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Easy Running for Faster Running

Slow down!  We’ve all heard it but we might not know why. Here are a few of the reasons easy running is important and how it will benefit your next race.

Easy running might seem boring.  How can you get faster if you don’t actually run faster?  The truth is you can’t.  To improve speed, running economy and endurance you do have to run faster than you are comfortable.  But you don’t have to do it all the time, nor do you want to.  A balance between hard and easy workouts is the best way to build fitness without risking injury easy runningor burnout.  The purpose of easy running is to build a foundation.  Building this foundation is how your body adjusts to the stresses of road running over time and will ultimately lead to improved race times and a lower risk of injury.

Easy running will help you earn stronger bones, tougher joints, improved running economy, develop slow twitch, fat burning muscles and increased aerobic capacity without beating yourself up.  You need fast days to work on turnover, mitochondria and VO2max but easy days are not necessarily ‘junk miles’ because you’re still working towards a goal.  As long as each run has a purpose your time and effort is never wasted.

That’s because going as fast as you can all the time is asking for trouble.  Your body has to take care of itself after hard workouts.  It has to repair damaged muscle, expand blood vessels and learn to process more oxygen.  An easy workout helps clear out waste from muscles, improve circulation and might actually help speed muscle recovery.  If you push all the time, those processes never get to finish their jobs and you’re inviting over training and burnout.  Alternating hard and easy running workouts gives your body a chance to make all of the positive performance enhancing adaptations it can.

The most important thing is to make sure your easy running is just that.  Easy.  Aim to be at least one minute slower than your goal race pace for the duration of an easy workout and remember that easy is relative.  Some days it will be closer to race pace while the run after a hard workout might be slower. Make sure the pace is conversational and your heart rate stays low.

As your fitness level increases it can become hard to slow the pace down.  Keep the goal of each workout in mind when you’re out there feeling like you’re not accomplishing anything.  Your body has to have time to adapt to training stimuli so you can ultimately increase your performance level.

Coach Meredith

Cross-Training to Run Faster

With the summer training season in full swing and dreams of fall PRs all around, there’s no better time to add cross-training to your plan.  With an option out there for everyone, it’s easy to find something you enjoy doing while giving your body a break from the pavement and the heat.

It’s true.  No matter what you enjoy doing outside of going for a run there’s something for you.  Yoga, swimming, cycling and Crossfit all get the job done while making you a stronger athlete.  Here are some of the big benefits you’ll get from adding two or three non-running sessions to your weekly plan.

Lift weights.  Strength training is a great way to resolve the muscle imbalances many runners experience.  We’re all naturally stronger on one side than the other and running just makes that more pronounced.  By training unilaterally, one side at a time, with exercises like walking lunges, pistols and side planks, you’ll be a more balanced and less injury prone athlete.  Strength training also increases running economy which can help you hit that new PR even sooner.

Move your legs.deadlift  Spinning or cycling is a fun alternative to hitting the track and it’s also a great way to work on increasing your cadence.  A higher cadence means more efficient running and the bike is a perfect place to get your legs used to moving faster.  Cycling with tension uses leg muscles similarly to running uphill without the impact, reducing risk of an injury while building strength.  Hit the trails on a mountain bike or join a spin class to reap the benefits.

Less stress.  Swimming, cycling and rowing are low impact activities that increase fitness without additional stress on bones.  They can lower your risk of overuse injuries and stress fractures while improving overall cardiovascular capacity.  Even strength training can be considered low impact and is hugely beneficial to runners.

Mix it up.  Try different types of cross-training.  There’s no reason your non-running workouts always have to be the same.  Changing the stimulus your body experiences will make you stronger, fitter and faster.  Mountain bike on Monday, take a yoga class on Thursday and a recovery swim on Sunday to keep muscles fresh without overuse.

Find something you love.  The key with cross-training is to find something you enjoy doing.  You might even find more than one thing you love.  You’ll have the opportunity to meet new people, push yourself in new ways and have fun.  No matter what that activity is, you should look forward to your non-running workouts.

The most important thing about cross-training?  Be sure your alternative workout isn’t so hard it takes away from the quality of your target training runs.

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.  Want proof?  Here’s why professional runner Molly Seidel started hiding her stats.  Easier than hiding your run data is not taking them it all. Also known as running naked, here are three reasons to take a deep breath and start running with a bare wrist.gps watch

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 and 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!

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.

Run by feel.   Listening to your body is incredibly important.  Easy runs are important and should actually 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

5 Ways to Prep for Summer Running

Summer running is coming.  It might already have hit summer time temperatures and humidity, where you are but that doesn’t mean your training is over.  The fall is a wonderful time to race any distance and to get there you have to fight through some tough summer days.  Here are five tips that will help you keep summer running safe, effective and fun.

Hydrate.  Nothing is more important than staying hydrated when it’s hot or humid, or both, outside.  Even if your summer running mostly takes place in the shade, fluid intake is a must.  Run somewhere with easily accessible water fountains or place bottled water along your route.  summer runningSports drinks, electrolyte and salt tabs or even some table salt added to your water are also good ways to ensure your body gets what it looses from sweating out there in the warmth.

Cover up.  Pants and long sleeve shirts will definitely be too much but you still need to protect your skin as much as possible.  Wear light colored clothes that reflect the sun’s rays and slather on the sunblock.  A hat and sunglasses will also help keep sun damage at bay.  Use the shade from trees and buildings as much they’re available.

Adjust your schedule.  It’s easier said than done but moving the times you hit the road can have a big impact.  Weather is usually cooler in the morning or evening and you’ll have the benefit of being out of the directly overhead sun.  There’s more coverage from shade as the sun rises or dips so plan routes accordingly.

Slow down.  Your body will be working hard to keep you cool before you even finish your warm up.  It’s not a good idea to the additional stress of running as fast as you can on top of it.  Women tend to fare better than men and smaller people better than large ones but everyone feels the pain.  Dropping your pace is a must.  With decreased blood flow to muscles, increased sweating and more demand planed on the heart, trying to maintain your January paces is just not worth the danger.  Summer running paces can drop by as much as 3 minutes per mile compared to cooler weather!  For a more detailed breakdown, check this out.

Relocate.  No, don’t move to a cooler climate.  Take your workouts somewhere else.  If you’re always training on the sun baked roads, try shade filled tree lined trails.  Committed to working on your tan?  Try the waterline on a beach.  Neither of those sound reasonable?  Head into the AC and have some fun on the treadmill with these workouts.

More than anything else, stay alert for signs of any heat related difficulties and listen closely to your body.  Take the dangers of summer running seriously, prepare to beat them and you’ll be ready to PR this fall.

Coach Meredith

Are Racing Flats Right for You?

It’s race season!  That brings up the question of needing a pair of racing flats.  With so many fancy shoes out there, do you need a special one for race day?

The answer is maybe.  The contrasts between training shoes and race flats isn’t as dramatic as the differences between basketball and trail shoes but they are there.  More than looks or drop, the type of shoes you want for race day depend on what kind of runner you are.  Here are 5 ways to tell if you’ll want to stay clear of racing flats.racing flats

You’re a new runner.  Throwing on a lighter shoe won’t actually make you that much faster.  Hours of training and hard work do that.  A less cushioned, less supportive pair of racing flats is more likely to lead to an injury than a new PR.

Marathoners.  The marathon is a long race and you’ll be taking lots of steps while beating your body up.  Don’t make it worse by stripping away the layer of protection between your foot and the road.  Happy feet are fast feet so give them a little love on race day with nice comfy shoes.  The longer the race, the more shoe you’ll need.

Heavier runners.  You’ll need that extra cushioning for support over the length of the race and the barefoot movement hasn’t been all its cracked up to be.  Typically, less protection means more injuries.  No matter what the scale says, your gait can have a big impact on how much pounding your bones take with each step and swapping into a lightweight shoe on race day can change the way you move and lead to injury.

You’re injured.  If you have any hint of soreness, fatigue or muscle strain, stick with your trainers since you probably won’t be pushing yourself for the race’s entire duration anyway.  It always better play things safe than toy with making a minor injury more serious.

You didn’t train in them.  Nothing new on race day, right?  That especially goes for shoes.  Whether you’re tackling the course in brand new trainers or fancy racing flats, definitely spend time training in them.  Take them out for easy runs, a track session or two and maybe even a long run.  You have to prepare your body for the demands of a lightweight shoe.

Coach Meredith

Tin Foil Chicken and Vegetables

We all know nutrition is an important piece of building a better athlete.  I like to use the 80/20 rule, and this tasty tin foil chicken and vegetables makes it easy to save that 20% for pizza or cookies.  A fantastic week night meal that’s quick and simple, it’s also packed with muscle building protein, good for you fiber and lots of healthy nutrients.  Switching out one or two ingredients makes the dish easy to customize for multiple uses during the week.  With the ingredients below each serving is home to less than 300 calories and quite filling.

Tin Foil Chicken and Vegetables
Servings – 2-4
Prep Time – 10 minutes
Cook Time – 30 minutes
Difficulty – 1

Ingredients
2-4 boneless, skinless (antibiotic free) chicken breasts (to lower cook time, divide into sections)
1 cup frozen corn (thawed)
2/3 cup black beans drained and rinsed
2/3 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced yellow onion
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2-4 Tablespoons taco seasoning
2-4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2-4 large squares of tin foil

Instructions
Pre-heat oven to 375.
Add olive oil, peppers and onion to sautee pan and cook until onions start to become clear.
Place each chicken breast in center of one tin foil sheet.
Season chicken with taco and cayenne powders.
Top each chicken breast with tomatoes, corn, black beans, green pepper and onion.
Fold tin foil into packet around chicken with small opening to vent.
Place in oven for 25-20 minutes or until juice runs clear.
Serve by carefully opening foil packets and pouring chicken, vegetables and juice onto a plate.chicken and vegetablesThis simple tin foil chicken and vegetables recipe can be switched up by adding squash and carrots or swapping out taco flavors for basil and thyme.  You can see how the calorie count would change when plug in your choice of ingredients in or add a side of quinoa here.  Use fresh vegetables for a colorful and delicious meal that’s great all year long without pulling you away from family or training time.  Give this tin foil chicken and vegetables recipe a try.
I love it and know you will too!

Coach Meredith

Join Your Local Running Group

Spring is coming!  There’s no better time to get out there and start logging the miles.  In fact, you see them everywhere.  Runners.

Any day of the week, all hours of the day you can find someone working towards their next PR.  Oftentimes, you’ll see groups of them together smiling, chatting and laughing while they tick off those long runs.  And you can join them!

There are lots of benefits to joining your local running group, whether it’s five people or five hundred.  Most of them are free or provide some benefits for a small membership fee.  Here are just a few of Team ECRP‘s favorite reasons: running group

Guidance:  When you’re part of a big running group it’s inevitable there will be someone at every level of experience and ability.  That makes each outing a perfect time to learn something and become a better runner.  Have a nagging heel pain?  Someone else has, too.  Trouble fueling on those long runs?  There’s probably a brand of gel somebody loves that you haven’t heard of yet.  Take advantage of the opportunity to further your running knowledge and you’ll reap the benefits.

Motivation:  Perfect running days are hard to come by.  Constantly forecast checking and saying ‘at least it’s not raining’ are sure signs of a runner.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get out the door.  Having a few friends to meet up with provides accountability on ugly days and can keep you going when a run gets tough.running group

Safety:  Just like your friends can hold you accountable and help you forget about how awful that 20 miler was, they help keep you safe.  Especially for women there is safety in numbers.  Having at least one buddy makes everyone less likely to be attacked in any way.  It also means faster access to whatever you need if there’s an injury or medical emergency.  Use your local running group to make new best runner friends and you’ll never have to worry.

Socializing:  This is the most important one, of course.  We all love our post long run beer, taco, pizza or all three and, honestly, there’s nothing runners like to talk about more than running.  A local running group is the perfect place to find people to run with, learn from, race with or just plain old hang out with.

Coach Meredith

How to Run Your Best Race

Race season is here!  And we all want every one to be our best, or at least pretty good.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen every time.  Bad races happen.  Sometimes we’re running a training race just for fun and other times our day goes completely off course leading to results we’re not happy with.  No matter which one your event is, here are some of Team ECRP‘s favorite ways to make any one your best race yet.best race

Practice.  Replicate every part of race day you can before hand.  Get up and eat like you will that morning.  Test out different nutrition strategies for during the race on your long training runs.  Then practice messing it all up.  Run in any kind of weather you can while making sure none of those winter layers chafe.  Race day is unpredictable and the more prepared you are for the unknowns the closer you’ll be to having your fastest race yet.

Plan.  Know where you’ll park and if the race starts where it ends or is point to point.  Figure out what nutrition is on course or if you’ll need to bring what you’re comfortable with.  Decide where you’ll meet your family afterwards.  Doing all of these things will help eliminate unknowns which will make race day less stressful for everyone.

best raceFocus on you.  You’re trying to run your best race.  Not another runner’s.  Don’t worry about how fast the people around you go out or what they’re going to do later on.  You’re only in control of your own performance and pushing too hard early will cost a lot towards the end.  Stick to the plan you made during training and the rest will fall into place.

Have fun.  Getting tense or stressed out in the middle of a race is a sure fire way to perform poorly.  We run because it’s fun so let’s keep it that way.  Stay loose, smile at the water stop volunteers and say ‘thank you’ to the course marshals.  It’ll keep you happy, positive and well on your way to a wonderful finish.

Use these tips and you’ll be a few steps closer to having your best race day yet.

Coach Meredith

Bed Time: Sleep Basics for Runners

There are days when you just can’t stop thinking about it.  Bed time.  It’s so cozy and comfy under those sheets.  Wanting to catch up on the sleep you didn’t get last night.  Looking forward to waking up feeling refreshed and strong.  While individual sleep needs might vary greatly, there’s no one who can survive without it.  Runners typically need between 7 and 9 hours per night but that can change as sleeptraining volume and intensity fluctuate.

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 relaxes and 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.

Put the phone down.  When the sun goes down our bodies release melatonin, the sleep hormone.  The blue light emitted by most technological devices wrecks that cycle and make it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.  Wearing blue light blocking glasses for two hours, or leaving your devices behind for 30 to 60 minutes, before hitting the hay can aid 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

Running 101: IT Band Syndrome

Dreaded IT Band pain!

Runners stretch it, roll it and ice gun it but sometimes those muscle fibers just get grumpy.  While it might be a bother, it is also preventable and treatable.  A frequently experienced injury, many runners don’t know what the IT Band does or how to deal with it.  Here’s a little bit more to help you understand what you’re facing with IT Band pain.

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 running on hard surfaces.

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