IM FL 2008: Compression Report

For IM FL, I raced with compression sleeves for my lower legs by Zensah. I really like these for their compressive design, which is a ribbed, graduated compression that reduces up the lower leg. I also like sleeves as opposed to full socks as I prefer to wear my favorite socks for racing instead of potentially not liking the foot part of a full compression sock.
In retrospect, it was kind of dumb for me not to train with them. My ART doctor reminded me of this and it kind of slipped my mind that it would be one of those rare times I was going to try something new on the race and not before! In general, BAD IDEA. Thinking back, something bad could have happened, like the compression could have cut off too much circulation to my lower leg and caused numbness in my feet. Or they could have rubbed somewhere and chafed, or just been too uncomfortable.
I also had a decision to make. I was not sure if I should wear them on the bike, or put them on at T2 for the run. In seeing some races, I did see people wearing them on the run for sure. Certainly I have seen pro marathoners wear them. But I did not recall seeing anyone wearing them on the bike. So I decided that for this race I would put them on at T2 and use them only for the run. The next race I may try them for the bike and wear them through the run.
Hitting T2, I put on those sleeves and went out for the marathon part of the race. It’s hard to tell whether or not they really helped or not. This year, I trained more at the 3 hour/18 mile run level to increase my tolerance for running at speed at that time and distance. The course was totally flat the whole way, so no hills to tax my legs that way. The weather was very moderate, and the course with lots of shade so no super hot day to ruin my ability to sustain a pace or increase chances of cramping.
What I did notice, taking all these into consideration plus my compression sleeves, was that I was able to maintain a constant stride all the way through to mile 20. Post mile 20, I was still able to maintain stride although I was slowing down more. My fascia did not tighten up around my legs or knees and they remained nicely loose the whole way. Mentally, I did feel a bit tired and did more walking through aid stations. So I may have maintained pace between aid stations, but adding in more walking time through aid stations slowed my average pace.
Then my surprise at hitting mile 24 instead of mile 23 (brain fart for not noticing the mile 23 sign before then) and being able to accelerate at that point to the finish meant that I still had energy to do that even after 24 miles of running.
It’s inconclusive to say that compression sleeves were the sole cause that enabled me to run better, but I think that they helped. Certainly there were no negative effects. As I always say, “that which does not kill me, can’t hurt and probably makes me faster.”
I’ll have to think on whether or not I want to train with them. One part of me doesn’t like to use them as a crutch, but the other part of me tells me that I can have more good workouts and really push harder with less fatigue, and feeling less wiped out at the end of a long run or bike. Something to try next year.
I also wore 2XU Compression Tights post-race for recovery. I wore a size small and there were tight portions on my legs, but some parts like my thighs felt not as tight. 2XU uses circular/spiral bands of thread to create a graduated compression up the legs. However, I don’t think they work as well as they should even though I sized down a size and they were tight to put on. But I did wear them all day the day after, and slept in them. I think they did help me recover as my legs felt very fresh and my hips didn’t feel restricted after the race. I could tell by comparing my walking to others post-race and many others were definitely very stiff looking whereas I was much looser.
On the plane ride back, I wore my Zensah lower leg sleeves which always help on plane rides.
Yesterday I went to a local running store and bought a pair of Skins Sport Compression Tights. These use a different weave to achieve their graduated compression. I put them on and they felt better than the 2XUs. I had more compression all the way up my leg, instead of feeling like the compression disappeared up on my thighs. I think I will use these from now on for recovery.
I am also considering trying the Skins Sport Long Sleeve and Skins Sport Arm Sleeves next year at IM CDA. I wonder how full body compression affects my performance during race.
For some great information on compression, check out the Skins website for How Skins Work.

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