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Happy Friday! Last weekend’s Ultra Trail du Hurricana 65km race was pretty epic, and I promise to give a full race report soon. For now, E and I are beyond pleased to have finished the race safely, under the cut off time (just barely!!), and in great spirits, crossing the finish line hand in hand in 10 hours and 51 minutes. Such a joyful moment!

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I’m also very pleased to report that I did not fracture my wrist – I have a sprain (i.e. ligament tear) and thankfully no major ligaments involved, which means no surgery or cast. I got a new custom splint that allows for much greater mobility and with a little rest and then some therapy, I should be healed within 1-2 months hopefully!

In the meantime, here are some great tips on running form on Livestrong.com, including several from yours truly! 🙂 I contributed to this article a few weeks ago and it went live last night. It has some good info on improving efficiency and avoiding injury before, during and after your runs. Check it out!

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Have a great weekend everyone! Happy running!

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Back in December, I received a random email asking me to be one of the “expert” coaches for the April edition of “Ask the Experts” in Runner’s World. I was very excited, as I had only been published online in RW and a few other publications until now. The question was as follows:

“What should my weekly mileage reach before I can start spring speedwork?”

My original submission was a long paragraph, and there was much back and forth with the editor until we agreed upon the final submission below:

Gradually increase your mileage for at least two months until you are logging 15 to 20 weekly miles in three to four easy runs. This mileage base, ideally accompanied by twice-weekly strength training, will allow you to begin speed-work with minimal injury risk. Even still, ease into faster running with a few weeks of fartlek (unstructured pace pickups) before tackling tempo runs and repeats. Also, never do speed-work more than twice per week, always separated by recovery days, and refuel within an hour of your efforts to maximize speed-work rewards. 

–Claire Shorenstein, R.D., is a dietitian at Montefiore and an RRCA-certified coach (thefightandflightresponse.com) at Manhattan’s Physical Equilibrium (www.physeq.com).

As you can see, what ended up in the actual magazine was much shorter than above, and did not include the sentence on nutrition, but I am still VERY pleased to see my name in print!

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Have other training questions or looking for a NYC-based running coach or registered dietitian? Shoot me an email at thefightandflightresponse@gmail.com to find out about the various services I offer. 

Happy holidays everyone! It’s been a very busy year in running, school and work, and I am quite happy 2014 is coming to an end. I’ve adjusted to my new job at Montefiore as a clinical dietitian, all my big races are behind me, and I can FINALLY see the light at the end of my never-ending grad school tunnel (i.e. May 2015). E and I are heading to Europe over the holidays for a MUCH needed break – our first real chunk of time off in a year. It will be a cold, wet and not exactly relaxing big city tour, but we’re excited to see E’s family in Amsterdam and visit some of our favorite spots in London and Paris.

My 2015 race calendar is pretty much empty, which is a strange yet refreshing feeling coming off of Spring and Fall marathon training as well as E’s late November ultra (during which I ran an impromptu almost marathon). I’m a firm believer in enjoying some unstructured no pressure runs after a training cycle – for me, that has translated into 4 mostly easy paced runs per week, including one longish run to maintain endurance. It’s still hard to get out of bed for those 6am pre-work East River runs, especially on dreary wet days like today, but with the right music and warm, reflective gear, it’s not so bad.

That said, without any big races to motivate me, I’m starting to feel a running rut come on, and that means it’s time to mix up my fitness routine. Usually I opt for cross training classes (spin, boot camp, pilates, etc), but this past week, I signed up for Ironstrength, a combined running/strength training workout led by Sports doctor Jordan Metzl that I’ve been meaning to try for ages, and “The Distance” class at Mile High Run Club (MHRC), the so-called “Soul Cycle of running” that recently opened in NYC and piqued my curiosity. Note to self – DO NOT try these classes on consecutive days. I honestly did not realize that Ironstrength involved so much running, and that the “distance” class was mostly hill repeats and intervals. Oops. I could hardly move yesterday.

Let’s start with Ironstrength. It’s a fun, usually FREE group workout that incorporates running and strength training in various outdoor and indoor locations around NYC. All you have to do is join Dr. Metzl’s email list on his Ironstrength page and you will receive information regarding upcoming classes, which occur on a fairly regular basis. As stated on Metzl’s website, Ironstrength “teaches athletes of all ages how to build strength and reduce the aches and pains of every life in the process.” Or perhaps the pain you’ll feel during and after the workout will make the rest of your life feel less painful by comparison… 🙂

My understanding/assumption is that the specific workout changes based on location (outdoor parks, indoor studios etc) and that day’s focus (i.e. yoga for runners vs the type of class that I did). I like that variety is built into the class in both location, time/day and workout, though I suppose that makes it more difficult to go regularly. For some reason, I thought our class would be mostly strength training based, even though E said he had read otherwise. Having skipped our planned Saturday long run, I convinced him that we should run the 5M from our apartment up to Central Park to squeeze in some cardio.

We met up with a large group at the Delacorte Theater, along with many regulars and other newbies like us. Dr. Metzl arrived with a gigantic Santa-like bag of Thorlo socks, which he promised we would receive if we completed the workout. Bribery with awesome free socks for finishing a grueling but awesome free class – right up my alley!

We quickly discovered that the first half of the 1hr+ workout would involve hill repeats. E gave me his best “not impressed” with me face. Oops. At least we were very warmed up! The running segment was about 30min/3M, as follows: Skip up the hill (harder than it sounds on uneven, sandy terrain), jog down; sprint up, 10 push-ups at top, jog down; skip up/jog down, sprint up/jog down x 2 with another set of push-ups; skip up/jog down, sprint up/jog down x 3 with another set of push-ups; then skip up/jog down, jog up and over to the strength training area a few minutes away. Given how cold it was, I was glad we ran beforehand – though I think 1-2M would have sufficed!

With 8M under my belt and months of being a delinquent in the strength training arena, the next part was very challenging, but Dr. Metzl made it fun. He blasted some great music, including holiday favorites while we warmed up and Baby Got Back for the jump squat sequence, which amused many passers-by. Then there were scissor lunges, planks, two variations of burpees, core exercises, and other things I must have mentally blocked out. We got very dirty as we were doing all of this on the ground – thankfully my gloves protected my hands and I wore dark clothing.

When we finished, Metzl dumped the socks into a pile on the ground and it was like dozens of brides at a sample sale swarmed in to find their size. People really wanted those socks! I don’t blame them – they’re great and quite pricey. I snagged a neon green pair in my size. In return for hooking us up with free gear, we had to take a photo with the Thorlo logo at the end showing off what we got (I’m all the way on the right). Good deal if you ask me.

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The verdict: E and I will definitely be back for another Ironstrength class, though next time after a shorter warm up so we can push ourselves harder and get more out of the class. Good vibe, adjustable to most levels, and often free (if not, it’s for charity).

Now let’s turn to the Mile High Run Club (MHRC), which is on the other end of the class spectrum. It’s indoor, high end, smaller group (up to 30 runners per class) and definitely not free. Well, to be fair, I had a promo code that made my first class free, but they run $34 a pop or less if you get a 5/10 pack.

MHRC has two types of classes – “dash 28,” which includes 2-3M of running plus strength training, and “the distance,” which includes at least 5M of running. I chose the latter thinking it would involve fewer intervals/hill repeats, but I was very wrong. That was pretty much the entire class, which makes sense. No one would pay that much for an easy treadmill workout.

As a mostly outdoor runner, I was really curious about this studio when I heard about it. I once again convinced E to come with me. I’ve never tried Soul Cycle, but I often do speed-work on the treadmill and enjoy spin classes, so I understand the appeal of challenging group indoor workouts, particularly when the weather turns cold and nasty. The concept of a treadmill club is pretty brilliant, given the success of spinning studios and the lack of a running counterpart until now. Just like with spinning, you have control over how hard you push yourself on the treadmill in the context of whatever your instructor is telling you to do, thus allowing for some flexibility. I do feel, however, that there is a higher risk of injury with running classes, especially in a group (potentially competitive) setting, making it important that the coach help runners find that balance between challenging themselves and going too far.

The facilities are very new and pretty – a welcome area out front selling running books, accessories, clothes, drinks etc, small but lovely changing rooms with showers and lockers (great toiletries, towels, hair dryer etc provided), more lockers outside near the studio, a foam rolling area (which I didn’t get a chance to see) and the studio itself, with mirrors and special lighting lining the walls, a soft type of material on the ground, and 30 Woodway 4Front treadmills, which I’ve been told are the best machines out there.

I expected the studio to be packed based on when I signed up online (you can choose your treadmill and they were mostly booked), but only about 10 people showed up. The studio was dimly lit, and the music was loud. I really did feel like I was in a spin class – except I was running on a somewhat intimidating treadmill. Michael (a Lululemon ambassador and head coach of Team Lipstick in NYC) was our coach and before class started, he introduced himself to each runner, asked if it was our first time, and reviewed various effort levels/speeds (they have “jogger” and “racer” categories for levels 1-4, with each level specifying a speed range), which I thought was nice.

As a group, he started us off with about 9min of warm up, during which he explained the workout ahead, essentially hill repeats and “follow throughs” (running at high incline and then lowering slightly while speeding up), intervals at various effort levels (mostly 1-2min), and at the end, a mini “race” that simulated a 4 miler in Central park and the various ups and downs along with it. All the while, music blasted and the dim lighting shifted to the beat, but not so much that it was distracting. I really liked that Michael picked a race to tie into the workout – for me, it was a reminder that the whole purpose of treadmill running is to help me prepare for outdoor running/racing, even if that’s not true for everyone. It was a tough session in my opinion – but again, you make it as easy or as hard as you want. E took it fairly easy, I pushed myself a little but definitely not as much as I would in a true speed/hill session on fresh legs.

Our main issue with the entire experience involved the treadmills. I expected a really smooth ride based on everyone raving about them, but instead these machines bounced furiously with each step. I felt so unstable at times that I held back for fear I’d fly off (my towel and shirt kept doing so), and the added movement made my stomach uneasy. E said it hurt his feet. I was especially worried given how dark it was. E was more turned off by the treadmills than I was, but I agreed that I would not want to run on those machines again with that much bounce.

Michael and I chatted after class and he informed me that they’re replacing the soft flooring (which is causing the bounce) with a harder surface in the next few days, which will hopefully resolve the issue. I’d add to this the recommendation that they place glow tape along the edges of the treadmill to make it a bit safer. Michael and I also talked about the variation between classes, and he explained that every coach does something different, so I’m curious to go back and try someone else’s class, once the ground is fixed.

I thought Michael did a great job – good energy, good music, and he circled about the room the entire time to dole out encouragement and running tips. I’ve never taught a group class like this one, but I think I would have fun doing it – something to consider for the new year, as they said they’re still looking for coaches.

The verdict: Cool modern space and great concept that just needs a few tweaks, as you might expect from a new business. It’s pricey, but they have promotions and offer student discounts. Personally, I would probably only go on occasion, but that’s mainly because I prefer outdoor running and sometimes would rather do speed-work alone. I would love to try another class once the treadmills become less bouncy, and I may even submit my resume to become a coach at some point.

Interestingly, Metzl taught an Ironstrength class at MHRC not long ago, and I was told he would be teaching once a month next year. So perhaps that means the best of both? I’ll certainly sign up and report back!

Happy Holidays!

How’s everyone handling this incredibly hot, first official day of summer? I’m trying to convince myself that it’s easing me into the similarly high temperatures in Rome, where I’m spending the weekend, but there’s no easing into a sudden heat advisory, is there?! Although tomorrow is supposed to be even worse, so I suppose that’s progress…

Class today felt particularly draining – I couldn’t sleep last night, lab this morning was long and hot, my quiz was harder than I expected and then I spent a few hours taking practice exams to prepare for my orgo midterm tomorrow. By the time I headed back to Manhattan in the late afternoon the temperatures were starting to soar and I was completely fried, both mentally and physically. Needless to say, the last thing I wanted to do was go for a tempo run. I hate the dreadmill, but there was no way I was going to attempt a hard session outdoors. At least the gym had AC!

But what really motivated me to quit my whining and put on my running shoes, aside from the promise of AC, was this article written by one of my Gilda’s Club runners. Mary Beth, who is a journalist as well as a member of Gilda’s Club, asked me after our first meeting if I would be willing to talk to her about the rising popularity of marathoning for an article she was writing for Salon.com. The article would also discuss her own decision to run her first marathon after enduring a grueling phase-1 clinical trial for cancer treatment. I of course said yes!

We had a really lovely chat over the weekend, and I’m really pleased with how the article came out. Funny enough, one of the other coaches she interviewed is Patti Finke, who taught my RRCA coaching certification course. I agree with everything Patti says – I certainly don’t think anyone off the street can run a marathon, but if you train properly and you have the DETERMINATION, yes I think you can do it. It pains me just how many people go into marathons poorly prepared – I remember overhearing a man tell his friend at mile eight of the Portland Marathon that he was officially in unchartered territory, since he had never run more than eight miles. That’s NOT what I meant when I was talking about proving something to yourself! That’s just plain stupid.

I have faith in my runners and in my own ability to motivate them – that is why I 100% believe they CAN do it. But WILL they do it? That depends entirely on them – because at the end of the day, there’s only so much a coach can do! It all comes down to the individual runner. You have to have the desire, as well as the discipline – not only to train but also to respect your body. And of course there are always things out of our control that happen – injuries, stomach problems, or whatever else. But yes I know my runners can do it – and I’m going to do my best to help them actually do it. 🙂

After reading that article, what excuse could I really give to skip my run? I headed to the gym and although my run was pretty crappy, I’m glad I ran. It’s going to be a low mileage week with Rome so I have to front load my training this week as much as possible!

Time to pack for Rome and start studying for my midterm – 8pm already?! Yikes. My exam is mid-day and I head to the airport directly afterwards. Unfortunately I only have 48 hours in Italy, since I have to be back for class on Monday (and yet another exam shortly thereafter), but I’m excited. I am finally seeing E, celebrating the wedding of a dear friend and last but certainly not least, taking two entire days off of studying orgo – woo-hoo!

Happy Summer Solstice everyone – and be careful if you’re running outdoors!

Happy Father’s Day! I’m about to head down to the library to finally start studying for my organic chemistry midterm, but first I thought I’d post a few updates.

I had my first Gilda’s Club NYC Marathon team meeting this past week, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be coaching them this year. In the past, running has mostly been tied with my personal goals – I will of course still be focused on my own training as I prepare for Chicago, but my goals will also be intertwined with those of my runners. It brings me so much joy to be able to share my passion with other people and help them finish their first marathon (or improve upon their previous races).

I met about half of the runners on the team, including two cancer survivors who will be running their first marathon. The clubhouse is very welcoming, and I felt very inspired by everyone in that room! It was a wonderful feeling to put on my “Coach Claire” hat and offer advice and information to get my runners amped up to begin training. I sometimes forget just how much I know about running and what I have to offer runners with less experience – hearing myself talk to my runners reminded me that I DO have a lot of knowledge and experience, which gave me a nice confidence boost. It’s my first time coaching a large group, so I am learning too! Our first group run is on July 8th, and we officially begin training a couple weeks later.

As I touched upon in a previous post, I am on the hunt for a new gel. I went to REI and this is what I grabbed to test out on my long runs (my old UK gel, SIS, is at the bottom). I had already tried a vanilla Power Bar gel and hated it – way too sweet and salty – but bought a couple fruity flavors to see if they were more tolerable. Unfortunately, I think Power Bar is no longer a contender. I tried Kona Punch during yesterday’s 13 miler and it was equally wretched. With SIS, the taste is toned down enough (almost refreshing in a way) that I can take it without water and be fine. With Power Bar gels, I wanted to drink my entire bottle with each little taste of the gel. I suppose I could time my gels with water stations during the marathon, but I’d prefer to have the option of taking a gel in between stations and not gagging. Sorry Power Bar!

The Hammer Gels looked promising from the flavors, so those are next on the list. Someone had also told me that the honey gels are quite tasty – we shall see! I have tried the chews and they do taste pretty good, so I might pick those up too.

Chicago Marathon training has officially begun. Unfortunately I haven’t had much time to actually make my schedule, so I’m going against my own advice and “winging it” at the moment, but at least I have a skeleton of long runs plotted out. My body wasn’t too happy with me (particularly my back and hamstring) after pushing myself in the mini 10k, so I have struggled to hit my harder workouts this week. I did make it through my grueling long run yesterday, though, and managed to get up to 28.3M with my easy 6 miler this morning.

I wanted to make sure I got enough miles in given that this coming week is insane –  I have a midterm on Thursday, after which I am heading to the airport to fly to Rome for a wedding. I am in Rome for 48 hours, get back Sunday and then have to cram for a final exam, after which I have two days to pack and move into my new apartment. It’s definitely going to be a crazy couple of weeks! Ideally I wouldn’t back down to 15ish miles this week but instead get above 30M. However, with my hamstring being so iffy lately and my stress levels soaring, I think some time off won’t be a bad thing.

 

Not like I’ve been working that hard lately, generally speaking – this past week I’ve been quite the slacker. Who can really blame me given the weather lately? Instead of studying, I had a picnic in Sheep Meadow. I made pizza (shallots, tomatoes, mozzarella, kale and mushrooms). I read the Hunger Games (note to self – NEVER EVER start books you know you’ll want to finish in the middle of a four-week orgo class – “just one more chapter” – ha!). I watched TV. I did some online shopping for new apartment stuff. I suppose it was a good move for my mental health – my motivation really has been at an all time low this week to study – but with a midterm and a final exam both in the next week and a half, that probably wasn’t the smartest move. Oh well!

Before I sign off, here are a few race photos – one from the Brooklyn Half and a couple from the mini 10k.

  

I watched my finish video and not only did they call my name out (they never call my name) but I also noticed that Mary Wittenberg, president of NYRR, finished right behind me!

Lastly, here’s a funny someecards E sent me the other day – made me laugh. That was me, not that long ago – now I eat cupcakes AND run marathons!

To eat or not to eat? That’s often the question when it comes to fueling (or not) for early morning runs. If you have a sensitive stomach like me, you want to avoid GI distress – however, you don’t want to bonk during your training either, particularly if your morning run is on the longer side. Finding that sweet spot can take a little time, but if you experiment and follow a few generally accepted pieces of advice, you should be able to figure out a system that works well for your body.

Check out a recent interview I did with Competitor.com on this topic – it was published today, so I of course wanted to share it on FFR! The advice is pretty basic – most likely things you have heard many times before – but it’s a good reminder to stay in tune with your body’s needs and to ALWAYS practice your race day nutrition strategy during your training.

Back to the books – but first, I’ll leave you with a couple photos from Sunday. It was such a gorgeous day and I really enjoyed my walk across Brooklyn Bridge with a friend.

I also loved all the Spring flowers sprinkled across the city – these daffodils behind bars reminded me of how I feel when I’m in my little library cubicle!

Sometimes you need to take a few steps back in order to move forward. This is true whether you’re talking about working on form to improve running economy; practicing long tones to become a better oboist; taking undergrad classes to pursue a Master’s; or getting back to basics in the kitchen to become a more advanced chef! Clearly these are all examples from my own life…

So what’s the first step? Dressing the part, of course! I always feel like I run faster when I’m wearing a kick-ass, high-tech outfit, so obviously I had to get a chef’s coat and some essential chef’s tools to support my future success in the kitchen! Granted, I didn’t have a choice – my Intro to Food & Food Science lab required that I buy these things – but I was happy to do so. I love my new outfit – not the highest quality coat, and certainly not the best knife (the insane amount I already spent on textbooks for the semester forced me to keep my budget low), but they will do for now. Not a bad look, right?!

 

In yesterday’s lab, my professor (who is awesome) did a series of demos on various measuring techniques, kitchen tools and cooking methods. We don’t begin cooking until next week (I can’t wait!). She demonstrated how to fluff and measure flour; sauté pieces of chicken; sear a chicken breast; bread and pan-fry a fillet of fish; poach an egg; blanch and shock broccoli; roast zucchini; sweat onions…and much more.

All sounds pretty straightforward and obvious, right? I thought so too, until class started.

As familiar as I am with cooking methods from eating out in restaurants, reading recipes and attempting to teach myself to cook over the last eight years or so, this class was a bit of an eye opener for me. I can make beautiful salads and cook delicious things, but I’m still a rookie when it comes to many of the basics. This is as much due to ignorance as it is to laziness. As a home chef, I often try to make my food look pretty, but I have never thought about searing a specific side (the “presentation side”) of a chicken breast first, for example. I usually use a knife (rather than a thermometer) to make sure something is cooked thoroughly. And speaking of knifes, my knife skills aren’t great (that’s on the agenda for next week’s class). The multiple scars I have on the tips of my thumbs are proof that I need to improve!

Here are a few examples of what I learned yesterday:

  • I’ve always used the terms pan fry and sauté interchangeably – I didn’t realize that there is a subtle difference between these two dry cooking methods, or if I did I never bothered to find out what it was. Of course, it seems so obvious now – I mean, I studied French…
  • I didn’t know that overcrowding my pan while I was sauteing something might have a greater effect on my finished product than simply taking a bit longer to cook (it essentially turns a dry method of cooking into a moist one – with chicken, you don’t get as much of that nice brown color and the meat becomes dry)
  • I understood the concept of searing, but I didn’t really know how to properly do it myself, or that you could turn the crispy leftover bits (the fond) into a sauce
  • I’ve eaten many delicious braised meats and vegetables, but I’ve never braised anything in my kitchen and didn’t know how something is braised (it’s a combo method – first dry, then moist)
  • When breading something, I didn’t know you put flour on the product first before the egg wash and bread crumbs, meal etc (probably because I don’t usually bread and shallow fry stuff – I prefer healthier cooking methods)
  • I’ve attempted to poach an egg a few times, but I think I used boiling rather than simmering water and it was a slight disaster. Once I bought my silicon egg poachers, I never tried again
  • I’ve blanched vegetables before but not exactly as it should be done (30 seconds). I knew that carry-over cooking occurs, but never actually set up an ice bath to shock my vegetables (although I have run them under the tap before).
  • I observed that blanching enhances the color of green vegetables, but never stopped to think about why that occurs (blanching causes the air to bubble away so that it no longer clouds the chlorophyll pigment that is responsible for the green color of plants)
  • I use my microwave to cook vegetables more often than I should – that I already knew though…I really should be blanching and shocking my veg for stir fries and crudites, for example
  • I’ve been measuring flour completely wrong – I’ve been packing it rather than fluffing and pouring it.

Those are just some of the things I realized in class yesterday!

I love to cook – and I like to think that I make food that both tastes and looks good – but when I’m not using a recipe, I’m often just throwing things together. I’m not really thinking about the science or the method behind what I’m doing, and I use a lot of short cuts, which ultimately means that my food may not taste or look as great as it could. Have I ever perfectly seared a chicken breast? Definitely not. But now I know how to do so! Actually, there are two chicken breasts sitting in my fridge, and I am going to put my new knowledge into action! Or at least I’ll try – and try again until I get it right. That’s all you can do, anyhow.

So why am I babbling about cooking methods? Well, perhaps you might be interested in learning a few cooking basics with me this semester! Primarily, however, I want to stress the importance of slowing down for a moment in whatever you do, either professionally or for fun, once in awhile. Whether it’s running, cooking, playing an instrument or something else – take a step back and evaluate your basic technique – the foundation of your strength and success. You may think you know it all – but my guess is that there is at least a little room for improvement.

Last Sunday, E and I attended an all-day running workshop that my coach, Sam Murphy, held at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in South London. I had been in contact with Sam over email for many months, but it had been quite some time since she had seen me run. I thought it would be the perfect time to check my progress, and in particular my technique, as I launch into my next marathon training cycle. I also figured it would be a great opportunity to observe her in action, given that I admire her coaching style and will soon be a coach myself! Lastly, I was excited for E to work with Sam – he had only met her briefly before one of my sessions, and I knew that he would benefit from her feedback.

The title of the workshop was Running Well, which also happens to be that of one of Sam’s books. Principal topics of the day, which was divided between classroom presentations/discussions and outdoor practical sessions, included technique, injury prevention, drills/warm-ups, running-specific strength exercises, different types of runs, how to structure a training program and stretching, among other things.

Given my previous coaching sessions with Sam, and the fact that the workshop would surely be geared towards runners of varying levels and experience, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when E and I arrived at 9:45am. Additionally, Sunday was predicted to be one of the hottest days of the year (and it certainly was) – not ideal for either spending time in a classroom or performing various running activities in a crowded park, including a mid-afternoon threshold interval session! However, we survived, and everything Sam covered turned out to be extremely relevant and useful, in addition to being presented in an interesting and fun way. E and I left at 4:30pm feeling wiped out, but enlightened and pleased we attended!

Our group consisted of 15 runners, myself included – a good size! Sam obviously led the workshop, but her husband Jeff, a lovely guy who also happens to run a 2:29 marathon (!!), as well as another coach named Suzy helped her throughout the day. Having, effectively, three coaches was awesome and in my opinion, a huge selling point of this workshop. Not only did it help Sam lead the group more professionally and efficiently, but it was great to have the additional support and feedback to ensure that each of us received a substantial amount of personal attention within the larger group setting. So – £55 for a six-hour workshop with three coaches? Not bad at all.

Sam kicked off the day with a video analysis – each of us had to run for a short distance at a normal pace while she recorded it with a camcorder. She would later play back and analyze each person’s recording frame by frame, together with a second video taken later that morning. She had done a video analysis with me about a year earlier in a one-to-one session – it can be shocking to see yourself run, particularly for the first time, but is crucial to becoming more aware of your technique and discovering what you need to improve. It’s quite common to think you’re doing something a certain way when in fact you’re doing quite the opposite!

For example, E and I both thought we had moved away from heel striking, but then later saw clear evidence that we had not. Even worse, we were overstriding – our feet were landing in front of rather than directly below our bodies. E seemed pretty surprised – he insisted he had corrected this after completing a series of sessions last year with some running specialists who focus on biomechanics (recommended by Sam, in fact). I think it’s quite easy to slip back into old habits, though – it can take awhile to retrain your body! For me, I had a feeling before watching the video that I hadn’t fixed my heel strike, but I really thought I had improved my stride/foot placement! Sigh. At least Sam confirmed that the rest of my technique was looking great, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my kick is actually relatively high. I always feel like my heels hardly leave the ground, compared to other runners I observe.

We moved into the classroom around 10am. After introductions, Sam addressed in detail how to warm up properly before a run and why this is important, as well as how to instill good technique (as well as what defines good technique) by performing a variety of specific drills. Sam had taught me some of these before, but they have been missing from my routine for quite some time, so it was good to jog my memory as well as learn some new drills. Hopefully those images of my feet landing way too far forward will make me more disciplined about incorporating drills into my training on a more regular basis.

Our classroom time was followed by our first outdoor session, which gave us an opportunity to put what we had just learned into practice under our coaches’ watchful eyes. It was only 11am, but already the temperature was very uncomfortable – we were sweating buckets after a simple warm-up!

The hour covered technique drills, which included (just to name a few, and including language borrowed from Sam’s handouts) things like jogging to a metronome to encourage a higher cadence or faster leg turnover, “elasticity bounces” or quick jumps on the spot to bring focus to the foot strike, “pick-ups” or kicks up to your butt to help avoid overstriding and “exchanges,” where you stand on one foot with other foot raised in a “number 4” shape and switch to the other foot in one swift movement (pictured below). Obviously these are better explained in person or with photos, but hopefully you get the idea.

Sam discussed a specific technique goal and demonstrated the corresponding drill to achieve it, which the group then attempted either in place within two lines (pictured above – I’m in the pink top across from Sam) or moving forward and around a set of cones (as in the below).

  

So what did Sam define as elements of good running technique, supported by these drills? Some key points from her “Running technique” handout include the following:

  • Body posture – head up; eyes forward; torso upright (not bent forward at the waist – slight forward lean comes from the heels); pelvis in neutral (think of it as a bucket of water, that you don’t want to spill); and shoulders relaxed;
  • Arm position – elbows bent to at least 90 degrees and kept relatively close to the body, but rotated slightly inwards; movement from armpit not shoulders; and hands relaxed;
  • Legs/feet – land with the foot under the pelvis with bent knee, rather than in front of body; lead with the knee not the heel (as I do!); increase cadence to 180 steps or higher; bring the foot off the ground more quickly; pull the leg through more quickly with a strong knee bend; and move away from a pronounced heel or toe strike and towards a flatter landing.

Here we are, below, determining our cadence (steps per minute), which you can do by running for 60 seconds and counting how many times one foot lands (easier than trying to count both feet!), and then multiplying by two. We did this twice, and I hit 196 both times! This is a definite improvement since I first started to train with Sam.

After drills, Sam had us do a short run, where we ran at an easy/steady pace but concentrated on a specific aspect of our technique for one minute at a time. Because of the heat, this was cut short slightly, so in total we only ran about 1.8 miles in the entire morning session. We had to save ourselves for later, so we were told!

On our way back to the classroom, Sam did a second video analysis, to see how much of what he had learned had seeped into our technique. Obviously no one changes these things dramatically overnight, but it was still impressive how many of us, myself included, made some small improvements.

The air conditioning felt incredible when we went back inside for our short break. I had a big snack (half of my packed lunch, an amazing cous-cous salad I had cooked the day before), knowing I would struggle with my sensitive stomach to eat lunch and do speedwork in the heat less than two hours later. Sam then launched into her “talk and practical on running-specific strength” – like with the drills, she explained and demonstrated each exercise (things like the plank, bridge with knee lifts, lunges/squats etc., as well as slightly more obscure running specific exercises), and we then tried it on our mats. Much of this Sam had shown me before, but it helped to go through them and check with the coaches to make sure I was doing them all properly, since I had a few questions from when I used to do these more regularly.

Lunch was a “working lunch,” where we gathered into small groups and received feedback on our running videos while eating. Sam clicked through each frame (the clips were only two or three seconds long), showing us what we were doing well, and what we weren’t doing correctly. It was interesting to learn from others as well as from my own video – many of us were guilty of the same mistakes – primarily, heel striking and overstriding.

I was excited for the next segment – training programs – given that I still need to create my own Portland marathon training plan. Sam explained the various types of runs – recovery, threshold/tempo, VO2 max, long etc. and stressed the importance of ensuring that you go into each run knowing what purpose it serves in the context of your training. This was nothing new, but as with some of the other material, good to hear again.

I did, however, have many questions about preparing my own program and got some clarification on several things, including tempo runs (continuous running at a comfortably hard pace) versus threshold interval runs (also run at this pace, but as you would imagine, broken down into shorter periods of time with short recoveries). Although Sam only gave me the intervals to do during my two training cycles, which I had always wondered about, she said that I can alternate between the two in my upcoming program. She also provided me with other tips that I will think back on while building my own marathon schedule for the first time.

By this point, it was around 3pm and not only an oven out there but also a complete zoo in the park, with TONS of people, animals, vehicles and everything else you can imagine all around the place. In other words, it was the PERFECT time for a threshold interval session!

There I am at the start line of our loop – don’t I look thrilled to run 3 x 6min at 7:25 – 7:40 pace, with 90sec recoveries?! E obviously was equally excited. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I’m happy to report that I somehow managed to hit an average pace of 7:27, despite the heat, crowds, a very unhappy stomach and slowing down at the end when I felt like I was going to die. Sam, Jeff and Suzy were each positioned at different parts of the loop to announce the time and, more importantly, encourage us to keep working hard in such tough conditions. That is where having a coach present during a training session can make a huge difference. Okay, and I confess that my competitive self managed to escape and ensured that I maintained my position at the front of the pack – but only because I had to hit my goal pace! Check out my Garmin entry to see how I did in more detail.

Finishing this session was a massive relief, not only because I wasn’t sure I would hit my target, but also because all that was left for the day was a nice long stretch session in the shade. It felt awesome, and it was also great to get feedback from the coaches on something that is so important, and yet far too often neglected after a run.

We returned to the classroom for some Q&A, said our goodbyes and then E and I made our way back home. We were exhausted, hot and hungry – but also feeling slightly ill, not only from the physical exertion but also from the mish-mash of foods we had eaten throughout the day (gatorade, flap-jacks, banana, cous-cous salad etc). Exercising in that type of heat really messes with you if you aren’t used to it, and if you aren’t careful about your nutrition and hydration. I think mostly, we were just tired.

But it was SO nice out by this point in the day, and everyone we knew had spent the afternoon lounging in the park, that we couldn’t help but stop for some pear cider in an outdoor cafe, which of course went straight to our heads. We then were suddenly starving and cooked up some Ostrich burgers. Turns out the whole combination was NOT the best idea and we spent the next hour lying on the floor (literally) curled up in a ball not feeling very well. Eventually it passed, and by perhaps 10pm it finally stopped feeling like a sauna outside, and we were able to look back on our day with a sense of achievement, as well as a new awareness of what we must improve going forward.

To check out Sam’s comments on how the workshop went, as well as to read about future workshops, click here.

I’ve been toying with the idea of becoming a certified running coach ever since I started marathon training with my own coach, Sam Murphy, in 2009, and in particular, since I created this blog in December 2010. Usually, I’m not the type of person who signs up for personal training or coaching, primarily because it’s quite expensive and I can’t justify the cost. I love to run/exercise, I work hard and I devour running/general fitness articles, so it’s not like I need the motivation!

However, training for my first marathon was daunting, and although I’m sure I would have performed well had I simply trained and researched on my own, I wanted to make sure that I pushed myself as hard as possible without injuring myself. As many of you know, that’s a fine line!

Sam gave me the specific knowledge, structured training and support that really helped me reach my goals. Having someone there for me throughout the ups and downs of my training, armed with incredibly useful, tailored advice, was crucial to my success and in my opinion, worth every penny. So I guess it’s not that surprising that I would want to learn more and help other runners, after having had such a positive coaching experience of my own!

As some of my running buddies can tell you, I already act as an informal coach of sorts – dispensing various information when relevant, and often taking the lead as motivator in a more structured run. It would be wonderful to deepen my running knowledge not only to benefit my own training, but also to allow me to formally coach other runners safely and with greater confidence. Additionally, a coaching certification program would, of course, fit in VERY nicely with my current nutrition course!

Over the last week, I finally started to research how I could become a full-fledged running coach – both in the UK and the US, as it’s best to explore both options!

In the UK, United Kingdom Athletics offer a wide variety of coaching qualifications, including a Leadership in Running Fitness Award, which would qualify me as a UK Athletics level 1 coach. This course serves as a prerequisite for the level 2 Coach in Running Fitness Award, which is the qualification my coach holds and that I would like to achieve. Unfortunately, the timing isn’t ideal – the next LiRF course is in June, but there’s a possibility it may be cancelled due to a lack of interest and there isn’t another one that I can attend for awhile. Even if it isn’t cancelled, I must wait three months after completing it until I can enroll in the CiRF course, but there isn’t one currently scheduled anywhere close to London later in the year. I was told, however, that additional courses may be added, so I will keep checking the website.

Also, although the CiRF course is technically only three days, there is a period of several months in between the second and third day so that you can apply what you’ve learned before taking the final exam. This makes perfect sense, but that takes me to early 2012 if I’m lucky, and who knows where I’ll be then! Slightly more complicated than I had originally hoped, and I am kicking myself for not having looked into this sooner, but I obviously can’t let this discourage me.

Lastly, I need to consider the consequences, if any, of becoming qualified in the UK and ultimately coaching in the US. I suppose it would make more sense to study in the US if that is where I will eventually settle, but I’m not sure if it really matters with something like this. What do you think?

The Road Runners Club of America seems to be the UK Athletics equivalent in the US, and the best resource for a running coach qualification. Unfortunately, there aren’t many courses currently scheduled that have availability, and the only one that does is in Minnesota! No thanks. Apparently I can host a course in my area (I’ll be in CA in September, so that would be ideal), so I might look into that. I am a master organizer, after all! Anyone in the San Francisco or Los Angeles area interested in becoming a RRCA qualified running coach?! Otherwise, I’ve signed up to receive further information for additional courses that open up…fingers crossed!

So, I guess for the time being it seems that I cannot begin my coaching training as soon as I had hoped, but at least I have started the research process. I could perhaps just take the LiRF to jump start my training and leave me with the basics of coaching groups and in particular, beginner runners, and see where that leads me. I think I’ll sleep on it…

If anyone has any advice on this topic or anything else to add, please let me know!

I did!

I had a great 45-minute/5.75M fartlek run earlier today on the river. I hadn’t done fartlek training in ages, and was reminded of how liberating and fun it can be.

Unfamiliar with fartlek training?

Fartlek means “speedplay” in Swedish and is a type of interval training that was first established by coach Gösta Holmér in 1937 for his team of cross country runners. It is now a very popular technique among all runners, as well as athletes who practice many different sports.

Unlike a speed session at the track or on the treadmill, a fartlek run is characterized by its lack of structure and subjective nature. A typical run might last 45 minutes (or more), starting out with a warm up and then following the whims of the individual runner, who may choose to practice a variety of faster paces (ranging from steady to sprinting) for varying lengths of time or distances with slower recoveries interspersed throughout. A session can be relatively easy, extremely hard or somewhere in the middle, depending on what the runner wishes to do on that particular run.

What’s the best way to try out this technique?

A fartlek run can of course be done on the treadmill, but I believe it’s better (and more fun) to do this outdoors.

Start out your run with an easy or steady pace until you feel warmed up. If you’re outside, choose a landmark (a tree, bench, etc.) and run at a challenging pace until you reach it, then jog for a few minutes. Pick another goal – perhaps closer or further away, relative to the last one – and run to it (at the same, faster or slower pace, entirely up to you), then jog until you are recovered. If there are no good landmarks on your route or you are on the treadmill, then go by time.

The whole point of this run is to break free from routine, explore a wide variety of paces at different distances and to have some fun! If you’re training for a specific event and want to make your fartlek run more relevant, then you might want to include short, sharp bursts for 5/10k races and longer sections at your tempo pace for 10-milers and half-marathons.

What are the benefits of fartlek training?

I find the flexibility of this run incredibly appealing for many reasons. Firstly, fartlek gives you an opportunity to tailor your workout to how you are feeling, which is important because you should always pay close attention to any signals your body sends you. You have complete control over your speed and distance – no rules, no pressure!

It also gives you a mental break from training plans/other forms of routine without sacrificing your fitness goals (ie. if you want a tough workout, then make it challenging!). If you normally do your speed work on a treadmill or at the track, fartlek training can provide a change of scenery, which is important in preventing boredom and burnout. You’d be surprised by just how quickly the time flies when you’re constantly mixing up your pace and making it all up as you go along! It’s like playing a game – even better if you have a running partner, in which case you can take turns deciding what’s next, increasing the surprise factor.

Lastly, it’s a great way to ease into speed work if you are relatively new to interval training and would like to experiment with faster running, or if you’ve been taking a break from structured training (as I have) and want to squeeze in some speed without pushing yourself too hard too quickly.

What did I do today?

I hadn’t intended to do a fartlek run today, to be honest. I set out for what I thought would be an easy 5 miler along the river at lunchtime, but then five minutes into the run I hit a mass of obnoxious French students clogging up the pathway (a downside of lunchtime running – hordes of young kids, mostly foreign, everywhere). As I tried to get around them through a narrow passage, a kid who couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old nearly burned my leg with his cigarette as he stealthily held it by his side. Ah, the French.

I couldn’t deal and saw that we were approaching a bridge, so I sprinted up the stairs, over the bridge, down the stairs and around the front of the pack and left them in the distance. Whew. Then I thought – haven’t done speed work in awhile – that actually felt quite good! Maybe I should do that again…And so I did, followed by a series of strides, tempo intervals, steady intervals, and slow pacing all mixed up. It was quite challenging but really fun, and before I knew it, I had done nearly 6 miles!

So give fartlek a try if it isn’t already a part of your training regime – the name is a bit silly, but I bet you’ll enjoy it!

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

This morning's breakfast bowl isn't exactly pretty, but really delicious and filling! Two fried eggs in a pan with black beans (I used 1/2 cup = 1 serving), a little feta, a few spoonfuls of ricotta, some pesto (random but had some leftover and tastes great with eggs), and 1/4 avocado. Cooked all together for a high protein tasty breakfast! Awesome @onepeloton endurance ride earlier today with my buddy @mattwilpers before enjoying some family time outdoors on this beautiful day. Arielle came to visit afterwards and clearly is a big Peloton fan too! Speaking of which, check out the latest episode of the Clip Out (a Peloton fan podcast) - had such a great time talking all things nutrition and Peloton with @clipoutcrystal and Tom, who are hilarious btw! (Link in bio - my segment ~20min in). Wishing everyone a very happy first day of Fall! 🍁🍂 It's my favorite time of year to get out into nature and go for a run. L'Shana Tova to those who celebrate! We started the New Year with some apple picking at @wilkloworchards on our way back to NYC yesterday. Was so much fun, and Arielle was a great little helper! We don't have much food in the house after being away so these crisp local apples with almond butter will be our tasty, healthy snacks today. Getting ready for the loooong drive back to NYC after unplugging in Lake Placid for my bday! Fueling with a bowl of 5% plain Greek yogurt, bananas, peaches, and apple cinnamon granola. Not much of a view from our balcony this morning of Mirror Lake - swipe right for our view yesterday! So beautiful and peaceful here - minus screaming baby, of course. 😂 #Tbt to earlier this week, when one of my awesome @nutritionenergy clients surprised me with a @levainbakery cookie after we talked about them at our last session. I had planned to save half for my husband (those cookies are seriously dense!), but it was so delicious, I changed my mind and had the second half later in the day. Did I feel bad about it afterwards? Did I end up skipping dinner or working out more to compensate? Nope! I had already eaten a healthy balanced lunch, and it's not everyday that I enjoy such a decadent treat (although you will find me having smaller treats quite often 😀).

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