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.