I had the opportunity to have my running assessed by the staff at RunSafe. RunSafe, to quote their brochure, “is a comprehensive sports wellness program designed with the runner in mind, focusing on personalized advice, injury prevention and performance optimization.” My assessment took place at the Orthopaedics lab at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Mission Bay campus. It was two hours in length and included: video analysis of my running gait, nutritional analysis and consultation, strength and flexibility assessment, and foot dynamics and footwear assessment.
Four runners were assessed at the session. Before arriving we filled out a comprehensive online questionnaire about our training, racing, nutrition, and running shoe history and habits. We were then assigned to one of the four stations, where we spent fifteen minutes with the clinician before rotating to the next station.
My first station was video analysis. I ran on the treadmill for about seven minutes while they filmed me running from the side and from behind, both zoomed in on just my lower legs and with a wide shot that showed my arms relative to my legs. Since I’ve been using the Saucony Kinvara for races, I asked them to film me running in those shoes, too, to see if there was any difference in my mechanics when I run in more minimalist shoes.
My next stop was the registered sports dietician. We discussed the importance of pre-race/pre-workout fueling and post-race/post-workout recovery foods. While I may not always do a good job, I am well versed in these two topics so we didn’t spend much time discussing this
.. We did, however, have a nice conversation about using energy gels during a race. I am not a fan of the taste and hassle of energy gels and she suggested that I might prefer having four Gu Chomps instead of an energy gel. We also talked about coffee and she (thankfully) said that two cups a day probably wasn’t negatively affecting my running. She believes that the dehydrating properties of coffee have been overblown and that a cup in the morning before a race is not a foolish choice.
The third station is where I discovered weaknesses and imbalances all over my body. It’s easy to have the attitude that as long as you’re not injured, things must be working perfectly. Well, that is not the case. Left knee tracking inward, left glute not firing, muscle tightness in the lower back. Those were just some of the findings. The physical therapist in charge of this area had me perform all sorts of diagnostic tests. What I particularly liked was that almost all of the tests were new to me. I had no idea what she was testing so I couldn’t “cheat” to try to “pass.”
The last station was foot dynamics and shoe assessment. It doesn’t take a specialist to identify that I have almost no arch in my foot – what those in the business call a “flat foot.” I walked on a heat sensitive ink board to make an impression of my foot. As if there were any question, this further confirmed I have a flat foot. Based on this, the specialist figured I would probably need an orthotic or at least a more supportive running shoe to compensate. Strangely, however, I prefer lightweight training shoes and I do not use orthotics. Since I don’t have any symptoms of plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, the advice was to continue with the shoe choices that have been working for me.
At the end, the staff got together to compare their individual findings. While they did this, the three other runners and I waited in the lobby talking to the dietician. After about fifteen minutes they brought us back into the lab where we viewed each of our treadmill running videos in slow motion (the Dartfish video had excellent resolution) and received personalized recommendations.
The next day I received an e-mail with a pdf file full of exercises that I can do to improve on my areas of weakness (there were twelve pages worth of weaknesses!). Three days later I received a DVD in the mail of my slow motion running on the treadmill (excellent family movie night material).
All in all, I would say that the RunSafe program was excellent. It costs $400 but I think it would be well worth the expense for any runner looking to improve or for the runner with a history of chronic injuries. The program is designed for the serious runner who already trains a fair amount and is looking for other ways to improve their times besides “just running more.” Seeing yourself running in slow motion is a rare treat. We all know that “core and strength” work can probably help us improve as a runner. What most of us don’t know is what exercises to do. Every edition of Runner’s World and Running Times has a new list of exercises. You can find hundreds of exercises online. But these are all just examples of good exercises. After the RunSafe assessment, the participant will know which exercises are particularly good for his or her specific shortcomings.
I thank RunSafe for confirming that I’m an anomaly. I’m a flat footed runner with no orthotics, who doesn’t use very supportive shoes, and doesn’t have any injuries. My excellent biomechanics and running economy compensate for the flat feet, seemingly incorrect shoe choices, so-so nutrition, two cups of coffee, and multiple strength and flexibility shortcomings. But thanks to RunSafe I have some new tools in my arsenal to keep me running healthy and, hopefully, fast too.