Sunday, May 31, 2009

Running With No Pain and Straighter Hips

I was not able to run from Monday until Saturday. My back on the left side was in spasms again. It was a repeat of what happened in March. My mid back on the left side was really sore and would not work. It was hard to move, turn over, or bend so I did not run. I do think I know what is going on, however.

I have had back spasms like this four times now that I can remember and that offers a big clue. The first time was about 10 years ago. I was running the Cape Cod Marathon and for the previous 2 months I was adjusting to orthotics. It seemed that as I used them I needed more and more of a lift in the right shoe. I was up to over 1/2 inches of lift when I started the race. I had some tension in my right back (with the lift) and I just braced that side with my muscles as I ran. It worked for 16 miles but as I went to get a drink at a water stop, I relaxed, and the whole right side went into a horrible spasm. I grabbed onto a tree and it took about 5 minutes to just get onto the ground. The race was over.

A couple of years ago I was getting ready to run the Boston Marathon. I had gone through 11 sessions (one more than normal) of Rolfing the previous summer, but my hips were again out of alignment. I went to a different rolfer about 10 days before the marathon for a tune-up. He did a different type of rolfing, Rossiter, where you are stepped on to apply a lot of pressure and then you move your leg or arm to release the tightness. I took as my pressure as I could and it was very painful and powerful. I also had some back movements or adjustments done that were supposed to help my imbalances. I felt great when done. Running was fantastic, but on the second run, I felt something in my left side, and by that evening I was going through the same back spasms I had this week. I could not run because of my back and my first run was the Boston Marathon where I figured I would run a few hundred yards and be the first to drop out. It was a nice day. I made it to 9 miles before I had to stop and wait for hours for a bus to pick me up and deliver me to the finish line.

Then I had the same problem in March and again this week. I can now see a link between all of them (even when the first was on the other side). I believe it keeps happening when I get my hips level and in balance. My hips do fine, but my back muscles are not used to the shift in balance and they react with the spasms.

I think that is a reasonable explanation for the spasms and they happen when I am too aggressive in making changes. Earlier I have mentioned DVDs I have received on something called The Malalignment Syndrome. I had bought the two DVDs and was using some of the muscle energy techniques back in March and again last week, along with some new stretches and movements based on the book from an ebook called Run With No Pain. When I got my hips into a better balance, it seems that the upper back hasn't been able to handle the redistribution of loads and I get the spasms. I talked with my chiropractor and he said this is a reasonable explanation.

While my back was in disarray again this week, I received the textbook on Malalignment Syndrome from Amazon (the most expensive book I have ever bought) because I needed to read further, even though this stuff can be way over my head. I am starting to make some sense out of it and I am getting a new education and insight into what possibly could be my imbalance issues. First of all, the book contends there are 3 typical Malalgnments of the pelvis, rotational (posterior and anterior), inflare and outflare, and upslip and downslip. I think I have two of these. I was working on the posterior rotation of my right hip (confirmed by my chiropractor), and after reading more of the book, I think I should work on the left inflare and right outflare of my hips first. When this gets resolved (according to my reading) the posterior tilt often clears up. Of note, Dr. Wolf Shamberger contends that a majority of children become misaligned at some point. I know I have been misaligned since before I started running. In Junior High I failed the scoliosis test and was sent to Boston Children's Hospital for many visits where they tracked my "short leg" and even wanted to do surgery at one point (they did the surgery on my brother).

The past 20+ years, I have lamented the fact that my left leg rotates in and no one can fix it. I am looking at that in a new light, however. Maybe there is nothing wrong with my left leg. Maybe it is the hip that rotates in (inflare) on the left side and rotates out (outflare) on the right side. This makes a lot of sense (because the left hip is rotated in- the femur then is rotated to the right and forward- and I get the "stuck" feeling in my hip as well as that awful stride) and it seems to be backed up by the fact that when I do the Muscle Energy Technique movements, my hips feel straighther, the knee and left femur doesn't rotate in, and my left leg straightens up and starts pointing forward instead of out to the side.

I am working on keeping the movements simple and easy realizing that all havoc could break loose again if I push the exercises. I was able to run pretty well the last two days and while things were not perfect, I can tell my body is readjusting. I notice many positive changes in my stride and balance, however I think I need to be patient and allow everything to adjust and change without going for long runs everyday things start feeling good.

The Run With No Pain ebook I mentioned earlier is a small ebook produced by Ben Greenfield. Some of the exercises are based on his reading of The Malalignment Syndrome. The ebook is short (he has doubled the pages with new information from the 5 pages that I got when I first bought the ebook). However it has links to videos of the exercises and the demonstration and exercises he has put together are well worth the expense if you think that you have a posterior or anterior tilt of your pelvis. The exercises are not geared for the inflare/outflare or upslip/downslip conditions. The exercises work each side in a different way. I think it is a well put together program, but I am going to concentrate on my inflare/outflare first although I use a few of these exercises as they just feel good and right.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My New Washing Machine

We had to get a new washing machine last week. As it was delivered, we were told about an interesting feature. When the washing machine starts knocking about because it is not level, you just have to tilt it backwards and then set it back on the ground. When you do that it will "self-level" itself.

That is what I need for my body. Just tilt me back and everything will level, adjust, and return to balance. Unfortuately, I try to do this stuff myself. I was working on my hips, and just as they started getting balanced again, my back has now gone into spasm. It feels like the same muscles that went bad a couple of months ago. They have remained a bit tight since then, but all of a sudden, my left mid-back is as sore as can be. There was no running today, on a perfectly beautiful running day.

Thought for the day:

"I am not a hamster, and life is not a wheel!"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Runners (?) Clowning Around

I have never been to San Francisco or competed in the annual Bay to Breakers race, but I enjoyed this group of pictures from this years race (frolic). I guess they have toned down some of the festivities this year, but it looks like a lot of people had a lot of fun dressing up.

Of course the original running clown was a national class runner named Gary Faneli. He even led the Olympic Trials Marathon in 1980 for 15 miles. He sometimes raced as a Blues Brother. Here is a photo I snapped of him near the front of the Boston Marathon in 1984 (I think). It was a year Geoff Smith won.

One word of advice: never let that guy dressed in a pick tutu or dressed up like the Statue of Liberty pass you in a race! I have never dressed up in anything but my running clothes for a race. Maybe I am missing out on a lot of fun. In fact the only time I dressed up in a costume for anything was for this picture back in the 1980's. That is me dressed up as some kind of tart. That is my wife, Sarah, in the striped tie. There is nothing running related about this photo, except I have the legs of a runner!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Born to Run" is a Must Read Book for Runners

If you are going to write a book and title it "Born to Run" it had better be good. You are up against "The Boss" and Springsteen has that title well covered! The good news is that author Christopher McDougall is more than up to the challenge. This is one of the most well written (except for spelling "triathlon" with and an extra "a" at one point "triathalon") and engaging running books that I have ever read. It hits the mark with a bulls eye and it is a book for all types of readers. It includes serious thinking about the science of running, the marketing of running shoes (and the lesson that these shoes "hurt" runners), diet, sport, and ultramarathon racing, and reads like a detective and mystery novel as you can't wait to find out what happens next as you read.

Here is author Chris McDougall talking about why we wrote "Born to Run" with Popular Science magazine (article here).

The book revolves around a question from the author, "Why do my feet hurt?" and he eventaully ends up in the Copper Canyons of Mexico where some of the most fascinating people, the Taramuhara Indians, on the earth live. As McDougall pursues the Taramuhara, he also pursues the latest in research to find out "Why we are made to run?" and how to do it more effectively and with a smile on our faces! The answers he finds may startle you and get you thinking that, "All you know may be wrong." It seems that these mysterious "running people" of the Copper Canyon, living in a desolate, remote, and unforgiving landscape, might just have the secrets we have been looking for.

In the book we meet an interesting cast of characters. Who knew the ultramarathon world was this fascinating? A mysterious loner named Caballo Blanco (the White Horse) sets up a race between some top ultramarathoners- including one of the best, Scott Jurak, in the Tarahumara's world of the Copper Canyon. Earlier in the book we read how a few Tarahumara runners topped the ultramarathon world at the Leadville 100 mile trail race, but were not treated well by a somewhat unsavory handler. The races and their descriptions are riveting and the science embedded throughout the book, will hopefully make readers rethink what they know about the sport of running.

I have read 100's of running books throughout the years, and although I have never put together a list of my favorite running books, I am certain that this book would earn a place somewhere in my top 5. I would highly recommend it to all runners, and I have the sneaky suspicion that this book will be a popular book with readers who are not even runners. It will become a classic book for its entertaining, informative, and well written and engaging story.

There are no pictures in this book. After reading it, I wanted to know and "see" more. I suggest you check out these pages if you desire to learn more, but read the book first! Let you mind imagine what you are reading about.

Caballo Blanco's website Copper Canyon with a Man Called Horse. There are pictures, links, race results, and more about the mysterious central figure in this book.

Scott Jureks website and also his blog. Scott is a 7 time winner of the Western States 100 mile race and other ultramarathons, including Badwater. Can Scott beat the legendary Tarahumara? Read the book.

Barefoot Ted's blog entry about the book and his blog. He races barefoot and in Vibram five-finger shoes.

Wonderful pictures taken by Luis Escobar of the 2006 Copper River race (the one in the book) are located here.

An article "The Men Who Love Forever" on the Tarahumara Indians written by Chris McDougall and printed in Men's Health magazine can be read here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kickbiking in Running Times Magazine

The June 2009 issue of Running Times magazine has an article on cross-training and I am happy to see that there is a blurb about kickbikes. You can find the article here on Dave Dunham's blog. A kickbike is an adult-sized scooter (think of mixing a bicycle with a razor scooter). Kickbiking is the most rewarding and fun type of exercise that I do. Yeah, I am a runner, and I enjoy my mountain bike and road bikes, but for the pure "glee" of exercising, nothing beats a kickbike. You can put more effort into your stride, get the heart rate pounding, and work your muscles more than on a run and you don't have to sit on a seat like on a bike. You are free to move and measure your effort. Plus you can zip around corners and fly on the downhills. I always have a smile on my face after kickbiking and depending on the effort or distance, I can work out my muscles more than on any run. Unfortunately, very few people have one and there are no races here in the USA, yet! There are races, marathons, and even a World Championship in Europe.

These pictures are from 2003 after I had ridden my kickbike 127 miles from Nashua, NH to Falmouth, Ma. When I arrived at the end of the day on the Cape, I found out that a boy who had been in my fourth grade class that spring had died the night before when riding a razer scooter at night. He was run over by a car. I decided to ride a 100 mile fundraiser, but I had an accident myself between the pictures being taken for the article and sitting down with the writer. I was riding my kickbike across a bridge in Pepperell, Ma. that had a 2 inch wide and 3 inch deep expansion joint running at an small angle from the direction of the road. My front wheel got caught and I went over the handlebars and broke two ribs. I rode the kickbike 8 miles home, but very gingerly, as I was in a lot of pain. I never got to do the 100 miler, but enough money was raised to help pay for a gravestone for my student's grave.

Look for Concord Monitor article halfway down this page.

Kickbike America website.

Footbike (competing brand) web site.

Elite mountain racer Matt Carpenter uses a kickbike (10 year old article).

Yahoo Kickbike® discussion group (mainly US). To join this group, send an email request to or and you will be sent an invitation to join.

Here is a video that came with my Kickbike Millenium Racer. It shows a serious kickbiker in action in Colorado.If any local runners want to try out my kickbike, just let me know. I am glad to see Running Times acknowledging kickbikes and maybe more runners will learn what great fun they can have on a kickbike.

Here is another video that I posted before, but it shows some great kickbikers doing their stuff.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Two Races at the Start of the Season

I am noticing the slowing down process of hitting 50 years old. BUT I don't believe it. I just think I have some work to do and I am glad to be doing it. Back in February my hips started to feel balanced and the running was good, then in March I tweaked something in my back and I have had the hardest time getting back to where I was. When the running was good, I was doing several things that left me feeling good, but there was one stretch I made up that sort of adjusted my sacrum and balanced my legs. I haven't got it to work as I have forgot exactly what I was doing. This meant that my left hip was "stuck" and there was a lot of tightness in my sacrum. I was going through every stretch and maneuver I could think of and nothing worked.

Last Friday night, I spent an hour trying to stretch the kink out of that hip. I just distracted it and pulled the muscles in all direction. The next day, I ran the Foothealth 5K in Derry. My left hip was tight as anything from all the stress I put on it and I had a hard time controlling that leg. I ended up running 19:40 and it was an awkward go at it. I did serve as a good target for a couple of my 50+ teammates and the remarkable (this guy is 59) Trevor Ward caught up with less than a mile to go. I am usually a good downhill runner but I had to slow down as I was loosing control of the left leg and thought I might crash. Trevor passed me and beat me on the downhills. I was fortunate to keep just ahead of a fast charging Ken Snow. My hip was real sore that night.

When I couldn't sleep I started trying to relieve the stress on the psoas muscle and the muscles and ligaments at the front of the hip by getting my fingers in there deep to see if I could relieve some tightness (not always the safest things to do I am told). I did find some tight muscles that loosened up and I have done this a few times this week when the hip gets "stuck". I am keeping that "stuck" feeling at bay and feeling better for the first time in a while. It has also managed to get the pain out of my si joint. Imagine if you had a wire going around the top of your femur right where it joins at the hip. Now imagine that wire pulling up towards your opposite shoulder, jamming your hip up and in. That is how my hip often feels and has felt for many years. I am imagining some tight muscles or ligaments giving it that pull, which then messes up my sacrum or si joint. My body has learned to compensate through its many imbalances. I have to keep that hip unstuck, work on the imbalances, and then I should be able to run free and fast (unless that old age thing is slowing me down).

It was good to feel better running this week. I did not enjoy the Gate City Striders hill workout on Wednesday. On Friday I got out and did a 15 miler for my longest run since tweaking my back. Today I ran the Medical Center 6K here in Nashua. My hip was not stuck but the many corners really challenged my hips. I ended up in eight place in 24:15. Last week I ran a 6:20 pace at Derry. This week my pace was 6:31 for only one kilometer longer. I am not sure why I was slower, but maybe it was the big meal I had last night. However the reason I feel that there should not be a slow down at 50 is people like Cathy Merra. She passed me after the first mile and placed right ahead of me (30 seconds). She was the top female runner and running strong after nearly breaking 3:10 at Boston. That is not slowing down at 50! Fortunately I just managed to beat the younger generation of star runners as dueling 12 and 13 year olds almost caught me at the finish. I can only guess that young Ben Platt did not pass me out of respect, because I had no kick.

What I did notice about the race and the running is that I have a lot of tightnesses again. I think that my hips are trying to protect myself from injury and react by tightening up so that my stride is shortened. This is where I need to get into some heavy core exercises. I have been doing some things with the kettlebells and planks, but I have been keeping them easy and probably should get a little more hard core. With the warmer weather, I think I should start riding my kickbike again. I know that riding the kickbike gently stretches out my stride, plus it is extremely fun! (I actually took it out tonight for 8 miles. I will be sore tomorrow, but it felt good to stretch out and push strongly off the road, as well as swing my hips forward.) I am also starting to be more diligent with my inversion table. I saw this interesting post on the Dragon Door forums. In it a kettlebell devotee has found that using an inversion table has fixed his externally rotated foot (I have one of those), his tight hips (me too!) and his janky knee (I rarely mention it, but when my left hip is off and rotated wrong, I get a tightness-not a pain- in my left knee). It seems he spends more that 5 minutes at a shot using the inversion table. I have used it sporadically and have not stayed on it for that long. Maybe I need to be a bit more patient, but it is worth a shot. I should note that I probably did my fastest running of the past 25 years the year that I first got the inversion table and used it a bit more religiously. It certainly can't hurt and it is a great way to do sit ups (from the upside down position). Earlier in the week (before reading the inversion table post) I had received an email from someone who read this blog wanting to know if there was anything I had found to fix my everted foot. I had written back saying that if my hips were aligned my foot seemed to be better (although not fixed) but that I had never seen anything that worked on pulling that foot over. It was interesting to read that someone else seemed to have fixed the problem with an inversion table. Maybe it is because it helps fix the hips or maybe it helps take the stress out of the ankle joint.

Last night, I started to read "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougal. What a fascinating and well written book! Here is another interesting review called "The Great Nike Rip-off" that finally forced my to go out and but a copy.

Here is a really inspirational and motivational video with some great runners, races, and even an old astounding Ironman Triathlon finishline crawl.