Friday, January 18, 2013

Avoiding the "shuffle"

When I came back from my hip injury last winter, after a diagnoses of "dead butt syndrome", I decided the vacation was over for my glutes. Hip rehab got me back to running, but from there my instinct said I needed open up my run stride a bit and give the glutes their job back. It was a subtle change, not to the point of over-striding, but simply allowing for more drive and "kick". It seemed to work and I had a season of healthy and fast tri-running.

Related to this, I think we need to take steps to stave off the onset of age-related stride shortening - the "shuffle" - which is related to declining speed. I tried to find some publicly available recent peer-reviewed research on the effects of age on running stride length, but didn't readily find it and didn't have the time/patience to devote to the search. I did find this excellent piece on "Running form: How you can become a better runner without increased fitness - with the right form." It pulls from Dr. Nancy Hamilton's research and explains that the decrease in stride length is primarily related to range of motion and flexibility issues.

Speed is a function of cadence and stride length. There's a sweet spot in there for each of us and the trick is to minimize deterioration in either/both, especially late in races and as we age! Here are some things I think will help fight the "shuffle" in me, and maybe you:

Speedwork. To run fast requires a high cadence AND a powerful open stride. I played around with this the other day on some intervals and figured out for myself that cadence alone was not enough to run fast. Speedwork will naturally bring about lengthening of the stride.

Awareness of Form. I'm working to maintain cadence and this open stride late in runs. When I start to drag, I tell myself to "reset" and mentally search for that free-flow feeling I get following a short rest.

Flexibility. I'm back to rolling and stretching at night. Tightness/lack of flexibility, particularly in the hip flexers and quads, contribute to a shortened stride.

Strength. I'm back to leg work at the gym including lateral work/hip strengthening.

One of my goals in this marathon prep is to maintain good form through fatigue, fight the onset of the marathon shuffle, and try to stay "open" even in the final miles of long runs. By "open" I am not describing a gigantic lumbering stride, but one that is relaxed yet propulsive, lacking inadvertent braking forces, flowing, playful, and free. I imagine my 10-year-old on the soccer field, dashing about, colt-like. That's what I mean. It's the anti-shuffle.

oh, the pain of the marathon shuffle in the final miles!

the natural freedom of the 10-year-old's stride is beautiful