Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year! And Some Goals Too...

After 4 years of inactivity on this blog, I’m starting it back up! Over the past couple of years I’ve been running aimlessly. Yes, I’ve done some marathons, and some hard ones at that. Check out my race reports for some write-ups of them. When I trained for my 50 miler, I had a mission. I had focus. I knew what I wanted and how I was getting there. My plan for this blog was to share a lot of what I had been doing and been learning. Unfortunately, I started the blog after I was done with my focused training. Hence, it petered out. It hasn’t been until now that I’ve had that same focus and insight.

It’s the new year and I’ve got some running goals again. This time I hope to keep up with blogging as I’m running. I’m no elite athlete by any means, but I think that will help me connect with you as the reader (assuming you aren’t elite). You can see how a “normal” person can go after their goals and achieve them. I haven’t been one for trying to set time goals since I feel that running for speed is a recipe for injury. Speed happens naturally with time and distance, but now I’m going back on that and have some time as well as distance goals this year.


1. Run 2016 miles in 2016
This one is sort of untrue. My combined mileage with my girlfriend is to get 2016 miles. There is a program for this. If you are interested, check out

2. Run a 3 hour marathon
I have never tried to improve my marathon time. My biggest limiting factor has been endurance rather than speed. This year, I’m going for it. It’s not because of Boston like most people want. I just want to do well at my hometown marathon in Syracuse, NY in October.

3. Run a 50 miler again, in 8 hours.
I always said that I’d do another 50 mile race if I thought I could do it in 8 hours. The last 2 hours of that 10 hour race really killed me. Before that point, I was ok. Not great, obviously, but ok. I think if I’m strong enough for a 3 hour marathon, I’ll be strong enough for a 50 miler the way I want to run it.


My plan for achieving these goals is pretty simple. I’m not revolutionizing, I’m simplifying. I think that will make it easier.

1. Be consistent all year with running
Historically, I’ve had almost half the year off from running due to winter and mental exhaustion. Typically, I train for and run my October marathon every year, then take off a few months for a break, then it’s too cold because of winter, then it’s April. Woah! Where’d the year go? Half of it is gone, and I haven’t been running. This year, I plan to be consistent. Even if I’m not doing 20 milers every weekend, going out for a 6 or something is better than nothing. Then when I do ramp up, I’m already in shape for it and can tolerate it. This will also keep me on track for running the 2016 miles in the year.

2. Get Strong
I’m planning on doing deliberate strength training. Historically, with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Taekwondo as cross-training activities I enjoy, I’ve always just assumed strength was taken care of. This year, I’m focusing on core strengthening and weight training as well. I won’t give up my activities, but I’m also going to focus on getting strong and making sure my weaknesses are taken care of. I know this sounds like it’s going against my cross-training post, but I’ve justified this in my mind. My strength training will be at hours when I wouldn’t be running anyway.

3. Train like I mean it
My training will have some variances in it for the first time. When I got down to a 3:26 marathon and ran the 50 miler, I was only running a lot. I ran slow so I wouldn’t get injured. I ran long to improve my endurance. I never ran fast. This is one of the main reasons I feel a 3 hour marathon is possible for me. I did nothing special to get down to 3:26. I’m going to add in speed work and lots of hill work. Hills are not new to me. I always found them the best way to improve strength while continuing to run slow and long. I’m going to try to nail my marathon target goals by checking my speed with Yasso 800s. Not only will it give me a speed workout, it will tell me where I am for marathon pace all year round. I’m going to run test marathons throughout the year to ensure I’m on target to hit my final 3 hour marathon. Train like I mean it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Is Cross-Training Worth It?

Is cross-training worth it? First, I'll define what I mean by cross-training. Cross-training is doing any activity other than your main activity in an effort to improve your main activity. So a runner might go to the weight room and do squats, leg press, step ups, etc. They could also play basketball. It's just doing a secondary activity with the goal of improving your running. I'm being careful to define it this way because my answer to the question is that it is definitely not worth it. No way, no how! Unless you are an elite athlete competing at the Olympics or something, cross-training is pretty much useless. (Yes, useless! Even counter-productive!)

That got your attention, didn't it? All these magazines and popular articles are talking about the great benefits of cross-training, and here I am saying it's useless. And it isn't just useless for running, but for any sport or activity you do. If my main activity is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, then running will not be a good use of my time. Before I get into why it's bad to cross-train, let me address why professional athletes do it.

Let's look at professional runners since this is a running blog. Professional runners are already logging well over 100 miles of running per week. Usually this number is only the so called "quality" miles too. Add on top of that figure tons of recovery miles -- possible 200 "real" miles per week. Are you doing that? Could you do that? If the answer is no, then why are you wasting time cross-training? These guys are cross-training because they already have 2-3 running sessions per day. They are physically at their running peak. They are looking for something to give them that extra 1% on the end that can help them beat their competition. Lifting weights might do it for them. Maybe swimming. Who knows...but I can say, until you can run, avoiding running by cross-training isn't going to get you to run.

As a new to advanced runner, you aren't looking for that final extra ounce (yes, advanced -- even someone who completed their first marathon still has a long ways to go before they should consider cross-training). You're still trying get this whole running thing worked out. Every time you go out to run, you are improving your neuromuscular pathways. This is the communication between your brain and your muscles. If you have time to run or go to the gym, then run. It's a must! Unless you can go out and run 20 miles without it being a problem, then you are still developing your running. Nothing other than running could possibly help you with that. Once you are running efficiently, your specific running muscles are developed sufficiently, and your neuromuscular pathways are well paved, then maybe hitting the gym can help a little (but still not as much as running).

Now, let's recall my definition. I'm not saying to give up everything else except running. If you do other activities because you enjoy them, by all means keep at it! I'm just saying doing another activity to improve your running specifically is a fool's errand. You may be thinking lifting weights to develop leg strength (aka running muscles) could help, right? Wrong. Can a body builder with significantly more leg muscle mass than even the best runners on the planet go out and run a marathon? No. If they could, is there any hope they could win? No. Training must be specific. This has to do in part with the neuromusclar pathways I mentioned, but it also has to do with developing the muscles in the right proportions. What are those proportions? Well, if you train your running muscles by running instead of lifting, you don't have to know, it's automatically going to be correct.

The final thing I have to say is that running is more than just muscle strength. Cross-training completely ignores this fact. Running is very aerobic and doing the act of running will focus on building your aerobic base (specifically running "slowly" -- I'm sure I'll have a different post to flesh this idea out more). In addition, to run well, you must use good form. Some form develops naturally just through the repetitive act of running. A lot of it is through focused, purposeful practice of good form. This can only be done by actually running.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Transitioning to Your New Shoes

Well, assuming you actually want to follow the "advices" from my shoe post, you're probably going to have some issues at first. The first thing you need to worry about is correcting your form. I'll probably do a longer post on form, but basically you want to keep your feet underneath you. Don't reach out with your stride! Land on your forefoot. Toes first, then let the heel come to the ground. Let the calf stretch and return the energy with ease. Don't feel like you are pushing off the ground. Just let your feet lift up and catch you from falling. Quicker steps help with this. Increase your foot speed without increasing your body speed. Short, small steps like running on hot coals is correct. Basically, this is important because running with a light, flat shoe gives you no room to strike the ground with your heel anymore. Over striding and reaching forward with your foot basically guarantees you are landing on your heel. One of my early mistakes in form was actually over striding but still landing on the forefoot. This still creates a ton of force on the legs and produces a breaking action with every step. Remember: forefoot landing AND keep the landing underneath you.

So when I first transitioned to a flat shoe, I got really sore, tight calves and Achilles tendons. The best thing to do is take a day or two off to recover. You're just using new muscles. It's no big deal. At first, it may actually seem harder to run this way, but really it's just new. You are recruiting more muscles, so actually when you get used to it, running will be easier. The more muscles you use, the less work each individual one does. You also are reducing your impact on your legs and body, so while you get sore muscles at first, you are actually causing much less actual damage.

When I first transitioned, I actually was running every day so I didn't have the luxury of taking a day off. I was running in New Balance MT 101s. I had also bought a pair of New Balance Minimus Trail (MT 10). I thought I was going to be using these (MT 10s) as my main shoe because of the Vibram bottoms. The heel drop was 4mm though and it was killing me! I was stumbling and tripping all over the place in those things after living in zero heel drop land. What I did was alternate the 4mm heel drop shoe with the 0mm heel drop shoe. The 4mm heel drop was enough of a raise, that my calves were not stretched and utilized as much with each step. This allowed me to recover and continue running at the same time. So my advice is to alternate your old shoes with your new ones until you can run in your new ones comfortably. Some day I'll do a post on my philosophy of running, but I very much believe it's far more important to get aerobic benefit out of a run than trying to build leg muscles. The goal was actually to rest my legs while still doing aerobic work!

I should also throw out another thing. I think it's important for people to do some running in minimalist (zero drop and light weight) shoes. I know that some people really do need the motion control, stability, orthotics stuff. I'm not against it if you need it. I just think it's hard to determine if you need it until you have been running for a long time. Doing a short run a week in minimal shoes will help strengthen the foot and main running muscles and improve your form naturally. Sure 95% of your running will be in your main corrective shoe, but some minimal running will benefit you greatly.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Buying Shoes?!

Well, this is a bit of an ambitious post for so early on, but a friend wanted me to do it. Note I am not paid to promote a company. I just mention things I use that work for me and people I know.

What do I look for in a shoe? Well, fantastic question. I have two main criteria, and a third secondary one (yup, I just wrote "third secondary"). The main criteria are low weight and no heel drop. Let's do the easier one first: weight.

I'm pretty particular now about wearing light weight shoes. Running in heavy shoes is awkward, uncomfortable, and most importantly: not fun! Your legs are the longest limbs on your body (unless you are a freak!). Yea, physics! The longer a lever, the more force (or torque!) you get. That's uncontrollable though. Here's what's important. The more weight you have (at the end of your leg), the more momentum each step produces. At first, this may not even be noticeable (like trying on new shoes in a store, or doing a short run). But over time or during a long run when your muscles wear down, you can't control that momentum anymore. Even when you can control it, you are putting completely unnecessary stress on your knees and hips to control the momentum of the step. Over time, this leads to injury city -- a place best left unexplored.

"Okay," you say. "I'm convinced, but what weight is a good weight?" Ahhh, yes. Well, that's going to change over time, now isn't it? I currently run in a 7.2 oz. shoe for all my racing purposes (New Balance MT 101). Anything under 8 oz. should be great. I train in shoes as light as 4.7 oz. and consider that "barefoot" training (Altra Adam, no footbed). If I put on a 10 oz. shoe (Saucony Progrid), I feel like I have leg weights on and can't run 3 miles without developing knee pain. The truth is, over time as your feet get stronger and your form gets better, you will transition to lighter weight shoes. I often recommend the Saucony Kinvara as a starter shoe since it has both good protection/padding and is light weight.

Heel Drop.
Heel drop is kind of a new topic. I don't think people were talking about it much 5 years ago. Basically, heel drop is the distance from the heel to the toes, vertically. So high heels (not running shoes!) have a large heel drop. Popularly, something like Converse has little to no heel drop (aka flat shoes).

The less heel drop a shoe has, the more stretched your achilles/calf muscles get with each step. The stretching is like stretching a rubber band. The greater the stretch, the more energy is returned for free with each step. A zero heel drop promotes healthy, efficient running. A built up, large heel drop promotes over-striding and inefficient running. It also makes it feel safer to land on your heel, which has been shown to increase forces on your legs by 4 times. Over the course of millions of steps (the lifespan of a shoe), this can cause tremendous damage to your feet and legs and joints (feeling safer and increasing the force on your legs is not good!).

I strongly recommend starting with something with little to no heel drop and never looking back (4mm or less). Everything from Altra running is zero heel drop (, and they make different weights and paddings. The cool thing about buying a shoe from them is that they give you 3 different footbeds with a single shoe: "support" like a normal training/distance shoe, "strengthen" like a light weight minimalist shoe, and no footbed like a barefoot/minimalist shoe. You can't go wrong with them, but some of their shoes are a little heavier than I personally prefer -- so be careful.

Toe Box.
The third criteria is shoe width or toe box width. How much room do your toes have to spread when you land? This is strangely important for many reasons. One is simply to avoid getting black toes and losing toenails. Duh! Another, less obvious concern, is stability. Landing on your forefoot and allowing the toes to spread gives you good ground control, balance, and thrust forward. It is a central part of efficient running. Many shoes have toe boxes that narrow because it looks cool. Not good for running. Larger toe boxes do look weird, but improve performance and reduce injury potential by a lot.

Rant About Specialty Stores.
Many running specialty stores will provide services to analyze your running form and recommend shoes specifically for you. Remember, their goal is to sell you products! They don't mean anything malicious, but they don't know you. Their system is to analyze a person's running technique. If you are just starting, you have no running technique! Nothing you do today will be anything like you are doing 6 months from now. How can they determine what you need when you are changing daily?! It's important to realize that some people need inserts and some people need stability running shoes, but you don't know that yet. Until you've been running consistently (at least 3 times a week) for 6 months to a year, you have no idea.

I developed some pretty bad ankle problems when getting up to 6 mile runs while wearing "stability" shoes. That's what was recommended to me when my longest run of all time was 3 miles! I had no idea about running, running form, training programs, marathons, ultra marathons, or anything. Somehow they knew what I needed though (hint: they didn't). When I switched back to neutral shoes, my ankle problems went away without me changing a thing. I just needed some training time to come into my form and develop some running muscles. So be careful when the experts telling you what you need are the same people making a profit from selling you what you need.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who Am I?

Ah, the obligatory "get to know you" post. Well, without belaboring the point too much, I am a runner. I'm an established marathoner. At the time of this writing, I've done 10 marathons. I exist on the periphery of the so called "ultra community" (ultra running is when you run races longer than a marathon). By this I mean that I'm not regularly running at this distance like marathons (yet!), but I have done a 50km and a 50 miler. On top of that, I've done an exotic race called the Triple Crown where you race a half marathon, followed by a 10km, followed by a 5km all back-to-back. I can't even begin to count how many 5km, 10km, 15km, 2 mile, 5 mile, 10 mile (essentially any popular distance under half marathon) that I've done. For a while I was racing on average around 2-3 times per week, sometimes 3 to 4 races on the same day and 6 in a weekend! I've even done a marathon in the morning and a 5km that afternoon.

I must point out that I'm in no way qualified to give out any advice on the topic of running. I'm not a certified trainer of any kind or coach or anything like that. I do feel I have some things to share from my own training that others might want to consider. The advice out there can be just plain bad and counter productive or conflicting. These are going to be my thoughts and what has worked for me, personally. Not everything that works for one person works for everyone. In addition to the resume given above, I've never been injured (crosses fingers), which is something important to consider when taking advice from someone. Sure, some coach might be able to get you a new PR on your 5km, but are you going to end up with a busted knee like him in the process?

Speaking of breaking records, I should mention that I'm not fast. You can see my PRs, and you can realize that I'm probably faster than average, but I am FAR behind the leaders of the pack on even small local races. I just don't care that much about it. I enjoy running, and I run for fun. If I stop finding it to be entertaining, I'll simply stop running. There are plenty of other things to do with my time. And with that, I'll end with my first advice: if you don't enjoy running, don't run. Do what you enjoy.