You Need to Strengthen Your Upper Body as Well To Optimize Your Running Performance, Here’s How

optimism

Hello Runners,

I hope you and your family are staying healthy.

I remember looking for the first time at a photo that my wife took of me several years ago when I was running the Virginia Beach Marathon. The picture was taken at about mile 23 or 24 of the marathon and it was certainly not a flattering picture. My shoulders were hunched up and my head was cocked to one side. Also in the picture was another runner whose running form and body posture was much better than mine. She looked strong and I looked like I was in pain. We ended up finishing the marathon together, but she definitely had a stronger finish than I.

The marathon can really bring out muscle weaknesses, which result in us having to compensate with other muscles, thus causing us to fatigue faster and result in us having to slow our pace. Obviously this results in not optimizing our running performance.

Although many runners engage in strengthening exercises for the core, hips, and legs, which is certainly beneficial, they ignore upper body strengthening. This was certainly the case for me in the Virginia Beach marathon, and although at the time I set a personal record in the marathon, I often wonder how much I might have improved my performance, if I had been stronger in the upper body.

In the last post, I discussed what to if your event is postponed or cancelled. Since it may be several months before there are running events, now may be a great time to address such things as muscle weaknesses, such as in the upper body.

Why Is Upper Body Strength Important

Now when I’m talking about upper body strengthening, I’m not talking about going to the gym and loading up a barbell with a bunch of weight and pumping out a bunch of repetitions doing a chest press. Our purpose is not to build a bunch of muscle mass. However, we want to have strength over an extended period of time to swing our arms and maintain upper body posture.

Arm swing is tied to our leg swing or running cadence (steps per minute), and running cadence is one of the two factors that affect our running speed. The other factor is stride length. Increasing our cadence, compared with increasing our stride length, can often be a better way to increase our speed, because a longer stride length may increase our risk for injury.

Also, if we are not able to maintain proper upper body posture, this can throw our running form out of whack, and result in us having to compensate with other muscles, especially core and lower body muscles. These muscles will be used more and will fatigue faster, thus resulting in us having to slow our pace.

What Upper Body Exercises Should I Do and How Much

Here are some upper body exercises I recommend and how to perform them:

  • Pushups
    • Perform either a standard or knee-assisted pushup
    • Start in a prone position with arms bent and with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart
    • Push away from the floor with a smooth and controlled movement keeping the entire body from head to feet in one plane, with back straight, until the arms are fully extended
    • Exhale while pushing up
    • Slowly lower the body by bending at the elbows until the chest is parallel and touching, or nearly touching the ground
    • Inhale while you lower your body
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions
  • Y, T, I, and W
    • While lying prone on the floor (on your stomach) with arms overhead angled outward to approximately a 45 degree angle, thumbs pointing up raise the arms while exhaling and pause briefly to form a Y, keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground as much as possible
    • Lower the arms to the ground and position them so they are straight out to the side with the thumbs still pointing up
    • Slowly raise the arms as high as possible while exhaling and keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground to form a T
    • Pause briefly at the top while squeezing your shoulder blades together
    • Then lower the arms and position them at the side of your body with thumbs still pointing up
    • Slowly raise the arms up as high as possible while exhaling, keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground to form an I
    • Pause briefly
    • Then slowly lower the arms while inhaling
    • Now position the arm and hands with palms facing down to form a W
    • Then slowly raise the arms and hands while exhaling and keeping the rest of the body in contact with the ground
    • Pause and then slowly lower while inhaling
    • Repeat each of these positions
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions for each position
    • Here is a video for this exercise, although it does not show thumbs pointing up, nor the W position:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjcoVkZv55E

  • Inchworms
    • Stand with both feet on the ground
    • Place the hands flat on the ground as far as forward as you can with the heels remaining flat on the ground.
    • Move the hands forward until the heels start to come off the ground
    • When the heels begin to come off the ground, walk your feet forward so that they are flat on the ground again
    • Then repeat with the hands moving forward
    • Breathe normally during this exercise
    • Start with 5-10 repetitions or until fatigue
    • Picture of inchworm exercises:
    • Inch-Worm_Exercise
    • Here is a video of this exercise:
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z19gpqxQBwo

I recommend incorporating these exercises at least 2-3 times per week and work up to performing 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each exercise. These are best performed after your run, but could be performed as part of your warmup, or at another time during the day.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Stay healthy and positive.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

What To Do If Your Event Gets Postponed or Cancelled

“What is hope but a feeling of optimism, a thought that says things will improve, it won’t always be bleak [and] there’s a way to rise above the present circumstances.” ―Wayne W. Dyer

Hello Runners,

I hope you are all staying safe and healthy. You may be going through the same initial disappointment that I recently went through when I found that the marathon (Colfax Marathon) I’ve been training for to run this spring will be postponed to a later date. As of this posting, it’s not clear when this event will be moved to, but it will be late summer or fall. Fortunately, this event is only being postponed, and depending on the date it gets moved to, I can still run it.

At least this event hasn’t been cancelled, but some of you may not be so fortunate, and your event may have been cancelled. This can be very frustrating, especially with all the time and effort you have put into training. I can appreciate how you feel because I’ve trained for several marathons, but something happened which forced me not to be able run the event, such as the first time I qualified for Boston and then shortly after developed a severe case of plantar fasciitis.

So what do you do?

If your event has been postponed, keep training. You will most likely need to go into maintenance mode, depending on the reschedule new date. For example, this past weekend I had a 20-miler scheduled to prepare for the Colfax Marathon, and so I ran it. However, I adjusted this run, so that I did it at a slower pace than I would if my marathon hadn’t been postponed. You might do something similar, or adjust the distance, or both pace and distance. Similarly, you will need to adjust your training, so as to delay when you achieve your peak performance level, but you want to be trained, so you can easily transition into race-specific workouts shortly before the event.

If your event has been cancelled, consider the following: how you can make the most of the training you have put in, potentially adjust your schedule for another race down the road, shift your mindset so something good can come out of this. I recently read a post from Coach Jeff Gaudette with Runners Connect that offered some sound advice.

Jeff gave different recommendations based on how far out the cancelled event was. For an event that was only 1-3 weeks away he recommends running your own race. That is, set up a course in a flat area that is free of traffic and is the same distance as your event (best if you set up a loop). You can set out water bottles and fuel similar to aid stations at an event. Warm-up and prepare like you normally would and then race your loop to the best of your ability. You might convince a fast friend to pace you or have a family member bike alongside to help you keep pace. You can even do a virtual race (search online for options), which can help increase your level of motivation. This will allow you to take advantage of your taper and the hard training you have put in.

If your cancelled race is 4-11 weeks out, Jeff recommends transitioning to maintenance mode. In this case, you would back off the intensity slightly, but keep your mileage up. Specifically, you would eliminate really tough, race-specific workouts and replace them with moderate, general workouts. This will allow you to maintain fitness and keep a solid foundation of training allowing you to more easily transition into race-specific training at a later date.

Finally, if your cancelled race is 12 weeks away or more, Jeff says this is a golden opportunity to focus on your weaknesses or address any injuries. This is an optimal time to turn a negative into a positive. Focusing on a weakness can help you make overall progress to achieving your running goals. For example, if endurance is a weakness, compared with speed (you perform better in shorter races in comparison to longer events), concentrate on longer runs and your aerobic development. Reduce the intensity of your workouts and instead increase your mileage.

If speed is your weakness (you are strong aerobically and/or an older runner), focus on improving your running mechanics and improving your speed. Slightly back off your mileage and on any tempo run sessions, and instead include more speed development work like strides, hill sprints, 200 meter intervals, as well as strengthening exercises for muscle weaknesses and imbalances.

If you are consistently injured, focus on what you need to get healthy. Now would be a great time to back off on training and focus on rehab. This includes dedicating time for strengthening exercises, foam rolling, stretching, and the other little things that typically get put on the back burner when we are training for a race. This is also a great time to identify the underlying causes of any injuries and begin addressing these causes.

So, if your event has been postponed or cancelled, it can be helpful to shift your mindset and make a positive of the situation. This may not only help you with your next event, but help your become a better runner overall.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Be well.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Reference

Jeff Gaudette. Runners Connect

 

Simple Cues To Help You Optimize Your Running Form To Run Faster and Help Avoid Injury

 

Hello Runnerrunning form image 2s,

In the last blog, I discussed the key aspects of optimal running form, especially in relation to body position, feet, arm swing, hip extension, and rhythm or cadence. In this post, I will share simple cues that you can use in order to help improve your running form in these areas. It is best to focus on only one or two of these at a time, for a few weeks, until they start becoming automatic, and then you can move on to another cue. Also, I recommend focusing on this cue for 10-20 seconds every 5-10 minutes, otherwise you will most likely be mentally exhausted at the end of your run, especially a long run! Another possibility is to focus on a cue while you are performing strides. If you are not familiar with strides click here to learn what they are and how they are beneficial.

So, here are a few cues to help you optimize your running form:

  • “Run tall”
    • Helps you engage your core, thus improving running posture, and also helps with hip extension, so that you can generate more power during your stride
  • “Imagine someone in front of you grabbing you by your shirt and lifting you up at the chest”
    • Similar to “Run tall” in that it forces you to engage the core
    • I like this cue better because it can also help with forward lean and helps prevent overstriding
  • “Extend the hips”
    • Focus on extending the hips when the knee is at its highest point until impact with the ground
    • Increases power, and thus speed, as the glutes are activated, and will create a recoil or rebound force with the ground, thus generating passive energy to propel you forward– hip extension, increases power of stride and thus speed
  • “Watch the horizon and try to limit it to a slight bounce”
    • Helps you create the right angle to propel yourself forward, so you are not moving too vertical or too horizontal
    • Helps you avoid contacting the ground too long and being too bouncy (up-and-down) with your stride
  • “Hip-to-Nip”
    • Stimulates arm swing, which facilitates coordination between the arm and opposite leg
    • Helps improve cadence and thus, running speed
  • “Think of knees as headlights that you shine straight ahead”
    • Helps engage and open hips to minimize risk of several common injuries including plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome (knee pain), which results from inward collapse of hips, knees, and ankles
  • “Put your foot down underneath you”
    • Helps prevents overstriding
  • “Leave the ankle/foot alone”
    • Helps minimize the loss of energy caused when activating the muscles of the lower leg and hamstrings
    • Activating these muscles can increase risk of injury
  • “Lean from the ankles”
    • Helps facilitate appropriate forward lean, which can improve speed

The key is to make gradual changes and to prepare for alterations in form by conditioning the body, which will be discussed in future posts.

I offer running evaluations to assess running form and can help you identify the cues that would be most beneficial to improve your running form.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

Cindy Kuzma. “Hips”. Sports Medicine Clinic, Boulder, CO, February 2015.

Road Runners Club of America Certification boulder, CO, May 2013.

Steve Magness. Science of Running. Origin Press, 2014.

 

Keys To Optimal Running Form

running form image

Hello Runners,

When I see other runners, I can’t help but notice their running form. In my head I will say things like, “They should relax their shoulders”, “They should swing their arms”, “They should use their hips more, so they get knee lift and aren’t shuffling their feet.”

Running form is critical to optimize your running performance and help minimize the risk of injury. This article is the first of a series of articles related to running form and how to improve it.

So how should you run? I’ve listened to and read advice from different running coaches, exercise physiologists, and biomechansists. I’ve implemented these recommendations myself, and I wanted to share with you what I have found to be the most important aspects of efficient running form.

Here are the key aspects to running form:

  • Body position
    • Your body should be upright, thus requiring you to engage the core muscles. You should think of “running tall.” To help increase your speed you should have a slight forward lean from the ankles. It is important that this lean not come from the waist.
    • Your head, face, shoulders, and arms should be relaxed.
    • You should look ahead on the horizon with you chin slightly tipped down
  • Feet
    • As soon as your knee comes forward put your foot down underneath you. You should land slightly on the outer portion of the foot and ideally land on your midfoot, close to the center of your body.
    • As you land, the ankle should be in the neutral position, not in a flexed or extended (pointed toes) position.
    • Allow the heel to settle on the ground.
    • Push the big toe down allowing it to act as a locking mechanism before the foot leaves the ground, ensuring the foot acts as one entire unit. Do not try to get any extra propulsion by pushing off with the toes consciously. Instead, forward propulsion should come from hip extension (see below), and the foot should just be along for the ride.
    • Allow the foot to come up off the ground on its own, don’t actively contract the calves or hamstrings to pull the foot up towards the buttocks.
  • Arm swing
    • The arms and legs should work together in a coordinated fashion. When the left leg is forward, the right arm should be forward and vice versa. When the arm stops moving forward and is about to reverse direction, the opposite leg should reach its maximum backward movement before switching directions and coming forward, the opposite leg and hip should be at their maximum extension backwards
    • Your shoulders should be relaxed. Your arms should be bent at the elbow to form an angle of slightly less than 90 degrees between your forearm and upper arm. Have your hands lightly cupped like you were holding a fragile object that you didn’t want to drop, but that you didn’t want to crush.
    • The arm swing occurs from the shoulders, so that the shoulders don’t turn or sway. It is a simple pendulum-like forward and backward motion without crossing of the arms in front of the body.
    • Swing the arms so that the hands brush the top of the hips on the backswing and then swing them forward to the nipple line or slightly above.
  • Hip extension
    • Your power comes from extending the hips. Think of the hips as pistons that move up and down.
    • Focus on extending the hip and then leave it alone until you would extend it again. Do not actively contract the hip and/or hamstrings to bring the foot up behind you. This is a waste of energy. Allow the elastic energy you generated by extending the hip and impacting the ground automatically bring the foot up and forward.
    • Once the hip is extended, the recovery phase starts. The recovery cycle of the leg will happen automatically. The lower leg will lift off the ground and fold so that it comes close to your buttocks then pass under your hips with the knee leading. Once the knee has led through, the lower leg will unfold and it is then runner’s job to put it down underneath them. Ideal landing is close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee. Don’t try to actively move the leg through the recovery phase, this is a waste of energy and slows the recovery phase cycle.
    • How close the lower leg comes to the buttocks depends on the amount of hip extension. Ideally, the closer the leg comes to the buttocks the better because the leg will cycle through the recovery phase faster.
  • Rhythm
    • Control your rhythm (or cadence) and speed through arm swing and hip extension.
    • Your cadence should be between 160-200 steps per minute.
    • Breathing rhythmically

In the next post, I will discuss cues you can use to make any needed changes to your running mechanics.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.

I do offer running evaluations to assess running form. Please let me know if you are interested or would like more information.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References

Adam St. Pierre. Running Mechanics presented at USA Triathlon Certification Training, 2015.

Ben Greenfield. Beyond Training. Victory Belt Publishing, Inc. 2014.

Jack Daniels Daniels’ Running Formula Second Edition. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2005.

Jay Dicharry. Anatomy of Running.

Road Runners Club of America Coaching Certification Course

Steve Magness. The Science of Running. Origin Press, 2014.

USAT Training DVD Series. The Run with Bobbie McGee.

Goals Set the Direction, But Habits Are Best For Becoming The Runner You Want to Become

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)

Happy New Year Runners!

Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit, and will probably make the same resolution next January. Why weren’t they successful? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop, that are most important to our success.

I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits, and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few insights that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to become a better runner and achieve your running goals.

Goals are helpful in that they provide us direction. Such as if we were flying from Los Angeles to Maui, it is helpful to know which direction we need to go. However, if we set a course starting from Los Angeles to land in Maui we would not arrive, if we did not make adjustments along the way. Similar with our running goals. We may have a goal of completing our first marathon, or breaking four hours, or qualifying for Boston, however if we don’t develop the proper plan, get in the runs and support work (dynamic warmup, cool down, strengthening exercises, and cross-training) and develop other important habits, we’ll not optimize our training. Instead, we may develop an injury and we won’t develop the endurance and/or speed necessary to achieve our goal.

Take Small Steps with a System-Focused Approach, Instead of Goal-Focused

One important principle from Atomic Habits is developing systems that set you up to become the person necessary to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. Thus, to become a better runner such things as: proper training and nutrition plans, running form, support work, sleep, and hydration are important. If these are implemented on a consistent basis, incremental progress will be made leading to improved running performance, which then lead to better race results.

One of my favorite coaches of all time is the late Coach John Wooden, who had his players focus on making some small improvement each day that would help improve their game. These small improvements compound over time, like when you invest in mutual funds. Wooden put the emphasis on improvement and not on winning basketball games and national championships. As a result, some of Wooden’s players became some of the best basketball players in history (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton), and his teams won ten national championships, including seven in a row.

It is interesting to note that Wooden did not win his first national championship until he had been coaching at UCLA for 16 years! So, it took him a while to develop and successfully implement a system that would maximize his players’ performance, as well as his own coaching abilities. Similarly, if you are growing bamboo. It takes a significant amount of time for a bamboo plant to lay down an extensive root system. Then, all of sudden, a whole bunch of bamboo appears!

A systems-first mentality also allows you to fall in love with the process rather than the product/goal and you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. This is important because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. The goal-first mentality forces us to delay gratification until the next milestone is reached. The goal-first mentality also creates an “either-or” conflict in which you are either successful or a failure. Also, a goal-oriented mindset can create a “yo-yo” effect, which once the goal is achieved, you revert back to old habits. This is common with those trying to achieve weight loss.

So, it can be more beneficial to focus on what you want to become, instead of what you want to achieve, and develop the habits or systems to do so. If instead of waiting until we achieve our goal, we can achieve satisfaction in performing the steps along the way, we will be much happier and are more likely to make good habits automatic. Early on we may want to set up a rewards system for when we are completing the habits that we need to become the runner we need to become. Therefore, if we complete our run and the important support work, then we reward ourselves appropriately. For example, I reward myself with ten minutes of additional guitar-playing time. Over time you may not need the reward system because you automatically include support work on your run days.

So, again even though your goals will direct you, what’s most importance is the system you implement to become the runner necessary to achieve those goals. If you develop the habits and put in the work, the results will follow, just as they did for Coach Wooden.

 Identity Focus

Another important aspect of Atomic Habits is to become identity-focused, instead of goal-focused. Your habits are consistent with the identity you have for yourself. So, in order to change your habits, you have to change your identity. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight, they could change their identity to that of a healthy person, instead of focusing on losing a certain number of pounds. They can then focus on making decisions consistent with what a healthy person does, and could ask themselves, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?”

Similarly, if you have a time goal and/or want to be a Boston qualifier, your identity could be I’m a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or a “Boston qualifier” and put your focus on the habits necessary or consistent with being a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or “Boston qualifier”. You can then ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that would get these results?” Therefore, you would begin developing the sleep habits (such as 7-9 hours of sleep per night, because while you are sleeping the important adaptations to your training are occurring), nutrition habits (proper nutrients to fuel you and support adaptations), and support work habits necessary. You may also determine that it is necessary to work with a coach, so that you optimize your running form for performance and have an optimal training plan.  You may also need to develop the mind-set of focusing on improving as a runner from year-to-year, and appreciate that it may take a couple of years to break 3:45 in a marathon, or qualify for Boston.

Habit Stacking and Designing Your Environment

Techniques such as habit stacking and designing your environment (make it obvious) may help you facilitate the habits consistent with your identity of being a “sub-3:45 marathoner”, for example. After my runs I grab a glass of water to begin hydrating and focus on “relaxing my legs” by doing gentle leg swings, gradually increasing the range of motion. I perform these close to our designated workout room, which has my yoga mat, resistance band, dumbbells, foam roller, and lacrosse ball all laid out in full view (designing my environment). This cues me to perform the rest of my support work, including my strengthening exercises and cool down (habit stacking). Also, I usually play music I enjoy while performing these, which makes it easier to perform. I’ve performed this routine so many times that it has become automatic, and I recommend setting up a similar situation for yourself.

I will touch upon other important principles from Atomic Habits and other behavior change strategies in future blogs, to help you become the runner you want to become and help you achieve your goals along the way.

Summary of Key Points

  • Success is the product of daily habits
  • Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results
  • Identity the person you want to become and develop the habits consistent with that identity
  • Consistency of habits is important. Start small and implement a proper reward system for immediate gratification once you’ve completed these habits. These habits should soon become automatic.
  • Focus on improvement over time, such as year-to-year, as a runner, not just a one-time goal

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help.

I don’t want to leave you with the idea that goals aren’t important. They have their place, as far as providing direction. Also, there are other steps you should take before beginning your training. Click here for a post from last year on goal setting and here to learn of other steps you should take before you begin training.

Also, it’s not too late to get started on training, if you are planning to run a spring half- or full-marathon. I began my formal training for the Colfax marathon last week.

Finally, I plan to lead a half- and full-marathon training group this year for fall half- and full-marathons. The group will meet once per week in Louisville (CO) for a run, and participants will be provided with a 16-week training plan. If you are interested, or would like to learn more, please contact me at brian@denverrunningcoach.com

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.  Avery: New York, 2018.

Make Some of Your Long Runs More Challenging Than Your Marathon To Make Your Marathon Easier

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell

Hello Runners,

Over the past few weeks I’ve been incorporating hills and trails on some of my long runs. These runs have been really challenging and my paces have been about a minute less than my goal pace. However, I’m getting some great benefits from these runs that are going to help me on marathon day! I used this strategy for the last marathon I ran a few years ago, and while I watched many runners struggle in the last five miles, I was still strong. In fact, several spectators made comments of that nature.

If you are running a flat marathon, such as the Chicago Marathon, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at how strong you feel by incorporating some tougher long runs in your training. If you are running a marathon with hills, especially at the end, such as the NYC Marathon, then you will be stronger on these hills.

Fortunately, I’m able to run from my house to areas with hills, trails, and both. Here are some benefits to running in such areas:

Benefits of Running Hills

  • Great leg strengthener, especially for quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and muscles connected to the ankles providing great support for our knees and ankles to help minimize risk of injury and increase running pace
  • Our muscles are made up of different muscle fiber types. You may have heard of these. Basically, we have Type 1, or slow-twitch fibers, which we predominately use when we run a 5k, half- or full-marathon. However, for longer events, such as marathons, these fibers need a break from continually contracting. This is when we use our other muscle fiber types, especially the intermediate, Type 2a fibers, to give our Type 1 fibers time to recover before using them again. Basically, cycling between different fiber types during marathons, allows us to keep running. While the Type 1 fibers are great for endurance, the Type 2a are great for endurance and speed. Training on hills helps strengthen these fibers and helps improve their endurance performance, so they can help us out more during our marathon. This can result in a faster running pace, minimization of fatigue towards the end of a marathon, and allows us to be stronger on any hills we encounter during our event.

Benefits of Trails, Especially with Rocks

  • This is great for running form because it forces us to pick up our knees more, which improves running cadence (number of steps you take per minute). Unfortunately, I was not as focused on getting over some of the rocks on the trail I was running on a couple of weeks ago. I tripped and did a face plant resulting in some nice cuts and scrapes on my hands, elbows, knees, stomach. Fortunately, it wasn’t worse than that! So stay focused when running, especially in rocky areas!
  • Running on trails can provide some nice variety to our training, and often will require the use of some different muscles to help stabilize us more, especially muscles connected to the ankle joint. This can help with running form as well, in that it can improve our stability when you have one foot during your marathon or other event.

So, I recommend incorporating some tougher long runs early on in your training. I would focus more on flatter long runs on roads, or hard packed trails with minimal rocks, during your last 2-3 months of training. This will allow you to run closer to your goal event pace.

Also, you will need to appropriately balance these tougher long runs with your runs during the week, so that you can allow for recovery and still complete these runs. This is certainly something I keep in mind when developing training plans for the runners I coach, and for my own training plan.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, if you know anyone who might benefit from this email, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

What To Do When A Race or Training Run Doesn’t Go Well

“Successful People Don’t Fear Failure, But Understand That It’s Necessary to Learn and Grow From.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Hello Runners,

I hope your running is going well.

As I mentioned in the last post, I did a 5k during Memorial Day weekend. It was a nice, low-key 5k. There were about 20-30 runners. Certainly no frills, but it was a free 5k and you got your time at the end. Plus, it offered the opportunity to run in a competitive environment (or non-competitive environment, if you wanted) with other runners. I mainly used it for some variety in my training and as a measure of my aerobic fitness early in my marathon training.

I certainly enjoyed the event, and it’s nice to have this option only 5 miles from my house every Saturday.

I had a couple of goals for this race, which I did not achieve. This certainly will happen at some point during our races or training runs. When this happens with runners I coach, we discuss what happened and how to move forward.

So, instead of beating ourselves up for less than expected results, I recommend that you learn from your performances that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped. However, before we focus on this, I recommend considering the positives from the race or training run, and asking yourself, “what did go well?” I’m sure you will be able to find some silver lining.

After you have identified the positives, I recommend taking some time to reflect upon what didn’t go well and why that might have been. If you could do the race or training run all over again, what would you do differently? Was it not being properly hydrated or fueled? Did you make a bad food choice the morning off or night before? Maybe you realize that you need to improve your fitness and/or speed and can focus on this more.

Here are a few things that I learned from my 5k that might help you:

Pacing

One of the biggest challenges with races is getting caught up in the race environment and what other runners are doing. I’m certainly guilty of this, and it happened to me for this particular 5k. I started at the front and within the first minute I was in third and wanted to win the race. I went out too fast in the first mile and got distracted from my goals, which included a negative split (running second have faster than the first have). As a result of going out too fast in the first mile, I had to slow my pace in the second mile. I was able to use self-talk to push myself through and actually ran the third mile faster than the second, but I didn’t achieve my goal of a negative split. Now, in a 5k, this wasn’t a significant issue because the race is short enough that I only had to struggle for a short time. This same approach would not work well on marathon day! So, this is something I need to be careful of. A friend of mine actually did go out too fast in a recent marathon, and unfortunately for him, the last 11 miles were a struggle, and the result was disappointing.

Know the Course As Best As You Can

Beware that there may not be race volunteers at every turn and some turns may not be well marked. This was the case during my 5k. Although most of the course was straightforward, there was some confusion that I and another runner had shortly after the first mile. Although it didn’t cost a lot of time, it did cost some time, and certainly at that point my chance of winning the race was gone. You should also be familiar with the race profile and know when and approximately how long and steep the hills are, if there are any.

Improve Fitness

Certainly this race was a good assessment of my fitness, and made me more aware of the difficulty in breaking three hours is a marathon. Yes, I was able to run a slightly faster than goal marathon pace for this 5k, but it’s a 5k, not a marathon! Therefore, I will need to be consistent with all of my remaining training, including all of my runs and other aspects of my training that support my running, including strengthening exercises and cooldowns, so that I can get the most out of my runs.

Adjustments to Running Form

Something else I’ve thought about are any adjustments to my running form that might help me improve my efficiency and speed. One thing I have been working on for a while, is incorporating more forward lean. After my 5k, I decided to incorporate a drill in my dynamic warm-up to make this adjustment more natural. For those of you who are intermediate or advanced runners and consistently incorporate core strengthening into your training, I recommend incorporating a slight forward lean, from the ankles, into your running form. You can practice this during your dynamic warm-up for 30-60 seconds, until it becomes natural:

  • Stand perpendicular to a full-length mirror, so that you can view your body position from the side
  • Engage the core muscles to stand erect
  • Slowly lean forward from the ankles, until the point in which you fall forward
  • While doing so, make sure that your body is in one plane, and that you are not leaning from the waist or head and neck
  • While you are leaning forward, imagine yourself being pulled up and forward by the top of your shirt. This cue will help you keep the core muscles engaged.
  • Once you start to fall forward, catch yourself and return to the starting position
  • Repeat

When you are running, you should lean from the ankles just to the point where you start to fall forward. Now you have gravity helping to pull you forward, thus you don’t have to work as hard. This is a key component to chi running and is one reason why chi running is effective. However, make sure the lean is coming from the ankles and not waist, neck, etc.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Also, if you feel anyone can benefit from this post, please share it.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Is It Okay To Run With My Water Bottle or Phone in My Hand While I Run?: The Importance of Symmetry and Balance on Injury Prevention and Running Performance

“It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.” – Henri Poincare

Today was my first day of marathon-specific training for the Montana Marathon in September, with my goal to break 3 hours. I ran ~6 miles and during this run (after ~12 minutes of running at an easy pace), I performed 40-60-second work bouts at ~5k pace or slightly faster and recovered with a slow jog for ~90 seconds between work bouts. After these work bouts, I ran for ~15 minutes at easy pace, and then performed 4 10-second hill sprints with a walk recovery between hill sprints, and then ran for ~10 minutes at an easy pace.

Immediately after my run I did the following exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Pushups on a stability ball (10 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward and backward (15 repetitions on each side and in each direction)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~45 seconds)
  • Side planks (~40 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~30 seconds)
  • Glute bridge hip lifts (10 repetitions + hold for 30 seconds after last repetition)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)

After performing these exercises, I performed foam and lacrosse/softball rolling on muscles that are commonly tight for me.

During this run, I focused on running form and thought about the importance of symmetry when running. This reminded me of a recent session I had with a runner I coach.

To help minimize the risk of injury and optimize running performance, it is important to be as symmetrical with running form as possible. There are several aspects factors which can contribute to lack of symmetry which runners can control. This includes arm swing, muscle imbalances/weaknesses, and flexibility issues. Lack of symmetry can increase the risk of certain injuries such as IT band syndrome, as well as other common injuries that occur at the ankle, knee, and hip joint.

You should be incorporating arm swing, if you aren’t already, and the range of motion for arm swing should be from the top of the hips to the nipple line (“hip-to-nip”). Both arms should swing through this same range. This can be an issue for those who are holding an object in one hand, such as a water bottle or phone. Therefore, you should not hold an object in one hand and instead, use a fuel belt or some other holder for water, phones, fuel, keys, etc.

Drill for Symmetric Arm Swing

To help be symmetrical with arm swing, I recommend the following drill. You can perform this at any time, although I feel the best time to perform this drill is during your dynamic warmup. Here is the drill:

  • Stand in front of a full length mirror
  • Bend at the elbow so there is slightly less than a 90 degree angle formed by the forearm and upper arm
  • Alternate swinging your arms from “hip-to-nip” at a vigorous pace
  • Continue for 30-60 seconds
  • Your hands should be lightly cupped with thumb gently resting on the index finger
  • Be sure that neither hand crosses the midline of the body

If you haven’t done so already, I recommend that you have your running form and your muscular strength and range of motion assessed at the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder joints for any muscle imbalances/weaknesses and flexibility issues that can lead to a lack of symmetry.

Muscle weaknesses/imbalances can also negatively affect symmetry while you run. It is common for runners to be stronger (dominant) on one side; often the right side. Therefore, it is important to perform strengthening and mobility exercises to address any muscle imbalances/weaknesses that can cause a lack of symmetry. The exercises you perform should include unilateral exercises, which would be performed by one side of the body. One great unilateral exercise that I recommend all runners perform, especially early on in their training, is clamshells.

Clamshells

  • Lie on your side with your torso and pelvis both perpendicular to the ground
  • Straighten the spine
  • Slowly lift the belly up off the floor to create a stable core position
  • Squeeze your glutes tight like you have a quarter stuck between your butt cheeks
  • With your feet resting on each other, lift only the knee up until it’s level with the hip
  • Lower the knee down keeping the glute contracted the entire time
  • Start by performing 8-10 repetitions on each side, and over time gradually increase the number of repetitions until you can perform 20 on each side with proper form

If you haven’t already done so, go to the welcome page on Denver Running Coach (www.denverrunningcoach) to receive videos on strengthening exercises, including clamshells, as well as ways to improve flexibility and mobility for any muscles that are tight and have limited range of motion.

Although perfect symmetry is most likely impossible to attain, we should strive to be as symmetric as we can while we run. This will help make us a more efficient, and thus faster runner, while helping us minimize the risk of injury.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Marathon Training 2019 Day 62: Embrace Hill Running, Benefits and Techniques

March 20 Moonset on Equinox

March 21 moonset small version

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Hills. We love them. We hate them. They make us strong. They make us weak. Today I chose to embrace hills.” – Hal Higdon

Belated Happy Equinox and welcome to Spring! I’m so happy that spring, my favorite season, is here.  On the equinox and the day after the equinox, there were some beautiful moonsets over the mountains. I tried to capture these during my morning runs.

In this post I want to discuss hill running a bit. As I near the end of my fitness training portion of my marathon training, I incorporated some hills on my ~8.5 mile long run today. I also performed 4 x 8-second hill sprints towards the end of this run.

Immediately after my run I did the following exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Single-leg stand (~60 seconds for each leg)
  • Pushups on a stability ball (10 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward and backward (15 repetitions on each side and in each direction)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~45 seconds)
  • Side planks (~40 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~30 seconds)
  • Double leg hip bridges (10 repetitions + hold for 30 seconds after last repetition)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Toe yoga (10 repetitions times for each foot)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balance (~30 seconds for each leg)

After performing these exercises, I did one-minute static stretches for the calf muscles and lots of softball rolling for the calf muscles and plantar fascia!

Recommendations:

It is helpful to incorporate hills on some of your long runs. This will help you build strength in your legs to improve your strength and speed, as well as help you improve your running economy (efficiency) and help you minimize the risk of injury.

Tip of the Day:

Running on hills can be beneficial for building strength and power in the legs, as well as improving running economy (efficiency), which can be transferred into improving running speed. This leg strengthening can also be beneficial for minimizing risk of injury.

When running uphill, lean slightly forward from the ankles, shorten your stride, and increase your arm swing speed. Keep your back straight, so that you’re not bending from waist. Also, keep your head and neck in alignment with your back. Look at least a few feet in front of you, instead of looking straight down at the ground, even if you are running on trails. Don’t dip you chin down. These will all help you keep your airways open, so you can maintain normal breathing.

Unless you are performing hill sprints (previous post), hill repeats (future post), Fartlek or a paced run, such as a threshold pace run, you should not push too hard when climbing hills, and try to stay as relaxed as possible. Keep steady rhythmic breathing, as best as possible. When you reach the top of the hill don’t push the pace and effort too hard on the other side, whether it is flat or downhill.

When descending, think of running downhill like downhill skiing, if you downhill ski. That is leaning slightly forward, instead of leaning back, like you might do if you were descending a hill on a road or mountain bike. You should land on your midfoot or lightly on your heel. You should take smaller steps, so that you have better control

When running downhill try not to push the pace too hard during training, unless you are performing downhill repeats. During training, you should never push the pace on downhill portions when running on the road or other hard surfaces, because this puts significant stress on your joints, particularly the knee. If you are performing downhill repeats, I recommend performing them on a trail or on grass. If you are performing a Fartlek run or threshold paced run, I recommend performing these runs on trails, grass, or shallow (not steep) downhill.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Embrace hill running. It will help make you a stronger and faster runner.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Marathon Training 2019 Day 33: What To Focus on When Performing Strides

“Focus on the things you can change and let go fo the things you can’t.”

Yesterday’s run was ~35 minutes and during this run I performed 4 x 20-second strides with ~90 second slow jog recovery. I performed these strides after running at an easy pace for ~20 minutes. After I finished this strides I completed my run at an easy pace. While performing these strides I focused on different aspects of running form, which is the subject of today’s Tip of the Day. For my first stride I focused on running tall, for the second arm swing, for the third keeping hips open, and for the fourth increasing cadence.

Immediately after my run, I performed the following exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with straight leg and bent leg (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with straight leg and bent leg (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg stands (~45 seconds)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~40 seconds)
  • Side planks (~30 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~20 seconds)
  • Glute bridge hip lifts (10 repetitions)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Toe yoga (10 cycles)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balances (~30 seconds)

After these exercises I performed foam rolling for ~10 minutes.

Recommendation: For intermediate and advanced runners, I recommend incorporating strides in your training if you have completed at least 2-4 weeks of easy-paced running. For beginners and those who have taken a significant amount of time off from running (three months or more) you might want to wait until at least 8 weeks of easy-paced running before including strides.

Again, if you have not done so, you can receive a complementary fitness training program, which includes strides, by opting in on the Welcome page of Denver Running Coach. You will be given recommendations on when to incorporate them in your training, how many to perform, as well as duration of strides, and recovery interval.

Tip of the Day: To get the most benefit out of performing strides it is helpful to focus on different aspects of running form. You can focus on such things as “running tall” (http://www.denverrunningcoach.com/marathon-training-2019-day-8-run-tall-to-help-improve-running-form/), swinging hands from “hip-to-nip” (http://www.denverrunningcoach.com/marathon-training-2019-day-9-arm-swing-hip-to-nip-to-help-improve-running-performance/), keeping hips open by imaging knees as headlights you shine straight ahead (http://www.denverrunningcoach.com/marathon-training-2019-day-23-keep-hips-open-when-running-to-help-avoid-injury/), rhythmic nasal breathing (http://www.denverrunningcoach.com/marathon-training-2019-day-12-importance-of-nasal-and-rhythmic-breathing/), cadence (http://www.denverrunningcoach.com/marathon-training-2019-days-21-22-running-cadence-important-for-your-running-performance-and-for-avoiding-injury/), knee lift, looking ahead ~30-35 feet, and so on. For some strides you might want to focus on incorporating more than one of these. Over time these will automatically become part of your regularly running form when you are doing easy-pace running, and so on. As a result you will become a more efficient and faster runner, and reduce your risk of injury.

If you experience pain, especially in any joints while performing strides, stop immediately and seek help from a qualified healthcare professional. Strides should not cause pain.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can help in any way.

Enjoy strides!

Your friend and coach,

Brian