chocolate milk, symmetry, and hill sprints

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October 25, 2014 by scratchtype1

If you ask runners why they run, you’ll hear a number of answers: that they love to run, that they like the competition, that they do it for their health, that it’s a good way to see the world around you, that they do it for psychological well-being. But this morning after I was back from a workout and gulping down a pint glass of chocolate milk, I realized it’s all about the chocolate milk. Chocolate milk which tastes good and wonderful enough on its own, becomes somehow insanely and intensely good after you’ve been running. So that is the ultimate and deeply-abiding reason to run: chocolate milk. All those other answers are only window-dressing to make it seem somehow more noble, more worthy.

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Running is going well again. Ça va? Oui, ça va! I’m back up in the 100 miles or more in a month club and the hip has not complained one bit recently. The only twinge happened almost 2 weeks ago but disappeared after a rest day and has not returned since. Come tomorrow, the half-marathon in Philadelphia will be 4 weeks away. Because of the down time in August and September, I’m not running the workouts that I might have been running, but I’m trying to be smart about what I’m doing. The long-distance cardio did not disappear during the downtime, I verified that obviously when I ran that 16+ miler almost 3 weeks ago.

But I’ve thought a lot about what happened towards the end of July when my hip got bad after running all those easy miles for so long. I know some of it is my symmetry problem. It’s rather awful how much more coordinated and strong the right side of my body is. When you think about it, you want your running form to be symmetrical as possible. An ideal runner will have little to no difference in the strength of both legs and hips. Mine has never been that way, and was also probably further damaged by the fact I didn’t run much when I was young. The left side of my body was never challenged much to catch up to the right side.

Now another effect of all those slow easy miles was that I lost a lot of top end speed, not that I had much to begin with anyhow. But I certainly remember sometimes in June and July trying to accelerate and often feeling like the legs just had no spring to them. While I was already able to do slow runs faster, my fast running had become slower. Now I’ve known and done, too little, hill sprints as described by Brad Hudson. Unfortunately, I’ve never made them a regular feature of training. But now I think maybe I’ve finally seen just how much good they can begin to do for me over the past week and a half.

I knew I wanted to do some faster running to get ready for November 23rd. So I thought about what Brad Hudson had written and decided to begin with hill sprints. Last Saturday, I did my first set of 4 after some easy running to warmup and then an easy run back home. Tuesday this week I did the same, except for doing 6 of them. Today I did 6 more, along with a couple sets of skipping and buttkick drills. But here’s the thing. I did a long run on Thursday, about 11.1 miles on the trails in White Clay Preserve. So that was mostly fairly slow and I used the heart rate monitor to keep me in check. But an interesting sensation made itself noticed shortly after the 6th mile of the run began and I was at that time running on a paved stretch along the river. I felt the glutes working and driving me along. For a long time I’ve known that my glutes don’t work enough while I run. I don’t think my body ever really learned how to use them while running, and maybe that’s because I wore shoes when I was a kid. While I’ve become a barefoot and minimalist runner, I’ve tried to focus on that sensation of the butt muscles working and sometimes it felt like I was making the butt work better. But now this last Thursday, it was just there, no conscious effort on my part. It was as though finally my body and muscles had figured out the idea. I noticed that while this went on, the sound of the Xeros that I wore was quieter than usual.

That effect carried on throughout the day, even beyond the running. Sometimes when I was walking around, I felt a sensation like my butt muscles were finally beginning to work, to do the job that evolution selected them to do. Then when I ran Friday morning, I was surprised out how fast I was running while it still felt easy.

I believe the hill sprints helped with this, because when I’ve done them, I’ve felt the butt working. I feel myself being driven up the hill by the glutes, they push me on up. The knees go up not so much because I’m lifting them with the hip flexors, but as a reaction to how the glutes are working, that when the glute on the left side relaxes, then the leg is free to swing up and forward on the left. Just like how we get something of spring effect down in the lower legs when we land midfoot, there is another spring effect that occurs with properly working glutes.

So I also now wonder some if the hip trouble I had was caused by how my glutes have been so dormant, that maybe now because the glutes are starting to wake up, I’ll run more like the way I ought to be able to run, the way a human being should be able to run. That’s where the slow easy miles did me in, it was easy to run those miles without sufficient glute activation and eventually my left hip got angry in surrounding tissues because the left side wasn’t doing its job.

So hill sprints. Hill sprints to help that overall neuromuscular coordination and for me, to especially help those glutes do what they’re supposed to do.

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