Monday, December 29, 2014

On (re)Starting to Run

One of my first coaching "clients" if you will was (is) my mother. I've been writing cycling and progressive functional strength programs for her for a few years, and in turn I receive phone calls/emails/texts that go like: 

"I did that 8 x 20 sec on/10 sec off bike workout you gave me. Whoa that was hard. Then I had a few extra minutes, so I did it all again!"

"I've been working on my single leg RDLs every morning. I found a video on YouTube of Bret Contreras and he told me all the things I was doing wrong."

My mom is the best. And now that she's discovered Twitter, she's probably reading this. Hi mom.

So when one of her friends was looking for a framework to follow/advice on starting to run again after a 20-some-odd year break, I volunteered my services. Perhaps I've found my coaching niche. Plus with one of them running, they now have 2/3 of a triathlon relay team. If there are any swimming-inclined master's age group women in the Greater Philadelphia area who'd like to fill this void, hit them up.

For reference, here's said friend's situation:

A bit of quick info:
- I ran BC (before children) and not since, so it has been a long time!

- Back then I bought sneakers and just went out the door - Forest Gump style....just ran.
Now, I am a fair weather runner / biker so am inside on a treadmill. Started about a month ago. I am sure it is not a pretty sight but I am surprised and pleased with my progress.

- I am a tortoise. My style in any exercise goal is for Consistency, slow and steady. Basically maintain my speed / distance for a week and then increase it by just a tad the following week. Either a tad more distance or the same distance but a tad faster.

- This is for me, my personal challenge. Though if I gained confidence and opportunity arose it would be a silent thrill to do a race / event (again the "race" part would be my personal challenge race - not for the pack race)

- I do interlace the weight machines at the gym. Arms, abs, legs. I only know I feel better when I do them but perhaps my goal in 2015 will be to actually start to know what I am doing and why.

I ended up writing her a pretty lengthy response, because I can never shut up about running. 

And after I was done typingtypingtyping, I realized that what I had done (thankfully for both of us) was hone in on what I think are the KEY things to consider when starting a run program. There's so much information out there on exactly this, and one could easily spend hours reading (sometimes conflicting) advice and end up completely overwhelmed. Moreover, most of the points I brought up were things that seasoned runners would also do well to remind themselves of every now and then - myself included.

So maybe you're starting to run, re-starting to run, have been running for 20 or 40 years, or your mom's friend has just emailed you for running advice. Here it goes:

Consistency is key. So you've got that part right, and that's the one that most people struggle with! 
Some general thoughts: 
1. The biggest mistake (maybe not mistake so much as "less effective method in terms of making progress") your average runner makes is doing the same thing every time they run. Even if you're not training to maximize speed for a race per se, mixing things up keeps you less prone to injury and lets you train different systems (ie working on strength vs getting faster vs developing endurance), making you stronger overall for whenever you feel like just heading out the door Forrest Gump style (which I am all for. That's part of the beauty of running). Following from this, people tend to do all their runs in a medium-hard effort range, when they'd be much better off making their hards harder and their easys easier! Even the Kenyans do their easy runs 3-4 minutes per mile slower than race pace. So, for instance, instead of doing three 4 mile runs at 10:00 pace per week, doing the same total mileage broken up into one super easy 2 mile run, one longer 6 mile run where you progress the pace, and a 4 mile run with some hills or speed work. 
2. Treadmill thoughts - The biggest problem with the treadmill is that your feet are striking the surface the exact same way every time, which is why people sometimes complain about foot/knee/hip pain with a lot of treadmill-ing. When you're outside - even on asphalt, although ideally with some mixed surfaces, trails, grass, road - your footstrike varies more. It's subtle but it engages slightly different muscles and varies the stress on your body. So I try to make a point of at least varying the elevation on treadmill runs a little bit, being aware of form and cadence, and doing more strength training that works lateral movements (to balance out the constant forward stresses of running/biking). 
3. As far as form goes, people have a tendency to get slouchy on treadmills, which is (a) inefficient and (b) can result in you using the wrong muscles (you tilt forward too much, you start recruiting too much quads and not enough glutes, then your knees hurt, etc.). So check in with yourself every 10 minutes or so and think shoulders back, feet landing under your body (not out in front of you, e.g. overstriding), and pretend there's a string attached to the top of your head pulling you nice and tall. Count your strides (R foot striking the ground) for a minute - or 30 sec and multiply by 2 - most people are most efficient at 85-95 strides/min. Much slower than that and you're likely overstriding, and putting a lot of extra stress on hamstrings.
4. In terms of a beginner schedule - so much of what you can handle is individual, so I'm not a huge fan of the "canned" training plans you can find online. Some people are bulletproof and can run 6 days a week, ramp up mileage at a quicker pace, and not have any aches and pains. Most people are better off being a little more conservative. I like an "every other day" running schedule for most people starting out/returning to running, especially if they're cycling on intervening days like you are, and every 3-5 weeks taking a "step-back" week or 3-4 days, where you stick to lower volume/intensity recovery workouts, to give your body (and your brain, if needed) a chance to absorb all that training. 
For example, here's (attached) the schedule I wrote for a friend who's mostly a cyclist and wanted to run (also limited to treadmill workouts) for about 45 minutes 2-3 times per week (and runs a steady 12-13 min/mile, with 5k race pace being a 10 min/mile). Her goals were to increase run fitness on pretty low volume so she can run under 30 minutes for a 5k, and she's a strong cyclist so we were pretty aggressive with the hill work from the start. This is kind of the structure I follow for myself too - ideally, one tempo (steady state faster pace) or speed-work run per week, one hilly run, and the rest easy/aerobic-base-building runs for consistency. It's completely fine to be tortoise-y - the idea is just to push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit, which will lead to the steady progress you're seeking.
5. I have lots of thoughts on strength training too...It's hands down the best way to keep yourself running and cycling without aches and pains, and important for life in general too, and bone density. I also enjoy the looks I get deadlifting 125% bodyweight for reps. I've made many muscley, tattooed friends this way. The machines are an ok starting place, but moving more towards weighted movements that require you to stabilize your own body - lunges, squats, etc - will give you the biggest bang for your buck.
So, those 5 points (plus a few tangents. I had caffeine.) are what I would consider the key considerations for a runner looking to build a new program. Note that she beat me to the punch by providing a realistic self-evaluation, a reasonable internal timeline and external metrics for progress, and realistic goals - so we were already ahead of the game, as these are issues to address before you even think about hitting actual training advice.

And on that note, I'm going to go head out the door, Forrest Gump style. Hey, it's the off-season...

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