The Elliptical Alternative


Many injured and healthy runners use an elliptical machine to reduce the impact on joints, muscles and tendons while maintaining the running motion as closely as possible. An elliptical is a practical alternative and available to most people. It’s purpose is to do just what these runners are looking for. Long term use of an elliptical can have a negative impact on your running, however.

If you’ve ever used an elliptical for over an hour, you’ll notice it starts to make your toes feel numb. The position of your body is different on the elliptical compared to when running.

What are the body position differences?

First, on the elliptical both feet are always making contact with the “ground.” When running one foot is in the air while the other is stabilizing you.

The second difference is your hip extension. When you are running your back leg straightens out more than on an elliptical and it is farther back pulling your hips back as well. On the elliptical, your knee stays bent because your foot continues to be in contact with the ground. This is problematic because a lack of hip extension leads to injuries and inefficient running. Thus, the elliptical does not develop the neuromuscular connection required for a strong efficient form when running.

Another issue is it doesn’t require you to use the stabilizing tendons and muscles of your ankles causing them to become weaker and damaging the neuromuscular connection here as well. Then there is the hamstrings, because the elliptical limits hip extension it doesn’t engage your hamstrings very well. Weak hamstrings impact your ability to climb and cause an imbalance of muscles. The hamstring works to balance your quadriceps. They slow down the forward movement of your leg.

Wow with so many disadvantages, why use an elliptical when injured? Because it lowers the impact. There are other advantages as well. It burns close to the same number of calories as running. It maintains your cardiovascular fitness, and gives more of a total body workout if you use your arms. There is the options of both forward motion and backward motion with your legs, giving you some cross training due to the different muscles used.

Many people work harder on an elliptical than they do when running because the perceived exertion is less on an elliptical. Finally, it’s easy and safe to use.

The take-away? An elliptical is a good alternative to running when injuries or to be used as cross training in addition to running. However, exclusive use of one to train for running, especially long term will compromise your form and lead to injuries.



I have to apologize for not posting any blogs last week. I couldn’t find the motivation to write about running when I can’t run due to the stress fracture in my right foot. It’s been five weeks since I have been for an actual run. Over the last nine years of running, I’ve never taken more than one week off to rest after a race or to rest a minor injury. I am running in the swimming pool and on the anti-gravity treadmill, which lifts a portion of your body weight off your feet.

Last week my mind was empty of possible topics for blog posts. In fact, I have been trying not to focus on running or the lack thereof in my life currently. I continue to spend the same amount of time doing aerobic exercise as I was running, but now I’m doing it all at the gym… on machines.

So how do you cope with being injured and unable to participate in your sport for an extended amount of time? First off, you remember what your goals are long term not just the next week or month or even the next year.

My long-term goal is to run until I can’t draw breath. I remind myself of this when I’m at the gym for four hours on Saturday and another three on Sunday. If this doesn’t get me past my pitty party, I try to remember how it feels to cross the finish line of a one hundred mile race.

Another way to stay motivated is to focus on your short-term goals. My short-term goal is Buffalo 100, which is in eleven weeks. I’m determined to run the race, even if it means I’m coming right out of the gym to do it. Because I am going to run Buffalo, I want my fracture to be as healed as possible, so I don’t refracture it by going out to run too soon.

Having a secondary sport you use as cross training or just another sport you enjoy in addition to your running is an excellent way to keep active and stay off the discouragement train.

A supportive family and friends who can keep you laughing and active will also help.

Keep your heads up, the sun always rises, you just have to hold on long enough.

You want me to do what?

frying pan

Taking time off running is never an easy thing to do, but sometimes it is a necessary thing to do. I have never been good at taking time off. I struggle with rest weeks every four weeks and a rest day each week. So when my doctor says, Nicole, you’re going to need to take a few weeks off of running.

It hits me like a frying pan in the face.

Anger, frustration, disappointment, and heartbroken, I felt them all wash over me. Running is my outlet and my balance.

Why do I have to take time off? A stress fracture in my forefoot.

I’ve never had a stress fracture before and it has always been my greatest fear as a runner because I know it takes you out for an extended period of time.

So now what? I don’t want to lose any more fitness than is necessary, and I want to be able to run the Buffalo 100 at the end of March.

The best way to maintain running fitness when you are injured is through pool running. Running in the pool is not fun. It is monotonous. To run in a pool, you use a flotation belt. You are not supposed to be able to reach the bottom of the pool nor do you move very quickly. The faster you move the more out of running position you are. You can sprint all you want, you’re still not going to go any faster. Running in the pool allows you to continue to work your running muscles without the impact, which will aggravate your injury, whatever it may be.

Other things you can do to maintain at least aerobic fitness are cycling and swimming. Depending on the type of injury you have, weight lifting is also a good option. Take advantage of the downtime by working on things you, “don’t have time for,” because running takes up all of your spare time.

Forced rest depression is something all injured athletes have to be aware of and constantly assess themselves for. Exercise floods your body with endorphins that make you feel good and when you lose those, you can fall into a bad place emotionally. It’s easy to do when you are already feeling heartbroken.

The fastest way back to running is by following your doctor’s advice (I’ll admit, I am not very good at this). If you don’t, you will likely make the injury worse or heal much more slowly. You also run the risk of making a soft tissue injury turn into something chronic that will flare up on a regular basis at the most inopportune times.

A stress fracture heals much faster than a full fracture of the bone. No promises here, but I’m committed to being mostly good and to follow my doctor’s advice.

Plantar Faciitis

plantar faciitis

Does anyone know a quick fix for plantar faciitis? No? I knew you all would say that. There is never a quick fix for any running injury. Usually, you have taken months working on your injury, so why would it be fixable within a few days or a week?

Plantar faciitis is a runner’s worst nightmare. It is difficult to heal and can take a long time.

What is plantar faciitis? It is when you strain or tear your plantar facia, which is a thick band of tissue along the bottom of your foot. It acts like a shock absorbing bowstring. When you injury it, the plantar facia either gets inflamed or it thickens and doesn’t work the same. The pain is most commonly in the heel of your foot snuggled right in against your arch and toward the inside of the foot. Sometimes it is felt in the arch too.

How many runners get it? about ten percent of runners get plantar faciitis at some point during their running careers.

Risk factors? There are several things that make a person more susceptible to plantar faciitis including, long distance running, ballet, standing for long periods of time, obesity, high arches, and flat feet.

How do you get it? there are a few different ways you can end up with plantar faciitis. First, you can get it by wearing shoes that are old and worn out or don’t support your arch enough. Second, you can get it from over training and increasing your miles by more than ten percent a week. Third, you can get it just because the running gods say you get it. In other words, the doctors can’t always figure out what caused it.

What do you do about it? As always with an injury you are going to want to reduce your miles or even stop running. The next step is to get the swelling/inflammation down by using ice, elevation, and compression. You can also use anti-inflammatory medication if you choose. You also need to stretch the bottom of your foot by pulling your great toe back toward your shins along with stretching your calf and Achilles tendon. The reason you want to stretch the calf and Achilles is they are all connected and a tight calf or Achilles will contribute to the problem and prevent it from getting better. So show your foam roller some love. Freezing a water bottle and rolling your foot on it seems to help many runners. Rolling your foot over a golf ball, lacrosse ball, or an extra special ball you get at the running store also helps break up some of the scar tissue. You can also tape your foot using KT tape or Rock Tape which will support the Plantar Facia.

How do you prevent it? Make sure you are replacing your shoes when they are worn out. Stretch your claves, Achilles, and feet regularly. Don’t increase your miles by more than ten percent a week. Strengthen your feet, ankles, and calves. Finally, pray to the running gods.

Some articles out there that say plantar faciitis will heal on its own, and that there is no research that supports any of the treatments people use. Some runners choose to run through the pain, which causes it to take even longer to heal.

My thoughts on this are, you’re never going to go wrong with resting, icing, elevating, and compressing a soft tissue injury. Be an active participant in your recovery.

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.