In the fall of 2013, a high-performance long-distance training group formed in Vancouver, BC. The group is an aggregate of a random collection of like-minded athletes headed by Coach Richard Lee. Together they seek a common goal; to train and perform at the highest possible level. The British Columbia Endurance Project is for runners who wish to compete in races as short as 5000 metres and all the way up to the marathon. The goals of BCEP are to attain podium positions provincially, nationally and to compete on the international stage.
BCEP is supported by the provincial governing body of the sport, BC Athletics, as well as the Canadian Sport Institute and viaSport. Recently a sponsor has come on board, known as AFX (Ankle Foot maXimizer), which is a Progressive Health Innovations Inc., product. The purpose of the AFX device is to help support the volume of training the BCEP athletes are undertaking through strengthening the ankles and feet – an often overlooked area.
Coach Lee, originally from Kincarde, Ontario possesses extensive national and international-level coaching experience dating back to 1984, where he coached his wife Sue, who competed in the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. She set the Canadian 10,000 metre record on more than one occasion. More recently, Richard Lee helped Dylan Wykes to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics Games in the marathon distance. Wykes is currently the fastest active marathon runner in the country with his personal best time of 2:10:47, which he ran during the 2012 Rotterdam Marathon.
According to the BCEP website, Lee, since 2008, has been focussed on coaching post-collegiate athletes, helping them move to the next level of National Team and International competition. This experience and focus has helped shape the current BCEP roster, which includes Wykes, Sabrina Wilkie, Kevin Friesen, Natasha Wodak, Rob Watson, Kelly Wiebe, Luc Bruchet, Dylan Gant and Richard Mosley.
Successful coaches often seek external support to complement their training programs. It is common for groups to bring in health practitioners, like physiotherapists, massage therapists and sport psychologists. Their new sponsor AFX has created a product that helps athletes develop strength and flexibility in the lower leg, primarily in the ankles and feet. The BCEP group may already by reaping benefits.
According to Sabrina Wilkie, she has gained strength by using the AFX, “I have suffered a many lower extremity injuries in my past. Strengthening my feet and ankles has been an integral part of my rehabilitation and injury prevention programs. The AFX is a compact easy-to-use system that enables me to strengthen my feet and ankles and improve my foot and ankle stability. I find this especially important in cross-country (trail running) where one must navigate uneven terrain while running at top speed.”
Leonardo Da Vinci discovered that the foot is an incredible suspension bridge that any engineer would be proud of designing, he wrote, “the human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” That work of art is malleable and if developed well can harness a great deal of power to assist the running action.
Legendary coach Joe Vigil, one of the great minds in U.S. distance running, values the need for strong feet and ankles, “an excellent runner has very strong ankles, like a ballet dancer.” says Vigil. Vigil has his athletes run explosive hill repeats with bounding exercises to develop power in the feet.
A study funded by Nike and conducted by the University of Cologne looked at foot muscle strength in runners that used the Nike Free model of shoe – a shoe that is marketed as a minimalist-type shoe. The study found that over a five-month period the strength of toe and foot muscles increased by 4-5%. Stronger feet assist in controlling motion in the foot. Additionally, stronger feet add power to the push off, after the weight transfers to the forefoot. So how do athletes continue to develop strength and flexibility, when all of the required run training is done? Using the AFX may provide the answer.
Rob Watson, one of Canada’s fastest marathon runners with a personal best time of 2:13, a feat he has accomplished twice said, “I use the AFX! I think it’s a pretty cool device. It allows you to work on strength and range of motion of the lower leg, an often over looked area. I’ve been using it for a couple months now. I really like how it engages my ankle, foot and shins. These areas are the initial points of impact for runners….ya gotta keep these feet strong!”
Supplementing basic running with hill bounding, as Vigil points out, as well as doing barefoot strides (not all-out sprints) on soccer fields or grassy areas, plyometrics and trail running, will strengthen the lower leg and feet however, as mentioned above, when the athlete has completed all of their training for the day, a system like AFX will allow further strengthening and flexibility, while the rest of the runner’s body recovers from the day’s training.
For several years Kevin Friesen has raced well locally and owns a 10,000m personal best time of 30:39, which he accomplished during the 2012 BC 10,000m championships, a race he went on to win. He then ran the 2013 Vancouver Sun Run in the time of 30:32. “It’s been a great tool; I use it about three times a week and feel like my feet are stronger and more mobile. I am confident it will reduce my risk of injury to my lower legs and hopefully lead to better running results.”
In an AFX release, Coach Lee said, “Lower leg strength and mobility, particularly in the ankle and foot, are crucial in a runner’s ability to perform at an elite level and stay healthy. The AFX Ankle Foot maXimizer is a great tool that allows athletes to complement their normal training with targeted and low impact exercises specific for the foot and ankle.”