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The Keys to Injury-free Running

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Injury-free running is more than doing daily pre- and post-run work.

When I was a first-year coach, I was convinced that if I could keep athletes healthy throughout a season, they'd run PRs. 

Twenty-three years of coaching have only strengthened my conviction. 

Now I have a system that keeps kids injury-free.  

I want to share it with you today. 

You know that injury-free, consistent runners race faster. But what exactly do they do? 

I'm going to tell you what I do to keep athletes injury-free, but first, I have to share a story... 

When I arrived at the University of Colorado as an assistant coach, I was tasked with coaching the middle-distance runners. 

The best middle-distance runners in the Big XII conference ran at Kansas State, and were coached by Mike Smith (now the coach at West Point). 

I saw Mike's athletes doing all kinds of things pre- and post-race that I'd never seen. Unlike today, when you only need five minutes on a social platform to see a dozen hip mobility and core routines, the exercises Mike’s athletes were doing were unique. 

So, I did something contrary to my shy nature: I went up to him and asked him if he'd explain what he was doing. 

For the next few years, Mike mentored me on strength, mobility, and other "ancillary" exercises he used to keep athletes injury-free. 

We even made a series of DVDs together - Building a Better Runner: Building from the Ground Up. 

But there was a problem... 

Many of the routines required another person.  

So, I took what I learned from Mike and created routines that a person could do alone. 

The Myrtl routine is made up of exercises I learned from Mike that someone could do on their own. 

(I get asked all the time, "Why was it named Myrtl?" Because Myrtl rhymed with "hip girdle." I had no idea that Myrtle is the common spelling 😂)

Yet more was needed... 

Over the next year or two, I had a full complement of routines based on what I learned from Mike. 

Yet I soon realized that post-run work alone wasn't enough to keep athletes injury-free if the rest of the training was inappropriate.  

I made sure my training had these elements... 

  • A thoughtful progression of volume/mileage 
  • A thoughtful progression of intensity 
  • A thoughtful progression of strides (that has athletes doing them 3-5 times a week) 
  • A progression of workouts that teaches "running by feel" 
  • A weekly rhythm of easy days and hard days 

When these elements (and a few others) were a part of the training plan, I saw a dramatic decrease in injuries.  

And my view of injuries changed too.  

Rather than seeing injuries as a necessary part of running, I viewed them as something that, with the right training, can mostly be avoided. 

Now I have a comprehensive system that keeps athletes injury free. And it works in any environment. 

In the past 11 months, I've been working with coaches in the Track Training System and XC Training System 

Coaches from small schools and big schools, rural and urban schools, boy's and girl's programs, are all able to implement the system. 

Every coach who has given me feedback on their experience says one of two things. 

  1. They've had zero injuries with the system. 
  2. They've had very few injuries with the system, and almost always, the injured athletes haven't attended all practices. 

The post-run work is part of the training systems and is crucial. Every coach gets detailed videos with routines they can use at practice and PDFs with each day's post-run work. 

But intelligent, progressive post-run work won't make up for poor training design. The post-run work isn't a band-aid you can put over poorly planned training and have athletes stay healthy. 

A team of injury-free athletes is realistic if you have the right plan. 

When your XC season is over, I hope you'll consider learning more about the Track Trianing System and XC Training System. 

Remember, intelligent training includes: 

  • A thoughtful progression of volume/mileage 
  • A thoughtful progression of intensity 
  • A thoughtful progression of strides (that has athletes doing them 3-5 times a week) 
  • A progression of workouts that teaches "running by feel" 
  • A weekly rhythm of easy days and hard days 

The reason the systems work is not only because of the well-designed post-run progressions but, more importantly, because of a system that is comprehensive and well thought out. 

Again, I encourage to take the time to learn more about the Track Training System and XC Training System.  

You can email me at [email protected] if you have questions. 

At a minimum, get free videos and PDFs for post-run work here.

While you won't get all the progressions coaches are using to keep athletes healthy, these videos and PDFs are a great place to start.