Monday, August 3, 2009

Getting the most out of running

I hated running when I was growing up. Nothing was more boring than running track during PE. Now I run 3-4 days a week, have finished seventeen marathons and live for the incredible gains running provides.
I got the joy through Team in Training, an incredible endurance training program that benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They took me from the work-travel runner (only way to see the cities I was in, since the rest of the time was in conference rooms) to marathon finisher in 5 months. Now I'm addicted.
TNT taught me three very important lessons which I think are the key to getting the most out of running.

1. Friendship. Nothing beats running with friends. Turn off the iPod and tune into the people around you. I've made the most incredible friends through the program - friends I still run with to this day and hope are with me the rest of my life.

2. Cadence. If you think the key to running is long strides, think again. The key to distance running, endurance running, is a high cadence, or number of foot strides per minute. The higher your cadence the shorter your stride, the more you conserve energy and the less impact on your body. Elite runners average close to 95 strides per minute (that's a left and a right footstrike). It took me about three days of training to get it, but once I got it, I got faster, stronger and more efficient.

3. Get the right equipment. I learned all the equipment lessons the hard way. Big mistakes: cotton underwear, socks, shirts, shorts and hats (cotton seems to be the enemy), fashion running shoes, the wrong food, the wrong hydration. You name it, I've made the mistake with equipment. If you only plan to run 1-3 miles you can do fine with just about any equipment, but up it to 10-26, forget about it. Now I'm very particular about my equipment and it makes a world of difference.

Why is there such a dearth of good, objective running advice and product reviews on the Internet? Why is there such a dearth of good advice on where to run?
Enough. Do something about it. That's the goal of this blog. Hope it helps a few of you out there.

I don't work for any company affiliated with running and have no bias. I'm just an enthusiastic amateur runner hoping to help others enjoy the sport that has brought so much joy to my life.

My favorite equipment (right now):
Shoes: Asics Gel Culumus - An excellent cushioned running shoe that is great for long distance training. Highly recommend them if you have a neutral strike. Go at least a full size up from your usual dress shoe size so you avoid black toes.
Socks: Adidas UltraTech Cusion No Show. Breathable, skin tight, no blister, no sweat socks. Socks are crucial to running. Don't skimp here. Nearly all the Adidas running socks are good. These have a nice feel and last many washings.
Shorts and Shirts: Anything Dri-Fit or ClimaCool or from a similar fabric. Nike has some cool looks and wild colors. Adidas is more neutral and its styles are pretty consistent from season to season. Asics and Brooks are nice too, but harder to find. Sugoi is a bit pricier but has some nice features like wicking patterns, iPod pockets and other features you may like. Pick up Sub4 gear if you can find it. They used to be huge in running gear but have faded badly. For shorts make sure they are real running short, with the built in underwear. Another alternative is to get compression shorts and wear them underneath a DriFit-style short that doesn't have the built in underwear (but not advisable in hot weather).
Underwear: Forget it. Don't even bother with the sports underwear from UnderArmor and others. You don't need it.
Sensitive Area Protection: BodyGlide. This is a must, people. If you run more than 6 miles without it, its your funeral. This stuff protects your sensitive areas from rubbing and creating a rash. It is essential stuff.
Hydration: Accelerade Lemon Lime. You can run short distances with water and go a bit longer with Gatorade, but if you plan to do 15miles or longer get a solution that keeps the carbs up, helps you manage sodium and tastes good. This is my favorite. I store it in an ingenious bottle called the Hydraform from Amphipod that is shaped to fit your hand and has a comfortable strap that goes over your hand so you don't have to grip the bottle the whole way. Very nice.
Food: GU Energy Gel Plain or Vanilla Bean. Forget the PowerBars, Granola Bars, and other foods, when you are running you need nutrition that gets to your muscles fast and nothing is faster than energy gel. There are lots of makers of this kind of stuff. For me, GU is the right amount, the right taste and right consistency. When it's really hot out I switch to their Sublime Lemon flavor which is easier on the stomach.
When selecting a running food, try as many different varieties as you can, until you find one you really like, then stick with it. Carrying energy gels can be an issue. Some shorts have pockets on the side where it flops around, others have a pocket in the back and others have no pockets at all. So I store my GU in a small clip-on pouch from Amphipod. It's lightweight, comfortable and stores up to 4 GUs at a time - perfect for a marathon.
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 305. Killer app for the distance runner. It's a bit bulky but doesn't weight very much and for the features, totally worth it. It's a GPS watch that tracks (and maps) where you go, gives you distance, pace, heart rate, calories burned, time, splits, elevation and more and stores up to 6 months of runs at a time. You can download the runs to a PC with some good software called Training Center. My favorite feature is the virtual partner where you can set a pace you want to hit for a certain run and a virtual runner on the watch will run with you. The watch alerts you if you are ahead or behind this pace runner. Very valuable.

I'm kind of a sucker for running equipment so will share my reviews and thoughts on some of this equipment in this blog from time to time. If you have favorite equipment or comments on the equipment mentioned here, let me know.

See you on the trails!

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