Recovering From a Spartan Race: Sports Medicine Secrets

Source; Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

I competed in the big Charlotte Spartan Race with my friend Paul Wilson yesterday. I had so much fun….in a sick kind of way. 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 racer, I’ve learned plenty of sports medicine tricks to accelerate an athlete’s recovery.

I’d like to share some of those Recovery Tips with my fellow Spartans.

Why am I sore?

Obstacle racing isn’t easy. When you look back on the race, you may focus on the obstacles themselves but the truth is there are plenty of elements during a Spartan Race that factor into why you’re walking like 70 year old on broken glass the next morning!

  • Soft tissue inflammation – the typical result of 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,..etc. are aggressively compressed with ever step on ever-changing surfaces.
  • Lactic acid  – your body’s “exhaust” or waste product produced during intense muscle activity.

Sports Medicine Tips to Accelerate your 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 manner quite different than how they move during your 9-5 job. 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 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 FriendsSure 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. From the scrapes to the cuts to the blisters to the “where-did-that-come-from?”. 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

Recovering quickly 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

Inside the Mud Run

This weekend’s mud run race is a big deal in Jacksonville.  Organized and run by the Northeast Florida Chapter of the National MS Society, the local mud run is an extremely popular race for many reasons.  From the raising of the much-needed money to combat Multiple Sclerosis to the physical challenge of a brutal 6.2 mile race through the mud and challenging obstacle to the bonding opportunities involved with such a unique event, the MuckRuckus MS Jacksonville is special.

Yesterday at work, one of my co-workers told me that he was thinking about not racing in the race and “waiting until next year.”  “Don’t even think about it” I said firmly.  Explaining how much fun it is, the fellowship associated with the event and the ability to raise $$ for a crippling disease was much more important than a few nervous butterflies.  He’s in.

This will be my 4th time I’ve competed in this event.  The first year I raced on a 5 man team with 4 local firefighter friends.  I was hooked 2 miles into the race.  I love running off-road and I’m a huge fan of total body challenges that include mental toughness to do well.  Hence the reason why compete in multi-sport events and why I don’t work in a cubicle in a high-rise office building downtown.

The Fun in the Mud

The sport of mud running is one of the fastest growing sports in the world.  Everyone talks about the popularity growth of mixed martial arts (MMA).  Mudders will tell you that they are very different sports for obvious reasons.  MMA is a sport that people watch dudes getting kicked in the head where mud running gets you off the couch and into the sport.  We have no shortage of reasons to keep people sitting on their butts.  We need more activities to get all of us off the couch and back into enhancing our health.

I’ve finished in 2nd place the last two years in the MS Society mud run’s individual race.  Each race has been very challenging, lots of fun and extremely competitive.  All three reasons are why I keep coming back.

Tips to Get the Most Out of the Mud

If you’re new to the sport and you’re nervous, it simply means that you’re human.  Here are a few tips to help make this race less stressful and more fun.  As the  Sports Medicine Advisor to the National MS Society, I enjoy sharing sports medicine tips to help the racers to stay safe and avoid running injuries.

Sports Medicine Tips for the MuckRuckus MS

 Last Tip

Have fun.  Having a healthy mindset is the best place to start for these type of races.  Enjoy the challenge, laugh with your fellow racers, thank the volunteers, acknowledge the fans cheering for you and be proud of what you’re accomplishing.  You’re stepping out of your comfort zone to make your body stronger, your mind dream bigger and the quality of life for those stricken with MS so much better!  I’m proud of you and you should be proud of yourself.

Let’s get dirty!!

The Benefits of Running in Cold Weather []


I can hear you now: “What’s a guy from Florida know about running in cold weather?!”

The answer:  Too much.

Growing up in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts and being an indoor/outdoor collegiate miler in Connecticut at a college with no indoor track, I’ve run thousands of miles in sub-freezing temperatures.  At Central Connecticut State University, out interval training took place from December to May either in a parking lot, on a local steep street hill, in a parking garage, or on the cinder track when the snow was melted.  There was no plush 70 degree indoor track complex to make us soft.

My skiing buddies still think I’m nuts when I bundle up for a run after a long day of skiing during our annual “Guys Ski Adventure” out west each year.

Running in the cold weather is not easy but it sure is fun.  Forget about your pace.  Forget about your perfect running technique.  Forget about your exact mileage.  Just focus on enhancing your fitness level and being outside when everyone else is more worried about their ears getting too cold!

Here are 5 benefits to running in the cold weather.  Get out there and enjoy the simple facts that you are healthy enough to enjoy your own adventure!


Every athlete needs to know these 5 benefits of running in the cold. While many prefer to run in ideal conditions, running in the cold has the potential to give some significant benefits and boost future performance.

  1. Running in the cold trains your body to operate in adverse conditions. Running in the cold feels tough, and it takes special motivation to get out the door. The cold, like all adverse weather conditions, trains your body to function during difficult times—much like the later stages of a race will be. Increasing your stamina by running in the cold and adverse weather conditions of winter will increase your race performance.
  2. Running in the cold enhances mental toughness. Just as your body benefits from running in adverse conditions, your mind benefits as well. The mental fortitude gained by running in the cold can propel you to the finish line of a race when the going gets tough.
  3. Running in the cold prepares you for cold-weather races. If you live somewhere that sees cold weather for a significant part of the year, running in the cold is inevitable. Just as inevitable, if you are an avid racer, is running a race in the cold. Training in the cold mimics race-time conditions, allowing your body to become used to what it will experience during a race and increasing race day performance.
  4. Running in the cold prepares you for a more productive spring running season. Most cold weather running takes place during the winter months, when many armchair athletes remain dormant. Bucking this trend and running in the cold prepares you for increased performance come springtime. Maintaining a base level of fitness throughout the winter months results in faster runs and better endurance during the following spring and summer running seasons.
  5. Running in the cold is less difficult than running when it is hot. While running, the body generates excess heat that is exhausted through the skin. Running in the cold keeps the body cool, allowing heat to escape more readily. With proper cold weather gear, running in the cold can be easier than running on a hot summer day.

Be aware that running in the cold has its dangers. Increased risk of hypothermia and frostbite necessitate appropriate cold weather gear. Dress properly, however, and running in the cold can have a significant benefit to your running performance. Dress in layers, avoid the wind and protect yourself from the sun to keep your cold weather workouts safe.

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Running at Record Times []

You cross the finish line, achieving your goal of finishing the race. What Next? Well if you are like most avid marathon runners you’re looking for ways to improve your performance. Runners are always looking for ways to improve their performance and time. We all know that feeling of accomplishment after we do something to the best of our ability. It’s one of the greatest feeling and experiences a runner can have after recording a record best.

Running a Record Time

You cross the finish line, achieving your goal of finishing the race.  Millions of thoughts are racing through your mind: “Did I do as well as I had hoped to?”, “Did I train as hard as I could have?” or  “What’s next?”

If you’re like most avid runners, you’re always looking for ways to improve your performance. Competitive runners are always thinking”what can I take from this race that will help me train and perform better at the next race?”  Runners, young and old, are always looking for ways to ultimately improve their performance.

We all seek the feeling of accomplishment after doing something to the best of our ability. As a runner, we are all seeking “the perfect race”.

With more and more people becoming runners and competing in races, the experience of crossing the finish line with a personal best time is the common quest for all.

These key training tips on how to get the most of your training and to improve your running performance.


Self-improvement is a fun and exciting adventure. It’s a great feeling when you achieve a personal record (PR)!! And it doesn’t take long after celebrating one performance that you’ll want to set your next running race goal.

If you want to improve your performance, you’ll likely focus on stamina or speed…or a little of each. You’ll want a training plan that improves your overall fitness level gradually. As you introduce these changes and improvements in your training, your muscles will get more efficient and productive at the running motions and the removal of wastes in the muscles (lactic acid).

Measuring and improving our fitness level can be a bit complicated on paper. Our fitness level can be measured by the amount of oxygen that our bodies use while exercising at our maximum capacity. This is called VO2 Maxand it’s usually measured in units of milliliters of oxygen per kg of body weight per minute. Many elite athletes will have in-depth medical studies conducted to test their VO2 Max and gauge its improvement during their training. Thankfully for us, there’s a simpler way…

If we want to improve running performance, we need to find a way to increase our ability to do more work with less effort. Studies show that we’re able to improve our VO2 Max when we workout for 20 plus minutes, three times per week at 60-85% of our maximum heart rate (MHR). You can figure out your MHR by subtracting your age from 220, or use this heart rate calculator to determine your MHR and various levels of intensity.

If you have access to a piece of fitness equipment with a heart rate monitor, these are also good tools for monitoring your heart rate. By periodically doing similar workouts, you can measure your heart rate to see if your body is applying more or less effort to do the same amount of work. Keep in mid that your heart rate can get elevated by a number of outside factors, including physical and mental stresses. Therefore, it’s near impossible to draw an accurate conclusion on your running improvement from just one or two workouts. So monitor your heart rate over the long-term to get a more accurate assessment. If interested, there’s also a very good site, Sport Coach, which has a lot of good information on the science and physiology behind running performance.

Now that we know the science of the matter, here are a few physical measures that we can take to improve running performance. The workouts below are strenuous and should be combined with an ample amount of rest and recovery. It’s the stress plus the rest that leads to improvements that we all seek. Try adding these to your weekly routine and you’ll be sure to improve running performance:

  • More Miles!:
    Running more mileage does more than just increase your performance for the long races. I found that my 5k times improved quite a bit when my weekly mileage climbed into the 40+ range. The long slow distance runs improve your muscle’s efficiency at burning the glycogen and fat stores and can help prolong the on-set of lactic acid build-up. Even if you’re goal race is a middle distance run, you can improve running performance by gradually increasing your mileage. Be conscious of your mileage increases and try not to increase your long run more than 2-3 miles over your previous week’s long run, and make sure that the total weekly increase doesn’t exceed 15-20%.


  • Hills
    Hills are tremendous way to build leg strength and ultimately improve running performance. Look at hills like strength-training in disguise. Focus on running form and treat each hill as an interval. By running hills, your legs will are going through the running movements against gravity…which is more efficient and effective than stationary leg lifts and leg curls in a gym. Hill intervals are used by almost all of the world’s elite distance runners as a method to improve their efficiency, strength, and ultimately…their times. Find a good hill that’s 200-400 meters long with a decent upgrade slope. Start with 2-3 intervals based on your fitness level and increase by a repetition or two each week during the strength-building part of your training plan. Make sure that you get a good 1-2 mile warm-up and cool-down jog in before and after any hill interval training to prevent injuries.


  •   Intervals
    Intervals are like a dress rehearsal for your race and they should be the foundation of your plan to improve running performance. Interval distance should vary based on your goal race. For example, ¼-mile intervals are good repetitions for a 5k race, while mile intervals are more suited for a marathon. Like the hill intervals, start with 2-4 repetitions and increase weekly. The interval portion of your training plan is the heart of the schedule and should take you to the taper period (2-3 weeks) prior to your goal race. The goal for your intervals should be 70-85% effort with sufficient rest between each repetition. The pace for your intervals should be slightly faster than your goal pace for your race. For example, if you want to run a 3:10 marathon (7:15 pace), your goal mile intervals should be run at a 6:30-6:45 pace; of if you want to run a sub-20 minute 5k (6:27 mile pace or 1:37 ¼-mile pace), try running your ¼-mile intervals around 1:20 – 1:30.


  •  Strength & Cross Training
    Adding some calisthenics and cross-training to your routine can also improve running performance by strengthening the supporting cast muscles. Strong arms and abs may not win a race for you, but weak ones can help you lose it. The same goes for the muscles on the front of your leg – they may not be the prime movers in running, but they assist, and you’ll want all the assistance you can get when gunning for your PR! Add some basic exercises like squats, bike riding, elliptical, leg lifts, calf raises, toe curls, pull-ups, and crunches to your repertoire. It’ll be a nice change of pace from running and it’ll increase your performance level.


When you start trying to improve running performance, you’re going to want to cram as much in as you can in the shortest time possible…that’s natural. But if we try to streamline this process and reduce the rest or if we introduce too many hard workouts in a short-period of time, we will become more prone to injury and could set ourselves back many months. So please take the time needed to make gradual improvement and increases in stress – you’ll make out much better in the long run!

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1st Place Sports Takes Care of Its Customers

1st Place Sports, Jacksonville’s premier running store for over 30 years, demonstrated its commitment to its customers again this week.  Long recognized as one of the top running stores in the country, 1st Place Sports asked me to assist their efforts in keeping their customers and fans healthy and, well, running.

I’ve volunteered to serve as 1st Place Sports’ Sports Medicine Advisor. The exciting opportunities that this role provides are numerous.  This includes being a sports medicine resource to help prevent running injuries while sharing my expertise to enhance an athlete’s ability to recovery from a chronic overuse injury in record time.

“We are very excited to have Mike Ryan as a resource to help our customers, fans, family and friends to stay healthy,” says Doug Alred, Owner of 1st Place Sports.  “Running injuries are a real problem and no one is better qualified than Mike to keep us all injury-free.”

This new partnership with MRF & 1st Place Sports is a first of its kind in sports medicine and the ability to help some many fellow-runners is exciting to me.

The new Mike Ryan’s Sports Medicine Corner will provide elite sports medicine advice normally reserved for professional athletes to help runners, young and old, to stay healthy and active.  As a longtime runner and triathlete, I’ve developed many safe techniques and programs which has allowed me to competing at a very high level while avoiding significant injuries.  Although running injuries are common, they don’t necessarily need to keep you on the sidelines.  My 23+ years as a registered physical therapist and certified athletic trainer in the NFL have helped me develop a sports medicine approach to keep athletes in the game in a safe and timely manner.  Keeping 55+ professional world-class athletes ranging from 170 to 345 pounds healthy is no easy task!

“Plagued by a very painful case of plantar fasciitis a week before this year’s Boston Marathon, I asked Mike Ryan for help.  Not only was he more than happy to help me immediately, he provided me with expert insight into the injury that proved to be priceless as I struggled to understand why my own treatments were not working,” Colleen Clarson explained appreciatively.  “Completely over the phone and online, Mike taught me what I needed to do for myself and gave me a precise and aggressive rehab program through his website,, that reduced my pain by 70% in 1 week!  I had a great race in Boston and I couldn’t have done it with without Mike’s help. Mike has a tremendous first-hand understanding of how to help runners with the myriad of injuries we commonly face. Thank you Mike!”

Providing timely articles and blog posts through, the Sports Medicine Corner on 1st Place Sports homepage will be an easy way to help readers to prevent, treat and rehabilitate common running injuries.  Addressing a common complaint by runners that modern orthopedic care often fails to appreciate the needs of the “mature” runners, the Sports Medicine Corner will help keep runners “in the game”.

I applaud Doug and Jane Alred and the courteous staff managing their four (4) Jacksonville stores.  1st Place Sports has always put their customers first.   By being one of the first running stores in the country to provide free sports medicine advice on their website, they continue to demonstrate why they are the industry’s leader in true customer service!

Sports Medicine Tips for Fun in the Mud Run

This weekend may prove to be the dirtiest, most fatiguing, most fun and most rewarding time that you’ve had since your were a kid at summer camp.  More importantly, this weekend’s event is for a great cause to help others who need our support.

This Saturday is the 3rd annual National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Mud Run here in Jacksonville.

I’ve run in the past two Mud Runs here in Jacksonville, finishing in 2nd place in last year’s individual division.  I’m thrilled to be crawling in the mud again this weekend to raise both money and awareness for this chronically disabling disease.

A Mud Run is unlike any race that I’ve had the pleasure to compete in.  As an athletic trainer, physical therapist and an endurance athlete, I’ve learned a few tricks that I want to share with my fellow racers.

To help my readers to have a successful Mud Run and a healthy finish, I’ve put together my sports medicine tips to share with you.

Race Day “To Do’s”

Breath – The “butterflies” in your stomach will wake up before you will.  Breath and relax.  It’s time to get the calories and fluids in you as you double check your racing supplies.

Carbs are Your Friend – Push the carbs because they are the best source of fuel to get you through today’s race.  Toast, bagels, whole-grain cereals, non-citrus fruits and pasta are all smart options.  Today is not the day to try any new foods or drinks, even if that guy at the gym “swears that it’ll make you run like the wind”!

Drink Early & Often – It’s going to be hot so you will need fluids early & often.  A smart plan which I recommend to our professional football players is:

  • Consistently drinking 50% water / 50% sports drink before, during and after the race will keep you fast and safe.

Grease Up – Blisters can quickly make the race seem twice as long.  Your feet will be WET so plan on it.  A generous coating of Vaseline or petroleum jelly on toes, heels, ankles, inner thighs and anywhere you may experience chaffing will help improve your comfort level during the race.

Don’t Be a Sponge – You will be spending a lot of time in the mud and water on Saturday so avoid bring it home with you.  What you wear is the key.  Wearing thin socks, water-friendly boots, non-cotton pants, and DryFit-type shirts can literally save you from carrying an extra 4-5 lbs for the 6 mile race!

Lighter Attitude – While you lighten up the weight of your clothing do the same with your attitude.  Having fun, interacting with your fellow racers and expressing gratitude towards the race volunteers will make your Mud Run a wonderful experience.

Recovering From the Mud Run

Your recovery starts the minute you cross the finish line.  Here are a few tips to help you avoid complications and to feel like a champ quickly.

It’s Happy Hour – Sure, you just consumed more muddy water than you care to think about but getting clean fluids in you is very important.   Using the “50/50 Rule” noted earlier, will safely replenish your fluids, calories and the ever-important electrolytes.  Heat Illness is always a concern and the 50/50 Rule is your best defense for all strenuous activities.

Push the Carbs – Carbohydrates have gotten a bad wrap in the weight-loss world but after any hard race or cardio workout, they are your best friend.

Walk it Out – When you finish the race, the sudden urge to flop on the ground will be strong.  To allow your body time to properly cool down, 10 minutes of walking and rehydrate is the smart thing to do before you get off your feet in the shade to reflect upon your amazing accomplishment.

Dry & Clean – Getting your feet dry as soon as possible will help you avoid complications that can happen with wet and dirty feet.  Any cuts, blisters or abrasions should be cleaned thoroughly for obvious reasons.

Massage and Stretch – Get your legs, feet and hips massaged and/or stretched as soon as possible will help minimize the post-race soreness and discomfort associated with any difficult physical endeavor.

Ice and Compression Sure ICE hurts but it’s a needed tool if you’re training and racing hard.  If your legs hurt, ICE them for 15 minutes and follow up with a compression sleeve when you’re walking or running for the next few days.  This is a great way to control extremity edema and accelerate your recovery.

I hope these sports medicine tips from Mike Ryan Fitness help you to have a fun and safe Mud Run with a fast recovery.  Stay Healthy & Happy!