PUMA PB Challenge 3 Weeks And Counting

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:

  1. how on earth did I manage to get in this situation in the first place!
  2. 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
  • Exercises
  • Stretches

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!

Bottles Vs Bladders

When it comes to hydration while out running, you basically have the option of bottles or a bladder. I used a bladder for a long time before converting to bottles. Now I run with handhelds and/or backpacks that are capable of carrying water bottles. The North Face Enduro 13, Salomon XT Wings 5 & UltrAspire Kinetic are all examples of this kind of pack, holding two easily accessible bottles.

The Salomon XT and North Face Enduro packs are also capable of holding a bladder but this is something I would only do for long, unsupported ventures where there was a possibility of running out of fluids.

Why do I prefer bottles?

Mixing your drinks

Nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with your ability to carry something different in each of your bottles. For a while I would just carry blue Powerade but, after a while, I found myself hankering for plain water. I then started using High 5 tablets which were easily carried and let me mix up my flavours so that I did not get tired of the same flavour. Of late I have tended to opt for 1 bottle of plain water and 1 flavoured with a High 5 tablet. The options are endless and all down to personal preference, as a quick google search will back up. Popular drinks included:

  • Water
  • Electrolyte drinks (High 5, Nuun, etc)
  • Powerade
  • Lucozade
  • Ginger Ale
  • Coke

I know that some runners like their Coke and Ginger Ale flat but I can’t say that I am a fan of this. There is nothing, however, to beat the lift that a small can of full on fizzy Coke or Ginger Ale provides at a checkpoint (or at the end of a race!).

Easier to fill

There’s no faffing at all when it comes to filling bottles. They can be easily passed to support crew and, if you have enough bottles, can be rotated to make the checkpoint process even smoother, handing over the empties in favour of pre-prepared bottles. You don’t even need to remove your pack – something you generally need to do if refilling a bladder.

Easier to see

When using handhelds, you can see exactly how much (or how little) fluids you have left and can determine how much fluid you should consume based on this. This is the main drawback of bladders as far as I am concerned and I have seen me come home from a run in the past when I have been using a bladder with 3/4s of my fluids left in the bladder, all because I was ‘being cautious’ with my fluid consumption!

Easier to tip over your head!

It may sound like a waste of fluid but sometimes there are days when you just need to give your head a good soaking. Have you ever seen anyone do this with a bladder? Nope, neither have I. Enough said!

Less to carry

Depending on your kit requirements, you could even ditch the backpack altogether and run solely with one or more handheld bottles. I tend to sweat a lot and running without a pack is one way to reduce this. Handhelds are especially useful for shorter runs or runs where there is not a great distance between checkpoints. Running with handhelds can actually give the arms a bit of a workout as well! Finally, have you ever heard of chaffing from hand helds? If you don’t need to run with a pack then you certainly don’t have to worry about the pack causing any chaffing!

Ice, Ice, Baby!

Possibly now out of season for this tip but, if you are likely to be running any distance on a hot day, partially or completely filling a bottle with ice should guarantee you a refreshing cool drink miles down the trail.

Salomon Sense Hydro S-LAB Set

New from Salomon, a different approach to handheld hydration, as demonstrated on the Castleberg Outdoors website. The combination of a glove like holder and soft flask offers all the benefits of handheld hydration but without the need to carry bottles. The Hydro S-LAB has been used by Salomon athletes over the past year and looks like it could be far more comfortable than traditional handhelds. The Hydro S-Lab set should be available from early February 2013.

Winter Hydration

Remember to stay hydrated when out training and/or racing. You may not feel thirsty or be sweating as much as usual but staying hydrated in the cold is important as your hydration needs are similar to any other time of the year.

7 Sleeps

Only 7 sleeps to the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. It’s quite a thought that this time next week I will be about to embark on my longest run ever, by some 40 miles. I have been in discussion with my support team and with Ian Minty, my support runner, and I am feeling good about everything.

After a physio appointment yesterday my Achilles niggle got the all clear which is a great psychological boost. There is some scar tissue, most likely from the injury that I picked up at The Cateran Trail Ultramarathon, but the Achilles itself seems ok.

Given that the pain had subsided, I did feel a bit of a fraud taking up an appointment slot but it was reassuring to hear that my Achilles is unlikely to cause me any issues on the day. I was really impressed at the physio service. So, 7 sleeps and counting!