Feb 212010

Maybe you’ve never run before or maybe it’s just been so long that you feel like you are a beginner all over again. Don’t fear the road; conquer it!

First remember not only the tangible matters when it comes to getting results. Yes, a leaner body and plenty of long distance training under your belt will help. However, what matters most comes from the inside. By overcoming your limitations and obstacles, you learn to feel more confident about yourself.

First, analyze your current lifestyle and find the time you need to commit to running. If you can’t fit it all in at once, take two short runs duing the day. In the beginning, establish a schedule you know can work. Don’t worry about how far you’ll run, just plan for a certain amount of time. Interval training is a great way to build up your mileage. Try running for thirty seconds, then walking for a minute. Power walking also improves aerobic conditioning. When you can’t run, you can use walking as an active recovery.

Remember; don’t forget about activity and rest. Running too much creates risks of burnout and injury. Running too little means you won’t improve much and could leave you shy of your your goals. As your goals change, so should your training schedule. If you are training for a race, adjust speed, time, and/or frequency of training to match what you’re working toward.

Often improper form or poorly fitting shoes can lead to unnecessary joint paint. Consult with someone at a highly recommended running shop, where an expert watches you run outside or on a treadmill. They will be able to analyze what type of shoe suits your stature and movement patterns and tell you whether a shoe insert may be of help. Remember to follow recommended mileage limits for shoes. Running on worn-out sneakers, which have most of the cushioning compacted and broken down, is asking for an injury.

If you get out of breath quickly when running, slow down and work on establishing a pace that you can maintain for 20 or more minutes. A lot of beginning runners make the common mistake of running too fast. Try to run so you can speak to another person and breathe comfortably. Using a heart rate monitor can help you get a feel for whether you are working at a good pace. Most fit individuals without cardiovascular risks and who are not taking medication which lowers blood pressure should do aerobic training at a heart rate between 60 and 80 percent of their maximum heart rate. As you get stronger, you can increase your pace without having your heart rate go up any higher and your heart rate will drop more quickly whenever you slow your pace or stop exercising.

If you get a side cramp, try slowing your pace. If this doesn’t help, then reach your arms up over your head to see if the gas bubble moves.

Post-exercise stretching is imperative for reducing post-exercise muscle soreness, preventing injuries and maintaining flexibility. Stretch all major muscle groups worked – quadriceps, hamstrings, piriformis/gluteals, inner thighs, and calves. Hold the following stretches for about 30 seconds while taking deep breaths to enhance the relaxation response.

Don’t let your fears or anxieties about running stop you from going out and giving it a try. Its a sport that can be done almost anywhere by almost anybody.

Feb 122010

Ron Johnson Meet 2009Performing poorly when injured is something very easy for me to write about today since I’m in the midst of it. In November, I swam four butterfly events at a swim meet in Phoenix and at times, it was so cold (for me, at least), that I avoided cooling down after my races.

After swimming 8 individual events and 6 relays, I won the high point award for my age group and took home that as well as shooting pain in my rotator cuff and my neck. I hoped a few days of ice and rest would be enough to make it go away, but the pain was relentless. The only time I didn’t hurt is when I took ibuprofen every few hours and did absolutely nothing in the way of arm movements. It hurt if I tried to swim, it hurt to put on a shirt, it hurt when I typed. Heck, it even hurt to do something as normal as reaching and picking something up!

After a month of doing mostly kicking in practice and grimacing when I did everything else, I sought help from a physical therapist. He believes that a slight postural anomaly is restricting normal movement in my shoulder, so I am doing exercises to improve my alignment and being careful of how I train. Just this week, I have resumed normal swimming practices three days a week, although I’m going to wait another month or so before I go back to swimming four days a week.

You simply can’t perform your best when injured. I know, because I tried a meet last month and with disastrous results. There was a lesson to be learned from the experience, though. I knew how much I would have to do once my shoulder is back to normal to regain my old swimming speed. And I found that a little discouraging at first. But then I remembered why I am in the pool anyway. First and foremost, I swim for health and fitness and because my whole day goes much smoother after a good workout. Those of us who are highly competitive are better off not to try to compete when injured because, quite frankly, our egos don’t take losing very well. It can also make you want to work at a highter intensity than your injured body is ready to.

Be sure that you allow the rehabilitation process to work, which it won’t if you push too hard before your injury has had time to mend. Shoulder injuries can be especially stubborn because don’t get as much blood flow to the shoulder girdle as to other muscles in the body. For this reason, healing takes longer. Not being a very patient person, this has been a really hard pill for me to swallow.

Here are some suggestions to help you endure the rehabilitation experience so that you have a better chance of eventually getting back to peak performance:

1) lower your expectations temporarily – that way you won’t push too hard, too soon. Think about staying in shape and maintaining health instead of pushing to the limit. Listen to your body. If it starts to hurt in training, you need to back off.
2) enlist the help of a physical therapist who can assess your condition and give you exercises to rehabilitate the injury or realign your posture for less restricted movement.
3) extend your warm-up and cool down. Warm muscles perform better and with less injury and a cool down will reduce tightness in the muscles and connective tissue that may cause pain. It will also induce a relaxation response to make you feel less tense during the day (think about how all that tension can end up in your neck and shoulders).
4) Do active stretches before your workouts. Some of my favorites for swimming are shown in the article on the USA Swimming web site listed below. A similar version of this article also appeared in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of USMS Swimmer. Some of my favorite active stretches for running are shown in Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running book. http://www.usaswimming.org/USASWeb/_Rainbow/Documents/cac67f9f-4bae-4d19-bfeb-8e3f25e73dab/Active%20Warm%20Up%20040809.pdf
5) Find strategies to trasport you into a positive frame of reference – meditation, breathing, reading, etc. This has been a reall struggle for me, since I use exercise as an antidepressant and cutting back my training sometimes leaves me feeling a bit downhearted. I can’t believe all the negative chatter rattling around in my head – Omigod, I feel so old…I’ll never be able to swim fast again…I can’t even do this right, I might as well go home…Why am I swimming in the dark? Have I lost my mind?

Do your best to shut down the chatter before it gets you down! Then you can insert some positive dialogue. My shoulder (fill in part of the body) doesn’t hurt as bad as it did last week, maybe I’m getting better…At least I’m trying to do something instead of doing nothing at all….Even if I’m not too fast today, at least I’m doing something good for my mind and body at the start of the day…

If you struggle with depression, you’re not alone. I struggle with it sometimes, too and it is yet another thief trying to steal away our peak performances. I’ll discuss depression in the next article in this series.

Feb 042010

Susan Dawson-Cook before the La Jolla Roughwater Swim 2009This series of articles will discuss factors (such as warm-up, injuries, depression, boredom, training plateau, diet, and sleep), which may be a detriment to your athletic performance. In most articles, I will speak from a personal experience platform. Your job is to read what I’ve written and decide if any of these issues apply to you. The first article in the series discusses the affect of cold and improper (too short) of warm-up on performance. Happy reading…

We’ve all had our bad days when it comes to athletic performance. I personally have had more than I care to remember. Often I perform poorly when its very cold. If the pool water is too cold, I knot up and swim poorly. If the air is cold and I’ve been shivering, I can’t swim, bike or run well. I also don’t do so well when I do a quick warm-up before a swim race or triathlon. The race seems to hurt more than usual and I find myself performing poorly. This has become even more of an issue in my “over 40” years. This body needs at least 30 minutes to get up and running!

Here’s one of my poor-performance-due-to-cold (and my own poor judgement) stories. Last spring, I did a sprint triathlon here in Tucson. The swim was in the pool and I did just great, got out, the sun was shining, so I hopped on my bike with no sweatshirt and during the ride, the wind picked up, the clouds moved in and the temperature dropped 10 degrees (it must have been about 40, which is quite cold to someone who has lived in Tucson for 22 years). I started shivering during the ride and pretty soon my legs constricted and by the time I finished the ride, I was almost hypothermic. It took me almost five minutes to get my bike shoes off and running shoes on, I was shivering so much! I then donned a sweatshirt and started the run, but my muscles were so tight by then, I actually collapsed once on the course and had to walk until the cramp went away. I was almost 6 minutes off my best time! Yikes! If only I’d grabbed that sweatshirt before getting on my bike, the whole disaster might have been averted.

Here’s what I normally do to combat the cold. On a cold day, I spend more time warming up before a race. Sometimes it takes me almost 40 minutes to get to where both joints and muscles are feeling their best. I also wear plenty of warm clothes and try to find a place I can stay inside before the race (my car, a nearby building, etc). If I am doing a swimming race, I keep my clothes on until the last possible minute (if you someday see me dive off the blocks with a jacket on, you’ll know I got really nervous) and then I do limbering activities (rubbing the muscles, circling my arms, twists) to keep the muscles warm. Sometimes I take hot showers between races.

If you are especially lean or over 40, cold might be a detriment to your performance, too. Make sure you stay warm not only before the race, but during. And always do enough warm-up pre-race that muscles feel loose and limber and ready for action. It will take longer to warm-up a cold body than a warm one, so keep that in mind when you plan your pre-race warm-up.

Feb 012010

Deciding what to eat pre-race can be a challenge at best, a performance buster at worst. Hundreds of articles  tell us what’s best to eat  and drink before a race, but we all digest food a bit differently, to me, it makes sense to do some individual research on your own body to see what’s really best. Its been my experience that the magic bullet for one athlete is the fatal one for another. For example, most energy gels and bars cause me major intestinal distress. My husband, Chris,  does  half marathons and is a Shot Blok addict! He just wouldn’t leave the house on race day without them. For me, anything with major caffeine is sayanara. And anything with a lot of preservatives is pretty close to the same. While I can stomach exactly one sports drink and very few foods, an Arizona Masters teammate at the 2009 SCY USMS Nationals in Fresno chugged a Starbuck’s Cappucino before diving in the water to set a national record. I couldn’t have drank that and swam well to save my life!

After a few very uncomfortable races, I began experimenting with foods to figure out what worked best. In general, I do well with a light diet of mostly simple carbohydrates before a race. Most of the time, I eat an English muffin with creamed honey and a banana. Occasionally I eat waffles and grapes. Oatmeal, my favorite breakfast on non-racing days, makes me feel too heavy when I compete.

I finally found a sports drink that keeps me hydrated without upsetting my stomach. XOOD. The green tea formula is absolutely the best. I have suffered intestinal distress for years during races, especially after running.  I tried a sample of this drink at a trail running race 9 and ever since, XOOD has been a part of my calm stomach as well as my racing plan!

Here’s a few quick suggestions to help you figure out what to eat and drink pre-race:

1 – Experiment with foods before a training session. If you plan to eat 90 minutes before a race, eat 90 minutes before you train. If you have a good workout afterward, try it a few more times to see if you can get consistent good performance results with that meal. If you get a bad result, move onto something else. In general, you want to be hydrated and eat foods rich in simple carbohydrates.  Simple carbohydrates are digested rapidly so that energy can be delivered to the muscles. Complex carbohydrates consumed in the days leading up to  the race will also enable your muscles to store extra glycogen which will also enhance performance. Proteins and fats are slower to digest. Eat too much of these  on race day and you will have more e blood flowing to your stomach than the muscles and will likely feel sluggish. Experiment with amount as well as the kind of food. If you are too hungry when you race, you may feel weak or get an upset stomach.

2 – Never try something new on race day. Although my stomach is more sensitive than most, I have found this to be a disaster every time I have tried it!

3 – You may need a different diet and to eat different amounts of food to prepare for different races. I eat less when preparing for running races compared to a sprint triathlon or a swimming race. If you are doing a race that will take more than 90 minutes, it is prudent to replenish yourself with energy drinks and gels or light food along the way.

Below are some foods I prefer pre-race:

-English muffins, waffles, toast, bread, berries, grapes, bananas

Below are foods I consider too heavy to eat pre-race:

-bagels, oatmeal, pancakes, eggs, steak, bacon

Below are foods that upset my stomach pre-race:

-dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese), citrus fruits

Well I hope you are ready to begin your research. If you keep track of what works and what doesn’t, before you know it, you’ll have your own winning formula for a pre-race meal.

2009 Tri XOOD Racing Team Weekend Training in Patagonia

2009 Tri XOOD Racing Team Weekend Training in Patagonia