Time to get this blog out of the way.
A few weeks ago I had to pull out of the run leg during the Putrajaya 70.3. A fresh niggle in the left soleus kept me from running more than one kilometer without gritting the teeth in pain. It has since cleared up though, and was just an issue of bad timing in the broader context of some biomechanical changes that I have recently made. So here's the story...
Running has palpably always been my weakest of the three sports. I've never had that stellar run off the bike needed to do big things in the sport thus far. While I am the first to admit I'm not a thoroughbred runner, I have always felt ripped off knowing that I have more potential that what I put out there on race course. I have a big engine, that's my biggest asset in this game. I'm a gifted swimmer. I worked hard at that when I was young and that has stayed with me. Similarly, the hard work I have put into my cycling over the years reflects the results, but the hard work I put into my running doesn't dividend anywhere near the other two sports. Without making excuses, it's always be a thought of mine that there's something holding me back in running. Can some of these under-performing runs be attributable to going harder on the bike than I should have? Of course. But some days, I just don't have that gear needed to run strong & fast. It was fortunate that last year I met a chiropractor that instantly noticed some things about my body and suggested getting some scans done in relation to leg length, something pertinent to this 'lacking' run leg of mine.
I brushed it off at first, but then once my training load in early January picked up I started to get chronic back pain that has been reoccurring for years on my lower right lumbar spine. I called up Michael Black and flew down to Sydney for an EOS, a low-radiation full body scan. It came back I have a functional and structural 10mm difference from right to left leg. Some people might say this is nothing, others say it's a lot. My opinion is that it's been enough to drastically reduce my running economy and form. Here's a cropped section of the scan illustrating what the 10mm leg difference has done to my body
With a 10mm structural shortness in my right leg has come a 12mm pelvic tilt, and a pelvic rotation of 1° to compensate for the shortened running gate on that leg. This affects a whole host of other things as my body has had to find ways to compensate for the deficiency. Noticeable on the scan is also a spinal scoliosis, which even worsens further up, to which my chin sits 4cm to the right of the middle of my pelvis. As a further result, my left shoulder is aggressively cocked up. While my body has adapted well to what it has to work with and I've had no resulting injuries, it's certainly not running as economically as it can if everything was symmetrical. If you've ever seen me running under load and fatigue, all these anatomical difference should be starting to make sense. Here's two more pictures illustrating my imperfections.
Pretty obvious as to which is the shorter side? When performance in endurance sport is as much about efficiency as it is anything else, it shouldn't be too hard to understand the impact a difference like this would have on ones economy. So, what to do about this difference in leg length?
Some people have told me naively that I've had good results with this existing condition, and have questioned why I would change anything. To me this is nonsensical, especially when I spend every day of the year trying to be fitter, stronger and faster than I was yesterday, an endless cycle of obsessive improvement. The easy solution is to use a heel raise to essentially prop up the short side to see an improved pelvic and spinal alignment. A cleat spacer is also needed for bike position.
The two most reliable opinions I have in this area have both said that a 6mm raise would be sufficient enough, and that going any higher would be impractical. Both also suggested starting at a smaller 4mm increment and build into the 6mm. The first 4mm stage started in February, and all was going really well until I did the 25km trail race in mid-March. The distance wasn't so much the problem, but more the elevation loss (950m of it). Being the stubborn athlete I am, I wanted to get the course record and made sure to squeeze every second of time out of myself as I could. See my previous post to watch the video of the jarring downhills. It's obvious now that this wasn't such a smart thing to do considering I won by 13 minutes.
The week after the Up the Buff I developed the pain in my soleus that kept me from running in Putrajaya 70.3. Never fearing it was a tear or anything like that, I knew it was relative to the changes I had made with the heel raise compounded with the load of the 25km race. I could run without pain for 10 minutes or so before it set it, so it was nothing serious, but I didn't get the treatment I needed to fix it before I went away for the race. It turned out to be chronically tight soleus fascia that Jimmi Matthews worked out in a couple of treatments at Mooloolaba's CNS Chiropractic. When it was so easily treated, it made me wonder what could have been at Putrajaya 70.3 when I came off the bike with a 3 minute lead, but I guess there's bigger things to look forward to this season.
Gains were still made by going to Putrajaya to compete, even if I didn't get to finish the race. It showed my bike form is back on track, and close to the career-best form I was in at the end of the 2014 season. In 30+ degree heat for the rides' entirety my power was up and I felt smooth, delivering a 2:06 split on a course that had 550m of elevation gain. It also reminded me just how much humidity stifles the bodies functions, a nice lesson before Vietnam 70.3 in two weeks time. Domenico Passuello matched my bike split and went on to win by 9 minutes over the great Craig Alexander, proving that he's going to be hard to beat in this distance in future encounters, but I look forward to the challenge. Furthermore, the course in Putrajaya was unreal, the bike course had immaculate roads with an interesting highway loop around the stylish new city. And while I didn't do the run, by looking at the course maps it certainly beats the tired out and back affair. I would recommend the race for anyone looking for a good challenge over the 70.3 distance. For now, I look forward to getting back onto the start line in Vietnam on May 10.