Endurance

5 Tips for the Beginner Trail Runner

trail-running

Trail Runner recently posted a beginner’s guide to trail running. It’s a great article with a lot of helpful advice from some of the big names in trail running. Since some of us are starting to spend more time off-road, we wanted to share some of the advice from Trail Runner and include our own thoughts on each of their tips. 

Get Off-Road: Pull up Google Maps and take a look at your surroundings. “Look for the green-colored areas indicating parks and public lands and then explore them.” Sounds like a no-brainer, but I was surprised at how many short trails were hidden in the communities around where I live.  It’s easy to rely solely on municipal markers or signs, but some of the best trails can be right around the corner. Training can be repetitive at times, so get creative on those run routes. 

Focus: “…[O]n trails, as soon as you look up to admire the beautiful views, bam, you might roll your ankle or face plant.” Yes, it’s happened plenty of times before and it will happen again.  Crashing. Tripping. Falling. Part of the allure of trail running is the surroundings and the scenery.  But I’ve gotten too caught up in my surroundings at times to watch my footing, and a random root snaps me back into focus rather abruptly. Pay attention to where you're going. Map a line of site or plan 10-20 steps in advance. Soak it all in, but be mindful of your surroundings.

Technique: “For running uphill: Employ a high cadence—frequent, quick steps—but a slower overall pace than on flat ground.” Running uphill on the road can be just as painful as running up a hill on the trail. But throw in roots, rocks and uneven ground and the urge to take longer strides becomes problematic. Quick steps have allowed me to be mindful of where I’m going, conserve some energy and focus on breathing and arm movement while going uphill. There is absolutely no shame in power walking up that 10% grade either!

Fuel: “For any run over 90 minutes, people should take in fuel every 20 to 30 minutes,” says Stephanie Howe. “It sounds like a lot, but most runners make the mistake of waiting too long to fuel. Once you start to feel tired, it’s too late.” I couldn't agree more. Not only is it easy to become distracted when you’re out in nature, but the miles don’t add up as quickly. If you are fueling up based on distance, you're setting yourself up for trouble. I have had to increase fueling on the trails simply because it takes me longer to cover the same distance.

Injury Prevention: “Do strength and “pre-hab” exercises: Strength and conditioning work are one of the most important keys to my health and success the past few years,” says Rob Krar. He says he has developed a twice-weekly circuit routine focusing on upper-leg, hip and core strength and flexibility. I don't like stretching – who does?!  It’s hard to sit still for too long. But after some miles on the trail, I’ve noticed the need to increase my hip flexibility. I have had less injuries and less pain after spending more time stretching this area compared to my usual stretching (read non-existent) routine. In the end a few minutes of your time will pay dividends. 

While there are many great running websites, Trail Running is a great resource for all levels of trail runners. Check out this article and a ton of other helpful tips over at www.trailrunner.com 

Improve Your Cold Weather Running

cold-weather-running

It is always easy to comment on traditions and customs as an outsider to a particular sport. I just assume people know and understand why I shave my legs as a cyclist. But I must admit I am perplexed by one particular running custom – wearing shorts in cold weather. Runners, it would seem, are the only endurance athletes that when it turns cold, insist on wearing the same gear as when it’s 70 degrees and sunny. Is it simply because it’s customary? Does it have to do with ergonomics and not wanting one's legs feeling “restricted?” Is it a toughness thing?

It has been demonstrated numerous times in scientific research that muscle performance decreases in the cold. Power output, force production, and muscle velocity are all diminished when the temperature drops (<50°F). Maximum heart rate is also lower. Granted, for most of us the winter months are about building a base and maintaining our fitness, but why sacrifice the quality of this training by not dressing properly? The better your muscles can function, the better your training becomes.

The reason(s) for running in shorts in the cold is certainly different for every runner, but after reviewing the scientific literature on cold weather and human performance it may be a custom worth rethinking. Since I had so wisely decided to pick up running again right before winter started I for one won't be showing any skin!

There are no hard-and-fast rules about what to wear based on exact temperatures. Over dressing can be just as bad when the weather drops below freezing because being wet with sweat can quickly lead to hypothermia and frostbite. Here is a good review by one winter runner of what to wear.

Stay warm!

 

Foolproof Recovery Tips for Athletes

recovery-tips

When you're not training or racing, you’re recovering. Optimizing your recovery is just as important as how hard you push yourself in training and competition. Described below are some of the best ways athletes can enhance their recovery.

Compression socks

If spandex weren't demeaning enough we subject ourselves to becoming a running and cycling LiteBrite when dawning compression socks. I’m still waiting for a 80’s style tube-sock version (hint hint 2XU!). Compression socks have been around for a long time in the medical community where they are used for treating venous insufficiency and preventing blood clots.

More recently the athletic community started using compression garments to improve recovery. It is thought that they improve oxygen delivery to the muscle tissues. Studies have shown effects on perceived leg soreness and muscle function as well as blood lactate clearance. However, the ideal strength of compression is not clear (ie, pressure - mmHg) nor how long an athlete needs to wear them for the most benefit. In the meantime, rock on with your glow stick self!

Nutrition & Hydration

Of all the methods of improving recovery on this list, nutrition is the most important. Thankfully it is pretty straight forward because it’s done by the numbers:

For a 70kg athlete running 1.5- 2hrs or cycling 2.5-3hrs at moderate intensity:

Within 30min of completing your workout consume 1.0 g of carbohydrates per kg body weight and 0.3 of protein per kg of body weight. However, the amount will vary depending upon intensity and duration (0.5-1.5g for carbs and 0.3-0.4 g for protein).

Eat a meal (ie, real food!) with a similar ratio of carbohydrates and proteins within the next 1-1.5 hours.

Keep your water intake up, especially after an intense workout. The easiest way to determine how much water you need to drink is to weigh yourself before and after a workout (16oz = 1lb).

Unfortunately, alcohol is not good for muscle recovery, so save the Pappy Van Winkle for celebrating your podium placement.

Massage

You may not have a personal saugnier to give you a massage after every ride or run, but I've found that scheduling a massage after my especially intense rides and races works well – my muscles get a massage when it’s most needed.

Sleep

Once upon a time I could work a 30 hour shift (ie, medical residency, ie, forced labor) and then go ride 60 miles, but that was neither sustainable nor ideal for recovery. If I hoped to still function at my job as well as perform well as an athlete I needed to sleep first.

Every person has a specific amount of time they need to sleep. For most people it’s about 8 hours. Research has shown that when you don’t get enough sleep athletic performance decreases and immunity is impaired.

Pro tip! Better quality sleep occurs with cooler ambient temperatures as well. So make sure to get your 8hrs and keep the A/C on or the window open.

Foam roller

Who doesn't love the foam roller!? Sure, it hurts, but as John Mellencamp said “make it hurt so good.” Foam rolling is thought to work by repairing the myofascial tissue as well as improving circulation. Make using it a routine – after making yourself a recovery drink, spend 10-15 minutes hurting a bit more on the foam roller.

Electric Muscle Stimulation

Though the research remains equivocal, many athletes swear by it. I’ve tried it myself and found it helped some significant muscle cramping I was having in my right hamstring. However, the stim units are not cheap! But they make for a fun party trick at the very least. If you've exhausted every other means of improving your recovery they are certainly worth a try.  

Ice baths

Athletes have a masochistic streak, but plunging yourself into ice water after a hard workout takes it to the next level. It sure as hell isn't as fun as Lebron James and Dwyane Wade make it look standing in an ice bath tweeting to their fans. Like, electric stimulation the jury is still on its efficacy, but cryotherapy has been used for years in athletes and again most swear by it.

I don’t fill the bathtub up with ice often, but I do find it beneficial after a hard workout on hot days. An ice bath cools my engine down quicker, which is especially helpful for those late in the day workouts when you, in turn have trouble sleeping.

Probiotics

Probiotics improve immunity. Improved immunity means better recovery and less sick days. The effects of probiotics are strain specific so you’re not going to get any benefit as an athlete consuming a container of yogurt or taking a probiotic designed for the general population. Probiotics exemplify the understanding that what goes on off the track, out of the pool, and off the bike is just as important – you're an athlete 24/7.

Improving how you recover is not an optional activity. If you want to perform at your best you must take advantage of every opportunity to optimize recovery.