Five Most Important Stretches for Runners

By Juli Hunt PT DPT CSCS

1. Hamstring Stretch:

The hamstring stretch maintains flexibility in the muscles of the back of the thigh. The hamstring muscles are important in being able to propel you forward while running. Excessive tightness in the hamstrings can lead to strains, lower back injuries, and patella femoral pain.

2,3. Calf Stretches:

The next 2 stretches are calf stretches which differ slightly in the angle of the knee to effectively stretch both calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus. Similar to the hamstring muscles, the calf muscles help to propel you forward with each step you take. Excessive tightness in these muscles can lead to strains, patella femoral pain, and Achilles tendonitis.

4. Hip Flexor Stretch:

The hip flexors (rectus femoris) are a group of muscles that many people forget to stretch. They help to control the knee when the foot hits the ground. Excessive tightness in these muscles can lead to strains, low back pain, and patella femoral pain.

5. ITB Rolling:

The most important thing to remember about the ITB is that it is not a muscle that can easily be stretched. It is a band of thick fascia tissue that originates from hip muscles that help to control your pelvis and knee positioning. The most effective way to lengthen and loosen the ITB is through tissue release techniques with the most common one being rolling (foam roll, “The Stick”, or tennis ball). Excessive tightness here can lead to hip/pelvis pain, bursitis, and patella femoral pain.

One final thought on stretching: These types of stretches are best done after a workout, when the muscles are warm and receptive to lengthening. They are not effective when done prior to running. Anything performed prior to running should be a dynamic warm up with similar movement patterns to running. Such ideas are leg swings, lunges, jumping jacks, etc.

The Journey to Boston: Conclusion

What the Future Holds

I have never been more nervous than I was the days leading up to the race. I was anxious about all the expectations. I was stressed about the weather. I seemed unable to make even the easiest decisions. The morning of the race I was still undecided on how to dress for the frigid temperatures, but I was out of time. So I packed a bag full of options, ate my typical race day breakfast, and headed out the door. I felt better once we arrived. It was oddly comforting to see all the other racers pacing around with that same nervous energy. Next thing I knew, I was standing at the starting line shivering through the National Anthem and then it was go time.

The first few miles passed quickly and my running partner and I were able to maintain a great pace. It felt just like any other training run. We talked, strategized, and searched for our friends in the crowd. We were so appreciative of all the people who came out to support us. It was amazing to see their smiling faces and know that even though they were freezing they were still happy to be there cheering us on. Mile after mile we were on pace for a 3:37 finish. That would give me 8 minutes and her 3 under our qualifying times, more than enough. We were making our way through the course with ease and everything was going as planned.

Then, we hit mile 15. It's one of the few hilly parts of the course. Suddenly the wind was blowing right towards us and it was hard to move forward, especially uphill. Somehow we managed to get through that mile with a very fast split, but all that extra effort took its toll on me and I never quite recovered. It's also the point where I started to feel really cold and under-dressed. I knew I was wasting a lot of energy just trying to keep warm. I was still able to hang in there and stay with that 3:37 pace until mile 22. That's when fatigue set in and I let my partner pull away.

The last three miles I completely fell apart. In fact, they might be the worst three miles I have ever run. Certainly I have felt tired in every marathon I've run, but this was different. This was my body shutting down. Two of my friends jumped into the race from the sidelines. They ran beside me trying everything they could to push me forward. And I wanted nothing more than to push on, but my muscles had ceased up and I could barely move. With every step I felt as though my legs were going to collapse out from under me. I was so disappointed. I could feel every bit of hard work I had put into this race and my training slowly starting to slip away. I kept looking down at my watch seeing that huge cushion I built up start to dwindle and I realized I was in danger of missing my goal. More than anything I was embarrassed. I am not a quitter and this was not how I wanted my race to end. Somehow I shuffled across the finish line. For the final time I looked down at my watch and I was 1 minute and 52 seconds under my qualifying time. I did it! 

Regardless of my disappointment with the finish, I am still proud of what I have accomplished. I took 13 minutes off my PR and seeing that BQ next to my name was overwhelming. Of course I now have to wonder if I did enough to get a number for 2017. Only time will tell. Within hours people were asking me if I would run another race next year and try to better my chances. I honestly don't know. Right now, I need to rest. I have seen way too many sunrises. I have missed way too many lazy Saturday mornings with my kids. I have put my teaching on the back burner all summer and I miss it. I have to get back to running because I want to, not because I have to. I hope to still check in from time to time and keep you all updated on my training. And who knows, if I do decide to roll the dice and run another race I might just have to blog about it.

The Journey to Boston: Part 20

Impatiently Waiting

By Jody Mello Brown

Well, it all comes down to this. Twenty weeks of training gone by and now it's time to put all that hard work into action. There's nothing left to do but rest and check the weather over and over again. Weather can absolutely make or break your race and there is nothing you can do to control it. Thankfully, it's looking like perfect race weather for Sunday.

I'm feeling energized by all my amazing running friends that performed so well at the Chicago Marathon. To see them excel and witness them crushing their goals give me hope that I will do the same. It's hard to hold back and not run during these taper weeks, but watching your friends have an amazing performance is a pretty good way to pass the time.

Once I received my bib number last week I felt lots of nervous excitement set in. It is way outside my comfort zone to work towards something so publicly. It adds a whole new layer of anxiety about falling short. But, I know everyone is cheering me on and I will do everything in my power not to disappoint them. 

One of the last things I do before every race is to find a quote that speaks to me. On race day I carry that quote with me in some way and think of it when I'm struggling. The other day I stumbled across the one below. To me, it's that simple. Fierce determination will get it done.

Training: Week 20
Monday - 5 miles
Tuesday - 3 miles, strength & core conditioning
Wednesday - Spin class
Thursday - 4 miles
Friday - Spin class
Saturday - rest
Sunday - 26.2 miles!

The Journey to Boston: Part 19

2 minutes, 28 seconds

By Jody Mello Brown

This whole training cycle I've felt my confidence as a runner grow. And coming off a great race last weekend, I felt beyond prepared to run what I need to at Baystate.

Then, mid-week news broke about the 2016 qualifying standards for the Boston Marathon. Race registration was closed and you needed to be 2 minutes, 28 seconds under your qualifying time in order to get a number. I'm not sure anyone expected that big of a jump. After all, the cutoff point for 2015 was only 62 seconds. All along my goal has been to be 2 minutes under qualifying. I thought that would be more than enough. Poof! Just like that, all my confidence is gone.

I allowed myself one day to be annoyed. I was frustrated that with less than three weeks to go I needed to reevaluate my race plans. I was angry for my friends who were among the 4,562 people that hit their qualifying time but still did not get in. I was especially upset for those people that missed the cutoff by 1 or 2 seconds because I'm sure they believed they were in.

The next day it was time to shake it off and move on. Getting into the Boston Marathon or not isn't a "real" problem. I know I have done my best to prepare and whatever the outcome is I will finish this race with a smile on my face. I'll be smiling simply because I love to run. It's my stress reliever, my social outlet, and often the best part of my day. I would be lost without it.

Training: Week 19
Monday - 5 miles, strength & core conditioning
Tuesday - 6 miles
Wednesday - rest
Thursday - 4 miles, strength & core conditioning
Friday - Spin class
Saturday - 8 miles
Sunday - rest

The Journey to Boston: Part 18

Trust in the Training

By Jody Mello Brown

At this moment my favorite word is taper. I am so happy to have reached the end of my training without injury and am ready to crush my goal. 

The first time I ran a marathon I was absolutely petrified to taper. It seemed unimaginable that I could just coast along for 3 whole weeks before the race. Surely my legs would just completely forget how to run and I would be lucky to eek out even 10 miles come race day. But, I was bombarded with enough "respect the taper" warnings that I obeyed my training plan. And what do you know... it worked! I was rested and strong. I won't say that first 26.2 was easy, but I did it and I continue to take on the challenge again and again.

I no longer dread the taper because I know it works.  Now I celebrate reaching that milestone and look forward to the break. I happily count down the days until I can run a little less and sleep a little more.

I completed my last long training run on Sunday. Originally, I thought I would have to run it alone since all of my partners were able to get theirs done on Saturday. So, I sat and tried to map out a route at least 5 or 6 times and I came up with nothing. I just could not face running for hours down the same old streets again. That's when I decided to sign up for a half marathon road race in town. I figured it was still the same old path, but at least I would not be alone. 

I had no intention of racing. I planned to run to the starting line from my house as a warm up and then practice pacing for the last 13 miles. Well, that's not exactly how things went. The race was so small that I started right up front. I felt like I was running fast, but the pace was still comfortable. I hit that first mile and I was 45 seconds under my marathon pace. At this point I was still fairly close to the leaders so I decided to test myself and see how long I could hang with them. Eventually they pulled away, but I managed to stay at that same pace for over 10 miles. I know I can't go out that fast in a 26 mile race, but it's nice to know that speed is there. I'm happy that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. In a few weeks, when the real race is here I can look back on this training run and remind myself that I'm capable of so much more than I think. 

Training: Week 18
Monday - 4 miles, strength & core conditioning
Tuesday - 6 miles
Wednesday - rest
Thursday - 6 miles
Friday - Spin class, strength & core conditioning
Saturday - 13 miles
Sunday - Spin class

The Journey to Boston: Part 17

Field Trip

By Jody Mello Brown

A few weeks ago, the organizers of the Baystate Marathon posted that they had just finished repainting the mile markers along the course. They mentioned that it was ready for anyone looking to head over there for a training run. That got me thinking. I was pretty tired of running down the same local streets and it seemed like a fun idea to head up to Lowell with my partners for our last 20 mile run.

This is not something I usually do. In fact, I typically do not check out a course at all before I run it. When I ran the Maine Coast Marathon I ended up more or less driving the entire route the day before the race. It was not intentional. My family and I just happened to do a little sightseeing close to the finish line before we drove to the starting area to pick up my number. It was a huge mistake. I sat in the car and stared out the window as we drove for what felt like a really long time. Panic started to set in when I realized how far 26 miles a car. I spent the rest of the day worrying that I would never be able to run all that way.

I decided to put my fears aside and run the course anyway. I am so glad I did. I had an amazing run. I ran those 20 miles at my exact race pace and I felt great. I felt as though I could comfortably push it even more. And I love the route. It's every bit as flat as promised and in a few weeks when Fall is in full swing I can picture how beautiful it will be.

I have one more long run coming up this weekend and then the work is done. It will be time to rest and mentally prepare. I have never felt more ready for a race then I do right now. October 18th can not get here soon enough.

Training: Week 17
Monday - Spin class, strength & core conditioning
Tuesday - 5 miles
Wednesday - rest
Thursday - 6 miles, strength & core conditioning
Friday -  5 miles, Spin class
Saturday - rest
Sunday - 17 miles

The Journey to Boston: Part 16

Feeling Guilty

By Jody Mello Brown

As much as running is a solo sport, long distance running is absolutely a group effort. If it wasn't for my training partners I would never make it through some of those long runs. They make me laugh when I'm tired and yell at me when I want to quit. And there is no way I could train for a marathon without the incredible support from my family.

I try to minimize the impact my training has on my family as much as possible. I know it's difficult when I am gone for hours at a time. I feel guilty when I turn down plans to go away for the weekend because I need to get a long run in. It kills me when I have to say no to going on a bike ride or playing in the yard because I'm physically drained. And perhaps the worst is when I snap at them too easily just out of sheer exhaustion.

I do my best to make sure all those things happen as little as possible. After all, they didn't sign up for this, I did. I also want them to see this as a positive experience. I want to show them that if you really want something then you work hard and make it happen. I hope they will be inspired to dream big and then do whatever it takes to make those dreams come true.

These last few weeks are always the most difficult. I'm tired of training and ready for race day to be here. Now more than ever I will draw inspiration from my family. There is nothing better than seeking them out among the crowd of faces at a race. And I might be biased, but I'm pretty sure I have the best fans!

Training: Week 16
Monday - 3 miles, strength & core conditioning
Tuesday - 8 miles
Wednesday - Spin class, strength & core conditioning
Thursday - 6 miles
Friday - Spin class
Saturday - 20 miles
Sunday - rest

The Journey to Boston: Part 15

Change of Plans

By Jody Mello Brown

Every time I train for a marathon the same thing happens. I print out the training plan and the 20 mile long runs jump off the page and taunt me. I know it's a mental hurdle. I mean the 19 miler doesn't bother me at all so what's one more mile? And of course they're nothing compared to running the actual 26. Except, I consider them all guts and no glory. There are no water stations, no cheering crowds, no funny signs. It's just a really long and difficult run. I try and not stress about them, but for weeks they stay on my mind and cause this nagging sense of dread. 

This time around has been no different. I knew they were rapidly approaching and it was starting to make me anxious. But then, something happened. I decided last minute to do one this past weekend, a week ahead of schedule. I had no intention of doing it early. In fact, I was looking forward to the cut back week. Having just run 18 and then 19 miles the past 2 weekends I was tired. And when my training partners told me they were going to do 20 this weekend because of scheduling conflicts I thought "stinks to be them."  I don't know what finally convinced me, but the more they talked about it the more it made sense just to get it done. The weather for Saturday was looking great, I had no other commitments to schedule around, and I would have company.

It turned out to be a great decision. We all ran really well. And perhaps the best part was not spending the whole week leading up to it dreading how awful it was going to be. I was nervous to shift things around, but all it took was one of my very wise running friends to remind me that a training plan is just a guide and it's okay to make adjustments. Truly, if you run and do not belong to a club you should. The advice, support and laughs they provide is immeasurable.

Training: Week 15
Monday - 8 miles
Tuesday - 5 miles, strength & core conditioning
Wednesday - Spin class, strength & core conditioning
Thursday - 6 miles
Friday - Spin class
Saturday - 13 miles
Sunday - rest


The Journey to Boston: Part 14

Setting the Pace

By Jody Mello Brown

I've been debating whether or not to run with a pace group on race day. Even professional running coaches have mixed feelings about the subject.

In theory it seems like a great idea. Just find your desired pacer, stick with them and cross the finish line with a big smile on your face because you've hit your target time. The problem is it's a 26 mile race and anything can happen. Pacers are amazing and selfless, but they're only human. They can have an off day. They can get caught up in the excitement and go out too fast. Even though they are running much slower than their normal pace there is still a risk things could go wrong.

After much thought, I've decided to start with a pace group and then hopefully pull away around the mid-way point. I always tend to start races too slowly. I get stuck in the crowd and it takes me a few miles to find space and hit my stride. Hopefully by starting with a pace group I will be a little more aggressive and avoid having excessively slow miles right out of the gate. That's the plan for now. On race day I'll trust my instincts and makes adjustments if I need to.

Training this week has been challenging. My husband is traveling for work. School has started. Plus, there's the long weekend. I refuse to let all these scheduling conflicts derail me. I even grabbed my favorite running partner and pushed him in the jogging stroller for a few miles. I will not cut any corners. At the end of this training session I will know with absolute certainty that I gave it my all.

Training: Week 14
Monday - rest
Tuesday - 5 miles
Wednesday - Strength and core conditioning
Thursday - 6 miles
Friday - 13 miles
Saturday - 8 miles
Sunday - rest

The Journey to Boston: Part 13


By Jody Mello Brown

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the rolling admissions process for the Boston Marathon. It's frustrating that you never really know what time you need to get in. I'm curious to see how things shake out next month when registration for the 2016 race opens. Last year runners with race times 1:02 under qualifying were the last to get in.

There are people who actually analyze the data from the previous year in an attempt to predict what the cutoff will be for the following year. It involves some complicated equations using numbers from lots of feeder races. Frankly, it's over my head and still no guarantee.

I'm aiming to be 2 minutes under qualifying in hopes that will be fast enough. To be able to cross the finish line at Baystate at my qualifying time would be a huge accomplishment, but for me it won't be enough. If my time is not fast enough to actually get a number it will feel like a failure.

Apart from worrying about things I can not predict or control, it's just been training as normal. I'm hitting my peak of about 40 miles per week. It's getting a little tricky to squeeze all my training in. The mornings are very dark now and with my kids starting school next week our schedule is about to get a lot more hectic. But, my friend posted this picture the other day and it sums up how I feel. No excuses. Just find a way and get it done.

Training: Week 13
Monday - 5 miles tempo, strength & core conditioning
Tuesday - 8 miles
Wednesday - Spin class, strength & core conditioning
Thursday - 6 miles
Friday - Spin class
Saturday - 19 miles
Sunday - Spin class

The Journey to Boston: Part 12


By Jody Mello Brown

If you want to get a runner worked up ask them about their shoes. Or better yet, ask them about their fuel preferences. I was at the store last week and my head was spinning from all the different options. Between the gels, chews, beans, shots and countless different flavors of each, it's hard to know where to begin. Then, once you decide on type you have to figure out when and how much.

I've decided over the years that it comes down to personal preference. It's a matter of trial and error to figure out what is effective for you and what your body can tolerate. For me the only rule is that you have to experiment and figure out a plan before race day. Once my long runs hit more than 15 miles I start to phase in some fuel.

I absolutely prefer gels, specifically Gu. I think the chews taste much better, but I find you have to eat entirely too many in order for them to be effective.

I usually take a Gu at mile 14 and then another at mile 20. Please don't start commenting that 2 gels for a 26 mile race is not enough. I know it's not. It's just that I can only manage to get 2 down. I typically drink some Gatorade throughout the race and the combination of the two leaves me on sweetness overload. I would love to start incorporating another gel around mile 7. I plan to try it on my last few training runs to see how I feel. I'm also trying some new flavors hoping that will help. On tap for this weekend, 17 miles and mandarin orange.

Training: Week 12
Monday - 5 miles, strength and core conditioning
Tuesday - 8 miles
Wednesday - rest
Thursday - 6 miles, strength and core conditioning
Friday - Spin class
Saturday - 17 miles
Sunday - rest

The Journey to Boston: Part 11

110% Effort

By Jody Mello Brown

I can't believe there are only 10 weeks until race day. I'm having so much fun this cycle that the time is flying by. I think it helps to have so many friends training for Fall marathons. Even though we're not all doing the same race we're still able to get lots of miles in together.

A few of my training partners are running the Chicago Marathon. It's only 1 week ahead of Baystate and also known to be flat and fast. Chicago sent their runners a training plan. I had the chance to look at it and this quote from Nike has stuck with me.

"You are fit, strong and ready to take on any workout. The miles will start to pass by quickly. Make sure you appreciate what you have done and what you are doing."

I'm really looking forward to the weeks ahead. My knee is better, we're through the worst of the heat and humidity, and I don't plan on subbing as many classes. It's just all out focus and 110% effort to the end.

Training: Week 11
Monday: 5 miles tempo and strength & core conditioning
Tuesday: Spin class
Wednesday: 6 miles and strength & core conditioning
Thursday: 6 miles
Friday: Spin class
Saturday: rest
Sunday: 13 miles

The Journey to Boston: Part 10


By Jody Mello Brown

Something happened last weekend. I turned into a believer.

The weather on Saturday was beautiful. So I decided to move my long run to Sunday and spend the day with my family. That left me squeezing 14 miles in before teaching spin at 9:00.

I didn't even bother to look for company. I just set my alarm for 5:00 a.m., threw on my sneakers and hit the road. My first mile was faster than usual. I chalked it up to nerves. It was still fairly dark and I was the only person out and about. But then my next two splits were fast too. In fact, the first 5k was my fastest ever. Huh?

The rest of my run went along at the same peppy pace. Right around mile 8 it hit me. I can BQ. I need to take 9 minutes off my marathon PR. That big number has seemed daunting until now. Sunday I finished my 14 miles 7 minutes ahead of my BQ pace and I felt great.

I still have a lot of work to do over the next two months, but I'm more confident than ever. I've just gone from "I think I can" to "I know I can." I have that blue and gold finish line on Boylston Street in my sights. I have walked across is many times over the years. In 2017 I WILL run across it.

Training: Week 10
Monday - rest
Tuesday - 8 miles and strength & core conditioning
Wednesday - 4 miles and Spin class
Thursday - 6 miles
Friday - Spin class and strength & core conditioning
Saturday - 15 miles
Sunday - rest

The Journey to Boston: Part 9

How Far I've Come

By Jody Mello Brown

Things are starting to get real around here. From this point on, every long run is at least 13 miles.

I can remember the first time I ran 13 miles. It was years ago. At that point I was a very casual runner. I would go out and trot a few miles a couple times a week. My friends wanted to sign up for a half marathon. Part of me thought there was no way they would actually go through with it so I agreed to do it too. Much to my surprise my friends not only went through with it, they joined a running club and trained for it!

I showed up on race day completely unprepared, but naive enough to still believe I could finish anyway. Somehow I did manage to finish. It wasn't fast and it certainly wasn't pretty, but I was incredibly proud of myself nonetheless.

I know that I will draw on that experience many times in the next few weeks. It's a great reminder of how far I have come. Being surrounded by so many great runners all the time it is easy to lose sight of how difficult it is to run for 2-3 hours. There will certainly be days when I just don't feel it. That's when I will put one foot in front of the other and find a way to get it done. I may not be the fastest runner on the road, but I have a lot of heart and that counts for something too!

Training: Week 9
Monday - 2 Spin classes and strength & core conditioning
Tuesday - 6 miles
Wednesday - rest
Thursday - 8 miles
Friday - Spin class and strength & core conditioning
Saturday - 14 miles
Sunday- Spin class

The Journey to Boston: Part 8

Finding Time

By Jody Mello Brown

People always asks how I find the time to train for a marathon. I don't know. You just do. You get up at 5 A.M. (even on the weekends.) You run while your kids are at school or hit the treadmill while they're napping. You just get it done.

Finding the time to run is one thing. Finding the time to do anything else is another. For most long distance runners it seems like cross training is the first thing that drops off. I mean really, who has time to run 30-40 miles a week and lift weights or swim? This is where being a fitness instructor can be an advantage. Time spent working is time spent cross training. On the other hand, I'm constantly fighting fatigue. Working out 2 times a day leaves little time for rest and recovery. It's hard to balance it all.

Depending on how much I'm teaching I will alter my training plan. Over the next two weeks I've picked up a lot of extra classes. With all those added workouts I'll have to adjust and only run 3 days instead of 4.

I know from experience what it takes to cross that finish line. Sometimes it means taking a rest day when you just don't feel well and sometimes it means swapping an hour on the spin bike for an hour on the roads. No matter how I'm training I just keep working hard and pushing myself to be better today than I was yesterday.

Training: Week 8
Monday - Spin class
Tuesday - Spin class & strength and core conditioning
Wednesday - 6 miles
Thursday - 6 miles & strength and core conditioning
Friday - Spin class
Saturday - 10 miles
Sunday - rest

The Journey to Boston: Part 7

The Feedbag

By Jody Mello Brown

I have a confession. I eat... a lot. I've actually been called out by a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory for my ability to devour almost an entire burrito the size of my table. Once someone takes note of my enormous appetite I feel as though I need to defend myself. I instantly start to explain that as a fitness instructor and marathon runner my appetite has become an insatiable monster.

In theory I should be able to eat whatever I want. And in the past I have. But, it's occurred to me that I would probably perform better if I wasn't fueled on garbage.

Since then I've made an effort to eat better. I try to avoid added sugar and processed foods. I have also upped my protein intake and cut back on carbs.

It's been a work in progress. I don't miss the unhealthy stuff nearly as much as I thought I would. Mostly I struggle to make sure I'm getting enough calories. I find that there is a limit to the number of bananas and kale chips I can eat. I'm just going to have to get more creative. If you have any healthy meal or snack ideas let me know. I'd love to hear them!

Training: Week 7
Monday - 5 miles easy & strength and core conditioning
Tuesday - rest
Wednesday - 5 miles tempo
Thursday - 6 miles hill repeats & Spin class
Friday - Spin class & strength and core conditioning
Saturday - 12 miles pace
Sunday - Bootcamp & Spin class