One question to ask yourself every day

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Just a quick post this week. I want you to ask yourself one question today. Then ask the same question every day from now on.

What am I doing today to make myself better?

Sometimes the answer should be a workout that will accomplish a specific purpose. Sometimes it will be an easy run to recover from a prior workout or prepare for a coming workout. Sometimes it will be a rest day. Whatever the case, you should be doing something every day to make yourself a better runner. I want you to think about that every day and think about how you can best accomplish that.

Then execute the plan to the best of your ability.

When to modify the plan

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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You are training for a race that is highly important to you. You have a detailed plan laid out. Month by month, week by week, day by day, you know what you’re supposed to be doing.

Then something happens. Do you push through or do you change the plan?

Many times, the answer is that you should push through. There are definitely times when we should push through some lingering fatigue or uncomfortable but not unsafe conditions.

There are other times, though, that we’re better off changing the plan.

How do we know the difference? Well, it’s not always easy. Experience goes a long way in determining what the right answer is. However, there are some general guidelines that you can think through to answer the question.

Is it safe?

Thanks to HillRunner.com’s partnership with the Seattle Marathon, I work with a number of runners in the Seattle area. If you haven’t heard, smoke from the wildfires in the area has been a real problem in and around Seattle. What advice have I been giving to them? Think twice about running outside. If it’s not safe, don’t do it. Take your running inside. If that’s not an option, think of your health first and don’t run. Don’t run is not a message I like sending to uninjured runners but sometimes it’s the appropriate thing to do.

Obviously, smoke from wildfires isn’t the only safety concern you have to think about. Severe weather of any kind is what most of us will most frequently face. If the weather is dangerous, don’t run. I’ve taken off or cut runs short due to lightning, snow storms creating slippery conditions where an out of control car may hit me, and various other reasons.

How will it affect my training/what is my training goal right now?

This past winter, I went through periods where I was very fatigued. I was laying my base for this year and I was far from any races, though. So I pushed through. Right now, I’m again experiencing a lot of fatigue. I’m trying to build to a peak and roughly 2 months out from my last race of the year. I’m adjusting my plan, making my easy days extremely easy so I can still get in quality work on my hard days. I’m also constantly monitoring my condition to decide if I need to skip a hard day.

Why push through in one situation and not the other? It’s all about the circumstances.

In the winter, I wasn’t trying to peak for a race. I was trying to log a lot of miles and build stamina. Fatigue was part of the equation. So I pushed through.

Right now, I’m trying to peak for 3 races in the next 2+ months. The stamina is as good as it’s going to get and I need to work on running fast. I want to be more rested so I can push my workouts and so I can ensure I’ll be feeling good two weeks from now when I’m lining up for my first race of the season. So I do whatever is necessary on my recovery days in order to both be ready for my next workout and recover from/benefit from my prior workout.

Sometimes it can be tough to know where to draw the line between these scenarios. What would I have done in June? July? That’s where experience comes into play. If you don’t yet have the experience, it’s probably better to play it safe. Very experienced runners will often just know, it’s like a sixth sense. We just need to make sure we’re doing what we know we should be doing.

Photo credit: Run by Jerzy Sobkowicz, on Flickr

Focus on one thing at a time

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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When you’re asked to think about several things before a workout or race, what happens?

If you’re like me, you get started and, when the going gets tough, you forget what you’re supposed to be focusing on.

What good does that do?

Instead, consider focusing on one key thing. Maybe it’s your stride rate, maybe it’s a powerful stride, maybe it’s running tall. Whatever the case, pick one thing that you think is the most important thing to work on and focus on that.

Build one or two key phrases around that one focus that you can remind yourself of while you’re running. For example, if you’re focusing on your stride rate, maybe you want to think "quick steps". Then, while running, you can key into "quick steps" to ensure your stride rate is where you want it.

This one thought may change over time, either as what you’re working on becomes natural and you don’t need to think about it or as your needed focus shifts. For example, on a workout day your key phrase might be "quick steps". On an easy day, though, you have a different focus and your key phrase might be "recovery" or "rejuvenation" or "relax" to remind you to keep the pace relaxed, allowing that recovery and rejuvenation you need.

Are you going to give this a try? I hope so. If you do, I’d love to hear in the comments what you’re going to try.

Here’s what I’m thinking about this week. Tuesday, during some half mile repeats, I ran with "quick steps". Yesterday was a "recovery" day and I expect today to be all about running "smooth" on my tempo workout.

Photo credit: Training by Running Across Borders, on Flickr

Running, your heart, and your bones

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

We all know by now that running is good for us, right? Well, how good is it for us? Some of us may have heard that runners have higher levels of coronary artery plaques. Is this a concern? It would seem to be. As for the bones, we know running strengthens them. How much running does it take, though?

Running and your heart

Is it true that runners have more coronary artery plaques than non-runners? In short, yes. Is this a concern? The obvious answer would be yes. However, things seem to be a little more complicated. The kinds of plaques runners have are more stable and less likely to break loose and clog an artery.

In the end:

But for now, he says, the available data, including these new studies, suggest that prolonged, intense endurance exercise may alter your arteries, but does not seem likely to harm them.

Running and your bones

Running is good for your bones. We all know that. However, how much running does it really take to strengthen your bones? Well, the answer may be surprisingly little. As little as one minute a day. Really.

Obviously, we don’t want to run just one minute a day for other reasons. However, it’s good to know that, for our bone health, we don’t need to do anything special. A small amount of training, far less than I’m sure anyone reading this does, is all it takes.

Team HillRunner.com: 2017 Al’s Run

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

As Double recently noticed, this summer has gotten completely away from me. However, it’s not too late to build a strong Team HillRunner.com for Al’s Run

The team veterans know the details. For anyone new, here’s a quick run down. Join the team and you’ll get filled in on all the details.

Al’s Run this year is on Saturday, September 16th. The race starts at the usual location on the Marquette campus at 10:30 in the morning. Post-race, I hope most of the team can make it up to my house for a cookout and team social.

This is always a very fun event. I always feel honored that such great people would be willing to represent HillRunner.com. I hope to see both the veterans as well as some new faces there this year.

Join Team HillRunner.com!

Even on vacation, don’t ignore your auxiliary training

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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As this post appears, I’m on vacation. I’m on a trip that involves a lot of bike riding and a lot of walking.

Don’t worry, I’m still running. I love running while on vacation because I get to explore new areas in ways I find I just can’t by any other means.

As of the time I’m writing this, I’m also planning to place a focus on stretching. Why? Because what I call "auxiliary training" matters that much.

Sure, I won’t be doing my full strength training routine while on vacation, though I hope I’ll get a short routine in at least once while away. However, personally, the stretching matters enough that it will be made a priority.

Last time I returned from vacation, I was pretty sore after a lot of just what I’m doing on this vacation, bike riding and walking. I jumped right back into my training pretty well but, for a few days, my paces were off and I was feeling stiff and sluggish.

This time, I’m devoting 5-10 minutes a day to avoid that. It’s a little commitment that will go a long way toward ensuring I can jump right back into my training without any setbacks.

I always advise runners to bring their running shoes with on their vacations. I’m going to start adding another piece of advice: keep up at least a rudimentary version of your auxiliary training. It will help you transition back to full training when the vacation is over.

Photo credit: Athletic Woman – Stretches by thestrongwoman.bootcamp, on Flickr

Balancing running and strength training

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Following my "Ask me anything" post, I received a great question that essentially boils down to balance of training.

To summarize the questioner’s dilemma, she was increasing her running training over the summer. During that time, she was reducing her strength training. She wanted to know if this was a problem. I’d like to explore that topic a bit here.

As I’ve found myself stating often recently, we can only handle so much stress in our lives. Whether it’s running, strength training, or even work or family matters, our bodies and minds can only take so much. Go beyond what you can take and bad things begin happening.

Obviously, one of the goals of training is to increase our capacity to handle stress. However, that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow, gradual process. In the more short term, if you are already at or near your maximal ability to handle stress and you add more in one area, you’re going to have to reduce it in another area.

When it comes to running and physical training, this often means we need to find the right balance in our training. Whether we’re balancing workouts, easy runs, and long runs or we’re balance our running with other types of training such as strength training.

This is why many runners will reduce their training volume in the late stages of a training plan as intensity increases. More intensity is more stress, one of the places we can reduce stress in order to remain in balance is the number of miles we’re running.

Likewise, if you’re increasing your running load, you can reduce your physical training load in other areas. This may mean less strength training or, if you cross train, reducing the amount or intensity of your cross training.

So yes, it is perfectly fine if you’re increasing your running to reduce your strength training. In fact, it’s the smart thing to do. I would prefer that you keep at least a base routine in so you maintain your strength but you don’t always have to do the same amount. I’d even argue that you shouldn’t.

Please lay off the NSAIDs

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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For as long as I can remember, taking some form of NSAID was a popular thing with runners. An ibuprofen late in a marathon to dull the pain or as an anti-inflammatory after a run was pretty much a given. I even admit that, before I knew better, I’d at least occasionally take some ibuprofen, thinking the anti-inflammatory affects might help me recover from races faster.

Some time during my college years, I read an article about anti-inflammatories and how harmful they can be to the kidneys. This article featured a runner who died from kidney failure and, as I recall, included the words of at least a couple medical professionals who explained how harmful ibuprofen and, really, all NSAIDs can be to the kidneys. I went off ibuprofen cold turkey after reading that article.

Over the years, as the evidence grew, I became more vocal in my quest to convince runners that the risks far outweigh the benefits. Sure, an occasional ibuprofen might not be harmful to the kidneys but, if you habitually consume them the way some runners unfortunately do, you could be causing serious harm.

And now, we have reason to believe you may also be harming your running performances.

Actually, this isn’t all new. In recent years, we’ve seen that many "recovery aids" that reduce inflammation actually affect the training response we’re all looking for, the response that builds us up stronger after we break ourselves down with workouts. In short, they sabotage our training. NSAIDs have been a part of this discussion.

But this is just more in what is a growing body of evidence for two different reasons that runners should avoid habitual use of NSAIDs. First, the harm they could be causing to your kidneys. Second, the possibility that they are actually harming your body’s response to training.

Photo credit: Advil by Mike Mozart, on Flickr

Fitness and your health, who needs to be gluten free?

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Fitness and your health

You know that your running is good for your health, right? But how good? Is it better to be naturally fit or to train hard? I think a lot of us have believed or maybe hoped that how hard you worked at it would be more important.

Unfortunately:

What this tells us is that exercise is good for you because it increases your cardiovascular fitness. High fitness, meanwhile, is good for you no matter how you acquire it—which is a lucky break for those who happen to have high levels of baseline fitness thanks to their genetics.

This makes sense in many ways. Just like ability to race fast on limited training varies greatly between individuals, so do health outcomes on limited training.

It’s important to note that exercise is indeed good for us. Just because you don’t have a high level of baseline fitness, don’t give up. Just realize that, just like your race times, we don’t all start at the same place.

Who needs to be gluten free?

If you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive and you’ve tried a gluten free diet, you’ve likely noticed that, for some people, going gluten free can make a big difference in your life.

However, at the same time, gluten free is the new dietary fad. Like most dietary fads, something with a grain of truth takes off to be blown out of proportion. Many people who have no need to avoid gluten do so just because they hear gluten is bad.

So how do you determine whether or not you really need to be gluten free? Here are some good thoughts.

In short, if you’re concerned that you may have celiac disease, there is a blood test for that but you must be eating gluten in order for the test to work. Go gluten free before the test and it will come back negative even if you do have celiac disease.

More important, whether you have celiac disease, you have some other gluten sensitivity, or you simply benefit from the placebo effect, if going gluten free makes you feel better then do it.

Ask me anything

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Another 6 months have passed and I almost forgot about this! Here’s your open invitation to ask me anything.

Within reason, nothing is off limits. Ask about training, racing, my thoughts on any news in the sport. Ask about the site, the coaching service, Club HillRunner.com or anything else that’s going on.

If you want to ask publicly, you can do so in the comments, on Facebook or you can tweet at HillRunner.com (or tweet at my personal account). If you want to ask more privately, you can use the contact form or, if you’re friends with me on Facebook or you know my email address, you can reach me through those options.

So what have you been thinking about and wanting to ask?