By Damian Stoy
I use to suffer from many chronic running injuries and had several doctors and physical therapists tell me:
“Give up running.” “Running is bad for you.” “You aren’t designed to run.”
I sure am glad I didn’t listen to them. Since then, I have run over 30 ultra marathons and even won 8 of them.
But a much greater accomplishment is the fact that I have been injury-free for the past 10 years. Yep, not a single major running injury in over 10 years even as a competitive ultra runner. Sure, I have minor tweaks and pain after running 100 miles in the mountains. But I do specific things that prevent serious injury which would cause me to go back to the days when I was injured and couldn’t run. I never want to go back to those dark days.
Shin splints, runner’s knee, IT band pain, muscle strains and foot pain were just some of the injuries I use to suffer from. Worst of all, I had patellar tendonitis in both knees for two years when I was in college. I was in pain all the time and some days I could barely walk. I went to some of the best doctors and physical therapists in New England and nothing seemed to help so I gave up running completely.
Two years of not running led to depression and a decline in health. I decided there had to be a solution, a better way. I did some research, read lots of books and found out that if I modified and practiced my running technique, I could maybe run again. It sounded unbelievable and I was very skeptical. But I went out and modified my running technique, running for the first time in over 2 years. To my surprise I was able to run with minimal pain. As the days went past, I was able to run more and more with less and less pain. I was hooked.
That was over 10 years ago and since then I have learned extensively about how to run injury-free as well as increase performance. I have experimented with many concepts and lots of trial and error. Now being a competitive ultra runner and injury-free for over 10 years, I have found what what works really well for me and my passion is sharing it with others.
My top tips for injury-free running and greater performance:
1. Listen to your body
Yes, I have minor tweaks and pains when I train and after 50 or 100 mile races. The important thing is to not let these become injuries that stop you from running. The key is listening to your body. Do NOT ignore these pains. They are a signal from your body that you need to back off, rest or correct something such as your running technique. Do not be afraid to take a couple days or more completely off.
2. Improve your running technique
The major factor that allowed me to overcome chronic injuries was modifying my running technique. In the past I was inefficient and ran with a high impact technique that beat up my body, though at the time I did not know. For you to correctly modify your technique, do lots of your own research and try different concepts. I highly recommend seeking out a technique specialist to help you with your technique. At a minimum, video yourself running so you can see exactly how you run. Too many runners tell me they don’t heel strike, don’t have imbalances or misalignment issues but most often they do.
I highly recommend seeking out a running technique specialist such as myself (not just a shoe store employee or even a physical therapist). Altra’s Run Better page can get you started on technique tips. But remember, a specialist is the best way to truly improve your technique.
3. Improve your nutrition
What I eat greatly enhances my overall health, keeps my energy levels very high and helps me to recover incredibly fast. Again, the key is listening to your body and finding out what works best for you. I have tried just about everything out there and the ‘diet’ that works best for ME for performance, recovery and increased energy is a whole foods, plant-based diet (WFPB).
A great place to get started for those interested in a WFPB is Forks Over Knives. I also recommend seeking out a nutritional coach like Lindsey at Wholicious Living who can get you great results and is an elite runner (she’s also my girlfriend, in the picture above).
4. Train smarter, not harder
I am a firm believer in quality over quantity. Training with this philosophy can prevent burn out, decrease injuries and running will be more enjoyable. You will also be more likely to reach your long term goals. Every run you do should have a purpose. Get rid of the junk miles that do not serve a purpose. Cyclic and periodization training are very valuable for reaching long term goals.
There are many good training programs out there. However, most do not focus on injury prevention. I highly recommend looking for a running coach (like myself of course) that specifically focuses on injury prevention as well as performance.
5. Other important factors
Cross training and runner specific strength training are beneficial but in my opinion NOT as important as the factors I discuss above. Your foundation should be overall health, an efficient technique and proper training. Strength and cross training will build upon your foundation but too many runners rely on them exclusively for injury prevention. Watch this video for 8 exercises that can be beneficial for runners.
I am also an advocate of sports massage, yoga, physical therapy and other techniques to help enhance recovery and overall health. But again, do NOT rely exclusively on these for injury-prevention.
I hope these tips help you run happier, healthier and injury-free. Please feel free to ask me any questions by emailing me here . Also, if this blog was helpful, please share it and ‘like’ my Wholistic Running Facebook page for more tips.
Damian Stoy is a running coach, biomechanics specialist, nutritional consultant and founder of Wholistic Running. He offers online coaching, workshops, private lessons and nutritional consultations for runners all around the world.
By Ambassador Jennifer Fisher
After a long run in cold weather, nothing warms up my body and nourishes my soul more than a big bowl of soup. Who wants to think about making a complicated meal when road weary and starving? Not me! Instead, having a batch of homemade soup waiting in the slow cooker or ready to simmer on the stovetop is the way to go – plus, soup is the perfect way to create a one-dish recovery meal that features the right mix of carbohydrates, protein, and healing vitamins and minerals. Eating soup after a workout doesn’t just fill up your tank with healthy food, the extra liquid helps restore hydration! I’m sharing six soup and stew recipes from TheFitFork.com that are in constant rotation at my house during the fall and winter running seasons — each is easy to make and tastes just as good (if not better) as leftovers.
Chipotle Squash & Chickpea Soup – This vegetarian-friendly soup is silky smooth and creamy, it gets a boost of protein from pureed chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans). Make it festive by adding southwestern-inspired toppings such as queso fresco, pumpkin seeds, jalapeno slices or crumbled tortilla chips.
Wilted Greens, Beans & Beef Meatball Stew – So much healthy goodness in one pot of stew and it’s easy to make, too! You get loads of vitamins, minerals and fiber in every bowl – especially notable, iron. Along with beef, winter greens such as kale, chard and collards are rich in iron. Runners can easily become iron depleted and this soup recipe is a tasty way to keep a pesky problem at bay!
Southwestern Sweet Potato Soup Most runners love sweet potatoes – the superfood is loaded in vitamins A and C plus is a great source of potassium and magnesium. This healthy carbohydrate ranks low on the Glycemic Index, meaning it is slowly released as glucose into your blood stream to provide long-lasting energy. If you love sweet potatoes and spice, this is THE soup recipe for you!
Lightened Yet Still “Loaded” Baked Potato Soup – Potato soup is always popular at my house and this healthier version is tweaked to have less fat and still all of the flavor – you don’t have to feel guilty about adding your favorite toppings (even bacon)!
Hatch Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Soup This may be my favorite soup of all time – it’s similar to a chicken tortilla soup, but creamy and less brothy thanks to the addition of light sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt). Hatch green chile season is in August, so if you haven’t proactively stocked your freezer with this beloved pepper, you can substitute the canned variety.
Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup – This may sound like a strange combination, but this vegetarian soup is so delicious and satisfying. Healthy carbs and plant-based protein are just two benefits this soup offers – plus, did you know that black beans are the highest in fiber of any bean? It’s true!
Jennifer Fisher is an enthusiastic Altra Running Ambassador. In addition to living life with #ZeroLimits, she’s a #FitFluential Ambassador, #IDEAfit Inspired Blogger and contributor at the Cooking Light Blogger Connection. Jennifer is also a fit food & healthy living guest speaker, competitive master’s runner, CrossFit dabbler and mother of three pre-teen through teen boys! For more on Jennifer, visit her blog TheFitFork.com and follow her on twitter, Instagram,Facebook and Pinterest.
By Altra Athlete Jacob Puzey
When it comes to race day nutrition just keep it simple.
If your race is less than 90 minutes, you probably don’t need to eat on the run. If it is hot and/or humid you can drink some water or electrolyte drink along the course, but proper training, a balanced breakfast a few hours before the start, and regular hydration leading up to the event should get you through a 15 to 90 minute run or race without the need for additional aid.
After 90 minutes of continuous aerobic activity, your body runs out of glycogen stores (carbohydrates – sugars & starches) and starts relying on available fat and protein to fuel itself. The reason people hit the wall or bonk between 90 and 120 minutes into an aerobic effort is because they have run out of glycogen (sugars & starches) and/or electrolytes (salt, potassium, etc.). The body is trying, but not as efficient at using fats and proteins as its primary fuel source. Essentially, the body is feeding off itself which is why it doesn’t feel good and why your ability to perform diminishes.
Carbohydrates consist of simple sugars and complex starches which basically means that one digests faster than the other. Common sources of sugar while on the run are non-diet electrolyte drinks (sugar-free options defeat the purpose and will inevitably lead to an epic bonk), fruit (bananas, oranges, watermelon), gels, honey, chews, blocks, chomps, gummy bears, hard candy, etc. Sugar sources vary from fructose, to sucrose, glucose/dextrose, and maltodextrin, but many pre-packaged products and mixes include a combination of a variety of sugars.
Common sources of starches while on the run are potatoes, potato chips, breads, bananas (both starches and sugars), and granola bars, etc. Some people pre-make rice balls and other light, starchy items like oatmeal cookies or homemade energy bars to fuel their runs, but such items are not always found at aid stations.
In addition to carbohydrates, electrolytes play an essential role in your body’s performance. The combination and concentration of electrolytes vary from product to product, but one essential electrolyte that works as the spark plug to keep your muscles firing is sodium (i.e. salt). Some companies claim that we already have enough salt in our diets and that we don’t need to add extra salt while exercising, but if you’ve ever found yourself cramping up in your calf or hamstring and seen how almost instantaneously the consumption of salt eliminated the cramp, it’s pretty hard to argue with its efficacy. Common electrolyte sources while on the run can be found in electrolyte drinks, gels, salt caps, and broth. Some races may have potatoes with salt and salty potato chips on course as well.
I have found that the longer the race, the more I need to focus on nutrition early on. When the race is less than 2:00 I typically stick to water and possibly the electrolyte drink on course. If the race is between 2:00 and 3:00 I might add a salt cap or a gel or two. When the race is longer than 3:00, it typically means I will be carrying at least some of my fuel with me, so I focus on sipping an electrolyte drink every 15 minutes, and consuming 200 calories every 30 minutes, and taking a salt cap every hour.
The races in which I have been meticulous about nutrition are the ones in which I have raced the best, particularly in the second half. On the other hand, when I have allowed myself to get caught up in a race too early and neglected regular nutrition, I haven’t had anything left toward the end of the race.
(Photo Credit: Deborah Booker Honololulu Advertiser) (Photo Credit: Animal Athletics)
The pictures above show the difference in performance between fueling poorly and fueling adequately. In the one on the left, as a newbie marathoner, I felt strong through the first two hours, but I didn’t start fueling until my body started telling me it needed it (about mile 22). My hamstring locked up going over the final climb and the last few miles were a death march. Conversely, the picture on the right shows the finish of a 40 mile trail race. After over four hours and 40 miles of regular fueling, I felt good enough to sprint the last 400m around the track and leap over a hurdle that obstructed my way to the finish.
When I run a marathon or shorter, I like to eat something light like oatmeal, toast or granola bars with nut butter, with a banana and orange juice three to four hours before I race. When the race is early enough that I won’t naturally be up hours before the race, I usually bypass a fibrous breakfast, opt for more sleep, and down a tube of Trail Butter on my way to the start.
In races beyond 3:00, I aim to sip an electrolyte drink at least every 15 minutes. If it’s hot outside I will do it naturally, but sometimes when it’s cool I need a reminder so I am that annoying guy with a timer on his watch that sounds every 15 minutes. Lately, I’ve been using a First Endurance prototype cucumber flavored EFS drink which has more electrolytes than any other drink on the market and isn’t overly sweet. I also try to down a flask (400 calories) of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot every 60 to 90 minutes. I use the timer on my watch to remind me when to nurse the flask. I also take one Salt Stick cap per hour to assure I’m getting what I need. If I feel my muscles cramping up or buckling, I increase my salt intake. If I enter an aid station and something looks good I eat it. While I wouldn’t recommend most race foods as part of a regular diet, the reason they work so well during long races is that the nutrients are so refined that they get right into your blood stream, notifying your liver, brain, and muscles that you can keep going at a fast clip because you have enough fuel to get you to the next aid station.
Post-Race nutrition is equally important to long-term success. Post-race refreshments vary, but soup is rather common and it helps me warm up while settling my stomach. Many longer races serve some sort of post-race protein in the form of burritos, quesadillas, burgers, or sandwiches. Regardless of your diet, get some protein in within 30 minutes after your race. This will aid in muscle repair and will decrease the amount of time off post-race. I typically mix up a quart of Ultragen that I sip on after the race to begin repairing muscles as a decide what else to eat.
In addition to protein, be sure to hydrate. Water is always good, but if your stomach is struggling to digest the water, I suggest carbonated water or ginger ale until your stomach settles down.
Practice fueling before the race
Like most things in life, race day nutrition is a very individual thing. It requires practice in training and racing and the willingness to experiment to find what works best for you. My advice – keep it simple. Find the combination of sugars, starches, and salts that works best for you.
Jacob Puzey is a professional runner & USATF certified coach for McMillan Running Company residing in Flagstaff, Arizona. To learn more about training and racing, check out the other articles Jacob has written on his personal blog www.jacobpuzey.com. To begin working with Jacob as a coach visit McMillan Running Company and sign up for personal coaching.
By Athlete Nick Clark
Less Could be More: How Much to Eat During an Ultramarathon?
Figuring out the nutritional side of ultramarathoning has been an ongoing enigma for me over the years, as it is and has been for many others in the sport. When I first started competing in long distance running events, the conventional wisdom that was passed down to me was that one should attempt to consume at least 200-300 calories per hour in order to maintain a decent level of performance.
“Eat early, eat often,” was always the mantra.
Personally, I’ve always struggled to get that much in and have run through many races over the years on much less, usually after trying to cram calories early when my stomach feels fine and then suffering later in the race with nausea.
But my gut’s ability to digest calories while running hard in the latter stages of, say, a 100-mile race has really headed south over the last couple of years. Prior to my most recent 100-miler in September, in beautiful Steamboat Springs, CO, I had emptied the contents of my stomach at least once in the last four attempts at the distance. At Leadville and Wasatch in 2013 I still managed to pull off a podium finish and a win, but at Mount Fuji and then Western States this year the nausea cost me hours and I was thoroughly disappointed with both results.
So much so in fact that I was seriously considering giving up on the 100-mile distance, where I typically perform the most competitively, in favor of much less racing and much more exploring. I still maintain that desire to use my fitness and talents to explore more on foot and focus less on racing, but my joy in the 100-mile distance was rekindled enough at Steamboat that I’m now looking forward to competing in future events, even if more selectively.
The turnaround came as a result of a serious rethinking of my nutrition strategy. The first rule of the new fueling plan was to teach and convince myself that nausea late in races didn’t have to be inevitable. Working closely with local dietician and accomplished ultrarunner Abby McQueeney Penamonte I was able to develop an in-race fueling strategy based on metabolic testing.
After a half hour treadmill test conducted at 100-mile effort, we were able to ascertain a caloric range for what my in-race fueling needs were likely to be. Considerably less than the 200 – 300 calories per hour I’d been trying to cram down my throat in previous races, as it turns out. The results suggested that I burn fat efficiently and as such don’t need much more than 100 calories an hour to maintain respectable energy levels while performing at 100-mile effort.
That’s the equivalent of one gel an hour. Conventional ultrarunning wisdom says to get one of those puppies in every 20 to 30 minutes. For my fueling needs at Steamboat, I used a starch-based carbohydrate product diluted in water, rather than of gels. The taste of the product I was using was fairly benign – far from the sickly sweetness of most gels – with one bottle being equal to about 80 calories.
The other part of the puzzle of the nutrition strategy was to keep effort levels firmly under control. There is a direct correlation between effort level and the amount of blood that is getting to your gut to aid in processing fuel. My gut apparently is more sensitive to effort levels than might be the case for runners less likely to lose their lunch over the course of a long race, so I definitely feel like I have to err on the side of ‘less is more.’
After a fat- and protein-based breakfast of bacon and eggs two hours before the race, I held off on consuming until I was two hours into the race. From there, I pretty much kept things at one bottle – or 80 calories – an hour on the liquid fuel I was using, supplemented by additional water in a second bottle and occasional shots of coke or small bowls of ramen.
The seven hour mark, give or take an hour or two, has traditionally been the tipping point for my stomach in long races (making the 50-mile distance so appealing); the point where nausea typically starts kicking in. Seven hours and 40 miles into Steamboat and my gut was still in great shape, although it must be said that my energy levels were just respectable and not through the roof.
I did end up suffering through a one-hour bout of nausea in the middle of the night after eating too much ramen at an aid station, but was able to turn it around after dropping the effort and staying focused. At the toasty Summit Lake aid station, some 85 miles into the race I was back to consuming and able to maintain a decent clip into the finish, good for fifth overall against a tough field.
By no means was this a perfect race for me, but it was something of a revelation to buck the puking trend of my previous four races. There is tweaking to be done for sure, but I now feel good about the baseline nutrition plan, and look forward to refining it further, perhaps pushing the target to 120 calories per hour to offer the furnace that little extra bit of fuel to burn without overdoing it and losing my gut.
If you’ve suffered through repeated nausea issues during endurance events, give some thought to the amount of calories you are trying to get in and perhaps look to cut it back. Figuring out the balance between caloric intake and your stomach’s ability to process those calories is likely a multi-race proposition but hopefully one that leads to a future of nausea-free racing.
To see Nick’s full Steamboat 100 report and other nuggets related to training and competing in long-distance running events, check out his blog: www.irunmountains.blogspot.com
To wrap up our focus on the learning to run, let’s discuss high cadence.
What does it mean to have a high cadence? Here’s what you should shoot for-
- ‹ Maintain approximately 170-180 steps per minute
- ‹ Count 30 steps per leg in 20 seconds for a 180 cadence
- ‹ Light, soft & quick foot placement
A high cadence—or quick steps—is proven to reduce impact and improve foot strike and running efficiency. Studies have shown that recreational runners and chronically injured runners run with a slow cadence, whereas elite and efficient runners have a cadence of above 170 steps per minute. Running Barefoot can greatly aid in instantly improving cadence as well as helping you to understand & master proper running technique. Start by increasing your cadence by 10-15 steps per minute—two to three steps per leg in a 20 second period. Once you’ve adapted to that, increase again by 10-15 steps per minute until you settle on a comfortable and efficient cadence for you between 170 and 180 steps per minute. Cadence changes very little with speed, so you can practice cadence on all types of workouts, even while running in place! Quick Tip: Count the steps one foot takes in a twenty second time period—29 to 30 steps will give you an ideal cadence of 174-180 steps per minute.
What does it mean to run with nice, compact arms?
- ‹ Short, compact, relaxed arm movement
- ‹ Pump back and recover forward, don’t sway side to side
- ‹ Elbows should not extend in front of the waist unless sprinting
Most runners use far too much arm movement. In contrast, elite runners and efficient runners move their arms as little as is necessary. They pop their elbow back actively and then let them passively recover forward while the other elbow is popping back. They also keep their arm motion moving front to back and don’t allow their arms to sway side to side very much. Keep your arms compact by always holding them near your chest and at less than a 90 degree angle. Don’t allow your elbows to come forward past your hips and don’t allow your fists to cross the midline of your chest. Quick Tip: Use Heavy Hands or 1-2 pound hand weights on easy runs to easily find your most efficient arm movement and angle.
I tend to get a bit of the winter blues, come March. In December and January (what little) snow and ice we get is fun! Even just a few inches shuts down this southern town. Kids and adults alike are out trying to sled on whatever they can get their hands on, but by early March we usually get glimpses of spring. Random warm days and a few daffodils get mixed in between the cold, rainy days.
This year we had freezing rain until close to the end of March, and I was losing motivation to get up early to run. For the first time, for as long as I can remember, I began sleeping in and starting work earlier…and became an evening runner!
Now that its nearly April the tulips are coming up, the daffodils are past their prime, and even the hyacinth are looking perky. All clear signs of spring! And clear signs for me to shake a leg and get back to my morning run schedule!
After a cold winter, there are several things I like to do to get ready for warmer running weather!
1. I like to revisit my diet. In the winter I like warmer, heavier foods. I tend to change my diet, adding in more salads and raw veggies. Try a new fruit or vegetable once a week!
2. SHOES! What is more motivating than a spiffy new pair of shoes?! After slogging thorough snow, ice, mud and salt usually my shoes are looking like they need to be replaced. This spring I treated myself to a few new Altra’s, both trail and road shoes. I love being an ambassador for this company! I honestly enjoy running in every shoe I have tried of theirs. I wouldn’t be an ambassador otherwise.
The One, Lone Peak 1.5, Superior, Intuition 1.5
3. Rotate out my winter gear for my warmer weather clothes and vests. This is true spring cleaning for me. Some people wash their windows and dust. I like to make sure all of my winter running jackets are washed before they get put away to the back of the closet.
4. SPEEDWORK! Try to add in some speed to my running. In the winter, battling the elements I can slip into easy paced runs. The cold and gray can make runs a bit lack luster. Its time to get training for the spring and summer races. Get out to a track, throw in a fartlek, or hill repeats! Shake out those winter running cobwebs! (Carefully of course, you never want to jump into a lot of speed work if you have taken the winter easy or off…that’s just an injury waiting to happen.)
5. Get the bike back out. I will run in anything, however, when it comes to cycling I am a big weather wimp. I think cycling is a great way to cross train, and to enjoy some sun!
6. Thoroughly clean out my water bottles and hydration pack. I probably go longer than I should between thorough cleanings with a bristle brush. The rising temps in the spring is a reminder that it will be HOT and HUMID soon! In the winter I don’t drink nearly as much as I do in the summer…so its time to get them ready!
What spring time rituals do you have?
True Zero Drop (exact same amount of cushioning under heel and toe / feet perfectly parallel with the ground) is the only offset that promotes a truly natural foot strike. Research by Brooks researchers has shown that even a 4mm drop causes an unnatural, more impactful landing. If you are trying to fix shin splints, knee issues, or back pain, then true Zero Drop is your best solution. What Altra does with weight balancing the shoe perfectly from front to back is also important in making sure the foot doesn’t impact the ground early. Traditional shoes are MUCH heavier in the heel and this forces an early, impactful, more dorsiflexed (heel down, toes up) landing.
Better running technique is the solution for bad joints or impact related pain like shin splints, only true Zero Drop promotes truly natural running technique. Everything else is a compromise.
Where running technique is the best way to protect joints, some cushioning is helpful for protecting the feet. Someone with bad joints could go do their long run barefoot and would likely have their joints feel the best they ever have…however, their feet will likely be destroyed. Altra strives to strike the balance between protecting your joints with good form and protecting your feet with just enough cushioning. Some cushioning is also beneficial for speed as it reduces energy loss. However, thick, overly cushioned shoes can promote impactful and inefficient running technique, slow performance by robbing energy (think running on sand), and cause foot problems by moving the feet out of their natural positioning. You wouldn’t build your house on the soft 2:1 heel to toe drop of a traditional running shoe!
Additionally, Zero Drop with your toes spread is the position you were born with. Your feet come in this position and you wake up every morning with your feet in this position. Putting the foot in this position is the key to many foot problems. Every Altra shoe features a Foot-shaped toe box—not just a wide toe box, but a shoe that is actually shaped just like a healthy foot in a sock…imagine that! The Foot-shaped toe box is designed specifically to help with Bunions, Neuromas, Metatarsalgia (general forefoot pain), & Plantar Fasciitis, etc. Our thousands of testimonials on our facebook page & blogs around the world are a testament that restoring the feet to their natural positioning helps solve these problems. It may look a bit different at first, but this is a small price to pay for being able to have healthy feet and wearing the most instantly comfortable running shoes in the world.
This combination of cushioned Zero Drop & a Foot-shaped toe box was designed by a couple of Ultra distance runners that also managed running stores. The idea was to make a shoe that would strike the perfect balance of promoting perfectly natural, low impact running form to protect their joints while also providing enough cushioning to protect their feet for distances of up to 100 miles on brutal terrain. Additionally, they wanted a solution for the dozens of customers that came in the store every day dealing with knee pain, shin splints, Plantar Fasciitis, & foot problems. Every aspect of the shoe was designed with these things in mind and then tested on the staff & eventually thousands of customers at their running store. A vast majority of customers came back saying their sometimes decades old problems had been reduced or solved and they knew they were on to something special. Today, Altra hopes to bring their vision to help every runner eliminate their limits by running more efficiently & pain free.
Leave a comment below and tell us how Zero Drop has helped you develop natural foot positioning.
Share with us in the comments what running is to you.
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