Help me get better at jogging
September 17, 2013 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I have always enjoyed (casually) running, and I've started running with more regularity, but I feel like I could be doing it better. Some times I get a good cadence going, and other times I feel like I'm running through jelly, even though I'm running in the same areas. Oh, and my running partner is my dog, who I'm training to ignore various exciting things while we run. More inside.

I live near this path and park (Google maps) in suburban north-central New Mexico (north of Albuquerque), which has some great paved and gravel/soil trails for running. I'm in good shape and getting better, as my pants are all a size or two too big, thanks to jogging/running twice a day on most days, for 20-40 minutes per outting.

Some times I struggle up minor inclines, and other times I chug up without an issue, running the same little loop a couple times (for my dog, see below). Some of these times I feel like I'm not breathing enough, but I'm not gasping for air. I know that at times I hold my breath when I exert myself, so some of this comes down to focusing on my breath.

I run with our dog, a cattle dog some pit bull mixed in for good fun (she's from a shelter, so we don't know her true lineage and background). She's assertive/aggressive towards little ground-living things (rabbits, prairie dogs, cats), dogs, and the worst is cars, so I take her in areas where we won't pass too many cars. I'm working on her aggression, but it requires me to slow down or stop, often in advance of a trigger, so we can look at it and either avoid it (with dogs who are on walks) or wait calmly for it to approach and move on (cars).

Because of these distractions, I can't stick to a Couch to 5K-type regiment of timed walking/jogging/running cycles. But I know my stamina is increasing, because I can jog and run farther than when I started a few months ago, and I now find that I'm heading back home because my allotted time for running is up, instead of being completely worn out.

Also, I carry a number of items in my pockets, which can be annoying, but most items are necessary for one reason or another. An inventory of my pockets: tissues to blow my nose as needed, a bag of treats to distract and reward my dog when she sees something that she wants to investigate/attack, my smartphone as a clock and as a phone, a headlamp for the dark paths, bags for picking up dog poop, and keys.

Summary of my questions:
1. How can I feel better when running so I can run more (timing eating, drinking [beer], bathroom breaks, warm-up [breathing] exercises, or just slogging through it)?
2. Do you have any suggestions for jogging with a distracted dog?
3. Can you suggest an alternative to pockets full of stuff, like a few small pouches that can attach to a belt and stay snug to my hips? Are there better shorts for running?
4. And when/how should I stretch?
posted by filthy light thief to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Addendum: on reading through the 2010 "Running Hacks" question, I see the suggestion for starting out slow then picking up the pace. I currently wake up at 5AM and I'm out running between 5:15 and 5:25. I have to be back by 6AM to shower and get to work on time, so my weekday morning runs are more limited in time. In the evening, I generally some time between 7:30 and 9PM, as I get home close to 6PM, then eat dinner and help get our son to bed, which generally happens by 7:30. I can stay out a bit later, but I like to be home with my wife for some while, before we both fall asleep.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:48 AM on September 17, 2013

1) I've been running for years and I still have some runs that feel horrible and some that feel great. I can explain it only about half of the time. I strongly suspect that the single largest factor is the degree to which I am well-fueled but not overfed and how well or poorly I slept the night before. However, sometimes you just don't have it. I'm pretty sure that this is true even for elite athletes. The main thing that you can do when it feels harder than usual is to slow down.
3) Any good sporting goods store will sell running belts. My personal favorite is the Spi Belt and my wife prefers the Amphipod. Both fit snugly on your hips and come with a variety of small pouches. Amphipod is probably more flexible in terms of adding more options. There are also an insane variety of different running shorts with different approaches to pocket size and location.
4) The scientific evidence is now overwhelming that stretching before running neither decreases soreness nor reduces injury. There is stilll some dispute if stretching afterwards is helpful or not. My wife likes to do it and I don't. I don't think there is strong evidence that it does anything particularly helpful, but she is absolutely more flexible than me, which could well be a result of doing more stretches or it could just explain why she likes stretching more.

You may be comforted to know that there has been some recent evidence that suggests that almost all the improvement in longevity that results from running derives from a very modest amount of running (like 30 minutes a day, 3-4 times per week) and that the much longer periods that many of us spend running actually are worse for you than more modest levels of exercise.
posted by Lame_username at 8:01 AM on September 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Things I've found helpful:

- Slowing down. It's a lot easier to focus on breathing and form when you're not pushing your personal speed limit. You can focus on speeding up once you've got your slow runs down pat.

- Focusing on maintaining a regular breathing pattern as much as possible. I breathe in for three steps and out for two; try experimenting with different patterns to see what feels best. You'll avoid stitches and (eventually) be able to maintain that pattern without thinking about it.

- Dynamic warm-up rather than stretching before a run. Try this or this. Using a foam roller after running has been helpful, but I hope you like pain (especially when you roll your IT bands for the first time, my god...).

- If you can, eat something (bagel w/ peanut butter, a banana, cereal bar, etc.) and drink some water immediately after waking up, to give you a bit of time to digest before you go for a run. My early-morning runs got a lot better when I started having breakfast first.

- Seconding a running belt or running backpack.

- Can't help with the dog. Blinkers?
posted by inire at 8:21 AM on September 17, 2013

1. I am very recent at running, after many brief (failed) attempts at "starting" running throughout my life. I have always had a love/hate relationship with it, and always admired those who seemingly run with ease. My biggest tip, for myself, anyway, is to just do it (!!!) - that is to say, not stress out over if I had enough sleep, or drank (beer) too recently, etc, but just go run for a half hour or an hour or so, and yeah, just go slow, but keep going. It has been helpful to me that my wife also runs and has been running for a bit longer than me and is quite a bit better at it (can run for longer periods of time / distance and more evenly) so it gives me something to test myself against. I much prefer running in the late afternoon and evening rather than in the morning.

2. Would a leash help your dog concentrate? Or maybe she would just pull against it cause more problems... I usually run with 2-4 dogs (right now my wife will take the 2 younger ones and I will leave later w the 2 older ones and we'll meet up halfway or something) but I have run with a dog on the leash with no problems, once we figure out a rhythm. We live in the country, so I don't worry too much about them running off - they do sometimes.

3. I hate carrying anything in hands or in pockets so I usually just don't (not helpful)

4. I have heard the same on stretching - not that important either way - and since I am pretty active besides desk job hours I don't worry about it. This feels wrong, as I was always trained in other sports to do stretching, so I will sometimes to some jumping up and down and impromptu squats.
posted by J0 at 8:24 AM on September 17, 2013

My fiancee and I are (really) novice runners, but we do run with our dog, and here's what's helped for me:

1. In addition to slowing down (as others have mentioned), seriously, the temperature outside and how hydrated I am. If it's the least bit on the warm side, and/or I didn't drink at least 8 ounces of water sometime before my run, it's twice as hard. So I run early in the morning. I'm in the super-humid Midwest, though, so you're lucky you have a dry climate (but all the more reason to stay hydrated!) Also, concentrating on my breathing. BIG breath in, then short puffs out as they want to come (INHAAAAAAAAAAAALE...puff...puff...puff...puff...puff...)

2. My dog (husky/shepherd mix) also loves to stop and sniff/chase, but she seems to respond well to me calling her name and tugging gently on her leash. I felt bad about pulling at her neck, so I got her a harness that attached to the middle of her back. After a while she learned that if she needs to do her business, I'll stop IF she runs ahead and squats quickly, without sniffing around. She still jumps for joy when she sees us getting ready to run, so I take that to mean she's OK with our system.
posted by Rykey at 8:41 AM on September 17, 2013

Re number 2, I find that my dog responds really well to 1) timed intervals, for which I let him sniff but not stop in the slow parts; and 2) knowing that I have a little pouch of treats and he'll get some if he is attentive to me. You can train on #2 on walks, too.
posted by bearwife at 9:09 AM on September 17, 2013

What has worked well for my dog is to turn the entire run into a little game with constant communication. She now will completely ignore squirrels or stray cats to stay tuned in.

You might try a couple of sled-dog like commands, and you need to just assault her with praise/affection when she starts getting them right. At this point, my dog (also a mutt who seems to have a lot of herding dog traits) thinks of running as this sort of work/play hybrid that requires focus and is awesome.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 9:09 AM on September 17, 2013

1) Since you have breathing issues, try counting breaths to steps! I find that focusing on breathing vs steps helps me a lot with pace setting and adopting to shitty runs. So, a 2-2 (where I breathe in for 2 foot impacts, out for 2 foot impacts) is a I can run this pace all day (think 'easy pace' for marathon training type thing), while a 3-2 (in 3 foot impacts, out 2) is a more intense pace that I can still hold for a number of miles. Think, 'training pace'. So, when I focus on breathing this really helps me get into a rhythm when I'm otherwise feeling kinda off. The nice part is that as you increase in cardio/aerobic fitness, the speed that a 2-2 or a 3-2 corresponds with naturally increases.

BUT, I think as many people have said, sometime everyone just has bad runs, and it really helps to accept this. I try to eat some easily digestible carbs not too long, not too short before I run (~45 min). This helps, as does trying to pee before I run (I always feel like I have to piss when I run, but this helps. TMI, sorry). If my energy is dragging before the run, a little bit of caffeine helps pick me up (a cup of coffee or the like). If I haven't slept well (a, uh, common problem for me), boozed or had a cigarette (much much more rare) the night before this kills the run.

2. I don't know - for walking, people usually suggest a Gentle Leader type head harness as it naturally focuses the attention of the dog on you. I can say that this has worked great for teaching leash walking, and it seems like it would be very good for running, but you would just have to be very careful about not tugging on it as you run.

3. Doggie backpack! Yeah, there are hip belts, backpacks, and running sashes, but it sounds like you have a pretty hardy pup so I would totally go with a doggie backpack. Plus, they are awesome to hike with.

4. I do some IT band stretches (previous injury), and otherwise just a slow jog with a steadily increasing pace to warm up. No idea if that's good or not, but it seems to mostly work. (See previous injury =( )
posted by McSwaggers at 9:16 AM on September 17, 2013

I have been running for many, many years and this: "Some times I get a good cadence going, and other times I feel like I'm running through jelly," is still what I experience. I think that's the way it is supposed to be.
posted by dzot at 9:33 AM on September 17, 2013

Running with dogs is sometimes referred to as Canicross - might be a useful search term for you if you're looking for advice on that.
posted by penguin pie at 10:05 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really like the Flipbelt for carrying lots of stuff—I find it bounces around a lot less than belts with separate pouches. On long runs, I've fit my phone, several gels, tissues, chapstick, and keys in mine without any problems (or annoying bouncing).

Some runs are always going to be better than others. Sometimes just because the gods of running deem it so, and other times because you're more or less tired, dehydrated, preoccupied with work or family stress, or properly fueled (not only immediately before your run, but also in terms of whether you've eaten healthily or not over the past few days). Paying attention to these factors and being able to recognize them is good, and (as others have said) giving yourself permission to slow down/accept that some runs are tough is also good.

It's great that you're making progress!
posted by rebekah at 10:31 AM on September 17, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions and comments so far!

I'm glad the "running through jelly" thing is normal, so I can now ignore it and push on.

As for my dog, she has good and bad moments in terms of distractions. If she gets worked up, even the sound of a car is enough to make her turn around. I've come to realize that I can't scold her too much when she gets worked up, because it seems to feed into her nervous energy, so I make sure to have enough treats to distract her and promote the good, calm behavior.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:07 AM on September 17, 2013

I second the Gentle Leader. If your dog gets fixated on something, you can literally turn her head and force her to look at you.

Also, the treats may be reinforcing the behavior. You might have better luck just removing her from the stimulus when she misbehaves.
posted by elizeh at 4:26 PM on September 17, 2013

Every runner at every level deals with this. Last Thursday I ran 5 of the most painful, slow miles I've ever ran. The next day I knocked out 10 fabulous, hilly miles and I felt great. Some runs just feel awful. Efing annoying.

I find that stretching isn't as important to me as the foam roller of agony. Pick something that you do every day (evening news, the Daily Show, putting the kids to bed) and use that as the reminder to roll, roll, roll. If you really dig pain the Trigger Point myofascial release products are excellent.

Keeping up with the roller reduces the number of crappy runs. (They still happen, but much less frequently.)
posted by 26.2 at 10:20 PM on September 17, 2013

Dogs require a strategy to run with. They love the exercise, but the nose is in charge of course.

I keep my dog on a longish leash and do lots of leash management, since we share our cornfield dirt roads with prep school runners. She gets full leash with nobody around so she has a couple of seconds to sniff whatever interests her, and I reel her in when we have company so nobody gets scared. It's a different way of running--you have to compromise and slow down or stop for a couple of seconds sometimes, but you can always coax a brief sprint out to make up for it.
posted by Camofrog at 11:59 PM on September 17, 2013

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