Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Stuck in Limbo: How to enjoy water running

If you read my last blog post, you would have seen that it has been almost a month since I have been out for a run.  I watch countless weekend runners out for early morning runs as I am on slow bike rides, thinking that sometime soon, I can do the same.  I can only dream about stretching my legs out in perfect strides while I enjoy the beautiful fall colours on a trail run.  Dreaming however will not help me recover or maintain fitness, so I have had to employ some necessary cross training measures, namely deep water running.

Deep water running is one of the things that injured runners always talk about,  but are never eager to do (just like cross training on bikes).  It can be deathly boring and extreemly tiring, two factors that make this a debatable workout choice for injured runners.  I however, have found a few ways to make deep water running more interesting and provide a solid workout while I am injured.
Tip #1:  Don't use a foam water running belt
True water running does not constitute the use of a floating device while you run. You are not signing up for your grandma's aquafitness class (no offence to my grandma who is a committed blog reader).  You are performing the running motions under the water, and are activating the glut muscles when you pull back through the water.  Not wearing a belt will get your heart rate much higher, and lead to a better overall workout.  If you feel like you might drown, hold onto the edge and practice the leg motions.
Tip #2:  Don't use your arms to keep you floating
Now that you are in the deep end without a foam belt, you need to use your legs to keep you up, not your arms.  Tuck in the elbows, and keep the arms bent at 90 degrees, making a fist with your hands.  Save your arm muscles for the swimming workout, and focus on glut activation and proper technique with the legs.  The motion is like doing high knees, kicking out the lower leg, and then pulling back with the foot facing the bottom of the pool (like B's for you runners).  By eliminating excessive hand motions, you will help eliminate sloppy form and will get better leg motion and activation.
Tip #3: Don't lean forward
More often then not, you will find yourself leaning too far foreward when you water run (especially you cyclists).  This may help you go faster down the pool, but that is not the goal.  Water running is meant to provide fitness, but also provide an oppurtunity to focus on good technique.  Good runners will not be hunched over when they run, and this should also be the case in water running.  Focus on having a straight back, with the shoulders relaxed and pulled back.  The shoulders should be in line with the pelvis, and the feet should pass directly under your perfectly straight upper body.
Tip #4: Find someone to run with
When I was just starting out with water running, I was helped out by some of the veteran members of my XC team, who were also injured and experienced water runners.  We also had our coach watching us from the side of the pool, giving us tips on our form, and timing us for intervals.  Watching someone who has good water running form in person can help boost your own technique, and make you much more relaxed in the water.  Having someone to run with also helps eliminate boredom and helps the time to go by much faster (My 50 minute run today went by really fast since I was talking to my water running partner the whole time.  Also having a few female french exchange students wearing bikinis come into the slow lane helped keep things interesting....)

I have no idea whether water running will help with my actual running when I slip the shoes back on.  I find that my water running workouts are very difficult and surprisingly fatiguing.  During intervals, I can get my heart rate to around 160-170 BPM, but usually hover in the 120-130 range.  My legs definatly feel the fatigue of water runs, but at the same time, it is also very easy on the joints, so it is a good workout for injured runners (or those who don't like the pounding).  If you are thinking about starting a bit of water running, do it in combination with a swim workout.  This way you could do a workout where you feel comfortable, and then move on to a totally different workout.  My first few attempts at water running were far from pretty, but I stuck to it, and my form has improved significantly (and my enjoyment).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

One step back, Two steps foreword

After a full summer of triathlon racing, my body was in need of some time off after the lakeside olympic distance triathlon.   The last month of training had been intense and I was probably clocking upwards of 20 hours per week.  I had managed to stay injury free throughout the season, and decided it would be beneficial to run with the York XC team in the fall.  Signs of overuse however were beginning to present themselves, like a small pain in the shin or a bit of burning in the knees.

These small pains seemed to carry over to XC running, and although the pain in my shin was persisting, I was told I could probably run through it.  I decided to push the envelope by racing at the Western Invitational, an 8km XC race, less than a week after my last tri.  I felt a bit of pain in my shin during the warm up, but decided to race anyway.  Less then a mile into the race, I felt a sharp stab of pain, and suddenly discovered I couldn't put any weight on my foot.  I had to stop racing, and watch my whole team run by before I got picked up by a passing golf cart.  I was in agony the rest of the day, and nothing helped relieve the pain.  Now almost three weeks later, I have been through intense swelling, stinging pain, and relentless discomfort (maybe exaggerated a bit, but it felt pretty bad).  I spent a week and a half on crutches, and am only now starting to put weight back on my foot.   Dealing with setbacks can be tough, and this was no exception.

Just having been through the thanksgiving season however, I have come to terms with my situation, and have shifted my focus towards the more positive aspects of my injury.  During my time on crutches, I let my body rest, and only trained with easy pool sessions to help keep me somewhat active.
Ups and Downs

After about two weeks, I started my comeback plan.  The first step in my recovery is to start a strengthening program to get my muscles stronger and better prepared to deal with the high physical demands of running.  I introduced some basic exercises that did not put strain on my shin and I can already feel the progress.  Step two of my recovery is introducing a periodized schedule.  When I get back to regular training over the winter, it will be important to train smarter, and not overdue it to the point of injury.  I will be working with the running and swimming coaches at York to help improve my swimming and running form for next season.  I will also be enlisting the help of experienced triathlon coach Richard Pady, who will help me with the planning of my workouts and overall training.  By implementing these steps, I hope to use my injury as a learning experience, and as a motivational factor to recover from my setback, and propel myself back up.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Behind the Scenes of "elite" triathlon

Blog Note: For the now four of you now reading, I'm trying hard to have good punctuation and spelling in my blog posts.  Spelling mistakes are inevitable, and the fact that all my tests and exams are in multiple choice format doesn't help.  Hopefully it doesn't deter anyone from reading...

On race day, the outward composure of an "elite" level triathlete seems far from stressed.  Although someone like myself may appear to be calm and have a plan on race day, there are lots of things going on behind the scenes that may cause you to think otherwise
Most first time triathletes will get very exited the week leading up to the race, and will pack their bags a few days prior to the event.  I tend to do the opposite, waiting until the night before the race until I even take my bag out of the closet.  I got better as the season progressed, but my worst late night packing adventure was for the Binbrook triathlon.  I got a bit distracted from my packing by playing a few too many games of ping-pong, and by the time I finished it was close to 1:00am.  Considering that I was going to be waking up at 4:45am, it was defiantly not one of my better-planned packing jobs (I did manage to win the race though).
I have also found that there is a potential for the pre-race setup to go quiet wrong.  Most first time racers will have bad dreams the night before the race of doing something like forgetting their timing chip, or not brining an essential piece of gear.  During the Wasaga triathlon (modified to DU), I did both.  Due to high winds and a looming storm, racers were banned from using any disc wheels, which of course I had installed on Francesca.  I do have other wheels, but unfortunately, I left them sitting by the front door.  This led to a huge pre-race scramble for a non-disc rear wheel, and was only cleared up five minutes before the start of the race.  In my rush to the starting line, I also managed to forget my timing chip, having my second mess up of the day before the race even started.
There have also been some interesting moments in transitions this past season that were unexpected.  My most recent mishap occurred at the lakeside triathlon, where instead of running straight to my bike as fast and as smooth as I could, I took a big detour into the tri a tri transition area.  This was a bit embarrassing, considering before the race, I was introduced as an elite, only to make a classic rookie mistake.
Perhaps my favourite behind the scenes moment to share is a look at what happens to my room after a race.  Most people would assume that as an elite, I am just as efficient at putting away my gear as I am at using it.  Here’s a look at my room three days after the race:

Shoes, helmet, clothes, and my bikes (Francesca on the right)

Two weeks later, the scene hasn’t changed (minus a few pairs of underwear).  So there’s a look behind the scenes of “elite” triathlon racing.  If you are new to triathlon and you are afraid that some of these things might happen to you, don’t let it deter you from racing.  Even "elites", who appear to be so confident, are just as susceptible to chaotic moments that no triathlete wants to deal with.