Restraint

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

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Spring is on the way! While many of us already had some summer like weather this year, we’ve also faced some challenging winter weather. Things will be taking a turn soon if they haven’t already begun taking a turn where you are.

It’s so easy when the weather gets better in the spring to get a little too excited about training in good weather and try to do too much. Be careful not to fall into this trap.

After working your way through all the bad winter weather, the last thing you want to do is get yourself hurt when the weather is turning nice, especially since your racing season is likely also just around the corner.

Photo credit: DSCI0012 by Tory Klementsen, on Flickr

“Bad” workouts happen

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

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This week, we had serious wind on Tuesday, my workout day. It was brutal, I was being blown all over the place and my splits during the first half of the workout, when running into the wind, were horrible.

Earlier this year, I had a workout where I could just feel things weren’t going well. It wasn’t the conditions that time. My body just wasn’t responding. It wouldn’t go no matter how much I wanted it to.

Whether due to the conditions or due to it just not being our day, we all have workouts that just don’t go so well. Bad workouts happen. What should you do about it?

Don’t get down

First, don’t get down on yourself if you’re having a bad workout. If you’re having a bad day, just chalk it up to that. We all have bad days. I expect, in any given training cycle, that we will all have a few workouts that just don’t go our way. It’s built into the expectations. When you have that day, just accept it and move on. Analyze why it happened and, if changes can be made to reduce your risk of a repeat occurrence, make those changes.

Most important, don’t dwell on it. What’s done is done. Learn from it if there was a lesson to be learned and move on.

Adjust if needed

During the workout, ask yourself if you’re still accomplishing the goal of the workout. Sometimes, even if you’re not hitting the splits you were aiming for, you’re still accomplishing the goal. In the case of my workout this week, my splits look pretty ridiculous but I know I accomplished what I wanted. In the case of my earlier workout, I wasn’t running the paces I wanted but I was still getting the training stimulus I was aiming for. So, in both cases, I didn’t worry about the watch and just ran.

If something doesn’t feel right, especially if you feel like an injury might be on the way, stop the workout immediately. If the conditions you’re facing are dangerous, stop the workout and find shelter immediately. If you’re just feeling so off that you can’t hit the kind of intensity you’re looking for in the workout, cut it short and move on.

Build mental toughness

This is mostly for workouts in bad conditions but also applies to workouts when you’re just not quite feeling right. Toughing it out in these workouts will make you a mentally stronger runner. If you face similar conditions on race day, chances are they aren’t going to cancel or postpone the race. You’re going to be running in them. If the conditions are good on race day, think how easy it will seem after running through more challenging conditions.

Likewise, if you’re feeling a little off on race day, they aren’t going to postpone it until you’re feeling better. You better be prepared to do your best regardless of how you’re feeling.

In the end, I would consider both of the challenging workouts I had this year productive. Not only did I still get them in and accomplish the stimulus I was looking for. I also toughened myself up. I’m not down on myself for running slow in the first half of my workout on Tuesday, just as I’m not getting carried away by the pace I had with a tailwind in the second half. I am very happy, though, that I battled through and got the workout I wanted even if the conditions weren’t ideal.

Photo credit: Track Workout Jan 4_0046 by Nathan Atkinson, on Flickr

Be your own best advocate

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

This past weekend, someone sent me this article. It’s an important reminder and I’d like to make a few points that I see often referenced but just as often ignored:

– If something doesn’t seem right, something is likely not right. We all have to struggle through fatigue and aches at times but most of us have a sense of what is “normal” and what just doesn’t feel right. Trust your gut. In this individual’s case, he knew something wasn’t right when his paces dropped off rapidly. That’s a telltale sign that something is wrong. At the very least, you’re not going to get more out of your workout when you’re fading like that for no clear reason so don’t push your luck.

– If you feel unexplainable chest, back, or shoulder pain, take it seriously. See a doctor.

– Even more, make sure you are your best advocate. It sounds like this individual had a good medical team looking out for him. Too often, a runner with normally stellar numbers comes in with “normal” numbers and is told you’re fine. If your numbers look out of line to your normal, point this out. Be annoying if you have to. It could save your life.

Racing: a skill that requires practice

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

This time of the year, we likely have our goal races in sight. We may already even be registered for them. However, do you have some other races on your schedule? This is a good time of the year to pick some secondary races to fill out your schedule and make sure you’re race sharp when your goal races come around.

Many runners seem to not worry about this part of goal race preparation. They figure they will train themselves into the best shape possible and take advantage of that fitness. So why do these other races matter?

Because racing is a skill and, like all skills, you need to practice it in order to be good at it.

Whether you’re running a mile or a marathon, whether you’re going for the win or in the middle of the pack, there are aspects of the race that need to be practiced. Here are a few ways you can benefit from practice races (I like to call them tune up races).

Pre-race routine

How early do you need to get up before a race to be awake and ready to race? How much do you need to eat or drink and how long before the start do you need to eat? Do you need a warmup? If so, what is the routine that works best for you?

These are all questions that we can try to answer in training and I would recommend doing so. However, the best solution can’t be found in any way other than race day practice. Due to nerves, some people have stomachs that are more sensitive on race day. You need to be more awake, alert, and ready to go even for a marathon than you do for a weekly long run or an easy run.

Race strategy

If you’re in the middle of the pack, competitive strategies may not matter to you. If you’re going for a win, top 10 finish, or age group placement, competitive strategies matter much more. However, even if you’re in the middle of the pack and focusing on a time goal, there are race day strategies that matter.

For the competitive runner: You need to have some race day strategies and practice them. What happens if your competition plans to sit and kick on you? Do you grind out a pace you hope will run the kick out of them? Do you surge and try to break them? Do you begin your kick early and try to get the jump on them? If you do some tune up races, you can practice these different strategies and be prepared on the course to decide which gives you the best chance. Then you can be ready to execute with confidence.

Likewise, you can develop, practice, and test your ability with other strategies. Maybe you’re a good kicker and you want to be the person sitting and kicking. You can work on maintaining contact while your competitor tries to grind you out or work on how to cover surges

Just as important, these tune up races give you the opportunity to assess your weaknesses and work on them so they can’t be exploited by your competitors. Do you tend to fade in the second mile of a 5K or third quarter of a mile? Then run some races where your aim is to push hard through those spots. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter how you finish, what matters is that you push through the area where you usually let up.

For the middle of the pack runner: You might think it’s simple. Just lock into a pace and carry it through. However, how do you handle the crowds, especially if you’re doing a big race? If you’re doing a long race, how do you handle fueling? If you’re going to use the aid stations, how are you going to go into them? As with the competitive runners, do you need to practice pushing through a part of the race where you often lose focus and let your pace lag? This could be the key to a PR.

Just as with the competitive runner, you can plan these things but there are logistical issues that you likely won’t anticipate until you’ve encountered them in a race. Even more, some of these issues are skills that need to be practiced. You can practice drinking out of a paper cup while on the run in training but race day is different. You’re not in crowds, you don’t have a complete stranger handing the cup to you, you’re not potentially running across discarded and potentially wet and slippery cups while trying to drink from your own cup.

Pushing yourself

I know others look at races differently but, when I’m racing, I’m looking to test my limits. I want to push myself to the very edge of my ability.

Almost every year, when I run my first race of the year, this just doesn’t happen. I don’t push myself that way in training so I haven’t pushed myself that hard in months. I’m simply rusty. I need to remember what it’s like to take myself to the limit.

If you’re not pushing yourself to the limit in workouts (and I hope you’re not) you’re going to need one or two race efforts to get the feel for doing that. If you don’t, you’re going to be out of practice and not going to be ready to push yourself like that on race day.

It doesn’t matter if you’re going for the win or running in the middle of the pack. It doesn’t matter if you’re racing the competitors around you or shooting for a time. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a large or small race. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a mile or a marathon. It doesn’t even matter if the tune up races are the same distance as your goal race. Getting some tune up races will help you when your goal race comes around. There are simply some skills that can’t be practiced any way other than by running in a race. So, now that you likely have picked out your goal races, go out and find a few tune up races to prepare for them.

Who do you learn from?

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

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I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot recently. Then I read this post by Seth Godin and I felt I had to discuss it.

I’ll try to learn from Seth and keep this short.

A lot of people think they can only learn from those who are more experienced, have a more comprehensive formal education, or some combination of the two.

For my whole life, I have always wanted to learn from everyone around me. I still take that approach. If you can’t learn something from everyone around you, then you’re not trying hard enough.

Whether it’s a question or a perspective you may not have considered from a novice or sage advice from a veteran, if we’re open to listening, we can learn something from everyone. Regardless of their experience, I’ve learned something from every runner I’ve coached.

I hope you do the same. There’s a lot to learn.

Be flexible

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

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Last week, I had a workout planned for Tuesday. Then we had an ice storm. Conditions were so slippery I found myself a couple of times thinking I might have been wise to run on a treadmill. Anyone who knows me knows that means they were very bad.

Why does this matter? Because I made a decision I would hope any one of us would have made without hesitation in conditions like I was facing. I chose to skip the workout and just get in an easy run.

As it turns out, the roads were good enough for me to get in a workout on Wednesday but even then I had to adjust slightly from the original plan. I was still able to do the planned tempo run but there were points where I had to back off the pace to navigate icy stretches.

Especially now, with conditions that can be questionable and when you’re probably still months away from your goal race, make sure you’re being flexible when necessary. Is pushing back today’s planned workout a day or two or even skipping it really as bad as going out in bad conditions and risking injury?

Photo credit: Running by Emeli Persson, on Flickr

Spotlight workout: treadmill hill progression

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

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Crank it up!

It’s the time of the year when our best intentions to run outside can sometimes be scuttled. Maybe the roads are dangerous due to snow or ice and drivers who aren’t being as careful as they should be. Maybe we just need a break from running in the snow or extreme cold. It’s definitely possible for most runners to run safely through most winter conditions but not all. Regardless, sometimes we just need a break from the grind.

So what do you do when you decide it’s best for your safety or sanity to hit a treadmill? I know I can quickly lose my sanity doing just an easy run on a treadmill. That’s where, if you can fit a moderately hard run in, you can take advantage of the tool with one of my favorite treadmill workouts.

The workout

Treadmill hill progressions are pretty simple conceptually. On a treadmill, occasionally increase the incline in order to increase the intensity of the run. It’s like a traditional progression run but taking advantage of the fact you’re on a treadmill to increase grade instead of speed.

The benefits

“Hills are speedwork in disguise.” – Frank Shorter

When we’re outside of our racing season, we want to do some speed training but we don’t want to go too intense. This is a workout that will build your strength and speed without beating you up too badly, as long as you don’t try to hang on until you’re falling off the back of the treadmill.

As with traditional progression runs, this is a good stamina workout. It’s also the kind of strength workout that those of us who don’t live on the side of a mountain simply can’t do without a treadmill.

How to run it

Start your run at a comfortable warmup pace and at a 0% incline. You’re going to stay at this pace for the duration of the run but don’t worry, things will get much harder so you don’t need to set a fast pace.

Typically, I’m on a treadmill that can increase incline at 0.5% grade intervals. So I’ll increase the grade by 0.5% every 1/2 mile. So, at 1 mile, I’m setting the grade to 1%. At 1.5 miles, I’m setting it to 1.5%.

Obviously, if you’re on a treadmill that only increases grade by whole percentages, you can accomplish essentially the same thing by increasing by 1% every mile. Or you can get creative with how often you increase the grade and by how much. However, make sure you’re not getting too aggressive. This is a progression run, which means you shouldn’t be maxing yourself out 1-2 miles into the workout. It should be a gradual build up.

Increase until the workout is pleasantly hard. Even when I’m looking for a very hard workout, I always try to end when I feel like I could still increase at least one more time and last a half mile. Remember, it’s a workout, not a race.

Finally, make sure you get some cool down time. At least 1/2 to 1 mile at the end of the run, again at the same pace but at a more gentle grade of 0-1%.

Photo credit: Treadmill2 by benignfun, on Flickr

Treadmill Pace Conversions FAQ

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

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The Treadmill Pace Conversions chart is the most commonly visited page on HillRunner.com. It’s also the page that, by far, I receive the most inquiries about. I’d like to take some time here to address some of the most common inquiries. Below, in no special order, are the most common questions I receive about the chart and my answers.

What is the source of the data for the chart?

In the late 1990s, some post-graduate students gathered data from multiple studies done in the 1980s and 1990s. They used primarily data on oxygen consumption, comparing runners of various abilities running on outdoor tracks at various paces to the same runners running at various paces and inclines on treadmills. The oxygen consumption between methods of running was compared and the data extrapolated to produce this chart.

With the permission of these post-graduate students, I reproduced the chart on HillRunner.com, I believe originally in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, they told me I didn’t need to source them and I didn’t understand the importance of doing so at the time so I didn’t. After a couple computer crashes, I lost track of the original source. I’ve searched for it several times and haven’t been able to find it.

The numbers seem off, what’s up?

Especially at faster paces, I agree. The number do seem off, in some cases by quite a bit. My best guess is that, at faster paces, fewer data points were available because it takes a runner of pretty extreme fitness to run, to take the extreme, 12 miles per hour at a 10% incline on a treadmill. Anyone who knows statistics will tell you that fewer data points means more margin for error.

At more moderate paces, the numbers seem generally reasonable to me.

How should I use this chart?

My usual advice for using the chart is to consider it as a starting point. If you’re aiming for the effort of about an 8:00/mile outdoor run on level ground, then you might start at 7.8 mph at 0% incline or 7.5 mph at 1% incline. See how that feels and adjust as you feel necessary.

Remember, these are roughly speaking just averages of many runners. Some runners may find a specific setting easier than the chart suggests, while others may find it harder. In the end, I believe you should always trust your perceived effort level but this should give you a rough starting point.

Another way of using this is to consider how a workout went. For example, when I am on a treadmill, one of my favorite workouts to do is a hill progression. Every half mile, I increase the incline by a half percent without changing the speed. So, let’s say I ran a progression at 8.0 mph and got up to an 8% incline. How good of a workout was that? Well, I can use the chart to estimate that it was roughly equivalent to an outdoor progression run that topped out at roughly 6:00/mile.

Why is treadmill running different than outdoor running?

I’ve seen several reasons hypothesized. The one that seems to have the most evidence and make the most intuitive sense to me is that you aren’t moving through air. Wind resistance may not seem significant at 8:00 or 10:00/mile but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you at all.

Can you put this into a calculator or expand the chart to include more paces/inclines?

The chart is not based on a formula and the data does not nicely fit a formula. So I don’t see any way to create a meaningful calculator.

As for expanding the chart, I suppose it’s technically possible to make some inferences. However, I have always been hesitant to do so because it would then misrepresent what it originally was.

Other questions?

If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to ask me. I’ll do my best to answer and, if a question comes up often, come back to add it here.

Photo credit: Treadmill by Farhad sh, on Flickr

Goal setting

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

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I love this time of the year! Not necessarily for the weather but because it’s the time when so many runners dare to dream. It’s the time when we decide what we’re going to do in the upcoming year and what our goals should be. We dare to think big and be optimistic about the possibilities.

But what happens if we think too big or get too optimistic? What happens if we fall short of our goals? For some people, this can be crushing. For others, we can look at what we did accomplish and be proud of the strides we have made, even if we were short of the ultimate goal. That said, it’s always nice to get a goal.

So, as we think about our goals for next year, how should we set them? I believe there are a few key considerations you should keep in mind as you set your goals:

1) What are you capable of?

What do you believe you can do next year? Don’t ask others what they believe you can do, ask yourself. Based on recent performances and recent trends in your performances, what do you think you’re capable of?

You must believe in your goal and your capability to accomplish it or it will seem like it’s too far out there and won’t be motivating.

2) How will you handle it if you fall short?

Some runners do well by setting huge goals. If they fall short, they look back and can say they have still accomplished a lot. If this is you, dream big.

Other runners need more moderate goals. If they fall short of a big goal, they still feel let down. If this is you, set more moderate goals that you strongly believe are within your reach. If you accomplish them, you can always set new goals.

What excites you?

I always tell runners that your goal needs to be YOUR goal. Don’t let your friends, family, coach, or anyone else dictate what your goals should be.

From what distances to race (or whether to race) to what your goals are, they need to come from you. You may benefit from feedback, for example from a coach who says the goal seems realistic or too aggressive to accomplish in the coming year, but in the end it’s your goal. It needs to come from you.

If the goal comes from you, you will be more excited about it and more driven to accomplish it. In short, you’ll be more likely to accomplish it and it will mean a lot more when you do.

Consider setting multiple goals

Finally, don’t be afraid to set a few goals. If I can use Ed as an example, he was very close to breaking 18 minutes in the 5K this year. I’ve already heard that going sub-18 is one of his goals for next year. I hope he has more goals, though. Given how close he was to 18 and his recent improvement curve, I hope he’s thinking of another number. I’m not talking about breaking 17 or something like that but maybe 17:50 or 17:45. He could set a goal like this after breaking 18 but what happens if he’s in a race heading for 17:50? Some people need that additional goal out there to aim for.

In the end, set goals that you believe in, that excite you, and that motivate you. These are what will get you striving to be the best runner you can be.

Running while ill

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

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The holidays are here. We’re traveling and visiting people we don’t see on a regular basis. Students are spending more time inside and more letters are coming home to parents about various illnesses spreading through schools.

This is the time of the year where it’s hard to avoid catching some kind of virus. While the best thing to do is to avoid getting ill, that’s at times easier said than done. So what do you do as a runner if you do get ill?

When to run?

The first question we need to answer is whether we should be taking time off. When your body is weakened by illness, you sometimes need to remove the stress of running so it can have the strength to fight off the illness. However, there are times that the illness is minor enough that you don’t need complete rest.

So how do you know when to completely rest and when to keep running?

An old axiom experienced runners will talk about is, if the symptoms are all above the shoulders, keep running. If they are below the shoulders, rest.

Generally, that works pretty well. If the symptoms are below the shoulders, such as chest congestion or a stomach bug, the illness is often serious enough that you need to rest. If they are above the shoulder, such as nothing but nasal congestion or a sore throat, it’s often minor enough that you can continue running if you wish.

However, this isn’t perfect. Sometimes, the symptoms of a head cold are so significant that your body needs rest. This is where there is no simple formula. You have to use your judgement. If you’re feeling run down, think of the long term risk of trying to run through it. If you’re going to prolong the illness, a week or less of time off is most likely better than a month or more of compromised training.

How to adjust?

So you’ve decided you’re healthy enough to run. Now what? Do you just continue with the plan as though nothing is happening? Most likely, no.

If you’re experiencing truly minor issues, then you might be able to continue. However, most illnesses are significant enough to warrant at least some change in our training plans. I’ll list adjustments here in order based on severity. The first adjustments, when the illness is least severe, first. As things get more severe, the adjustments become more significant.

I won’t go into detail on what symptoms warrant what adjustments because, again, you need to use your judgement. The one thing I will state is play it safe. It’s better to back off a bit too much for a short period of time than not enough and deal with the illness for a long period of time.

Minor symptoms, small adjustments: If you don’t really feel any different other than a scratchy throat or some nasal congestion, you can probably continue near full load. You might want to cut your longest runs short a bit and take the edge off your hardest workouts by backing off the pace a bit or reducing the number of planned reps but not much is needed.

However, as you start getting a little more advanced, it’s time to start changing things. If not 100% healthy, I don’t like the idea of a 2+ hour long run. Cut it back. The long run can be very strenuous on your immune system, which is just what you don’t want.

Likewise, very hard workouts such as 5K pace repeats or tempo runs of grueling distance are very strenuous on your body. I prefer skipping any kind of repeat or interval workout completely. In its place, a tempo run of moderate effort can be done. Likewise with more grueling tempo runs. Make them a little more moderate.

Easy days can continue as normal, though it’s not a sin to shorten them at least slightly.

Moderate symptoms, moderate adjustments: When you feel low on energy or the symptoms are enough to have you feeling a bit beat up, more significant changes are needed but you can probably keep running.

Long runs of any kind are out. Personally, I won’t run for more than an hour if I’m feeling low on energy or the symptoms are more than minor nuisances.

Same for workouts. Just don’t do them. Even tempo runs. Even strides.

So what’s left? Relatively short runs of less than 1 hour. I even prefer the 30 minute range. Pace should be slow. You’re trying to warm up your body and get the blood flowing. Don’t think of training, think of just getting your body moving.

Severe symptoms, time off: As mentioned above, if the symptoms are severe, give your body the rest it needs.

In the end, it’s obviously best to avoid getting ill in the first place. However, nobody can always do that. When you do get ill, the best guidelines are common sense and your best judgement. Be smart and do what it will take to get back to 100% as soon as possible.

Photo credit: health ideas, on Flickr