Monday, October 8, 2018

Trail Running: 6 Big Lessons I've Learned

The best kind of running is trail running.

There, I've said it. Getting out in nature, rambling over varying terrain, climbing and descending hills, being in the middle of scenes you can't get on the roads -- that's the stuff. Trail running engages me and challenges me in a way road running can't. I'm not just plopping my body down in a random spot and doing the same old thing. Every step is its own adventure, be it sand, rocks, roots, running water, uneven footing, brush or anything else the world can throw at me. It's energizing, invigorating. Unlike with road running, where it's easy to detach, trail running connects me with everything I'm doing, and everything around me.

One thing I hear a lot from people I invite to go with me is that they're unsure about trail running. But there's no special training or license. Here's some of the things I've learned about trail running over the past few years.

I Didn't Need Any Fancy Gear
There are some gnarly, technical trails out there. But that's not how I got started. I started out trail running on some short, relatively easy trails in parks not far from where I live. I wore my normal road-running shoes, and I was fine. Starting out, I ran short enough distances that I didn't need a fancy Camelbak or hand-held or vest -- I just kept water in my car. And running clothes are running clothes -- nothing unusual about what I wear.

These days, I do wear specialized trail shoes when going off road, and I do put on a Camelbak when I plan to be out for significantly more than an hour. But they're not necessary for a basic run.

I Had to Throw Pace Expectations Out the Window
The terrain on trails always slows me down. Depending on how technical and how hilly it is, I can be a minute per mile slower on the trails despite the same level of perceived exertion. That's OK. I go by time more than distance. The benefit is the same -- and possibly greater, since those climbs make me work muscles differently than I would on flat pavement.

It's Easier on My Joints
Because every step is different on a trail, each one puts a slightly different stress on my joints -- unlike road running, where the motion is very repetitive. I've found that after a really good trail run, I'm sore in more places, but I bounce back quicker, because I'm not super-sore in any one spot. Also, because every step isn't on rock-hard pavement, the ground absorbs some of the stress that my footstrikes would otherwise bounce back into my ankles, knees, hips and back.

The Scenery Is Great
This may go without saying, but getting out on the trails is a lot more mentally stimulating than simply rolling through suburban developments. No two runs are the same, even if you're on the same trail. The foliage, the wildlife, even the path itself -- they all change. Yeah, there are some great views on some of my road runs, but there's always something to see on every trail run.

And yeah, sometimes I get a little lost. That's OK, too, because it usually means I've found some new trails to run. I'm never afraid to take a turn that looks good, and see where it goes.

I'm Stronger in All My Runs
Climbing a gnarly hill is both cardiovascular and strength training for me. Not only am I working my heart and lungs hard, I'm engaging my glutes, quads, calves and core muscles. Sure, I can (and do) work hills on pavement, but when I'm on uneven terrain, I also have to pay attention to stability in all planes of motion. It's a workout!

The result is that I'm stronger on all runs -- hills, flat, paved, trail, beach, whatever.

It Toughened Me Up
Generally, even really bad conditions, the road is basically the same. Maybe I'll have to slow up just slightly in the rain to keep from slipping, or run around a puddle, or watch out for a few icy patches on snow-plowed roads. Not so much on the trails. If it rains, it gets muddy and slick. There might even be a few unavoidable puddles that I just have to hash through. Nobody's shoveling the path if it snows -- and clumps of snow falling from trees onto my head is super-fun.

There's also something of an ethos among trail runners that you don't wimp out -- you just go and adapt.

The result for me has been a lot fewer missed workouts and no treadmill. No whining. No complaining. I just go. And on those rare occasions that I do race, I never worry about the conditions -- I know I have the mental toughness to deal with anything.

Bottom Line: It's Just More Fun
Yes, trail running has improved my running and overall fitness, and helped me achieve more goals. But really, the reason I do it: Who doesn't love going out and playing in the woods for an hour or two? For me, it's kind of like being a kid again. No worries or stress -- just knocking around, getting dirty, doing my thing. What could be better?

Got some tips for trail running? Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

12 Things I Learned in Ultra-Marathon Training

As you may know, I recently completed a 34.6-mile, non-competitive run. It was the hardest thing I've ever done.

But over the course of five months and 900 miles worth of training, I learned a few things that I want to share.

You Have a Reserve Tank
With weeks of 60-plus miles, this probably should have been obvious to me. But it became truly apparent on my final long training run. I was 18 miles into a hilly trail run. It was rainy, and I was tired. I was ready to head for the car. Except...I was lost in the woods. I wound up running close to 21 miles that day, mostly because I had to. But the bottom line was, I had it in me even though I wanted to quit. That came in handy on ultra day, with temps and humidity both around 80. I was sooooo out of gas at mile 30. But I knew I had more. And yeah, I walked some, but I made it to the end.

There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather
Just poor gear choices. If you want to prepare to run long distances, you have to be mentally ready for whatever comes your way. It's not going to be perfect. Don't let the weather get in the way of your training. You can always put on another layer if it's cold. You can buy a water-resistant jacket for the rain and snow. Drill some screws into old running shoes to make spikes for when it's icy. Get a Camelbak or hand-held water bottles. And always, always, always carry a handtowel.

There's No Such Thing as Overtraining
Just under-recovering. Recovery is much more than just sitting on the couch after a long run. Rehydrate and pay attention to your nutrition -- that means carbs! Stretch after every run. Make friends with the foam roller, the "stick" and a nubby foot-massage ball. Use ice if you need to. Prioritize a good night's sleep. And yeah, sit on the couch, but also get up and move -- keep your muscles and joints limber for the next run.

You Gotta Make the Time, But You Probably Can
Unless you're Gary Robbins or Jim Walmsley, running 50 or 60 miles in a week is going to cost you close to 10 hours, and that's not even counting the time it takes to drive to where you're running, warm up, cool down, recover, etc. One week, I ran 13-milers on back-to-back weekdays before work. It helps that I'm able to work from home when I need to. But even so, it meant getting up early enough to log the miles -- and that meant getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Limit your TV time. You're probably going to have to put some of your social life on hold, too. And most important, you need to schedule your runs so you have a plan to work around. But if you want it, you can probably find the time to make it work.

You're Going to Get Obsessed
For five months, after work and family, the biggest thing in my life was running. I was spending plenty of time rambling around, but even when I wasn't, I was frequently thinking about it. It's hard not to when a) it occupies as much time in your life as it did for me, and b) you have a 34.6-mile run on your calendar. Remember that the people around you aren't in the same headspace as you, and most important, don't let your obsession get in the way of your relationships. I can't thank my wife Jackie enough for all the support and patience over the last five months.

Build the Mental Muscle
A run that long isn't going to go perfectly. There are just too many internal and external variables. You gotta roll with the punches a little bit. My plan: No treadmill runs regardless of weather, and stick to the schedule no matter how much my inner crybaby was screaming "I don't wanna!" In other words, the best way to get ready to put one foot in front of the other on event day is to put one foot in front of the other during training, no matter what.

Flat Isn't Easier
There comes a point in a long-distance run where, if there aren't some changes in elevation, you're going to feel completely worn out because you're using one set of muscles in the same exact motion for miles and miles. But when you throw in some climbs and descents -- especially if they're of varying grades -- you redistribute some of the work to other muscles. So more muscles get tired, but none of them get super-tired. Of course, if you're going to tackle some hills, you need to build strength in your core, hips, glutes and calves. Do squats. With weight.

Walking Is OK, But Walk With Purpose
On long runs, especially hilly long runs, it's a good idea to break into a walk every so often. It helps recharge your muscles, and especially if you've just completed a tough section, it brings your heart rate down. You simply cannot finish an endurance event if your heart rate is above the aerobic zone. (Test: Can you talk in complete sentences? If not, you need to dial back.) But that doesn't mean you're out for a stroll. Walk with purpose, like you're still trying to get somewhere. Your walking pace should be around 60 percent of your running pace. Your heart rate will still come down, but you'll still get the conditioning benefit and your overall pace won't suffer very much.

You Can Probably Shed Some Fat
Last fall, I decided to focus on strength training to prepare my body for the rigors of this build-up. Just before Christmas, I topped out at 200 pounds, which is 5 or 6 pounds more than I typically carry when I'm not in a training cycle. I knew I'd slim down a little and thought I'd probably go a bit below 190, as I have when I've run marathons. I had no idea I'd get down around 170. I was smart about my diet, but I certainly didn't restrict any calories. In fact, I used them all, plus some.

You Don't Need Gels
I kind of learned this by happenstance. Early in my training, I bought a box of GU gels, and I used two or three on each of my longer runs. Then I ran out, and I kept forgetting to order more. But I was also getting into distances where I was burning thousands of calories in a run, and a 100-calorie gel wasn't enough on its own anyway. I carried a baggie of jellybeans (just regular old jellybeans) for quick bursts of energy. I can fit a banana into the pocket in my Camelbak. And I planned long runs where I could stop at the car -- where I had PB&J sandwiches. (PB&J on whole-wheat bread is the perfect long-run fuel.) Other people eat trail mix, cookies and pretzels. During the ultra, I also ate pickle chips to help replenish electrolytes. Do a little experimenting to find the "real food" that works for you.

Get Used to Running Alone
Even if you have a bunch of running friends or belong to a running club, this is a simple truth: Most people don't want to run long distances on trails. Make your peace with that and do your own thing.

But Friends Are the Best
Something really awesome happened to me when things got really ugly during my ultra run, around mile 30: Two of my friends (who were running a shorter distance) stayed with me. (Look a little closer at the picture at the top.) When I needed to walk, they walked. When I picked it back up into a run, they ran. They encouraged me but kept it realistic, and we made it to the end.

All of these lessons will help me when I tackle my next challenge, whatever that is. I hope a few of them help you, too.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Tough Guys Really Aren't That Tough

You guys know how I feel about Bros at the gym.

They act like it's their domain, and either you're part of their tribe, or you're a loser. You're inferior. You're a wimp.

Don't believe me? Try asking a Bro what he does for cardio.

Now don't get me wrong: I love lifting. I love the feeling I get from having pushed or pulled a bunch of weight a bunch of times. I believe barbell squats are the king of all exercises. No matter what's on my fitness plate, I'll always make time for the gym. And I know plenty of lifters who aren't Bros.

But I have news for the Bros: You're not that tough.

Bros Are Babies About Cardio

Bros try to wrap up their hatred of aerobic exercise into some kind of tough-guy disdain, like, "Cardio sucks. Do you even lift, bro?" But what they're really doing is being wimps about it. Let's go for a run, fellas. Maybe let's go 10 miles at a 9:00/mile pace, and we'll see if you can keep up -- or even get past that first mile without gasping for air. Or let's hit the track for some 800-meter repeats. Uh-huh. Bros say they don't do this stuff because lifting is better, but the bottom line is, they're afraid to try. Because they know it'll expose them as weak.

The Weather Is Always Perfect in the Gym

If you know me at all, you know that I harbor extreme hatred of the treadmill. It's not that I think it's an inferior workout; I'd just rather be out in the world than on a hamster wheel. Even if it's snowing. Even if the wind chill is below zero. Even if it means running a marathon in rain, wind and cold. Likewise, if I have a #FrontPorchWorkout scheduled, I bundle up and do it. And there are plenty of runners who'll brave elements much worse than I will. What about those tough-guy Bros? In the gym - the only place they exercise -- there's no rain, no wind, no snow. It's never too hot, never too cold. Sorry, fellas, but that's wimpy.

"Bulking" Is an Excuse for Bad Nutrition

Scroll down to number-five in this Eric Bach piece on bulking. I see lots of guys like this at the gym. Yeah, they're stronger than me -- well, at least in their upper bodies. But they have bellies. I'm not talking about power lifters -- those guys are amazing and, frankly, in their own world. I'm talking about guys who have big biceps, big guts and big stories about their drinking exploits. Yes, you can get lean without a ton of cardio, but it requires discipline. And that's an aspect of mental toughness that many Bros simply don't have.

You're Plenty Tough

The next time you start to feel intimidated in the gym by the Bros, remember: You're plenty tough. You're not afraid of breathing heavy. You don't need climate control to be able to exercise. You have the discipline to keep a consistent diet going. Toughness is a lot more than building big arms, shoulders and pecs. Just do your thing and stay strong!

Let's hear about your toughness. Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Don't Be a Bro

By now, I hope I've persuaded you to get into the gym and start lifting some weights.

But one thing that keeps a lot of people from starting a strength-training regimen is intimidation. People don't think they're capable. They're afraid of doing something wrong and getting injured. They don't know what exercises to do. And worst of all, they're afraid of encroaching on Bro Territory.

Bros are loud. They walk around the gym like they own the place. They curse and yell. They make fun of the other Bros. Basically, they turn the weightlifting area into their own domain. And that keeps a lot of people from getting the most out of their gym memberships, because they won't go lift.

And fellas, breaking news: I'm mainly talking about women.

No Regular Guy I know would want to scare anyone out of the gym. Being a Regular Guy is all about being your best you, and helping other people do the same. So don't do this stuff. Don't be a Bro.

courtesy Jay's Brick Blog (

Don't Drop Your Weights
OK, every once in a while you bite off a little more than you can chew, and you need to let the bar drop so you don't get hurt. But if you're doing it on every set, you're intimidating people. Your eccentric phase is supposed to be under control anyway, so just don't do it.

Don't Grunt Like an Animal
A little bit of grunting has been shown to be helpful to get you through a tough set. So if you need to let a little something out on the last couple of reps, that's fine. But if you're loudly grunting through every lift, you sound aggressive to other people. That's not you, is it?

Don't Pace Around
I get it: Between sets, you need to get up and keep loose. Fine. But don't pace the whole area like a stalker. Stay right around your apparatus. You're not on guard patrol.

Don't Curse
Let's face it: The testosterone is flying at the gym. But not everyone appreciates your rated-R sense of humor. It makes you sound unintelligent -- like the kind of guy who'd rather settle things with his fists. And even in 2017, many people find F-bombs offensive. Keep the language to yourself.

Don't Wear Ridiculous Clothes
Gymwear is pretty simple: shorts, a T-shirt, socks and gym shoes. Tank tops are OK if you find them more comfortable. The idea is that what you wear should be functional. I often see guys wearing obnoxious T-shirts -- with profanities, polarizing political statements or just ridiculous fitspo phrases. Those things are not welcoming. Leave them in the drawer.

Don't Shout Across the Room
We get it -- you're pumped. But what you think is just raw enthusiasm can easily come off as grandstanding and taunting. A little fist pump when you hit a big lift is great. Even a high five with your spotter. But keep the hooting and hollering to yourself.

Don't Sing Along With Your Headphones
The reason you're wearing headphones is that you can listen to the music you like and block out the other stuff. Don't assume that everyone likes your music, and even if they did, you probably aren't that good of a singer.

Don't Just Walk Away From the Bench
Dude, you're gross. Sorry, but it's true. So am I. Go get a wipe or the spray bottle and wipe your sweat off. Maybe the other Bros don't care, but the average Joe or Jane does.

Don't Check Yourself Out in the Mirror
The mirrors are there so you can keep an eye on your form, not for you to admire yourself. People find it offputting, narcissistic and intimidating when you're flexing in the lifting area.

Don't Hog Machines
You're not going to make many friends guarding multiple pieces of apparatus like a dog guards its bone. It's just one more reason for people to stay away from the weightlifting area. Plan your workouts more carefully, or if you really need to do a circuit, go early or late when the gym isn't crowded.

Don't Ignore Safety
OK, this one probably doesn't affect other people as much as it can affect you. Use collars. Get a spotter if you need one. Nobody notices you if you do things right. Everyone notices if you have a preventable accident. You may think you have it no sweat, but what happens if you sneeze, tough guy?

Don't Make It Into a Club -- Or a Frat
If you go to the gym frequently enough, you'll probably start recognizing some of the same faces. And you might even have friends who go to your gym. By all means, be sociable. But don't turn it into a private club. Don't you hate when you go to a party and everyone else is friends? People hate that at the gym, too -- and if you do it in the weightlifting area, you're scaring them off.

Don't Get in People's Way
If your gym has an open floor area for stuff like walking lunges, monster walks, sled pushes and the like, don't just traipse across it willy-nilly. Lots of effective strength training happens in places other than under a barbell. You wouldn't like it if someone crossed right in front of you during a lift; don't do that to other people.

I think the message the Bros send out is that they are more important than the rest of us because they're the serious, and we're just in the way. I suspect that a small percentage of them actually believe this, and I'm sure I'll never get through to them. But most lifters feel a strong sense of community, and really they want to welcome more people into that community. Problem is, they don't realize how intimidating their behavior makes them look. And instead of being welcoming, they're scaring people away.

You don't have to be a Bro to be a hardcore fitness buff. So don't be a Bro.

Monday, October 24, 2016

My 5 Favorite Track Workouts

Are you looking to take step 2 as a runner?

Once you've been running for a little while and have achieved your initial goals, you'll probably want to improve a little bit. That may mean adding some distance to your long runs, but for most people, it also means you'd like to get faster. There are many things you can do to improve your speed. But one of the best is speedwork.

I do most of my speedwork at the track. It takes the guesswork out of things. You know exactly how far you've gone. And track running means interval training.

The basic science behind interval training is simple: You force your heart rate up close to or even beyond your aerobic threshold. Then you bring it back down, which forces additional blood through your heart and strengthens it.

First off, no matter what workout you're doing, you need an adequate warmup. One lap really isn't enough. I run a full mile -- four laps -- at an easy pace before starting the workout. Maybe that's a bit much for you, but to achieve Level 4 Suck, you have to be able to give your run a full effort from the very first step.

When we discuss effort here, keep in mind the green-yellow-red scale: Green = you can have a conversation. Yellow = you can blurt out a few words. Red = you can't talk.

Are you ready? Here are my favorite interval workouts.

400 Repeats: These are meant to be run pretty hard. Go for 1 lap, with a half-lap of recovery. (Note: It takes a little paying attention to make sure you keep your starting and stopping points straight.) I do anywhere between 8 and 12 of these repeats. Effort level: Yellow bordering on Red. Significantly above 5k pace. You're not sprinting, but it should feel hard from the get-go. If you need to walk for some of the recovery half-lap, that's fine.

800 Repeats: 800s are probably the number-one staple for 5k and 10k training, and they're pretty good for longer distances, too. You do 2 full laps around the track with 1 lap of recovery. I try to work at least 6 of these repeats into my run. Effort level: Yellow. Slightly faster than 5k pace, with a slow jog during the recovery laps. If you're doing it right, your breathing will be just about back to a regular cadence by the time you start the next repeat. If you need to walk for a small part of the recovery lap, OK, but keep it to a minimum.

Mile Repeats: This is the one workout I'll do on the street. I have a good mile loop mapped out in my neighborhood, with an easy landmark halfway through. As with the 800s, warm up for a mile. If you're on the track, you'll do 4 laps, with 2 laps recovery. If you can get through 3 of these, you're doing pretty well. Effort level: Yellow, around 5k pace. It's OK if you go slightly faster, but not too much. You're doing a few of these, so you don't want to collapse after the first one. With a half-mile to recover, you shouldn't have to walk any.

Ladders: Ladders challenge you at various distances and speeds. You can work out a pattern that you prefer, but I'll do something like 400-600-800-1000-800-600-400. Recovery intervals are always half the distance of the previous hard part (except after the 1000 -- just recover for 1 lap). Effort level: The shorter the repeat, the higher your effort level should be. So you'll be close to Red on the 400s, but comfortably in Yellow on the 1000. You can play around with the distances, or even do something like 2x400, 2x800, 1x1600 (mile), 2x800, 2x400.

Straights and Curves: This is Level 4 Suck. It's deceptively simple: Jog or even walk the curves, sprint balls-out on the straights. Effort level: Red. If you can make it through 2 miles of this, you're doing really well. It's a killer.

After a tough interval workout, you should cool down for at least two laps at a nice, easy pace. You've built up a lot of lactic acid in your muscles that you'll want to clear. And once you're totally done running, don't forget the stretching. I do toe touches, a butterfly stretch and figure-4 stretches.

What's your favorite interval workout? Leave a comment or touch base on Facebook or Twitter!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

3 Tips for Beginning Weightlifters

Let’s just start with the disclaimer: I am not an expert and I am definitely not your coach or trainer. The advice I’m giving here is meant to be general. If you’re unsure of anything having to do with weight training -- or any fitness regimen -- talk to a pro and make sure you’re doing things correctly.

OK, with that out of the way, I want to talk you into lifting weights.

Regardless of where you are on your fitness journey, what your interests are and what your goals are, strength training is an essential component. Lean muscle will make you a better runner, biker, basketball player or whatever. It will help with the yardwork and lifting the kids and so many other things. And come on -- lean muscle just looks good.

But starting out weightlifting can be confusing and intimidating. Believe me, I've been there -- not that long ago. As I said, I'm no expert, but I've gotten to the point where I'm comfortable anywhere in the gym. So here are 3 basic tips to help you take the first step.

Start Out With Light Weight

If you’re trying a lift for the very first time, err well to the side of safety. Don’t worry about getting the maximum benefit right away, and whatever you do, don’t worry about what other people are thinking -- they couldn’t care less. It’s much more important to learn the proper form for a lift and how that actually feels when you’re doing it, so that you can replicate that when you stack on more weight.

But even more elementary: You want to be sure you can get your full set done. If you fail the first time you try a lift, what are the odds you’ll try it again next time? If that means putting two 25-pound plates on the bar, so be it. You’ll move up pretty quickly.

If it’s really too easy, you can add weight. But if it’s too hard, you can get hurt.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Big 3

Bench Press
Deadlift Rack/Platform
Squat Rack

For the longest time, I was intimidated by the “Big 3” lifts: chest press, barbell squats and deadlifts. These are the lifts you think of when you think, “I pick things up and put them down.” They’re the ones you see the muscleheads doing, with lots of plates on the bar. And it’s easy to figure, “Hey, that’s just not for Regular Guys.”

First of all, every one of those guys had to try it for the first time, too. And if you’re listening to my advice, you’re starting out with a low weight. You’ll be fine.

The Big 3 lifts recruit the most major muscle groups of any strength training you can do. If you’re doing these three on a regular basis, you will work pretty much every muscle in your body. And that includes your core. If you do these three lifts, you will get stronger, no matter what else you’re working on.

Click on the links above for specifics about your form. Doing these movements correctly will give you the most benefit and put you at the lowest risk for getting hurt.

One big caveat here: You may be limited by an injury or simply from a lack of joint mobility. Even though I already said it in my disclaimer, I do want to emphasize this: If you're unsure of anything, enlist the help of a pro, and talk to your doctor if you need to.

Dumbbells Are OK

A good way to work up to the Big 3 is by using dumbbells to start. Though you can go heavy with dumbbells, you don’t have to. They offer some more flexibility with certain lifts. And you don’t have to worry about getting pinned under a barbell.

In some cases, dumbbells can even be better. With a barbell, your dominant hand or leg can do more of the work, and you might not even realize it. With dumbbells, each side is working independently, forcing you to do equal work.
  •  For chest press and deadlift, you don’t really have to do anything besides replace the barbell with dumbbells. Form remains the same.
  • Obviously, you can’t rest two dumbbells on your shoulders to do squats. Grab one and do a goblet squat, where you hold the dumbbell to your chest as if it were a goblet or chalice. Proceed with the squat.
  • And of course, you can use dumbbells for pretty much all the accessory lifts, such as curls, rows and vertical shoulder press.

Some Little Tips:
  • Use collars, even on deadlifts. You never want the plates to slide off the bar.
  • Wipe down the bench when you’re done. Don’t be gross.
  •  A standard barbell weighs 45 pounds before you add any plates.
  • Watch other guys in the gym, particularly ones who look like they’ve been doing this for a while.
  • Machines are good for pulls, such as rows, tricep pulldowns and lat pulldowns.. It’s OK to use them, too. 

Got any more great tips to help people get more comfortable lifting weights? Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

5 Dumb Little Tricks to Help With Pacing and Running Form

Do you feel like your running form is all over the place? Can you never seem to keep a consistent pace from run to run? Are you totally frustrated by either (or both) of those?

I'm not a running coach -- and I'm certainly not your running coach. But I have some neat little tricks that work for me, and maybe they'll work for you, too.
Turn Off the Tech
I have a really old smartphone. I could probably get money from an antiques dealer for it. And one of its problems is that it craps out completely when I use a GPS run-tracking app. So at some point I decided I would just have to use the stopwatch function, and log my runs after the fact. 

But something odd happened: Instead of depending on the voice from my phone to tell me how fast I was running, I got much better at understanding my own pace. I learned to pay attention to how hard I'm breathing, how much bounce is in my step, whether I'm engaging my glutes. When things feel the way I want them to for a particular run, I am usually within a few seconds per mile of where I want to be.

Focus on Your Breathing
They were running so hard their shoes flew off!
I mentioned that I learned to pay attention to my breathing when I turned off the tech. The "talk test" is my best barometer of how fast I'm going. I generally categorize it into Green, Yellow and Red.
  • Green: Can talk in full sentences without strain. Easy run pace.
  • Yellow: Can blurt out a sentence, but can't carry a conversation. 5K pace.
  • Red: Can barely get a word or two out.
    End-of-race pace.

Watch for Your Feet
If you've read anything about running form, you've almost certainly heard advice to avoid overstriding. It's good advice -- the farther out from your body's center of gravity, the more pressure there will be on your knees. You want a stride that will allow you to strike the ground with your calf perpendicular to the pavement. 

I have a real dumb trick for this, but it works: If I'm looking straight ahead and catch my feet in my peripheral vision, I'm overstriding. That's a good reminder to dial back.

You may be wondering how you can go faster if you don't lengthen your stride. The answer is hip mobility. The better you can rotate your hip joint, the longer you can stride without getting ahead of your body's weight. And you've probably heard me say it before: That means squats. Real squats. With a barbell. And heavy plates on it. Squats are the single best developer of hip mobility that I can think of.

Check Your Shadow
If you've been running for a while, you probably have a decent idea of how you look when you're doing things properly. If the sun is to one side or the other of you, you can glance at your shadow and get a sense of whether your form is how it's supposed to look.

Just be sure it's safe to look away from dead ahead. Don't do this in traffic, in a crowded race or on a technical trail.
Run With Your Dog
OK, I know this isn't an option for a lot of you. But I know that if Lily has to break into a canter, and not just trot, I'm into race pace. Sometimes that's what I want. But if I want to go easy, I try to keep her in a trot.

One caveat: If you don't stop your watch every time, you have to factor in poop, pee and sniff stops into your pace mentally. I'll often lose 30 seconds a mile this way.

What Are Your Tricks?
Everybody has some little trick for keeping things in order. I've shared my faves -- how about you? Sound off on Facebook, on Twitter or in the comments below!