July 17, 2010

Run Training That Worked For Me

I have recently had the good fortune to be able to increase my running distance far beyond what I thought I would ever be able to run. I thought this would be a good subject for a blog post for anyone who might be dealing with issues with their running or workouts.


I like running because it's a workout you can do almost anywhere. However, numerous foot problems have always prevented me from getting my routine running distance up to 3 miles, which is often considered "fitness" distance - a decent chunk of running you could do a few times a week as a fitness routine. Heel pain (plantar fasciitis) and later Achilles tendinitis limited my running, because I always felt the telltale signs creeping back when I increased my distance.

Finally, last semester I gave up entirely after trying a Couch to 5K training program on the iPod. My tummy doesn't tolerate NSAIDS (like ibuprofen) so when I felt the Achilles pain start, I figured I was done.

Base Workout

I dropped back to a base workout of alternating running and walking on the treadmill, using the pre-programmed workouts on the treadmill to burn some fat while I dieted. These workouts alternate running and walking, usually with an incline on the walking portion to keep your heart rate up. They keep you aerobic without killing your tendons and muscles.

Because I was limited in my distance, and because my doctor suggested it, I began exercising every day instead of every other day, in an effort to head off blood pressure problems (I had an elevated reading over the winter break).

Then I Ran Farther

Then something happened and I was able to run farther. I don't know exactly what it was, so I can't give you a single recommendation. Instead, I'm going to list these as guidelines for myself for what has made this year's run training so productive for me, and why I think I was able to increase my distance.

1. Maggie, Running Outside

First, I began to run with Maggie on her running days. Her schedule is 6-6-10. Twenty two miles over three days in a week. I couldn't do those distances, of course, so I would just run some distance out and then walk back. Sometimes, she'd catch back up to me and I'd run with her back home, making my workout a run-walk-run.

This helped my motivation. Running with someone else is motivating. Running outside is motivating, if you like outside. Also, somehow, running outside is easier than running on the treadmill. It is very difficult for me to run on the treadmill for longer distances. I do not know why.

I continued to work out every day, but I ran outside when Maggie ran.

2. Slow Down

Maggie has a slower pace than mine. I slowed down to match her pace. I think this was key to increasing my distance. I always wanted to run fast, but speed definitely stresses my legs. Slowing down allowed me to extend my workouts and avoid injury.

The slower you run, the more exercise you're getting per mile (mostly because it takes you longer). So, running slow is a good fitness choice. If you don't have a person to pace you just try to consciously slow down to the point where you're just barely running. (Some people call this jogging. I call it running slow.) You can always speed train later.

3. Ice and Heat/Ice

I began to ice my tendons every day. I keep two ice pads in the freezer. Any pain I had after a run I would ice. If I had no pain, I would ice the places where I usually had pain.

At night, I would use a heating pad on my habitual injury areas for 20 minutes and then ice them for 20 minutes. I am amazed at how this reduces soreness. And I have not injured myself during the time I have used this practice.

4. Slow Increases / Don't Run Through Pain

"Don't increase your weekly run mileage more than 10 percent" is an oft-repeated guideline. I kept this in mind as I slowly increased my peak-day mileage to approach Maggie's base-day mileage. But I also judged by how my tendons felt. Any indication of heel or tendon pain and I figured it was time to walk.

5. Protein / Calories / Water

At the time I began to increase my mileage, I stopped dieting as strictly as I had been. This was a welcome change! It means my weight loss has slowed way down (and even reversed on some weeks) but it takes calories to build muscle and repair damage, and it takes carb calories to efficiently burn fat during aerobic exercise. So, this gave me a (small) license to eat.

Immediately after a run, I would make sure to have some protein-rich food. Usually an egg substitute omelet. Sometimes yogurt.

I don't think it's good to cut your caloric intake way down when you're training, but if you have to, at least get decent amounts of protein.

Also, it's important to stay hydrated. I carry water with me when I run, by strapping a water bottle to my hand. Take a gulp of water every once in a while. Gulp it down to help your body get it out of your tummy faster, and get it t your muscles. I got that advice here, along with some other pre and post workout eating advice.

6. Get actual running shoes

Have your gait analyzed at a good runner's shoe store. This is something I did years ago, and it has helped with my crazy foot-planting.

7. Achilles tendon strap

I mention this last because I'm not sure it applies to anyone else, but it might apply to you if you have a history of Achilles tendinitis.

I was afraid enough of re-injuring my tendon that I began taping my foot before a workout to see if I could prevent heel and Achilles pain. Actually, I had slightly re-injured myself after my last attempt at Couch to 5K, and so I was taping in the hope that I could continue exercising without making my condition worse.

The tape seemed to help, but I hated having to constantly tape myself up. So, I bought an Achilles tendon support strap. This strap supports the tendon by applying gentle pressure with a soft, rubberized buttress. See this video to see someone applying the strap.

I have used this strap on almost every one of my runs. It seems to be making a difference in preventing the recurrence of my Achilles problems. I am not a doctor, and I did not begin using this strap on the advice of a doctor. But I think it has helped me avoid re-injuring my Achilles.

In Summary

I hope this has been helpful. My general advice to everyone is do some exercise you're comfortable with. Increase slowly. Don't get lured in by speed; running fast is not necessarily running well. The most important thing in your workout is to stay healthy. Try to listen to pain cues from your body. And try to work out every day to see the best results.

Posted by James at July 17, 2010 9:14 AM
Create Social Bookmark Links

Thanks for posting this. It helps me to read what other people are doing. You've got a lot more experience than me. I've only been doing it for a few weeks now.

I've definitely heard the speed thing before, but it's good to get it reinforced. Speed is more a bragging point of serious runners, I think. I suspect I'll never be serious, or at least it's just not a goal I have at this point. My goal is more about getting in a consistent, doable higher-level workout.

I've been doing this program: http://www.wikihow.com/Begin-Running to get started. I've seen other similar starter running programs. They all just seem to do slow increases. I'm in week 7 now. Notice it says "jog 2.5 miles ..(or 25 minutes)". I'm doing 25 minutes, but my pace is slower (their numbers imply 6mph, but I'm 5.3mph and my distance is less). So, I'm definitely going a bit slower.

Last week I tried going faster at the start (6pmh), but it made it very hard to finish. So, I'm not going to make any sudden speed increases, though I'm trying to increase .1 mph per week. I'm using a treadmill, so my numbers probably seem oddly precise.

Another issue I have is stopping. I'm always fighting the urge to stop. And I do stop, though I try to minimize for how long (I try to keep it under 30 seconds). I'd really like to consistently do the full run without stopping. But, even with stopping, I know it's a good workout and better than what I had been doing (essentially long uphill walking). I still do the uphill walking on the treadmill on Tues/Thurs, in between the running on Mon/Wed/Sat. And, I generally pad out the 25 minute runs with some uphill walking at the end (I like to do 45 minutes on the treadmill total).

I haven't had any injuries. I'm hoping the slow training program will help me avoid that. I have had some Plantar fasciitis in the past. But, I think doing that calf stretch helps prevent that.

Thanks again.

Posted by: Bill Marrs at July 17, 2010 9:56 AM

Hi Bill,

Good luck! For me, the key to running without stopping is running outside. Running on a treadmill makes me want to shoot myself in the head, although listening to music while I run helps. I think the difference with running outside is that it's less monotonous. Not just the scenery and the wind/air, but also the terrain. At least here in our town, even the sidewalks aren't very flat (or safe), so we're constantly jumping over things, dodging bushes and chunks of tar, rude walkers who walk two abreast, etc. If I have to run on the treadmill for a week, even if I do the same mileage, I'm weaker when I go back outside and I'll be tired and sore after. Outside is a better workout and it's more interesting.

We're running about the same pace as you. I used to run faster. (Never fast.) I ran a half marathon at 7 mph, something I still can't believe. But back then, I ran fast every run. There are different theories about running faster. There is "speed training." I used what I think is the Kenyan approach -- run as fast as you can every run. But that kind of hurts and eventually I decided I just wanted to enjoy my runs, so now I'm running somewhere between 5 and 6, and probably closer to 5.

Really good luck to you. I hope you come to really enjoy it, because enjoying your workout really helps you keep it up. :-) I think the heat/ice is critical. Ice after you run, heat/ice at night when your muscles aren't as warm to start. I have a tendon issue that isn't as serious as James', and I remember saying, "it doesn't hurt, but I can FEEL it." You shouldn't be able to feel any body parts. :-) Ice anything you can "feel."

Take care,

Posted by: Maggie at July 17, 2010 10:32 AM

Thanks for the extra advice, Maagie.

Posted by: Bill Marrs at July 19, 2010 6:02 PM

Interesting advice. It's nice to know that greater distances are possible, even for someone like me who regularly runs only 2-3 miles at a time. I'm content with that distance so I'm going to stick with it until it becomes too easy.

Posted by: Mike at July 21, 2010 2:49 PM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved