Posts Tagged ‘running’

Only six more days to Boston!  All the work is done so it’s really a week of low mileage and REST.  See how I put “rest”  in bold and capitalized it?  That means it’s pretty important!  In the last week or two before a marathon, a lot of people fear they haven’t done enough, and they try to cram in more mileage and/or speed work to make up for it.  At this point it’s too late.  Trying to make up missed workouts will only keep you from recovering completely for the big race.  If you’ve done the work in the months leading up this point, have faith that the training will have made you stronger.  The lower mileage in these last weeks will give your muscles a chance to recover and rebuild so they can handle the marathon.   This is why listening to your body is important.  If you need the extra rest, take it.  That can mean more sleep, lower mileage or an additional day off.

Over the weekend, my plan was to run 12 miles for my last long run.  As I started out, my calves were a little tight and I was feeling fatigued overall.  I didn’t really feel like running.  When I feel like that, I usually give myself 15-20 minutes to warm up and then decide if I should cut the run short.  I felt better after a while but I did decide to stop around 8 miles.  This close to the marathon, I’d rather end a training run feeling like I could have done more.

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“Knee pain” – it seems like those words are as common in the running community as “running shoes.”  It’s a frustration of so many runners.  Many people go online trying to self-diagnose the nagging knee pain they’ve had only to conclude that they need a full surgical knee replacement.  There are many, many factors that affect why/how someone’s knee hurts.  Obviously, there will be exceptional situations, but in my next few posts, I’ll do my best to discuss the most common causes of knee pain related to running and what to do about it.  First, calm down, it’s very likely that you do NOT need a knee replacement.  Second, a quick anatomy lesson…

The knee joint is unique in that it sits out there in space between two relatively stable joints – the hip and the ankle.  The hip has the pelvis and core to help stabilize it and the ankle is stabilized by the foot and ground.  You cannot move the hip or ankle without it affecting the knee to some degree (this is important because hip weakness is a common source of knee pain… stay tuned).  The big bone of our thigh is the femur; the big bone of the lower leg is the tibia.  The knee is where these two bones meet and glide over each other.  The patella (kneecap) glides in a track over the end of the femur when the knee is bending.  The smaller bone on the outside of the lower leg is the fibula, it’s sometimes considered part of the knee.

Bones of the knee

Bones of the knee

On the back (posterior) of the knee, our gastrocnemius (calf muscle) attaches to the femur – above the joint line.  The three hamstring muscles – biceps femoris attaches to the fibula, semi membranosis & semi tendonosis attach to the tibia – below the joint line.

posterior muscles

In the front of the knee, the four quadriceps muscles converge to form the patella tendon and also attach on the tibia, the kneecap sits inside that tendon (see small image).  The

patella tendon

patella tendon

sartorius muscle attaches on the medial side of the knee on the tibia, (push your knees together, where they hit is the medial side, where your hands are pushing is lateral).

anterior muscles

Lastly, the iliotibial band (ITB), which is really a long tendon, attaches on the lateral side of the knee on the tibia.  And then there’s the medial & lateral meniscus and a whole bunch of ligaments and other structures that help reinforce the knee… like I said, quick lesson.

How did your knee start hurting?  That’s the first question I always ask people.  This starts the dichotomy toward the proper steps of fixing the problem.  With runners, the most typical answer is: “I don’t know.  It started as a slight pain that I thought would go away but it has just been getting worse.”  They usually continue by saying: “at first it hurt toward the end of my run, then it slowly started hurting earlier during runs, now my knee hurts the next day, stairs are painful to walk down“, etc.  Believe it or not, that’s actually not difficult to fix, I’ll explain how and why soon.

The not-so-easy-fix and the answer I don’t like to hear goes something like this: “I stepped, [stood up, turned, tripped, jumped, landed, fell, slipped, knelt, squatted] and felt a sharp pain, [pop, snap, strange feeling] and then it was immediately painful and swollen the next morning.”  That usually indicates a more serious injury.  If you had something like that happen (sudden pain that occurred with a specific movement or incident) you should head to a doctor or physical therapist right away.  Clicks, pops, snaps and clunks that are painful are something to be concerned about.  As is any kind of “locking” or “giving out” sensation.

Getting back to the person who had the pain start slowly with no specific event (aka: insidious onset)– My next question is – Which part of your knee has the pain? The answer is usually one of these: along the outside (lateral) edge, above the kneecap, below the kneecap, behind the kneecap, along the inside (medial) edge, behind the knee.  For these scenarios, the knee pain is usually being caused by something (a muscle imbalance or strain) that affects the alignment of the knee.  It’s a difficult theory to accept at first but hopefully I can explain it well enough to get people going in the right direction toward fixing the problem.

In my next post, I’ll start with the most common type of knee pain – lateral knee pain, often referred to as IT band syndrome.   This is where the IT band passes over the lateral condyle of the femur, creating friction that eventually leads to pain.  It’s very, very common in runners.

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On Sunday I ran Heartbreak Hill one last time before it counts.  I actually ran all but the first 4 miles of the Boston Marathon course and I wasn’t the only one out there.  There had to be 100-200 other people running their last long run along the Boston course!

As I was running up Heartbreak I was thinking about the history of the race and how it got its name.  A lot of people think the name is given because it’s the longest, steepest hill (neither of which is true) – or that it’s at a point in the race where fatigue is taking its toll on the runners.  While the later it definitely true, the real reason Heartbreak has its name is because of a man named Johnny Kelley.   A two time Olympian, Johnny Kelley has run the Boston Marathon for 61 years.  He has won the race two times (1935 & 1945) and come in second seven times.  The year after his first victory he was favored to win again.  That year, the race was led from the start by Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, until the hill section where Johnny caught him and passed him – briefly.  It was at the top of the hill where Brown passed Kelley again and eventually went on to win.  Boston Globe reporter, Jerry Nason who covered the marathon for 50 years saw the look in Kelley’s eye and knew Kelley was broken-hearted.  The name stuck.  About a mile before Heartbreak is a bronze statue of Johnny Kelley, two of him actually, holding hands.  On the left is a 27-year-old Johnny (when he first won Boston) holding hands with 84-year-old Johnny (when he ran his last Boston) as they cross the finish line together.  Don’t look for the statue along the course as you’re running the marathon.  The large crowds obscure its view on race day.

In his most recent years of running Boston, Johnny would run the last 7 miles of the course so he could have the recognition he deserved from the crowd.  Before that, when he was still going the full distance, he would be given a 15 minute head start before the rest of the field.  Johnny Kelley died in 2004 at the age of 97.

I had a very rare chance to meet Johnny Kelley at his home on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1996.  It was an Olympic year and a local paper interviewed Johnny Kelley to tell the story of his Olympic days.  The article ended by giving Johnny’s home address and saying that fans often stopped by to say hello.  Not wasting a second, I dug out my map (no such thing as Google yet) and found where he lived.  It was actually on my way from work, so I went and knocked on his door.  I very clearly remember Johnny opening the inner door and from behind his screen door saying rather abruptly “wadda ya want?”  I introduced myself and told him what I had read in the paper and I just wanted to shake his hand and meet him.  He opened his door and invited me in.  The whole interaction was kind of a whirlwind experience because as I would learn in about 5 minutes, his sister was on her way over to pick him up.  He quickly stepped out to his garage and came back with a book- it was his biography.  He said, “I’m sorry I don’t have anything else to give you.  This book isn’t very heavy reading but you might find something interesting in it.”  He signed and dated the book and asked me a few questions before his sister came in.  Once she was there Johnny wished me luck and hurried me along.  I can’t help to think that if my timing had been better I may have had a chance to talk to him a little more.  But I still remember that day very clearly and consider myself extremely fortunate to have met him.

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This is my final week of high mileage before tapering for Boston.  Today is a challenging workout of 15 miles with the last 7 miles alternating between my goal marathon pace (6:15) and half marathon pace (5:45).  I remember doing this on a cold, windy day last year – I hated it.  Today looks like it will be hot & breezy, that’s better.  Today in Burlington the temperature is going to reach 80 (exactly when I plan on running), it’s usually in the 40’s this time of year.

This weekend I’ll be heading down to Boston to run the marathon course, and I have a feeling I won’t be the only one out there running it.  The way I see it, people come from all over the world to run Boston.  Since I have the opportunity to train on the actual course, I might as well do it.  I’m going to warm up for a few miles then do 3×5 miles at marathon pace with mile recovery in between.  I’m not sure if I’ll do the whole course yet, I’ll see how I feel after the repeats.  Fortunately, the final miles of the marathon follow the Green line so I’ll just hop on the train when i feel like stopping.

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Never Give Up.


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In Christopher McDougal’s book “Born to Run” he tells of a small population in the Kalahari Desert of Africa that still practices a form of hunting known as persistence hunting.  The most recent search for people who still possess this skill of chasing an animal until it collapses began after Daniel Lieberman proposed the “Running Man” theory.

The “Running Man” theory states that human structure and physiology make endurance running very efficient.  We evolved, and therefore look, move and sweat (this is very important) the way we do because we’re designed as endurance running machines.  But why?  Since nature/evolution makes no mistakes in its design department, there has to be a reason that we are so suitable for long distance running.  Lieberman suggested this reason: Food – we are designed to chase antelope on the plains in the heat of the day until they collapse so we can eat them.  If that is true, and since our physiology has not changed in 2 million years, we should theoretically be able to outrun and catch an animal over a long distance, even today.  Lieberman was right, we do have the physiologic ability to chase an antelope until it collapses, however most of us are lacking the skill to do it.  And it turns out that the skill level is similar to playing Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata… sit down at a piano without first learning how to play the instrument, (and years of practice) and you get nowhere.  Trot off across the desert after an antelope expecting to eat it, without learning how to chase them and you’ll run in circles until you die of starvation.

Bernd Heinrich’s book “Why We Run,” which I highly recommend, lists several accounts of Native Americans chasing down everything from jackrabbits to deer, bison and pronghorn antelope (which are said to be capable of running over 60 mph for up to 7 miles!)

This BBC video follows a group of Kalahari Bushmen on a persistence hunt.  This is no quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a few things.  This particular chase lasts 8 hours!  The outcome is really defined by who collapses first.  In addition to being an excellent runner, this hunter has to be highly skilled at tracking, which includes thinking like the animal he’s chasing.  They don’t even mention the fact that there could be a role reversal with the possibility of an opportunistic predator sizing up the tiring human.  The whole situation is tremendously impressive, all the way down to the extreme respect the hunter has for the animal.

This hunting strategy is unlike any other mammalian predator.  Most predators rely on speed and/or surprise, which is why they have the same general body style.  The primary design focus for most if not all animals (excluding some of our domesticated friends) is food getting.  This is why a giraffe has a long neck, a hawk has sharp talons and a hooked beak, a blue whale has baleen etc., although Mother Nature gave some creatures a few upgrades to avoid being eaten, such as rabbit ears, porcupine quills and turtle shells.  Why would this food-getting-design not hold true for humans?  Our upright posture allows us to breathe independent of our running gait.  We sweat to cool ourselves without panting, while we’re still moving.  Our large brain allows us the mental aptitude to assess tracks and think about where our quarry went.

Our large brains also give us the ability to make everything from spears to space shuttles, which may be why despite having the ability to run for hours, so many people don’t like running.  We as a species are also good at and prefer being lazy.  It’s much easier to walk to the fridge in the next room than to walk all the way outside and run after an antelope for a few hours.  I think it comes down to the loss of our connection to the earth that began happening when we made the transition from nomadic people to farmers.  We have other people who raise and kill the animals then bring them to the store for us, just as there are people who put the potato chips and pretzels in their respective bags and ship them to the store for us.  If getting food was the reason we ran, we don’t have to run anymore.  But since we spent many thousands of years evolving as runners, our physiology works best (we’re most fit and healthy) if we do run.  There is new research showing that prolonged sitting is much worse for us than we originally thought.  Not only do we suffer the direct effects of sitting – not burning as many calories – but also our metabolism works differently, which has further deleterious effects.

But things are looking up!!  In recent decades, there has been a boost in the running movement, as many more people are becoming runners. For example, in 1989 there were about 4 million people (77% men, 23% women) who finished road races in the U.S.  That number doubled by 2004 (54% men, 46% women) and in 2009 was over 10 million and dominated by women (47% men, 53% women).  These statistics don’t account for the runners who don’t race.

Everyone has a different reason for running, there are probably even a few that lost a bet, but fortunately more and more people are embracing the human need/desire/drive/instinct(?) to run.

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I’ve learned that anything written by journalist/author Matt Fitzgerald is worth reading.  I came across this article by him on plyometrics (plyos) the other day.  I’ve always felt that plyos were a valuable addition to a training plan.  In this article Matt explains why and how to incorporate a quick plyo routine into your schedule.

Another very interesting book co-authored by Matt and these guys is The Runner’s Body (Rodale Books (May, 2009).  It sets aside many myths that have their roots set deep in the athletic world.  Every runner should read this book!!

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