Book Review “Running Science: optimizing training and performance” by John Brewer

Sports scientist and Running Fitness columnist, John Brewer is the consultant editor for this book which is written by Brewer along with ten other contributors, mostly professors, scientists, and lecturers. Brewer has reviewed hundreds of scientific studies so there are many references to scientific journal articles throughout the book. Brewer and his co-contributors attempt to demonstrate how science and running are intertwined. As a scientist and runner, I was intrigued by this book.

Although this book is touted for beginner runners as well as the seasoned runner, I feel that it is definitely for the beginner runner. I also felt like there was only a minimal amount of knowledge I gained from this book but perhaps part of that is because I’m not only a seasoned runner but an experienced scientist as well. Perhaps if a seasoned runner that wasn’t a scientist read this book, they would gain more from it than I did.

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The book is laid out in a simplistic way that reminded me of a picture book, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. There are 192 pages divided into eight chapters. For example, the first chapter, “The runner’s body,” explains VOmax, anaerobic and aerobic respiration, lactic acid, the aging runner, and the physical benefits of running. Other chapters in the book cover running form, carb loading and nutrition, running psychology, training and racing, equipment covering everything from shoes to sunglasses, stretching and core strength, and general questions like physical limits for the marathon and women’s record running times versus men’s.

There was very little in this book that I hadn’t read somewhere else before. However, I do think it’s important to get different perspectives  on running-related information since so much of the information on running is subjective, so I didn’t feel like it was a waste of my time to read this book.

A couple of things from the book stood out to me:  1) the author points out that ice baths are best saved for periods of intense competition and not during training. I know ice baths are a bit controversial, but some people swear by them. I’m not going to get into the science explained about ice baths here, but suffice to say this isn’t the first time I’ve read that ice baths aren’t necessarily a good thing for runners and 2) the authors show evidence that ultramarathon runners have much higher pain tolerance than non-ultramarathon runners. This makes sense given how much more intense training ultramarathon runners have but I had never read any scientific articles about this before.

In summary, if you’re just getting started with running, this would be a great book to read. If you’ve been running for many years and haven’t read much about the science related to running, it would be a good book to read. However, if you’ve been running for a while and have read scientific articles about running, this may not be the book for you. Then again, borrow it from your library and see what you think. You might learn a thing or two.

Amazon link here

Have any of you read this book? If so, what did you think?

Happy running!

Donna

 

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Running While on Vacation

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 42 states in the United States where I’ve run a half marathon in each state. I’ve also traveled throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, several countries in Europe, Chile, and New Zealand for vacations. Since I’ve often been training for a half marathon while on vacation, I’ve tried to squeeze in a run whenever I can. This hasn’t always been easy to do, especially if you don’t speak the language fluently and don’t know the area well.

I’ve tried many different approaches to running while on vacation, some have worked over and over again and others not so much. I’d like to share some of what has and hasn’t worked for me here and would love for you to share some things that have worked for you when running on vacation.

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Running in the Canary Islands was great once I figured out where to run!

Probably one of the biggest things that ensures I’ll actually run while on vacation is to make it a priority to follow my training plan. For example, if I’m supposed to run for 4 miles on Tuesday while I’m on vacation according to my training plan, it almost always works best if I go out first thing in the morning to run. I’m not a morning person but I can manage to get up and out the door around 7 am even on vacation (later if it’s not going to be a hot day). That way my run is out of the way and it’s not looming over my head for the rest of the day until I run.

I always run with my phone when I’m on vacation as well. If I get lost or a sudden thunderstorm comes on for example, it gives me peace of mind to know I can call my husband to come and pick me up. I’ve never actually had to do this, thankfully, but it is better to be safe just in case.

I’ll look for running routes on Strava and MapMyRun. Heck, I’ve even looked on Google Maps to find running routes using the street view. I’ll also check local running stores and local running communities to see if they have running routes posted online. In the past I’ve asked the concierge or people at the front desk of hotels for running routes, but that’s been so unproductive I’ve stopped doing that. If the person you’re asking isn’t a runner, you’re wasting your time asking for running routes.

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Even though it’s usually hot and humid when we go the, I still have fun running in Charleston, SC and love all of these huge old trees!

I’m cognizant of what I eat before going for a run. Once when I was spending time with my husband’s family out of town, I ate bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast and then went to go run about 45 minutes later. Big mistake. I’ve never done anything like that since then. If it’s a cooler day and I’m going to run around early evening, I know better than to have a big, rich dessert that won’t sit well in my stomach before a run (I’ll save that dessert for after I run!). I’ll pack snacks or buy some when I get to my destination that I know I can eat as soon as I wake up and eat before I go run. Speaking of snacks, I’ll also pack Honey Stinger bars to eat before or after I run and I always bring Nuun tablets to put in my water bottles during my runs. The point is, pack whatever it is you like to eat and/or drink before, during, and after you go for a run so you’ll have it with you on vacation.

Another big thing when running on vacation is to be flexible. I’ve mapped out runs before only to find out the street suddenly was closed due to construction so I’d have to make up my own detour. I’ve also been unable to find places to go for a long run based on what I’ve found on Strava or other places online because what was online was only short distances, so I’ve just gone out on my own and made it up as I went along. Sometimes the places haven’t been the most scenic but I’ve made it work.

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I ran in the bike lane here in Williamsburg, Virginia recently. At least it was shaded!

If you’re going to be in an area for more than a couple of days, look for possible running routes when you’re out driving around, especially if another person is driving. I did this when I was in the Canary Islands. The first day I went for a run, I ended up running along a fairly busy road and it was not ideal running conditions. Later that evening, I saw people walking along what looked like it might be a running path so the next time I went for a run, I ran in that direction and struck gold! It turned out to be a fabulous pedestrian path along the water that went for just the right distance for me.

Do any of you enjoy running on vacation or do you tend to just relax or spend your time with family or friends instead? What tips do you have for running while on vacation for those of you that do run on vacation?

Happy running!

Donna

 

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before My First Half Marathon

I was extremely naive when I ran my first half marathon. While I wasn’t new to running, I was most definitely new to long distance running. I feel like I have been running since I could as a child. The only time I took time off from running was during college when I experienced the worst shin splints of my life and had to practically crawl home during a run. I decided to take some time off to heal and for whatever reason (most likely school and studying) that time off stretched into years. Finally after I had finished graduate school, gotten married, and moved to a new state, I began running again.

When I began running again in my mid-20’s, I tried to do things “the right way.” I began to gradually increase my distance, first running a 5k, then a 10k, a 10-miler, and a 15k (although I don’t think the races after the 5k were necessarily in that order). When I took the plunge and ran my first half marathon, I felt pretty well-prepared. Pretty much the only factor during the race that really threw me for a loop was the weather. The race was on the coast of North Carolina in late November and it was cold and rainy, which turned to snow eventually. By the end of the race, I was frozen to the bone, but hungry for more.

The weather that day was extremely unusual for the area so I was counting on that not happening again the following year. I knew if I could do as well as I did at my first half marathon, I could do even better the next year. You can read about my first half marathon here. It’s the only half marathon I’ve ever ran more than once. Since then I’ve finished 43 half marathons in 41 states (I ran three half marathons in North Carolina).

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Not my first half marathon, but one of my first ones. What the heck was I thinking not pulling my hair up into a ponytail?! And no hat/visor/sunglasses?!

Many things have changed over the years in the field of long distance running. Some fads have come and gone but mostly we’ve been given more options from everything like what to fuel with to apparel and shoes. When I was training for my first half marathon, there wasn’t this multitude of options for fueling before, during, and after running. There pretty much was Gatorade or Powerade. There was no Nuun, Tailwind, or Honey Stinger. This brings me to the first thing I wish I had known before my first half marathon.

  1. Try out some snacks on training runs to make sure your stomach and gut agree with them. Now I run with Nuun hydration and snacks on all of my long runs including my half marathons but back then I just drank and ate whatever was offered on the course. Maybe some people are fine doing this, but if you have a finicky stomach like I do, it’s not a good idea. I also love Honey Stinger waffles for a pre-run snack and haven’t had any gut issues after eating them but experiment to see what works for you.
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My running belt and tube of Nuun for a recent race

2.  Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the race and start out at a pace you can’t maintain for more than a few miles or so. People hear this one all the time, and yet they continue to do it. It’s tough to make your legs go slower than they want to in the beginning of a race, but they’ll thank you later for it.

3.  Don’t let it get to you when you see older people or people that look like they’re not in as good of shape as you pass you. I eventually learned this one. When it comes to runners, you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve been passed by runners of all shapes, sizes, and ages during races. Sometimes I’ve been able to pass them towards the final miles of the race when they were walking, but sometimes I never saw them again and they left me in the dust. That’s OK.

4.  Wear what you’re going to run the half marathon in during your long training runs. Just because a sports bra/socks/shorts/shirt doesn’t rub and chafe you on shorter training runs doesn’t mean it won’t cause chafing on 13.1 miles. I always wince when I see people running in the shirt they just got at packet pickup. I was pretty badly chafed by my sports bra after my first half marathon, most likely because I hadn’t worn it enough in long training runs to know how it would perform on race day.

5.  Do some push-ups and other arm exercises to strengthen your arms and shoulders as part of your half marathon training plan. I didn’t do this and could barely lift my arms over my head after my first half marathon. I had no idea my arms would be the most sore part of my body after running a half marathon, but they were. Since then I appreciate how hard my arms work during a race and have made sure I work on them in addition to my core and legs.

What about you guys?  What things about long distance running have you learned the hard way and wish someone would have told you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

My New Half Marathon Plan-How It’s Going and a Whole Lotta Shoe Problems

It doesn’t seem like it, but I’m on week 10 of my new half marathon training plan for my 44th half marathon in state number 42, which means I’m in the nitty-gritty of all things running. I wrote a post about my new plan a while back, which you can read here. It’s very different from the training plan I had been following for my past several half marathons.

Previously, my plan was more of a run less, run harder kind of plan, with three runs a week consisting of a hill or tempo run, a speedwork run, and a long run. I also cycled, lifted weights, did yoga, and did core work so I was doing some sort of exercise 7 days a week. It worked fine for years but I felt like I was in a rut and needed to shake things up a bit. Now, I’m running five days a week, cycling one day, lifting one day, doing yoga once a week, and doing core work when I can fit it in. My runs now consist of a distance run usually around 35-45 minutes plus six 20-second strides twice a week, a tempo run, a fartlek run, and a long run that maxes out at 13-14 miles (runner’s choice).

So far the only running-related issues I’ve had have been shoe-related issues. For a couple of weeks I started having extreme calf pain about 20 minutes into my runs. I would stop and stretch but that did nothing to relieve the pain. Massaging my calves helped but not completely. After about 25 or 30 minutes of running, my right foot would go numb until I couldn’t feel it at all. The only thing that would bring feeling back to my foot was when I stopped running. Not good.

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Running in my Topo Fli-Lyte shoes before I knew they were evil

My first thought was the lacing on my running shoes needed to be re-done. Years ago the top of my left foot (I think it was my left anyway) would go numb and I figured out if I laced my running shoes differently, basically skipping the criss-cross pattern over the top middle part of my foot, that would solve the problem. I tried that this time to no avail. My foot was still falling asleep when I ran.

Then I thought maybe it’s just tight calf muscles. I had an appointment with my massage therapist and had her work extra long on my calf muscles and discovered that my right hamstring was about as tight as it’s ever been. She was able to completely get all of the tightness out of my hamstring and both calves- yes, she’s a miracle worker. When I ran the next day, my right calf tightened up again and my foot went numb. Sigh.

OK. Maybe it’s my shoes. I run with two pairs of running shoes, alternating them between runs. The problem is, I would have a tight calf and numb foot with both pairs of shoes so then I thought it must be BOTH pairs of my running shoes. Really? I bought them both just a couple of months ago so they weren’t that old, but maybe it is both pairs of shoes that’s the problem, I thought.

Fortunately I still had my Newton running shoes from last summer and fall. I never had any kind of calf tightness or foot numbness with my Newtons. I had been wearing my Newtons to the gym for lifting weights and things like that but they were down-graded to gym shoes because they had plenty of mileage on them. Last weekend I ran 13 miles in my Newtons and never had any problems with my calf or my foot, which told me it’s definitely my shoes.

I started thinking about my shoes, though. My Newtons have a heel-toe offset of 5 mm, which means since the height of the heel is 27mm and the height of the forefoot is 22 mm, the difference is 5 mm. Of the two pairs of new shoes I have, my On Cloud shoes have a heel-toe offset of 6 mm, with a heel height of 24 mm and forefoot height of 18 mm; however, my Top Fli-Lyte shoes have a smaller heel-toe offset, of only 3 mm, with a heel height of 18 and forefoot height of 15 mm. Clearly, the Topo shoes have far less cushioning and heel-toe offset than either my Newtons or Ons. Maybe it’s just the Topos and my calf and foot hadn’t had enough time away from the Topos to recover. Either way, I couldn’t keep running in my old pair of Newtons so it was time to shop around for a new pair of shoes.

Apparently the current “standard” heel-toe offset is around 10 mm, meaning the heel height is around 10 mm higher than the forefoot height. The idea is there will be less stress and strain on your Achilles and calf muscles with a 10 mm heel-toe offset. I used to run for many years in Asics Nimbus shoes with absolutely zero problems with my calves or Achilles. I looked up heel-toe offset for Asics Nimbus, and lo and behold, they come in at 13 mm, actually 3 mm more than the men’s version. According to the Asics website, this additional 3 mm is to help relieve Achilles tension, which apparently women are more prone to than men.

I decided to buy a pair of Asics, though not Nimbus, with a heel-toe offset of 10 mm. I tested them out with a 40 minute run and didn’t have any calf tightness or foot numbness. The next day, I took a chance and went for a 45 minute run wearing my Ons and again, no calf tightness or foot numbness. Now finally I know- it’s the Topos causing all the problems. I had gone down too low of a heel-toe offset and my calf and Achilles were screaming at me for it. Lesson learned, more minimalist shoes (i.e. less cushioning and lower heel-toe offset) are not for everyone and certainly are not for me.

So now I just have to crank out a few more weeks’ worth of runs to get through this training plan before my next half marathon. I’m just glad I figured out all of my shoe issues before I did some real damage to my Achilles!

What are you all training for? How’s everything going with your training plan?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Running in Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands aren’t exactly runner-friendly at first glance, at least not the two islands I visited, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. There are pretty much no sidewalks and not even much of a shoulder along the roadways to run on. On my first day running on Gran Canaria, I had to run along a highway facing traffic with a tiny shoulder when I was lucky. I had to cross the road and jump over a guardrail at a couple of points. It wasn’t exactly my idea of running safely. However, I should state that I was staying at an apartment in a residential area, not in a hotel in a more touristy section; this is an important point I’ll get into later.

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Running after my aha! moment because I didn’t want my first photo to be of a sidewalk!

On my second day of running in Gran Canaria, I decided to go a different route and run along the walkway near the beach, namely Playa de Las Canteras. While this was safer, it wasn’t necessarily easier. I had to constantly dodge people and swerve around people when I was running. At least I wasn’t dodging cars, though. I do have to say the drivers in the Canary Islands are extremely pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. Every single time when I was running along the roadside and a car would come, they would change lanes to give me more space. I saw this happen to cyclists and other runners all the time as well.

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A typical sidewalk in Gran Canaria. Not exactly my idea of runner-friendly, although fine for walking!

Not one to give up easily, I decided to try a different strategy for my third day of running in Gran Canaria. When we were driving, I watched for any signs of places where I could run that would be close-by the apartment where we were staying. I happened to see a bunch of people walking along an area that curved along the beach and it seemed to be a designated walkway (not a sidewalk because as I mentioned earlier there are no sidewalks of any real substance in Gran Canaria Island).

I ventured out the next morning running the direction of the walkers I had seen the previous day, and it was my aha! moment. This was what I had been looking for. This was the perfect running route for the rest of my time in Gran Canaria. I only had to go a short distance alongside a road to get to this runners’ oasis so it was perfect.

After staying for a week in Gran Canaria, we took a ferry to Tenerife and stayed there for another week. I found Tenerife to be even more hilly than Gran Canaria (the Canary Islands were formed by volcanos so they are all very mountainous with sometimes very steep hills). We stayed at a resort in Tenerife a little less than a mile from a beach so I would just run down the hill to the beach on the tiny sidewalks and run along the broad walkways there. It was great until I had to run back up the hills, but I have to say it did get easier by the end of the week so I think it was great training for me.

Tenerife also has many walkways along the beach with shops and restaurants like Gran Canaria so as along as you can find one of these, you at least have a mostly flat area to run and it will keep you off the roads. I also noticed some wider sidewalks in Tenerife so if you had to, you could run on the sidewalks at least until you came to a beach area. I did run on the sand once in Tenerife for about 5 or 10 minutes, but I’m just not a fan of running on the sand, and Tenerife is no exception. For me, the sand is either too soft or too hard. In Tenerife I came across many rocks so there’s another reason to not run on the beach.

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Running in Tenerife

Over the course of two weeks, I ran 10 times and never missed a training run. I adjusted my running schedule so that on travel days I would have a day off. Honestly, I’m surprised I was able to run that much and not miss a day. It rained once or twice but never anything too bad. The worst was the wind on one day where it felt like it was pushing me backwards.

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My daughter and running partner for many runs in the Canary Islands

I think the scenery was my biggest motivator in getting me out the door for my runs. I would go out every morning looking forward to my run and what I would get to see that time along my running route. Now that I’m back home, I have to say I miss running in the Canary Islands and am envious of people who live along a coast and get to run with ocean views all the time!

How many of you are lucky enough to run along a coastal area? Does it get routine or do you still love it?

Also, if any of you are fans of Honey Stinger or would like to try some, I have three one-use codes for 37% off for anyone not already part of the #HSHive. Email or message me if you’d like one of these codes and I’ll happily send one to you.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Dipping My Toes into Heart Rate Training

Many years ago I bought a Polar running watch with a chest-strap heart rate monitor. Honestly, I was new to running and really didn’t get much out of the whole experience. I think this is common to new runners, and for good reason. Heart rate training is complicated!

Recently, I decided to try heart rate training again. My TomTom running watch suddenly stopped working so I had to buy a new running watch. I decided to buy a Garmin and bought a slightly older model through Amazon, the Garmin 630 with heart rate monitor (a chest strap versus wrist-based). I opted for this model because I feel like chest straps are more accurate than wrist-based. You can read a whole article just about chest straps versus wrist-based heart rate monitors here. They both have their pros and cons. Knowing I never had any problems with my Polar chest strap before (as far as chafing, etc.) I didn’t think wearing one now would be an issue.

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Ok. So now you have your heart rate monitor, whether it’s wrist-based or a chest strap. Now what? To begin, you’re supposed to take your resting heart rate. That’s the easy part. Then it gets much more complicated. Unless you can afford a stress test, by far the most accurate way of getting baseline numbers for heart rate, it’s all kind of a guess from there.

There are calculations for determining your maximum heart rate, heart rate reserve, aerobic heart rate range, aerobic training range, anaerobic training range, recovery training range, and lactate threshold zone. Have I lost you yet? Runners Connect has some pretty good info on getting started with calculating resting and maximum heart rate here and there’s more info on Active.com for calculating heart rate training zones here. I’ve also seen the calculation Maximal Heart Rate (MHR) = 206.9 – (0.67 x Age). If I do the calculations for myself using the three suggestions, the final way of calculating MHR is right in the middle, so I’m going with that one.

Depending on the type of workout you’re doing, you want to focus on keeping your heart rate within a particular range. For example, if you’re doing a recovery run, or an “easy” run, you should try to keep your heart rate within the recovery training range. If you’re doing speed work, you should try to stay within the anaerobic training range. This is high intensity, where you can only sustain that pace for a couple of minutes at the most, and not where you want to spend the majority of your training, or you’ll just wear yourself down.

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As my title states, I’m just dipping my toes in at this point. By no means am I an expert on heart rate training. At this point, I’m exploring heart rate training, educating myself, and trying to use it to supplement what I’m already doing. I didn’t have a stress test so my numbers are a best guess. If I start to stray over my targeted maximum heart rate, I’ll back off a bit to get my heart rate to go back down a bit. I try to stay within my recovery training range on easy runs, and let me tell you initially it feels like you’re just crawling! My hope is that eventually my body will adapt and I’ll be able to go faster without my heart rate going crazy. We’ll see. I’ll try to keep you all updated after some time has passed.

Do any of you do heart rate training? What methods do you use? How did you figure out your target heart rate ranges? I’d love to hear any and all comments!

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Shaking Things Up a Bit

Last winter when I was training for a half marathon in Utah in February and I had to run my peak miles during some of the worst weather where I live in North Carolina, I was cursing my choice of a race in February and vowed to not make that mistake again. If you want to read about my race in Utah, the Dogtown Half Marathon, you can find it here. For those of you that aren’t aware, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 United States and ran my 41st state in West Virginia last November, the Marshall University Half Marathon.

I should state that my husband and daughter always go to races with me and since my daughter is in middle school now, I plan my races around her school schedule. She’s currently in a year-round school, which means she’s basically in school for nine weeks and out for three weeks throughout the year. One of her current breaks is during February, hence my decision to run a half marathon in February last year. I’ve ran all of the southern states except New Mexico, if you consider that a southern state, and I refuse to run in a state like Minnesota or Nebraska in February.  Call me crazy or call me a wimp, but I’m done running races in February and all other winter months for that matter.

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Photo taken last January. For a southern gal like me, this isn’t good running weather!

This all means I’ll go from running a race last November to my next one which isn’t until May. That’s a pretty long time to go in-between races, but that’s the way it’s going to be as long as my daughter has this school schedule. When she’s in high school, she will no longer be in year-round school, so I’ll have the option of running during the early spring again, as long as I can find a race during her spring break, which should be possible.

Sooooo, what have I been doing during this long break between training plans? Well, I’ve still been running to keep up my fitness level, but it’s been more “run for fun” kind of thing. I haven’t been doing any speed work of any real kind although I’ve done a little bit of playing around with increasing my speed on some treadmill runs and doing some sprinting here and there. I’ve also bought some new shoes in preparation when I do start my next training plan next month.

As I mentioned in a post last year, I tried some new shoes in a completely different brand and style than I had ever ran in before and that worked out well for me. They were Newtons and while I definitely like them, my next pair of new shoes aren’t Newtons. See, for years I had been running in Asics Gel Nimbus shoes and really liked them so I kept buying them for many years. However, after reading Jonathan Beverly’s book, “Runner’s World Your Best Stride: How to Optimize Your Natural Running Form to Run Easier, Farther, and Faster–With Fewer Injuries,” I began to re-think some things. My full post on Beverly’s book can be found here.

For 2018, I plan on incorporating more of the concepts from Beverly’s book such as not always wearing the same shoes, not always running on the same routes, not always doing the same stretches, etc.. In other words, shake things up a bit. I know many runners have the mentality, ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’ but for me, I think I need to mix things up. My 20-something and even 30-something body didn’t need much variety and got by just fine without switching things up, but I feel like my 40-something body needs variety if I intend on running forever (which I do).

My last few years-worth of training plans have been the same, namely running three days a week, cross-training twice a week including cycling and yoga, strength training one day and core work one day. On the days where I ran, there were no easy runs but every run was either a tempo run, hill repeats, speed work, or long run. This next training plan I will start in a few weeks includes running five days a week, so I’ll have to double-up and go to yoga class for example after running earlier in the day to fit it all in. My plan is to at least try it and if it’s too much for my body (i.e. if I’m getting injuries) I’ll cut back to four days a week and try that.

Wish me luck! How often do you guys shake things up with your running?

Happy running!

Donna