Back in August, I posted an article from Competitor.com and written by Jeff Sankoff MD. In that article, Dr. Sankoff spoke about how there’s little to no evidence that stretching can prevent injury which, while I find interesting, just doesn’t jive with my own experiences. Anyway, Dr. Sankoff was kind enough to respond to some of my questions. Here are his responses:
Hi. I came across one of my articles from Triathlete published on your website (you posted it back in August of 2010)and wanted to address some of your questions that you posted above it:
1) Why did I have IT Band issues up until I started doing focused IT Band stretches every day?
The ileotibial band, or IT band, runs from the pelvic bones to the lower leg just below the knee. It is a tough fibrous band to which various muscles attach. When the band is tight, it tends to rub against the outside of the knee during the running stride. Repeated rubbing results in inflammation and the painfult IT band syndrome or ITBS. One of the ways to alleviate ITBS is to stretch the band at the hip where it is most lax. Stretching the band allows it to move more easily over the knee and reduces the friction and resulting inflammation. So here, stretching is indeed beneficial. However, the IT band is not a muscle and my article was really about muscle stretching.
2) Why did I have problems with my sciatica until I focused some stretches on my lower back?
Impossible to answer this question. Everyone is different and while your sciatica improved with stretching this is not a guarantee that anyone else’s would. Indeed, the scientific evidence is clear that stretching is not terrbily helpful for most people with sciatica. You were one of the fortunate ones.
3) When I stretch, I feel more relaxed and loose. Shouldn’t relaxed and loose muscles tear less easily?
Intuitively it seems that looser, stretched muscles should tear less easily. Unfortunately this has not been borne out by the studies that have looked at this. If you feel better stretching, then by all means please continue. However do not be deluded by the belief that this will prevent injury. It will not. I wish I could explain why this is so but I only have the evidence, not the rationale!
4) Why do I always hurt my lower back when I don’t stretch before heavy lifting?
Science is about proving or diproving theories that apply to the universe in general. While a theory may be proven to be true for most, it is rarely true for all. This is to say that I cannot explain why certain things happen to you specifically. There are many possible answers but it would be mere speculation for me to argue one. Suffice it to say, if you believe that the stretching is the key to not hurting your back when lifting then you should continue doing it. As I said in the article, I am not telling people to stop stretching but rather to do so with an understanding of the true risks and benefits.
I hope this is helpful.
Good luck with your training. Maybe I’ll see you ata race sometime.
The question: Is deciding to run a marathon on just a few days' notice, with no training, a good idea or a bad idea?
I know. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Running a marathon on zero training is a great idea, because your legs will be super-fresh.
Or maybe not. I suppose it's remotely possible that something might go wrong.
This isn't an academic question, by the way. It was actually debated recently when a fellow named Andrew Gertig wrote a post called How to Hack a Marathon if You Aren’t a Runner on his site, andrewgertig.com.
The post begins with this…
A few years ago I ran the San Francisco marathon without training and finished it in 4 hours and 28 minutes.
…and goes on to provide the back story, including the pre-race plan that Andrew and a friend came up with. Here is Andrew's advice for those wanting to "hack a marathon":
- Don’t plan on running the whole thing
- Take 4 Advil an hour before the race (Not recommended by physicians, but it’s what we did.)
- Take a walking break at every mile marker
- Eat half a banana whenever you see one
- Take two waters at ever water station
- Eat no more than 3 Gu energy packs because our stomachs didn’t like them
- Take bathroom breaks
- Walk every hill
- Meet interesting people and use conversation to kill the pain
- Put bandaids on your nipples to prevent bleeding
The comments on the original post run the gamut, from "This is one of the worst pieces of information I have ever read" to "I reckon good on you guys."
Personally, I feel a little bit of each sentiment: Good for this guy, I guess, that he was able to pull this off; but encouraging anyone — even implicitly — to guzzle water for hours on end and to "take 4 Advil" before a marathon isn't just bad advice, it's stupid advice, and potentially dangerous. (See: hyponatremia and NSAID risks.)
To his credit, the author did tack a disclaimer atop his post, essentially saying, "Kids, don't try this at home."
Anyway, back to the poll.
Running a marathon on just a few days' notice, with no training: Good idea? Or bad?
Found this article on Competitor.com that I thought was pretty useful. I am struggling a bit with making the trainer a part of my weekly workout routine – this helps provide some structure where I normally just get on and ride for 30 minutes or an hour.
With many states across the U.S. dealing with winter conditions, we thought we’d review the basics of using a stationary bike trainer to get in cycling workouts when riding outside is not possible.
Written by: Ian Murray
Cold, snowy winters don’t have to interrupt your training; just turn to the indoor trainer. Indoor trainers don’t limit your bike training. In fact, even athletes in the sunny climes should log some time on a trainer during these pre-season months. A trainer is more specific than a spin bike, a stationary bike, a recumbent stationary bike and on down the list of pedaling actions that move further and further away from the training principle of specificity.
Choose the Right Trainer
A bike trainer is a device that clamps onto your rear axle and presses a resistance roller against the rear tire so that you can ride in place. They come in three basic categories:
Wind trainer: Less popular today and thank goodness, as the resistance generated from its small fan isn’t as loud as a 747 at takeoff, but it’s far from silent.
Mag trainer: A bit more expensive and quieter.
Fluid trainer: More expensive and quieter than its Mag brethren.
Most trainers are durable. It’s a worthwhile investment and a device that will serve you well for years to come. Buy a steel skewer for your rear wheel so that the bike sits more securely in the trainer’s clamp, but most new trainers come with this. Also buy a wheel block that raises the front wheel, leveling off the bicycle, but this can be faked with something like a phone book.
The great thing about indoor trainers is that…
There are no interruptions on a trainer like there are on the road—no stop lights, no delays. Just get on and go! This adds value to the ride, so a 50-minute ride on the trainer is equal to an hour outside.
Structure Your Workouts
The same basics apply here as in any workout. Start with a warm-up of 10-12 minutes. Put in some technical focus for three to five minutes. Perform the main body of your workout, and then follow with seven to 10 minutes of cool-down.
Three rides a week in the winter will keep you in shape and improve your bike ability.
- Drill ride. The main body consists of four sets of 30-second one-footers, with two minutes of recovery. To perform a one-footer, remove one cleat from the pedal and rest that foot safely on the frame of the trainer. Concentrate on 30 seconds of smooth, fluid circles using just one foot. Switch feet and take two minutes of easy spin with both feet as recovery. The next drill is four 30-second spin-ups with two minutes’ recovery. To perform a spin-up, start at 90 rpm in a moderate gear. Gradually increase your cadence to 95, 100, 105 rpm and so on while still in that same gear. After 15 seconds of increasing cadence, get to your fastest spin which is still very smooth (no hopping around in the saddle) and hold that for 15 seconds. Take a full two minutes of easy circles between each for recovery.
- Interval ride. After a solid warm-up, shift into a higher gear and commit to going very strong for two minutes. You can determine how intense that effort should be with a heart rate monitor, by rate of perceived effort or by breath rate. Then, spin easy for three minutes. Start with three rounds, and as fitness develops, go to four or five rounds. After that, increase the duration of the effort. Eventually, reduce the recovery time.
- Steady state. After a solid warm-up, settle into a pace that will last 15-30 minutes. Make this a challenge, but not nearly as intense as the effort in the interval ride. Again, use either heart rate, perceived effort or breath rate to decide on the intensity. Hold this effort steady and strong for the full duration, and concentrate on good pedaling mechanics. Be sure to leave plenty of time for a quality cool-down.
Ian Murray is an elite-level USAT coach and the writer and host of the DVD box setTriathlonTrainingSeries.com.
This summarizes my experience with marathon training pretty well. The key point here is diversification in the training regimen. I am 100% positive I will have a PR the next time I run a full marathon simply because of the triathlon training… and I am only running twice a week!
The following article is from Patrick McCrann of Marathon Nation For Active.com
The marathon is a true test of endurance that requires physical and mental strength for success. But it takes a great deal more than just fitness to get your body from the start to finish. A great marathon requires consistent training with minimal to no injuries. It requires you to be able to merge long run training with quality intervals. And it demands that you are able to recover quickly especially during the final build to your race. Each of these elements might seem unique, but they all have one thing in common: great running form.
Running is one thing, but to do it well is something else and to sustain it for 26.2 miles is another story altogether. Poor running form can lead to injury, additional stress on your body, and reduce your ability to use your fitness over time. You must develop–and maintain–good running form if you are going to realize your long-distance running potential.
Marathon Training Slows You (& Wears You) Down
Summary: Lots of long, slow (or steady) running really wears down your ability to run well. Think about it: most of your long runs incur fatigue, reducing your ability to run well. This fatigue lasts beyond that single session, bleeding into other weekly runs. Your solitary goal for these runs is to go farther, not faster. This means pacing yourself physically and mentally; part of that pacing is reduced expectations around the quality of your run as you focus on the quantity…more time and more miles. There are many consequences of running with poor form, the least of which is not realizing your potential.
1. Shin Splints & Other Maladies: Overuse injuries are some of those common among marathon runners. For many of us, marathon training represents a huge leap in the amount of running we are doing, and as such our bodies struggle to adapt to the new workload as well as the effects of all the running on our bodies.
2. Forcing Additional Recovery: Lots of running means lots of pounding on our bodies. The more inefficient we become with our stride, the more work it takes to run. The more work it takes to run, the harder each individual session — and our training week — becomes. The harder our week becomes, the more we have to recover from it. Few of us have the time required to recover from our running on the most basic levels, leading to a sub-optimal vicious training cycle.
A Diverse Training Program Really Makes a Difference
One of the primary ways we work on running form at Marathon Nation is through workout variety. By incorporating intervals and hill workouts almost throughout the entire training cycle, our training plans challenge your body without overloading it through volume.
These workouts encourage the development of fast twitch fibers (intervals) and leg strength (hills), both of which are critical components of good running form. We even include intervals in our long runs, as a means of both building critical race fitness but also to remind your body of what it’s like to run fast.
One of the four critical pillars of marathon training is a skill run. Try adding this workout to your training routine:
Strides: The Skill Solution
You might already be in a training program, or maybe you are just looking for a little help. Regardless, don’t let all of the above get you down — all is not lost. You can maintain great run form even during the onslaught of miles of the typical marathon build up cycle by placing emphasis on proper running form by adding Strides both to your weekly routine but also at the end of your longer, slower runs.
The Stride Workout: Once or twice each week go to a grassy park or other soft-surface area. Find a straight area that is flat to slightly downhill. Run at faster than 5K race pace for 30 right-foot steps. Your time for 30 steps should be 18 to 20 seconds. Walk back to the start point after each one. Do five to eight stride repeats in a single session.
What Do Strides Do For You?
1. Strides Improve Your Cadence (aka Turnover): One of the first casualties to marathon training is our stride. A longer, inefficient stride means more heel striking and less speed. Strides force you to focus your foot speed at the end of long run (or just when tired), helping you to stimulate those run-faster muscles.
2. Strides Let You Run Faster More Frequently: So many times we look to intervals or track work as the means of attaining speed. But within a marathon program you are typically working hard enough already. Instead of adding more work, doing strides will allow you to do some fast twitch muscle training without deepening the fatigue you are experiencing.
How to Add Strides to Your Program
There are a few easy ways to make sure you get the maximum benefit from strides, regardless of your training program. As with any advice, start slowly and see what works for you. Only you will know the difference; that said give strides about a four-week try to see if the benefits really show up for you.
First, be sure to wrap up any long run with at least five stride repeats. Yes, this means even that two hour, 45 minute slog fest. In fact that’s when it’s most critical to end the run with a fast and light feeling.
Second, make one of your lighter runs focused entirely on strides. Run to warm up for about 15 minutes, do your strides, then run mindfully home for a high-quality run of about 45 minutes.
Third, consider making strides part of your warm up routine for your interval or track session.
Summary: Not All Runs Are Created Equal
Most marathoners simply run. They lace up their shoes, pick a distance and go there and back. They focus on mileage and count all time spent training as one lump sum. Regardless of your race day goals, staying healthy and running well are two critical components of any successful marathon training campaign. Best of luck to you in your training and share your “strides” experience!
If I weren’t in taper mode for my half, I would love to try these workouts out - especially the brick workouts. But really, all of these look great and look to be a true test of your ability to perform at your target race pace.
This is somewhat similar to a workout my brother introduced me to for marathon training. There’s a real name for it (that I forget, of course), but you basically do the following:
- Take your target marathon time in hour & minutes (ie. 3 hours & 30 minutes)
- Convert that time so that hours become minutes and minutes become seconds (ie. 3 minutes & 30 seconds)
- Repeat the following 10 times (on a track is best). If you can do this, you can finish the marathon in your target time.
- Run 800m in your time calculated in step #2 (3 minutes 30 seconds)
- Jog 400m
So you have a goal time in mind for your swim split, right? Have you practiced that pace? Try the following workout to not only test the reality of your goal but also to remind your body what it will feel like.
Determine race pace: If you want to do a 1000 meter swim in 15 minutes, your pace/100m will be 90 seconds. The following will be done at the 90 second pace. We call this “T-pace” for time trial or threshold. The goal of the workout is to maintain an even pace even as the distances increase. If possible, try to make the last 4 x 100′s faster than the first set…as if you are coming “home” stronger than you went out.
Main Set: 4 x 100 at T-pace (10 second rest), 2 x 200 (15 second rest), 1 x 400 (20 second rest), 2 x 200 (15 second rest), 4 x 100 (10 second rest).
Cool down adequately
How many of us go to a race never having ridden the course? RIDE THE COURSE! Get a feel for the curves and hills and pavement. Are there any pot holes or tight turns? Where are good places and bad places to pass? Practice accelerating from the bike mount line. Practice attacking the hills (mentally and physically) and maneuvering safely during the downhills.
Try the following for a simple way to simulate race surges during a race on the bike:
- Choose a riding partner that is stronger than you on the bike
- After warming up for 20-30 minutes, begin a fartlek workout on the bike based on your partner’s choice of surging
- For 30 minutes, your partner will throw in random surges that force you to pick it up for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time in order to keep up. The entire 30 minutes should be done at just below race pace.
One of the best ways to simulate running at the end of a triathlon is to practice running fast on tired legs.
At the end of your long run, try to finish the last 10 percent of it at race pace or 20 seconds slower than your goal pace. For example, if your goal is to run your 10K in your next Olympic distance triathlon in 44 minutes, shoot to run your last 9 minutes of your 90-minute run around 7 minute pace.
The following is another race simulation workout that forces you to try to maintain a hard effort after pushing yourself at race pace:
After adequately warming up and stretching, run one mile at hard effort, RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) 7-8/10, 5K race pace. Then run 2 x 800 or 4 x 400 at the same pace.
Swim to Bike (at open water site if possible): This is a great opportunity to check out your gear
- Set up transition area with appropriate equipment and race nutrition.
- Warm-up to cold water: Do gradual bobs and 5 minutes of swimming.
- Swim 10 minutes at close to race pace and exit water.
- Practice running through sand, stripping off wetsuit, and transitioning to bike.
- Mount bike and ride at RPE of 6-7/10 (or HR zone 3-4) for 15-20 minutes before settling into a 60-90 minute ride in which you keep your heart rate in zone 3 and some zone 2.
Bike to Run
- Bike 45 minutes at an easy to moderate pace. End at a track where you can conveniently leave your bike and where you’ve safely stashed shoes.
- Practice transitioning off the bike into your shoes.
- Do one mile just below goal race pace. If you want to run your Boulder Peak 10K in 50 minutes
(~8min/mile pace), shoot for an 8:20 mile on the track
- Jump back on the bike and do a 2 mile loop at race pace.
- Return to the track and do an 800 at goal race pace
- Continue the 2 mile ride / 800 meter run 3 more times
- Cool down on the bike 30 minutes.
Nutrition and Mental Preparation
- Practice eating during your race simulations what you plan to eat during the race itself.
- Make a checklist as you prepare for your simulation (Make sure to have a spare tire, extra goggles, tape, towels, tires pumped, etc.)
- Do the race simulation at the time of day you plan to race: you can practice appropriate nutrition that way too.
- Practice your mental talk. What are you telling yourself? Our words are like mental nutrition; don’t screw it up.
Amanda McCracken has been racing triathlons competitively for 14 years and coaching athletes for 10 years. She resides in the mecca of triathlon, Boulder, Colorado, where the trails are her playground.
I wanted to share the article below because I find it both interesting and hard to believe. In short, it’s basically saying there is no scientific evidence that supports the benefits of stretching; specifically as it relates to injury prevention. This raises a few basic questions based on my own experiences:
- Why did I have IT Band issues up until I started doing focused IT Band stretches every day?
- Why did I have problems with my sciatica until I focused some stretches on my lower back?
- When I stretch, I feel more relaxed and loose. Shouldn’t relaxed and loose muscles tear less easily?
- Why do I always hurt my lower back when I don’t stretch before heavy lifting?
At the end of the day, I won’t stop stretching. I find it to be what I look forward to most at the end of a hard workout or a long week of workouts.
The following article was originally published on Competitor.com on August 2nd.
Science and athletics have often made strange bedfellows. While it is true that science has led to incredible advances in athletic performance and safety, it is also true that science is often co-opted by marketers, manufacturers and self-proclaimed experts who support claims that at best push the limits of credibility and at worst are pure fabrications.
Occasionally, unsubstantiated claims in the absence of scientific evidence become so ingrained in the collective consciousness that when contrary evidence is found, it is dismissed out of precedence. An excellent example of this is the belief in the benefits of stretching.
Stretching has traditionally been considered a warm-up before exercise, and its theoretical benefits are numerous. Principally, stretching has been believed to improve the range of motion of joints and overall flexibility. These have been extrapolated upon to include other benefits such as improved posture and enhanced muscular coordination. Unrelated purported benefits include improved circulation, release of tension, pain relief and even lowering of cholesterol. Stretching has also been proposed as a means of preventing injury and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
While many of the benefits of stretching seem intuitive and logical, until recently, very little science had actually been done to investigate these claims. Partly, this was because stretching was simply accepted as being beneficial, and it was partly due to a lack of good methods for testing the hypotheses. In the past 10 years though, several studies have been published reporting on many of the effects of stretching, and the results have proven both disappointing and controversial.
While it is true that stretching does improve both range of motion and flexibility, this has not been shown to translate to any other objective markers of performance. Specifically, large trials have shown that stretching either regularly, or before strenuous activity, does not prevent DOMS. Stretching after exercise also does not prevent or lessen DOMS. Worse, several studies have actually shown that stretching may be detrimental to performance.
A great deal of evidence now exists demonstrating that stretching reduces both muscle strength and the ability to perform anaerobically—a condition that exists at higher levels of exertion such as when sprinting. These findings have been constant across numerous types of stretching programs and exercises.
The most controversial findings though, relate to stretching as a means of preventing injury. While some early studies seemed to show that stretching could prevent injury, more recent ones have shown no such benefit. As a result, this question remains unanswered and hotly debated.
While stretching need not be removed from an athlete’s regular routine, it should be done with an understanding of the true benefits and limitations. Certainly, it would appear that stretching should not be as much of a focus as it often is for many coaches and athletes. Rather, if it is to be part of a routine, stretching should be done not as a means of improving performance by preventing injury or DOMS, but rather only for benefiting flexibility. For those athletes who value this benefit, stretching should be done separately from their regular workouts and not as part of a warm-up. Light aerobic activity, known as an active warm-up, has been shown to be better than stretching with respect to improving performance.
Unfortunately, despite the evidence, many will continue to advocate stretching as part of a regular training routine as a means of improving performance or preventing injury. This is not surprising, as the beliefs in the benefits of stretching have become pervasive for far longer than the existence of good evidence contradicting them.
Train hard, train healthy.