Amber Sayer is a USATF-certified running coach, and has been training runners for 13 years. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. and is also a NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer.
As a runner herself, Amber has PRs of 17:07 in the 5k, 28:52 for 5 miles, 1:20:19 in the half marathon, and 3:01:02 in the marathon.
Amber enjoys working with runners of all levels and helping them achieve their goals.
We asked our readers to send her their training questions for her to tackle!
Question 1: Adjusting Your Running Form
I’ve just seen a video of my running style and I have a very stiff upper body. Shoulders up by my ears and neck / chin very forward. I’ve been running for a long time and it’s only just been pointed out to me after a family member came to watch a run event.
How do I retrain myself to stand up straight when I run and not carry the tension so much in my shoulders?
Thanks for the question. It can be really surprising when our mental image of ourselves doing something doesn’t match how we actually look. This is probably magnified in your case since it sounds like you’ve been running a long time.
The good news is that you have a good attitude about it and are keen on making changes to your running. You’d be surprised how many people are stubborn and resistant against adjusting their form, even if there’s a clear issue.
In general, making corrections to your running form if you have been running for a long time isn’t all that easy because at this point, whatever way you are running feels completely natural and you probably don’t think twice about it.
However, it is possible to change it, and in your case, doing so will behoove you because holding a lot of tension in your upper body wastes energy and can compromise your efficiency.
On to the practical: unfortunately, there aren’t many magic billets here to fix things instantly and sustainably other than consciously trying to work on it.
Many runners find that reciting a short cue throughout the run can help keep their awareness on whatever aspect of their form they’re trying to address.
In your case, this could be something like “shoulders relaxed and down,” “shoulders away from the ears,” “gentle upper body,” or “loosey-goosey, easy, and soft.”
Create a brief cue that works for you and recite it every 5 minutes or so during the run. If you run with your phone or watch, you can even set a recurring alert.
When you recite the cue, use it as a check in to make sure you’re actually relaxing your upper body.
If you have access to a gym or a treadmill with a mirror near it, another option is to run in front of the mirror so that you can receive constant visual feedback of your running form and adjust accordingly.
Finally, you might benefit from doing some upper-body mobility and stretching. Perhaps you have a pretty tight upper back, neck, and shoulders due to holding constant tension there.
Before you run and throughout the day, you can try rolling your shoulders, stretching your upper back, doing thoracic spine rotations, and using a foam roller or lacrosse ball on your upper back.
It probably won’t be possible to change your running form overnight. These movement patterns have become programmed in your brain to the point that they are automatic. However, stick with it and you can make the changes you desire!
Let us know how it goes!
Question 2: Runner’s Knee
I have runner’s knees or patellofemoral pain syndrome in both my knees. I have never had knee pain before but I just had my 4th child 6 months ago and am breastfeeding – so I think the changes in my body and the hormones are causing both instability and imbalance.
I have a 1/2 marathon in 10 weeks and am following the 12 week running program. So my question is what is a reasonable rest period? I’ve never been good at stopping but my attempt at 8 km last night was too painful.
I am taping when I run, I am icing and taking Epsom salt baths. My plan this week is to focus on strengthening and stretching and hold off my runs. What do you think?
Joy, Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Note that this question was time-sensitive, so I reached out to Joy right away, but we thought other readers might benefit from the advice because it’s a great question about a common injury.
First of all, I’m sorry to hear that you’re battling runner’s knee; it can be a very frustrating injury.
It sounds like you are doing a lot of the right things. I would highly recommend trying to get in to see if this is a therapist as soon as possible.
He or she can help you address your specific weaknesses leading to this pathology and give you a personalized treatment plan so that you lose as little training as possible.
There are quite a few factors that can lead to the development of runner’s knee and identifying your issues will help you correct the problem efficiently.
It’s also important to temporarily stop running, which it sounds like you are prepared to do. Don’t worry; we will try to get you back out there as post as possible.
In the meantime, you should be able to do some low-impact cross-training as long as you don’t have any pain. Examples include swimming, deep water running, or cycling.
Next, I would work on mobility and strengthening exercises.
Runner’s knee is often caused by weakness in the quads, specifically the vastus medialis obliquus (VMO), or weakness in the hip abductor and external rotators, which causes malalignment of the patella and abnormal tracking when you run.
To try and strengthen these muscles, you can do any of the following exercises so long as they don’t elicit pain:
- Side-lying leg lifts: Keep your knee straight. Progress to using an ankle weight.
- Quad sets: Lie on your back with a towel under one knee and an ankle weight on. Bend the other leg with your foot flat on the floor. Engage your quad to lift your heel off the ground. Hold 5 seconds.
- Resisted glute bridges: Place a resistance loop band around your thighs just above the knees and keep tension on it over the duration of the exercise by pushing out with your legs. Squeeze your glutes.
- Single-leg glute bridges: Engage your glutes.
- Donkey kicks: Keep your core tight and engage your glutes.
- Straight leg raises
- Clamshells with a resistance band
- Single-leg squats
- Resisted band walks: forward, lateral, and backwards
Do 2-3 sets of 15-30 reps of each exercise twice a day. If you have pain with any of the moves, do not do them.
Stretch your quads, hip flexors, IT bands, calves, and hamstrings.
Keep icing the knee for 10-15 minutes several times per day.
Good luck and let us know how it goes.
Question 3: Salt Tablets for Runners
If I consume an electrolyte drink such as gatorade endurance or tailwind during marathon training or a race, is it okay to also use salt tablets in addition to those drinks?
I have an issue with overheating, nausea, tummy upset, fatigue when I hit the longer miles in my marathon training. I am experimenting with constant rehydrating with these drinks, but was wondering if adding salt tablets is ok if I drink those electrolyte drinks.
Miriam, Knoxville, TN, USA
I’m sorry to hear that you’re feeling nauseated and weak at the end of your long runs.
The short answer to this question is yes, in most cases, it would be fine to consume both. The caveat here is that if you have hypertension (high blood pressure) and need to keep with a low sodium diet, you probably shouldn’t double down with both.
Tailwind actually has quite a bit of salt—about 18% of your DV or more per serving.
You can check out our picks for the best salt tablets for runners here.
I’d also suggest examining your overall hydration and fueling strategy during your long runs.
Are you taking in enough carbohydrates early on and with your fluids? A lot of runners make the mistake of waiting too long to begin their nutrition during a long run, which can cause GI upset and nausea.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), ingesting 30–60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during endurance exercise is ideal.
This equates to 120-240 calories of carbohydrates per hour. These carbohydrates can come from sports beverages, energy gels or chews, or foods such as dried fruit, pretzels, bananas, or honey packets.
On the hydration end of things, do you find yourself dehydrated after a long run? How much fluid weight are you losing from the start of the run to the end?
In sum, as long as you don’t have high blood pressure, you should be fine to add salt tablets to your routine but I would also look at your overall fueling and see if you are coming up short on carbohydrates earlier on in the run.
Let us know how this goes!