December represents the month during which many of us reflect on the past running season. The thought of 2014 is refreshing as the New Year presents a blank slate of opportunity. 2013 was an exciting year for running in Missoula, Montana. The Missoula Marathon continues to grow in both quality and quantity and has become the premier athletic event in Missoula. 2013 also saw the inaugural Rut Run trail run in Big Sky, Montana. The Rut represents a true mountain trail running course and is on the Sky Running calendar in 2014. As running continues to grow, the number of training and racing opportunities require wise use of the off season. Running success in 2014 begins on January 1, 2014. Establishing consistent, positive habits in January will pay off in the form of racing success during the summer months.
As a runner and a physical therapist, I have learned the hard way (through injuries and failure) what works and what does not work for most runners. Training represents bliss to some and torture to others. I find challenge and solace in my training, while some train simply to get to the start line prepared. Whatever training represents to you, be sure to challenge yourself while training. Most of us train our strengths. I like to climb, so I run laps on Mount Sentinel. What I lack is the power to finish strong on the flats. Training your weakness, therefore, will prepare you for all types of terrain. Furthermore, vary your training in order to keep your body guessing. Sure, time constraints and convenience will dictate where you train, but venture out on a new route once a week to keep your mind and body fresh.
2013 was the year I truly learned the value of cross training. Sure, I have always mountain biked in between long training runs and races. Sure, I have been teaching strengthening exercises to others for twenty years. In 2013, however, I was sidelined from full training and racing for two months and nearly lost my mind. I discovered that not all forms of cross training are running specific. While I love flying down single track on my mountain bike when my legs are recovering, cross training must also include strength training. Without strength training to support the body during the forces associated with running, YOU WILL EVENTUALLY SUFFER A RUNNING INJURY. There, I said it in caps. I now dedicate three hours per week to circuit- type core and extremity (yes, upper body too) strength training in addition to running.
Core musculature, hp and gluteal musculature, quadriceps and hamstring muscle balance, lower leg tissue elasticity and strength, and intrinsic foot strength are all necessary components of a cross training program. Dedicate time (hours per week) to cross strength training. Your body will thank you and your running performance will benefit proportionally to the time dedicate to strength training. Building lean, functional muscle does not build bulk as you will continue to run in addition to your strength training regime. A physical therapist who understands the unique needs of runners can help you establish a training program which will maximize injury prevention and performance.
Winter in western Montana is a playground for ski and snowboard enthusiasts. Get out and ski or snowboard and rest your running legs a bit. When you are mentally and physically prepared to resume running training, do so with a fresh perspective. Establishing healthy, comprehensive training methods will result in successful running in 2014. Many trail and road running races open for registration (and fill up) in January. It is difficult to know in January how your training preparation will go in the ensuing months. It is easy to sign up for more races than your body and mind can successfully tolerate. My recommendation is to pick two or three races as your target races for the year. Pick your races based on the course, race experience (past experience or word of mouth), and distance. Work your way up gradually to the distance you plan on racing. Allow your body to rest and recover when your body asks for it, even if your mind tells you otherwise. Establish a balanced, healthy, whole-food diet which works for you. Most of all, however, never lose sight of the reason you began running. View each training run as a privilege and challenge. Face the trails or roads with the wonder and amazement of a child and running will be there for your enjoyment, year after year.
John Fiore, PT
Sapphire Physical Therapy