Monday, January 28, 2013

Running videos explained

Over the last few weeks,  I have been in collaboration with Roman Mica, Brandon Del Campo and Robin Galaskewicz (whose last name I always have to look up how to spell, even though I have written it countless times), to put out some videos on stretching and strengthening geared toward runners but useful to any athlete.

The particular exercises we have carefully chosen often look simplistic, but when executed properly they are deceptively difficult. You may find that you suck at them. They may even cause some discomfort. If you follow the exercises, you may in fact experience shoulder soreness, or a pinch in the hip, your hamstrings may feel like an overstretched guitar string. This may cause some worry or thoughts that you are doing things completely wrong or that you might hurt yourself.

All of these strange feelings are totally normal and are to be expected. Doing any type of movements that are meant to realign, stretch and/or strengthen the body will be uncomfortable. They have to be. You are trying to take a body part that is often stuck in the wrong position and re-position it. It cannot and will not feel good!

I know from experience. I do these exercises as well as others we will post in the near future. They make my muscles burn, I ache, I don't always enjoy doing them. But, they have helped me immensely in recovering from years of a rib injury and doing them will allow me to run fast even as I get older.

I would estimate that 99.99999999% of runners and triathletes have muscle imbalances and one or both hips that are rotated or misaligned in some manner.  Muscle imbalance is inevitable; everyone has a dominant side and nobody is completely symmetrical. Hence, every athlete has their “Achilles heel”, an injury or pre-injury that continually crops up over the years. These types of issues can cause over-striding, low foot turnover, problems with shoulder carriage and when things are really awry it causes pain.

Athletes look for a magic bullet to undo these issues and often turn to massage, PT and yoga to alleviate the symptoms of their running ailments. I am an aficionado of massage and PT (I just cannot get on board with yoga; I truly despise it, especially the part at the end when you have to lie still. Sorry if I offend anyone.), but they are often band-aids that are covering up larger issues.

The videos that we are putting out are meant to help undo the endless array of problems that are common to runners and triathletes. But, I want to offer the caveat that they will hurt. And that is okay. It is truly surprises me that people will not stick to a strength and stretching routine because it makes them feel some discomfort. You mean to tell me that you can spend 15-20 hours a week flogging yourself daily training for a marathon or Ironman, but a little gym work “hurts too much”?

Now is the time to distinguish between good pain and bad pain. Feeling a muscles stretch and hopefully release = good pain. Running through a knee injury that causes you to limp = bad pain. Yet, I see athletes go run when they can barely walk but will not lift a weight because it makes them sore. What?

The exercises on these videos, if done correctly and continued over time, might help you get rid of the running pain you are experiencing and ultimately make you a more efficient runner. It is not convenient, perhaps, to fit in the exercises. And, even after reading this you may still decide you hate the way it feels when shins burn from foot circles. Just remember, though, if you decide to forgo doing the little things that make big differences, you will assuredly curse yourself at the end of your next big race when your run form falls apart due to weakness or even worse, you miss your next big race due to an injury.

Now, I am not saying that following our little videos to the T will make you impervious to injury. Nothing makes anyone impermeable to injury, not even doing nothing, because couch potatoes often throw out their backs.  What I am trying to express is this: take a little bit of time, embrace the discomfort and let the exercises help you become a better runner.

Stay tuned, we have more videos coming out over the next few weeks.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Hero Worship Conundrum

The Lance Armstrong dog and pony show has come to a circuitous and anti-climactic ending. He confessed! He said “I’m sorry”! He said “I want to compete still”! He said “my fortune is going away”! But. He did all of this with little show of emotion and in his typical robotic, defensive manner. I am not here to deconstruct the interview with Oprah, though. There is enough of that out there by individuals far more in the know. My point of view is this: how did this happen in the first place?

It comes down to hero worship.  Actors, sports figures, business tycoons. Every industry has their celebrity, and with the advent of paparazzi and social media regular people who do irregular things are boosted to a status that incurs mania. When any single individual is given that much notoriety and that much exaltation it becomes impossible for them to live up to the expectations foisted upon them causing them to engage in childish, reckless and sometimes dangerous acts.

The Lance legend grew on this kind of philosophy and he said himself that things spun out of control and it took a lot of conniving and lies to maintain an image that wasn’t even true right from the beginning. The symbiotic relationship between heroes and the general public is not a new one, but it seems that the stakes get higher every year with increasing amounts of money and fame up for grabs and the more mind-blowing the story the greater the frenzy surrounding it.

People want something incredible to believe in. They need something incredible to believe in. And that is how the Lance story perpetuated. An entire industry of movies and comic books has been constructed around the notion of people with super powers; the very concept that a real life person might possess something akin to extra special strength or ability is captivating.

As ordinary people, society delights in others who do something extraordinary. It boggles the mind of the general public to see a World Record broken, medals collected, races won. It is a realm that most people will never live in, so any window into that world is exciting. Every detail of the hero's life is nitpicked and folklore surrounding any accomplishments ensues. But we often forget that perhaps, it is the very thing that makes a super sports hero so good at what they do is what also makes them so fallible.

The question is, then, how much adulation is too much? I don’t think that “adulation” is necessarily quantifiable. Looking up to a sports hero and deriving inspiration from his or her achievements is healthy. Swooning at their feet, obsessing over every stat and following the minutia of the mundane aspects of their lives is taking things a step too far. If any lesson is to be learned from the Lance debacle it is that no matter what any individual accomplishes, no matter how phantasmagorical, he or she is merely human and should be treated accordingly.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Woes

Things tend to go in cycles. Last week was the phase of sickness and shitty long runs. In a three day window I received emails from 6 athletes that they were unable to complete workouts due to illness. I can’t remember, in ten years of coaching, ever having so many athletes sick at the same time. 

And then, to make matters even more interesting, nearly everybody that had a long run on their schedule yesterday sent an email detailing various reasons why they had a crappy run: too cold, too muddy, too hung over, too sick, bonked, cranky
Given that last week I too was sick and I too had an immensely un-pleasurable long run, I was really able to commiserate with my dejected athletes.

Dealing with sickness

Winter and illness are consistent bedfellows. Right now, Boulder is in the midst of rampant sickness with the flu, stomach virus and a nasty cold/cough going around. At this point, the only reasonable thing to do is to tent the city and call an exterminator to rid us of all of the bugs.

Getting sick sucks. It puts a damper on everything. Training is affected, work productivity diminishes and patience with family matters is on thin ice.

Training while sick is dicey. In terms of head colds, a nice easy run or spin helps clear out the sinuses. This is a really good time to learn how to blow a decent snot rocket, a skill every endurance athlete really should master. A good snot rocket makes you feel like your head is going to cave in afterwards. Runny noses are inevitable this time of year, and you know that it is really cold out when you come home from a workout with snot frozen to your face. Ah, yes, the glamor of athletics!

Most other illnesses are going to require complete days off and should be dealt with according to how sick you are.

There is nothing to fret about when illness affects training. Because, truly, once you get sick, there is nothing you can do about it except concentrate on getting healthy. Instead of focusing on all of the missed workouts, remind yourself of the excellent workouts that are already in the bank. A week of missed training will not undo the many weeks (or even months) of consistent workouts prior to getting sick.

If you miss a few days of training due to illness, do not try to make it up by frantically plugging in the workouts you skipped. Those workouts are history. For most run of the mill winter infirmities, you can ease back into training with a couple of slower paced workouts to test things out and then pick back up with your schedule.  Your body will let you know if you are ready and able to complete workouts with harder efforts.

The shitty long run

My sister seemed to kick off a trend of less than ideal long runs. I Tweeted last week about how she called me for some motivation 10 miles into a 20 mile run. I gave her some advice and she completed the run. She fared much better than I did…

I was scheduled to run 20 miles on Sunday and by mile 3 I knew that was never going to happen. The combination of extreme cold and a lingering cough led to a run that will now be the barometer to which all crappy runs will be held. When I got home from my run, shortened to 15 sloth-like miles, I was surprised by the onslaught of emails from athletes detailing their frustration over difficult long runs.

It is never ideal to have a bad workout, but a difficult long run comes with a lot more expectation and emotion then most other workouts and is therefore viewed from a completely different perspective. In people’s mind, the long run is deeply tied to fitness and readiness more than any other workout of the week. The thought being, “if I have a good long run, I am totally ready for my race and if I have a bad long run then I am an unfit bag of crap.” This mindset is erroneous and self-defeating.

The long run, by definition, is long. Therefore, there is a lot more time for things to go wrong. And, with the placement of the long at the end of the week, the body is already tired from so many other workouts. The long run is predestined to be difficult!

While the long run is an important aspect of training, it is not the only aspect of training. A tough long run is bound to happen, and in the winter, with cold weather, snow, and illness, the chance of bad long run is heightened. Don’t put so much pressure on the long run. It is only one cog in a big machine. One bad long run does not equate to a bad race just as a good long run doesn't translate into a stellar race. What matters the most is good, consistent training over time.

Stay healthy!