Monday, February 25, 2013

Shelbyville Sprint Triathlon Race Report

I'll get back to the run gait analysis posts later this week, but I wanted to write up a quick report on yesterday's race.
New race jersey for 2013

Left leg

Right leg

I wasn't 100% sure if I was going to do the race, but I decided to give it a shot. One of the main reasons I was hesitant about doing the race was that I knew I had to change the tires on my bike. I've been riding exclusively on the trainer since my last triathlon in September...and the tires that I have on my bike are not safe for road riding (they are bald and have a few holes that I've patched). It sounds silly, but it's kind of a hassle to change the tires on both wheels; but I had some time Saturday night, so I went ahead and did it. If nothing else, it was good practice for next time I get a flat.

The race was in reverse order because it's not really safe to get out of the water and get on your bike soaking wet when it's 25 degrees outside! So we started with a 5K run. It's an out-and-back course with rolling hills through Clear Creek Park in Shelbyville, KY. I started out around a 6:15/mile pace and couldn't believe how many people were in front of me. I figured some would start fading, but it never happened. I actually faded some because I could tell my breathing with a little to strenuous. With a bike and swim still to go, I decided to back off a bit.

5K Run
20:12.9 (6:31 / mile pace)
4th out of 14 in my Age Group
22nd out of 125 Overall

With the race being in reverse from typical triathlons, the transitions are a little weird and require some thought. I ran in my new tri jersey (pictures above) with some ear warmers, gloves, and my long-sleeve Under Armour shirt. So all I had to do in T1 was pull off my running shoes, put my bike helmet on and go.

1st out of 14 in my Age Group
2nd out of 125 Overall

The bike was two loops of a 6 mile course. I knew that I was pretty far back after the run, so I started setting my sights on riders ahead of me. I spent the entire ride picking off one rider at a time. I felt strong on the bike and my legs felt good. I was pushing pretty hard the whole time and since there was only a swim left, I drained my legs of every ounce of energy they had. I spent the entire last loop thinking about what I needed to do in transition. I had to get my feet out of my bike shoes, take off my gloves and socks, pull off my shirt, take off my helmet, ear warmers and race number belt. I went back and forth in my head trying to determine what would be the fastest way to get all of this done. 

12 mile bike
29:56.1 (24.1 mph)
2nd out of 14 in my Age Group
8th out of 125 Overall

So I got my feet out of my shoes and pulled my gloves off on the bike coasting into T2. I hopped off my bike and racked it. I took my helmet, ear warmers and race belt off. Pulled my socks off and started running up the hill toward the pool. I pulled my shirt off as I ran up the hill and tossed it by the door going into the pool. I had my goggles stashed just inside the door and grabbed them as I ran toward the water. My plan worked out pretty good as I ended up having the 2nd fastest T2.

1st out of 14 in my Age Group
2nd out of 125 Overall

The swim was a serpentine swim in a 25 yard pool. Up and back in one lane, then under the lane line and repeat for 8 laps. I had no idea what place I was in when I jumped in the water, but I saw that the leader was still swimming and there were about 10-12 people in the pool. I jumped in and started - just trying to focus on form. I was exhausted and even stopped doing flip-turns after a few laps because I was having trouble holding my breath long enough. I passed two people in the water and felt like I had a pretty strong swim. 

400 yard swim
6:37.5 (1:39 / 100yd)
2nd out of 14 in my Age Group
19th out of 125 Overall

I checked the results after the race and saw that I finished 9th overall. I was 6th in this race last year and was hoping for a similar finish. Once the race results were posted on-line later in the day, I realized that not only were there almost twice as many people in the race this year (125 vs. 66), but that nine more people finished in under an hour this year (13 vs. 4). Very fast and competitive race!

Total Time
2nd out of 14 in my Age Group
9th out of 125 Overall

When I looked up my results from this race a year ago I was shocked to see that I managed to knock 4 minutes and 52 seconds off of my time this year! The course was identical to last year, so I knew that the distances were the same. My run was 39 seconds faster, my bike was 3 minutes and 55 seconds faster and my swim was 13 seconds faster. That is a lots of improvement in a year, especially on the bike. In fact, if I would have done it in this time last year, I would have finished 3rd overall.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Run Gait Analysis - Part 2

My previous post addressed forward lean. This one will look into foot strike and the role that it plays in running. Foot-strike is the exact moment when your foot makes contact with the ground.

Even the causal runner has probably heard something about foot strike. The "barefoot/natural" running craze focuses on foot strike as the main culprit of running-related injuries. Depending on what shoe store, physical therapist, or "expert" you talk to, you may be told several different things about what the correct foot-strike location should be...heel, midfoot or forefoot.

I've read "Born To Run" and while I agree with some of the principles talked about in this book, I also believe that while shoes play an important role in foot-strike, you can land on your midfoot or forefoot even if you are wearing a "stability" shoe.

If you start to look at studies over the last 20 years it becomes quite humorous. Up until the last 5-7 years, all of the studies concluded that heel-striking was the most effective technique. Now almost everything you see will tell you the opposite, that heel-strike is horrible for a runner's speed and longevity.

If you watch video or still photos of elite runners, you will see some that heel-strike...especially in longer races like a marathon. If you watch sprint races, like you probably did in the 2012 Summer Olympics, these runners are all forefoot strikers. So depending on the runner and the distance, there really is no consensus on the correct way for your foot to contact the ground. Furthermore, trying to change your foot-strike is not as easy as you may think and must be done with caution.

Based on everything that I have read and heard, it's more important where your foot strikes the ground in relation to your body than how your foot strikes the ground.

When your foot lands out in front of your body, you're adding a resistance to your forward momentum (back to Physics class). Combining this landing position with a heel strike often means that your leg is straight and your knee is locked out. This transfers a lot of force and pressure all the way up your leg to your hips...which will eventually lead to injuries.

If your foot lands under your body, even with a heel strike, it reduces the resistance to your forward movement and your bent knee is better able to absorb the forces created when you land.

So let's look at a few examples. First is a sequence if images of elite marathon runner Ryan Hall. The three frames show how and where is foot strikes the ground. The image on the far right is the exact moment his weight is transferred to his foot and is what I would consider a good landing position - directly under the body:

Now let's look at another elite marathoner, Meb Keflezighi, from the same race. The three frames are from the same place in Meb's stride as Ryan's above. You can see that Meb is a heel-striker...BUT this is not a problem because his knee is bent and his weight transfer is under his body:

Now let's look at a non-elite

This big different between my heel-strike and Meb's is that my leg is locked when my heel makes contact with the ground. There are lots of other reasons why his form is more efficient, but we'll just focus on foot-strike for now.

So what is the take away from this? It's important to land effectively when running. Keep your knees loose and focus on landing under your center of gravity. If you can look down while running and see your foot when it hits the ground, you are not landing under your body.

Since this analysis was done almost a month ago, I've been getting back to doing some drills and running barefoot. I found a nice soccer field close to my house and I'm trying to get over there at least once a week. The goal is to train my muscles to run so that I land under my body with a relaxed knee, not out in front. The frustrating part was that I did a lot of these same drills and barefoot running last spring/summer and was able to change my foot-strike for the better. But apparently, after taking 4-5 months off from drills and running on grass, I are reverted back to my old habits. Here are a few pictures taken of me at the very end of races last year, when my form was falling apart...but notice the impending midfoot strike and bent knee. With a little work, I'll get this back.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Run Gait Analysis - Part 1

Just about every triathlete I know has had a bike fit. Almost all of them have worked with a swim coach to try and shave a few seconds off of their swim times. But very few have ever had their running mechanics reviewed. Why is this? My thought is that most of us have been running in one form or another since were were 2 years old. Maybe not in races (with the exception of Field Day), but we all feel like we know "how to run". Swimming and biking are more foreign to the typical athlete, so we feel the need to have our form tweaked in those areas. But running does more wear and tear to the body than either biking or swimming, so why not try and become more efficient and prevent injuries while gaining some speed and stamina?

I've wanted to have a run gait analysis done for years now. The problem I first ran into was finding someone here locally that had the tools to do it right. Then there was the issue of cost. A good analysis can range from $100 to $500. While I wanted to pull the trigger and get it done, I just couldn't justify the cost (don't know why, I've spent much more than this on swim coaching and a bike power meter). I finally found Occupational Kinetics and while I was talking with Mike Rowles about having this done, they happen to run a 60% off special - so I was able to have it done for $40! What a steal!

So I'm going to break my analysis down into several parts. First I'm going to look at my forward lean. Leaning slightly forward is something that takes practice. It doesn't come naturally to most people. Leaning forward to the point where you would start to fall forward if you were not moving is the idea angle. All your legs are doing is stopping you from doing a face-plant. Some people will tell you that if you lean forward "gravity will help you". I don't buy this. I've taken enough Physics classes in my day to know that gravity provides a vertical force, pulling you towards the earth - there is no horizontal force component to gravity. So it cannot help you run faster in a horizontal direction. 

The key to the forward lean is to keep your whole body aligned. Do not just bend at the waist to get your torso leaning forward. The lean should come from your ankles. The proper foot strike (which I will cover in a future post) should be directly under your center of gravity - forming a straight line from your ears to your foot (see picture above). A good angle is at least 5 degrees and the best runners are usually closer to 10 degrees from vertical.

My forward lean is just a little under 6 degrees, so while it could be better, it's pretty good.

In my next blog post we'll look at foot strike...warning - it's about to get ugly!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

More Test Results

My previous post looked at my foot scan. Another thing that Mike Rowles at Occupational Kinetics did was test for muscle weakness/imbalances. He had me do two different exercises. First was a single leg swat. Performing this move can give you a good idea of any balance and hip weakness issues. Here are the videos of my test:

Proper form is when the hip, knee and foot are all in a perfect line during the swat. If the knee wobbles or collapses inward, this indicates a weakness. If you lack the control to keep this all in line during a static movement such as this squat, you will have even less control during dynamic movement - such as running.

Weak thighs (quads) and hips (abductors and external rotators) will lead to this lack of control during the squat. When your foot hits the ground while running, your outside hip muscles need to quickly contract to prevent your knee from going inward. Lack of strength or control of these hip muscles is a common contributing factor to knee I know all too well.

Seven weeks before Ironman Louisville 2011, I developed some pain in my left knee while out on a long run. After several more runs with the same pain, I decided to see what the problem was. After a quick visit to my friend Kevin at Rudy Ellis Sports Medicine Clinic, I was told that I had weak hips...which led to a very tight IT-band. I was unable to run anymore leading up to Ironman and have been on a "hip-strengthening" mission ever since. 

I'm happy to say that after 18 months of incorporating hip and glute strengthening exercises into my weekly routine, I have strong the video above shows. I have also been running injury and pain free for the last 18 months!

The other test that I did was an overhead deep squat. This is a squat done with feet slightly wider than shoulder width. A bar is held overhead with both arms extended. Then you slowly squat down, going as low as you can go - lower than you would with a traditional squat.

This test assesses mobility in several areas. The hips, knees and ankles all flex during this movement. The range of motion of each is noted. All of these looked pretty good on my test. What wasn't good was my upper body. I was unable to keep the bar directly above my feet. This indicates  a lack of mobility in the thoracic spine. A tight back can lead to several running form issues, but torso rotation is the biggest one. Without the full range of thoracic rotation, the arms take it upon themselves to create more rotation than is needed in the running stride...especially in endurance events. Through some stretching and foam rolling, I should be able to increase my back mobility. 

My squat - bar should be over my feet.
Proper overhead deep squat form.
My next few posts will get into my run gait analysis. Lots of good information about how I run...both good and bad!

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