Originally published in Be Well Philly’s 2010 supplement.
Last year more than 30,000 runners made the pilgrimage to Somerville and Broad for the start of the 31st Annual Blue Cross Broad Street Run (BCBSR), and on May 1, 2011, the race is expected to break history with its second straight sellout. Factor in the thrill of hearing the Rocky theme song roll from the speakers at the mark, the awe-inspiring view of the empty thoroughfare with City Hall beckoning in the distance, and hundreds cheering at the finish, and it’s easy to understand why entrants have nearly doubled since 2007.
The BCBSR is fun, exciting—and just challenging enough that even a complete novice can train for it in as little as 10 weeks. Follow three-time top-five finisher Ross Martinson’s tips to hit the starting line in record-breaking shape.
/ Start slow / “It takes time for your body to adjust to the impact of running,” says Martinson. “People who are already in good shape from other activities often end up with injuries because they do too much too soon. They don’t realize their bodies need to gradually adjust to the stress of running.”
/ Follow a schedule / Begin training at least 10 weeks prior to race day, and aim for one longer run (to increase your distance) and two to three shorter runs (to increase your fitness level without wearing yourself down) each week. “By the end of your program, the short runs should be three to five miles and the long run should be eight miles,” says Martinson. “More experienced runners could be comfortable with four to six runs per week.” Go here for a sample training schedule.
/ Remember to rest / “Getting fitter is all about recovery,” says Martinson. “When you do a long run or a harder run, you actually break down your muscles. You improve and become stronger as your body heals in the days following the run.” Before lacing up those sneaks again, take two days of active rest. “If you start wearing yourself down before you’ve recovered, you haven’t gotten everything out of the first workout,” notes Martinson.
/ Tailor your training / If your training schedule calls for a long run on Saturday and you know you’ll be out of town or busy with the kids, plan ahead and go the distance earlier in the week. “Unless you are a running-store employee, most of us have to find creative ways to make the training schedule fit into everyday life,” says Martinson. “It’s fine to swap days, but make sure to recover in between runs. Three days of running followed by four days off isn’t the best choice, but doing two days in a row followed by two rest days isn’t that bad.”
/ Be smart about sneaks / “The right shoe can help you run farther and lessen your risk for injury, but the wrong shoe can make things worse,” says Martinson, explaining that people commonly opt for too-small sneaks. “Feet swell when you run, and wearing a half- to full-size bigger than you wear in a casual shoe will reduce the risk of painful bruised or lost toenails.” Depending on foot type, you’ll most likely need a neutral, stability or motion-control shoe. “Have an expert at a specialty running store evaluate your feet to ensure a good fit,” says Martinson.
/ Don’t freak over a missed run / If you miss a few days of training, don’t try to squeeze them back in. “Just get back on the schedule as soon as possible. As long as you can run at least seven miles before the race you should be okay,” ensures Martinson. “The crowds will carry you for a few miles, but don’t depend on them for more than that. I try to have all of my athletes run eight miles or longer before the race.”
/ Warm up right / “I recommend that all my runners do a dynamic warm up, which incorporates balance moves with stretching, before they run,” says Martinson. Not only will it enhance coordination and gradually warm up muscles through continuous movement, it will also force you to focus on the workout ahead—all of which can help prevent injury. Watch Team Philly’s three-minute dynamic warm-up at BeWellPhilly.com/dynamicwarmup.
/ Train off the treadmill / Training indoors can be a godsend in cold or rainy weather, but running on a treadmill regularly can lead to a super-sore body post-race. “You tend to use your hamstrings less on a treadmill because the belt is moving with you,” says Martinson. “Many people find that when they switch from the treadmill to outside it seems harder or they find they are sorer.” Aim for at least one outdoor run per week and when you run inside, up the incline to at least one percent; it will more closely mimic what it will feel like when you run down Broad.
/ Break for water / “If you’re planning to stop at the water and Gatorade tables during the race, learning to drink while you’re running is essential,” says Martinson. “Your stomach will get used to it as you train, but at first it can cause cramping or stomach upset.” Hydration belts or packs keep hands free, and if you’re running on Kelly Drive there are a number of water fountains where you can stop for a quick drink.
/ Pain-proof your body / Blisters and chafing can sideline even the most devout runner’s will to train, but taking preventative measures can keep you on track. “Bodyglide prevents chafing and blisters by putting a protective, waxy coating on your skin,” says Martinson. Slide it on heels, toes, or anywhere you might experience irritation. Chafed nipples? Try NipGuards. “The Band-Aid-like circles can be the difference between finishing and not finishing,” says Martinson.
/ Fuel smartly / Aim for a daily 60-20-20 mix of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fats to stay satiated and energized, and to help rebuild muscles after runs. “Before your weekly long run you may want to eat 10 percent more than normal, but be careful not to get fooled into eating more than you actually need,” Martinson cautions. “Running burns about 100 calories per mile, but when you’re eating out or reaching for high-fat foods it’s easy to negate the calories you just burned.”
/ Switch it up / “Cross-training will increase stamina and core strength while giving joints and bones a break from pounding the pavement,” says Martinson, who recommends supplementing weekly mileage with two to three cross-training workouts per week. Opt for classes that include crunches, squats, lunges and planks. These moves strengthen the quadriceps, which stabilize the knee and absorb impact when your foot hits the ground, and the core, which helps lift the legs and improve balance on tricky terrain.
Ross Martinson is a co-owner of Philadelphia Runner (philadelphia-runner.com) and running coach for Team Philly Race Training.