Troy Conquers 26.2: Dopey Challenge Part 1

In case you were wondering, my brother on the run crushed his goal and was amazing during the Disney Dopey Challenge. I couldn’t be more proud or happier for him. He’s been blogging about the journey to his first 26.2 – here’s how it all went down, in his own words.

Dopey Challenge in 3 Parts – Part 1: Of Parks and Packets

Dr.Rachel always describes it as ‘taper madness’, the lead up to the race when mileage has dropped and the mind starts to waver. It was hard last year for the half marathon but so much harder this year. The last week or two leading up to the marathon had me driving the wife crazy with excess energy and nervous ticks. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was supposed to be doing something. I put all that energy to work in packing. We cleared the dining room table and laid out running kits for each event; individually packaged, the kits were my carry-on and the only thing that mattered.

Dining room table

We flew in on Tuesday afternoon, getting to Disney’s Pop Century resort in time for a quick dinner and beer with a work friend who was running his first half marathon. Wednesday arrived and like anyone who had plans to run 50 miles over the next four days, I spent the whole day walking around Animal Kingdom. Our Garmin Vivofit put us at 10-12 miles of walking. With the park relatively empty we did everything we wanted to and, since it was my first time at Animal Kingdom, that meant everything. I don’t think we skipped an animal or attraction. It was a great day and a great way to get acclimated to the Florida weather. It was just a lot of walking.

We left the park and headed to Disney’s Art of Animation resort to meet with Dr.Rachel and our parents for hotel check in. Both years we have stayed in the ‘Little Mermaid’ section of the resort and have been very happy with it. Quiet and a bit off the main lobby, it requires even more walking but is less crowded. After check in and unpacking, it was expo time. New this year was the requirement that each runner had to pick up their own packet with a photo ID. Last year Dr.Rachel had picked up my packet so I was not prepared. Chaos. I had no idea where to go or what I was supposed to be doing. Luckily Dr.Rachel shuttled us through the crowds and to each of the seemingly endless tables and booths to pick up our bibs and gear check bags. With pictures taken to prove we did run Dopey, we headed to the Expo to look over all the shiny merchandise. It was loud, crowded, and abuzz with excitement. Things were already selling out in the official merchandise area (this was towards closing) but I was able to find a shirt and magnet to take home.

Disney Expo

It was stressful and exhausting – too many miles at the park and too much chaos at the expo to be able to rest immediately on return to the hotel. We spent the night laying out our kit for the 5k and checking the weather report. While MI was a chilly -0oF, Orlando was expected at 35-40oF in time for the race to start in the morning. Arm warmers, trash bags, ponchos, extra layers were pulled from suitcases in order to set for a cold morning and a long day.

To be continued.

Love the Treadmill

Generally, most coaches, myself included, only recommend using the treadmill for a portion of runs, or when running outside is unsafe during a training cycle. Given that races are generally held outside on the uneven ground, it’s important to get used to running on uneven ground, with wind resistance, and on courses with turns for best race results. The treadmill doesn’t do a very good job of replicating real race conditions since you can only run evenly in one direction on a nice, soft, smooth surface.

Generally speaking, treadmill running is easier than running outside. The moving belt enables faster leg turnover, making it easier to run faster with lower effort levels. The soft, bouncy surface of the treadmill also doesn’t enable to same soft tissue adaptations as running on a harder surface, so soft tissue injury is a possibility when returning to the road. Finally, there are no adverse circumstances on the treadmill – no weather, no turns, no cracks, no lumps and bumps. The body and mind don’t have an opportunity to adapt to the reality of running in imperfect conditions, on an imperfect surface. There is also a distinct psychological benefit to running outside that has been established in several studies. Research suggests that runners simply enjoy outdoor running more, and feel better after an outdoor run. (Side note: as a mental health professional, I find this super interesting. If you do, too, check out this article and this study – put them in Google Scholar for best results)

That being said, there is no evidence that running on a treadmill is detrimental. There are a number of studies to this effect, and the treadmill is a well-established training tool for runners at every level. Most people accept that treadmill running is just fine if it is done well, with proper mechanics, and in moderation.

If  you’re planning to use the treadmill for a portion of your training, here are some great tips to love the treadmill.

First, monitor your form to avoid injury. It’s hard to love the treadmill if it’s hurting you. It’s best to run most of your treadmill runs at a pace that feels easy and use the treadmill for speed work cautiously. The treadmill enables a runner to program a pace and hold that pace long after the runner tires. Running a too-fast pace when you’re tried on a moving belt can result in over-striding, landing with the foot too far in front of the body. Running a too-fast pace on a moving belt can also result in all manner of problems with running form. Poor form and over-striding can lead to hip, knee, ankle, and hamstring pain. To resolve this, monitor your form and your stride rate. If you stride rate is lower than at the same pace outside, you’re over-striding, using the belt to propel you, and at risk for injury.

Run a variety of runs on the treadmill. It’s temping to run the same pace at the same incline mile after mile, settling into a treadmill routine. The treadmill belt’s flat, smooth, uniform surface ensures that you work your muscles and joints in exactly the same way. Too much of the same is a bad thing and can result in repetitive stress injuries. For treadmill happiness (and less boredom!) change up your run, using the treadmill’s programs, or running a variety of speeds and inclines on each treadmill run. I’ve already posted two of my favorite winter treadmill runs – the SportsCenter run and the college basketball run. Here are two other treadmill runs I love:

  1. Commercial Fartlek – Warm up 10 minutes at an easy pace. When a commercial comes on, increase your pace by 30-60  seconds per mile until the commercial is over, at which time you return to the easy pace. Continue on until you reach the desired mileage or time. Warm down by running 5ish minutes at a 1-0% incline.
  2. Character Fartlek – Warm up 10 minutes at an easy pace. Select a particular character in the show/game. When the character comes on, increase your pace by 30 seconds per mile until the character leaves the scene. If the character speaks or does a target activity in the scene, increase the incline by 1%. Once the character stops speaking or leaves the scene, return to the easy pace. Continue on until you reach the desired mileage or time. Warm down by running 5ish minutes at a 1-0% incline.

Finally, make your treadmill run as much like an outdoor run as possible. Even if you could just pop your water bottle on the console, carry your bottle or wear your belt as you might outside. Wear appropriate running shoes, not beat up old gym shoes, and use the treadmill as an opportunity to mimic race conditions. Practice slowing down to drink if you normally do, or wear a race-day outfit that isn’t appropriate for your outdoor conditions (a great option if you’re like me and race in warm weather conditions on vacation during a frigid winter). The more you can vary your treadmill running, and make that running as close to outdoor running as possible, the safer, and happier you’ll be.

Treadmill running