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Normal Bones That Break: Preventing Stress Fractures

Bone injuries suck. There’s no quicker way to grind your season and training to a halt than hearing your doc murmur the “s” word: stress fracture. For most women, the diagnosis is often accompanied with a test to determine bone density. For men the answer is typically along the lines of rest for six weeks then start back slow.

For those referred on for bone density testing, it’s not uncommon for the test to come back negative. The question then becomes “why?” Why, if your bones are deemed healthy, do they break?

Knowing that our bones grow stronger through a response to load (Wolff’s Law), we would expect that the running would actually yield bones. High, repetitive impact should forge steel-like bones through adaptation.

A study comparing bone health in female long distance runners and sedentary controls found that, although runners were more fit, the runners had identical bone density measurements compared to controls.1 Another study in 1998 found the same results: runners are more fit but measure similar bone density when compared to sedentary controls.2

Well that stinks. Ideally you would like stronger bones than those who don’t run, right? It’s worth noting that both the runners and sedentary controls had rather normal bone density results. It’s just stating that runners don’t have stronger bones that those who don’t run.

The question returns: if my bones are healthy, why are they breaking?

A five year study following female master runners found no significant change in bone density over time.3 This is great news! Running can keep your bones strong as we age.; however, the “s” word arises when we deviate from the typical running plane.

The answer comes down to strength. Ugh. Not another “you should be incorporate strength training” article. Well, I’m sorry. When we begin connecting the dots in the “why do my bones break” mystery, it’s clear that poor training and weakness are the result.

Milner et al. found that the occurrence of stress fractures in female runners was related to greater and faster initial loading of the lower extremity.4 In less fancy words—you’re not shock absorbing.

What slows initial loading of your leg? Well, muscles of course. Muscle fatigue and weakness will cause normal bone to load faster with less control… eventually straining the bone until it breaks.

I get it. It’s tough to incorporate strength training into your training plan. The system (and thinking) is ass backwards. Think about it… when someone gets injured what do they do? They seek exercises to rectify the problem. Have you ever thought about protecting yourself before you’re injured?

It comes down to supplementing your running. If you’re not on the prevention wagon it’s time to rethink the way you train. “I don’t have time isn’t really an excuse.” It’s only a matter of time before the wheels fall off.

This is particularly true for women and even more so for those who are post-menopause. Fluctuating estrogen levels can put women at a huge disadvantage to avoiding a stress fracture. Paired with fluctuating hormones, fatigue and weakness can easily send you to the “s” word.

My typical recommendation is to work strength in twice a week during lower mileage or base building phases. Obviously time can be the limiting factor. As your mileage increases do your best to stay true to twice a week; however, dropping to once a week is better than nothing at all.

If you’re looking for quick, effective strength workouts that are specifically designed for runners, stream my online runner-specific strength workouts. You can perform each workout from work, home, or on the road (aka you have no excuses!): sign up by clicking here.

1. Kirk, S., C. Sharp, N. Elbaum, et al. Effect of long distance running on bone mass in women. J. Bone Miner. Res. 4:515–522, 1989.
2. Ryan, A. S., and Elahi, D.. Loss of bone mineral density in women athletes during aging. Calcif. Tissue Int. 63:287–292, 1998.
3. Hawkins, S., Schroeder, E., Dreyer, H. Five-Year Maintenance of Bone Mineral Density in Women Master Runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 35(1): 137-144, 2003.
4. Milner, C.E., Davis, I.S., Hamill, J., 2005. Is dynamic hip and knee alignment associated with tibial stress fracture in female distance runners? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 37, S346.

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Five Point Scale Every Runner Should Memorize

I use the scale outlined below daily with my injured runners. This scale works for nearly every injury. The image above is a scale that is likely burned onto the whiteboard in my office.

A professor in college drilled into our brains that: a tissue, is a tissue, is a tissue. For those with no medical background, it equates to the underlying fact that a tendon injury in your ankle will likely respond the same as a tendon injury in your shoulder: a tendon is a tendon.

The same rationale can be said for joints, ligaments, and the like. In my work with running injury rehab I’ve developed protocol/system that is based on the “a tissue is a tissue” method. My patients have likely heard at one point or another. Although rather simplistic, the rule applies to nearly all running injuries and is rooted on a foundation of tissue resilience and the ability to accept load. Two very important principles if you’re looking to successfully run after an injury.

Load acceptance and loading until failure reaches far beyond injury rehab. Engineers know this fairly well. For example, a bridge can accept a certain load before buckling. An elevator cable can withstand a specific weight limit before straining (or breaking). The same can be said for your (insert your running injury here). It can withstand so much load until re-injury.

My simple scale can help you better understand the threshold of breakdown for your injury. I’ve used this thousands of times in practice and actually developed it when dealing with my own injuries (yes I get injured, too).

The Scale: 0 to 5, How Much Does It Hurt?

Zero (0): “I don’t feel anything.”

Zero is pretty easy. This is typically the point you’re thinking yourself, “hey, maybe this is the time it won’t hurt?” It’s usually a subconscious hail mary that your (insert injury here) is finally gone for good.

One (1): “I think I feel it?”

A one rating is that “is this all in my head” question. You’re running and you think you feel it, but are typically unsure. This isn’t anything to fret, keep going (not that you were going to stop anyways).

Two (2): “It doesn’t hurt, but I definitely feel it.”

Ok, so at this point you’re fairly positive you’re not crazy. You definitely feel it. A “two” on the scale can go either way. It can loosen itself up and retreat to a “one” or “zero” or can progress. This is where you ideally stay close to home. You can keep running, but the street signs now read “proceed with caution.”

Take home from zero to two:

As you can see, I’m not telling you to stop running. I equate the sensation of “feeling” your injury or “being aware” to loading tissue that is simply not fully healed. News flash, it can take up to six months for tissue to fully remodel (heal back to normal).

The zero to two stage can (but not usually) last months. Just proceed with caution and patience.

Three (3): “It hurts a little, but I can run through it.”

There’s no doubt that this thought has crossed your mind when attempting to return running. Crossing over from a two to three on my running scale equates to the beginning stages of breakdown.

The “slight pain” you feel may be manageable, but it’s a sign that your injury is failing. The bridge is beginning to buckle.

Four (4): Pre-Limp – “I probably shouldn’t be doing this.”

Although you shouldn’t be running, you’re likely still putting one foot in front of the other. At this point every foot strike is shredding, tearing, and destroying your injury. It doesn’t matter than you only have a few minutes left of your run.

Think of it this way: the average runner hovers around 80 steps a minute. An additional 10 minutes of running exposes your injury to 800 additional repetitions when it’s already sending signals to stop. If you had a sore arm, would you lift a weight 800 more times? (Please say no)

Five (5): Limping

So by now the pain is fairly strong. You can’t hide your limp and it’s clear you shouldn’t be running. You’ve gone overboard at this point. Plan on resetting your injury clock a few weeks or even back to day one.

Progressing Through the Scale

Most runners will progress from a 0 (“I feel nothing”) to a 3 (“It hurts just a little”). The progression of symptoms is a clear indication that your injury is failing to withstand the barrage of foot strikes. If you start at “three” within 30 seconds you’re not ready to run (sorry).

Don’t run on denial. It either hurts or you feel it. Black and white. Once you’re at the “it’s about to start to hurt” pull the plug. Walk. It doesn’t matter that you’re only a block away from home. Every foot strike is damage.

With time, you’ll slowly watch your time to symptoms or pain onset increase. What started at five to 10 minutes is now 30. If you continue to run with patience you’ll avoid becoming a patient.

These articles will also help you safely return to running: First Run After Injury, What to Know When Running After Injury, and “Am I Ready to Run?”

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#1 Thing to Know When Returning to Running Post Injury

“It doesn’t hurt.” This simple phrase can mean so much to so many. It can be a frustrating experience for my patients when they utter those three words. Without hesitation they find themselves being bombarded with follow up questions.

Pain is different for so many. This is more than your pain tolerance. Pain is pain and it’s the one thing that dictates how you handle an injury. Pain is typically a sign of failure. Failure of a joint, tendon, ligament or muscle to accept load (you running). In prior articles I’ve talked about pain that improves while you run.

The way we talk and describe pain varies between patients, but with the right poking and prodding I usually can get the information I need to determine if my patient is ready to run or progress their rehab program..

Answers like “kind of,” “I’m not sure,” “yes and no,” and the alike cast a cloud of confusion when determining the status of an injury. My favorite thus far? “It doesn’t hurt… it just feels awful.” Yep. True story.

Boiling down the verbiage to a simple “yes” or “no” can certainly help, but those “kind of’s” may be warning signs for worse things down the road… literally and figuratively.

Pain is a product of inflammation. It can be easy to ignore as the damage is typically deep. The healing of superficial cuts and scrapes are easily seen so it’s easier to understand if you’re officially healed or not. Our tendons, muscles, and joints cannot be seen without imaging, so it’s much easier to ignore, block out, or simply neglect the healing process

Verbalizing your symptoms will not only help you avoid re-injury, but also help any clinicians who are attempting to help you return to the roads.

“Yes. There’s pain.”

Simply put, you shouldn’t run. Pain is more than your everyday ache, too. It’s often described as “sharp,” “burning,” “stabbing,” or “just plain hurts.” Pain causes you to change the way you move, often accommodating a limp or “near-limp” running. Think of it as re-irritating or worsening a cut on your skin. Pain is simply the signal that your underlying injury is tearing apart.

“It doesn’t hurt, but I feel it.”

Damaged tissue always progresses to a blurred line. “It doesn’t hurt, but I feel it.” This simple phrase is the deciding factor between bagging a run or cautiously proceeding. “Feeling it” equates to loading tissue that has not returned to its full strength. It can stay constant (feel it throughout a run) or progress in either direction (diminishes or progresses to pain).

Injured tissue can take up to six months to fully remodel. Expect to “feel” your injury site for a few months when returning to running. Most are gun shy, particularly after forging mental scars from not running during the “it hurts” phase.

The “feel it” stage enables you to reload the injury site so that it can gain strength and return to normal. Too little load and the tissue never regains normalcy. Too much load and the weakened tissue tears, regressing back to pain.

Here’s a quick video to help you fully understand:

Posted in Prevention | 2 Comments

Will More Cushioned Shoes Decrease Impact Running?

Add more cushioning and you get better shock absorption. It makes sense on paper, right? Most of us, me included, shook our heads at the thought of the running shoe industry returning to where it started: bigger, more cushioned shoes.

Surely the already crowded shoe market would find little room for a shoe at the opposite end of the spectrum, particularly when maximum cushioned were demonized in Chris McDougals book, “Born to Run.” The maximalist shoe market has yet to squander a growing army of maximalism evangelists.

More cushioning sounds great on paper, particularly for those who are struggling to tolerate the impact of running (speaking to my master runners here). Sore joints diagnosed as “typical” wear and tear on x-rays leave countless runners struggling to tolerate impact with asphalt. It’s not surprising that the maximalist shoe market hasn’t crashed and burned. After all, the market for runners who are over 40 is only growing.

Ideally, more cushioning on your feet would simply provide downstream benefits to the knee, hip, and spine; however, the body’s actual response to more cushioning might be contrary to what you expect.

Your body needs to anticipate and feel impact. Your nerves and muscles (neuromuscular system) collect data from ground impact, transferring it to the brain, which in turns relays information to your tendons and muscles on how to respond.

With a softer barrier to dampen impact, our bodies may, and often will, crash down hard seeking to collect data. Clinically, we see this in patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy, a condition that often results in the loss of sensation in the bottom (plantar aspect) of the feet. Those struggling with decreased plantar sensation will often slap their feet or slam their feet into the ground with the ultimate goal of allowing their skin, muscles, and joints to send information back to the brain for interpretation.

Like the article? Help me find more runners who would benefit:

Slapping a big thick pad on your foot can likely provide a loss of “feel” for the ground. The natural, automatic response of the body may be to land harder to provide neuromuscular feedback. A study published in April 2015 by Baltich, Maurer, and Nigg found that as the shoe midsole became softer, joint stiffness increased, particularly at the ankle. The apparent increase in stiffness was found in other joints, too, resulting in an increase in vertical impact force peaks (less shock absorption).1

That’s right. A thicker, padded shoe may actually increase your impact forces when running. Now before you start shaking your head that you may have fell for another marketing gimmick, hang with me. I still and will continue to recommend these shoes to specific patients… but it comes with a caveat.

Ultimately, your movement trumps all. I have and will continue to recommend these new “maximalist” shoes to my patients who fit the bid. The recommendation now comes with a plan to alter their movement that in turn, maximizes the cushioned footwear. You need to teach your body to avoid altering joint stiffness.

Engaging your natural shock absorbers (muscles and tendons) through a midfoot strike should be the number one priority, particularly for those feeling “beat up” by the road. Relearning to run with a midfoot strike is more than running on your toes. I outline that in depth in my free run faster in 30 days program

I encourage any runner, young or old, to commit to improving their movement and utilizing their anatomy to the full extent. Your ability to absorb and control landing forces falls back on what your momma gave you (well, more than your butt). Off the shelf products should be used to supplement your run form and strength, not as a Hail Mary pass. Pairing better movement with that softer, more cushioned shoe may be the homerun you seek.

Not sure how to **properly** improve your run form, strenght, and flexibility? Try our runner-specific strength programs, stretches, and running form programs. You can get started for $1/month.

1. Baltich J. Maurer C. Nigg B. Increased Vertical Impact Forces and Altered Running Mechanics with Softer Midsole Shoes. PLOS. 2015; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0125196.

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Am I Ready to Run After Injury?

The injury rehab water is murky. Most runners forego seeing a doc altogether. After all, who wants to be told to stop running? Those two words (stop running) have bred a distrust for doctors within the running community. Runners have sought asylum in the confines of Google searches and the forever “valuable:” phone a friend option. The obvious troubles linger on both sides of the latter options. For one, doc’s are stereotyped as running haters, all spewing the same “stop running” treatment option. The flipside offers little hope, too, as your friend is likely affirming what you read on Google (which is where they found their answer).

The distrust for the medical community is real—I know that. Timid runner’s visit me every week hoping those two austere words aren’t mumbled from my mouth. “Please don’t tell me to stop running,” they interject. Luckily, I’ve built my brand as being “runner friendly.” Mainly for being a runner and infrequently murmuring the forbidden words.

Whenever I’m working with an injured runner the number one question is “when can I start running again?” Through my work and own injury experience I’ve developed a protocol of sorts. The purpose of this article is pass on a piece of my injury rehab protocol. It precedes my “10 Minute Feeler” article that discusses the importance of keeping a short run on your first outing. Using the repeatable and rather simple test I’ve built to answer to the ultimate question: “CAN I RUN?”

I’ve used the test outlined below for nearly every runner I’ve seen since its inception two years ago. It’s worked nearly (but not always) flawlessly when determining the burning question on every runners mind. The test is my own little bearer of bad (or good) news. It’s easy for a runner to infer that they are/aren’t ready to run.

The test mentioned below is on the tail end of my return to running protocol. It’s part of the madness that is my treatment. It won’t tell you what you need to fix, how to fix it, or much in the details of your injury, but it will tell you if you’re ready to run. Whether you’re dealing with a banged up knee, sore Achilles, or a forever lingering hip injury, this test can make the “am I ready” conversation an easy yes or no answer.

The Test

Running through this test is fairly simple, requires no equipment, and is easy to score (pass/fail). The primary goal of the test is to determine if the body is ready to accept impact. It will test the injured tissue in multiple planes of motion, insuring that some degree of healing has occurred.

If you fail the test it becomes incorporated into treatment, which I discuss in the video below. If you pass the test you’ll simple move on to the next phase of my injury rehab protocol: the 10 minute feeler. Check out the video below to learn how to check your body’s readiness to run:

Remember, there are multiple steps that precede this test. Those steps are injury and patient specific (me saying I really can’t give them to you). A simple rule: if you’re not functioning without pain in your daily activities, then you likely have no business attempting the test.

If you pass this test: on to running! Learn about your first run after injury by clicking here.

If you fail this test:
You should continue lower impact and functioning activities specific to correcting and re-loading your injured tissue prior to attempting the test.

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Be Your Best Advocate for Recovery

I’ve decided to vent a little. This particular scenario has happened too many times to count. For whatever reason I’ve reached a breaking point and decided to write a few things down. The story begins back in April(ish) when a runner enters my office with sudden onset of sharp hip pain.

After seeing her primary care physician, a referral was made for physical therapy for a hip flexor strain. I saw this patient a week later. Without getting into the details of the evaluation process, I sent the patient out for imaging a few days later. My underlying suspicion was correct—a stress fracture at the femoral neck.

Unfortunately, the imaging I requested was delayed for various reasons, leaving said patient “walking” around with a hip stress fracture. By the time she snuck her leg into an MRI, the stress fracture progressed. Within 36 hours the patient was in the operating room to fixate her fracture.

What happened next is an all too common occurrence. It happens after countless injuries and surgeries. Hell, it happens with nearly every patient who has ever suffered a stress fracture. The old “take it slowly” and “you should be fine” are the farewell words as the patient leaves the office after they’re “healed.”

My patient had a pin placed in her hip followed with the standard six weeks of non-weight bearing. My (read your) problem now begins—after the obligatory rest period. It comes with the farewell “take it easy and slowly resume normal activity.” A farewell that leaves you with zero direction and quite frankly, in a spot to do more damage.

hip-pin-runsmart-running, hip, surgery, running, after, hip

You tell me. Do you think she needs rehab?

Actual Post-Op X-ray for my patient

A research review pulished in the Journal of American College of Sports Medicine reported between 6-40% strength loss in normal men when placed on 4-6 weeks of bed rest.1 Adding insult to your injury, bone density is also effected. One study reports that bone density was not fully restored in able-body men (19-52 years old) after six months of normal weightbearing activity.2 Don’t get me wrong, some surgeries or injuries require you to do nothing. But what about after you’re finished protecting your injury? Shouldn’t you work to restore your balance, bone density, and muscle strength?

“Should I go to physical therapy” my patient asks. “No,” says the surgeon. “Just take it easy for a few months and start back slowly.” Wait… what? This patient had a pin placed in her hip. She hasn’t walked or used her leg muscles in the past six weeks (not counting the dysfunction pre-surgery). She’s given zero direction and leaves with “call me if there’s a problem.”

There’s no worse scenario for a runner. Most runners are self-destructive by nature. We see recovery as a challenge. After all, who doesn’t want to PR their recovery? The problem arises when we view an injury at a tissue level, but not a functional one. Sure, the x-ray showed that her hip (your knee, ankle, stress fractured) has healed, but what about identifying the cause or impairments that arise from the injury. Afterall, you were injured for a reason.

Look at the all too common stress fracture. I’d say upwards of 90% (my own assumption) of runners diagnosed with a stress fracture are given the “take it slow” treatment protocol after running is deemed safe. The protocol completely ignores two important pieces. First, why did your bone break and what’s going to stop it from fracturing again? Second, are you restoring the function (strength, range, etc) that was lost while you protected the injury site?

I’m happy to report that my patient was advocate for herself. She took the initiative to start physical therapy despite the direction provided by her surgeon. I need you to be an advocate for yourself, too. I’m certainly not encouraging you to visit your doc with a list of demands, but your long term health depends on restoring function—not only to run, but to move well for the rest of your life. No one cares about your health as much as you. Be an advocate for yourself.

1. Bloomfield SA. Changes in musculoskeletal structure and function with prolonged bed rest. The American College of Sports Medicine. 29(2):197-206, 1997.
2. LeBlanc, A. D., V. S. Schneider, H. J. Evans, D. A. Engelbretson, and J. M. Krebs. Bone mineral loss and recovery after 17 weeks of bed rest. J. Bone Miner. Res. 5:843-850, 1990.

Posted in Prevention | 3 Comments

Is Tart Cherry Juice Benefical for Runners?

The old saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” may be evolving. In a world where most of us display a general distrust towards the drug industry, many are seeking more alternative, healthier options than chomping down a bottle of pills.

There’s no denying the power of food. We’ve all scarfed down a meal we shouldn’t have, only to find ourselves under a sluggish cloud of unpleasantness. Swap your processed meal for its healthier counterpart and you’ll feel swift and nimble for sure.

Herbs and spices have been the remedies of time. After all, the caveman didn’t have a bottle Motrin to crack open after a long day of chasing dinner. Now the point of this article isn’t to wander down a path swearing off medicine, but to possible offer a safer, healthier option to pain and inflammation.

The cataclysmic shift to conservative, non-pharmacological management of disease and pain is trending in a great direction. With it, we see the sprouting (pun intended) of countless plant-based and “healthy alternative” companies. Enter Tart Cherry Juice.

Tart cherry juice has been used for years, but recently is beginning a larger push into athletics. Gout sufferers have sworn by slugging back shots of tart cherry juice. One research study found that when tart cherry juice was combined with allopurinol (drug) use, the risk of gout attacks was 75% lower than during periods without either exposure.1 The underlying physiology lies in the potent anti-inflammatory effects of tart cherries.

With noted physiologic benefits of hindering inflammation, other studies began to investigate its effect on strength and pain. One blinded study found that after repeated bouts of running, the Tart Cherry group rated their delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) over two points lower on a 0-10 pain scale when compared to that of the placebo.2 Another study found significantly less strength loss when performing repeated bouts of eccentric strength training. The tart cherry group displayed only 4% strength loss compared to that of 22% for the placebo group after four days of retesting.3 Note: the increased strength loss in the placebo growth was attributed to more inflammation and muscle damage.

The apparent benefits of decreased inflammation and pain are a great alternative to popping typical anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which carry baggage filled with stomach, heart, and liver issues. I’ve become a huge advocate for tart cherries as of late (that’s without even using it); however, I do find a few scenarios for best use.

The running population is far from what’s portrayed on advertisements and cover pages. Sore knees, ankles, hips, and spines are common ground among a growing population of master runners. Tart cherry juice may be a perfect, low risk – high reward proposition for those with chronically sore joints. According to the research, the magic number of tart cherries seems to be hovering between 50-60 cherries per day. Conveniently, most commercial tart cherry juices, like Cherribundi, provide 50 cherries per serving.

A second scenario exists for those competing in multiple events or races. For example, the study by Kuehl et al compared post-race soreness of those running Hood to Coast. After preloading for seven days prior to the event and consuming two drinks (90-100 cherries worth) during the race, those who consumed the tart cherries juice displayed significantly less soreness post-race.4 This could be a huge plus for those performing repeated bouts of running (track, multiple day events, two races in a single day, etc).

The question to ask is, “do I want to limit my inflammation?” For chronic inflammation due to wear and tear, or as my patients put it “age,” the answer is usually yes. I’m actually encouraging my patients who experience pain due to degenerative changes to give it a shot; however, I do question anyone looking to dampen their inflammatory response for the sake of avoiding sore legs.

Your legs still experience any given run. Hard workouts and races will ultimately cause muscular breakdown. Hindering yourself from the repair process with any anti-inflammatory (natural or drug) may interfere with healing. Let your legs be sore! They need it.

Needless to say, I’m intrigued. My interest lies as a healthier option for my patients and clients who are looking to thwart sore and painful joints. If you have any input on using tart cherry juice to fight pain and inflammation drop me a line below. Maybe you know someone this could help? Tap that like and tweet button!

1. Zhang Y, Neogi T, Chen C, Chaisson C, Hunter D, Choi HK. Cherry Consumption and the Risk of Recurrent Gout Attacks. Arthritis and rheumatism. 2012;64(12):4004-4011. doi:10.1002/art.34677.
2. Kuehl KS, Perrier ET, Elliot DL, Chesnutt JC. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010;7:17-17.
3. Connolly DAJ, McHugh MP, Padilla-Zakour OI, Carlson L, Sayers SP. Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40:679-683.

Posted in Prevention | 1 Comment

Grandma’s Marathon: 2015 Race Report

“There are no limits on what can be achieved when we remove the mental barriers we set for our self.”
-Mark Devine

This echoed throughout my head the entire race. I went into this race with a pipedream goal (run 2:50), a realistic goal (Sub 2:53), and a last resort (qualify for Boston). As I pressed my cheeks against a car dealership window (don’t worry I wasn’t the only one) shielding myself from the rain, I kept going back to this quote. That and the thought, “can I actually see my breath in June?”

Who the hell says I can’t go out and run a 2:50? Me? Why the hell not? After all, the conditions are right (cool and rain paired with a fast course) and I’ve been feeling great for the last few weeks. I toyed with the idea all week. Initially, I was just looking to PR: anything under 2:54:20. But like many other runners, I thought out the “what if’s.” What if I could run a 2:50? Can I go sub 2:50? What if I blew up trying? What if I fail?

With my sexy sweatshirt-garbage bag combo donned, I began walking my shivering self to the start line. Through a persistent, steady rain I continued to weigh my options. This is very uncharacteristic for me. I usually dial in two weeks prior to race day with a specific race plan. I train for the pace and just go out and run it. Simple, right?

I started partaking in the customary pre-race small talk with the surrounding runners. “Is everyone around me shooting for 2:50,” I thought. I must have chatted with 10-15 people (also very uncharacteristic). Succumbing to peer pressure, I thought “Ok, it looks like everyone else is doing it.”

Bang. – Actually, Toot. (A horn started us)

2015, race, report, grandmas, marathon
The toggling hard-light rain started to subside almost instantaneous to the horn. I ripped off my sweatshirt and started putting one foot in front of the other. Continuing with my uncharacteristic race, I occasionally partook in early race chatter. Again, everyone around was looking for 2:50. Well, here we go. I’m going for it. Why not?

The first half flew. A combination of spectators (kudos to you), tooting train horns, and pack running made for easy work. The course was cool, wet, and fast. I clicked through the first half of the race at 1:24:50. Perfect.

Stop Trying. Just Run.

I knew the math. To break 2:50 I needed to hold a pace below 6:30. I came through mile twenty holding 6:30’s on the dot. Up to this point I told myself to relax and just run. I never focused on finishing, but just clicking through miles. Miles 13 through 20 were all about relaxing and not forcing anything. “Don’t tense up, just run.” I was more aware of how I felt through mile 20 than ever before. The goal was to remove all pressure and tension. I just simply ran.

I was hunting negative talk the entire race. When the “good enough” mentality started to weasel its way to the forefront of my consciousness I targeted it. I reiterated the quote, “Remove the mental barriers we set for our self.” It sounds cheesy, but I lived by the quote. Every race prior to today I succumbed to self-doubt and settling for “good enough.” I let my legs call the shots.

Don’t Waste Your Previous Miles

grandmas, marathon, race, report, 2015
Coming through mile 20 I was averaging 6:30’s. The legs began to get heavy and the mind started to wonder. Truthfully, the legs felt pretty good through mile up into mile 24, but my focus began to slip. I wanted to be done. I focused on many of the same items I teach in our RunSmart Mechanix Program. I ran down my check list: lean forward, drive your legs, drive from the trunk.

For a guy that doesn’t talk too much (outside work), I sure did a lot of self-talk during the race. Miles 20 through the finish were all about preservation. “Don’t waste miles 0-20 on the final six.” I knew going soft was an injustice to the previous miles I fought. I just focused on fighting each mile, maintain form, and never looking to the finish.

Go. Just Go, Legs.

grandmas, 2015, marathon, race, report
Dialing through mile 24 brought some new life. I began reeling in some runners were out front for over two hours. With each runner I passed I gained a little ‘freshness.’ I hurt, but my legs felt like they could still give it a go.

After a quick glimpse at the time around mile 24, I knew I had to drop a few fast miles snag a 2:50 or lower. I pushed to the point where my legs began to hate me. Within the first 800 I could tell I was gobbling up time (and runners). As quickly as I started it seemed to all come crashing back.

Within sight of the mile 25 marker I felt my calf fire off a warning shot, “if you don’t back off I’m going to cramp and make you walk!” (I imagine my calf had a snooty tone when it said this, so please read it as such). I took a minute and tried again. Nope. Weighing my options (pushing on or pulling up), I succumbed to my calf. I clawed my way through the last 25 miles, I will NOT blow up in the final mile.
With the finish line in sight, I through a final kick to break 2:52, finishing with a final time of 2:51:57 and nearly a 2 ½ minute and another ticket to Boston punched.


Four weeks prior to Grandma’s I logged my first DNF at the Buffalo Marathon. Never has the decision to bag Buffalo been more gratifying. My fastest mile in Buffalo failed to trump my average from this past race. Continued progress is an art. I preach it to my patients, while walking the line myself. I’ve bagged countless races that jeopardized my continued progress, Buffalo included. I focus on quality (strength, balance, flexibility, run form, training) and the proof is in the pudding. With Buffalo out of the equation I’ve continued to trend downward, PR’ing each of my last 5 marathons.

I plan on continuing down that road, too. The long term goal is to find my way down in the low 2:40’s in the next 5 years. For now it’s all about recovery. I have zero plans to run for seven days, while beginning my six week recovery staple: RunSmart Yoga. Other than that, I have nothing planned. I’ll tackle a few races throughout summer with the intent of chasing runners down while pushing my son.

Thanks for following this lengthy journey that started back in December! :)

Posted in Personal | 4 Comments

My First DNF

For those who joined me at the start of the 2015 Buffalo Marathon, I hope this finds you with sore legs accompanied with a strong sense of accomplishment. The Buffalo Marathon is now 24 hours in the rearview and it turned out to be an awesome morning. Unfortunately, I was dealt a tough deck leading up to race day and my first ever DNF (Did Not Finish).

The decision to DNF was tough and exponentially more disappointing in retrospect. You spend months preparing through the worst winter with a handful of sacrifices, only to be hit with a technicality. It seems unfair; however, when push comes to shove, there are far worse things in this world than bowing out of a race. The initial cloud of shame that hung around immediately following my decision has since begun to fade. I think there’s an important lesson for all of us as we look sustain a long and healthy running career. Our pride can certainly heal better than the physical damage inflicted by running through injury and sickness.

Friday morning my son woke us up early, say 4am. With a slight strain in my throat I rolled over and mumbled through a raspy voice, “I’m feeling sick.” Naturally, like any loving and supportive wife, she looked at me and said “it’s all in your head.” After all, the race was in three days and taper week is a master manipulator. I made it through training without getting dinged with a single injury and I felt strong enough to cut a few minutes off my 2014 Boston PR.

Work Friday wasn’t pretty. Everything hurt. I was still convinced phantom taper pains were the culprit. Symptoms continued to progress and by Friday night I was voiceless with alternating chills and sweating. Sleeping Friday night was an interval workout (90 minutes on, 20 minutes off). Truthfully, if the race was Saturday I was out altogether. I kept hoping that my immune system could right the ship in the next 24 hours.

Saturday morning came. Still voiceless, I pulled the plug on my speaking engagement for the marathon. (I did have countless offers for people to either mime, lip read, and even interpretive dance my talk for me :-) ) The expo was a crap shoot. I had to defer any talking at the booth to my partners and just stood there and tried to look pretty.

I snuck a nap in Saturday afternoon and tracked down a CVS for some ‘hail mary’ drugs. I went to bed early hoping for the best.

Sunday brought me much of the same: raw throat, which unfortunately was exacerbated by mouth breathing from two clogged nostrils. I came up with a very simple system to signal my wife at mile six: thumbs up (things are good), thumbs down (I’m done at the half or sooner), and halfway between (we’ll see). After passing through mile six I gave my wife the combination of a thumbs up and half way between up and down.

I followed my pacing plan exactly how I would have under normal circumstances. The only difference was the frequent clearing of my nose and throat. I ticked through the first five miles right on my target pace (6:36/mile); unfortunately, it wasn’t as comfortable as I hoped.

I was fearful of giving myself an “out.” Having the option to call it quits at the halfway mark weighed heavy on me the entire time. I was focused on making the right turn for the second loop and not running straight for the finish. I thought if I could avoid calling it quits at 13 miles I could find the finish.

Around mile nine my throat began to progress from slightly too noticeably irritated. I’m sure the somewhat-labored mouth breathing didn’t help. The irritation was accompanied with difficulty getting my fluids. By mile 12 my legs were feeling jello-e and I felt like a bobble head heading up Franklyn. I forced myself to make a right turn and avoided the early exit.

Just One More Mile

I began to take things a mile at a time, assessing as I lapped each one. I felt awkward, almost dizzy around mile 14. My legs felt like trash and I was just bumbling down Linwood. I’ve been here before, but never this early in the race. At mile 15 I thought to myself, “This is stupid. What am I doing?”

Running downhill towards Delaware Park I felt uncoordinated and light headed. I wasn’t convinced I would stop yet, but I wanted to gauge the return on my effort. If I’m working this hard, feeling dizzy, and seeing no return on pace, then what’s the point?

Mile 17: 6:55

I hit the lap button and looked down. 6:55 was staring back at me. Instead of banking a 6:28/mile as planned on a rather downhill mile, I stretched nearly 20 seconds in the other direction. That mile made the decision for me. I pulled over at the mile 17 aide station and borrowed a volunteer’s phone to break the news to my wife.

My initial feelings were overwhelmingly negative. The mixture of failure and embarrassment kept my head low. I wanted to hide, but instead I ran-walked my way back to the city (all awhile trying to not be spotted). More than anything, my pride was hurt. I put so much effort into this race and feel like I was cheated. It wasn’t until I finally returned home I knew I made the right decision. A raging headache paired with dehydration, a throat that could barely swallow, and persistent cough sent me into a five hour deep sleep.

The plan is to put this race behind me… immediately. I’ve made the decision to take a solo trip to Duluth, MN next month to run Grandma’s Marathon. I’ll take this week to regroup and resrtructure my training cycle. In two weeks I’ll be heading right back into taper and taking another stab, using my first DNF as ammunition.

In three weeks this decision will be a non-factor. Swallowing my pride is likely the hardest part. I imagine the overwhelming feeling of failure and embarrassment are normal; however, there’s no doubt that they’ll subside. It’s always easier giving advice than acting on it. We all need to remember that none of us are running to put food on the table. We shouldn’t sacrifice our body for a single race. For now, I’ll spend sometime with my family, regroup, and refocus. I’ll use this light the fire for my next race.

Thank you all for your support leading up to, during, and after the marathon. It was fun to hear runners talk about and thank me for my race guide while we were running.

Posted in Performance, Personal | 6 Comments

Hey, Get Your Finger Out of There

“Hey, get your finger out of there!” It sounds a little weird at first, but I’d estimate saying this phrase at least once daily. The scenario usually begins as a runner describes their injury. I ask where it hurts and they begin point, transitioning to a poke, and before I know it, they’re inches deep, digging with the tips of their fingers. The evaluation continues as the runner makes a point to bounce on the site, much like bashing the keys of a piano, or they become aggravated with the difficulty of locating the “exact spot.”

I think I’m right in assuming the same thing is occurring at home. I mean, the writing is on the wall… or skin? A desire to locate the exact source of pain can often result in bruising that resembles the perfect outline of a fingertip. But at what point to we transition from poking to prolonging our injuries? A look into tissue mechanics and injury healing can help you better understand my concerns with you mashing away with your fingers.

“But It Feels Good”

Poking around with the fingers at painful sites has been around for a long time. Deep pressure massage techniques are used to help release trigger points, or balls of knotted tissue, while also decreasing localized pain. A good push from your finger has been shown to decrease sensitivity at a given site, ultimately decreasing your pain; however, at the end of the day, you’re not looking to desensitize an area, but to heal.

Injured tissue is weak and degraded. It lacks the ability to absorb shock, contract, or stretch. Typically, most runners poke at muscle injuries (shin splints come to mind). When injured, muscles become tensile intolerant, or lack the ability to either shorten or lengthen. At a microscopic level, the contractile elements that produce movement tear. The injury can be fairly harmless, like after a hard workout, or more serious, resulting in a partial or full tear of the muscle. The key here is that there’s damage.

Damage doesn’t equate to scar tissue, so don’t combine the two. Tissue damage evokes an inflammatory response, while the failure for that tissue to fully recover may result in scar tissue formation.

Healing tissue will go through three phases: inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling. The entirety of the process can take months (yes months). The inflammation stage should be short lived, measuring four to six days. The goal here to let the injury run its course, which will set you up for full tissue healing later. Digging for gold at an injury site could likely prolong the inflammatory response and ultimately delay your return to running.

The Proliferation Phase

The second phase of healing results in scar tissue development. Hold the horses! That doesn’t give you a permit to start digging. Scar tissue development is normal and required for tissue to return to normal strength. Being knuckle deep during this stage can result in a continue cycle of scar tissue development. The body lays it down and you break it up. Now hit the repeat button.

Scar tissue will remodel back to normal tissue. You just need to let it.

The Remodeling Stage

The scar tissue laid two in the proliferation phase will begin to adapt to stresses you place upon it—and that doesn’t mean with your fingers. Scar tissue from stage two lays down haphazardly, resulting in decreased tensile strength. As you begin to use your muscle again the fiber alignment begins to mirror that of normal tissue. It also begins to restore to normal tensile strength.
The best method for transitioning scar tissue to normal tissue is activity, not rubbing, not kneading, and certainly not poking.

So remember, the next time you think that you need to “work it out” a bit, strap some oven mitts on your hands and leave it alone. Allow your body to transition through the normal healing cycle with appropriate timed rest and exercise.

Posted in Prevention | 1 Comment