Outdoor Run

I have to admit I’m not all that hot to add to this blog. The running is going fine, but I sometimes think that it may be too hard to explain certain parts of running form that I think are important and overlooked. One of those I mentioned a little while ago, and I’ll touch on it today.

I ran outdoors for the first time in a while. I think all the treadmill work has actually helped my form. When I’m on the ‘mill, I’ll sometimes drop my arms to my sides for a few seconds and let my shoulders do all of the work in my upper body. I’ll think of the shoulders as kind of driving the bus rather than the legs or some other part of the body. This helps promote the kind of counter-rotation of upper vs. lower body that I’ve mentioned before. When the left leg moves forward, the right shoulder will move forward, etc. When I then lift my arms back up to their proper position, I try to maintain the same shoulder movement.

This little exercise helps open up our stride. It also helps keep us from being too stiff. Running depends upon the whole system working together efficiently. Awareness of the shoulders helps us integrate more of our body into this activity.

I should also mention that there is a certain relaxed back and forth motion of the upper body that can accompany this. I’ve talked before about noticing this type of movement in elite Africans when you view them from the front. I know that most running coaches would disagree with my observation, and say that any side-to-side movement is wasted motion. However, I’ve looked at many videos of very good runners, and have seen this sideways component many times. I find myself doing it, but I think I would have a hard time describing to someone how to incorporate it into their running. It is a “feel” kind of thing, and perhaps naturally develops out of the shoulder thing I talked about.

More Treadmill Miles and Possible New Shoes

I’m still running on the treadmill to avoid the cold weather. I’m really enjoying it, as it gives me time to listen to podcasts on my earphones. I don’t always absorb everything I’m hearing, because I sometimes zone out a bit as I get into my runs. I often end up thinking about aspects of running form, and have an idea for a future post.

I’ve mentioned in the past that many runners seem too stiff, especially compared to the elite Africans. The Africans often seem to have a slight side to side motion when viewed from the front or back. I think it may be because they are allowing their uppers bodies to move freely, and are fully utilizing the counter-rotational aspect of bipedal locomotion. By this, I mean that their arms and shoulders are moving in opposition to their legs (right arm and shoulder move forward when left leg moves forward, left arm and shoulder move forward when right leg moves forward) in a more efficient and relaxed manner than most of us. But anyway, I’ll go into more detail some other time.

I was checking out a running shoe website today and saw that they are selling my favorite shoe in America finally. I have done almost all of my races in the ASICS Piranha SP3. This is the third version of a very light racing flat. It’s very firm and has little cushioning. They stopped making it in 2011, and introduced a fourth version, which wasn’t as good. A couple of years ago, I bought 3 pairs of the third one at a big discount, hoping they would last me a while, which they have. There hasn’t been a new version for sale here in over a year, even though the fifth one has been available in the rest of the world.

Well, it’s finally here:

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Many aspects of it look similar to version 3, so I think I’m finally going to use a gift card I got for Christmas and buy a pair. I know this probably sounds boring to most of you, but I’m very excited about trying this shoe. The SP3 was so perfect for me in every way, that I was thinking I would have to just run in the same old shoes forever. Maybe now I have a replacement.

Try Shoeless on the Treadmill

The weather was pretty nice today, but I opted for the treadmill because I wanted to run without shoes. I’ve found that it’s an easy way to work on my form. I still had on socks, because I think my feet would get rubbed a bit without them.

Without shoes, you will tend to adopt better running form–quicker cadence and landing more midfoot. Another added benefit of the treadmill is that the control panel is usually positioned in such a way that it will tend to draw our gaze down and ahead a few feet. This, I believe, helps align our head, neck and spine in a more efficient manner. I sometimes have to remember to not look up and out towards the televisions they have playing on the wall, as this would throw off my posture.

I ran for about 30 minutes or 3.5 miles in my sock feet. Eventually, my feet started feeling a little raw, so I wore my shoes for the last half hour. I was approached by a trainer at the gym wondering about running shoeless. He thought it was pretty cool, and I found out he was a certified Pose Method trainer. The Pose method of running emphasizes many of the ideas that other so-called “natural running” techniques emphasize. Quick cadence, good balance, landing more midfoot, among other things. I know that many other people noticed my unusual treadmill session. It’s my hope that seeing what I do might spur them to at least think about perhaps finding an easier and more fun way to run.

Two Weeks off, then 7 on a Treadmill

Didn’t run for 2 weeks after the half marathon. Too busy and just didn’t feel compelled to do it. If I had the time, I probably would have, but I didn’t really. I went to the gym yesterday and ran 7 miles in an hour on the treadmill. I’ll probably go and run about the same today. My legs don’t feel at all tired today. They might when I try to run again, but I have no aches or anything.

As usual, I think it’s because of my form. I can’t help but be a bit of a form snob and critic. I always like looking around at other runners and kind of internally shaking my head about their form deficiencies. There were quite a few poor runners yesterday. Slow cadences, heel striking, awkward and unhelpful arm movements, outward-looking and outstretched heads and necks–just so many problems. Of course, you can’t just go up to someone and give them advice to make running easier. Most people, I’m sure, wouldn’t appreciate the intrusion. Nor would they even believe that my ideas would work. Well, I’ll just keep doing my thing…

You Can Change Foot Strike

Generally, most people agree that running with a pronounced heel strike is not optimal. Although some very good runners heel strike a bit, many runners try to change their foot strike so that they land more on their forefoot or towards the middle. Some experts claim that changing the way you strike is impossible in some cases. That is not necessarily true.

Before I learned to run with a faster cadence, this is what my foot strike looked like:

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Here are two pictures from my race the other day:

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You can certainly see the difference. The “improved” me is landing more on the entire foot as opposed to landing heel first, which is essentially like putting on the brakes with each step.

I haven’t tried to change my foot strike. That doesn’t work. By increasing my cadence and wearing lighter shoes with less padding, I have naturally adopted a more efficient way of running.

Running Made Super Easy

I ended up being 4th in my age group in yesterday’s half marathon. I’ve never placed that high in a half. I feel great today and my legs feel fresher than ever. To say I’m pleased with how the race went would be an understatement. I’m happy that it didn’t feel as though I was putting forth too much effort during the race, and I’m happy that I had enough left at the end to sprint a bit to the finish. After stopping, my breathing returned to normal quickly, and I felt exhilarated, as opposed to feeling totally spent, as others around me seemed.

The purpose of this blog has always been to help people who, like me, never felt especially good at running or athletics in general. I wouldn’t say I’m handicapped in any way, but I’ve never felt as naturally good at physical stuff as some other people seem to be. When I started running, I always finished at the back of the pack. I was content to accept that as my place, and continued running with no thought about finishing higher–I merely wanted running to be easy and enjoyable. Surprisingly, I kept getting faster and now I consistently finish in at least the top third of the participants. I perform well against much younger and seemingly fitter runners. I also seem to be able to get myself into racing shape relatively quickly.

Of course, I believe all of this is possible because of my attention to my running form. I think it also helps that I wear relatively minimal shoes. My racing flats were in contrast to the heavy trainers that most of the people around me were wearing. It’s interesting to note that most of the fast runners who finished far ahead of us were also wearing very light racing shoes. People assume that only the really good runners are efficient enough to get away with wearing shoes with so little padding. I think that if more “normal” people adopted the fast cadence I advocate, they might find that running in flats is much better.

I also think that posture plays a huge part. I saw many who were running with that forward looking, “oh God, where’s the finish?” type of posture. That tends to draw the head out which throws our balance off, making running more difficult. I kept my gaze focused down and ahead 15 feet or so, which I have found keeps my head back atop my spine in a more efficient manner.

Good posture keeps us balanced. Being slightly off balance is, I think, the main reason injuries occur. By practicing standing on one leg, we learn the sort of balance we should have when running. Running is basically a series of one-legged “stances” performed while moving forward. If you tend to be off balance when performing a one-legged stance away from running, it’s likely that you will also be slightly off balance with each step as you run. It’s important to work out what needs to happen with your posture, arms and entire body to achieve a better state of balance.

My approach may seem to take the fun out of running for some. Paradoxically, I think having a systemized approach may actually free the runner to enjoy the experience more than just “going out and doing it.”

Why?

Why would someone leave a perfectly comfortable, warm house at the crack of dawn and drive 3 hours to run 13 miles outside with a group of strangers? Good question. That’s what I did today. I’ve been training somewhat for the past couple of weeks, trying to work off all of the holiday food I consumed recently. Much of my mileage has been on a treadmill, so not exactly the most ideal way to prepare for racing.

I ran a 5k last weekend. I was in such sorry shape that I got a side stitch halfway through and ended up finishing in over 22 minutes. I didn’t wait around for awards, but I later learned that I was 2nd in my age group, so everyone must have been bloated from the holidays.

But anyway, back to today… So, yeah, why? Well, it ended up being pretty fun, actually. Unlike my last half marathon, I didn’t have to walk at all. I started slow and made sure I felt very comfortable and warmed up before I bumped up the pace. Almost 9 miles of the course was covered in about two inches of snow, so I knew I wasn’t going to be setting anything close to a PR. I decided to run as fast or as slow as seemed comfortable at that moment. I also ran with my metronome most of the way.

When I switched the metronome on about 2 miles in, it was like I went into a higher gear suddenly. I didn’t try to go faster, and I made sure I wasn’t trying to cover too much ground. Still, I ended up passing people like crazy. The fast cadence made me seem so much lighter and more efficient than the people around me. A lady passed me with about a quarter of a mile to go. I decided to stick with her, and I must admit that it was gratifying to pass her a few feet before the finish.

I finished in around 1:46. Not a great time, but taking into account the conditions, I figure if you shave a minute or two off that result, it puts me right around where I should be with my current level of fitness.