Competitor.com’s Mario Fraioli was at the ING Direct Cafe at the corner of 17th and Walnut Streets in downtown Philadelphia last weekend for a live edition of Ask The Experts. Runners from the City of Brotherly Love and beyond were in attendance as Mario fielded questions about training, injuries and equipment. A few of the featured topics from the day’s discussion can be found below.
What’s the deal with the compression socks I see everyone wearing? And do you wear them?
Compression socks, or any compression product for that matter, is all the rage right now. Why? In a nutshell, they’ve been shown to enhance performance as well as recovery. What compression products do is they stimulate blood flow, which is going to help a muscle stay warm, thus allowing it to perform more efficiently and effectively. This is particularly effective on a cold day when it takes longer for your body to warm up. You’ll see a lot of professionals now racing in some combination of compression shorts, socks or arm sleeves on a cold day. Why? Because it enhances performance.
From a recovery standpoint, wearing compression socks is going to help flush out all the crap that builds up in your legs after a long run, race or hard workout. Personally, I don’t run with compression socks, but I do wear them for recovery purposes, especially if I’m traveling after a race. I’ve noticed I’m less sore and my legs aren’t as heavy the next day than they would be if I just let blood pool up in my lower legs.
The popularity of compression products is growing and you’ll continue to see runners wearing them now that the benefits have been proven and publicized. Aside from socks, shorts, shirts, sleeves and tights, apparel companies are actually developing full body compression suits to be worn while sleeping in an effort to further enhance recovery. Compression products aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I do a walk/run for 10Ks and half marathons. I’ve been told it’s best for me to walk uphill and run downhill. Is this the best approach to take?
Great question. While the obvious answer might appear to be yes, the correct answer is actually just the opposite. While walking uphill and running downhill might snag you a few extra seconds, the risk in doing so far outweighs the rewards. Here’s why: running uphill is certainly slower than going down, and requires more effort, but in terms of its effect on the body, the damage is far less. That’s because when you’re going uphill, you’re fighting gravity and coming down with far less force on your body, particularly your feet, shins, knees, hips and lower back, then when you’re heading in the opposite direction.
Ever listen to someone in the days after they’ve run the Boston Marathon? They’re sore for days! Why? The course is a net downhill–it’s tough on the body. After running the Boston Marathon in 2008 I was banged up for a solid week and I know it’s directly related to the screaming downhills in the first half and last parts of the race. Personally, I don’t use a walk/run approach, but with a course like Boston that’s largely downhill, that’s just the nature of the beast. Downhills are tougher on the body than any other type of terrain.
On the flipside, ask someone who’s just run the grueling Mt. Washington Road Race, which is more or less 7 miles of unrelenting uphill, and most are able to walk away from it feeling pretty good. Yes, it’s a brutal effort for sure, but the effects of such an effort aren’t as brutal on the body. As much as you want to curse the uphills as you’re climbing, you can thank them afterward.
All that said, if I was using a walk/run approach and wanted to stay injury-free, I’d run on the way up and walk it on the way down.
When I’m training for a marathon, I feel like I can’t run fast at 5K. Are there any type of workouts I can do so I don’t lose my speed when training for a marathon?
Absolutely! While you can’t downplay the importance of long runs and big mileage in marathon training, you shouldn’t completely ignore faster workouts, either. Small doses of speed in the form of strides and short hill sprints will keep your wheels spinning just enough that it shouldn’t totally sap your speed.
For the athletes I coach, I prescribe strides twice a week after easy runs as an easy way to maintain turnover without totally taxing yourself. After your easy run, do six 20-second strides–not sprints–at 5K pace or slightly faster. Take a good minute between each to catch your breath and get your heartrate down. These are short enough to and the recovery is long enough that it shouldn’t wipe you out. This isn’t a speed workout, per se, but more of a “speed maintenance” session.
Another such session is short hill sprints, such as 6 to 10 by 10-seconds at near max effort on a steep grade. Again, these are very short efforts and the recovery between each should be full. Sprinting uphill will get your fastwitch muscles firing, improve your form and efficiency while strengthening everything from your feet up to your lower back. Even though they’re short, the sprints will stress your muscles and connective tissues, so start by doing two sprints once a week after an easy run and work up to 8 to 10 sprints by adding one sprint per week. Focus on running with good form — getting up on your toes, driving your knees and arms like a sprinter.
Lastly, shorter 5K-type workouts have a place in marathon training every other week or every third week or so. Classic workouts such as 12 by 400 meters, 6 times 800 meters or repeat miles at 5K place or slightly faster will compliment your marathon training while keeping your shorter distance muscle memory in check. Just think how much easier marathon pace will feel after a tough interval session on the track!