Back Pain?

Back pain is no joke. Many adults and even children suffer from back pain, specifically lower in their backs. There are a whole host of things that contribute to back pain, some are life style choices and some are genetics. Back pain can remove you from daily life activities that are both fun and necessary. Runners are not immune. Running involves repetitive stress and impact for long periods of time, which obviously has the potential to cause some back pain or tightness at some point. Maintaining good running form, following some basic training rules and keeping the back muscles loose will save you from missed work, and more importantly missed running.
Maintaining proper running form and a strength training routine (see mine here)  focusing on the core muscles (including the lower back) is going to go a long way in preventing lower back pain. Running form can make you a more or less efficient runner and it can make you a more or less injury prone runner. What is proper form? First, you don’t want to make big changes to your running form at a time, pick one of these and do it until it becomes automatic and then move to another. If you notice any pain, which you shouldn’t, make sure you are doing it correctly. If any pain continues, reduce it to every other run until it’s comfortable and then increase to every run.
  1. Head up and shoulders back, not uncomfortably but might feel a little weird if you sit at a computer for a long time each day.
  2. Chest up. Imagine a string attached to your sternum about nipple height pulling up to the sun or moon. This is probably the most helpful with aligning your body.
  3. Be aware of your legs. they should be under your body when you land not way out in front, especially downhill otherwise every step is like putting on the breaks and causes major impact to go through your body improperly.
  4. Foot plan should be mid-foot or forefoot. If you are doing one or the other, don’t switch. Basically, you don’t want to heel plant see number 3 above.
  5. Arm swing. Hold a ninety degree angle at the elbow, hands loose, like you’re holding a potato chip. Don’t cross your arms past your mid-line, center of your torso. Your elbows should come up to your hip and swing back until your wrists are at your hip. They should go straight back and then straight forward, a little pull toward the center is okay, just don’t cross over.
Another important factor, is increasing your miles by the 10% rule and taking rest weeks every 4th week (reduce your miles by 20-25% for the week). Increasing your miles too quickly doesn’t give your body enough time to build the muscle to handle the next level of training. Training with big mile jumps leads to over use injuries. Rest weeks are equally as important because they give your body time to heal and get stronger. As we run we create micro tears in our muscles. This is good because they heal stronger and build more muscle. But if you don’t give it time do do that effectively, it will just do the best it can with what it has, which doesn’t work well long term for you.
Self massage on the back. Sure being able to afford regular massages by a professional would be awesome, but not all of us runners have sponsors, which means all our money goes to our shoes and socks… That leaves massaging to our significant others or more often ourselves. The least expensive and surprisingly very helpful are La Crosse balls. Buy two of them from Amazon or a local athletic store and tape them together. Keep the tape smooth and make sure they are secure. Place the taped balls between your back and the wall with the indentation in the middle over your spine. The balls will be on either side. Now slowly raise and lower yourself against the wall. Keep your hips neutral (great squat workout too). Stop on knots for a few 20-30 seconds to see if you can get them to release. Keep going for 2 minutes or longer if you’d like.
A wonderful tool for total body massage (no they don’t pay me) is the Body Wrench, find it here. It’s a bit pricey, but remember it’s an investment in your body and it’s 100% money back guaranteed. You can use it for strength training as well (a 2-fer). It comes with a storage bag and an instruction manual. There are instructional videos online, found here.
Running forever, means we are going to do what we need to do to prevent and fix injuries and pain.

Arm Strength and Running

This post is the first in a series of posts on what role various parts of our bodies play in running and how giving them some attention can improve our running. I’m going to work from the top to the bottom. So, what role do your arms play in running?
Your arms are important in running. Try running without them moving and you’ll find out just how important they are. Our arms propel us forward and help us maintain balance. They also catch us when we fall, hold our handheld water bottles, and make it much easier to eat and carry a hydration pack. It’s good to have arms.
Our legs move in relation to our arms. The faster we move our arms the faster our legs move. I often tell triathletes and ultraunners to focus on their arms as specific points in their races. For triathletes, it is after the transition from the bike to the run when you feel like a newborn baby giraffe.  For ultrarunners, it when you just don’t think you can take another step.
Holding our arms in the proper form is going to improve our efficiency andendurance as runners. Runners arms should be bent at about a 90 degree angle and swing pretty much straight back and forward without crossing the mid-line of your chest. Your arm should go back until your hand passes just above the hips and come forward until your elbow is close to your waist. Elbows should point backward. Your arms and hands should be held loose, but not flopping around like rubber.
If you don’t have an efficient arm swing you’re going to burn more energy than someone who does. In distance running, you want to burn as little energy with each step as you can at the speed you want to go. Too much crossover causes you to over rotate your torso. Over rotation of the torso wastes energy and can cause injuries down the kinetic chain by changing your foot plant and the alignment in your hips, knees, and ankles.
Your arms help with balance, especially, during a trail descent. Hold them out from your body and assist your core a bit to stabilize you.
Strengthening your arms will help you maintain the proper arm swing and running form throughout your run and keeps your legs moving forward when they are tired. You don’t want large arm muscles because they just add weight you have to haul around. It’s a balance. Strive for lean muscle rather than bulk. To maintain lean muscle complete more repetitions and use less weight.
The exercise shouldn’t be easy and you should feel it by the time you finish a set and the last set should be hard. If you can’t do the number of reps listed below do what you can and work up. If it’s too easy, add more reps before you add more weight.
Here are some easy things you can do to increase and maintain arm strength: push-ups 3 sets of 12-15 reps; tricep press 3 sets 10-12 reps; bicep curls 3 sets 12-15 reps; flies with arms straight and then bent 3 sets 10-12 reps.

Aerobic vs. Sport Specific Fitness

I’m fit right? Many people who are physically fit believe they can cross over into another sport and their fitness should translate. This may be true to some extend, but if the sports are different enough, things do not translate.
There are multiple aspect of fitness that make you a strong runner (or strong any other type of athlete. Aerobic fitness is the stimulation and strengthening of the heart and lungs, which improves the bodies ability to transform oxygen you breath in to energy your muscles can use. Having enough oxygen throughout your body is critical to participating in endurance events, okay and life.
Aerobic fitness is important but it’s not enough if you want to be a strong athlete in a particular sport. Strength in the muscles specific to the sport does not always crossover and complete crossover is pretty much impossible. You can compare muscle development between athletes of different sports to see proof, unless they make special effort to achieve more balanced strength. Runners have more balanced development throughout the legs. Sometimes the calves and quads can be more developed. Cyclists typically have larger quads, specifically the one on the outside. Swimmers have larger shoulders and arms. Those who play team sports requiring a lot of lateral movement are going to have stronger supporting muscles in the legs and core.
Running uses every muscle in your body as to most other sports. The difference is in the role each plays and the level of reliance on that particular muscle group. The major muscles of the legs are the most used in running. There are smaller, support, muscles in the legs used as well. At times these support muscles are recruited to pull more of the load than normal when the big boys become fatigued or injured. Even within the running community there are going to be differences in leg development because of the training each runner does.
Muscles and tendons remember. Neuro-pathways or muscle memory develops with experience. Your body becomes more efficient in form. When you repeat a motion over and over again, it becomes ingrained and you don’t have to put much, if any, thought into it. The less you have to think about each movement the faster you will become. The reduced attention required allows you to focus on one aspect of your body and make tweaks here and there to improve your form reducing injury and energy consumption. For runners, leg turn over, cadence, and stride length are all improved by building neuro-pathways. In contrast, soccer and American football players have unmatched agility (foot movement) because they work on it day in and day out.
The range of motion required by your muscles is different for different sports and on the other side the muscles and tendons which tend to tighten up are different depending on your sport. Flexibility in the hamstrings and hip flexors is important for running because they control the movement of your leg swing. Flexibility in those muscles is not as important for swimming or rowing.
Bottom line here is don’t get frustrated when you really struggle when cross training or picking up another sport. Fitness encompasses many aspects and unless you make an effort to maintain balance across these you’re not going to be at the same level in each sport. Individual strengths also separate athletes in the same sports.

Is your sunscreen working?

Everyone knows there is a risk of developing skin cancers by exposing unprotected skin to the sun and that risk increases depending on how long you’re in the sun and when. Where you live also increases or decreases your risk.
Factors such as time of day latitude, altitude, and time of year change the amount of UV’s you’re exposed too. The EPA’s sunwise app predicts UV levels based on these factors. Other personal risk factors include, facial cleansers, fair skin, blue eyes, red hair, and freckles.
Every year companies review the Effectiveness of and harm caused by sunscreens. Prior to 2014, there were no regulations on sunscreen effectiveness, ingredients, or claims of preventing skin cancers.
In 2011, after 4 years of multiple articles being published about the harmful ingredients and lack of actual protection, standards were created by the FDA. In 2014, testing standards were implemented. Although, the US standards are lower than Europe’s. Now in the US, companies can no longer use the claim that their sunscreen “prevents skin cancers.”
Ongoing air pollution has increased our risk of skin cancers. Cases have increased by 35% over the last 30 years. The FDA also, now, requires sunscreen to screen both  UVA and UVB rays. But about half of products do not screen them equally and they could not be sold in Europe.
Most sunscreen companies have stopped putting a harmful type of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, in its product. This ingredient may increase the speed of developing melanoma. However, consumers should still check for it-14% contained it in 2017.
Higher SPF claims do not mean more screening. SPF over 50 is misleading and does not mean more protection. Most countries cap the SPF claim at 50. The FDA is drafting a regulation to address this issue.
Nor are the claims of sweatproof, waterproof, or sunblock entirely accurate and thus no longer allowed to be printed on the screens. A skin cancer warning is required.
Spray on sunscreen are not as effective as creams/lotions. They don’t go on evenly or thick enough. There is a danger of inhalation as well.
Sunscreens need to be reapplied every two hours and sunscreen is not enough. If you’re going to be in the sun for long periods of time or between 10 am and 4 pm wear UV protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
Indoor tanning is also a big no-no. It increases your risk of all types of skin cancer including melanoma, which is the most dangerous. It’s illegal for someone under the age of 18 to use indoor tanning beds in most countries, including the US. It’s like smoking when you know the risks for cancer and other health problems. You are actually more likely to get skin cancer from indoor tanning than you are lung cancer from smoking (although it may cause other serious health/lung issues).
Best sun screen list here.

Stuck in the Injury Cylce

Getting stuck in a cycle of injuries is one of the most frustrating things for any athlete, but it happens to many of us. Why does it happen and how do you get out of it?

The why of it is often overtraining/lack of rest and recovery time. We love our sport and we want to do it as much as we can and we want to get better. The thing we forget is rest is part of the getting better process. It’s also essential in preventing injuries.

When an injury occurs and we don’t give ourselves enough time to recover and slowly/gently come back to our regular training routine, we increase the chances of getting another/different injury along the kinetic chain or on the opposite side of the body.

Allowing the body time to heal and regain its strength to be able to tolerate the load we are going to put on it takes time and it takes a gradual increase in training. Even when we are resting enough and are strong, our body goes through a cycle of training stimulus to fatigue/minor damage to recovery/building. If we push hard during the fatigue/minor damage phase, we risk injury. This is why we alternate intense days with easy days in our training programs. It’s why we take a rest week every fourth week.

The bottom line here, is realize your body is not a machine. It has to recover before you can build. Patience is a virtue in these matters.

One of the best things you can do to prevent injuries and stop the cycle is to add strength training to your training schedule. This will help get injured muscles back to pre-injury status and it helps improve the strength of supportive muscles.

I cannot stress enough how important strengthening your core, including your hips, is for runners. These are your stabilizing muscles. Strength in this area will prevent injuries both up and down the kinetic chain. Add a routine three days a week to work on this area and if things get easy, increase the repetitions or change your program. You don’t need a gym membership to do many of these workouts. Your own body weight is enough. My routine requires some home equipment. You can also add in a short arm routine if you’d like.

Here is my routine:

I do them in super sets and repeat each superset three times. It takes me about one hour.

Super set one:

Inner thigh lift one minute

Front plank one minute

Side planks one minute

Leg lowers with or without weight 15 times

15 burpees

Fifteen clams with a band

Single leg bridge on a swiss ball, lift and lower 15 times hold at the top for five seconds

Super set two:

Kettle bell swings 15 times

Kettle bell gobble squats 15 times

15 jump squats

15 piston squats each leg

 

Super set three:

15 wall ball toss with squats

15 Ball toss sit ups

15 Box jumps

15 Jane fondas

15 fire hydrants

Ways for Those with Disabilities to Live Fun, Active Lives and Why It’s So Important

Guest Post by Travis White

Many with disabilities fear exercise because they feel they can’t do it, or that it will make their disability worse, or that every physical activity open to them is boring or limited. In reality, those with disabilities can help battle the symptoms and complications of their disability and improve their overall mental and physical wellness by staying active. On top of that, it doesn’t have to be boring. There are plenty of fun, exciting ways to fill your daily exercise quota. Here are some tips.

Get involved in adaptive sports

You don’t have to get your exercise by sitting on a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill for hours. There are dozens upon dozens of adaptive sports (sports modified, through rules and equipment, to accommodate those with disabilities) that you can participate in – no matter if your disability is moderate, severe, physical, mental, or visual.

Wheelchair sports are becoming increasingly popular – so much so that there’s a good chance that there is at least one recreational league available in your city (maybe more!). Basketball, handball, polo, tennis, and volleyball are all sports that have been adapted to suit those in wheelchairs.

For a more extreme sporting experience, skiing, surfing, and rock climbing have all been made highly accessible to those with disabilities through modern equipment and other technology.

Look for exercise in non-traditional places

There are tons of ways to stay active that you may not think of as exercise. Swimming is a great way to have fun and get exercise as a disabled person. Water’s natural buoyancy allows for those with certain types of disabilities to perform motions that they can’t perform on land. Being in the water really opens up a whole world of exercise for those living with a disability.

“Swimming strengthens muscles that enhance the postural stability necessary for locomotor and object-control skills. Water supports the body, enabling a person to possibly walk for the first time, thus increasing strength for ambulation on land. Adapted aquatics also enhances breath control and cardiorespiratory fitness,” says HumanKinetics.com.

Getting out in nature and going for a walk, taking a hike, and even gardening are all ways to have fun while working out. Power chairs, service dogs, and trail companions are all options if you suffer from extremely limited mobility.

Why staying active is good for your whole body (and mind)

The benefits of regular exercise cannot be overstated. Not only does it help prevent a myriad of health problems and obesity, but it can help manage chronic pain – something that oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with disability. The most important benefit of staying active, however, may take place in your head.

“There’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program,” James Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist at Duke University, tells the American Psychological Association.

Exercise may even be a top line defense strategy against the effects of PTSD in veterans with disabilities. Not only does the physical act of exercise release brain-boosting chemicals, but exercise serves as an alternative coping mechanism to less-healthy habits like drinking, which can lead to addiction and worsen the mental problems associated with physical disabilities.

Lack of exercise may not just be a symptom of physical disability, but it can be a major exacerbating factor. By staying active, you’ll not only feel better physically but you’ll be better equipped to cope with the mental aspects of dealing with your disability.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Aid Stations

I’ve talked about aid stations a few times and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but the volunteers at aid stations do a lot of work. For the past three years, my friends and I have put together aid station 13 at the Salt Flats 100, which is at mile 89.7. It’s kind of an unpleasant place as far as the course goes.

It’s about a half mile below a mountain saddle. It’s really the last climb in the race and they stop you before you hit the top! Although I’m glad my aid station is not right in the saddle. This race can be very winding, rainy and snowy all in the same race. This year was no exception, although, we had the best weather this year compared to the last two.

As a runner and an aid station captain, I think it’s important to have something special about your aid station. Our is pizza. We love pizza. We have a propane stone pizza oven and bake pizza right there for the runners. They can have it cold or hot. It only takes a minute to warm it up after we’ve baked it. We buy a bunch of pizza’s from Papa Murphy’s Pizza and it’s been a beautiful thing for three years. The pizza is always a hit, cheese is the favorite. By the time runners reach mile 90 your stomach is either screwed or starving.

This year we also had birthday cake out there because it was one of our volunteer’s birthday. The cake did not get as much love as the pizza, which surprised me. I would have eaten it at mile 90 (I will eat birthday cake here or there, I will eat birthday cake anywhere). Maybe there was too much frosting.

One of the things I find the most difficult, particularly in a smaller race like Salt Flats, is keeping broth and romen noodles warm. I wish we had a microwave. Keeping the romen simmering or warming on the stove turns everything to mush and keeping it going causes it to turn to steam and disappear. Having warm choices in the dead of night when the wind is howling and the rain is coming down is critical.

Vegan and vegetarian options are necessary to have as well. Many ultra runners are health conscious and environmentally conscious. We spend so much time in nature and among the wild things of the earth, how can we not become apart of it. There are many products which are “accidentally” vegan and easy to have at aid stations: oreo cookies, sweedish fish, hummus, tortillas (no lard or sugar), fruits, and veggies of course.

The strength of the human body and mind is amazing. It’s inspiring and rewarding to be able to give back to the sport I love so much.