(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!
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.
Sneakers is an American word used to describe soft rubber-soled athletic shoes. They have been around since the mid to late 1800s and go by many names. In England, they are referred to as trainers or joggers. Other names include: Tennis shoes, running shoes, runners, track shoes, sports shoes, gym shoes, kicks, and a plethora of other slang terms relating to usage, style, or manufacturers. Sneakers are so ubiquitous that they have crossed the divide from athletic usage to everyday casual footwear, and the dreaded fashion sneaker.
Just as people come in all shapes and sizes, so do sneakers. Just as all people are not runners, all sneakers are not running shoes. You should NOT be running in fashion sneakers. So if you’re going out for a run (an ACTUAL run, not a metaphorical one), or you’re gearing up for a race, leave the Chuck Taylors and Vans® at home.
It’s probably easier to pick out a car than it is to pick out running shoes. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, not all sneakers are running shoes, but all running shoes are sneakers, so for the remainder of this article, when the words sneaker or shoe appears, it is specifically referring to running shoes.
Just as there are many auto manufacturers, makes, models, and colors, the same holds true for sneakers. The list that follows is by no means exhaustive, but it was exhausting to compile. (If I missed any popular ones, let me know in the comments)
Adidas. Allbirds. Altra. APL. ASICS. Brooks. FILA. HOKA. Inov-8. Karhu. La Sportiva. Mizuno. Merrill. New Balance. Newton Running . Nike. Puma. Reebok. Salomon. Saucony . Sketchers. Under Armor. Veja. VJ Shoes . Xero Shoes.
There are high end brands, and low end ones. A sneaker does not have to cost an arm and a leg to be good, and sometimes the extra bucks are just paying for the company logo.
Brand loyalty will lock you into a particular company with shoes faster than you can say ‘RUNNERS, READY’. And sometimes, you will have a very limited color choice in that style. You may have a strong desire to own a particular brand, only to discover that they don’t fit your feet properly. Running is a very individual sport and everyone’s foot is different. Small, large, narrow, or wide all play their part as to what shoe is best for your individual foot. Just because your BFF running partner wears the latest from Saucony, doesn’t mean that they make it in your size.
When it comes to buying sneakers, you really have to do your homework, and you can’t buy cut-rate. Stick to well known brands and get your shoes fitted at a shoe store, one where they specialize in running shoes like Fleet Feet does.
Most quality running shoes will set you back about $150. Do NOT go to a place like a department store and buy $20 sneakers. You get what you pay for. Before I actually committed to becoming a runner, I didn’t know any better. When you’re a newbie, sneakers are sneakers. I purchased a pair of no name running shoes in 2018 which I barely ever wore before I got my Nikes. I was on vacation August 24th 2019 and I had ONLY the ‘no-names’ with me, so I decided one morning to go for a run on the boardwalk in Ocean City MD. This happened:
Yep. I ran so fast that my sole left my body.
So two lessons learned that day:
NEVER EVER EVER buy cheap no-name, or counterfeit running shoes.
ALWAYS have two to three pairs of running shoes in rotation, and a spare pair with you in your gym bag.
When you do get around to shopping for your shoes, don’t fret about the color or obsess over a brand and style.
There are only two real considerations you should be concerned with.
What surface are you running on? Road, or trail. Some brands have both types, others specialize, but you need trail shoes for trails, and road shoes for roads. They are made different for a very good reason!
How do they feel on your feet. It doesn’t matter if they’re the prettiest pink shoes you’ve ever seen, and all the girls in track have them. It doesn’t matter if your hero who took the Gold at the Olympics wears them. If they don’t fit, and they hurt YOUR feet, they’re worthless. And when you do go to buy shoes, always wear the same type of socks that you usually wear when you run, because you want these shoes to fit perfectly when you hit the road. Never wear brand new shoes for a race, or a long run. It takes five to ten miles to break-in new sneakers so take them out for two or three 5K training runs before you race with them.
BE PREPARED to spend about $150. You might get lucky and catch a sale, or a closeout on last year’s model, but don’t get your hopes up.
BUT EVERYONE WEARS THEM Look , I understand that you may love your special brand, and that’s wonderful. My road race sneakers are my Nike Initiator running shoes, and for trails I don my Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes. I always wear MudGear brand socks.
The reality is, when it comes to sneakers, most Olympic runners wear Nike. Does it mean you should wear Nike? Not at all. I wear these particular shoes because I have an odd size foot, and finding shoes that fit me is a challenge. If you find a brand that appeals to you, run with it! The only wrong running shoes are cheaply made no-names. If that’s ALL you can really afford, run with it. It’s better to run with inexpensive (but inferior) shoes than to not run at all. Just buy the sneakers you can afford without breaking your budget.
As for why elite runners chose Nike more than any other brand, the answer is simple. Nike is courting these athletes and seeking endorsements, while the athletes in turn are looking for sponsorships to pay for their training costs. For professional athletes and corporations, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Plus if everyone is wearing the exact same shoe at the Olympics, They’re all competing on a level playing field. The moment someone breaks the trend for something ‘new’, everyone cries foul!
The Nike ‘Alphafly’ prototype shoes worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he became the first athlete to run a marathon in under two hours in October 2019 have now been banned.
In 2019, 31 of the 36 podium positions in the six world marathon majors were won by elite athletes wearing Nike Vaporfly, as reported by the Guardian.
According to Runnersworld, at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, 404 of the 565 finishers wore Nikes.
Vaporflys have not been banned, but Nike must adhere to strict new guidelines. Critics state that these shoes which have thick, foam soles and carbon-fibre plates to improve speed give the wearers an unfair advantage during competition, but again, if all the athletes wear them no one can complain.
As of this writing, a pair of men’s Nike Vaporflys cost about $425 depending on size and style. No, I’m not planning on buying a pair. I would never spend THAT MUCH on a pair of running shoes, plus Amazon doesn’t have them in my size.
All good things must end Remember the car buying analogy I made at the beginning? Just as car manufactures retire a certain style and replace it with a new model, the same applies to sneakers. The new model offered by your favorite brand might not fit the same or feel as comfortable as the old style of the same shoe. I’ve heard many a runner moan over the changes made to a specific shoe that they felt was ‘perfect’. The reason manufactures do this is planned obsolescence. The shoe must wear out after so much usage, and styles get changed and updated to keep the customers coming back to try the latest model. If a particular brand and model feel AMAZING, buy two or three extra pairs and stockpile them as soon as possible. I am down to my last brand new pair of Nike Initiator running shoes, and I my ONLY Inov-8 X-Talon 200 trail shoes.
These are no longer in production, and as soon as they wear out, I’m going to have to find new sneakers that make my feel ‘happy’.
Running shoes last about 300 to 500 miles depending on the runner’s weight and running style. If you have an uneven gait, and you get edge wear, or on the heal, your sneakers will not last as long. Uneven sole wear will kill your shoes.
Also the more you weigh, the heavier you pound the pavement. A 250lb male will wear out his shoes faster than a 99lb female even if they both run identical distances on the same trails with the same frequency. It’s not ‘fat shaming’, it’s science. Just another reason why it’s tough to be a Clydesdale. (But Clydesdales ARE tough!)
Lastly clean your sneakers regularly, spraying the interiors with a sneaker spray to kill bacteria and mold which can form in dark, damp areas of your shoe.
If you have additional running tips and tricks, please leave a comment. If you are local to me, you can find me at these upcoming races: