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Should you go running with your dog?

On a typical morning before work, I am out the door by 5:30. The Vancouver streets are quiet and mostly deserted, except for a regular runner ahead of me with a frisky, four legged friend at his side. The pair always look happy, enjoying each other’s company on these cold winter mornings. They were like dance partners in perfect synch, running step for step. It made a delightful picture. A dog may be the most reliable companion to share in your running journey, because they are always ready when you are.

Does this image inspire you to run or walk with your dog?

There are many benefits to running with your dog, including keeping you both fit and enjoying bonding time with your favourite furry friend. They also provide comforting security, especially for women who run by themselves in secluded areas. But, before going for that run or walk with your wiener dog, dachshund, or pug, however, knowing the dos and don’ts of running with your pet could save you both a lot of grief and injury.

According to Vancouver-based veterinarian Dr. Kathy Kramer, you can’t just decide one day to go running with your dog. Owners need to be committed to their pet first. “Running requires training, since most dogs like to sniff along the way and get easily distracted,” she said. “Not every dog is cut out to be a marathoner.  Common sense dictates that while you may try to run with your border collie, you would leave your bulldog or Chihuahua at home.”

The best runners are athletic breeds, or dogs over 20 kilograms, Kramer explained. It’s important to do your research. For example, greyhounds are sprinters and not long distance runners while labradors, golden retrievers, border collies, and German shepherds may enjoy the freedom of a marathon. Larger dogs like great danes or mastiffs won’t enjoy running because it will put pressure on their joints.

Training for any distance requires following a proper program, and it is the same principle when running with your dog.

“Dogs also require conditioning like people do,” Kramer said. “A person would be crazy to start out by running 10 kilometres, so don’t expect your dog to do it!  The same wear and tear that affects a person’s joints will affect a dog’s as well. Acute injuries, such as soft tissue sprains or ligament tears can happen quickly.  As the dog ages, the percussive forces of running can cause arthritis to start at an earlier age.”

When you and your dog encounter someone on the trail, it is best to pull off to the side to let them pass without interacting.  A dog might be occasionally spooked and one should not assume others want your dog to greet them. People will feel safer when the lead is shortened.

Some smaller breeds will love running and some larger dogs would rather be couch potatoes. A good running companion depends on personality, stamina, and overall health. Dogs with high stress levels may not be able to run in the city.  Dogs that are prone to heart disease should be thoroughly screened for starting a serious exercise program.

It is also important to remember that dogs are stoic creatures who won’t show pain or discomfort until there is real damage. Heat stroke is the biggest risk during the summer. Dogs only sweat through their footpads and can easily overheat, even in normal temperatures.  Always have water handy for your dog anytime you run. If your dog is limping, call your veterinarian. Sprains or ligament tears can be very painful even though your dog is not crying out or will let you touch the injured limb.

There is some debate about the best age to start training your dog to run. Most dogs have finished growing by 16-24 months.  Kramer says if you start slow and on a soft surface, you can start to train the dog at around 12-18 months.

Will you try running with your dog this spring? Let us know in the comments below!

Nikki Scott turns to her passion for running to beat major health issues

Nikki Scott’s survival in 2005 was not guaranteed. A car accident resulted in a broken back and ribs, and a dislocated collar bone and sternum. A disc in her neck was herniated and both of her lungs collapsed. A serial marathon runner, doctors told her she would never be able to run again.

But against all odds, in 2008, she completed her first half marathon.

For most people, coming back from a debilitating accident like that in just four years would have been impossible. But Scott had to undergo a second incident in August of this year. The Surrey, B.C. native’s world would change again when she took a serious fall, resulting in a deep cut, a bacterial infection, and a subsequent battle to keep her limbs.

“A few friends and I were out for a run in Golden Ears (Provincial Park),” she said. “We had our route planned – but soon after we got started we came up on a bear so we quickly turned around and headed back to the cars. I turned to say something to my friend and I caught my toe on a rock and wiped out. I landed on my knees and when I flipped over to sit down, both of my friends kind of gasped. Sure enough, I had a huge, bloody gash and a great big skin flap flipped open on my knee.”

“I kind of panicked when I realized that I could actually see my kneecap in the bottom of the wound,” Scott said, adding, “We all took a deep breath and started going through the first aid supplies in our packs. Luckily we had water, gauze and antiseptic wipes so we cleaned it up as best we could, covered it in gauze and wrapped my knee.”

They headed to Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock where she got the wound cleaned up and stitched back together. She was sent home. Everything appeared to be fine.

However, the next morning, her entire leg was burning with pain. She was given some painkillers and antibiotics and sent home yet again. An hour later, she was heading to Langley Memorial Hospital by ambulance.

Scott’s leg was infected and the doctors started her with multiple IV antibiotics.

“Over the next four days, the infection raged and spread from my toes to my ribs. My leg and torso were swollen to twice their size. The pain was unbearable and they had to keep switching the antibiotics, but the infection wasn’t responding. By the end of the week my kidneys had also failed, so they sent me off to Surrey Memorial, labelled ‘loss of life or limb’ and I was admitted into critical care,” Scott said.

She was diagnosed with Cellulitis and spent the next 20 days in hospital before her wound responded to antibiotics. The wound, luckily, healed in about three months. Scott says the infection was “stubborn and resistant”, but she is starting to return to her regular life. A month after coming home she was able to ditch the crutches and start doing physical activity again. 

“I started doing very short, 30 second intervals of ‘running’ on the treadmill. Because of the atrophy in my muscles, I have been taking things very slowly so I don’t cause new injuries, but have been working my way up to longer intervals of running and walking.”

Scott found that being fit helped her on her road to recovery. “Having that background of setting goals and devising a strategy and a plan to get there has definitely helped me figure out what I need to do to beat this injury,” she says.

Surviving a major car accident and the slow recovery process taught Scott to listen to her body and following the leg infection she also had to take it slow and let the pain and fatigue levels guide her.

Scott, a mother of two young boys, has completed 20 half marathons, five full marathons, and four ultra-marathons. She is refusing to let physical setbacks keep her from continuing her running.

“I was determined not to let my car accident beat me or define me and it has been kind of similar following this infection,” she said. “My end goal is to get my strength back and be able to run distance again, so I’ve just been setting small, manageable goals.”

Recovery strategies are not one-size-fits-all, so consult your doctor about when you should resume training. Once you do, make sure refuelling, repairing and rehydrating are part of your workout regime to help you reach your goals.

Soccer players and distance runners share similar training

Over 28,000 fans attended the Canada vs. USA Women’s soccer game held at BC Place, Vancouver, BC. It was the largest crowd ever at a national women’s match.

After watching the game, I decided to revisit the similarities between soccer players and runners, specifically the need for athletes in both sports to move for long periods of time without rest. It could be argued that soccer requires more stamina than other team sports because 120 minutes of play, including overtime, is common before a shootout decides the winner.  By comparison, a regular season NHL hockey game is 65 minutes, including five minutes of O.T. before the shootout, and NBA basketball games are 48 minutes before unlimited mini-halves of overtime – rare in basketball – decide the outcome.  MLB baseball, with its superb athletes, does not operate on the clock at all, though a typical nine-inning game takes about two hours and 30 minutes to play, with mega-stops and delays added in.  Even the tiring effects of physical contact from football, hockey and basketball don’t balance because of rest time that’s built into the stoppages.  Soccer, which has its own share of contact, rarely stops play.

Runners, like soccer players, are challenged by speed and the need for stamina and endurance. A world class runner can complete a marathon between 125 to 130 minutes — roughly the time it takes to play a soccer match.

Soccer players do a lot of sprinting in addition to their constant running back and forth on the field. Overall, to be competitive and on top of their game, they need both speed and endurance.

Interval training for marathoners and running drills for soccer players helps increases speed and can benefit both athletes. Running downhill is good for developing strong quads.  Running uphill will increase lung capacity and stamina.  When you add strength, focus, and mental toughness to the mix, you get a clear picture of what soccer players and runners share every day.  All athletes need to stretch every muscle group before and after a workout or match.

As for where the similarities end, soccer players explode for bursts of speed, which requires balance, control, and strength. These factors are what separate the soccer platers from runners, who simply have to focus on a singular task. It’s a sport that is up tempo and uses considerable physical and mental reflexes…and lots and lots of running. I was incredibly impressed.

Photo credit:  D. Laird Allan

What to know before signing up to run a 5k

I’ve decided to register for a 5k race.

This is a big deal. I’m not a very fit person, and I’ve never been able to run for more than a minute without collapsing into a pile of sweat and exhaustion. But, I’ve been in a funk lately and I’ve decided to do something big — I am going to commit to running a 5k in June.

Don’t ask me why I chose this specific goal as my catharsis. At the time, it seemed like a great idea. However, after doing some research, I’m beginning to feel a tad overwhelmed.

Since announcing this decision, I’ve received lots of advice from friends. They all say it’s possible to run a 5k in nine weeks (although I’m not sure if I believe them) and that I’ll have no problem finishing (this is possibly a lie). I’ve also done a lot of research on my own on how best to train and prepare my body for such a gruelling exercise. Luckily for you, dear readers, I’ve decided to share this knowledge with you.

Here are five things you should know preferably BEFORE signing up for a 5k:

 

The date of the race: This may seem obvious, but it becomes incredibly important if you haven’t run a day in your life. Race day has to be far enough away to give you time to train, but not too far that you are lax in your commitment. My race is in nine weeks and, to me, that seems a bit soon. At the same time, if I had registered for a race four months away, my procrastination habits would probably hinder my success rate. I would suggest keeping it between 10-15 weeks.

Do you have the equipment you need: Running shoes, leggings, and a sports bra. Before you commit to a race, make sure you have what you need to train.  You don’t need a fancy fitbit or a gym membership, but you do need the basics. Also make sure that you have the money for a) the race and b) the food you need to refuel your body. As a side note: if you (like me) are doing one of those races with coloured powders or lots of mud, think about your eyewear. I’ll be visiting the optometrist very shortly for some contact lenses.

Training is important: Running once a week isn’t going to cut it, and there is no way to magically make yourself appear at the finish line. Most websites suggest running at least three times a week and then scheduling a cross-training workout in the middle. This can be an activity like boxing, cycling, or skipping. The idea is to keep your workout fresh and strengthen the rest of your body. If you are just starting to run, don’t worry about the cross-training. Just focus on running three times a week. If you are insistent, do something low-key like yoga. This will help stretch out your sore muscles and increase your core strength. You can always step it up half way through your training.

You have to give up junk food: It’s not all about the training. You also have to eat properly. If you start to exercise on a regular basis, but you pair that exercise with high-sugar and high-fat foods, your stomach will start to really hate you. Eat lots of low-fat, high-protein, carb-rich meals and snack regularly. It’s also important that you don’t overeat or starve yourself during this process. High-salt foods may also impact your hydration. If you decide to run a 5k, make sure that you are prepared to change your eating habits as well. Goodbye Cadbury mini eggs and hello apples and peanut butter.

Make sure you are surrounded by people who motivate you: It’s going to be tough. There will be mornings you won’t want to run, where you’ll feel like staying in bed with a full bag of marshmallows watching reruns of Gilmore Girls. There will be days where it’s cold outside, where your alarm goes off at 6 a.m. and your entire body says “NO”. This is where it’s important to have a friend, family member, or fellow 5k-er to text or call for motivation. Have them remind you why you are doing this race in the first place and that you’ll feel better once you get your legs moving. Create a wall of inspirational quotes and place your gym bag right beside it. You’ve got this!

 

Do you have any tips to share with this 5k newbie? Place them in the comments below!

Spring is here – time to get you ready for your first 5k or 10k run

If you made a commitment to start a running program, lose weight and keep the pounds off permanently, you deserve a pat on the back. Running five or 10 kilometres is an attainable goal for many.

A friend related her story of how she looked in the mirror one morning and almost began to panic. A decade ago she’d been fairly athletic but was now 50 pounds overweight and, worse, she smoked a pack of cigarettes per day. On this fateful spring day she chose the Stanley Park seawall route in Vancouver, planning to run slowly for 15 minutes, turning back in the same time. Her goal was to run 30 minutes every day.

She didn’t cover much ground but kept moving the whole time even when her body was begging to stop. She eventually developed shin splints, forcing her onto the bike for six weeks, but soon was back running, improving ever so slowly. A year later she was a non-smoker, 50 pounds lighter and racing every distance from 10km to the marathon. She still claims that first run on the seawall was the hardest workout ever. Following a proper program might have eased a lot of her pain and perhaps prevented training injuries too.

It’s suggested that once you’re able to run 5k distance, continuing on to running 10k is well within reach. Always check with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program.

In a phone chat with Jacques Chapdelaine, offensive coordinator of the 2011 Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions, he recommends drinking plenty of water during workouts. “The biggest thing for me is hydration at my size (over 190lbs),” Chapdelaine, who carries a water belt with him and drinks every 15 minutes, says. “This has helped me not feel so tired and want to continue running.” He adds, “I run three to four times per week – 40 minutes at a time.” His longer run is 90 minutes.

Here are some other helpful tips to make your running journey less painful.

Visit a running specialty store before choosing the right shoe. Bring in your old pair to check the wear pattern.

Avoid wearing cotton. Choose synthetic fabrics, such as CoolMax or Dri-Fit that wick away moisture.

Invest in an athletic watch to time your workouts.

Record your workouts in a log book to track your improvement.

Proper Fuel and hydration – consult the Canadian Food Guide or speak with a registered dietician.

Do all of the proper stretches after your workout, holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds.  Remember, no matter how tough it gets out there, if you stay with the program you’ll be amazed at the results.

Marathon running? Ever heard of Philippides?

The inspiration for the marathon was a man named Philippides.  According to Greek myth, Philippides ran from the battlefield at Marathon all the way to Athens to announce Greece’s victory over Persia. He ran roughly 26 miles as fast as his legs could carry him – an amazing athletic achievement.

No one seems to remember though what happened next to Philippides: he collapsed and died on the spot.

Training for a marathon is an increasingly popular activity these days. For a lot of folks the marathon represents the absolute pinnacle of fitness. “If I can run a marathon,” the thinking goes, “then I’ll really be in shape.” Chances are you’ll wind up in some shape, it just might not be good shape.

I think that the volume that training for a marathon requires is far too much for the majority of us and leads to unnecessary wear and tear on the joints. There’s a certain point at which the exercise that we do ceases to be beneficial and actually becomes harmful. Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize this point because exercise is promoted as being good for us; so logically more of it must be better. Not so. Exercising too much can raise levels of stress hormones causing our bodies to break down muscle and store fat. Just take a look at a marathoner. Most don’t look at all like pictures of health; they look like they’re wasting away to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that running can be great for fitness. But there’s a sweet spot where we can get most of the benefit while avoiding much of the harm. (It varies from individual to individual.) Perhaps running briskly for 20 minutes doesn’t gives us the same bragging rights that running a marathon does, but it might do us better at the end of the day.