Running Journals, the best kept secret

Keeping a running journal is one of the best ways to know where you’re going with your training and to see where you’ve been. It can help you track your progress, avoid past pitfalls and even inspire you to new accomplishments. A journal can be as simple as a few dashed notes of the distance and time you ran each day, or more detailed with lengthier entries about your route, the way you feel, and the stuff you thought about on the run. You can keep it as a written journal, a calendar, or even log it online; whichever you feel is the easiest for you. I typically keep a small notebook in my running bag or I’ve progressed to documenting what I can with my Nike+ application on my smartphone or using Dailymile. Having something like Dailymile can be a great way to interact with other runners and get encouragement from them during your trainings and be inspired by what others are doing.

Some things that I typically  put in my journal:

1)    Note when you buy shoes and keep track of the mileage on those shoes, typically you shouldn’t run more than 300-500 miles depending on the model. The mid sole will start to break down and you’ll start to notice your knees or hip bothering you. When you are about 200 miles into your shoes it’s best to go buy another pair to start breaking them in. Some shoes will allow you more mileage (Newtons/Vibrams) but then it also depends on the way in which you run. I’ll post about shoes in another segment.

2)    Course: note where you run, what kind of surface it was, what you liked about it, if it was difficult, you had to leap over puddles etc- this can also serve as beneficial if an injury arises.

3)    The weather, I know it sounds odd but sometimes the weather can really affect your running: winter weather is tough on a lot of people, so is high pollen or high humidity seasons.

4)    What you ate before and after your run, how it made you feel during your run. This will help you figure out what your dietary needs are to fuel you during your run, what doesn’t sit well with your stomach, what makes you drag, what really helps you recuperate post workout.

5)    How do you feel afterwards, do you still have energy or are you dragging (if so look at what you ate). Are you sore? if so where, this will help you diagnose an injury ahead of time or it could have been the trail surface you were running on that bothered you.

6)    Any major accomplishment for that day, did you just run for a mile straight without walking? Write that down and put a star on it, it’s great to keep track of your new accomplishments. Did you reach a new distance, got faster for longer period of time, anything that you find made you smile for that day.

7)   Any future goals you have for yourself: may it be to run half of the time for a workout and walk the rest, make it 2 laps around the track before you have to walk. Make it up that really big hill on your running route, not to get lost on the trail, anything you want to work towards that you can then see as an accomplishment.

8)    Definitely track your mileage for each workout, or at least the time you were doing that cardio, this becomes very important as you start to increase your weekly mileage and train for further distances.

9)    Note your cross training days, they can be very important to look back on, especially if they negatively impact your workout-or maybe they will positively impact your workout.

10) Note if your clothing bothered you at all, so you know not to wear it again.

These are just a few of the things you can mention, but it’s your journal so ultimately you can write whatever you want in it!

Happy Writing & Running,

Coach Gwynne

September 21, 2012. Training Tips. Leave a comment.

Hydration, the perfect balance

As we quickly approach the first day of summer the temperatures continue to rise, though they’ve been unseasonably warm all winter/spring. The past few weeks in the DC area we’ve had almost record highs, up in the 90s.  With heat comes a lot of warning in prep to get our bodies used to the temperatures/humidity it’s going to face during the next few months.  It takes about 2wks, sometimes a bit more for our bodies to acclimate to the warm temperatures and the first few hot days are the time when a lot of people  overheat which can have very serious consequences including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Strenuous physical exercise in very hot, humid conditions can be difficult because the body is inefficient at cooling itself down. When you sweat in conditions with lower humidity, the sweat quickly evaporates into the air leaving you cooler. When in high humidity shows up sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly because the air around you is already saturated with moisture. The high humidity causes your body to work harder, putting out more sweat in an effort to cool down and you end up a sweaty, tired and even irritable.

As it’s getting warmer please dress smart – light colored or white shirts reflect more of the sun’s rays and are a better choice in the heat, bringing along a hat that is well ventilated can keep you cool, though some may find it too hot. Experiment and find what works for you. Try to do your training runs in the early morning or evenings when the sun is just rising or setting.

One of the most important things about running in hot/humid conditions is hydration which  is crucial for making your muscles work efficiently. Maintaining your water/fluid intake during a workout is important for many factors, it keeps the blood moving and keeps your bowels moving around so your stomach doesn’t get sick/cramp. It helps with muscle cramping, many times a side stitch or cramp is due to improper hydration.

If you’re a heavy sweater it is incredibly important to keep your fluids up to replace what you’ve lost, but sometimes water isn’t enough. Depending on how long you’re running or how much you sweat you’ll also need to replace the various salts you lose while you workout. For long distance runners having salt tabs such as succeed are good to take while running. You can also eat a banana, it’ll give you much-needed potassium but also some sugars.

The main reason you need to replace salts boils down to basic science: muscle fibers need salts to contract. All cells have ionic pumps that pump sodium/potassium/calcium in and out of the cell in a very specific balance, if that balance is thrown off then our muscle fibers don’t fire like they should which will cause cramping and fatigue.

Here’s a little science video about muscles…just because I’m a science nerd! http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2NPtiYNuNrE

It’s good to take a swig of water every 10 minutes or so, best to do before you are thirsty because if you are thirsty you are already on the start to being dehydrated.  If you find after these really hot days that you have a headache or your muscles are cramping, drink more water-if you sweat a lot definitely replace the salts you lost with an electrolyte drink.

I know many of us like some beer during the summer especially after our runs, which can provide your body with some carbs but also take into account that drinks like beer or anything with a lot of caffeine in it can significantly dehydrate your body.

You don’t have to drink water to hydrate either, if you find water boring grab some type of fruit, which research has recently show may hydrate the body twice as efficiently than water alone and provide you with nutrients or salts that you are losing.  A few good fruits/veggies to try are:

CANTALOUPE, PEACHES, STRAWBERRIES

All these fruits are mostly water and rich in potassium, an electrolyte lost through sweat. “Potassium and sodium work together to maintain fluid levels in the body,” says Wendy Brazilian, Dr.PH., R.D., author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet, “which helps regulate your heartbeat and circulation.” One cup of each contains between five and 10 percent of your daily needs.

WATERMELON, KIWI, CITRUS

Vitamin C  can help maintain cartilage and joint flexibility, and all of these fruits provide at least 1/3 of your daily need per serving. It also plays a role in protecting your skin and vitamin C counters those effects.

TOMATOES, BROCCOLI

Tomatoes are rich in lycopene; studies link this antioxidant to a reduced risk of lung, stomach, prostate, breast, colon, and cervical cancer.  Broccoli is 90 percent water, even though it doesn’t appear that way, and contains compounds called isothiocyanates. A 2010 study in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry found isothiocyanates block a defective gene that causes cells to become cancerous.

PINEAPPLE, CHERRIES

Both of these fruits may help you recover and rehydrate postrun. Studies show the enzyme bromelain, found in pineapple, may reduce inflammation and speed muscle repair. “Tart cherries contain anthocyanins and melatonin, which reduce inflammation,” says Russel J. Reiter, Ph.D., professor of cellular and structural biology at the University of Texas Health Science Center

If you’re a numbers person here’s some numbers from a Runner’s World article that shows the amount of fluid you should consume for each mile you run based on your weight and the temperature outside.

Table of hydration in fl oz, of amount of fluid to consume based on weight and temperature

June 4, 2012. Training Tips, Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Bonking: the good, the bad and the really really UGLY!

Bonking, hitting the wall, running out of steam, and running out of juice-whatever you decide to call it, it sucks and you get defeated thinking about how you “failed” on your run. There are a few types of bonking ranging from the glycogen depletion bonk where your muscles fatigue to the glucose depletion bonk where your brain gets all fuzzy around the corners…and then there is the kind of bonk I was facing: the EVERYTHING bonk where it ranges from glucose and glycogen depletion, dehydration and not getting my mileage in the past few weeks. First let me give a little back story to my beloved bonking that happened today…none of us, even those that have been training for years are impervious to bonking, sometimes it just happens and you have to go with the flow..

As I sit here sipping my honey ginseng green tea (good for soothing upset stomachs) I reflect on what I posted previously about, I had my race today 9/11/2011-it was a half marathon (no big deal really by now i can do that in my sleep). I felt good at the start but after 8 miles in my stomach was going crazy on me, usually this is the point of my race where I take down some Gu to give me some energy and have sustenance because I can’t eat before I run…but today my stomach was saying “no! no! i won’t keep down anything you give me except liquids”…I didn’t want to listen to my stomach because I wanted to race well but for sake of not throwing up on the course I heeded what my head was saying and decided to listen to my stomach. I took water at every water stop past mile 4 to conserve mine as reserves just in case I needed it…even though i hate stopping at water stops because people around you never know how to work a waterstop correctly and you end up dodging people who stop dead in their tracks to drink their water instead of moving off to the side… I also drank some powerade to replace salts I was losing and get in a few sugars. 

I’m not going to do a whole play by-play of this race but I didn’t do so bad, I passed tons of people on the “hills” and had negative splits the last 3 miles, mainly because I just wanted to be done and get home.  I sprinted the finish which proved to be a horrible idea as I ended up dry heaving  as I was taking off my race chip…I ran straight into a nearby restaurant bathroom and proceeded to get sick…then i started to get sick on the way home and busted through my door leaping over my cats sprinting to my bathroom & threw up as soon as I got in bathroom door…then I showered and fell asleep on my couch for 4hours, woke up and went in search of food I could keep down. Technically I didn’t completely bonk but it felt just the same…

So what the heck happened? I ate right all week, then I thought I did eat something different the day before for lunch than what I usually eat (bad practice! you shouldn’t really do this, I thought I was impervious to this for such a “short distance”). I had sushi but it was a cucumber/avocado roll…wait I had a california roll with crab…maybe the crab was bad and it was what caused my stomach to completely flip itself upside down mid run.  Regardless of what it was, I knew I had hydrated, maybe not optimally but enough. I still got a decent race time but I felt so defeated afterwards, this was the second long run I’ve gotten sick. 

What else can contribute to bonking? Not getting adequate sleep, well I also haven’t gotten that lately.  Not hydrating enough, I was but I probably should have hydrated a bit more.  Eating different foods than what you eat on a night before a training run.  Sometimes it’s just “luck” or not your day.  I guess my bonking was multi-factorial. 

When you seriously bonk you can start to hallucinate that’s when you know you’re in trouble, this is most likely due to dehydration which can be serious. The science of avoid bonking breaks down into a few different categories.

1)Food Intake: protein vs carb ratio, maximizing glycogen intake: Proteins what wonderful little compounds they are, they make up our muscles and they control a lot of different functions in the body even down at the cellular level. There is a magic combo of protein/carb that you should try to maintain while running or actually any training that you do. Usually it’s a 2:1 ratio, many energy supplements such as Gu, powergels, chomps, shot blocks try to keep this ratio-the rest is up to you to make sure you take them at the right times to optimize your performance and this is specific to each person you just have to try it out. Typically you want to take a Gu or some sort of protein/carb replacement after the first hour of exercise and every hour after that.  You want to watch though because some of these replacements can contain extra caffeine which can do all sorts of crazy things to people’s stomachs having you literally running for the nearest port-o-potty or bush.

For me I can’t take any energy supplement until I’m at least and hour or a little over ( ~6 miles) in my  run otherwise my stomach goes crazy. Others can take something such as a Gu right from the start and be fine. If you can eat breakfast before your morning run try getting some protein such as peanut/almond butter on your toast or even and egg white on toast or if you’re vegetarian tofu on wheat bread. The idea of a “carb load” the days before a race is to allow your body time to break down the carbs into glycogen that it stores in the muscles, you want to maximize this so in case those days where you can’t eat anything on your run you have some reserves to go off of. 

 Glycogen, or sugar depletion can result in loss of brain function, basically as you lose sugars you’re losing your mental capacity to really care about your race even if your muscles are fine you are mentally worn out…this can be dangerous (i’ve actually seen this firsthand when I was course marshaling a trail marathon/ultra, many people were stumbling the last few miles and just saying the craziest things-i had one guy tell me he wanted to run back to his car instead of take the shuttle then almost fall down as he went through a ditch that lead to the road. Another guy in the same race looked so haggard it was awful, I offered him some gatorade but he refused, he looked like a zombie so pale and was just asking for a medic at the finish. I ended up calling the medics and telling them to be ready for some zombie runners that would be finishing in about 20 minutes.

2) Banking Sleep: I think this is one of the things we really take for granted minus #3 below. A lot of times I can’t sleep before a long run or even a race because my mind goes into hyperdrive thinking about my race tactics or what if I don’t wake up in the morning and miss it! So that leads to typically waking up a zillion times throughout the night or just not really getting a deep sleep.  The way to combat this is to just assume you won’t sleep the night before and try to bank your sleep during the week. Even going to bed an hour earlier each night can be beneficial.  If you have kids this can be a challenge…if you have fuzzy kids this can be a challenge..my one cat screams in the middle of the night when she drags a her toy bunny around my condo and sometimes it wakes me up.  If all else fails there are drugs for that! Sometimes when I know I won’t be able to sleep but I need to get it in I’ll take 1-2 tablets of melatonin; melatonin is a naturally secreted chemical that induces sleep-thus giving yourself an extra boost can help. Usually it takes about 30minutes to become effective, and unlike benedryl (at least for me) it’s easy to wake up not feeling groggy.

3) Staying hydrated: This is one of the most important things you can do as a runner or for any type of exercise.  Hydration is key for making your muscles work efficiently. Maintaining your water/fluid intake during a workout is important for many factors, it keeps the blood moving and keeps your bowels moving around so your stomach doesn’t get sick/cramp. It helps with muscle cramping, many times a side stitch or cramp is due to improper hydration.  If you’re a heavy sweater it is incredibly important to keep your fluids up to replace what you’ve lost, but sometimes water isn’t enough. Depending on how long you’re running or how much you sweat you’ll also need to replace the various salts you lose while you workout. For long distance runners having salt tabs such as succeed are good to take while running. You can also eat a banana, it’ll give you much-needed potassium but also some sugars. The main reason you need to replace salts boils down to basic science: muscle fibers need salts to contract. All cells have ionic pumps that pump sodium/potassium/calcium in and out of the cell in a very specific balance, if that balance is thrown off then our muscle fibers don’t fire like they should which will cause cramping and fatigue.

4) Getting adequate mileage in before your race/ tapering correctly: Oh making sure to get your mileage in the week of a long run or race, this can be tricky as life gets in the way.  Typically you want to have you weekly mileage (mon-fri) equal or slightly more mileage than what you’ll be running during the weekend. So I’m doing 20 miles this coming sunday; I want to make sure that during 2-3 runs throughout the week I’m getting in at least 20 miles so that my legs are less fatigued come the weekend.  When it’s a race week you want to taper the weeks before, which mainly means slowly decreasing your mileage so that you give your muscles enough rest to optimally perform during your race. If you go into a race where you worked your muscles really hard throughout the week you haven’t given them adequate time for microtears in the muscle fibers to be repaired.  I can be bad at getting in adequate mileage some weeks, especially now with class…and you don’t want to cram all that mileage into one day of the week, you need to break it up into at least 2 days, 3 would be optimal that you can spread out the mileage so it’s less burden on your body.

How to recover from bonking or close encounter with bonking such as I had?

First you have to diagnose why you bonked.

  1. If it was from food there isn’t much you can do other than replace your energy depletion with easy to digest foods at first such as a banana or a protein smoothie, once your stomach is a little bit more settled try some complex carbohydrates such as a bagel or some wheat toast, it is also good to get some protein so putting some peanut butter on your toast would be a great option.  Anything with extra fiber would be a bad option as it’ll get your bowels moving and if you’re already having overactive bowel issues you really don’t need to keep those guys a flowin’.  If your stomach is still upset take a pepto tablet or drink some ginseng or chamomile tea to soothe your stomach. I usually carry pepto tablets in my running bag with me just in case I need them but I ran out after last week’s stomach issues and didn’t replace them.

     2. If it was from dehydration, you need to keep drinking water/electrolytes right after you finish the race and for the next few days until your urine is a pale yellow color, which is an indication of proper hydration (unless you take a multi-vitamin or B vitamin supplement in which your urine will still be a dark yellow).  If you don’t start rehydrating after your run you can run into headaches or migraines, and leg cramping. 

    3. Glycogen depletion: lack of sugars- this will display as having low blood sugar where you’ll be shaky and weak.  The best way to jumpstart your sugars is a sports drink, but you could take in something sugary but make sure if you do that you are also ingesting a complex carbohydrate which will slowly break down into sugars.  A good post race/run drink is chocolate milk or soy milk, it has the proteins needed to repair the microtears in your muscles but will also give you some of those sugars you need to replace & well it just tastes yummy! Drink it down until your straw makes that really annoying slurpy sound and you can pretend your 5 years old again.  I typically try to pack one of those horizon chocolate milk boxes in a cooler for after my race, and I always have a spare powerade.

    4. Heat- sometimes it’s just too hot and humid and our bodies just can’t overcome that and they wave a white flag and scream “STOP!! YOU’RE HURTING ME!!!”  this can be scary: your legs can give out on you..you can become short of breath.  If you feel yourself getting cold find some water and dump it on yourself as soon as you can, making sure to dump water on your head and down your chest, if you can put some ice in your hat or down your bra to cool your core.  I don’t sweat so I know the signs of over-heating.  Once in a race I was over-heating so bad that I had to literally take ice from the water stop people and shove it in my sports bra to cool my core temperature.   The heat bonk is one you can’t really control and honestly I think about every runner has experienced the heat bonk at some point. Just know how to handle it and when it happens stop running, walk around a bit to cool yourself down.

The best thing you can do is trying to avoid bonking in the first place but sometimes it just happens, so the second best thing you can do is to have a bag at bag check or close at hand after your run that contains the essentials: chocolate milk, powerade, pretzels, bagel/peanut butter & jelly sandwich.  PB& J is fantastic mid run sometimes, I didn’t know this until I did a trail race, the PB&J seemed to carry these mystical powers that brought me back from the depths of a very dark place…so use a funky cookie cutter to make it more fun to eat…”yummy i just bit off your head t-rex!! take that!!”  (the simple things in life can help you deal with tough situations…personally i like to keep running fun & pretend i’m 5 so yes i’ll make my pb&j look like t-rex then bite it’s head off giggling & making noises…and yes i’ll drink my chocolate milk swinging my legs and dancing in my chair going ‘mmmm’…life is better when you aren’t so serious all the time you need time to let your inner kiddo shine! and running is perfect for that…i even skip when i run sometimes…)

All in all the hard part is knowing when to quit and when you can push through the physical pain/exhaustion/waves of nausea. Sometimes you can just walk it off other times you have to throw in the towel and just bail on your run all together. Don’t push yourself past the point where you pass out on the trail and someone needs to call an ambulance, if you’re feeling that bad stop at the closest aid station and seek help. Even if you don’t get taken to the finish you can at least sit there for a bit until you start to feel a little better. If you aren’t racing have your phone with you or some road id that people can use in case you happen to pass out…and the most important thing is to let people know when you’re going out, where you’re running and when you should be back. Please don’t be like some of those people who I see hooked up to saline IVs at the finishline, with some of these steps you can avoid bonking…but when it happens you can be prepared.

For a bit more info Runner’s World has an article about bonking, you can also find more information about nutrition.  http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-301–6263-1-2X3X5X7X8X10-6,00.html

Regardless of how or why you’ve bonked, or will bonk in the future as nobody is impervious to it…the take home message is trust your body and listen to it. Take each bonk as a learning experience of what not to do the next time so you’re more prepared.  Running is just as much a learning experience as many other things in life, some days we’re really on and others we’re just off but we learn a lesson all the same.  So next time I won’t eat sushi the day before a race and I know to take more water even if it’s just a “small” race. Just make sure to diagnose the problem and find a way to alleviate the after effects. Oh, and don’t do it again 🙂

Happy Running,

Coach Gwynne

September 12, 2011. Training Tips. Leave a comment.

Excuse Me While I Fartlek

WAHHH??? did she just say what  I thought she said? yes…if you ever run by someone and they’re like “oh I’m just out fartleking today!” that doesn’t mean that you need to stay up wind of them the whole time…well maybe, but fartlek isn’t what you think it is…”fartlek” oh that’s a funny word now huh? Fartlek is a swedish word for speed play. Many great athletes (Olympians through even us normal runners) do them as speed training and you can incorporate some in your repertoire to jazz up a “boring” track night or spruce up a neighborhood run. By incorporating these quick bursts of speed you can help increase your leg turn over & build speed. Even doing it once a week can help and you don’t have to do it just at the track!

Here are 2 different ways you can incorporate this funny little word into your weekly runs: 1) in your neighborhood: run slow for about 5-10 steps then gradually increase your pace for about 20-50 steps then slow back down. As you get more comfortable bump up the amount of faster steps you take to maybe even doing a block at that speed. Make sure to walk or jog slower between each fast session, this allows your body to recover. 2) another for neighborhood or even track. pick a landmark to run towards. you see that cute guy up ahead, run a little faster towards him, smile then slow down as you get to him, or you can run to a telephone pole then slow down. (personally i like the cute guy idea) make sure to vary the length of the landmark you choose to jazz up the fartlek. You can continue this for 5-10 minutes and then just finish easy. Oh and remember your form 🙂 -that is a whole other post…

Once you build up your stamina and base mileage you can start incorporating fartleks in longer runs, many call these workouts “tempo” runs.  Instead of running for a short distance you extend the faster segment to a few miles. So say we wanted to do a 5 mile run: we’d start with a warm up mile, about 20-30 seconds slower than your long run pace, then do 3 miles 15-20 seconds faster than your long run pace and finish with an easy mile.

When i say “speed up” I literally mean it but not at a pace that you’re all out sprinting for your life,( unless you are sprinting for your life from an angry dog or something) you want about 70-80% of your fastest effort. And yes, you will notice it may slow down the rest of your pace for the evening but this is fine. Speed work helps you use your fast twitch muscle that can help with a “kick” come race day. Those fast twitch muscles are what help you get a quicker leg turn over.

A good way to increase your pace for these ins & outs is either of 2 ways: 1) lengthen your stride, basically widening or over-exaggerating your leg movement as if you’re jumping over a hole or ditch, dog or cat that got in your way. 2) shorten your steps, I know this sounds counter intuitive but it is probably the more readily used variation, I use this b/c my hipflexors are tight & I can’t open up my stride as much. Shortening your steps allows you to have a quicker rate in which you move your feet, aka quicker turn over.

Typically I would add these fartlek runs or tempo days only for 1 workout during your week, for true beginners I’d do this once every 2wks with the opposite week being speed work.  If you are an extreme beginner like just starting to go from walking or walk/running to running I’d suggest just sticking to fartlek runs or ins & outs.  What is an in/out?  Let’s make this easy, say it’s a “speed/tempo” day: if you are a true beginner and you want to try a bit of speed work, on a track night, you’re running for 10minutes.  I’d run a very easy pace for 5 minutes in which you can easily sing or have a conversation with someone after that I’d do 1 lap of a track as “speed” if you can quicken your pace (70-80% effort where you feel like you are pushing yourself but not to your maximum capacity) on the straight part of the track and slow down on the curved parts, do this until you’ve done 1 full lap. If you can’t make the full straight away then just aim for half and then another half on the other side of the track. Don’t feel defeated if you can’t do a whole straight away, we all have to start somewhere.  When I started back to running I couldn’t even make it more than a half mile from my apartment, with time comes endurance with endurance comes speed. You only work on one thing at a time. If you try to do both you are only hurting yourself in the end and you’ll be back at the beginning because you most likely injured your knee or foot. 

Speaking of: common injuries/pains for first time runners as you are beginning to increase your mileage- feet/ankles (this may also be due to improper footwear-that’ll be another post), knees-your knees aren’t used to the pounding on the ground they’ll get used to it over time & actually runners usually have stronger knees than those that don’t run: Runner’s World did a brief editorial on it  *I’ll find the real article and put it in here at some point* , you may have hip/back pain.   Most of these pains are just from your body not being used that way in a while and it’s kind of like the growing pains you get as a kid, you eventually grow out of them as you increase your stamina..but if they continue it could be an injury-listen to your body and as a beginner it’s good to keep a running journal so you can document everything you’re doing.

Happy Running!
Coach Gwynne

“Every day gives you an opportunity to improve. With every run, you try to be better. Not just a better runner, but a better person.”-John ‘the penguin’ Bingham, The Courage to Start

August 30, 2011. Training Tips. Leave a comment.

Learn To Breathe Properly During Your Run

Breathing is a very natural activity–and so is getting out of breath when you run. Modified from  Hal Higdon Published 08/28/2001 Runner’s World

It’s only natural that when you run, you’ll get out of breath. Your body needs oxygen, just as your car needs gas to fire the pistons in the engine. When you start to exercise–whether running, walking or any other physical activity–your muscles use more oxygen than at a rested state. This need is met by supplying oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, more is pumped through your system the harder the system works. The lungs will work harder to absorb this oxygen out of the air…thus you get out of breath…the contrary to this is that you have asthma of some sort which complicates things a bit, but I’ll get into that later.Without giving it much conscious thought, most runners breathe in a 2/2 rhythmic ratio: which breaks down to inhaling a breath during two steps and exhaling during two more subsequent steps. Though this may be true, some slower runners may often tend to breathe in a 3/3 ratio, while faster runners might breathe 2/1, or 1/1, however 2/2 is much more common.For those that are curious to test this out if you count breaths in and out only to discover you are breathing with a different rhythm, don’t worry about it.  Most likely adjusting your breathing pattern will not make you a better runner, unless going up a hill which controlled breathing can help you “manage” or work through the strain your body is going through.The same with whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth, the majority of people naturally breathe through both. Famed New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard, when asked how runners should breathe, once replied: “Breathe through your mouth. Breathe through your nose. Suck the air in through your ears, if you can.” Regardless of how you breathe and how much you breathe, your jaw should be relaxed with your mouth slightly open. This should allow oxygen to come through your nose and mouth to your lungs, to your blood and to your muscles without you needing to yield a conscious effort. Breathing is a very natural activity–and so is getting out of breath when you run.
Now back to the tricky part: dealing with breathing when you have asthma or exercised induced asthma…many people think they can’t do sports because of this, but on the contrary, it can be very good for asthmatic individuals. I know this from personal experience; I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma my sophomore year of high school while running track, actually a lot of weird things happened that year of my life…but I digress…  Throughout the years it’s been a struggle in the humidity, in the cold and just in general some times.
what is asthma? Asthma affects people of all ages, often it starts during childhood. In the United States, more than 22 million people are known to have asthma, with nearly 6 million of these people being children.  When the airways react, the muscles around them tighten. It is mainly the narrowing of the airways, causing less air to flow into the lungs. The swelling also can worsen, making the airways even narrower. Cells in the airways may make more mucus than normal. Mucus is a sticky, thick liquid that can further narrow your airways…thus making it challenging to breathe.
Most asthma can be controlled by using an inhaler that dilates the bronchial tract. I typically use an albuterol inhaler before each run. Other inhalers use some type of steroid to increase it’s potency.
I’ve found that over the past few years as I’ve increased my base mileage my asthma has become more controlled and I can go longer distances at a faster pace without using my inhaler, but I still carry it on me just in case.  However there are some days that even my inhaler can’t save me and that’s when I call it a day or slow myself down a good minute/mile slower or more if I am going to run or I simply run another day, most of these days are typically when it’s really humid or cold- the humidity and cold put a lot of stress on your lungs to begin with. You need to listen to your body and not push it too much because an asthma attack is nothing to really joke about, I’ve had a few mini ones this past winter when I was alone in CA for a half marathon in Disneyland- it was really scary waking up in the middle of the night feeling your lungs tighten and feel like you are drowning, gasping for air.  I’ve also been there when my mom has had a full blown attack and had to go to the Emergency Room.
 I recently found myself forgetting to take my inhaler before a 12mile run into DC and then not having one in my water pack, I was so scared…I just moved up to a pace group 1 min/mi faster than I was in the previous year but I actually ended up being fine. I attribute this to the past year of training at a lot of mileage over 12 miles that built up my lung capacity.
I have yet to not take an inhaler before a race…whoops recently did that for an 8k and still made a PR! (personal record/personal best) and I didn’t race hard…man makes me wonder how I would’ve done had I actually raced it…I chose not to race that 1) because I had forgotten my inhaler 2) I had a 15mile run the next day and really wasn’t “supposed” to  do that race anyway..regardless I listened to my body & new when to slow down.
There are a great deal of elite athletes with asthma:
  • Jerome Bettis – professional football player
  • Bruce Davidson – Olympic equestrian
  • Tom Dolan, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Chris Draft – professional football player
  • Kurt Grote, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Nancy Hogshead, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Jim “Catfish” Hunter – professional baseball player
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic medalist – track
  • Bill Koch, Olympic medalist – cross-country skiing
  • Greg Louganis, Olympic medalist – diving
  • Tom Malchow, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Debbie Meyer, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Art Monk – professional football player
  • George Murray – wheelchair athlete & Boston Marathon winner
  • Robert Muzzio – decathlete
  • Dennis Rodman – professional basketball player
  • Jim Ryun, Olympic medalist – track
  • Alberto Salazar – marathon runner
  • Isaiah Thomas – professional basketball player
  • Amy VanDyken, Olympic medalist – swimming
  • Dominique Wilkins – professional basketball player

More information about exercise induced asthma:

http://www.roadrunnersports.com/rrs/content/content.jsp?contentId=300078

http://www.halhigdon.com/Ontherun/asthma.html

Happy Running,

Coach Gwynne

August 19, 2011. Training Tips. Leave a comment.