Easy Days Easy.

I clicked off another sub-6-minute mile and slowed to a stop. With my “easy” run complete, I shuffled into the house and promptly crashed on the living room floor. Still dripping sweat, I opened my training log and jotted down the details of the day’s run. Fatigue spread through my body as I lay there too tired to make breakfast. 

That summer I was on a mission to get fit. If that pace seems fast for an easy run, that’s because it was. If that thought ever crossed my mind, I don’t recall it. My coach prescribed easy days at 6-6:15 pace. I figured if it felt hard, I needed to get fitter.

Intuitively this approach makes sense. If you want to get faster, you need to run faster. Go a little further each run and see if you can push the pace a little harder. Intervals and tempo runs can give structure to the really hard efforts. But the day-to-day runs should feel like you are still pushing yourself. Right? Plus, it feels good to run hard and work up a sweat. And who doesn’t like setting PR’s on your daily loops or getting on the Strava leaderboard? 

But is this behavior really the best approach to getting fast? 

The simple answer is no. Or at least not if you want to stay healthy. There is a better way and it’s easier than you might think. Slow down. Train easy most of the time and use hard efforts strategically. Before getting into the details let’s consider how the human body responds to exercise. It is predictable. Apply a stressor via exercise and the body adapts to better tolerate that stress. For example, running places significant stress on the cardiovascular and muscular systems (and much more). In response, the CV system will become more efficient at pumping and delivering oxygen to working muscles and removing waste. Muscles will get stronger and more efficient propelling the body in the running motion. Tendons improve their elasticity and become better at storing and releasing energy. Lots of changes happen under the hood. By stressing the body with running, it will adapt to better tolerate the demands of running.

I’ve left out one important detail though. In order for the body to adapt, it requires adequate rest between bouts of stress. Recovery allows the body time to absorb the training and adapt. Hard efforts should be followed by easy efforts. 

That summer spent pushing my so-called easy day’s didn’t end well. I showed up and held my own with the seniors on our first day of practice. However, within weeks, I was sidelined with excruciating back pain and was diagnosed with a sacral stress fracture. I was forced to sit out the rest of the season. I had spent too many days running hard and never gave my body a chance to recover. No wonder I got injured. 

So, how should we train? Let’s first establish a common language by defining various training intensities. I prefer to use the 3 zone system popularized by exercise scientist Dr. Stephen Seiler. From easiest to hardest, zone 1 is considered low-intensity training, zone 2 threshold training, and zone 3 high-intensity training. 

The upper limit of zone 1 is determined by your ventilatory threshold 1 (VT1). VT1 is the point at which breathing becomes labored. Below VT1, you are in zone 1 and you can carry on a conversation comfortably. Your breathing is deep and rhythmic but not labored. Think of zone 1 as your easy/normal effort, or 4-6/10 RPE (rate of perceived exertion). 

Zone 2 is bookended by VT1 on the lower end and your ventilatory threshold 2 (VT2) on the upper end. VT2 is the point at which breathing becomes labored and above which you are no longer able to speak more than 1-2 words at a time. While running in this zone you can only say 1-3 sentences at a time. This is your moderate to hard efforts. Some coaches refer to this as tempo or steady-state efforts or a 7-8/10 RPE. 

Zone 3 or high-intensity, is anything above VT2. Training at this intensity you can only mutter a single word at a time. This is your hard interval sessions, typically 1-3 minutes bouts, or 9-10/10 on the RPE scale. 

With intensity zones established we can discuss how to best distribute our training. In numerous research articles, Dr. Sieler has studied the training habits of elite endurance athletes. What he found is clear. Across all endurance sports, elites spend 80% of their time training at low intensity (zone 1) and only 20% at moderate to high intensity (zones 2-3). Some refer to this as the 80/20 rule or polarized training. Interestingly, he went on to find that amateur athletes gravitate toward a 50/50 split, spending only 50% of their time exercising at a lower intensity. You might be thinking what’s wrong with that? Why not spend more time running at a higher intensity? That’s how I was thinking while training in college spending all my time in zones 2 and 3. 

In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance,  ​​Dr. Seiler went on to answer that question by directly comparing these two strategies. He took a group of sub-elite level runners and split them into two groups. The first group trained like the elites using the 80/20 distribution. The second group trained how most of us train, with a 50/50 split. The goal was to see which training strategy resulted in the best performance outcome. 

At the start of the study, each runner performed a 10k time trial. Five months later, to access performance improvements, they repeated the 10k. The results? Both groups improved. But the 80/20 group showed an average improvement of almost 2mins. The 50/50 group improved by only 1:24. Still pretty good. But the runners who most closely followed the 80/20 guidelines showed the greatest improvements, cutting an average of 2:45 off their 10k times!

Similar studies have validated the 80/20 approach. So, why do so many people continue to train as I did back in college? Two reasons stand out to me, ego and ignorance. I’ll admit I often get embarrassed to run slow. I worry about what other people think and fear their judgment. I imagine others looking at my strava and laughing at the slow paces on easy days. And so I find my paces creeping faster and faster to prove to others that I’m fit. How ridiculous. 

Others simply don’t understand the value of running easy or don’t know what running easy means. The value of easy runs is that they support the hard days. Easy days allow you to recover from the hard session. They leave you feeling fresh and ready for the next hard sessions. Easy runs stimulate the body to become more aerobically efficient encouraging numerous positive adaptations including increased mitochondria and capillary density. All these benefits come with a lower risk of injury compared to training at higher intensities. By running hard, or even moderately hard, on easy days you are not allowing your body to recover. Instead, you are in a constant state of low-level fatigue, too drained to give it your all on the hard days. 

It is important to note that while I stress the importance of low-intensity training, the remaining 20% of training (at threshold to high-intensity training) is equally, if not more, important. These sessions push the body to further build fitness upon the foundation laid by the low-intensity training. The easy session will only get you so far. High-intensity training pushes you mentally and physically to tolerate harder efforts.  I will discuss this in further detail in a future blog but keep in mind that if you only train in zone 1, your fitness will quickly plateau without the high-intensity efforts.   

Practical plan:

The 80/20 rule is easy to implement. First, determine how much time you can devote to training each week and the number of sessions per week you have available. Next split the total time 80/20. It’s common to split the 20% hard efforts across 2 sessions. The 80% easy will get spread out across your remaining available sessions and factored into warm-ups and cool-downs on the hard days.  

For example, let’s use a 10 hour training week with 6 training sessions. As you plan out your week, immediately commit 8 hours to low-intensity training efforts and 2 hours for moderate to high-intensity training. We will have 2 hard sessions and 4 easy sessions. The hard workouts will likely have a 20min warmup and cooldown each, accounting for 1hr 20mins easy training, leaving 6hrs 40mins to get spread across the 4 easy days. Below is a breakdown of this hypothetical week of training. 

On easy days, plan to train solo or with a partner who understands that you plan to take this day easy. Group training can push us too hard and tends to turn an easy day into a moderate or hard effort. Save those for the remaining 2 hours of hard training. During those 2 hours consider tempo efforts and faster intervals. A coach comes in handy here to help tailor your training to your specific goals. But keep it simple, 80% of your weekly training should be easy, 20% moderate to hard. Following this formula fitness will improve and your risk of injury will decrease. 

I look back on my college running career with some regret. Those four years were riddled with injuries. A full 50% of it was spent sidelined. Pushing my easy runs, no doubt played a major role in those injuries. I can only wonder what things would have been like had I had the courage or instruction to slow down. 

Nowadays my training, and that of the athletes I coach, looks much different compared to my college days. The focus is first on finding joy in and embracing the easy days. Once that’s become second nature we start hitting the hard days hard. I’ve seen a dramatic reduction in overuse injuries as well as steady performance improvements. Give it a try.

The Crazy World of Recovery

As a kid, I spent my summers running AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) track. Practice took place each afternoon with meets on the weekends. The summer heat and humidity were brutal and our coach stressed the need to recover after each practice. He educated us young athletes on the importance of eating a good dinner to refuel our muscles, drinking plenty of water, relaxing, and getting to bed early to allow our bodies to recover from the training. It was simple advice that made sense and was fairly easy to implement. 

My routine was simple. Immediately following practice, I sat around the track hanging out and chatting with my teammates. All the while drinking water and eating a banana. Once home, I would have a big dinner and then head to bed early. I swear I slept 10 hrs a night back then. 

That was in the late ‘90s. As I matured into a competitive high schooler, the recovery world started to change. The first “recovery tool” I can remember was the “Stick”. All the running stores had them and all the runners wanted one. We were told this self-massage stick would help us recover faster and make us less sore. I remember begging my mom to buy one. She did and I used that stick faithfully following each practice and especially after races. The funny thing was, I didn’t notice much difference. That didn’t deter me, I kept at it thinking maybe I just wasn’t doing enough.

The next recovery tool to pop on the scene was the sports recovery drink. Back then Endurox was all the rage. Again, every running store carried it and all the runners wanted it. The claim was that normal food wasn’t “best” for recovery. Instead, in order to promote optimal recovery runners needed to consume a specific ratio of carbs to protein. Of course, I went back to Mom and told her I just had to have it. This was really going to help me reach my potential! It was pretty pricey so I conserved it for only after really hard runs and workouts. But again, I really didn’t notice much of a difference over my go-to post-run pop-tart. Cinnamon brown sugar, please.

A similar pattern continued as I moved on to collegiate track and cross country. In addition to the original advice to relax, eat well and sleep a lot, my list of “recovery tools” grew to include self-massage with the stick, post-run recovery drink, regular ice baths, deep tissue massage, and many post-run sessions lying on my back with feet elevated as high as I could get them up the wall. All this recovery was getting pretty time-consuming and stressful. I was having trouble fitting all this into my day and still have time to enjoy my life. 

Eventually, I realized that all this recovery was really just stressing me out. It was hard enough to put in the time to train, let alone add in all these recovery interventions. I also wasn’t convinced it was doing much since I didn’t really notice a difference on days where I couldn’t fit in the recovery. So I stopped. I left the stick in the closet, saved a ton of money not having to buy the recovery drink, and felt less stressed. I went back to my old routine of focusing on relaxing, eating and drinking well, and sleeping more. I continued to train hard and set PR’s.

More recently, with the advent of social media, the recovery world has once again exploded. I am constantly getting ads with professional athletes promoting the latest gadget, CBD oil, or special supplement. On Instagram you find influencers posting pics in their fancy pneumatic compression pants or using the latest thera-gun claiming amazing benefits.

The focus has shifted away from the basics. Resting and relaxing post-run, eating healthy foods, and sleeping well are too simple. The world seems to want fancy recovery tools -the quick fixes and instant relief. But what does science have to say about all these new toys and interventions? Do they actually help us recover faster?

In her book, Good To Go, Christie Aschwanden did a fantastic job answering that question. She thoroughly reviews the literature and puts the recovery tools to the test. From foam rolling to ice baths, she covers it all.  The results are no big surprise – there is very little evidence to support that these tools significantly improve recovery. I highly recommend you read the book for more details but she sums it up nicely with this:

“I’ve come to think that different recovery modalities just represent variations on the same few approaches to recovery — soothing your muscles and body so you feel better (even if nothing is actually changing in a physiological sense), providing a ritual for taking care of yourself that gives you a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy (what many people think of as being proactive), and finally, creating a formalized way to stop everything else and help you focus on resting.”

The bottom line is that the basics should form the foundation of your recovery. 

Sleep is arguably the most important recovery tool out there and it’s free. Studies have shown that sleeping less than 8 hours a night doubles your risk of injury (Milewski et al 2014). If you’d like more information on the value of sleep I would encourage you to read Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep

Secondly, rest and relaxation are essential for recovery. Training puts physical stress on our bodies but it’s not only the physical stress that we need to recover from. Stress is stress and our body doesn’t care if it’s physical or mental stress. So, it is important to make sure you have a way to unwind post exercise. This can be sitting around chatting with friends or putting your feet up on the sofa and watching Ted Lasso. 

Last but not least, eat some good food and drink water. I’m not a dietitian and don’t play one on the internet, so my advice here is simple – eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. And don’t be afraid to occasionally eat some “junk” food as a reward. Remember, all things in moderation. 

If you aren’t doing these things well I wouldn’t even think about spending money on the “fancy” stuff. Nail down the basics first then you can consider adding more to your routine. Keep in mind that adding more has the potential to add more stress to your life and that’s the opposite of recovering.

Running coach and researcher, Steven Magness, said it well, “If I’m trying to get into ‘recovery mode,’ I’m essentially trying to turn off. But if now all of a sudden I’m rushing to the cryosauna or I’m jumping into the ice bath and if I’m worrying about spending the next 30 mins going through a stretching and rolling routine, those are all active things where my mind is engaged.” 

Instead of shutting down and recovering, the recovery is turning into a stressor. Just like what happened to me back in college. Nowadays, I plan to stick to my middle school ways – thanks coach!

SUMMARY:

Recovery equals rest and rebuilding. If you want to improve your recovery, sleep 8+ hrs a night, eat healthy food and find a way to relax and unwind that works for you. No, it’s not sexy but it works. For me, my favorite post-morning run recovery tool is relaxing with friends, eating a burrito followed by a cinnamon roll, and getting to bed early.

Strength for Uphill Skiers and Runners

If you are like most endurance athletes, you want to spend all your free time outside doing your sport. If you are a runner, you want to be on the trails. If you are a skier, you want to be skinning and making turns in the backcountry. Our time is precious and we want to spend as much of it as possible doing what we love. But we can’t do that if we are injured or don’t have the required fitness.

With that in mind, let’s pick up where we left off talking about building capacity for mountain athletes. In the previous article, we discussed the value of building a base with easy to moderate aerobic exercise. This included easy runs, long hikes, and days out moving at a comfortable pace.

During this base building phase, we can further build our capacity by implementing a strength training routine. The ideal timing for these workouts is fall as skiers are heading into winter and runners have generally finished up their races for the year and are looking to build strength before getting back out there.

I can hear you yelling at me and saying that you don’t have time to go to the gym and that you’d rather be out in the mountains. Trust me, I get it. But hear me out and let’s see why you would want to add strength training and how you can do so as efficiently as possible.

Do more of the left so you can do more of the right.

Stronger + Increased Efficiency = More Fun Skiing

The goal of strength training is two-fold. First, strength training can make you more efficient. Numerous studies have shown that improvements in strength correlate with improved running economy which then translates to improved performance. If you get a little stronger, you can move faster and more efficiently. Second, strength training can be another way to prepare your body to tolerate the demands of running, skiing, bootpacking, and skinning. Specifically, strength training can improve the health of your muscles and tendons reducing your risk of injury.

Think of strength training as a tool to help prevent injury and improve performance. It’s also something that you can sneak into your routine on those days when you can’t make it to the mountains or the conditions aren’t great.

For the mountain athlete, the goal of strength training is not to put on muscle mass or lift more weight in the gym. The goal for us is to improve performance in the mountains and stay healthy.

How?

When it comes to strength training for endurance athletes, it’s important to keep it simple. Focus on the demands that the sport requires and work back from there. Uphill skinning and running put a lot of demand on the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

Now we know what we need to strengthen and that will guide our training. Let’s break down strength training into two types – general strengthening and sport-specific muscular endurance strengthening.

Both are equally important.

General Strength

General strength is what most people think about when they think of strength training and lays the foundation for the muscular endurance (M.E.) work. The goal here is to improve raw strength in a non-sport-specific manner. Without getting into too much detail, we can use this type of training to improve neural pathways and get stronger without putting on extra muscle mass. The set/rep scheme is 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps with the weight being 85-90% max effort.

Because we are trying to improve raw strength it’s best to stick with movements that use both legs simultaneously, i.e. barbell back squat or deadlift. Doing so allows you to lift more weight which puts a greater stimulus on the muscles. This is hard training but with the low overall volume, it should leave you feeling refreshed. If you are crushed after these workouts, you are doing something wrong and need to back off.

Barbell back squats are a perfect example of a general strength exercise.

Sport-specific Muscular Endurance

Next, muscular endurance strengthening more closely mimics the sport you are doing. For our purposes, this includes single leg exercises like step-ups, lunges, and split squats. Unlike general strengthening, here we want to aim for higher reps and lower weight. The idea is to replicate the task of running or skinning in the gym. The benefit is that we target the muscles in a manner similar to what the sport requires and therefore build muscular endurance in a safe, low-risk manner.

Lunges closely mimic skiing, especially of the tele variety.

Getting Started

Ideally, you would have access to a gym with a barbell, kettlebells, and a box. However, f you don’t, you can try to make do with a few kettlebells (12kg-24kg) and a set of stairs. However, you likely will not be able to achieve the intensity needed to reach true strength gains with these lighter weights. But you will still see improvements over inactivity.

There are many ways to go about implementing these types of strength training into your routine. But no matter what, the key is to start slowly with an introduction phase. During this phase, you want to get accustomed to the movements and practice good form and technique. Start with the exercises you will want to use in the strength phase. For example, if you are going to be doing heavy squats and deadlifts in the strength phase, start without any additional weight and just do bodyweight squats and hip hinges during the introduction phase.

The purpose of the introduction is not to get stronger but to be competent doing the exercises so you don’t injure yourself. If you are new to strength training it may be helpful to reach out to a training/coach for guidance. This phase can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks with 2 sessions per week.

Next, transition to a general strength phase where the focus is on improving raw strength. Continue with 2 sessions a week and, depending on your personal goals, this can last 4-6 weeks. As mentioned earlier, general strength training typically takes on double leg movements and focuses on applying more weight than you would naturally experience while running or skinning. Examples include barbell back squat, front squats, deadlift, and cleans to name a few.

Weighted deadlifts build raw strength.

After several weeks of general strength, it’s time to incorporate the sport-specific muscular endurance exercises. You can keep the general strength in the routine, but be sure to add more and more muscular endurance work into the mix until that becomes the majority of the workout. Continue this for another 4-6 weeks. Examples of this include box step-ups, split squat jumps, jump squats, and walking lunges.

Put It Into Action:

For folks new to strength training, even if they’ve been endurance athletes for years, going to a gym can be overwhelming when there are so many machines to choose from. A helpful way to overcome this is to keep the workouts simple and consistent. That means pick just a few exercises that make sense for your purposes and stick to them. No need to fiddle around with all of the equipment, especially if you’re unfamiliar with them.

Below is a sample routine that will target all of the core areas needed to improve your game as an endurance athlete.

Intro Phase: 2-6 wksStrength Phase 4-6 wksM.E. Phase 4-6 wks
Warm-UpEasy spin or walk 10minsBodyweightHip hingePush-ups 10x eaWarm-UpEasy spin or walk 10minsBodyweightHip hingePush-ups 10x eaWarm-UpEasy spin or walk 10minsBodyweightHip hingePush-ups 10x ea
Movement Practice Focus – 3x10ea aim for 5-6/10 effortAir Squats or light barbell squatsKettlebell deadliftStrength Focus 3×6 @ 8-9+/10 effortBack SquatsSingle-leg DeadliftStrength 3×6-10 @ 8/10 effortDeadliftLunge
Muscular Endurance IntroLunges 30s on 30s offPlank 4x30sMuscular EnduranceStep-Ups 4x30Jump Squats 4x30sMuscular Endurance FocusWalking lunges 6x60sPlank 6x60sSplit squat jumps 6x60s

In summary, the goal of strength training for the mountain athlete is to improve your performance in the mountains and to reduce your risk of injury. A little goes a long way, 2x a week is plenty. Start easy and build from there. Remember, any gains you see in the gym will translate to more fun in the mountains.

For skiing, that means more runs when the conditions are great. And who doesn’t want that?!

Base building part 1

The mornings are getting colder and the days shorter. Soon the trails will be covered in snow and you’ll be trading your trail shoes for skis. And you know what that means… ski season is right around the corner! 

And while we’re all getting excited for the snow to fly and daydreaming of long days touring, the reality is that we still have a few more months before we are ripping down the mountain with any regularity.

But don’t despair! Right now is the perfect time to start preparing your body for the demands of backcountry touring. And although it may not be the same as skiing waist-deep powder, the work you put in now will translate to more fitness come winter. In other words, you’ll thank yourself later. 

Generally speaking, there are two things you can do to start your season with a bang: build a solid aerobic base and strengthen your legs. This article will tackle the former while a subsequent post will take on strengthening. Both can get complicated quick, but for most folks, a simple approach works best.

First things first, we need to build a solid aerobic base. 

When it comes to improving fitness and building the capacity to move in the mountains, it all starts with your aerobic base. Simply put, your aerobic base determines how efficiently your body can deliver oxygen to working muscles and then the muscle’s ability to utilize that oxygen. A big aerobic base lays the foundation to tolerate harder training sessions and the long days of touring that will come later this winter. 

How do we build our aerobic base? 

Easy, slow runs, hikes, and walks work perfectly. The goal is to keep the effort below your aerobic threshold. Put simply, your aerobic threshold is the point at which your body transitions from fueling via fat oxidation to glycolysis. Below your aerobic threshold, your body runs clean and efficiently. Go above your threshold and there you are less efficient and more waste products, such as lactate, build up. 

So what does training below your aerobic threshold look like in practice? In his book, Training Essentials for Ultrarunning, Jason Koop calls this your “Forever” pace and relates it to a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) or 5 or 6 out of 10. In Training for the Uphill Athlete, Steve House prefers to quantify these efforts with heart rates in zone 1 or 2 (the top of zone 2 typically corresponds to your aerobic threshold.)

An easy formula to determine your aerobic threshold HR is the MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) method. Simply subtract your age from 180 and that number is roughly your aerobic threshold. For example, I’m 36 so a decent estimate for the top of my zone 2 is 144bpm. 

Basically, you just need to move at a steady pace, where your breathing is moderate and you are still able to carry on a conversation. 

Don’t overcomplicate it. If you have access to rolling terrain or mountains that’s great, but not necessary. The key is to keep the intensity under control and make sure not to overdo it. These sessions should be EASY! The benefits of this training require that you stay below your aerobic threshold.

Start where you are. 

If you’ve been training for trail races all summer you will have some residual fitness and might be able to jump into longer efforts in the mountains. If you’ve been hiding inside, drinking beer, and watching Netflix, you should ease into it starting with short, easy hikes or maybe even long walks. 

Aerobic base building sessions can last anywhere from 30 mins, up to 6+ hrs. Aim to get  4-7 sessions a week. 

Run/Power hike uphill

Once you have a few weeks of this training under your belt, you can add specific uphill work.  You can think of this as dryland training for the steep climbs to come later this winter. One to two of these a week is a great starting point. 

Find a steep climb and aim to get at least 2,000ft of vert and be out for 2-3 hours. If you’re in SLC, think of places like West Grandeur, White Pine, or Olympus. It’s also a good idea to use these efforts to get comfortable using poles again. 

While these days are more challenging you should still aim to keep the effort reasonable and not be gasping for breath. You will likely creep up above your aerobic threshold. That’s okay, just be sure to not overdo these sessions as they can be very taxing on the body. Remember this is still “preseason” and we have a long winter ahead. 

Try it out

If you are local and need some motivation, SkyRun will be hosting weekly group runs up the west face of Grandeur every Tues in October. This is a great opportunity to practice these types of efforts and meet fellow runners and skimo athletes. I will be present and happy to answer any questions. 

Stay tuned for the next article on Strength Training for ski touring. If you are interested in a structured strength program email jimmy@redefine-pt.com. I will be setting up a weekly group session beginning mid to late October. 

Sorry Strava, I think we need a break

1.

I’ve been reminiscing on my early days of running. Back when running was uncomplicated by social media and GPS watches. It was a chance for me to be alone with my thoughts, out in nature, and to push my body. 

Clicking the start button on my old Timex, I would head out with a set time I wanted to run. The pace was based on effort. On days I felt good, I’d run faster. If I felt crappy, I’d run slower. Once the run was over, I would relax on the porch, listen to music, or chat with my friends. Later, I’d open up a notebook and jot down the “data” from the run: time, estimated distance, how I felt, where I ran, etc. The only other person that saw this was my college coach and it’s safe to say he didn’t read much.

Back then, I compared myself to myself. To measure progress, I could look at times on specific routes or splits for track intervals. I could also compare myself to friends and teammates with whom I ran. Most importantly, I’d compare myself to other runners during races.

As I became more competitive, the desire for data started to grow. My simple stopwatch no longer cut it. I wanted to know the pace I was running for every run. Keep in mind this was pre-GPS so to do that, I had two options, run on a track, or go drive the course ahead of time. 

As fun as it sounds to run circles around a track, I opted for the latter. I came up with a simple, but time-consuming approach. First, I would map out my course online. Tinkering until I created a route that was the desired distance. With the route set, I would print out a hard copy and hop in my car. I’d zero the trip meter and drive the route. Slowing as I approached each mile. I’d take note of a landmark, mile 1 was at that mailbox, mile 2 at that intersection, etc. 

It was tedious, but I needed the data. And now I could click the split button at each mile and have feedback on my pace throughout the run. I was stoked. 

This was the beginning of a very slippery slope. 

Fast forward to the present day. We now have all the data we could wish for on our wrist. Time, pace, elevation, heart rate. You name it, your watch can provide it. 

As a result, my runs look a bit different. I won’t start until my GPS watch has a signal ensuring the entire run gets captured. Heading out the door, I have a set distance I’d like to run and a goal pace. My watch can provide instant feedback on both. As I’m running through the trails or roads, I still let my mind wander but I am no longer “alone” on my runs. My watch is there and lets me know it. Every mile I am interrupted by its beeping notifying me of my current split. Even if I turn the beep off I still can’t help but glance down and check my pace. With the information there it’s too tempting.

As soon as my run is finished, my watch syncs with my phone and uploads the data directly to Strava. I open up the app and check to check the details – pace, distance, vert. I now judge my run based on these metrics. Did I average a 7 minute pace? Yes – sweet, great run! No – damn, have to run faster next time, what is everyone going to think about the slow pace… How I felt becomes an afterthought.  It’s unimportant compared to all this data and what my followers will think.  While I’m on the app I’ll check out everyone else’s runs and see how mine compares. 

Herein lies the problem – the pressure of knowing everyone can see our runs and the constant feedback our watches provide. 

4. 

Thanks to social media and apps like Strava, we can now compare ourselves with everyone on a daily basis. This makes it difficult to have a healthy relationship with our running. The run you first thought was great, no longer looks so good compared to your competitor’s run. Comparison is the thief of joy. 

Our runs are no longer judged based on how we felt or how we perceived them. Instead, they are judged based on how they stack up compared to all the people we follow.  On any particular day, our mood can go from confident and feeling successful to plummeting into negativity after a quick comparison on Strava. 

Add to this the pressure that your friends can see all your runs, apps like Strava can lead to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. More often than I’d like to admit, I worry what people will think when they see my runs posted on Strava. Will they see my easy run and think I’m not fit or getting old? Thoughts like these make me pick the pace up, turning an easy day into a hard run. Stack up enough of these and I’m asking for an injury. I know it and still, the pressure gets to me. 

Occasionally, the opposite happens. I have a great run and my paces are faster than normal. I can’t wait to get home to upload the data and see the “likes” stack up and the comments pour in. But this is just positive reinforcement encouraging me to run faster than I should.  

My self-worth gets wrapped up in it all. I am no longer running for myself, but the perceived acceptance of the online community. 

5.    

These problems are intensified for the runner trying to return from an injury. The pace needs adjusting and volume needs to be decreased. And often runners need to start with a walk/jog progression.

I recently sat down with friend and professional runner, Jax Mariash. Sipping on a cup of coffee Jax is lean, bright-eyed, and radiates energy. She has been running professionally for 6 years and has dealt with her share of running injuries. She is currently coming back from 4 complex foot surgeries. Here’s what she had to say on the topic of Strava. “I found myself struggling with my ego on Strava. I have been using the app for 6 years and throughout my comeback I found myself focused on what my competitors are up to. I’d check their mileage and paces and compare myself to them.  I should have been listening to my healing body. I would second guess everything. At times, I thought I was making good progress and getting fit, only to upload my workout and feel slow compared to others who were healthy. Segments records and top ten stats seemed impossible to reach. I felt like my professional running career was over. I was so wrapped up in comparison that I totally forgot I was coming back from massive foot surgeries.” 

Comparing ourselves to others and thus being embarrassed to run slow, many recovering runners give in to the pressure and run too fast, too soon. And their healing bodies can’t keep up. All for a like or two or two on Strava.

Taking easy days is hard but a necessary part of training and coming back from injuries. Easy days give our bodies a chance to absorb and adapt to our training. Without them, we break. As a Physical Therapist, this is the trap I’ve seen too many of my patients fall into, myself included.

6. 

Over the past few years, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with GPS/Strava. To escape it, I once traded my fancy Garmin for a $40 Timex watch. In theory, it’s great – get all the data you can and document it. And I love the data. I love the ability to track everything and have an accurate training log. I love to see what other people are up to. But is it healthy? Is it adding value to your life? Or, like many I’ve spoken with, is it taking the joy out of running? 

 Most runners love running for its simplicity. All you need is a pair of shoes and you can head out the door wherever you are. No fancy equipment is needed. Our watches are the most advanced thing we use. It’s also the most burdensome. 

Have you ever thought about ditching your fancy watch and running the way it used to be? Free from the negative connotations of social media? Free from the constant feedback except that of our bodies?

Do you need to know all your splits, HR, and elevation for every easy run? Do you need to put it on display for others? Or have you become addicted to data and social media?

What if we used our watch as a tool for training – instead of allowing it to dictate our training. Of course, there are times when the data is helpful. For instance, during workouts or long runs. But we do not need to rely on it for all our training. 

I challenge you to discard the GPS watch for your easy runs and/or take a break from Strava. Find your old fashion sports watch, have a goal time you’d like to be out for, and run. Learn to listen to your body again. Run fast if you feel good. Slow down if you feel crappy.

Don’t get caught up in what others are doing in their training. Don’t worry about what they think about yours. We judge ourselves enough already. Don’t let running turn into another stressor. Just go run. 

May Newsletter

Spring is in full swing! I hope that you have been able to get out and enjoy some amazing runs in the warmer weather. It has been great to see races happening across the country. In case you missed it, the Canyons 100k was fun to watch. Here’s a short recap from MUT running.

Today I wanted to share a few things with you:

  • The new clinic space
  • Achilles Tendinopathy – What you need to know
  • UROC 50k

New Clinic Space:

April has been a crazy but good month here at Redefine PT. We have officially moved into our new space at U-Turn Sports and Performance in Richmond, VA. We’ve got all the perfect setup to help you overcome your injury and become a stronger runner.


Achilles Tendinopathy – What you need to know

For the past two weeks, I’ve been dealing with an insertional achilles tendinopathy.

In the image below you can see a picture of my inflamed tendon – hint it’s the left foot!

Here’s how my injury has played out and what I’ve been doing.

My symptoms first started after a hard 12 mile in new shoes and a model that was also new to me. The run went great but I woke up the next morning with a swollen and cranky tendon.

I’ve been able to manage it pretty well with the following:

  • decreasing mileage
  • extra rest days
  • tendon loading exercises – starting super easy initially and has time progressed increasing the intensity.
  • wearing a shoe with a bigger heel-toe drop

My runs start off with the tendon being sore and a little painful. But, it warms up after 10mins of running and then is relatively pain-free.

With a race this weekend, I am just trying to manage the symptoms until it’s over. Then I’ll take some time off to let it settle down and focus on the rehab.

Check out the IG post for more details.


UROC 50k

May 1st I ran the UROC 50k. I’m writing this before heading out of town for the race so stay tuned for a race recap mid May!


Thats it for this months newsletter!

Do you need help working through an injury or reaching a new running goal? Reach out and lets see how I can help! 804-608-6484

Run Faster, Feel Better

Jimmy

Strength for Runners

What areas do runners need to strengthen? Quads, hips, and calfs all need to tolerate large amounts of load while running.

How often? 2x per week is great.

Sets/Reps? Getting started I recommended the standard 3×10 protocol. This is a great starting point and will help you get comfortable with the mechanics of each lift.

Great. Now you have the basics. Many of you have trouble getting into the gym. COVID has made things a mess, not to mention the time it takes to drive to and from the gym. Fitting strength training into your schedule can be difficult. However, you can do a lot from home.

Below are two body weight routines for beginners. These can be easily added to your current training and shouldn’t take more than 20mins to complete. Disclaimer If you’ve never lifted weights before it is important to have someone watch your form and technique with each exercise. The last thing we want is to cause an injury.

Sample home strength routine:

Day 1:

Air Squat 3×15

Double leg heel raises 3×20

Supine Bridge 4x30s

Push-ups 3×10

Day 2:

Dowel Rod hip hinge 3×10

Single leg sit to stand 3×10

Lateral toe taps with band 3×10

Single leg heel raise 3×15

To progress the routine you can add weight and up the band resistance. To do so, there are two pieces of equipment I think all runners should own. First up, a set of good mini bands. I love the Perform Better brand. Check them out here. Second, a kettlebell. For most women a 12kg is a good starting weight. For men 16kg.

Give it a try on one of your easy days and let me know what you think.

what can a butterfly teach us about physical therapy?

An old monk is walking in the woods. The forest is lush with budding trees, sunlight shines through the leaves casting a green glow on the dirt path. The monk strolls along taking in the sights and sounds of a warm spring morning. Just off the trail, between the branches of a young tree, he catches sight of a small cocoon. Eager to see the butterfly inside, he reaches out and gently removes the cocoon. Cradling the tiny, white object, he lifts it to his lips and slowly breathes a steady stream of warm air.  He is attempting to mimic the warmth of the sun. After a few minutes of this, the cocoon opens. To the monk’s surprise, what emerges is not a beautiful butterfly. Instead, what he finds is underdeveloped and malformed. The butterfly takes a few breaths before quickly passing away. 

Nature has its own pace. It is not always wise nor in our best interest to rush it. 

I came across this story while reading Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. As I read these words, I began to think about a nagging knee injury. Have I been acting like the old monk? Wishing to speed up nature, rush the healing process and get to the good stuff at the other side? 

This attitude makes us desperate for a cure. This desperation facilitates so much that is wrong with my profession – physical therapy. It is easy to find a PT willing to promise a quick fix. They claim, “I can get you better! We just need to ____.”  Fill in the blank with; poke it with a needle, throw some cups on it, rub it a special way, or realign bones.

Sadly, there is poor evidence that any of these interventions can speed up recovery. More often, they leave us disappointed, frustrated, and wondering if there is something else “wrong.” Just like the monk things don’t turn out as planned. 

We cannot rush nature. Our body has its own ability to heal and adapt. As a PT this takes a lot of the pressure off. Instead of an operator “fixing” you, my job becomes more interactive. If I can’t rub, cup, or poke your body into healing, what can I do?

As a physical therapist, my job is to listen to your story and make sure it matches reality. Then I can help you get back to doing what you love. First, I need to be in a position to help you understand what’s going on. This begins with a conversation during which you are given the space and time to share your story and how it has affected your life. 

Next, a physical assessment guided by our previous conversation is performed. Watching you move and testing your strength we can get a glimpse into your unique body. Throughout the process, I will talk you through the findings and explain their relevance. 

Most importantly, I will help you understand what’s going on, answer any questions and clear up any confusion about your injury. This will help you change the story you are telling yourself. If you are anything like me, your mind is always going to the worst-case scenario. That little knee pain I’ve been feeling? My mind goes straight to – this is going to end my season, I am done for, I’m going to need surgery… 

Following a good discussion and assessment, I can give you a better understanding and a more realistic story. 

New understanding in hand, we can move forward with an active approach to managing your injury. Unfortunately, it is unlikely there will be a magical, quick fix. Instead, I will help guide you through a combination of activity modification, exercises (local and general), sleep, and nutrition recommendations. This will also help improve your overall health and well-being. For each person, this will look different. 

The goal is shifted from “fixing” you, to helping your body heal and adapt through general movement, specific exercise and healthy lifestyles. We can not rush this. The foundation is a better understanding of what’s wrong. This gives you the confidence to move and commit to the rehab plan. On top of this, we slowly build a stronger athlete better able to tolerate the demands of running. 

We all have that old monk inside us. The desire to speed things up. Just like with the monk and the butterfly rushing things is not the way. Instead, take control of your injury. Change the story. Get stronger. Get healthier.

As always, let me know what you think about the newsletter. If you have any questions please reach out. 

Run Faster, Feel Better, 

Jimmy

redefine-pt.com

Side note: There is nothing wrong with passive interventions i.e. dry needling, cupping, massage, or joint manipulations. These can be helpful but they are no substitute for more active interventions such as movement. Passive interventions can provide temporary relief. But I like to think of them as the seasoning you add to the meal. They are NOT the meat and potatoes of what gets you better. That belongs to education and movement. 

cold morning runs and strength training

Winter is in full swing. Cold and dark morning runs. Waking up early, the sun seems to never want to rise. With a hot cup of coffee in hand, it can be difficult to get going. But you throw on your warmest running gear, grab your headlight and head out the door. 

Outside, exhales turn into fog. Your vision becomes restricted to the cone-shaped glow of the headlight. As you get moving your body starts to warm and your mind begins to open. Ever so slowly, the sun starts to peek over the horizon. 

These are my favorite mornings. The darkness and the cold somehow make the world quieter, more peaceful. They also give me more space to think. Throw a gentle snowfall into the mix and it is perfect. For me, this is the time of year to put in the miles and build a solid base for the races later in the season. The morning runs make you tough and build the foundation for the work to come. 


Winter is also a great time to work on strength training. Despite the research, runners are averse to the thought of lifting weights. The truth is a little strength training can go a long way. Strength training can improve running economy, performance, and may even reduce the risk of injury. 

​The goal of implementing strength training is to improve the body’s ability to tolerate the demands of running. No doubt about it, if you want to get faster you need to run more. Strength training can help prepare your body (muscles, tendons, ligaments) for the added miles. To do so, we need to lift heavy weights and the aim is to improve true strength. 

​Running places a lot of demand on the body. Key areas include the calf muscle complex (gastroc and soleus), the quads and the lateral hips. If you are going to start strength training, start with these areas in mind and keep it simple! 

​As with any training make sure that you start easy, and build slowly. Always include a good warm-up. Like running, do not jump into more than you can handle. Start with 2x a week with lighter loads and progress the intensity over time. Throughout the week focus on a push, pull, hinge and squat. Below is a sample routine for two athletes, a novice and a more experienced lifter. 

​Novice​Experienced runner/lifter

And, here is my go-to routine: 
Warm-up with a short run, air squats, and walking lunges
Barbell back squat 3×6 (Heavy)
Single leg heel raise holding kettlebell 3×10 (Heavy)
Lateral toe taps with thera-band 3x30s ea
Pull-ups 3×8​That’s it.

Short and simple. Easy to add to your training plan. As your body adapts to strength training the soreness will decrease. You will have no problems heading out for your run the next day. 

Give it a try and let me know if you have any questions! 

​Run faster! Feel better!
Jimmy 

​P.S. Need help adding strength training to your current routine? Shoot me an email at jimmy@redefine-pt.com
P.S.S. Please share with your running friends and encourage them to sign up for the newsletter
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