(This is the second article in a series of body weight exercises for runners. For the first article read WORKING THE PLANK)
Most health care experts cite a weekly minimum of 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise, or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of high-intensity exercise, or an equivalent combination of the two. Additionally, at least two-three days should be used for strength training. A more basic rule of thumb is 30 minutes of exercise daily with one rest day off each week. Two of the biggest excuses given by people for not exercising are:
No time to get to the gym
Don’t have the proper equipment.
The beauty of body weight exercises is that they can be done practically anywhere, and require little or no equipment.
Running is a body weight exercise. When you run your feet and legs are propelling your entire body mass forward. Just as a strong core means faster run times, so do stronger feet and legs. If you are not actively working to make yourself stronger, then you are actively making yourself weaker. So if you’ve mastered working the plank, it’s time to step up your game and focus on your legs.
There are five major muscled groups in the legs, the quadriceps, the hip flexors, the hamstrings, the glutes, and the calves.
Think you know SQUAT?
Squats are essentially deep knee bends which work most of the muscles in the lower body including:
gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius (buttocks)
quadriceps (front of the thigh)
hamstrings (back of the thigh)
While bending your knees, you lower your thighs to the floor until they’re parallel while keeping your chest upright. Hold the position, then stand straight back up to the starting position. Pause a second or two and repeat. Shoot for 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
If a regular squat becomes too easy, you can add dumbbells to the routine, or you can always try a single leg squat, but this requires really good balance.
Step it up.
You don’t need a Stairmaster Machine to do step exercises!
Climbing stairs or just doing single step-ups are a very simple exercise. Who doesn’t know how to go up steps? You probably learned that shortly after you first started to walk as a baby.
Step-up exercises are great as a lower body conditioning workout. It targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. All you need is either a small step stool, and aerobic step platform, or just a set of stairs you can use. It’s simple, you step up, you step back down, you repeat. Nothing to it.
If you do happen to have a convenient staircase you can run up and down, GO FOR IT.
The forward lunge exercise strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. They can be done as an in-place exercise, or as a forward lunge where you ‘walk’ while lunging. Begin by standing straight, then step forward with one foot until your leg reaches a 90° angle. As you are stepping forward, drop your hips straight down and bend your rear knee until it is parallel to the ground. Do NOT touch the ground with your rear knee, and your front knee should not extend past your toes. For an in-place forward lunge, simply return to the starting point by bringing your forward leg back as you stand up. Switch legs and repeat for 10-12 reps per leg.
To do the walking lunges, pull your rear leg forward as you stand up. Again switch legs and repeat for 10-12 reps per leg.
Just remember that exercise only works if you do it correctly, and on a regular basis. If any of these exercises become too easy, you can always add a lightweight dumbbell to the routine. Just don’t go too crazy on the weight, you’re a runner not a bodybuilder!
(This is the first in a series of articles on strength training exercises)
Running is a great cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise which raises your heart rate, increases circulation, and burns fat. According to a 2020 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, about 15% of the US population regularly participates in some form of running or jogging activity. Kudos to you for taking an active role in maintaining your good health, you’re in the top 15%! But why settle for a ‘B+’ when you can shoot for an ‘A’ or even an ‘A+’ score? In addition to running, runners also need strength training exercises to build lean muscles and tone the body. Running will get you in good shape, but strength training will get you in great shape! Every exercise training programs for runners incorporate both types of exercises, as well as cross-training activities such as cycling or swimming. Yet despite this, many new runners (as well as a few seasoned weekend recreational runners) neglect or ignore strength training, and this can lead to sports injuries. Running is FUN! Getting hurt is NOT!
One of the most neglected sections of the body that most new runners overlook is your core, or midsection. You engage your abdominal muscles when running, so strong core muscles are key to getting faster running times. One of the best exercises to strengthen your core is ‘the plank’.
What is a plank, and how is it different from a push-up?
The plank is a distant cousin of the push-up and both share a very similar form. There are noticeable differences between the two regarding arm position and movement. As a result, different muscles are worked. While the push-up strengthens the chest and shoulders , the plank is an abdominal exercise that targets both your core and lower back muscles. Push-ups will not help your core, but the plank will! Together these two similar exercises will help you build a strong body so let’s compare and contrast the two.
To do a proper push up, you get down on all fours with your hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders. Your head, back, and legs should be perfectly aligned. Eyes should be looking straight ahead, not staring at the floor. Bend your elbows and lower your body until your chest almost touches the ground.
Pause a second then push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat for as many reps as you are capable of.
STANDARD VARIATION PLANK
To do a proper plank, your elbows are directly under your shoulders and your forearms are facing forward. Once again your head, back, and legs should be perfectly aligned, and you should be looking at the floor. The goal is to hold this position rigidly for 30 to 60 seconds with no sagging, arching or drooping. You are only engaging your core abdominal muscles if and only if you are in proper planking position. The moment your stomach droops to the ground, your hips sag, or your back arches up, you are no longer receiving the benefits of the exercise. Perfect alignment from head to toes is key!
SIDE VARIATION PLANK
Instead of facing the floor, you are propped on one forearm on your side looking off to the side. In this position you can work your non-planking arm or leg by raising them towards the sky, and you can work your core by doing a slight dip towards the ground, followed by a raise and hold. Always remember to work both sides equally when using this variation.
SUPERMAN- The plank from another planet.
Look! Up in the sky! No, never mind you’re lying perfectly flat on the ground for this one. If you can’t do THIS exercise, it’s time to hang up your cape for good. Your arms should be fully extended in front of you, and your toes are pointed back behind you. This is the classic Superman pose as the comic book superhero would fly through the sky, and that is why the exercise is named what it is. Sounds a lot better than a floor plank, huh?
The ONLY movement you are going to make is to simultaneously lift your arms and legs off the ground and hold the position for 30-60 seconds. Then lower and repeat for as many reps as you can. This will work both your lower back and abs while engaging your core. Plus you get to brag to all your non-exercising, couch potato friends that you were exercising like Superman! Now go and build up those abs of steel!
“According to the brain-centered model of exercise performance, a runner achieves his race goal when his brain calculates that achieving the race goal is possible without catastrophic self-harm.”― Matt Fitzgerald
Each year, more than half of all runners experience some type of injury. This is a higher percentage than in any other sport. The reason may be that unlike football, baseball and countless other sports, running has no set season. For both the elite runner and the weekend recreational competitive runner, this lack of a sport season leads to a cycle of endless running. We train and run constantly without allowing our bodies to have a break for rest and recovery. It is the constant push to attain faster speeds and run longer distances which pushes our bodies to the breaking point. Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong even though our mind refuses to accept the reality of the situation as we attempt ‘just one more lap’.
The number one goal of most new runners is to run a marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles (42.16km) and this distance is very hard on the body of the newbie. Scientific research has concluded that after running 26.2 miles you experience significant muscle, cellular, and immune system damage which can last for 3-14 days post race. Notice that the range of recovery differs from as short as 3 days to as long as two weeks. An experienced marathoner can recover much faster than a runner who attempts their first marathon. The more fit you are, the faster your body recovers and heals itself. This level of health and fitness takes time to achieve, there are no short cuts! This is why all training programs for runners gradually increase the distance on the short and long runs over time to allow the body to grow strong and adapt. Compare and contrast training schedules for novice runners vs elite runners if you have doubts.
Given enough time and training, your body can be conditioned to endure physical achievements that would have been impossible when you first started out. When I began running in 2019, it took me a month to fully recover from my first half-marathon.
By mid 2020, I was capable of running a half-marathon every weekend, usually setting a personal record (PR) with each race I ran. By Fall of 2020 I had placed 5th in my division twice on 5Ks!
This all changed in 2021. Suddenly I was ending races in last place, and hitting my worst times ever, slower than when I began. Yet I kept pushing myself because my mind was telling itself that I was capable of running 10 minute miles even as I struggled to run 18 minute miles. Eventually this constant over-training lead to a hamstring injury in July. Still I tried to force my body to heal itself faster. THERE ARE NO SHORT-CUTS! I re-injured my hamstring in August when I attempted to run the DOUBLE TROUBLE 15K Trail run at French Creek State Park in Elverson PA. I tripped on an ‘invisible rock’ at mile three, twisted my leg the wrong way to avoid slamming into the rocks, and then limped in pain to the water station where I pulled myself from the race. My first DNF (did not finish). Last month, I forced myself to run The Bird-in-Hand half-marathon. I struggled the final four miles, but I did actually finish. Dead last, 1169 out of 1169.
It was worth it, but it also forced me to accept the reality that my mind was rejecting. My body needs to heal and this is going to take time. The Bird-in-Hand half-marathon is my last long race of this year. For the remainder of 2021, this has lead me to the difficult decision to STOP ALL long distance running and focus on strength training, short distance runs, and speed-work. Sadly I will not be able to run in 3 upcoming half-marathons, nor will I be able to run the Philly Marathon, The OLEY Classic, and the Dirty Bird 15K either. For the next 90 days I will not run any distance greater than a 10K. It’s the only choice I have at this point as I have tried EVERYTHING else to avoid this drastic decision . THERE ARE NO SHORT-CUTS! The sad fact in that the endless 60+ hour work weeks at my day job have left me in a state of perpetual exhaustion, and I cannot properly train under these conditions. My mind keeps telling me that “today would be a beautify day to go for a run”, but my body is screaming “are you out of your mind?!”
The Road to recovery.
The plan for the rest of 2021 is to take it easy and stick to the three goals of strength training, short distance runs, and speed-work. Hopefully I will be able to get my 5K times close or better than my PR of 33min 22sec. Come January, I will re-initiate the Hal Hidgon training plan for novice runners with the goal of running the Gettysburg half-marathon Sun April 10, 2022 Gettysburg, PA 17325 US and setting a PR. Forcing myself to not run is a hard thing to do, but when you’re confronted with the choice of sacrificing a few upcoming races verses never being able to run again, it’s definitely the smart thing to do.
The Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon was held September 11th 2021 at 7:30am. This was the very 1st HALF MARATHON I ever ran back in 2019, (it was not held last year) and I was very excited to run this race again. This was the longest race I ran since injuring my hamstring back in July. There are no refunds or transfers allowed, and nothing was going to stop me from running it. I was not expecting to beat my prior course time of 3 hr 46 min 22 sec. I was just going to cross that finish line and be happy to do it.
Each year approximately 2000 runners from across the USA and around the world converge on the small town of Bird-in-Hand PA deep in the heart of Lancaster County.
This farming community is populated by two religious sects, the Amish, and the Mennonites. The two communities were originally part of a Swiss Anabaptist group led by Jacob Ammann before splitting into two separate groups in 1693. The Amish chose to be much more strict, shunning all modern technology and living in an exclusive and closed community. Their first language is a dialect of German known as PA Dutch with English as a second language. Education only lasts until about the grade in one- room school houses. They ride horse drawn carriages, do not have electricity in their homes, and live in a very 1800s way.
Mostly they farm, breed animals, do carpentry, leather work, blacksmithing, and make their own clothing. They are not EVEN allowed to ride bicycles, instead opting for a large metal push scooter, lacking a seat or pedals. In case you’re wondering the Groffdale Machine Shop in Leola manufactures over a thousand of these scooters a year “from scratch”. The owner is Amish and doesn’t want his name mentioned.
Now that you know about the community, let me tell you about the course. You will be running through 13.1 miles of mostly flat paved country roads. I think there was at least one hill up and down. At the one mile mark, there usually is a country band singing as you run by. Little Amish children at various mile marks will eagerly hand you cups of water. Some will even offer Gatorade. The fields off of the road stretch off as far as the eyes can see in beautiful unspoiled farmland. Occasionally you may see some of these farmers plowing their fields. This scenic vista is nick-named the “Valley of No Wires.
There is a two mile stretch near the end where you run though an Amish field and then though an actual farm. All I can say is that this is one of the most beautiful areas you will ever run in. You will quickly fall in love with this race.
This race has been featured in various sites on running, including ACTIVE.com which listed it as a must-do race. There is no race-day sign up, and you must pick up your participant packet not later than 7pm the night before the race. Online registration usually opens in January. This always sells out, so sign up early or risk missing out on a truly memorable race. It has been traditionally held on the Saturday after Labor Day in September, so in 2022 that date will be September 10th, 2022. If you are the type of person who likes a warm-up race the day before the big race, there is also a BIH 5K race the night before the half-marathon. This is a separate event, but you can register online as well. www.bihhalfmarathon.com
The Finisher Medal!
This is one of the most unique finishes medals in all of racing and a must have for the medal collector. Each medal is hand made from a actual horseshoe worn by a horse who trod through Bird-in-Hand. They are collected after use, cleaned, polished and a metal plate is welded to the back. lastly a strip of leather is tied to the medal. No two medals are ‘identical’ as each horse’s hoof is a different size shoe. Since I live 8 miles from this race, I intend to run every year as long as I am physically able.
So how did I do?
As I previously stated, I have had a rough year. My training has been a mess, I’m working six days a week, and up to 12 hours a day. My entire body hurts, and I’m tired all the time. 2021 has not been good to me. Now I had my two friends Bruce and Suzan to keep me on track.
I was ok until mile number 5. At that point I could no longer keep pace with my two friends.
I got passed by a woman from Arizona and I cheered her on as she blew past me. I cheered her a 2nd time as she passed me again heading back from the turn-around at mile 6, which I hadn’t even reached.
I knew she was from Arizona because she was wearing a top with the state flag. I told her “You got this! Save me a whoopie pie!” I can’t tell you the number of positive times I’ve been encouraged as I raced, and I always encourage others. If you’re not enjoying life, you’re living all wrong.
By mile number 9, I was one of the last two people still running. The race van pulled up, and the woman from Colorado threw in the towel. Her last words were something like “I’ve run over a hundred halfs. I’m tired, I’m 62, I just got done hiking in the Rockies and I have NOTHING TO PROVE!” The driver said “you ok?” I said, “Sure, only 4 miles more.”
At mile 10, they checked me again, I said ‘Still ok, 3 to go.” As I came to mile 11, I texted Suzan and said if that van comes again, I’m getting in. She texted back “YOU GOT THIS!”
Just at that point, an Amish man riding one of those push scooters came along side me and said “you’re almost there, 2 miles, you have a good pace.”. I thanked him, told him I was struggling, and he rode along side me for the last 2 miles as we talked about various topics including God and Amish push scooters. I never caught his name, but without him encouraging me and keeping company those last 2 miles, I probably would have quit. As we approached the final 50 yards, two race officials asked if they could ‘run with me to the end’ I said sure, and with one on each side of me we sprinted the final 50 yards.
As soon as I crossed the finish line I collapsed to my knees in exhaustion. My final time was 4 hours 30 minutes, 13 seconds. Dead last, but I FINISHED!
Suzan was waiting at the finish line, as was the lady from Arizona, #1158 Julie Brownsberger. I was shocked and humbled that she waited to see me finish.
Bruce was nearby waiting in the tent. (his knee was bothering him, and he needed to sit.) This is the beauty of the running community. The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other, but to be with each other! In some ways we are a tighter community than the Amish, united by our love of running and our fellow runners.
“We’re all on our own journey. No matter where we came from, what language we speak, the color of our skin or anything that seemingly makes us different, in the end, we’re all just humans living our own story. And it’s up to each of us to be the hero of our story, which inspires other people to do the same.”–Zach Horvath
Thinking is one of our greatest ‘superpowers’. It is our ability to think about complex problems or ideas and how to solve problems which sets us apart from animals.
You may have heard of a thought experiment proposed by renown physicist Irwin Schrödinger called ‘ Schrödinger’s cat’.
Schrödinger stated that if you place a cat and something that could kill the cat (poison, a radioactive atom, etc ) in a box and sealed it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box, so that until the box was opened, the cat was (in a sense) both “dead and alive”.
Now let’s replace the happy little cat with YOU. The box is now your apartment, and the poison is junk food and television. Are you dead or alive? Maybe thinking that being in front of the television watching movies or playing video games while munching on Doritos and drinking Mountain Dew sounds pretty good to you. But are you ‘living’ or simply existing? Part of living is growing and changing. Without growth and change as an individual you are simply passing time until you die.
Let’s make one third and final substitution to this thought experiment we are pondering. This time we’ll replace your apartment with your ‘comfort zone’. A comfort zone is a nice, simple easy place to be in, but nothing ever grows there. No matter where you go, there you are living in your comfort zone repeating the same day, doing the same things and calling it a life. Is that all there is to your journey? Is that your story? Are you happy? REALLY???
The Hero’s Journey
The common template of all good stories involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed. It’s commonly referred to as The Hero’s Journey or The Monomyth. There are other aspects but this is the simplest description. You leave your comfort zone, discover new ideas about life, and become forever transformed as a better version of yourself. But the journey doesn’t begin until we leave our comfort zone behind us and head into uncharted territories. Life is an amazing adventure and is a journey filled with twists and turns. Everyone has a story to tell, and usually we are at the center of the tales we tell. Everyone wants to be the hero, and we convince ourselves that we are always in the right, so sometimes we fool ourselves into believing that our comfort zone is great and wonderful and we are happy sitting here on our comfy couch. Living in the comfort zone and going nowhere is The Zero’s Journey. Don’t be a ZERO, be a HERO! Heroes inspire other people to become greater than they are. Everyone wants to be a hero deep down inside if they are true to themselves. It just takes that initial leap of faith and the guts to ignore the naysayers and continue moving forward.
LIVE A GREAT STORY
On July 4th 2012 Zach Horvath hopped on a plane to Europe with a one-way ticket. Like many young adults, he was trying to figure out the meaning of life and didn’t really have a plan but knew he needed to change ‘something’. So he decided to travel Europe for seven months and visited 17 countries, explored 50 cities, and met dozens of new friends. It was a life changing event. As a result he came to realize that no matter what our background is, we are each living our own unique story, and we need to make it count and make it great! He started his own company selling inspirational stickers, t-shirts, banners and buttons encouraging everyone to LIVE A GREAT STORY! Your personal happiness is directly related to your outlook on life, so it is vital that you pursue self-improvement, and encourage others to do the same. We all rise higher when we help lift up others, but this is only possible if we are the best us possible. So don’t quit, move forward, travel and see the world, do new things , experience new adventures, and meet new friends. All around us each day there are people studying us without our knowledge. What message do we want to pass on to them by our example and actions?
If you’d like to check out the LIVE A GREAT STORY merchandise available visit Zach’s website at LIVEAGREATSTORY.com
THAT’S MY STORY AND I’M STICKING TO IT!
Four years ago, I started my blog InstantCoffeeWisdom.com to encourage and inspire people to become greater versions of themselves through self-improvement. I realized that in order for people to be happy and successful they needed to be in a good place financially, spiritually and physically. Two-and-a-half years ago I took up running, ran my 1st 5K race and the focus of my blog turned towards running because your health is your wealth. Just as you have one story, you have one body and one life. I encourage you to live it to the fullest! I am headed down to Ocean City MD for JEEP WEEK and my well-deserved summer vacation! I hope everyone has a great rest of the Summer!
There is nothing more normal and natural than running. After months of crawling as babies, we learned to take our first steps as toddlers. Like any new skill, it took time to get the hang of it and there were a few falls along the way. Then the transition from walking to running seemed to occur overnight. Once we had found our center of balance and the muscles in our legs grew strong enough to support our little bodies, we were uncontainable! We were born to run!
According to Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion, a body at rest remains at rest, but a body in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.
Unfortunately, it seems that for most people today, that outside force stopping our motion is modern society in general. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but the greater modern society abhors running.
Those of us in the running community are a tribe apart. We are the exceptions to the norm, and we stand (or rather, run) apart! We are better, stronger and faster! We are exceptional, amazing, and awesome! We are rock stars and superheroes because we have made the choice to turn off the TV, get off the couch, and run! Runners have re-discovered what society has largely forgotten. That running is healthy and normal. But is there a wrong way to run that we need to avoid?
Each year, two out of every three runners experience an injury. Running should NEVER be painful. Slight muscle soreness after intense activity is normal. Pain is not! Pain is a sign of an injury, and means that we did something wrong.
Running is an athletic activity and EVERY runner is an athlete. As athletes, we need to focus on three key issues: diet, training, and equipment.
Diet is easy. Cut out the junk, eat organic, drink plenty of water. Make sure you’re getting all seven essential nutrients in your diet. Water, protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, minerals, fiber. Don’t take in more calories than you can burn off, and make sure your meals have the proper 40-30-30 split of protein, carbs, and fats. Adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle if you see fit as an additional healthy option.
Equipment is also easy. Basically dress for the weather in proper moisture-wicking athletic attire of choice, and wear the correct running shoes. (Or run barefoot if you dare.)
Training is hard.
A month ago, I got hit by ‘The Hammie Whammy’ when I pulled a hamstring by overtraining. I was pushing myself very hard and trying many different training strategies, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Needless to say it was a bad idea. Overtraining is the leading cause of injuries in runners. The next major cause of injuries is improper training. There are literally hundreds of training manuals on the market, each claiming to be the correct method. ONLY ONE makes the bold claim that it can teach you to run faster, farther, and injury-free– for life! Pose Method Training.
According to Dr. Nicholas Romanov, creator of the Pose Method there is a natural running form which utilizes the body’s biomechanics in conjunction with the force of gravity.
Running is flying!
In his best-selling science fiction series The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the late Douglas Adams wrote that in order to fly, you just needed to fall and miss the ground. This is pretty much the same claim made by Dr. Romanov in his book on pose method, The Running Revolution. In the very first paragraph of the introduction, Romanov states that running is flying, citing that Usain Bolt spent nearly twice as much time airborne as he did on the ground when he ran his world record 100-meter race in Berlin in 2009. 9.58 seconds total time, 6.38 in the air, and 3.20 on the ground.
To simplify the pose method, the runner repeats a controlled cycle of falling forward while simultaneously launching themselves upward and essentially ‘missing the ground’.
Romanov even refers to these motions as the falling phase and the push off phase. Because of the forward angle of the body, you are running on your forefoot, so you must be wearing minimalist or barefoot running shoes to allow for the foot’s natural ‘springiness’. You should always maintain a short stride because long strides make forefoot running impossible. The rest is all a matter of muscle strength and physics. Always remember, you can build muscle strength, but you cannot change the laws of physics! Just ask Scotty.
Since you are using the force of gravity to propel you forward, the greater the angle of falling, the faster the run. The reason Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world is because of the extreme angle he races at. At top speed, Bolt is running at an angle of 21.4 degrees. This is the upper limit of angular body position one can lean forward and still be able to recover from this controlled fall. A deviation of an additional 1.1 degrees would spell disaster, causing the speeding runner to stumble and slam into the ground at top speed. The most critical thing to remember is that as you fall forward, gravity is the downward force vector acting upon your body’s torque. Too far forward and you cannot escape the gravitation pull of the ground. Your body’s torque is determined by the force of gravity acting upon your center of mass (your hips) as it moves beyond your axis of rotation (your support foot in the run).
How it all works.
To recap how all this controlled falling and launching cycle through, a typical stride using the pose method of running would begin with this paradigm: Pose, fall, pull. In the running pose, the heel lifts as the body begins falling. The falling ends when your swing foot passes your support leg, and your trail leg pulls up, entering the flight phase. The forefoot of your trail leg makes contact with the ground, becoming your current support leg and returning your body to the running pose position.
Switching from your current style of running requires mastering the pose method technique and developing a proper body awareness. To learn more about The Pose Method developed by Dr. Nicholas Romanov , read his book The Running Revolution. This 200 page manual is filled with exercises, workouts, training guides, and extensive descriptive photos of each. Is it all just hype? Read the book and discover for yourself if the post method can really provide injury-free running for life. According to Dr. Romanov and his disciples, pose is the only way to fly!
According to a statistic stated by Dr. Nicholas Romanov (world renown running coach) 2 out of 3 people who run get injured. There are several reasons for this, ranging from poor technique to over training or simple freak accidents. The likelihood of getting injured is a reality that all runners must face at some point. Many of these injuries CAN be avoided if you follow accepted training practices and techniques, as well as following good health and fitness advice. A strong, healthy body will resist injury or illness more readily than a sickly and unhealthy one. If you are not actively making yourself stronger, then you are actively making yourself weaker. It is imperative to maintain proper health and nutrition. The power that made the body has the power to heal the body, but that only works when you give it the proper building blocks it needs to maintain peak-level fitness. Your health is a form of personal wealth, treat it as such.
One of the most common injuries that runners face is the pulled or torn hamstring.
The hamstrings are three muscle-tendons on the back of each thigh that run from your hip to just below your knee. Their names are the Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus, and the Biceps femoris.
They function together to control the swing, extension, and retraction of hip and knee while running. A sudden jarring impact or weird twisting motion between landing and launching yourself while in motion can cause the hamstrings to strain beyond normal tolerances causing tears in the muscle fibers. This is often caused by over-extending one’s stride and landing heel first. Heavier runners, a.k.a Clydesdales , have the added stress of a greater body weight increasing stress and strain on muscles and joints, making them more susceptible to injury.
Perhaps you got caught up in the moment during a heated race with a rival, or you simply weren’t paying attention because you were distracted and lost focus. WHAM! You suddenly felt a sharp pain in your leg, and or felt a popping sound. You overdid it. Accidents are never intentional, and so you injured your hamstring. Now what?
When the point of breaking strain has been reached by the hamstrings, there are three degrees (or grades) of injury. Pray for the first two degrees.
1st degree– Mild strain causing sudden pain and tenderness at the back of your knee and thigh. Painful, but you can still limp and walk slowly. Go home and rest.
2nd degree– Partial tearing of the hamstrings, VERY painful and tender with some swelling and a loss of strength in your leg. If you see bruising, you may want to see a doctor to have him check it.
3rd degree– Severe tearing or full detachment of the hamstring. Immediately go to the hospital! Your leg will be tender, swollen and very bruised, and you will have heard and felt the popping at the moment of injury. You will not be able to stand or walk, and hamstring re-attachment surgery will be required. This is often a career ending injury. Months of physical therapy will be required, and your leg will never regain its former strength. This is the worst possible hamstring injury.
The road to recovery
In the case of a 1st degree hamstring injury, recovery can occur within 3 weeks, a 2nd degree injury will take longer. Self-care and rest is recommended, no hospitalization is required. IF you have a specific question as to the severity of your injury, you MAY choose to consult a doctor, but homecare is often the treatment for the 1st and 2nd degree injury. (If you had a 3rd degree injury, you probably left the race in an ambulance. )
As you recover, it is important to take it easy. Avoid excessive physical activities that involve putting stress and strain on your leg. Favor your injured leg, especially when ascending or descending stairs. NO RUNNING!
Use the R.I.C.E therapy method. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
Light stretching exercises and foam roller therapy will aid in the recovery process.
Avoid pain killers such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen. Painkillers mask the pain, pain is your friend. It tells you to STOP DOING THAT. If you can’t feel the pain you’ll keep hurting the injury without knowing it, making things worse. Use topical pain-relieving gels or ointments like ICY HOT, TIGER BALM, BIOFREEZE, or BLUE EMU. Pro-tip, always spring for the MAXIMUM or ULTRA strengths, and don’t waste your money on the dollar-store knock-offs.
The key take-away is rest up, slow down, take time to heal , and live to race another day!
At the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, runner Emil Zátopek of Czechoslovakia won 3 gold medals. He took running’s highest honor at the games in both the 5,000 (24 July 1952)and 10,000 (20 July 1952) meter runs, and then decided AT THE LAST MINUTE to run the marathon (27 July 1952) FOR THE FIRST TIME! Zátopek is the ONLY runner to win all three gold medals at the same Olympic games. Runner’s World Magazine declared him to be the greatest runner of all time in 2013. He pioneered the use of High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T) known to most runners today just as intervals or speed-work.
Zátopek was a beast! A force of nature. His grueling training regiment topped out at 175 miles (281.63 kilometers) per week! Protégés who attempted to mimic his training methods burned out after a few years, or seriously injured themselves.
Speed-work is the most widely embraced method to improve running performance, BUT it is NOT the ONLY way. It is possible to get fast by going SLOW!
An unlikely coincidence
When Emil Zátopek first hit upon the idea of H.I.I.T (pun intended) he was working in a shoe factory in Zlin, Czechoslovakia. A couple of years later on the other side of the world, Arthur Lydiard was working in a shoe factory in Auckland, New Zealand. He came up with the notion that the key way to maximize running fitness was by tacking on distance running at a slow pace. A quantity over quality approach designed to build up stamina and endurance. Lydiard fancied himself to be in fantastic shape. He played rugby! One fateful day, his friend Jack Dolan (a central figure in the Auckland running community) goaded Arthur into running against him in a 5 mile race. Needless to say, rugby training doesn’t carry over well into short distance running. Lydiard got his ass kicked by Dolan. The race nearly killed him. His humiliation at the hands of his friend was what lead him to the idea of adding distance and decreasing the pace.
Lydiard realized that no runner, regardless of training or ability, can sustain their top speed for more than half a mile. After that, their pace would decrease incrementally over distance as fatigue set in. Any runner who has run middle to long distance races is familiar with the concept that it’s not the distance that kills you, it’s the pace. Runners who shoot out like jackrabbits at the start of the race sometimes find themselves being passed by runners who slowly crept back up by running at a much slower race.
Arthur Lydiard spent many months perfecting his slow training method. At the height of his training, he was running 250 miles (402.3 kilometers) a week! This proved to be too much. Lydiard soon realized that he felt best when running 100 to 120 miles per week, and that he could always run again after a day of training if he kept the pace slow. He also played with the pace, alternating distances, etc.
Once he had it all figured out, his typical training week was:
Monday 10 miles
Tuesday 15 miles
Wednesday 12 miles
Thursday 18 miles
Friday 10 miles
Saturday 15 miles
Sunday 24 miles
Arthur Lydiard never personally won a Gold medal at the Olympics, but he did coach protégés who took 2 gold medals at the 1960 games in Rome. His training methods evolved into what is known as 80/20 running. the 80/20 rule of running training states that 80% of your weekly training time should be done at an easy effort level, with 20% consisting of harder running. Getting the miles is more important than speed-work. This flies in the face of logic for many, but the idea is about maintaining your heart rate in certain zones, while training your mind that this running thing ‘isn’t so bad’. Your pace should be below the ventilatory threshold, meaning that you can carry on a conversation while running, and you are not winded and gasping for air.
If I only had a brain…
Running is more of a mental discipline than it is physical. As your body grows fatigued, your brain begins to say STOP. You start thinking to yourself ‘I can’t do this anymore’. Here’s the thing, our bodies are capable of going further even though our minds are telling us that we can’t do this anymore. It’s like a fail-safe. We ‘think’ we are at our limit, so our mind tells us to stop, but in reality we can push ourselves much further than we thought possible. By focusing on distance rather than time, we train the body and the mind at the same time. By keeping our heart rate in a lower zone by running at a slower pace, we can run further without setting off the mental alarm bells telling us to STOP! It really is all in your head.
The week of SLOW
The biggest mind challenge for the runner is to keep a slow pace while knowing that you can run much faster. This is about distance, NOT time. When we race, we want the best time. 80/20 training is all about keeping it slow and steady. Training should never be at your race pace! 80% of your runs should be done at low intensity. You should feel like you can just keep running all day if you had to. You were born to run! Running is as natural as breathing. You wouldn’t stop breathing because you were too tired, would you? The remaining 20% of your training is done at moderate to high intensity, but also just shy of race pace.
AGAIN training is NOT racing. Save that burst of incredible speed for the big race, but don’t run so fast that you burnout 20% short of the finish line. Smile and wave as you pass the jackrabbits who shot ahead at the start.
80/20 vs the Clydesdale
Clydesdales are a race horse of a different color, and 80/20 training is a trickier proposition. A Clydesdale is a term for an larger, overweight runner. We are a separate racing division , pursing our own path to fitness. Depending on what source you site, the pace between running and walking transitions between 12mph and 15mph. Clydesdales usually run at a much slower pace than the average runner, so there is much less wiggle room to run slow. I am a Clydesdale, and the struggle is real. No Clydesdale is ever going to burn up the track and take 1st place overall in a race unless that horse is on fire!
My fastest pace mile to date is 10min 1sec. My average pace is between 12min and 13min per mile. I can sustain a 12 minute per mile pace for up to one hour, after that my pace drops like a rock. This is why I am studying 80/20 running vs. High Intensity Interval Training. This body was not built for speed.
A skinny runner who can manage a 6-minute mile can effortlessly transition to a 12-minute mile. A Clydesdale who already runs at a 12-minute mile is hardly running much slower at a 15-minute pace by comparison.
If a ‘skinny’ runs 5 miles at a 6min pace, they are done in 30 minutes. A Clydesdale running a 12min pace takes ONE HOUR to cover the same distance. Our race takes longer, and the mental fatigue telling us to give up is that much more intense at the finish. The ONLY way to overcome this is to condition our mind and body toward increased stamina and endurance via 80/20 training.
For more information on 80/20 running, I highly recommend the book 80/20 RUNNING by Matt Fitzgerald. The book also contains dozens of pages of training plans for 5K to full marathon, and was used as the source material for this article.
Chances are even if you are a new or novice runner, you’ve come across one or more of the following slogans:
No pain, no gain!
Pain is weakness leaving the body.
Seven days without running makes one weak.
Push past the pain.
Embrace the suck!
Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Motivational mottos such as these are a double-edged sword. Pain is your body’s way of informing you that something is wrong, and ignoring that warning can lead to a worse injury. Always listen to your body. Now when I say pain, I am not referring to the good pain that comes after a workout where you may have sore achy muscles and mild fatigue, I am talking about that bad pain where standing is an effort and every step hurts. The former is normal, the latter is not.
Running is normal and natural. It should NEVER be painful. If it is, you’re not doing it right, or there’s something physically wrong with you.
According to statistics cited by Yale Medicine, each year more than 50% of regular runners experience an injury. Sometimes it is associated with an accidental trip and fall, but more often than not the cause is poor diet, overuse injuries, and over training.
Common injuries include stress fractures, broken bones, torn ligaments or tendons, and knee pain. The good news is that most of these injuries can be avoided through proper diet and training. Running is NOT bad for you, it is in fact very good. You were born to run.
You are what you eat.
The power that made the body is the same power that can heal and restore the body, but that only works if you give your body the building blocks it needs to repair itself.
The typical American diet is high in fat and processed sugar, and lacking in protein and essential nutrients. As a result, two out of every three Americans is overweight and in poor health.
The human body requires calcium for strong bones, and protein and amino acids for strong muscles. As a runner, the first step towards insuring a strong and injury-resistant body is a proper balanced diet that supplies the essential nutrients you require. If you feed your body junk, you will have a junk body. Junk breaks easily and doesn’t last. You are NOT junk, you are a runner! If you are not actively working to make your body stronger, then you are actively working to make your body weaker! Now cut the crap, get rid of the junk food, and start eating healthy!
Switch it up!
You can avoid overuse injuries by alternating hard training with easy training Every run does not have to be done at your top pace, slow it down and save top-speed for race day . Don’t go for many long runs during the week, keep it short and save the long run for the weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, BUT NOT BOTH! Also, the day after the long run should be a rest day. Limit your mileage to 45 miles per week. (Yes, I know this is going to rub ultra-runners the wrong way but you guys are atypical, and awe-inspiring. )
SAY NO TO DRUGS!
NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) are bad for you! Avoid painkillers like Ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen at all costs! All drugs have side-effects and they just mask the pain, they don’t cure the problem. If you can’t feel the injury, you also can’t feel how much worse it’s becoming as you keep running on it.
DON’T OVER TRAIN!
There are many training programs for runners of all levels, many available online and free. Stick to the program. It should keep you on track, but make sure the training program is suitable to your ability. If you are a NEW or novice runner, use a training program designed for new and novice runners. When I trained for my first marathon, I used the Hal Higdon plan. I assure you it does work, and there is a plan for the new runner. If your training program ramps up too quickly for your physical ability, you may need to modify it by repeating the earlier weeks until you can step up to the next level. BE AWARE HOWEVER, that if you are following a 20 week training program, you may miss your goal by adding extra weeks. That was why I started my 20 week program 26 weeks before my marathon was slated to allow time in case I was not ready. Always plan ahead and allow yourself extra time. Also, an essential component of training is the rest and recovery period between exercises. By following a training program, you will have set rest days listed on the grid to keep you from overdoing it.
KNOW WHEN TO STOP!
Okay, this next one’s a biggie, and I’m guilty of it! Sometimes, despite all the training and preparation, we get swept up in the moment. Maybe the excitement of the race or the spirit of competition was the spark that ignited our fire, but we chose to let it burn out of control. Sometimes it’s running beyond our normal pace and burning out before the end of the race. I’ve done that. Ran out too fast at the beginning and by the end of the race the runners I blew past are now passing me and I’m struggling to keep up. The worst however was my ‘accidental’ marathon on November 22nd 2020. I was running a 10-hour endurance race at French Creek State Park. My goal that day was to run the 4-mile course six times for a total of 24 miles, a personal distance record. (They also had milestone partial laps to gain certain distances like marathon, 50K, or even 50 miles.) I did the 24 miles in eight hours, with two hours remaining on the clock. I had achieved my goal. Suddenly I got a wild hair and decided to attempt another full lap, and a partial to complete a 50K! I would have been fine at 24 miles, but I didn’t know when to stop. I was tired, but I felt ok so I took off at break-neck speed. 1.23 miles into my 7th lap, I tripped on a rock and slammed into the ground full-force at top-speed. I had just past the marathon turnaround sign. The force of the impact triggered the emergence alert beacon on my Garmin informing my emergency contacts that I was hurt.
I bruised my IT band, and a few painful steps made it clear that I was incapable of finishing lap 7 and doing a partial lap 8 for a 50K distance. Since I was just 50 yards past the marathon sign, I turned back and limped in pain towards the finish line. It took me an hour to limp back that last mile. My knees and hip were bruised. I could barely stand and for the next three days I was hardly able to walk. Again, had I quit when I was ahead, I would never have gotten hurt. I was VERY lucky the injuries were not more severe. All because I wanted a 50K, but at least I got a marathon, albeit a painful one.
BUT MY FRIEND CAN!
Comparison is the enemy of contentment. I have running friends who can run six-minute miles, or can run distances of fifty miles or more. I also have non-running friends who are barely able to get off the couch. Last year I was training hard and I was able to run a half-marathon in under three hours. This year I’m struggling and my times are sucking. I’m envious of my faster running friends and my ultra-running friends. Someday I’d like to run a 50K or a 100K. My friends can do it now. I can’t. Likewise I have non-running friends who couldn’t run a mile to save their lives. It’s all a matter of perspective. Three years ago, I couldn’t run a 5K, now I’m capable of running up to 26.2 miles in a single day. You have to start somewhere, but the key is TO START! Nothing happens overnight or by itself. I am better, stronger, faster, and thinner than I was three years ago. I was inspired by a running friend then and decided to do something about it. Along the way I met and was encouraged by new running friends. Now I inspire and encourage other runners who are new or struggling. The bottom line is that your success or failure rests solely upon your shoulders. You are the ONLY one who can make yourself strong and healthy. You can do it, I believe in you!
Every runner has one of ‘those friends’. The non-running ones who are completely confused about this whole ‘running thing’ that we do. They just don’t get it. Some mistakenly believe that all races are marathons and ask you questions like “how many miles is this marathon?” or “Are 10Ks harder than 5Ks?”. It’s frustrating having to always explain to friends and family that all marathons are 26.2 miles, and can be held ANYWHERE, not just Boston or New York City, and that K in races stands for KILOMETERS, so a 10K is twice as LONG as a 5K, not necessarily twice as hard (but it can be). If you live in the USA, you usually have to then explain how many miles a kilometer is.
Yet perhaps the most baffling concept for the non-runner to wrap their heads around is trail-running. Why would someone willingly run off road on rough terrain, up and down hills or mountains, through wilderness and possibly even across a creek or shallow river? It’s all about the benefits!
The Great Outdoors!
The SECOND real race I ever ran when I first started running was the Chobot Challenge 15K Trail run on July 7th, 2019. Back then, it was quite the experience, and I finished. Today, I run about half of my races on roads, and half on trails. My favorite trail run in the April Foolish at French Creek State Park. My least favorite, NEVER DOING THAT AGAIN was the Halfwit Half Marathon up and down Mt Penn. That race literally brought tears to my eyes, and almost made me give up running altogether. It was the hardest race I ever ran. I prefer to run on road, but I’m a runner and a runner runs! I’m not going to back away from the occasional trail run, I just wouldn’t want to ONLY run trails.
The benefits of trail running are two-fold, both mental and physical.
There is a beauty to being out in nature that has a soothing effect on the mind. Urbanites trapped in their concrete jungles miss out on the spacious skies, the verdant forest trails, and the sounds of water flowing over the rocks of a nearby river.
The further away from the city you get, the less noise pollution from cars and blasting stereos. The music in the air is birdsong .
There is something to be said about a beautiful mountain lake unspoiled by man because there’s no road to drive there. You have to get there by foot because it’s miles from the nearest road.
There is something very satisfying in running up a snow-covered mountain and seeing a serene winter landscape of undisturbed snow.
And there is something very satisfying to the spirit in knowing that wondrous sights like these belong to you and the small percentage of the population that understands that life is meant to be lived firsthand, and that the real world is the one outside your window.
A leg to stand on!
Running is good for you! The same non-runner friends who don’t understand why you run will also tell you that it’s bad for your knees, bad for your heart, bad for your feet, etc! Poppycock! There are literally hundreds of books on the benefits of running and thousands of scientific studies proving those naysayers wrong. We were born to run!
There are many muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves in the human leg.
Running on a flat paved surface such as a track or street works different muscle groups and tendons differently than running on a trail. So the physical benefits of trail running is that you are working leg muscles more, and improving balance by running on uneven surfaces.
When running the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus and medius form what is known as the posterior chain, which allows hip extention. Now running uphill will work those glutes harder, and make them stronger in the process. Would you rather have buns of steel to run up mountains , or a lead bottom anchoring you to the couch so that you can become a mountain?
Hilly terrain works your calves, and strong calves mean faster propulsion.
When you run trails, you straighten your tendons and ligaments because the constant need to stabilize your ankles, knees and hip joints works your connective tissues with every uneven step you take. The more you work these, these stronger they become and the less prone to injury. Proof that running is GOOD for maintaining knee health! Always remember that if you are not actively strengthening your body, you are actively weakening your body. No get out there and hit the trail!