By Rachel Grunwell
Obviously I’m not likely to ever run like some light-footed Kenyan athlete. They’re long-legged; I’m vertically challenged. They’ve got lightening speed genes; My ancestors preferred pints at the pub.
I ain’t a gazelle. I know that.
But even everyday runners (like me) love to strive for personal bests.
I’ve run 11 marathons, but I’d like to improve my run style. After all, I’ve only been running for a few years.
So I visit Kelly Sheerin at AUT Millennium’s running and cycling clinic on Auckland’s North Shore (pictured above). A physiotherapist and biomechanist, he analyses the science behind optimum run technique and injuries. Some top athletes seek out his advice, but also “weekend warriors” like me.
He assesses my run efficiency by putting 20 reflective markers on my lower body to measure joint angles. I’ve got 9 infrared 3D cameras watching my every move – and my form (or lack of it).
I run at different speeds on a treadmill which measures the force, and angle, at which I strike the treadmill.
I then do some strength tests and he analyses all the data. The camera doesn’t lie so Kellly gets a full “picture” of my weaknesses. He tells me about things like my stride width and rate, heel whip, peak knee velocity and reveals that my gluteus medius muscles need strengthening and gives me “homework” (ie strength exercises). His technique advice is around how to optimally strike the pavement and how to position my trunk, hips and knees when I’m in motion.
It was fun being a “lab rat”. I learnt some new things about my body and what I need to do to work on running better. Information is power. Hopefully I’ll power through my next marathon. Maybe there’s a gazelle within that’s screaming to get out ha ha ha!
Meanwhile, the AUT Millennium is a very cool place. It has incredible gym and pool facilities, does some exciting research and attracts some big name athletes. While I was there I spied champion shot putter Valerie Adams pumping iron. So if you go to the gym here you can say “I work out with Valerie Adams!!” Well, you won’t quite be “training buddies”, but you do get to see her in the flesh and she’s a pretty super mighty fine cool Kiwi. A Kiwi hero.
Upstairs, is the research testing area where it’s clinically-clean (and hospital-like with all the white). There are lots of weird testing machines. There’s one room (Environmental Chamber) where athletes can practice training in hot or freezing temperatures (acclimation for overseas events). There are stationary bikes, enormous treadmills (Endurance Performance Clinic) and some weights (Strength and Conditioning Clinic). They also can do exercise testing for people at risk or living with medical conditions (Human Potential Clinic) and body composition testing (Body Composition Clinic).
Another test is lactate testing (where pin-pricks of blood are taken to measure lactic acid in the blood) as a predictor of endurance performance in events like cycling, rowing, running and triathlon style events. Plus there’s an anaerobic peak power test (a sprint test) on measuring anaerobic ability.
There’s a VO2max test too, which can reveal aerobic fitness and performance potential (or not). In other words, your ability to utilise oxygen. For this, you run on a treadmill, while attached to a mask (which measures the volume and composition of the air breathed out) and also a heart-rate monitor.
I’ve tried this in the past. I was asked to run at progressively increasing speeds until exhaustion (think: rat on a wheel). During this, a bloke asked when I found the test fine, hard, very hard, and when I needed to stop (or I might pass out).
Through doing this I pinpointed my best training zones i.e. how fast I can run comfortably and approximate indicators of what my heart-rate should be doing during different types of training drills like interval training to endurance runs. So it’s a science-based guide to follow.
With this information, you can better tailor a training programme to suit you best.
So is this worth it? I reckon sports-mad folk will love getting science-based data to improve their performance. I want to do the lactate testing next time here – for even more accurate results. And I’m keen to try a deep water running session with Kiri Price. This is a full-body workout, I hear. It’s biomechanically the closest cross-training method to actual running (without the impact on the body).
Try it: AUT Sports Performance Clinics at AUT Millennium, 17 Antares Place, Mairangi Bay, North Shore, Auckland, www.autmillennium.org.nz
Rachel is a wellbeing columnist and healthy recipe creator for Good Magazine & Juno Investing Magazine. She writes a weekly column (on health/fitness/wellbeing etc) too for the Herald group of newspapers.
She is a marathoner, yoga teacher and director of Inspired Health