The Anatomy of a Runner: it’s all about that bass (the Upper Leg & Glutes)


The first in a series of posts about what makes runners uniquely equipped to do what we love to do most. . . run.

Functional Overview:

The lower leg is the part of the lower limb that lies between the knee and the ankle. The thigh is between the hip and knee and the term “lower extremity” is used to describe the colloquial leg. For this discussion, the runner’s base is considered the upper leg, which begins at the hip and the Gluteus Maximus and continues to the knee.

In human anatomy the knee is the connecting line between the upper leg and the lower leg. This connection, and the resulting tension caused by its relationship between the two has caused the topic of the knee to be moved to another post. We’ll get a feel for the knee’s function as it relates to the upper leg, but delve into specific knee injuries another time.

Key Facts: The only bone in this region is the femur, the largest bone in the body. The femur’s head creates the ball of the ball-and-socket-style hip joint. The base of the femur makes up part of the knee.

Major Players:

Gluteus Maximus (the “glutes”): muscle located in the buttocks regarded as one of the strongest muscles in the human body. Responsible for movement of the hip and thigh, contributes to good running form and alignment. Standing up from a sitting position, climbing stairs, and staying in an erect position are all aided by the gluteus maximus.

Hamstrings: three muscles at the back of the thigh that affect hip and knee movement.

Quadriceps: the strongest and leanest muscles of the body – a four-muscle group at the front of the thigh that work to extend the knee and lower leg.

Knee: a pivot-like hinge joint that connects the bones in the upper and lower leg. It is the largest joint in the human body. The knee is where the femur in the upper leg meets the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg. The patella, or kneecap, is at the center of the knee.

Tendons, ligaments, and protective elements, such as cartilage and bursa, connect and protect the bones to keep them in place and prevent them from grinding against each other while also allowing the knee joint to flex and twist slightly.



Why it hurts: The most common cause of a gluteus injury is stretching or straining one of the muscles beyond its normal range of motion – especially prominent with soccer, football, and baseball players who make sudden movements and overexert their legs during a play.

However, track events such as hurdles or the long jump, or a runner’s rapid acceleration (particularly up hills) can also increase the likelihood of a gluteal strain.

Excessive acute stress on a gluteal muscle can cause it to tear, which usually results in immediate pain and leg weakness.

Where it hurts: symptoms include numbness in the buttocks, hip and possibly the thigh down to the ankle with difficulty walking normally and rising from a seated position.

Prevention/Recovery: rest, cold/hot therapy, massage, and eventually strengthening exercises. According to a review in the November 2005 issue of “New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy,” a full squat and running on an incline require the greatest gluteus maximus function. Start slow and easy.

Test Your Strength:

30 Second Chair to Stand test: this test measures the ability to stand up from a seated position as many times as possible in a thirty-second period of time. Testing the number of times you can stand up in a thirty-second period helps assess strength, flexibility, pain, endurance, and progression of recovery.

Runner’s Note: according to the physique-oriented website Waist, Hips & Thighs, doing repeat sprints using starting blocks is the best way to build the gluteal muscles. If you’re hoping to avoid the over-emphasized glutes (aka “bubble butt”), focus on long, easy mileage rather than short, intense bursts of speed.


Why it hurts: also known as a pulled hamstring, is defined as an excessive stretch or tear of muscle fibers and related tissues. Hamstring injuries are common in athletes participating in many sports and are very difficult to treat and rehabilitate. Track and field athletes are particularly at risk, as hamstring injuries have been estimated to make up 29% of all injuries in sprinters.

Research proposes predisposing factors to injury include muscle weakness, muscle imbalance, poor flexibility, fatigue, inadequate warm up, poor neuromuscular control, and poor running technique. One of the few predisposing factors that most researchers agree upon, however, is previous hamstring injury. Brokett et al. (2004) stated that “the athletes most at risk of a hamstring strain are those with a previous history of such injury” and noted that 34% of the hamstring injuries were recurrences.”

Cameron et al. also found that 34% of injuries recur in the same season. Arnason et al. generalized these numbers, saying that previous injury was in itself an independent risk factor for re-injury.  (Reference: Wikipedia)

Where it hurts:

Grade 1: Sensation of cramping or tightness and a slight pain when the muscles are stretched or contracted.

IMG_2927Grade 2: Immediate pain more severe than the pain of a grade one injury. It is confirmed by pain on stretch, swelling and contraction of the muscle.

Grade 3: A grade three hamstring strain is a severe injury. Immediate burning or stabbing pain, unable to walk without pain. The muscle is completely torn and there may be a large lump of muscle tissue above a depression where the tear is.

Prevention/Recovery: almost always, the hamstring strain occurs just before the lead foot hits the ground, when hamstring tension peaks to resist forward motion of IMG_2924the swinging leg. Incorporate agility and trunk stabilization exercises, stop and stretch during runs.

Avoid over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, which can interfere with tendon remodeling.

Deep tissue massage is better for recovery and pain.

It is usually possible to continue running through recovery.

Shorten your stride, increase cadence, and keep the pace slow.

If the injury is too painful to run, avoid prolonged wet-vest pool running. Although it is true pool running maintains aerobic capacity while recovering from injuries such as stress fractures, pool running fails to adequately stress the hamstrings since the resistance provided by the water forces the quads to pull the lead leg forward while the hamstrings are stressed only while pulling the leg back.

The natural function of the hamstrings is to fire eccentrically when they lengthen to stop forward motion of the lead leg. By failing to strengthen the hamstring eccentrically, pool therapy often results in rapid hamstring re-injury as soon as the runner attempts to run fast.


Test Your Flexibility:

Test it With:  Toe Touches. To see if your ‘strings are supple enough for Deadlifts and Olympic lifts, put your feet together, bend over and touch your toes. Can’t reach? Back rounds when you do? Better loosen up.


Fix it With:  Leg Lowering Pattern. Lie on your back with both legs in the air. Place a band around one foot, then lower your opposite leg, keeping the leg straight and core tight. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.  (Read more at Champions Are Made In The Off-Season.)



Runner’s Note: the glutes and hamstrings have far more fast-twitch muscle fibers than the quads, making them more powerful and explosive. If too much attention is placed on strengthening the quads, thereby creating an imbalance, the glutes and hamstrings will suffer. A lack of strength in the hamstrings compared with the strength in the quads can result in an unstable knee joint and assorted lower-body injuries.


The Marathoner vs The Sprinter

Why it hurts: As mentioned above with the hamstring movement, eccentric loading occurs when muscles lengthen and shorten at the same time. When we run, our quadriceps contracts when our foot touches the ground. This stabilizes our knee and stops us from collapsing. But even stabilized, our knee bends slightly, stretching our quadriceps as it shortens. This eccentric tug-of-war creates enormous tension on the quads.

Where it hurts: Athletes with quadriceps strains often complain of a “pulling” sensation in the front of the thigh. Pain, swelling, bruising and muscle tenderness may also occur. Its severity is categorized by the same grades as with the Hamstring injury.

Prevention/Recovery: a counterintuitive strategy for recovering from a quad injury was offered by Pete Magill in Runner’s World: Cure Quad Pain, Calf Pain, and Heavy Legs: “Running downhill can cure quad pain once a runner’s legs adapt to the eccentric overload caused by the activity,” says Beaverton, Oregon, coach and exercise scientist Tom Schwartz. “Initially, the soreness caused by downhill running can be quite harsh.

A parallel is the soreness caused by starting a new weight training regimen. Soreness is caused by the lowering of weights, which is the eccentric loading. Lifting weights, which is concentric loading, doesn’t cause soreness.”

Brisk downhill running increases the eccentric load on our quads, causing more muscle damage. The good news is that once our body repairs this damage, we’re left with quads that are pain-free, stronger and protected from further injury.

Although there is no substitute for real descent repeats, eccentric single-leg squats and lunges may also prepare the muscles for downhills.


Other eccentric Quad strengthening exercises include the straight-leg deadlift, good morning squat and the calf raise used by shortening the concentric phase to one second and extending the eccentric phase to at least three seconds. (Read more at

(Additional Reading: Quad Strengthening Exercises from the Bay Area Orienteering Club.)

Runner’s Notes:

Weak hip muscles can allow the legs to angle inward or outward instead of keeping each stride in line.

Underdeveloped gluteal muscles might cause the runner to lean his or her trunk forward.

An imbalance between opposing muscles, particularly, is a major cause of the repetitive stress injuries.

Next up in our series: be still my beating heart.

Meghan Trainor declared, “I’m all about that bass, ‘Bout that bass, no treble, …”, and while runners everywhere train by the very beat of their heart, Meghan’s lyrics may be more true than we first thought.


The Anatomy of a Runner

Some athletes have left an indelible mark – they are so spectacularly talented it simply boggles the mind.

Michael Jordan comes to mind. I was lucky enough to have watched him play at the United Center in Chicago some years ago. He was mesmerizing. And I’m just old enough to remember Walter Payton running across the field for a touchdown, like art in motion. . . the same as watching Michael Phelps swim, or Shalane Flanagan’s stride. The examples are endless, but what is it that makes these athletes successful? The magic question.

It would be easy enough to blame it on genetics, but I would offer up Misty Copeland – the first African American woman to be named principal dancer with the legendary American Ballet Theatre. Whatever your ballet stereotypes, Copeland probably doesn’t fit them. She’s been told she shouldn’t wear a tutu – she doesn’t have the right legs, her muscles are too big.

IMG_2882Emil Zátopek was the first runner to break the 29-minute barrier in the 10,000 meters, and the instigator of interval training. Even as he trained to become an Olympian, he wore work boots instead of running shoes, and moved his torso in a way that many criticized as inefficient. His tortured facial expressions prompted one sports columnist to remark that he “ran like a man with a noose around his neck.”

He is the only athlete to win the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races, as well as the marathon (a race he had never run) in one Olympic Games.


What many of our favorite athletes have in common is that they were unlikely candidates for their sport. They move funny, have unorthodox body types, suffered devastating setbacks, started their sport late in life. . . or didn’t burn out despite starting too early. We all have more in common than we thought.

I hold my elbows too far out when I run. It probably makes me slower. Maybe you kick one leg out at the back of your stride, over-pronate, or carry your hips off-center. Does it matter? If we review the most unorthodox athletes of all time and consider their accomplishments, I would have to suggest the answer is no, it doesn’t matter.

Does it cause injuries? Maybe.

IMG_2885.JPGMy first real issue was that my toes went numb when I ran. My husband and I tried everything – larger shoes, different socks, orthopedic inserts. Once we figured out the problem was Morton’s Neuroma, I was on a mission to discover a fix, which turned out to be as simple as taking one vitamin B-12 each day – for ten years and counting.

Whatever the injury/pain/issue, the anatomy behind the issue became as fascinating to me as the running itself.

Runners have hundreds of issues in common. We have a propensity for pulling the same muscles: the quad, hamstring and/or calf muscles. Then there are those dreaded black toenails (cut them short!).

Muscles that are the most prone to cramps are those that cross two joints. A weakened Tensor Fascia Latae can tug on the knee and vice versa. Gentle stretching may help the sore Achilles’ tendon and an out of sorts Plantar Fasciitis, but does very little to loosen a tightened ITB. If you have knee problems, it might be wise to strengthen the hip. A sore back? Strengthen the abs.


Every athlete is different. Our execution varies from one to the other. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. One thing is certain, however, the anatomy behind our running that can (and eventually will) affect our running is shared by us all, and it spans from our brains to our little toe.

A better understanding of our anatomy may be the secret sauce in the never-ending quest to remain injury free – something else we all have in common, whether you’re a runner, walker, dancer, gardener, or mom lifting baby.

(Reader Alert: consider this the prologue of another Fartlek series of posts: The Anatomy of a Runner.)

Next up:  The Anatomy of a Runner:  it’s all about that bass.

What keeps me running?

It’s been three days since my downhill marathon, and my quads are still on fire.

The first 6 miles were appropriately described as a “rolling 10k.” It was one of the most beautiful 6 miles on earth. Buses had driven us up the mountain at 6:30am under a clear, starry sky where every constellation could be identified. Quiet conversations ensued amongst us with tales of past and future races here, there and everywhere.

Peak to Creek Marathon Elevation (

The starting line was in front of a Marathon gas station along a quiet mountain road, boasting a double row of porta pottys where we all stood quietly in line. .  twice.

There were 300 some odd runners, and only those at the front of the pack could possibly hear the comments the Race Director made at the start. I didn’t even hear what actually started the race, but we all headed out at 8am sharp among a momentary rise in the decibel level of excited runners.

The mountains in the distance were spectacular in orange, red and yellow. Christmas trees were being harvested from a farm that spread across dozens of acres, and despite the challenging terrain of these first 6 miles, nothing could distract from the spectacular views. I made a point to pay attention to the surroundings during this race, and it paid off handsomely.

Hunters lined the road deep into the second half of the course, their dogs barking wildly across the valley. We passed a black bear strapped to the back of a truck – something I had never seen. We ran between gigantic boulders that seemed to reach the clouds as if the trail had been blasted right through the granite mountain. A creek followed us down the mountain for most of the second half reminding me of my own favorite long run spot at home. Although, everything was not bliss. . .

Most of the course was in the National Forest on unpaved roads. Camber was not to be an issue, although I’ve never met a switchback that didn’t camber. Rainwater runoff left deep dips in the road that could be treacherous, and more than a few times we landed sure-footed on large gravel stones.

My feet were terribly sore as we reached the home stretch, my legs like mush, and I had battled an upset stomach for hours (my husband reminded me that my stomach has never tolerated blue Gatorade very well). My finish time was 4:41:00.

I was trying to hold it together across the finish line, but the lady’s expression in front of me was how I really felt.

The post-mortem was held Sunday morning over coffee.

My husband thinks it could be training error. I think it could be race strategy. Then we spent a good amount of time on the subject of why I want to run marathons at all, and what really motivates me to run in the first place.

I admitted (agreed) that I am competitive, and I doubt I will ever be the kind of person that wants to simply ‘finish’ a marathon. Reluctantly, I also admitted it seemed futile to spend that many hours in pain if not to find an acceptable spot among my peers. It’s who I am, and I suppose it was good to admit this at 56 years old. More importantly, the conversation forced me to think about why I keep running at all.

A post I had written in March 2014 popped up on this blog’s Trending Now list that same afternoon. I couldn’t even remember what I had written, so I read it. The entire post was about running hills, and the last paragraph a quote from a book I had read on Chi Running. It is a fairly good answer to why I keep running at all.

A new idea is to transform running from a sport to a practice. If you see running only as a sport, you’re limiting yourself to getting only the physical benefits. It’s like the difference between stretching and yoga…between sitting in a waiting room and sitting in meditation…between training your body to run faster or farther and practicing to run in a mindful and masterful way.

Making an activity a practice is a process of self-mastery. You are no longer simply practicing that activity; you use it to learn about, understand, and master yourself as well as the activity.”

(Excerpt From: Dreyer, Danny. “ChiRunning.” Simon and Schuster, 2009.)


A Mountain Life

We left the city last Monday to spend a week in the mountains. Mornings began with the sound of the creek down below, a sky full of birds up above – each with their own unique song, leisurely conversations over coffee, and a beautiful run through the mountains we once again call home.

In these parts, there’s four types of road: the 4-lane connecting each of the surrounding villages, the road that leads into town from the 4-lane. . . which connects to the road leading to houses scattered along the mountainside, and the driveways to the homes that cling to that mountain – better described in runner speak: hilly, steep, steepest and vertical, respectively.

Run Downhill. Walk Up . . .  a strategy used by ultra trail runners to extend endurance; perhaps a legitimate strategy for life as well.


The ‘run’ begins at our cabin perched on the side of the mountain among the treetops (elevation: 2,925 ft / 891 m).


Being the most vertical of all the roads, I walk roughly 2/10 of a mile down the drive (185 feet of elevation loss) to where the steepest road begins, and then I run.

Mailboxes are clustered on the steepest road for the houses scattered along the mountainside.

The steepest road ends after 1.2 miles, and another 455 feet down. Sometimes I turn to the left, which leads up the mountain and eventually intersects with the 4-lane, and sometimes I turn right, a slightly downhill route into town (elevation: 2,012 ft / 613m). Going left, up the mountain is actually my favorite route.

This dog has barked at me in front of her house on the steep road for years. We’ve grown old together, although no less committed to our mission.

Along the way, roosters crow in the background, wild turkey and snakes cross the road, dogs bark in the distance – and at my feet, and two cyclists bid me good-morning on their trek up the steep road that connects to another steepest road (3,317 ft elevation / 1,011m), across a bridge to the Blue Ridge Parkway (up to 5000+ ft / 1,524+m), with a return trip back down the same route into town some 2 odd hours later. A lady walking up the steep road stops to ask if I still run all the way down to Walmart – something she remembers me telling her years ago.

An older, toothless man waits at the end of his drive to ask how far I’m running. He says, “I ran 5 miles down to ‘PJs’ the other day.” (Who, or where is PJs, I’m wondering?) We talk about how beautiful the steep road is, and how the road into town is too busy. I ask if he runs often. “When I take a mind to,” he says, and I spend the rest of the run marveling that this man can run these mountain roads whenever he takes a mind to.

The creek meanders along the right side as I climb the steep road.
Waterfalls cascade down the rocky mountainside on my left.
I love the freshly planted fields of a mountain farm.

Sometimes the creek is roaring beside me while a little further up the road, one wrong step, and I’d tumble 30 feet or more down its rocky bank.


Back at the steepest road leading to my driveway, running ends and the long walk up begins. The cows come back to the fence, grass still in their mouths, as if to say, “You’re back! Good job,” except for the little gal in the back that seems to be saying, “RUN! You weenie.” I talk to the cows, and decide I should give them names – despite my husband’s warning.

It has been a splendid week of running, and a fine way to recover from my recent menopausal meltdown, proving nothing lasts forever – and sometimes that’s just lovely indeed.

Miles Run: 3-5, Miles Walked: 1.45   

Total Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,344 ft / 410m

Elapsed Time: 58-80 minutes, including time spent talking to cows, dogs, cyclists, and neighbors.

My Date with the Red Ferrari

While sweethearts everywhere got roses, and perhaps a little bling for Valentines, my card simply included a picture of a red Ferrari. My husband had given me a date with a race car.

“Leave your caffeinated beverage at home,” the instructor had written, “adrenaline comes free of charge!”

The “Supercars”

Before the adrenaline could take hold there were forms to fill out. . . these were incredibly expensive cars afterall, and there would be consequences should something go awry.

The RPM Fees threatened to turn this little excursion into a million dollar day.

Technically, Autocross (also called “Solo”, “Auto-x” or “Autoslalom”) is a timed competition in which drivers navigate one at a time through a defined course. Different from road racing and oval racing, Autocross is a race against the clock rather than other cars. The course is usually 1-2 kilometers long and places demands on car handling and driver skill rather than engine power and outright speed.

imageOur first order of business was a brief meeting with a driving Sherpa/Instructor.

He emphasized how important it was that we not allow the slightest tinge of a scratch on our supercar. It would be catastrophic should we run over a cone.

The most important thing was not speed – this was all about learning to control our supercar – as demonstrated by a previous participant who had taken his 3 laps around the course on his 87th birthday at a whopping 5 mph.

Lastly, we would all have fun and applaud everyone, no matter how fast they ran the course. Good news to me.

Jason asked who came along with me that day. I reached up to point to my husband just as he snapped my picture.
Jason asked who had come along with me that day. I reached up to point to my husband just as he snapped my picture.

My driving Sherpa introduced himself as Jason, and asked if I had ever driven a sports car. I told him yes, there had been a few. . .

My first real “sports” car was a VW Karmann Ghia convertible, but there were others. . .

He adjusted the seat and the steering wheel, and taught me to use the “paddles” in lieu of a clutch. He pointed to a spot down the course and said, “Don’t worry about shifting though – we’ll never get out of 2nd gear.”

“OK,” I said, and we were ready to roll.


I survived. . . and so did the Ferrari.

At the end of my session, Jason told me I had driven the course smoother than any of his students that day. “You never once had to touch the brakes,” he said. Turns out, slow is fast in this sport.

“My worst times are when I try to drive to fast. I become less smooth and lose time in the transitions between states. I keep reminding myself everytime I drive, “Slow is fast”. And then I put down my best time.”

BMW Car Club of America, Autocross Participant “How to win at Autocross” Forum

What a surprise: driving Autocross is amazingly similar to running. . .

Alex Lloyd began racing in the U.S. in 2006 winning the Indy Lights championship in 2007. He competed in the Daytona 24-hour twice, and the Indianapolis 500 four times – placing fourth. He wrote an article “How To Win An Autocross” for the Capital Driving Club – advice that can be taken quite literally by runners everywhere:

Focus on solid pre-race preparation. Make the most of your track walk or parade lap, and pay attention to the other racers when they are on course doing their runs. We are looking to get a good feel for the layout. . . Of course, if our planned line does not play out as expected, be ready to adjust on the fly.

Work on coming out of the blocks at full race pace. You can’t afford to take a few turns to get into the groove, which is why I am emphasizing the pre-race preparation. Once on track, you must understand what you are trying to achieve. Autocross is about attacking the course extremely hard and doing so straight off the bat.

Drive it to the very limit, but not beyond. Know the difference between driving on the edge and “over driving.” Pushing to the max produces a fault in most amateurs. . . They think, “the harder I drive, the faster I’ll go,” but there is a point where you are just asking too much of the car. You are sliding and scrubbing speed, and while it may look spectacular and fast from the outside, it is actually slow. The quick guys generally look rather pedestrian-like. This is because they have the car on the limit, but they do not exceed.

Work on accuracy and technique to minimize understeer. You must work on consistency and accuracy first, then, once that is achieved, push to the absolute max.

You can go out as fast as you can, brake as late as you can and dump the clutch, but you may end up losing the race — I suppose we could apply this advice to almost any scenario of life.

Your goal is to have fun! That’s why everyone is here. Your goal for the first run is to avoid getting lost on course (see course-walking tips).

Your goal for the rest of the day is to improve your time on each run.

Your goal for the second event is the same as the first.

Your goal for the rest of the season is to beat somebody (anybody!) and continue to make each run faster than the last.

Capital Driving Club (CDC)

Running Shakedown: the Flat-Lander Theory

Two summers ago I ran 38 days with not one day of rest. The experiment was designed to shakedown the effectiveness of three running theories: maintaining a slower training pace, increasing base mileage (above 50 miles/week), and the effect of running predominantly on the flats – all within a rapid progression, 7-day/week program.

The research that had sold me on a flat-lander theory says, “to ensure that your running is geared to aerobic development and not muscular development, as much running as possible should be done on paved surfaces to get maximum traction (or to achieve the best aerobic development within the given time, putting the pressure on the cardiac system not the leg muscles), and over a flat course so neuromuscular breakdown won’t stop the duration of the long run.”

Mountain is not synonymous with flat, and this took me to the track at the Rec Center for at least 5 out of every 7 runs. Just one year later, we had moved to the North Carolina foothills where I spent 5 months running the hills exclusively – providing a much clearer picture of the other side.

Some studies conclude that running hills will solve all running ailments, claiming as few as two hill sessions a week will improve leg-muscle strength, quicken your stride, expand stride length, develop the cardiovascular system, enhance running economy, and can even protect against leg muscle soreness. Maybe this is true for two hill sessions a week, but six sessions a week may in fact kill you straightaway.

The mass consumption of hills disrupted my rhythm, and simply wore me out. My thighs, hips, calves and glutes ached for weeks. I will admit, however, things eventually improved. I learned to maintain a rhythm through the hills, and my legs seemed stronger. Turns out, hill running can provide an alternative to the gym for building leg muscle strength, but that’s the only thing I’ll give it.

When the school children went on Christmas break, I snuck through the gate surrounding their track and ran my heart out. Then I discovered Aggie Stadium (A&T University), home of the Irwin Belk Olympic class track . . . my new running home.

I would be the first to admit there are disadvantages to running a track. It can be incredibly boring, only somewhat offset with a sufficiently entertaining playlist. The IT Band may tighten and become sore on longer track runs (1-1/2 hours or longer for me), and then there’s the wind.

Nonetheless, my days at the track will not end soon as the Yays! far outweigh the Nay’s . . .

More recent studies have determined running on a hilly terrain produces about a 30% improvement, while runners training on a flat terrain experience a 60% improvement.

Although I realize studies can be found to support just about any theory, the conclusions from this study reflect that running on a flat terrain is less intense, and the reduced intensity allows for more training, and more training is a bigger stimulus for improvement; essentially the same conclusion Arthur Lydiard derived decades ago. We’ve come full circle so-to-speak.

And that’s the shakedown on the flat-lander theory.


  • A standard outdoor running track has a length of 400 meters (in lane one), with two bends and two parallel straights, both radii of which are equal.
  • The distance around the track was established by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, founded in 1913 with representatives from 16 countries.
  • The formula, L = 2S + 2pi(R + (n-1)w) can be used to calculate the distances around the track for the various lanes. In this formula L equals the lane distance, S equals the length of the straightaway, R is the radius of the turn, n is the lane number and w is the width of the lane.
  • For tracks in compliance with IAAF guidelines, four times around the track in lane four is almost 1700 meters, 100 meters more than the distance in lane one. Four laps in lane eight equals almost 1815 meters, or 215 meters further than four laps in lane one.
  • Track direction is counter-clockwise, unless otherwise posted (however rare).
  • Pass runners on the right when running in the counter-clockwise direction; on the left when running clockwise.
  • Slower runners and walkers stay to the outside lanes. Inside lanes are reserved for faster runners, and runners doing speed work.
  • Complete your warm-up and cool-down in the outside lanes.
  • Don’t block the lanes. Theoretically, two runners (or walkers) moving at the same pace can share the same lane.
  • Be aware of other runners on the track.
  • Look both ways before crossing the track; runners always have the right of way.

The Joy of Running?

The goal of each training run is to never give everything you’ve got. Finish each run with the feeling that you could have gone a little faster, or a little further; pushing yourself to the very edge of that perverbial thin line between superb fitness and shameful injury without so much as a toenail crossing over.

On the other hand, the goal of each race is to give everything you’ve got; parceling out the fastest pace you can maintain throughout the course of that race, no matter how far, ensuring your tank is completely empty at the finish line – you could have gone no faster, not one step further.

In the next training season, you can push that line ever so slightly forward, and do it all over again. Within this process of training, the science behind the racing, lies just one of the many joys of running.

imageEach year I conduct my own 1-person training experiment. Sometimes they work out fabulously.

This year’s experiment was to increase peak mileage, and things were going quite well . . . until they didn’t.

There would be about 6 weeks of what I predicted to be tough training. I had asked my husband, couldn’t we protect the schedule for just 6 weeks of this winter? Wasn’t it possible that for one marathon season there would be no need to switch Thursday’s run with Monday, move Wednesday to Thursday, or Friday to Sunday? But, nooooooo . . .

There was snow, sleet, and rain; sustained winds reached 15, 20, or 24mph, gusting to 40. We had unexpected trips, and unexpected visitors – most notably the 3 days I spent in the disdainful company of a stomach virus.

My long run hovered around the 14-mile mark for 5 weeks, and the schedule had been re-written so many times it barely resembled its original intention.

I was tired. Then I couldn’t sleep, and then I got irritable. Everything was annoying: the music on my iPod, the hills on the trails, the wind at the track, the mothers that passed me on the hills . . . pushing a stroller. I was seriously mad with everything (God bless my husband who found the patience to simply laugh at me and my condition). It wasn’t that I was disenchanted with running. I hated running.

I dreaded dressing in running clothes, dreaded going to the track, dreaded every mile on the calendar. My husband stood with me in the closet one morning as I ranted and raved about my dilemma. “Maybe it’s time to quit,” I had told him. He suggested maybe it was simply time to focus on the half marathon. I couldn’t imagine life without running, but I could not fathom running one more day. He put his arms around me in one of those all encompassing bear hugs, and although he didn’t say a word, his hug said whatever I decided was ok.

Two miles into that morning’s run I could hardly drag my feet forward, and I quit. My tank was completely empty.

This was also the day I finally remembered that I had dealt with these symptoms before – typically, one of two things:  iron deficiency anemia, or over-training.

imageSymptoms of iron deficiency in athletes include loss of endurance, chronic fatigue, high exercise heart rate, low power, frequent injury, recurring illness, loss of interest in exercise, and irritability.

It has long been suspected that one of the reasons runners become iron deficient is due to a phenomenon known as foot-strike hemolysis where red blood cells are destroyed during exercise. This was initially thought to be due to the compression of capillaries in the feet while running, although further research has also found the condition in swimmers, rowers, and weightlifters.

Ironically, the symptoms of over-training are almost identical to iron deficiency, but also includes weight loss. My first symptom of over-training is usually a sore throat followed by a ‘general’ fatigue.

Although iron deficiency is not common among men, and even more rare among women of my age, the addition of an iron supplement for about a week always pulls me out of this kind of training lull, which is why the best way to correctly diagnose any lull in training is to visit a doctor – something my husband insists I’ll be doing this week.

Iron deficiency is risky business since the body has no way to rid itself of excess iron, and the symptoms of over-training are similar to a plethora of other ailments.

I’ve literally gone through this training season kicking and screaming, but somehow managed to tweak my way through to the taper. My strength returned a few weeks ago, and you can’t imagine the relief I felt when running was fun again.

This process of training, experimenting, learning, and re-learning – the maddening science behind the racing – keeps running challenging for me. This season’s experiment may not have worked out fabulously. . . well, there’s always next season.


My favorite articles regarding iron deficiency and over-training for runners:

Ironing Out the Details  (by Cathy Fieseler, Runner’s World)

How to Avoid Overtraining in Running (HowStuffWorks ADVENTURE)