Back to what’s familiar

Out of town with family on a two day trip. We’re in an unfamiliar area, so I am going to do the treadmill. I figured I could work on cadence and taper a bit before a possible race.

I haven’t run with the metronome in a while, so I got it out today. As I expected, 180 steps per minute was a bit of a shock. I ran most of 5 miles at an 8 min pace at 180. I went back and forth between the newer arm idea and what I’ve typically done. At the faster cadence, thinking of the arms and legs going down seemed more natural than thinking of lifting. I also felt more relaxed. I did a half mile warm down at about a 10 min pace, still at 180, just to get used to the faster turnover.

More mileage, feeling good, more about arms

I ran 9.3 miles yesterday, which was my longest outdoor run in some time. I have two weeks off, and my plan is to run a lot and race two weekends in a row. I wanted to go another 9.3 today. Since I figured I’d be a little tired, I wanted to keep this run slow and at an easy effort. About two miles in, the trail cleared up enough ahead that I could see some people running at a pretty good pace that I figured I wouldn’t catch up with. However, they stopped to walk and I passed them. Immediately after I passed them, they started running again, and were gaining on me fast. I knew I shouldn’t, but I sped up to stay ahead, and they sped up as well. Oh boy, here we go…

They turned out to be teenagers, and they kind of got a kick out of me racing them. I stayed ahead of them for two miles in the low 7s before I finally lost them. Problem was, I still had about 5 miles left, and now I was exhausted. I went back to an easy effort and made it the whole way feeling very good. I think the arm idea I mentioned last time helped.

Here’s a video which I think illustrates this arm motion. There are many good ideas presented here, but around 2:42, the runner featured does some drills in which you can clearly see the idea of lifting the arms. Lifting the arms like she does, from hip to chest level, produces a very compact arm motion. It also helps produce a good “pop” off the ground because the legs will naturally lift as well. Observe her form throughout the video because it looks pretty good.

Maybe an even better way to use your arms?

I’ve talked before about keeping your arms up and rather close to your body. The idea is that we want to carry our arms in a way that requires the least amount of effort. I’ve also said that I’ve noticed that elite runners seem to move their arms downward across their chests instead of merely backwards and forwards, as many coaches teach. Well, in thinking about it more, I’ve come up with another approach that ends up looking similar, but may be even more efficient.

I’ve been logging more miles recently, and my body seems to be holding up well. I took a day off yesterday, and was doing a little running in place stuff. I realized that the arms kind of compliment what the legs do. In thinking of the arms swinging down across the chest, I may be emphasizing too much the feet coming down as well, which may accentuate the foot strike. Instead, I started thinking of lifting the arms up, from around hip level to the chest (some coaches say the arms should swing “nip to hip”–maybe they’re right, actually, but I’m thinking “hip to nip” instead). It’s just a minor difference, but thinking of lifting the arms seems to make us lift the legs as well.

I’ve heard all sorts of advice about how to use the arms. I’ve mentioned how some say they should move forward and back. Some people say we should think about pulling our elbows back behind us when we pump our arms. Well, I tried the lifting idea today, and it felt very natural. My arms seemed even more compact than when I think about swinging them downward. I’ve seen some pictures from races in which my arms look like they may windmill around a little too much. Simply pulling them up “hip to nip” may correct this. I was certainly faster today, and my form felt very focused and efficient. It was the easiest and longest run I’ve had in a while.

I’ll keep going with this approach and let you know how it works out.

(By the way, I’m thinking of the hands moving from hip to nipple area, of course. The arms will obviously move as well. “Hip to nip” just gives us a target area where our hands should be, keeping our arms from being held out too far from our center of mass.)

Correct Toes Again

About a year ago I started using a toe spacer device called Correct Toes. One of the things it is supposed to do is space your toes out in an optimal way so that your feet can be a stable base of support. I realized that I seemed to need it only for my left foot, and only really between my big toe and the toe next to it. The big toe on my right foot was spaced far enough away from the others that balance on my right side seemed pretty solid. I could see that my left big toe pointed in towards the other toes so that they were scrunched together, and this seemed to be a possible reason for less stability on my left side. Here’s a picture with the spacer in to remind you:

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I wore this for several months last spring, and after a while it seemed that my foot had adopted the spaced position even without the spacer. I stopped wearing it some time over the summer and forgot about it.

Recently, when balancing on one leg, my left side seemed not as stable again. I could feel that my big toe was engaging on my right side, providing a feeling of strength. However, on my left, my big toe wasn’t really “digging in” the same way. I decided to try the Correct Toes again, and sure enough, now my left big toe feels more involved in providing support.

I figure this preemptive move may help prevent certain injuries as I start running more.

Shoe Mania

I was in Florida for a couple of weeks for work. It was nice to run in some very pleasant weather for a change. As I hoped, the weather at home has improved during this time.

Before I left, I got a chance to try the Piranha SP5 shoe I was so excited about. I wore it on an 8 mile treadmill run. It felt great for the first 6 miles or so, but then started rubbing a spot a little the last 2 miles. I was hoping to find a new shoe that I could wear all the way up to the marathon, but I think I will only trust this shoe for 5 and 10k races.

My favorite races are the half and full marathon, so I was feeling bummed that I couldn’t seem to find a shoe to replace my beloved SP3. I went online in a desperate attempt to find an unsold pair, and actually located 3 in a store in the UK. They arrived in the mail during my Florida trip, and I was thrilled to open them when I got home:

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Though they were discounted, it was still kind of expensive to buy them and have them shipped to the US. Since I plan to wear them for races only, they should last several years. This color combination was never sold in the States, so I’ll be the only racer wearing this shoe. But that doesn’t really matter much to me–I’ll just be happy to wear a shoe that I know for sure will never injure me.

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.