5 Ways You Can Benefit From A Structured Running Program

Anyone that wants to run a 5K can be successful if they use the Cool Running or Hal Higdon Couch to 5K program.  Each year I launch a Dream-to-Reality Couch-to-5K program to our employees.  Employees sign up, follow the program, and send me their picture after they’ve experienced the exhilaration that comes with crossing the finish line for the first time.

As much fun as running a 3.1 mile race is, stepping up your game and training for longer distances is where you’ll really start to realize your goals and find out if running competitions is something you want to make a part of your workout plan and life.

Finish Line

The finish line makes it all worth it! Flickr photo by jayeandd’s photostream

From Couch to 5K, 10K, 15K and Beyond

I worked through the steps of doing a couple of 5Ks, then a 10K, a 15K, and finally a half-marathon.  Each time I finished a race of a longer distance, I felt like I was ready for the next challenge.  I remember crossing the finish line at the Chicago Hot Chocolate 15K thinking adding four more miles would not have been impossible.  Five months later I ran my first half marathon.

If you want to be successful at competitive running, your first goal should be to avoid injury. This is where the training programs come into play.  They will take you through the training steps at a pace that allows your body to adapt and respond to the stress of running plus they provide the structure and motivation you need to be race-ready on event day.

Here are five key reasons why following a structured running program will help you reach your goals.

1.  There’s No Guesswork.  You don’t have to figure out how many days you’re going to train, how far you’re going to go (such as until you’re tired) or how much time you’ll need to train each day.  The running programs do all of the planning for you.  The only thing you have to do is run.

2.   You’re Not Relying Solely On How You Feel. – We all have good and bad days when it comes to running.  On our bad days we may quit before we do what’s needed to move us towards our goal.  On good days we tend to go farther, faster.  Overdoing it can be just as detrimental to our success as not doing enough.  Going too far or too fast before we’re ready, leads to injury and fatigue.  A structured running program sets the pace for you.

3.   Rest Days Are Built In – When you follow program that gives you the permission to ‘rest’ you’re more likely to do it.  Every runner needs to spend some time on cross training activities like strength training, stretching, or yoga.  The days that you cross train are built into the program along with rest days so there’s no need to feel guilty when you take a day off from running to get recharged.

4.  You’re Less Prone to Procrastination– You decide you want to run a 10K but don’t know exactly how many weeks ahead of race day you need to start training.  When you follow a structured running program you know exactly how many weeks in advance of the event you’ll need in order to be properly prepared.   You can print the schedule out and attach it to your fridge with a magnet, log your runs into your FitBit, download the training program app to your phone and start marking off the days leading up to the event.  You’ll avoid the “I’ll start next week” attitude that can easily put you way behind with your plan.

5.   Your Chances of Success Are Greater – Since I started offering the Couch to 5K program each year as part of our wellness programming, employees that were not runners have completed the program, ran a 5K and several have gone on to run longer races.  These are people that would not have gotten from the couch to the finish line without the help of the program.

Whatever distance you choose, there’s a program available to you for free from the web sites listed below.  These programs, developed by pros, guide you easily through the steps of race training and get you to the finish line.

Some of the most popular running web sites that have downloadable training programs are:

What’s your favorite training plan?

You might also like Eight Tips That Will Help You Achieve Your Running Goals or Running Without A Goal Is Like Reading A Book Without An Ending.

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Ice Baths and Leg Drains For Faster Post Workout Recovery

The past few summers I’ve attended a women’s running clinic which has helped me improve my technique and speed plus I’ve received some good tid-bits from the trainers.

All of the coaches at the clinic are experienced runners.  One of them is a women’s cross-country coach and she has an abundance of tips to share. There are two post-workout recovery tips that she shared that I’ve been intrigued with:  Ice baths for muscle soreness and leg drains for fresher legs.

Are ice baths good for humans too?

Are ice baths good for humans too?   (Flickr photo by Tambako the Jaguar)

Beyond personal experience, is there any real evidence that these work?

Ice Baths

I’ve never been a fan of the ice bath.  I prefer heat on my sore muscles, but there is some research that shows that taking a dip in ice water will reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that Australian sports scientists found that, compared to doing nothing, cold water immersion reduces inflammation DOMS in the few days following the workouts.

Other research from the University of Ulster in Ireland shows that when participants sat in an ice bath for several minutes after cycling, running or lifting weights, muscle soreness was reduced by 20%.  The conclusion was based on data from 17 studies involving 366 people.

However, a word of caution came from both studies.  The Australian scientists believe the ice bath treatment should be used sparingly because the inflammation that occurs after a hard workout is part of the training process and if eliminated will reduce the benefits of the training.

The Ireland researchers warns that immersion in ice water can cause shock and increase the heart rate and the long-term safety of this method has not been thoroughly studied.

An occasional portable ice bath in place of full immersion might do the trick, especially when you feel muscle soreness is going to get in the way of your regular training program. You can learn how to make one at Runner’s World.com. 

Leg Drains

My running buddy and I have been consistently doing leg drains after our runs since our coach told us about them.

Leg Drain

A leg drain simply means that you lay in front of a wall that you can prop your feet up on so that your legs are over your head.  The theory is that this drains the used blood and lactic acid out of the legs and replaces it with fresh blood making for a quicker recovery.

Leg drains are a yoga pose that David Good over at Lulumon.com is passionate about.  He sees leg drains as an opportunity to take a moment to relax and let your creative juices flow while you restore your legs.  Beyond the brief period of reflection and relaxation that comes with the leg drains, Good says they help with digestion, regulate the thyroid, are good for your lower back, and will help cure insomnia if done before bed.

He doesn’t have to convince me.  I’m a believer in leg drains and agree it may be as much about the mental aspect as it is the physical.

What Else?

What tips do you have for faster workout recovery?

(*Leg drain photo compliments of Pinterest.)

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10 Tips For An Injury-Free Trail Race

There’s a big difference between running the pavement and running a trail. The principles that you apply to cover seven street miles pretty much go out the window when you’re on a trail with mud, hills, tree roots and a narrow winding path. A trail race is an obstacle course and it can get tricky.  But if you pay attention to your surroundings it can be enjoyable and rewarding.

I did a trail run last weekend and had a specific goal in mind: not to fall down.  I took a pretty bad fall on the trail race I did in September and have been nursing an aching shoulder since.  A couple of the runners had battle scars after the run on Saturday. One fall occurred on the trail just ahead of me when a runner got her toe caught in a covered tree root and literally went head over heels down a steep incline.  Not pretty.

Trail Run

If you’re an inexperienced trail runner or thinking about signing up for your first trail race, here are 10 tips to help you get to the finish line injury free.

1.  Pick Up Your Feet – The ole street shuffle doesn’t work when you’re dodging, sticks, roots, holes and mud puddles.  You have to consciously think about picking up your feet throughout the race to reduce the risk of falling.  I found as I got near the end of the run and my legs started to fatigue I was stubbing my toe on things that I was skimming across during the first half. I constantly reminded myself to pick up my feet as I watched for rocks, limbs, roots and other obstacles.

2.  Wear Old Tennis Shoes – You don’t want to worry about getting your shoes wet and muddy and in many cases you’ll do both.  The trail runs in this area always have patches that are wet because of streams and rivers that run through the woods or rain water that lingers in the thickness.  Wear shoes that fit well and are comfortable and that you won’t mind throwing in the washing machine when you get home.

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The Six Exercises You Should Be Doing To Reduce Running Injuries

“I contend that running doesn’t cause injuries, but rather illuminates our weak links and allows us to see what we need to improve upon.” – Tom Holland, Windy City Sports

It’s race season.  There are so many 5, 10, 15Ks and half and full marathons to choose from at this time of year even an event junkie could be overwhelmed by the options. You can find a  race for every weekend if you have the time, money and motivation to participate.

But the more you run the more you increase the risk of injury.  Knees, hips, foot and ankle injuries are the most common and many are the result of overuse, and muscle weakness and imbalance. You may not even realize you’re headed for trouble until you’re signed up to run a race and pushing through your training schedule. There’s not much worse than plunking down $70 for a race, working hard to have a good finish time only to end up sidelined with an annoying injury that takes you out of the competition.

I’m in absolute agreement with Tom Holland when he says that running doesn’t cause injuries, but illuminates our weak links.  When I started increasing my running distance to compete in my first 15K event I wound with the very common and quite painful IT band syndrome.  But since that time I’ve learned there are some things that I can do to improve on my weakness and stay in the game.

From experts around the web and my own experience I’ve selected six exercises that everyone should be doing to avoid overtraining and running injuries.

1.  Spinning – Some experts, like Susan Lacke, believes that cycling enhances running in a number of ways and Jeff Horowitz believes it can help prevent IT band syndrome.  Putting in a few miles on a spin bike after I run is the biggest change I made to my training program this year and the IT band issue has not flared up as it has in the past when I began my spring outdoor distance runs. This is something I plan to hang onto.  Not only is it a preventative exercise for me, I find I enjoy the bike as much as the run.

Spinning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.  One Legged Ball Squats – One legged ball squats will increase leg strength and improve balance and stabilization.  When you run outside your feet are constantly striking on uneven surfaces – a bump in the side walk, a tree root on the trail – which can lead to injury or falls.  This one-legged squat utilizes the stabilization muscles and will help you achieve better balance. Place the ball in the middle of your back against the wall.  Lift one leg and slowly slide down and back up the wall using the other leg.  Do 12 repetitions on each leg two to three times a week.

3.  Single Leg Dead Lifts – This exercise focuses on strengthening your backside; primarily hamstrings, gluteals and para-spinals.  Typically runners have overdeveloped quads and hamstrings.  Muscle imbalance occurs when the hamstrings are superior in strength to the gluterals.  This muscle imbalance can lead to injury.  The single leg dead lift can help correct this problem.  Stand on one leg holding a dumbbell or body bar.  Slowly lower down to the floor keeping your back straight.  Repeat 12 times on each leg daily.

 

 

4.  Calf Raises – Achilles tendinitis is most common as runners increase their distance to train for big races or add speed drills and hills to their program.  This running ailment is not only painful, it can be downright debilitating if left untreated.  According to Shelley Drozd of Runner’s World, a walking warm-up is a good way to prevent achilles tendinitis.  So are strong calves.  A basic calf raise exercise – with or without weights – will help strengthen the calves and prevent this injury.  Rise up on the balls of your feet and take 10 seconds to lower the heels back to the ground.  Do two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions three times a week.

 

 

5.  Side Leg Lift – Common knee injuries and IT band syndrome is the result of inadequate hip strength and weak hip flexors and abductors (outer thighs).  A study conducted on injured runners, all suffering from IT band syndrome, followed them through a six-week gluteus medius strengthening program.  (The gluteus medius is the main hip abductor and is implicated in hip abduction weakness.)  As a result of the strengthening program, all but two of the runners were able to return to training after the program concluded.  One of the best exercises for improving gluteus medius strength is the side leg raise.  Lay on the floor and lift and lower the leg slowly back down to the floor.  Do one to three sets of 15 reps once a day.

 

 

6.  Supine March – A strong core is key to preventing running injuries. According to Matt Fitzgerald at Competitor.com, “The best core exercises for runners are those that mimic the specific ways the core muscles are required to work during running.” The supine march allows you to strengthen the core while your legs move similar to the way they do when running or walking.  Lay face up on the floor with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.  Press your low back to the floor.  Alternate lifting the feet off of the floor so that the foot comes even with the opposite knee.  Work up to 20 repetitions.

 

The Best Offense Is A Good Defense

Staying ahead of injuries is as simple as incorporating one or two sets of these exercises into your daily routine. Spending the time to find and fix your weakest link will pay dividends on race day.

If you liked this article you might also enjoy Are Running Injuries Inevitable?  Not According To These Running Gurus.

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(A picture is worth a thousand words. Thanks to Pinterest and its sharing nature for the pics.  Click on the picture to see the original source.) 

A Half Marathon Training Tip That Might Work For You Too.

I’ve started training for my annual half marathon that takes place in April.  The real challenge this year is that due to peer pressure I’m signed up for two half’s in a row.  The week after the annual April half marathon event I’ve got 13 miles to run again in another city.  I’ve got my work cut out for me.

The biggest problem living in Illinois is that in the winter it’s hard to get in any distance runs except on a treadmill which I’ve never been a big fan of.  I’ve read, and even written, about strategies that will make treadmill running more bearable.  I’ve incorporated many of the tips into my workouts.  Recently, I’ve been doing my own version of extreme hills which is helping me stay motivated and challenged.

But, despite having a great playlist, mileage tracker and the hill challenge, I still have trouble staying on the treadmill for a distance that resembles a half marathon training run. The boredom and mental fatigue are winning!

I have a love/hate relationship with the yellow spin bike at the gym.

I have a love/hate relationship with the yellow spin bike at the gym.

Going For A Spin!

I have found the way to extend the cardio workout is to put a short cycling stint in immediately after the run.  In the gym where I work out we have spin bikes in the cardio section of the fitness center and no one is ever on them at the hour that I’m there so it’s easy for me to get off of the treadmill and right onto the bike.

It’s been several years since I’ve done any serious cycling.  I’m amazed at how much I love the way the spin bike makes my legs feel! Totally different than the running or other activities that I do.  Yet I can’t help but wonder if spending the time on the bike will have any impact on my half marathon training or if I’m just wasting my time.

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Six Apps That Will Help You Beat The Treadmill Blues

For those of us that live in the midwest or farther north, our running workouts have been moved indoors. At least temporarily.  Running indoors on a treadmill when you’re used to being outside on pavement or trails has its own set of challenges.  The primary one is boredom.

Last Tuesday, for the first time this winter, I did my training run on the treadmill.  Where I live it has been bitterly cold in the early mornings and last week the sidewalks were covered with patchy ice.  So indoors I went.  I had my favorite playlist, so the music helped me pass the time, but for some reason the workout seemed unbearably long. Trying to convince myself to stay on the treadmill become my main focus.

Apps that make indoor treadmill running bearable.

Apps that make indoor treadmill running bearable.

Creative Apps To Keep You Motivated On The Treadmill

There are some creative apps that you can download to your phone or iPad that will keep you on track with your running program and help you conquer even the worst case of the winter dreadmill blues.

Six of the most popular are:

BeatBurn Treadmill/Outdoor Trainer – This app is for people (like me) that love to run to music.  When I’m on the treadmill running and have my ear buds in I naturally want to keep pace with the music.  Sometime that throws me off if a song is too fast or slow.  The BeatBurn app syncs your music to match your pace.  If you’re bored with your music and need something different to move to, this app includes a library of high energy music for you to try. Cost – $3.99

FunRun Trainer – You can run anywhere in the world – virtually of course – with this app.  Pick a park, beach, or famous street to run on and the FunRun Trainer, along with a moving satellite map, will track your progress.  You can participate in events like the New York or Boston Marathon from your own treadmill and zoom in on streets and scenery while you run.  Creating your own course is also an option.  This app can be used on an elliptical or bike so cross-training is easy to do.  Cost – $3.99

Zombies, run – Everybody runs faster if they have Zombies chasing them!  Zombies, run provides the motivation to do the dreaded interval training and speed drills that we all need to do when we’re training for a race.  Once you start the program and begin running you will receive alerts that tell you the Zombies are close and you need to run. Fast. With 33 missions and 45 runs it as much of a gaming app as it is a running one.  The bonus is while you’re having fun avoiding the Zombies you’re becoming a better runner.  Cost – $3.99

Run Coach Pro – This app helps you reach your goal of running a 5K, half or full marathon on your schedule. Run Coach is designed by Olympians and professional runners and provides you with a personalized training plan that is goal oriented, flexible, and provides feedback and nutritional tips. Run Coach is powered by MapMyRun and provides full GPS tracking, and a music playlist.  This is an excellent motivation tool for beginning to intermediate runners that need a personal touch. Cost – $5.99

Barefoot Running Coach – If you’re wanting to break free of your shoes and experiment with barefoot running, this app is designed to help runners of all ages discover the joy of movement and prevent injury.  You can use the Barefoot Running Coach indoors this winter and go from an unskilled barefoot runner to a skilled and injury free barefoot runner and be ready for rougher, outdoor terrain by spring. Cost – $1.99

Pumping Weight – Every good runner knows they need to have strong skeletal muscles and core if they are going to compete at optimal pace.  Once you’ve finished your run and move  over to the pumping iron section of the gym, the Pumping Weight app will track your workouts, including rest periods.  This app includes illustrations for over 200 exercises, tracks body weight measurements, body fat and BMI.  If you love to run but aren’t crazy about pushing the weights around, this will help motivate and track your progress.

Before you know it winter will be over.  The key to survival is to maintain a level of consistency and intensity to your indoor winter workouts so that when spring comes and you’re back outdoors you don’t feel like you’re starting over.

What’s you favorite running or workout app?  Please, be social!  Share!

You might also like  Six Treadmill Survival Strategies For Indoor Workouts

Are Running Injuries Inevitable? Not According To These Running Gurus.

A Third Of Runners Suffer Injuries Each Year.  It Doesn’t Have To Be You. 

From stress fractures, to illiotibial band syndrome, and plantar fasciitis, injuries seem to be a common occurrence amongst runners.  Is it because the human body really isn’t made for running, or do runners need to do more stretching, core-work and cross-training to reduce their risk of injury?

A strong core is key to injury-free running.

Expert Advice From Five Running Gurus On Injury Prevention:

Jay Dicharry – According to Jay Dicharry, a physical therapist and the director of Biomechanics at Rebound Physical Therapy in Bend, OR, one third of runners are hurt every single year.  Dicharry, author of the book, “Anatomy for Runners”, says that too many books focus on the development of the cardiovascular system.  His book helps people identify their weaknesses like over striding, poor foot control, and various posture issues.  He believes that running doesn’t help the individual develop as a true athlete which results in a high incidence of injury.

Robert Forster – Robert Forster a sports physical therapist in Santa Monica, California has been treating injured athletes for 30 years.  He believes that humans have evolved into runners.  Our bodies have changed to be effective at running.  Why are there so many running injuries? Forster blames a lot of it on stride length and says everyone is over striding.  In an recent article in Reuters Health he was quoted as saying, “You want to land under your center of gravity, or as close to it as possible.  We tend to take too few steps per minute.  Less time on the ground would take care of a lot of problems.”

Jason Fitzgerald – Jason Fitzgerald, a 2:30 marathoner and running coach warns people to not let their ‘engine outpace their chassis.  Fitzgerald says that it’s important to remember that your aerobic fitness develops at a faster pace than your structural.  Your aerobic threshold might be high enough to support longer and faster runs, but your bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles aren’t ready for that yet.  He tells his runners, “you never want a Ferrari engine in the frame of a Geo Prizm.  The engine is going to tear the car apart.”  What does Fitzgerald recommend?  Strength training and core exercises so the muscles and connective tissue are able to withstand the impact of running.

Dr. Lewis Maharam – Dr. Maharam, a former medical director of the New York City Marathon and author of the book “Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running,” does believe that people are born to run.  With the proper training, of course.  He says all you need is a good pair of running shoes and shorts and cross-training isn’t necessary, but it does increase speed. Maharam does say that preparation is the key to running injury free.  Start with a walk/run program [like the Couch to 5K] and never increase your mileage by more than 10% per week.

Jeff Galloway – Jeff Galloway, a lifetime runner, was a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team in the 10,000 meter event, has completed over 120 marathons and has been free of overuse injuries for almost 30 years.  In an article Galloway wrote for Active.com he says that “having 48 hours between runs is like magic in repairing damage.”  His other injury-prevention advice includes  going slower on the longer runs, taking more walk breaks, and don’t stretch if you have an ache, pain or injury.  Galloway also recommends a thorough warm-up prior to speed training.  Speed training produces a lot of injuries, but a good warm-up and a ‘few light accelerations’ will help.

Listen To Your Body – And The Experts

The words running and injury don’t have to be synonyms.  Listening to your body and heeding the advice of running experts are the first steps to recognizing when you might be setting yourself up for injury by overdoing it and letting your engine outpace your chassis. Maybe you just need to rest for 48 hours. Whatever it is, most of the running gurus agree that you can be a successful runner – without injury – for years if you know what you’re doing.

What about you? Do you have injury prevention tips to share?