How do you run faster for longer?

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So how do you run faster for longer? This involves developing two different aspects of your running, simultaneously: building endurance and increasing leg speed.
Probably the biggest fault that I see most runners make is that they tend to run all of their training sessions at the same intensity and distance. This is fine if you are running just to keep fit or to keep the weight off, but in order to improve significantly, you will have to shake things up a bit.

Building Endurance

Let’s look at developing endurance first. This is actually easy to do, and basically involves around slowly increasing the time or distance on your Long Slow Run (LSR). The LSR should normally be run at an easy pace where your heart remains in its aerobic zone. This works the so called ‘slow-twitch’ muscles and also promotes the conversion of fat into energy in the body. If you are training for an event that is over two hours long, you will almost entirely be in this aerobic state for the duration, and your LSR becomes the most important workout of your training week. It is more about time on your feet as opposed to distance or pace.
When starting to lengthen your LSR, it is vital that you increase the time on your legs in slow increments, and never more than by 10% in any one week. The idea is to build up your endurance so that you are around your planned race length (for a marathon, for example, around 20 miles would be sufficient for a LSR ) but not over it (unless you are advanced). Part of the secret is to allow the body to recover from these long runs, and adding too much mileage will lead to over-training and possible injury.

Let’s add some speed

The second aspect is developing leg speed, and this will involve going into an anaerobic state, where training sessions will activate the so-called ‘fast-twitch’ muscles. The body also sources its energy from sugar (glucose) during this time.
In order to increase your leg speed, you would need to introduce one speed session a week. Once again, if you are new to these, you would have to build the intensity in small increments. A great workout for beginners is a fartlek session. The word ‘Fartlek’ means ‘Speed Play’ in Swedish, and involves interspersing easy running with harder sections. It does not have to be structured at all, and could even involve a mixture of walking and running.
If you prefer more a more structured approach, then you can run repeats over a 400m or 800m distance, at faster than 5km pace. The amount of repeats would depend on your fitness level and target race distance. The repeats session could also be run up-and-down an incline (hard up; easy down) every few weeks in order to build strength. The important thing with a session like this, is that you need to fully recover in between the repetitions, so that you can give maximum effort on the next one, whilst maintaining proper form. Start with 4 or 6 reps, and slowly build up to a maximum of 10. 400m repeats are better if you are training for a 10km race, whilst the 800 should be looked at if you are planning to run a marathon.

A second workout to introduce in addition to the speed session, would be a tempo run. This is where you run close to your lactate threshold over a set distance, and at a constant speed, (slightly under your 10km race pace). A good test, would be that you are unable to hold a conversation on the run, and would deem it to be an 8-out-of-10 on the toughness scale. This session will make running at harder paces seem easier as time goes by. This run could be held for a duration of between 30 and 45 minutes, and should be alternated with the speed session every second week.

A few things to look out for:
• Always warm up properly (especially for tempo or speed sessions), and then allow for a cool down.
• Never run two hard sessions on successive days
• Too much speed-work could lead to injury, and may result in regression, where performance actually gets worse.
If you only run three or four times a week, use the above, and I am certain that you will see a marked improvement. It would be a good idea to have an easy, recovery run during the week too, where you run purely for the enjoyment. It may be worth ditching the watch on this one – you’ve earned it.

What is Plantar Fasciitis exactly, and how do you cure it?

What is Plantar Fasciitis? 

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I have been lucky to remain largely injury-free during my running career, except for a bout of Plantar Fasciitis which lasted for about 3 years. It is a painful injury that for me got so bad at one point, that I was considering packing the sport in for good. Over that period, I tried all of the  remedies available, to no avail. It is an injury that can affect runners of all abilities, as well as people who are more sedate in nature.

The Plantar Fascia is a tough, fibrous band of tissue that runs along the sole of the foot with attachments to the heel bone (calcaneus) and to the base of the toes. It provides support to the arch of the foot and has an important role in normal foot mechanics during walking. Tension or stress in the plantar fascia increases when one places weight on the foot when standing, or as one pushes off on the ball of the foot and toes — motions which occur during normal walking or running.
There is a lot of debate and conflicting information as to the root cause of the injury, and it is massively misunderstood by the medical community.

What are the symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?

The pain associated with plantar fasciitis is typically gradual in onset and is usually located over the inner or medial aspect of the heel. Occasionally, the pain will be sudden in onset, occurring after missing a step or after jumping from a height for example. The pain is commonly most severe upon arising from bed in the morning, or after periods of inactivity during the day.
The degree of discomfort can sometimes lessen with activity during the course of the day or after “warming-up”, but can become worse if prolonged or vigorous activity is undertaken. The pain is also often noted to be more severe in bare feet or in shoes with minimal or no padding at the sole. The most common symptom is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. The heel pain may be dull or sharp. The bottom of the foot may also ache or burn.
In my particular case, the pain was there one day, and not the next. The discomfort I experienced was usually first thing in the morning, although sometimes present after a hard effort like a 5 km time trial. I tried to get around the injury by running in the afternoon when the pain had mostly subsided. I had the injury in my left heel only (thank goodness), although I know of club mates who experienced pain in both heels simultaneously.

So what can be done to cure Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar Fasciitis is a common and often persistent injury affecting runners, walkers, hikers, and nearly anyone who stands a lot for a living.
Most people recover from Plantar Fasciitis with a little rest, arch support, and stretching, but not everyone. Severe cases can stop you in your tracks, undermine your fitness and general health, and drag on for years. It can be a very stubborn affliction indeed.

What are the current recommended cures for Plantar Fasciitis – my personal experience

Usually, the pain will ease in time. ‘Fascia’ tissue, like ‘ligament’ tissue, heals quite slowly. It may take several months or more to go. Below are some of the most common treatments recommended by medical professionals, which for me, provided mixed results:

Footwear – Getting it wrong

When I was experiencing Plantar Fasciitis at its worst, I was advised by a medical professional to switch to shoes with cushioned heels and good arch support. This may be sound advice to treat the affliction initially, but it does not get to the root cause of the problem.
Around the same time, I happened to read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougal, as well as Dr. Phil Maffetone’s “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing”. In both of these, the case is made for minimalist shoes, and puts forward the argument that human feet are perfectly designed to take the body’s weight. Could it be that shoes with too much support are weakening the arches in most people, leading to Plantar Fasciitis and other conditions, yet they are constantly being recommended? In architecture, the arch is used to support great loads and is one of the strongest designs possible. Surely, our arches exist for the same purpose?
This for me was the light bulb moment. I started to slowly switch to minimalist shoes over a period of weeks. At the same time I came across a fantastic course which taught me the supplementary exercises and information which I needed to banish the injury forever.Click here to find out more about this.

Physical therapy:

A physical therapist would usually stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon, and assist in strengthening lower leg muscles, which would lead to a more stable ankle. A therapist may also teach you to apply athletic taping to support the bottom of the foot. If money is no object, it can be a good option.

Night Splints:

The physical therapist or doctor may recommend wearing a splint that stretches the calf and the arch of the foot whilst sleeping. This holds the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon in a lengthened position overnight and facilitates stretching.

Orthotics:

I had expensive orthotics made, which were recommended by one of South Africa’s top podiatrists. Unfortunately, they did not help in my case, and the result was no different to wearing motion-controlled shoes as mentioned above. Wearing orthotics may provide some relief initially, but they will not solve the problem permanently.

Steroid shots:

I tried these after the orthotics failed, which only provided temporary relief. It is a process which involves painfully injecting a type of steroid medication into the tender area. Multiple injections aren’t recommended as they can weaken the plantar fascia and possibly cause it to rupture.

Extracorporeal shock wave therapy:

In this procedure, sound waves are directed at the area of heel pain to stimulate healing. It’s usually used for chronic cases that have not responded to more conservative treatments. This procedure may cause bruises, swelling, pain, numbness or tingling and has not been shown to be consistently effective.

Surgery:

This is a surgical procedure whereby the plantar fascia is detached from the heel bone. It’s generally an option in severe cases where all else has failed. Side effects include a weakening of the arch in the foot. I was contemplating this as a last resort, before I decided to try a combination of exercises and minimalist shoes. I am glad that I did as surgery would possibly have ended my running career for a long period of time.

Conclusion

There are a choice of many costly treatments that are supposed to assist in curing plantar fasciitis. However, I tried most of them and they only provided temporary relief at best. Before trying any of the above, I would recommend a series of strengthening exercises, like those found on Jeremy Roberts’ course, combined will a slow progression to minimalist shoes. This is the best way to banish this painful injury for good.

Click here to find out more.

I Traded in My Running Shoes for a Jump Rope!

I Traded in My Running Shoes for a Jump Rope!

skipping ropeI really don’t like to do cardiovascular exercise. I’m not the type of person that likes to run, walk, or ride bikes. I am a nurse. I’m on my feet all day and the thought of going out and running someplace at the end of the day makes me shudder. Also I have had bad run in with foot pain. I had to go out and buy special nursing shoes  to help with my foot pain (I’m a wuss). I don’t mind doing various exercises, but I always was at a loss when it came to cardio. I’ve been a fan of boxing for numerous years, but never paid attention to how much and how often boxers jump rope. When I finally started paying attention to their jumping rope, I realized how much they’re sweating and how fast they’re going well standing still. I figured that boxers have to make weight to be eligible to fight, and I wanted to see if this would help me lose weight. I decided to challenge myself and stop jogging and walking because I hate it, and start jumping up. I went over to my local sporting goods store and picked up what I consider to be a pretty good jump rope that didn’t cost more than five bucks.

The first thing I learned about jumping rope is that it takes coordination. The first day I started jumping rope was the worst day because my timing was so bad that I couldn’t stop jumping onto the rope. This constant starting and stopping really worked my nerves, but was necessary for me to learn how to jump rope properly. As I struggled I thought back to the boxers that I saw on TV and figured they too have to start somewhere. After one full day of frustration using this jump rope I called it quits until day two. I had set my goal to be jumping rope for at least 30 minutes a day. My game plan was to break it into two sessions of 15 minutes apiece to minimize the monotony. I also strapped on my MP3 player to help me keep moving at a decent pace. Day two turned out to be much better than day one. I was actually jumping rope which caused me to sweat profusely. I was sweating so much harder than when I walk or run, and in a shorter amount of time as well. After the second day, I realized I would be able to continue to jump rope in the morning and in the evening without much difficulty.

As the days pass by, my rope jumping was getting better and better, allowing me to keep my pace with less effort. Because of this I started using a sweatshirt while I jumped to increase the amount of sweating I was doing. The funny thing about jumping rope is that by the third song on my MP3 player is usually 15 minutes. And I feel like I’m just getting started at that time. Because of this I started jumping rope for more than the 30 minutes daily which was my original goal. I realized that it is much easier to jump rope and all I have to do is walk to my garage to get started. My joints also feel much better now that I am jumping rope because it’s a more intensity on my calf muscles and less on my knees.

My challenge was to see if I could lose as much weight using the jump rope as I did with running and walking. And the verdict is that I don’t know. I’m not gaining any weight, but in about a weeks time I haven’t been able to see any substantial losses in weight either. I do know one thing, I’d much rather jump rope than jog any day of the week. Plus I never am concerned with the weather because I always have the protection of my garage.