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.


Scotty "PHAT" Graham said...


I went over you times and age graded percentages and you've actually gotten better with age. Way to go!!

Anonymous said...

Actually the Alexander Technique is not about holding your head in any position - it's about - in part - changing the nature of the dynamic relationship between your head and body. Most runners tend to stiffen their necks while running and this reduces their efficiency of movement.

You can learn how to stop doing this and run more easily - and faster.

Check out their website at for more informaton - including some information on working on your own, without a teacher.

Jim Hansen said...

Hey Scott,
I think I am starting to appreciate those age-grade tables!

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks for the link (lots to explore) and the correction.