I packed up all my crap for my Tantalus brick today (including lunch- no easy task!) then got in my car, backed out of my driveway, attempted to shift into drive and... nothing. Did you know the shifter cable on your car can break? I didn't. But it can! So off my car went to the Nissan dealership... and my whole morning went with it. Blah.
Back in the fall I was running 50-60 miles/week. Now I'm running ~1/2 of that. So how is it possible that I'm running faster? I have my theories! Let's see if I can type them out in a coherent way...
I've often thought that my lack of run speed can't be a fitness thing. I mean, shoot, I've been running consistently for years and I run a ton more than lots of gals who can run faster than me. So the obvious answer there would seem to be to do more 'speed work'... but when I do speed work inevitably I end up injured (as do many athletes!). And I just haven't often seen great success in long distance racing when (most) athletes focus on speed work on the run. So there had to be something else.
I figured it had to do with efficiency of movement. So many times in races I've found myself working HARD and getting passed by gals who just floated by... GAH! So there's all sorts of information out there about run form and efficiency... often focusing on heel striking or whatever. I think heel striking probably isn't ideal but I don't think that's the root of the problem. More like its a symptom. I started really paying attention to the way it looks when real runners run vs when non-runners run (I put myself in the non-runner category). Runners have this beautiful hip extension that non-runners do not have. Bobby McGee has done a lot of explaining about run form and he talks about how some runners look like they are "running with their butt in a bucket". I was definitely doing that. And I also just felt like every time I landed on the ground I would just sink into it... while real runners would land on the ground and spring right up into their next step with seemingly no effort at all. From the sunken position I was in after every step I had to work really hard to push off every time. Something just wasn't right about that.
So you hear all sorts of stuff about how important hip function is in running and how the glutes are the prime movers (or should be). So Glutes play a roll in hip extension because they are the muscle that theoretically should be driving your leg back. So I would stand in my kitchen and drive my leg back but my glute was never doing any of that work. My hamstring was doing it. How was I supposed to get my glute to do it? I really wasn't sure. But I kept experimenting with different things trying to get it to do what it was supposed to do and I figured some things out along the way. Fwiw, I don't have any degrees in this stuff- in fact I learn just about everything I know by following smart people on social media and reading the things they post and I think I'm pretty good (at this point) at filtering out what is spot on vs what is bullshit. Anyway, here's what has been working for me:
~First off, have to get flat hips (Lawrence van Lingen is the PT guy who I follow on Twitter and he harps on this). If pelvis is tilted front or back, glutes just aren't going to be able to do their job. I think mine, like many people's, were tilted forward... which is caused by tight hip flexors and quads which we get from sitting a lot and that can be in a chair or on a bike seat... So ok, to fix that have to first go after the hip flexors and quads. Read that as: Couch Stretch Daily. It took some time and I did some other stretches along the way, but I think I have resolved my pelvis tilt issue. I think until this is resolved nothing else really matters (like the strength stuff you do won't work like it could so don't even bother with the strength stuff until pelvis is flat and neutral). Lawrence constantly says that we should not be applying load to hips that are dysfunctional. I'll go out on a limb and say that my hips were dysfunctional throughout the fall and I was applying load every day in the form of running and eventually they just said Nope! Not gonna take it anymore. So if I wanted to start running again I really was being forced to figure this stuff out.
~I've been writing about all the hip/glute exercises I'm doing so won't go over all of the again here, but really, I've been consistently spending 10-20min/day doing targeted glute and hip strength stuff. I was trying to think if there's one exercise I think is the magic bullet... not sure there is just one? I think a combination of exercises is important, and if you do any research you know there are a TON of them out there, so really, pick like 3-5 that you like (and that you can do properly) and feel like are effective... and do those all the time. I would say that for me the single leg squat might be my #1. That one is tough though b/c to do it correctly you have to have enough flexion in your hips and ankles and many people don't have that... If you don't you'd have to go back to basics and get the flexion in your ankles before really being able to nail single leg squats. Anyway.
Now I can stand in my kitchen and drive my leg back and glutes turn on immediately to make that happen. Woot! Seems like this turns on a whole cascade of events that allows for way more efficient running form. So this is what I was thinking about as I was running today- it wasn't like a conscious effort to change run form, it was just about having functioning glutes, which required flat hips/neutral pelvis. But today I just felt like I was floating and like everything was stable and I wasn't sinking into the ground wth every step but rather springing forward more like the way a real runner would. It was super cool! So I don't expect this to overnight change me into a fast runner but I do have hope that maybe I'll get a bit more bang for my buck in being able to use my run fitness if I'm moving more effectively when I'm running. We'll see I guess. It worked today! This was the fastest I've done my gardens run in ~4 years.