Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Iron Gym Xtreme review - Great for Runners!

Just Yesterday I finally bit the bullet and bought the Iron Gym Xtreme.  As you may know, I've been missing my runs due to Plantar Fasciitis.  I've been able to continue doing weight training though.  It's real simple to get a little gym at home, which I highly recommend since you won't always feel like driving to the gym.  It's amazing what you can do with a couple of dumbbells and some other affordable equipment.

My home gym consists of the following:
  • 2 plastic coated 10 lbs dumbbells
  • 2 traditional dumbbells with cast iron weights of 4 x 5 lbs and 4 x 2.5 lbs.
  • Push Up Handles (for deeper push ups)
  • Iron Gym Xtreme
The Iron Gym Xtreme is just $10 more than the original Iron Gym.  The Xtreme offers more hand grips so you can "attack" your muscles from different angles.  It takes about 20 minutes to assemble and the little tool to tighten the bolts comes included.  Make sure to read the directions and not just try to go by the picture!

The only hiccup I had, was that my house is an old house, so the trim around the doorways is wide/tall.  This really limited my options for where I could use the Xtreme since it "hooks" over the door trim.  The door to my hallway works but just barely. Width wise, you should not have any trouble.  It works great on doors from 24" - 32" wide.  If you have wider interior doors, it won't work.

You can find the Iron Gym ($29.99) and the Iron Gym Xtreme ($39.99) at Dick's Sporting Goods, although I'm sure other stores have them as well (except Wal-Mart...they only had a "Gold's Gym" version which didn't look that great/sturdy to me.

As you know, runners have notoriously weak upper bodies.  Even if you can't hit the gym, you can easily work out at home for under $100.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Deal with Plantar Fasciitis

I just spent the last 9 days off due to Plantar it if you must.  Basically, there is a ligament in your foot that starts at the heel.  Over-training, poor shoes, and a variety of other factors can cause this ligament to get tight.  Ironically, it can feel fine while running as the ligament gets stretched.  The pain comes after a long rest period.  For example, I would feel great on my run, but the next morning, after sleeping all night, the heel of my foot would be very sore.  It also would happen after sitting at a desk or watching TV for hours on end.

Here's a great video I've found on Plantar Fasciitis.  As I mentioned, I am currently working on recovering from this.  All my years of running and this is the first time it's happened to me.  I think it was a combination of over-training and poor shoe choice.  I rested for 9 days (until I no longer woke up with heel pain) and have been doing the same stretches that are in this video.  I've cut my mileage in half and slowed my pace for the time being. I'll let the video explain the rest:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Should I Run When I Don't Feel Well

Sometimes it's hard to tell if you should go for a run or not due to not feeling well. You need to ask yourself, "is this genuine or am I just being lazy today...without sounding like Darth Vader, you need to "search your feelings, you know them to be true!"

Sometimes though, it's more than just a "Should I or shouldn't I" kind of day.  Perhaps you have a cold or a nagging cough.  Perhaps it's an injury that doesn't seem too bad as I recently had.  If it's one of these situations, I would say, when in doubt, sit it out.

Technically speaking, try following the "Neck" rule.  This rule states that anything above the neck (runny nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, etc...) means you can run if you want to.  If, however, it's below the neck (anything from a chest cold to foot pain) then take some time off.  Of course, this is a general rule of thumb.  If you really don't feel like running, don't!

I just spent the last 9 days off due to Plantar it if you must.  Basically, there is a ligament in your foot that starts at the heel.  Over-training, poor shoes, and a variety of other factors can cause this ligament to get tight.  Ironically, it can feel fine while running as the ligament gets stretched.  The pain comes after a long rest period.  For example, I would feel great on my run, but the next morning, after sleeping all night, the heel of my foot would be very sore.  It also would happen after sitting at a desk or watching TV for hours on end. For a great video about Plantar Fasciitis, click here.

Basically, you know better than anyone how you feel.  If you feel like running, then run.  If you don't feel like running, then don't.  Just make sure it's not laziness.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Should I Run Outside or on a Treadmill?

In my opinion, (which I agree with 100%), if you want to go for run, by all means do it outside.  We spend enough of our lives inside - at work, at home, in the car, etc...  Fresh air and sunlight are essential for good health.  Personally, I find treadmills somewhat boring since I feel like I never get anywhere.  Also, if you stumble outside, you can probably catch your balance and keep going.  If you stumble on a treadmill, it can be disastrous!  - OUCH!

However, there are times & reasons when a treadmill workout is actually a good way to go.
  1. When the weather is really bad outside - downpours, extreme cold, extreme heat, high winds, etc...then run a mile or two on the treadmill.  It makes no sense to go outside in the extremes if you don't have to.  This is from both a  health and safety approach.  In fact, if you're the type of runner who would even consider training in those elements, you may need an easier day anyway.
  2. If you are just getting back into running, a treadmill can be a great way to learn what a given pace feels like.  I prefer to do this on a track, but the local track has been down for repairs.  I've found the treadmill a great way to do my "track workouts". 
  3. While you are on vacation, a treadmill in the hotel will be there when you can run.  It won't matter if it's dark, or an unfamiliar city. 
  4. If you are somewhere flat, and want to train for hills, you can set the incline to mimic a hilly course.
  5. Treadmills tell you all sorts of good stats: Distance, time, pace, calories burned, etc...
  6. Missed your run today?  Hop on the treadmill while watching T.V. or listening to your music - sometimes this is a good enough reason since I don't recommend wearing headphones while running, but plenty of times I wish I had some motivating music to keep me going.

I'm sure other runners could rattle off numerous other benefits, but these are the ones that impress me.  I would offer a couple of suggestions though:
  •  Start off slow and increase your pace gradually if you are not used to a treadmill.  Some models accelerate rapidly toward the pace you set it at.  This can catch some people off guard.  (I speak from experience.)
  • If you can set the incline, set it to at least a 1% grade.  This will more closely mimic outside "flat" terrain.
Hopefully that helps put into perspective the pros of using a treadmill when running outside just isn't an option for you.

Happy Trails!

Friday, October 15, 2010

How to Start Running... Again

It's hard enough to begin running for the first time.  Everything is new.  How far do you run?  How fast do you try to run?  How often do you run?  These are all very important questions to ask and have answered.

But what if you're a former runner?  What if it's been years since you went out and logged any miles?  As you lace up your running shoes, you may be re-living past runs or past races, only to get out there and realize that you aren't the runner you used to be.  Now, 3 miles feels like 6, and a 10 minute mile pace feels like a 6 or 7 minute mile pace.  I know, as I speak from experience.

As a former runner, trying to get back into running, you actually have to ask yourself the same questions as a brand new runner.  How far do you run?  How fast do you try to run?  How often do you run?

The answer, like it or not, is to take it slow.  Ease back into running and you'll run for a long time.  Try to run the same mileage you ran in your younger days, and you are asking to be injured.  Here's what I suggest:

How Far: Start off with an easy mile run and see how that feels.  If you have to walk, that's fine. Do NOT get discouraged. If, on the other hand, it's too easy, go a little farther next time.  The important thing is to build up your mileage slow.  Remember, it's not the quantity of the miles you run, it's the quality!

How fast: Take it nice and slow.  What you'll find, is that your "nice and slow" becomes faster the more you run.  When I first started running again, I was struggling to run a 9:45 mile pace.  After 6 weeks, I was averaging an 8:38 pace.  A far cry from my glory days, but I'm heading in the right direction.

How often: Every other day is a good way to start back into it.  Take a day off to let your legs recover.  Do this for awhile, and soon you'll be running every day.  In fact, I suggest a Monday, Wednesday, Friday run, with some other activity on Tuesday and Thursday.  Saturday and Sunday just relax and look forward to the next week. Eventually, you can add some running on the weekends.  Listen to your body and you'll know when the time is right.

In summary, ease back into running.  You didn't fall out of the routine overnight most likely, so you can't expect to be in prime shape overnight.  Follow this advice and you're sure to see results, quicker than you thought possible.

Happy Trails!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Strength Training for Runners

As a runner, you may not think of strength training as necessary.  After all, you're a runner, not a body builder.  Why on Earth should you be pumping iron, or clanking those plates together on the machine.  To run, you just need to run, right?

Well, not so fast. First of all, strength training doesn't mean you have to get big and bulky.  As a runner, you want to stay lean and strong with a lot of muscular endurance.  In addition, strength training will help prevent injuries since you will be strengthening the surrounding muscles that support and aid your running.

Because you are not trying to get bigger, you don't need to go to a gym where you have thousands of pounds of weights at your disposal.  You can work out anywhere you want.  I actually work out at the Y twice per week, but I used to work out at home.  It's really up to you.  You can do all you need to do with a simple set of dumbbells and push up bars.

Personally, I think you should work all your major muscle groups.  I know a lot of people who just do curls or just do the bench press.  To me, it looks really strange to see really big guys with tiny little legs.

Here's what I suggest you do twice per week (not back to back..I like Tuesdays and Thursdays):

  1. Chest: Push Ups.  For more of a challenge, use push up bars.  These look like two handles.  You support yourself on these handles, and now when you do a push up, you have to use more range of motion to reach the floor.
  2. Back: Dumbbell Row
  3. Biceps: Curls - I alternate between palm up and sideways (like holding a can of soda)
  4. Triceps: Tricep Curls or Dips
  5. Glutes: Squats - just make sure your knee doesn't go past your foot.
  6. Legs: Lunges and Calf Raises
  7. Abs: Crunches or Bicycle (lay on your back and alternate elbow to opposite knee)
If you are going to work out at the gym, I suggest you use the machines for the exercises above, especially if you are alone.  I only like the free weights if I have a spotter with me...just in case.

For gym workouts on the machines, or with free weights, I suggest you only lift 50-60% of your max. In other words, if the most you can bench press (with good form) for one rep is 200 lbs, then you will be working out with 100 lbs and no more than 120 lbs.

Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps for each exercise.  This will build lean muscle and build muscular endurance without making you "bulk up".  If you are a complete newbie, and don't know what a rep or a set is, it's pretty simple.  A rep is lifting the weight 1 time.  12 reps, would be lifting it 12 times.  When you do this 10-12 times, that is a set.  So 3 sets, would be lifting the weight 10-12 times, taking a short rest, and repeating two more times.

Key points to remember when weight training: Exhale when you lift and inhale when you lower the weight back down.  Lift slow and controlled.  I like to lift the weight for a two count (two seconds to lift the weight), and lower it the same, rather than firing the weight up and flying back down. Technically, you should lift for a two count and lower it with a 4 count. I can't do it, so it's hard for me to insist that you do.

Hopefully that helps you.  I've seen my times really improve with the addition of weight training.  It will help you too.  If you have questions, you can always contact me and I'd be happy to help.

Happy Trails!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic - What's the Difference?

A lot of people ask me what the difference is between aerobic and anaerobic states while running and how they can tell themselves.  To put it simply, aerobic means "with oxygen" and anaerobic means "without oxygen".

Running, hiking, and biking are all typically aerobic...although you can enter into an anaerobic state if you're not careful.  When you working out anaerobically, your muscles get tired faster.  You can be walking fine, and then go up some stairs and all of a sudden you're winded and need to take a rest.  That's anaerobic.  It's your muscles getting fatigued due to the sudden bursts of energy.

You can go out and buy a fancy heart rate monitor to tell where you are in your workout, (which is not a bad thing at all...don't get me wrong) or you can use my simple trick:  If you can hold a "winded" conversation while running, you are in an aerobic state.  In other words, you are breathing somewhat heavy, but not quite Darth Vader.  If you're not "winded", or breathing hard, you can probably afford to pick up the pace a little. If you can barely talk during a run and can only grunt a reply, you are in an anaerobic state and need to slow down if you are trying to run for distance. 

Obviously, sprinters are in an anaerobic state while running.  Distance runners are in an aerobic state.  In the races, distance runners need to run right up against the top of their aerobic threshold...just on the border of being anaerobic...also called the metabolic threshold, but I don't want to get to technical...this is supposed to be fun!

Hopefully that helps you with an easy way to tell the difference.  Happy trails!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Run Along the River in Asheville, NC

Asheville has some great running trails.  If you want a nice flat running route, head to the Hominy Creek Park.  Getting there is easy.  Just turn onto Shelburne Rd from Brevard Rd.  Take a left on Hominy Creek Rd and follow to the end where you'll have some parking.

The trail starts here and goes a mile to the entrance of an RV park.  For this stretch, someone has actually painted a line with the number of meters along the left side of the trail (heading out from the parking lot).  The parking lot starts at 1400m and counts down until the RV park for these 1400m.  As you exit the RV park, there is a 200m line painted on the road.  This gives you a metric mile.  It's great for checking your pace, doing speedwork or just having an idea of how far you've gone (or if your heading back, how much is left).

Once you're past this point, continue on the sidewalk along Amboy Rd until you hit Carrier park.  You can stay on the paved trail, or you can head off to the right along the river on a wood chip trail. Either way, you go past the old racetrack and continue on to what seems to be the end.  However, if you venture up the paved path, back up to Amboy Rd, (Citgo station on corner of State St & Amboy) and hang a right, you'll run down Amboy past the old junk yard, which is going to be new park sometime in the future (Can't wait!).  At the end of the old junk yard, you will be able to pick up another paved trail that follows along the river.

This Paved trail also looks like it ends, but you'll see a dirt trail head off into the woods.  This is just a short stretch that takes you under the Amboy Rd. bridge and into the French Broad River Dog Park.  You can follow a paved loop trail here to the right so that you stay along the river.  This paved trail will curve in front of the dog park, or you can head off on a short trail and go around the backside of the dog park.  You'll join up with a dirt road (on the other side of the dog park), which leads to a dirt parking lot.  At the end of the lot, you'll see the bathrooms and a circular drive to your left.  The paved trail can be picked back up here.  Now, just  run to where you entered the park, back under the bridge and back the way you came.  Note that in Carrier park I usually run the wood chip trail heading out, and stay on the paved trail for the return (just to see something different.

According to my bike tripometer, it's 5.83 miles, or about 9km.  It's a beautiful run and very flat, which is hard to find in Asheville. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How to Run Faster

At some point, we all hit a plateau in our running. It can be frustrating to feel like your running everyday and not getting any faster for all your efforts. If you have hit a plateau such as this in your running and can't quite make that next PR, then you may want to try the following 6 things:

Run Track Intervals
If you have a track in your area, you most likely can use it. Colleges, high schools, and middle schools should have tracks you can use. Personally, I like running quarters (once around the track). Take your average mile pace from your last 5k, and divide that by 4. This will tell you how fast you should be doing your quarters. For example, if your mile pace is 8:00, then try to run your quarters in 2:00 each. To begin, run a quarter, walk a quarter run a quarter, walk a quarter, 6 to 8 of these to start and then add some as you progress. As they get easier, try them on a time set. For example, I'll give myself 3 minutes. I try to run them in 1:45 and the remaining 1:15 is my rest. If I get tired, and slow down, that means less recovery time. It really pushes you.

Do Fartleks While on a Run.
While running your regular route, try taking some time to add some "bursts" of speed. Tell yourself, that for 1 minute, you will run at race pace, then settle back into your run. Repeat this as much as you want/can. Often, I'll do it by telephone polls. I run at my regular training run for 5 polls, and then speed up for the next 2 or 3.

Add Weight Training
I actually avoided this for a long time. I just don't like the gym. However, with a couple of dumb bells and push up handles, you can do a great strength training routine right at home. Push ups, triceps dips, squats all will help strengthen you and make you faster.

Work Your Core.
Working your upper abs, lower abs, and obliques will strengthen your mid section which is the power source of your running. Work your core, and you'll run faster!

Do a Long Run.
If you're running the same distance all the time, you need to add a long run. Long runs allow you to increase your VO2 Max, (a whole other article on how much oxygen your body can take in....) and therefore run faster. Plus, it's nice to be in a 5k race, knowing you can run 2 or 3 times the distance.

Eat Only Fresh Fruits and Vegetables until Noon.
I got this from Tony Robbins in his book Unlimited Power. I thought it was a bunch of hooey (sorry Tony), but after giving it the old college try, I have to admit, it's made a big difference in my running times. You can drink fresh juice too. I own a juicer, and I really enjoy the Apple & Carrot juice. Mostly, I just eat raw fruits and vegetables as cleaning the juicer is not all that fun. I pretty much stick with water rich other words, mainly melons, grapes and apples...I don't eat a lot of bananas, just one a day.

And that's it. Do these 6 things, and I can promise you will run a faster race!

Happy Trails!

Getting Back in Shape

I used to run all the time.  5 miles a day, 7 miles on Saturday & 13 miles on Sunday was my self imposed training program over the summer when I was in high school.  Then, in 1985, I moved to Miami Beach, FL from Duluth, MN, and just couldn't get acclimated to the heat.  Rather than stick with it, I got frustrated and stopped running.  I kept in shape with racquetball, weight training, and an occasional run on the beach, but nothing serious.

In 1989 I moved to Austin, TX. Once a year went by, and I was considered a TX resident, I began college.  I worked full time while studying Kinesiolgy.  I swam a lot, and did some weight training for a couple of semesters and decided I'd start running again.  In 1992, I participated in an Intramural track meet and ran a 4:42 for the 1500m!  I was back! This same year, I moved to back to Miami Beach and ran Cross Country for Florida International University.  I didn't run more than the one year, as I was working and it was too hard to make practice and have a job.  Instead, I trained myself and ran countless road races ranging from the mile to 10Ks.

In 1996 my wife an I moved to Asheville, NC where I continued to run anything from a 5K to a 10 miler.  I was loving the trails all around Asheville.  In 1997 we bought a house (which took up a lot of time), and in 1998 we had our first child...(also a lot of time).  Unfortunately, between fixing up the house and having babies, 1998, 2000 and 2002, I really let my running go.  I was just so busy, and so tired and felt like I had no time.  In hindsight, I had plenty of opportunities to run, I just didn't take them.  I did actually wake up one morning in 2000 and decided to run a Asheville Citizen-Times Half-Marathon that day.  I actually ran the whole way without stopping despite not running for about 3 years.  I should have got back into then...but I didn't.

This year, 2010, my oldest daughter joined Cross Country in Middle School.  Seeing her run and giving her and her friends advice, has really motivated me to run again, and to do what I should have been doing all along...Coach!

This blog is about my effort, to not only get back into shape, but also my effort to help others reclaim - or claim - a new level of fitness for themselves.

I'm coming up on Week 3 of my 6 Week Training Plan.  I will  have before and after pics along with stats of my progress.

Common Concerns About Hiring a Running Coach

If you have been struggling to hit that PR or perhaps if your running is just lacking lately, you may have considered hiring a running coach...