Monday, December 12, 2011

After running 50 miles, it's time to rest and recover

My last blog post looked at the battle between the body and the mind.  I spoke of how I was preparing to run a 50 mile trail race, but then decided against it due to lack of proper training (remember the 6 "P's"?).  Well, for some reason it was really important for me to complete a 50 mile run this year.  Why, I can't exactly say, but let's just say I don't like to leave any goal just hanging out there.

The goal was to try and run a 50 mile race with as little training as possible.  Don't get me wrong, I would have liked to have trained like a madman and won my age group, but with a new baby at home, that wasn't a possibility.  So how little is little?  As was learned with the 100 mile race last year, the most important training runs are the long runs.  So with this race, all the fluff (shorter runs) was eliminated and other than a handful of 8-10 milers, I only ran once every week to 2 weeks.  Starting at a base of 2 hours, each long run was increased by 30 minutes until the 5 hour mark was attained with 4 weeks to go.  I had to take 2 weeks off due to some muscle tightness (courtesy of lack of sleep and lack of proper conditioning), and ran 3 hours with 2 weeks to go, 90 minutes with 1 week to go and then the race.  Also, if it weren't for the Graston tools my good friends at Central Mass Physical Therapy "inflicted" upon me in the weeks leading up to the race, there's no way I would have made the starting line.

Race recap:

On November 5th, along with a few hundred others, I set off in the woods of Ipswich for the StoneCat 50 ultramarathon.  It's a 4 loop, 12.5 mile course that included a small river crossing as seen in the photo introducing this blog (4 times of course), and nice, rolling, non-technical terrain.  It couldn't have been a more perfect day weather-wise, and along with my close friend and running partner Jim Hughes, we set out with a plan.  Jim's was to break 9 hours, mine was to not break my pelvis (again).  Fortunately, Jim won out.  We ran smart and steady.  The first loop was in just under 2 hours, 12 minutes.  We refueled, ate and left right on 2 hours, 15 minutes.  The second loop was run in just under 2 hours 11 minutes.  We refueled, ate and left right at 4 hours, 30 minutes.  The 3rd loop took just under 2 hours, 8 minutes and the last loop around 2 hours 10 minutes again.  We were sure to drink enough and eat enough at the aid stations (the bacon, grilled cheese and steamed potatoes and salt my favorites) as well as nail the pacing so that we never had to back off due to over-exertion.  In fact, my last mile felt really good around 7:30 pace, only to be outdone by Jim's sub 7 final mile!  Click here to see the Garmin file of the race.

So now what??  Seeing as how my next goal is the 2012 Boston Marathon, it's time to rest and recover.  Mentally, physically and especially physically.  If I have a chance to run Boston in under 3 hours, it will only be with a recovered body, an improved strength and movement base (there was none this past year), more focus on trying to attain sleep and consistently good nutrition.  Because I preach this daily to my patients, it's imperative that I practice it as well.  Massage treatments have started up again, i'm consistent with mobilizing my problem areas (T spine, shoulders and hips) and I'm soon ready to add strength.  Notice what I haven't!  I will not run again until my body can move in a stable and efficient manner, be it another month if that's what it takes.

I do look forward to writing more blogs of hopefully interesting and pertinent topics in the coming weeks and months.  In the meantime, be sure to enjoy the holidays, eat without guilt, be safe, and make realistic goals about what you want to achieve in 2012. 

Also, please consider supporting me in this years race as I'll be running for Team Hoyt.  It will be Dick and Rick's 30th Boston Marathon!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brain vs. Body

It’s been a little while since my last blog, and as it was left before, I was preparing to run the Pineland 50 ultramarathon.  As nice as it would have been to run the race, I just didn’t have the right base to run it safely.  And if I didn’t prepare properly, did I really want to run the race? Especially a race that would have taken almost 10 hours to complete!

Coming to this realization is something that becomes far easier when you have a history of injury, a history of already running these types of races, and knowing that there will be other races down the road.  The hard part for patients and athletes I treat who are trying to run their “first ever” races is the tendency to want to do the race, but not understanding what it takes to prepare.  A great Jim Gibbs quote a friend of mine introduced me to highlights this: “The will to succeed is meaningless without the will to prepare.” 

This is true for anyone as it relates to any task, be it running a race, changing a lifestyle, losing weight, starting to exercise or changing a diet.  Most people come to the realization that they want to start something then go full steam ahead without understanding what it takes to get there.  Commitment, focus, discipline and hard work are the essentials to achievement, as well as surrounding yourself with those also dedicated to helping you reach your goal.

I usually give this pep talk to patients who have made the decision to do something that was a drastic change for them, and ended up injuring themselves by forcing the body to try to catch up to the mind.  It was sad not to do something I wanted to do, but it would have been worse to be injured during the process; or worse yet, lose my mind and passion for doing something that has been a part of me forever.  When you become frustrated or burnt out on something that you had at one point set your mind to do, it will reinforce failure instead of success.  And really, which would you rather have, failure or success?  The brain will clearly say success, just be sure that your brain understands what the body has to do in order to achieve that success.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

For the Love of Running - Part 2

If you want to love running, you need to embrace the fact that it’s in your nature to do so.  The challenge I find with my patients, friends and family who want to find a love of running, find it either difficult to run (hard work) or find themselves hurt every time they try.  That stems from the fact that many of us have adapted out of our natural running form because of basic social pressures of the Western World.  Two things in particular confront us at just the wrong time:  Being forced into wearing shoes as a child and being forced to sit our growing bodies in a chair during our adolescence/growing years.  How many young children WANT to wear shoes?  Of course, most of us don’t listen to what they are trying to tell us: shoes don’t feel right, they aren’t natural and kids are more comfortable barefoot.  By the time we’re old enough to be in school, we understand that it is our responsibility to sit down in chairs, so rarely do any children put up a fight.  But fundamentally, and I have explained it in prior articles and blogs and will continue to do so in future articles and blogs,  we changed the way we learned to walk into a type of walk that adapted to poor posture (from sitting) and shoes (allowing heel striking).  It’s why most of us remember being able to run effortlessly as kids for hours on end, yet now struggle to make it up the stairs or out to the mailbox.  It's the same reason I've never had a 4 year old present to the office with Shin Splints!  For those who struggle to run and/or get hurt doing it, it is important to recognize where your body is at now, and try and get yourself back on the path you started on when learning to walk the first time around.  It will take the help of a skilled practitioner to identify where exactly the body has adapted to and what it will take specifically to get you back on track.  It will take even more effort to find the motivation (a.k.a. focus, discipline, will power, mental strength) to try and correct or undo the many years of those adaptive habits.  For those who feel they love it though, it will be worthwhile.  Just start out slow (remember, we learned to crawl before we learned to walk, and learned to walk before we learned to run), run relaxed and smile...For the Love of Running.

Friday, May 6, 2011

For the Love of Running - Part 1

Some people HATE to run.  Some people LOVE to run.  Some run to get in shape, stay in shape or to achieve a goal they think may be rewarding.  Because I am writing this, and because I LOVE to run, I will explain why it is that I love to run. 

For those who have read my experience of running a 100 mile trail race last July, you should have a pretty good idea of why it is I love to run.  It connects me to my youth; the happy times.  I can feel myself as a 10 year old running through the woods of Sharon, Massachusetts or around the lake or through the golf course near my childhood home.  Though my body and experience have changed over the years, it’s the same eyes, the same mind, the same lungs and the same feeling of becoming one with the world.  It was then, and continues today, an escape from the daily rigors that life brings; it’s my “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” 

It begs the question; why is running so fulfilling for some, and such utter drudgery for others?  The answer is complicated, yet compelling.  Those who love running almost universally find that it helps them clear their minds.  It’s an escape from the stress of life and a way to help keep a healthy frame of mind, or mind state.  It’s why there have been amazing success stories of people who have been able to go from inner or external turmoil (cancer survivor, overcame obesity, drugs or crime) to marathoner.  It all begins with the mind state.  To love running, you have to WANT to run.  It’s not enough to want to run to lose weight or get in some exercise.  You can choose any activity to accomplish that.  Think about the things in life that are truly important to you, and to what means you would go to get whatever it is that’s important.  If it’s something you really want, then you will have the right mind state to get it.  If you just want to exercise, then that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to run, so there is no real underlying desire to run. 

If you’ve figured out that you truly want to run, then you have to understand the proper mind state of the runner.  We don’t think of it as boring.  It’s not.  It’s fulfilling in every way imaginable, and that is why we love it.  Is it fulfilling to go to the gym and hop on a treadmill?  I can’t think of any runner I’ve met over the years who loves running and loves running on a treadmill.  We are not hamsters and we are not programmed to run in place.  Running is supposed to connect us with our childhoods, our past experiences, even our ancestry.  We are a hunter gatherer species, and, if you’ve read Born to Run, persistence hunters in particular.  We evolved in large part, due to our ability to run long distances!  We all have the same ancestry, and therefore, we all have that cultural legacy inside of us.  I scoff when people say that we weren’t meant to be upright or run.  We wouldn’t BE if it weren’t for our ability to run.  It’s in our nature, and it’s what those that truly love to run are tapping into.  So why fight it?  It is obvious to all that treadmills are not the natural place where running was meant to be.  Treadmills, typically in basements and gyms, are a way to exercise at a time and place of your choosing that occurs in a very controlled environment.  That last phrase is key: controlled environment.  That is NOT nature and that is not natural to humans.  The Earth has texture and the air has a spirit that you should feel.  The Earth provides natural challenges and obstacles that need to be felt, experienced, and overcome if necessary.  The treadmill is like a prison.  The roads are an improvement over the treadmill, but asphalt and concrete aren’t embedded into our past.  You can love running and never set foot on dirt, but I would find it hard to imagine that those who are honest with themselves would opt for Main Street over a nice open space in the hills somewhere.

Stay tuned for Part 2: How to love it!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sometimes, I just think I'm Crazy...

Though, of course, it's running that probably keeps me sane. I snapped this photo towards the end of the run.  Good thing too, I may have had to cut it short!  Pineland Farms 50 miler is on the radar in just under 4 weeks.

Rebuilding the Distance - Leominster State Forest by thefeldys at Garmin Connect - Details

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why do our kids walk funny?

I had a great patient who I treated recently.  She's an 8 year old girl whose parents brought her in wondering why her shoes were wearing out oddly and why she walked "funny."  The examination was very revealing, and relevant to ALL parents with young children.  She only complained of some discomfort occasionally in the ankles and does admit to getting tired easily when running around.  Her feet pronate, or collapse inward, slightly and she has tight calves that are obvious when she walks.  The treatment that most everyone would prescribe would be either orthotics (corrective shoe inserts), stretching or do nothing and let it resolve as she grows out of it.

My treatment was based off exam findings not typically done by Podiatrists.  In performing gait analysis, it was evident that both hips were somewhat weak and incapable of supporting the body properly in a single leg stance.  Her left shoulder was held high and her right foot was more pronated than the left.  Her arm swing was out in front of her torso and asymmetric.  Static testing (standing, not walking) reveals her to be unable to touch her toes which is almost unheard of in an 8 year old, though when a yoga block was placed between her knees, her flexibility was improved.  Squat testing showed a complete inability to keep her feet on the ground during a squat unless the heel heights were elevated several inches.  So, are her hips and ankles really tight?  If they were really tight, then she wouldn't be able to assume a squat posture in any position, vertical or horizontal (standing or laying down).  When I had her lay on the ground, I was able to put her body into a perfect squat posture with ease.  This indicated that her joints aren't tight, which would be unusual in a young person.  Her problem was with gravity!  When she tried to move her body, certain muscles were firing that weren't supposed to be, and the timing or sequence of which muscle is supposed to fire and when, was off.  Thus, the muscles that should be relaxed to allow joint mobility were engaged, thereby preventing joint mobility.

Why does this happen and how do we fix it?

Two of the worst things we can do to our children, we do without thought.  We put shoes on their feet and we send them to school where they will be sitting in chairs for hours each day.  If shoes and chairs were part of a human beings "master plan," don't you think we would be born into them?  Humans are hunter-gatherers and are supposed to stand, walk and run.  Especially the growing body!  Shoes do two dangerous things: they do not allow the foot to use all of the smaller muscles that allow fine tuning within the foot, and more importantly, they interfere with the connection between the brain and the earth.  As we start school, our bodies are going through rapid growth and change.  When we sit, our pelvis tends to become fixed forward slightly and it relatively shortens our hip flexors (psoas muscle).  This is the muscle that is supposed to lift the leg and it originates off the lower spine, attaching the the femur (thigh bone).  If we lose our ability to use our core (sitting creates poor posture which leads to loss of core awareness), then we can no longer stabilize our spine, and our hip flexor has nothing to leverage against when trying to contract and lift the leg.  The muscle then becomes shortened and further adaptations will occur.  The brain will begin using other muscles that flex the hip and lift the leg.  Unfortunately, these muscles are also knee extenders and we end up lifting our leg and extending the knee at the same time.  This forces us to lift the toes, stride out in front with walking which ultimately encourages heel striking.  This brings us full circle with shoes as they enable the heel strike by cushioning the heel.  For those who believe what you have been told about heel to toe walking, you should think again.  It's not efficient, nor is it desired in proper mechanics.

Now back to our case.  With further questioning, she happens to be the tallest kid in her class.  Her feet have been growing fast and she has very long legs as well.  Therefore, in addition to the poor timing of her muscles, her body is continuing to change and force the brain to make constant adjustments.  This, of course, is in addition to the dysfunction in her body that is created by sitting and wearing shoes. 

The Treatment  

Our patient will be sent to a physical therapist who will work on neuromuscular re-education to help with the sequencing of muscle contraction.  Stretching will be useless as her muscles and joints aren't actually tight, they are just not working at the right time.  Also, she will be casted for orthotics, which will serve to stabilize her heels (not arches), which have been turning out and forcing her feet to function in an unstable manner.  By providing stability to the feet, we will provide the consistency that her body needs in order to re-learn how to walk over those feet.  Orthotics alone would miss the real cause of her "walking funny" and her leg fatigue.  Though orthotics, stretching and "tincture of time" may resolve some of the symptoms, her body's dysfunctional patterns would ultimately lead to degenerative changes in the hips as they haven't been moving, the feet because of the force through them are greater than it should be, and the back, which will be forced to adapt for the hips that are not moving.  If she does her work and continues to practice good movement habits as her body continues to change, there should be no long term consequences, or at the very least, they should be greatly reduced.  My fingers are crossed...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Belly Breathing

Is there one thing to do, one exercise possibly, that a person can do to help with pain in the foot?  The surprising answer is yes.  Even more surprising; it doesn't involve the foot!

As a physician who treats people who want to walk, run and play without foot pain, I'm given the task of trying to find out why that person is having trouble.  Though the reasons why people hurt vary, there is almost a universal link that all of these patients (people who are having foot trouble) share; difficulty with posture.

Posture is what children neurodevelopmentally "learn" and what ultimately allows them to sit upright for extended periods of time, stand, walk and eventually run.  And the first step involved in the development of posture occurs mere seconds after birth, when we begin to breathe.  A recent blog post written by Mark Sisson on his Mark's Daily Apple site highlights exactly what I've been trying to explain to patients for years.  Breathing is the most fundamental of movements we make as humans.  All newborn and young children breathe the same way, using their diaphragm’s (belly breathing), which is the proper way to breathe.  It is the child's first act in preparing the body's core to become engaged.  In fact, the diaphragm makes up the ceiling of our core!  Thus, when we stop using our diaphragm to breathe, we lose the ability to properly engage our core, and by extension, lose the ability to properly maintain and sustain good posture.

So how does this relate to foot pain?  I'll keep the answer as simple as possible.  If you have good posture, then the body will not have to work very hard to stand and move.  It will be inherently stable.  It is the reason that children and exceptionally good runners move gracefully and effortlessly; they are maintaining their posture with movement.  It allows all the muscles and body parts to work together as they should in the act of movement.  If we start with poor posture, then our muscles have a different job to do: help hold us upright.  Therefore, when we try and move (stand, walk or run), our muscles now have to do additional work.  Movement is no longer effortless and it becomes work.  Because our bodies move over our feet with every step we take, we tend to place more stress through our feet with every step, predisposing us to developing pain.

As I alluded to at the onset, there is one thing we can do, that can be practiced at any time of day, in any place, and can have a major impact on improving posture and reducing foot pain.  That one thing is breathing.  We did it the right way when we started in this world, and we did it that way for a reason.  For more information on this topic and practical information on how to regain our breathing form, please click here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"You can’t always get what you want…"

This will be the final installment of this portion of the blog chronicling my training for a hopeful sub 3 hour Boston Marathon.  Though that goal was not achieved, the race ended well, and I’m walking today; always a good sign.

It’s hard to be disappointed in a 3:06:28 marathon, which is only a minute slower than my previous best time of 3:05:24 at Boston in 2007.  If I was disappointed in anything, it was that I broke from the initial plan of going out at a modest pace in the 6:40’s to 6:50’s and avoiding any hard efforts.  As it turned out, my perceived exertion was less than the actual effort and the 1st 5k split was in 19:54.  Way too fast considering it should have been around 21 minutes.  That is a huge difference early on in a marathon.  Factor in a hot sun and swirling wind, and the conditions weren’t as optimal as they seemed for the elite runners (with a lot of runners on the course, you don’t benefit from the tail wind as much, though there was quite a bit of headwind as well). 

With the fast early pace, I tempered it slowly through the halfway point, still maintaining sub 7’s, but trying not to work too hard.  I wanted to reach the half at around 1:29, and with a half marathon time of 1:28:44, seemed right on target.  Again, the early speed took its toll.  With the early hard effort, and the sun, I should have taken in more fluids than normal, and was starting to feel the effects of a fluid deficit.  The calorie intake (Powerbar Powergel every 5 miles and a salt tab at mile 12) seemed adequate, though my usual 4 ounces (2 mouthfuls of Gatorade at each stop) was insufficient on this day.  By the time I realized I was at a deficit by mile 13 or 14, it was tough to take in more fluids without getting nauseous.  So I took in what I could at every aid station, even adding water to the mix, took an extra gel at miles 17 and 22, and tried to hold on.  I tried to keep the reality of not being able to break 3 hours out of my mind, but every hard effort I started to make to get back on pace (before and after each of the hills: Rt 16 going over 128, turning on Rt 30 after Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and of course Heartbreak Hill just past mile 20), my body said no.   With that realization in place by mile 22, after the left onto Beacon Street at Cleveland Circle, it was a matter of trying to hold an even pace, continue to enjoy the crowd and soak it all in.  If interested in seeing the Garmin data file for my race, click here.

There really is nothing like the Boston Marathon.  For me, it brings back childhood memories of seeing Alberto Salazar win in 1981 and 1982 while watching with a friend and his Dad at Heartbreak Hill.  There I was, running the last few miles of my 6th Boston Marathon, floating along a river of runners, getting caught up in the current.  I could have been 11 years old again, or 40.  It didn't matter.   
We set goals to achieve them.  I’m disappointed that I didn’t reach mine Monday, but glad I put in my best effort.  There are no guarantees in life, and to me, it ain’t worth living if you don’t have goals to shoot for.  We won’t always reach them, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  And there is no better reminder of that than the 1000’s of charity runners out there, and 100’s of thousand’s of fans lining the streets from Hopkinton to Boston cheering them/us on.  I drove with my neighbor Paula to the start of the race.  She’s less than 4 months from finishing her chemotherapy!!  What’s more, she finished in 4:50.  Talk about inspirational.

It’s been fun to put my thoughts on training down in the last few months and I truly hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog.  I’m going to try and keep it entertaining and informative with a broader appeal to the non-runners of the world too.  Talk to you soon!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoughts on Minimalist Running

Last night I attended a great conference put on by Saucony, “Step into Minimalism!”, listened to some fabulous speakers, and as always, tried to learn a few things.  One of the questions asked of the panel of experts, Michael Sandler (barefoot runner and author), Jack Daniels, PhD (Olympian, exercise physiologist, coach extraordinaire) and Marybeth Crane, DPM (podiatrist, runner) was if they thought minimalist running was a fad or a trend.  Ironically, I answered this same question just last week in an interview.  The consensus is that this is certainly a trend, which is the opinion I share as well.  The ground swell is too large right now and the buying trends of the running public are guiding the way.  However, the ultimate question is if this trend is a good thing?  My answer is without a doubt, YES!

Why so emphatic?  It gets people at least thinking again about our basic design, the human form and human motion.  Dr. Daniels said it so eloquently last evening (paraphrased here): “Parents spend the early years of their child’s life asking them to run around, play, be happy and take their shoes off.  Once they get to school, we then tell them to put their shoes on, sit down, shut up and listen!”  That thinking goes hand in hand with my guiding principle in that children have all the answers, and adults end up messing them up.  Life is about using our bodies and our minds in the ways they were intended, before being changed and altered by shoes, chairs, sitting and especially the stressful poison of adult worries that seep into our heads. 

As a foot doctor, and from what I see in the medical profession, we have learned to deal with injury and pain in a way that treats the symptoms and not the root cause of how the injury or pain developed.  I am not making the leap that minimalist shoes will correct the root cause of foot pain or bodily injury.  I am however, making the leap that people are now interested in finding out why they hurt more than just finding out how not to hurt.  That is a major step forward.  Our society has lived under the mantra of “take two and call me in the morning” for far too long.  We’ve become lazy and unconcerned about the “why we hurt”; as long as we think someone can fix it.  More and more people are trying to get back to the basics of our human instincts, and running has been one of the best way for most people.  It goes beyond that though; we are not just content with running.  We, as humans, have a pressing need to experience running as it was intended to be: free and connected with the past.  And in the past we wore no shoes.  That is why I believe the minimalist movement is a good one, and here to stay.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Head Games

Tapers mess with your head!!  In the last few weeks before the big race, the body physically starts to feel better, yet emotionally you can start to fall apart.  This is especially true if you are not fully aware of the process, whether you’re a first time marathon runner or ironman, or have years of experience.  The training volume is decreasing which allows the body to get ready for the race.  With the shorter, and less frequent runs, you may find that, at times you feel fast and ready to go.  At other times, you may feel like you're wearing a lead apron.  Sometimes, there are runs during the taper where both of these happen within a few minutes of each other!  As a rule, if you feel fast, beware of not pushing too hard or too long; recovery is goal number one.  If you feel slow and sluggish, don't panic, and realize it is all part of the taper.

The physical part of training for a marathon is now essentially over.  With the extra time we have in these last days leading up to the race, our (race) focus should be more on the race itself, rather than the training that it took to get to this point.  We should already have our nutrition plan in place, and should be prepared for any race condition, whether it's 40 degrees and windy or 90 degrees and humid.  We should have an idea of how our pacing is going to be, think about the clothing, make sure our shoes are going to hold up and even plan how we will get to the start of the race (not always an easy task with the Boston Marathon).

We should also be watching what we put in our mouths.  With less training, comes less calorie burn.  If the intake remains high, the weight will go up.  For me, this is a time to be serious about cutting those last few pounds and optimizing body composition (weight, body fat %, hydration) and getting to the desired race weight.  It’s not a time to load up on carbohydrates or skimp on the protein.  In fact, the opposite is true, if anything.  However, radical changes in the diet should be avoided. 

My goals are set, I’ve prepared to the extent I can prepare, and race day will be here very soon.  I won’t worry about anything out of my control, such as the weather conditions.  It’s time to get excited about the attempt to achieve a goal that was set many years ago.  It’s another chance to check one more thing off "the list":  Sub 3 hour Boston.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Staying fresh during the taper

"Trust thy taper" is a phrase I've repeated many a time in the weeks leading up to a significant race.  We have to balance the recovery process our bodies need from the rigors of training, with keeping the body fresh and ready to perform on race day.  The more experience a runner, cyclist or triathlete has, the quicker the body tends to recover.  Thus, the taper can focus more on honing in on a specific goal rather than simply recovering.  If you think of a training program being like a pyramid: Base training at the bottom and the race at the top, the taper is that final narrowing near the top, where the apex is the race itself.  With 2 weeks to go before the key race, all efforts should be shorter and less intense.  The long run shortens and the heart rate moves back toward the same levels we were striving for during the base building phase of training, save for a few brief pick ups at marathon pace.  The tempo/speed work becomes much shorter, with a greater focus placed on full recovery between any interval.  My last blog, Speed work in Disguise, substituted hill repeats for a Yasso 800 type work out.  Yesterday came the "long" run that will be the longest run between the Dress Rehearsal of last week, and Showtime; the marathon.  Not too long where you may damage your legs or risk injury, but enough "time on feet," so that the next time you pass this point during the race, it's not such a shock to the system.  It's an important run when it comes to being able to maximize your chances at a personal best, but an important run to skip, or cut significantly shorter, if the risk of injury or the need for the body to fully recover is great.  This is when a lot of new marathoners end up injured as they don't "trust thy taper."  They panic, thinking they have to do more, and end up running too long, and at marathon pace, and scratch their head when they just don't seem to have the "legs" on race day.

Stats from my Taper period long run: 2 hours, 14.2 miles, 8:17 average moving pace, 139 average Heart rate, 1000 feet of elevation gain/loss, NO injuries!

Friday, April 1, 2011

“Speed Work in Disguise”

On the eve of an April Fools’ snowstorm, a speed workout needed to get done.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to continue her wicked ways and make life most difficult for all of us here in the Northeast.

Two weeks out is the time for working on speed, turn over of the legs, and yet running at night in the driving snow made keeping the eyes open a difficult task.  Given the circumstance, all we could do is adapt, and disguise our speed work in the hills of Holden.  This article from highlights the premise for those who are interested. Click here for last nights Garmin run data:


Monday, March 28, 2011

“So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance…"

 Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m dumb, or dumber, to be putting myself through this! 

It’s been a big few weeks since my last long run.  I spent last week on St. John’s running on the roller coaster like hills in 80 degree weather, then turned it around to run in the 30 degree weather of Massachusetts.  The miles are starting to wear me down a little and if not for my Triggerpoint massage tools and Grid Roller, the help of my massage therapist, and a little extra “rest”, I’m just not sure I’d be this close. 

The recovery off the 25.2 mile run went well.  A few recovery runs, then the island trip.  I ran 3 times in 7 days with some serious climbs.  The last run of the trip was a 4 x 1 mile tempo where I was able to negative split (6:15, 6:12, 6:04, 6:02) each repeat on the only flat terrain I could find.  Going with the “tough getting old” theme, my right hip has been very angry with me.  The irony is that when I’m going fast, the hip is fine.  Apparently, my hip is trying to pace me. 

The return to Massachusetts was fairly seamless with a cold weather 12+ mile run around Worcester State College, then up and over Airport Hill Road, to the end, and back.  A few pick ups on the track finished off the zone 3 run nicely.  Another 12 miler two days later that included some more hills, some more cold, and some more aging body complaints.  Another day of rest and some work with my triggerpoint tools, and I was ready to go with the most important prep run for this race.

Sunday’s run is 3 weeks out from Marathon Monday and the last long run for most everyone running.  With Mike Roberts and Jim Hughes, we ran the first 21 miles of the course along with the Hopkinton Running Club, which means the run was supported.  If I have any chance of breaking 3 hours for this marathon, I needed a good run.  This is the dress rehearsal; the time to practice pacing, nutrition and hydration, and become re-familiarized with the course.

Ultimately, despite some rookie mistakes, I had a positive day.  The mistakes were mainly nutrition.  As I still follow the race fueling strategy of my former nutrition guru Jesse Kropelnicki, he would not have been proud today.  Not only did I forgo my race morning breakfast, but I ended up over-hydrating at the designated aid stops, and took in a few gels and endurolytes that I won’t be using on race day.  Fortunately, with many long distance races under my belt, my gut and experience will overcome those oversights.

The pacing was good with a steady pace through the first 10.5 miles.  After that, with riding a few of the downhills, the run became progressive and worked into a tempo zone for the last 11.  I had some of my fastest consistent miles since last years Boston marathon and even did a few hills well below 7 min/mile.  I went a little too hard on the first hill with a 6:35 up and over Rt. 128, and paid for it over the rest of the run.  I ran well, but struggled early on Heartbreak hill only to recovery by the top.  My average heart rate was 163 with average moving pace of 7 min/mile.  I ran the first 13.1 in 1:35, which included the water stops, and the final 13.1 miles of the run in 1:30 (mile 8 to mile 21.1 of the course).  That includes the toughest stretches of the course and a nice headwind to boot.   I had a great stretch of 6:18, 6:34, 6:35, 6:54, 6:54 between 15 and 19.  Miles’ 20 and 21 were just over 7 as heartbreak took a lot out of me.  All in all, not too bad for an old guy with achy hips.

Only a few more key workouts to go before race day.  As the title suggests, I have a chance at breaking 3 hours.  It’s going to be very close, and will require some suffering to get there.  There’s only so much to be done from this point, so it’s more about keeping fresh, working on turnover, dropping those last few pounds, and most importantly, not getting sick or hurt!  Otherwise, I’ll just be “puttin’ out the vibe” come April 18.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Moving on from the Base

As an aging runner (40), building up a solid base becomes even more important. The foundation is truly the key to everything in life, including life itself. Without a strong foundation, or base, whatever we try to build on top can come crumbling down. If you are young, you can get away with a weak foundation because the body is resilient. As you age, however, the body's resiliency wanes, and the importance of the strong foundation increases. For my Boston training this year, I've decided on a schedule similar to my training last year where the goal was a summer 100 miler. That was all about base training and there was never any speed or tempo work done. Nonetheless, marathons should be run almost entirely aerobically and therefore that was a very effective training model with 4 runs over marathon distance (26-35+ miles) prior to Boston. This year, without a 100 miler in the works (though I am signed up for the Pineland Farms 50 in May), the base needn't be near as big, so the long runs have built from 3 hours, to 3:40 2 weeks ago to a final long run (4:30 if slow, 3:40 again if quicker paced) being planned this weekend. These runs are done at a low heart rate, relaxed pace and consistent cadence.

Now it’s time to transition: gain speed without risking injury. Last weekend I had a 2:40 minute snow shoe race that almost acted as 2 x 45 min at tempo (higher heart rate/effort) yet without the pounding on the feet. Though a little beat up from that race, I had a good recovery run Tuesday morning with 8 miles and an average heart rate of 135 which is very relaxed for me. Wednesday night was what I call a progressive transition run as it serves as a tempo run that bridges the base training to the speed work. With the legs feeling good after the first 20 minutes, I began to build into the run, picking up the effort as I went. I ended up at 12.5 miles in just over 90 minutes on a very hilly route with the last half essentially at or near tempo, save for the last cool down mile+, which was all uphill.

Friday was supposed to be an easy run to get ready for Sunday’s long run. I had every intention to run a relaxed 50-60 minutes. As you can see from the run data: , average heart rate at 159 (high zone 3, upper limit of aerobic) and a 7:15 pace over almost 10 miles wasn’t what I was looking for.

So this weekend was the last of the long, slow, distance runs. I ended up “scaling it back” to 3:35 rather than 4:30 for 2 reasons. The first is because of the hard run two days before. The second and main reason is because of the pace I was able to hold with my given heart rate over the 3 hours, thirty-five minutes. At a high zone 1 average, 139, I ended up with 25.2 miles with some high aerobic pick ups over the last 5 miles. To run further would have been more risky than beneficial as at this point, the foundation is complete…and intact! From here on out, it's tempo with incorporating speed work over the last 4 weeks. Without that solid base of fitness that I've been building since December (no tempo, no speed), I would be at a high risk of injury over these next 3-4 weeks, and that's not something I want to risk.

There are so many people who injure themselves time and again because of trying to do more than what their body will allow. They want to run long or run fast without putting in the time and effort, or essentially the foundation. When you have years of long distance running under your belt, your foundation is quite solid, and the focus can be different. When you are a new runner, or haven't yet done a marathon, then there needs to be careful planning to set up the right program, and implementation of that program so that it is realistic and attainable given a persons body type, injury history and lifestyle. Working with an experienced coach can be incredibly helpful to help keep you focused toward that goal.

Monday, March 7, 2011

When Life Gives You Snow, Snowshoe!

So many of my patients wonder how I can run outside in the middle of winter with a ton of snow on the ground.  Snowshoeing provides everything that’s right about running: nature, beauty, fun, and challenge.  It even encourages proper walking and running form!  With every step you must pick up your leg utilizing the proper set of “walking/running” muscles.

Snowshoes are designed for a variety of activities including walking, hiking, mountaineering and running.  The latter is my preference because it provides me with an alternative to traditional running minus the impact of the roads.  Common hamstring and foot issues many runners suffer (including me) are avoided as it is nearly impossible to use your hamstrings when you are forced to engage pelvic and core muscles appropriately. Also, the foot is spared with a reduction of force from the impact on snow, as well as the more important reduction in push off force that is created from the lift of the leg.

This past weekend, a good friend and I ran a snowshoe half marathon in Pittsfield, Vermont.  It was an incredible challenge as you essentially ran up a mountain and back down, twice.  Several participants opted to repeat the course four times and one person repeated the course fifteen times (totaling 100 miles)!  Having run a 100 mile race last year in the middle of summer, even I can’t fathom that. 

I’m sad to see the rain wash away the snow forcing me back to the streets.  The roads, however, will be necessary training for the Boston Marathon, which is now only seven weeks away.  My hope is for the woods to dry quickly allowing the miles to continue where there are no cars: only deer, squirrels, porcupines, trees, bunnies and the occasional kamikaze owl (true story). 

For all those who struggle with the boredom and monotony of running on a treadmill or simply choose to take the winters off, I encourage you to don some warm weather clothes, try out some snowshoes, and enjoy what nature has to offer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pain Is Not Injury

Last night, I set out for a frigid, easy 7 mile run.  By 40 feet into my run I felt something in my knee then a sharp pain in my right hip!  Over the next 1/4 mile I tried to figure out what was going on and whether I should push through, or turn around and go home.  I did both. I turned around to go home, though took a different road that would at least get me to a mile if that was to be the extent of the run.  Making my way back up the hill into the blustery sub zero air, my hip pain disappeared and the knee was never an issue since that first early step.  7.5 miles and an hour later, I was finally home, recovery drink in hand and warming up.

Injury is what happens when we are unable to overcome a barrier.  Sure, the barrier can be a broken bone, sprained ankle or pulled muscle.  Those are clearly injuries and trying to work through them will cause pain.  But how do we know when we can work through pain without causing injury?  There are two extremes to this answer,  with the truth lying somewhere in between.  If you've never been injured before, then you will likely work through any injury thinking you're invincible.  If you've had a history of being injured, then you may develop a hypersensitivity, and be concerned with every ache and pain you feel.  To work through pain and not become injured, you must have confidence in what you are doing physically and a sense of reasonable expectation.  As a physician, I will tell my patients that if pain worsens during activity or is worse the next day, then it may be heading towards injury.  If the activity doesn't make the pain any worse, then it can most likely be worked through with a very slow increase/progression if desired.  As an athlete, the answer is a little more gray.  Depending on where the athlete is in his or her training, the type of event they are training for, and the desired goal, there may be reasons to work through pain or reasons to shut someone down temporarily.  For instance, if pain sets in during base training, then it can likely be worked through with increasing rest days between activity, or increasing cross training activity.  If pain occurs during a build phase in training, then the focus may shift towards maintaining the key work outs and being sure not to miss those, but switching the less important activities around.  If the pain occurs during the taper, then shutting activity down for a brief stretch may be preferable.  

Try not to think that any pain you feel is a pending injury, yet at the same time, respect what the body is trying to tell you.  Of course, sometimes it's best not to think at all...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Follow My Training

Like anything in life, you make the effort for that which is important to you.  Whether it's an achievement you're after, your health or relationships.  Not just your relationships with others, but the relationship with yourself.  I set a challenging goal for myself many years ago and have yet to achieve: running the Boston Marathon in under three hours.  Follow along as I blog my way to April 18.