Runners Connect Mon, 30 Mar 2015 23:18:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Train for a Success in a Tough Mudder Mon, 30 Mar 2015 09:00:48 +0000

We look at the traits at what makes a good tough mudder runner. Are you training the right way? We give you the findings of what you need to race to your potential.On Friday, we looked at some of the risks of doing a Tough Mudder, Spartan Run, or other obstacle race. Though the absolute risk of injury during an obstacle race is very low, they are nevertheless riskier than a traditional road race.

But perhaps you, like 1.5 million other participants every year,1 laugh in the face of broken bones, electrical burns, or dislocated shoulders. How should you actually prepare for an obstacle race?

Most obstacle races are not real competitions, per se, with awards and timing chips, but as the old saying goes, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Who wants to be slogging through the mud in the back of the pack, anyway? And given that only 78% of entrants in a Tough Mudder race are able to complete it, you definitely don’t want to be in the other 22%.

Since races like the Tough Mudder can be up to twelve miles long, your regular running training should prove very useful. But the twenty or thirty obstacles you’ll encounter along the way might be another story if you aren’t prepared—runners are not exactly known for their upper-body strength or all-around athleticism!

All this should be evidence enough that you’re going to have to prepare for an obstacle race if you want to do well in one.

Traits of a Good Tough Mudder

In a 2012 article in the Journal of Exercise Physiology, Nicole Mullins of Youngstown State University analyzed research on performance in military obstacle courses to determine what makes a good obstacle course runner.2

As you might guess, being aerobically fit, able to tolerate bursts of high-intensity effort, and having good coordination are all associated with strong performance over obstacle courses in military recruits.

Having a low body fat percentage was also identified as a strong benefit in numerous studies—good news for runners.

But another important factor is what Mullins calls your strength-to-weight ratio.

According to her research, raw strength is not as beneficial as being strong for your weight, since almost every single obstacle you’ll encounter in an obstacle race involves climbing, crawling, jumping, or some other body-weight resistance movement.

Training for a Tough Mudder

Improving this ability is also easier to improve than raw strength, and it doesn’t take any fancy weight machines: exercises like pushups, pull-ups, and bench dips are all great for improving your strength-to-weight ratio.

Mullins suggests implementing interval-style workouts that involve a mixture of moderate to fast running and body-weight obstacle-style exercises done on whatever equipment (if any) is convenient.

Some examples include “rope climbs” up a swing set, vaulting over park benches, sprinting uphill, elevated pushups, and hurdling small objects like rocks or cones.

Each of these should be separated by a segment of running—exactly how much depends on the design of the obstacle race you’ve signed up for, but anywhere from a hundred yards to half a mile is about right in most cases.

Like specific interval training for a traditional race, you probably don’t need to be doing this type of workout more than once every week for 4-6 weeks leading up to the race. You can add in some more strength exercises on the side, but otherwise you can continue with your usual run training.


If you want to do well in an obstacle race, or if you want to have a better chance of actually finishing one, it’s worth your time to prepare.

Add in an obstacle-style interval workout once a week and supplement that with some body-weight strength exercises to improve your strength-to-weight ratio.

With this approach, you’ll be sure to have a better time than jumping into a mud run unprepared!

Are you ready to try a tough mudder yet? What advice would you give?

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How High is Your Injury Risk in a Tough Mudder? Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:00:15 +0000

Tough mudder and obstacle races are growing in popularity, but are you putting yourself at a significant injury risk compared to other running events? We researched to find out and directly compare these races.Have your friends been trying to convince you to do a Tough Mudder or a Spartan Race? You are not alone. We wrote about How to Train for a Tough Mudder or Obstacle course last year, but it has since grown even more.

Obstacle races are on the rise, with over a million participants every year. There’s no question that they can be loads of fun, but being the injury-averse runner you are, you might be wondering about the risks.

Just how dangerous is a mud run? What are your odds of spraining your ankle, breaking your arm, or winding up in the emergency room with some other awful injury that will keep you from making it to the start line of your next running race?

Obstacle races are a relatively new phenomenon, so there isn’t an overwhelming amount of data to review, but there are enough scientific reports and case studies to at least get an idea of the kinds of injuries that can occur and roughly how risky (relative to other events, like a running race) a mud run can be.

Just how likely are you to get injured?

A number of case reports have described some spectacularly scary injuries sustained by participants in mud runs and other obstacle races: Fainting, head injuries, electrical burns, dislocated shoulders, and broken bones. But of course, most of these things (barring electrical burns!) occur from time to time at road races too.

Hardcore running fans will remember 2006 Chicago Marathon champion Robert Cheruiyot slipping on the timing mats at the finish line at that race, falling backwards and hitting his head on the concrete. Cheruiyot wound up in the hospital for two days. Surely, this sort of thing must happen to the middle-of-the-pack runners every now and then, too.

The best way to gauge relative risk is to look at the records of the medical personnel who manage an event.

A 2014 report by several medical doctors at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Pennsylvania detailed the rate of serious injury among 22,000 participants in a Tough Mudder event.1

Thirty-eight participants sustained injuries serious enough to merit being transported to the hospital. To make risk comparisons easy, scientists often standardize rates. In this case, the numbers work out to 1.72 hospital transports for every 1,000 participants at this event.

A response to this paper, by Stephen Luke and Martin Dutch, medical doctors in Melbourne, Australia, contrasted this relatively high rate in the Pennsylvania event with their own experience providing medical care for a Tough Mudder event held in Australia, which also had about 22,000 participants.2

Their event was a quite far from any local hospitals, so they set up a “field hospital” to treat serious but not life-threatening injuries on-location. By doing so, they were able to stabilize broken bones (twelve cases), treat dislocated shoulders (twelve cases), and clean and apply stitches to deep cuts (twenty-six cases), which kept the local hospital from getting bogged down in case somebody really needed hospital transportation.

This resulted in only three patients being taken by ambulance to a hospital, though ten additional patients were sent to the hospital by private car, implying a rate of 0.59 hospital transportations per 1,000 participants.

An additional fourteen participants were referred to their family doctor; including them in the calculation bumps up the rate of medical referral to 1.23 per 1,000.

If we look at the total number of patients treated at the field hospital—126 people, which includes all of the above-mentioned case too—we get a rate of 5.73 “field hospitalizations” per 1,000 participants.

Now, this last rate is probably too high, since many of the injuries treated were not serious enough to even warrant referral to a family doctor. But the range of medical transport rates provided by the Pennsylvania study and the various ways of interpreting the data from the Australia study peg your risk of winding up in the hospital because of a Tough Mudder at somewhere between 1 and 6 in 1,000, roughly speaking.

Comparing to the injury risk of a marathon

You’re probably wondering how this risk compares to typical hospital-transportation rates at an event like a big-city marathon. Fortunately, a 1999 report by William Roberts, medical director of the Twin Cities Marathon, provides us with the data we need.3

Roberts’ paper describes the various injuries and illnesses that occurred over a twelve-year period at the Twin Cities Marathon. Some 81,000 runners started the race during this time period, and of these, thirty were transported to a hospital.

Thus, the hospitalization rate for the Twin Cities Marathon over this period was 0.37 per 1,000 participants. Roberts is careful to point out that Twin Cities is run in fairly cool temperatures—races run in the heat of summer probably carry a greater risk.

So, should you run that mud run all of your friends are doing?

There are two ways to look at it. On one hand, your absolute risk of injury is still quite low. At worst, six in one-thousand participants in an obstacle race wind up headed to the doctor’s office, the ER, or the hospital. Even this worst-case scenario only represents a 0.6% chance.

On the other hand, when comparing the risks of an obstacle race to running a marathon, the mud run is three to fifteen times more dangerous, depending on which data set you’d prefer to use.


There’s no denying these events can be a lot of fun, so your risk tolerance is going to be what dictates whether or not you should do an obstacle race while you’re training for a “real race.”

Are you okay with about a half of a percent-chance of a broken bone, dislocated shoulder, or other significant injury?

Does a three to fifteen-fold increase over a lower-risk event like a road race scare you off? If you’ve been training for years to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and you finally got in this year, maybe this spring is not the best time to do a mud run. But if you’re a bit of an adrenaline junky and there aren’t any immensely important races on the horizon, go right ahead!

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How to Train for an Ultra Mon, 23 Mar 2015 09:00:58 +0000

If you have decided it is time to take on a new challenge, and try an ultra, this is the article for you. We look at all the aspects involved to prepare for your longest run yet.With the growing population of ultra runners, and questions that come in to us about ultra running, it is clear that many runners are becoming curious about ultra marathons.

However, like most things in running, although we want a clear cut answer, one does not exist, but that does not mean we cannot give you advice on how to prepare. A few weeks ago, we covered Why You Should Not Be Scared of Running an Ultra, and today we are going to explain how to take that next step to start training.

Training for an ultra is a far more intuitive and organic process than training for any other distance.

There really are not any set rules when it comes to mileage, pace or distance; and you need to find what works for you on a very individual level and figure it out as you go along.

How you approach it will depend on many factors, and your own personal response to training, as well as the distance of the race you’ve chosen.

To be a good ultra runner, you must become an expert in listening to your own body, and respond accordingly, whether that’s in training or in the race itself.

One thing is for certain; you need to get used to running for a very, very long time. How you do this will depend on your training background, injury susceptibility, fitness level, and ability to adapt to increasing training loads.

Build Foundations

An ultra distance event might have you out on the course for six, seven or many more hours, and probably on rough terrain too, meaning a strong resilient body is going to be vital to keep you injury free and upright.

Before you even think about building up to an ultra, spend a number of months doing a mixed program of strength training, hiking, cross training, and cycling, in addition to your running.

Injury prevention is your number one goal. Before you knock out too much mileage (and get injured), work with a PT or coach on some specific strength and conditioning exercises, focusing on your glutes and core, to iron out any dysfunction and reduce your risk of injury.

“Building solid foundations is vital for anyone contemplating an ultra” explains Mimi Anderson, X-Bionic sponsored ultra-runner and multiple World Record Holder. “I like to think of an ultra runner as a big oak tree. To be successful, you need to put down some roots first. Things like core work, strength and conditioning and general fitness. Then build the main trunk, which consists of your weekly running mileage.

Build some consistent, solid mileage before you even think about tackling an ultra distance event or pushing your long run too far. It might take many months if not years, but like a mighty oak tree, a good ultra runner starts with strong roots and foundations’.

Run a Marathon First?

‘People don’t want to just run a marathon anymore’ explains Hugo Pettit, Organiser of Race to the Stones 100km ultra in the UK, ‘they want a life experience. And that’s exactly what an ultra run will provide.

It’s more about the journey and the experience. And as a result we are seeing a larger proportion of runners who bypass the marathon distance and go straight for the ultra’.

Ultra distance runs are becoming more accessible and open to all runners of all abilities. Races such as Spartathlon and the UTMB for example are still very exclusive and selective with entry requirements and cut off times, but many others are far more inclusive and open to all.

Race to the Stones in the UK is one of those events set up specifically to encourage runners of all abilities. ‘We are seeing the emergence of the ultra-plodder’ explains Hugo, ‘runners who might not be fast, but are strong and can keep going for a long time’.

That’s exactly the lure of the ultra. As the focus is more on ‘completion’ rather than finish time, it tests runners of all abilities regardless of speed.

That said, the ultra is not to be underestimated and whilst you might not need to have done marathon, you do need to train properly and respect the distance.

Weekly Mileage?

Running long once a week isn’t going to cut it when it comes to ultra training. You need to build accumulative fatigue with weekly mileage so you get used to running on tired legs.

If you’re training for a 30-40 mile ultra, your program won’t look much different to a regular marathon training schedule. The only differences might be that your longest run will be closer to 30 miles and you might not do as much speed work.

You will also want to try to include some longer midweek runs (of around 8-10 miles) and work up to back-to-back long runs where you might run 3 hours on a Saturday and then another 3-4 hours on a Sunday on tired legs. It is important to remember it will be much slower than the pace you’ve been used to, and you will need to include more walking/hiking.

What Pace Should I Run at?

The key factor in ultra distance running is to develop your aerobic capacity and your body’s ability to tap into fat stores; you need to become a fat burning machine.

Forget about ‘pace’ as such, and focus on long slow running, lots of walking and just keeping going for a long time. Hugo Pettit calls it your ‘forever pace’; the pace you can just keep going at all day long.

‘Runners coming up from the marathon distance have a natural set pace’ explains Marc Laithwaite, Endurance Coach and organiser of the Lakeland 100 in the UK, ‘Getting those runners to slow down for an ultra can be really hard. They are locked into a pace and it’s hard to get them to run slower. But to run an ultra, that’s really all you have to do’.

Using a heart rate monitor can be a good way to bring the pace down. ‘The Maffetone method (calculate your training heartrate at 180-age) can be great for ultra runners’, explains Marc. ‘It provides a simple structure and a tool to make sure your training is in the right aerobic zone’.

How Long is Long?

‘Your ‘long run’ will depend on the distance of the ultra you’re training for, and varies from person to person’, explains Marc.

‘You can’t fully prepare for a 50 mile race in the same way that you might with a marathon. It’s impossible and you wouldn’t run 50 miles (or even close) in a long training run. So you have to accept you’re going into unchartered territory when you get to the race’.

Many coaches suggest there’s not much benefit in going further than 30 miles in training (in one run), especially if you’re new to ultra running, and for some that might still be too far. Anything further in training can be tough to recover from.

Some ultra runners use a ‘split run’ method to break the mileage down, where they might run 15 miles in the morning, and then another 10 later on in the afternoon for example.

Others run back-to-back long runs on consecutive days, and most also include a lot of walking and hiking in their training as well. Ultimately, it’s simply a case of building up your general mileage, increasing the long run (to the point you can handle), and staying injury free.

Striking the balance between training stress, recovery, and adaptation is never more important than in ultra training; probably more so than for any other distance. So keeping an eye on your recovery and monitoring your adaptation/fatigue levels will be really important.

The Daily Analyses of Life Demands for Athletes (DALDA) — First produced in 1978 by Dr Brent Rushall at San Diego State University and later revised in 2011- is a self-report sport-specific tool to help athletes monitor their individual stress response, training load and signs of overtraining.

Using a tool like the DALDA may help to monitor your training as you build up to an ultra. Becoming more aware of your own personal response to training, rather than following a set plan, is a crucial skill for ultra runners, and the DALDA may be key to that ‘intuitive’ approach.

Don’t Just Run

With volume, comes increased risk of injury; especially as your mileage and long runs build up. Cross training, and specifically road cycling can play a huge part in your fitness, and the reduction of that injury risk. The fitness gains from road cycling transfer well to running; helping with strength, cadence, long sessions to build aerobic capacity and recovery.

Did you listen to our podcast Everything You Need to Know about Injuries with Jeremy Stoker yet? We reveal some interesting findings about Cross training.

‘Long runs can really impact on your body’ explains Ian Corless, coach and host of ‘Talk Ultra’. ‘Hours of running might adapt you to the demands of the race, but sometimes we run the risk of pushing too far, and risking injury.

Long bike rides on hilly terrain for example, can be used to provide multiple hours of low impact exercise. Hours where you can push harder than running, without the risk of damaging knees, muscles, and ligaments. If incorporated with long runs, you have a great way to do back-to-back sessions while reducing impact injury risk’.

Many top ultra runners include cycling as part of their training program, not just when they’re injured, but as part of their day-to-day schedule. Try alternating a long bike and long run each weekend, or use the road bike to spin your legs on a recovery ride the day after a long run.

Mental Toughness

But running an ultra isn’t just about physical fitness; it’s as much about mental toughness as it is about physiological preparation.

‘Successful ultra runners are the ones who stay in the here and now’ explains Marc Laithwaite ‘you need to accept that in an ultra you’ll go through ups and downs, bad patches, and good. Having the mental strength to push through the bad, and stay focused is really important. You need to prepare to be in discomfort at some stage, but know that it will pass’.

‘The hardest part of an ultra in my opinion is always the time during the race when you are going through a bad patch or when things start going wrong’ confirms Mimi Anderson. ‘Your body hurts, you’re struggling to keep yourself motivated and your mind is trying to find reasons why you should stop, this is the point where you need your mental toughness.

Our bodies are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for and being mentally tough means that you can learn to overcome these moments. Mental preparation is just as important as the physical preparation’.


Tough training helps build mental toughness long before your stand on the startline of an ultra. Long runs, early mornings, getting used to training on tired legs, and the accumulation of fatigue are as much about your psychological confidence as your physiological fitness.

It’s simply a circle of confidence.

When we experience success in training and racing, our confidence increases. With increased confidence we can tackle longer distances and more challenging events. Our bodies are only limited by our minds; and we are all more capable of much more than we might think.

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How to Master Being a Masters Runner Fri, 20 Mar 2015 09:00:46 +0000

This guest post was written by Amanda Loudin

Experienced runner Amanda Loudin gives some very helpful advice on how and why you need to adjust your approach training as you age, to become a master, in every sense of the word!Why do you race?

This is a simple question that may have a very complicated answer. The reasons why individual runners race, can be as varied as the shoes on their feet!

As much as we runners like to think that we’re invincible and that age will never impact our running performance, the truth is, it does.

After almost a full decade of running at the masters level, I’ve experienced these effects first hand. I’ve had to change and adjust my approach to training and as I stare down 50 next year, I know that the changes will need to keep coming.

Let me say that masters running is not all gloom and doom—in fact, in some ways I enjoy it more than I did as a younger athlete. But it does require some adjustments and the smart runner will learn to train differently at 45 than he or she did at 35.

Strength work is non-negotiable

One of the biggest issues masters runners need to comprehend is that there is less margin for error.

The risks you might have taken as a younger athlete—and gotten away with—are risks you can no longer take.

For instance, you can’t add on miles or dial up the pace in a prescribed workout. You also can’t cut corners by skipping all the auxiliary work that goes into running.

Speaking of the auxiliary work, it is more important as a masters runner than ever before. I used to take entire race seasons away from strength training. Now, it’s non-negotiable. I incorporate it two times each and every week, plus I include stability training on a daily basis.

Why so important?

First the strength training part: as we leave our 20s, but especially as we cross over the 40-yr. mark, we lose muscle mass at the rate of three to five percent per decade if we are inactive, and around one percent if we remain active.

That muscle loss translates to reduced running economy (our VO2 max at any intensity).

If we counteract that muscle loss via heavy strength training, however, we can maintain a similar running economy and endurance performance, according to a 2013 NIH Study.

The stability work becomes especially important in our 40s because by this stage in our lives, we’ve developed imbalances and poor movement patterns from injuries and our more-sedentary-than-not Western lifestyles.

Deficient function of any component of movement will increase your injury risk, according to a 2013 article by Dr. Trent Nessler in the International Journal of Athletic Therapy. Speaking from experience, these are the things that have hurt me more than training errors.

In order to counteract these accumulated affects, I religiously perform exercises that enhance my balance, my hip stability, and my glute activation. Among my favorites are single-leg deadlifts, a split-lunge rotation, clamshells, and single-leg bridges.

Finally, masters runners cannot overlook flexibility training, but by this, I do not mean a static stretching routine.

Instead, focus on tissue mobility via dynamic warm ups and soft-tissue release with tools like foam rollers (are you making the 4 common foam roller mistakes?), mobility balls, and compression bands.


The bottom line is that masters runners can keep running productively well into their final decades, IF they are willing to make some adjustments to overall training approaches.

Your running machine at 50 is not the same machine it was at 30. Become a different/better mechanic and you’ll enjoy many years of running to come.

If you would like more information on running as you age, read our post; running as you age, is it all bad?

Amanda Loudin Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer, running coach, and the voice behind the MissZippy blog, a site for runners seeking experienced advice, the latest running news, and a fun exchange of all things running related.
Amanda has been running and competing in triathlons for 17 years now. Her athletic experience includes 15 marathons, an Ironman, several trail races, and everything in between, totaling more than 100 races. Still on the agenda: an ultra.

You can find Amanda on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram

How have you adjusted to becoming a masters runner?

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Are You More or Less Prone to Injuries with Maximalist Shoes? Mon, 16 Mar 2015 09:00:36 +0000

Minimalist shoes were hugely popular a few years ago, we now hear maximalist shoes are the best for runners. We research to find out which runners should wear maximalist, and which are putting themselves at a greater risk of injury.“Out with the old, in with the new!”

That is what the New York Times declared a few weeks ago with regards to running shoes.

In this case, the “old” is minimalist shoes, and the “new” is their newly-christened opposite, maximalist shoes.

This term might have been more appropriate for the very cushioned, very heavy shoes that graced running store displays in the early 2000s, since new “maximalist” offerings from brands like Hoka One One and Altra lack many of the features (or design flaws, depending on your perspective) of older built-up running shoes.

Gone are the pronation-control devices and gels, air sacs, or fluids under the heel. Instead, the main selling point of these shoes is the thick layer of foam underfoot, which provides an inch or more of cushioning between your foot and the ground, and their relatively light weight for their size, thanks to high-tech lightweight foam.

Is there any real evidence?

What’s the scientific research say about these ultra-cushioned shoes? Are they any better or worse than a “regular” shoe?

Unlike the makers of minimalist shoes a few years ago, these maximalist shoe companies haven’t funded any scientific studies or cited any that they claim support their ability to prevent injuries, so we’ll have to look at more general research on shoe cushioning.

This decision, by the way, is probably a rational business decision, not an overt attempt to mislead—the last two trendy shoe styles which did fund research and cite scientific studies (Masai Barefoot Technology and Vibram Fivefingers) got slammed with class-action lawsuits over false advertising claims.

The strange conclusion, as Deadspin‘s Kyle Wagner observed, is that “research is bad” because it exposes you to testable claims that can be challenged.

How do maximalist shoes alter your impact?

A reasonable person might assume that more cushioning underfoot would mean less impact when you hit the ground. But, as many readers probably know, that isn’t the case.

Regardless of the surface or what kind of shoe you’re wearing (if any), you actually hit the ground with the same force.1

If you’re running along at eight-minute mile pace, your impact force, and the active force, which occurs when you push off the ground, are the same no matter the surface or shoe.

This is because your body isn’t a passive weight that falls to the ground. Your nervous system actively monitors your mechanics, and adjusts the tension of your muscles just before you hit the ground.

If you put your hand on you quad, you can feel the muscle tense up right before you hit the ground, prepping your legs to absorb the impact.

When you run on a hard surface, your muscles are not quite as tense as when you run on a soft surface, or with a cushioned shoe. As a result, if you considered the “spring system” of the ground, your shoe, and your leg, its stiffness would always be the same, because of how your muscles dynamically adjust to the surface you run on.2

A maximalist shoe won’t result in less impact, but this doesn’t mean lots of cushioning will have no effect at all.

Reduced injury risk?

A 2010 study comparing running on pavement to running on grass found that softer surfaces lead to lower localized pressure on the bottom of your foot.3

You can envision this fairly easily: just like sitting on a hard wooden bench puts more pressure on a smaller area of your pelvis, so too does a very firm shoe or hard surface put more pressure on your feet. Of course, the overall sum of forces isn’t any higher, but lots of cushioning might help spread it out.

This could be good news if you’ve had issues with metatarsalgia or perhaps metatarsal stress fractures—a 2013 study on runners transitioning to minimalist shoes showed an increase in bone stress injury, as measured by MRI, when compared to runners using traditional shoes, so perhaps the opposite is true as well.

Increased Injury risk?

However, generous cushioning in a running shoe does raise a few theoretical concerns.

A 2007 study by Clare Milner, Joseph Hamill, and Irene Davis demonstrated that runners with a history of tibial stress fractures have higher leg stiffness at the knee joint when they run.5 The authors hypothesized that their higher leg stiffness transferred more of the shock from impact onto the “hard” structures of the leg, namely the bones.

Recall that running on an ultra-soft surface requires very high leg stiffness: it’s probable that running in a maximalist shoe will shift some stress away from your foot and away from the soft tissues of your leg (i.e. the muscles and tendons) and put it onto your bones, just by virtue of the changes in leg stiffness necessary to run normally.

Whether this change is at all significant is very much an unanswered question. If you have a history of tibial stress fractures or shin splints, you might want to be extra careful if you decide to try a maximalist shoe.

If you want to run one mile in, say, ten minutes, it takes a certain amount of mechanical force to do it. No shoe, or lack thereof, can fundamentally change this.

Scientific research appears to show that shoes can shift around where some of this energy goes, though. Maximalist shoes could shift the balance towards less stress on your muscles and tendons, and they will also likely reduce localized pressure on the bottom of your foot. But, as was the case with the last fad, they aren’t going to be a miracle cure for everything.


Some people groan about the hype and the marketing cycle that drives these fads, but at the end of the day it’s a good thing for runners.

Thanks to the previous minimalist trend (which will always exist at least as a niche market) and the rising maximalist trend, there’s never been a wider variety of shoes available to run in.

Since the only scientifically-approved advice for choosing footwear is “pick whatever is most comfortable for you,” I welcome the new direction in shoe design!

Did you listen to our podcast with Hoka One President Jim Van Dine?

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Is Your Stride Width to Blame for Your Injuries? Fri, 13 Mar 2015 09:00:48 +0000

Is a narrow stride width the reason you suffer from IT band issues or Shin splints? We know stride length is important, but is this the real culprit?By now, you’ve probably heard of the importance of stride frequency when it comes to injury prevention.

When you increase your stride frequency, taking more steps per minute, you decrease your stride length (assuming you maintain the same speed). This means you don’t have to do as much mechanical work each step, and a number of studies have connected this with a decreased risk of injury.

It’s also pretty easy to measure and adjust—you can manually count the number of times your foot hits the ground in sixty seconds, and you can use a metronome to precisely adjust your stride frequency.

However, there’s a new avenue in biomechanics research: focusing on stride width in addition to stride length.

The length of your stride is a pretty intuitive concept, but what about width?

Stride width is formally defined as the distance between your heels when each heel is at its lowest point during the stride (i.e. when your foot is on the ground). In practice, you can think of it as the lateral separation between your left and right footprints on the ground when you run.

Higher Risk of IT Band Syndrome

Two recent studies have illuminated the role of stride width in determining the stress on your body when you run. The first was published in 2012 by Stacey Meardon, Samuel Campbell, and Timothy Derrick at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Iowa State University.1 Their study examined the role of step width on the forces in your IT band.

The authors started by recording the biomechanics of fifteen recreational runners during normal running. Next, they had the runners increase or decrease their stride width by adopting a “wider” or “narrower” stance and recorded changes in running mechanics. The difference between the wide, narrow, and normal stride widths was about 3.5 inches each way.

By applying a biomechanical model to the data from the runners’ hip, knee, and ankle mechanics, Meardon, Campbell, and Derrick were able to calculate the change in length of the IT band during the stance phase of running: greater change in length implied a greater strain on the IT band.

The data showed that a narrower stride width created more stress on the IT band.

Though the mechanics of it are a little more complicated than this, it’s easy to visualize how running with a “crossover” stride, where your leg crosses the center of your body when you hit the ground, could stretch out the IT band and put more strain on it.

We have a post on how to correct your crossover gait to reduce IT band problems if you are interested in learning how to make the change.

Other research has indicated that higher IT band strain is associated with a significant increase in your risk for IT band syndrome, so it makes sense to try to avoid running with a stride that is too narrow.2

Higher Tibial Stress

Another paper by two of the same researchers, published in April of last year, investigated how step width could affect stress in your tibia.Using a similar experimental design, Meardon and Derrick examined tibial stress in fifteen runners using their normal stride width, then compared it to narrower and wider stride widths.

Again, a wider stride was associated with less stress on the tibia, whereas a narrower stride created more stress on the tibia. Meardon and Derrick proposed that a wider stance prevented the kinds of bending stresses on the tibia that have been connected to stress fractures and shin splints.

Injuries to the tibia and the IT band make up a substantial proportion of running injuries as a whole, so changes in stride width represent a promising new area for treating and preventing running injuries.

This work is still in the early stages, and there are a lot of questions still to be answered. Is there an “ideal” stride width? Is it possible for your stride to be too wide?

Meardon and Derrick cite research that showed increasing your stride width increases the metabolic cost of running, which means that it will probably slow you down a little, but wider strides could also mean dispersing forces elsewhere in the body.

Much like a forefoot strike lowers stress on the knee, shin, and heel, but increases stress on the metatarsals, Achilles, and calf muscles; an increased stride width might also transfer stress away from the IT band and tibia to elsewhere in the legs.


It will take a few years for us to see more research come in on stride width. But while we wait, if you have a history of shin or IT band problems, you might consider positioning your feet further apart when you run, especially if you have what’s known as a “crossover stride.”

Fortunately, you don’t need a biomechanics lab to see whether your feet cross over each other. All you need is a flat stretch of pavement and some water. If you live in a cold climate, a fresh coating of snow will also work!

Splash some water onto the pavement, then run through it at your normal run pace. Continue for long enough to get a set of footprints on dry pavement, then stop and examine them.

Is your left footprint aligned with your right footprint?

To decrease stress on your IT band and tibia, the research suggests that your footprints should overlap only a little bit, if at all. If your footprints cross over each other by several inches, straightening out your footstrike could help reduce your risk of injury.

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Why You Should Not be Scared of Running an Ultra Mon, 09 Mar 2015 09:00:57 +0000

Ultra marathons are gaining popularity, but what makes them so special? We look into the research to see if it is safe, and explain why you should give it a try! Beware, you may get addicted!Technically an ‘ultra-run’ is defined as anything longer than the standard marathon distance ggf 26.2 miles. But that’s where any similarity ends. 

Terrains and distances of organized ultra events vary enormously.

There are some incredible iconic ultras all over the World, eye-watering distances and mind-blowingly extreme conditions:

Think 700km in the Yukon Arctic Ultra pulling a sledge, where ‘just surviving’ is an achievement Or the 333km ‘La Ultra’ in the Indian Himalayas, which takes runners to an altitude of 5000m.

Last year only one competitor finished.

Then there are more realistic 30 or 40 mile ‘baby’ ultras right on your doorstep, which can be a perfect introduction to this inspirational, yet slightly crazy world. But be warned, ultras are highly addictive, once you’ve done one, you could well find yourself thinking ‘just how far can I go?’

How is it possible?

Most exhausted runners who have stumbled over the finish line of a marathon, can’t even begin to imagine running one mile further, let alone another 20, 30 or even more.

How can it be possible to run 100 miles or more without stopping? Actually, it’s just relative.

When you’re new to the sport, a 10km can seem like a long way and the marathon an impossible dream. However, with patience, the right training, and by slowly building up your long run, you get there.

Training to run an ultra really isn’t much different.

‘All you have to do to run an ultra is slow down’ explains Marc Laithwaite, Endurance Coach and Race Director of the Montane Lakeland 100 Mile Trail Race in the UK.

‘Runners coming up from marathon distance find it hard to understand this concept. They have a set pace and getting them to slow down is really hard.

But it’s really simple.

You just need to slow down, reduce your heart rate and train to walk as well as run. There’s actually a lot of walking involved in ultras’.

With an ultra you can forget about PR’s, competition, or performance. They are simply about personal achievement, camaraderie and crossing the finish line.

They also generally take place in stunning locations, on spectacular trails and with amazingly friendly like-minded people who will support you, rather than race you.

‘Running has changed a lot over the last few years’ explains Marc ‘It’s becoming much more about participation, personal achievement and having an amazing experience, instead of chasing a time or bagging a new PR’.

Growing in popularity

And that ethos is driving the exponential growth in ultra running across the Globe. According to research from UltraRunning Magazine, the number of runners completing an ultra in North America alone, has increased from 15,500 in 1998 to 63,530 in 2012.

So as our lives get busier, more stressful and increasingly mundane, we have an innate desire to create lasting memories, shared experiences and to find out just how far we can push ourselves.

Ultras do just that.

The marathon is no longer the ultimate goal. Almost anyone can do it with a bit of training. Ultras on the other hand push you further than you ever thought was possible.

With that comes the most incredible sense of achievement and empowerment, not only for your running, but as a metaphor for your life.

Just how difficult is it?

The truth is that ultra runners are not super-human, they have just become really good at running slowly for a very long time.

They are very well prepared, wear the right clothes, are smart about nutrition, and have admirable mental toughness.

‘A fifty mile ultra is still a massive challenge’ explains Marc ‘but I believe that most people can do it if they commit to some proper training, simply slow down, and treat it with respect. It’s challenging but still doable for the majority of runners’.

Is it safe?

There’s no doubt, that long distance running is grueling and challenging for the body on many levels, but could you be doing any long lasting damage by pushing your body to the absolute limit?

In 2011, a group of researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and UC Davis launched the ‘Ultra-runners Longitudinal Tracking Study’, to assess the health of 1200 ultra runners over a 20 year period.

Baseline findings published in 2014 indicated that, somewhat unsurprisingly, ultra runners were healthier than the general US population, taking an average of only two days off work per year due to illness and with a very low prevalence of any serious medical issues.

Other key findings were that 77% of ultra runners reported an exercise related injury within the last year, which is no higher than the rate of injury in all runners (considered to be around 80%).

Notably however, only 3.7% of injuries were stress fractures, compared to 5-16% reported by other runners.

One explanation could be that due to the increased volume of walking and the terrain, ultra runners experience a reduced overall load; although there is much more work needed in that area.

There was one big concern; around 5% of runners had been hospitalized after an event over the last year (reportedly due to dehydration, electrolyte disturbance or heat exhaustion).

This is an area where scientists hope to glean more information to help educate runners of the dangers in the future.

The psychological profiles of the participants will also be studied as the researchers strive to understand what motivates ultra runners, and how this can be used to encourage others to be more active.

One thing is for sure however; we’ll be watching closely as this exciting research develops over the next few years.

Experience an ultra

Some people feel that ultra running may be safer (and more enjoyable) than road marathons or shorter distances where runners push their heart rate to maximum levels.

Most ultras take place on soft trail, rather than hard tarmac, with the varied terrain providing a more varied workout, and potentially reducing repeated loading to joints and muscles.

The pace is gentle (read about how to pace yourself), and the focus is on completion rather than competition, which makes for a more relaxed, less stressful experience.

The biggest draw for most ultra runners isn’t about the finish time.

It’s simply about the incredible experience, the discovery of just how far you can go, both physically and mentally, and the raw connection with nature, which boost endorphins far more than hammering around the track or through the streets of a city marathon.

What’s stopping you?

If the thought of an ultra is tempting you, our advice is just to go for it.

The key is simply to slow down and treat it as a jog/walk and a nice day out. Of course some of the elites will race hard at the front, but for the vast majority an ultra is an opportunity to take in the views, make some new friends, eat lots of cake and have a lovely long slow run.

To find an event, have a look at Ultra Marathon Running which has almost every Ultra Marathon in the World listed.

Check back in a few weeks for our next post on how to train for an ultra. In the meantime, you can listen to our podcast episode with Ultra runner Podcast host Eric Schranz.

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Do You Absorb More Iron Cooking in a Cast Iron Pan? Fri, 06 Mar 2015 10:00:17 +0000

Some say that cooking in a cast iron pan is a method to increase your iron intake, but is there any real science behind it? We research to find the truthDo you get enough iron in your diet?

Many runners don’t, especially women.

One study of female college athletes found that 31% were iron deficient!1

One method you might have heard about to increase the amount of iron in your diet is cooking your food using cast iron cookware. Absorbing iron from your pots and pans sounds completely crazy—is there any truth to this, or is it just a running old-wives’ tale?

Putting this “myth” to the test

Conceptually, the proposed process for iron from your cookware ending up being absorbed by your body as a nutrient is as follows: individual atoms of iron either flake off or are chemically absorbed by the food you’re cooking, which makes its way to your stomach where the iron gets absorbed and eventually put to use making hemoglobin, ferritin, and other iron-containing proteins.

Fortunately, testing out whether this actually happens pretty easy. All we’d need to do is cook some food in cast iron cookware, check its iron content, and compare this to the same meal cooked in non-iron cookware.

This exact experiment was described in a 1991 article in the Journal of Food Science by Y.J. Cheng and H.C. Brittin.2 An initial experiment, published in 1984, had confirmed that some iron is transferred to food cooked in cast-iron cookware, and that more acidic foods have a greater propensity to absorb iron.3

Cheng and Brittin’s study set out to get a more accurate picture of exactly how much iron is absorbed by two commonly-eaten and fairly acidic foods: applesauce and spaghetti sauce.

Using standard ingredients from a supermarket, Cheng and Brittin cooked up one hundred batches of applesauce and one hundred batches of spaghetti sauce. Fifty batches of each were cooked in cast-iron pots, and fifty were cooked in CorningWare glass dishes, which of course do not contain iron.

A small sample of each batch was analyzed for its moisture content and iron content—it was important to control for moisture content because one cooking method might drive off more water, making it appear as though there was more iron in the food, when really it was merely a concentrating effect.

Cheng and Brittin’s data confirmed that both applesauce and spaghetti sauce pick up a measurable amount of iron after being cooked in cast iron cookware.

When the foods were cooked in the glass dishes, their iron content was negligible: less than one milligram of iron per 100 grams of food (about 3.5 ounces). But when the foods were cooked in cast-iron pots, the spaghetti sauce picked up about 2 mg of iron per 100g of sauce, and the applesauce picked up 6 mg per 100g.

For reference, a typical serving of each of these—about one cup—would be around 250 g, and the recommended daily intake of iron is 8 mg for men and 18 mg for women. A typical iron supplement contains 45 mg of iron.

The moisture content of the dishes did not differ between the cookware, meaning the increase in iron content represents a true transfer of iron from the cast iron pot into the food.

The ability of cast iron cookware to impart just a little bit of iron to foods cooked in it is very convenient if you’re looking to boost your iron intake.

The amount of iron transferred to the food happens to be just enough to be a significant source of dietary iron, but not enough to pose any risk of iron overload in healthy people.


If you are trying to increase your intake of iron, try doing some of your cooking in cast iron pots and pans. You’ll get best results by cooking moist, acidic foods like applesauce, chili, tomato sauce, stew, and scrambled eggs.

As a rough rule of thumb, one cup of these foods will gain about six to eight milligrams of iron after being cooked in cast iron cookware.

Dry, non-acidic foods like pancakes, rice, and green beans don’t pick up much iron from a cast iron pot. Of course, your diet should also contain plenty of foods that naturally contain iron, like red meat, beans, lentils, and spinach.

 How do you make sure you consume enough iron to sustain your training?

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How Running 80% Easy Could Make You 23% Faster Mon, 02 Mar 2015 10:00:27 +0000

We dive into the research looking at high vs. low intensity training. This study found that runners who ran 80% of their runs easy, improved 23% more than those who ran 65% of their training easy.If you have spent any amount of time digging into literature on coaching and training, you probably know there is one running related topic that can be a touchy subject, often leading into lengthy, and sometimes heated discussions; which method of training is best.

Should you accumulate a lot of mileage at an easy pace, only doing a small amount of your running at high speeds?

Or should you try to reach moderate speeds fairly frequently in training so your training sessions are more race-specific?

Difficulty Finding the Truth

Research on untrained or sedentary people suggests that doing a lot of training near the lactate threshold is a very effective way to improve cardiovascular fitness, but observational studies of elite athletes in a range of endurance sports have found that they tend to spend the majority of their time training at slower, easier paces.1

One of the main criticisms of research into high-intensity training programs for runners is that they are too narrowly-focused on immediate results, since the typical study only lasts four to eight weeks.

With this kind of design, research might miss out on the long-term benefits or drawbacks of certain styles of training.

However, it doesn’t take a PhD to see why it’s very difficult to actually conduct a long-term study: it’s going to be very hard to convince a group of runners to let a scientist tell them what workout to do every day for several months, especially if the runners are already fairly accomplished athletes!

Researching the Facts

Today, we’re going to look at one study that actually overcame these challenges in an effort to tackle the training intensity problem.

The study, published in 2007 by a group of researchers at several universities around the world, assigned two different training programs to a group of high-level Spanish distance runners and followed them for five months.1

The duration of the study is quite impressive, as is the running ability of the subjects: the twenty men who enrolled in the study had 10k PRs between 30:30 and 35:00.

These men were split into two groups, each of which was assigned a training program.

The first group was issued a low-intensity training plan, with 80% of all training done “easy”: significantly slower than the lactate threshold (about 1.12x slower than 5k pace for most runners). The other 20% was split evenly between moderate intensity (close to lactate threshold) and high-intensity (close to max heart rate) workouts.

The second group was issued a higher-intensity plan, with 65% of their training easy, 25% moderate intensity, and 10% high intensity.

The individual workouts varied from week to week, but they were always confined to the same distribution of intensity, and pacing was controlled by heart rate monitors. Mileage was built up in a typical manner, and both groups averaged 50-55 miles per week for most of the study.

To ensure the overall training load was similar for both groups, the researchers used a training-load measurement system that took both volume and intensity into account—this mitigates questions like “is 20 miles per week at 7-minute-mile pace harder than 30 miles per week at 8-minute-mile pace?”

To ensure the study’s protocols were followed, the authors set very strict standards on inclusion. The participants had to complete 98% of all assigned training sessions, and they had to wear a heart rate monitor for every run and every workout.

Failure to do both of these resulted in being eliminated from the study. Eight people failed to meet these criteria during the five-month duration. One suffered a chronic injury, and seven more didn’t record all of their training using the heart rate monitor.

This whittled down each group to only six members, which hampers the strength of the results somewhat.

To test the effectiveness of each group’s training regimen, the researchers conducted a 6.5-mile cross country race at the beginning of the study, and again at the end. As you might expect after a five-month training period, both groups improved.

Even though the lower-intensity group spent less time training at race-relevant speeds, they improved more than the higher-intensity training group! The first group improved their time by an average of 2 minutes and 37 seconds, while the second group improved by an average of 2 minutes and 1 second.

Despite the loss of eight of the subjects, the difference between the groups still remained statistically significant.

 Surprising Results?

What could explain this result?

The authors hypothesized that the body’s responses to high-intensity training—interval workouts, fast tempo runs, and so on—occur fairly quickly and can be attained with relatively modest volumes of training, whereas the benefits of low-intensity training, like easy runs, take longer to sink in.

The authors, one of whom is a professional running coach, also write that higher volumes of intense workouts can be too tough on the body.

They had initially intended to have a third group in the study conduct very-high intensity training, focused mostly on workouts near maximum heart rate, but they discovered that most of the athletes in that group began to show the symptoms of overtraining after only two or three weeks.

Though this study came out eight years ago, it hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.

Writer Matt Fitzgerald recently published a book called “80/20 Running” which extols the virtues of keeping about eighty percent of your training at a low intensity. Did you know Matt wrote an article for us recently on the 10 Tips to Tame the Hills of Boston?

Additionally, the training programs of many (though not all) elite runners follow these principles as well. For example, Moses Mosop, a top Kenyan marathoner, did between 70 and 85% of his weekly mileage at 1.2 times slower than marathon pace during his build-up before the 2011 Boston marathon, where he placed 2nd.


What does this mean for your training?

The core message of this study is that you should seek to balance out high-intensity workouts with more easy running.

If you want to get faster, don’t just do all of your runs faster. You should first make sure you’re getting enough easy running in to support your ability to do faster workouts.

As always, be cautious when increasing your training volume. Other research has found that higher mileage is associated with an increase in injury risk2—but also faster times.3

How good are you at keeping your easy runs easy? What has your experience taught you about your training?

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Best Races for Food, Fast and Fun! Fri, 27 Feb 2015 10:00:25 +0000

There are many reasons people race, and we have you covered; if its food, fast or fun, we have the best races for you to choose from!

This guest post was written by Allie Burdick

Why do you race?

This is a simple question that may have a very complicated answer. The reasons why individual runners race, can be as varied as the shoes on their feet!

In the interest of simplicity, we’ve broken down race motivation into three broad categories: food, fast and fun. To bring you the most concise list for whatever your racing reasons are, we’ve scoured the inter webs, grilled running friends and even experienced some of these events first hand.

Here’s our top three for each:

Will Run for Food

If fuel is what you’re after, these races know the way to your heart.

Dole Great Race of Agoura Hills, CA (March)

Dole Great Race of Agoura Hills

Not only are there over 500 vendors and live music at this half, full, 10K and 5K event, but also a complete gourmet food buffet and a pancake booth. Carbs with a side of carbs, anyone? Website

Fat Ass 5K, Springfield, IL (May)

Fatass 5k Springfield

With a name like that, they had better bring the food!

This race doesn’t disappoint. In fact, they don’t even wait until after the race to start feeding participants – the actual race route includes ice cream, donut, beer and corndog stations!

We’re guessing there’s a lot of walking between those stations, and they probably boast the slowest finish times around.

Slow, but happy, very happy. Website

Peaks Island Road Race, ME (July)

Peaks Island Road RaceWhen you think of Maine, there’s only one post-race meal that will do – lobster! The best part is you only have to run 5 miles to indulge in this post-race lobster bake that includes lobster, steak, chicken, vegetarian and kids meals! They should really have this once a month. Website

The Need for Speed

Let’s face it; sometimes you just want a BQ or PR.

Town of Celebration Marathon, Celebration, FL (Jan)

Town of Celebration Marathon

What an appropriate name for a race that boasts a 12.8 percent Boston qualifying finish pool! Plus, it’s in Florida in January; what’s not to celebrate? Website

Maui Oceanfront Marathon, Lahaina, Maui, HI (Jan)

Maui Oceanfront Marathon

Just in case you need another reason to travel to Hawaii, we present to you one of the flattest and fastest courses around.

The marathon is limited to 600 runners, and the other distances (5K, 10K and 15K) only accept 400. Get your spot early and then hang out in paradise while you bask in your PR glory! Website

Houston Marathon, Houston, TX (Jan)

Houston Marathon You know everything is bigger in Texas, except the hills!

You can expect a great course with all the trimmings, and a big Texas welcome when you race this course like a rabbit!

With just over 7,000 finishers last year, 700 qualified for Boston. If seven is your lucky number, I think you just found your race. Website

For the Fun of It

Running is supposed to be fun, right? Sometimes it’s great to sign-up for a race just for the bling, swag or atmosphere.

The Wicked Wine Run 5K, Various Locations

The Wicked Wine Run 5K

Do we need to add anything here? I think the name says it all.

Runners are treated to the sweeping vistas of local vineyards along the course, just to get them in the mood for a glass (or three) at the finish line. Website

Nike Women’s Marathon, San Francisco, CA


Sorry guys but we cannot mention ‘fun’ without this one. What could be more fun then being handed a Tiffany & Co. necklace at the finish line? Being handed one by a firefighter in a tuxedo! Personally I think this should happen at every race.

The ladies are also treated to Ghirardelli chocolate at mile 11 and a Nike dry-fit shirt in their swag bag! Website

New Years Double, Allen, TX

New Years Double

Runners earn every bit of the two coolest medals around, when they complete a half or full marathon on New Years Eve, and another on New Years Day! The medal is actually a big plate with two holders, one for each medal that forms one amazing hunk of bling. Website

Happy New Year indeed.

Allie Burdick
Allie is a sweat addict and gets her fix through running, cycling, swimming and chasing after her twin boys.  Allie is a Oiselle Team Volée member and was a part of Team USA in the World Championship Duathlon competition in 2014.  Allie’s blog VITA – Train for Life is all about hard work and motivation with a healthy kick of snark and hilarity.  Allie currently teaches three weekly fitness classes near her home in the Northeast where she and her husband like to live it up big!
You can find Allie on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Google Plus

Have you ever participated in any of these races? Which one is catching your eye?

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