If you run much on trails, you'll recognize pretty quickly if you're the sort of person who likes to bomb down hills at top speed, or the type of person who takes it nice and slow. I think that very often it's one's level of comfort with running down hills that makes the difference- it can either be quite scary or quite exhilarating to be right on the edge of control.
The ability to run downhill fast is pretty important if you do much racing on trails- you can make up a lot of time if you can really open up your speed on the downhills, and if you are able to minimize the braking, you can save your legs as well.
Running downhill fast has two basic components- gravity (which everyone has going for them) and confidence, which can be gained through practice. I've found that running down hills on snow covered trails is great practice for learning to run downhill fast, for two main reasons- when trails are snow covered, they're slippery. That may not seem like a benefit, but it is, and I'll come to that in a moment. The other great thing about snow covered trails is that it hurts less to fall in snow than to fall on trails not covered in snow, so you can throw caution to the wind a bit more.
Before I get to the snow bit of my thoughts, I should mention the most important thing about going downhill fast- your stride. A lot of people tend to lengthen their stride when they go down hills- they take long steps, and reach their leg out in front of them. That does two things- it speeds them up as they're in the air (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), but then causes them to brake when they land with their leg out in front of their centre of gravity, which is very hard on knees and quads. I've found that fast turnover is the key. I try to keep my stride short and fast, turning over my legs as quickly as is comfortable. The more important thing though is to focus on landing on your forefoot- if you land on the forefoot and slide, then your heel can catch you, but if you land on your heel and slide, your butt is the next thing that is going to touch the ground.
This is where the snow comes in. When you run downhill in snow, you're going to slide on pretty much every step. If you can get used to that slide- used to adjusting your balance and carrying on, then that skill is going to carry over to when you slide on the dirt when the trails aren't snow covered, which will then translate into confidence for going faster down hills.
Winter is a great time to run on trails- the skills your can practice in the winter will definitely be of benefit when the spring comes and the trails are clear again.
If you take the time to practice going fast now, you'll definitley reap the rewardsin
These days I keep seeing ads for cold weather running gear- clothing that is designed to be light and flexible yet keep you toasty warm at the same time. That's great, except that most of it is very expensive, and as a father with 4 young kids, there's not much money in the budget (especially right before Christmas) to spend on fancy new running gear. Because of that, I've learned to make do with what I have, and I've made out alright considering.
Here where I live (South Eastern Ontario) it gets pretty cold, but not hideously so. For example, this morning it's -18C with a windchill of -27C (0F, -17F windchill), which is fairly typical of what we'll have for early morning temps for the next 3 months. There will be a few times though when we get pretty close to -30C (-22F) but when it's that cold there usually isn't much wind to add a windchill on top of that.
I can honestly say that I never find it too cold to run outside. As long as you dress for it, it's fine. Here's what I do to stay warm without spending a pile of money on fancy winter gear.
Winter running can be really nice- I absolutely love the crunch & squeak of fresh snow under my feet, the silence around me after a snowfall, the beauty of seeing the world around me covered in white. Don't let the cold weather keep you from getting outside during this wonderful time of year.
For me, 2013 was kind of a weird year for running. For the past couple of years my focus has been almost entirely on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. In the fall of 2012 I hit my BQ time, which was a major goal accomplished, so I didn't have that looming over me this year. Because of that, I didn't really come into 2013 with any major goal- just to stay healthy & uninjured, and to continue to build a good endurance base.
I didn't actually do a lot of racing this year. I did one snowshoe race (Red Barn in Switzerville ON), one 1/2 Marathon (River Towns in Danville PA-1 second slower than my PB!), an 11.5 Mile trail race in the Adirondacks, the annual Canada Day 5K in Belleville ON, 2 Marathons as a Pace Bunny (3:35 Bunny in Ottawa & 3:45 Bunny in Prince Edward County), the Warkworth 8 Miler Road/ Trail Race (was hoping to defend my title from last year but ended up 2nd), the Batawa Fat Ass 25K Trail Race, and the Erie Marathon (19 second PB!).
I hadn't planned on racing any marathons this year- I wanted to keep my training level high, but racing a marathon takes a lot out of me, so I thought I would get the miles in for training, run a couple as a pace bunny, and reap the benefits of the training without thrashing my body by actually racing. However, with the Boston Marathon bombing, I figured that the 2014 Boston Marathon would be harder to get into, so I decided to find an early fall marathon to try to sharpen up my BQ time a bit to make sure I got in. The Erie Marathon, at Presqu'Isle State Park in Erie PA seemed to fit the bill- mid September (right before the Boston Marathon registration opened) and pancake flat. I didn't pick up quite as much time as I had hoped, and it turned out that my previous BQ from Philly last fall still would have got me in, but it was still a good experience. Any time you get a well run marathon under your belt, that's good experience you can draw on later on.
All things considered I think I had a pretty good year of running. While I did get a couple of PBs (5K and Marathon), I didn't really blow any PBs out of the water. I still consider it a goo year though- some solid results, avoided injuries, set myself up well for training for Boston, and most importantly, enjoyed myself. I had a lot of fun at the races I went to, and I had a lot of really great training runs. That's the main thing- as long as it keeps being fun, I'll consider it successful.
I'm looking forward to what 2014 is going to bring. Going to Boston is going to be a huge- I've been looking forward to that for quite a while, so that will be very exciting. I also am planning on switching my focus away from the road and more toward trails and ultra distances, so that will be a new & exciting challenge.
How was your running in 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014?
It's that time of year again- cold, windy, snowy, and icy (at least where I live). It can be hard to motivate yourself to get out the door for a run when the weather is a bit nasty, and then when you add in the thought that it's really easy to slip and fall on icy roads, it can be pretty easy to convince yourself that you'd be better off to stay on the sofa.
I couple of winters ago I was having this dilemma, but I came across an idea that made a world of difference- putting sheet metal screws in the bottom of my shoes. A lot of people I knew were using Yaktrax or MicroSpikes, but I wasn't too eager to spend $40 for slip on traction, so I did some searching and found that a lot of people use sheet metal screws.
I went to the local hardware store and found hex head screws with the shortest shaft I could (to keep the point from poking up into the bottom of my foot), and it only set me back about $3. The real trick is to make sure you get hex head screws- the sharpness around the top of the screw digs into the snow and ice perfectly.
Once I got home I used my cordless drill to put them in around the perimeter of the sole. If you have thicker soled shoes you don't need to stay on the perimeter, but since I tend to wear shoes that are on the thinner/ less bulky side, I didn't have a whole lot of rubber underfoot to play with. Even if you don't have a drill, it's pretty easy to get them in with a ratchet and socket.
Here's what the finished product looks like (not my photo- found this on google images):
I guarantee you'll be amazed how well you can grip the road. The only time it's at all annoying is when you run across bare pavement- you can really hear them clack and clatter, and the bare metal on the bare pavement doesn't feel great, but if there's any snow at all on the road or trails, these can be a lifesaver.
So, there's one less excuse for you to use to avoid getting out and running this winter! Play safe, and have fun!
Even though I'm still a few weeks away from starting my training program for the Boston Marathon, I've already got the training schedule printed out and stuck to the fridge.
For my past few marathons I've used the Hanson Brothers Marathon Method. For those who don't know about the Hanson Brothers, Keith and Kevin Hanson own several running stores in suburban Detroit, and they run the Brooks Hanson Distance Project, which has produced some top notch marathoners over the past few years, including Des Davila.
Their training philosophy is mainly noted for the lack of a super long run. Most marathon training programs have you going at least 30km several times in the training cycle, with distances of 32km to 35km being fairly common as well. I've done programs like that, and while I did okay with them, I never really felt like a had a breakthrough until I used the Hanson Method for the first time.
In a nutshell, their program has you run 6 times per week- 3 of what they call "Something of Substance" workouts- 1 intervals session, 1 marathon pace tempo session, and the long run, and 3 easy paced session. The long run however maxes out at 26km (16 miles), which doesn't seem like that much when you look at it in comparison to what a lot of other runners who are training for a marathon do, but with the way that they structure the workouts, 26km isn't exactly a walk in the park.
The really key factor with this program is that you are training your body to get used to running on tired legs (they say they're training you for the last 16 miles of a marathon, not the first 16 miles). The midweek workouts are tough- it seems that the workouts never relent, and my legs are almost always tired when I'm in the midst of a Hanson Training Program.
Here's what a typical week of training looks like for me:
Monday- Recovery Pace (55/60 sec/km slower than marathon pace)
Thursday- Marathon Pace Run
Friday- Recovery Pace
Saturday- Comfortable Pace (30-40 sec/km slower than marathon pace)
Sunday- Long Run- (25-30 sec/km slower than marathon pace)
The workout that really seemed key for me was the marathon pace run on Thursday. You always come into it still feeling your intervals session on Tuesday, so you definitely aren't fresh, but the whole point is to get your legs used to running at that pace when they're tired. I start out with 2.5km for a warm up (usually at least 1:30/km slower than marathon pace) and then get into at. For the first few of those workouts, you always think to yourself "I don't know how I can hold this pace for 42.2km" but that's the point- you build strength and endurance, and it becomes do-able.
When I first used the Hanson Method I was a bit worried that I'd get to the start line unprepared because of the lack of long runs, but I remember when I had a real "a ha!" moment. I was running down the road in pitch black darkness at 6am, 15km into my marathon pace run, feeling absolutely exhausted and a bit discouraged, and then I realized that even though my body was so tired, my legs just kept on turning over at the same speed, and I was holding my pace without even having to think about it! At that point I became a believer, and a few weeks later when I stepped up to the starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon, I knew I was ready. I ended up knocking almost 9 minutes off my previous best marathon time, ran a 2+ minute negative split, qualified for the Boston Marathon, and most importantly, never hit the wall. In all of my previous marathons, best case was a 5km death march, and the worst case was an 11km death march. In Philadelphia I just kept on going, expecting that sooner or later I'd hit the wall, but it never happened. I've done 3 more marathons since then and have had the same experience- they weren't easy (running that far never is) but I never hit the wall.
I would highly recommend that Hanson Brothers Marathon Method to anyone. You can find examples of their program online (there's a table at the end of this article from Runner's World ( http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/new-year-new-you-way-renegades?page=single ) but it's worth picking up a copy of their book so you can really get into the nuts & bolts of their method and understand why you're doing what you're doing.
I'm looking forward to having a great race in Boston in April. I know that I'm going to put in a lot of long, hard miles on the pre-dawn roads on my small town, and for the next 4 months my legs are going to feel thrashed pretty much all the time, but I'm confident that this training method will give me the best chance I can get for running my best race.