Posted by: Joe English | January 4, 2016

How to Choose the Right Gadget for the Runner on Your Gift List

running-advice-bugIf you’ve got an electronically-inclined runner on your holiday shopping list, you may be wondering how to pick the best running gadget for him or her this year. Loads of electronics out there promise to improve health, track information and even calculate arcane pieces of information such as your VO2 max and “ground contact time.” But, by homing in on what really matters for runners, you can simplify the shopping process. Here’s what to know about the various options before you start your spree:

1. Fitness and Activity Trackers

The Garmin Forerunner 620

The Garmin Forerunner 620

The Fitbit and FuelBand makers of the world would have you wear a device on your wrist that gives you a panacea of health-related information. Most of such fitness trackers use a pedometer to count your steps and integrate with a software application that can display information such as the number of calories you burn each day and how much sleep you’re getting.

While activity trackers are good for general information, many runners find them less useful than purpose-built sports watches. The information from a pedometer is typically based on counting steps, so it’s hard for many of these devices to differentiate between walking, jogging or running – each of which burn progressively more calories. Fitness trackers also won’t work well for tracking information about sports such as swimming or CrossFit, where the feet aren’t moving around that much.

Grade for runners: C

2. Smartwatches

The news this year has been all about the smartwatch, from the Apple Watch to the Samsung Gear to the Moto 360. Most of these devices include fitness-monitoring features, such as heart rate monitoring and step counting.

The primary drawbacks of these gadgets for many runners are twofold. First, to take advantage of the watch’s features, you may have to carry your phone along with you on your run. Many runners don’t want to carry an expensive, potentially large, device with them. Second, some of the devices may not appreciate getting doused in sweat or rain on a daily basis. My own experience with the Moto 360 taught me that wearing a smartwatch with a leather band leads to a very grimy, yucky-looking band in no time flat.

Grade for runners: B-
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Posted by: Joe English | January 4, 2016

Running Through Holiday Travel

running-advice-bugBetween social engagements, shopping and cooking – in addition to year-round daily activities – runners and other athletes have to work hard during the holidays to keep exercise from falling off the calendar. Add holiday travel to the list and many runners miss their workouts. As a life-long runner who has visited dozens of foreign destinations, I’ve learned how to keep running on the go. Here are my five tips to help you do the same:

1. Use long layovers wisely.

DSC_0398Any time I have more than three hours between long flights, I try to plan a workout during the layover. You can do this by researching fitness centers near the airport with day use drop-in fees. Before you hit the road, do a quick Internet search for “gyms near” the airport and call or email them to see if you can pay a fee to exercise at their facility. While few airports have gyms on-site, many airport hotels do. For example, the Hilton Chicago O’Hare offers a drop-in fee at its gym, which is a short covered walk from most of the terminals. Just make sure you pack a workout outfit, shoes, a lock and a towel in your carry-on bag. In addition to making the layover feel shorter, working out will energize you more than lazing around during extra in-transit hours.

2. Bring an apparel variety pack.

It sure is a hassle when you have a specific workout planned only to find out that the gym at your hotel doesn’t have the piece of equipment you need, the pool is closed for repairs or wild animals prevent you from running outside. The latter happened to me in Thailand, where a tiger had been spotted roaming the jungle near my hotel. The staff suggested I forgo my run. (Advice accepted!) The key to staying active is to be flexible and bring what you need for different types of workouts. You might want to pack a swimsuit and goggles, for example, in case your only option is a pool. I try to bring cycle shorts when I travel in case all of the treadmills are busy and I need to hop on a bike instead.
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Posted by: Joe English | January 4, 2016

How to Cope With the Post-Marathon Blues

running-advice-bugWith many of the big fall marathons behind us, a lot of you runners may be feeling a mixture of elation at accomplishing your goal and a sort of sadness that comes with completing such a large “project.” Some of us coaches call this heavy feeling the “post-marathon blues.”

Coping with the post-marathon BluesBut wallow not. The feeling is normal – and can pass. The key to shaking it is to get moving again with new goals and plans. Here are four ways to dust yourself off and get your head in the (new) game:

1. Line up next season’s schedule.
First, move your thinking from the past to the future. The best way to do that is to get out the calendar and pick some races that catch your eye. Perhaps you’ve noticed other runners posting about races on their social media accounts. If one sounds appealing, jot it down on the calendar before you forget. A bonus of planning now? Many races have early bird registration prices, not to mention they may eventually sell out. While the calendar doesn’t have to be set in stone yet, working out a high-level plan is a good first step to getting excited about the next phase of your training.

2. Set new goals.
Too often I hear about runners moving forward by simply registering for the same race they just finished. “I’ll try again next year,” they tell me if the race didn’t work out the way they thought it might. Instead, set some goals based on what you learned from your last performance and aim to make positive improvements. For example, a concrete goal might be something like, “I will improve my nutrition and hydration practices in the next race so I don’t run out of energy during the late miles.” Write down these goals and make working toward them a priority.
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running-advice-bugWith the summer quickly coming to an end, runners will start to see the sun is coming up a little later and setting earlier. Outdoor workouts are suddenly feeling a little cooler, darker and maybe a bit damp. Is it time to start thinking about moving workouts indoors?

5 Tips to Easing intoNot so fast. Fall still offers some great opportunities to get outside. So before you trade the running path for the treadmill, take advantage of the beauty fall has to offer with these five tips:
1. Stay outdoors as long as you can. Although the light is dimming and the weather is cooler, fall is a just a preview of what’s to come. Soon it will likely be much darker and colder. Fall is a transitional season, so look at it that way. Remind yourself that cool, damp and dark might seem dreamy in a few short months, when the alternative is snow, wind or driving rain.

2. Layer up. Wearing a light outer jacket that’s easy to take off will keep you warm at the beginning of your workout and is easy to take off a mile or two down the road. The rule of thumb is to dress for weather 20 degrees warmer than the temperature outside. This is because as you warm up, your body will feel that much warmer. So if it’s 50 degrees outside, wear base layers as if you were running in 70-degree weather. Wear your outer layer while warming up and take it off as soon as you’re warmed up. You don’t want to overheat, which will just soak your clothes and can lead to chaffing, chills – and general stinkiness – later on.

3. Wear reflective gear. Once the light dims, it’s a good idea to wear reflective clothing and carry a light with you when you run. Reflective clothing and lights help cars see you when you’re on the road. Most running gear, including many brands of shoes, hats, gloves and jackets include reflective strips that will make you easier to see. You can also buy a reflective vest that will slip over the top of your clothes to really increase your visibility for cars. Carrying a light or wearing a headlamp will help you see the ground so you don’t stumble and turn an ankle when running in low light.
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Posted by: Joe English | September 10, 2015

When is draft-legal coming to a #triathlon or #duathlon near you?

running-advice-bugLots of my age-group duathlon buddies have expressed surprise and a bit of consternation about draft-legal racing on the bike coming to our part of the sport. I’ve talked to a number of people that have said they don’t feel that draft-legal racing will be safe and they want to avoid those races that head that way, but here’s the thing: draft-legal is coming. We all need to start thinking about it.

Draft-legal is coming, are you ready?

Draft-legal is coming, are you ready?

Draft-legal racing has been the norm at the elite ITU level for some time now. Many people may not realize that it has also been the norm for juniors and Under 23 (U23) as well, essentially training a whole new generation of athletes as youngsters to learn how to race draft-legal. Outside of the United States, draft-legal is not frowned upon as it seems to be here. In the US, we seem to have been trained to “hate” drafting on the bike as that’s been the rule since the beginning of the sport for most races here.

The International Triathlon Union (ITU), which is the governing body of the sport, has started moving individual age-group events to draft-legal racing. Starting in 2016, the ITU Sprint Triathlon and Duathlon World Championships will both be draft-legal. This means that drafting will be legal in ITU races for elite, junior, U23, and age-groupers — that is for all but paratriathlon/paraduathlon. It’s already legal for all distances of winter-triathlon and cross-triathlon. This just leaves the standard (or “Olympic”) distance and longer distances races.

Clearly this feels like a test to see how age-groupers do with draft-legal racing at the shorter distance. But the writing feels like it is on the wall that the standard distance won’t be far behind.

Now, the ITU doesn’t govern all triathlons and duathlons. Many are sanctioned by national bodies like USA Triathlon or organizations like Ironman or local organizers. But again, it feels like national bodies will begin to follow suit to get their athletes ready for the overall change in the sport, so we should see national bodies start re-framing these rules sooner rather than later.
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Posted by: Joe English | September 9, 2015

How do I know if I am over training?

running-advice-bugRunners are often at odds with trying to run enough to meet their goals and doing too much for their capabilities. When a runner steps over this line he or she runs the risk of over-training, which can mean an ugly feeling decline in performance. The question today is how do you know when you are over-training and what can you do about it?

ARe YOU OVER TRAINING-Before we dive in to the signs and symptoms of over-training, let’s take a moment to differentiate a couple of things. First, over-training and over-use injuries are two different things. Over-use injuries happen when a particular body part, such as a knee or IT band is worked too hard and it essentially breaks. Over-training, as we’ll discuss, does not necessarily imply becoming injured, although the two often go hand-in-hand. Second, fatigue is a normal part of training. Many of the benefits of our workouts come from pushing into a zone that will leave us very fatigued. This again is different from over-training, which zaps us of our ability to recover and continuing making forward progress.

The best way to understand over-training is to define it and then break down the definition. My definition would be that in most instances, “over-training comes from doing too much and too intense an amount of work without enough recovery.” Now let’s deconstruct that a bit.

First, the words “too much” here are relative and can vary from person to person and even as it relates to where you are for your own fitness. It’s obviously pretty easy for a new runner to do “too much” when they are just starting out, but an experienced runner can do “too much” when they have taken time off, become inconsistent with their workouts, or are just coming out of a slack period such as a winter break. Often runners “jump back in” and try to resume what they were doing at a previous time and that may be too much for their current fitness level. Also, runners can be impressed upon by what they read in the press about elite athletes and the volume of their mileage without understanding what goes into those miles and they’ll just jump in and try to emulate the numbers they see. I hear people tell me all of the time, so and so “runs 100 miles a week, shouldn’t I being doing that?” The answer is that it depends on your level, your current fitness, your goals and (most importantly) the make-up of those miles.
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Posted by: Joe English | August 26, 2015

Is Red Bull an Option for Runners? #running #fitness #energy

running-advice-bugOne of my athletes wrote to me today with a great question about using energy drinks — drinks of the non-athletic kind like Red Bull — in their racing and training. Today, we’ll draw a distinction here between energy drinks made for athletes (those that contain primarily sugar and electrolytes) and energy drinks made for daily consumption (those containing stimulants). But first, here’s the question:

I have tried gels and chews and it’s just not for me… I have been running with an electrolyte/ carb hydration liquid, along with water. Toward the end of my long runs, last 3-4 miles I added half redbull half water mixer….
I have been doing pretty good with this combo… What are your thoughts? Any recommendations on energy/carb drinks that i should try?

Will -energy drinks- work for runners-On the first part of your question, it is just fine to use liquid-based sugars rather than solids or semi-solids (chews, gels or bars). Many runners ask if they “need” to use gels or bars, but in reality most elite runners actually use liquid energy drinks. They do this both because it is faster to drink out of a bottle than try opening something in a package and because being liquids are typically absorbed more quickly. So if that’s working for you then great! Just be careful not to make the mixture too concentrated. If the concentration of sugar gets to be too high, the stomach can get touchy quickly. Note however that these elite athletes tend to train their stomachs to take higher concentrations of sugars than most of us could “stomach” (pun intended), so watch out for products made specifically for elite athletes. You may need to build up to something like that over time.

With regard to the Red Bull you’re just adding another layer of stimulation to the mix. Red Bull and most energy drinks have stimulants in them like Caffeine or Taurine. While these stimulants don’t actually give your muscles energy, they do boost your mental state and this can be important late in a run or race. Red Bull also has sugar in it (both sucrose and glucose), so you are getting more sugar energy from the drink as well. This may be important, because there are many types of sugars and changing sugars can either be helpful or harmful depending on your stomach.
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Posted by: Joe English | August 19, 2015

How is Your Marathon Pace Supposed to Feel? #running #marathon

running-advice-bugLet’s get real for a moment about marathon pacing. If you’re running a marathon parts of it are going to feel somewhat unpleasant. This is true for just about everyone. However, a marathon is a long journey and the pace feels different at different points along the way. By understanding how the pace should feel at the various stages of the race, you can avoid either going out too hard or too slowly and hopefully make the tough parts go more smoothly.

How should your #marathon pace feel?

How should your #marathon pace feel?

Before we jump into the play-by-play of the marathon, let’s reemphasize that knowing your pace is an important skill for marathon runners. Understanding what pace you can run for a specific distance is where the growth comes for most runners as they progress over time. At the beginning of a marathon runner’s experience the focus just tends to be on “getting through it” but after doing a couple of big runs, runners are more likely to start setting specific goals and it takes paying precise attention to pace to meet those goals. It’s also important to understand that the pace that we can run and sustain is scientifically related across a spectrum of distances. To say that another way, if you push yourself as hard as you can at 5K, we can calculate pretty specifically how fast you can go at various other distances. This knowledge can take the guess-work out of your pacing, but it requires a little work to get there in terms of testing yourself and then paying attention to your pace as you train and race.

So let’s say you’ve arrived at a target finish-time for your next race in a race. There are a couple of race strategies that you can use to get there — put here in the simplest of terms:
1) “I’m going to ‘wing’ it” — you can just go out and see what happens. This is the strategy for more runners than you might think. Unfortunately, it puts you at the highest risk of blowing up late in the race, because you really don’t know what pace you should be running at the beginning.
2) “I’ll go out hard and pray” — you go out hard to “bank” time for the slow-down that will likely come at the end of the race. This is also a tremendously common misconception of the way pacing works. Colloquially speaking we would say that for every minute you get ahead of your pacing capability in the first half the race, you’re going to pay for it with four minutes in the second half.
3) “I want to run a negative split” — Some people try to warm-up slowly over a number of miles and then crank up the pace in the second half. This is actually quite difficult to do in practice unless you’re talking about a very narrow negative split (or leaving a lot of time on the table). The reason as outlined below is that you become more fatigued as you go along so it feels harder to run THE SAME pace as the miles advance. This means that trying to increase the pace late in the race is pretty darn tough (but not impossible).
4) “I want to run an even pace” — The smart money is on trying to run your goal pace for the entire race. The best runners in the world execute their pacing plans down to extremely narrow margins — such as 5K splits within 1 second of each other across the whole race. We don’t all have to aspire to that sort of precision, but it certainly is a benchmark to envision what’s possible.

So how is that pace going to feel? I like to break down the race into quarters for simplicity and here’s what I say about each part of the race.
First Quarter (miles 0-6) — The first quarter of the marathon should feel fantastically easy. You should be running on a combination of sheer adrenaline and being well rested from a light week (or weeks) coming into the race. The focus of the first few miles of the marathon should be warming up and holding back to avoid going faster than goal pace. If the pace in the first quarter of the race feels too fast, you’ve most certainly gone out too hard. Happily if you are paying attention and are running the correct pace early enough you may not have done yourself in. Ignore it and you will pay for it later.
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