Monthly Archives: February 2015

59. Don’t miss.

Running tip #59

Here’s a tip I just gave my high school runners.  If the weather gods dump 8 inches of snow on your track, rather than complain “there’s nowhere to run,” because you don’t belong to a private gym (or a private rich high school) where treadmills abound … be like the postmen, whose motto reads:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Shovel lane one and get ‘er done!



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58. On the road with Betsy and Bryan

Running tip #58

As promised, today’s running tip is drink coffee 60-90 minutes before you race to markedly enhance your performance.  Runner’s World magazine offers 8 things runners should know about coffee and I’m going to give you one more.


Coffee is the perfect pit stop.  My partners in road-racing crime back in the 90’s, Betsy and Bryan, had the ideal coffee system worked out.  Halfway through some 6-hour road trip to, say, Charleston West Virginia for the 15k US championships, we’d stop at a gas station and Bryan would drop the tailgate on his blue Ford truck, pull out a bag of freshly ground coffee beans, some filters, and a couple of one-cup pour-over thingys (see photo above b/c I don’t know what they’re called).  Bryan would head into the Quickee Mart and purchase two large styrofoam cups of boiling hot water (at 10 cents per cup, you can’t beat the price) then quickly rush back to pour the hot water over the coffee into three ceramic mugs (I still have mine!).  Next, Bryan would use his pocket knife to jimmy open a tiny 5oz can of condensed milk … just enough for three of us.


Of course, we had to have cookies with our coffee so the final touch on a perfect pit stop was when Betsy shared her biscuits!

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57. 40-minute ZZZZ’s

Running tip #57


I found a way to live two days in one.  Not everybody can use this tip (because of work-place constraints), but running trick #57 is take a power nap every day.  I started this practice when I was in college; running two-a-days required more sleep so I had to fit it in where I could.  After morning classes, a five mile run, and lunch … I would crash from 2:00-3:00pm to rest and re-set before afternoon XC/track practice [the actual sleeping time was around 40 minutes].  Over time, my body fell into a natural 24-hour routine, with three 8-hour segments, that I more-or-less keep to this day:

11:00pm-7:00am (8 hours sleep)

7:00am-3:00pm (7 hours of vigorous activity + one hour of power nap)

3:00pm-11:00pm (8 hours of my “second day” with more vigorous activity)

My second full day begins with a second cup of strong coffee – tip #58 tomorrow! – after my siesta.


Even as a young mother I indulged in power naps (sleeping alongside my babies and later making sure I got my 40 Z’s every afternoon from 2:20-3:00pm before the school-bus came).  I always, always, feel fantastic on my evening runs after the double-zap of nap and coffee.

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56. Breathe right.

Running tip #56


This seems like an obvious tip because, from the first slap of life, babies know how to do it … but running tip #56 is learn to breathe.

For steady-state running, I have found the best breath pattern to be:

IN IN (though the nose) and OUT OUT (through the mouth)

When you start sprinting, the most efficient breath pattern is:

IN (though both nose and mouth) OUT (through mouth)

If you close your eyes and listen to the pattern like a musician, your steady state breathing should be quarter notes in 4/4 time.  1,2,3,4 = IN IN OUT OUT


and your sprint breathing should be half notes.  1(and) 3(and) = IIIIN  OOOUT


Of course, there are a lot of theories on how to breathe right and you should find what works best for you.



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55. Read, watch, and be inspired!

Running tip #55


Before every major race, I had a ritual of going to a coffee shop with something inspiring to read so I could prepare my mind for what my body was about to endure.  There’s nothing worse than hurtling you body into a race when your mind is unready … or worse, unwilling, to take the pain.  I would save choice articles from Track and field news or Running Times magazine  (now defunct) to read during this focus time.  And over the years I amassed quite a library of motivational running biographies to aid me in my quest (my favorite was a book I borrowed called The Golden Mile on Herb Elliot – copies are now selling for $275.00 – because I was/am obsessed with the Australian coach, Percy Cerutty).  Now, here’s a book title for you!


As time passed, and the electronic age won out over the written word, the internet also provided me with a bounty of inspiration (i.e. my favorite Ted talk by Itay Talgam).  So, for trick #55 on this snowy day in February, give a listen to chess champion Josh Waitzkin as he explains the “mental side of competition” and the concept of  “making smaller circles” from his book The Art of Learning:

Part 1 of the interview may be found here:

Read, watch, and be inspired!

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54. Criss-cross applesauce :)

Running tip #54

So, here is the third tip in my “travel well” workout trilogy.  If you want to find green-space while on a trip, go to google earth and literally look for green space on the map.  For example, if you google-earth Chapel Hill, NC (where I live) the biggest green blob on the map just so happens to be the best running location in town: Carolina North Forest.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.23.31 AM

No matter where you are in the world, you can plug in google earth and find green space … which means SOFT SURFACE … to run this simple speed workout:

Warm up 20 minutes to end up at a flat field that has at least 120m of runnable terrain. After your warm-up, run 10 X 120m sprints with standing recovery until your elevated heart rate comes back down.  This could easily be the inside of a track or football/soccer field where you run the diagonals.


If you do run the diagonal of a soccer field, use the middle painted circle to burst for 3-4 seconds for a surge-within-a-surge.  I like to do a jog recovery across the top of the rectangle and then make a cross out of my 120’s.  I call this workout criss-crosses when I time a set of 5 X 120m.  For the travel version, do two sets of criss-crosses then jog back home for your 20 minute cool down.

criss-cross-md , applesauce!

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53. The Out-and-Back

Running tip #53


Another workout that travels well (especially in a foreign city/country where you are just learning your way around) is the standard out-and-back.

Run out in one direction for 25 minutes – with first 10 minutes at warm-up pace then settling in to a moderate cruise pace until you get to 25 minutes.  Stop your watch at the end of the out.

Turnaround and reset your watch for the back portion, trying to run it faster than the out.  Shoot for 20:00-22:00.

Out in 25, back faster.  The ER, in fastER, is the most important part of this workout (I was even thinking of titling this post, “To err is human; to ER, divine!”).

Cool down after the back with a super slow jog until you get to 50 minutes total.

One of the most beautiful out-and-backs I’ve ever run was on the Philosopher’s Way in Heidelburg, Germany.  Of course, it felt like cheating because the out was all UP-hill and the back was all DOWN … but you can see it was a lovely 50 minutes.

philosophers wayEurope 211

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52. Travel well … with the “M” fartlek.

Running tips #52, 53, and 54

If you have to leave your home training routine for work or vacation, try these three simple workouts that I say “travel well:”

1.)  The M fartlek

First of all … what is a fartlek?   The term comes from a Swedish word for “speed-play,” invented by Gösta Holmér – a 1912 Olympic bronze medalist in the decathlon who went on to coach Sweden’s cross-country team in the 1930’s.


I call my travel fartlek the “M” because it is shaped like an M.


After warming up with a 10-minute jog, run 1,2,3,2,1,2,3,2,1 minutes hard with 1:00 recovery between each, like so:  On the bottom line of the ruled paper, you run hard for 1:00, then jog a minute (in the white space between lines);  then on the dotted red line you run hard for 2:00, jog a minute recovery; then on the top line run hard for 3:00, jog a minute recovery … back down to 2:00 on the dotted red line, etc. until you get through writing your “M” for a total of 25 minutes of fartlek.


Cool down 10 minutes jog.

Forty-five efficient minutes.

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51. Become a student of the sport.

Running tip #51 …

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”– Sir Isaac Newton


My 17th century lit. professor at UNC first introduced me to the phrase, “pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.”  Throughout my running and racing life, I have made it my practice to actively seek out and learn from the giants in our sport … even traveling across an ocean to find a coach in Harry Wilson after I graduated from college.  In my wide-ranging research (that continues to this day), I have never come across a runner more interview-worthy than my fellow statriot, Tony Waldrop.


Here is a link from my old blog,  Songs of Experience, where I posted Tony’s interview:

Sir Tony Waldrop

Dear pygmies, read and learn!

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50. Every day. Hard training. Must make.

Running tip #50 … find your mantra.

A few years back, Smith magazine created a 6-word memoir contest, inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s famous 6-word short story:

“For sale:  Baby shoes. Never worn.”

This contest later went viral and hipsters across America were discussing their 6-word masterpieces over craft-beer and kale chips.  I am quite proud to share (okay, I’m bragging not “sharing”) that my 6-word memoir was chosen to be published in the first edition of Not Quite What I Was Planning:

6word-701716And a few reviewers even singled mine out as being special:

Much more interesting are the unknowns. Speaking to the reader on the basis of virtual anonymity, they offer a six-word something, with striking results. The effect is rather like sitting in a fast-moving train, catching a glimpse of someone’s apartment through a window as you pass by. Glimpses like these:

“I was never the pretty one” – Joan Nesbit Mabe
“Grading AP essays, I crave Tolstoy” – Carinna Tarvin
“I still make coffee for two” – Zak Nelson

I bring all this up as a preface to running tip #50 … which is find your mantra.  In any phase of your life (your running life, especially) there will be words rattling around in your brain …words that guide your actions on a subconscious level (like my mother’s “Someone has to be the best, why not you?” in post #27) or on a conscious level (like Caddyshack’s “Be the ball.”):

Use those rattling words to inspire and direct your actions on a daily basis.  The right mantra at the right time can make all the difference in training and in racing.  Here are just a FEW examples of mantras that changed my life b/c I chanted them to myself almost every day in training:

“This thing I can do.” – from Chris Fox

“The fastest runner wins, Joan.”  – Charles Foster

“You can do it!” – Bela Karolyi

And, finally, the most powerful of all the rattling words in my brain when I was trying to make it as a runner … Mihaly Igloi‘s broken-English mantra:

“Every day.  Hard training.  Must make.”

Interestingly, six words.

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