Neural pathways: running without thinking

As I review my first week of non-running re-hab, I realise that today marks 76 days until TMBT. Eleven weeks, which includes at least another week of full-on physiotherapy related exercise involving Not Running. Then the ever familiar road to recovery, hopefully culminating in a pain free ultra at the end of August and a good solid attempt at the arduous climb that is the ‘short route’ of The Most Beautiful Thing distances.

kinabaluBeing told not to run, even if it’s for the long-term good, is the last thing a runner wants to hear. I had been explaining to my Pilates instructor Jayne that I was sick of the Hamster-wheel of injury, followed by time out for recovery and the never really being able to test myself for fear of re-injury. My current/ ongoing issues are the result of over-training and racing, but the underlying reasons are poor biomechanics and hip stiffness which I’ve traced back to childhood. Jayne suggested an assessment with a physiotherapist who specialises in podiatry and also Paralympic rehabilitation. OK then!

After a video assessment (walking, running, with and without shoes) and various strength and alignment exercises, some interesting issues came out which I’d never heard from previous sports injury professionals:-

piriformis-stretch600

My right leg (which currently carries the afflicted Achilles tendon) is my ‘good’ leg and tracks straight with good pronation, neutral gait and no podiatry issues

My so-called ‘good leg’ on the left is rotated inwarded severely enough that I supinate and run without the use of my big toe! What?!!!!!

If I continue to run longer distances using only the smaller toes of the left foot, it’s likely I will cause stress fractures in these toes, as they are not strong enough for the duty I am giving them, which should really be harboured by the big toe and the second toe. My right leg can only do so much to compensate!

The tightness in my soleus and Piriformis started in childhood and is likely not easily or quickly correctable without suffering injuries down the leg-chain. Orthotics (practically a dirty word in my vocabulary) were suggested to correct the gait.

I can re-train my foot not to dorsi-flex when I run and to correct the S-shape I form during the foot strike (it should really be a outer heel-strike, rolling forward to toeing off diagonally, with the big toe- minimalist shoe and barefoot running fans, please look away now!). This can be done by Not Running and performing repetitive movements to create new neural pathways which the brain and thereafter the muscles, will recognise. In time, I should be able to run more efficiently, without thinking about it.

So in summary, my right side is compensating for the left and the outside of my legs are very strong compared to the inside sets of muscles which are very weak.

Things I already knew were:

  1. higharchMy Achilles is thickened and nodularised, possibly with neovascularity, that is, an increase in the number of blood-vessels in the tendon area; as my bodies attempt to get more healing blood into the area
  2. The tightness of the Achilles is what’s causing me pain and this is primarily caused by very tight calves (years of wearing very high heels won’t have helped). I need deep stretching and lots of rollering
  3. I have high arches, which are fairly rigid and don’t really want to help me out by pronating nicely through the heel-toe pattern, which allows for shock-absorption through the running gait.

Every day I must perform

3 x 15 sets of eccentric calf raises: up and down on the steps, gradually adding more weight. I do this FIVE times a day, every day. I’m currently loading with 2.5 Kg.

Publication1-1024x538

2 x 100 ankle flexes with toes scrunched up. This is to train the ankle NOT to use the toes to lead the movement and to stop me dorsi-flexing thus helping me pronate, not supinate, on my left foot. I do this twice a day; which doesn’t sound like much but it takes a lot of concentration not to use the toes, keep the foot in plantar flexion and I can’t stop my mouth from pursing into a tight frown at the same time! Come ON Neural pathways – form already!

A variety of piriformis stretches including the more traditional post-run stretches as well as some moves borrowed from pilates/yoga.

After all this, there’s barely enough time for Life and Actual race training!

0000653_250

So, I am breaking in my orthotics, which have been custom built to help me pronate more (!) on my left foot and help my very high foot arches to collapse in the proper way. Increasing the hours every day, I am walking in them and if there is no pain, I can attempt a run on Day 13. I’ve promised myself I will start with a 20 min jog 🙂 After that, I have to schedule an ultrasound to check on the status of the Achilles, which may or may not result in an injection to get rid of the extra blood vessels and yet another two weeks off from running, whilst the swelling recedes. I may have to have this done when I’m in the UK as the procedure is a little specialised and I’m not sure if the local hospitals have the know-how. But I will check. Another two weeks off from running……..(sigh).

Until then, building back up from a 20 minute jog into the realms of what will likely be at least 5 hours of climbing through trails and forest in Sabah, will be a challenge but I hope that my previous mileage PLUS all the swimming, cycling and other cross-training I’ve been doing- coupled with better biomechanics (not to mention my highly renowned mental determination) will allow me to have any amazing experience at TMBT in September. I hope everyone else’s training is a bit more traditional than mine.

Advertisements

Week 2 ultra-training: farther down the hot tarmac road

With three weeks until my next road race-training session, I was checking on my distance versus pace training. Basically I am doing no faster paced sessions due to running in the heat. I’ll have to do a couple of tune ups before the 10 Mile Mizuno Wave Run in Kuala Lumpur, otherwise I’ll not get back before the proper heat comes on at maximum (about 7.30 a.m.)

Here’s a graph of my pacing since I’ve been in Brunei which shows that over 50% of my training runs have been in the 10-11 minute mile bracket. This is all I’ve really been able to do, given that temperatures are normally around 30 degC and in excess of 90% humidity.

bloggraph3

According to VDOT calculations, this is actually bang on for the long easy running pace. Unfortunately, not all of these distances have been classically long runs, but it’s still early days yet and I’m happy to take a full 6 months to allow my body to heat adjust, before worrying about getting faster.

blogdistance

Distances covered vary from 5K through to 15 miles, with a recent maximum of 27 Km. (I’m trying to switch over to metric in my head but I am still dumbfounded by min/Km and Km/hour. I’m OK with converting total distance though: my 1.6 times table is coming along nicely).

Some more stats from the nine weeks of running in a hot climate

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Saturday– REST

Sunday – RUN 27K (pm)

Monday – RUN 5K (am) – at MRP (marathon race-pace)

Tuesday – 30 min CIRCUITS (am) /  Massage (pm)

Wednesday – Run/BIKE/Run BRICK (pm)

Thursday – REST

Friday – Reformer Pilates (am) / Long BIKE (pm)

Every other day I’ve completed one of the following: HIIT / Glutes / 8 min workout (x 3) and practised rollering, including the piriformis stretch which I’ve been advised will help (eventually) to loosen off an area which may be linked to my on-going calf and Achilles strain. I found this guy on youtube and liked his quirky wee demo. Runners will be familiar with the last stretch, usually performed in a standing crouch position after a run.

Also have a quick look at this guy (who kinda reminded me of a Skinny Marc Jacobs in lycra 😉 ), I mean, look at his form on the rollering techniques!

http://www.youtube.com/user/WorkTheFunkOut/videos

Next week brings a long run of 30K and hopefully a return to the jungle hash, followed by a step-back week with shorter runs. Happy Days 🙂

Reformer pilates – an assault on injury

This week saw another first for me, a session of reformer pilates. And it was surprisingly enjoyable. I had always shunned away from both yoga and pilates, despite knowing that both would help me with breathing, posture, flexability, strength and ultimately, the on-going battle against injury. As you do!

women-pilates-reformer-semi-classNow, I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know much about yoga or pilates; I have experienced a random drunken Hogmanay reveller perform a seal-pose on the livingroom floor of my very small flat but that didn’t exactly endear me to it.

No, I started as part of the ignorant masses, happy to file yoga practitioners under “hippy bean-eaters” and scoffed at the ohm-ing and meditation. This scoffing gradually gave way to feigned interest as more and more of my friends embraced yoga and laterally pilates and the different ‘brands’ of yoga – Ashtanga, Bikram, Hatha, Vinyasa etc. Eventually, as I succumbed to injury and repeated diagnoses along the lines of having a tight this or a shortened or inflexible that, I realised…….I was going to have to check this stuff out.

Yoga – I got as far as googling my nearest class and having a few in-depth talks with Deek (a yogi who had used his knowledge & practises to overcome a broken hip after being told to apply for a wheelchair license) and TARA, herself a competent runner and yoga instructor. It never went any further and I think the terminology along with the mental imagery that “it just wasn’t me” made me body-swerve it.

Pilates – now this seemed a bit more my cup of tea, with the focus on strength and core, or so was my pre-formed opinion. I attended one class. And struggled. And felt the stigma of being in a group where everyone seemed like an expert, whilst I rolled around uncontrollably, with my hands gripped around my ankle. I know everyone has a first time, but I wasn’t feeling the love and so went back to my foam roller, static and dynamic stretches and traditional crunches and planks.

reformerUntil this week 🙂 I was offered a spare place at a one-on-two session with local yogi and Queen of the Flex, New Zealander Jayne who is an ex-runner and has been resident in Brunei for over ten years. [Aside: I met Jayne at a newbies coffee morning and having sworn not to be a complete bore and talk about running, she got me onto subject within 2 minutes of meeting!]. So I was keen to find out more about this pilates business once and for all and take advantage of the kind offer made by EMMA, to buddy up in one of her booked sessions. We met before lunch and drove to Jayne’s home which has a room set-up especially for reformer, with two of the reformer contraptions, including over-head leg/hand pulleys.

2pilatesBefore we started, there was a question and answers session about my exercise background and any injury’s or weak spots: this took some time 🙂 Jayne made some notes and was really nice about leaving the session open as a taster and if it didn’t suit me, fair enough but if I liked it, I could come back for a weekly class. This was good as I felt no pressure either way and entered the reformer room eager to learn more about my weak spots.

Following some clear explanations and extensive demo’s by Emma, we went through a variety of guidelines, breathing and movements. Some went well (although I had very little weight or tension on the machine) and some were a real strain to keep the small ball or ring in place between squeezed knees(!) or to keep my legs under-control. Theresuperfeet_body-alignment were some very bouncy juddering legs, especially when I needed to use my adductors. I was quite wary of using my right (injured) leg on it’s own for weight-bearing exercises but all in, it held out well and I had a very enjoyable session indeed (save for the running capris I’d worn, having a zipped pocket on the back which became increasingly uncomfortable, as we were on our backs on the machines a good part of the lesson).

After almost two hours, I emerged as a complete convert! I still don’t know very much about all the moves and sequences and yes, I am quite prone to breathing out on the in, but I’m sure that’ll come in time. The fact that the piriformis stretch I performed so inadequately during pilates, has already shown benefits is very positive.

stretch pilatesJayne has recommended I have an assessment with a local physio, to see where I’m at with the Achilles and everything else. I had been avoiding this (as basically I probably won’t want to hear what they’ve got to say) but I know I should book some sessions, especially now as I have started increasing my mileage towards the 30K mark. I’m working hard to include core, strength and stretching into my routine and I continue to roller even though it can be excruciating. Frequent massages and strapping is maintaining my form, despite my ankle being achy after a long run. Pilates can surely only help and the reformer pilates seems like something beneficial which I will actually enjoy. Time will tell 🙂

“Love what you do, Do what you love!”