Jenny Simpson: No Matter How Many Times You Watch the Video it’s STILL Inspiring

The marathon has been taking up a lot of the spotlight as of yet, but we can’t forget that the rest of the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials are still ahead of us! So, 26.2′er, stop hogging the spotlight, and let the other events get some love already! ;)
woman runner on track
As a whole American Distance running is in a resurgence era…hallelujah! Among one of the big milestones was Jenny Simpson’s (nee Barringer) 1500 meter Gold at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. Quick reminder to those who aren’t aware, but it was not since 1984 that a woman took a Gold in ANY distance event at either the Olympics or the World Championships.

Competitor has a great article on all Simpson had to overcome just to get there; a quick recap includes a promising 2009 followed by sicknesses, injuries, and a whole lot of races where she felt like she wasn’t able to really show her true level of fitness. As anyone knows, the highs and lows are running can make or break an athlete, but she cross-trained and persevered. She also credits Deena Kastor’s Olympic Bronze for the marathon and 2008 Beijing roommate Shalane Flanagan, and her 10k Olympic Bronze, as huge inspirations…I think I would too.

At one of her lowest points, I love how Jenny’s husband was able to offer up some tough love and state the truth point blank. “Instead of him putting his arm around me and comforting me and telling me, ‘Oh, it’s going to be OK,’ he just looked at me straight in the face and said, ‘You have a lot of work to do. And we don’t have time for this.’ And that was just perfect,” admits Simpson.
(Photo Credit
Funny how an outside observer may think that as being cruel, but those who ‘get it’ have to appreciate the man…some situations really suck, you are entitled to a little venting, but after that you can choose to wallow or get proactive. Nice to see Jenny chose the latter and the proof is in the Daegu Gold.

Jenny Simpson’s got some big indoor meets coming up, including a 3000m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix as well as a 1500m at the Millrose Games. A nice recap of an interview she did is HERE, and in it she talks about goals for the upcoming year (including a repeated medal showing at the Olympics). But prior to the trials she takes aim at the breathtaking time Mary Slaney ran in 1980 at another Millrose 1500m…4:00.08 which was the world record at the time. “I don’t know if I’m in a place to say what sort of shape I’m in… but her record is something that all of us aspire (to)”

jenny simpson high school

(Photo Credit Lincoln Dorsey)

Bear with me a moment, let’s take a stroll down memory track…I met Jenny waaaay back when we were in high school for one of the outdoor championship races. It was a mile, now I don’t think anyone could PAY me enough to race a mile…but I’ll break my usual rule of not posting pictures of myself (shield your eyes) because it’s just too funny not to. People, feel free to tell me that socks that high are totally dorky, but in my defense they were my ‘lucky’ ones. That said, Jenny was a fierce competitor then and has obviously only continued to capitalize on that.

Back on track…I don’t think saying anything more would do the motivation factor any justice; instead, please take a look yet again back at Jenny Simpson’s World Championships Gold Medal run. The genuine shock and joy at the end are too priceless even by Hallmark Standards.

Thank you all for the great comments regarding yesterday’s post about the Nike+ FuelBand. I wanted to also give a shout out to Paul Merca, as on his blog he talks about it more in detail, and has some more information about the product…it also looks like he’s going to be taking it for a pre-release test run; I’m interested to see/hear how that goes! Check it out!

1) Are you a big track nerd and follow the races and results? Or do you find some of this cool when you happen to read it and find these athletes inspiring? Or, do you really not care if you don’t know them?

2) Have you seen the video of Jenny Simpson finishing prior to this? Did you watch it on repeat a few times and did it get you itching to go blast a killer workout?

3) What are your thoughts regarding the comeback in American distance running? Do you think it has the trickle down effect to us mere mortals? Do you feel that seeing our elites finally giving the East Africans a run for their money inspiring for YOU to reach for higher goals yourself?

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Nike FuelBand – New Calorie Counting Gadget on Track for Competitive Runners?

Nike just came out with a new FuelBand; the guise is that you wear it all day and it’s supposed to track how many calories you burn. You can then adjust how many calories you want to take in each day; they say you set a goal and try to hit it.

Good in theory, whether you’re trying to maintain, lose, or gain weight (genius from a marketing standpoint, I mean any kind of weight-related gadget in America is certain to be gobbled up). I remember the BodyBug came out a few years back with the same sort of gist.

Now, running burns a ton of calories, and depending on how much you train you could easily expend upwards of 1,000 calories after a single run. But it’s kind of a catch here because depending on the person (and the level that they run at, for lack of a better way to phrase it) they come at the whole running and calorie burn rate vs. intake and diet issues two different ways.

Bear with me; you take a gangly high schooler running cross country, new to the sport, maybe putting in 20 miles a week but with their metabolism can’t seem to keep the weight on. If it’s the first time they are getting really active they may not even have a clear idea that while they THINK they’re eating a ton they need to find ways to get in more calories…think liquid calories, like chocolate milk or sports drinks post-run, and eating more calorie dense foods.
fat runner
Another case would be the obvious dieter; they see running as their best bet to burn calories, but in their mind it’s a little skewed. They run three miles and, if they aren’t really informed, they envision that they burned 1,000 calories and go to town on the Oreos. Here’s a case where using the excuse ‘I worked out today so can indulge’ took on unrealistic proportions.

Case three is the runner who’s logging 70 miles a week and in training. Now, each day they do run different workouts and mileage totals; the question becomes, do you try and finagle and adjust how many calories you eat depending on what you ran that day? (ie: less on an easy 7-miler, a little more on a day with 9 miles and a tempo in there, more on the 16 mile long run) OR, is that just over-thinking the matter and the athlete should just eat about the same every day and let the law of averages take over?

Last one; we have the person running 50 miles a week, still new to the sport and sets a goal to run a half-marathon. The catch is that this person used to be on the whole diet bandwagon and retains a bit of the mentality that they have to ‘be careful’ and watch what they eat. Their training volume goes up but they still ‘think’ of themselves as the out of shape dieter. Workouts start to feel tougher and they are struggling along…they need a clear visual that tells them they are not eating enough and that’s why they feel sluggish. Here is a case where I could see these calorie trackers coming in handy, more-so as a wake-up call.

In the end, it makes me wonder if all of this calorie knowledge is a good thing or just overcomplicating it.

* Pro: We’re a nation struggling with obesity, so obviously I’d say the majority does need to get a better grasp on how much they need to be taking in depending on their output.

* Con: I’ve done a lot of those supposed calorie trackers online and the number of calories they say I need to eat to just maintain are ridiculously low. They make me feel like a fatty. I’m sure they may be closer for other people, but just saying…

* Pro: Adequate knowledge is a good thing; if you’re training you should be smart about proper fueling habits and I could see the NikeFuel helping with that.

* Con: Obsessedo…I don’t need to go into too much detail and I’m sure we can all see that getting too wrapped up in the numbers can lead to too much knowledge becoming a bad thing.
group of runners
So I toss it to you guys, what do you think about the NikeFuel and related calorie trackers? How scientific do we need to get with this all?

1) Do you do any calorie tracking things online or elsewhere? Are they ever even close to what you think you actually do/should be eating depending on your activity level?

2) Of all the cases above and in life, who do you think would benefit the most from these tools? The least?

3) Would you use the Nike Fuel or something similar?

4) How do you try and balance input/output…do you just flipping eat? ;)

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Farleks Aren’t Just For Workouts – Surging in Races to Break Your Competition

Fartleking. The term probably calls to mind particular workouts, but fartleking isn’t something you do just in workouts. If you watched the US Olympic Marathon Trials and took a look at the splits the women were running (or watched any of the post-race interviews) you’d see that their miles were kind of all over the place. They opened up over 6 for the first mile, then ping-ponged around the mid-5′s throughout; they were farleking.
running race
Why is there farleking in a race? Well, a race can be run for two reasons: to get a fast time or go for the win. The latter is a strategic race and typically seen in the big time races where titles and top three finishing slots are more important than the eventual time. Fartleking, or throwing surges in, is one tactic to break your competition.

Getting back to last weekend’s marathon, Amy Hastings surged to the lead after mile 18 because she knew that it was down to four runners and if she dropped the pace she could potentially drop one of the women, or at least develop a gap. Mentally, getting a gap on your competition can sometimes be enough to beat them before the finish line. Getting gapped or being stuck in ‘no man’s land’ is difficult and can sometimes be the nail in the coffin for a racer.

Hastings wasn’t able to gap the other women because they responded and were just stronger on that day; but that doesn’t mean that throwing surges in late in the race isn’t a smart strategy. Another reason is because fartleking a race is not the ‘easy’ way to get a fast time and it’s tough on the body. Your body runs best (and your PR’s will usually come from) running even paces; when you drastically swing from a fast pace to a markedly slower one your body never is able to get into a real rhythm. If a runner isn’t used to fartleking, it’s even harder for them to keep pace or hang on; the advantage goes to the one putting in the surges.

The lesson? If you’re able to train your body to fartlek, or surge, in a race and hold it together you can use it to your advantage to try and break your competition.

How? Do it in practice; get yourself used to varied paces. There are TONS of different ways to fartlek outside of the traditional one minute hard/one minute easy formula.

Try this – Finish Fast 800′s Workout:

* Warm-up
* 6-8 x 800 meters – Run the intervals comfortably hard through 600 meters but then for the last 200 REALLY pick it up and hammer to the end
* 400 meter easy recovery jog between each one and finish with a cool-down

Another Variation – Slow/Fast 800′s:

* Warm-up
* 6-8 x 800 meters – But alternate the pace of each 400 – The first 400 done at what you’d do a tempo run at or just slightly slower, the second one done at about 3k pace
* 400 meter recovery between and cool-down

*** To make this one more advanced do the 800′s continuous for 4 miles, starting with the ‘slow’ 400; the focus is to really pop those hard 400′s but still keep the’slow’ 400′s faster than an easy/medium effort…even the ‘slow’ 400′s start to get tough by the end!
track runners
Finally, Greg McMillan did a great artlcie for Running Times on the ‘Move and Match’ kind of fartlek workout. Here is an example of having a team or training partner to help add unpredictability to a workout, simulating what would happen in a race.

The bottom line is breaking your competition is all a part of racing, one way to do that is to throw in a surge, or multiple surges. You do it right and you could put a gap on them, break them mentally, or at least tire them out. If you’re used to surging you’ll be better able to handle it and keep the race in your control.

1) Do you do farlek workouts?

2) Do you do farleks or surging in races?

3) Have you tried varying the pace of standard interval workouts like in the examples above? Getting used to finishing an interval even faster is a good habit to keep in mind.

4) What do you tend to think about during your hard workouts?
I try to remember to stay relaxed, drop my arms, and stay smooth. If I’m running with someone I like to be right behind them and I just stare right at their back and try not to let any distance get between us.

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All About the Iron – Low Energy? Get Your Iron Tested

Running with low iron levels feels like you’ve got 200-pound dumbbells strapped to you and you’re running at a tempo effort…then you look down at your watch and want to cry because the pace is slower than you used to do your easy runs. Sounds like fun, huh?
tired runner
Actually, some people aren’t able to workout if they have been anemic for quite a while. Low iron levels is not a rare problem with distance runners, or endurance athletes in general, and while women are especially prone to it, I think it’s important to understand that endurance athletes, regardless of gender, have to be careful to watch their iron levels:

* Stronger hearts and higher blood volume. This is all great when it comes to performance but with a higher amount of blood in the body it can dilute the amount of iron present.

* Healthy diets. Again a positive, but if an athlete is eliminating a lot of iron rich foods because they are deemed ‘unhealthy’ in other ways, this can lead to diminished iron stores. (ie: red meats, egg yolks)

* Running. I didn’t realize this but in each foot fall to the ground we are engaging in what is known as ‘foot strike hemolysis’. What this means is each time your foot plants it is breaking up red blood cells that carry iron. This is more so in larger runners, but we all do it.

* Blood loss.Obviously women lose iron and blood through *ahem, we know what* but trace amounts are lost in both sweat and urine too. Now, if you’re having blood lost in your GI tract, that compounds the problem but is also indicative of bigger issues you need to get addressed.

cow running

Mooo...lean red meats are high iron foods.

The thing is that having low iron levels doesn’t only effect how you feel…low energy is usually a red flag but if you go too long with low iron you’re setting yourself up for potential injuries like stress fractures. Being anemic for too long can lower your bone density and lead to osteoporosis.

How do you know if you have low iron levels, and what’s a ‘normal’ level? Unfortunately, it usually isn’t until you feel the effects of anemia that you think about getting tested. This is when you’re times start to drop and you constantly feel like you’re dragging. This is another reason why getting a blood panel done whenever you aren’t ‘feeling right’ in your runs is smart.

Runners put a lot of stress on our bodies but we are also more in tune with them than the average folks. We can tell if something is going awry; also, when we want our bodies to perform at 100%, we notice when we’re off sooner than just sofa surfers. To athletes, even a 10% drop in how we feel is a lot.

In asking Cal Poly coach Kelly Strong how she handles athletes that experience a sudden drop in performance, she answers, “For someone going through these types of situations, the first thing I would ask is about their sleep, nutrition, iron levels, etc.” For good reason, and in fact, it’s not a bad idea to keep tabs on your iron (and other important stats) every now and again to make sure everything is on the up and up.

Getting back to what are ‘normal’ levels, again it’s different for athletes. Here’s an excerpt from Pete Pfitzinger’s site:

You should find out both your hemoglobin and serum ferritin levels. Normal hemoglobin concentration ranges from 14 to 18 grams per 100 ml of blood for men, and 12 to 16 grams per 100 ml of blood for women, but for an endurance athlete, the lower end of normal should be extended by about 1 gram per 100 ml, due to our larger blood volume.

Ferritin is a measure of your body’s iron stores. Normal reference ferritin levels are 10-200 ng/ml for women and 10-300 ng/ml for men.

Dr. Martin says that in his experience with runners, training and racing performances are usually affected when ferritin levels drop below 20 ng/ml, and that when those athletes increase their ferritin levels above 25 ng/ml they experience a rapid turnaround in performance.

Personal anecdote here, I’ve had experience with low iron, and I remember being tested and having been in the low teens…it was not pretty. I actually went through a series of iron infusions (think three days of sitting with an IV drip lasting 3 hours…your mouth tastes like pennies!) to quickly boost the iron levels. From there I now always take a supplement in addition to what I eat naturally. I know of other runners who have gone the liquid iron route, I’ve never had those but they seem to get the job done too.

Again, I’m not a doctor, but when I was training at a high level it was the norm for everyone to get bloodwork on a consistent basis. We shot for our ferritin levels to be around 100. Again, yes, that is higher than what is ‘normally’ recommended, but better safe than sorry, right?

Some quick notes:

* If you aren’t feeling well in your runs and things continue to go downhill regardless of backing off and more easy days…go in and get a blood panel done. Make sure they test you iron levels and REALLY hound your doctor if you have to. Doctors are very busy but demand their attention and explain that you are an athlete. Get your coach involved (they should be already by this point if you have one) and they can help.

* DO NOT pound a ton of iron pills all at once. This will make you feel REALLY sick and it could be dangerous. I take a supplement with 65 mg of elemental iron; start with just one a day and gradually build your way up if you need to. If you’ve got a background of anemia, I’d suggest taking a supplement in addition to aiming to get iron in the foods you eat.

* IV’s and liquid iron are in more severe cases but not something to be afraid of. Talk to your doctor and a quick boost can work wonders…you’d be surprised how quickly you can feel the turn around once your levels are getting back up there.

Some high iron foods include: spinach, legumes, liver (yum!), oysters, lean meats, dried fruits, egg yolks, as well as whole grains and cereals that are iron enriched.

Things that block the absorption of iron are having tea and coffee with these foods. Conversely, having something with vitamin C in it will HELP iron absorption. Another quote from Pfitzinger, “You will absorb three times as much iron from your cereal and toast if you switch from coffee to orange juice with breakfast.”

olive oly

Olive Oly chooses to go the high spinach route. ;)

So if you’re not sold on pumping the iron into your blood yet, then you may just have to figure it out for yourself the hard way. Best of luck tackling those PR’s with the 200-pound weights strapped to your back. ;)

Stephanie Rosthstein has been making some headlines lately in talking about her struggles with not just low iron but getting diagnosed with celiac disease (which was blocking her iron absorption). HERE and HERE are two articles about how she’s gotten her issues resolved. In case you have a brain fart, she was just in the US Olympic Marathon Trials. :)

1) Have you ever had low iron levels?

2) Do you make an effort to get more iron into your diet? Do you take a supplement?

3) How do you tell if something is going awry in your body? Has being an athlete given you an early heads-up and sent you in to figure out if there was something wrong?
After my fun adventures with anemia I later got to ride the wild roller coaster of hypothyroidism…fun tales for next time. ;)

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Get Faster by Getting Stronger Running Hills – Build Strength to Gain Speed

Jack and Jill ran up a hill to make them faster runners. Jack fell down ‘cuz he couldn’t keep pace and Jill went barreling up faster. I think I like that nursery rhyme better, don’t you?
trail runner
Hill running, hill repeats, hill tempos, hilly switch-backs, hilly long runs. All of them can improve your strength and speed as a runner. Some people seem to think that runners fall into one of two categories: hill runners or flat runners. To some degree it’s true, you may naturally be better at climbing than someone else, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve by running hill.

“I by no means think I have mastered the hills or climbing but I am improving and for me that means hours running up vertical inclines, sometimes fast sometimes just a long grind, but always pushing to get better,” explains ultra marathoning champ Michael Wardian, “I am trying to do hills a few times a week, that is a weakness or has been so I want to fix that.”

During base training season is another instance where adding hillier routes into the mix is a great idea. “But I’m getting ready for track season, not cross-country, why should I be doing hill repeats now?” you may wonder. The answer is because hills will make you FASTER on the flats. The power and strength you gain from running up hills will translate to being speedier when you go back down to the flats.

Don’t believe me, then try this. When I was training with the Nike Oregon Project, Alberto Salazar would have us drive out to this sketchy little track at a local YMCA. It was comical that Olympians (not me, my training partners, trust me, I know my place! haha) would be busting out workouts while dodging potholes in lane one and sharing the track with tons of walkers who were completely oblivious. Why did we go to this track, because it sat right next to a hill where we could alternate between track intervals and hill repeats.

Try This Hill Sprints Workout:

* Warm-up (duh)
* 4×200 meters on a track (with 200 meter recovery jog)
* 8×200 meter hill charge (easy jog back down for recovery)
* 4×200 meters on track (with 200 meter recovery jog)
* Cool-down

How much ‘easier’ did that second set of 200′s feel once you were back down on the track? Compared to the hill blasts you probably felt like you dropped the sandbags you were carrying. Strength from hills = speed for flats. If you don’t have a track next to a hill you could do this on the treadmill and adjust the grade.

track runner

hill power = track speed

Short hill repeats are just one example. Even doing your ‘easy’ days on hillier routes will build up those quads. With anything in your training you want variety, so mix it up. Doing a tempo run uphill is a go-to workout for the Hudson Training Systems group; Coach Brad Hudson stresses that here the focus is not so much on the actual splits but effort.

Long hill repeats…back to pothole, podunk track we’d do track/hill/track combo workouts anywhere up to 800 meters on the hill. That’s the longest this particular hill was, but that’s hardly stopping anyone from finding a longer hill. Back to Wardian, who actually does a lot of his training on a treadmill, he likes to do repeats of 3 miles in length; he ramps the incline up each mile starting at a 4% and ending at 8%.

The thing you do have to be very careful about in running hill repeat type workouts is running the downhills which is really tough on the knees in particular. Go really easy and keep in mind if you’re doing a long run with lots of rolling hills or downhills your quads can get mighty sore from the downhill portions…you may not think that would be the case!

With anything, practice makes perfect and there is a technique to running uphill. (Downhill too, but for brevity sake I’ll cover that in another post) Don’t let yourself hunch over; stand tall, if you feel your shoulders up in your ears, shake out your arms and relax.

Keep your eyes locked up and to the summit, that helps with staying tall, and be sure to power through the top and up over the crest. Don’t stop right before the top because you’ll break all the momentum you built up…you want to use the momentum to keep you moving and then fly back down the backside. (If you’re racing that helps a lot! What goes up must go down.)

So don’t be like Jack, follow Jill and tackle that hill. Then when it is track time you’ll feel that much faster.

1) Do you like running hills? Do you consider yourself a hill runner?
I tend to do a little better on flats…I need to build up some quad strength!

2) What kinds of hill workouts or runs do you do, if any? Do you do treadmill incline workouts?

3) Do you live near hilly trails or running routes? If not, how do you simulate hills?

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The Highs and Lows of Running – Persevering, Shifting Focus, and Staying the Course

Are you sick of hearing about the US Olympic Marathon Trials yet? Not completely over-saturated juuuust yet? Good. Sorry, bear with me because I’m a teenie bit obsessed. And if you keep reading I promise even if you’re not a total running nerd (like this girl) I think there are some things you can take away.

The highs and lows of running. I’ll tell you right now, there are about six runners (okay more if you count the ones who knew going in they weren’t necessarily ever going to make the Olympic team but just excited to be there…I mean that in itself is a huge deal!) riding some SERIOUS highs after yesterday’s race…but those numbers are heavily outweighed by the runners who came up short of their goals. The hardest place to come in is 4th…mentally you go through every single second of that race and try to figure out if there was ANYTHING you could have done differently to have changed the outcome.
injured runner
Six runners are riding incredible highs. How many are experiencing some serious lows? This is not to be a pessimist, merely a realist. Running is a very tough sport, even the men’s winner Meb Keflezighi says, “When the camera’s not watching, when the newspapers are not there, we work very hard at what we do. It’s not easy … there are so many obstacles as distance runners that we face … We work very, very hard at what we do. When the opportunities come, you take them … If you believe and work hard and do the right thing, (then) God has a good plan for me.” (Even third place finisher Abdi Abdirahman has been overlooked in recent years despite being a top runner for years.)

Distance running takes an incredible amount of work and dedication. The majority of that will go unnoticed; if you never did it only you would know, save the eventual outcome if you continued not to do it. Even if you do every single thing right, you could wind up with an injury right before the big race, you could feel totally flat after the gun, or get to mile 16 and have to stop because of cramps. You NEVER know. This isn’t just for the marathon distance, but to a degree everyone who toes the line is an equal. The heavy favorite is not a lock-in and an ‘unknown’ is one race away from an underdog upset. Ask Billy Mills. Heck, ask Meb.

The DIFFERENCE though between the Meb Keflezighi’s and Joe You’ll-Never-Know is persistence in the face of this. The difference between Dathan Ritzenhein and Joe I’m-going-to-give-up is being able to turn those incredible heartbreaks into motivation to keep on going, “Maybe I’m forcing it. Everybody wants me to be a marathoner, and I want to be a marathoner, but right now maybe it’s not in the cards. Maybe it’s just not there. Maybe I’ve just got to turn my attention back to shorter distances.” [Article source] Yes at the Beijing Olympics he placed 9th but he also once held the American Record for the 5k and has immense talent in the 10k and half-marathon as well. “I’m going to turn my attention back to the 10k,” he knows his chance of still going to London are far from gone. It’s just that his focus has to shift.

I’d like to pull our attention back to 36-year old Meb for a moment. Going into the race if you read some of the articles or even worse message boards, there were some pretty cruel nay-sayers. Now, I love Nike as much as the next person, but if you happened to take a look at the shoes Meb was rocking on Saturday they were hardly a brand you’d associate with elite runners.

Meb was being sponsored by Sketchers. That kind of says it all. Though, he held onto the belief in his ability as well did his coach for 18 years, Bob Larsen. Meb is open that had it not been for his coach’s belief his own may have wavered.

The highs and lows of running. Even the strongest athlete faces times where they are unsure if they can or should keep going. In those moments of doubts it helps to cling to the memories of the highs and find a person who still believes in you. A coach or friend who understands what running gives to you and that if you gave it up you’d probably look back with a regret.

This applies to all runners, not just the elites. You don’t have to be vying for an Olympic team or Gold Medal to contemplate hanging up your shoes. There are highs and lows of every level.

The sting of a bad race. The gash of a string of bad races or seasons…or years.

Injuries. Getting through an injury is just as much a mental test as a physical. Dathan Ritzenhein was out of running for 6 months last year, some of that time he couldn’t even cross-train. But he kept going and was THIS close to pulling off the incredible. Actually he still DID pull off something incredible and there is no reason to ignore that. Alberto Salazar, Dathan’s coach, looks back and says, “Even if he had just made the team by the skin of his teeth, what’s he going to do in London? In the 10K, he has a chance to do some great stuff.”
serious runner
Maybe you don’t even compete but have been out with an injury for an incredible amount of time and think it may just be worth it to not even try to get back.

Pressure. Stress. Loss. Highs. Lows. All runners have them. Sometimes you do need to take a step back and think about WHY you do it. Reassess and shift your mental focus. True, you just might not wind up meeting a goal you’ve been chasing for years, but in the end it comes down to what your life would be like without all of those miles. Would you rather be that person? If so, that’s okay, but if you know if your heart you’d miss it and harbor regrets, then keep going.

Run without regrets. And if you’re not able to run yet…cross-train, visualize the goals that lay ahead, and take it one day and then the next. Your goals may have to change and evolve but you can keep moving forward.

Cherish the highs because they are far and few between…not pessimism but realism.

Our sport is made of highs and lows. Being a runner means having the strength to keep going after the lows.

1) What’s one of your running highs?
I enjoy setting a PR. :)

2) What was a low? Or stretch of lows?
Does it sound too cliched to say being hit by the car and riding the sofa for months and months wondering if I’ll be able to walk again? ;)

3) Why do you keep running?
For the sake of my own sanity. Obsessive Compulsive Runner out.

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The 2012 US Olympic Marathon Team

I’m not usually one of those addicted to Twitter, but this morning had me doing the instant updates. Thanks to NBC’s little monopoly over any live video feeds of the US Olympic Marathon Trials, going viral was how most of us could get any word on what was going on in Houston.

By now the world knows; for the women the team is Shalane Flanagan, Desi Davilia, and Kara Goucher. For the men it’s Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, and Abdi Abdirahma.

In what has to be the deepest women’s field to day, we see a 2008 Bronze medalist in the Olympics not even make the team. Over the last nine miles it came down to a four person race for three available slots and in the end it was Amy Hastings who, while putting in a valiant effort, was left with the heartbreaking 4th placing. Still, if you look at the progress she’s made in recent years you can’t deem it a failure…more that the field was just THAT good.

All the pre-race bettors were pegging Shalane, Desi, and Kara as the top three favorites but the marathon is a long race and there are no sure things. In the end, I’m partial yes, but I’m overjoyed that Kara Goucher will be making another trip to the Olympics.

For the men, the word beast has been flying around regarding Meb Keflezighi’s race. At 36 years old plenty of people were saying he was too old, past his prime, and out of the game. Ryan Hall appeared to be the one to beat, in fact there was some article was quoted as saying, “Hall could walk the last .2 miles and still win.” Ummm…I don’t think that was accurate regardless, but everyone likes to cause a stir.

A late race surge by Meb proved you should never count out a champ and while it may have been a while since Meb’s distance running dominance days, he’s proven he’s back and those days aren’t behind him…he’s now got a marathon PR no less. Ryan Hall hung on for second, and Abdi rounds out the team…but what is almost hard to look at is the post-race finishing picture of fourth place, Dathan Ritzenhein. He missed third by a mere 12 seconds.
Dathan Ritzenhein
I have to admit I was really pulling for him to make the top three…the poor guy has had one heck of a year between injuries and infections. He’s one of the most mentally tough runners I’ve ever seen and I really hoped his day would come. Though, as Meb proved, he’s got years ahead of him and while the sting is incredibly raw now, surely it will act as motivation in the future.

As in any huge race, there are those that rise to the top and really step up their game…whether or not it’s a top three birth to the Olympics or not. Just in getting to the starting line these runners have much to be proud of. I don’t know about you but they’ve all supplied plenty of inspiration and motivation to make every day count!


1) Any thoughts on the Trials? How did your pre-race picks or anyone you know end up doing?
I did call the women’s race right. :P

2) Did you look for online updates or are you waiting for the race videos set to go on in a bit?

3) Most inspirational piece you can take away from these races?
I’m torn between Meb and Kara. Meb, so many people said he had no shot in heck…but he never gave up and pushed it baby…he’s a beast! Kara, she’s been through so much this past year, but I knew going in that she’s got the heart of a champ and runs with no regrets…if it was in her legs today I knew her heart would pull her through.

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To Run Faster, Find People Faster Than You

“One of the fastest ways to improve is to train with someone better than you.” So is written by Matt Carpenter on is site. True words from one of the greats.
Matt Carpenter
In case you don’t know who Matt Carpenter is, a quick background would include the terms: ‘The Lung’, ‘Pikes Peak Legend’, ‘Trail Running Dominance’, and ‘Ultra Running Anomaly’. The man has won the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon a total of 18 times and holds the course record for both. His is especially adept at altitude racing and running, hence ‘The Lung’ moniker attributed to his ability at hypoxic running. Currently he lives in Boulder, CO and still has an ongoing love affair with trails.

Interesting though, that while he lives near ample miles of beautiful trails he busts out two of his hardest workouts per week in his garage. On his $10,000 treadmill no less. I can’t delve too much into the treadmill bit just yet, it’s in working on some magazine articles that I ventured down it to begin with, but Carpenter’s reasoning for sticking to the ‘mill are quite simple, “It does not care what the weather is like, what time of day it is or even how I feel. Without exception my best seasons come after I spend the winter running with ‘Q’ on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

‘Q’ is capable of humming along at 3 minutes 20 second per mile even at a 25% grade. Carpenter has tripped too many treadmills in the past so he invested, he won’t need to worry about such things with ‘Q’.

If you want to get better, you have to be pushed by someone (or something) better than you. You have to be pulled along when you’re hurting, you have to be dragged along through the pits of pain, hang on, and keep going. Then come back for more. Why do you think racers enlist rabbits or pacers? Or athletes will seek out groups where they will be at the back of the pack?

The Africans are different from US athletes in that they all train together. Here we may have a smattering of groups but it’s not like it is over there. They get up, run together, eat, rest, run again…repeat. Together they train (and suffer), together they improve.

In a great article on Kara Goucher at RunBlogRun, she is quoted, “When I’m with a group of women, they don’t care if I’ve been up all night. They’re hitting the pace, and I’m going to get left behind if I don’t have the pace.” This is in explanation of a recent coaching change where her newest training partners are Shalane Flanagan and Lisa Uhl. Heading into the US Olympic Marathon Trials, two of the favorites are training partners. You can bet they push each other to be their best.

It works on all levels; you don’t have to be an elite runner to benefit from being at the back of the training pack. So find runners, seek them out.
running buddies
* Running time warp. If you’re graduated from high school, don’t be shy, go talk to a local team’s coach. When I was in high school we had a few awesome adults come out there and sweat out our interval sessions with us. Trust me, you could be surprised at how much fun it is taking a trip back to high school…runners are generally less annoying than typical ‘mean girls’ and they won’t make you sing Justin Bieber tunes. (maybe)

* Running clubs. Go to a running shoe store and ask if there are any local running clubs; many meet up during the week outside of going to races. Honestly, if that isn’t an option just ask the running shoe people at the store…I’m sure they can help you out.

* Treadmill befriend. Like Carpenter explained, the treadmill really doesn’t care if you’re hurting, it won’t back off unless you physically make it. I’ve come to like tempo runs on the treadmill because you can just zone out and not worry about the splits, they are taken care of.
alberto salazar
If you want to improve, often times it takes being the little fish in a big pond and then rising the ranks. What you DO have to be careful about, and I am going to stress this a lot: RESPECT YOUR RECOVERY DAYS!!! Was that clear enough? To build your fitness and strength you have to tear your muscles down with hard workouts, but you then have to allow them time to recover and rebuild.

That means if you have to run all your easy days by yourself so you’re not tempted to run too hard, do it. The most important aspect of getting faster is being able to hit your hard days…the runs in between are just getting time on the legs, recovering, and getting in the cardio. Don’t tire yourself out on the easy days. You have to strive to get better but also remember you must walk the fine line between pushing and NOT racing in every workout.

“One of the fastest ways to improve is to train with someone better than you.” So is written by Matt Carpenter on is site. True words from one of the greats.

1) Do you run by yourself, train with a team, meet with a group? Do you meet only for hard days?

2) How about treadmill running; have you tried any workouts on there or do you like the track, the garmin, heart rate monitor? What keeps you accountable and pushing?

3) Would you rather be the fastest person in the group or team or at the back/mid-pack?
I like to have other people faster than me. If you’ve ‘outgrown’ one group, maybe it’s time to move up to another and re-introduce yourself to the back of another pack? ;)

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Masters Running, Running Masters: Why There’s No Time Stamp on Our Sport

One of the great things about our sport is that there isn’t an age limit. In gymnastics you’re old if you’re in high school, with football many of those guys can’t walk by the time they retire, and in basketball you’d be hard-pressed to find a master’s league where they are dunking.

fit woman

Yup...sweat's still beautiful regardless of age.

But in running there ARE competitive masters…and what’s more is that some of those in their 40′s, even 50′s, are beating the younger pups. Typically as us harriers age we tend to move up in distance; the speed component is the first thing that tends to go as we gain age but the endurance is still there. Further, the longer you’ve been running the bigger base you’ve got and cardiovascularly you’ve got a leg up on the younger bucks.

Naturally then, the shorter track races tend to be dominated by the younger generations but getting into the 10k and marathon that’s not always the case. The distance running ‘prime’ for 10k competition is 31 for the women and 29 for the men. In the case of the marathon the ‘prime’ can be considered anywhere between 31 and 37 for both genders.

Colleen DeRuck, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Linda Somers Smith…here we have women who fall under the category of ‘asters’ because of their age but more correctly they are masters…period.

All of these womens’ careers have spanned mulit-Olympic and National Teams years. I’ve only named a few, but today’s masters runners could be still setting PR’s, but even if their fastest days are behind them they haven’t given up racing or training. What’s more is you could be beaten by one of these masters runners…don’t let any greying hair fool you.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first woman to ever win an Olympic Gold Medal in the Marathon (1984), has too many accolades to rattle off. But just as impressive is that by the time she was 50 she still qualified and ran in the 2008 US Olympic Marathon Trials. At 52 she ran a 2:47:50 marathon and one year later at the 2011 Boston Marathon she finished in 2:51:29.

Colleen DeRuck will be toeing the line at this year’s US Olympic Marathon Trials at 47. Her career began as a 14 year old and since then she’s already been to four Olympics. At 2010′s Copenhagen Marathon, the then 46-year old DeRuck, ran her way to a 2:30 finish.

I think you’ve got the picture here. To spread some gender equality I’ll inform you that 42 year old Eric Ashton ran a 31:06 10k. Mbarak Hussein is 45 and he busted out a 29:47 at the Peachtree 10k. I have to say I’m floored that at 51, John Tuttle, still turns those gears to a 15:57 5k.
runner on track
The point is that in our sport there isn’t an age limit. Sure, these runners are the first to clearly state they have to adapt their training but it’s still able to yield them results.

* Lower miles. Masters runners do have to cede to Father Time and many admit they do have to scale back the total number of weekly miles they can put in. But, Somers Smith is quick to point out that that can work as a blessing in disguise. Looking back she wonders if she could have run faster if she’d cut out some of the junk miles.

* Cross training. Just because you aren’t able to run as much that doesn’t mean you can’t get cardio in a different way, in the form of cross training. Younger runners may be pulling double runs but as a master it’s still possible to schedule double days…just that second workout may be on the bike or on the elliptical.

* The ‘other stuff’. Stretching, sleep habits, nutrition, massage…the body is only human after all and as we get older it becomes more important to NOT slack on these areas. Older runners admit to being more injury prone and so you’ve got to be smart to counteract that.

* Recovery. Along with injury prevention, recovery and easy days become exponentially more important. That typically means fewer hard workouts a week with extra easy days between them; some go off of a 10 day cycle instead of the traditional 7 day.

* Competition. There really isn’t anything like the buzz of competition is there? And that’s probably one of the biggest allures to keep coming back for more regardless of age. This holds true in training and working out with the ‘younger’ runners can help push the ‘older’ ones…so long as we’re not racing in practice. Plus, it’s got to be fun to beat the younger crowd…respect thy elders perhaps?

* Mental shift. One of the things many successful masters address is the mental shift; when you’re no longer going to be setting lifetime PR’s, you need to adjust your goals and rethink things. Say having PR’s for each decade…and more that the aim for races is to go off of effort and not merely times. We all know what it feels like to cross the line spent…it offers a rush and getting the most from yourself is something we can do regardless of age.

The common thread is that the passion and love of our sport hardly as to fade with age. Sure, you may have to adjust your mindset and goal paces but it’s not like you need to hang up the running shoes like in gymnastics, just because you hit puberty and can no longer fit into a leotard. ;)

1) Do you plan to be, or consider yourself, to be a runner for life? Will you, or do you, compete as a Masters runner?

2) What’s something you’ve learned or can take away from the older generations that could still very well keep pace with the elites?
I just continue to be floored by Joan Benoit Samuelson…I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one!

3) Do you feel your PR’s and best races are ahead of you and what do you feel they will be? Or if your lifetime PR’s may be behind you, what are your current goals?

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The Off Season and Base Training – Don’t Lose Touch With All of Your Speed

“I’m just building my base right now.” How many times have you heard this, or maybe you’ve been the one saying it? Probably countless times.

runner on trails

The off season is also a great time to hit up some hill work...strength there translates to speed later!

Runners who are consistent are constantly building a ‘base’; yes those who log more miles per week are probably building a bigger one, though not always. There is something to be argued in the way if one runner is running a high volume but doing only easy runs as not being as ‘fit’ as another runner who could be doing less miles but hitting a higher quality load with weekly workouts. But that’s getting a bit off topic.

Building a base is usually the term runners use for between season training. (Or if they are getting back after a long running hiatus) Here the focus is to set a strong cardiovascular foundation by upping the miles. Then, when the season’s ‘real’ training begins they will overlay this foundation with the faster workouts, intervals, and speed. It’s a sound theory and what I’d recommend; you shouldn’t be nailing 400 repeats in January if you’re not going to be racing until the outdoor track season.

Runners DO need a high aerobic capacity as you draw off of that, and the metaphor of laying a foundation and laying the speedwork on top of that works well. We’ll think of that base as the cake and the 400′s can be your icing…yum.

But when you’re doing that base building you don’t want to completely neglect those faster twitch muscle fibers completely. If all you do for months and months are slow miles, come time to hit the track and even tempo work you’re going to feel like one rusty nail! You still want your muscles to have recent memories of what it feels like to run quick; so, even during these ‘base building’ times you want to give them reminders. Don’t completely lose touch with a faster tempo.

So while you’re upping the miles (and do this safely people, we know we don’t go from doing 20 miles one week to 40 the next) still play around with various speeds. Don’t get stuck in the ‘easy/slow’ mode. One day do a tempo run; since it’s so early don’t stress about the times but go for effort and it shouldn’t be all-out. Base building puts a lot of focus on the long run; every couple of weeks push the middle miles of that or make it into a fartlek run. Then, pick two days (not after a tempo or harder long run) and finish with some strides. Again, they don’t have to be the kind where you spike up and hammer it, but get that turnover going.

Have fun with the off season because here structure isn’t all that important…run some fartleks that don’t have set parameters and you could even make them up on the fly. Run hard because it feels good, recover for a bit, and then do it again. Play around with it and to sound like a cliche have fun. That’s why we do this running thing after all, right?

girl in ice cream

It's not cake...but you get the idea. ;)

So build that cake ‘base’ but even during the off-season don’t forget to add a little bit of icing as well…I mean no one wants a cake without any icing, that’s the best part!

Even if you’re not doing any kind of traditional racing seasons (cross country/track) try mixing up those runs if you’re not doing much outside of easy running. The thing is that the body is a master at adapting and go too long with running one speed and you’ll get stuck in a rut.

1) When you think of base building, what comes to mind?

2) Do you play around with your long runs, or typically do them all as relaxed runs?

3) For workouts, do you have them pre-planned or come up with them on the fly?

4) Haven’t asked this before but do you count your weekly mileage? Where do you like to keep the weekly totals?

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