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Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

large-running-race-start-lineDeck the halls with gel and sports drink – fa la la la la, la la la la!

 

‘Tis the season for a goal race. It is natural to get a bit nervous, especially if you have a lot of little questions about how to handle race day.  Before you tuck yourself into bed on the night before with visions of sugar plums and finish lines dancing in your head, stay ahead of a few key things that many first timers need to know, and many experienced racers need to remember.

 

Avoid overeating like crazy on the night before

Many athletes have heard of the term “carbo loading” and believe that means stuffing an entire pound of pasta down the hatch on the night before the race.   It is true marathons require plenty of fuel, and it is also true that carbs are very helpful toward this task.  However, it is also true that a body cannot process four times the  normal amount of food in the same amount of time.  If you eat more food than your body can digest and process helpfully, where will it go?  Where will the excess end up?  Ponder….. Eat until full, but not until explosion levels!

 

Don’t drink two gallons of water 24 hours before the race

Hydration is important, but with too much water, the bloodstream can be stripped of important electrolytes, a potentially VERY dangerous situation on race day.  Hydrate consciously with a mix of water and sports drink or other fluid containing electrolytes for several days before the race so you aren’t pounding large bottles at the expo on the day before.  When your urine is light yellow, nearly clear, just keep sipping so your bladder isn’t under duress with an excess amount of fluid on race morning.

 

Bring throw-away clothing to the start

If it is cold, cold-ish, wet, or wet-ish, an extra layer can be very helpful at the start, particularly if you are in the second wave of a large race and you are going to be standing there for 30-40 minutes, shivering and nervously fidgeting.  “But wait,” you say, “It is supposed to clear up and be nice by the finish so I don’t want to bring my nice zip down.”  Fine, but that’s not an excuse to freeze for three quarters of an hour before you even start running.  Bring a long sleeved shirt that was already headed for Goodwill, and toss it to the curb with the rest of the detritus at the start or after a few warming miles with a hearty “Job well done!” Yes, you will look like a dork, but you will be a warm dork.

 

You must eat before you run a marathon

Is it physically possible to run a marathon without breakfast?  Probably.  Is this something you want to do, even if “I don’t normally have time to eat before my morning runs so I didn’t want to start now.”  No. Way.  This is folly.  If you don’t normally have time to eat, you must consciously change that practice and figure out what works for you in the weeks leading up to the race so you have some fuel in the tank on race day.  The nerves, the waiting at the start, the length of the run and the wait until you have food afterwards – not eating is unwise.  Extremely unwise.  Have a good day, and get something that works for you down the hatch.  No excuses.

Likewise, you must drink during a marathon

Again, is it possible to do it without drinking?  Yes.  Is this smart? Not in the least.  Don’t pick race day to be a hero for water conservation.  Drink 6-8 oz of water and sports drink (alternate!) every 45 minutes or so, if need be in the form of several small splashes from a few fluids stations.  You will have a much more enjoyable time, probably get across the line more quickly, and have a much, much more enjoyable recovery.

Do not switch horses mid-stream

Well yes, riding horses is probably cheating.  However, if you have run in one style of shoe, do not change them the day before the race.  Break anything new in three to four weeks before, when you have a chance to do at least one long run in them to find out how they feel.  Shoes, fuel packets, clothing, pre-race dinner, pre-race breakfast – all of these things should be very status quo on race weekend.  Experimentation is for folks who have one under their belt!  Notch this one and then look into switching things up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

large-smiley-facesMany of our members are in the middle of their fall goal race training, building up for a winter race, or tapering for an upcoming red-letter day.  The first big long run of a cycle can be exciting, but training demands a lot from your body.  Occasionally you find yourself waking up a little creaky, taking a bit longer to get up from your chair at work, or stressing out about taking an extra flight of stairs during your taper (shouldn’t your legs feel absolutely perfect ALL DAY, EVERY DAY)?  If you are in midst of or on the cusp of tapering, take a peek at our tips for a successful taper.  However, if you are in the middle of a big cycle and don’t feel quite as fresh as you did at the start, take a moment and refresh yourself with one of these quick tips!

 


Get up

Nothing builds creaki-ness more than a 2-hour run followed by 8 hours straight in a chair, staring at the computer.  Make sure to regularly get up and walk around during the course of your day (once an hour is a good rule), whether it is spent in the office, behind the wheel, or in an otherwise mostly stationary position.  The blood flow is good for your recovery, and the resetting of your scenery can be good for your outlook.

 

Drink Water

Many runners are very conscientious on race day or long run day, but don’t have the same commitment to hydration on the average Tuesday.  If you are making repeated demands on your body, prepare it best by keeping your body well –hydrated even on days when the pressure is off.  Keep a glass of water just small enough to need refilling regularly.  Buy a bulk pack of your favorite non-caffeinated beverage and keep it cool in the fridge.  Even if you don’t like water, give yourself a healthy source of hydration to look forward to.  You’ll get your walk and your water at the same time.

 

Stop, Drop, and Roll

Yes, do exactly this.   Although foam rolling can be inconvenient in work clothes and locations, keep one around.  If you have a moment and a quiet, carpeted corner, the loose muscles gained can provide a new lease on the rest of the day.  If you don’t keep one handy, you can’t do it.  Keep one under the desk.

 

Take a mini sleep-cation

The race is eight weeks away, and in your mind, you only need to concentrate on sleep the week of.  However, at least half the battle of the race is getting to the start line in the best shape you can be.  Life may not allow you to get a solid 8 hours each night, but if feeling run-down, take 2-3 nights where you commit to an earlier bedtime.  Call it a race week rehearsal if you need to justify it to yourself.  You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel, so much so it might convince you to carve out more sleep on a regular basis!

 

Go grocery shopping

On your way home tonight, go grocery shopping and get the good stuff.  A steady diet of take out can be both more expensive and less healthy than a load of appealing groceries.  Refresh your fridge with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Food is fuel for all your hard runs.  Fill your tank with food that will help you achieve your goals.  After all, if you opened your fridge and found fresh produce, you might eat it!

 

 

 

 

fast_k8_jacket_cropped

 

Katie Dalzell is the Lead Designer for women’s running apparel company Oiselle. Along with founder and CEO Sally Bergesen, Katie is designing stylish and functional clothes for women from their headquarters in Seattle, where they have been based since Bergesen’s first collection in 2007.  Staffed almost entirely with active female athletes and growing alongside the numbers of female road runners and racers nationwide, Oiselle takes their design seriously, recently showing the spring collection for the first time at New York’s Fashion Week.  This week, we caught up with Dalzell to get a quick bit of insight into the design and production of the young and growing market of running clothes created specifically for women.

 

 

rc: With the huge growth of the numbers of women regularly running and racing, everything from running shorts to commemorative race shirts is beginning to be offered in a "women's fit".  When designing clothes for women, what are the major differences in shape and construction from men's or unisex styles?

 

KD: I am typically not a fan of unisex clothing. Women and men are shaped differently, and so the best fitting clothing will cater to each gender individually! Unisex clothing is generally made to fit a mans body, so it lacks the detailing and fit required to truly flatter a woman's curves and shape. Even women’s apparel with a "boyfriend fit" is designed for women's bodies, and fit on women, to accommodate and flatter our different shapes. So the biggest difference? Boobs and hips, of course!

 

rc: Who or what is your muse as a designer of women's running clothes?  What characteristics capture the women you are designing for?

 

KD: My muse isn't necessarily a single person. At Oiselle, runners and the running community are our driving inspirations, though we believe that running apparel can cross borders into most athletic endeavors, and even daily fashion. I design for strong, healthy and motivated woman who are free thinkers and unapologetic. Oiselle's motto is "FEMININE FIERCE", and all of our designs are wrapped around this idea.

 

rc: When shopping, to what should women pay attention when making a purchase they hope will perform well over hundreds of miles and last for years?

 

KD: Pay attention to the fabric and construction of the garment. Does it look like it was constructed with thought and care? Attention to detail? Attention to detail is very important in the longevity of a garment. Look at the seams and stitching, the finishings (hems, armholes, necklines, etc.). Also look for technical finishes catered to the sport, and well constructed, soft liners. Fabric is just as important. For athletic apparel, look for the technical aspects of the fabric. Synthetic fabrics are currently the best option for running apparel. The majority of quality fabrics used for this purpose are nylon and polyester, often blends, and often with spandex. Blends with synthetic and natural fibers can work well too, such as poly/cotton or poly/rayon blends. Look out for "distressed" finishes (often on jeans), as they can often develop holes easier! Though I believe that when a garment is well loved it can be even more beautiful than brand new! :)

 

rc: What's around the corner for trends in women's running wear?  What can we look forward to?

KD: There has been a gap between fashion and running apparel in the past. Sally recognized the need to combine these two elements to create beautiful, fashion forward but highly technical running apparel, and so Oiselle was born! I'm very excited about the future of running apparel, as there are so many unexplored and unexpected ways to design into this market. It's becoming much more fashion forward and in line with ready to wear trends. Future trends are using technical fabrics in unexpected ways, bridging the gap between ready to wear and athletic apparel. Look forward to modern and edgy styling with bold lines, fabric and texture mixing, and effortlessly chic running apparel that you will want to wear on your longest run, and on a fun day or night out!

 

suitcaseIn the weeks and months ahead, hundreds of thousands of runners will travel to the location of their upcoming goal race.  In previous blog posts, we have touched on how to generally plan your goal race travel and have given advice for family and other supporters on ways they can organize to best effect on race weekend.

 

Before you bundle yourself into the car or head to the airport, take a moment to scan our goal race travel packing list – plan ahead and be prepared with everything you need for a great day!

 

Plan ahead and don’t forget:

 

Shoes

Training shoes and racing shoes, if those differ.  Both should be broken in at least a week or two beforehand.  Neither should ever be checked if flying.  Seems self-explanatory, but in the rush to remember the odd, weird things, sometimes we forget about first things first.

 

Race outfit with cold and hot variations

Make sure your favorite long run shorts and top are in the bag.  For the women, make sure that non-chafing sportsbra is packed.  Think through your options if the weather ends up differently than expected, and pack your favorite tights, hat, arm sleeves or long sleeved shirt, and or gloves.  Do not forget about the socks.

 

Pre race and post race clothes

Throwaways and/or warm clothes might be needed before the race, and will be very likely welcome after the race.  An extra pair of dry socks in the bag can really help your post-race spirits as well.  If the weather is cold, a hooded top or a beanie can really help when the post-race chill sets after when the body temperature drops following the race.

 

Snacks/ mid race fuel

Even if the race has your favorite brands offered on the course, it is helpful to have packed some favorite snacks and fueling options in case you miss the table, drop your item, or just want to top off your tank before or after the race.

 

Roller or rolling / stretching device

Watch

Bodyglide

Sunscreen

Water bottle

…and / or fuel carrying device for the day if using one

Something to sit on, such as a blanket or old finish area space blanket

…for the pre and post race area if no chairs or benches are available

Travel first aid kit

…hobbling around the hotel looking for a band-aid can and should be avoided

Earplugs  and eye shade

….or anything else that might help with a better night’s sleep before the race

Preferred breakfast food

…if packable – save time and money on race morning

 

While this list probably doesn’t cover every need for every athlete, checking off the major items early in the packing process can alleviate stress and allow time to remember some of the more individualized items each runner hopes to not leave home without.

 

 

UntitledUnless you have taken barefoot running to extreme measures, each of us will periodically need new running shoes.  Increase your chances of a successful experience with a few of our tips….

 

If you are starting a running program for the first time….

If you have registered for a goal race as a catalyst to finally begin regular running and you are raring to get started on your runcoach plan, it is important to make sure your shoes won’t impede your progress and slow the momentum of your enthusiasm and motivation.  Although price might be an important factor in your choice, a huge box sporting goods store can be a frustratingly large array of styles and colors if not accompanied by a knowledgeable sales person.  Even if you do not eventually make your purchase there, a local specialty running store is usually staffed by employees who spend their days working exclusively with runners and running shoes and can usually provide more insightful feedback and advice on what shoe might be right for you.  Many of these shoes will provide some gait analysis and allow you to take the shoes for a bit of test running.  Take advantage of these services and make an informed choice.

 

If you have had a hard time getting a pair of shoes that still feel good a week after leaving the store…

Consider shopping for shoes in the late afternoon or evening, when you have been on your feet for extended periods of time.  Your feet will be a little bit bigger from all that upright blood flow, and you can be sure that at their chunkiest, your shoes will still fit.  Although toenails may be lost along the road of marathon training, too-small shoes can leave the feet much worse for wear.

 

If you know what you like and price is most important…

Although both small and large retailers can have great deals on your favorite shoes or ones you might like to try, if you know what you want and are sticking with a brand and model, consider buying online, particularly if you can purchase from a retailer with free shipping and/or free returns.  Moreover, if you know what you like, consider buying two or more pairs if on sale as companies are infamous for changing the design and thus the ride and fit of popular shoe models!

 

If your favorite shoe is no longer available….

Bring it with you to the store, in order to give your salesperson a good idea of what you were wearing before, as well as the nature of your wear pattern on the soles.  With any luck, they can direct you toward a shoe that will suit you just as or almost as well.

 

If your legs regularly tell you that you need new shoes before you think of it yourself….

Note in your runcoach training log when you start a pair of shoes, and make sure to take stock and plan ahead before you get to 300 miles.  Most shoes will last 300-500 miles.  Don’t risk injury – plan ahead and shop before your shoes are on their last mile.  Also consider rotating shoes to multiply the number of runs you get consistently on modestly or moderately worn shoes.  A shoe can use a day to decompress and dry out between runs.

 

If you enjoy being adventurous…

Then go on an adventurous run!  If possible, however, avoid buying a brand new first year model.  Once a shoe has been extensively wear tested by others, advice and feedback often help that shoe move closer to ideal the second or third time around.  If you can avoid being a guinea pig, you might also avoid an injury.

 

Siberianicemarathon

Ever feel frustrated about the limitations of your human body?  Ever wonder what you have in common with the Olympians atop the marathon podium?

 

Although most of us may not be able to break the tape in front of a stadium full of people, there are amazing feats accomplished by every day people all the time.  Here are a few extreme performances to captivate your imagination.  Find your strength and your niche, and you never know, you could be on this list!

 

You're Never too old to start!

In just over eight hours, Fauja Singh completed the 2011 Toronto Waterfront Marathon at age 100.  He was rather fresh, however, as he just started competing at the ripe young age of 89.

 

The conditions don’t have to stop you!

If you think your region gets cold in winter, be encouraged you aren’t training for the Siberian Ice Marathon.  800 participants are expected to converge in Omsk, Siberia on January 7 for a half marathon in temperatures that average -20°--40° C.  In 2000 Jay Tuck became the first American to finish the race, and in 2001, the temperature of -42° C meant that of the 223 registered participants, 134 showed up to the starting line and a mere 11 finished.  Hard core! (Photo credit:  My Next Run)

 

Diluted sports drink still too much for your stomach?  Avoid this race…

Each year since 2004, Raleigh, North Carolina runners have contested the Krispy Kreme challenge, consisting of 2.5 miles out, a stop to consume a full dozen doughnuts, and 2.5 miles back.  Keep it all down and do it under an hour to earn prizes.  Demonstrating both internal and external fortitude this year, Tim Ryan did all that in a winning 31:30.

 

Carry a golf club, set a record!

Chris Smith is the current Speedgolf record holder with a 5 under 65 in 44 minutes (scoring is done by adding score and time), but this year, Olympic medalists Bernard Lagat and Nick Willis are headed to the World Championships in Oregon (October 26 and 27).  Will the ability to run a sub 3:50 mile make the difference and lower the current 18-hole record?  We’ll have to tune into find out!  For the ladies, the top finisher last year was Gretchen Johnson with an 84 / 55:16.

 

Good at downhill running?

If you are good at downhills, take a look at the Everest Marathon…that is if you can endure a start altitude of over 17,000 feet!  This race goes from 17,149 to 11,300 feet.  If you can make it through the cold and the altitude effects, you might be able to challenge the Nepalese athlete who ran 3:41 for the win last year.

 

Even if you aren’t fast, you’re still an athlete!

Kelly Gneiting needed over nine hours to complete the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon (memorable for extremely rainy, windy conditions), which may seem pretty slow until you factor in his weight – 430 lbs!  A sumo wrestler, Gneiting destroyed the old record of 275 lbs. (according to the LA Times, he weighed in a 396 after the race).  While we recommend following the advice of medical professionals when taking on extreme challenges to the body, we have to admire his mental toughness to improve on his personal best by 2 hours (from 11:52 to 9:48) in the process.

 

Want to set a Guinness World Record?  Make one up and set it yourself!

The Virgin Money London Marathon has become famous for fast times, but toward the back of the pack, even more records are set each year in a long list of irreverent, but yes, official world records.  As a sampling, the 2011 edition featured records set in the categories of: fastest marathon run by a person dressed as Mr. Potato Head, a sailor, a nurse (male), as a bottle (male), as an astronaut, as a vegetable (female), as a Viking, as a lifeguard, in a police uniform, as a Roman solider (3:09!), wearing a gas mask, in a wedding dress, in an animal costume (female), as a television character (female), as a fairy (male), as a fairy (female), as Dennis the Menace (3:02!), as a cartoon character (Fred Flinstone for 2:46 – smoking!), as a book character, as an ostrich, as a jester, as a super hero (2:42 for the win), as a nun, carrying a 40lb pack, carrying a 60lb pack, moving on crutches (one leg), and number of solved Rubik’s Cubes (that would be 100 in 4:45 for the finish).

 

Don’t see your favorite fancy dress outfit here?  Looking for a way to let your particular skill set shine?  Check the book, find the race that fits your passion, and set your own kind of personal best and world record next time out!

 

 

 

 

Boyden_family_pic_cropped

You run, maybe even every day.  Perhaps it took until adulthood to catch the running bug, or perhaps running just became a convenient exercise option when time became scarce amongst the demands of work and family.  Everyone benefits when our kids are healthy and participate in regular exercise, but we know we can’t invite five year-olds to come along for our weekend 20 miler or set the alarm for a pre-dawn, 5:30am 30 minute run.  Many kids associate running with a dreaded weekly mile in PE class, trudged around the school track, but we hope they can learn to see running as the rewarding activity we have found it to be. How can we involve children in the running process and introduce them to the sport as a fun endeavor?

 

Practice positive talk about your own running

If our kids hear us talking about tomorrow morning’s run with dread, or getting down on ourselves about the challenges and hurdles we face in our running, they are going to begin to associate those emotional results with running.  Why would they want to try something that seems to only make their parent(s) feel bad?  On the contrary, we can be mindful to talk freely and regularly about the productive results of our running: a clear head, a sense of accomplishment, healthy competitive attitude, good health, and more.  When our kids are given the opportunity to run, they’ll at least be hopeful for these results, rather than anxious in anticipation of the pain and struggle.

 

Introduce them to some heroes of the sport

Many kids can name their favorite basketball, football, or baseball player, but how many have a favorite runner?  Think back to your own childhood and the heroes you tried to emulate in sports, in the arts, in music, and more.  For running, we seem to subsist on the Olympics every four years to build a following among our youth, but look carefully, and there are plenty of great role models out there to follow and emulate.

 

If you’re in a race with professional athletes out front, remind your family to pay attention to the amazing feats going on in the lead and have them do the math to figure out how superlative some of their performances really are.  Many times, local pros and emerging elites are more than happy to talk and completely accessible after a race.  Ask for a picture at the awards ceremony and follow that athlete as they progress to the national or international level.

 

Check out your local college cross country or track and field meet and cheer for the hometown school.  Support your local high school at their meets or look out for the state meet if near you.  Again, many of the top finishers there will be stars in college and beyond, and ample video and other online content about them can likely be found on sites such as Flotrack, Runnerspace, and more.   A lot of these athletes didn’t know they would be standout distance runners, or even go out for their teams when they were younger.  Someone had to plant the seed.

 

Look for appropriate opportunities to let kids race with you

Many road races these days have kids’ races at age appropriate distances.  These are a great way to get the whole family looking forward to race day, and are also a great way to teach a sense of personal accomplishment, win or lose.  Mom or Dad comes home after a big city marathon and the kids ask, “Did you win?”  We chuckle at this, but the question reflects a perception that winning is the best and primary goal, whether they realize it or not.  We can model an effort-based approach, and kids’ races are a great way to encourage them to follow suit, as well as a chance to enjoy the fun extrinsic benefits like ribbons and medals, just as we adults do at the front of the pack or the back.  Kids’ races are also a good way to de-mystify the process of racing or pushing oneself.  Many kids dread the PE mile, because they are nervous whether or not they can run that far or about how they will feel if they push themselves.  Once that feeling is no big deal, and they learn they can run and make it to a finish line that seemed far away, they can enjoy the process a bit more.

 

Deliberately involve your kids in your daily running routine

Again, no one advocates banging out a set of repeat miles with your pre-schooler, but encouraging your kid to run a lap around the block with you for the first or last couple minutes of your run can get them to start to see themselves as a part of your pastime rather than a spectator in Mom or Dad’s activity, and can get them looking forward to spending those extra few minutes of one on one time.  Go to the park and include a bit of running as one of the things you are going to do – play structure, fountain, throw a ball around, bike riding, and maybe a couple of races to the tree and back, skipping, hopping, running, kicking a soccer ball, obstacle course on the play structure, or anything related.  Even in such a small sample, any association kids can draw between running and “fun” will help the make the same association later.   Separation between “play” and “running” now can reinforce that divide later.   On the other hand, pairing those two can help build a foundation of running as an activity not to be feared, but embraced as natural.    Running can be enjoyed as an individual pursuit, but can also be enjoyed as part of a team sport .    The important thing is to keep our kids active and including healthy exercise as a non-negotiable part of their daily lives.  We never know when a positive moment can plant a seed that will put kids on the right path towards making those choices for themselves.  Take advantage of all the opportunity running gives us and leave a trail of seeds for them to find!

trash-run-pick-up-300x300The amount of money raised by runners competing for various charitable causes has grown a staggering and amount over the past several years.  We are well familiar with the “macro” type efforts to help those who need it through these amazing efforts. but sometimes we may forget  that there are ways in which we can make a difference in the course of our everyday run.  We’ve written before on practical and safety tips in a previous post on running etiquette, but here are a few ideas for ways in which you can “do good” next time you head out.

 

Pick up at least one piece of trash before you get home

Many of our favorite places to run haven’t always been treated with kid gloves by those that have tread on the paths before us.  Leave your route a smidge better than you found it, and maybe build some positive momentum for anyone who sees you and is inspired to do likewise.

 

Respect signs, directional signaling, and stay on the labeled paths

Oh, how it smarts when a favorite route is paved over, changed, or new signs ask runners to avoid previously popular informal short cuts along a trail!  Although it is tempting to continue as if those changes never had occurred, deep inside we know they were probably made for a reason!  Because we care about the long-term survival of these routes, it is probably in our own best interests to take the lead and make sure our footfalls occur in the areas requested, as annoying as that may possibly be.  Likewise, every time we run on the portion of the path intended for pedestrian travel, call out before passing, and revert to single file when oncoming traffic approaches, we also encourage others to do the same and keep traffic on these routes flowing safely and well for all.

 

Smile, wave, and say good morning!

Many runners reflexively follow this rule when passing others or encountering someone coming the other direction.  In addition to just being good manners, making the effort to smile and make eye contact with others may help improve their day, may help remind you that you are part of a larger community of people and that you are all advancing the cause of physical fitness and health, and may help you remember that person if you encounter them in a different context.

 

Run an errand (literally)

Corny as it may sound, using your feet to do something you normally do in your car – mailing a letter, picking up or dropping off a small item, might save you a bit of time, save you a bit of gas, and probably give you an outsized feeling of pride, knowing you did your part for the environment that day.  That said, every little bit does help, and on a day when you don’t have a hard workout to give a big sense of accomplishment or on a day when things aren’t going your way generally, checking something positive off the list can actually help change your mood in the process.

 

Invite someone for next time

If you’re running, you’re automatically doing something positive toward your health.  You may even cherish that time alone as your only quiet moments of the day.  However, remember the first time you went running or walking – it may well have been because another invited you along and welcomed you to the “tribe.”  When you have the opportunity, perhaps you can be that gateway to someone else and help them enjoy the benefits and adventures you have enjoyed during your running journey.

cropped_little_girlRunning can be fun with just the open road and the rhythmic sound of breathing to accompany your thoughts, but even the most hard core, old school, “blue collar” runner can use a little external stimulus every now and again to keep things fresh.  Stuck in a rut or just enjoy a bit of irreverence every now and then?  Read on a for a few tips on keeping the fun in your run or race….

 

Give people something to yell

These days, racers commonly “Sharpie” in his or her name on the front or back of a racing jersey.  Some races even allow you to print your name right on your bib automatically.  Fans alongside a race are looking for something to yell besides “Woo!” and “Great Job!” and “Go!”

 

If you don’t feel like writing your name, write another name besides yours, like some people do at coffee shops for kicks. Write a slogan, wear a hometown favorite school or team logo, put anything on there! Then, count how many people actually cheer for you using whatever you wrote.  With some imagination, you could get some pretty amusing moments along the way.

 

Ditch your watch every once in a while

Take day every once in a while to run without your Garmin or watch.  Instead of obsessing about the pace and time, look inward and pay closer attention than usual to what your body is doing and how it feels, or the route and scenery / people around you.  Or, if you need a challenge, take a familiar route, note the time you leave, and guess the exact time you have run, just like the Price is Right.  No, this won’t revolutionize your whole perspective on running, but it might provide a different and refreshing set of thoughts and reflections about your daily run, particularly if you are in the habit of running along some very familiar routes.

 

Make a point to run with someone else, or someone new

Some runners thrive in isolation, while others don’t step out the door unless they are meeting at least one other person or a group.  No matter where you fall on this spectrum, freshen things up on an easy day (so that you aren’t stressed about the unknown preferred pace of another during a workout), by connecting with another person.  Many runners have found lifelong friendships on the road or trail, and with many a great talk along the course of a long run, you never know when a connection that seems like a hassle to make will be well worth the follow through.

 

Try a new kind of race

More than ever, spirited, themed races are available on the schedule at all distances.  You may not consider yourself a good candidate for a race where you end up colored in various hues of paint from head to toe by the end, but you never know – it might be more fun than it looks!  Need a break from regular races on the roads, check out a local trail race or even an all comers meet on the track.  Without changing your training goals too much, finding a new type of venue for your racing, even at a familiar distance, might help invigorate your workouts, and help you identify more clearly the elements of running and racing you enjoy most.

 

Find your way without directions

When in a safe situation, try on a new run, without completely mapping out the route and distance beforehand.  Allow yourself to go where you feel like, be a bit impulsive (just a bit), and make snap decisions.  In other words, bring some childlike perspective into the equation and hopefully experience the run as play instead of work.

 

Bring a person, a pet, or a prop

While it may not be appropriate to do so all the time if training goals are being approached seriously, taking an easy run with a relaxing distraction can add a dimension of fun that may be lost on a typical 6am weekday run before sunrise.

A child on a bicycle, a dog, or even a basketball bouncing along or passed between friends can give the brain some things to engage with other than the needs of the run itself, and can remind us to relax and enjoy the chance to be outside.

 

Training is hard work, and hard work can’t always be described as fun.  Even so, running is a pursuit that should add value to your life – for health, for goal setting, for release from the stresses of the day.  When it seems like those benefits are getting buried in the sameness of your routine, stepping outside of your comfort zone and having a little fun could be just the ticket.

App_logo“Just put one foot in front of the other! “  Seems easy enough, but how does your stride really work?  Understanding how you run can help you to understand what stresses and strengths your body has as it covers ground day after day.

 

Running is differentiated by the instant where both feet are concurrently airborne, as opposed to walking, which always includes one foot on the ground.  Some describe the running stride in two phases, support and swing, while others divide the stride into three stages[i] four stages[ii], two stages with multiple stages within these larger divisions[iii], five stages[iv], and more.

 

Regardless of how the stride is divided, many of the ways in which the stride is discussed cover similar ground.  Like the chicken and the egg, as the first one ends, the next one starts, although some have strong feelings regarding whether or not the stride should technically begin at toe-off or while the foot is in the air[v].  For our purposes, we’ll begin with the lead foot about to return to the ground, the hamstring and gluteus contracting and preparing to absorb the coming contact with the ground.  Watching an athlete running on a treadmill helps to more clearly visualize this aspect of the stride.  The leg anticipates pulling the body past the ground underneath and the large muscle groups on the back of the leg in particular help to initiate this pulling motion as the lead foot heads toward the ground.

 

Once the foot hits the ground, the body absorbs the initial contact (whether heel, midfoot, or forefoot), with a bending leg and a collapsing foot (pronation), as the muscles contract to control the joints and effect of the shock caused by gravitational forces[vi].  If bouncing on a trampoline, the trampoline can provide the absorption and return forces needed to propel oneself up again.  In other words, one can bounce on a trampoline with straight legs as the leg muscles aren’t required to contract and extend to return the body to the air.  On the solid ground, the legs must provide the absorption and propulsion.  This requires them to bend and give.

 

Next, the weight of the body travels forward in preparation for the toe-off from the forefoot.  This response is not unlike a rubber band or a spring.  The joints and ligaments of the foot flex and contract to allow transition from the initial landing point on the foot, to a point where the foot is absorbing maximum downward stress, to the toe-off where the hip flexor is extended and the opposite knee is flowing forward and up.

 

When the foot leaves the ground, it cycles underneath the body, and follows the knee forward and downward to ideally land underneath the body to efficiently recreate the cycle again.  As speed increases, the amount of time spent during this portion of the stride increases and the reciprocal percentage of the time during the stride spent on the ground decreases.  The dynamics of this portion of the stride vary widely, depending on hip flexor flexibility and strength, naturally occurring angles of the body, length of our legs relative to our overall height, and current speed.

 

As with all parts of the stride, each runner brings their own physiological idiosyncrasies to the table.  However, each of our strides, rather than a forgettable, automatic process not worth a second thought, is rather an amazing series of actions and reactions that we demand from our bodies thousands of times in a row in even one run.  There is debate about how much we can change our strides to resemble those of the Olympians on TV, or even the winner of last weekend’s 5K.  Each of us, however, have the opportunity to increase the chances we can continue to stride as our best version of ourselves, by being mindful to strengthening and balance exercises in our legs from foot to hip, and by seeking to increase flexibility and avoid prolonged muscle tightness.  Even if your stride isn’t perfect, these steps can help you resist and postpone fatigue, and stay healthy enough to continue training your legs to move you to the finish line as best they know how.



[i] Dugan, S. and Bhat, K. (2011). “Biomechanics and Analysis of Running Gait” Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America http://demotu.org/pralados60/files/2011/05/DuganPMRCNA05running.pdf : p 612 Retrieved August 6, 2013

[ii] Parker, Ron. “ The Running Stride” http://www.trackandfieldcoach.ca/the%20running%20stride%20with%20photos.pdf Retrieved August 6, 2013

[iii] Phillips, Matt. “Introduction to Running Biomechanics”  http://runnersconnect.net/running-injury-prevention/running-biomechanics/ Retrieved August 6, 2013

[iv] Barreau, Matthew. “The Five P’s of Running Form” http://www.brianmac.co.uk/runform.htm

 

[v] Novachek, Tom. (1997) “The Biomechanics of Running”  Gait and Posture, Vol. 7. http://www.elitetrack.com/article_files/biomechanicsofrunning.pdf p79-80 Retrieved August 7, 2013

[vi] Dugan and Bhat: p. 609

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