Friday, January 24, 2014

Benefits Of Strength Training For Runners - Guest Post by Anja Koschak

Benefits Of Strength Training For Runners

Every runner-no matter if professional or recreational- is always interested in running faster, longer and stronger, but the way to get there is not by simply increasing the distance of your runs (which is a misconception many endurance athletes hold).

If you want to become a more efficient, more successful runner it will certainly work in your favor to incorporate strength training into your weekly workout regimen. Before you jump at my throat with complaints that you are not looking to get “buff”, please settle down and let me assure you that you will not become the next Mr. or Mrs. Universe due to incorporating strength training to your endurance training. What will happen, though, is that you become a more complete, a more well-rounded athlete with far fewer chances of getting injured. Sounds good? Well, lets get into the benefits of strength training for runners in a little more detail, so you will no longer be afraid of the weight room after reading this article.

 1)    Increase in Speed

Although this might sound counter-intuitive it has been proven over and over again that strength training will make you faster due to increased leg strength and better use of energy and oxygen during your runs.

A study proved when put in different groups (1. just running, 2. just strength training, 3. running and strength training combined and 4. a control group), male sports students who combined running and endurance training improved their performance in a 4k time trial by 8.6% and increased their V’O2 max by 10.4%.

The best kind of strength training to increase your running speed is heavy lifting targeting your lower body. Make sure you consult with a personal trainer or a savvy coach before you start a heavy lifting regimen! Good form is KEY.

2)    Body Fat Reduction

In order to become the best, most efficient runner you can be, your body composition should be large percentage of lean muscle mass vs. low body fat. Contrary to popular belief, (moderate) running alone (or any sort of endurance training for that matter) does NOT help you decrease body fat – unless you are running frequently at very high intensity. If that is not you, you need to start strength training in order to build lean muscle and decrease body fat.

3)    Injury Prevention

We all want to feel our best when we run and the last thing you want to happen is to sustain an injury that could side-line you for unknown amounts of time. Many runners suffer from muscle imbalances, joint discomfort, muscle weaknesses or even chronic pain, which all pose a hindrance in the enjoyability and efficiency of their runs. Sounds like something you are experiencing? If so, strength training will help you balance out your muscles, increase your joint stability and help you build a better base for your body, which means that you will be protected from getting injured all too easily.

4)    Better running economy

A study proved that maximal strength training improves running economy. Well-trained runners were divided into an intervention group and a control group. The intervention group performed half-squats 3x a week for 8 weeks in addition to their regular endurance training regimen. The control group continued their usual endurance training throughout said time frame. Results show that the strength training group was able to increase their time to exhaustion at Maximal Aerobic Speed by 21.3%! Note that body weight stayed the same in both groups (no bulking up for you!).

5)    Better Recovery

Strength training will improve your insulin sensitivity, which is extremely important in order to speed up your metabolism and increase your energy levels as well as prevent you from developing diabetes. (Insulin sensitivity is the relationship between how much insulin needs to be produced in order to deposit a certain amount of glucose.) Due to better metabolism and increased energy levels, your recovery from long runs will be much easier because your body will be able to convert metabolic waste into energy.

Now that we have covered some important aspects of why it is essential for any type of runner (long distance, ultra distance, short distance) to incorporate strength training to their workouts, you might be concerned with time management and how to fit in strength training on top of your running workload. I get it. Chances are, you have a job, you have a family, you already spend a good amount of hours running and the thought of having to fit in weight training at the gym seems daunting if not impossible.
Do not panic! Here is the great news: Experts have agreed that not a lot of time in the gym is required in order to see significant results for your running performance. The common census is that just 30 minutes of 8-12 exercises 2-3 times a week will yield great improvement for your running efforts. While lifting heavier weights will increase your strength and in consequence make you faster, some runners prefer to keep their strength training to all calisthenics (body weight exercises), which in most cases also helps you avoid muscle imbalances and maintain good form during your runs.

Either way you look at it, you cannot deny the great benefits of strength training for endurance athletes- especially runners. I sincerely hope you will make the adjustments needed in order to fit in some strength training in addition to your runs. Be better, be faster, be stronger and always ENJOY the journey!

About the author:

Anja Koschak is a personal trainer and health coach in New York City. 

For her full bio, her blog, exercise videos, pictures and contact visit her website


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Running Shoes, Here are my thoughts……

I am asked all the time about running shoes.  As a long distance runner, it would seem reasonable to think I have this topic down pat.  The fact is I don’t.  Then why would I write a blog?  Well, I feel that I do have some decent guidelines to share, and some do’s and don’ts that can help other runners choose the best shoe for them.  There is no exact shoe science, everyone has an opinion.  The bottom line is you have to find what works for you.  It can be a “trial and error” effort and can cost a few extra dollars if you miss the mark and end up buying another pair of shoes.

How I pick shoes: The very first pair of running shoes I ever bought in the early 90s were Asics Gels.  They were a basic, mid-priced running shoe and I think back then they were the GT series.  When I started running again 2 ½ years ago, I went back to what had worked before.  I picked up another pair of the Asics in the same family and I was off and running!  Up to this point, all was going well.
As I started running and increasing mileage, things went pretty well for me.  I did not have any major issues and no additional injuries after I recovered from a slight case of planter fasciitis right when I started running again.  Keep in mind I was very heavy then and attribute the injury to being out of shape and overweight.

Over a year ago, I read “Born to Run.”  This is an excellent book about the history of running and a considerable amount of time is spent on running shoes and the history behind them.  There is also a lot of information about natural running in the book (runners who wear no shoes or minimal shoes).  This made me wonder if this approach would work for me!  I recently read “Tread Lightly.”  This is a detailed book about running form and shoes and, while they had a lot of information, they did not have any specific conclusions either.
The first change I made in my personal running was to focus more on “mid-foot striking.”  This is where you transition from landing on the heel to more of the middle or front of the foot.  I have always been a heel striker and who wouldn’t be if you had a big cushioned sole to land on, right?  As I made this change, I quickly realized that the shoes I wore actually made it hard for me to run the way I wanted to.  So off I went to the running store and started asking about lower-heeled shoes. 

I was currently in a 13 mm drop shoe (heel height compared to toe height) and wanted to get to a 4 to 6 mm drop.  I ended up buying the Brooks Pure Flow II.  They felt good and accommodated my wide toes.  These shoes have worked well for me and I run more and more forefoot these days.  The other change that has recently occurred is my foot has gotten wider - I now wear a ½ size larger running shoe.  This is a result of running more mid-to-forefoot and spending more time barefoot.  I made a conscious decision to go barefoot around the house and wear five-finger shoes when I walk.  Our feet were not designed to be cooped up in shoes.  Shoes actually prevent our feet from being as wide as they might normally be.  For the fashion conscious, this is a disaster BUT we need to take care of our feet.  Walking barefoot also helps to build up the foot’s own natural ability to support our bodies without relying on shoes to make our feet weaker.
Here is what you have to look for in shoes.  First, the store clerks may not be your friend!  They are typically trained by the shoe companies to focus on the latest features, current lingo and using the approach that “more expensive” is better.  This simply is not true in most cases.  You can find very reasonable priced shoes to accommodate your running needs.  Heck, I look for last year’s models and save 30-50%!  How much can technology change in one year to magically fix all that ails us?

For you fashion-minded runners do not get caught up in the look or color of the shoe.  Focus on fit and function - not razzle and dazzle!  Most shoes offer color choices, although you may have to order the color you want.
I suggest you seek out a shoe store with real runners working there; at least they have personal experience.  Second, go to several specialty stores. Big box retailers are fine if you know what you want, but they are horrible places to get advice and recommendations.  Ask around, try various shoes on and go for a quick jog in the store!  Many of the good running stores will let you run in the shoes for a short period of time and still exchange them.  Having salespeople tell you that you need to fix your own natural running form can be a stretch!  You certainly can change your running form and make corrections, but you are who you are.  So what if you pronate, 80-90% of us do.  It does not mean we need to overcorrect it and cause our feet not to naturally land and then push back off. 

A running analysis in a shoe store may also be counterproductive.  How can one person tell how well the shoes fit by watching you run for 5 to 10 seconds in the store?  The naked eye is not that perceptive.  Video analysis is much better if you are not running in your normal environment.  Would you want to buy shoes while running on a treadmill while 90% of your runs are on pavement? 
If you can get away with less shoe and still run comfortably, then this may be your best approach.  Buying big bulky over cushioned shoes prevent our foot’s own natural ability to support our bodies.

Shoe Mileage – you will hear a lot about how many miles you can run in a pair of shoes.  The typical manufacturer says 300 to 500 miles.  So how do they know this?  Your own style of running will determine this.  The type of runner you are, your weight, and the surfaces you run on, etc.   I usually get twice the distance out of my running shoes.
You should also consider having multiple pairs of running shoes.  I typically use two of the same pair and rotate them.  As the shoes age, I use them more for shorter runs and the newer shoes for longer runs (after they have been broken in).

I have other long distance runners tell me they like a variety of shoes. Their thought is - why run in the exact same pair?  Change it up so your feet are more adapted.  I see their point and have no issues with it; however, for me personally I run in the same environment week after week, typically paved trails and roads, so I want the consistency.  Obviously if you run on a track, do trail runs, or run on dirt, then this will lend itself to having to stock up on a wider variety of shoe types.
I find that brand matters as it relates to the shoe fitting your foot.  For example, I love Nike shoes, but I cannot run in them because they tend to be narrower.  You may find that certain brands will fit your feet better and you can then narrow down the choices among those brands.

You want to be sure and get the right size shoe.  Most brands of shoes will require that you buy a ½ to a full size larger.  You want at least the width of your thumb between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.  Trust me - this is important!  Your feet will swell while running and the extra room is needed as you run because of the contact flexing of the foot.  If you have issues with blisters or bruised toenails, it may be time to size up or change shoes.
If you decide minimalist running is for you - be cautious in your approach.  You never want to make drastic changes in shoes or running style, especially if you are in the middle of your training season.  Going from a full-sized heel to a minimal shoe can be a shock to the body and your legs.  Slowly transition to a minimal approach.  If you run 20-30 miles a week, you may only get 2-3 miles in a minimal shoe the first week.  Yes, it is that drastic because you are running on your foot in a different way and you need to give your feet and legs time to adjust and grow stronger.  In a full-cushioned shoe your feet are more relaxed and do not have to work as hard.  However, making this change can have a positive impact on your runs after you make the adjustments.

I doubt I will ever be a full-blown minimalist shoe runner, but I do want to continue to reduce the dependence on the shoe and strengthen my feet to provide the support they were designed to give me and my body.


Friday, January 3, 2014

How I Ran Back to Back Marthons in 2 Days! #NewYear52point4

Here is an overview of my 2013/2014 New Year’s Double Marathon experience!
Allen Double Marathon Results:

Day 1: 4:25

Day 2: 4:44

Total: 9:09 for 52.4 Miles

Statistics: finished in the top 50% for all statistical categories!

Day 1:

Day 1 was pretty simple and routine for me - two cups of coffee with coconut crème and a banana.  During the race, I had a banana and two salt sticks at mile 13, and the same at mile 19 ½.  The race was four out-and-back loops.  While my fastest marathon is a 4:09, I was not planning on “racing” - just keeping the pace strong.  The goal was to finish under 4:30 and feel strong the next day!  The only challenge I had was around mile 21/22; my stomach felt stiff, not like a cramp, but more like bloating.  I wondered if the 2nd banana was too much.  I finished strong, never stopped and had plenty of energy. 

That afternoon I had a “fat” green smoothie (spinach, large avocado, chia seeds, coconut milk and berries blended up in a Vitamix®) and Mexican food for dinner with plenty of grilled veggies.  While I was certainly sore, I would say I felt pretty good overall.

Day 2:

Day 2 was about the same, except I ate the banana closer to race time (I felt a little hungry at mile 8 the day before).  I also had an almond nut butter packet and added extra coconut oil to my coffee so I could top off the fat stores.  During the race I stayed on plan - one banana at mile 13 with two salt sticks.  At mile 19½ I decided to skip the banana, had the salt sticks and grabbed a Honey Stinger instead.  I took in tiny amounts of the Honey Stinger (sugar trickling) every few miles and finished it off at mile 24. 

I felt strong on day 2 up until mile 21 - then I had to run/walk for a few miles.  It wasn’t whether I would finish, but it was more about how long I wanted it to take!  Due to the lack of training for this type of event, I just did not have as strong of a foundation as I would have liked to have had.  I was able to run the last mile all the way in!  While the 4:44 time was not a record (my goal was a sub-5 hour for day 2), it was faster than my first marathon, so I felt pretty good about it not being my slowest race.


In summary, the race went as planned.  I did not plan on running two marathons back-to-back until Dallas cancelled their race in December.  I only had a few weeks to turn my marathon training into double marathon race training.  I am still amazed that I ran both races on three bananas and one Honey Stinger!  Talk about fat-adapted training really working!

Next up is my first 50K Ultra in February.  I think I will play around with Generation UCAN on my next few long runs - I believe it may help spread out the nutrition a little better.

Lessons Learned:

Music mattered on day 2!  By this - I mean I was pickier about the songs that played on my iPhone when it got tough.  Having a support crew would have helped as well as I ran the race both days by myself.  Next time, I will pay one of my kids to be there and to drive me home!!! 

Finally, if you train properly and build a solid training base, you can achieve more than you realize.  Training fat-adapted and building up a strong Zone 2 base will go far and help reduce the risk of injury.  I did get ill for a few days in mid-December; this reminded me that I was not immune to overtraining and needed to back off a bit after the San Antonio Marathon I ran in November.

While I did not have a strict race plan, I did set realistic goals and expectations.  The challenge when charting new ground is to keep it simple and have fun.  Running a few back-to-back days helped before the race and I wish I’d had more time to incorporate that into my training.  I hardly ever run multiple days in a row. 

Why I decided to run this race:

I wanted to qualify for Marathon Maniac (MM) status (three marathons in 90 days)!  In June, I realized I needed to add a 3rd marathon to my race schedule to qualify.  My 50K Ultra was beyond the 90-day window of the first race in San Antonio.  About mid-November, I saw the hardware they were giving away for doing a race on both days so I added the half marathon to my schedule.  Then, after Dallas cancelled due to the ice storm, I was in a bind.  I had already run one marathon and had the ultra two months out, so the best way to accomplish this was to run two full marathons back-to-back!  The upside is - this qualified me for the Iridium level of MM and I got some pretty cool hardware to go with it.

You can read more about Plant Powered No Sugar No Grains fueling (PPNSNG), Zone 2/fat-adapted training, and marathon training on my other blog entries:

 Day 1 & Day 2 Photos: