Monday, November 17, 2014

On being an emotional athlete

I want to kick off today’s post with a quote from one of my favorite elite runners:  

"We don’t always get what we want.  Sometimes we work so hard, only to stumble. But our hard work is not lost. The work we do happened and although we may not have been able to show it on the day we hoped, it will be realized later on. " Kara Goucher, post-NYC Marathon 2014.

A lot has been said, and continues to be said, about Kara’s emotional nature and her unconventional re-entry into elite racing. Her tearful interview immediately following a difficult NYC Marathon showing either broke your heart or made you squirm in your seat. Personally, I found it refreshing. Athletes are human beings, not robots, and not products being churned out by a sponsor. I am glad that I don’t get the same canned response normally seen during a post-race interview. 

I appreciate her honesty and I think it makes her more approachable to fans and fellow athletes. If being emotional about your life’s passion is a weakness, then I feel for all those who just put their head down and run. I don’t see their commitment as clearly. I don’t feel their anxiety, joy, or disappointment. We as fans of the sport love to see joy following triumph. But sadness after a dream denied? Move long. 

If sponsors want fans to buy their shit engage with and root for their newest darling particular athlete, the first thing they should be concerned with is showing us that they are human beings. I don’t want to hear the finish places of their previous 5 races this year. I want to hear about the work they have been putting in when no one but their coach is watching. The missteps and the imperfections along the way. That is what makes me care about the outcome of your race today and the races you aspire to run in the future. None of us is foolish enough to believe the path to the start line was sunshine and rainbows.

It wouldn't surprise me if someone out there disagrees with me. It is, after all, only my opinion. The opinion of a back of the pack runner who won’t stand on a podium or qualify for certain race entries. Perhaps that means I am not aware of proper elite athlete behavior. Or what a sponsor or coach prefers is said or not said. But in a time of almost unfettered access to anyone through social media, it is getting increasingly harder for athletes to remain separated from the sport and its followers.

Unfortunately, I only need to spend five minutes watching SportsCenter to get the latest in athletes behaving badly. I’d rather spend those five minutes watching Kara or Rinny or Meb laugh, cry, and generally share with me what that race felt like in that moment. I think we can relate to those race moments on some level and have that “me too” feeling. Whether it was the urge to walk or cry or quit, runners of all levels have been there and I find it comforting to know that it happens to the best of us, not just the “meh” of us. I carry that with me on the trail, in the gym, and at the physical therapy clinic. Highs and lows, joys and sorrows. Me too. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Run analysis recap

Earlier this week I had an appointment at the Endurance Athlete Center (EAC) for a run analysis. This was something that was long overdue but something I was in no position to afford for quite some time. Additionally, I knew that whatever information I learned from the analysis would most likely require some follow up appointments (PT, etc.), which I also lacked funds or health insurance to afford. Now that I am more gainfully employed I'm in a better financial position to focus on my health. YAY! After an amazing sports massage (thanks, Mom!) from Scott in early October I knew that having this analysis was the smart next step if I was truly committed to healing my banged up body and becoming a stronger runner. Three short weeks later, I was sitting with Kerri Kramer to kick off my two hour analysis.

A little background on the EAC. They are actually a mashup of several companies (Fast Track Physical Therapy, Functional Fitness VA, Strong Foundations, and Rise Above Cycles) working together to provide a myriad of services (massage, physical therapy, personal training, podiatry, and nutrition, to name a few) to endurance athletes. Triathletes, runners, cyclists, swimmers, and adventure runners comprise a large part of their clientele, but any person engaging in an active lifestyle can benefit from what the EAC offers.

Working in a local running store and being a member of the greater NoVA running community has exposed me to a large number of health professionals and runners who have been treated by them. What led me to choose the EAC is two-fold. One, the multidisciplinary approach/one-stop shop nature of the organization. Two, they specialize in endurance athletes and most of the staff are endurance athletes themselves. This means they not only know how to treat my kind of athlete, they also understand exactly how we think and feel. No, we don't want to stop swimming/running/biking. Yes, we'll do whatever we can to keep moving forward. They know the frustration and disappointment that comes from a DNF, a DNS, or just an interrupted training schedule. In short, they GET IT. I think that experience is what helps the staff of the EAC connect with their clients on a critical level. Health and happiness for an endurance athlete are inseparable.

So, a run analysis. This two hour session is broken up into two parts, an assessment of your body's flexibility, strength, and range of motion, followed by a slow motion video analysis of your body in running motion. Up first, the assessment. I sat with Kerri while she reviewed my health history (both running-related and general). We talked about previous injuries and treatments, what was going on right now, and what my running goals are for the next 6 months or so. We talked about my current exercise routine (weekly mileage, days per week, etc). Nothing about this was rushed; she listened to every piece of information I had to provide (relevant or otherwise) and asked plenty of questions while taking copious notes. Next up was a check on what my body is and is not currently doing. She observed me in several positions or motions (touching my toes, doing one-legged squats and jumps, among other things). She manipulated several extremities/joints to examine my range of motion and flexibility. She also performed several muscle-specific strength tests focusing on my calves, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hips (adductors and abductors.) All the while Kerri was taking notes, making measurements, talking about degrees and letting me know how my body stacked up to a healthy running body.

As we wrapped up this portion of the analysis she stated that she had some ideas as to what was going on with me (specific to my issues of tight calves, Achilles pain, and high hamstring pain) but wanted to review the videos we'd make next before showing me her hand. Before putting me through the motions she put a bright strip of tape vertically on the back side of my running shoes and two strips of tape horizontally on my backside side. This meant I had the pleasure of running with my shirt tucked into my compression shorts so it didn't cover the tape. I looked pretty hot, trust me. Kerri recorded 5 short videos of me running. Three were on the treadmill and two were outside. For the treadmill videos I walked for a few minutes to warmup and was then instructed to settle into my comfortable long run pace. Once I was in a groove, she started recording. The first video was a side view of me on the treadmill, the second was a rear view, and the third was a front view. We then headed outside to the parking lot. Kerri stood to my left side, halfway down the lot and instructed me to run down past her to the end of the lot and then run back. She captured a brief video each time.

Now, the painful truth. We went back inside and sat down together at her laptop while she plugged in the camera and pulled up each video to view in excruciatingly (to me) slow motion. My first reaction? Stop eating bagels. And other things. Yikes. Luckily, Kerri's insights were more relevant and useful. I will include pictures (not of me) as I describe some of this information. First, my footstrike. I don't crash down on the back of my heel, but I still overstride (see example below). This is impacting my cadence. I am averaging approximately 156 and should be closer to the "ideal" 180. I am also "sitting back" in my run. I couldn't find a good picture of what this means, but it involves an anterior pelvic tilt. More on that momentarily.

From the rear view (and by far the LEAST flattering), we learned a lot about my not so sweet hip action. The bright yellow tape on my black shorts ratted me out. I've got a left hip drop going on. Many of the descriptions of this that I have read use a lot of terms that I don't understand (like sagittal plane and cantilevered side). In short, this means that certain muscles (like my abductors or glute meds) aren't firing. This could be a muscular or neural issue. Or both. Regardless, by continuing to run without correcting what is going on, overuse injuries often result.

The rear view also showed excess cross-motion in my upper body (my arms cross in front of my body and my torso twists side to side). This is wasted energy that, once corrected, will improve my running speed and economy. The front view was not remarkable, I do appear to be running with my feet an acceptable width apart (which I knew solely based on the fact that I used to kick my inner ankle bones during a run and don't anymore). The outside videos confirmed what we saw on the treadmill. I truly did look like I was sitting in my run. My upper body down to my butt was behind the rest of me. I wish I could describe it better, as it is a really weird position to see. I was still overstriding and still had that pesky anterior pelvic tilt. 

This pelvic issue may be the main contributor to both my high hamstring pain and my Achilles pain (when combined with the overstriding). This is where you will have to use your imagination and refer to the previous pictures in order to "see" what I'm talking about. When my leg is extended forward my hamstring and my Achilles are being stretched. The overstride (picture number one) means both are being stretched more than they should. Add in the anterior pelvic tilt (picture three) and you get the high hamstring pain (picture four below). The top of my hamstring is being stretched upward behind me (due to the tilt) when my leg is mid-stride. At the same time it is being stretched downward in front of me (due to the overstride). Not cool.

All this excess also tweaks my tight calves (both the soleus and gastroc shown in picture 5) and my Achilles tendon. My pain is at the mid-part of the Achilles (see picture 6 below) and has reached the tendonosis stage. Same with my hamstring.



OK, but what do I DO with all this information? First, all the soft tissue work and manipulation in the world is not going to fix the root problem(s). If you have not been following along, the big problems are the overstride, the hip drop, and the anterior pelvic tilt. Kerri's goal, and the goal of the EAC, is NOT to make me run a certain way or like someone else. The idea is to tweak my run so it is the best it can be. With that in mind, Kerri outlines a game plan.

This might be the point where you think she's going to give me the hard sell on months of physical therapy and new-fangled toys or contraptions I need to own and use every day until the end of time. You would be wrong. Based on what was going on with me, what my goals are, and my current fitness (aka this will be different for each individual), the plan was straightforward, simple, and completely doable. No, I don't have to stop running. No, I won't be in PT for 6 months. Yes, I will run my half marathon in December. I volunteered to do all my workouts for the next two weeks on the elliptical or spin bike just to give my body a jump start on healing (and because I want to run a 5 mile turkey trot on Thanksgiving with my family) and she was down with that.

Kerri outlined a series of drills/exercises/stretches for me to do every day for the time being. They include an ungodly number of single leg squats in two different ways. For the next 8 weeks I will come to the clinic 2 days a week for a little one on one time. She suggested two days a week so that I (or my body) wouldn't forget the exercises between appointments. I should notice a difference in the pain level within a week or two, and we should see gains in speed a few weeks after that, including changes in my form on the videotape.

I love how uncomplicated this plan is. I also love that she didn't sugarcoat anything or go all doom and gloom on me. I love that she was committed to getting me to be the best runner I can be and seemed genuinely interested in my progress. After we went over the plan, we had about 15 minutes left and she used that time to work on my Achilles a little bit, since a few of the test exercises earlier in the session caused some pain. I'm looking forward to doing the work and I have confidence in how it is all going to come together. My first appointment is at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. Yes, 7 a.m. on a Monday morning. Gotta do what you gotta do and I can't afford to take any time away from work. I'll provide updates as things progress.

A few things before I wrap this up. First, the EAC didn't ask me to write this post. In fact, I don't think they even know I have a blog. I went in there as a runner who needed help. Second, each person going in for a run analysis will have a different experience based on their sport, their current health and so much more. This is just my personal experience. If you live in the greater DC area and are curious about how to make your run better, make that lingering ache go away, or just want to learn more about how run analysis works, please contact the EAC. Any of the misuse of anatomy terms or physical therapy techniques is mine. I made a few notes at the end of the session but otherwise relied on my memory (and the Internet) for the rest.

Have any of you had a run analysis or something similar done before? Is it something you would consider doing? Let me know in the comments!