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Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

sciatica_pointThis month, we sat down with Dr. Michael Fredericson, Director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sports Medicine Service at Stanford Medical Center.  Dr. Fredericson has spent a career addressing the needs of athletes at all ages and ability levels, and here, he provides some insight on sciatica, one of the most common ailments for adult athletes.


FNF: What is sciatica and what are signs you might be suffering from it?

MF: For most people, it relates to a bulging or herniated disc in your low back that is pressing on a nerve.  You feel it through the sciatic nerve.  That nerve goes all the way down your leg, so you’ll feel it there as well.  Sometimes your back is fine, and the problem is pirformis syndrome.  Your sciatic nerve goes through the pirformis, one of your smaller backside muscles that helps rotate your hip. That muscle can get tight and it can compress your sciatic nerve.  The biggest reason to see a physician is that you want to make sure it is not a bulging disc pressing on your nerve, as this requires more aggressive treatment.


FNF: How do you typically treat sciatica?

MF: First, we try to figure out if there was something that got them into this situation.  A lot of people don’t realize that it isn’t from their activity, but from their work.  Maybe they sit too much or drive a lot, which can put increased pressure on their discs.   The piriformis muscle can also get tight from driving too much.  So a lot of it is getting them out of the activity, and then calming down the inflammation.  We’ll advise over-the-counter products like Aleve or ibuprofen, and then prescription anti-inflammatories and so forth, in combination with physical therapy.   If it is a bulging or herniated disc in the back, sometimes we recommend an epidural corticosteroid injection and very rarely, surgery.


FNF: What can we do to prevent sciatica?

MF: Everyone is typically given core exercises as a part of their physical therapy, so that is something we should do prophylactically as well.  It takes pressure away from the disc.  We also should take care with our back mechanics.  People don’t think about simple things throughout the day such as how you lift, or how you sit and stand. You should.   Also, it is wise to be careful with the downhill running.  It is easy to get out of control downhill running and put too much stress on the low back.  Likewise, overstriding [landing with your foot too far in front of your body] can lead to overstress on the back. 




Can the Gym Help My Running?

Personal Best - January 2012

January is a time to set new goals.  Runners of every age and experience level often seek ways to improve performance and results outside of the time spent out on the roads.  As coaches, we are often asked if weight training, yoga, cross training, or other gym-based activities will assist an athlete toward their running goals.  This month in Personal Best, we consider the question with a few guidelines and tips.

Why not just run?
Certainly, the best way to improve your running is to run; however, moving your body in different ways can address various weaknesses that have built over time due to the repetitive nature of running. In addition, ancillary activities can help put the finishing touches on the fitness gains from a workout regimen begun in search of weight loss or aesthetic goals.

It all starts with the core....
If time and resources are limited, there are a number if ways to help your running with some simple core work.  Exercising the core helps strengthen the area from your chest to your hip flexors, allowing you to maintain good form and posture when at the end of a race. Your core stabilizes you not only when you're tired, but helps center your running form even when fresh, assisting in the achievement of good posture and range of motion in your stride.  We discussed the importance of one of these muscles, the transverse abdominis, in a previous column, along with a few easy and simple exercises to address it when you can steal a few minutes on the carpet after coming in from a run.

If you enjoy the social nature of classes they are a great way to stay on track with your core strength objectives.  In addition to stabilization, a strong core, and good spinal / pelvic alignment can help you maximize efforts spent on strengthening other muscle groups, another reason why it is a good place to start.

Flexibility is your friend

Activities like Yoga and Pilates are also tools used by many runners to help increase flexibility and strength when muscles are extended.  Greater flexibility can be a huge asset in the effort to stave off injuries, so if that is a big goal for 2012, these might be good options for activities to incorporate into your regimen.

Boost your metabolism and body composition
Along with general weight training, some of the latest trends in fitness include CrossFit, P90X, TRX, and a myriad of home and gym-based programs to challenge your body in a multi-directional, muscle-strengthening fashion.  Some of these also include a cardio component, and many of them build upper body fitness, demand lateral movement, and require more ballistic activities than a normal running routine.

These high intensity activities can complement your training by adding a new dimension of athleticism increasing your power.  However, anything along these lines should be carefully taken into account – some body composition changes are helpful, some are not, and anything that compromises your running by creating too much and untimely fatigue, may be more detrimental than it is worth.   Any of these activities are best safely incorporated with the help of a fitness professional at your local facility.

Ease strain on joints and muscles

Every runner occasionally requires a time of recovery or the need for a day or two of cross training.  Others enjoy incorporating spin classes, swimming, elliptical, or even a fitness activity such as Zumba into their regular routine.  If you are looking for a way to integrate in an additional day of cardiovascular exercise, but are concerned about the strain on joints and ligaments, one of these low or non-impact activities could be just the ticket to keep you headed in the right direction.


In short….the bottom line

Cross training and multi-dimensional movements can be beneficial for distance runners.  Consider some of the disciplines below to have an even better and more balanced 2012.

Core strength exercised, Yoga, Pilates:  At home, with an instructor, or in a class setting.  These primarily address needs for flexibility, core strength, and spinal / pelvic alignment.  Low / no impact, more meditative. 

Want to try a home-based core workout?  Check out Focus-N-Fly’s favorite whole body workout here:  

Weight / circuit training, CrossFit, P90X, TRX, etc:  At home, with an instructor, or in a class setting.  These require more dynamic, powerful movements, perhaps with greater intensity and resultant muscle development.  For those who enjoy an up-tempo addition to their week, and who are looking to add more power / speed.

Indoor cycling, elliptical, Zumba, swimming: At home, with an instructor, or in a class setting.  These activities can increase cardiovascular training time with minimal strain on joints and bones.  Could be used for variety or as a prelude to including an additional day of running into the schedule.

Focus-N-Fly Plyomterics and Warm-up Drills:  These can be run on a track, road, sidewalk, path or grass.  Even if you do not have time for an additional training session or two, these can be efficiently integrated into your already scheduled running to help strengthen your core and provide greater range of motion. 

Questions about the above?  Email us at info@focusnfly or tweet us a question to @focusnfly.


Abdi_croppedAbdi Abdirahman

Pro’s Perspective - January 2012


Abdi Abdirahman finished tenth and fifteenth in his first two Olympic Games (2000 and 2004) in the 10,000 meters, and won the 2008 US Olympic Trials at that distance.  The 1995 Tucson High grad initially attended Pima College, before transferring to the University of Arizona for his junior and senior years.  In fact, he continues to train in Tucson with his college coach, Dave Murray, picking up the light-hearted nickname Black Cactus along the way.  Injury setbacks in 2010 have kept Abdirahman under the radar heading into the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials on January 14th.  However, he is now training well and has an outstanding marathon personal best of 2:08.  Abdi took a moment to chat with FNF as he prepares to challenge for his fourth straight Olympic team.


FNF: Is training going well for the Olympic Trials in Houston?

AA: Training is going wonderfully.  I’m enjoying running again, after struggling with injuries for the last couple years.


FNF: How has it been coming back after such a tough stretch?

AA: Well, in 2010 I had a hip injury.  It was a stress reaction in the femur, and I took basically 6 months of no running.  With no world championships that year, it was a great time to take a step back from running and let it heal.  I did a lot of rehab and strengthening – I got back to basics.


FNF: What were some of the things you did with your time while healing your hip?  What kinds of things are you interested in pursuing once your professional career has concluded?

AA: I want to start my foundation and work with kids.  Also, one of my friends started a company, Solar for Africa.  He has the idea of providing it to rural villages.  It could help a lot.  Kids could go to night classes.

I don’t only want to help Somalia [Abdirahman immigrated to the US from Somalia as a youngster], but all the third world countries that are the poorest.


FNF: As fans preparing to watch the upcoming marathon trials, what should we be looking for in the men’s race?

AA: It is going to be a great Trials with a lot of great people running: Ryan Hall, Meb [Keflezighi, 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist], Dathan [Ritzenhein, 9th place finisher in Beijing], and a lot of other great guys who are running.

I haven’t run a marathon since 2009, in New York, but my training has been going well, almost as well as when I ran 2:08 in Chicago. There are only three spots; you are only running to be top three, and if you win it is a bonus.  The marathon is all about patience.  You can be in the best shape of your life, but everything has to go well that day.  I hope everyone has a good race, and may the three best men make the team.


FNF: Do you love the marathon?  Will we see you on the track this spring and summer?

AA: I love track.  Marathons are fun to train for, but I think I enjoy track more.  It is more speed, more all out. You can control the outcome of the track, but not the outcome of the marathon.  In the marathon, you can be in the best shape, but something else can go wrong.  On the track you can be pretty much 90% you will run around what you are ready to run.


FNF: What are your goals for the upcoming year?

AA: I enjoy running.  I look forward to training.  Right now, I realize the key to success is staying healthy.  If you are pain free, you can enjoy your training.

I want to make this Olympic team, and I always look forward.  I am approaching this race like I have never been to the Olympics.


FNF:  You have been in Tucson around 15 years.  How has the community supported you in your career?

AA: The community has been a big part of my success.  They say there is no place like home.  I ran well under Coach Murray at Arizona.  I had opportunities to go to other groups, but I feel more comfortable here. I have access to the facilities, I just feel like it is my comfort zone.  A lot of people say in order to accomplish something, you have to get out of your comfort zone, but that is not for me, I think you need to feel comfortable where you are.

People have been supportive of me since day one and have provided me everything I need. I enjoy spending time with the Boys and Girls Club, getting a chance to say thank you for your support.


FNF: What is some advice you have for our recreational runners headed toward their own big race in Houston?

AA: Enjoy the moment.  Enjoy that you have done all the hard work, you have done your long runs. It is time to reward your hard work and enjoy it.  Run your own race, not your training partner’s or someone else’s pace.


Yocum_cropped_IITrebor Yocum

Runner of the Month – January 2012


A Monroe, Louisiana native, Yocum lives in Seattle, where he works in Everett for the Labinal Company, a contractor for Boeing.  Yocum spends his days doing statistical analysis for electrical wiring on the new 787 aircraft, and his off hours finishing his PhD in Public Policy from Walden University.  In late 2010, Yocum found himself considering gastric bypass surgery to address his 440 pound weight.   He decided to begin exercising instead, joining Focus-N-Fly in January of 2011 to train for the Amica Insurance Seattle Half Marathon.  Now down to 210 pounds and counting, Yocum has an ambitious 2012 schedule ahead.

FNF: How did you start running?

TY: Last October, I was going to get gastric bypass, but decided to do it on my own, walking and running.  I started FNF in January 2011, and I've gone from 440 to 210.   I have done fifteen 5Ks, two 10Ks, one 12k, and one half marathon.  I have also become a big Cross-Fitter at Cross Fit Belltown in Seattle.  I have an amazing support group there; it is really cool.


FNF: Who is your running role model?

TY: My mother.  She's seen me fat, she's seen me thin, and she's proud of me as a runner because she knows I'll be here for a long time now.  I was on high blood pressure medicine and others, and now am off all my medications.  I’ve gone from a size 68 to 34.  I’m running the New Orleans [Mardi Gras] Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon with her in February.


FNF: What has been your most memorable running / racing experience?

TY: Finishing the half.  It was my ultimate goal this year and I did it.  I almost was in tears, crossing that finish line, thinking it was like you see on television…but it also made me want to go further.


FNF: What have you enjoyed about working with Focus-N-Fly?

TY: I like that it breaks down the workouts so I don't have to think about it!  I like that it gives me the paces I need to go by, and that it allows me to adjust the schedule, and to build in all the races.  This week, I'm going to put in all my 2012 races so I can get my training schedule all set up for next year.


FNF: What is one part of your racing routine you can’t do without (sleep, pre race meal, tie shoes certain way, other ritual)?

TY: When I'm running through the finish or see the finish, I always put Katy Perry singing Firework on my iphone, and I sing it.  I sing throughout the race, and I belt it out.


FNF: What is your favorite place to go for a run?

TY: My waterfront loop in Seattle, basically 4th to union, to the water, and back up.


FNF: In the next year, what goals do you hope to accomplish?

Three half marathons and three full marathons.  New Orleans Rock 'n' Roll, Seattle and Portland Rock ‘n’ Rolls, the Heroes Half in Seattle,  the Kirkland Half, and the Victoria [BC, Canada] Half.  I want one of those shirts that say “Marathon Maniac!”


M_Allen_croppedMargaret Allen

Runner of the Month - December 2011


Originally born and raised in England, Margaret is a 62 year-old mom who started running at age 59.  She had been pretty healthy, but her sons, one of whom ran in college, encouraged her to start running.  Margaret has been a family practice Physician’s Assistant for 20 years, with a very busy practice working primarily with the homeless and the uninsured.  After meeting and marrying an American, the Allen family settled in Northern California, where she still resides.


Recently, Margaret enjoyed a breakthrough race at the BUPA Great South Run 10 Miler in Portsmouth, England.

FNF: How did you start running?

MA:  My mom suffered some debilitating arthritis and back problems.  As I was about to turn 60, I thought, “Wow, I should be doing some exercise.”  I don’t like ball games, because I can’t see well enough.  I don’t like team games, because I don’t much like winning and losing, and I don’t like swimming, because I grew up swimming in the sea, which I loved [and cannot do often]. My son got me going, and has really continued to encourage me.

FNF: Who is your running role model?

MA:   Well, Paula Radcliffe is actually a friend and stayed with us after having some surgery in the area.  I sometimes run at Rancho San Antonio [park In Mountain View, California]. But as for a real role model…I learned a lot from both of my kids, but Tom especially. I watched my kids grow up and be really athletic. Tom and his [running] friends would stay here and it was very inspiring.


FNF: What has been your most memorable running / racing experience?

MA:  Competing in the Great South Run was something I had always wanted to do, and I signed up for it a year ahead.  I figured I‘m not getting any younger, so if I’m going to do it, I better do it now!  It was the most exhilarating and fun experience I have ever had.  I had done a 10K a few weeks earlier and literally came in last.  I had felt so bad, so I was a bit scared of the Great South Run.

FNF: What have you enjoyed about working with Focus-N-Fly?

MA:  Kate has been terrific; she is great about answering my questions.  I like the training log, although sometime I cheat and put it in on the next day.  It does push me, and I can see the mileage I am supposed to accomplish, which is very helpful.  I credit FNF with helping me improve my speed and stamina.  It never occurred to me to switch it up, I would run the same old run every day.


FNF: What is one part of your racing routine you can’t do without (sleep, pre race meal, tie shoes certain way, other ritual)?

MA: I do like to register before. I don’t like race day registration; I do like to figure out what I am going to wear.  The biggest challenge is figuring out what I am going to wear while waiting for the race to start.  I have a little cache of used sweatshirts… I really don’t approve of the plastic bag thing!

FNF: What is your favorite place to go for a run?

MA: I do like going up to Rancho San Antonio.  I do like running around Stanford campus.  It is really beautiful, parts of it, I run around Lake Lag.

FNF: In the next year, what goals do you hope to accomplish?

MA:  if I can keep up this level of fitness, I’ll be very happy.  I’d like to aim for a half marathon in the next year or two.


November 29, 2011

Julia Stamps Mallon

Julia-Stamps-Small-MGJulia Stamps Mallon burst onto the running scene as a young teenager at Santa Rosa High School, winning the Footlocker National Cross Country Championships in 1994 and quickly emerging on the scene as one of the nation's top high school milers and two milers.  A six-time NCAA All-American, Mallon's collegiate career was unfortunately cut short by injury.  Upon relocating to New York to begin a career in the financial sector, she took up running again with the New York Athletic Club, winning the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge World Championships in 2003 while at Bear Stearns.  After trying the marathon a year or two later, she qualified for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, had two children, and just recently qualified for the 2012 Trials with a triumphant run at the Santa Rosa Marathon. 

FNF recently caught up with Mallon as she traveled with family over Thanksgiving break....

1.  You have recently qualified for your second Olympic Marathon Trials at your hometown race, the Santa Rosa Marathon.  How was the experience of getting to run, win, and qualify at home?

It was an awesome experience.  I have always loved Santa Rosa.  We just moved back and it meant a lot. I had a lot of support; it was an easy and flawless start. No long lines in the bathroom.  We ran through a new area of Santa Rosa that I actually didn't even know about.  You can't beat waking up in your own home on race day.

2.  Running has been a part of your life as a high school star, a college All-American, a young grad working hard in New York City, and now a mom of two.  How has your perspective changed on running through all those stages of life...or has it?

It has changed a lot.  In high school it was all new and I was very focused.  I had the 100 percent support of my parents so didn't have to worry about all the outside stuff.   College was fun and I had a good time. My perspective was to hopefully run after college, but with my accident that no longer became an option.  It forced me to look for a new area of focus, so I headed to New York.  In New York it became a luxury to run if I wasn't so tired from work.  Running was basically an outlet - a chance to run super early in Central Park when it was so quiet and relaxing-  my favorite part of day.  Now I have come full circle to have my own family, and I hope my focus is more on sharing the love with my kids and also have it be part of their lives.  I want to have them love it and I can't wait to do a 5 mile run with them.  The other day my almost three year old ran 2 miles.  It was awesome.  I tried to get her to stop but she wanted to run all the way home.

3.  You have had the chance to run and race in a lot of interesting places and races.  What are some of your most memorable experiences?

Cuba!!!!  [Julia represented the United States in the 3000 meters at the 1997 Junior Pan-American Games in Cuba]  After living in Miami for three years I now realize how amazing it was to be there.  I met so many friends who haven't gone back. Or really can't.  It was as if you stepped back in time.

4.  What originally got you started running when you were younger?

I always loved it!  I used to sneak out and try to run with my dad early in the morning.  I actually used to play soccer, but they told me I should run since I was a great runner and not so great of a soccer player.

5.  Who have been influential or inspirational individuals in your life as it relates to running?

I never had a role model. I just wanted to get faster and challenge myself.  It was that competitive spirit.

6.  What are your goals for the upcoming year as well as long-term?

I love running.  It would be great to break 2:40 in the marathon, then break 2:35, then 2:30.  I have to take it one race at a time.

7.  What inspired you to make the jump to marathoning as an adult?

It was a lot easier to run longer than get faster. I also got hooked!

8.  What piece of advice would you give to our recreational athletes who are gearing up for an important goal marathon?

To love the long runs.   Then, in the race break it up.  You have the first 10k, then a half marathon then another 10k for the final 6 miles.  When you think about it that way it isn't overwhelming.

Although we earn a small reprieve from the early morning darkness with next month's time change, many runners are just settling in for a long winter of running in the dark.  Whether you rise early to beat the rush before the workday begins and the kids wake up, or fit in a run at the end of the day, nighttime running is a fact of life for many athletes.  Here are a few tips for staying safe and maximizing these workouts until the sun reappears.

Avoid risk-taking

While running the same route again and again might seem unappealing, or stopping your awesome tempo run briefly to make sure a passing car sees you, it is always worth it.  Stick to routes where lighting can help provide safety and mark your path, even if that means doing multiple loops around a few block radius.  Head to a local track and run while kids are playing soccer or lacrosse under the lights in the evening.  Put off exploration of that new trail until the weekend when you can run in the daylight.  Set aside the headphones so that you can be alert to your surroundings (yes, you can do it).

Choose routes for the presence of sidewalks away from the roadway.  Consider places of business where early morning activity takes place in a typically safe manner, such as a gas station, bagel shop, or Starbucks and include them on your run.  Check for daily sunrise and sunset times so you can safely estimate when you will need to be in spots that are safe for those times of day.  In short, give yourself at least one more measure of safety precautions than you would ordinarily take.  That may mean boredom and repetition, but is always better than not being able to run at all or risking adverse events

See and be seen

Many running apparel companies and specialty brands have introduced reflective clothing and devices to help runners stay safe in the dark.  Sometimes we focus on being visible to cars and others by wearing reflective gear, and other times we focus on keeping our path lit with headlamps and other illuminating devices.  In reality, both are important at all times.  A hard fall because of an unseen root or sidewalk crack is dangerous, and of course it is crucial to be visible to vehicular traffic.   It isn’t always possible to be completely visible in the dark, but taking care to be seen and to seeing where your feet will travel can be a crucial safety precaution.

Keep others in the loop

Whether you live with others in your household or reside independently, leave a note, a text, or other word where you plan to go every time.  If you encounter any trouble on an evening run, it may be until daylight before anyone is aware of your extended absence or be able to see you in distress alongside a road.    Particularly if doing something strenuous or extended, such as a long run for a marathon training cycle, estimating a time of return can help ease the mind of others who aren’t used to the length of these runs, as well as determine when you are indeed overdue.    Whenever possible, try to meet others for nighttime runs.  Both as a safety measure and as added encouragement when the winter is at its darkest and coldest point, a partner or group willing to meet you at a nighttime hour can make all the difference.

Be creative

Roads and outdoor tracks may not be the only venues for getting in runs.  Enclosed walkways, indoor public spaces, the perimeter of a well-lit parking lot, and even a circuit of long hallways in winter-affected cities might provide occasional safe locations for runs when things are truly awful and dark.    Consider a short-term gym membership, even if just to break up the workout by running there, doing some miles on the treadmill, and running home.  If winter is really getting the best of you, consider sampling some indoor cross training disciplines you have been waiting to try, or investigate the possibility of all-comers indoor track meets in your community as a way to get in a good hard effort inside.

While nighttime running may not be pleasant for many, runners across the country and around the world have thrived with a schedule comprised primarily of workout times before dawn or after dusk.  The good news is that sunlight is likely around the corner as spring returns, and the challenge of darkness is an opportunity to exercise the type of commitment and persistence that will serve you well when faced with a rough patch in your next goal race.  Embrace the challenge, stay safe, and keep up the good work.

Trenton grew up in the Dallas area, graduating from Allen High School in Allen, Texas. He attended community college for a year before he joined the US Navy. After about three years of being unmotivated he decided he had "had enough" and started running. Trenton serves onboard the USS Nebraska, a ballistic missle submarine home-ported in Bangor, Washington. According to Trenton, "Running is a perfect sport for a submariner because with the treadmill and weights I don't have to miss any training."

Trenton recently joined us to train for his very first race, the Amica Seattle Marathon 5K.  With only a few weeks to go until race day, we caught up with Trenton while on leave in Texas (where he is likely mourning the World Series outcome, based on the picture he sent us)!

Coach: How did you start running?

TH: I was gaining weight and needed a sport to keep me in shape. I used to be athletic, but wanted to find something that was low contact.  Running was the perfect solution, so I decided to do the Seattle marathon 5K.

Coach: Who is your running role model?

TH: Mike Gouin, he isn't famous by any means, just a guy I work with. He's a runner, bicyclist, climber....pretty much anything outdoors or athletic.

Coach: What has been your most memorable running / racing experience?

TH: I haven't been running too long so not too many memories yet.

Coach: What have you enjoyed about working with Focus-N-Fly?

TH: Well so far any questions I've had are very promptly answered, there are extensive drills and exercises on video. And, I've only just joined and I'm already runner of the month. What an honor!

Coach: What is one part of your racing routine you can’t do without (sleep, pre race meal, tie shoes certain way, other ritual)?

TH: I'm sure I'll have something crazy that I'll do. I'm a pretty superstitious guy, but I've yet to be in a race. It'll probably be what I wear that will make the difference to me.

Coach: What is your favorite place to go for a run?

TH: I love running in the woods. I feel alone out there and it's a great escape from the same old roads and tracks out there. It makes for a really great run.

Coach: In the next year, what goals do you hope to accomplish?

TH: In a year I hope to be running the Seattle half-marathon. I hope to lose a lot more weight and be in the best shape of my life. And I hope I can do it all through Focus-N-Fly.

October 30, 2011

Malindi Elmore

Malindi_3Malindi Elmore has been one of Canada's top middle distance runners for more than a decade.  She enjoyed a successful junior career where she was the top-ranked under 20 1500m runner above the border for three straight years and competed on the world stage in the Junior World Cross Country Championships and Junior Pan-American Games. Malindi then springboarded to the pros from a Stanford career in which her last race was a school record in her favored distance. 

After medaling in the 2003 World University Games and and earning fourth at the 2003 Pan-Am Games, she successfully qualified for the 2004 Olympics in Athens with a win at the Canadian Olympic Trials.  After some ups and downs with injuries that left her tantalizingly close to Beijing qualification in 2008, she is rolling again toward London, recently earning bronze with a hectic sprint finish at the 2011 Pan-Am Games in Mexico. 

Read on to find out about this professional athlete to watch!

Coach: How did you get your start in running and racing as a young athlete?

ME: I always loved running, even before I was into organized racing.  My sister and I were always setting up races and even as a six year old kid I used to have my parents time me while I ran to the mailbox and back.  In elementary school I joined the cross country team - which of course was very casual and we only a couple races a year. In grade 8, my high school coach (and my current coach!) dropped by one of my field hockey games to invite me to join the high school cross country team; however, I found team sports more enjoyable so I decided only to race and to skip training.  By grade 9 I was more committed to running and realized that I might have to train if I wanted to improve and meet my goals.  It paid off that year when I won BC High School Cross Country Championships and set major track personal bests (4:26/2:09) and around that time I started to realize that I was probably better at running than at team sports so I started to focus a bit more on my running.  It was about at this age that I decided I wanted to run for Canada and be on the Olympic team one day. I still kept up other sports until I graduated high school, which I think it helped me keep a balance and make sure that I developed as a strong all around athlete.

Coach: In what ways is the Canadian youth / school system different than the US and how do you feel that helped your development?

ME: The Canadian system is much more "club" focused - while I competed for my high school in certain meets, I trained with a club coach and all the kids in the city irrespective of high school affiliation.  Our club coaches are trained through the Canadian Coaching Association, which offers certification at various levels of coaching depending on the sport and type of athlete (recreation, development, high performance etc). The Canadian system is focussed on the LTAD model (Long Term Athlete Development) which is a big picture approach to developing young athletes so that they do not train too hard too soon.  The LTAD puts emphasis on skill development and speed at an earlier age and is not as focussed on high mileage since the idea is that the aerobic capacity can be trained over years but speed is critical component of long term success in running.  The LTAD model also encourages younger athletes to participate in a variety of sports and events before specializing. As a high school athlete, I did not do significant mileage and focused more on quality track work; over the years I have been able to gradually increase my mileage and aerobic capacity while still keeping my basic high school speed - actually I think I was faster over 400m in high school! However with my aerobic training I can now run almost as fast as a flat 400m in high school as I can in my last lap of a race.

Coach: You have been an experienced competitor at a world class level for many years now.  What is your specific focus as you begin the training process for the 2012 Olympic year?

ME: My focus over the next ten months will be to remain healthy, motivated, and consistent as I train for the London 2012 Games.  Over the years I have learned that there are always ups and downs, but everything is shaping up to be a great year for me.  While I will probably run a few early season 5000m races, my goal will be to qualify for the 1500m at London and be a finalist at the Games. I really love the tactics and distance of the1500m and the fact that every race is different - I think I am addicted to figuring out how to "master" the race!  The 1500m is the ultimate game of strategy with a high level of fitness and speed.  I would also like to work a bit more on my speed this year, as with a finicky injury over the past few years (navicular bone in foot) I was not able to do as much 800m work as it hurt my foot. So, I am excited about getting a bit faster because the 1500m often ends up being a sprint finish.

Coach: At various times, you have worked in urban planning and related fields outside of your athletic experience while maintaining your pro athletic career.  Now you are involved with some community programming and other projects with a more direct tie to running.  How have those projects evolved and what are your goals as you get things off the ground?

ME: I love having a few projects on the go outside of running. If I only have running to focus on, I go a bit crazy. It is great to have a creative and intellectual outlet for the hours between workouts - and many of my best ideas come on my runs.  I have always been in school or worked part time in urban planning.  Lately I have been getting more involved in my local community running scene.  Since I do approximately 100% of my training on my own (my coach does not even live in my city!)  I crave running company!  And regardless of goals and abilities, runners are largely cut from the same cloth - we share a passion for being the sport and challenging ourselves.  I think we all crave "community" and a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself and that as something I really miss about not being on a team or in a training group so I am trying to create that at home through my clinics and seminars.  And as I have been so fortunate to learn from some of the world's experts in areas of sport science, nutrition, physiology etc, it is nice to be able to share some of my knowledge and experiences from the years with a wider audience.

Working with my local runners/triathletes has made me really excited about evolving into a coaching or leadership role after I am done my competitive running.  Ultimately I would love to host camps and to create more "high performance" environments for athletes of all abilities, regardless of their ultimate goals (ie. focus on personal bests and improvements).  My dream of dreams would be to buy nice big property and build a 25 metre pool, with a gym and facilities and yurts for glam-camping so we can train athletes for running and triathlon right from our home - I might need to win a lottery first but it would be so awesome!

Coach: Who have been some of your athletic role-models or individuals who have made a big impact on the trajectory of your career?

ME: My role model growing up was Leah Pells who was Canada's top 1500m runner for years. She inspired me to realize that small town Canadian girls can run with the best girls in the world.  She was always so supportive and encouraging to me through the years and was a great role model and "go to" for me.  It is crazy for me to realize that I have been on the circuit so long that I am now the "mature" runner on the Canadian scene!

The biggest impact on the trajectory of my career has been my coach, Mike Van Tighem, who has been a big part of my running since I joined the Kelowna Track and Field Club in 1993.  We have been so much together and so many ups and downs that we are now more of a partnership than just coach-athlete.  I always felt that an athlete should receive two medals - one for themselves and one for their coach because they put so much time, energy and passion into getting us to the podium - Mike is no exception and I am eternally grateful to what he has done to help me get to this point of my running career.

Coach: If you weren't a professional runner, how do you think you would channel all that energy?

ME: I think being an athlete is in my blood and I can't imagine not channeling my energy into a physical and competitive outlet.  I think I was destined to be an athlete in an endurance sport because as long as I can remember I have been addicted to racing and pushing myself in sports (cycling, skiing, skating).  Right now I am really excited about pursuing triathlon when I am done with my competitive track racing.  Obviously, it is a very different sport from 1500m racing but I have done two Olympic distance triathlons (won Amateur Nationals this year) so I am really excited to see what I can do if I actually train for swimming and cycling. I do, however, have a long way to go in swimming but I am looking forward to a new athletic challenge and one that hopefully will have a steep learning curve!

Coach: What are some of your top tips for recreational athletes just beginning to discover running as a pastime?

ME: I think developing a love of running is the most important part of being a runner. Sometimes this takes a bit of time to develop because running is hard and it can take a while until it feels natural, but it is worth pursuing.  Once you can get in tune to your own running rhythm, moving through space in such a basic and primitive way is exhilarating.   It is only you, your lungs and legs that propel you either fast or slow, up hills, down hills and through all the elements of the seasons.   I would encourage new runners to embrace the feeling - the pain and the challenge of running - as an opportunity to feel alive and in the moment.   Running can be social or it can be immensely private and I never feel as energized as when I am out exploring the world on my own two feet.  No matter how frustrated or high I am with my competitions, I always comes back to my love of running; I think this is what connects runners of all abilities and it would be my advice for new runners too!
hammie_croppedThis month in Ask the Practitioner, we inquired about high hamstring tendinopathy with Renee Songer, Clinical Director of Agile Physical Therapy. 

Read on to find out more about one of the most common injury problems among runners.

Coach:  What is high hamstring tendinopathy? 

RS: Tendons connect muscle to bone. Tendinopathy is a degenerative condition of the tendon structure. High hamstring tendinopathy is a degeneration of the hamstring tendon at it's insertion near the buttock region.

Coach: What are the primary symptoms of this injury?

RS: Primary symptoms include local pain at the top of the hamstring. Often these injuries can be painful to the touch, painful with stretching and painful with forceful muscle contraction.

While running you may feel the pain as you are pushing off the back foot or as the leg is swinging forward.

A quick test is a Reverse Plank (see picture). Pain or weakness compared to your non-injured leg indicates possible problems with hamstring tendon.


Coach: What are some tips for addressing these symptoms or preventing their onset?
RS: If you see bruising in the hamstring it is best to get in to see your physical therapist or physician to assess the severity of the damage.

If you feel pain in this area acutely, it is often best to rest and ice for the first 24 hours. If pain allows, gently stretch the area and working on a foam roll or massage can help. Slowly return to activity over the next week avoiding activities that cause pain. If pain persists beyond a week see your physical therapist or physician to assess the problem.

This type of injury can also start with a gradual onset as a localized buttock ache, first noticed after a workout and with sitting on harder surfaces.

To prevent high hamstring tendonopathy make sure your glute muscles are strong through a full range of motion. Often we tend to avoid the last 20 degrees of hip extension (straightening) with exercise but we need it to be strong for running. Bowing, single leg bridge, and single leg curtsy squats are excellent exercises to maintain adequate glute strength for running.

Curtsy Video Version I

Curtsy Video Version II
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