By the Squannacook Runner
If you're a newcomer to running and you've been following the 5K program for the past few weeks, you're due to experience one of running's biggest perks -- the so-called "runner's high."
Here's what you can expect. You start out strong as usual, but instead of the customary letdown as fatigue sets in, you continue to cruise. In an almost euphoric state, you glide effortlessly over the pavement. You're in the zone, and feel as though you could run forever. All too soon, your dream run is over. What happened?
Your body, reacting as it always does when a physical demand is placed upon it, gave you a dose of adrenaline, a muscle-stimulating hormone. Its euphoric effect is felt only if your body has become conditioned to run a long distance without discomfort. That's why most beginners don't experience their first runner's high until at least three weeks of steady training. And, yes, just like the illegal stuff, a runner's high can become addictive. But don't worry. You won't become some kind of wild-eyed running "junkie," constantly in need of a three-mile "fix."
With runner's highs come runner's lows, and one particularly nasty low is pain. As with any form of exercise, running carries the potential for strain or injury. Minimize the risk by warming up adequately before you take to the roads and trails. Follow up each run with gentle "cool-down" exercises. While a certain measure of discomfort is natural during a run, acute pain is a warning sign that something has gone wrong. If you feel a nagging pain, slow down and try to walk it off. If the pain persists or reappears next time out, take a few days off. See your doctor if the pain persists.
A nuisance type of pain that many runners have to cope with is the side stitch, or runner's cramp. You'll be jogging along without a care in the world, and suddenly be doubled over by a sharp pain in your side. Stitches are usually a plight of the beginner, but even a veteran marathoner can be hobbled by one. When a stitch hits, slow down (don't stop). Purse your lips and breathe out through your mouth. If the stitch is in your diaphragm (a large muscle above the abdomen that controls breathing), this forced exhale can get rid of it. A second type of stitch, the abdominal cramp, can be avoided by simply waiting an hour after eating before you go out for a run. Need I add that you shouldn't eat "gassy" foods like beans prior to a run? Besides creating the potential for a major-league abdominal cramp, this practice tends to make you unpopular with anyone unfortunate to be running behind you.
During the past three weeks, we've taken you through the beginning phase of our 5K training program. The workouts were rather routine, capitalizing on the fact that running was a novel activity for you. Not anymore! It's time to diversify and keep that interest alive. We're entering the intermediate phase of the 5K program. Your conditioning will improve to the point where the "runner's high" we mentioned can carry you through most workouts. Your goal during this part of the 5K program is to run the full 5 kilometer (3.1-mile) distance at a reasonably good clip. You've been working on getting lean. Now it's time to get mean! Good luck, and good running!
Week 4 training schedule
GOAL FOR THE WEEK: To run a fast 2 miles. How fast depends on your age and body size, athletic ability, and running experience. For the average runner, this might mean 18 to 22 minutes (a nine- to 11-minute-per-mile pace). Good runners can cover 2 miles in 14 to 16 minutes (seven- or eight-minute pace), while those human greyhounds who walk off with the prizes at local races can breeze through 2 miles in 10 or 12 minutes (five- or six-minute pace) or less!
Sunday, March 24: Three-mile jog. Run a relaxed pace, but if you feel a bit feisty, (and you just might, because you're getting tough!), run hard up a hill or two on the course, or throw in a few 15- to 20-second bursts of speed on level areas.
Monday, March 25: Fifteen-minute relaxed jog. Tomorrow is going to be a tough run, so take it easy today.
Tuesday, March 26: Ten-minute "out and back" run. An "out and back" run is designed to improve your performance for the critical second half of a race. Run for 10 minutes at a brisk pace. At the 10-minute mark, do a 180 and retrace your path. Can you return home faster than your original 10 minutes? Besides improving late-stage performance, an "out and back" run teaches you how to properly pace yourself during a race.
Wednesday, March 27: Rest day, or make-up day, if you missed one of the above workouts.
Thursday, March 28: Relaxed 15-minute jog. As with any of these "easy" workouts, pick an area that's fun to run. If the snow has melted enough, explore some trails near your home.
Friday, March 29: Two-mile timed run. This is an important workout: Act as though it were a race. Concentrate on maintaining a steady pace from start to finish, and record your final time for future reference. Your mileage for the week (about 10) is similar to last week's, but includes more intense running.
Saturday, March 30: Rest day, or make-up day.
NEXT WEEK: Can I run with my iPod? Also, tips on coping with "man's best friend" and pointers on night running.