Happy New Year!

Posted: December 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

It’s always nice to start the New Year with a clean slate…a new beginning. The New Year provides hope, promise and a chance to make necessary changes to improve our lives.

It’s also an opportunity to assess our fitness goals and identify the greatest opportunity for improvement. As a marathon running coach for nearly 19 years, I see trends in runners of all abilities.  Proper running technique, nutrition, flexibility and core strength are the areas most neglected.

Many runners focus exclusively on simply running a specific distance with little regard for proper running technique.  The easiest way to improve running technique is to land with your feet directly beneath your body (mid-foot) at a stride rate of 180 SPM (steps per minute).  Many runners believe taking a longer stride allows them to cover more ground.  That’s actually true, but the cost is extremely high because you typically land on your heels when you overstriding; sending shock waves equal to 2-3 times your body weight through your lower extremities.  This places significant stress on the tendons, ligaments and muscles and can lead to long-term overuse injuries.

I seldom hear runners mention they are going to ‘practice’ running.  Yet players in every other sport practice key techniques to improve their efficiency.  Running on your local track, without the distractions of traffic, uneven road surfaces and hills, is a perfect venue to practice proper running technique.  I actually practice proper running technique throughout every run.  If your mind isn’t engaged in ‘running in the moment’ or you are obsessed with how many miles are remaining until this misery is over, you can’t focus on improving your form.  Taking frequent but brief walk breaks allows you to slow the burn of energy and maintain proper running technique longer.  Transitioning between running and walking can be challenging in the beginning but eventually your body and mind will embrace this concept and you will maintain perfect form throughout your runs.

Nutrition is often neglected because it can be very confusing and people just surrender to doing the best they can. Proper nutrition requires planning and discipline, which can be extremely challenging with our fast-paced lives. Consuming a well-balanced and healthy breakfast is the best way to start each day. Skipping breakfast produces low-blood sugar and causes temptations to consume foods high in sugar and fat. Eating smaller meals composed of nutrient rich foods throughout the day helps to regulate blood sugar and minimize the temptation to eat unhealthy foods. Minimizing large meals late in the day is also helpful in avoiding excess weight. Running at the ideal weight for your body structure will help reduce impact and injury.

Flexibility diminishes as we age. Not stretching after a run can exacerbate tightness and create imbalance in running specific muscles-leading to inefficient running and injury. Every run can seem so challenging and it feels so good to just do nothing afterwards. Develop a plan to change into comfortable clothes upon finishing a run, eat and hydrate immediately and transition into your stretching program and you will immediately enjoy the rewards. Spending 15 minutes thoroughly and properly stretching will improve your flexibility, balance core and running economy.

Having a strong core improves general posture and provides a strong center of gravity. This allows for easier breathing and maintaining proper form throughout a run. A weak core manifests itself in inefficient running economy, requiring major running muscles to work harder than necessary and increasing the risk of injury.

Developing a sound plan for these 4 key areas will yield a significant return on your investment of time. Successful running involves so much more than running. Piecing this puzzle together to fit your lifestyle and running goals should be a top priority in 2014.

I hope that your New Year is filled with great health, hope and inspiration!

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