Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

WRRR Challenge Series

Posted by boakley59 on January 9, 2012

The White River Road Runners welcome 2012 with a revival of the club’s yearlong points challenge. (Click for current standings.)

The championship series encompasses nine races, and all club members and Independence County runners finishing any of the nine will automatically be entered in the competition. Visiting runners at local events will also be able to register to join the free challenge series.

Runners will be scored at each race against other competitors in men’s and women’s overall categories and men’s and women’s age groups of 60 and older, 50-59, 40-49, 30-39, 20-29, 10-19, 15-19, 10-14, 9 and younger. Points will be awarded on a decreasing scale to the top 10 finishers in each category, and every runner will receive one point for finishing.

The series is designed to encourage the broadest participation and give runners of all training levels a chance. Nine races are in the series, but only a runner’s best six scores will count toward the final total, and a runner must complete four races to be eligible for final awards. Some of the events offer additional races, but only one race (noted in the list below) counts in the points series. Runners who complete all nine races will receive “Iron Road Runner” recognition.

Age group for the competition will be a runner’s age on May 12 at the fifth race in the series, the White River Medical Center “Run the Wave” 5K in Batesville. Some races do not yet have firm dates; any series changes will be announced well in advance on the running club’s Web site,

The nine races in the series are:

Penguin 10k for Special Olympics, Feb. 25, Kennedy Park, Batesville (This event also offers a 5K not in the series)
• High Rock Hop 5+ Mile Trail Run, March 31, The Farm, Batesville (This event also offers a 10-mile run not in the series)
• 1040 Tax Fun Run/Walk, April 14, Eagle Mountain Elementary School, Batesville
• Pioneer Day 5K, May 5, Court Square, Melbourne
• White River Medical Center “Run the Wave” 5K, May 12, Batesville
• Army National Guard 5k, July date to be determined, Lyon College, Batesville
Sprint for Seniors, June 23, West Baptist Church, Batesville
• White River 4M Classic, Aug. 4, Main Street, Batesville
• Sara Low Memorial 5K, Sept. 8, Batesville High School
• White River Half-Marathon, Dec. 8 Dec. 1 (NOTE: Date corrected 10/26/12), Main Street, Batesville (This event also offers a two-runner relay not in the series) | Course map

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Fast talk

Posted by boakley59 on July 6, 2011

Beep beep. So now we have some basic ideas about how we learn to stop worrying and love running. We get how this makes us fitter and happier, but now we’re starting to get itchy about getting faster.

We’ve been nibbling at the edges with various plans from the Women Run Arkansas clinic, Cool Running (Couch to 5K) and the pages of Runner’s World. But how does it all work, and what if I just want to be a little faster for myself, not a great age-group racer or big medal winner?

As with most things in running, getting faster is easier said than done — though mostly it takes Patience. The simple truth is that it’s difficult to run fast without running well, particularly if you also run far. Bad mechanics will bust you up if you persevere with them. There’s also a chicken-and-egg aspect to this, because the best way to teach yourself to run well is by running fast. Your body will streamline its motion the harder you try to make it work.

The typical short-term training plan for beginners works by applying principles tested at the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training, which is why you’ll often hear of a FIRST marathon or FIRST 5K plan. For many people, the FIRST plan is also for their first race, so sometimes the notion that these are clinically verified methods gets lost in the excitement of the newness of the effort.

The essence of most of these plans is that less is more: The beginner does not need to run the high, hard mileage of the elite athlete, but can do very well with natural gifts by mixing three types of runs: speed, tempo and endurance. You run three days a week, with one day for each kind of workout. Each day, you warm up, do the meat of the workout, then cool down. These workouts also arrange themselves by difficulty and mileage: Speed is the hardest and shortest; tempo is medium in length and intensity; endurance is gentlest and longest.

The speed work, which is short stretches faster than your target race pace, hones your mechanics. That pays off in all of your running. It is not so much to make you faster in a short burst, but to make it easier for you to continue longer and more comfortably at any pace. Your medium or jogging speeds seem so much less a strain after you’ve done some speed work. Your breathing isn’t as labored; you don’t get that panicked “I can’t do this” feeling as readily.

Tempo runs are faster than your jogging pace, but slower than a target race pace. The shorter the tempo run, the closer you should go to your goal race pace. You are teaching your body to carry on under mild duress. The pace you can withstand improves as you continue with this speed-tempo-endurance plan.

Endurance runs are longer and slower than races. You take it easy, but you keep going. As time goes on, you’ll find you are comfortable (or at least capable) longer and longer. The endurance runs train your body to use fuel efficiently and strengthen your heart and lungs.

Underlying this all is learning the value of mediocrity. Children and newbies tend to think the way to win races is to go like crazy, to be the hare. But slow and steady really does win the race.

You want to run at the fastest speed you can maintain for the duration of the race, which is usually nowhere near the fastest that you can go. The fastest humans ever go a little faster than 20 mph — for about 200 yards. The fastest human mile is a little faster than 15 mph; the fastest marathon (26 miles) is a little faster than 12 mph. A 10-minute mile is 6 mph.

If 6 mph seems plenty fast to you, target 5 mph and see if you don’t feel much better running a 12-minute mile. Practice short bursts at 6 mph and long runs at 4 mph, and it will get easier and easier to run the medium at 5 mph. Pretty soon, you’ll feel comfortable maintaining 5.5 mph, though you still may not be able to go much faster than 6 mph in your short bursts. You raise the level of your mediocrity.

Again with the paradox: The road to excellence goes through enhanced mediocrity. The goal is to be the best mediocre you can be.

We go from the cartoon dynamic of the Road Runner — Beep, Beep — to the fairy tale wisdom of the slow and steady tortoise. Most everything you need to know about running you learned as a child.

Run for fun. Speed (whatever that means for you) is child’s play.

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Hurry up and wait

Posted by boakley59 on June 27, 2011

We’ve been on this BEEPing journey together for a while now, and you can tell there’s a man in front because it’s taken so long before we get to “P”!

We started with Balance, but then we staggered around a bit before getting to Efficiency. We had learned how we wanted to BE, but still needed to add Effort to get results. So now, like the busy BEE, we stay on the move, buzzing here and there, and we get … what, exactly?

This is the hardest part, because like the bee we have to spend a lot of time in the fields before we can make honey. Sure, it’s natural and we have only to “just do it,” but we’ve been buzzing and buzzing; can’t we just get to the good stuff already? Give us a break!

So here’s where we get to P: Patience! That’s right, now that we’ve spent weeks working on getting faster, our next lesson is to remember that we’re in this for the long haul. As much as we want to go fast and we keep talking about how to improve speed, this is really about endurance. Progress is slow, sometimes barely noticeable. Steady? Well, if you think in terms of a calendar instead of a day planner, then it’s steady. If you zoom in close, it’s a bit of a roller coaster.

It takes time to increase your mileage; it takes time to build muscle and speed; it takes time to overcome injuries. You’ll have days when everything works, the weather is fantastic, and you’ll run like the wind. You’ll also have days when you can’t seem to tie your shoelaces right. Take the long view: Your worst days running now are faster and easier than good days before, and it will be easier still next month. You may be tired and stiff tomorrow, but give yourself permission to rest and recover. Get ready for the day after that or maybe even the next week.

To run is to learn about limitations and overcoming them. You learn how your body works; you find (build?) your character. This is a long conversation with yourself. We can give advice in sound bites that capture the highlights, but you need to be an attentive listener to get the full value — and joy — out of the experience.

Your training plan should be months long, and you should measure achievement accordingly. You can overcome injuries and bad days if you will accept them as part of the journey. Recovery and correction take time, too — don’t rush them.

The great basketball coach, John Wooden, taught his players: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” Great athletes know how this works; the game seems slower to them. Quarterback Joe Montana had a way of stretching out a play until he could do something great; Michael Jordan had a knack for dominating the big moments. Wait for the moment; strike like a rattlesnake. Efficient, not rushed.

Douglas Adams has it right in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”: “Don’t panic.”

If you think about it, there are a lot of P’s in this pod: To make Progress, you need to Plan, Prepare, Practice, all of which require Patience. Like so many of these notions, the counterbalance seems Paradoxical: It takes a slowed Perspective and a certain reserve to move you from a busy BEE to a free-spirited roadrunner.


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A turn to tables

Posted by boakley59 on June 20, 2011

I’ve summarized numbers for weekly mileage and daily water needs, applying principles mentioned in earlier posts and explained in detail on various running sites (see advice links at Run-Coach). At these tables you can see when you are putting too much on your running plate and whether you need another glass of water.

The Safe weekly mileage increase table shows what your new mileage should be each week as you build from 9 miles a week by adding 5% or 7%. I am a bit more conservative on this than the oft-cited 10% maximum increase. I have rounded my calculations to the nearest quarter mile for easier matching to road routes.

If you are already running more than 9 miles a week, find the figure closest to your mileage (nearest 5-mile multiples in bold) in the 5% or 7% row and start from there instead of “Week 1.”

Safe weekly mileage increase
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Add 5% 9.00 9.50 10.00 10.50 11.00 11.50 12.00 12.75 13.25 14.00 14.75 15.50
Add 7% 9.00 9.75 10.25 11.00 11.75 12.75 13.50 14.50 15.50 16.50 17.75 19.00
Week 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
Add 5% 16.25 17.00 17.75 18.75 19.75 20.75 21.75 22.75 24.00 25.00 26.25
Add 7% 20.25 21.75 23.25 24.75 26.50 28.50 30.50 32.50 34.75 37.25 40.00
Week 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
Add 5% 27.75 29.00 30.50 32.00 33.50 35.25 37.00 39.00 40.75 42.75 45.00
Add 7% 42.75 45.75


The Daily water needs table follows the advice that women need to drink [(Wgt in lbs) x .31] ounces of water a day to be properly hydrated. Men need to drink [(Wgt in lbs) x .35] ounces. This is the normal day-to-day load. When you exercise, you must replace the lost sweat as well, so you drink more than this. The table covers five-pound increments from 100 to 235, and you can double those figures to cover higher weights.

Your body inherently calculates its needs and you feel thirsty when you need water: Obey your thirst, but sip; don’t guzzle. Your body also has a built-in indicator: Your wastewater tends to darken from yellow toward brown when you are dehydrated, and to lighten toward clear when you are overhydrated.

Male/Female daily water needs
Weight (lbs.) (F x .31) oz. (M x .35) oz.
100 31.00 35.00
105 32.55 36.75
110 34.10 38.50
115 35.65 40.25
120 37.20 42.00
125 38.75 43.75
130 40.30 45.50
135 41.85 47.25
140 43.40 49.00
145 44.95 50.75
150 46.50 52.50
155 48.05 54.25
160 49.60 56.00
165 51.15 57.75
170 52.70 59.50
175 54.25 61.25
180 55.80 63.00
185 57.35 64.75
190 58.90 66.50
195 60.45 68.25
200 62.00 70.00
205 63.55 71.75
210 65.10 73.50
215 66.65 75.25
220 68.20 77.00
225 69.75 78.75
230 71.30 80.50
235 72.85 82.25


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Against a sea of troubles

Posted by boakley59 on June 15, 2011

They say there are two kinds of runners, those who are injured and those who will be. If injury is inevitable, though, it can also be rare and need not hurt so much or so long.

To keep our legs right, we can take a bit of Shakespearean advice and “take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.”

Here is a quick summary of thoughts on injuries and prevention, building upon a talk I gave recently (6/13/2011). I’ll expand on the key ideas in later posts.

A few catch phrases cover the territory:

• “Know thyself.” (Body type, mentality, fitness level, pain tolerance.)
• “It’s gotta be the shoes.” (Get the right kind for your foot.)

See my Best foot forward or click to view foot/shoe images from The Sporty Runner for an explanation. On The Sporty Runner page, notice the difference in the soles of the shoes from heel to arch:
Motion control shoe: A solid block of support material (usually in a different color on the inside heel) under the arch
Stability shoe: Not quite so full a block of support material (different color on inside heel) with a notch or wedge out at the arch
Neutral or cushion shoe: Minimal band of support material (main color) from heel to arch.

• “Obey your thirst.” (Get your fluids right.)
• “Always be prepared.” (Know how to build flexibility and strength.)

Build flexibility by always warming up, then do dynamic stretching (active limbering-up moves rather than slow, stationary stretches) before a workout. Walk or jog slower to cool down after the workout, then do the static stretching.
Build strength through basic exercises to avoid the five most common running injuries:
° Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS): Side leg raise.
° Shin splints: Heel walk, big toe raise.
° Runner’s knee: Half squats on a decline board.
° Achilles tendinitis: Calf drops.
° Plantar fasciitis: Arch raise with big toe-little toe-heel tripod.

• “Train, don’t strain.”

° Increase weekly mileage slowly, steadily (5%-7%).
° Allow for recovery: Fast or long runs should be followed by easy, short runs or rest days.
° Be careful when changing terrain (from grass to roads or sidewalks) or topography (hills to flat to trails).

• “The P-R-I-C-E is right.”

When you do have a problem, the treatment usually is Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. No shortcuts: The best way to Protect is usually to Rest, which is the step the competitor or mule in each of us wants to skip.

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Efficiency in a nutshell

Posted by boakley59 on May 21, 2011

Beep. Roadrunners. I’ve noticed it’s been more like “buh…” around here, since I wrote a month ago On Balance, the “B” in “beep,” and have not moved on from there. So, with that glaring example of inefficiency before us, let’s see if we can’t “BE” better: Today’s topic is “Efficiency.”

I did take a few baby steps in this direction in First steps and On balance, discussing mechanical efficiency. That means your arms and legs are generally tucked in tight, strides and arm motions are compact and focused forward with little side-to-side motion and little extension in knees and elbows.

But as with balance, efficiency has a dual nature. It is an attribute and a target or approach. Your stride is efficient or not, but if it isn’t you can apply straightforward (!) techniques to make it so.

Concentrate on the description above: “Compact,” “focused,” “tucked in.” We tend to think of power and speed as big things. We think running fast means stretching way out with big arm and leg motions; a knockout punch is a swinging haymaker. But martial artists know that power comes from minimal motion as direct to — and through — the target as possible. Same with running. Same with most things.

Most of us, even experienced racers, tend to overstride trying to be fast. This puts the mechanical burden on the wrong tissues, slowing us and also leading to breakdown and injury. If you want to go faster and breathe easier, shorten your stride until you feel the power as your thighs do most of the work. If you can’t tell what’s happening while you’re thinking of your legs, think about your arms. Keep your elbows tucked tight to your side, moving your forearms straight up and down. Your elbows move only slightly forward and back from the plane of your shoulders. Your legs will go along in compact motion, and you’ll move faster while working less. Efficient.

Efficiency is more than mechanical, though. It takes attention and practice to move with mechanical efficiency. Attention and practice require mental efficiency (few distractions) and practical efficiency (time management). You need a schedule that allows you to practice without rushing or worry. You need a clear head to focus on the messages your body is sending — better fitness and more oxygen to the brain may help you solve problems you “ignore” while you focus on running.

Efficiency is knowing your route before you start (study a map or walk/jog a race course before you compete), laying out your gear the night before a race or even a workout, setting your training schedule months in advance according to a realistic goal. Efficiency is finding the best technique and learning it so well that it becomes automatic, seemingly natural.

Watch a track championship or road race on television and see how smooth the leaders look, especially early on: Their heads seem unmoving, neither bobbing up and down nor swaying side to side, and their feet seem to spend no time on the ground though they cover great distances with each stride. Despite gobbling the ground, they are not reaching forward so much as springing forward. So powerful, so graceful, so natural — so many years of efficient practice!

Ironically, you can train yourself in efficiency by pushing yourself through inefficiency. When I practice or run solely for fun (and ultimately we want it always to be for fun, even if fitness or competition is a short-term goal), I always take the long way around a corner. I hug the outside shoulder on a road course or use the outside lanes on a track. When I race, I take the shortest allowed route, following the tangents on curves in road races and staying inside on a track.

If you don’t have an efficient stride, run short bursts as fast as you can — your body will teach you to become compact. You’ll feel the difference when you’re efficient rather than flailing. If you don’t breathe efficiently, run longer workouts and you’ll develop lung capacity. You’ll breathe easier on short runs.

Remember as you’re working on Efficiency that you cannot “BE” better without Balance first. Eat well, rest as necessary, don’t overdo.

BE smart. You’re getting closer yet going farther every day.

Many small steps.

Beep beep. Roadrunner.

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On balance

Posted by boakley59 on April 20, 2011

Beep. It begins with B and that stands for Balance. As we said last time, that starts with the feet and proper shoes. Now that we have our feet on the ground, so to speak, let’s talk some more about this notion of balance.

Balance is an attribute, the kind of grace that allows a circus performer to walk a tightrope or a gymnast to cavort on a four-inch beam. Balance is also an action, an equalizing of weights and burdens, physical or philosophical. You balance the scales, your workload, your time with friends and family.

We are built for balance while running. Our arms and legs, muscles and tendons work together to keep us moving forward over uncertain terrain and in various postures as obstacles arise. But distance runners must also balance this natural ability with effort and conditioning, because we lose grace as we tire and we suffer breakdown or injury in a variety of ways.

So, we carefully construct training plans to teach ourselves to endure running far or fast, sometimes far and fast. These plans themselves require a balance of distance training and speed training, hills and tracks, rest and exertion. They also must balance the desire to improve against our current capabilities. You may want to run five miles, but if you’ve not yet run a quarter mile, you must build up to the target over the course of weeks.

Every training plan also includes warm-up, cool-down and stretching before and after. This balances muscle building with muscle readiness, making muscles supple as well as strong.

All of the BEEPing elements — Balance, Efficiency, Effort, Patience — are in constant interplay, in such balance that they become indistinguishable as the fabric of fitness. Effort and Patience are in balance when you build slowly from a quarter mile to five miles over the course of weeks. Efficiency for a runner means Balance is evident: Stride is compact without wobble or flailing, posture is upright, head is steady.

For some of us, it’s much easier to improve by thinking of balance rather than speed, time or comfort. If we focus on lap times, a high number disappoints. If we focus on muscle pain or difficulty breathing, panic may shut us down. Fear and doubt upset our balance, and we will run less efficiently, which will feed our fear and doubt, which will … You get the idea.

A mechanical rule of thumb: What one part does, others must balance. For our purposes, we’ll say, “What your arms do, your legs must follow.”

This is one way to control your effort on hills. Think of your arms, not your legs. Running uphill, you bring your arms in tight and pump hard in a compact motion. You keep your elbows close to your body, moving them very little, and you don’t reach out forward with your arms. Most of the motion is concentrated up and down. This forces your strides to be mostly short with higher knee lifts, meaning your powerful thigh muscles are doing the hill work. This is the efficient way to power up a hill. (For those of you who think better on your feet — rather than on your arms, if you catch my drift — shorten your stride and drive with your thighs. Your arms will tuck in and pump to match.) It also helps to lean into the hill because this keeps your motion tight, stopping you from reaching too far forward and making stretchy tendons and ligaments do what muscles should.

Going downhill follows the same principle with the opposite application. You let your arms flap freely in a windmill motion reaching forward, which lengthens your stride and makes gravity do most of the work for you. You’ll want to be careful to maintain your balance so as not to go flat on your face at downhill speed! (For those who think of your legs first, extend your stride and your arms will flail in sync.)

Another rule of thumb: Build weekly mileage by no more than 5%-7%. If you’re running 10 miles a week, you can add half a mile to your total each week the next five weeks. When you get to 15 miles a week, you can add one mile a week, and so on. You can do this by adding a little bit to each workout, or you may wish to consider just adding the whole distance to your otherwise easiest day. Again, we’re talking about balancing the effort to increase endurance with the tendency to break down under stress. We’re avoiding overuse. If you add the distance by chopping it up a little each day, you spread the impact of the change so it’s small on any given day. If you add it whole to your easiest day, you are building that into a harder day and balancing your overall weekly effort.

On balance, I think that’s enough for today. Oh, and don’t forget a balanced diet.

Feel free to ask questions, demand fuller explanations or suggest topics.

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First steps

Posted by boakley59 on April 7, 2011

Beep beep. Roadrunner.

That’s me, or at least it was once upon a time. Crohn’s has taken most of that capacity away from me, but in the last several months I have been able to make a vicarious return to my glory days by helping less experienced runners enjoy fleeter feet.

Now Suzy has joined the Women Run Arkansas series and I have tagged along, offering advice and encouragement to eager beginners looking for any tips on making running easier, less painful and even fun. Suzy has “Gone Public” with her own effort to lose weight and improve fitness, committing to daily posting on her journey, so I am committing to a series of my own focusing on running for fitness.

Back to the Roadrunner: Beep beep!

If you’re going to do a lot of running, for fitness or competition, you want to find playful joy in doing it. I know — if you’re just starting and trying to drop 50 pounds, it’s miserable: You’re sweaty, sore and struggling. Hard to imagine where the fun could be. But you have more control over your attitude than over most any other aspect of the equation. You can’t be taller, you can’t be 20 pounds lighter in a snap, you can’t bench press 400 pounds on a whim. But you can look at the blue sky and smile and say, “This is a good day.” You can be sweaty, huffing and puffing, and still realize, “Yesterday, I couldn’t go this far this fast, and tomorrow I’ll do better still.”

We’ll talk more about training yourself to be positive, but if you’re a beginner, latch onto something that pleases you: Being out in nature, a song you can listen to or sing in your head as you go, thoughts of a sleeker, faster you — anything that will balance the toll that unfamiliar effort takes on your body and willpower.

Beep beep. If the gloom catches you, you’re through.

I mentioned balance, and that’s the “B” in “Beep” — the first principle for easy running. Your body works in balance. One of the earliest lessons from my racing days in high school is to drive your arms to go faster up a hill. What your arms do, your legs must follow to balance. Pump your arms and your legs must move faster. If your arms flap from side to side, your legs will wobble in counterbalance. If you want to run efficiently, tuck your arms in and do compact movements, and your legs will move in short, powerful steps.

Efficiency is the first “E” in “Beep,” the target of all your mechanics and planning. As I said, tuck in and go straight, with small but powerful movements. Don’t waste effort in big motion or in making tendons and ligaments do muscle jobs. Learn to breathe well, not frantically or shallowly.

Effort is “E2” in “Beep,” because the goal is for running to become easy and fluid. Even though running is natural in a body made for balance, once we leave childhood we learn bad habits that only patient effort can overcome. We also tend to become soft with inactivity, and we need to work to be strong and efficient. We even have to relearn to breathe well, especially as we pile on stress.

Patience is that last character in “Beep,” since all of this rediscovery of childhood joy and natural efficiency takes time. The principles are simple, the movements are natural, but the years have been unkind to us. We have gained weight, lost muscle tone and lung capacity, stopped eating or sleeping well and made a mountain of work for ourselves to regain fitness.

If you’ll be patient and stick with me, we’ll step out together on the road to health and happiness.

Beep beep.

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