By U.S. Navy SEAL + SWCC Scout Team
Posted March 6, 2019
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Intro: I’m Daniel Fletcher. Today we bring back the Director of Fitness for Naval Special Warfare, Mike Caviston, to cover a very important aspect of NSW: running. His advice on training, form, and commonly held misconceptions is crucial if you’re planning for a career in Naval Special Warfare, but also helpful for anyone who strives to be a more efficient and effective runner. Let’s get started.
DF: Thanks for coming back and speaking with us. We’re going to do a deeper dive about running in general. You know, we all do it, civilians, we do it as kids, it’s got some universal appeal to say the least. So, thanks for sitting down with us again.
MC: My pleasure, looking forward to it.
DF: We’ll start off by having you just give a brief history of your employment before coming to work where you do now.
MC: Well, before I came to the center, I was a coach and a teacher. I was at the University of Michigan, and I worked with a number of athletes in different sports, but primarily I was a rowing coach. I was a competitive rower myself, and I got into coaching. And while that was unfolding, I went and got my graduate degree at U of M in kinesiology, and I began teaching, and so I spent about 22 years as a rowing coach and 14 of those years as a lecturer in kinesiology.
DF: So, you have an extensive background, obviously, it’s awesome to be able to talk to you about this because I think this is something that is personally interesting to me. I’m a runner, and my father is a marathon runner, and so he kind of got me into running pretty early. We all think we know how to run, but in your view, what percentage of active runners are actually doing it correctly?
MC: That’s a hard question to answer. It’s hard to definitively say what correct running is, and I try not to get too caught up in that when I’m talking to people. I was just working with a group earlier today, the recent class that completed Hell Week, and they’re going through what we call Walk Week, and I’m trying to help them get back literally on their feet so that by next week, a couple of days from now, they can get back into regular training and pass their timed four-mile runs. And so, we review a lot of running technique and give them some running drills and help them get through the aches and pains that accumulated during Hell Week so that they’re feeling a little bit better about themselves. And that’s one of the things I stress to them, is that there’s no absolute right or wrong way to run, but I can give them some guidelines and some things to think about and especially for people that are sort of on the borderline. You know, they’re not the greatest runners, or maybe they’ve been running, and they keep getting injured, and they’re trying to figure out why, then I’ll give them some technical things to think about. But everybody’s built different, everybody has a different body type, everybody has a different training background, so I’m a little hesitant to say, “Oh, this is the correct way to run.”
DF: Right, and that’s because of you’re saying physiologically people’s differences although we may look very similar…
MC: Or, or we don’t all look that similar, so we get a wide variety of people here, you know, some football linebacker types that if they didn’t have to go through BUD/S, I wouldn’t have them run more than two or three miles a week. We also get people that were actually very competitive cross-country runners, and so, yeah, they’ve got a runner’s body, and they’ll do very well running. But as a mix of people, people that were primarily swimmers or water polo players, maybe they’re good athletes, but they haven’t really spent the years building up the bone density that would help them be good runners, and you know, maybe they’re going to run into some problems here, too. So, yea physiologically, anatomically, biomechanically, there’s all kinds of differences, and as I said, it’s hard to say categorically, here’s the right way to run.
DF: So, well, then I guess we’ll look at that from a different perspective. Where do you see a lot of people mistepping or… not physically but metaphorically misstepping.
MC: I think having the necessary background in aerobic training is something that I would encourage people to really consider and some people that are transitioning to running, they don’t like to run, they wouldn’t run, but you have to be able to pass running standards to be able to get through the program. So, okay, they’re going to do some running. They’d better do a certain amount of aerobic preconditioning before they really start to seriously run.
DF: Do you say that because people develop an innate sense of being in tune with themselves when they’re developing aerobic capacity, or because it, you mean more from like a clinical standpoint of them being to actually run and maintain a distance?
MC: Well, that’s the key thing, is being able to run and maintain the distance. I mean one of the things I try to emphasize when I talk about running, and I say it over and over again and encourage people to look at the statistics, that if you want to have a good chance of getting through the program, you’d better be able to run well. The better runners make it much, much more frequently than the poor runners, and the people that just barely pass the entrance standards, they pass at a rate of like 3 or 4%. So, it’s not good enough to just barely meet the standards. You have to be the best that you can be. So, when I say that, people say, “Well, why is running so important?” and I don’t know for sure, but what I think is the real reason is that overall endurance is better, and to be able to get through the tough selection portion of the pipeline, you need to do multiple hard things on a daily basis for several days and several weeks in a row. And we happen to capture that because running is a fairly easy thing to measure, so people have to do run tests, and the better runners will tend to perform better. But when it comes down to it, I think the reason that those better runners succeed is because they have a general overall endurance that benefits them in a number of different ways in addition to just being able to run fast.
DF: Yeah, you’re kind of looking at it from more of a whole person approach to understanding more aspects than just stride and foot strike and shoes. [MC: Right, correct, correct.] That, I think that’s important because, yeah, if you’re overweight, and you just want to start, “I’m going to go lose weight. I heard you should run,” like that is not a good idea. [MC: No, it’s not a good idea.] Like, I guess depending on how overweight you are, but has your own personal kind of philosophy on analyzing people’s running, has it changed over time?
MC: Well, what I’ve noticed over the years, a lot of people have participated in or been interested in a number of what I’ll just have to call fads, running fads. This technique is good, or this running shoe is good, or not wearing shoes at all is good, going barefoot is good, trying to run like our caveman ancestors, that’s good. I don’t know. I take all of that with a bit of skepticism and try to look at what really works for the people that we’re dealing with today. But things like mechanics and foot strike definitely have an impact. I mean I guess that’s a pun but didn’t mean it that way.
DF: Yeah, right, I did it earlier, so you’re not alone.
MC: It, it has an effect on outcome, it has an effect on injury rate, and so I want people to be aware of how they run. On the other hand, I don’t personally want people to overthink it. One of the things I tell people that have a certain amount of athletic experience is that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And so, if somebody is meeting their standards, and they’re comfortable running, and they’re confident in their running, and they’re not getting injured, even if they look a little quirky to somebody like me, I’m not going to try to turn them into something else.
DF: Yeah, they’re in tune with their body.
MC: Yeah, exactly right. And so, it’s the people that are struggling, you know, they, they’re not quite making the standards, or they’re not confident they can make the standards all the time, or they run, but they keep getting set back because they, they get injured, and then I take a closer look at the way they run and say, “Well, maybe if we try modifying this, you might have better success.”
DF: I think that’s one of the most fascinating parts of the human body, and you kind of touched on it there with the philosophy or the way you look at running, is that if one thing hurts, fix this thing, but it’s almost never the cause of the problem. And how the body’s kind of all interconnected and how it’s usually way, way, way different of a problem than most people would ever know. Is running kind of like that in terms of people having joint pain or anything like that?
MC: Oh, there’s so many interconnected things that it’s hard to untangle what the original cause might be, and so we work on a few different things, and hopefully we can get to what the root cause is. Sometimes we have to treat the symptoms before we know what the underlying cause is [DF: Right]. But I think one of the things you’re trying to get at when you’re just asking about technical things like what’s something that we focus on and something that over years that I’ve looked at, the foot strike pattern. And so, most people I think are aware of there are heel strikers, there are mid-foot strikers, there are forefoot strikers, and what will probably work best for most people most of the time is mid-foot striking. And I think over the years, I’ve modified my view on that a little bit. It was always clear, like the literature was always clear that mid-foot striking produced the lowest injury rate. What wasn’t clear is can you take somebody that was historically a rear-foot striker and turn them into a mid-foot striker? Again, I’m kind of hesitant to try to change people and say, “Oh, you should run this way,” because we might cause more problems than we fix. But it seems that, yeah, you’re probably going to be doing okay if you’re a mid-foot striker, and so that’s the sort of, that’s probably the first thing we’ll work on. Again, somebody that’s injury-prone, somebody that’s not particularly confident in their running ability, “Okay, let’s look at your foot strike, and if you’re heel striking, let’s get away from that, and let’s get more into mid-foot striking.”
DF: Yeah, I think that kind of in summary, you’re saying that there’s a, a lot of variation, and there isn’t a magic formula.
MC: Well, and I’m not 100% sure that we can turn somebody into a mid-foot striker. I think it’s worth trying to do, and the more I look at it, we’re probably not going to screw them up if we do that. So, you know, it’s not going to make them worse. It might make them better. My question is, you know, as an exercise scientist, as a researcher, as a devotee of running is, well, can we really take these people and turn them into mid-foot strikers permanently or in a meaningful way. I’m not 100% sure we can, but I think it’s worth trying.
DF: Yeah, or at least exposing them to see if they could cause not everybody but some people can. [MC: Yes, yes]. Can we talk a little bit about some of the injuries that are caused from running?
MC: Yeah, well, cause of injury is kind of a sensitive terminology. I don’t really like to phrase it that way, correlation with injury. So, we see certain injuries pretty regularly, and it probably is correlated with the running that they’re doing, but one of the things I try to get away from saying is that running causes injury. [DF: Right, right, right.] Well, it might. What does that mean? They shouldn’t run? Well, if you don’t run, you’re not going to be in good enough shape to be able to pass the selection process, so you have to do some running. When it comes to injury, we look at things like, well, how much mileage are you doing, and generally more mileage is a good thing, but you have to build up to it gradually. So, one of the things that I’ve heard bandied about for years is, “Oh, you got to run 40 miles a week,” and when I…
DF: Like that’s kind of the gold standard?
MC: Well, it is the gold standard. That’s what a lot of people, some people in NSW still say that. They still believe that cause they think that, “Well, when you’re in BUD/S, you’re maybe running 40 miles a week,” and that’s actually questionable. You don’t run that much at all. You shuffle along at varying paces, but you don’t actually run all that much. I think that 40 miles a week is a realistic goal for some people if they take the time to build up to it. Certainly a competitive cross-country runner is going to be running more than twice that a week, you know, so 40 miles a week isn’t unreasonable, but for some people, it probably is unreasonable. Again, the people with the body types that aren’t really conducive to running, but the people that aren’t natural runners, I wouldn’t push them to 40 miles in any week. Other people, I would say, “Yeah, you can get to 40 miles, but you got to take not just a couple of weeks to get there. You got to take several months, maybe, you know, maybe a year or more to get there.”
DF: Other than the gradual, I guess onset of mileage, what other things do you, do you do or people do to prepare their joints for that amount of impact?
MC: Well, so, one thing I would say is maintain a desirable body weight. One of the things that people have an image of coming to say BUD/S is that, “Well, I got to be big and buff and strong and have lots of muscles to be able to pick those logs up and carry those boats around,” and, yes, a certain amount of strength is required for that, but it’s actually more about endurance. And if you have to run up and down the beach carrying logs and boats, and you’re carrying an extra 30 pounds of muscle that you’re not using other times, that’s probably not going to go well for you. So, when I encourage people to prepare, I want them to prepare in many different ways, not just as a runner, but I want their strength training to reflect that they’re going to be mostly an endurance athlete, not a lifter of heavy objects.
DF: Yeah, I think that’s maybe pretty obvious to someone who is overweight that they’re like, you know, “My joints are in pain.” Anything else?
MC: Yeah, well, there are lots of things that people can do to prepare the joints and the different muscles and the tissues, and, you know, I’m asked, “Well, what about weightlifting?” Oh, that’s a good thing. You should weightlift. You should definitely strength train. That’s an important part of preparing for BUD/S. “Okay, well, how much should I squat? How much should I bench press?” I’m like, “Well…[DF: it’s not that simple] It’s not that simple, and that’s not the things I want you to be focusing on.” And, you know, unfortunately, most people are focused on being able to lift heavy weights, and we here contribute to that problem a little bit because we test that, and so, you know, in some sense, we reward people for being able to lift heavy weights. But what will have a bigger impact on their overall chances of making it through the program and certainly being able to run great distances without getting an injury is working on some of those smaller muscles that contribute to the running propulsion. So, everybody does squats, they do lunges, they do deadlifts, they build up enormous quads. I’ve got nothing against having strong quads, but there are a lot of other muscles that need to be strengthened proportionally. So for most people, they have ginormous quads but very weak hamstrings, and their glutes are weak, and so I say, “Well, balance your training out.” You know, do some lunges, do some squats, but do some hamstring curls as well. Get some glute bridges in there as well. Make sure you’re working the backside as much as you are the front side. And for a lot of people that have, for example, knee problems, a lot of the problem is that when they are on unstable surfaces, they can’t maintain proper posture, and they wobble from side to side. And so, you need to work on the lateral part of the hip, hip abduction and some adduction, so.
DF: Yeah, you’re talking to me right there. Yeah, yeah.
MC: Yeah, well, it’s a very common problem, and so a lot of people that have done a lot of running on firmer surfaces, “No, I’m fine. I’m okay,” but then they get out here, and they’re on the beach, or they’re on the obstacle course,” [DF: Or running up and down a hill or something, yeah.] exactly, where it’s very soft to loose surfaces, then stability is much harder, and below the knee, working on all the muscles around the ankle, so making sure people work on the calves. The calves are usually pretty strong but trying to get them to work in a good range of motion and emphasize the negative portion, the e-centric portion a little bit more, working on not only the calf, which is plantar flexion, but working on lifting the toes up, dorsiflexion. People that have problems with shin splints, they probably have weak dorsiflexors, and so there are exercises you can do to create resistance when you’re lifting the toes up and then lateral, side to side. When the foot goes through inversion and eversion and pronation and supination, the muscles that control that motion need to be strengthened. And for a lot of people, they’re saying, “What, there are muscles down there? What? How do I do that?” [DF: Right] So, try to give them guidance on how to, how to strengthen those muscles so that everything is able to bear the impact and then just proper body position. One of the very basic things that I would encourage somebody to improve their running is to work on their core strength and specifically the plank. Very simple exercise that I try to get people to do for a lot of different reasons, but one of the reasons is that it will improve their running posture.
DF: It’s interesting because the initial thought is like what are people doing wrong, and the answer really is what aren’t they doing.
MC: That’s, that’s more the issue. And so, you know, I’ve taken issue with a number of people who promote weightlifting, and it’s like, well, heavy weightlifting, like I said, doing the squat, doing the deadlift. It’s not that those things are necessarily bad, but if people focus on them exclusively, and as a result they don’t do the other things that are actually more important, then it’s bad.
DF: Yeah, that’s absolutely true.
MC: So, I agree with what you said. It’s not so much what they’re doing, it’s what they’re not doing.
DF: So, just to kind of clarify that for people, I think the misconception with big powerlifting movements is, “I want to get stronger. I want to lift this heavy weight,” but they don’t realize how weak comparatively muscles that are involved and that can prevent worse injury are in that process. So, humbling yourself to realize, “Hey, there’s other parts of my body that are involved in this process, of the concept of strength.”
MC: Well, and unfortunately, those aren’t the glamorous, sexy muscles that most people, you know, either cause of their own vanity or because they’re trying to impress other people, want to develop, but it’s actually important to do that to be able to increase your chances of succeeding.
DF: Yeah, right, yeah, you’re not, you’re moving your body when you’re running. You’re not pushing a car down the street, you know. How do you recommend people becoming in better tune with their bodies in order to even gauge the types of things they will need to when they run?
MC: I’m not sure how to tackle that question. Right? One of the things I think you’re asking, if you’re not, I apologize, but I’ve heard variations asked many times, is, well, if, you know, listen to your body. That’s important, right. Listen to your body, and, yeah, but it’s hard to understand exactly what [DF: How to interpret that?] yeah, yeah, cause myself. It’s like, if I listen to my body literally, I wouldn’t get out of bed most mornings. [DF; Yeah, yeah right.] It’s like I don’t feel like it. I certainly wouldn’t go for a long run, you know, so like my body’s saying, “Ahh, I’m kind of sore. I don’t really know if I want to do this,” and then you have to say, “Well, you know, suck it up because we need to get in better shape.” On the other hand, your body will sometimes give you pretty clear signals that, “Wow, here’s a pain that I haven’t experienced before. I don’t know where that came from. I’d better not ignore that.” So, you have to listen to that sort of thing. You have to be able to listen to or learn to be in tune with the sensation of effort, like, “How hard am I working?” I’m asked all the time about, you know, “How hard do I work?” Well, “Work hard enough. Work harder than you were working before. Work, I don’t want to work too hard. I don’t want to over-train. I want to work hard enough so I’m getting some benefit.” How do you learn that?
But, one of the things that I, if somebody’s going for a conditioning run, you know, “How do I measure intensity? Should I use heart rate?” Hmm, you can do that. People have done that successfully. I’m not a big fan. I think the simplest way requires no gadgets, no technology, pretty straightforward, simple way to do it is just pay attention to your breathing. So, one of the things that I encourage people to get in tune with when they’re exercising, any activity, but certainly running, is their breathing. And if you’re out for a conditioning run, you want to be going at a pace or an effort that’s hard enough to get your breathing up but not gasping for air. So, one way we describe it is the talk test. You should be able to talk to somebody that was running with you, not nonstop, like the annoying people that I see in the gym, they’re on their cellphones, you know, their voice carries across the gym. They never draw a breath even though they’re supposedly exercising. That’s not what I’m talking about. But you should be able to carry on a conversation in choppy sentences, get out a phrase, take a breath, get out another phrase, and so you’re working hard enough to breath harder but not so hard that you’re gasping for air.
DF: Yeah, and kind of defining that as a comfort space. [Yeah.] it’s just exposing yourself to more endurance I guess experiences gives you more, more sensitivity…
MC: Well, another aspect, I don’t know if this is the best place to introduce this, but it’s on my mind here, running is important, and I encourage people to run. I was talking a little bit about some people that are not necessarily built for running, and so I wouldn’t have them do 40 miles a week. What would I have them do? Well, if you want to get more cardiovascular training, so find some low impact cross-training, and so I’m a big proponent of cross-training, supplementing running with other activities. In this community, swimming is a great activity. You’ve got to be a competent swimmer as well, so you got to develop a certain amount of your training time to get in the water, get better at swimming, and that will also compliment your running. But in addition to those two activities, not everybody has access to a pool, some people have swum their maximum mileage for the week, and they still want to more, so do something. Cycling is a great activity. You know, there are different cardio machines in the gym that you can do. Your heart doesn’t really care as long as you’re doing something that gets major muscles contracting in a rhythmic manner. So, you can choose an activity that you enjoy, that breaks up the monotony, the routine of only running and swimming, something you have access to and something that will supplement your aerobic conditioning.
DF: Yeah, I think that’s, a lot of people look for the magic pill for everything, and there’s such variation in body type and surface and what equipment you have. You know, it’s not either, “Am I going to run the treadmill, or do I have to run this distance outside?” It really isn’t that simple. I guess speaking of treadmills, short of, maybe rehabilitation, [MC: Yeah] where do you feel that fits in for you in your prescribed fitness regimen for people that are trying to train?
MC: I wouldn’t, certainly wouldn’t tell people to never get on a treadmill. I question, I personally question this, this is a personal opinion, not gospel for everybody, but I personally question why some people spend so much time on treadmills. It’s kind of funny. I mentioned I was a competitive rower. I spent time on the rowing machine. And people say, “Well, don’t you get bored on that machine? Why don’t you go get in a boat and go out on the water and do some rowing?” And well, the answer is boats are really expensive, and storing them is expensive, and bodies of water that are rowable aren’t immediately accessible, so I can’t really do that, but you can run. You can go out the door and run any time, so why would you get on a treadmill? So, you know, but having said that, there are some good reasons to be on a treadmill. You can really, some people that really want to get a better sense of their pace, they’ve got the monitor right there, they go, “How fast am I going?” or you can control the grade. One thing that I appreciate is being able to go up hill for a long period of time, [DF: right, right] so you know, that’s a good thing. So, there’s no reason not to use a treadmill. I personally wouldn’t make it the only means of training, but incorporating that into your training for a workout or two every once in a while is fine.
DF: I, I personally have found success in, instead of listening to the distance or programing a distance for myself programing a time for myself, [MC: Yeah] and I kind of came to that realization later in my life. I mean I’m not an older person, but that’s something you don’t really hear very often. Can you talk about that a little bit and how you think that fits into running programing, focusing on time spent running versus distance?
MC; Personally, for my training, I do it almost all by time, and that’s partly because I do, as I said, a number of different activities, and so minutes are minutes, whatever I’m doing, and it’s one way I can equate my training. I do like to be a little bit more sensitive to pace, and if, when I’m doing interval training, I want to know the measured distance, and I want to time that, and I want to have a little bit more accurate accounting of the distance and the time and the relation, but if I’m just going out for a conditioning run, I don’t worry that much about distance. I worry more about time, and I will do, “Okay, now I’m going for a 40-minute run or a 60-minute run, or a 35-minute run,” or whatever it might be and try to go, as I was talking before about the breathing, and maintain the proper breathing to get the conditioning that I’m looking for, and beyond that, I won’t worry about it because sometimes the terrain is flat, sometimes the terrain’s hilly, sometimes the ground’s firm, sometimes the ground’s soft. I can keep adjusting my intensity based on those conditions and then just go for the time that I want to go.
DF: Yeah, no, yeah, I think does kind of, first, it validates my, my idea to do that instead…
MC: Well, I don’t, I mean that’s…I’m the same way. I don’t want to necessarily tell all my listeners here [DF: Right, right] that you have to train that way because that’s what I do, and I think, no, it’s, if you like to measure things out exactly, and as I said, there’s technology that makes it very easy to measure your course, and you can map your course, and there’s no reason not to do that, but I don’t think that that’s the essential part of training [DF: Right]. That’s not the most important thing that you need. You just need to be active for a period of time.
DF: Right, and my thought is also as your fitness increases, a five-mile run is not the same as a [MC: Right, absolutely] five-mile run three months ago, and I think as you gauge your distance, and whether it’s 20, 30 minutes, whatever your run is, that is a little bit more consistent way to maintain intensity in my life at least. Um, let’s talk a little bit about recovery or kind of maybe we could say self-care…
MC: Yeah, it’s, it’s an important topic. As I mentioned earlier, we just finished up a Hell Week a week ago, and so this week has been the recovery week, and so we’ve been working with all the students that completed the process and going through all these things that you’re talking about, and it makes me think about it in a little bit more detail. The most important thing we tell the students, and I would tell anybody listening, it’s certainly something that I practice myself in all the different activities that I do, I’m an active racer, I you know, I do almost 40 different races a year, and whether it’s half-marathon or a marathon, the first thing I do when I’m done is recover, like do some more activity. So, if I finish a run, a race even, I’ll get on my bike and pedal for a little bit and just do some moderate cool down activity. And the first thing we had the Hell Week kids doing, on Monday, they secured Hell Week on Friday, and they come over, they’re wobbling over, they’re stiff, they’re sore, it’s like, “Get them moving. Get them exercising.” Very controlled, very moderate, you know, not doing an excessive amount of work but just getting moving. The tendency is they’re sore, they’re stiff, they don’t want to move, get them moving. Just getting the muscles contracting, getting the blood flowing, that’s the best recovery. And they’ll ask questions, “What about, you know, what about massage, what about ice baths, what about, what about hot whirlpools?” and it’s like, well, in their condition, they want to stay away from massages and hot whirlpools for a little while. They got wounds that need to heal, and they got inflammation that needs to recede a little bit, but stretching is important.
We go through stretching, over stretching with them, and I would encourage everybody to utilize a little bit of stretching, but you don’t have to spend all day doing it either, and the best time to stretch is when you’re warm, so after a conditioning activity, if you feel like you’re tight and want to stretch a little bit before you go for a run, you can do that, too, but warm up a little bit first and stretch. Stretch what’s tight. One of the things that I talk about in terms of promoting flexibility, rather than creating the need to stretch all the time is that during your conditioning, including your aerobic activities but also certainly during your strength training, is maintain balance and proportions. So, a lot of inflexibility comes from people overworking some muscles and not working the others. And I was talking before about strength training and tight quads, big, strong, tight, quads and weak hamstrings would be a common example, or people in the upper body that do pushups all the time, but they don’t do any complimentary rowing motions, and so their chests and the front part of their shoulders are tight. If something’s tight, you should stretch it, but you can limit the need to do excessive stretching if you maintain an overall balanced training profile.
DF: Yeah, that goes back to what you were saying earlier about not that you think that there’s no benefits to deadlift or big muscle group exercises, but that in fact could also lead to a potential injury if you’re not strong in the other areas of your body holding yourself together. It’s specifically beneficial not in injury state but in a recovery state, and then the idea of being active as a form of stretch or recovery I think are two key areas.
MC: Well, so the thing I would summarize most is the best recovery is active recovery and so doing a little bit of low impact, light activity, again, keeping the blood circulating. So, you’ve just done a hard workout, you want to maintain blood flow. You don’t want to just stop dead and let all those capillaries and blood vessels close and let the heart slow down too fast, keep the heart pumping, keep blood circulating, getting oxygen and nutrients in, getting waste products out. Other things might make you feel good, you asked about cold and certainly if there’s an acute problem where there’s some swelling, you want to apply some ice, cold right away to reduce swelling. That’s a good thing. But just in general, people say, “Oh, ice baths make me feel great.” Well, okay, if it makes you feel great, go ahead and do it. I don’t think it’s going to accelerate your recovery process, but you don’t have to believe me. [DF: Yeah] Go ahead and do it if you want to. What will really accelerate the recovery process is some active recovery, some physical activity, light physical activity that will, as I said, maintain the blood flow and keep those muscles that were worked hard working lightly so that they can recovery more quickly.
DF: Are there key areas that we haven’t talked about that you think are ignored, not even, not clinically or professionally, but by runners and specific people coming into this pipeline?
MC: People coming into the pipeline, a few things that I would address is I would encourage them to try to run on a variety of different terrains. Try to get a mix of different things. Like, for example, do a lot of running on pavement. That’s fine. Most people have the conception that, “Oh, that’s bad for you. That creates pounding,” and it’s like, “Well, unless your technique is horrible, it doesn’t.” It’s more stable. It’s actually less stressful to run on pavement, [DF: Safer, yeah.] yeah, as opposed to going out and running in say soft sand, which is actually more stressful because there’s a lack of support, and the amount of muscular activity required allow you to remain upright and keep running is dramatically greater. So, I would say, “Yeah, run on sand but not all the time,” because it’s actually pretty stressful. Try to find some hills if you can. It’s a good strength builder to be able to run uphill. It can be actually kind of challenging to run downhill, but get some elevation changes in your running. Running on trails is good, but be careful. The surface changes all the time. Run on a treadmill once in a while.
DF: I think that’s part of developing, I think that’s part of developing your running acumen is jumping over roots [MC: Yeah] and being able to navigate jumping off of a curb, not jumping, but [MC: Yeah] with your stride.
MC: Well, one of the, one of the things I hear from potential candidates is, “Oh, you have to run on the beach. I’m going to do all of my running on sand.” I’m like, no, don’t do that. That’s actually not a good way to train all the time. You’re not going to get very fast because when you’re running in sand, you’re actually going pretty slow. You know, you’ve got to meet time standards, you have to run fast, so sometimes you have to find a good surface and run fast, but sometimes, get in sand and run, get comfortable with sand. It’s actually a good strengthening medium if you don’t overdo it, so, yeah, run in sand once in a while, but it’s fine to run on a track. Go and do your, do your intervals on a, find a good rubberized track if you can, at a high school or a community college whatever’s nearby, and do some timed intervals there.
DF: Any other areas you feel that people generally are not as aware as they should be? I think the running on different terrain is huge, and that’s really easy to overlook cause it’s not hard to implement, and it’s not very different from what you’re already doing, but it has a huge impact.
MC: Well, one of the, the general training format, and I would, as an aside, just encourage people to explore further our website, SEALSWCC.com, and look at our physical training guide, we call it the PTG, which describes the different running formats in more detail and gives a schedule of how to incorporate them into a weekly session. The online training forum has some sections that deal with this in a little bit more detail, so it will talk about some of these things in much more detail, but just recognizing the different formats that you want to use for workouts. So, it’s not all long, slow distance all the time. That should be a portion of it, but then get some good speed work, some quality interval training in there as well. One of the things that people, again, they have the conception they’ve heard they know they’re going to be spending a lot of time wearing boots when they come here, so they think they should be doing all their running in boots to get ready, and I think that’s not a good idea. You’d be fine if you never wore a pair of boots until you join the Navy, and they issue them to you, and you get a chance to break them in a little bit before you actually show up to BUD/S and start running in them for real. For somebody that doesn’t believe me and puts on a pair of boots once in a while and goes out for a conditioning run, that’s okay. That’s fine. Just don’t do all your running in boots.
DF: So, people that are preparing to come to this process, and I think this is really interesting, personally, there’s obviously a need for endurance. We’ve hit on that a lot [MC: Yep] over multiple episodes, but there’s clearly a need for explosive strength [MC: Yes, yes] and interestingly, I think running has the capacity to build both of those areas. I know it’s not as clear-cut as I’d like it to be, so the answer is a little bit more difficult, but talk a little bit about how people can either expect to work on that while they’re here or if they can work on it on their own, that difference between slow distance and explosive strength in their running.
MC: Well, part of the preconditioning that I encourage and so the right terminology, I say weightlifting, and people think, “Oh, you’re talking about the clean and jerk, you’re talking about the squat,” no, no, like resistance training, all kinds of different mediums. It might be dumbbells, it might be an Olympic bar, it might [DF: or it could be a rubber band] rubber band, exactly right. It could be manual resistance, like you using your own muscles against other muscles in your own body. There’s all kinds of different ways that you can create resistance. And so, among the many different things I encourage people to do that would address what you’re talking about is just do some plyometric exercises, do some leaping and bounding, do some box jumps, do some hurdles, do some agility ladders, get out on a surface and do some agility runs. Change of direction, COD in the training jargon, change of direction, so short sprints with, you know, down and back, that kind of thing, right cut, left, but that will work on the lateral muscles in both the ankle and the hip that are required, and do, as I said, some explosive running, some jumping, some leaping, that type of thing, a little bit of jumping rope would be type of plyometric type thing for the ankles you could work on. There are all sorts of things that you should include as part of your conditioning that would aid your running in particular and your overall athletic profile as well. Like in BUD/S, explosiveness isn’t used all that often, but once in a while it is, and so you develop a little bit, and you can call on it when you need to. That’s great.
DF: Touching back on one of the areas we spoke about a little bit with the boots or trying to prepare yourself for what you’ll be exposed to, active duty SEALs and Special Operations people are carrying a tremendous amount of gear with them [MC: Yes], and it’s potentially very heavy. So, at what point in preparation for their deployments or even in their BUD/S training, should they be exposed to that type of training?
MC: Great question. I’m asked it frequently or at least variations of that question frequently. I don’t think there’s a definitive answer, but I’m going to give you a well thought out answer. I’ve had a lot of time to think about that. For the 11 years that I’ve been here, I’ve been talking to operators who’ve been in all sorts of different deployment situations to ask them about what their personal experience is and their personal opinions are about rucking, and it depends on who you are, where you’ve gone, what missions you’ve performed, what the requirements are, but there are clearly cases where people have had to carry some pretty heavy weights for some pretty long distances, and that’s not easy to do, so you want to physically prepare for that. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves for any potential candidate. They’re not going to be doing that for a long time. In BUD/S, they’ll probably do some ruck running. It’ll probably be relatively modest loads and modest distances so nothing that requires a tremendous amount of specific preparation. Now, it’s fine to do it occasionally, um, but again, this is the sort of thing that a lot of eager beaver type candidates want to take all out of proportion. And just like I said with running in boots or running on soft sand, they think they should do it all the time, and so some people want to do all their conditioning with a ruck on their back. And, no, don’t do that. You know, once in a while, go out for a hike, like go out for a walk carrying, you know, 40, 50, 60 pounds on your back.
And so, one of my recommendations just to make it pretty clear is that if you go out with weight on your back, don’t try to run at the same time. You might have to occasionally do that although actually most people don’t run with a ruck. They walk fast [DF: Right] so little bit of a difference there. [DF: a huge difference I think yeah] If you march with a ruck, that’s okay. That’s not going to break you down too much as long as you don’t overdo it, and so it’s actually probably a good thing to do occasionally, just don’t do too much weight, don’t try to go too fast, don’t try to go too far.
The best ruckers, the people that have performed best at least on the data that I’ve seen at the students here is the best runners do best on the ruck marches. Even though they’re carrying weight, their endurance has helped them perform better with the ruck, and the people that have lifted the most in training don’t actually do that well on the ruck marches.
DF: Yeah, that’s an interesting correlation, but it does make sense when you unpack the needs of running as an individual being sensitive to the weights and bearings and kind of balance. I wanted to talk a little bit about the mental aspect to running. In your personal experiences, when you’re challenging yourself, what do you fall back on? Is it your training, is it your confidence in previous races when you’re really kind of pushing that envelop for yourself?
MC: Well, at this point I guess in my career, I can fall back on the fact that I’ve completed a lot of races successfully, and as nervous as I am, and I’m always nervous before a race, and I always doubt whether I can complete it or at least according to the standard that I set for myself, I at some point, some voice will say, “Yeah, you’ve done it before. You felt like this before. You’ll get through it somehow,” and I usually do. So, training, you know, even if you’re not an experienced racer, even if you’re relatively younger, training successfully, having training goals and achieving the training goals gives you confidence that when the time comes, you’ll be more prepared to perform. So, that’s certainly something that I like to fall back on.
DF: I think you said something really key there, you really walked through it pretty quickly, saying completing a race to the standards you’ve set for yourself, and I do think that is key because if you haven’t had that measured approach, then you don’t have that experience to fall back on or that knowledge and confidence. Is racing something that you encourage people training to come into the pipeline to do?
MC: With a certain amount of hesitation, yes, I do. Again, I don’t want to get people to go overboard, like race all the time, [DF: Right] like I race a lot, I enjoy it, I prepare for it, that’s fine, but you’ve got to make training your primary focus and race occasionally just to sort of test your abilities, but the experience of racing is a good thing, and it gives you a chance to work on a number of different things like getting your prerace strategy right because that will translate to a lot of the different evolutions that they do in BUD/S. Make sure they’re physically and mentally and nutritionally in all ways prepared to do the activities, so that’s a good thing. Being in a crowd of people is very energizing, and so one of the things I’ve found is that when I race more, I race better because the racing is good training. [DF: Right.] I don’t approach any single race as a do or die where I’m going to run myself into the ground. [DF: But you push yourself.] It’s basically a glorified workout with a T-shirt, you know, [DF: Right] and a finisher medal at the end, but by doing that, I actually train better, so, yeah, I would definitely encourage people to train, but again, I don’t want them to go out and do, “Oh, I’m going to run a marathon now because Mike said that I should,” no, [DF: Yeah, it’s not that simple] you train for a marathon? If not, a 5K, 10K maybe and, you know, once in a while to do that, maybe a half marathon if you build up to that, but short answer to the question, yeah, I think racing would be a positive aspect of being able to tie it all together.
DF: So, we’ve covered a lot of different areas, and we’ve talked about some of the high points of where people often have misconceptions. I’d like you to try to summarize quickly the areas where people, like someone’s listening, I’m sure they’re still waiting to hear what shoes they should go out and buy, and I didn’t ask that question for a good reason.
MC: And I really don’t want to go into that.
DF: Exactly, and so I think that there’s a real common misunderstanding of running if you’re not exposed to it for a certain amount of time. If you can just kind of quickly knock off some of the things not to worry about and some of the things that you should be aligning your focus to, I think that would be a really nice way to wrap things up.
MC: Well, as I said earlier on, the most important aspect of being able to run well is to demonstrate good endurance, so whatever you do, make sure that your endurance improves, and possibly if you’re not the greatest runner, but you still have overall great endurance, your chances are going to be a little bit higher. Having said that, it’s still worth looking at how to organize a training program to advance your running. One of the things I assume with candidates that are trying to get ready for BUD/S is that they are trying to prepare among a number of different ways, swimming and running and lifting and being able to do calisthenics and being able to stretch and all sorts of things that place demands on their time, so they’ve got to budget their time wisely. And so, you don’t have to run 40 miles a week. Most people shouldn’t run 40 miles a week. If you follow this specific program laid out in the physical training guide for 26 weeks, you’d probably build up to about 22 miles a week with an additional few miles of warming up and cooling down, but the actual core of the workout would be about 22 miles. So, that’s not an excessive amount of training. It doesn’t take 80 miles a week of training to be able to make you a decent runner, so be able to bear that in mind, being able to incorporate other activities in addition to running, have a sense of building gradually over time. Again, one of the things I encounter people talking about with their training is that they either try to increase their mileage too quickly or their intensity too quickly. So, they’re following the schedule that I’ve laid out for interval training. They’ll try to get their paces too fast, too soon, and I say, “Give it time,” you know, let it develop naturally. Don’t go too hard, too soon. Go hard consistently at a little bit faster each week.
DF: Thank you so much for giving us a lot of your wisdom and time today. I appreciate it.
MC: It was my pleasure. I hope it’ll be helpful to somebody.