Sunday, March 4, 2018

Form Check, Part 3

It's time for another check in!

I've been working on my running form since the start of the year with the help of a Physical Therapist, Casey, from Therapydia Denver, (full transparency: this is part of a series of blog posts sponsored by Therpydia) with the goal of becoming a more efficient, and less injury-prone running. What this means in real life, is that I'll be able to run more and hurt less!

What all of us runners want, right?

Over the last several weeks I've focused on exercises and relaxed running. I still have work to do, since it's never really over, but watching the video during my last session it was clear I'm making good improvements. 

Each session at Therapydia begins with a warm-up, followed by a run on the treadmill while Casey captures video to get a closer (and slower) look at my gait, and then we go through a series of exercises, typically a mix of old and new.

The mix of exercises to build core, glute, and hamstring muscles coupled with retraining my mind and body to run more relaxed, is how I'm really going to improve my form.

I have two groups of exercises to do, three times a week each: floor and standing. Depending on the day and how much time I have at home or at the gym to get them done, I may just do one group or I'll do both. If I'm being real, it also depends on how much energy I have.

Standing exercises
  • Monster walks with a band around ankles
  • Speed skaters with a band around ankles (make it tougher standing on a balance/cushy mat so it's not so stable)
  • Single leg dead lifts with a kettlebell (if you're new to these, try the first few days without any weights, or very light ones and don't worry about reaching the ground, keep your hips parallel to the ground and back straight)

Floor exercises
  • Hamstring curls with a exercise ball and band just above knees (or not)
  • Bridges on a Bosu and band just above knees (to make it a bit harder: "march" by lifting one foot up - leg straight out, then the other)
  • Side plank/clamshell combo with or without the band just above knees
  • Alternating planks - alternate between standard forearm plank and side planks
  • Kneeling band push is a bit awkward, so the photo below helps illustrate it. Tie a knot at the end of a band and secure it in a door, the pull it taught and kneel on the knee closest the door. Push the band forward so arms are straight, then pull it close to the body, and repeat. This core exercise requires some good balance.

These exercises along with some drills on the treadmill and stretching have been my routine. Oh, and a nice 30-minute yoga break we've been doing at work once a week, courtesy of a colleague who is also a yoga teacher. I cannot say enough good things about the ability to take 30 minutes out of our fast-paced, busy weeks to stretch and clear our heads.  

I have another session coming up soon where we'll do another check of my running form, see if these exercises are actually turning into something, and maybe I'll get more to add to the routine. I feel like things are improving and with my sights set on a race now, that provides extra motivation to keep doing the work. 

If you're looking for the other posts in this series, you can catch up here:

What is one of your favorite exercises that keeps you running strong?

This post is sponsored by Therapydia. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Five Ways to an Excellent Year of Running

While we're well into February, the year is still fresh and I've been thinking about how I want to shape my running in 2018. Perhaps it's because I'm still getting my feet under me after my back injury last year, but looking ahead, I want to take advantage of the fresh opportunities that come with another trip around the sun.

I think it all boils down to five things that should make for better and stronger running on a personal level, but also considers the running community beyond myself. Because, really, getting the most out of running means being part of this great community that exists.

So here it goes, the five things that will make for a great year of running:

1. SET A GOAL & GO AFTER IT. Pick a new distance. Work on your form. Rest with purpose. Become a trail runner. Go after that PR. Qualify for Boston. Do more cross training. Strengthen your core. Whatever it is (and there might be more than one), pick a goal and go after it. 

2. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Just as important as getting miles on our feet, is getting rest, eating well, rehabbing, and strength training. We all know it's true. Get off the couch and put your legs up the wall or roll out while you're watching Netflix. Skipping lunch probably won't help much when we lace up our running shoes. And, as I've learned, a strong core and glutes are key for efficient running and good form. 

3. EXPLORE. It's so easy for us to fall into a routine - the same workouts with the same routes, week in and week out. But one of the best things about running is the ability to explore new places, and become completely immersed in our surroundings. Without car windows between us and nature. Make a point to try a new route at least once a month. See something new.

early morning run - group run snow mountain ranch

4. COWBELL LIKE A PRO. We love races with great crowd support, but be honest, how often are you on the curb cheering and supporting other runners? Make a point to pick a race or two - even if you don't know anyone running it - and go cheer for the runners. Being cheered on by a complete stranger at just the right time can be the perfect boost when a race gets hard, so pass it on - be the person who cheers for others when they need it most.

5. VOLUNTEER. Another excellent way to give back to the community that often gets overlooked in our busy lives. Every race we run requires a lot of support, and race directors need volunteers. Pick a local race, big or small, and sign up. Then show up. Better yet, get your best running friends together and volunteer as a group. Trust me, runners are the best volunteers. You'll have a ton of fun and leave feeling good about how you spent your morning. 

early morning run - group run washington park

What are your goals? How are you making this a great year for your running?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Becoming a Stronger Runner, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts sharing my experience working with Therapydia Denver, as we fix my running form. If you want to know how this started, I suggest you check out this post.

After a few weeks of shuffling on the treadmill at the gym, monster walking through our kitchen, and reminding myself to relax (my feet) while I run, I was back at Therapydia for another session with Casey.

Coming straight from a long day at work, I spent a few minutes on the treadmill to get my legs moving and warm up a bit. Since the point of these sessions is to improve my running form, it's important to see if I've made any progress from visit to visit, so that was first on the agenda.

Casey took some videos as I ran on the treadmill from the same angles as the first time so we could see if anything improved. Running forms don't typically change overnight, so I fully expect that this process to take a while, but I do hope to see a bit of improvement with each session.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the new video (below right) next to the original, showed some improvement! I'm leaning forward more and while both feet are hitting the ground at a better angle, my left foot is looking better than the right.

You can see by the green lines below that my left leg was stretching out farther during the first session than this time. The more out stretched the leg, the more likely the heel is going to take the brunt of the landing. Improvement!

My hips are still dropping, which is the sign of weak glutes, but that's going to take a lot of time (and monster walks) to see a real difference, so he wasn't surprised to see this and encouraged me not to get discouraged.

This is definitely a process that requires dedication and patience. Even with all the great help, direction and exercises that I'm getting from Casey at Therapydia, I'm the only one who can actually do the work. If I don't do it, nothing will change.

I've learned I need to do my exercises at the gym or just after I get home each morning because I'm usually so mentally exhausted after work that the last thing I want to do is my exercises. Even spending 5 minutes rolling out before bed it tough enough.

After the treadmill test, I was given a few more exercises to work on. This week: core.

The first exercise he gave me works the deep core muscles, the transverse abdominus. It's not like a plank where you can tell without much trouble if you're doing it correctly or not. This one is pretty subtle so it took a few tries to get it right, and then I had to do it a few more times to try and ingrain how it felt in my memory so I could do it at home on my own.

The other exercise for the week was the standard bridge - with two feet on the floor and also lifting one foot off - with an exercise band just above my knees to provide resistance. There's a reason why some exercises are so common, because they work. The bridge is one of them - great for strengthening abs, low back and glutes.

Like monster walks, I've done bridges for years, but it's a good reminder that I need to do them regularly. In fact, Casey instructed me to do these exercises - along with the ones from the first session - three days a week, advising against doing them just before a long or hard run.

Beyond the exercises and keeping my feet relaxed while I run, he also gave me a cadence goal - 170 steps per minute. With a quicker cadence I'll keep my strides shorter and in turn, should land more mid-foot. The trouble I'm still having with this though is running a faster cadence without running faster, because my legs and lungs can't keep up with it for long.

For this, Casey recommended breaking down each mile. Start by running the faster cadence for a quarter mile, then back to my regular cadence for the rest; over time skewing more of the mile towards 170 steps for minute. This is what I've spent the least amount of time on, but I'll get there.

More work is ahead. I have another session this week so stayed tuned for more about how this is going. I'm curious, if you've successfully increased your cadence, what's the secret?

This post is sponsored by Therapydia. All opinions are my own.