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Ask Stew: Running Issues (Changes, Injuries, and PT Tests)

PTRunningTest

Over the years, from beginning as a runner in sports to transitioning to military running and beyond, you will find that injuries come and go. I have found that these injuries usually occur when I make changes or some sort. Sometimes, you have to make a change if you are doing something with poor technique or form in order to run without pain or score faster times. However, some changes can actually cause injury or slower running times. Here is a great email question that covers many areas where people work to get better and sometimes they succeed -- sometimes they do not: (*questions in bold italics)

Mr. Smith,

I would like to hear your advice regarding an issue I am having with running pace. Around two years ago, I injured my left foot (broken 5th metatarsal). Back then I was a heel strike runner and normally completed the 1.5 mile run in 10:30-11 minutes with no problems.
Usually heel striking is a result of over-striding. Shortening your stride up a few inches can typically cure this technique issue.

On the advice of Ft Belvoir physical therapists, I made a transition to mid-foot/fore-foot strike. Since that time, my run pace has decreased significantly. After another injury, I am getting back into running since December and have not run faster than a 13:48 mile and a half. My lowest passable time for the 30-39 age bracket is 13:14. My last test before my most recent foot injury was a scary 13:13. 

I understand needing to change at this point. See related article on the Evolution of Running, as we all tend to have a certain style we either learned naturally or were taught. There is even a bit of a difference between a HARD heel striker and an impact ROLLER. If you are not a hard heel striker but a mid- to rear- to mid-foot strike and roller, you may be fine with proper shoes (not minimalist shoes). See link to fully explain the difference of all the styles of running and find the one that works best for you -- both for no pain and faster.

I'm in week 4 of your plan right now and have until April for my next PT test. The speed just isn't there. I've worked with a certified USATF coach to improve my form and increase my cadence. Unfortunately, increasing to 170-180bpm has shortened my stride and I've lost more of my advantage of being 6'3". I hate to go against another coach's advice, but when I have played around with a "proper" way to run or the "latest method of running," I always injured myself. Nothing major, just the typically nagging injuries like ITB, plantar fasciitis, and knee and hip aches. So, I lean toward what stride works best for ME, not what marathoners do, or elite runners do. I am neither, so why train like them? Sure, you can learn efficiency from them and watch them in slow motion running. (as in video Evolution of Running article link above)

I am always able to hit my pace goals (2 minute for 1/4 miles) on your training plan for the first 3 laps, but then I fall off greatly (2:20-2:45). Breathing is something I key on to maintain a 3:2 or 4:3 ratio, but it feels like my legs loose all spring and forward propulsion. Once I learned how to breathe I became a much better runner. This actually happened for me after SEAL training as I tended to just gut check the runs in training. But getting a regular breathing cycle like a 3:3 or 3:2 has work for me very well as it drops the heart rate during that activity and allows me to go faster and longer.

Should I go back to heel strike and long strides? I do not recommend doing a true heel strike or even calling them heel strikes. As you see the runners in this video, it appears at first their heel hits the ground first, but at the moment of 100% of their body weight makes impact on the ground, they are now mid-foot (shin vertical). These days, if you use the word heel strike it means HARD over-striding, where the heel takes the impact of the ground.

What speed improvement drills/exercises have you found to work best for your clients?

 I would go with Run and Leg PT:

Try doing the workouts with the intervals paced at your goal pace. So, if you want a 12:00 mile and a half, you need to hit all quarter miles at 2 minutes, all half mile intervals at 4 minutes and so on. But mix in some squats and lunges to help you build some leg endurance (no weight needed).

A sample workout would look like this:

Warmup with easy mile run or 10 min bike / elliptical / light stretch

Repeat 8 times

1/4 mile at goal pace (2 min) - no faster / no slower - learn to muscle memory this pace.
Squats 10-20 (maybe start off with 10 reps and in a few weeks build up to 15 or 20.
Lunges 5-10 reps / leg. 

Cooldown with 1 mile easy run or 10 min bike / elliptical / light stretch

I hope this helps. We are natural at walking and running. My advice is to start off with what feels good natural, and do not over think it. IF you are doing something wrong to the eye of the video camera (film yourself) or a coach, maybe make minor changes but do not stray too far from your strengths -- long legs. You just need to perfect the stride so it works for you at a faster rate with no pain.

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

Latest Fitness Books: Navy SEAL Weight Training and Tactical Fitness