Monday, March 30, 2009


A week has flown by since my last post. Wow, it's amazing how the onset of Spring can get things so revved up.

All things running, that is.

We started training on Wednesday nights this month and have about 16 people showing up for the workouts led by Coach Ziggy Gillespie. March has been a base-building month and beginning in April, we'll do more structured strength training workouts to get ready for the Portland Sea Dogs Mother's Day 5K and Father's Day 5K. Progressively, we'll gear up for the Beach to Beacon 10K. This program is one of many offered by Peak Performance's Nor'Easter Run club.

There are free group runs on Sunday mornings. Yesterday we had eight people in spite of the rain. Nate ran circles around us as he wanted to get in some fartleks, and a few of us learned we come from similarly large families and ones where boys outnumber the girls. It's always nice to run with friends. You never know what you'll hear or see.

Another Nor'Easter Run program begins at the end of May. In preparation for the Peak Performance Maine Marathon and Half-Marathon on October 4th, I'll be coordinating an 18-week training program. Participants will follow a customized schedule and get together with the group for long runs on Sunday mornings. There will be an informational meeting about this program on April 29th, at Peak Performance.

There are several free running clinics scheduled this season covering topics such as stretching and massage, gait and running efficiency, strength training, nutrition, and of course, injury prevention. You can go here to learn more about them and to register.

For fun and games, Nor'Easter Run has put together a Scavenger Hunt series beginning the first Monday in May. The idea is to come with a partner; each pair of runners will get the same list of items to scavenge; teams will have one hour to run around Portland gathering the stuff; fastest team with the most correct items wins. There will be a weekly winner and a series winner. The hunt takes place every Monday in May from 5:45 - 6:45 P.M. Now, how can you resist such silliness? Please register here.

We also realize not everyone can or wants to run. Therefore, we've created Nor'Easter Walk. Folks can get specialized coaching and support, and meet as a group every Tuesday for an evening walk. If you know anyone who might want to participate, please pass along the information. It is open to all levels of walkers, from those just getting off the couch to cardiac re-hab patients, fit and fast walkers, to those interested in weight loss. There's a lot to gain from making the commitment to join.

As always, I would love to hear from you or see you at a Nor'Easter Run event. Did I mention there are road races nearly every weekend.....

Monday, March 23, 2009

When a Runner

Today I ran with a friend who does not consider herself to be a runner. She says "Sure, I can do it, but...."

There's this whole, possibly wide, 'but' category of traits or characteristics or behaviors that define a runner, that she does not think she possesses, or perhaps, does not want to possess. What's up with that?

This 'but' category is both objective and subjective: Admittedly, there's a certain level of intensity, drive, commitment, regularity, preference, lifestyle, ease, competitiveness, introversion, extroversion, confidence level, fun, proficiency, talent, and struggle, and then some, that constitute a runner. I suppose this can be intimidating to those who have not actually given running a fair shake. Or maybe it's off-putting because they are really not that interested.

Justin is a newcomer to the sport, a few years now, and he's in his early forties. It's been a pleasure to witness his transformation from uninitiated to fully internalizing the runner's gestalt. We recently chatted about this experience after a Sunday run. He commented how difficult it was for him at first to stick with it. He did not like it: It hurt and wasn't fun. And, he was 25 pounds heavier. Yet, he persevered.

I suggested there was likely a part of him that had always wanted to be a runner. Somewhere, somehow, he had been exposed to the benefits of it, or the passion it ignites, or the athleticism it promotes. Whatever, it looked really good or sounded really good and he wanted it. Today, he is living it. He has lost the weight, can easily cover ten miles, and less, more quickly, and is starting to tune into his own inner rhythms and workings. He stopped using his i-pod during runs and now prefers to run without it. He enjoys the natural simplicity of it. Justin is a runner, and he calls himself such. What a terrific accomplishment!

I think this is such a terrific feat as it took me well over a decade to identify myself as a runner. I ran for many years, participated in many races, and even had a modicum of success, though never could call myself a runner. I saw runners as those in the above 'but' category. That was not what I was doing, or thinking. I was a wanna-be.

This harkens back to when I was 13; I remember hearing a motivational speaker passionately talk about his sport of running - all the good things it brought to his life - the health benefits, discipline, time management, self-confidence, success, accomplishment. I wanted it! I tried to run. I dabbled around my hometown, a mile here and there, never putting many miles together but really wanting it on a deeper level. In the meantime, I played sports - soccer, basketball and lacrosse - a lot of running certainly, but not for its own sake.

Later, I started to run more, for pleasure and for sport, until finally, in my early 40's, I claimed the title of runner. It took me a long time, and more importantly, it required an integration of the activity with the right mind-set, a belief in myself and my capabilities, and owning the outcomes - the real results. It was a long process and continues to change with age.

The bottom line is, if you want it, just do it, and keep doing it. It does get easier, and you too, can be a runner. Believe it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Time for Yard Work?

Muddy, matted, and brown grass is beginning to make an appearance here in southern Maine. Not in my yard, however. I dare say we still have nearly four feet of snow piled up behind our house. It's partly due to using the snow blower on the back patio, and simply its refusal to melt. I suppose it's understandable since the temps are still barely above freezing!

On my run around Pine Point today, I noticed several yards and sidewalks belonging to cottages along the road had been raked and swept, and piles of limbs, leaves, and dirt evidence of the effort. I actually look forward to finally being able to clear the tree carnage from our property, a result of the ice-storm we had back in mid-December. A couple trees split and tons of smaller branches came down everywhere (now under the snow.) It will be nice to get out from under this snow cover, though it's looking like it won't be until April at this point.

Speaking of a Sunday run, today a group met at Peak Performance for our weekly, open get-together. Folks ran varying distances, between five and 16 miles, and enjoyed a bit of camaraderie back at the shop. If you're interested in joining the group, please register at the link above. I plan to move the run to other starting places and routes for a change of scenery, and will communicate by e-mail. By registering, I'll have your e-mail and add it to the list. Also, any changes will be posted on the Peak Performance web site.

Think Spring! I hope you're running despite the weather, and saving the yard work for later.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Season Opener

Have you opened your running or racing season yet for 2009?

I suspect there are many runners who prefer to run on the treadmill throughout the winter and then mark the day when they hit the streets for the first time. Or perhaps they take the winter off from running and do other activities entirely, like Nordic ski, snow shoe, alpine ski, swim, Pilates, aerobic classes, etc., until they get outside to run. They really delineate a running season and an off-season. Me? I just run...outside.

This winter, I seemed to run more than during past winters. This was probably due to running with the group on Sundays in preparation for the February Mid-Winter Classic 10-miler. And it's funny, but I did not consider either this 10-miler or the 20-miler two weeks later on Martha's Vineyard as "season openers."

My season opener is a 5K race. It's what I train for during the spring and summer and where I have a clear goal. Unlike elite runners, I tend not to do speedwork during the winter. I run miles and build a base, but I don't do anything very fast. When the day comes for the first 5K, I never really know what to expect. I use it as a barometer to get a sense of my strength, and what, if any, leg speed I have. And I try to enjoy it. The truth is I don't, really. I'm a nervous wreck.

Last Sunday, I toed the line for my season opener in Saco, Maine at the Kerrymen's Pub 5K. This race used to be a four-miler, and not only have they changed the race but it runs concurrently with a large scale walk to benefit the Maine Cancer Foundation. It was a beautiful, sunny and clear, relatively mild day.

In spite of the fact I had no speed training under my belt, I did all the things I have learned to do over the years in order to be ready (and relaxed as possible) when the gun went off. I arrived with just over an hour until race time. I registered. I remained fairly relaxed and slowly ran the course. I had to carry a map with me, but that was fine. I met up with a Maine Track Club comrade and we jogged the second half together. I used the restroom. I stayed hydrated. I put my number on, tied up the racing flats with the chip on my shoelace, and still had about a half hour to go. This gave me time to start warming up, literally. I started running at a picked up speed in order to get my heart rate up and my body temp up and to shake out the butterflies. Okay, let's do it.

There were 800 runners, including a few Nor'Easter Run teammates. We chatted at the start-line and I admitted to Nick that I don't really know why I do this racing stuff, I get so nervous. He understood the feeling and reminded me of the benefits we experience when it's done. Yea, I know, and I know I'll keep doing it. I just wish I didn't have to feel the anxiety. One of my former teammates once said to me, "Just own it, Jeanne. This is how you get. It's not going to change." So I try.

I finished my season opener in 19:25, third female overall, and took home the information I needed: What is my 5K fitness level, where do I stack up against the competition, and how well did I recover? Now I can get to work on improving those.

If you would like information on how to train for a 5K, there is a free clinic tonight at Peak Performance Multisport in Portland. Go here to learn more.

Friday, March 13, 2009


My mind wandered today while out for a short run in the neighborhood. I passed a street that is off Pine Point Road and remembered that I looked at a room to rent in a house on that street about 15 years ago.

I'd been living in an apartment in Portland and decided it was time to live in a house with a yard. I was not ready to purchase a home and so shopped around for a rental situation. It was during this time that I landed on Peaks Island in Casco Bay, not in Scarborough. (And I'm glad I did!) It just struck me as funny (serendipitous? coincidental? small-world-like?) today, that I now own a home in this same area after more than ten years on Peaks Island. You just never know. But it begs the question for me, what am I doing or seeing or thinking about presently that will reappear or manifest itself in 10 years or so?

I suppose this is simply foreshadowing, but I like to think of it as having an intention for something and eventually, whether conscious or not, following it through. I'll never forget running on the path around the Back Cove in Portland one day and realizing (again letting my mind wander) that I had a wish to be doing just what I was doing, years earlier when I was still in Boston. I had a fantasy about living in a groovy city, working, running and basically enjoying life, and shazam! There it was!

I love those quirky, insightful moments. Not surprisingly they tend to occur when I am running. It's part of what I love most about running, in fact.

Do you do much life planning while you run, or have you ever woken up to your life while on a run? I'd love to hear about it.

The mind is a powerful thing and a terrible thing to waste.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Is Your Training Plan Well-Rounded?

Consistent running has a remarkable way of pervading all your senses: it penetrates your physical being, your mental focus, your emotional and social experiences. It becomes you, and you become it. And then, it wants more. "Again, again!" Even the most incipient runner feels this. Call it an intimate urge, a yearning to prevail, a desire to succeed, a runner's high. After all, success breeds success. Consistent running [and its documented effects] can really land its hook for good.

And that's great! That's exactly what it takes to finally own that Reserve label "Runner", or to kick some other nasty habit, or to understand certain speak at the gym or local happy hour. It takes consistency. It also helps to have a goal and a working knowledge of your own personal sense of balance, translated into a realistic running plan or schedule.

Many runners, especially those reeling from all those aforementioned good feelings, forget to include Off Days from their short-term strategy. Recovery days are essential components to a well-rounded training regime. There are several names for this tried and true notion: hard-easy, overload-recovery, stress-rest, run slow to run fast, smarter not harder, etc., etc.

Running all out (or even in your half-speed comfort zone) every day, does little to really improve your running capacity. Whether its speed or endurance you are after, or just longevity, there needs to be a changing pattern to your running. Because remember, the body will adapt to whatever it is you do - repetitiously.

A well-rounded training schedule will incorporate variations in frequency, intensity and duration to create an effective pattern of overload/recovery. When the body is stressed by the physical demands, it requires a period of rest or recovery to adequately heal and adapt accordingly. Think about body building or weight training: A worked, stimulated muscle needs three to seven days to recover and regain the condition and strength it had before completing the workout. Another couple of days of rest are required to allow the muscle to over-compensate and grow stronger. Training the muscle again during this recovery and overcompensation phase can interfere with the body's recuperative process and lead to diminishing gains, or over-training.

In running, it's the same thing: When you run, muscles tear, and if allowed to rest and recover, the healing promotes improved running/speed. If the body is not allowed adequate time to recover, a deficit could develop leading to damage in the muscular and cellular functioning. Think of rest as part of the sustenance required for the next hard workout.

An example of a balanced week might look this this: Sunday - long run, Monday - easy recovery run, Tuesday - easy run, Wednesday - intensity workout/speed work, Thursday- rest, Friday - strength workout incorporating hills, Saturday - rest.

Let's not forget the emotional, mental and social overload/recovery needs. You know what they say about all work and no play, or the type-A personality, or the self-absorbed runner. Balance is the key. Rest, relaxation, change of pace, change of scenery...these are the antidotes to an intense, consistent, committed running regime. If you're not noticing anything except your split times on your watch or mileage in your log, perhaps it's time to take an inventory of the other parts of your life: your body (winces, aches, pains), moods, openness to another's ideas, relationships, know what I mean.

Plan to be a well-rounded runner and allow running to be your specialty. I'm sure there are lots of other gifts and strengths that have (or deserve) a place in your world.

Please feel free to engage in this running conversation. I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Having just read a New York Times food review for the Lake House restaurant in Bay Shore, NY, I feel giddy to be in possession of one of this renowned chef's recipes. All accounts say this guy is seriously good, and we came upon his recipe for ribollita in none other than the December 2008 Runner's World magazine. According to RW, chef Matt Connors is a nine-time marathoner with a 3:05 PR. The recipe is described as a pre-race favorite.

Ribolitta is a flavorful hearty Italian soup, generally containing lots of vegetables and beans. I say generally because it is traditionally made from leftovers, so who knows really what is used, not to mention ribollita means "reboiled" in Italian. This soup is best when cooked at least twice before serving. We always make it a day in advance of the planned meal. Tomorrow being Sunday, we're looking forward to an easy, late afternoon meal of ribollita, after a morning full of running. I dare say it has become a weekly food staple at our house.

Here's a pic of what I made this afternoon.

Following is the recipe as it appears in RW. It's easily adjusted to accommodate your tastes and preferences. We use vegetable stock, half the olive oil, a big can of chopped tomatoes, and might not add the bread. Quantities might vary slightly, but pretty much we follow it to the letter. Enjoy!

2 C cannellini (or any white bean) drained and rinsed
1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil
1 tblsp fresh garlic, choped
1 tblsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 bunch kale, chopped roughly
1 C canned tomatoes, chopped
2 C chicken stock
3 slices day-old crusty white country bread
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano [optional]

Mash one-cup cannellini beans in a bowl with the back of a fork until smooth. Set aside. Gently cook garlic, rosemary, onions, celery, carrot and kale in the olive oil for about 20 minutes in a heavy-bottomed soup pot, stirring occasionally. Add both mashed and whole cannellini beans, chicken stock, potato and tomatoes. Simmer gently for at least one hour. Add bread and simmer until it's completely dissolved into the soup. Taste. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve (preferably the next day) drizzled with olive oil and Parmesan. Makes four generous servings.

Calories per serving: 580; carbs: 61g; protein: 14g; fat: 31g

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Art or Science?

A couple relatively new runners have recently said to me, "I never knew there was so much to learn about running." I understand the surprise, and as is true for most things, there are many ways to approach this sport.

For the most part, I have experienced running as an art form, certainly not for the way I run because that is not very artistic, but for what occurs when and where I run. It's the thinking I do, the beautiful things I can see in nature, the creative energy that gets aroused in me, and the relationships that are formed that seem like art to me. It's when I am on the track doing speed work, or in Baxter Woods doing intervals, or doing anything repetitive for strength and speed like hills, that I consider the science of running. Or, in marathon training.

As we know, the marathon is all about endurance. The science that explains a body's adaptation to and capacity for endurance training is exercise physiology. The Road Runners Club of America teaches there are five key physiologic factors that influence running performance:
  • Aerobic capacity
  • Energy system use
  • Muscle fiber makeup
  • Blood lactate levels
  • Running efficiency
and, five key training adaptations that occur in the body:
  • Muscles
  • Circulatory
  • Pulmonary
  • Skeletal/Connective tissue
  • Neurological
So you see, running is highly scientific. All of these keys areas overlap and are intertwined and have a definite affect on one another. Therefore, what I think is important to understand in lay-people's terms is that in order to run an injury-free marathon, one has to train properly. And training properly, whether deliberate or not, accommodates each of the areas above. I can't possibly cover it all here.

Simply, proper marathon training requires having a running foundation, that is a base of miles under your belt that has occurred over the course of months or years, and then allows for four to six months of focus, specifically on the marathon goal.

There are three progressive phases to this training: base-building, sharpening, and race preparation/tapering. A prospective marathoner should have a plan or a schedule which includes these three phases, and builds in intermediate and short-term goals and strategies, meaning, the "how to" move through each phase.

The singular comment that provoked this blog came from Joe. He plans to run a 3:30 marathon, an 8:00 minute pace per mile. His base building mileage includes progressively longer runs at a slow pace. This is called Long Slow Distance. :) Joe should be doing his LSD at a 9:30 minute pace per mile to race at an 8:00 pace. His lament was, "I can't stand running that slow!" I totally get this experience, but here is where the science factors in.

The reason for the backed off long runs, is that you want to train at about 70 per cent of velocity of VO2 maximum. And this maximum is typically determined by most recent best race times or a two-mile time trial, for example. (That might be how Joe came up with his marathon goal, figuring what is reasonable given his current fitness.) If he plans to run an 8:00 minute pace for a marathon, it's figured that that is about 84 per cent of velocity at VO2 max.

Why do you want to train at 70 per cent and race at 84 per cent? Because you're not going to run 26.2 miles at 100 per cent. That does not consider all the science that is referenced above. Each of those areas is a system, if you will, and each has a unique function. Specific marathon TRAINING is a fine art and creates a capacity to do an amazing feat - that is, stay on your feet, for 26.2 miles, at a good clip relative to your body and fitness. It's personal.

It's during the slow runs that the body adapts. It does this beautiful processing whereby it figures out how to use fatty acids as its primary energy source and saves the glycogen for when it's needed later during more intense periods. Granted, after a couple hours, most runners will need to supplement their natural energy stores. But think about it, you can go for a very long time and distance - naturally, with good training.

In the sharpening phase, runners continue to build base, but might add in race pace runs (for Joe 8:00 minute miles.) This prepares the body for race conditions, though shouldn't be practiced for longer than 15 miles, and should replace the long run for the week. This pace could be used in shorter interval periods to establish body muscle-memory and simulate the race experience. Runners should also be practicing re-hydrating and supplementing during these runs in advance of the race.

There's a lot to this running stuff. I wish I could over-simplify even more than I have. Sometimes it comes down to trust: trusting reliable sources, trusting your body to perform what is best for it, and trusting yourself to listen to your body. Most of all, enjoy the process and make your art!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


A small yet spirited group showed up on Sunday for a run out of Peak Performance Multisport in Portland. It was 18 degrees with a pretty stiff wind out of the north, definitely not ideal running weather. But these hardy souls persisted and as you can imagine, when all was said and done, they were glad they did it!

That single experience - that energized rewarded feeling - is such a critical factor in motivation. If only we could remember it at those times when we think the last thing we want to do is go out for a run! Because really, don't we almost always feel better after a run?

Another observation from Sunday's group run was that connections were made. As I've said before, certainly not all runners enjoy running with other people, but those who are open to making new acquaintances and sharing this personal and physical experience, can readily do so with a "group run." For example, Diane showed up, a "self-proclaimed horrible runner...a solid ten-minute miler," and met Kellie, who really doesn't like running, it's the least favorite of her triathlon sports. Well guess what? They ran together for longer and further than they thought they would (or could outdoors) and exchanged e-mail addresses after the run. They both enjoy swimming and biking, and are making a commitment to run together. What a great connection!

Joe came to run with 15-1/2 on his Vermont City Marathon training schedule, and Paul was there with a plan to do 14 as he trains for Boston. Close enough we all said! These guys ran for two hours together, covering over 15 miles and this their first introduction. It's pretty amazing when you think about it. It implies trust and self-confidence, and breeds a certain openness to others and camaraderie.

I know there are many varied reasons why people run; I could go on for hours about it. I'd love to hear from you dear reader, why do you run?