Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Training Advice for those Aspiring to Qualify for Boston Marathon

Many have asked me about qualifying for the Boston Marathon with the hope that someday they can do it too. After responding to a recent inquiry about this, I decided it was time to make a new post on this subject. Bottom line for this post is that you’d be surprised what your body can do if you take action and train smart.

As some of you know, my quest to qualify for Boston started in January 2008. Since then I’ve finished 6 marathons and encountered just about everything you can imagine. Has been an excellent journey with much time spent on technique improvement, injury rehab, nutrition, training plans, etc.

In my opinion, it is hard for non-elite, older than college age runners to find a good running coach and although I did pay a few for advice and assessment, I think you really need to be your own coach because nobody knows your body like you do and nobody pays as much attention to your needs as you do. That said, it’s important to run with others at least part of the time so you have some friendly competition to push you along.

The biggest error I see with most people training for a marathon is they don’t use target paces. In most cases the quantity of running is OK, but the quality is wrong. Sort of a garbage in garbage out scenario. Running 5 times a week at the same old pace is boring and unproductive. The key is to use a recent 5K, 10K or Half Marathon race time to gauge your current running fitness level. Then set up your training schedule so your training runs are at a specific target pace. Combine this with a plan that has one day focused on speed, one as a fast tempo run, and one long run and you will be surprised how much faster you run.

There are several books I highly recommend that will help you get started. Below are links to them on Amazon.com. I built my training plan using the “Run Less, Run Faster” book. I really like it because you focus on 3 key runs per week that are complemented by cross training so the total miles per week are significantly less

The “Brain Training for Runners” book has some excellent background on how our brains work and what we can do to run faster plus it gets into technique. Chi Running is a good entry level into proper running form that gets you a good jump start. In my opinion, the drills and queues mentioned in Brain Training are easier to apply after Chi Running. Note that I have put these books in order of preference so if you can only buy one or two, start at top of list.

There are a few great websites I use a lot. Below are links to them with brief explanation.

  • McMillan Running Calculator. Greg is right on with his calculator and training philosophy. He’s very much in line with the Run Less book. I use the calculator all the time to figure out training paces and figure out what I might be able to run a given distance at. Check it out here; http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/mcmillanrunningcalculator.htm
  • Runbayou is calculator based on Jack Daniels. Is interesting to compare to McMillan since Daniels is the running guru credited with much of the science behind modern day running. http://www.runbayou.com/jackd.htm
  • eRaceWalk is a site for walker’s, but the calculators for figuring out times/paces at the race track work just the same for running. Page down to sections D and E. All times given in Run Less Run Faster or by McMillan are for Lane 1 at the track. I find that lane often is busy so I like to run in Lane 4. However, Lane 4 is longer so you need to adjust the times. Section E you enter the Lane 1 target time and it will tell you an equivalent time in Lanes 2 through 8. Then you enter the same Lane 1 speed in Section D and it will tell you the pace/mile in Lane 1. If you are following me, the pace you run in Lane 1 to achieve the desired Lane 1 time…if run in Lane 4 will equal the time shown in Lane 4 in Section E. Anyhow, doing these calculations before I go to the track help me run the right pace when I’m in Lane 4. http://www.eracewalk.com/CalcTrac.htm

For all you thinking about starting the New Year with a goal of running a marathon, the sites and books listed here are highly recommended for you too. Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a night and you are a participant in the journey of life. Study up, make a plan, and take action. Most importantly, enjoy the process as it is the journey that counts, not the destination.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wahoo...I Qualified for Boston Marathon!!!

What a great feeling! Thanks to everyone for your support. Here’s a recap plus a little of what was going through my head while running the Chicago Marathon this year.

For starters, we got up on race day at 5:45am to find out the temperature was only 30 degrees. After taking a hot shower, I had a cup of coffee, 1 banana, a zone bar, and a Naked Juice (Green Machine). After some stretching, was out the door at 7am headed to the start. Our hotel was the Hard Rock, which was excellent location about 1/2 mile from the start. Fortunately, I had qualified for start corral B so was able to line up near the front.

Chicago had 45,000 runners this year. Add one million spectators to that and it’s one crazy place. One thing that amazed me throughout the race was how many great runners there were. Was so cool to always be surrounded by a mass of fast runners.

I really recommend Chicago for first timers and veteran marathoners. The course is flat and fairly scenic with lots of variety so you never get bored. Best of all is the crowd cheering the runners. Truly amazing how many braved the cold to yell and scream. So cool and motivating when you have that many. Some of the corridors must have had 25,000 people cheering. Just amazing.

I started off the day with game plan of running with the 3:10 pace group. I was hoping to finish with a 3:15 time and I needed to run it in 3:20 (7:38 pace) in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon so running with the 3:10 group at 7:15 pace was aggressive for me. Once on the course though, my heart rate stayed between 152 & 156 while my pace was averaging 7:05/mile! Was a surprise to say the least as I found myself running ahead of the 3:10 pacers with relative ease.

At the half marathon point I had a bit of mental challenge because I realized I had just set a new PR at 1:33 for 13.1 miles and I was only half way through the marathon! I got worried I was running to fast and would crash. Oddly enough, we were running into the wind and my mind switched to strategy mode as I picked up the pace so I could tuck in behind a group of runners and be protected from the wind. Was hard to catch them, but I kept telling myself it would be easier once I did...and fortunately, it was.

Around mile 16 my legs started to feel fatigued so I stopped at the next aid station to make sure I got a whole cup of Gatorade in me. Picked up the pace at mile 17 and held it until mile 21 when my left quad started to feel strange. Hard to describe. Was like it was on the verge of cramping, but more of a freeze up. I tried to run softly, but could not land correctly and found it hard not to run with a limp. Was worrisome at the time. I decided to run through it so did not stop and it seemed to get better over the next ½ mile. As I turned onto Michigan Avenue a little past mile 23, I was afraid to stop as I could only imagine my legs cramping up and not being able to get moving again. We were running into a head wind and it was a struggle to keep up a good pace, but lucky for me, a big guy came motoring along who I was able to tuck in behind and we made good time.

At this point, my body core temp was dropping and I was freezing. So strange to exercise hard and be cold at the same time. Felt like my feet were frozen with a complete loss of feel for the pavement. I was tired and my quads were on fire. I kept telling myself this was my time to make it happen so no pain no gain. I reminded myself the distance left was like running one of my short runs back in San Diego. I cranked up my iPod volume and fast forwarded to a couple power songs then dug deep and stayed focused on putting one foot in front of the other…as fast as I could with a finish strong mantra running through my head. The finish was an emotional roller coaster and I was ecstatic to finish with an official time of 3 hours, 11 minutes and 33 seconds! Not only did I qualify for Boston, but I smashed my previous personal best by 24 minutes. Very, very cool.

As I write this post, I’m happy to report all is good with the body. Quads are sore and legs are stiff, but I was able to walk through the airport today without limping...so much better than last year when I could have used a wheel chair.

What a difference a year makes! Thanks again for your support. Happy trails and remember to enjoy the journey!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Race Day has Arrived!!! Gonna be Great!!!

Sitting here in hotel room relaxing and watching the Ironman World Championship in Kona thanks to www.universalsports.com. Gotta love technology and a good broadband connection.

Went to dinner with Lynn last night at a great restaurant called Province. Had several ceviche dishes and some hamachi sashimi for appetizer followed by excellent roasted lamb...and a nice bottle of red wine. Good stuff!

Was raining when we landed on Friday, but today we woke to clear skies and cool temps. Went for a 4 mile easy run to check out the start area for Chicago Marathon, then did loop along the waterfront that included the Navy Pier. Temp was about 42 degrees so a good warm up for the marathon tomorrow.

Such a major change in weather from last year's race when temps were in the 80's. Forecast is for 38 degrees at start time with clear skies so should be perfect running condition.

Continue to be impressed with Chicago. If you're a runner and have not run Chicago yet, you should definitely do it. Race is flat and temps normally cool. Crowd support is amazing and the people here are so nice. We went out for breakfast after our run this morning at a great little hole in the wall place called Mary's Cafe on Grant St. Seemed like half the people in there were running the marathon so it was lively environment and lots of excitement in the air.

If you're near a PC on Sunday, check out the race on www.universalsports.com. Starts at 7:30am central time. Womens race includes Deena Kastor who is favored to win and always great to watch. The men's race includes Olympic gold medal winner from 2008, Sammy Wanjiru. He chose to run Chicago due to it's reputation as one of world's fastest courses. The weather forecast is perfect for him so we're hearing lots of talk about him breaking the world record on Sunday.

All for now. Time to log off and go to the race expo. Take care and wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Taper Time...Only 12 More Days...!

Sitting here in my hotel room in Seattle where it's heavy rain outside. Good thing I got up early and was able to get in a 6 mile run this morning. This past Sunday I raced my first triathlon. Was a great experience. Lots of room for improvement in the swim, but I made up a ton of time on the bike and run segments. More importantly, I finished injury free and I'm fully recovered now. Looking forward to Chicago Marathon 10/11/09. From all indications, race temperature will be much cooler this year so should be much better for those of us trying to qualify for Boston.

Training schedule is light for me the next 12 days with the main effort being the Mission Bay Triathlon this coming Sunday 10/4/09 in San Diego. It's a sprint with 1/2 mile swim, 12.5 mile bike, and 4 mile run. Essentially the same distances I raced last weekend on similar course so will be good to see how my times improve. After that, I'll do a couple 3 to 5 mile runs and then it's off to Chicago for the big day. A big thanks to my friends and family for their support. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

32 Days Until Chicago Marathon!

Time is flying by. Hard to believe race day is only 32 days from now. Seems only a few months ago i was running Chicago, but it's been 11 months! As noted in my previous post, my training is going very good. So nice to be running injury free.

On separate subject, I have my first coaching client. Is a 27 year old mom who is determined to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She's a natural athlete who's raced a lot of triathlons and recently knocked out a 2:01 time at the AFC Half Marathon without much training. We started with a 5K time trial to establish a baseline I then used to create a custom training program. She's signed up to race the Arizona RNR Marathon in January. Her qualifying time is 3:40 so BQ there is an aggressive goal, but based on what she's done the first two weeks of new training program and her natural abilities, I think it is possible. For me, it's fun to help and will be great to see her make it happen.

Have a great week and enjoy the journey!

Monday, September 7, 2009

First post using iPhone app

A quick post to test iPhone app. Have been enjoying the addition of bike and swim to my running workouts. Seems the cross training is helping as I'm definitely getting stronger and faster each week. Went for a 20 mile run on Sunday that started with 4 miles easy at 9:05-9:08 pace and my avg HR only 125. Then picked up pace to 7:05-7:20 range for final 16 miles. Did stop to buy Gatorade twice, but all in all a great run and happy my HR stayed in the 150's even when running at 7:05 pace. Can only attribute it to healthier/stronger cardio due to extra time on bike and swimming.

Chicago Marathon is coming fast. One more month! Current plan is train for 3:10 target race time and run with that pace group so I have 10 minutes of cushion built in for walking at aid stations and the inevitable slow down in pace the last 6 miles. Need to finish with a time of 3:20 or faster in order to qualify for Boston. At the moment, I'm feeling good, injury free and BQ seems very doable. Only time will tell. Happy trails!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Has it really been 2 months since last post? Wow...time goes too fast!

My apologies for lagging on the postings. I've been chugging away at training and work...and neglecting to update this blog...my bad. That said, the quick update on all that has happened since June 11 is as follows:

1. Raced the San Francisco Marathon July 26th and finished with a new PR on very hilly course with a 3 hour 35 minute time.

2. Won the lottery for New York Marathon and I'm registered to run on November 1....however, I'm going to defer to 2010 because I'm already registered for Chicago Marathon and can't squeeze them both in. They did send me a very cool technical training shirt though!

3. Made a big decision and set wheels in motion to become a triathlete by registering for the Ironman California 70.3 in March 2010. Was nervous hitting submit on the registration, but now that a week has past, I'm excited and ready to make it happen.

4. Purchased a new Felt Z35 all carbon fiber road bike and have been loving life being back on the bike.

5. Raced the AFC Half Marathon and finished with 1 hour 35 minute time...a new PR for me.

6. Did my first swim lesson and although it wasn't easy, I now see light at the end of the tunnel that 1.2 mile swim in half Ironman is definitely doable.

That said, I have to run. Promise to update more often. Cheers!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Just signed up for San Francisco Marathon July 26th!!!

It's official. I just hit submit on the registration. My recovery from RNR Marathon is going great so I'm anxious to get back out and "run" the whole race. Went today to the athletic trainer who was helping me with calf injury prior to the RNR race and he too was surprised how well things are doing. He says my calf no longer feels like it's injured and it didn't hurt nearly as bad today when he was in there grinding away at it. Looks like my plan of running a little bit each day during recovery has paid off.

So...anyone care to join me in San Francisco? Race starts and ends downtown at the Embarcadero. Includes running across the Golden Gate Bridge and back so has lots of amazing scenery. Elevation profile looks like it has a fair amount of hills during first 18 miles, but they appear to be gradual up/down...and the last 6 miles is downhill or flat.

They also have half marathon. If interested in the half, you have a choice of running the first half or the second half of marathon so if you pick the right half, you still get to run over the GG bridge. Check out the race website at www.runsfm.com and let me know if you can make it.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Recovery time...so far, so good!

Had a long plane ride over to Honolulu on Monday. In Hawaii for business this week. Was actually surprised and happy to not have any sharp pains or injury related pain after the marathon...and no issues with blisters either. This morning I went for a 3 mile run to get the blood flowing. The first mile was really slow and hard because my quads just didn't want to cooperate. Definitely have a good case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) like you get after a hard workout of lifting weights.

Good news is during the second mile everything started to loosen up and by mile 3 I was cruising along near marathon pace feeling great. After all the pain and agony leading up to the Rock N Roll Marathon with that damn calf muscle injury, I'm so happy now to be able to run again without pain! Is funny, but it's as if going the full 26.2 miles actually worked out the problem I was having in my calf muscle as now it feels great...strange, but good.

They say you should take it easy for the week or two following a marathon. I definitely plan to do that, but instead of staying off my feet, I've decided to run a little bit each day to keep things working and hopefully avoid calf injury relapse. I still think the injury I've been suffering is caused by scar tissue that forms during the healing process so maybe this time around if I stay active it won't happen...? Keeping my fingers crossed...that's for sure. Cheers from Hawaii.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Test of will power, but I finished RNR Marathon under 4 hours!

The past month has been tough as the calf muscle injury evolved into much bigger issue affecting all of my right lower leg and the outer portion of my right quadracep. I never was able to get back onto my training schedule and the longest run I had within the two weeks prior to RNR race day was 2 miles! As you can imagine, I was really uncertain how things would play out today when I headed to the start line.

I'm happy to report that I was able to overcome the odds and complete the race. Wasn't pretty, but I walked all the uphills, ran the downhills as fast as I could, and did my best to keep pace up on the flats. My half marathon split was 1:46 so was on pace for a 3:30 marathon, but by the time I got to mile 17 my legs were wearing out due to my altered running stride since I couldn't push off my toe using calf muscle.

Walking the hills had a few benefits I've not experienced before. For one, I took some photos and even uploaded one to Facebook at mile 20. Also stopped to eat some extremely good watermellon. Another benefit was less wear and tear overall. I'm writing this 10 hours after I finished and I actually feel pretty good.

Official race time was 3 hours 56 minutes so broke the 4 hour mark. Not bad for all the walking I did. More important, my calf muscle feels pretty good. I had a scare at mile 1 where it acted up and I started limping pretty bad. As I made my way to the side of road to walk I thought to myself, too early in race...let's run very lightly as if running on egg shells and see if we can work it out. Low and behold it worked out. Half mile later I was cruising along pain free with normal running stride that lasted me until mile 8 when I hit the big hill going up Hwy 163.

Since I hadn't run any long distances for a full month, my fitness level definitely took a hit too. And...my mind wasn't prepared. Once I got into the higher miles I actually found myself thinking my god this is a long way to run. Yesterday when I was at the race expo I got to meet Ryan Hall. That was very cool. He signed an autograph for me that said "Mike, discover what's inside". There definitely were several times today where I was feeling the pain and tired...and I thought about Ryan and what he wrote...and dug deep to keep going. Good stuff.

The race today also had a four person relay that my wife Lynn participated in with 3 of her girlfriends. Good news is the relay didn't bother the marathon runners and was well run. I think it's a great addition and hope they do it again next year so more people can experience the fun of running the streets of San Diego with live bands and screaming fans.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taper Time...only 11 More Days to RNR Marathon

The countdown has begun! For some, this is a time of cutting back on miles in what marathoners refer to as "tapering down" the mileage and allowing the body to repair and store up fuel for the 26.2 mile race.

For me this time around, I think I've been tapering the last month due to calf muscle injury. Now I'm finding myself wanting to increase the miles to regain some lost cardio fitness, but having to resist out of fear I will re-injure my calf muscle. Nonetheless, it is testing my patience and providing extra time to study up on other things like nutrition.

A friend who's new to long distance running recently asked me about "carbo loading", which is something I've never been a fan of...at least not in the way the general public thinks of it as loading up on pasta the night before the race as if it would somehow provide a boost in performance the next day.

What I recommended to my friend was to not change anything. My thinking was that she already had calorie intake sufficient to maintain a substantial training program. If she "tapers" off that mileage the last week before her half marathon and maintains the same diet...her body will have an excess of calories and therefore she'd have plenty of fuel for the body to rebuild and top of her glycogen stores. Because she this was her first half marathon, it was important for her not to introduce anything new. Good news is that on race day her energy level was great and she did awesome.

Recently I read a post by Kim Mueller, a local sports nutrition expert who also happens to be a triathlete and marathon runner. It caught my attention because the subject was carbo loading. In the post, she pushed back on another marathoner who was promoting the "old school" carbo loading technique where you eat a low carb diet for 4 days to completely deplete your glycogen stores, then do 3 days of super high carb diet to supercompensate and boost glycogen storage to considerably higher storage levels than normal.

I liked Kim's post because she pointed out that numerous research studies have since proven there is no need to deplete glycogen stores and there is evidence to show you only need to increase your normal % of carbs in diet by 25% the three days leading up to race day in order to get full benefit of "carbo loading".

With that in mind, I think my advice to my half marathon running friend was just right and for the more experienced runners, following the same advice with the 25% increase in carbs the 3 days leading up to race day should be just what the doctor ordered. Just be sure to eat a small meal the night before the race so you don't have any issues during the race. Cheers!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Remember...It's About the Journey when Injuries Happen

For the past week I have been dealing with an injury to my calf muscle that has kept me from running. In fact, I had to pass on running an 8K race yesterday and that was really hard...and frustrating. The injury is what they call a Chronic Muscle Tear, which is something that may happen to runners of all levels including elites and the experts say it has nothing to do with running form, pronation, etc.

The "tears" are micro tears that happen when the muscle is under great stress. For me, I can pinpoint the cause of stress as the long 20 mile run I did a little over a week ago that had two relatively long, steep hills. These tears are normal and all runners get them when pushing their body hard. It's just that some people like me are blessed with a botched repair process that leaves scar tissue between the muscle fibers. It's "chronic" because it happens over and over...and for some strange reason, it typically only happens in the same area. For me, it's my calf muscles.

If you think of spaghetti pasta, our muscle fibers are like all the individual pieces of pasta. When we run, our muscle fibers fire independently. As such, one fiber may be contracting while the one next to it is relaxed. When you cook the pasta, you have to stir it because there is starch in there that binds the pasta together if you don't. Scar tissue that forms with Chronic Muscle Tears is like the starch that makes the pasta stick together. With scar tissue in your muscle, the relaxed fiber screams out in pain when the fiber next to it fires and scar tissue drags it along.

In my experience, I'll take few days off after a hard workout so the body can repair. Then I'll go out for a run. Everything feels fine for the first 1/2 mile, but then it starts to hurt. Not stabbing, but sort of like a stiff muscle or cramp. I learned the hard way that you try to run through it, you'll eventually get a stabbing pain, which is some of the muscle fibers tearing as the scar tissue pulls on them...not good.

If you experience this a couple days after a hard workout, the best thing to do is stop and stretch...and use fingers to locate the knot or point of pain, then use firm pressure to massage back and forth against the grain. You need to roll the muscle fibers to break up the scar tissue. This technique is called cross friction massage. It can be quite painful, but it is the only thing I have found that works. If you take it easy for a week with only bike riding and walking plus a lot of stretching and cross friction massage, you should be back to running in a week. Trick is to force yourself to not run until you can walk without pain and keep doing cross friction in the affected area regardless of if you feel pain or not...you need to make sure that as the muscle heals it does not form more scar tissue.

All that said, today is the first day I have been able to walk without pain so I'm excited to get back out running. Dealing with injuries is humbling. When they happen it is easy to get depressed and worried you are losing out. Somewhere along the way I learned that what I love about running is the way it makes me feel. Race day is exciting, but it's just one day and it goes by way too fast. What really matters is the journey. The ups and downs. The little triumphs when you reach a new level of fitness as well as the trials and tribulations you must endure such as the injury I described above.

We have a sign on our wall that my wife put up that sums it up perfectly. I read it every day. It says "Happiness is in the Journey....Not at the Destination". Whether you are training for a marathon or just working towards your career goals, that quote helps you stay present and enjoy the process. All for now. Enjoy the ride!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Video: Ryan Hall's Boston Marathon Workout

Check out the video I just embedded at the bottom of this blog. Shows Ryan Hall on an 8 mile tempo running he completed in 38 minutes! That's an average of roughly 4 minutes and 45 seconds per mile...WOW.

I mentioned in earlier blogs the 90 BPM cadence and forefoot running style used by the elites. This video lets you see Ryan doing both with some great side angle shots so you can really see his running form. Highly recommend runners of all levels to watch this and use the pause/play button to slow down to view individual frames.

If you watch closely, his heels never hit the ground and it is quite amazing how much of the time his body is actually floating in the air like a deer. In particular, check out the video frames from 1:42 to 1:50 as well as 2:05 to 2:20. For all of you visual learners, this is truly awesome. Enjoy!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The 90 BPM songs I listen to when running

After my post yesterday about loading your iPod with 90 Beat per Minute (BPM) songs to help run at proper cadence, I had a few requests asking what music I listened to when running. Well let me tell you, the list below took some trial and error. A few of the songs I would never have imagined listening to, but tried them out since they were 90 BPM and found them to be very inspirational. Below is the list I have narrowed it down to.

Artist, Song Title, BPM
U2, One, 90
Incubus, Drive, 91
Sublime, Santeria, 91
Nine Inch Nails, Closer, 90
ACDC, Back in Black, 92
Jimmy Buffett, Love and Luck, 93
Jimmy Buffett, One Particular Harbor, 93
Cracker, This is Cracker Soul, 90
George Thorogood, Night Time, 90
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Give it Away, 91
Van Morrison, Bright Side of the Road, 89
Stiff Little Fingers, Tin Soldiers, 91
Jimmy Buffett, Volcano, 89
Neil Diamond, I am....I said, 89
Neil Diamond, Forever in Blue Jeans, 90
Neil Diamond, Holy Holy, 89

If you have other songs that are near 90 BPM that are not listed here that you think are great running tunes, please post a comment or shoot me an email so I can check them out. Thanks!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Running with an iPod

Should you use one or not? That is one of the great debates in running community. I for one don't buy the argument that they are a safety hazard and I’m a big fan of wearing one while running. I find it a shame that some race organizers go so far as to prohibit their use and threaten participants with disqualification if they are caught wearing one. I can understand them prohibiting the elite (paid) runners in major events, but not for the majority of runners. Fortunately, there was a recent amendment by the USATF in December 2008 to their rules regarding headphone use. The USATF official rule now states that such devices are only prohibited for those competing in Championships for awards, medals and prize money.

One big reason I'm a fan of wearing an iPod is that I love music and there is nothing like a great running song to get you through the hard part of a hill climb or to the end of a long training run when your body says no and you need that extra motivation to go the extra mile. Another great reason, and perhaps even more important, is that if you put the right music on your iPod, you can use the beat to help you maintain proper running cadence (stride turnover rate). Jack Daniels and many other running gurus have determined the optimum cadence for running (10K to Marathon distances) is 90 steps per minute for each foot. Meaning, your right foot should touch down 90 times per minute.

Most beginning and intermediate runners run with a cadence that is too slow. When this was first pointed out to me, my cadence was only 82 per minute. Figuring out how to run at the faster 90 cadence was a real challenge. I remember that my heart rate went up significantly and it was really hard to maintain. Like most things, the focus on speeding up my cadence led to a number of running stride changes and when I finally figured it out, the result was that I ran much faster with less effort and had lower heart rate. I’ll warn you this didn’t happen overnight and was part of a long evolution in my stride, but will say that it is a journey well worth taking as the end result is faster times, less fatigue, fewer injuries, and great sense of accomplishment. I’ll go more into that journey in future posts, but for now, let me tell you how to leverage your iPod to help you focus on the correct running cadence.

First off, you need to go through your iTunes and locate all the songs that are 90 Beats Per Minute (BPM). There is a program you can download called beaTunes that will analyze your iTunes music to determine the BPM for all songs in your library and update iTunes to show the BPM counts. It is a shareware program that costs about $30, but you can download a free trial to use for a week and that’s all you really need for this project. The program can be downloaded here: www.beatunes.com. They have versions for Mac, PC, and Linux.

Once you install beaTunes, you can sort your iTunes music library by BPM and then add the songs that are roughly 90 BPM to your iPod and use it to run at the right cadence. Overtime, I have narrowed my running playlist to about 20 songs that range from 89 to 94 BPM that get me psyched up while running. Was a bit of a trial and error process of trying out some songs, then deleting them after a run if the beat was not clear enough to make out or the song didn’t have the positive aspects needed to keep me running. Note that 180-188 BPM songs also work great. Also note that in iTunes, you will need to go to the file menu and select view, then view options…then put a check mark next to Beats Per Minute in order to see BPM column in your music list.

When you first try running at 90 BPM, it most likely will feel really fast so don't expect to do it for a long period of time. Just use the iPod beat as a focus point and try to keep up with it. When running with faster cadence, you will most likely need to shorten your stride. ChiRunning is a great book to reference for this and the author Danny Dreyer also goes into why 90 BPM is the best cadence for injury free running. After you practice this a while, you will eventually get used to the faster turn over and find your speed increases while perceived effort level decreases so you can cover more ground with same output of energy. I find that when I get tired, my cadence slows down and I end up working harder. By having 90 BPM songs on my iPod, when I get tired, I focus on keeping pace with the beat with shorter fast strides. Works great!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Great News....Blog Motivated Reader to Register for a Marathon

Just a quick note to spread the good news. Feedback on the new blog has been great and one reader sent me an email blaming me for making him sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC on October 25, 2009.

All kidding aside, he said my posts to this blog was the inspiration he needed and helped motivate him to go online and register today! Was really neat to hear. Very, very cool.

Keep the comments and emails coming. Is great to hear your stories too.

What Running Shoes Do You Recommend?

Thanks to everyone for the positive emails about me starting the blog. Randy Gorman let me know his training for a triathlon in May is going great, but he's wondering if I have any recommendations for running shoes. This is another one of those questions I hear a lot and I've done a lot of trial and error with so here's my experience and opinion on the topic....

To begin, my general opinion is that the shoe manufacturer's have done the running community a disservice by promoting shoes with way too much cushion and support. They've conjured up a ton of hype and technical terms to convince runners they need to buy fancy $100+ shoes to correct their running stride, save their knees, etc. The shoes feel great...like driving a Cadillac, but in my opinion, they do more harm than good. Reason why is they put a bunch of distance and cushion between the runners foot and the running surface, which results in the runner's body/brain losing touch with how their foot/leg is positioned when it strikes and how hard it is actually hitting.

I should note that during the process of figuring out the right shoes, you also need to consider your running form and work on your stride. Running is one of those sports where people just do it and most never think of getting a coach or taking lessons. If you think about it, pretty much every sport you have ever done you read a book, took a lesson, or practiced in some way. With running, people tend to just slap on their shoes and go pound the pavement. I have learned that shoes get in the way and cause us to not pay attention which leads to poor running form. ChiRunning is a great book on running form and Matt Fitzgerald's Brain Training for Runners also has some very good tips to help improve your stride.

Perhaps the best exercise you can do in order to experience better running form is to go to a park and run barefoot in the grass. Remember when you were a kid? Running around at the park or chasing a friend across a large grass field...running barefoot? It was natural and you never complained about your feet hurting. If your chase required you to run down a concrete sidewalk, you didn't stop...you continued the pursuit, running with ease and no pain. If you look at history and pay close attention to the shoes, you will see that runners used to train and race in shoes that had no cushion at all. They were essentially a flat leather sole or thin rubber material in place to protect the foot from sharp objects. Those runners ran as though they were running barefoot. They had to or they would bruise their feet. For new runners, going to the park and running barefoot once a week would be great way to get the feel down then try and retain that same form/feeling when running on hard surface with running shoes.

If you look at today's elite marathon runners, their shoes have more cushion than say 30 years ago, but not much. The shoes these runners use are very light weight and often referred to as racing flats. When you study their form, the first part of their foot to hit the ground is the forefoot (ball of their foot) just like you did as a kid when you ran barefoot. By landing on the forefoot instead of the heel, their body is able to use the calf and soleus muscles along with the achilles tendon and other tendons/ligaments as a system to absorb the shock. Better yet, this system actually loads itself with energy during the stance phase that results in more explosive push off...and done correctly...helps propel the runner forward (more on running stride in future post).

Using one of the top selling running shoes promoted by the major manufacturers, it is virtually impossible to run with good form. The large amount of material built to keep you from pronating gets in the way causing heel to strike first and all the cushion squishes down to absorb the shock for you so you miss out on that build up of energy in your lower leg that significantly improves running economy. Resulting in your running requiring more effort to cover the same amount of ground...and a feeling of slogging it out to get your body down the street.

I started out with a pair of shoes that had all kinds of bells and whistles because I had calf muscle issues and was concerned about the wear and tear on my body. After reading a similar article, I decided to try some lighter shoes and immediately noticed an improvement. Even the weight of the shoes was a big improvement allowing my legs to run more freely without being encumbered by heavy running shoes.

Eventually I found a shoe from Saucony called the Fastwitch 3. I've used that shoe for all 4 of my marathons and all of my training the past year up until about 3 weeks ago. The Fastwitch 3 weighs in at about 7.3 ounces and has pretty minimal support. It is billed as a race shoe for 10K up to marathon distances. I think it is a great shoe for people in transition because it still has a fairly substantial heel cushion for heel striking which you will need until your lower legs get strong enough to maintain forefoot running the whole distance of your long runs.

Recently I tried out the new Asics Gel-Hyperspeed 3 running shoes. They were released to the market in January this year and boy was I impressed. Weight wise they are similar to the Saucony Fastwitch 3's coming in at 7.1 ounces. However, the shoe is substantially different in design whereas it is intended to be worn by forefoot runners only. The heel is noticeably smaller and does not get in the way. Interestingly, the thickness of the shoe in forefoot area is more than the Fastwitch 3's, yet the material is so dense that it doesn't interfere. I have now run quite a few training runs with these shoes including a 21 miler last weekend and am happy to report they are awesome. For what its worth, these shoes also happen to be the ones currently being worn by American marathon runners Deena Kastor and Ryan Hall so they've got great endorsements by America's elite distance runners.

The first time I ran in them I noticed it was easier to run landing on my forefoot. It felt more like barefoot running. I had all the protection I needed and the shoes were so light it was as if I was running barefoot. I also noticed some changes in my stride and believe the change has resulted in an improvement in running speed.

So...the bottom line is you need to choose your shoes wisely. Some people will have no choice due to physical limitations, but most people can and should experiment with less cushioned shoes that allow them to get back in touch with the road. Road Runner Sports is a great place to shop during this process. I have no affiliation with the company. I just like their return policy, which is a no questions asked 60 day period where you can buy, try, return, buy, try, return...over and over until you find the perfect shoe. Unlike other stores, RRS lets you actually run in the shoes and return them dirty. My suggestion is to buy a couple pairs of different shoes from RRS and make sure you sign up for their annual membership as that is required to get the 60 day return program. Then go for several 3 to 6 mile runs in them. If anything strange pops up, take them back and try different ones.

Be sure to look at the shoes with minimal support. They refer to these as "natural". Nike has a good one called the Luna Trainer and also the LunaRacer. Super light, but amazingly comfy. Asics has the Gel-Bandito and the Hyperspeed 3's. Saucony has the Fastwitch 3 and the Grid Type A2's. Once you look at those shoes, you will see all the other majors like Adidas have their own lightweight racers and you can try them on too.

Another quick note is sizing. You want the shoe to be snug, but you also need to make sure you have enough room at the toe. I have found the best fit to be where my foot has no movement side to side...the shoe is quite snug around my foot...and I have about an inch between end of my toe and tip of shoe. Anything less and I get black toenails and blisters on my toes. I normally wear a size 11, but my running shoes are size 12.5 or 13 depending on the manufacturer so make sure you size up when buying running shoes.

In summary, finding the right shoes is personal and requires a lot of experimenting. You also need to take into consideration "how" you run and focus on improving your running stride. Together, the right shoes and improved running stride will result in more efficient running that is faster and pain free. Hope this helps. Good luck and enjoy the process.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chicago Marathon October 11, 2009

It's official. I got my start corral assignment and confirmation from the good folks at the Chicago Marathon. The last two years have been unusually hot so I'm guessing this year we are in for some great, cool weather.

If you are interested in running this year, register online now before they reach max capacity. The race has max of 45,000 runners and I heard this week they are approaching 40,000. Here is link to website: http://www.chicagomarathon.com/CMS400Min/Chicago_Marathon/

So much to do, so little time

Isn't that the truth? Sitting here typing this at the good old age of 42. In many ways, seems like I'm in my early twenties...at least until I go to stand up and the aches/pains set in.

I started this blog to share my stories...the success, the injuries, the trials and tribulations...that I have encountered along the way as I've gone from a back of the pack beginner to a solid mid pack runner who with any luck, will qualify for Boston this year.

Many people ask me why I run marathons or how in the world do I do it. I've gotten that question enough now that I decided to share my story on how I got back into running. Hopefully this will motivate you or someone you know to start running too.

Looking back, I had a long history of being extremely active growing up, but my life became consumed with work when I founded a high tech startup called IP3. At the end of 2007, I reflected on the past year and decided it was time to get back in shape and come hell or high water, I was going to run the Rock N' Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 1, 2008. I did it in 1999 so knew my body could go the distance. I just had to start training and make it happen.

A little background on my recent running experience, I really didn’t do any running in 2007 and could not do any exercise in January 2008 due to sinus surgery. When I did my first training run February 10th, 2008 I weighed in at 205 pounds and about 25% body fat. On that first run, I could only run about a mile before I had to stop and walk. I had pains in my lower legs and feet plus lots of thoughts going through my head about how this was crazy. Good news was I had already committed to running the marathon and knew I had no choice except to figure out how to get my body in shape. A big goal like running a marathon is what I needed to stay focused.

Over the next month I changed many things. For starters, I did some pretty radical changes to my diet like cut out pasta, bread and other processed foods so I could regain control of my insulin level and fuel my body correctly. I also read many books on nutrition and running, which lead me to Omega-3 fish oil, which is now something I take on a regular basis due to how it aides the recovery process and reduces inflammation similar to Advil, but naturally. I spent time with a running coach and a sports medicine doctor to get my running technique perfected and tried out a variety of shoes. I also found a very, very good sports massage therapist who worked magic to fix my aching legs and all the knots in my calf muscles.

The whole process was an amazing experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Each step of the way, I was tweaking things and improving things to run more efficiently, reduce risk of injury, get stronger, run faster, run farther, etc. I had a lot of challenges, but also a lot of victories along the way. It was both amazing and exhilarating to push through mental barriers and physical barriers. Another huge side benefit is that my cholesterol and triglyceride levels dropped like a rock to a point where they are so good that my doctor just about fell out of his chair the last time I was tested saying something like “I can’t believe it. Whatever you are doing, don’t stop”.

Over the past year, my weight has dropped to 180 and my body fat is now about 12%. I’m able to wear clothes that I hadn’t been able to fit in for many years and I just feel so much better. Best of all, I did finish the Rock N' Roll Marathon and did so pain free! Went on to complete the Chicago Marathon in October and set a PR in Phoenix at the Rock N Roll Arizona running 3:52.

I've learned a ton along the way. Many people ask me for advice so figure best next step is start brain dumping into the blog. Hope you like it and please add comments. Thanks and may you too have many more days of happy running!