Spartan Race Recovery Made Easy

Spartan Asheville 8-2016 cI competed in the Asheville (NC) Super Spartan Race with my buddies last weekend. From the 7 hour ride north with my friends, to the jokes at the rental house to the tough race itself, it was a great time for all of us. Now it’s time to focus on my Spartan race recovery.

It was a great race loaded with challenging obstacles, amazing athletes and all the passion that makes Spartan Races so special.

Getting out of the car after the 7-hour ride back home to Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, two things were crystal clear to me:

  1. I’ll be racing plenty of Spartan Races in the near future.
  2. I will be stiff and sore in the morning.

After 26 years as a physical therapist/athletic trainer in the National Football League, a certified Spartan SGX Coach and a veteran mud racer, I’ve learned plenty of sports medicine tricks to accelerate an athlete’s recovery.

I’d like to share some of those Spartan Race recovery tips with my fellow Spartans.

Why am I sore?

I think we’d all agree that obstacle racing isn’t easy. Reflecting back on your race, you may focus on the obstacles themselves but there are plenty of elements during a Spartan Race which factor into why you’re walking like 70 year old on broken glass the next morning!

  • Soft tissue inflammation – from prolonged stress on tendons, muscles, ligaments and fascia.
  • Scrapes, scratches and bruises – from climbing, crawling and falling.
  • Increased joint stress – arches, ankles, knees, hips, low back, necks, shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers are all stressed with ever yard on ever-changing surfaces.
  • Lactic acid  – your body’s “exhaust” or waste product produced during intense muscle activity.

Sports Medicine Tips to Accelerate your Spartan Race Recovery

Joint Motion – Almost all 360 joints in your body are used in an obstacle course race. Many of those joints were stretches and twisted in a very different manner than how they move during your 9-5 job. During your recovery, simple and slow stretches and movements from your neck to your big toe will enhance vital inner-joint lubrication and help restore normal joint motion.

Hydrate & Eat Healthy– Drinking lots of water with healthy foods will help your body flush out the “bad stuff” while replacing the “good stuff” such as inner muscle fluids, healthy calories, sodium (salt) and important electrolytes.

Drain your Legs – Elevate your legs straight up in the air for 5-10 minutes while pumping your ankles and toes 3x/day.  Gravity was not your friend in the race but now it’s time to take advantage of gravity to help your lymphatic system to drain “the bad stuff” from your loyal legs.

Just Run – “What?!”  Trust me on this one….running the next day after a race is a key part of your recovery.  It only needs to be an easy 1 mile trot on the soccer field or a 10 minutes of light side-shuffles and agility drills in the back yard. Your legs will thank you two days from now.

Massage and Stretch – Get your feet, legs, hips and low back massaged and stretched as soon as possible to minimize the amount of waste products from embedded in the membranes of your muscles.

Ice and Compression Are Your Best Friends – Sure Ice hurts but ice a valuable tool for serious athletes training and racing hard.  If you have localized pain or swelling in a muscle or joint, ice the area for 15 minutes followed by a compression sleeve.

Wound Care – Like friendly reminders, the flesh wounds are there. They range from simple scrapes to the deep cuts to the bloody blisters to “where-did-that-come-from?” battle marks. Take care of open wounds quickly to avoid complications by cleaning the open wounds thoroughly with soap & water, applying an antibiotic ointment and, if needed, covering them with a sterile dressing.

Spartans Heal Fast

Doing a better job with your Spartan Race recovery will get you back to what you want to do: Living a healthy and active lifestyle. Challenges await you and having a plan of attack for the aches and pains that come with those challenges will surely make you stronger.


A Runner’s Case Study in Courage

Colleen Clarson 1As told by Colleen Clarson – At first glance, it was only a daunting fitness challenge.  At second glance, it was terrifying…if not seemingly impossible.

Known as “One of the most scenic trail races in the country,” the Golden Leaf Half Marathon was clearly not meant for Florida flatlanders.  Starting at Colorado’s Snowmass Ski Mountain at 8,500 feet elevation, quickly ascending to 9,500 feet, them plummeting 1,700 feet on trails into Aspen, it was impossible to truly prepare for this terrain from sea level Florida.

“I Need Your Help”

And with only 2½ weeks notice to train, it was tempting to let this rare opportunity pass by.  BUT, after bravely sending out an S.O.S. to Mike Ryan, whose fantastic advice for severe plantar fasciitis got me to the Boston Marathon finish a couple of years ago, I gained confidence knowing Mike could relate to this scary challenge and provide priceless advice.  And because Mike said ‘You can do this,” I decided to take that to the bank.

Advice For Off-Road Hill Management

His advice for preparation was spot on:

  • Shorter “baby steps” on the ascent and descent
  • Think “calves to butt” when running downhill
  • Lean forward into the hill and increase elbow bend to keep forearms parallel to the hill when climbing
  • Calf stretches every mile
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
  • Aggressive “down dog” stretches for the posterior chain stretches before and after the event.

Happy Ending

Somehow I managed to finish the 13.1 miles, but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty!  While I was worried about being booted off the course for not achieving the course-required time checks, somehow I managed to keep pushing forward with Mike’s advice and encouragement running on a loop in my head, and made it in time to the descending finish into a beautiful golden leaf Aspen park.

What stays with me today is what I tell my personal training clients: you don’t really know what you’re made of until you push yourself out of your comfort zone.  Even though I’ve run numerous half marathons and marathons, I’ve never run a trail half marathon at lung-busting elevation.  And I took confidence in Mike’s encouragement, knowing that his advice was based on years of personal experience, professional expertise and an eternally optimistic coaching style.  I never could have embraced this event so out of my comfort zone without his fundamental support and coaching.

Jacksonville athletes are so very fortunate to have Mike Ryan’s unselfish sports medicine expertise and coaching, THANK YOU MIKE!

by Colleen Clarson

Smart Injury Free Mud Run Racing

Source: Pixabay

This Saturday’s Tough Mudder- Jacksonville is coming to town with lots of hype.  Known for it’s very original and tough-guy obstacles, the Tough Mudder has the local mudders nervous and excited….myself included.

For those of you preparing for your first race in the mud, you’re about to embark on the best workout and challenge of your life!  If you’re a veteran of obstacle races, every race provides you with an opportunity to test the toughness of both your body and your mind.  THAT’s why I continue to sign-up for these challenges and I’m sure I’m not alone in my reasoning.

Keeping it Safe

As a certified athletic trainer and physical therapist in the NFL for 25+ years, I’ve learned a thing or two about staying healthy.  I want to share tips to keep you safe racing in a mud run.  Getting to the finish line is your goal while getting you to that finish line healthy is my goal.

Here’s a few simple sports medicine tips to keep you safer on “race day.”

Before the Mud Run Race…..

Grease Up – Blisters can quickly ruin a great race.  Coating Vaseline on toes, inner thighs and anywhere necessary will enhance your comfort on race day.

Don’t Be a Sponge – Wear thin socks, water-friendly boots/sneakers, non-cotton pants and a thin shirt to avoid carrying an extra 4-5 lbs during the race.

Rollin’ Time – Using a therapy roller before all workouts and races will mobilize your muscles and help you prevent injuries.

Push the Carbs – Bagels, whole-grain cereals and pasta are all smart options. Stop being a “carb hater” and load up the type of fuel that you’ll need during your race.

Be Nice to Your Dogs – Find the right kind of supportive high-top racing shoes and break them in well before the race. Wear thin calf-high socks to reduce your chance of calf and arch strains.

Plank Time – I learned this the hard way. You’ll be doing lots of crawling during the race so performing a few front and side planks before the race.  This will help you engage your entire core musculature for the big race.

During the Mud Run Race…..

Drink Early & Often – In any weather, you need fluids early & often.  A smart plan I use with my professional football players is: “Drink 50% water/50% sports drink before, during & after game day.”  This plan will give you the 4 essentials needed for a hard-working body: fluids, salt, calories and electrolytes.

Smart Footing – Running a more level “line” is not always easy to do with hundreds of athletes around you in the mud.  I rolled my ankle twice in mud runs and both times are when I wasn’t paying attention to where I was running.  A shorter and wider stride will keep your ankles and knees safer on slippery and muddy surfaces.

Climb to the Bottom – I know lots of orthopedic surgeons and lets just say that many of them get lots of customers from mud runs.  Jumping down or climbing off an obstacle is a very common mechanism of injury for mudders.  The solution: Climb down to the bottom of the ladder or obstacle.  Avoid the urge to jump down the last 5 feet just to save an extra few seconds.

Jump Out, Not Down – Water is a common theme in mud races.  Jumping out over the water is safer than jumping down into the edge of the water.  Entering the water away from the closest shore will minimize your risk of being landed on and cut down on your time in the water.

Check out the Scenery During the Race – How is that going to keep me healthy?  High fiving the crowd and thanking the volunteers are two proven examples of ways to slow down, enjoy the fitness fun of a great event and to keep you in the mindset of reaching the end of the race healthy & happy.

Go Time…..

It’s time to get muddy and have some fun.  I hope these tips help keep you healthy and make your race what it’s supposed to be: a fun fitness challenge for you and your friends!

Stay Healthy & Happy!

Pre-Race “To Do’s” for Your Best Running Race

Runner - breast cance 22I’m ready to go for tomorrow’s Donna Breast Cancer 1/2 Marathon here in Jacksonville, FL.  Both the 1/2 marathon and the full marathon are wildly popular races for so many reasons.  It draws the elite runners and, more importantly, it attracts athletes of all ages with the simple goal of finishing the race to both enlighten their lives and to combat breast cancer.

I have dozens of friends running and walking the race tomorrow.  I’m excited to see them out on the race course and to watch their rewarding joy as they cross the finish line.  I’ve been getting calls, texts and emails all week from the less experienced racers looking for advice.  I promised them I’d summarize these tips on a blog post today to help them and others.  “Enhancing the health of others” is my personal Mission Statement.

Pre-Race Tips

Nutrition – Keep your food and drinks simple the night before and the morning of the race.  Make them “stomach friendly”: Nothing spicy,nothing sweet.  Go heavy carbs with starches such as breads, grains, rice, pasta and potatoes.  Drinks – Gatorade and water before, during and after the race.  Remember that cold air is very dry air.  That means that you need to drink more fluids in cold weather then you think you do.

Clothing – Tomorrow will be in the low 30’s so prepare for a chilly stand-around and start to the race.  Wear 2-3 layers and make sure cotton is not your most inner shirt.  Putting a sweat-wicking shirt like Dry-Fit against the skin is your best option.  I love to wear socks for gloves to start the race.  They make great booger rags and it’s never a problem to throw them in the trash during the race. You’ll lose most of your heat from your heat so for a cool race, keep your head covered.

Lube Up – Vaseline is always in my Race Bag.  A coating of Vaseline on my toes, heels, inner thighs, nipples (I can hear you laughing now) and even my face when it’s very cold is priceless.

Get Off Your Feet – Your legs will be working their kneecaps off during the race so give them a break just before the start of the race.  I’ve sat in the middle of the road, on the beach, on a fence and even on a mailbox to rest my legs just before the race begins.  If your legs are just 5% fresher when the starting gun goes off, it can help you run 2 minutes faster in a 1/2 marathon.

Toeing the Line – As you walk to the starting line, always have a 1/2 bottle of Gatorade in your hand and, if cold, a warm throw-away shirt on.  Getting a last-minute drink and staying warm can make your running race a much happier event.

Attitude Check – My best races almost always come when I have an upbeat and relaxed mindset.  Laughing more, living in the moment, smiling more and joking with my fellow racers always results in a faster time on the clock and a more enjoyable race for me.  Give it a try.

Running Race Summary

Unless you pay your bills with the earnings from road races, your race should be low stress experience.  Sure it’s not easy, it requires lots of effort on your part and it can hurt at times.  With these simple tips and the right attitude, the running race will be a very positive experience, leaving you plotting your next race!

Runner’s Guide to Managing Calf Pain

Source: Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

It wasn’t a good workout but it was a great run.  I just finished a 5:30 AM run in Santa Clara, CA for 3 1/2 miles and I was thrilled.  Sure, it was only 58 degrees with no humidity, a nice treat from the Florida heat I’m used to, but my excitement was from the fact that I was able to run without calf pain.

I’m out in California with the Jacksonville Jaguars as we prepare to play the Oakland Raiders tomorrow.  I had a few quiet hours this morning before rehab for the players so the timing was perfect for my daily workout.  I didn’t run hard nor did I even burn many calories but I RAN and that was the best part.

Calf Strain Made Easy

Ten days ago I started my day with a calf strain 3 miles into an early 5 mile run.  When I look back at the run that started the pain in the calf, the reasons it happened were obvious.  I suffered a calf strain because I did the following stupid things:

  • Poor Warm-up – I got out of bed at 4 AM and was literally running 11 minutes later.  I skipped my morning soft tissue rolling and stretching routine.  I had to be at the Jags’ EverBank Field earlier that day so was trying to save some time.  Big mistake!
  • Shoe Change – I ran in a new pair of running shoes.  “It wasn’t the time to be breaking in new shoes, Einstein.”
  • Started Too Fast – I was convinced I could finish my 5 mile run in record time and that mindset started as soon as I took the key out of my front door.  I have a steep downhill incline at the end of my driveway.  I remember feeling both of my calves and hamstrings tighten as I ran down that section of my driveway at a 5:30/mile pace 20 yards into my run.  How smart am I??
  • Ignored the Blinking Light – I recall feeling leg pain in both of my calves along with low back tightness about 1 mile into the run.  What did I do?  Nothing.  The dashboard warning light was blinking and I ignored it.  It proved to be the final step in a bad sequence of events on my part that resulted in a calf strain.  I knew better and I only have myself to blame.

Managing Calf Pain

When an athlete hit the 3 decade mark in life, leg pain isn’t too far away.  Calf pain and a pulled hamstring are at the top of the list.  Managing a calf strain is not difficult if you start the sports medicine the right way immediately after the injury.  If not, the pain in the calf becomes chronic and the recovery time is tripled.

  • Ice Immediately – Stop the bleeding and minimize the inflammation.  Pack it in ice for 15 minutes or ice massage it for 10 minutes as soon as possible.
  • Shorten the Heel Cord – Adding a bilateral 1/2″ heel lift in both shoes will decrease the tension on the heel cord – includes the Achilles tendon and the two calf muscles – when walking throughout the day.
  • Apply Compression – Compressing an injured muscle is always a positive thing to do.
  • Lengthen to Strengthen – With a calf strain, gradual lengthening of the fascia and muscles should always take place before calf strengthening begins.  I love the downward dog stretch for this injury to elongate the fascia from the low back to the arches.  This is a key step to decrease calf pain after the initial symptom of muscle “grabbing” is gone.
  • Think Functional – Avoid the urge to aggressively stretch and strengthen a calf strain. Boring functional activities like bike riding and walking will get you pain-free sooner than trying to run while the muscle continues to “knot-up” or “grab”.
  • Soft Tissue in Time – Any early massage or soft-tissue work should be minimal for the first 3-4 days post-calf strain. Trust me, I’ve been there with the mindset: “If I could just get this little knot in the calf muscle to relax, I’ll be fine”.  Digging into the muscle early on will only delay the healing and triple the length of your time to return to pain-free running.

Avoiding Pain in the Calf

Calf pain sucks.  Preventing leg pain is a high priority for Here are a few sports medicine tips to help you avoid calf pain:

If the Wrong Shoe Fits, Give it Away – Use common sense when it comes to shoes, athletic and dressy.  Why use a “light weight” racing shoe for a training run?  Maybe that new minimalist shoe feels good walking around the house but is it the best shoe to do a CrossFit workout after work?  The pretty dress shoes may look good but spending 8 hours a day in a high heel will benefit the foot doctor’s W2 more than it will your 10 km time this weekend.

Rule-Out a Blood Clot – If deep calf is experienced, especially after prolonged inactivity or a surgery, see your doctor ASAP to ensure the pain in the calf is not a blood clot.  This is a very important point to stress.

Spend Time With Man’s Best Friend – The downward dog stretch should become part of everyone’s daily routine.  That’s how strongly I feel about its effectiveness in keeping calves healthy for athletes of all ages.  Stretching may not be as sexy as doing curls for the girls but if you want to keep running pain-free, flexibility needs to part of your plan.

Support Early & Often – Whenever possible, calf-high compression socks should be worn.  To work, especially on an airplane and during workouts, compression socks/sleeves will help support the entire shin and keep your calves happy.



Injury Prevention Made Practical

Injury Prevention Made Practical

I have 33 days to get ready for a 1/2 marathon race that covers 13.1 miles.  I’ll spare you the details of my entire to-do list, but trust me when I say it is less than relaxing.

Yesterday was a “Kick Myself in the Ass” day to do my first run over 10 miles in quite some time.  My usual running buddy, Rushton, tapped out of this 4:30 AM trot for good reason: her husband’s alma mater, Alabama, was in the National Football Championship the night before.  Proceeding solo, I needed this run to assess my fitness level and take the important mental step of reintroducing myself to the pain of endurance running.

I wrote this blog post to provide a tangible example of actions I take to speed up my post-workout recovery and help avoid injury during subsequent runs.  Unfortunately, running injuries are all too common for athletes, young and old.  After my 100-minute run noted above, I was unable to relax on the couch, schedule a spa massage or join friends in a yoga class after lunch, but focused instead on other activities.

After this workout, like many others, I performed the steps described below, grabbed a quick bite to eat on the way to the shower, loved on my wife and children, and shared a bowl of cereal with my son (who insists on drinking any leftover milk) before racing to work.

Healing Within a Hectic Lifestyle

Here’s exactly what I did, in chronological order, to gain the benefits of my workout while reducing the chance of an ensuing injury.  (Time taken to perform each step is noted as such).

Drained My Legs – I elevated my legs on the wall for 3 minutes while pumping my ankles and wiggling my toes to promote waste product drainage. (3 mins)

Pushed Some Fluids – I followed the 50/50 rule while guzzling a water/Gatorade sports drink combo. (2 mins)

Consumed Some Protein and Carbs – I replenished my muscle stores to help the recovery process, adding delicious almond butter to one half of my  whole-grain bagel. (2 mins)

Rolled the Pain Away – I showed some loyalty to my favorite pre- and post-workout rolling routine. (3 mins)

Enjoyed a Quick Stretch – I engaged in a quick (but slow and steady) stretch of my hamstrings, quads, ITBs, calves and hip flexors.  I prefer dedicating more time to this, but it surely makes a difference either way. (4 mins)

Popped Advil & Glucosamine – I took this medication and supplement to help keep my muscles and joins healthy. (30 secs)

Leveraged the Power of Ice – I wrapped my sore calf in an ice bag right before showering to save time. (1 min)

Took a Cold Shower –  I lowered my core body temperature to provide a thermal aid and reduce inflammation, always a good thing.  (4 mins)

Iced with Compression – I wore my 110% calf sleeves with ice inserts to foster recovery during my 30-minute drive to work and while primarily on my feet for the rest of the day. (30 secs)

Total Time Expenditure:  20 minutes (only 1.394% of my day)

The Results

My legs were a bit stiff when I first got out of my car at work, but that quickly subsided after a brisk walk into the stadium.  With the steps taken above, my “healing” started at the conclusion of my run.  Rather than wait for the obvious pain to kick in and deal with a chronic problem, I put my body in a position to optimize its recovery capabilities.

As you can see, none of these steps were too difficult or time-consuming.  As I like to demonstrate through Mike Ryan Fitness, injury prevention and sports medicine are in fact quite simple.

As a large John Wooden quote currently touts on a wall in the Jaguars’ Athletic Training Room:  “Perfection of small makes big things happen.”

Take-Home Point

Stop using your busy schedule as an excuse that hinders your chance to dream big as an athlete. Instead, work your fitness plan into your crazy life as just another part of the workout.  Take it in stride, do the little things to promote recovery after every workout and remember that you can’t put a price on great health.