Helen Twose 's Opinion

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Jog On: In the footsteps of the greats

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A computer-generated skeletal form of Helen Twose is seen here. Photo / Supplied
A computer-generated skeletal form of Helen Twose is seen here. Photo / Supplied

It's not every day you get to run in the footsteps of the greats, which is exactly what I was doing pounding along on a $200,000 treadmill.

I'm having my running form analysed at the AUT's high tech Running Mechanics Clinic on equipment that is generally reserved for runners gunning for podium finishes.

It's all part of my plan to keep enjoying my running injury-free and perhaps give me a bit of oomph to get faster and stronger.

Under the watchful eye of sports scientist and clinic manager Kelly Sheerin and an array of high-tech gadgetry I was put through my paces. Well, actually my pace - I don't seem to have discovered any gears beyond first.

The technology includes video analysis, similar to that used by sports shoe shops and podiatrists, and the motion capture technology that brought Gollum to life in Lord of the Rings.

The treadmill is wired up with footplates to capture the nuances of my every footfall, hence the above-average price tag.

The clinic is part of the high performance training facility housed at the AUT Millennium Campus on Auckland's North Shore.

The facility has a mission to be available to athletes, researchers and the community and as such regular Joe and Josephine runners can avail themselves of some of the same services as New Zealand's top athletes.

So while there are similar set-ups in New Zealand, none are open to the public and focus instead solely on research.

Recently upgraded as part of a $30 million expansion of the campus, the Sport Performance Research Institute New Zealand, of which the clinic is part, features more than $2 million of top notch gear.

Travelling to a hot and humid climate to compete? No problem. Spend some time training in the environmental chamber where temperatures can be pumped up to 50 degrees Celsius and the humidity hits a sticky 100 per cent.

Need to check out your aerobic horsepower while cycling? Pedal right up. Ride on an extra-large treadmill capable of speeds up to 70 km/h.

So here I am, on a treadmill. A very expensive treadmill. One of only two in the Southern Hemisphere in fact.

From the waist down I'm covered in strategically placed reflective balls, part of the motion capture analysis, which also means every scrap of reflective fabric on my shoes and clothing gets taped over too.

This will create a computer-generated skeletal me that forms part of the analysis.

I feel a bit of a fraud stepping out on equipment generally reserved for the greyhounds of the running world but Sheerin says he prefers to see people as they are starting out running.

"When you think about changing movement patterns it is so much easier to work with someone who hasn't got things really, really ingrained than someone who is used to running but not necessarily in the correct way. It's much, much harder to change."

As well as the few minutes spent jogging on the treadmill Sheerin checks over my running shoes, queries me on my past and current running, future plans and any niggly aches, pains and injuries.

He also measures the strength and flexibility of my leg muscles with a particular focus on the small stabilising muscles that hold the body in alignment while running.

The result? Sadly I don't naturally have the running gait of a gazelle. There are a couple of muscles not pulling their weight and others doing extra work to compensate.

The weaknesses are mainly around my hips and pelvis, which left unattended, could lead problems in my knees, calf muscles or feet. It's the knock-on effect at work.

So the final part of the assessment is a run through of two stretches and four strength exercises that need to be done every day for six weeks.

Sheerin says results will begin to show in a couple of weeks but warns me to stick to the full six weeks to get the long term benefit.

"A little bit every day is going to make so much more of a difference than trying to spend an hour on it every three days," he says.

That was a couple of weeks ago now and it all started off swimmingly with me diligently doing the exercises. Then I skipped a day (or two) and it's now been [mumble, mumble] days since I last did them.

So I'm going to take my cue from the plank-a-day ab exercise revolution on Twitter and keep myself honest by tweeting when I've done my exercises. The six weeks starts today.

Not heard of plank-a-day? Neither had I until I started noticing runners on Twitter using the plankaday hashtag - the # symbol used to log topics on Twitter.

The plank-a-day thing has nothing to do with the planking craze that had the prime minister's son photographed while draped over the family couch.

Plank-a-day was created by psychologist Sherry Pagoto to keep her and a friend motivated to do ab exercises - the plank - which she freely admits to hating.

Now thousands have caught the plank bug and are using Twitter to keep on the straight and narrow with their ab exercises. It's social media peer pressure at work and it might just help keep me on track too.

Anyone else a plank-a-day disciple? Any other techniques to keep on track with boring but necessary exercises?

In other news:

* More on the Twitter plank-a-day phenomenon designed to keep people regularly doing strengthening ab exercises.

Events:

* A sold out Round-the-Bays for Wellington this weekend with more than 11,000 runners and walkers heading out around the harbour in either the 7km or half-marathon event on Sunday February 26.

Twitter: @Jog_On_NZ

Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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