Runners Connect Mon, 26 Jan 2015 22:17:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Stopping Mid Run- Do You Get the Same Results? Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:00:14 +0000

Have you ever wondered if those short stops for the bathroom or at intersections will affect your training? We researched for you, so you can stop wondering, and focus on what really matters; your training!Stop lights. Every runner hates them.

Nothing is more jarring than cruising along during a run at a solid pace, until you realize the world is not with you in your rhythm, and you have to suddenly come to a stop at a busy intersection to wait for the lights to change.

If you live in the city, or near a road with heavy traffic, this might happen to you a lot.

You may wonder if interruptions like this counterproductive for your training. Is a three or four-minute break in the middle of a run interfering with the benefits of your workout?

This question is relevant even to runners lucky enough to have routes that don’t have stoplights on them. What about bathroom breaks? We have all needed to go to the bathroom while running before.

Or what if you’re a newer running using a broken-up walk/jog training program for your first marathon? Read our post Why Running Slow Doesn’t Matter.

Continuous running vs. stopping and starting

Surprisingly, there has not been any direct research on the question of the effects of very short breaks in a run versus completely continuous running, so we will have to get a bit creative about how we go about searching for answers.

Most research on continuous versus intermittent training in athletes is focused on comparing the relative value of high intensity running during the “on” periods, and walking or standing recovery during the “off” periods—essentially, an interval workout.

Several studies have compared interval-style training to continuous running, but these are not a helpful analogy to taking short breaks during a regular run, since the intensity is not going to be drastically different before and after you interrupt your run.

There is some research on breaking up exercise into several smaller chunks of equal intensity, instead of one continuous block. These studies, however, are focused on improving fitness in overweight or sedentary adults, not athletes. Regardless, they are worth a look.

A 2006 study of fifty sedentary adults in Hong Kong analyzed fitness gains from one daily session of 30min of continuous activity compared five six-minute blocks of activity interspersed throughout the day.1

The study found that VO2 max improved by about the same amount in each group, with the authors writing that the benefits of intermittent exercise of equivalent energy expenditure were similar to the benefits of continuous exercise.

Whether this carries over to higher level training in fit athletes is unclear, but it’s at least a good sign.

Another study, published in 2008 by researchers at the University of Virginia, investigated the effects of a 30min bout of exercise or three 10min bouts at the same intensity on the levels of growth hormone in the blood during the 24-hour period following exercise.2

Though the study focused on obese individuals, there was a fifteen-person control group which had a healthy weight, and within this group, both the 30min and the 3x10min exercise sessions resulted in marked increases in growth hormone in the blood during the day following exercise sessions—a good thing for performance gains—but no significant differences between the two.

We can interpret this to mean that the hormonal benefits of training persist regardless of short (or even longer) breaks in your run, as long as you accumulate the same total amount of running. Check out our post about Understanding How Metabolism works to unlock the mystery of Weight loss for more about hormones.

Heart rate as an indicator of effect

A more obvious factor to consider is heart rate. As soon as you stop running, your heart rate drops.

How fast your heart rate “recovers,” or returns to its resting level once you stop, is dependent on your level of fitness: the fitter you are, the quicker you are able to decrease your heart rate when you stop running when compared to people who are out-of-shape.

This ability is such a good indicator of overall fitness that it’s been found to be a protective factor from sudden death!3

Being able to quickly bring down your heart rate is great for your lifespan, but it does mean that your heart rate will have dropped by 40 or more beats per minute even after just one minute of rest.

If there is a benefit to maintaining a consistently elevated heart rate—and this is an uncertain proposition—you would need your run to be more or less totally continuous, with no stopping at all. On the other hand, the dependence of heart rate recovery on fitness means that newer runners who are not very fit will still maintain a fairly high heart rate during a one or two-minute walk-break.

Plan your route

Real-world experience tells us it can’t be that critical to run nonstop during regular runs: plenty of very fast runners live and train in places like Boston or New York City, and are prepared that one of the downsides of living in the city is that they will need to stop at intersections often.

The occasions where you would like to prioritize uninterrupted continuous runs are your race-specific workouts: if you are doing a ten-mile run at your goal marathon pace, for example, you should try to set it up on a route that won’t have any interruptions.

Even if there’s uncertainty over the physiological benefits, you should keep your race-specific workouts as similar to racing conditions as possible.


From the limited research available, the evidence indicates that short interruptions to your run, whether it’s a stoplight, a bathroom break, or a planned walking break, do not have any major impact on the physiological benefits of training.

Fitness gains, at least in sedentary people, appear to be the same when you compare intermittent versus continuous exercise, and growth hormone levels respond similarly regardless of how you structure your daily exercise.

The big unanswered question is heart rate: is there any additional benefit to your cardiovascular fitness by keeping your heart rate elevated continuously for a long time?

It would require a very well-designed experiment to test this, and the effects, if any, are likely to be small.

In general, you should not fret if you have to stop at a light or use the bathroom for a few minutes. Though research to date is limited, it indicates that you’ll still get the same benefits as long as your total duration of running is the same.

Do you get frustrated stopping during your run? Do you feel it is better psychologically to break up the run, or does it mess up your rhythm?

]]> 0
How Long Until I See Results from my Strength Training? Mon, 19 Jan 2015 10:00:32 +0000

You know what exercises to do to build your hip strength and prevent injures, but how long does it take to see results? We show you the research.Have you noticed we have focused on hip strength a lot lately?

We had a post connecting lower back and hip strength, and another on how hip mobility can determine if you have injuries in your future.

Hopefully by now you see just how important hips are within the entire chain of your body and its movements.

Good hip strength has been linked to a lower risk of IT band syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS, also known as “runner’s knee”), shin splints, and low back pain (that we talked about in our post linking low back pain and hip extensor weakness), in addition to a lower risk of injury overall.1, 2

However, as runners we can sometimes be stubborn, and ignore the warning signs telling us that this is a pain we should not be running through.

Before you know it, you are struggling with one of the above-mentioned injuries.

Hopefully, your next step is you start going to a good physical therapist who keeps up to date on the latest research on running injuries, and you are prescribed a hip strengthening program for rehab.

Then the question remains, how long until I see results from all that strength work?

How long will it take to build hip strength?

Obviously, every injury is different, but when we look at research that uses hip strengthening programs, like our 5 Exercises to Prevent Injury to rehab an injury associated with hip muscle weakness can give us some idea of the timeframe to total recovery.

We will focus on studies that successfully treat running injuries with hip strength rehab programs.

The first study we will look at was published in 2006 by researchers at the University of Kentucky. In this study, a quadriceps and hip abductor strength routine was used to treat PFPS in fourteen subjects.

Over the six-week duration of the study, knee pain gradually diminished, with the decrease becoming statistically significant after four weeks of strength training.

In 2006, a study of PFPS successfully treated thirty-five patients using a six-week hip flexion strength program,4.

Another study in 2000, looked at runners with IT band syndrome following a six-week strength program with success5. However, neither of these studies took week-by-week measurements of knee pain. Did you read our post on the 2 Exercises to Test Your Hip Strength and Stability to Determine Your Risk of Knee Injuries?

A 2011 study matched the four-week marker by demonstrating that a hip strength program resulted in superior results compared to a quadriceps-strengthening program for treating PFPS in runners after four weeks of rehab work.6

A 2011 study by researchers at the University of Calgary showed that a simple hip strength program, completed daily, produced very good results in a small group of runners with PFPS.7

Other than this small study, I have not seen any research using a shorter time period.

Individual differences with rehab

These studies varied in the details of their design, but one element they all shared is that the rehab exercises were done quite frequently—at least three days a week, and in some cases, every day!

Even with regular rehab work, it is likely to take three to four weeks for to see some real results.

Remember, these are studies of many individual runners who may have the same injury, but may have varying levels of the injury.

For example, someone with only minor hip weakness contributing to IT band syndrome might see results more quickly than a more painful case of IT band syndrome with more significant hip muscle weakness, who may take longer to recover from, even with the right rehab program.


Even the perfect rehab exercise routine will take a while before is has a significant effect, so if you are injured, be patient! You will not return to full strength overnight.

Research indicates that successful programs, on average, take three to six weeks to have a significant impact. Give your rehab program at least this long to kick into effect before you ditch it for something else.

During this time, if you cannot run without pain, you can try to maintain your fitness through cross training, assuming it does not irritate your injury.

Unfortunately, there is no quick solution to running injuries.

Exclusive bonus: Download our full Hip Strengthening for Runners Routine. It’s a PDF and video with images and descriptions for the most effective hip exercises for runners. Download yours for free here.

]]> 2
Running as you age. Is it all bad? Mon, 12 Jan 2015 10:00:31 +0000

As you get older, your body changes, but by how much? We look at the research comparing older runners to younger runners to see how biomechanics change over time.In the past, we wrote an article on how children can be compared to a spring in the way they run.

By looking at the way children run, and then monitoring the changes as they grow, we hoped to find some useful insights into our own biomechanics.

Today, we are going to follow runners at the opposite end of the spectrum by looking at how running mechanics changes as you age.

If you are an older runner, in your fifties, sixties, or even seventies, do your mechanics fundamentally change compared to a younger runner?

Biomechanical differences

It is no secret that runners do eventually slow down as they age. After the age of forty, runners slow by an average of 1-6 seconds per mile,1, 2, depending on the race distance.

Research published in 2008 by Italian and Brazilian researchers Giovanni Cavagna, Mario Legramandi, and Leonardo Peyré-Tartaruga attempted to illuminate the biomechanical changes that occur in older runners.3

Cavagna et al. recruited eight healthy men in their late sixties to seventies, three of whom were trained runners.

The researchers had the men run at different speeds along a fifty-meter runway, recording data about their impact forces, and the motion of their joints. The running mechanics of the older men were compared to the same tests on running-mechanics of college-aged men. Again, three of these subjects were also trained runners.

By examining the differences in running mechanics at a broad range of running speeds (as slow as a thirty-minute mile shuffle and as fast as 5:40 mile pace in the older subjects!), Cavagna, Legramandi, and Peyré-Tartaruga were able to demonstrate certain similarities and differences between the older and younger runners.

Muscular Power

The older runners were not able to generate nearly as much vertical “push” off the ground as the younger runners because of their decreased ability to generate muscular power.

In fact, younger runners were able to attain a 75% higher peak vertical acceleration when running at high speeds compared to the older runners.

This lack of muscular power has significant implications on the biomechanics. Younger runners generate vertical power to adopt a longer “loping” stride that spends more time in the air than on the ground.

Older runners cannot generate the same muscular power, and are therefore forced to adopt a much higher stride frequency to run at faster speeds.

In this sense, the concept of the “old man shuffle” has some truth to it.

The inability of older runners to generate enough vertical power to enable an “asymmetric stride”—one which spends more time in the air than on the ground—implies that their efficiency is diminished significantly at speeds faster than 8:45 per mile. This is the point where the most optimal stride patterns change to a floating, asymmetric pattern.

Stride Frequency

An additional barrier to efficient running comes as a result of the higher stride frequency: with less time spent in the air, there is also less time for an older runner to swing his or her legs forward, meaning the “shuffle” must be very quick and inefficient. At higher speeds, this importance is magnified.

Compared to younger runners, older runners become even more inefficient as speeds increase.

If your goal is to avoid or limit these age-related changes in running efficiency, it is pretty clear that you should aim to build or at least maintain your muscular strength.

Cavagna, Legramandi, and Peyré-Tartaruga identify two main reasons why older runners (and older people in general) cannot generate as much muscular power: loss of muscle mass and loss of force production at the cellular level in the muscles. Weight training should address both of these issues.


While these studies do highlight some of the negatives of aging, they do provide us with some very important takeaways (and even some positives).

Most importantly, if you are over the age of fifty, and you are not lifting weights once or twice a week, you should be!

Your focus should be on increasing the strength of the major propulsion and power muscles in your legs: the glutes, hamstrings, and calves. These muscles are what generate power during your running stride (here’s how). Keeping them strong will hopefully stave off the age-related changes in running mechanics.

From what we can gather, the physiology of training itself doesn’t change much as you age.

Sure, you’ll have to slow your workouts down a bit. However, your approach to training itself doesn’t need to change much. You still need to target the same energy systems, find the right balance of work at your 3 different thresholds, find the right mileage, and keep up the speed development work.

Finally, there might be a silver lining to these changes; a higher stride frequency implies less force going through the body with each step, which might explain why older runners have a lower incidence of many common running injuries.4

So, getting older does not mean all bad news, especially if you follow this advice and understand the limitations!

]]> 0
How Ready Will You Be for Your Best Boston? Fri, 09 Jan 2015 10:00:10 +0000

Racing Boston Marathon in 2015? We have lots of great articles, and a bloggers linkup to learn about how others are getting on in their training build up.Are you excited for the buzz of the Boston Marathon yet? Even if you are not racing, it is impossible to not get swept up in the excitement of it!

This week we have shared a post from Matt Fitzgerald with 10 Tips to Tame the Hills of Boston, and the Ultimate Guide to Downhill Running. We also relaunched our podcast with Boston Marathon race director, Dave McGillivray. We will be adding these to our current Boston Marathon posts to give you everything you need to have your best race possible in April.


Here is the full list of all of our Boston Marathon related posts:

How to Train for and Race the Boston Marathon Course: Interview with BAA Coach Terry Shea

4 Key Workouts to Prepare for the Boston Marathon Course

10 Tips to Tame the Hills of Boston

Best Boston- The Ultimate Guide to Running Downhill

Setting up for Success- Boston Marathon Race Director, Dave McGillivray Podcast

3 Race Day Quirks You Must Prepare for in the Final Weeks of Boston Marathon Training

Boston Marathon Pace Calculator


We would love to hear how your training is going, and be a place for you to see how others are getting along in their training.

Running the 2015 Boston Marathon? Get our Boston-specific training articles, exclusive access to our VIP Boston events, and the latest on where, when and how to meet the RunnersConnect team. Click here to stay updated

If you are feeling a little overwhelmed, and would like to see how some of the experienced marathoners are approaching their training, check out how our c0-hosts for this post are getting on:

Happy Fit Mama

Mommy Run Fast

Another Mother Runner- Bethany Meyer

If all this Boston Marathon talk has you excited, but you have not yet dipped under that magic barrier, you can check this out to Reach Your Boston Marathon Dream.

If you have raced Boston Marathon, what would your best advice be to runners?

]]> 0
Be Ready for Your Best Boston- Guide To Running Downhill Thu, 08 Jan 2015 10:00:47 +0000

Boston marathon is known for it's hills. We help you prepare to have your #BestBoston, even if you do not live near any hills!Ask a group of runners from anywhere in the world what races are on their running bucket list, chances are you will hear the same marathons over and over: London, New York, Paris, Frankfurt, Vancouver, Athens, Great Wall of China.

Ask any American, and you are almost guaranteed to hear one marathon: Boston.

As the oldest and most prestigious marathon in the States, the Boston Marathon has become its own phenomenon. As a Brit living in America, at first I did not understand the hype, SURELY a New York or a California marathon would be a better choice?

It was not until the Boston Marathon bombings that I saw that it was not just Boston, this was the entire running community, if not the country, who gets excited for this race.

And that’s when I set out to research exactly how to tackle the infamous course. Drawing upon scientific papers and conversations with experience Boston racers, I’ve put together this guide that will not only help you conquer Boston, but challenge any hilly marathon course.

Running the 2015 Boston Marathon? Get our Boston-specific training articles, exclusive access to our VIP Boston events, and the latest on where, when and how to meet the RunnersConnect team. Click here to stay updated

Training for the hills of Boston

When you think of Boston marathon, what comes to mind?

Other than a Boston Qualifier; possibly the most sought after running goal by Americans, hills are not far behind.

Boston is known for its hills, not just heartbreak, but also the downhill’s that make those last few miles of a marathon even more painful.

Everyone thinks that the uphills affect your race, and they do, but what goes up must come down, and by far the most difficult part of the Boston course are those darn hills. With that in mind, here are our best tactics to make sure you can be as prepared as possible for your next hilly race.

Proper form when running downhill

In 2012, we gave you technical advice on how to run downhills with good running form, and earlier this week Matt Fitzgerald gave you his 10 Best Tips to Tame the Hills of Boston.
Running downhills with good form is extremely important, as it involves eccentric loading- the hill causes your quads to contract to stabilize the knee (and keep you upright), while your knee is simultaneously flexing and your quad is stretching.
This means that your quads are being pulled in two different directions, which can put significant stress on them.

That can be difficult to get your head around, but like they say, a picture says a thousand words. Rather than (attempting to) describe correct form to you, here is a clear image of that correct form in action.

Downhill Running Correct Form

How to practice downhill running (even if you don’t have hills nearby)

Thankfully, as with most running related topics, practicing running downhill running increases your muscles fatigue resistance, and as long as you increase your downhill running slowly, your body will adjust to the downhills, with less resulting soreness.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that has downhills readily available, you may be able to build your fatigue resistance without any additional planning.

Many elite athletes use the following techniques to practice downhill running

  • Point to point steady state runs
    • Getting a friend to drop you off at a highest point, and pick you up at a low point, this allows you to practice running downhill without the added strain of the uphills.
  • Mile repeats over a gradual downhill
    • Again, a friend would need to drive you back up to the top during your recovery. This would allow you to practice running race pace while running downhill.

However, if hills are not easy to find, or during the winter months, there are a few ways to be creative with downhill running practice.

Tilting/decline setting treadmills

Treadmills that can decline have become popular in recent years, as a way to prepare for hilly marathons.

A lot of treadmills now come with 3% decline settings, and this can be used for workouts or bouts within your regular runs. Proform, one of the Boston Marathon sponsors this year, make many varieties of treadmills with decline settings. Proform even has two special edition Boston Marathon 3.0 and 4.0 treadmills with up to a 6% decline!

Proform Boston Marathon Treadmill

If you do not have a few thousand dollars to spend on a new treadmill, placing wooden/cement blocks under the back legs of a treadmill to create a decline for training runs is one alternative. We showed you how to do this on our post comparing Outdoor and Treadmill Running. This is considered effective, although there are yet to be any studies completed on this.

Blocks Treadmill decline

Image from RunningAhead

Additional downhill running tips

  • Wearing a weight jacket can help prepare your quads for additional pounding that will occur with the eccentric loading. However, this can put additional strain on all muscles, which is not recommended for long periods, and can increase injury risk.
  • Exercises such as wall sit and one-legged squats can be another way to practice eccentric loading on your quads, without affecting your workouts.
  • Running a few downhill step workouts throughout your marathon segment is another way to induce the same eccentric loading. This may be a workout you want to use in the earlier stages of build up, and will need to be extremely careful as you become fatigued…no-one wants a broken nose!
  • Finally, one additional running related method commonly used in flat areas is to find an overpass in your town. Although it can be repetitive and boring, this can be one way of practicing downhill’s in an area where there are none.

The most important advice for practicing downhills is to make sure that you gradually add them to your training, and you should gradually increase the grade as you get used to running them. The more you are able to practice (over time) the better adapted your body will be.

Padulo et al. found that elite runners can run downhills more efficiently than amateur runners with less experience. This is not another of those instances where life is just easier for elite runners, but instead they found that it is all about practicing downhills as much as possible. Padulo et al. concluded that more practice leads to better efficiency, which means that no matter what hills you can find, or how you simulate downhill running, it is important to do so.

As we have mentioned, downhill running puts a great deal of extra strain on your muscles, and injury risk increases with any form of additional strain.

What creative ways do you use to simulate race conditions? If you have raced Boston before, what advice would you give to those preparing for it?


]]> 0
10 Tips to Tame the Hills of Boston Mon, 05 Jan 2015 10:00:45 +0000

This guest post was written by Matt FitzgeraldBest selling Endurance Author Matt Fitzgerald gives his 10 best tips of how to race well over the Boston Marathon hills.

We are now in Boston Marathon season. With under 16 weeks to go, most Boston Qualifiers will already have started their base training for the pinnacle race in April. We are hoping to become Boston Central for running articles, and have lots of new posts on how you can get the most out of your training to make sure you are ready.

If you have been following Runners Connect for any amount of time, you will know that we love listening to what Matt Fitzgerald has to say. We have featured Matt on two podcasts:

Proper Nutrition and Racing Technology

What is the Best Diet for Runners?

Matt is not only an expert in nutrition, he is also a very experienced Boston Marathoner, starting when he was 11 years old he ran the last mile of the race with his father! Matt has a PR of 2:41, which he ran at the age of 37 after years of injury left him questioning if he would ever run a marathon again.

Matt is one of the most well known writers within the running world as an author over over 20 running books, including writing a book with Brad Hudson, “Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon”.

This is one man who knows running, and knows Boston Marathon.

Here are his 10 Tips for Taming the Hills of Boston

I ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. My goal time was 2:37. My recent workouts and tune-up races suggested that this was a realistic aspiration. Instead I ran 3:18. The hills did me in—not so much the ups, such as the famous Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, but the downs; those quad-busting 310-foot elevation drops that occurs in the first 4 miles of the race.

Many other runners have had a similar experience. Some runners manage to sail over the climbs and dips between Hopkinton and Copley Square with remarkable success, even on their first try. Those who do are the ones who come prepared. Here are my nine tips—learned the hard way—to prepare for taming the hills of Boston.

1. Include plenty of hills in your training.

Training on hilly terrain will reduce the amount of muscle damage your legs incur when going downhill, and will increase the efficiency of your uphill running.

I recommend that you do most of your long runs on rolling terrain as well as a handful of workouts featuring short, high-intensity uphill and downhill intervals. If you live in a flat area, do this type of training on a treadmill (check back later this week for a post on creative ways to prepare for Boston).

2. Break out your foam roller.

Marathon training tends to create trigger points, or knotted areas of the muscles. These spots are likely to be the first ones to become painful when subjected to the challenge of a net-downhill marathon like Boston.

You can loosen your trigger points, and arrive at the starting line with healthier muscle tissue by practicing myofascial release; a form of self-massage, at home with a therapeutic foam roller. All it takes is 5 minutes of rolling every other day or so, as long as you are not making these 4 Mistakes Runners Make Using the Foam Roller.

3. Work on your hill running technique.

When you run downhill in training, listen to the sound your feet make, and try to run more quietly. Don’t think about the actual movements of your body, just concentrate on what you hear and let your body find the most natural way to descend hills more quietly, which will translate into less impact force and less wear and tear on your legs.

When running uphill in training, concentrate on staying as relaxed as possible. This article on how to Run Uphill and Downhill Effectively should help.

4. Change your attitude to altitude.

Some runners hate going uphill. I myself, have always hated going downhill. Something about the way I’m built makes it awkward and uncomfortable. If you have a strong dislike for either uphill or downhill running, make an effort to acquire a taste for it in your training.

Attitude has a powerful effect on performance. If you expect to suffer on the hills of Boston—either the ups or the downs—you probably will. But if you mentally embrace the challenge they represent, you will feel and perform better.

5. Including plyometrics in your training.

Plyometrics, or jumping exercises, are proven to enhance running economy by improving the ability of the legs to capture energy from impact with the ground, and reuse it for forward propulsion. This type of exercise also helps the legs stand up better to the abuse of downhill running.

Include one or two plyometrics exercises in your strength workouts. An example is the single-leg step jump: Stand on one foot and leap forward onto an aerobics step stacked to 12-18 inches in height. Jump back down to the floor and repeat 12 times, then jump from the other foot.

Running the 2015 Boston Marathon? Get our Boston-specific training articles, exclusive access to our VIP Boston events, and the latest on where, when and how to meet the RunnersConnect team. Click here to stay updated

6. Study the course.

Elite runners often visit the Boston area weeks before the marathon, to train on and familiarize themselves with the course. The best alternative to this measure is studying this Boston race strategy guide or checking out one of the video course tours available online.

The tougher parts of any marathon course are always more dispiriting when they’re unexpected. Seeing the whole course ahead of time is a good way to avoid any nasty surprises in Boston.

7. Choose your shoes carefully.

One of the few smart decisions I made before the 2009 Boston Marathon was to wear slightly cushier shoes than I normally would wear in a race. A little extra midsole foam takes some of the bite out of the steeper descents on the course. Just be sure to make your shoe selection well before the event so you have time to practice in them.

8. Drink tart cherry juice.

Tart cherries contain nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that drinking tart cherry juice before an exhaustive exercise test reduces muscle damage and inflammation. Less muscle damage and inflammation incurred during a marathon equals less pain, and less pain equals a lesser probability of hitting the wall.

To get the best results, drink two servings of tart cherry juice daily for the last six days before the race. Practice this protocol at least once beforehand (perhaps prior to a half-marathon tune-up race) to get comfortable with it.

9. Warm up properly.

You don’t need to do an extensive warm-up before a marathon, but your warm-up should include some plyometrics drills such as single-leg forward hops.

The reason is that this type of exercise triggers an effect called post-activation potentiation, which improves subsequent muscle performance. This effect is all the more helpful before races that start off downhill, as Boston does.

10. Pace yourself!

Starting too fast is the most common mistake in marathon running. It is particularly common at the Boston Marathon, where the first mile drops 85 feet. Don’t “fall” for the trap! Stick to your goal pace despite the helping hand you get from gravity in the early portion of the race.

It’s not so much about saving energy as it is about sparing your legs from unnecessary abuse. Your quads will thank you after you summit Heartbreak Hill and begin a 220-foot drop to the finish line over the final 5 miles of the race.

Matt Fitzgerald Matt Fitzgerald is an endurance sports coach, nutritionist, and author. His many books include 80/20 Running and Racing Weight. A regular contributor to magazines such as Competitor and Women’s Running, he also serves as a training intelligence specialist for PEAR Sports. He is certified by the International Society of Sports Nutrition and provides nutrition coaching services to athletes through

What would you add to this  list? Which of these are you guilty of missing out on?

]]> 0
Is Hip Extensor Weakness Causing Your Back Pain? Mon, 29 Dec 2014 10:00:18 +0000

Have you ever considered the role your hip extensors may be playing in your low back pain? We look at three studies evidence of how this may be the case.Back pain. One of the injuries that can be the most damaging to a runner.

Not only do you feel it while you are running, but almost every movement you make triggers that pain that reminds you something is wrong.

Low back pain is something no one wants to ever have to deal with, and if you do have it, you would do almost anything to make it feel better.

If you stay up to date with the latest information on injury prevention for runners, you have probably have already read our post on the 2 Hip Strength Tests That can Determine Your Risk of Knee Injuries.

In this post, we’re going to look at how the hips (specifically the hip abductors) can impact your lower back health.

Hip abductor and extensor muscles role in low back pain

Two of the most common injuries that affect runners—patellofemoral pain syndrome and IT band syndrome—are directly linked to weakness of the hip abductor and external rotator muscles. But did you know that poor hip strength has been linked to low back pain as well?

Isometric back extension as an indicator of back pain susceptibility?

The first set of evidence that hip muscle weakness might be associated with back pain came from a small study published in 1998 by Markku Kankaanpää and coworkers at Kuopio University in Finland.1

Twenty women with long-standing low back pain had their muscular strength and endurance tested in their back extensor and hip extensor muscles (the glutes). These values were compared to the same measurements from fifteen control subjects with no back pain.

The researchers found that the control subjects were able to hold an isometric back extension significantly longer than the subjects with low back pain. The researchers did however, note a big confounding factor in the design of their study; was it the muscular weakness that caused the back pain, or does chronic back pain lead to muscle atrophy from disuse and pain avoidance?

Female differences in hip extensor strength

This issue became evident in another paper on low back pain in Division I athletes. In a study published in 2000, Scott Nadler and other researchers tested hip abductor and hip extensor strength in 210 athletes. They then inquired about any low back pain in the previous year.2

While no differences in absolute hip strength appeared when comparing the previously injured athletes to the healthy ones, a distinct side-to-side difference in hip extension (but not abduction) strength did emerge, but only in women.

Like the previous study, Nadler’s paper was a retrospective study: it took measurements after an injury had occurred, which is easier to do, but makes separating cause and effect very difficult. A prospective study takes a measurement on a large group of healthy subjects, then waits to see who gets injured later. This is always preferable to retrospective studies.

Hip extensor strength imbalances

Nadler and colleagues followed up their previous work with a prospective study the next year3 They tested hip abductor and extensor strength of 163 DI athletes before participating in various sports.

The researchers then tracked the study’s participants for a year, recording any athlete who suffered from low back pain not related to an acute injury (like being tackled in football).

Only five women and eight men suffered from low back pain during the following year, making it difficult to draw any strong statistical evidence, but the same pattern emerged: women with an imbalance in hip extensor strength had a increased risk of low back pain.

What is interesting is that the absolute strength of the hip abductor or extensor muscles did not seem to have an impact. However, the percentage difference between the extensor strength on the left side versus the right side did.

This study also highlights one of the drawbacks of prospective studies: although they are significantly better at prediction, researchers need to conduct a very large study for a very long time to get enough results to provide statistically significant evidence.

Further studies required to generalize

Why does hip extensor weakness and imbalance appear to be linked to low back pain, and why does this only seem to be the case in women?

This is a tough question to answer, because the biomechanics of the issue are not obvious.

In studies looking at hip strength and knee injuries in runners, there was a clear connection between the biomechanical problem (inward rotation at the knee) and the muscular cause (weakness and poor coordination in the external rotators and abductors at the hip).

This is not the case when it comes to low back pain.

There is a lot more work to be done on this area: larger, longer-term prospective studies are needed to sort out the specifics on hip extensor weakness or imbalance in low back pain in athletes. Careful biomechanical analysis is also needed to determine why hip muscle imbalance could result in a back injury.

Even though it is likely to take some time until that research comes in, female runners with low back pain should assess to see if hip extensor imbalance is contributing to injury susceptibility. If you are at the point where you have exhausted other options, this may be something that you chose to look into.

If hip muscle imbalance and back pain follow the same pattern as hip muscle weakness and knee injuries, it should be possible to improve or eliminate the problem with a well-designed hip strength program.

Exclusive bonus: Download our full Hip Strengthening for Runners Routine. It’s a PDF and video with images and descriptions for the most effective hip exercises for runners. Download yours for free here.

]]> 0
6 Extreme and Unusual Races of the World Mon, 22 Dec 2014 10:00:02 +0000

This guest post was written by Hollie Mantle

As the new year looms closer, you can almost see most runner minds churning away, thinking about the next goal race. Maybe you are fed up of trying to cut down that stubborn 5k PR, or maybe you are trying to convince yourself that third time is a charm for your BQ qualifier.

Sometimes we just need to step away from those big, time focused goals, and look for something different. Or how about when you have been there, done that, got the T-shirt (in every size, color, and style), what do you do next?

Both scenarios mean it is probably a good time to look for something completely different to step away from the norm. As runners we love overcoming challenges and pushing our bodies to see what we can achieve.

It does not mean you can never go back to those goals, but something to refresh your outlook on running can work wonders for your training, especially as training is like investing, each year you compound your fitness, and diversifying can bring about all kinds of rewards in the future.

Why not try jumping totally out of your comfort zone, by checking out these extreme and unusual races from our guest writer Hollie Mantle. This way you can combine your running goals with a vacation, and travel to one of these unique destination races.

Extreme Marathons

These races are for those adrenaline junkie runners. If you have exhausted all your PRs (or accepted that PRs in the future are unlikely), why not try a real challenge through one of these intense races.

The 4 Deserts Race

4 Deserts Race

This multi-desert race takes place over 7 days, and covers a whopping 250k (155 miles) in total. The four punishing legs include the Gobi March in China, the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Sahara Race in Egypt and The Last Desert in Antarctica.

Considering running times for this monster marathon are between 25 and 70 hours, only the fittest may enter. You’ll need to give proof of medical records upon registration.

The Antarctic Ice Marathon

Have you become stuck in your training? Looking for a new challenge? Check out these fun races all over the world.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out exactly where the Antarctic Marathon takes place. This race kicks off at the foot of Ellsworth Mountain, and travel operators such as Marathon Tours will ensure you get there in one piece (via a short flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia in Argentina, followed by a boat to the South Pole, then a dinghy to the start line – simple!)

In terms of the actual feat of tackling the snow clad trail; prepare yourself for running in 10F (-12C) degree temperatures. This means cold weather running shoes, wind proof jackets and layers, layers, layers.

Make sure you book well in advance; the race is currently full for 2015 and 2016 as there are only a hundred places available. There is also a 100k race available, for those who think a marathon is just too easy :)

Haria Extreme

Haria Extreme

For a race that is easier to access, and won’t involve re-mortgaging the house, the Haria Extreme takes place each year in Lanzarote, a Spanish island.

The race itself is only 32km long, but is teetering with harsh, rocky uphill scrambles that make it more than enough of a challenge for the most experienced runners.

Unlike the Antarctic Ice Marathon, this is something you will have to organise individually. You may be able to find cheap flights online, and to save cash on hotels by staying somewhere further south like Puerto del Carmen, which is close to the Timanfaya National Park, which will have plenty to keep you hobbling around after the race is over.

The Everest Ultra

Have you become stuck in your training? Looking for a new challenge? Check out these fun races all over the world.

At an altitude of 5184 metres (17007 feet), this is the highest marathon in the world. As most people struggle walking at such heights without being hit with mountain sickness, you will need to be strong-stomached as well as strong-legged for this one!

This race takes place around March and April and only 50 hardened participants may enter. You can find information about travel to the start line here.

Unusual Races

We have all seen how the color run exploded all over the country, and tough mudder races are ever popular, but what about if you are looking for something completely different. Check out these fun races:

Zombie Run

Have you become stuck in your training? Looking for a new challenge? Check out these fun races all over the world.

This chase-style race is only short at 5k but is sure to leave you breathless with the added adrenaline of being pursued by hundreds of flesh-eating zombies….well, if you get into the spirit of things!

At the start of the Zombie Run race you can choose to adopt a zombie or terrified-human persona, after which humans are given a two minute head start to run for their lives. Definitely one for the fun-loving runner who doesn’t mind breaking into a sprint.

Man vs. Horse

Have you become stuck in your training? Looking for a new challenge? Check out these fun races all over the world.

Although the name suggests a man vs beast type combat, don’t be fooled. This race started in 1980 after a suggestion that a man could outrun a horse over long distances. Fast-forward 34 years and man has triumphed a mere two times since the race began.

The original Man vs. Horse race is set in wales, around 5 1/2 hours from London, England. Although it is not technically a marathon at 23.6 miles, the 3000ft you’ll have to ascend through rough terrain definitely doesn’t make it easy. There is now a Man vs Horse 10 mile, marathon, and 50k in the Arizona desert too.

The challenge of attempting an unlikely win is what attracts most to this event.

The Great British Beerathon

Have you become stuck in your training? Looking for a new challenge? Check out these fun races all over the world.

For the beer mile lovers, or those who can only commit to the first few days of January as part of a sure-to-fail New Year’s Resolution, meet the The Great British Beerathon. In this event, competitors run five 1k laps, all beginning and ending at the pub.

Pit stops involve challenges such as gorging on pasties, pies and pints of Guinness.

If your arteries survive the attack, there is a prize for the first male and first female, which may or may not involve more alcohol. More information about the race is available here.

Ran any weird, wonderful, death-defying races lately? Which of these would you like to do?

hollie-mantle1-150x150Hollie Mantle is a Digital Marketing Executive for AccuraCast, London’s leading marketing agency. Hollie has spent a lot of time traveling the world, including spending two years in Japan. Hollie won a travel writing competition in English newspaper; The Telegraph, and was a frequent star of rural Japanese TV. You can follow Hollie on Google+.

]]> 0
How to Read and Interpret the Wear Pattern on Your Running Shoes Thu, 18 Dec 2014 10:00:01 +0000

One of the best things about running is that you can do it anywhere. It does not require expensive equipment or fancy gym machinery to run. The only thing you may need to invest in is some running shoes.

When we make the trip to a running store or look online at what shoes we want, one of the first things we tend to look at before purchasing a new pair is the wear pattern exhibited on the soles of the trainers we are replacing.

Wear pattern can provide a glimpse of how we run but misinterpretation of these patterns may lead us down a road of inappropriate shoe selection and running form modification that could potentially reduce performance and increase risk of injury.

Where Is It Normal To Have Wear?

It is always dangerous to use the word ‘normal’ when referring to running performance and injury prevention. What may be a healthy, robust, efficient way of moving for one runner could be a source of inefficiency and/or injury for another.

As a result, generalizations and myths evolve with regard to what we should and shouldn’t expect to see when looking at the wear on the sole of an old pair of running shoes.

Wear on the heel is a good example of this: For many runners, heel striking is still seen as a sign of inefficiency, despite what the research shows us.

A study by Dr. Pete Larson of at the 2009 Manchester City Marathon revealed that at the 10km (6.2 miles) point, 88.9% of the 936 runners he filmed were heel striking. Only 3.4% of these runners were landing on midfoot and 1.8% on forefoot.

We discussed why heel striking is incorrectly associated with inefficiency but suffice to say that if landing on your heel during a marathon is as ‘normal’ as this research shows, we should expect for many distance runners a certain amount of wear on the heels of their shoes.

The Three Phases of Foot Strike

Seeing wear on the outside of the shoe (heel or the forefoot) is also regarded by many as a bad sign. And yet, landing on the outside of the foot is part of the ingenious way in which our feet and body naturally work to propel ourselves forwards.

From the moment the foot lands in front of us (initial contact) to the moment it leaves the ground behind us (toe off), the foot goes through specific movement changes that allow the absorption of ground forces to be converted into propulsion. Most runners have heard of them already: supination and pronation.

Initial Contact

As the foot prepares for initial contact on the ground in front of us, it naturally tilts inwards (supinates). This is part of preparing for the impact of landing, and as a result the outer (lateral) edge of the sole comes into contact with the ground before the inner (medial) edge.

There is a lot of conflicting information on how to select the correct running shoes. We break it down simply into three phases of foot strike, and discuss where it is normal to have wear on running shoes, how much, and how wear on one shoe can affect your running.


Once the foot has made initial contact on the outside edge, it begins to distribute and absorb the ground force by tilting outwards, meaning the inner (medial) edge of the foot lowers towards the ground. This process is known as pronation, and is again a natural movement.

This continues to midstance at which the maximum amount of body weight is being supported by the stabilizing leg. It also the point when the hip, knee and ankle are at their most bent (flexed).

There is a lot of conflicting information on how to select the correct running shoes. We break it down simply into three phases of foot strike, and discuss where it is normal to have wear on running shoes, how much, and how wear on one shoe can affect your running.

Toe Off

Once you pass mid stance; your hip, knee, and ankle start to straighten to help drive your stabilizing leg back underneath your body. In doing so, the foot starts to supinate again, with the arch lifting away from the floor in order to provide a solid base on which to push off. The last point of contact is generally the 2nd and 3rd toes. Wear on the sole here may have implications which we will consider shortly.

There is a lot of conflicting information on how to select the correct running shoes. We break it down simply into three phases of foot strike, and discuss where it is normal to have wear on running shoes, how much, and how wear on one shoe can affect your running.

Hopefully you can now see that labelling a runner as a ‘supinator’ or a ‘pronator’ is meaningless. We need both of these to move!

Supination and pronation are natural movements that we should not try to think about or force whilst running.

The degree to which each occur will also differ from one runner to another in accordance with natural human variance, as we discussed in our Impact of Footwear and Foot Type on Injury Prevention post.

As humans, we are all built slightly differently, and must therefore expect to move slightly differently. If we cannot establish the existence of a ‘normal’ it thus makes it tricky to label anyone as an ‘underpronator’ or an ‘overpronator’.

Therefore, landing on the outside of the heel is perfectly common. Yes, if your old pair of trainers are worn on the lateral heel, they may well tilt inwards when you place them on the floor – but this does not necessarily mean you are an ‘underpronator’ or ‘oversupinator’.

How Much Wear Is Normal?

A problem also arises when we try and decide how much wear is normal. This is where use of full body gait analysis can be highly advantageous, as opposed to the Running Store Analysis, that May Not Help You Find the Correct Shoe.

By looking higher up the body, we can see if there is any other reason a runner may be landing particularly heavy on a certain part of their shoe. For example, a natural ‘bow’ in the long tibia shin bone (known as ‘genus varum’) will cause a foot to land more on the outer edge of the shoe.

Inappropriate trainers can also cause excessive wear on the outside of the shoe.

As we saw in the link above, the ‘overpronation’ model of running shoe recommendation is seriously flawed, meaning that some runners are sold shoes designed to provide extra support on the inside of the shoe (higher density foam in the midsole), that may not actually be required. This extra support under the inner arch of the foot could cause the foot to land on the outside which would again show up as excessive lateral wear.

Signs of wear on the inner sole are far less common than the outer sole. Inner wear would suggest that the foot is landing in a pronated state (tilted outwards), but would again require a full body gait analysis to see why this is so, paying particular attention to what is happening at the pelvis and hips.

This would also be the case for excessive wear under the base of the big toe, indicative of a ‘twisting’ motion at toe off, as if you were putting out a cigarette (not that any of you smoke of course). If the hip is unable to rotate sufficiently at this point in gait cycle, the movement is achieved by the foot twisting instead, typically to the outside. This in time can lead to a circular type wear pattern under the base of the big toe.

What If Only One Shoe Has Excessive Wear?

Just as it is natural for runners to show variance in degree of pronation and supination, it is also typical for one leg to be slightly longer than the other. Symmetry is remarkably uncommon in nature with some research suggesting that for most people anatomic leg-length inequality does not appear to be clinically significant until the magnitude reaches around 20mm.

If just one of your shoes is showing excessive wear along with an ongoing issue of injury and/or pain, it is worth having a full body gait analysis to see whether a significant structural leg length difference is the cause of inefficient mechanics at hip level.

It should also be mentioned that shoes do not always come from the factory identical, and relatively tiny changes in shoe structure can make a big difference to the way in which your feet land.

This is why it is so important to break new shoes in gently, even if they are exactly the same model as your old shoes. Rotate them with your old shoes by starting with just a few miles in the new pair, listening to your body as you give it a chance to adjust to any potential differences. If after a few test runs one shoe feels different, or even if both shoes feel different to the last pair, do not be afraid to take them back and ask for a replacement pair.


There are many reasons your shoes may exhibit the wear that they do. It is important not to jump to any conclusions without having a full body video gait analysis.

It may be that the shoes you are wearing are not suitable for you; it could be that your running form requires modifying. But it could also be that the wear you see is to be expected given your unique physical makeup, and has nothing at all to do with a particular injury or pain you have been suffering.

As is so often the case when it comes to running analysis, wear patterns are just one piece of the large jigsaw to help you become a faster, more resilient runner. Success comes in being able to put the jigsaw together correctly and not focusing too much on just one part.

Happy Running!


]]> 2
How Your Hip Joint Mobility Can Predict Your Running Injuries Thu, 11 Dec 2014 10:00:44 +0000

Your hip joint range of motion could be the source of your injuries, we look at the research on hip mobility, and what you can do to improve it.Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the different sources of information telling you to take different approaches to get the most out of your running?

We do!

It can be difficult to sort through what is real, and what could do more harm than good.

Everyone is always looking for the latest and greatest research to find “the secret” to running fast. Depending on your age, and your interest in the latest running news, you will notice that some of the same topics seem to come up over and over again.

The importance of hips in staying healthy is one of those topics that seem to come up over and over.  If you stay on top of the latest news about running injuries, you’re probably familiar with the increasing body of scientific evidence connecting hip strength, or a lack thereof, with injury.

We would like to highlight the research on hip range of motion to make it a little easier for you to follow. You can even find our sources at the end of the post, so you know this is not just a case of Chinese Wispers!

If you are interested in learning more about Biomechanics, check out our Introduction to Biomechanics and Which Biomechanical Error is Holding You Back posts.

The role of hip range of motion in predicting injuries

As it turns out, hip mechanics have a profound impact on the workings of your lower body when you run. However, the puzzle cannot simply be put together by strengthening some muscular weaknesses.

Hip muscle weakness definitely plays a major role in many different injuries, but the correspondence between hip weakness and abnormal hip mechanics is not entirely one-to-one. Other factors appear to play a role in determining your hip mechanics too.

One of these could be hip range of motion—do “tight hips” cause injuries?

Healthy vs injured range of motion

A little-known study published in 1992 by researchers at the University of Amsterdam contends that hip range of motion might be linked to injury risk.1 In this study, researchers measured the hip and ankle flexion/extension ranges of motion of sixteen male runners who had suffered an injury during the previous year, then compared them to the hip and ankle range of motion of sixteen male runners of similar age and weekly mileage who had remained healthy.

Ankle range of motion was not linked to injury: runners with a history of injury had no better or worse mobility in their ankles than the healthy runners, and they also had equal ankle mobility when comparing their previously-injured side to their healthy side.

In terms of hip range of motion, the runners with a history of injury, had a hip joint range of motion that was ten degrees less than the healthy runners.

The difference in range of motion was similar when comparing sides of the body, meaning that the injured runners had the same limited hip mobility on their injured side as on their healthy side. This suggests that it is less likely that the difference in hip mobility was a result of the injury as opposed to one of the causes.

Surprisingly, there was little follow-up to this study. Perhaps research focus simply shifted to hip strength and coordination, or maybe scientists just weren’t impressed by the small size and experimental limitations of the study. Regardless, there are no later studies that further explored this issue, so more research is undoubtedly needed.

Improving hip mobility for injury prevention

If we accept that there is at least some evidence linking hip range of motion to injury risk, how would we go about increasing our hip mobility?

Fortunately, there is better evidence in that area. Even though it is commonly criticized, old-fashioned static stretching is a reliable way to increase hip range of motion.

A 1993 study, found that three weeks of twice-weekly hip stretching sessions improved hip extension range of motion by ten to twelve degrees.2 A 1980 study found that hip mobility exercises are helpful at increasing hip range of motion too, to the tune of about fifteen degrees.3


One study published twenty-two years ago is not much to go on as far as making broad recommendations.

The most we can say is that there is some evidence that shows limitations in your hip flexion and extension range of motion could be related to injury risk. If you do feel like poor hip mobility is affecting your running, or if a doctor or physical therapist notes that you have “tight hips,” you might want to try stretching and mobility exercises to rectify the problem.

These are all short and easy additions to your training routine that could make a big difference in your hip mobility.

]]> 0