Proof in the Plodding

Since starting my blog in 2015, I’ve harped on the importance of regular weightlifting and alternative aerobic exercise, which for me has been deep water running and StairMaster.  I call these running equivalents, or REQs.  Along with generally running four and sometimes five days a week, the weights and REQs have seemed a good balance to keep in reasonable racing shape and though slowing with age, feeling spry enough. Then along came COVID-19, shutting down every gym and pool for the foreseeable future.  As luck would have it, the day things closed down I tweaked a hamstring.  Not badly, but enough to affect my stride and really slow me down.  It’s been three weeks and I still feel stiff as a board the first couple of miles running, never really loosing up.  The fix for something like this the past years has been hitting the pool, StairMaster and a variety of leg weights and stretches to allow the hamstring, calf, quad, or whatever is troubled to settle.  So why are weights and REQs so effective?  One, they allow for a full range of motion, lubricate the joints, and get the blood flowing to the injured parts.  Two, they stretch the … Continue reading

In the Meantime…..

We’re in the thick of COVID-19 and it’s serious stuff.  Increasingly, people we know are afflicted. Most of us are out of work or working from home, taking classes online, become teachers or day care providers for our children, and in any case not able to congregate with friends or shop.  Movie theatres have shut down and restaurants restricted to takeout.  On the running front, the UVM indoor track is locked up.  Gyms and athletic clubs are closed and I suspect even those who previously begrudgingly dragged themselves there would gladly go today! Those who swim, spin (we are still having winter here in VT though outdoor cycling is now becoming an option) or play court sports aren’t so fortunate.  Ski areas are closed due to COVID-19 and cross-country trails may be nice for a day before icing over or turning to slush. All things considered, we runners have it pretty good.  Yes, races planned on have been canceled.  Larger group runs have disbanded as have indoor track workouts.  Yet on snowy days, the streets and bikepaths are plowed and if there’s ice, we can pull out the Icebugs.  Running provides us a vital outlet during these crazy and tragic … Continue reading

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