Back in the day, when I first started running I ignored most of my body’s signals, also known as ‘hotspots’ in the runner’s world. These can be defined as either mild or sharp chronic pain in your knees, IT band, shins, feet, etc. It’s a never-ending list of sensations that are at the very least unpleasant to endure, yet we dismiss them as a common ‘runner’ thing. We push forward and the pain relents after a mile or two – the body just becomes drunk from a runner’s high and hormones to even notice them.
But the problem never goes away completely. When we run longer distances and after all those hormones have settled down, the pain and sensations accumulate and begin to bother us again. Is this natural though? Should we as runners expect to just have to deal with these pains? You might be surprised to hear that it absolutely isn’t natural for running to cause you such pain. You see, there are some underlying issues causing these pains to rear their ugly heads in the first place. If you start to pay attention to the following three problems, you can ease and overcome this unpleasant part of a runner’s life. Correcting these three problems is also one of the best ways to enhance your running performance, period.
It is one of the biggest pet-peeves of many running coaches and fitness industry professionals, including Mobility Wod’s K. Starette, Born to Run author C. McDougall and E. Orton whose book, The Cool Impossible, we reviewed recently.
Heel striking is the leading cause of most running injuries such as the runner’s knee, shin splints, IT band issues, stone-tight hamstrings, etc. The cushioning and the high heel of your running shoes basically act as a cast for your Achilles tendon – it disables the shock to be absorbed by the soft tissue and skeletal muscle groups, especially your gluteus.
How to correct heel striking
The previously mentioned influential coaches all advise to bin the cushioned and high-heeled running shoe. Instead you should get a zero-drop, minimal pair of kicks. You might be skeptical and think that cushion and high drop is exactly what prevents injuries, but this logic is flawed. Our bodies were designed to be constantly moving in random patterns and using our biomechanics to the fullest.
A couple of years ago you could not have found a minimal shoe with a good grip, however these days more brands are introducing zero-drop shoes and especially for OCR. Swapping for a minimal shoe is a major change that will transform your running habits. Once you’re weened off the unnecessary cushioning, running in minimal shoes will strengthen your legs to unseen durability. It will also improve your form and reduce the risk of injury.
Collecting Miles the Hard Way
I used to think I need to ‘collect’ at least 40 miles a week just to be prepared and able to dominate the upcoming race season. This typically resulted in me sacrificing up to 15 hours a week on training. Most of these hours would be further wasted on preparation and logistics.
What does collecting miles refer to exactly? If you aim for numeric mileage value every single week rather than form and quality of training, you will eventually face the following conditions:
- Zero progress and absolute plateus
- Overtraining and stunted recovery. This will manifest through adrenal fatigue, lack of sleep, moodiness and bad performance.
How to fix this
We’ve already talked about collecting miles the smart way, both in past articles as well as in our free ebook – The Optimal Minimal OCR Training Plan which you can check out here.
In short, you don’t need to achieve an X number of miles every week. There is a smarter way to increase your mileage.
Just divide your normal training routines into 3-4 sessions with HIIT intervals, hill runs and endurance runs. Mix it up so that you overreach in a healthy way, rather than overtraining. The fact is, you can achieve the same or better performance by running 50% miles less than you usually might.
In this case you will absolutely dominate your next race by being ready for the common sudden spurts, the slow obstacle overtakes and the endurance runs – exactly what your training will have consisted of.
When our editor Helena was preparing for her first obstacle races she had trouble with her fight-or-flight style breathing. As an amateur runner, before entering the OCR community, her performance breathing patterns were typically incorrect. Hearing her breathe made it sound as though she was running away from a lion or some other danger all the time, consistently throughout her workout. This is the well know panic-mode breathing, which manifests through zero diaphragm involvement and instead focuses only on chest movements.
Panic-mode breathing makes people ‘cash-out’ way too early in extreme endurance situations. During the first mile or two you will gas out, tire off because of a lack of oxygen that your lungs need. It’s like putting yourself in an unnecessarily restricted oxygen mode. Pushing to the limit would, at worst, result in a loss of consciousness and at best in truly subpar performance.
How to correct your breathing
To correct the shallow breathing patterns, you should practice box breathing, first introduced by SEAL Fit coach and commander M. Divine. Box breathing will train your body to take deep and powerful breaths, delivering the amount of oxygen you need to perform well in a training session or a race.
Understandably, it might be hard to breathe deep during a spurt, but focusing on your breathing while executing the less demanding parts of the race such as obstacles themselves can still help. This can also add up to steady energy distribution and performance.
Moreover, your every single breath should be rhythmic and consistent. Too many people tend to speed up and slow down their breathing unconsciously even when there is no real reason to do it. By controlling your breathing at all times you will ensure the optimal performance that your body can deliver.