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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

5 Ways to Stay Fit When You Travel

Are you traveling over these upcoming holidays?  Yes?  That means time on the road, possibly in airports and definitely away from home.  It can be very easy to get away from your home based training plan when you travel and that might spell trouble for your spring goal.  Luckily, there are five simple things you can do to stay on track no matter where you are.travel

Pack for activity.  With on demand workouts available 24-7 there’s no reason you can’t train where ever, whenever.  Resistance bands and tubes are small enough to fit in any carry on so there go your excuses.  If your bulky running shoes won’t fit in that carry on, wear them.  Same goes for a heavy cold weather coat.

Schedule activities.  Find out what there is to do in your destination.  Being in a new place is the perfect time to try something new.  You might check out a barre class in vibrant New York City, go for a horseback ride in Wyoming, walk through wine country in Napa or scuba dive in Honolulu.  Canoeing, skiing, dancing and even a long sight seeing walk will keep you moving forward.  Even if it’s not your preferred mode of working on your fitness, any athletic activity will help you prevent a loss of fitness.

Use your hotel.  Yes, they’re usually small, but hotel gyms give you a little space to move around.  Most hold stationary bikes, treadmills, ellipticals and weight machines and some have quite modern, state of the art facilities.  If there’s a pool big enough for laps or pool running, dive in.  Any hotel that’s more than one story features a set of stairs, don’t be afraid to use them.

Keep a food journal.  Remember the 80-20 rule and find healthy choices while you travel.  There’s nothing wrong with an indulgence now and then, we’re only human after all, but remember that too much can set your training back.  Keeping a diary of what you’re eating can help you realize if you’ve gone too far off track simply by bringing awareness.

Expect to have a tough first few days back.  Your body might still be recovering from jet lag or overindulging in food and drink.  Your muscles need a chance to get back in gear, too.  Stay hydrated, especially if you’re flying (8 ounces of water for every hour in the air) and try to plan for a recovery day once you’ve arrived back at home.

Coach Meredith

Workout of the Month: Hill Work

Every runner loves hills. Maybe. Love them or hate them, every runner needs hill work. If you’re racing a hilly course, like New York or Boston, practice and skill running hills is key to race day success. If you want to get faster, stronger and fitter, hills will help.

hill work

Why to do it: Hill work makes you durable. It makes you fast. And it improves your form. The extra power required run maintain your pace running uphill also makes you strong.

Your feet are landing higher then where they started. As a result, that means extra knee drive and generating power from your forefoot. It makes muscles work harder by firing more fibers in a faster sequence than flat ground. That promotes good form and helps muscles remember it. Good form plus strong legs means faster race times.

When to do it: Hill work is useful in every phase of a training cycle because there are short hills, long hills, steep hills and gradual hills. This makes hill work greatly variable and useful at all points in a cycle. Working on specific endurance? Steady long hills. Speed and strength? Short, hard hills. Beginners should start low and slow while more advanced runners can go steeper, longer and harder.

How to do it: Step one is finding the right kind of hill. It might not be what you expect, either. Maybe surprisingly, bridges, parking garages and treadmills can all serve as places to practice climbing. Consequently, if it’s just been raining and you don’t have spikes, a big grassy hill might not be the best choice. Make sure your footwear matches the location and conditions of your hill work.

Finally, if you’re looking to add hills to your training program, seek help from a qualified professional before hitting them too hard. They can wear out fast twitch muscles and leave your next workout lacking.

Coach Meredith

What Did You Say? Running Terms for the Non-Runner

Lots of runners have friends who aren’t.  In spite of the fact that one of us might be hanging out with people who could care less about your latest long run, there’s only one thing we like more than actually running.  Talking about running.  To make sure your friends can stick with you, give them Team ECRP‘s basic list of running terms to guide them.

Race Pace – This is the pace at which a runner tackles a race.  It varies with race distances since we run faster for a 5k than we do for a marathon but the idea is always the same.running terms

LSD – This does not reference the narcotic and there’s no hallucinating here.  It stands for Long Slow Distance run and is a staple of all training plans. The one your runner friends stay in on a Friday night for.  Longest run of the week, the LSD is a weekend staple.

Fartlek – Swedish for speed play, fartleks aren’t only fun to say, they’re fun to do.  Used by the best runners in the world, these constantly varied outings are an important part of training at any level.

Bonk – Also known as hitting the wall, it typically happens around Mile 20 of the marathon.  Bonking is the moment your body starts to quit on you.  You’re out of fuel, energy and the final 10k is pure willpower.  It is possible to avoid, however, through proper mental and physical training.

PR/PB – Personal Record in the US and Personal Best both here and abroad this stat is a runner’s most prized.  It’s their fastest time a given race distance. A runner’s PR is different for every race length so make sure you know them all.

Foot Strike – Runners don’t strike like unions, they strike the ground with every step.  It’s also been hot topic of debate lately. Often equated with another running error known as over striding, foot strike is not the concern it was once thought to be.

DNF/DFL – Did Not Finish or Dead F*****G Last.  There are a million reasons you might DNF a race.  It could be an injury during the last few weeks of training.  Bad weather popping up before you’re finished.  Digestive issues from the pasta dinner has been a culprit.  The truth is most runners have had one.  DFL, however, is less common.  Since someone has to be last, races usually have a sweeper.  To make sure no one is left behind the sweeper stays behind the final runner for the duration of the race.

BQ – The ultimate, bucket list goal for many runners.  BQ is one of the most hallowed running terms.  Short for Boston Qualify, it means you’ve earned the right to run in America’s most famous Patriot’s Day race.  Achieving a BQ is an incredible accomplishment and often a dream come true for any marathon runner.

And this just covers the basics.  There are a ton of running terms out there to learn if you want to.  Luckily, if you take these with you next time you go support a friend or family member at a race no one will know you’re a newbie!

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 how to make the most every time you run them.

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!running strides

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

3 Comeback Tips for a Bad Race

Fall race season is in full swing.  Sometimes things go well.  Sometimes they don’t.

And having a bad race is pretty much the worst.  Yes, there are horrible things going on in the world but in the moment you cross that finish line after a less than ideal performance things can get emotional.  It’s important to remember that bad races happen and don’t mean the end of your running career.  Look how gracious Meb was after a bad racenot-so-wonderful Olympic experience!  We’re not all that talented but we work hard for those PRs and it hurts to miss a goal.  Here are 3 ways to bounce back after a challenging race:

Vent:  Be angry and sad and frustrated.  Feel all of the feelings.  Let it all out so you can move forward.  It might take one deep breath, maybe a cocktail or beer, possibly days but failing to move on will impede your next training cycle by lowering your confidence and sucking up your motivation.

Evaluate:
Your pre-race ritual:  While you can’t go back and change anything that happened during the race, you can change what happens before.  Did you eat the right food fuel the night before?  Were you sleeping enough?  Was your taper adequate?  Did your travel plans give you time to adjust to the altitude and time difference or recover from flying?  Each of these factors can change your body’s ability to perform at its best.

The Weather:  There’s only so much anyone can do about weather.  And that is a whole lot of nothing.  High winds, freezing temperatures, loads of humidity and heat waves can all have a major impact on your performance.  Sometimes a bad race isn’t all your fault and remember, everyone else out there had to deal with it, too.

Your goal:  Was your goal really reasonable?  Aiming to shave 45 minutes off a marathon over one season is noble but probably not attainable.  Make sure you set feasible goals that push you without bordering on miraculous.

Your training:  How did your training go?  Did it include enough speed work?  How about a long enough base phase?  Did you train for the terrain you would be racing on?  Take a good hard look at your journal to examine what workouts were good and which ones weren’t.  Most importantly, make sure you weren’t over-training or pushing through an injury.

Move on:  At the end of the day, OK, it was a bad race.  Was it the worst race ever in the whole world?  Probably not.  Even more important is to look at all the things you learned and focus on positive parts of the event.  Make sure you’re emotionally ready then go sign up for another.

Coach Meredith

Upper Body Strength for Runners

All runners know they need strong, stable legs and hips to get the most out of each run.  Equally as important, and often overlooked, is upper body strength.  Being powerful above the hips as well as below will help you run faster and perform better during every workout.  Your arms move in precise coordination with your legs to help maintain rhythm while your shoulders work to maintain good posture that allows your lungs and diaphragm to do they best job they can.  A strong core stabilizes against rotation that wastes energy and helps propel you forward.

So how do you build upper body strength?  There are tons of exercises you can use.  Focusing on muscle groups that improve and maintain posture is the best path to building strength that will make you a better runner.  That means your back, chest, shoulders and, most importantly, core.  While you don’t want to end up carrying extra muscle weight by bulking up, you do want strong, stable muscles that will hold you up when the going gets tough.  Here are four of Team ECRP‘s favorite upper body moves:

Push-Ups:  Push-ups stabilize shoulder, strengthen arms and work those important core muscles.  Performing them correctly, with your elbows tight to your ribs and externally rotated shoulders, will improve running form and efficiency.

upper body strengthPlank Rows:  These toughies challenge your entire upper body.  Your shoulders and core work to stabilize your position while your back works to lift that weight.

Pull-Ups:  Adjustable for everyone, this challenging exercise is a great way to get a stronger, more stable upper body.  From strict pull-ups to ring rows, the wide variety of scaling options means there’s no excuse not to try.upper body strength

Overhead Press:  Yes, any overhead press will do.  Whether it’s a strict press, thruster, push-press or clean and jerk, lifting weights over your head takes skill and strength.  Your core stabilizes your entire body while shoulders work to push the weight up.

Use these four moves to help build upper body strength.  You’ll earn better running form and faster race times.

Coach Meredith

Workout of the Month – The Long Run

The long run is a staple of every runner’s program. And it should be because it has tons of benefits. Regardless of what race distance you’re training for, it is an important part of your weekly mileage. Here are some of the big gains you can earn with your weekly long run.

long run

Builds volume (and fun). The long run contributes a large portion, up to 30%, of your weekly mileage. Running more miles improves your efficiency and strengthens your heart. It’s also a great time to run with friends and have some easy paced fun.

Mental toughness. The long run usually comes towards the end of the week which means you’re tackling it on potentially tired legs. Marathons are hard and you’ll need to practice being uncomfortable if you want to succeed on race day. These long miles provide the perfect opportunity to get your head, as well as your body, ready for anything.

Learning how to fuel. Never try anything new on race day. Long runs give you a chance to learn. Try different fuels on training days, not when the pressure is on. Take the opportunity to explore fueling at different times, different types of hydration and figure out what works best for you.

Stronger bones, tendons and ligaments. Running puts a lot of wear and tear on the body. The cumulative stress from running lots of miles makes your body stronger, as long as you recover adequately. That means your body will hold up better to the strain of race day and can produce more power over the long haul.

How to do it: The long run should be run at roughly 90 seconds slower than your goal race pace. It can also be slower than that or include race pace work. To build the right run for where you are in your training cycle, reach out to a qualified coach.

Where to do it: Anywhere! The long run is a great tool to explore a new city, trail or park. Make sure you check routes for potential hazards, like lots of traffic or no shade, or helpers, like water fountains and restrooms, before you run them.

Get excited for your next long one and have fun out there!
Coach Meredith

Strong Feet for Runners

Runners need strong feet.

Your feet are your base.  They hit the ground first with every step you take and bear the brunt of impact.  Amazing structures with 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons, strong feet help runners do important things. Things like balance, engage their cores and strong feetmaintain proper posture.  Of course, our feet don’t operate alone.  They’re attached to our ankles so those need to be tough, too.  Building a better athlete starts at the bottom with strength and stability in our feet and ankles.  Here are some of Team ECRP‘s favorite ways to build a strong base:

Bare them:  Lose your shoes as much as you can.  Go barefoot (or socked).  Proprioception is the ability to sense where parts of our body are in relation to the others and the strength required for movement.  It gets destroyed by wearing shoes.  Limited proprioception makes us visually dependent and slows reactions times.  It can also increase risk of injury.  Bare feet improve our foot’s ability to respond to the ground it touches, even when it’s back in a shoe, for better balance and fewer potential missteps.

Work them:  Do toe gymnastics.  Spread your toes out as far as you can then pull them back together.  Try moving each toe individually.  You can also practice balancing on one foot.  Keep your big toe flat and foot long to exercise the foot’s muscles.  Work towards holding it for one minute with your eyes closed (an additional challenge).  This will help develop balance and the strength of the tendons and ligaments that support your ankle.  You might be surprised how hard this is on your first try but it can quickly improve with a little work.

strong feetLove them:  After all that work, strong feet need a little love.  Take care of them with a roller ball or massage.  The improved circulation will bring needed oxygen and nutrients to hard working muscles.  It’s easy to do while you’re catching up on the paper or binging Netflix.

Remember that each step starts with your foot then rolls up through your body.  Take good care of your feet and they’ll take good care of you.

Coach Meredith

Solutions for Shin Splints

Shin splints are an annoying injury that almost every runner faces at some point during their career.  Whether you’re a 2:30 marathoner or 45 minute 5k racer, it’s one problem no one wants to face.  Identified by throbbing shin bones when running or walking, shin splints are a painful and hobbling nuisance.  Luckily, once you’ve ruled out a stress fracture, the solution can often be a simple and easy one.  Here are three simple fixes for shin splints that Team ECRP uses over and over again to keep runners moving.

Test your shoelaces.  Sometimes the quickest way to get to the root shin splintsof your shin pain is to check the things on your feet.  Connected to your ankle and therefore your shin bone, anything awry with your foot can lead to serious problems anywhere above it.  How?  Our feet shin splintsflex to absorb impact every time we land, they move around to help us balance and are how power goes from our bodies to the ground.  If our shoes are tied too tightly we take that away from them.

Fix:  Make sure you can fit at least a finger under all of your laces except the top one.  Try different lacing styles based on your foot type.  Kicking those shin splints could be as simple as letting your feet do their jobs.

Gait Analysis: OK, it’s not the laces.  You tried loosening them and nothing changed.  The next step is to have your gait checked out.  Serious heel striking or over striding with a locked out ankle can send shock waves right up those fragile shin bones every single step.  Have a qualified coach watch to help determine if the way you run could be causing yourshin splints problem.

Fix:  Work towards shorter, softer steps.  Not all heel striking is bad but all over striding is sure to cause some trouble.  Film yourself and work with a coach to treat the source, not just the symptom.

Strength Training:  We always want to treat the source of an injury so it doesn’t happen again.  That makes the gait analysis mentioned above a key component of healing your hurting shins since weak hips or poor posture can lead to lots of problems below the knee.  Proper strength training will help prevent the overuse that typically leads to torn up shins.

Fix:  Work with a coach or trainer to develop a plan that includes runner specific strength work and a gradual build up of mileage.

A completely avoidable injury, don’t let shin splints won’t sideline you again.

Coach Meredith

Workout of the Month – 400M Repeats

Welcome to August’s Workout of the Month, 400M Repeats!

This month we’ll cover a classic track session that everyone loves to hate, 400M repeats. This is a great workout for runners of all levels and can be ramped up or down based on your goals. Are you starting to get fit or increasing speed, maybe you’re working on lactate tolerance or maintaining 5k pace. No matter what your race day goal is, the variety with this workout provides will help you reach it.

Why to do it
To build speed and strength, to run race pace specific work. To build pure speed or to increase lactate tolerance. Each of these is a powerful tool depending on the event you’re training for and where you are in your training cycle. These are also fun workouts and you’ll enjoy performing whatever style you choose.

400M repeat

When to do it
After you’ve trained to train. That means you should have a solid base of mileage and your body should be prepared for hard work. To develop speed, run fast with longer rest whereas if you want a race pace workout, run at race pace with slower running rest.

What to do
Start with a solid warm up before you hit the hard stuff. A good warm up can be anywhere from 1 to 3 miles or 15 to 25 minutes. Be sure to include drills and strides to get your legs ready for some serious work. From there, you can choose from two kinds of 400M repeats: one for speed and one for endurance.

Speed: Complete between 8 and 12 x 400M runs with 2 minutes rest. Focus on consistency during this workout because it will get harder to maintain your goal pace as the reps build up. Adding reps, decreasing rest time or increasing goal pace will also raise the session’s intensity. Changing the intensity introduces a new challenge and provides a stimulus that helps your body continue to adapt.

Endurance: Alternations are 400M at 5k pace with a 400M jog at steady pace. Steady pace is not a slow jog but easy enough that you feel reasonably recovered. The key to alternating 400M workouts are that they don’t provide a full recovery. This teaches your body to tolerate more and more lactate, work hard when it’s tired and is great for developing your threshold from half marathon down to 5k pace.

Once you’ve completed your sets, cool down with a light jog and some stretching. Make sure you hydrate and have some protein within two hours of finishing your session, too.

Want to know more about how to fit 400M repeats into your plan? Reach out to a qualified coach who can help you achieve your goals while staying happy and healthy.

Coach Meredith