Strategies for Maintaining Fitness and Coming Back
Can I run? Chances are you will get a “no” to this question, at least for a while.How long do I need to stop running? At this point, the answer to this question might be unknown.Can I do other activities? What would those be? This is a very important question as the answer will allow you to formulate a cross training plan to preserve your fitness.Do I need physical therapy? Medication? Surgery? Immobilization/casting? What treatment options do I have along those lines? Depending on the injury, there may be multiple options. Your doctor may have a recommendation, but be sure to ask what all of the options are and discuss the pros and cons of each.What are the next steps regarding medical follow-up? Make sure you make and keep any subsequent doctor’s appointments.Follow the doctor’s plan. The doctor may prescribe medication (such as anti-inflammatories), immobilization/casting, physical therapy, meeting with a specialist, etc. Make sure you follow the agreed-upon plan.Create a cross-training program. Based on your doctor’s recommendations about what activities are acceptable while injured, create an exercise plan. Being a runner and not being able to run can be difficult, but it is important to find exercise that you can do to preserve your fitness. This will help you return to running more efficiently once your injury is resolved. Ideally this exercise plan will include some form of cardiovascular exercise and some form of strength training. Alternative forms of cardio that your doctor might suggest could include biking, swimming, walking, elliptical trainer, etc. Strength training options from your physician will likely avoid the injured area. For example, you may need to do upper body and core strength training only for a while. It is important to maintain these muscle groups as you are recovering. You may be told to “let pain be your guide.” In that case, be aware that the pain may manifest itself during the activity, or it may show up that night or the next day. In all of these cases, the offending activity needs to be discontinued.Take care of your body. As you are recovering, it is important to eat nutritious foods and to get enough rest. Be careful not to overeat (out of boredom or sadness over your injury) as weight gain will compound problems down the road. Try to minimize other stresses in your life. Your cross-training program can help with minimizing stress.Return to sport. Once your injury is resolved and you receive your doctor’s permission to resume running, you should return to running cautiously. Don’t jump back into the training load you were doing when you got hurt. Depending on the amount of time you were injured, you may need to start back with a beginner’s program. Consult your physician for advice on how aggressively to return to running. You may also want to consult a running coach or fitness professional to help you create your return-to-running program. With a good plan and a little time, you’ll get back on track.
Consistency Key to Running and Racing Success
People often ask, “What is the most important thing I should be doing to ensure success in running?” They are often surprised at my answer. It doesn’t really matter what time of day you run or if you run before or after your strength training or if you run on Saturday versus Sunday. What matters most is that you pick the times of day, workout order and days of the week that will allow you to run consistently. There are several reasons why consistency is the key to running success.
Adaptation: Your body will adapt to its workload. Therefore, if you load your body consistently 3-5 times per week with bouts of running, your body will adapt to those stresses and you will optimize your training effect, maximizing the benefit from your workouts. If you miss workouts, your body will start to become detrained in just a few days.
Injury prevention: One of the most common causes of injury I see in my clients originates with training inconsistency. Often the story of the injury begins with, “I took a couple of weeks off because I was on vacation/tired/lazy/busy at work and then I went back to my normal routine and now I’m hurt.” This is not a surprising result. As stated earlier, your body adapts to its workload. It’s only natural that when the workload isn¹t there for a few weeks, your body adapts. When you suddenly go back to the original routine, your body is not prepared for the sudden increase in workload. The result is often high levels of soreness and in some cases, injury. Don’t worry about missing the occasional single run. It is missing 3-4 runs in a row (a week of runs or more) that will cause the detraining effect that can result in injury. If you are busy and can’t fit all of your runs into a given week, try to get at least 1-2 runs in, even if they need to be shortened. Just make sure to keep them at your normal intensity.
Racing performance: If you are training for a specific time at a goal race, consistency is even more important. Your training program likely includes progressive bouts of speed work, hill training or both. If you miss these runs, you will not be able to progressively improve your speed and strength to achieve your race time goals. In this case, if you need to miss a run (or two) in a given week, try to miss one of your “conversation pace” runs. Make sure you do all of your long runs, speed work runs and hill training runs. Even if you have to adjust your schedule a bit, try not to miss these key training runs.
Year-round running: Given how important it is to stay consistent with running, make sure you are maintaining a strong base of running mileage all year long. Ramping up each spring after running zero mileage in the winter to get ready for warm weather running and racing season is a recipe for poor performance and injury. You are much better off running throughout the year. The base mileage you maintain throughout the year will depend on your distance goals, but at a minimum, 10-12 miles per week should be maintained throughout the year.
Stay consistent in your training all year long and you will enjoy decreased soreness, higher performance and lower risk of injury.
Training for the Naperville Half Marathon
Planning to run in the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon? Now that you have decided on the half-marathon distance, how do you train for it? There are many online training programs available, but here are a few considerations for choosing a plan and training for the half marathon:
Starting point. Make sure the first week of the training plan is consistent with your current mileage base. Most programs assume a “beginner” runs 8-10 miles per week. Don’t choose an intermediate program if you are really a beginner. On the other hand, if you have raced the half-marathon distance before, choose a more advanced program that will give you the challenge of speed work and hill training so you can race more aggressively and better your previous time.
Calendar time. Look at your calendar and make sure you have enough time to complete the required training before your goal race. You definitely don’t want to try to shorten the program to fit it in with your race. If you don’t have enough time, choose a different goal race. So, if you aren’t currently running 8-10 miles per week, consider running the Healthy Driven Naperville 5K instead.
Weekly running program. Choose a program that includes one longer run per week and at least two shorter runs per week. If you are running a beginner program, the two shorter runs will be at conversational (easy) pace. If you are running an intermediate or advanced program, expect to do some speed work and/or hill repeats as part of your shorter runs. The long run should ramp up to a maximum of around 12 miles or two hours of running. Your last long run should be approximately two weeks before your race. After you complete that last long run, your program should include a taper, a reduction in weekly mileage while maintaining the speed/intensity of the runs.
Race conditions. Train on surfaces and terrain that are similar to your goal race. Find out if your race is hilly or flat, asphalt or crushed gravel, hot or cold temperatures, morning or evening, and train under conditions as similar as possible to your goal race. If you can’t do all of your training under race conditions, at least do your long runs that way. For the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon, choose training routes that are slightly hilly and on asphalt. Be prepared for cooler conditions since the race is in October.
Fueling and hydration. For the half marathon, you will definitely need a hydration strategy that works for you. Determine how frequently you will consume fluids and how much fluid you will consume. It is usually best to drink at the frequency at which water stops will be available on your goal race course. This information should be available on the race website. During the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon, there are six aid stations at approximately miles 2.5, 4.5, 6.5, 8, 9.5 and 12 that will offer water and Gatorade Endurance. You may find you perform better by ingesting some carbohydrates during your long runs. Experiment with Gatorade Endurance and/or other sports drinks, gels, blocks, etc. to see what works. Practice and refine your hydration and fueling strategies during your long runs. Keep in mind that if you don’t use the carbohydrate source the race provides, you will need to carry it or arrange for someone to give it to you on the course.
Whether your end goal is to complete a half marathon or use it as a stepping stone to the marathon, enjoy the race and be proud of the great accomplishment of training for and completing a half marathon.
Your Race-Day Practice Plan
By now, your long runs are getting longer. Depending on your training plan, your longest training run may be 12-14 miles. It’s time to start practicing for your half marathon. You should use the rest of your long runs (or at least two of them) as rehearsals for the race.
Meals. Dinner the night before and your morning pre-run food should be exactly what you plan to eat before your race to make sure it will not upset your stomach and/or cause unplanned bathroom visits. You also want to make sure the meals fuel your muscles sufficiently for the long run effort with a balanced mix of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Hydration. Similarly, your fluid intake the day before and morning of your run should mimic your race day hydration. As a general rule for race day (and long run practice days), two hours before the run, drink between 17 and 20 ounces of water. About 10 minutes before you head out to run, drink another 10 to 12 ounces.
Fueling and hydration during the long run. Here again, mimic the quantities and frequencies of fueling and hydration that you will use on race day. Pay attention to the location of the water stops in your goal race and the type and location of nutrition (sports drinks, gels, etc.) that will be provided during your race. This information should be on the race website and on the course map. Practice with the specific brands of nutrition prior to the race to make sure they agree with your stomach. The Naperville Half Marathon serves water and Gatorade Endurance Formula, and will have six hydration stations at approximately every two miles (they are marked on the course map).
- Attire. For long runs, you should wear the exact outfit you plan to wear during the race – shorts/tights, tops/jog bras, socks, shoes, hat/headband and hydration belt/pack (if you are using one in the race). I recommend using a fairly new (but broken in) pair of shoes for the half marathon. A common strategy is to wear a new pair of shoes for one or two of your shorter mid-week runs, then use them for one of your longest runs (10 miles or more) and then wear them for the half marathon. This will give you shoes that are broken in but still with plenty of cushion and life. Make sure you practice with all of the clothing to ensure you know how to combat chafing and blisters with your chosen outfit.
- Terrain. Mimic terrain/running surface, elevation changes, climate/temperature and time of day of the race for your long runs. If possible, run part or all of your long run on the actual race course (traffic permitting of course).
- Pacing. If you are going for a specific goal time for the half marathon (if it is your first half marathon, you should not have a goal time and instead focus on finishing) practice your race pace for parts of at least some of your longer runs. Also, practice even or negative splits (running the second half of the long run faster than the first half.) This type of pacing will help you to maximize your performance and not burn your glycogen reserves too early in the run.
Remember, practicing these elements of your race during your final long runs will help you to find the best strategies for you and reduce your race-day anxiety by ensuring you feel as prepared as possible.
Finishing Your Training and Final Race Preparations
As you near race day, training requirements are ramping up and becoming more challenging to fit into everyday life. Whether you’re dealing with unseasonably high temperatures or schedule conflicts, we have answers. Learn how to power through the final weeks, finish strong and reach your running goals.
Q: I am following a training program for the half marathon and I want to hit a specific time. I am having trouble hitting my pace times in hot weather. Any suggestions?
A: The heat can definitely wreak havoc with your pacing if you have a goal time for your fall race. Generally, your training program should consist of mostly “conversation pace” running, with 1-2 runs per week that are for time. One of those runs should be a hill-repeat type of run; you should continue to run this outdoors and as fast as the heat allows. The real goal of hill running is to build strength and injury resistance, not to build speed. Your other, faster run is probably a tempo run or interval training. Try taking this run indoors in the summer. Inside, you will have a measured track (or if a track is not available, use a treadmill) and can easily make sure you are hitting your pace times. Also, you will avoid the heat and humidity indoors so you are more likely to hit your goal pace for these tempo and interval runs. Incorporating indoor speed work once a week will help you achieve the faster leg turnover and running economy you will need to hit your goal pace in your fall race. As the weather cools off and the humidity drops, your speed will come back. Most importantly, don’t push yourself in the heat to the point of heat exhaustion or worse. This very serious medical condition has long lasting effects on your health and running.
Q: I am training for a fall half marathon and I am two weeks behind on my training plan. I don’t want to give up on the race. What do I do?
A: Assuming you are feeling healthy, you can start to “split the difference” to try to catch up. For example, let’s say your plan says that next week you are supposed to run a 10-mile long run and a 40-minute tempo run. But your longest runs so far was 6 miles, and you’ve only done a 20-minute tempo run a week or two ago. Next week, you can probably do a 9-mile long run and a 35-minute tempo run. That way, when the following week calls for a 12-mile long run and a 45-minute tempo run, you should be able to catch up. Listen to your body during this period of catch up. Catching up will create additional stress on your body and make you more susceptible to injury. If you feel extra sore or tired, consider skipping one or two of your short, conversation pace runs. These are not as critical to your race performance.
Q: My final long run for the half marathon is coming up in a couple of weeks and I just realized we will be out of town that weekend. What should I do?
A: Life often gets in the way of a runner’s training plan. Since your final run is probably 12 miles or so, you have a few options to consider. If you usually run on Sunday and you are leaving for the weekend on Saturday afternoon, try doing the long run early on Saturday morning. If your weekend plans are more involved, you can also consider doing the long run on Friday or Monday (before work if necessary). This time of year, it is light before 5:30 a.m. so you can probably get that long run in and still make it to work on time (or close to it). As a bonus, it is a lot cooler at 5:30 a.m. If none of those options works, but you have some lead time to plan, consider doing the long run the weekend before it is scheduled. That will probably cause you to have back-to-back weekends with long runs, but after that you will have a week longer taper period to recover. Remember your training plan is not cast in stone.
Q: We are starting some home improvement projects at home and had planned to start the week before my fall half marathon. I have a goal time in mind that I really want to hit. Any advice?
A: Yes – don’t do the home improvement projects! I would advise against taking on any new, physically demanding activity during the two (or even three) weeks leading up to your race, especially if it is a “goal race” where you want to hit a specific time. New, physically demanding activity would include starting a new workout modality (like a new group exercise class), taking up a new sport, starting weight training or doing strenuous home or work activities that you don’t already do regularly. If you already do something regularly (like weight training) you can keep doing it, but even your normal weight training should be stopped about a week before the race as part of your taper. (Two weeks before race day if you are running a marathon.)
Q: My fall goal race is coming up in a few weeks and I think I am getting sick. I have a scratchy throat, watery eyes, runny nose. I’m afraid this will ruin my race.
A: It is certainly possible to come down with a virus as your training peaks for fall racing. Hard training can negatively impact your immune system. If you have serious symptoms (i.e. fever, muscle aches, fatigue) definitely check with your doctor. If it’s just a scratchy throat, watery eyes, etc., you just may have fall seasonal allergies. It is ragweed season and this area is loaded with ragweed. Make sure you stay hydrated – mint tea with honey is one commonly used herbal remedy for allergies. Showering after you run (or go outdoors for other reasons) is very helpful to wash off the pollen. After you shower, stay indoors (in the air conditioning) to avoid exposure to pollen. Running in the evening will reduce your exposure to allergens as they tend to be higher in the morning and midday. Showering before bedtime is also helpful to reduce the pollen you breathe as you sleep. If your symptoms become very severe, work with your doctor if you feel you need medication to relieve the symptoms.
Community Spirit: 8 Benefits of Running with a Group
There’s no denying the benefits of a running community. They’re almost too numerous to count. Here are a few of my favorite reasons for lacing up with friends instead of hitting the road solo:
Wear light clothing (so you can spot ticks) but not white clothing (ticks are attracted to white).Wear bug repellent. The CDC website offers some natural options if you are not interested in wearing chemical sprays while running.Run on paved trails or crushed gravel rather than dirt trails. If you must walk through mowed grass, pick up your feet rather than shuffling.Avoid running underneath trees. Ticks can drop onto you from trees as you are running. If you feel something small hit you from above, make sure you brush it away. I have often gotten them this way.Make sure your socks are tight to your body. Some types of socks (like roll-down anklet socks) provide a reservoir for ticks to fall into between the sock and your ankle.Follow the CDC’s recommendations to check your clothing and your body. Follow their checklist, look at your feet and between your toes and then shower right away. Also, be sure to shake out your running shoes and keep them outside.
Look for our Q-and-A later this summer on keeping your running program strong as race day gets closer.Laurie LasseterMarathonerACE Certified Personal TrainerRRCA Certified Running CoachEdward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness
Why Cross-Training is Crucial to your Training Plan
As a runner, you probably devote most, if not all, of your training to running. Actually, that is not a bad idea. The principle of specificity as it applies to athletic training states that training should be relevant to and appropriate for your sport. However, there are some great reasons that you should add other training (cross-training) to your schedule of weekly activities.
Overall fitness: The five basic categories of fitness are aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. The good news is that running addresses three of these aspects: aerobic capacity, muscular endurance (primarily lower body) and body composition. However, in order to be fit in a complete and balanced way, you need to cross-train. In your cross-training, try to focus on activities that address the missing items in the fitness categories list. Resistance/strength training (muscular strength), yoga or Pilates (flexibility), and rowing (upper-body muscular endurance) are good choices to balance out your overall fitness program.
Injury prevention: Running is a very repetitive sport. As a result, it puts you at risk for overuse injuries of the hips, glutes, legs, knees, ankles and feet. The main causes of these injuries are muscle imbalances and overuse that come from having running as the only component of your training regimen. In order to combat injury, it is crucial to add strength training to your routine. Focus strength training on the core, hips (glutes), legs, ankles and feet. Try to include single leg exercises (such as lunges) to help create symmetry between the two sides of your body. If you want to add more cardio training to your routine, look for exercises that work different muscle groups and/or are low-impact such as swimming, rowing and cycling.
Preventing boredom: Even if you love running, if that is all you ever do, you may eventually get bored with it. Or, at the very least, it might become stale enough that you have trouble training at the intensity required to reach your goals. Cross-training adds variety, helps keep workouts interesting and increases your chances of long-term running success. Try things you like, maybe the elliptical machine where you can read or watch TV or a hiking program to help you enjoy the outdoors at a slower pace.
Weight loss/fitness: Running can be a great tool for weight control. However, your body will likely only tolerate so much running beyond which, you may start to experience injuries. Strength training (see above) will help you avoid injuries and may allow you to run a bit more, but it is likely you will reach a plateau with your weight-loss results. If you want to add more activity to keep your body challenged, cross-training is your best bet. Just be careful about falling into a trap where you think that more exercise equals more weight loss. Diet /food choices and portion control are the biggest keys to weight loss and body composition success.
Recovery: The body gets stronger after exercise when the muscles are given time to rebuild. Mixing up your routine will give different muscle groups time to repair and rebuild to allow your body to become stronger and more resilient.
As you can see, there are many reasons to add cross-training to your exercise program. What will you add in this week?
Getting Started with a Training Program
If you’re just beginning a new running program, you likely have a lot of questions about training, aches and pains, and other running experiences. From all kinds of discomfort during training runs to dealing with woodsy critters, our first installment of New Runner Questions is sure to provide answers to make your training program as fun and effective as it can be.
Q: I have recently started running after eating breakfast, but I’m getting nauseous. I don’t really want to go without eating. What should I do?
A: It is a good idea to eat something before you run, especially as a beginner. Beginners have a higher dependence on their food for supplying muscle glycogen for their runs. Try eating 2-3 hours before running rather than right before. You can also experiment with lighter amounts of food. Your best bet is a light meal/snack of simple carbohydrates that are relatively low in fiber (think half bagel, toast, etc.). At the same time (2-3 hours before), take in about 17-20 oz. of water. Right before you head out, drink 10-12 oz. of water (sip some of that before you run and bring the rest with you for the early part of the run, if you can tolerate it). Then eat the rest of your typical breakfast (or other meal) after your run. Don’t forget to rehydrate after the run.
Q: I have been increasing my mileage and I am getting painful chafing from my clothing. I otherwise like my outfit but the chafing is getting worse.
A: For chafing you already have, try a healing ointment such as Aquaphor. To prevent chafing going forward, try an anti-chafe balm such as Body Glide. Apply this to any areas where your clothing rubs against your body (or you have body parts against body parts). Common areas include: inner thighs, inside of upper arms, bra lines/seams for women, nipple area for men, etc. Apply before every run but especially for your longer runs. It washes off very well in the shower afterward.
Q: I have started following a beginner training program that I found online (Hal Higdon). I have started getting blisters and hot spots on my feet. What should I do?
A: Since you are following a good training program, your ramp-up of work is probably pretty reasonable. First, make sure you have a good pair of properly fitting running shoes. If you are uncertain, go to one of the local running stores (Dick Pond, Road Runner Sports, Naperville Running Company) and make sure you have quality, well-fitting shoes. Next, take a look at your socks. I personally prefer double layer socks (Wrightsock is the brand I wear) as they are virtually blister proof. Body Glide or a similar anti-chafing product applied to the toes and other hot spots can help prevent blisters as well. For blisters you already have, if they aren’t serious (no broken skin), Compeed or similar blister cushions provide great relief. If you have developed more serious blisters with broken skin and/or infection, seek medical attention.
Q: I have been working on increasing my mileage and I am getting out of breath. What should I do?
A: First of all, make sure you warm up thoroughly before your runs as going out too fast too soon can often cause you to feel out of breath. As you increase your mileage, chances are you will need to slow your pace in order to avoid getting out of breath. Check your speed/pacing and make sure you are not trying to go too fast. If it is hot and humid, you will need to slow your pace even more. When you feel out of breath, try focusing on your exhalations rather than trying to inhale. Your body will inhale naturally if you focus on blowing out the old, stale air. If you try all of these things and still feel out of breath, or if you feel as though you can’t catch your breath, check with your doctor for medical advice.
Q: I want to run outside on the trails but I am afraid of ticks. What can I do?
A: The CDC offers great advice on avoiding ticks. In addition, here are my own tick tips for runners:
Injuries are a concern when running, especially as runners increase their mileage or train for a race, especially for the first time. Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize your chances of getting hurt.
1. Build a solid foundation. Follow a professionally created program that increases your mileage slowly and methodically from your current fitness level to a level that supports your goal race distance. There are websites that have running programs that you can tailor to your needs. Alternatively, you can work with a certified running coach to have a customized program created just for you. They key is to follow a program that:
– Starts from your current fitness level.
– Ramps your workload gradually – no more than 10 percent mileage increase per week or per session.
– Includes a slow, methodical increase of your long runs to a longer run consistent with your goal race. For example, marathoners should ramp to a long run of 20 miles, half marathoners should ramp to a long run of 12-14 miles and 5K runners should ramp to a long run of 3-5 miles.
– Includes a slow ramp up of your speed training based on your current fitness level. If you are a beginner, your initial running program should contain no speed work.
– Includes runs of different length, speed, running surface/terrain and hilliness – variety is important to prevent injury.
Also, be realistic. If you are a new runner, build your running base and run regularly for at least six months before attempting your first half marathon, and for a year before attempting your first marathon.
2. Be consistent. Now that you have your training plan, follow it closely. Consistency is one of the keys to preventing injury. This doesn’t mean you can’t miss a workout occasionally, but if you find yourself missing a week of runs, this can be a recipe for injury. Try to stay consistent by keeping the number of runs and miles per week close to your plan. If you miss a week, ease back into the plan (possibly by repeating the previous week in the plan and proceeding from there) or work with your running coach to get back on track safely.
3. Develop good running form. It is difficult to “force” yourself into perfect running form and it can be dangerous, especially if your muscles aren’t prepared for that method of running. However, in order to prevent undue force on the body, landing with each foot underneath your body – instead of in front of your body – is usually associated with lower ground forces on the body resulting in lower injury rate. The easiest way to achieve this is to shorten and quicken your stride. If you find you are an overstrider, practice the shorter, quicker strides with feet landing underneath you on a regular basis.
One way to do this is to practice “quick feet” running drills which increase your cadence (the number of times your feet hit the ground per minute) and minimize the amount of time each of your feet spends on the ground. Some people call this the “hot coals” drill since running on hot coals would certainly quicken your stride and shorten your foot strike time! Try practicing this drill a few times per week by doing 30 second intervals of “quick feet” followed by 30 seconds of “normal” running and repeat five times for a total of five minutes.
4. Strength train. Running is a very repetitive sport. As a result, it creates a high probability of overuse injuries. In order to prevent these injuries, strengthening and mobilizing key areas of the body are important preventive measures. Focus on these areas:
– Core: Strengthen the lateral and anterior core with exercises such as plank and side plank variations.
– Hips/glutes: Strengthen the legs, glutes and stabilizers with exercises such as lunge variations, deadlift and glute bridge variations and with resistance band hip abduction work (such as clams). Also, keep the hips and hamstrings mobile with key stretches for those areas.
– Ankles/calves: Strengthen the ankles and calves with exercises such as calf raises, jumping/plyometrics and banded ankle work. Also, keep the calves mobile with calf stretching. Try doing some of this foot and ankle work barefoot for added benefit.
A strength training program for runners, such as RunSMART, can help you work on all of these areas.
5. Pace. To avoid overtraining and injury, most of your running should be at a slow, conversational pace. Many people overtrain on their easy days and carry fatigue into their hard runs. Make sure you keep your easy days easy, even if you are a veteran runner. Following the pacing of your running program, as well as the distances, helps keep injury at bay.
These suggestions will help you avoid injury and have a great race. Good luck!