Category Archives: Racing

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

3 Lunges Every Runner Needs

Runners need strength training.  It’s an important part of building speed and becoming resistant to injury.  That doesn’t, however, mean throwing a few random exercises together and having at it two or three days a week.  The key question for any strength work is ‘will this exercise make me better at my sport?’  With these three varieties of lunges the answer is an absolute ‘yes’.  All lunging exercises target the quads but these three specifically hit other muscle groups you need for powerful, stable and strong running.  Give each one a try and see how they can help you become a more powerful runner.lunges

Side Lunge – Also known as the lateral lunge this version strengthens your hips and glutes.  Especially those all important glute medius and minumus muscles.

Perform It:  Begin standing with your feet together, core engaged and good posture.  Then step one foot out straight to the side, bending the knee, pushing your hips back while maintaining an upright chesLungest while shifting weight to the foot that just stepped sideways.

Curtsy Lunge – You might not be getting ready to visit the queen but the curtsy lunge will help you prepare to run faster.  These lunges strengthen your hips and glutes by activating all three glute muscles, the maximus, medius and minimus.  The calf also gets some work in this exercise making it good for your whole leg.

Perform it:  Begin standing with both feet together.  Cross one leg behind the other while reaching sideways and back, just like a curtsy.  Remember to keep your chest up and your front knee above the ankle.

Lunges

Step Back Lunge – Also known as the reverse lunge this exercise fires up your quads just like the others but generates more hamstring and glute activation than a standard forward lunge.

Perform It: Standing with good, strong posture and feet together step one foot back on the toe while dropping that knee to the ground.  Maintain a flat back and the front knee behind the toe.  A small forward lean will help the glutes get a little more work but isn’t necessary.

It’s easy to add weight to any of these lunges by holding a kettlebell or dumbbell at your chest.  Get out there and start lunging today for a stronger running body!

Coach Meredith

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running 101: Racing Weight

Most runners have heard the phrase racing weight.  It’s a recognizable term that indicates your ideal weight for peak performance on race day.  Why does it matter?  For runners who are fit, exercise regularly and aren’t looking to shed any pounds what difference does it make?

In truth, it can make a big difference.  The addition of 5 pounds in body weight can result in a 5% detriment to race times and vice versa.  Leaning out or dropping a few pounds without sacrificing strength and power might lead to a slew of PRs.  There are also other advantages such as more efficient oxygen delivery to working muscles and improved heat dissipation.

Leaning out or losing a few pounds isn’t all about getting super skinny.  The goal is to improve power to weight ratios and become as efficient as possible.  That means muscle is incredibly important.  Having a balanced weight to power ratio makes you a faster runner.  Note that it’s racing weightunlikely, especially for women, that you’ll gain so much muscle mass it becomes detrimental to racing paces if you’re not specifically eating and training for it.  Strength training, plyometric work and hill repeats all make you a more robust runner without adding bulk.

And while being at a weight where you race your fastest and feel your best is rewarding, it’s not sustainable over long periods of time.  For recreational runners who race week in and week out or more often than once every six weeks an ultra lean, peak performance isn’t attainable at every turn.  Nor should it be.  Professional athletes push their bodies to the max with the help of coaches, dieticians, nutritionists and doctors to monitor every metric.

The diet and lifestyle required to hit a desired weight on race day isn’t easy.  It can involve strict dieting or food deprivation that aren’t the key to a healthy long term weight management plan for anyone.   The rest of us lack intense guidance from professionals and shouldn’t be taking big health risks.  Restricting fuel can lead to weak bones, softened immune systems and, for women, missed periods.   Sacrificing food for a lower number on the scale won’t help your body get stronger or faster.  Being properly fueled is a must if you want to perform well.

Remember, your weight can and should change throughout the day, week and year.  In the end, racing weight just happens to be where your body ends up when you’re peaking and shouldn’t be a predetermined number on a scale.

Coach Meredith

Running 101: IT Band Syndrome

The IT Band is a running mystery.  A frequently experienced injury, many runners don’t know what it does.  The illiotibial band (ITB) is a large fibrous group of fascia that runs longitudinally down the outside of the upper leg.  Anchoring at the iliac crest and tibia, it’s a bunch of passive rubber bands that extend, abduct and rotate the hip laterally.  It also helps stabilize the knee while storing energy to support running and walking.IT band

IT Band syndrome (ITBS) is an inflammation of these tissues and typically presents with outer knee pain.  That is the area where the ITB should slide over bone and muscle easily. If it’s not sliding due to inflammation or tightness, pain will result.  Sometimes the pain can be felt along the entire length of the outer thigh and it’s often a result of overuse.  Two examples of exercise patterns that can lead to overuse are increasing mileage too quickly or adding lots of plyometrics.

There is good news, however.  There are several ways to treat and prevent ITBS.  The first step in treatment is to rest long enough for the inflammation to subside.  Second is to work on improving mobility of the hip and knee.  Limited range of motion in either joint can cause extra stress to the ITB and lead to inflammation.  Foam rolling and proper warm up to increase circulation to these fibers before a workout will help it slide painlessly.

Strength training with a qualified coach is one of the best solutions to ITBS.  Having muscles strong enough the support your increase in mileage or the strain of a downhill marathon will help prevent ITB irritation.  Hip, glute and abdonimal core strength are paramount to any solid strength training plan for runners who want to stay healthy.  These muscles also ensure your IT band gets the support it needs.

A final possibility is that it might not be it your IT Band at all.  The ITB is so passive it’s hard to know how it might get injured.  Since that research isn’t ready yet take a look at the muscles around it: your hamstrings and quads.  When these muscles get tight or damaged they can put stress on the IT band.  Relaxing the tight muscles through improved mobility or foam rolling can release stress on the ITB to reduce or eliminate pain.

Want to stay ITBS free?  Take good care of all the muscles it works with.  Be sure to strengthen, stretch and warm up properly.

Coach Meredith

4 Ways to Wreck Recovery

All athletes know their next workout is only as good as their recovery from the last one.  If you’re not able to bounce back from a tough session the next one will certainly suffer.  No matter what type of event you’re training for, proper recovery is key to continuing progress.  While we can’t always be perfect, here are four pitfalls you’ll want to avoid if improvement is your goal.

Starve.  Eat!  Eat something as soon as you can.  Waiting too long will lead your body to breakdown rather than rebuild mode.  Protein bars, chocolate milk, your favorite protein powder or a nut buttered bagel can get you through in a pinch but you’ll definitely want some protein, carb and fat within 30 minutes of wrapping up.  Next be sure to get a full, well-rounded and nutritious meal within two hours.

Get cold.  An ice bath might feel good but it’s not always the best idea.  Dropping your core temperature too soon after a session shuts down the body’s all important inflammation response and prevents damaged muscles from getting the nutrients they need.  This study found that heating muscles improved post recovery performance more than cooling them with a few exceptions.  When working out multiple times a day cooling can speed the recovery process between sessions.  Cooling can also aid in lowering core temperature before bed time, leading to higher quality sleep.  So go ahead and take that hot shower, it won’t hurt.recovery

Booze it up.  That’s not to say you should skip the post race party.  The entire list of pros and cons for a post run beer are covered here but if you’ve just finished a marathon, focus on giving your body something good for it first.  It wants it!  On the other hand, if all you were accomplishing was an easy fun run with pals, you can probably get away with a cold one along side your glass of water.

Skip the Nap.  If you’re not planning a nap after your long run you’re going to miss out.  Sleep is paramount to proper recovery.  There are big benefits to a little snooze.  Those include muscles being repaired, blood pressure dropping and your brain being recharged.  The best idea is always to get a good, full night’s rest with 8+ hours of sleep but a nap is a great way to kick off the process.

Focus on recovering properly from every single workout and you’ll see progress.

Coach Meredith

Running 101: Wearing Headphones

Everyone loves a good song.  It gets you pumped up for your workout and can keep you going when it gets tough.  Unfortunately most training runs don’t feature bands or DJs along the course.  That leaves it up to us runners to provide our own tunes and that’s most often by listening via headphones.  While rocking out during a workout can have benefits there are also potential drawbacks.  Here are a few of the pros and cons Team ECRP faces when making the choice to run with or without headphones.headphones

Pros:
Relaxation – Music is a great tool for helping runners stay relaxed while working out.  If you’re singing along you’re not getting tense and that’s a good thing.  Especially during a tough workout a little distraction, as long as you can keep pushing, goes a long way to making it more bearable.

Cadence – One of the keys to good form and fast finish times is a high step rate or cadence.  Using headphones so you can listen to a song with the right beat or a metronome can be a big help.  The key is to use those headphones as a tool to help you improve and not become dependent on them for success.

Cons:
Safety – The way a song can help you relax or stay on the beat also means it’s a distraction.  From the trail below you to emergency vehicle sirens it’s important to be extra aware of your surroundings when you have something in your ear.  Try only putting in one side or keeping the volume very low.  You’ll be able to hear what’s going on around you as well as your favorite tune.  That’s a win for everyone.

Dependence – Counting on something with a battery life can be risky.  If you’re unable to power through a rough session without your music, what happens on race day?  You’re usually not eligible for awards if you race in headphones anyway.  Get used to ditching them every now and then to prepare for when something doesn’t go your way.

Coach Meredith

Relaxed Running for Fast Running

Everyone want to run faster.  Setting a new PR is an amazing feeling and there’s no runner who doesn’t love it.  Getting to that new PR, however, requires lots of hard work.  A big part of running faster is actually practicing running faster and it sounds simple enough.  Unfortunately, it’s challenging.  Aside from building strength and endurance, the most important part of getting comfortable running at a faster pace is staying relaxed. Relaxed running is smooth, good form running and that means it’s also fast running.

We all practice plenty of easy relaxed running.  Long runs, recovery jogs, group workouts.  But how often do you practice relaxed running at a faster than conversational pace?  Not often.  Many runners, especially new ones, equate faster running with harder effort.  While that’s true, harder effort doesn’t mean clenched jaws, stiff arms and lifted shoulders.  Tension is bad.  More effort should lead to a faster pace but no change in form or locomotion.  To accomplish that most people need lots of practice.  Here are some of Team ECRP‘s favorite ways to start getting acquainted with faster but still relaxed running.

Strides.  Strides are an extremely useful tool for improving running form and getting comfortable at faster speeds.  These short accelerations can be completed before a run as warm-up or after a run to instill quality movement in tired muscles.  You can complete anywhere from 3 to 10 strides depending on the goal.  Run for about 100M gradually increasing your pace from beginning to end to finish at 95% effort.  These help reinforce good form on tired muscles or before a race and are a good way to practice relaxed running at a faster pace.

Surges.  Done during a run or workout, surges are also known as pick-ups or considered a type of Fartlek.  Mixing in some faster stretches during a long run will help you get used to running faster without getting tense because it’s very low pressure.  There aren’t any strict pace or distance guidelines.  They’re a good reminder to maintain to quality running form throughout a longer run when you might get worn out or sloppy.

Sprints.  Not only are sprints fun, they’re useful!  We won’t all be as fast as Usain Bolt but we can take a page from his book.  Those smiles crossing the finish line, bouncy cheeks and soft hands all signal that’s he’s relaxed in spite of how hard he’s working.  Practicing sprinting is a great way to teach your body to stay loose and smooth while churning out some killer repeats.

Coach Meredith

3 Core Exercises for Runners

Every runner knows that having a strong center can help you run faster.  What isn’t clear is what core exercises are best for building the stability and strength that best supports running at any distance. While your core is made up of many muscles this blog’s focus is on the core’s core.  Made up of your abs, obliques, lower back and transverse abdominis they’re the muscles that keep you aligned and upright.  That’s pretty important stuff for running.

Whether you’re an 800M runner or an ultra marathoner here are are three of Team ECRP‘s favorite core exercises.  Trust us, they’re so much fun you’ll want to add them to your strength training routine as soon as you can.

Planks.  Runners can never plank enough.  Well, a world record isn’t necessary.  With so many varieties available there is a plank for everyone.  One great tool for continuing to challenge your core exercisesbody to get stronger is plank flash cards.  Write a type of plank on one side of a card, repeat for a number of styles then record your history on each one.

Twists.  Rotational stability is key for not wasting energy while we run.  The more power going forward the better off we are.  Strengthening our twisting muscles provides the support we need to run faster and more efficiently.  You can twist in a plank and with a ball, cable or resistance band.  Whichever one you choose is sure to benefit you.

Dead bugs.  More like a dying bug since you’re moving but this simple looking move can really be tough.  This move exclusively hits that all important transverse adominis.  Right in the middle of your body this muscle is the center of your core providing stability for your spine and pelvic floor.  Laying on your back it’s important to keep your lower supported and move your legs independently.

With so many core exercises to choose from it’s hard to go wrong.  Give the choices about a try to develop a well rounded core that will support every mile you run and those last few marathon miles will thank you.

Coach Meredith

Running Community: How to Give Back

The running community is amazing.  From elite athletes to first time 5k runners the support and enthusiasm is tangible everywhere.  While there are running events all year long, spring and fall are home to most of them.  Every weekend from March to November is packed with some kind of race.  After participating in a few, it’s nice to give back and help other runners have the great running communityexperiences you do.  Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite ways to give back to your local running community.

Volunteer – If incredible people stopped volunteering for running events, 95% of participants would be priced out and thousands of events would be canceled.  With a multitude of places to pitch in there’s sure to be a spot for you.  Consider a water stop, handing out medals or directing traffic.  Can’t make it on race day?  Help with packet pick-up or pre-race course set-up.

Organize – Put together your own race.  You’ll need some of the valuable volunteers mentioned above but if a cause is near and dear to you, support it!  Putting together an event can also be a great opportunity to meet others in your area.  Between sponsors, volunteers, t-shirt printers, timing crews and participants organizing a race will bring you into contact with tons of people who love running.  Who knows?  You might even find your next chance to give back.

Cheer – Happen to crash into a race during your long run or while exploring a new city?  Stop and cheer for a few minutes.  Spectators are the backbone of the running community and some people pick races based on how many will be out there.  It won’t cost you a thing and you might just be the one encouraging word that helps a someone hit a new PR.

Coach – There are lots of organizations that need volunteer coaches.  From your local track club to the national Girls on the Run there’s nothing more rewarding than helping children find something they love.  Even if one of the kids you work with isn’t the next Usain Bolt, the rewards you’ll reap are great.

What are your favorite ways to give back some of what the running community gives you?

Coach Meredith