Some Reflections on Running

Like everyone else, now that we’re sequestered in various ways to ward off the spread of coronavirus, I’ve had time to do some extra reading.  This led me to pull Tim Noakes’s Lore of Running off the shelf, a past birthday present.  Many of you know this 930-page tome, first released in 1985 and last updated in 2002 (4th Edition).  It’s an amazing compilation, in many ways ahead of its time or at least on the cusp of it.  Much has been gleaned in the last 18 years, but little contradicts what Noakes presented in LOR.  It’s unfortunate Noakes has become known for his more recent outspoken advocacy of the low carb-high fat diet.  If you Google him, almost all the YouTube links relate to this.  Yet, Noakes’ understanding of running science is broad and deep.  And this is why LOR is such a valuable resource and good read. In the Introduction, Noakes talks about his own love and connection to running and entitles that section Some Reflections on Running.  Hence the title of this post.  He notes seven things that capture what running has meant to him.  This resonated with me and led to listing his points and adding … Continue reading

Keeping Perspective

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown virtually everything into chaos.  Schools are closing or going online, conferences and meetings cancelled, international travel bans put in place, and local, state, and national health officials grappling with assessing the spread of the virus and strategies for dealing with it.  The financial and commodity markets are taking historic hits and swings.  And at a time we could use a little relief and some distracting entertainment, the Final Four tournaments are cancelled, the start of the MLB delayed and NBA season suspended.  Regionally, the New Bedford Half Marathon was cancelled and the Boston Marathon moved to the fall for the first time ever.  Locally, road races of all sizes are being cancelled. As we might expect, there is plenty of finger pointing and second guessing going on.  Unfortunately, that will probably continue for some time, which just doesn’t help things.  It’s a time to realize nobody has all the answers and to work together on viable solutions.  Hopefully we’ll see more of that in the days ahead.  The reality is very few of us are going to contract COVID-19, which is a new (why it’s being called novel) strain of coronavirus causing the problem.  Other … Continue reading

Bending Back the Aging Curve!

I am involved in a research project at UVM developing interventions to enhance stride length (and therefore speed!) in older runners.  These interventions are jumping and skipping plyometric-form drills I’ve previously blogged about.  Borrowing from what John Babbington prescribed for his Wellesley cross country team and also discussed by Peter Reaburn in The Masters Athlete, I have been consistently doing these for over 20 years.  I firmly believe I’ve benefitted from this regimen.  The premise of plyometrics rests upon generating maximum force in the shortest time (Reaburn, 2009.) To be clear, the drills I use and prescribe for older runners are not as intense as the ones you’ll see demonstrated online by college or younger athletes. But they do generate force quickly! Through this research, I’m looking to expand this practice beyond myself and those I’ve coached.  As part of a proposed research paper, I’ve described how the expected decline in endurance running speed accelerates after age 50.  This took me right to the World Masters Athletics (WMA) adopted age grade (AG) tables, which most of us are probably familiar with.  At root, these tables are derived from best-ever times reported by age and gender for various distances.  The computed … Continue reading

Looking Back

It’s now January 2nd and I closed out my 2019 training log.  This may seem over-the-top to many, but I keep a daily log of all my training, I then total things up each month and compile it for the year.  I have over 25 years of these logs.  What I track has evolved but over the past 15 years I’ve consistently logged running miles and running equivalents (mostly water running and StairMaster) and whether I’ve lifted weights or done form drills.  At the end of the month I total all this up along with number of races run, total racing distance, and average weight based upon 10-12 weigh-ins per month.  It’s an Excel spreadsheet that both records past activity and projects to the end of the year.  Excel calculates the average and median for all the categories for the prior three and 15 years and I compare that to the current year.   It’s really not that much work to keep this up and it’s great for looking back.   It’s also functions as a roadmap — I plan for the upcoming year by month and update it based on actual monthly totals.  As much time as I spend working … Continue reading

Pliability

I’ve been reading Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012).  It’s conversationally written.  You can picture yourself in a seminar setting with Jay presenting PowerPoints, cracking jokes, and noting anecdotal evidence.  The book covers the entire gamut of running, with a focus on injury prevention.  It’s pretty opinionated but includes an extensive reference list from which he draws.  Dicharry is a seasoned clinician and has no doubt seen many versions of all the injuries about which he writes.  He discusses in depth a concept worth expanding on — pliability, which Webster defines as “flexible, supple, yielding.”   Dicharry uses it in the context of muscle function. We all know what it feels like to be tight and stiff.  This, often in spite of regular stretching and taking it easy between hard efforts.   As Dicharry explains, the tension in muscles is not the same up and down the line.  And does not dissipate evenly.  Let’s look at hamstrings, the oft strained muscle in runners.  The biceps femoris attaches both at the hip and below the knee.  With insertion points crossing two joints, the tension varies along the hamstring.  For example, when running, one end of the biceps femoris contracts concentrically … Continue reading

Expect the Unexpected!

Competitive runners are planners.  We have our training schedules and race calendars and organize busy days and weeks around running.  Some plan a week ahead; some months or even a year out.  And there’s a huge range in terms of depth and detail in that planning.  I have seen planning logs by day for an entire month (mine included!), weekly targets for mileage and quality, and more basic monthly and bi-monthly goals.   Why do we do this? Presumably it’s because we value the payback: feeling good when we run and the ability to race well.  We prioritize our travel to accommodate races. Bottom line, running is part of our psyche and social fabric.  So, we make space for it and all that entails. But what happens when those plans go awry?  Sometimes for small things; other times big things.  With injury, we might at first be mired in disappointment, and perhaps that is a necessary form of grieving about missing a key race or races.  But eventually it’s important to reset the table and create new plans. My latest bout with this happened recently when a mile into a 5K race, I felt a sudden pull in my left … Continue reading

Squats

We’ve all seen those guys (and increasingly women) at the gym in the squat racks lifting several times their body weight.  They hold the bar behind their neck (back squat) or over their collarbone (front squat.)  It can be intimidating to watch this, and we might easily conclude “that’s not for me.”  But I’d like to convince you otherwise, based on my own experience. First, let’s look at the squat and why it is considered by most strength and conditioning coaches the most complete strength exercise.  For starters, it’s a multi-joint exercise involving at least the hip, knee, and ankle joints.  The squat also builds our balance and flexibility.  In total, you get more bang for your buck – the squat is efficient!  In addition, the involved muscles get a dose of concentric, isometric, and eccentric contractions.  And speaking of muscles all of the big ones in the lower extremity are engaged: quads, hamstrings, calves, front and back leg muscles, as well as those in the ankle and feet.  And the back gets a quality workout too, assuming good form and depending on the type of squat done. With this kind of payback, why do most runners avoid squats?  It’s … Continue reading

It’s a Stretch!

In our Biomechanics of Human Motion class, we’ve been looking at the topic of flexibility and range of motion – i.e., stretching.   I thought I knew a thing or two about this topic.  In reality, I knew a smidgeon.  Humbling! Let’s walk through what we’ve covered in class.  As with most biomechanics, it’s important to start with the micro and build up from there.  In describing this, I’ll draw heavily on Joseph Hamill’s book Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement, 4th edition, p. 116-118.   This text is an amazing compendium of everything biomechanical, from anatomy and physiology to muscular force production.  Not an ideal nighttime read, but after a good night’s sleep and with a strong cup of coffee, this book has plenty worth exploring. Hamill defines flexibility as “the terminal range of motion of a segment,” such as a hip or leg.  This is comprised of both active and passive elements.  For example, during the running stride, our hamstrings actively engage to pull our leg behind us and then passively engage as we reach the top of the range to terminate the forward “swing phase” in preparation for the quads to pull the leg down.   If we are inflexible, then … Continue reading

It’s a Panacea

We’ve all heard the word panacea thousands of times  — “that’s a panacea for this or that,” meaning all-healing, the total solution.  Perhaps an ointment, treatment, or even a good thought.  Often used in the negative, something may be said to not be a panacea.  And we’ve been told to keep good hygiene to stay healthy (and presentable!).  But where do these words come from.  The Greeks! I was looking for background on a research project I’m working on relating to gait and pulled ACSM’s Advanced Exercise Physiology off the shelf at the Dana Medical Library at UVM.  The first chapter was entitled Historical Perspective: Origin to Recognition.  As interesting as any novel I’ve recently read, this chapter presents where concepts and words we use freely today come from, especially as it pertains to health and science. Over time, what constitutes health, how it is maintained and reasons for illness and poor health, has been posited in different contexts.  Healers in ancient India and China promoted exercise and health to prevent sickness, not to improve performance, though warriors were provided with good nutrition, quarters, and encouraged to get adequate sleep. However, what we consider modern medicine and exercise science has … Continue reading

Take a Knee!

Football season is about to begin.  You may recall, when a player’s knee hits the ground and he’s touched by a defender, play is called dead.  Often the quarterback “takes a knee” to stop the clock.  But this post is not about football!  Rather a look at our marvelous and incredible knees, the mid-point of our lower extremities — the runner’s drive train.  Since knees are the most common site of running injuries, it’s worth reviewing how they function.  Pictured below, the knee is the largest joint in the body.  The knee actually has three joints:  the tibiofemoral (largest, lying between our thigh and lower leg and generally thought of as the knee joint), the patellofemoral (kneecap), and the tibiofibular (below the kneecap and not directly part of the knee movement.)  I’ll focus first on the tibiofemoral joint here, which functions as a hinge. Unlike the hip joint, where there is significant bony structure, most of the knee’s stability comes from soft tissue – ligaments, tendons, muscles, cartilage, menisci, bursa, and fat pads.  This constitution allows for significant range of motion – for example, we can bend our knee to touch our butt with our foot. When looking at knee … Continue reading