4 Steps to Getting Through the Grind

Long runs and long workouts tend to scare people. It can feel intimidating looking down the barrel of a double digit run or mulit-mile repeats. We’re distance runners, we love this stuff, but large quantities of miles (especially faster miles) still intimidate us.

Running and that mental component, can’t escape the mind games. Our bodies are apt to surprise us and prove our limit-setting minds wrong…BUT it’s a matter of pushing past the mind crap (doubts/fears/discomfort) before we can be ‘pleasantly’ surprised.
skulls on a track
The best thing about running into new territory, be it your longest run, the most number of long intervals, or the most volume of hard running, they’re all scariest before you do them. Once you’ve conquered the best you’ve proven you’re capable of it and you get a new frame of reference.

Example: You’re afraid of running 10 miles because you’ve never run that far. You then run 10 miles and flash forward a few weeks and 10 miles doesn’t scare you at all. But 14 miles does…sooo, you run 14 miles and the cycle continues.

See how DOING something takes the fear out of it. Let’s up the ante.

You can run 10 miles but now you’re supposed to run them hard. EEK!!! New challenge. Time to fight through it:

4 Steps to Get Through the Grind

1) Relax: the first part is you gotta stop building the run or workout up into epic proportions. Say with me, “it’s just a workout (or race), all I can is my best, so that’s the goal.” Deflate some of that pressure and take the power away from the workout…give yourself the power by realizing that you’re going to give it your all and THAT is all that can be expected. Times are there for guidance and motivation to push…but you can’t let them put so much pressure on you that you implode.
running in circles
2) Start: easy peasy, right? Funny how fear sort of get muted the second the gun sounds and you just START freaking running. It has a way of shutting your brain down for a bit or at least taking it down a few notches.

3) Segments: your runner-brain gets overloaded thinking about the WHOLE run (26.2 miles…holy crap!!!) so you break everything down into smaller segments. Think of it like a meal with a zillion courses if you have to. Get through the plate, the miles, the quarter mile, the repeat.

4) Fight and Lie: running isn’t easy and training is painful. You break it down into itty bitty ‘plates’ but even each bite is still hard. (can I push this metaphor any further?) You need to just cycle through the above three steps on repeat…relax, roll, be confident, be smooth…start, click the watch on that next interval and go, make it until you hear the magic Garmin beep of another mile and keep going…segment, make it 100 meters more, run until you pass that guy, stick like GLUE behind the person in front of you and don’t think how far the finish line is in front of you.

Doing all of the above is really a series of lies. The good lies that you use to ‘trick’ your limit-setting brain into proving itself wrong. Your body CAN keep going, you just have to fight like h*ll long enough to show yourself you can do it.

The cool thing is once you get through the grind you’ve just re-calibrated what’s ‘suuuper scary’. Whatever you just did won’t scare you so much next time…

…but don’t rest too easily, Runners, because that just means later the ante will be upped. That’s okay, because you know the drill. ;)
“The Big Three: Talent vs. Work Ethic vs. Mental Toughness- Which matters the most?”

“Effective Mental Strategy: Race better by out-thinking your brain”

1) What’s the longest you’ve run?
2) What’s your favorite long repeats workout?
3) How do you get through the grind?

One of the Biggest Culprits of Lost Time in a Race or Workout? A wandering mind…here’s how to catch it.

If I weren’t attached to my runner legs I’m pretty sure I’d lose them. I take the saying, “I’m the worst with directions” to an entirely new level…I make blondes look like GPS tracking whizzes I’m sure. Today I passed the right turn I should have taken, the one that is less thank 2 miles away from my home and that I’ve taken dozens of times and wound up a tad lost or turned around.

fast runner

Step to the line a gamer and STAY that way during the actual race too. ;)

It got me thinking though, do you know what one of the biggest culprits for lost time in races or when running workouts is? The case of the lost mind. It happens to all of us no matter how awesome you are with directions and it happens on the track all the time even though I’ll guarantee all of those runners know to turn left and keep running straight ahead.

What does a case of lost head look and feel like?

* Wandering Mind: You’re in the middle of your workout or race, say miles 2-5 of a 10k…the adrenaline and excitement of the first mile has worn off, you’re not quite close enough to the finish to ‘taste it’ and you’re stuck in the middle. Here is where your mind can JUMP on the opportunity to shut down, meander away from you and get lost. Your thoughts drift to random things, maybe even blank nothingness, but wherever it is it certainly isn’t at the task at hand. If you’re noticing that someone is wearing your favorite shirt on the sidelines and ignoring the fact that your form has turned to the Hunchback of Notre Dame, you’ve lost your mind.

* This hurts, I want an ‘out’: Naturally we all think of this but we have to ‘tame’ our mind to forget this and distract it; usually we focus on what we can control (breathing, form, stride, etc.) or look at the person ahead of us to distract ourselves from the hurt. If you get stuck in the endless loop of: 1) Why am I doing this? 2) I’m not even half-way there yet, how will I ever make it? 3) Today’s just not my day, I’ll just give up, who cares? You’re focusing TOO much on the pain and trying to come up with an ‘out’ for yourself. Be honest here, are you looking for an excuse or do you actually have a legitimate reason to stop?
man running
Catch it! The sooner you catch your brain and wrestle it back from La-la-la Land the less time you’ve lost from your race and your workout. But if you wait to long, by the time you check-back in you could have only 100 meters left in the race, and really who can’t run fast for the last 100 meters? By that point you could have needlessly lost a PR or the place you hoped to run.

What SHOULD you be thinking during a race or workout?

* How is my form? Do a form-check.
* How is my breathing? Breathe from your deep belly, not shallowly from your chests, and keep it controlled and smooth.
* Where am I going? Look straight ahead, if it’s on the roads look for the tangents to run, actively be seeking and looking to the horizon. It may sound ‘dumb’ but never loose sight of where you want to go. This go tri-fold if you’re climbing a hill…look high to the crest and lock your eyes on that point.
* Who is ahead of me? Key in on who is in front of you, work on ‘picking people off’ or not letting a gap open up between you and the competition.

Zoning out and letting your mind wander are two different things. Zoning out is when you’re focused on one of the ‘good distractions’ just mentioned, you’re still present in the moment and ‘working’ the race.

Getting lost in life is annoying and a wast of time…getting lost during a race or workout is also a waste of time but you’re also jyping yourself. You’re there, the course is marked, don’t visit La-la-la Land. ;)

1) A wandering mind on an easy run isn’t necessarily a bad thing, here is where randomness helps break up the repetition and can work as a great way to stay consistent and GET the run in. Does your mind tend to wander a lot on easy runs?

2) How do you keep yourself from checking-out during a race or hard workout? Do you have a trick to catch yourself and pull your mind back to present?
I usually do a form check.

3) To battle the ‘cop-out’ and actively look for an excuse to toss in the towel for the day, how do you handle that?
I assess if I actually have an injury that would warrant a stop; if not then I remind myself how I’d feel in a few hours if I quit…probably not too happy with myself.

4) Anyone racing tomorrow? I know it’s been a big weekend for races, some have happened other are tomorrow! Good luck to those yet to race and if you already have, brag on yourself. ;)

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Track Your Rest – What’s the ‘Right’ Way to Recover Between Intervals

In training, when you’re running hard intervals the emphasis is naturally on the hard sessions. You want to hit the splits and push yourself all the way through to the end. True, these hard sessions are what are going to tear down the muscles the most so that they can repair themselves and come back stronger…get you fitter and in the end faster.

track runner

How do you 'rest'?

But what does your recovery look like between these intervals? Do you cross the line and immediately come to a stand-still, a statue frozen in place relishing every second before you have to start the next one? Do you pace around a bit to collect yourself? Do you keep running, or jogging?

While the focus should still be heavily placed on the hard parts of your interval sessions taking a look at your recovery time can influence the gains you reap from the workout overall. Furthermore, shifting and adjusting the ‘rest’ phases of your workout can change both the kind of benefits you’ll be able to get and actually to the degree of which you are able to boost your fitness.

Let’s talk rest:

* A general rule of thumb is that the FASTER you’re trying to hit those intervals the MORE rest you should allow yourself. Fast-twitch muscle fibers can only fire for a short period of time, but they fire all-out and thus need more recovery before being fired again than your endurance-based, slow-twitch muscle fibers. If your aim for the day is to improve your base speed, say you’re doing 200 repeats, give yourself enough recovery so that you can really hit those 200′s and make them fast, that was the aim after all, right? Take a really slow 200 jog between each hard 200, don’t rush the recovery here.

* Active rest vs. standing. Here is where people may have slightly different opinions, but mine is that it’s better to keep moving, even if it’s only slow jogging, between each interval. Stopping dead and standing before jumping into another interval of hard running seems akin to pulling the emergency break and then peeling out; that next hard session is a shock to those ‘cold’ muscles. I’m of the school of thought that active rest, actually jogging recovery, is better for you.

tired runner

I wouldn't suggest you take your rest this way. ;)

* Define your workout. What is your goal for the workout? If it’s speed then refer above for how to attack your recovery. The LESS recovery you give yourself between intervals the MORE heavily your workout is going to stress, and hopefully improve, your cardiovasular system and endurance. Your endurance system actually needs less time to recover, (Trust me, even though you may not want to go into the next hard one, your body may be…hehe.) and the more you whittle your recovery down the closer you’re mimicking an actual race. We don’t get any rest there, do we? An example here would be that for 800 repeats, say 6-10 rep’s, I usually would suggest a 400 jog. A 400 recovery lap would also be suggested if you’re doing 4-6 x 1600 meters.

* Adjust your active recovery. How fast or slow are you taking that recovery? Distance runners can be tempted to actually run our recovery even a hair too fast thinking it makes them tougher. That can be true to a degree, but not so much so that you’re never allowing your body to recover between intervals and sacrificing those hard rep’s. Honestly, in the grand scheme of things ratchet it back and don’t feel ‘guilty’ about truly jogging slow, a red flag to go slower on your recovery is if your hard interval times start to drop and fall off pace.

* Playing around with the recovery time. As explained above, cutting down the time of your rest turns it more into an endurance workout and entering the realm of distance runners. The more experienced runners have been known to take incredibly short rests, even run the rest rather quickly, and still hammer the workout. Remember though, that you should build up to that level and make sure you can handle it. An obvious way to gauge that is if you’re still hitting the splits your want; if you are, then go ahead and test yourself to see if you can handle less rest. As you are able to progress doing that you’ll be making the workout harder and should be seeing the the results with more gains in fitness. There’s actually a really great article on Running Times with more on this topic HERE.

Are you sick of me talking about all this rest? Well good, it’s time for your next interval…GO! ;)

1) What does your rest between hard intervals look like? Active recovery jog, stand-still, pace around, etc.

2) How do you adjust or ‘prescribe’ your recovery for a given workout?

3) If you coach, how do you adjust the rest for your athletes or what do your recommend?

4) Have you even thought that much about your rest between intervals? If not, you should…hehe.

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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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My Podiatrist is Pinched for Training Time: Staying Race Ready With Less Time

“So, I was talking to my podiatrist this afternoon.” No, this isn’t the intro to some corny joke, we’re at a runner’s blog so naturally this sentence should roll off the tongue and everyone should nod knowingly because they were doing the exact same thing a few days ago.
girl runner
Back to what I was saying, I was seeing my podiatrist and we got to chatting afterwards. He’s not so much a runner because of ankle issues but is really into cycling. This year he’s going to take part in an especially grueling bike race, it’s 140 miles and a killer climb…he mentioned the exact incline but I’m fuzzy on the number, sorry.

Now the man is a doctor and has two young children too, so he was a little nervous over whether he’d have enough time to actually put in the amount of training necessary. Typically you need to ride the bike longer than you do running (it’s about a 3:1 ratio of bike miles to running miles) and that could mean hours and hours dedicated to a long ride. Runners can relate to the multi-hour long runs too.

I told him not to worry too much and he also mentioned that he’d read that one of the top cyclists is bucking the traditional training method focused on volume and more on shorter, intense rides. I piped in and told him, “Look, if you’ve only got an hour to train, do intervals, jack your heart rate up there. You can do it, you’ve just got to make those shorter rides count.”

The good news is that he’s already built himself a strong base, he’s got years of cardiovascular fitness to draw upon so from here it’s more a matter of maintaining that. Maintaining your fitness is far easier than building, and this holds true to running.

You’d be surprised at how well you can keep that endurance so long as you are still consistent and get in your regular, weekly long run. From there, if you’re limited on time then pick two days and pound the intervals. The other days of the week still put in the steady cardio but it doesn’t necessarily have to be an epic amount; realistically most of those days are going to just be recovering from the last hard workout anyways. You could even split the workout time up into two shorter sessions; a ride/run in the morning and then at night.

foot cartoon

Hmm, I wish there was some kind of sale going on at his office today...nope.

The key thing is keeping your heart rate elevated in the correct level. Even on those recovery days you’re going to still be working, and not totally plodding along. Then when it comes to the hard days, do a short warm-up and remember to cool-down but for those intervals really get after it. Aim to feel like you’re working on a level 8 or 9 (scale of 1 to 10, 10 being all out)…we know what it feels like to work hard.

Play around with the length of hard intervals and the recovery time…do a day more endurance based with longer intervals (sets of 800′s, milers…or do 3 minutes or 10 minutes going hard) and the second day focus more on speed with shorter, faster bouts. This could be 200′s, 400′s, or alternating 1 minute hard and 1 minute easy.

So long as you are CONSISTENT, keep at least one longer run, and get that spike in heart rate you’ve got the staples. Sure, if you’ve got extra time to devote to doing more miles or biking, then by all means go for it…though you want to be smart there and not over-train yourself. In the end training is really personal to the individual and it’s more a matter of finding what works best for you and makes you feel ready come race day.

1) How do you go about coming up with your training? Do you have a coach or do you make your own program?

2) What are some of your staple workouts? Do you prefer the longer intervals or shorter?

3) Are you on a first name basis with your podiatrist? Not that you necessarily want to be, I mean we tend to seek them out with something is wrong!

4) Speaking of corny jokes, do you have one to share this fine Tuesday??
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Intervals and Hard Workouts…Don’t Avoid Them, Lie to Yourself and You’ll Love Them

Interval workouts. Speedwork. Running hard. Pushing until your legs are on fire and your lungs burn. Sounds like so much fun, right?!

I’ve said before that there is a difference between running and training. Hard workouts are the difference. They will make you faster, get you on the road to PR’s and the separate the runnerchicks and runnerdudes from the runnerbeasts…beasts being a good thing. You see, in a sick sort of way we crave that burn of lactic acid and pushing ourselves. I think it’s mainly because of the feeling you get afterwards…the feeling of accomplishment. And ya, the better times or PR’s are certainly perks. :)
strong girl
Intervals are just as much a test of the mind as the body. Sometimes even MORE a test of the mind, a battle of the wills, a battle within yourself. Personally, sometimes the HARDEST part of hard workouts are just getting starting, putting the first one down.

Yesterday I was on the precept of doing some intervals, I was watching the minutes count down constituting the end of my warm-up and getting those little butterfly nerves of getting started, “Here we go…let the good times roll.”

I’ve found there are a few tricks on making bringing your best to a workout or at least gutting it out if it’s not your best day or you just are feeling ‘meh.’ One of the biggest: LYING TO YOURSELF.

You read that right. I was doing 10x 3 minutes hard/2 minutes recovery and I took each one as they came. I sort of broke them into sets of two (ten minutes total) and just thought, “What is ten minutes, nothing.” This worked and when I hit six I knew I was over halfway done.

girl runner

Now, the middle intervals are usually even tricker; you’re feeling tired, not so fresh like the first ones, but the end is not yet feeling in sight. The tendency to let those one lag a bit is tempting and you catch yourself wondering if you’re really going to be able to do ALL of them. But you can…keep lying to yourself. Also, ignore the part in your brain convincing you that those recovery minutes are WAY shorter than the hard ones, something must be off with the watch. ;)

So 7 and 8 I took them one at a time, and by the end promised that they were the last one. LIE.

9 you tell yourself it’s just about the homestretch…don’t let yourself mentally hold back or try to ‘save some for the last one’ because the last one usually takes care of itself.

And then the last one comes, you try to finish strong because the most successful workouts end working off of negative splits.

Now, this is another little LIE I love to torture myself with (I know, we runners are an off breed) I made myself do one more. Why?


When you think you can’t do anything else, you usually can. So number 11…let’s just think of it like our dessert. :)

1) What lies do you tell yourself during a hard workout?

2) Where do you stand on intervals, do you like the shorter/faster ones or the longer/endurance-based ones?
Need I even answer?

3) How is your week starting off, and what is on tap for you?
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Cross-training — Longer Intervals and Endurance Based Workout

Cross-training. I have a love/hate relationship with it. The thing is, I know all of the benefits: cardio without the impact, a safe way to supplement ‘miles’, staying in shape during an injury…ahhh, that last one. See, that is where the hate part comes in.

chained animals

I just feel a little chained down when cross-training...but that's not fair to hate on the machine...haha!

To be fair, it is really just mischanneled anger that gets sloughed off on cross-training…sorry, x-training. Usually whenever I’m on the elliptical, the bike, the crazy scary gauntlet-style stair climber, aqua-jogging, etc., it’s because I’m forced into it. My body is on the machine but my mind keeps drifting to where I want to be…RUNNING!

But there are plenty of other reasons to be on that machine and many of them have nothing to do with injuries. You can be logging miles but still getting a workout done on the elliptical, they can go hand and hand; it’s just that even when I’m not injured I’d still rather be running. Hehe, oh me and my little running affliction.

All that said; if you are going to use that cross-training to its full potential (as in it’s supposed to be a hard workout day, not just getting in some steady cardio) you can do it a few ways. A big one is with intervals.

Intervals can kick your butt on the track/roads and they can do the same anywhere else…don’t believe me check back midway though a session and see if you change your answer. Intervals also help beat the boredom that can come with a stationary machine; though I will warn you that those recovery minutes seem to miraculously fly by much faster than the hard one…funny how that works!

roller blader girl

Heck, you could even go rollerblading for your cross-training!

I’ve done a few cross-training interval workouts on the Workouts Tab, and here is another. This one is more strength/endurance based; you can do it on any machine, even aqua-jogging, just put in the effort. (My choice would be the elliptical but that’s just me!)

* 10-15 minute warm-up
* 5 minutes hard
— you want to be working the whole time, those middle minutes the mind can drift; to refocus and keep yourself honest I usually peek at the RPM’s of the machine and see how I’m doing, if it starts lagging I try and pick it back up. Get competitive with yourself and see how high you can get them and sustain it there.
* 2 minutes recovery – just keep moving, allow yourself to recover
* 5 mintues hard
* 2 minutes recovery
* 5 minutes hard
* 2 minutes recovery
* 5 minutes hard
— last long, hard one, so push through!
* 2 minutes recovery
* 2 minutes hard
— this one is shorter so try and get moving a little faster; though it’s at the end and you’re tired…but just remember you’re ALMOST done!
* cool-down

***** if you are training for a long event you can make this one a little more endurance-based with this: instead of the standard 15 minute warm-up you will make yours 45 minutes but break it up into 3×15 minute chunks. The first 15 minutes will just be your easy warm-up, the next 15 minutes pick it up each 5 minutes until you’re going harder than ‘easy’ and just below a ‘moderate’ level, for the last 15 minutes keep picking it up each 5 minutes until the last bit of time you are going at about a threshold pace. From here, take 3-5 minutes to regroup and then go into the interval workout.

That’s it for now, folks! I hope your week is going along well and remember that cross-training is your friend. Even though it may drudge up ghosts of injuries past, it’s not fair that we dump all that hate on it…that said, it’s still okay to begrudge it just a little…I mean running is still the best. :)

1) Do you prefer cross-training to music or watching TV?
I’d say for just steady cardio probably TV, but music if I’m doing a harder workout.

2) What’s your cross-training of choice?

3) How do you supplement or use cross-training in your workout line-up?

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