Do you run alone? Stay safe with these 5 tips

afitmess
February 16, 2017

Hello, there. I hope your Thursday has been amazing so far!

 

Today’s post is something I hope can serve as a reminder when you are running (or walking) alone. Most of us understand the general safety rules, like “trust your instincts” and “be aware of your surroundings,” however, it’s easy to become a bit lax with our precautions because we feel the odds of incurring danger are low. Unfortunately, the reality is that we should never let our guards down, especially women. Many runners have at least one or two scary moments to share, myself included. So, I hope these five tips will be useful to you or a loved one.

 

5 safety tips for runners

 

1.  Try to tell at least one person that you are going for a run, and if possible, where you will be running.

I usually let Matt know where I’m headed and how long I think I will be so he knows around what time to expect me back. Our neighborhood backs up to several winding trails which eventually loop right back to my house. This allows me to easily run long distances yet stay within a five-mile radius of our house. Having quick access to so many walking/running paths was one of the reasons we bought our house!

 

My Garmin forerunner has a feature called LiveTrack which allows you to connect and pair your watch with mobile devices. Friends and family can easily track my location and workouts in real-time. Most phones are enabled with GPS tracking as well.

2.  Avoid running alone in the dark unless it’s a place that is well lit and you feel comfortable.

I know this can be tricky for people who run early in the morning or at the end of the day. When I was training for my last half marathon, I had no choice but to run at 5:00 a.m. some days just so I could get my long run in before Matt left for work. This wasn’t the best idea since our neighborhood streets are extremely dark and in some spots I was running in total darkness.

 

If you need to run in the dark, be as cautious as possible and follow these guidelines:

 

  • Always wear a reflective vest.
  • Do not run on trails or roads with shallow shoulders.
  • Stick to streets you are familiar with.

 

3. Turn music off or lower the volume in a secluded or dark place.

Your hearing is invaluable and could save your life during a run. Wearing headphones makes you vulnerable not only to attack, but to collision with cars and cyclists. I know how essential music can be while running (Motivator #1!) so you don’t need to forgo music altogether, but be sure to turn the volume off in heavy traffic areas and secluded places. I would also refrain from listening to music while running in the dark.

 

4.  Always look directly at passer-bys and make a mental note of his/her appearance.

I know it may feel slightly rude to look squarely at a stranger, but try adding a wave or saying “hello” to make it less awkward. Not only does this let the other person know you have noticed them, but it keeps you alert, too. I try to make a short mental note of a person when I run by them, such as “black hair, green shirt, etc.” After you pass someone coming in the opposite direction, be sure to turn around to check that they are still moving in the other direction.

 

5. Keep your phone with you.

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I started taking my phone with me on my runs. I loved feeling unplugged from the world and I kept most of my music on my iPod. Now I have my phone on me most of the time in case someone needs to reach me about the girls, but it’s also helpful in case I am hurt and/or I need to call for help.

 

I created this safety tip sheet below for easy reference. Safety should always be our number one priority.

Safety products for runners:

Road ID bracelet

Reflective vest

LED headlamp

 

What tips would you add?

 

 

5 ways I improved my running (and decreased injury)

afitmess
January 11, 2017

In this post I share how I was able to significantly improve my running efficiency and strength. After struggling with injuries and inflammation for years, I finally feel strong enough to run regularly. I attribute this recovery mainly to five reasons. Since I know many of you are runners, I thought you might find this post helpful. And remember: we all have different needs and capabilities so it’s important to do what’s right for YOUR body.

 

A Fit Mess

1. I got stronger.

There’s no denying that running is a high impact activity. Repetitive movements can easily wreak havoc on your joints and muscles. Overtime, running can also cause muscle imbalances to develop and worsen. If these issues are not properly addressed they can easily lead to injuries down the road. Strength training can help runners maintain their power, endurance, and muscle mass.

 

Due to previous injuries, I tend to have weak hips and hamstrings, so I always incorporate movements that focus on strengthening and balancing these areas. Both multi-joint movements (squats, lunges, etc.) and unilateral exercises (such as single-leg deadlifts or glute raises) are important to incorporate so you can strengthen inactive or weak muscles. And because distance running breaks down muscle fibers, it’s imperative that you build it back up with regular and consistent strength training.

2.  I paid attention to my form and cadence.

One of the reasons I love running so much is it requires minimal equipment: just throw on some sneakers and go. Yet, it’s extremely important to pay attention to your form and posture. Many local running stores offer free gait analysis. Their trained staff can review your form and offer suggestions on footwear. You can also visit a sports physical therapist or running coach to get some pointers on your form. Some of the areas I have to focus on include: leaning forward slightly and trying to land mid-foot (to prevent heel striking). I overpronate slightly when I’m tired and need to be a bit more mindful of this on longer runs when I get tired.

 

You may have heard people talk about cadence, or leg turnover. Cadence is the number of times your foot strikes the ground per minute. The general standard to strive for is between 170 – 180 steps per minute. Some people may fall above or below this range. Keep in mind that your height, weight, and stride length all determine your optimal cadence. To measure, just count the number of times your right foot strikes the ground for 30 seconds and multiply by two. I usually fall around 180 steps per minute, but that took a lot of work to get there and sometimes that number changes. Increasing leg turnover can make you a faster, more efficient runner. It will also help you land with proper foot positioning and may prevent injuries like shin splints from developing.

 

3. I stopped focusing on my pace.

Anyone who has trained for a race can attest that, at times, it’s hard not to get caught up in your pace. Owning a GPS watch makes it even easier to become absorbed in metrics and performance. In the past, I’ve put a great deal of focus on how fast I was running and my overall time; always trying to “beat” my pace/time each run. Not only can this increase your chances of injury and overtraining, but it can also steal the joy out of running. Sometimes I leave my Garmin at home or I’ll wear it, but won’t activate the “run” mode. This allows me to just enjoy the run for what it is: a run.

4.  I quit wearing stability and motion controlled running shoes.

This may be a bit of a sensitive topic since I know runners take their shoes seriously, but I’ll address it anyway. First, I am by no means telling you to disregard the footwear that you love or the sneakers that work best for you. I am merely telling you what I have found to be true for me.

 

Last year, I reached a really low point in my running. I finished a half-marathon in the spring and had been suffering from some wicked shin splints and foot pain ever since. Despite adequate rest and almost no running, I couldn’t get rid of the pain. I decided to try wearing a neutral, minimal shoe and the pain decreased dramatically. While I am sure there were other factors involved (certainly the rest and recovery played a role) I noticed a huge improvement from switching my footwear. After wearing Mizunos for almost two decades, I have started to alternate between Nike Frees 5.0 and Adidas Pure Boost X. I have several pairs of sneakers that I rotate through often (another good tip: switch shoes on the regular).

 

5. Recovery, recovery, recovery. 

Now that I am…ahem…in my thirties, I’ve realized just how important recovery is in between training sessions and runs. I absolutely believe that I am able to workout as much as I do because I have taken appropriate steps to restore and repair by body. Recovery may look different for everyone. For me, it means spacing out my runs and avoiding back-to-back long runs or heavy lower body work. It also means monthly massages, foam rolling, stretching, supplements, and quality post-workout fuel. Sweet potato smoothie, anyone? 

sweet potato pie smoothie

 

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic. Anyone have some recovery tips to offer? 

Like what you’ve read? Please SHARE this post!

 

Finding my way back to running

afitmess
December 7, 2016

I’ve always identified myself as a runner. In fact, running was the activity that ignited my interest in all things health and fitness. I began running as a teenager and it quickly became a constant in my life. It was there for me whenever I needed it. I ran through my problems, when I was consumed with work or school, during relationship troubles, when I wanted to inspire creativity or when I didn’t want to think at all.

 

So many mornings I spent running along the dark streets of my neighborhood hearing nothing but my own footsteps. I’ve run along sandy beaches and through quiet woods and soft trails. In snow and rain. And I’ve also spent countless hours running on the treadmill.

 

I’ve often said that nothing makes me feel the way running does and that’s hard to explain. Yet, I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about and it may need no explanation at all.

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Richmond Marathon – 2011

If you’ve been following my blog for some time then you may not realize how much I enjoy running since I don’t focus on it a lot. And that’s because my relationship with running has gotten quite rocky over the last few years. In fact, I intentionally avoided talking about it here.

 

I ran consistently from my twenties up until I reached my third trimester with the girls. Around that time I tore a muscle in my inner thigh and my hamstring (this did not happen while running!). This was a defining moment for me – everything changed after that. The further along I got in my pregnancy, the more stress placed on my hips and pelvis, and the more uncomfortable I became.

 

Once the girls were born and I was cleared for activity, I tried to get back into running, but it was still very painful. I felt broken. I was angry and sad, but I forced myself to run anyway (which, in hindsight, slowed my recovery quite a bit). After that came a series of injuries – one right after another, including bursitis and tendonitis. My hip and hamstring eventually healed after nearly two years, but I then developed knee and foot pain. I felt constantly inflamed.  I couldn’t exercise without feeling some sort of nagging pain. I felt like I traded one injury for another and I was frustrated as hell. How could this be happening?  On top of all of this, I felt extremely guilty for spending so much time thinking about myself when I ought to be focusing my attention on the girls. It was a tough time for sure.

 

I tried just about EVERYTHING to find relief, including physical therapy, meditation, massage, acupuncture, dry needling, turmeric powder and various creams, yoga, taping/wrapping, heat and cold therapy, and rest. The latter was the hardest one of all, but definitely the most important. I believe that every one of these remedies were instrumental in helping me heal.

 

Slowly I got better and my pain decreased significantly. I eventually got to the point where I was running regularly and felt well enough to train and complete a couple of half marathons. During my training I developed shin splints and calf pain that became so unbearable that I could hardly walk after my runs. I’d be left with pain for days.

 

At the start of the year (2016) I decided it was time to break things off with running. I hated to admit it, but I knew my body was trying to tell me something. Things had to change or I would keep getting injured. As part of my New Year’s resolution, I decided to focus my attention on making my body stronger, to give myself some time to [properly] heal. I gave myself permission to take time away.

strength-007

I began to focus mostly on strength training. I lifted several times a week and I went to hot yoga regularly. And I eventually joined Orangetheory. Despite the fact that the class spends nearly 25 minutes running, the interval format never bothered my legs. In fact, I think it helped make me a better runner. I started to enjoy strength training like I never had before. I got excited when I started to lift heavier weights and when I noticed real physical changes. I appreciated yoga for the challenging poses and the flexibility it provided. Orangetheory changed the way I viewed exercise as a whole. I learned that I could combine strength and conditioning in one workout and get the best of both worlds.

 

When I let go of the pressure to BE a runner, I discovered other activities that I wouldn’t have noticed.

 

Over the last few months I’ve found my way back to running. I feel much stronger. I’ve noticed that my legs don’t ache after running and there is no more pain. I’ve focused a lot of my attention on recovery and I’ve been extremely cautious with my mileage and pace. So far, so good!

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Matt recently asked me what I thought the keys to my recovery were. There were two paramount ones: (1) time away from high impact activities and (2) strength training. The only way I was able to feel stronger was to get stronger. But it was more than that. Once I gave myself permission to step away from running I stopped focusing on what I couldn’t do and started to focus more on what I could do.

 

I also noticed additional improvement by switching to minimalist/neutral sneakers. I don’t have much range of motion in my right ankle due to spraining it so many times and I was running in motion controlled, support shoes for quite awhile. I think this may have hindered my recovery since it kept my ankle so stiff. My physical therapist is a bit baffled by this since she would have recommended a support shoe for me, but since it has been working for me we are going with it. Today I mix up my running shoes and I alternate between Nike Frees and Vibrams.

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Today, I make sure to focus on a variety of activities and to take rest days as needed. The other things that have helped me maintain my regime are monthly massages, strengthening my hips and hamstrings, and stretching. After every run I wear compression socks for at least 30 minutes. I self-massage in the evening and I foam roll like it’s my job. Every body is different, but I feel like I have finally found a good routine that works for me.

 

I’m sorry this was such a long post. I didn’t realize I had so much to say! I would love to know if anyone of you have or are currently taking a break from running. What activities are you focusing on? What’s been working for you?

My favorite running gear

afitmess
January 13, 2016

Running has always been a big part of my life. I seriously love it. As you can imagine, I get really excited about running gear. While it’s true that running is one of the few sports that doesn’t require much equipment (in the end all you really need are sneakers) there are things out there that make a difference in your running ability and comfort – especially if you are doing long distances.

Here are my faves for running:

garmin

Garmin Forerunner 220 I’ve had other Garmin watches in the past and this one is by far the most user friendly and comfortable. I like that it displays my time, pace, and distance all on one screen and it’s super easy to read with a quick glance down. It also automatically syncs with my phone so I can view my route and lap times. #runningnerd

handheld water bottle

Handheld water bottle I always thought it would be uncomfortable to wear a water bottle on your hand during a run, but it’s actually pretty secure and I hardley notice it. I like that it has a small pocket to store items like keys and snacks.

 

Hydration belt I haven’t used mine in a while, but it was a staple when I was running long distances on the trails. There wasn’t a water fountain on my route so having this was super helpful for staying hydrated. This one by Nathan is my favorite.

reflective vest

Reflective vest I’m embarrassed to say that I just purchased this 3 months ago. This is a necessity for anyone running in the early morning or late at night. When I was training for my last half marathon, I would do some of my long runs at 5 am when it was still dark. I’ve had a few close calls with cars and bikes and I’m lucky that I wasn’t injured. No excuses not to wear one.

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Sunglasses I hate the sun in my eyes. I can’t stand it. Wearing glasses when I run relaxes my eyes and makes me feel a bit badass-y. Oakleys are good buys.

balega

Balega socks I never thought socks made a difference until I got my first blister. Then another. And another. They hurt like a mother! Cotton socks are horrible for sweat. These socks are my absolute favorite. They are not cheap, but definitely worth the investment.

 

Compression socks I really love wearing these during runs and as part of my recovery after longer distances. They work by stimulating blood flow and warding off fatigue in your legs. You can read more about that here. Most compression socks work well. I like CEP compression sleeves a bit more than the full sock kind.

spibelt

Spibelt This is like a mini fanny pack. OK, OK stay with me here. It’s great for storing and holding your phone and personal items in place. No bouncing at all.

 

Mizuno Wave Inspire  I wore these consistently for 10+ years then went with other styles. I have eventually returned to my first loves because they feel great and they have more support which is helpful on long runs.

 

I’ll continue to add to this as I think of other items to share. I’d love to hear what running products you can’t live without.