runners typically need between 7 and 9 hours per night but that can increase as sleeptraining volume grows.

Why so much sleep?  Any training adaptation occurs during rest, making it the most important part of recovery there is.  Training breaks down muscle and tissue that is repaired by growth hormone released while snoozing.  Failure to get enough rest can result in over training and increased risk of injury.  Lack of sleep has also been shown to decrease response times and concentration.  Increases in levels of stress hormone, blood pressure and insulin resistance are also potential risks.

Getting quality sleep is a must and here are some good ways to improve your bed time routine:

Staying on a schedule is one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s rest.  Go to bed and climb back out at the same time each day.  This will help your body settle into a regular rhythm that includes a normal sleep-wake cycle with plenty of deep, recovery sleep included.

Consider using black out curtains to keep any light out and making sure your bedroom is cool enough.  Wearing blue light blocking glasses for two hours before hitting the hay light can hamper your ability to conk out quickly.

Skipping caffeine and or alcohol for six hours before bed time is a must for high quality shut eye.  Both can cause major disruption to sleep patterns for a variety of reasons and it’s best to just stay clear of either substance when you can.

What about naps?  Naps can be a valuable tool for making up missed hours or getting an added pre-workout boost.  Be careful, however, to avoid snoozing for more than 30 minutes.  Anything longer than half an hour and you risk something called sleep inertia, a feeling of grogginess once you’ve woken up.

What if I still don’t get a good night’s rest?  When you are short on sleep consider taking the day off to recover or at least lowering your training volume with fewer, easier miles than planned.  You could end up doing more damage pushing through a workout tired than missing it altogether.  If you’re struggling with your training and think it’s causing excess stress or preventing you from getting an adequate amount of rest, consider reaching out to a coach for help reorganizing.

Coach Meredith

4 Hip Strength Exercises for Runners

The muscles of your hips and glutes are the driving force behind running.  The stronger they are the more they will help you stay healthy and hit fast splits.  Mighty glutes are a must for harnessing your body’s power while stable hips mean good form through all your miles.  Use these four hip strength hip strengthexercises to get those muscle groups going and reap the rewards during your next race.

Side lying hip raise.  Begin by laying on your side.  Using your bottom shin and elbow as support, simultaneously raise your hip off the ground and top leg into the air.  Keep your shin bones parallel.  You’ll build all around hip strength with this exercise as both hips work through the entire movement.hip strength

Glute bridge/single leg.  This exercise strengthens your your glutes for more power.  Lying on your back, bend your knees so your heels are close to your butt.  Using your glutes push your hips into the air with a strong, stable core.  Stick one leg out for the single leg variation.

Clahip strengthm shells.  Fire up your glutes with this simple movement.  Laying on your side, stack your legs with bent knees.  Keep your feet together while you raise your top knee into the air like you’re opening a book ( or a clam shell).  Really squeeze the active glute and maintain a neutral spine with a strong core to get the most out of each rep.

Donkey kicks.  Donkey kicks are sure to fire up your glutes.  As your running powerhouse you can’t do enough to get them ready for a workout.  Starting on all fours, raise one leg behind you with the knee at 90 degrees until your hip is open.  Engage that side’s glute and use a pulsing contraction to active and strengthen your booty.  Be sure to keep your lower back still as you move by having a strong core and controlled breathing.

Donkey Still

While these exercises might look simple they can be tough in the beginning as your body learns new firing patterns and works muscles in new ways.  As with most strength programs start slowly.  You can always add a band or other form of resistance later!

Adding these exercises to your strength routine will help you become a more durable runner who can stay healthy for the long term.  For help with an appropriate strength program seek the guidance of an experienced coach and get stronger today!

Coach Meredith

Running Injuries: Why Did That Happen?

Runners get hurt all the time.  Whether it’s from doing too much without a day off, slipping on a rocky trail run or simply stubbing a toe, getting hurt happens.  Running injuries are more than common and bouncing back from one can be as simple as ice and elevation or as complicated as surgery and physical therapy.  In truth, however, they’re quite often very preventable.

Were you tackled in a football game?  That’s easy to source.  Do you have daily low back pain and discomfort?  Maybe your hamstrings are tight or weak.  Are you having knee pain because you over running injuriesstride while you run?  Foot pain from weak glutes?  Finding the source isn’t always easy but it’s always necessary.

That’s because simply taking time off until your injured body feels better isn’t the answer.  Without understanding where your injury came from you’re likely to go out and sooner or later go through the same thing again.  So what’s the solution?  Find and treat the source (poor mobility, bad form), not the symptom (pain, strained muscle).  Examples include foot problems from a lack of glute strength or knee pain from over striding.  The location of your injury isn’t where it presents because your body compensates to continue functioning.  These compensations can end up causing something even more serious.

To get to the root, ask yourself these questions:

What was I doing?
Are my movement patterns correct?
Do I have adequate mobility to perform these movements safely?
Am I using the correct equipment?
Do I take care of my body before and after a workout properly?
Am I over training?

Answering these questions will probably mean getting help from a coach, doctor or teacher who has the knowledge to guide you.  Get to the root cause, upstream or down, of your problem and kiss (most of) those running injuries goodbye.

Coach Meredith