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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