Mark Cucuzzella, MD on A Comprehensive Injury Prevention Plan

Running injuries are the bane of every runner. Can you just imagine how you’d feel if you were strong enough to prevent more injuries?

Mark Cucuzzella Running

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella running in a pair of minimalist running shoes

Well, it’s not some pipe dream. Injury prevention is a top goal for every runner for good reason.

Stay healthy and you’ll…

  • Run more miles over the long-term (and more running is a surefire way to improve)
  • Run happier without having to sit on the sidelines, watching your fitness go down the drain…
  • Race more often, do more frequent workouts, and get in far better shape

But the annual rate of running injuries is alarmingly well over 60% for runners. More than half of us will get hurt this year!

What if you could substantially cut your risk – while improving your running?

How would you feel if you could build strength (and speed) while becoming a more robust, resilient runner?

You’d feel so good you might even put on some purple spandex and do a little dance…

These benefits are the result from effective, logical training. There’s no magic supplement, workout, or coach who can keep you healthy.

Truth be told, staying healthy is the result of dozens of factors at once:

  • The appropriateness of your workouts, long runs, and mileage
  • How hard you push yourself on easy and hard days
  • Daily movement patterns and level of sedentary behavior
  • Strength training (or lack thereof)
  • Training errors compounded over time
  • Lifestyle issues like sleep, stress, and nutrition

Improvements in each area will lower your risk of getting a running injury.

Like we recently discussed, some injury prevention strategies are better than others.

For example, that ice bath is nowhere near as effective at keeping you healthy as strength training!

To discuss injury prevention in a more holistic way, I invited Mark Cucuzzella, MD on the podcast to discuss his new book.

It’s a conversation that I’m still thinking about because it was so illuminating…

Mark Cucuzzella on How Runners Can Prevent Injuries

If you don’t know Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, you’re missing out.

He’s a professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine and a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force Reservists. He designed the US Air Force Efficient Running Project and has presented running workshops on over 50 military bases.

Mark has been a national-level Masters runner, completed more than 100 marathon and ultra-marathon races, and is a two time winner of the Air Force Marathon. His PR? A staggering 2:24.

He’s also strongly involved in the local West Virginia running community:

Mark’s new book, Run for Your Life: How to Run, Walk, and Move Without Pain or Injury and Achieve a Sense of Well-Being and Joy is all of his expertise and experience distilled into one manual for preventing injury.

He’s also on the Strength Running Podcast to discuss these topics in more detail.

We’re focusing on three main areas of prevention:

  • Running form: cues, mistakes, and big picture principles
  • Barefoot running: how to get started and avoid injuries
  • Lifestyle: what factors predispose you to getting hurt?

Listen to our conversation now on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Show Resources & Links:

Thanks Mark for coming on the podcast, sharing your wisdom, and giving us a more nuanced, comprehensive look at how runners can stay healthy and prevent injuries. This is a conversation I won’t soon forget.

Thanks, SteadyMD

Strength Running is an official partner of SteadyMD – a service that gives runners 24/7 access to a primary care doctor who’s also a runner.

If you’ve ever visited a physical therapist or your primary care physician about a running injury, you’ve probably left frustrated. Many doctors will simply tell you to rest, take some ibuprofen, or quit running altogether.

That’s not going to work for us hard-charging runners!

SteadyMD gives you a doctor available anytime via phone, text, or video chat who understands the demands of training (and injuries). Have a question about a niggle or a joint that feels “off?” Then SteadyMD is your answer.

Started by sub-3 marathoner Dr. Josh Emdur,the goal of SteadyMD is to give you a personal doctor, online, that’s just for runners to help you stay fit, healthy, injury-free, and competitive.

The best part? There are no co-pays, waiting rooms, or surprise bills.

For athletes who need true preventative care tailored to your medical needs and lifestyle, visit SteadyMD to check out all of the details.

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How Christine Crushed Her First 100 Mile Ultra Marathon

When I started running regularly after graduating from college, the marathon sounded impossibly far. I’ll never do that, I thought. I’d heard horror stories of lost toenails and cripplingly sore quads…

Christine 100 mile ultra marathon

It’s funny how your mindset shifts! Fast-forward 20 years, and I found myself about to run a 100 mile ultra marathon.

July 21st loomed large in my mind since I registered for the Vermont 100 miler the previous January. As the race date approached, I kept waiting for the panic to start.

100 miles. 17,000 feet of climbing and descent.

Could I really do this?

The weeks passed quickly and suddenly I found myself packing to travel to Vermont for my first 100 mile ultra.

But oddly enough, the panic that I anticipated never came. Not when my alarm went off at 2 am on race morning and not when I finally stepped up to the starting line under a star-filled sky.

I felt remarkably calm. Don’t get me wrong – I was excited and there were certainly some butterflies in my stomach. But never any panic.

In the end, this race couldn’t have gone much better than it did:

  • I finished my first 100-miler well within my goal of under 24 hours: 23:39 to be exact.
  • I’m probably most proud of the final 30 miles I completed in just over 7 hours.
  • I passed over 30 women in those miles to move up to 22nd female overall.

When you’re running that far, luck always plays a role in your success. I had great weather. The course was dry and my feet held up amazingly well.

But looking back after the race, I also realized that my consistent preparation is what kept my panic at bay and allowed me to execute my race plan successfully. I controlled everything that I could and prepared for whatever I couldn’t.

While the preparation for running 100 miles is particularly intense, the lessons I learned are applicable to a variety of races, whether they’re on road or trail.

Race day is the culmination of your training and planning.

Executing both of those well can be the difference between pride and disappointment, and in a 100-miler can mean the difference between finishing the distance and leaving with a DNF (Did Not Finish).

How I Chose My First 100 Mile Ultra Marathon

Success begins with selecting an appropriate challenge. In hindsight, Jason probably shouldn’t have chosen a mountainous first ultra at altitude that resulted in a DNF

I thought about running the Vermont 100 mile ultra marathon for nearly 2 years before I finally registered and knew it was a course that would both challenge me and play to my strengths.

I was slightly terrified by the thought of 17,000 feet of climbing, but knew that having about 65% of the course on dirt roads would allow me to keep moving well without the worry of more technical terrain.

The Vermont 100 is a well-established race and one of the oldest 100-milers in the country. They also have an abundance of both manned and unmanned aid stations along the course, so you’re never more than 5 miles from hydration and fueling options.

Knowing the race was well organized with such a huge amount of on-course support was also appealing as a first 100 miler.

Consistent Training Was Clutch

What stands out most to me about my build up to Vermont was the consistency. Jason always says that consistency is the “secret sauce” to successful running, and this has proven true for me in all my training and racing!

What might be most notable is the fact that I didn’t run crazy high mileage while training for this race, but I did run months of 50-60 mile weeks, with two weeks peaking at just over 70 miles.

I raced a 50-miler about 2 months before the 100 mile ultra to allow for plenty of recovery time and my last long run was a hot and hilly 35-miler.

While living outside of Philadelphia didn’t give me an opportunity to do any massive climbing during my runs, hills were an essential part of my training. More than the mileage itself, the thought of 17,00 feet of climbing scared me. I tried to do as much as I could to prepare my body for all that elevation gain and descent.

Although I had run a 100k in the fall of 2017, I had never run in the overnight hours during any previous races. To help prepare myself mentally, I did two late night long runs during training, one on trails and one on a paved path.

The heat was also a potential difficulty with a mid-summer race so in the final 4-6 weeks before race day I exposed myself to as much challenging weather as possible.

I ran at 3 pm on 95-degree days and practiced fueling and cooling strategies. While I hoped for better weather, I felt acclimated and ready to deal with steamy conditions if necessary.

Fuel Right to Run Strong

ultra marathon fueling

The longer the race, the more nutrition becomes a factor. My stomach always has the potential to get a little wonky in long races (especially in the heat).

My race plan was to eat about 150-200 calories per hour, knowing I would probably fall short of that as the race progressed.

Long training runs were essential to nailing down my nutrition. I played around with different fueling sources ranging from gels (Huma and GU) and chews (Honey Stinger and Skratch), to liquid calories (Sword), to real food like fruit and cereal bars (and Snickers bars too!).

Different options were going to be needed as the race progressed and if I tired of my usual choices, the aid station fare would be helpful too.

I calculated the calories I would need between planned aid stations stops and then filled labeled Ziploc bags with the appropriate amount of fuel. Each bag had a variety of options, including at least one of each of the above sources.

I based this on a 14-minute mile, calculated how long I would take, and then approximately 200 calories per hour.

For example:

  • From the aid station “Margaritaville” to the aid station “Camp 10 Bear” was roughly 11 miles.
  • At a 14 minute per mile pace (planning for a pace that would keep me under 24 hours), this would take 154 minutes or roughly 2.5 hours.
  • This bag would have about 500 calories worth of food in it (2.5 hours x 200 calories/hour)

Here’s more specifics on how to eat and fuel appropriately for running.

Gear, Bags, Crew, and More Ultra Marathon Logistics

100 Miler Elevation Profile

During the race, my crew planned to meet me at 7 of the 8 aid stations that allowed them there. The race provided very detailed driving directions, which I printed and laminated. They drove out to most of the aid stations the day before the race to get a sense of how long it would take to get to each one, especially since there is minimal cell service in the area.

I provided my crew and pacer with a chart that calculated times I would arrive at each aid station, as well as times that would account for me running either faster or slower than my goal pace. Given the preparation and planning, it was unlikely that they would miss me at any of the aid stations.

But because I tend to act like Girl Scout and plan for every scenario, I also had planned drop bags to leave at each of those aid stations in case I missed my crew.

Every drop bag contained the following:

  • A second set of food bags with all my pre-calculated calories.
  • Mini foot care kits with KT tape, alcohol pads, benzoin swabs, and blister supplies.

The drop bags at the later aid stations also had a variety of supplies for potential overnight needs:

  • My primary headlamp was in my drop bag at mile 58, while my waist light was with my crew. I wanted to run with both overnight but would be ok just the headlamp in case I missed them.
  • At mile 69.4 I planned to change into a new long sleeve shirt and hat and had access to rain gear for overnight just in case.
  • I left a backup headlamp and extra batteries at mile 76 since I was a little paranoid about running overnight in the dark!
  • At mile 88 I had an extra shirt in case I got cold (in addition to the extra clothing with my crew), gloves, and a change of socks.

To make it easier for my crew, I gave them two lists. One was a checklist of things to do or ask me at every aid station. These were tasks that might have been easy to forget like:

  • sunscreen
  • bug spray
  • lube
  • taking any trash I had
  • getting my appropriate bag of food

The second list was specific to certain aid stations, such as when I wanted my waist light and rain jacket.

I also had a bin of backup supplies that I hoped I wouldn’t need. This would stay in the car unless I needed my crew to retrieve something specific.

The supplies in here ranged from extra clothes and shoes to batteries and food, and even an extra hydration pack in case something went wrong with mine.

Fortunately, I never missed my crew and only needed a change of shoes once during the race.

There Will Always Be Surprises

100 mile ultra finish

My thorough preparation didn’t stop me from almost making a major mistake right before the race started.

After finally falling asleep the night before the race, I woke up at midnight and my brain was racing. I realized I packed all my headlamps and almost forgot to take out the one I would need at the start at 4am. This would have caused some serious challenges in the pre-dawn hours!

I retrieved the headlamp when I got up and got dressed, but didn’t turn it on until we were walking out the door. That was fortunate timing, since for some reason the batteries that I thought were new didn’t work.

I raced back in the house and got a new set – thankfully I knew exactly where they were. Crisis averted. Twice.

100 Mile Ultra Marathons Require Adaptation

Christine Ultra Marathon Adaptation

Once I crossed the start line, however, my focus shifted from preparation and organization to focus and adaptation for the next 23+ hours.

Fueling and hydration were a huge priority that I couldn’t neglect. I also had to manage any minor issues early so that they didn’t become overwhelming problems as the race progressed.

While I didn’t want to watch my pace too closely, I did check it intermittently in the first 30 miles to make sure I didn’t start too fast. I had originally planned to turn off the “beep” on my Garmin at every mile, but it ended up being a good reminder to fuel and hydrate at regular intervals.

Early on, one of my planned fuel sources (the Honey Stinger chews) didn’t settle well. So for the rest of the race, I made sure to pull out alternate fueling options from my crew and drop bags so I could avoid them.

When my quads and IT bands began to hurt at mile 40-something, I had a fleeting moment of panic. What if they became too painful to run during the later miles?

But I put that worry aside and stay in the moment. I had a change of shoes, ibuprofen if I got desperate, and even a couple of IT band straps with my crew if I needed them. While the ache was fairly constant (especially on steep downhills), the pain never became unbearable and I was able to keep moving steadily.

Planning and consistent training undoubtedly laid the foundation for a successful race.

But I also attribute my positive experience to some less tangible strategies:

Choose your support crew wisely

Not only did I have an amazing crew and pacers, but I was also fortunate to share the first 65 miles of the race with my friend and training partner. The company made the miles fly by and we were able to support each other with ongoing feedback and encouragement.

My crew was prepared and attentive and ready to address my needs at every aid station. I was lucky enough to have my wife crew me, and she also shared the last 5 miles and an emotional finish with me.

My pacer from miles 70-95 was experienced and knew exactly when to push and when to encourage, especially when it came to reaching my sub-24 goal. He knew the mileage between aid stations and reminded me to eat when too much time had passed between refueling.

A pacer doesn’t necessarily have to be experienced, but making your needs and expectations clear before race day will make for a more positive experience!

Stay in the moment

This concept can be overused but nowhere is it more useful than in a 100 mile ultra marathon.

Thinking about what already happened or what’s ahead can easily overwhelm you in a long race. Keep an open mind, run the mile you’re in, and try to adapt in the moment as needed.

Be a problem solver

When something does go wrong, don’t waste emotional energy worrying about it. Try to use your brain without getting caught up in your emotions.

Take action. Think: “What can I do to address this in the moment?

Addressing small problems as they arise will likely save you time and frustration later.

Be grateful

Even in your lowest moment, remember to be grateful for the opportunity to be out on the course.

It’s easy to lose sight of that when you’ve been on your feet for hours, but find something to appreciate, no matter how small. Vermont’s natural beauty and the good weather made it easy for me to appreciate the course and I was endlessly grateful for those helping me to achieve my goal.

My first 100-miler was an adventure I’ll never forget, and reaching my sub-24 goal was a culmination of my training, preparation, and planning coming together in the best way possible.

I’m looking forward to the next one!

Related Resources:

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The “Good, Better, Best” Hierarchy of Injury Prevention

Did you know that some injury prevention strategies work better than others? You probably do – it’s common sense and it’s absolutely true that some strategies are far better than others!

Injury Prevention Strategies

Let’s say that you wanted to retire early. You could clip coupons, get a higher paying job, or win the lottery. Can you see how some of these are more effective than others at helping you reach your goal?

Of course! 

Now, my goal at Strength Running is to always show you the most effective approach. The training that will most likely get you to achieve your biggest goals.

That’s why we don’t waste time on minutiae. We don’t chase shiny objects like CrossFit Endurance or wonder if we should go keto or run all of our miles barefoot.

We focus on what has been shown to conclusively work for runners.

As you can imagine, some prevention strategies are better than others:

  • If the goal is a fast marathon, great long runs are more effective than pool running workouts
  • If the goal is a fast mile, speed development is more critical than foam rolling or core routines
  • If the goal is to stay healthy long-term, a good dose of strength training is better than regular ice baths

The other day I was curious what you thought was effective for injury prevention.

I sent this question out on Twitter:

There are a lot of great injury prevention strategies in the comments. You’ll read about the importance of running slow on recovery days, core and strength training, yoga, and even using bubble wrap to protect ourselves (helpful when you’re running here).

But most responses missed the mark.

Most of these ideas missed the most critical element of injury prevention. It’s not strength training, yoga, or core work.

The most important element is your training. It’s how your running is structured, set up, and planned.

Because no prevention tactic will protect you from poor training.

Running First

Your running – how you train – is the most important factor when it comes to injuries.

As I’m fond of saying:

No amount of strength training will overcome poor training habits.

If you’re in the gym religiously lifting weights in exactly the right way that a runner should, you can still get injured if your training is poorly designed.

I received a question about strength training and injuries the other day and recorded this video:

Sound training includes many important aspects of running. It includes:

  • Workouts and long runs appropriate to your fitness level *and* goal race distance
  • Proper spacing of effort evenly throughout the week
  • Intelligent progression of workouts, overall mileage, and long run distances
  • Correct periodization so you’re focusing on the right thing, at the right time

Without getting these fundamentals correct, runners will always have a high rate of injury – despite the compression gear, strength training, or 9+ hours of sleep every night.

When it comes to injuries, it’s your training that ensures healthy, long-term running.

The Hierarchy of Injury Prevention Strategies

If you’re someone who struggles with injuries, let’s get your training right. Here are the most important things to consider:

Training is Always #1

How your running is structured is the most important injury prevention strategy.

This includes periodization, progression, variety, and the structure of your weekly schedule. In other words, it’s “the training plan.”

Get a good one and learn why it’s structured the way that it is – that’s the gift that keeps on giving.

We include training plans in many of our training programs here.

#2 Strength Training

After the structure of your training, the most important element of injury prevention is strength.

Strength training toughens up your connective tissues, boosts muscular strength, and improves running form. It’s the “armor” that protects you from tens of thousands of high-impact steps day after day.

If you’re not getting stronger, you’re not training well. Learn how right here.

#3 Lifestyle

After you’re following a strategic, intelligent training plan and strength training regularly, you’re ready to clean up your lifestyle.

We know that running can be hard. That’s why recovery is so important. But recovery can be curtailed – and injuries exacerbated – with a lifestyle that’s not conducive to running well.

Focus on:

These issues determine whether or not you will actually benefit from all that hard training.

After all, if you don’t recover and adapt to the training, then what’s the point?

#4 Mindset

Are you confident enough to run slow on your easy days (even when someone passes you or your training partner wants to speed up)?

Are you patient enough to skip a race that you’re not prepared to race well? Or patient enough to increase your mileage more slowly?

Are you disciplined enough to run consistently (thereby eliminating wild swings in weekly mileage) and do your strength work regularly?

Most of the training errors that runners make are because we lack the mindset of a successful runner.

We cause our own unforced errors because we think we can run further, longer, and faster than we really can (these are the “3 too’s” – running too far, too fast, too soon).

Being humble enough to acknowledge our abilities is a powerful way to stay healthy.

#5 All the Other Stuff

Now it’s time for all of the other strategies: the compression socks, ice baths, massage, heat therapy, and stretching.

Many of these prevention tactics do help (just like coupons will help you save money but they’re not the best way of reaching financial independence).

But they’re not the most effective. They work… but not as well.

So it makes to prioritize the more helpful methods of injury prevention – so you can run more with fewer injuries.

How to Put it All Together

Now you know that how your running is structured is the most important element of injury prevention. It will prevent the dreaded “3 too’s” that cause training errors and mistakes.

Once you’re following a sound training plan, the next step is to layer in strength training. If you’re new to strength work, start with bodyweight strength training. If you’re comfortable with some strength workouts, take the next step with real weightlifting.

Next, clean up your diet, get enough sleep, and eliminate stress. You’ll then have the tools, head space, and recovery to train hard.

Once you’re training well, getting stronger, and living a lifestyle that’s compatible with running, it’s time to work on your mindset.

Be patient. Be humble. Stay confident in your plan – even if it’s not what your friends are doing. Be disciplined to run consistently. It will pay off!

Finally, you can layer in the extras: massage, compression, ice, and other useful (but not critical) tactics.

This “layered approach” is beneficial for several reasons:

  • You now know the best things to focus on so there’s far less wasted time
  • Start where you are and work on what you need, not anybody else
  • A holistic, well-rounded approach is more sustainable long-term

Strength Running’s growing portfolio of coaching services and training programs help you no matter what you need:

  • Prevention… in case you struggle with injuries and need comprehensive guidance
  • Strength… in case you need to get stronger and build injury resistance
  • Nutrition… in case you need to clean up your diet
  • Training plans… in case you want a “done for you” program

Run well, run smart, and stay healthy!

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Eating Disorders in Runners: An Honest Conversation with Annyck Besso, RD

We’re discussing the sensitive but important topic of eating disorders in runners today with my guest, Annyck Besso, RD. It’s one that needs more oxygen and air – and I hope you’ll join the conversation.

Eating Disorders in Runners

A reality of distance running is that the sport favors a particular body type. Like wrestling, gymnastics, or football (any sport, really), certain body types are more favored for different physical tasks.

Just look at the Sports Illustrated Body Issue and you’ll see (naked) Olympians of all sports talking about their relationship with their bodies.

It’s a fascinating read on how elite athletes think about their appearance, strength, diet, and the challenges they face regarding their body.

But of course, just because a certain body type is favored does not mean we should strive for a one-size-fits-all mold of how we should look. We’re all unique – and that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful runners.

Many runners develop eating disorders as a way to chase this body type. An important piece in the Washington Post notes:

Weight… is only one of about 40 factors in sport performance, but there is an underlying belief among runners that lighter means faster.

And while a correlation between body weight and speed exists… this can be a slippery slope toward an eating disorder and that any improvements in time, however brief, can negatively ­reinforce destructive behaviors.

Most coaches – including myself – don’t have the tools to discuss this serious issue. I have no personal experience or training with eating disorders in runners (though I have friends with disordered eating).

So I brought on someone who does: Annyck Besso.

Annyck Besso on Eating Disorders in Runners

Annyck Besso RD

The goals of this conversation are threefold:

  • Give coaches better tools to educate, help, and guide their runners with eating disorders
  • Open a dialogue among all runners and foster a healthy, productive conversation
  • Provide resources to those who might be suffering from any type of disordered eating

Annyck is a Registered Dietitian with expertise in the treatment of eating disorders in private and academic medical center environments. She has a Bachelors degree in nutrition and dietetics, a Master’s degree in dietetics, and specialty training in approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Family Based Treatment (FBT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

She’s also quite the speedy runner, recently running 3:07 at the hot and humid Wisconsin Marathon.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or on the Stitcher App.

Resources & Links from the show:

Thank you Annyck for coming on the podcast to share your expertise about the topic of eating disorders in runners. There are a lot of resources included that I hope all of our listeners will find helpful!

Thank You Inside Tracker

This episode was made possible by Inside Tracker who is offering a 10% discount with code strengthrunning at checkout.

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.

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

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Run Healthy Forever: Drills and Recovery Advice for a Lifetime of Pain-Free Running

Speed and Personal Bests are exciting. But have you thought about the longevity of your running career?

Run Healthy

Odds are that if running is important to you, you’ll want to run healthy for the rest of your life.

Accomplished runner and coach Mark Cucuzzella, MD has made it his mission to promote the habits he believes lead to healthy, pain-free, sustainable running.

He’s spent the past two decades researching, learning and sharing his hard-earned knowledge. The result is his new book, “Run For Your Life.”

His journey to healthy running stemmed from years of suffering through pain for the sake of his sport. Cucuzzella took up running in his youth, discovering a natural talent. In college, he raced for the University of Virginia, and while successful, he was often plagued by injuries and setbacks.

As an adult, his running nearly came to a screeching halt when surgeries to relieve arthritis in his big toes left him struggling. After orthotics, pain relievers and plenty of advice to give up the sport, Cucuzzella began searching for a better way.

Doing both his own and collaborative research with legendary clinicians and coaches like Harvard’s Dr. Daniel Lieberman, physical therapist and author Jay Dicharry, and coach Arthur Lydiard, Cucuzzella began making changes to his form. The goal, he determined, was to soften the impact of running and become as efficient as possible.

Successful in this mission, Cucuzzella has spent the past decade spreading his gospel around the world at seminars and clinics. He’s compiled his findings in his book as another avenue to share what he’s learned.

His philosophy: “No pain, no gain, no thank you.

If you’d like to drink from the same pain-free formula that Cucuzzella has devised, have a look at some of his chief recommendations.

Step 1: Simple Drills

Cucuzzella rarely does speedwork, yet at the age of 51, he’s still routinely laying down sub-3:00 marathons. One thing he does use regularly, however, are drills. Each chapter in his book shares some of his favorites, and they all have a different focus or purpose.

Balance drills are one example. Cucuzzella says that good balance is the basis of healthy running’s single most important attribute, relaxation. Among his favorites are one-legged drills, and single-leg deadlifts. Once you’ve mastered these, up the challenge by closing your eyes.

Foot strengthening drills are another component of Cucuzzella’s regular routine. He is a proponent of spending a portion of every day without shoes. He recommends walking on varied surfaces, walking on heels, toes, and edges of your feet.

As we age, tendons and fascia grow stiffer and less pliable and can often be a downfall for masters’ runners. For that reason, Cucuzzella recommends a dedicated approach to keeping them in the game. Foam rolling, dynamic movement, yoga and treatments like Rolfing all make his list of “go-tos” for keeping this tissue healthy.

Here are even more running drills to help you improve your athleticism:

There are best used before a workout or faster training session like a track workout or fartlek.

Step 2: Improve Your Running Form

One of Cucuzzella’s big breakthroughs in his own journey to healthy running has been a change in, and a focus on, form. He’s convinced that several tweaks can make a world of difference for runners who want to run healthy – and those who want to race faster.

His favorite tips include:

  • running tall in a straight vertical line
  • maintaining a strong and stable core (this core routine will help)
  • using your arms and hands to set your rhythm
  • allowing your feet to actively moderate the impact by landing below your center of gravity
  • finding the cadence that allows you to harness your own, built-in “springs”

To accomplish improved running form, Cucuzzella regularly performs drills like slow, short jogs in bare feet; running forward while skipping rope; and running in place with a tether.

Step 3: Improve Your Mobility

Over the past few years, movement specialists like physical therapist Kelly Starrett (Jason owns his book and highly recommends it) have brought much-needed attention to the importance of mobility work in an athlete’s life.

Cucuzzella cosigns on this and stresses the need for regular drills. Aware that most runners lead busy lives, he recommends looking for short windows of opportunity throughout your day to sneak in short bursts of work.

Good ways to keep the body loose and mobile throughout the day include:

  • Gentle lunges
  • trunk twists
  • a walk around the block
  • even household chores!

In addition, Cucuzzella is a fan of getting back to movements we can often perform as children, but lose as we age.

Things like full squats, sitting on the floor, and “windshield wipers”—lying on the floor on your back with arms outstretched, while moving your knees back and forth from one side to the other—can all go a long way toward improving your mobility.

Step 4: Balanced Training

running healthy forest

Cucuzzella doesn’t limit his advice to drills and his approach is far-reaching. His nutrition philosophy, for instance, takes exception to much of the western model for eating. An unhealthy diet for living is also an unhealthy diet for running, he says. A few of his tips:

  • Don’t diet, ever. Cucuzzella says they just don’t work. Instead, eat healthfully and mindfully until you are full
  • Up the healthy fats and proteins, lower the added sugars, and upgrade all the components of your diet (this will help)

Cucuzzella also has a balanced approach to training and warns heavily against digging a hole in your energy stores. His tips for training include a healthy dose of recovery:

  • Recover from running with sprinting: while it sounds counter-intuitive, Cucuzzella recommends finishing off a run with some very short sprints and drills to set yourself up for better recovery.
  • Make sleep hygiene a priority: No sugar or screens two hours before bed. He also points to a cool, dark, quiet place for slumber with an early bedtime to ensure fresher awakening.
  • Utilize water and compression: a good soak in warm water and compression socks can go a long way, he says.

Racing is another area the physician addresses near the end of the book and his approaches are sometimes unconventional. His tips:

  • Form a mental plan for race day so that you are ready to deal with adverse conditions like weather
  • Don’t overeat on race morning and instead consume a light breakfast
  • When you get to the final, painful miles of a race, check in on your posture, relax your arms, and try to run over the ground rather than into the ground

In all the information that Cucuzzella shares, he prioritizes health and longevity over speed and results.

However, he emphasizes, if all the building blocks – drills, diet, recovery, form – are in place, performance should naturally follow.

More than anything, Cucuzzella wants runners to focus on injury prevention so that they can enjoy their sport healthier, happier, and well into their later years.

Your Cheat Sheet for a Lifetime of Healthy Running

Mark’s book, Run For Your Life, is highly recommended.

But if you’re looking for the short-hand version of Cucuzzella’s healthy running tips, here’s a 10-item list of essential elements:

  1. Pre-assess yourself: Find a trusted health professional to determine your current state of health before ramping up activity.
  2. Follow the general principles of natural, healthy running: He considers these to be building endurance, moving, progressing gradually and considering minimal footwear.
  3. Give yourself positive affirmations: Create your own set and repeat them regularly.
  4. Warm up: Take 10 minutes of easy, comfortable running before ramping up.
  5. Keep movement going: Throughout your day and with dedicated mobility drills.
  6. Prevent injury: Include strength and mobility in your endurance building so that the load doesn’t become more than what your body can manage.
  7. Recover: Stress must be balanced with rest.
  8. Monitor improvements: Both by feel and with biofeedback.
  9. Eat well: you can’t outrun a bad diet.
  10. Set a goal: Examine where you are and where you want to be and work toward it.

Focusing on injury prevention, longevity, and healthy running will be a boon to your running career.

You’ll be happier, stronger, and faster. And those extra years of pain-free running will help you have more adventures.

Don’t miss our free injury prevention course, showing you:

  • Why no amount of strength work or drills allow you to “outrun” a poorly designed training plan
  • The mistakes and training errors that most lead to injury
  • How other runners have escaped their personal injury cycle
  • Example strength exercises that are specific to runners needs
  • Simple training adjustments that yield outsize rewards

Sign up here and you’ll get your first lesson right away!

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‘How do I find running trails near me?’ (and more trail questions)

Often the most difficult part of running off-road is simply finding running trails near you! What if you don’t even live near trails?

Running Trails CO

Trails near the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. More on Instagram

Finding running trails near me is a constant struggle – especially when I travel. I love trail running but recognize it’s not always possible or practical.

Not everyone lives near a trail head or big patch of wilderness ripe for exploration.  And with 3 kids, I can’t always drive hours into the Rocky Mountains to scale a 14er…

To run on trails more often, you have to get creative.

My go-to strategy for finding running trails near me is to use Google Maps. If I’m in a new city, I just look for green on the map.

Here’s my home town of Lexington, Massachusetts:

Running Trails Near Me

See all that green? I’ve run almost all of it – and have found ways of connecting the trails with minimal road running (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost in Lower Vine Brook… but that’s part of the fun)!

With just a few minutes of searching, I can find parks, athletic fields, and conservation land that are perfect for trail running – which is really just any off-road surface.

Find running trails near me using (they offer even more detail).

Why is Trail Running So Important?

I’m not promoting running trails because they’re beautiful. Or awe-inspiring. Or jaw-dropping. Though, that’s certainly an added bonus!

Trail running is a welcomed alternative to road running because it’s a different type of stress that helps you become a better runner:

  • The uneven surface can limit the repetition of running, thereby reducing your injury risk
  • The varying terrain and obstacles (rocks, roots, holes, more turns and elevation changes) requires more athleticism
  • Softer surfaces can promote recovery on easy days

Plus, let’s not forget that running trails usually means that you’re going to run slower. And that can actually be a very good thing!

When used appropriately, train running can aid recovery by forcing you to run slower. A lower heart rate – on a softer, more forgiving surface – is how to structure a great recovery day.

From injury prevention to athleticism to recovery, trail running can help improve the quality of your training (and your race results).

Trail Running Q&A with Doug Hay

Doug Hay Trail Running

To help you make the most of running trails – and get started with the least amount of stress – I spoke with trail and ultra runner Doug Hay.

Doug is the coach behind the Rock Creek Runner blog and podcast (Trail Talk). For a healthy dose of #trailporn, don’t miss his Instagram!

He’s also the creator of the Trail Runner’s System (today’s sponsor – more on this below).

Our conversation covers a lot:

  • Our best advice for new trail runners
  • Do trails make running easier?
  • How “trails” can be a lot more than just trails
  • The risks of road running
  • Trail running as a gateway drug
  • What trail gear is absolutely necessary (and what isn’t)?

We also include a challenge for you – so don’t miss this episode.

Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher! And if you enjoy the SR podcast, consider leaving an honest review. It’s the most helpful way to show your support.

Show Resources & Links:

A big thanks to Doug for coming on the podcast today!

The Trail Runner’s System

This episode was made possible by The Trail Runner’s System – an end-to-end program for aspiring and intermediate trail runners.

The complete program includes:

  • 5+ units on trail running specifics like trail gear, benefits, how to choose the perfect race, racing trails, injury prevention, and more
  • 3+ hours of video instruction
  • Nearly five hours of audio instructions and interviews with folks like Stephanie Howe, Mike Wardian, Chris Vargo, and others (even me!)
  • 10 unique training plans (base training to 50 mile ultramarathon distances)
  • A private community and more

Doug has also included a 25% discount that’s already baked into the price. No discount code needed.

Check out all the details here. Thank you Doug!

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How to Improve ‘Movement Knowledge’ with Ryan Smith, DPT

This week, we’re focusing on movement knowledge, coordination, and how to move more athletically to prevent injuries and race faster.

Running is far more complex than it appears. The “movement knowledge” required to surge mid-race, handle larger training loads, and stay healthy even when you make a training mistake is significant.

A recent article looking at competitive vs. recreational runners by science journalist Alex Hutchinson shows what most coaches have known for a long time: better runners have less stride variability.

In other words, every stride and foot strike is consistent with the one before it.

When you consider the big role that fatigue plays in increasing stride variability (and therefore, inefficient movement patterns that cause injuries and hurt performance), this is a major finding confirmed by science!

If you can simply run with a more consistent stride, you’ll not only race faster but experience far fewer running injuries.

But running with a more efficient, uniform stride can be a tall order. There are nearly countless ways to improve your mechanics:

  • Running high mileage is one of the best ways to become more economical (but it has a higher injury risk)
  • Fast workouts improve coordination, power, and athleticism (but yet again, this is risky for injuries)
  • Strength training improves everything (and luckily, has little injury risk if done right!)

Today, I want to introduce you to Ryan Smith who will be discussing this topic in detail on the SR podcast.

Ryan Smith, DPT on Reducing Injury & “Movement Knowledge”

Dr. Ryan Smith is a lead instructor for the Institute of Clinical Excellence in the Fitness Athlete division. He specializes in treating individuals who participate in CrossFit, Olympic Lifting, powerlifting, and other recreational sports like running.Ryan Smith

He also specializes in pelvic health therapy, utilizing an external approach that focuses on education and management of diastisis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, and post-partum issues.

Ryan is an avid supporter of the Senior Rehab Project and promoting individuals to strength train throughout their lifetime.

You might recognize his name – he contributed to an earlier article on bodyweight strength training for runners.

And I’m excited to introduce a longer discussion with Ryan on many related topics:

  • The common movement dysfunctions among runners (and how to address them)
  • Should you worry about a “clicky” hip or knee?
  • What are “movement vital signs” that contribute to your movement knowledge?
  • How to use pain science to improve your running

Subscribe to the SR podcast on iTunes or on Stitcher if you have an Android phone.

Show Links & Resources:

Questions? Comments? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help you out!

Also, a big thanks to our podcast sponsor SteadyMD. Strength Running is an official partner of SteadyMD, which is led by sub-3 marathoner Dr. Josh Emdur. The goal is to give you a personal doctor, online, that’s just for runners to help you stay fit, healthy, injury-free, and competitive.

The best part? There are no co-pays, waiting rooms, or surprise bills. Instead, you’ll get same-day responses from a doctor who’s there for you 24/7.

If you have ever seen a doctor or physical therapist who has no experience with runners, then you know how valuable this is to hard-charging athletes. Having a doctor who “gets you” and your running goals is priceless.

Go to to see if there are spots left and how you can benefit from having a primary care physician who’s also a runner.

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How to Improve Athleticism and “Movement Fluency”

Today is an important day: I want to help you improve your athleticism and capability as an athlete.


Because it’s not enough to run a lot of miles and blast those tough speed workouts.

By only running, the risk of injury is higher and performance will be stunted (and it’s telling that no elite runner “just runs”).

Indeed, we need to focus on other physical skills besides endurance (the ability to resist fatigue) that will improve our athleticism:

  • Strength: the ability to produce force
  • Flexibility: the ability to attain large ranges of motion at the joints
  • Speed: the ability to move the body and its parts rapidly
  • Coordination: the ability to accurately and efficiently move the body and its parts in order to accomplish some task

These skills make you capable of doing more: mileage, speed work, and (of course) faster racing. And it’s no surprise that these primary “biomotor abilities” are featured prominently in the USA Track and Field coaching curriculum.

They’re defined more broadly as:

Biomotor abilities are abilities in the biological and motor domains that enable success in athletic performance.

Many abilities that are seemingly missing from the list are actually combinations or subcategories of these primary abilities.

For example, power is a combination of speed and strength, agility is a combination of speed and coordination, and mobility is a combination of flexibility and coordination.

Think of yourself as an athlete who specializes in running – not just a runner. When you do, you’ll train more effectively and ultimately improve.

We’ve discussed the topic of how to improve athleticism in different ways in the past:

Incorporating a variety of workouts, race distances and types, strength exercises, mobility routines, and types of training then a runner’s fitness will be more well-rounded and holistic.

In short, they’ll be a real athlete – not just a runner.

We’re discussing this topic again because it’s really that important. Since I’ve gotten many questions recently about the problems that result when we are not athletic, let’s drive this point home.

The Problems We Runners Face

Since running is admittedly a very two-dimensional activity (run straight ahead!), if that’s all we do then our physical skills will atrophy. Strength, flexibility, and agility will plummet.

Sure, our endurance might be great, but if we can’t utilize that fitness because we’re injured or uncoordinated, then we’ll never run fast. If runners focused on how to improve athleticism, many of these problems wouldn’t appear at all.

Over the last year, I’ve heard it all:

“I can’t run trails! I’ll turn an ankle!”

If you’re chasing a big goal like a Personal Best, ultramarathon finish, or maybe a Boston qualifying marathon, then you must be more anti-fragile!

Trails are not dangerous if you’re capable.

“I can’t hold this bodyweight exercise…”

Some bodyweight exercises (like the supine marching bridge in the Standard Core Routine) are difficult. But so is running fast!

When easy or intermediate exercises can’t be done by runners who want to stay healthy or run a PR, there’s a clear discrepancy. Increase your movement fluency to improve your capability.

As strength coach Randy Hauer likes to say, There are no fast, weak runners.

“My squat form is terrible.”

Running is a series of one-legged squats performed in a ballistic, plyometric manner. How can anybody run well without being able to squat adequately?

Poor form on traditional, basic, and fundamental exercises is a red flag that there’s a lack of movement fluency – and therefore, athleticism.

“I don’t run two days in a row because I want to stay healthy”

Running more is generally the most effective way to improve your racing performances and get faster. If runners take off 3-4 days per week for injury concerns, this is a major red flag.

Why? Well…

  • Not much running can be done in merely 3-4 days per week
  • If a runner is truly so susceptible to injuries that they can’t run two days in a row, the problem is strength, not the running!
  • This is obviously a self-limiting belief and I refuse to let you settle for average

Many runners have some or all of these problems. But this isn’t bad news! In fact, it’s good news because these issues can all be resolved.

We can rebuild these runners. We have the technology!

How To Improve Athleticism

If the goal is to become more generally capable, what exactly does that mean?

Quite simply, a capable runner is capable of more work:

  • Drills, strength exercises, and dynamic stretches
  • Good form and movement patterns
  • Trail running on uneven, unstable surfaces
  • Resilience to injuries

Capable runners can perform running drills athletically. They have efficient mechanics. Their injury rate is lower than average. And they can run on technical trails, the beach, or potholed roads without major problems.

Doing so requires thinking differently about training. You can’t just run – you have to train more like an elite or college-level runner (but that does not mean running as fast, as much, or as complicated workouts as they do).

What it does mean is that we must model how we train after how the best train. That means new habits:

Once we start training like competitive runners – even at scaled down levels for us mere mortals – we’ll see dramatic improvements.

The Goal: Anti-Fragility

Anti-fragility is a property that’s defined as:

A property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.

It’s quite counter-intuitive. You’re supposed to get better as a result of volatility?!

But it’s true. Anti-fragility creates more robust runners. Steve Magness sums up the idea well:

The idea is to build athletes who thrive off of uncertainty.

While there’s a difference between psychological and physical uncertainty, today we’re focusing on the physical side of training.

By incorporating the suggestions above, runners will improve many other aspects of their fitness besides raw speed or endurance. And in doing so, injury rates will plummet, performances will skyrocket, and runners will feel a lot more capable.

In short, they’ll feel a lot more anti-fragile.

Where Do I Start?

If you’ve only been running with none of the “extra” work described in this post, you shouldn’t try to tackle everything at once. That’s a recipe for hurting yourself.

Instead, start with one suggestion and make it a consistent habit that sticks. Once you’ve done that, you can move on from there. By stacking your skills in this way, you’ll soon find yourself extraordinarily more capable than you were 2-3 months ago.

Here’s where to start:

  1. Begin each run with a dynamic warm-up routine.
  2. Next, add a bodyweight strength or core routine after each run.
  3. Then once you’re stronger, start running on more varied, uneven surfaces
  4. Next, add running drills 1-2 times per week
  5. When all this is comfortable, it’s time to start strength training (start here)
  6. Add harder workouts when you’re ready

You’ll see that this is a progression of increasing difficulty. Just like your running, the ancillary work to improve your movement fluency must also be progressive.

After spending a few weeks on each aspect of your training, you’ll undoubtedly improve athleticism in multiple ways: stronger, more resilient, flexible, coordinated, with higher levels of proprioception, power, and skill.

In a word? Capable.

Resources for Enhanced Athleticism:

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Coach Jonathan Marcus on the Art of Coaching and Improvement

Buckle up, runners! We’re diving deep into the art of coaching, performance, and improvement with coach Jonathan Marcus today.

Coach Jonathan Marcus

Jonathan Marcus is to running as Charlie Munger is to investing: a coach that uses “elementary, worldly wisdom” to mold his athletes into high-level runners.

His past coaching and running industry experience includes:

  • Assistant track coach at Portland State University
  • Division I / NAIA / post-collegiate club / Oregon High School levels
  • Involvement with the Portland Track Festival, USA Track & Field, NIKE’s Bowerman Track Club, and the Run Portland/Team Athena running clubs

He was appointed USA Track & Field High Performance Coordinator for the men’s middle distances in 2011 and his national role with USATF included serving as co-meet director for the prestigious USATF High Performance track meet held annually at Occidental College.

Currently he’s the Director of High Performance West, an elite training group in Portland Oregon. He also has an incredibly enlightening and action-packed podcast with fellow coach Steve Magness called On Coaching that I highly recommend.

What I most respect about coach Jonathan Marcus is that he’s a lifelong learner: always reading books, learning, educating himself, and connecting with others to improve his ability to perform at a high level as a running coach.

Follow him on Twitter and you’ll understand. He tweets out:

And that’s exactly what we’re doing today: learning more about the nuanced side of running.

Coach Jonathan Marcus on Performance

Our wide-ranging discussion might surprise you because we talk about some interesting topics that, on first examination, don’t appear to be truly about running or coaching!

Issues like:

  • The books that Jonathan is reading (and why they’re not all running books)
  • Empathy and bias (and why these are crucial traits for coaches)
  • Vision (and how this relates to your success as a runner)
  • “Cognitive coping skills” for racing and challenging workouts

For those who want to transcend beyond an elementary understanding of running, this conversation is a fantastic primer on the nuances of high-level running achievement.

I think you’re going to love it.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast on iTunes or on the Stitcher app to hear my conversation with coach Jonathan Marcus

Show Resources & Links:

Please give Jonathan a big ‘thank you’ for coming on the podcast and sharing his thoughts on performance!

SteadyMD: A New Pod Sponsor

Also, a big thank you to our new podcast sponsor, SteadyMD!

I recently learned about this new type of medical care for runners and I immediately reached out to its founder (and sub-3 marathoner!), Dr. Josh Emdur. What he’s done is create a platform that connects runners with a Primary Care Physician who’s also a runner.

This is critical – and anybody who’s seen a physical therapist who isn’t a runner knows that you can’t get the same care from a sedentary provider. A doctor that is a runner just like you and who understands the things that are important to both casual runners and advanced runners.

Things like:

  • your training plan
  • nutrition
  • shoes
  • running form
  • common injuries

In other words, this is the runner’s doctor.

Meet via phone or video call or text anytime to get personalized medical care. See all the details about how you can get more personal, tailored medical care that’s specific to your needs as a runner.

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Mental Strength for Runners: Build it and Thrive

Picture your next big race: You’ve been training for months, doing all the things necessary to ensure this race will be the one. You envision yourself a stallion on the starting line:

You didn’t miss a single track session, all your long runs have gone like clockwork, and you made nutrition a priority, fueling with nothing but high quality whole foods. Unlike other marathons, you even got all the rest you needed.

In short, you nailed your training.

But come race day, when the chips are down and you’re at mile 22, you start making deals with yourself:

  • Trading “A” goal times for “B” goals…
  • Adjusting your goal pace because it starts to feel intimidating
  • Promising yourself that if you can just get to the finish line, no matter what the time, you’ll be satisfied. Anything to make the pain stop!

Sound familiar? Can you identify the missing piece of this puzzle?

Mental strength.

Here’s the thing: you’re in good company. Most runners hone just about every skill they can think of on the physical end when chasing a PR. But squeezing in the time and dedication to the mental part of the equation sometimes feels like too much, or just not all that important compared to the other components.

Sports psychologist Justin Ross, co-founder of Denver-based MindBodyHealth (and episode #10 podcast guest, understands this as a high performing runner himself. But he also understands the value of mental toughness and encourages runners to spend some time cultivating this very useful skill:

Mental toughness is what you do when you start to feel uncomfortable. It’s definitely a trainable skill.

That’s great news for runners, who are always looking for that extra edge. By taking some extra time to make the most of the mind-body connection, you can step onto the starting line in better shape to go after that goal time.

How to Train the Brain

Ross says that there are two key components to training your mental strength: Willingness and optimism.

  • Willingness: This is the measure of how willing you are to get uncomfortable to achieve a goal.
  • Optimism: According to Ross, this is your ability to believe that what you are doing matters. For example—believing that a particularly difficult track workout will deliver the results you want.

According to Ross, you can work on either element at any given time:

These are the key ingredients to mental toughness and if you can harness them, you’ll better manage when the going gets tough.

Much of training these components comes down to “finding your why”, explains Ross. This means understanding why you are out there and why you are doing a given run. “When your goals are specific you are more likely to work toward it,” he says.

For example, if you are working toward a PR or a BQ, knowing the 20-miler on your schedule is an integral piece of the formula will up your willingness to embrace it. This attitude will allow you to at least plug on when your legs start fatiguing late in the run.

Ross breaks optimism down into three basic principles:

Be In The Moment

When you are in the middle of a tough repetition, for instance, try to have the confidence that you can complete the next rep as well.

Reversing that, it is also the understanding that you will feel better as soon as you get to the rest. So if you are running 800m reps with a 400m easy jog recovery, looking forward to that recovery interval will help you push through the interval.

Think Broadly

On a broader level, this is learning to link the hard workout to your bigger plan. By pushing through the second lap of that 800, for example, you can realize that it will help you run the type of race you want when your goal race arrives.

Think Long-Term

Connect your daily actions to your big goal. This is your ability to look down the road and break your training into larger chunks.

For instance, take on a week’s training and envision how this segment will work toward the longer range goal. Know that consistency leads to improvement (it’s the “secret sauce” to successful running, after all) and therefore showing up and doing the work for that week will be key to your race-day goals.

Ross is a believer in the idea that mood will follow action:

You’re going to feel better after that workout, whatever it was. Remind yourself of that, do the work, and remember that you are improving through the work.

How Often Should You Train Mental Strength?

Mental Strength

As with any type of training, working on your mental strength isn’t something you can do round the clock. But you can dedicate some portion of each day or workout to brain training.

Ross suggests unplugging from your music, podcast or whatever it might be to tune in to your mind and body. Ross told me:

Bring awareness to what you are doing in your training. How are you reacting when it gets tough, for instance?

With a better awareness of how you feel or react at different points in your training, you can drill down and focus in on improving these weaker moments. Practice it in training and then race day can’t throw up any unexpected surprises.

You can remind yourself that you’ve been in this uncomfortable place before and know how to persevere through it.

Mental Strength Cues

Building mental toughness might be new to you, but many of its tenets are tried and true. Here are some additional ways to strengthen your brain game:

Practice positive self-talk: It’s easy, when running gets hard, to start a stream of negative self talk.

Things like “I’m so slow,” or “this hurts so much,” can begin a downward spiral and sabotage your efforts. Instead, turn those thoughts into positives: “I feel strong,” or “the effort is making me faster.”

It doesn’t take long before you’ve chased away the negative thoughts.

Find a mantra: Another proven method that appeals to all sorts of runners. Play around with various positive statements and settle on one or two that you like. Then put it into practice on your next run.

Say you like “that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” When you’re struggling to finish out your tempo miles, put that mantra on repeat. Before long it will become an automatic go-to statement, one that reinforces your efforts.

Draw on past experiences: Chances are by the time you get to the starting line, you’ve logged plenty of miles.

On race day, when the going gets tough, recall times that you’ve pulled through a tough workout or long run. Remember that positive sensation when you nailed your paces, for instance, and bring that into your current moment. You’ll be pleased with where this can take you.

Picture it: Have you ever watched the winter Olympics and seen downhill skiers quietly working their way through a run in their head before actually hitting the slopes? Visualization is one of the oldest tricks in the book and it’s no surprise that most Olympians employ it.

By picturing yourself crossing a finish line or successfully pushing through a tough moment on the course, you’re setting yourself up for victory. Take some time to mentally go over a course before stepping onto it, visualizing a successful outcome, and you’ll be more likely to execute as you’d like.

Finding the time to train for a race can be tough. Adding in time for mental strength training might feel like more than you can manage.

But getting your head into the game as much as your body can be the difference between a good race and a great one.

Postscript: Books to Improve Your Mental Game

Interested in upping your mental strength? Several top-level athletes have written about the topic over the past few years and here is a sampling of good ones that will help you dig in:

The Champion Mindset by Joanna Zeiger: An Olympic triathlete and multiple marathon trials qualifier, Zeiger drills down into what separates champions from the rest of the pack.

The book weaves in Zeiger’s own experiences and offers up tips on goal setting, improving motivation, and promoting self confidence, among many others.

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor: A household name for every runner, Kastor’s storied career was not without its ups and downs. In her memoir, Kastor documents her journey to cultivating a positive mindset.

The book shares her insights and teaches readers to improve their own thinking en route to better, more satisfying running.

Endure by Alex Hutchinson: Journalist Alex Hutchinson digs into the mind-body connection in this research-based book that reveals just how critical the mind is to physical performance.

Endurance, Hutchinson maintains, is “the struggle to continue against a mounting desire to stop.” You can also listen to Jason’s podcast interview with Alex here.

Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness: Taking a unique approach by pulling in examples of excellence in athletic, intellectual and artistic performance, Peak Performance delivers concrete evidence on the mental role in physical success.

An interview with Brad Stulberg on the topic of peak performance is included in High Performance Lifting.

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