Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great winter trail run

Today’s run was a real blast.  Alyssa Godesky came to visit us, and we (Gill, myself and Alyssa) headed into the mountains.  The route we chose is a little over 21 miles, with about 2700 feet of gain and loss.  It begins on Brown’s Gap Road, which climbs from the valley for a 5.5 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It then drops from the ridge to the Shenandoah Valley on Madison Run Road for another 5 miles.  The fun part was turning around and heading all the way back.
Check out the route HERE:

The run climbs for 5.5 miles, descends for 5, climbs again for 5 and descends again for 5.5.  It is all on runnable forest roads, which were covered in snow.  The climbs were hard because the snow slowed my momentum, but the downs were a real blast and quite fast, because the snow allowed safer footing and a soft landing.  Te snow was not frozen and not melted, and it was still as soft as powder.
Except for having too many clothes on and feeling some leg fatigue from earlier workouts this week, I felt great.  I did not eat or drink enough: I should have brought some solid or salty foods, since the cold gels got old very quickly.  I burn more calories in the winter, and ended up with hunger pains during the last 5 miles.  The climbs, as I mentioned, were quite tough, and I was sweating heavily on the way up.

The views were spectacular: with the leaves gone, Blackrock Gap and the Furnace trail were clearly visible from Madison Run Road.  The snow revealed how many and which animals were roaming the mountains: deer, of course, foxes, coyotes and/or roaming dogs, rabbits, wild turkeys and quite a few smaller bears.  Alyssa finally saw her FIRST bear!
This run is fantastic because it crosses several trails, including the Appalachian Trail, the Doyle trail, the Furnace trail, the Austin Mountain trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It can therefore be connected to several loops, and the possibilities are limitless.
William H. Howard hidden tombstone
Madison Run Rd
A bear paw print

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Proper Running Form

Proper running form improves efficiency and allows you to run smoother by putting less biomechanic stress on your body.  This leads to less effort and fewer injuries. Here are a few tips on proper running forms and drills to improve your running form.  Here are a few tips on proper running form and drills to improve your running form.
Toes first: not efficient for distance running. Puts too much stress on calves. More appropriate for sprinting
Ball of the foot first: most efficient for distance running. Foot lands directly under the hip 
Flat footed: most efficient for distance running. Foot lands directly under the hip
Heel first: inefficient, too much impact (heel, knee, hip), symptoms of over striding, shin splints
Warning, science content:
As a distance runner, your most efficient foot plant is one in which your foot lands directly under your hips or your center of gravity. You may land on the ball of your foot or flat footed. The ideal landing position is slightly toward the outside edge of your foot, just behind your little toe. Your foot would then naturally roll slightly inward while pushing off over your big toe. The slight inward roll of your foot is called pronation and provides some cushioning during the running stride. A small amount of pronation is normal and desirable, but excessive pronation can also be the cause of injury and stride inefficiencies. Excessive pronation can be prevented through the use of motion control shoes. That type of shoe has strong heel inserts  that stop the inside rolling motion  of pronation. Motion control shoes will only temporarily solve the problem, but it not a long term cure. Over pronation can be caused by weak muscles in your lower leg. Doing some barefoot walking and running will help strengthen the ankle and foot stabilizing muscles in your lower leg. Doing exercises and drills on an unstable surface such as a wobble board or stabilization pads can also help with this problem, as can running on trails, since it simulates uneven surfaces.

Straight and erect back, but lean forward very slightly
Keep your hips pressed forward and your butt kicked in
Chest out and shoulders back

Over striding causes breaking, not faster running
Concentrate on running with a quick and light stride. Your stride should be like a rotary motion with your foot landing directly under your center of gravity at the bottom of each cycle.  In order to run as efficiently as possible, you must extend your stride to its maximum, without over striding.

Don’t bounce or hop: that’s a waste of energy
Stride should be quick and light, and your steps should be quiet
Drive your knee forward, and avoid too much knee lift.
During foot plant, avoid any actions which cause breaking

Arms and shoulders should loose and relaxed, wrists should be floppy and hands relaxed
Keep arms close to your body, and elbows at 90 degrees and swing like a pendulum
Focus on driving arms backwards, since driving the arms too much forward will cause over striding

Look ahead, with chin in a relaxed position
When on trails, keep head high, and lower the eye position

Avoid any action which will cause unnecessary tension



Cover a total distance of approximately 100 meters. Gradually increase your speed to 100 percent effort. Start with 3-4 repetitions, and build up to 10-15

Cover a total distance of 30-50 meters. Begin with a slow jog. Using a short stride and bouncing on the balls of your feet, kick your heels behind your butt as high as possible. Maintain an erect posture.

Cover a total distance of 30-50 meters. Begin with a slow jog. Using a short stride, raise your knees as high as possible. Maintain an erect posture.

Find a hill approximately 50-100 meters long. The hill should be very steep, but not so steep that it’s impossible to run it. Run up the hill as hard as you can, focusing on the arm swing and the erect body posture

Simply stand on one leg barefoot. Maintain for 30 seconds. Repeat with each leg. repeat with your eyes closed. If too easy, stand on a pillow or a wobble board

Barefoot running can be very, very helpful for proper running form and injury rehab or prevention. Find a soft, grassy field or playing field. Inspect a 100 meter strip to make sure there is nothing sharp on the ground. Do 10-15 strideouts (see above)

The strength of your core is vital for proper form. If you do anything at the gym, focus on your core, and try to balance it with some back exercises. Focus more on any exercise that also uses the legs and engages the lower abdominals, instead of limiting your core to only the upper abdominals.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Barefoot Running

So, what is the deal with barefoot running? We have all heard great things about it, but also a lot of horror stories.  There was a lot of hype in the media a year ago about the miracles associated with barefoot running: now, a year later, we are starting to see the benefits and problems associated with this activity.  The problem with jumping into something like that is that every foot and every experience is different.  Every runner has “a friend” who ran some marathon with no shoes (meaning completely barefoot), and who was perfectly fine;  or some other friend who could not run anymore, and was “cured” by barefoot running.  We all want to be like the Kenyans, but here is the difference.
Every body is different, and barefoot running is a great training tool, which must be adapted to your biomechanics.  Our foot did not evolve to run barefoot on concrete and asphalt: it evolved for the smoother and softer ground in the African savanna.  Even though some of us can train our bodies to do pretty much anything (hence the crazy uncle who can run on rocks with no shoes), we have to be careful.  Here are my tips on how to give barefoot running a try in a safe way:
1)    Before you purchase any type of barefoot shoe, try running barefoot on grass.  This will save you some money, and keep you away from harder surfaces like concrete.
2)    Try running barefoot once a week after one of your weekly runs.  Find a smooth grassy field, like one of the playing fields, and carefully inspect the area you will be running.  Then, run back and forth a few times.  Begin with 2-3 minutes and GRADUALLY work up to 10-15 minutes.  When you feel stronger, you can do it twice/week
3)    After about one month, you can start with a racing flat.  Racing flats still promote landing on the ball of the foot, but have a bit more protection than the barefoot shoes.  Use the racing flats for one of your weekly runs.  You calves might be sore for the first few runs, and that’s normal
4)    If you decide to try the barefoot shoes, I would always alternate them with normal shoes or racing flats.  The healthier way to run is to use different shoes depending on your need for that specific run.  If you’ll be running a lot of rocky, technical downhill, you might want to leave the barefoot shoes at home.  More importantly, listen to what your body is telling you, since it always knows best.
5)    With all that said, barefoot running might or might not work for you.  If it does not, don’t be discouraged: there are still lots of great ways to work on your running form that do not involve barefoot running.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where in the world is Gill?

If you don't want to get lost in the woods and not be found for many days, there is one simple way to do it: TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU ARE GOING.  Aron Ralston was able to capitalize on his misfortune, and good for him, but the point remains that he would have been found much sooner, if he had just told someone where he was going.
Gill and I don't live in the middle of nowhere, and it is quite hard to be lost in the Shenandoah National Park, but not impossible.  When we are not running together, we always tell each other where we are going, or we leave a written note somewhere in the car, or leave a voice message to one of our friends.
We all love the solitude and peace of running alone, and the wild feeling of knowing you are vulnerable in the woods, but none of us want to be stuck somewhere for days.  Seems poetic enough to be alone in the woods, until you have to find shelter and food and it's 30 degrees outside.  Let's not forget how quickly things can change, even by simply badly twisting an ankle.
Gill's note
Personally, I would rather go home the first night, instead of crawling my way around for days... but that's just me.

The Corbin Run

This weekend Gill, myself, Rebecca Phalen and Alyssa Godesky went for a run in the middle district of the Shenandoah National Park. We started a few miles from Skyland, a beautiful mountain resort with a great horseback riding program. The run was about 3 hours, straight down the mountain, and straight back up.

About 5 minutes into the run, we saw a very large coyote on the trail, which was totally unimpressed by our presence: we were definitely more excited to see him than he was to see us. Coyotes in this area look more like large labradors, and that's because many are coyote/wolf hybrid: I am not making this up, and actually read it on National Geographic.
The highlight of the run was definitely Corbin Cabin. George Corbin built the cabin at the beginning of the 1900, and lived there before that area was the Shenandoah National Park. Gill and I see evidence of old homesites all over the Park, from old chimneys, to stone walls, to isolated tombstones.  George's wife, Nee, died in childbirth, and is now believed to haunt the cabin and the woods.  Here is more information on the Corbin cabin.
On the way up from Nicholson Hollow (the trail where the Corbin cabin is located), we reached the Blue Ridge Parkway right below Stony Man. On the way back to the car on the Appalachian Trail, we enjoyed incredible views of the Western Valley.
The loop was technical because of all the leaves, but the climbs were intense, and I was done by the end.
I tried the new Clif gels and LOVED them: the chocolate is incredible. I am glad they changed to maltodextrin, as the gels hit my system much quicker.
George Corbin, Corbin Cabin, the coyote/wolf and the Western Valley