Saturday, June 27, 2009

Orthotics for your Hands?

This photo is from the 2005 Applefest Half-Marathon. I finished in 11th place overall-which tied my highest finish ever at this Hollis, NH race. But what is that I am holding in my hands? Are they orthotics for your hands?

Yesterday afternoon I saw a review of a new running book, a book I would typically ignore. It looked like just another retread of the same old stuff that is in so many other running books particularly with a title like "Run for Life" (I think a few other books have the same or similar titles). Something caught my eye in a quick glance at the review and I decided that this book by Roy Wallak had a bit more under the cover than the title and cover picture would suggest.

The book claims to be a guide to keep you running until you are 100 years old. The author also wants you to run fast and be healthy. This is where the title and cover need to suggest more. Roy Wallak goes beyond the traditional and typical stretches and workout plans and instead shines a light on a few unorthodox methods that a runner (who constantly breaks down- like me) might want to try. I have already had experience trying some of the suggestions in the book and this is what intrigued me enough to buy it and see what else the author had to say.

The book advocates "soft running" - a forward on the foot running stride using light weight minimalistic running shoes. I used to be a heavy heel striker and have transitioned over to a more flat-footed stride. It also advocated barefoot running and gives a shout out to the Vibram Five-Finger shoes. I recently started using a pair of these for strides. It tells your to do some pool running. I have never tried this, but this is the first book I have seen that tells you how to do it: in the deep end or touching the ground and using special equipment or not? It tells about short interval sprints and how to naturally release HGH to buttress an aging body. It incorporates stretching (looks like Ecosque exercises) and a Yoga routine: both designed to keep the body in balance. It talks about hip and knee replacements (something I hope I never have to do) and postural exercises. There is a lot of recent research in the book and it is interesting reading. The chapters read like magazine articles and I have skipped and skimmed around to preview the parts most interesting to me.

However, one article is what prompted me to buy the book. It was on using hand-grips to help balance your running form. This seems like one of the most way-out ideas in the book, but in 2005, I actually used these handgrips for about 6 months. The are called the E3 Grips by BioGrip. I bought a pair a few years back and tried them out. I actually liked them and noticed a great effect on balancing my stride. I think I stopped using them in the winter as I didn't really want to explain to anybody exactly what they were plus I don't think they worked the same with gloves on. I also didn't want to look like a kook! Some of my teammates noticed them, but I think they thought they were a sort of weight training device. I don't know what they thought, but they probably already thought me a kook anyhow!

There is a whole chapter on them in the book and the author tells a story of running the Boston Marathon on only 2 weeks of training, because they helped remedy a sore hip that kept him from running for months. The basic idea is that the grips put your thumb and hands in an optimal position for running that facilitates proper arm swing and balance between the shoulder and the hips. Some of the athletes who used the hand grips include Rich Hanna the 2001 World 100km Silver medallist, Michael McCormack one of the great Ironman competitors of the 80's and 90's (review here), and two time Ironman Canada champion, and former world class and Olympic marathoner from Canada, Peter Maher (if you know your running history-he was a former heavy-weight smoker- 6'5"-245 pounds- who took up running and finished fourth in the NYC Marathon): review here. These and other runners were all athletes with bad biomechanics who used the hand grips to overcome injuries due to bad running form.

I got a pair in 2005 and immediately dropped my 5k times from a 19:09 without the grips (one second behind Steve Wolfe in a summer full of battles) to a 18:48 and then a 18:45 on the same Mine Falls course as the 19:09 and this time I was 3 seconds ahead of Steve Wolfe (Man, I should have been using these things all this year!). Three days after that I ran a 18:11 at the Cigna race (25 seconds ahead of Steve Wolfe). Whether I was getting in good shape or the grips were helping me, I don't know. I was also going through 11 Rolfing sessions at the time. Even race director's starting speculating on the secret to my success at this point- referring to the great starts I was getting- but not knowing about my use of the hand-grips! Note in the picture that race winner Steve Wolfe is right behind me at takeoff (in the blue singlet). He ran very fast but only because he was experimenting with "shrinking" before a run. In this picture he has shrunk to about 1/2 my height!

I found them comfortable and they did help me keep my hands from clenching awkwardly and they kept my shoulders feeling stronger and more balanced. I remember not wanting to go for a run without them because I didn't feel right when I ran, but somehow despite my successes I stopped using them that winter. I kept them on my treadmill and every once in awhile would use them for a few miles for old times sake. Before I got the book on Friday I took them out for a run again. I did notice an immediate effect on my balance and posture and had a good run (despite tweaking my back muscle earlier in the day- the same one that has gone out for me twice before this year). When I read the chapter in the book the author claims that Deena Kastor and Michael Stember (2000 Olympian at 1500 meters) have also used the hand grips.

Today I ran my fastest time in the past couple of months on my typical 8 mile loop by about 3 minutes. Who knows if they work. Maybe I will keep trying them out for awhile again to see what effect they continue to have. Maybe I will know who reads my blog when I go to the track because they will be looking to see what I have in my hands.

I think the book is an interesting one to read. It also includes interview with runners like Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Rod Dixon and others. One thing that bothers me as I skimmed the book is the many misspellings of names; Greg Myer instead of Meyer, Joe Vehill instead of Vigil, and a few others as well as a misclaim that Michael Yessis is the creator of Active Isolated Stretching, when in fact it was Aaron Mattes. Of particular note to Gate City Striders is a mention of Bill Spencer on page 218 as well as a picture that may include a few other 65 plus Gate City Striders.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Be Careful Out There

Early Monday evening a woman running in Nashua had a full can of Chef Boyardee thrown at her out the window of a moving car. She was hit in the chest and injured.

NASHUA – A woman jogging on a suburban road was injured by a can of ravioli thrown from a car full of teenagers.
The woman, who asked not be identified, said she suffered a serious contusion and strain to her chest, near the clavicle bone, early Monday evening as she jogged Gilson Road with a friend.The silver Honda first passed the woman and her female friend as they ran west against the flow of traffic, she said. The teens screamed something unintelligible as they sped by, but then the car turned around and approached the women, she said.

“A full can of Chef Boyardee hit me in the chest straight on,” she said. “I have the imprint of a can. It knocked the wind out of me.”
I hope the police can track down the criminals that did this. This is the time of year that the idiots always seem to go a little crazy. It seems every year at this time I have a few instances of things being thrown at me: fruit, cans of soda, and other things. I also get screamed at by kids driving by in cars. This current incident happened on Gilson Road in Nashua which I run on most of my running loops. I do hope this runner is OK as it is a terrible thing to happen.

I didn't get much running in since last Wednesday's track workout. I can't recall all I did during the week (old age), but I think my only run was the Mine Falls 5K Trail race on Monday. I felt sufficiently fattened by the Wednesday track workout last night. We did 4 X 1 mile with a 4 minute rest between each interval. My times were 5:41, 5:51, 5:53, and 6:00. In similar workouts last year, I never got under 6 minutes for any mile. I was happy with the splits after the limited running I had done this week. Some of the stretching, mobility work, and drills I had been doing helped, but the biggest thing I did was roll out my hamstrings and quads using a hard rubber baseball sized ball the night before. I have not done any foam rolling or massaging of my muscles since winter track time and I found a lot of tight spots.

Also on the track during the Gate City Striders workout was upcoming World Marathon Championships runner Nate Jenkins. He was doing a track 10K. Here is a recent Running Times article.

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Running off on Tangents: Z-Health, Vibram Five-Fingers, and Opposite Joints

I have been way off on tangents doing all the things that need to be done and have lost a bit of focus on my training and running. My son graduated from high school, I am ending the school year and packing up my classroom for a new school, and it has gotten very busy. It is time to restart and reboot myself. I am looking forward to getting back on track now that I should have a bit more free time for a change.

It is also time to get back to healthier dieting and eating like I was doing months ago. I miss eating properly as I have slid into enjoying too many celebratory eating experiences as well as cookies and ice cream again.

Two weeks ago I got an email that I did not get into the Falmouth Road Race through the lottery. I have been running this, my hometown race, most years since 1975 and still get a seeded number to run in the front pack when I am entered. I sent off an email asking to be reinstated. I didn't hear back so I sent another. This time I was reinstated into the race and am thrilled to give it another go this summer. Returning to Falmouth every year is just a continuation of something I do every summer since I have been running and I would hate to miss it. Thanks to the road race committee for allowing a long-time loyal Falmouth runner back into the race.

I received my S-Health S Phase DVDs and have viewed the the first DVD. It is different from the joint mobility work on the R and I Phase DVDs. This one seems really geared toward learning how to move quickly and appears geared for learning the speed and mobility needed for sports competitions of all kinds. I have gleaned some bits of information that may be helpful in thinking about and practicing how to move properly. I look forward to giving it more of my attention and just wished I had some coaching like this when I was much younger. Some of the visual drills are very interesting: throwing tennis balls with letters printed on them and saying the letter out loud as you catch the ball. I don't know how that translates into running but it looks like fun!

When you are really good at movement as well as visual acuity, your sporting performance would look something like this:

Here is an article I found on related to Z-Health and Vibram Five-Finger shoes. In it the author postulates that the Vibram Five-Finger shoes help your feet to be feet. Then Z-Health optimizes that freedom to help you move and feel better. Here is the author's summation of the 3 phases of Z-Heath.

Z-Health provides an approach to enhance the neurological signals that a freed foot can send to the nervous system. It does this in several phases: the first phase, R-Phase, teaches the drills I've described to get all our joints to move as they're designed. If folks only do R-Phase they find huge benefit - including reduced pain and improved function.

The second phase, I-Phase, takes these movements that have been done "standing in neutral position" and runs them through more postures that increase demand on the body. If we move from standing to a lunge position, with 80% of our weight on a lunging leg, we feel that muscle being used more; we're also in position that requires more balance. Being able to perform precision movements of joints in these postures fires up more of those nerves to signal position in space; it also means that we are practicing moving our bodies in more positions that we will find ourselves in in real life.

Practice, as with anything, prepares the mind and body to better cope with the real (Here's a long digression on practice and lots of it). If you do ankle work in a lunge position with your foot turned in, your body will know better how to respond to that position when in encounters it running on a trail at speed. And speaking of speed, S-Phase is the "Run Forrest, Run" of Z-Health — but not just linearly; it zigs, it zags; it stops; it starts. Just like life.

In the article, another Z-Health tenant is mentioned in that "the site of the pain is not always the source of the pain."

If we look at the neuromechanics of running, when our lower body moves, and torques say to the right, the upper body counter-torques to the left. Indeed, since the early twentieth century, scientists like Sheriton (1910), Janda (1963) and Gracovetsky (1988) have looked at how the body links in terms of various cross overs, such that someone with a right shoulder pain may also have a sore left hip. Similarly, pain in the right knee may be approached by doing work with the left elbow.

These connections underpin interdependencies of the body: if one part of us can't move normally (say the action of our toes or ankles), other parts start to come into play to try compensate in ways they weren't necessarily designed to do. That compensation sets up it's own problems, which pushes on other parts, and eventually ]that cascade of effects causes a pain signal (or a few) to be sent up to the brain for attention. But again, here's where at least from the Z-Health perspective, it's critical rather than focusing on a site of pain to the person moving ("It hurts when I do this") to look at a more holistic approach of the person in motion. These same assessment heuristics apply to those who have restricted mobility, too: getting any limb to move more freely will enhance overall well being.

Mike T. Nelson has a similar blog post on opposite joints found here. Also he reports here on how he helped an elite female marathoner using Z-Health by working on opposite joints.

I find this stuff fascinating. I really should go to visit a Z-Health practitioner to see what he or she would say I need the most work on so that I don't have to try to figure it all out on my own.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What is Better For the Core?

There is an interesting New York Times article today found here: "Is Your Ab Workout Hurting Your Back?" by Gretchen Reynolds on core strength. It tells a bit about the history and popularity of many of today's core workout routines, particularly the emphasis on the transversus abdominis and "sucking in the belly button". It explains why this might be the wrong approach to developing a healthy core. Stuart McGill offers a more balanced approach to core stability. There is also an informative video on the web page that shows three good core exercises.

Here is a visual guide to some other core exercises: some like the crunches do not agree with the NYT article, at least as performed here. Others seem like extensions to some of the exercises that are recommended in the article. The article "Hard Core - Exercises to Strengthen Your Abs For Better Performance" by Justin Maguire can be found on here.

I haven't tried these routines yet, but I look forward to exploring new exercises as the school year ends on Monday. I was really tired tonight and exited the track workout halfway through. I was a bit lethargic and stiff from earlier in the weak. I did three 11 mile days in a row before Monday's Mine Falls Trail 5K. I am also tired from the end of the school year. I thought it better to stop than to push through to an injury. I was probably stiff from doing tons of kettlebell swings last night too, as I was workout until about 11:00 pm and didn't have a chance to run, but needed to get some exercise.

Some other things I hope to give a try after school is out is the new Resistance Stretching DVD I got two weeks ago, but have only viewed once. It is the second DVD by Bob Cooley, author of "The Genius of Flexibility". It is the intermediate self stretches DVD and more information can be found here. I also ordered and am looking forward to recieving the third Z-Health DVD. It is called S-Phase: The Complete Athlete. Here is the blurb from Z-Health:

Introducing the Newest Z-Health Educational Product
We're incredibly excited to announce the release of the latest Z-Health Performance Solutions Educational Training DVD and Quick Start Guide.

We love it and are certain you will as well. Featuring Dr. Cobb and seven advanced-level Z-Health trainers, this instructional two-DVD set is a goldmine of information about the Z-Health approach to optimal athletic development. Here's a quick peek at just a few of the topics covered:

Static and Dynamic Stances. It all starts with a good stance
6 Visual Training Drills designed to improved field vision
Plyometric Training for developing explosive movement skill and speed
4 drills for creating explosive Linear Speed
3 Ground Speed Drills. Losing your balance or being knocked to the ground is part of the game. Learn to recover quickly
6 Athletic Transition Steps for maximum speed and quickness

We've also included a handy, pull-out Quick Start Guide for you to take to the track or gym with general training tips and two sample training programs to jumpstart your practice and creativity.

Since my movement patterns are so messed up and I still am working on the Z-Health Joint Mobility R and I phase DVDs, this one makes me just more curious about where these drills and movement patterns are going. I am sure it is meant for better and more effecient athletes than me, but I am curious as to where this approach to movement leads. You can check out Z-Health here:

Before today's workout I took my Vibram Five-Finger shoes out for a warmup run on the trails of Mine Falls. They worked OK. I felt the rocks through the bottom, but there wasn't really rough going on the run. I like this observation by Matt Metzgar on changing running speed and stride length when running over different trail conditions. This relates to barefoot running. Here is a video of Erwen LeCorre of MovNat. Even if you don't want to run comletely barefoot-I don't want to either, this video is a lesson in how the body runs over different surfaces when unshod.

I did receive great news yesterday. After 21 years of teaching at Mount Pleasant School I have finally graduated from the fourth grade! Next year I am switching schools to New Searles Elementary School and will be a fifth grade teacher. I am very excited for a change of school and look forward to my new position. On a side note, this may even help my running and fitness. The school is about 2-3 miles from my house and I can bike, scooter, or run there and I won't have to get on a highway or go through a traffic light. It also starts an hour later than my present school, so maybe I can learn to be a morning runner next year. Most of all, I am just looking forward to the change and a new challenge.

Finally, here is a marathon that I would have loved to participate in. At this years Utah Valley Marathon they had a footbike (kickbike) scooter division. You can read about it here. Here is a video:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Running With the Whole Body (even all ten toes!)

I have decided to inject some speed (or at least a 50 year slow-twitched muscle fibered runner's definition of speed) into my routine. While I am working on balancing my hips, I have been fighting extremely tight hip flexors (particularly on my left hip). When things are semi-balanced, I can run long distances slowly quite easily. Hoever, I feel I am just training myself to run slowly. I like distances better than speed, because my body has an endurance engine and not much fast twitch muscle fibers at all. So it is time to work on my weaknesses.

After running the Hollis Fast 5k on Wednesday, last week, my left hip and glutes were sore again. I decided to do add a new routine: work on running fast strides. I used to do this a few summers ago at a soccer field about a mile from my house. I would finish a workout there, take off my shoes, and do barefoot strides. After doing this for a couple of weeks I started running faster and more comfortably at races. I like the feeling of barefoot running and grass, but I am never sure about what I might step on, so I broke down and bought a pair of Vibram Five-Finger shoes at Alec's Shoes in Nashua (using a gift certificate I had won at a race to pay for a part of them) to do my strides in. I went down to the soccer field and started running in these new freaky (yet comfortable) shoes. I could not sprint. My left hip and quad were so tight I could not run fast at all. My right leg was ready to go, but the left just wanted to shuffle. I was discouraged as I don't like looking at the reality that my body doesn't work right.

I bought this model called the KSO. They are hard to put on-you have to get your toes in the "fingers" and can feel funny around the toes, but thy move easily with my feet. I am used to wearing minimalistic shoes all day long (my Vivo Barefoot shoes) so I had no problem transitioning to these for walking around. I mowed my lawn wearing them and let my wife and kids laugh at me throughout the day whenever I had them on!

I then decided to do something else new: I was going to stretch the living daylights out of my hip flexors. I got a rope and started doing a lot of hip flexor stretches (I guess I am doing quadricep stretches- but I feel it in the hip flexor): some static stretching, some active isolated stretching, and some resistance stretching. I just want to loosen up the tight muscle going across the front of my hips. When I have a free moment, I go back to stretching them out.

Sunday I ran the Rhody 5k in Rhode Island. I was not running like I would like to, but my hip was a bit looser than it had been. I was not fully comfortable and ended up running a 19:31 5k. I still felt like a jogger, however.

I got back to stretching out my hip flexors and the next day, Monday, I ran the Gate City Striders Mine Falls Summer Trail Series 5K. I felt a bit better and looser in this race. Except for coming to a complete stop when a bike would not get out of way, I ended up running 19:56.

Whenever I run faster (in a race or on the track) lately, my glutes tighten up (maybe it is the piriformis?) when I stop and I end up limping awkwardly. It happened again after this race, but I got right back to stretching my hip flexors.

Yesterday, I decided to pull an old book of mine off the shelf and reintroduce myself to the routines in "Running With the Whole Body" by Jack Heggie. I used this book over 10 years ago at a time when I ran just under an hour for the Newburyport 10 Miler and had some other fast races. It is based on Feldenkrais and uses an approach that has you moving your hips and shoulders separately and in sequence to not only feel proper movement but to pattern proper movements. I went through about an hours worth of hip movements last night. I felt a lot of weakness and tightness when doing what should be easy movements.

I felt good today for tonight's track workout. I got a four mile warm up in and felt decently balanced. Then I did some strides on the grass (in my 5-finger shoes- hoping no one would notice- but Steve Wolfe came over and had a bit of a laugh). The workout was 10 X 400 meters with a 200 meter recovery. I started off feeling pretty good and got right under 80 seconds for the first one. I did the first 8 all between 77 and 80 seconds. I didn't know when my hips would fall apart, but they stayed pretty stable and I was able to run faster because of that. I got a bit fatigued and slowed down some on the last two, but overall I was very pleased to run an entire workout without stopping between the intervals and trying to stretch away some tightness. My glute tightened up after stopping but I was still able to complete a warmdown and I got right back to stretching those hip flexors. I also sit on a baseball or softball where it is tight in my glutes and try to loosen them up that way.

So the plan at this time is to keep up what I was doing previously, add some strides throughout the week (hoping I can feel like I am sprinting soon), work some more on the "Running With the Whole Body" book and then get back to the point where running a race is less about trying to "force" my body to run and more about racing the course and the other athletes.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sailing Through the Hollis Fast 5K

Wednesday night I ran the Hollis Fast 5K. It is a straight fast run down Depot Road in Hollis. It is also an evening race which makes it fun. I wasn't in the shape I would like to be to "really" race a downhill 5K like this, but despite losing a week of running the week before the race, I was happy to be healthy enough to run.

I have run this race the first three years they had it, only missing last year, but something eventful happened each run. The first year I slipped and fell right before the finish line, because there was a right hand turn off the road into a parking lot and I cut the corner too close and slipped on the sand. The second year, I developed a massive blister on the bottom of my foot halfway down the hill. About a half-dollar size of skin came off and folded over. I couldn't run for many days after that. The third year two horses got loose during the race. Last year I skipped the race because of a calf injury. This year it was good to get back.

Not many Striders were running, so it wasn't as fun to have people to race against that I knew. Before the race I talked with Kevin McCusker, who I have met before here and at the Millennium Mile. I knew he was fast and would easily finish ahead of me in the Senior division.

I tried to start the race slowly, but I guess everyone else did too. After a couple of minutes about 10 people went by me during the first mile, included the three lead females all running together. Between miles one and two I kept pace with two other runners, trying to stay ahead of them. By mile two I wasn't feeling too energetic and competitive. I knew I onlly had to run a bit faster or just keep my pace if I wanted to break 18 minutes, but I haven't raced enough yet this year to put in a push. I got sort of lackadaisical and a few runners went by. I finished in 18:16, my slowest time on the course, but not as bad as I thought I might do. I know once I get my legs under me and a few more races that I will be capable of a much better efforts.

The race was won by fellow Strider, Ethan Crain in a very fast 14:57. I was 3rd in my age group. I finished in 18:16. Kevin did win in 17:07 and second place went to Donald Chapelle in 17:21. I think I started the race next to him and I met him after the race. Those are some fast seniors! I will say this however: Kevin told me how fast he was in college and I am running a whole lot closer to my college times then Kevin is, because he was a very fast collegiate runner. So as old as my legs feel, I haven't lost as much speed as other runners (but you can attribute that to the fact that even though I trained hard- I just was not a speed demon in either high school or college).

I enjoyed reading this cover story article in the latest issue of ESPN magazine. It is about 17 year old trying to be the youngest person to ever sail around the world. I have been fascinated by stories like this for years. In junior high school I read every library book I could find about adventurers who sailed or rowed boats across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, particularly those who did it solo in small boats. I got a paper route and saved my money for a couple of years to buy a sailboat as I thought that some day I would like an adventure like that. My paper route took me by Falmouth Harbor, right on the Falmouth Road Race course, and I would go and look at all the boats each day dreaming of which boat I would like to own. I bought a small boat and started sailing. In ninth grade I became fascinated by two things: I read the book "Dove" about 16 year old Robin Graham circling the globe in a sailboat and I started running cross-country. The book was interesting, but running soon replaced sailing as my interest. I eventually sold my boat. I still love reading adventure stories, but don't fancy going on sailing adventures any more. After that, I used to think I would rlike to run across the USA, and actually started planning such a trip during college, but I think I found it is better to read about other adventures than figure out how to accomplish one of my own. This story in ESPN reminded me of all the schemes and dreams I used to think about when I was younger. Now am I just happy if I can get a decent run in for an hour or so each day!

The biggest adventure I had in this boat, an O'Day Sprite, was at this lake. My brother had left my boat untied on the dock and somehow the wind started blowing it across the lake. I was on shore eating lunch and saw my boat sailing away with no one aboard. I dived in and started swimming after it. I swam and swam ignoring every one's orders to return to shore. I could get as close as 10 feet away from the boat but could never catch it. It sailed clear across the lake with me right behind it. I kept thinking I would get those dreaded and often warned about stomach cramps for swimming so soon after eating and had thoughts that I might die out there, but kept on swimming. Finally after over half an hour I made it to the other side of the lake where the boat had landed and sailed it back triumphantly. However, I got in big trouble as there was no other boat around to rescue me if I had floundered out there. My parents had been in absolute panic mode. That swim made it easy for me to pursue the sport of triathlon when it first came to New England in the early 1980s. I knew I could swim long distances.