Archive for Running

The TrueForm Runner: Part 1 – Sherrington’s Law In Action

TrueForm Runners lining the front window at the Pursuit Training Center

TrueForm Runners lining the front window at the Pursuit Training Center

As many of you know, we are fortunate to have five TrueForm Runners (non-motorized treadmills made by Samsara Fitness) in our Pursuit Training Center (PTC). If you haven’t listened to our original podcast about the TrueForm (with the owners of Samsara Fitness) you can find it here.

In the next few months we are planning a series of articles on what we’re learning from using the TrueForms (running on them ourselves and coaching with them in a variety of our classes and 1 on 1 personal training). Most importantly, we’ll also share how using on a TrueForm Runner could help YOU improve (perhaps even more than you thought was possible!).

While today’s first-in-a-series article revolves around running on the TrueForm, the discussion will center on the nervous system: how it works and how integration, timing (and the Chinese philosophy of yin-yang) can powerfully (and positively!) impact your running speed, strength AND endurance. We will also examine how the TrueForm Runner can help you “connect the dots” and put it all together.

Note: the concepts we will discuss now and in the future will be born out of our experience and should be of great value to you, whether you have a TrueForm Runner to run on or not. We hope however, that should you have the chance to run on one that you jump at the opportunity.

In the time that the TrueForm Runners have been in our facility, I’ve probably spent more time running on them than any other person.  I have also coached some individual runners through a “rebuild” of their running using the TrueForm Runner as it was truly intended, NOT as a treadmill per se, but as a run trainer.  I’m also teaching an ongoing class at the PTC using the TrueForm which focuses on speed development and on learning and refining sprint mechanics.

What am I (and others who have used the TrueForm Runners) learning?

The first thing anyone who runs on the TrueForm for the first time may learn is getting the belt to even move so they CAN run on it can be difficult, especially if they have had a history of injury and are not moving well. It is really eye opening to see someone struggle; the look of shock, dismay and even a tiny bit of embarrassment on a person’s face is priceless. The fact is, the reasons for this struggle are virtually all nervous-system related.

(In the past, we’ve written frequently on our blog about the fact that running is a neural activity, and that running well truly has an important skill component to it. If you haven’t listened to our podcast with running expert Owen Anderson, Ph.D on this very topic, check it out here.)

So when someone experiences difficulty running on the TrueForm, what is actually happening? The answer to that question is what this first in a series of articles is all about.

To begin, let me first ask a question: Have you ever watched a highly accomplished elite runner and noticed how fluidly he or she seems to run, or how they seem to be able to effortlessly fly through the air bounding from one leg to another?

Stop for a moment and picture in your mind’s eye, a race horse in slow-motion rounding a turn at the track, or a dressage horse stepping out like a ballet dancer. Or gaze up at the sky and watch a bird in flight. What about a top-notch symphony orchestra: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, all playing perfectly together to create a rich beautiful sound, or a scull with its entire crew perfectly and synchronously propelling the boat at breakneck speed. What you see (or hear) is the near-perfect integration and timing of muscle contraction and relaxation (yin-yang). It is fluid – synchronous – graceful – powerful, like poetry in motion.

This seemingly fluid-like blend is categorized by something a neuroscientist named Sherrington told us about in the early 20th Century – what has become known as Sherrington’s Law of Reciprocal Inhibition or Innervation. You know this simply as one way of describing how a muscle group relaxes as its opposing muscle group is stimulated. For example, imagine you grab a dumbbell and curl it. As you curl the weight, firing the biceps and thus reducing the angle at your elbow, the opposing muscle group, the triceps, are relaxing to allow for this curling movement to occur.

Also known as rhythmic reflexes, the key thing to remember is that the simple act of running is Sherrington’s Law in action. And the act of running well (fast, efficient, powerful) is Sherrington’s Law in action at a very high level! In other words, running requires integrated activation and reciprocal innervation of muscles in order to happen. In effect, this rhythmic reflex which is inherent in compound movements like running, result in a meshing, somewhat like the cogs in a precision instrument or fine watch.

Perhaps the next questions to ask are, do we all “mesh” or blend like a precision instrument when we run? What are the real differences in how each of us puts Sherrington’s Law into action? Most importantly, can we improve our own run coordination and timing? If we could, wouldn’t these changes result in improvements in speed, power and efficiency?

Before we delve into the possible answers to those questions, let’s look a little deeper at the importance of this yin-yang relationship of tension and relaxation and review the concept of Superstiffness.

Athletes experimenting with the TrueForm Runners!

Athletes experimenting with the TrueForm Runners at the Pursuit Training Center

Respected back expert and professor of kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, Dr. Stuart McGill, introduced this concept and has written often about it. I once heard Dr. McGill, in a presentation he gave at a strength and conditioning conference, say that in his work with many different athletes, the single largest difference between the elite and the average, was in the way that an elite athlete is able to tense AND relax at exactly the right time, at a higher level than the average athlete. It would seem that the regular among us seem to be tense when we should be relaxed, and relaxed when we should be tense!

When speaking about this concept of Superstiffness in his book, “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance,” Dr. McGill states:

“Breaking the board by the martial artist requires the skill of compliance (relaxation) to build speed but with rapid super stiffness just at impact. The professional golfer who has a relaxed backswing but rapidly obtains super stiffness at ball impact (followed by an astounding relaxation rate) is the one who achieves the long ball. The one who tries to swing too hard too soon actually decreases speed of movement with inappropriate stiffness. We have measured the creation of “pulses” of muscle force in athletes used to create “shockwaves.” Precise timing, the rate of relaxation, joint buttressing together with all of the principles of Superstiffness are optimized.”

In case we needed to hear from even more experts on the topic of the tension/relaxation curve, well known Soviet sport scientist, Dr. Leonid Matveyev observed “the higher the athlete’s level, the quicker he could relax his muscles.” It has been said that the soviet scientist observed an 800% difference between novice and Olympic level competitors. Without a doubt, there is clearly a very important relationship in elite performance between well-timed tension and relaxation, with mastery of relaxation being a hallmark of an elite athlete.

And what of the TrueForm as it relates to these concepts?

Because the TrueForm is non-motorized, the runner is forced to create and maintain their own momentum. A runner can’t easily compensate (fake) their way to good running form artificially.  As a result, the more coordinated, synchronous and “mesh-like” your running, the more easily and effectively you’ll be able to run on the TrueForm.

For example, as your skill and coordination improve:

  • Your ability to create tension at the right time and in the right place (your leg/foot in mid-stance phase applying force to the belt) improves.
  • Your ability to relax certain parts of your body, such as the leg moving forward through the swing phase of the stride, also improves.
  • Your ability to take full advantage of the elastic component of running (where more than 50% of your forward propulsion in running comes from) also improves. (More about this aspect in a future article).

What is happening as coordination and skill improve is not from conscious thought – it happens unconsciously in the brain and nervous system. (It should also be noted that it is not in the cardiovascular system either, where runners typically look for improvements in fitness).

It is MUCH more about timing and integration, than effort or pure strength, just like the rowers in that scull or the dancing dressage horse. You don’t have to force it, as much as simply (and patiently) allow your nervous system and brain to figure it out – to learn better how to do their thing more efficiently and effectively.

To summarize to this point: The improvements aren’t about a single muscle or body part (no, not even your butt!) What it IS about is everything from your fingertips to your toenails working together as a single, integrated, holistic unit. With repeated practice, the TrueForm can help you and your brain and nervous system, “connect the dots” more completely.

Some of the benefits of a non-motorized treadmill like the TrueForm are:

  • Near perfect application of force into the ground at the exact right time, resulting in a longer more powerful stride.
  • Relaxation of all other parts of your body that aren’t applying that force, resulting in less energy use.
  • Enhanced posture, mobility, and stability with repeated training and practice, resulting is greater resistance to fatigue over the long haul.
  • Yin-yang: the perfect balance of relaxation and tension.

Tension and relaxation in all sports, including and especially running, are the two sides of the performance and durability coin. Tension is force production into the ground: it’s a powerful stride that lifts the body over the ground against the forces of gravity. On the other hand, relaxation is leg speed and endurance. To be the best runner you can be, you need both.

In future articles, I will discuss how we are actually training on and progressing our training on the TrueForm Runners, as well as other movement related components and how they can be enhanced using the TrueForm.  I will also present some strategies on how you can enhance the effects of the TrueForm without actually having one to use. Stay tuned.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

 

PS: in order for all of the improvements that have been discussed above to occur completely and to the full satisfaction of the individual runner, the runner also must possess appropriate mobility (ankles and hips), true dynamic core stability, and solid functional strength inside a balanced body. No tool, treadmill (motorized or not) or training protocol can ever substitute for mastery and maintenance of movement quality fundamentals.

Minimum Standards: Can You Hit “X” Of Something To Ensure “Y” Result?

Team Pursuit triathletes reviewing some basic skills at our fall 2014 "Re-Set Camp."

Team Pursuit triathletes reviewing some basic skills at our fall 2014 “Re-Set Camp.”

Hi Everyone! Coach Al here.

On the heels of our “Team Pursuit” Re-Set Camp this past weekend, a team member emailed me and asked about some proclamations I had apparently made with regard to minimum standards, that you, as an athlete, ought to be shooting for prior to embarking on hard(er), more challenging training.

When answering the email, I didn’t recall exactly what those minimum standards he was referring to might be, so I responded in the email to him the way that Kurt and I typically do, by saying that the “gold standard” for assessing when any athlete is ready to train hard with little to no obvious risk of injury, is to have 2 degrees or less of lateral pelvic drop at 5k race effort. I wasn’t entirely sure that this response would satisfy or answer this athlete’s question, but as I said, it IS a pretty good minimum standard to aim at.

The athlete responded to me with this: “You had a lot more proclamations than that. It is hard as athletes to know we are hitting that, where knowing a list of accomplishments that support that will be far more productive (plank for X min, 10 pushups, etc).”

I completely understand that knowing on your own how much pelvic drop is occuring at any time is difficult. (To know for certainty, come on in to our gait analysis lab in the Pursuit Training Center, and see what IS actually happening when you run.)

However, from my point of view, while it might be neat and tidy to have a LIST of “x” minimum standards to meet, the truth is that training progression and “readiness” for more progressive, harder, more challenging training, isn’t QUITE as black or white as we might like it to be.

And perhaps more to the point, in my mind, one of the fundamental questions that comes out of this discussion is, how strong or stable is “strong or stable ENOUGH?”

Taken at face value, that is a very iffy question with no real rock solid answer that applies to every person. And its complicated by the fact that it isn’t really pure strength we’re after, its work capacity (and perhaps resilience or resistance to fatigue), as Gray Cook alludes to in this article called: Strength?

I love this quote from the article, where Gray speaks about the phrase he prefers to use when describing strength: work capacity.

He says, and I quote: “Let me simplify work capacity. If we are talking about repetitions: Any repetition with integrity should get you an A or a B on the qualitative strength-grading scale. Any repetition without integrity should get you a D or an F on the strength scale. If you can’t decide on integrity, you are stuck at a C.

How many imperfect reps do you have time to do today? If you don’t have an integrity gauge or a quantity-against-quality gauge, you will never be able to truly value work capacity.”

This is a very powerful concept because it points out that as we move forward on the progression continuum (making things harder, or to do more challenging exercises, or to add more load to our existing exercises), we’re also fighting that constant battle to maintain that movement integrity – to keep the ratio ofquality vs. quantity as it should be. For anyone who has pushed themselves to do more, lift more, run faster, or pedal harder, you KNOW that form starts to deteriorate as fatigue rises. Simply put, the more tired you get, the harder it is to do it well.

So if I were to offer you a simple and straight forward minimum standard of “do X reps and you’ll get Y result,” and you didn’t get that result you were seeking even though you hit that minimum, you’d be looking back at me and wondering why. And likely holding me accountable to it.

This athlete said it’s “hard to know as athletes” where you are and whether you’re hitting what you need to.

I get it.

But what if, in your quest to hit some theoretical “minimum standard,” you gave up quality in favor of quantity to hit the standard?

What if the standard itself ended up having very little to do with YOUR specific issue, or the limiters that are most holding you back from reaching the next level of performance?

The truth is, there are VERY few, engraved-in-stone, “if you do this, then you get that” scenarios within the progressive training process.

And along with that, there are certainly NO guarantees that any athlete is “enough” of anything, especially when that anything has to do with stability, work capacity, or mobility/flexibility.

My suggestions?

  1. Keep trying to be better. Not perfect, just better. 
  2. Embrace the process – immerse yourself in it. It might be cliche’ to say enjoy the journey, but it really IS paramount for long-term success and exploding your true potential. 
  3. Seek solutions within AND outside yourself for your weak links, weak patterns, your imbalances.
  4. Go enthusiastically after those patterns, exercises, or skills that you don’t do quite as easily or quite as well as others. Clean them up!
  5. Always come back to the movement quality basics and fundamentals as your baseline. 

The objective real-time video assessment that we do as a part of our gait analysis really IS THE ONLY way to know for sure, exactly where you are at. Other than that, the process that includes increasing training stress or load, doesn’t always have hard margins and may not even have a finish point. To believe that there are those minimum standards, in order to make it easy to know where you’re at, is really fools gold.

That is NOT to say that you shouldn’t keep trying to be BETTER. That’s really the ultimate goal. Wake every day with a commitment to be better.

WillSmithQuoteKeep laying bricks perfectly, as Will Smith said, and soon you’ll have a wall.

Seek the paths that lead you ultimately toward improved body balance, improved mobility and stability, and work capacity, and then reinforce ALL OF THOSE elements (capabilities) with smart, progressive, patient, persistent training.

And, keep it fun along the way of course!

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

Be Careful WHO You Get Your Running Advice From…

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” – Albert Einstein

“Caveat Emptor” – Latin for let the buyer beware


Hi Everyone! Coach Al here.

Today I’m jumping up onto my soapbox.  I guess I’m a little tired of looking around me (and online as well) at coaches and trainers who call themselves “experts” or who dish out a pile of crappy advice (and who don’t walk the talk) when marketing to unsuspecting potential athletes/clients, and so I just figured it was time to vent a little bit.

And perhaps offer a little advice, too. :)

So if you’re a runner or multi-sport athlete who truly wants to be better, faster and improve consistently, OR a fitness enthusiast who simply wants to be able to work out and stay healthy, read on. If you’re offended by hearing the truth, then stop reading now.

My advice today starts with this: Be very careful about who you’re taking your running (and training) advice from. 

In this day and age, anyone can post a video on youtube and become an “expert.”

Anyone can open a gym or fitness studio and talk about “doing it right,” without really knowing what “right” is or actually doing what they say you should do.

As you move forward and work toward achieving YOUR goals in 2015 and beyond, ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Has the person you’re taking advice from EVER demonstrated the ability to remain injury free while doing progressively more challenging training?

Many coaches and trainers right around you, are injured themselves while they lecture to YOU about what you need to do to stay injury free! Beware of frauds and internet “experts”.

  • Have they demonstrated the ability to train progressively and improve their performance consistently, moving from a novice to a higher level of performance?

Many coaches and trainers out there preach like they’ve “been there and done that,” yet have never ever trained from a novice level to a higher level of performance!  I’m not talking about finishing a half-marathon or marathon, I’m talking about raising performance to a higher level.

If you are going to take advice about how to get faster or stronger, shouldn’t you take it from someone who has actually demonstrated an ability to do it? Beware of a trainer who always has an excuse for their sub-par performance or some reason why they are always satisfied with mediocrity.

  • Have they worked with others who have been injured or in a long-term cycle of injury and helped them get OUT of that injury cycle to rise to a higher level of performance?

If a trainer or coach IS injured themselves, can they honestly speak to what it takes to remain injury free? (Other than traumatic injury, in nearly every instance the answer is no!)

No, I AM NOT saying a coach has to have gone “fast” to be a good coach, or done the ironman to be considered a triathlete.

What I am saying is that there are way too many frauds out there pretending to be “expert” trainers and coaches, using the internet and unsuspecting consumers to profit.

  • Take a good look at who you’re training with:
    • Are they injured?
    • Are they dismissing things like movement quality and are they recommending you do the same?
    • Are they practicing what they preach?
    • Are they, or have they, demonstrated the ability to do what they say you should do?

Be smart. Caveat emptor.

You’re worth it.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

Clear Your Mind Of Can’t!

Ultra-Runner Larisa Dannis (2nd Woman overall at the 2014 Western States 100) smiling as she rolled into the 100k aid station at Western States!

Ultra-Runner Larisa Dannis (2nd Woman overall at the 2014 Western States 100) smiling widely as she rolled into the 100k aid station at Western States!

Larisa carried this on her as she ran toward the USATF 50-mile road championship (in course record time!)

Larisa carried this on her as she ran toward the USATF 50-mile road championship (in course record time!)

This past weekend, elite ultra-runner and friend Larisa Dannis WON the USATF 50-mile road championship, finishing 5th overall in a course record time of 5:59!

You may remember our podcast with Larisa from a few months ago, after she shocked the ultra-running world with a 2nd place finish at the Western States 100! If you haven’t listened to it yet, check it out!

Beyond celebrating Larisa’s amazing success with her, what is the real purpose of this blog post?

Larisa carried the note you see a picture of, with the quote from Samuel Johnson, on her while she ran. Despite her obvious and amazing athletic talent, Larisa is just like every one of us in that she battles the same demons who will have her doubt herself or her ability to reach her goals and be successful. The negative inner critic (or whatever else you might want to refer to it as), it is one gargantuan reason why so many of us give up or fall short despite our desire to achieve more – to become more.

Larisa does the work and trains hard, and that is obviously also a huge part of why she has been successful, of course. But as much as that…

…her success speaks directly to her belief that anything really IS possible IF you work hard, don’t give up or give in, and BELIEVE IN yourself!

(Our own Colleen Alexander, who is now a personal trainer at our NEW Pursuit Training Center) also has overcome incredible odds to be here today in part, because of that same belief!).

They BOTH have cleared their mind of can’t.

They both believe that ANYTHING is truly possible, and that amazing things can happen when we clear our mind of can’t.

So read the quote Larisa carried with her.

And again.

And again, as many times as you need.

Every day.

Clear Your Mind of Can’t.

If we ALL could embrace this simple statement and make it our own mantra, perhaps we could also see something much greater inside of us than we ever thought was possible.

Thanks Larisa for sharing your gift and the words of Samuel Johnson.

So what’s next for her?  How about the World 100k championship in Doha, Qatar at the end of the month.

Best of luck Larisa and happy trails everyone!

Clear your mind of can’t.

~Coach Al 

Would You Benefit From More Hip Mobility?

“If your mobility is compromised enough to make you compensate, the sensory input that you have to your reflexive behavior is askew—you have an overload of information or an underload of information. Either way, you’re not receiving the information you need. If sensory information is not converted to perception and perception is not converted to action, you’re not going to get better without embracing the idea of changing mobility.”
          – Gray Cook, from his presentation entitled Continuums

Hi Everyone!  Coach Al here. As a coach who works with runners and triathletes of every ability level, all who want to be stronger, better, and faster, I KNOW for them to be their best, mobility must come first. It must come before strength work, before speed work or interval work, and before very long runs. 

Without appropriate mobility in the right places in the body, an athlete will be at much higher risk of injury AND won’t perform to their true potential.

Restricted mobility in the hips and ankles means that athlete can’t attentuate gravity or ground reaction forces. As a result, their calves or legs or low-back must step in and compensate, often resulting in pain, injury, and frustration. There’s also the issue of poor economy or efficiency resulting from that restricted freedom of movement. To put it another way, that athlete simply has to work harder (higher heart rate, more effort, and thus more fatigue and less endurance) at any effort level to produce the same relative speed or power.

IF YOU are short on mobility in the right places, you’re very likely much closer to injury than you realize, AND you’re slower and less efficient than you could be also.

Here’s a short 2-minute video that I hope helps you get a bit more freedom of movement from your hips and ankles. Enjoy!

~Coach Al

 

 

 

 

Would You Like To Improve Your Running Technique?

“You ain’t gonna learn what you don’t wanna know.” – Jerry Garcia

“Should I ‘sta’ or should I ‘mo’? – The Clash


Here at Pursuit Athletic Performance, we believe there is a RIGHT or optimal path to improving your running technique, and there is also a less optimal way to improve.

The right path leads to lots of smiles and continual progress. The wrong path leads to injury and frustration.

Dr. Melissa Welby shows us the optimal path.

What is it? Start with these, just as SHE has done.

  1. Find out where you’re weak and likely to injure yourself as you build running mileage. What is your true movement quality? Are you imbalanced?
  2. Based on what you learn, get started immediately on building a true foundation of stability and strength so that your body is able to handle the repetitive stress inherent in running.
  3. Restore balance where its lacking. Do you need MORE mobility / flexibility work, OR…more stability / strength work?  Who are you?
  4. Build your running mileage and speed smartly and progressively while you also build strength and resiliency.
  5. Once you’re stable and strong and balanced, refine your running technique and form with a tool like the non-motorized Trueform Runner! With the Trueform, you can’t go along for the ride. YOU do the work and make the running happen.

Running technique work is FROSTING on the cake. The cake, is your core and hip stability and overall strength!

So if the above is the optimal path, what is the wrong path?

  1. Starting a progressive running program without knowing anything about your weaknesses or strengths or movement quality.
  2. Building your running mileage believing (mistakenly) that the key to improving is simply about running more mileage.
  3. Ignoring the pain that starts to develop in your hips, low back, feet or legs.
  4. Not only ignoring, but running through that pain.
  5. Listening to clueless coaches or training partners who tell you that to fix the pain, you need to change your shoes or simply run more mileage.

When you build a strong foundation, address weaknesses and fix them, and THEN progress in a smart way culminating with technique and form work on a GREAT technique tool like the Trueform Runner (just as Melissa is doing!), you CAN truly have your cake and eat it too!  Who’s hungry? 

  • No pain from injury.
  • No frustration as your program starts and then stops (due to injury).
  • More smiles, fun, fitness, and speed!

What are you waiting for?

 

 

 

 

What’s A Trueform Runner? Watch and Find Out!

A bunch of athletes have asked us point blank:

“Why did you choose the Trueform Runner as the official run trainer for Pursuit Athletic Performance?

What ARE the real DIFFERENCES between it and any other treadmill?”

We threw this short video together to tell you about this amazing non-motorized treadmill,

now occupying space in our brand NEW Pursuit Athletic Performance Training Center. Check it out!

 

 

Four TIPS For The Aging Endurance Athlete (Hint: Yes, You Can Still Keep Playing!)

Coach Al (showing his back-side) at a Pisgah Mountain 50k aid station. Keeping it young!

Coach Al (showing his back-side) at a Pisgah Mountain 50k trail race aid station. Keeping it young!

Some of the readers of this blog know I raced this past weekend at the Pisgah Mountain 50k trail race up in New Hampshire (I finished 2nd  in my age-group and 26th overall), and will again be racing THIS coming weekend, tackling the very challenging Vermont 50 mountain bike race.  These events are just a small sample of what I’ve got planned for myself over the next few months and into 2015!

Today, more than ever, athletes are performing at a high level well into their 50s, 60s, and beyond! How are they doing it?  How do I (a nearly 55 year-old endurance athlete/coach with 35+ years of training and racing in the legs) maintain the ability to keep “playing” even as I’m aging well into my 50s?

To help YOU maintain the ability to keep playing, here are FOUR tips for the aging athlete. These could be YOUR secrets to success! (I’ve learned much of this through trial and error – take advantage of my mistakes and get started now).

  1. Maintain Your Mobility and Flexibility: The single thing we lose most as we age is the ability for our joints to move FREELY. Freedom of movement is what we associate with being young, isn’t it? Flexibility is related and is also something we lose as we age. Mobility and flexibility suffer as the miles pile up, too, so if you’ve been running or training for a few years, its likely you’ve lost some of that freedom of movement.

When you lose mobility:

  • Your body loses its ability to absorb pounding and attenuate forces that work on it while you’re moving, such as gravity and ground reaction.
  • Your stride shortens and you feel every “bump” in the road that much more.
  • You enjoy your training less because it becomes more of a struggle to do simple things such as bend over or step up.
  • Your risk of injury sky rockets!

To avoid these, first seek to find out where you’re tight or imbalanced, and then get started on a specific targeted program to address these restrictions.  This is absolutely your #1 priority as you get older.

A Helpful Video: One common area of unwanted tightness as we age is in our hamstrings.  Hamstring tightness can develop for a number of different reasons (including dysfunction of the glute region or extreme tightness of the hip flexor region). However, very often it develops simply from the overall loss of flexiblity as we age (or from too much sitting in a chair!).

Try this effective and safe movement (stretch) for the hamstrings demonstrated by our own Doc Strecker.

 

(To learn more about WHY mobility is so vital to your success, listen to Doc Strecker and I discuss the importance of this element of human movement!)

  1. Get Stronger: Like mobility, strength (as well as the pre-requisite to developing true functional strength, which is basic core stability) often decline as we age and the miles pile up. Along with staying mobile, the key to maintaining YOUR ability to play comes down to getting stronger!

Many athletes aren’t familiar with the difference between strength and stability. Its important for sure, and something you will want to KNOW as you age. To learn more, check out this blog post we did on the topic.

So what is the best way to get stronger?

There are as many programs and exercises as there are stars in the sky, or so it would seem. I like to keep things simple at first, by going straight at bodyweight exercises. After all, what is better than a pull up or push up to develop trunk strength? Not too much!

(If you’re unable to do a single pull up, start by doing “hangs” and then doing “negatives” as part of your progression!)

Whether it’s a kettlebell, floor based exercises, suspension training, or simply lifting and moving rocks or flipping tires, the best path to optimal strength development and good health is to start with simpler, more foundational movements and progress to more complex as you improve and gain strength.

One last thing: don’t get INJURED trying to get stronger. That happens all too often. Start at a smart level, and progress intelligently.

  1. Get Massage: With increasing age (and more miles along with chronic injuries) come the development of micro trauma in the muscle, which leads to the development of scar tissue and a loss of elasticity. Scar tissue, which forms in response to that micro trauma and tearing of the muscle fiber, reduces elasticity and leads to weaker and shorter, more injury prone muscle.

One key to overcoming the long term negative impact of scar tissue development (and keeping muscle healthy and young), is massage, from a qualified competent massage therapist of course.

Yes, your foam roller used routinely, can help.  But your foam roller can’t do the same things the sensitive and educated human hands of a qualified professional can, digging deeply into the muscle to strip it down and help the tissue remodel. Massage can literally be THE secret for the aging athlete whose goal it is to maintain healthy tissue.

(One additional tip about massage: In my experience, if you have been battling injury or know you have a significant amount of scar tissue or have lost flexibility, getting massage only occasionally won’t do the trick.  You need to commit to successive sessions where the same therapist can work progressively to restore tissue health. With repeated sessions, the therapist will learn more about your body and be able to address YOUR specific issues more effectively).

  1. Get Off Road: When it comes to staying young and fighting father time as a runner or cyclist, nothing beats getting off road! Trails offer variable terrain that challenges the mobility, flexibility and strength you’re working to retain, while also minimizing the repetitive stress that comes from road running and riding.
  • Mountain biking and trail running (and hiking) require very specific skills which keep you young!
    • Glute and hip strength, balance, handling, and leg strength all improve when you ride off road.
    • Agility and balance, elasticity, and leg and hip strength all improve when you run off road.
    • And since every footstrike is different and the surfaces are softer than asphalt, your risk of repetitive injury goes way down!
  • Best of all, you get to PLAY in the woods and keep it fun! Trail running and riding is just plain fun!

Even if you’re not quite as old as I am, you will be sooner than you realize! You’d be smart to start NOW to begin following the recommendations I’ve shared today. The same things that keep you young will also help the younger athlete stay healthier, perform better, and go faster.

 

~Coach Al 

ps: Do you have questions, comments or feedback about these four tips to help you stay younger? Or your own tips to add? Leave your thoughts below or on our FACEBOOK page. 

Come on out to our NEW facility in Chester to check out our new Trueform runners - the BEST treadmill on the planet because YOU have to do the work!

Come to our NEW facility in Chester to check out our Trueform Runners – the BEST treadmill (non-motorized) on the planet for staying younger as a runner, because YOU have to do the work!

Honoring a Great Man (Who Was Also A Great Runner)

john-j-kelley-fundIts rare that I use this Pursuit Athletic Performance blog to share thoughts about someone or something very important to me personally. Well, today is one of those days.

This Sunday, September 21, a bronze statue of the great John J. Kelley will be unveiled at its permanent location in downtown Mystic, Connecticut.

Well known running writer, Tony Reavis, wrote a blog post marking the unveiling of the statue, and recalled conversations he had with Kell over the years. Its a really nice remembrance of this great man and champion.  Also, for more information you can check out the local newspaper’s online story of the statue dedication of Kell and his beloved dog, Brutus here.

“Kell,” as so many knew him by, was truly one of the great American runners of all time. Winner of the 1957 Boston Marathon, he was also a 2x Olympian.  Certainly as important, he was as kind and gentle a man as you’ll ever find.  A running poet and philosopher in the truest sense of the words, I considered he and his wonderful wife Jessie (who is also no longer with us), good and dear friends.

In my early years as a runner, like many others in our region,  I looked up in complete awe at “Mr. Kelley” (not a title he ever really embraced as he was so friendly, informal, humble with everyone he met) and all that he had accomplished as a runner. I always enjoyed and looked forward to visiting his running shoe store, Kelley’s Pace (which he and wife Jessie owned), stopping by even when I didn’t “need” new shoes, in hopes that he might have a few minutes to chat. He always did.

I had a burning desire in me to get faster and improve. In large part because of Kell, the Boston Marathon became the MOST important race to me through those years. But it never mattered to Kell if you were the fastest runner in town or the very last finisher at the local 5k, or even if you were a runner at all. He always had time and a smile for any person he came into contact with, whether in the store, out on the trail, or driving the taxi that took up time in his later years. He always shared freely of himself in every way a man can. He truly cared about others in a way that can’t be faked.

I remember once, almost like it was yesterday, when I sat at the Kelley’s kitchen table in their modest home in Mystic, to tell Johnny that I was venturing into the triathlon world with the goal of getting to Kona and the Ironman World Championships. He was so jazzed by that! He too had struggled with swimming when he was a youngster, and sincerely wanted to know more about how and why I was doing what I was doing. He asked me qualifying and training questions; we talked many times, sharing our fears and struggles and talking about how a sport like running or triathlon, can really empower a person to grow in deeply personal ways.  To Kell, though he was a fierce competitor out on the roads in his prime, running was much more about LIFE and people and friends, and just the JOY OF RUNNING, than it ever was about winning medals or races.

Kell always had a way of making you feel more important and validated, in some way. It may sound strange, I don’t know.  What I think I’m trying to say is that I always came away from time spent with Kell feeling BETTER about myself. He had a way of just making you feel good, making you smile.  Time spent around Kell made you happy to be a runner, to be alive. I still miss him so much for those reasons alone, and so many others.

Local runner, Jim Roy, next to the plaque accompanying the statue of Kell. Jim was THE driving force behind the creation of a statue honoring Kell.

Local runner, Jim Roy, next to the plaque accompanying the statue of Kell. Jim was THE driving force behind the statue and heads the John Kelley Memorial Fund, the nonprofit organization that raised $87,000 for the statue.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to be there at 1pm for the dedication, joining past Boston champions and so many other great friends from the running community in southeastern Connecticut.  It IS fitting why I won’t be there, though: I’ll be running a 50k trail race up in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

I think were Kell alive, he’d surely tell me to “go run the race, Al!”  “Geez, come on now.” “Go run, Al, GO RUN!”

Yup, that is exactly what he’d say.

I’ll be running on Sunday for you, Kell.

 

~Coach Al 

If you live anywhere in the local southeastern Connecticut area, come on out to honor the man. From the John J. Kelley Memorial Fund website:

The statue will be unveiled and dedicated at the park-let on Baptist Hill in Downtown Mystic, near Mystic Pizza (56 West Main Street, Mystic, CT), with a reception will follow at the Mystic Arts Center (walking distance from the statue) on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 1PM.

3 TIPS to Jumpstart YOUR Running This Fall!

Deb-Trails For A Cure

Team Pursuit Ultra-Runner Deb Livingston, at the start of the “Trails To A Cure” trail race!

Now that FALL is officially here in the northern hemisphere (or so it seems based upon those early morning temps!), its time to talk RUNNING! Fall is truly running weather!  There’s so many great running events and races in the fall, and we get the benefit of having trained all summer, so the cool temps instantly make us more fit and fast!  The fall is also a great time to improve your speed and strength. Train smart this fall and watch out, you may arrive in the spring better and faster than ever. Here’s 3 tips to jumpstart your running this fall:

1. Get your STRIDE RATE UP!  A higher overall stride rate isn’t a magical elixir that will turn you into a faster runner, but it is one element that, especially if you’re striding slowly (plodding?), is key for improving.  One reason is that running is a neural activity. That is, if you are plodding along at 85 or fewer stride cycles per minute, you’re training your nervous system to essentially react slowly, and thus not building some of the foundational skills (remember: nervous system = skills) that will ultimately lead to faster running. ​Striding more quickly will also help you land more under your body and maintain better balance if you run on trails, two important and basic elements to improving as a runner.

(If you haven’t listened to our podcast with running expert and coach, Owen Anderson, Ph D, we discuss this aspect in great detail. Check it out!)

Virtually every runner should have at least a 90 stride-cycles-per-minute rate, which = 180 strides per minute.  ​How do you easily check to see where you are? There’s many ways to do it, but here is one simple way:

While gazing at your watch, count how many times your right foot hits the ground in 30 seconds. Multiply by two, and you have your stride rate cycle for 1 minute.  Multiply that times two and you have the total number of strides you are taking in a minute. The goal is 90 stride cycles per minute, or roughly 180 strides per minute.

2. Get into the HILLS! Flat roads are “fun” and “relaxing” to run on, but unless you are working VERY hard, they aren’t going to help you get faster. (Unless that “flat” is a track, in which case you might be building the things you need there to help you improve. Notice I said “might.”) The way to TRANSFER over the stability and strength you’re developing in your supplemental strength training (you ARE working on your strength, aren’t you?) is to RUN IN THE HILLS!

When I am running in very hilly terrain, I don’t moniter speed or pace as I might on the flats. Assuming you’re not doing hill intervals, the smart approach is to just run, staying near the middle to top of your aerobic zone most of the time, working with the terrain. This fall, challenge yourself to run hills, climbing and descending relentlessly.  You’ll be super glad you did!

One IMPORTANT caveat: If you aren’t moving well or building strength and stability in a smart way, the hills can break you. An injury that comes from running on hilly terrain is a red flag that some OTHER element in your training is lacking, e.g. flexibility, mobility, or basic stability/strength.

One last thing: Practice good form when running UP and DOWN. Tall chest and long spine, stiffen the ankle when climbing very steep grades, keep your arm carriage tight when going up (use elbow drive back for power and speed), and use your arms for balancing when descending steep hills.

3. Get OFF road and ONTO the Trail!: We talked about trail running in a recent podcast; how running on the trail vs. the road can really give your running ability a serious BOOST. Of course, there’s much more to be gained by someone who always runs on the road, vs. someone who is already doing some trail running. If you’re a road runner 80-90% of the time, then it IS TIME to get OFF ROAD! So, what are the ways that trail running can positively impact your running ability?

  1. Resistance to injury: The trail is always changing (depending upon how technical it is), so you’re not constantly pounding the same movements or muscles with every stride. Udulating terrain, rocks and roots, etc., force you to constantly adapt and footstrike patterns and balance change and improve. The ground is softer and because of every step being slightly different, your risk of injury from repetitive stress goes down.
  2. Transferring strength: One other fantastic way to improve and transfer that strength you’re building on the floor is to get off road, because dealing with the undulations in terrain as well as the steep UPS and DOWNS, builds incredible strength in the feet, legs and trunk! Take a close look at a true trail runner and what you’ll see is a very strong runner. When you combine the trail with climbing and descending, you have the MAGIC that will build an incredibly resilient and strong runner, who could THEN head out onto the road or track with much better chances of building speed in a powerful way.

Enjoy your running this fall even more by incorporating some of the above suggestions into your program. Get faster and stronger and have more fun!

Happy trails!

~Coach Al