Improving Speed And Reducing Injury Risk In Runners

by Eric Oliver, PT, Founder

So how do you make an already fast runner, faster and more resilient to injury?  This was the question with which I was posed earlier this summer when I first met Amy Robillard, the Flying Pig Marathon winner of the past two years.  Amy had already come off a successful spring race season with a female course record at the Run the Bluegrass Half-Marathon in April and a win at the Flying Pig Marathon in May.  When Amy and I first talked she was looking for help with improving her run speed as well as finding answers to her nagging aches and pains.  

Although I am a certified running coach, it was clear that my role on her team was not to help with the development of her running program.  She already had a successful relationship with her coach that was obviously working.  Rather, my initial role was to identify the movement and strength faults that were contributing to both her aches and her running inefficiencies.  This started with a movement and musculoskeletal exam that included a battery of tests specific for runners that assessed her joint mobility, muscle flexibility, muscle strength, motor coordination, and running form.  

A plan was then developed out of this exam that was clear on addressing the identified sources of her movement problems and run mechanics.  This plan was set into motion in the beginning of the summer utilizing:

  1. A focused weight training program specific for developing the muscle groups and movements necessary for generating power and stabilizing the body when running
  2. Physical therapy to correct tissue and joint mobility dysfunctions
  3. Tweaking of her run mechanics
  4. Integration of low-impact cross-training equipment to work her aerobic/anaerobic energy system without stressing her joints, muscles, and tendons
  5. Regular body maintenance work to aid her recovery from the workouts

(Look for a future blog post to discuss the above topics in more detail)

The result of this plan and Amy’s dedicated work ethic:

  1. Better aligned skeletal system
  2. Improved muscle force production
  3. Improved running efficiency

Her dedication in following this plan in concert with her coach’s training program helped her achieve a half-marathon time of 1:19:03 (PR by :30 seconds) at her most recent race, the USA Half Marathon Invitational in San Diego on November 21st.

One last thing to mention, though.  This plan did not go perfectly.  An anomaly of a stress fracture in Amy’s foot during part of the summer kept her from running for six weeks.  But how did Amy continue to keep training and return to running at a high enough level to still post a 1st place division (4th overall) performance in San Diego?

Look for the answer to this question in a future blog post about the effective use of cross-training!