I have always considered my petite little derrière to be one of my best features. Until, that is, my running form was put under scrutiny of late by a couple of physiotherapists, firstly by Keith Allen-Shirtcliffe at Witty, Pask & Buckingham and, latterly, Iona at SPEAR Physiotherapy in Aberdeen Sports Village.
Now, I have to admit, that before embarking on my role as a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador, I would likely never even have considered visiting a physio. However, as far as my running is concerned, it has to be one of the best things that I have done.
I was fully aware that my running ‘form’, and I do use the word ‘form’ in the loosest possible sense, was fairly far removed from anything bordering on athletic. I did, however, think that my ‘ultra shuffle’, was a fairly efficient, if not somewhat slow, style that got me from A to B on anything from 5k to 95 miles.
That illusion was shattered on my first visit to the physio when, if memory serves me correctly, there was at least an element of surprise that I had managed to complete any ultramarathon distance! That first appointment was hugely enlightening but also, I have to admit, somewhat overwhelming. Keith’s sharp eye soon identified flaws and imbalances in my body as I stood there in nothing more than a pair of shorts. What’s more, that was with me stationary. We hadn’t even gotten as far as the treadmill!
I left that appointment with a great deal of admiration for Keith and for his profession in general. I still find it quite amazing that someone could look at me and identify all manner of flaws, weaknesses and imbalances. Granted, there’s a lot of training and experience to get to that stage but still, it’s quite a skill.
Some basic stretching confirmed the initial diagnosis and then it was on to the treadmill to see just how this all impacted on my running. The findings were equally grim!
It turns out that my ultra shuffle has more in common with walking. There’s a definition of running over at www.thefreedictionary.com that reads:
“To move swiftly on foot so that both feet leave the ground during each stride.”
The ‘both feet leave the ground‘ part is the fundamental thing that differentiates running from walking. Video evidence showed my ultra shuffle had both feet off the ground for no more than a single frame of video, whatever fraction of a second that might be! (I really didn’t want to depress myself any further by asking at that point!)
And yet, when I left that first appointment, after some 1.5-2 hours, I still felt positive, testament to Keith’s other skills. I left armed with a different approach to running, with a number of stretches, and with some exercises specific to the weaknesses identified. Admittedly, the suggested running form felt quite ‘prancey’ (for lack of a better word!). However, just weeks on from the appointment, it is slowly starting to feel more natural and is most definitely more efficient. As soon as I adopted the suggested changes I found that my previous running speed felt too slow and the video evidence immediately suggested an improvement in overall form.
By all accounts it will take approximately 1 year for my new form to feel entirely natural and, while I am certainly more comfortable with it, I do find myself reverting to the ultra shuffle on occasion, and especially when tiring. It’s just one of those things that I am going to have to slowly work on and improve upon.
So, what exactly was identified as being problematic and what is my new running form?
Just for the record, I am no physio. In fact, I can barely name the muscle groups in the legs that I task with getting me from A to B on a daily basis. As such, what follows, is my attempt to distill down all the facts from my physio appointments into a succinct explanation of the problem.
Essentially, I have what is a relative glute weakness, where:
“the function of the Glutes is overshadowed by the disproportionate strength of other muscle groups, built up due to habitual movement patterns and poor technique in training which creates strength imbalances.” (Kinetic Revolution – Glute Weakness)
In layman’s terms, that petite little derrière that I mentioned way back at the start of this post (see, there was a point!), is actually less ‘petite’, more accurately ‘underdeveloped’, at least relative to the surrounding muscles. And, as everyone tells me:
“The gluteus maximus plays a significant role throughout the running technique, including propelling the body forward and maintaining proper torso alignment.” (Livestrong – The Human Gluteus Maximus & Its Role in Running)
It gets worse. Not only is there an overall glute weakness. It turns out that it is worse in the left glute. At this point I have to ask myself:
- how on earth did I manage to get in this situation in the first place!
- how did I manage to end up with one glute weaker than the other! (after all, it’s the same butt at the end of the day!)
So, I am under utilising one of the largest and most powerful muscles in my body and, what’s more, this is impacting elsewhere in my body, causing all manner of strange compensations and, over the past few weeks, niggles.
Back to the running form.
My suggested running form includes far greater use of the arms to try and propel myself along. There’s also far greater use of the legs, moving away from my favoured shuffle in favour of a more sprung, energy efficient form that involves getting both feet off the ground for a longer period of time. That’s a total simplification but, suffice to say, it resembles something considerably more athletic than my previous form.
- Improved form
Technically I should be in a great place right now, gearing up to meet my PUMA PB Challenge race at the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow on 6th October. Technically!
I ran faster than I have in years at the Moray 10k a few weeks back, matching speeds that were last attained by a much younger, lighter me some 5 years ago!
This, I believe, is testament to the excellent support that I have received in my role as a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador. From the excellent nutrition advice from Sarah at Mac Nutrition, that highlighted that I actually needed to eat more, not less, to achieve my long sought after weight loss; from the meticulously thought out training plan provided by The Running Bug’s Hayley Munn; from the physio advice and support, firstly from Keith and now from SPEAR Physiotherapy; and, last but definitely not least, from my fellow Running Bugs, spurring me on to make the most of the amazing opportunity that I have been presented with.
Unfortunately, 3 weeks out from my PB Challenge event, I have to admit to being injured, which has impacted on the last 3 weeks of training. Ironically, it would appear that the very weaknesses outlined above are the cause. I have a persistent throbbing in my right leg that is aggravated by walking and, especially, by running.
Talk about terrible timing!
It would appear that my attempt to improve upon my running pace may actually have exasperated the weakness that has long been there. The increased effort of intervals, progressive runs etc, combined with attempts to rectify my poor running form, have actually aggravated issues, resulting in the intense pain of the past few weeks. (Again, this is just my take on the words of the physio).
However, I am now back receiving regular physio treatment which, with a bit of luck, should resolve the acute pain and get me back training and, further, should aid my efforts to rectify the weaknesses explained above. Ultimately, the aim is to become a much stronger, more efficient, and more evenly balanced runner.
Other than a single achilles injury, I never really considered myself as ‘injured’ the whole time that I was running ultramarathons. However, looking back on the past few years, I did experience persistent ITB issues in my right leg, more often than not during rather than after the event. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, this further highlights the impact of the weak glutes and, in particular, of that particularly weak left glute.
Had I not visited a physio, I would be none the wiser with regard to my imbalances and weaknesses. Chances are, as I stepped up my efforts to improve my pace, I would encounter more and more niggles. Thankfully, I am in a much better position to meet the challenges ahead and to try and address these issues which should hopefully lead to injury free running.
As for the PUMA PB Challenge. 3 weeks is a long time. 4 weeks out from the biggest race of my life to date, the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, I suffered an achilles injury and yet I still managed to complete that race. I have every intention of doing the same with the Great Scottish Run and I have not given up on the goal of a PB come the 6th October.
I hope that all of your PB challenges are going well. With a bit of luck, your path towards that elusive PB will be a bit smoother than mine has been these past few weeks!