Ultimate Fitness Trackers

Getting into shape, losing weight, and moving more each day are all really tough to do. An activity tracker can help, though. Seeing how much exercise you get (or don’t get), day-by-day and week-by-week, can motivate you to start taking the stairs more or walking the dog an extra lap around the block. At the very least, it will make you more mindful of your present activity level, which is a huge first step to getting fit.

The best fitness trackers on the market today are highly evolved cousins of pedometers from yesteryear. They’re smarter, more accurate, and do a whole lot more than measure how much you walk. Paired with a companion Web account, mobile app, and maybe a few auxiliary devices, they give you better insight into the habits that make up your lifestyle, including sleep, calorie consumption, heart rate, blood pressure, and more. And many fitness tracker are waterproof for swimming.

New devices turn up on online shopping sites every month. But not all of them track everything you’d expect, and not all are worth your money. If you’re shopping for your first activity tracker, I encourage you to find one that will be best for you and your needs. Take a look at my advice for how to choose a fitness tracker for more help on that front.

If you’ve owned an activity tracker before, you might have a better idea of what you want in a new one, but if you need to shake up your routine, I’d recommend getting a tracker with a heart rate monitor. Two that I love are the Basis Peak andMio Fuse, and both are Editors’ Choice products. The Basis is great for everyday activities, including bicycling, and it has sleep-tracking, too. The Mio Fuse is more for athletic types because its heart rate monitor has unique features that make it excellent for heart rate training. Fuse also tracks pace when you run and has a stopwatch feature (the Basis Peak does not), although Fuse lacks sleep-monitoring functionality.

If you’re only dipping your toe into the fitness tracking movement for the first time, don’t feel bad about starting with a simpler device, like the Misfit Flash or Jawbone UP Move. These low-cost options will let you get a taste for the basics of activity tracking without spending a fortune.

Whether your health goals are modest or you’re hoping for a full fitness transformation, using a personal fitness tracking device can go a long way toward helping you understand if the exercise and health habits you keep are contributing to the new you.

The Basics of Foam Rolling

You may have heard of foam rolling—you might even own one of the tube-shaped torture devices—but even then, the questions remain: How long should you roll for? What areas? Where do you start? What does a foam roller even do?

Self-myofascial release, otherwise known as self-massage, is a key component of a runner’s well-rounded recovery routine. It tackles tight muscles and works to increase mobility, flexibility and all-around effectiveness during training.

“If you want to run well, you need to do mobility exercises,” says physical therapist Bryan Hill, co-owner and CEO of Rehab United in San  Diego. “Foam rolling is used by many practitioners for that purpose.”

While there are plenty of massage tools avail-able for post-run indulgence—even tennis balls can do the trick!—a good foam roller is tough enough to dig up the right amount of oomph and effective enough that runners are willing to cringe and roll simultaneously, over and over again. (Don’t worry—it’s never as painful the second time!) Hill recommends five key areas to target when working out kinks.

Rules of the Roll
It doesn’t hurt to practice muscle mobility exercises daily, but Hill definitely recommends giving your muscles some extra love after major runs or workouts. Focus on each target area for at least 1 minute (and up to 10 minutes), moving slowly through the motions until you soak up the benefits of sweet release. If you’re a first-timer, pain is still beauty—the more you practice, the less you will cringe in pain as your body adapts to its new form of recovery.

Extra Credit
Need some added release? When you feel a tight spot, pause with your weight resting on that spot until you feel a release. To target pressure on your legs, try flexing your foot and rotating your ankle in circles.

 

TOOLS TO ROLL

Smooth vs. Bumpy
Foam rollers with extra bumps, such as the Rumble Roller ($45, roguefitness.com), offer more intense fascial manipulation—that is, mobilizing the tissue that protects and connects your muscles. The choice between a flatter roller and one with more nubs depends on your desired level of massage—more nubs means more deep-tissue love. If you’re new to rolling out, we recommend starting with a flat roller, such as the Pro-Tec Foam Roller ($25, pro-tecathletics.com), until your body adjusts to the added pressure of foam rolling after your run.

Really Get In There

Hip flexors (the muscles between your pelvis and upper thigh) are infamously tight in runners and it can be tricky to dig in with a cylindrical massage tool. Hill recommends grabbing a Mobility-WOD Super Nova ($40, roguefitness.com) ball to reach the nooks and crannies of a tight flexor.

 

1. Back

(a) Rest your lower back on the roller with your feet flat on the ground, supporting your upper body with your arms. (b) Slowly move your arms outward, forcing the roller to move up your back, releasing tension along your spine. Return to start position and repeat.

2. Quads

(a) Rest both quads on the roller and sup-port your upper body with your hands on the floor. (b) Using your arms for leverage, move the roller up and down the quads.

3. Calves

(a) Rest both calves on the roller and use your arms and hands to support you. (b) Move your hips forward and backward to move the roller up and down your calves.

4. Hammies

(a) Cross one leg over the other and place the roller under your lower hamstring. (b) Using your arms and hands to support you, move your hips backward and forward to run the roller along your entire hamstring. Continue this motion, then switch legs and repeat.

5. IT Band

On your left side, rest your hip on the roller. Keeping your left forearm and right hand on the ground in front of you, cross your right leg over your left. Using your right foot on the ground for leverage, move the foam roller down your IT band (where the seam of your jeans would be on your outer thigh) to just above the knee. Roll back and forth along this line. Switch sides and repeat.

6. Glutes

Those rear muscles are often a key aggravator of IT band pain—Hill suggests including the glutes as an extension to the IT roll. Rest your left ankle across your right quad and place your left butt cheek on the roller. Using your hands for leverage and leaning to the left as necessary, move the roller back and forth slowly. Switch sides and repeat.

 

 

 

Second Chance

John Mayer had been an avid runner since high school. But at age 45, in 2005, a pain in his knee was getting worse, so he went to see a physician. “This fellow came highly recommended,” says Mayer, of Chicago. After diagnosing a torn anterior cruciate ligament, “he told me there was nothing to do. He was so respected, so convincing, and so definitive that I didn’t even bother to get a second opinion.”

Mayer was crushed and didn’t lace up for six months. When he tried to run again, the pain came back. Finally a friend suggested he see another doctor, who confirmed the problem but recommended arthroscopic surgery and physical therapy. Mayer’s pain eased, and he’s since run eight marathons.

Not every treatment plan requires a second opinion. But when you’re undergoing rehab—and anxious to run again—it’s important to know when to seek a different perspective.

You’re told that there’s nothing to be done.

Almost all running injuries are treatable. So if a doctor tells you he can do nothing for you, make an appointment with another expert. That diagnosis most likely means “there’s nothing more that that doctor can offer,” says Michael Ross, M.D., medical director of The Rothman Institute Performance Lab in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. And while some conditions, such as severe arthritis in the hip, ankle, or knee, could certainly curtail your career, you’ll want to confirm a diagnosis like that with another physician before you quit running altogether.

You’ve developed a new pain.

Sue Walsh was a month from the Chicago Marathon in 2008 when she developed an IT-band injury and visited a physical therapist. “The IT band got better, but my hip flexor on that same side started to hurt,” says Walsh, 33, from Brooklyn. “I couldn’t get it together for the marathon.”

An appropriate treatment plan should not cause new aches. “A patient who is experiencing increased pain or pain in new locations is likely getting therapy that is overly aggressive for their condition, or was misdiagnosed and should be reassessed,” says Michael Chin, D.P.M., medical director of The Running Institute in Chicago.

Another doctor later diagnosed Walsh with femoroacetabular impingement, a bone deformity of the hip that required surgery. She finally got back to running two years after the initial IT-band issue.

You notice no improvements after two to four weeks.

Most injuries should improve and pain should diminish after four to six sessions of therapy, Dr. Chin says. If they don’t, the rehab plan may be too conservative. David Bakke, 45, of Atlanta, was diagnosed with runner’s knee a week after he started bounding up the steps of the local football stadium. He was told to do some stretching exercises and rest for seven to 10 days. After two weeks, when he’d noticed no improvements, Bakke went to see another doctor who prescribed exercises to strengthen his quadriceps. “In about 10 days, I was finally able to resume my full workout,” says Bakke.

Your injuries keep recurring.

Repeat injuries—or a series of different injuries—suggest you may have an underlying health problem that isn’t being addressed, says Lewis Maharam, M.D., a sports-medicine doctor in New York City and author of the Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running. Dr. Maharam says he once treated a woman who had recurring fractures in her hip and feet every three months. “She was biomechanically sound, and her bone density test was normal,” he said. “But we did a blood test, and found she had a parathyroid tumor.”

Your doctor doesn’t ask about your overall health status.

When you go to a doctor complaining of a running injury, it’s easy to focus exclusively on the body part that’s hurt. But a skilled doctor will also ask questions about your health habits and try to gauge your fitness level, says Jim Chesnutt, M.D., medical director of sports medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Runners who aren’t getting enough sleep, for example, may be prone to injuries. A diet deficient in calcium and vitamin D may make you vulnerable to stress fractures. Inexperienced runners may be trying to do too much too soon. If your doctor doesn’t take the rest of your health into account, consider getting a second opinion.

You haven’t been given other ways to stay in shape.

A good rehab plan should include exercises to help you stay fit while you’re on the road to recovery. “Sometimes runners don’t realize they need to take a break and do some cross-training,” Dr. Chesnutt says. For example, a runner in treatment for recurrent ankle sprains should work on strengthening her core and upper body while she isn’t running. Even more important is that the doctor understands your goals. Knowing you’re weeks from a marathon, for example, your doctor may attempt a more aggressive treatment plan. But if you’re months away, you may have the time to rest and heal without additional testing or interventions. If your doctor doesn’t ask you about your fitness goals, consider seeing another doctor who does.

Who Do You Call?

Reach out to the right help

Primary doctor-> Unless you have an established doctor-patient relationship with a sports-physician specialist, call your primary doctor first, says Michael Ross, M.D., of The Performance Lab, because he or she knows you.

Physical therapist-> While straightforward injuries, such as a mild ankle sprain, can be easily managed by your general practitioner, many running pains are the result of muscular imbalances, overtraining or overuse, or poor running mechanics. A physical therapist can tailor a rehab plan to fit your needs and goals.

Sports specialist-> If you’ve closely followed a rehab plan but aren’t seeing results—or if you have complex running problems—it’s time to seek a doctor who’s done an accredited fellowship in sports medicine, says Lewis Maharam, M.D. These are doctors who’ve been trained in running mechanics and who can spot the underlying problems that are the cause of many injuries. “The doctor should look at how you run and be able to advise you on things like gait and preventive measures,” he says. Find one atwww.amssm.org.

Coming back from an injury? Start slowly on a level surface like a treadmill or bike path until your muscle strength and balance are back.

In the past six months, 12% of survey respondents saw a chiropractor; 9% a physical therapist; 5% a sports doc.

The Pros and Cons of Massages for Runners

There is good reason massage therapists are part of an elite runner’s entourage. And why the lines for a postrace massage seemingly extend for miles. A rubdown—even a deep, intense one—feels great. Runners report that massages help lessen muscle tension and improve range of motion, while also making them feel relaxed and rewarded for their hard efforts.

Yet despite massage’s popularity and positive reputation, there’s been little scientific evidence to support why athletes feel so good when they hop off the table. “It can be hard to merge basic science with alternative medicine,” says Justin Crane, Ph.D., a McMaster University researcher who conducted some of the first objective studies on massage in 2012. Practitioners say massage relieves muscle soreness, promotes circulation, flushes toxins and lactic acid from the body, and eases joint strain—claims supported by centuries of anecdotal evidence from China, Sweden, and around the globe. But science hadn’t confirmed just what massage actually achieves—until now. Recent research has sorted out what’s true and what’s not.

First, let’s set the record straight: Science doesn’t support some ingrained beliefs about massage. “It can’t push toxins out of the muscles and into the bloodstream,” says JoEllen Sefton, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology at Auburn University, who has practiced massage therapy. “There’s no physiological way that can happen.” Nor does it appear to flush lactic acid from muscles, says Crane, who analyzed muscle samples after subjects cycled to exhaustion and then received a 10-minute massage. “People assumed that because lactic acid feels burny, and massage reduces pain, then it must clear away lactic acid,” he says.

What massage does do is apply moving pressure to muscles and other tissues such as tendons, ligaments, and fascia (which sheaths muscles like a sausage casing). “That energy softens fascia tissue and makes clenched muscles relax,” Sefton says. It also removes adhesions between fascia and muscles (places where the two stick together and restrict muscles’ movement). That’s especially great news for runners, who rely on limber joints and muscles for pain-free peak performance.

Science’s biggest discovery is what massage can do for athletic recovery. Studies published in the Journal of Athletic Training and the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that massage after exercise reduced the intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—that is, the peg-legged feeling you get two days after your marathon. And other research suggests that it improves immune function and reduces inflammation. Emory University researcher Mark Rapaport, M.D., found that just one massage treatment resulted in an increased number of several types of lymphocytes (white blood cells that play a key role in fighting infection) while also decreasing levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone” linked to chronic inflammation). “More research is needed, but it’s reasonable to think that massage could help runners taxed from exertion,” Rapaport says. It may also help curb chronic diseases. “We know that systemic inflammation is associated with a lot of deleterious effects, such as heart attack and stroke, and that it predisposes people to cancers,” he says.

Crane’s research, published in Science Translational Medicine, found less inflammation in massaged limbs—and 30 percent more of a gene that helps muscle cells build mitochondria (the “engines” that turn a cell’s food into energy and facilitate its repair). “What we saw suggests that massage could let runners tolerate more training, and harder training, because it would improve their recovery and speed up their ability to go hard two days later,” he says.

Studies on rabbits confirm Crane’s prediction. At Ohio State University, Thomas Best, M.D., Ph.D., put a device on exercised animals that simulates massage and records the applied pressure. “We’ve shown a 50 to 60 percent recovery in muscle function compared with no massage,” he says.

The new evidence is so convincing that even the researchers have made massage a regular part of their routines: Crane, Rapaport, and Best have all become devotees as a result of their findings, and they recommend that runners follow suit. Regular massage can boost recovery and be a valuable training tool to help you run your best. “Muscle stiffness can throw off your gait, which leads to problems over time,” Sefton says. “And by getting a sense for how your body should feel when everything is in balance, you’re more likely to notice small issues before they turn into chronic problems.” Even beginning runners can benefit from massage, because alleviating the soreness that comes with starting a new sport makes people more likely to stick with it.
Can’t afford weekly treatments? Self-massage with foam rollers and other tools like tennis balls can be beneficial in between visits. They can also help runners prep for workouts, since they loosen muscles. “Just don’t overdo the pressure,” says Sefton, who notes that even a person’s body weight on a foam roller sometimes applies too much force (and causes muscles to tighten in defense). “Bodywork just before a race or hard workout should be light,” says massage therapist Anna Gammal, who worked with athletes at the 2012 Olympics. “We don’t want muscles to feel sore or overworked.”

After a race or grueling workout, a therapist may go deeper in order to help with recovery—or not. It all depends on the individual, Gammal says. “Through talking with the athlete and using touch, a therapist will determine the state of the muscle and if it’s best to use light strokes or deep-tissue techniques to treat an athlete in a safe and productive way.”

The Owner’s Manual For The Female Runner

Whoever said that you can’t get too much of a good thing must not have been a runner—especially not a female runner.

Sure, running helps you beat stress, lose weight, look fantastic, meet great friends, gain more confidence, stay mentally sharp, live longer, and generally feel like a goddess. But go too far and running can make you moody, and even make you hurt.

To help make sure you never cross that line, use this guide. It tells you everything you need to know to run healthfully and sensibly for a lifetime.

Your Hips
Due to our wider hips, we women can develop more than our share of below-the-belt aches, including bursitis, an inflammation in the bursa sacs that surround and cushion your hip joint. “Think of bursitis as a kind of blister,” says Nicholas DiNubile, M.D., an orthopedic physician in Havertown, Pa., and consultant to the Philadelphia Ballet. “If the joint isn’t aligned, you’ll have rubbing. And if you run enough miles, that rubbing will create real irritation.”

To prevent bursitis, wear the right shoes for your foot type, avoid running on sloped surfaces, and be sure to increase your mileage gradually (no more than 10 percent per week). If you’re experiencing hip pain now, do stretching and strengthening exercises that target your hips and thighs, and cut down on your mileage, says Dr. DiNubile. If you ignore hip pain, you could end up with other problems, such as knee injuries or even stress fractures.

Your Knees
Just one joint down from the hip is the knee-the second victim of our wider-hips problem. Many women suffer knee pain from patellofemoral syndrome, in which the underside of the kneecap rubs against the bottom of the thighbone, causing irritation, inflammation, and pain, says Richard T. Braver, D.P.M., a sports podiatrist in Englewood, N.J. This syndrome is especially common in women because our hip-to-ankle line often isn’t perfectly straight, creating either knock-knees (when the legs curve in at the knee), or bowlegs (when the legs curve out).

To prevent and relieve knee pain, do exercises to strengthen your quadriceps, and make sure you’re running in the correct shoes, Dr. Braver says. In particular, look for shoes with good medial support, which will keep your feet and ankles from rolling in too much. You also should cut back on your mileage, at least until the pain goes away.

Your Shins
Pain along the front or inside edge of the shinbone, known generically asshinsplints, is another problem for women. We tend to have looser ligaments in our knees and ankles, which means we’re more likely to overpronate. That places extra strain on all the muscles in our lower legs, including those in the shin area.

If your shins are sore, shift to non-impact workouts until the pain disappears, and add stretching and strengthening exercises to your routine. You also should check your shoes for adequate arch support and appropriate stiffness, says Dr. Braver. “Lots of women come to see me with shin pain, and it turns out they’re running in shoes that are way too stiff.”

A runner who overpronates might buy a rigid shoe hoping to keep her ankles from turning, he explains, but many motion-control shoes are simply too stiff for a woman’s less-muscular foot to bend. “If you hear a slapping noise every time your foot hits the ground, your shoes are too stiff,” he notes.

Trying to run through pain is a big mistake, especially if the pain is worst at the beginning of your run. By continuing to overload your muscles, you could cause a stress fracture, a tiny crack in the bone due to repeated strain. In the case of shinsplints, the crack forms after your already-tight muscle is gradually pulled away from the bone, taking its connective tissue with it. If you have a stress fracture you’ll have to give up running (and any other impact activities, including power walking) for several weeks or longer.

Your Feet

If you’re experiencing pain anywhere in your legs or hips, the cause of the problem may be your feet-or more specifically, your shoes. Women typically have narrower heels than men, and many women buy shoes that are too small in order to keep their heels from slipping, says Dr. Braver. Because we tend to pronate more, we also need shoes with the right mix of stability and support.

Shoes that don’t meet those requirements can cause pain in any of the joints of your body, including those in your feet. The wrong shoes can contribute to a condition called plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the fibrous tissue that runs along the bottom of your feet. It often produces a stabbing sensation in the bottom of the heel or arch.

The best shoes for your feet will feel snug enough to prevent sliding, but loose enough to allow your feet to flex properly.

Most specialty running stores can give you advice about the best shoes for you. To figure out your foot type, do the wet test: Step out of the shower onto a piece of paper, and trace the outline of your footprint. Then take it to the store with you, along with an old pair of running shoes. These items will help the salesperson determine the shape of your arch and the way your foot typically moves when you run. If the best off-the-shelf shoes don’t cure your problems, try some drugstore inserts, or see a podiatrist for custom-made orthotics.

Your Breasts

You have to love your sports bra, because it gives you the support you need during running. But you probably curse it, too, if it digs into your skin after a few miles, or worse, leaves you chafed with little wounds that torment you once you hit the shower.

Newer fabrics are less likely to rub, but many women still suffer “bra burn” from every model they try. A properly fitting bra should be snug but not suffocating, with no loose spots that might bunch up. The bra should reduce bouncing to almost none. (To test a bra, jump up and down in the dressing room). If you’re still getting rubbed, apply a bit of petroleum jelly or other lubricant to trouble spots before your runs. If you’re doing long runs, bring along a trial-sized tube in your waist pack for touch-ups along the way.

Your Lungs

Asthma and its cousin, exercise-induced asthma (EIA), are more common in women than men-and more common among athletes than the general public. Asthma involves two factors: chronic inflammation of the airways, and a hyper-responsiveness to various triggers.

Some common triggers for asthma and EIA include: cold air, hormones (many women are more prone to attacks right before or during their periods); and physical and emotional stress. “Stress definitely affects the smooth muscle in your airways,” says Cathy Fieseler, M.D., an ultramarathoner and sports-medicine practitioner at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. In fact, stress can create a condition called vocal-chord disorder, which produces asthma-like episodes but is actually a physiological response to anxiety.

Dehydration can also contribute to an attack, so drink 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes while exercising. And clear your diet of possible asthma triggers, such as wheat gluten (found in any food containing white or whole-wheat flour), dairy products, soybeans, and nuts. If your symptoms persist, see your doctor.

Your GI Tract

Though any runner can suffer from heartburn, diarrhea, and stomachaches, women are particularly prone. That’s because more often than men, women tend to develop irritable bowel syndrome-a condition that can include alternating episodes of diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain-as well as lactose intolerance, the inability to digest dairy products.

If you experience chronic GI problems, monitor the foods you eat to see if you can determine a pattern. Common culprits include dairy products, caffeinated beverages, chocolate, fried foods, and acidic fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and oranges.

Also, for most runners, a big meal before a big workout won’t sit well. “What you can eat, and how long you have to wait after eating it, vary enormously from person to person,” says Dr. Fieseler. “I’ve seen people in ultras who can wolf down a cheeseburger while they’re running, but most people need at least an hour between eating and exercise.” In some female runners, the hormonal swings associated with the menstrual cycle and pregnancy can exacerbate indigestion, meaning you’ll need to be even more careful of what and when you eat.

“Generally speaking, the greater the intensity of your workout, the less blood will reach your digestive tract, and the more digestive troubles you might have,” Dr. Fieseler explains. “And exertion definitely loosens your esophagus, the gatekeeper for everything you’ve just eaten, which makes you more vulnerable to heartburn.” Unless your workout is no more grueling than a stroll around the block, you’re better off allowing your body to process a meal before you ask it to go aerobic. If you’re starving, grab an easy-to-digest energy bar or a carbohydrate drink.

Your Reproductive Organs

Missing a period (or two) is fairly common among women, especially those at the beginning of their reproductive years. But stress, and particularly the stress that comes from overtraining and/or undereating, can trigger a potentially dangerous suspension of menstruation called amenorrhea. Women who go for 3 to 4 months without menstruating risk a range of health problems, all related to the lack of circulating estrogen in their bodies. For example, amenorrhea leads to osteoporosis in older women, but it also weakens bones in young women, leaving them susceptible to stress fractures.

Simply exercising regularly doesn’t put you at risk, says Dr. Fieseler. But eating too little and running too much definitely will. If your periods are erratic, take a good look at your training plan, and make sure you’re eating and resting enough. If you’ve gone more than 3 or 4 months without a period, talk with your doctor.

Your Bladder

Urinary-stress incontinence-the condition in which an adult leaks urine while sneezing, laughing, or running-strikes more than 10 million adult women in the United States. In fact, about half of all women will experience it at some point in their lives. It’s most common in women who have had children and/or have passed menopause, but many young, childless women have it, too.

To prevent incontinence, Dr. Fieseler recommends eliminating diuretics (especially coffee) from your diet. If you’ve had children, ask your doctor about a pessary, a small, doughnut-shaped device that will give your bladder extra support. (You also can insert a tampon before you run, suggests Dr. Fieseler.)

And try Kegel exercises, in which you contract the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine. “Try to hold each contraction for 10 seconds or so. You can practice at every traffic light,” Dr. Fieseler suggests. If all else fails, chart a few pit stops into your running routes. “Don’t cut back on fluids before your run to avoid urinating,” she warns. “Dehydration is a much bigger problem than a little leaked urine.” Dehydration can actually lead to a bladder infection, which will increase your urgency even more.

Listening Device

Experts tell us that the best way to keep ourselves in optimal health is to pay attention to our own bodies. “Your body will tell you exactly what to do if you listen to it,” says Cathy Fieseler, M.D. To become better acquainted with your body, track the following six factors in your training log:

1. Your menstrual cycle (assign each date in your log a number corresponding to the day in your cycle, starting with 1 on the first day of your period)

2. Your mood (before and after your run)

3. Your weight

4. Your daily diet (including when and how much you eat)

5. The time of day and weather conditions of your run

6. Any discomforts you feel while running (digestive distress, headache, wheezing, etc.)

How to Run Long on the Treadmill Without Losing Your Mind

I live in Boston, and I’m training for a marathon this spring. I’ve been doing all my long runs on a treadmill due to #snowmageddon, and I’m up to 16 miles. Do you have any tips to help get me through the boredom? Also, how do I transition back to the roads if the weather ever improves? —Stephanie

Kudos to you for taking your training to the treadmill this season. The key to marathon preparation is to train with quality and consistency, which you can accomplish on a treadmill. That said, running longer than an hour on a treadmill can be—yawn!—boring, because of the lack of stimulation and scenery change that outdoor long runs provide.

However, it is possible to simulate an outdoor long run indoors without going crazy. Here are my three favorite strategies.

Eat the elephant one bite at a time. One of the worst parts of an indoor long run is imagining the hours you’ll spend running in place. Instead, change something (the incline, the speed, your focus) every quarter mile. You’ll be more engaged, and it’ll be more similar to an outdoor long run. Try this:

  • At 0.25 of every mile Increase the pace by 0.2 to 0.3 mph for 30 to 60 seconds to change up your stride. When you return to your slower long run pace, it will feel easier.
  • At 0.50 of every mile Perform a head-to-toe form inventory to shift your focus from the run to your body. Relax your shoulders, swing your arms parallel to one another, and center your shoulders over your hips. Count how many times your right foot hits the belt for 60 seconds. The ideal cadence is around 85 to 92 right strides per minute.
  • At 0.75 of every mile Increase the incline slightly to two to three percent, or just enough to make it feel a little more challenging. You’ll use different muscles and build strength. If your goal race is hilly, use the treadmill to exactly simulate the inclines and declines of your course.
  • At the mile marker Before you begin, write out a numbered list that corresponds to the number of miles you’re planning to run. Dedicate each mile to a person or charity that’s important to you, or spend a mile focusing on a mantra or visualizing part of your goal race’s course. This gives your mind a positive distraction for each mile.

Entertain yourself. Binge-watching television shows or inspiring running movies while on the treadmill helps pass the time and keep you engaged. If a screen isn’t available, listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or a custom running playlist. It’s an obvious strategy, but it works to fight boredom.

Break it into two separate runs. If nothing can help you fathom the idea of completing your full distance in one shot, you can break up the run into two shorter runs that total your target distance. For example, if you need to run 16 miles, you could run 10 miles in the morning and another six in the afternoon. To learn more about splitting up long runs,click here.

For those who are training full-time on a treadmill due to bad weather, be cautious when transitioning back to roads or trails. Move shorter runs outside before you tackle an outdoor long run. It’s also wise to train by effort instead of pace at all times, since your pace will vary from inside to outside.

In the end, it’s all about getting in the time on your feet and simulating the changes in speed and terrain a runner experiences during an outdoor long run. Have faith in your preparation this season. Although treadmill running differs from road running, it is a very effective way to prepare for a marathon.

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You can ask Coach Jenny a running question on the Ask Coach Jenny Facebook Page or email your question here. Follow her on Twitter @coachjenny.

Back to Boston

To say that I’ve never been a runner is an understatement. In fact, any time I’ve even seen people running for fun, I have always wondered to myself, What are they running from? How miserable are their lives that they would resort to such torture? I don’t mean to offend serious runners, it’s just I never understood their passion. This might have stemmed from my childhood. I had asthma, and every time we would play tag at recess, I would think my lungs were going to give out on me.

As I became older, I became friends with more people who loved to run. In fact, their happiness pretty much depended on it. I would hear about the runner’s high, and how there’s nothing else like it. Being an impulsive decision maker, I signed up for my first half-marathon in 2011. Go big or go home right? During that time, I went to the gym maybe once a month. So you probably can guess how much real training I actually did. But when race day came, I was ready. After all, I had on super-cute running clothes. I thought 13.1 miles would be a breeze. Boy, was I wrong. I think I might’ve made it about two miles before I wanted to die. Where was that runner’s high? I promised myself I would never do something so stupid ever again.

Now here I am, nearly five years later, and I have made the insane goal to complete 26.2 miles in the Boston Marathon this April. The funniest part about all this is not the fact I am running. It is that I will be running on a prosthetic leg. Why on Earth would I put myself through this? It’s quite simple: To show myself—and the rest of the world—that I can.

Unbreakable

On April 15, 2013, two brothers tried to destroy my life when they brought bombs to the Boston Marathon. I can remember everything so vividly. It was my birthday weekend. My boyfriend at the time had flown my five-year-old son and I into town to watch his mom run in the race. It was such a great weekend. We caught a game at Fenway Park, toured the city, went to a concert. On Monday, our group of nine made our way to the marathon route. First we stopped at the 17-mile marker. There she was. Mona must have been experiencing that runner’s high that everyone always talks about, because she was smiling! Mile 17 and still happy? I was impressed.

We wanted to see her cross the finish line, so we made our way toward Boylston Street. Just a few minutes after we found our spot near the finish, my son Noah grew restless. “How many runners are there, Mom?” he asked with a sarcastic tone. “When can we finally go?” We were on a crowded street, and I had nothing to keep him occupied. Then the most random idea came to me. “Hey Noah, why don’t you sit on Mommy’s feet and play in the rocks like you are a scientist?” Thankfully, this was a cool idea to a five-year-old. I can still remember my feet wanting to fall asleep with his body weight on top of me, but at least I would be able to see Mona and ensure my child wouldn’t be lost in the crowd.

Thinking about that decision still gives me chills. Only a few moments after Noah sat down, the first bomb went off. That is the part I wish I could forget, but the memory enters my dreams every night. I can replay everything. I was hoisted into the air and thrown onto the hard pavement. I tried to move, but my body parts were flung out around me. My eyes scanned my surroundings: Pools of blood, piles of BBs. Was that a foot? I glanced to my right and literally saw a woman take her last breath. It was like the worst possible horror movie, only I was the star. What just happened? Why am I in excruciating pain? But more importantly, Where is Noah?!? I remember turning my head every which way looking for him. I saw tons of people. Their faces were screaming in terror, but the sounds were muffled. (I later found out my eardrums were blown out from the blast.) “Mommy! Mommy!” I couldn’t hear anyone else, but I knew I heard Noah. I had found him. My eyes locked with his, and I began trying to figure out a way for me to get him—but how? I looked down and my legs were arranged in positions even the best contortionist could never pull off. I had an idea. I could pull him toward me. I just had to get my arm above my head. Surely I could do that. Everything would be okay. I took a deep breath. But then I saw my left hand. Its bones were completely exposed and sticking out. This was it. I could do nothing to protect my son. This was the moment I was going to die. My breathing got heavier. I laid my head down and looked up at the sky and said a prayer. “Lord if this is my time, take me. But let me know that my son is okay.” If you don’t believe in miracles already, you will after this next part: Moments after I said that prayer, my boyfriend’s aunt picked Noah up and sat him directly beside me. I knew he was alright. It was going to be okay.

Following the blast, I was in a medically induced coma for a week. Doctors performed surgery after surgery to clean out bomb debris from my body. I remember waking up. My mom is the first person I saw. She came all the way from Texas to be by my side. I tried to talk. But nothing came out. A large feeding tube had been placed down my throat, and the words I was trying so desperately to form came out like gasps of air. My mom gave me a piece of paper and shakily I attempted to write the words, “God is not finished with me yet.” Nearly two years and more than 30 surgeries later, and I still believe that with all of my heart.

Road to Recovery

I spent 56 days in the hospital while doctors tried to piece me back together. I wish I could say that things went back to normal. But any sense of normalcy in my life was blown away. I sustained injuries from head to toe. The worst injury was to my lower left leg. Suddenly, the word “amputation” was mentioned a lot. Doctors spent 18 months trying to save my leg, even though in my heart, I knew I would eventually have to have it amputated. It was still physically attached, but my leg stopped being a part of me the day of the bombing. Chunks of it were missing, and I didn’t have the bones it needed to function properly. I looked like leftovers from a shark’s meal. But still, the doctors knew a lot better than I did, and I trusted that limb salvage was the best route to go. I waited patiently, trying every surgery and trusting in a bigger plan. After all, I was just blessed to still be alive.

After 17 major reconstructive surgeries, I knew what had to be done. It was time to cut off what was holding me back. On November 10, 2014, I made the decision to amputate my left leg below the knee. I referred to it as a bad boyfriend, something I needed to get out of my life for good. So the weekend before I threw it a goodbye party, gave my foot one last pedicure and bid it a final farewell. And let me tell you, the feeling I felt after waking up from my amputation was one I will never forget—the purest form of relief. I knew from the point on I was no longer in limbo, and wouldn’t have to rely on pain medicine or a wheelchair to make it through the day. My life was finally moving forward again.

Doctors attempted to salvage DiMartino’s mangled left leg. But after 17 surgeries, she decided to have it amputated. Before the surgery, she threw her leg a goodbye party and treated her foot to a “Boston Strong” pedicure. (Photo courtesy of Rebekah DiMartino)

After receiving her prosthetic leg on January 7, 2015, DiMartino made this announcement on Facebook: After what seemed like the most excruciating labor and much anticipation, I am pleased to announce the arrival of my new addition at 1:06pm today. Meet Felicia. 4 pounds 8 ounces…18 inches long and absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!. (Photo courtesy of Rebekah DiMartino)

I guess I had never realized how much I took my legs for granted. I had just gotten up everyday expecting to walk, to run, to jump on the trampoline with my son. But that was taken away from me. In its place though, I received gratitude. Thankfulness for every new day I get to be here, grateful for the platform I have been given to encourage others through my struggles, and so appreciative for how far technology has come in prosthetics.

My life isn’t the same, and it never will be again. But I was standing three feet away from a bomb, and I survived. And every time I look down and see where my left leg should be, instead of being angry, I am reminded that life is precious. Because of it, I will hug my son a little tighter, love my family and friends a little more, and do my small part in changing the world for the better every single day.

Two bombers may have taken my leg, but in a lot of ways they saved my life. They tried to destroy me and instead they made me stronger. That is why I vowed to run Boston this year. I can’t wait to cross the finish line.

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Rebekah DiMartino is chronicling her journey to the Boston Marathon for pace.com. She is also available for speaking engagements. For more information, follow her at facebook.com/newday.newhope.rebekahgregory.

Nutrition for Peak Performance

You Asked Me

Liz answers your questions posted on Facebook

This year I’ve lost 60 pounds, quit smoking, and started training for a half. How do I balance my dieting-self with my always hungry runner-self?

To keep your weight down and your performance up, remember food is for pleasure as well as for fueling your runs. Aim for three to four meals a day that each include 20 to 25 grams of protein to curb appetite and support recovery. Include quality carbs, which will sustain your energy and health. And every other day or so include treats you enjoy to strike a balance with those dueling inner-selves.

I’ve discovered I need more energy during my long runs. Portable energy products upset my stomach. Are there natural or home-made options?

It may be the carbohydrate load in these products that bothers you. It can be a lot to digest. Try fresh or dried fruit, such as raisins, dried pears, or apricots. Drink water after eating them to help you absorb the carbs and stay hydrated. Honey may also be easier on your stomach. Studies show it works as well as energy chews and gels in boosting endurance and it’s also a much cheaper option!

Consuming News

Liz brings you the latest research reveals foods and drinks that can
help (or hurt) your running.

Chocolate, Please

In happy news, researchers from London’s Kingston University found that dark chocolate may boost performance. Cyclists who ate two ounces daily for two weeks rode farther and tolerated more intense exercise compared with baseline tests. Researchers think epicatechins (a type of polyphenol in chocolate) may indirectly increase nitric oxide availability, which improves oxygen delivery to muscles by enhancing bloodflow. Studies show that beet juice improves performance in a similar way.

CHEW ON THIS You can make dark chocolate a part of your daily diet, but cut back on calories elsewhere. Two ounces pack about 300 calories.

Pass the Beer

Researchers at Granada University in Spain have found that beer can help the body rehydrate better after a workout than water or Gatorade.

Professor Manuel Garzon also claimed the carbonation in beer helps to quench the thirst and that its carbohydrate content can help replace lost calories, The Telegraph reports.

The study involved a group of students who were asked to work out until their body temperature reached 104 degrees. Researchers then gave beer to half of the students and water to the other half. Mr. Garzon announced the results at a press conference in Granada, saying the hydration effect in those who drank beer was “slightly better,”.

Juan Antonio Corbalan, a cardiologist who worked formerly with Real Madrid football players and Spain’s national basketball team, said beer had the perfect profile for re-hydration after sport. He has long recommended barley drinks to professional sportsmen after exercise.

Previous studies have shown most alcoholic drinks have a diuretic effect—meaning they increase the amount of liquid lost by the body through urination.

SIP ON THIS The study concluded that having more than one beer created a diuretic effect and no longer was a better hydration choice. Aim for one post-run beer and then stick to water.

Good Bugs

Gut bacteria are essential for overall health, and the more the better. Researchers from Ireland found that compared with healthy but unfit overweight men, professional rugby players had much greater bug diversity—and more of a strain called akkermansia-ceae, which is linked to lower obesity risk and lower levels of inflammatory markers that signal disease progression.

CHEW ON THIS More research needs to be done, but another reason to keep running!

A Bitter (Better) End

Rinsing your mouth with a sweet, carb-containing sports drink seems to activate brain centers, stimulating you to run harder. But what about other tastes? Australian scientists gave cyclists a bitter, calorie-free quinine drink (similar to diet tonic) to swish for 10 seconds and then swallow before sprinting. The bitter flavor boosted effort by about three percent.

SIP ON THIS Try a sweet or bitter rinse near the end of a training run to see if it helps you.

The Mysterious Intrigue of 26.2

I have yet to meet a runner this century who hasn’t been asked whether they’ve done a marathon—and if not, when they are going to. Because all runners do marathons, right? If you haven’t run one yet, then surely it’s just a matter of time, right?

I did my first marathon 23 years ago. Back then, people used to ask, ‘Where did you come in?’ because in the early 1990s, the marathon was still seen as a race against a field of opponents, not against time or the distance itself.

No one asks that now. The non-running public has realized that the answer—7,350th, 32,006th—is likely to be meaningless. It won’t matter whether you ran sub-three or walked the whole way in seven hours: once you’ve got that medal round your neck you’re a hero in their eyes.

In the minds of many runners, the marathon has a special status. It’s a journey that takes us far further than the 26.2 miles we pound out on the road. It tests us in a unique way, posing a question that cannot be answered until the finish line is reached. It is the rite of passage into real ‘runnerhood’.

Or is it? I’ve been wondering lately whether our reverence for the marathon distance has caused us to bestow upon it a holy grail status it doesn’t merit. Is it really more admirable to have completed a marathon, regardless of time, than to have channeled your efforts into a shorter event and smashed your PB?

For running coach Jeff Gaudette (runners
connect.com), the answer is an emphatic no. ‘I strongly believe that the marathon is too much of a focus these days,’he says.‘Specifically, there are many beginner runners who have no business trying to run a marathon.

I’d advise new runners to consider very carefully whether running a marathon is the right choice for their short- and long-term development. ’For me, the real issue is more a question of whether it’ll reap you the greatest rewards. For two runners I know, Helen and Chris, training for a marathon within a year of first donning their trainers nearly ended their running careers. The long runs, the injury woes and the everyday exhaustion took a toll, and though they finished the race, they fell out of love with running along the way and it took a few months for them to regain their mojo.

I know other newbies who, giddy with enthusiasm, rushed headlong towards the big one before having run so much as a 10K. A couple were felled by injury, while others achieved their goal but then hung up their running shoes altogether, perhaps feeling that there wasn’t anything else to achieve. Or maybe they’d just pounded all the fun out of their running and saw no reason to carry on.

I counter the popular view that progressing as a runner means having to move up to the marathon. Progressing from a 2:05 half marathon PB to a 1:46 finish, as Helen has since her one and only marathon, is to my mind a greater measure of improvement than battling round 26.2 miles.

Don’t see this as a diatribe against beginners taking on the marathon.

At the risk of sounding like a parent telling their children,‘Don’t try to grow up too fast—you’ve got your whole life ahead of you’, all I’m saying is there’s no need to rush to the marathon start line.

And besides, veteran runners are equally guilty of getting fixated on the mythical distance. ‘Too many runners just jump from marathon to marathon,’ agrees Gaudette.

‘Not only does continually training for the same goal race distance lead to burnout, but it’s also one of the reasons runners fail to improve, year after year.’

There are a lot of positives in training for shorter distances. It consumes less of your time and energy. And it doesn’t mean putting all your eggs in one basket: if a marathon doesn’t go to plan, it’s back to the drawing board for a good few months before you can give it another try—compare that with a 5K or 10K, when you could be back on the start line in a week or two. It also gets you ready for a big race.

And guess what? At the end of your race plan, you’re going to be  in a far better position to move over, not up, to that marathon. Should you want to, that is.