Category Archives: Ease into 5K

What’s your running mantra?

Let’s face it. Some runs pan out better than others.

When the going gets tough, finding a way to pull it together and mentally recenter can make the difference between a good workout and a lousy workout (or worse, an incomplete one).

The better you can prepare for the inevitable tough days, the more likely you’ll be to rise to the occasion.

The human brain is a powerful thing. Unfortunately, it’ll occasionally use that power for evil — or at least to interfere with our training. Often, as we begin to falter during a workout, our brains start to over-think things, looking for reasons to throw in the towel (“this isn’t going well, let’s start fresh in the morning”) or causing us to dwell on our discomfort (“ow, ow, ow, ow”).

You wouldn’t want to hear that kind of negativity from your running partner. Don’t let yourself get away with it either.

So, if you find that your mind is becoming your worst enemy, what can you do about it?

Short-circuit it.

Try a mantra — a word, a phrase, an idea — that let’s you cut through the noise and find your focus.

One step at a time.

Runners run.

Run like a champion.

Make it look easy.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what your mantra is.

The idea is that you have a go-to saying that you can repeat without thinking about it.  So instead of dwelling on how tired you are or worrying about how much time is left in a hard interval, you’re repeating your mantra.  You’re on autopilot.  You’re re-centered.

It can be under your breath or out loud or at the top of your lungs.  Whatever works for you.

It can be funny or corny or inspirational or all of the above.

Give it a try.  And if you have a favorite mantra, please share it with us!

Change of Scenery — four quick ways to shake up your routine

We talk a lot about how to mix up your routine for the sake of keeping your training interesting and avoiding boredom and frustration. One of the best and simplest ways to do that is just to change where you are running.

It doesn’t have to be anything drastic, just a slight shift in what you usually do for the sake of expanding your horizons a little bit. Here are some ideas that you can make happen starting with your very next run.

Go the other way. Always head East at the first corner? Cross the street and head North instead! When you get into a groove with a certain running route, you’ll be amazed at how different things feel when you make a change. Even just exploring the other side of the neighborhood can make you feel like you’re in a whole new area. Worried about missing your landmarks and turnaround spots? Set your app alerts up to give you a half-way notifcation for an out-and-back run — just turn around when you hear the alert and see if you can beat your pace back home.

Take a little drive. Even a five-minute car ride can put you well out of your ordinary running range. Consider taking a drive and start your run from a different spot. Think sceneic parks, runner-friendly paths, or even a trip downtown for a city run. This is a great one if you are having trouble finding the motivation to get out and train. Just convince yourself to hop in the car and the rest should take care of itself.

Head off road. Starting from a trail head and doing some off-road running can really freshen your perspective. Try it once and you might find yourself becoming a trail runner.

Try a track. Running on a track is a great change of pace and can be a refreshing experience. Your gym, a nearby highschool, and college campuses can all be great places to run circles. Just be certain that you are welcome at the track and get permission if unsure. As a rule, faster runners should be on the inside with slower movers on the outside. (Please note that if you are running on a circular track with our apps, the GPS  will not be able to track your distance and pace accurately because you will be running in a small circular area).

Whatever you choose, a change of venue can do wonders for your workouts.  The more you mix things up, the less likely you’ll end up in a training rut.  Give it a try and see what the new perspective does for you.

Stay Healthy! Avoiding “Runner’s Knee”

If you want to take running seriously, it’s important to take injury prevention seriously, too.

Any repetitive exercise brings with it the risk of aggravating something.  Running is no exception.

Fortunately, by learning about common running ailments in advance and being proactive about avoiding them, you can steer clear of many injuries altogether (or at least bounce back quickly if they do become an issue).

Today we’re talking about Runner’s Knee.

What it is.  The technical name for Runner’s Knee is patellofemoral pain syndrome, but chances are you have no reason to remember that.  Basically, Runner’s Knee is simply knee pain, concentrated right around your knee cap.  Sometimes you’ll notice it first when running downhill or walking down stairs.

Where it comes from.  The most common cause of Runner’s Knee, particularly with beginning runners, is a combination of tight leg muscles coupled with poor quad strength.  There can be some more subtile issues at play as well, but that’s a good place to start.

What to do about it.  Stretch your legs and strengthen your quads.  If you aren’t stretching after your workouts, getting started might do wonders for you knees (among other things).  As for strengthening  your quads, running will do that over time, but additional activities like cycling or doing wall sits can jumpstart your progress.

Looking for advice on a running ailment or want to share the story of how you overcame one in the past?  Drop a note in the comments and share your experience.

Update: For an overview of stretches to help with Runner’s Knee, check out Stretches for Runner’s Knee over on LiveStrong.com.  They’ve also published 5 Stretches to Prevent Runner’s Knee.  Thanks to reader Nichole for the request!

Fueling up: what to eat before, during and after a run

The kind of performance you get out of your body has everything to do with the quality of food you put into it.  It doesn’t matter if you’re running to lose weight, get fit, or just have fun — what you eat matters.

Being an athlete isn’t about living on protein bars and sports drinks.  And losing weight isn’t about burning as many calories as possible while taking in the bare minimum.

If you focus less on just getting food into your system and more on really fueling your body, healthy eating habits will inevitably follow.  Here are some general guidelines on the best stuff to eat before, during, and after a run.

Pre-run: put gas in the tank.  Obviously you don’t want to eat a huge meal right before heading out to run, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get some food in your system.  Grab a light snack an hour or so before you head out.  The idea isn’t to fill yourself up, but just to eat enough that you aren’t running on an empty stomach.

Go-to foods: bread, pasta, fruits, veggies, granola

Mid-run: hydrate and refuel.  Unless your body or your doctor tell you differently, most runs probably don’t require mid-workout fuel.  But if you are doing distance work and feel like you need a pick-me-up beyond just a mouthful of water here and there, it might be a good idea to plan for a bite during your run.  Obviously convenience is going to be key…sticking with foods that are easy to carry, unwrap, and eat on the go.

Go-to-foods: banana, pretzels, granola/fruit bar

Post-run: rebuild and replenish. After you’ve finished the hard work of your run, your body begins its hard work of recovering.  That’s how you get stronger and faster.  Remember that the food you take in shortly after your workout is what your body is going to be using to rebuild tired muscles.  This is when you want to take in some high-protein, muscle building nutrition that will help lay the groundwork for a faster you.

Go-to foods: chicken, fish, dark vegetables

Just like eating junk and sitting around can create a nasty spiral into poor health, eating well and getting exercise can do just the opposite.  The better you eat, the better you’ll perform and the better you perform, the more you’ll feel motivated to keep eating well.

That’s the good kind of spiral.

What foods fuel you?

Time Slots: Lunchtime Run

Lunchtime is tricky.

On one hand, it’s the time when most everyone can agree to take a break and get some relief from the workday.  On the other hand, it’s still tempting to spend that time doing something fun like grabbing a bite with coworkers or something productive like sitting in front of a computer screen (perhaps spilling crumbs into your keyboard).

Regardless of what your day looks like, there are some great benefits to running in the middle of the day:  You’ll jump-start your body right when that mid-day sluggishness often sets in.  You can clear your head and reboot your brain, setting the stage for a productive afternoon.  And maybe most valuable is the fact that you are getting up and away right when you probably need it most.  Whether you work at home or in a cubicle or on top of telephone poles, stepping away from the usual scenery can do a world of good.

Whatever your motivation for trying out a lunchtime run, here are some tips for making it happen.

Make it a priority.  Treat your run as seriously as you would a personal or professional commitment.  Block the time off on your calendar.  Let your significant other know the plan.  Redirect any needed lunchtime commitments to days when you aren’t planning to run.  If you think that is selfish,well…then be selfish.

Hit the showers (or something).  Work at home?  That one’s easy.  On-site showers?  Good for you.  No reasonable facilities to speak of?  Doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker!  Just because you don’t have easy access to showers and a locker room doesn’t mean you’re out of luck when it comes to a lunchtime run.  Some runners find they can freshen up adequately in the restroom at the office.  It helps to build a nice long cooldown into your workout so you don’t finish up hot and dripping.  After that, wipe down with a damp cloth, change your clothes (all of them…), and put on some deodorant.   This isn’t going to work for everyone, but if your body can cool off and clean up without stinking up place all afternoon, then by all means take advantage.

If you can’t run, walk.  Did all that DIY locker room talk just turn you off big time?  That’s okay, it isn’t for everybody.  But if you still want to get out and be active during lunch, a brisk walk can give you many of the mental and physical benefits of a sweaty run.  Consider a walk.  And to help both get you in the mood and protect your feet, keep a change of sneakers handy for the occasion.

Don’t forget to eat!  Please don’t go for a walk/run during your lunch hour at the expense of your actual lunch.  If you’re going to get your workout in, you probably aren’t going to have a lot of time to spare for a big meal.  Still, be sure to plan ahead and get some nutrition into your system either before your workout or after.  Pick quick, easy foods like yogurt and granola so that you can snag a late morning or early afternoon bite and get right back to business.

Hydrate.  Last but not least, don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day.  Get yourself a water bottle and hydrate throughout the morning and all afternoon long.  If you’re typically a morning or evening runner, your body won’t be used to this shift in your routine.  Be as prepared as you can by drinking frequently and consistently.

When do you like to run? Let us know and maybe we’ll write it up for our next edition of Time Slots.

Hit the trails! (Plus three quick tips on doing it safely)

It’s definitely possible to become a heck of a runner without straying more than a step or two from paved surfaces.  But if you’re looking to inject some variety into your training routine, getting away from the pavement is a great way to do it.

Welcome to trail running.

Not only do you get a boredom-fighting change of scenery, but you’ll reap some impressive training benefits as well.

First of all, you’ll give your bones and joints a rest from all that asphalt and concrete.  Our bodies aren’t perfectly suited for hard-surface running and logging the occasional miles on more natural, forgiving terrain can be a welcome change.

Of course, you’ll pay for that relief with some added challenges along the way.

Running on uneven, often hilly surfaces will help you engage muscles in ways that running on pavement doesn’t.  You’ll ask more of your legs along the way and activate your core as you balance and stabilize yourself from side to side.

Aside from that, trail running is a great sensory experience that can really liven up your routine.  But before you hit the trails, take a look at these three quick tips on doing so safely:

Scope it out. Don’t just dive in, bombing down an unknown trail with your music blasting and your adrenaline flowing.  To run on a trail with speed, it is important to get the lay of the land first.  Start out with a slow, no-pressure exploratory run to help you get a feel for the trail.

Watch your step.   Rocks, roots, and stumps are all new elements to think about as you run trails.  And even once you’re familiar with the terrain, the ground underneath your feet can change from day to day as branches fall, debris shifts, and mud forms.  No matter how familiar you are with where you’re running, always be actively watching where you’re putting your feet.

Go easy on the shoes.  It might be tempting to run out and buy some of those admittedly cool-looking trail shoes before you hit the dirt.  For advanced trail runners, those might be perfect, providing additional support and improved grip.  If you’re just getting started, however, an old pair of sneakers should do just fine.  Trail shoes will often raise your center of gravity beyond what you’re used to and can play tricks on your balance.  Like all other aspects of running, it isn’t about the gear.

Trail running is great.  It will keep your workouts interesting, fight off boredom, and maybe even open you up to some very cool off-road races once you get the hang of it.  Have fun out there and be safe!

Remembering your top half

When it come to form and fitness, most runners think legs, legs, legs.

That certainly makes sense, with our legs being what get us from point A to point B (and on a good day, maybe point C).  Just don’t forget that even though your bottom half may be doing the bulk of the work, your top half matters, too.

That’s because what’s going on above your waistline is going to have an effect on your breathing, your posture, and your overall speed.  Here are some tips for maintaining a strong upper body form.

Keep centered.  Draw an imaginary line from between your eyes to between your feet.  If you keep your hands and arms from crossing that line, you’ll also help keep  your hips and spine straight, reducing back stress and improving efficiency overall.

Drop your hands.  Ever just hold your hands up at chest height for a minute or two?  It’s tiring.  When you simply stand there, it’s tough to miss.  Yet somehow when we’re running, it’s easy to overlook.  Think about lightly brushing your hips with your thumbs as you run if your hands tend to creep upwards.

Stand up straight.  Posture is the key to strong running form.  By standing up tall, you’ll improve your stride, make it easier to breath, and feel better all around.  If you are struggling with a slouch, think about lifting your chin and pushing your chest out.  More often than not, that’ll fix you right up.

The stronger your form is above the waist, the more efficient you’ll be below the waist.  The next time you hit the road for a run, think beyond your legs.  They just might thank you for it.

It’s all uphill from here…(running hills for fun and fitness)

We don’t hear from a lot of people asking for tips on making their runs more difficult.  But hey, training is all about challenging yourself, right?

One way to do that is to run some hills.  If you’re trying to build strength and speed without doing a lot of training outside of running, hills can be ideal.  You can still be out there logging miles and wearing out sneakers, all the while getting the kind of muscle-building benefits that come with less wind-in-your-hair exercises like squats and weights.

Here are some things to keep in mind before you begin an uphill battle.

Get ready.  Yes, you should be warming up and stretching before any run…hills or no hills.  But it’s still worth repeating that if you’re headed for serious inclines, you should take some extra care to warm up and stretch out before you do.

Start slow.  Even if you’re a fairly experienced flat-lander, diving into hill work can give you a run for your money.  Take it slow and gradually add more and more uphill distance to your routes.

Cool down.  Running hills puts significant additional strain on your muscles, particularly the legs.  Set yourself up for a speedy recovery and minimal soreness with a cool-down walk and a good stretch.

Rest up.  Serious hill running can really take it out of you.  Plan ahead and don’t be surprised if  you need some extra recovery time to feel 100 percent.  (You might also find that you feel great the next day, but have soreness set in a day or two later.)

For every bit of uphill you run, there will be a bit of downhill to match.  This is a nice relief, but be sure to keep yourself under control as you descend.  It’s easy to get sloppy as you run downhill, which can lead to an injury.  Be careful out there and enjoy those hills!

Time Slots: The Evening Run

Sometimes the hardest part of going for a run is finding time to actually do it. “Time Slots” will be a recurring topic focused on helping time-strapped runners squeeze in a workout.

Today we’re talking about evening runs.

Finding time to run during the day can be tough. For many of us, the evenings are a much more reliable source of available minutes. Yet for one reason or another (too late, too worn out, too much on TV), we’re sometimes reluctant to get out there and run during the last hours of the day.

Here are a few reasons you might want to reconsider.

There’s something about the air. On hot days especially, a cool evening run can be a thing of beauty. But regardless of the temperature, there’s something pleasant about those last quiet hours of the day. Every season brings a little something special to the evening air.

The day is behind you. Life is stressful. A lot of the time, we end up bringing that stress home at the end of the day and carrying it around until bedtime. Pounding out a good stong evening run can help you regain perspective on the day and run off some of that mental baggage you’re carrying (usually needlessly).

It beats television. There’s nothing wrong with watching a little TV, but it can be too easy to lose track of the night watching nothing in particular. Getting lost in a favorite show or two is one thing. But if you’re spending more time on the couch than that, you probably don’t end up feeling great about it when you get up. Trade a half-hour show for a half-hour run sometime and see how satisfying it can be.

You’ll sleep better. With around-the-clock schedules and the generally frantic pace of daily life, it’s easy to go to bed tense, wound-up, and in no physical or mental state to actually get any rest. If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, wearing yourself out with a run can help you spend less time tossing and turning and more time actually snoozing.

When do you like to run? Let us know and maybe we’ll write it up for our next edition of Time Slots.

Four reasons to squeeze in a run between classes

Today we’re wrapping up this week’s back-to-school theme with some thoughts on how running can benefit students beyond just keeping them healthy.  If you’re a runner, you probably agree that improved fitness is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what exercise can do for a person.

Starting college (or heading back) brings some unique challenges that the rest of us might not face on a regular basis.  Fortunately, running provides some special benefits that rise to the occasion.  Here are a few ways that running can complement college life.

Maintain routine.  One of the things a lot of college students learn the hard way is that it can be tough to make the transition to a less structured schedule.  First class of the day might not be until after lunch and all weekdays are no longer created equal.  Making running a reliable part of the daily routine can create some stability and make sure that newfound student freedom doesn’t lead to sleeping until noon or wasting those tricky spare hours between classes.

Mitigate junk food.  College food can be rough.  Between dorm-room microwave meals and deep-fried cafeteria food, it’s easy for students to be running on less than high-octane fuel.  While there’s no substitute for a healthy diet, keeping fit and active can help counterbalance the crummy food that seems to be go along with campus life.

Improve sleep.  For many, college is a time of staying up late, sleeping in, and squeezing in the occasional catnap.  As sleep gets more unpredictable, sleep quality becomes more important.  Getting regular exercise is the best way to set the stage for good, quality Zs.

Salvage the day after.  Let’s be realistic.  It’s college.  There are going to be some late nights and some rough mornings.  As much as it might seem like the most unpleasant idea in the world, rolling out of bed and getting some exercise can be just what the doctor ordered.  A motivated runner can be feeling as good as new while friends back at the dorm are still grumbling and avoiding natural light.

What about you?  Was running a staple of your college experience?  Or do you plan for it to be?  Tell us about it in the comments.