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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