An Interview with ARA Executive Director Dave Watt

Thu, 8 Dec. 2011 - 5:50 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

Washington Post Health section assistant editor Susan Morse was recently joined online by Dave Watt, executive director of the American Running Association, for a live chat with readers about running safety and other topics. The following is excerpted from that day.

Washington, D.C.: I'm not a regular runner, I'm pretty slow, but I tend to run about four miles at a stretch with some walking. My problem is that I get really bad stitches in my side, right below my ribs. I've tried changing my breathing, running through the pain, stretching, etc., and nothing seems to help. Eventually they seem to disappear on their own, but it stops me in my tracks when it happens. Any thoughts?

Dave Watt: Side stitches can be quite annoying but they can be overcome. When you feel one coming on, start walking and hold your hands above your head while walking. The stitches are a result of contraction of your diaphragm while running. Since you're not a frequent runner, your body is reacting to the stress. Walking and running will lead to less diaphragm stress and the stitches should abate.

La Jolla, Calif.: I'm a runner (in training for the L.A. Marathon right now) and a fairly recent fan of ashtanga yoga. I've been having a heck of a time with my right Achilles tendon. After an hour run with hills this Saturday, I was hobbling the rest of the day and so I've been icing and resting it; I've not run since. It's still a little tight so I may do an easy four-mile run today. My question is: do you think the yoga can be a source of the problem? I've been getting deeper into the asana, and my calves have been getting tighter. Are there ways to amend my yoga routine to help the calves and Achilles?

D.W.: I will address the Achilles injury first, since I suffered with chronic heel and Achilles pain off and on for 15 years. I hate to use the R word, but REST is key. Don't be stubborn like I was and refuse to rest the heel. Second, ice, ice, ice. Third: stand on the stairs and drop the heel on the injured foot. This stretches the calf and tendon together. Do these daily. Lastly, try running with a less structured shoe one day a week. It helped me become pain free.

Oakton, Va.: I'm a beginning runner and I trained for and ran a half marathon at the end of the summer. I experienced problems with my knee during training and especially after the race, to the point that it would hurt to even walk in heels. I was afraid of injuring myself so I stopped running. Is there anything I can do to get back into running and avoid knee injuries? 

D.W.: If you have rested sufficiently since the last time you ran and experienced pain, go and visit a specialty running store and take the shoes you've been wearing. Ask for an experienced runner in the store. The best stores are the ones that have a treadmill and video camera to watch your running gait. The old shoes could be a source of the knee pain. See if this helps. 

Washington, D.C.: My fastest marathon time is four hours. I've managed to shed 41 minutes off my time in two years. I've never incorporated a consistent speedwork program in my training. How fast do you think I can realistically get if I did speedwork? I would love to qualify for Boston, but I'd need to drop another 20 minutes.

D.W.: That is a great drop in time over the past two years. When I was gunning for the sub-3 hour marathon to qualify for Boston MANY years ago, I had to get used to the race pace needed to qualify. Speedwork was key but in small steps. One great speed work drill: repeat 800s on the track. First time you do a few repeats, try and run them at the pace you feel you can currently run a marathon. Over time, increase the pace. This can help you lower your pace per mile.

Arlington, Va.: I am a formerly fit person who has let thing slip in my late 20s. I'm considering getting a personal trainer for a limited period of time (it is expensive) to get me back on track? Is this a good idea? Do you have other suggestions?

D.W.: Personal trainers can help. There are less costly options within several of the local running clubs: DC Roadrunners, Montgomery County RoadRunners, et al. Many of us like to tough it alone. Try and find another runner in your office or neighborhood to team up with for one or two runs per week. The company can help you get motivated for better running.

Los Angeles: I mix running on the treadmills and using elliptical machines about five days a week. About four days a week I use free weights and machines for weight training. I am trying to drop my body fat from 18 percent to 13 percent and gain the same amount of weight in muscles, so I won't loose or gain weight. I am 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds. I consume 1900 calories a day. But after about five weeks, I see no change. What do I do wrong?

D.W.: I have to tell you that from an exercise point of view, you are doing nothing wrong: If everyone followed your routine, this country would be in great shape. Try picking up the pace on the elliptical and treadmill once a week. I call it the pounds of sweat factor. You may need to burn more fuel. On the diet side, avoid the usual suspects.

Washington, D.C.: I've been running for about 18 months now, started on the treadmill and moved to road about six months ago. Had to stop recently because of terrible shin splints. Am back on the treadmill every other day, outside once a week or so (3-4 miles at a time, roughly a 10-minute mile). Any advice to make sure the shin splints don't come back? Or how to best deal with them if they do?

D.W.: Shin splints are often caused by quick changes in pace with the "heel to toe" movement. Going from the treadmill to outdoors can be the source. If your shin splints occurred after going outside, then you may need to mix more outdoor running with the treadmill and decrease the reliance on the treadmill. Also try and slowly pick up your pace when changing surfaces, the treadmill or outdoors.

Fairfax, Va.: I'm a 23-year-old female, 5-foot-3, and weigh between 135-140 pounds. I'd like to lose a little weight and really tone my body, as well as start developing good eating and exercise habits that will keep me healthy as I age.

However, I'm on a very tight budget so signing up for a gym is out of the question and buying healthy food just seems so expensive sometimes. Also, with the days getting shorter I don't feel comfortable talking walks by myself when it's not daylight, and I work at a desk job from 8-5. My stamina has never been very good and I struggle to jog even eight minutes straight. Can you point me in the right direction to start developing a healthier lifestyle?

D.W.: Your dilemma is applicable to everyone who works and can't find time, location and money to achieve fitness. You do not have to join a high priced health club nor hire a personal trainer. Ask one of your friends to join you at lunch at work: first walk, even on the cold days. On the weekends, try a public rec center. Classes are cheap. On the running side, groups gather at local running stores once a week for group runs. Good luck!



(RUNNING & FITNEWS®November/December/January  2006-2007 • Volume 25, Number 1)


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