Better Understanding the Mystery of the Injured Runner, Part II

This series is based on the Science of Running Symposium I recently attended in San Francisco. To read part I, click here.

Every running magazine contains at least one article on running injuries and prevention. And a website search on these topics will result in a life-time of reading. Frustrated by the apparent void of a science-substantiated, systematic approach to help the injured runner return to sport and the uninjured runner avoid injury, I was determined to find a research-based, clinic tested program that dug in to the underlying, root causes driving injuries.

right stride flight

As a result of this search, I found and attended a six month fellowship with Dr. Chris Powers, at his USC-affiliated Movement Performance Institute, and attend update courses with him, including this year’s Science of Running Symposium.

Dr. Powers opened the symposium by posing the question, Why are injuries so prevalent among runners? The answer may start with the sheer number of runners.

Why do so many Americans, approximately 36 million, chose running as their activity of choice?

  • Easily accessible
  • Low cost
  • Time efficient workout

Injury rates, amongst the running populatiobn, range anywhere from 20-80%. And of those injuries, 50% occur at the knee.

What are some key factors that contribute to a high incidence of running injuries?

  • Frequency of loading
  • Magnitude of loading
  • Ground reaction forces two to three times body weight
  • Abnormal mechanics

With these factors in mind, then consider a majority of the running population turns to running to lose weight. So to piece the scenario together, we have an overweight person, who lacks muscular strength, stability, mobility and motor skills to effectively dampen and direct forces (two to three times body weight) that impact their joints. In many cases too, this population lacks a systematic progression to their training volume.

Dr. Powers then presented the concept of Envelope of Function, developed by Dr. Dye. The Envelope of Function states

  • There is an area called homeostasis where the runner operates optimally
  • Factors affecting the width of the homeostasis window include
    • Magnitude of loading
    • Frequency of loading
    • Abnormal mechanics
      • Increases in one or all of these factors, narrows the window of homeostasis, pushing the runner toward overuse injuries

Now let’s take the above factors and consider, for example, the demands on runners training for a marathon. These runners will foot strike over one million times while training for the marathon, and strike 26,000/mile/foot during the marathon. So how can we stay in that optimally operating zone of homeostasis?

Consistently and Purposefully Practiced Stability, Activation and Mobility Program

When we effectively train the stabilizers to kick in before the prime movers fire, the stabilizers set a foundation so the prime movers can direct the force in the intended direction. Visualize a canon floating in a canoe and firing its shots – this is analogous to a prime mover firing without stabilizers in place. Get the picture?

Hip activation, is the first step to develop brain to glute communication and the ability to properly fire muscles during movement. Proper recruitment of glutes, during running, allows safe and effective deceleration and shock absorption of those pesky ground reaction forces, through more reliance on the glutes and less over-reliance on the quads and hamstrings.

Finally a practice of global mobility with respect to joints, muscular length and soft tissues helps to facilitate proper neuromuscular firing/recruitment and structural alignment.


Less is More Training with Quality Taking Precedence of Quantity

Those years of Western States runners training, for example, by slogging away, eight hour day after hour day are gone. This training led to mental and physical break-down and slow, mechanically inefficient running.

The training goal is to get fit to run efficiently, not run to get fit. And this requires variety based on quality work and quality rest. The training week consistently includes intervals, speed and power, endurance, rest and non-aerobic activation, stability and mobility. It is the consistent practice of all these parts that provides injury prevention and performance.

One of the main goals of the interval work, shorter speed and longer tempo, is to improve running specific strength, power and economy of movement. This interval work assumes the supporting activation, stability and mobility program is in place. The goal is not how hard we can go at the expense of controlled movement, but how fast can we go with the objective of holding good mechanics, and fluidly moving with control and purpose.

Training programs based solely on slow miles, allow you to go long and slow. But endurance events are a game of efficiency, quality structured workouts develop specific running strength and economy of movement, reduce injury potential and improve performance.

Get the most out of every workout, by understanding why you are doing it. Be mentally and physically engaged in your running vs slogging away more and more mindless miles.

Stay tuned for part III, understanding normal running mechanics.

Did You Know, that Finger Position, Can Shave Seconds?

Silver Sage sponsored, Ride2Recovery athlete (un-named to protect active duty identity) checks in…


It amazes me how meeting one person that finds out about your past can launch something that just leaves you speechless. That a simple thank you just doesn’t seem to get the job done. I retire officially in five days. During my ​med board process for my wounds acquired down range, I was sent to a Nurse Care Manager at Beale A​ir Force Base in California. Next thing I know I am getting an invite to come to San Antonio, Texas for an event put on by the Air Force for injured Air Force members, current and prior. It is called the Wounded Warrior Adaptive Sports and Reconditioning Camp.

This camp is designed to introduce wounded Air Force personnel to adaptive sports for a week, so they can go to the Air Force trials and try to be selected for the Warrior Games. These games place the five service branches (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and then my boys…Special Operations Command, SOCOM) all against each other in an adaptive sports competition. The Warrior Games include…Swimming, Cycling, Track and Field, Wheel​c​hair Basketball, ​Sitting​Volleyball, Archery, Air Rifle and pistol. The Air Force is the only service that has had a participant earn gold in every event, earning the title of Super Warrior.

Winning Shot

​I am not sure if I will participate as of yet, if I will either team up with the Air Force or SOCOM, we’ll see! Nevertheless, this training was so valuable, they broke it down to how the way you hold your fingers when running a sprint can shave off an 100th of a second. It’s crazy, but these coaches are all professionally Certified to train Olympians! They themselves are mostly former Olympians or Olympic coaches! Some of the best training that I have ever received, can’t wait to put it to use back home! Good times…good friends!! GO AIR FORCE!!!


Far West Elite XC Team Raise the Racing Bar at US Nationals

Silver Sage sponsored and Far West Elite Team member, Emily Blackmer recounts her recent US National race campaign…


Spencer and I spent the first week of January representing the Far West Elite Team at U.S. Nationals, hosted by Michigan Tech University in Houghton, Michigan. Nationals is a four-race series: a 10/15k individual start skate race, a classic sprint, a 20/30k mass start classic race, and a skate sprint.  It was quite the week: the daytime temperature averaged about 5 degrees (before wind chill), the thermometer spent a single afternoon in double digits, it snowed over two feet, and I hardly saw a single ray of sunshine.

Racing in these conditions is tough. It’s difficult to warm up before a race, much less stay warm while out there in a race suit; the cold air hurts—and can even damage—your lungs; and cold, accumulating snow is so slow that races take longer than usual, and you have to keep pushing through sections of the course that might otherwise be counted on for recovery.

So, we had to adjust our preparation, tactics and recovery accordingly. First and foremost: layers upon layers upon layers. Most days I wore my down jacket for the first 10 minutes of my ski, because the cold sucks away body heat so quickly that it becomes difficult to get the system going. We also added a few extra minutes onto our race warm up to give time to change into as many dry layers as possible before actually racing: sweat can be dangerous in that weather. While we never ski much during an big block of racing, our training days were even shorter than usual, because the cold is so draining: one day I skied for grand total of 20 minutes.  And of course, we ate enormous quantities of food to compensate for the extra calories expended on staying warm.

To add one more complication, we were also racing at low elevation. This can be a pretty big change after training around 7000 feet. On the one hand, you feel like a superstar: “I can recover so quickly after hammering up this hill!” But on the other hand: “My legs HURT.” Racing at altitude, you’re inclined to feel the cardiovascular effort first, and by the time your legs are flooded, it’s often too late to bring the effort back under control. At sea level, the legs will turn to jelly but you can keep pushing the cardiovascular system. Additionally, you can achieve and sustain greater speeds at low altitude, because your body simply doesn’t need to work as hard to go fast. So it’s a mixed bag, coming down from altitude: you can recover more quickly, but you are not accustomed to skiing at the speed or pace that your sea-level competitors are. In a race, this means push hard, push hard again, and then push harder. I was caught off guard in the first races of the week, and I think I just didn’t ski hard enough or fast enough to achieve the results I was looking for. But hopefully, lesson learned – our next big race series is in Vermont, another low elevation venue, and I’m already excited to put this experience to good use!