New to exercising?
Before starting a running program (or any exercise program), it’s important to assess your health and fitness status: make sure to talk to your health care provider. Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are just some of the chronic health problems that may require special testing or screening before you start an exercise program.
Here are some questions to ask your provider:
- Are there special concerns about exercising with my health problems?
- Do any of my medications affect my ability to exercise?
- Do I need any lab work or testing to make sure I am safe to exercise?
Have old or new injuries?
Let’s face it, injuries happen. Many people have injuries that are present when starting a walking/jogging/running program. Maybe it’s a nagging hamstring injury that just won’t resolve. Or it’s the aching knee you injured in high school that still hurts after runs. If you have lingering issues that have never been addressed, consider seeing a sports medicine specialist to discuss preventive/healing approaches to help you reach your goal for training.
New to racing?
The key is to assess where you’re starting. If you’re inactive and starting a running program, a “couch to 5k” or “walk to run” program might work well. If you have run a 5k or 8k race in the past and are hoping to step up to a longer distance, consider how much time you have to train and how long you’re planning on training for this race.
Helpful tips include:
- Keeping a training/running log
- Starting slow and build over time
- Avoiding large increases in miles or speed in a short time frame
- Setting goals that are realistic for your schedule and time
Want to run faster?
What steps will you take to change the results you have gotten in the past? Are you going to work with a coach? Do you have a training program in mind? You may want to consider training techniques that include intervals, sprints and tempo runs.
Running should be easy, right? It’s inexpensive. Good for your health. So…what’s the catch? Why do so many walkers/joggers/runners struggle while training for a race or running event?
Here are some tips to keep you on schedule and maintain the energy needed to complete your race day successfully.
- Set a goal. There are many different approaches to running, whether it’s pushing for a new personal record (known as a “PR”) or running your first race. Focusing on the end goal rather than on a day-to-day approach can be easier to stay on task. Another helpful tip is to set several small goals on track to reaching your major goal.
- Keep a training log. How far? How fast? How did the run feel? Did you drink water before, after or during? The more information you can collect, the more you can analyze your performance. For example, you might find runs later in the day are harder for you, so try running earlier in the day.
- Join a running group or get a running partner. Group/partner running is a great way to have fun, share training successes challenges and motivate on hard days.
- Increase cautiously. Many running injuries are caused by overtraining. A commonly quoted statement is to increase by only 10 percent per week. For instance, if you are used to running six miles a week (two miles three days a week) – and your goal is to get to 12 miles a week, increase weekly miles by about 0.6 miles for the first week. This will keep your changes slow and gradual, helping prevent injuries.
- Listen to your body. If you have a nagging injury, or your training schedule is causing you to have consistent pain or problems, get it checked out. Blindly pushing through pain hoping for relief is a common way to get injured.
- Take rest days. We all need rest. Make sure your training program has at least one rest day to allow your body to heal and recover..
- Cross-train. A key component of healthy running is getting stronger. Many cross-training programs focus on building strength in key muscles that are key to good running form and injury prevention.
- Expect hard days. Watch out, hard days are coming. All runners experience tough days, where your legs feel like they are filled with concrete. Do your best to safely finish your training these days and try not to let yourself get dragged down by them.
- Get good shoes.
- Have fun. Remember this more than anything else. This is what running is all about. Try to make your running sessions a highlight of your day.
Stretching used to be considered a standard practice for runners, but the practice has come under intense scrutiny in the last 10-20 years.
As with many things in life, the answer to “should I stretch or not?” is complicated.
Why are you stretching? To get stronger? To get faster? To recover from an injury? To prevent injuries? Have you been stretching previously or are you considering adding stretching? The answers to these questions will help you make a decision on stretching.
What is stretching?
Simply put, stretching is the application of force across a joint which puts tension on a muscle/tendon unit. Tendons are the dense part of a muscle that connects a muscle to a bone.
There are several types of stretching: 1) ballistic, 2) static, 3) passive and 4) proprioceptive.
- Ballistic stretching is a bouncing or jerking style of stretching often thought of when someone says “toe touches.”
- Static stretching is the application of a force to a muscle/tendon for a sustained period of time in a fixed- body position.
- Passive stretching is when another person applies a stretching force to the body.
- Proprioceptive stretch involves the neuromuscular balance of opposing muscle groups using contraction and relaxation to create balance.
Why the controversy?
Several large review articles (summaries of many smaller studies) found that stretching did not prevent injuries or pain in runners and that there was little evidence to support use of stretching to prevent injury. There have also been papers published that show static stretching decreases force and power for runners. These studies have led to a large amount of information in the public press suggesting that stretching is bad. Despite this information, many running coaches, sports medicine physicians, and physical therapists recommend stretching.
Many runners just want to run and likely want to avoid getting injured. It is well-understood that injured runners often have imbalances –- such as tight or weak muscles –- that may lead to injuries.
Many of the studies mentioned above involve a very small number of participants and there is a specific focus of the study which makes it very hard to apply findings to an individual runner. However, one should not accept the statement that all stretching is bad.
What should I do?
The simplest statement is to listen to your body. If you know that your left leg has been bothering you during runs, it needs to be evaluated. The pain you are feeling may be coming from a muscle that is either injured or not working properly. A rehab program may be given to you by a physical therapist or a health care provider, which might include a stretching program.
If you are an advanced athlete and looking to better your time or increase your speed, there is no clear evidence that stretching -- in any form -- is going to help you get to your goal faster.
What do you do prior to a run? Stretch? Walk? Warm up? Nothing?
Many runners cherish the simplicity of running. Put on your running shoes and you are off! No planning, minimal gear, no stress! In our last tip, we discussed the concept of stretching and the current controversy surrounding it. This time, we focus on another common dilemma: the warmup.
What is a warmup?
A “warmup” refers to a set of movements prior to physical activity that is designed to help the body prepare physiologically for that specific physical activity. Supporters claim that warming up improves muscle, nerve and metabolic function.
A warmup most often is a collection of several different activities: static stretching, dynamic stretching, submaximal sport drills and aerobic exercise. If your warmup includes stretching, make sure to read Training Tip #3 - To stretch or not to stretch, what is the right answer?
Similar to stretching, there is mixed evidence about what exactly dynamic stretching accomplishes. However, there is more agreement among experts that dynamic stretching/warmups are preferred. A dynamic warmup is a movement-based combination of dynamic stretching, agility and balance that is aimed at getting key muscles involved in running firing and warmed up.
Dynamic warmup programs
A great start to a dynamic warmup is walking. A simple approach is a one- to two-minute walk at a comfortable pace prior to running. Increase your pace to a brisk walk for one to two minutes, then start your run.
This is simple and will get your body ready for running. There are more elaborate plans, which involve a combination of lunges, leg swings, tiptoe walking and other in-motion dynamic warmup maneuvers.
Below are several from the Internet. There is no “correct” warmup. Try out different ones. Try to keep short -- no more than five minutes. Try to make this a regular part of your running program.
As with all new programs, listen to your body. If a warmup regimen makes you uncomfortable or causes pain, stop and try a different approach.
Selecting a running shoe can be quite a challenge. Both minimalist/barefoot and maximal cushioned shoes have exploded in popularity. One large shoe company settled a lawsuit related to exaggerated and misleading health benefits of their products. There are more manufacturers in the marketplace with more offerings.
Here are some helpful terms:
- Minimalist shoes – very low-profile shoes with minimal cushioning and support.
- Motion-control shoes – stiff, bulky shoes that are reinforced in the heel region to prevent motion in the foot and ankle. These are often recommended for very flat arches and weak leg muscles.
- Neutral shoes – middle of the pack: not too stiff, not too minimal in the cushioning.
- Maximalist shoes – Thick cushioning and rocker-designed to minimize impact on joints.
- Trail shoes – various stiffness and styles, with the primary difference being the tread on the sole of the shoe.
Making a decision can be tough. Be cautious of claims that shoes will make you faster, lighter, safer or stronger. There is little solid evidence to support those claims. Don’t get stuck on color or looks. Focus on the fit.
Here are some simple recommendations related to choosing a running shoe:
- Get your foot measured and buy a shoe from a reputable running shoe seller. Knowing your size is key and will always be a good start. Nothing can replace trying on different shoes in a store and feeling the actual difference of shoe types by spending time in them. The most important thing is the shoe should feel comfortable on: If not, there is a good chance it will not be comfortable while you’re running.
- If you are purchasing minimalist/less supportive shoes for the first time, slowly transition. One of the most common training errors with minimalist shoes is too rapid transition from conventional shoes to minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes make your leg muscles work much harder. A safe recommendation is to take several months to transition by gradually building up time in the minimalist shoes.
- If you have a running shoe you have been using, and you have had minimal injuries or problems with running, be cautious of changing running shoes. For most runners’ goals, a shoe is not going to have large impact on time or pace. It is very challenging to make a clear recommendation to a runner that one shoe type is “better” than another. If a certain shoe has worked pretty well, it will likely continue to work well.
- Replace your running shoes periodically. With use, materials in the shoes start to break down. The most commonly mentioned change points are three to six months, or every 300 miles run.
- New runners should start in relatively neutral shoes. New runners put a lot of new stress on their joints and legs. It is safest to aim for the middle of the pack in terms of running shoes -- something forgiving and not too aggressive.
Fueling (hydration and nutrition) for running can be broken down into four main categories: 1) daily intake, 2) pre-race, 3) during race and 4) after race.
There are many opinions about many different aspects of fueling. The goal of this blog post is to discuss key principles which will serve as a foundation for all on staying well-fueled. These guidelines are collected from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) position paper on nutrition and athletic performance.
- Daily carbohydrate: 6 to 10 g/kg/d. For a 70kg (154-pound) person, this would be 420-700 grams of carbohydrate per day.
- Daily protein: 1-1.3 g/kg/d for most people. For a 70kg (154-pound) person, this would be 70-90 grams of protein per day. If you are working on strength–building, you may want to increase your protein to 1.3-1.7g/kg/day.
- Daily fat intake: Should be only 20-35 percent of your total energy consumption.
- Stay well-hydrated. This is hard to define. Common factors include season (warmer in summer), daily exercise load and energy expended.
- For hydration: Four hours prior to exercise, drink 350-500ml water or sports beverage.
- For energy: Your needs will vary depending on the duration and intensity of your exercise. For longer events, you should eat a small meal/snack that is mostly carbohydrate and some protein about four hours prior as well.
- Many races start early in the morning, so getting fueled four hours prior to your event might be hard. The key concern for a runner here is to make sure not to fuel too close to your race, which might cause stomach distress, nausea or possible vomiting. Each athlete needs to experiment with his or her own pre-race fueling – size, volume, type (bars/chews/etc.) and time prior to exercise.
- Exercise sessions of 30 minutes or less typically do not require during-race fueling.
- 30-60 minutes is debated: Some athletes may benefit from fueling during race, while others may not.
- It is clear that people exercising 60 minutes or more benefit from exercise fueling.
- What you drink during the race should have 6-8 percent carbohydrate. This is standard carbohydrate dose in most sports drinks.
- In a longer race, try to fuel in small frequent doses (i.e., every 20 minutes) as opposed to one large intake.
- It is harder to determine how much liquid to consume during a race, as every athlete is different. If consuming liquids during a race, 8-12 ounces every 20-30 minutes of exercise is a safe starting point.
- As discussed above for during-race fueling, after-race fueling is linked with duration of exercise.
- It is thought that people will recover “better” from longer races with post- race hydration and nutrition.
- The right amount to fuel after a race differs for everyone: Try different approaches to see what works best for you.
- NEVER start a new fueling plan on race day! Practice on your training runs to get a plan that works for you.
- An important point is acknowledging that it is possible to harm yourself by drinking too much. This condition is not common and is referred to as exercise-induced hyponatremia.
- Experiment with your fueling and hydrating plan. No one plan will work for everyone.
Have you ever done a strengthening program for running? Would you know where to start? If the answer is no, then it is likely that you are missing out on a critical aspect of running well and avoiding injuries. Not to mention, perhaps running faster!
A popular misconception is that if you are running a lot, you are getting stronger, and there is no need for strengthening. There are many benefits from maintaining your weekly miles. However, the repetitive motion of running often does not strengthen specific muscle groups adequately. Muscle weakness is a strong contributor to running-related overuse injuries. That’s why we recommend some additional exercises for building strength.
Most running strengthening programs focus on several big muscle groups.
- Core. This includes trunk, abdominal, lower back and hip muscles. The core is critical for good posture and control of trunk form while running.
- Glutes (buttocks). One of the most common weak points for runners (and everyone else!) is your glutes. The glutes are critical for controlling pelvis stability, in addition to being part of the core system.
- Thighs (quads and hamstrings)
- Proprioception (balance work). During running, our bodies are constantly bearing all of the body’s weight on one leg. If there is even subtle weakness, your form suffers, different muscle take different stress, and this can lead to injury.
Try this exercise: stand barefooted on a firm surface. Put your hands on your hips. Stand with all your weight on your right leg – with a small bend in your knee. Now close your eyes. Did you wobble? How long could you stand without losing balance? Try the same exercise on your left leg. This is a great test as well as exercise to work on subtle balance. Lots of wobbling or shaking in leg is a sign of muscle weakness.
A good goal is to find a routine that you can replicate. Consistency is the key. Ideally, strengthening exercises should be part of your weekly schedule. Two days a week is a minimum. Three to four days a week is ideal. A good strengthening program should be able to be completed in less than 20 minutes. Focus on body weight-based exercises. At most, use resistance bands, and light weights. Avoid exercise programs that involve heavy lifting.
Runners looking to decrease their times and improve race performance will often experiment with speed programs. Speed programs have potential for both harm and benefit. With the right approach, speed drills can be a good way to push your body and make improvements.
That said, they are typically not recommended for beginning runners. Ideally, speed work will be used once you have the basics, feel good with your form and have a good running routine. Starting a speed program prematurely can increase your chances of getting injured. When starting with speed workouts, make sure to prepare for increased soreness and have an easy or rest day following speed work. When starting a speed program. keep speed work to once a week.
Bursts. On your normal running route, find a smooth straightaway and run faster (“burst”) for about 15-20 seconds. The goal is not to do full speed, but a more accelerated speed than standard runs. Try to incorporate several bursts into your run. Build up to two or three burst sessions per week. As you gain confidence, you can increase intensity and duration of bursts.
Time. If you know your pace, say eight-minute miles for racing, create a running program that includes faster times. Plan on a three-mile run. After a warmup, run one mile at eight minutes per mile. The second mile, run the first half at eight- minute pace, then run the second half-mile at 7:45 pace. For the first half of the third mile, return to eight-minute per mile pace, then finish with a half-mile at 7:30 pace. Everyone will respond differently to the faster pace. Adjusting your speed will depend on how you are feeling after each speed day.
Another option is a local running track. Never been on a track before? Here are some basic tips:
- Make sure the track is open and not reserved for special events.
- Run counterclockwise (most common) .
- Confirm track size. The standard is 400 meters on the inner lane (lane 1). If you are on a standard track, the straightaways are 100 meters. Four laps is close to a mile.
- As you are getting used to running on track, and when doing slower work, stay on the outer lanes.
- Be alert! Often there is lots of action on and around a track. Avoid using earphones. Keep on the lookout for runners who are doing high-speed work -- and try to give them space.
Curves/straights. Use straightaways to run at a faster speed. Of course, this is all based on your current speed and capacity. Do not try to run at maximum full sprint speed, at least initially. Start running at about 85-90 percent of your full sprint speed. Run the straightaways, then walk the curves. If needed, walk the remaining lap (both straightaways and curves) until you recover.
If you feel these are simple or easy, consider working with a running coach who can design a custom speed program for you.
There is a simple principle in running medicine: exercise causes damage to muscle tissues. Damage to muscle tissue causes muscle soreness. Muscle soreness can be unpleasant for runners and also may affect performance (speed, distance, etc.).
Why is this? Can it be prevented? How does one manage this chain of events? It is too challenging to explain the many different physiological principles involved. Instead, let’s focus on one simple way to manage delayed onset muscle soreness (also known as DOMS): foam rolling.
Foam rolling is a popular and useful tool for runners and athletes of all types. Using a foam roller can help correct muscle imbalances, decrease muscle soreness, improve range of motion and relieving joint stress.
Where to work?
Commonly included areas to use with a foam roller include:
- Iliotibial (IT) band (at knee and hip)
How long to use?
Most programs call for spending 30-60 seconds on a given muscle area.
Foam rolling can be done either as part of a maintenance program to prevent and reduce injuries, or to work on areas that are experiencing soreness. Each person will find his or her ideal fit.
If you have not had running injuries and your body feels good, a foam roller may not be needed until you do have an injury. It can help manage chronic issues: For example, if you know your IT band is tight and gets painful on one side, a regular program (four or five days a week) of foam rolling may help keep pain from ramping up.
How to use?
The most effective way to use a foam roller is to apply your body weight to the roller. This can take some special planning, but can be done. Click this link for a demonstration of how to correctly position your body for foam rolling.
The goal is to apply consistent pressure across the length of the region/muscle that you are working.
Should it hurt?
Maybe. Depending on how much pain you are experiencing from the sore area, you may feel some pain or soreness with foam rolling.
In general, if you are miserable the entire time you are working an area or if you have increased pain following foam rolling, you may need to stop. If a week or so of work with a foam roller does not help your pain, it is worth seeing a medical professional for evaluation.
"Any runner who denies having fears, nerves, or some other kind of disposition, is a bad athlete, or a liar." Olympian Gordon Pirie.
If you have raced before, you will agree with this statement You may already be having fears, nerves or feeling of anxiety as race day approaches. Just like your preparation and training for the race, the nervous energy that develops on race day can be trained and harnessed.
Goal # 1: avoid surprises
Weather. Check the forecast several times leading up to race day and make plans for the expected weather.
Know the course If you have not yet, check the course route. This will help you know what to expect. Look for highlights/visual cues.
Plan the time frame 1-2 days prior to the race. As much as possible, control your schedule . Go to sleep at a scheduled time. If you are doing any cool-down running, stick to your plan. Try to avoid any changes that may throw your mindset off.
Rehearse your pre-race routine. Make sure you know what time your race starts. If you are planning on getting to the start area early (which is advised), prepare for what you are going to do with that time. That way you are not caught with downtime which can give your mind time to start psyching itself out.
Goal #2: prepare for surprises
No matter how hard you prepare, you will likely have something happen that you were not prepared for. Cramps. Racing by yourself. Racing with a group. GI/stomach issues. Blisters. Bonking/hitting the wall. Gear/clothing malfunction.
There is a different answer to how each runner will handle these situations. Take a few minutes prior to race day to think out your plan for these situations.
Goal # 3: focus on what you can control
Don’t dwell on failures you may have had during training. This is now the past. You cannot change this.
Mental vs. physical fatigue. This is a key concept in training and racing. Often, then mind, if not trained, may send signals to your consciousness that you are tired or that you should stop. Mastering the inner voices in your mind is key to calming your mind during the race.
Have a positive mind. Relax. Have fun. Visualize the finish you want. If you are trying to finish, picture yourself crossing the finish line. Picture your face when you crush your PR. Implement these mental cues when the mind and body are struggling on race day.
Repeating a positive thought goes a long way to calm the mind.
More than anything else: Focus on having fun. Race day is here. Your hard work WILL pay off.