It wasn't really like I was purposefully searching for a way to change how I run, but oddly in the times that I'm injured and unable to run, I find myself watching billions of videos on running. That could mean various Flotrack workout Wednesday's, random instagram posts, GingerRunner gear reviews, you name it. Sounds kind of weird and painful to say that when I'm unable to run I watch videos of people running, but I find it motivates me to work my tail off on rehab type stuff so that I too can get out and run again. Well this time around (November), I found myself watching Trackster's series called Endure showcasing Parker Stinson's build towards the Chicago Marathon. Right away I fell in love with this guy's stride, and talked about it at nauseam. So fluid, such fast turnover, beautiful arm carriage, and with such a powerful and aggressive looking posture. I probably watched each episode of the series 10 times, and every one of his Instagram videos more times than I'm comfortable to say. I wasn't just watching them though, I studied them. I slowed those videos on Youtube down to 0.25 (the running parts not him talking lol), put my physio cap on, and went to work dissecting each and every movement he made. Three things really jumped out to me.
1) The amount of forward lean he was running with was more than I'd ever really seen. I have been watching and idolizing Ryan Hall my whole running life, and really the difference between the two was incredible. Ryan, just like most other elites, adopts a slight forward lean to help promote more efficient and powerful hip extension (puts those big strong glute muscles to work). So in theory there was really nothing different about Parker's forward posture, it was just the degree of forward lean looked much more significant then I had seen before, and also it was interesting to see that the degree of forward lean stayed consistent no matter what pace he was running at. It was really crazy to see when in one video he posted of him jogging at a very slow pace (poking fun at others who questioned if he ever actually ran easy since in all his videos he is running super fast), he was still leaning forwards to that same degree. What is crucial for every runner who adopts a forward lean, and what I think Parker does very well, is that the lean is initiated from the ankles not the waist. That keeps the whole body in good alignment, with a straight line extending from the ankles up to the crown of the head. Leaning from the waist on the other hand can not only lead to various back/hamstring issues, but it could also indicate pre-existing problems such as tight hip flexors. Lastly, a lot of other runners you see with that forward lean end up having there hips leaned forwards properly from the ankles just like I'm saying, but then their back, upper body, and head are perfectly upright. With Parker everything is leaned forwards from toe to head, and his head position especially is much more forward than I've seen in other runners. To me, from a true speed perspective, by having the entire body leaned forwards, including the head, you are maximizing that forward momentum (and that's what I mean when I called his posture an aggressive looking run posture). Think about it, your head weighs something around 10 or 11 pounds, I figure that while that weight is just sitting there you may as well use it to your advantage and have it help pull your forwards. This is just my theory but it makes sense to me.
Example 1: Here's the video of him running dead easy from his instagram. As you can see he's still leaning forwards quite significantly.
Example 2: Here is during a race. With the line I drew in, you can clearly see that the lean extends all the way up to the crown of his head. To me it looks like a very good posture, and one that puts you in position to run fast since it almost looks like he's running down a hill.
So after probably the millionth time watching one his videos and seeing such degree of forward lean, that morning, before my run, I went downstairs grabbed a pull up band put it around my waist, secured it around one of the treadmill's arm rails and practiced leaning from my ankles. I leaned forward, held it, then pulled myself back, and repeated. After a few of those, I leaned forwards held it and tried while holding, and while keeping my hips stable, to march on the spot. Sounds dead simple but if done right keeping the exact same forward lean and tension on the band as you march and shift weight from one leg to another is a decent challenge and takes a good degree of body awareness. When I felt comfortable, I progressed it to running As on the spot still keeping that forward lean. Then after all that, I went out for a run. I had an easy run scheduled that day, but couldn't seem to runner slower than 3:55s. The amount of forward lean made me really feel like I was running down a hill. It felt good, but as the run progressed I noticed two things:
1) my core was starting to fatigue after a little while and maintaining the forward lean was becoming more and more difficult, and
2) post run my calf muscles were pretty sore.
Just like with holding a perfectly aligned plank, it takes a certain degree of conditioning to maintain such a straight line extending from you ankles up to your head while running, so the core getting tired I understood. I quickly remedied that issue by adding in pilates 6-7 times per week doing 25-30 minute instructional classes I find on youtube to end my day, or before the evening bike or run. So far, my review on pilates is that it is a pretty darn good workout. I've been doing core work forever now, but I've never had a workout where it hurt to stand up straight afterwards (since that stretches the abs). My only complaint on pilates would be when in some of the videos the instructor says something like "Okay ladies let's do this" and I'm like wtf is this a gender specific ab workout? Or another is when the instructor says, "Now it's time to work on our booties," and I'm just like "oh god what am I doing here. I have a MSc in Physio and a BSc in kine, and I'm listening to someone who is telling me to work my booty muscles, what has my life come to." Still the pilates stuff really lights up the core* and the endurance to hold that forward lean start to finish of a run is definitely improving.
*The pilates does though seem to have quite a heavy emphasis on the superficial abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis [six pack muscle], and obliques), and not as much of the true deep core (transverse abdominis, multifidus, pelvic floor) but I figure a ripped six pack never hurt anyone, and also with things continuing to improve why question it.
Now these calf muscles, why were they sore? So basically my assessment is that with the forward lean, you are shifting your centre of mass further ahead and you will naturally land more midfoot. This will stress the calf muscles/achilles tendon more than landing closer to the heel. So to remedy this issue, again I went to work in the gym, lifting weights and doing various exercises focused all around strengthening the calf muscles. Most of the week the exercises are focused on strengthening the muscles/tendons eccentrically, which I equate to stripping the muscle/tendons down and toning them, and two times per week my exercises are concentric focused, which I like to think of as building the muscle mass back up (concentric will strengthen more muscle belly). So for instance, on Tuesday's it'll be eccentric calf raises: 5 sets of 20 with a straight knee targeting more gastrocnemius (the big two-headed calf muscle), and then 3 sets of 20 with a slightly bent knee (targeting more the soleus). Then on Wednesday, since this is at home and i don't have an actual calf raise machine, I'll rest 150lbs on my knees while sitting on the bench with my heels off the end of a step (an old small picnic cooler), and then do 3 sets of 15 first with ankles in neutral, then 3x15 with ankles holding a ball between them (activating more inner calf), and then 3x15 ankles out (targeting more outer calf).
But I wasn't done there. The second point I noticed with Parker's running was the very high cadence. Actually one of his training partner's Suguru Osako (a 2:05:50 marathon runner) showed it even better. This super fast cadence on a midfoot strike. So I thought about things a little. Besides doing post run strides a few times per week, what would be a good way to work on building up cadence and maintaining that midfoot strike without driving up my pace (as I was still in base phase training). Then it hit me, but first, let me tell you a little story. In 2011, when I started training for my first marathon, I really didn't know much about anything, had no coach, all I did was run. I had no clue of how far, how fast, nothing. I had no GPS, just a stopwatch. I would just run out until I started getting tired then turn around, and repeat the next day hoping that the turnaround point would be a little further out. Things went pretty well in the first, so I signed up for another a few months later. But first, I wanted to learn more about things, and not have my training be so random in the hopes I could go even faster. Still with no coach, my knowledge came from the many books I read, or videos I watched. One book I read (and I think most runner's have likely read) was called Born to Run. It had quite an impression on me, and not too long after starting that book, I went off to Burlington to NewWorld Runner's, the only store at the time that carried them, and bought a pair of Vibram five fingers. Yes they looked awfully dorky, and people in the neighbourhood must have thought who is this lunatic running around in what looked to be gorilla feet shoes, but nonetheless I built myself up to running 100% of my mileage in Vibrams. --If you don't know Vibrams are barefoot running shoes, basically just a tiny thin piece of rubber to protect the foot from abrasions. I didn't get any injury whatsoever in that build and things went even better in marathon number 2 (although I raced in Asics DS Racers not the vibrams) and took 17 minutes off my time from a few months earlier. However, after the long and hot summertime build, I decided to finally throw the vibrams into the washing machine, followed the instructions on the label and everything, but they didn't survive. A good size hole in the second toe of the left shoe opened up and that meant no more outdoor running for those beauties. I'm not sure why I never got another pair and continued things, but that was pretty much it, the barefoot experiment was over. Now, going back to things how can you work on lifting up the cadence, building the calf muscles strength and resilience, engrain that midfoot strike, all while not running at crazy fast speeds, run barefoot. And so now that I own a treadmill having the little hole on the bottom of the left one of my original vibrams doesn't matter since being on a treadmill I'm not worried about glass or a sharp rocks or anything, and my original vibrams have been resurrected. [This is why I keep every single one of my old running shoes: you never know - and yes I still have my Nike Shox Basketball shoes from Grade 6 and they are in mint condition, a little too small but you never know when they'll make a comeback into the rotation].
So that's a long winded way of saying 3x per week I use the old vibrams on Tuesday's, Thursday's, and Sunday's for my second run of the day. In Week 1, I did 10 minutes for each of those runs, week 2 was 12 minutes, week 3 16 minutes (and by this point was actually loving running in them and rolling 4min k's easily on the treadmill at 195-200rpm), week 4 20min, week 5 24min, and this past week 28 minutes. On tuesday and thursday this week 28 minutes ended up being about 7.2km for 3:56/km in vibrams, after the 15.5k run in the morning outside on the roads. Something you definitely notice is that after running at close to 200rpm in the vibrams, running at 188-190 or so out on the roads feels real slow, and the calfs are for sure stronger.
Plus the added benefit of doing these runs on the treadmill is that with how I set things up with mirrors all around the treadmill, I can work on the last thing I picked out from watching Parker's training videos, and that is how he really lifts up well from the heels at takeoff starting the swing phase (here is a nice video quirky little video from Sage Canaday of what movement I'm referring to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrCm6UA2U1k). With any of Parker's videos you see pretty clearly his heel comes up off the ground almost immediately. Alberto Salazar has talked about the importance of this on numerous occasions, and basically to keep things short and sweet, with good heel lift, you are shortening the lever, and the shorter the lever the more efficient the movement taking less energy to pull through the swing phase. A good drill to practice this movement are butt kicks (running C march). So during these barefoot runs I watch myself in the mirror intently, focusing on that heel lift, seeing it and engraining it in my mind, so that when I'm outside running with no visual feedback I can replicate that movement.
The hope was also that by shortening the lever I would put less strain on the hamstring muscle which has bothered me for more than 2 years, but unfortunately even with the changes that part of the equation is still unresolved. I will say the faster the cadence the less the hamstring hurts (maybe just less time to hurt), so in that way the barefoot running and emphasis on increasing the cadence is working to some degree to help the hamstring. Having said that I do think I've narrowed down the source of the hamstring pain, and that is that the hip/sij on the left side feels stuck, and my pelvis is significantly rotated to the right. I figure if the innominate on the left is not rotating posteriorly as my left leg is trying to swing forward, then the all responsibility shifts towards the hamstring to pull that leg through and overtime it gets burnt out. In terms of the pelvis being rotated, I can see the rotation when I do bridges or stand and look at myself in the mirror by the fact that my belly button (and line of the rectus abdominis) is pointing to the right. So I won't bore you too much with this stuff but basically, I've been doing a lot of exercises to try to reset my pelvis with muscle energy techniques and various exercises/rolling to release the right hips external rotators, strengthen its internal rotators, and the opposite on the right side. However, what I really think I need is for a physio/chiro (who won't charge me 90$ per session) to work into the deep hip muscles, and mobilize/manipulate the SIJ to free things up, since some of the muscles are difficult to get into on my own and muscle energy techniques for the SIJ I think can only do so much. Overall, I think the pelvis being rotated to the right could also be connected to the flare ups I continue to get in the labral tear of the right hip since one of the causes of the pelvis rotating to the right is if the left hip is tight in internal rotation, and the right hip in external rotation. Again definitely present on me with my right and left quads both looking like like they are pointing to the west (the left), and the excessive IR rotation on the right hip would for sure put pressure and aggravate the right labrum.
Anyways to get back to things and summarize this way too long of post, I changed up my running technique by:
1) Having more of a forward lean and doing many more core exercises, and lots of calf strengthening to be able to support and sustain the slightly new emphasis
2) Increasing my cadence by incorporating barefoot (vibram) running 3x per week into the routine
3) Working on pulling up more from my heels thereby shortening the lever to foster better running economy again via barefoot running and more drills pre and post run.
Finally, are these changes reflecting in the quality of running, well December which included a week of me getting back into the swing of things and then just easy/steady running as part of a base phase ended up being the 4th fastest month of running I've ever done. And you can see the other months with it in the top 5 are all from my best ever year of running, a year where I had zero significant injuries. What I think is more impressive about that is that compared to the other months in there, this one didn't have any speed workouts or races to skew the data. For example there in Oct 2013 it has a 42.2 segment at 16.5km/hr (2013 STWM) bringing that average up. Also add in that in 2013 there was no cycling tiring the legs out. 14.7kph average btw is an average pace of 4:05/km over 450km of running, not to shabby at all as a way to start things off. I I'll throw in the first week here of 2019 where I ran 131km, was the fastest week of 2019 lol. This week will be up near 145 and hopefully even quicker.
Anyways if you're still here thanks for reading, you made it, I'm done talking now. Happy training.