Friday, September 30, 2011

"It's Hot/Cold/Rainy/Windy! What do I do?"

I went for a run the other day on what was probably our hottest day of the year. When I got home at around 5 PM, the thermometer in our back yard (in the shade) read 90 degrees! Then, I read the weather forecast, and they say it may rain next week. So it seems like a good time for some weather-related advice.

So what do you do if it's that hot?

First of all, the number one priority in any weather conditions is that you do what you need to do to be safe. If it's hot, you have to be certain you do not put yourself in position to suffer from heat exhaustion or, worse, heat stroke. It's actually possible for most people to safely run in very hot conditions, but you can't just run out the front door when it's 90 degrees out and expect everything to be the same as if it's 60. Here are some thoughts about running in hot weather:

Just like in any other weather, you absolutely must hydrate appropriately for the conditions. If it's going to be hot when you run, you need to hydrate more. And that doesn't mean chugging three bottles of water right before you change into your running gear. I tell my runners to have a water bottle (small - say 16-20 oz.) with you during your school day. During each class, sip on it throughout the class so that you finish one bottle per class. When you change classes, refill the bottle. You should also be peeing between each class - if you're not, you're not drinking enough. Also, if you have the opportunity, take a drink of water (or two or three - whatever you need) during your workout. However, don't expect to make up for lack of hydration earlier in the day by drinking water during the workout. Do drink if you need to, but if you really need to drink during a 45-minute workout, it's a signal that you did not hydrate enough earlier in the day. Don't make that mistake again!!

Wear Light Colored Clothing
I know, black is fashionable, but an 80-degree day will feel like 100 if you wear your favorite black shirt from the latest rock concert you attended (do they still have rock concerts? ;-) ). The guys I coach like to run with no shirts, despite warnings from me and the other coaches about skin cancer. I actually feel cooler wearing a white t-shirt than running with no shirt. The white color will reflect some of the sun away from you.

Wear a Light Colored Hat
I know, it'll mess up your totally awesome hair, but it will REALLY keep the blazing sun off of your head, which is where you are supposed to be dissipating heat. If you wear a cotton hat (like I do), you can also soak it in water to help with the heat dissipation.

Slow Down
When it's hot, you almost certainly won't be able to run as fast as under normal circumstances, so just accept the fact that you have to slow down. You can actually get the same benefit of whatever workout you're doing by slowing down when it's hot. Remember, your body doesn't really know how fast you're going - it only knows what it feels like. So if you're running 7:00 pace on a hot day and your body feels like you're running 6:30 pace, the conditioning benefit will be like running the 6:30 pace on a cool day.

No matter whether you do all these things or not, you won't be able to successfully run in hot weather unless you gradually build up to it. I remember when I worked at Stanford University back in the '80s, and I ran with a great club down there, the Angell Field Ancients. We would meet up at noon every day to run from 5-8 miles on trails up in the hills above the campus. In the summer, it was usually around 80 degrees every day. I always found that it took a couple of weeks after the weather turned warm to get used to it, but once I was, I could run just about the same as when it was 65 degrees a month earlier. I grew to love running in the heat, but always - ALWAYS - had to build up to it.

I was going to write about running in the rain, but this is enough for now - I will cover that topic in a few days....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Know Where You're Going

I was reminded over the weekend of the importance of knowing where you're going. Twice in the same meet, runners went off course, wrecking their chances for winning.

I saw one case (last year) when a course official actually directed runners the wrong direction, but it's usually the case that there is a turn on a course somewhere with no official, and one or more runners go the wrong way.

Yesterday, in the first race of the day, there was one runner that was well in front of the others. Behind him was a sizeable pack, then a string of several others extending back from there. Just before the 2-mile point, the course takes a 90-degree right-turn. The leader, then the pack, then several of the others continued straight. The runner who was in about 25th place (one of the boys I coach) had listened all week when we had talked about the course, then had gone over it along with his teammates with a map in hand during his warmup. Even when the runner a few feet in front of him went the wrong way, he knew to turn, so he did. He ended up winning the race. Yes, knowing where you're going is part of the sport.

Later, on the final race of the day, another runner made a brief foray in the wrong direction. He was very close to the front at the time, but even though he only went off course for 2 or 3 seconds, it was apparently distracting enough to wreck his race: he finished somewhere above 20th place.

In today's age, you can usually find a course map on-line somewhere, so check it out and know where you're going!

Friday, September 23, 2011

"My Knee Hurts! What do I do?!"

Unfortunately, injuries are often part of any sport involving running. Even if you seemingly do everything right to try to avoid injuries - get the right shoes for your body, gradually build up to the level where you're running, etc. - you can still develop an injury. Sometimes when I'm in the car (with the windows UP) I will shout at some runner, "Don't you know running is bad for you?!!"

The biggest challenge in dealing with injuries is knowing whether the pain you feel is just normal soreness because you did a hard run the day before, or if it is something that is the beginning of an injury. Even having been a competitive runner since 1978 (!), I don't always get this right.

The first thing to know is that, except in extremely rare cases, your coach is not a doctor. However, your coach may be a runner or at least a former runner, or at least has had some training in dealing with injuries. So when you go tell your coach, "My knee hurts," listen carefully what they say, because they have probably gone through the same thing you are going through. Just understand that whatever advice your coach gives you is "runner's/coach's advice," not "doctor's advice." You can always go see your doctor.

Here's what I and most other coaches I know will likely say. We'll ask you if it hurts when you're not doing anything or when you're just walking. If it does, we might tell you that's a fairly clear sign that it could be something that either is or might turn into an injury, and advise you to take a day off and check again tomorrow. Or even go to a doctor right away if the pain is very substantial.

If it only hurts when you run, we'll suggest that you try running a little, and see if the pain gets worse. If it doesn't get any worse, then it may be something that is just some soreness that will go away. So, basically, the advice is usually to test it out to see what makes it feel better and what makes it feel worse. If the pain persists for longer than a few days, it could be a sign that it's something leading to an injury. The only exception to that would be if it's getting noticeably better from day to day. You really have to learn to listen to your body every day and be able to compare how you feel from one day to the next.

At any rate, it's usually good advice to ice whatever hurts. If you hunt around on the internet and just ask people you know, you'll probably find seventeen different ways to ice something. Here's my favorite way of icing something. Buy a bag of frozen peas at the grocery store. Put the unopened bag into a ziploc bag (it's tougher than the bag the peas come in). Put in the freezer. When it's time to ice, put the bag onto the sore area for about 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes, take the bag off and let the area warm back up for about 15 minutes. The put the bag back on for another 15 minutes. Let the sore area warm back up for 15 minutes before getting up to walk around again. That, conveniently, also gives you an hour to do whatever reading you have for homework.

Whatever you decide to do for an injury, do keep the big picture in mind. As a runner, my goal is usually to try to avoid an injury with a long recovery time, so I will skip a workout or cancel my participation in a race if I think some soreness I have might result in 6 weeks on the couch. You have to think about what the "big picture" means to you, and how your injury (or non-injury) fits into that.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why are 800s "Good for Me"?

Because I said so, that's why. OK, just kidding.

Actually, doing a set of 800m repeats is good for a number of reasons.

One reason is that it trains you to run about as fast as you need to run in a cross-country race. One could argue that there are times that you might be running faster, but high schoolers are probably going to be able to ratchet up to that higher speed well enough (for sprinting at the end, etc.) without training for it.

Another reason is that 800m represents a good distance that you might want to speed up during a race. Let's say you're running a course that's about 2½ miles long. The first mile or so, you're getting started, settling into your race pace, etc. At some point during the second mile, you will either A) start inadvertently slowing down; or B) want to pass a bunch of other runners, so will need to speed up. Regardless of the reason, this is a good time in a race to turn up the effort. If you do so for about 800m, you will put yourself in an excellent position to run an overall good race - you will probably pass some people, which will give you confidence, and you will now be close enough to the end of the race that you will start to speed up toward the finish (like the horse smelling the barn on a ride).

Of course, there is the mental practice you get running 800s, too. You have to run pretty fast during each 800m repeat, and you have to do it while you're tired. However, they aren't that long, so you will know that the discomfort won't last forever, as it can seem when you're doing mile repeats or a longer tempo run. Because you'll do more of these than the longer distance repeats, you get more brain training than when you do fewer of the longer ones. Each time you are running one of these, you are learning how to accept the discomfort that comes with running fast for a prolonged period of time (longer than a 100m sprint, say). Then, when you get in a race, you will recognize the feeling you have as relatively familiar, and won't panic ("OMG, I need to slow down!!!").

Finally, again because you will do more of these than longer repeats, you get a chance to refine your pacing because you get more attempts. If you're only doing 2 or 3 1600s, it's hard to get a feel for the pace. But doing, say, 4 or 6 800s, you get a much better opportunity to compare: "That one felt slower, but was 2 seconds faster than the one before last."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Runner at a Time

One of the challenges of running in a larger race (like a big invitational) is that there are so many runners, it might seem overwhelming to try to pass people and move up in the finishing order. That is, it will probably seem to be too big a task to look ahead and see 30 runners that you want to pass: "How can I pass 30 guys?!"

So here's what you do.

Once you get through the chaos of the start, try to find what seems like your "race pace." Then, look up ahead. But only look at the very next runner in front of you. Your mission - indeed, your only mission - is to pass that runner.

Do not think about anything else.

Do not think to yourself: "Self: let's pass those four runners up ahead of me."

Do not think to yourself: "Wow, that runner is too far ahead of me to think about passing him."

Do not think to yourself: "Look at the lovely trees and pond."

The only thing to think to yourself is: "Pass that runner that I see ahead of me."

Within 10 seconds or so, you will pass that runner. Now, your mission is complete.

But you then have a new mission: to pass the runner that you now see in front of you.

Within 10 seconds or so, you will pass that runner. Your second mission is now complete.

But you then have another new mission: to pass the runner that you now see in front of you.

Do you get the picture?

That is all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Race Pace - Know Where You Should Be

Eventually, you will learn how to pace yourself during a race. You will develop a sense for what a given pace feels like. But until you do, one tool you can use to help you during a race is to know about where you should be finishing. You can do this in big races because you can probably find results from the past year's event.

Here's an example.... Our team is headed to our first invitational of the season this weekend. The newer runners ran their first official race of the season last Friday on a course that is about the same length. Using their per-mile pace as a guide, I could estimate what their time might be this coming Saturday. Based on that time, I am able to guess about where they might finish. For the fastest guys, they will probably be in the top 20 (out of 150-180 runners). The medium guys will probably be in the top 50 or 60. So I can tell the fastest guys that if it looks like there are a number of guys about equal to the total number of guys on our whole team (about 30) ahead of them, then they are probably going too slow. Similarly, if the medium guys see only a couple dozen guys ahead of them, they're probably going out too fast. For the slowest guys, it's probably best to primarily use their own teammates as a guide, i.e., they shouldn't be keeping up with guys they know will finish a minute ahead of them.

It's also possible that you might look up previous years' results and find that you might actually have a chance to win. The only downside of this knowledge is that you probably shouldn't get out and try to lead wire to wire - you might accidentally start out too fast. Instead, you should be a little more patient, and let someone else lead for the first half of the race or so, then move ahead after you determine that's the best plan.

Monday, September 12, 2011

You Can Make a Difference!

One of my first posts on this blog was about how the system of scoring works. I mentioned that every member of the team has the potential to influence the outcome of a race. Many of you probably thought, "Here we go, blah, blah, blah, everyone's a winner, blah, blah, blah....." I'm right, aren't I?

Well, at our school's league meet last Friday, we saw a great example of this. There were six schools in the meet, and four of them had complete varsity boys teams (at least five runners). There was a pretty good battle for first place, with the first place and second place teams separated by only 6 points. Then, amazingly, the other two teams tied for third place. When there's a tie, you look at which of the two teams' 6th runners finished higher. In this case, one school had only five runners, and the other did have a 6th. That runner actually finished the race DFL (Dead Flat Last), but because the other team didn't have a 6th runner, he constituted the tiebreaker that secured third place for his team. That's right, the guy who was LAST PLACE in the race was the factor that bumped his team up to a higher place!

The importance of this point is that you should always do your best in any race. Even if it seems like you are the slowest one out there, or if you're having a bad race that day, or if you're down on yourself for some other reason, you should keep trying and get to that finish line. You might be the one that pushes your team up one more spot!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chocolate Milk - Yeah!

I want to post about nutrition eventually, but this just popped up on my radar screen:

It is about a study by a University of Texas researcher about the benefits of consuming chocolate milk after exercise. In addition to the article itself, read the comments. People raise many interesting questions, and the lead researcher actually responds to them. Interesting stuff!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"What Happens When I Die? (In a workout, that is....)"

I posted some information about doing repeat workouts last week. One of the goals of this kind of workout is to run the repeats at about the same time. But despite your best efforts, sometimes you just poop out part way through the workout. What do you do then?

This just happened with a few guys at our team's workout yesterday. The workout was to do five 1,000-meter repeats with about two minutes of rest in between. It was one of our first warm days of the late summer (here, our warmest weather occurs in September), and the guys were suffering. A few of the guys were dragging at the end of #3. Uh-oh.

Here's what you should do if you find yourself in that situation (which might simply be due to running the first one or two too fast, not necessarily because of the heat): First, and always most important, make sure you are not having a serious issue, like dehydration or heat exhaustion. Basically, if you are feeling dizzy or unusual in any way, you should be stopping and telling your coach what's going on. Hopefully, your problem is simply that you're feeling tired. If that's the case, try to cut the next repeat short. We can do this where we do our repeats because it's in a park, and we have sort of a lightbulb or keyhole shaped course.

The reason you should cut the next one a little short is that you can still do some fast running, and maybe recover enough to do the entire subsequent repeat with the group. That is, it's better to do 4½ 1000s at the appropriate pace than to do three of them, then just jog the other two. Plus, it's more likely that you'll get closer to the same rest as everyone else - if you finish waaaaaaay behind everyone, you'll get a lot less rest than the others because they will have finished sooner.

Another thing you should do as you tire is focus on running with good form - I will write about this specific issue in the future....

Monday, September 5, 2011

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

Cross-country is all about recovery. On most courses, you will encounter sections of the course (usually hills) that are harder than others. The runners that finish highest are the ones who can recover best after each of those hard parts and continue pushing through the race.

This is hard to do.

Fortunately, you will not be running in one of those drawings by Escher where you could just keep going uphill. Eventually, you have to come back down. During a race, you have to trust that your fitness will enable you to recover enough to continue racing as hard as you can. That trust is difficult to summon, but once you experience it, you can definitely use it to your advantage. When many runners, especially those newer to the sport, reach the top of a hill, they often sort of breathe a sigh of relief and pause slightly. That's when you can burst ahead of them, knowing that, while, yes, you are dying, too, you will survive and even feel better in a minute or so.

Try it next time....

Saturday, September 3, 2011

How fast should I be running?

A runner (OK, it was my son, who is a junior on the team I coach - since I'm the frosh-soph coach, I don't directly coach him any more) asked me the other day, "Was I running with the right guys yesterday in the speed workout?" This was a more complex question than it seems.

My answer had a few different parts. First of all, as I noted in my post about running repeats, you want to run all of your repeats at about the same time. But not slowly at the same time: you should be pretty darn exhausted at the end of a workout of repeats. So the first part of my answer was a question: Did you run evenly, and were you exhausted at the end?

Next, I asked another question: Which guys on the team do you want to (or think you should) be beating in races? This is tricky because there may be a guy you see who you think you should be able to hang with, but he may actually be faster than you can run right now. But using your teammates to gauge how hard you should be working can be a good way to improve.

What you don't want to do is pick some guy that you want to run with, get on his shoulder, and run the first one or two repeats way too fast. That would put you in a situation where you don't run evenly. But you might try hanging with him for part of the repeat. For example, let's say you pick out "Jim" as the guy you want to run with. When you start, get on his shoulder for the first 100m or so. Is he going too fast? Let him go. When you get to, say, halfway through the repeat, take note of how far ahead of you he is. For the remainder of the repeat, maintain that distance. When you finish, assess how you feel, then make adjustments on the next one.

The bottom line is that chasing down runners who are faster than you (in speed workouts - don't do this on easy days!) will probably result in improvements in your own running. Like everything, though, you have to experiment a little to make it work.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Don't Forget to Rest

Most coaches will plan easy days and rest days in your training plan. In many respects, these are more important than the hard workout days, so you need to go along with that plan.

Why? Because the way that you build muscle strength is to stress your muscles, then let them rebuild/regenerate. Every time you stress your muscles, you break them down and they need to "heal." As young people, you need less time for this process than I do, but you still need it.

When your coach has you run a hard workout, like, say, 5x1000m, you will probably be doing an easy run the next day. Do it. Don't go out and try to beat your teammates, racing along at some crazy pace. If your coach says to run at a conversational "jog," it's for good reason. If you don't get the rest that your muscles need to build themselves back up, you will likely get injured.

Sometimes your coach will prescribe an off day. These are important, too, so don't go out and play 3 hours of basketball with your friends. Rest. Do your homework. Go see a movie.

One of the other key functions of an easy day or rest day is that it recharges your brain. It can be mentally taxing to run day after day after day after day.... When you take a day off, you will find that you are more ready to run the next day. You'll feel like you missed running and can't wait to get out there and run, instead of dreading the day's workout.

The only thing to avoid regarding resting is resting too many days in a row. I used to think that it wouldn't really harm you if you took 3 or 4 or 5 days off in a row, but I'm changing my mind on that. There are times when you might get sick and you should take more than a couple days off in a row, so that's OK, but I would recommend at least getting outside and walking for 30 minutes or so. That probably won't hurt your recovery from the illness (unless your doctor says to stay in bed or something), and it may speed things up by getting out and getting some fresh air, getting some blood pumping, etc.

Three-day weekend coming up - you should be running on at least two of those days, but REST, too, if that's on your schedule....