Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Let's Play!

Have you ever noticed how incredibly serious runners can be?  We analyze everything.  A GPS tells us our distance, speed, pace, cadence, heart rate, and compares us to everyone else who has ever run that route via Strava.  We painstakingly choose our shoes, analyzing the last, amount of motion control, heel to toe drop, weight, lacing mechanism, and color.  We hire coaches who develop training programs that are pinned to the fridge and we worry when we aren't able to complete them perfectly.  It gets even worse when a niggle starts to develop. Where is it coming from?  What am I doing wrong? Should I stop running?  Then we often seek professional help from those who are experts.  Ironically, I find myself one of those "experts" who is paid to perform a very detailed 3D analysis of a person's running gait and then a very thorough physical assessment as part of my job as the Lead Physiotherapist at the Running and Gait Centre at the Pan Am Clinic in Winnipeg.  Don't get me wrong - I love my job and can't believe I get paid to do what I do.  But all this analyzing can easily weigh me down.  It's easy to miss the forest for the trees.

A friend this week thanked me for "letting him play" with his running.  It took me back a bit.  We had been creatively brainstorming training options (see post: Creative Downhill Training: Flatlander Style), which was kind of fun. I told him that running SHOULD be playful and creative.  That's how innovation happens.  And then Sarah Seads posted something about playing in the woods (as she always does).  And it got me to thinking...again.

The next time you are at the park, watch little kids play and run.  They run for pure joy - chasing each other around, playing tag, twirling and dancing, holding hands and skipping.  As adults, we forget how to play.  And we forget that simple human movement is easiest way to play.

Playfulness starts with a mindset.  It starts with gratitude for the ability to run, and acknowledgement of the gift of the moment.  It starts with putting a smile on your face as you head out the door, and keeping it on as you run.  It continues with leaving the data-trackers at home.

Here are several ways to bring play back into your run:

  • Get off the road.  Find a trail that winds up and down, around and around.  Don't worry about getting dirty or wet.  Jump in the puddles, get muddy.  Break your own trail in the snow.  Leave footprints that will make the next person wonder what in the world you were doing!
  • Fartlek.  Fartlek means "speed play."  Add variety to your runs by changing speed continually like you would if you were a kid playing tag.  Better yet, play tag with your running partner!
  • Use music. Put your entire music collection on shuffle and see what comes up.  Change your style of running and your pace based on the song.  You will run completely differently to Thunderstruck than you will to Barney's Christmas.  Just saying....
  • Dance. Seriously.  This works especially well when running downhill on a trail.  But even on the flats, don't be afraid to add a little wiggle or a twirl when you're running...even if you have to wait until there is no one watching. I love dancing.
  • Wear something crazy to a race or just for a training run: a funny hat, a tutu, a shirt with a funny saying.  Elicit a few laughs and you will feel playful.
  • Smile and say hello to EVERYONE you pass.  Even if you pass them 3 times.  Hold out your hand for high fives.  The surprised smiles you get in return will brighten your day.
  • Stop to make snow angels, appreciate your neighbourhood Christmas lights, or the roaring waterfalls.  Wherever you happen to run, look around you.
Longevity in running requires recognizing there is a time and a season for everything.  There is a time to be serious and train hard; and there is a time to lighten up and play.  Variety is a key element needed to run healthy, mentally and physically.  I need to remind myself of this regularly, especially now that it seems my whole life revolves around running.

So make this your December Challenge: to bring the play back into your life.  Get outside and let the rain fall off your eyelashes and the snow fall onto your cheeks.  And don't forget to smile :)

Monday, 16 November 2015

Creative Downhill Training: Flatlander Style

Over the past few weeks a friend and I have been brainstorming ways to creatively train for downhill running while living in a place with no hills.  My strength is downhill running, while it's his weakness.  I'm dealing with an injury (details forthcoming when I have a full diagnosis) that precludes me from uphill running.  So together we are motived to work on the eccentric component of downhill running.  I don't want to lose my secret weapon and he wants to develop his.

We are both planning on big races in 2016 that involve lots of downhill running out west.  It's actually been quite the process, evolving from epiphanies while on the way to a run..."I know!  I'll just put the treadmill up on blocks!"... to discussions on proper speed to simulate deceleration, matching leg speed to treadmill belt to avoid burning out the motor, adding weighted packs, and even my most recent idea: adding resistance band around the waist to pull me forward.  I've had a few laughs at myself, pondered the science, and gotten a few very strange looks from my physio colleagues as I experimented on our treadmill at work including "why do you want to run downhill?"

"Well," I responded, "because there are no hills here! And because I can't run uphill right now, so I'm going to make sure my quads don't lose their ability to run downhill.  That, and I'm curious."

Here is a video of Todd running on his treadmill propped up on blocks:

And are a few pictures of me running with the resistance band tied to a belt around my waist while running on the treadmill propped up on blocks.

And here is a short clip:

I personally haven't tried running with a weighted vest yet because I don't have one, but I was really impressed with the resistance band system.  Anyone who's run down a mountain on uneven terrain knows that sometimes you feel off balance, sometimes your foot lands perfectly under you, and sometimes it doesn't - and you have to instantaneously react to accommodate to that without breaking stride.  Well, running with the tension of the bands pulling me forward from three attachment points around my hips provided just enough unpredictable variability to simulate free running down a mountain, not quite sure where my foot was going to land.  In addition, I was instantly aware of how high my heel came up during swing phase. The bands immediately activated my posterior chain of muscles that eccentrically controls that controlled fall forward. Honestly, it was as exhilarating as a treadmill run could ever be for me.

The key to this is to start slowly if you are not used to downhill running.  Eccentric training is very effective but very demanding on your connective tissue and your quads.  It's easy for your form to fall apart really fast.  Copy with caution!

Feel free to laugh and call us crazy...and pick apart our running technique.  I have. This training is of course supplemented with eccentric training in the gym and eventually uphill training for me.  If anyone knows of a treadmill with a bigger range than +15% to -3% please let me know!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Scouting Spruce Woods

Today I ventured outside Winnipeg for the first time to run & explore Spruce Woods Provincial Park.  We drove 2 hours, ran for 5.5 hours (with some breaks) and drove 2 more hours home.  Welcome to trail running in Manitoba!  The Spruce Woods Ultra happens May 6-7, 2016 and before I solidify my 2016 race plans, I thought I should scout out the place.

A few trail runners that I met at the Lemming Loop lived up to the reputation that many trail runners have - kind, generous, laid-back.  Todd and Maria graciously picked me up at 6:00am and drove me out to the park to meet several other "Turtles" there to run in the cool rainy morning.
Todd and the Turtles (aka Charlie & his angels)

A quote from the race website: " The Spruce Woods Ultra race is unlike any other event in the province. First, it’s tough. Although it’s a run in the park, it is unlike any other run in the park you’ve seen in Manitoba."  As we drove along Hwy 1 heading west of Portage la Prairie, I gazed out at the FLAT land and wondered how hard this run was really going to be.  I was told, "you have no idea what you are in for."
I found evergreen trees in Manitoba!

Well, they were right.  I was very surprised to find myself running up and down and up and down...over and over again.  It was an unrelenting series of short flats, 20 high cadence paces up, 5 long strides down, repeat.  Sometimes no flats in between.  All those short ups and downs started to take a toll about 20K into our 40K run.  I couldn't just lock into a pace and slug up a hill, nor could I relax and squeal with delight as I flew down a hill (except in one place).  Changing speeds and cadence continually was demanding.  We managed to log almost 2000' of gain over the 40K.  No west coast profile, but nice!

I have to give a shout out to Todd and Maria who both ran 10-15 miles more than they would have had I not been there - simply to ensure that I got what I came for and got a good look at the park.  You guys rock!  Now I know what type of run I'll be in for if I sign up for the Spruce Woods Ultra.  And how much recovery time to allow before the next race.  This one will demand respect.  Thanks for the great time everyone.  Always good running with you!