Part Three: Running Advice from Coaches at YouthRunner

In the third installment of this series, we have a couple of questions about what parents can do to ensure their children are healthy runners. We also have great advice, once again from our friends at YouthRunner, about training and drills they can do!

What can I do as a parent to ensure that my child doesn’t develop an overuse injury like shin splints or tendonitis?
Coach Larsen R.: There is little doubt that the kids of yesteryear experienced as much total physical exercise, maybe more, as the children of today. However, I don’t remember ever experiencing an overuse injury. In the 21st century free play, physical education and high school sports has been replaced with adult organized alternatives, leagues, select sides and travel teams. Physical education in all but the most forward thinking school districts is about to go the way of the dodo bird and high school sports are being downplayed and supplanted in many sports by the aforementioned club activities. Parents, for a variety of different reasons have bought into several new youth sports paradigms that have surfaced in society today. 1. The earlier a child starts training for sport or a sport, the better chance that child has to be “successful”. 2. My child, in order to be successful in sports, must train just like the successful adult athletes train, maybe harder. 3. The mantra of “Sport Specific Training” being hailed as the panacea for those athletes who wish to reach the highest level of athletic achievement is now nearly gospel. Very young children, those under six years old, need to get outside and play. Regular trips to the park to take advantage of playground equipment can be integrated various games of low organization and ball activities. Form play groups outside of school so that children can interact and play together. Cycle in at various intervals organized activities like swimming lessons, gymnastics, karate or introductory team sports such as soccer played with modified rules that make the activity appropriate for the very young athletes.

What are your favorite drills for teaching acceleration and top speed running?
Coach Larsen R.: There are two main components to teaching speed: acceleration and maximum velocity. The goal for maximizing the acceleration component is applying big force in a short amount of time in the proper direction. For pre-college athletes, pure acceleration, or the point at which they reach their top speed, occurs between 7 and 10 yards. The goal for the maximum velocity component is to maintain the top speed that was reached during pure acceleration. To teach pure acceleration, we use several different drills.
• Wall Sprints: In this drill, athletes lean against a wall, arms extended forward, and alternate punching knees forward, simulating running. The wall provides stability for the athlete’s body. The goal is to teach proper body, hip, ankle and knee position for running.
•Resisted Acceleration: These drills use the same techniques as Wall Sprints, but take away the stability of the wall, making the athletes rely on themselves for stability with their abs, lower back and other stabilizing muscles.
•Acceleration Ladder: In performing this drill, the ladder provides the athlete with a blueprint for placing each step when running.
•Contrast Training: This uses some of the same equipment as Resisted Acceleration, but in these drills the coach will release the resistance at a certain point so the athlete can run at full speed. As athletes reach top speed, the goal becomes maintaining that speed, or maximum velocity. The main drills that we use to teach maximum velocity are:
•Technical Build-Up: The goal of this drill is to emphasize proper running form while concentrating on certain areas of the body, such as hip, foot and leg position.
•Ankling: In this drill, pressure is concentrated on the ball of the foot to increase usage of the lower leg muscles during maximum velocity.
•Buttkick: The motion of the heel snapping quickly towards the glutes helps teach athletes how to begin the running stride.
•Step-Over: This drill is the first introduction to the essential circular action of the leg in maximum velocity. The drills focus on stepping over the height of the opposite knee.
•Straight Leg Shuffle/Bound: These drills focus on the proper movements for preparing the lower leg and foot for contact with the ground, and the proper movements once the foot makes contact with the ground.

My daughter wants to run with me. She can walk run a 3 mile stretch. Is she too young? What is she able to complete safely at her age. She wants to run 5k with me eventually. I am training for a marathon and someday, I am sure she’ll be right next to me.
The best advice we can offer is to let your daughter enjoy running and have fun. When she is ready for longer distances she will probably push you. A mile at a time is common for a girl her age.

I have heard that to be a better runner, you should have longer strides. I have also been told that you should have shorter, quicker strides to run more efficiently. I am wondering which advice is true. Thanks for the help.
This is a pretty tricky question. Some people overstride and need to shorten their stride while other people don’t stride far enough and need to lengthen their strides. The best way to assess whether you are understriding or overstriding is to look at the way your foot strikes the ground. If you find that you are landing on your heels, you are probably overstriding. If you are landing on the balls of your feet, you are probably shortening your stride and not getting the full range of motion. Even the best runners in the world don’t have perfect form. The most important thing you can do is optimize your own stride length. Drills and plyometrics will be a helpful tool in this process.

I am a 10 year old girl and this is my first year on a track team. I run the 1500 meters and my times have not improved all season. How can I get faster? My times have been 6:00, 6:27, 5:59, 5:58, 6:11 and 6:04. I love running but everyone is beating their time and mine is still around the same. Thanks!
Coach Jeff A.: You have made a super start and the tone of your question indicates you are motivated, happy to be running, and looking to improve. With those three things, your continued success is certain. Now, to get a bit faster. First of all, realize you are just starting out and it does take a period of time to stabilize your PRs and get used to competition. Don’t worry about others around you as they will improve at rates that are different from yours, but you are correct in looking for PRs and wondering why you aren’t faster. I am not sure of your strength background (coming from core mileage over time) or your speed (how fast you can turn over your legs) or speed-endurance (how well you can carry speed over time or distance) but the easiest way to improve in the 1500 is to look at the race from a standpoint of a goal pace. You are averaging around 6:03 (with one ‘outlier’ at 6:27 we won’t factor in), so ideally you need to set a goal that is a bit faster than your average, and possibly a bit faster than your PR. Let’s arbitrarily set 5:50 as your immediate goal. The first thing to do (besides maintain a core distance base of strength) is to start getting comfortable with what 5:50 pace feels like. The best way to do that is to run some repeat 800s in 2:55 with a full recovery (4-5 minutes) in between. Get comfortable with what the pace feels like to PR. Next, once per microcycle (week) do a speed session where your intervals (repeats) are run just a bit faster than your goal (PR) pace. These should be shorter exercise bouts that range from 300-600 meters and are run at your PR pace minus 2-5 seconds. An example would be 4 x 600m with a 2:00 rest in 2:06-2:09. That will help your speed-endurance and keep you on your goal pace. For flat-out leg speed, try “Flying 40s” where you ‘roll’ into a 40-45 meter full out (on the toe) sprint every lap, but slowly jog around in between so that it takes at least 2:00. 8-12 laps of this on another day of your microcycle will round out a good approach to a PR. Keep all your work on the track with an overall goal toward pace. Get used to what paces feel like, then test yourself on the track during these types of workouts. You will be faster soon! Train hard . . .have fun . . .

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