Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Happy Trails to You"

Ok, I was inspired to write today after my wonderful run in the woods this morning.  No, it was not the best run of my life, but it's Spring and the weather was beautiful. I was outside...........enjoying all that nature has to offer.  To me, it does not get much better than that. Of course I know not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about hitting the trails, but maybe just maybe you will, at the very least, find your interest peeked after reading this article.  I too was a skeptic about the idea of running in the woods, on gravel, through the dirt and mud, streams, puddles, creeks, etc. that usually occupy most park trails.  If you choose to run trails in the Fall or Winter, then you can add snow and ice to the list of obstacles you must traverse to get through a run.  However, after my first venture into the world of trail running, I rediscovered something I truly loved; Nature.  Yes, believe it or not, we get to experience one of the greatest gifts of life our planet offers at its very best anytime we want and best of all, it's totally and completely free! Lace up a pair of running shoes and take off on your own little adventure. I can't tell you how many times I've been on the trails and seen such amazing things like rabbits, deer, red tailed hawks, geese, foxes, owls, raccoons, and of course the occasional runner (HA!) All this for the price of a Powerade® Zero (my personal favorite) or Gatorade® and a little snack.

Let me preface all of this by stating up front that trailing running is not the easiest running you will ever do. Will you run the same pace you run on the road, no.  Will you run as far as you run on the road, no again. What trail running will do for you is help strengthen your core, ankles, calfs, quads, and hamstrings while improving your cardiovascular health and at the same time help protect your knees and ankles with a softer base to help absorb the impact. I don't know about everyone else but as I age, I need to protect my joints and muscles as much as possible so I can keep doing the things I love. Stretching everyday is another great way to maintain strength and flexibility as we age, but that's another issue. Anyway, it just makes sense to take advantage of something that is available everywhere, will improve your overall health and strength, and cost nothing.  The other great benefit I have found from doing some consistent trail training is that I can generally run further, faster, and with less effort out on the road.  That alone should be incentive enough for most runners.  Improve your times with nothing more than a change of venue for your training runs.  Now that's powerful stuff.

Adidas Vigor TR 2
Now that I have you thinking a bit, let's look at what you will need to enjoy your run.  As for clothing, you can wear the same thing you wear on any other run.  What you really need to focus on
is your footwear. I cannot say this enough; Trail Shoes Trail Shoes Trail Shoes. I have run trails in both regular road shoes and trail specific shoes and there is no comparison with regards to comfort and stability on the trails.  Plus, who wants to run through a muddy creek in their favorite running shoes.  Trails shoes are made specifically to perform in adverse conditions. I have run in several different manufacturers shoes, but I must say my current favorite is the Adidas Vigor.  I purchased this pair recently and went for my first run in them about a week ago.  I was surprised to find how well the tread gripped the varying material on the trails and how stable they felt.  I also found them well cushioned and left my feet feeling relaxed after a long run.  As for socks, I highly recommend getting some crew running socks like the Balega Trail Buster II.
Balega Trail Buster II
A crew sock will help keep the dirt and rocks out of your shoe making stops to clean your shoes out a lot less frequent.   Of course there are a ton of different shoes and socks available, so please do some research and find what works best for you.  That's really about it, all of your other running gear works just the same on the trails. So make a plan, set a date and get outside and go for a run.  In the words of the singing cowboy Roy Rogers "Happy Trails to You, until We Meet Again"!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

To Gel or Not to Gel

Well Spring has sprung and if you are like me, you knew several weeks ago Spring was coming early to the deep South when the pollen was out in force long before the official start of the season.  At any rate, the moderate temps and good weather of Spring are here and it seems to put a call out to everyone that it's time to get outside again and shake off the haze of winter.  As we hit the roads and trails again, one issue seems to always bubble up to the surface and plague runners and multi-sport athletes at all levels.  The problem is knowing when they should use an energy gel and when they should leave them at home.  We all can benefit from gels as long as they are used in the proper manner. To use them properly we need to understand them better, which in turn, will change the way we look at gels.   

On the most basic level energy gels are sports drinks without the water, think of dehydrated Gatorade® or Powerade®. A gel, is a concentrated carbohydrate source that can serve as relief from "Oh my gosh, I think I'm gonna die" in the middle of a long run, they can give you a boost at the end of a race, they can be a compliment to your endurance nutrition or a pre-recovery start for your fueling requirements after a long race or training day. I am a believer in gels from my own personal experience, but gels are not for everyone and they do not all work the same.  They all provide the same basic nutrition which is complex carbohydrates and little if any protein or fat.  They are around 110 calories but different manufactures derive their carbs from different sources.  GU gets its energy from maltodextrin and fructose while Clif derives theirs from brown rice syrup and PowerGel or PowerBar gel uses glucose, fructose, and sodium as it sources.  All of these are usually easy to digest and quickly absorbed to provide you with that extra boost of energy.  If you are a regular user of gels, then you have probably tried all of the different ones from HammerGel to GU.  

The one thing I do not recommend is trying a gel for the first time at a race.  When you are nervous or hot and sweaty, if you put something new on your stomach it might not react well.  I recommend trying them on a training day first before attempting to use them in a race.  Learn which ones seem to work better for you and how your body reacts.  I personally like GU and HammerGel, they seem to give me the kick I need on those rough days and boost my performance during races. 

As for how best to use them, most manufacturers agree that you should take one about 15 minutes before the start of a long run or endurance activity and then again every 30-45 minutes during your activity.  They need to be consumed with 240 ml (or about 8 oz) of liquid, preferably water since these are basically dehydrated minerals and electrolytes. If you are planning to run for around 45 minutes to and hour, unless you have missed your regular meals that day or you have been eating poorly, a gel probably will not be necessary.  You should have enough carbs stored as glycogen in your liver and glucose in your blood to sustain you through a workout that length.  On the other hand if you are planning to go beyond and hour, then you need to think seriously about adding a gel or some type of nutrition to your routine to replace those lost nutrients.  Some of us might think well I have plenty of fat to burn so I dont need to add more calories in just because I am working out longer.  Unfortunately fat is metabolized so slowly, it is a poor source of energy and the last thing the body will use.  The body will burn the glucose in your blood first and then the liver will convert glycogen to glucose and release it into the blood to help maintain your energy level. When those glucose and glycogen levels fall, so does your energy level and performance. That is the reason it is so important to replenish your carbohydrate stores when you are pushing your body to perform for long periods of time.

While I am no expert, hopefully this helps explain the basic chemistry that takes place in your body when you exercise.  I know we all want to perform our best every time we go out for a run, swim, or long bike ride.  I firmly believe you are best at understanding your own body and it's needs.  You know how you feel and what affects you better than anyone.  With all of the sources of quick energy and "Nutrition" available today, you have to do a little research to find what works best for you.