Standard #3 – A Supple Thoracic Spine

Before kicking off with the third standard, I am putting it out there that I well and truly fell off the ‘Ready To Run’ wagon. There is a bit of stuff going on in my life, but as Kelly puts it, ‘no days off, no excuses’. I have signed up for a 100km trail run/walk with three mates in June and being only 10 weeks away, I am determine to put in the time required to be ready to run.  I am now officially back on the wagon and am committing to 30 days straight up, apparently that is the magic number that will help set/achieve your goals (Matt Cutts: Try something new for thirty days).

Q: Do you have a pliant, properly organised thoracic spine? 

“The 12 thoracic vertebrae of your middle back are not to be forgotten. While runners tend to think a lot about the muscles and joints from the lower back down through the feet, the thoracic spine, or T-spine, is crucial when it comes to being able to sustain a neutral position in your long-distance running.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

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After doing ok with the first two standards, it is time to get down to business. I am not an office worker and don’t spend hours on a computer, but I do know that my T-spine is tight. Reading this chapter has really highlighted the fact having a tight thoracic spine can mess up my whole system and someone that has struggled with lower back issues, especially when running long, I am starting to see the bigger picture. Also the fact that if I am running with my shoulders hunched forward and head jutting out over my faulty upper back position, I am bleeding away power.

Plan is to be more aware of how I sit and move throughout the day, being conscious of keeping a neutral spine and not hunching over when on the computer or reading. I will also be incorporating Kelly’s mobility exercises into my daily routine.

Key Motivation

“If the T-spine is tight and out of whack, then all the power that you have flowing from your hard-earned six-pack and taut flute muscles is going to get squeezed off. A tight thoracic spine gums up your posterior chai, and you can’t get your shoulders and head into a good, aligned position, which transmit strain into your neck and lower back. It can also mess your hip function, so stresses will seek and creep their way into the usual suspects: knees, ankles and feet. And the longer you go into a run, the more your form distintergrates and the uglier it gets.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

Other tips I got from the chapter

  • The modern runner is often the desk athlete and unless you vigilant about positions, that’s a big problem.
  • Pooping Dog position = a person (runner) slouched over a screen. After doing this for 40 – 50 hours a week, it can feel very normal and lead to a rounded upper back, with head jutting out in front, similar to the Hunchback of Notre Dame or our mate Monte Burns!
  • A tight thoracic spine can lead to issues such as neck pain, shoulder mobility problems, lower back pain and loss of power.
  • Having a properly organised upper spine and shoulders takes less energy. This means less energy needs to be expended by the muscles doing the work of keeping things stable and lifted.

Standard #2 – Flat Shoes

Q: Do you wear flat shoes? 

“This standard is as uncomplicated as it is robustly effective: When you wear shoes, wear the flat kind. If you’re walking the red carpet on Oscar night, fine, go ahead and wear a shoe with a heal. Once in a while is ok.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

This is a standard that I score well at, but it has not always been the case.  I was a chronic heel striker, wore out the heels of my running shoes first and was told by a fellow runner that he could hear me coming/slapping from a mile back. I vividly remember finishing the 2010 Gold Coast Marathon in motion controlled shoes and could hardly walk at the end. I had chafe on the inside of my knees where they had rubbed together (not good) and it took me weeks to recover. This experience lead me to read books such as “Born to Run‘ and follow guys like the Sock Doc and Dr Nick Campitellie. I slowly made the transition to a zero drop shoe and have not looked back. I now spend most of my time in a minimalist shoe, such as Altra’s Adams, and whenever possible, especially around the house, get about barefoot and love the feeling of being grounded/earthed, which has many benefits.

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Key Motivation

“It may seem like a minor deviation that your running shoes (for instance) have half an inch more cushion under the heel than the forefoot , but this seemingly minor tweek is like messing with the springs or a race car. It screws up the whole system, and at some point, the wheels are going to burn off’.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

Other tips I got from the chapter

  • Heel striking is aided by wearing a running shoe with a big fat chunk of cushion under the heel.
  • Small children don’t heel strike until early on in school when they spend hours sitting and wearing shoes with a heel. Put them in a flat shoes early on and keep them there (Barefoot Power & Children’s Shoes: 7 Crucial Guidelines for Parents).
  • Barefoot Saturday – spending one day a week barefoot as much as possible – is good for both you and for your kids.
  • Flip-flops? just say no.
  • Change is going to take time – there is no overnight fix.
  • Include running drills/skill work and mobility exercises into the transition process.

Standard #1 – Neutral Feet

In his book Ready to Run, Kelly Starrett introduces 12 standards that I will use to complete a thorough assessment on my state of readiness to run. There is a comprehensive explanation about all of the standards, with each chapter containing a key question, a key motivation for reaching the standard, a briefing and a segment named ‘runner to runner’, which outlines co-author TJ Murphy’s own personal experiences as an endurance athlete. My aim is not to rehash each chapter, but to test myself against each standard and see how I measure up. I will also include a section outlining key tips/bits of advice I got from reading the chapter.

The first standard is neutral feet, so here goes…

Q: Are your feet habitually in a neutral position? 

“A neutral foot position simply means that when you’re standing, walking, or running, your feet are straight. They aren’t pigeon-toed in or splayed out like duck’s feet. They’re straight.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

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After reading this chapter I have consciously been looking down at my feet often throughout the day in all states of movement and checking to to see if my feet are aligned. I am happy to say that I have done ok on this standard and reckon my feet are aligned about 85-90% of the time. When they are not, I make sure I align them, and go through Kelly’s bracing sequence, which works well in getting me back into proper position.

Key motivation

“By maintaining your feet in a neutral position while standing, walking, and running, you’re setting a stage for efficient movement, defined as the way your body was engineered to move. And when you move your body in the way it was intended to move, you reduce the stresses that lead to injuries and worn-out joints.” (Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally)

Other tips I got from the chapter

  • Modern living practices, such as long periods of sitting, hunched over looking at smart phones and computers are debilitating practices that work together to weaken your feet and collapse your arches.
  • Going out and spending big money on overbuilt running shoes designed to restrict natural foot motion only serves to deepen the issues people have with their feet.
  • Flip-flops and high-heeled shoes create artificial stiffness in the ankle. (I have not worn flip-flops since!)

 

 

My journey to holistic running

I have always been interested in trying to better myself as a runner and have listened to many different podcasts, read lots of articles and trawled the net for advice. This is not always beneficial as it can get overwhelming and confusing, but there are definitely some people along the way who have had a huge impact on my running and health. I’m often singing their praise to anyone who asks and/or is (or pretends to be) willing to listen, so for my own benefit as much as others’, this post documents my most trusted and respected sources of running and health wisdom.

Through one of my favourite podcasts, Trail Running Nation, I first heard about a guy called Steve Gangemi aka The Sock Doc. His article, The Sock Doc Training Principles was a revelation and helped me understand how to train and the importance of putting your health at the forefront of everything you do. It started me on a journey to try and optimise my running, as well as thinking about other parts of my life, such as nutrition, stress and recovery. I then discovered Phil Maffetone and read his book, The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, which further cemented my understanding of the importance of having health as a foundation and optimising your training.

To cut a long story short, over the past few years I have slowly changed our diet (as the designated cook in our family) to a more paleo/banting way of eating. Using Phil Maffetone’s method of heart-rate monitoring in combination with a higher fat diet, I was able to improve my metabolic efficiency/fat burning capacity. I developed an ability to go longer and longer on my runs without the need for food and have minimised injuries along the way. More recently I have taken a greater interest in how I run, probably kicked off by Chris McDougall’s inspirational book Born to Run, which I have read twice. This lead to me to further read on the topic, coming across guys like Eric Orton and Dr. Mark Cucuzzella at the Natural Running Centre (a great resource).

The arrival of our beautiful little girl Sylvie last June, along with starting up a parkrun in my local community has meant a shift of focus away from the longer stuff to the 5km distance. I also started training with Thompson Estate Athletics and for someone that previously shied away from speed work and shorter distances, I have throughly enjoyed the experience and have managed to shave time off my 5km PB.

So now to the present moment. For the past couple of months I have been listening/reading up on Crossfit Endurance, which has lead me to people such as Brian Mackenzie, Kelly Starrett, TJ Murphy and Dr. Romanov. They are all interesting, experienced, educated and passionate guys and all believe 100% in their philosophies around training and running. One underlying message I have got from all of them is again the focus on health and building a strong foundation to stay injury free and keep running.

I am keen to further explore and discuss each of their philosophies and training techniques, but at this stage am going to focus on Kelly Starrett. I am reading/re-reading his book Ready to Run and must have listened to 5 or more podcasts in which he was interviewed. In a nutshell, the book is about getting a person ready to run and using essential standards (12 to be exact) to prepare the body for a lifetime of top performance. I have been lucky throughout my time running that I have not suffered any major injuries, but know in my heart that I have a number of mobility and range of motion issues. I have dabbled with different movement systems such as Yoga and Pilates and been to a number of physiotherapists, and through my own doing have never really followed through with any of these and so wound up back at the beginning. I am determined to make real and lasting change, hopefully preventing injuries, boost performance and most importantly ensure that I can keep running well into the future.

So, time for action. I am going to firstly assess/test myself against the 12 standards and see where I am at. I know for some of the standards I am way off the mark, but that is ok and I’m not going to let it get me down. The first standard will be neutral feet … here goes.

Northburn 2014 – There in spirit

After my DNF last year at NB100, there was no question that I would be back, I was just not sure when. I remember vividly at the prize giving when Terry said that everyone who was part of the miler could grab a spot prize, I kindly declined the offer as in my heart I had not completed what I came to do.

Not finishing in 2013 was disappointing, but I can honestly say that I would not change a thing that happened. It was by the far the hardest thing I had ever attempted and if I wanted to find where my limits were on that day, my goal was definitely achieved. I learnt so much from the experience and even now, nearly a year on, I still reflect on the race and the impact it has had on me as both a person and runner.

I did another couple of ultras in 2013, but have made the decision in 2014 to step away from ultras and focus on becoming a better runner and athlete. There is also the case of the little bundle of joy that will be joining us in July and promise to my wife I would be around to help and not out on the trails! I have revamped my running style/technique which has done wonders to my 5km time, incorporated more strength/cross training and made eating well part of everyday life, not just around races. I must admit I feel better than I ever have and know I will be back in 2015 a better athlete and more mentally prepared for the task.

I sincerely wish all runners taking part in 2014 the best of luck and if you are after some advice, mine would be, make the most of the checkpoints and seeing your crew (it’s a long time between drinks), stop and smell the roses (the views and terrain are out of this world) and connect with other runners on the course, they are an amazing bunch of people. I am already excited about my return in 2015.

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Northburn 100 – 2013

You don’t race it, you survive it.

Well folks, Northburn 100 has well and truly come and gone and after much deliberation, reflection and procrastination I would like to share some of my thoughts and feelings from the experience. I must admit there were moments early on after the race that I struggled for motivation and felt pretty flat. I suppose when you build up to something for so long and invest a lot of time and passion, it is hard not to come down to earth with a thud. Some of you will know that I didn’t achieve what I set out to do, which was disappointing, but I gained so much from the experience and a key reason I do this stuff is to test my boundaries (so in a way, mission achieved). It being my first ever DNF was a bit hard to swallow, but I made a promise to myself as I made the final decision to pull out at the 100 km mark that I would not dwell too much on the negatives and come back a stronger, more focused runner/athlete.

Right back to my early days in ultra-running, 100 miles has been a distance that I wanted to test myself against. Choosing something as brutal as Northburn for my first ever 100 miler was a bold and maybe slightly naïve decision, but I would not change it for the world! I wanted my first to be an adventure of a lifetime and an unforgettable experience and Northburn did not disappoint. As soon as I heard about the race last year, read personal accounts from runners and viewed images captured by Paul Petch, I was hooked and knew that I had to be part of it.

Views on first loop.

After struggling with my recovery and motivation after last year’s Tarawera 100 km, I put a lot of thought into how I was training, my diet and most importantly ensuring that my running would be sustainable, fun and of health benefit. I focused a lot on lower intensity running and as a result became a more efficient runner; combined with a (not very strict) paleo-style diet, my fat burning capabilities increased no end – I stripped of a lot of body fat, could go hours on the trail with little food and was pretty much injury free. In hindsight, focusing so much on building a strong aerobic base and neglecting the other aspects of training, such as strength work, was a mistake … but for me it was still a worthwhile journey.

At the start line on day before big race

At the start line, day before big race.

I came into Northburn feeling in pretty good shape. I had a solid block of training under my belt, had a good hit out at the Kepler Challenge in early December, and was confident of the task at hand. I had plans in place, strategies for when the going got tough and a great support crew made up of Tanya and members of my family.

She rocks!

She rocks!

I had people around me that truly believed I could do this thing and I was again humbled by the messages of support and goodwill that I received. My sincere heartfelt thanks go out to all those people.

Contemplating what lies ahead.

To the race itself. The first 50 km loop went well and I was enjoying being out there and soaking up the views. I climbed strongly and was doing my best to find a good rhythm, not wanting to overdo it early on. The moon-like scenery at the top was out of this world, the downhill quad smashing and being sent out on the 11 km loop of deception only a stone’s throw from the headquarters/checkpoint, mind bending. It was the toughest 50 km I had ever done; the realisation of the task ahead was sinking in.

Focus on keeping warm

Focus on keeping warm.

At top of Loop 1

At top of first loop.

Amazing landscape!

I arrived at the headquarters feeling ok, but in hindsight this is where maybe things started to unravel. I was in race mode and didn’t really stop to think about the fact that this was the last time I would see my crew for maybe 10-12 hours and that I needed to make the most of this stop. Tanya tried her best to get me to eat and get my shit together, but I think I was in too much of a rush to get out of there. This strategy has worked for me in the past, but Northburn is a different ball game. I needed to switch into survival mode, especially for a middle/back of pack runner like myself.

Getting ready to go out for second loop

Getting ready to go out for second loop.

Thinking the first loop was tough, I was in for a rude awakening heading out onto the second loop. The climb up to TW (top aid station) was unrelenting and mentally I started to struggle. It was concerning that the negative thoughts were creeping in so early in the piece and I was spiralling downwards. Paul (my pacer) was working hard to keep me motivated and focused, but I was starting to pay for the lack of nutrition and even though I knew that, I still struggled to take stock of the situation and do what I needed to do, such as eat and keep hydrated. On reflection, there was a part of me that didn’t want to do the last 60 km loop, so by not eating and drinking I could justify to myself pulling out at the 100 km mark (what a mind f***!).

We made it up to TW and I half heartedly took some food on (still not enough) and left for the loop of despair (a 13 km loop back to TW, 6 ½ km down and 6 ½ km up) knowing it was going to be a make or break section. The sun was by now setting and the views back down onto Lake Dunstan and Cromwell were spectacular. I started to feel ok again and had some good conversations with Paul. It got dark and colder on the climb back up and by the time we hit TW again, I was seriously thinking of pulling the pin. I knew deep down this was not an option (I could never live with myself) and Paul would not have allowed it anyway🙂. This was when I made the deal with myself that I would go on, but pull the pin at the 100 km mark. In a way it was a relief and my whole focus now was on making 100 km.

From TW back to headquarters was bloody tough. There were times along the top of the course you could hardly walk because of the wind and were literally being picked up and blown off the track. There were moments I seriously thought there was a jumbo jet taking off behind me and yes, I did have a look. After we finally got off the ridge we had 14 km of downhill to the end, which on tired legs was tough.

Happier moments!

As I came in to headquarters, the first person I saw was Tanya and I think she could see in my eyes that it was over. Dad had only shortly before chatted to Tanya about being prepared that I might pull the pin (parent intuition) and it was a pretty emotional moment for us all. I was asked to stay at the tent for an hour by the medical staff, due to losing 3 kg, and after a vomit and sit down, I was able to start taking on sips of water and the only thing I felt like eating was pizza. I was eventually allowed to leave, in the good care of Tanya and Dad and headed back to the motel, mentally and physically exhausted. On a positive note, I came away with no blisters, no chafing and pulled up remarkably well the next day. Probably a good indication I had mentally fallen short on the day, which I knew was a huge part of the race, but now have a much better understanding of just how big a part.

I made sure I spent Sunday afternoon welcoming in 100 mile finishers, which in itself was inspirational and motivational. One person that sticks in my mind is Peter Wardle, who having never previously run longer than 80 km, completed his first ever 100 miler. Like others he pushed through some serious physical and mental barriers to finish the race well into Sunday evening. It is guys like Peter that make this sport so special.

Peter finishing his first 100 miler

Peter after finishing his first 100 miler.

A big shout out to the organisers and volunteers, you were amazing and I can only see the race going from strength to strength. What makes the event so special is that it brings together such a diverse bunch of people that all have one thing in common, they are passionate about what they are doing. It is a recipe for an amazing experience and to be surrounded by so many inspirational people, all with their own stories, is intoxicating and keeps you coming back for more (yes Terry, I have unfinished business).

Kokoda Challenge 2012 – Jim Stillman Cup

I thought being on the eve of ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand, it would be a good opportunity to share my next adventure in 2012.

I first took part in The Kokoda Challenge back in 2009 with another three mates and it is an experience that has lived on with me since then. The challenge is held on the Gold Coast Hinterland and has participants trekking 96km on a course that leads along fire trails, crosses 12 creeks and summits 5,000m of vertical elevation. The goal is to finish as a complete team of four in honour of the spirit forged on the Kokoda Track in 1942: mateship, endurance, courage and sacrifice.  

It was great being part of a team, helping each other out when the going got  tough and sharing the experience with family and friends who came along and helped out on the day. We definitely had our moments, but achieved our number one goal which was to finish as a team and all intact. We clocked in just under 19 hours and were as proud as punch to receive our dog tags and do our little bit by raising money for The Kokoda Challenge Youth Program (KCYP).

Since starting work at The Centre Education Programme in 2010, I have dreamed of entering a group of young people in the Kokoda Challenge and it looks like 2012 is the year. I have four young people in my class who have committed to taking part in the Jim Stillman Cup, which consists of walking the last half (48km) of the track. This will be one of the biggest challenges these boys have faced and hopefully one that will have a postive impact on their lives. We have set up our own committee and will be starting fundraising in the next week or so and training officially kicks off this Friday. I will also be doing my best to source decent footwear (or funds to buy decent footwear) for my young people as this is out of reach for most of their families.

Our goals are to finish the challenge as a team, embrace and understand the values of mateship, endurance, sacrifice and courage , raise a minimum of $300 for the KCYP and show other young people that anything is possible. Already one of the boys is talking about doing the full 96km next year!!

For me, I feel a responsibility to prepare the young people to the best of my ability ensuring they feel part of the process and a team. I know people will be watching closely to see how go, but am confident we can pull it off. Anyone can go onto the team page and check us out (and donate if you want) and support Team CEP in our quest to be the first team from our school to complete the challenge. Here we go…..

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