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August 9, 2015

Take your time ramping up for the fall racing season

The temperatures are hot; and it is hard to put in the miles and pace work for runners.

The problem is that, if a runner is planning on running a marathon in December, the training has to start in a very short time. It can be a slow build-up of miles in August; but to run a comfortable marathon, the training takes about 12 weeks or more to run a good time and not crash near the end.

I was reading some of Allan Besselink’s book, “RunSmart, A Comprehensive Guide to Injury Free Running,” this week; and a few points made me think about runners trying to step up their training for the long-distance season coming in a couple of months.

His premise is that injuries come from a runner not balancing the rate of application of training loads with the rate of recovery and adaptation to those loads. Besselink is stating that a runner who starts adding more miles during the week, or adding more speed work in their training program, needs to allow time for the body to adapt to this increase in workload and rest up a little.

Not heeding this advice back in my marathon-running days, I seem to recall that if I was going to have an injury, or come down with an illness, it was almost always the week before the marathon when I was putting in my longest miles and extra speed work. I needed that advice many years ago, before books on proper training were popular.

A lot of runners think that injuries come from poor mechanics, wrong choice of shoes or not eating the right food. All of these can cause an injury or poor training performance, but not to the extent that not allowing the body to adapt to the training load can.

Good mechanics are essential, such as keeping an upright posture versus leaning forward at the waist; feet pointing to the front and not splayed out to the side; or too much rotation in the chest and shoulders instead of movement with the arms in a pendulum motion.

Besselink makes mention that the arm motion that helps pick up the pace is the backward force of the arm, rather than the forward thrust. The principle of Newton’s Laws of Motion, “For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction,” is that if you have a backward motion of the arm, you will have a forward reaction of the legs.

If your legs are tired, he suggests concentrating on the arm motion and moving them faster. The legs will follow suit. His statement that “form follows function” seems to fit here also.

While good mechanics and a proper shoe for your running style is important, the point is also that there are many forms that work for runners. Most runners can look at a buddy coming toward them from a long distance away and say, “That looks like Joe, or Sam, or Mary” by recognizing their running form.

Bill Rodgers was one of the best marathon runners ever; and yet he was recognized by one arm making a circular motion while the other was moving back and forth in a straight line. According to the action/reaction law, that meant that his opposite leg was probably out of line somehow. Yet he was still the fastest and won many marathons.

Some runners bring their hands up high, almost to their shoulders, when they run. Others hold the hands down low around their hips. Some like to clench their hands in a fist; others have open hands, and still others have limp hands that flop around. All of them may possibly be good runners who can run fast.

I have seen some faster runners who have what I call a “shuffle gait,” where it looks like they are running on ice with very little knee lift. I recall looking at several of them as they passed me in a race.

Wolff’s Law states that the body will adapt to the stresses placed on it. Put extra stress on a bone, and it will get stronger. The same is true for muscles, ligaments and tendons.

A runner may have a slight biomechanical error, but their body will adapt to it; and as long as they allow adaptation to take place, they can run injury-free.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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