I wanted to put a quick note in here about ‘self-judgement’ and running and why it’s ok to have weak runs with heavy legs! I had a pretty terrible long run this past week. It was windy, my legs felt like lead, and I was running A LOT slower than I usually do on the trail I chose. At first, my mind jumped to…’I suck at running and where did all of my fitness that I worked hard go?!’. This is certainly irrational, and fitness doesn’t go anywhere quickly and it took me a few minutes to remind myself of this.
I have been reading ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ and avoiding self-judgement is a big part of this book. Forget a bad shot. Acknowledge why it was bad, but stay objective about it and think about why independent of ‘your input’. This applies to running as well. I was having a bad run. It was probably a mistake in nutrition or something else. I woke up the next morning with a runny nose, and I was likely battling a little bit of a bug. As soon as I accepted that I wasn’t going to be setting any PR’s, the run became far more enjoyable and I remembered that I was running on beautiful trails in amazing weather.
Being happy out there makes you a better runner. Even if that’s not true, being happy keeps you running longer and showing up day to day, year to year. Consistency and long-term development is the ‘common factor’ amongst the runners crushing races, and just make sure we’re all keeping things fun to accomplish this!
Totally unrelated, but for anyone interested, there is currently a livestream of the Big’s Backyard Ultra. When I was growing up, my dad would watch golf on Sundays. In my opinion this is the most boring spectator sport, but watching this live stream may be our equivalent, and I finally get it! Enjoy!
Calf mobility & strengthening
We’re working up the chain today and focusing on lower leg and ankle health. Similar to the feet, this area of the body is incredibly complicated (spoiler alert...all areas of the body are), and pinpointing a problem area can be especially difficult. Same as with the feet, there are numerous lower leg injuries that frequently plague the running community. Problems include, but are not limited to…:
Peroneal tightness (can also result from sprained ankles)
Tibialis anterior tendon tightness
Tibialis posterior tendon tightness
Calf tightness resulting in knee pain
Many more that I can’t list off the top of my head
To make matters more complicated, many muscles in the lower leg have tendons that travel through a retinaculum (think band of fascia) that holds the tendons in place. When one tendon is inflamed, it may cause problems with the surrounding tissues/tendons (admittedly, I couldn’t find anything online ‘talking about this’ and it’s more of an educated guess than researched fact).
We have all had tight calves and may have spent some time with a roller to alleviate this issue. Today we’ll go through both some more common and less common approaches to strengthening and mobilizing the lower leg.
Eccentric heel raises:
This exercise is the best for lower leg strengthening, especially that calf and achilles combo! 3x10 reps on each leg is what I recommend and to increase difficulty add weight. On the edge of a step, raise on to your tip-toes, release one leg so that all of your weight is on the other, and slowly lower back to the starting point (and repeat 10 times on one leg followed by 10 on the other). I have found that you don’t want to lower too far past when your foot is parallel to the step, stretching the achilles too much. Additionally, refrain from these if you have any achilles or calf twinges or discomfort!
Sit on the ground while holding a resistance band attached to one of your feet (around the midfoot). With the other foot, anchor the band lateral to the attached foot and evert your foot away from your midline (activating the muscles on the side of your working leg). 3x10 reps on each leg before switching to…
Now cross your ‘non-working leg’ to the other side of your working foot so that you invert the foot and work the medial stabilizers of the lower leg. 3x10 reps works great here as well!
Photos should help with this one!
Anchor a band to a piece of furniture (or other stationary object). Attach the other end to your forefoot and flex your toes towards your knee (dorsiflexion) 10 times and switch legs (3 rounds is good, but so is anything that you have time for). This works your tibialis anterior!
Band strengthening around ankle:
I love the ‘voodoo bands’ for some mobility work and strengthening around joints. They’re really great for ankle strengthening as they provide resistance in every direction while allowing you to move through a full range of ankle mobility.
Wrap your ankle like you would wrap it for added stability (see photo). Move that ankle 10 times in a clockwise direction and 10 times in a counterclockwise direction. Note that blood flow will be restricted during this motion, and don’t leave the band on for longer than necessary!
Small ball (lacrosse/baseball/tennis ball)
Conventional roller/water bottle/pvc pipe
The following routines are likely things that most of you know, but good ‘ol rolling is the best approach to mobilizing those lower legs! I do want to mention that we never want to be rolling to the point of ‘pain’ and want to avoid rolling directly on tendons (stick to the muscle groupings you’re targeting). We don’t want to increase inflammation in an area, but there’s no denying that a good rolling session can leave the muscles feeling a lot better than they started!
Calf smash rolling:
While sitting on the ground and your legs extended, place the muscle belly of your right calf (gastrocnemius and soleus) and roll your calf over the surface of the roller. When you find a tight spot, move the calf side to side really ‘smashing’ that area. As mentioned above, we don’t want to overdo the rolling to the point of causing ‘pain’. To add pressure and sensation, place your left leg over the right leg and remove some of the support from the ground.
You don’t have to do much and focus on one leg for 1 minute before switching to the other!
Shin smash rolling:
With the same roller as above (or a small ball for increased pressure), target the tibialis anterior - the area immediately lateral to your shin’ bone (tibia). Use the weight of your body to ‘smash’ over that roller by rolling back and forth and side to side. You can also apply pressure so that the skin is ‘plastered’ to the roller and move bodyweight side to side while keeping that skin adhered to the roller!
Ball b/w calf and hamstring:
This is a difficult one to describe and the picture will help a ton. While sitting on the ground, place the ball in the ‘crook’ of your knee so that it is sandwiched between the calf and hamstring. Bring your heel to your butt and rock as far forward as you can until you feel a manageable pressure in that area.
Medial/lateral ball rolling:
The stabilizers of the lower leg are often ‘forgotten’ until they start to cause problems. Stay ahead of this, and aim to address any area before it becomes a problem. While sitting on the ground, take a small ball and use it to knead out the medial side of your tibia/shin. If you have another ball or even a conventional roller, place that on the lateral side of your shin between your shin and the ground. This will get that lateral side of the shin as well as focusing on the medial side.
To hit the later side of the shin, stretch out in the ‘pigeon stretch pose’ and use roll over the lateral side of the lower leg. You can also do this while stabilizing yourself on your elbow and rolling over the side of your shin.
Matt S. tackled the Grand Rounds Challenge this past weekend, running 50 miles over a few days! I used to wonder if it is easier to run 50 miles over a few days or 50 miles all at once, but given some experiences from the past few years, I’m confident that doing it all at once is far less difficult. Not only did Matt crush the weekend, but he rebounded quickly and is back and crushing another full week of training! Things haven’t gone as planned in terms of racing for any of us, and it is so fun to be a part of the ever-changing plans!
Numa B. completed the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire this past Saturday. The route has over 8k’ of climbing in just over 20 miles (STEEP!) and summits Mt. Washington (amongst other mountains), which is considered one of the most dangerous mountains in the lower 48 due to its constantly changing weather! On top of all of this, Numa fainted the day before…! He was trying to get ahead on work for the weekend festivities and may have overcooked a little bit! Numa was able to draw upon other 100-mile ‘faint-like feeling’ experiences, and knew that he could still tackle the route the next day (certainly not coach-recommended :) )!