Sunday, July 13, 2014

Texas Star Sprint Triathlon: Taking on the Hills, Sun, and Grass!

Triathlon # 1 of 2 this summer complete. All things considered, this was a fairly successful outing. I knew going in that I had some significant advantages and some relative disadvantages, but this race may be one of the best I've executed strategy-wise in a long time. The RD and crew at the Texas Star Tri up the road in Montgomery, TX did a good job and were very enthusiastic in their efforts at the race this morning. It was great to hear a genuine "you look amazing" from the volunteers when trucking up a nice little incline out of T2!

I wore my Timex watch and did my best to keep each split, however, after the bike I got a little caught up and later got a little mentally "fuzzy" in the later stages;  so the split times (currently unpublished) I don't have. Yes, I am writing a race report without exact numbers... and it will remain as is. Those who know me best know that I really don't want to focus much on numbers anyhow, especially on the blog/internet anyhow. It's what happens in between the starting gun and the finish line that really matters and I think is the most interesting anyhow.

For those who care, I came in at about :59 and change, achieving my goal of going underneath an hour-which was both challenging and realistic given I only had about 5-6 weeks of 20 or even less miles per week running after letting my foot heal. I even registered in May thinking this event may just be a discharge of my competitive juices via swim and bike that have been built up over the past few months. My expectations for the run were barely existent.

Flash forward to this morning. After doing only run races in the winter/spring, I am out of practice for prepping the gear for a triathlon. As the pic below indicates, I had a bag 'o clothes, two pairs of running shoes, helmet, pump, swim gear, and so on-taking a couple trips to the car to pack it all. Gear-wise, I had my Honey Stinger kit (thanks, guys!), obnoxious aero helmet, and Saucony Virratas  New Balance 1400s, and trainers to cool down in. I had this compulsion to change shoe choices from the Virratas for the NB's for drainage purposes and a little more heel lift for getting off the bike. Oatmeal and coffee now consumed with LOTS of electrolytes, I was off to Montgomery.

Swim (300 in pool):

My strategy was simple and I stayed disciplined in it: Start strong for the first length and then just focus on elongating my stroke and conserving my energy. I caught myself spinning my arms out momentarily and smoothed out nicely. Besides some very minor traffic and getting a little confused at a lane rope, I actually ended up with a race-day PR (chip mat included) of 5:10. Like some of the unfortunate swimmers I have worked with in the past, I seem to go faster in practice. Nutrition-wise, I did take a Honey Stinger Gel right before, which will prove to sustain me quite a while. Swim assessment: Nothing really to brag about, but not terrible either. And I still had plenty in the tank because I knew what lies ahead...

Bike (10 miles);

The bike course for TX Star is not brutal, but it's no picnic either-that and there is little to no shade. Every mile or so there was a fair hill with a descend. My training partner and I had rode this area several times and it paid off. I kept telling myself "patience and strength" and I started picking people off. At this time two women were ahead of me and I rode just below the red line throughout. Not having full run fitness yet, I knew the bike was where I would be competitive and was able to overtake the first and second females. Another emphasis of this race was to really focus on hydration. I am a crazy-heavy sweater and this was my chance to get fluids in. I was able to almost finish my bottle of sports drink with a little beta-alanine by the time I hit T2.

No faster than I heard "first woman" did the second gal BLOW PAST me in transition. I couldn't be too rattled about this, because I rarely practice these things (since I'm just really a runner who owns a bike and knows how to swim ;)).... ok, I did lose my cool for a few seconds as I watched her take out of transition before I could take my helmet off! OMG! I had never seen anything like that before-unless I'm watching the ITU on Universal Sports. Props to you, girl!! I proceeded to drop my helmet, catch it, get my race number and flats on and run within myself on a slight uphill onto the run course.

Run (3 miles):

This wasn't great, but it wasn't total crap either. I gave it what I had and didn't have unrealistic expectations; my process goals were to stay positive and stay just under blowing up.  I think I ran as well as I could after biking hard and currently being about 70% fitness-wise. I could see 1F, and she remained in my sight for give or take the rest of the 3 mile loop. This course was interesting: it ran around a football stadium, and then circled around some trails with grass and dirt. I could feel my ankles shift around some and somehow I cut my left toe (probably from the rough interior of the 1400s) but overall maintained my running form and kept my stride fairly short. I will say the course is not necessarily fast. I plan on running an open cross-country race in late Aug-so I guess it is good practice!

I ran through the first mile in maybe 6:40ish after trying to deliberately start conservative. I'll take that. I have no idea what my other splits were because I had to focus on maintaining pace and talking myself through the building fatigue after the second mile. I could still see the first woman (I think I made some time on her, actually)  and kept thinking "well, maybe?.." and made my way out of the woods and back to campus. In all honesty I was pretty spent in the last mile and had to brush some gremlins off with telling myself "You are just going to get better and stay in the race." That was enough to get to the finish that was on the High School track. I kicked it in as much as I could and finished-hands on knees but satisfied-in sub one-hour. My legs, feet, and everything else felt intact, but more importantly, my formerly fragile ego was intact. I had gone in, done my best, and still did fairly well even though the run prep (my usual strength) was abbreviated.

My overall placement of all 170 or so participants was 5th, and I was 2nd Female by just 18 seconds. Likely in the swim and definitely lost time in T2-oh, well! I was 1st in the 30-34 AG. Some good takeaways was being able to capitalize on what I could. I felt like I belonged out there on the bike-feeling powerful throughout-and I was finally able to catch a glimpse of the competitor inside me-judging by how many times the winner looked back I think I gave her a fair challenge (she was really experienced and cool, btw!!) and I don't recall any juncture where I started beating myself up for being "weak, slow, or mediocre"-another big step. I committed before I got in the water to stay in the moment and I plan on using this strategy in future races.

So there you have it: a race more about effort and toughness vs. time. I think I kinda like racing this way! Time to take a day off, fully recover, and then grab the next rung of the ladder.

Special thanks goes out to Honey Stinger for providing the fuel and kit for the race.

Stay the course.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Gait Analysis Part II: Deconstructing Stride Mechanics in Pictures

Yesterday I received my Gait Analysis report showing stills from a solid 30 minute-plus session gathering footage of pretty much my every move:)

I've taken some of the stills and posted here. Various phases you'll see are left and right midstance, toe off, and posterior views looking at posture from the shoulder down to the ankle. For shoe geeks like me, you'll see comparisons of where I land wearing different shoe models (all neutral). Like I mentioned previously, this was a neat experience from a learning standpoint. I'm a week in doing prescribed exercises and we'll see what the results of that brings as I begin racing. Notice the green line showing showing postural alignment. Disclaimer: I am three weeks off from taking a couple weeks off to let my R foot heal, so my current run fitness level is lacking, possibly skewing my true stride-this is still a useful sample getting a fairly accurate picture, I believe. The middle pics are PSA's for glute strengthening to prevent hip tilt. Enjoy!

Forgive the lack of organization for the pics! Captions of what is being looked at are below:

Right side heel strike/ wearing Saucony Virrata (Zero Drop) 

Right Side Midstance-Saucony Virrata

Nice view of my R heel strike sporting Saucony Kinvara 4's. (4mm Drop). Here I noticed some forefoot guarding going on coming off tendon injury.  

Wearing the highest drop shoe here: Nike Air Pegasus 30 (12mm) Left side Toe-off. I think they want a full extension close!

Right Side Mid stance Nikes. Looks like foot goes back underneath for this phase, luckily!
One of the cooler frames: Midstance wearing Saucony Ride 7 (8mm drop) on the left side (holy hip drop!), and the Air Pegs on the right. I also like to spread my arms when I run, apparently! 

My "good side": Wearing Saucony Ride 7's. Strike more midfoot all around as this side has never been injured. 

"Daily driver" Ride 7 going head to head with faster/short distance shoe, Virrata: Right midstance. Either way, I gotta get those glutes stronger to correct the hip drop!

Rockin the Natural running shoes on the left like a boss:) 
Right toe-off-Virrata. My arms look weird.
 So there you have probably more than you want to know about how I run, what I look like when I run (in a totally unnatural setting, at least!) And how shoes may or may not change our gait. I was surprised at the minimal differences between them all.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pulling Out the Stops: New Coach and Gait Analysis

So it was not my intention to go almost three weeks sans post, but a lot has happened and sitting down to write just kept failing to happen. Sorry to let my 'loyal readers' down! :)

The big thing is that I put my name in for the Chevron Houston Marathon this year. I have run this race in the past as an elite, however, I currently deserve and actually prefer some degree of anonymity for the upcoming year. This was both an exciting and admittedly a kind of scary step. Granted life goes on if things don't pan out; but I really, really want to feel successful at this distance again. As I tell my clients all the time, you have to put yourself out there and leave your comfort zone if you want to make changes and grow. And the first steps start today. I read something the other day quoting Galen Rupp as saying "there are no shortcuts in distance running". I have a long few months ahead of me and I am okay with that. 

After some deliberation and coaching myself for a couple years, I have decided to try something new: I recently have requested Coach Doug Storey with Bayou City Endurance Consulting's expertise in helping me achieve the goals I want to achieve. Accountability and being told "no" from time to time is what I seem to need to keep myself moving forward and not stalling out. I chose Doug for several reasons: first, I know him from working on the Woodlands Marathon Committee and he basically saved my butt the year I served as elite coordinator. So I know I can trust him. He also has coached several athletes to some very impressive times and seems to have a conservative, yet effective approach; something I really need.  

After politely letting him know what he was getting himself into (I said something initially like "do you want a project"?!) I am now done with my first coached week of training. And by 'training' I mean I am basically being taken apart and put back together. This is what I asked for and likely need to redirect the trajectory of my running.

And I'll admit, it's different. As I train for triathlons on the side, my mileage is initially low and to be slowly increased; you know, so I don't end up like the dog biting her tail like usual. While at first, I had the initial reaction every driven adult athlete seems to have at some juncture if they're honest: I thought I needed to do more. Then there's all the crosstraining- This summer I am doing a LOT of it and although I'm not putting in a lot of volume on land, the water time is up. For instance, today, I had to stand with my elbows on the pool deck for a minute to regroup-not for the faint of heart and don't let the fluffy buoyancy belt deceive!

Aside from changing the training, I went in for a comprehensive gait analysis yesterday at the Ironman Sports Medicine Institute here in The Woodlands. What an impressive facility! I hope to have some video of what they did next week, but for now, I'll briefly describe the process and give a little psychological spin on things just for fun:

After finishing appts. early yesterday, I met Allyson, a sports biomechanist with all kinds of fancy tech and cameras. I knew there would be considerable footage of me running in slow motion; something that fascinated and may have weirded me out a bit. With me was a drawstring bag of 4 different pairs of shoes (because I'm cautious to what works and a shoe geek!) with heel-toe drops ranging from 0-12mm. After the initial qualms of watching myself in slow-motion glory on film, I switched to the mindset of functionality-today was a small step in learning and improvement.

I warmed up on a separate treadmill for a couple miles (being mindful of how many Coach gave me that day:)) and then it was literally 'showtime'! The basic protocol was getting shots from both sides, and posterior to examine hip tilt, pronation/supination, and what my knee and footstrike is doing in both real time and slow motion. I basically ran intervals of 5 mins. or so of easy running. Given my history, I wanted to see if there was any discrepancies on my right side and if there was any way to address.

I started out in what has been my daily trainer for the past few weeks, the newly-released Saucony Ride 7, then worked my way down in structure of the shoe: Nike Air Pegasus 30, Saucony Kinvara 4, then finished up with the Zero-Drop Saucony Virrata (I think I'm beginning to sound like a Saucony saleswoman!).

After each 'take' was filmed, we went back over everything and reviewed the initial findings. I'll put these in bullet form for those interested. I would hope my legs and feet are not that interesting to you, but I digress;)

  • My left side is my good side. In each pair I showed a "soft knee" (slight bend upon landing), full extension on the push off, and a midfoot strike and natural, brief pronation on the landing (be jealous!).  Makes sense-as  High School soccer player I shot and passed with my left foot-when I start races, I always power off from the left. Hmmm...
  • My right side....well...It could be possessed by the devil. Ok, likely not, but it had some quirks. First was a slight overstride and heel strike. Yes, the dreaded 'h-word'! After viewing it, I could feel it. And in my Rides and Air Pegs, I could tell a difference. 
  • Hip drop: I did have some tilting from the back, affecting foot placement and overall stability. 
  • Shoes! Amazingly enough, my gait looked the best sporting the least amount of shoe, the Saucony Virrata. As soon as I started up I could feel things cleaning up and I had a happier stride. The one catch: they need to be lower mileage shoes. Across the board, however, I was given the green light for all pairs for various distances, with the Virratas for short and fast, and the Rides being the workhorse. Makes sense! 
  • I always thought I had decent form, and I walked out the door still feeling that way. Whew!
Glute strength-the thing each runner needs more of. While I do a fair amount of core work already and do squats a few times per week, it was recommended to add some exercises to correct some of the overstride and raise the hip a bit. Not much, just enough to keep from injuring myself so dang often.

The less work the lower region has to do, the better. I recall reading a recent Running Times article on form that the footstrike is simply the "end of the whip".  Regarding correcting the foot placement to end the braking motion and on pulling the right foot back a little; running a little more mindfully along with exercises was recommended.  I also  have a personal theory of how to attack this... and a lot of it may be psychological. I imagine coming off a rough patch these past couple months with tendon inflammation, I would be surprised if there was no subconscious guarding going on. Each injury runs the risk of buried trauma and overwhelm-not just because of the pain, but uncertainty, alienation, and everything else that an athlete experiences. The simplest way I can put it is that our unconscious can create a protective response post-injury, resulting in a compensation and guarding response. There are several ways to attach this, and the first step is awareness. Next comes trust...

 Each run needs to be build on trust-even if I literally have to tell my leg "it's ok now"; I'm actually serious. Also using simple imagery while I'm running on mechanics and while I prep to run I plan to incorporate. I will do this again and again, each time reprogramming little pathways, just like running drills. 

In short, improving your running is always an art and a science. This time I have others on my 'research team'! 

Hope to have the second part of this post soon. It was a different and interesting experience, and I do enjoy learning different things myself and the intricacies of the human body. 

*Note: this report is just my interpretation of the experience along with initial recommendations. Curious about your stride, check with your coach or sports med practitioner about doing so. 

Stay the course.