Tag Archives: endurance

Tips To Improve Your Running

Jason Fitzgerald

I just read this great post by a marathoner, coach and blogger at StrengthRunning.com. I’ve pulled out some of my favorite tips courtesy of Jason Fitzgerald, but feel free to read the entire post here.

Don’t want to read on but want your own specified 5K beginner training program, click here.

  • Do a long run! It doesn’t matter if you’re training for a 5k, triathlon, or ultramarathon – the long run is one of your most important workouts of the week. Aim to run anywhere from 20-30% of your total weekly mileage during your long run, depending on your fitness and goals. The long runs boosts your aerobic capacity and allows you to run faster for longer. It helps you become more efficient, creates more mitochondria (the energy producers of your cells) in your muscles, and strengthens your cardiovascular system. (Melissa: I personally have trouble getting in long runs on my own so I schedule them for Sunday and plan to run with my running group (SouthFloridaRuns.com). Oh, and I get them done early! Before I can change my mind and before the sun gets too brutal. Remember the purpose of the long run isn’t to do them so fast. It’s to get in the mileage at a good, solid pace. Meaning – don’t go too slow or you won’t get the benefit and you’ll be out there all day!)
  • Run twice a day. Running twice a day is an advanced strategy for reaching the next level of performance. I only recommend it for runners who have at least two years of consistent training behind them. In addition to adding volume to your schedule, which will help increase your aerobic capacity and running economy, adding an easy morning run will help you prepare for afternoon workouts. After you’re comfortable running easy twice a day, a morning run will help you shake out the kinks and increase blood flow before an afternoon fast workout. This was a staple in my college years and something I continue to practice today. (Melissa: Common in college, running twice a day is the easiest way to get in extra mileage – especially if you are expected to hit upwards of 70-80 miles per week. It’s amazing how an easy 3 miler 5-6 days a week can add nearly 20 miles to your total.)
  • Dynamic Stretching and Core Strength: The warm-ups prepare your body to run by increasing your heart rate and blood flow to your legs. Isn’t that what a “warm-up” is supposed to do? (Melissa: Both we hardly did when I was in high school but since then Coach Rothman has added them to the routine. It turns out static (or sitting) stretching before you run isn’t that good. Save it for after the run. Before the run – keep yourself moving.)

The Dreaded (And Too Common) Shin Splints

Wondering what  the most common injury that I see these days on our high school running team? Shin splints! Almost everyone goes through them at some point – some much worse than others and some facing the pain for a much longer time period than others. The “shin splint” has also, a result, become the catch-all term for lower leg pain that occurs below the knee either on the front outside part of the leg (anterior shin splints) or the inside of the leg (medial shin splints).

The question is why and how to prevent/lessen them once they’ve hit.

I’ll start out with the why: 

A primary culprit causing shin splints is a sudden increase in distance or intensity of a workout schedule. This increase in muscle work can be associated with inflammation of the lower leg muscles, those muscles used in lifting the foot (the motion during which the foot pivots toward the tibia). Such a situation can be aggravated by a tendency to pronate the foot (roll it excessively inward onto the arch). Also, a tight Achilles tendon or weak ankle muscles are also often implicated in the development of shin splints. (This is another reason that slow mileage build-up is so important for the body.

So what do do with your shins once you are feeling the pain?

  1. Ice your shins to reduce the inflammation (or pain)! The best way, we’ve found, is getting small dixie cups and filling them with water; putting them in the freezer and once frozen take them out, rip off the lip of the cup and run the frozen cups up and down your shins for 10 minutes each. Take a break and do it again. Some people will say to stop running – but this option is unfortunately not possible for all of us! As an athlete, you need to decide how bad the pain is and whether you can push through or not. Injuring yourself worse is not a good option either.
  2. Gently stretch your Achilles if you have medial shin splints, and your calves if you have anterior shin splints. Also, try this stretch for your shins: Kneel on a carpeted floor, legs and feet together and toes pointed directly back. Then slowly sit back onto your calves and heels, pushing your ankles into the floor until you feel tension in the muscles of your shin. Hold for 10 to 12 seconds, relax and repeat.
  3. In a sitting position, trace the alphabet on the floor with your toes. Do this with each leg. Or alternate walking on your heels for 30 seconds with 30 seconds of regular walking. Repeat four times. These exercises are good for both recovery and prevention. Try to do them three times a day.
  4. If you continue running, wrap your leg before you go out. Use either tape or an Ace bandage, starting just above the ankle and continuing to just below the knee. Keep wrapping your leg until the pain goes away, which usually takes three to six weeks. Other options – if the pain is excruciating – are: cross-training for a while to let your shin heal. Swim, run in the pool or ride a bike. (See my post on pool running.)
  5. When you return to running, increase your mileage slowly. As I said, the cause of shin splints if often increasing your mileage too quickly.
  6. Also, make sure you wear the correct running shoes for your foot type specifically, over pronators should wear motion-control shoes. Severe overpronators may need orthotics.
  7. Have two pairs of shoes and alternate wearing them to vary the stresses on your legs.
  8. Avoid hills and excessively hard surfaces until shin pain goes away completely, then re-introduce them gradually to prevent a recurrence.
  9. If you are prone to developing shin splints, stretch your calves and Achilles regularly as a preventive measure.

Questions? Just ask!

Additional resources: MedicineNet.com

“Female long distance runners are like wine, they get better with time”

Elite Runners at Start of Rock n Roll Half Marathon - Miami Beach (2011)

With my big 30th Birthday coming up tomorrow…I thought it was appropriate to write a blog post on running and aging and how they actually do go together. And it’s what gives me hope as I continue to train and compete. I mean there has to be something to look forward to, right? So here it is:

According to experts, female long distance runners typically peak in their late 20s and early 30s. See exhibit A:

  • At the 2008 NYC marathon there were 41 elite women. There average age was 33, Two thirds were 30 or older and nearly a half were 35 and older. Some of the famous names were Paula Radcliffe 34, the eventful winner, Gete Wami 33 and Catherine Ndereba 36, the fourth place finisher.
  • And it is not just NYC marathon, just look at this list of 2008 marathon winners;
    • 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon- Constantina Tomescu of Romania, 38 Years young.
    • 2008 Berlin Marathon – Irina Mikitenko,  36 years young.
    • 2008 Chicago marathon – Lidiya Grigoryeva, 34 years young.
  • Most recently, the 2012 Marathon Olympic Trials in Houston, TX results:
    • First Place: Shalane Flanagan (age 30)
    • Second: Desiree Davila (age 28)
    • Third: Kara Goucher (age 33) — also a mom

I’ve also heard that women often peak post child birth. The questions then become: Are women peaking in these longer distances because of age or because we typically are not competing in such long distance races (as the half and full marathons) until post college and therefore are naturally older? And are they improving post child birth because of some endorphin released in to the system, because we can handle pain better, or just because women are often having babies around this age? Well, I went out on a search for these answers and more and learned some in the process.

According to RunningTips101.com expert resource Coach Rick Rothman, “Most of the time, endurance athletes peak ten years after they begin.” (This would make sense as many of us start freshman year of high school, which would put you at 14 or 15 years old.) He adds: “Many times, women tend to start running later in life (not always). But, there are many factors; it’s too much of a generalization to say women peak in there 30’s.”

According to Physiology of Sport & Exercise, 2nd Edition: “In general, maximal muscle strength peaks between the ages of 25 and 35. Beyond that age range, the ability to lift weight declines at a steady rate of about 1.8% per year. Of course, as with other measurements of human performance, individual strength varies considerably.” This strength peak has to correlate to running.

Another outlet explained the following: “The physical peak for most humans, in most sports, is between 25 and 35 years of age; during this peak period, the well-conditioned athlete can create a confluence of muscular strength, peak cardiovascular and oxygen transport, speed and reaction time, and mental capabilities (including the ability to deal with competitive pressures), all bound together by a desire to succeed.” I like that answer – and can 100% relate to it. As an athlete, discipline and maturity make training and competing much easier. The emotional baggage that I feel kept me from “peaking” in my high school and college years, I personally feel has since disipated. To the point that I often look back wishing I could tell myself to relax, not worry so much, and just go out there and run. I can recall Coach Rothman telling me that before a big cross country race my senior year of high school. He said “Go out there and just run, have fun.” He had a few jokes in there that I’ll leave out for now!

More interesting insight that I found from Advameg, Inc.: “For sports in which strength (both muscular strength and bone density), oxygen uptake, and cardiovascular efficiency are vital to success, the aging process may be slowed, though never halted or reversed. Since 1950, the average age of world champion distance runners in the 3-mi (5,000 m) races through to the 26-mi marathons (42.2 km) ranges between 28 and 32 years of age. From this peak of ability, runners will continue to perform at levels close to their personal best into their late 30s and early 40s; performance then declines at a rate of approximately 2% per year through age 80. Swimming, which like running places a premium on cardiovascular strength, shows a similar regression from best performance times as an athlete ages. The success of female swimmers at early ages (there have been numerous Olympic gold medals and world records set by female swimmers under the age of 20) is related to both the earlier physical maturation of female athletes, as well as the physical dynamics of the female swimmer in the water; the progressive decline in the performance of female swimmers due to age is similar to that of male swimmers. Consistent with these physiological constants, the oldest gold medalist in the history of all Olympic track and field events was Patrick McDonald, an American hammer thrower, who won the 1920 competition at age 42. The oldest Olympic track champion in the 1,500-m race was 31-year-old Albert Hill of Kenya, in 1988. Female competitors have the added variables of prospective pregnancy and child-rearing, which will remove the athlete from intense training and competition for an often-significant period. Childbirth may also change the physical shape of a female athlete, particularly in a widening of the pelvis, which may impact subsequent athletic performance.”

Which of course brings us to childbirth. Does it help or hurt female runners? As I noted earlier, third place 2012 USA Marathon Trials finisher Kara Goucher has a new baby. A great article in Time Out Chicago Kids touched on this subject:

“Research shows that there may be physiological benefits to having kids, from a tapering effect that allows chronic injuries to heal up during pregnancy to a surge in the hormone relaxin—which loosens pelvic and cervical joints for delivery, and hangs around the body after childbirth, possibly making a woman’s gait longer, smoother and more efficient. Also, pregnancy increases your blood volume, says Jim Pivarnik, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University who has studied pregnant athletes. As blood volume rises, so does red blood cell count, improving a woman’s efficiency at utilizing oxygen—which means running faster at the same effort. The problem is that all of these effects are hard to measure. (Obviously, researchers aren’t thrilled with the idea of turning preggos into lab rats.) Pivarnik estimates that any residual blood-volume benefit has diminished by about eight weeks postpartum. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman—even at the elite level—who’d race that soon after having a child. When it comes down to it, labor may make the most difference. Enduring hours of contractions and delivery—and sometimes C-section recovery to boot—may raise women’s pain threshold. Lincoln Square resident Jessi Merecki, a 38-year-old mom of two, says slashing 92 minutes off her pre-kiddos marathon best was due to “a combination of mental toughness from being a parent and physical toughness from childbirth.” She’s on to something, according to Pivarnik. “I would hypothesize that if being a mom is any help [to running], most of it would be mental,” he says. “Active moms may find that they’re more efficient and focused in training because they have so much more on their plates. It’s like that Yogi Berra saying, ‘90 percent of this is half mental.’ ” Read the full article here.

Post 30? Does the improvement continue?
According to RunningForFitness.org, “From the 30s onwards, a number of physical changes take place in the average person’s body.  Aerobic capacity decreases, muscle mass reduces, muscle elasticity reduces, lung elasticity declines, bone density reduces, the metabolism slows, body fat increases and the immune system becomes weaker. These changes will have an adverse impact on running performance. The fall in aerobic capacity, reduced stride length, reduced leg strength, and reduced ability to store energy all contribute to deterioration in performance.  In general, it is thought that running speeds over any distance deteriorate by about 1% a year from a peak at some point in the 30s; and we appear to lose aerobic capacity at about 9-10% a decade.”

Now of course that doesn’t mean older individuals can’t run…we’ve all seen the skinny, old guy in the bun huggers at the local 5K and 10K races and he seems to be doing alright. It just means that we shouldn’t expect to see many 50, 60, 70 year old marathon winners. Or better yet, expect it from ourselves. However, at age 30 there is still plenty of time for me (I hope)…and I believe I’m just hitting my 30-year-old peak marathon stride!

Pick Up Your Pace to Gradually Improve

I just returned from a late night track meet in Coral Springs. While there I had a lengthy conversation with a parent about his daughter and how to get her moving faster. As he said, she’s been putting in the time and effort and running the distance asked of her. How do we get her faster? Not faster in terms of sprinting, but faster in her mile, two-mile and 5K races. And this I believe is a pretty common question for runners of all ages and levels. “How do you improve your pace in races? How do you drop from a 28 minute 5K runner to a 25 minute 5K runner? And/or a 22 minute 5K runner to a 19 minute 5K racer? The answer is pretty simple. Pick up your training pace!

It seems pretty simple and it in fact is. Pick up your training pace and your race pace will in turn follow. Get your body used to running 8 minute miles for distance runs and racing at a 7 or 7:30 pace will be a breeze! Now is it that simple to pick up your training pace? Of course not or everyone would do it. It takes discipline, want and some pain in the beginning. You are going to need to go beyond the comfort zone. Find a running partner, teammate, whomever, that is faster than you during training runs and stay with them. Don’t let them leave you, don’t fall behind, because by you sticking with them, you are in essence training your body to handle faster paces – during training and most importantly racing.

When I started running in high school, I was very lucky. I joined a team where there were five older girls who ran together as a pack for every single distance run. And they didn’t run as a slow pack; they were moving! I, the new freshman, wanted to stay up with them. Call it embarrassment, a need to prove myself, whatever…but I stayed up with them. At first it was impossible…but I gradually stayed on their shoulders, tucked behind their pack for longer and longer distances, until I stayed with them for entire runs day after day. And that is what allowed me to improve my times so rapidly. Would it have been easier to watch them run off together and leave me behind jogging at my own pace? Sure, but then I would have been stuck in that comfort zone forever.

I advise runners all the time to put in the effort to stay with the “faster” pack – whether it be a training run or race. Because eventually, if you try it enough, you’ll soon be a part of that pack. A more recent example is my training this past year. In the fall, I primarily ran with the girls team at an okay pace. The guys team always seemed way ahead. After the girls did not qualify to states in cross country, I was forced to run with the guys. And I struggled for the first few days. It was a whole new (and much faster) pace. But after about a week, it got easier and eventually became my new pace. A month or so later – during a weekend training run – staying up with the boys for an 8-miler felt like nothing! It was also during this time that I dropped both my half marathon time and my 5K race time (finally breaking 20 minutes after being stuck in the 20s and 21s for much of the fall road racing season)!

The aim of the game: Train your body to withstand a faster pace. And training, racing, everything will get easier!

More information on picking up your pace while running available here.