Thursday, February 10, 2011

Knee Strength and Ultra Training

You can't run A marathon without some doubter telling you "that's dangerous" and "you could get hurt." Running as many marathons and miles that I do, it's more like "you could die" and "you ARE going to get hurt." I'm asked about the state of my knees about 10 times a week and that includes other runners and marathoners. I hear it so often that any pain, twinge, and general change in my knee makes me freak out just a bit.

 I haven't actually had any problems, but constantly hearing how much danger my knees are in... I just can't help but be paranoid about them and convince myself they are weak and need constant attention. I believe there are 2 critical pieces to my training that kept me injury free last year and (hopefully) will help me as I train for Western States-- my first 100 miler!

1) Minimalist Running Shoes! If you were following at this time last year, I strained a tendon in my ankle and had only 2 weeks to recoup. Well that's when I found Vibram 5 Fingers and Nike Frees. I used them to help strengthen my ankle and haven't looked back since. I feel this minimalist running method helps in a few areas...

  • Keeps your feet and ankles stronger (instead of relying on cushion) 
  • Helps you run in a form that is more natural and keeps your knees/ankles in better alignment
  • Helps to build an arch so you stop "over-pronating"
  • Helps to develop a mid to front foot strike that is good to a more natural form and faster pace. 
Chris McDougall writes a little about minimalist or "barefoot running" in his book Born to Run and in this recent interview he references running injuries...
"You talk to a runner, I guarantee that within 30 seconds it turns to injury." 
... toward the end and how people are naturally made to run but the aids we've been creating in running shoes are actually hurting us. Check out the whole speech here.

As most of you know I've run the past year in almost nothing but Nike Frees and Vibrams. The new frees I got a few months ago (Nike Free 7.0) didn't exactly feel like the 5.0's and over time it feels more and more like they're shifting-- like I'm running on the inside edge of them. I haven't been thrilled with that and then I noticed a big rip on the right edge. It's funny because the 5.0's lasted me almost a year-- through rain, mud, trails, and over 20 marathons. Well I went to check out the basic "Nike Free Womens" shoes and they fit MUCH better... more like the 5.0's. AND... they come in pink!!!! 
2) Strength Training! Ok ok I know I talk about that a lot but I can't stress the importance enough. But, since we're talking about knees I've developed a little regiment to keep up especially for my knees. I noticed that my knees tended to turn in and when they did that they hurt just a little after I ran long. Well there are a few exercises that, when done right, can be great for strengthening the knee. 

Most of these are done with the foot turned outward a few degrees to help balance out the muscles around the knee. I started doing these twice a week with my strength training...

Single-Leg Extensions: this can be done on a normal leg extension machine. Just use one leg at a time and while using the machine, turn your foot outward slightly, utilizing the muscles around the inner knee. 

Single- Leg Press or Single leg squat: Use light weight here, as you can end up doing more harm than good. You're going for light strengthening here, not maxing out! Again, turn your foot a few degrees outward for this exercise. If you're able to do a leg press then try a single leg squat, but be sure that your knee is not swinging outward or inward. Once you're able to do this, try it on a balance ball. 

Good Girls!... Not Bad Girls! If you don't know what the "good girl, bad girl" machines are yet, they are better known as abductor/adductor leg and hip machines. The "good girl" would be the one where you pull the legs in, working the inner thighs. The bad girl works the outer thigh. You need to be a good girl if you're having knee pain.... try and remember that if you're a "bad girl" you'll get punished-- with more knee pain that is. 

Quadriceps Stretch! This isn't exactly an exercise, but if you do it correctly it should take a while and be a workout itself. Try putting your foot up on a ledge and leaning back as far as possible, getting a full stretch. 

That's it for tonight. I hope you're all having a great training week. This weekend is state #49 (LA) at RocknRoll Mardi Gras. More to come on that tomorrow!

Happy Running,
"Fast Girls Have Great Times!" -Marathon Sign


  1. Love the tips! Some of us are getting together to have a blogger meet up at Cafe du Monde Saturday at 2:30 if you are interested!

  2. I need to audit your works cited page.

  3. Great tips! It's pretty awesome that you're able to listen to your body and know exactly what to do.

  4. Great post and love the "good girl, bad girl" machine! LOL!

  5. Try using a cable pulley with a loop for your foot as resistance instead of using the hip adductor/abductor machine - MUCH better for you because you're not locked into one plane of motion like on a machine.