woman running up hill

Maintain a consistent effort as you run up hills.

If you’re like most runners, you dread hills, complain about them, trudge through them and even avoid them. But hills can be your allies, even your secret running weapons. Doing hill workouts improves your running power, strengthening the muscles that make you a faster runner. Hills can also boost your endurance. Once you know how to use them, hills can be the place where you make winning moves in races. When other runners crumble, you will triumph.

Here’s how to make hills work for you:

  • Be consistent. Many runners panic at the onset of a hill, expending extra effort driving up the hill at the beginning, losing steam by the middle and all-out struggling to maintain a jog by the top. You want to exert only slightly more effort running uphill than you do on flat surfaces. Strive to maintain that effort level until you pass the top of the hill.
  • Relax, hills don’t bite. The extra effort of running uphill can be enough to make you nervous, but take a deep breath and relax. Be confident that you can do it and your body will be more relaxed, making it easier to reach the top of the hill. Panicking will cause your muscles to tighten up and your breathing to become shallow, making your uphill run more of a battle than it needs to be.
  • Focus on form. Your running form will not only help you reach the top more smoothly but will give you something to think about besides the hill. Drive your arms forward and back as you run up the hill, eliminating any sideways motion. Take shorter than normal strides up the hill, lifting your knees enough to propel you upwards. Keep your chest up and posture straight, leaning forward slightly if you need to but not slumping over.
  • Maintain your pace through the crest of the hill. Many runners expend too much energy running hills and slow down near the top. If you’ve maintained a consistent effort level, you will be able to run through the top of the hill and then smoothly transition to your regular stride. This is a good time to pass people in races as the runners who expended too much energy on the hill fall back, struggling.
  • Congratulate yourself, you made it up the hill! And welcome the next one as a familiar ally, knowing you’ve made peace with the beast.
frozen yogurt scale

Frozen yogurt can be a healthy snack.

Whether it’s a 3 p.m. slump or late-night craving, your body knows when you need an energy boost. And since you run and burn more calories per minute than almost all other exercisers, you can eat whatever you want, right? Unfortunately not. But don’t worry, you can still find tasty foods that fill you up, giving you an energy boost for your next run.

Here are some quick tips for healthy snacking:

  • Think like a goat. Go for plant foods of all sorts as they tend to be high in vitamins and nutrients and free of “bad fats” like trans fats and saturated fat. Stock up on fresh fruits and veggies to snack on at home, and carry along seeds, nuts and whole grain snack bars when you’re on the go.
  • Pack up. Stash healthy snacks at work, in your car and in your purse, briefcase or bag. Keeping healthy foods on hand will hold you over between meals and allow you to ditch your vending machine habit or skip the drive-thru fries after work.
  • Eat like a kid. You can still enjoy some sweet treats or junk food favorites once in a while, just in moderation. Have a kid-sized portion by eating just one or two cookies, a small bowl of ice cream or a handful of chips. Allowing yourself to eat some junk food once in a while can satisfy your cravings so you’re less likely to gorge yourself in desperation and then bask in guilt.
  • Substitute. Try low-fat or low-calorie versions of your favorite snacks. If the craving for ice cream hits, go for some fat-free fro-yo topped with fruit. If it’s chips you’re after, try crunching on some whole grain chips, pita chips or homemade popcorn instead.
  • Eat in more than out. Most restaurants have a lot of fat and salt in their food, as it’s mass produced and often not made with low-fat or low-calorie ingredients. There are, of course, healthy options for eating out, but many items you think are healthy often are not. I went through a phase of looking up nutrition information for a lot of restaurants and I was shocked to learn of the high fat content in a Quizno’s veggie sub (31 grams of fat in a small one), for instance. Save yourself some money and excess calories by eating at home as much as possible.
eating at coffee shop

If you eat out, go for small portion sizes and lean meats or veggies.

So you’ve been kicking butt with your running program, recording your runs, getting all fancy with new running gear and sharing your running progress with everyone who’s anyone (that is, anyone on your social networks). And it’s been a whole week and you’ve only taken off that one night to go drinking…oh and that one day your head hurt…and the time you got lost in the parking lot and walked extra, which must count as a workout, right?

If you go on a short vacation, take a break from running and just relax and do your slacker thing.

Ok, so the running routine can get old, especially after the initial excitement wears off and you don’t look like a before and after commercial. And let’s face it, as slackers, we’re not exactly known for stick-to-it-ness. But before you toss your new running shoes to the back of the closet, try these tips to keep you running without getting bored and apathetic:

  • Prioritize. How many things in your life do you really need to do? The key to slacking successfully is to just pick a few things to stick with, and forget the rest. We’re not trying to be rocket scientists or world leaders here, we just wanna get fit and live in a slackerish ease. So forget that gym membership you never use, ditch the extra activities in your schedule and streamline your social life. Unfortunately work will have to stay on the priority list, but other than that, stop committing to all those activities you probably won’t stick with anyways. Just do a few consistently and you’ll be less stressed and have less people’s expectations on your shoulders. This will also garner you social points by preventing you from being that annoying, well-rounded person who does everything.

Running is one of the few things I've stuck with in my life, and I can help you stick with it too.

  • Combine activities. Got a date? Need more time with your kids or family? Take advantage of your relationship and drag the other person on a run with you, in the name of “quality time.” This way you can combine your obligations and expend less time and energy than if you did everything separately. You will get extra points for being a positive influence in another’s life (seriously, running’s one of the best gifts you can give someone, and it’s free).
  • Reward yourself. When it comes down to it, we all enjoy a pat on the back in some form or other. Choose something you enjoy (well, except a bacon burger or box of doughnuts — ok, let’s just say stay away from the food rewards) and give it to yourself once you complete all of your workouts each week. Your gift to yourself doesn’t have to be big, but remember, it’s the thought that counts, and since you’re giving it to yourself, you won’t wanna slack here.
  • Rest. This step should be the easiest for you, but sometimes the honeymoon phase of a new workout plan can make even the most dedicated of slackers googley-eyed and giddy to run for days on end. Even if you don’t want to, give yourself one to two days of rest per week so your body can recover from your runs, and your mind can also vacate the workout circuit. Play video games, lounge, eat, talk, shop or just do nothing on your off days. And before you know it, you’ll be rarin’ to go again (or ok, at least plodding out the door) on your next run.

Whether you’re running your first 5K race or have trudged through a few, some race day tips can help you not only survive the race but maybe even enjoy it. Here are some words of wisdom for slackers everywhere:

  • Me beating a guy at the end of the Urbanathlon race.

    Pre-register for the race. I know it may be against your procrastination tendencies, but you will have to get up extra early on race day if you haven’t registered yet, and there may be a line of other slackers waiting to register too. This can cut into your pre-race bathroom time or even make you late to the starting line. Then there’s no chances of winning this thing. Plus pre-registering can save you a few bucks to drink with later.

  • Don’t go out too fast. There’s nothing that says newbie quite like a sprinter at the beginning of the race who dies less than half a mile in. Save some dignity and your lungs by pacing yourself. It feels much better to pass people at the end than to die during a race and get passed, even if you get the same overall finish time.
  • Sprint to the finish line. This will get people excited and garner you applause no matter how slow you’ve been running the rest of the race. Make a nice show of it and congratulate the finishers around you at the end. You are truly a champ.
  • Grab the best food right after the race. Everyone snatches up free stuff, so beat them to the best snacks and drinks by walking straight to the food tents after the race. Once you get your goodies, go stretch, with your treats safely secured by your side. Now you won’t have to snack on a plain bagel and green sports drink leftovers.
  • Bask in your glory. Impress all your slacker friends, your mom and anyone else who’s easily wowed by taking home a finishing prize. Most races offer free T-shirts to all entrants, at the least, and some offer finishing medals and ribbons too. Display yours with pride. You plodded through 3.1 miles for that thing.

Trails with a flat, unpaved surface are ideal for long runs because of the cushioning for your legs.

Long runs aren’t just for marathoners — novice runners can benefit from an extended, slow-paced run as well. A weekly long run can help you build your endurance and running efficiency, improving your fitness level while burning lots of calories. After an hour of slow running, your body will tap into fat burning mode instead of burning carbs. Long runs can therefore be an asset in your weight loss program as well as a tool to help you run faster in races of all distances by improving your stamina.

Here are a few quick tips on how to incorporate the long run into your training program:

  • Do a long run once a week, on a day after an easy workout or rest day.
  • Take a rest day or do an easy run the day after your long run so your body can recuperate.
  • Gradually add miles to your long run. Start with the longest distance you’ve run in the past two weeks and add one mile a week to your long run. Every third week, keep your long run distance the same as the week before, then continue increasing the mileage the following week.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink water every few miles, or try sports drinks for distances over 10 miles. Runners’ tolerance for sports drinks varies, so test them out on your long runs before deciding to drink them during a race. Water is always a healthy fluid option that is less likely to cause stomach upset.
  • Eat something within 30 minutes of finishing your long run. Eating will help replenish depleted glycogen so your muscles can recover more quickly. Try a piece of fruit for a quick sugar surge.
  • During runs of 10 miles or longer, try sports gels, bars or drinks to give your body an energy boost. Experiment with different flavors and consistencies to determine what works best for your stomach and energy level.
  • Eat a large meal within a few hours after your long run. You will need to resupply lost nutrients in your body as well as satisfy what is probably a huge appetite after running. Just remember to keep your choices healthy, especially if your goal is weight loss. A long run is not a free pass to pig out on fried foods, junk food and candy, or you’ll cancel out some of the benefits of your run.

Dennis the zombie slayer has been having a successful week of training and is well on his way to outrunning any wayward zombies. After our initial meeting, I decided on a running plan for him that he can do at the track located right up the street from his house. The track offers a cushioned surface that will be easier on his knee than cement or black top, and Dennis likes being able to walk there and back. He is also stretching before and after working out to help increase his flexibility and prevent injuries or pain, especially in his knee.

Dennis has been following his plan with dedication plus doing extra every day to meet his goal of burning 400 calories each workout. Here is his basic training plan:

  • Walk two laps to warm up
  • Run one lap at 9-minute to 10-minute mile pace
  • Walk two laps
  • Run one lap at 9-minute to 10-minute mile pace
  • Walk two laps
  • Run one lap at 9-minute to 10-minute mile pace
  • Walk two laps
  • Run one lap at 9-minute to 10-minute mile pace
  • Walk two laps
Total distance: 3.5 miles
I told Dennis to aim for 10-minute mile pace and he has been staying on track with running speeds ranging from 9-minute mile pace to 10-minute mile pace. Today his average running pace was 9:20-minute miles and he increased his running speed by the end of the workout, a good sign that he has energy left. He added some extra walking at the end of today’s workout as well as a stride — or burst of speed for a short distance — for the last 200 meters. He then walked home to stretch, satisfied with burning more than 400 calories during the one hour and 6-minute workout.
Dennis has been continuing to use his Cardio Trainer app on his Android phone to calculate his calories burned, distance and time. He also got new running shoes — Asics Numbus 12 — from the mall, which were bothering him in the heels by the end of the workout, and gave him blisters. The shoes are for neutral to high-arched feet so the store advised him to get the wrong shoes because Dennis has low arches and needs more arch support and motion control features. I advised returning them or exchanging them for a better fit.

Being as popular and successful as she is, Yessi has been quite in demand and busy, so we’ve parted ways for some of our workouts. But Yessi continues to follow her running program, and I can even peep her stats as she posts her Cardio Trainer results on Facebook. Yessi said she has been getting through the workouts pretty well and following the plan of increasing her running minutes and decreasing her walking. She has been running in the evenings instead of the mornings and ran especially fast one night when it got dark in a sketchy area. I know that feeling~ nothing like fear to make you run faster.

Here is a summary of what Yessi is doing for her third week of training:

  • 5-minute walk to warm up
  • 7 minutes running
  • 3 minutes walking
  • 7 minutes running
  • 3 minutes walking
  • 7 minutes running
  • 3 minutes walking to cool down
Total workout time: 35 minutes
Yessi has no major complaints or concerns at this point. She said she has been running along side the paved running path — in the grass — sometimes to get a softer running surface and prevent joint pain. Her Cardio Trainer app also helps her stay on track and know when to start and stop her intervals.

Related posts: Phone Apps to Track Your Runs

Nike+ offers an iPhone app.

Measuring your runs has come a long way from the stopwatch days. Running watches can now map your location, determine your pace, heart rate, distance and split times as well as the amount of calories you burn. If you’re an iPhone addict, an Android fanatic or simply want an easily accessible, inexpensive (or in some cases, free) method to track your runs, mobile run apps offer GPS systems that can determine your speed, distance, location and calories burned during workouts.

There are a variety of running apps for smartphones to choose from. The apps often include their own social networks if you want to share your workouts with friends and cheer each other on. Most apps also allow you to send your results to your Twitter and Facebook networks.

  • Cardio Trainer is a free fitness app for Android phones which includes a GPS system that maps your runs, as well as a pedometer that measures your run distance. The app includes a voice notification system that gives you updates while running. Cardio Trainer also calculates how many calories you burn each workout and can be synced to share your results on Facebook.
  • Nike+ offers a GPS running app that can be synced with your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. The app is $1.99 from iTunes. The system can map your run, determine your pace, offer voice feedback and allow you to hear cheers from your friends on Nike+. Nike+ has its own social network which you can sync with Twitter and Facebook if you want to broadcast your runs to a wider audience.
  • MapMyRun is a mobile app for iPhones, Blackberries and Android phones. The app uses your phone’s GPS technology to determine your run location, distance and pace, as well as calculate the amount of calories you burn. The app includes access to an online community to compete with and encourage other runners. You can sync MapMyRun with your Facebook and Twitter accounts. MapMyRun can also connect with Nike+ systems and Garmin running watches.

Dennis near the St. Charles High School track after our first workout.

“I want to be able to run in case of a zombie attack,” Dennis says, of his training goals. Besides fending off zombies, Dennis wants to lose weight before his 35th birthday on August 2. “I feel like if I’m out of shape when I turn 35, I’ll be that way for life,” he says.

Dennis’ goal is to lose 30 lbs. He currently works out lifting weights a couple of times a week as well as uses the elliptical machine at the gym regularly. Dennis tore his ACL in his knee a few years ago, and has gained weight since then, he says. He’s never been much of a runner but is willing to give it a try to get in shape. His doctor has approved running as a form of exercise for him, and I am monitoring to make sure he doesn’t experience any knee pain from our training.

Our first training session helped us both glean background information and allowed me to come up with a training program that would work well for Dennis. We did a lot of stretching and Dennis wore his knee brace, and we ran on a soft surface — a track and then grass — to ease pressure on his knee. I recommended he run on a track or dirt trail to minimize the pressure on his legs, as well as get new shoes (he says his are old and worn) with motion control features and extra arch support because Dennis says he has low arches.

Dennis training plan for his first week of workouts (with five workouts per week) is:

  • Two laps walking on the track (or .5 miles on the treadmill)
  • One lap running on the track (or .25 miles on treadmill)
  • Two laps walking
  • One lap running
  • Two laps walking
  • One lap running
  • Two laps walking
  • One lap running
  • Two laps walking to cool down
Total distance: 3.5 miles
Total running distance: 1 mile
Notes: Dennis is naturally athletic and tends to run at a fast pace and take on more than he can handle at times. I am trying to help him build endurance and maintain a steady pace by aiming for 10-minute mile pace during the running segments. So far Dennis is doing well and is looking into phone apps (considering the CardioTrainer app for Android phones, which Yessi uses) to help measure his pace and time while running.

Running outdoors can be challenging but rewarding, with perks ranging from scenic landscapes to the primal excitement of exploring the world around you on foot. But the weather can put a wrench in your plans with rain, sleet, snow and extreme heat or cold. Many runners dread treadmills — let’s face it, the monotony of running in place can be far from thrilling. But treadmills can be an asset in your running program, helping you to get in a workout when the weather would otherwise have you bouncing off the walls or stuffing your face inside.

Here are 7 tips to stay sane and focused on the treadmill, and continue making progress in your running:

  1. Listen to music. Tune out the sound of your breathing and give yourself something to focus on other than the wall with some upbeat running tunes. Create your own workout mix to keep you pumped while you run.
  2. Do circuit training. The treadmill offers an ideal place to do the running portion of circuit training because you can have your weights or yoga mat nearby to jump right into your strength training intervals. Circuit training also breaks up the monotony of treadmill running by giving you other activities to do between short bursts of running.
  3. Adjust the incline. Make your treadmill run a game and add variety by running for a set distance at different incline levels. Run half of a mile at 2.0 incline, for instance, one mile at 1.0, half mile at 3.0 and finish fast, with no incline.
  4. Do intervals. Take advantage of the treadmill’s ability to tell exactly how far and fast you are running by doing intervals. Run repeats at about 85-percent effort level, alternating with equally timed periods of walking.
  5. Change the scenery. Try a different gym or even a different treadmill than your usual one at the gym to change up your limited scenery a bit. If your treadmill is at home, position it to face out a window or in front of a TV so you have something to watch while you run.
  6. Challenge yourself. Fire up your competitive spirit and try to go further or faster than your last treadmill run. Set a goal pace for each mile to break down your run into manageable sections.
  7. Record your results. Knowing that you’ll have to post your results will help you stay motivated to get your run done. If you share your results on running sites (like Dailymile or Nike+) and or social networks, you’ll have extra motivation to keep movin forward on the treadmill and in your training program.

Related posts: Burn Fat with Circuit Training, How to Get Faster with Interval Training