Friday, July 31, 2009

Running Economy: From your Heels to Your Arms

Two interesting studies caught my attention today (from posts on One study comes from 2008 and claims that the shorter your heel is the more competitive you will be at distance running. In the study by Melanie Scholz, of the VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, heel length was measured as the average of the horizontal distance between the ankle bone and the Achilles tendon on the inside and outside of the leg. The shorter the distance, the more energy your Achilles tendon can store. The stored energy gets released as you lift your foot off the ground. The study monitored 15 professional runners as they ran on a treadmill. Those with shorter heels had lower oxygen intake, indicating greater running efficiency. Now there is something else us slow guys can blame our parents for: thick heel lengths! By the way, when looking at the guy in the picture above, I should be faster than he is!

Well there is not much we can do to improve on things in our heels, but another study I saw relates to arm swing in walking. Steven Collins, of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, headed a study that shows that arm swinging is an integral part of the energy economy of human gait. The study which came out on Wednesday explains why we swing our arms when we walk, even when it takes more energy to do so. They looked at volunteers who were asked to walk with a normal swing, an opposite-to-normal swing, with their arms folded or their arms held by their sides.

The science is interesting, but I found this study most interesting in the light of some of the Feldenkrais exercises I have been doing this week based on the book "Running with the Whole Body". I learned that when I walk, I swing my right shoulder opposite of the right hip like I should, however my left shoulder seems to move in sync with my left hip (the opposite to normal swing-walk normally and see what your shoulder does, then walk with your arm straight down holding onto your thigh-notice what your shoulder does here-that is what my shoulder seems to do on the left side when I walk and run). This might be one pattern throwing off my running stride; creating imbalances, falls, and injuries. Besides the metabolic savings that I can gain when I straighten things out, I hope to find that I gain more coordination and balance as well as a greater ease in running. Who knows I may even get some speed back to make up for having thick heels

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Learning about "Running With the Whole Body"

I am looking forward to trying the Feldenkrais Method to try to get proper movement and running patterns back and to learn to run with my whole body. What is the Feldenkrais Method? (from their faq)
The Feldenkrais Method is named after its originator, Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. (1904-1984) [about], a Russian born physicist, judo expert, mechanical engineer and educator.

The Feldenkrais Method is a form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. Through this Method, you can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. These improvements will often generalize to enhance functioning in other aspects of your life.

The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics and an empirical understanding of learning and human development. By expanding the self-image through movement sequences that bring attention to the parts of the self that are out of awareness, the Method enables you to include more of yourself in your functioning movements. Students become more aware of their habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities and expand options for new ways of moving. By increasing sensitivity the Feldenkrais Method assists you to live your life more fully, efficiently and comfortably.

From what I have learned there are two branches to learning movement through Feldenkrais. You can go to Awareness Through Movement® classes where you explore movement in a group setting or you can go to Functional Integration® lessons with a practitioner who guides you through a more hands on form of movement lessons.

I have stretched, strengthened, mobilized, massaged, and done everything possible to try to get myself to run correctly and without misalignments. I just can't get the correct movement patterns down anymore. Running poorly with bad rotations and movements seem normal to me. I am hoping that this type of movement will help bring back an awareness so that I can run and function more smoothly and effortlessly. I intend to work with a practitioner: Charlie Murdach at 4seasonsfitness in Portsmouth. Charlie is a Feldenkrais practioner but also a marathoner, an Ironman, and an Ultramarathoner (Western States 100) so I am happy that a runner will be working with me. I also intend to study up on my own.

The way I am going about this is by going back to a book I used a few years back called "Running with the Whole Body" by Jack Heggie. The lessons in this book are based on the Feldenkrais Method. I first tried using this book in 1996. I remember doing some of the exercises at the time I put up one of my best races ever as a Strider (59:46 for 10 miles at the Yankee Homecoming). It was one of my best summers of racing. Of course I was younger, but maybe the book helped contribute.

I took out the book a month ago and did one lesson. Yesterday I took it out again and did the ninth lesson on the feet. A couple of things jumped out at me. First was the recall of doing these before. Second, it was hard to do the lessons and find your place in the book. Third, the movements are very similar to Z-Health but on a different level. I found some links suggesting the resemblance to Z-Health. Both are mobility (or movement) programs, but also both work on retraining neuromuscular patterns. Finally, the repeating of proper movement patterns reminded me of the SAID principle used in Z-Health. The acronym SAID stands for "Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands". In Z-Health it is defined as, "The body always adapts to exactly what it does." In school, I use the term, "Perfect practice makes perfect" with my students. If you practice something the wrong way, you are just training yourself to do that in the same way. I am continually practicing running wrong.

When I teach vocabulary at school, I don't just give my students a word and tell them to look it up in a dictionary and write down the definition and put it in a sentence. I know many teachers do this, however the students don't "learn" vocabulary this way. I use and define the word in as many ways as I can. The general rule is that a person has to be exposed to a word over 30 times before they "own" it. During the week my students and I will try to use the vocabulary words as often as we can (we even keep tallies at times) to reach that goal of getting them to own the word. It takes my guidance and their practice. I noticed that there was a lot of practice of the movements when doing the lessons in the book. I think the guidance and the "perfect" practice are pretty important.

Here are some links that mention Z-Health and Feldenkrais:
"A Year of Feldenkrais Training" Mike T. Nelson is mentioned here. I read his blog (see over on left). I would like to know more of his thinking on this.
"To Go Harder, Go Easier"
"Movement Precision"
"Learning Feldenkrais Exercises at Home"
Interesting comments on understanding joint mobility and joint coordination.

I think Z-Health has a lot of potential. I have all the Z-Health DVDs, but I have yet to visit a practitioner. A lot of the Z-Health exercises are done (particularly in the beginning levels) with the person standing with a straight posture. I know when it gets up in levels there is more movement involved, however as far as I can tell, Z-Health for the distance runner has not been done yet. I am talking about the coordination of movements, not just the movements around a joint. I am seeing that Feldenkrais seems more focused on the coordination of movements around full body movements. I think this coordination is exactly what I need. Maybe a Z-Health practitioner can teach you similar things, but it is not just one joint, or one muscle, or isolated movement that is my problem, it is how all the movements relate to each other.

Anyhow, I didn't like looking constantly at the book (I have an earlier version than the one Amazon sells). So I went online to see if I could find a video or audio lessons from the book. There was no video but I found you can buy the CD at Amazon: Running With The Whole Body™: Your Guide to Running Faster and Farther — Based on the work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. I wasn't sure if it was just a rereading of the book or if it was the actual lessons, but I downloaded the lessons onto my iPod. I did one lesson yesterday and one today. This is the way to do it! It is perfect! A video would take your concentration off what you are doing and you don't need it. The audio, particularly now with iPods, allows you do do the lessons in private (my family couldn't figure out why I kept walking around the house). These are lessons and the tone and pacing are perfect. You "are the video" in a sense as Jack Heggie gets you to pinpoint in your body what you are supposed to be looking for, feeling, or doing. When reading the book you tend to rush through the examples and exercises trying to get to the "payoff" moves. On the audio, there is no rushing and you become very aware of what you are usually not very aware of. I was surprised at some of the things that I noticed. There are 7 lessons that are about 40 minutes each. I have done two. The audio is defininitely the best way to follow the movements. I still read the book for additional thoughts before and after each lesson, but it just doesn't flow as well when you try out the movements as you read.

The first lesson was on the feet, the hips, and shoulders. You do a lot of walking around noticing what your hips and shoulders do as you walk. My right side wasn't bad except my hip did not do much. However on my left side, I could feel the hip twisting (I knew it did that) but strangely enough my shoulder moved the wrong direction. Instead of moving opposite of the left hip, it moved forward when the leg and hip moved forward. Weird! This helps explains how my left side always feels rotated forward of my right side. Then I was guided through exaggerated motions of walking with the legs, hips, and shoulders working in the proper way. It was very revealing and I also flashed back to doing these exercises (although not understanding the precision so well) thirteen years ago.

I did not do any running yesterday as I was banged up from my tumble during the race on Monday. Today I did the second lesson on connections in the back. This concentrates on the lower back (where I am very tight and stiff). By doing slow and gentle movements and explorations, I was able to get a better understanding on how movement of the legs and arms come from the torso. My back also loosened up an awful lot. It was a couple inches closer to the floor when laying flat after the exercises than before.

I wanted to try out what running would feel like so at exactly 12:00 on this very hot day I went out for a run. I tried to put some of the learning into place. I noticed a lot of things. My left side needed a whole lot of concentration, and I was running very differently trying to engage that shoulder. I felt very fluid (but not my normal) when I got things closer to correct. When I did, my stride became longer and more balanced. My hips were sitting completely different in their sockets (or it felt that way). I wasn't collapsing on my left side, in fact it felt like it was elevating. It was hard to keep this form and it took some concentration. If I didn't get things right with the left shoulder I could feel the pinching in my inner hip flexor against the bones of my hip. When I was done, I looked at my watch and I had my fastest time on this (my normal 8 mile loop) in the past couple months (and it was the hottest weather I have run in this year- getting all sweated up felt great!).

It looks like I may be on to some positive ways to get my stride back. It will take a long time I am sure, to relearn what I have forgot, but it makes more sense to work on how I run than just working on specific muscles, pains, or movements in isolation. I guess this is why it is called "running with the whole body".

What I want to picture is a straight backbone with arms and shoulder coordinated and the legs, torso, and arms rotated around that backbone. There is a tall and balanced posture that I know can be much more efficient. Strangely enough my posture has improved when I am standing or sitting. My parents used to be all over me because of my poor posture years ago. Last week they told me I need to teach one of my kids better posture like I have learned. So I guess it is noticeable to at least my mom and dad. But that is a standing static posture. I need to get the coordinated posture for running.

Speaking of which, I always watch the great European track meets (and American meets) when they are on TV or the internet (where you find them most often-at least until the World Championships). American women's middle distance running has been the revelation this summer. Maggie Vessey has been the biggest surprise (out of many). It was fun watching her win the Prefontaine classic 800m and then this "nobody" won her first major European race. But she was still chasing the A Standard to make the World Championship team. Yesterday, with two days to spare, she ran the fastest women's 800m in the world this year. Watch how tall she is when she runs and how straight, tall, and still her head is. She is a kicker who magically appears on the inside behind Christine Wurth-Thomas near the end of the race. That is some fine running and a super time of 1:57.84 (7th fastest American ever).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Recovering From Running

This is not the post I really want to make. I am finding it harder and harder to run. I believe I have to adjust the way I look at running. On reflection, I cannot get my body to do the serious training that I would like to do. In fact, I can't get it to accept mediocre training anymore, either. More to the point, I can't even get a successful run in much any more. My mind tells me what I would like to do as a runner, however my body is firmly telling me, "No more!"

I have not been able to run on any schedule this year, as I keep going through cycles of injury. I have had three times where I have missed about a week of running due to spasms in my left mid back. I have had a calf injury. I have also had the aches and pains of running through constant misalignment.

Strangely enough, I have also had the best year for having my back feeling healthy as I have had more "good" days where I have no pains as I go through my daily life then I have had in about 25 years. That is what I should really be focusing in on, if I were smart! I figure that is due to my working so hard on various things to try to get control and keep running. It has been a very successful year in that regard, except the "good" running days are far and few between. Running seems to stress things more.

I felt great overall when my calf was hurt (except I couldn't run) last week. Sunday night my hips went off again, and I couldn't sleep at all. I did the Mine Falls Trail 5 miler, but my whole left side was not working right and I was very unbalanced. That night I couldn't sleep again as I spent most of the night trying to work out the kinks that I get when the hip is "stuck". They go from head to toe and everything feels pinched or something on one side so that I can't be comfortable at all. That night I tried everything again. Nothing worked. Finally, I tried a move that seemed to work. I stood up straight and pushed one leg into the ground, and pulled the other leg straight up into the hip and lower back. When I tilted to the side a bit, all the kinks went away, and I was fine. However, the lower back, next to the backbone felt weak. I am not sure, whether I just activated a muscle or maybe "shifted" a vertebra back into position. It somewhat "felt" like that is what happened. My pains were gone, but my lower back felt "gimpy", almost like it might go into spasms again. It was a worrisome feeling.

I had come to a decision earlier in the week that I am unable to "healthily" get the miles in anymore and so I established, in my mind, that for now I would keep my runs short and not worry about missing so many days. Maybe I would have to work on what I could get out of the sport of running. I am not sure how, but somehow I will have to "act my age" and realize I can't run as much any more if I want my body to feel good and be healthy.

I went down to the Cape for a few days with my family. Feeling good from the back "move" I went for a 4 mile run. It felt good and I ran hard. Later that night I was out of sorts again. The next day I tried to run again and it was very unpleasant. My hips got worse and I was unable to run the next two days.

So how do you exit from being a runner after 35+ years of running?

I guess I have to agree with the physical therapist that told me about 10 years ago that, "You are so made for running, and yet you are so not made for running." I have tried all sorts of therapies, stretching routines, mobility exercises, strength exercises, and have read everything I can trying to get my body in balance.

While in Falmouth this week, I rode my kickbike while my family cycled on the "Shining Sea" bike paths in Falmouth. I saw hundreds of cyclists and quite a few runners. I saw most runners plodding along in all sorts of degrees of bad posture and form. Most of it was not pretty. I don't want to become one of those runners, barely making it down the road in a shuffling sort of run. I recall seeing another runner last year on the same paths, shuffling at a snail's pace on the bike paths. I could have walked faster without trying. He was barely moving. I remembered that runner from back almost 30 years ago, when he was a decent local runner who could run quite effortlessly all around town. That is not what I want to become!

Heck I was even having a rough time walking comfortably through the woods out to the "Knob" off of Quisset Harbor. It was only about 1/4 mile of walking but I could not even get comfortable doing that.

I guess I have to adjust. I am trying to look at my running now as something to do when I can without overdoing it. I hope to keep running races and track workouts, but will have to rethink about marathons and even half marathons (what to do about Applefest this year?). If I don't feel like running, I should bike, do some kettlebells, or something else to get rid of energy. Trying to run 3-4 days a week maybe better than trying to run every day (particularly when I have been unable to run that much anyhow this year!).

I need to run on the dirt trails more rather than the road. I need to run faster (I usually feel better) than run farther.

I do envy other runners who seem to only get the basic injuries. At least you know with a bad knee or other injury what it it and after a time it should heal. I think my body is just too "adaptable": rather than getting an overuse injury, it would shift and change balance to keep out of pain. It is just that my body had adapted to all these weird compensations and I can't get it back to the free and natural way of running. There is no connection between my shoulders, arms, back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. It seems everything works independently instead of together. Particularly one side works different than the other. No amount of foam rolling, stretching, strengthening, or other techniques seems to be able to "retrain" my brain and body back to a smoother running form. Basically, I guess my body has "forgot" how to run. Sure some people think I can go fast for my age, but that is more will power and just getting my body in any way possible to the finish line. So I keep running with these weird movements and patterns that are just running down my body.

So I need to slow down! but I am not sure how.

And then Matt Metzger writes about something he is trying on his blog called Feldenkrais. I have heard about this "movement" therapy before. It is used as the basis for the movement in the book "Running with the Whole Body" by Jack Heggie that I have used to some improvement in the past.

I found an interesting article from a Feldenkrais teacher named Steve Hamlin called "Running and Skeletal Alignment". He writes:

Repetitive, forceful-shearing-pounding on all the weight bearing joints - when alignment is faulty - is a great stress on the body, the brain and the psyche. It can certainly be considered a form of self-abuse if is long continued, using lots of will power and determination to heroically push through injuries.

Yeah that is me. I think it is those "shearing" forces that I am constantly battling. He talks about the breakdown in alignment for many people today. Of course, he recommends using Feldenkrais to learn how to move naturally again, which will help with alignment. For a quick fix, he recommends "The Malalignment Syndrome" DVDs (these are not Feldenkrais). I have found these on my own earlier in the year. I found them helpful, but I think I tend to overdue the movements and push too hard. I would need someone to show me how to do these properly and where can you go for that?

He then predicts that if you run through your malalignments that:

If you ignore this and in spite of malalignment push ahead with will power to run at any cost - (as I did for many years) to lose weight, or get fit, or to get the "runner's high" - I think I can predict how it will be for you:
•You'll be puzzled why some other people seem to run much faster, easier, with apparently no effort.

•You'll begin to get "down" on yourself since you'll think your will power is insufficient, your technique is flawed, or something else must be wrong with you (actually you'll be right, there).

•You'll find that it continually takes will power to make yourself run. You won't ever fully come to a place where you really enjoy it, and enthusiastically want to do it. That's because an innate wisdom in your body knows you are hurting yourself.

•If you compete, your times will be mostly mediocre. You may have a few bright moments, good days. You can easily develop an inferiority complex from this.

•The more you increase your workouts, the harder you try, the more you will be disabled by "setbacks" - various inexplicable injuries.
•You and/or your coach will think you are injury prone.
•It may seem that your ligaments and tendons are prone to injury - while actually they may be fine, it just that the structural malalignment puts a tremendous stress upon them.
•The "runner's high" will be mostly why you run. That nice feeling after a long run, all those endorphins, let you feel very comfortable in your body - for awhile. It's something you don't have at any other time, so it is natural you'd become addicted to it. Then you have to run again. This is a particularly vicious syndrome, partly because it is usually unconscious. Feldenkrais work will quickly (or, it may take some years, to be realistic) show you how to create amazing comfort in your body, without running. Then, if you do run, you can do it for the right reasons.

OK! Lots of those predictions are so true of me. I am not sure if there is an answer, except to be smart for a change. Maybe I will look into Feldenkrais, but I have the feeling that I would be a long term case, and I don't have the money to do a big program like this. Whether it works or not, I am not sure. I know from what I read, that it matches my feelings about my body not knowing how to move properly anymore.

Everything I have tried has not really worked. My body innate pattern of running is just not changing. This is last July's Ultimate Runner.

Rich Blake took this photo this year and things have not changed much.

The left femur still rotates in, the left foot twists out and my shoulders and hips are not aligned. I don't know if anything can fix it any more. If I had assurances that Feldenkrais or any other method could permanently get back my old running form, I would certainly give it a try.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Drinking on the Run: a Relic from the Marathon Boom

Here is a strange item from the running boom. I think I got this in the early 1980's at the Boston Marathon. I found it in a box of things I was cleaning out. It is a plastic straw that you wore around your neck during a marathon. It was supposed to make drinking from a cup easier and less messy while you were racing. I remember trying it out, but I don't remember how well it worked. I do recall it bouncing around my neck and constantly trying to keep the straw inside my singlet.

At least that it what the people at Adidas said it was for!

Here is a picture of Craig Virgin on his way to a 2nd place finish at the 1981 Boston Marathon wearing the same Adidas straw around his neck:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cracking the Paleo Diet

Here are some photos of the newest piece of art(?) installed in Nashua. The sculptor calls it "The Birth of Venus 2". I asked two kids walking down the road what it was a sculpture of and they said it was a butt. Actually it looks like 4 butts stuck together. You can find the statue (worth a chuckle) off Locke Street in Nashua next to the John G. Foster statue in the French Hill section of the city. This sculpture cracks me up and I am sure the neighborhood will have some fun with this!

Yesterday I ran and my calf stiffened up again. It was back to mountain biking today, but I really enjoy doing that anyhow. I think the calf stiffness comes from the way my foot is hitting the ground. I just got back to running after a week off partly due to the fact that I had found a tight spot near my ankle and released it through some pressure and mobility work. When I started running yesterday, the muscles over the shin were real tight. Instead of stopping and dealing with it, I ran on and the calf stiffened. I forgot about that front of the foot stiffness until this afternoon and worked on the area a bit and the whole ankle and foot started working better and the calf did not feel as stiff. It is sort of frustrating losing another day of running, but on the other hand, I believe my balance and form is straightening "slowly" and as it keeps unwinding from all the tightnesses and misalignments new areas keep popping up that need some attention. I guess that is a good thing!

I have been reading two books this week on the Paleo Diet. I find them interesting and while I don't know if it is a diet I would follow religiously, I find the reading about nutrition and healthy eating is helping me become a better eater. I finished reading "The Paleo Diet for Athletes" by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel. I really enjoyed hearing about the history of how humans (hunters and gatherers) ate 10,000 years ago. I would like to read "Born to Run" again because some of that book dealt with this.

The other book I started reading is called the Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. I recall when the author was a 2:19 marathoner and triathlete (finished fourth in the Hawaii Ironman). He advocates a different lifestyle today. It is based on the Primal Diet (similar to Paleo) but also the Primal healthy lifestyle. He is probably correct in one thing: the constant stress of marathon and endurance training is not healthy. I don't want to deal with that thought just yet. I certainly can apply some of the ideas in both books as being "fit" is not the same thing as being "healthy".

A few years ago, my daily summer diet looked something like this:

Breakfast: large orange juice (fruit for the day) and 2 or 3 bowls of cereal (if I was feeling healthy, I would eat Honey Nut Cheerios. If not (and it was in the house) I would eat a sugary cereal (favorites: Honeycomb, Captain Crunch, or Sugar Puffs). I figured that I run so I could eat what I wanted.

Snack: (cookies or anything else quick to eat that was lying around)

Lunch: Sandwich, soda, cookies, maybe even some ice cream

Snack: cookies or other sugary processed food

Dinner: whatever was provided (spaghetti, hamburgers, etc.) soda, desert,

Late night: cookies or ice cream

I have been using principles from "The Warrior Diet" off and on since the winter, but have got off it here and there. Anyhow today's diet based on some of the ideas in my new readings:

Breakfast: scrambled eggs with peppers and onions mixed in

Snack: a small bit of pistachio nuts and some cherries

Lunch: a few small pieces of chicken and a salad I made with spinach, onions, peppers, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, and sunflower seeds

snack: an apple

Dinner: Salmon, peas, rice (not on the paleo diet)

Snack: well after taking my family to see the butt statue we did stop at Dairy Queen and I had a chocolate ice cream cone (can't be perfect!)

As you can see I have been learning to change my diet dramatically. I do miss the days when I could eat whatever I wanted!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Ultimate Runner

Last night the Gate City Striders held their Ultimate Runner competition. It is a yearly event where runners torture themselves through 4 races in one evening. The events are a 400m, an 800m, and a mile race on the track, followed by a trail 5k race in Mine Falls Park. I always look forward to this event because if it doesn't destroy you, it certainly will make you a bit tougher in future races. I was a little worried about being destroyed this year however due to to my soleus/calf injury from two weeks earlier. After not running in order to let it heal, I only had a 5 mile workout on Saturday, a five mile trail race on Monday, and an 8 miler on Tuesday going into the Ultimate Runner competition. The area is still a bit tight, but it is not sore and running doesn't seem to bother it anymore-so I was hoping that 4 races in one night would not reinjure it.

I only did a lap and some strides to warm up for the 400. Due to the fact that I have no fast twitch muscles I cannot sprint. Despite running enthusiastically and hard through all four years of both high school and college, my 440 PR is a weak and measly 62 seconds. The only reason I ran that fast was because I did it a day after running a 2:48 marathon in college. I joined the track team for some intervals after that race and lo and behold I set a PR in one of them. I think my slow twitch muscles were destroyed from the marathon so I used my "speed" muscles to attain that time. I think I did three or four 440s before stopping which only made me more sore the next day because all my muscles then became stiff.

I didn't run a marathon the day before the Ultimate Runner so I just used the 400 as my warm up. I knew a bunch of guys would go off as heroes on the 400 and pay for it the rest of the evening. I just wanted to get it out of the way. I ran a time of 73 seconds which was age-graded down to a time of 63 seconds (not bad-close to that old PR!). That was a good way to get loose with the 800 was next.

The 800 was probably my best run of the night. I felt better than the 400. I ran a 2:38 which age graded down to a 2:17 (about what I could run in high school-I know it is slow for a high schooler but I had no speed in my legs even though I did run lots and hard in high school).

The mile was next. I ran 5:51, but expected better. The lack of running recently was catching up. It age-graded down to a 5:09. I am one of the few high school runners that could not break a 5 minute mile no matter how well trained I was or how hard I tried, so again this age graded time was similar to my high school times.

Finally the 5k came. I used to love the Ultimate Runner 5k going back a few years. All the other runners would be tired out and my endurance would be kicking in. I used to go out for a fast lead and hold onto it as long as I could. This year I ran comfortably but the endurance was not there- and certainly not the speed. I ran a 20:11 which age graded down to an 18:02. I am starting to like these age-graded times.

So how have things changed in 10 years. I found the results from 1999. We ran the mile first back then. I ran a 5:20 mile, a 71 second 400, a 2:33 800, and then an 18:50 5k. My age graded score was 70.31% and I was 10th overall.

Jim Hansen 40 5:20 1:11 2:33 18:50 10 70.31

The difference in times from the previous year (1998) were remarkably consistent!

Jim Hansen 39 5:19 1:09 2:33 18:51 4 0.7032

Compare that to this year times and except for the fact that the mile was run first rather than third 10 years ago, I can't explain the loss of endurance compared to the loss of speed.
Jim Hansen 50 5:51 1:13 2:38 20:11 8 71.56%

At least this year was better than last year, although I believe last years races where in much hotter conditions. My form was way off last year too!

Jim Hansen 49 6:00 1:16 2:44 20:28 7 68.98%

This year, besides limited running in the past two weeks, my form felt better. I attribute this to two things: the foam roller work I have been doing has loosened my hamstings and back and I have been using a few new "cues" I started working on this week.

The cues come from a new book called "Master the Art of Running" by Malcolm Balk and Andrew Shields. I had a previous edition of the book but got this for the nice pictures of world class runners and to see what has been updated. The book bases its premise on using the Alexander Technique which has something to do with holding your head and neck in certain way to guide your movement. The book does not instruct you in this mysterious technique so you are left wondering how to do it. You are told to "stand" and "run" tall. How you do this is the trick!

However on reading the book, I looked at my posture, both in sitting, walking, and running as something that "collapses". I may shift down over one hip when sitting or running and just sag rather that sit or run tall. Now I am concentrating on not collapsing. It is easy to do while sitting, hard to achieve while running. The authors do instruct in some visual cues that you can use to run with better posture. Some of the things I am trying to work on is: keeping my feet on the ground in the smallest amount of time possible and trying to "lead" with my knees. To do this I work on releasing my ankle at the end of a stride and then releasing the back of the knee as I move forward. I also am trying that elusive "running tall"-like a string is pulling your head up in the air. There is a lot of interesting and thoughtful information in this book that make it an interesting read as well as one that can help you tweak your posture so as to run more efficiently.

Back to that foam roller work. The hamstring stretch and release that I described here is wonderful (can't find a video that shows the proper technique online so you have to follow my directions). After the races last night, my hamstring started tightening up. I notice it as my leg starting to twist. I could feel an old pattern of misaligment and pain starting to come on. I foam rolled the hamstring and got loose and felt great today. I decided not to run today after all the racing and just make sure I don't invite that calf injury back.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Listen to the whipsers...before they turn into screams! and Foam Roller Tips!

I read a line like that in a book about paying attention to what your body is saying to you, so that small injuries do not turn into larger ones. Eleven days ago at the Gate City Striders track workout I felt a twinge in my soleus muscle that knocked me out of the workout. I took a day off and tried to run that Friday. I had to walk home the last two miles of an 8 miler as the muscle just tightened up. This is an injury that I have had 3 times previously in the past three years, so I wasn't happy.

I decided to be smart and not run. After a few days I could feel a marble-sized knot up in my calf (probably the source of the injury). I couldn't massage the thing away so I kept waiting. Last Monday I kickbiked down to Mines Falls to the the trail run series. I started warming up but after 100 yards of running I knew enough not to run. So I helped out directing traffic on the course; in the woods, with no bug spray on. After 50 minutes my legs were eaten alive.

I did a lot of biking last week but kept away from running until Saturday. I did 1 mile on the treadmill using my Vibram Five-finger shoes. I was up on my toes and felt no pain or stiffness. I went out then in my running shoes and did 4 miles, after one mile the soleus started tightening up a bit and I thought I would have to walk again, but I focused on my stride and made it home. Yesterday I only biked to keep things healing.

Tonight I decided to give it a go in the Mines Falls race series. This time I decided to take it easy and try something different. Instead of running the 5k course I ran the 5 miles course (a first for me). I actually enjoyed the course and didn't trip or run into a tree during the last difficult mile (my worry). I don't have the best balance! I also stayed on the course without getting lost. It was the relay race night, but I and a few others ran the whole race. I took it out easy and after a mile started passing a few people. At the relay exchange I got passed again by a fresh runner but soon got my position back. I hit the 3 mile mark at 19:00. I don't know how accurate it was. I picked up the pace just a bit, but then my heart started racing too much all of a sudden (I don't recall that ever happening before). It calmed down after about 20 seconds. I actually liked the variety of terrain and constant turning as opposed to the steady running at the same pace of the 5k course. The last mile was tricky and I slowed so as to keep on my feet and on the trail. It didn't feel as hard an effort as the 5k usually does as my speed was slower. I think I finished with a time of 33:44. The best thing was that my calf and soleus (although still not fully loose) did not bother me during the race. I believe I was very patient about letting it heal, even though it was very hard not to run, because I was itching to run all week. Hopefully tomorrow it will feel good enough to run again.

Foam Roller Tips

Yesterday I spent a good hour on the foam roller, something I haven't used too much this year at all. I was concentrating on doing the foam rolling properly and with purpose and used some new cues to help me gain more benefit from the foam roller.

Here is a video of how I used to use the foam roller on my hamstrings. This is how most people use the roller. It never really worked that well for me using this technique.

This is not the way I did it yesterday. I don't have a video, but here is a better way that I have learned. Sit on the foam roller with it up against your sacrum. Do one leg at a time so bend your other leg for balance and movement purposes. If you are rolling the right hamstring place your right arm straight behind you with your hand giving you balance on the ground. Your left hand does not have to be on the ground. Now, here is the important part. Sit up: head and chest lifted up. Move your hips back. Your hip is the hinge and as you press your hip back the roller will slide over your hamstring. Keep that leg straight and off the floor if you can. As your hip moves back your "straight" upper body will move forward, almost like what you would do when you bend forward to touch your toes. But, you are not bending forward, you are pushing your hips back. This will really feel good on the hamstring and gave me a far superior stretch and release. Don't forget to shift your hip so you are getting the hamstring on the side too! If you hit a painful spot stay on it until it does not hurt!

Here is a video of foam rolling the calf muscles. This is basic. What I do is put on ankle on top of the other and roll one leg at a time. Also point the toes and dorsiflex then also. Do the sides of the calf too, by pointing the toes to the side. If you don't get as much help as you would like, rather than use a foam roller use some PVC pipe that you can get from Home Depot. I cut up some 5" or 6" pipe and that gives you a very stiff roller!

I worked my calf muscles and soleus muscle, my quads and ITB band (mine is so thick and tight I can never get it to hurt- even if I put all my body weight on it). I worked my lower back and upper back also. Here is another trick I learned for the mid and upper back. As you roll over either side, you can get a deeper stretch and release by lifting up your hands to over your head. It works like this. If you are doing your mid back, first lift your hands up towards the ceiling. Then pull your wrists straight back with your arms remaining straight- don't bend the elbows. Next, pull your straight arms back towards your ears, like you are lifting your hands over your head. Don't twist the wrists to either side, keep the hands pointing back. This is not easy! Now roll with your arms in this position. As you do each side you can use your opposite hand to pull the fingers back on the side being stretched and rolled. You can go right over your shoulder blades to loosen them up doing this. This also gives a far superior stretch and release. I felt much looser today after all the foam rolling.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Swimmer's Way of Doing Intervals

Dan Henderson #971 is just ahead of Craig Virgin in this 1988 race.

One of the most unusual ways of doing track intervals is the way former teammate Danny Henderson did some of his post-collegiate training. Danny was a teammate of mine at Wheaton College and he was an Div. 3 NCAA Champion in the 5000m, 10,000m, and X-C. He won the NCAA Div. 3 XC championships in 1978 and then 2 days later finished 10th in the NCAA Div. 1 Championships (in those days the Div. 2 and 3 champions were allowed to compete at the Div. 1 Nationals). After graduating from Wheaton, my recollection is, that Danny trained with the Wheaton College swim coach Jon Lederhouse before joining Nike's Athletics West and moving to Indiana to train with Jim Spivey and coach Sam Bell. Danny would eventually run a track 5000m time of 13:23:57. He still holds the Div. 3 5000m best time of 13:50.

It was while being coached by Jon Lederhouse that Danny took to doing intervals as a swimmer would. He would start each interval at a certain time: for example on 4/28/83 he did 2 "buildup miles", then 6x800 on 2:45 [2:17, 2:17, 2:19, 2:20, 2:19, 2:19]. According to this workout the 2:45 between starting each interval gave him about 26-28 seconds rest. Here is the workout on 6/10/83 (3mi w/u, 3x1mi on 6:00 [4:51, 4:53, 4:52], 7x400 on 1:20 [70,67,67,65,64,64,61] PM- 3 miles). His workouts in 1983 leading to a 13:30.44 5000m on 6/19/83 at the TAC 5000m Finals can be found here on local running legend Bobby Hodge's website.

Here is an article from the April 1986 issue of The Runner magazine on Dan Henderson in their "The Young Lions" feature.

During my third year of doing triathlons back in 1985, I decided it was time to learn how to swim properly. I joined a swim team at Tufts University that had a weekly workout that included (in another lane) some of New England's best triathletes. This is when I learned that this is how swimmers do their intervals. No matter how slow or fast you go, you start the next interval at the appointed time. I believe I only ran one track workout using this concept. Many years ago, at a Gate City Striders workout we did 12 X 400m starting every interval at a set time. It was a very short rest: I was getting less than 30 seconds. It was one of my best Strider track workouts ever. I was doing them in around 75-78 seconds and getting a longer rest than anyone else!

This is the form of a champion runner.

This is the form of an also-ran from the same race. I have been working on my arm swing this week. Looks like I should have worked on it 30 years ago!

I got 8 days in a row of running before Wednesday's track workout. I showed up at the track and was very tired. I had a little tightness on my right soleus muscle. I was having a hard time keeping up on the warm-up to do 5 hills.. I jogged 3 and stopped. We ran back to the track to do a timed 2-miler. I had the feeling that due to my sluggishness, I might have to drop out on the first lap. I decided to give it a go. I took the lead right away to see if running faster would wake-up my legs. I was surprised I could even run at the pace I was doing. After one lap, I drifted back about 8 yards, but then worked my way up to the lead four runners, where I stayed for a mile (5:51). Unfortunately, my lower leg got tighter and tighter and I started limping a bit so I slowed down and stopped so as not to aggravate the injury. I took yesterday off. Today I went for an 8 mile run. I still had the tightness in my soleus but otherwise I felt good. After 6 miles it started tightening up even more. I knew not to run any further so I had to walk 2 miles home. Tonight the soleus and calf are as tight as can be, there will be no July fourth race tomorrow. I hope I didn't damage things more, by running today.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Moving Naturally: Play Your Way to Fitness

I am a 50 year old wanna-be athlete with a falling apart body and a determination not to feel so old. I am trying everything possible to hold my body together to not only run, but to run fast. I love the idea of running and my history as a runner (not meaning being a real fast guy-but as someone who has continuously competed for over 35 years). Unfortunately doctors told me to give it up over 20 years ago and my body seems to want to agree, but I refuse. Things don't often work right and running is usually not fun, but it is what I do.

I have not yet found the magic formula to keep me running, but I am willing to explore all avenues. However as I sit and contemplate this aging body and its refusal to run efficiently, I think back to when I was young and the outdoors was my world. I liked to run, but I liked to do a lot of other things too. I played. I climbed trees. I swam at the beach. I wrestled the other guys in the neighborhood. I ran through the woods jumping over downed trees. I played the current sport of the season: football, baseball, street hockey or whatever with all the neighborhood kids. I was constantly moving and at play. Indoors was not fun (well unless we were tearing apart the house)!

Nowadays, I find I avoid other movements because it may throw out my back and hips or throw off my balance and keep me from running. I have been thinking that maybe I have it all wrong. Sure I have been willing to try new adventures through the years: I was a triathlete back when no one really knew what a triathlon was (1983). I picked up the biking and swimming on my own and my third triathlon was an Ironman distance race. I got into bicycle racing for a few years. I also picked up kickbiking almost 10 years ago, and even tried snowshoe racing this winter (even though I had bought my racing snowshoes about 10 years ago). You might notice a problem with all my activity. It is all straight ahead repetitive motioned movement. While I may have developed a great cardiovascular system and competed with great endurance, I really am not athletic in my movement patterns. I try to go one direction as fast as I can, but there are so many more movement patterns in being an athlete. I no longer "know" those patterns.

As I view the Z-Health S-Phase DVDs on perfecting precise athletic movements, I realize how little I know about movement. I also realize how little I do to move athletically or functionally in all directions.

I have been reminded after reading some posts on Matt Metzgar's blog, about movement and play. I also recall when I started this blog over a year ago after my participation on a thread on called "Aging and Feeling Good While Running"' It was a great thread (I am TDF). With all the advice given, one thing was clear, get back to "playing". Hey, young guys, if you want to know what it will feel like in a few years when you hit 50, read that thread, there is some good stuff in there.

While Z-Health has you working on precise drills to move athletically, another interesting movement idea out there comes from (Move Naturally). MovNat sums up there basic philosophy with, "MovNat trains you to become a well-rounded natural athlete, ready for a wide range of practical actions in various kinds of situations." You don't work out in the gym, you work outdoors in nature (Men's Health article here). Another article.

The 12 key movements of MovNat are:
Walking on all fours

(I liked to jump as a kid. I would climb up in a tree and jump down from as high as I could. I remember the numb feeling in my legs when I would do this. I sometimes wonder if those jumps could be part of the problem with my hips.)

Here is a MovNat video showing these movements outdoors in nature. It sort of reminds me of a grown up kid outdoors playing. It looks like fun and I would love to have a backyard like that to play in! It also reminds me a bit of doing Parkour (free running) but out of the city.

I was also interested in one of Matt Metzgar's posts on quadrupedal movement enough to see what it was. Here is a video. I am curious as to how it would feel on my back and hips. I have the sneaking suspicion that it might feel very good as it is a natural movement. Now, I need to find a place to go play. My neighbors might think I am certifiably nuts.

The point is that maybe my body is breaking down because I have always been so sport specific and as I got out of college and into the real world (or was I leaving the real world), I stopped playing in all the various ways that I did when I was younger and running around wild. The answer may be to get out there and move in all ways possible. I will have to try to incorporate these ideas in my workouts and my daily life. I posted a previous MovNat video on barefoot running here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Flossing Your Nerves: That Tight Muscle Might Actually be an Irritated Nerve

When I bought the book Run for Life: The Injury-Free, Anti-Aging, Super-Fitness Plan to Keep You Running to 100last week (which I absolutely love-I pick it up whenever I get a chance and read or review it) I also bought a more glitzy looking running book (I had a few gift cards to spend) called Running Well.

I have come to the opinion that there are two types of runners: the biomechanically gifted runner and the runner who for some reason is imbalanced and suffers a multitude of running injuries. I think the biomechanically gifted runner runs with the same stride pattern and movements, however the biomechanically challenged runner has a body and running form that changes as it meets stressors. The gifted runner gets the typical running injuries that are easy to diagnose and remedy. I do not think that this runner is injured less, as they do stress the muscles, joints, and ligaments in the same way with each run. However the "challenged" runner's body adapts as it goes. If a twinge is felt somewhere, they change the stride or thier posture. Due to this or because of this their body gets out of balance and then it is continuously making new adaptions as it tries to find a way to run pain-free. Eventually you get all out-of-sorts (like me) and your body completely loses the plot on how to run correctly and move correctly.

I also think there are two types of running books: the books that keep rehashing the same formulas and stretches and the books that go beyond to find alternative and unorthodox ways to keep an out-of-balance runner running. There are plenty of books in the first category and very few in the second. I would place Run for Lifein the second category as a book that very much goes beyond the traditional thinking to help the runner (and there are more of us out there) who keep running even when their running stride and injury patterns tell them it is time to give-it-up!

I bought Running Welleven though it looks like a book that belongs in the typical running book category. It is slick, has nice color photographs, and is printed on nice paper. Compared to
it looks a lot nicer! Run for Lifeis printed on paperback book style paper, its black and white photos are not clear, and their are misspelling galore (I keep finding more). As a teacher, it reminds me of a kid who turns in a paper that is a bit sloppy but is very interesting and enjoyable to read as opposed to a student who turns in a fluff paper but it is neat and just looks "perfect" but a bore. There were some things in "Running Well" that caught my eye, so I decided to buy it, use up a gift card, and look at it later.

It is glossy and covers everything that a running book "should", but I liked some of the stretches and strength work and I also saw a couple of pages on something called "nerve flossing". I have read a wee bit about this last year and even bought a computer cd called "Run" from Humanlabsports in England that I only paid attention to a few times as it was a lot of glitz to get to a few stretches. It did incorporate nerve flossing in with the stretches.

The idea with nerve flossing is that your nerves can get inflamed or traumatized because of poor biomechanics, injuries, or imbalances. They will get sore and can affect your range of motion or mobility. Most runners are familiar with the sciatic nerve. Another nerve important to running is the femoral nerve. You don't stretch nerves like a muscle, but you can do something called "flossing the nerve". You use a slight tension to "mobilize" a nerve. Then you move around the tension to floss the nerve. This supposedly loosens the connective tissue around the nerve.

If this embedding works you can see the pages on nerve flossing on google books from Running Well

Here is an example of nerve flossing for the sciatic nerve. This is similar to what is on the "Run" cd and a little different than how it is portrayed in the Running Well book. Instructions are here:

Here is a video with more explanations, particularly geared for someone with piriformis syndrome.