Team Couch Potato
Even Couch Potatoes can finish their first marathon or trail ultra marathon with minimal training and least chance of injury. So put down that beer and TV remote, get up off that couch and put in a few quality hours a week walking and jogging.
The training tips are from my personal experience after more than 25 years of running, finishing seven 50 Milers, dozens of 50K's, who knows how many marathons, as one of the original organizers and 1988 Race Director of the Angeles Crest 100 mile Trail Race, and should be used only by others as something to try at their own risk. If I have learned anything, it is that we are all different. What works for one may not work for another. But as some one with no natural ability who has tried most everything to just be able to finish before they remove the finish line, I've probably made all the mistakes at least twice. A lot of the articles you see in the running magazines, it seems, are written by 3 hour or better marathoners who have no idea what happens to the average first time marathoner who is out there for 5-6 hours and has never used a fast twitch muscle - slower then 8.5 minute mile pace - since high school. There are many articles that just regurgitate what others have written and have little true scientific validity.
Team Couch Potato was a name given by Foothill Flyers Becky McDaniel and Heather Shick so they could make up some unique shirts with a logo after training with me to do their first marathon back in the late 80's. It is not really a formal group or club, just individuals who got together with me to train for their first marathon or ultra - I do love to suck people into new adventures. However, these people are all from the back of the pack who don't do 10 K's any faster than 50 minutes and whose goal is just to finish without injury as well as having fun at it. While some of the running tips below may apply to all runners, the training emphasis is not for the competitive, the mileage junkie, the addicted or faster then 50 minute 10K runners.
Pick a Race - check out the race review section - set a goal and train toward it. If a couch potato with no running genes like me can do it, so can you.
For a first marathon (26.2 Miles), I suggest the Catalina Eco Marathon in November or the Catalina Marathon in March - What, are you nuts, that's the 2nd and 3rd toughest in Southern California! Yes, that is the rating, but done the Team Couch Potato way of walking the up hills and jogging the downs, it is actually easier on the body than the constant pavement pounding of a relatively flat street marathon like Los Angeles or Long Beach. Besides Catalina has great aid stations, mostly off pavement on single track or jeep dirt roads, very scenic and buffalo. I've done the March marathon 13 times and the Eco 6 times - it is one of my favorites plus you will amaze your running friends when you tell them you finished the 2nd toughest as your first.
First trail ultra (more than 26.2 miles and mostly off pavement) suggestion is the Over the Hill Track Clubs High Desert Ultra 50K/30K in December. If you can do the Catalina Eco marathon, you can do this one in about the same time. This is another well organized event on jeep roads out of the Mojave Desert town of Ridgecrest. If you are not sure you are ready for an ultra but want to try a trail run, do the 30K to get a taste. Many use the Catalina Eco and then this 50K as a training run for the Avalon Benefit 50 Mile Trail Race the following month and only have to do one more 4 hr training run in-between.
For the trail runs though, the terrain varies so a minute per mile pace does not really apply unless you are one of the top 5% of runners that can hold the same pace up hill as well as down. You must change your thinking from training miles to training hours - your body runs on a biological clock, not a biological odometer. The best you can do is to go by your breathing rate. The conversational rate is still one of the best - If you cannot carry on a conversation, then slow down to where you can. On long runs you will have many ups and downs as to how you feel. Go with how you feel at that moment in time rather than continually looking at a watch and figuring pace. Feel good or a down hill? Pick it up. Feel down, ease back, drink, eat, stretch, spend an extra minute at an aid station, make a change and wait for the next up, it will come. Since you should never stretch a cold muscle, I only do it during a run and at the end. Fight the feeling to just tough it out at the same pace because there must be a reason your body is telling you it is not up to par, keep trying things until you find what works for you.
Way back when I was trying to PR my marathon time, I found that 1 mile Fartleks worked best to increase pace for a marathon - my PR is 3:49 at Honolulu in 1984. I did a 10 mile loop where the first mile was just an easy warm up, then at mile 2 into my base pace which was 9 min./mile at that time. At mile 3 I increased by 30 seconds to 8:30 pace, mile 4 back to 9:00 and repeated this base/- 30 second "Fartlek" sequence two more times followed by the last mile an easy warm down. By doing this once or twice a week for 6 weeks I was able to lower my marathon pace and PR under 4 hours. I think this is better for increasing pace at half marathon or longer distances than interval training on a track which is designed more for 5 and 10 K's - I coached intervals on Tuesday nights for the club for 2 years in the mid 80's and it is a great way to concentrate on improving your running style, mechanics and shorter distance speed.
From running so many years, I did not realize that I had slowly build up a callus or calcium deposit on the balls of my feet. This resulted in getting what I can only describe as a hot foot after running a few hours - very painful. I went to Dr. Dan and Nancy Tinkers free foot exam at the Starting Line running store in Venice Beach on a first Saturday morning to get the right diagnosis. Nancy worked wonders on my orthotics and scooped out a relief depression that spread out the force over the rest of my foot rather than the calcium build area that was pinching nerves. So don't put off finding out what the cause of your foot and leg problems are as your long runs increase in time. Talk to experienced long distance runners, running podiatrists, knowledgeable sales people at reputable running stores like Run with Us, etc., and try different things until you find a solution. Do not continue to do long runs until you do - substitute biking meanwhile.
You must train as you will run your race. Besides your legs, you must train your cooling system, fluid, food and drug absorption, fat breakdown into blood sugar and the bodies metabolism priorities. You can't not eat and drink on your long training runs and then expect your body to accept it in the race. You must also train your brain to recognize the signals your body is giving you and instinctively react with the right change.
It is best to drink half a pint bottle of fluid at a time rather than continuously sip. A half a bottle will positively trigger the stomach emptying and intestinal absorption mechanism as well as give you a better idea of how much you are drinking. It is easier to remember to drink a half of a bottle worth of fluid every half hour than have sipping gaps caused by distractions on the run course. Stay hydrated, and there is no reason for you to hit the wall.
Most find that they have not drank enough, but some may find they drank too much and gain pounds. You will do your fastest time if you drink what ever it takes to stay even. Not enough can put you in the dehydration downward spiral to hit the wall. Too much can deplete too much sodium and other electrolytes in sweat and urine. If you are hitting the porta potty often with clear urine, you might be over doing it. The hydration test is the best way to find out how much you have to take in over time to stay even.
What to Drink
At aid stations, I prefer defizzed Coke or beer if they have it on a long distance run. The calories will get into you very quickly with either of these too. Do not drink anything at an aid station that you have not already tried as some sports drinks may not agree with you. Beer is a great recovery drink taken within a half hour of finishing according to a study. Beer is not dehydrating in the practical sense as most have been led to believe. The carbo and alcohol calories will get into your system very fast and be burned up - no you wont get drunk as long as you don't stop running or drink more than 12 oz per hour. This old dehydration urban myth came from studies on skid row winos or Irishmen who drank all their meals. Yes, drinking a 12 oz beer will lower your water balance by increasing kidney function, but only to the extent that you drank 11.2 oz of water instead. So if you are running a hot trail ultra and someone offers you a can of beer vs. a cup of water, you would be better off drinking the whole 12 oz beer than a 4-6 oz cup of water or sports drink. The point is, it is better to drink what you like because you will be inclined to drink more. I had two beers at the Avalon 50 mile, one the Eagles Nest 38 mile aid station with a buffalo burger and the other was waiting for me at the bottom of Pumphouse Hill (mile 44) that was run out there by a friend and I could really tell the positive difference it made. I also carried two packets of Cytomax which I mixed in one of my water bottles. It is the only sports drink that tastes OK to me and I will drink readily without putting off doing it. Be careful of any fruit juices, the acid content can give you the runs. Bottom line is figure out on training runs what you like and can tolerate.
Forget the sports drinks, none of them have nearly enough sodium - 8 ounces of Gatorade only has 110 mg and 50 calories. You would have to drink 175 ounces of Gatorade just to reach the 2400 mg recommended daily intake of salt necessary for a non-runner - therefore taking up to 4 Thermotabs during a long run or race will still be under the minimum daily requirement. Coke has about the same amount of sodium as Gatorade, don't let the name "soda" make you think soft drinks contain sodium, they don't. Check the labels.
Succeed S Caps
At the Avalon 50 Mile, I packed a thermos of Campbell's chicken noodle soup for my drop box taken out to the Little Harbor aid station (aka Whacko Cafe). A can of this soup has 2200 mg of sodium, 150 calories and I drank/ate half going out (mile 22) and the rest coming back (mile 34). Those of you who have seen runners literally rise from the dead after chicken noodle soup at an AC100 aid station know what it does to get you going again - it is the salt getting the fluid into the blood stream again.
My current favorite to take on the run when I feel down or know I have a tough climb about 20 minutes ahead and need a quick boost of energy is Cliff Shot Bloks. 3 Blox have 100 calories and two of the flavors, Black Cherry and Orange, have 50mg of caffiene, but you can get that from other products. What the Bloks have going for them is that they are easy to carry in a plastic baggie and they dont disolve in the heat or get messy. Caffiene will jump start your liver to deliver more blood sugar. The 50 mg from eating 3 Bloks is the equivalent as found from drinking a 12 oz can of Coke or half as much as a 7 oz cup of coffee. The boost will be felt after 15 to 30 minutes depending on your metabolism and will last for 20 minutes or more.
Thanks to vitamin I (Ibuprofen) my knees do not swell up like melons anymore. Many long time runners start developing joint pain from muscle inflammation and as the cartilage wears down. But to get the non-inflamatory benefit, you have to begin with 600 mg about 20 minutes before the start of the race. Then take 400 mg every 3 hours during the run and just after to maintain the level. Running will speed the half-life of Ibuprofen due to much higher blood flow than the recommended 4 hour dose so as long as you are hydrated and moving, there is no problem taking them an hour earlier than the normal 4 hour spacing. Get the lowest cost coated (enteric) jar of 200 mg tablets you can find on sale. Only take them when you are going to run for over an hour and never over 2400 mg total in one 24 hr period or dehydrated and don't take any when not running as they can be bad for your kidneys. Current thinking is to use compression sox or knee straps around the inflamation sites rather than an anti-inflamatory drug.
I really tweaked my left knee bad one summer and thanks to Dr. Nancy Gibbs, she gave me some leg raises that built up the front muscle groups that were greatly unbalanced with the back ones - common among people who only run. So now I do 50 full leg and 50 from the knee while sitting and 3 pound weights on my foot at least twice a week. The Cho-Pat straps also keep the IT bands and other muscles from moving around near the knee cap and becoming inflamed.
Glucosamine - Condroitin
Happy running and may the wind be always at your back.
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