The #1 Way to Run Better that Most Runners Will Never Do

 

– The MOVEMENT Movement with Steven Sashen Episode 098 with Jason Fitzgerald

 

Jason Fitzgerald is the host of the Strength Running Podcast (the #2 running podcast in the US of all time) and the founder of Strength Running, an award-winning running blog with hundreds of thousands of monthly readers. A 2:39 marathoner and USATF-certified coach, he’s coached thousands of endurance athletes to faster finishing times and fewer injuries with his results-oriented coaching philosophy.

 

He’s the winner of the 2011 Morraine Hills Half Marathon, 2012 Maryland Warrior Dash, and the 2013 Potomac River Run Marathon. During his collegiate career, he was a member of the 2002 National Championship-qualifying cross-country team and a top ten finisher in the steeplechase at the 2006 New England Championships.

 

Jason speaks at industry conferences and for major brands like Anheuser-Busch and frequently delivers presentations and coaches at fitness retreats and running camps. His work has been featured in the Washington Post, Runner’s World, Health Magazine, Lifehacker, The Huffington Post, and other major media.

 

He lives in Denver, Colorado where you can find him trail running in the nearby Flatirons or at the playground with his wife and three children.

 

Listen to this episode of The MOVEMENT Movement with Jason Fitzgerald about the #1 way to run better that most runners will never do.

 

Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:

  • How runners need to do strength work to help prevent injuries.
  • Why having a modern-day sedentary life doesn’t prepare bodies for running.
  • What a dynamic warmup is and how runners can use it to prevent injury.
  • How doing squats and deadlifts can make people run faster.
  • Why running fast is one of the best ways runners can improve their form.

Connect with Jason:

Guest Contact Info
Twitter
@JasonFitz1

@StrengthRunning

Instagram
@JasonFitz1

Facebook
facebook.com/strengthtraining
LinkedIn

Linkedin.com/in/Jason-fitzgeral-0ba42a3

 

Links Mentioned:
strengthrunning.com

 

Connect with Steven:

Website

Xeroshoes.com

Jointhemovementmovement.com

Twitter
@XeroShoes

Instagram
@xeroshoes

Facebook
facebook.com/xeroshoes

Steven Sashen:

What is the number one thing that would improve your running, your walking, your hiking that you will probably never do? Well, we’re going to tell you what that is and hopefully talk you into doing something about that on today’s episode of The MOVEMENT Movement, the podcast for people who want to know the truth about what it takes to have a happy, healthy, strong body, starting feet first typically, because those things are your foundation. Here we break down the propaganda, the mythology, sometimes the flat out lies you’ve been told about what it takes to run or walk or hike or do yoga or CrossFit or just play with your kids, whatever it is you like to do and then to do that effectively and enjoyably and efficiently.

Did I say enjoyably? I know I did. That was a trick question, because look, if you’re not having fun, do something different until you are, because you’re not going to keep it up if you’re not having fun anyway. I’m Steven Sashen from XeroShoes.com, your host of The MOVEMENT Movement Podcast. We call it that because we’re creating a movement that involves you and I’ll tell you how in a second, that’s easy, about natural movement. We’re helping people rediscover that using your body naturally is the better obvious healthy choice, the same way we think of natural food. So, the movement part that involves you is we’re creating this grassroots, groundswell of people who have this experience. It’s been life changing. All you have to do is spread the word.

So, go check out our website, www.jointhemovementmovement.com. There’s no cost to join. You don’t have to do anything. Other than if you want, subscribe to hear about upcoming episodes, find all the previous episodes in all the places you can interact with us on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube, et cetera, all the places that you find podcasts. Leave reviews, give us a thumbs up on Facebook, hit the bell icon, and subscribe on YouTube. You know what to do. In short, if you want to be part of the tribe, please subscribe. That covers it. I think I nailed everything. So, Jason, welcome to the podcast. Why don’t you tell people who the hell you are and what you’re doing here?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Thanks, Steven. Yeah, I’m here, first and foremost, because you invited me and I could not say no to you.

Steven Sashen:

Look, cause and effect is very confusing for some people, but I appreciate that. Look, let’s back up with had we known that we were practically neighbors earlier, this would have happened sooner, but we just figured that out. In fact, I discovered you late into the history or evolution of Xero Shoes, something I was massively embarrassed by if I actually got embarrassed which I don’t. But the internet is so vast that people who could be your literal neighbor, you don’t find them until sometime way down the line when you stumble upon them on Facebook or LinkedIn or something. So, happy that you responded when I invited you.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, no, I’m happy to be here. Yeah, it’s crazy that we’re probably about 15 miles away from each other right now. Hopefully soon, we can maybe do a round two in person, because that would be so fun, but I’m excited to be here. I’m Jason. I’m a running coach. I’ve been running myself since 1998. I was one of those kids who showed up to cross country practice wearing long mesh shorts and basketball shoes, thinking that I was going to do the high jump.

Jason Fitzgerald:

And then I quickly learned that cross country is all running all the time, but I fell in love with it like a lot of runners who I think start experiencing a little bit of progress. They start improving. They start getting a little bit better. For me, that was very addicting. So, that really started this lifelong love affair with running. I went on to give up my love of basketball. I also stopped growing after eighth grade, towering 5’7″.

Steven Sashen:

Well, dude, you got me beat by two inches. So, stop bragging.

Jason Fitzgerald:

So, I had to give up basketball, but I never looked back because I simply loved cross country, indoor track. I did it for all four years of high school and college and never stopped after I graduated. I always knew that I wanted to somehow be involved in the running community, because it was just such a big part of my life. My wife is someone who I met on the women’s cross country team when we were in college. My best man was my co-captain from high school cross country. So, my life has really been shaped by this sport. I wanted to be involved with it for the better part of the rest of my life. In 2010, I started the Strength Running blog. Since then, it’s grown to be just such an amazing resource for runners but also creative outlet for myself.

The Strength Running Podcast was something that we started back in 2016. That has become, I think, the number two running podcast of all time here in the US. So, that is something I’m very much proud of. I think the highlight of my day is just being able to interact with runners and folks who love running and who want to make running more accessible to everyone else. I just couldn’t think of anything better to be doing with my time than helping runners accomplish their goals. So, I’m a coach. I’m a content creator. I help runners accomplish whatever goals that they might have through coaching, through different training programs that we have, and through these types of conversations. So, Steven, thanks so much.

Steven Sashen:

Well, again, you’re welcome. So, let’s jump straight in since you’ve already hinted at what I already hinted at. The number one thing that consistently research shows improves people’s running is getting stronger, spending some time in the weight room or not necessarily in the weight room, doing things to get stronger. It’s the number one thing that people, especially runners who have a daily running habit, are the least likely to do. So, talk about just how you discovered or how you move from just say, running and coaching into dealing with the strength aspect of that?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Just personally, as a runner myself, I was someone who thought that runners didn’t have to do any strength training. You think about it. We’re running around all the time. We’re doing hill workouts. We’re doing fast workouts. My legs are pretty strong, right? Why would I need to do any strength work? After about 1,700 injuries, I realized that maybe that wasn’t the best course of action. After my first marathon in 2008, I ran the New York City Marathon. As I was getting back into running after that marathon, I got this IT band syndrome injury. I had it for six months.

It was really that inflection point that caused me to really think, “I need to revamp my training. I need to approach things differently. I need to just totally rethink how I approach running,” because it’s not just the IT band syndrome. I had that in college. That was the plantar fasciitis. It was the Achilles tendinopathy, the SI joint problems in my back, all kinds of muscle strains. Pretty much every running injury, I’ve had it. A lot of those problems were because I wasn’t really implementing much strength training in my program.

Steven Sashen:

Pause right there.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Sure.

Steven Sashen:

How did you even come to that conclusion that that was perhaps a cause of the various problems you were having?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Two reasons, reason number one is that every time I got hurt, I would go to physical therapist and part of that therapy was various types of strength training. So, sometimes you have to learn things the hard way, six or seven times. That is part of the big reason why. It finally clicked for me. Hey, if I’m doing all the strength training to get healthy from this injury, what if I just kept on doing it when I am healthy to prevent it from coming back in the future? So, it was very much this obvious but maybe only in hindsight conclusion that I came to.

And then the other reason why I started this, just incorporating a lot more strength training into my own running program was that well, I didn’t really see much downside to it. So, I was like, “Let me try this. We’re doing it a lot in the PT’s office. It’s not going to take much more time. Let’s maybe divvy up an hour and a half over the course of the week for different types of strength training. Let’s see what happens.” I’ve really only gotten one major injury since about 2009.

It’s made a big difference in my running. It’s made a big difference, I think, more importantly, in my coaching and how I interact with other runners, because now I’m not the coach who doesn’t think you have to do any strength training. I’m known as the coach that is definitely going to make you do some strength training. Because if we’re talking about injuries, strength training is probably your number two most effective way of preventing injuries. The first one is obviously just making sure your training is sound. Let’s not run way too much or anything like that.

Steven Sashen:

I think the first one is just sitting on the couch.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Right, right, which we wrapped into poor training, right?

Steven Sashen:

Exactly. So, it’s funny, you just reminded me. After I got back into sprinting and I was getting injured pretty much constantly, I hooked up with this one sprinting coach who said, “Well, how much can you deadlift?” At the time, I said, “I don’t know.” I went and tried. I did 250 pounds. He goes, “What do you weigh?” I said, “150.” He goes, “Call me when you’re deadlifting over 300, because you’re going to find that most of your problems are going to go away once you’re deadlifting twice your body weight.” He was right. Once I broke 300, which didn’t take very long, well, that along with getting out of big, padded motion control shoes were the two things that really made the difference. Of course, I kept going.

Once I hit 400 pounds, which was as much a psychological barrier as anything else, then things continue to get even better. It’s something that sprinters are very accustomed to. There’s a line that that speed is made in the weight room, which is not totally true actually, but sprinters are known for spending time in the weight room. But distance runners or casual runners or hikers or walkers are not. Well, let me just ask it as a question. Given the fact that you know this and it’s not a secret that strength training has these benefits, when you present this to people, I mean, they’re obviously coming to you based on this. But before you had a reputation, let’s say, when you’d be introducing this idea, what kind of response did you typically get?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Well, I got a lot of those responses that I myself had years and years ago, which were, “Why do I have to strength train? My legs are getting plenty of exercise already.” Another big objection is, “Well, I don’t want to gain weight. I don’t want to put on muscle. I don’t want to be muscle bound. I don’t want to get tight and inflexible.”

Steven Sashen:

I love that.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, I mean, these objections to strength training for distance runners are just fascinating to me. Someone’s like, “I don’t want to put on all this weight, because I’m just going to all of a sudden become Arnold Schwarzenegger. I don’t want to be a bodybuilder.” That’s like a bodybuilder saying, “Well, I was going to go for a three mile run a couple times a week, but I really don’t want to become a sub-five miler.”

Steven Sashen:

No, no, it’s like them saying, “I’d like to go for a little run, but I don’t want to look like one of those marathoners who weighs 105 pounds.” Well, there’s two things that I find funny. One is how human beings, we have this habit of when someone introduced something new, we immediately jumped to some imagined worst case scenario that pretty much never happens. So, my favorite is when I say something about running barefoot or walking around barefoot. People say, “Well, aren’t you worried about stepping in dog crap?” I go, “When’s the last time you did that?” They go, “I don’t know, 20 years ago.” I said, “Well, then why would you start now? What’s going to change that you’re going to close your eyes and follow a dog?” But we’re wired for this.

Because if we didn’t think of unforeseen or horrible negative consequences, we wouldn’t have survived and passed on our stupid genes to our children way back when. So, that’s the first one, just the meta level that people tend to instantly jump to these imagined negative consequences, but it’s my all-time favorite. I don’t want to become huge and muscle bound. Do you have any idea how much effort it takes to put on any muscle whatsoever?

Jason Fitzgerald:

It’s so difficult. I mean, you have to eat a tremendous number of calories first. Let’s also talk about that, all the running that you’re doing is using all those calories you’re eating. All those excess calories are not going to hypertrophy, building muscle. They’re going towards actual energy expenditure of your running. So, it’s like how bodybuilders really don’t do much aerobic exercise, because they don’t want to be in a caloric hole. They don’t want to exert a bunch of energy if it’s not directly focused on building muscle. So, for runners, we think the same way. We’re not going to get big. The other big complaint that I have is and I have this too. I’m a runner.

I would rather be out there running than in the gym 100% of the time, but most runners say, “I don’t have the time for it.” I always counter with, “Look, we have to understand how strength training is so important that it is going to enable you to do the thing that you love, which is running. So, strength train now, so that you can do the thing you love, as opposed to only running and then sooner or later, you’re probably going to get hurt. If you don’t make a little time for these sorts of injury prevention strategies now, you’re going to have to make a lot of time in the future for treating the inevitable injuries that occur.”

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, it’s funny, people don’t think of it the long term version of how much time they’re actually running if they factor in the times where they’re injured and not able to and then factor in how much time they’re taking off to do some strength training, which is nominal compared to how much time they’re spending running. Again, human beings are just not good at understanding basic math or statistics in a way that impacts our own life. We might think things like, “Well, yeah, that makes sense for you, but for me, it’s a whole different game. I’m a special little snowflake. That doesn’t work for me, even though it worked for you and the hundreds and thousands of people who’ve experienced the benefits of actually doing strength training.”

Back to your thing of, “I run. I’ve got strong legs,” what I find so fascinating is the number of runners, yeah, they’ve got strong quads. They’ve got strong hamstrings. They’ve got crap glutes. They wouldn’t know a glute if it hit them over the head, which would be a very interesting thing that I think you have to pay money to have happen. But I have on more than one occasion come up to a distance runner and put my finger in their gluteus maximus and said, “Flex that to push my finger out,” and they’re like, “What? How do you do that?”

Yeah, you can’t flex the muscle that’s made for running. That’s usually a bit of a wakeup call. Sorry, I’ll rant on this one for a sec. I was in the lab with Dr. Bill Sands who was the Head of Biomechanics for the US Olympic Committee for a while. He said, “The people who come into his lab, typically Olympic level runners who are injured, without exception, they have weak glute medius. Without exception, every one of them.” That’s a hugely important muscle for keeping your legs aligned properly to run well.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, that’s a big one. I mean, the whole glute complex is one of the largest muscle groups in the body, if not the largest muscle group in the body. It’s the muscle group that is most responsible for the power in your stride for keeping your stride aligned well. If your glutes aren’t working right and you’re not moving through that normal range of motion or you have the proper flexibility, yeah, your stride is going to look a little wonky. So, yeah, I think focusing on those runner specific areas of need, particularly the glutes, I think the hips are also very important.

You mentioned this before, but just our modern sedentary lives really do not set us up for success here, because we spend a lot of the day sitting down. Our glutes are completely not in use. They’re deactivated. They’re just sitting there, doing nothing. A lot of folks, especially, you work a day job, you’re sitting at a computer for most of the day, and then you might go running after work. Well, you’ve just conditioned your glutes to be asleep for 8, 9, 10 hours, and then you’re getting out and you’re going for a run. I see that as a big reason why runners are starting to get hurt, just because you can’t go from sedentary to doing a track workout or some hill workout or a long run.

You really need to prime the body for that. So, I think some smaller interventions that we can incorporate into runners training can really help with that specific issue. But in general, yes, strength training, particularly, squats and deadlifts, the big compound multi-joint lifts, those are the lifts that we really want. They’re movements, not training muscles. I think that’s what distance runners should be focused on.

Steven Sashen:

It’s interesting, because of course, those are the two exercises that terrify people the most. I mean, either they’re afraid if they’re deadlifting, I’m going to do something to my back. They’re afraid if they’re squatting. Just being under a load is scary for people until you get into it and then it becomes something else. Well, God, I have so many questions. I’m going to put a note for this one. Getting people over the hump, I want to come back to that. So, I’m making a note. So, you don’t have to.

So, you had this realization that strength training was important. You started to integrate that. Just tell me how that evolved for you, what you started doing, how that changed over time with what you learn and what you were seeing in your running. And then the next phase of that is going into how you then started applying that into your coaching and where coaching came into the mix on all of this.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, so when I first started, I didn’t really have much lifting experience or anything like that besides getting into the weight room every couple months and just goofing around, really not knowing what I was doing and doing some bicep curls and thinking I was getting jacked. But when I systematically introduced strength training into my own training, it was through this concept that I call sandwiching. This was like the entry level way of starting strength training on a very regular basis. So, what I did was I sandwiched every run between dynamic warm up first and some form of runner specific strength or even core work.

So, we’re not talking big workouts. We’re not talking even gym workouts. This is 10, 20, maybe 25 minutes of mostly bodyweight exercises. Yeah, we might use a medicine ball or a kettlebell or some bands, some resistance bands. But this led me down this road of number one, recognizing how important it was to prime the body for running, especially if it was a more difficult run. So, that’s the purpose of that dynamic warm up, prime the body for running, let’s get ready, but also there’s a strength component to it as well.

Steven Sashen:

Pause there though. So, can you say more for people who don’t know what constitutes a dynamic workout and how that’s different than what most people are used to for warming up if they do any warming up, how that’s different? Yeah.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, let’s say you’re getting ready to go for a run after work. A lot of folks will just get on their clothes. They’ll head out the door and they’ll start shuffling around. There really is no warmup before they go running. The beginning of their run, assuming they’re starting a little bit slower is the warmup itself. But a dynamic warmup is a little bit different. It’s about 10 minutes or so, it could be as low as five minutes of dynamic flexibility exercises and also some light strength work. So, I might do a series of different types of lunges, which are great at waking up the glutes, making sure that you remember how to contract them and do that exercise properly. I think that exercise in particular is very helpful before you go running.

And then in addition to that, you might do some form drills. We might do some leg swings, bunch of exercises to simply improve range of motion and really do all the things a warmup should do. So, if we’re sitting around doing a bunch of static stretching, just touching our toes, that’s not actually warming you up. I literally want you to warm up during the warmup. Let’s increase our respiration. Let’s increase our heart rate. Let’s lubricate our joints, improve our range of motion, open up capillary beds, especially in our extremities.

A warmup does a lot of things that we really, really want right before we go running. And then as soon as you finish your run, then the core or strength work can start. A lot of folks are like, “Can I do it later in the day?” Yes, it’s fine. As long as you’re getting it in some time, then that’s goal number one, but this is simply a bodyweight routine. Maybe it’s 10 minutes. Maybe it’s 20 minutes. We’re going to do a lot of fundamental exercises, push-ups, planks, lunges, bodyweight squats, bodyweight deadlifts, and single leg deadlifts, planks. I might have mentioned that already. But there’s so many different bodyweight exercises that we can do.

I put together a bunch of routines that are specific for different areas. So, I’ve the standard core routine that I think is a bread and butter core workout for runners, the ITB rehab routine. These are all in the Strength Running blog, but that I should have named it better, poor branding on my part, because it’s really a hip and glute oriented strength workout. It’s not just for someone who might have IT band syndrome. These exercise routines focus on some of the areas of big need among runners, the glutes, the core region. We’re not sitting around doing a bunch of bicep curls or tricep extensions, but we’re really focusing on those areas that are helpful for runners, open up your range of motion, give you strength.

But then also, what this does that a lot of people don’t recognize is that it’s a very nice cool down after a run, because I’m sure everyone has that feeling of you just finished a big run, you get in your house, you sit down in a chair, you get distracted by your phone for maybe a half an hour, and then you get up from that chair. How do you feel? You feel terrible. What the strength workout does is put you through a whole variety of other movements that really help cool you down. So, outside of the normal range of motion of running, you’re going to be doing leg swings, you’re going to be doing all kinds of different stuff.

Throughout the rest of the day, you’re just going to feel better. You’re going to feel looser. You’re going to feel a little bit more athletic. You’re not going to feel so tight, like you’ve just run a marathon the day before and your legs can barely move. So, there’s a lot of really great things to like about this whole sandwich method when we’re sandwiching our run in between there. I think it’s just a helpful framework for runners to understand that you are not just a runner, you are an athlete that specializes in running. So, that means we are not just going to be running.

We’re going to be doing the dynamic flexibility work. We’re going to be doing the core and strength work. We’re going to be doing form drills. We’re doing all kinds of stuff. That’s going to make you more athletic, more coordinated. That’s going to make you into a better runner. Now, that’s the entry level approach to strength training. We’re going to be doing a little bit before a run, then we’re doing some bodyweight stuff after our run.

But if you wanted to get into what I would consider ideal strength training for endurance runners, it would be exactly that, but twice a week, you would get into the gym. You would actually do legitimate weightlifting, where you’re going to use a barbell. You’re going to be putting up some heavy weight, relatively speaking. You’re going to really be working on strength and power, not necessarily lifting for endurance with a ton of sets and reps or even lifting for hypertrophy, like a bodybuilder will. You’re not going to be in the gym for two, two and a half hours. You’re not going to be in the gym five or six days a week.

We don’t need that as endurance runners, but twice a week, focusing on mostly strength, mostly power, I mean, that is just going to make you more economical. It’s going to give you a faster finishing kick at the end of a race because you can recruit more of those muscle fibers for more power. It’s going to reduce your injury risk, all things that most runners want. So, I try to logically sell strength training to runners, because again, it allows you to do what you love and it allows you to do it much more effectively. So, I think there’s so much to love about strength training. I’m sure you can tell, I’m getting excited. I talk about strength training. I’m like, “Yes, it makes us faster, makes us stronger, and improves our body composition. We might look better naked. This is great.”

Steven Sashen:

So, can you say a little more about what a workout that focuses on strength and/or power might look like? So, people get a sense of that?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, sure. Again, let’s talk ideal scenario here. Our weightlifting should be roughly periodized, like our running is. So, if we’re getting ready for a big goal race, our weightlifting should look different 12 weeks out from that race or just a week out from that race. So, with the understanding that no workout’s going to look exactly the same, I think generally speaking, weightlifting can move from running. You have your early base training in a typical training plan. In weightlifting, that might be 3 sets of 10. You’re really just practicing the movement. You’re building general strength. You’re getting comfortable with the implements. You’re just building that general competence under the bar in the weight room.

And then over time, those workouts become a little bit more power oriented. So, you might move into some Olympic leaps. You might start doing some more power oriented explosive exercises. We’ll start layering in some plyometrics as well. That’s almost like a more running specific way of expressing the power or the strength that you have. That really is like the icing on the cake. That really helps runners. Not only are you getting strong, building the power, but then the plyometrics really help you express that power and really work on your efficiency and economy.

So, the workouts might be very different. We might move from 3 sets of 10, working on squats and deadlifts to doing some more advanced types of squats and deadlifts, doing maybe an overhead squat. Overhead squat is much more difficult than a normal squat. We might also move into doing a power clean or a snatch, the types of exercises where you are really combining strength and speed, because that’s what power really is. It’s strength and speed, strength expressed quickly.

So, these exercises have great carryover to running, because what are we trying to do as runners? We’re trying to move quickly. We are trying to hit that ground really hard with every foot strike that we’re having, because that’s force. You’re going to impart more force into the ground. Your legs are then going to be strong enough to isometrically hold on to some of that force and then you’ll release it in the stride. That makes us faster runners. So, that’s in a nutshell how I think about strength training for runners in the weight room with the understanding that I’m not a strength coach. I’ve just talked to a lot of different high level strength coaches who work with some elite runners and program this weightlifting.

Steven Sashen:

You mentioned two things. One just now is that you want to hit the ground with as much force as you can, which is counterintuitive for many people, because they think, “Well, running already hurts. So, I don’t want to have more force. I don’t want things that hurt.” We also talked about doing form drills. One of the things that obviously keeps people from maximizing the strength that they have, whether they’ve been in the weight room or not, is form issues. So, the biggest one, I’m going to throw it out there, being over striding.

If you’re landing with your foot too far in front of your body, A, you’re putting on the brakes every time you land; B, you are putting force through your joints. C, when your foot’s in front of you and you’re starting to pull the ground underneath you, that’s when your glutes and hamstrings are in the weakest position. So, you’re setting yourself up for more likelihood of that injury, let alone other injuries that happen when you’re over striding, which includes shin splints and plantar fasciitis as well. So, talk about the relationship, other than what I just said, between form and form drills per se, for example, and strength.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, so form drills are very exaggerated running motions. There’s a lot of different theories about form drills. A lot of coaches will say, “Well, they don’t actually improve your form, but it’s a great warm up. So, we do them anyway.”

Steven Sashen:

Yeah, there are.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Some coaches will say the opposite. They help you warm up, but they’re also improving your form too. I take a hybrid view. I think that changing your form is a challenging thing to do, because we’re all narrowly wired to move in a certain way, but that doesn’t mean that we’re all-

Steven Sashen:

I got to pause on that one, because this is an argument that I had with the son of a Canadian running researcher. The researcher’s name is Benno Nigg. His son is Sandro. I had this argument with him, because I was on a panel discussion at the American College of Sports Medicine, where a guy from Brixton, a guy from Adidas both quoted Benno as saying, “Everyone has their own preferred movement pattern, and it’s very hard to change.”

I said to Sandro, “That’s completely ridiculous. If you’re in the same basic shoe over and over and over, then nothing’s going to change. But if you radically change the conditions that you’re running in, if you change the service that you’re running on, if you change the…” Well, the biggest one, of course, is shoes. If you take off your shoes, it’s going to change effortlessly. I mean, I watched it in the lab. You take people who’ve never run barefoot in their life. You take off their shoes and make them run barefoot and 90% of them without any intervention immediately changed their stride. The other 10%, you can give them the world’s simplest cue and they will as well.

Sandro stopped. He goes, “My dad never said that nothing changes. Clearly, if you switch to barefoot or a truly minimalist shoe, things are going to change, but what he’s pointing out is that basically, most shoes are the same. So, changing it without getting the feedback is very, very difficult. But if you change the feedback, which you do by taking off your shoes, for example, it couldn’t be more effortless to change something which may in fact lead to a permanent change once you’ve put shoes back on, once you discover what the effect is.”

I’m not trying to promote barefoot in this moment, but just pointing out that… So, you have to bear with me. My undergraduate research at Duke was on cognitive aspects of motor skill acquisition. So, my whole thing is how you actually learn to move differently. Effortless if you do it the right way, impossible if you don’t have the right feedback.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah. I think my point is that most runners don’t give themselves the opportunity to get that feedback. So, in practice, in reality, it is very difficult for most runners to actually do this.

Steven Sashen:

With that caveat, yes.

Jason Fitzgerald:

I think, the best way to change your form is to change your training. It’s through shoes. It’s through the workouts you’re doing. It’s through the form drills you’re doing. It’s on the terrain that you’re running on. I think variety here is really important. I’m not going to have runners run trails 100% of the time, even though I think trail running is a wonderful way of subtly improving your form over time, because it requires more coordination and athleticism and it’s harder to overstride. All sorts of things are really helpful with that.

Now, form drills, going back to form drills, I think can be really helpful in reinforcing certain motor patterns like landing directly underneath your body, as opposed to reaching out in front of you. That is a very common form mistake that runners have, because the thinking goes, “I want a long stride.” That’s a good thing. A long stride is good, but you don’t get it by reaching out in front of you. You actually get it by putting your foot down underneath you exerting a lot of force against the ground. And then all that length of stride that you have is mostly behind you. It’s in that huge trail leg coming back up.

So, form drills can reinforce some of those really good movement patterns, but I think ultimately, it really has to come from the training that you’re doing. So, I work with a lot of recreational adult runners. Not only are they not doing any form drills, but they’re not really running fast almost ever. I think running fast is one of the best ways to improve your form. Now, of course, you have to do it gradually and safely and all the caveats here, but simply learning how to sprint is probably one of the best things that you can do to improve your form.

Steven Sashen:

It’s a really interesting one, because I see people on the track often who… Well, there’s two things about sprinting. One is just for the sake of obviousness, if you’re running as fast as you can, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sprinting. That’s a whole other thing about energy systems, et cetera. But the biggest thing that I see is people who are running slowly and then who decide to start doing speed workouts. They start trying to do sprinting. Many times, they’re actually just doing the exact same thing they’re doing slowly slightly faster.

If you are going to be making that change, I agree with you, I mean, to sprint effectively and efficiently, the only way you can do that is by running better, by having better form. I watch people on the track. They get to a certain point where things often get worse, because like you said, they think that to get faster, you need to reach out further. You need to pull the ground more. You need to do all these various things that are the antithesis of what it takes to actually sprint. I would argue that because many endurance runners aren’t truly sprinters. I’ll say it that way.

One of my best friends, he’s a world champion cross country runner. He can run 30-second 200-meter runs all day every day, just same pace, never changes. He can’t go any faster. I mean, that’s all he does. You get a sprinter. I can do that in 23, 24 seconds, and then I’m done. People don’t get the difference that that six seconds, that 20% difference is massive.

So, anyway, I guess, that was the long version of my saying, I don’t want people to take this part of the conversation and go start sprinting without getting some feedback about what sprinting form actually is, which is running form. It’s no different. But if they think that it’s just moving their legs faster, rather than getting their feet underneath them properly, then they’re going to be setting themselves up for potentially more problems.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Right. I think sprinting is uniquely challenging because exactly what you just said. So many runners think that it’s simply faster slower running, but it’s not. It’s a different type of form. I think it’s specifically difficult, because number one, the stride rate or cadence that you have when you’re running really fast is almost foreign to a lot of runners. They never move their body that quickly. So, that is almost a neural demand that most runners fail to wrap their head around. And then the other part of it too is that you don’t really realize how strong you have to be to run fast, to sprint, to actually have a high maximum velocity, to actually hit that top speed, and to be going at a really strong clip.

So, that’s not really a fitness issue in the way that endurance runners think about fitness. Excuse me. This is really strength and coordination. Strength and coordination are not things that runners typically work on. So, when I think about form drills, I think about we are generally working on coordination. We are generally working on athleticism. I mean, it’s a little bit specific to running, of course, because it’s these exaggerated motions. But how do you become a strong efficient runner who can sprint? I think you need to sprint. You need to practice that. I think you need to lift weights. That’s going to make you stronger.

I think there needs to be this element of play in your training, where you are frequently running very, very fast but in a way that’s not difficult. So, that’s an important concept because a lot of runners equate fast with difficult. We don’t necessarily have to make all of our fast running very difficult. I think one of the best examples of this are hill sprints or strides. Now, they’re very different. Hill sprint is 8 to 10 seconds, maximum effort, as hard as you can go up a really steep hill. You give yourself maybe a minute or two of just nothing. You’re walking around. You’re not running at all in between. You let your heart rate come down. This is like a sprinter’s workout, which most distance runners are allergic to.

We don’t understand. You’re like, “What do you mean, the recovery is in a jog?” But no, you let yourself fully come down from that 8- to 10-second effort, and then you go again. You only might do 4 to 10 of these repetitions. The other thing is strides. Strides are basically accelerations. You might accelerate to about 95, 98% of your maximum speed, but that’s it. It’s a controlled sprint. That’s what I like to call it, controlled sprint. And then you get another minute or two of just walking around in between. So, you’re building to that 95, 98% max. You’re only holding it for a second or two, and then you’re going to coast down to a stop.

It’s not difficult. It is just a fun way for you to play with speed after an easy run. Runners who do this a couple days a week, year after year after year, get really good at running fast and being able to tap into those higher gears, because they’re just much more comfortable at it. They have experienced doing it and it’s not foreign to them. So, yeah, I think if we separate hard and fast and work on running fast without making it hard, that bridges this sedentary to sprinter thing that we’re talking about here.

Steven Sashen:

The comfort thing is really interesting. You gave me a flashback. When I got back into sprinting after a 30-year break, I was 45 and it took me two years until I felt comfortable going all out. I mean, I was a little nervous. Since our brains don’t know how old our bodies are, at first, I tried to override what my body was saying, which is, “Why don’t you just take a fucking break?” Instead, it’s like, “I can do one more.” That was the one where I would get hurt. But the biggest thing is that even when I was doing that, I was afraid to go all out. I almost can remember the exact workout when it’s like, “No, no, I can’t do that now.” I mean, I haven’t had a real injury in 11 years.

But if I get a little niggly something, that’s what I look for is, “When do I feel comfortable with going all out?” That’s the way I gauge things. I think people are often unwilling to go through that learning phase and the time that it takes until you get comfortable with some very new thing, which what we’re talking now. Sprinting training is a very new thing for most people. They’ve never thought to run as fast as they can, unless they’re running away from or running to something for just a couple of strides.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah. I think for distance runners, we never really do this too much in our training and really in all of our races, unless we’re running a 5K or a 10K or something shorter than that, a half marathon. We’re never running as fast as we can. Even at the very end when we’re trying to, we’re not even close.

Steven Sashen:

It’s not the same.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Now, in some of the shorter races, you can get pretty close to your max speed for maybe the final 50 meters or 100 meters. That is our entire experience of running as fast as we can, but really, that is not maximal velocity. That is not top speed training. So, if we start incorporating some speed development work into our training, it becomes a lot easier to sprint. We develop that coordination and we get much more comfortable with it.

Steven Sashen:

There’s also just this neurological thing where what you get used to feels familiar, feels comfortable. Trying to step out from any of that, I think people misinterpret the feeling of laying down new neural pathways. So, when you’re in a groove and it’s literally a neural groove, when you try to do something different, it feels awkward, it feels frustrating, it feels weird. Most people seem to forget that that’s how learning happens. That’s the experience of learning, not the experience of telling you, “Hey, you shouldn’t do that.”

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, exactly. That’s a new experience. That’s new. Nobody likes to learn new things. It is uncomfortable, it’s frustrating, especially for adults. When we’re kids, when we’re teenagers, we’re always learning new things. It is just our modus operandi, how we operate. If we got a little bit more curious about speed, about what our bodies can do, I think it would be much easier for us to go down this road and eventually learn some of these things.

I think one of the most fascinating aspects of speed and I know you’re going to be able to speak to this, Steven, is when you get really good at it, when you become competent, the speed fluency that you have is almost like your vocabulary has increased. Now, you understand the difference between 99.9% effort and 100% effort, but also 99, 98.5, 98%. So, you just have much more levels of effort and of speed. It’s almost like you’re going from an 8-speed car to a 12-speed car. You’re just getting all these extra gears. You’re better understanding them. You know how they affect your body. You only get there through a lot of practice and a lot of familiarity with it.

Steven Sashen:

That’s the advantage to sprinting is that you can get more experience of those specific things to be able to track them better. So, when you’re only running 50 meters or 100 meters at different paces, you can get more of that in. So, you start to understand what that is and most distant runners don’t. Most distant runners don’t even have that within their own vocabulary. Of course, there’s the other level, which is competition speed.

No one’s ever set a personal best in the 100 meters in practice. It only happens in competition. I said to someone, “I can train all day, and maybe I’ll be a little sore for a couple days. But I go to a meet, I do one race and I’m toast for a week.” There’s such a different phenomenon, both biochemically and neurologically from competing. A lot of people don’t give themself that opportunity to discover what that feels like as well or do enough of it to really, like you said, build a vocabulary of what those different things are.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, what you’re talking about right now is fascinating, because you’re basically saying that racing is a skill. I could not agree more. It is a very difficult thing, because it’s a maximum effort. Maybe that’s over 50 meters, 100 meters-

Steven Sashen:

It doesn’t matter.

Jason Fitzgerald:

… 100 miles. No matter what the race distance is, it is a skill. I think that is a big issue that I’m trying to address as a coach. I know I’m frequently talking about this in ways that I want to get runners away from the marathon. I love the marathon. It’s wonderful. A lot of runners have big, hairy audacious goals with the marathon, but they don’t realize that they could accomplish those goals if they stepped away from the marathon and got more race experience. Now, you can’t run too many marathons. You can’t have a bad marathon this weekend and be like, “I’ll try again next week.” You can’t do that. This isn’t like a 5K. A 5k, you can try again next week. Your body will recover enough.

You could still do a midweek workout and then come right back and have your vengeance on the 5K. But if you don’t give yourself those opportunities and if you’re only focusing on the really long races, you just don’t practice that skill of racing. So, I’m a big proponent of runners doing the middle distance events frequently. Let’s try to find some track races, 800, 1-mile, 2-mile, 5K, 8K, 6K, 10K. I don’t care what the distance is, but make it short so that you can run these races more frequently. You will more frequently practice the skill of race. We also more frequently getting to a situation where you’re trying to run as fast as you can. That is a valuable skill to practice well.

Steven Sashen:

There’s another aspect to the racing skill that’s a whole other universe, which is the… I don’t want to call it the psychological part. Let’s just call it the thinking part. The thinking part for me and I’m going to ask if this is true for you as well, for a sprinter, the most difficult thing for me to learn was, I’ll say it this way, how to stay in my lane. I don’t mean that literally. I mean, metaphorically. I’ve got a guy. I can hear him coming up on my shoulder. How do I not change what I’m doing based on that?

Or there’s a guy who’s an inch ahead of me. How do I not try to outrun him and stay in what I do? Because if I start to compete with the guys left or right of me or all the way left or all the way right, then I’m probably going to be changing my form in some way that’s less efficient and learning how to just run my race. It sounds crazy. I’m talking about 12 seconds or in 60 meters, 8 seconds. But in all that time, there are seemingly infinite number of opportunities to step out of my race and screw up my race.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, that happens in distance running too, where I think it’s a little different, because you do need to respond a little bit better to your competitors, just because you’re out there for longer. You can’t let them get too far ahead of you, but it definitely is something that runners have to practice over time. I think the mental component of it is really difficult. I was 10 years into my running career, running so many races every year. But every single season, the beginning of the season, I was a mental basket case for my first race, because I hadn’t raced in three months or so.

But then by the end of the season, when I’ve been racing maybe once a week or in high school, it was two times or maybe even three times a week, you just get into this groove where I know psychologically, what my body can do. I know what this is going to feel like. I know that my body is going to feel like homeostasis is under threat, but it is not actually under threat. I am going to make it. I’m going to live. So, because of that, I’m not going to stress out as much, I’m not going to have all this anxiety. Yeah, I’m going to feel a little bit more confident to dig down deeper and try to sprint harder at the end of a race, because the whole mental thing either makes or breaks you as an athlete.

Steven Sashen:

Well, it’s so interesting, because I think there are parts of, let’s call it, the mental game, for lack of a better term that are legit and there are parts that are mythologized, “being in the zone”. I’m putting giant air quotes around that. I won’t mention this person by name. I won’t even mention the gender. But this is a world champion and Olympic marathoner who someone asked while a bunch of us were having dinner about them getting in the zone. There was this long conversation about getting in the zone and how they got in the zone and what they did in the zone and how the zone felt.

After 20 minutes of this, I said, “Did you ever had a race where you were in the zone and you lost?” They said, “Yeah.” So, ever have a race where you felt like crap, maybe you even had the flu and you won? They said, “Yes.” Well, there’s that in the zone crap. It’s like, “Congratulations. You had a good feeling on some races and didn’t have that feeling in other races, but keep in mind, you were a world champion. You were better than everybody else by a longshot. It didn’t matter how you felt. It didn’t matter what you thought.”

So that’s the macro level thing, but then there’s the more micro level thing, which is the part that I find most interesting that you brought up of the getting the information from your body and reframing it or ignoring it or listening to it as appropriate. There’s different times and different places that you want to do each one of those. But the reframing is the one I find the most interesting, because there’s parts of your brain that are telling you, “You got to stop this right now.” You learn, “Oh, I don’t need to pay attention to that one. It’s lying to me.”

Jason Fitzgerald:

Right. I remember maybe only a handful of races in my entire 20+ years of running where I felt like I was in the zone. I certainly had a lot of good races where I had a great race and I felt like crap from start to finish. The fastest mile I ever ran, when I ran my 433, I felt like crap from 200 meters into that race. I think that’s the difference between a highly trained athlete and someone who might not be highly trained.

How you perform is not necessarily dependent on how you feel, although how you feel can help you improve or run a little bit better. I don’t think it’s going to hurt you in any way. I just don’t think it’s always a helpful thing. So, yeah, when you get into the zone and just have that experience, at least for me, it was almost like my body was telling me that it had to stop. You are so uncomfortable right now with this race-related fatigue and soreness and pain. The way I reframed it in my head was well, good. That means it’s working.

Steven Sashen:

Nice.

Jason Fitzgerald:

So, it’s this almost masochistic reframing, where I wanted to experience more pain because that meant I was running faster.

Steven Sashen:

No, I think you nailed it. I mean, the number of times, my line is, “Why do I care what I think about me?” The number of times you have some thought that is just so not accurate. I was talking to someone about the whole reframing concept. I said, “Okay, imagine you have a big headache and you just want to get rid of it.” Well, what if you grew up in a culture where that particular pain you’re experiencing was the sign of your inevitable and almost imminent awakening, that you were going to become enlightened and that was the sign? What would you then do?

He’s like, “Oh, I would try to make it happen more. I would try to be really diving in there, super excited that I got this headache.” I mean, that couldn’t be a simpler thought experiment, but it should make you question a whole lot of what happens inside your brain that you pay attention to.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, I don’t really trust everything I feel and think all the time.

Steven Sashen:

It’s a good place to live. So, we got to start to bring this to a close. I don’t know which question I want to do first. So, I’ll do the one that popped in my head. So, if you could debunk to the point of eliminating from the planet some thought about running and/or strength, what thought that people seem to have would you like to eradicate from the face of the earth?

Jason Fitzgerald:

I would definitely like to get rid of the idea that runners don’t have to do any strength training. I’d like to get rid of the idea that strength training is going to bulk runners up. I think those two things are the biggest barriers that prevent runners from getting into any strength training, because it’s really such an important part of training that, Steven, I don’t even consider it cross training. So, I write a lot of custom training plans for runners and I have a little question about cross training. What kind of cross training do you do? They’ll tell me, “I do a lot of strength training.” That’s not cross training.

Steven Sashen:

That’s just what you do for running.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, that is part of the training you have to do if you’d like to reach your potential as a runner. If you’d like to stay healthy, if you’d like to be able to run really fast and be more economical, you’ve got to do some strength training. Now, do you have to do the elliptical? No, you don’t have to do the elliptical at all if you don’t want to as a runner, but does it have a place in your training for cross training? Sure, we can program it in there. So, that is cross training. Cross training is what you replace running with if you’re injured or if you’d like to do more running, but you’re very injury prone and you can’t just get up to 100 miles a week. Okay, let’s layer in a lot of cross training. It’ll help bridge that gap.

But too many runners think that strength training is a nice-to-do. Whereas I consider it a must-do if you love the sport and want to continue improving. So, those are the big things with regard to strength training. Particularly with women, I coach a lot of women. I would love to see more women get into strength training and forget that “I’m going to gain a bunch of weight” idea. Because the truth of the matter is that all those Instagram models and the people in the bathing suits who make their income by posting butt pictures on Instagram, all those people-

Steven Sashen:

Photoshop, Photoshop.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, but they’re also lifting weights too. Models are not looking like that by simply running. They are looking like that-

Steven Sashen:

Pretty valid.

Jason Fitzgerald:

… by lifting weights and really sculpting their body. So, it is such an integral part of not just training and performance, but also for health. I’ve been talking to runners more about just longevity. You want to be running when you’re 50, 60, 70, you better start lifting weights when you’re 30 and 40, because that’s going to enable you. Again, it comes back to enabling you to do the thing that you love, especially long term.

Steven Sashen:

To be clear, never too late.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Never too late.

Steven Sashen:

So, there’s a caveat to what you were saying that I’m just going to say it rather than ask you a question that might lead you to it, which is that one of the things that’s so interesting about this whole idea of including strength training this way and thinking about form as a function of strength and vice versa is that for people who think they can’t run and I’m not suggesting everyone run. If it’s not fun for you, don’t do it. But if you think, “I can’t run because…”, that’s the one that I’d like to get rid of. Because again, if you want to, there’s nothing preventing you from doing it.

When people say, “I can’t run because I have bad knees,” no, no, you have bad knees because you ran badly, and you weren’t strong. So, you had bad form and you weren’t strong. If you fix either of those or both of those, you can run. Or I can’t run because I’m really overweight, completely irrelevant. In fact, you’re starting out stronger than the person who weighs half as much as you because you got strong enough to carry your body weight around. I did a podcast episode with Heather Vincent. One of her big focuses is overweight runners, because they tend to have better form than regular runners, because they have no option. They can’t run badly.

Jason Fitzgerald:

I like that.

Steven Sashen:

It was brilliant. So, that’s the other one. Again, you can extrapolate this, take it out of the context of running to anything. If you learn the right way to do it, if you build the strength enabled to do it, then not you’re going to become an Olympian, but you can maximize your body’s ability to do that thing. It amazes me that people seem to have this idea that as you get older, you just can’t do it at all. Not that you can’t do it as well, but at all. I mean, I’m going to turn 59 in a couple of weeks. I know that shit and fan are going to collide in terms of my speed in a relatively short amount of time, because it’s just statistical. Once sprinters hit about 60, you get slower and then it continues.

I was at the Senior Games talking to a bunch of 60-year-olds. I just turned 50. They were all talking about how much slower they got when they turned 60. A couple of 80-year-olds walked up and went, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” But the important part is we were all still out there doing it and enjoying it as best as we were able to. There’s no reason that people can’t do that with the right combination of form and strength.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, I love that. Really what you’re talking about is a growth mindset. Do you think that you can start something and improve and get better at it? Because if you think, “Oh, I can never run because X, Y, Z,” well, then you’re going to stay at whatever level that you’re at for the foreseeable future. But if you think you can grow, if you think you can change and improve, then you definitely can because the resources out there to help runners, I think right now, this is the golden time for runners with the amount of information available, the amount of coaching that’s even available.

Because of the internet, now any Joe jogger can go get a running coach. I don’t say that in a pejorative way. I think that is truly incredible that any runner can go get a running coach. It’s not just the purview of the elite athlete or the sponsored runner who their shoe company is providing that coach. No, this is something that is much more accessible for runners today. So, if anybody wants to do it, the resources are there to help you do that.

Steven Sashen:

Well, that couldn’t have been a better segue to me asking, will you tell people how they can get in touch with you and find out more about what you’re doing, whether they choose to work with you as a coach or just learn about the things you’re doing, let them know how to make that happen?

Jason Fitzgerald:

Well, sure, I’m the Strength Running guy. So, if you go to strengthrunning.com, you’ll find we have a blog. Our podcast has really been growing over the last couple years. So, if you wanted to check out The Strength Running Podcast, it has such amazing guests like our host today here, had you on a couple months ago.

Steven Sashen:

That’s true.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Yeah, I mean, find me on social media, I’m @JasonFitz1 on Twitter and Instagram. I’d be happy to connect with any of your listeners and talk about strength training or form or drills or whatever is on their mind. My whole shtick is let’s get adult runners training more strategically like elite runners. We’re going to take a lot of lessons and principles from them, but adapt it to the average recreational runner like me. So, that we can actually get a lot of value from that and hopefully, train more strategically, train a little bit more methodically, so that we can accomplish our goals.

Steven Sashen:

Awesome.

Jason Fitzgerald:

So yeah, find me at Strength Running. My contact info is right there on the site. I don’t hide it. I’d be happy to hear from anybody.

Steven Sashen:

Beautiful. Jason Fitzgerald, thank you so, so much. A pleasure as always. Clearly, you and I could have this conversation for hours and hours and hours and not get to an end. Well, I was going to say something about running together, but I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I have dealers who will call and say, “Hey, why don’t you come to our shop and then go for running?” I go, “Yeah, I don’t do that.” They go, “No, I’m just two or three miles away.” I go, “Yeah, I don’t do that.” They go, “Come on.” All right, why don’t we start on the track and you run a 12-second 100 with me? And then we’ll go out and do a couple of miles.” Yeah, I can’t do that. Yeah, now you got it.

So, that means we’ll just have to get together for something other than running together, unless hey, if you’re in sprinting mode because since that’s part of your training, we can come out and have some fun doing that, but that distance thing, I can’t do it.

Jason Fitzgerald:

Well, I’ll run a couple sprints with you, or you’ll run a couple miles with me.

Steven Sashen:

Well, then we’re going to have to have dinner together.

Jason Fitzgerald:

That sounds good too. Maybe we can have some wine.

Steven Sashen:

Perfect. Well, so for everybody else, thank you so much for being here. Again, just head over to www.jointhemovementmovement.com. Find the previous episodes. Subscribe so you can hear about upcoming episodes. If you have any questions or feedback, if there’s anyone you think should be on this show to have this conversation about moving naturally, drop me an email for anything at move@jointhemovementmovement.com, but most importantly, go out, have fun, and live life feet first.

 

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