Friday, January 29, 2016


In last week's post I talked about loosening up and getting your muscles moving before heading out on a run (while paraphrasing Stripes). After the run is done, though, it's a pretty keen idea to make sure things aren't going to just seize right back up again.

I'm not a big fan of static stretching, and seldom do any. Instead, I take a few minutes after each run to walk and do some dynamic stretches that target the specific muscles and joints associated with running. This way my heart rate comes down gradually and I can help identify any issues that my latest foray on two feet may have spawned.

High Knees

Nothing earth shattering here - just get those knees up above waist level with each step. Done quickly, this also makes a good warmup or drill, but since we're in cool down mode I just do it as an exaggerated walk. You may well feel this one in your hamstrings and butt, and it does provide some work for your core. I do anywhere from 20-30 of these, depending on how many it takes to feel like things are loosened up.

Like you're going to skip-to-my-lou, only don't.
Or do. It's fun. Go on, give it a try.

Butt Kicks 

Another pretty self-explanatory one that makes a good warmup or drill when done with a bit of gusto. When done at walking pace with some attention paid to pushing your knee back while pulling your heel up, it'll help stretch out your quads and psoas (hip flexors). Do 20-30 of these, too.

Backward Walk

This one is all about your calves, which do a huge amount of work while running. Turn around and walk backwards (as the name implies), stepping back with a bent knee and driving your heel down toward the earth. It works best if you can find a bit of a slope to walk down, but you can make it effective even on flat ground by bending your back knee to deepen the stretch. It will be less efficacious uphill. I do a lot of these because my calves are chronically tight: at least 60 steps, usually more like 80.

It only takes a minute, and I live on a street that slants down toward my house.
The downside is that every run starts uphill.

Grapevine / Carioca

Another running drill that works great as a stretch when slowed down. Facing perpendicular to your direction of travel (in the example it will be toward your left), keeping your hips and shoulders from turning and with a bend in your knees, step your right foot across your body in front of you, then step out with your left foot to un-cross your legs. Now step your right foot across your body to the rear, and step out with your left foot again to un-cross your legs. That's one rep, and I usually do a dozen or so in each direction.

The fast version looks like this: click for video.

If you've been running on uneven surfaces or otherwise challenging your lateral stabilizing muscles, you'll really feel this in your hips, glutes and illiotibial band if you get a good cross over and squat into it a bit. Making sure your heels ground with each step provides a bit more calf stretching, too.

I heard it from some giant raisin in sunglasses.

Reverse Kick

By now you should be pretty well cooled down from your run with your heart rate no higher than a brisk walk, so before you get chilled we'll use som big muscle groups for one last stretch. Stepping forward on a slightly bent knee, raise the non-load-bearing leg behind you keeping it as straight as possible while dorsiflexing your foot (pull your toes toward your shin). Bring it up as high as you can without falling forward, flexing your abdominal muscles to provide stability and protect your lower back. Your gluteus maximus may complain about this a bit, but you'll get a decent stretch through your hamstrings and hip flexors. I do about 16-20 steps like this, which is coincidentally about the distance from the bottom of my driveway to my front door. 

Then it's off to stuff my face!

Once again I'll say that I can't make any guarantees about this routine being appropriate for your specific physiology or having any specific benefits when it comes to performance, health or injury prevention. I'm not a doctor, and I've never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in my life, but for the few minutes it takes me at the end of each run I always feel better the next day for having done this little series of movements. 

Why not give it a try and see if you feel the same?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Loosen up, Francis

As I whinged about to no end in my last post, it is winter. That means cold air, multiple layers, and challenging running terrain. Because large numbers of my neighbours have no respect or consideration for those of us who don't spend time outside their home that isn't in a car, the sidewalks in my area are an ankle-rolling mess of lumpy snow and ice. Better yet, there's a stretch of a few hundred metres that I run almost daily that has a park and schoolyard on the typically-windward side, allowing snow to blow in to the sidewalk such that it's ankle deep within an hour after the city plow clearing it.

Not that our street gets plowed at all.

With all this underfoot and precious little clear ground to be seen, you simply never know what your next step is going to be like until your bodyweight starts to hit your leading which time it's generally too late to avoid something awkward.

In an attempt to come out the other side of all this without damaging myself, I try to warm up before I run so I'm not putting too much stress on completely cold joints when I head out the door. It only takes a few minutes, but could seriously save you some grief. I do a few dynamic motions that help get things moving fluidly and start to build a bit of warmth in my core, which helps with those first few chilly minutes on deep winter runs. I don't believe this routine is necessarily optimized for everyone, but it works for me and would be a decent starting point to develop your own pre-run warmup.

Because it's easiest, I do these in my kitchen (which is right inside my front door) before I leave for a run, even if I'm driving to a trailhead. It's better to warm up 20mins before the run than not at all.

Ankle Circles

I sit down to put on my running socks and shoes (and gaiters, which have been a disturbingly frequent necessity even on road runs lately), then stick a leg out in front of me and draw circles in the air with the ball of my foot by rotating my ankle. I do 8 of these in each direction, with each foot. This helps prepare my ankles for snow to shift and my toes or heels to skid sideways on me.

Ankle Tilt

Still sitting with my leg stuck out in front of me, I rock my foot back and forth like I'm trying to touch the sole of my foot to the inside, then the outside of my leg. I do this 8 times (16 total motions) with each foot, helping prepare my ankles for stepping on lumpy snow and rolling a bit under load.

Toe Taps

Yep, still seated with my leg out. I point my toe (plantar flexion) and then try to pull it up toward my shin (dorsiflexion) 16 times per foot. My calves get a bit of a warmup here while I mobilize the achilles tendon and soleus.

Saggital Leg Swing

Ok, time to leave the comfy chair. I stand on one foot with both legs straight, swinging the non-load-bearing leg forward to about hip height (or whatever you can manage) and then back behind me as far as I can go without leaning forward. I'd suggest hanging onto a chair or countertop while you do this, like you're at a ballet barre. This will engage your psoas (hip flexors) and glutes and give a mild hamstring stretch while mobilizing your hips in almost the exact motion you'll use while running. As a bonus, the use of large muscle groups will get your blood flowing and build some warmth. I do 16 of these with each leg, each rep consisting of a forward and back swing.

Lateral Leg Swing

Still hanging onto something for balance and standing on one leg, I swing the non-load-bearing leg out sideways and bring it back across the centre line of my body. This engages the smaller gluteal muscles that will help stabilize you as you run on uneven surfaces and also does a marvellous job of increasing blood flow. I do 12 of these per side.

Hip Circles

This one really works the smaller gluteal muscles and helps mobilize your hips. Still standing on one leg and hanging onto something for balance, bend your non-weight-bearing leg and draw a big circle in the air with your knee. 8 circles per leg both forward and backward should have you feeling it in the outside of your butt.

Knee Wall Touch

Does it seem like a lot of these are done on one leg? Well, so is running! Stand on one foot facing the chair, counter, or whatever you've been hanging onto for balance and bend your non-weight-bearing leg a bit. This time it's the load-bearing leg that will be working, as you bend at the knee to sink into a 1-legged squat position. As you do so, push your working leg's knee forward to try to touch the wall in front of you while keeping your heel on the ground. This simulates your landing with each step, mobilizing your ankles and calves while warming up your gluteus maximus and quads. I do 10 of these per leg.

I can't guarantee that these exercises will keep you injury free, but at least you'll stand a better chance of being able to roll with the punches that winter doles out than just stepping out the door completely cold.

If you have a great exercise you do to warm up before a run, let me know in the comments!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Soldiering forth

And then it was winter.

Who pissed off the Ice Viking?

From Sunday's run in 70+kph/43+mph gusting wind with blowing snow to Monday's windchill of -19c/-2f, Tuesday's "Canadian beach run" through 10cm/4" of freshly fallen snow, then Wednesday evening's suckfest of sideways snow in 50kph/31mph wind gusts, it has not been an easy week.


My ankles and adductors are taking a pounding as I clumsily churn my way through the ever-shifting drifts, while my lungs cry out for oxygen as their supply is diminished by the neck gaiter pulled up to prevent facial frostbite. At length I just can't take it anymore and risk the damage to my skin so I can catch my breath after a particularly tough slog into the relentless wind.


Snowflakes swirl through the air, coming down sideways so they can sneak under the peak of my hat and fly in my eyes. Soon my lashes are thickly covered in snow and frost as I squint to try to see the road ahead.

You call this running weather?

People waiting for or hopping off of buses stare as I pass, looking like they expect someone from the insane asylum to be chasing me with with a butterfly net. I run in loops around my neighbourhood so I'm not too far from home should something go wrong, and watch my lonely footprints disappear as I come around the second and third time. 

Life expectancy: under 20 minutes

Finally some relief on Thursday - the wind drops, the temperature reaches "normal winter" levels (instead of the "sub-arctic hell" that had me in my warmest running gear Sunday through mid-week), and the sidewalk plows and salt have even managed to uncover expanses of bare ground. 

My face also emerges from hiding, much to the chagrin of our neighbours.

While it's incredibly difficult to kick my out-of-shape arse out the door when you can see and hear the depths of winter howl on the other side, it's also an unparalleled way to build fitness and mental toughness for the season to come. Running in adverse conditions gives you a well of strength to draw from when you need it the most, not to mention increasing your appreciation for the simple things in life, like a bit of traction on the streets and a giant, steaming cup of post-run tea. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Twelve days of run-mas

On Boxing Day (that's the day that follows Christmas, for Americans and other odd ducks that don't celebrate such things), I was a complete and total lump.

I did not train. I did not foam roll. I didn't even stretch.

I polished off the last of the pork pie and other assorted goodies we had for Christmas, and didn't leave the house all day.

This is not an easily sustainable way of life for me.

So, for the next twelve days - culminating in yesterday - I ran every day.

Last run of 2015, just before heading out to a New Year's Eve punk show

I hadn't really intended to do so, but Fridays are my only regular day off, and it's not like I was going to skive off running on New Year's Day. For that matter, I've had some things on my mind lately, and running is the best way I've ever found to shake the jagged things in my brain into a more comfortable position.

None of these runs were terribly long - the biggest distance was just over 8.5km - but none was less than 6km. It was often the only training I'd do in a day apart from the strength exercises I generally get in before work, since the pool schedules were shot to hell by the holidays. I put in 83.5km total during the 12 days, averaging just shy of 7km per day.

Any illusions of speed are solely due to lack of artistic talent.

As an experiment, it worked out well. Some days I ran a little harder because I was either short on time or felt good - sometimes I ran easier because I was sore, or because I was fighting off the stupid head cold that has been riding me like a rented mule since Monday. Conditions played a part, too; we got a big dump of snow on the 28th and another lot on January 1st, which required a little more caution in my stride. Sometimes there were hills, sometimes mostly just flat (or what passes for it, around my neighborhood), but all runs ended up being on the road after dark - I just couldn't seem to make it out on a trail before the daylight failed.

While this wasn't planned and I'm not totally sure I'd do it again, it's nice to know that I'm in a position to be able to put together a half-decent run streak. New Year's Day represented the first time I'd run six consecutive days since I damaged myself back in October. I'd been trying to get back to running 6 days a week since the beginning of December, but something always seemed to come up that would stop me at no more than five days in a row.

While I'm not going to say my legs feel fantastic, I can confidently state that this little experiment has not resulted in any injuries. I'm a little beat up, but nothing that a good foam rolling session and a bit of rest wouldn't sort out. It's also been great for spreadsheet filler for the annual 100 runs in 100 days challenge, helping me make up for some of the gaps that opened when I was laid up with a nasty throat infection the week before Christmas.

My New Year's Day fix

I won't lie and say it was easy kicking myself out the door every single day to go pound pavement. It was -16c (3f) on Monday night when I left the house, and that was without wind chill. I've been getting as little sleep as usual, so on top of sore legs, I've been tired and just wanted to collapse into bed upon getting home from work. Somehow, though, I'd always feel a little better when I was done...even if my legs were complaining and I had to chip the icicles off the tip of my nose.

It's also helped me rid my chubby arse of some of that leftover pork pie as well, which is always welcome. Any bit less of me that I have to lug around is a good thing, and nothing helps me strip off my winter insulation like running.

So now I'm going to try to keep rolling with my usual 6-day-per-week running schedule, having proven that I'm more than strong enough to maintain it again. First, though, I'm going to enjoy my day off!