Thursday, September 15, 2011

For Runners, Soft Ground Can Be Hard on the Body

Hirofumi Tanaka, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas at Austin, bristles when he sees dirt paths carved out of the grass along paved bicycling or running routes. The paths are created by runners who think softer ground protects them from injuries.

Dr. Tanaka, a runner, once tried it himself. He was recovering from a knee injury, and an orthopedist told him to stay away from hard surfaces, like asphalt roads, and run instead on softer surfaces, like grass or dirt. So he ran on a dirt path runners had beaten into the grass along an asphalt bike path.

The result? “I twisted my ankle and aggravated my injury while running on the softer and irregular surface,” he said.

In the aftermath of his accident, Dr. Tanaka said he could not find any scientific evidence that a softer surface is beneficial to runners, nor could other experts he asked. In fact, it makes just as much sense to reason that runners are more likely to get injured on soft surfaces, which often are irregular, than on smooth, hard ones, he said.

His experience makes me wonder. Is there a good reason why many runners think a soft surface is gentler on their feet and limbs? Or is this another example of a frequent error we all make, trusting what seems like common sense and never asking if the conventional wisdom is correct?

Perhaps a runner who, like me, strikes the ground with her forefoot instead of her heel, might risk more injuries on softer ground. After all, every time I push off on a soft surface, I twist my foot.

Exercise researchers say there are no rigorous gold-standard studies in which large numbers of people were assigned to run on soft or hard surfaces, then followed to compare injury rates.

There’s a good reason for that, said Stuart J. Warden, director of the Indiana Center for Translational Musculoskeletal Research at Indiana University. It’s too hard to recruit large numbers of people willing to be randomly assigned to one surface or another for their runs.

“I think the reason people haven’t answered that question is that it is not an easy question to answer,” Dr. Warden said.

When Dr. Willem van Mechelen, head of public and occupational health at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, searched for published studies on running injuries and how to prevent them, he, too, concluded that there were no good studies that directly support running on softer ground. “Significantly not associated with running injuries seem age, gender, body mass index, running hills, running on hard surfaces, participation in other sports, time of the year and time of the day,” Dr. van Mechelen concluded.

So what is going on? It seems obvious that the forces on your legs and feet are different depending on whether you run on soft packed dirt or on hard concrete. Why aren’t injury rates affected?

An answer that many accept comes from studies that addressed the question indirectly. In several of them, study subjects ran on plates that measured the force with which they struck the ground. Instead of varying the hardness of the ground, the researchers varied the cushioning of the shoes. More cushioning approximated running on softer ground.

Over and over again, studies like these found that the body automatically adjusts to different surfaces — at least, as mimicked by cushioning in shoes — to keep forces constant when foot strikes plate.

That finding makes sense, Dr. Warden said. If you jump from a table to the floor, you automatically bend your knees when you land. If you jump on a trampoline, you can keep your knees stiff when you land. Something similar happens when you run on different surfaces.

“If you run on a hard surface, your body decreases its stiffness,” Dr. Warden said. “Your knees and hips flex more. On a soft surface, your legs stiffen.” Running on a soft surface “is basically a different activity,” he said.

But those studies did not actually measure forces inside the body, Dr. van Mechelen noted. Instead, they used biomechanical modeling to estimate those forces.

“It is models, so God knows whether it is true,” Dr. van Mechelen said. “But to me it doesn’t seem far-fetched.”

Dr. Warden said some people adapt quicker than others to running surfaces, and he advised that anyone wanting to change from a soft to a hard surface, or vice versa, play it safe and make the change gradually.

Changing your running surface, Dr. Warden said, “is much like increasing your mileage, changing your shoes or some other aspect of your training program.” Abrupt changes can be risky.

But with no evidence that softer surfaces prevent injuries, there is no reason to run on softer ground unless you like to, Dr. Warden and other experts said. Dr. van Mechelen tells runners to get a pair of comfortable shoes and run on whatever surface they prefer.

Dr. van Mechelen, a runner himself, says his favorite surface is asphalt. Mine is too.

My coach, Tom Fleming, never suggested soft surfaces and never thought they prevented injuries. And, he said, there’s a good reason to run on asphalt, at least if you want to compete.

“Most road races are on hard roadways,” he told me. “So let’s get used to them.”

A version of this article appeared in print on July 19, 2011, on page D5 of the New York edition with the headline: For Runners, Soft Ground Can Be Hard on the Body..

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trail Running

By Leigh Brown Perkins
Her Sports + Fitness

When she trained for her third Tour du Mont Blanc ultra marathon last summer, Chlo Lanthier-Brandner never was spotted running the roads near her home in Whistler, British Columbia. She was always deep in the woods, blazing up and down old logging trails.

"All of my runs are on trails," Lanthier-Brandner says. "I forget I'm running."

Elite runners are not the only ones lured by trails. More than 5.7 million Americans consider themselves avid trail runners, an increase of 36 percent in the last five years, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Another 37 million runners hit the trails a few times a year.
Nancy Hobbs, founder of the All-American Trail Running Association and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running, explains the growing interest in trail running this way: "There's a real spiritual component to being on the trail. It provides a great physical challenge but in a serene, forgiving environment."

Trail running makes demands on a wider range of muscles than road running, without the repetition injuries of pounding pavement. Ankles, hips, inner and outer thighs and core muscles are engaged for balance. Trails more fully engage the quads, increasing leg strength. Taking on ascents and descents builds stamina, and difficult climbs sharpen mental focus.

Trail-Running Tips
Follow these tips for happy trails wherever you run.

1. Run tall. Running, especially uphill, can be exhausting, but if you bend under the effort it's more difficult for the lungs to do their thing. On the uphill, keep an eye at the crest or a few yards ahead, not at your feet. If you're gasping, slow down and pump your arms a little, or if you need to, walk, while keeping your posture tall. Even elite runners will walk a steep hill.

2. Shorten your stride on the way up. And plant your entire foot; climbing on your toes kills your calf muscles. Jump over obstacles. Stepping up on unsteady rocks and roots is not only tiring, it can be hazardous.

3. Be loose on the downhill. Stop braking and allow yourself to fly a little, throwing your arms to the side. But don't flail. If you lose control, slalom from side to side like a skier. Don't lean back or dig in your heels to brake (a guaranteed butt slide). Instead, land quickly and lightly.

4. Plot your moves. View the trail like a chessboard. Plan your steps around bumps, dips, soft sand and fallen trees yards before you reach them.

5. Focus on time, not distance. Don't expect to match your road PR. "Out-and-back routes are great because you can cover the same distance a little bit faster on the way back," Lanthier-Brandner says.

6. Diminish your risks. Run in pairs or let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back. Take plenty of fuel and fluid, a lightweight jacket and a cell phone, which won't always get a signal in the mountains, but might. Uphill runners yield to downhill runners. Yell "trail" well in advance of passing another runner or hiker.

7. Find your balance. Slippery downhills let you know what your legs are made of. Build them up between trail runs with weighted squats and lunges, and build your balance using wobble boards (check out for balance gear).

8. Keep your bearings. Things look different coming back than going. Pause to look around when two or more paths diverge from the one you're on. Look at trail signs and identify rocks, trees or landmarks on the horizon.
9. Leave no trace. Even in races, trail runners stow empty wrappers and wouldn't dream of dropping cups like road racers. Stay on marked trails, don't cut switchbacks and go through, not around, puddles to prevent erosion.

10. Feel like a kid again. Crank it on the downhill, hoot and holler, jump into a stream. "Trail running is a chance to get down and dirty, to grab hold of our authentic selves," says trail running coach and sports psychologist Terri Schneider. It'll make all those miles during freezing winters on the treadmill so worth it.

Trail Gear
Essential gear for a trail runner doesn't have to be anything fancier than a crusty pair of trail shoes, an old race tee and socks that will never be white again. But a few other purchases will get you running wild.

Shoes. Your favorite brand of road shoe won't necessarily manufacture a good trail runner, or a trail runner that works best for you. Trail running shoes sit lower than road shoes, with a harder midsole to take the impact of the trail. They provide greater ankle support to prevent rolling and more lateral support and flexibility for uneven terrain. They have sturdier, stickier treads. Runners who face stream-crossings or mud should wear trail shoes with drainage holes, waterproof uppers and laces that won't stretch when wet.

Apparel. Trail runners take layering seriously since weather at altitude can change instantly. When the temperature begins to cool, start layering with a running tank, then a long-sleeve tee, both made of a wicking fabric. A breathable, hooded jacket is vital. In warmer weather, stick with loose, wicking shorts. In cold weather opt for snag-proof tights.

Gloves. Wipeouts happen. Lightweight gloves protect hands from gravel burns, stray brambles and chilly air.

Socks. Find what works for you: wool blends, layered micro fiber, toe socks. If you blister, turn them inside out. Go with gray, brown or black.

Sunglasses. Since trails often lead from dark forests to brilliant glades, sunglasses make sense. Even on all-shade trails, glasses protect eyes from branches and clear lenses keep debris from contacts. Lanthier-Brandner recommends orange lenses, which work well in all light, or shades with interchangeable lenses.

Hydro packs. Dehydration happens quickly at altitude so carry water. Hydration packs are necessary for longer runs; bottle belts for shorter trails. Buy packs that are sized for women, with lots of pockets to stash energy gels, bars and a cell phone.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Reduce Your Added Sugar Intake

from the Nutrition Diva

by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article explaining how eating too much sugar affects your body. As a guideline, I suggested trying to limit your intake of added sugar to 50 grams a day. Since then, I’ve got a lot of questions from readers about how to implement this guideline. So, today, a follow-up to my original article, with answers to your questions about limiting added sugars.

Why Should You Limit Added Sugar?

As I explained in my original article, although a little bit of sugar is OK for most people, eating too much sugar can undermine your health in a lot of ways. Sugar can add excess calories to your diet, crowd out more nutritious foods, and otherwise contribute to aging, weight gain, and disease.

How Much Sugar is Too Much?

The World Health Organization recommends that you limit your intake of added sugar to 50 grams a day, and this was the guideline that I mentioned in my original article. For the average adult, fifty grams of sugar works out to about 10% of their total calorie intake.

Some people would set that limit a lot lower—in fact, the American Heart Association recommends just 25 grams of added sugar a day.

Of course, you could try to eliminate 100% of the added sugar from your diet. But that strikes me as unnecessarily austere. If you’re basically healthy and you have a reasonably nutritious diet and active lifestyle, I don’t think a zero tolerance policy is necessary.

Honestly, because so many of today’s health problems stem directly from excess sugar consumption, I think any reduction would be a step in the right direction. And because the typical American is currently consuming about 100 grams of added sugar a day, cutting that intake in half seems like a good place to start. 

What Counts as an “Added Sugar”?

Whether your goal is to eat only 25 grams of added sugar a day or 50, you need to know what counts as an “added sugar.” You’ll be relieved to know that the sugar in fruit is not considered to be an added sugar. Fruit is relatively high in sugar, of course, but also contains other desirable nutrients. And although it is possible to consume an excessive amount of sugar by eating lots and lots of fruit, this is generally not where the problem lies for most people.

To keep your diet in balance, aim for two to four servings of fruit a day, preferably whole, fresh fruit rather than juice. But you don’t have to count the sugar in fruit toward your added sugar total.   You also don’t have to count the naturally occurring sugars found in dairy products like milk or unsweetened yogurt.

Here’s what does count: Any sugar that you use in your own cooking or add at the table, plus any sugar in processed or prepared foods or beverages counts as an added sugar.

Do Natural Sugars Count as Added Sugar?

When counting added sugars, no distinction is made between “natural” sugars like maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, or fruit juice concentrate, and refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup. All concentrated sweeteners are counted as added sugar, regardless of whether they are liquid or granular, organic, raw, natural, or refined.   That doesn’t mean that natural or organic sugars don’t offer any advantages. It just means that you don’t get to consume more of them just because they are natural.

How to Reduce Your Added Sugar Intake

The next step is to figure out where all that added sugar is coming from.   According to the American Cancer Society, almost half of the sugar in the typical diet comes from sweetened beverages. That would include soda and other soft drinks, sweetened teas and juice drinks, and sport drinks like Gatorade (although it wouldn’t include artificially sweetened beverages).

Another quarter of the added sugar in the typical diet comes from sweet treats like candy, cookies, cakes, ice cream, and sweetened breakfast cereal. And the remaining 25% or so of the sugar in our diet comes from the sugar that we use in cooking, add at the table, or stir into our coffee, plus all the sugar that’s hidden in processed and packaged foods like crackers, salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, and just about everything else.

How to Spot Added Sugar in Packaged Foods

Trading that afternoon cola for an unsweetened iced tea could cut 50 grams of added sugar out of your diet in a single swipe!

To see how much sugar is in packaged foods and beverages, take a look at the Nutrition Facts label, which tells you how many grams of sugar is in each serving. For most foods, all of the sugar on the label is “added sugar.” Quick and Dirty Tip: Be sure to check how many servings are in the package. Often a package that seems like a single serving actually contains two or three servings. If you eat or drink the whole thing, you’d need to multiply the grams of sugar per serving by the number of servings you consume.

Sometimes, however, the sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts label is a combination of added sugar and natural sugar from fruit or milk—and that can be a little trickier to calculate.   You may have to do a little sleuthing around. For example, an 8-ounce carton of low-fat milk contains 12 grams of sugar. That’s all naturally occurring milk sugar (or lactose) and you wouldn’t have to count that toward your added sugar limit. An 8-ounce container of chocolate milk, on the other hand, contains 30 grams of sugar. If 12 grams of that are accounted for by lactose, you can estimate that the remaining 18 grams is added sugar.

Likewise, you can compare a jar of unsweetened applesauce with a jar of sweetened applesauce to see how much of the sugar is added and how much is natural sugar from the apples. Unless a product contains a substantial amount of whole fruit or dairy, however, I’d count all of the sugar in a packaged food as added sugar.

How Much Sugar Are You Eating?

Why not spend a couple of days tracking your added sugar intake? Check the labels of all packaged foods that you eat. Don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugar in fresh fruit or unsweetened dairy products but make sure to count any sugar that you put in your coffee or honey that you drizzle over your oatmeal. If you eat out, you can often get detailed nutrition information on restaurant websites or on websites like

If you’re taking in more sugar than you mean to—or want to—take a look at where the sugar in your diet comes from and you might see some obvious ways to cut back. For example, just trading that afternoon cola for an unsweetened iced tea could cut 50 grams of added sugar out of your diet in a single swipe! (And for a reminder of why you might want to, see my article, “How Sugar Affects Your Body”)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why Do You Feel Like Puking During Races?

Updated: Jul 26th 2011 by Matt Fitzgerald

A new study suggests carbs are not the main culprit.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, including nausea and flatulence, are relatively common during endurance races such as marathons and Ironman triathlons. Athletes commonly assume that GI distress is caused by overconsumption of carbohydrate (sports drinks, gels, and so forth). However, a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that this is not the case.

Researchers at four European universities recruited 221 athletes who participated collectively in two Ironman triathlons, one Ironman 70.3 event, a long cycling time trial, a cycling stage race, and a marathon and invited them to fill out questionnaires after completing their events. The athletes were asked to recall their nutrition intake during their individual races and rate the severity of 12 different symptoms of GI distress on a 0-9 scale.

Analyzing the data on nutrition intake, the researchers determined the average rate of carbohydrate intake in each type of race. Triathletes consumed the most carbs, at rates of 62 to 71 grams per hour in the three races included. Cyclists consumed somewhat less carbohydrate (53 g/h), while marathon runners took in the least—just 35 g/h.

Serious GI symptoms were reported in 31 percent of Ironman triathletes, 14 percent of Ironman 70.3 racers, 7 percent of cycling stage-race participants, 4 percent of cycling time-trial competitors, and 4 percent of marathoners. As you can see, there was a clear correlation between the average rate of carbohydrate intake in each type of race and the risk of serious GI symptoms.

Before we blame race GI problems entirely on overconsumption of carbohydrate, however, we need to dig a little deeper. If carbs were truly the main culprit then we would expect to see that, within each type of race, those athletes who consumed the most carbs had the highest risk for GI distress. But this association was not seen in runners, cyclists, or Ironman 70.3 racers. Only Ironman racers faced a greater risk of GI distress when they consumed more carbs.

It also bears noting that the rate of serious GI symptoms was more than twice as high in Ironman racers than in Ironman 70.3 competitors despite the fact that the rates of carbohydrate intake were the same. It’s interesting as well that the rates of GI distress were the same in marathon runners and cycling stage racers despite the fact that the cyclists consumed 50 percent more carbs, on average.

These numbers suggest that the particular nature of the race contributes to the risk of GI distress more than the rate of carbohydrate intake does. It seems likely that the risk of GI distress in the two Ironman events was more than two times greater than in any other race simply because it lasted twice as long as any other race for most participants. I think you’d find that the risk of all kinds of things—heat illness, bonking, etc.—was more than two times greater in the Ironman. It’s just more stressful all around.

Yet the incidence of GI distress in an Ironman 70.3 was twice as high as the risk in a cycling stage race despite taking no longer to complete. This tells us that not only the length of a race but also the transition from cycling to running contributes to the risk of GI distress. It would be very interesting to know exactly when symptoms of GI distress most commonly appeared in the triathlons studied. I’d be willing to bet it was within the first 10K of the marathon start.

There’s a reason the runners in this study reported consuming only 35 grams of carbohydrate per hour while racing a marathon, whereas cyclists reported taking in 53 g/h. The GI system cannot tolerate as much nutrition consumption during running as it can on the bike. In triathlons, racers commonly consume carbs at a rate that is tolerable on the bike, only to find that the amount or concentration of calories in their guts becomes intolerable once they start running.

Besides the particular nature of the stress that a given type of race doles out, there is another factor that also appears to be more important than the rate of carb intake in relation to the risk of GI distress: past history of such problems. The researchers found that the correlation between past GI problems in races and GI problems in the races included in this study was stronger than the correlation between the rate of carbohydrate intake in the studied races and GI distress. In other words, athletes with a history of GI problems tended to have GI problems in these races even at lower levels of carb intake, while those without such histories tended not to have problems even at higher rates of carb intake.

A final note: Even though higher rates of carb intake were linked to higher risk of GI issues in Ironman races, those athletes who consumed the most carbs also tended to finish the race faster! Just because you experience some nausea and flatulence during an Ironman does not automatically mean your race is ruined. More often than not, these things are just a price you pay for doing an Ironman and for taking in enough fuel to finish with the quickest time possible–and they’re a price worth paying.

About the Author:
Matt Fitzgerald is a senior editor at Competitor Group, with regular contributions to, Triathlete, Inside Triathlon and Competitor. Matt has written 17 books, and counting, including Brain Training For Runners and Racing Weight.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Time to Rest?

After disappointing performances in a couple of key tune-up races last fall, a depleted Ryan Hall made the hard decision to withdraw from the Chicago Marathon. Too many grinding 15-mile tempo runs at a five-minute-per-mile pace at 7,000 feet with too little rest afterward had finally caught up with him. "I love to push my body," he says. "Recovery is the hardest part of training for me."

Problem is, if you don't take time for proper R&R, your body won't adapt to the stress of your training—you won't get stronger or faster, explains Stacy Sims, Ph.D., at the Stanford Prevention-Research Center, School of Medicine. Neglect recovery for too long, and you will start to lose strength and speed. You'll sink into the black hole known as overtraining.

First, your sleep patterns and energy levels will feel the effects. Eventually, your immune system crashes, and you lose your appetite. It's like burning out your engine. And you don't have to be logging 100-mile weeks to suffer. Recreational runners can overtrain, too. "With deadlines, chores, bills, kids, and lack of sleep, it's more challenging to recover properly from your runs," says Sims.

So in preparation for the 2011 Boston Marathon, Hall used an online recovery-tracking program called Restwise, which looks at simple biological markers input by the athlete first thing each morning, calculates a daily recovery score from 1 to 100, then trends it over time. (Rest-wise subscriptions start at $119 for six months; go to

Pay attention to the following 10 markers. If three or more of these indicators raise a red flag, you should consider a few easy sessions or off days so you can return to running strong (see box, right). Says Hall, "Now I'm learning to love to rest."

1 BODY MASS: You lost weight from yesterday
A two percent drop in weight from one day to the next indicates a body-fluid fluctuation. Most likely, you didn't hydrate enough during or after your last workout. Dehydration negatively impacts both physical and mental performance, and could compromise the quality of your next workout.

2 RESTING HEART RATE: Your resting heart rate is elevated
Take your pulse each morning before you get out of bed to find what's normal for you. An elevated resting heart rate is one sign of stress. It means your nervous system prepared for fight or flight by releasing hormones that sped up your heart to move more oxygen to the muscles and brain. Your body won't know the difference between physical and psychological stress. A hard run and a hard day at work both require extra recovery.

3 SLEEP: You didn't sleep well or enough
A pattern of consistently good sleep will give you a boost of growth hormones, which are great for rebuilding muscle fibers. Several nights in a row of bad sleep will decrease reaction time along with immune, motor, and cognitive functions—not a good combination for a workout.

4 HYDRATION: Your pee is dark yellow
This can be an indicator of dehydration, barring the consumption of vitamins, supplements, or certain foods the evening before. The darker the color, the more you're struggling to retain fluids, because there's not enough to go around. You need H2O to operate (and recover).

5 ENERGY LEVEL: You're run down
If your energy level is low, there's something amiss. The key is honesty. Athletes can block out signs of fatigue to push through it, thinking it will make them stronger. It won't always work that way.

6 MOOD STATE: You're cranky
When your body is overwhelmed by training (or other stressors), it produces hormones like cortisol that can cause irritability or anxiety. Stress also halts chemicals like dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that has a big bummer effect on mood when depleted. Crankiness probably means not enough recovery.

7 WELLNESS: You're sick
Any illness, or even a woman's menstrual cycle, will increase your need for energy to refuel your immune system, which is having to work overtime. This means fewer resources available for recovering from training.

8 PAIN: You're sore or nursing an injury
Whether you're sore from overworked muscles or an injury, your body needs more energy to put toward repair, lengthening total recovery time.

9 PERFORMANCE: Your workout went poorly
This is a subjective measure of workout quality, not quantity nor intensity. If you felt great on yesterday's run, you'd evaluate that as good. If you felt sluggish on that same run, you'd count it as poor. Trending workout quality—multiple poors in a row—is one of the easiest ways to identify the need for more recovery.

10 OXYGEN SATURATION: Your oxygen level has dipped
The amount of oxygen in the hemoglobin of the red blood cells can be measured by placing your fingertip in a portable pulse oximeter, a gadget available online for about $40. The higher the percentage, the better: Above 95 percent is the norm at sea level or for an athlete who is fully acclimated to a given altitude. This is a new area in recovery science, requiring more research, but there may be a link between low oxygen saturation and the need for more recovery.

Count Your Red Flags
The restwise algorithm assigns more weight to some markers (e.g., performance) than others (e.g., mood), along with other factors to generate a precise recovery score. But you can get a sense for your ballpark recovery quality by tallying the red flags (left) you average per day in a week.

You are clear to train hard.

You can go ahead with a hard workout if your training plan calls for it, but cut it short if it feels too hard. Better yet, take an easy day, or a day off.

You're entering the danger zone, which could be intentional according to your periodization or peaking protocol. If not, back off.

You require mandatory time off, ranging from a day to a week, depending on the severity of your fatigue and what you've seen over the previous few days and weeks. You may need to visit your doctor.

FEEL Better: Too much rest has its own problems: Your performance stalls. On your recovery days, do something active; go for a bike ride, walk, or do yoga.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

20-Minute Workouts for Endurance Athletes

By Matt Fitzgerald

To most non-athletes, 20 minutes of exercise seems like an eternity. But to endurance athletes in marathon training or triathlon training, a 20-minute workout may seem like it's hardly worth the bother.

After all, if your average workout lasts an hour, what can a 20-minute session possibly do to increase your fitness? Quite a lot, actually—even for the fittest endurance athlete.

Consider these four benefits:

1. 20-minute workouts burn a meaningful amount of calories and, thereby, help you reach and maintain your optimal racing weight. For example, a 150-pound runner burns approximately 280 calories in a moderate-intensity 20-minute run. If you normally miss a scheduled longer run roughly once every 10 days due to lack of time, you could burn an extra 10,000 calories over the course of a year by squeezing in 20-minute runs instead.

2. 20-minute workouts provide extra repetitions of the running stride, swim stroke, or pedal stroke that stimulate improvements in efficiency. A big part of what makes you a better, more efficient swimmer, runner, or cyclist is simply time spent practicing the movement. So, even short workouts count as additional movement practice.

3. 20-minute workouts can increase endurance by adding to total weekly glycogen turnover. An interesting Scottish study found that weekly training volume was a better predictor of marathon performance than the distance of the longest training run. In other words, the study suggested that marathon runners are better off running 50 miles a week with a maximum long run of 16 miles than running 40 miles a week with a maximum long run of 22 miles.

The reason is that endurance improves through the repeated depletion of muscle glycogen stores in training. And a heavy week of training will result in more total muscle glycogen depletion, and thus build more endurance, than a lighter week. 20-minute workouts can add a meaningful amount of glycogen-depleting volume to your training week.

4. 20-minute workouts can produce an excellent high-intensity training stimulus. A little swimming, cycling, or running at anaerobic threshold intensity and above goes a long way. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to get all the high-intensity work you need to take your fitness up a notch.

There are basically two ways to incorporate 20-minute workouts into your marathon training, triathlon training, or any other endurance sport training. One is to do a 20-minute workout instead of taking a day off whenever you are too pressed for time to complete a longer workout.

The other way is to add one or more 20-minute workouts to your weekly training schedule to increase your overall training volume without creating a significant risk of overtraining.

Here are some suggested 20-minute workouts:

The Filler: Simply swim, ride, or run at an easy tempo for 20 minutes. This is a great workout to do when you want to avoid the guilt of doing nothing but you're not mentally or physically ready for anything challenging.

Tabata Intervals: Swim, ride, or run at an easy tempo for 16 minutes, then complete 8 x 20-second all-out sprints with 10-second passive recoveries between sprints.

Fartlek Intervals: Sprinkle 5 to 10 fast 30-second efforts throughout an otherwise moderate, steady-pace workout.

Threshold Session: Warm up for five minutes at a comfortable tempo, then go for 15 minutes at anaerobic threshold intensity (the fastest pace you could hold for one hour in a race).

Progression Workout: Swim, ride, or run for 15 minutes at a steady, moderate pace, then blast the last five minutes.

Time Trials:
  • Swimming—Warm up, then swim 800 meters (875 yards) as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes.
  • Cycling—Warm up, then ride 5 km as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes.
  • Running—Warm up, then run 1 mile as fast as you can. Cool down as long as necessary to make the total workout 20 minutes.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ten Tips Toward Your Best Triathlon

from Training Peaks

Now that we’re getting into triathlon race season, it’s a great idea to review some important things to do so that you can have a race that is as smooth as possible. Of course these tips assume you are physically prepared (you have been training, right?) for your race!

10) Write a race plan. Have your race-day strategy planned out on paper or via electrons. The plan should mimic what you’ve been doing in your training. Have a coach? Make sure you work with your coach when developing your plan. Include packing lists in your plan. One list should be for race items (gear/nutrition) and one for “other” items, especially if you are travelling to the race location before the event.

9) Practice changing a flat tire. Because you are usually your own mechanic in triathlons, the quicker you can change a flat, the better your race will be if you were to get a flat. And practice using those CO2 cartridges! (Not all of us will be fortunate like Chrissie Wellington’s 2008 Ironman World Championship experience.)

8) Do not try to “cram” in extra workouts. Stick to your training plan. If this is an “A” race for you, you will have a nice taper so that you can enter the race rested but ready to go your race pace. Don’t negate the gains that you have made by “making sure you can do the distance” the week of the race.

7) Read the race information and attend a pre-race meeting. Many races publish information for athletes  on the race website a few days before the race. Get familiar with the course, the race rules, and know in which wave you are!

6) Focus on your nutrition several days before the race. Eat foods that you know sit well with you starting a few days before the race. Decrease fiber intake (that big black bean burrito might look good the day before your race, but there’s a good chance you’ll regret it!) I recommend planning your nutrition strategy starting a couple days before the race.  Make sure you hydrate well, but there is no need to over-hydrate (those trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night just get in the way!)

5) Get to the race site early. This leaves you plenty of time to take care of business, handle any last minute “oh craps!” and learn the layout of transition.

4) Warm-up. Get in at least 10 minutes of a warm-up. I like my athletes to do dynamic warm-ups, jog/run for a few minutes and finish with a few short accelerations to race pace to wake up the legs. Also, if the race venue allows, get in a few hundred yards of swimming as close to your race start as possible.  The shorter the race, the longer your warm-up should be.

3) Stick to your plan. You wrote a race plan based on your training successes (pacing and nutrition) so stick to it as best you can. Granted, there will be deviations, but those will be easier to handle if you are prepared.

2) Have quick but not hurried transitions. You should have practiced transitions in your training, so these should be smooth – almost second nature. Stay relaxed and you’ll be quick!

1) Smile at the finish. You’ll be in the pain cave, the hurt locker, your world of hurt, or whatever you call race day “pain” out on the race course. But you’ll have more fun if you smile through it (Or be like me and make your grimace look like a smile…the spectators will never know!).

Friday, July 29, 2011

6 Steps to a Smooth Swim Exit

By Jené Shaw

Exiting the open water is an often overlooked part of the transition from swim to bike. Many seconds can be gained and lost, so technique and planning are important.

Sara McLarty thinks about the swim exit in six steps:
Step 1: Swim toward the finish. Know the course and find tall buildings or trees to sight that are in line with the swim exit.
Step 2: Activate your legs. Kick a little extra during the last 200 meters of the swim.
Step 3: Keep swimming! Don't stop or stand up until you have run aground in the shallow water. When your fingers scrape the bottom, take a few more strokes by pulling right under your torso.
Step 4: Stand up and lift your goggles onto your forehead. This action clears your vision as you start to run out of the water.
Step 5: Unzip your wetsuit on solid ground. Running through sand and rocks is hard enough. Wait until you reach carpeting or pavement to search for that strap!
Step 6: Take off your cap and goggles when you see your bike. Abandonment of equipment can result in a penalty, so don't risk dropping these small items.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

10 Ways to Enhance Your Sprint Triathlon Training

by Ben Greenfield on the Training Peaks Blog

Are you thinking about signing up for a sprint triathlon this year? Perhaps you’re a complete beginner just trying to decide if sprint triathlon training is right for you. Or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of triathlons, but you want some handy tips to enhance your sprint triathlon training this year.
No matter who you are, I’ve designed 10 ways to make your sprint triathlon training productive, efficient and enjoyable.

1. Sign-Up Now. That’s right. Don’t wait until 4 weeks out from the race. By signing up right now, you’ll trigger some very powerful components of your psyche – specifically the parts that inspire you to get off the couch or out of bed and begin your sprint triathlon training. The pressure of knowing that you are signed up for an event provides intrinsic motivation (“must be ready!”) combined with extrinsic motivation (“can’t embarrass myself!”. The latter motivation will be even more powerful if you tell the whole world that you signed up for a sprint triathlon.

2. Make Your Plan. Here’s how to perfectly design your sprint triathlon training plan: a) pick the date of the race – that’s your race and taper week; b) take the 4-6 weeks leading up to that week – that’s the part where your workouts build in intensity and race specificity; c) take the 4-6 weeks before that – that’s the part where each workout becomes longer and you develop more endurance; d) take the 4-6 weeks before that – that’s the part where you hone your skills like swim drills and run drills and strength training. Voila! A sprint triathlon training plan!

 3. Test. There is nothing else that even comes close to motivating you than a test. One of the biggest mistakes that triathletes make during sprint triathlon training is not taking a baseline measurement, then repeating that measurement several times leading up to the race. Try to test every 4 weeks: a 500m swim test, a 1 mile run test, and a 3 mile bike test are perfect measurements for a sprint triathlon.

4. Avoid Your Facebook Ironman Friends. If you just got back from an explosive 2 mile run, then log-in to your social network to find that your friend just slogged out 12 miles, you may be discouraged. It is very important, however, for you to realize that the individual who is training for Ironman is actually making themselves slower when it comes to sprint triathlon training. So don’t be discouraged that you’re not “fit enough”. For sprint triathlon training, you should pursue speed, and not slow endurance.

5. Consider Nutrition Supplementation. There are many nutrition supplements that can assist you with explosiveness, power, speed and recovery. A few of the tried and true aids that are easily accessible to enhance your sprint triathlon training include: creatine, nitric oxide, CoQ10, branched chain amino acids and glutamine. Don’t be afraid of supplements! All those listed here have been researched many times and found to be both safe and effective.

 6. Include Overspeed Training. Despite popular belief, overspeed training does not mean that you go out and swim, bike or run faster than you normally would during your sprint triathlon training. Instead, this term refers to neuromuscular training – teaching your muscles how to contract quickly and repetitively. For swimming, this could include practicing with a metronome. For running, you can include treadmill efforts at a pace that makes your legs turn over faster than they would while running outside. And for cycling, you can simply choose an easy gear and perform fast spins at 100+ revolutions per minute.

7. Do Plyometrics. Jumping, hopping, bounding and leaping exercises, also known as “plyometrics” can significantly enhance your sprint triathlon training performance by teaching your muscles to recover quickly between contractions and also produce faster and more forceful efforts. An example of plyometrics would include perform a series of 3×10 jumps up onto a bench or box before you go out for run, or chest passing a medicine ball against a wall for 8 explosive reps. Doing a single plyometric session at least once per week for eight weeks leading up to your sprint triathlon will make you a quicker athlete.

8. Don’t Taper Too Long. Tapering for 2-3 weeks is a “trickle-down” technique from Ironman triathletes that unfortunately will leave a sprint triathlete unfit and stale for their relatively shorter competition. Five to seven days will adequately prepare most athletes for a sprint triathlon, and seven to ten days are all that is necessary for an athlete who is performing rigorous sprint triathlon training.

 9. Don’t Lift Weights On Race Week. At many gyms, you’ll see triathletes rushing to the weights on race week to get that last little bit of strength training into their sprint triathlon training preparation. Unfortunately, it can take up to seven days for your body to fully recover from the muscle tearing and damage that occurs while resistance training. In the last week prior to your sprint triathlon, stay out of the weight room and skip your plyometric exercises. Instead, focus on a few quality swim, bike and run sessions at race pace intensity.

10. Do Sugar Rinses. Although your body has more than enough carbohydrate storage to last the entire length of a sprint distance triathlon, that doesn’t mean that you should completely avoid any sugar during the race. Research studies have shown cyclists to be significantly faster and have a higher tolerance to the pain of exercise when they simply tasted sugar by doing a quick mouth rinse with a carbohydrate-based sport drink solution. During the last few weeks of your sprint triathlon training, try swirling and spitting a sweet solution. You’ll find that it gives you just a little extra energy, even if you don’t actually take a drink.

These ten rules of sprint triathlon training, brought to you by Ben Greenfield and the Rock Star Triathlete Academy, will ensure that the build-up to your race is smart and highly effective. For more practical and useful tips just like this, go to!   If you’re interested in having Ben as your coach or using a training plan written by Ben, check out his plans on TrainingPeaks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

5 Little Things That Make a Big Difference on Race Day

By Amanda McCracken
You've diligently logged your miles, your time, your heart rate, your hours of sleep and perhaps even your daily caloric intake. You've followed your plan to a "T" and religiously nailed your workouts day after day. You even skipped the biggest barbecue party of the summer because it was two nights before your big race (the most important night of sleep). The only room for error is misfortune (flat tire or bad weather), right?

Wrong! Here are five important practices that are often overlooked on the way to the start line.

#5: Check your gear.
Are your tires pumped? Do you have a spare tube and a CO2 cartridge in case of a flat tire? Do you have an extra pair of goggles? Do you have body glide to ease out of wetsuit transition and prevent chafing? Are your shoes laced with the elastic laces for easy on and off removal? Are the laces so tight they are going to create a bruise over the top arch of your foot? Ladies, do you have extra tampons in your bag in case of a race morning surprise? If you are using deep dish wheels, be sure to bring the adapter to pump your tires.

#4: Rehearse transition and warm up before your swim.
Many of you know that the number one rule of transition is NOT to be in transition! Ideally you've practiced your transitions during training but did you also visualize the perfect transition on race morning? Have you rehearsed the steps in your mind?

Entering the water is really your first "transition". Get in the water for a short warm-up (even if just for a few bobs) before the start of the swim. This helps your body get accustomed to the temperature of the water, which helps pave the way for a calmer swim start.

Remember, excellent transition times can be the difference between several age group places.

#3: Be diligent about nutrition.
While this is an immensely dense subject, I want to highlight a few things to remember. Be sure to eat your dinner (low in fiber) about 12 hours before your wave starts so that your body has time to digest it all. If you can manage getting up early enough, eat your breakfast about two to three hours before the start of your race. Make sure your bottles are full of the fuel you used in training. Pack extra gels that you know your stomach can digest. Depending on the heat and length of your race, you should have a couple of electrolyte tabs on hand, too.

It's easy to get distracted during the race and forget to address your nutritional needs until it's too late. Before your race, draw up a nutrition map. Figure out when you are going to take gels and how much/how often you will hydrate.

#2: Know the course.
If you live close to the race site, you should pre-ride the course. If you don't have time or energy to ride/run the course, then drive it the day before. Do you know where the hills are located? How about the wicked potholes and the sharp downhill turns?

Then scope out the swim course and take a mental note of where the main buoys are located.

Finally, know where the run/bike in and out spots are located, and where the finish line is. I like to run the last 400-meter stretch before the race so I have a good reference for when to pick up the pace. Don't let an athlete outrun you for a first place age group award simply because you think the finish line is further away than it actually is.

#1: Tame your mind.
Triathletes often psyche themselves out before the race even starts. Avoid over analyzing the way your body feels the week before the race. Tell yourself it's a well-trained machine that's ready to perform.

When you get to the race, keep your "blinders" on. Don't let the looks of someone's solid six pack or shiny deep dish wheels intimidate you. Remember, it's the motor inside that really matters.

Be sure you have a script that you've rehearsed to help battle the potential negative talk, fear and panic in the race. What are you going to tell yourself when your legs feel like lead and you've just been passed by your ex's new flame? Make sure you've got a mantra you can peel out of your sticky gel pocket to do battle. I like to draw out my own "word map" of the course. What am I going to tell myself when I get to point "X"?

Being mindful of the details can help prevent things like getting a DNF (Did Not Finish) due to a flat tire, panicking in the water, bonking, getting lost, or mentally cracking. Simply plan ahead and keep your mind in check.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Race Strategy - Be a Thinking Athlete

by Marilyn McDonald
Endurance Corner

We are now into the thick of the race season. Your "A" races are here or just around the corner. You've spent months planning your training and planning your life towards this part of the year.

Part of having a successful race is coming up with a solid plan for your event well before your race day. I like to use the technique of having athletes actually write out their race plans starting with the day before the race, race morning and the event itself. I feel there is value in actually writing it out, really thinking about it and then having it to read back to you before and after the event.

Long distance triathlon racing is long! In other sports you might consider 15 minutes to two hours a long endurance event. We plan on being out there racing all day and maybe even into the night. A lot can happen in this time. It is a long time to stay focused and cope with adversity. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What are your expectations from the event?
  • What are you hoping to achieve and learn from this event?
  • How are you going to stay on task?
  • What are your refocus strategies when things outside your plan are thrown at you?
  • Has your preparation matched your expectations?
Having an answer and a strategy for each of these questions will help you race to your potential.
It's great to lay out a nutrition plan, a pacing plan, expectations of yourself and how you'll deal with each task physically, mentally and emotionality.

Some athletes are going into their events prepared to go after a win or a place; some are just hoping to finish. Each will have very different situations thrown at them throughout the day. For everybody, it's a long hard event that ultimately tests our ability to adapt and push on to what we set out to do. That is key in endurance racing: adapt and push on to what we set out to do.

It's good to keep in mind things like your power meter may just not work that day, or you may forget to bring your watch. The guy you were going to race all day and compare yourself to is hurt and pulled out. The mile markers may be set slightly off. The swim course could be set slightly off distance.

When you are out there racing the single most important skill I think you can use is your internal gauge of pushing yourself to your best each and every step of the way. Be a thinking athlete.

Are you taking care of the things necessary to have a successful long race? Are you fueling well? Are you holding a pace that you know you can handle based on your fitness level and race distance? Is your form under control? Are you relaxed and focused? These are all indicators I think you can dial in on race day and adapt and change to continue to be successful as the day goes on.

There are things in your control and things out of your control. Focus on the things within your control!

Remember why you started this journey and why you're out there on the course. Embrace the challenge of the day and enjoy the fact that you are out there doing what you love.

See you at the races.

For more Marilyn, drop by an Endurance Corner Camp. She will be sharing her experience at our June Boulder Camp and July Women's Camp. USAT coaches will earn 10 CEUs for each.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why You Should Stop Running Long on Sundays

By Rich Strauss
Endurance Nation

Many Ironman athletes, training plans and coaches schedule the weekly long run on Sunday, after a long bike on Saturday. The reason often given is: "You need to practice running long on tired legs."
This is NOT a good idea and here's why:
  • A long run on tired legs is just another opportunity to practice running slowly on tired legs versus running more quickly on fresh legs. The best way to become a faster runner is to create opportunities in your training week for you to run faster, not slog through a run on wooden legs.
  • The recovery cost of a long run done on Sunday, after a long Saturday bike, is much greater than that same run done mid-week. The net is that Monday, often Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday's workouts begin to become compromised, especially as that weekend volume gets up to a four-to-six-hour bike ride on Saturday and two-and-a-half-to-three-hour run.
  • Any long run in training will have at least an hour or more where your legs feel OK. That is, they feel like you're starting a long run after a long bike the day before. Contrast this to Ironman race day, where you're coming right off a 112-mile bike after a 2.4-mile swim. After you get your legs back, around mile six or seven, your legs will feel, at best, like they do around mile 15 of your best long run...then it just gets harder. My point is that your tired legs on Sunday long run isn't even close to what it's going to feel like on race day, so why bother?
I made the switch with my athletes to a mid-week (Tuesday or Thursday) long run about eight years ago and never looked back.

Some benefits of running long during the week are:
  • The long run can now accommodate some get-faster work.
  • You can separate the long run from the long bike with a no-legs day on Friday.
  • You can weight the cycling to the weekend. A three-hour semi-long ride on Sunday has a MUCH lower recovery cost than a hard two-and-a-half hour Sunday run. This mean a much lower chance that it, and it's combination with the Saturday ride, will affect your early week workouts the following week.
  • Finally, it may create a social opportunity for you on the bike on Sunday--a Sunday ride with friends. Riding with other athletes, especially those stronger than you, is a very, very valuable opportunity that we encourage our athletes to seek out.
I've been fighting this fight for years and it's a clear line that separates old from new school. It clearly identifies coaches and self-coached athletes who get it versus those who don't have enough experience, haven't done it themselves, and/or haven't stepped back to think things through more critically.

Rich Strauss is the head coach and co-founder of Endurance Nation. Please visit Endurance Nation to learn more about their triathlon coaching and free training resources.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Benefits of Running Slow

By Matt Forsman

Talent can take you far, but as many elite runners can tell you, talent is nothing without the commitment to train hard. The best runners on the planet frequently log weekly mileage in excess of 100 miles.

This weekly gauntlet often includes hill work, intervals, fartlek, and other gut-wrenching workouts designed to separate the pretenders from the contenders. No pain, no gain, right? Not exactly.

Believe it or not, a significant portion of the mileage logged by the best runners on the planet can best be characterized as "easy." How easy? Try a minute to two slower than race pace.

Some of these individuals can crank out 26.2 miles at sub-5 minute pace without batting an eye, so what's to be gained from slogging out a few miles at a comparatively "glacial" pace? A lot, actually.

Before we get into the specific gains you can get from running slow, let's take a closer look at running "fast." When we run at a fast pace, we’re putting tremendous strain and stress on bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

At the end of a tough run, your body sustains microtears in muscle fiber, dehydration, glycogen depletion, and more. Good thing most of the best runners in the world have a team of people to take care of them after a tough tempo run.

There's serious trauma associated with the act of running fast. Running fast all the time clearly won't work over the long haul because sustained trauma over time will inevitably lead to burnout and breakdown.

Enter "slow" running. Most athletes who have done a tough run and have tried to run the next day know (or will come to know in short order) that trying to run fast/hard isn't a good idea. Chances are their bodies have microtears in muscle fiber, marked soreness/fatigue in the legs, and general flatness across the board.

In theory, you could take a full day of rest after a tough run the previous day, but you’re not maintaining or enhancing your running fitness too much by doing this. Granted, rest days absolutely necessary and I would never say otherwise.

But, the "gentle" stress of an easy run interspersed between taxing runs is a good way to maintain your running fitness between challenging runs and help to expedite the healing and recovery process.

The Benefits of Running Slow

Running slow applies "gentle" stress to the key physiological systems required to run at a high level. Gentle, easy running helps to let the healing begin. Think of it as "active recovery" that helps facilitate blood flow gently to the damaged muscles that need help.

Independent of expediting the healing process, running slow is the most effective way to build a base. There are a million different training philosophies and approaches that you can utilize to get into quality running shape. Virtually all of them include some kind of base building phase comprised largely of easy runs.

This base building is particularly important for those brand new to the sport. Logically and intuitively, this makes sense. You need to expose the body to gentle, consistent stress to develop the key systems to just support the act of running and then gradually introduce running that’s a bit faster and more intense, if desired.

Think of slow running as the foundation of your running house. You wouldn't build a house without a foundation. Building a regular running routine or regimen is no different. Without a solid foundation of easy miles, you're looking at a house that's liable to collapse under duress.

If avoiding collapse is the ultimate goal, slow running is the answer. There many runners who simply build a solid, easy base and are very happy with this. They tend to avoid injuries over the long haul. This is another thing to consider when logging easy miles. There is a lower incidence of aggravations and injuries associated with running easy.

Achieving personal bests and winning races require doing some hard running, but there's increased risk associated with this. If your long-term goal is to run for years and years, limiting the number of times you push the envelope is a wise approach.

But, you don't have to choose between being a tortoise or a hare.  Too much "tortoise" and you’re looking at performance plateaus. Too much "hare" and you’re looking at increased risk of aggravations and injuries. You can actually be both. Ultimately, it’s training a bit like both that will take your running to the next level.

The reality is that most runners suffer from a bit too much running like the hare. So, the next time you find yourself out on the road trying to set a landspeed record, reflect on the training you’ve done recently. It just might be time for you to run slow and take it easy.

Matt Forsman (AKA Marathon Matt) has been a runner for more than 20 years and a USATF/RRCA certified coach for more than five years. He has worked with thousands of runners in the San Francisco Bay Area through his group training programs that regularly attract 150 to 200 runners per season and a plethora of individual clients. Matt has contributed to Runner's World, NorCal Running Magazine, and other publications. You can learn more about Matt at

Saturday, July 9, 2011

3 Ways To Get the Benefits of Barefoot Running Without Actually Running Barefoot

By Ben Greenfield

With the surging popularity of barefoot running, it would seem that for the triathlete, barefoot running currently ranks up there with all-you-can-eat buffet coupons, a Clydesdale triathlete cycling in front of you on a windy day, and unicorns that toot free energy bars.

But although I didn't grow up in a small pack of wolves or come from a remote tribe of natives living at 18,000 feet of elevation, I will readily admit that I can understand and agree with the benefits of barefoot running, especially the part about making your feet strong.

After all, if you spend all day in big, padded shoes, each of your feet will be like the little fairy tale princess who is never allowed to venture outside the confines of the mighty fortress: really weak (but still pretty hot) and easily wounded, bruised or broken by the slightest of encounters with the roughness of the real world (like witches or dragons or big rocks). In other words, you need to treat your feet more like a fairy tale peasant ­ ready and willing to traipse naked and dirty through the forest and fields.

The problem is, even though barefoot running is really good for strengthening and stretching the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones in your feet, it's pretty dang inconvenient at times.

Take my house for example. Outside my front door is a world of concrete, pavement, broken glass, small stones and pine needles that turn a casual barefoot running attempt into an adventure in pain management and self-wound care.

So in order to turn my feet from a princess to a peasant, I have to tack an extra 10-15 minutes onto a barefoot run to drive, bike or run to a soft, grassy park, take off my shoes, pray there are no sprinkler heads, then run around and around and around until I'm dizzy and bored, and finally spend the time investment getting back home.

But shouldn't it be possible to get the foot blessing benefits of barefoot running without actually barefoot running? You bet! Here's 3 ways to do it:

1. Calf Raises and Single Leg Balancing: Both of these activities can easily be done in the comfort of your own home. Perform calf raises while in the shower (work up to 50 double leg or 25 single leg), and single leg balancing while brushing your teeth. Once single leg balancing gets easy, try to shift to your toes, and also try to do more difficult activities on one leg, such as dumbbell curls, typing on your computer, or making love. Of course, this strategy requires you to walk around your house without your shoes on, but that's one place where your pretty princesses will hopefully be safe.

2. Bosu Ball or Balance Disc: You'll find either of these balance devices at most gyms, and you can easily buy them at a sporting goods store. Stand on either for 3 sets of 30-60 seconds on one leg with your eyes closed. For added difficulty, add partner taps, in which a partner attempts to throw you off balance with light shoulder taps. You can also do exercise like dumbbell curls and dumbbell presses while you stand on these balance devices.

3. Jump Rope: Repetitive impact with a plyometric hopping motion like jump rope will stress and strengthen the bones and soft tissue in your feet, and teach your joints to absorb impact properly ­ similar to barefoot running. Practice both double and single leg hopping, and if you¹d like to count like a schoolgirl, knock yourself out. If you don¹t have a jump rope, try jumping jacks in your barefeet or socks. I actually do these in my office, and I haven't been fired yet.

Today¹s high-tech, ultra-supportive shoes can definitely leave your feet weak, just like that fairy tale princess. But a consistent combination of the activities outlined above can leave you with strong feet ­ without actually requiring you to do barefoot running. And if you are a princess reading this article, my sincere apologies. I'm sure you're good at other stuff.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Top Marathon Runner Gives You 10 Training Tips

James Pearce
Liverpool Echo   

One of Britain's top marathon runners, Liz Yelling, has compiled a top 10 of training tips. Yelling won bronze at last year's Commonwealth Games and was eighth in this year's London Marathon.
1. Ring fence your exercise time. You won't get to the finish line without protecting your time to train. You've made a personal commitment to your health and well-being so it's important to you. Prioritize your time and stick to it.
2. Create incentives. Set goals and reward yourself when you reach them. These will provide you with drive and commitment towards the 5k and help you gauge how your fitness is progressing.
3. Plan your attack. Know what you are going to do in your week and when. Your plan should be progressive, structured and appropriate to your exercise history, level of fitness and 5k goals.
4. Variation is the spice of running life. Doing the same type of running can make your routine boring. Don't just do the same run every day. Mix it up and try different things like varying the pace, terrain and time you run for.
5. It shouldn't be all hard work. Avoid packing all your runs together. As a rule of thumb, for every day of 'hard' running, take two days rest or easy running.
6. Fuel yourself. Running is a great calorie burner but you still need to replace the energy you've used. Carbohydrate is the body's fuel for exercise so eat a healthy, balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids.
7. Get some support. Running with friends is social and builds togetherness. Getting a coach can help you get the right advice from an experienced specialist and keep you motivated.
8. Get the right kit. Specialist running shoes are a must for injury prevention. Choose running kit that is functional and comfortable.
9. Be patient. Don't expect immediate results. Successful running takes time, but you'll love the benefits of looking and feeling great when they arrive. The more you do the easier it gets.
10. Enjoy it and have fun! Running shouldn't be a chore. It's something you do to boost your health, wellness and vitality. Just being out there doing it is a brilliant achievement and you should remind yourself how well you've done.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

5 Foot Exercises to Improve Your Pace

By Lauren Hargrave

As fit and active people, we often take our feet for granted and instead choose to concentrate on the larger vanity muscles. We like working the areas we can see or the ones that help us fit into our skinny jeans.

However, ignoring these small paddles, we miss out on one of the most important aspects of all athletic endeavors: performance.

The human feet have 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. They are our shock absorbers and push the pavement away with the entire weight of our bodies, powering us through our run.

The stronger your feet, the more power you have in your push and the faster your legs can move.

If you're a runner looking to shave multiple seconds off your mile, or minutes off your marathon, these foot strengtheners will get closer to your goal. Please note, it is important to remain barefoot during these exercises so that your feet can fully articulate.

Barefoot Calf Raises

These are a good warm-up for any speed or strength-training workout because they wake up the entire lower half of the body. Stand barefoot with your feet hips distance apart and slowly raise and lower your heels.

When lifting, make sure that the tops of your feet, your ankles and calves are all in a straight line; if your ankles bow out, you could wind up with an injury.

If you are unsure about your form, it may help to have a chair or railing nearby for balance and to start by performing these exercises in front of a mirror.

Heel-Raised Squats

For those looking for a more interesting way to squat, these are for you. Unless your balance is so good you can practically levitate, you will probably want to rest your hand on a railing or chair, and place a block or small round ball in between your upper thighs. Once your props are in place, stand with your bare feet hips distance apart and lift your heels off the floor. Once you feel stable, squeeze the ball or block between your legs and bend your knees as far as you can while keeping your heels raised and back straight. Hold here for a count of 30, then rise up an inch, and drop an inch.

Repeat for a set of 30 and then finish with another 30-count isometric hold. To get the greatest benefit, make sure that your heels do not drop as you squat and try to keep your thighs parallel to the ground at all times.

Barefoot Squat Jumps

Jumping barefoot is one of the best exercises for your feet, and you can add a medicine ball to get a more intense lower body workout.

This exercise is best performed on a soft surface, so try to find grass, sand or carpet if you can. Then stand with your bare feet hips distance apart and if you're using a medicine ball, hold it to your chest.

Bend your knees as far as you can while keeping your back straight and then explode up, pushing off the ground with as much force as possible.

If you're using a medicine ball, push it over your head as you leap for a little shoulder and triceps workout. Try to land softly to protect your knees, and repeat for three sets of 20.

Balancing Poses

Borrowed from yoga, balancing poses are a gentler way to strengthen your feet. Start with your bare feet touching, then slowly bend forward, touch your toes with your hands and lift your left leg into a split.

Stay here for 10 breaths, slowly lift your body until your left leg and torso are parallel to the ground and your arms are pointing towards your back foot like airplane wings. Slowly count to 10.

From here, lift your torso until you're upright and slowly drop and the lift your left leg until it's pointing in front of you. Don't touch the ground and don't lean backwards; stay here for 10 breaths.

Finish this set by bringing your left foot to rest either above or below your knee. Bring your hands to your waste or prayer position in front of your heart. Stay here as long as you can stand it, and repeat on the other side.

Alternate Walking on Toes and Heels

These exercises stretch and strengthen your feet and are a good cool-down. Walking on your toes strengthens the calf muscles and stretches the toe extensors. Walking on your heels strengthens the foot extensors, and stretches the calves and bottoms of your feet.

Start with your bare feet hips distance apart, raise your heels off the floor and take 50 steps on your toes. Walk back the way you came on your heels, careful not to lock-out your knees.

Lauren Hargrave is a writer, endurance athlete and a fan of all things related to physical and emotional well being. She also takes one week challenges from friends and family and writes about them on her blog 50 Two Cents.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

5 Ab Exercises for Runners.

By Dena Stern

According to a recently published study "runners who did these moves four times a week shaved a minute off their 5K times in six weeks."

Whether you are training for an endurance run or just looking to improve the quality of your weekly job these ab moves are a must.

Directions: Perform two sets of 12 reps of each exercise.

Instability Crunch

Begin by lying on your back on a exercise ball with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. To be safe you can anchor your feet under a stable object. Place your hands behind your head and extend your elbow out as you roll your upper body forward and up. Roll For more of a challenge try: Weighted Ball Crunch

Hip Lift

Lie on your back with your hands at your sides, palms down, and your legs bent on top of a exercise ball. Press your heels into the ball while raising your hips toward the ceiling. Your body should end at a 45 degree angle to the ball. Lower your hips to the floor and repeat.
For more of a challenge try: One Leg Hamstring Dips

Back Extension

Lie on an exercise ball with your belly button over the center of the ball and your arms and legs extended. Contract your abs and raise your upper body off the ball until your body forms a straight line from the top of your head to your ankles. Lower and repeat. For more of a challenge try: Medicine Ball Hyperextension

All Fours

Begin with your hands and knees on the floor, shoulder and hip width apart, facing downward with your back straight and parallel to the floor.
Raise your right leg and extend it behind you as you lift your left arm and extend it in front of you. Hold this position for about five seconds, return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
For more of a challenge try: All Fours with Weighted Balls

Russian Twist

Begin by lying on your back on top of a exercise ball with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms toward the ceiling and bring your hands together. Keep your arms straight as you twist from side. For more of a challenge try: Russian Twist with Weights

Dena Stern is a certified personal trainer and the Content & Community Manager for She works with a highly trained group of nutritionists, trainers, yoga and Pilates instructors and athletes to provide the best information, tools and motivation related to exercise and fitness.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Running Tired: Four Strategies for Recovering Faster

by Jenny Hatfield
Runner's World

I feel like I'm keeping the makers of Advil in business. I'm not injured, but I'm feeling pain and soreness from pushing my body to the limit. Soaking and stretching helps, but is there something else I should be doing? Please don't say REST:) Thanks ~Kim
Hi Kim.  I'm glad you wrote as there is a difference between being injured and feeling pain and soreness from the demands of training. They both sit at the threshold, it's just that one is above it (injured) and one is just below.  Taking anti-inflammatory products is one way to deal with the pain, another is to modify your training life a bit.  Here are a few tips on how you can train hard and recover more efficiently to avoid living in a consistent state of fatigue.

  • Run by effort rather than a prescribed pace. If you run by how your body is feeling on the day, versus a specific pace (i.e. (9:45 per mile), you'll train in the right gear on the day, get in a higher quality workout and promote faster recovery.  For example, you wake up to run your weekly tempo workout and head out to a strong headwind and humid temperatures.  If you run it by your normal tempo pace, you will expend a lot more energy to get in this workout.  If you run it by feel and effort, you will get in the tempo at the pace on the day and at the correct effort thereby allowing your body to recover faster because you didn't push too hard.
  • Run truly easy on your easy days. One of the easy mistakes to make while training for a event is to get into what I call the La La Pace – where, most runs are done at the same effort which turns out to be too fast for an easy, recovery run and too slow for a speed workout. As you build and progress through the training season, it takes a toll and creates more fatigue, slower recovery times and poor performance.  Easy means not being able to hear your breathing while running.  Slow it down to recover so you can kick butt on the longer and faster workouts.  It just takes patience.
  • Mix it up. When I first started coaching running over 18 years ago, there was not one program that included cross-training.  The belief was that if you wanted to run longer and faster, you had to invest only in running.  My background in the fitness world told me different.  First, by weaving in cross-training activities you decrease the physical and mental wear and tear on the body and keep your program fresh.  Second, a successful lifelong running program is all about creating balance and maintaining durability.  Strength training (especially for your core), and lower impact training can boost your body's ability to run longer for stronger – and in doing so, reduce wear and tear, fatigue and inefficiency.  The runner that can run with the most durability over time will be running with great quality for life.
  • Inventory your life's flow. Take a look at the flow of your life outside of the miles.  The quality of sleep, stress, work, nutrition are just a few areas that if out of balance, can really take a toll on the quality of your recovery.  Sometimes making a few minor tweaks to your lifestyle (getting more sleep, upping your quality calories) can have a profound effect on your performance.
Thanks for posting your great question.

Jenny Hadfield Co-Author, Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals
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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stair Running: A Climb to the Peak of Fitness

Susan E.B. Schwartz
Runner's World 

Stair running is superb training for running. In addition to strengthening the muscles around the knees, stair running builds stamina and overall lower-body strength, works the gluteal muscles and quadriceps more than road running and is a highly efficient workout in terms of the amount of time spent at very high intensity.

What's the catch? In a word, it's a killer.

"Although it's phenomenal for conditioning, stair running is tougher than most runners realize," says New York Road Runners Club wellness director Beryl Bender. "Even stair-climbing machines seem easy in comparison."

If you plan to ascend the hard way (real runners take the stairs), follow these steps for safe climbs:

Locate Safe, Well-Lit Stairs. If you run inside a building's stairwell, the stairs should access every floor and ideally continue for at least 20 flights. Climb with friends.

Focus on Running Up. Maintain proper form by leaning slightly forward and striking with the balls of your feet. Pace yourself. Use the handrail for balance if you need to.

Don't Run Down, Which Stresses the Knees and Ankles. Use elevators or descend slowly. If you're in a stadium, descend at an angle rather than walking straight down to minimize impact.

Start Gradually, With Two Round-Trip Sets. Build to five, and run them no more than twice a week. Never exceed 30 minutes at a time.

Walk If You Need To. Alternate one floor of walking with one or two floors of running. Gradually increase the running as you become more fit and comfortable with the workout.