How about those happy looking people in the photo!?! Meet Doreen and Henry, 70 and 71 years young, respectively. They both ran the Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon yesterday in Washington state and as you can see, they had favorable results. They have a few other things in common. They came to me a week apart, referred by people that read my blog posts. They both started with me later than I like in relation to when the marathon is. They both have run with various running groups in town and coincidently with the same group but unbeknownst to them, came to me basically at the same time. They both have been running consistent the last two years, including running marathons, but ran into some problems in their last training season and race. Doreen had GI issues at her last race that sabotaged her BQ efforts and Henry came to me with an irritated hamstring that sabotaged him getting back to Boston.
As part of my runner interview, I helped Doreen figure out how to get around her GI issue and I did a movement assessment on Henry and prescribed exercises to rehab his hamstring injury, while he continued to run train. I looked at what both had been doing previously in training before coming to me. I determined one was running too much and the other, not enough and regressed and progressed them from that point and now both will have their opportunity to go back to the Boston Marathon. I have had people in the past refer to my runners as my students. That always sounds silly to me because I know I am the student. I study the runner and must learn their body, what they can handle if they can handle more, and what is too much and if they have had too much, how to bring them back on track for just enough. There is a fine line between too much, not enough, and just enough and it is my job to figure that out.
Now that the race is over, Henry gets to rest his angry gluteus medius and Doreen, well, Doreen is probably already wondering how much she may be able to improve. Has she reached her inherent ability? Has anyone reached their inherent ability? Run too many miles, you won’t reach it. Don’t run enough miles, you won’t reach it. Run just enough, you will reach it.
Please do me a favor and take the time to hit the share button for Doreen and Henry’s story! Soon I will be composing a blog about exercise and the aging human being!
Never skip leg day! Are you one of those people in the gym taking a selfie on the leg press or next to the squat rack? I have a few Facebook friends like that, which isn’t a problem. However, I am always left to wonder…are you not missing leg day because you want muscular or toned legs and glutes or is it because you want more strength? I guess I am a nerd to think that way, but from my point of view, regardless of the purpose, I would look for modalities where the reward is greater than the risk (injury) and gives you the biggest bang for your training buck and will translate to running performance best.
In my day job as a dental hygienist, I have people from the general population ask me all the time “If I am worried running will ruin my knees?”. A few months ago, a patient came in and said to me, “I can’t believe you are still running, you are going to ruin your knees”. He proceeds to tell me that he hasn’t been going to the gym because he jacked his shoulder and he has too much pain in his knees from doing too much on the seated leg press (I’m not a fan of that machine, by the way). He told me he was leg pressing 900lbs. What is the point of leg pressing 900lbs? Was he training to squat down and lift a car off a trapped body underneath it? It doesn’t make sense; the risk was greater than the reward because now he hasn’t been working out at all in part because he has pain in his knees. One of my issues with the leg press machine is that it does allow you to move a heavier load you may not be able to squat otherwise, which is dangerous.
The back squat is a far safer choice than the leg press machine. But is the squat the best choice for you? Again, for my blog, I am looking for exercises that minimize injury risk and increase strength. In a 2015 issue of Journal of Applied Biomechanics, researches compared the traditional back weighted barbell squat to the barbell hip thrust in healthy, resistance trained adults. The results of the study concluded that there was greater electromyographic (EMG) activity in the gluteus maximus, biceps femoris (hamstring), and vastus lateralis during the barbell hip thrust compared to the squat. The latter is one of the quadricep muscles and a knee stabilizer. The barbell thrust is not only better at training the muscles of hip extension, gluteus maximus and biceps femoris, it is kinder and safer to your knees. The squat is good, don’t get me wrong, the hip thrust is just a better option. Do you remember reading my blog post on kettlebells? That was another superior exercise for hip extension. Without hip extension, you cannot get out of the chair you are sitting in and you will lack power and strength during push-off when running. Interestingly, in a 2017 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers discovered in 84 runners with chronic lower-back pain, hip extension exercises every other day reduced running induced back pain after 8-weeks. Get those hip extensors strong, knees stabilized, and back pain diminished, running friends!
My personal favorite leg exercise is the Bulgarian split squat. This is a unilateral exercise, which means you bare the majority of the weight on one foot. Therefore, this challenges your balance, which engages your core muscles more. Additionally, because this is an exercise that is done with one foot on the ground, it better mimics running, where a portion of the stride is spent in single leg stance and you need to go into triple extension at the ankle, knee, and hip for push-off. In a double leg squat, the legs share the load equally, whereas in the Bulgarian split squat, 85% of the load is assumed by the stance leg, creating a more challenging workout. Also, as you squat down, you get a really good stretch on the hip flexors of the rear leg. Try it out folks!
Check out this great link with hip thrust examples:
Bulgarian Split Squat:
As a virtual (online) trainer, I work with runners of different abilities living and training in various locations. I have noticed some trends amongst my runners. They typically fall into three categories: they belong to training groups but are in need of more one on one coaching/mentoring or they are within a few minutes of their Boston Qualifying (BQ) time, or have run their BQ but didn’t qualify with a large enough cushion of time to solidify their acceptance into the race. One of the many questions I ask runners when they approach me about training to achieve their BQ is, “Will you be happy with running your BQ time and not actually getting into the Boston Marathon or do you want to run the Boston Marathon”? Nowadays with the qualifying standards and the masses applying for the race, the latter is more difficult to achieve.
What is a runner to do when they are so close (within a minute or two), yet so far away from achieving their goal of being accepted into the Boston Marathon? Start training earlier to have a longer training season? Train faster? Train with higher mileage? Is running 60-75 miles a week better than running 35-50 miles a week? I’m going to say for most runners the answer is no to all of the above if the runner’s ability is that close to their BQ for their sex/age qualifying standard. Same story with a runner that has run the same time over and over and can’t quite conquer their PR.
A paper was published in the 2011 Journal of Applied Physiology titled, “The two-hour marathon: who and when?” The paper discussed what would be required for an elite male marathon runner to run a 2-hour marathon. Interestingly, after the paper was published, there were 38 unique counter commentaries from physiologists, professors, and researchers around the globe. At the time, the world record in the marathon was 2:03:38, so what would it take for the world’s best runner to improve his time by three minutes and thirty-eight seconds? What would it take for you to improve your time by three minutes and thirty-eight seconds, because that may be the cushion of time you need to be granted acceptance into the Boston Marathon? Guess what? Both you and an elite runner are human beings so if you are running your inherent ability, then the answer will be the same - well, kind of anyway. More on that later. I am using the example of a three-minute difference because you will see below how many runners were not accepted into the Boston Marathon over the years because the cushion of time from their BQ was not large enough to be accepted into the race.
YEAR/ FIELD SIZE / CUT-OFF TIME*/ AMOUNT OF QUALIFIERS NOT ACCEPTED
2012: 27,000 1:14 3,228
2014: 36,000 1:38 2,976
2015: 30,000 1:02 1,947
2016: 30,000 2:28 4,562
2017: 30,000 2:09 2,957
The difference between you and an elite when both are running at their inherent ability is that an elite is just that, an elite. They don’t make mistakes in training (normally a coach makes training decisions for them) or race day strategy execution. Whereas in my observations, recreational runners make small mistakes that have massive consequences. An elite will take 1-3 minutes off their personal best when the weather is favorable to long distance running such as a tailwind and cool weather or a race route that has minimal turns that typically disrupt pace and race “flow” momentarily. The world witnessed this last year in Nike’s Sub 2-Hour Marathon attempt. Scientists identified the most favorable weather day on a Formula One race track. Additionally, the runners in the Nike attempt wore a shoe that had a carbon-fiber plate embedded in the sole of the shoe that would require 4% less energy to run at the same pace. The shoe is banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations and is only one of the reasons Eliud Kipchoge’s 2:00:25 marathon did not count as a world record at the Nike Breaking-2 attempt. This was a two minute and forty second personal best for Kipchoge. Wait, what!? That may be what you need to secure your acceptance into the Boston Marathon or maybe improve your personal best. But the chances of you running a marathon on the most perfect weather day is slim, as well as you buying the Nike VaporFly Elite shoe for $1,000.
One of the things the elites in the sub-2hr attempt did was consume nutrition at very specific times in the race that was handed to them by scientists riding alongside them on bikes. That’s it folks, that is one of the mistakes many make that miss their BQ time or PR. They just don’t fuel their race properly, nor their training runs or their recovery nutrition from training runs is lacking. Like I said earlier, most runners make small mistakes that have massive consequences and nutrition is typically one of those mistakes
So, here is where my services come in. One of the things I do with my runners is problem solve their mistakes in previous training seasons and races. This is the benefit to having a one on one coach, even online. What I do with my runners that are willing to follow the plan (it’s a process), will normally lead to superior results than they had in the past, assuming they are well on race day and that their goals are within their inherent ability.
Thanks for reading my blog posts and I hope to hear from more runners in cyberspace so I can help you achieve your goals. Even if you just choose to shoot me an email or an IM on the Facebook page. If you are on Facebook, please like/follow the Run With Gina page and invite your friends to like it too!
This is an exciting time of year for me. Marathon training season! Does that sound odd? I don’t know if people think as marathon training as a time of year, but for me as a coach, I get an influx of runners beginning their training for the larger U.S. marathons, as well as smaller marathons that occur in the Fall. My runners training for the Chicago, Marine Corp, and New York City Marathons have already begun training and my runners in smaller marathons will begin their training over the next three months. Hip, hip, hooray! Planning training for these runners has inspired this blog about the do’s and don’ts of training.
Many people have found what “works” for them, but maybe they have hit a plateau in their races, but not the ceiling for their potential. Tough to know the difference, but you don’t know until you break away from what you have been doing repeatedly that has given you the same result, or worse - undesirable results. One example would be the runner that trains a lot and trains fast but ends up running their race slower than many of their training runs. If you aren’t wearing a bib, why are you running fast? There are metabolic adaptions that occur when you run a lot of miles at easier paces, but when there is too much intensity in too many of your running days throughout the week, you are at the point of diminishing returns. Aren’t we all looking for more bang for our buck? This is true in every aspect of life, right? One should reap the rewards of their labor on race day. That said, do not write checks your body cannot cash. Be good to your body during training and it will be good to you. This includes having rest days throughout the week, not doing challenging workouts/paces on consecutive days, fuel your body with premium fuel only, prioritize sleep, and understand to become a better runner, one must run…run easy, not fast, except during certain quality run sessions, carefully placed in relation to your race day.
All the above sounds simple, doesn’t it? Okay, maybe the prioritizing sleep can be a challenge with work, school, family, and training. But as far as I’m concerned many of the others listed above are choices you make. How you fuel your body is your choice. Figuring out when you can fit your training runs into your life and getting them done is your choice. Running easy on easy days when your friends may be hammering the pace is your choice to do what is best for you, despite what others may be doing. These are all commitments you make to yourself to stay on track. This is the difference between discipline and motivation. Whenever I am asked about how to stay motivated, people don’t like my answer. Why, you ask? I give them a textbook answer based on what exercise psychology research has to say about motivation, most specifically from behavioral change research, diet and exercise. The bottom line is that motivation comes from within. The most powerful motivation is internal motivation, not external. Motivation doesn’t come from me, the coach, it comes from you, the runner. I can give you a run/workout that I know will build your self-confidence once you have done it, which will then help foster your internal motivation, but if you aren’t disciplined to do the run/workout, then it isn’t that I didn’t motivate you, it is that you are not disciplined towards your goals and commitment to self. Bottom line.
Don’t run too little. Don’t run too much. Don’t run too fast. AND be disciplined and take ownership of YOUR goals. Those are my training tips folks! I want to emphasize that I can give a runner runs/workouts that will build self-confidence which can foster motivation. I have done it for a lot of runners and I can do it for you and virtually too, no matter where you live in the world! Check out the services page on runwithgina.com for the cheapest prices in town…at least for now anyway, so act fast! If you are reading my blog posts from the website, please like/follow the Run With Gina Facebook page for even more valuable information. Thanks for reading and happy training!
I find it interesting when I hear of runners that do not supplement their running with other types of exercises. I suppose it may make sense to them, as running is a full body workout. But as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, most of our bodies have strength deficits/muscle imbalances not just from running, but more so from activities of daily living. Revisiting these blog posts in the runwithgina.com archives; Got Tight Hamstrings, Gym Junkies Beware, Jump Your Way to a Personal Record, and Cross Training Can Improve Run Performance, I have highlighted other ways to supplement your run training, as well as what may hamper your run training.
In the current blog post I want to highlight an awesome supplementary workout to running and why your running can benefit from kettlebells. Kettlebells have been around for centuries, but only more recently have specialized kettlebell gyms popped up, as well as the big box chain gyms having them accessible to gym members. Do you frequent the gym but haven’t seen the kettlebells? They are typically in a corner somewhere with dust accumulating on them. Hopefully after reading this blog post you will understand the benefit of them to supplement your run training and those puppies will be flying off the rack in the gym.
In a 2014 issue of the Strength and Conditioning Journal, researchers did a review of all published evidence-based literature on kettlebells and determined that the muscles targeted in hip-dominant and squat-dominant swings provided muscle activity to muscles that I have seen as frequently weak in the movement screenings of my runners. Here are the highlights of the published information:
I know many runners only run because they only have time to run. Adding other workouts can be a compromise to work/family life balance. But keep in mind, you can get an awesome full-body workout that can compliment your run training in a very time efficient manner. Kettlebells are portable, fairly inexpensive, and a 10-minute routine can do your running wonders.
Often, I have people ask me, “What do you think about this or that?”, typically referring to what is currently trending in fitness and nutrition. I have runners just start working with me that have all kinds of misconceptions about running, training, and performance/recovery nutrition. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I am informed from my graduate studies and evidence-based research. You will not get answers from me that start with, “I heard” or based on the latest fad, unless there is research to support the fad. If I don’t have the answer, I will get the answer or at least a lead in the appropriate direction. It is true you can find research to support just about anything, but that doesn’t mean that the methods aren’t flawed or that there isn’t a research bias.
Those that have worked with me know I am a huge proponent of foam rolling for runners. As far as I’m concerned, a foam roller should be your bff. So why am I such a huge fan of the foam roller and think you should be too? Because I said so. Ha! Just kidding, but that is the sentiment of some that recommend things to others, including a personal trainer I once hired and subsequently fired. In a 2013 paper published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, authors state that research supports these benefits to using a foam roller as a self-myofascial release technique for recovery; attenuates muscle soreness, improves muscle imbalances, improves neuromuscular efficiency, and improves range of motion.
When you run or even just walk around every day, you really want all your muscles to be balanced, but unfortunately, what we do throughout the day mucks that up. (Unilateral hip drop anyone?) Muscles always want to take the path of least resistance, so what is strong will pull one direction and what is weak will allow the pull to happen. Neuromuscular efficiency is an interaction between muscle actions and contractions, coordination, stabilization, body posture and balance. Clearly this is important in athletic movements and even just activities of daily living. When I watch people squat, I want to see their body go into hip, knee, and ankle flexion simultaneously. If not, their neuromuscular system is inefficient, which means the body will make compensations to try to move. If you have poor range of motion in your hips, knees, or ankles, you simply will not have as much power. Imagine a small pendulum. Will there be more power generated if it is pulled back and released from one foot or three feet?
What about whole body cryotherapy for recovery? Cryotherapy is a more recent buzz word and is something that was discussed in great deal in my 2014 ethics in research class. That should give you a hint to how the rest of this blog post will go. Before I go on to share what the research says about cryotherapy, let me just say if someone thinks that something helps them, then you shouldn’t discourage it, but give them the info to allow them to make their own informed decision. In an October 2017 online issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology, whole body cryotherapy was done on 31 runners post marathon. Blood samples were taken to measure muscle damage and markers of inflammation before and after cryotherapy, as well as 24 and 48 hours after cryotherapy, along with a control group for comparison. The positive from the study was that the participants “perceived” less stress on the body after cryotherapy. However, blood data showed that there was no difference in markers for inflammation and muscle damage after cryotherapy compared to the control group.
The body is very complex and has mechanisms to repair itself from damage. Delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS) which many experience after running long distances, is a side effect of the repair process that develops in response to microscopic muscle damage. Taking anti-inflammatory medications as well as cryotherapy interrupts the natural healing process, not accelerate it. Interestingly, in researching for this blog post, I learned the FDA has not approved cryotherapy in the United States. That doesn’t mean that it is illegal for cryotherapy operations to exist, but that there is not enough medical research available to support the use. One of the concerns of the FDA is the possibility of asphyxiation from decreased oxygen associated with exposure to excess nitrogen.
As previously mentioned, I wouldn’t discourage someone from doing something if they think it helps them but pass on information for them to make informed decisions. I know I personally would be grateful if someone can help me save a few bucks by not throwing my money away on something that doesn’t do what I think it does, which, in this case, is improve recovery. Better yet, I would rather add another roller or ball to my collection of therapy aids!
Last week while in the gym, I saw a sign that read, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. I have always said that sometimes a person’s goal is really a dream if it isn’t within their potential. That said, goals should be attainable.
As an online virtual marathon coach, I am contacted by runners of all abilities through my website, runwithgina.com and Run With Gina Facebook page. Regardless of their demographic, they all have one thing in common, to become the best runner they can possibly be. What that is for one person, will be different for another and it is based on their inherent genetic ability.
Unfortunately, many runners over-train and sabotage themselves by never allowing their body to recover from one workout to the next and never achieving their true potential or under train, also never achieving their true potential. My job as a coach is to guide them to their potential and I recommend that we get there by using S.M.A.R.T. goals.
The S.M.A.R.T. acronym stands for, Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely. (By the way, this is not hard and fast; some action items can be replaced with other words. For example, sometimes “A” means “attainable”.) I recommend for my runners that have run half or full marathons before start with a Specific finishing time goal, which is also called an outcome goal. If the runner tells me he wants to run a 3:50 marathon, I will then Measure where his current level of ability is with a 5k (3.1-mile) time trial. Several, slightly varying formulas exist that predict marathon ability on shorter races, such as the 5k distance. I then know if the goal is within his ability and can form an Action-oriented plan to achieve the specific time goal. An action-oriented plan is determining what days, times, and effort levels will be planned out to successfully complete the training runs and equally important, the nutrition and rest to support the run training. Realistic comes in different forms, starting with evaluating if the current action-oriented plan is realistically achievable after a few weeks of implementing it into work/life balance. If in fact it is not realistic, then I help the runner identify all the barriers to his success and we can adjust the plan to be more realistic and set it into action.
Also, part of being realistic is identifying if the runner is adapting to the training and if not, the specific outcome goal may need to be regressed or if they are improving, progressed if he so desires. This is done by occasionally re-measuring their level of ability. Timely, is execution of a marathon training plan that provides the right training stimulus, at the right time, for the appropriate duration to achieve the desired goal. Far too often I see runners that do way too much speed work, way too soon in their training season, which quite frankly is self-sabotaging behavior which prevents them from peaking at the right time in relation to the goal race.
We have arrived at the second week of 2018! How are you doing working towards your lifestyle goals for the new year; more sleep, decreased stress, on point diet, and regular physical fitness? Were any or all those examples part of your New Year’s Resolutions? Sadly, 75% of people drop their resolutions within the first seven days of the new year and only 8% make it the entire year.
I recently noticed a few times a week people tell me their diet and exercise struggles. Interestingly, I notice it more with diet than exercise, because even my runners and people I know that exercise regularly will talk to me about their diet. I am not a dietician, nutritionist, medical doctor, or weight loss specialist. I am not licensed to tell people what to eat, nor are many people that do tell others what to eat. What I am, though, is a healthcare provider and somebody whose lifestyle is deeply rooted in an aversion of what I observe in my patients, who are a representation of the general population (who, in the United States, have seen a steady increase in overweight and obese individuals since the 1970s, as well as associated diseases). My lifestyle or diet and exercise choices are referred to in the health psychology world as “well behaviors”. Well behaviors are activities people engage in to maintain and improve good health and avoid illness (Sarafino & Smith, 2011).
Your diet can be a well behavior. Unfortunately, to many, diet changes are as difficult as giving up smoking cigarettes or other addictive substances. There is plenty of research available suggesting there are reward centers in the brain that respond to sugar and why some people have a “sweet tooth”. But many of the diet choices/habits out there are also culturally rooted; ethnically and/or socially. New Year’s resolutions that include a change in diet should include an understanding of social-cognitive theory, which suggests behavioral modification is an interaction between personal, behavioral, and environmental influences (Bandura, 1977).
Dear readers, many of you I know personally and know what your diets include. I am not judging, but if you express a desire to change your diet for weight loss, improved health, sleep quality, and/or athletic performance, please look at your surroundings; the personal, behavioral, and environmental influences that sabotage your dietary goals. How often are you hitting up cocktails with your gal pals or your boys? The rise in overweight and obese individuals in the US parallels the sales of both soda and alcohol. How about family gatherings and work potlucks? How can one control themselves and stay on point with their diet? How about throwing down a plate of vegetables before you get to your favorite, more satisfying foods. A first plate of vegetables will allow for less room for the other foods. You don’t have to give up what you love, but you should look for ways to include foods that can improve your health and they should be your first choice. Make your behaviors well behaviors!
Just to reiterate, I’m not judging anyone! As full disclosure, I will throw out the fact that I eat for pleasure, not just necessity. Honestly, I went to an all- you-can-eat buffet today. As a matter of fact, I went there three weeks in a row! But, my first plate is always a loaded-up salad! My subsequent food choices are always mindful choices, because it would be way too easy just to eat it all because it is included in the price of admission.
Bandura, A (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Sarafino, E. P., & Smith, T. W. (2011). Health psychology: Biopsychosocial interactions (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
This past Christmas, I received a calendar that had daily inspirational quotes for runners. As you can see in the picture above, the statement for January 5th is, “Believe in yourself. Push your limits & do whatever it takes to conquer your goals”. Most people might read this statement and get fired up, just the push they need.
As a coach with an understanding of physiology and biomechanics and how the body responds to training loads including rest/recovery, I probably view this statement through a different pair of lenses. Believing in yourself is paramount in goal achievement, but it is the second part of the statement, “Push your limits & do whatever it takes to conquer your goals,” that I feel uneasy about. Many people think “more is better, greater intensity is better”, but in reality, nothing is better than “just enough” to elicit the intended training response. As a coach, I want to build my runners up, without breaking them down. Pushing your limits and doing whatever it takes to achieve that will more than likely provide greater risk of injury and overtraining, than to reward you with goal attainment. Many of the runners that train with me often hear me use the statement, “the risk to reward ratio” is too great towards risk.
Earlier today I logged into a pace calculator to put together a race plan for a runner. On the website I saw a link for an article on active.com. Check out this link for the article, “7 Reasons Why You Need a Running Coach”, https://www.active.com/running/articles/7-reasons-why-you-need-a-running-coach/slide-5
As a quick synopsis, the author notes these reasons for needing a running coach and I’ve added my thoughts in the bullet points: