Running captured my heart in 1998 – and it still holds it firmly in its grasp more than 16 years later.

Runner

As my running career matured, my thoughts on how to run faster, prevent overuse injuries, and truly enjoy running have changed as well.

When I first joined my high school’s cross country team, I only thought about running while I was at practice or a race. Running was simply something I did after school.

But soon, I realized that how I lived my life outside of practice contributed to how well I performed:

  • If I got more sleep, I felt better during my next workout and recovery improved.
  • If I was at my own healthy weight, I ran faster and strong.
  • If I ate a better diet, my runs felt more energized.

These lessons were learned the hard way, after countless fast food meals and short bouts of sleep after a night of partying. For a decade, I didn’t take care of myself the way I should have.

And it’s clear: a healthy lifestyle has a significant impact on your ability to perform as a runner.

After all, health comes before fitness.

Without general health, can you imagine finishing a 15-mile long run?  Or recovering from an intense interval workout?

Your body can’t feel fresh and your runs energized if your lifestyle doesn’t promote health and well-being.

Over the last few years, I’ve begun to prioritize my general health instead of just my running performances. I’m focusing on all-new things like sleep, diet, my overall activity level and stress.

And these changes have enabled me to perform at a whole new level:

  • I set annual mileage records in 2010, 2012, and 2013 – running more than 3,200 miles last year
  • I also set monthly (382) and weekly (92) mileage records in 2014
  • My marathon personal best improved by over 5 minutes to 2:39:32
  • My weight has decreased while my strength has actually increased (!)
  • I no longer have high cholesterol

Over the next few months, I’ll be writing more about these topics and bringing in other experts to help you succeed not just with your running, but with living a healthier life with more vitality.

But now, let’s focus on one of the least understood aspects of health: your overall activity level.

Running is the Tip of the Health Pyramid

Health Pyramid

Being a successful runner requires a lifestyle that promotes fast running. You can’t expect to run a personal best in your next marathon if you’re sleeping five hours a night and drinking heavily.

But if your running performance is at the very top of a “health pyramid,” the foundation of that pyramid supports your performances. That foundation – or the type of lifestyle you lead – directly supports your running.

When elements of this pyramid are missing, you’ll suffer from running injuries. Your performances will plateau and you’ll stop improving.

Perhaps more importantly, running will feel harder than it should feel. Every workout will be a struggle and you’ll have trouble with long runs and faster workouts.

With poor sleep, recovery will be dramatically reduced and bouncing back from a long run may take another day or two limiting how much you can train the following week.

I’ve always prioritized sleep, but until I made high-quality rest a regular habit, I experienced more injuries and fewer runs where I felt unstoppable.

Over the last several years, my diet has also undergone a significant change. The result? I feel like superman on most days!

Just the other day I was telling my wife that I feel like I’m firing on all cylinders. My energy is through the roof. My recovery is at an all-time high.

The nutrition changes have given me all-new perspectives on what’s possible if you can dial in the right fueling, nutrition, and diet.

Soon I’m going to be diving into more detail about these changes, specifically showing you:

  • The same nutrition mistake most runners make over and over again (and why it’s stopping them from reaching their goal weight)
  • A different approach to diet that doesn’t require a standard “diet” (no calorie counting or measuring your food!)
  • Specific recipes, pre-run meals and snacks, and how to re-fuel your runs with nutrient dense food for maximum recovery

There’s a lot more brewing at Strength Running HQ, but for now that’s a quick peak into what’s coming next month.

Until then, I want to share my newest focus: general activity levels.

“All I have to do is run… right?”

For years, I thought that “if I ran, I’m being healthy.” I was so naive – this thinking is seriously flawed.

The problem is that while running is indeed very healthy, it’s just a small part of the puzzle when it comes to exercise and overall health.

I’ve written before about the perils of prolonged sitting and how it can cause a host of health problems:

  • higher cholesterol and blood glucose levels
  • higher risk of type 2 diabetes
  • weight gain
  • women can start losing bone mass after years of a sedentary lifestyle

The startling caveat to all these health problems (and I’m only scratching the surface) is that they occur even if you run every day.

Simply stated: running does not justify a sedentary lifestyle.

If you get up every morning for a run, but then sit down for eight hours at work and then watch television for 2-3 hours at night, you are not “cancelling out” the effects of all that sitting.

Sitting is like smoking cigarettes. It’s unhealthy no matter what else you do in your life and no amount of running “undoes” the terrible habit of smoking.

Modern life – and the countless opportunities to park our rear in a seat – are not helping us live vibrant, healthy lives. This is why I devote an entire section of my injury prevention strategy to undoing the effects of our modern lifestyles.

This has been the final piece to my lifestyle overhaul: trying to sit down less.

And recently I got a FitBit Charge to help me with this new quest.

Move More, Live Longer

If you’re like me, you want to maximize the number of years you spend on this little planet. And a moderate amount of daily activity (in addition to regular exercise) is an integral part of living a long life.

My new FitBit is helping me increase my daily activity levels. By measuring a host of metrics, I can see how much I typically move so I can begin making changes. Remember:

“What gets measured gets managed.” – Peter Drucker

The FitBit measures:

  • Daily number of steps
  • Flights of stairs climbed
  • Distance covered
  • Calories burned (based on height, weight, and activity levels)

It also has a host of other features, including a vibrating alarm (no more jarring alarm clock, with the exception of my toddler…), sleep tracker, and a ridiculous 7-10 day battery life (you can see more features here).

More important than any of its features, it lets me easily and quickly see how much I’m moving. Typically I average about 4,500 steps per day in addition to running and about 10 flights of steps.

It helps that I walk my daughter to day care every morning before I run. This walk is nearly a mile and adds a good chunk of steps to my daily total.

What the FitBit doesn’t talk about in its marketing is the psychology of wearing a device like this. Yes, it tracks all kinds of stuff I’m really interested in seeing every day.

But just by making me more aware of these metrics, I’m taking all sorts of steps (pun intended) to change my daily behavior.

Take having a home office for example (which you can see in any Q&A with Coach episode). This is incredibly convenient since I have no commute, but it also means I don’t have to move very much throughout the day.

So I’m doing things differently now. About every hour I’m taking a short break for a few minutes of household chores. This actually results in higher productivity since I don’t fall into a rut behind my desk – and my wife certainly isn’t complaining when the toys are put away and the kitchen is clean.

With my home gym equipment, I’ll also do a few chin ups to get my heart going throughout the day.

And since I know how many steps I should be taking every day (about 10,000!), I’m more likely to suggest family activities that include more walking if my daily steps are low.

The FitBit is helping me understand my daily activity levels so I can improve my overall health – without having to make any significant changes to my lifestyle.

Build Your Own Health Pyramid

Of course, I’m under no illusion that walking a few thousand more steps every day will help my running. I doubt that will happen.

But running is just a piece of leading a healthy lifestyle, something I’m very passionate about for my own well-being and for my family.

And understanding my overall activity levels was the first step to improving them, thanks to this neat piece of wearable technology.

Today, I have a challenge for you: estimate the sturdiness of your own health pyramid.

Are you missing a key element of a healthy lifestyle? How can you improve one area of your life that could help you become a better runner?

Leave a comment below telling me what your #1 area for improvement is – and what you’ll do to improve.

I’m curious what my readers need help with, so leave your comment now and I’ll write more about these topics!

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The worst injury I ever had was a severe case of illiotibial band syndrome (ITBS). For six months, I suffered from constant IT band pain and didn’t run a step.

Illiotibial band syndrome

My fascination with this injury led me to develop the ITB Rehab Routine (the video has been viewed nearly 200,00 times!) and write several in-depth articles on the injury:

My recovery from illiotibial band syndrome led me to dramatically revamp my training and start this site. Since getting healthy, I’ve run a significant marathon personal best and numerous annual mileage records.

More importantly, I’ve helped many of YOU recover from your own IT band pain. Many of the training plans I write are actually rehabilitation programs for ITBS.

And Strength Running’s flagship program Injury Prevention for Runners includes a detailed, step-by-step treatment (plus Q&A and myths about the injury exposed) for ITBS.

So far, about 1,000 runners have been helped through these two programs. In fact, Injury Prevention for Runners is the most comprehensive injury prevention and treatment program on the market right now.

But today I want to give you a new perspective on this injury.

I invited Eric Stermer from Red Mules Running to talk about his own illiotibial band syndrome injury: how he got hurt, what worked, and the steps he took to get healthy.

Eric studied Kinesiology at SUNY Cortland and has personal bests of 24:59 for 8k cross country, 14:59 for 5k, and 4:20 for the mile. He is also a USATF-certified coach and an ISSA certified personal trainer.

Take it away, Eric!

Eric’s Illiotibial Band Syndrome Story

Jason and I both have an unfortunate commonality: we’ve experienced a debilitating ITB injury.

Not only did the injury end my last season in a Cortland singlet, it kept me from enjoying time with my wife (who I was dating at the time) and doing my job as a camp counselor.

I remember I could hardly walk, dance, ride a bike, or cross train… never mind run.

The injuries that I suffered in my career up to that point were Achilles tendinopathy, tibial stress fractures, “runners knee” and minor muscle strains. These usually put me out of running for about 6-12 weeks.

But my IT band syndrome put me out for 20 weeks before I could even function normally, and then another three months before I could return to running.

I almost gave up on running for good.

Fortunately, four years later, I am still going after it and not giving up.

In my 13+ years of running I have learned about training, workouts, nutrition, good habits and race tactics, but injury prevention has been a new adventure of mine since the ITB injury that ended my college career.

I believe I have uncovered a few reasons why I got illiotibial band syndrome and would like to share three new exercises to prevent it from returning ever again.

IT Band Syndrome Cause #1: Too Fast, Too Soon

Jason talks about why runners get injured in his injury prevention program, explaining that many runners run “Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon.”

I was a culprit of this training mistake.

Just before I got illiotibial band syndrome, I ran a championship race indoors in which I was attempting to qualify for nationals in the 5k, when I unexpectedly turned my ankle on my own teammates heel two laps into the race.

My ankle swelled up like crazy, forcing me to drop out of the race.

Bummed that I ended my indoor season like that, I took four days off from running to let the swelling go down. After those 4 days I wrapped it up and got right into my speed workouts for the outdoor track season: a series of interval workouts over hurdles.

This clearly was more than I should have done, and at such a fast pace so soon after turning my ankle.

After two weeks of these types of workouts I injured my IT band.

I remember cooling down after finishing a great workout and all of a sudden, the outside of my knee became so painful that I couldn’t even walk!

If I had just been a little more patient, taken more time off and eased back into the workouts, I could have ran my final season in a Cortland singlet.

IT Band Syndrome Cause #2: Weak Hips And Banked Roads

My injury occurred just after the indoor track season, which usually ends in February. Running in upstate New York at this time of year confines most runners to the roads.

Roads are banked for water run-off (this banking is called the road’s camber). Running on the road’s camber causes your hip to drop on the leg closer to the curb.

This unfortunate reality of road running lengthens the band at either the insertion or origin. This lengthening can over-stress the tendon and with repetition over time, can cause illiotibial band syndrome.

It didn’t help that I was doing ZERO hip strengthening exercises (or core work for that matter), which is the best way to deter ITBS. Stronger hips could have been more resilient to ITBS when I was forced to run on the roads.

The confinement to the cambered roads and my lack of preventative work merely primed me for the unfortunate injury that was to follow.

3 Extra Exercises To Recover And Prevent ITB Syndrome

The best way to prevent and heal IT Band pain is to strengthen the hips, including the gluteus medius and tensor fascia latae. It’s also critical to correct any biomechanical problems with chiropractic adjustments or running gait education.

Jason has a great ITB Rehab Routine to help strengthen weak hip abductor muscles. But, to mix it up a little bit,  I have 3 wall exercises for you to use in addition to his routine.

1. Windshield Wipers: The first exercise is a variation of the Lateral Leg Raise demonstrated in Jason’s routine. The difference is your starting position. Instead of starting with your ankles together while laying on your side, you are going to extend your leg back at a 10o-20o angle pressing back against a wall, then proceed with your raise.

To make this exercise harder, you can press a stability ball against the wall when you extend your leg back.

2. Isometric Glute Medius Hold: This exercise requires a wall to lean against. Stand with your shoulders perpendicular to the wall. With your outside foot about 2 feet from the wall, pick up the inside foot making a right angle at your hip. Rotate your flexed leg so that your knee presses against the wall. Lean a little into the wall and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Make sure to keep your hips level.

3. Hip Banger: Stand with your shoulders perpendicular to the wall, feet shoulder width apart with your inside foot about six inches from the wall. First, squat till your knees are almost at a 9o° angle, extending your arms out in front of you.

While in the squatting position, rotate your shoulders and hips away from the wall while trying to touch your hip to the wall. Return to neutral and then stand up straight. If you’re still experiencing IT band pain, skip this exercise.

Here is a video demonstration of these three exercises:

Lessons Learned From Illiotibial Band Syndrome

In junior college, my coach always used to say that “running is all about the silence between the notes.”

He meant that focusing on the details while you’re not running is what makes you a better runner:

Years later I realized that it also meant preventative work and careful planning to be able to continue running.

As we all know, you get better at running… by running.

If you’re halted by an injury, it’s going to set you back in your development as a runner.

Jason puts it best with these two coaching tips:

Fast running is the product of very smart training and diligent injury prevention work. It doesn’t interfere with running. It enables running. And indeed, smart prevention is really smart training.”

and,

If you think you have no time for prevention work, you’ll sooner or later have to find time for injuries.” <– Click here to tweet that!

Sometimes I wonder how fast I could have been in high school and college if I had just followed that type of guidance.

It is my hope that you find this information useful to keep you healthy, to stay on the roads longer, and run faster than you ever have before.

Eric Stermer is the owner of Red Mules Running blog and has been a runner for 13+ years. He has been a part of multiple championships including the 2008 NCAA DIII National Championship Cross Country team at SUNY Cortland.

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The Ultimate Guide to Winter Running: How to Make Running in Cold Weather Actually Enjoyable

December 8, 2014

Tweet The winter of 2007 was one of the worst running experiences of my life. Every weekday, my blaring alarm woke me at 5:00am sharp. After putting on 37 layers of running gear, I left the house for an average run of 12 miles (I was running about 85 miles per week at the time)… […]

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Women’s New Balance Minimus 10v2 Trail Shoe Review: “Like a Slipper”

December 4, 2014

Tweet As you know, I’ve published quite a few running shoe reviews over the years. But there’s a big limitation to my reviews: they’re written by me (a guy, in case you haven’t noticed) and they review men’s shoes. Obviously, this is somewhat necessary. But my reviews then take a biased look at only the men’s version […]

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Q&A with Coach, Bundle Sales, and… I’m hiring!

December 1, 2014

Tweet There’s so much good stuff happening today that I feel like a coach cheering his head off during the final lap of a race. I’m just so excited! I have a lot of announcements (this will be like a Team Meeting) so read on… First, today brings an all-new episode of Q&A with Coach, where […]

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The Holiday Running Gift Guide (and SR’s first t-shirt!)

November 24, 2014

Tweet When I recently asked which type of runner you were on Facebook, most identified with the gear junkie: But running gear isn’t something I discuss much at Strength Running because I think you can train effectively without any fancy gadgets. Learning to run by feel or by “performance-based paces” is superior to relying on a […]

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How to Treat Adrenal Fatigue: The Hidden Cause of Over-Training

November 20, 2014

Tweet In 2004, my wife Meaghan was having a terrible cross country season. No matter what she tried, her running performances kept getting worse. Workout splits got slower. She felt exhausted, stressed, and couldn’t sleep. The muscle aches she thought were from training kept her up at night. After talking with her coach, seeing the […]

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Why We Love Running (in pictures)

November 17, 2014

Tweet Runners enjoy certain perks that non-runners will never experience. In an hour, we can explore a national park or city that would take days to see if we weren’t running. The process of exploration is much faster; it’s even helped me discover glaciers, hidden trails, and volcanos that I never would have seen. But our love […]

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The Reverse Taper: How to Return to Running After a Marathon

November 12, 2014

Tweet As a coach, I’m most nervous during the two weeks after a marathon. Aerobic fitness remains high but the body is still reeling from the aftermath of racing 26.2 miles. The injury risk is significantly higher post-marathon, when the heart and lungs are in great shape but your “structural fitness” is weak. If you’re coming off […]

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Q&A with Coach Episode 3: The Art of the Race Warm-up

November 6, 2014

Tweet Have you ever done a piss poor warm-up before a race… and then felt terrible a few minutes after the gun fired? I’m not surprised. Without a proper warm-up, your heart rate will be too low when you start and your muscles will be tight – right when you need them to work their […]

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