Running Song of the Week

“Shadow” by Bleachers

This song could be a training montage in an ’80s movie. Coming from me, that’s a huge freakin’ compliment. — Mags

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The Heat is On

My face burns with the fires of a thousand suns. I can smell the hot tar from newly paved road as it melts onto my shoes. Each gust of wind feels like the puff of air that comes out when you open an oven. Sweat pours out of every pore in my body, desperate for relief. And I’m only two miles into my afternoon run.

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According to the calendar, it’s mid-June, but according to the recent Cincinnati forecast, it’s more like we’re trapped in a defective sauna. And since my summer schedule has been exceptionally hectic, my only option for running has been to go around 3 p.m., in the hottest part of the day.

I have easy access to a gym and a treadmill, but let’s face it, I know I’m not going to enjoy myself in there, so begrudgingly, I’ve been soaking in the heat. At first, it was unbearable (and most likely, unsafe). But now, I find that while it’s still not as relaxing as going for a run in the crisp fall air, I actually don’t mind the overbearing heat and humidity. I guess I’m finding some kind of zen in the sweltering temperatures.

In a mere 30-minute run, I feel like I’ve completely exerted myself. I probably haven’t run that fast or that far, but as I come inside to the blissfully cool air conditioning, I feel satisfyingly exhausted and depleted.

I thought I was just being desperate, but I might actually be training kinda smart. As it turns out, your body does quite a few amazing things to help you acclimate to exercise in the heat. And since I’m preparing for a notoriously hot race (the Bix), these fresh-from-the-oven training runs may do me more good than I originally thought.

Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. Right now, I’ve been swapping my regularly scheduled tempo runs for “heat work.” It’s less of a conscious decision and more based on my inability to maintain any kind of speed in the heat, but I’m going to stop beating myself up about it and try to reframe it as a positive thing. You know, like altitude training.

And I’d encourage you to do the same thing. If you’re slated for sweltering summer races this year, get out in the heat and get yourself acclimated. The body can do some pretty amazing things. — Aidz

 

Bad Angel Rule #205

Runner Doctors Are the Best Doctors for Runners.

“Running is terrible for you, so my diagnosis is that you need to stop running.”

Ever had a doctor tell you this? (And did you refrain from punching him/her in the throat after uttering this nonsense? Congratulations!)

Chances are, the M.D.’s who say this don’t actually know much about running because they aren’t runners themselves.

So when searching for a specialist of any kind, consider adding “runner” to your checklist of requirements, right alongside “in-network” and “convenient location.”

  • General Practice: Want to PR? Logging crazy high miles? Feeling run-down? Struggling with your weight? For all of these issues and a million more, a general practitioner who runs will help you achieve your goals (because he or she understands your goals) without sacrificing your health or sanity.
  • Podiatrist: Odds are, that if you run, you’ll get custom orthotics at some point. You need a doctor who understands that you’ll be RUNNING in these orthotics, not just wearing penny loafers around the office. Plus, a running podiatrist can help you find a running shoe that makes sense for your feet.
  • Orthopedist: If you find yourself in the ortho’s office, your injury likely has gone from minor annoyance to full-fledged problem. A runner orthopedist knows the tell-tale signs of common running ailments and knows there are few “career-ending” injuries when it comes to running. They also understand the mental struggles associated with long-term time off and will handle your fragile running ego with kid gloves.
  • OB-Gyn: Pregnant? Want to be pregnant? Ever had a baby? Get a doctor who knows that a woman who runs is a woman who is healthy. The last thing you need when you’re knocked up is someone else judging you for the choices you make. An OB-Gyn that runs understands the importance of running, and by extension, the importance of your and your baby’s health. And they won’t give you a song and dance about waiting six weeks after childbirth to wait to go for a run unless it’s REALLY necessary.
  • Dermatologist: If you run in the sun, the running dermatologist understands — and knows where to keep an eye out for trouble spots. If you have to have something removed/biopsied/poked, the running dermatologist will let you know when you can safely resume your running routine.
  • Physical Therapist: If you’re in physical therapy, you’re recovering from an injury. And if you’re recovering from an injury, all you want to know is how quickly you can get back to running. If your PT is a fellow runner, he or she will do everything in his or her power to get you back to pounding the pavement as quickly as possible.
  • Dentist: Actually, DO NOT go to a dentist who is a runner. Having a lengthy running discussion while you have three gauze pads and a metal scraper in your mouth only makes your cavity filling take twice as long.

When it comes to doctors, running matters, but don’t forget, when it comes to running, doctors matter. Yes, running is a healthy activity, but the sheer act of doing a healthy activity does not get you a free pass to good health. Visit the doctor regularly, get check-ups annually and allow specialists to tend to your injuries. And while you’re on the examination table, you and your runner doctor will have plenty to talk about beyond your health. — Mags and Aidz

Bad Angel Rule #204

RAWR! Angry dinosaur coming through!

RAWR! Angry dinosaur coming through!

Get a Peer Review.

We were just two-and-a-half miles into the Madison Half Marathon when Maggie asked me, “What’s going on with your arm?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what are you doing with your arm? Do you always do that? I’ve never noticed it before, but it looks like a T-Rex or something.”

“Oh yeah, that. I do that when I’m fatigued. Is it that noticeable?”

I knew right then and there that if I was already slipping into my sloppy habits, so it was going to be a loooong 13.1 miles. But more than that, I was suddenly hyper-aware of my running form. You see, we had just watched Maggie’s Video Gait Analysis, and while I was thinking about my legs (because Maggie’s problems are lower-body-related), I hadn’t thought at all about my arm swing.

Arm swing is something I do really poorly. It’s something I’ve always done really poorly, and it’s to point where doing it correctly feels odd, forced and unnatural. I need to fix this — STAT! My arm swing affects everything from my posture to my foot strike. And if it weren’t for Maggie casually commenting on my Jurassic arm, I might never have consciously made an effort to do something about it.

And that’s what friends are for.

Now, I don’t necessarily recommend asking a friend for a running form analysis in the middle of a race, but I do recommend that you ask the people you run with often to tell you how you run. Odds are that they know exactly what your sloppy habits are, how your form changes when you get tired, and the ways you compensate when you’re injured.

So ask a running buddy for a performance review. (No, it’s not nearly as thorough as a Video Gait Analysis, but it’s a good place to start.) Just being more conscious of your own tendencies and quirks can help you make small adjustments that can make a big difference in the long run. — Aidz

Bad Angel Rule #203

Get Inked, Part Deux.

We’ve long been proponents of pace tattoos for racing. And when it comes to having fun in this summer racing season, it’s time to step up your tattoo game and rock a ridiculous temporary tat.

Every day we're hustlin, hustlin, hustlin ...

Every day we’re hustlin, hustlin, hustlin …

Maggie and I happened upon some faaaaabulous “Everyday I’m Hustlin'” tats the day before the Madison Half Marathon. We placed them on our bulging biceps and proceeded to flash our fresh ink at every camera in sight.

And because temporary tattoos stay put when you sweat and add a little flair to your ensemble without adding the weight of an accessory, they’re a perfect way to inject some ‘tude into your running wardrobe.

So grab some tats and prepare for fun the next time you lace up. — Aidz

Video Gait Analysis

Have you ever really watched yourself run? The answer is probably no. Maybe you’ve seen a short clip taken with a loved one’s cell phone as you breezed by during a marathon. Or perhaps you’ve picked out your tiny self on the finish line cam at a race. And, let’s be real, you’ve probably sneakily watched your reflection in a storefront window or in the mirror at the gym. It turns out, you can learn a lot by really watching yourself run, especially when you also have a certified professional really watch you run and break down your form frame by frame in a process known as Video Gait Analysis.

The Process

I’ve been injured for so long (since October, kids!) and gone through months of physical therapy to attack problem after problem, many of which were the result of compensation for other issues. A few weeks ago when I began my latest round of PT, my physical therapist suggested I undergo Video Gait Analysis (VGA). It would allow them to see exactly how my injuries were affecting my running form and to pinpoint weaknesses to target in my therapy. In short: it could help me recover while becoming a stronger, more efficient runner. Zero downside.

I was told to wear my usual running shoes, shorts and a shirt that was a different color than my shorts. I hopped on the treadmill and put the speed at a “comfortable” pace. I warmed up for about five minutes before filming began, mostly to make sure I was running naturally and not “posing” for the camera. Chris, the physical therapist/VGA expert, set up the video camera and recorded me running for a couple minutes from each angle (back, front, left, right). All told, the recording process took about 20 minutes. And, because it was part of my rehab, my insurance paid the total cost. Score!

The very next PT session, my physical therapist began incorporating Chris’ preliminary VGA findings into my routine (more on that in a minute). About a week later, I received a fancy CD-ROM (yes, those are still a thing), complete with my VGA, screen shots, notes and exercises to do at home. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually watch the video part of the Video Gait Analysis; it was PC-based software and I’m an Apple gal all the way. A few IT-related snafus later, I finally had my VGA, and I watched it with Adrea and Sara before our trip to the Madison Half Marathon.

What I Learned

VGA Knee Collapse

Screen shots of two of the biggest problems revealed in my VGA: knee collapse and hip drop.

VGA Hip Drop The results were not quite as ugly as I’d feared; frankly, I was a little afraid to see just how imperfect my running form is. A lot of things were good – arm swing, push off, posture, foot strike — but the laundry list of issues stems from a recurring culprit: weak glutes. In other words, I literally need to get my butt in gear. Here’s a quick recap of what my VGA revealed about my running form:

Issue: “Lateral trunk lean” ( i.e. leaning torso toward the weakened side; in my case, the left)
Solution: Strengthen hip abductors and glutes

Issue: Poor stability when landing
Solution: Improve single-leg balance

Issue: “Hip drop” on both sides (For example, when only the right leg is planted, it means the entire left side is “cantilevered” over the left hip. If the right hip muscles aren’t firing correctly, the pelvis and upper body tilt downward on the left side.)
Solution: Strengthen hip abductors and glutes Issue: Slow cadence Solution: Increase cadence to 180 steps per minute

Issue: Overstriding
Solution: Increase cadence and take smaller steps

Issue: Overpronation
Solution: Shoes with increased stability, custom orthotics and increase ankle strength

Issue: Knees “collapsing” when landing
Solution: Strengthen eccentric quads, hips, glutes and calves to improve stability

The unsolved mystery is whether all of these issues are the result of or the cause of my injuries. I’m guessing it’s a combination of both, but I sure wish I had a VGA of my running form from last summer so I could compare them.

The Aftermath

In the weeks following my VGA, my physical therapy has grown much more intense as I work to heal, strengthen and change my muscle memory. Squats of all shapes and sizes. Running and hopping on a trampoline and Bosu ball balance/strength exercises, all in front of a mirror so I can watch the angles of my knees, hips and ankles. It’s HARD, and I feel like I’ve had an actual workout when I’m done, not like I paid good money just to do a bunch of lame stretches.

Left: Major knee collapse Right: No knee collapse!

Left: Knee collapse
Right: No knee collapse!

As a result, I’ve incorporated changes to my running form. My cadence is back up in the 175-180 range — where it was pre-injury — and I’ve shortened my stride. My trunk lean and hip drop are decreasing as my strength increases. But the biggest change I’ve made is keeping my knees from collapsing, both when running and standing in general. When I first started concentrating on this, it felt like I was practically spread-eagle, even though at a glance, it is hardly noticeable. After about a month, it’s becoming a natural movement, and that minor adjustment also has helped limit my overpronation and improved my posture.

Upon my physical therapist’s recommendation, I also saw a podiatrist. My custom orthotics will be ready for pickup in a couple weeks, at which time, I’m going to get fitted for some new kicks at my friendly neighborhood running store to carry me through the rest of marathon training.

This whole experience — my injury, physical therapy and now VGA — has taught me a ton about my body and running and how everything is connected. I know I’ll never have “perfect” running form, but at least now I have the tools and the knowledge to keep striving — and striding — toward my own version of perfection. And hopefully that version includes far, far fewer injuries. — Mags