Thursday, June 25, 2009

Simply Striders

Coach George Towle, University of Southern Maine's women's cross-country and track coach, spoke at Peak Performance Multisport last evening about "running economy." It's all in the striders, he says.

Simply stated, striders are when a runner picks up speed for a period of time such as 20 - 30 seconds, and then jogs for a minute to recover. An example of a workout might be doing this six times, with a warm-up before and a cool-down after. This picked-up pace is the runner's mile race pace.

This concept is very simple and any level of runner can gain speed and efficiency by doing striders a few times a week. That is, of course, assuming the runner has been running for a while and has a mileage base. Running without injury is a result of a slow and progressive build-up, not doing too much too soon.

Coach Towle also talked about running economy, which he defined as "the amount of oxygen consumed relative to the runner's body weight and speed which he or she is running." Doing striders or repetitions (usually a little longer than striders but at the same pace) will improve running economy because the runner will focus on proper running form - no unnecessary leg or arm motions - and an increased comfort level at faster speeds. Basically, this is how I define training: Practicing something over and over so that it becomes familiar, and works like a stepping stone on the path to improvement.

Proper running form can be practiced by thinking about CHP - chest, hips, and press. Towle's student athletes recall the acronym by calling it California Highway Patrol. Catchy, I think. 1) To achieve proper chest position, standing tall and relaxed, take a deep breath and hold it. Your chest will expand, shoulders go back, chin down. Now release your breath but maintain the chest position. This is the proper chest position. 2) Touch your hips with your thumbs, finding the hip joint. Now tilt your pelvic bowl up, which flattens your lower back a bit. This is proper hip position, again, while keeping everything else relaxed. 3) The press is the push off from the ground while running. The last thing on the ground should be your big toe. Think about pressing that big toe on your take-off.

Once you have the form down, you can practice improving your stride rate, that is how many strides you take for a set amount of time. Ideally, a runner should take 175 - 200 strides per minute. The higher the number, the more efficient (and likely faster) the runner is. You can practice this by timing yourself for a minute and counting how many times your right foot lands. Double this number and you've got it. If it's low, practice a quicker turn-over or cadence, again with a focus on good form. You will begin to see improvement, and, it won't hurt!

Good luck with it. The racing season is upon us - time to make some strides!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer's Almost Here

The empty yellow school buses lined the public parking area at Pine Point Beach in Scarborough today, after depositing groups of school-aged children to the beach for what was apparently a "beach day" field trip. Good for them.

I ran to the beach and hit it at the end near the jetty, as part of a five-mile loop from my home. The beach was the most crowded I've seen it in a while, and it was only 10:30 in the morning. The students were in groups - some walking along the beach with teachers or chaperones, collecting shells and whatnot, while others, in fact, no less than 40, bounced up and down valiantly in frigid water up to their waistlines, hands flapping in the air. Good for them. The scene really brought a smile to my face.

Summer running. Time to think sunscreen, hat, early morning runs, hydration, lots of tourist traffic, crowded beaches, the smell of fried food in the air, sweating, lots of races, festivals, longer runs, ice cream indulgences, minimal clothing, days off for family and friends, trips to Peaks Island, Bridgton Four on the Fourth, lots of races on the Fourth, parades, training for Beach to Beacon, weight loss, tanned skin, good fun, new friends, cold beer, healthy competition, surprises, camping, hiking and swimming respites, biking too. And so much more!

Remember running in December and January in preparation for the Mid-Winter Classic? Brr.

Enjoy this final week of Spring 2009, and let's hear it for Summer!!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Save it for the Race

I'm glad I didn't race the Doc's Tavern Three-Miler last Friday evening. It very likely could have put me over the "sort of under the weather" state, to a "now I'm definitely sick" condition.

Instead, I traveled to Vermont on Saturday and felt much better by the running of the Belmont Stakes that evening. Don't you just love watching horse races? This one was particularly exciting with Mine that Bird, rather jockey Calvin Borel, going for the win. The pair had a tough time negotiating the field and ended in third place. It was Summer Bird, a long shot, who ultimately ruled the day in a very exciting finish.

The element of surprise is what I love about road racing, as well. You just never know who is going to toe the line and have the best day. What you should know, I suppose, is where you're at physically and mentally, and what you're capable of doing based on your training. It also helps to know the course.

I've raced the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon many times and really enjoy it. This year was clear and sunny, and with a 10:15 start became quite warm during the run. Vermont is so beautiful right now, really lovely. It's green and lush with spring flowers everywhere. The course begins in Pomfrey, goes through Woodstock, and runs along the Queechee River ending in Queechee at the polo fields just outside of town. It runs past covered bridges and in Woodstock we actually run over/through one. It's probably one of my favorite races for its beautiful course and excellent crowd support.

We had a two hour wait from the bus drop-off at Suicide Six ski area until the start, so I stayed hydrated and warmed up fairly well for the distance before the gun went off.

I noticed a few women at the start, but being from away and anonymous, I had no idea how we would compete against each other. I went out comfortably with my husband at my side, and for the first couple miles ran in the lead. A woman with a Colorado Running Company singlet came up beside me, and we commented about the gregarious crowd support for the first ladies. I let her go since I was struggling to find my rhythm. I went out faster than I had planned and during the first six miles or so, cursed the 440's I've been doing in training, because now I was running an inconsistent pace.

You see, my training focus right now is on the 5K. My speed work has been short and fast, and I've not gotten many good long runs in over the past several weeks. But I have a base, and I trust that. I also know that I run scared. Despite the fact there was already someone ahead of me, I ran competitively, not to catch her necessarily, but to hold my position. I was just waiting for a few young fillies to come breezing by, but it never happened. In fact, the number three woman turned out to be 49 years old!

Long story short: I worked hard, I doused myself with water at the aid stations, and I kept a decent pace going. I loved as we headed into Queechee Village once off the river road because I could smell the barn. The 12-mile mark is at the B & B where we stay, The Parker House, and I looked for the innkeeper Adam. I felt elated to be nearly done, and I raced the last mile because I knew there had to be someone right behind me. Silly, but true.

A good day at the races: Just over 1800 racers on a beautiful late spring day in Vermont; I won a Simon Pearce vase and a pair of Darn Tough socks; and my husband and I got to toast our weekend get-away with a cold beer in the beer garden after the race.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Practice What You Preach

This Friday evening I am staying back from racing the Doc's Tavern three-miler in Biddeford, Maine. I was all set to do it yesterday, until I woke up this morning at two a.m. with a crashing sinus headache right between my eyes and other annoying symptoms. Later this morning, I figured I'd go out at around noon for an easy run to see how I might present later this evening.

It never happened.

I tried going back to bed mid-morning only to thrash around, feel chilled, and waste time. I hate that. So I got up and went back to work but by then had decided the race, and the easy run, were off.

You see, I am racing a half-marathon on Sunday in Vermont. It's called the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon and it's a real gem. I've done it many times and last year I missed getting a registration with the on-line process. I was determined to not let that happen again this year, and it didn't. I've been planning this get-away weekend with my husband for months, and only fairly recently thought about running the three-miler, which is also a gem in its Biddeford-bar-beer-drinking-kind of way. You know, the way running should be. But it was definitely not the "A" race this weekend.

More than that, though, is the reasonableness of running two races in one weekend. Of course one could do it. One could run three races in a weekend. I know, it's done all the time by zealous runners. But not me. I think this will result in a compromise - somewhere. One of those efforts does not receive the benefit of my total presence and capability.

As a runner, I have had the good fortune of being coached for over 15 years. Granted, I've been part of a team and not coached as an individual, elite athlete, but, I have gained from coaching, and, it has been individual to a degree. My coach is admittedly conservative. I have been taught to put in moderate mileage, to train with intensity once a week, to incorporate hills and distance, and to not make up missed days. I've been encouraged to race in moderation, as well. And I'm good with

I also coach others to run, and I coach what I know to be true. The way I have been coached works for me. I "get" the schedule - the hard/easy, the overload/recovery, rest. Additionally, the training I received with the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) for my coaching certification is very keen on moderation, slow progression, and injury prevention. Simply put, it promotes running for life without injury.

Today I run without injuries; my energy remains high; I compete in the 50+ age division and I am competitive. Locally, I tend finish in the top ten overall or top in my age division. I toe the line when I am able, and I've learned to stay back when I'm not.

I am in this for the very long haul. I imagine running well into my 80's and beyond. I want to! I have gained so much from running and have seen many wonderful sights, enjoyed many peaceful times, and given my body the gift of staying power. Today my body, really, reminded the rest of me to practice what I preach. I did not need to race this evening. I will race on Sunday.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Remember The Real Deal

I've been moved by the recent Air France 447 tragedy.

I was driving along the other day listening to one of public radio's early reports about the people who were on the flight. A particularly poignant vignette described a French electrical parts company, that awarded its ten top salespeople and their spouses with an expense paid trip to Rio de Janeiro. They were aboard the plane which apparently malfunctioned and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean or exploded into pieces while still in the air above the ocean, on its return trip to Paris. The investigation is ongoing.

Ten employees from one company. Ten families celebrating their related achievements, on what could have been their dream trip. I'm reminded of Alanis Morissete's song "Ironic." But it's not ironic. It's real world, real life. This is how it goes. This is how it ends much of the time.

And it wasn't only these ten individuals and their partners; 228 families broken apart with the loss of one of theirs. Someone dear, someone special, the only one of that person. Gone for good with no adequate good-bye. This is how goes.

But do we fully appreciate this elemental truth? Do we really believe it? Do we live as if our time is precious?

I know I don't. I worry, I judge, I miss moments, I don't do my best, I forget it could be the last good-bye. But this is it. This is the real deal. I must not forget.