Today on the Doc On The Run podcast we’re talking about seven healing limiters that slow runners down.
Today I was out on a run on San Bruno Mountain and it was a great day. I was running in the sun and I was just trying to think about like what are the things that really slow runners down in terms of healing because the whole key with training efficiently is to avoid an overtraining injury and to really train as hard as possible, to do as much tissue damage as possible and then rebuild that tissue before you do your next hard workout so that you can actually increase your fitness, increase your strength, increase your speed and continue training.
All of that back fires when you get injured. So if you listen to this you may be one of those runners who is actually recovering from an actual overtraining injury. But if you’re not then you’re probably recovering from the last workout.
The whole point here is that there are really a bunch of things that we can do and I’m not talking about changing the some new fad diet. I’m not talking about hiring a different coach. I’m not talking about switching it up and doing a different kind of speed work or anything like that. I’m thinking about the really simple limiters. The things that we all do that we can easily capitalize on that. We can easily take into our training, into our daily routine and actually recover faster.
And that is true for you whether you have a true overtraining injury that sidelined you or if you’re actively in training and you’re trying to make sure that you avoid one of those overtraining injuries by making sure that you recover before your next key workout.
Believe it or not, sleep is probably the most abundant and most underutilized resource available to every runner on the planet and everybody knows that you tear muscles and you injure yourself when you’re training. But you actually get stronger when you’re sleeping. So you have to sleep efficiently and effectively if you want to heal and get back to running as quickly as possible. That’s key.
Everybody knows sleep is important. I seriously doubt there’s anyone at all who is listening to this that thinks that they don’t have to sleep in order to train effectively and race effectively. We all know but sleep is one of those things that’s pretty easy to put on the back burner.
There’s so many things that sleep can either help or hinder in terms of your running training and your fitness and your recovery after hard workouts or when you an overtraining injury.
We know that sleep is key to the rebuilding process and we know that if you’re sleep-deprived, bad things happen like your cortisol levels go up, your stress hormones go up. All those things are detrimental to the healing process and there are some super simple things you can do that can actually increase the quality of your sleep. There are some simple things you can do, you don’t necessarily have to sleep more. You have to sleep more effectively.
There are some interesting research on this. One of the things is that we all know there’s a lot of talk about this now about limiting screen use before bed like you shouldn’t be checking email right before you go to bed. You shouldn’t do things that are going to spend your mind out and keep you preoccupied right before you go to bed. We all know that, but that’s not what I am talking about here. I’m talking about trying to do some simple things you may not really be thinking about.
Now one of those things is trying to adjust your cortisol levels. One of the things I do that I think has made a big difference on how well I sleep is exercising first thing in the morning.
One of the things is cortisol is people talk about it in terms of in the evening is kind of the opposite melatonin and you don’t want cortisol levels high in the afternoon or in the evening when you’re trying to sleep. One way you can adjust that is if you actually do some exercise routine early in the morning.
It has actually shown to reduce your cortisol levels later in the day. So if you have that mismatch of cortisol where you have not enough cortisol in the morning and too much cortisol in the afternoon and you wind up with this syndrome of being sort of too tired in the morning and then too wired, the tired and wired routine where you’re tired in the morning, you’re wired and you can’t really sleep that well in the night. Well actually just doing a short exercise routine in the morning helps.
If you want to heal faster, number one is try to increase the quality of your sleep. That can make a huge difference. Most people don’t but if you do, that’s fantastic. But at least if you don’t have time to sleep more, try to do something to increase the quality of your sleep.
The second thing that really slows down runners and prevents them from healing as quickly as possible is not having enough water intake.
I really find this fascinating because I have lots of friends that are runners. I see patients all day who are runners. I talk to runners all day and we all know that we’re supposed to drink water and hydrate before an event, we all take that as a given.
So people put all this effort into hydrating before a race but when they get injured or they don’t think they’re actually like recovering from the race then they don’t really hydrate as much and so it’s a fascinating thing because that’s again is like low-hanging fruit to me. It’s like if you could just increase your water intake, it can make a huge difference.
One routine is to just try to add like twenty to thirty ounces of water in the morning or throughout the day. If you think about it, any amount of water you add is going to be an improvement.
If you make it a habit of drinking an additional twenty ounces water first thing in the morning or some other time throughout the day, that potentially could increase your hydration and water is the highway that gets all the nutrients in your system. It’s the way that you get the nutrients into your system to rebuild the cells and all those metabolic waste products, the tissue damage, all of the drainage that has to come out of the damaged cells when you’re actually recovering after a hard workout or when you have an overtraining injury. You have to have water to get that stuff in and out so try to drink more water.
The third thing that seems to serve as a limiter for runners who are trying to recover from an overtraining injury or a hard workout is nutritional supplements.
I take nutritional supplements. I do collagen, I do vitamins, minerals. I take a number different nutritional supplements for a couple of reasons. One of them is that I don’t know for a fact what I’m missing.
There will probably be a day when you can get testing and determine exactly what vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, what is actually missing from your diet. But that day is not here yet and so I eat a relatively healthy diet but I don’t need same stuff every day and I certainly don’t need the same variety of things during the week. I try to cover my bases by taking high quality nutritional supplements, vitamins, minerals, collagen and micronutrients.
All that stuff that we need to have our body optimized, I wanted in my system because the simple fact is if you don’t have the building materials there to rebuild the tissue, rebuild the cell, repair the cells, you’re not going to be able to rebuild as quickly as possible.
Every overtraining injury is nothing more than an inability to repair the tissue sufficiently before you put it to use again. So that’s why I take nutritional supplements. You have to make sure you have all the building blocks there when your body needs them to repair the tissue as quickly as possible.
If you really want to get rid of one of the limiters that can slow you down, eat more frequently.
When I’m really in heavy training, I carry this thing in my car which is a particular kind of cooler that has little compartments for meals. I make batch meals. I take four or five of them with me and I’ll get up, I eat breakfast and then I take off to go see patients and doing house calls, I eat one of those between every single patient.
Every two hours. I’m eating another meal. They’re small, it’s not a huge meal. But again your body is rebuilding tissue all day. Not three times a day. It’s not rebuilding tissue just when you eat a major meal. It’s rebuilding tissue all day. The same thing we take nutritional supplements. If you want the building blocks in, you got to put them in frequently.
So that’s a simple thing, just eat more frequently and then your body’s going to have more building blocks available to repair those tissues that you damage when you run. That’s another simple thing you can do that will actually help to keep your tissues getting repaired for your next hard workout. That can make a huge difference.
Everybody has some level of stress in their life and the amount of stress you have in your life is going to add up and accumulate and help delay your healing process. It does it for a lot different reasons, lots of different ways but keep in mind, one of the most common training injuries that runner’s get is called a stress fracture.
It’s not called a run too much fracture. So if you have emotional stress, psychological stress, environmental stressors, hormonal stressors, biomechanical stressors, if you have all these different forms of stress in your system then you’re going to have a higher level of cortisol stress hormones that can actually contribute to the development of an overtraining injury and inhibit your healing.
So if you do something like modulate your stress, reduce your stress, meditation, visualization, yoga, whatever it is that you sort of use as a stress reducing meditated practice that is going to help you recover faster between your hard workouts and potentially could help you recover a lot faster when you have an overtraining injury and you’re really rebuilding and repairing that tissue that you have beaten up in training.
Another one of those things you can do that’s a very simple routine that can calm your mind, reduce your cortisol levels and then physiologically help you heal faster.
Most runners think that there is some utility instruction but very few runners actually do. It is a fixed routine with this sort of discipline that they do other things and again this is a low hanging fruit we’re talking about.
Stretching is something you can do. It doesn’t take a lot of time necessarily. It could take a lot of time but if you’re not stretching at all, stretching some is going to be huge improvement. If you’re only stretching a little, stretching a little bit more can also be a big improvement.
So stretching may be one of those things you can add that’s actually going to help you move faster. I mean if you think about this if you have major muscle groups that propel you forward but then you actually have a tight hip flexors and muscle groups that oppose those strong muscles that propel you forward, well the muscles that are propelling you forward or having a fight against those tight muscles on the other side of your body.
In the simplest sense, that’s how stretching can actually help you move faster. It just gives you less resistance in the system. So whether or not you believe that stretching will reduce your rate of injury, I actually do believe that that’s true. You may just be able to run faster.
There’s some interesting research and we’ve got a podcast coming out where it talks about this, about that if you actually stretch the Achilles tendon it will help you run faster. So that’s one of those things that you might really want to think about because it could actually make a huge difference for you in terms of not just your decreased risk of an overtraining injury but also your speed.
Let’s face it, we’re runners. We want to run and we think about the muscles that are considered sort of running muscles. The things on the outside, the things that show they get stronger, they get more defined. Your calves, your quads, your glutes, your hamstrings. All these big muscle groups that we used to propel sport.
We put a lot of work in building strength into those major muscle groups that we think of as the ones that helps us run. But your body is an incredible biomechanical machine but uses all these small muscles in concert to help assist those big muscle groups. And when you get fatigued those less used muscles are the ones that actually keep you moving.
So you have to strengthen everything else if you want to run as fast as possible. If you want to recover as fast as possible, the same thing is true because let’s say you have a stress fracture in your right foot. If you have one stress fracture in one bone then that thing needs support. The way it gets support is by strengthening everything around it and if the whole rest of your system is strong, you can actually absorb forces more dynamically over a longer period of time that if you’re weak and uncoordinated I mean if you’re landing asymmetrically, you’re landing with a lot of force, all of those things happen when you get weak and you’ve not been training at all. Which is of course what happens to many runners when they get injured. They’re told they have to stop running. They’re told to have to stop doing an activity and when they stop doing all that activity, they get weaker, they get less coordinated and then when they start running again and start ramping up their training again to get back to their previous level of fitness, they’re more prone to an overtraining injury. So you have to strengthen everything else.
If you can put time into core strengthening, supporting all of these other muscle groups that actually do help you move forward and just a less I guess obvious way, that will help you in terms of preventing an overtraining injury and then recovering faster from your current injury and then getting back to running with a decreased risk of injury as well. That’s super important.
All these things that we are talking about, they’re all things that make the difference between people who are succeeding and those that are failing. Those that are recovering quickly and those that are coming slowly.
That’s sort of true in running. Everybody that show up in your age group age group, who you’re really competing with, everybody at your level that’s done the exact same stuff as you in terms of the number of miles, the pace, the speed work, all of that, the big difference is not the amount of hours you put on in on the track or on the road. The big difference is in these little things like, how much did you sleep? Did you really maximize your recovery? Did you have the water available to get the nutrients in and out? Did you have them available? Did you take nutritional supplements, vitamins, minerals, collagen, and micronutrients? Did you get all those things into your system? Are you eating more frequently so that they actually are there round the clock when you’re building tissue? Are you doing some stress relieving thing like meditation visualization, any of those things to help you keep track of the cortisol levels, reduce the cortisol level and stay on track of your goals? Are you doing those things? Are you doing anything to loosen up the system in terms of stretching and are you strengthening everything else?
All these things will matter and again it’s the little things that make the big difference. Once you get to an elite level of competition, everybody is fit. Everybody is physiologically prepared because it’s the people with the mental strength and that do the little things that wind up on top.
So try to find the low-hanging fruit in your system right now. How can you have a little more sleep, a little more water and some more nutritional supplements? How can you eat more frequently? What can you do to stretch and reduce your stress and how can you strengthen these other parts that will support your overall system as you’re recovering.
Those are the big keys. So look for your limiters. It’s the same as when you’re training. If you want to get stronger, work relentlessly on your limiters and it’s the same thing here. Find your limiters and you’ll find some more free speed.
If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me PodcastQuestion@docontherun.com. And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!
Dr. Christopher Segler is a podiatrist and ankle surgeon who has won an award for his research on diagnosing subtle fractures involving the ankle that are often initially thought to be only ankle sprains. He believes that it is important to see the very best ankle sprain doctor in San Francisco that you can find. Fortunately, San Francisco has many of the best ankle sprain specialists in the United States practicing right here in the Bay Area. He offers house calls for those with ankle injuries who have a tough time getting to a podiatry office. You can reach him directly at (415) 308-0833.
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