Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Historical snowfalls, cold temperatures and short days have been posing training challenges this winter. Recently, I have had a lot of runners ask what the keys to marathon training in the winter are, and if cold weather running is detrimental to their body.
Physiologic Response to Cold
Under normal circumstances and if appropriately dressed, it is extremely rare for people to reach their cold tolerance limit. The amount of heat one loses to the environment mostly depends on activity level and clothing, but the balance between heat generation/loss can change rapidly if one's activity level changes or if their clothes lose their insulative properties (getting wet is a common example of this). As temperatures drop, peripheral blood vessels (vessels supplying the limbs/appendices) constrict to reduce heat loss from blood near the body’s surface in order to maintain a core temperature of 36.5–37.5 °C or 97.7–99.5 °F through homeostasis or thermoregulation. In other words, your body will sacrifice your limbs in order to keep your vital organs running. A drop in just two degrees in core temperature signals the onset of hypothermia, which can lead to confusion, incoordination, organ failure and even death. The keys to staying safe while running in cold weather is to cover exposed skin, stay dry, use layers properly and protect your head and trunk. A number of studies have found that protecting athletes' faces and keeping the trunk warm was actually more effective at keeping the fingers warm than wearing gloves themselves. Carefully adding and subtracting layers as needed to stay warm can take some getting used to but will make long runs more manageable. If extremely cold, carrying reusable hot packs is not a bad idea either.
While cold weather itself doesn’t cause illness, hypothermia does suppress the immune system, which can lead to greater susceptibility to infection. Vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) close to the body surface, such as blood vessels in the nose, may compromise the nose’s ability to filter pathogens. It is not well understood how long it takes for the immune system to bounce back after a run; however, working out at the gym in tight quarters with members who don’t wipe off equipment when they are done using it may actually pose a bigger risk to one’s health (but that shouldn’t stop you from either activity).
Last week, I had a runner ask if he could be damaging his lung tissues when he runs outside in the extreme cold (he started coughing a lot after his runs). Even in the very coldest of places, research has demonstrated that runners are not at risk for damaging their lungs; by the time air enters our lungs, it has reached body temperature. Bitterly cold temperatures and/or dry air may act as an irritant/pathogen for some people, which results in an exaggerated inflammatory response that promotes changes in the airway such as coughing, increased mucus production and shortness of breath. If this sounds like something you experience, try wearing a scarf or neck-warmer to help warm and humidify the air before it enters your airways so that it is less likely to cause irritation.
Heat production is directly proportional to VO2 max, meaning the more conditioned one is, the fewer layers they will require when running in cold temperatures. Those who are more conditioned will also be able to run for longer periods of time safely in cold weather conditions. Scientists also believe that shivering releases a neurotransmitter (norepinephrine) that contributes to the body’s fight or flight response which jumpstarts the immune system, so it has been suggested that doing some shivering before you begin running could actually benefit the immune system.
Warming Up: Colder temperatures and slick roads can increase the risk of muscle strains, so include a longer warm up before starting your run.
Monitoring Your Exertion: Running in the snow and ice is similar to trail running in that it requires a lot more energy and stabilization demands on muscles. During the winter, I would avoid focusing on pace when the weather is rough and use heart rate and rate of perceived exertion to keep things reasonable – it will be very important for you to measure your body’s response to the stress load so that you are able to recover properly.
Dressing Properly: Invest in the right gear and layer up. High tech fabrics are essential for wicking away sweat and keeping you warm (stay away from cotton as a base layer). Don't forget to factor in wind chill too; have an outer windproof layer that can be vented and consider running into the wind on your way out and returning with the wind at your back. Find a good balaclava to protect your head, neck, and face (or a buff if you don’t like having things over your face) and a hood on your shell top. Don’t forget about eye protection and mittens. Consider a cold weather running shoe and wool socks.
Remain Visible: It is still quite dark early in the morning and in the evening. Make yourself visible to drivers and others you are sharing the sidewalks and roads with – wear contrasting and reflective clothing. Consider a flash light or bike lights at night or in the early morning. Always give cars plenty of space and warning.
Traction: Try YakTrax or running in trail shoes.
Be Smart: Carry your cell phone with you, run with a buddy if possible and let someone know your route and expected return time. Find areas to run where there is less traffic, even if you have to drive to these areas.
Treadmill: If you are anything like me, treadmill running can be mentally painful. I typically avoid it at all costs, but this winter weather has made running outside dangerous at times. The lack of stimulation during treadmill running typically had me ready to be done with my run after a mile if I don’t mix it up a bit. Here are some strategies I use to make treadmill running more bearable: With long runs, change the incline or speed every 1/4-1/2 mile (depending on the length of the run); every other mile, check an aspect of your running form (monitor where your foot is landing relative to your hip position, check that your knees are staying in line with your toes, make sure your shoulders are relaxed and that your arms are swinging parallel to one another). You can also check your cadence; increasing step rate by five to 10 percent may be helpful in correcting common problems. A cadence of 180 steps/min (90 steps per foot) is a good general recommendation, but optimal step rate will vary by individual and desired running speed.
Cross-training: Don’t forget that all of your running training doesn’t need to be running itself. See my previous post about injury prevention and the importance of strength and cross training.
I am happy to report that this week was more successful than the last few weeks. I received my Yaktrax, I ran along Commonwealth Avenue for the first time and I was able to complete the longest run yet! I was able to log more miles on the treadmill this week. The positive note is the treadmill seems to be getting easier and I am able to run more miles, but the bad news is the treadmill is getting easier.
The great news is Wednesday I was able to try out my new Yaktrax! These were a huge success! It was a beautiful and sunny 22 degrees out, but no seriously it was nice out (sad that I now consider 22 and sunny “nice”). Even after working all night I was able to log 5.3 miles outside, which is something I haven’t done since January! The Yaktrax were great and worth every penny. I ran on a safe path set off the road, which consisted of some loose snow, some compacted snow and some ice, but they held up to the test. I never felt like I was going to fall and I am happy that I was able to be back outside. Without these I would have never been able to run outside.
Sunday was supposed to be the Half at the Hamptons half marathon, but due to the snow the race has been postponed till March. The biggest success of the weekend was a long run on Sunday with two fellow runners and co-workers at NWH, Ann Chang and Katie Calvo. We may be all running for different causes, but our end goal is the same. We set up a 6:45 am meet time and I can say if I didn’t have these two to meet I can pretty much guarantee I would have never made it out there. The weather predicted was a wintery mix and somewhere in the 20/30 degree range. I left my house with about 2’’ of snow on the ground and was not looking forward to this early morning run. But we got going and it ended up being a great run! I got to experience Comm Ave and the hills for the first time. My fellow runners made the time and miles go by and the weather ended up clearing up. I will be honest the last few miles were a struggle for me, but knowing I had those two in front of me, I did what I could and kept trekking along. This is the longest distance I had run in about two years and overall I am happy with how things went. I was sore and exhausted after but very happy that these two got me out there to do 12.5 miles. I know I still have plenty more miles to go, but this run helped me put the rest of my training in perspective. Having others to run with motivates me to push myself to keep up! I already am looking forward to our run next weekend together.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Injury Prevention: Strength/Power Training, Cross Training, Warm Up/Cool Down
Injury rates among runners are extremely high; most injuries occur in the lower limbs and are a result of “overuse” or constant repetition of the same movement. Distance running breaks down muscle mass and can result in loss of strength; this will increase your risk of injury and decrease your performance. Strength training not only decreases risk of injury for endurance runners, but also has positive effects on running performance through improvements in running economy and neuromuscular adaptations.
While most strength-training programs will be beneficial, runners should look to tailor their program to match their marathon goals and the different phases of running training to get the most out of it. I often hear patients and clients tell me that they just don’t have time for strength training with the amount of running that they have to do. Strength training and running training should complement each other rather than compete for attention. Many runners assume they need to run six to seven days per week to get as many miles in as possible. It is possible, however, to run four days per week and complete a marathon successfully.
The old school of thought was that runners should work on endurance training (low weight/high repetition) to prepare themselves for running 26.2. This may be beneficial early in the training cycle or for someone who doesn’t have a lot of resistance training/running experience, however, a combination of carefully timed strength training and power training (including plyometric exercise and Olympic lifts) will also be beneficial for running economy. As mentioned above, running occurs in one plane of motion; with a lot of repetition, this can result in injury. Strength programs should also be multi-planar and should encourage full body exercises through full functional ranges of motion to prevent injury.
In addition to resistance/power training, runners should consider other forms of cross-training. Again, this is important because running occurs in one plane and is very repetitive. Performing motions in multiple planes will help improve your range of motion and strength in a more functional way and will help reduce risk of injury. A lot of runners will turn to biking as a form of cross training. While a number of studies have demonstrated that high power bike intervals can improve running speed, cycling also occurs in one plane (the same plane as running, but in a different position), so I often encourage patients and clients to find another form of cross-training in addition to cycling if they do end up with an injury or have had a history of running-related injuries. Swimming (sidestroke, breaststroke, butterfly) is a great alternative because it incorporates multiple planes of motion.
Warm Up/Cool Down
A proper dynamic warm up is an important start because it increases your core temperature and blood flow (therefore oxygen delivery) and stimulates nerve conduction for muscular contraction. Walking lunches, power skips, high knees, carioca, and other body weight movements in addition to some very light cardio will prepare the body for your workout so that you are not wasting the first one to two miles of your run to allow your body to warm up. Foam rolling can performed both pre- and post-workout for benefits and traditional static stretching should be reserved for the end of a workout.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
So I jinxed myself after my last post. Training had been going great; I had done all of my runs as scheduled and had been checking off the mileage. Then, it happened. My last tempo run on Thursday was supposed to be 8 miles. A little after 5 miles I was done. The run had started off just fine. I had a good clip going, the music was blaring and I was comfortable. But at mile 2 I felt tired, and at mile 4 I had enough. I just wasn’t feeling it. I so wanted to push through it, but my mind wasn’t in it. The thought of spending another 35 minutes or so running wasn’t attractive at all to me. I flat out quit. I was deflated. The feeling was terrible. I was in a funk for the whole day, just miserable to be around. I had been warned by my friends who had trained for marathons in the past that this would happen; I kept telling myself I was too strong willed to let it happen to me. But it did.
The next day was a CrossFit day for me. It also just so happened to be one of the benchmark workouts for CrossFit that everyone does at some point; the workout is called “Fran”. I went into this workout with a certain determination that I haven’t carried into CrossFit for a while. I knew what my old time was, 4:10, and I had set a goal of sub 4:00. Well, as the workout started I felt great after the first round (the workout consists of three rounds) and realized, I could just keep moving. The second round was a bit slowed, but I plowed onto the third round and finished. When I looked at the time, 3:01 I was thrilled. I immediately realized that the aerobic conditioning of marathon training has been paying off. Even though I was in a funk from bailing on my last run, seeing that I am still making gains buoyed me to feeling excited for training again.
Back on the treadmill the next day for another long run. This time 17 miles. After my latest CrossFit accomplishment, I was ready for the challenge. As the miles passed, I felt pretty darn good. Renewed and refreshed I was excited for the challenge. My pace kept my stride feeling smooth and for the last few miles I even pushed it a little faster. I felt blisters forming on my toes. The blister on my left heal that started a few weeks ago was getting irritated again as well. My legs started to feel tight, but I kept the pace and kept focused. I know on race day, I won’t feel great for the entire 26.2 miles, so I’ve been trying to get myself trained with getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. When race day comes, annoyances such as blisters, tight hamstrings or the dreaded chaffing won’t be an issue. I finished the 17 miles with a time I could be proud of, at a pace faster than my prior distance runs.
Getting back to my workouts the days after failing a run has been cathartic in a way for me. I feel like I dealt with one of the first big challenges I have faced in training and have a refreshed sense of drive towards reaching my goals. I am seeing positive changes, splits are improving, distances are growing and recovery times are shrinking. I know there are going to be more days of failed distances, it’s inevitable and that’s okay, what’s more important is how I bounce back.