If you enjoy running you probably “really” enjoy running and the thought of stopping is enough to make you cringe. This tends to be true for the beginner runner to the expert runner. Being able to run year-round in Utah and do so effectively which means training and improving your speed or distance may be difficult as we spend many months each year buried in snow. With this thought in mind, also include the high injury rate that we as runners face, on average roughly 50% of runners are injured and that number climbs to over 90% when they are training for a marathon. Is the answer to training then to train harder and longer, maybe run year round regardless of the snow? Maybe the answer is not to only run more, but to run smarter and take advantage of the down times or reduced miles that winter brings.
Areas of emphasis has been proven to include: running mechanics or form, strengthening key and oftentimes over looked areas of the legs and hips, not ruling out treadmill as a key component for improved running, and rest weeks or cross training.
If running year round means continued and improved running, then running for life becomes more attainable. Here are a few suggestions to keep you on your toes and running happily.
1. Run properly—this means to consider impact and load with your runs. How does your foot strike the ground and what happens after? Research has shown the amount of force a knee and hip will undergo with impact through the heel compared to the impact through the mid-foot. The results show an amount that is significant and suggest value in unloading the heel and loading the mid-foot instead. This new style can be trained and learned, and in reality is rather natural. Trying jogging in place and make note of what is hitting the ground, also fall forward until you need to take a step, note what hits the ground—the mid-foot. Now try falling forward and let your heel stop your fall, feel you body stop or brake abruptly? Running is a motion of falling forward, what catches YOUR fall may be the answer to life long running or your next injury.
2. Treadmills are friends—taking this new impact research to heart can be difficult at times when terrain or elevation changes during out door running. Training with a more mid-foot stride usually involves shortening your stride. Using a treadmill to train in this way removes the variables of changing terrain or elevation and allows you to lock in your speed and focus on form. Which will allow muscle strength and memory, along with endurance at the higher step cadence, or shorter step length, effectively. All of which has been shown to carry over to outdoor running. You will use more muscle to run in this way, but muscles are quick healing and can adapt to those changes, joints and ligaments are not as pliable and are slower to adapt.
3. Strengthen those buns—a commonly overlooked muscle with running rehab is not even an area that usually screams with pain—the hips! The weakness of the muscles of you hips that pull you leg away and back from your body have been linked to frequent and common knee related running pain and injury. Strengthening can be as simple as:
a. Side Planks with leg raise—while lying on your side raise your hips up, hold, and then raise the top leg up and hold for 1-2 seconds, lower the leg only with control, holding the hips in the air, repeat 3×10 reps each side. Make sure to stack your hips and point your toes to the floor.
b. Single Leg Bridge—while lying on your back, extend and hold one leg straight, knees even, and raise your hips as high as you can, hold 1-2 seconds and lower with control. Alternate 5 times on each leg until you have done 40 reps total.
c. Single Leg Squat—if you knees can handle a little challenge, this will target multiple muscles. Stand on one leg and squat with your knee in line with your 2nd toe and your hips even with your opposite hip. You may need to stand in front of a mirror to keep on eye on your leg. Repeat 3×10 each leg.
4. Rest properly—when we talk “rest week” we are not talking about a couch and junk food, rather improving your muscle and tissue remodeling time. Many advanced runners have found success in resting one week every 6 weeks. This “resting” is not much of a rest but consists of changing certain variables of your training regiment. This could come in the form or decreasing your speed focus on your minutes per mile and run without your GPS, reducing your miles per week focus and run to maintain at a mildly challenging distance only, or cross training instead of running with cycling, weight training, yoga, competitive or contact sports, etc. This would allow you muscles, joint surfaces, ligaments, and mind a chance to catch up. Overused injuries are one of the most common running related injuries, and simply allowing your body to remodel tissues that have been overloaded or stressed will pay off in the long run…every pun intended.
There are many good bits of advice that we as runners pick up which have proven to be helpful. It has been nice as a Physical Therapist, and runner, to watch and follow the leading running researchers discover what rises to the surface of what has the best chance of helping runners stay on the road.