Tuesday, April 29, 2014

RunnerDude's Weekly Exercise: Med Ball Hamstring Leg Lifts

Hamstrings and Quads should be the "yin yang" of the body working together in harmony. The quads a little stronger than their posterior friend then hamstring. Hammies, however, give many a runner trouble, particularly on long runs.  Hamstrings aren't supposed to be as strong as quads, but many times runners, especially distance runners, have overy dominant quads. This is often the case in runners who heel strike. They're constantly loading the quad ready to pull their bodies forward due to the wider stride. This constant activation strengthens the quad but weakens the hamstrings. Sometimes the quad can get so out of balance that it can pull on the hamstrings causing them to become tight setting the runner up for injury. Or the hamstrings become weak, so when they are needed on a run, the may pull or cramp.

The best recommendation I have is to reign in the stride so the foot lands more under your center of mass. This decreases the quad activation, keeping everything in better alignment and letting the body work more like a shock absorber. You can also work to strengthen the hamstrings. The exercise below is a great one to do just that. This take on a simple hamstring leg lift uses a med ball as the base for the working leg. The med ball adds a balance element causing you to focus more on using the hamstring to lift the torso into a bridge. It's also a great core exercise.

To do the exercise, lie on a mat. Place your left foot on top of a medicine ball. Raise your right leg while keeping the left foot on the ball. Use the left leg to raise your body off the mat until your body is a straight line from your left knee to your shoulder, then lower your body until it almost touches the floor. That's one rep. Do 8-10 or 12-15 reps. Repeat the process with the right foot on the step and the left leg in the air.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Two Rockin' Ladies of Running

If you're a female runner and haven't heard of Brook Kreder or read her book ONWARD! The Sole Revolution, then you definitely need to check it out as well as her website. Even if you're a guy, check out her book. It's hilarious and cuts to the core of what it means to be a marathon runner.

"Sitting in a dingy hotel room, with a bag of Cheetos in one hand and a vodka tonic in the other, Brook decided it was time to rethink her life. Her business was on the skids, her marriage was stalling out, and her future looked anything but bright. In a flash of insight, she made a spontaneous decision that ultimately changed everything. Armed with little more than a iron-willed determination, a pair of old running shoes, and a blog, she began training for her first marathon." 

I've interviewed dozens of runners with amazing stories of how running has changed their lives or how running their first marathon changed their lives. Brook encapsulates the struggles and celebrations that come with setting off on a journey in to the world of running like none other. 

Another "Rock Star" of running happens to be one of my very own runners, Melani. I first met Melani about 2 years ago when she joined one of my beginning running groups. Just recently she completed her first marathon, the Raleigh Rock-n-Roll. I'm so proud of her accomplishments as I am of all my runners tackling the daunting and scary task of running a first marathon. 

The running powers that be saw fit to bring these two awesome ladies together. Brook has featured, Melani on her blog. Check out her story and Brook's interview of Melani below.

Melani Pratt (2nd from right) – Greensboro, NC

Some people are born with athletic prowess. You know what I’m talking about. Runners who run with such ease you suspect they may have popped out of the womb with running shoes strapped to their feet.
Let me be clear about something: Genetics did NOT deal me that hand. I am not that person. In fact, I didn’t even START running until I was almost 39 years old.
What genetics did hand me was a super-sized chest. (Read: I always imagined walking into Victoria’s Secret, picking out something super cute and then turning to the clerk and saying, “Um, excuse me ma’am… can you check in the back to see if you have one 7 sizes bigger and with industrial-strength elastic?”)
It’s ironic. More times than not, we want what we don’t have… those without wish they could have… while those who have wish they did not.

I clearly fell in the “wish-they-did-not” camp. And at 38, I finally made the decision to “down-size”; simply aiming to bring some much needed proportion to my 5 foot 2 inch frame.
After some healing and much soul searching, I decided to do something I’d always secretly wanted to do but was too self-conscious to try.

I wanted to run.

At almost 39 years old, I joined a Beginner’s Running Group led by a local runner known to most simply as “RunnerDude.” At that point, I couldn’t run two consecutive minutes. No lie! The group met twice a week and followed a run/walk format that had us running 30 minutes, (about the distance of a 5k), by the end of the 12-week program.

At that point, I signed up for my first 5k. [Full disclosure: I was so scared the morning of race day that I likely would have bagged it had I not had someone driving me to the start line. And even then, I gave serious thought to bolting in the opposite direction when the gun sounded.] Even so, I finished my first 5k in 29:50. In hindsight, this was a turning point for me. While I was certainly getting healthier… I was also gaining confidence.

At the end of the Beginner’s program, I continued to run. I joined an intermediate group of runners, (coached by the guy who led my Beginner’s group), and eventually gained the ability to extend the length of my runs and quicken my pace. Over the course of about a year, I participated in a handful of 5k’s and knocked down my first half-marathon with a time of 2:03:42.
But it was only18 weeks ago, (at the age of 40!), that I committed to running a marathon. And last week I did something I could never have imagined just two short years ago.
I crossed the finish line after 26.2 miles. Right there on the corner of exhausted and oh-hell-yea-I-just-did-that!

Was I blazing fast? Hell NO. Am I okay with that? Hell YES!

Because as runners, we know it’s about more than measuring miles. It’s about ordinary people with extraordinary passion. It’s about freedom, friendship and finding inner strength. Together, we are getting healthier, gaining confidence and accomplishing goals that once seemed impossible. It’s about getting stronger each and every day.

It’s about showing up in life and making a difference.

To continue Melani's story and Brook's interveiw of Melani, click here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

RunnerDude's Weekly Exercise: Side-Lying Double Leg Lift

Runners get plenty of movement in the sagittal plane of movement (forward movement). Quads and hammies tend to be worked pretty well. However, if a runner finds himself stepping out of that forward plane of motion (maybe while trail running or maybe to make a sudden lateral movement to avoid a pothole or to dodge an automobile) then he may find that his muscles don't react as quickly or maybe not even at all causing him to fall and possibly become injured.

Adding lateral movement exercises into your weekly fitness routine is a great way to bolster those stabilizer muscles and muscles responsible for side-to-side movement. This week's exercise is great for increasing strength in your hip abductors and hip adductors. Improving strength in these muscles can often help prevent runner's knee and groin injuries.

To complete the exercise, lie on your right side with your head resting on your extended right arm. Lift your left leg up, keeping the knee extended (Fig. 1). This movement will activate the left glute medius (hip abductor). While keeping the left leg in the air, raise the right leg up toward the left leg (Fig. 2). This movement will activate the adductor muscles along the inner thigh of your right leg. Then lower both legs to the floor. That's one rep. Do 10-12 reps on one side. Then flip over and repeat the exercise lying on your left side.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

RunnerDude's Weekly Exercise: Standing Dumbbell T-Raise

Muscular endurance in the upper back and deltoids is key to maintaining good upper-body running posture especially during a distance run like a half or full marathon.

To complete the exercise, stand tall while holding light dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing your thighs. Keeping your elbows locked, raise your arms in front of you until they're parallel with the floor. Keeping the dumbbells at this same level and your elbows locked, move your arms laterally until you've formed a T with your body. Next, bring the dumbbells back to the front of your torso, and slowly lower them back to the starting position. That's one rep.

Do 10-12 reps. Increase the intensity by doing 12-15 reps. Standing on a balance element such as a BOSU or balance disc also increases the intensity as well as recruits core and lower-body stabilizer muscles.

Conquering the Beast

It's been a few days since my race trainers completed the Raleigh Rock-n-Roll Full and Half Marathon. This group is an amazing group of individuals. 

Their training was one of the hardest that any of my groups has had to endure. Here in NC we have cold winters and the occasional snow, but nothing like we had this past winter. They ran through 3 winter ice/snow storms, but it didn't deter them. They persevered. Having trained in ice, snow, monsoon rains, and frigid temperatures, what did race day bring? A hot 80+ degree day. Mother Nature can be very cruel. 

Not only was it hot, but the course was extremely hilly. We train on hilly routes, but this race course was unforgiving. So much so that the elevation map doesn't even truly represent the actual elevation gain.  But, my runners persevered. 

In the best of circumstances, a marathon is extremely taxing and emotional. I balled after crossing the finish line on my first marathon. I couldn't control it, just all came out. But in a race as unforgiving as the Raleigh Rock-n-Roll it can really make you question yourself as a runner. Part of that is exhaustion letting the doubt-monster creep in. The other part is just the nature of being a runner. Always wanting to do better.

With any marathon, the projected goal finish time is just that...a projected goal finish time. It's kind of a target in which to structure your training around. Sometimes, it's too aggressive for an individual and sometimes it's not aggressive enough. Projected goal times don't factor in things like elevation, weather, temperature, or the sheer stress of a first time endurance race. 

Marathons are a beast. Each of my runners conquered that beast. It may have taken longer to conquer the beast than anticipated, but they conquered it. This was a stepping stone. An experience. A right of passage into the world of endurance running for some and a test of fortitude for my seasoned runners.

The challenge with the sport of running that you'll not find in hardly any other sport is that the terms change with each race. Course, weather, temperature, sickness, etc. all can effect a race. Some of which you can't predict or know until race day. 

Running marathons is so much more than race day. Of course we all want that PR, but truly (for me anyway) running marathons is about the journey that leads up to race day. Think about all that you've learned about yourself over that past 4 months. It's been amazing watching each of my runners become stronger runners and even more important more confident and stronger individuals.

My training group consisted of around 25 runners. Each runner in the group is an amazing individual. Some tackling the half or full marathon for the first time. Some I've known and worked with for years and others brand new to me. Learning the stories behind each runner's motivation for training for the full or half is such an awesome bonus of being a coach. Five of this group--Michele, Melani, Kim, Tommiann, and Rob--trained for the full marathon. These are incredible people. I think I've learned more from them over the past 4 months, than I taught them.  

Michele and Melani
Michele, my goodness, you are amazing. Look that all you've accomplished in the past couple of years. Dramatic weight loss, several half marathons and 2 full marathons. All that on top of working and raising an awesome family. You truly are amazing.

Melani, you began your running journey with my beginning running group only about 2 years ago. You've gone from working up to 30 minutes of running (with no walking) to joining the RUNegades, to running a half marathon, to doing a relay marathon, to now having your first full marathon under your belt. All that on top of a demanding job that has you traveling here and yonder constantly. You tackle everything with focus and determination. You are one of the most dedicated runners I know. It's been amazing to watch you go from that timid unsure beginning runner to that determined pull-it-from-the-gut amazing runner that I crossed the finish line with on Sunday.

Michele, Kim, Tommiann
Kim, I can't tell you enough how proud I am of all that you've accomplished. You started with the beginning running group in the spring of 2011. Moved right into the Intermediate Running Group. Then life handed you some obstacles that took you from running for a while and then to my delight, you returned to start back your running. I saw a much stronger and determined woman on the return. This new Kim joined the RUNegades and became even stronger. Then she conquered a half marathon and a relay marathon and another half marathon and just a few days ago a full marathon. You are an amazing woman and runner.

Tommiann, even though the first words out of your mouth usually are "I hate running" I know you truly love it. Even with the discovery of some degenerative bone issues with your ankle you still are out there ticking away the miles. Your sense of humor and amazing life stories keep everyone motivated and wanting more. To see you around mile 26 at the Rock-n-Roll Marathon twirl and curtsy for the crowd was amazing. You have a demanding job and have about an hour drive to get to our group runs, but you are always there. I am glad you are always there.

Rob, brave man. One of a handful of guys in our training group this go round. You first began with the RunnerDude's Race Training Group last year when training for the Columbus Marathon. Plagued by an injury, you were not able to complete that run, but that didn't keep you down. You returned to train for Raleigh. Your speedy pace often had you running solo on training runs, but you were always there putting in the work and the miles. It was great seeing you rebound so strongly from the previous injury. Raleigh packed a punch, but you tackled what it had to offer and prevailed. So proud of you man.

If doubts are creeping into your mind after Raleigh (or any race), just kick them to the curb. TRUST in your training. BELIEVE in yourself and even though sometimes it might not be a PR, you will CONQUER your goals. I cannot be any prouder of my runners. They truly inspire me and motivate me to keep doing what I'm doing.

Monday, April 7, 2014

RunnerDude's Weekly Exercise: Three-Position Calf Raises

Runners are notorious for having issues with their calves. Weak or tight calves can cause a host of other problems related to the Achilles tendon, plantar fascia, and even the shins. Strengthening the calves will help alleviate many of these problems. Pre- and post-run stretching and rolling of the calves will also help.

To to the exercise, hold dumbbells by your sides, stand on a step so that just the ball of each foot is on the step. (You can also do this standing on the floor.)  Both feet should be in a neutral position (facing forward). Slowly lift up on your toes as high as you can, and then slowly lower your feet back to the level starting position.
That's one rep. Do 10-12 reps. Repeat with the feet facing inward for 10-12 reps. This works the outer calf.  Next, repeat with feet facing outward for 10-12 reps. This works the inner calf.
Note: To get a good stretch before each lift, let your heels dip slightly below the horizon of the step before lifting up on your toes.

For more exercises for runners check out RunnerDude's new book Full-Body Fitness for Runners.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brook Kreder Talks About Full-Body Fitness for Runners

Every now and again, I run across a blogger that has a true talent for providing great information with awesome tongue in cheek prose that makes for very entertaining reading. That describes Brook Kreder to a T. I first came across, Brook's blog, when hearing some of my dudettes talking about her book, ONWARD! The Absolute (no BS), raw, ridiculous, soul-stirring TRUTH about traning for your FIRST MARATHON. As her book describes, "Armed with little more than an iron-willed dtermination, a pair of old running shoes, and a blog, Brook began training for her first marathon. Onward! is her story of false starts, redemption and triumph as she pushed herself to ultimately cross the finish line." Geared for women runners, men will also enjoy the rawness and humor this book provides that any runner can relate to. I literally found myself laughing out loud. 

Recently one of my race trainers, Melani Pratt, had the awesome opportunity to meet and dine with Brook in Denver,Colorado where Brook Lives. While dining, Brook took some time to support my new book Full-Body Fitness for Runners! Thanks Brook! To find out more about my new book that Brook is talking about, be sure to check it out at www.fullbodyfitness4runners.com.

Thanks Brook and Melani!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

RunnerDude's Weekly Exercise: Planks

I've posted many times on the importance a strong core plays in efficient running and prolonging endurance particularly in long runs. Planks are a great core exercise. They can be done practiclaly anywhere, require no equipment and actually they work more than just the core. There are several variations of the plank, but the best one to start with is the basic front plank.

To do this exercise, lie face down on a mat. Engage your core and lift up on your elbows, forearms, and toes. Make sure your elbows are positioned directly underneath your shoulders. Your body should be a straight line from shoulders to heels. If you're new to planks, try holding this position for 30 seconds. Over time work your way to 45 seconds, and then 60 seconds. Make sure you're breathing evenly while holding the plank position. Do not hold your breath.

For an advanced version of the front plank, try extending your arms so that your elbows are fully locked. 

For more exercises for runners check out RunnerDude's new book Full-Body Fitness for Runners.