Running hit a wall last August. Tapering from a high run volume in preparation for ITU Long Distance Worlds I strained my calf. Two kilometres from home on an easy run I felt a pain that would persist for the following months. The damage wasn’t severe, but frustrating in its continual presence whenever I ran. The natural response of rest did little to eliminate the problem and the layoff extended from weeks to months, putting pay to a strong end of season.
Optimistically I imagine that over winter I could easily return to running. The time would be available for a gradual build, carefully managed to avoid aggravating the calf. I wanted smooth progress, but experienced repeated interruptions and set backs. Despondent at my apparent inability to train without straining my calf I turned to cycling to fill the gap. My previously strong run leg was becoming a weakness.
It has taken a long time and a number of set backs to reach the point where I accepted I needed advice. Yesterday I had my first session with James Dunne of Kinetic Revolution – an hour on a track filming me running and studying the results in slow motion. This analysis is the first step to successfully rebuilding my run. He could identified a number of weaknesses and issues which likely contribute to my repeated calf strains.
Before I ran a single step James and I discussed my history and perception of my run technique. I had an awareness of a number of potential problems in my stride, but lacked the certainty to pinpoint the issues. My hips seemed unbalanced, I was sure my left foot lingered on the ground too long and my glutes and hamstrings were simply lazy. I would have described my technique as efficient with a few flaws. Watching the playback was revealing.
The analysis process was simple, after a warm-up I performed four laps around the the track – two at an easy training pace and two faster. The differing speeds would allow James to observe changes in my gait that may occur when I’m racing. At each pace James filmed me from behind and the side so he could see exactly what was happening. He also observed me around the track and noted my left foot did spend longer on the ground. In less than a mile we had all the data required.
The footage showed some of my preconceptions were right whilst at least one was surprisingly wrong. From behind he noted:
- I pronate (0:15 – 1:15 in the video), but not outside the bounds of reasonable movement.
- My right heel lifts slightly higher than my left (0:15 – 1:15) – a sign my hamstring and glutes aren’t active in raising my foot.
- My left hip drops when I transfer weight to the right foot (0:50 – 1:15) which would limit my ability to use the glute and hamstring in that part of the stride.
- At higher pace (1:15 – 2:25) the same flaws are largely visible though the hip collapse is slightly less pronounced
Then from the side he observed:
- I heel strike (2:28 – 2:30)! I lightly touch down with the heel and rapidly transfer to the toes; light enough I have no awareness it happened.
- I over stride (2:25 – 2:50), my foot lands slightly in front of my body creating a braking force.
- At pace my legs trail behind me (2:25 – 2:38); I’m using my hip flexors and quads to carry the leg through to landing. Again my glutes and hamstrings aren’t engaging in lifting my foot, momentum carries it up and through.
- My arms are low (2:25 – 2:50) and have a minimal swing driven from the whole upper body. I’m wasting energy and not using my shoulders.
Lots of points to address. The limited use of glutes and hamstrings is putting most of the workload on my hip flexors, quads and calf muscles. Combined with the collapsing left hip my left leg is working harder than the less stable right leg. The repeated strains in my left calf, particularly with intensity, are likely a result of this extra stress. Deconditioned from months of minimal running it’s not been handling the load well.
Identifying these flaws has given me renewed confidence. Over the next few months I’ll work with James on drills and strength work to develop and improve my technique. We’ll be looking to engage hamstring and glutes in actively lifting my foot; eliminating the over stride and developing a forward lean; and improving movement in my upper body. Correct technique should reduce my injury risk and I see the potential to take my running further. Becoming more efficient means expending less energy, better technique means faster for the same work.
After months struggling without real direction I’m optimistic. I’ve repeatedly used video analysis, drills and technique work to improve swimming, but this is the first time I’ve applied the approach to running. Clearly there’s the potential to refine my technique and make strides in performance. I should have started down this path much sooner!
From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.