Strategy

Form Tip: Look to the Horizon

Like so many things in life, good running posture starts with the head. When the head tilts in any one direction, the body shifts off its optimal support axis which causes you to compensate—and generally become discombobulated. 

The head tilt and gaze are usually connected, so when you run, let your gaze guide you: Look out ahead naturally and scan the horizon (unless you're on a technical switchback in the Pyrenees, Killian Jornet–style). That'll straighten your neck and back into one line. If this doesn't work, try imagining a straight line so the weight of your head is carried down through your feet.

Doing this right can improve oxygen flow and conserve energy.

Unless you're trail running, work on not looking at the ground, not stretching your neck or jutting out your chin like Jay Leno. Poor head posture can lead to fatigue and injury.

For those pre-meds out there, get this: The head has a serious influence on your running because of the vestibular apparatus in the ears and cerebellum directly defining and regulating the body's position in space. If you doubt it, try running while vigorously shaking your head—ha, thought not. This regulation is accomplished through the neck muscles, which provide balance to the head and extend their influence to the rest of the muscular system of the body. 

What is the optimal distance of gaze? 10 meters? 40 yards? What's a meter? Who knows. The thing to keep in mind is keeping your head in a straight line with the weight supported down between the shoulders through the hips to the balls of your feet—like when you carry baskets on your head. (In fact, that's our next mile competition.) 

You will not—or should not—find a machine like this to warn you each time you slouch. Instead, try to internalize it. 


Coaches Corner: Why You Should Try Plyometrics

Eight miles before the end of his first-ever ultramarathon, Tom Vrizi started to get a nasty case of IT band syndrome. He finished the race, then limped around in pain for the next month, trying to run through it.

Finally, he consulted Dr. Google, trying to figure out what was weak, and how he might fix the problem with the right strength training exercises.

The exercises worked, and made him realize something: Other NBR members were also suffering from running-related injuries that might be avoided if they started strength-training. “During a drive to pick up race bibs, while sitting in traffic, I had the idea to lead a workout for the club,” he says.

The first plyo class took place on Monday, April 13, 2015. “I remember because I was still sore on that Friday and had a race the next day,” Tom says. (It ended up being the most successful race he’s ever ran.)

Now an NASM-certified personal trainer, Tom leads a plyo class every Monday night, helping his fellow team members stay strong and injury-free.

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What can plyo do for runners?

  1. It helps strengthen the fast twitch muscles runners use for speed.

  2. It can work your cardiovascular system if you’re pushing to do the exercises quickly.

  3. It helps strengthen the bones—the stress from landing from a jump helps make them less brittle.

“I've had many people tell me that my plyo class is responsible for them being able to hit PR after PR without injury. Some people go on to conquer longer distances than they ever thought they could,” Tom says. And, although he admits that he’s hurt himself due to his own clumsiness, he hasn’t gotten a chronic “running injury” in years.

What is Tom’s plyo class like?

The class is built around three four-minute sets that consist of four exercises done for 30 seconds each, then repeated with no break. Between every set, Tom switches it up with some running drills. “This gives muscles a chance to recover ATP and clear any lactic acid that built up,” he says. “The longer break we take between sets is aimed at a full recovery so you can give each set your all.”

The class focuses on exercises aimed at strengthening the things that city runners typically lack. “One of the main problems with being a city runner is never facing steep challenging climbs (bridges don't count),” he says. “The other is the complete lack of lateral motion. Conga squats emulate having to get your knees up on a big climb. To help with lateral motion we do side-to-side exercises, such as side leg lifts, clam shells, lateral jump squats, etc. These were the key to curing my IT band syndrome. Additionally, we do pushups to keep our arms and chest strong to enhance arm swing.”

Class typically ends with core work, and a few stretches for the hips, hamstrings and calves. “Contrary to my previous incorrect stance, I’ve learned that stretching isn't evil.” 

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What's the best strategy to approach plyo exercises?

For the true plyo experience, try to spend as little time as possible on the ground between jumps.

Plyo exercises have three phases:

  1. Concentric: the time in the air

  2. Eccentric: the time recovering from your landing

  3. Armortization: the time between when you stop your decent and launch again

“You want to land softly and controlled with feet facing forward in the eccentric phase, and then quickly armortize and get off the ground. The more time that's spent in the bottom of a squat, for example, the weaker the jump will be.”

If I hate cross-training, what's the least I can get away with?

If you work on your feet all day: “5-10 minutes of single leg balance work combined with side leg lifts and clam shells.” 

If you sit in an office chair all day: “5-10 minutes of hip flexibility and mobilization followed by 5-10 minutes of single leg balance work combined with side leg lifts and clam shells.” 

“Neither scenario will result in you getting faster,” says Tom, “but it will help you avoid injury and keep moving.” 

How should I incorporate plyo into my training to get the most out of it?

Tom suggests doing plyo the day after a long run, and taking a rest day afterwards. “Long runs and plyo have totally different goals. You can then take a rest day to recover by taking a walk or another light activity.” 

Coaches Corner: Train for a 5K with Becca Ades

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Looking to nail a faster 5K? Look no further than NBR coach Becca Ades. She’s developed a 12-week training plan specifically for the 5K distance, adapted from legendary coach Pete Pfitzinger’s program. And she’s leading an NBR training group to help runners gear up for the Boston Athletic Association’s 5K (which takes over Beantown’s streets just two days before the Boston Marathon).

With a PR of 17:36, and a few recent local 5K wins under her belt, Becca loves the versatility of the distance: It can be a low-key fun run, or a serious test of your speed—and grit.

“And at the end of the day, if things don’t go as planned, you have what, six minutes to get through? That’s nice, too.”  

She created a program of speed, tempo, and lactate threshold workouts for runners who are serious about putting in the work to get a faster time.  

The furious intensity of 5K races pushes you past lactate threshold pace, with your body relying on its anaerobic system. Which means you need to train for it differently than you would for longer distances where you’re running more slowly and using your aerobic system.

“You will work your way up from both the top end (speed work) and the bottom end (tempos), and gradually start putting your 5K together through different track pace work and short time trials,” Becca explains.

Her other 5K tips?

Have a goal pace in mind. “This will help you mentally prepare during the workouts and give you the confidence you need for race day.”

Find a pacing strategy that works for you. “Word on the street is the best 5Ks are run with a fast first mile, slower second mile, and fast third mile. I think when I’m in the best shape, I view the 5K as a one-mile race: You’re running the first two miles at pace to get to the last mile and hold on for dear life. Prefontaine once famously said, ‘No one will ever win a 5,000-meter by running an easy two miles. Not against me.’ So, you know, take everything with a grain of salt ☺”

Once you hit the start line, believe in your training, execute your race plan, and be your biggest supporter. “If things turn south, set mini-goals during the race, like, ‘I’m going to keep up with the guy in the orange shirt,’ or ‘I’m going to push as hard as I can to the big red building.’ The same things you do in a workout, do in a race.”   

Want to join Becca’s training group? Email her at rebecca.ades@gmail.com.

Becca Ades

NBR Beginner & Drills Clinic

Thanks to everyone that came out to North Brooklyn Runners' Beginner & Drills Clinic on July 15th, and thanks to Shawn and Karina for giving us all some great training advice! If you missed it, here's Karina's notes from the clinic!

Drills for Distance Runners: Training Neuromuscular Pathways

Most of us are training for longer distance road running, whether we are trying to set a new half marathon PR or running for the fun of it. Adding up those miles, we are constantly developing our aerobic system – how well our body can use oxygen. 

But there is another component to running that doesn’t usually get a lot of attention – the neuromuscular system. A few signs that you need to work on your neuromuscular fitness: you feel sluggish in speed workouts, you feel weak running uphill, or your breathing is under control during tempo runs, but your legs feel heavy. Sound familiar?

The neuromuscular system refers to the channels of communication between the brain and muscles. A primary goal of neuromuscular training is to develop new (and better!) connection to the muscles involved in running by practicing the components of efficient running form. This helps us as runners in all sorts of ways.

  • Practice makes permanent. It has been said that practice makes perfect, but that isn’t quite true. Actually, practice makes permanent. In that case, we should really say: perfect practice makes perfect. When we do drills, we exaggerate motions of an efficient running form in order to develop those neural pathways. It will help send the necessary signals to the muscles that need to fire to maintain that good form. Practicing good form through drills will build the neuromuscular foundation for good form in the rest of our training.  
  • Resisting Fatigue. Training our neuromuscular system helps us run more efficiently and keep that good form even as we tire during a race or a long run. 
  • Get fast.  You need to be able to move fast to run fast. Drills train our feet to move quickly, without all the demands of an interval workout on the track. Sprinting itself is a neuromuscular workout (no surprise why these drills come from sprinters!), but we can practice quickness through drills while still focusing our training to the specific demands on longer distance racing. 
  • Build strength and coordination. Drills help develop muscles in your feet and lower legs, improving agility and power. Greater strength and mobility may help us resist injury from overuse and poor form. 

Dynamic Warm up and Running Drill Progression:

The best time to do most running drills is when you are warming up for a run, particularly before any kind of high intensity effort. You can also do drills as a cool down from an easy effort. Something important to remember: practice makes permanent. If you are too tired to do these drills with proper form, you will actually be defeating the purpose of the workout! Once you notice that you’re not able to maintain proper form, it is time to stop. 

1. Dynamic Stretching Warm Up

+ Knees to Chest

+ Walking quad stretch

+ Cross leg hamstring stretch

+ Walking stretch lunge

+ Arms circle back, knees up to chest

2. Form Drills

+ A Skips

+ High knees

+ Butt kicks

+ Quick feet

+ Strides 

Articles for further reading:

Brooklyn Half Marathon Course Strategy

Last Saturday, NBR members and USATF level 1 certified coaches Angela Ortiz and Karina Christiansen led our members through a training run with tips on half marathon racing and pro tips for the Brooklyn Half course. Even if you missed the training session, you can read their great tips here!

 

Brooklyn Half Tips:

* Give yourself plenty of time to get to the start. You'll have to go through security, and bag check for each wave closes 50 minutes before the wave start(!). Corrals (usually) open at 6am, and corrals close 20 minutes before the wave start (as of last year).

* There are bathrooms in the corrals, so you don't have to worry about using them before you settle into the corral.

* There are water stations in between the mile markers until mile 8, at which point they appear at every mile marker.

* There is a PowerGel station at mile 8, but unless you are ok with surprises, don't try anything new unless you've been training with these.

* The stretch along Ocean Parkway is long and unshaded, so if it's sunny, some find it helpful to wear a visor or sunglasses.

* Afterwards, join us at the NBR Beach party! Details TBA.

Course Notes/Strategy:

* If you are new to running or half marathons, try to run based on effort. In the first 1-7 miles, you should be moving at an effort that feels mostly easy, saving your energy for those final miles. Ideally, you should be able to speak a full sentence and have a conversation while moving, without gasping for breath.

* If you know your pace, or are going for a PR, you should still work with a conservation mindset in the first half. Energy spent running under pace in the hills, is energy you won't have at mile 10, when you'll need it most. Once the hills are out of the way, then, depending on how you feel, it's time to shift into another gear.

* The only big hill in the course is at mile 4.5 and goes up for a little over 800m (about 70ft of elevation gain). Focus on leaning into the hill, driving your knees high, and pumping your arms. After this the course is mostly downhill!

* Use the big downhill just after mile 6 to mentally recover and reset for the last half of the race.

* Right around mile 7 there is a tiny uphill going up the on ramp to Ocean Parkway. It doesn't even register on the NYRR elevation map, but it can take the wind out of your sails if you're not expecting it!

* After mile 7, if you are moving based on effort, you can think about kicking it up a notch, if you feel it. Your effort should still feel controlled, but your breathing cadence will be quicker, and you should only be able to speak a few words at a time.

* If you know your pace, you should maintain your pace as closely as possible until mile 8, and then try to think about dipping underneath, using the energy stored from not going out too fast in the first half.

* Miles 9-12 are where you'll need to focus most. Keep your head and gaze up, shoulders down, arms pumping back and forth (not across your body), knees lifting, pushing all the way through your foot and off the toes, using your glutes to power you to the finish. Focus on someone ahead of you and reel them in. Look into the distance for the Belt Parkway overpass and the subway overpass. Once you see these you're close to the finish!

* In the last mile you'll want to kick it into your final gear. Your effort should still be controlled, but your breathing will be quick and you shouldn't be able to speak more than a word at a time. Think about finishing strong.

* The ramp leading up to the boardwalk at Coney Island is made of wood and therefore can be springy and uneven (it can also feel very long even though it's probably not more than 10-15 meters!). Be sure to lift your knees/feet.

* Once you make the right turn onto the boardwalk, give it your best effort until you cross the finish line. Look up and smile for your finish line photo! You did it!

Click here for Runners World's guide on how to pace you first half-marathon

Click here for a guide on planning your pacing mile by mile.