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Optimizing Performance Through a Balanced Diet

By: Carrie Fredin

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

Many people unfortunately have a love/hate relationship with food as they try to control their weight through deprivation and/or elimination.  I believe you should enjoy your food as the fuel that allows you to chase your goals. Eating should be pleasurable. Fresh, healthy food is delicious.  I enjoy my meals more when I know that they are fueling me for the miles. When I eat well, I perform well. Below are a few simple guidelines I try to follow as I feed my family.


Eat food as close to the source as possible.  Whole, healthy foods will nourish your body and allow it to perform.  Processed foods are like foreign substances in your body, as we did not evolve to be able to metabolize them.  For example, our bodies do not know what to do with high fructose corn syrup, so it gets stored as fat. A general guideline is to look for items with few ingredients, which you understand and can pronounce.  Buy most of your food from the periphery of the grocery store and avoid the aisles.


Fat is not the enemy.  If God put fat in it, eat the fat.  We drink whole milk, eat full fat yogurt and cheeses, use real butter, and cook with olive oil.  Fats are the carriers of nutrients and flavor. Many key nutrients found in vegetables are fat soluble and become more readily absorbed in the body when eaten with a fat.  Reduced fat or fat free foods have added sugars to improve the taste that was removed with the fat. Your body needs the healthy fats. Bring on the avocados!


Avoid sugar as much as possible.  Watch labels and look for added sugars in things like pasta sauce, cereals, and yogurt.  Sugars and artificial sweeteners come in many forms, so watch for ingredients that end in “-ose”.  Yogurt sweetened with a little honey and frozen fruit is plenty sweet and much healthier than flavored yogurts, for example.  You’ll find that you crave sugar a lot less the less you eat it. Once you’ve cut back on sugar you will find that the naturally sweet foods like fruit taste sweeter and satisfy that sweet tooth.


Try and balance your meals with a high quality protein source, a healthy carbohydrate source, and a healthy fat.  A common guideline as you look at your plate is that half should be covered with vegetables, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with a complex carbohydrate.


While I am menu planning I look at the overall week to try and get as much nutrition as possible.  I include one meal with red meat—for the iron and branched chain amino acids. We eat salmon once a week for the omega fats, and then one other meat, usually chicken.  I try and eat as many vegetables as possible throughout the week. I also try and make sure that I am using the ingredients in multiple meals so I don’t waste food.


Your mindset will be what helps you stay successful as you strive to eat a healthful diet.  If you are coming from a place of deprivation and longing for the hot pocket it will be harder to stick with it.  If you look at the fridge full of colorful, healthy foods, grateful to have access to such nutritious foods, you will be happier to invest the time and money that it takes to eat healthy meals.  White knuckling your “diet” won’t last for the long term. Really learning to love the healthier foods will allow you to make a healthful lifestyle. Researching the best way to prepare foods will pay off.  For example, kale is known to be a superfood but can get a bad rep as bitter, chewy, tasteless, etc.; however, it is delicious when prepared well. I also find that I am a lot more successful when I focus on including the healthful foods rather than excluding the bad stuff.  When I focus on getting in all my veggies, the sugar in my diet naturally tapers off. Below is a sample weekly dinner menu with several of my go-to breakfast ideas (we often eat leftovers for lunches).


Sunday: Recovery quinoa salad with pepitas

Flat iron steak


Monday: Black bean and sweet potato tacos

Roasted beets



Tuesday: Soba noodle salad


Wednesday: Grilled chicken

Kale cabbage salad with lemon miso dressing


Thursday: Salmon

Cubed and roasted sweet potatoes

Sauteed kale


Friday: Roasted potatoes

Eggs, scrambled or fried according to your preference

Fresh fruit


Saturday: Leftovers


Breakfast ideas: Muesli

Eggs with sautéed vegetables and avocado

Cottage cheese waffles





Recovery quinoa salad with turmeric pepitas (from Run Fast, Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky)

Turmeric pepitas:

INGREDIENTS:  1 T butter; 1 t turmeric; 1 t curry powder; 2 T honey; ½ t salt; 2 C raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds).

PROCEDURE:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter over medium heat in a pan. Add the turmeric and curry powder and cook until fragrant. Turn the heat off and stir in the honey and salt.  Add the pepitas and stir to coat. Spread the pepitas on a cookie sheet on parchment paper and roast in oven for ten minutes. Stir after five.


INGREDIENTS:  1 C quinoa; ¾ t salt; 3 C loosely packed, finely chopped kale (stems removed); 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped; 1 jalapeño, finely chopped; ½ C cilantro leaves; 1 ½ C black beans; ½ cup feta cheese; 1/3-1/2 C fresh squeezed lemon juice; 1/3 C olive oil; 1 avocado; pepitas (see above).

PROCEDURE:  Cook and cool quinoa according to package directions. Toss the other ingredients together.  Top with chopped avocado and pepitas.


Flat iron steak seasoned with salt and pepper

INGREDIENTS:  Flat iron steak; olive oil; salt; pepper.

PROCEDURE:  Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat olive oil on a cast iron skillet.  Season both sides of the flat iron with plenty of salt and pepper. Brown the steak well on both sides.  Transfer to oven and cook according to taste.


Black bean and sweet potato tacos

INGREDIENTS:  2 C black beans; cubed and roasted sweet potatoes (recipe below); olive oil; salt and pepper; avocado, chopped; corn tortillas.

PROCEDURE:  Brown tortillas on an oiled pan.  Load each taco with plenty of beans, sweet potatoes and a generous portion of avocado.


Roasted beets

INGREDIENTS:  Beets; lemon juice.

PROCEDURE:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash the beets and remove the greens. Wrap the beets in tin foil. Roast them until they are slightly soft.  Let cool slightly and then slip the skins, slice and enjoy! I like to squeeze a little lemon on them.



Toss your favorite greens and veggies together and top with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.


Soba noodle salad with peanut sauce (from Run Fast, Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky)

Peanut sauce:

INGREDIENTS:  1 T virgin coconut oil, 1 yellow onion, diced, ½ t fine sea salt, 3 cloves garlic, minced, 1 can (13.5 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk (preferably full-fat), ½ C unsalted creamy peanut butter, 1 T soy sauce, 1 T coconut sugar or other granulated sugar, ½ to 1 t red pepper flakes, depending on spice preference, 1 T lime juice (about ½ lime), ¼ C chopped peanuts.

PROCEDURE:  In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil.  Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, peanut butter, soy sauce, sugar, and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a simmer and whisk until the peanut butter melts. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and the flavors meld, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lime juice. Using an immersion blender, if you have one, blend the sauce until smooth. Alternatively, transfer the sauce to the container of a blender and process until the sauce is smooth.


INGREDIENTS:  1 t salt, 1 head broccoli, 1 head red cabbage, 1 package soba noodles (rice works as well), 1 T sesame oil, 1 T soy sauce, 1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped, ½ C chopped cilantro, 1 jalapeno, finely chopped and seeded, ½ C roasted peanuts, 1 ½ C peanut sauce (see above).

PROCEDURE:  Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat and add the salt.  Place the broccoli and cabbage in the water for 2 minutes. Remove from the water (keep the water) and immediately transfer to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking (and keep the veggies crisp).  Once the vegetables are chilled, remove them from the water and set aside. Bring the same pot of water back up to a rolling boil and cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain, run under cold water, drain again thoroughly, and transfer to a large salad bowl.  Toss the noodles with the sesame oil and soy sauce. Thinly slice the cabbage and bell pepper (use a mandoline if you have one). Arrange the broccoli, cabbage, bell pepper, cilantro, scallions, and chile pepper or kimchi (if using) on a large platter alongside the noodles. Place the peanuts in a small bowl.  Warm the peanut sauce in a small saucepan over low heat. Transfer to a medium bowl. Place the platter in the center of the table and allow everyone to create their own soba noodle salads. Top with a generous serving of the peanut sauce.


Grilled chicken

INGREDIENTS:  Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (qty based on your family size); olive oil; salt; pepper

PROCEDURE:  Brush chicken with olive oil.  Salt and pepper generously. Brown both sides on a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Then transfer the skillet to the oven at 400 °F until the chicken is done cooking (internal heat must reach 165 °F).

Kale cabbage salad with lemon miso dressing (adapted from Run Fast, Eat Slow by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky; they call for radicchio, but we use cabbage instead because it is easier to find and one head is enough to cover both this recipe and the soba noodle salad)


INGREDIENTS:  ½ C extra-virgin olive oil; 1/3 C lemon juice (2 medium lemons); 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced; 2 t miso paste (preferably mellow white); ½ t fine sea salt; ¼ t freshly ground black pepper.

PROCEDURE:  Combine the oil, lemon juice, garlic, miso, salt, and pepper in a glass jar with a lid.  Use a fork to stir in the miso, then shake vigorously to emulsify.


INGREDIENTS:  1 C farro, rinsed and drained; 1 large bunch kale, finely chopped, stems/spines removed; 1 small head red cabbage, quartered, cored, and cut crosswise into thin strips; 1 C grated Parmesan cheese; 1 C chopped toasted walnuts; lemon miso dressing (see above)

PROCEDURE:  In a large pot, place the farro with enough water to cover by a couple of inches and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the farro is tender but still chewy, about 30 minutes depending on the particular brand and form of the farro.  Drain the farro and set aside to cool. To assemble the salad, toss the kale with three-quarters of the dressing in a large salad bowl. With clean hands, gently massage the kale with the dressing to soften the leaves.  Add the cabbage, Parmesan, walnuts, and farro to the kale and toss again. Taste and add the remaining dressing, if needed. This salad can be made in advance. It tastes even better the second day. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.


INGREDIENTS:  Wild caught salmon filets; thinly sliced lemon; salt; pepper; butter or coconut oil.

PROCEDURE:  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place salmon skin side down on the foil. Place a pat of butter or a dollop of coconut oil on each filet.  Season with salt and pepper. Arrange lemon slices over the top of the filets. Add a little more salt over the top of the lemon slices.  Bake at 400 °F until opaque. Serve with extra lemon wedges.


Cubed and roasted sweet potatoes

INGREDIENTS:  Sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed; olive oil; salt; pepper.

PROCEDURE:  Spread cubed sweet potatoes on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Season them well with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 °F for approximately 45 minutes, stirring every five.  They are done when they are slightly browned.


Sautéed kale

INGREDIENTS:  1 large bunch kale, finely chopped, stems/spines removed; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1 shallot, sliced; coconut oil; 2 C vegetable broth.

PROCEDURE:  Sauté shallot for 4-5 minutes in coconut oil.  Add garlic and continue sautéing for 1 minute. Mix in the kale and sauté for another minute until bright green.  Add vegetable broth. Cover and simmer until kale is tender (approximately 5 minutes). Drain liquid and serve with salt and pepper to taste.


Roasted potatoes

INGREDIENTS:  Potatoes, cubed (red potatoes or bakers both work well; peel or leave skins on per your preference); olive oil; salt; pepper.

PROCEDURE:  Spread cubed potatoes on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Season them well with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 °F for approximately 45 minutes, stirring every five.  They are done when they are slightly browned.



INGREDIENTS:  ½ C old fashioned rolled oats; ½ C plain full-fat Greek yogurt; 2/3 C whole milk; 2-4 T honey or pure maple syrup; 1 t vanilla extract; 2-3 t chia seeds; your choice of toppings (sliced apples with cinnamon, chopped walnuts, almonds, dark chocolate chips/chunks, raisins, dried cherries).

PROCEDURE:  The night before, whisk together the milk and yogurt until relatively smooth.  Add the oats, honey or syrup, vanilla extract, and chia seeds. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, re-mix everything together and top with your preferred combination of toppings (e.g., apple slices, cinnamon, raisins, and chopped walnuts; or dried cherries, dark chocolate, and almonds).  Makes 2 servings.


Veggies-for-breakfast eggs

INGREDIENTS:  3 eggs, beaten; ¼ onion, sliced; 1/3 bell pepper, sliced; ½ avocado, sliced; sliced mushrooms; baby spinach, washed; cilantro; olive oil; salt and pepper.

PROCEDURE:  Saute onion in olive oil over high heat for 2 minutes.  Add sliced pepper and cook for 2 more minutes. Add mushrooms and continue cooking for a minute.  Reduce heat to medium high. Add spinach and cook until spinach wilts (a minute or less). Add eggs and cook until done.  Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with avocado and cilantro. Yields one generous serving.


Cottage cheese waffles

INGREDIENTS:  1 C whole wheat flour; 2 C full fat (4%) cottage cheese; 1 dozen eggs; ½ t salt; ½ C butter, melted; 1 t vanilla extract.

PROCEDURE:  Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.  Cook in waffle iron according to instructions. Be aware that these will rise more than traditional waffles, so do not overfill with batter.  Yields sixteen 5”x5” square waffles or eight 8” round waffles.



INGREDIENTS:  Oats, rolled or steel cut; whole milk; pure maple syrup; nuts; dried or fresh fruit.

PROCEDURE:  Cook oats according to package directions.  Mix in milk and syrup to taste. Top with nuts and fruit.



INGREDIENTS:  Plain full fat yogurt; frozen fruit, thawed; honey.

PROCEDURE:  Allow frozen fruit to thaw (you can leave it in a bowl on the counter for about 15 minutes  or use low power in microwave for a couple of minutes—just don’t overheat). I love cherries or raspberries, but you can use anything you like.  Mix in frozen fruit and any juices released during thawing. Drizzle with a little honey.

I’m Carrie Fredin. My husband and I have five amazing boys. I’m a USATF certificate coach and have been coaching Layton High Track and Cross Country for seven years. I have a passion for nutrition and good food. I love being a part of the UtahRunning.com racing team as well.


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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



  • 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



  • 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!  


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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.


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Eliud Kipchoge: The Worlds Greatest Marathoner Interview

By: Preston Johnson

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

Utah Running: First off, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. We are beyond excited to hear from you. This interview is going to be a part of UtahRunning.com’s Summer Edition Run Utah Magazine. The theme of this magazine is “The Complete Runner: Training Your Body and Mind for Total Running Fitness”. After writing the outline for the magazine and deciding I wanted to write a mind over body article you were the first runner that came to mind. I believe lots of people have this perspective of you being the epitome of being mentally strong in competition and training.

The first instance that comes to mind of your mental strength is the Nike Sub 2-hour attempt. Attempting something that for years had been this elusive goal for the entire marathoning community yet had been seen as an almost impossible task. You went in with so much confidence and really changed the worlds perspective on if a sub-2 hour marathon was even possible. Can you talk to us a little bit about your approach to this event? Did you approach this event any different than you do a typical world marathon major? If so can you elaborate on some of those differences?


Eliud Kipchoge: Thank you once again, remember to every human being it was impossible, I approached differently in that, it took all my time for seven good months, I changed my thoughts and tell my conscience that, I am going through, be it in any circumstance.

For a normal marathon, it’s just running to win, but for breaking 2, it was about running against the unthinkable, that’s a big difference.

Utah Running: During the Nike Sub 2-hour attempt, we all watched in amazement as you came within seconds of making a sub 2 hour marathon a reality.  Could you describe the experience from your perspective? What were some of your thoughts throughout the experience and after you finished and the results had settled in?

Read More….

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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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