Finding Balance

It’s hard to describe, but you know when you have it and feel it. Your day moves along well. You think clearly. Say the right things. There’s spring in your step and you look forward to whatever happens. You see the lighter side and don’t take things personally. In short, you are balanced! I retired in October 2014. After working in finance, accounting, and nonprofit management for 38 years I just didn’t have the same energy to pour into work. Not getting any younger, there were other things to do. I spent the next year becoming a certified trainer and USATF run coach, focused on my own training, and worked part-time at a local running store. All this was fun, new, invigorating, educational, and a challenge. But it turned out to be a sabbatical, as a year later I returned to my job, for good reasons – the people, role, and mission. I was sure in the interim I had learned something about balance and would do a better job of pacing myself. And for certain stay very engaged in running-related things. Good intentions! However, upon returning I quickly inherited a backlog of projects as well as new things coming … Continue reading

Eccentric Heel Dips – The Magic Elixir!

We runners have some predictable issues and injuries. Starting from the bottom the most prevalent are plantar fasciitis (PF), Achilles tendinitis, calf strains, sore knees, tight hamstrings, hip and groin strains, and lower back pain. If you’ve been running very long, you’ve probably had bouts with all of these. I certainly have! What to do? Could there be a one-size-fits-all solution to these multiple maladies up and down the kinetic chain? Well, no. But I have found one rather simple exercise that both directly and indirectly addresses these issues – eccentric heel dips. I think some of my clients consider me eccentric and obsessive when I impress upon them the importance of doing them – day in and day out. Perhaps they are right. Meanwhile I take my own medicine and perform them multiple times each day. Here’s the basic description: Stand on the edge of a stair or any kind of a riser that allows you to dip your heels to a comfortable stretch. Supported only by the front of your foot, allow your body weight to stretch the heel downward, allowing one foot to take the majority of the weight. When you hit bottom, and just after a … Continue reading

Finding My Stride

I recently spoke with the Concord Academy cross-country team at the invitation of their coach Jon Waldron, a fellow CSU member. Tyler Andrews, 25 years old and a 2:16 qualifier for the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials and world record holder in the half marathon on a treadmill (1:03 at the 2015 Boston Marathon expo) also spoke. Jon was looking to have us convey our respective experiences of how we developed as runners, both emerging from rather modest beginnings. He felt by having runners at the opposite ends of the age spectrum, his team might take away that competitive running continues well after high school. Also for them to keep the long view and not be discouraged if they aren’t setting records now. Tyler, a graduate of Concord Academy, emphasized the importance of process and focus on improvement. And that multiple layers of improvement will reveal one’s true potential. Tyler was fortunate to begin finding his stride as a senior in high school. Jon played and continues to play an important mentoring role but Tyler’s uncommon dedication and commitment following graduation has allowed him to rise to elite level in college and beyond. I spoke about the early days of running … Continue reading

Taking the Fall

I was out running this morning with my friend Jonathan. We were doing a relaxed pace on the Cambridge side of the Charles River. It was a nice morning – sunny and not too warm. Perfect for the end of August! Lot’s of people running as students arrived back in town.   We passed MIT and took a fork down to the river where the path narrows to single file. We were talking about Jonathan’s kids and what they were up to. I was thinking about that and just a couple steps behind him and did not see a root sticking up several inches. Down I went – hard! And with full force as I had lifted off the ground. Remarkably, I landed with my weight distributed pretty evenly between my knee, hip, shoulder, and arm – a good portion of the kinetic chain.  Fortunately it was on dirt. As I laid there for a minute or so, with the wind knocked out and pain in all parts hitting the ground, I reflected on a fall almost exactly a year before when I tried hurdling over a chain fence. That incident was on asphalt and led to a trip to an … Continue reading

It’s the Hips!

Last weekend I attended a training school put on by USA Track & Field. Officially it’s called Track & Field Coaching Essentials Level 1. It was 22 hours of lecture and demonstration of track and field events, A to Z, from a coaching perspective. Sixty-five people from around New England and upstate New York trekked to the Innovation Academy in Tynsborough for this crash course.   At least 55 raised their hands when asked if they were currently coaching high school or college. These were folks doing it! I met just two other people who like myself were coaching post-collegiate adults, though both had previously spent time coaching younger athletes. I was quite sure a good portion of the material wasn’t going to interest me. In high school I didn’t pay much attention to what those big guys were doing in the middle of the track during meets. And when I did, it was to make sure that there wasn’t a wayward implement coming my way! The first 8 hours or so was in the classroom covering general training theory and endurance events. Good stuff! Then we moved on to sprints and hurdles before going into the jumps (the long, triple, … Continue reading

RUNNING FAST!

I was talking with a customer at Marathon Sports the other day. He wanted to run faster and was looking for a pair of shoes to enable that. Not an unusual topic – who doesn’t want better race times! This conversation reminded me of three interrelated things that directly affect our speed: range of motion; turnover; and push-off. First, range of motion or ROM. Jack Daniels observed that 1984 Olympic women distance runners had a heel-to-heel stride length of 58” and men 74”. This is probably the top end for most of us – but for purposes here let’s assume an average stride length of 59 inches, or roughly 1.5 meters. For a 5K race, that is about 3,300 strides. If a runner’s full ROM is reduced by just 1”, in essence that means running an extra 90 yards. At a 7:00 minute pace this would add 22 seconds. So instead of 21:46 5K, it would take 22:08. For a 10K, double that difference to 44 seconds. And for a half marathon, 92 seconds or 1.5 minutes. Clearly, a price is paid for a constrained ROM. Second, turnover, or cadence as the cyclists call it, is another key part of … Continue reading

The Art of Recovery

Like many, for years I ran with the mindset that faster was better. If you want to race fast, you’ve got to train fast – an extension of the no pain, no gain philosophy. For me, that worked pretty well. Have never been a high mileage runner – more than 40 MPW on five days a week seemed to invite injury. But most of it was pretty fast paced – usually between just 45 and 60 seconds/mile slower than 10K race pace. I‘ve been racing for 38 years and thankfully spent very little time on the DL – until three years ago. For the first 35 years, I was out of action an average of about 2-3 weeks a year. I attributed this, in part, to taking the approach of not running through injuries. If something cropped up, I hit the pool and Stairmaster until things felt solid. And then it was immediately back to the fast-paced stuff. The two exceptions were a 3-month outage due to a torn piriformis (which I hadn’t even known existed!) and a two-month layoff due to patella tendonitis, for which 15 years later I still preventively tape. So along I went on my merry way. … Continue reading

Pre Lives On!

Forty years ago, on May 30, 1975, Steve Prefontaine died when his car flipped over on a winding road in Eugene, Oregon. Who was Steve Prefontaine, called Pre in running circles, and why do we still celebrate his life? Pre was America’s premier track runner in the early 70’s. A brash kid from Coos Bay, Oregon, he set an American high school record in the 2 mile and then attended University of Oregon under coach Bill Bowerman, the founder of Nike. It was less about what Pre did than how he did it. A notorious front-runner, Pre invariably pushed the pace. This was counter to the strategy followed by most top runners who would strategically let others lead and then pour it on toward the end. Pre thought that was cheating, that one should run the whole race. By running this way, Steve helped others run their best times. And made racing fun to watch! Pre brought intensity to everything he did. You might say Pre was poured, not born. Even as a youngster, he was hyperactive. He channeled this energy into running during his sophomore year in high school, showing an unusual amount of focus and commitment under the … Continue reading

Bumps in the Road

Justin pulled his left hamstring. Not badly – and he wisely stopped and walked home as soon as he felt the twinge. He iced and lightly stretched the hamstring over the next three days. Also water ran and StairMastered, neither of which caused any pain. His chiropractor did some Graston work and noted one hip was tighter than the other, prescribing stretches to even things out. All was feeling pretty good, so after four days Justin thought he’d test it out. He was registered for an important half marathon in nine days and felt the need to get in some miles. He aimed for three miles on the treadmill. But in the second mile, the hamstring pulled again. He stopped — frustrated, disappointed, and angry. Every competitive runner hits these bumps. We push it to the limit. The reality is even a well conditioned athlete may be just one hard workout away from injury. Yet we have goals and work meticulously and progressively to meet them. It’s damned if we do and damned if we don’t! Meanwhile, race dates don’t change so we try to compact the recovery period to make it to the start line. None of this is … Continue reading