the anatomy of the long run

Wednesday: rest day/kickball

Thursday: 5 mile tempo run

Friday: strength training (at the gym)

Saturday: 12 mile run

In my last post, I said I wanted to talk about hills next, but I need to get a few more hill runs under my belt before I blog about them.

Let’s talk about the long run instead.

Most marathoners would agree it’s the most important run of race training, and it’s the one run of the week that I’m trying not to miss. If I miss a 4- or 5-miler, I can make it up in weight training or a boot camp class. But there’s really nothing that can substitute being on your feet (and in your head) for the couple hours of the long run.

I’ve been trying to break my long runs into quarters:

  1. Warm up – I use the first 2-3 miles of the long run to warm up my legs. I don’t pay attention to my pace, and I try to, well, pretend I’m not really running. I look around at the scenery, create a mental map of where I want to run and just try to relax.
  2. Kick it up – I like to imagine the run really starts here, around mile 3 (or 4 or 5, for even longer runs). Generally I’m allowing myself to run slow and steady for the entire long run, but I do try to take it up a notch after the warmup. At this point, the cobwebs are cleared out of my legs, and I’m trying to get into a good rhythm.
  3. Mix it up – By mile 6 or 7, I’m starting to get fatigued, both physically and mentally. Now’s the time I begin to feel a little tightness in my hip or knee, and while it’s usually something I can address with a small form adjustment, it messes with me mentally. (Uh oh, am I over training? Can I handle today’s run?) So I mix it up in this section of the run: by doing a loop around a park, quickening my pace for a block & then slowing down, changing my playlist. As long as it’s something unplanned and spontaneous (well, as spontaneous as you can be while running), it tends to help these miles go by.
  4. Home free – When I’ve got 2-3 miles left, I tell myself I’m on the home stretch. You can do anything for 20 minutes. If I’ve got energy to spare, I’ll try to race the last couple miles, or at least pick up the pace. I’m finding that every long run feels more and more mentally rewarding. No matter how slow I’ve gone, it just feels good to conquer them.

And it also help to wear neon from head to toe:

long run

Some other important reminders for the long run:

  • Don’t be afraid to stop and stretch. You won’t compromise your endurance if you stop. In fact, you’ll likely hurt yourself if you feel tightness and don’t address it. Use stoplights as stretching points, or plan a couple stretching breaks at different mileage markers.
  • Bring water. I run with this Nathan belt, and I’ve started to realize that it’s not enough water for runs longer than 10 miles. I thinking of getting this hand-held bottle, or maybe even running with my Camelbak that I usually wear for hiking. It’d likely be a little awkward to run with something on my back, but staying hydrated is so, so important. Don’t want to feel nauseous for the rest of the day? Bring water on your run.
  • Eat before and during. I really want to scold folks who say they can’t eat before working out. Look, we’re not talking about polishing off a plate of pancakes and bacon. We’re talking about fuel. Have a 200-300 calorie snack. I like peanut butter on an apple,  a scoop of almond butter and a protein bar, or almonds and dried cranberries. If I’m going to be out for more than 70 minutes, I’ve started bringing jelly beans, Clif shot gels or fruit leathers. I’ll snack just after the midway point. It provides a boost of energy, and it breaks up the run, too.

What about you? Any long run tips & tricks to share?


mixing it up & welcome back, Zumba

Saturday: 3 hr hike near Government Camp

Sunday: long run (11.6 miles)

Monday: Zumba (I’ve missed it!)

Ah, I love long weekends. And I love when I don’t overplan my long weekends. This one was all about sleeping in, cooking meals (I made pancakes, people), drinking wine, hiking, reading and spending time with some good people.

I’d planned to do my long run on Saturday, but when I found out that Cheryl Strayed would be reading from Wild at a book shop near Government Camp, I took it as a sign that I should go to her reading and then go for a hike.

I spent a few hours on Hunchback Trail, aptly named for its steepness, and took some pretty pics:

hike pics

Gimme a hit of that nature.

Solo hiking is … good for me. When I start, I always feel a little unnerved and restless, even spooked. But once I get in a rhythm, I end up really enjoying it — and working out some mental sh*t that I don’t think I’d otherwise give enough time to.

I also tested out my new hiking tanks, er, boots. I typically hike in running shoes, but I’m going on a trip in the fall for which I’m told boots are sorta required. So I bought them in advance to break them in this summer.

Take a look:

hiking boots

Right, those are *my* feet, not a 6’5″ man’s feet.

If you’re well-versed in hiking boots, you probably think these look standard. For me, it’s a leap into the world of traction and ankle support and … heft? They’re not that heavy, afterall, but they took some getting used to. Kind of like having SUVs strapped to your feet. I didn’t slip or skid or trip at all, so I think their traction tires worked. ;)

On Sunday, I headed out for my 11-12 miler:

long run, orange socks

Shiny five-head! … I’d just put on sunscreen. (Go me.) And I’m wearing neon orange compression sleeves on my calves, in case that looks like a neon orange tan.

I haven’t been doing long runs, well, long enough, and so I don’t know what to expect from them. For now, I’m just happy to complete them. I have to remind myself that it really wasn’t that long ago that I’d get knee pain around mile 3.

So, it’s a victory that I can run almost 12 miles now and only experience a small, manageable amount of hip pain (that I can easily treat afterward with stretching and icing).

But … I’m sheepish to admit how slow my pace is. Like almost 2 minutes slower per mile than my tempo pace. Is that normal?

And my pace also varies wildly over the course of the long runs. I’ll look at my Garmin and be shocked that I’m going :30 slower than when I looked before, even though it feels like I’m running at least moderately consistently.

It’s odd.

Anyway, I’m trying not to sweat it too much. It’s easy to get in my head and worry about whether or not I’m making progress quickly enough, or whether or not I’m pushing myself hard enough, and then I remember that I’m doing this because I want to be a lifelong runner. Not because I want to be a lifelong racer. Not because I want to be the world’s fastest woman. And certainly not because I want to run myself into an injury.

So I’m going to be satisfied with slow and steady.

And, then, on Monday, after a much-too-long hiatus from Zumba, I took a class and Zumba’d my heart out. I have to say: I love Zumba instructors. Every one I’ve ever had (that would be three of them, ha) is so full of energy and joy and encouragement. Where else can you go where someone wearing (what amount to) neon Hammer pants shouts at you to LET YOURSELF GO and you totally, willingly obey?

I forgot how much I love it — and being surrounded by people who don’t care how awkward and silly they look.

I think all runners should have to take a Zumba class every once in a while. It reminds us to relax and not take ourselves so seriously and get swept up in the fun (without being attached to pace times and outcomes).

I’ll be back later this week with post 5 & 6 in the form series.

form focus (2 of 6)

I’ve been busy and have fallen behind here. Let’s catch up on runs and then hop to the next form focus.

Monday (of last week): 25 min fast run (in Chicago)

Tuesday: 5.6 mile tempo run (back in Portland)

Wednesday: Physique 57 (30 minutes)

Thursday: speed work (warmup, 4 x 400s, cool down)

Friday: rest day

Saturday: 10 mile long run

Sunday: kickball (so, er, a rest day)

Some thoughts on the week’s runs:

  • The good: I did my long run without too much soreness (a little bit of hip pain at the end) and not a lot of boredom (I wondered if I’d be over it at any point). And I pushed myself a lot in the tempo run on Tuesday — huffing and puffing, but still moving more or less as quickly as I could.
  • The bad: My pace for the tempo run was a lot slower than I wanted it to be. I can’t figure out if I’ve sort of hit a plateau for the moment or if my legs are fatigued or what.

Want to see a before & after from my long run (pardon yet another photo of me in my entryway)?

before and after

Ok, this wasn’t exactly *after* the run, but after a shower and a cute outfit. :)

So, let’s talk form. (As a reminder, I’m sharing form focuses covered in Chi Marathon and adding a bit about my own running habits.)

In the first post, I wrote about posture. And I suppose you’re thinking that running with good posture is a given. But, have you checked out joggers on the street lately? There’s a lot of shoulders-up-to-the-ears and butts-popped-out and duck feet going on.

Today’s focus goes hand-in-hand with posture: it’s the lean.

Here’s how Chi Marathon explains it:

A slight forward lean from your ankles is enough to allow gravity to assist you in falling forward. As your column falls forward, it passes over the foot that’s on the ground. The oncoming force of the road sweeps your support leg out behind you, allowing your leading foot to land beneath your center of mass, in a midfoot strike. This leg then momentarily supports your weight as your column passes over it and the whole cycle happens again. If you’re running at a 180 spm cadence, the cycle happens three times every second.

And here’s how I’m focusing while I run:

  1. Leaning forward with my whole body (not just bending at the waist)
  2. Striking with my midfoot (goodbye, heel strike)
  3. Keeping my feet beneath me (not over-extending way out in front of my body)

The lean is also supported by your arm swing. Did you know you’re supposed to swing your arms to the rear as you fall forward?

And, finally, relax your lower legs, feet and ankles. Again, this sounds kind of obvious, but I realized that I used to run with a lot of tension in my feet. Sort of like bracing myself for each stride, versus just letting myself lean into the stride and letting my feet float beneath me. (Float is a stretch, but you see what I mean.)

Without a doubt, of all form changes I’ve made, the lean is making the biggest difference. Midfoot striking is helping to minimize my IT tightness, and the lean really helps to conserve energy (letting gravity do some of the work for me). I can’t tell you how much energy I used to waste when I ran upright and nearly hopped straight up and down. Now the movement is all about going forward and relaxing. It feels gooood.

Tell me: What’s your foot strike? Have you tried leaning into your run? How do you relax while running?

Up next: lower body focuses