Yup, it’s official. I’m that guy who can’t stop talking about his diet and all the benefits it brings and how much it has changed my life. Damn. I’m about to start doing it again here as well! Pretty soon I’ll be telling people about the power of positive thought…egad!
Today’s insight comes as I am flying to Whitehorse for work. I have this pattern when traveling by plane of suddenly having really bad eating habits. I eat more sugar, crap food, and spend way too much money in doing so. But I have not had too strong an urge to do so on this trip. There could be multiple factors, but if I didn’t explain this by the ketogenic diet than I couldn’t be that guy who explains everything by his diet, now, could I?
So I am in the Yukon for 8 days to talk seed with local growers and community groups and am quite looking forward to it. But this isn’t a work blog so I won’t elaborate…so let’s get back to running
One of my running goals this year was to race in several different cities and to run whenever I traveled somewhere. I had races in Seattle and Montreal already this year, and may head to San Francisco for a race in October sometime. I hadn’t thought much about racing in the Yukon – mostly because I didn’t think there would be much opportunity. But I wanted to make something happen as I will actually be missing a race in Vancouver which I really wanted to compete in – 5 Peaks Buntzen Lake.
I was not optimistic about finding something but, lo and behold, Sunday September 20 is the Terry Fox run which takes place across the country, including Whitehorse! So I registered for the 5K race, bought a couple of shirts and am trying to race some funds in the process (ahem, hint hint). Run time (more of a run than a race, methinks) is 1:00 pm, which should give me enough time to run and then get ready for a talk/presentation I am giving at 4:30 in Whitehorse. I am usually in very high spirits after a race (regardless of my placing!) so a run before a talk is likely a very good idea!
Interestingly, this run time is rather late in the day for a 5K, so I’ll need to be careful of how I eat in the morning. Early morning races don’t leave much time for food so it’s hard to mess that up (though I somehow manage to do so often).
I don’t anticipate any diet challenges while in the Yukon, but I did pack a few items just in case (and to save me some money):
- Coconut oil, to ruin my morning coffee
- MCT Oil, for salads
- Stevia, and
This seems a like a good little kit to have to help avoid cheating or slip ups!
Anyhow, back to the run. I did some reading and did not see anywhere that the run will be timed but I have my Garmin with me so can record any runs I do anyway. I will try to run the 5K at race pace (though am prepared for a more casual run if the situation calls for it!).
My best 5K time this year was in Montreal at 19:55 at the end of May. I did 20:10 in Seattle a month or two earlier. I did not eat well before the Montreal race so feel it could have been better and do hope to improve on that time. The forecast is for rain and cold tomorrow so that could be a factor. But if it is not too rainy or too cold then it may be helpful as I do not run well in the heat. If I feel good and conditions are good, I’d like to drop another 10-20 seconds from my time and plan to get sub-19:00 in SF later in the year (I’ll come back to times and training later in this post).
I may have also had a breakthrough in my running technique that will be more beneficial in a road race than on the trails. I do a lot of reading and frequently come across the same info in various wording, and thus only of minimal use (though different perspectives on the same topic are helpful). One thing I read not too long ago really stuck out for me. It was regarding stride.
There are lots of things written about stride in running literature. A few of which I have been working on quite a bit:
- Run on balls of feet or flat footed and avoid heel strike
- Shorten stride and increase cadence
- Increase arm speed to increase leg speed (this gem from my friend Patrick DeSousa!)
- Find power from your glutes
This is stuff I have worked on and seen definite benefits. The thing that stuck out recently was on focusing on what your legs do when they are behind you, not in front of you. Runners are often focused on where their foot strikes and being careful not to overstride. But what is happening behind us is equally important.
Now there are various running techniques to consider – and when to use what technique. One technique I saw early on was regarding the path of the leg and foot. Basically, when you are bringing your leg and foot forward, you want to lift the foot high, so it crosses at the knee before coming down to strike. I call this is a full stride.
Contrast that with what, I think, is a stride used by ultra-runners – where the foot is kept low to the ground with little lift at all. I seem to see this a lot when watching what I am sure are very good runners training at a rather slow pace.
I have thought about these two contrasting techniques a lot as I had imagined the low-to-the-ground stride would use much less energy and effort. This could be true (though perhaps not) but it comes with some drawbacks:
- Low to the ground strides are very short strides, perhaps shorter than ideal for shorter distance races
- The risk of tripping on uneven ground seems higher
- This shorter movement looks like it limits muscle contraction range and could cramp muscles
That is all speculation on my part – which I will do further reading on.
The full stride technique seems to offer some advantages:
- Results in a longer stride (even though we may aim for shorter stride and higher cadence, lengthening the stride over time results in more distance covered per step)
- On trails it reduces the risk of tripping
- The wide range of motion is good for fully utilizing muscle potential
But my discovery around the benefits of this stride come in relation to some warm up exercises I frequently do – butt kicks. Simply kicking the heel back and letting it hit your butt. You can do this on every step, though I often do it with every third step. An important part of this warm up is to let the foot relax as it comes up to the butt. In fact, I notice I can’t l actually get a good “butt hit” without relaxing my foot and often do not start a run until I am getting a good hit on this warm up.
Obviously, relaxing the foot is a means of preserving energy – which makes me think when properly executed, the high-foot follow-through stride is more efficient than the low foot stride.
So while running a few weeks ago I had noticed, while running, I could feel the same sort of sensation in my stride that I felt when doing the butt-kick exercise. I was relaxing my foot, and basically letting gravity and my forward motion carry my foot back down to the ground. The technique still feels quite strange to me, and is very difficult to maintain on uneven ground, but it feels very efficient and when I get into it I almost feel like a machine. So this warm-up technique is starting to affect my stride – and, once again, to get back to the topic at hand, this comes from focusing on what is happening with my stride behind me.
So this is something I will be working on tomorrow, to see if it really helps get me in a rhythm and a more efficient stride. I still have to get used to the stride as it feels very much like my front leg is shooting forward which seems intuitively counter-productive. But obviously the leg has to come forward (!) and as long as it is shooting forward at knee height, when it starts to come down it will be heading backwards again. The technique actually makes me feel like I am running backwards in a way, if that makes any sense. So I will play with this a bit tomorrow and make notes of how it feels over the course of the run and see how my time is!
I feel this is a technique breakthrough – probably the third one I have experienced, the others being foot placement (still evolving, but no longer heel striking at all), and arm movement (using arm speed to increase speed instead of legs – which obviously follow suit).
Another gem I got from Patrick this week was on training. Now, technically, I train a lot – but life makes it hard to focus and to keep a rigorous training schedule. I am doing a lot of cross training on the bike right now, and probably not running as much as I would like, or need to, in order to improve my race times.
I have been using a 80/20 technique – mostly low intensity with some high intensity training, but still feel something is missing. I feel good in races but also feel I could be going much faster and much faster at the end of the race as well. So Patrick suggested the Tempo run – runs that are just below race pace with distance and time increasing over the course of a training cycle. Hearing him say that made something click right away, and it felt like this may be a missing piece in improving my overall race performance.
I actually feel the bike cross training is somewhat like a tempo run as I do maintain a good hard speed for the duration of my rides and really use them to increase my pain tolerance to sustained climbs or fast straightaways. But I need at least one, if not two, good Tempo Runs a week as well.