The Accidental Tourist

March 10th, 2008

  We had to go up to Taunton the other day to deliver my son and a few of his schoolmates to Southeastern Districts and since we had a little spare time before the afternoon concert, my wife and I headed south to New Bedford for a few bits and pieces for the B&B.  As we roamed around New Bedford in a pouring rainstorm, I navigated by way of the yellow mile markers recently re-painted on the roads for this year’s New Bedford Half Marathon and as I gave my wife a tour of the race route around the fort (miles 8-11 for those who are keeping count), I realized that most of the ways that I know how to find my way around cities and towns is through the races and the runs that I’ve done there.  While I travel quite a bit for work, I rarely get out to visit the city that I’m in for that few days except during my morning runs.  Perhaps later, if we get a chance to find someplace for dinner, I’ll be able to direct our explorations towards an interesting place that I ran by in the morning but my overall view of an area is shaped by the miles that I put on my running shoes in the morning, not by what I see through a car window.

  As an exercising tourist, I don’t take pictures of the places that I travel to, I build maps in my head instead.  And while much of my running hours are spent in the dark or looking at the few inches of pavement directly in front of me, I try to be sure to explore a different part of town every day, stopping as occasion demands to admire a building, tree, view, memorial, or other interesting diversion.  In this way, I now call these places part of my running experience, part of my life, part of my home … and in like kind, those places are now part of my training fitness, my race successes and failures.  I guess that it’s little wonder that I see everywhere as a race course, a training run, or a long ride.  The smart kid who never got picked first in gym class really is an athlete … and someday, on every street corner of every city of the world there will be a little sign that says, "Geof Ran Here."  Get outside and add your name to that sign right now!

The Kinetic Chain

April 28th, 2007

  Every runner will eventually succumb to an injury, whether due to trauma, overuse, or biomechanics, sometime in their athletic career.  The beginning runner focuses on the specific point of pain, the strained hamstring, the twisted ankle, the torn plantar fasciitis, and works on restoring function to and relieving pain from that area.  Traumatic injuries can usually be dealt with in this manner since we are acquainted with the cause (that gopher hole at the 25 yard line) and the result (ripped all the ligaments down the side of my right leg).  Overuse injuries and injuries caused by underlying biomechanical issues are subtle in onset and more challenging to diagnose and treat.  As we accumulate ‘ribbons’ in our injury trophy case, we become more adept at sensing the kinetic chain; that is, the interconnectedness and interdependence of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bone and other tissues which make us locomote.  And as we begin to comprehend how the kinetic chain works, we understand that injuries are not always as they appear.  More often than not, a soft-tissue injury in one area is caused by weakness or tightness in another section of the chain.  So for these types of strains, tears and twinges, look at other parts of the chain first before concentrating on the affected area.

  For example, I’ve been dealing with some chronic low-grade soreness in my left hip.  This has involved the hamstrings, the iliotibial band, the groin and hip flexors.  At the same time, I’ve had recurring, intermittent pain around the lateral aspect of my left ankle caused by nerve pinching.  The ankle pain is caused by a weak and tight calf muscle which causes my left ankle to roll to the outside which causes my pelvic girdle to shift slightly out of alignment and strains the hamstrings and quadriceps of my left leg as they try to make additional power to compensate.  So relaxing my calf muscles and attending to them with some strength workouts releases the tension and pain from my hip area.

  The kinetic chain is not always easy to connect together.  Running coach Bobby McGee shared the story of an elite runner who was suffering from chronic problems with his right calf.  After some exhaustive analysis and many ineffective solutions, one of the coaches noticed that his left arm didn’t complete a full swing and crossed over the mid-plane of his body while the right arm remained straight and completed the full swing cycle as it should.  After a few days of focused concentration on correcting the mechanics of the left arm, the strain on the right calf disappeared.  Upon further investigation, the athlete recalled a high-school football injury which had torn some muscles in his left shoulder.  As they healed, they tightened and restricted the range of motion in his left arm.  The right calf muscle was compensating for the loss of driving power from the left arm and overstraining itself in the process.

  Take home: when dealing with an injury, treat it locally with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) and immediately look for those weak or tight muscles which might be contributors to the cause.  Start with the opposing muscle groups (hamstrings vs. quadriceps, groin vs. iliotibial band, calves vs. ankles, and so on) and then work up and down the kinetic chain searching for weakness or unusual tightness.  Don’t forget that weak or tight muscles in other parts of the chain may also be caused by the injured muscle so check the entire chain.  And remember to look in unlikely places.  That tight muscle in your thumb may ultimately be the source of pain in your little toe.

Speedy Legs

February 25th, 2007

  Mary Peabody, a very accomplished master runner on Cape Cod, recently asked what she could do to increase her speed quickly.  She has a decent base accumulate over the years but has been lacking in consistency of late so isn’t really ready to add track intervals or intense strength training to her schedule yet.  With the usual caveats that she should establish a consistent base prior to attacking some of these workouts, I suggested the following in order to optimize the base that she has and to “pre-peak” for some early season races:

 Speed is directly affected by two (and only two!) components, cadence and stride length. These in turn are influenced by a number of other parameters including power output, flexibility, cardiac volume, muscle recruitment, and genetics. Let’s look at cadence, or leg speed, first. A few good drills and workouts to increase your turnover rate:
- rapid feet: standing in place on a flat, preferably soft, surface, do a running tap on the balls of your feet, similar to a football player’s stepping through tires drill without the tires. Try to get your right foot on the ground as soon as possible after your left foot has lifted off. Don’t lift feet high – just enough to be off the ground. This is a good exercise for warming up before a race.
- downhills: find a short hill of about 50 feet with a decent downhill grade (>30deg). Instead of leaning back, lean forward and stay on your toes. Let gravity carry your legs through the stride and then carry your momentum and fast moving legs for another 50-100 feet beyond the bottom of the hill. Jog back to the top and repeat 5-7 times. Warning – this can stress your quads and hamstrings so be sure to have some strength and base already in the house and don’t do this workout within 5 days of an important race.
- cadence: after warmup, run at a comfortable pace and count how many times your right foot touches the ground in a minute. Repeat 5-7 times increasing your cadence by 2-5 footfalls each time separated by a minute at comfortable pace. You’ll likely find that your comfortable pace cadence is around 78-82 footfalls/minute. On your last cadence interval, you should aim for a cadence of 92-95 footfalls/minute. While this exercise can be done on the treadmill, open road will allow you to more easily adapt stride length and cadence as the workout continues.

Stride length is determined by your flexibility and your power output. With sufficient time and adequate base training, a series of plyometric and resistance exercises will dramatically increase power … but since we only have a few weeks until your target race, we’ll skip these for now.

To address endurance speed: endurance and speed are not usually linked together as workouts for one will generally be at the expense of the other. Overall endurance will be built of long runs and tempo runs, speed will be built out of short intervals. However, you may find some benefit from what are known as endurance intervals. These are typically used by athletes training for 1/2-full-ultra marathon distances. Intervals are long (greater than 800m, usually 1-2 miles) and are run at 5-10 seconds faster than goal pace. These will accustom your body to running for long periods at speeds faster than that which you intend to race at. These workouts are demanding and shouldn’t be done within a week of a goal race and should only be added to your schedule after adequate base training and strength work. Some sample workouts:
- 4×1mile @ GP-10s with full recovery
- 2×2mile @ GP-5s with 1/2mile recovery
- 4×1200m @ GP-15s with 400m recovery (short recovery teaches your body how to run quickly when fatigued)
- Yasso 800’s: run 8-10×800m @ goal marathon time w/ 400m recovery (eg: if your goal marathon time is 3h30m, 800’s would be run at 3m30s or 105s per quarter)


February 25th, 2007

  Greetings fellow travelers.  I’ve finally decided to try my hand at a bit of blogging to see if anyone notices or even cares.  I’ve considered this kind of interactivity as part of the Cape Cod Athletic Club site but I don’t know if it will catch on with the CCAC crowd … so we’ll stick to forums and chat widgets there for now.  What will I end up posting here?  Who knows!  Probably bunches of inane stuff like everyone else does … but I’ll try to keep it relevant to triathlon and running training … and pursuing athletic type stuff on Cape Cod … and maybe some of it will even be interesting.  If all this output doesn’t vanish into the dustbins of time, maybe an anthropologist of a much later time may find some value in it – but that’s a blog entry for another date.

  So to include a little running related content, my son and I worked as volunteers for the Sheraton Hyannis Marathon (et al) races.  For anyone who does a lot of racing, it really behooves you to volunteer once in a while.  Seeing a race from the perspective of the police officer and the course marshall at the intersections really alters your whole perception of how races operate.  It’s also great to encourage everyone who got their bodies out and about to tackle a marathon or half-marathon on a cold, wintry day.  As a frequent front-of-the-pack runner, I think it also inspires some of our club runners to see me out on the road for 6 hours urging them on.

   Carry on!