Q&A with Coach: Shoes & Injuries, How to Beat Achilles Pain, and Two More

by Jason Fitzgerald

I received a concerning email yesterday from a runner who was suffering a knee injury. “Caitlin” told me:

“I’ve had several different coaches and running workshops. You need more cushiony shoes. You need less cushiony shoes. Go heel-toe. Go midfoot. Lean forward. Don’t lean forward. I’m confused and overwhelmed.”

Unfortunately, I see these types of emails often. It perfectly illustrates that most runners are confused – often by poor training advice.

Through 13+ years of running experience at a fairly competitive level, coaching, and the growing list of running books I’m constantly reading, I have a solid grasp on the training that works.

So today I want to highlight some of the questions I’ve received recently and my answers. My hope is that you can apply this to your own training.

Let’s get into it!

Running Shoes

 

Do running shoes prevent injuries?

I have a question on picking the right running shoe. How much does selecting the right shoe have on injury prevention? I have seen many articles that downplay the importance of selecting the right shoe but I’m not sure what to think.

Running shoe selection is very personal, but some general advice is that the majority of runners don’t need bulky motion control shoes or “stability” shoes. Most will do fine in neutral trainers and should wear minimalist shoes sparingly

In terms of injury prevention, like I mentioned above, a neutral shoe works best. Rotating 2-3 (or more) different shoes helps stress your legs and feet in various ways: different heel height, arch support, flexibility, firmness, weight, etc. Several shoe models that I personally wear are listed on my Running Resources page.

So by changing those variables, you’re stressing your lower legs and feet in different ways. It’s another way to help prevent injuries by reducing the repetitive nature of your training.

Keep in mind it’s only one small part of an overall injury prevention plan. Other factors like mileage, strength exercises, recovery, etc. are bigger players in injuries.

The best advice is to find a shoe that you are most comfortable in and use that for the majority of your training. You can alternate other pairs when you can.

What can I do to treat my calf pain…besides spending a fortune on PT?

“I’ve begun experiencing recurring pain and tightness in my calves and achilles both during and after a run.  The pain usually starts after roughly 30 minutes depending upon my pace and will last for a couple of days after the run.

I regularly do your warm-up routine and other core workouts in addition to running and no amount of stretching or rolling seems to alleviate the problem.  It’s really starting to pi$$ me of and I’ve resorted to booking myself in with a physio!

Before I go down the route of spending a small fortune on the physio is there anything, based upon your experience, that I can try or concentrate my efforts on?”

My first thought is that you may want to look at your form to see if you’re running high up on your toes. If so, focus on a relaxed footstrike that has you land flat footed (neither heel-striking or landing on the ball of your foot). I’m a mild heel striker so it’s not a game changer, but flat foot landing is best.

Remember some basics when it comes to good form:

  • Run tall – no slouching
  • Try to land with your foot underneath your body – no over-striding
  • Keep your cadence at least 170+ (170 or more steps per minute)

If you have a mild strain or your calves are always tight, avoid static stretching. Because of the way we stretch the calf, most runners over-stretch beyond what’s required of the calf during exercise. Instead, use a foam roller and ice to alleviate the tenderness. My favorite way to ice the lower legs is to dunk them into a cooler or bucket of ice water.

You may also want to strengthen your calves and soleus’ with eccentric calf drops. These are basically the opposite of a heel raise: instead, you lower your calf from a raised position.

Check out this Sports Injury Bulletin article that describes a specific heel drop strengthening protocol: http://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/archive/achilles-tendinitis.html. I used this exact workout for treating achilles tendonitis about 7 years ago and it worked in a matter of days.

How should my training change as I age?

I’m 51 years old and I’ve been running since high school track. Are there additional guidelines that are age appropriate besides the general philosophy on Strength Running?

[This specific question was referencing the Strength Running Philosophy, a three-part email series that you get when you subscribe to my private email list.]

For older runners, put more emphasis on strength workouts (either in the gym or body weight exercises) and recovery. Heavy weight exercises might be too difficult so the body weight routines can help with injury prevention and keeping up muscle mass – which declines with age. Both body weight and gym exercises are detailed extensively in the Rebel Strength Guide – which I’ve personally used.

You likely can’t recover as quickly from a harder workout or race so make sure you take it very easy the day after and don’t try to cram in more quality running just to “get in the miles.”

Many older runners have found success with limiting the easy running they do and focusing on two quality days (workouts) per week and one long run. Always listen to your body and adjust if you’re sore or fatigued.

Otherwise, I think a well-balanced training plan holds true for any runner, despite their age.

How do I plan my base building period of training?

I have found a lot of information regarding base building periods for running, and some say that increasing mileage and intensity at the same time is a bad idea, and you should only do unstructured runs during this training block.  I have also read that some workouts are necessary, but the focus should be on the long run.  How should I run during my base period?  Should it not include structured workouts, or are some workouts necessary when building an aerobic base?

In a general sense, you want to be very careful increasing both volume and intensity at the same time. That’s a lot of change and it’s more likely to result in an injury. Instead, increase your mileage to your goal mileage while only doing short workouts or “mini workouts” as I like to call them.

One caveat is that you can probably increase both mileage and intensity if each are increasing by only a small amount. For example, if your weekly mileage is 30 and you’re doing one workout this week of 5x800m on the track, you can increase both gradually. Try increasing your mileage to 32 and adding one more 800m interval to your workout.

When you’re training for a lengthy race like a 10 miler, always focus on the long run! Most runners need more endurance (in other words, that’s the part of your fitness that’s most lacking), so learn to love the long run as a great tool for getting faster.

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Thank you to everyone who emailed me a question! While I can’t get to every single question I receive, I’m going to start putting them here on the blog to help other runners with similar questions. You can email me anytime at support@strengthrunning.com.

What’s your running question? Leave one in the comments!

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{ 19 comments }

Greg Strosaker

I can vouch for the heel drop protocol, really helped with my achilles issues in a matter of days as well. Unfortunately, I’d recommend not doing them barefoot, as that may contribute to plantar fascitis (now to research cures for plantar fascitis).

Jason

You can’t seem to catch a break huh? May I recommend…my own advice? :) http://strengthrunning.com/2011/10/cure-plantar-fascitiis/

Greg Strosaker

Thanks, I’d forgotten you’d written that, I’m already doing most of it except the marbles/towel scrunching, will give that a go. Honestly, I don’t think it’s too bad, hoping to do some trial runs in the next few days. But recalibrating spring marathon plans as I was looking at having to accelerate things and instead had to take time off. May just do a spring half-marathon and save up for the flat Towpath Marathon again in the fall (not sure I want to risk the hill training needed for Akron).

Kierthi

Jason, I’ve been faithfully following your website ever since I found it. Keep up the great work!

I have one pet peeve (I cant stop myself, sorry) – all your hyperlinks open up in the same page as your article. It would be nicer if it would open up in a separate page/tab.

Jason

Thanks Kierthi. I used to have all links open in different tabs, but I since learned that that actually goes against standard site conventions. Most readers (but not all) expect the page to change when they clink a link. Not all though… can’t make everyone happy!

Matt Grant

If you either click on the link with ctrl + left click, or the middle mouse button it will open the link in a new tab anyway.

World_Runner

Wow! Thanks for that info about the calf pain and Achilles exercises. The symptoms described there are almost exactly what I have been experiencing since my marathon last October. I am going to give this a go for 12 weeks and see what happens.

You mentioned the foam roller. What sorts of exercises/types of rolling do you recommend? How often should I be using the foam roller?

Thanks for the great info.

Jason

Just simple rolling on any sore muscle that you have. You can use it every day, but try to limit yourself to less than 5 minutes per muscle or else you’ll get pretty sore. Enjoy!

Danny

I can absolutely vouch for the advice RE calf and achillies pain. Just over two weeks in following this advice and I’m seeing a DRAMATIC improvement.

In particular, I think working on foot placement when it lands and switching from static to eccentric stretching has really helped.

Jason

Thanks Danny, glad they’re working for you!

Mark e

Calf issues suck

jen

i have a question: i have chronic and sometimes acute achilles tendonitis. i have started wearing compression socks (CEP) and they work great, but i am wondering if the calf sleeve that CEP makes will also help. i’d like to wear it during yoga and for lifting. are the sleeves beneficial to the achilles?

Jason

Hi Jen – if the socks are helping, then the calf sleeves will provide similar benefits. The sleeves stop right at the ankle so you don’t get compression at the bottom of the achilles and foot, but in other ways they’re about the same thing. I love my pair of CEP sleeves so you may too.

Matthew

Hi,
I am having trouble with my patella tendons. I understand that gaining strength and flexibility in the hips and gluets will help and I am doing a lot of these exercises now, but what can I do to heal these tendons? I run mid foot at a high cadence and don’t suffer any other problems….but every time I run I end up taking 2 or 3 days off (sometimes more) because of both patella tendons screaming even with icing and patella straps. Help!

Jason Fitzgerald

I emailed you Matthew :)

trent

I’ve been bothered by achilles pain for over a month. Took some time off. No results. Tried your advice. Two days later. No pain. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jason Fitzgerald

Awesome!

Kelly

I started experiencing achilles pain about 6 weeks ago. I’ve never had problems with it before so its totally new for me…what a pain it is!!! I immediately took time off. With each attempt at running again I’ve had some tightness and crepitis. I’m currently not having any pain at all..just a little stiff. Anyway, I have foam rolled, iced, rested from running completely, massaged, and done the calf drops. I’ve maintained a pretty strict workout schedule with bootcamps, swimming and cycling. My question is the crepitis and the tightness…is this simply from resting it and not running on it? Again, I’m no longer having pain and had my first 2 miler this morning and felt great. I guess I’m just confused as to when to get back to running and if the tight feeling and crepitis is an indicator that I shouldn’t be running at all or if it will go away as I get back into a normal running routine. Thanks!!

Jason Fitzgerald

A general rule is that if there’s no sharp pain, you can run through stiffness. The crackling feeling is usually scar tissue – massage can help break that up (and time…). Good luck!

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