Strength and Conditioning

It has been a major goal of mine this year to work on developing my stability and resilience to injury – obviously to little avail so far. But I hope that if I continue to do thing right I should see improvements in my running form and helping me to go faster with less effort.  The basis of my approach is to teach my body to utilise all the muscles in and around my core. I have broken this into 3 parts focussing on core strength, spine stabilisation, and leg conditioning. I have been working on these areas in the gym with Mike Adams which as well as being a very new training experience is also extremely interesting.

My core routines are very ab-based mainly because I have the tendency to allow my pelvis to rotate forwards and having stronger abs should help me to pull the front of my pelvis up. Another major component to having a strong core is the obliques which are used for bending your torso sideways and help to hold your body inline and upright while running. This is one of the weakest parts of my running and I struggle to hold a straight line through my torso especially when in terrain. At times I can be seen to ‘snake’ through the air which is quite funny to watch once you notice it! Having a weak core can be a major problem in orienteering because the lack of stability in uneven ground means you have to work much harder to provide a significant amount of forwards movement.

Obliques labelled on the left and abs labelled on the right

 The spine stabilisation routine looks similar to core but focusses on supporting the spine, and hence upper body, through a wide range of motion and from every direction. This requires exercises to target specific muscles in around the top of the pelvis, up the middle of you back, and muscles on the side of your torso including internal obliques and muscles over the side of the rib cage. Initially this 20 minute session was the cause of days and days of pain as it was working some seriously underdeveloped muscles. But I have made some great improvements, and I feel much more in control of my posture.

My conditioning for running routine takes about 27 minutes to do 3 cycles. The 4 main parts focus on abductors, adductors, hamstrings, and quadriceps.  Abductors and Adductors are generally stabilisation muscles and are used to maintain a correct skeletal alignment so that prime movers like hamstrings and quads function optimally. Below I am using my adductors to pull my legs together against the resistance of the weight. To work my abductors I would have the weight on my right foot while trying to move it away from my body with the weight pulling my feet together.

Simple adduction exercise at the gym

 The first step in the quadriceps exercise is to pull your knee up with your hip flexors

Knee up

 Then to straighten your leg using your quads before releasing slowly.

Foot out

 The hamstring exercise is again very simple. This is the heel up version. Pulling your foot backwards without lifting it far above the ground activated your glutes more.

Heel up

Once you have a basic understanding of how muscles function it becomes very clear how to exercise specific muscle groups. An important point to be very clear on is that these are small weights as some of the muscles used are quite small and can be easily overloaded as I found out with my TFLs. This session is about muscle activation and reminding your body how to use such muscles. I expect that in the long run I will become a much more biomechanically sound athlete and reduce the risk getting injured.

ITB Ups and Downs

I am sad to report that I remain injured, more injured even, but wiser. Today I have solved another issue contributing to my Iliotibial Band Syndrome and I hope it is the last.

Over the past 2 week I have been experiencing weird aches and pains on the outside of my left knee cap as a result from my earlier ITB injury. This was a huge surprise since I seemed to be making a routine recovery up to this point. I pulled the hand break on all training that used my tensor fasciae latae (muscle connected to the ITB) and kept up the ITB rolling and stretching. The pain was very irregular, making it all especially scary and I could not find any way to avoid them so to the physio it was!

On Wednesday, Karren (Kumeu Physio) and I made a massive break though. She noticed that there was a slight misalignment of my left knee cap so after a simple taping job to pull my patella back into place she challenged me to go for a run! Initially I was very nervous as my last attempt at the now alien sport of running ending in pain, but 15 minutes later I returned to the physio with a massive grin on my face and not pain around my knee. I was stoked to say the least!

Tension in the ITB pulling the patella laterally

I was ready to slide back into some training again, but after my first run this Monday… NO WAY!!! Now my right ITB (original injury was on my left side) has decided it hates me too. Who even invented the ITB?!

Today I hit the gym with Michael and I think I have cracked it! Over the past 2 weeks my tensor fasciae latae (TFL) on both sides have tightened up something chronic without me noticing. 2 weeks ago I could roll all over them with the ITB roller with no problems at all but now that is way out of the question. I guessing that my body is confused from all the changes in my training and it’s likely it that it hasn’t responded well to the periodic conditioning sessions over the past 3 weeks. As a result my TFLs have gone psycho which is incredibly frustrating but I think this discovery is the end of my suffering. I unleashed my wrath today by doing a solid 30 minutes of massaging and rolling to loosen them up. This was an extremely satisfying stress release and I worked off most of yesterday’s frustration.

Massaging my TFL on a hard medicine ball

Squashing my FTL onto that hard medicine ball ranks very highly in my most painful sessions! But I’ve heard from Michael that the proper massage I’m getting tomorrow will be a whole new level of suffering! But right now I just can’t wait to get running again and will take anything I can get.

 

Europe Preview 2012

The annual ‘Europe Trip’ is kicking off for me on Friday June 22nd and taking me to at least 4 countries before I return to New Zealand on the 2nd of August. This is my first year not being able to race at JWOC, and so my trip will have a different focus to that of previous years. My main goals are still uncertain as trials for WOC and WUOC teams are in April and acceptance into O-Ringen’s Elitserien will not be known until the last minute. I have based my trip around attending these 3 main events but because selections have not taken place my NZ representation is not guaranteed.

WUOC (World University Orienteering Champs) is being held in the Mediterranean city of Alicante, Spain. The area boasts some stunning sand dune terrain which I was initially hopeful to race in but having heard the terrain description I am now looking forward to an entirely new challenge. The races are on stony, semi-open land with areas of steep hills and gullies. The low vegetation will make going tough and reduce visibility in many areas. There are also many rock features including boulders and cliffs that will test my fine navigation and large impassable ravines will make for some important decision making. I am looking forward to the physical and mental challenge of an area so different to anything I have experienced before. Spain will also be a very new experience for me and I’ve heard Alicante has lots to offer.

A map from Alicante with similar features to what I will be racing on

My second major destination in Europe this year will be Lausanne, Switzerland to either race or watch WOC. The New Zealand WOC team will be a great challenge to make considering the improving form of many of our top runners and I won’t be overly disappointed to have such capable runner selected before myself. In the event of not making the NZ team I will race the Swiss 5-day competition which is running in conjunction with WOC. The terrain in Switzerland is going to be typical alpine hills a mixture of forest and open. This will stress the weaker aspect of my technique as I get little experience with such terrain here in New Zealand, especially the massive smooth hillsides. I am looking forward to the physical side of this terrain as there will be opportunities to especially fast in open areas and on tracks.

Some of the terrain I will be racing on in Switzerland

Being at the WOC races will be a massive eye opener for me and surely a huge motivator. To see so many of the top orienteers in the world doing battle day after day will be a great experience. I am also looking to make good connections with people I meet there as in years to come I may be looking to join a top club in Europe.

My third and final major stop in Europe this year will be the city of Halmstad, on the west coast of Sweden, south of Gothenburg. This will be the home of O-Ringen 2012, famous for attracting the largest number of competitors in any orienteering event. I have visited Sweden to race at O-Ringen for the past 2 years and now I’m looking to take the step up to Elitserien – the top elite grade for which there are a restricted number of competitors depending on where you are from. If I am not selected to race in this top grade I will be racing Men’s 21 Long which consists of 3 long distance and 2 middle distance races. The terrain will be awesome Scandinavian forest with areas of lower visibility and complex slopes and will be worth so much coming from New Zealand. However, the 3rd day of competition offers a twist to the usual terrain description as it is on a sand dune map and finishes on the beach! This week of racing will also be a massive social occasion and I have found it one of the most rewarding weeks in the previous 2 years.

Massive crowds at O-Ringen

 This year is looking to be more epic than ever!

An Injured Start to the Year

The start of 2012 has already been pushing me around me around more than I hoped. After a long period of quality base training, earning money and general scheming about the year to come I am under fire from the injury gods.

My first problem began with my use (and evidently overuse) of racing flats on the road. Clompy road running shoes do terrible things to my technique and hurt my knees but racing flats allow me to achieve better technique and they feel so fast! The down side to this concept for me (and for every barefoot and minimalist runner!!!) is that unless you enjoy heel striking your calves run the risk of dying a painful death. For me, the eccentric loading and large range of motion led to slightly aggravated archilles and then after a hilly week in January they gave out. It took 3 weeks to come right, with only a few runs as I exchanged most running sessions for cycling or aqua jogging. In this time I got into a lot of icing, more stretching than usual and once mostly recovered I started with the calf raises to help strengthen and prevent re-occurrence.

My low profile racing flats - awesome until you run in them too often

My second recent injury has really put me out of action and is by far the worst injury I have experienced. 4 weeks ago I felt some pains on the outside of my left knee which was quickly determined to be my iliotibial band. 3 days later at Sprint the Bay I raced Stage 1 and 2 with only some small discomfort warming down after race 2. At 10pm that night I couldn’t walk without being in some quite intense pain on the side of my left knee. I tried to race Stage 3 the next morning but was in too much so pulled out. I could feel a sensation like sandpaper rubbing on sandpaper where my ITB attaches into the side of my knee.

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is one of the leading causes of lateral knee pain in runners. The band is a superficial thickening of tissue on the outside of the thigh, extending from the outside of the pelvis to just below the knee. The band is crucial to stabilizing the knee while running but the continual rubbing of the band over the knee joint, combined with the repeated flexion and extension may cause the area to become inflamed. This doesn’t directly affect your running but the pain is very intense!

Anatomy of ITB syndrome

I have been using a hard foam roller (as a form of massaging) and stretching to help reduce tension in the band and have been icing regularly to help reduce any inflammation. It seems to be almost recovered and I am putting emphasis into strengthening exercises for my glutes as a method of prevention – and for the general benefit of my running. I have also had various people giving me great advice (thanks Tom Reynolds for giving me a thorough rundown  this afternoon) and will also see a physio next week for some final reassurance (I hope) before start running again.

On the Horizon

The 2012 orienteering session has kicked off hard with 3 days of sprint racing at Hawkes Bay’s Sprint the Bay 4 weeks ago. The Elite field has stepped up a notch since last year and is making for exciting racing. Next up is Taupo’s Katoa Po All Night Relay on the 10th of March with companion events on the 10th and 11th. North West will be looking to take the title off Auckland with Tom Reynolds and Matt Ogden both on good form. There is no doubt that it will be a hot contest with Auckland, Wellington and Bay of Plenty clubs all boasting a strong array of runners. Unfortunately my own race in uncertain as I am still recovering from an ITB problem sustained at Sprint the Bay but I’m optimistic I will be back on track in time to run for my club. If not, I will still make the trip to support North West!

An aggressive elite field starting at Sprint the Bay

Further afield, I have my sights set on the NZ Orienteering Champs in early April held by my very own North West Orienteering Club in Woodhill Forest. With this weekend doubling as the trial races for the New Zealand WUOC and WOC (World University Orienteering Champs and World Orienteering Champs) teams there is even more at stake. This year’s NZ Champs is shaping up to be very intense, and with an increasingly strong NZ Elite field looking to put some extremely technical terrain to the test I will have to be at the top of my game to feature.

Teaser of the stunning Waioneke Forest being used for the NZ Champs Long Distance

Another big event I have highlighted as a goal race is Queens Birthday 3 Day based at Waitarere Beach starting on the 2nd of June and run by Wellington OC. This event will feature some typically fast sand dune terrain with technical areas and should be a great opportunity for me to achieve some top results as I did at Queens Birthday in 2011. This race weekend will also be my last chance to hone my technical skills before I travel to compete in Europe later that month.

Yes, I have booked my flights and will be giving a rundown of my plans shortly. For now all I have to say is that the trip will be epic!