Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On Running Form and Illness

A few weekends ago I was running on the treadmill because the weather was questionable when all of a sudden the Olympic Trials for the marathon came on. I don't always feel slow when I run on a treadmill, but when I do it's because I'm watching the fastest Americans  out there go crush it. Fortunately some of my favorites got into the top 3 spots so it's going to be a good time in Rio this summer!

Watching those people run was a lesson in proper form and it got my brain turning over a bit.

The first thing I did was match cadence with Meb. Sure, he was running 5 minute miles and I was clocking 9 minute miles. But we were footstriking at the same rate.

Running form, as I understand it now (reserved to change in the future), is to be tall with a natural forward lean. Use your abs to keep your hips level on all 3 planes (side to side, front to back, and center rotation), and at ground contact your shin should not be at more than a 90* angle to the ground (watch out for overstriding). This can occur with either a forefoot, midfoot, or heel strike, that's not as important as we originally thought. Overstriding is based on the angle of the shin, you always want to land on a bent knee to absorb the impact (force, motion) and return that energy back (force, opposite motion). The hips act as a fulcrum, and that is actually the key to the entire process!

Close enough except for the footstrike stuff (source)
So what makes Meb that much faster than me? How can we both keep the same 180 footstrikes per minute and not run the same speed?

There are a few ways to answer that question. The most obvious being the genetic and blood oxygen content capabilities to sustain Meb's speed over 26.2 miles. That's impressive by itself. There is also lots of math involved here, though.

Distance per stride: Each step involves pushing off from the ground (force) using the quads and calf muscles. The hips then act as a pivot point to bring the leg back into a forward position for the next ground contact. Shorter stride lengths mean a faster turnover because that leg doesn't have to travel as far to get into forward position.

Strength: The hamstrings and glutes are used to bring the leg forward. If one hip drops when that foot hits the ground (lateral flexion) then the force transferred to the ground at impact gets lost instead of being transferred back to the body during pushoff. Having one shoe scrape the calf when the leg comes forward, or having uneven arm movements (don't let your hands cross the center line of the torso!) can indicate hip problems. Bringing one hip forward (centerline rotation) can also throw off impact.

Conditioning: Think of the hips like a bowl. Dorsal flexion is letting the bowl tip forward to spill out some of the milk. A lot of the time, trying to run with a forward lean creates a problem where we bend at the waist, and the hip bowl spills forward as a result. Running tall keeps the bowl level; this takes core strength. Your current conditioning will limit how long you can hold this proper form.

When I need to run fast like Meb, I can push off of the ground harder. This will increase my stride length. My calves will fail first since I have ankle & knee inflammation issues, then my quads, hamstrings, and abs will fatigue. Before bringing my leg forward again for the next stride, keep the foot as far off of the ground as possible. This will maximize the distance that the hip (and glutes) have to bring that leg forward to start the next stride. But if I practice this technique often enough, I may be able to finish a 1 mile race in a relatively fast time, maybe around 6 minutes. Add in some conditioning, and I may be able to race a 5k in a respectable time (like my 21:54 PR).

And to think, it all starts with cadence. To calculate my cadence, I look at the clock when I can start counting my right foot strikes. After 30 right foot strikes, I look at the clock again. Ideally it will be exactly 20 seconds later. The math: 20 seconds * 3 is one minute, 30 right strikes * 3 is 90. It's a safe assumption that I also had 90 foot strikes with the left leg in the same time frame, so that adds up to the 180 footstrikes per minute goal cadence.

My theory is that you can run the goal cadence at any given speed for a limited amount of time. For a long race like an ultramarathon, just use less strength and a shorter stride length and you can slow down to a 9 minute speed. Then work on the conditioning to be able to hold that speed or go slower for a given distance, like 31 or even 100 miles. With enough base miles on your legs, aerobically you should be fine. I've done a lot of 20 mile runs this training cycle at a 180 cadence, 9 min/mile pace, and kept my heart rate under 150.

The rest of the story

So this was happening the day before Valentines. I cut this particular 20 miler down to only 15 because I felt some tightness in my chest and was starting to cough pretty good during the run. Kelley had been sick with an acute upper respiratory infection that turned out not to be cute at all. That evening, she was finally feeling better so the kids and I prepared her a lovely Italian Mixed Grill dinner with lots of veggies and different meats. It was a meal fit for a princess and she was feeling the love from us all, for sure.

I ended up drinking an entire bottle of wine with dinner since she didn't end up wanting any. The side effect from this is that I may have convinced the children that babies come from Tequila (hey, am I wrong?) so that's fun.

Turns out, I did end up having the flu. That meant I was drunk and sick saturday night, then hungover and sick sunday morning. Tough to tell which was worse. By Monday, I felt better but was still coughing too loudly to be around other people, so I worked from home all week and only got outside once. Wednesday night I had to run pick up some children's Advil since both of the kids picked up the flu and missed half of the week of school. Literally, I didn't even go out to the mailbox or put on something besides pajamas from Saturday night until friday morning, save for the one sweatpants trip to the drug store.

Eventually we did all come back to life. I went back to the office, the kids went back to school, and we're all ready to see the end of February. Hey, that's now! Alright.


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

The running form stuff is so interesting. I went to a clinic on running form one and it was really helpful to get feedback on my run. But I didn't do the best job incorporating what they suggested - at least not consistently.

Sorry to hear you were all sick in Feb, though! That was me in January... and now I'm sick AGAIN. Gah. My immune system just sucks right now!

Abby said...

Oh no the flu is the worst. I hope you are back to 100% soon.

Kristie said...

I sometimes match cadence with the runners in my neighborhood who all run twice as fast as me. It's always interesting that we're so far apart in speed. Other times I just obsessively count aiming for 180....also I hope your cough goes away completely. I've been coughing sine June! I wouldn't wish that on anyone.