Saturday, July 31, 2010

Calf-Strengthening Workout for Runners

A reader of the blog, Wendy, motivated me to write this post and make the related video workout. Wendy contacted me and wanted to know what she could do for a "blown Achilles tendon" other than "bawling on the couch."

Wendy's situation is unfortunately pretty common among runners. When overworked, the Achilles will become inflamed which is usually tendonitis. If the inflammation isn't taken care of and the runner continues to work it, it can tear or rupture. Rest is usually the best thing when you're feeling soreness in the Achilles area, but if the pain is intense and/or continuous, you need to get an appointment with your sports doc and get a diagnosis and plan for how best to let it heal. -
Achilles problems usually are a result of problems with a group of muscles further up the leg—the calves(the gastrocnemius and the soleus). These two muscles run down the back of the lower leg and the Achilles tendon is what connects them to the heel bone. The calf muscles help propel you forward, but in runners the calves often tighten up causing the Achilles tendon to work a lot harder than it's supposed to. This extra work is what causes the tendonitis or in most severe cases, a tear or rupture.

Calf strengthening exercises and calf stretches are the best way to avoid Achilles tendon injuries. The following workout shows 5 different exercises that target your calves as well as two stretches. Once or twice a week pick 2 or 3 of the exercises and do 12-15 reps and 2-3 sets of each and before you know it you'll have calves that are working hard making you a stronger more efficient runner.

I heard back from Wendy the next day and she had good news. A trip to the physical therapist revealed it was some localized swelling and pain, but not a tear. A cortisone patch and some stretching exercises was prescribed. She'll be back running as soon as she can walk up and down the stairs with no pain. Yeah!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover

Say the word "Prune" and you'll get lots of reactions sometimes even giggles. For many this is a food associated with... umm, let's just say... digestive problems. And for many others it's associated with shuffleboard and Hoveround groupies. But you know, there's a reason why wisdom is associated with age, because the older folk (who are normally associated with eating prunes) have a well kept secret—prunes are a dynamo of health benefits.

Backing up a tad, here's a little Prune:101 for you. The process of making prunes has been around for thousands of years. Prunes are acutally made from drying a variety of European plum that originated near the Caspian Sea. This drying method was adopted by many cultures in that region of the world, but it was the California Gold Rush during the 1800's that finally brought the technique to the US. Louis Pellier from France, was one of many caught up in the gold rush that had no luck with mining gold. So, what 's the next best thing? Prunes not coming to mind? Well, Pellier seemed to think so. He planted plum tree cuttings he had brought with him from France. Over 35 years Pellier planted 90,000 acres of plum orchards. The type of tree he planted produced the perfect type of plum for drying and tah dah.....a Prune empire emerged! Today, California is one of the major sources of dried plums (as they are officially called today).

Okay, so now your all education on the US history of prunes, but how are they healthy for you? Hmmm....where to begin. Well prunes are a good source of Vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, and fiber. A quarter cup provides about 12% of your daily value of fiber. A high-fiber diet helps reduce your chances of colorectal cancer. It can also help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, diabetes, among others. Vitamin A is important to eye health, tissue growth, and your immune system. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect the body from free radicals. It also helps in the process of building and maintaining strong tissues (important to quick recovery after a run) and it's key in general body metabolism. And then there's potassium. Potassium is very important to runners. Potassium is a key electrolyte important in hydration. Potassium plays a part in water balance, metabolic reactions, muscle action, insulin release, and blood pressure.

Okay, so now your mind might be a-whirling from all the previous info. The key thing to remember about prunes is that they can ...

  • protect your body from free radicals (prunes have more antioxidants than any other fruit!)
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduce your chance of stroke
  • promote bone health
  • decrease your chance of colorectal cancer
  • help keep you more regular
  • normalize blood-sugar levels
  • help with weight loss
  • help prevent adult-onset diabetes
  • help lower your cholesterol
  • help rebuild and maintain tissue

So, try eating a handful of dried plums each day and you'll be happy with the results. Eat them by themselves, add them in a mix of other dried fruits and nuts, or cut them up and use them to top your cold or hot cereal.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Here's the Story...of a Lovely Potato...

Let's face it. Pasta is the "Marsha" of the Brandy Bunch of training foods. It get's all the glam, all the attention, all the pre-race dinners. The potato on the other hand, is the "Jan" of the bunch. I can hear the ole spud now sitting in the burlap sack in the back of the pantry saying, "Pasta, Pasta, Pasta! All I ever hear is Pasta!" Well, before that spud runs off feeling unloved and gets replaced in all the reunion movies with a doughnut or a bagel or something, let's take a closer look at this "plain-Jan" misunderstood veggie.

This step-child of the veggie world often gets a bad rap. Many people seem to have the misunderstanding that potatoes aren't nutritious. I guess it's because they're not leafy or dark green, but actually potatoes are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Did you know that a regular baking potato contains 64% of your daily value of vitamin C and 53% of your daily value of vitamin B6, and a sweet potato has 700% of your daily value of vitamin A? Being prone to calf cramps, the thing I like most about potatoes is that they contain over 1,500mg of potassium. That's three times more than a banana! It's a bit of a myth that you have to eat the skin to get all the vitamins. The skin accounts for about 50% of the potato's fiber, but actually most of the nutrients are inside the spud.
Potatoes are also a great source of complex carbohydrates. Pasta doesn't even have as much! No, they're not as romantic as pasta. And you don't normally have them by candlelight. And Lady and Tramp would have looked kind of funny sucking on opposite ends of a potato, but the fact is, potatoes make a great food for runners.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "Hey but aren't potatoes high on the Glycemic Index?" Yep, they do have a high GI, but for runners that's a good thing. It means they're easily and quickly digested and get into your system to be used as energy quickly. If you have trouble with potatoes spiking your blood sugar too quickly, you can remedy this by eating a little fat or protein along with your potato. Greek yogurt is high in protein and is very similar in consistency to sour cream. Adding a dollop to your spud will help prevent that spike and slow down the digestion helping to provide a steadier stream of energy. You'll get the same result if you add a little Smart Balance margarine which will provide some fat(the good kind--polyunsaturated and monounsaturated). Or try eating a potato with a little chicken or turkey.

After a run, you need to replenish your spent carbs really quickly and that's the perfect time to ingest fast-acting carbs. Potatoes are perfect for this. Add a little protein and you have the perfect post-run recovery snack.

Now beware. Your sedentary friends will be quick to tell you (as they munch on their Mickey D's fries) that potatoes are bad, that they spike your blood sugar, and will turn to fat on you quickly. The sad thing, is that for them, that thinking is exactly right. If you're not active and you're not using those carbs as pre-run fueling or post-run re-fueling, it may very will have all of those negative effects. But I for one am elated, that I can mix-up a little homemade potato salad (using lowfat mayo) and wolf-it down after a run.

So Marsha...I mean Pasta, move aside! Potato Jan is moving into her own!

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Eat or Not To Eat? That's Often the Question.

Just recently I had an email from Brad, a reader of the blog, about fueling during the long run. Then this past weekend, one of the runners in my half-marathon training group, Amy, had a similar question about fueling your run. "To eat or not to eat?" is often top of mind for runners. Or probably even more accurately, "What to eat or what not to eat?"

For those of you hoping for a definitive answer, I'm sorry to disappoint. There are so many factors involved—likes, dislikes, allergies, digestive tolerance, and on and on. What works for one runner may have another runner praying to the porcelain god (or more accurately the plastic port-a-john god) the entire run.

There are however, some good rules of thumb to follow. The first rule of thumb is "Test well in advance." It's best to try new foods when you're not in training. If you are training, it's best to test new things early on so you'll know well in advance what's going to work and not work. When you're in your local GNC or Vitamin Shoppe two weeks before the big race, fight hard the temptation to try something new. Better yet, just don't even go in until after the race. Ask your wife, husband, significant other, sister, brother, mother, the guy on the corner, somebody to pick up what you need. Same thing goes for the natural foods. Stick to what you know works when it's close to race day. And the biggest warning of all...Avoid the "Try me! Try me!" barking of the sales reps at the marathon expo. Although the marathon expo can be an exciting place the day before the race, try really hard to avoid much (if any) taste-testing. You never know what may throw your tum-tum for a loop!

Okay, I've rambled on enough. Sorry, it's the dad in me (as well as being the son of a preacher) feeling the need to give a little sermon on the dos and don'ts of pre-race eating. Here's the info you're really wanting to know.

Pre-run Fueling: Fueling before a long run should actually start the day before. Make sure your snacks and meals the day before your long run are comprised of complex carbs (vegetables, whole grains, etc.). In doing so, you’ll maximize your glycogen stores. Glycogen is the main source of energy for your long runs. When completely full, your glycogen stores have will provide enough energy for about 2hrs of running (~2000 calories). Some runners will tell me, "I ate breakfast before my long run, but I still bonked." There could be several things at play which caused the "bonk", but more than likely, even though they ate breakfast, if their glycogen stores were not full, the breakfast they did eat would only take them so far. Fueling is a continuous thing, especially when you're in training.
The pre-run meal the day of your long run is important too. What you eat before an endurance run can greatly impact your performance. No food or too little food before a long run can result in fatigue. It can also cause you to burn more muscle which can result in injury. Lots of runners don't eat prior to a run because they fear the dreaded upset stomach. But not eating before a long run can result in a less than stellar run. Just like you train to increase your mileage, you need to train your body to eat something prior to running. What you eat and how much will vary from runner to runner. You don't need a heavy breakfast, but a combination of carbs and protein is a good plan.
Eating prior to a run will give your body some fuel to use before having to use its reserves (those glycogen stores I mentioned earlier). If you start off using your reserves too soon and they get depleted, fatigue will soon follow as well as the dreaded "bonk." Fat is needed and is important in the absorption of nutrients, but avoid eating high-fat foods before a long run. These foods take longer to digest and will make you feel like a slug and may even cause you to feel nauseous on your run. For some runners it’s also good to avoid complex carbs right before a run. Yep, normally I’d be telling you to make sure your diet is rich in complex carbs, but for some runners, eating them shortly before a run can cause cramping because it takes complex carbs longer to digest. So, it’s okay to save the whole-wheat pasta for the dinner the night before and eat eat some white bread or other form of simple carb in the morning before your long run. Because your body will digest these foods quickly, these simple carbs will go directly to fueling the body, protecting your glycogen stores for later in the run.
Some pre-run foods to try include:
  • a bagel with peanut butter
  • a waffle with peanut butter
  • two graham crackers with peanut butter
  • dry cereal
  • a banana with peanut butter
  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Uncrustables (those little round peanut butter sandwiches with the crimped sides in the frozen foods section)
  • an energy bar (check the label and make sure it's not loaded with saturated fat)
  • a hard-boiled egg and toast
Keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid running on a full stomach so, you’ll need to wake up a little earlier in order to let your food digest. Eating 1.5 hrs before a morning long run is a good rule of thumb

You can train you body to use fat as a fuel source too. This can come in very handy on really long runs. Basically, running some shorter distances (4-8 miles) on an empty stomach will force your body to go to an alternate source of fuel—fat. The thinking is that if you’ve trained your body to burn fat as fuel, then during a long run, if you run low on your glycogen stores, your body will know to kick-in its fat-burning abilities. But just as I said earlier, you need to test this out well before race day. Don’t wake up race-day morning and decide not to eat anything before your 26.2-mile run so you can burn off all your fat. It ain’t gonna work for ya, and not only will the big brick wall hit ya in the face, it will land right on top of ya!

Fueling on the Run: For runs lasting more than 60 minutes, it's a good rule of thumb to take in 30-60 grams of carbohydrates every hour. Use the chart below from Runner's World to help you select some foods good for during your run. Be careful when using sports gels. There’s nothing wrong with them, but if you’re using them along with a sports drink, some may find themselves having stomach issues. Both are packed with carbs and usually the carbs are of the simple sugar variety. While your body will need to replenish is glycogen stores during the race, you don’t want overkill. Everyone is different and there’s no one cure-all, but for some carrying a bottle of water to use when taking a gel works well. Some may find that they can continue drinking only water throughout the entire run, if the gels they’re using contain carbs and essential electrolytes.

I’ve discovered that 100% coconut water contains the right amount of carbs and electrolytes for my long runs. I have problems with calf cramps and coconut water naturally has 15x the potassium of a banana and 2-3x the amount of potassium as most sports drinks. Others do better to drink water, take an electrolyte replacement tablet and then pack some pretzels, crackers, jellybeans, or Fig Newtons for their carb source. I have one running buddy that takes an Uncrustable along. Uncrustables are those little round frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crimped sides. He says it thaws on the run and by the time he needs one later in the run it’s ready to eat. Like I said, everyone is different.

Post-run Refueling: Eating 300 - 400 calories with a 4:1 ratio of carbs and proteins within 30-45 minutes after finishing your run will help ensure a quicker recovery. During a long run, you deplete your glycogen stores as well as create microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. Eating a carb/protein mixture helps to restore the glycogen and repair those tiny tears which is the muscle-building process.

Some good post-run eats include:
  • a glass of low-fat chocolate milk (it has the perfect 4:1 ratio of carbs/protein)
  • a bagel with peanut butter or almond butter or Nutella (I love Nutella!)
  • whole wheat crackers and peanut butter or almond butter
  • a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt
  • baked potato with Greek yogurt
  • brown rice pudding with sliced banana
  • whole-grain cereal with skim milk
  • lowfat yogurt and fruit
  • Uncrustables
What are some of your favorite pre-, during-, and post-run eats?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Runner of the Week: Suzanne

A few months back, I was at seminar for Triathlon coaches. The seminar was about an hour away in the Raleigh-Durham area of NC. The session was great. It was divided into three sections—yoga for athletes, resistance training for triathletes, and running drills. During a break the yoga instructor asked if I knew the lady sitting in front of me since we were both from Greensboro. I had been looking at the back this person's head for the past hour, never realizing we had both traveled from Greensboro for the session. The instructor introduced the lady to me as, Suzanne Duncan. My eyes lit up upon hearing this name. You see, Suzanne is a yoga instructor as well as a triathlon coach in Greensboro. I'd heard her name many times and had heard great things about her yoga classes, but had yet to have the opportunity to meet her.

We emailed after the seminar and Suzanne stopped by the studio one day and we had a great chat. It was during this chat that I learned of Suzanne's plans to run an Ironman in the weeks ahead. After conquering the Ironman, Suzanne did a free seminar at RunnerDude's Fitness for my clients and other runners in the community. It was a packed house! Suzanne, has a wonderful story of how she came to fitness, yoga, and the world of running, swimming, and biking. Read on to learn more about Suzanne.

RD: Are you a native North Carolinian?
Suzanne: I was born in Ohio but grew up in Carmel, Indiana. After college, moved around through Tampa, Atlanta and Memphis and finally settled in North Carolina.
RD: Share a little about yourself. What do you do for a living? Hobbies?
Suzanne: I have an accounting degree from Indiana University and am a CPA. I was lucky to be able to give the 40+hour/week job up about 6 years ago to concentrate solely on teaching fitness classes, yoga and coaching. My husband and I travel a lot during the year to some rather exotic locations. However, I'm just as happy laying on the couch reading a good book.
RD: How long have you been dong triathlons?
Suzanne: I did my first triathlon in 1994. It was an indoor triathlon at the Spears YMCA and I was scared out of my mind that I wasn't going to be able to finish. I cried when I did because I was so happy I had actually completed the 50 minute event.
RD: From reading your website, I know you lost a lot of weight. What motivated you to do so and how did you go about achieving your great results?
Suzanne: I always tell people that I had been trying to lose weight my whole life. I always remember being overweight. After letting my weight creep up to over 300 pounds and being in a crappy marriage, I finally realized that I deserved to be happy. Something clicked in my brain and I made a commitment to myself to start eating healthier. I joined Weight Watchers and concentrated on my diet for a few months. I then started walking and eventually added in all the other stuff I do now. It was a long journey but so worth it!
RD: What got you into triathlons?
Suzanne: I had always watched the Hawaii Ironman on TV each year and wondered why people would put themselves through that much torture. Well, I guess now I know why. There was a local triathlon at Sedgefield that some of the YMCA cycle instructors were talking about doing. They asked if I was interested and I said no because I hadn't been running. Once I picked up running, my friend Mary Beth encouraged me to sign up for the indoor triathlon. My current husband had also done triathlons in the past so he was there to encourage me as well.
RD: What do you enjoy most about the triathlon--the run? swim? bike?
Suzanne: Biking is my true love of all the three disciplines in triathlon. It's the one I do the best at and the one that makes me feel fast. I think it comes from the fact that I started cycle classes way before I began to swim or run.
RD: What are your favorite training foods?
Suzanne: I certainly have to give a shout out to Erin Baker's Wholesome Baked Goods (formerly Baker's Breakfast Cookies). They are such delicious, good-for-you cookies. She was also my very first sponsor. She gave me lots of cookies to pass out at races and really made me feel special by being on the company's triathlon team. With my recent Ironman training, I also enjoy Latte flavored Power Gels, Pomegranate Berry Cytomax and Clif Bars. Mango flavored smoothies with a shot of protein powder and peanut butter is also one of my favorite recovery drinks.
RD: Are you a lone runner or do you run with some buddies? What do you like about each?
Suzanne: I first "learned" to run with a YMCA buddy that took me through the paces of building up from a walk to a run. I really enjoyed running with her. Then, I began to run alone because I was slow and most of my friends were faster. I enjoyed being on my own schedule and going wherever I wanted and going at my own pace. Now, however, I have recently started running with a few other people and absolutely love it. I love being able to chat and take my mind off the pain. They push me to be a faster runner which is something I really feel was lacking in my first years of running.
RD: What's the funniest or oddest thing that's happened to you while on a run or a ride?
Suzanne: In triathlons, the organizers always use an orange spray paint can to mark rough patches of road. During the Woodlake triathlon a few years ago, there was a dead deer on the side of the road - partially in the road and partially off to the side. It was huge and was not something that we would have missed. However, the race organizers drew a big orange circle around it, just in case we did miss it.
RD: What's your biggest running / triathlon accomplishment? Why?
Suzanne: This one is easy. I just finished Ironman Coeur d'Alene. It's definitely my biggest running AND triathlon accomplishment all wrapped up in one because I had never run a marathon or even anything longer than 19 miles prior to this triathlon. Coming from being an inactive, overweight smoker completing an Ironman is huge. It was a huge boost in my confidence. Today, I feel as if I could accomplish anything.
RD: Do you have a favorite brand of running shoe? Which model? Why?
Suzanne: I have been running in Asics my whole running "career". They feel fantastic on me and I'm of the mindset "Why fix something that ain't broke?". Some shoes look flashier but I'm good with the Asics.
RD: What's your favorite race distance(s)? Do you have a favorite race you run each year?
Suzanne: My favorite races are anything that's flat and in cooler weather. I really enjoyed the Indianapolis Mini Marathon. The course has tons of support from locals and lots of music and bands along the way. It was also my very first half marathon. Being from the Indianapolis area, running around the Indy 500 track was an awesome experience. My race schedule seems to change a little each year depending on our travel schedule so there isn't one that I just have to do each year.
RD: If you were speaking to a group of non-runners or runner wannabes and trying to encourage them to run, what would you say?
Suzanne: Most of my clients are new runners and new triathletes. If you have a desire to do something then do it. It's like putting your shoes and socks and running clothes out the night before. When your alarm goes off, you just go get dressed. Don't think about it or you might talk yourself out of it. Once you get going - or once you get done! - you will feel better about getting your workout done. The other thing is that if you have a big goal set for yourself, be confident that if you follow a plan you will succeed. I always tell my clients to "trust their training". There has never been one time where I have failed if I have been true to my training.
RD: Open Mike: Share anything you'd like about your running / triathlon experiences, past accomplishments, goals, dreams....anything you haven't previously shared.
Suzanne: The last thing I would want to share is the thing that I learned from completing an Ironman. Don't let previous negative experiences or past negative thoughts hold you back or discourage you from doing something that you want to do. One of my clients gave me a magnetic that I have prominently displayed on my fridge - "Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone". That is so true. Don't be afraid of trying something new. You might just surprise yourself!

Thanks Suzanne for sharing your story! Be sure to check out Suzanne on Facebook and at her website.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ramp-Up Your Metabolism Workout for Runners!

Earlier this week, I posted on reasons why runners may have stagnated in their running and why they might even be seeing some weight gain. As promised in that post, below is a workout perfect for upping your metabolism, increasing your caloric burn, and increasing your lower-body strength. The extra testosterone (men) and human growth hormone (women) produced from these lower-body exercises will also help offset the cortisol release from your long slow runs which will help preserve your muscle mass and keep your metabolism going strong.

Remember that adding this workout along with a speed workout once a week (on separate days) into your running routine will help make you a lean, mean, running machine. Well, maybe not mean, but you get my drift. The lower-body workout is perfect to add to a day you're doing an easy short to mid-distance run.

If you're currently in training for a big race, I recommend holding off on adding the lower-body workout to your routine until after the race. With anything new, your body will go through a period of acclimation and you may even experience a short period of slower running as your body adapts to the workouts and speedwork. Once you do start, stick with it though and your body will recover and get stronger and faster.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Need a Running Coach or Personal Trainer?

Do you live in Greensboro, NC? Are you looking to improve your level of fitness and improve your quality of life in a safe, small studio setting with a well certified, knowledgeable, and supportive personal trainer? RunnerDude’s Fitness offers that and a whole lot more!

RunnerDude’s Fitness is dedicated to helping you meet your fitness goals through one-hour and half-hour one-on-one and partner personal training sessions for...
  • Beginning Fitness Training
  • General Fitness Training
  • Senior Fitness
  • Fitness Assessments

RunnerDude’s Fitness also provides individual and group training for runners and walkers including...

  • Fitness Walking
  • Fitness Training for Runners
  • Beginning Running
  • Race Training for 5Ks to Marathons
  • Online Training
  • Customized Running Training Plans
About the Owner/Trainer:

Thad McLaurin (aka: RunnerDude), his wife Mitzi, and their three kids have lived in Greensboro, NC since 1998. He's come a long way since being "that overweight kid" as a youngster. After Weight Watchers® and a 40-pound weight loss in high school, he discovered running during college and has been passionate about running and fitness ever since. (Over 25 years!) It all started with the '84 Great Raleigh Road Race 10K. He wasn't fast, but he had a blast and was hooked. 13 years later, Thad caught the marathon bug. His marathon quest began with the '97 NYC Marathon. Twelve years later, he's run 10 marathons all over the country from NYC to Baltimore to Nashville to Honolulu, and then some.

A UNC Chapel Hill grad, Thad began his career as a 5th grade teacher before moving into the world of Educational publishing where he worked as a writer, editor, and book development manager for 13 years. Thad combines his love of writing with his love of running and fitness by hosting RunnerDude's Blog. He's a contributing writing for the Landice Fitness Blog and he's also written articles for and Fitter U Fitness. Thad was also featured in the "Ask the Experts" section of the July 2010 Issue of Runner's World. He's also had the wonderful opportunity to interview some of running's greatest legends and personalities.

You can catch Thad weekly on where he's the NC Endurance State Reporter. Thad's also active in the community and has been a member of the executive board for GOFAR, a nonprofit organization that prepares youngsters to run their first 5K!

Thad's biggest reward is helping others get hooked on running, fitness, and healthy living. He is well credentialed with his Personal Trainer and Nutrition Consultant diploma certifications from NPTI (National Personal Trainer Institute), his ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) personal trainer certification, his RRCA Running Coach certification, and his USA-Track & Field Level 1 Coaching certification. He's also current with his Red Cross adult CPR/AED and First Aid training.

For more information about RunnerDude's Fitness, the various training programs, and pricing, go to

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Running and Still Gaining Weight?

Running is supposed to help you lose weight right? Right. But....... There's always a "but" isn't there. And this time you're trying to avoid the "big butt." I know, it's not a laughing matter. You're determined to get fit and lose weight and you're out there every day running, but each time you get on the scale you're not seeing any weight loss or even worse you may be seeing some weight gain.

Well, there's a few things that need to be discussed first. Basically, your body is like a machine and food is the source of the fuel you need for that machine to run. Your body has something called a BMR or basal metabolic rate. Your BMR is the number of calories needed for all your body systems to function when you're at rest. The number of calories beyond your BMR is determined by your activity level. So, if you're a sedentary person, you'll need very few extra calories, if you're lightly active, you'll need a little more. If you're moderately active you'll need still more, and so on and so on. Basically it's a calories in calories out type of system.

To figure out your BMR use the following formula:
Women's BMR Formula:
655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )
Men's BMR Formula:
66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )

Remember, once you've found your BMR, this is the number of calories you need just for your body to function at rest. To determine the additional calories you'll need based on your activity level, use the following information:

sedentary (little or no exercise) = BMR x 1.2
lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) = BMR x 1.375
moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) = BMR x 1.55
very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) = BMR x 1.725
extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) = BMR x 1.9

So for example, my BMR is 1470 calories. That's the number of calories I need just to lay in the bed. Right now, I'm in training for the Marine Corps Marathon and I'm running 4 days a week plus doing cross-training two days a week, so I'd fall into the Very Active category. My daily caloric needs while in training are 2535.75 calories (1470 x 1.725 very active level). If I have a lighter week where maybe I didn't get in the cross-training, I'd need to lower my calorie intake.

Now, I'm not a numbers person, and counting calories is not my thinking of fun, so basically I know that when I'm training, I need to eat more and when I'm not training or when I'm training less, I need to eat less.

In general , the problem is that many times we take in more calories than we burn off and so we end up with a calorie surplus. When those calories aren't used as fuel, then they end up becoming fat which is stored all over you body. So becoming more active should help take care of the problem, right? theory.

Newbies to fitness, be it running or resistance training, will see big gains in their fitness levels the first few months and they'll probably see significant weight loss too. That's because all of the sudden they've jacked up their metabolism and they're burning off more calories than normal. As long as they don't over eat during this period of new fitness, the weight loss usually happens.

The thing is that your body will eventually acclimate to the new level of fitness and even though you may be burning the same number of calories as before, you may see a stall in your weight loss or even some gain.

There can also be something else at play. Have you ever heard someone say, I run 5 miles a day, but I can't seem to lose any weight? Not only will your body acclimate, if you're doing only slow steady runs, your body will release something called cortisol. Cortisol is a nasty hormone that eats muscle mass. Muscle is what burns those calories. So, less muscle means less calorie burn. Less calorie burn means stalled weight loss or weight gain.

So, now you probably have the clinched-up perplexed look on your face. You're wondering, "Well, what in the heck can I do, if running every day causes me to release stuff that makes me gain weight?" That's a logical response. But have no fear! There actually is something you can do and it doesn't involve buying something for $19.95 from an infomercial that comes with a complete set of Ginsu knives.

So, how do you do it? It's simple. Speed work and resistance training are the two best ways to get you over that hump. Both speed work and resistance training (weight training) will up your metabolism as well as increase the release of testosterone (men) human growth hormone (women) which counteracts the effects of the cortisol.

Okay, now you're probably thinking...."Well, I don't have access to a track and I can't afford a gym membership." Well, guess what? You don't need either. Speed work can be done in the form of intervals on a track, but you can also do something called tempo runs and fartleks.

Tempo runs are when you up the pace/intensity in the middle of a run. For example in a 4-miler, you begin with a 1-mile easy warm-up, followed by 2 miles at just below your 10K race-pace, followed by a 1-mile easy cool-down. Fartleks are informal intervals thrown into a regular run. During a five-miler you may throw in 3 or 4 fast segments. These segments can be time-based or distance-based. For example, you begin a five-miler at a slow easy pace for 5 minutes, then ramp it up to a 10K pace for 5-minutes, followed by 5-minutes back at the original slow steady pace. This is repeated throughout the course of the run. The segments can be any time-frame you want or it could be based on distance such as 1-mile slow, 1-mile fast, etc.

Hill workouts are great too. Find a hill with with a 5-7% incline and run up it as fast as you can. Then jog or walk back down the hill. Then back up the hill again fast. Repeat this 3-5 times. Hill workouts create a great calorie burn as well as strengthen your hamstrings and glutes.

Resistance training is weight training, but you don't need a lot of fancy equipment or gym memberships to see great effects. Body-weight exercises or exercises using dumbbells will work fine. Don't have dumbbells? Do what famous marathon coach/trainer Hal Hidgon does—fill gallon-sized plastic detergent jugs with sand and uses those as weights.

Exercises that target the larger muscles groups such as the hamstrings, glutes, and quads will help you get the largest calorie burn. Remember that muscle is what burns the calories, so if you're working more muscle mass, you'll burn more calories. Squats and lunges are some of the best lower-body exercises that will help up your metabolism. Plyometric exercises (hopping, bounding, jumping) will also get a great calorie burn. Jumpsquats, mountain climbers, burpees, ice-skaters, and lateral hops are simple and effective plyometrics exercises that are great for upping the metabolism. (Look on the blog later this week for a video posting of these exercises.)

So, if you're running the same-ole same-ole and feel like you've stagnated, even gained some weight, give speed work and/or resistance training a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Friday, July 16, 2010

RunnerDude's Runner of the Week: Philip

This week's runner of the week—Philip Ciccarello—has been a twitter friend for a while now. I stumbled upon his blog when I was researching how other runners felt about ice baths. A picture of him in another post is perfect for depicting how good, but how bad an ice bath feels when you're having one. He's submersed waist deep in a tub of ice water, his running shorts one, a sweat shirt on, and a toboggan atop his head. Upon seeing this picture and reading the post that went along with it, I knew I'd like this runner. Been following his blog and twitter posts ever since. He also lives in the same great state that I do—North Carolina—although he's a little further west, in Charlotte.

Read on to learn more about this pretty cool running dude.
RD: I see you’re in Charlotte, NC. Are you originally from there? Where did you grow up?
Philip: I was born and raised on an apple orchard in Amherst County Virginia— small town that borders the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a kid there was always something to do—hiking, bike rides, swimming, sports. I did it all and loved every minute of it. After going to college in Lynchburg (neighboring city), I met my wife @aciccarello and we began to look for a bigger city to locate. We heard awesome things about Charlotte, and after visiting one weekend we were sold.
RD: Share a little about yourself. What do you do for a living? Hobbies?
Philip: My 8-5 job revolves around technology/Internet/social media, as I am the Director of Technology for the Charlotte Regional Partnership- a 16 county economic development organization. When not sitting in front of a computer, I enjoy running (obviously), working out, biking, live music, cooking, red wines, and networking.
RD: How long has running been a part of your life? Did you grow up in a sports oriented family?
Philip: Thinking back, I really got started with running while playing soccer at the age of 7. Soccer progressed into cross country and the rest is history.
RD: What got you into running?
Philip: Most of my inspiration to be an athlete/runner came from my dad. My dad was not a runner, yet for an endurance test he decided to run the Virginia 10 Miller (I was 11 years old). The next year I ran the race with him and finished. From that point forward I was hooked.
RD: What do you enjoy most about running? Is it the mental? Physical? Both?
Philip: For me, what I enjoy most is the physical rewards of running. The only other cardio that I am involved in is biking and light swimming. After a run, depending on how hard you pushed yourself, your body should feel drained to the core, and I love it.
RD: I hear you like to cook. What’s your favorite dish to make…sinful or healthy?
Philip: Cooking is something I enjoy thoroughly. People always ask me, “What’s your favorite restaurant”, to which I reply, “My kitchen”. Everything I cook is healthy, mostly chicken breasts, seafood, over the top salads, and vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a good steak or burger once a month.
RD: Do you have a favorite training food recipe you’ve created? What other favorite foods do you include in your training?
Philip: The night before races I eat homemade pancakes with real maple syrup. They digest well and I have never had stomach cramps the day of the race. In the morning I normally do coffee with sugar, either a piece of toast or bagel with half a banana.

Normally I run in the mornings…if the mileage is going to be less than 10, I go on an empty stomach to promote fat burning. Post run/workout I enjoy a bowl of oatmeal (whole oats) with peanut butter.
RD: Are you a lone runner or do you run with some buddies? What do you like about each?
Philip: 90% of my runs are solo—without any music. Running is almost a meditation/relaxation for me. When I am out there my mind can roam free and there are not too many distractions that break my thoughts.

When I do run with others it’s a very pleasurable experience. What I have noticed, is when you run with a partner, the time goes by so much quicker, maybe it’s the conversation.
RD: What’s the funniest or oddest thing that’s happened to you while on a run?
Philip: A couple of months ago something attacked my head from the air. At first when I blogged about it, I thought it was a bat…but after talking to a few people they suggested it could have been an owl.
RD: Oddly enough, a running friend of mine was visiting her daughter in Charlotte and while there, went out for an early-morning run. On that run an owl swooped down and grabbed at the hair on top of her head. Maybe it's the same owl!!
RD: What’s your biggest running accomplishment? Why?
Philip: My biggest running accomplishment had to be when I finished my first official race (Virginia 10 miler) with my dad at the age of 12. The crowd throughout the race was so supportive, I wanted to give up so bad…that race taught me there will be serious pains involved with running—yet you must stay focused and take one step at a time.
RD: Do you have a favorite brand of running shoe? Which model? Why?
Philip: My feet are flat, really flat. Over the years I have tried all types of running shoes. Back in 2006 I fell in love with the Asics Gel Nimbus brand. They are very supportive and cushiony. Usually every 350 miles I spring for a new pair.
RD: What’s your favorite race distance(s)? Do you have a favorite race you run each year?
Philip: I love all distances, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be the half-marathon. The half is a good distance and usually will not beat you up as bad as training for a full marathon. There is one race that I return to each year—The Virginia 10-Miler. This race has so many memories, and my entire family gets together to run the full 10 miles or 4-miler.
RD: If you were speaking to a group of non-runners or runner wannabes and trying to encourage them to run, what would you say?
Philip: Running is a lifestyle…it does not develop overnight. Diet, exercise, and a mental commitment are the keys to success. Running is not about how fast you are, but more about finishing. Always remember one step at a time.
RD: Open Mike: Share anything you‘d like about your running experiences, past accomplishments, goals, dreams….anything you haven’t previously shared.
Philip: Be serious about injuries. Luckily enough, after years of running, I have only had just a few minor injuries. If you are injured, stop running and let it heal. If you keep pushing you will only make it worse, listen to your body.

There is a really cool website called Athlinks that aggregates all of your race results onto one page- a must if you are into tracking your results.
Thanks Philip for sharing a little about your life and running! One day I hope to get down to Charlotte and get a run in with you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

RunnerDude Chats with Hal Higdon

When you think of race training plans, more than likely the name Hal Higdon will come to mind. Just Google "race training", "marathon training plan", "race training schedule", etc., and Hal's name will appear, usually at the top of the list. You may also know Hal from his prolific writing about running both in magazine articles and in books. Hal has contributed articles to Runner's World longer than any other writer. His first Runner's World article appeared in the magazine's second edition in 1966! I have many, many years' worth of Runner's World, but sorry Hal, I was only 1-year-old in '66.
Hal's not only an expert on running and race training, he's also an excellent athlete. He ran in eight Olympic trials and has won four World Masters Championships. He's also one of the founding members of the RRCA (Road Runners Club of America). Another thing you may not know about Hal is that he's a painter of Pop Art. He was an art major at Carleton College.

Recently I had the honor of interviewing Hal. Read on to learn more about this icon of the running world.

RD: Hal, thousands of runners across the country and world for that matter know of Hal Higdon the coach and trainer, but Hal Higdon the person isn’t as familiar to us. Share with us a little about your background. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Family?
Hal: I grew up on the south side of Chicago. My father was the editor of a trade magazine, my mother a housewife. In grade school, I was interested in art more than writing, my goal to someday write and draw a comic strip similar to Terry and the Pirates, drawn by my hero, Milton Caniff. In sports, I did the same things most boys did. I played baseball and football, but didn’t have the size or skill for success in those sports. During the summer, I swam a lot—not just hanging out at the beach, but some of my friends and I used to go for long distance swims of a mile or more in Lake Michigan. Also biked a lot, because that’s how we got places. No running, but I also walked a lot because parents in that era didn’t haul their kids around from activity to activity in SUVs.

RD: How long has running been a part of your life? Did you grow up in a sports oriented family?
Hal: I went out for track my sophomore year in high school and had some initial success, running 5:04.3 for the mile and placing 4th in our conference, but I skipped sports my junior year, then ran halfheartedly as a senior because I had so many other interests. I was an only child and my parents weren’t athletic, because parents were not athletic in those days. Nobody jogged. It was not an acceptable activity for anyone over the age of 17, I only began to recognize my potential when I went away to Carleton College and went out for cross-country.
RD: Most runners know about your prolific non-fiction writing which has mostly been about running. I believe you’ve published 35 books as well as many magazine articles. Marathon: the Ultimate Training Guide alone has sold over a quarter-million copies. But, I bet most runners will be surprised to learn that you’ve written a children’s fiction book too—The Horse That Played Center Field. It was even made into an animated film, if I recall correctly. And now you’ve written a fiction novel for adults titled Marathon. Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World even said, "With all of the training books on the market, someone finally has written a novel that captures the essence of the marathon." That had me hooked! Tell us a little about the book and how this book came to be.
Hal: Having studied English Literature in college, I suppose I always had the desire to write the Great American Novel. But fiction is a tough sell in today’s book market. I sold several non-fiction books to publishers with only a 1- or 2-page query letter. For fiction, they want you to write eight-tenths of a novel before offering a contract, and usually it is a small contract. Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to some day write a novel, and even had a couple of false starts. But more the problem, I didn’t have a subject that engaged me enough to make me want to set aside a half dozen years to work on one project. Finally, I found one: the 72 hours leading up to a major marathon. Also, I had accumulated enough knowledge about the subject over the years that writing Marathon was fun to get a lot of what I knew on paper.
RD: Many famous running personalities came to running either by stumbling into it or they discovered it was a great way to overcome some kind of adversity in their lives. What got you into running?
Hal: I was good at it. I won races. I earned letters. It impressed my high school girlfriend (she admitted later) that she was dating an athlete, even one who was not the starting quarterback on the football team. It brought a certain stability to my life and—although I did not realize it at the time—running led me away from negative activities like smoking and drinking. (Drugs were less a problem back when I was in school.) In many ways, I fell into running and enjoyed the feeling.
RD: What do you enjoy most about running? Is it the mental? Physical? Both?
Hal: As a freelance writer, I worked only 10 seconds from where I lived. It would be possible for me to spend much of my life never getting out of the house. Running allows me at least an hour a day to do just that. While running, I also can allow my mind to spin free. I have come up with ideas for articles and books while running.

RD: What other sports or activities do you enjoy either participating in or being a spectator of?
Hal: I probably spend as much time on a bike now as I do running. This is because my wife Rose and I have gotten into the habit of biking to nearby coffee shops three or four days a week. I also work out in a gym and, while down in Florida during the winter, swim (and run) in a lap pool. Spectator? Mainstream American sports bore me. Sitting in front of a TV set and watching four hours of baseball is like Purgatory. The same for NFL football or NBA basketball. But I did watch several of the World Cup soccer games and I love to come back from my morning bicycle rides and watch at least the last 10-20 kilometers of each Tour de France stage.

RD: Do you have a favorite training food? Pre-run? During-the-run? Post-run?
Hal: I don’t have favorite foods. I have good nutritional habits and believe in the Gold Standard of 55% carbohydrates, 30% fats and 15% protein. I follow the motto: “Eat a wide variety of lightly processed foods.” One of our favorite restaurants in Michigan City, Indiana where I live is a restaurant named Sahara that features a Mediterranean cuisine.

RD: Are you a lone runner or do you run with some buddies? What do you like about each?
Hal: Most of my career, I have been a solo runner, because of convenience. It’s easy just to head out the door and run, and when I was doing double workouts and averaging 100 miles a week, none of the neighbors wanted to get out of bed at 6:00 AM and join me. Yet I enjoyed getting together on weekends with friends to run in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Lately, I run so slowly, I can’t keep up with even the slowest runners, so I am content to run alone.

RD: I think it’s extremely important for runners to do strength (resistance) training especially for the upper-body and core. I’m a big advocate of functional multi-joint training that will increase strength, stability, and flexibility. I know from your books that you advocate similar thinking as long as the runner backs off the strength training as the miles begin to accumulate during marathon training. What are some of the key strength training exercises that you recommend runners do?
Hal: I suggest that runners simply go into the gym and play. They might want to start by getting a guided tour from a personal trainer, but find machines that are fun to use, where they don’t have to strain to look tough or match the weight that the guy (or gal) in front of you was lifting. I favor dumbbells, because they are easy to use and you can use them in a variety of motions. At home I have a couple of used Tide jugs that work as substitute dumbbells.
RD: I agree with you 100% on the use of dumbbells. They're much more functional and enable runners to do multi-joint exercises and because you're not locked into a fixed machine you're able get more full range of motion increasing stability, balance, and flexibility, as well as muscle strength and muscle endurance. I love the Tide jug idea!

RD: Several different approaches to running and running technique have been surfacing in recent years. Chi running, minimalist shoes, and barefoot running have become very popular with many runners. What is your take on these new approaches?
Hal: Barefoot running and the entire minimalist shoe movement is the Dr. Atkins approach to footwear. I say this even though I have been running barefoot for more than a half a century and have even set national records running barefoot on all-weather tracks. I do it on beaches and on golf courses, but never on the roads. I succeed because I have good biomechanics, but most runners have average biomechanics and can injure themselves if they suddenly go minimalist. There is some value to doing some barefoot running on forgiving surfaces, but for most people well designed shoes remain the way to go.

RD: Some fairly new training methods advocate less running, but more specific intense running combined with cross-training. F.I.R.S.T. is such a plan that has runners running only three days a week (intervals, tempo, long) and then two days of cross-training. How do you feel about these lesser-mileage plans?
Hal: We’re not on video, so you can’t see me shrugging. Ho hum. Everyone has to come up with something new to justify their existence. I probably have 60 different programs for races between 5-K and the marathon at all levels—novice, intermediate, advanced—and some of those programs feature three days of running and some feature cross-training and all go from less mileage to more mileage. I feel that runners need to start easy with a program that doesn’t extend themselves too much in the early weeks and months, then eventually figure out what works for their own particular interests and lifestyles.

RD: What’s the funniest or oddest thing that’s happened to you while on a run or on a running-related assignment?
Hal: It’s not funny or odd, but I continue to be amazed by the number of strangers who pick me out of a crowd and tell me they used one of my marathon training programs.

RD: What’s the worst running-related injury you’ve had? How did you get it?
Hal: During the last day of the 10-day, 350-mile Trans Indiana Run, which went from one end of the state to the other, I felt something pop in my leg. It was a stress fracture, though not a serious one. I finished the run with some pain, but after several weeks I was back running again. I have good biomechanics. I train smart. I rarely get injured.
RD: You’ve run over 100 marathons. Do you have a favorite race you run each year?
Hal: Certainly no favorite marathons. Since moving to Florida (winters) I have come to enjoy doing the Gate River Run (15-K) every year. I was a bit undertrained this year and only ran the 5-K, but I’ll be back. A couple of races that I usually run each year are Steve’s Run in Dowagiac, MI (10-K) and the Turkey Trot in Niles, MI (10-K). I don’t race that much anymore, and when I do I don’t take the race too seriously, preferring to start in the back of the pack.

RD: What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment related to your career?
Hal: My Novice 1 Marathon Training Plan. I feel it’s the best training plan on the market for newcomers, but one woman who came to my booth at an Expo last fall told me she had used this program for 13 marathons in a row. The simplest thing I can say about Novice 1 is, “It works.” But if you’re talking competition, probably finishing 1st American at Boston in 1964. That plus my four world masters titles.

RD: What words of encouragement would you give to a group of non-runners or runner wannabes who are thinking about or just getting into running?
Hal: I don’t believe in pushing people to run—or even exercise. They need to supply their own motivation. So all I would say to them would be, “Try it.”
RD: What's next for Hal Higdon?
Hal: With the success of my novel, Marathon, I’m wondering now what to do for an encore. I have several plot ideas, but I’m not sure I want to jump too soon again into a multi-plot, multi-character book. My latest project is a book on the sport of cross-country, tentatively titled, Through the Woods. It’s part memoir, part novella. In fact, I’m not even sure which direction the book will take, but that's part of the fun of writing. I hope to have at least a preliminary version available to offer on Kindle by this fall.
Thanks Hal for giving us a little more insight into your life as a runner! Be sure to check out Hal's website and blog!

Monday, July 12, 2010

National Trail Running Day! It's Not That Far Away!

Last year friend of mine, Chris Barber, at started the inaugural National Trail Running Day (August 22, 2009) in order to bring awareness to the sport of Trail Running. This year August 21, 2010, will mark the 2nd annual National Trail Running Day.
There is a National Running Day, but before last year there was no day specifically made for running trails. Trail Running is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States with runners taking to the trails of varying difficulties and distances to connect with nature and the environment, while also building strength and more technical running skills. One reason the industry is healthy is that there has been a parallel increase in the running population. The National Sporting Goods Association estimates that the total running population in 2008 was 35,904,000 – an increase of 18.2% over 2007! The Outdoor Industry’s estimate for number of U.S. trail runners in 2008 was 4,857,000, an increase of 15.2%. That's a lot of people in the woods! Lions, Tigers, and Runners, Oh My!

Chris' goal is to help build some momentum to get even more runners hitting the trails. Be sure to check out the National Trail Running Day website for a wealth of information from info on trail running shoes, to finding National Trail Running Day events, to finding running trails near you. You can also find information on National Trail Running Day on Facebook and Twitter. Hear are just a few of the events taking place around the country:
» Shatter the Silence
» XTERRA North Carolina Colonel Francis Beatty Park
» Pikes Peak Marathon
» Moose On The Loose 10 Mile
» Indianapolis Amazing Adventure
» GORE-TEX Transrockies-Run 2010
» Glenwood Springs Hlaf Marathon
» Dam Good Trail Race
» Continental Divide Trail Run

Chris gives 8 great reasons to go trailing:
  • Strengthens your leg muscles that road running does not.
  • Improves balance and agility from running on uneven surfaces.
  • Increases your mental toughness.
  • Biophillia – humans want to be close to nature. Trail Running increases your time in nature.
  • The primal thrill of using your body for what it was made to do, be a long distance, all-terrain vehicle.
  • Reduces injury because running on soft surfaces is better for you joints. Also, the differing steps do not put as much stress on certain parts of your body.
  • Less traffic and cleaner air.
  • Running in the shade is cooler, allowing you to run longer distances and get a better overall work out.

So, check with your running club or your local running store and see if they have anything planned for National Trail Running Day (August 21). It's a little more than a month away, so if they don't have anything planned, encourage them to use that day to promote, celebrate, and experience the sport of Trail Running. Suggest a trail race, some group trail runs, or some trail clean-ups.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Train Hard, But Stay Healthy!

I can't tell you how many times, all is going well and then when I ramp up my marathon training, I seem to get sick. It's usually something like a cold or in the most severe cases, more like the flu.
Guess what? According to David C. Newman, Dr. P.H., FACSM, who is a professor and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, there's a reason for this bad-timed bug. "During periods of heavy training, the immune system reflects the physiological stress experienced by the athlete, and illness rates climb." So, that old saying "Too much of a good thing, can be bad." is true!

Problem is that there is no cure for all runners. Each runner has to find his/her training/rest balance. Newman suggests that nutrition along with rest is a key factor during these stressful times for athletes. So, you should pop a bunch of supplements during this time, right? NO! Newman says that making sure you're eating a balanced diet during this time is the best way to provide support for the immune system in its fight against viruses and bacteria. Research shows that vitamin and mineral supplements don't really boost your immunity above normal levels, so why spend that extra money on bland tasting pills? Just eat a good diet. This basically supports my thinking in a recent post, "Supplement the Natural Way...Eat!"

So during that carb-loading phase, don't forget that veggies are complex carbs. Also fruits, while they are more of a simple carb, are still nutrient dense and provide a great source of fiber. Don't just live on pasta alone!

Newman also suggests avoiding over-training. So, when the training plan says only 3 miles during the taper, only do 3 miles, even if you feel like doing 10! He also suggests trying to keep life stresses to a minimum, get adequate sleep, and limit your exposure to viruses and bacteria by practicing good hygiene (washing your hands frequently and voiding touching your eyes and nose with your hands). These are all they typical tactics for keeping healthy, but runners need to be particularly keen to these practices the few weeks just before the big race. Keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket those few weeks prior to the race is probably not such a bad idea.

A few running buddies of mine seem to have the problem after the marathon. Within a week or so, they've gotten "the bug." After the marathon, Newman says that "the body is inflamed for about 1.5 days with high stress hormones, cytokines, and suboptimal immune function." The odds of becoming sick during the 1-2 weeks after the race are twofold to sixfold. So, it's just as important to keep up the good nutrition and Newman's other recommendations after the race for a few weeks too.

Train hard. Train sensibly. Stay healthy!

Friday, July 9, 2010

RunnerDude Chats with John Bingham

Recently I had the honor of interviewing John Bingham. He's often referred to as the "Pied Piper of the second running boom." More than likely you may know him simply as "The Penguin." For 14 years, John's column—"The Penguin Chronicles"—was featured in Runner's World magazine. Since the column's debut, John "The Penguin" Bingham has become one of the running community's most popular and recognized personalities. In addition to his column, John travels nearly 300 days a year spreading the running word by speaking to runners of all levels, leading marathon pace groups, and guiding his huge number of fans. He's become an advocate for the thousands of second running boomers and he feels it's vitally important to travel, meet, and keep in touch with the hearts and 'soles' of these runners.

Read on to learn more about one of RunnerDude's favorite running personalities.

RD: Where are you from originally? Where’s home now?
John: I was born, and grew up just outside of Chicago. After years of living other places, I moved back to the Chicago area 10 years ago. My wife and I now live just southwest of the city.
RD: I’ve read your Runner’s World column since the beginning, as well as your books (i.e., The Courage to Start, No Need for Speed, Marathoning for Mortals, Running for Mortals). And I look forward to reading your new column in Competitor Magazine. I’ve always felt like we were brothers from another mother. Like you, running has always been more about self-discovery than race stats. Running has shown me that I can do most anything if I have the will, desire, and dedication.
You once said, "It was being a runner that mattered, not how fast or how far I could run. The joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination." That really hit home with me. "The joy was in the act of running." That’s so well said. Bart Yasso said something similar to me in a recent interview when he said that even though he’s run over a 1000 races and his time isn’t nearly what it used to be, he still gets the same thrill when he crosses the finish line. It’s the journey that’s the reward.
I know that like many, you once lead a sedentary life, was overweight, and smoked, among other bad habits. What turned it around for you?
John: I wish there was a better answer than the truth. I was 43 years-old, had a great job, nice house, 9 motorcycles and was overweight, drinking too much, smoking too much and miserable. I really didn’t know what to do. A friend of mine was a bicyclist. I started riding a little then put on a pair of running shoes and I was hooked. The first “run”, which was more of a walk and waddle was only about 1/4 of a mile but I knew right then that running was what I was looking for.

RD: It’s no secret. I love food. I try very hard (and I’m usually pretty good) to eat healthy foods. I’m big on whole grains, complex carbs, fruits, veggies, etc. But I do allow myself to indulge from time to time in some of the more “sinful delectables.” What are some of your favorite foods for fueling your running? What are some of your favorite “non-training foods” that may not make sense for running, but sure to make for some good eatin'?
John: Well, I grew up with my Italian grandparents, so I’ve never met a plate of pasta that I didn’t like. I spent a lot of years “carbo-loading” even though I had no reason to. I’m not a big subscriber to the “high carbohydrate” athlete diet. I really think a diet that is more balanced, with carbs, protein, and even some “good” fat is better for most of us. I went about 5 years without eating any meat and eventually it just didn’t work for me. So, these days, a hamburger on the grill is about as good as it gets.

RD: You’ve completed 40 marathons and hundreds of 5K and 10K races. If you’re like me, some races are better than others, but there’s something about each one that I take to heart and remember. Of those many races you’ve run, which stand out as memorable ones for you.
John: Some stand out for being great experiences. Other stand out for being miserable experiences. But, in every case I learned something. In fact, I probably learned more in the miserable experiences. It’s hard to beat the “first times” and the fast times [even for me]. So, coming across that first marathon finish line in Columbus, Ohio was very emotional. Running the Marine Corps Marathon in October of 2001 and going past the Pentagon was VERY emotional. I’m an Army vet and my son is Active Duty and stationed in Washington, DC. My first Chicago marathon was special because I was running in a city that I love. I walked off the course in Huntsville, Alabama at mile 15 of the Rocket City Marathon. It was the first time I’d ever walked off a course [and still only one of two times] I just didn’t want to go on. I was done. And I learned that sometimes being a runner for life means not running today.

RD: Some runners are very avid in taking a stance on various training techniques, training foods, when to run, when not to run, etc. I’ve always been a big believer in if it works for you, then it’s right for you. What’s your take on the barefoot and minimalist running craze?
John: I’m concerned that people get excited about something and don’t do the research about how to do it right. A good friend – in the running shoe business – says it takes about a year to make the transition to the minimalist shoes. But, people put them on, go run 5 miles, and then are surprised when they get hurt. My view on shoes is that they are the same as eye-glasses. You only want as much correction as YOU need. For some runners that means not much. For others, it means a little. And a VERY few need a lot of shoe. But, what’s right for you is ONLY right for YOU.

RD: Are you a lone runner or do you run with some buddies? What do you like about each?
John: I spend so much of my life in “public” that I really enjoy the solitude of running alone. I’m not anti-social. There are times when I’ll run with a group and have a great time, but, in general I like to have my running time to myself.

RD: What’s the funniest or oddest thing that’s happened to you while on a run?
John: WOW. That’s a great question. I remember running in a remote area of northern California and I guy stopping to ask me why I was running and what I was running from. He couldn’t understand why anyone would just run. Probably the funniest experience was being the sweeper for Team in Training in Anchorage one year. I has several large helium balloons tied to my waist. Every time I went into a porta-potty I had to close the door with the balloons OUTSIDE. It looked like was trying to launch the porta-potty.
RD: Oh man, too bad there are no pictures of that!

RD: What’s your biggest running accomplishment? Why?
John: I think it’s that I’m still running, now nearly 20 years later. I’ve had plenty of reasons to quit. I’m not very good at it. I’m never GOING to be very good at it. But, I enjoy it enough that I just keep doing it.

RD: Do you have a favorite brand of running shoe? Which model? Why?
John: That goes back to the earlier question. A shoe that works for me isn’t the right shoe for someone else. I’m very lucky. Nearly every shoe manufacturer sends me shoes. There are LOTS of great shoes on the market. You’ve got to take the time to find the one that’s right for you.
RD: I agree. It's definitely a personal process of elimination. And often, once you do find the shoe that works for you, it's discontinued or modified and the search starts all over again.

RD: What’s your favorite race distance(s)? Do you have a favorite race you run each year?
John: I’ve done more marathons than any other distance, but it’s not my favorite. These days I like doing the half marathons. It’s a serious distance but it doesn’t take it all out of you like a marathon. The distance I like the best is 10K. A well run 10K is a work of art. I’ve only done it once in my career.I’ve run the London Marathon 7 times. It’s the one race I’d do again if I could only do one more race.

RD: I see now that you’re the National Spokesperson for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training program. Many years ago, I participated in a Team In Training program and had a wonderful experience. TNT was one of the first such charity marathon training programs. Others organizations have tried to replicate TNT. Some have been successful while others seem more focused on the fundraising and not on equally supporting the runners in training. What do you think has been a key factor in TNT’s huge success?
John: I think there are two main reasons. One, this generation of runners and walkers is more social than the “nylon shorts” generation. So, I think the group training aspect has been a big part. Also, I think this generation sees running and walking as something more than just personal bests. I think they see it as a way of helping others while they help themselves. TNT gives them a chance to do that.

RD: One of the best parts of your book No Need for Speed, is right up front on page 16. You say, “No one can tell you how much activity is right for you, what eating strategy will work best, or how long it will take to achieve your early fitness goals.” As a running coach and fitness trainer, I try really hard to set up a supportive training and coaching environment while at the same time letting clients explore what they’re capable of and set their own fitness goals. I think it’s so important for individuals to see that if it’s not their goal, then they’ll be less likely to commit to it. Did you learn this from experience?
John: I learned it the hard way by trying to be and do what others wanted me to be or do. This is true in life as well as running.

RD: I think a preconceived image of what a runner and/or fitness buff looks like is often a big obstacle preventing many from getting up off that couch and partaking in life. What are some words of wisdom on how and why newcomers should toss those preconceived notions right out the window?
John: Most adults think they have to be good at something in order to enjoy it. They wait until they get some level of skill before they allow themselves to have fun. Running – at any level – can be fun right away if you just take it for what it is. Patience is the most important element for a beginner. And, tenacity is much more important than talent.

RD: I’m a firm believer in adding resistance training to a running program in order to prevent injury and to help make for a stronger more efficient runner. However when resistance training is mentioned, many runners envision Arnold Swarchenegger and shy away from anything to do with it. I was so pleased to see in your book Running for Mortals that you included a section with some resistance training exercises most of which uses body weight and/or resistance bands or tubes. If you had to pick the two key exercises that all runners should include in their routines, what would they be?
John: My experience is that most runners ignore their upper bodies. The truth is that when the going gets tough it is often the strength and endurance in your arms that carries you through. So, some kind of upper body weight training is important. Also, core strength is critical for runners. Not the old-school sit-ups, but a more comprehensive core workout. And, runners have GOT to work on flexibility. Not “stretching” in the classic sense, but doing something to prevent yourself from getting so tight that you can’t move.

RD: I love reading your many inspirational quotes. One of my favorites is “Frustration is the first step towards improvement. I have no incentive to improve if I’m content with what I can do and if I’m completely satisfied with my pace, distance, and form as a runner. It’s only when I face frustration and use it to fuel my dedication that I feel myself moving forwards.” I often tell my clients that frustration is the fuel that can get them out of rut. It definitely puts a positive spin on things for them. Another wonderful quote of yours “The miracle isn’t that I’ve finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” is another great motivator, especially for my beginning runners. And then my all time favorite is “Running won’t kill you, you’ll pass out first!” My 14-year-old daughter is a beginning runner and she actually used that quote as a running strategy the other day. We were on an out-and-back run and she decided to up her pace. She figured that if she passed out, I’d see her and pick her up on the way back. She was being tongue-and-cheek of course, but I think your quote really helped her see that you’re not going to die if you just try. What other advice would you give a beginning runner or someone who is just contemplating taking up running for the first time?
John: It’s pretty simple, really. Just get up, get out, and get going. You really CAN change your life with your own two feet. And there’s nothing that’s stopping you except your fear of not meeting someone else’s expectations.

RD: From all that I can see, it looks like the sport of running is growing each year. What's your take on the future of running?
John: I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to be the voice of this generation of runners and walkers. I’ve tried to be true to that voice and carry the message. What I’m finding – after nearly 15 years in the running industry – is that there is ANOTHER generation coming up behind us. These are the folks who saw their moms and dads, or grand moms and grand dads, out running. They stood cheered on the curb and now THEY are out there. It tells me that the future of running is very bright.

A big thanks to John for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do this interview. After 14 years on the pages of Runner's World magazine, John is now bringing his talents as a feature columnist and weekly blogger to Competitor Magazine and (Also, be sure to check out John's website.) I look forward to more books from "The Penguin" as well as following his column at its new home.