Jason Fitzgerald is an accomplished runner (2:39 marathoner) and writes one of my favorite running websites, Strength Running.
I recently featured Strength Running as one of my 20 Outstanding Running Blogs for 2012 and Beyond.
If you are looking for easy-to-digest advice to take your running to the next level or exercise recommendations to prevent running injuries, look no further.
Lastly, Jason also has a Kindle book that is chock-a-block with great advice for runners of all levels. Check it out here: 101 Simple Ways to be a Better Runner: A Short Guide to Running Faster, Preventing Injuries, and Feeling Great
What are the most common mistakes you see in new runners regarding their training approach?
Jason Fitzgerald: Simple – most new runners don’t have a training approach! They lace up their shoes, hit the road, and log some miles with very little direction. For general fitness, this isn’t necessarily an issue. But as soon as runners start making time goals or registering for longer races like 10k or the half marathon, they inevitably run more. Then problems start to happen.
New runners make three classic mistakes when they transition from fitness to time-oriented running goals:
- They “just” run, ignoring the necessary strength, core, and flexibility work that prevents injuries.
- Their running is the same distances and workouts in the same pair of shoes on the same terrain every day. There’s no variety.
- Their mileage plateaus at a modest level and their faster workouts are too easy.
Not everyone makes each mistake but these are common when I evaluate the training history of runners when I write a personalized training plan. Each individual needs to tweak their training differently to see results.
Is there particular training method or workout that most runners simply don’t do (for whatever reason), that would help them run faster?
Jason Fitzgerald: A training philosophy that I believe in very strongly is, “make your easy days easier and your harder days harder.” Too many runners train at a moderate level every run – running their workouts too slow and their recovery days too fast.
Varying workout intensities can provide most runners with a big training upgrade. Just by running slower on their true recovery days, a little faster on a quality day like a long run, and introducing other paces into their running with hill sprints, strides, and multi-pace workouts they can give themselves a significant advantage.
But always remember to have a plan – you can’t attack a 5 x mile interval workout or a marathon-pace long run if you’re a beginner or training for a different race than these workouts call for. Increase both mileage and intensity gradually.
Most people think running coaches are only for professionals. Is this the case?
Jason Fitzgerald: Coaches are for any runner who wants to accomplish a specific goal: weight loss, injury prevention, faster race times, or just the accountability to be more consistent.
It’s fascinating to me how some think coaching isn’t for them because they’re “not good enough.” Coaching is perfect for beginner runners! Anyone who’s stuck in a rut or getting the same results over and over can benefit from a coach who can guide them in the right direction.
In a recent Daily Mail article, Alberto Salazar made reference to Olympic champion, Mo Farah: “The No 1 thing that has helped Mo is not the 110 miles a week he puts in on the road, but the seven hours a fortnight in the gym”. Do you share this view that strength training is vital for endurance athletes?
Jason Fitzgerald: Absolutely – Salazar and I are in 100% agreement on that one. I’d even go so far as to say that the amount of strength work Farah does enables him to run 110 miles a week.
Too many runners focus on just the aerobic system (your endurance) without realizing a strong aerobic system means you’re beating your legs up pretty good every day by running fast and far. So you need a strong muscular system – or support structure – to withhold the stress of running fast and far.
For me personally, I’m actually quite injury-prone even though I haven’t had a significant injury in over three years. The difference between my training five years ago when I was constantly battling tendinitis, ITBS, or plantar fasciitis is that now I do regular strength training.
My wife goes so far as to call me a “core whore” because it seems that I’m always doing body weight exercises in our living room. But they work!
What types of exercises are important to help runners get stronger?
Jason Fitzgerald: I mentioned before that variety is crucial so runners shouldn’t just focus on sit-ups and push-ups. The most important area that runners should concentrate on is their core – but that includes a lot more than your abs.
The core is essentially everything from your knees to your nipples. Most runners usually have weak glutes and tight hips, both of which can contribute to overuse injuries so these should be addressed with a routine like the ITB Rehab Routine.
Other beneficial body weight exercises include the front and side plank, bird dog, bridge, step-up, push-up, squat, and lunge (in multiple directions). In the gym, runners should focus on the basics that hit multiple muscle groups. Compound movements like squats, dead lifts, bench press, pull-ups, chin-ups, military press, and seated row are best.
Much has been discussed lately in the running community about running form. How important is good running form?
Jason Fitzgerald: Good running form will help a runner prevent more injuries, run more efficiently, and just make running more enjoyable. But even though it’s really important, runners shouldn’t try to dramatically alter their running style.
Here a few principles to follow:
- Increase your cadence (the number of steps you take per minute) about 5-10% until you’re at 170-190 steps per minute. The number 180 is popular though there is no firm step rate that’s ideal.
- Keep your back tall, no slouching, and lean from your ankles – not your waist.
- Land underneath your body. Don’t “reach out” in front of your body to lengthen your stride.
- Try not to aggressively heel strike. Don’t put too much emphasis on being a midfoot or forefoot striker though – even elite runners heel strike. As long as your toe isn’t pointed up at a 45 degree angle you should be fine.
These four simple changes to your stride, done gradually over time one by one, will solve virtually every major issue with your running form. And an often overlooked way to improve your form and become more efficient is to simply run more – your body will naturally find its most economic stride.
Many runners struggle to determine when they need to eat/drink during a run. At what distance is it necessary to rehydrate and/or take in some fuel?
Jason Fitzgerald: This will be different for every runner. Some sweat through their shirt going to get the mail while others (like me) can run easy for an hour without sweating at all. And some prefer running in the morning without breakfast but some need fuel.
A general rule that I like to tell the runners I coach is that at 1:45 or two hours of running you should start to take in some calories. So for a two-hour run, a gel at the halfway point works well. Longer runs should have 1-2 more gels (or blocks or whatever works well for you) spaced throughout the run.
Fluid intake is more linked to the weather than distance. If it’s cold and not super dry, you could get away with running well over two hours without any fluid and feel fine! But most runners will probably need some fluids after 1.5 – 2 hours of running.
Experiment with what you like to eat and drink while running. Go on some runs without breakfast and see how you feel. Have a big breakfast and then go running 45 minutes later. People respond very differently to food so you’ll never know unless you try.
Do you have any mentors or other people you admire?
Jason Fitzgerald: Definitely! I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. My college cross-country coach Jim Butler taught me the value of hard work, mileage, and instilled in me a true passion for the sport.
I’ve also learned so much from other coaches, writers, and runners like Jack Daniels, Jay Johnson, Brad Hudson, Matt Fitzgerald, and so many others.
Any favourite running resources or books?
Jason Fitzgerald: I’m a self-admitted running nerd so I’m usually reading something about running. Some of my favorite books and websites are:
Brain Training for Runners by Matt Fitzgerald
Coach Jay Johnson – written by (you guessed it) Jay Johnson
Science of Running– written by Steve Magness
Sweat Science – written by Alex Hutchinson
I also have a curated page of my favorite running books.
What’s next for you and Strength Running?
Jason Fitzgerald: I’m coaching a small group of passionate runners who are training for races ranging from 10k to the marathon. Aside from working closely with them, I’m focused on publishing even more free stuff on the blog and creating a lot of custom training plans.
My other site – Run Your BQ – is a coaching service, marathon training resource, and community of over 300 runners who want to improve their marathon and eventually qualify for Boston. We’re not always open to new members but we’re opening up sometime soon – you can sign up if you want to get notified.
And personally, I’m aiming for a 10 Mile PR this October…hopefully with an 8k or 10k PR first!