Rolling, Rolling, Rolling, keep those doggies rolling..

contoured roller

I’ve written about foam rolling before, but it’s an essential element in my training/recovery routine and it merits repeating. Over the last week, i’ve been reminded, by my body, how important foam rolling is. After I finished the Bear 100 three weeks ago, I jumped right back into training mode, after one week off, because I have the Pony Express 100 in more 8 days. I skipped rolling for a few days in a row because I was busy and tired. My ITBand began tightening up in my left leg and my quad in my right leg. Both of which pulled the tendons guiding my knee caps resulting in tension and aching. I knew right away what it was and made sure I didn’t miss anymore days.

I get a lot of questions about when and how to stretch. My response has always been the same. If you’re going to stretch, stretch after you run not before. Muscles must be warmed up  before you stretch them or you risk straining or even tearing them. You can also “freeze” your muscles, causing them to go into defense mode and reduce your range of motion. Since the idea behind stretching is to help recovery and prevent injury you sure don’t want to cause injury.

How to stretch is a more complicated question. There are so many different ways to stretch and it’s hard to know which muscles/tendons to stretch in the first place. Of course, if you’re going to stretch, it’s important to stretch big muscles you use for running: quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and ITBands. Stretch to the point of it feeling tight and not super tight, just when it first starts feeling tight. You should hold the stretch for twenty to thirty seconds and then release it completely. Go through your stretches two to three times depending on how tight they are.

Why do I keep saying “if” you stretch? Because using a foam roller is better than stretching. A foam roller will do everything stretching does and more. It lengthens your muscles and tendons and also increases your flexibility. The “more” of foam rolling is its ability to break up the tension in your myofascial layer (deep connective tissues).

Here are the basics of foam rolling: relax the muscles you are rolling, but keep your core tight and stable. If you let your core sag, you’re not going to get the right angle and pressure on the tendons and muscles you’re trying to hit; roll slowly over the area, going back and forth for one to two minutes. Rolling isn’t all fun and games. It hurts at times. In fact, it can hurt pretty bad when you hit a knot. If you roll on a regular basis, you develop less knots.

Roll Happy!

Speed, Stride Length, and Cadence

metronome

Cadence (AKA stride rate) is the number of steps you take per minute. Speed is how much distance you cover in a specific amount of time. In the U.S. this is minutes per mile pretty much everywhere else it is minutes per kilometer. Stride length is the space between your front toe and your rear heel at their widest during a step.

What’s so important about cadence?

A higher cadence reduces injury by lowering the impact of each step. It also allows you to maintain a faster pace for longer because you are a more efficient runner. Most elite runners have a cadence of 180 steps per minute or more. Most recreational runners are running at a 160-170 cadence. You can figure out your cadence by counting each time your right foot hits the ground in one minute while you are running, then times it by two.

Running with a higher cadence automatically results in shortening your stride length and reduces the amount of time you spend in the air. Because of these two things, it reduces the amount of force you hit the ground with and thus reduces the risk of injury. As for efficiency, a faster cadence means less hang time and a less forceful toe off. Over distance, this reduction of energy will help maintain a higher speed.

How do you increase your cadence?

Not everyone should run at a 180 cadence. Beginning runners and runners who typically run an 11-minute mile or slower, should focus on making sure they have proper form and are not over striding before increasing cadence.

The easiest way to increase cadence is by paying attention to it. First figure out what your cadence is currently. Famed running coach, Jack Daniels, suggests running as if you are running on eggshells. Another option is to listen to music with a 180 cadence or a metronome set at 180 beats per minute. Basically, you want light quick steps. When you are first working on increasing your cadence, start with a five percent increase as a goal. So if you run at a 160 cadence, increase it to a 168. If you’re at 166, increase to 174 and so on.

Are cadence and speed connected? Yes, but cadence isn’t the only way to increase your speed. Another way is to make sure you have good hip strength and mobility. Hip strength prevents multiple common injuries such as shin splints, runner’s knee, and ITBand syndrome. When it is combined with mobility, it increases your stride length and power.

I know, I know, I just said you want a shorter stride length. However, with all things running there is no one right way to do things. The thing to be wary of when increasing your stride length is over striding. If you are landing on your foot when it is way out in front of your body, you’re over striding. Over striding causes impact forces to move through your body incorrectly causing injuries to tendons and bones. The increase in length comes from the back swing. In other words, how far back your hip extends before you pull your foot forward for the next step.

You can find hip exercises under my strength-training tab above. Stretching is going to increase your hip mobility. You need to stretch your quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors.

As with changing anything in the way that your body runs, take it slow and pay attention to how you are feeling.

Why Cross Train?

cycling

Cross training provides huge benefits to runners by allowing them to build and maintain their aerobic base when they are not running due to injury. When we are running, cross training is equally as important. It provides strength to stabilizing and opposing muscle groups. It adds variety to your workouts and you are less likely to get burned out. Last, it gives you an automatic go to sport if you are injured to keep you active and less likely to fall into the injury depression so many runners battle when they are unable to run.

 

You can pick any sport as cross training. The more opposing muscles that the cross training uses the more benefit you will see to your running. The idea behind cross training is to give your running muscles a break, but to continue to stay active and maintain that aerobic base you have worked so hard to achieve. If you are using those opposing muscle groups, you are also going to prevent injuries by balancing out the pulling force on weaker muscles when the stronger ones contract.

Cycling and swimming are excellent choices for cross training. Swimming focuses on your arms and shoulders as well as your core muscles. Your legs are definitely not the emphasis although they are used. If you don’t know how to swim or are a weak swimmer, I suggest getting a copy of the book “Total Immersion,” by Terry Laughlin. The Total Immersion (TI) method teaches you step-by-step the most efficient swimming technique. You can find classes across the U.S., but the book is designed to be used on your own. There are DVD’s you can buy which demonstrate each drill and skill outlined in the book.

 

Cycling uses opposing muscle groups (quadriceps more than hamstrings). Cycling also works the outer hips and the butt muscles. Making sure these muscles are strong, prevents hip rotation and potential illiotibial band issues. Swimming and Cycling are low impact sports as well, so they give your muscles and bones a break from the jarring of running.

 

Pilates and yoga are good complementary options as well. The elliptical or stair stepper are options, but very close to running and are more useful as a running substitute when you need to reduce the impact.

 

 

Doesn’t running 100 miles hurt?

Running comes with a certain amount of “hurt,” which is one of the reasons I love it as much as I do.  There is that struggle of making your body go farther than your mind thinks it can go. Pushing past those internal and external barriers is something I specialize in. I enjoy pushing the limits and doing things that others believe I cannot accomplish. You don’t go from drug addicted high school drop out to single mom, attorney, and ultrarunner without a hefty amount of determination and ambition.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Some people follow their dreams, others hunt them down and beat them mercilessly into submission.”

For most ultrarunners, the question is not, does it hurt? It’s, when does the hurt begin? At some point in a 100-mile run, you’re going to be uncomfortable, at a minimum.  But, being uncomfortable,  and being injured are different. Knowing where that line is can be a challenge to runners. We want to push through the pain. Pain is, after all, weakness leaving the body.

There are certain types of pain you should probably not push through, such as sharp stabbing pain with a sudden onset, pain that becomes worse after you stop, or pain that gets worse throughout the run.

The prospect of not being able to run due to injury leads me to include as much injury prevention into my training as I can. I cross train (swimming and cycling) to round out my overall body strength and eliminate imbalances between opposing muscle groups. I strength train, use a foam roller, and stretch to prevent injury. I would rather spend that time running, but I know that if I don’t do them, I won’t be running at all or I would be running a whole lot less than I do.

Many of my family and friends have told me, “Running as much as you do, cannot be healthy.”

“You will destroy your knees.”

“It isn’t good for your heart.”

But here’s the thing, I feel amazing. I am strong and have never been healthier. My doctors identify me as a runner before I tell them because of my resting heart rate (48). I rarely get sick, and when I do, it only lasts a few days. Of course, I have had my fair share of running injuries, and I can always count on the “See I told you so,” look from my dad whenever he finds out I’ve rolled an ankle or what have you.

There is an ongoing longitudinal study called Ultrarunners Longitudinal TRAcking Study (ULTRA Study), which has put out some preliminary data showing that Ultrarunners do not get injured more than other runners. They actually have a lower occurrence of stress fractures. Ultrarunners are more prone to metatarsal (foot) stress fractures than runners who run shorter distances who tend to get tibia stress fractures.

Among Ultrarunners, those at the lower end of the injury risk spectrum are the older runners, those with more ultramarathon experience, and those that decrease the amount of high intensity running. The ULTRA Study will be looking into the long-term health of the 1,212 runners who are a part of the study (388 Women), as well.

For me, I know that I am a better person because I run, so whatever the results of the study are, it’s unlikely to change my running habits.  Life is too short to just let it pass you by.