Friday, August 28, 2015

Symmetrical Stride

Running form is a much debated topic. Studies suggest that runners select the most economical stride for them as they train. Studies also suggest that increasing stride rate or shortening stride length can reduce the likelihood of injury and alleviate knee pain.

So what's right for you? Work on improving your stride, or sticking with the one you were blessed with?

As the great Dr. George Sheehan was fond of saying, "We are each an experiment of one."

This is what I've noticed in my running, especially as I get older: years of right handedness, running on the left side of cambered roads, and running around tracks counterclockwise for most of high school and college have left me with an asymmetrical stride.

I'm injury prone. Besides dealing with the typical training error of too much, too fast, too soon, my muscle imbalance has led to other injuries. Tendinitis in the knees, groin, and Achilles line up almost perfectly with an imbalanced stride.

So, what to do about it? My physical therapist gave me several drills. In a previous post, I mentioned increasing stride rate. The other drill he gave me was imagining a line between my legs and keeping that line in between my feet as I ran.

The most important thing, however, is keeping a strength routine as part of regular training. Focusing on muscle balance, especially in the hips, glutes, and core, will help improve stride symmetry and lead to fewer injuries.

Run well.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rest and Recovery

Rest days are an under-utilized element of a good training plan. While different training plans call for different types of rest days, it's best to find what works for you.

As I've reached my thirties, daily runs are not always an option. When training for a goal race, I tend to overdo it. Since 2012, I've run some solid times, but have yet to enjoy consistent racing and long stretches of injury-free running.

Recovery and injury prevention exercises have been vital in my ability to run consistently. I handle rest days in a variety of ways; bike rides, runs, swimming, and hiking have all made appearances in my training. To make those cross training activities rest days means doing them at a very light intensity.

The simplest way to have a true rest day is by doing nothing. Reading, playing a board game with my lovely wife, and perhaps watching a TV show or movie, give my legs and cardiovascular system a chance to recharge.

Training adaptations are made when the body has time to repair itself. Don't forget to incorporate some rest into your plan.

Run and rest well.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Stride Rate

When I returned to consistent running in 2009, I read a book called "Chi Running" by Danny Dreyer. While I don't believe in a one-size-fits-all stride, Danny Dreyer did make same good points. I could go into detail about what was and wasn't accurate in "Chi Running," but I leave that to more qualified individuals.

Several things about "Chi Running" stuck out to me, as did some of the running form advice in "Brain Training for Runners" by Matt Fitzgerald.

In my next few posts, I'll write about some things that have worked for me. Probably the best advice given in "Chi Running" is to increase stride rate. Stride rate can be calculated by number of steps per minute. The easiest way to determine stride rate is by counting the number of times one foot hits the ground in a minute and multiplying by two.

Numerous studies have suggested that runners self-select a stride rate most economical for them. If you've been running injury free for a long time, there's no reason to change your stride rate. If, however, you have an injury or history of injuries, stride rate is one thing you could look into.

While there is no magic number for selecting a stride rate, most will recommend running between 170 and 190 strides per minute.

In 2012, I suffered an impaction fracture of my femur and tibia. My rehab went well, but since that time I've yet to put together a solid year of consistent running. My personal records in both the half and full marathons are still from 2012.

In 2013 I found myself suffering acute knee pain. A few trips to my favorite physical therapist, Sam Olson, had me put back together in decent enough shape to run a sub-three hour marathon in St. Louis.

Sam took a look at my stride through slow motion video, and pointed out a few things I could fix. One easy fix was increasing my stride rate.

My wife, Laura, has also dealt with a couple of running injuries including plantar fascitis and knee bursitis. She was also advised to increase her stride rate.

Increasing stride rate can be done a few ways, but the easiest way is to listen to a metronome as you run. I'd aim for slowly increasing stride rate for a week or so until you're closer to 180 steps per minute. Aim for an increase of 3-5 steps per minute every run. Research has shown that this can alleviate knee pain and other running ailments.

The following video does a nice job describing how to safely increase your stride rate:

Run well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Life Balance

Image credit: on
 Distance runners can do some amazing things--it takes discipline, focus, and self-control to be an athlete. It takes even more of those things to be an athlete and an empathetic, loving, citizen of earth.

Runs, bike rides, walks, and other exercises are nice times to think about such things: to enjoy the world we live in; to think about the advantages we've been blessed with; to think about those without those advantages.

So, on your next run, bike ride, or walk, take some time to think about such things. Where can you show kindness? Forgiveness? How might you be able to help others?

If, after thinking, you'd like to share some of your joy and advantages, consider how you could do that. I had an amazing time fundraising for Team World Vision back in 2014--I felt like I was putting my time spent running to good use.

If you'd like to use your time spent exercising to bring hope to others, here's some causes to consider:
In my life, running sometimes takes precedence over the more important aspects of my life: faith, family, friends, and my job as a teacher. I'm not a perfectionist, but what I do I like to do well. Part of keeping things in balance means taking care of my time.

Time spent running is generally time well spent--unless it's taking time from something more important.

How do you spend your time?

Run well.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Progression Run

Progression runs are a staple of many training programs. The idea of a progression run is to start easy, then finish at a faster pace.

The great thing about progression runs is the ability to tailor them to your training needs and abilities. Many training plans use them to improve endurance for longer races like half marathons and marathons. Others use them to hit a variety of paces during the same run.

Whether you're using a training plan or not, a progression run can be a nice addition to your workout routine. Start a run at an easy pace, then slowly speed up to a harder pace. Depending on your goals and comfort level, you can make the harder portions longer or faster.

A few examples:

Four mile progression run:
  • 1 - 1.5 miles very easy pace
  • 1.5 - 2 miles moderate pace 
  • 1 mile hard

Six mile progression run:
  • 1 - 2 miles very easy 
  • 2 - 3 miles moderate
  • 1 - 2 miles moderate/hard
  • 1 mile hard

Long progression run:
  • This workout can be done numerous ways. One third to one half of the run can be completed at easy pace. Then, accelerate slowly to a moderate pace. 
  • How fast you progress to will depend on what type of race you're training for:
    • Half marathoners will want to progress down to about 10k pace, and marathoners to about half marathon pace. 
    • Runners training for shorter distances like 5k or 10k will want to run only a small portion of the end of this run at race pace.
I haven't given any specific paces for progression runs. Many training plans will specific paces such as: 3 miles at easy pace, 2 miles at marathon pace, and 2 miles at half marathon pace.

Doing a progression run with preset paces is fine, but I prefer to run more by feel. Learning to run by feel takes practice, and in a future post I'll give some ideas on how it can be done.

Back at It

This week marked my return to my regular job as a middle school language arts teacher. Posts will be less frequent for the foreseeable future as I'll be teaching a new grade level with a busier schedule than last year.


I did have some winners on the give away, so read the comments on Give Away to see the tough weekend workouts of some readers of this blog.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Long Run

The long "run" is a strange and mysterious creature. "Long" is already a relative term, and though run means, "to ambulate with both feet off the ground simultaneously for a period of time," very few long runs involve running the whole time.

Most people stop to drink or use the bathroom. Many break up their runs with walk breaks. Theories of long runs, specifically in marathon training, abound: Jeff Galloway has popularized the run/walk method. His beginner plan for completing a marathon includes a 26 mile run/walk.

The Hanson program has an advanced plan with the longest run topping out at 16 miles. Hal Hidgon's beginner plan has its longest run at 20 miles.

So what works? I somewhat followed the Hal Higdon plan for my first marathon. When my competitive nature took over, I started adding workouts from other training plans. Those workouts may have gotten me faster, but they also got me injured.

I followed a Brad Hudson training plan.for my next marathon. That plan had me top out around 22 miles. I dropped almost fourteen minutes off my marathon time from October, 2009 to May, 2010. However, I would not attribute that success to more long runs or longer long runs.

Anyone training for a marathon needs to find what works for them. Consider factors like running experience, time constraints, and what you enjoy. There's nothing magic about long runs. They're an important part of the training schedule, but how you respond to training will be different than how someone else responds.

Chasing a magic number of miles or pace can be a recipe for injury. I can appreciate the OCD of distance runners. We run around the block to "finish" our 20 milers (I've done it many times). But whether you're running 19, 20, 22, or 16 miles, the number isn't nearly as important as the overall training plan.

My issue has always been injury. I don't mind doing strength exercises, but I tend to slack off--especially as my running ramps up. I'm not unique in this among runners.

Others dread longer runs. They may start out to run 14 miles, but after six miles or so, they decide that 10 will be enough.

Don't fall into either of these traps. Skipping or skimping long runs when marathon training generally leads to a long, painful marathon. It can also lead to injury because the body is not ready to go 26.2 miles--it's never been on its feet for that long.

Endless pursuit of hitting a distance or time--for a long run or weekly mileage--can also seriously hinder life balance. Do you have enough time and energy for injury prevention workouts, proper sleep, work, healthy eating, and quality time with friends and family? If you're disciplined and can hold it in balance, great.

If you're like me and running tends to creep into other areas of your life, you might want to re-prioritize.

If you have any thoughts about long runs, please comment here, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Run well.

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