From Couch to 5K (part 2)
Review: The Constant Time Training Program
In Part 1 of this article, I got the program started by telling you what kind of shape you need to be in to start running (basically, any shape, but check with your doctor if you are over 30, overweight, sedentary, or a smoker). I let you know what kind of equipment you need to start a running program. Then, I outlined what I call the “Constant Time Training Program”. The idea behind the Constant Time program is that you spend roughly the same time per session at the beginning of your program as you do when you are ready to run your 5K about 3 months later. That’s about an hour. And that hour includes stretching, a warm-up, exercise, a cool down, and a quick shower. The difference between the beginning of the program and the end is that as you progress, you spend more of the ‘exercise’ portion of the workout running, and less of it walking.
Now that you’ve been “with the program” for a while, it’s time to liven things up!
How Do I Get Faster?
You’ve been running for a few weeks and can comfortably run a couple of miles. You may even notice that you are covering more ground during the time you are running, so you’re getting faster. But, now you want to learn how to run faster still. Before you jump into the recommendations below, always heed the recommendation made in the first installment of this article: Patience, patience!. Remember, with the constant time program, you are exercising the same amount of time in each session, but slowly increasing the amount of time that you are running.
There are two things that you can do to get faster. The first is to increase your mileage. If you stick with running for a few more months, you will eventually be able to run 5 or 6 miles at a pop. Of course, the longer run will take you longer than a half-hour, and as a beginner you should probably only run that far once a week. But a longer run will give you a lot more stamina and will make running shorter distances, such as a 5K race, seem easier. But remember, don’t try to jump into a 6 mile run until your body has slowly worked up to it.
The second thing you can do, and you can start right away, is to play some speed games while running. There is a well-known training technique, developed by the Swedes, for increasing your speed and endurance. The Swedish word for the technique is fartlek, which means “speed play.” The basic idea is very simple: break up the middle portion of your run (after you are warmed up) into sections of fast running and slow running. You need not sprint, just pick up your pace during the “fast” sections. The amount of time you are running “fast” will increase as your level of conditioning progresses. The recovery time can also get shorter. The speed at which you run your “fast” sections will increase as your endurance increases. Using this basic idea, you can play all kinds of games with yourself (or your running partners).
We need not get bogged down in details. A few examples should help you design some games of your own. Try a game of “telephone pole”. After you’ve warmed up, run the distance between two telephone poles faster than your normal pace. Then rest between the next two poles by jogging more slowly than your normal pace. As you get better at this, you will be able to continue the game for longer stretches. You might also be able to run harder for two telephone poles and only rest for one. If you have a runner’s watch, you might try running “60-60s”: run a faster pace for a minute, then rest for a minute. Do try this at home. Experiment and come up with speed play that works for you.
Finally, a good speed workout can be had at the track. A track offers calibrated distances, and a flat surface so you can best measure and track your progress. There are tracks on the Penn State campus (on Porter Rd. down the hill from the Bryce Jordan Center) and at the State College Area High School (behind the athletic fields on the south side of Westerly Avenue). You are also welcome to join the Thursday Track Crew. The group meets in the warm-up area behind the bleachers in the main gym at Rec Hall and leaves at 12:10 PM every Thursday for a mile-and-a-half jog to the track and a hard workout. (If it’s more convenient, you can meet the group at the track at 12:25).You need not be a seasoned runner to join. The group welcomes newcomers, and there is usually a slower runner or two in the pack. More information on the Thursday Track Crew can be found at http://www.nvrun.com/index.php/training/running-groups/thursday-track
What If I Get Hurt?
Even if you follow the program, stretch before running, are patient in increasing your miles, and don’t overdo it, you can still end up with a runner’s injury. There are many kinds of injuries that runners are susceptible to, and even seasoned runners sometimes get hurt. If you get hurt, you should “listen to your body”. This means that it’s OK to stop running for a while. It’s also OK to self-treat. After all, you’re the best judge of when things are getting better. But before treating an injury, you should do a little research. There are numerous online resources that can help you identify and treat your injury. One good general site is Cool Running, at http://www.coolrunning.com/index.shtml . But always remember, if the hurt gets worse or won’t go away, see a doctor.
The two largest categories of runners injuries are probably pulled muscles and ligaments, and tendonitis. A pulled muscle is an acute injury (you usually know exactly when it happens). A pulled muscle sometimes happens when you have not warmed up sufficiently, when it is cold out, or when you are straining too hard in a workout. The best strategy for such an injury is called the RICE approach: rest, ice, compression, elevation. When you first get a muscle pull, you should ice it. Use an ice pack, or a freezer bag full of ice cubes. Cover the bag with a moist cloth and apply it to the injured area for 20-30 minutes several times a day. Ice helps prevent swelling. If you pull a muscle in one of your legs, elevate the injured area while you ice it. You can also wear a compression (“Ace”) bandage while you are not icing. Do not over tighten the bandage. Finally, rest for at least a couple of days, then slowly start exercising the area again. Depending on the severity of the pull, you might have to go back to “square one” for a while. But don’t despair, and be patient. If the injury does not start feeling better, consult a doctor.
Tendonitis is a chronic injury that is generally caused by either over training, bad shoes, or an underlying physical susceptibility. Tendonitis usually manifests itself as pain that mostly goes away after you warm up, but gets worse over time if nothing is done about it. Tendonitis develops over time and usually takes time to heal. You can usually run with tendonitis, but it can lead to a more serious condition if you don’t do something about it. Here are some things to do if you get tendonitis. First, check your shoes. Are they running shoes? Don’t run in anything not designed for running. Are they getting old (more than 300 miles)? Get a new pair. Did you have a running shoe pro match your shoes to your running form? Sometimes the way you run can leave you open to injury and a running shoe professional can help find shoes that mitigate the problem.
Once you’ve gotten yourself into some better shoes, you should try icing the injured area after a run. Try a course of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (e.g. Motrin). Take the recommended amount for a couple of weeks. Do some extra stretching and strengthening exercises that are designed for the affected area. If the pain persists, consult a doctor.
Down The Home Stretch
It’s almost time for the big race. What should your race plan be? The best race plan is to run at the pace you are capable of the last week of your training. It’s your first time out, so don’t overreach. If you can cover the distance by running two miles and walking the rest, then that’s what you should do on race day.
You’ve set the date, chosen a race, and put in your training. The big day is almost here. Here are a few tips to help get you through to the finish. First, pre-register for your race. You can usually save a few bucks by doing so, and doing so will cement your commitment to run. Second, take the two days before the race off from training. On those days, just do the stretching part of your workout, and maybe enough of a jog to break a sweat, no more. This will help keep you muscles limber, but won’t wear you out. Eat a good meal the night before, but don’t eat something that will make it hard for you to sleep. Eat something easy to digest. Eat pasta if you want, though “carbo-loading” is not necessary for a 5K.
On race day, arrive early. It’s best to get to the race bout 45 minutes to an hour before the gun goes off. This will give you plenty of time to get your race packet, stretch, and warm up. It’ll also allow for time to get acquainted with where everything is: the registration table, the starting line, the bathrooms, a course map. Go to the registration table and get the race packet first. In it should be your race number or a race chip. Race directors use either a race number system or a chip system for timing. (Sometimes races that use a chip will also require runners to wear a number as well). If you get a race number, pin it on the front of the outermost shirt (it could be cold out!) that you will be wearing when you cross the finish line. Pin it with 4 pins using the 4 holes that are in the top section of the number. Do not pin the lower tear-off tab onto your shirt.
A chip is often used in larger races. It is a piece of plastic that can be attached to your shoes. It has an electronic chip embedded in it that signals the timing equipment when you cross the finish line. If you get a chip, attach it to your shoes. Many races are now using disposable chips, but if the race you're doing uses chips that are not disposable (if they don't tell you, ask if the chip is disposable), the chip will be removed at the finish line. For non-disposable chips, do not loop the body of the chip into your laces (this make it hard to remove and will cause a pile up of people at the finish line), but use the plastic device that race personnel give you to attach it to your laces. This plastic device is removed by race personnel when you cross the finish line with a quick snip of some scissors. If you have trouble attaching the chip, just ask race personnel to help you. Don’t misplace your non-disposable chip or walk off with it after the race! They are costly to replace.
Now it’s time for a leisurely warmup. Maybe take a jog back to your car to drop off the rest of your race packet. After a 5-10 minute jog, do some stretching. Then some more light jogging. You might also want to do some “pick-ups”, i.e. a few short (50-100 yard) speedy runs where you lift your legs. Stop warming up 5 to 10 minutes before gun time, though if it’s cold out, make sure to stay warmed up and limber. Have a little water, but don’t worry about tanking up. Unless it’s really hot out, you won’t need much water to get through a 5K, and you don’t want to be frantically searching for a bathroom with 1 minute to go to the race. When the Race Director calls everyone to the starting line, position yourself in the crowd in a place that is appropriate to your speed. Don’t go to the front row. You could get trampled, and it really annoys the fast runners to have to dodge newbies. Go somewhere near the back. While waiting for the gun to go off, make some friends in the crowd. Tell them it’s your first 5K. You’ll get a lot of encouragement. Listen to the last minute directions of the Race Director. Then psyche yourself up for the big moment.
When the gun goes off, you’ll be very excited. The biggest mistake first timers make is going out too fast. Try to avoid the temptation to go with the crowd. This will be difficult, because in the excitement of the moment you won’t feel like you’re running too fast. Just take it easy. Relax. And don’t worry about embarrassing yourself! 5K races are increasing in popularity, and that means there are a lot of newcomers out there with you. Most of them have probably not trained as well as you have. If you’ve trained, and you stick with your race plan, you won’t finish last.
One more little bugaboo can crop up during the race and that is a side-stitch. That’s a fairly annoying pain at the bottom of your rib cage. It’s caused by a spasm in your diaphragm. Such spasms are usually brought on by overexcitement or going out to fast. If this happens, go slower for a while. Try speed walking for a minute or two, swinging your arms at your side. Also, try forcing a cough without actually coughing, i.e. tighten your abdominal muscles near the cramp as if you are about to cough, then release them by making a baby cough or grunt. This sometimes helps to clear up the spasm, and if nothing else it gets your mind on something else.
As you approach the finish line, be aware that other runners may try to pass you. You can choose to try to sprint with them to the finish, but don’t block another runner. It’s considered bad form. After crossing the finish line, move swiftly through the queue of runners as the finish line assistant tears off your bib number tab or removes the chip from your shoe. If the race director is not using chips, stay in your finish order until after the finish line personnel have removed the tab from the bottom of your race bib. Exit the finish line area so as not to cause congestion there. There will probably be water and food nearby.
When you’re finished with the race, bask in the glow of a goal accomplished. Go to the awards ceremony even if you don’t win anything (some races give door prizes!) And go home and rest up for a few days before you hit the road again to train for your next 5K!