Strides, Go Chase Gazelles!

If you are not doing strides on a regular basis, then you are missing out on a quick and easy training tool. Strides are 20-30 second efforts of fast running at about 90-95% of max effort, separated by a full rest period of about 1.5-3 minutes. Strides are not sprints, you should  start easily, then gradually build to top end about 3-7 seconds into the effort. Strides should be done several times per week, for beginners, try incorporating 2-4 strides, 2 times per week. Typically, these are done after the workout, but they can also be performed before a speed session, or in the middle of a run. Experienced runners can do 6-10 strides, 4-5 times per week (these are rough rules of thumb, a specific training prescription should be tailored to the individual athlete). Bring your attention to your form while doing strides, it is important to build solid habits with proper form, this will optimize your performance gains and will guard against injury. Here’s a quick run down of some of the benefits of using strides as a regular part of your training.

1) Neuromuscular – You are “teaching” your body to run fast. By focusing on proper form during strides, you are building good habits, which will translate to faster, more efficient running.

2) Metabolic – Strides provides a significant stress to both the ATP-CP (immediate) energy system and the glycolytic systems. It is important to not neglect these systems, particularly for long distance runners.

3) Cardiovascular – Performing strides regularly can contribute to improving and maintaining your VO2max – a measure of how much oxygen you can deliver to your muscles during running. Strides also contribute to making your heart stronger, improving stroke volume, and improving its ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to muscles in demand.

4) Psychological – It is fun to run fast. Doing strides after a workout leaves you feeling triumphant, like you just chased down a gazelle. On days your legs feel heavy, or you just aren’t feeling like running, strides can be just the remedy you need.

5) Mobility – Strides take your body through full range of the running motion. Especially for long distance runners, who spend lots of time running a moderate pace without opening up their strides, doing strides regularly can help you maintain good mobility for your entire body.

So if you are not doing strides already, it may be time to try them out. I think you will be happy with the results. If you are already doing them, keep it up!

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Training Topics: Positive Splits

Every workout you do as part of a training program should have a purpose, intensity, time/distance, and structure (PITS) associated. Even if the purpose of a workout is “to clear my head” or “to shake out my legs”, those are valid reasons and have their place. The PITS will vary according to where and how the workout fits into the larger period or cycle in a training program. I should mention an exception here, sometimes you just want to run for no reason, with no predetermined intensity, time, distance, or structure. That’s the beauty of flexible training plans, there’s even a place for those care free runs.

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There are many structured workouts that can be applied. The positive split is one such structure where the first half of the run is faster than the second half. In marathon training, one approach is to break up the demands of the goal event into smaller pieces, that become progressively more compressed over time. You can simulate small pieces of the goal even by training at the intensity you want to run your goal race in training, using clever techniques to get used to how it feels to run at a prescribed intensity (pace) toward the end of a marathon. The positive split is one example of simulating the demands of the race, by using the first half to induce a significant fatigue, than requiring the second half to be run at goal race pace. As a race strategy, using a positive split can be beneficial as well, but the decision to use this in a race must be carefully weighed, it does have potential to backfire, leaving the athlete with little to no gas left in the tank for the final push.

There is a time and place for both negative splits and positive splits and even splits all throughout a training program. The beauty of training plans is that they are as unique as the individuals who use them.

 

Take Charge of Your Life, One Decision at a Time: One Marine’s Endurance Running Story.

I did not run cross-country or track in high school or college. My introduction to running, farther than from home to first base, came when I joined the Marine Corps in 1999. The thought of running three miles was inconceivable for me, and when I crossed the finish line in 25:00 on my first Marine Corps physical fitness test (PFT) I was smoked. I was also a little disappointed that I was one of the last ones to finish, it did not sit well. That unsatisfied feeling sparked a small flame that would grow stronger for the next 18 years. What started as nagging dissatisfaction turned into a lifelong passion for running.

As a young Marine, I was taught that pain is weakness leaving the body and to never give anything less than 100% in terms of intensity and effort. The last thing a Marine wants to do is appear weak. But when you apply these mindsets to training to become a better athlete, they quickly lead to diminishing returns and injury. As a Marine, I never thought of myself as an athlete, we are warriors and being in top notch physical fitness is a natural by-product of the warrior ethos. As I began trying to improve my PFT score I had no idea what I was doing. I started by running more; surely if I do more of it I will get faster. That seemed to work as I quickly shaved a minute or two off my time. As I began training for Officer Candidate School (OCS) I began running even more, because officers are typically faster than enlisted Marines, by in large. It is hard to lead from the front if you are at the back of the pack. OCS kicked my running into high gear, by this time I was running a 20:00-20:30 PFT, far faster than a few years before.

After joining the officer ranks I began to run longer distances. I suspect this was partly because I found running meditative. It was a time to relax my mind from the rigors of college and stressing over complex problems. As I stepped up the distance, I realized that what seemed like a “long” distance changed each time I challenged myself to go farther. Run six miles? Ludicrous. Marathon? I would not have considered it. Each time I conquered a new distance I found out something about myself. I was exploring the limits of what was possible, or what I perceived as limits. There are no limits, there are only plateaus, to paraphrase a great mind of our time, Bruce Lee. You can stay on a plateau and become quite comfortable. Your body adapts specifically to deal with stresses that are imposed upon it. But staying on the plateau is your choice. I chose to continue up the next mountain.

As the years went by I continued to run, only loosely applying any type of structured training to my running regimen. I ran for weight management and to keep my sanity. I continued to break down perceived barriers, running half marathons, marathons, and ultramarathons. The barrier I am currently working on breaking down is the 100 mile distance. As with all the others, at first it seems impossible, but so did a six miler the decade prior. As I ramped up the distance I was also getting older and succumbing to the same problems we all face as our bodies react to neglect. But I realized that it didn’t have to be this way. Right now I run a consistent 19:00-19:30 3-mile PFT and I plan to continue to chop that time down.

The thing is, I don’t consider old age to be a problem, yes most people’s health suffers as they get older, but lets not blame that on a man-made concept called “time”. Let’s be honest and blame ourselves for not presenting our bodies with the appropriate stresses to invoke the proper adaptations. There are many stories of people in their 70s, 80, and beyond who are active, mobile, and even still competing in sports. This is not because they are superhuman, or a freak of nature, it is because they consistently made good decisions throughout their life. You are faced with hundreds of decisions every day, and you have to live with the consequences of those decisions. It’s called karma. It is simply your actions. Your actions have consequences, that is the way of things. If you live your life eating fast food, drinking beer, and snacking all day, well guess what the consequences will be?

If you always believe (literally) that pain is weakness leaving the body then you will eventually receive an injury. After several injuries due to my running, I chose to learn as much as I could about the sport; the art and science of running. I expanded this to cover exercise physiology in general. Why and how we run became the most important questions I sought to answer. I gained several certifications as a running coach and a personal trainer, which only opened my eyes to broader horizons. Anyone who claims to have all the answers is a fool. The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is that I don’t know. I realized that learning, like fitness, should be a lifelong activity. It is okay to set a short-term goal of achieving a certain time in the 5k, but do not lose sight of how that fits into the overall goal. If all you want to do is finish a 5k, be careful to not become that “old guy” who has only one stale story of greatness where they tell you about back in the day I ran a ##:## in the 5k. The reality is that now, that guy is fat, has had two knee replacements, multiple hip surgeries and has to sit in a wheelchair for the rest of his days. This story is about not falling into the cookie-cutter approach to life that accepts the excuse of old age for inactivity and poor health. It is about daily decisions. The reality is that we can uncover some uncomfortable truths if we are honest with ourselves. Keep in mind that I am not talking about people who were born with certain diseases or conditions, or who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take Rob Jones for example, a Marine who lost both legs to enemy IED in Afghanistan. His unfortunate fate was not barrier to him doing incredible things, he decided to run a marathon every day for an entire month! Why? Because he decided to take control of his life. Read more about Rob Jones here.

If you look at yourself in the mirror and don’t like what you see, then do something about it. Make a decision, as you look into the reflection of your own eyes, to change the daily habits that have caused you to be where you do not want to be in life. Yes it will be hard, it will be uncomfortable, and you will sometimes miss being able to partake in this or that pleasure that you did before. The point here is that it is up to you to take charge of your life and start making decisions that will lead you to success. It is not a matter of if you can do it, rather when you are going to do it. Do you want your last thoughts in your physical body to be regret for not living a more active life?o

Meet Coach Greg Shore of “Charleston Runs”

There are several people who have truly inspired me over the years. Most of them I have never met, they are famous authors, actors, philosophers, or well-known elite endurance athletes who got their story out there for the world to see. A handful of inspiring people I have known personally, some of them have passed on, some I’ve fallen out of touch with, but a few of them I still keep in contact with. One of the latter is a guy named Greg Shore. Greg’s story is amazing, inspiring, and shows what mental toughness and determination will do for you.

I met Greg in 2005. I was a fitness boot camp instructor at the Medical University of South Carolina and he was one of my “recruits.” Greg had not exercised for over twenty years, was obese, and had hypertension and diabetes; he was there on orders from his physician. Although uncomfortable with being in a gym and around people exercising, Greg knew it was either get in shape or face an early grave. Greg completed the mile time trial in just over 15 minutes. But he had a fire burning deep in side, he found a bottomless wellspring of determination, positivity, and mental toughness. As a group, we met weekly to run over the Cooper River Bridge and back. Greg showed up to every session and could barely make it to the top of the bridge at first. After months of working at it, enduring chilly 24 degree weather (in shorts nonetheless), Greg ran a little rather each time and eventually was able to complete the out and back. As Greg continued to see improvements, he entered a 5k road race and finished in 56 minutes, the dead last finisher (DLF). One year later, Greg finished a 5k in 30 minutes.  Greg ended up losing 63 pounds, was taken off of his medications for low blood pressure and diabetes. In two year’s time, Greg has run over 50 races, including a 15k, half-marathon, triathlons, 2.4 mile open water swim, and the Marine Corps Marathon.

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I left Charleston in June of 2007, as Greg was well on his way to running marathons. What he did was not easy, it takes mental toughness, discipline, and determination.

Greg’s story gets even better. He is currently a certified running coach and owns Charleston Runs, a run coaching business out of Charleson, SC where he works with clients of all ages to become faster and healthier. Since 2009, Coach Greg works with anywhere from 10 to 26 clients, ages 10 to 80, and hosts weekly group runs and track workouts. He develops individualized training plans for each runner training for the mile up to full marathon distance. He is also the cross-country coach at North Charleston High School, and has coached runners for the Charleston Running Club, and at official Cooper River Bridge Run training clinics.

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Greg after completing the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon!

Greg is a genuinely nice guy, who cares deeply for people and knows what the human mind is capable of achieving. This carries over into his coaching philosophy. When asked what the most important part of coaching is, he said “relationships are everything.” He believes that the key to making it work is trust between athlete and coach. Although Greg is not running much anymore due to arthritis, he is out on the course with his athletes providing water, words of encouragement, and actively supporting their training. Currently, Greg gets his endurance fix on his bike, grinding out miles and miles on gravel roads.

Greg has the heart of a champion and is an inspiration for everyone he comes into contact with. He has helped countless runners in the Charleston area and continues to be an influential member of the Charleston running community. To read more about Greg and Charleston Runs, visit www.charlestonruns.com.

Reasons to Love the Long Run

The long run is the cornerstone of distance-running. It is a single workout that comprises around 30% of a runner’s total weekly mileage, is done at an easy pace (or slightly faster) and normally happens on early mornings on the weekend.  It is not uncommon for those of us with busy lives to wake up at 3am to ensure we have the time available to run 15-25 miles before the family wakes up. If training for an upcoming race, the long run is critical for many reasons, here are a few reasons to love the long run. Pardon the alliteration, it actually wasn’t intended.

  1. Me-time. Long runs are a time to escape reality and connect. If you are not comfortable in your own skin or enjoy the confines of your own mind, then long runs may be challenging. These runs are long enough to have some deep conversations with your inner-self and ask yourself many times
  2. Meditation. Yes it is possible to meditate while you are running. Speaking of meditation, it is common to picture someone sitting serenely in the full lotus position with their eyes closed, but it happens many other ways. Meditation is mindfulness, being fully aware in the present moment and being in tune with your surrounding environment. This involves close awareness to the way the ground feels beneath your feet on each step, the different smells that enter your nose, the symphony of sounds of the wild, the way things appear visually, and most importantly, your breath. Paying close attention to how you are breathing is a great way to become more mindful as you run. Get into a steady rhythm, feeling the air rush into your mouth or nose and into your lungs, then feel your muscles gently push the air back out. Counting each breath cycle, up to ten, over and over again, can become quite satisfying and meditative. Before you know it, you’ve run several miles.
  3. Mitochondria. Remember that from high school biology class? Mitochondria are the “powerhouses of muscle cells” where core metabolic processes to convert food into energy for muscle contractions happen. The prolonged and steady low-intensity aerobic nature of long runs are great for stimulating growth and development of mitochondria and capillary density. As a result, our body can use oxygen more efficiently as we run, we don’t expend as much energy for a given pace or effort during a run.
  4. Mental Toughness. Aside from the physiological adaptations that happen as a direct result of long runs, there are significant psychological benefits. It is not easy to get out of a comfortable bed at 3am and run for 2-3 hours, it takes some serious discipline and initiative. But as with most things in life, you have the freedom to choose which path you will travel, and your actions will have consequences. I do some serious weighting of consequences at 3am on Sunday morning as my alarm goes off. Mental toughness also involves conditioning yourself to quell negative thoughts. At some point, you will question if you are good enough, fast enough, or if you are even a runner. It is normal for these thoughts to arise, but do not attach to them, let them arise, observe them, then watch them drift off into the darkness. There are two mindsets to take during running, you can either associate or dissociate with what is happening. Associating means that you are mindful of the stress and demands of the run, being in the moment as discussed previously. Dissociating means that you let your mind wander onto topics unrelated to the run. You might “go to your happy place” to escape the physical discomfort of running or think about the project that is due next week. Listening to music is another form of dissociative thinking during a long run, as it takes your mind away from the present moment as it enters the enjoyment of listening to music. Neither approach is right or wrong, better or worse, just different. And if used smartly, both can improve your success rate, in the long run.
  5. Miles. The long runs are important for physiological and psychological reasons, and they make up about 30% of a distance runner’s total weekly mileage. That 30% is a loose rule of thumb, as even top coaches will have slightly different opinions. But a common trend, even among elites is for a long run up to four times per month to bolster weekly volume. These miles translate to the benefits listed above and many other benefits for the distance runner.
  6. Mood. I am in a good mood after the long run. The feeling of satisfaction is irreplaceable, knowing I ran more miles in a morning than most people do their entire life.
  7. Morning Moments. When you wake up at 3am for a long run, you see, hear, feel, smell, and experience special moments that the rest of the world will never know. The few cars that pass must think we are crazy, or perhaps they wish they could motivate themselves to leave a comfy bed for an early run. And that’s if they even see us, many times I believe  I ran with a deer for about a quarter mile one morning. She froze as I approached, spooked, then pranced off in the same direction I was running. Back and forth across the road she went, noting my presence behind her, but never leaving our direction of travel. Many times I have been startled by a small varmint scurrying off beside me because I startled him; good thing about these moments is the immediate adrenaline rush that you receive. Perhaps the best morning moments are the gradual and gentle awakening of the world as the sun begins to appear. First light and sunrise provide some of most phenomenal scenes you will ever see.

The long run has become one of my most cherished times of the week. As hard as it is to push myself out the door some days, I never regret doing it. The “runners high” is real and the after-effects last the rest of the day and sometimes even into the week.

For more information about running and training to become a better runner, visit the Windhorse Running homepage. Happy running!