Sunday, February 11, 2018

Five Ways to an Excellent Year of Running

While we're well into February, the year is still fresh and I've been thinking about how I want to shape my running in 2018. Perhaps it's because I'm still getting my feet under me after my back injury last year, but looking ahead, I want to take advantage of the fresh opportunities that come with another trip around the sun.

I think it all boils down to five things that should make for better and stronger running on a personal level, but also considers the running community beyond myself. Because, really, getting the most out of running means being part of this great community that exists.

So here it goes, the five things that will make for a great year of running:

1. SET A GOAL & GO AFTER IT. Pick a new distance. Work on your form. Rest with purpose. Become a trail runner. Go after that PR. Qualify for Boston. Do more cross training. Strengthen your core. Whatever it is (and there might be more than one), pick a goal and go after it. 

2. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Just as important as getting miles on our feet, is getting rest, eating well, rehabbing, and strength training. We all know it's true. Get off the couch and put your legs up the wall or roll out while you're watching Netflix. Skipping lunch probably won't help much when we lace up our running shoes. And, as I've learned, a strong core and glutes are key for efficient running and good form. 

3. EXPLORE. It's so easy for us to fall into a routine - the same workouts with the same routes, week in and week out. But one of the best things about running is the ability to explore new places, and become completely immersed in our surroundings. Without car windows between us and nature. Make a point to try a new route at least once a month. See something new.

early morning run - group run snow mountain ranch

4. COWBELL LIKE A PRO. We love races with great crowd support, but be honest, how often are you on the curb cheering and supporting other runners? Make a point to pick a race or two - even if you don't know anyone running it - and go cheer for the runners. Being cheered on by a complete stranger at just the right time can be the perfect boost when a race gets hard, so pass it on - be the person who cheers for others when they need it most.

5. VOLUNTEER. Another excellent way to give back to the community that often gets overlooked in our busy lives. Every race we run requires a lot of support, and race directors need volunteers. Pick a local race, big or small, and sign up. Then show up. Better yet, get your best running friends together and volunteer as a group. Trust me, runners are the best volunteers. You'll have a ton of fun and leave feeling good about how you spent your morning. 

early morning run - group run washington park

What are your goals? How are you making this a great year for your running?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Becoming a Stronger Runner, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts sharing my experience working with Therapydia Denver, as we fix my running form. If you want to know how this started, I suggest you check out this post.

After a few weeks of shuffling on the treadmill at the gym, monster walking through our kitchen, and reminding myself to relax (my feet) while I run, I was back at Therapydia for another session with Casey.

Coming straight from a long day at work, I spent a few minutes on the treadmill to get my legs moving and warm up a bit. Since the point of these sessions is to improve my running form, it's important to see if I've made any progress from visit to visit, so that was first on the agenda.

Casey took some videos as I ran on the treadmill from the same angles as the first time so we could see if anything improved. Running forms don't typically change overnight, so I fully expect that this process to take a while, but I do hope to see a bit of improvement with each session.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the new video (below right) next to the original, showed some improvement! I'm leaning forward more and while both feet are hitting the ground at a better angle, my left foot is looking better than the right.

You can see by the green lines below that my left leg was stretching out farther during the first session than this time. The more out stretched the leg, the more likely the heel is going to take the brunt of the landing. Improvement!

My hips are still dropping, which is the sign of weak glutes, but that's going to take a lot of time (and monster walks) to see a real difference, so he wasn't surprised to see this and encouraged me not to get discouraged.

This is definitely a process that requires dedication and patience. Even with all the great help, direction and exercises that I'm getting from Casey at Therapydia, I'm the only one who can actually do the work. If I don't do it, nothing will change.

I've learned I need to do my exercises at the gym or just after I get home each morning because I'm usually so mentally exhausted after work that the last thing I want to do is my exercises. Even spending 5 minutes rolling out before bed it tough enough.

After the treadmill test, I was given a few more exercises to work on. This week: core.

The first exercise he gave me works the deep core muscles, the transverse abdominus. It's not like a plank where you can tell without much trouble if you're doing it correctly or not. This one is pretty subtle so it took a few tries to get it right, and then I had to do it a few more times to try and ingrain how it felt in my memory so I could do it at home on my own.

The other exercise for the week was the standard bridge - with two feet on the floor and also lifting one foot off - with an exercise band just above my knees to provide resistance. There's a reason why some exercises are so common, because they work. The bridge is one of them - great for strengthening abs, low back and glutes.

Like monster walks, I've done bridges for years, but it's a good reminder that I need to do them regularly. In fact, Casey instructed me to do these exercises - along with the ones from the first session - three days a week, advising against doing them just before a long or hard run.

Beyond the exercises and keeping my feet relaxed while I run, he also gave me a cadence goal - 170 steps per minute. With a quicker cadence I'll keep my strides shorter and in turn, should land more mid-foot. The trouble I'm still having with this though is running a faster cadence without running faster, because my legs and lungs can't keep up with it for long.

For this, Casey recommended breaking down each mile. Start by running the faster cadence for a quarter mile, then back to my regular cadence for the rest; over time skewing more of the mile towards 170 steps for minute. This is what I've spent the least amount of time on, but I'll get there.

More work is ahead. I have another session this week so stayed tuned for more about how this is going. I'm curious, if you've successfully increased your cadence, what's the secret?

This post is sponsored by Therapydia. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Getting Started on the Right Foot

You may know that the last few months of 2017 were not great running months for me. In fact, I wasn’t running at all. First, another shin/calf “injury” popped up that made running uncomfortable, then a random and very painful back injury took me out completely. While frequent visits to my chiropractor and acupuncturist, and rest, got me back to running, I knew that for sustained health, I needed to fix the underlying problem: my running form.

Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to partner with Therapydia Denver to do just that. Never heard of them? Therapydia is a national network of physical therapy clinics, but they actually do a lot more than just physical therapy.

Over the next few months I’ll be posting about my experience working with Therapydia Denver to fix my running form and (hopefully) stave off more injuries. Since the goal is to keeping running as long as I can.

We'll start with my first session, the Run Assessment:

I met with Casey McNitt, the clinic director, for my run assessment. It's an hour long session that starts off like most first sessions with a PT or other medical practitioner - I shared my medical history, experience with running, goals, and the issues I'd recently been dealing with. If you know me, you know that'll take a while. Thankfully, he wasn't deterred. 

His goal is to help me be the best runner I can be, by identifying issues with my running form and determining a plan to get me on the right path. 

After talking through my history, we went to the treadmill. I warmed up for a few minutes walking at a brisk pace before I was instructed to bump up the pace a bit to a comfortable run. While running, he took videos of my form, from the back and side, then focused on my feet.

We then looked at the videos together and he walked me through what he saw. And what we saw, wasn't pretty.

From the Back
  • The video showed - and you can see in the screenshots below - that I need to strengthen my glutes. Rather than staying even, my hips drop with each foot fall. As Casey explained, the right hip drop shows weakness in my left side gluteus medius. To compensate, I lean left with my upper body. While it takes the load off my weak glute, it can create other problems with my hips, low back, neck and more. 
  • My arms swing front to back in a straight line, rather than crossing over my body. Did you know they were supposed to? I guess I didn't. By crossing in front, your core has to do more work, taking the pressure off your lower body a little. 

From the Side
  • I run straight up, almost leaning backward. I think this is a holdover from my years in dance and marching band. Good for marching band, not good for running. Alternatively, by leaning forward, I can naturally propel myself forward and it'll help address how my feet land, because...
  • I am a heel striker. A quiet one, but a heel striker nonetheless. The way my heel hits, all the force is going straight up the chain, which is also likely playing a big role in my injuries. 

After looking at these videos and breaking it all down, Casey put me to work. Back on the treadmill, he had me shuffle with a fast walk to get the feeling of my full foot hitting the ground. Then, leaning forward (so far that it felt like I was going to go head over heels), pick up the pace.

Immediately, we saw a little improvement. See how I'm leaning a bit forward in the image below and a bit more of my left foot is hitting the treadmill? It's not a huge difference, but it was a good start. (And isn't it so cool to be able to see the improvements in video?!)

Before wrapping up, we headed out to the gym where he showed me a few exercises to strengthen my glutes (hint: keep up those monster walks) and a drill to help me get the feeling of leaning forward and striking the floor with a flatter foot.

Since this first session, I've been incorporating the exercises into my workouts a few times a week and using the tips and drills. One thing Casey mentioned while watching a video of another runner with a similar issue, is that she kept her feet relaxed. That idea really stuck with me and has become a sort of mantra for me.

I'm excited to see how my running improves over the next sessions with Therapydia. If you found this post interesting, I hope you'll come back to hear how it goes!

This post is sponsored by Therapydia. All opinions are my own.