Wednesday, August 29, 2012

a long absence...and a come-back (or actually 2)

I must beforehand apologize with those 2-3 people who sometimes read my blog: I have not been posting for very long, mainly because really busy with the work, but also because I really had a totally uneventful summer... no races, no particular running experiences to share.

well, then maybe because of that (un-eventfulness...) I just piled in run after run, trying to survive the scorching summer heat, without making too many plan.
I gave up the idea of running the Berlin Marathon (despite having already paid 100EUR of registration) because it did not match well with our family plans and now I am just putting ALL my cards in the Fukuoka Marathon on December 2nd.
I do not have much more to ask to running, apart from eventually lining up for a marathon injury free and well prepared to tackle a PB. And this year, I know I am close to my last shots.

Now that the rant is over, I can just summarize that:
- somehow I had a good consistency during the summer, with many weeks over 100k and some decent workout
- I focus a lot on stretching and strengthening to reduce the risk of injury and it seems working until now.
- My right hamstring seems now almost ok, but I know I have to work more on glutes activation, strength, etc, etc

I also committed to cut down on sweets, soda, etc to trim down a couple of Kg in time for race day...I was definitely 2kg over my normal weight in July, but now I am back to normal, and still some work to do.

Relaxed and focused...

So last Sunday I somehow hit an intermediate target into this path.
At the Chung Hing 10K Cup I felt the same positive vibes as in the summer of 4 years ago... and it was like being back to my best period....

The photo is the award ceremony for the Top 6 runners and I am the one on the right.
With huge satisfaction, I finished 6th overall in this very loaded race, just behind all the very best runners in town.
People familiar with the HK running scene will easily recognize the faces of the other guys, but is enough to say that the Top 4 are/were all HK record holders over different distances and then is me...
To top my personal satisfaction, my friend Stefano also come-back from injury with a boom, taking the 2nd place.
It has been 4 years since we went to a podium together and it has been a troubled 4 years for the both of us, but now we are back...

Some more about the race: the course is out-and-back flat along a catch water and being August in HK, the temperature at the start was a 29C with 70%Rh...
At the start, I realized that ALL (and really ALL) the best runners in town were at the start line and I was even wondering how I could have deserved an Elite bib for such a race...
Said that, we started relatively slow and somehow we reached the 5k turnaround in 17'40" in large pack of 11-12 runners. I was feeling good and my stride was quite effective, but under that heat, the last 5K were going to be "long"...
T.K. and Stefano were already clear ahead, but for our pack after the turn-around point, the fireworks lit up and the pace increased suddenly. I knew that I had absolutely to hang out tough with the remain of the pack as long as I could to make a gap with the runners left behind and then try to keep a decent pace once I would have been dropped myself (once you are in a group where the other runners have a 5K PB of 14'xx" you know that you are going to be dropped sooner or later...).
As for the script, at 8k I was really done to follow them and went at my pace, which was anyway enough to close in 6th in 35'01" (with a 5k-10k split of 17'20")...
In comparison, 4 years ago, I was entering into my best running season (which ended unfortunately very soon anyway) and I run in 34'57" at the same race (temperature was similar)... so very encouraging.

Now keep going and I will try to update more frequently, also with more general news about running in the area

Monday, June 4, 2012

4 years later...

The very few people who have been following this blog since the inception, know that that in the September of 2008 I won a 10000m  track race at the HK Track League. At the time I was really at the top of my game, in really amazing shape (for my standard). That was also the beginning of a quick downfall , among injuries, more kids, etc...
4 years later, I am still trying to go back to that level of fitness or at least to run 6 months without injuries and see what I can do...

So, last Saturday, I toed the start line for the 10000m of the Round 3 of the HK Track League with no special expectations apart doing a good workout after 2 months of only easy running.
As sometimes it happens in the life, it was one of those days where stars aligned in my favor....
All the "tier 1" runners (well...5-6 in total in HK) decided to join the meeting but on shorter distances, being obviously put off from the idea of running 25 laps in the mid of the afternoon with 28C-29C/80%rH... (on top of that, the local Kenyan runner arrived too late for the start time !)
So the start list was mainly of "tier 2" runners like myself, for example including the likes of HoKi who this year run 2h36' for the marathon and so on... so a solid competition for my level, but nobody really "untouchable".

Once the gun went off, I realized that the pace was something manageable for me and I positioned at the back of the lead pack, just letting the laps go until we hit the 5k mark in something around 17'30"...
Paul, the coach of the National T&F Team was very kind to shout us the laps and soon after the 6k mark, I realized that we were slowing down lap by lap, that the 83"/84" were more and more 85"/86" so I did decide that it was maybe time to seize this opportunity and avoid the race going down to the last 2 laps or worse (where I stand no chance)...
I made a move, putting down 2 fast laps and eventually I realized that I was alone... at the front of the race.
There were still 8 laps ahead of me, and that gave me plenty of time to think about all the past 4 years, about the heaviness in my stomach caused by the lunch (never ever have lunch before an afternoon race !), about what to do if I was caught near the finish, about my hamstring and so on...

At the last 4 laps, I just put my head down and tried to keep my cadence high and sprint at every straight.. the lunch felt almost ready to go out and I still had time wondering if vomiting a lunch could take less than 10-15 seconds....
It was all made more difficult by being totally not clear on how much gap I had: there were many lapped runners and everybody was wearing more or less the uniform of the big local 3-4 clubs (WAC, TCAA, LW..)...

The bell felt like a liberation because only 400m to go...
Somehow I pulled out another 81" lap and the finish was there... I was winning a track race 4 years later... near to turning 43 y.o. and with 3 kids on the stands.

I know that I had a good dose of luck, but the awareness of my (poor) standard is anyway not a problem to enjoy this personal success against injuries and the advancing age...

For the record, this time I pulled out from the closet the same shoes as the last win...these Mizuno Ekidens confirm themselves as "winning shoes" (I guess they scored 4-5 victories in about 10 uses) and ended up with the same blisters from the boiling hot rubber track as the last time...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I am still too young...

Last saturday I had the pleasure to join other fellow runners in the 5th Memorial Malcolm Phillips 5km Race, which is the only race in the territory to use "age graded" timing to classify the runner...
So, once you run your 5K, all the times are equalized using the WADA tables. In this way, also Veteran runners have a fair chance to win the race...
So it is a bit tricky to "younger" runner to pace the effort, because you never know if some "old chap" running in 21' is anyway ahead of you in age-graded terms.
Anyway a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon and I was curious to see where my fitness stands after 2 months or relaxed training.
Running at 4pm in Summer on a very hilly course in SaiKung is not exactly the recipe for a PB, so I just aimed to push the pace from the start without caring too much of pacing and the risk of blowing up...
To cut it short, I run at the front with another guy, until I decided that he was suffering more than myself, so it was time to attack.. I cut the finish line 1st in 17'11", which is really a positive surprise considering the heat and hills...
Once the results were out, I ended up 2nd (with an equalized time of 16'00"), missing out the win by a mere 6 seconds to a 62-yo runner who completed in a very respectable 20'07" equalized to 15'54"..
So I still have another 20 years ahead to eventually win this race.....
All the top 5 Women and Men..(the winning women was a GB International in her prime, marathon PB of 2h32'...) 

The effect of running at 4pm + the added dehydration of putting down some coffeine to digest the lunch were that from 4.20pm to 8pm I probably drank 4-5 liters of liquids until my stomach could not take it anymore...

At least another week of summer gone...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Running Gait Analysis, my experience

Long overdue... here a (hopefully useful for someone) kind of review of my visit to StrideUK

So... early September of 2011, having a spare afternoon to spend before the flight back to HK, I fixed an appointment for a gait analysis with StrideUK, based in Hove (which is basically a suburb of Brighton).
The most challenging part was reaching Hove from 50km away... surviving the appalling conditions of the British roads/traffic... with countless traffic lights, intersections, small villages etc... to arrive on time. I guess that cycling there would have taken less. Anyway...

In line with my "engineer" style, I will try to keep it short and in bullet forms
DISCLAIMER: I did not receive anything from StrideUK for this review. I paid for the analysis on my own (which was a non negligible 160 GBP).
These notes are  only my personal experience which can guide the reader to have a similar analysis done somewhere else.

  • How it works
    • Well, basically I was left in shorts and I got markers on all joints, etc. Then we proceed to:
      • some static analysis of the posture
      • flexibility test of different segments (calves, hips, etc).
      • warm-up on the treadmill
      • cranking up the pace up to Marathon speed (so I was running at 10mph...) and I had to run first 10-15 minutes to get into a "tired" stride and thereafter start video capturing:
        • barefoot
        • with shoes without orthotics
        • with show with my own orthotics
        • frontal, back and side shots of the postures
      • getting dressed
      • discuss the results with the analyst
      • receive and discuss prescriptions (with demonstrations) about specific strength and/or flexibility exercises, etc
      • Also receive a recommendation for the type of shoe which could fit best the running style
      • I eventually got a nice report with also a CD with all the video of my analysis
  • Level of the equipment: I would score it 4 out of 5
    • In a scale up to 5, I would give 5 to the equipment of the lab profiled in this issue of RunningTimes... obviously that is "space lab" level. So we are somehow below that level but with all the right equipments. I particularly remarked the special treadmill used for the analysis (from Sprintex):  a German product and the motor is actually at the back of the treadmill, so in a sense the runner is actually "pushing back" the belt (more similar to the reality of running) rather than the standard treadmills where the belt is "pulling your feet back". Also the belt is not actually a belt, but a succession of wooden plates similar to the tracks of a tank (slat-belt). The feeling is really good and very near normal running. Plus a proper set-up of video-cameras and related rigs.. So it was a solid set-up (I saw some labs trying to do running gait analysis using "home fitness" treadmills with max speed of 12kmh...)

  • Attitude of the analystt, score 5 on 5
    • Mitchell, the owner, really stands out in the crowd of the all the gait analyst which I met until now. Why ? because he took a "white sheet of paper" approach, without any pre-assumption on the needs of orthotics or this or that kind of shoes. Different from many labs, where  a way to get extra income is pushing the envelope for this or that insole, he is not connected to any insole/orthotics manufacturer. I was incredulous when he told me that maybe I could even run without orthotics because my feet (despite hitting the ground at an angle), do not actually roll at all during the pushing stance. So we went through the whole process checking my static posture, barefoot running, running with shoes, etc and later discussing the images together so that I could also give my own opinion and understand the "why" of each image. We spent almost 2 hours together and he really made me understand the how and why of each step.

  • Outcome:
I really would like to avoid to make a self-centered report of the working of each of my joints, so just take my personal case as a lead of the type of output which you could get from a similar analyst:
  • Flexibility test: poor result. My squat is really limited because of poor flexibility of calves and hip/glutes muscles. In retrospection, this poor flexibility has been a major driver of my injuries until now because stiff calves obviously lead to more strain to achilles tendons and the hip mobility seriously affect my stride cycle in the right leg. So the prescription was for Stretching and Foam Roller daily (!!)...
  • Posture: like most of "office workers", the pelvis is tilted, with tight hip flexors and tight quads. Prescription: either change the type of job (unlikely) or stretching the muscles...
  • Leg length difference: a certain difference was measured. We verified that putting 2-3mm under the right leg made the body feel more balanced. So the suggestion was to add a heel lift of 3mm (NOTE: the outcome of this action has been mixed...I am at present very dubious about the overall benefit of adding a heel lift, because it affect my pelvis tilt.. )

  • Running (either barefoot or with shoes), back view

As you can see from the photo at the left, my foot hit the ground with quite an angle from the vertical. There is nothing I can do about it, it is related to my bow legs (see previous post on the matter). 
The major drawback is the added strain on the Achilles and also that all the impact load goes to the inside of the shoe.
So I have been always naturally attracted to use shoes with "anti pronation" devices, not really because I felt the the need to control the movement of the foot, but rather because being of more solid material in the inside they could remain in "good shape" a bit longer. Neutral shoes would get all tilted inwards after few miles of use...
I also have some custom made orthotics designed in a way to try to align the leg and the ankle during the run. 
Now, the interesting bit is that looking at the same stride a bit later in the movement, just before the tow-off:
you can notice how the feet did not actually tilt inward more or with the ankles rolling-in like it happens to real "pronators" (of which Mitch showed me an example). 
So system foot/ankle/leg remain "aligned" (well.. in a broken line) during all the contact with the ground.
The same back view wearing shoes (with and without orthotics) confirmed the pattern.
Hence, the analyst did come out with the suggestion that I might not really need orthotics at all.

(in retrospection, looking again to these images after few month, I did come to a personal conclusion:
the tilt of the legs while hitting the ground put anyway a lot of load in the inner part of the foot. I suspect that my problems with the sesamoidis are related...
So I feel that probably the best set-up for me is:
- running with "support" shoes (Mizuno Nirvana, Asics Kayano, etc) without insoles for easy / short runs (definitely support shoes with orthotics is a kind of overkill)
- running with neutral light-weight show (aka marathon shoes or lightweight trainers) PLUS orthotics for hard workout, long runs, serious training, races, etc... that should make a good balance between efficiency of the stride and the need to contain the "inward" forces during the landing phase (forces which either quickly destroy the shoe or my foot (or both)).

this is what happen to a pair of neutral lightweight trainers under my "care"...

  • Running (either barefoot or with shoes), side view

that was quite interesting: despite believing all my life to be a "heel striker" (see evidence from a race in 2008), things evolved a bit and my "running stride" improved after years of training...

 Actually now my leg lands on the ground with the foot in almost ideal "full foot" strike. The foot can dorsiflex at the very last moment for an almost ideal landing !!
The gait pattern seen from the side is much better of what I had expected.
Also the analyst remarked that I do run "almost" in proper form.

The main remarks:
- the pelvis is tilted anterior
- the right glute is not activating fully, so the movement of the right leg is not as fluid as the left one.
- Not enough strength in the glutes / hips, etc so you can notice  how much the upper part of the body "collapse" during the stride

- interesting to see how while running barefoot the landing is completely "flat footed", with no sign of heel striking as in the "with shoes" version...
This is another demonstration on how the best  way to improve the stride and eliminate "heel striking" is to get rid of those heavily cushioned trainers and run in lightweight racing shoes !! (while the barefoot running movement has reasonable conceptual fundamentals, it personally think it is a bit too far for most people and for sure not suited if you must run on concrete !)

Running (either barefoot or with shoes), upper body

 It is evident from the pics that my hips/glute strength is not enough and the other part of the body is "collapsing" during the stride.

So... at the end I got a good dose of feed-back on areas of improvement: stretching, flexibility, strength training, etc calibrated to my particular issues...
it is clear that some fundamental "weaknesses" (the bow legs, the inward pressure on the feet, etc) are not going to be solved with any exercise or therapy, but this is also why we are not all running fast like Bekele.. "Choosing the parents" is always the main driver...

Overall I felt that I was satisfied of the visit... for me, it was money well worth.
I would have like to have even more time to try all the possible configuration of shoes/orthotics that I have, but 2 hours is already a solid chunk of time.
In particular, if you are near Brighton, I would endorse StrideUK as a very good gait analysis lab...
It is clear that for similar gait analysis, the #1 success factor is related to the experience and the attitude of the analyst... if you end up in the wrong hands, there is no level of equipment which can alone generate a good analysis

Now, if you are running without injuries and you are satisfied of your running, most likely you can save yourself the hassle and the money and keep on going like you are already doing.
But for all those runners, like me, which might have something not working properly and are afflicted by injuries and poor running, it is probably worthy to open the wallet for a gait analysis and find a long-term sustainable solution, rather than ending up spending the same on physiotherapists, unsuitable pairs of shoes and most of all, being out of action...
Myself, I have now very clear what I should do... the only problem is finding the time to keep up with all the recommendations.
It will be nice to have reports from other people who had similar experiences with gait analysis, I will try to add them at the bottom of the post !

Happy Running!!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Season not totally over..still time for some race...

on the "podium" as winning team... we are already grooming future talents..(3 kids on the lefts are mine)
Saturday we had the pleasure to enter our club in the "AVOHK 30th Anniversary Team Race".
AVOHK is one of the pillar clubs of the HK running community and I was their member before going on to set up the Italia R.C. with other friends...
Anyway, the formula of the race was quite interesting:
- each team formed by 6 runners (of whom at least 2 Masters)
- the start was at staggered waves and 1 runner for each team for each wave: 1st wave at 16.00, then 16.01, 16.02 and the last 3 runners only separated by 30 seconds.
- women were running 7 km, men 8km.
- the result was taken on the last runner of each team to pass the finish line.
Sounds complicated ? well, basically it was a kind of equalizer... a team could place his slower runners in the first waves without penalizing the overall results. Women were also a good components of a team, because 1km less means around 3'45"-4'00" of time.

Despite being at 4pm in Summer, it was not too bad because of some rain in the morning.
We did a good plan on how to arrange our team members and in the end we delivered a nice victory for the club, with Michelle, Solange, Philippe, Peter , Curtis and myself all running well.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ranking 2011... somehow I am still there...

A moment of self-celebration...
I notice that the local athletic association has published the annual athlete ranking for 2011.
Running in HK has gone a long way from the lows of 2004/05 and around...
for example,  to make it into the top 10 for 5000m, now a 15'xx" is a must, while some years ago maybe even a 17'00" would have landed a top10...
still we are very far from really competitive nations, but the progress is tangible and anyway HK is a small place where sports are not really considered a meaningful way to spend people's time...

this said... despite having a very short season, I could still make it in the top 10 of the marathon, precisely landing a #6 spot!! very sweet to still see my name in the list and for next season I hope to make my name also in other distances (last resort is to switch to racewalking...hehe)

NOTE 1: 2 italians in the top 10 of a "foreign country"marathon ranking...really weird.
NOTE 2: my team mates made it in the ranking across many distances... from 5000m to Marathon, we are all there in scores (especially best wishes to Stefano who got a serious health condition in April and had to stop running for the moment: despite running only 2-3 races, he is still #2 in the marathon and #5 in the half)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

when people really deserve it....

This post is not really related to MY running, but rather to the outstanding performance of my team mate Michelle (her detailed race report HERE).
Thanks to one of the sponsor of our club, she was invited to take part in the Sarnico-Lovere, a point-to-point, 25.2k race along the coast of Lake Iseo in Italy.
In November, Michelle cooked herself up by training too much for reaching the standard for the US trials and fared relatively poorly at her marathon in Japan (2h53'... very far from her target).
She was really low in morale for several weeks and anyway put her heart in training for this race.
This time, she changed her training (in my opinion for the better): less fast&furious interval training, more workouts of long intervals at HM effort and long tempo runs.
I was really happy when we went out together for those long tempo of 15k or 18k...
The result speak for itself: she arrived 4th in a race full of Pro or semi-Pro runners in a time of 1h35'53".
Ahead of her, only a Kenyan, a Moroccan and a strong local girl.
That is like running the HM in 1h19'xx" and add another 4k on a huge "virtual" PB for her