A race on New Years Day

I run mainly because I enjoy primitive low tech interaction with the natural world, and also because I enjoy the occasional fleeting experiences of powerful efficiency when I get into a good rhythm. I also quite like the extra spice provided by racing – the challenge of achieving a personal best and the psychological contest with the other runners – though the battle is mainly with one’s own psyche. Last year I ran only two races and I have decided that this year I will run a few more races.

Today I set out for an easy 18-20Km run to Attenborough. Shortly after joining the riverside path heading northeast towards Clifton Bridge I could see a family – dad, mum and two young girls – on bicycles about 500 metres ahead of me. What better day than New Years Day to implement my plan for more racing, so the race was on. I didn’t know how far we would be racing, and the family were starting with two advantages: they were already 500 metres ahead, and they were on bicycles. However I also had two secret weapons: While I didn’t know whether the race would be over 3 Km, 5 Km or 10 Km, they didn’t even know they were in a race. Secondly, I knew that about 2Km ahead was the gate to a field that was home to two friendly horses. Sure enough, I overtook them in time to hear the younger daughter saying ‘Goodbye horsey’ while dad was pushing onwards toward the up-ramp to Clifton Bridge with a demeanour that said: ‘We’ll all freeze to death if we hang around here patting horses’ I strode into the lead up the long incline to the bridge, but about 600m later, coming off the down-ramp, dad and elder daughter whizzed past me at a speed I could not have hoped to match. I turned southwards along the river bank towards Attenborough while the family continued onwards towards Nottingham. I was still ahead of mum and younger daughter. So my first ‘race’ for the year could be considered a drawn match.

With regard to more serious races, although my current level of aerobic fitness is not great, I will stick to my plan to build up my speed to a moderate level in the near future and run a few shorter races in late winter or early spring, before settling in for some longer distance training in the summer and a half-marathon race in the autumn, with a ‘gold standard’ target of 96 min and a ‘silver standard’ target of 99 min.

holmepit3-5may08

Running and stress on the knees

In his comment on my blog about adjustments to my running style to deal with my knee problem, Andrew wondered whether he had enough patience and knowledge to adjust his running style to eliminate his knee problem. The human body is complex and each individual has a unique history, so tackling any serious musculoskeletal problem must start with individual assessment by a qualified professional. However, there are also some general principles of running style that can help reduce the stress on the knee. Adjusting running style requires some patience, but the challenge of mastering a skill can be in itself rewarding. With regard to knowledge, there is a lot of information available in books or via the internet, but if possible it is best to get a well-informed coach. The big challenge is finding the right coach, and it is probably best to do some searching of internet sources beforehand so that you can ask the right questions of a potential coach.

I did quite a lot of searching when I decided to adjust my own running style. There are quite a lot of modern schools of running technique. Reassuringly, they almost all agree on some of the key features for high performance, such as short time on stance, but they differ in regard to features that influence the amount of stress on the knee.

For example the Dutch BK method (http://www.runningdvd.com/content/en/) advises against substantial flexion of knee and ankle at footfall but instead favours a relatively rigid leg to maximise rapid recoil and minimise time on stance. This might be optimal if speed is your highest priority, but I suspect that it places a lot of stress on muscles and joints, and in my search for a technique that is kind to the joints, I decided that it was not the method for me.

On the other hand there are several modern methods that do favour a softer landing. These include Stride Mechanics, Evolution Running, and Pose. In my opinion, Stride Mechanics is the most soundly based of these methods, and Pose the least. Because I have a background in both physics and physiology, I decide to try to incorporate what I regarded as the most sensible of the ideas from these schools of thought (together with the ideas of Gordon Pirie) into a coherent framework based on the principles of physics and physiology. The current version of my synthesis is described in the series of articles under the heading ‘Running: a dance with the devil’ in the side bar of this blog. I cannot yet claim that I have proven that these ideas have led to an improvement in my own running, though they appear to have alleviated my knee problem. Furthermore, I cannot offer the type of guidance and support that a commercially developed package can offer.

Therefore, if you want a comprehensive package, I suggest starting with the material on the Stride Mechanics website (http://www.stridemechanics.com/) and consider buying the book.

The most fully developed commercial package is provided by Pose, developed by Nicholas Romanov (http://www.posetech.com/). I have spent a lot of time exploring Pose and doing my best to put the method into practice. I have been on a two day course run by Nicholas Romanov. In those two days I was fascinated but also somewhat appalled by what I perceived as psychological tricks designed to convert us into disciples. However, I was also very impressed by the intuitive grasp of running mechanics of one of the Pose coaches present (Dr Mark Hainsworth) and I learned a lot from him.

My conclusions about Pose, after much reading, thought and practice, are:

1) It does reduce stress on the knee. This was confirmed in the study by Arendse and colleagues from Tim Noakes laboratory in Capetown (Medicine and Science in Sports and exercise 36(2):272-7, 2004)

2) The recommendation to land on the forefoot increases risk of injury to the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. This was apparently also observed in the Capetown study, according to Ross Tucker, one of the scientists involved (see (http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/09/running-technique-part-ii-scientific.html), but those findings were apparently never submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In the 2004 edition of ‘Pose Method of Running’ Romanov has decreased the emphasis on forefoot landing, but many illustrations in that edition still show an exaggerated forefoot landing that creates a high risk of Achilles or calf injury.

3) The Pose principle that gravity provides the energy for forward propulsion is misleading. It implies violation of the law of Conservation of Energy. However, despite being misleading from the theoretical point of view, it might well have the desirable effect of discouraging unnecessary muscle action and thereby reduce the risk of injury. On the other hand, it might also discourage beneficial muscle action and therefore result in less powerful performance – in comparison with approaches such as the more muscular BK method.)

4) The Pose principle of landing under the centre of gravity (COG) is actually impossible to achieve while remaining upright, except in the presence of a substantial head wind, because if the foot is only grounded when beneath or behind the COG, the body will acquire an increasing amount of angular momentum in a forwards and face-down direction on every stride and a face-down crash within a few strides is inevitable. Nonetheless, trying to achieve the impossible goal of landing under the COG might in practice be helpful as it does discourage over-striding (reaching forwards with leg immediately before footfall, which is undoubtedly inefficient and injurious).

5) The available evidence indicates that in the short and medium term, Pose results in a decrease in running efficiency; that is, it requires more energy to maintain a given speed (See http://www.sportsscientists.com/2007/10/pose-running-reduces-running-economythe.html). Although many elite athletes have experimented with Pose, as far as I can establish very few have substantially improved their performance after taking up Pose. The British triathlete, Tim Don is sometimes quoted as an example of a Pose success because his running performances improved during Romanov’s limited tenure with the British Triathlon team, but apparently Don no longer persists with orthodox Pose technique. In contrast, Debbie Savage (Australian 800m runner) continues to be enthusiastic about Pose and is a Pose coach.

6) Nicholas Romanov’s claim that the same technique can be applied irrespective of pace is misleading. When sprinting (or for that matter when running a 10K in less than 27 minutes) it is probably best to land on the forefoot without grounding the heel, but for a moderate standard marathon runner who takes more than 32,000 steps while running a marathon in 3 hours, it might be better to allow the heel to touch ground during each step to avoid repetitive strain injury to the Achilles tendon.

So, on balance, I would only recommend Pose if you can find a coach who understands its positive points, but is also aware of its potential pitfalls. But best of all would be a coach with an intelligent grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of all of these approaches to efficient running.

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One Response to “A race on New Years Day”

  1. Andrew(AJH) Says:

    Thanks again for the very detailed notes for my knee! I think I might try and track down that Stride Mechanics book here, or order it off their site!

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