Saturday, June 27, 2009

Orthotics for your Hands?

This photo is from the 2005 Applefest Half-Marathon. I finished in 11th place overall-which tied my highest finish ever at this Hollis, NH race. But what is that I am holding in my hands? Are they orthotics for your hands?

Yesterday afternoon I saw a review of a new running book, a book I would typically ignore. It looked like just another retread of the same old stuff that is in so many other running books particularly with a title like "Run for Life" (I think a few other books have the same or similar titles). Something caught my eye in a quick glance at the review and I decided that this book by Roy Wallak had a bit more under the cover than the title and cover picture would suggest.

The book claims to be a guide to keep you running until you are 100 years old. The author also wants you to run fast and be healthy. This is where the title and cover need to suggest more. Roy Wallak goes beyond the traditional and typical stretches and workout plans and instead shines a light on a few unorthodox methods that a runner (who constantly breaks down- like me) might want to try. I have already had experience trying some of the suggestions in the book and this is what intrigued me enough to buy it and see what else the author had to say.

The book advocates "soft running" - a forward on the foot running stride using light weight minimalistic running shoes. I used to be a heavy heel striker and have transitioned over to a more flat-footed stride. It also advocated barefoot running and gives a shout out to the Vibram Five-Finger shoes. I recently started using a pair of these for strides. It tells your to do some pool running. I have never tried this, but this is the first book I have seen that tells you how to do it: in the deep end or touching the ground and using special equipment or not? It tells about short interval sprints and how to naturally release HGH to buttress an aging body. It incorporates stretching (looks like Ecosque exercises) and a Yoga routine: both designed to keep the body in balance. It talks about hip and knee replacements (something I hope I never have to do) and postural exercises. There is a lot of recent research in the book and it is interesting reading. The chapters read like magazine articles and I have skipped and skimmed around to preview the parts most interesting to me.

However, one article is what prompted me to buy the book. It was on using hand-grips to help balance your running form. This seems like one of the most way-out ideas in the book, but in 2005, I actually used these handgrips for about 6 months. The are called the E3 Grips by BioGrip. I bought a pair a few years back and tried them out. I actually liked them and noticed a great effect on balancing my stride. I think I stopped using them in the winter as I didn't really want to explain to anybody exactly what they were plus I don't think they worked the same with gloves on. I also didn't want to look like a kook! Some of my teammates noticed them, but I think they thought they were a sort of weight training device. I don't know what they thought, but they probably already thought me a kook anyhow!

There is a whole chapter on them in the book and the author tells a story of running the Boston Marathon on only 2 weeks of training, because they helped remedy a sore hip that kept him from running for months. The basic idea is that the grips put your thumb and hands in an optimal position for running that facilitates proper arm swing and balance between the shoulder and the hips. Some of the athletes who used the hand grips include Rich Hanna the 2001 World 100km Silver medallist, Michael McCormack one of the great Ironman competitors of the 80's and 90's (review here), and two time Ironman Canada champion, and former world class and Olympic marathoner from Canada, Peter Maher (if you know your running history-he was a former heavy-weight smoker- 6'5"-245 pounds- who took up running and finished fourth in the NYC Marathon): review here. These and other runners were all athletes with bad biomechanics who used the hand grips to overcome injuries due to bad running form.

I got a pair in 2005 and immediately dropped my 5k times from a 19:09 without the grips (one second behind Steve Wolfe in a summer full of battles) to a 18:48 and then a 18:45 on the same Mine Falls course as the 19:09 and this time I was 3 seconds ahead of Steve Wolfe (Man, I should have been using these things all this year!). Three days after that I ran a 18:11 at the Cigna race (25 seconds ahead of Steve Wolfe). Whether I was getting in good shape or the grips were helping me, I don't know. I was also going through 11 Rolfing sessions at the time. Even race director's starting speculating on the secret to my success at this point- referring to the great starts I was getting- but not knowing about my use of the hand-grips! Note in the picture that race winner Steve Wolfe is right behind me at takeoff (in the blue singlet). He ran very fast but only because he was experimenting with "shrinking" before a run. In this picture he has shrunk to about 1/2 my height!

I found them comfortable and they did help me keep my hands from clenching awkwardly and they kept my shoulders feeling stronger and more balanced. I remember not wanting to go for a run without them because I didn't feel right when I ran, but somehow despite my successes I stopped using them that winter. I kept them on my treadmill and every once in awhile would use them for a few miles for old times sake. Before I got the book on Friday I took them out for a run again. I did notice an immediate effect on my balance and posture and had a good run (despite tweaking my back muscle earlier in the day- the same one that has gone out for me twice before this year). When I read the chapter in the book the author claims that Deena Kastor and Michael Stember (2000 Olympian at 1500 meters) have also used the hand grips.

Today I ran my fastest time in the past couple of months on my typical 8 mile loop by about 3 minutes. Who knows if they work. Maybe I will keep trying them out for awhile again to see what effect they continue to have. Maybe I will know who reads my blog when I go to the track because they will be looking to see what I have in my hands.

I think the book is an interesting one to read. It also includes interview with runners like Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Rod Dixon and others. One thing that bothers me as I skimmed the book is the many misspellings of names; Greg Myer instead of Meyer, Joe Vehill instead of Vigil, and a few others as well as a misclaim that Michael Yessis is the creator of Active Isolated Stretching, when in fact it was Aaron Mattes. Of particular note to Gate City Striders is a mention of Bill Spencer on page 218 as well as a picture that may include a few other 65 plus Gate City Striders.


Steve Wolfe said...

Jim, I LOVE that picture of the start! I love it so much I totally forgot I won that race. I just mentioned that "win" today in my blog...not really counting it as a win since it was a weekly series. Those were good times then and I totally enjoyed our weekly battles.

Jim Hansen said...

Hey Steve,
Congrats on winning the trail race today! I can't believe you haven't won more races than these two! Did you employ the shrinking strategy again today to get your win?