We recently caught up with physical therapist, neuroscientist, biomechanist, ultrarunner Jackie Merritt, she answered our questions about training, preventing injury and staying motivated. Her recent 2nd place female finish in the Georgia Death Race won her a Golden ticket entry into Western States 100 Mile.
What do you do for a living?
I am a physical therapist and clinical research scientist at Emory University. My current research looks at how the brain reorganizes after stroke and how that relates to gait mechanics and walking ability in stroke survivors.
Photo courtesy of Milestone Sports
What is the MilestonePod? How has it helped with running?
The Milestone Pod is a sensor that clips to your shoe and tracks gait metrics, distance, pace and time. It captures some of the same running mechanical metrics that are associated with injuries and traditionally have only been available in ~$80,000 3D motion capture laboratories with in-ground force plates. It's also very affordable ($25 retail) - pretty cool, particularly for someone with a passion for human movement and biomechanics like me! I am working with Milestone as an athlete and clinician to help people understand what metrics they should care about and why, and how they can modify potentially problematic biomechanics and reduce their risk for running-related injury.
What are the little things you do to prevent injury?
Running related injuries are multifactorial in nature, so my approach to injury prevention is also multifactoral. Here is a summary of some preventative tactics I include in my training regimen:
- I strength train regularly 1-2 times per week. Research shows that strength training can cut your risk of running-related injury in half!
- I'm continuously working to improve aspects of my running mechanics using Pod data such as rate of impact and ground contact time that have been shown to be associated with injuries I have had in the past like stress fractures and runners knee/ITB syndrome, respectively.
- I also do the little things like foam rolling, band work for glute strengthening, proprioceptive and balance training, with a little focus on stretching the structures that I know to be tight.
- I've taken a more polarized approach to training, running easier on easy days, hard on quality workouts.
- Nutrition also undoubtedly plays a big role here as well and while my diet is not perfect, I am very cognizant of what I put into my body. I'm also carrying a little "extra" weight, being about 5-8lbs heavier than I was a few years ago, which I think has made me more durable and served a protective role for me in injury prevention.
- Importantly, I am not immune from injury- no one is- and I completely recognize that. When I feel a niggle coming on that doesn't feel quite right, I have a good sense of when I need to back off and modify some training activities.
- I think that all of this together has greatly helped me to stay healthy and train consistently.
How do you stay motivated when you don't want to run?
I try to think about the end goal and that's usually enough. Some days are more rough than others. On those days I'll just tell myself I don't have to run, I'm just going to put on my clothes and go outside and walk around. Once I'm out there and moving, it's pretty easy to start running.
Photo courtesy of Milestone Sports
What does a typical training day look like?
Wake up 5:30am, dog, coffee, workout/run about 60-90 minutes, home/shower/breakfast smoothie, bike 4 mi to work, work 9am-6-6:30p with lunch in there somewhere, bike 4 mi home, snack (Muir), dog, run 1-2 hours with husband, dinner, chocolate, foam roll/stretching/core routine, bed ~10p.
How did you find out about Muir? When do you use fuel?
I was in a natural food store while at a conference in San Diego a few months ago and saw the Muir gels in the check out display. I normally hate gels and have not used them in years, but the nut butter base of these Muir ones caught my attention. I love nut butters and eat them a lot in training and in life. I got a couple to try and really loved them. So delicious, even when you are not running. I love that they are real food, just in the convenient packaging of a gel. Nowadays I use Muir for so many things. I put some in a smoothie or on toast for breakfast, I eat some on apples at lunch, I have a spoonful alone or with a banana when I get home from work to fuel me through my post-work run. I bring the gels on long runs through the mountains and it's like eating what I eat at home, which makes my stomach happy.
Is there a race that you really want to run, but haven't yet?
Yeti 100, Western States 100, Squamish 50, Speedgoat 50k, Vermont 100, Quest for the Crest 50k... I could go on!
What's your favorite distance?
50 miles. Start at sunrise, finished before dinner. Always great when you can have a meal and sleep the same day as your race!
What are your future goals?
Tough one. I guess I have a lot of personal goals with running that all involve working hard to be the best that I can. I have general goals of continuing to improve my running/work/life balance, which can be pretty tough at times because ultrarunning is a pretty selfish activity in and of itself. I have always felt inspired by others, particularly the amazing women in the sport of ultrarunning. Now, other people tell me that I inspire them, which is a really amazing feeling. I hope that I can continue to do that.
How do you think you will achieve that?
Overall, I think having that balance of working hard towards achievements while also not taking myself too seriously is where success in reaching each one of these goals will lie. Just like most everyone else, I do this stuff for enjoyment. If I can have a life, make a difference, and inspire others to move and get outside along the way, it makes everything all the better.
Favorite post run snack?
Probably one of my homemade coffee smoothies.
What is the best training habit you have?
I am consistent.
What is the worst training habit you have?
Doing too much too hard on rest or recovery days. Recovery is just as important as the training sessions you put in. I know it, I just don't always practice it. Recently having a coach and someone with an outside perspective has helped me with this.
Biggest running achievement?
This would probably have to be my Pinhoti 100 mile race this past November, where I set a new women's course record and bested my own PR in the distance by about 2.5 hours. This was my third 100 mile race and the first one a really feel like I trained the best for and executed well!
Jacqueline Palmer Merritt is an Atlanta-based physical therapist, neuroscientist, biomechanist and ultrarunner. She's also an athlete ambassador for Milestone Sports, Saucony and Nathan Sports.