Want incentive to get off the couch?
Make a goal. Better yet, make a goal that coincides with the lush spring weather creeping in.
Signing up for a race is one way to do this — it’s how Manchester resident Cam Dickson became a runner in 2013, when she joined the Runner’s Alley “Couch to 5K” training program in anticipation of the late May Redhook 5K. (It’s not a bad introduction to the 5K circuit; it ends with beer.) Getting that bib number, she said, provided a tangible goal, and training with the Runner’s Alley group held her accountable. She’s run two half marathons since.
Another boost of encouragement: run or ride for charity, like Susan Mollohan of Derry — a victim of Parkinson’s Disease, she’s performing her training rides in every New England state to prepare for her first full century ride Sept. 7, which raises money for awareness and research.
Still more, you could vow to summit your first 4,000-footer, tackle your first adventure race or complete your first triathlon, half or full marathon. The fuel? Knocking that item off your bucket list.
Accomplishing these goals has never been so accessible, or frankly, so fun — at least three New Hampshire running events this year involve athletes running through rainbows of color, and many more will leave them caked in mud, feeling like a kid again.
The goal is what will keep you motivated, maybe out of fear, maybe determination, but just as important is the journey, from the physical training to the finish line. Start your goal shopping here.
(Note: Nobody at The Hippo is a professional trainer. None of these are fully fleshed out programs but rather they are places to start. And, of course, check with your doctor before embarking on any new fitness programs.)
Fun runs and 5Ks
You need: A solid pair of running sneakers.
Why this race: It’s prevalent and it’s short.
Time to prepare: Maybe eight weeks for ultra-beginners. Less time if any if you’re physically fit or a runner.
Local options: The untimed “color” races include the Color Me Rad 5K on April 27 in Veterans Memorial Park, Manchester (colormerad.com/race/manchester-nh/), the New Hampshire Color Vibe 5K at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 1122 Route 106 North, Loudon, on Saturday, Aug. 9 (thecolorvibe.com/newhampshire.php), and The Color Run 5K (thecolorrun.com/new-hampshire/) on Oct. 11, also at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. For a 5K that ends with beer, try the Runner’s Alley/Redhook 5K at the Redhook Brewery, 1 Redhook Way, Portsmouth, on Sunday, May 25, at 11 a.m., or the Smuttynose Will Run for Beer 5K on Sunday, June 22, at the Smuttynose Brewery, Towle Farm Road, Hampton.
“If you’ve never run before, this is a good place to start,” said Runner’s Alley owner Jeanine Sylvester in a phone interview. “It’s the easiest distance to achieve and it’s where most people have the greatest success.”
If you’re a couch-to-5K kind of person, Sylvester suggests starting out with a run/walk program.
“Every two weeks [in this run/walk program] is pretty much the same, especially in the beginning,” Sylvester said. “You walk five minutes, then run for a minute. … The second time you run, you might walk five minutes and then run for two minutes seven times. … Each week incrementally goes up, but it’s slow, to let your body adjust.”
You shouldn’t be completely winded during these beginner programs.
“We encourage people for when they start out to have a buddy with them. You should be able to talk while you run. Adjust your pace based on your ability to talk with your neighbor. If you can’t talk because you’re so out of breath, you need to slow down,” Sylvester said.
Plus, she said, running with people adds an extra push.
“We can self-talk ourselves out of anything, but if someone’s waiting for you on the sidewalk, it’s harder,” Sylvester said. “Once you finish, you never say, ‘Oh, I wish I didn’t do that,’ but you will regret not going.”
Soreness and stiffness are natural (and can be helped with good stretching or foam rollers, available at most athletic stores), but sharp pain isn’t. Sylvester advises beginners to start out slow in order to learn what’s normal or not normal for their bodies while running.
Another thing to be wary of when you begin running: what you eat. You certainly won’t need to refuel during 5K or 10K training runs or races, but you still need to think about what you eat shortly before, if more so you don’t eat anything that makes you sick.
“Everyone’s digestive system is different, but a lot of people like to eat an hour and a half to two hours before the run. They’ll eat something light, like half of a PBJ, crackers and cheese, a mix of carbs and protein. You don’t want to eat a steak dinner and then try to go run. That will definitely not feel good,” she said.
It’s an ideal time to start running, sure because it’s healthy, but also because some of the events are so much more than 5K’s. The untimed, uncompetitive “color runs” have exploded in New England. (Start with white clothing. Run/walk through a powdered color-infused course. Finish in the same colors as your favorite childhood cereal.)
So have runs that end with beer — check out the “Will Run For Beer” race series in Massachusetts and New Hampshire (willrunforbeer.com).
Sylvester’s advice for race day: Don’t try anything new. Don’t eat anything different. Don’t wear something you’ve never worn before. Dress as though it’s 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it actually is. (Her cut-off mark for wearing shorts is 50 degrees. Others will disagree, but she’s found many gauge what to wear this way.)
Going for the half
Time to train: Assuming you’ve got the 5K under your belt, probably between three and four months. Could be less if you’re already running 15 to 20 miles a week regularly.
Why this race: It’s half of a marathon! It’s got the glory without the beat-up of a full.
Local options: There’s the Granite State Half Marathon on Tuesday, May 13, which runs along the Nashua River (newenglandchallenge.org/granite.html, starting at the Holiday Inn, 9 Northeastern Blvd., Nashua); the Bear Brook Trail Half Marathon on Saturday, July 19, through Bear Brook Park, Allenstown (check out at facebook.com/BearBrookMarathonAndUltra/info, also includes marathon and ultra); and for a bit of comic book inspiration, the CHaD Hero Half Marathon in Hanover on Sunday, Oct. 26, which often features dressed-up runners (chadhalf.org, One Medical Drive, Lebanon).
So you’ve got the running bug. The next step is the half marathon. It’s become one of the most trained-for races around.
“Oh my gosh, there are definitely a lot more people running these,” said Granite State Racing Team coach, physical therapist and professional long course triathlete Amber Ferreira. “I don’t know where it spurred from. Half marathon races are popping up everywhere, and it’s one of those distances that’s long enough that you feel it’s a good accomplishment, yet it’s still do-able for the average person. It’s the most popular distance that everyone wants to go after.”
Intimidated by jumping from a 5K to a half marathon? You can squeeze in a 10K before your training.
“If you’ve done the 5K and want to keep continuing, another six weeks could easily get you to the 10K,” Sylvester said. “As a rule of thumb, don’t increase the longest run of the week or total mileage more than 10 percent.”
Training for a half marathon will vary in intensity depending on how fast you want to do it, but “you could totally get away with just running three days a week,” Ferreira said. “However, you’ll likely want to supplement those days with a bit of cross training, just to help build a nice cardiovascular base.”
Most runners and experts interviewed emphasized the value of cross training. This might include biking, strengthening, hiking — things that work out your whole body, particularly those muscles you don’t use while running, like glutes, arms and core. Not only will it be better for your overall physical fitness, but it’ll also reduce your risk of injury, which becomes more likely the more pounding you’re doing on the road.
You can find lots of free training plans online — Hal Higdon’s half and full marathon schedules are extremely popular among beginners, offering plans that are comprised of different levels (novice — if you don’t run much at all — to advanced) and different modes of time. Most training plans, in addition to cross training, will include a handful of short- to middle-distance runs in the middle of the week (perhaps between four and six miles) and one longer run on the weekend (between nine and 13 miles).
It’s during these longer runs — say 10 miles plus — that you might want to start thinking about different kinds of fueling.
“Nutrition is a big factor,” Ferreira said. “You’ll never need a gel for a 5K, but once you get to a half marathon, it kind of depends on how much you sweat. You need to think about taking in Gatorade, you need to maybe think about taking a gel at Mile 10. It’s totally something that can completely ruin the race if you don’t give it a thought.” (Gatorade, gels, and shot bloks — tiny gummies bursting with calories and electrolytes — are most important when you’re sweating a lot. Also, don’t wait till race time to use one of these energy boosters.)
Your best friend during these long training runs, other than your sneakers, could be your phone.
“The iPhones have a variety of different running apps which can be more helpful than anything you find online,” Ferreira said. (One of those is the “map my run” app, which records how far you trek, the number of calories you burn and the pace of your run.)
The big one: first marathon
Time to train: If you can run at least five miles, probably six months.
Locals options: Clarence Demar Marathon in Keene on Sept. 28 (clarencedemar.com); the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol (30 N. Main St., Bristol, nhmarathon.com) on Saturday, Oct. 4; The Manchester Marathon (Elm Street, cityofmanchester.com) on Sunday, Nov. 2
What would a training guide be without a marathon section? The Hippo actually had an extremely in-depth guide to marathon training a few years back (visit hippopress.com/read-article/the-long-run). If you’re going to go for the full 26.2 miles, it’s important to have a solid base — most plans require the runner to be able to run five miles no problem — and a solid three to four hours to devote every weekend to a single run (or more, if you’re going to count the nap you take afterward). Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway each offer training plans for beginners and advanced runners (jeffgalloway.com, halhigdon.com). Both plans can be obtained free, though Higdon’s website has more variations and Galloway’s is very much a beginner program (and includes lots of walking). You can also obtain training schedules through many other venues (Runner’s World, Cool Running, etc.).
These gurus emphasize to beginners not to run your first marathon for time, and not to be discouraged to walk. Higdon says to walk through the water stops, as you’ll have to slow down anyway (because everyone else will and otherwise you’ll pour water down your front).
Sweat, mud and fire: your first adventure race
What the … : It’s a 3-, 9-, 13- or 26-mile course with obstacles that may or may not include barbed wire, fire, a swim, wall-climbing, rope-climbing, tire-jumping or spear-throwing.
Why would you do this?! Non-runners/bikers say it’s less boring. Also, epic photos.
How much training: Depends how long the race is. The Runner’s Alley Adventure 5K program is eight weeks long and requires that runners can initially run two miles.
Local options: New England Dragway Thunder Run 2014, at the New England Dragway grounds, Epping, May 17 (thunderrunnh.com); Wason Pond Pounder, a 5K on May 31 with 14 to 16 obstacles along Wason Pond trails in Chester (wasonpondpounder.com); Sunapee’s Mountain Mucker, a 5K obstacle course race May 31 (themountainmucker.com); the Loon Mountain Monster Mud Run on July 12, also a 5K (loonmtn.com); Renegade Playground Challenge, 72 Lafayette St., Rochester, on July 19 (renegadeplayground.com)
Even Sean Gray at Runner’s Alley can attest that many people go for the adventure races today because running for hours on end, to be frank, can get boring.
“A lot of people get bored of just the running aspect. This adds a new challenge and makes it a little more fun,” he said in a phone interview.
In fact, he’s met people who find the prospect of running a 5K more daunting than running an obstacle course race.
“It’s a bit harder, and so it’s surprising — you’ll see a lot of people who are scared to do a 5K, a 10K, but they’ll sign up for a Tough Mudder,” he said. “They’ll end up walking from event to event, so it’s not the racing, it’s the challenge of getting through the obstacles that captures them.”
These races are exciting — they involve things like climbing walls and ropes, jumping through fire or carrying heavy objects up mountains. They’re also often performed in teams, untimed, the ultimate goal being completion.
He’s been seeing more people gravitate toward them the last five years, and he too has become enamored — he’s completed two Tough Mudders and the Spartan Beast. He’s currently training for the Spartan Ultra Beast, 26 miles of obstacles in Killington, Vt.
There are lots of local events (listed above) but also many national organizations like the Tough Mudder, the Spartan races and the female-led Mudderella, which travel across the country.
Gray is currently leading a 5K adventure group through Runner’s Alley in preparation for the Wason Pond Pounder. He sent an example of a week’s training for the adventure 5K group via email; it includes running two to three miles, two to three days a week, and on the other days, a mix of running and circuit training (regular/assisted pull-ups, bench dips, lunges, leaps, mountain climbers, jump rope, squats, etc., at high intensity). These are functional movement exercises, done in a way meant not to develop power so much as overall endurance. He adjusts the plan accordingly when training for a 12- or 13-mile event.
“When you’re running the Tough Mudders, you’re basically running up and down a black diamond. You need to be good at transitioning from running to upper body workouts and then back to running again,” Gray said. “You have to have that all-around fitness level, upper body, lower body, core strength.”
Plus, for most adventure races/events, you won’t know what’s to be thrown at you. Participants have also been known to use CrossFit, P90X and race websites (like toughmudder.com, which provides examples and exercise direction for beginning, intermediate and advanced “mudders”).
Gray’s last tip: sign up early to get the first wave. These mud races are extremely popular, especially the Tough Mudders and the Spartan races, as there’s often wait time between obstacles.
Try a triathlon
First time around: The sprints are usually a half mile swim, a 10- to 15-mile bike and a 5K run.
Where most people need more work: The swim. It’s a more technical-based sport. Also, large events turn into more of a water brawl, said Amber Ferreira.
How long will it take: Usually between 1 and 2 1/2 hours.
How long should you train for: Depends on the individual and race. For someone active, beginnertriathlete.com says 13 weeks.
More importantly, what to wear? Some competitors will wear suits you can swim, bike and run in. Or you could go simple and wear a swimsuit and workout clothes. Remember changing will take time.
Local options: Greater Nashua Sprint Triathlon on Sunday, June 8 (.3 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 5K run, nashuatri.com which starts at YMCA Camp Sargent, 141 Camp Sargent Road, Merrimack); Capitol City Triathlon on Sunday, July 27 (0.3-mile swim, 15-mile bike, 5K run, at NHTI, 51 Institute Drive, Concord, fasteventsnh.com/capitol-city-tri.html); Circle Triathlon on Sunday, Aug. 31 (0.25 mile swim, 12-mile bike, 2.5 mile run, at 283 River St., Ashland, circletriathlon.org)
A coach of the Granite State Racing Team, a running club in Concord, Amber Ferreira is also a physical therapist and a professional long-course triathlete. She better describes herself as an “endurance monster” with a passion for cross training and multisport. Just before our phone interview, she competed in the national snowshoe championships in Woodford, Vt. (And won.)
“I do a ton of cross training,” Ferreira said in a phone interview. “My fastest marathon and half marathon times happened when I stopped running seven days a week and started cross training.”
As such, she knows a thing or two about training for multi-sport endurance test like a triathlon, which at times can be a bit overwhelming.
“In triathlon training, once you get into the longer stuff, it can get pretty complicated. You’re juggling three sports,” she said.
How much you devote to each element of training is up to you; beginnertriathlete.com offers a free 13-week program for those competitors who have at least some running experience and are looking to try a sprint triathlon. The first week, for example, includes two swims (one 15 minutes, one 30 minutes), one run (20 minutes) and two bike rides (one 35 minutes, one 40 minutes). The highest-volume week, two months later, includes two swims (one 30 minutes, one 35), one run (45 minutes) and two bike rides (one 45 minutes, one 60).
These free training plans online are helpful to follow because they are organized in a way to help you rest and improve — an intense week will be followed by an easier one, followed again by a harder one. There will be one longer ride or run (or both) every weekend.
“If you can swim, bike and run, for the most part, you can pick up a beginner training program for free. If you want to get to the next level, if you have goal to make, it’s not a bad idea to get a coach,” Ferreira said, either one who specializes in multi-sport events like these or someone who can provide more technical advice — swimming, for instance, is often the weakest segment for a triathlete because it’s the least natural of the three.
Trek a 4,000-footer
Why this challenge: No entry fee, prize is the glorious view.
Things you’ll need for the hike: Good footwear; light fleece; windbreaker; hiking poles (optional); pack to stick it all in; two liters of water and a means of water purification; food (high energy, like trail mix, high-energy nut and fruit bars, beef jerky, fruit, PBJ); a headlamp; AMC White Mountain Trail Guide (to read beforehand, contains six maps, costs about $25)
You might also want: To know how to read a map and compass. And a map and compass.
Best/easiest 4,000-footers to start out with: Mt. Tom, Mt. Hale, both of which have a gain of only 2,000 feet of elevation.
Beginners stay away from: Presidentials, Owl’s Head, Mt. Bond, at least at first. These also often require overnight equipment.
Best time to hike: Best time for beginners, between mid-May and September. Best of the best is during August or September, cooler and less buggy.
Boots were made for walking: It’s the best exercise for this case.
How long will it take? Rick Wilcox of IME in Conway says most decent hikers can gain about 1,000 feet an hour without too much trouble.
The state is littered with hikes and views, but the 4,000-foot mountains hold a royal position in New Hampshire. The state even has a Four Thousand Footers Club, formed in 1957, and hiking all 48 of them is like the Granite State equivalent of hiking Mt. Everest.
Plus, most trees usually stop growing at about 4,000 feet, which means that these New Hampshire hikes are the ones with the rocky summits and unobscured views.
Owner of International Mountain Equipment (IME) in Conway and the International Climbing School, Rick Wilcox knows the state’s peaks better than most; he completed all 48 4,000-footers at age 15, and he’s one of the few worldwide to summit Everest.
“Climbing a 4,000-footer is more intermediate to more advanced hiking,” he said in a phone interview. “There are some 4,000-footers that are easier than others — some of which are even easier than the state’s 3,000-footers.”
How do you prepare to surmount the coveted 4,000-footer? Wilcox says the best way is to walk.
“The types of muscles and body type we’re looking for on these long hikes are those that can hike for six or eight hours, while stopping for snacks,” he said. “Running develops a different kind of muscle system; most people don’t go out running for eight hours, but you are going to have to walk for eight hours.”
Weight training is not really a big deal; using a stairmaster might help, but walking is king, preferably three times a week.
“One thing hikers have to learn is where their physical endurance fits in with what they’re trying to accomplish. Getting to the top of the mountain is only halfway through the day. … Start on easier mountains and learn how your body works on these peaks. If you struggle with a 3,000-foot gain over five miles, then maybe you need to train a bit, to get some exercise hiking around town,” Wilcox said.
Also remember, the longer you hike, the harder it is to keep up that speed. Beginners should take the more gradual trail up; Moosilauke, for instance, has one shorter, steeper trail and a longer, more gradual one. Despite that it’s longer, the latter will be easier going.
Most importantly, when you finally perform your hike: “Have common sense,” Wilcox said. “You can only go as fast as the weakest climber in your group. Stay together; if you’re having a hard time, turn around and come back as a group. If the weather is bad, turn around and reschedule the hike for another day.”
As seen in the April 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.