Hurdle on an athletic track

How long have you been running? It’s not something you think about, is it? Somebody asked this question recently. After some quick math, I came up with over 20 years. Twenty years!! Considering how vivid my memories of those first runs are, it’s hard to believe it has been that long. I suppose it’s not surprising that, over the years, I’ve had people ask me for tips. If they’re new to running, the answers are typically focused on the importance of a good pair of running shoes, decent technical wear, stretching and just sticking with it.

There are even more tips I would share for people who have made it over what I affectionately call “The Hurdle.” Imagine a hurdle on a track; it’s tall, and it feels like you’ll never be able to get over it. Every run before you’re able to leap over that hurdle is painful. Running stings. You walk a lot. You become certain there is no such thing as “runners high,” and you begin to curse people who happily slap those 13.1 stickers on their cars.

Yet, when you finally get over that hurdle, running changes. I don’t think it ever gets easy. But it feels a bit more effortless. You find a rhythm. When every step stops being a reminder about how far you have to go, you can find a real sense of pleasure in running.

If you are a Hurdle Jumper, here are my 5 & 5 — five tips and five products I recommend for runners.

5 Tips for Runners

1. Core work. It is very important to add core training into your routine. Running puts a lot of demands on your body. Developing a strong core allows your entire body to assist in the effort – by creating stability, and improving the quality and efficiency of your run. And, despite how the term is commonly used, core is much more than your abs. It is everything that gives your center of gravity strength. That means your abdominals, lower back, obliques and even your pelvic floor muscles. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time. Here are a few links to great routines that you can do in 15 minutes or less.

2. Speed work. My running improved dramatically when I regularly added speed work into my training. For me, it is at least one day a week of something that moves the intensity up the scale. To improve, our bodies need to learn how to train at intensity, how to clear lactic acid efficiently, and push through pain. There are a number of track workouts available online.

A very straightforward workout is the 6 x 200. Warm up on a track for a mile or two, easy pace. Then, do 200 meters at your 5k pace, jogging between sets for 200 meters. Cool down for a mile. I also like 6 x 400s, with 400 meters at 5k pace, jogging 200 between sets.

When I can’t get to a track, I locate a stretch of road that is somewhat straight and as flat as possible (though, invariably, there will be hills) and do quarter mile repeats, jogging back to the start after each set.

I also throw in short, fast runs in a pinch. A 3-mile run that is a little slower than your 5k pace is a great and simple way of incorporating some speed work. Even running stairs is a great way to push your anaerobic effort.

3. Put the pasta down. It is easy to tell yourself that you need to carb up. But that doesn’t work for everyone. And it’s easy to mindlessly pack on pounds and get less protein than you need. Protein builds muscle. Muscle is needed to gain the strength that protects your body from the impact of running. It also helps muscles heal faster. Don’t give up carbohydrates; your body does still need them to properly process proteins and other vital nutrients. But, all too often, people think they need more than they really do. The answer isn’t always a giant bowl of pasta. Have your protein with a side of carbs. Think Greek yogurt and oatmeal. Or chicken wraps with corn tortillas and vegetables. If you’d like a little more scientific exploration of this topic, give this a read.

4. Go data-less. Data can be a fantastic tool. Devices like Garmin help us understand our pace, heart rate, zones, elevation and more. It gives us insight into improving. Yet, all that data distracts us from “feeling” our runs. While I do most of my training with my Garmin, I try to be as in tune with my body as possible. So I switch the screen and don’t look at my data until after the run (with the exception of my speed work). Many also know that I go music-less (that’s another story). I try to use my body to feel distance and pace, and to push myself. If you can’t get out on a run and take a guess at your pace, or how far you have gone, I consider that a clear sign that you need a lesson in tuning into your body. It’s not always about training in a zone, or at a certain pace. You cannot forget the love of running. Feeling your body move. Hearing your feet hit the ground. Give it a try — put the device down and just run. Be free.

5. Be consistent. I give this tip to newbies and long timers alike. It is particularly easy to reduce your running volume when you’re a triathlete. And you should, to a certain extent. But to really build a base and continue to improve your running, you have to be dedicated. That means more than just a couple runs a week. Whenever I find myself in a slump, I do immersion running — doing a run every day. It helps me build back up and renew focus. For me, it’s shorter miles (usually around 3), in between my mid distance weekly runs. Scheduling doesn’t always make this easy. But if you keep the miles short, you can almost always squeeze in and extra 20 or thirty minutes somewhere.

5 Products for Runners

1. Wright Socks. If you have problems with blisters and sweaty feet like I do, you’ll appreciate these socks. They are a double-layer sock that redistributes the friction that causes blisters.

2. Brave Solider Friction Zone. This can be a pretty individual thing, but I really love Brave Solider. I started using it for cycling, and realized quickly that it works very well for running if you suffer from chaffing at all. Occasionally, my shorts will give me trouble on long, humid runs and this stuff stays put. It also smells a bit herbal and totally fantastic.

3. Amphipod Handheld Bottle. Finding a bottle that doesn’t leak and feels acceptable to hold for hours is harder than you might think. For longer runs, this Amphipod handheld bottle fits the bill. It has an ergonomic design and a flexible neoprene band that ratchets for a snug fit, a pouch that holds a couple of gels and a key. And, it doesn’t leak. A total keeper.

4. Coppertone Sport. Have you ever had a run where you thought you were suffocating in your own skin? I have learned the hard way that not all lotion and spray sun blocks are created equal for athletes. Generally, lotions have clogged my pores. That will ruin a run in a nanosecond. Coppertone Sport, however, has consistently worked. For the summer months, it is a staple. I need a frequent buyer card.

5. Road ID. If you run alone, you owe it to yourself to pick up a Road ID. Should the worst case scenario happen, your vital information, emergency contact and insurance information are all stored on the Road ID website via a pin number. If it doesn’t give you peace of mind, it should provide it to your family.

[UPDATE: Triathlete Magazine just shared news about an app Road ID has issued for free. I downloaded it within five minutes of reading the piece.  It has two functions – an “ecrumb” tracker and a lock screen. The ecrumb is a tracker that you turn on, so friends and family don’t worry why your 3 hour ride is taking 4. It lets them track your progress, so they don’t have to worry. The lock screen lets you add your vitals, and emergency contact, to the lock screen of your phone — easy access for emergency medicine, should it be necessary.]

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