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.
April 03, 2013
Running a marathon or half marathon is by definition a long and difficult task. After all, when we speak of anything long and difficult, we often refer to it as a “marathon,” or compare things completely unrelated to athletics as “marathons” instead of “sprints”.
Unsurprisingly, training for a marathon includes a wide variety of lengthy tasks, the difficulty of which make the journey arriving at the starting line at least half the battle. Mentally, runners can be so committed to the audacious adventure that rest and recovery seem like cheating or wimping out.
Hard workouts and rest are like a Rorschach test for the body. The outline or fitness created by all the hard work is defined by the shape it has created for itself, but the shape we see is also dependent on the negative space shaped by the remaining parts of the picture. This is the rest and recovery. If the rest portion of the picture isn’t well planned and defined, it makes it difficult to see the shape it has left.
From what are you recovering?
The motions of running require a great deal of eccentric contraction of the muscles. That is, a muscle working in the lengthened position. This type of demand, particularly over the repeated requirements of thousands of strides, causes a lot of trauma to the cells of muscle fibers, which break down and need to regenerate.
Among other effects, running hard also results in a sharp increase in the production of the hormone cortisol. This hormone, which appears in a response to the physical stress of the quality workout, also suppresses the immune system, which may take a full few days to return to normal after a hard effort such as a race or a workout that breaks new ground.
How long should recovery take?
Over a period of time with adequate rest, the body adapts to the mechanical stressors by learning to absorb and consume more oxygen, synthesize more glycogen, absorb more amino acids, and more. As the muscles are broken down in tiny little traumas, blood flow aids in bringing reparative ingredients to the site of these traumas. This blood flow can also bring inflammation. All told, plan on about 24-72 hours for the cycle to result in a muscle prepared to forge more new ground.
The soreness often felt on that “second day” is also known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. In the long run, this process results in an adapted muscle ready to go farther, go faster, or maybe even both. However, if a runner repeatedly breaks down a muscle that is not ready once more for heavy work, a cycle of degradation without regeneration will almost always lead to an injury or an eventual period of recovery longer than would have occurred if regularly scheduled recovery had occurred along the way.
Notice how your runcoach schedule will not offer you three consecutive calendar days where you run a track session, then a tempo run, then a long run. Life’s difficult weekly agenda might encourage back to back workouts, but it is almost always advisable to leave at least a 48 hour period between the toughest days of the week.
Does everyone need to rest the same amount?
Age, gender, experience, volume (30 miles per week or 90 miles per week?) are all variables which may affect how much time is advisable to wait between hard bouts on the schedule. If your performance falters repeatedly on the workout following a particularly difficult challenge, it is better to organize the schedule to allow more rest in between than to dogmatically hold on to your current layout and risk injury or prohibitive fatigue from pushing too hard too close to the last time. Likewise, if you repeatedly catch a cold or have a similar repeated response to upping your mileage or completing a sequence of very taxing runs, consideration of additional recovery is important to allow the immune system to do its job and keep you on the path toward race day.
Does recovery only mean sitting around?
Certainly, sleep and rest can help speed the regenerative process, but recovery is also when you remember to bring a snack for after the workout and can replace carbohydrates and proteins immediately. Recovery is when you roll and stretch to leave the challenged muscles loose and in the best position to heal. Recovery is rehydrating and replacing electrolytes both during and after a workout or long run. All of these proactive things can help speed the time you need before advancing out the door again for the type of epic run or workout that makes marathon and half marathon training special. Not every runner recovers at the same rate exactly, but rest assured, all runners do indeed take a rest. Our job is to help you along the path that includes rest that is planned so the next training and racing vista can remain in view.
March 28, 2013
What differentiates a race from a workout? The chance to run down the middle of the road, the mile markers, the thousands of other people alongside? Externally, perhaps. Internally, on the other hand, a big difference maker is often adrenaline.
Races are a test – a test of fitness, a test of wills, and a test of your ability to handle the elements and the unexpected. All of the variables, both known and unknown, coupled with the anticipated pain that may precede the finish banner, combine to generate the butterflies that turn stomachs in the day or two before the race.
On the surface, it may seem preferable not to be nervous at all – to feel calm, cool, collected, and carefree heading into a race. Then again, the term “adrenaline rush” is familiar to many as a performance-enhancing asset. What is going on?
Adrenaline, or epinephrine, is a hormone released in response to stress - it increases heart rate, aids in the conversion and use of glucose from glycogen for energy, and relaxes the bronchial muscles to allow for greater respiration needs (among other effects). Oftentimes, adrenaline is associated with the “fight or flight” response to great danger or acute stress, e.g. the mother who lifts the car off the ground to save a child, etc.
In a race situation, adrenaline can be helpful – increased release of energy, greater respiratory ability, blood flow increased through the arteries – all these things are good for performance and result in noticeable increases in strength and ability to withstand pain.
While adrenaline can be helpful, nervousness can also be debilitating if it takes over completely. It is important to maintain a balance that allows the utilization of the positive effects of adrenaline without succumbing to the fear of the unknown.
For runners, one oft overlooked aspect is how well we manage this balance. Develop some loose routines that can provide a road map before races. Without being to tense and specific, having a series of repeated tasks (lay out clothing, pin on number, tie chip to shoe, set up morning coffee, etc) can help distract from the difficult aspects to come on race day. Keep up with your log on runcoach or use a written tool to keep track of training and provide a welcome reminder of all the hard work put in – your success won’t be a fluke and your preparedness can be verified. Familiarize yourself with the course and its topography – any tough hills are far less intimidating when expected. Practice positive self-talk in workouts so you are prepared with encouragement to yourself when the going is difficult and the pace comes less easily.
Of course, all of these strategies may not always account for the complete list of potential unknowns on race day, nor do these remove the painful physical demands very possibly required to yield the desired result. Adrenaline, however can close that gap, and should be welcomed as a bi-product of the stress / nervousness that produced it. Combat fear of the unknown with preparedness and facts, and celebrate the arrival of nervousness as the precursor to the adrenaline that helps make race day special.
March 21, 2013
Whether your running style more closely resembles the tortoise or the hare, an efficient stride is a goal we all share. It is very difficult and sometimes counterproductive to completely overhaul your natural form. However, here are a few tips you can try out on your next run to help you get to the finish line with less fatigue and a few less ticks on the clock.
Avoid taking long, bounding strides
When attempting to speed up, many runners try to take big long strides. Sure, when traveling quickly, the space between each footfall will increase due to that speed generated by a more powerful push off. However, purposely increasing the length of each individual stride often results in a harder more abrupt footfall, greater forces landing on the heel as it extends out in front of you, and a longer time spent on the ground (slowing down) before transitioning to the push off phase of each stride.
Instead of decreasing the frequency of your strides when attempting to give it some gas, quicken your cadence. Taking more frequent strides results in smaller landing forces and less time on the ground absorbing them. A quicker rhythm also allows your body to stay aligned over your feet, which helps you line up all the power producing muscles (glute, hamstring, quad, calf) for more production out of each stride, without straining the stabilization capabilities of those muscles and ligaments.
Keep your hands loose
It is not uncommon to feel tense, tired shoulders after a long run, but that tension and the mid-run fatigue it may cause can be reduced by keeping your hands loose. Rather than a tight fist or fingers fanned rigidly straight out from the palm, loosely curve the fingers back toward the thumb on each hand, as if lightly holding a very thick rope. With your thumb, pretend to hold a saltine or a potato chip to your loosely curved fingers. Squeeze too hard and it breaks, too open and it drops. Tight hands reverberate tension through the arms, up to the shoulders and the neck. Loose hands help dissipate that tension and helps runners avoid draining needed energy from the hard working lower body.
Swing your arms north and south, not east to west
If running forward, avoid movements that deter your progress. When your arms are swinging backwards and forward, they are helping propel you along the desired direction. When they swing across your body, they are acting at cross purposes with your goal. Although arms naturally may have a slight angle inward that causes the elbow to stick out slightly, neither hand should cross the imaginary line down the center of your torso. Let them hang down from your un-hunched shoulders with an elbow bent at about 90 degrees, and keep them swinging “north and south”.
March 14, 2013
Many runners have begun to enjoy the luxury of GPS devices measuring their daily runs. Frankly, many runners have become so reliant on these measurements that success or failure is defined at least as much by the watch readout as how the run or workout feels.
Those who use a GPS device on a daily basis are naturally inclined to strap them on for race day, only to be quite annoyed by the discrepancy between the race’s official measurements and what the GPS device indicates. Technology advances year after year, and when paying several hundred dollars for a gadget, it is a let down when the measurement appears to veer so widely off the mark. Alternately, we may place blame on the race management, assuming a poorly measured course or sloppy monitoring. More likely than either scenario, the discrepancy probably occurs due to the different ways in which the watch and the race record your distance traveled.
GPS devices measure the time it takes to receive signals traveling at the speed of light from multiple satellites orbiting the earth. A couple dozen of these are currently in the skies, and they are arrayed so that at any one time, four or more are visible to any point on earth. The watch essentially then builds a three or four way Venn diagram by overlapping the readings taken by each to confirm a fairly accurate location. This is called triangulation. Still, under a clear sky in the middle of a desert, an accuracy of a few meters either way is probably the best possible result.
Most importantly, GPS does not measure the distance you travel in a continuous fashion. It take readings at different points along your route every few seconds, again maybe varying in a radius of 3 meters to 10 meters or 30 feet to each side. What was a straight path for your actual travel, may be a fairly zig-zag line of plotted points as read by your GPS device. Add in periodic blockages due to overhanging trees, tall buildings, and even loud noises (yes!) and you will begin to see how your watch’s measurements are a helpful guide, but by no means a perfect representation of the actual route you traveled.
Certainly many low-key races may not seek or receive certification by the sport’s domestic governing body, USA Track & Field (USATF). However, most worth doing have received this certification, and certainly all of the big ones. When the question of GPS discrepancy was posed to the “dean” of Northern California course certifiers, Tom Knight, he encouraged reading the self-termed “generic response” Doug Thurston, the Director of Operations for the Competitor Group (Rock ‘n’ Roll series, Carlsbad 5000, etc) has developed after countless inquiries on the subject.
Thurston’s main points are summarized briefly as follows:
In short, anything that measures in a zig zag pattern is going to differ from a method that takes the shortest possible straight line between two points. GPS devices are great tools that have allowed us to understand our daily running in a very useful quantitative way. Course certifiers have a specific charter, method, and rigid canon of regulations to follow, their only goal being to provide the most accurate measurement possible under the ground rules. Although we’d all enjoy if our watches marked exactly 5000 meters when we hit the finish line of a 5K, the fact that it often reads more or less shouldn’t steal any of our joy – either way, you’ll want to come back and improve your time on that course next year!
March 08, 2013
Survey the start line at any road race these days and more and more knee socks are popping up. Compression socks are one of the most popular new accessories for distance runners of all speeds. Look more closely, and compression clothing of all kinds are now found on athletes of all ages and abilities. Are they for you?
For decades, compression socks have been recommended by doctors to help with circulatory problems, including varicose veins, diabetes, and deep vein thrombosis / blood clots. The increased elastic strength of compression socks, particularly around the ankle, acts like a pump of sorts, elevating the amount of pressure on veins and therefore decreasing their diameter and increasing the blood flow velocity.
While these benefits were previously sought by individuals who were forced to sit or stay put for long periods of time, non-active individuals with these circulatory concerns, and even post-op / bed-ridden patients in needs of some assistance with blood flow during recuperation, over the past several years, compression socks have become popular among runners who seek these benefits as performance aids.
Belinda Byrne of Melbourne, Australia, along with many colleagues in various studies conducted over the past fifteen years, has provided much cited research supporting the conclusion that compression socks aid in preventing deep vein thrombosis (a worry for those runners who travel home via long airplane rides soon after marathons). Byrne has more recent work that also suggests compression socks aid in recovery by helping muscles clear more blood lactate faster, and that socks worn below the knee are also effective, compared to the previous model of medically prescribed compression socks that extended up through the thigh.
These recovery benefits appear to be generally accepted and are backed up with other research finding self-reported post-run/ race soreness decreases with the socks. However, those looking for a mid-race performance boost from compression socks find a more limited field of supporting evidence. A few studies suggest an increase in anaerobic threshold of a couple percentage points (Scanlon, et al. 2008; Kemmler, et al 2009), but many more studies found a lack of distinct or statistically significant performance advantage by wearing the socks.
Like many other distance running accoutrements, the usefulness of compression socks is defined by a combination of personal preference and experience, coupled with scientific evidence. In this particular case, compression socks can cost as much as $60, so their use might require a bit of an additional investment as well - a financial commitment to be balanced with the enjoyment found in running and the importance of that experience going well. The field of compression garments and their use by endurance athletes is a continually growing business, where new information (much with direct commercial motivation) continues to evolve.
If you struggle with delayed onset muscle soreness after long races, or wish to assist your legs in their efforts to recover quickly and train hard again, compression socks are a worthwhile tool with which to consider and experiment – how you feel they help you is often the most important variable. However, it is also worth remembering that the most crucial aspect of your race plan is the training you put in, and compression socks won’t take the place of that. Stay focused on good habits, and hard work, and perhaps compression socks will provide the opportunity to recover in time to go for it more often.
February 27, 2013
Beginners and experienced runners need to navigate successfully around other runners, walkers, obstacles, and shared spaces alike. Although many small communities of runners may have their own language and habits for dealing with various situations, it is instructive to keep in mind a basic knowledge of common running etiquette. Like many things in life, the golden rule applies. Sometimes with outstanding running etiquette, we can even influence another runner to employ more people-friendly tactics their next time out. Here are a few tips on how to manage a few recurring situations.
Passing someone coming the opposite direction
On a bike/ pedestrian path, sidewalk, trail, or other two-way, directional running surface, pass others as cars would. If you are in the United States, that means bearing right, but perhaps that might mean bearing left if in the UK. If you are running with a group, take care not to take up the whole path and slide into single file as necessary to let the oncoming runner have a straight path. If necessary, make eye contact and even take a half step to one side to indicate your planned passing lane when you think confusion might be occurring.
Passing someone from behind
If moving in the same direction as the person you are trying to pass, again pass as cars would, with the faster party (you, in this case), moving by toward the center of two directional surface path or sidewalk or if narrow, on the left. First, alert them to your presence by saying “On your left” loud enough for them to hear you and not so close as to startle them. Give it a little gas if you can and pass quickly so as not to dwell in the “two abreast” stage of the pass.
If the person in front of you is wearing headphones and can’t hear you, give a wide berth as you pass to avoid startling them.
If in a race, pay special attention before and after fluid stations, heading in and out of sharp and curbed corners, and at a turn around so as not to cause a pileup or a chain reaction. You and the other runners are entitled to hold your own space, but it is your responsibility to maintain that space with the people immediately in front of you, and to not encroach that space by dangerously slipping by someone right at the curb before or after a turn. If looking for a particular line for an advantageous tangent to a distant corner, to stay out of the wind, or for another reason, you must allow a step and a half of space between yourself and the person you are passing before moving in front of them into their lane / line. If in doubt, give the other runner an indication by announcing your intention with an “on your left”, “head’s up” or a point of the finger where you are headed so they can see what you have planned.
If passing a horse on a trail, make sure you alert the rider well in advance of your arrival, and plan to walk around the backside of the horse with a wide berth. Yes, that might be annoying and a disruption to your run, but a worse disruption is a startled horse and back kick into your stomach. Don’t take any chances.
Running with a group
If running on a surface with any regular oncoming running traffic at all, two runners across is probably the maximum appropriate amount of width. If running with three or more with plenty of room, be prepared to maintain the responsibility of yielding to an oncoming runner if you suddenly come upon one rather than force them to the shoulder or the bushes. Even if there is no oncoming traffic, running with three across can prove a hazard as cyclists, cars, and other runners might be coming from behind and have to swing wide into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting your group.
Minding your manners on a busy track
Unless the track is empty or no one present is running for time or fast enough to encounter each other, do not jog in lane 1 of the track. Many tracks encourage this through gates or signs to jog in outside lanes. Even if not, a community track is a treasure for all who use it and a very expensive item to resurface. If you want to continue accessing your home track, it is best for all to allow lane 1 to wear out as slowly as possible. Therefore, if you don’t need to use it for timing a workout, don’t.
Again, unless the place is empty or traffic is limited enough to definitely avoid bumping into each other, do not run the opposite direction (clockwise). If you do for some reason, it is your responsibility to yield to those running counterclockwise. Likewise, do not ever run clockwise in lane 1, unless you really, really, have the place to yourself.
If passing from behind on a track, always do so to the outside of the person you are passing, particularly if both of you are too out of breath to let them know verbally that you are coming by. If someone (toddler, random person talking on their cell phone, slouchy teenager, or similar) is standing or otherwise blocking your lane while not running hard themselves, give them a sharp “TRACK!” before you come upon them to give them time to move out of the way. Likewise, if you accidentally are daydreaming or forget where you are and hear “TRACK!” while standing in a particular lane, it is your responsibility to get out of the way immediately as you would hope another would do for you.
Do not cut off other runners in a crazy diagonal direction to get fluid. Fluid stations are often areas with slippery footing, and race-ending injuries can occur even when best intentions are met with poor geometry. Prior to the station, merge as you can so all runners can get a clean shot at the drinks without banging into each other. If you need to stop and consume whatever it is you picked up, do so AFTER you clear the table and out of the main line of travel.
If it is windy, or the road is particularly cambered, runners will often naturally form a single file or thin line as the race stretches out. However, if it is just you and one other poor runner, by yourselves into the wind for five miles straight, it is bad form to just silently just have them take the brunt of the weather without offering to take turns if evenly matched. If you are hanging on to the pace for dear life and there is no way you could help, at least acknowledging their help or asking if it is ok for you to run along with them for a bit is far better than just wordlessly breathing down their throat the entire way.
Assorted other Do’s and Don’ts
Most importantly, keep it light and try not to take yourself so seriously when situations requiring etiquette occur. We all put a great deal of effort and time into our running, but most of us do so for the fun, relaxation, and enjoyment of the sport. Acting in a way that allows your fellow runners the chance to do so as well is the least each of us can do for each other.
February 20, 2013
Everything on your runcoach schedule has a purpose, and the long run is no different. In many half marathon and marathon training cycles, the long run seems like the tent pole of each week, the looming square on the calendar, by which the week is assessed as successful or otherwise. When asked about how our goal race training is going, we as runners often respond with data on our long run progression. Those numbers play a huge part in how prepared we feel for the big day, but what other purposes does the long run serve?
Long runs increase mitochondrial production and the distribution of capillaries (small blood vessels) in your muscles. Mitochondria take nutrients and convert them into fuel that can be used by each cell. Increased capillarization means a growth in the surface area of a muscle assisted by the network of small blood vessels. We all know what it feels like to wish we had more energy and oxygen delivered to our leg muscles. Long runs help achieve that exact aim.
Efficient Storage and Burning of Energy
Long runs typically are done at a non-hurried, aerobic pace of approximately 65-80% of your maximum heart rate (note that your pace chart might list “easy” and “long” as the same pace). Running for long periods of time at that effort level and approximate heart rate can both teach your body to store more energy (glycogen) because of depletion caused by previous long runs, and burn more fat as a percentage of energy used than shorter, harder runs.
Long runs teach your body to prepare physiologically for the stresses it will undergo on the big day, but they also are an opportunity for increasingly realistic dress rehearsals for things like mid-run fueling (Which drinks or gels work with your stomach?), and race day clothing (Will these shorts chafe?). Other than successfully receiving a chip time, there should be very few things you do on race day that you have not yet practiced on a long run along the way.
When your longest lifetime run is 6 miles, beginning a marathon training cycle can seem daunting to say the least. However, as the distances increase, so will the number of times you have tried something new, endeavored to complete a run longer than you ever have before, and have had to employ belief in the face of an undetermined result. A race the length of a half or full marathon is guaranteed to include some high points and low points. Long runs help equip you to weather these ups and downs on race day with the confidence of an experienced athlete even if your marathon bib is your first.
Undoubtedly, long runs are a crucial piece of the machinery in your preparation for your goal race. While preparing your body to handle the physical rigors of race day, they also build confidence and help your mind develop strategies for convincing you to get to the finish line on time. While the race is the goal, long runs are a fantastic way to measure our growth as runners along the journey, and remind us of the many joys and lessons running can provide on any given day.
February 13, 2013
Your legs suddenly feel dead, your breathing is labored, the weather seems too hot, too cold, too windy to possibly make the whole distance at the planned pace. Now here comes a side stitch, and your knee suddenly feels weird when it never has before. When the watch is consulted, the pace is the regular pace, a pace you know is well within what training has predicted. Unfortunately, it is still just a few miles in to a long race.
Welcome to the rough patch.
A “rough” patch or a “bad” patch – whatever word is more familiar – is a common occurrence during a long workout, run, or race. Sometimes, for various reasons, things just don’t seem to be going as easily as they should, even when justified, late race fatigue is clearly not the reason. While experienced racers can lean on previous races where they have been able to emerge from tough stretches to have a good day by the end, the rough patch feeling can be scary for a first timer.
The first thing to know is that these periods can and will occur, sometimes for a mile or two, sometimes for even 5K. The second thing to know is that a calm demeanor and confidence in your training will carry you even as you don’t feel as fresh as you wanted. Afterwards, you’ll realize that 10-20 minutes later, you began to feel like your recognizable self again. Next time out, you will feel better about the eventual passing of these rough patches.
While you are “keeping calm and carrying on,” here are a few tips for actions you can take to weather the patch.
Reset your posture
If you feel like you are slumping, your core is mushy, and your posture is dropping, raise your hands above your head straight up for a moment, stretching the spine and engaging your core and upper body into a taller position. Drop your hands back into your normal arm swing, and enjoy a more efficient and taller body posture, and hopefully a few minutes of easier running.
Focus on slowing your breathing pattern
Deep breaths from your diaphragm make a much bigger impact on the distribution of oxygen to your muscles than shallow panting. To calm yourself, and distract from the temporary rough patch, focus on slowing your breathing pattern into a 2 or 3 beat slow and deep inhale (in-in-in-out-out-out) rather than a quick in and out pattern.
Focus 10-15 meters ahead of you
When the race suddenly seems way too long for how you currently feel, avoid focus on an intimidating horizon ahead or a mile marker you can barely make out in the distance. Keep your head neutral (chin is level, neck extending naturally from the shoulders) and focus on the road going by 10-15 meters in front of you. Before you know it, you’ll be arriving nearer to the next mile marker, where a quick glance won’t seem as defeating.
Consume some calories
Sometimes, a rough patch might occur due to a drop in energy or dwindling hydration. If this is the case and things are going south quickly, it may be tougher to regain your normal energy level in a timely enough fashion to fix things (it may be more than just a rough patch). However, sometimes a gel packet or a cup of electrolyte fluid can cause significant improvement in how you feel. Obviously, the best bet is to consume enough on schedule so that type of rough patch can be avoided. If you have missed the mark in your race day nutrition execution, don’t discount the chance to right the ship at least partly.
Force yourself to think logically
If you did your longest runs in training at a pace faster than what now feels way too fast at mile 5 of a marathon, remind yourself of how your body is physically prepared to handle the stress of the current pace, regardless of how you currently feel. You have empirical evidence on your side. Don't let some nerves, some spotty race day nutrition, some lethargy from tapering, or another reason have you questioning your capabilities. Remind yourself repeatedly how well you have done in training to lead to this point and how your body has come through before and will again. By the time you win the argument, you might already be feeling a bit better.
Go for the small wins
If you are going through a tough stretch 3-4 miles into a half marathon or 8 miles into a marathon, thinking about the remaining miles can be daunting. Consciously focus on a nearer term goals to help you build mental momentum. If you are at 8 miles, focus on getting to 10, at which point you can focus on staying in it mentally until the half, at which point you can remind yourself you are over halfway home. If you are at a race with a turnaround, commit to arriving at the turnaround before reevaluating whether or not you can continue at your current or planned pace. Many times if you refrain from evaluating your situation (currently a bummer) right then, you will find yourself in a more hopeful spot in a while, after which your desire to finish strong will help carry you toward the banner.
February 07, 2013
Merriam-Webster defines fitness as a noun with the following two meanings:
Although running can (and we hope it is) a long-term, healthy lifestyle activity with no end in sight, it also encourages the occasional evaluative exercise – periodic tests where runners can challenge themselves against their expectations for either or both definitions.
Occasionally, the average runner will succeed in both, and if you train with runcoach, we want to make sure that success is more than occasional. Sometimes, we as runners succeed in the first by measurements taken in the doctor’s office, while being held back from succeeding in the second due to forces beyond our control, like weather, hills, or water stations that run out. Likewise, we can be capable of a certain task or distance, but perhaps not the one we need (fast, but no endurance, lots of endurance, but no speed), or with the health required to actually complete the job on the day (blister, turned ankle, flu).
We value being physically fit and our health as important running goals, because they allow for a more vibrant, full, and long live, and provide a broader platform from which to choose our pursuits; race goals included. Fulfilling purpose in a race allows us to apply the first definition to a specific aim, guided perhaps by workouts geared exactly toward the type of preparation needed. This is where we come in.
Runners often approach a fitness goal with both aims in mind. Unfortunately, these dual goals can be knocked off track by tangential aims which are temptingly close to these core definitions, but which often can draw us away from the mark. Weight loss can be good for overall fitness if indicated by a medical professional, but is definitely not always synonym for the achievement of fitness. Likewise, The ability to accomplish a task is not the same as being properly prepared to do it safely. How many of us have heard of or know people who have completed marathons off of woefully inadequate training. They have made it, but the next day, we don’t envy their body’s task as it recovers.
The good thing about both definition of fitness is that the evaluation of whether or not we have met the mark is completely subjective. Sure, there are generally understood measures of health, but only we know what aspects of overall body fitness are the knobs we need to twist first and most often. Similarly, the “task” we are trying to be suited for is completely open for our own interpretation and therefore the accomplishment can be legitimate even if celebrated by us alone.
While according to Merriam-Webster, either of these definition are labeled “fitness”, ideally, the goals you choose will incorporate a consideration of both. If you are able to marry your best interest in the sustainable long-term with a nearer term concrete goal or task, you’ll walk away with not only just fitness, but fitness to spare.
Marily Oppezzo has her Masters in Nutritional Science, is a Registered Dietitian, and is a PhD candidate at Stanford University. She has years of clinical and research experience, has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in nutrition and sports nutrition, and is committed to sharing accurate health information to the public. She is also a personal trainer and group aerobics instructor.
In this edition of Ask the Practitioner, we ask Oppezzo a few questions commonly encountered among recreational runners of all levels.
1. What is carbo-loading? Also, if I am running a 5K or 10K, is this something I need to be doing the same way as I might for a marathon?
Carbo-loading is when runners increase carbohydrate consumption for 1-2 weeks prior to race day in order to “load” or expand glycogen storage in the interest of prolonging fatigue during the marathon. The studies that have found carbo-loading benefits have shown it at levels of 7 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight, sometimes even higher. One recent study showed that those runners who consumed 7 g of carbs per kg body weight the day before the marathon ran on average 6.3% faster than those who didn’t carbo-load (Atkinson et al., 2011). Exciting! But be sure if you are doing this to avoid too many high-fiber, whole grain sources of the carbs, especially the day before the race. While research has shown men to benefit from carbo-loading by simply shifting their calories from fat and protein towards carbohydrate-rich food, women only increase their glycogen stores if they also increase their energy intake (one study specifically had them eat about 33% more calories than weight-maintenance levels).
Carbo-loading won’t help you for races less than two hours, so no need to bagel-up on a 5 or 10k.
2. If I'm trying to train for a half marathon or marathon distance partly as a effort to lose some weight, what is some advice you can give about how to do this safely even as I am ramping up my training?
Good for you! Training for a long distance race is a great way to lose weight, but you’re wise to check on how to safely do this. To lose one pound, you generally have to burn about 3500 calories (ish) more than you eat. Start off by going to a site such as http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/calorie-calculator/NU00598 to get a rough estimate of your caloric needs based on your sex, weight, height, and current activity levels. Then, shave off about 15% of that to achieve a deficit to help you drop the weight. While many weight-loss diets recommend a cut of 500-750 calories to achieve a 1-2 pound weight loss each week, it will be difficult to sustain your training levels for anything more than a 500 calorie deficit.
To optimize training recovery and performance, you should consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes after your running workouts. You should still follow these guidelines, but because you are trying to lose weight, you will have to plan ahead to shave the calories from other meals or places in your day. The specific recommendations for carbohydrate replenishment are .7 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight within 30 minutes. If your run was extra intense or exceeded 90 minutes, continue this carb rule every 2 hours for 4-6 hours post-workout. For protein, to help with muscle repair, have 20-30 grams of protein within 30 minutes post-run.
My recommendation? The best post-workout drink appears to be chocolate milk, as it has the optimal ratio of carbs to protein, and is quite portable (and yummy to boot!)
You should weigh yourself weekly, and aim for a slow progression of the weight loss: 1-1.5 pounds per week. If you stay on top of this, you can tweak your caloric deficits accordingly on a weekly basis, especially as your mileage increases. Rapid weight loss will take away too much of your needed, and metabolically active, muscle tissue, as well as hurt your training. So…patience is key.
PS- Weight loss will get harder as you become more fit (what an awful truth that is!) So, as training goes on, you will want to switch up your workouts by incorporating intervals into your routines, where you periodically increase your heart rate to a high level with recovery breaks in between bursts. Research has shown that interval training can elevate your “post-run” metabolic burn more than a steady state aerobic workout. It’s a fun way to spice up your training as well as help overcome any plateaus in your weight-loss progress.
3. I used to get up and run right away on an empty stomach. Why is this not a good idea, and what are a couple tips for improving this aspect of my training?
If you are highly trained, you could probably get away with it. But it’s best to have something in your stomach to break the 8-hour plus fast you had during the night. When you wake up, your liver glycogen is almost “half empty” because of the fuel you used to keep yourself alive throughout the night. Before you run you should try at least to get 100-200 quick energy calories, something easily digestible such as fruit juice, dried fruit, or even some yogurt. Keep it right by your bedside even so you can munch or sip while you put on your running shoes.