Thursday, April 17, 2014

Running Form (again?)

There is no end to magazine, pop-literature, and blogosphere discussion of running form, with much of it centered on foot strike and leg turnover.  We've certainly hashed that topic out over and over here at RP.  I personally have turned an entire 360 degrees from a slowish/longish stride with a noticeable heel-strike to a shorter reach and faster stride with a mid- to fore-foot strike and, after knee pain that turned out to be an easily correctible cartilage tear, back to "what had worked for 40 years."

No criticism of others' efforts and intuitions, but I'm coming to the painful realization my own entire thought process has been flawed.  I'm like the law student who reads a Supreme Court opinion and concludes "good writing is using lots of words or phrases like 'query' and 'meet for the case'," missing the crux reality that once one is a good writer a phrase like 'meet for the case' may be the only one that fits.  The funny thing is that I am not naive to the problem but I haven't taken the dramatic steps required to resolve it.

Causes of my Problems

I have badly foreshortened hip flexors.  Most runners do.  I would guess most people do, because sitting shortens them and in the absence of a deliberate effort they will not re-lengthen.  Biking, with a posture that is like sitting with your elbows on your knees, is especially bad.  Biking all day is even worse, and recovering from biking all day by spending the next day in the fetal position, well, it is a surprise I can walk.

I also have weak hips.  That one surprised me to learn -- I work hard to strengthen my hips -- but it is true.  The hip/glute muscles do not do their job of pushing the hips forward when standing -- and certainly not when running.  It is easy to cheat strength training, taking the stress on your lower back.

I said "I knew what the problem was."  And I did.  Coach Mike has been after me about my hip tilt since, well, ever.  I even once used the password "runhipsfirst" (changed after the Heartbleed scare) to keep the issue in my frontal lobe.  But I never made any real changes because things seemed to be going just fine the way I was running.

D__ recently shared with me this thoughtful Runners World article addressing this issue.

Effects

This one-two punch of weak hips and tight hip flexors has manifested itself in several ways in my various athletic efforts.  One that would not immediately jump to mind:  when I telemark ski, a sport that involves a lunge-like motion for the turn, I overweight the lead ski and under-weight the trailing ski, because in a lunge position my weight is naturally forward.

Me telemarking.  Too much weight on that front ski.
When I climb rock (or used to climb rock) I over-rely on my arms as my hips sag away from the wall, failing to keep my weight over my feet.

When I run I tilt forward at the hips relative to my torso.

Triathlon gear shows the tilt well.  Consider the angle of the short waist-line to the torso above it.
In the above picture (mile 10 of the run leg at IM St. George) I was not thinking about it. In the below video I was thinking about it and the problem remained!

video

In addition to a hip tilt, both the picture and the video show a short follow-through on the stride.  Contrast that to this picture of Moses Mosop, the world's second-fastest-ever marathoner.

See both follow-through and waist-line to torso.
I don't choose Mosop because he is necessarily famous for a perfect stride, although from the picture he maybe should be.  I picked Mosop because it was easy to find a side-shot of his running.  Note that his waist-line is not level to the ground, but it is ~90 degrees to his torso.  Thus, he has flat hips relative to his overall stance, but a forward lean that originates at the ankles.  Mosop runs as if, if he did not get the stride in in time, he would fall on his nose.

One further symptom the hip tilt does not show well:  running with the glutes only marginally engaged permits lots of side-to-side/up-and-down motion in the hips as well.  The below video shows what happens when the hip of the striding leg is not bearing my weight sufficiently well.

video


(Weak right glute means big left hip drop.  Note that the right hip drops less, suggesting that the left glute is stronger or at least better engaged.)

Hip Angle-Foot Strike

I think it is no accident that I have tended to be a heel striker, although recently I have been able with serious effort to change that.  When I consider the Mosop picture I don't see how he could strike the ground heel-first.  But too, he does not need to do so, because his loose hip-flexors permit that long - and beautiful -- follow-through at the end of the stride.

So it's just a working hypothesis, but I propose that foot strike is the symptom of a root cause, which is hip angle.  Here is my test:  I stand as if on a start line.  I lean forward from the ankles, flexing the glutes to keep the hips pushed forward.  I take a stride at the last minute possible to keep myself from falling over.

Without thinking about it I am landing mid- to fore-foot.  Time and again.

video
(Yes, if you are wondering, I am filming myself using an iPhone while in my office.)

In contrast, if I go with my normal "pretty good posture" stance -- i.e., the way I stand when I am not thinking about it -- and I try the same thing, the natural landing position is further back on the foot.  It may not be a full-on heel strike, but (and you may not be able to discern this from the video) it does involve my heel striking the ground.

video
So with an N of 1 ("I am N, hear me roar"), I conclude that hip position defines foot strike.

Changing my Running

I took this idea to the streets yesterday.  I was warned by PT Kristin from Fast Track Therapy to run in short doses -- 3 minutes on, rest, 3' on, rest.  During the rest period Kristin suggested I do a drill or two designed to activate the glutes or to concentrate on the extended hip flexors.   And she was right -- it is hard to keep the head in the game while doing this.  As soon as my mind wandered I was back in my normal stride, which, frustratingly, is just effective enough that I have to tell myself "no! Do better!"

A variety of exercises can help with this.  Ultimately it is a core strength question, with "core" meaning "glutes and hips" more than it does "six-pack abs."  I found a video of Ironman great Craig Alexander showing off his core strengthening routine.  What I like is that as he moves, including going to one leg at a time, his hips stay rigid.  Mine decidedly do not.

No clue how long this will take.  The idea is that if I pull off the change I will run more cleanly, with less stress on the parts that don't age well, but also that I will engage the big glute muscles so run faster and longer.  That's a prize worth working for.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Running

Last Saturday the PT said "run 10' on the treadmill at an easy pace."  I did and she watched.  On Monday I ran another 7' and she filmed.  Neither experience was remotely uncomfortable.

She then said "run 3x per week" working on this or that -- cadence, firm hips, long follow-through -- and if it hurts, stops.  If it does not hurt, feel free to add more time.

I feel like an East Berliner in 1989.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Where is Ted now?

So last week it was Chicago with Spencer.  This week it's ___ for the ABA Business Section meeting.  This moring, I went for a short run with my commercial law professor friend J____.  Then I had the strangest experience ever. I looked at the schedule of meetings and saw that one of the panels was about my article.  I snuck in and lurked.  I felt like I'd wandered into the funeral scene of Tom Sawyer.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ironman Maryland

I predicted that WTC would kill Chesapeakeman as soon as it could, although it promised to run it once this year when taking over the TriColumbia races.

That may still be true.  Ironman has not historically been victim to the sunk-cost fallacy, killing the St. George 140.6 after three under-subscribed races.  But it is looking more likely as if the former Chessie has a longer life expectancy.

Today I learned (hat tip to frequent commenter D__) that WTC is putting its premium "Ironman" brand on the former Chessie.  Contrary to my prior statements, there is some logic to this -- it is the first Ironman-branded race of either length in the triathlon-crazy mid-Atlantic region.  (Ironman 70.3 National Harbor would have been the first, but it flopped before it ever started.)




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring fling

Took advantage of first 60 degree plus afternoon (and morning teaching) to hit the city streets for a 45 minute 5 miler around 3 this afternoon.  Other then dodging some monster potholes felt great to be out in shorts and make normal sub-9 miles with slight time additions for traffic lights, pedestrians and other street hazards.  Topped it off with a quick maintenance trip to the chiro.  Paying for it now though as I begin my class prep at 10:15 for tomorrow's class.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

About that rehab

Max, I just read your post and was glad to see it. Sounds like you are on the upswing! One "good" thing about recovering from a surgical injury is that you have a great barometer to tell you when you are pushing too much: swelling!

Despite an enjoyable run with Ted and the South Brooklyn folks a couple of weeks ago, I'm still struggling with leg and foot pain (same problem, I think). This has been going on since February of last year. I've seen two podiatrists and a foot and ankle specialist. I've had x-rays (three or four times), orthotics, dry needling, strengthening, two different physical therapists, taping--you name it. Some things helped for a bit but something is always hurting. And of course, the two PTs gave me different exercises. So if the pain is still there--in fact, back with a vengeance in my foot this week--which exercises should I focus on?

I'm running very little, and none of it without pain. The majority of my exercise is on my spin bike, clipped in, which could be complicating everything...


A few notes on rehab

I don't want to continue to bore our broad readership with tales of my kinesthetic woes.  Suffice it to say they are fast lessening. I do want to add a few comments about rehab because I'm doing in rehab things I wish I was doing before the trouble ever started.

Lots of stationary flexion exercises.  Stand, clench the quad, clench the glute and abs in support, release, repeat.  The goal is to straighten the leg and keep the muscle firing through swelling.  The broader impact is to concentrate on muscular support of the standing position, which will eventually translate to muscular support of motion.

Lots of single leg exercises, watching in the mirror for zero knee wobbling.  Concentrate on a strong foot plant and flexed glutes to support the leg in between.  When it gets too easy move to eyes closed.  As simple as single-leg stands and as challenging as single leg squats and calf-raises.

Lots of outside-of-leg strengthening, generally with bands around the ankles walking sideways or even forward and back with a wide stance.  The band around the legs can be used as part of a low-weight squat routine or wall sit as well.

Lots of stretching.  Foam rolling.  Massage when I can fit it in (and afford it).  It's time to admit that I can't keep bulling through tight IT bands, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors.  Unless I sort those out before I get serious gain, I'm in for more surgery before I'm 50.  Or so the statistics suggest.

And low pressure cardiovascular exercise is back on the menu.  I rode perhaps a tad too much while celebrating P__'s and my 10th in Grand Cayman last weekend (100 miles over four days -- hardly ultracycling, but it's been a long lazy winter), resulting in swelling and pain that needs to subside.  Running is definitely off for a couple more weeks, although I definitely plan to try to keep up with Spencer in Chicago at the end of the month.

Soon physical therapy turns into relearning to run.  I hope I'm better at it afterward!