Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Running from a Different Angle

The winter months are a great time for planning spring and summer events such as your race schedule and training plan, outdoor home projects, summer camps, and if you're lucky, a vacation.

Through my business, A Running Conversation, Peak Performance Multisport has hired me to develop running programs and clinics. Here's a look at what's on the horizon at Peak:
There will be more to come. As you can see, I've linked these events for you to get more information and to register.

Peak is also the lead sponsor with several road races and triathlons, and often has training clinics or expos associated with those. You can find it all on their web site.

As you try to convince yourself you will run outside again someday (it is snowing like crazy right now!), and plan your spring races, consider taking advantage of these terrific sessions. All the presenters are high caliber athletes and can really help you to structure your training in a way you might not have known how to do otherwise. It is all about running well - that is strong and healthy and injury-free. Hope to see you there.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Last Mid-Winter Group Run

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday's group run over the Mid-Winter Classic 10-Miler course was such a breeze compared with last Sunday's snow storm challenge! Thirteen of us, plus David who started late, covered the course in good time despite the cold temps and westerly wind. It really wasn't too bad; the streets were clear with the exception of an icy patch across the marsh and a tough shoulder along Route 77; the sun was shining brightly and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I know at least one group member, Janet, opted to run the course on Saturday in much warmer temps, and I bet a few chose to do that. Nevertheless, we got 'er done.

This marked the end of an eight-week training group sponsored by Peak Performance Multisport, in preparation for the Mid-Winter Classic. Race day is next Sunday, February 1st. Get this: seventy people registered for this Sunday group run! I think that's awesome. All did not turn out at one time, of course, but each week saw a new face or two and individuals had the benefit of running with others. Some folks made significant progress running ten miles for the first time, and/or running this challenging course for the first time. Others kept their base strong. Kudos to all who came out (or ran indoors) and met the myriad challenges of winter running in Maine.

There is interest in keeping the Sunday group runs going. Yeah baby! Check out Nor'Easter Run for future events.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Nor'Easter Run

Peak Performance Multisport in Portland, Maine has launched a new running club called Nor'Easter Run. The Club follows on the success of Peak's Team Nor’Easter, which was launched in the fall of 2007 to benefit the multisport community. Within a year, that Club grew to over 100 members. Alas, not all of us are triathletes and Peak recognizes that runners want to get in on the fun too!

Becoming part of a team or club has huge benefits, not only in discounted store merchandise and race entry fees, but for personal and social reasons. We all need to affiliate with others to varying degrees; in fact, some people prefer to run only by themselves as a meditative practice. But even the most introverted person can gain something from being a part of a group.

In 1991, I joined the Run to Win Ladies Team, coached by Brian "Ziggy" Gillespie. The team consisted of about 15 women, all at various points in their running careers. Some had never done a road race, had never run with others, had no idea what they were doing let alone what they were capable of doing; while others were elite racers in need of coaching. I still belong to that team except new this year, it'll be known as Nor'Easter Run.

After eighteen years I continue to value the affiliation with Brian and the team members. Men became part of the mix sometime during the 1990's, and the size of the team fluctuates from season to season depending on one's other commitments: personal life and work situations, physical health and motivation, and other time constraints. One thing I have learned from this experience is that a group such as this becomes a microcosm of life. Teammates get to know and care about each other; they help each other to improve as runners by putting their best effort forth during practice and races; and they simply share themselves with each other.

The coached group is only one aspect of Nor'Easter Run. The Club is for anyone interested in running, getting discounts at Peak Performance, attending social gatherings and other clinics, staying informed about group runs and other trainings. The coaching component is an additional option.

If you want to learn more about Team Nor'Easter and Nor'Easter Run, the monthly social is on Wednesday evening, February 4th, at 7:00 P.M. at Peak Performance Multisport, 317 Marginal Way in Portland. Also, in future blogs I'll inform you about upcoming Nor'Easter Run events.

Monday, January 19, 2009

One for the Books

Twelve committed runners faced the challenging winter weather yesterday and ran the Mid-Winter Classic 10-Mile course in Cape Elizabeth in a fairly aggressive snow storm. One runner called it "a character-building run," while others thought it was plain old frustrating. It was definitely "one for the books."
We set out at around 9:00 with about 3-4 inches of snow already accumulated. It continued to snow steadily and the onshore wind was fairly strong. This meant the beginning part of the run down Scott Dyer to Spurwink and Eastman Roads was fairly pleasant, as we went away from the ocean. The toughest part was finding traction going up the Spurwink hills. That slipping and sliding back really does make the effort feel a bit silly. And was it slow going. Often, the best traction was off to the far left of the road where there were a couple inches of fresh snow.
One runner met up with an oncoming snow plow and had to jump off the road. Otherwise, it seemed like traffic was fairly forgiving and gave way.
We finally hit the half-way point at the marsh on Sawyer Road. Here, the wind came whipping across the marsh from the ocean, blowing the snow sideways and making for very challenging running. We saw a couple other runners out on the course, forging their way across the marsh as well. Spirits seemed high despite the conditions.
Then of course came the tough miles on Route 77. The wind was in our face, the traction was bad, and it felt like we were getting nowhere. I actually found relief by taking some walking steps while I drank water.
"As soon as we get to Rudy's the wind will be behind us," Paul said. Sure enough, we felt the tail wind with about two miles to go. The last mile of this race is a good one: It begins with a gradual descent, only to head back up as you approach the high school. It's a very strategic part of the race, because the finish line is all the way behind the high school, a good quarter mile or more from the entrance. Remember that...
The group enjoyed bagels and bananas while standing and stretching in the snowfall. We all agreed we would likely feel aches and pains on account of the unevenness of the run. I felt more tired than usual for the effort. One thing remained true: We were very pleased and satisfied we got out and did it. Let it snow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Long slow distance (LSD) is a nice alternative to the short fast daily run one typically does to simply "get 'er done." In fact, LSD is a requirement if one is training for a marathon or equally demanding endurance event. This is how the body develops aerobic capacity: the ability of the body to store and utilize energy sources, namely, glycogen and fat, capable of lasting for several hours of activity. It's a fabulous adaptive process, and worthy of its own entry. But for now, L-S-D meets D-O-G.

Yesterday I set out to do something in-between a long slow distance and a typical daily run. I wanted to run slower and longer, but not super long. I'm not training for a marathon but know how enjoyable a leisurely run can be, and definitely wanted to go further than five or six miles.

No sooner was I into my reverie about LSD when I heard heavy panting and clawing on the pavement coming up from behind me. I quickly turned around to see a medium-size mutt charging full steam ahead toward my body, hair up on his back and everything! I screamed suddenly and loudly, as one does when one's life feels threatened, and I must have scared the bejeezus out of this canine since it veered sharply to the left, over a snowbank and into the front lawn of the house we were passing. I was pissed, so I immediately summoned my best alpha voice to say "Bad Bad Dog! You Go Home Bad Dog! Go Home!"

Then, I was half running, half stumbling backwards, pointing at this pooch as he has proudly pulled himself out of the snow, though with way less machismo as he had going in. He stood there on all fours looking at me as I backed away and turned around to continue running. I kept looking back at him...he stayed looking at me. It could have been a stand-off except I started running. So much for the relaxed run.

This is not the first time I've been charged at by a loose dog and thankfully, I've never been bitten. (I am knocking on wood as I write this.) But I have to say, I find it most annoying - down right maddening, and I know that other runners have been seriously injured by dogs.

Two recent situations were irksome, not because of the loose dogs' potential danger to me, but more so on account of the owners' indifference or naivete. One was on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough, Maine and oddly enough the dog and its owner were running together, well off in the distance coming toward me, with a significant amount of beach between us. As we get closer to each other, the dog starts heading my way: straight toward me, full gallop, all fun loving and fancy-free, not slowing down, not responding to its owner's command to "Come!" Well, guess what? That creates fear in me. I don't like this. By now the other runner and I are side by side and she says gaily, "Oh, he just wants to run with you." Oh really. Guess what?

Another time I'm on the Eastern Trail and it's a similar situation except this dog and its owner are not running; they are walking towards me as I'm running. And this one is on a leash, no less, but is somehow able to charge and jump up at me as I approach!! All friendly and fun-loving, of course, and I hear the owner say, "He's okay." But, guess what? It's not okay for me. It scares me and it disturbs my running.

I don't know. I realize many dogs are lovely animals and harmless, etc., but not everyone is comfortable around your dog. Some dogs can be vicious. I also realize running could seem like a threatening activity to a protective or vigilant dog. I suppose it comes down to owners' being responsible for their pet and recognizing others' rights to move about freely; and, for runners to stay alert while doing LSD, and perhaps carry pepper spray.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Quiet Conversation

Last night at around eight-thirty I took a walk while the full moon still held dominance in the winter sky. A snow storm was forecast to begin during the night, and the moon was slowly being stalked by the foreboding cloud-cover.

I walked through the crusty crunchy snow across the neighborhood ballpark to the Eastern Trail. The trail is a fabulous asset to this community and is Southern Maine's portion of the East Coast Greenway, a projected traffic-free pathway running from Florida to Northern Maine. This local section used to serve as a railway and has been under development over the past several years.

I came onto the trail section between Pine Point and Old Blue Point Roads in Scarborough and headed north across Pine Point Road. I thought it would be great if the path could somehow get plowed to make running and walking easier during the snow season. It was all uneven and tough walking.

This section of the trail goes over the Scarborough Marsh. If you have never experienced the Scarborough Marsh it really is worthy of a place on your must-do list. In any season or at any time of day, the marsh projects an other-worldliness. I love watching the grasses change colors with the seasons and the sea smoke rising up on a cold morning. The Maine Audobon has a center on the marsh as habitats are abundant. It's a destination point for avid birders and canoeists.

Last night I stopped on the foot-bridge that spans about 100 feet over the river. Looking east toward the ocean, I was captivated by the parade of small icebergs making their way under the bridge with the incoming tide. There was not a sound! It was like a moving picture with no sound except for an infrequent soft collision of ice flows. And the full moon! I could have stayed there for hours. Had I just been complaining because the trail wasn't groomed?

As predicted we woke to a snow storm with about three inches already on the ground and a nice northwest wind. My husband continued to suffer with a flu and my daughter wondered about breakfast. My long run in Cape Elizabeth, though I was fully prepared to go, quickly became a low priority.

At around nine my daughter (8) and I donned our snowshoes and retraced my course from the night before. What a different world with inches of new snow, daylight, a stiff freezing wind in our faces, and an adventurous child: "Let's explore in the woods!" Instead of heading toward the open marsh we went south on the trail and into the woods. Again, what a treat to be in the stillness, except this time it was snow-covered trees and fresh snow underfoot, rather than the floating ice. We followed old footsteps and then broke our own trail. SG said it was starting to feel a little spooky because there were so many trees. On the way back we had a lovely tail-wind.

I don't know when or if I will run today and it doesn't really matter. A walk in the woods with my girl, a hot cup of tea, and sick and tired feet to rub seem like just enough for now.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Competition is a fascinating thing: One chooses to engage in it or not, and it can bring out the best and worst in a person given the happenings of the day. The funny thing about running is that it is intrinsically challenging or competitive, as it's all about a test of one's ability and will. A runner comes up against all sorts of conditions - weather, terrain, body weight, bio-mechanics, time constraints, attitude, motivation, outside opinions and on and on. So it's interesting to hear a runner say "Oh no, I don't compete," or "I'm not a competitive person." Give yourself some credit, you are and it's okay to be competitive. You're winning against many influences to not run!

Racing then is just another level of competition a runner participates in. Some runners thrive on it while others feel intimidated. Racing against the clock can be the extent of the competition, or you can use the race as the place where you come head to head with a "co-conspirator" and bring the best out in each other.

In 2001, Jeff Johnson, an ex-Nike employee and volunteer coach of their Farm Team for many years, gave a talk to a group of high school cross-country runners readying for the Border Clash (a Nike sponsored cross-country duel between runners from the two states, Washington and Oregon.) His speech was awe-inspiring and I think a most poignant part was about "the race":

"And so it is. The worthy competitor is essential to the race, not as an enemy, but as a co-conspirator. The race you see is a secret form of cooperation. The race is simply each of you seeking your absolute best with the help of each other...But the next time you step to the starting line of an important race, the conspiracy of striving together for excellence will be about to unfold! The white line on the ground before you...and that other white line five kilometers away...will define a sacred place, rife with potential, an arena in which excellence and ultimates are the only acceptable...indeed, the only honorable standards - and an arena into which only a few, special people ever venture.

There - between those white lines, in a race that matters - you will give your best to each other. And there - between those white lines, on that sacred plain, you will learn who you are...of what stuff you are made...and what you can endure...which is essential knowledge...essential knowledge...for it will inform your whole, entire life."

Wow. I wish I could have been in that room full of young, hopeful and engaged runners. Here's the speech if you ever have doubts about why you run and need inspiration.

I hope you can enjoy your next competition and use it as a means to tap your own power and potential, while at the same time, honor your co-conspirators.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Continuous Improvement

Last evening I had the luxury of poring over the latest New England Runner magazine. I love this publication since it not only covers the local running scene and the rest of New England and New York, but it's done in a friendly and knowledgeable way. I'm often inspired if not motivated to act from reading it. Like one time while I was reading it I literally got up out of my chair and went to my computer to register for the twenty-mile race on Martha's Vineyard.

Last night I got motivated as well, but it was coming out of a more negative place. Looking at some recent results and the published accolades from 2008, I realized I have been performing at what I might call a sub-standard level. Competitive, certainly, but not noteworthy. I mean just look at all these other amazing runners! (I know I'm already in a bad place when I start comparing myself to others...)

So with this awareness of how I've been performing of late comes the moment of truth: What are you going to do about it? If you don't like it, change it. Or at least change how you think about it.

I have never been an elite runner, that is getting under 18 minutes in the 5K or 37 for the 10K, and it's not likely I'll start getting those times during the second half of my life. But I can improve my overall performance, that is my training, my race times, cross-training, strengthening, rest, and diet. There are lots of improvements I can make. Isn't that always true?

The Mid-Winter Classic 10-Miler is in three weeks. I've been doing the distance but not the speed. With any training program, you need to incorporate both. Today, I decided to meet up with a group run in Portland at noon and pick up my pace a bit, at least for a couple pace miles. Last year I ran a 1:08:45, 6:53's. Maybe I could do 6:48's this year. We'll see. First let's see what I can do today (cough cough).

Here's to continuous improvement. Thanks New England Runner!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Loving Hills

At the risk of sounding glib, I’ve always maintained that if you want to run faster, you need to run faster. Likewise, if you want to get better at running hills, you have to run hills.

Incorporating hills into your training runs will help you develop both strength and speed. The muscles around your knees will get stronger, lessening the risk of knee injuries, and your stride will become more efficient on account of your overall leg and core strength.

Hills, like big waves, need to be approached with care and respect. Be particularly vigilant if you are prone to knee or calf injury, or Achilles tendonitis.

We are very lucky in Maine because it is relatively easy to incorporate hills into our runs. If you are not familiar with running on hills, I recommend you find something gradual and not too long, with a “backside” to practice running downhill too (more on that in a minute). If you can, plot a course that includes a few hills. I am not advocating doing hill “repeats” at this time, simply varying your running terrain to include some up and down.

As you approach the hill, pick up your pace slightly without changing the rhythm of your run. Remember that the idea of hill work is to negotiate the hills efficiently, with as little disruption as possible to your rhythm. Think of yourself rolling over the hill, almost as if it isn't there. Concentrate on keeping your upper body relaxed, while you let your legs do the work. Positive affirmations and visualizations are hugely helpful tools for running uphill. My favorites are "I love hills!" and "Hills are my friends."

On gradual inclines, try to run a bit harder than you had been running on the flat before the hill. On steeper inclines, concentrate on lifting your knees and pushing off hard with every step. This attention to your "vertical" motion is at least as important as your forward motion up the hill. The steeper the hill, the more you should lift your knees. On the steepest inclines try to lift your knees so high that your thighs reach horizontal. I think of stepping up a set of stairs. Using your arm strength helps, too.

Even for very long hills (a mile or longer), try to maintain the exaggerated knee lifts. The benefits will make themselves known soon enough. The knee lifts are not easy. But even with the extra workout, your legs take less of a pounding running uphill than when running hard on the flat or downhills - you're not hitting the ground as hard.

As you reach the top of each hill, focus on running all the way over the top until your reach the flat, and resume your regular running rhythm again.

Downhill running also requires technique and practice, and if done well, can be extremely strategic in a race situation. Many people lean back and put their brakes on while descending a hill. Think about alpine skiing…you lean forward and open yourself up to the descent. You will fly by your competition. 

Over the years, while running downhill, I’ve practiced opening up my hips, leaning (not bending at the waist) forward, maintaining strong arms and good control, and paying very close attention to my footfall. Think quick feet, hitting the ground as lightly as possible without over-striding. Maintain good control of your stride while increasing your turnover. Remember, you’ve got gravity working for you. Focus on good, relaxed running form, and enjoy the ride!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Warming Up and Warming Down

I thought my running coach was kidding when he said I should get up and run a warm-up at 5:00 in the morning before an 8:00 a.m. 5K race. The sun wasn't even up yet! But no, he was serious. So I'd get out there and cover a couple miles at a just-barely-awake pace before showering, eating a bit and showing up at the race with an hour to spare - plenty of time for my second warm-up!

Years and many, many races later, I am grateful for that coaching advice and have incorporated warm-ups into all my races and most of my training runs as well. I've since learned more about dynamic stretching and self-massage as additional means of warming-up, and this is what I tend to do before a training run versus an easy run or walk.

Today, before our Sunday run in Cape Elizabeth, Mike and Rich were talking about how noticeable warm-ups had been to their race performances. As we stood around talking and waiting for the rest of the group, a couple Sticks got passed around for self-massage to quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, wherever! If you're not familiar with the Stick, come in to Peak Performance for a demo.

There are both physiological and psychological reasons for doing a warm-up, especially the double sessions before a race which I described above. Mentally, here's when you begin to keenly focus on the race you are about to run. The first warm-up run, which I (now) affectionately call my "wake-up call" is a time to think about my race plan - my goal, how I would run on that particular course, the competition, generally, how I am thinking and feeling about the upcoming event. The physiological reasons for the easy run is to gently wake up the body, limber up muscles, stretch out tightness without any risk of injury. It's an EASY run. The next warm-up just before the race is basically for the same reasons though the closer you get to the starting gun, the more race ready you want to be, that is when the gun goes off you want your heart rate up where you run your fast times. You'll already be perspiring. Muscles are warmed up and ready to continue to

The warm-down or cool-down is extremely important after a run or workout, particularly if it was a significant effort for your body, that is very fast, intense, or for a long distance. Again, dynamic stretches and even static stretches are excellent, but an easy run first will really help to move lactic acid through the muscles, settle your heart rate down to a more relaxed rate, disallow muscles from stiffening up, and basically bring you back to homeostatis. And guess what? You have now turned a 5K race into at least a ten-mile day. Kind of nice for the weekly total.

There are many resources available on-line and in books to learn about dynamic stretching and pre-race warm-ups. Julia Kirtland for one, is a massage therapist and triathlete in Portland who writes a blog. Recently, Julia has talked about dynamic stretching, self-massage, and strength training. You can find it on her web site.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

It's New Year's Day, 2009, a brilliantly sunny and freezing day in southern Maine. My family and I started the year with an uncharacteristically civilized breakfast of poached eggs, freshly squeezed orange juice, toast and coffee at the dining room table. Now that's truly an annual holiday event! Usually it's toast and peanut butter while standing and cereal and milk at the counter.

I also spent time this morning perusing a new holiday item called Wildlands Philanthropy, The Great American Tradition. It's a massive coffee-table pictorial describing the genesis of forty National Parks and natural landmarks. Mostly it's a book about the people responsible for creating these preserves. They came from all walks of life. What special characters they were, and continue to be, to exercise such a forward-looking commitment to nature. It's truly humbling.

The photographs of some of these places reminded me of the pleasure I feel walking or hiking, running or snowshoeing in the woods, along the beach, or in a place that simply provides an expansive view. Usually it's completely quiet except for natural sounds and my own breath and movement. I love those times because I don't have to know anything: I don't have to be an expert about anything, I don't have to have any answers, and I don't have to perform in any way. I can just be still and absorb the experience. It's quite a contrast for a competitive person like myself.

Perhaps I'll add more of this type of experience to my life in 2009. Already we've scheduled one trip: My husband insisted we insert a weekend camping in Baxter State Park in August, the week after the Beach to Beacon 10K, and we will make our annual trek to Acadia National Park in October for hiking and spectating the Mount Desert Island Marathon. (We actually ran it this past October to celebrate my 50th birthday!) Usually our leisure and travel plans revolve around running road races or at least participating in running events in some way.

To wit, in February we'll travel to Martha's Vineyard for the 20-Miler; in April we'll spend a long weekend in Boston for the marathon (my husband Paul is running it!); early June it's off to Vermont for the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon (yes, we got in after 50 minutes of trying on-line); every Sunday from the end of May through the Peak Performance Maine Marathon on October 4, we'll be training a group of runners to participate in either the full or half-marathon; and for the first time we'll join a team for the Reach the Beach Relay in New Hampshire - 200 miles in 24 hours. Oh yeah, did I mention the local race scene just about every weekend?

Alright, I realize I mentioned in a previous blog that I'd like to be realistic about my goals. Maybe I should just leave my "calendar of events" alone. I will be in many beautiful places this coming year, having many wonderful running conversations, I'm sure. Maybe I should just realize that there are any number of moments in a day when I can be quiet and peaceful and notice that I'm in a beautiful place. So paying attention to what really is, is what I resolve to do more of. Phew, I'm glad I got that figured out!

Happy New Year! I hope to see you on the roads, or perhaps even in the woods.