Monday, January 1, 2018

10 Secrets to Better Durability as a Runner

After learning 2017 marked my eleventh consecutive year of 3,000 or more miles of running (just running; daily dog walks not included), a friend asked for the secret to my "longevity." I guess I've never really thought much about my "longevity" because I've never really felt that what I do is all that interesting or groundbreaking. But I guess I am pretty durable and this is because of specific things I do and don't do.

Before going further, I do want to offer the following context: At 3,018 miles, 2017 was my lowest mileage year of the past eleven years in large part because of a knee injury in March, which plagued me through mid-May. I figure the knee injury easily robbed me of 100 miles. Add to that my DNF at Leadville, mostly due to my knee flaring up unexpectedly descending into Twin Lakes outbound, and that's another 50 miles I lost in 2017. So my knee easily cost me 150 miles. Were it not for that injury, I'm confident 2017 would have been another 3,200+ mile year.

As far as any secrets I may have that have contributed to my eleven straight years of running 3,000 or more miles (which, again, I don't consider all that special), below are 10 that come to mind. I honestly just think I have good genetics as far as my durability, but I am sure by chance I've stumbled upon a few beneficial practices over the years. Here goes: 

#1: Change out my shoes every 400-500 miles and rotate my shoes.
I track the mileage on my shoes and always change them out every 400-500 miles (usually closer to 400 miles). Additionally, I usually have a rotation of 2-3 pairs of shoes and I wear a different pair every day. I never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row unless I'm traveling (in which case I only have enough room to pack one pair of shoes). When you run, you're impacting your shoes. Giving them a "day off" helps them bounce back for the next run. I am sure some of you think that's BS but for me it's standard practice. By the way, my go-to shoe brand since 2011 has been Hoka One One.

#2: Run every day.
Simply put, I don't take many days off. I usually run every single day. Daily consistency, while sometimes feeling myopic, is crucial. I only take a day off if I'm feeling really run-down and/or sick to the point that I have a fever. I feel that moving every day has major benefits as far as injury prevention and overall wellness. Sometimes, if I have a little ache or pain, a run will actually make it feel better. That said, Monday is usually my easy day--I'll log maybe 4-5 miles slow on Mondays without any care for pace. If on a Monday I'm totally trashed from the weekend miles, I may sub in some time on our indoor bike trainer for a run. The key is to move every day.

#3: Avoid concrete and opt for the softest possible surfaces.
Where we live, it is impossible to totally avoid concrete but I make a conscientious effort to opt for the softest possible surfaces where possible. As I have aged, I have found that long runs on concrete will take a toll on me. So, basically, if you see me on concrete, it's because I'm running on it to get to the next section of trail or dirt road. Pavement is also usually okay for me but dirt is the preference.
In my first year if fatherhood (2008), I was known to
now and then partake in Red Bull before a long run. Red
Bull, while beneficial in certain circumstances, is
definitely not close to the source.
#4: Eat close to the source.
I have no real diet tricks and am adamantly opposed to "diet cults." Like most Americans, my diet can be up and down, especially over the holidays. That said, by and large, we eat lots of fresh vegetables (we also eat fruit but mostly during the summer), quality proteins, and organic foods. We absolutely do not drink calories--I only have water and coffee with half and half, though after a tough workout I will partake in a homemade green protein smoothie. I try to avoid too many packaged products but I do eat things like bottled salad dressings (even then I keep it simple like balsamic vinaigrette) and veggie chips. If I buy a packaged product, it has to have very few ingredients and I have to be able to pronounce all of them. Added sugar is usually a deal-breaker. Although it is hard to do, I try not to buy anything made by the big food companies because they absolutely do not care about my health. More on this subject here.

#5: Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Working full-time and being a dad, I wake up every day during the week usually by 4:30 or 4:40 to get in my run before heading to the office. Simply put, Monday through Friday, the pre-dawn hours are the only hours of the day that are truly mine. To ensure this schedule is sustainable, I go to bed every night at 9 'o clock. So that means I'm getting about 7.5 hours of sleep every single night. I never stay up past 9 during the work week because insufficient sleep, over time, is deadly to the runner's adrenal system.

#6: Love running.
This one may seem kind of trite but I love running and I think the positive attitude I bring to running every single day makes a huge difference. It's my passion. Admittedly, there have been some days where my mental outlook was sub-optimal before I left the house but invariably when I'm done with my run I'm in a much better place. Running has had a tremendous impact not just on my physical health but also on my psychological and spiritual health and I think all of that, in turn, has led to my "longevity."

#7: Avoid over-racing.
I think over-racing is right up there with insufficient sleep as a major trigger of adrenal fatigue in runners. In my younger days, I did race a bit more than I do now, but, overall, I have always maintained what I feel is a responsible race calendar in part because my family and work life leave only so much time. There was a stretch between 2015 and 2016 where I finished three 100-milers in ten months (Javelina 2015, Western States 2016, Leadville 2016) and I remember being really worried about what these races would do to me physically. I got through them but not without realizing that it was a bit too much for me. By and large, I race one 100-miler a year and occasionally two.

#8: Maintenance.
When I feel tightness, aches and/or pains, I try to address the problem area immediately. If it's a tight IT band, for example, you'll see me foam rolling and stretching. If my knee is a little flared up, I'll ice it. I try not to let injuries get out of hand. I also try to run through injuries where and when possible. I think you can run through many injuries so long as you're not stupid about it and doing all the right things between workouts. That said, I feel like I have a good sense of when an injury is significant enough to warrant time off. This was the case in 2017 when my knee blew up. I took several days off because I realized that hobbling through runs was just really stupid.

As far as maintenance, I also take NOW-brand vegetarian glucosamine (I am allergic to shellfish) as well as branched chain amino acids every day. During heavy training, I may also introduce First Endurance Optygen. I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with L-carnitine.

#9: Strength-training.
While I tend to be very lazy about lower-body weight training, in large part because it puts me in a recovery hole (I'm sure I overdo it when I train my legs), I am pretty good about keeping my upper body well-conditioned and I'm certain this has contributed to my "longevity." I frequently do push-ups and all kinds of dumbbell exercises to keep my arms and shoulders well-conditioned. I have also always been consistent with core training, though in 2017 this was tough due to what I think was a severely strained and/or torn ab muscle that plagued me for over ten months (still not 100%). But, by and large, I am consistent with my core work, push-ups and dumbbell exercises. 

#10: Incorporate quality.
At varying times of year, I use quality workouts to help with strength, speed and efficiency. This includes tempo runs, hill repeats, mile repeats, track intervals, etc. If all you do is LSD (long-slow distance), you will never get better, and over time will go stale and burn out due to lack of interest. Quality, for me, keeps running interesting. That said, I occasionally get lazy and do LSD runs every day, but usually, through self-awareness, I'm able to get out of the rut and reintroduce quality.

Bonus: Start slow.
In every single run, I always start super slow. Most of time, this is because I run with my dog in the first mile. He's a golden retriever and not too fast, so in the first mile of my run I'm usually going at 10-11-minute pace. Once I bring Nick back to the house, I find that I'm sufficiently warmed up and can then get after it. I think that, when you go out too fast and don't allow for a warm-up, you are subjecting yourself to injury risk.

So there you have it. I'm sure there's nothing in there that's groundbreaking but it's what I do to stay healthy and keep running strong.


  1. Spot on! Thanks for sharing and reminding us of these important principles.

  2. I used to do the "doggie warmup" too in my late dog's golden years. Thanks for all the great advice.

    1. Thanks, Dave! Our furry friends are pretty special. I treasure every day with our golden.