Six hot-weather training tips for runners

This guy will make your outdoor training a little tougher in the summer. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Summer is rapidly approaching, and it’s a time when a lot of us are thinking about vacations, backyard cookouts and time at the pool.

But for the running crowd, it’s also an opportunity to take advantage of extra daylight hours to get in our miles.

One problem: The heat. Most places will begin seeing temperatures rise significantly within the next couple of weeks, and things really get cooking in July and August. Fun in the sun is great and all, but when you’re training, heat can wreck you. It can beat you and your workouts into submission, and if you’re not careful, cause serious health problems.

But if we only went out in perfect conditions, there is a good chance we’d achieve almost nothing. So my advice is to make peace with summer and learn a few things about hot-weather training to get by, at least until things cool off in the fall.

So here are six tips for training in the heat:

Hydrate. A lot. Before you go to bed, drink some water. When you get up, drink some more. And throughout the day, be drinking more water. Bring some with you (hand-held water bottle, hip belt or hydration pack) or be sure your route has drinking fountains available. Don’t wait till you crash to stop for a water break. Heat-related illnesses and dehydration are no joke. Is a gallon a day excessive? Not if it’s summer and you’re outside training.

Shade your face. A ball cap will help you keep a little shade on your face and direct sun off your head. If it’s a moisture-wicking cap, it will help you stay cool.

If you can, pick routes with trees. I love trail running, and many of my trails are in wooded areas. You’ll lose some of the breeze in the woods, but the shade will help keep you cooler.

Pace yourself. Your body will not be able to maintain the same intensity at 98 degrees as it does at 78 degrees or 58 degrees. But you will still be working hard, and that’s what you’re going for — putting in some hard work. Which leads me to the next point…

Watch your heart rate. Whether it’s just listening to your body or wearing a heart-rate monitor, those beats-per-minute will be very telling in terms of how hard your body is working. In the winter, you burn more calories because your body is trying hard to keep your core temperature up. But in the summer, it’s fighting — and losing — the battle to keep you cool. If your pulse is pounding in your temples at 180 bpm or more, maybe it’s time to slow down and walk a couple of blocks. No shame in that.

And finally, and this might go without saying, pick a cooler time of day to run. This means running pre-dawn or after sunset during the summer, but those hours will be cooler and easier to manage.

So there you have it. Use these ideas during the hot months. Or succumb to the treadmill. Your choice.

Bob Doucette

Picking the right shoe for your next hike

Hmmm. Which should I wear for my next hike…

As we move closer to Memorial Day weekend, a lot of people are looking toward bigger hikes through the summer and into fall. Many of you are all-season hikers, but a good set of people lace up their hiking boots in earnest once the warm weather seasons settle in.

This is the crowd I’m talking to. And the main topic in this post is going to be about footwear.

Millions of words have been written about all kinds of gear you might need or want for hiking. I’m not exaggerating about that. But when it comes to hiking gear, it always starts with what you slip on your feet.

Plenty of stories about newbie hikers getting in trouble on the trail include references to blisters, frostbite or injured ankles due to inadequate footwear. For most people, the wrong shoe or boot can become a painful nuisance. In more extreme cases – injuries, infections or other maladies – what you wear can be the difference between a great day outside and a major crisis.

But not every trail or outing requires heavy-duty boots. And some trails require more than a light shoe.

Let’s keep this simple so things don’t get too complicated. Basically speaking, you’re looking at three types of hiking footwear: a light shoe, a light boot and a heavy-duty boot. Here’s how I’d describe them:

Light shoe: In short, these are shoes for trail running. They’re going to be light, they’ll drain water quickly, and unlike regular running shoes, their soles are going to be more rugged as they’re designed to protect a runner’s feet from protruding rocks, roots and stumps. While designed for running, they are fine for hiking and desirable for people who are trying to cut weight in what they wear on the trail.

Light boot: Meant for hiking. These will have more rugged construction in the upper and the sole than a light shoe. Though you can run in them, they’re going to be heavier than is comfortable over longer distances. Instead, light boots are made to provide comfort and protection for your feet, but will not be so bulky to weigh you down. Light boots are designed for day hikers who might do some off-trail hiking or walking on more rugged, demanding terrain than a light shoe would warrant. Many light boots are low-top in design, so ankle support would be similar to a light shoe. Some will be mid-top for more support.

Heavy-duty boot: Meant for hiking under demanding conditions, including steep slopes, uneven or loose terrain, bushwhacking and possible water crossings and snow travel. These boots will have sturdy soles and uppers. A decent boot will also have some sort of waterproofing, and many will be fitted in a way where crampons can be strapped on when needed. The best of them will be puncture resistant to things like cactus, rocks and roots. The bulk of these boots will have a mid- to high-top for more ankle stability.

What you choose to wear is going to depend on where you’re going, your goals, and even your level of hiking experience. Here are some general scenarios and then recommendations. Keep in mind, no recommendation is absolute. Here goes:

A short hike on a good trail meant that I was fine with wearing these.

Short day hike on well-maintained and easier trails: Comfort is key to enjoying a hike like this, so lighter footwear is called for. Go with the light shoe.

Day hike on hilly, more difficult terrain: In this case, performance is what matters. You’re going to need to protect your feet, keep your footing but still have enough comfort where the hike is enjoyable. The light boot is a good bet here, but a light shoe can be work if you’re confident in your hiking abilities or have a higher degree of familiarity with the route being hiked.

Exploratory hike that might include off-route bushwhacking: In this case, you’re going to be on uneven terrain with a high potential for encountering tripping elements like rocks and roots, and possibly puncture hazards like cactus, sharp rocks and broken or sharp limbs. Comfort and protection will be key, so light shoes are out. You can get away with a light boot, but a heavy-duty boot would be a better bet.

Below this summit were snow slopes. A heavier boot that could handle crampons was called for.

Mixed-terrain hiking that includes water crossings and/or snow travel: These types of hikes often include the same pitfalls as the exploratory hikes, but throw in the added problems of keeping your feet dry when encountering stream crossings, standing water or snow. The snow issue becomes more acute when the route is on a steeper slope or up a couloir, when the snow might be deeper. Postholing also becomes an issue, as you might be punching through snow and into unseen, uneven ground. In these situations, you’re going to want footwear that is waterproof, has ankle support and rugged overall construction. You can get away with wearing a light boot, but you’re better served with a heavy-duty boot that can handle the rigors of the route and keep your feet dry.

Long-haul hiking or backpacking: This could be anything from multi-day backpacking to thru-hiking. Your footwear is going to need to be engineered to protect your feet from everything listed in mixed-terrain hiking, but also must be comfortable and light enough to help you sustain extended periods of hiking while loaded with backpacking gear. The boot in question will also need to be durable enough to handle these demands over several days or weeks without breaking down. The heavy-duty boot is called upon here, but you’ll want to shop carefully to make sure that it meets all your demands while being as light as possible. If this is your game, you’ll want to research thoroughly and prepare to spend more on a high-end, heavy-duty boot. The extra money spent here will be worth every penny when you’ve been on the trail for a few weeks. Or months.

So there you have it. Any good hike always starts with what you put on your feet. Enjoy the trail!

Bob Doucette

Ueli Steck dies in a fall in the Himalayas

The mountaineering community suffered a huge loss on Sunday following a fall in the Himalayas that claimed the life of Ueli Steck. He was 40 years old.

Known as the Swiss Machine, Steck was well known for a high number of speed ascent records all over the world. He’s spent the last few years going to the Himalyas trying harder routes, and is credited with being the first to ascend  Annapurna’s south face solo. In 2015, he climbed 82 4,000-meter peaks in 80 days. He’s a two-time winner of the Piolet d’Or, mountaineering’s highest honor.

This spring, Steck was attempting to climb the Lohtse-Everest traverse, gaining Everest’s summit by its notoriously difficult west ridge. He was acclimatizing near a neighboring peak, Nuptse, when he fell 1,000 meters to his death on Sunday, according to Reuters.

For more on Steck and Sunday’s accident, read this report from Outside Online.

To see more on his planned project this spring, watch this video.

It’s National Parks Week: Here are some photos from two of my favorites

Time in our national parks can be some of the most rewarding you’ll spend. Sunrise at Rocky Mountain National Park.

The last couple of weeks have been heavy on the fitness side, so what better way to break back into the outdoors by paying homage to National Parks Week?

If you’ve been a reader of this site for any length of time, you know where I stand on our public lands. They are definitely a treasure, and they’re most beautifully preserved in our national parks.

I’ve been to a few, and two of my favorites are tucked inside some of America’s great mountain ranges: Rocky Mountain National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So in this post, East meets West with photos from these great American landscapes.

THE SMOKIES

The Appalachians have had a long time to perfect their allure, and the monarchs of this range are in its southern reaches. Great Smoky Mountains National Park packs a wallop when it comes to scenery.

For instance, take a look at this scene from halfway up Mount LeConte…

Alum Cave Bluff.

As you hike these mountains, you’re going to pass through ecosystems that range from low-lying broadleaf forests to spruce-filled woodlands more than a mile high.

Looking out from Tennessee’s high point, Clingman’s Dome.

And just about every overlook has a surprise waiting to be discovered.

This how the range and the park get their name.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

In the lower 48 states, no mountain range is as mighty as the Rockies. And I think that’s what people were trying to encapsulate when they designated a specific slice of Colorado to become Rocky Mountain National Park. Big, burly mountains and alpine landscapes dominate the land.

The Keyhole on Longs Peak.

The park’s centerpiece is one of the state’s iconic mountains, Longs Peak.

Longs Peak, the sentinel of Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you want to feel small, hike here. These mountains will do the trick.

Rugged, forbidding, haunting, and beautiful.

 

So there you have it. The weekend is coming up. If you’re in range of one of our national parks, do yourself a favor and go. Breathe some clean air, see some cool places, unplug and take advantage of a wonderful piece of our national heritage.

Bob Doucette

The strength experiment, a final word: What I did right and wrong

One thing about these guys: They’ll give back what you put in.

Much thanks to everyone who has hung on through this series on my strength experiment. If you’ve read the posts, you know why I did this, the workouts I performed, and what I did to stay healthy and ready to go.

This post is what I would call an “accountability” piece. Namely, what my results were, what went right, and what went wrong.

Before I go into all of that, a little guiding philosophy first. When you’re pushing for strength gains, you can’t do the same workouts with the same weight every week. You have to gradually increase weight in your lifts. The added challenge is added stimuli to promote muscle growth and performance gains. Otherwise, you stagnate and ultimately regress.

That said, I am very conservative when it comes to bumping up weight. Part of it has to do with a history of back injuries. I was steady but conservative on increasing weight on deadlifts, and even more so on squats. But when I felt it was appropriate, I moved up.

That said, let’s get to it…

THE RESULTS

I started out with a one-rep max deadlift of 320 pounds. Not too shabby, but in need of improvement. At the end of four months, that one-rep max stood at 350. Not quite twice my body weight, but a decent gain and 30 pounds closer to my goal.

I don’t like doing one-rep maxes on squats. I just don’t trust myself on that lift with the make-or-break stakes of a single. It should also be noted that my squat sucks out loud. I’ve had to work hard on getting the right form, and that meant dialing back the weight a bunch. When I started the cycle, I was doing a four-rep set with 225. When it ended, I was getting a four-rep set at 265. I think that would put me right at a 300-pound 1RM, but it’s all talk until you do it. Nevertheless, I’d call my approach on the squats ultra-conservative, and the gains were real.

Lastly, the dreaded bench press. What used to be my best lift is now pretty sad. At the beginning of the cycle, I was getting a max of about 220. At the end, I hit 240. That one surprised me a bit, mostly because I put very little emphasis on this lift, but I went ahead and tested it, mostly because it’s one of the three used in powerlifting meets. It was a pleasant surprise. I haven’t put more than 225 pounds on the bar in five years.

These aren’t really big totals. There are Crossfitter/bodybuilder/powerlifter/gym rat guys and gals who crank better than this. Just being honest. But there was some progress, and if you believe Men’s Health magazine, that 350-pound deadlift puts me in the “fit” category on that lift. The charts at one of the gyms I go to puts all my lifts in the intermediate range, or between intermediate and advanced, for my age and size. Not bad, with room for improvement. But more to the point, improvement is what I got.

WHAT I DID RIGHT

Dialing back the running. I’m a runner these days, so scaling back my miles was mentally hard. But what’s harder is getting stronger while pounding out 20 to 30 miles or more a week. Dropping that weekly mileage count allowed my body to rest and rebuild in a way that was conducive to strength.

Conservative progression. Some lifters and coaches advise adding 10 pounds a week to your lifts. I was more of a 5 pounds per week person. Go big or go home? Nah. There was one week toward the end I went the 10-pound route, but otherwise, nope. And I think that was the right speed. On some lifts, it was even slower. But progress was made, mostly without injury.

Workout design. I did a bunch of research and consulted with folks in the know to come up with the workouts I did. Not only that, I took care to place them at the right times of the week. They seemed to work pretty well, and did so without having to spend hours in the gym or doing exotic (and painful) fad workouts. Mine were simple, concise and challenging. Could they have been better designed? Probably. But these worked for me.

Sticking with it. I never let bad moods, busy schedules, laziness or anything else keep me off the program. Consistency is where I did best.

WHAT I DID WRONG

Lazy diet. I did a good job in getting all my protein. But I also ate more than I should have, and in many cases, in an undisciplined way. Too much junk. I gained about 8 pounds, most of it being the jiggly kind. Now I have to work that crap off. Yeah, there was some muscle gained, but not enough to justify that sort of weight gain.

A rep too far. In the last week of the cycle, I was really feeling the strain of it. Muscles and joints were barking. During a mid-week workout, I missed on a clean (I caught the bar, but at an awkward angle that tweaked my mid-back). It scared me a little, but I wasn’t in pain so I figured I got away with one.

Three days later, feeling beat-up and fatigued, I went through my lifts on the deadlift: 135×8, 205×7, 255×6, 295×5. They all went fine, even if I was a bit tight. I loaded 355 on the bar for a one-rep attempt and missed. An inch off the ground, but no more. The week before, 350 went up fairly well, so I figured I’d take a breather, reset, and try it again.

Big mistake.

I missed the second attempt, and my lower back freaked out for the better part of two weeks afterward. I suspected after the first miss that I needed to back off and move on, but I was prideful and wanted that gain. Bad move, and I paid for it. It’s now four weeks later, and I’m just now starting to deadlift heavier again.

So there you have it. Four months of work for a runner/hiker in the weight room trying to get stronger. I haven’t focused this intently on strength in many years, and after focusing on running over the past five years, I had a lot of ground to make up.

Will I get my miles back up? Yes, especially when the fall rolls around. Would I do another strength cycle? Absolutely. I’m not young, but I’m not dead. Being stronger can only be a positive, and if I can repeat what I did right and avoid what I did wrong, who knows how far it will go.

Thanks for reading, y’all. Time to get outside once again and get back to writing about the wide, wonderful outdoors.

Bob Doucette

Strength experiment, part 4: Self-care outside the gym

If you want to lift hard, you need to learn to take care of your body outside the gym.

In previous posts, we’ve gone over several workout plans designed around the four main strength movements: the press, the pull, the squat and the hip-hinge. None of these workouts are terribly time consuming, taking anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes apiece. But they have been challenging and fruitful.

But there are important things that support these workouts that have nothing to do with lifting. What I’m talking about is self-care.

If you’re lifting hard, there is a good chance your body will accumulate fatigue, painful tweaks and even injuries. That’s a fact of life. But you can stave off serious problems if you do the right things outside the weight room. That’s what this post is all about. I’m going to lay out what I did, and tell you why it’s important when trying to build strength and stave off injuries.

Take your rest day: I believe wholeheartedly that one day a week should be reserved for rest. You pick the day, but on your rest day, the most active things you should do are peaceful walks outside, or an easy bike ride. No lifting, no rigorous conditioning, nothing that taxes your body. If you’re not sure where that line is, then plant your butt on the couch and binge-watch a show on Netflix, catch a ballgame on TV or read a book. Rest is critical.

Get your sleep: The prime time for recovering from hard workouts is when you’re flat on your back catching some Z’s. People’s sleep needs vary, but I’d advise getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Become friends with a foam roller: The foam roller is an excellent tool for getting ready for a workout, or recovering afterwards. I use it a lot on my back. It’s like my little tubular chiropractor. But I also use it to work on the fascia tissues in my legs, hips, back, shoulders and elsewhere. Healthy fascia means more mobility , and more mobility means better athletic training and performance.

Eat right: I think it goes without saying that you shouldn’t eat crap. Just because you burn calories working out doesn’t give you license to eat junk that piles on bad calories. Better food is better fuel, and promotes athletic performance and muscle-building. This means getting an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. On the protein front, I’d advise consuming at least .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight. One gram per pound of body weight is even better. It’s not easy, but it needs to be done. Short-changing yourself on protein will make strength gains difficult to achieve, if not impossible.

Do the deload week: There should be one week every four to six weeks where you do a “deload,” where you back off the intensity. There are a lot of ways to do this, but generally speaking, take down the amount of weight you use for a week and allow your body to catch its breath, so to speak. Focus on form, get your lifts, but be a little more chill. I always bounced back from a deload ready to take the next leap forward.

Work on your postural alignment: When most people think about the term “posture,” they think about standing or sitting up straight. Ut goes way beyond that and is far more clinical than avoiding the slouch. The biggest part of this post is going to go over this subject.

Postural alignment deals with the proper positioning of the spine, shoulders and hips. Good postural alignment in these areas means your body will move fluidly, efficiently and correctly. A posturally aligned body will be less likely to suffer from overuse injuries and joint problems.

Conversely, a posturally imbalanced body will be far more likely to injure muscles and joints, and be more prone to overuse injuries. Overuse injuries often happen in sports as well as in training exercises like running. It’s been said that continued physical exertion in a posturally imbalanced state is like hammering a bent nail: You only reinforce the existing problems while never achieving the desired goal.

So how do you fix your postural alignment? There are a number of relatively passive exercises developed by Pete Egoscue that are designed to do this. Having used them, I can tell you they work.

With some guidance, I put together a battery of exercises I like to do in the mornings that help my particular imbalances. My hips are slightly off, as are my shoulders. I have some kyphosis in my back. All of this will affect my strength training, running and overall athletic performance negatively. The more I can resolve these issues, the better prepared I’ll be to tackle new physical challenges.

My exercises:

Static back.

Static back: This uses gravity and positioning to help my back become straighter and less curved. 3-5 minutes.

Static extension.

Static extension position: This fights rotation in your hips and shoulders and straightens the back. 1-2 minutes.

Wall drop.

Wall drop: While also helping straighten the back, it also helps loosen the musculature in the entire posterior chain: calves, hamstrings, glutes and the back. This also combats anterior pelvic tilt, which can severely impede overall mobility. Lastly, it assists in getting your head in a more neutral, less forward-tilted position. 3-5 minutes.

Upper spinal floor twist.

Upper spinal floor twist: This targets the upper to mid back, opening it up and pulling the body out of a rounded state and pulling the shoulders back. This will help prevent shoulder injuries, open up the chest, and thus enhance air intake and lung capacity. 1 minute each side.

Counter stretch.

Counter stretch: This helps pull your spine out of excessive curvature in your lower back and mid/upper back, repositions should shoulders and properly realigns your pelvis. Again, key components of proper mobility. 1-2 minutes.

There are postural alignment specialists scattered all over the country who are certified through Pete Egoscue’s system. Google “Egoscue” and your city and find them (I happen to know a good one in Tulsa 😊). A properly aligned spine improves your core stability and capacity to take on bigger loads in weight training.

Additionally, proper alignment will help your cardiovascular performance. I can tell you from experience that these exercises have helped me breathe better in races.

That’s my take on self-care during a strength cycle. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my own results, as well as break down what I did right – and what I did wrong.

Bob Doucette

Strength experiment, part 3: Posterior chain, aka, working your backside

The primal joy of the deadlift. Sah-weet!

It’s been fun recapping the strength workouts I did over the winter. Some are harder than others. Today we’re going to hit on an area that, for most people, offers the greatest potential for growth, and yet is often sorely neglected: the posterior chain.

So, what the heck is that? Simply put, it’s all the musculature on the back side (posterior) of your body, starting with the muscles in your neck all the way down to your hamstrings. So many people focus on the “mirror muscles” – the muscles they see when looking their reflection – that they forget about crucial areas which will make or break you athletically, and will affect your long-term health.

Let me lay out some truth to you. You cannot be strong if your back is weak. You will not stay healthy is your back is weak. You will likely become injured, physically compromised and otherwise headed toward greater immobility if your back is weak. Bench-pressing a truck is great. So is squatting a house. You will do neither if your back is weak.

And think about all the other things you do. Running, skiing, hiking, backpacking, recreational sports – just about anything, really – depends greatly on a strong back, and will be hindered if you are weak in this area. Some of the most debilitating injuries you can imagine are back injuries, and if your spine is not protected by strong back and core muscles, you WILL hurt your back. It might happen while grabbing a rebound. Or on a 20-mile hike. Or while running your next half-marathon. Or picking up a basket of laundry. That’s the truth, folks.

Here’s another: The deficiencies in your back can be solved by you.

Earlier this week, I mentioned the four main movements of strength training. One of those was the hip-hinge. Another was the pull. That’s what we’re going to focus on today.

When describing “pulls,” we’re talking about pull-ups, chin-ups, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, and cable pulls. These will primarily work the lats, those big muscles that flank the spine from your armpits down to your tailbone. Your biceps will also get some work here, as will the muscles on the back side of your shoulders. Being strong in these areas will go a long way toward balancing your anterior workouts and promote shoulder health as well as back strength.

Hip-hinge exercises are deadlifts, hip thrusters and kettlebell swings. The latter two exercises are great at working the glutes and hamstrings. But the deadlift rules them all. Deadlifts work the glutes and hamstrings while also giving your quadriceps some love. But wait, there’s more! Deadlifts will also work all the muscles in your back – from the muscles at the base of your neck to the base of your spine. An added benefit is holding a weighted barbell does wonderful things for improving grip strength. Master the deadlift and you will become strong.

I do two posterior chain workouts per week. The first one is an “easy” day. The second one is the toughest, most taxing workout of the week. Done right, these workouts will become the core of building strength.

Here’s the plan:

“Easy” day posterior chain workout

Lat pulls, 3×8

Cleans, 3×5

Seated cable rows, 3×10

Straight-arm cable pull-downs, 3×10

Mix in some core work and you’re good to go.

One note: If you haven’t done cleans before, go light and practice the form. This is a tricky, skill-based Olympic-style lift that will build back strength and overall explosive power, but get it wrong and you’ll jack up your back.

“Hard” day posterior chain workout

Warm-up: Pull-ups, 8, 9 and 10 reps; Sumo deadlifts with a kettlebell, 3×10

Barbell deadlift, 8, 7, 6, 5 reps (escalating weight with each set). If you’re brave, try adding fifth set of a 2-rep or a single rep with a heavy weight that you’re not sure you can get.

Standing horizontal cable pulls, 3×10 (escalating weight)

Farmer’s walk, loaded trap bar, 3 sets, walk with the weight for 45 seconds per set

Dumbbell bicep curls, 3×12 (escalating weight)

Hammer curls, 3×10 (escalating weight)

Throw in some planks and dead bugs, 3 sets each.

I added in the dumbbell curls to give your biceps a little more love.

But what I really want to address is the farmer’s walk. Such a great exercise. If you don’t have a trap bar, you can carry plates or dumbbells. The farmer’s walk, or any other loaded carry, works your back, legs and core. It will test your cardio. And it will build grip strength. This is one of my favorite exercises, and it has practical applications.

One last admonition: Form on the deadlift is crucial, especially when the weight starts getting heavier. You must brace your core and keep your back straight. A bowed lumbar is a recipe for injury.

So there it is. No lift scares me more than a really heavy deadlift single. No exercise makes me happier than the deadlift. And nothing is more satisfying than loading the bar with a big weight, walking up to it, and hoisting that bad boy off the ground. It’s simple, primal, aggressive and oh so good.

As a bonus: The deadlift is a total body exercise, and if you get strong doing these, you will get stronger everywhere else.

In the next installment, I’m going to discuss what I did for self-care during this strength cycle. It ain’t sexy, but it’s important.

Bob Doucette