Sport Metabolism Testing at the CU Anschutz Health & Wellness Center

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Doing my best Bane impersonation. Might be good for Halloween.

I’m currently training for some road and trail races. Part of that training process is running at different paces to elicit various training effects. Those paces are built around such factors as the aerobic threshold and the lactate or anaerobic threshold. (The definition of those terms are beyond the scope of this blog post. To understand them I suggest you read this from endurance coach Joel Friel.)

Up to this point I’ve used pre-made running plans such as the Run Less, Run Faster and the Hanson’s Marathon and Half-Marathon Method. Those books prescribe paces based on 5k and 10k race finish times. From those race times it’s possible to

I bet its hard to run in that coat.

The Batman villain Bane. I don’t know what his VO2 max is.

predict race finish times of distances up to the half marathon and marathon. Along with race finish times, training paces for speed, tempo, and long distance runs are also derived. I’ve discovered

those training paces, particularly tempo run paces, are too fast for me. Rather than blunder around trying to solve the problem by myself, I sought help.

Testing at Anschutz

A few days ago I visited the sports performance lab at the Colorado University Anschutz Health & Wellness Center in Denver. I underwent the sport metabolism assessment. The test started with a 12-minute warm-up on a treadmill that went from walking to jogging to slow running and running up to a 9:10/mile pace. That was followed by a five-minute rest. (The test conductor explained the whys and hows of the warm-up and rest period. I won’t go into all the information but now I use that process before all my runs. Essentially it enables me to perform better.)

The fun began after the rest period. I ran in two minute intervals. Speed was increased after every two minutes. This process was repeated until I was nearly blue in the face and I couldn’t run anymore. It took about 12 or 14 minutes to hit my limit.

As you see in the pictures, I wore a mask connected by a tube to

Running & bleeding

Running & bleeding

a computer. The computer measured my O2 intake and CO2 expiration. This gas analysis allowed us to see at what paces my aerobic and anaerobic thresholds exist.

Not only did we analyze my breathing, but we also analyzed my blood via a finger prick delivered near the end of each two minute stage. I can’t tell you what joy it is to combine bleeding with intense running…

(For cycling performance testing, the same test is done on a type of stationary bike.)

What did I learn?

I NEED TO SLOOOOW DOWN.

From my speed workouts to my tempo runs to my long runs I should run slower. Running faster isn’t just about running faster — and I knew that! Countless running articles and books preach the idea and I thought I had it figured but I was wrong. The big points and the factors that need improving are these:

Fat metabolism:

I need to spend 80% of my time running for base endurance. In this zone, I use mostly fat for fuel. This works out to a pace of about 11:30/mile. Prior to the test I thought this pace was about 10:00 to 10:30/mile. The good news is that an 11:30 pace is really easy!

Anaerobic Threshold:

My AT occurs at a 7:45 pace. I should be able to maintain that pace potentially for a full marathon. But right now, when I hit my AT I crap out quick! I need to gradually nudge my ability along. If I run at or over my AT (which I have been doing) then I overwhelm my ability to function at that pace. So now my tempo runs are 9:10/mile.

Anaerobic training:

This is speed work and this is where I will improve my VO2 or my ability to utilize oxygen. The pace for this work is 8:40/mile. I had been running my speed work at about 8:00/mile.

What else?

First, the idea that I can get my tempo/race pace down to 7:45/mile is fairly exciting to me. It means I might be able to hit a 3:30 marathon! That’s a powerful motivator for me. All the slow miles I’ll need to put in won’t be done aimlessly.

I’ve said it for the past few years and I’m saying it again: I need to work with a coach. I’m a certified running coach but it’s not something I practice much. As the saying goes, “The lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.” I need an objective set of eyes on me. A good coach can adjust my training schedule where a book or a pre-made running plan cant. It makes sense to work with someone who coaches runners on a regular basis. I am considering several resources:

What to Read: Advocating for the 5k, New Fitness Trends, Chemicals in your Food (Aren’t Always Bad)

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Big benefits from the 5k

“Everyone thinks the marathon is the Holy Grail, when a lot of people should really be doing the 5K,” Jason Karp, exercise physiologist.

In the running world, many of us want to progress from the 5k to the 10k, half-marathon all the way to the marathon—and maybe beyond!  More is always better, right? We think 5ks are for beginners and marathons are for the truly fit and powerful among us. And ultra-marathons? Those are for the real champions.

Well, I suggest that more isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more. Maybe we should reconsider our view of the 5k. (Remember, the 5000m is an Olympic event. It’s not always easy.)

The 5K, Not The Marathon, Is The Ideal Race argues that for most people and most fitness goals, the 5k is the optimal distance.

The latest fitness trends

“Below are the newest and niftiest fitness programs that have been gaining in popularity, and the odds that they will attract the most disciples in 2016.”

In terms of fitness, exercise and strength training, I believe there is very little new under the sun. Lift heavy things. Sweat often. Eat right most of the time. Rest, recover, repeat. Those are the big-picture concepts that have built healthy humans since forever.

That said, if someone wants to make money in the fitness business, presenting this picture in new packaging is a wise idea. Further, if some sort of new fitness trend grabs someone’s attention then all the better. I believe that anything that gets someone to exercise and stick with it is probably a good thing.

Who’s afraid of chemicals?

“If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, then you shouldn’t eat it, right? Unfortunately, it appears that idea may not be the best advice nor very accurate.”

Those of us who value good nutrition tend to avoid processed foods in favor of those in a more “natural” state. The idea sounds reasonable. Many processed foods are unhealthy garbage. Cookies, crackers, breakfast cereal, many frozen meals and all sorts of packaged foods come with lots of calories but very little nutrition. If you look at food labels you often see a laundry list of strange-sounding substances that bear no resemblance to any sort of food we’ve ever heard of. These types of foods often go hand-in-hand with obesity and poor health. In contrast, we know that fruits, vegetables, minimally processed dairy, meat, beans and whole grains are generally healthier for us.

Internet gurus and quacks such as Vani “Food Babe” Hari, Dr. Oz, and Joseph Mercola have engaged in fear-mongering and misinformation which has led to confusion among consumers. (They’ve made a lot of money doing it too.) These people have told us that we must avoid all chemicals at all cost lest we be struck dead at any moment! The horror!

Here’s news for you: Everything is a chemical, including water, aka dihydrogen monoxide. Further, the central tenet of toxicology is “the dose makes the poison.” This means that a wide array of substances from alcohol to sugar to formaldehyde to chlorine to even water can become deadly at a certain dosage. Meanwhile lower dosages may pose no threat at all.

With these concepts in mind, I like the article from Science Driven Nutrition titled The truth about food ingredients. It’s brief and gives a rational breakdown of why many (but perhaps not all) chemicals in our foods are safe.

 

 

 

Colfax Marathon 10-Miler (A Late Update)

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The Colfax Marathon, half-marathon, 10-miler and marathon relay happened on May 15 and here’s a quick update on things.

A good cause

I ran the 10-Miler to help raise funds for The Gathering Place which is a Denver shelter for homeless women, their kids and the transgender community. I’m very pleased and grateful that a total of $2343 was donated by my tremendously generous friends, family and clients. My original goal was $2000 and I’m thrilled to have gone over that goal. It’s all going to a very good cause that helps a vulnerable segment of my city. I look forward to helping The Gathering Place again in the future.

Race results

Here’s the rundown of the numbers:

Post-race nonsense and a medal.

Post-race strangeness and a medal.

  • Net time: 1:21:36
  • Pace: 8:09/mile
  • Overall place: 81 out of 1014 runners
  • Overall men: 52 out of 325
  • Division, Men 40-49: 11 out of 77

I won’t be winning any ribbons or prize money any time soon, but I’m very pleased with those results. Eight minutes per mile was my most optimistic hoped-for pace. This was on a course that started downhill and ended uphill. In three of my last four miles I averaged just under 8:00/mile. That’s pretty decent, I think.

Several things went well. First, it was a cool, cloudy day. Heat dissipation is a massively important thing for good running performance. I’m about 200 lbs. so I generate a lot of heat and I need all the help I can get.

My training went well. I ran the most I’ve ever run over the winter. I built a plan based loosely on the Hansons Marathon Method. I did speed work one day a week, tempo work on another day and a longer run on the weekend. In between those main workouts I was typically running shorter slower runs to build my aerobic abilities. These short/slow recovery runs were vital! They weren’t “junk miles.” They had a purpose which was to condition my aerobic energy system. I think it’s likely that more such running will help me be faster in future races.

I tapered the week before the race by cutting distance but I kept some of the intensity of the speed and tempo work. I replaced some of the runs with bike rides as well.

Finally, I believe I did a good job of maintaining a sensible pace at the beginning of the race. It’s always easy to launch out of the gate, run too fast, then crap out in the second half of a race. That didn’t happen. I ran within my limits and I was able to put on strong finish.

What I love about running is that there’s always room for improvement. There’s always an opportunity to do better than last time. Some time (sooner rather than later I hope) I’m going to enlist a running coach to help me get better. I’d love to run a sub-8 min/mile 10-miler or maybe half-marathon.

Colfax Marathon & The Gathering Place: There’s Still Time to Donate

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The Colfax Marathon, marathon relay, half-marathon and 10-miler (my race) are all coming up this Sunday, May 15. I’m trained up and ready for a fun dash from Lakewood to beautiful Denver City Park. I’m feeling good, strong and injury-free. The weather should be cloudy and cool which is good for a 200 lb. runner such as myself.

I’ve been raising money for a great organization called The Gathering Place which is a drop-in day shelter for homeless women, kids and the transgender community. I’m very happy to be helping the TGP do their wonderful work and I’m grateful to everyone who has donated thus far. Thus far my friends and family have donated $2343.10. I would love to hit $2500 (or more) by Sunday. If you haven’t donated or if you’ve already donated and you still have some spare money sitting around, then you still have time. Follow this link if you’d like to donate.

So It’s Your First Race…

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Running your first race should be exhilarating, challenging, life-affirming and, of course, fun. I find races to be very emotional. There’s a type of excitement near start that I don’t find many other places. There’s more to this process than just showing up and running though. Thoughtful preparation pays off big-time for an optimal race experience.

Any new experience is guaranteed to come with some surprises. If you’ve trained hard and done everything in your power to ensure a successful race, then you don’t want anything to detract from all that effort. To minimize the chances of trouble, here’s a rundown of things you may want to think about as you prepare for the big race.

Getting to the race

Is your race out of town? If so, do you know how to get from your hotel to the race? How long will it take? If you’re racing at home, how long does it take to get from your house to the race? Set your alarm appropriately. (My suggestion: Set it a little earlier than you think you need to.)

Will you drive to the race, take public transportation, ride a bike or travel by foot?

If it’s a weekend or holiday, what’s the public transportation schedule? Are there street closures for the race? If so, what’s your route to the race?

Exactly where does the race start and finish?

Where do you want to meet your friends and family after the race?

How about bathrooms? Where are they? Early morning race jitters can demand multiple trips.

Sometimes the answers to these questions aren’t obvious.

Sleep

You should aim for a good night of sleep two nights before your race. It’s very typical that you won’t sleep well the night before a race. You’ll have some jitters and if you’re away from home then your normal rhythms and habits will be altered. Don’t worry too much about it. You’ll be fine, but get good sleep 48 hours prior to your event.

Gear and clothing

Many races allow you to drop off warm-up gear and extra clothing. If that’s the case then where do you leave things and where do you pick them up?

If you’re traveling what do you need to pack? By race day, you should know what sorts of things are essential. The Road Runner’s Club of America gives the following checklist:

  • shoes
  • insoles or orthotics
  • socks
  • shorts
  • underwear
  • long sleeve shirt
  • short sleeve shirt
  • tights
  • jacket
  • gloves or mittens
  • headgear: winter hat, cap, visor, headband
  • watch
  • race number if picked up early
  • safety pins or race belt to which attach race number
  • course map
  • race instructions
  • change of clothes for afterwards
  • athletic tape
  • skin lube or powder
  • sunscreen
  • water bottle or hydration pack
  • sunglasses
  • towel
  • pre-race food/fluids
  • post-race food/fluids
  • wallet/money

Depending on the weather, you may or may not need things like a winter hat or gloves. If you’re racing in a Spring or Fall race, especially in places near mountains or the water, then the weather could change radically and quickly. Don’t assume the weather will be what you expect it to be. If you think you might need it, then pack it! It’s much better to have a piece of gear and not need it than to need it and not have it.

I like to start packing several days beforehand. I always seem to almost forget something. If I start packing early then it’s far less likely that I forget anything.

Finally, race day is not the day to try anything new. No new shoes. No new clothes. No new caps, glasses, socks, or anything else. As the RRCA stresses, “No new is good new.”

Nutrition

Breakfast

If you’re a morning runner then you have it figured out. What did you normally eat for breakfast while training? Stick with it. If it’s new, then don’t do it! You might pay for it with some nasty GI troubles.

If you’ve been running in the evenings and your race is in the morning, then it may take a little more thought. The pre-race meal varies widely from person to person. Generally, you want to eat anywhere from 1-2 hours prior to the race. You want to have enough time for the food to digest, but not so much time that you’re famished at race time.

My GI tract is fairly calm and I can tolerate a fairly wide range of pre-race meals. Other people are the polar opposite and they need to be very precise in the timing and content of pre-race food.

Fruit and yogurt, oatmeal, UCAN, or a smoothie are a few examples of things I like before a race. I’d avoid the steak & eggs trucker special if I were you.

Race nutrition

If your race is something like a 5k then food during the race isn’t much of an issue. It’s not long enough to demand much in the way of sustenance. Water’s probably the only thing you’ll want.

If your race is longer then you may need some calories during the race. Similar to breakfast and race gear choices, this should be determined in your training. Some things to consider:

Will you carry a hydration system and your own food? Will you carry a hydration pack or a hand bottle?

If you plan on eating/drinking from the aid stations, what foods and drinks to they provide? Have you used those products in your training? Recognize that consuming anything that you’re not accustomed to while running may cause you some digestive woes and grind your race to a potentially messy halt… or at least a walk.

Finally, your swag bag will likely contain various snack-type items such as gels, bars, electrolyte drink mix or something similar. If it’s unfamiliar to you then don’t eat it before or during the race. Save it for after.

If you remember nothing else regarding nutrition practices then remember this: No new is good new. (Have you heard that before?)

Running your race

Don’t start too fast.

Your first race! Adrenaline! Excitement! You’ve trained hard, you’re wide awake and you feel electric! Today’s the day for greatness! … And you start out too fast.

I am nearly certain that anyone who’s ever run a race has started out too fast. I have! Some time later that fast start has to be paid for with a slower pace. At worst, it can reduce you to a walk to the finish line.

(I think it’s not only inevitable but also essential that everyone experience a too-fast start at some point. It’s not fun but it’s a very valuable learning experience. It teaches humility and respect for proper pacing.)

No matter how good you feel, no matter how exceptional and strong you believe yourself to be, you won’t do your best if you launch out of the gate too fast. If you’ve been training with paced runs then you’ll know your race pace. Stick to it even it feels way too slow. If you haven’t used paces before then pay attention to how you feel. Pay attention to your breathing and effort. Remember that your hard effort needs to be spread over the entire distance of the race. If you’re feeling strong later in the race then that’s the time to pick it up a bit. Don’t do it at the start though.

Temperature

Spring and Fall morning races may be cold at the start. It’s tempting to bundle up and feel toasty warm. The problem is that once you start running you’ll be hot as hell. If it’s a cold day then you should be a little chilly at the start. You should be a little uncomfortable. Generally, I find that if my hands and ears are warm then I’m comfortable. (Turns out cooling and heating of the hands can have powerful effects on performance. If the topic interests you then read this from Peak Performance )

Finally

This racing thing can be a lot of fun. If you do some planning then it can be a smooth experience. Experience is the best teacher. The more you race the easier the preparation becomes.

Running Technique: 3 Simple Cues

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Running form is a frequently discussed topic among injured runners and runners looking to perform better. How should we run? Is there one ideal way to run? Should we run on the forefoot, mid-foot or heel? Does our core matter? What should our upper body do when we run?

There are many schools of thought in the running world and there doesn’t seem to be any ironclad consensus on any of these questions. If you’re running pain-free and you’re performing as well as you’d like then I don’t believe you should change your running form. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If, on the other hand, you experience pain when you run or if you’re not as fast as you’d like to be then some technique changes may be in order.

Run tall.

A lot of us run in a hunched type of posture that resembles the way we sit (and sit and sit…) in our work chairs or in our cars. This hunched position may be problematic and may be contributing to running problems. To address this issue:

Imagine a chain is attached to the top of your skull. That chain pulls you up. It lengthens your spine and makes you tall. See if you can feel this long, tall spine as you run. As part of this process, keep your gaze up and out toward the horizon. Don’t stare at the ground directly in front of you. This tall posture should help with some of our other running form considerations.

Tight hip flexors may contribute to a hunched posture. The following stretch sequence may help.

Run light.

The impact of the foot hitting the ground is worth considering as it concerns injuries. Recent evidence suggests runners who hit the ground lightly are injured less than runners who hit the ground hard.

You may run with earphones and you may be unaware that you stomp and pound the ground with each footfall. So to run light, remove the earphones and pay attention to the sound you make.

Imagine you’re weightless. Your strides are feathery light, and energetic. You don’t pound the ground but rather you glide across gossamer.

Another way to run lightly comes through this skipping drill:

Use a short, quick gait.

One way to lighten the impact of running is to drop the foot very nearly under your hips. This should result in your shin being vertical or near-vertical. Look at the picture. Try running like #2. The skipping drill from above can help you feel that foot landing directly below your hips.

Runner #1 is pounding. Runner #2 is running lightly.

Want to run lightly? Run like #2.

Don’t concern yourself with whether or not you’re hitting on the heel, mid-foot or forefoot. Where the foot lands is more important than on what part of the foot hits first.

Quickening your cadence too much can be a problem. There is an obvious point at which gait can becomes too quick and inefficient. An excellent way to work on your cadence is to use a metronome. Kinetic Revolution has a great article that discusses research on cadence as well as how to introduce metronome running into your training. The article also links to a digital metronome that you can download.

Change takes work.

Running may seem like something we should all be able to do. In fact, most of us can execute some version of movement in which we rapidly put one foot in front of the other. Kids learn to run without detailed instruction and without much in the way of typical running injuries. Shouldn’t adults be able to do the same thing? Maybe or maybe not… If we hurt while running or if we think we’re too slow, then some sort of alteration to our running style may make sense.

Changing your gait takes some tinkering, some awareness and mindfulness. It won’t happen automatically. Physical therapist Rick Olderman helped me to change my running gait. He once said that “if it feels normal, then you’re doing it wrong.” He meant that in the early stages of changing how we move, it should feel weird and unnatural to us. Learning any new skill requires some struggle and awkwardness. If you practice frequently and work at it then things should improve at a reasonable rate.

Personally, I never listen to music while running. I pay attention to how I run, where my foot falls, how I move. I don’t want to fall back into bad habits.

Finally

I can’t guarantee that any of these changes will result in either a pain-free running experience or a podium finish in a race.Time with a physical therapist, podiatrist, chiropractor and/or a running coach may be what you need.  That said, these cues have helped my running as well as several of my clients’ running experience. I’ve also incorporated things like the short foot drill, ankle dorsiflexion work, and a wide variety of single-leg squats and lunges (here, here, here for instance) to improve my movement competence. Clearly, there are a lot of moving parts to consider when we run!

Achilles Tendonitis Progress

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My Achilles pain was getting better and then it flared up again recently and it has stayed flared for a while. This has been an ugly aggravation as it was a serious regression. Now, I’m very happy to report that my Achilles tendon irritation seems to be fading away. I’ve done three short-distance run/walks with no pain. (Will it stay gone is the real question.) What has helped?

Time off

Initially I thought that simply changing the way I ran would allow me to side-step whatever healing process that needed to take place. I revisited several technique changes that helped me overcome a past bout of Achilles pain. I discovered that there was no magic fix. Minding my technique is a good idea but it seems my tissues still needed time to heal.

Heel lift

I put a 1/4 inch heel lift in my shoe. The idea is to give a little bit of slack to the sore tendon.

To this point, I made sure not to do much in the way of stretching the tendon. It’s often a mistake to think that if it’s sore, it must need stretching. In fact, the damage to the Achilles may have been brought on by it’s being stretched too much and/or too fast.

Eccentric strength work

I’m continuing the work I wrote about in the last blog post. Runner’sConnect.net has a comprehensive guide to both Achilles pain rehab and prevention strategies. I won’t rehash it here.

Extensor hallucis brevis work

I think this has been a BIG ONE. I believe that part of my problem stems from my inability to adequately anchor to the ground the distal end of my first metatarsal, aka the ball of my big toe. How might that affect my Achilles tendon?

Too much of this may over-stress the Achilles and cause pain.

Too much of this may over-stress the Achilles and cause pain.

If I can’t secure that first met head to the ground then I have a weak foot tripod as the Gait Guys have described it.That means that my foot might pronate in an uncontrolled way which can result in something like the image to the right. Too much of that done too often and/or too fast could over-stress the Achilles causing damage and pain. To form a solid foot tripod, I need to be able to secure the center of my calcaneus (heel bone), first metatarsal head (ball of the big toe) and the fifth metatarsal head (ball of the little toe.)

(To be clear, I can’t say this is The Cause for anyone else’s Achilles problems. Someone else may be able to run with lots of pronation and feel fine.)

How did I know I had difficulty getting that met head to the ground? I’ve been videoed running and I could see this extended pronation occurring. I could feel it as I tried doing the exercise in the following video. This gets into what seems like some real minutiae. For me, it seems pretty important. Also, I don’t believe this movement is trained in the eccentric strength protocol I mentioned above.

Metronome running

I’ve read several discussions (here, herehere) on running cadence and loading rate as it pertains to injury risk. Essentially, by using a quicker cadence we should load the tissues of the foot for less time per foot fall thus resulting in less stress to those tissues. That’s exactly something I need.

I went back to using a metronome when I run so that I can make sure to keep a quick pace. I set the metronome from 170 to 180 bpm and matched my cadence to the beat. It’s definitely a quicker cadence than what I’m used to. Seems I’ve backslid some on minding my cadence. Going forward, I think it will be a good idea to periodically run with a metronome to ensure that I’m staying quick on my feet.

 

More Achilles Tendon-itis/-osis/-opathy (or Whatever It Is)

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About three weeks ago I went for a run in the snow. Part way through I felt some irritation in my left Achilles tendon. Like anyone who loves/needs to exercise, I kept running and I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t too bad, that it would probably go away soon or maybe if I changed my stride slightly it would resolve during the run.

I was wrong! I really irritated the thing and had to walk about a mile. This was the latest flare-up of a years-long lingering issue. (I’ve discussed the Achilles here and here, as well as left heel pain/plantar fasciitis hereherehere, here, here and probably in some other places… You’d think for someone who’s considered this issue so much that I wouldn’t have it anymore.)

Prior to this Achilles flare-up, I’d had some of some old familiar heel pain. It wasn’t debilitating but it was a signal that something wasn’t as it should be. Again, I ignored it to a large degree and figured it would resolve. I should’ve paid closer attention to it. Essentially, it wasn’t a problem until it was a problem. Time to get back to work on this thing.

Tendon injury: A complex issue

Why do we get injured? How do our tissues (like tendons) become damaged? If we administer the right amount of stress and then recover we get a positive adaptation–we get stronger. In contrast, if we administer too much stress and we don’t recover then we get some type of injury. Thus too much stress delivered too often and/or too fast has been my problem. I need to increase my tissue tolerance to the forces of running.

A recent article from Alex Hutchinson is titled Pro Tips on Treating Tendon Injuries. This article covers a debate among members of the Canadian Association of Sports and Exercise Medicine in Ottawa. Several top sports physicians and therapists were asked: Which therapy should the squash player try next? (I’m not a squash player but I have the injury they discussed.) If you’re dealing with this issue it’s definitely worth a read. It discusses several methods: eccentric strengthening, nitroglycerin patch, dry needling, cortisone, and platelet-rich plasma.

There wasn’t 100% agreement on anything much, but Hutchinson’s concluding statement was this (emphasis is mine):

“So what should the poor squash player do? In the question period following the debate, most participants conceded that strengthening exercises are the path to long-term health. Depending on the specifics of your tendon injury, other techniques may provide relief to allow you to exercise, but they’re not permanent cures.”

Cures I like. I have no interest in simply treating symptoms. Thus I decided it was time to implement something with which I’d been familiar but which I knew wouldn’t be very exciting at all: the eccentric strength protocol.

Eccentric strengthening

First, what does “eccentric” mean?An eccentric contraction is one in which the muscle is contracted but it’s also lengthening. Think of doing a bicep curl. You know the part where you yield to gravity and lower the weight? That’s the eccentric portion of the movement. (In contrast, the concentric portion is where you overcome gravity and bring up the weight.) For this particular protocol, we want to fight against the lowering action and lower very slowly.

I found a very thorough resource for this project from Jeff Gaudette at RunnersConnect.net. It’s titled The Ultimate Runner’s Guide to Achilles Tendon Injuries: The Scientific Signs, Symptoms, and Research Backed Treatment Options for Achilles Tendonitis and Insertional Achilles Tendinopathy. (The title of this thing just screams ACTION!! doesn’t it?) You can download both the Injury Treatment PDF and the Injury Prevention PDF. As the title suggests, this is a thoroughly researched guide to dealing with tendon injuries. I appreciate very much that there is both a treatment and prevention strategy. I won’t go into the whole thing but here are the basics:

The strength protocol consists of two exercises: a straight-kneed and a bent-kneed
eccentric heel drop. The protocol calls for three sets of fifteen heel drops, both bent- kneed and straight-kneed, twice a day for twelve weeks.

Standing on a step with your ankles plantarflexed (at the top of a “calf raise”), shift all of
your weight onto the injured leg. Slowly use your calf muscles to lower your body down,
dropping your heel beneath your forefoot. Use your uninjured leg to return to the “up”
position. Do not use the injured side to get back to the “up” position! The exercise is
designed to cause some pain, and you are encouraged to continue doing it even with
moderate discomfort. You should stop if the pain is excruciating, however.

Once you are able to do the heel drops without any pain, progressively add weight using a backpack. If you are unlucky enough to have Achilles tendon problems on both sides,
use a step to help you get back to the “up” position, using your quads instead of your
calves to return up.

The eccentric exercises are thought to selectively damage the Achilles tendon, stripping
away the misaligned tendon fibers and allowing the body to lay down new fibers that
are closer in alignment to the healthy collagen in the tendon. This is why moderate pain
during the exercises is a good thing, and why adding weight over time is necessary to
progressively strengthen the tendon.

You do these exercises for 3 sets of 15 reps, twice daily. There are photos showing these exercises including a modification if you have what’s known as insertional Achilles tendonitis. Again, read the whole thing if you want the full rundown of this protocol.

More thoughts

Part of why I haven’t done this in the past is that it is slow and tedious! Three sets of 15 slow reps makes time crawl like some sort of crippled tortoise. It ain’t fun! Plus I’ve never cared much for doing calf work. That said, I need to fix this problem. This process seems to be the best way to go about it, so I’m on board.

Something else I realize is that if I’m prone to this injury and I want to avoid it then I need to do the preventive work. That means setting aside time throughout the week and during my workouts to do some of this stuff.

I’ve been doing this work for about the past three weeks and I am getting better. I’ve done a couple of short run/walks and I’m not in the clear just yet. The only option I see is to continue doing what I’m doing.

Update

I just went on a run of a little over two miles and the Achilles feels fantastic. No pain! Felt like I could’ve run all day–which would’ve been stupid of me. This protocol is working for me right now.

Techniques to Help You Run Pain Free

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I’ve used a few simple techniques to help a few of my clients with their running technique.  These ideas have also helped me overcome a long-term bout of heel and Achilles trouble.

My clients often hurt when they ran so if nothing else, I figured they needed to run differently somehow. There was no guarantee that what I would show them would solve their problems but clearly the way they were running wasn’t quite working.

The following are drills and cues that I’ve used.  Effective cueing can be challenging.  I have in my mind a movement a feeling and an experience that I’d like you to have.  I have to translate what I feel into English and transmit that message to you.  My words may hit the mark or you may have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about!

Hop up and down.

Hop up and down.  How do you land?  On your heels?  Most people land on their toes and to some degree their heels settle to the ground.  It happens naturally.  Your probably don’t need to think about it too much.  In this way, we effectively dissipate the impact forces and avoid too much jarring and banging into the ground.

Run in place.

Now run in place–quickly!  Again, how do you land?  I think most people land similar to the way described above.  It’s a light landing on the toes, not heels first.  This is pretty much one-footed hopping.

Where do your feet land?  Directly under your hips.  That’s about where we want the feet to land.  In contrast, what we don’t want is for your feet to fling out in front and slam into the ground.  To that point…

Quick Pace

Overstriding is a frequent issue in injured runners. By overstriding the foot lands out in front of the runner and he or she slams hard into the ground with every foot fall. This can cause lots of stress to various tissues and joints and it’s likely a cause of pain.

This is a good contrast in foot placement.  The guy in back is overstriding.

This is a good contrast in foot placement. The guy in back is overstriding.

By running at a quick(er) pace we facilitate the feet landing under us, not out in front.  We create shorter loading times of the bones and joints and thus reduce the stress that may be causing our pain.  It’s difficult to overstride with a quick cadence.

For a most runners this means consciously picking up the pace. This can feel awkward at first and may feel inefficient.  One way to start to adjust your cadence is by using a metronome when you run.  Start at your normal pace and sync the metronome to your pace.  From there you can up the beat and match your pace to the metronome.  This takes time and practice.  If it’s important then you’ll do it.

Again, this all may feel very strange–and it should.  After all, if our current chosen running technique is causing pain, then it stands to reason that a new and better running technique should feel weird.  As with any new skill, it won’t feel strange forever.

Lean forward from the ankles.

chi_postureLearning to lean from the ankles–not the hips!–is important.  By leaning from the ankles we sort of fall forward.  We keep the hips under us, not poked out behind.  When leaning from the ankles it’s difficult to overstride and slam the foot into the ground. Here’s a drill to learn how to lean from the ankles.

Run tall.  Keep eyes on the horizon.

The simple cue to “run tall” seems to work well for a lot of runners.  I’ll keep it simple and leave that phrase as is.

Keep your eyes on the horizon.  This works well to help keep you tall.  Your body tends to go where your eyes go.  If you stare at the ground then you’re likely to slump forward.  You won’t be running tall.  Learn to use your peripheral vision to see the ground. The guys below are running tall and gazing out.

These guys are RUNNING REALLY TALL!!  You should do it too!

These guys are RUNNING REALLY TALL!! You should try it!

Run lightly.  Quick pace.  Lean from the ankles.  Run tall. Eyes on the horizon.

Here’s a good graphic.

I’m not going to say a lot more other than I like the information presented here:

better-running

Skipping

Finally, here’s a skipping drill that may help you get a feel for running tall, running lightly and not pounding your heel into the ground. My hope is that this drill will transfer to your actual running. Skipping involves an exaggerated running gait and you don’t actually want to bound and prance to an extreme degree.

Worth Reading: What Makes a Great Personal Trainer? Recovery, Pronation, Bringing Up Your Weak Spots

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What makes a great trainer?

The Personal Training Development Center (PTDC) has a lot of useful, informative articles for personal trainers.  Are Personal Trainers Missing the Point is a recent piece with which I agree. The key observation is this:

“The ability to correctly coach exercises is slowly becoming a lost art in the training world, despite that it’s the most fundamental component of being a personal trainer/coach.”

The article advocates for trainers to teach the squat, deadlift, bench press, standing press and pull-up.  (I would ad the push-up to the list.) It’s also suggested that trainers learn to teach regressions and progressions of these exercises. These exercises are the essentials. They have been and still are the basic building blocks of effective exercise programs and they offer the most return on investment of a client’s training time. Read the article to learn three steps to becoming a better coach.

Running recovery

Alex Hutchinson writes for Runner’s World and the Running Times. He recently wrote an article called the Science of Recovery.  He briefly discusses six methods: antioxidants, jogging (as during a cool down), ice bath, massage, cryosauna and compression garments. Anyone who trains hard–runner or not–may find the article interesting.

Pronation

Pete Larson at Runblogger.com gives us Do You Pronate? A Shoe Fitting Tale. Here, he describes overhearing a conversation between a confused shoe store customer and the mis-informed employee who tries to educate her on pronation. Contrary to what many of us believe, pronation is not a dire evil problem to be avoided at all costs. Larson says it well:

 “The reality is that everybody pronates, and pronation is a completely normal movement… We might vary in how much we pronate, but asking someone if they pronate is like asking them if they breathe. I’d actually be much more concerned if the customer had revealed that no, she doesn’t pronate. At all. That would be worrisome.”

If you’re a runner then I highly suggest you learn about the realities of pronation.

Supplemental strength

I love strength training. I love all the subtleties and ins & outs of getting stronger. One area that I’m learning about is supplemental work (aka accessory work). This is weight training used to bring up one’s strength on other lifts (typically the squat, deadlift, bench press or standing press).  With supplemental work, we’re looking to find weak areas and make them stronger.
Dave Tate at EliteFTS is one of the foremost experts on all of this. Thus, his article Dave Tate’s Guide to Supplemental Strength is very much up my alley, and it should be up yours if you’re serious about getting stronger. He discusses several categories of exercises and how to incorporate them into a routine. Below, the term “builders” refers to exercises that build the power lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift):
  1. Always start with the builders. Do not start with the main lift.
    Examples: Floor press, box squat. Sets: 3-5. Reps: 3-5.
  2. Move to supplemental exercises — exercises that build the builders.
    Examples: 2-board press, safety-bar close-stance squat. Sets: 3. Reps: 5-8.
  3. Accessories — Either muscle-based (for size) or movement-based (for strength). Use supersets and tri-sets, as needed.
    Examples: DB presses, biceps curls. Sets: 3. Reps: 10-20.
  4. Rehab/Pre-hab — Whatever you need, nothing more or less. Examples:
    External rotation, face pulls. Sets: 2-3. Reps: 20-30.
This is just a little bit of the article. It’s very detailed. There may not be much here for recreational lifters but for coaches and those of us who have gotten a little deeper into our lifting, it’s a superb article.