The roads and lower elevation trails around Missoula have melted after being snow-covered since mid-December. April 1st is the day fools like me test out our skiing fitness and ramp up our running mileage in preparation for early season races. April is, therefore, a perfect month to discuss training consistency as a means of achieving distance running success over the next nine months of 2019.
By training consistency, I do not mean following the same weekly training routine all year long. Changing running routes and intensity will improve fitness by challenging the body in different ways. I define training consistency as a training program which regularly includes the necessary components of loading, progressive volume, and adequate recovery.
Loading: Each running stride places 2.5 to 3.0 times our body weight of loading force through our body. How will your body respond to the cumulative loading forces of a 1-mile run versus a 10-mile run? How will your body respond to a Rut-specific fast downhill scramble over rocky terrain after a winter of gliding downhill on skis? How will your body respond to your first Tuesday track speed work session after a winter of slogging with a modified running stride over uneven, icy and snowy surfaces? The answer lies in load training. Think of loading as a strength training workout aimed at increasing your running durability. Building muscle, tendon, and joint health and strength requires loading-specific strength training. I am not referring to body weight resistance exercise, but rather heavy weight, low repetition strength training. Proper loading technique addresses tendon resiliency, muscle strength, and tolerance to both speed and long miles. Without a loading-specific strengthening program, injuries will become part of your running life.
Progressive Volume: Disclaimer: I occasionally do not follow this training rule which is why I am so familiar with the multitude of running injuries I treat in my patients. The take home message is that gradually progressing your training volume will decrease your overuse injury risk significantly. Most runners are familiar with the 10% rule of weekly running volume (mileage) increase. Our long winter combined with a June 30th Missoula Marathon date does not give us much time to safely build training volume. Maintaining consistent fitness over the winter allows one to enter the spring at a higher training volume which helps reduce the urge to “catch up” by doubling your mileage in one week. It is also important to remember that rest days are rest days and rest days are necessary. If you ride your bike 20-miles or swim 2,000 yards on your “rest day” from running, you are further increasing volume to your training week.
Adequate Recovery: Nutrition, hydration, sleep, and body work should be a consistent part of your training routine. The nutritional saying “junk in, junk out” resonates with the miraculous human machine each one of us are. Well rounded whole food nutrition and simple hydration practices will fuel your body for optimum performance. Sleep remains elusive in our modern day society. You are an athlete, however, so 7-9 hours of sleep should be a priority to facilitate recovery and reduce overuse injury risk. Finally, some sort of body work will release tissue tension, muscle tension, improve circulation, and reduce muscle soreness. I intentionally used the general term of “body work” as this may include rolling, massage, myofascial release or manual therapy provided by a physical therapist.
I encourage the reader to seek advice (myself, my fellow PT staff, or one of the other qualified local resources) regarding the specific definition of each training component for you individually. Factors such as running experience, athletic experience, injury history, age, and running-racing goals must be considered on an individual basis. I welcome questions and can be reached by email (email@example.com).
John Fiore, PT
Power is achieved through explosive movements such as plyometric exercises and through interval training. Short intervals included in a workout 1-2 times per week will provide the acceleration a summer of long miles has taken away. Utilize a watch timer and heart rate monitor to gauge effort. Plyometric exercises include a loading phase followed by a propulsive unloading phase. Plyometric exercises should not be done when sore or injured, and an adequate level of strength is necessary to perform correctly. Again, seek advice from a physical therapist or personal trainer prior to adding power training to your off season program.
by John Fiore, PT
With The Rut only four weeks away, now is the time to add a some climbing specific runs to
your training plan. Understanding which uphill running techniques work best for your body type, fitness, and experience will pay off greatly on race day.
Aerobic Fitness and Hill Interval Training:
Not everyone is a natural uphill runner, but natural ability is a small part of the uphill running puzzle. Aerobic fitness and high strength-to- weight ratio result in faster uphill times. Uphill interval training is necessary to build both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Following a variety of uphill interval durations (from 30 seconds to 5, 10, 15 minutes) based on your running or racing goals will teach you how to effectively pace your efforts based on the terrain you are climbing. Uphill interval repeats will train your body to recover more efficiently at the top of a climb in preparation for the descent and the next hill. Uphill interval workouts are easy to find online, but Forrest at Runners Edge is a great local resource as well. He provides excellent uphill interval workouts during the current Rut Training Class. Basically, uphill intervals are not fun, they hurt, but you will hurt a lot more on race day if you have not done weekly uphill intervals, period.
Body composition, aerobic fitness, and terrain dictate the most efficient uphill running technique. Below are examples of four uphill running techniques with some advantages and disadvantages of each.
Running every climb is obviously what every runner aspires to be able to do. When the grade kicks up for prolonged periods, however, energy conservation becomes important. A runner with a high strength-to- weight ratio (light but strong) and a high level of aerobic fitness may be able to run and leave the pack in the dust. Running posture should include an elongated trunk for breathing, slight forward lean to counter-balance gravity, short, quick, tall uphill strides, and rhythmical upper body arm swing. The energy cost of such superhuman efforts repeatedly during a run or a race can be huge, and slower but more efficient climbers may catch the fatiguing uphill runner. Again, know your limits by practicing your uphill running threshold during interval
Power hiking with hands on thighs is the go-to technique for long, sustained climbs during long runs or races. Hiking uphill results in a lower heart rate which means you can sustain the effort for a longer duration. Gradient also dictates when a runner must resort to power hiking. Again, the gradient which requires hiking varies from runner to runner based on aerobic fitness and strength-to- weight ration. If you are being passed by power hikers and you are still slogging uphill in a run, then consider hiking. Using your hands on your thighs as you push off provides extra power, supports your upper body and spine, and allows for good breathing. Practice short, quick and longer, slower power hiking steps to see which technique suits your fitness and body type (leg length, strength) best. When you crest the top of the climb, transition back to running, breathe, and recover.
Power hiking with poles is similar to power hiking with hands on thighs, except the poles allow for longer stride length. Poles also aid in providing balance, and spread the muscle demand over four extremities rather than just two. Using trekking poles requires practice. Try an uphill interval workout with poles and practice pole placement. Poles provide great assistance while descending as well, and running-specific poles are light and can be easily stowed in your pack when not in use.
Uphill Terrain Running Agility:
It is important not to stare at your feet when running uphill. Look slightly ahead to plan your route and practice bounding uphill to increase your uphill running agility. Short, rocky, steep climbs are ideal for uphill bounding practice. Recover by jogging slowly back down the same hill. Feeling at home on varied uphill terrain (loose dirt, rocky trails, scree fields, and ridge lines) will insure confidence and efficiency on race day.
Upper and Lower Body Strength:
I may sound like a broken record, but strength is vital for efficient uphill running. Upper body strength will insure a rhythmical ascent and provide the counter balance for climbing legs. Using poles or hands-on- thighs both require upper body strength as well. A strong core will reduce the likelihood of low back stiffness or pain during prolonged climbs. Finally, moving your body weight uphill against gravity as quickly as possible requires strong quadriceps, hips, and gluteal musculature. For any specific questions related to uphill running technique-training, or injury treatment-
prevention, contact me at Sapphire Physical Therapy.
John Fiore, PT
Downhill Running Form and Training Techniques
John Fiore, PT
The challenges of running uphill are addressed through uphill interval training and techniques specific to climbing. Downhill running, however, is often a forgotten aspect of training. While it is true that many races are won on the unrelenting climbs, races are more often lost on the long, technical descents due to blown quads and poor technique. I do not claim to be a stellar downhill runner, but I will pass on useful training techniques founded in running biomechanics which may help you make the Swift Current cutoff time or even soar to victory at The Rut this September.
Regardless of body type or speed, the following seven training tips will improve your downhill running form and efficiency and reduce post-running soreness and injury risk.
Commit to running downhill: When the climb is over and the gradient tips downward, shift gears in your mind and body and commit to descending. Your leg musculature must now function in the lengthened position referred to as an eccentric contraction. In a lengthened position, your muscles are prone to soreness which is minimized through specified training.
Lean forward and use gravity: A common mistake many runners make is to lean back on the while descending. This “back seat” descending techniques results in higher impact loading through the heel, a shift of the center of gravity behind the body, and a higher incidence of blown quads or sliding feet. Lean forward slightly through the pelvis and trunk, using gravity to your advantage. Downhill running is often viewed as controlled free-falling and can actually be as fun as it sounds.
Move your feet quickly: Cadence plays a crucial role in increasing running efficiency by reducing joint impact loading and conserving energy. Increasing your cadence (160-180 foot strikes per minute) will decrease joint impact forces, reduce muscle fatigue, and reduce the incidence of tripping on a stray rock. Try seeking out rocks to land on rather than navigating around rocks as if you are crossing a stream.
Look down the mountain and anticipate your next move: When running uphill, it is best to look a step or two ahead rather than face the entire climb head-on. In contrast, when descending, keep your eyes five to ten feet ahead of your feet and anticipate your next two steps in your mind and your legs will follow. Practice this technique on a rocky familiar descent and train your proprioception (non-visual sense of foot-leg position in space).
Relax your arms and utilize your entire body for balance: Balance becomes more of an issue running downhill at speed. Utilize your arms for balance and allow them to flail wildly while maintaining stable, strong trunk and hip musculature. Core strength and joint stabilization will pay off on the descents and it is important to utilize a regular program to achieve functional running strength.
Simulate race terrain in training: If your upcoming race includes downhill running or technical, rocky terrain, it is imperative to practice on similar terrain. Missoulians are fortunate to have a choice of rocky, steep terrain less than one hour away in any direction from town. Rocky trails abound in the Bitterroot, Rattlesnake, and Mission Mountains. Practice downhill intervals, climbing back up, and practicing a different line and varying your cadence and foot placement strategies.
Emphasize eccentric single leg training: Runners tend to focus on step ups, squats, and non-weight bearing gluteal exercises, but the secret to confident downhill running lies in eccentric single leg strengthening. Utilize single leg plyo-hops, box jumps, and even single leg box jumps onto an uneven surface such as a pad or Bosu Ball to train your body to fly down the scree and talus slopes of your favorite mountain race. For more specific questions related to downhill running training, injury treatment or prevention, call or email me at Sapphire Physical Therapy.
John Fiore, PT
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