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Running is not enough: You need to train, not just practise, for the big race

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If you've ever been to the Manitoba Marathon, or any other running event for that matter, you have experienced the positive energy a group of individuals and teams with a singular goal can provide.

Whether participating or spectating, there is something amazing about witnessing literally thousands of promises, accomplishments, and hours upon hours of dedication coming to fruition. Running itself can provide so many benefits beyond the physiological component. It helps relieve stress, often gets you outside and allows you to experience your surroundings from a different perspective.

But what about the forgotten element integral to running success? I would like you to entertain the idea that to become a better runner (recreational or elite), you should concentrate equally on training to be a runner and not just practising.

As an athletic therapist, I see countless chronic and overuse injuries from the repetitive stress caused by running. Running provides amazing benefits, but it also creates an unbelievable amount of impact on your joints. When that impact is repeated thousands of times over countless days and months, the toll adds up and can lead to numerous problems that can stop you from reaching your running goals. But the majority of these injuries can be prevented by supplementing your running with some simple strength and endurance training in the gym.

Let's break your training goals into two components: central adaptations and peripheral adaptations.

Central adaptations refer to improving your cardiovascular system and how well it performs at a given intensity. While running is a great activity, there are other forms of cardio that can achieve similar positive changes. One of my favourites is rowing. It is extremely low-impact, meaning it gives your joints a much-deserved rest from the rigours of running.

The second component, peripheral adaptation, has to do with your extremities -- mostly your legs in running. How well do they absorb and create movement, and how efficiently they store and utilize the energy and oxygen supplied by your cardiovascular system?

With this component, our ultimate goal is to obtain similar training benefits of running without the repetitive stress. Core training and other forms of strength training for your upper and lower body are very important, but we are going to focus on mimicking the running movement while creating more load per repetition in our running "system."

An appropriate exercise to illustrate this principle is weighted step-ups. This exercise offers you improvements in muscular strength/endurance, increased (but safe) load on joints and supporting ligaments, all while reinforcing a movement pattern that is very run-specific. And the cherry on top? Fewer strides/repetitions when compared to running. Please see the online video at for more detailed training tips on the weighted step-up.

Clyde Van Caeyzeele and Annette Pratt are both runners who appreciate the benefits of strength training.

"Since increasing my strength training, I've noticed a lot less knee and hip pain," Pratt said. "I'm able to run longer distances with less soreness and fatigue afterwards. It's made a huge difference."

Clyde has been running competitively for about 20 years.

"I've found that over the years I'll get stuck in a running rut. Adding different approaches in cross-training and strength exercises to my routines like rowing, plyometrics, hills, etc., will help me get over that plateau."

I'd like to point out that nowhere have I said, "run less." Accumulating adequate mileage leading up to an event is paramount, but talking with a personal trainer and supplementing those miles with a properly designed strength program will ensure you're not selling your bib on Facebook a week before the race.

Tim Shantz is a certified athletic therapist (CAT(C)) at the Eastman Therapy Centre in Steinbach and a certified personal trainer at the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital. He is also owner/head trainer at Threshold Conditioning, which focuses on sport-specific athlete training.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2013 D16

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