A few weeks ago, one of my clients asked if she could give one of her training sessions to her daughter Heather (not her real name) who is running her first marathon in October (Marine Corps Marathon). Heather had already built up her long-run to sixteen miles, but wanted me to check out her running form and discuss a few issues of concern.
I addition to working with Heather, I also had a long conversation with another marathoner this summer. He lost 50 pounds as he trained for his first marathon last fall and is currently training for his second marathon in October. His question is the last one at the bottom of the page.
If you have any questions you’d like for me to address in a future Ask Coach Deb, please send your training and running questions my way by commenting below.
Question: Would you check my running form?
Coach Deb: I had Heather run back and forth in front of me a few times while trying not to change her running form or think about me filming her (it’s not easy). While watching the video, I stopped the frames so she could see her stride and how she lands on her toes. When I asked how her calves feel, she confirmed that she has tightness and pain after her longer runs.
We went over the four components of correct running form from my Coaching Tab:
Posture – Runners should stand tall with their core engaged, keeping their back straight (not rounded) while pivoting forward slightly from the hips to utilized gravity’s pull. Runners should breath comfortably while looking ahead about a car length.
Stride Length – Most average sized runners can expect to have 160 to 180 steps per minute. Over-striding causes the body to stay airborne longer resulting in a harder landing, while under-striding results in a shuffle. Since both over and under-striding result in inefficient running, these runners can correct their stride simply by changing up their cadence to the recommended 160 to 180 steps per minute.
Arm Position and Swing – The upper body should be relaxed with the shoulders down, the arms bent to 90° at the elbows, and the hands loosely cupped as if holding a fragile item. Arm swing should be front-to-back, not side-to-side.
Foot Strike – The desired foot strike for a runner is that of an active foot where the heel and mid-foot hit the ground first before rolling forward to push off from the toe. For best form and optimal efficiency, the foot should land closer to the body, as opposed to reaching farther away leading to exaggerated heel striking.
While going over correct running form, I reminded Heather to be careful changing up her form too drastically because she could create a whole new set of pains and issues. I suggested changes should practiced during shorter runs and preferably between training cycles.
Question: I’m having trouble fueling during my long runs because most of the stuff I’ve purchased at the running store is too sweet. What can I do?
Coach Deb: Try fueling with real food instead of prepackaged gels or blocks. Consider fig newtons (affiliate link), nuts, raisins (affiliate link), other dried fruit, etc. In addition to water, Gatorade (affiliate link) will be available at all twelve water stops along the MCM course. If you don’t like it or your stomach doesn’t do well with Gatorade, be sure to come prepared with your own sports drink. Whenever running a race, check in advance to see what sports drink they serve so there are no surprises on race day.
Question: My plan only takes me to one 20-mile run. I read that it would give me more confidence to run a 22 or 24-miler before the race. How can I fit another long run into my plan?
Coach Deb: Since Heather was already up to a 16-mile long run and still had three months to go until race day, and had just started repeating Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan, I suggested she merge it with his Novice 2 plan. I suggested that since she has a good base, she can skip ahead a few weeks to allow more time for two 20-22 mile runs. Another option for one of the long runs is to run 20 miles in the morning and head back out for 4 miles later in the day if she wants to try a 24 mile training run without doing it all at once.
Question: I’ve experienced pelvic floor pain after my run and into the next day, but it usually goes away within 36-48 hours. What should I do?
Coach Deb: I recommended Heather see her doctor if the pain persists because a week pelvic floor can lead to serious complications (she’s had three babies). I also recommended that she do Kegel exercises on their own and while doing her core exercises; in other words, don’t just tighten and pull the core muscles in toward the spine, but also pull the pelvic floor muscles up toward the spine.
Question: What other exercises should I be doing to compliment my running?
Coach Deb: Heather is already taking some strengthening classes at her gym so I had her try the following exercises to add in to her already well-rounded workouts.
- Side step-ups
- Walking lateral lunges
- Single-leg squates
- Single-leg Romanian dead lifts
- Goblet squats
Question: My doctor told me to carry 50 pounds in a backpack to mimic the weight I’ve lost so it will be easier to run on race day without the extra weight. What do you think?
Coach Deb: This is contrary to everything I’ve learned. Extra weight puts a strain on our bodies, specifically our joints which already work extremely hard carrying us through a marathon. A reduction in body weight takes that stress off of our joints, so there’s no good reason to add that weight back on.
For answers to other questions you might have missed, check out my Coaching tab for previous Ask Coach Deb installments.
- What do you use to fuel with during your longer runs?
- Female runners, have you experienced pelvic floor pain while running or walking?
- What questions would you like to see answered next time?
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Great info! There are some gels that work well for me, but lately I’ve been using raisins on my runs. I’ve never had pelvic floor pain and I’m hoping to avoid any problems with that post-pregnancy by doing pelvic floor exercises now!
Mentioning raisins makes me think of craisins and what a yummy fuel they would be!
You’re smart to be doing your pelvic floor exercises now.
I am working on my stride and cadence as well to deal with calf pain. It’s not easy to make changes!
How is it coming along?
Raisins and gummy bears are the best on the run for me.
That weight in a backpact advice sounds nutso — how does that not bang against your lower back and cause more pain?
I know, right?
Totally agree with that last one. That sounds a bit silly to be honest! I’ve lost weight and I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be training with it all back on.
Could you imagine carrying that backpack?
Great advice! I carried dried apricots and almonds for my last marathon, and they were great. Much better than the too-sweet, chemical, packaged stuff they sell for race nutrition!
Yummm, dried apricots sound like a great choice (almonds, too).
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