Thursday, April 24, 2008

Back on Track: track intervals, kickbikes, and two new stretches

Wednesday night was the first track workout for the Gate City Striders. I love doing intervals on the track. It brings me back to high school and college pain and fun. When track workouts start, I start getting into shape. I haven't done speedwork since the end of October or raced in 2008 so I wasn't sure how enthusiastic and cooperative my legs would be.

The weather was warm and perfect. I decided to celebrate the weather by riding my Kickbike to the track (about 4 miles). I haven't used it since the summer so I knew I would get a double dose of sore muscles by the end of the day.

The workout was 5 x 1000m. I did them all a little bit under 3:45 pace which is a 6 minute mile pace. The hips were wobbly and my stride was off kilter but it was good to finally get some faster paced running in

My left lower back tightened up right above the hip but I still had to kickbike home. After getting home I tried a bit of a Yoga routine that someone named Sadienardini put on the Runner's World discussion boards. She writes:

"Hi all, Sadie here. I'm the Director of East West Yoga in Manhattan. Every year around Marathon time, I begin to include the following poses for my runner students. Do them, in sequence, after you run when you're still warm for the greatest benefit. You'll release knees, calves, achilles, quads, hamstrings, IT band, hips and low back--all in less than to minutes! It's a great investment.

Try a Downward-facing Dog Pose first to get a gentle stretch down the back of your legs.

Then do all 4 poses for a minute or longer each. This is when the body starts to make real changes in your flexibility. Breathe slow and deep through your nose, to calm your body and mind, and get a ton of oxygen in to help cart away the lactic acid that can make you sore later.

1] Runner's Lunge: from hands and knees or downward dog, put one knee down, step the other foot between your hands next to the same side thumb [right foot to right thumb]. straighten the front leg and flex your toes back as you pull your hips bak. Fold over your front leg with a straight spine.

2]Funky Foot Lunge [gets the peroneal muscle along the side of your calf + the outer knee and IT]: from Runner's Lunge, step the same front foot to the opposite hand [right foot to left thumb]. roll to the pinkie toe outside of the foot, and lift the big toe side off the floor.

as you bow forward, straighten your front leg and keep pulling that hip back to square. as you progress, try lifting the back knee and doing it with 2 straight legs. Yowza!

3] The Magic Pose: Pigeon. This pose should be in every runer's stable. It opens every single muscle below the waist, which in turn opens every one above!

From hands and knees, place your right knee behind your right wrist. let your foot move over underneath your left hip somewhere. make sure your front knee is slightly wider than your hip.

Scoot your back leg straight out behind you, in line with its hip. your hips should be squared forward, even if you're high off the ground. That just means you need it

You should feel a stretch in your front leg hips, glutes and/or hamstring, and your back leg psoas [front of the hip]. As you progress, you won't feel as much sensation, so to go deeper, widen your front knee + move it slightly back, and slide your back leg behind you more.

Lean forward, forearms down or on a block, release your head, and breathe.

4]Magic Quad Stretch: from Pigeon, squeeze your knees into the floor for support, and bend your back knee, and being sure to keep the foot and shin aligned over your thigh, reach back with the same hand [right hand, right leg].

take the outer foot or ankle, and gently press your foot back into your hand to cause a slight muscle contraction [protects from overstretching] AS you pull the foot closer to your hip.

Return to hands and knees, or Dog Pose, and repeat all 4 poses on the other side.

Over a short time, this sequence will make a huge difference in your flexibility, joint health and performance."

I did a light version of the Funky Foot Lunge (I liked the way it felt earlier in the day) and it seemed to get rid of my hip tightness. That is cool!

Then I found this version of a hamstring stretch that I also really liked. It is located with some other good stretches here. It is called the Hamstring Rotational Stretch and comes from the Sports Medicine Institute International.

"Hamstring Rotational Stretch
Standing Version
Stand on your right foot and place your left heel on a surface well below waist
level. Face straight forward and keep both knees locked. Lean forward from the
waist and keep your back straight until you feel a good stretch. Rotate your torso
right and then left so that you are alternately facing to the inside and outside of
your leg. Repeat for 20 reps while gradually increasing the stretch. Stay relaxed
and keep you movements slow and controlled. Try pointing your toes towards your
head and away from your head in order to modify the stretch.
Repeat above exercises reversing the positions and movements of the right and left

I liked the movement of the torso over the hamstring. It seemed to hit a spot where I am very tight. After the stretches, I felt better than I would have expected. Now I am just sore, instead of sore and out of alignment!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

2008 Women's Olympic Trials Marathon

We went down to the Olympic Trials Marathon in Boston. What a great day! The weather was perfect for spectating and the many loops on the course made it wonderful to watch as the race unfolded. We watched the race from the Mass. Ave bridge and from Memorial Drive. We just shifted positions based on where the runners were going. I think we saw the runners go by 12 times. I took some video using my Sony digital camera. I uploaded some of it on Youtube. Here are a few clips. The rest can be seen under my youtube name, marathonnh.

3 miles with race leader Magdalena Lewy Boulet.

Mile 3 Chase packs

Mile 6 Chase packs

Joan Benoit Samuelson. She can still run but runs as awkward as I feel!

Olympic Trials champion Deena Kastor at 25 miles.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Unusual Shoe Recommendation at Boston Marathon Expo

I made my yearly visit to the Boston Marathon Expo on Saturday. Walking around the various booths I encountered two different sales pitches for two somewhat similar and bizarre types of shoes. First I met a lady who seemed to have a lot of experience working as an athletic trainer. She even gave me a sheet with her biography. With my foot and hip balance problems I wanted to see what she had to say. She nailed a lot of the things wrong with my balance and posture and I wanted to hear her recommendations.

She had a worker use a plate to take pressure readings of the bottom of my foot. The little colored dots showed where I put the most pressure when standing still. It looked like a thought: two different balancing positions for either foot. She then wanted to get a functional picture of my foot in motion and after much fiddling her helpers realized the machine did not do this. She said it was OK and then gave me her recommendations: Use a shoe with a tight heel collar (I like them loose). She recommended the Brooks Adrenaline. Then she wanted me to get an orthotic that would help rebalance my foot (but only the orthotic sold through a store called "Foot Solutions"). Aha, this booth was sponsored by "Foot Solutions". She wanted me to make an appointment there right away. She wrote up a whole recommendation sheet for me to bring to the store.

Then she told me I needed to by a type of shoe called "Chung-Shi". It wouldn't be for running but for balancing my foot and posture with its strangely angled sole. Of course this shoe, which retails for between $200 and $300, is only sold at "Foot Solutions". Maybe it is a worthwhile shoe, sort of like a bolder version of the old Earth shoes. But I was left to wonder why the only solutions to my imbalance problems can be found at a "Foot Solutions" store?

The salesman then got heavily interested in selling me "Nordic Walking" equipment. I do think they missed out on the whole idea that I am a runner! While the lady may have had a lot of knowledge, unfortunately she was just trying to sell "Foot Solutions" stuff. Good or not I don't know. I looked on the internet for runners who had used and reviewed these orthotics and the reviews were unfavorable.

Next I found another booth with an even funkier shoe. It is called MBT shoe by SwissMasai. The shoe is supposed to leave your foot rocking and unstable like you are walking on sand or uneven ground.It has a massive sole that is rounded under the foot and made me feel like I was on a roller type balance ball. I rocked back and forth and side to side. It felt weird although I did notice that my left foot rolled out to the side and that tended to straighten my knee. It added about an inch to my height and definitely looked dorky! The sales girl said her femurs rotated in like my left one does and that after a year of wearing the shoe things were straightening out. These were also expensive shoes. I noticed that they are also sold at "Foot Solutions" and are the competition to the Chung-Shi shoes. I think these shoes are probably made for the Pilate's-yoga crowd rather than the runner crowd. Maybe they are helpful in correcting gait and posture but you would have to get over your pride to wear them in public.

Overall I spent no money at the Expo. I did get a free pair of socks for trying on the MBT shoes. My daughter did too, so she was happy. We drank lots of chemical drinks with vitamins and who knows what else and ate plenty of energy bar pieces. I picked up posters, and trinkets for my kids at school, and my daughter got enough "thundersticks" to send every kid in my class home with a pair so they could drive their parents nuts after school on Marathon Monday!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wall Street Journal Article about 2000 Boston Marathon

It is not every day that you make the Wall Street Journal. But on Friday there I was mentioned as a Boston Marathon straggler. I am in the company of a very heavy man running Boston and the oldest Boston Marathon finisher. It seems the WSJ found the old story from 2000 when the Nashua School District wouldn't let me take a personal day to run the Boston Marathon. I taught my day of school and then headed down to Hopkinton to meet up with race director Dave McGillivray at 4:00 and we ran the marathon a bit later than everyone else. It was an interesting day and an unusual way to run the race.

Here are some articles about the 2000 Boston Marathon: interview before the race post race article article

Here are a few picture from the 2000 Boston Marathon. (1) I am greeting Dave McGillivray (2) in the first wave of the evening marathon (3) being inverviewed after the race (4) with teachers from my school who came out to cheer and support me (and two of my kids)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Dorn Method: Can it be a simple fix for misaligned joints?

The past week my running wasn't going well. My left psoas continued to be tight as well as my left gluteus miniumus, piriformis, or something else back there that was real tight. I also had stiffness along the sacrum. It got that way last summer for almost two months and nothing I tried could ease the tightness. I knew I was headed in a wrong direction when I thought about using a heel lift again (never works-but who knows).

I was checking things out on the internet to see what else was out there: stretches were tending to make things worse. I came across something on Youtube that I had never heard of or seen before but it looked promising.

Hip Exercise

Sacrum Exercise

So I read what I could find and decided to check out further this Dorn Method. Seems it came from Germany and it is called a gentle relative to chiropractic and osteopathy. It was developed by and is touted as for non-medical practitioners. The founder meant for it to be shared freely and it can be used for self-help. Well that sounded a little different but I checked out the exercises and they seemed simple, gentle, and they made sense.

The exercises like many newer modalities involve movement and not just static stretching.The movement helps distract the muslces as you work on the joint. After reading about the method, I tried a few exercises and while they were nothing difficult, by the time I was done (just a few minutes) the tightness on my left side was gone and my leg was moving smoother. I actually felt movement within the left hip as I walked. The next day I felt fine again and when I did my run, I was running smoother than I had in over a week. In fact I noticed that my back and hip were not "stuck" so my quads and hamstrings were doing more of the running and were not hindered by the limited range of motion in my hips. Today I felt good but I didn't have a chance to run due to almost 12 hours of teaching, meetings, and workshops. I look forward to seeing if the exercises help compliment what I am already doing.

Some of the exercises (I did not do them all) work with movements similar to the joint mobility work I am doing, but the add a component of having a small force or pressure pushing on a joint or muscle. The self-help page displays many of the exercises. I also bought and downloaded the e-book here because it was less than $10 and I wanted to read what I could on the method and it was easier to refer to the exercises from a printout than on my computer screen. It looks like it may serve to unstick the joints around my hip and lower back and if it can do that it would be a great tool to know and use. I used the hip and sacrum exercises as well as the knee and ankle routines. I like that it is simple and sensible. The e-book also tells you what stretches and positions to avoid (some of them were ones I do to try to fix my back that seem to work at first but then throw other things off).

Friday, April 11, 2008

Runner "Heel" Thyself: Can it be done?

The 1975 Falmouth Road Race. I am in the red "singlet". You will recognize the familiar left leg kicking out in each photo through the years.

The 1985 Lakeville Triathlon. The foot isn't twisting out as much but the knee is still knocking in! Who cares though, I won this race!

2004 running in the Newburyport 10 miler. Look familiar?

Same twisting in the 2004 Falmouth Road Race.

Here I am in the Bill Luti 8K in 2007 while running in a pair of Newtons (the only race I did in them) but notice now what that left leg does when it contacts the ground! My race photos have never shown good form. Can Z-Health correct these stride and mechanical imperfections?

Yesterday was my eighth day of running in a row: nothing special there except it means that winter has ended and I can get outside again. It was the best weather in many months yesterday: warm sunshine means running in shorts and short sleeves. It was all great except I was completely unbalanced again. I could not get a stride down in any form of balance: shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, feet, nothing lined up at all and it was a slog to run at all. I finished my workout and did some kettlebell drills outside (much better than in the house- except again I must make the neighbors wonder). After feeling good at the start of the running streak the past few days gradually got worse and worse. There is a tightness around the top of my left femur and everything else is out of whack. I am doing my joint mobility work and it is leaving me feeling great. I have improved my range of motion throughout my body but the left side is stuck!

I have to again consider if there is something about my left side that can't be fixed. I really do wonder at times like this if it is just the way I am created. If I position my left knee pointing forward, the left ankle points correctly, but the foot rotates or splays to the left and tilts up on the inside. If I place my left foot straight on the ground, the left knee is rotated to the inside. If I try to force that knee straight the inside of the foot rotates up. I can't even get that knee into proper alignment with whatever force I use. I still can't tell if it is a knee rotation, or a foot or hip problem. It just won't line up!

Today I decided to take a day off. I tried to stretch out the hip and that didn't work. Then I tried the Z-Health ankle mobility drills. I was trying the lateral tilts, but I was trying different positions: behind the other ankle, lifting up the front of the foot while pressing down on the heel, and other variations I thought up. While doing this I heard a little pop or release. The tightness in the hip went away as well as the imbalanced feelings and tightness or impingement from my back to my arch. Then I felt better again, that quickly. I can't explain it but it worked.

However that does not resolve the alignment issues between the knee and foot. I am considering going to a Z-Health practitioner. I would like someone to tell me if this is something that can or can't change or if it is a structural issue will create problems forever. I have asked the question of many doctors and therapists but have yet to receive an answer. So far the joint mobility makes me feel great if I want to live a sedentary life. One physical therapist said to me that, "I was so created to be a runner and so created not to be a runner." She had been working on my hip problem and was confused as to how to fix it. She did bring in other therapists and studied up and eventually found a hip capsule stretch that remedied the situation for a while (at that point it was so stuck I couldn't run on it).

There have been wonderful improvements while working on my joint mobility drills. However when I add the stresses of distance running to the awkward running alignment on my left side, I think that the irregular stride puts my body through havoc. I am getting better at controlling it and the ankle mobility drill today was an interesting lesson for me.

Revolutionary Running Shoes: No Heels and Foot Pods

I see that there is work being done in England towards developing a heel-less running shoe

These "Healus" shoes look very interesting. That is former 5000m world record holder David Moorcraft reporting and trying out the shoe. I used to be a heel striker when running but over the years have transitioned to a more forward midfoot or forefoot landing.

This reminds me of the Newton running shoe and its foot pods at the front of the shoe that came out last year.

The last running shoes that I felt comfortable training in were called Asics Tiger Paws. It was a basic flat racing shoe and after wearing out my 6 pairs they can no longer be found. I do my track workouts and races in Puma H Streets. I love the minimalism and the light responsive ride. I have raced up to half-marathons in them but don't use them for daily training.

I have gone through a bunch of other shoes but nothing feels happy on my feet. I bought a pair of Vitruvian Symmetry running shoes last fall. The original model I use is still on sale for $30 including shipping. Although they are a little too much built up for me they do have a solid flat ride while running. So I bought another pair last month for myself and a pair for my wife. Another plus is that they are a shoe company from New Hampshire. I think if Vitruvian would build a lighter less built up model for racing it would be a great training shoe for me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Some Reading to Explore on Joint Mobility and Z-Health

Here are some blog entries and articles that I have found interesting as I attempt to learn more about joint mobility. Unfortunately I haven't found much on Z-Health from the running community. The Z-Health website does say this :

"As for endurance athletes, we recently helped a world-class middle distance runner shave nearly a full minute off her 5k time in two weeks of training. (We had her doing only 1 exercise 3x’s a day so it qualifies for the 3 minute rule!) She subsequently made the US World Cross-Country team and placed very highly in international competition."

I do wish a name was mentioned and that there was follow-up.

My information about Z-Health first came from reading about kettlebells. So it is another group of athletes that may be leading the way and maybe runners will pick up on this soon. Scott Sonnon's "Circular Strength Training" comes from the martial arts.

Here is an interesting post by Sara Cheatham on taking responsibility for your your own pain and healing. One of the strangest moments in my life was the time we were in the hospital awaiting the birth (well, I was doing the waiting) of one of our children. I had a bunch or medical type books with me as I was researching some Physical Therapy techniques or something and the nurse saw what I was reading and asked, " Oh are you a doctor?" My wife still laughs at that one! I have always been looking for ways to figure things out myself. Never do I want to take the "instant gratification" of surgery to try to fix something when other alternatives can be explored.
Here she writes about Kettlebells and Z-Health. Exploring kettlebells this past fall is what led me to looking into Z-Health.

Mike T. Nelson has a blog that I have been reading a bit. I was particularly intrigued by this article about foam rollers and why they may not be the best therapy. He has had another post on "jammed joints " and how Z-Health can help remove the "neurological brakes" that inhibit mobility and performance.

Here is another introductory article from "Kinetic Edge" which explains joint mobility and in particular how Z-Health works with the central nervous system. There are three pages but that may be difficult to notice at first (and music so be ready to turn down your speakers if you need to).

Matt Fitzgerald demonstrates these dynamic flexibility drills from his book "Brain Training for Runners". I have been using them before some runs and highly recommend checking out his book.

Here are some dynamic flexibility exercises (different from joint mobility) from James Madison University.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Psoas, We have a Problem

Psoas, we have a problem and I think I am figuring it out. I have been doing pretty well the past week: running and working on joint mobility exercises each day. Saturday I kept my run going for an extra half-hour as it felt good. I did 90 minutes of running and rather than take the next day off I did another hour run. Before the run I broke open the Z_Health Neural Warm up 2 DVD that I received last week. The Neural Warm up programs are shorter 10 minute programs that are based on the movements of elite athletes. However they are not based on the skills that you would expect, but rather are based on efficiency of movement, fluidity of body control, and biomechanical alignment. There are two programs on the DVD. First I did the tutorial which demonstrates the movements and then I did the full movement program. Most of the exercises are modifications or the same as many of the I-Phase joint mobility drills. They will take more practice to get them completely right, but I do like the movements in the R-Phase drills. I particularly like how the hips are rotated during lunges. I really feel these loosen up my hips and put them through gentle but powerful rotations. I fell the tissue loosening as my body does movements that I probably never really do because of stiffness or just overlooking simple movement patterns. I have never seen any stretch that directly hits the joints in such a way as these and other drills in the R-Phase program. It really is a great program.

At the end of the program there are a couple of visual training drills similar to the ones in the R-Phase Neural Warm up DVD. Finally there were a few Muscular Activation Drills. These again were new takes on standard lunges or twisting motion drills. However I had an interesting reaction to one drill. It was the Full Body Integration drill called the Front Opener. It was a gentle lunge with one leg in the toe-pull drill position. The toe-pull drill in both the R and I phase programs is one of the more unique drills that I have seen. Anyhow on this drill one arm is held out straight in a certain way and then lifted over the head as you arch your body back. I noticed right away that this put a pull on my left Psoas muscle. Even though I was gentle with the stretch the pull was real obvious. I have a hard time stretching this muscle which causes a lot of conflict in my body. I thought it felt great and remarked so to my wife.

I went out for my run. My hips are moving in new ways each day and today I felt the right hip moving more forward so the felt more in line with the left. It was a good run. I felt great afterwards. I did the Intu-Flow routine before going to bed and thought to myself that I had just completed 5 days of feeling good. Outside of running where my form is changing, walking around , teaching, and just doing life felt normal (without the pains and tightness I usually have). I remember going to bed telling myself that I am not stretching, or rolling muscles, or trying to find new ways to feel better like I normally do. I hit the bed and fell right to sleep feeling good.

Then at about 3:30 am my body woke me up. Oh no, things were tight and out of place. My back felt like it needed a chiropractor in a couple of places. My left lower back was tight, my left knee felt tight, other pains were creeping in and I could not sleep. It took 2 hours a bit of light stretching and some Z-Health drills (including that one that stretched my psoas) to get back to sleep. When I woke up everything was still out of balance. It was going to be a bad day. When I got home from teaching I immediately did the Z-Health I-Phase drills (loosening up some) then tried to decide whether to run or not. After the Z-Health everything below my hips felt fine it was just my back that was still tight so I decided to run. The run went OK and I reflected on what had happened to my back.

This is what I think. I have noticed that I get that same reaction whenever I do a psoas stretch. More than twice the past two months I remembered that when I had tried stretching it hard (kneeling hip flexor stretch) the next day everything felt out of whack. I think that after it stretched it must gone into some reflex or tightening mode. Then it gets real tight and pulls the hip up and pulls the pelvis in tight (or at least that is how it feels). Then it pulls on the back where it inserts and that is why my low back gets tight and feels like it has been pushed in. Finally the rest of the back and my leg reacts and I can't sleep or feel comfortable.

I am going to let it calm down for a few days and them do some real light and gentle psoas stretching to see if it can loosen without getting a reaction from it later.

When I run and particularly when I race I say that I do "momentum racing". By that I mean that while other runners say tha I go out too fast in a race, I feel that I build up momentum and try to keep my body going at the same speed. I think this is because when I run there doesn't seem to be much connection between my upper and lower body and my left and right halves. I get my feet rolling but there is no connection from my legs to lower back through the hips. I feel like one of the wooden artist models that has been pushed into incorrect positions. So I just try to move along as fast as I can.

When I run my pelvis sort of rests on the femur at weird angles and there is no push off in my strides. Every once in a while I get it right and running feels magical but usually my hips just roll around on the legs and the lower back and just wobbling around. Sounds like it needs core work? That has never helped! The past two days while running, my right hip has a new rotation to it and a new balancing point (it feels more forward and in line). The right hip is still tight and trying to find its mark. At about 5 miles into my run today, it started rolling forward when I tried relaxing the psoas muscle. When I did this a loosening happened and then I started getting a good push off on both legs. The connection was starting to happen. I would lose it, and work on getting it back. I think this is a good sign that good things are happening. I just have to be patient, keep working, and hopefully watch it all come together soon.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Z-Health I Phase: Joint Mobility with Athletic Movement Drills

Today I received in the mail my order of the Z-Health I Phase DVD and Manual and the Neural Warm up DVD and manual. I am intensely curious as to what the next step in the program looks like and even though I probably haven't spent enough time with the R Phase program I had to see what is next. When I undertook Rolfing sessions a couple years ago my my body often sensed and felt ready for the next stage and that is how I felt with the Z-Health program. It was time to move ahead.

The R-Phase teaches you the basic movement skills of joint mobility, but you are doing the motions in a basic standing position. The goal is to learn how to move each joint independently and and in every direction and pattern. Athleticism, however, involves movement and motion. The I-Phase takes the basic movements and integrates them into the movement patterns of life and sports. That is where my body, and I would think most bodies, let their owners down. We move, bend, rotate, and participate with stiffness and imbalances. To protect pains of the past and of the present our bodies have readjusted and do not work in optimal patterns. Sometimes we think a muscle need stretching when it may be that a joints mobility needs to be addressed and as well as the neural component. The brain needs to allow the joint to move in the way it was intended to move rather than allow it to protect some perceived problem.

I was going to take the day of from running. I had a very hard run the previous day and while things went well, my left hip was feeling very tight today and I figured that I didn't want to train on it without fixing it first. Then when I got home I noticed the arrival of the DVDs. I popped the R-Phase DVD in the player and gave it a look. The movements now included lunges and rotations as well as new angles of movements on the drills I had learned earlier in the R-Phase program. Started at the feet, and moving up the ankles I heard a light pop and release in the right ankle and shortly thereafter another little pop in the left knee region. Wow, the hip tightness was gone. It felt really good doing the mobility routines in different directions and patterns. I finished up with the drills to the thoracic region, slipped into my runner gear and hit the treadmill (rain today). I did a 40 minute run, had dinner, noticed a pulling feeling at the inside right hip (never had that before), sat down to read the R-Phase manual, and fell asleep. Whether I was tired from a hard week of teaching I am not sure. I remembered having another nice nap after doing the AGELESS MOBILITY: Pain-Free Wellness For Longevity DVD the first time too. Anyhow I woke up very refreshed but most of all I noticed how great my hips felt. The strange tightness was gone but so was a lot of the normal tension. I will continue to explore the R-Phase and mix it up with some of the new I-Phase movements (particularly from the hips on down). I do have to report that it is good stuff and while it is something that not many runners have heard about or consider, I believe it may be a good direction for many runners and athletes to pursue if their bodies aren't working as well as they expect it should.