Friday, October 31, 2008

Things are Scary...Being it's Halloween and All!

My girls are looking a bit scary...or at least Emily is. It must be that ninth grade attitude showing through!

This has been a crazy scary week of running and with it being Halloween this week has been filled with thrills. I can't figure it out but it has been the most fantastically bizarre running week in my memory. I usually run the same 8 mile or so loop every day. Very rarely do I deviate from the path unless I add some extra loops to it. Anyhow I previously mentioned how on Saturday I ran a minute faster than my fastest time of the year. Then Sunday I ran a minute and 10 seconds faster than that. These were the two easiest runs of the year for me. My hips are all of a sudden loosening up and my legs are swinging free.

Monday I slowed the pace down but it was my 3rd fasted run of the year with only the previous two days being faster. Then Tuesday I slowed down a bit more but it was still my fifth fastest time this year. Still I was feeling great and loving it. I did not run the next two days because of meetings and school work and today I laced up the shoes again. Wow, a little rest sure helps! I ran another two minutes and a few seconds faster than my best time of the week. Now I am down to times I haven't run on this route for many years. Scarily, they are still easy free floating runs. I haven't had a streak of feeling this good for a very long time. The tightness connecting my legs to my hips and all around is disappearing. It is still far from perfect but wow, what an improvement!

I think my sudden improvement has to do with the resistance stretching, and doing the Ming Method releases for the hamstings, quads ands ITB bands is the kicker that has allowed things to happen much more quickly. That is all I can figure because this has been so dramatic. I may just be finding the perfect mix of things that I need to do to get my body working correctly again.

It sure is a great way to finish off a really hard and disappointing year of running by having such good results (even if only on training runs). But it is not the times that are remarkable, it is how loose and easy my legs and hips feel and the additional movement I have that is what is really thrilling. For most of the year and previous years I didn't think I would ever feel this good again. Even if for only one week, it is great to be feeling like a youthful runner again! I guess for at least one week I can say I have "recovered my stride". It does give me hope that I can run well and easy again particularly as in a couple of months I will hit 50 years old!

I found a few photos I haven't seen before on my wife's camera. All my kids were active in sports this Fall and it was fun to cheer them on in all their athletic endevours.

Here is my son, Andy in his last high school cross-country race a couple of weeks ago.

The next day Hannah ran in the City of Nashua's 3rd graders x-country race.

Emily decided to play field hockey this year and enjoyed being on that team.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Workouts Don't Mean Anything... But...

Workouts don't mean anything but I really should have raced this weekend. Yesterday I did my normal 8 mile route and easily ran over a minute faster on the route than I have all year. Today, I figured the workout would be a recovery run and I did not try to run hard. But the running just flowed and and I ran one minute and ten seconds faster than I did yesterday. I know how hard I normally have to run to go fast and am usually happy with a workout if I go 6 minutes slower than today, but both runs were very easy and my form felt smooth and relaxed. I wasn't even trying to go faster today and didn't even concentrate on the running except to lengthen my stride if I felt it shortening. I didn't even breathe hard except for a short sprint the last 50 yards. I wonder what would have happened if I had raced!

I guess that is called "being in in the zone" and it is something Steve W. is in right now. He ran a 5:17 track mile a few days before setting a marathon PR at Baystate of 2:58:29 and then 6 days later ran a 17:53 5k. I would be thrilled with any of those times, yet he ran them in a space of 10 days!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stretching Your Fascia Using "The Permanent Pain Cure"

If you have muscle and joint pain then I have found a new book that might interest you. I read a review of "The Permanent Pain Cure" by Ming Chew in a magazine and then checked it out on Amazon. I decided to buy it at a local bookstore so I could read it quicker rather than waiting for an Amazon order to arrive. It has some very good stuff in it, is easy to read and follow, and explains a method of restoring lost physical function in a way that is different from other books out there. Ming Chew calls his therapy "The Ming Method". He works on professional athletes but has written this book for the rest of us. What I found in the book was a mix of different therapies and an organized plan as to how to use them.

The target of Ming's pain relief is to work on the body's fascia to improve movement and bring pain-relief. Fascia is often a misunderstood or unrecognized source of many problems that athletes suffer from. Unless you get plantar fasciitis or have problems with your ITB illiotibial band you don't hear much about the body's fascia. Yet fascia is all around you (literally). It is sheets of connective tissue that wraps around all of the structures of the body: muscles, nerves, organs, bones, and blood vessels. They hold together these body structures and separate them from each other. It also connects the body together as it runs through it like a web. I notice the effect of this when a shoulder problem affects my opposite hip or a pain somewhere is relieved when I press or massage another muscle far away from the pain. I was first introduced to what fascia is when I went through rolfing sessions a couple of summers ago. Rolfing is where your fascia is stretched and molded back to its original or optimal placement so that your body works in its ideal position. It removes tightness in your body and gives your muscles and joints "space" to move correctly. It worked wonderfully for me, but unfortunately I was given no idea of how to keep my fascia in good health or how to keep my body in the great posture I had achieved after the Rolfing sessions were over.

When I saw there was a book that was dedicated to working on the fascia I decided it was worth checking out.

Here are the seven components to the Ming Method:

1. Hydration (the fascia needs to be hydrated fully)
2. An anti-inflammation diet (bye-bye sugars and trans-fatty acids)
3. Supplements to improve joint health (bye-bye money!)
4. Spinal decompression stretches to separate the vertebrae and release pressure on compressed nerves (I thought my gravity inversion table might do this but the book explains why these stretches do something different).
5. Fascial stretches
6. Strengthening exercises (he likes the use of kettlebells)
7. Self-therapy techniques

I started with the hydration last night. I am drinking a ton more water than I usually do. This might become problematic at school when I can't leave my class some days for over 4 hours to use the restroom. The dieting is sound advice, but the supplementation may be something I just ignore for the most part. Ming Chow suggests you do these for over 10 days before you begin the stretching as you have to get your fascia in a healthier state. I did try some of the spinal decompression stretches to see how they went. They are tough but you did feel whole body stretches as you lengthen your fascia.

The fascial stretches look similar in form to other stretching techniques but the directions help you get the correct positioning while stretching. In order to stretch the fascia it has to be anchored at both ends of the muscle (this is not static stretching). I like the resistance stretching I am doing so if I like this it would be in conjunction and not instead of resistance stretching.

The strengthening exercises would come into play later in the program as your fascia and body should be in the correct posture or otherwise you would be strengthening an imbalance. This makes sense as I enjoyed doing kettlebells last winter but noticed that if my hips were off then I felt imbalanced and did not enjoy the routines. I have kept away from the kettlebells because I didn't think they were helping my inefficiencies. I would like to be balanced enough to do them again.

The self-therapy techniques are really good and worth the price of the book (even though there are only a few and this section is very short). I believe these are based the ART (Active Release Technique) and the author did study under and credits Dr. Michael Leahy, the founder of ART, in this book.

The hamstring release shows you how to use a tennis ball to release the hamstring. His techniques is not just rolling your loose hamstring on a ball or foam roller. It involves moving the leg as in an ART treatment. The ITB release shows you how to use the foam roller to release the ITB band. Again movement from the involved leg is required not just a rolling over the ITB. The quadriceps release shows you how to use your own elbow to hold the muscle and fascia in place so as you move your leg you can target and stretch the fascia. This is all good stuff and I liked the effect they had on my leg. There is also a sole of the foot release that I have not tried yet, but will as the bottom of my right foot has been stiff and sore for months.

The book is an easy read. The directions are clear for the stretching (there could be more pictures of each stretch) and I particularly like the "What it should feel like" box that goes with each stretch. I think the fact that the book makes it easy to understand the role of the fascia in the body and details a method to easily improve your fascial health makes the book unique among all of the books I have seen or read. Doing his techniques and program should not take that much time out of your day. He says about 15-20 minutes. This book is informative and I intend to continue exploring it further.

I have not had a good week of running. Wednesday I started feeling a little off and did my first treadmill run of the year (3 miles on a treadmill seems like forever!). Then I think I had a minor fever or infection. It wasn't bad but kept me from running. Today, however, I went for an 8 mile run on my usual loop. I ran one minute faster than my best time of the year. I wasn't even running hard. My legs were feeling loose. My stride felt long. I didn't even push. It was an easy run. What happened? Was it a break from running? the water I had been consuming? the hamstring release I tried last night? I think the biggest difference was the quadriceps release from the book. I did it right before the run.

Since doing the resistance stretching my muscles have become much looser. The problem has been that my left knee continues to buckle in. I think it is tightness within my inner hamstring, but for a few weeks I have had a tightness in my outer left quadriceps too. I can't seem to stretch the tightness out. I did the quadriceps release and it felt so much better. Maybe this helped make my left leg stretch out better on today's run? Anyhow it was a great run that felt very effortless.

As this running year draws to a close I feel that I have some good techniques in place to get my body to the point where I can have great runs most of the time and not worry about imbalances and tight muscles and joints. Maybe next year I will have a year of running where everything goes right and I can hit the times I know that I can run if my body works correctly. I will use resistance stretching to get my muscles loose and strong. I will use the sacrum adjustment when my sacrum gets stuck (I have found this doesn't seem to be a daily adjustment-it works when needed though). This is what Kalidasa wrote me in regards to how the release works:

"The sacrum release on that video uses the piriformis muscle. It attaches to the sacrum and to the top of the thigh bone. When you draw the back leg hip is drawn forward the piriformis is pulled and so is the sacrum. The arch picks up the sacrum where it is (out of alignment) and moving forward brings it along with piriformis."

I am going to continue to check out "The Permanent Pain Cure" and work on stretching the fascia and keeping it healthy. I need to make a concerted effort to work on my diet with the "Precision Nutrition" and not eating too much this winter and to eat healthy. I need to keep my left leg, knee, and hip in alignment (this is the toughest one) and then just keep running. Hopefully the coming winter will bring me more ways to to recover my stride.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Improving a Hamstring Stretch

I have continued playing around with stretching and other techniques trying to get looser and more balanced in my running. After having a great track workout two weeks ago running 5 X 1 mile my left leg went wobbly again. It was back to rotating in and that made running and walking uncomfortable for a week. I couldn't get it aligned right no matter what I tried. I still ran but that leg was not balancing correctly. A week later at the track we had an all out mile. I couldn't run correctly and only ran about 5:55 and it wasn't fun. The week before I had done 5 repeat miles in 6:00. Something was amiss.

That night I used my T-Roller to work on my muscles because it was hard to sleep. I noticed a lot of tightness on the inside hamstring down near the knee. I knew that in the past this muscle would get tight and pull things out of alignment. I took a hard ball and used it to massage deep into that muscle. That seemed to loosen things up for a change.

I had been doing resistance stretching on the hamstrings every day, but when I do the self-stretching my knee is pulled close to my chest and it seems to work more on the upper hamstrings. It looks like what Steve is doing at about the 5:58 mark in this video.

That is a good stretch but it was not doing the same thing as when I went to get stretched by Janet, a trained resistance stretcher. When she did similar stretches my leg was held further out about 90 degrees from the other leg with the knee pointing straight up. When I stretched in this position I recalled how I felt the muscles getting stretched at the lower end, toward the knee, of my hamstring and it felt good as I never had found a stretch that worked those tight muscles. I had to figure out a way to stretch out the lower hamstrings.

I think I found a workable solution for now. A year or two ago I bought a stretching tool called the Hamstretch. I hoped it would help me get my legs positioned to give me the good stretch I would get in my hamstring when a therapist would stretch me. It never seemed to work right because I think I only used it to do static stretches and it has just been sitting around unused.

I tried using it and positioning the bands so I could push down and resist the stretch as I used the hamstretch to pull up my foot and lower leg. I can use one hand to hold me knee in position and the other hand to pull on the side bars. It seems to work. I have been getting a much better stretch in my hamstrings using the Hamstretch to keep my knee further away from my chest. It has been loosening up my hamstring even more and I think that is my my hip is loosening up more and not being so stiff and tight. Here is the Hamstretch device.

I put it to the test on Sunday by running a 5k road race in Manchester. I didn't finally decide to race until race morning. I was feeling a bit lethargic but my left hip loosened up while running and it was the best my hip has felt in a race all year. I ended up running 18:59. It was the first time I had been under 19 minutes since last Thanksgiving day. I wasn't feeling real competitive but ran it at a pretty constant effort, although I slowed in the last mile. I hit 1 mile in 5:45, two miles in 11:50, and I had visions of going faster than my final time but then we hit a long straightaway with a cold headwind. It never seemed to end. I had run by myself from mile 1 to mile 2. At mile two I was 20-30 yards behind a teammate that eventually finished in 18:25. But then a pack that had stayed behind me started catching up and I got passed by some runners to which I had no competitive response. I was not sharp and had no kick except enough to just make sure I got under 19:00. I am pleased with the time and hope to improve on it soon. It was nice not to have my hip jamming up for a change.

Here is a partner hamstring resistance stretch that Janet sent my way. You can see Bob Cooley, the author or "The Genius of Flexibility" getting stretched. If you know someone who is good with muscles you could try the stretch like this. My wife prefers that I use the Hamstretch. His knee is closer to his chest in this stretch than I use with the Hamstretch.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Good Stretching for the Hips

Here is a resistance stretch that I really like although I don't have the flexibility that Luther from demonstrates in this video. This is called the gall bladder stretch but it stretches the hip and outer leg.

Here is an interesting and similar stretch that may be modified to use as a resistance stretch. I like how the non-stretching leg is held against a wall to keep the hips from rotating. Dave Schmitt calls it the #1 stretch to eliminate low back pain.

Here is a fascinating video of Bob Cooley author of "The Genius of Flexibility" doing some pretty hard-core and advanced resistance stretching. The stretches are on the arms and fingers. I would like to see him perform some work on legs and hips. It looks unusual, sort of like working on human clay, but that is because the person being stretched resists against the stretch. When the person pushes back against Bob's stretching then they are getting a strength workout. One direction is a stretch, the other is a strengthening workout. It is pretty interesting, but I don't know what he is talking about the first minute or so; I guess he is referring to positive results from the stretching because he links stretching to personality awareness.

I have only done my Z-Health drills sporadically lately. I did receive my weekly training tip from Dr. Eric Cobb of Z-Health and it was something new that I never heard or noticed before when doing these joint mobility drills. He writes,
"If you are struggling with any particular Z-Health drill, have a seat. One of the things that many people overlook in Z-Health is that you are not required to perform the exercises standing in neutral stance.

You want to begin to think about the Z-Health drills simply as templates -- you can perform them seated, lying down, on your stomach, on your back, or on your side. Make sure that you explore the exercises in different positions because they will have very different effects.

Many of our happiest clients feel that the greatest benefits from Z-Health drills came about when they began applying the drills to their everyday situations. The office worker who practices Z-Health while seated will often see a fantastic effect from that during the course of their normal day.

Keep Moving,

Dr. Cobb"

Maybe I will take a second and new look at some of the drills and see if a seated or lying down position will help. At least it will give some variety. You can sign up for the weekly tips at the Z-Health website. You can listen to an interview with Dr. Cobb here. Here is an interesting article called "The Body is a Unit" that tells why Z-Health focuses on mobilizing and coordinating all the joints in the body. You can find out more about Z-Health here:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Loosening Up Tight Hips: Sacrum Adjustment

After running the Applefest 1/2 Marathon on Saturday my hips remained as stuck as they had been for the days before the race and during the race. Sunday as I reported here I found some new videos. As soon as I did this video with the sacrum release, I felt immediate improvement and loose again.

Now I don't know if it was the sacrum adjustment that did it but the tightness was gone even though I felt nothing move, shift, stretch, or adjust. What was going on? Well Monday I ran and felt great. I was running and my quads were moving me as opposed to feeling forces in my hip joints. Tuesday felt good too. I had a great run. Again I did nothing new just the resistance stretching, a bit of light psoas release, and this sacrum adjustment. Wednesday I was feeling even better. The workout was 5 X 1 mile on the track with a one lap rest. It was supposed to be run at 1/2 marathon pace, but as the first mile started I felt good and loose and I just ran free. I did a 6:01+ first mile, the second one was about a step faster again at 6:01, on the third my left lower hip QL started tightening up but I ran through it to 6:00+ and I was a step faster again to the finish clock. I did a little version of the sacrum stretch and then did the 4th in 6:00 and about 1/2 a second but without the tightness. Literally I was running about 1/4 of a second faster for each interval. I did the last in 6:00 and about 1/4 second. It was faster than I was supposed to go but it felt great and I had perfect pacing throughout. It was the first track workout where I wasn't constantly stretching between intervals trying to get looser. In fact it was my best running of the year. This is how I want to feel when I run!

I bought the ebook form the Self-Adjusting Technique website. It doesn't describe this stretch but I would really like to know what it is doing and if it is what is making my sacrum loosen up. Only time will tell if it continues to work. Meanwhile I am reading through the e-book and seeing what other good things are in there that may help me recover my stride.

Applefest Half Marathon: Racing for the Pie

Here I am with a slight lead at the start of the Applefest 1/2 Marathon. Photo by
Dave Delay
for the Gate City Striders.

Saturday I competed in the Applefest 1/2 Marathon in Hollis, NH. It is one of my favorite races. I was hoping that it would be my first decent race of the year. My running has been coming along since I started working on resistance stretching the past month. I have been feeling looser and having better workouts but every few days my left sacrum has been jamming up. It forces me to run all wrong and I haven't figured out how to fix it. Unfortunately it jammed up on Thursday of last week. I didn't run on it Thursday or Friday hoping I wouldn't make it worse, but Saturday on race morning it was still tight and hopelessly stuck.

It was a beautiful day for running, however and I hoped it might loosen up in the race. I was in the port-a-john downhill from the start when I heard the National Anthem being played and I had to sprint up the hill to get to the start on time. I did not heed my plan to start slow and when the gun went off I started gliding down the hill and into the lead and had to slow down because I would have passed the lead truck. By the end of the hill the adrenaline wore off and I got into pace and watched the lead runners go by. My hips remained horribly tight and I could not get settled. My muscles were loose however. I ran the first mile in about 5:50, but could not find form going up Wheeler Hill. I almost stopped realising that it was going to be a long day ( a mental challenge of constantly finding a balanced running form rather than a physical day of pushing my body). I hit 3 miles in about 19:00 which was probably faster than my only road 5k of the year at Cigna where I ran a very slow 20:10. I hit 5 miles in about 32:00 which was better than my 5 mile race at Bill Luti where I ran a horrible 34:28, and I hit 7 miles just at 45:00 which was faster than I did for the same distance in Falmouth this year at 48:52. So I ran faster in Hollis than the 3 other road races I have done this year. Granted the weather was perfect in Hollis and I had some downhills in my favor but despite feeling out of alignment I was running better than I had earlier in the year. I kept waiting to die out there and although I slowed down in the hills I ran at the same effort. I finished in 1:28:41 good for 36th place and 2nd in my age group which got me another Mile-High Apple Pie. I had improved slightly from last years time of 1:28:56 but last year was a very hot day.

Overall I am happy with the time and the effort I put into the race. I wish I had been feeling smooth like I have for some workouts lately. The race would have been much more pleasant and a bit faster I am sure!

Here is a photo by Dave Dunham with less than a half-mile to go. Look how twisted my legs are. That is how I felt for most of the race!
In checking out Dave Dunham's site I noticed that he is a fan of The Alarm. Mike Peters and The Alarm are my favorite band so not only is Dunham fast. He knows his music!

Here is Mike Peters of the Alarm singing about overcoming cancer for the second time. If you listen too much to songs like this then you might have a problem at the start of races being too pumped up and taking off way too fast at the gun!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Tips for the Adjusting and Releasing the Psoas, Sacrum, and Piriformis

The past few days my left side has been off again. From the leg to the knee, and the hip front and back at the sacrum, as well as the whole back everything was not in alignment and uncomfortable. I was so tight I didn't run Thursday and Friday before today's Applefest half-marathon. The whole race was uncomfortable alignment wise although my muscles did well enough to get me a decent place and time for my fitness. It was no fun running, however, with my hips not lining up and moving correctly. I was trying to adjust things the whole race. The resistance stretching is loosening up my muscles but now I am frequently back to having that left leg unbalanced. It just felt stuck at the back of the left sacrum and that shifted my whole running form. I couldn't figure out how to fix it so I looked at some new things online. I found these to try later. However I tried one and all the tightness seemed to go away instantly. I don't believe it for now and will see how long it lasts, but I will be definitely trying that sacrum release again when or if I need it to see if it really does work that simply.

Here is a video that shows how to roll on a ball like a tennis ball or even a harder ball to release the piriformis muscle and loosen up tight hips.

Here is a psoas stretch using the theracane. I have had one of these for years but have found that it sometimes does more harm than good if you don't know how to use it. This looks interesting and I may give it a try. It seems to work similar to the ART (Active Release Technique) psoas release.

This is a theracane. It is used to work on trigger points.

This video shows how to find the psoas and release it. It comes from a site called

From the same person this shows a kid doing a sacrum self-adjusting yoga pose. This one is interesting as my hip in the sacrum region has been tight for 4 days. I just did this once and it loosened up even though it didn't seem like I did anything major. I'll have to check it out again it would be pretty good if this is something that could work easily on me and it not being just a coincidence.

This shows the resistance stretch for the hip flexor. The interesting thing I learned here is that the stretch starts and is most powerful when the hip is flexed. I have been doing this but thinking that it was going to work best once the hip is extended. My arms never seemed long enough, but I guess that is not where most of the stretch happens.