Book Review- Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever

I recently read Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr and would like to share some of my thoughts here. I’ve been a follower of the authors’ training program for several years and this is basically an update with some more details. Pierce and Murr established the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) many years ago and that has grown and evolved over the years.

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FIRST began as four free lectures a month to help local runners with their training and running that has expanded to include laboratory assessments, gait assessment, nutritional advice, and much more. It’s not uncommon for there to be a waitlist for FIRST retreats. Laboratory fees range from $45 for body composition measurement to $425 for a combination consisting of VO2 MAX / Lactate Threshold  / Gait measurements. A 3-day nutritional assessment seems like a bargain for $50. The May 18-21 2017 retreat (which was sold out months in advance) was $1500 and included all activities, assessments, etc. except lodging. All of the information can be found on this website. There are also many different coaching options from individual coaching to group clinics and team coaching.

Now to the book. As I said, I was already familiar with the FIRST running philosophy, which is geared more toward runners in their forties and older. The basic idea is to run less but work harder and add cross-training, resistance training, and stretching. If you follow their plan, you will be working out for a cumulative of 7 hours a week. This includes 3 days of running, 3 days of cross-training, and 3 days of strength training (some days include both cross-training and strength training). You stretch for 10 minutes every day except one where you stretch for 15 minutes following the long run. Every day you are doing some form of exercise, with a minimum of 25 minutes on a day you strength train 15 minutes and stretch 10 minutes. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy workout plan just because you’re only running 3 days a week.

You may be saying, well this wouldn’t be enough for marathon training, and you would be right. The authors state this is a good base for beginning a marathon training plan. It also could be altered by adding longer runs. However, for my purposes, it works great for training for half marathons. It would also work well for shorter distances but I feel it’s perfect for half marathons and the only alteration I need to do is lengthen the long runs.

One notable thing about this training plan you notice right away is there are no distances listed. You run for time, not distance. There is also the FIRST Exertion Scale (FES), which goes from 1, “very easy and relaxed” to 10, “very, very hard; maximal effort.” Your run workouts are based on the FES for a certain amount of time. For example, one of the long run workouts is to begin running comfortably, progressing from a 1 to 3 on the FES scale for 10 minutes then continue the run at FES of 4 for 80 minutes. If I was a really fast runner, I could run for 11 miles pretty easily with this workout, but I’m not that fast so I alter the run workouts to make sure I’m getting in the miles to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon. I think a big part of preparing for a half marathon is mentally preparing yourself to run for 13.1 miles, so I like to go up to 12 or 13 miles for my longest run before a race. If I’m only running for 90 minutes, there’s no way I’m going to run 12 or 13 miles in that time.

I’m skipping ahead, though. The book begins with a lot of background and introductory information. Things start to even get a bit bleak when they go into all of the statistics on “aging runners.” Believe me when I say they don’t sugar-coat anything in this book. They lay it all out there and have many numbers to back it all up. Like it or not, every single one of us will experience the following: reduced lean muscle mass, reduced bone mineral density, increased body fat, reduced cardiac output, reduced metabolic rate, and hormonal changes. Yay! All of this of course impacts your running and other physical activity performance.

But there is hope as long as you are realistic and don’t expect your race times to always keep improving forever. There are also many things you can do such as stretching more, doing weight training, and cross-training. You can also look at your age-graded performance over time. There are many websites to calculate age-graded race times for all distances.

There is a chapter devoted entirely to the marathon and another chapter titled, “Is long-distance running healthy?” that addresses the numerous benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness and of running specifically. Spoiler alert- runners have lower “all-cause and cardiovascular death rates.” Moving on, there is a chapter full of Q & A that they have been asked over the years. There’s a section that discusses the pros and cons of running alone versus with others.

In the chapter on nutrition, I found an interesting idea that I’m still testing. The author states drinking an 8-ounce can of a meal supplement such as Ensure or Boost with 220 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates before a race. The morning of a half marathon I usually have a nervous stomach so the idea of just drinking my breakfast before a race is appealing to me. I don’t want to have to mix powders or anything else. I already do that with my Nuun tablets, which I always run with. I’ve been experimenting with Boost before my last couple of long runs and so far I think it will work for me.

I also enjoyed and appreciated the chapter called “Don’t forget why you are doing this,” where the authors talk about the joy of running.  I think it’s important to not take running and racing too seriously and just have fun; otherwise, what’s the point?

Now to the real meat of the book:

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This is where they really get into the details of the 7-hour workout week. There are detailed workouts for every day of the week, with numerous options to choose from, so you’re not just doing the same exact workouts week after week. There are images and descriptions for all of the stretches, both dynamic stretches before you run, and stretches for after you run. There are also descriptions and images for all of the strength (resistance) exercises. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted just to strength training and another chapter just on stretching. To finish the book, there is an Afterword and several Appendices.

What did I think of the book? I thought it was extremely in-depth, descriptive, and helpful. As I said earlier, I was already familiar with the authors and their FIRST training plans. I’ve been a believer in running less but running harder and incorporating strength, resistance, and cross-training for several years now. I know everyone is different but for me, if I run more than 3-4 days a week and/or longer distances, my body starts to break down in the form of injuries or illness. I’m no longer in my 30’s and I was not blessed with a body built for running 30+ miles a week. If I want to continue running well into old-age, I know I need to follow the philosophy proposed in this book. The authors state in the Afterword, “The 7-Hour Workout Week works for us.” Quite simply, the 7-Hour Workout Week also works for me.

You can buy the book on Amazon here.

I Volunteered at a Race and All I Got Was This T-shirt

How many of you remember the t-shirts that were popular beginning in the late-70’s and peaked sometime in the 80’s, with the saying, “My parents went to Florida and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? There were many others as well, not just Florida. Choose a place and insert it in place of Florida. Here’s an example:

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Well, I volunteered at a 5k and 10k race recently and I got a t-shirt, but I also received so much more in intangible rewards.

It had been a while since I had volunteered, and I felt like I was due to “give back” for all of the races I’ve ran. This time, my daughter who has recently started running 5k’s also went with me. She very wisely said, “I think all runners should volunteer at a race to see what all goes on and how much work the volunteers do.” I agree 100%.

My daughter and I volunteered at the race-day registration portion, which meant we had to check-in at 6:30 a.m. Ouch! The sun wasn’t even up when my alarm went off. The 10k started at 8:30 and the 5k started at 9:45, and for whatever reason it was mostly people running the 10k that were doing race-day registration. I noticed several things while we were there that might be a bit surprising and thought I’d share them here.

Out of about 20 volunteers that were at this particular station (registration) only two of us (my daughter and myself) said that we were runners when the person in charge asked. No one else there was even a runner, and yet here they were spending their way-too-early Saturday morning in the cold volunteering at a race. I found that a bit surprising. I’m sure there were at least a couple of other runners volunteering out there somewhere, maybe at an aid station or handing out bananas at the finish, but the point is, the majority of people volunteering at this race weren’t even runners.

My daughter was also surprised at just how many volunteers there were. This was a fairly small race (I later heard there were about 750 runners total for the 5k and 10k and 75 people doing the 1 mile fun run), so there wasn’t a need for huge numbers of volunteers, but even so, we were by the volunteer check-in station so we saw all of the people who came by, and it was a lot. I think runners sometimes forget or simply aren’t aware just how many volunteers are required to help support a race. There are volunteers first of all that help with planning the race before it even begins, then on race day at the check-in station for volunteers, more at registration, t-shirt pick-up, timing, water stations, course directors (to show you the way at turns), parking attendants, passing out food at the finish, handing out medals at the finish, police directing traffic, and the list goes on.

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Runners signing up at the race-day registration tables
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Post-race aid tents

I was also surprised at how big of a time commitment many of the volunteers are asked to put in. As I said, I was at the race-day registration station so I was asked to be there by 6:30 that morning. We were asked to stay until right up until the 5k began in case there were last-minute stragglers (there actually were a couple of people who registered for the 10k with maybe 5 minutes until the start). This means we were there from 6:30 until 9:45. That’s a pretty big chunk of time, and we weren’t even there as long as some other volunteers were. I saw volunteers cutting up oranges and bananas when we got there around 6:30 and they were still there passing them out to runners who had finished racing the 5k when we left at 9:45.

Before I registered online to volunteer for this race, I had tried to volunteer at other races in the area but was surprised to find that they seemingly didn’t need any more volunteers. One of the bigger races had a link on their website to volunteer, so I clicked it and every single slot for volunteers was full. I tried another race website and found the same thing- no more space for volunteers. I emailed a race director for another race to ask if I could volunteer and received no response. I understand these people are busy because most of them have full-time jobs on top of organizing a race so I’m not faulting them for not getting back to me. I just didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find a local race where I could volunteer. I’d like to volunteer again for another race or two this year and hopefully it won’t be so difficult to find some that would like my help!

The next time you run a race, don’t forget to thank a volunteer! It definitely takes a village to put on a race and the bigger the race, the more people it requires. I know I have more appreciation for volunteers at races after being a volunteer myself.

 

Top 5 Running Memories

Recently I started thinking about my running and racing history.  To date, I’ve ran two 5k’s, a 10k, a 10 miler, a 15k,  40 half marathons and one marathon.  This is all within the last 20 years.   I ran on my elementary school’s track team but after that only ran for fun until I finished graduate school and had settled into my life as an adult.

My first race as an adult was a 5k.  There was certainly nothing particularly memorable about it, even though it was my first race, but I do remember certain details about it.  It was on July 4 and it was in the evening but it was still hot and humid, as one would predict. Probably the biggest thing I got out of that race was the desire to do more.  I began running more and more races with longer distances.

I wanted to run a marathon by the time I turned 30.  I ran the Long Beach Marathon when I was 31 years old so I wasn’t off by much.  Just training for the race was like having a part-time job, with all of the time I spent running.  After I would run for my longest runs of up to 18-20 miles I would be totally wiped out for hours afterward.  The worst of it was I felt like I was always either sick or injured.  My immune system was being compromised and my body just couldn’t take all of the pounding on the roads.  The Long Beach Marathon leads me to my top five most memorable running experiences.

1. The day of the Long Beach Marathon in California was unseasonably hot when I ran it.  It was in the 80’s and people were quite literally dropping out of the race all around me, passing out from the extreme heat.  I must have been severely dehydrated myself because I experienced tunnel vision, where I had no peripheral vision; I could only see straight ahead of me, with only blackness in my periphery.  When that started, I did what any stubborn runner like me would do and walk.  I knew if I stopped moving that would be the end and I would drop out. I did not want my first marathon to be a DNF (did not finish). Somehow I managed to keep it together and crossed the finish line.  The first words I said to my husband were, “I don’t ever want to do that again.”  And I didn’t.  Instead I choose to stick to half marathons.  While the Long Beach Marathon may not be a pleasant memory for me given the race conditions, I still felt a sense of accomplishment just for finishing it and it’s definitely one of my most memorable races.

2. My fastest half marathon was at Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.  By this point I thought I had probably peaked as far as my finish times but I proved that even someone in their 40’s can still PR!  The course was slightly downhill but not so much that it felt pounding on my quads.  The race began at the top of Spearfish Canyon and finished at the bottom, basically.  I remember running through the canyon thinking, “This is so amazing that I get to run through this!  How many people get to do this?”  Running that race felt like a privilege indeed.  Perhaps my positive attitude effected my time as well.

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The top of Spearfish Canyon

3. Vermont was my first foray into the New England states and I was instantly in love with the area.  Covered Bridges Half Marathon, Vermont-9th state.  This was a hilly race for sure but it was one where the people running around me gave off such positive vibes that it was one of the most fun and memorable races I’ve ran.  I remember many times during the race that people would crack jokes and everyone around would laugh out loud. Vermont is one of the greenest states I’ve ever seen as far as the trees and grass. The course runs through lovely green pastures and fields and is truly beautiful.  Plus, as you might guess from the name of the race, you get to run through or past several covered bridges.

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One of many covered bridges in Vermont

4. The only time I’ve won first place in my age group was at the Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state.  The course wasn’t particularly scenic, but it wasn’t bad.  It was two loops, which I certainly wasn’t crazy about but in hindsight it was kind of good to know exactly what I was in for the second time around.  When I finished, my husband (who is not a runner and is my photographer and support crew along with my daughter) said, “I think we should stick around for the awards ceremony.”  I said, “Really?  OK.” When they gave the award for second place in my age group, I said to my daughter, “I remember passing her.”  My husband replied, “What does that tell you?”  Tears started to well up in my eyes.  As I type this, tears are starting to well up again, honestly.  Then the announcer called my name as the first place female in my age group and it was all I could do not to cry like a baby.  I was shocked.  I was elated.  I felt so incredibly proud and yet humble at the same time, if that makes sense.  This was definitely a highlight of racing for me.

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5. When I signed up my daughter for Girls on the Run (see my post on that here Girls on the Run Interview), a running group that introduces girls to running and healthy lifestyles, culminating in a 5k, she had a love/hate relationship with running.  She would say she’d want to go running with me but when we got out, she’d whine and complain how hard it was until ultimately we ended up walking or just going back home.  I always told her we would go completely at her pace, too, so I definitely wasn’t pushing her.  The frustrating part of it for me was I could see the potential in her as a runner.  She’s a natural.  She’s one of those people that just looks like a gazelle when she runs.  However, she could not see the potential in herself, that is, until she started running with other girls in the Girls on the Run program.  I could see her confidence gradually gaining and by the time of the 5k she had completely changed her attitude.  I remember being so proud of my daughter when we ran the Girls on the Run 5k together and thinking that someday we may even run a half marathon together.  How cool would that be?

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What are your most memorable races?

 

 

Girls on the Run Interview

My daughter participated in Girls on the Run last fall and I was curious about her feelings about it now that some time has passed and she has since then participated in some other running activities.  I recently conducted an interview with her that will follow but first some background information.

Girls on the Run is a program found in every state in the United States that teaches girls in grades 3-5 (grades 6-8 is their Heart & Sole program) about nutrition, positive influences, and emotional and physical development. There are several core values emphasized including teaching girls to embrace their differences and find strength in one another.  They also add in some running at the meetings of course.  Girls meet after school twice a week in a 12 week program that culminates with a Girls on the Run 5k.

Here is the interview:

Me:  “What kinds of things did you do at Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “We talked about different ways to stay healthy and we talked about staying active.  We also ran on a school track where we met.”

Me:  “Can you tell me about the actual running you did?”

Daughter:  “Personally, I didn’t like the running part.  I like when people push me to run and they didn’t do that.  They were slacking in that, so I didn’t like that about Girls on the Run.”

Me:  “What do you think your coaches could have done differently to make it a better experience for you?”

Daughter:  “Maybe they could have pushed us more, made us run harder rather than just say go run.  I think they should have pushed us harder instead of just telling us to run and then watch us run.”

Me:  “So the coaches didn’t run with you?”

Daughter:  “They did run with us.  One coach would be watching and the other would run with us.  They would switch off so one coach would watch and the other would run.”

Me:  “What about girls who were anxious about running or who maybe hadn’t ever ran before?  Do you think pushing them would have been too much?”

Daughter:  “I think it really depends on the girl.  Some girls were obviously forced to be there by their parents and didn’t want to be there.  They wouldn’t have liked to be pushed.  But there were some girls who seemed like they would have done better, gone faster, if the coaches would have pushed them.”

Me:  “So maybe they should have made the runs more individualized to suit different girls’ needs and abilities?”

Daughter:  “Yeah.  Definitely.”

Me:  “What did you like best about Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “I think I really liked that although a lot of the girls there didn’t want to run, the coaches didn’t hold me back with them.  They let me run as much and as fast as I wanted.  It was nice to just get out and run.”

Me:  “What did you learn from Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “That I’m a lot better runner than I thought before.  You were right when you told me I was a fast runner.  It gave me more self-confidence in running.”

Me:  “Would you recommend Girls on the Run to other girls?”

Daughter:  (hesitation) “I don’t know.  It really depends on what kind of a challenge they’re looking for and why they’re running.  It depends if they’re running for exercise or to get faster at races.”

Me:  “So would you say Girls on the Run is best for girls who have never really ran before?”

Daughter:  “Yes.  It’s kind of a warm-up.  After Girls on the Run, if they think it was fun, they can look into another program or run with a parent that runs.”

Me:  “Thank you very much for your time and your insight.”

Daughter:  “You’re welcome.  Those were tough questions! (laughing)”

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There were a lot of runners at the 5k- not just girls from GOTR
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The finish line is now in sight
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The finish line!