#183 Put the trouble in the middle of the run - DOC

#183 Put the trouble in the middle of the run

Today on the Doc On the Run Podcast, we’re talking about why you should put the trouble in the middle of the run.

If you think about most of your runs, you do a warmup, you do the body of the workout, and then you do a cool down. One thing that is interesting is I have recently noticed a number of runners who have gotten injured by doing runs where they’re finishing on the hardest part of their run. We started having a discussion with this runner I saw the other day and we were talking about different trail runs around San Francisco and we were trying to figure out how he got injured.

Sometimes what happens is, we want to take the effort and either because of convenience where we live or because it just happens to be the way we think we’re going to get stronger if we put the hardest part of our effort at the end of our run or something like that, we wind up with trouble and we get injured.

The same way that you would put your hardest part of your speed work in the middle of your session and you would do a short warmup and a short cool down at the end, I think it can be very valuable to you and really help you avoid an over-training injury, if you try to stack the trouble or the riskiest part of the run in the middle of the run. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.


When I was recently training for a 50 mile trail race I would run quite a bit in the Marin Headlands. It’s a series of trails just across the Golden Gate Bridge. What a lot of people do who live in San Francisco and want to run in the Marin Headlands is they will drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, they will park at the parking area just on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, they get out the car and then they hit the trail.  

Well, from there you basically hit the trail and you run uphill for miles. It’s a fairly steep trail and you’re immediately running cold with no warmup whatsoever straight uphill. Now, that can be very hard on you and can put you at risk of an over-training injury like Achilles tendinitis or something like that where you then run on the trails, you’re running up and down, the whole thing is hard, and then you finish on a descent which is a little bit easier on you, in most cases, than the uphill section but you basically start off with a very difficult run right at the beginning of your training session. That can put you at risk of an over-training injury.

Some people also live where, it happens to be that they live up on a hill. Like, if you live in Mill Valley and you live up in the hills in Mill Valley and you run from your house, you may actually take off at your front door, run downhill for a couple of miles, do your training session, run on the trails or somewhere from there, but then have to finish by running uphill for a couple of miles and then you finish right at your front door. Well, most people don’t want to walk uphill the last couple of miles after they’ve been on their runs so many people will finish with this brutally hard effort at the end just because they happen to live at the top of a hill.

When you do that you are stacking the trouble right at the end. Now let’s face it, when you run a long run or you do speed work or you do any high intensity workout, your form will get significantly worse at the very end of your workout. You have to remember that form is everything and if your form falls apart at the end of your run because you’re completely exhausted, and then you’re trying to run uphill, you’re asking for trouble.

At the same time, if you begin your run by running immediately uphill without any warmup at all, you do put yourself at risk of an over-training injury like Achilles tendinitis, a muscle strain, any of those things. 

I think it’s much more preferable to do something where you put the trouble in the middle. For example, when I was doing these training runs I was telling you about, instead of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and starting there, I would park somewhere in San Francisco, in the Presidio, somewhere near the Golden Bridge. I would get out of the car and I would run two or three miles before I actually hit that climb in the Marin Headlands. It’s, truthfully, not that enjoyable to run through the crowd of tourists on the Golden Gate Bridge but it gives me a way to warmup gradually, run across the bridge, and then run uphill, run through the Headlands, do the arduous part of the run.

Then I run back downhill which is steep, and fast, and still a different kind of workout. Then I have a couple of miles, two or three miles, as a cool down at the end of that trail run to let things kind of relax and it’s just the last part of the run. I’m still able to run, still able to finish the run in its full distance with much lower risk because I’m not running on an irregular trail, I’m not running down a steep downhill trail, I’m not running uphill.

I’m doing something that’s much lower risk at the beginning and at the end. 

You need to give yourself a warmup and you need to give yourself a way to essentially cool down even if you’re running at a fairly fast pace. You want to do it in a way that’s not pushing your limits physiologically at the end. If you don’t give yourself that chance to cool down at the end, you really are asking for an over-training injury. Remember, people get injured because your form is falling apart and you have these peripheral muscle groups that are not as capable of absorbing the force as the really strong muscle groups.

When that happens, they get overloaded, over-stressed, you load things asymmetrically or in a way that stresses them, in a way that is abnormal and they’re not prepared to absorb those stresses, and that is when you get an over-training injury.

If you really want to avoid an over-training injury, one of the simple things you can do is try to design your hard workouts like long runs and speed sessions where you put the trouble in the middle of the run.

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