Ideal Running Study – Part 3

Hang on? Isn’t there a part one and two?

Yes, yes there is, but I haven’t written them up.

Part one took place in March 2015 (so I could get in before my 41st birthday, and the age cut off. They were struggling for volunteers, and were very accommodating at the time). It involved measuring my VO2 max and lactate threshold at a certain speed, then over the course of the test, where the speed was increased incrementally until I bailed out. I had been getting over the flu, so didn’t last long. The study also wanted to measure technique, and lots of reflective markers were placed strategically upon my person, and I was recorded. There was also ordinary video footage taken at each speed. The video and the capture were analysed by a coach.

By the time I got the results, I wasn’t in a good place. The results of the test didn’t help. Aspects of my running form were graded, but it meant nothing to me. I could sit down and work it out, but at that time I didn’t want to, and I haven’t revisited since.

I recently received an email from the researchers asking me back. They wanted to repeat the tests, although there was nothing wrong with the first one. There was something different that they were now looking at. This time, there would be two assessments, the additional test involving a coaching session. It is this session that I will be focusing on here.

I arrived, and had to be fitted with the reflective markers. Luckily, I had some bruising from where they had been removed a couple of days earlier (I am a delicate flower) to show where to put them!

The first part of the test involved a warm up of 3 minutes at 9km/h, then 1.5 minutes at 10km/h, 11km/h and 12km/h. I has hooked up to the face mask, and  had to run at 12km/h for 4 minutes, during which my gas levels were monitored, and afterwards, a lactate test carried out. 

At the same time, an experienced running coach monitored my form, and I was show the video afterwards. I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. I looked like a blancmange in an earthquake. It was hard to focus on the technical running side of things. Female runners had to wear crop tops, and were provided with leggings with holes cut out for the markers to stick to the skin. Sadly, my pelvis is a weird shape, so my leggings had to be virtually on the old pantie line, so it literally was a case of letting it all hang out. Vom.

The aim of this part of the study was to see if any improvement in form could be made in an hour, and would fatigue have an effect. I was taken to a training room set up for the coaching session. On the way, I was told that I was part of a group that tended to ‘collapse into the pelvis’. Once in the training room, the coach expanded on this. Leg movement either swings like a pendulum, or bounces like a spring. The former can lead to overstriding, and causes the upper body to collapse down into the pelvis. Rather than having a relatively flat profile as I ran, my pelvis was undulating, and the impact meant that I was not using the natural springs in the lower leg. 

I was asked to do a deep squat, to demonstrate my flexibility. Needless to say, I could sit on the floor, but Kniggly Knee™ wasn’t happy, especially when I had to repeat them several times, keeping my posture upright. My quads definitely started to fatigue quickly, and I was lifting myself up on one leg at one stage, not the best form, I must say.

I was then taken through a few drills. I was asked to jump up and down on the spot, and asked where I felt I was landing and taking off. Obviously, it was from the ball of the feet. For more self-awareness, I then had to jump up and down starting with my toes against the line of one of the lanes in the coaching room. The aim was not to move too far forwards or backwards without looking down, which was a challenge.

I was asked to jog on the spot, where again, it was the balls of my feet that made contact. I had to compare walking with jogging, and the difference between leg swinging and springing was accentuated. I jogged up and down the lanes, first of all being asked to adopt the upright feeling of running from the forefoot, and then sinking my weight into each step, again to see the difference. I had a few hopping drills, and bunny jumps to do, to get used to using my forefoot. There was more comparison between putting my weight into the jumps, and being light. One set involved 5 jumps from a slight squat compared with 10 quick straight legged jumps; the 10 jumps were far easier.

My next task was to jump from one box to the ground just in front, and immediately bounce onto a second box. Aside from the forward momentum meaning I sometimes cam off the second box, I quickly got the hang of it.

One of Brian’s favourite drills was next – running backwards. I’m not bad at that, and it was far easier with the lanes to use as guidance. I was told that this encourages you to lift out of the pelvis, and encourage good posture. I then ran backwards and jogged forwards with the same posture. I felt lighter, and it felt easier to run.

Finally, a set of low hurdles was set up, approximately three actual feet distance apart. If I swung my legs, I would kick the hurdles, but if I lifted myself, I would be able to run over them without any contact. I managed it first time, and I had a few goes, each time comfortably lifting my knees and feet over the obstacles. 

I was taken back to the lab, where the warm up was repeated although the first phase was reduced to 1.5 minutes. The tests were repeated. I focused on keeping myself from sinking, and I was running lighter and easier than before, so far as the movement went. I was tired, and felt that there was a bit more effort required, but I felt good. 

At the end of the test, I was given the double thumbs up by the coach. He showed me the before and after videos side by side. 

Beforehand, I had been overstriding. I looked laboured, as if I was struggling. I had been heel striking, and my hips kept bobbing above and below the hand rail of the treadmill. It was how I imagined myself running for the line at the end of a race after I’d put all of my effort into the previous 99% of the distance. I thought of recent running pics, where I never looked like I was running, or making any effort.

After the coaching session, my feet were landing beneath my body, with no heel striking. My knees were lifting, and my hips were level and stable. I looked fresh, and my cadence had a good rhythm. I looked how I wanted to look like running. This was how I would get that elusive flying running picture. The penny had dropped, unlike my upper body.

I was feeling really upbeat afterwards, and I told The Bloke, who didn’t share my enthusiasm, but said that after his next run, he had adopted the principles that I had learned. The cheek.

Unfortunately, my kneecap has been flicking ever since. My right Achilles’ tendon is very sore, and the telltale lump has shown up. I haven’t been able to run since the coaching session. I did a little research, and the shift to forefoot running needs to be done gradually, but can be incorporated into my usual running. Problems with the achilles are common, until the tendon and the calf muscles strengthen up. The knee problems are due to the deep squats, as it is this movement that causes the flicking. Hopefully, now that I can crosstrain, and if I keep on top of my strengthening and conditioning, it’ll all come good.

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