I incorporated three suggestions from various sources into my long run effort last Friday: 9 miles in 1:25:37, for a 9:30 pace. What they were, and how they went:
1. A new breathing method. I'd just read an article about rhythmic breathing the day before in the latest issue of Runner's World. The idea is that if you alternate which foot you land on as you inhale, rather than having it be the same one, you'll split the total impact of landing rather than concentrating it all on one foot.
That means you have to inhale longer than you exhale, or as I internalized it, "in-two-three out-two, in-two-three out-two." Seemed complicated -- I wasn't the star student of my marching band -- and a little silly. Like when the yoga instructor would insist that you inhale during one half of the pose and exhale on the other half.
Yet just like yoga breathing, rhythmic breathing seemed to work. I don't know why I decided to try it, but for about 75 percent of the run, I made the effort, and for about 66 percent of the run, I was successful in doing it.
As the article author promised, it helped get me in my zone and, more importantly for me, it kept me from speeding up too much: Faster strides meant shorter inhalation and even shorter exhalation. And afterward, I noticed that my right bunion, which has been crabby, was much quieter than it had been.
2. Energy gels. A friend/co-worker/half-Ironman was the latest to remind me that you can't just run a half marathon on water and expect to keep your energy up.
So I picked up a few energy gels at Scheels and tried out the Clif chocolate-flavored one around mile 5.5 ... after which I kept close to gas stations and fast-food restaurants, in case of emergency. (Fortunately, all I had was one isolated incident of acid reflux around the eight-mile mark.)
It's tough to truly compare my two most recent long runs -- one gel-free, one with gel -- because the terrain and weather always play heavily into how I feel. For instance, the miles leading up to the last one were much better on the eight-miler, thanks to some wind, hills and traffic stops on the nine-miler; the final mile of the niner was flat and therefore infinitely smoother than the eight-miler's last one.
But the gel didn't cause me to throw up (or do worse!), so I'll keep practicing with them. Gotta get better at tearing off the top and eating as I go.
3. Foam rollers. I passed a sales associate at Scheels carrying the roller I was about to buy, and her eyes lit up. "YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE THAT!" she exclaimed. It was weird, yet encouraging.
And accurate. I can throw out the packaging, because there's no way I'm returning it. How can something that causes pain -- like, I literally groaned a few times while using it -- also cause me such joy? Why did I repeat the movements on my glutes and IT band despite the discomfort it inflicted on me during the first time?
Because, hours of sitting later, I was hardly stiff from running nine miles, and the spots that were sore had been neglected by the foam roller.
This isn't the first running trend I've been years behind on -- as you saw in the first two chunks -- but my God, it's the one I'm angriest about missing.