Archive for September, 2006

Run a Faster Half Marathon by Starting Slower


You see it at the start of every race. As soon as the starting gun goes off, the runners lined up at the front sprint away at blistering speeds; everyone trying to avoid getting boxed up in the middle of the pack. And in the core of the pack, runners are pushing, shoving and maneuvering in a desperate effort to find some space and make their way forward.

Ironically, the majority of those runners lining up in front, just behind the professional invitation athletes, should never be there in the first place. Most of them are already huffing and puffing away after only 5km, all red faced and barely able to have a chat with their friends. Which leaves them with a long and manfully half marathon experience ahead.

What I would like to point out with this article is that if you have done sufficient distance training before your half marathon, you can improve your times, with less pain and quicker recovery, by having the right racing strategy. The principles I will be touching on can be applied to most distances, but I am basing my advice on personal experience, and the half marathon is my favourite distance.


Starting your half marathon too fast can kill your chances of running a personal best even before you reached the 5km marker. As a beginner, I did that to myself many times. When I learned to pace myself better at the start of the race (thanks to the guidance of my running mentor), my times started to improve significantly. I also became aware of how many runners actually start their races too fast. This was clear from the huge number of runners I would run past on my way, from as early as the 5km marker, all the way through to the end.

The truth is, you can always make up time after a slow start, as long as you do it gradually. But start out too fast, and it’s damage control all the way to the finish line. The lactic acid build-up is practically unavoidable. And it is only logic that you can’t reverse the impact of the hard work on your muscles, which you will have to deal with for the rest of the race.


The biggest reason for starting out too fast, is the pre-race buildup and excitement. You’re all excited, fired up and ready to go. The anticipation of waiting for the starting gun is no help at all. We are using the same starting technique for a 800m track race and a 21.1km road race, so it’s understandable that we get a little over excited. However, the excitement is the reason that you start out running much faster than you feel you are running at that moment. My rule of thumb is that if I should feel like I’m running too slowly, I can always check my pace at the first distance marker, and rely on fact rather than emotion.

Bad pace judgment is another reason, and is often linked to the excitement problem. You might be trying to pace yourself, but your brain is sending the wrong messages to your legs, like “this pace feels way too slow, surely we should be running faster”. Sometimes there is even a complete lack of pace judgment. If you are going to try for a personal best (PB), you should know what your target pace per km is for the race.

Positioning yourself too far up front in the starting line-up is another big mistake to make. If you are in a group of people that will run faster than what you are capable of, you will get swept along and start too fast. As mentioned earlier, most runners at the front of the pack start out at a pace that they will never be able too maintain, and unless you have a very good self discipline and pace judgment, you will do exactly the same if you find yourself among them.


Experiment with moving yourself further down the pack in the starting line-up than you normally would. This is a good way to force yourself to a slower start if your self discipline is not good enough.

Compare the alternatives. Let’s use an example and say you are trying to break 90 minutes for the half marathon. That gives you a target pace of 4:15 per km. Scenario #1 is that you are 45 seconds off pace after the first kilometer, too fast. In other words, you ran it in 3:30. Scenario #2 is that you ran it 45 seconds too slow, at 5:00. In this scenario you have 20km left to catch to the target pace, at 2.25 seconds per kilometer. This is easily achievable, if done gradually. Consider this in comparison to scenario #1. There is not much you can do to compensate for the quick start. Of course you can slow down, but that does not undo the damage of fatigue caused by running faster than you should have. If you had the choice, wouldn’t you rather be in scenario #2? If you think these scenario’s are too extreme, think again. I have done both of them myself when I just started running half marathons.

Find a partner to team up with for the first few kilometers. You can help each other to maintain the right pace for the start. My running coach and mentor usually had a group of up to 8 runners from our training group with him at the start. We would stick together and help each other keep a decent pace. After about 7km’s the group would break up as runners perused their individual goals.

Practice makes perfect. If you are already hooked on the mentality that a fast start is a good start, its going to be tough to break the habit. A helpful tool is a stopwatch with enough memory to store lap times of each kilometer in your race. You can then analyze different races by comparing how you maintained your pace in slow start races, versus fast start races. Seeing it on paper can be very convincing.


Having a good starting strategy has helped me improve my times over the half marathon, and I really believe that lots of runners reap the same benefits, regardless of what level runner you are.

Remember: You don’t make your race in the first 5 km’s, but you can break it.

To your running success…

Waldo Pienaar is a former competitive runner, who competed in middle distance track racing at high school, and converted to road racing and cross-country while studying at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. A combination of injuries and his career as an accountant has since limited his running to a social level, but he still enjoys researching information on health and training.

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Posted by The Running Guy - September 30, 2006 at 9:46 am

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Two Simple Techniques to Improve Your Running Efficiency

Much of the activity of running requires less effort than you think. One of these is the leg swing, a movement that makes up a considerable amount of the action. Many runners use a kicking action to bring their foot forward for the next stride yet this use a tremendous amount of unnecessary effort. Once your foot is off the floor it requires no effort at all for it to swing through. Try the following exercise to appreciate how to run more efficiently.

1. Sit on the edge of a table so the whole of your upper legs down to the knees are in contact.

2. Bring back your left leg until it is underneath the table and then let it go so it swings forward. It is important to let it go and not to swing it forward yourself.

3. Let alternate legs swing with minimal effort (just give them a little nudge) and think of each leg as a pendulum. If you are experiencing the need to make them swing by using your hamstrings or quadriceps, think of the space at the back of your knee joint and let go from there.

The same applies to using the shoulders and arms when running. Let’s try a similar experiment with your arms.

1. Stand and think of a line from the tip of your shoulders through the biceps, down the arm to your thumbs. Or just think ‘long arms’.

2. As with the legs, see if you can get your arms swinging straight and by your side with a minimal effort without lifting your shoulders.

Now let your arms bend at the elbow; place your thumb lightly on your index finger, keep your fingers relaxed and again swing your arms without the shoulders lifting. Your hands should be relaxed, nether clenched into a fist or fingers held straight.

These actions of your limbs will help to propel you forward whilst running but require less effort than most runners use.

Roy Palmer is a teacher of The Alexander Technique and has studied performance enhancement in sport for the last 10 years. In 2001 he published a book called ‘The Performance Paradox: Challenging the conventional methods of sports training and exercise’ and is currently working on a new project about The Zone. Please click Running Technique for more information about his unique approach to training.

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Posted by The Running Guy - September 25, 2006 at 7:40 pm

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Barefoot Running: Is It For You?

In an age of high priced athletic shoes and broken glass on streets, barefoot running is a rare sight. But, more coaches and trainers are turning to barefoot training for their runners and now recreational athletes, tired of expensive shoes and lower extremities injuries, are picking up on this new trend. It is actually not so new, as people have been running barefoot for hundreds of years. Zola Budd made barefoot running famous by breaking the women’s 5000 meter world record in 1984, running barefoot. So, why are we all paying high dollar for cloth and rubber to surround our feet? Are shoes the problem or the solution? Many are not in agreement about barefoot running and the debate between barefoot proponents, coaches, trainers, runners and podiatrists is in full swing.


Barefoot proponents claim that the shod foot (foot enclosed in a shoe) becomes weak over time when it is constricted. They also claim that the body is unable to sense the ground and adapt appropriately. This inability to sense and adapt appropriately leads to injury. The body spends more energy when running in a shoe, than when running barefoot. Some runners claim that the few scratches on their feet were much less painful than the blisters they normally have to deal with after a half or full marathon.


The scientific evidence supporting barefoot running is lacking. A few small studies have supported barefoot running. One study in the Internal Journal of Sports Medicine found that there is actually less impact on the feet while running barefoot because of the way the body adjusts to the impact. Another study found that the body uses about 4% more energy while running in shoes as compared to running barefoot. In underdeveloped countries with both shod and unshod feet, comparisons have shown a higher rate of injuries in the shod foot.


Opponents don’t find these studies convincing and claim that these studies were too small or not carried out properly. They point to the fact that the study in underdeveloped countries and point out that this tells us very little about injuries and performance in developed countries.

Those opposing barefoot running do so for many reasons. Podiatrists, in general, are some of the more vocal in opposition to barefoot running. The biggest reason for opposition is foot protection. Puncture wounds are the greatest concern for those running without any protective shoe gear. Many podiatrists feel that blisters and injury are due to ill-fitting shoes, not all shoes.

Many argue that since our ancestors did their walking and running barefoot, we should too. But, the surfaces we walk on today are much more rigid and less forgiving than the grass, dirt and even stone roads our ancestors walked on. Glass and metal shards are common on roads and were not a major concern even a few hundred years ago.

There are different types of feet. Some people have very high arch feet and some people have very low arch feet. Some foot types may adapt well to barefoot running, but that doesn’t mean all foot types will. The mechanics of the foot are extremely complicated. Individuals who overpronate (rotate in) and have a flexible and flat foot type, typically need a more supportive shoe and sometimes a custom made orthotic. Individuals with a very rigid, high arch foot type, place a tremendous amount of pressure on the outside of their feet and may need a shoe or insert to help even this pressure out. Both of these individuals would most likely end up with injuries if they attempted to run barefoot.

The general rule is that if you aren’t having any problems with injuries or performance in your current running shoes, don’t change anything. If, on the other hand, your feet fall somewhere in between a high and a low arch and you have bought every expensive shoe and insert on the market, but continue to get injured, you might consider trying barefoot running. If barefoot running is something you would like to try, make sure to gradually work into it. Puncture wounds, scraps, cuts and bruises are likely unless you choose your surface wisely. Start on grass or a soft surface. Consider sand at the beach or even going to the track. Start gradually and slowly.

A Word About Shoes

An ill-fitting shoe can be the cause of many lower extremity injuries. A shoe can put your foot at the wrong angle to your knee and hip, leading to potential injury. A shoe that is too tight can cause blisters at the toes and toenail problems. A shoe that is too loose may lead to tendonitis or cause blistering at the heel. A shoe that is too flexible may contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis (heel and arch pain). A good shoe does not need to be expensive. When looking for a running shoe, make sure the midsole is supportive. Test this by grabbing the toe area and the heel area and try to bend the shoe in half. If it folds in the middle of the shoe, it is too flexible and will not support the foot. Make sure there is enough room at the toe box. Check the heel counter and make sure the heel counter is stiff enough to hold the heel in place to avoid blisters. Above all, make sure that the shoe is comfortable. Wear them around the house, on the carpet, before going out for a run.


There are probably a few individuals who could improve their performance and decrease their rate of injury by running barefoot. But, before you toss your shoes in the garbage can and head out for a run with naked feet, consider a better fitting shoe. Barefoot running is not recommended for individuals with a high arch, a very low arch, those who overpronate or those with diabetes. If you do decide to give barefoot running a try, choose the running surface carefully and be aware of puncture wounds.

Christine Dobrowolski is a podiatrist and the author of Those Aching Feet: Your Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment of Common Foot Problems. To learn more about Dr. Dobrowolski and her book, visit Ski Publishing. To learn more about products for feet, visit Northcoast Footcare.

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Posted by The Running Guy - September 20, 2006 at 9:11 pm

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Running Nutrition Tips

Running nutrition is essential before an athlete or a routine-bound runner starts engaging on a fast-paced activity like marathon training, it is always important to make sure the body is in good condition with enough energy and endurance resources to overcome obstacles and meet daily goals. Without the proper diet and running nutrition, our body won’t be at its best fit to achieve what it needs to do. A runner should be knowledgeable about his diet and food intake; after all, our body is still our main foundation for any physical activities. The things mentioned here will help you realize to correct our diet intake on the right time for your running nutrition. This will help you make your own ideal diet and contribute to the development of your body weight. When you have accumulated all these running nutrition ideas, it will ensure the good output of your health before, during and after your workouts.

Carbohydrates or carbs as how it’s simply known is the main source of our body’s energy. Glucose is the sugar component that carbs produce and it’s essential to our muscles. The stored carbs in our muscles is called glycogen. This helps us achieve and execute our daily tasks properly. Best sources of carbs are vegetables, bread, cereals, pastas and potatos.

Protein is also vital for the body since we consume our strength through daily physical activities. Our body needs to repair itself and regain the loss strength by the previous task. To maintain protein in our body, meat, eggs, nuts and beans are the best sources we need to take.

Fuel yourself with sufficient water everyday or even before and after training. It is best to maximize your water intake since our body is ¾ water composed. Since running consumes most of your energy and water supply, it is advisable to drink water consistently, hydrate yourself so the heat released by the muscle to keep up with you while you run is regularized and prevented from rising too high. Being thirsty affects your running endurance so always be mindful of your liquid intake.

Don’t go out there if you haven’t eaten the right amount of food. Runners tend to skip breakfast for the reason that they want to start early. But the night before, the stomach has already consumed the food stored from last night meal since it never stops its grinding process. They won’t realize what they’ve missed until they find out later during the run. It is still best to follow what moms always say; breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Having said all these main running nutrition tips, we still need one more ingredient to mention. A balanced natural supplement intake is the best way to complete your running nutrition list. But don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like a natural, well-balanced diet with fruits, vegetables and other non-processed foods. Anti-oxidants supplement runner’s normal dietary intake. So go ahead, grab that apple!

– Maui Aguilar

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Posted by The Running Guy - September 3, 2006 at 9:14 pm

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