Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Qualitative thoughts about running form

Built to Run: If you have been convinced by the science that upright-walking humans are formed over time to be the ultimate long distance running machines in dry hot weather.  If you have not heard this hypothesis and its supporting evidence, please click here.

Running Form: With a rudimentary understanding of human anatomy we can make some assumptions about the running form most conducive to our structure.  Some of the action verbs required to run:
  • Twist - the trunk 
  • Swing - legs/arms
  • Reach - reach in front and bhind
  • Absorb - landing, absorbing the momentum down loads the springs of the body 
  • Propel/Push-Off - propel over the landed foot, and extend legs, toe off.
Big to Small: Always tackle a problem big-to-small.  Working on the assumption that the biggest muscles need to bear the biggest loads.
  1. The glutes:
"The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. It is large and powerful because it has the job of keeping the trunk of the body in an erect posture. It is the chief antigravity muscle that aids in walking up stairs."
The glutes do two things: keeps you from folding in half like a pocket knife and pushes your thigh from a raised position to a lowered position (sitting to standing).  If you have good upright, "hips-open" posture when running, you can dedicate this muscle group to absorbing and propelling the leg down and back.  If your posture is bad, you engage the glute to keep you from folding in half.  The glutes need to share their capacity to maintain your bad posture AND run.  The strongest movement of the glutes is pushing back - this is what propels you forward.  Try to fire this muscle when it contributes most.  The glutes are ~25% of your running muscles, make them do 25% of the work.  (25% pulled from the sky.)

   2.  The quads:

The next biggest cluster of muscles and cetrtainly the longest.  The Quads is an eccentric powerhouse, it absorbs your landing, turning all that downward momentum into stored energy.  The quads stops you from collapsing and in contraction straightens your leg.  It is the heel-cushioned running shoes that incorrectly allows you to straighten your leg WAY too soon.  Landing with knees slightly bent stored the most energy, straightening the leg should happen at push-off, firing simultaneously with the glutes.  It's the one-two punch of propulsion.  The quads are ~20% of your running muscles, make them do 20% of the work.  (20% pulled from the sky.)

  3. The trunk:

Twisting the trunk is often over looked.  We coach pitchers, batters, boxers, golfers, etc to originate motions in the hugely muscled trunk.  A perfect punch begins at the foot, twists the hips, twists the trunk extends the arm.  The arm is a messenger of the forces generated from the 'big boys' of the muscle groups.  Running is the inverse of that.  A trunk twist turns into a foot motion.  Twisting the trunk allows the reach portion of the running stride and extends the push off out the back.  The more the twist, the longer the stride (at the same cadence).  I think of the 'X' created by the shoulders and hips when I'm driving my knee forward and pushing out the back.  Arm swing exists only to engage this twisty spring mechanism.  The trunk is ~15% of your running muscles, make them do 15% of the work.  (15% pulled from the sky.)
4. The hamstrings
Next on the size-matters comparison is the hammies (I told you, conversational tone, this is no kinesiology class).  Hamstrings do the opposite of the quads, and fold the leg to make the knee drive easier.  The torque on the hip flexors during the swing phase is a function of leg weight AND leg length.  You can't lighten your leg, so make it shorter by folding it.  Engage hammies to bend the leg before (or syncopated) to leg swing forward.  This is why leg-swing-forward is referred to as knee-drive, not foot drive.  Hip flexors getting sore?  Try engaging hamstrings sooner! The hamstrings are ~12.5% of your running muscles, make them do 12.5% of the work.  (12.5% pulled from the sky.)

       5.  The gastroc chain

Shorten to 'the calf'.  Absorbs energy eccentrically allowing the heel to drop to the ground in a controlled manner.  Energy return happens at push off.  If you raise your heel with heel cushioning in your shoes then you're reducing the effectiveness of this energy return mechanism.  This is why people that transition to minimal shoes or barefoot in one day complain about calf soreness.  these > 1 inch heel raises in shoes limits the calf range of motion from 5-10%.  (reminder, if you see a '%' then the number is pulled from my rear, i meant he sky.)  The calf is not a muscle used to push the body in the air at push-off, it's relatively too small. Absorb, hold, return - it's due to fire at the end of the glute/quad firing and just before the hamstring folds your leg.  This phase in the running sequence is sometimes referred to as toe-off. Calves sore? Try lifting the foot with heel and forefoot at the same time - lift your foot flatfooted. The calves are ~7.5% of your running muscles, make them do 7.5% of the work.  (7.5% pulled from the sky.)
 6. The foot
Almost a copy paste from above, the foot muscle contribute a small but necessary component in the absorb/release phases.  Most important is that the foot is thought to contribute ZERO, so strap them to an unmoving slab of wood (eg 'supportive' shoe).  We ignorantly turn off any foot contributions by selecting the wrong shoes.  Let the arch load eccentrically and return it's share to the push off, that's what it's for!  The feets are ~5% of your running muscles, make them do 5% of the work.  (5% pulled from the sky.)

        7.  Others - supporting muscles that help (sometimes hinder) the balance and movements of these larger groups.  The shoulders, traps, glute medius, muscles for balancing, muscles for left-right (frontal plane) movements comprise the rest.

Summary: Asking too much from a smaller muscle group will limit your performance or distance quick!  Having an awareness of what's getting tired, sore or hurt will give you clues of what groups aren't pulling their weight.  Practice mindfullness with your runningfullness!  Remember, endurance isn't how hard a muscle can work - it's as much turning off the muscle groups when not in use.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

100: Head/Heart/Feet

100: Head/Heart/Feet opens is an amazing look into the Vermont 100 (VT100).  At this point it's the most decorated ultrarunning film, appearing at 12 film festivals, receiving  director's award.  We follow Zak Wieluns in his third attempt at completing the VT100.  As the story unfolds of race, we flash back to his training and previous attempts.  This story is complemented with stories of other endurance athletes and germane interviews from professionals.  Anyone in the sport has failed an attempt at an event, or knows someone who has.  (Know thyself in my case!)

I am a sucker for these films since it is my sport.  I was stoked to be offered a chance to view a Kickstarter Screener.  I guess my wood working background appealed to 'Hammer and Saw films' (hehe).

100: Head/Heart/Feet opens at an aid station 'somewhere in Vermont' at 10:30pm we see a race that has been going on ALL day.  Weigh-ins for the runners, medical attention, head lamps, cramps, scrapes and (notably) dozens and dozens of volunteers, crew'ers.  So much support.  As a runner, I seldom get to see the behind-the-scenes work, concerns, logistics and support that goes in to races like this.  Movie summary from the creator's the site:
“100: Head/Heart/Feet” will follow the day-to-day life of ultra-runner Zak Wieluns as he trains for and finally runs a 100 mile race. The actual event is called the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, one of the original 100 mile runs in the USA. This year the Vermont 100, which raises funds to benefit the Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports Association, celebrates its 25th anniversary, promising an even more competitive challenge for the 300 dedicated runners who attempt to complete this grueling competition over Vermont’s paved streets, gravel back roads and wooded trails…in daylight and darkness…all within 30 hours. A well-trained few will complete the race; many will never cross the finish line.
Being a 'recreational' runner, like Zak, one finds a struggle for not just the runner but also for those close to the runner.  Many of us are: parents, husbands, cubicle-slaves, and.... also wanting to run 10-20 hours per week??  John Lacroix is interviewed in the movie and makes the most salient points about how the hobby of unltrarunning is <paraphrased> what we need to be happy.  It is important our loved ones understand that.  With equal fervor, we must encourage our loved ones' pursuits for equivocal levels of happiness! (just my opinion.)

This movie is the story of a journey, finishing something you've started.  Lean on people you care about to help you through your journey.  Never be afraid to ask for help.  I cried three times during this well put together documentary*.  The filming shifts to focus in on small details of what a runner might notice.  Explains the physical and emotional pains of reaching far to achieve something great.  This movie is for everybody, whether or not you plan to run 100 miles.

My favorite line: "dude I really smell, seriously I think I really smell."

My favorite scene: The recurring interjections of a sports psychologist explaining the underlying rationale an endurance athlete is making the decisions and reasoning they exhibit.  Tied with the interviews of ultra-athletes that give their own applicable experiences.  

What bothered me about the movie: The concept of weigh-ins for endurance athletes.  It's ok to see if someone is gaining too much weight (overdrinking!)  But losing weight in an endurance event will never lead to dehydration as is suggested.  It's not the movie-makers' fault for this potentially misleading information.  The concepts of calories in = calories out and drink to lower body temperature or avoid dehydration are antiquated and need to stop.  Hundreds of endurance athletes have overhydrated and died through exercise associated hyponatremic encephalopathy (EAHE).  Many times by EMTs not knowing what the athlete is suffering from and adding more hydration intravenously.  It's a pet-peeve of mine that this dogma continues.

Support the sport, see the movie.  Then train for something hard!

*As a teenager I swam for the state.  I was tested for VO2max, step-tests, etc.  At the time, I was under the impression I would be some notable athlete.  Mostly it was natural ability, decent genes.  After a misspent youth and young adulthood, I didn't do another competitive event until I was 39 years old.  Watching Zak go through some of the athletic testing resurfaced some of those emotions.  So well filmed, it hit me hard.

"So if you'll excuse me, there's someone I need to get in touch with and forgive.... myself"
-Fat Bastard