Running whether for fitness or sport is one of the most organic activities an individual can take part in. Simple in concept, just put one foot in front of the other and repeat ‘til your heart’s content. What’s not so simple is the practice of staying injury free.
It’s a little disheartening to read the numbers that show between 30-75% of runners get hurt each year. A little fast math reveals 52% of all runners will get injured to the point of forced time off in the next year. There is no other activity that yields as high of injury rate…. not even CrossFit. Clearly getting up to go and start your fitness regimen may be easy for the motivated but keeping yourself structurally sound so you can keep getting faster and fitter just may take a bit more effort.
What is the secret to speed? Is it work ethic? Is it genetics? Is it an individualized training plan tailored to your ability, needs and goals? Or is it just plain old dumb luck? The answer is YES to all those questions.
The concept of moderation carries over into all aspects of life. Processed sugar and starchy carbohydrates are ok to consume in moderation. Alcohol is good for us….in moderation. Running is GREAT for us…..in moderation. If all these things can be positive for us in moderation, why do so many people fall victim to the idea that more running is better and see no potential harm in running 6 days per week?
The secret to success in any endeavor is creating a plan that promotes longevity. I agree it’s hard to think of what you want 5 years from now. We don’t need to turn this into a deep soul searching for where you see yourself 5 years from now but if it’s in your plan to be fit and maybe a little faster than where you currently stand, then it makes sense to give your programming a little more thought.
I have coached many people over my career to qualifying Boston Marathon times and countless personal bests in 5k, 10k and half marathon distance events. I have even coached myself to top age group finishes in both road and off-road multi-sport events. The biggest learning I have found is that those who just run and push the line of their genetic abilities too often don’t get to run for that long. They are always taking time off to heal. Last time I checked, forced time off actually makes you slower and less fit…and neither are ideal.
The question is, how do we get faster and fitter and decrease our incidence of injury? Follow these 6 steps to keep yourself moving and moving well!
FIRST, GET FIT:
This does not mean run until you are at an ideal body weight. For most people this includes beginning a basic strength training and flexibility regimen for several weeks or months. Limit your ground impact until your connective tissue builds durability. Its not just about having the will to go long and hard but creating a strong foundation for your feet, ankles, knees, hips, back, core and all the connective tissues that keep everything together.
SECOND, LEARN HOW TO RUN:
Yes we are putting one foot in front of the other but just like any other physical endeavor, there is an ideal technique one should learn to become efficient, economical and successful.
-Take the time to learn your body’s ideal forward lean angle.
-Run like a gazelle and not a buffalo: When you run, practice making quiet contact when your feet hit the ground and work towards increasing your stride rate. Most strong runners move at a rate between 170-180 strides per minute. Count your strides and focus more on turnover rather than power and driving through the ground.
-Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees, pump your fists from hip to chest height and focus on moving your arms to pull your legs, especially when you get tired or want to go faster.
-Stay relaxed. Tense fists and shoulders draw blood from your legs and lungs. Stay calm, let your body rotate around your spine and remember the mantra “shoulders are ear poison” to encourage more fluid movement.
THIRD, MONITOR YOUR WEEKLY VOLUME:
Follow the 10% principle meaning do not increase your total weekly volume by more than 10% each week to allow your skeletal system enough time to adapt to the training stress you are subjecting it to. Every 3-6 weeks, plan a strategic deload week where you cut your training volume in half and raise intensity providing your body the opportunity to heal, adapt and absorb all the hard work you have been putting in.
FOURTH, CROSS-TRAIN ALL YEAR LONG:
Back to the concept of moderation, DO NOT just run as it promotes a very limited development of fitness and athletic ability. Road running in particular moves your body in one direction, forward. Periodically go for hikes to challenge your ankle stability. Periodically run backwards in short stints to kick on your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves) and incorporate lateral or side-to-side movements that wake up your outer hips.
FIFTH, ADHERE TO THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE WHEN PLANNING YOUR TRAINING INTENSITY:
This means 80% of the time your training should be aerobic and repeatable. 20% of the time you can go for it and try to bury yourself. That works out to about 4/6 workouts each week should focus on quality technique work and good breathing. One to two workouts per week can be focused on effort. When performing hill repeats or track repeats, Pick a target pace or time and nail it to the second on every repeat. Falling off of pace by more than a few seconds is referred to a critical drop off. That means your nervous system is toast and it’s time to kill the workout.
SIXTH, STRETCH AND RECOVER MORE:
If you train hard, it means you need to recover just as hard. If your ideal recovery is cracking a beer and chilling on the couch, we can be friends but unfortunately that does not benefit your fitness much or proactively prevent injury. I have never heard anyone say, “Man I wish I stretched way less when I was younger.” Spend time mobilizing your ankles, hips, ribs and shoulders. Then focus more on your hip flexors and feet and ankles. Those are the areas that get beat up fast but do not necessarily show signs of wear and tear until it’s too late. Learn what is tight on YOUR body and spend some extra time addressing those areas.
Put these strategies into regular practice and notice how your body feels after 3-5 weeks. Once we focus on giving back to our body rather than taking and expecting it to perform, we just may find that our body is much more willing to work hard and ready to hammer a new PR.
Angelo Gala is Co-Owner of EDX CrossFit in Lafayette, CO. He is a lifelong fitness enthusiast with over 15 years of experience as a full time coach in the industry. He works with athletes who want to get fit and out of pain, complete and beat previous PR’s in both long and short course endurance events and coaches athletes at the CrossFit Games. His specialties include improving restricted movement, getting strong(er) and energy system development for both endurance sport and recreational activity. Angelo is available for remote coaching and on-site workshops. For scheduling he can be reached at [email protected]