Friday, November 29, 2013

Where to Run

Fall is here and you are excited to run in the cooler temperatures.  Summer can get hot and temperatures more conducive to baking a cake than running make it difficult to run outdoors.  Excited to begin your running journey outside, you wake up to find the temperature in the 40’s a gusty wind and enough rain to make you consider building an ark. You have a decision to make. Run outdoors and brave the elements, hit the treadmill or enjoy another cup of coffee, curl up in a warm blanket and catch up on The Walking Dead.

Treadmills can ignite serious debate among runners questioning if they are a legitimate training tool for those that are or want to become serious about running. According to Jenny Hadfield, co-author of “Running for Mortals” and columnist for Runner’s World Blog Ask Coach Jenney, “you can still get a great workout on the treadmill,” she says.  Although you can get a good cardio workout on the treadmill, there are some differences to running outdoors.

When running outdoors, you utilize different muscle groups than you do on the treadmill. Outdoors you must utilize your quads, hamstrings and calves to continually propel yourself forward.  Add wind, hills and the constant resistance of the road you have to work harder to propel yourself than you do on a treadmill. The natural mechanics of a treadmill are to propel you forward. Thus, you are able to run faster but you are working more on your balance than on propulsion.

To compensate for this lack of resistance, many people set the treadmill on an aggressive incline which can be problematic.  This is unrealistic as unless you are running up Mt. Evans in Colorado, you won’t encounter this when running outdoors. An aggressive incline will alter your stride and over strain you muscles, in particular your quads and hamstrings which can lead to injury. If you are looking for more resistance, set your incline to 2-5% range and if possible have the incline change during your run to more closely simulate outdoor running.

One of the benefits of running outdoors is you can lose yourself in thought and let the miles pass by without having to focus on what you are doing. Running on a treadmill can be extremely boring and requires continual concentration so you don’t misstep and be launched off the back of the machine like a jet fighter off an aircraft carrier.  Trust me this happens and ALWAYS at the gym in front of your fellow exercisers.

Running indoors also requires proper ventilation and fluid replacement. Proper ventilation and fluid intake are critical. Consuming fluids on a treadmill is an art and takes practice so you don’t have a one person accident (see above).

While running outdoors in the elements can be tough, indoor running requires either a trip to the gym or a substantial investment on a quality treadmill for home. Additionally, if you shell out the bucks for a treadmill, it will take up valuable space in your home.

So what’s the verdict?  While treadmill running can provide a good workout, my personal preference is to run outdoors whenever possible. If you are looking for fitness only, then treadmill running may be your ticket. If you are more serious or want to do some races and improve your speed, my preference is running outdoors.  Having done both I find running outdoors provides an overall better workout and gives me experience in the same conditions I will face on race day. 

Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

At The Heart of it All – Crushing the Mechanical Bull of Medicine

“Chris, you are going to die…….if you don’t make some serious changes to your life immediately!”  Those were the words that my doctor said to me four years ago with conviction, confidence and the assurance a grade school teach has when proudly proclaiming there will be a test tomorrow.  He looked me straight in the eye and putting his arm on my shoulder also said, “I don’t want that to happen on my watch and you can avoid this but it is up to you!”
Well what do you say to that?  What can you say to that? “Oh he is just getting paid to say that” or “it’s not really that bad, after all I am only 43, how can that be?” For those that know me, I lost my dad to a massive and sudden heart attack when I was 16 and he was 47.  One minute we were laughing and talking and the next minute my life was changed forever.
I had been thinking about my journey in life and that significant mile marker “47” was fast approaching and I could not help but wonder what it had in store for me. Would I out live my father? Would we have an unceremonious tie or would I fall short? Two of the three options were not attractive and the pressure was mounting.
While many may think that this was an easy decision to make, it was and it was not.  I had heard these words before but had safely secured them to a place in the back of my mind for processing for a later date – translation – put them on the shelf and forget about them but this time was different.
I had a wonderful wife whom I loved very much and were trying to get pregnant and I could not help but think why God would give us a precious life to take care of when I was blatantly not taking care of my own?  Ouch!  Sometimes God nudges me; sometimes he gives me a gentle pat on the back then other times he hits me over the head with a Louisville Slugger to get my attention.  This time he used the bat and it worked.
I won’t bore you with the details here on my getting into shape as I have shared that already (you can read that story here in my post “Sometimes Life Has a Strange Way of Getting Your Attention”) but I do want to share with you a rewarding experience that has come out of this process.  I share this with you because if I can do this, you can to. It boils down to How Bad Do You Want It and trusting God to guide you in the process.

Having made the decision to reclaim my health, the first order of business was to do a stress test to see what type of shape I was in and to see if there were any issues with blood flow or oxygen getting to my heart.  If you are not familiar with this process, they hook you up to an EKG and put you on a treadmill that starts at a 4% incline and increases in speed and incline every four minutes to put stress on your heart. Sounds easy enough, right? Ha!

That first test was horrible. I lasted just short of six minutes as was gasping and standing in a puddle of my own sweat. Ouch, what a horrible experience. That “wild bull” (Ok it was a treadmill but it felt like a wild animal) had bucked me off no sooner than I had gotten on it. We both came to the rodeo, one left a champion and I left defeated and realizing how much work I had ahead of me. “Well Chris” I thought, “You got yourself into this mess, what are you going to do about it?  Looks like you have some work to do.” I did not relish a second date with that contraption but first things first, I wanted those test results.

Sitting in the lobby area collecting myself, it was time to see my doctor.  It’s funny how people are. If you know someone well enough you can read their facial and body expressions and know the entire story or at least the Cliff Notes version without them saying a word. Before Dr. Jani said a word I knew what he was going to say.
“Chris, you have a couple abnormalities that are concerning. I am ordering a Nuclear Stress Test to get a better look at your heart!”  Not surprised but not what I wanted to hear, I asked “Will I have to get on that treadmill again?”  Really, I was just told I could have issues with my heart, self-imposed issues no less and all I could ask was if I had to get on the treadmill again?”  No points awarded for good questioning and the answer was “Yes.”  Just great!  Not only did I get my butt kicked by that “wild bull” just moments ago, I had to get ready to saddle up and do it again in a week. I could almost see it grinning at me in attack mode, like a lion getting ready to devour a helpless rodent.  “So a nuclear stress test” I managed to mutter, “what does that entail?”  Congratulations Chris at least you managed to ask a question with some substance.  He went on to explain…….
A nuclear stress test measures blood flow to your heart muscle both at rest and during stress on the heart. It's performed similarly to a routine exercise stress test, but provides images that can show areas of low blood flow through the heart and areas of damaged heart muscle.
A nuclear stress test usually involves taking two sets of images of your heart — one set during an exercise stress test while you're exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike and another set while you're at rest. A nuclear stress test is used to gather information about how well your heart works during physical activity and at rest.
You may be given a nuclear stress test if your doctor suspects you have coronary artery disease or another heart problem, or if an exercise stress test alone wasn't enough to pinpoint the cause of symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. A nuclear stress test may also be recommended in order to guide your treatment if you've already been diagnosed with a heart condition.
Well there you have it. One week later and I was back on the “wild bull” and this time I was also getting nuclear medicine shot into my veins so they could see the images of my heart.  I looked like a Borg from Star Trek and the medicine felt like freezing lava entering my system. No need for Christmas lights this year, I could just stand in the window with a star on top of my head and May could hang the decorations from my body as I was sure to glow from this injection.
The treadmill still won in convincing fashion but I managed to eke out a couple more seconds so as not to be an utter failure and to preserve some self-esteem. I liken it to scoring a touchdown with two minutes to go in the game when you are behind 70-0. The score does absolutely nothing but keep you from getting shut out. Oh well, I had to take what I could get and at least a few seconds was progress in the right direction.
I was blessed that the nuclear test results were normal and there was no MAJOR issues but I needed a course correction quickly.  “You are fortunate” my doctor said.  “But it’s up to you what you will do going forward.”  Enter the formulation of the title for my blog….”How Bad Do You Want It?”
Those two tests did the trick and with the Lord’s help, I set my life on a course to improve my health.  I lost nearly 40 pounds, took up running, biking and swimming and improved my eating with a more recent improvement by adopting a mostly plan based diet.  I had completed three marathons, countless other races and two half IRONMAN triathlons this past year. I felt great and all was well, or was it?
I turned 47 on March 8 and I couldn’t help but wonder if the Grim Reaper was on my tail.  He can be sneaky and I had done all I could to prevent him from making an early appearance.  My father passed away on November 15 and the closer that date came, the more anxious I got. I know that is ridiculous but it was my reality and I had to live with it.
So what is the purpose of this post? Well I’m glad you asked.  A strange chain of events began that would get my attention. In September a good friend of mine checked himself into the ER with severe chest pain.  Not yet 50, this scared both of us.  Thankfully it did not appear to be anything other than stress but this got me looking ever more closely for the Grimm Reaper. 
Fast forward to October and another good friend of mine in his early 50’s who is active, lean, eats well and an is good physical shape was not feeling well for a couple of weeks as he had been tired and lacked energy. But things got worse. As were talked on day he was complaining of a tingling in his chest and left arm that was radiating up his neck. DANGER WILL ROBINSON.  After much pleading he went to the ER and they discovered he had one artery with 80% blockage!  How can this be?  By God’s grace he is fine and on the road to recovery. Once again I turned my sights on the Grim Reaper, peeking around every corner more carefully than ever before.
Now it’s November 13th and I am on my way to New York City for a business meeting and I brought along the most recent issue of Marathon and Beyond to read on the plane.  Hal Higdon had written an article on the life of Jim Fixx. For those that don’t know Jim Fixx is credited with starting or at a minimum, helping launch the running boom in the 70’s. Having been a smoker and overweight, Fixx took up running and became somewhat of a celebrity.  He wrote the classic book “The Complete Book of Running” and by all accounts was in excellent shaping, having run several sub three hour marathons.  He died of a heart attack at age 52 while on a run. (Fixx had several symptoms of cardiac distress that he ignored and did not have a diet conducive to heart health and he never did a stress test)

How can that be?  Now my concern for my own state of being was escalating. Two friends of mine had cardiac issues, I just read an article about a talented runner in Fixx that died of a heart attack at age 52 and it was only two days to the anniversary of my dad’s passing from the same affliction. Add in I was recovering from a bad virus and still didn’t feel well and had all the makings for one big helping of “Freak out Stew!” Sitting in my hotel room I was scared to answer the door as it may be the Grimm Reaper posing as a house keeper and I was not ready to meet him just yet.
That’s it. I had to do another stress test for my own piece of mind. I called my doctor’s office and asked for an appointment for a stress test.  The young lady put me on hold and next thing I know I have my doctor on the phone.  That is one of many reasons I LOVE Dr. Jani. He is always there to talk when I need him. 
“Chris, he said, you don’t need a stress test. You run, you take your meds, your blood work is good and you eat right.”  “I know that Dr. Jani” I said, “But dad died at 47 and that anniversary is in two days, I have two good friends that are healthy that had cardiac issues and Jim Fixx just scared me to no end.  I need this test to make sure I am OK and for peace of mind.  I have a beautiful wife and a precious two year old, please do this for me. “Ok, you got it.” He said. We will see you at 8:00 am on Wednesday in my office.” Ok, test is on the books, I just needed to avoid the old Reaper until then.

This time I was excited for the rematch with the treadmill.  When David, the Exercise Physiologist who was going to administer the test called me back to the lab, he looked at me and asked “What are you doing here?”  I had to chuckle and proceeded to tell him the story outlined above and he just smiled and said “OK, let’s get started.”
David is an awesome exercise physiologist and was a pleasure to work with. He truly cares about his patients, has a great attitude, is very informative and was a lot of fun to talk with.   Never shy to carry on a conversation about exercise, I learned that David and I had a lot in common with our beliefs on exercise, health, diet and life in general. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and had done his graduate work in Texas.
All hooked up to the EKG, it was time to get on the treadmill.  Although the room was not much larger than a small office, I pictured in my mind Rocky entering the Ring for the first time against Apollo Creed. There was music, screaming fans and the adrenaline was pumping.  This was my shot at redemption and I was ready to give this treadmill a beating.
Dave explained the test and that my MAX heart rate for a man my age was 173 and we wanted, if we could, to get my heart rate to 85% of max or in the range of 145. “No sweat” I said, “this may take a while.”  He explained the test would start on a 4% incline and would increase in speed and incline every three minutes. “Let’s get after it” I said.  In my mind I could hear the bell ring and just like that the rematch was on, Treadmill vs. Vokaty, round three! 
David was very encouraging during my test. He kept asking how I was doing and that my test results were amazingly good.  He said I was making his day as he usually doesn’t get to see many healthy people take these tests….and the timer kept running. Four years ago I was not able to make six minutes, this day I was had not even broken a sweat at six minutes and my heart rate was barely above 90. Take that treadmill. I could hear the machine groan as we moved on to level 3, territory it didn’t see very often. “Now who is getting tired” I muttered to my nemesis. “I hope you brought your “A” game today because you are going to need it!”
The longer I went the more encouraging David got and the more excited we both became.  Level 3, level 4, level 5, level 6…..17% inclined and running 7:00 minute miles.  “Are you up for level  7?” David asked.  “Bring it” I said, “let’s do this.”  I could hear the treadmill groan as we moved to a 20% gradient and sub 7:00 minute miles.  I was sweating profusely and pounding out the minutes.  The test was clean and I kept on pushing, 173, 174, 175, my heart rate kept climbing and maxed out at 178.
“What is the next level like?” I managed to ask David. “There isn’t a next level, this is it!”  WOW I had put a beat down on the champion.   How about that!  Yes I was tired, but it was my arms that were the most tired as I had to hang on to keep from being launched off the back of this beast while running up hill at a 20% incline.  I came, I ran, I conquered the test! Ladies and gentlemen there is a new world champion!

As David slowed the machine and I cooled down I think he was as excited as I was. He raved about my test results, my VO2 max and that this made his day actually administering a test to a healthy person. It’s what he said next that made me grin from ear to hear.  “Chris” he said, “while doing my graduate work in Texas one of my professors referred to this test (treadmill) as the “Mechanical Bull” of medicine.”  “You my friend have just CRUSHED the mechanical bull of medicine.  Congratulations.”  “There is absolutely NOTHING preventing blood or oxygen from getting to your hear. Whatever you are doing, keep it up!”
 At that point I thanked God silently for these results and I also thanked him for the “country club” hill.  So adequately named, the country club hill is a steep hill that starts at the country club and has three gradients and is ALWAYS the last mile of all my runs, short or long. I have a love hate relationship with that hill. I HATE it during training but LOVE it when in competition and today I LOVED it as it plays a big role in improving my health. It’s like a mean drill instructor that you can’t stand but admire at the same time. 
At that moment I knew that the Grimm Reaper was nowhere to be found. While I know that there are no guarantees in life, I had some peace of mind that I was on the right track. My test results had improved from the last time; I felt great and was controlling the things that I could control. It goes to show that with the Lord’s help, proper diet and exercise you can reverse your health.  It all boils down to commitment and How Bad Do You Want It. Is it easy? Of course not but nothing good in this world comes easy. If there is no price to pay, then there is no worth. Our salvation is the only free gift but the rest we have to work for. 
Before I could leave David needed to share the test results with Dr. Jani.  We walked to a reception area and he went over to talk to my doctor. I could see them both and hear them so being naturally curious, I just had to eavesdrop, after all it was my test so I felt inclined to listen in.
“You didn’t find anything wrong with him, did you David” doctor Jani stated.  “No, Chris in incredible shape” David said. “Let me look at the test” Dr. Jain asked.  As he looked at the test results, Dr. Jani asked David “He stayed on the treadmill how long?  “20 minutes “David said. “I have never seen anyone do that in all my years of medicine.”  David said “I know, this was a lot of fun. In fact, I have worked with many of the athletes at USC and this is one of the top five tests I have ever seen!”
Dr. Jani walked over to me and gave me a big hug and told me he was proud of me. I am sure it is rewarding for doctors and technicians to see their patients succeed and turn their health around. He told me to keep running, keep eating plants and to enjoy life.
I was ecstatic and relieved.  In four years I went from being in horrible shape and on the road to cardiac ruin to having reversed my health and giving a great big TKO to the Electronic Bull of medicine.  I am not na├»ve enough to think that countless others have had much better results and are in much better shape than me, but for me this was huge. 
I will never compete for a podium spot in a marathon or a 70.3 or 140.6 triathlon but there will be more people behind me than ahead of me when I finish. The sheer fact that I can compete, compete against myself and finish is what is important. I decided to reclaim my life and health and to enjoy the process.

As I left my Dr. Jani’s office I was relieved, happy, thankful and proud. I was experiencing a similar feeling to what I had felt when completing my first half IRONMAN. I set goals for major changes and with God’s help I had done it.  I share it with you because if I can do it, anyone can.  Give it to God and think about How Bad Do You Want It.  The commitment is the hardest part; enjoy the journey and the rewards that follow.

Friday, November 22, 2013

To Knee or Not to Knee!

As a runner, I often hear “your knees will never last” if you keep running marathons. Is this fact or fiction?  Getting tired of hearing this repeatedly from non-runners, I decided to find out.  After all, people walked and ran for tens of thousands of years as their only form of transportation and without cushioned running shoes.

Key factors that affect knee health include the weight of the runner, correct footwear and the frequency and intensity of use. Research shows that runner’s knees absorb up to four times the impact of their body weight with each foot strike.  While this may seem tremendous, using correct form, gradually increasing mileage, wearing the proper footwear for your stride and building in recovery days can add longevity to your running career.
While a common belief prevails that running is not good for the knees, research supports the possibility to continue running as you age.  David Felson, a researcher and epidemiologist at Boston University School of Medicine says that past concerns about running were centered on the continuous impact of foot to ground causing degeneration of the knee and the onset of osteoarthritis.  That’s not what researchers found.
“We know from many long-term studies that running doesn’t appear to cause much damage to the knees,” Felson says.  “When we look at people with knee arthritis, we don’t find much of a previous history of running, and when we look at runners and follow the over time, we don’t find that their risk of osteoarthritis is any more than expected.”
Dr. Tyler Childs Cymet states that “existing evidence on whether long-term, long-distance running causes osteoarthritis is currently insufficient to draw unequivocal conclusions. However, “the preponderance of data seems to indicate that moderate levels of running do not increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees and hips for healthy people and that this activity might even have a protective effect.”

Running today has achieved a bit of a renaissance with the popularity of ultra-running races from 50-200 miles in length as captured in the classic book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougal.  What was once considered a long distance run, the marathon is merely a training run for many runners today.  Here are some knee-saving tips runners of any distance can use to improve their chances of enjoying their sport for many years.

The hardness of the surface you run on makes a difference on the amount of impact to the knees and hips.  Whenever possible, enjoy some runs on soft trails or rubber tracks.
Make sure you are wearing the proper shoes.  Visit your local running store and have them analyze your stride and determine the best shoe for you. If you over pronate, you should look for a stability shoe and not a neutral shoe. While cushioned shoes are good for everyone, they have more impact on larger runners.
Add more cross-training cardio activities to your training routine such as cycling, rowing or swimming.  I found that swimming a couple days a week was therapeutic on my legs and the rhythmic breathing actually helped improve my running.
Run your longer distance training runs more slowly and save your harder speed workouts for your shorter runs. This will save some impact and stress on your joints.
Increase your distances slowly, adding no more than 10% each week.  When adding distance, adopt an ice regimen to your knees immediately after running to limit any swelling from increased use.
One of the things I have most helpful is stretching the major muscle groups to include the hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, IT bands, calves and glutes.  Stretching warm muscles is much more effective.
A runner’s mindset is hard to break but rest your body as needed.  Recovery is important as that is where repair and growth comes from.  Resting a day a week may help add years to your running pleasure. If you are injured, be sure to recover fully before easing back into your running routine.
Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

History Driving Improvement

The past, if you allow it, is a wonderful source of education for improving future performance. Racing triathlons, lifting weights or any exercise platform is no different. There is a wealth of knowledge, information and lessons learned if you are open to looking for them and using them to improve your performance.
When I decided to get back into shape after 20 years of couch potatoism, I elected to use endurance sports as a means to get and stay healthy.  On the day I decided to take control of my health, I made a promise to myself that I would compete against ONLY ME and no one else. Although I have a competitive streak, I vowed I would use my own performance as a bench mark against which to gage improvement. This would keep competing fun, fresh and give me a healthy perspective on life, competition and friendship.
While I still work hard and do my best to pass the next person in a race, my self-worth is not tied up in podium finishes or awards. Ironically, adopting this mentality has not only made me enjoy all aspects of training and competing, I truly believe it has made me stronger, faster and even more determined. If I get passed, I don’t get mad; I celebrate my fellow participant and work even harder to improve my own performance. I will never make the podium at an IRONMAN or REV3TRI event, but I am perfectly happy with competing and being the best I can be! 
In order to improve at whatever you do, you must have a game plan, a strategy of sorts to guide your efforts to success.  Your plan can be simple or complex, you need to do what suits you best. As with any sport or fitness routine there are a host of books, videos and other resources available to help you improve what you do. The question is; are you maximizing these resources to their fullest?
When building your plan, looking back at past performances can be a great place to begin your improvement strategy.  Before I competed in my first Ironman 70.3 event in June a friend asked me what I hoped to get out of the race. My response was to finish strong and to have a plan for how to improve in my next event before I crossed the finish line.  And that is exactly what I did. I finished my next Ironman 70.3 triathlon 24 minutes faster than my first. Letting history be my guide was crucial to my improvement.
Here are some strategies to help you learn from your experiences in order to build a plan for prime performance.
Enter each event or training session with a strategy and set your “mental recorder” to capture how you felt, what you did well, etc. Start a notebook and write down your notes on how you did and ideas for improvement as soon after completion as possible.
Be open minded in reviewing your performance but don’t be too hard on yourself.  Everyone can improve!  Review your notes and congratulate yourself on what you did well and highlight 3-5 things you want to improve upon.
With your successes and opportunities on paper, utilize the vast amount of resources available to help you improve for your next event. Build on your strengths and improve your weaknesses. Use this data to set new goals, build your training plans and develop a strategy for your next event.
There you have it. Let the past be your guide the future. If you adopt this strategy for EVERY event you do, not only will you continue to improve, you will also keep it fresh, fun and exciting.
Here is an example of how this works from my IRONMAN 70.3 Raleigh and Augusta races in 2013:

·         Have more confidence in my swim. I am good enough to do well so be less tentative but not too aggressive. Settle into my rhythm and then push the pace
·         Practice more in open water and practice stopping to tread water and site the course
·         For cold water swims where you can’t get into the water before the start, get the water on your face and in your wetsuit to take away that initial shock that can leave you breathless.
·         Need to consume more fluid, nutrition and salt sticks on the bike, especially in hard weather to alleviate cramping on the run, especially on hilly runs.
·         More long bike/run bricks make for a faster and more enjoyable run
·         For me, being a weak swimmer, push the bike and save some for the run which is my strength
·         Eat more on the run.  I don’t eat many sweet foods so two weeks out start to  consume these products in training to alleviate stomach issues
·         MORE STRENGTHING training for core and upper body.
·         Thank every volunteer, law enforcement office and fans…for without them we don’t have a venue to compete.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Run Faster, Run Stronger

Many times people start to run merely as a way to build fitness.  Once a strong base of fitness is attained and mileage is increased and sustained, many opt to try their hand in a 5K, 10K or half marathon.  There is a special feeling that comes from running in your very first race.  Once the competitive juices start to flow and people get a taste for the experience and fellowship running provides, their attention turns to how they can improve their performance.  For most the questions are how can I run faster and how can I run stronger?
One way to increase speed, according to Dr. Russell Pate of the University of South Carolina and world class marathon competitor, is by improving endurance.  Dr. Pate states the goal is to train your body to cover the distance you intend to race.  With speed endurance you learn to run your targeted distance, but to cover that distance at a faster rate.  According to running legend Hal Higdon and Dr. Pate, one way to increase your speed endurance is to add regular pace changes to your runs.
Dr. Pate prescribes four paces (in Higden’s book Run Fast) you can adapt to your running program to add variety and increase speed. First are high intensity runs.  An example would be three 1-mile repeats at close to the fastest pace you can hold with five minutes rest between repeats. For me this would be a 6:30-6:45 pace when my normal training pace is 8:25 per mile.  The second is a medium intensity pace run that is somewhat longer and slower than the high intensity run over a 20 to 60 minute time frame. This is slower than the high intensity pace but still faster that what you would normally train at over a longer distance.
The third pace is a low intensity pace that would increase the length of your run, and slowing down your pace as a form of active recovery. This could be your long weekend run at a relaxing pace. For me I run a 5K pace of 6:30-6:45 per mile (High Intensity) and for this run I may cover 8-15 miles at a 9:30 pace per mile. The fourth pace is rest pace. Here you may run a very short time like 20 minutes at a very slow pace or take the day off completely. 
 The key to using pace increases effectively is to combine efforts during the week. For me I take a rest day on Friday, do my long slow runs on Saturday and Sunday, run easy on Monday, add a Medium pace run on Tuesday, a low intensity pace run on Wednesday and a high intensity pace run on Thursday.   You want to gradually train your body to cover more distance at a faster pace but you must remember to rest and incorporate all paces to do this effectively and to avoid injury.  By running faster you also build more muscle which equates to increased strength and endurance.
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Feeling Good, Cold Weather, Wheat Grass, CW-X, Woodrow Wilson, Country Rock, Peanut Butter, Kettle Bells and Ironman

Well that’s a title now isn’t it!  What a last few weeks.  I am a bit sad today as I had been so looking forward to running in the Savannah Rock N Roll Marathon but a sore knee and the worst virus I have had in years had other plans for me! J
Ok, enough complaining, life is what you make it and I am a positive person so on with what is right and good this fine Saturday morning. I am officially over my virus, cold, bug whatever you want to call it. The telltale signs were  (1) no runny nose (I probably lost 6 pounds in pure snot over the last three weeks) and, (2) I was able to get up at 4:00 am and felt refreshed and ready to go. I have not been able to do that in three weeks and was starting to worry I was either getting lazy, old or had lost my edge. Well thank goodness it’s none of the above as Chris got his groove back! Take that Stella.  Only I could get excited about getting up at 4:00 am on a Saturday!
With coffee and my book in hand, it was time to start my morning! I am reading a totally awesome book title Woodrow Wilson by A. Scott Berg. I learned about it from Chris “MadDog” Russo on his sports radio show of all places and had to read it. Its nearly 800 pages but Berg is a beautiful writer and captures the spirit of an incredible president in a difficult time in American history. I highly recommend it.
Today was exciting and never racking as I planned to run for the first time in three weeks. I had been fighting a bit of a left knee and IT band issue since IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta in late September and finally had to lay off it. Trying to run 20 miles the Saturday after the IRONMAN was not the smartest thing I have ever attempted and had I not done that I would be running Savannah today.  Oh well.  For anyone who knows me or loves endurance sports, sitting on the sideline is brutal. 
I don’t rest well or easily and as my good friend Gregg Peterman pointed out to me, God likely said “Well Chris if you won’t rest that knee on your own, let me help.”  Enter the worst virus I have had in years.  Both May and I got it from Elli and it wiped us out.  Of course Elli was fine in a day or two.  This was the worst sore throat I can remember. I liken it to eating hot coals. Then the snot settled in my chest and I sounded like a 75 year old man that smoked 3 packs a day for his entire adult life…..and I felt like it too.  We also had no appetite for anything healthy and there is only so much soup one can stand to eat. What bothers me about being sick and inactive is I start to crave unhealthy food and SUGAR, lots of sugar. But when your ox is in the ditch you do what you need to do in short term to make it better.  Coca Cola is the elixir to all that is good and bad at the same time!
Coffee ingested (and it finally tasted good) it was nearing 6:00 am and time to run. I had placed the heating pad on my knee to warm up my tendons and stretched out.   I was almost scared to run as I wasn’t sure how my knee was going to hold up but as I posted in an article a while back, “Don’t fear fear!” So it was time to either practice what I preach or be a hypocrite.  To the streets of Blythewood it is, waking up local dogs, getting strange looks from the local wildlife and even stranger looks from the motorists barely awake in their nice warm cars…..crazy fool I can hear them say! 
It was COLD this morning, temps in the mid 30’s but there is not much better than that first run of the year in cold weather. With my new CW-X Endurance Generator Tights on and my gloves, hat, Saucony Kinvara 4 shoes, Under Armor thermal shirt, Pearl Izumi (Ok some shameless plugs) wind breaker  and my Pod I was ready to head out. 
It was a beautiful morning and it had been about a month since I had listened to any music. A recent convert to Country music, it was awesome to kick off the first half mile with Tim McGraw, George Straight and a host of others. My intent was to go out easy but the music took part of my mind off my left knee. You know how you get when you are so worried about something that you start to experience things that aren’t real? Every step I thought for sure I felt a twinge or pain then finally just gave it to God, settled into a good pace and enjoyed the beautiful sunrise and music.
To my surprise I had not lost that much fitness and was able to cover 4 miles at 85% if 5K race pace. That was not my goal but it just worked and I was thankful for that.  OH HOW GOOD IT FELT to be active and exercise. It got so bad this week one of my friends asked if I was doing OK because I was not myself and I am sure May was about to sit me down and put my running shoes on my feet for me and shove me out the door! HA, well exercise is the best medicine and today was great.
I realized on the run that I LOVE Brantley Gilbert and Jason Aldean as they really are rock stars but add in trucks, moon shine and a few beer and hilly billy references to make it country. Thanks guys for picking up the pace and entertaining me this morning, I needed that.
My CW-X Endurance tights were really comfortable. I had time on my run to digest getting in shape for IRONMAN Coeur D’ Alene in June and how I would balance my running, biking and swimming. I have a good plan that starts the end of December and hope to get most of my biking miles done outside. Pearl Izumi should be very, very happy with my as I think I bought every piece of cold weather gear they have in stock. I will ride some indoors but one can only watch Alien vs Predator, Pacific Rim and Battleship so many times before the novelty wears off and the mind numbing pain of boredom settles in on the trainer. I would rather not feel my feet or fingers for 5 h ours than subject myself to the trainer. I will let you know how that plan works.
Today should be fun. May and I are growing our own wheat grass and plan to use “juice” the grass. It is coming in nicely and we are excited.  I had a wheat grass shot at a Robeks in LA and it was great. It tasted exactly like your yard smells after you mow the grass. It is a vibrant green and full of nutrients. We are growing it in the sun room where our pooch Juliet lives so she is tending to it for me.
Later today we will make some chocolate peanut butter, get groceries, rake the back yard and look at some new kettle bell routines. No more Coca Cola today and no more “junk food” as the exercise has turned my tastes back to healthy food. Time to put the ice pack up (precaution for the knee) make a carrot/apple juice and watch Elli eat her breakfast, which is always an adventure.
Happy training everyone and here is to being FIT FOR LIFE!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Rhythmic Breathing

For thousands of years, breathing has played a key role in Eastern philosophy as a means to live life with vitality and improve a sense of wellbeing.  Breathing also plays a major role in exercise, especially aerobic exercise where the body experiences impact stress and repetition.  By improving how we breathe and the pattern in which we breathe, we can improve our fitness and lower our risk of injury.

Many runners and walkers develop a two-two or three-three pattern of breathing by inhaling for two or three foot strikes and exhaling for two or three foot strikes.  The result is they always exhale on the same side.  When your foot hits the ground the force of the impact is as great as two to three times your body weight, according to Dr. Dennis Bramble and Dr. Carrier of the University of Utah. If you develop a two-two or three-three pattern, you run the risk of injury to one side of your body.
Bramble and Carrier also explain that improper breathing is an additional problem that exaggerates the trauma of the impact of each foot strike.  Their research shows that most times your foot strikes the ground at the beginning of an exhalation.  When you exhale, your diaphragm and core muscles relax which creates instability in your core.  Less stability at the time of impact only heightens the risk of injury.
Improper breathing, or breathing from the chest cavity and not your belly is a main reason for core instability during foot strikes. To improve your breathing form, one must learn to breathe from their belly. Belly breathing means as you inhale, you contract your diaphragm fully to allow the maximum volume of air into the lungs.  Simply focus on raising your belly as you inhale and lower your belly as you exhale. Belly breathing will engage your core as you breathe while allowing maximal oxygen intake.
One you have mastered breathing from your belly, its time to transform your breathing pattern which Budd Coates refers to as rhythmic breathing.  What rhythmic breathing does is allow you to exhale on alternate foots strikes that will equally distribute the impact force from running or walking and greatly reduce injury. Coates recommends a three-two pattern of breathing, breathing in for a count of three and exhaling for a count of two.  This pattern works well at slower to moderate intensities as you begin to adopt the pattern. As you reach a hill or your intensity increases, simply move to a two-one pattern. The objective is to keep an uneven pattern to insure you exhale on alternate foot strikes.
Currently suffering a hamstring strain on my right leg, I tried out bellying breathing then rhythmic breathing with a three-two pattern this weekend.  It took a bit of effort and focus to get the pattern down.  Once I was comfortable with the pattern I was able to notice exhaling on alternate foot strikes.  I also noticed my hamstring was less sore when I was done.
Some additional information on breathing for runners.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Confidence -A Key to Success

Last week we examined the importance motivation plays in a successful exercise or training program and identified ways to boost or regain motivation as needed.  While being motivated is important, without having the confidence to execute your plan, you run the risk of falling short of your goals.
According to Jim Taylor Ph.D. and Terri Schneider, confidence is the most important contributor to success.  They define confidence as how strongly you believe you can perform your best and achieve your goals.  You have to believe you can be successful, to be successful. Having confidence in their ability to succeed is one characteristic of all champions. 
So how do you gain confidence?  According to Taylor and Schneider preparation is the foundation of confidence.  If you have put in the hours at the gym, pool, running, etc. to perform your best, you will have confidence in your abilities to reach your goals.  Preparation offers you the opportunity to establish trust in your capabilities.
Let me give an example. When I signed up for my first Ironman 70.3 event, I was still not a very good swimmer. I worked on my swimming tirelessly until I could easily swim 1.2 miles in both the pool and open water in well under the 70 minutes allotted. I was still nervous at the start of the swim but I had the confidence that I could finish the swim strong and well ahead of the allotted time.

While training is one step in building confidence, being able to handle adversity is yet another.  Regardless of what exercise or endurance events you do, the best way to handle adversity is to expose yourself to this same adversity in training.  If you run marathons, practice running in the rain, if you are a triathlete, practice swimming in cold, choppy water. Having experienced these adverse conditions in training will build your confidence on race day.
Building confidence takes work and patience but staying confident takes even more discipline and practice regardless of what you do.  Confidence is a skill that you develop through practice and experience. One of the most productive confidence building skills you can adopt is positive self-talk. What you think and say to yourself will have a direct output on how you perform.   Seemingly harmless comments like, “I can’t do this,” or “I can’t run that far” program your mind and body for failure.
Over the course of a week monitor your self-talk and observe how much negativity you have. One successful triathlete did this for one week and observed 97 instances of negative self-talk and only four positive instances! It takes 12 positive comments or experiences to erase a negative comment so it’s crucial to develop healthy self-talk habits immediately.
Being positive will bolster your confidence during challenging times. For example when running a race replace “my legs hurt and I can’t go on” with “this really hurts, but pain is temporary, accomplishment is forever.”  The step of tipping the scales towards the positive in ALL situations is crucial.  This takes practice and self-awareness but with practice you can turn your mind into a powerful asset that will breed confidence fueled by your motivation.
 Here is another resource with more tactics and ideas


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What about Recovery?

Some argue getting started with exercise or endurance training is the hardest part of the process. Exercise can become addictive as people wish to see rapid improvement so they work out when tired, sick or injured. Taking time to properly recover can be the biggest challenge of all.
Recovery may be the most important part of any exercise program, yet the hardest to do and often most overlooked.  Many athletes get in the mindset that more training is better and completely ignore rest and recovery.  They work their bodies to exhaustion, barely let the work take effect and then repeat.  When exercising, you are placing an increased workload on your body.  This stress tears your muscle fibers down and fatigues your system.
Why is rest and recovery important? To realize the positive effect of your exercise, your body needs time to recover and rebuild the small muscle tears so you can return stronger and ready for more exercise.  Growth comes from recovery, not the exercise itself so if you don’t give your body adequate recovery; you are diminishing the very growth and improvement you are seeking.
There are many different ways to recover.  Active recovery is one way to experience some effects of recovery while still exercising.  This can be in the form of an easy jog or walk between intervals or a prolonged cool down.  I will take one or two days a week and push my running pace close to race pace of 7:45 per mile.  The following day I will take an easy run at a 9:00 or 10:00 minute per mile pace as a means of recovery. I am still getting exercise but lessening the stress on my body.
Sleep is another excellent form of recovery.  Professional Triathlete Andy Potts gets eleven hours of sleep per night, stressing the power of its restorative effects.  I strive for a combination of eight hours of sleep a day. Naps are great ways to fit in a little extra sleep.  Sleep is critically important as this is the only time the body produces natural human growth hormone responsible for muscle repair and growth.
Self-massage is yet another form of recovery.  I have a love-hate relationship with my foam roller.  After a tough workout I use my foam roller to work out sore spots. It can be uncomfortable at the time but well worth the benefit.  Foam rollers and other similar devices have excellent ways to work out tight and sore muscles and also help release trigger or “hot spots” in certain muscles. 

When working a sore area or hot spot, do some research as the muscle soreness or knot is not likely from damage to that area but a result of an injury or other stress in a different part of the body.  When one part of the body is injured, say you strain your left foot, your body compensates for the injury to take pressure off the injured part. Thus your right leg may take more of the burden of exercise as your change you gait and you may create a store spot on your right calf. Pain and soreness can radiate up through the body in a “Z” pattern from the point of injury. Thus if you have a sore spot in a unique place, take some time to think about what else can be going on in your body.
One of my favorite recovery devices are air compression leg massagers.  While you can purchase units that are in the $1500 range, I have found devices from $60-$200 on Amazon that works well for my level of competition. There is nothing better after a long run than the gentle massage these units provide. They improve circulation of blood to aid muscles in recovery.

Chiropractic care is another good recovery technique that is more preventative in nature but can be extremely effective. When putting a lot of training stress on your body, I find weekly visits to my chiropractor a necessity. Keeping properly aligned helps alleviate hot spots and muscle pain and aids in quicker recovery as my body is functioning more effectively and efficiently.

Another recovery agent is proper nutrition.  You want to consume water, complex carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes post workout, especially if you are working out daily.  When I switched from a diet heavy in animal protein to all plant based, I noticed that I recovered much quicker and my speed and endurance dramatically improved.
These are just some of many different recovery methods.  The most important thing is to listen to your body and take time for proper recovery.  You plan your exercise so why not plan your recovery?  Your body will thank you.
Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Burn Fat as Fuel

When starting an exercise program, people have a variety of goals but one of the most mentioned is the desire to lose weight.  Over the years “life” can get in the way of a healthy life style and one of the not so welcome gifts from a lack of physical activity are a few extra pounds in all the wrong places.  Some writers have termed the American diet and way of life “Disease of Affluence” because we are less active and consume a diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars.
Although any level of exercise coupled with a healthy diet in moderation will help shed those unsightly pounds, teaching your body to burn its fat stores as fuel is the key to increased weight loss.  According to Stu Mittleman, an ultra-endurance athlete, people have about 160,000 calories of energy in their body.  Of that, only 4,500 to 5,500 calories are in the form of sugar.  What happens when we exercise at very high intensities for a short period of time, our body burns the sugar as fuel while the fat stores go largely untouched.  When the sugar is gone, the body starts to shut down and exercise becomes increasingly difficult as you have hit “the wall.”

The key is to train your body to burn fat as its primary source of fuel. Not only will you be able to exercise longer, you will be able to lose weight more quickly and feel better when you are done.  To have a complete exercise program, you still need to have shorter more intense bouts of exercise but you need to make room for one to two days where you slow down and stay well below your lactate threshold.  So how do you train your body to burn fat and not sugar?
First, take one or two days each week and dedicate to long, slow runs or other cardio activities.  This will be different for every individual based on their fitness level. The best indicator you are going slowly enough is that you can easily carry on a conversation with another individual without feeling out of breath.  You want to gradually increase your distance and a steady state of activity, keeping your heart rate elevated but stay below 60% of your max ability.  For those with heart rate monitors, you want to stay in Zone 2.
Second, extend your warm-up sessions.  If you take off running or start exercise without easing into activity, your body will sense the change in activity and trigger the sugar stores for fuel.  Nice easy stretching or walking will do the trick.
Finally, practice exercising in a carbohydrate depleted state.  US Olympic Marathoner Meb Keflezighi recommends this strategy.  This means restricting, but not eliminating sugar intake both before and during long cardio exercise sessions. Be sure to monitor how you feel and take small doses of a sports drink or other carbohydrate to maintain adequate blood sugar levels. 
Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.