How David Reinvented His Running (at age 73!)

On Monday, April 29th of this year I received an email from a runner named David that might change how you think about training. It sure did for me!

David Weightlifting

You see, David was 72 years old at the time. He’s now 73. And in the past nine months, he’s run two marathons and qualified for Boston.

But the fascinating part of David’s story is how all of this has happened after he tore his hamstring off the bone in 2013. Then, he broke a metatarsal during a marathon in 2014.

Despite making a comeback and running another marathon in 2016, David said:

I thought my running days were coming to a close. However, I was able to continue running and in fact ran another marathon in 2016 but it always seemed like there was constantly something wrong with me.

At that point I decided to do more body weight exercises. They helped but I still felt like there was more that I should be doing.

Rarely do you see runners making epic comebacks and qualifying for Boston late in life after a major injury…

How Did David Turn His Running Around?

David Running

David is different. Even at 72, he knew he needed to take “the next step” with his training to keep improving and finally escape his cycle of injuries. Despite quite a few reservations, he started lifting weights.

Strength training for seniors can often be controversial so I asked David if he’d be willing to be a case study to showcase his progress. It’s always helpful to know that even older runners can keep improving and prevent more injuries. Luckily for us, he said yes!

David used to be a typical, average runner. He wrote:

I am about as opposite from a weight lifter as anyone can be. The classic 98 pound weakling.

My biggest problem was that I felt intimidated by the gym and disliked working out in front of others. I could do the body weight exercises in the comfort of my own home which allowed me to work out whenever I felt like it.

However, it was not really enough. I needed the benefit of the weights.

David is the perfect candidate for a weightlifting program for a variety of reasons:

  • He is a runner (all runners ought to be doing some weightlifting)
  • His age (strength training for seniors is even more important than when you’re younger)
  • He has a history of significant injuries
  • Like me, he’s naturally thin and needs strength work to stay strong

Of course, most seniors over 70 aren’t starting new strength training programs… So how did this work out for David? What were his struggles?

And most importantly, was he successful?

The Importance of ‘The Next Step’

Strength training for seniors is critical for injury prevention

To continue improving, runners must always be taking the next step:

  • Gradually increasing weekly mileage over time
  • Being more and more consistent with strength training and injury prevention efforts
  • Workouts become longer, faster, and more complex
  • Long runs get longer, more consistent, and/or more complex

David knew he needed to start some type of strength training program but he was lost. He told me:

I had always felt that lifting was the next step that I should take but I really didn’t know where to start. I read several books on the subject but I always found them to be confusing. None specifically spelled out what I needed to do as a runner.

I felt that it was the next thing that I needed to do to improve and to hopefully lessen my injuries.

So, David got started. He invested in a strength training program from Strength Running knowing that a lifting program must be specific to runners, adaptable, and focus on strength and power (rather than on endurance or building muscle).

After David got over his fear of working out in front of others, the results turned him into a believer.

David’s Next Marathon

David ran the Columbus Marathon in 2018 in 4:20:07 – a frustrating finish time since he missed his Boston Qualifier by 7 seconds!

But, he did finish 2nd in the 69-74 age category and got through all of his marathon training with no injuries. He emailed me to say:

Thanks to you, my training went exceptionally well with no injuries! I also felt that weightlifting was really the icing on the cake which helped it all come together.

I finished 2nd in the 69-74 age category at the Columbus Marathon and really felt strong the entire distance.

After years of ongoing injuries, a healthy season and marathon race are surely things to celebrate!

But the real celebration came just a few months ago when David ran the Illinois Marathon. In his own words, here’s how it went:

I am writing to thank you for the lifting program. I placed second in my age group at the Columbus Marathon. Well, I did it again at the Illinois Marathon last Saturday, only this time I came in first! I was 15 minutes faster than second place at 4:15:27. This is also a BQ by 4 minutes and 33 seconds which was a goal of mine.

As I said in my last letter, the lifting program was truly the icing on the cake. I was able to complete twenty weeks of training with zero injuries.

Before using your training and lifting programs, I seemed to be constantly injured. Now I am able to run 5 days a week without any problem. I thank you so much.

Incredible! How would you feel if you finally got over your string of serious injuries, qualified for Boston, and did it all healthy and pain-free?

Strength Training for Seniors: What Happened?

I asked David how he felt about his progress. What was most important to him? What did he experience during this transformation?

He told me:

I’m a much stronger runner. I’m not that much faster but I feel like my stride has improved. I feel much more comfortable when I run.

It has helped to improve my running posture. I always use to get shoulder pain when I did a long run. That has now pretty much disappeared. In fact, I had no pain at all when I ran the Illinois Marathon. That alone has made the lifting worthwhile.

It has improved my consistency. I seemed to always lose it in the last part of my long runs and marathons. Consequently, my times would suffer. However, since I have been lifting, I have felt almost as strong at the end as I did in the beginning.

My fourth and most important result: NO serious injuries. Let’s face it, I still have aches and pains, but that goes with the territory. The injuries that I suffered before have all but disappeared. I’m not saying that it won’t happen at some point but I feel like the chances are much less than they were.

I have been able to run 40 to 50 mile weeks without breakdowns. Plus I can now run everyday instead of every other day. It has really been encouraging and has helped me fall in love with running all over again. Without a doubt, I recommend your lifting programs to anyone.

If you’d like to see how strength training can improve your running (whether you’re older or not), sign up for our free course to get started.

From Weakling to Injury-Free Boston Qualifier

In about six months, David stayed healthy while improving his marathon by 4:40 and qualifying for Boston.

His transformation is so profound that I was curious what he learned from his experience with strength training as a senior.

David wrote (emphasis mine):

Be consistent with your lifting. The program builds upon itself so it is very important that you follow the program. It’s amazing how it all comes together at the end. I could never accomplish that when I tried to do it on my own.

You have to do more than just run if you are to stay heathy. I didn’t start running until I was 35 and had no idea what I was doing. I read Runner’s World and numerous books but never really had a plan other than to just run. Strength Running’s lifting program has helped to put it altogether. I now feel very confident in my training.

Don’t be afraid of the gym. Even if you’re a skinny guy like me. I use to think that I needed to press 200 lbs if I were to get any benefits. I now know how wrong I was.

I’ll never be an elite runner but I don’t know many 73 year old guys that can run 26 miles without breaking down. That in itself makes it all worthwhile.

I was going to wrap up this incredible case study with lessons we can learn from David’s progress. But he’s done that far better than I ever could have.

So if you’re new to lifting weights – or if strength training for seniors sounds intimidating – you’ll love our strength programs.

We’ve built a collection of resources over the years to help you start properly, improve your rate of progress, stay motivated, and learn proper form in the weight room.

Get started here and I’ll send you a video presentation about how to lift for speed.

Strength Training Exercises for Runners

But you’ll also get a series of coaching lessons designed to make strength training for seniors simple:

  • The changes that you should expect both in your body and with your running
  • Common pitfalls and training errors that can derail your progress (and spike injury risk)
  • Case studies and examples from other runners just like you
  • Example exercises, form tips, and a lot more

Our goals are to help you train well, reduce your risk of injury, and get as much as possible out of this incredible sport – no matter how old you are.

Sign up here and let’s see if we can get you to a healthy, pain-free Boston Qualifier just like David!

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Do You Think Linearly About Running?

In running, there are rarely black or white, binary, or simple issues. Caveats and nuance impact every coach’s decisions.

Runners

You’ve probably heard a coach chuckle after saying “it depends” to one of your running questions. It’s the classic coaches answer because exercise science and training theory are complex. Definitive answers to complex issues are rare.

Regular podcast listeners will know that our guest coaches are always answering, “Well, it depends”…

But some runners display classic linear thinking about the sport. It’s endemic not just to running, but every area of life.

Linear thinking, in the way that we’re using it today, means that your thinking is like a line. It is sequential and step-by-step.

In government, there are many examples of being a linear thinker:

  • Lower taxes are good, higher taxes are bad
  • Less corporate regulation is good, more regulation is bad
  • Less immigration is good, more immigration is bad

As you read through those examples, a small voice inside your head might be thinking, “Aren’t these positions over-simplified? Where’s the middle ground?”

And your intuition would be right! Clearly, there’s more nuance at work in complex areas like the tax system. After all, if the government collects either 0% or 100% of your income as tax revenue, there are going to be problems!

The problem with this style of thinking is that most issues exist along a spectrum where both ends of that spectrum are ill-advised (just like either 0% or 100% tax rates). The ideal scenario exists somewhere in the middle.

Let’s see how this applies to running.

Linear Thinking and Running

In running, linear thinking continues:

  • More minimalism is best – to the point of exclusively running barefoot
  • More mileage is better, less mileage is worse (or the CrossFit version: all easy running is pointless, replace it with intensity!)
  • I want a BQ, so I must focus on exclusively racing marathons

Here’s a linear graph representing the “more mileage is better” argument:

Linear Mileage

Less is less and more is more!

But at what point do the benefits of higher mileage outweigh the rewards? If more is truly more, why don’t elite athletes run 200, 300, or even 400 miles per week?

The answer, of course, is that we can’t think linearly about mileage. This graph is more accurate:

NonLinear Mileage

Here, we understand that there’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle. There’s such a thing as too little mileage but also too many miles.

More nuanced thinkers are nonlinear thinkers. They understand the world is more complex than “more is good, less is worse.”

We can see this concept at work with barefoot running as well:

NonLinear Minimalism

We want to avoid the extreme of running exclusively in motion control shoes but also the extreme of only running barefoot. While you’ll find runners occupying both ends of this spectrum, they’re not high performing runners most of us should emulate.

This idea can be applied to virtually any area of running like workouts, minimalism, strength training, mileage, and even long runs.

How to Apply Nonlinear Thinking to Running

This concept is borrowed from How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking. But the author admits this insight isn’t new. In ancient Rome, Horace famously said:

Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines, quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum.

In English: “There is a proper measure in things. There are, finally, certain boundaries short of and beyond which what is right cannot exist.”

This article is a caution against extremism and a recognition that balance, moderation, and restraint are often more productive.

You can apply this concept to your training in many ways:

  • Ask yourself if a new idea is extreme or balanced
  • Avoid binary thinking of “yes/no”, “black/white”, “good/bad”, or “more is more, less is less” (the truth is usually somewhere in the middle)
  • Exercise science is complex; easy answers are probably too good to be true

If you want help building a training program that takes balance into consideration, Strength Running offers a variety of courses, programs, and coaching services to bring your running to the next level.

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Body Care, Mobility, and Recovery with Alex Ellis

Faster recovery is intoxicating to runners because it means we can then train harder (and get faster!). But how can we boost our recovery abilities?

Child Running

Last year, I became fascinated (though not entirely surprised by) a study that claimed children recover like elite endurance athletes.

Their muscles resist fatigue from high-intensity exercise and their post-exercise rate of recovery is through the roof. Their heart rate recovers faster than trained adults and they’re better at removing lactate from the blood.

Incredible! Maybe that’s why my kids can play on the obstacle courses I build for hours…

But how can us grown-ups get these benefits?

In short, we can’t. We don’t have the hormonal profile of an 11-year old nor can we decide how much of our aerobic metabolism to use while running (though that metric can be improved!).

But we can optimize our recovery and training to maximize both and minimize the risk of injury. That winning combination will help us achieve our potential.

To help make sense of the complicated art of recovery and caring for our bodies, I spoke with Alexandra Ellis for the 100th episode of the Strength Running Podcast.

To celebrate our 100th episode, I invite you to take a short (3-question) survey to help us make it better. I really appreciate it.

Alex Ellis: The Body Geek

Alex Ellis

Alex is a polymath, having studied and worked in many different areas of exercise science, fitness, and coaching.

She has a degree in Exercise Biology and has amassed nearly 1,000 hours of yoga training. Alex also has additional education in:

  • Human Dissection (of course, this was the first thing we talked about)
  • CrossFit Mobility
  • Movement education with Sarah Court, DPT
  • Regeneration Techniques workshop completion through NSCA

As you can see, she has experiences that most coaches would envy (human dissection and NSCA training in particular).

And I’m always looking for new perspectives that will help us improve our running. Alex delivers in a fun episode that highlights her knowledge about the body, movement, recovery, and injuries.

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • What did she learn from dissecting human cadavers?
  • The physiological, biomechanical, and behavioral aspects of her Exercise Biology degree
  • What she learned from CrossFit Mobility that will help runners
  • How to incorporate a daily mobility practice into your life
  • The pros and cons of different massage tools (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and even Graston tools)
  • How to prevent and treat rolled ankles
  • What she means when she says, “If stretching ain’t helping, start building strength.”

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Show Notes & Resources

Thank you Alex for coming on the Strength Running Podcast and sharing your wisdom!

Please also take our very short podcast survey to help us improve, get the guests YOU want, and talk about relevant topics to your running. I appreciate you.

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Running Rogue with Coach Chris McClung

I’ve long said that knowledge is a competitive advantage. Wiser runners make fewer training errors – and reap the benefits.

Running Smart

Education is paramount to success in any endeavor. Running is no different.

I started my own running education by being curious. I was constantly asking my coaches questions when I first started getting interested in training theory, exercise science, and the mechanics behind running:

  • Why are we doing this workout?
  • Why this week and not next week?
  • What is the purpose of a tempo run?
  • Is this the only way we can taper?
  • What is the reason for structuring this track session the way you did?

Needless to say, my coaches were sometimes annoyed by my endless questioning.

Soon, I got somewhat obsessed with reading everything I could about running. You’ve probably noticed the shelves and shelves of books in the background of my office in some of our YouTube videos.

Layer in my USATF coaching certification and experience working with thousands of runners for nearly a decade, and that’s my education on running.

Learning from the best coaches and exercise journalists in the business is extraordinarily valuable. And I still do it through the Strength Running Podcast!

Today I’m excited to introduce you to another coach who values education and learning: Chris McClung.

Chris McClung from Rogue Running on Coaching

Rogue Running Chris McClung

Coach Chris McClung from the Rogue Running group in Austin

Today’s podcast episode features one of the lead coaches for Rogue Running, a massive running group in Austin, Texas.

After discovering the Running Rogue podcast and learning more about the group, I instantly recognized Chris as a thoughtful coach who truly “gets” training (he’s not going to tell you to run less, run faster…).

In this conversation, we focus on three key areas:

  • How he learned to be a great coach
  • The training theory and principles that influence his coaching
  • The role of community and how that impacts your performance

This episode is an excerpt from Team Strength Running, our group coaching program that connects you to me as your coach, a team of your peers, and a new monthly expert interview.

Sign up here to get notified the next time we open!

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources:

If you enjoyed this episode and have benefitted from the Strength Running Podcast, please consider leaving an honest review on Apple Music. It would mean a lot to me.

Thank You Inside Tracker

This episode of the podcast is made possible by Inside Tracker – and they’ve generously offered 10% off any test with discount code strengthrunning (not case sensitive).

Inside Tracker is a health analytics company that tests for over 40 major blood biomarkers and based on your physiology, offer custom solutions to help you optimize any areas that are outside of the normal zones.

So if you’re training for a difficult race, want to ramp up your recovery, or are just a passionate running geek like me who’s always searching for more ways to improve, this is a great option for seeing (and fixing) any areas of deficiency.

Get 10% off any test at insidetracker.com with code strengthrunning at checkout.

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Running Technique Made Simple: 3 Fixes to Upgrade Your Form

We’ve all heard that “running is just putting one foot in front of the other.” But is running technique really that simple?

Running Technique

The complicated answer is that running technique is both simple and complex.

It’s simple because every human is indeed born to run. All of us have the physical and physiological tools to be good runners (as opposed to, say, swimming where we lack fins and a streamlined body).

It’s complex because we are very far away from our “natural” state. We wear shoes, sit in chairs, and have access to unlimited calories. So our bodies can be very far from the physical ideal for running.

And we also think more about our running technique, something animals never do. They control their movements mostly through instinct while we can actively make changes to our running form based on our desires.

That means our potential to screw things up by overthinking things is much higher!

We have so many things that we track and try to “optimize” when it comes to our technique:

  • Vertical oscillation
  • Ground contact time
  • Cadence
  • Right vs. left leg symmetry
  • Foot Strike
  • Posture and the forward lean
  • Hip drop, pelvic tilt, and Q angle

And the list goes on!

How are runners supposed to know what aspect of form is important to focus on vs. what isn’t?

To make things simpler, this is a fun “Do This, Not That” article that breaks down the fundamentals (rather than minute intricacies) of proper running technique so you know exactly what to focus on.

But let me say right now: you should not think too much about your form. If you don’t have a history of injuries and you’re training well, then don’t mess with your form. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

While the movement itself might be complex, its execution ought to be simple.

After all, we’re born for this, remember?

Running Technique Fundamentals

Technique for Running

There are quite a few elements of good form – but they’re probably not what you might guess.

When it comes to “proper” technique, we’re not going to worry about:

  • Foot strike (heel, midfoot, or forefoot)
  • Forward lean
  • Arm carriage

These aspects of form are byproducts of your unique anatomy, skill, mobility, and strength. They’ll improve with work but not by actively attempting to change them.

Instead, we’ll focus on three fundamentals:

  • Overall body posture
  • Where your foot lands relative to the rest of your body
  • Step rate (the number of steps you take per minute)

If you can get these principles of sound running technique right, they will improve other problems with form (like arm carriage, forward lean, and foot strike).

And it’s important to note that strength and mobility are absolutely necessary to run economically and powerfully.

Without strength, your stride will lack power and will be less fluid or smooth. You’ll also be at a higher risk of injury.

Without mobility, you won’t be able to powerfully move through runnings proper range of motion.

That’s why the cues below are only a starting point. Build on them with a high quality strength program and your form will improve substantially without overthinking how to run.

Get started with our free Form Cues Cheat Sheet to help you practice 3 of the most effective running technique cues.

Don’t Lean Forward

Most runners have heard that a forward lean is advantageous. By using “free energy” from gravity, it helps us run faster.

While I’m not convinced that gravity is helping us run faster (gravity pulls us down, not forward), the idea that a forward lean is part of proper running technique still holds true.

But the problem surfaces when we try to have a forward lean. Almost always, runners end up leaning from the waist which adds strain to our joints and is a big injury risk.

There should be a straight line running from our feet, up along our legs, over our butt and back, to our head. At no point are we leaning from the waist, but rather from the ankles. The video below shows a demonstration of how this looks.

While this is an aspect of great form, it takes a lot of strength an experience to run in this more engaged, athletic posture. Strength training and occasional sprinting can reinforce a proper lean and give you the tools to sustain it.

But without doing the training that allows you to lean from the ankles, you should not attempt to lean forward.

But Do “Run Tall”

Instead, it’s far more effective to run with an erect posture (after all, there ought to be a straight line from your ankles to your head).

A helpful cue to make this easier is to tell yourself to “run tall.” Every joint in the body, from the ankles to the knees to the hips, should be striving upward to give you the tallest posture possible.

Reach for the sky with your head and you’ll get it right.

Another cue that facilitates great running posture is to imagine that you’re a puppet with strings attached to the top of your head. An imaginary puppeteer is pulling upward on those strings, lengthening your body and helping you run as tall as possible.

These cues reinforce more athletic posture and help prevent form problems like:

  • Hip drop
  • Anterior pelvic tilt
  • Unengaged glute muscles

It does take strength to “run tall” so be sure not to neglect strength training! Not only will it give you the armor needed to prevent more injuries, but weightlifting improves posture and running economy.

What’s not to love?!

Don’t Focus on Footstrike

Footstrike has gotten a lot of attention over the years. Ever since Christopher McDougall’s bestseller Born to Run swept the world by storm in 2009, we’ve been borderline obsessed with landing on our midfoot and banishing the heel strike altogether.

But is heel striking actually all that bad?

In fact, it’s not! It really depends on what type of heel strike you have. If you over-stride, reach out with your feet, and land in front of your body, you likely have a very aggressive, “heel-smashing” type of heel strike.

That’s the problematic type of foot strike that spikes your injury risk and slows you down during workouts or races.

But there’s a better way – a proprioceptive heel strike.

Some runners, like legend Meb Keflezighi (and yours truly), do land on their heels. But their heel only kisses the ground before the majority of their bodyweight comes down when the foot is in a fully planted, neutral position.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much if you have a mild heel strike. How your foot hits the ground is not nearly as important as where your foot lands in relation to the rest of your body.

Which leads us to our next principle of effective running technique…

But Do Land Underneath Your Hips

I mentioned earlier that “reaching out” with your feet and landing in front of your body often results in an aggressive heel strike. That’s what we want to avoid.

To do that, all that we need to focus on is landing underneath our hips. If our foot lands under our center of gravity, we greatly reduce that heel-smashing variety of foot strike.

The result is a more economical stride, lower risk of injury, and a more fluid stride. You’ll run in a more compact way without over-striding. Even if your heel does hit the ground first, doing so underneath your hips will probably give you a proprioceptive heel strike.

To make this easier, imagine that you’re riding a scooter and each stride is you pushing off the ground. It’s a “down and back” motion rather than an “out and forward” motion.

In other words, your foot drives down toward the ground rather than out in front of you.

But What About Cadence?

Cadence has been a hot topic since coach Jack Daniels (of Daniel’s Running Formula fame) popularized the notion that runners should have a cadence of 180 steps per minute. Now, everyone seems to want to run with a step rate of 180.

But this isn’t a magic number. 179 steps per minute is not worse and 181 is not better.

First, cadence is partly a reflection of speed. The faster you run, the higher your cadence.

Second, whenever we discuss cadence it’s always measured during an easy effort. We simply don’t care how many steps you take per minute at tempo, 5k, or any other pace.

That means your easy running pace greatly impacts what your cadence ought to be. A simple rule is to establish a baseline cadence number based on your easy pace:

  • If an easy effort for you is 10:00 minutes per mile or slower, your goal should be to run at least 160 steps per minute.
  • But if your easy pace is faster than 10:00 minutes per mile, your goal should be to run with at least 170 steps per minute

A good example is my own cadence. Study the details of an easy 4 miler I ran recently with several 15sec pick-ups near the end and you’ll notice a few things.

First, my cadence is quite consistent in the mid-170’s at an easy effort of about 7:30 – 8:00 mile pace. I feel very comfortable here and if I were to force myself to hit 180, my form would get less efficient (not more).

Near the end, you’ll see spikes in both pace and cadence (they’re related, of course!), hitting a peak of over 200 steps per minute when I’m running under 5:00 mile pace.

The lesson? 180 is a fine benchmark, but it’s not a number anybody “must” reach. In fact, as long as you’re over either 160 or 170 steps per minute based on your easy pace, you can rest easy that your cadence is on target.

I put together a video highlighting these lessons – with some demonstrations – for our YouTube channel:

Note how training will help you develop optimal running technique – not actively thinking about your running form.

High mileage, sprinting, and strength training are the top ways to improve form from a training perspective.

But “cues” go a long way toward building economical form habits.

Running Technique ‘Cues’

I’ve put together a free cheat sheet for you – outlining the three most effective form cues that will improve your running technique.

It includes:

  • Instructions for how to execute each cueRun Technique Cues
  • When (and for how long) to execute each cue
  • Tips to make each cue easier (hint: strength matters!)
  • Pictures of me in short shorts racing with sunglasses (I spoil you)

Get it here and hang it near your running shoes – you’ll have ideas to work on during every easy run!

Powerful running technique is built through training and conscious decisions to run more efficiently. This is the first step – and I can’t wait to see how you feel in a few months.

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Fast Kate Grace on Growing Up Fit, Staple Workouts, and Courage

Kate Grace is one of the most dominant middle distance runners in the country. Her nickname – Fast Kate – tells you what type of runner she is!

Fast Kate Grace

Photo by David Bracetty

Kate was born into a family that prioritized fitness. Her mother, Kathy Smith, was a famous 80’s aerobics instructor and her weekends were filled with hikes and adventures.

That proved advantageous as she started running cross country and track in high school. Soon, Kate started amassing multiple accomplishments:

  • Multiple-time league champion
  • 3x California southern division 800m champion
  • 3rd – state meet 800m (PR of 2:10)
  • 1st – CA state division 4 cross country championship

Fast Kate went on to Yale, setting four school records, winning six Ivy League championships, and qualifying for All-America honors four times in cross country.

After signing with Oiselle as a sponsor in 2012, she signed a contract with Nike in 2017. Her professional career is littered with various titles, podium finishes, and awards:

  • Winner, 2016 US Olympic Trials 800m
  • American & North American record holder – 4x1500m (16:55.33)
  • 2nd – 2017 US Outdoor Track and Field Champions 1500m
  • 800m PR: 1:58.28
  • 1500m PR: 4:03.59
  • Mile PR: 4:22.93

But Kate Grace isn’t just a fast runner with a wealth of championships and accolades to her name. She’s a runner just like you and me, facing the same pre-race anxiety and performance fears.

She joins us on the Strength Running Podcast today to talk about her running career, upbringing, training, and the mindset shifts that have made it all possible.

Kate Grace: Courage Over Comfort

Kate Grace

Borrowing an idea from our mutual friend Nicole Antoinette, Kate has decided to choose courage over comfort when it comes to showing up and racing.

When it comes to getting the most from our bodies, all of us have some trepidation about the discomfort of racing. It can be unpleasant and downright painful. But deciding to “go all in” and embrace that fear is the only way we can reach our potential.

It’s not an easy choice. Comfort is far easier: the comfort of sleeping in, not signing up for that big race, or not pushing hard during the final mile.

But comfort can be the invisibility cloak that masks failure. After all, if we’re only operating at 85%, are we really thriving?

Today’s conversation with Kate Grace covers many areas of training and mastering your inner psychology:

  • How she handles workout anxiety and pre-race jitters
  • What she does to stay in control of her thoughts during demanding speed workouts
  • How she talks to herself in fearful situations (like standing on the starting line of a major championship)

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources:

Kate is currently gearing up for a big outdoor track season. Follow her on Instagram and give her a shout – she’d appreciate it!

Thanks Inside Tracker

This episode would not have been possible without Inside Tracker, who is offering a 10% discount on any of their tests with code strengthrunning.

They test over 40 biomarkers, like various stress hormones, to determine if you’re training too hard, too little, or have any physiological weaknesses that can be remedied by either diet, exercise, or lifestyle changes.

In other words, you learn about problems that have actionable solutions.

After getting your results, they communicate what you can do to lift or lower your results into the optimal range. For any runner who wants every advantage, to see what they’re truly capable of achieving, I highly recommend Inside Tracker. I’ve personally used their ‘Ultimate Package’ tier and loved the process and results.

Don’t forget to use code strengthrunning to save 10% on any test (including their affordable DIY and Essentials)!

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Two Surprising Prevention Strategies from Two Pro Athletes

The first 11 years of my running career had me constantly battling foot injuries, Achilles tendinopathy, IT Band Syndrome, plantar fasciitis, muscle strains, and a chronic SI joint problem.

No wonder I’m biased toward injury prevention!

Jason Fitzgerald Ultramarathon DNF

After years of feeling like my body was betraying me, I was ready to quit running.

I was 26 years old and had spent six months injured with ITBS, in pain, and debating whether or not I would ever run again. I had already run in college and posted some impressive (for me) times, so why not quit?

After all, most of my friends from the track and cross country teams weren’t training that much anymore. If they could stop, so could I.

But something just didn’t feel right. I really liked running – maybe more so than some of my other running friends. And for some reason, I loved the feeling of strength you get from putting in 10 miles a day, day after day.

So I took the road less travelled, sucked up my ego, and saw a lot of physical therapists. I researched injuries in runners. And I read so many running books that my wife started wondering if we were saving for retirement.

The end result was that since 2009, I’ve only had one semi-serious injury. And I’ve become obsessed with preventing injuries because the results are dramatic:

  • You’ll be able to run more mileage, consistently (more is better!)
  • Your mindset won’t be savaged from needing to take time off
  • Small injuries don’t become major injuries
  • Major injuries don’t become chronic injuries, affecting your longevity as a runner and overall health

Naturally, I sought the best guidance in the world. I loved hearing how elite athletes prevent injuries because they’re putting in the most training hours, at the highest intensities, and have the most pressure to perform.

If they have insights, I needed to hear them!

And so a few years ago, I reached out to 9 professional athletes to hear their best injury prevention strategies. They’re trail runners, ultramarathoners, triathletes, Olympians, and obstacle course runners.

Their breadth of experiences is included in our free book The Little Black Book of Prevention & Recovery.

Today, I want to highlight two contributions from triathlon rock star Kelly O’Mara and World’s Toughest Mudder champion Amelia Boone.

Kelly O’Mara on Life Stress:

Kelly O'Mara Injury Prevention

When I made the conscious decision to commit myself to triathlon and improve my training, I did something very deliberately: I made sure I created time in my life to sleep and rest. And then I slept and rested. A lot.

It’s (relatively) easy to train hard. It’s also easy to know that you should sleep and recover. But it’s just as easy to let everything you know you should be doing fall by the wayside because you have to get up early to get the workout in, because you need to finish this one thing late at night, because you’re busy, busy, busy.

Stop being busy.

I know it’s not possible for everyone to have as flexible a schedule as they’d like to have. But it is possible to cut out the distractions, to create extra time in your life to done nothing. My husband likes to call himself my “elite athlete consultant,” and his main duty in that role is to tell me when I shouldn’t take on extra jobs or extra commitments.

Give yourself time to lay on the couch on weekend afternoons and nap or watch bad TV. If you want to sleep eight hours, then you need more than eight hours from when you get in bed to when you have to be out of bed. And if you want to sleep more than eight hours, then do that.

I like to have at least one day each week when I don’t need to set an alarm at all, so I can sleep as much I possibly need. Sometimes that means I don’t get out of bed until 10 a.m. People may make fun of it and you might feel like you’re being a bum, but they’ll stop making fun when you get faster.

My training partners know I won’t work out on weekends before 9 a.m. (especially in the winter, when it’s cold). They know I’m lazy. But they also know I’ve gotten a lot faster while being lazier than ever.

About Kelly

Kelly O’Mara is a reporter, primarily covering endurance sports, the Olympics, and triathlon for publications like Outside, espnW, Bicycling Magazine, Competitor Magazine, Yahoo! Travel, VICE Sports, and many others.

She was an elite triathlete after college, took a few years off, and will be racing as a professional triathlete again in 2017. She also has multiple years of cross country and track experience as well as being an open water swimming coach.

Connect with Kelly: Follow her on Twitter. Check out her newsletter and podcast.

Amelia Boone on Stability & Mobility

Amelia Boone OCR

To prevent injury, I find there are two key parts: mobility and stability. Often athletes focus too much on one, and not enough on the other. A few things I do to address both parts:

Dedicate 10 minutes each night before you go to bed to mobilize a particular body part. It doesn’t need to be the same one (and shouldn’t always be the same!), but focus on moving your tissues and loosening up before you go to bed.

For runners, single leg strength is everything – I work on single leg stability at least twice a week in the form of lunges, single leg squats, balance work with slant boards, Bosu balls, and other unstable surfaces.

If you’ve injured a particular body part (i.e., muscle strain), focus on loosening the tissues around it – not the injured tissue itself. For example, if you’ve pulled a hamstring, foam roll the calves, quads, glutes, etc. Those are the tissues that will compensate for the injury and lead to compensatory patterns. And often, the place of pain isn’t the source of the problem.

If you are desk bound like I am, do what you can to stay moving as much as possible. Take a lap around the office at least twice an hour. On conference calls, I like to sit in the bottom of a squat or hold a plank. Keep a golf ball at your desk and roll out the bottom of your feet during the day. The little movements add up.

Go barefoot as much as possible in everyday life – builds foot strength, lets your toes breathe!

Take complete rest days – “active recovery” is all the rage right now, but I’m a firm believer in just letting the body be completely static once in a while. We can tend to take our “active recovery” too far!

About Amelia

Amelia Boone is a force of nature. She’s not only a full-time attorney for Apple, but the most dominant female obstacle course athlete in history.

But she’s not just the best (if not THE best) female OCR athlete – she usually beats 99% of men in every race she enters.

A small taste of her racing performances include:

  • 30+ victories (and 50+ podium finishes)
  • 2013 Spartan Race World Champion
  • 2012 Spartan Race World Championship 2nd place overall (only 8 minutes behind the male winner)
  • 2012, 2014, and 2015 World’s Toughest Mudder Champion
  • 3x finisher of the Death Race

Connect with Amelia: Follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Amelia’s Website.

Learn From the Best

I worked with nearly a dozen professional runners to hear their favorite recovery and injury prevention strategies.

The result is The Little Black Book of Prevention & Recovery and besides Kelly and Amelia, it features:

  • Dathan Ritzenhein – 3x Olympian, 3x National Cross Country Champion
  • Devon Yanko100k National Champion and 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier
  • David Roche – 2x National Trail Running Champion
  • Andy Wacker – Trail Half Marathon National Champion
  • Ian Sharman – 3x winner of the Leadville Trail 100
  • Joseph Gray – Mount Washington American Record holder and World Mountain Running Champion
  • Max King – US National Ultra Running Champion and 2x winner World Warrior Dash Champion

Each of these world-class athletes shared their favorite recovery or injury prevention strategy – and the responses are incredibly varied.

You’ll hear about post-race recovery, why you should eat a LOT, how to return to running after an injury (and what mistakes to avoid), and the virtues of eliminating busyness from your life.

Pick and choose the ideas that most resonate with you. Implement them and you’ll be a better, stronger, healthier, and faster runner.

Click on the button below to download the free book. Enjoy!

Elite Runners on Injury Prevention

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Peter Bromka on the Fear and Hope of the Marathon

26.2 miles is an enchanting distance; it’s approachable but long enough to humble even the best runners. What is it about the marathon that has captured the imaginations of so many of us?

Peter Bromka

Perhaps the marathon is so captivating because conquering it is so elusive.

For every great race, you might have several failed attempts. 26.2 miles is just so challenging that even with “perfect” fitness, a poor race is still a likely possibility.

I’m fond of saying that after mile 20, the marathon is the Wild West. It’s unpredictable and you don’t know what might happen.

Even the best training cycles can effectively be wasted with poor weather on the day (anybody who ran the 2018 Boston Marathon understands this unfortunate reality!), a single fast mile too early in the race, or unpredictable GI distress.

Nevertheless, we are runners and we will run.

And that’s what makes running so special. No matter what kind of race we have, there’s a little voice inside our heads that encourages us to think bigger, act bolder, and race with more guts.

We hear:

  • I think I could have gone a little faster at the end…
  • But if it were cooler, I’d have gotten at least 3 more minutes!
  • Well if I didn’t get sick a month ago I’d have felt stronger.
  • Next time, my training is going to be so much better!

Then, we’re back on the starting line in a few short months, ready to take our shot at the elusive 26.2 mile distance yet again.

I want to fully capture the hope, fear, joy, sacrifice, and transformation that’s possible with the marathon. And I couldn’t think of a better person to introduce you to than Peter Bromka.

Peter Bromka on the Marathon: “I doubted it was even possible”

Peter Bromka Marathon

I ran competitively against Peter while we were both in college. He was at Tufts University while I ran for Connecticut College.

Bromka was faster. In college, he was consistently a Varsity runner for their competitive Division III cross country team. But while he was a very good college runner, I wouldn’t say he was a standout athlete.

Things started to change post-collegiately when Peter started running marathons. His first was 2:56 – a relatively pedestrian time by a former collegiate runner (one who was capable of running 25:xx for a 5-mile cross country course).

Soon, he dropped his time to 2:47. And then 2:41. His progression of improvement over 26.2 miles is eye-popping. After that 2:41, he ran:

  • 2:36
  • 2:34
  • 2:29
  • 2:23
  • 2:19

His fastest finish came last December at the 2018 California International Marathon. His official time – 2:19:40 – missed the Olympic Trials Qualifying standard by a mere 40 seconds.

This progression gives Peter Bromka one of the most fascinating stories in marathon running today. It’s rare. It’s unique. And we just don’t see DIII runners flirting with Olympic Trials Qualifying times very often!

I brought Peter on the podcast to talk about this progression and the mental and physical adjustments he’s had to make to continue improving.

In this episode, we talk about:

  • How did Peter’s mindset about training and racing change as he got faster?
  • What role does fear play in how you think about breaking certain time barriers?
  • Did he ever think he had reached his physiological limit? What then?
  • What is it about the Boston Marathon that makes it so special (and difficult!)?

Peter Bromka is like a philosopher of running. You’ll love hearing him wax poetic about the marathon distance and what it means to run it well.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources:

Are you running your first (or 100th) marathon? Check out all of our training and coaching programs to help you conquer 26.2 miles!

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How to Avoid the Dark Side of Passion and Build a Sustainable Running Obsession

I’ll openly admit I got addicted to running when I started. The progress! The improvements! The thrill of running faster and faster got me hooked. But… was it healthy?

Jason (right) did not perfect the final lean until college…

Passion is a complicated topic. We’ve all been told to “follow our passion” or to “find our passion.”

In fact, my high school yearbook quote was about passion (and running, of course)! I wrote:

Average people follow their dreams. Distance runners chase them down and beat them into submission.

I still think about that quote today.

But passion has been simplified to the point where it’s often meaningless.

Sure, you might feel passionate about running. But what does that mean? It often leaves you with more questions than answers:

  • Can too much passion be a bad thing?
  • What happens when runners rely too heavily on external results?
  • When does passion turn into burnout?
  • What happens if your passion fades over time?

Clearly, we need a better understanding of what drives us if we want to be “sustainably obsessed” with running for the long-term.

So I’m thrilled to bring you performance coach and best-selling author Brad Stulberg.

Behaviors, Mindsets, and Passion with Brad Stulberg

Brad Stulberg

Brad Stulberg is a polymath whose first book with coach Steve Magness, Peak Performancewas one of my favorite reads from 2018.

His work focuses on helping athletes, business executives, and other top performers improve their chances of success by work on:

  • Defining a path for long-term progression
  • Mental toughness
  • Developing sustainable motivation and purpose
  • How to get into a deep-focus “flow” state
  • Building resilience
  • Development of optimal routines

His latest book is also coauthored by Steve Magness, titled The Passion Paradox: A Guide to Going All In, Finding Success, and Discovering the Benefits of an Unbalanced Life.

In this conversation, we spend time focusing on the nuances of passion, obsession, and building interest in things that we like.

His book is a defense of passion. It’s a more nuanced, effective perspective on passion that acknowledges that it’s hard to find, that it must be cultivated, and that too much of it can indeed be a bad thing.

Show Resources & Links:

If you’re interested in this conversation, you’ll love Brad’s last two books. Be sure to follow him on Twitter; his feed is truly inspirational and actionable!

Thank you SteadyMD for sponsoring this episode! Learn more about their medical services for runners and how you can benefit from a physician who understands runners.

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Glute Strengthening for Runners: How to Get Started

Big butts, I cannot lie: they’re great for runners. But our glute muscles are often neglected – and that’s leaving a lot of runners injured.

glute strengthening

The glutes are really made up of three separate muscles that make your booty the largest muscle group in the body:

  • Gluteus maximus (responsible for extending the hip joint)
  • Gluteus medius (responsible for hip abduction and thigh rotation)
  • Gluteus minimus (responsible for hip abduction and thigh rotation)

Because of their size, these muscles can produce a lot of force. In fact, they’re one of the primary muscles that help you run fast. Like quads for cyclists, the glutes are a distance runner’s primary source of power.

Strong glutes also center the pelvis and give you a strong, stable foundation upon which to generate speed.

But runners neglect their glutes in three critical ways:

  • A lack of strength training
  • Training mistakes
  • Poor lifestyle habits

In this article, you’ll learn the importance of these muscles, mistakes that will weaken your butt, and exercises for glute strengthening.

Why is Glute Strength So Important?

glute strengthening for runners

The impact of a strong butt can’t be denied: you’ll be a healthier, happier, faster runner.

As Dr. Jordan Metzl, author of Running Strong, has said numerous times:

A strong butt is the key to a happy life!

But more specifically, glute strengthening for runners has two major advantages. First, you’ll improve your ability to generate speed. And second, you’ll be far less likely for a major running injury.

The speed benefit is clear: as the largest muscle group in the body, they’re capable of producing a lot of power. They can generate force, speed, and propel you to your next big Personal Best.

Injury prevention is the benefit you’ll probably experience first and most dramatically. That’s because it only takes a few short weeks of dedicated glute strengthening to start noticing improvements.

First, you’ll feel that your form is more efficient and powerful. Then, you’ll notice how you have fewer niggles and aren’t as tired on your longest efforts.

Over time, your injury rate will go down and you’ll end up a faster, healthier runner.

How Runners Neglect the Glutes

Runners neglect their glutes through training, lifestyle, and strength habits. Let’s explore each one so you can address any shortcomings in your training.

Training Mistakes

How you structure your running has a big impact on the strength of your backside. If your training is mostly easy running, you’re leaving a lot of strength and economy on the table.

Add in these fundamental elements of sound training for some extra glute strength:

  • Running form drills
  • Hilly runs (and formal hill workouts)
  • Sprints / Speed development

Drills, hills, and sprints prevent runners from running “lazily” with poor form, sloppy mechanics, and loose joints. They promote muscle tension, build strength, and reinforce proper mechanics.

From a running perspective, these additions will help you feel more athletic with a stronger butt in just a few weeks.

Poor Lifestyle Habits

Your butt can be detrained by what you do outside of running just as easily as what you do while training.

Runners who’ve gone through our injury prevention material understand that a modern lifestyle is often incompatible with running performance. And the top culprit is our affinity for sitting for so many hours of the day.

Sitting for prolonged periods of time weakens the gluteal muscles, stretches them, and trains them to be inactive for long stretches of time.

It’s why I wrote an adjustable standing desk review and filmed a video about the effects of prolonged sitting:

Vary the positions you put your body into throughout the day (including your rear end) and you won’t have as many glute problems.

No Strength Training

Strength training is the most direct form of glute strengthening for runners. While sprints, hills, and drills get you partway there, there’s simply no substitution for strength training.

If you don’t have any experience with weightlifting or you don’t have access to a gym, bodyweight exercises are a great way to boost your strength with virtually no equipment.

Rather than memorizing a lit of exercises, it’s best to follow a single routine for simplicity. The ITB Rehab Routine focuses on the glutes (and hips) and is a very running-specific strength routine:

Commit yourself to 10-20 minutes of bodyweight strength exercises after every run and you’ll be a stronger, more athletic, and less injury-prone athlete.

It’s no surprise that when I interviewed 9 elite runners on their favorite prevention strategies, strength training was a top choice!

Glute Strengthening Exercises for Beginners

Some of the best glute strengthening exercises for runners include:

  • Squats
  • Single-leg deadlifts
  • Single-leg squats
  • Bridges
  • Single leg hip thrusts
  • Side leg raises
  • Clam shells

But if you’re brand new to any kind of strength work, let’s keep things simple. To get you started, here is a progression that outlines a series of four glute strengthening exercises for runners:

The exercises in this short video are:

  • Double-leg bridge
  • Double-leg bridge with alternating leg lifts
  • Marching Bridge
  • Single-leg hip thrusts

As you complete them, each exercise becomes increasingly difficult. By going through this set of glute exercises, you’ll find out the limits of your strength.

If they’re easy and you can perform these exercises with good form, you’re probably ready for weightlifting exercises in the gym.

But if they’re harder than they look, stick with bodyweight training for a few months before heading into the weight room.

It’s Not Just About Strength

Yes, it’s great to lift heavy weights in the gym to build a strong backside. A stronger butt is a stronger runner.

But absolute strength is not our main goal. Rather, it’s glute activation: the ability to properly recruit and use those glute muscles is far more important.

This means we must focus on glute function by using our glutes during our sport (running):

These activities, taken together, make a strong, athletic, capable, fast athlete. It’s the entire package, not a simple routine performed once or twice per week.

If you’ve experienced more injuries than you’d like recently, a series of glute strengthening exercises for runners can be a worthy addition to your training. But always remember to include the training and lifestyle factors that promote sound glute function too!

Get More Prevention Resources

Glute strength is a primary concern for injury-prone runners. These big muscles control and power the running stride.

If there’s a problem with your mechanics, there’s an excellent chance it can be traced back to poor glute strength or function.

Start with these exercises to determine how strong you are so you can run healthy (and faster!).

But of course, injury prevention is about a lot more than strengthening the gluteal muscles. The training you do is arguably even more important to whether or not you’ll stay healthy.

So I want to give you a free book: The Little Black Book of Prevention & RecoveryYou’ll hear from:

  • Olympian Dathan RitzenheinPrevention and Recovery
  • Pro triathlete Kelly O’Mara
  • Leadville winner Devon Yanko
  • Ultrarunner Ian Sharman
  • OCR Phenom Amelia Boone
  • Trail rockstar David Roche
  • Mountain Runner Andy Wacker

The advice given by this field of elite athletes is often different than what you’ll hear from mainstream sources.

These are the runners covering 100+ mile training weeks and pushing their bodies to the limit.

They know what it takes to stay healthy.

Download the book now (it’s free) to learn all of their strategies – so you can prevent your next injury.

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