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Tips to get in top running shape

Trish Dobinski, Trina Schiavitti and Melina Vamvas spend Thursday nights doing speed drills in and around Delaware Park, and Saturday mornings on long runs in parks and on bike paths across Western New York.

Schiavitti and Vamvas are among 112 members of the Fleet Feet Sports Buffalo Half and Full Marathon Training Program. Dobinski is a pacer for the program; her daughter, Dana, is one of the running coaches.

All hit the ground running in late January – with a purpose.

Dobinski, 52, a teacher from Elma, is training for the Buffalo Marathon in May, as is Vamvas, 26, a school administrator who lives in Allentown. Schiavitti, 47, of Lockport, who travels the globe for her sales and marketing job, plans to run three legs next month of the Palmetto 200 in South Carolina. Seven family members, including five brothers, will join her in the cross-state race.

“It’s good to have a goal – to say, ‘I’m training for this particular race,’ ” Schiavitti said.

Thousands of Buffalo Niagara runners will chase specific goals in the coming weeks, moving outdoors in greater numbers as the weather improves. Members of the Fleet Feet program, along with two Amherst physicians – Jason Matuszak and Todd Lorenc of Excelsior Sports Medicine – also recommend other tips to those who want to add running, and road races, to their fitness repertoire this year.

1. Start in the gym

Many runners tend to focus on cardio work during winter but also need to mix in strength training, said Lorenc (pronounced Lawrence). He called the exercises in the story at right “nice and simple; they attack a bunch of the underlying problems people typically have.” You need strong legs, hips, glutes, core and balance efficiency to avoid injury, he said, “because when we run we’re almost in a one-legged squat position. If people are weak in those areas, they tend to compensate in other places and get into trouble.”

Matuszak encourages patients to do a standard exercise to gauge if it’s time for distance running. Stand straight, barefoot or in socks, hands on hips. Flex the right hip out about 30 degrees, the right knee about 45 degrees. Keeping your center of gravity over your planted left foot, lower your hips straight down, about 30 percent toward the ground, then stand back up. Do 100 on each leg every day. This strengthens your glutes, quads and instep. “If you can do that,” he said, “you can run.”

2. Pace yourself

“Too much volume too soon is a factor in almost every injury that we see,” said Matuszak, 38, who trained for six months to compete last month in the Dopey Challenge at Disney World: a 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon over four days. “If you do a good job listening to your body, and pick up on the cues when there’s a problem and back down appropriately, then most of these things don’t become full-blown injuries.” Start with dynamic stretching – get the muscles you will use activated and moving – for a few minutes before a run and leave deeper stretching for afterward if you’re used to stretching after exercise.

Consider starting with a base run of 3 or 4 miles three or four times a week if you plan to run longer races this year, Matuszak said, and when you accommodate that distance without pain or problems, build up one of those weekly runs to 5 or 6 miles. “You don’t need a massive volume of miles in order to be able to do longer distances but you have to challenge your body with progressively longer runs at least every couple of weeks, and maintain a good base of running miles.” Fleet Feet distance running programs, like others in the region, stretch from 12 to 18 weeks, building the running base gradually. “Try to think of running as a triangle,” Matuszak said. “You’ve got the number of times you’re running per week, your miles and your pace, or speed. You never try to modify more than one of those in any given week. The more things you change at one time, the greater the chance of injury.”

3. Mix your training

Dobinski swims, takes spinning and weight-lifting classes, and runs several times a week. Her runs mix routes, distances and speeds. Matuszak and Lorenc expect to treat more patients in the coming weeks with knee, hip and ankle pain because they’ve tried to run the same distance outdoors as they did inside. “This time of year, we see a lot of people moving from treadmills to outside and they forget the fact that roads have a crown surface and that the bike paths have a crown surface, but in most ways it’s an opposite issue,” Matuszak said. “On the road surface, you tend to run facing traffic, which makes your left leg your downhill leg and your right leg your uphill leg. On the bike path, you’ve reversed all those stresses on your lower extremities. ... Being on alternate surfaces at different times helps balance out the structures in your body.”

4. Join friends

“It’s all about the camaraderie,” Dobinski said. The class at Fleet Feet includes lots of teachers, a lawyer, computer engineer and those of many other professions, ranging from teens to those into their 70s. Many get together to socialize after a run. “The good thing for people coming into this is that you look online and can find a number of programs for whatever distance race you’re looking to do,” Lorenc said. Added Matuszak, “People who love to run and be around other people will find the groups very useful.”

Buffalorunners.com has the most comprehensive list of local road races in the region. It also has links to running blogs and running clubs. The reasonably priced clubs can teach you about proper hydration and nutrition before and during races, Matuszak said, as well as proper recovery, how to alternate your running surfaces, how to prepare your body for distance running, how to introduce long runs into your regimen and how to create a distance development program. He also recommended one resource that is free: the Jeff Galloway training regimen for various distances at rundisney.com.

5. Proper form

“A lot of people think there’s this ideal running form and there’s not,” Lorenc said. This is why the Excelsior STRIDE program – short for Striving To Reduce Injuries During Endurance Sports – and Fleet Feet Sports will videotape an individual walking to get a closer look at gait. Generally speaking, the doctors advise against overstriding – reaching your legs out far in front of you and pulling back as you run. That straightens the outstretched leg and makes the knee less able to absorb the impact.

Lorenc recommends a Road Runner stride: keeping your legs underneath and behind you. “Imagine yourself falling forward and you’re catching yourself,” he said. “You essentially have a little bit of a forward center of gravity.” Strengthening the glutes this time of year will boost the efficiency of this type of stride, he said.

6. Shoes and gear

“We runners love cotton but it causes chaffing and absorbs moisture, so cotton is rotten,” said Kateri Walsh, training program coordinator with Fleet Feet Sports Buffalo. Wool and polyester are better. “What’s really cool about wool is it’s antimicrobial and you don’t have to wash it as much,” Walsh said. “In the wintertime it’s going to act like a heater but in the summertime it’s going to act like an air-conditioning system.” Members of the Fleet Feet running programs that already have started outdoors make early morning and evening runs in florescent gear; some wear small headlamps on their ballcaps or knit hats.

When it comes to running shoes, Walsh said, “your feet always want to be happy and they take the most pounding.” She, Lorenc and Matuszak stressed that the ideal running shoe can vary from runner to runner, so it’s good to try out a variety including neutral-based and those with different stability levels. Expect to invest $100 to $180 in a running shoe – and to buy a new pair if you recently decided to run more often.

7. Eat right

“We don’t want to see people training for a big event and intentionally losing weight at the same time,” Matuszak said. Eating right and maintaining a healthy weight keeps bones, muscles and your endocrine system in the best working order. Complex carbohydrates – nuts, beans, whole grains – and a diet rich in lean proteins, fruits and vegetables are key. So is water, the two doctors said. Chocolate milk is a good drink after long runs or workouts, Matuszak said. “I’m a big fan because it’s got a lot of protein, calcium and vitamin D – the building blocks of bone. Your bones are constantly adapting to the stresses that are put on them. If you don’t have enough energy or enough building blocks of bone, you get stress fractures.”

Running, especially long-distance running, can become addictive – in a healthy, satisfying way, said Vamvas, executive assistant to the principal at Health Sciences Charter School. She will run her sixth marathon this year.

“You just have to stick with it,” she said. “It’s a really amazing feeling when you cross the finish line and you realize you trained that hard for that long for everything. There’s a time during a long race when you question every decision you made. For me, it’s mile 22. Then I cross the finish line and I say, ‘When is the next one?’ ”

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GO THE DISTANCE

Longer races in Western New York this year include:

Grand Island Half Marathon: grandislandhalfmarathon.com; May 7, Beaver Island State Park

Happy Half: happyhalfrun.com; May 7, Ellicottville

Buffalo Half and Full Marathon: buffalomarathon.com; May 29

Rochester Half and Full Marathon: rochestermarathon.com; Sept. 18

Mighty Niagara Half Marathon: mightyniagarahalfmarathon.com; Sept. 24, Artpark in Lewiston

Run for the Grapes Half Marathon: niagararunningseries.com/races/grapes; Sept. 25 in St. Catharines, Ont.

Niagara Falls International Marathon: niagarafallsmarathon.com; Oct. 30 from Buffalo to Niagara Falls, Ont.

Sports Writer Budd Bailey will unveil The Buffalo News Runner of the Year Series in an upcoming Running column.

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email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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