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Run like a Marathoner, Sprint like a Sprinter

By: Preston Johnson

The holidays are here and for most running may be a little bit less of a priority as we are in the off season for most runners. Time away from races is a good time for you to rekindle that fire you have for running and get back to the basics. A much bigger focus on logging miles as opposed to quality speed work. Before you completely cut speed work from your routine you should consider adding sprints into your weekly training regime.

Whenever you are doing anything this intense always ensure that you have warmed up properly. As you do these sprints (or strides as distance runners commonly refer to them as) focus on running as fast as you can while still feeling good and maintaining good form. This isn’t always a 100% effort, more often than not these will be closer to 90%. Strides should be short in duration, anything near 100 meters is sufficient. Keep the number of repetitions low, 4-8 of them is plenty. Between each stride take as much rest as you feel you need, remember that these are not meant to build endurance, they are meant to build speed so taking a rest long enough to fully recover between each one is encouraged. Here is 5 reasons why you should take the time to incorporate strides into your training.

Injury Prevention

Picking up the pace and adding in some short sprints after a run will decrease the odds of getting injured. We spend so much time running the same pace mile after mile on our distance runs. During distance runs our legs are restricted to a limited range of motion to maintain our running form and often times this range of motion is reflected in our flexibility. Changing things up and allowing our bodies to break that repetitive stride pattern opening up your stride as you sprint will help you stay injury free.

Increased Muscle Recruitment

Each of our muscles stores glycogen (energy) within them. As we run we recruit a certain percentage of our muscle fibers. Obviously, the more fibers we can recruit the more the workload of running is distributed between them. There are certain groups of muscle fibers that are utilized less while distance running as opposed to sprinting. As we sprint we are training these muscle fibers, less commonly used while running slower, to fire more efficiently as we run. Sprinting improves the neurological pathways from our brain to these muscles. Think of the ‘use it or lose it’ principle. If we don’t use these muscle fibers and their corresponding neurological pathways our bodies will allow them to atrophy or get weaker and affect the number of fibers we can utilize while running.

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Energy! Where did you come from? Where did you go? Where did you come from we must know?

By Janae Richardson

Article originally featured in Run Utah Magazine Summer/Fall Edition 2018.  Click HERE to download Full PDF version of the Magazine.

From 2007-2011 I had the privilege of helping the Davis High School cross country team alongside one of the best distance coaches in Utah – Corbin Talley (currently the men’s head distance coach at Weber State University).  I got to jump into a super solid program and learn from the best what it takes to lead and coach a successful team.

 

I got to ride on the coattails of the team’s success my first season as the Darts captured a state cross country title in both the men’s and women’s end of season race. Then the girls team went on to qualify for the Nike Nationals meet in Portland, Oregon that season too.

 

Of all the highlights of the season though, one individual performance especially stood out to me.  The performance of Senior Natalee Haws at the State Cross Country Meet at Sugar House Park. For those not familiar with this race course, the race loops around the beautiful park, up hills, down hills, around the pond, and ultimately finishes on the Highland High School track.

 

Going into the state meet, Shalaya Kipp of Skyline High School was the obvious favorite.  A very talented athlete and the defending state champ (this girl went on to have a phenomenal college career and participate in the 2012 London Olympics), most spectators had placed her as the expected winner.  Natalee however, was determined to give Kipp a run for her money and that she did.

 

In the words of Coach Talley as he described how the race played out, “Natalee stayed patient throughout the entire race.  She ran a lot of it with a smile on her face. When I saw her on the back side of the course (before the 2 mile mark) I yelled to stay patient – she was running right behind Shalaya and they had pulled away from the rest of the group. Natalie gave me a smile, and then she growled (weird, I know, but that is her style). I knew she was determined to finish strong.  When it came down to the last 1/2 mile she was probably 5 seconds behind last year’s state champion (Shalaya Kipp from Skyline) but Natalie somehow dug deep and found some kind of monster kick on the track to capture the first ever Davis individual state championship (for either a boy or a girl). Natalie’s time was the 14th fastest ever run on the course…She really deserved the title.”

 

Natalie finished in 18:27.8 and Shalaya finished in 18:28.2.  In the last 50 yards, Natalie ran her heart out and beat her competition by just four-tenths of a second.

 

We were all so proud of her.  After the race, I asked Natalie, “Where did you find the courage to finish like you did, at a point in the race where the pain is so intense and the body screams that second place is good enough?”, and she said, “I thought about something you mentioned to the team a few days ago and it led me to believe that I had it in me to kick.”  (Now keep in mind I cannot take credit for her win, she had been masterfully trained by Coach Talley through her high school years and this girl was talented, but nonetheless she made me feel good thinking I had at least played a small role in her success). She brought up what I had told the girls about the different energy systems of the body and that we have an energy system of the body that helps us sprint out and get position at the beginning of a race and that this same energy pathway could be tapped into at the end of a race for a finishing kick if our mind wanted it bad enough.  Of the many thoughts that I’m sure came to her in the final stretch of that race that day, this was one of them that Natalie held onto and used to push ahead.

      

 

There is some deep, complicated exercise physiology to explain how our body produces energy that propels us forward.  I could dig into my graduate school exercise physiology books and regurgitate biochemistry and metabolism to you, but this would require the highest level of running nerd focus from all of us and would take long enough to discuss that we may miss our next run (not good).  So for the sake of space and time in this article, we will try and keep it simple and applicable to what we are trying to accomplish as runners. That being said, some background information is required to make sense of how our body functions while running and how we can apply this knowledge to help us train smarter and race faster.

 

Snapshot of the Three Energy Pathways of the Body:

 

In order for our bodies to function on a daily basis, and for our muscles to have the ability to move us in a running motion,  a certain amount of energy is required. This energy comes in the form of a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP. The body has three main pathways that this energy is produced.  The first two pathways produce energy anaerobically or without the help of oxygen. The last energy pathway is an aerobic pathway, or in other words, it requires the use of oxygen to produce the energy we need.  

 

What determines what energy pathway is used? The duration and intensity of the exercise.

 

  1. The Phosphagen System or ATP Creatine Phosphate Energy Pathway

 

As mentioned above, this energy pathway doesn’t require oxygen and is called upon when there  is a sudden high intensity energy demand such as is the case with hill sprints, an explosive jump, or the start or finish of a race.  This system relies on the availability of creatine phosphate, which is in limited supply in our body. It is the quickest form of energy production, but can only sustain our bodies for a short burst of about 3-15 seconds.  Once the creatine phosphate is used up, then the body must utilize another energy system of the body to fuel the movement.

 

  1. Glycolysis or the Lactate System

 

Like the Phosphagen System, this energy pathway of the body doesn’t require oxygen to produce energy for the body, but instead of creatine phosphate as its fuel source, the Glycolysis or Lactate System breaks down glucose (glycolysis) into two 2 pyruvate molecules to then produce ATP.  It can produce enough ATP to fuel the body for 1-3 minutes of intense activity. Hydrogen is also produced during glycolysis and if there is enough oxygen available, the aerobic energy pathway of the body can use the hydrogen and pyruvate to produce more ATP. If the aerobic system can’t keep up with the hydrogen ions being produced then the hydrogen and pyruvate combine to form lactic acid.  Lactic acid moves into the bloodstream and is cleared by the liver, but at the point that the production of lactic acid is being produced faster than the body’s ability to clear it, the body must either slow down or stop the activity being performed. This is caused because the acidity in the blood because of the lactic acid, inhibits the breakdown of fat for energy, which forces the body to rely more on carbohydrates (glucose) and glycolysis for energy.  When these glucose stores are depleted the body has no choice but to decrease performance.

  1. The Aerobic System

 

The aerobic system utilizes oxygen to break down carbs, fats, or proteins to produce ATP.  This production of energy is slower, but can sustain the body for long periods of time (we have enough glucose in our body to sustain us for about 90 minutes of running at a moderate intensity).  When the intensity is low, our body will use fat as our main energy source. As the intensity increases and oxygen availability decreases, our bodies will turn to muscle glycogen stores and blood glucose as a the main fuel source because it is easier and quicker to break down than fat is.  During prolonged activity, protein can be used as a fuel source, however it must first be broken down into amino acids and converted into glucose.

 

Keep in mind that at any given time, the aerobic system isn’t exclusive to one substrate (carbs, fats, proteins) for fuel, but the intensity of the body’s movements will determine where the majority of the fuel source comes from.  The same is true with energy metabolism. The energy systems or pathways do not work in isolation from one another, but every movement requires interaction between each of the energy systems.

 

Application: How to apply energy system knowledge to training and racing

 

Training:

  • Look at the following energy pathway distribution chart and determine the aerobic vs anaerobic requirement of the particular event you are training for.  Then match your training to this distribution. So if I’m training for a 10k, then 97% of my training should be aerobic training (comfortable distance runs making up the majority of my time, but this can also include efforts that are comfortably hard – 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon efforts – like a 3-4 mile tempo run or 4 x 5 minutes comfortably hard with 1 minute rest or 16 miles at marathon pace) and 3% of my training should be anaerobic training (true speed work – strides, hill sprints, short and fast repetitions, and even the end of VO2max intervals can put us in this anaerobic state).

 

  • When it comes to workouts, we want to make sure our desired purpose and outcome is accomplished so that our time is well spent and best preparing us for our end goal.  Remember the desired benefit of a workout is determined by the duration of the workout, the intensity (pace of the effort), and also the amount of rest we give ourselves between intervals.

 

  • If your training doesn’t involve getting ready for a particular event, but rather you just want to be overall fit, then utilize a variety of workouts that develop each energy system of the body

 

Racing:

  • Pacing is key!  If you’ve trained smart and you’ve matched your training to the demands of the event you’ve prepared for, then lock into the pace and rhythm that you know you can sustain.  Don’t get caught up in the excitement of a race and go out too fast or run scared and miss pushing your body to its full potential. It is a fine balance and it is only through practice that we will know what pace is right.  

 

  • We know we are most economical at the paces we have trained at, so stick to your prepared race plan based on your training and then, like Natalie Haws chasing down the State Title in 2007, turn on your monster kick and chase down your dreams!  

THIS ARTICLE WAS INITIALLY FOUND IN RUN UTAH MAGAZINE SUMMER 2018 – CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO MAGAZINE!

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The Five Components of Fitness for Runners

By: Kurt Ward, Ph.D. and Coach at runcoaches.com

Article originally featured in Run Utah Magazine Summer/Fall Edition 2018.  Click HERE to download Full PDF version of the Magazine.

The five components of fitness are essential to the overall performance of an athlete.  I often see people focus exclusively on one or two of the five components of fitness. For example, many young men often gravitate toward muscular strength with a tad of muscular endurance. In contrast, many women focus on flexibility through yoga and dance while neglecting muscular strength and cardiovascular endurance. As a runner, I have found myself guilty of neglecting other components of fitness besides cardiovascular and muscular endurance. It was during these times of neglect that my performance suffered and I often became injured from muscular imbalances. Over the course of this article, each of the five components of fitness will be reviewed and evaluated to help you understand how each can be assessed and strengthened. As a quick refresher, the five components of physical fitness are: cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. These five components of physical fitness are used to evaluate the overall fitness of an individual.

Furthermore, these five areas provide a balanced approach to physical fitness; it is simply not enough to be strong in one area alone. Your individual goals and desires will determine what components are a higher priority for you and thus your area of focus. However, this does not imply that all other components should be neglected. For the purpose of this article the five components will be discussed with a distance runner in mind.

Cardiovascular endurance is the heart and lungs’ ability to work together to provide oxygen to the body during sustained exercises. This can be measured in several different ways but perhaps the easiest way to do this (without breaking the bank on expensive equipment) would be to perform the Cooper test. The Cooper test is a simple test that can be performed on a track or any flat area. To perform the Cooper test simply run as far as you can in 12 minutes. The test measures the cardiovascular fitness of the person taking the test and the outcome is based on the distance run, the individual age, and sex. For example, a 42-year-old woman that can run 2200 meters in 12 minutes would be considered to have good cardiovascular fitness. After performing the test for yourself, you can see how you stack up by simply searching google for the cooper test and examining the table for your distance, gender and age.

For an endurance runner, cardiovascular fitness is critical to your training. Depending on your age and running goals, this will likely be the major area to focus on during your training. For example, if you want to run a half marathon under 2:00 hours it will be critical to incorporate training runs that will improve cardiovascular endurance. These types of workouts might include intervals, tempo runs, fartlek, and other pace-based workouts.  

Being a runner for over the past 15 years, this has been my main area of focus. However, as I will discuss below, focusing on this area exclusively was when I experienced injuries and set backs in my training during my college running years. These injuries likely could have been avoided if I had taken the time to add more muscular strengthening and endurance activities into my weekly workout routine.

Muscular strength refers to the force a muscle can produce. One rep maxes for squats, leg press, or bicep curls are examples of muscular strength tests. Muscular strength and muscular endurance are often easily confused. Assessing Muscular strength is typically done independent of muscular endurance by using a 1-rep max. Simply stated: what is the most weight you can squat during 1 rep? This is an all-out effort to see how much force you can produce in a single effort. However, it is not recommended to test beginners with a 1-rep max for several reasons. First, as a beginner you likely do not have a good grasp on your current muscular strength and lack the knowledge on where to start. Second, this lack in knowledge in your current strength may result in overestimating your current level leading to an injury. While muscular strength alone is not critical to your success as an endurance runner its relationship with muscular endurance may help you become a better runner by preventing injuries from muscular imbalances.

Muscular endurance is the muscle’s ability to exert a submaximal force repeatedly over time. Examples include pushups, cycling, elliptical machines, and of course, running. As mentioned earlier, muscular endurance and strength are closely related. For example, if you are the stereotypical runner with a weak upper body (no judgement, you are in good company here) you might only be capable of lifting yourself a couple of times. This is likely due to a lack of muscular strength in the muscles you do not use as often. In this example, an individual’s strength is so low that their muscular endurance cannot be accurately assessed. It is quite common for endurance runners to have great lower body muscular endurance but lack upper body muscular endurance.

So how do you know if you are assessing muscular strength or endurance?  When looking at muscular assessments and trying to evaluate if it is a strength or endurance test, there is one key difference to identify. If the test is all out in one push, (i.e. 1 rep.), this is measuring muscular strength. If the test requires the same movement, more than once, then it will begin to evaluate endurance. One can begin to see how muscular endurance and muscular strength go hand and hand. For example, if  a runner wants to improve their upper body’s muscular endurance they first must improve their upper body’s muscular strength.

With the endurance runner in mind, the area of focus should be on exercises that help your running efficiency and increase your stamina. Therefore, muscular endurance should be a major part of any endurance runners’ weekly workout routine. However, you may find that you first have to increase your strength to work on your endurance. I recommend implementing exercises like non-weight squats, lunges, sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups two or three times per week. If you find that you can only do two or three of an exercise, do not fret and keep building more each week as you continue to build muscular strength on your way to improving muscular endurance.

As mentioned earlier, during my college years I experienced several injuries. I dealt with a knee tracking issue that would cause pain on the bottom inside of the knee when going down stairs and within 5 to 10 minutes of a run. After nearly two months of trying to resolve the problem with ice, anti-inflammatories and plenty of time off. It was discovered that my abduction and adduction muscles of my upper legs were much weaker than my quads and hamstrings likely resulting in the issue. Fortunately, by adding in muscular strengthening and endurance exercises I was able to get back to running within a few week of adding the exercise into my morning exercises. Fortunately, I haven’t had any knee pain since. By strengthening the muscles that are often neglected I have been able to stay healthy and strong even while adding more miles.

Flexibility is the ability of each joint to move through the proper range of motion for that specific joint. There are two types of flexibility: static and dynamic. Static flexibility exercises are large-range motions at a joint without any movement. For example, the toe-touch or the sit-and-reach test are both of static stretches. Dynamic flexibility is large-range motions at a joint with a movement. Examples of dynamic stretching includes drills such as leg swings, skipping leg extensions, bounding and even lunges. Distance runners should focus on dynamic flexibility exercises that help develop functional flexibility specific to the sport of running.  These dynamic stretches will also help strengthen and improve running form. There is a time and a place for static stretching as it can provide much needed rest and repair for your muscles and may benefit you after hard efforts (avoid static stretches before warming up!).

By adding drills to my distance runs I have noticed quicker recovery times, smoother form late in races, and a better kick. Similar to the muscular strengthening exercises, I believe post run drills have helped me avoid injuries and improve my times over the years.

Body composition is the amount of fat mass compared to bone, organs, and muscle mass an individual has. This can be measured in a variety of ways from skin folds, to bioelectrical impedance found on several at-home scales. However, these all have a certain level of error associated with them and should be regarded as an estimate and not an absolute. An endurance runner will obviously want to have more lean mass than fat. However, if your focus is on improving your cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance, flexibility and muscular strength, your body composition will improve as you see your lean mass increasing and fat mass decreasing. Simply adding exercise into your daily routine helps but another factor that will contribute to your body composition is a well-rounded diet.

Each of the five components of physical fitness is important to your success and individual goals as a runner. However, depending on your own current goals certain components might require your attention more than others. Currently, my focus is on improving my cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance as I prep for a fall half marathon. However, as my goals change so will my main areas of focus. In my experience as a coach and athlete, I have found it to be important to assess myself in these five areas. First to see if I am working toward my short term and long term goals. Second, to avoid injury, that is often due to a lack of muscular strength in my lateral and medial leg muscles. Finally, to maintain a level of fitness that allows me to do the activities that I find personally rewarding. These can be beneficial to you too!

 

Kurt has a Ph.d from Auburn University in Kinesiology. He is currently an adjunct professor and assistant coach at Weber State University as well as a cofounder of runcoaches.com with Paul Pilkington. He is married to Taylor Ward and lives in Ogden, UT. While working on his undergrad at Weber State he competed in mid-distance events as a member of the Track and Cross Country team. He continues to run today and races all over the country with his wife. When he isn’t running he enjoys playing basketball and rock climbing.

THIS ARTICLE WAS INITIALLY A PART OF RUN UTAH MAGAZINE SUMMER 2018 – CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO MAGAZINE

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Why is Overstriding Going to Make Me More Injury Prone?

By: Preston Johnson

Whenever you find yourself with a group of runners it isn’t uncommon to hear the topic of heel striking (initial contact with the ground while running is with the heel of the foot) and forefoot striking (initial contact with the ground while running is with the forefoot) brought up. While neither of these styles are necessarily bad, studies have shown that those that over-stride and heel strike excessively have a much higher rate of developing a moderate or severe injury and it is shown to be less efficient and effective when trying to run fast. We want to dive into those concepts a little bit and talk about why it has those effects on your running and talk about how you can fix it.

To explain the effects of overstriding I am going to use some graphs generated from a ground reaction force plate (measures the amount of force on the plate over a period of time). Thanks to Newton’s 3rd Law we know that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So for the amount of force that a runner puts on the plate, as he runs over it, the same amount of force is exerted back on his leg. These forces exerted by the ground are common causes of many running injuries. Let’s compare the reaction forces between an overstriding, excessive-heel striker and a forefoot striker.

 

The major difference shown in the images above is fairly evident. We are focusing on the extra spike in the force of the heel strike graph. This extra spike of force exerted through your leg is not absorbed very well when overstriding. When you are overstriding, your heel strikes the ground out in front of you with your leg a lot straighter than it would be if you were landing just in front of your center of gravity with your ankle bone directly underneath your knee (the optimal place to land). The straighter leg will decrease the amount of force that is absorbed through your muscles and joints and instead the force is being absorbed through your bone, which is far less elastic than your muscles and ligaments in your joints. This increases your susceptibility to stress fractures and stress reactions. Another important factor is the rate at which the force increases. Notice that in the heel strike graph the rate at which the force increases is very sudden as opposed to the forefoot strike graph which has a more gradual increase. This sudden increase creates a much higher impulse force than a gradual increase does. This impulse force in heel strikers has been seen up to 7x the force of someone who lands just in front of their center of gravity.

We mentioned previously that overstriding also effects your overall speed. In the image on the left notice the angle at which your foot hits the ground when overstriding. Thinking again about Newton’s 3rd law (every action has an equal and opposite reaction) imagine the force
from hitting the ground with your heel, when you’re overstriding, going in the opposite direction. This force is represented by the red arrow. Notice that the red arrow is pointing backwards. Essentially this force is acting as a break and slowing you down with every stride you take. Upon toe off you are required to exert more force to maintain the same pace due to the breaking effect of the opposing force.

So, this information is interesting to learn about, but it isn’t beneficial to you unless you learn how to fix the issues it presents. Focusing on landing on your forefoot or landing in a certain spot when your running is not the right way to go about fixing this, it can become very monotonous and will easily be forgotten as you continue running. Your body naturally runs in the most efficient way it can, but it is not necessarily the most efficient way for a human to run. If you find yourself overstriding and want to change it, focus on Increasing your running cadence, your ankle bone being directly beneath your knee when you land, landing just in front of your center of gravity, and building towards a cadence of 180 steps a minute. Increasing the strength of your Hamstrings and Gluteus muscles is important when increasing your cadence and shortening your stride. Doing squats and hamstring curls every other day is an effective way to improve that strength. As you continue to build strength spend some time on your run listening to a metronome (boring, I know, but its beneficial) set to a cadence that is 5% faster than your current cadence ((Current Cadence x .05) + Current Cadence). Focus on matching each step to the beat of the metronome. As this begins to feel natural over several runs, continue to progress the metronome by 5%.

For additional information on running form and overstriding, check out the video below on the form of 4-time Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah.

Video Credit: James Dunne
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Is Static Stretching Before Your Run Hurting Your Workout Performance?

By: Preston Johnson

A widely debated topic in the running world is whether or not stretching before your run is hurting your performance? We have been taught since elementary school that we should stretch as part of your warm up, but a study in Brazil, among others, may say otherwise.

The study was focusing on the effects of static stretching on your muscles output of power and strength. Along with previous studies pointing to a dampening effect on your strength and power, there has also been more conflicting studies pointing to the fact that it may decrease your running economy.

First, we want to clarify that this is not saying that stretching doesn’t have a place in the running world, because it surely does. Stretching is still highly encouraged post-run to help any sore or tight muscles to aid in the recovery process. We are solely going to focus on the debate of whether or not it is essential to stretch before a run.

This study took eleven recreational runners and put them through several tests, including a 3-km time trial. This test was done twice once without stretching and a second time with static stretching prior to taking the test. The stretching consisted of seven lower-body stretches performed three times each for thirty seconds.

Speed was measured every one-hundred meters in both the stretching and non-stretching trials as well as the perceived exertion every four-hundred meters. The graphs below show the results of the trials.  Keep in mind that RPE on the graph on the right stands for “Rate of Perceived Exertion”.

The findings showed that there was a significant difference in perceived exertion and the actual pace being run when comparing the control time trial and the static stretching time trial. The pace was significantly higher with a lower perceived exertion level for the group that didn’t do any static stretching prior to the time trial. However, there was only a measured significant difference in the first 100 meters. The running economy of each runner was not effected by static stretching, but the stride duration was increased. Ultimately, the finishing time between the two groups was unchanged.

What do you think? Do you stretch before your workouts?
Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook Page.

To read the full study click here.

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