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Energy Gel Taste Test Comparison

March 1st, 2013

For many of us, energy gel is the, uh, ‘glue’ that holds our long runs together. You might have a special place in your heart for a certain brand or flavor, but if you’re a gel novice or looking to expand your horizons, we’ve done the hard work of trying out every brand of gel we carry here at Running Warehouse.

Last week, we rounded up over a dozen energetic RW staffers to test out gels from Clif, GU, Hammer, Honey Stinger, PowerGel, Accel Gel and 2nd Surge. Of course, we didn’t tell our taste-testers which gel was which, because we wanted unbiased feedback. Here’s your guide to tasting the rainbow of energy gel brands and flavors:

Viscosity

Viscosity is an incredibly important factor when it comes to gel enjoyment. Some athletes want a thick, almost frosting-like gel, while others prefer a gel that is closer to the consistency of a juice. If you’re looking for a very viscous energy gel, then try something from Clif or GU, both of which topped the charts in our tests when it came to gel thickness. If you want a gel that has more of a liquid consistency, then try a gel from Accel Gel, 2nd Surge or PowerGel, all of which came back as the least viscous gels. If a more middle-of-the-road consistency is what pleases your palate, then you should be happy with a gel from Hammer or Honey Stinger.

Sweetness

We rated gels on a scale of perceived sweetness. In the chart below, you can see the average score each gel received from our taste testers.

Read more…

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Heart Rate Monitors Plain and Simple

February 27th, 2013

You don’t have to be a gearhead to jump – or run – into the world of heart rate monitors. Today’s market offers a great selection of sleek and simple monitors that are easy to operate.

Why Buy a Heart Rate Monitor?

Incorporating heart rate training gives you more control over your workouts and can be a clutch training tool when it comes to making fitness gains and breaking through plateaus. A heart rate monitor can help you make sure you’re hitting your target heart rate during a workout, or staying in a lower heart rate zone on an active recovery day. You can also use a heart rate monitor to work intervals of higher and lower intensity exertion.

Whether your running goals are fitness or race-performance related, a heart rate monitor can enhance your training. These nifty little gadgets are a much more precise way to keep track of your efforts than ‘perceived exertion,’ giving you the power to manipulate your workouts to achieve your goals.

Our Popular Models

If simple is your style, here are a few of our favorite basic heart rate monitors:

Timex Easy Trainer

The Timex Easy Trainer offers a no-frills approach to heart rate training. All you need to do is secure the included heart rate monitor strap around your chest and press the red ‘On/Off’ button, and you’re on your way. The large, easy-to-read display helps you keep track of your heart rate on your run, even in the dark thanks to the INDIGLO® night light. After your run, the Workout Review feature recalls activity time along with average and peak heart rates.

Polar FT4

The Polar FT4 provides heart rate information, as well as an estimate of calories burned during a workout. This heart rate monitor also has a coded heart rate transmission, so it will correctly pick up your own heart rate even if your training partner is wearing a heart rate monitor as well. You can even set heart-rate-based target zones with visual and audible alarms, and choose from eight languages to display. Read more…

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Should You Cross-Train?

February 26th, 2013

If you want to run harder and race faster, you need to run more… right? Maybe. But sometimes when you increase your running mileage or intensity too much you increase your risk of getting injured. Linzay Logan over at Competitor magazine has found that creative cross training is the key to improving performance and sidestepping overuse injuries, and we’d agree.

Cross training can help you reach peak performance without sidelining yourself with too much heavy mileage. When you engage your muscles in activities beyond running (like cycling or swimming) you strengthen the smaller support and balance muscles throughout your entire body, which gives you a superior level of base fitness.

Engaging in a variety of exercises will help prevent overuse injuries that can occur when you do the same exercise day in and day out. Since doing new and different workouts can result in more muscle soreness at the beginning, we like to pamper our muscles post-workout with the I-Knead Medium Massage Roller or the Moji 360 Mini Massager.

Don’t be afraid cross training will only consist of monotonous hours on a stationary bike… get creative! While prepping herself for an upcoming marathon, Logan even found a way to cross-train in the snow. Read the full article here.

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Five Signs of Runner Overtraining

February 19th, 2013

Overtraining can lead to injury, burnout and impaired performance, so avoiding it is especially crucial for competitive runners with serious goals.  Here are five signs of overtraining:

1. Your body hurts.

Every athlete gets sore from time to time, especially if you’re just starting a new training routine. What we’re talking about are those nagging aches and pains that started a week (or more) ago, and just won’t go away. This is your body’s way of letting you know it’s time for some rest. Without rest, it’s easy for those minor aches and pains to develop into more serious injuries that could sideline you from your training.

2. You’re unmotivated to workout.

We’ve all had a tough time stepping that first foot out the door some days, but if you feel unmotivated before every workout, it’s time to ease up. Mental burnout is a good sign that physical burnout is on the horizon. Being able to push through a workout when you’re less than motivated is part of being a competitor, but know your limits. If you find you’re dragging yourself through every workout, think twice before you lace up your trainers today.

Read more…

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Running Resolutions in Limbo?

February 6th, 2013

Stumbling more than you're running? Brooks' blog has suggestions to get back on track.

If you’re having trouble sticking with your running resolutions, check out this blog from Brooks on How to Reboot Your Running Resolutions. They offer up some fixes and suggestions for common training hurdles like sickness, exhaustion, and not being able to find enough time to get in all your mileage.

We’ve found a couple types of products are particularly helpful for people who are working on a training or race goal in 2013. The most obvious one is a GPS watch or heart rate monitor. After all, you can’t improve if you don’t measure how you’re doing. We’re also big proponents of massage and running injury prevention products, especially for more entry level runners who are working hard toward a goal.

For those of you who made running resolutions, how are they going? What other stumbling blocks have gotten in your way? Let us know and we’ll try to offer some creative solutions.

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Maintaining Muscle Endurance during Time Off from Running

February 4th, 2013

Look at Those Mitochondria Go!

If you’re a sprinter and you take a handful of weeks off, you’ll likely experience less of a performance hit than a distance runner. This is because your speed and strength will stick around longer than your muscle endurance when you take a long break from training. Why is that? Well, muscle endurance has everything to do with having a lasting energy source, and the energy generators in the cells, mitochondria, can decline in number quickly with inactivity.

Here’s a little more background and some useful tips for distance runners to keep their endurance up if and when they need to take some time away.

Two Weeks Too Many

If you just take off a few extra days from your training, you’re probably fine. Of course, “fine” is a relative term – you might be a mini basketcase or a bit of a grump, but the break shouldn’t have any noticeable physiological effects at least.

Performance typically starts to take a hit after about 7-10 days of inactivity. By the time you hit a two-week hiatus, you’ll almost certainly start to feel the effects of detraining on your endurance. Your mitochondrial density (more on this in a sec) will decrease and enzyme activity in your mitochondria will slow down, causing your endurance to plummet. You’ll probably also start to see an increase in body fat, especially if you’re eating the same way you were when your training was in full tilt.

Mitochondria: The Little Engines That Can

Stretch your memory all the way back to freshman year bio. You might vaguely recall your teacher saying something about the mitochondria being the “powerhouse” of a cell. How do these little blobs in your cells work their magic? With the help of oxygen, they break down carbs, fat and protein to release the energy stored inside.

The trick here is that your body can actually increase the number of mitochondria in each cell. And that’s just what it’ll do in response to increased energy needs. Increased mitochondrial density in your muscles helps to improve endurance by giving your muscles an adequate source of energy when running at a faster pace. But just as your body can increase mitochondrial density, in a classic case of ‘use it or lose it,’ the body will also decrease that density quickly in response to inactivity.

Loss Prevention

If you’re unable to train the way you normally do because of an injury, illness, or hectic schedule, try to create a modified training plan. The focus of this plan is simply to maintain the benefits of your prior training during your hiatus. Clear your training modifications with your physician before you try them, to make sure you won’t be prolonging or aggravating your injury with activity.

Whenever possible, reduce how much you train, rather than just burying your running shoes in the closet. This could mean cutting mileage, or stepping down from six workouts per week to three or four. If you have a joint injury, try working out on an elliptical to eliminate impact. For something like a stress fracture you might try cross-training in the pool. Engaging in an endurance activity other than running (like swimming) will keep your mitochondria density up, and can help you maintain your endurance when you’re ready to lace up again.

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Hydration and Cold Weather Running

January 24th, 2013

Ever wonder how the dry, cold days this time of year impact your hydration levels? After all, breathing in the dry air causes us to lose more water through our lungs, and it’s really easy for many runners not to drink enough when temperatures drop.

Several of us here at RW were just talking by the watercooler the other day (as we diligently hydrated) about how it’s tough to get excited about drinking even room temp beverages this time of year. Hot water with a bit of lemon seemed to be a crowd favorite.

Hydration in cold weather doesn’t get nearly as much discussion as the importance of hydrating when the mercury rises, but Skratch Labs, makers of Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Drink Mix, has a fantastic recent blog article on how the human body compensates for cold temps. They also provide some strategies for staying warm and properly hydrated when you’re running in a winter wonderland.

Exercising in the Cold of Winter by Allen Lim

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Marathon Recovery Tips

January 21st, 2013

You just did 26.2 – congrats on making it to the finish line. Whether it was your first or your 51st, make sure you know what to do to take care of the body that just carried you all those miles.

Immediately Following Your Race

  • Walk it off: Even though you might not want to run another step, make sure you cool down slowly. Coming to a dead stop after running a long distance can make recovery even more painful. Jog for a few minutes, and then transition to a walk.
  • Stretch: Gently stretch your muscles while you finish cooling down. This can help to ease muscle tightness and prevent injury.
  • Change: As soon as you’re done with your race, change into some warm, dry clothes to prevent getting clammy and chilled. This will also help keep your muscles from cooling down too quickly.
  • Start sipping: After a long race, it’s important to replenish what your body has lost. If it’s hard to think of food at this point, opt for a recovery drink that has carbs, protein and electrolytes. Gauge your level of hydration based on the color of your urine. Urine should be a very light yellow (think lemonade). If it’s darker than that, you need more fluids. If it’s lighter, ease up on the fluid intake to avoid overhydrating.

Two Hours After Your Race

  • Massage: Treat yourself to a massage from a pro, or try some self-massage to help your muscles recover. Check out the benefits of self-massage here.
  • Nibble: Although you likely won’t feel hungry enough for a real meal yet, try snacking on something small to help refuel your system. Our peanut butter energy bites can provide some quick calories post-race.

Six to Twelve Hours After Your Race

  • Chow down: You’re probably going to be pretty ravenous at this point, and you definitely earned that hunger. Avoid fast food and give your body something with high nutritional quality, like lean meat and steamed veggies with wild rice.
  • Move around: To avoid stiffness, make sure you get up and walk around for about ten minutes every hour or two for the day following your race.
  • Sleep: Get plenty of rest so that your body can put the food you ate to good use. Make sure you have a dark, quiet place to sleep, even if you’re away from home.

Seven to Ten Days After Your Race

  • Recover actively: For the first week to week-and-a-half following your race, try no-impact cross training activities to actively recover. Swimming and cycling are both great options. Just make sure to listen to your body, and if it feels like you’re pushing too hard, ease up. You’ll have plenty of time to train hard again soon, and recovering from your race effort should be priority number one. 

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Upper Body Strength for Runners

January 16th, 2013

When you think ‘elite runner,’ the words ‘super buff upper bod’ probably aren’t the first that come to mind. But adding upper body strength training can be a key step to improve your efficiency as a runner.

If you train the right way, you’ll build strength without adding unnecessary bulk. If you’re looking to shave a little time off your current PR, or to give yourself the edge necessary to achieve your next race goal, then spending some time building upper body strength could be just the ticket.

Why does upper body training help?

For most runners, strength training is focused on leg exercises. Without a doubt, lower body strength training can produce performance benefits for runners. But you’re missing out on some extra performance points if you’re skipping upper body work entirely.

When you employ resistance training (read: weights, bodyweight resistance or resistance band exercises), your muscle fibers increase in size, which in turn increases the strength of your muscles. Resistance training also improves your nervous system’s ability to coordinate muscle contractions.

But you’re not running on your hands, so what difference does upper body strength make? Strength training in your upper body can help boost respiratory efficiency, increase the stability of your core, and eliminate unnecessary movement while you run. Although these benefits likely won’t affect your running performance as drastically as increasing your aerobic training, they can help give you that slight edge to beat out the competition when it really counts. Having a well-toned upper body can also improve your form, helping to prevent injury.

Which exercises should you do?

It’s important for runners to train their muscles in ways that mimic the body movements of running. A runner’s arms move independently of each other when running, so it’s important to train them independently. A runner should focus on unilateral exercises (work one side of the body at a time), as opposed to bilateral exercises (use both sides of the body in tandem). It’s fine to include a few bilateral exercises in your training mix, just don’t make them the bulk of your workout.

Here are a few exercises to try:

  • Chin-ups (3 sets x 12 reps)
  • Dumbbell chest press (3 x 12 – each arm)
  • One arm bent-over row (3 x 12 – each arm)
  • Standing shoulder press (3 x 12 – each arm)
  • Standing deltoid raise (2 x 15 – each arm)

How often should you do them?

For strength benefits that won’t get in the way of the mileage you’re logging, add in an upper body workout twice a week for about 20-30 minutes. Make sure to do at least 10-12 reps per set for each exercise. Start with lighter weight and gradually increase to heavier weight. Keeping your reps high and your weight low to moderate will help you achieve endurance strength gains without adding bulk.

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Cross Training to Stay Fit Through Injury

January 10th, 2013

The 'Beer Gut Balance' is not a recommended exercise to help you stay fit.

Picture this: you’ve just heard these dreaded words from your doctor: ‘You need to take time off from running.’ Blerg! Maybe it’s shin splints, a stress fracture, runner’s knee or some other ugly injury. Take heart that there are things that you can do as you heal to protect the training gains you’ve made thus far. As always, make sure you check with your physician before starting any new training plan, especially if you are injured.

If you just sit on your kiester for 6-8 weeks while you recover from an injury, you’ll experience the effects of training reversibility. The key to maintaining your level of fitness while recovering from an injury is cross training.

There are a variety of activities that runners can do to cross-train. You should be able to find one that won’t aggravate your injury. A few of our favorite cross-training activities are swimming, cycling, hitting the elliptical, and water running. Certain injuries will keep you from doing some of these activities, but you can water run, or “aqua jog,” through most injuries.

Stay Consistent

It can be easy to get discouraged when you’re trying to recover from a running injury – especially about 3 weeks in, when you’re really starting to itch for a run and you’ve got over a month of recovery ahead of you. Even when it’s hard, do your best to stay consistent with your cross-training workouts, because they’ll help you hold onto your fitness while your body heals. Write your current running goal out and post it somewhere you’ll see it often, to remind yourself why you’re dealing with the monotony of cross training while you can’t run.

Enjoy the Challenge

You typically wouldn’t deviate from your running routine, so try to look at the recovery process as a chance to try something new. Mix up your workouts to keep yourself interested, and to mirror the running workouts you would be doing if you weren’t injured. If you typically run hard interval repeats on Mondays, and log long easy mileage on Wednesdays, then cross-train with a hard interval workout on Mondays and a long easy session on Wednesdays. Make sure you’re working above 70% of your VO2 max at least a few times each week, to help you maintain your aerobic fitness.

Make a Slow Comeback

Fast forward several weeks: you’ve patiently worked through hours of cross training sessions to keep your fitness on (kudos!). When your doctor clears you to run, you’ll probably want to lace up your trainers and head out for endless miles of road or trail. Hold it right there. Jumping back in too quickly following an injury can cause you to aggravate the condition you’ve worked so hard to fix.

Ease back into running slowly by starting out with very short easy runs (we’re talking ten minutes, max) on soft surfaces. If you’re having trouble limiting your mileage during the first week or two after you’re cleared to run, just think of all those pruny-toed hours spent aqua jogging in the pool. Remember: running is a privilege, not a right – respect your body accordingly.

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