My training–particularly my running–is improving very nicely. I’m getting faster and I’m able to run without pain far more than I’ve been able to in roughly a decade. I think several factors are at work here:
1) I’m using my glutes: I’ve mentioned recently (here and here) that I’ve learned a tremendous amount of how to use my glutes to both stabilize my knees and propel me forward. This has been a huge bit of progress for me.
2) I’m aware of my arches: I recently stood on a device called a pedobarograph. Quite interesting. It showed me pressure was distributed through my feet as I stood on it. Turns out my arches were a bit collapsed. It wasn’t anything terrible but something worth working on.
I’m an advocate of minimal shoe running so I didn’t want to turn to an orthotic insert. I did a bit of research and found a tremendously helpful article about the three different arches of the feet–not just the one arch most of us think of. The article described where each arch is on the feet and how to move and perceive the arches. Unfortunately, the article and the site it came from seem to have vanished from the universe. I plan to do a video demonstrating where these arches are and how to move them. The video in the next paragraph should be helpful as well.
3) I’m toeing off: Along with using my arches, I’m also focusing on using my big toe to help propel me forward. It’s the last thing I feel on the ground as I drive forward. I’ve realized that in past years I haven’t been doing a very good job of this. This is a complex thing. Here’s a video from the Gait Guys that touches on the muscles and the actions that are responsible for good toe and arch mechanics. (BTW, the Gait Guys put out a lot of detailed info on all things pertaining to gait. They can also be found at Youtube. If you’re having problems with your feet, knees, hips, etc. you may find their information very helpful.)
The video is a bit technical but the long and the short of it informs me that the exercise known as the calf raise or heel raise should benefit me. Specifically the heel raise should help condition the muscles that maintain the arches in my feet (the flexor hallucis brevis, the abductor hallucis, and the tibialis posterior) I’m doing a lot of these daily in the 15-20 rep range. I’m also jumping rope.
4) I’m lighter and stronger: I’m under 200 lbs. for the first time in about 10 years. Less of me always makes running easier. It’s also a big help in mountainbiking. Not only am I lighter but my numbers in the gym are pretty decent being that I’m running and biking a lot. I power cleaned 175 lbs. recently. My squat is around 225 lbs. for 2 reps (I’d really like to get that number up…. some day). My deadlift is about 335 lbs. for 2-3 reps. My pistol squats are improving in terms of range of motion, reps, and technique. Stronger + lighter = better.
5) The FIRST plan is working: I “first” used a Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) run plan for the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler several years ago. It was the best race I’ve ever run so I figured I’d use the FIRST half-marathon and marathon plan for my two upcoming races.I like these plans because they have me running only three days per week. I’m doing a speed workout on the track, middle distance “tempo” run, and a long run. I’m doing other things on other days of the week, typically lifting and/or cycling or just resting. Three runs per week is quite a bit less running than is advocated by other plans. For an explanation of the plan, have a look at Training Science.com.
6) Beet juice(?): I’ve mentioned the benefits of beet juice. Now, I never attribute one outcome to only one factor, but every time I drink beet juice before a run I feel really good. I go (for me) fast and I’m able to cover (for me) long distances while feeling quite decent.Perhaps this is a nonsensical placebo effect, it’s all in my head and purely psychological. Guess what: Who cares? If I think it makes me a better runner then it’s probably making me a better runner. Hooray for me and my brain. We shall choose to be happy.