Long Runs, Shin Splints, and Plyometrics: Strength Running PR Guide Preview
Posted Jan 23 2012 9:42am
Have you ever had a burning question about running, but didn’t know who to ask?
I surveyed hundreds of runners and answered all of your important questions about training, running gear, pacing, and more. The result is the Strength Running PR Guide, a 46 page guide that’s free for runners on my private email list.
Today, I want to offer a preview and unveil five questions of the 35+ in the PR Guide. Enjoy!
Why is it that for most races, it is recommended to run a long run of a greater distance than the race itself but then for marathons, training plans max out long runs at 20-22 miles? People hit the wall at 20 miles – is that because they’ve never run further? Is the ideal training really different for higher mileage races such as marathons and ultras?
Shorter races in the 5k – 10k range are by definition relatively short, so it’s fairly easy for most runners to run longer than these race distances on their long run (and often, for many other runs during the week). When you start training for the marathon, however, you approach a race distance so long that the wear and tear on the body is too great to run longer during training. Even professional marathoners rarely run more than 22-25 miles in training. The risk of injury and the compromises in training you would need to make for several days after a 26+ mile long run are too great to make it a standard part of any training plan.
People “hit the wall” around the 20 mile mark because of fueling issues – in other words, they come close to using all of the stored sugar in their muscles. Your body can only store roughly 2,000 calories worth of glycogen (sugar) in the muscles, blood, and liver – which is enough to carry you roughly 20 miles. You can increase the distance you can run without hitting the wall by training and taking in carbohydrates during the race. For ultramarathons, consistent fueling is mandatory to just finish the race.
How do I get over the middle part of a race where I always slow down?
Ah, the essence of successful racing! I wish there was an easy answer for this question. If you’re slowing down in the middle of a race but not at the end, then that probably means it’s not an endurance problem. Being able to run strong at the end of a race means you have a solid aerobic foundation that enables you to hold a fast pace when you’re fatigued.
Slowing down in the middle of the race could be because of several reasons:
You went out too fast. Races aren’t won in the first two minutes, but they can be lost. It’s fine to run faster in the first several minutes or mile of a race than your goal pace, but don’t go overboard or you’ll pay the consequences later.
You could lack confidence and the mental toughness to hold on to your pace. Improving confidence can be done by running race-specific workouts, exposing yourself to race pain more frequently, and successful training.
Not enough race pace running in your training. Your body will be shocked when it tries to run race pace if you never do it in training. Specificity is key.
How should I set my race strategy for a hilly race? I have heard that even or negative splits are best, but when there is a substantial hill (or more) later in the race, how much slower should my pace be per mile? What if the first mile is entirely downhill?
Hilly races will certainly slow you down and require a different race strategy. Instead of monitoring every split like clockwork, realize that hills will slow you down and move on. Pace is less important than effort, so race based on perceived effort. If your effort level is a 9 on a flat section, keep that same effort level on a steep hill or a longer, more gradual hill. The effort level will be the same but each will be a different pace.
Now for some hill strategy: one of the best pieces of advice I ever received about racing hills is to never attack a hill when you first start climbing. Instead, keep an even effort for the first two-thirds of the hill and then surge over the last one-third and briefly when you crest the summit. This is a more advanced technique, but it’s very useful in pulling away from competitors around you.
When races start downhill, you can afford to run a bit faster than your goal pace. Aerobically, you won’t be over-taxed. Be careful with pounding your legs on a steep section, though. Downhills can beat your legs up if you’re overzealous.
Do you recommend any plyometrics to improve strength? If so, which plyometric exercises do you recommend?
I am very weary of plyometrics for two reasons:
They need to be done with superb form or the risk of injury is very high.
Even when done correctly, they are explosive and high-impact exercises that can unnecessarily raise the risk of injury.
For beginner and intermediate runners, I’d prefer that they do strength exercises, core exercise, and running form drills instead of plyometrics. Read more about the strength and core routines I recommend. You can get very similar results without that injury risk. In fact, I myself don’t do any classic plyometric drills. It’s just not worth it in my opinion.
If you do really want to do plyometrics, my suggestion is to do them with a partner who knows how – she can evaluate your form and give you suggestions on how to improve. Some of the best plyometrics include box jumps, squat jumps, bounding, zigzag hops, and tuck jumps. As with any new training stress, start with just 1-2 exercises and perform only a few repetitions until your body is comfortable with the new movement.
Can core fix my shin splints?
Probably not. Certainly not directly, but it depends on why you’re getting shin splints in the first place. It’s possible your shins are sore because you heel strike as a result of over-striding. Certain core exercises could help you keep a more erect posture and compact form while running. This could reduce your over-striding and lessen your shin splints.
More likely, correcting your running form, running on softer surfaces, and making sure not to increase your volume/intensity too quickly will help lessen your shin pain. Minimalist shoes can help also, as they usually make runners increase their cadence and reduce over-striding.
This is just a tiny sample of the 35+ questions and answers that make up the Strength Running PR Guide. The book is free and available to anybody on my private email list. To get your copy, sign up here or in the box below.