Category Archives: Running

5 Myths of the Marathon by Hal Higdon

Are some of the assumptions about our favorite race flat-out false?

Several weeks before this year’s Boston Marathon, an editor at a large East Coast newspaper approached me with an assignment to contribute to the paper’s weekly “Five Myths” feature: Five Myths About Easter; Five Myths About Mount Everest; Five Myths About The Oscars, etc. The editor wanted me to write: Five Myths About the Boston Marathon Bombings.

The assignment would have provided good exposure for my latest book, 4:09:43but I did not feel enough legitimate myths existed around the bombings to justify a “Five Myths” feature. The Oscars have been around forever, but the bombings happened only last year, too recently to develop a mythology. And quite frankly, focusing only on the horror of 2013 bothered me. I suggested to the editor that he broaden our approach to include all marathons. The editor said, no, and assigned the article to another writer.

Fair enough, but given the opportunity to select five myths about the marathon, not merely about the bombings, here is what I might have written:

  1. Pheidippides was the first marathon runner. Despite the popularity of the story of a single warrior/messenger running into Athens after the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC with news of the Greek victory—then dying—it never happened. The story only appeared in history books several hundred years after the battle. Pheidippides is part of a legend, albeit one that runners now happily embrace.
  2. 26 miles 385 yards was the length of the first Olympic marathon. The Greek shepherd Spiridon Loues probably ran around 24.5 miles, or 40 kilometers, in winning the first Olympic marathon in 1896. Three Olympiads later at London in 1908, organizers moved the starting line back to Windsor Castle so the Queen’s grandchildren could see the race. That odd 26.2-mile distance somehow became the accepted standard.
  3. Boston is the oldest and biggest marathon race in the world. Technically, the Olympic Marathon is one year older, but is only held every fourth year and in different cities. In the fall of 1896, New York hosted a “first” marathon, but that event failed to survive. Boston is the oldest continuously held marathon, although eight other marathons, including New York and Chicago are bigger.
  4. Women will never be able to run 26.miles. A long since disproven myth, but rules once prevented women from running more than 2.5 miles. Then in 1966, Roberta Gibb ran the full distance at Boston followed in 1967 by Kathrine Switzer. Today, women dominate many long distance races. According to Running USA, in 2013 61 percent of the 2 million finishers in half marathons were women.
  5. The Boston Marathon bombings were a hoax, never happened. Yes, this myth seems ridiculous, but conspiracy theories abound around many major events. The Moon landing was staged in a TV studio, right? Within a week after the bombings, a “book” appeared on Kindle suggesting that the Boston Marathon bombings were a hoax staged by the Federal Government.

While all the questions about the terrorists have not yet been answered—and may never be answered even after the trial—this is the saddest marathon myth of all. I was happy to have turned down the assignment from the newspaper editor. The marathon has enough legitimate myths without making up others linked to the bombings.

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for Runner’s World. His most recent book is 4:09:43: Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners, available in bookstores, online and (autographed) through www.halhigdon.com.

Five ways to get faster today (as told by runners across the web)

We’ve talked before about how you can perform better starting with your very next run and ways to avoid slowing yourself down for no good reason.  Both of those posts show that although most of what makes for a successful runner takes time and patience, there are some quick tips and tricks that can help you start getting faster right away.  Continue reading

Success Stories: Mark Rucker

At Bluefin, nothing makes us happier than hearing from folks who have had success with our programs.  Our users have accomplished some amazing stuff and we’re always honored and humbled any time we hear that one of our apps had played a part in helping someone get healthy or take their running to the next level. Continue reading

Four reasons to try yoga (and be a better runner)

Just like a couch potato might be completely baffled by your desire to go log miles every chance you get, a lot of runners just don’t understand the appeal of yoga.  Sure, running and yoga are both physically and mentally challenging activities that are great for fitness-minded folks, but there isn’t always a lot of overlap between the two camps — at least not as much as there should be.

Why should runners consider spending some time on a yoga mat?  We can think of a few good reasons.  Here they are!

Stretching shouldn’t just bookend a workout.  We all know that stretching is important, but how often do you do it aside from before or after a run?  Chances are, if you are stretching as part of your warm-up or cool-down, you’re more focused on limbering up or wrapping up your workout than you are with really pushing yourself to increase strength and flexibility.  Spending dedicated time working on your flexibility, especially on a day when you aren’t running at all, can pay dividends.  If you’re looking for some specific routines to get you started, there are a number of great posts over at Runner’s World that can give you some good recommended yoga moves geared towards runners.  

You’ll get stronger (physically).  Yoga is a workout.  If you’ve done it, you know.  If you haven’t, give it a shot and you’ll be sold.  But more important than the physical challenge of the yoga session itself are the amazing benefits that come along with having more flexible muscles.  Quite simply, the more elastic and flexible your muscles are, the stronger they’ll be.  If you really care about improving your strength and building speed in the real world, even a single day of yoga a week can be an unbelievable investment.

You’ll get stronger (mentally).  Any serious runner can tell you that a huge portion of the running equation is mental.  Whether you are pacing yourself out for a personal best or just toughing through a particularly challenging workout, what’s in your head can be every bit as important as what’s in your shoes.  And while running can be a great tool for sharpening your mental toughness, there’s a lot going on in the heat of a run that can distract you from learning who you are between the ears.  Yoga, on the other hand, is built around mental focus and allowing time to breath and concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment.  Give it a try and see if it doesn’t pay off next time you’re facing the wall during a tough run.

Yoga is great for preventing injury.  If there’s one thing that can separate successful runners from the pack over the long term, it’s injury prevention.  Taking responsibility for your body and making sure you don’t end up hurt is a huge part of being able to run hard year after year without ending up sidelined on the couch, derailing your training for weeks or worse.  Yoga will strengthen your core, help integrate your muscular systems, and make you generally less prone to injury.  It’ll also improve awareness of your body so that if something does start to give you trouble, you might pick up on it before you end up taking a funny step off the curb and finding out the hard way.

We came up with this post after reading this one from Stephanie Taylor Christensen at MindBodyGreen.  She’s a solid distance runner with a great perspective on yoga if you’re looking to learn more.

Race day countdown: how to prepare

“Gearing up” for race day can mean a lot of different things.  Maybe you’re talking about the ten-week training program you’re using to get ready for the big day or just your morning routine on the day of the event.  Regardless of where you are in your training or when your next race begins, we’ve got some advice to help you be as prepared as you can be.

One month out.  Depending on the kind of shape you’re in and the type of race you’re planning to run, one month can be all the time in the world.  Our Ease into 5K program gets you from the couch to a 5k in just 8 weeks, so it isn’t insane to be just reaching the half way point a month before your race.  Our shorter programs like Bridge to 10K can also do wonders to prepare you for the big day.  Regardless of where you stand, there are some pretty universal thoughts to keep in mind if you’re 4 — 5 weeks away from the starting line.

  • Have a plan.  We rattled off a few Bluefin training plans above and there are certainly more.  But even if you aren’t in the midst of a formal training program, it’s important to have a plan as you close in on your race.  At the very least, sketch out the next four or five weeks and make some decisions about how hard you want to run and what kind of distance you want to put in.  Laying it out in writing can help keep you on track and avoid either overtraining or preparing too little.
  • Hone your form.  Lousy running form will suck the life out of you on race day, making you work harder for every step and fatigue more quickly as a result.  If you’ve developed any bad habits — weak posture, short strides, tight shoulders — they aren’t going to disappear overnight.  Make some changes while you still have a few weeks to tinker with your running from.  We’ve written a couple of detailed posts about it…check them out here and here.
  • Eat like a champion.  Just like you aren’t going to repair slouchy posture overnight, you can’t fuel up your body by gulping down an energy bar an hour before your race.  If you’ve managed to dedicate yourself successfully to the healthy lifestyle of running, hopefully you’re up to eating well, too.  There are obviously tons of resources out there on the topic, but our old post on optimal nutrition for runners isn’t a bad place to start.

One week out.  Okay, so it isn’t quite race day, but you’re definitely getting close.  A lot of us don’t realize just how important those last 5 — 7 days really are.  Phoning in those final workouts or pushing yourself too hard just before an event are both common mistakes that are paid for with a slower time and a more frustrating race.  Here’s how to prepare with one week to go.

  • Find your race pace.  One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself before you hit the race course is to develop a good, solid feel for what your race pace feels like.  With the excitement and adrenaline of the big day coursing through your system, it will be very easy to forget your usual race speed and feel very out of sorts as the starting pack begins to spread out.  Using a pace calculator like this one from Run the Planet can help you decide on a goal time and training with that in mind can help your body learn what race pace feels like.
  • Taper appropriately.  Two temptations are coming to mind right now: running obsessively to prepare for your race and stopping altogether in order to rest up.  Both are mistakes.  Elite athletes know that a HUGE part of performing well on race day is managing the taper — adjusting your workout intensity as a race approaches in order to be at your best when it matters most.  Check out this post from Runner’s World for a nice overview of what your workouts might look like on each of the seven days before a race.
  • Get your ducks in a row.  The week before your race is also a good time to make sure all your paperwork is in order and that all the little logistical issues are worked out in advance.  Check your registration, figure out how parking works, and get your race day bag packed.  The last thing you need is unnecessary stress or confusion when you’re trying to focus on your race.  The more you can do in advance to get ready, the fewer distractions you’ll have.

One day out.  The day before a race isn’t really a time to get faster or make any dramatic changes to your running philosophy.  You’ve already put in the work and all that’s left is getting out there and doing your best at the fun part.  Still, there are some things to keep in mind in those last 24 hours that can help set the stage for a successful race.

  • Eat smart.  As we said above, there isn’t anything you’re going to eat right before a race that’s going to dramatically improve your performance.  We’ve covered the basics before, but the best pre-race diet advice we can give you is to avoid surprises.  Stay away from unfamiliar foods and those that have a history of disagreeing with you.  You don’t want to be feeling last night’s dinner as you work your way to the starting line.
  • Hydrate.  Again, hopefully this one is a habit, but it’s important to keep in mind the day before a race.  Keep that water bottle handy so that you go to bed at night well-hydrated.  If you’re feeling thirsty or experiencing symptoms like chapped lips, you’ve already waited too long to drink.  Grab some water ASAP!
  • Get excited!  Whether you’re a world-class marathoner or a weekend 5k warrior, race days should be the highlight of your training season.  There’s excitement, competition, and tons of camaraderie among runners, so be sure to milk the experience for all that it’s worth.  You’ve earned it!

Four Olympic running performances to inspire your next workout

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to appreciate the Olympics (though it probably doesn’t hurt).  And while we’re sure you could turn on the TV or hop online and find inspiration from all sorts of sports at any given time of day as long as the Games are on, we figured we’d take a few minutes to share with you some of the most inspirational Olympic moments from modern sports history.  Because it doesn’t matter if you’re training for a gold medal, a personal best, or to cross that 5k finish line for the first time, we can all take something powerful away from the great runners who have come before us.

Here are four powerful stories that just might inspire your next workout.

Michael Johnson causes lightning to strike (twice).  Every once in a while, an athlete will come along who completely redefines what is possible in a sport.  Michael Johnson did just that in 1996 when he took gold in both the 400 and the 200, making him the first man to every accomplish that feat.  Check out Johnson and tons of other inspirational (non-running) stories at greatist.com.

Moral of the story? Take the most you could ever imagine accomplishing with your training.  Then double it.  You can do it.

Derek Redmond finishes the race (with his dad).  Redmond had dedicated his life to training for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.  His dreams of gold were shattered mid-race when a pulled hamstring yanked him from contention in a heartbeat.  With victory off the table, Redmond pushed through the pain to finish the race, crossing the line finally with the help of his dad.  Here’s the video, which is well worth a watch.

Moral of the story? Winning really isn’t everything, but sometimes finishing is.

Jesse Owens stares down Hitler himself.  It was 1936 and the Olympics were in Berlin.  African American Jesse Owens faced the toughest crowd of his career when he made history in the face of the Führer himself.  He was given a once-in-a-lifetime shot and performed at his best.  Read the whole story over at Olympics30.com.

Moral of the story?  Don’t let anyone intimidate you on race day.  Win or lose, you’ve earned your place in the competition.  

Wilma Rudolph beats the odds, every single day.  It was the 1960 Olympics in Rome and to make a long story short, Rudolph dominated like no other. She set records and won gold medals.  But the truly remarkable story is the one that starts the day she was born — premature, small, and weak.  Her childhood was plagued with illness and injury, sometimes making walking — never mind competitive running — nearly impossible.  If you ever feel like the deck is stacked against you when it comes to getting fit, Rudolph’s story might be just the motivation you need.  You can read the whole story now on ESPN.com.

Moral of the story?  Life may not be fair, but no matter what challenges your body throws at you, you can find a way to succeed.

Hope you guys are enjoying the Olympics as much as we are.  Get inspired!

Three incredibly important warm up tips (you may not have considered)

We all know that warming up is important. It’s the key to avoiding injury and performing at your best. Still…we runners tend to be creatures of habit and there are definitely some finer points of warm-up philosophy that you may not have considered. Here are three thoughts that are well worth keeping in mind as you prepare for your next workout.

Warm-ups are critical when you cross-train. As a regular runner, you probably know just what you need to do to get loose and ready before your run. Your body knows the deal and is probably well-prepared for the physical demands of your typical workout. But what about non-typical workouts? Maybe you’re going to mix things up and go for a trail run or do some hills. Or maybe you’re jumping into a pick-up game of basketball, hitting the pool, or trying a new Pilates class. This is where you need to be careful. Cross-training puts demands on your body that are often outside of what it’s used to. Warming up thoroughly is the best way to reduce the likelihood of injury as you engage muscles in ways outside of your usual training routine. While you’re at it, it’s important to realize that since you’re using your body differently, you should be warming it up differently, too. Check out this series of posts from LiveStrong.com which give you specific warm-up routines for different activities, from swimming to basketball to dancing. Don’t let that softball game at the company picnic turn into an injury you’re going to regret.

When the weather is hot, warm up smart. We’ve talked before about how important it is to adjust your warm-up in the face of cold weather. It’s just as important to have a weather-appropriate approach to warming up when it’s hot outside, too — and the answer is definitely not to skip the warm-up altogether. While hot weather does mean it should be easier to get your body up to operating temperature, it doesn’t mean you can let the sun do the work for you. The heat outside will only warm you up from the outside in. To be ready to perform and avoid injury, you need to heat yourself up from the inside out. Runningtimes.com has some great tips for getting warm quickly without wearing yourself out, pointing out that you can get loose and ready without wearing yourself out before the workout even begins. Especially if you have a race day in your future, it’s well worth the read.

Workouts vary. Your warm-up should, too. Whether it’s focused and vigorous or quick and casual, a lot of us go through pretty much the same warm-up routine regardless of the workout to follow. That might not seem like a big deal (warm is warm, right?) but if you think about it, it’s pretty intuitive that different workouts should be supported by different warm-ups. There’s a great, detailed post over at runnersworld.com that lays out specific routines appropriate for various scenarios. An everyday run, for example, might warrant a simple build-up in intensity over a half mile or so. Speed work on the other hand — like high-intensity sprints — is better preceded by more vigorous activities like quick sprints and focused circuit work. They’ve also got some good advice for treadmill workouts and even race day.

Mastering your recovery

You train hard.  But when it comes to getting stronger and faster, it turns out that  how you go about recovering after workouts can be just as important as the work you invest in the first place.  Recovering smart can help you get the most out of your training, squeezing more strength and speed out of every mile you log.

Here are four ways to recover (smarter).

Eat right.  Especially when a big motivator for a lot of runners is losing weight, it can be tempting to look at nutrition mainly in terms of calories taken in and calories burned off.  But how much you eat is only part of the equation.  What you eat is really the name of the game.  Making solid nutrition a priority can be the difference between being a weekend warrior and a serious high-performing athlete.  “Fueling Up: What to Eat Before, During, and After a Run” is a post we published last year that lays out some very specific foods you can eat  throughout your day to give your body what it needs to (A) perform well during your run and (B) rebuild properly afterwards.  The short version? Carbs before, protein after.

Ease in.  Motivational quotes and inspirational sayings aside, your body really doesn’t care to “hit the ground running.”  Warming up slowly and following a steady build-up in intensity will reduce shock on your body, allowing your muscles to focus on getting productively stronger rather than simply recovering from the unexpectedly intense paces you just put them through.  “Post-Run Recovery Tips” on runningtimes.com gives some good strategies for easing in, including building up to your workout pace over 4 to 5 minutes and mixing up workouts between (for example) hilly and flat runs to avoid over-stressing the same muscles again and again.

Cool down.  You just worked your tail off, blew the doors off of your last run, and generally nailed your workout — surely you’ve earned a flop down onto the couch to catch your breath, right? No matter how much you may have earned it, resist the urge.  Just like your body doesn’t like going from 0 to 60 at a moment’s notice, it doesn’t like slamming on the brakes like that, either.  There’s a reason your Bluefin programs include a cooldown at the end of each workout.  “5 Ways to Cool Down After a Workout” from MensFitness.com stresses the importance of gradually tapering off your workout and stretching out afterwards, pointing out that screeching to a halt after intense training can lead to muscle cramps and big fluctuations in blood pressure.  A few minutes of walking and a good solid stretch can make all the difference.

Sleep well.  One of the most counterproductive things you can do is try to train while depriving yourself of sleep.  Those solid hours of shuteye are not only when your body reenergizes to prepare for the day ahead, but it’s also when it does a lot of the basic recovery work needed to rebuild tired muscles after a hard workout.  As much as it might up your street-cred at the office, charging along on no sleep with a big mug full of coffee isn’t hero stuff — it’s hurting your training.  How Running Affects Sleep (and Vice Versa) from Running Research News  has some very detailed information about the science behind sleep for runners that more than makes the case for getting a good night’s rest.  The good news is that getting enough exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve sleep quality, so running hard and sleeping well are absolutely compatible and even complementary.

Managing your recovery is critical to anyone who wants to take their running performance to the next level.  What do you do to bounce back between runs?

Four game-changing superfoods you should try this weekend

The more you focus on being fit and improving your performance, the more you start to pick up on how certain foods make you feel.  The good stuff tastes better and makes you feel like a million bucks.  The bad stuff drags you down and makes you feel like somebody put sugar in your gas tank.  Either way, the point is that being in tune with your body means giving it the right fuel.

Here are four game-changing superfoods that can help you take your performance to a whole new level.

Cruciferous vegetables.  Yesterday we posted on our Facebook wall an article from WebMD about the impressive benefits of cruciferous vegetables (a fancy term for veggies in the cabbage family — think broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and, you know…cabbage).  It’s definitely worth clicking through for the full article but basically eating cruciferous vegetables is a great way to cut your risk of cancer and take in a ton of  vitamin A, vitamin C, and folic acid.

How to make it happen?  As a general rule, the less you cook veggies like these, the better they’ll be.  Mushy broccoli can turn your stomach, but the stuff looks a lot more appealing when it’s next to some (also awesome) cauliflower and celery on a veggie tray.  Cook sparingly or try them raw to get your daily fill.     

Antioxidants.  Your body uses antioxidants to help you recover — whether that’s from a long hard run or from an injury or illness.  As this post from The Running Bug points out, you don’t need to overdo it with antioxidants (especially in the form of supplements), but it is good to work them into your daily diet as a runner.

How to make it happen?  Grapes, berries, and nuts are all antioxidant-rich foods that can be easily worked into your day, one snack baggie at a time.  Reach for these instead of junkier foods when you are looking to kill a little hunger between meals and feel the benefits after your next hard workout.

Chia seeds.  When Fitbie published their list of superfoods for endurance runners, chia seeds made the cut.  A tough-to-beat combination of carbs, protein, fiber, and omega-3s make chia seeds an optimal food for runners.  It’s a shame that most of us know them best for growing hilarious green hair on ceramic heads (ch-ch-ch-chia!).

How to make it happen?  You can toss a handful of chia seeds into pretty much anything — think stews, smoothies, cold drinks, you name it.  Mix them in and knock it back.  There isn’t a whole lot of taste, but they can really leave you feeling tremendous.

Chocolate milk.  You may have been seeing more of this lately as chocolate milk is becoming increasingly popular as a post-workout recovery drink.  This post from Fitness points out some of the benefits of cooling down after training with a glass of chocolate milk, which include rehydrating and providing a ton of carbohydrates and protein.  The bottom line is that it’s more natural than a sports drink and more substantive than water alone.

How to make it happen?  This is an easy one — it’s chocolate milk!  Unleash your inner kid and have a glass.  You probably don’t want to down a bunch immediately after working out but let yourself cool down and indulge.  For most of us, nonfat is the way to go.

We hope you saw something on this list worth trying.  You really will be amazed at how much the right fuel can impact your performance whether you’re training or just going about your day.  Let us know if you have any go-to foods that leave you feeling like you could take on the world!


Optimal Nutrition for Runners

Last week we posted about some more natural, do-it-yourself approaches to traditional energy bars and sports drinks.  Deana, one of our readers, took the issue a step further, posing the following question in the comments.

“As I am just running 3-4 miles a few times a week I haven’t had to deal with fueling yet. However I start my 1/2 marathon training in July and will have to figure something out. Given all the additives and high calories I would like to work my plan for fueling with whole foods. But I have a question – is there an ideal set of carbs/calories/etc as running fuel? Or a ratio of these depending on your estimated calorie burn or miles?”

Deana is just getting ready to start her half marathon training, but as you can see she’s already realized something very important — as you begin to tackle longer distances, giving your body the right fuel becomes critical.  You might be able to fake your way through a 5k with sub-par nutrition (particularly if you’re in shape), but as you reach 10k and beyond, putting the right gas in the tank is key.  We also like the instinct to reach for natural, whole foods rather than processed, pre-packaged ones.  Anyway…on to the questions at hand!

What solid, whole foods are best before a run?

Back in September, we posted about the best foods to eat before, during, and after a run.  As far as pre-run nutrition was concered, we reccomended a light snack of energy-rich foods like bread, pasta, fruits, veggies and granola.

Is there an ideal ratio between calories, carbs, protein, etc?

You may have heard 3:1 cited as the optimum ratio between carbohydrates and protein for runners (meaning three ounces of carbs for every one ounce of protein or 75% carbs to 25% protein).  This thinking was explained in a recent USDA study called Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which in fact refers to a ratio of 3:1:1 – acknowledging your body’s need for healthy fats as well, though realistically if you have a relatively normal diet you are likely getting the fats you need throughout the day.  (As for calories, we’ll get to that in a bit.)

The best thing you can do to fuel your body properly is to follow these guidelines not just an hour before you train, but all throughout the day.  Strive to maintain that balance of approximately 75% carbs to 25% protein in each meal you eat and your body shouldn’t feel the need for anything special right before your workout.  (If you do need a boost, those links at the beginning of this post provide some healthy, effective ideas.)

So where should I get my carbs?

When it comes to nutrition, not all carbs are the same.  You’ll want to avoid “bad” carbohydrates like those found in white bread, white rice, and many pastas.  Heavily processed carbohydrates have typically been stripped of their fiber and other nutrients, leaving empty calories behind.  So where can you get the good stuff?

Whole grains (oatmeal, granola, brown rice)

Fresh fruits (bananas, oranges, blueberries)

Vegetables (mixed greens, stir-fry, pretty much anything you enjoy)

And protein?

Poultry (light meat, baked is best)

Fish (grilled or baked)

Nuts and beans (ideal plant-based proteins)

This is obviously a pretty broad overview of carbs and protein, but it’s just what you need to begin thinking about that 3:1 ratio in a way that fits into your real life.  If in general you’re getting a well-balanced diet of the above, heavier on carbs and lighter on protein, you’ll be firing on all cylinders when it comes time to work out.

Now one last piece to tackle…

How many extra calories do I need?

When you think about fueling up for a workout, you should definitely be thinking in terms of the stuff we’ve talked about above, not just focusing on upping your calorie intake.  Unless you are a pretty advanced athlete in excellent shape and with little fat to burn, you probably don’t need to load up with calories to get through a workout.  Just like we said with fat intake, most of us will typically eat enough calories during the course of the day to fuel the average workout, especially if your runs are remaining in the neighborhood of an hour in length.  Rather than thinking about loading up on calories, focus on simply filling your belly about an hour before your run and getting those healthy carbs and proteins in your system throughout the day.  If you are feeling hungry during or after a run, your body is almost certainly craving healthy carbs or protein — not just additional calories.  Examine your diet and see what’s lacking.

Thanks, Deana, for the great question and for sharing your training progress with us.  Be sure to let us know how you’re doing with your half marathon work!