Saturday, November 22, 2014

On 7:54 AM by RunCast in    No comments
Using our smart phones makes us sit slouched for hours and that may translate into the way we run. Here are some tips to keep your head high. We'll also tackle the importance of easy runs in training and especially focus on keeping them easy in the winter on the snow an ice.

Photo credit: Raban Haaijk / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The Atlantic: What Texting Does to the Spine
Video: Posture tips for those long days at work
3 Rules for Easy Runs
Runner's World Training Paces Calculator

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On 7:57 PM by RunCast in    No comments

I'd like to invite you to a trip. Wait, it's not WHERE you should ask, it's – WHEN! I am inviting you to a time-travel trip. We are going to Berlin in September 2011. Let's land right at Tempelhof, the old Allied airport, where the cold-war air bridge kept West Berlin connected to the rest of the West with its endless supply flights. The airport is out of function now, turned into a public park, but in its massive hangars is where I'm taking you. Runners Expo for Berlin marathon is being held here. The place is enormous, one huge hangar connects to another, and the third, and so on, each linked to the next by two sets of large doors. We walk until legs start feeling tired. Each hangar is filled with hundreds of booths offering any imaginable gadget or thing connected to running, and many more that have nothing to do with running. Our progress is a slow swim against the stream of people – mostly runners – pouring in and out through the doors. At the very last of those interconnected hangars is where we pick up the race kit. That's also where Adidas, the gear sponsor of the marathon had set its booth. And there, in a glass box, a worn yellow shoe stands on display. It was worn by Haile Gebrselassie right here in Berlin in 2008. In it, king Haile, the absolute ruler of the long distance running, ran the world record time of 2:03:59.

The king himself is at Adidas booth, posing for photographs and signing autographs. The man never stops smiling. But it's not his trademark smile, or his presence that makes this occasion so exciting; it’s the fact that he is running the Berlin marathon with the rest of us, chasing the ghost trail of his own old yellow shoe. He will try, at the age of 37, to break the record one last time.

I pose for a picture next to the shoe and wonder if it'll still be there next year. Sure, I'd love to see the record broken again, especially by him, but I know it's a slim chance. That 2 hours 3 minutes and 59 seconds seem so incredibly fast, I wonder if anyone will ever run faster.

Marathon Sunday is sunny and hot. As my energy melts in the heat I think of Haile. I'm running in his footsteps, although about an hour behind. I don't think he can break the record in this weather. And I am right - Gebrselassie pulls out of the race somewhere mid-course. What I am wrong about is - the record gets broken by Patrick Makau from Kenya, who ran 21 seconds faster than Haile's record.

In a weird way, I felt proud for running the race in which the new world record was set. Not that I had absolutely anything to do with it. Still, I reserve the bragging rights to be able to say, along with about 30,000 others, that I ran the race when the record fell.

But, what does it really matter to the rest of us whether some insanely fast runner breaks the record or not? And why should it matter?

I think I speak for many runners when I say it's a huge moral boost for the whole running community. Suffering through a marathon race makes us identify with the others who suffered through the same ordeal, even if they did it in only 2 hours. Although none of us will ever come close to that mark, every time the record inches closer to it, we all walk taller. Maybe just by doing the same thing, by participating, by running the same race, we promote the sport and in a microscopic way enable the fast guys to continue getting faster. The breaking of the world record is a symbol for each of us breaking through our own barriers and setting new limits. Imagine then what a celebration it will be when we – and I intentionally say WE, as a band of runners – push through the line even science once deemed impossible, the 2-hour marathon mark! Just like the number of kids kicking the soccer ball radically increases during the World Cup, imagine the tidal wave of new runners lacing up when that happens! What an inspiration, what a motivation it will be!

Since Berlin 2011, the record was broken two more times, in 2013 and 2014. It now stands at 2:02:57, less then 3 minutes off the mark. So close, yet so far away!

In order for a human to do this seemingly impossible feat, many things have to come together. If you are, like me, curious about a scientist's speculation on everything needed for such a dream record, listen to my conversation with Alex Hutchinson, a running scientist and columnist for Runners World magazine, in which he explains, speculates, predicts and contradicts all the factors that could lead to sub-2-hour marathon.

Friday, November 7, 2014

On 6:00 PM by RunCast in    No comments
Alex Hutchinson, a science columnist for the Runners World magazine, talks about crunching the data to determine what is needed for a human to run a marathon under two hours. Along the way, he muses why are the Kenyans so fast and so determined, why are the last few world records broken in Berlin and not London or Chicago, why Paula Radcliffe’s 2003 world record still stands and what are the chances that he’ll see the 2-hours record broken in his lifetime.

Photo credit: Drift Words / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

What Will It Take To Run A 2-Hour Marathon?
Sweat Science blog

Thursday, November 6, 2014

On 12:01 AM by RunCast in    No comments
Photo credit: demerson2 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

We know that running makes us happier. But, as all of us know well, running isn’t always smiles and happiness. There are times when it gets hard, when it feels like we are pushing an enormous boulder up a mountain, when it raises doubts about our physical and mental strength, when negative thoughts make us want to quit.

In a marathon race it all comes in a package somewhere around 30th kilometer, or 20th mile, the phenomenon known as “hitting the wall”. It happens when the energy reserves are so depleted that the body wants to shut down. On its own, those physical troubles are tough, but we can definitely plow through it. Just as we’ve heard about hitting the wall, we have also heard about the “second wind” when under some special inspiration and motivation we find the energy or willpower to pick up the pace and finish strong.

Unfortunately, the most devastating effect of “the wall” is of the psychological nature. Once it gets really hard, the first though usually is “I can’t go any further”. Such negative thoughts create doubts which eat away our resolve and confidence, until we’re reduced to a heap of slumping flesh dragging our feet dejectedly toward the finish. But, it doesn’t need to be that way.

Karen Quigley, a sport psychology consultant at True Form Coaching, has some important tips to boost your confidence and combat negative thoughts. Here are a few crucial points from her list.

The first and most important step for building your mental strength back up is to recognize when you’re having negative thoughts. As soon as that “I can’t go on” line pops up in your head, you should raise the alarm and attack it with a positive thought. The good one I use is “I am going to finish strong”. I even imagine myself crossing the finish line and that mental picture immediately makes my step lighter.

In a conversation for triathlon magazine Karen Quigley gives some other tips how to prevail over the negative thoughts that haunt your run.

Often we focus on external factors and blame them for hampering our performance. I have been guilty of that too, on windy days swearing at the wind gusts and sometimes even punching the air, as if I can knock the wind down. Quigley points out that the wind and other factors like the heat, rain and so on, are not lined up personally against you. The trick is to turn your thinking around and find the positive in the situation.

I know, now you wonder what on earth can be positive in wind pushing you back stronger than you can resist. Well, you can think “the wind bothers the other runners more than it bothers me” if you are in the race. I tried it recently on a training run, at it works too – I focused on a large guy walking ahead of me and thought how much bigger he is than me and how much more wind he has to fight than me. It was such an amusing thought, I almost felt sorry for the guy.

We need to try and find the positive spin in every situation that makes us miserable during the run. If it’s a hill that bothers you, imagine cresting its peak and flying down the other side. In my judo days, my coach always quoted a Japanese judo legend Kimura who would run up the slopes of Mt. Fuji shouting “what an amazing downhill”, making himself think how easy it’ll be to go down.

This kind of mental tricks work not only in specific situation during the run, but on a training in general. For example, try to find the positive for doing the kind of training you hate. If you hate speedwork, just remember it will make your legs stronger and make you run faster for longer time then if you just did a slow long runs. Likewise, if you hate trail running, just think how it helps strengthen the other small muscles in your feet and legs, and develop better running form than you would if you’re running only on pavement.

Finally, avoid comparing yourself to the others. We tend to always look at faster, stronger and better runners to compare to, and that usually knocks down the confidence in our own performance. Instead, compare yourself with your past self, remind yourself how much you’ve improved from a year ago, how much faster and better you are. When the doubt hits you hard, keep thinking how much you love what you do, and why you love it.

Away from the running path, surround yourself with positive people. When you fail to reach your goal, think of the things you learned from it and apply them the next time.

Positive thinking isn’t only a phrase, it’s an important part of running. And, like with every other part of the training, we may need some practice to be able to turn the negative thoughts around. Don’t let the blues bring you down – think pink and run strong!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On 12:01 AM by RunCast in    No comments
Photo credit: vale ♡ / Foter / CC BY

There are days when we return from work so stressed and anxious that going for a run is the last thing we want to do. It takes almost superhuman effort to get yourself out the door on such days. If we hesitate even slightly, our bad mood can keep us at home to brood over whatever put us in such mood. And, at the end of the day, we'll feel even worse.

But, if we resist the urge to sink into a chair and fret about the problem we can't solve, if we push our feet into sneakers and force ourselves out even for a short run, chances are we'll come back in much better state of mind and much better mood. The heavy weight on our mind may slow us down initially, but as the legs keep moving, it'll lift off, become lighter and may even evaporate completely.

There were days when something that happened at work would make me so angry that I literally rushed out as soon as I came home, to vent the frustration. Usually, what helped was a 6-8 kms run as fast as the lungs would let me. A word of caution – if you fall for an impulse like that, don't let yourself blast off straight from the door. Hold back for a few minutes to allow your leg muscles to warm up. Because, if you add an injury to your frustration, it's not going to make you feel better. You WILL feel better after you blew out some steam, that's guaranteed. If nothing else, you'll be too exhausted to carry the same amount of anger.

On the contrary, when we feel upbeat and happy we dance out the door and quite possibly prance with ease through the run. Afterward we feel even better. So, you see, our mood greatly affects how we go about running. But, it's a two-way street, and running also affects our mood, making us happier, and healthier. Here are a few positive ways in which running affects our mood, as outlined in the Elite Daily online magazine.

We all know about the runner's high – the blissful state of mind and body when everything seems effortless, when running feels like flying, when all life's problems seem trivial and nothing can wipe the grin off your face. You also may know that the cause for that smile is release of endorphins in the brain.

Endorphins are the brain chemicals which fall in the category of neurotransmitters. They transmit electrical signals within the nervous system. The release of endorphin is most commonly triggered by stress and pain. When we're hurt, endorphin interacts with opiate receptors in the brain to dull the pain, in a similar way the commonly used painkiller drugs do, like morphine and codeine. In addition to its painkilling function, the release of endorphin creates a feeling of euphoria, changes the appetite, triggers the release of sex hormones and increases the immune response. Other than the pain, the trigger to release endorphin can also be strenuous exercises, like distance running. The logical conclusion is that the more we run, the happier we feel, thanks to endorphins and the runner's high.

The other sphere of life affected by running is the social life. Even if you are like me and prefer to run alone, we are all still a part of a large running community. Running can be a common topic to kick-start a conversation with a complete stranger. Joining a running group can add a challenge into our own training, make runs more fun and create friendships, motivation and support other than what we usually get from old schoolmates, family or colleagues at work.

Furthermore, running entices production of antibodies. Since I’m already delving deep into chemistry, allow me to take you again to the microscopic levels of the body and describe what’s going on with the antibodies. How Stuff Works web site explains that antibodies are a special type of protein produced by the immune system. When bacteria, virus or other unwanted intruder attacks our organism, antibodies rush to the point of breached security, to borrow the NSA term, and attach themselves to the foreign cells, practically arresting them and waiting until immune system sends its SWAT team of T-cells, also called the “killer cells” to destroy the invader.

Happy people are more resistant to the diseases than stressed and anxious people. Their bodies produce up to 50 percent more antibodies than the downers do. However, exercise can boost the production of antibodies up to 300 percent. And that may be why while everyone arounds you sneezes and coughs, you may be the only one untouched by cold. So, keep clocking those miles, it’ll keep you more resistant to illness.

But wait, it gets even better – a new study by British and Canadian researchers found that exercising just three times each week cuts the chances of developing depression by 19 per cent. So, exercising – and running in particular can not only help people who already suffer from depression, but also be a good preventative measure.

If you are a seasoned runner, then you already are healthy and happy, right? But, there’s one other thing proven to make you feel even better. Running in the forest is the magic thing that can further reduce stress and increase your overall well-being. So, take advantage of the Fall with all its colors and cooler days. Get out in the nature and de-stress on the run.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On 6:00 AM by RunCast in    No comments
Photo credit: rosmary / Foter / CC BY

The idea for this post came from the blog titled "Is There a Non-Creepy Way to Run Behind a Woman?" The author Christian Coleman, as he describes in his article, is a young black man, 6-foot-tall and fit. One day he went for a run and along his usual route he came behind a white female runner. His average pace was faster than hers, and she seemed to run on his regular path, which created a conundrum for Coleman: if he continued his own pace, soon he would be right behind her, and maybe she'd feel threatened or scared. If he slowed down to her pace and she noticed him, she could equally feel that he is following her. What was he to do?

He decided to speed up and cross the street, so he caught up with the woman at opposite sides of an intersection and she just gave him a friendly wave as to a fellow runner. He wonders what may have happened if he caught up with her at her side of the street, and if she would have felt uneasy.

It's a fair question -- how is a guy to run behind a woman without scaring her? I never gave it much thought myself, but again I live and run in a low-crime area, and I don't think women around here feel especially threatened by running men. In Coleman's article is a reference to another story, written by a white female runner Karen Cordano. Her experience is actually quite scary. Going for a Sunday morning run she passed by a man on a bicycle and gave him a friendly wave, as she does to almost everybody she passes during the run. A short while later, the same man, a fit, tall, white guy, suddenly appeared to run alongside her. He didn't talk, and the longer he hung by her side the more freaked out she got. Finally, she did a u-turn and ran away from him, shaken and scared.

That brings us back to the question -- is there a nice way to run behind a woman? I pass by all kinds of runners, male and female; some are lost in thoughts, some pretend they don't see me, some glare at me as if I stole something theirs, but many others are friendly, smiling, waving. Overall, I'd say runners are the friendliest bunch you can pass on the street.

This summer on a few occasions I came across female runners, approaching them from behind. What I usually do in such cases is -- I don't change a thing in my running. If I'm going faster, I just keep going until I pass them. I do try to make more noise when I get close, to let them know I'm coming, and sometimes I'd speed up just to pass them faster, so they wouldn't think that I'm following them. When I'm passing them, I give them wider berth and usually wave and say something friendly and non-creepy, like "good pace" or "nice day for running", or even just "hi". It had never happened that they didn't smile or wave back, so I think I can pass as non-threatening runner.

Still, in running we should respect privacy distance. If coming onto a runner -- male or female -- from behind, make sure you don't run right onto their back, make yourself heard by making louder steps, or clearing throat or in any other way you can think of and once you're close to passing them, go wide to the side. If you happened to run the same pace as she does, talk to the her, make a friendly observation and if you notice that she feels uneasy, be a gentleman and change your route away from hers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

On 6:00 AM by RunCast in    No comments

Photo credit: Dafydd359 / Foter / CC BY-ND

As a tall and not particularly goodlooking male runner I was never concerned about my safety. It also helps to be a black belt in judo and a former champion familiar with self defense in a combat situation. But when my wife started running, I became aware of safety concerns every female runner must face. She is petite and, although I don't even want to think about it, she'd be an easy target for a large male attacker.

Nothing ever happened in our neighborhood, thankfully, but she told me on several occasions when she ran alone that some men were heckling her from the cars passing by, and in one instance even slowed to a crawl next to her and shouted something she ignored. Although we live in a really peaceful, friendly town, I worry about her out there by herself. Even more so if she runs in the dark. Most of the time I try to join her on the run, but there are times, especially during the training for a marathon, when she simply has to go out on her own. Then I try to follow her via RunKeeper Live and see her progress on the map. If she takes an unexpected turn, I would call her cell phone right away.

I recently came across a story of an Atlanta runner Elizabeth Kalife who was attacked during a mid-day run on a quiet residential street. The attacker grabbed and groped her, she started screaming and luckily he ran away. He was arrested and sent to jail. But she is never going to be able to run freely and alone, to enjoy her runs as she used to, as we all do. Now she runs always with a group, never alone, and carries with her a pepper-spray and a taser.

Self-defense websites and courses for female runners are many. The first lesson my old self-defense coach gave me was: "Avoid fighting at all costs. If you can run away, run! But, if you are attacked by a much larger and stronger opponent, you will only have a few seconds to disable him." By disable, he meant it literally -- I was supposed to harm the attacker so badly that he is incapable to continue attacking. The target areas were crotch, eyes, throat or nose, in that order of priority. "As soon as you hit him," the coach said, "run as fast as you can and scream for help. That's the real-life self-defense. The rest is Hollywood."

Unfortunately, very few of us are able to hit so hard or so precise. And you know what they say about an injured animal, how dangerous it is. So, instead of teaching my wife how to fight, we focused on prevention. She is a solitary runner and doesn't have a running buddy or a running group. So, when she runs on her own, she carries a whistle on a ring of her finger and runs on well lit, busy roads, on the sidewalk. She never approaches a car, even if it stops to ask her for directions, and if a car seems to block her path, she doubles back immediately. She avoids dark and deserted areas and if she runs with music, she wears "one good earbud" which is a single earphone that goes in one ear and combines two stereo channels into one.

She also signed up for Runkeeper Elite -- if you're not familiar with RunKeeper, it's a fitness-tracking web site and app for Apple and Android devices. The site is free, but also has a premium part. The elite subscription, which costs $20 per year, offers "live" option, which enables me to track her update live on the map. It shows where she is and how fast she goes, so I can call for help if I see anything suspicious.

I also tried Road ID app with a set of useful features. You can set the app to send a message if you stopped moving for a pre-assigned period of time. So if, say, you are stopped for 3 minutes, the app will immediately alert people who can help. You specify the recipients, and the app will send them an email, or an SMS, with the link to the map with your present coordinates. That's a great safety app to give you a peace of mind, but it's reactive, instead of pro active. Rather than having to use such app, or self defense, or taser, pepper spray and anything else, the best is to avoid getting in that situation if at all possible.

Austin Bonds of recently wrote safety tips for female runners. Here are some of the tips he outlined:

1. Avoid running alone when possible -- call a buddy, join a group, take the dog along, or, if all else fails, take hubby with you

2. Mix up the music with some meditation -- other than making sure you can hear the sounds from the surrounding, occasionally break the music with some quiet meditative sounds, or just pause the playlist altogether. While on the subject of music -- I am a big proponent of running with something to listen to, but I am strongly against the noise-canceling headphones. As annoying as it can be to have the wind blowing through your ears, and the loud trucks deafening your music, I suggest to choose earphones that don't seal off your hearing from the outside world.

3. Revise your routes -- mix them up, be unpredictable. If someone intends to stalk you, he won't be able guess where you are gong to run, and wait in an ambush.

4. Use your phone for more than status updates -- I already mentioned a couple of apps we use, but there are so many more. Do a research, connect yourself and your phone with people and services that can help keep you safe.

Finally, I'll repeat a few safety tips of my own:
- run in well lit, well-populated areas, the busier the better; try to run during the daylight whenever possible
- don't approach cars with people asking for directions; if a pedestrian tries to approach, keep a safe distance between you and him, and be ready to turn back if he comes to close. Never let him come to an arms-reach distance.
- get a whistle, it's the cheapest and simplest noise making device; it'll attract attention and distract the would-be attacker
- if you carry a pepper-spray or a taser, it's of no use if it's in your pocket or a pouch. You simply must carry it in your hand. If only a part of your route is deemed dangerous, then take the spray out of the pouch when you're approaching it. Don't count on being able to pull it out when you sense danger. Most of the victims don't have time to react.

Unfortunately, the world we live and run in could be a dangerous place, but I hope these tips will help you plan and have safe runs.