Love the Treadmill

Generally, most coaches, myself included, only recommend using the treadmill for a portion of runs, or when running outside is unsafe during a training cycle. Given that races are generally held outside on the uneven ground, it’s important to get used to running on uneven ground, with wind resistance, and on courses with turns for best race results. The treadmill doesn’t do a very good job of replicating real race conditions since you can only run evenly in one direction on a nice, soft, smooth surface.

Generally speaking, treadmill running is easier than running outside. The moving belt enables faster leg turnover, making it easier to run faster with lower effort levels. The soft, bouncy surface of the treadmill also doesn’t enable to same soft tissue adaptations as running on a harder surface, so soft tissue injury is a possibility when returning to the road. Finally, there are no adverse circumstances on the treadmill – no weather, no turns, no cracks, no lumps and bumps. The body and mind don’t have an opportunity to adapt to the reality of running in imperfect conditions, on an imperfect surface. There is also a distinct psychological benefit to running outside that has been established in several studies. Research suggests that runners simply enjoy outdoor running more, and feel better after an outdoor run. (Side note: as a mental health professional, I find this super interesting. If you do, too, check out this article and this study – put them in Google Scholar for best results)

That being said, there is no evidence that running on a treadmill is detrimental. There are a number of studies to this effect, and the treadmill is a well-established training tool for runners at every level. Most people accept that treadmill running is just fine if it is done well, with proper mechanics, and in moderation.

If  you’re planning to use the treadmill for a portion of your training, here are some great tips to love the treadmill.

First, monitor your form to avoid injury. It’s hard to love the treadmill if it’s hurting you. It’s best to run most of your treadmill runs at a pace that feels easy and use the treadmill for speed work cautiously. The treadmill enables a runner to program a pace and hold that pace long after the runner tires. Running a too-fast pace when you’re tried on a moving belt can result in over-striding, landing with the foot too far in front of the body. Running a too-fast pace on a moving belt can also result in all manner of problems with running form. Poor form and over-striding can lead to hip, knee, ankle, and hamstring pain. To resolve this, monitor your form and your stride rate. If you stride rate is lower than at the same pace outside, you’re over-striding, using the belt to propel you, and at risk for injury.

Run a variety of runs on the treadmill. It’s temping to run the same pace at the same incline mile after mile, settling into a treadmill routine. The treadmill belt’s flat, smooth, uniform surface ensures that you work your muscles and joints in exactly the same way. Too much of the same is a bad thing and can result in repetitive stress injuries. For treadmill happiness (and less boredom!) change up your run, using the treadmill’s programs, or running a variety of speeds and inclines on each treadmill run. I’ve already posted two of my favorite winter treadmill runs – the SportsCenter run and the college basketball run. Here are two other treadmill runs I love:

  1. Commercial Fartlek – Warm up 10 minutes at an easy pace. When a commercial comes on, increase your pace by 30-60  seconds per mile until the commercial is over, at which time you return to the easy pace. Continue on until you reach the desired mileage or time. Warm down by running 5ish minutes at a 1-0% incline.
  2. Character Fartlek – Warm up 10 minutes at an easy pace. Select a particular character in the show/game. When the character comes on, increase your pace by 30 seconds per mile until the character leaves the scene. If the character speaks or does a target activity in the scene, increase the incline by 1%. Once the character stops speaking or leaves the scene, return to the easy pace. Continue on until you reach the desired mileage or time. Warm down by running 5ish minutes at a 1-0% incline.

Finally, make your treadmill run as much like an outdoor run as possible. Even if you could just pop your water bottle on the console, carry your bottle or wear your belt as you might outside. Wear appropriate running shoes, not beat up old gym shoes, and use the treadmill as an opportunity to mimic race conditions. Practice slowing down to drink if you normally do, or wear a race-day outfit that isn’t appropriate for your outdoor conditions (a great option if you’re like me and race in warm weather conditions on vacation during a frigid winter). The more you can vary your treadmill running, and make that running as close to outdoor running as possible, the safer, and happier you’ll be.

Treadmill running

Beat the Heat!

As I write this post, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the mercury is climbing. It’s humid, hot, and I’m running tonight. In a futile effort to stay cool, I’ve collected some of the best hot weather running wisdom.

1. Modify your runs. First, and most importantly, modify your runs and make adjustments to accommodate the heat. Don’t expect blazing fast times on boiling hot days. Save speed work for cooler days, and cut back on your pace when running in the heat. Consider modifying your training plan to run fewer miles at slower paces for the duration of a heat wave. Be patient and allow yourself to adapt slowly to the heat.

2. Mix it up. Take your runs inside. In the worst heat, consider running on a treadmill or indoor track. Runners World magazines’ online resources include some great suggestions for excellent treadmill workouts, perfect for the hottest of days. Taking speed work inside in hot months ensures that you’re training well, and safely. Consider including more cross training with swimming, surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and cycling. Pool running is a great option for those with handy pool access.

3. Think shade. When the weather’s hot, run your runs in the shade and at the coolest times you can manage. Run early in the morning when the weather is the coolest, or in the evening when breezes are more likely to come up. Run on shaded paths or in neighborhood with trees. Consider plotting a route that takes you past shops or big box stores so you can duck in for a little air conditioning – or bail on the run entirely. Run on the grass or on a trail if you can.

4. Chill out. If you’re planning to run in the heat, take precautions. Wear sunglasses and sunscreen. Wear loose fitting clothing made of wicking material, and as little of it as is reasonable. Wear a hat or visor to keep sun off your face. Some evidence suggests that cooling the extremities before and during hot runs can help, so consider wetting your head, carrying a wet cloth, or even putting ice in your clothes. It’s crazy, but it works. Some runners also swear by drinking an ice cold drink just before the run.

5. Carry water. Hydrate early and often with water and, if necessary, an electrolyte replacement product. Consider your individual hydration needs and plan accordingly. Not sure how much you need to drink? A quick consultation of google will tell you everything you need to know about how to hydrate and what to avoid.

6. Consider your non-running activities carefully. Alcohol, antihistamines, and antidepressants can all have a dehydrating effect. Using them regularly, or before a run, can put you at greater risk of heat-realted illness due to dehydration. Talk with your doctor about how to take your medication, and stay safe in the heat.

Finally, protect yourself. Know the signs of heat-related illnesses and take steps to prevent problems before they start. Here are some of the basic heat-realted illnesses, including their signs and symptoms. As always, consult with your medical professional with regard to heat safety.

Heat cramps:

When dehydration leads to an electrolyte imbalance, large muscles cramp. Restore balance with good hydration and stay well hydrating during runs.

Hyponatremia:

When excessive water intake dilutes blood-sodium levels, headache, disorientation, muscle twitching can result. Emergency medical treatment is necessary. To prevent problems with hyponatremia, don’t drink more than about 32 ounces per hour and consider a sports drink over water. Talk with your medical professional about your hydration needs.

Heat exhaustion;

Dehydration can lead to an electrolyte imbalance that results in a core body temperature of 102° to 104°F. This causes headache, fatigue, profuse sweating, nausea, and clammy skin. Restore balance with good hydration and stay well hydrated during runs. Slowly cool down by applying cool water the the head and neck, seek the shade and get out of the heat.

Heat stroke:

Heat stoke occurs when exertion and dehydration prevent your body from being able to regulate core temperature. Core body temperature can exceed 104° or more. Heat stroke is usually accompanied by headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse and disorientation. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if heat stroke is suspected. Emergency personnel will cool and rehydrate the individual safely. While waiting for help, get out of the heat and cease activity.

Stay cool, my running friends.

It’s in the Manifesto

Stress is related to 99% of all illness.

It’s a line from the Lululemon Manifesto and it couldn’t be more true for me right now. If you’ve been following, I said yes and became a Lululemon Ambassador. I had been planning to blog about the many bits of wisdom in the Lululemon Manifesto, but sickness intervened. Then the idea came to me – I could write about being sick because Lululemon has that one covered. Stress is related to 99% of all illness.

The last few weeks have been stressful – work drama, challenges in my professional life, running injury, and a to do list a mile long. On top of that, I had work travel scheduled. Any time I so much as step foot on a plane, I get sick. There’s something about the whole process that triggers an immune system meltdown. Maybe it’s the stress of packing, or the rush at work just before the trip, or the thousands of people with exotic germs at the airport, or the canned air germ festival on the plane, but the whole thing just makes me instantly ill. Overall, the stress of travel is too much for my feeble immune system. Add in asthma, with lungs that attract every germ within a mile radius, and I’m sick. Again. Time for rest, recovery, and lots of water.

Airport

Fingers are crossed that this illness makes its way out of my life as quickly as it came.

My Poor Fibula

A lot of people have found their way to my blog recently by searching for “stuck fibular head”, “fibular head pain” or some variation. If you’re one of them, welcome. Now that my fibula seems to be done behaving badly, I thought that sharing my experience might help others. Here’s my injury story.

– Side note – the Dr. in DrRachelRuns is a PhD, not a medical doctor, so this post in no way represents medical advice. Talk to your own doctor. The medical kind. And read my disclaimer, below. –

A little over a month ago, I was suddenly struck with intense pain in my leg. The pain was in a weird spot, and it came on just as I was getting out of bed. I thought this was odd because I had run the night before and had a lovely, pain-free run. But, I woke up on Thanksgiving morning with a weird feeling in my leg. Right about here…

leg pain

Undeterred, I set off for my turkey trot. I could barely run the 5k. The pain was not joking around. The next day I tried a walk with my mom. No pain! I attempted a run and within a few steps the pain was back. Crazy, stabbing, tingly nerve pain that only happened when my leg was bent at the knee and my foot was in dorsiflexion. I figured some rest and a massage would be a cure. When that didn’t work, I saw my wonderful athletic trainer who I’ve been working with since I had my gait analysis. He deemed it a problem with my fibular head and suggested physical therapy.

At physical therapy, my therapist agreed with the fibular head diagnosis. Apparently a stuck fibular head is a common problem among athletes. It most often occurs following a high ankle sprain, but can sometimes come on suddenly. Physical therapy focused on mobilizing the poor, stuck head. My therapist taught me how to mobilize it myself, which I proceeded to do about 10 times a day. Here’s a neat video that describes exercises you can do at home.

When two weeks of physical therapy failed to cure me, I decided to try a chiropractor. He was amazing and adjusted the fibula and several bones in my ankle. After four or so chiropractic treatments, I felt cured!

Just to be on the safe side, I contacted KT Tape (makers of the wonderful kinesiotape that I love) about taping options for fibular head tracking problems. Their head taping guy, Joe, suggested a taping application. I tried it and it was very helpful to me. I’m now taping for most long runs just to be safe.

KT Taping

Overall, the injury wasn’t as bad as I had initially feared. I wasn’t too happy about taking an entire week of running, or about the decrease in mileage for several weeks, or the timing so close to the Disney Marathon, but I feel lucky. It could have been much worse. Fingers (and toes) crossed I can stay healthy for a while now.

Happy Holidays!

Dr Rachel Runs has been on hiatus for the last several days to celebrate the holiday season. I hope that each of you have enjoyed a happy holiday time with friends and family.   I hope that you’ve squeezed in some time for fitness with friends and family. Whether it’s a run, a hike, yoga in the park, or just chasing after the little ones, the holidays are a perfect time for fitness.

It’s been a nice, but busy, end of the semester and start of the holiday season for me. For college professors, the real panic of the end of the semester starts after Thanksgiving and the work load increases until the semester ends. This year, our program had the exciting bonus of an end-of-semester visit from audits from our national accrediting body. Life was all about work for a few weeks. Horrible. Luckily, I made it through that with my sanity (at least mostly) intact. I’m so thankful for the end of the semester and the freedom that brings.

My leg has continued to heal and I’ve increased my runs accordingly.  I even managed to squeeze in a 20-mile run just in the nick of time. I’m training for the Disney Marathon (yay!) and had built into my schedule several extra weeks, just in case a winter storm thwarted my running. I was so thankful to have a few extra weeks when injury struck. Somehow, I managed to get back on track and get my 20-miler in just three days later than scheduled. It was a little slower and more painful than I had hoped, but I made it.

20 miles!

It was a huge relief to get in my 20 mile run. I am feeling much more confident about the Disney Marathon. This week, I resumed running normally. It feels amazing. Running normally meant a Sunday trail run, and wonderful runs with friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmas Eve brought sunny skies and excellent weather. Several friends and I met to run on a paved trail with lovely views of the local reservoir.

Dam

Christmas Day, I gathered with friends for a gorgeous, snowy run on a private trail. I brought Lucy, the running dog, and she was delighted to run with her doggy friends. It was a perfect run and made my holiday special.

I have been enjoying time off, time for running, and time with friends. I hope that you’ve been doing the same.

On My Last Nerve

I’ve been kind of quiet lately, and partly that’s due to an injury. I didn’t want to write about it until I had a plan. Plans are important to me and it makes me uncomfortable to have a problem and not have a plan for responding to it. What can I say? I’m a solver. I have to have a plan.

It all started last week. I was in Florida, running and walking my dog and generally on a nice little retreat/vacation. One morning I woke up with this odd pain in my lower leg.

Thinking it was nothing, I decided to go on about my day. I was sure that the pain would subside and all would be well. About 20 feet into my run, the pain started to change from that-feels-weird to stabbing. By a half of a mile, the pain was super not kidding around and it was affecting my gait. I called it quits at one mile to walk and stretch. That didn’t help, so I ended the run. I was sure that I had just slept funny, or tweaked something and it would be better in the morning. The next day my mom and dad returned home and I set out with my mom for a walk. All was well in my leg during the walk, so I was sure it was fine. “I’ll just try a few miles”, I said to myself. I made it about 15 feet before the stabbing pain returned. I immediately stopped running and went home to ice my leg. I didn’t run any more on vacation, but I texted my wonderful massage therapist and emailed my physical therapist/athletic trainer. I’m pretty sure my text said something like “Emergency! Disaster! Leg is popping off!” I secured a massage appointment for about an hour after I would get off the plane.

During the massage, my wonderful massage therapist and I hypothesized about the source of the pain. She was able to easily find the epicenter of pain and suffering and worked on it. I met with my trainer the next day. He confirmed the diagnosis. Something had gone awry with my lateral gastroc and it was pulling on the attachment point where a whole bunch of stuff, including a little bitty nerve, come together. So the crazy, stabbing pain I was feeling was the nerve being compressed. There’s a neat little diagram here. Not so good. I’ve had a week of total rest, one decent run, two massages, one physical therapy appointment, and several terrifying run-ins with Google’s ideas about my injury.

Here’s the plan:

Significantly increase rest. Status: Boo.

PT three times a week. Status: Appointments scheduled; one completed.

Massage. Status: Done. Sports massage weekly until pain subsides, self massage with foam roller and The Stick twice daily.  I’m even carrying around a tennis ball just in case I need a quick mini-massage.

Gradually test leg on runs. Status: So far so good. Here’s hoping it’s tolerable by this weekend for a long run.

I’m determined. I will prevail – and I will run the Disney Marathon in 5 (!) weeks.

WarmFX: Product Review and Giveaway

The nice folks over at BodyGlide have done two great favors for DrRachelRuns. First, they selected this humble blog as the Blog of the Month. Yay! They also offered to send me a sample of their new product, WarmFX, to review. Keep reading for a chance to win your very own WarmFX prize in a great giveaway.

BodyGlide, makers of the anti-chafing balm we all love, recently added WarmFX to their lineup. The product was designed as an anti-pain balm to be used for relief of minor pain and soreness in muscles and joints. Warm FX can be used prior to workouts to speed the warming up of tired or achy muscles. The packaging says it’s safe for daily use and helpful with over-exertion, backache, arthritis, bruises, strains, cramps, and sprains. It sounded like the perfect product for runners.

WarmFX comes in an easy-application tube just like their regular anti-chafing stick. It’s a .45 ounce tube, perfect for travel. It’s important to note that though the packaging is similar to the anti-chafing stick, the cap on WarmFX is red, making it easy to tell the products apart.

I decided to test WarmFX first for recovery on a spot on the outside of my hip that’s often tight and sore. The WarmFX is easy to apply. It is the consistency of deodorant so it goes on smoothly and easily without a sticky feel. The menthol in WarmFX gives it a minty, slightly medicinal scent. It smells like original Double Mint gum and the scent fades upon application. The scent does linger, but it’s quite light and I didn’t find it bothersome.

Immediately upon application, the WarmFX feels smooth and dry. It starts to heat up after about a minute and reached full strength for me in about 3-4 minutes. Given that the more product that’s applied the hotter it gets, I was conservative in my fist application. One easy swipe was noticeably warm, but not quite at a therapeutic level. I tried a few more swipes. One hefty swipe, or two thins coats was plenty for me. After four thin coats it got quite hot and I concluded my test. The heat lasted about an hour in the location I used it. I enjoyed the warming sensation and thought WarmFX did a nice job of relaxing the cranky muscle.

Next, I tried WarmFX on my calves before a run to warm them up. I stayed conservative with one thin swipe of product – there weren’t many options for removal out on the trail if I overdid it. Just barely warm, I liked the heat on my calves. They were noticeably looser on the early hills on the route. It is worth note that the heat of the direct sun plus the WarmFX created a significant warming effect. Use caution if you intend to apply WarmFX to body parts that will be warmed naturally by the sun, or will be warmed under thick clothing. I left my tube of WarmFX in my car during a hot and sunny day and just like the anti-chafe stick, it didn’t melt.

Overall, I liked WarmFX. I liked the scent, I loved the ease of application, and I enjoyed the adjustable strength of custom application. It is a nice product to keep in a running bag for pre- and post-workout use.

Note: Though I was provided the sample to review, I was not otherwise compensated for this review and it represents my honest opinion and experience using the Warm FX product.

Grade: A

Retail price: about $6 for the .45 oz size

And now for the giveaway!

WarmFX Prize – BodyGlide will give away a .45 ounce tube of WarmFX to three followers who comment on this post. To enter, comment on this post with a comment related to sore muscles, WarmFX, or Body Glide. Each commenter will be entered to win and the winner will be selected randomly from all who enter.
Grand Prize – To win a great prize pack which includes all of the BodyGlide products plus a hat, do the following:
1. Like me on Facebook OR follow me on Twitter AND
2. Like BodyGlide on Facebook OR follow them on Twitter AND
3. Comment on this post (in a separate comment from your WarmFX Prize comment) indicating that you followed/liked (or already followed/liked) us.
One lucky winner will be randomly selected to win the prize pack.
Yay!