Week Ending: 7th January 2018
Watched the Morning After fell race runners come smiling their way back through the streets of Church Stretton. Very jealous I wasn't running.
90 minutes + 30 minutes. Caer Caradoc and Long Mynd.
A trip down memory lane running the hills surrounding Church Stretton. These hills are responsible for me taking up running seriously, after an impromptu entry into the 2006 Boxing Day, Devil's Chair Dash fell race led to one of those ah-ha lightbulb moments in life.
I entered the race on a whim after seeing it advertised in the local paper and am not really sure what drew me to it - I wasn't doing any running at the time, focussing solely on mountain biking - perhaps it was that it sounded so ridiculous, a mid-winter fell run with no training, why the hell not. Anyway, entry secured we struggled a little to find the start line as it was tucked away down a dead-end valley in the middle of nowhere down a tiny singletrack road and ended up turning up late to the start. The organisers were very relaxed and let me start anyway, so without a warm up and straight out of the car I started up a track that very quickly became narrower and steeper. Immediately gasping for air, I was pleased to see that I quickly started catching a few of the back-markers and managed to settle into a sort of jogging shuffle as I tried not to walk on the steepening terrain. Suddenly a shout of "RUNNERS" came from just ahead, followed by what sounded like stampeding horses, as the leaders came charging downwards back towards the start/finish. I remember actually stopping and getting out of the way, such was the speed they were travelling. It was incredible to see people running so fast down such a steep, slippery, rocky hillside and after my initial shock abated, my second thought was, <<I need to learn how to do that !>>. I can't honestly remember much more of the race, except that my descent was like a baby taking its first steps compared to the guys in front. I was sliding all over the place, my road running shoes providing no traction on the wet ground, and my cyclist's knees and quads could not handle anything more than a gentle jog down the slope to the safety of flatter ground. However, despite my less than graceful downhill skills, the seed had been sown and I was immediately hooked on this crazy sport called Fell Running.
Fell Running is a uniquely British sport of medium to long distance (5km to Marathon) events in the hills (fells), with routes often taking the shortest route up and down a hill, not necessarily on a track and often unmarked, so local knowledge rules (check out the excellent book Feet in the Clouds, by Richard Askwith). I loved it, and completed a summer racing the Shropshire Fell Running series before leaving it behind when we moved to Australia.
After finishing my run, I headed back out with Harry, and Esme, with her kids Wilf and Dora for a brilliant 5k loop up Cardingmill Valley. Wilf proved to be an absolute gun on the hills, nearly keeping up with me on the climbs and flying down the other side (aged 9). A real talent!
45 minutes. Wey Navigations.
Counting down the days until our return to Australia. Did a bit of exploring today on the canal paths making up the Wey Navigations. Obviously flat tracks, but nice to be able to get off the road and run, even this close to London.
30 minutes. Wey Navigations.
Basically a repeat of Thursday's run. We fly tonight.
Week Ending: 31st December 2017
2 hour. Foulshiels Hill. Mixture of Road, Trail and SNOW!!
Running in the snow is one of life's great pleasures and of course, something I very seldom get to experience. Well, today we received an incredible gift and woke to a fresh blanket of the white stuff covering the town and the surrounding hills. Once we had made a snowman, thrown a bunch of snowballs at each other, and run back inside to defrost our aching hands it was time to head out for a run. I had been checking out the hills around Selkirk with the help of an OS map and decided on a obvious looking peak, Foulshiels Hill. Close enough to run to from home, but high enough and far enough away to feel like an adventure. I found the snow covered trail easily enough and the fresh snow was not slippery, especially with my fell running shoes (Inov-8 X-Talon 200). As I got higher the trail all but vanished and I was forced to break a path through the powder. Scottish hills are usually covered in a thick layer of heather and adding a 20cm layer of snow on top makes for tricky footing. Fortunately, there were no unexpected holes to twist an ankle and the trip to the top was made without incident. Running down again was akin to running flat out down a sand-dune. Each footfall was a accompanied by about a half metre slide through the fresh powder, like wearing shoes with 50cm deep cushioning. A great buzz and a wonderful way to round off Christmas.
30 minutes. Road run around Selkirk.
Last little run in Scotland. Most of the snow has melted in the town although the tops of the hills still have a good covering.
I Week Ending: 24th December 2017
45 minutes. Road run through Bristol.
Up until the age of 18 I lived in Bristol, where the town and its surrounding hills and woodlands offered an amazing network of roads, trails, and footpaths to explore on foot and by bike. My teenage years were spent mostly riding mountain bikes (back when if you wanted suspension you bought a gel cover for your seat and if you wanted brakes that worked you rubbed Coca Cola onto your rims to increase the bite from hopeless cantilevers. Today was a trip down memory lane as I snatched a few minutes before we left for Scotland and ran up to the top of Cabot tower in the pre-dawn mist.
90 minutes. Selkirk exploring, mix of road and muddy trail.
With jet-lag still affecting the family and my parents being later risers, I snuck out early this morning, donned the head torch (it doesn't get light in Scotland until 8am in December) and hit the hills. With no idea where I was going, I just followed my nose and ended up, as is often the case with these improvised runs finding a bunch of unexpected delights along the way. The run finished at The Haining, a beautiful small Loch with a grand old house overlooking. These types of houses are so common around here that you take them for granted after a while. Coming from the Gold Coast where buildings are bulldozed if they get any older than 30 years, it is a stark contrast to see some much history both in the landscape and the way people have shaped it over the centuries.
If you are new to this blog, thanks for visiting. Please take a moment to read this post explaining the training diary format. I hope you find something enjoyable, interesting, challenging, and/or amusing in these pages. Dave :)
Week Ending: 17th December 2017
Gym. Deadlift 115kg 4x3reps. Superset with Plyometrics. + Core circuit.
Run 1 hour. Nerang SF singletrack with Simon, Hunter and Brad. A really good pre-Christmas catch up. Simon and Hunter recently ran the GSER100 in Victoria and it sounds like an absolute brute of a race.
Ride 1 hour MTB with Harry. Not really a training effort but great to get out with the kids when I can. It won't be long before they are waiting for me to catch them.
Run 40 minutes. Improvised session on the driveway at home. 12 reps x 30 seconds uphill sprint. Did the session with Amanda and Harry and to keep things competitive we staggered the start times so we could race each other to the top.
Run 30 minutes. Shanghai. En-route to the UK for Christmas we elected to have a stop-over in Shanghai and rising early this morning I donned my running shoes and decided to check out a section of the city. I love exploring new places on foot as it gives you a sense of vulnerability and excitement that you don't get from a vehicle. Although I only ran about 6km along a busy suburban street, I enjoyed this run way more than I thought I would. It had everything you could hope for from an urban run in China: hazy smog filling the sky, stray dogs barking in the street, rickshaws loaded up with improbable loads wobbing along the road, electric scooters zipping through the traffic, street side stalls with strange smelling foods and steam rising from battered looking pots and pans. It would be impossible to plan a run like this, you can only have these experiences when you least expect them. Running through the streets of a new city is the best way to witness a slice of a new culture and gave me an unexpected and unforgettable run.
If you are new to this blog, thanks for visiting. Please take a moment to read this post explaining the training diary format. I hope you find something enjoyable, interesting, challenging, and/or amusing in these pages. Dave :)
Gym Session - Physiologic Gym.
Took an extra day off today as legs pretty trashed from the Mt Barney/heavy gym session combo. As we are nearing the end of 2017 I sat down instead to write down my training goals for 2018. It is really important to set yourself clear goals at the beginning of a training cycle to help keep you motivated, to keep your training specific, and to reward yourself with a fun or challenging event. Here are my goals for the first half of 2018:
I only had an hour so did the ride up to the top of Beechmont Road and back. Love this ride, so close to home and such a fun road.
Gym Session - Home Gym
3 rounds of:
Speed Session/Fitness Test
3x1.1km on a slightly hilly road circuit. 3:54/3:55/4:00 (Ave pace 3:40/km). Very hot middle of the day.
This is a session I repeat often during the year. I know that when I am in good shape I can do the intervals under 3:30 for 5 reps so clearly I have some work to do in the coming months.
Hellfire pass with Caine. a good run of only 12km but with 700m of elevation, so making it a pretty solid effort. We were welcomed by an afternoon storm for the final climb, offering some cooling rain. Felt motivated to push the pace a bit on this final drag to the finish.
Amanda and I took advantage of the Active and Healthy program here on the Gold Coast and attended a Handstand Workshop hosted by the amazing Morgan Rose Moroney from AMPM. Flexibility and gymnastics skills in general are something I love and have always wanted to be able to do, but honestly have always really sucked at. I think years of single plane of motion endurance sports have taken their toll. I am really enjoying challenging my body and mind in this new direction.
This blog is a great place for me to connect with people, whether they are physio clients, coaching clients or other people who have stumbled upon the site. In the past I have been guilty of not updating the blog regularly and this is something I want to rectify in 2018. I have decided the best way to do this is to make a weekly commitment to post on the blog. To keep me accountable I am going to make the blogs in the form of a training diary, outlining my own training, showing my philosophy of training and how it continues to evolve, and showing that I do (try to) practice what I preach. Each week I will focus on one aspect of the training week and include a longer piece about this. This could be on any topic - injuries, training, nutrition, recovery, event reports, interviews, key exercises, training sessions - basically anything that occurs to me or I get questioned about during the week. In this way I hope to keep the blog fresh, interesting, personal, and above all useful. I really welcome feedback and if you would like anything specifically covered in a blog post please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Running! Dave :)
One of the most common technique errors I encounter when assessing running technique is the lazy heel lift. Essentially what happens is that the swinging leg (as it leaves the ground at the point of push off), remains extended behind the body for too long. This then leads to (or is caused by) over striding and results in a scissoring running style, where the legs resemble a pair of scissors swinging through the air.
Scissoring is a problem because it is inefficient, particularly at higher running speeds. To understand why, you need to consider some basic physics. When you swing something through the air (in this case your legs, with the pivot point at your hip joint), you create a lever arm. The longer the lever and the faster you try to swing the lever, the harder you are going to have to work. To make it easier, or more efficient, you either have to swing the lever more slowly (this is what happens when you run at slow speeds) or shorten the lever (seen more at quicker speeds). To demonstrate, try this simple test:
So how does this apply to running in the real world? Well, it is hard to measure how much energy is required to swing your leg during running but it is estimated to be in the region of 20% of the total energy cost, in other words, a really high percentage. Anything you can do to optimise your energy expenditure when running will improve your running economy and allow you to run further and faster for the same effort and reduce your risk of an injury. Lets see what this looks like at different running speeds:
Notice in the above pictures how the principal difference is in the degree of knee bend of the swinging leg. The rest of the body looks remarkably similar, given the difference in pace. Knee bend of stance foot, foot position, torso angle, even arm position all look virtually the same at the different speeds. However, in the 18km/h technique, the runner has shortened the lever between the hip and the end of the limb (foot), by bending the knee to a much more acute angle. The 10km/h technique still demonstrates a knee bend, but to a much lesser extent. Finding the sweet spot of just the right amount of knee bend at your different running paces is one of the keys to developing a good running technique.
How do you know if you have a Lazy Heel Lift?
Some of the things you might be experiencing if you have a lazy heel lift are:
Ok, I have a Lazy Heel Lift. What should I do to correct it?
The first and most important thing is to assess your running technique. The Lazy Heel Lift can be a sign that something else is going on with your technique or biomechanics, and running injuries should always be assessed before handing out blanket advice. Once you have ascertained the reason behind the Lazy Heel Lift, then there are exercises, drills and technique cues you can implement to have you shortening your levers and boosting your performance in no time!
One thing that all runners want to know is what shoes are right for them. For many people, with running shoe collections that would make Imelda Marcos proud, finding the perfect shoe is a lifetime endeavour.
I am a big advocate for 'minimalist' running shoes, a somewhat vague term encompassing all shoes that are light weight, flexible and have a small differential between heel and toe height. (For a great resource on minimal shoes check out La Clinique du Coureur.). However, as with everything it is possible to have too much of a good thing and strapping on a minimalist shoe is no guarantee of reduced injury risk. In this article I look at how minimalist shoes can help you become a better runner. The article first appeared in R4YL magazine.
The rapidly expanding range of minimalist running shoes currently available reflects the greater understanding researchers are now gaining of good running mechanics. The idea that the way you run is not pre-ordained but is rather a modifiable, learnable skill has surprisingly only recently started filtering into the public consciousness. Until recently changes to your running form focussed on footwear and enhancing the level of heel lift, cushioning, and arch support in shoes in order to increase comfort and mitigate the risk of injury. However, research from prominent academics such as Australian Doctor Craig Richards and Harvard Professor Daniel Lieberman, has called into question whether this is indeed the best way to look after the body when we run. In fact it seems that the very best way to run in order to maximise comfort, efficiency, technique, and perhaps even reduce the risk of injury may be as our children do every day of their lives – namely barefoot. Ironically, the current movement towards barefoot running and the improvements in running form that going barefoot encourages have seen the invention of an entire new genre of running footwear – namely minimalist/barefoot shoes!
Minimalist shoes such as Vibram Fivefingers are characterised by their light weight, flexibility, thin or non-existent midsole and reduced differential between heel and toe heights. The rationale behind their construction is to minimise the effect the shoe has on our foot strike and to allow us to run in as natural a way as possible. Rather than supporting and cushioning the foot, minimalist shoes actively encourage the muscles in the feet and legs to work, developing greater strength and utilising the body’s own muscles and joints to absorb the impacts associated with running. Not surprisingly, the promise of greater efficiency and fewer injuries has piqued the interest of many runners with sales of minimalist shoes soaring. Does this mean that running injuries are on the decline and that everyone who owns a pair of minimalist shoes is gliding through the streets like Anton Krupicka? In a word: no.
Running is a highly complex skill requiring co-ordination of many different movements into the fluid action we recognise as running. As with all complex tasks, it requires practice, refinement and sometimes teaching to perfect. Unfortunately it does not appear that any shoe can magically ‘fix’ flaws in your running technique. In the same way I have not come across a special glove that allows you to play guitar like Hendrix. Rather than trying to patch up poor mechanics with shoes, I have found clinically that the best approach to managing running related injuries is to look directly at technique and work on improving the way we run. Some of the aspects of barefoot running that are favourable biomechanically such as a midfoot strike, upright posture, alignment through the hips, and increased cadence can all be taught and learned whether wearing shoes or not. The great advantage of minimalist shoes in learning to run with good technique is that they offer greater feedback with the ground and reduce interference with normal movement of the foot. Therefore, running with good technique is not an automatic effect of putting on a pair of minimal shoes; however, it does make the process easier for many people and will ultimately enable you to optimise your running form.
Are minimalist shoes the answer to your injury concerns? Not on their own, but as one piece of the puzzle you certainly may find they help you discover your optimum running form.
For more information about running technique please click here.
In February, Spartan Race will be coming to the Gold Coast for the first time with what promises to be another fun dose of mud, obstacles, and burpees (not too many hopefully!). Since exceeding all my expectations and winning the Spartan Ultra Beast race in Brisbane last year, I have had many requests for tips on training for these challenging events. So without further ado, here are my top five tips for success at Spartan.
There is no doubt about it, the single biggest factor separating the front and back of the pack is your running ability. The distances between the obstacles can sometimes be quite large and your running pace will largely dictate where you finish (unless of course you have a nightmare and fail too many obstacles). If you haven't already, get yourself outside and run on some trails. Looking for hills and technical terrain will prepare you best for a race like Spartan.
Many of the obstacles rely on your grip strength to get you through. Kettlebell hoist, rope climb, overhanging rock climb, kettlebell carry, monkey bars.....the list goes on. Strengthen your grip with rock climbing, pull ups, carrys, or even use some grip trainers like the Captains of Crush.
One of the lovely things about Spartan is that if you fail an obstacle you get a 30 burpee penalty. During the Ultra Beast I failed 6 obstacles (out of 70+) and therefore had to cop 180 burpees on top of the 42k of running and the obstacles themselves. On most of the obstacles you only get one chance. If you fall off a balance beam - 30 burpees. Can't get up the rope climb? 30 burpees. Unless you are really good (and lucky), it is guaranteed that you are going to be doing some burpees. Practice them and make sure you do them all the way down, chest to ground and jump at the top.
4. Spear throws
Which is the one obstacle that almost everyone fails? Yes, the cursed spear throw! As I mentioned above, during the Ultra Beast I had to do 180 burpees, but what makes this all the more distressing is that 150 of them were from failed spear throws. A few minutes spent practicing these might save you a lot of time and a lot burpees. You might even get to have a well earned rest whilst your mates (who didn't practice their throws) are busting out burpees.
5. Be prepared for anything
If one thing is guaranteed during Spartan it's that Max and team will think up a few uniquely devilish challenges and new delights. The first Spartan I did, we had to build a Lego model in under 10 minutes! Sounds easy enough, but when your hands are shaking, you're sweating and covered in mud this was a surprisingly difficult test. Be ready to have your limits tested!
So there you have it, the top 5 tips for a successful Spartan race. Above all, these races are amazing fun, a great challenge - even for the kids - and guaranteed to leave you bruised and battered and with a great sense of achievement. See you out there. AROO!
Heart Rate Based Training
It is the start of a new running season and people are starting to set themselves new goals for 2016. In order to get a clear picture of my own current fitness state and kick start my training I decided, at the tail end of last year, to undertake a VO2 Max (MET) Test. This is a service I offer to my clients to help guide their training and is something I use myself to make sure I am training effectively. Fortunately, at Physiologic - here on the Gold Coast - we have a fantastic VO2 Max testing facility so I didn't have far to travel.
VO2 Max is a measure of your maximal rate of oxygen consumption and is usually expressed relative to your bodyweight in ml/kg/min. The people with the highest recorded VO2 Max are generally the most elite endurance athletes with human values topping out around 90ml/kg/min (e.g. runner Kilian Jornet reportedly has a VO2 Max of 92ml/kg/min). Although the general trend is for better athletes to record higher VO2 Max scores, the correlation to race performance is not as close as for other measures such as lactate threshold. What this means is that finding out your own VO2 Max is nice but is not really that useful in itself aside from bragging to your running mates about who has the highest score! So what is the purpose of doing the test if it isn't to find out your VO2 Max?
The main thing the VO2 Max test does really well is give you a very clear picture of your personal metabolic profile. How well do you burn fat? At what heart rate do you start burning more carbohydrate than fat? Which heart rate zones should you be training in to optimise your training?
My test started in the most relaxing way possible, with a 20 minute resting metabolic test. This measures what your metabolism does when you are not exercising and gives an idea of your fuel usage at rest (more about this later). This is done by wearing a mask connected to an indirect calorimeter which analyses the make-up of your exhaled air. From this analysis it is possible to work out the percentage of fats and carbohydrates you are burning as fuel.
Next it was over to the treadmill. At first I thought it would be awkward to run wearing a face mask but after a few minutes I got used to it and was able to concentrate on giving 100% during the test. The exercise test is where the real fun begins. Starting at walking pace, Tom, who ran my test, closely monitored what my heart rate registered (via a standard HRM chest strap linked to his laptop) and each time it stabilised he incrementally increased the gradient and the pace of the treadmill until I was running at my absolute limit. The goal of the test is to run (or ride - it is just as easy to do the test on a stationary bike) until you reach RQ=1. This is the point at which you are burning 100% carbohydrate as fuel and basically signals the end of your exercise session - it is impossible to hold this very high intensity for more than a few seconds.
Tom used an AIS testing protocol on me which took me from walking on the flat at 5km/h to running at 15km/h on a 15% gradient in increments lasting a few minutes each. The whole test took about 25 minutes and I reached RQ=1 right at the point when I felt my legs turning to jelly and with my HR at 200bpm.
A few days after the test, Mark Barrett, physio and metabolism expert sat down with me and went through all of my results. His analysis showed some really interesting things that I was able to implement straight away into my training.
First up, my VO2 Max was 75.4 ml/kg/min, not as high as Kilian's but pretty good! Better still was my ability to burn fat, even at relatively high heart rates. All the way up to a heart rate of 186bpm (93% of max HR) I was able to burn more fat than carbohydrate. This is a really good thing for someone doing long distance running as it means that I can preserve my limited carbohydrate reserves and use stored body fat as my main fuel. Theoretically this means running further and faster without hitting the dreaded 'wall'.
On the flip side, given my above-average ability to burn fat when exercising, my resting fat burning was quite poor - actually relying heavily on carbohydrates at rest. Mark thinks this could be because I am not getting enough overall calories to fuel my training and am preserving my fat reserves. It could also be an indicator of stress.
In addition to this my top end carbohydrate burning was quite poor. This is seen in the graph where I almost struggle to get my carbohydrate burning fuel system going even at very high heart rates. This top end is needed for shorter faster efforts, but more importantly for short bursts of strength within a longer event, such as a sudden uphill section in an otherwise flat run, or maintaining leg speed on a taxing technical downhill. This indicated to me that I need to incorporate more strength sessions into my training such as short and fast sprints, or lifting heavy weights.
So what does this mean for my training? Well, I now have some actual numbers to work off for my heart rate zones. For example to train in my aerobic zone, with carbohydrate use kept to a minimum I need to stay under 147bpm when running. Estimating this figure from HR zone formulae would be highly inaccurate.
Many people will be familiar with age-based HR zone estimates such as 220-age=max HR. If I followed this formula I would have a max HR of 220-38= 182bpm. The VO2 Max test showed my actual max HR to be 200bpm. This shows that the estimates can be wildly inaccurate and could lead to poor programming in your training.
The test has also shown where my particular strengths and weaknesses lie and given some clear direction to my training. Armed with this knowledge I can enter into my training for 2016 with confidence that I am training efficiently and not over (or under) stressing my system.
If you would like to learn more about VO2 Max testing or are interested in incorporating HR training into your training please visit these links.
Huge thanks to Mark, Therese and Tom for the testing. Happy Running :)