Now is the time of year to make changes since your running season has probably come to a close (unless
you found a race in Florida). It is time for you to switch things up and this is true of novice or experienced runners. You are probably thinking about goals for next year, like going for a full marathon, qualifying for Boston or wondering whether you are made of Iron. Many say that Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” If you are comfortable where you have been, then don’t listen to me. But if you want to be a better runner, then think about incorporating these changes.
Rest & Recover
You know that you stress your body on a regular basis when you are running constantly. Most runners know that they need to practice active rest after trying for a race PR. Most do not rest long enough and they get back out and start running again going too fast and/or too far. Make sure that you listen to your body and use soreness as a guide. Think about giving yourself about a week of rest from running and cross-train instead, running for short, slow runs maybe 3 times in the second week and then start gradually ramping the intensity and distance from there. In my experience, most runners really know how to push themselves, but have a hard time taking it easy. Active rest is important, and it allows for recovery:
mentally and physically. It is also important to allow your immune system to recover as endurance athletes have decreased ability to fight infections during heavy training and up to 5 days post-event.
Beyond the post-event rest phases, it is important to follow periodization phases that include rest, especially if you want to increase speed and strength. Periodization is changing your training focus depending on your goals to cause specific physiological changes to improve performance. This is especially something to consider if you are getting injured often or not making gains.
Post-season and off-season is the time to rest, recover, heal and fix weaknesses. This may mean resting by
not running nearly as much and shifting your focus to cross-training by participating in other activities like strength training, mobility work, yoga, tennis and winter sports. Since medium and long distance running mostly occurs in the sagittal plane (forwards and backwards at the hip), it can create imbalances because there is a lack of horizontal movement. Cross-training can help with this by participating in activities that make you shuffle or skate. The idea is to avoid burnout and change your focus for a couple months. I know
that you might be looking to start your training up again by January, so do what you can now to give your body and brain a break.
Endurance athletes stress their bodies on a regular basis and they get really good at going for a long time. Obviously, the biggest limiter on your performance as an endurance athlete is your lung capacity or breath, which is officially known as maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 Max). The thing is that working on your breath follows a law of diminishing returns. Novice runners are wise to improve their VO2 Max to improve performance, but those with more running experience need to work on other things to get those PRs. Experience means that you need to work harder to improve your lung capacity since it is probably great to begin with. Long, slow distance runs are good for developing a base fitness but are not really going to help improve the performance of experienced runners if used as a primary component of training.
To improve, you need to get faster and one way to do that is to get stronger. By working on general strength and strengthening weakened or under-conditioned muscle groups, you will increase exercise economy because you will not need to expend as much of your capacity to run at your desired race pace. Stronger muscles become more efficient and make it easier to propel you through the air. It will help you to recover better from injuries, prevent overuse injuries, and reduce muscle imbalances. Resistance training helps improve running performance regardless if it is strength endurance training (high reps/low weight), explosive resistance (power moves like clean, snatch and box jump) or heavy resistance (like barbell back squat or deadlift).
The number of times per week can vary but you should try to increase strength during the off-season
by resistance training 2-4 days per week. You still need to run 1-2 days per week to ensure your VO2 Max does not deteriorate too much. The issue is that it is hard to increase strength and maintain VO2 Max as they work against each other. Switching focus to a conditioning program that loads the body while challenging endurance may be one of the best options. Conditioning programs that involve body weight exercises like burpees and hybrid exercises like kettlebell swings might be perfect. Single leg deadlifts
are great for runners as are conditioning exercises like jumping rope. Speed drills like A- Skips and Fast Feet can be effective as well. It would be worthwhile to get a personal trainer (who is experienced with runners) to set-up a program for you and teach you how to do some of these exercises. Things like kettlebell swings and single leg deadlifts are fantastic exercises for runners but can cause injury if done incorrectly.
You beat up your body on a regular basis and always try to run through the pain because that usually works for you. Besides, you probably respond differently to pain than most people. But now is the time to fix what you have broken. Maybe a massage will work, but if your problem is more than just muscle tightness, a massage may not be the answer. Massage therapists do fantastic work, but they are not
trained or licensed to perform a proper evaluation, and many do not properly refer out when needed. You need to visit a healthcare professional, like a chiropractic physician or medical physician with a specialty in sports medicine, rehabilitation or orthopedics to make a proper diagnosis. Seeing a physical therapist with a similar specialty would also be a wise move.
The proper treatment for most patients begins with conservative care. Teaching self-care activities, therapeutic exercises and manipulation of the spine or extremities are all conservative forms of treatment. A particularly effective method of conservative treatment for running injuries is manually working the muscles, joints and fascia, like using the Graston Technique®. More invasive forms can include acupuncture or dry needling. Most people do not need joint or muscle injections, medications or surgery to recover from sports injuries. There are some situations where they are necessary but repeated use of corticosteroid shots or even over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can negatively affect joint cartilage.
The thing is that you owe it to yourself to fix the nagging problems that you have been having. A trained professional needs to look at the whole you and spend some time figuring out your problem(s). You are not going to PR if you can’t make the plantar fasciitis or patellar tendinosis go away. Fix it now so you can train when you want.
Change can be Good
I know that some will disagree with my opinions provided above and that is expected. I intended for this article to serve as food for thought. Some are experienced and can run 60 hard miles per week without an issue and these suggestions may not be for them. But some are experienced and grinding themselves too hard and need a reality check whereas some novices need pragmatic ideas. Remember that you are choosing to endure the training and stresses of running and you need to put your health first if you want to continue running for a long time.
Article Featured in Toledo Roadrunners Club Footprints Volume 44, Issue 12 (December 2018)
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DR. ROYER
Dr. Bryan D. Royer has been practicing chiropractic medicine in the Toledo area since 2005. He has a specialty in Sports Medicine and is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician® (CCSP®). Dr. Royer is certified as a Graston Technique® Specialist (GTS), a Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner™ (CKTP™) and a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES). He is also a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and he has been voted “Best in Toledo” by readers of the Toledo City Paper five times.
Photo Credit: “2014 Boston Marathon Elite Women” by JD licensed under CC BY 2.0