Friday, November 23, 2012

Taking a Break to Break in my New Running Shoes

I buy my running shoes at Wasatch Running Company.  They do an amazing job of matching runners with the exact shoe to meet their running style, running goals, and budget.  The fitting process takes about half an hour. 

They measure your feet.  They watch you run.  They watch you balance on one foot and then the other, and then they bring out shoes for you to try – on the treadmill.  After I tried the first pair of shoes, I ran with two different shoes several times – to compare the feel of the shoes and to choose the one that felt better.  At the end of the day, I had a new pair of Mizunos – which is what I had been wearing before.  Maybe it was familiarity, but they were the shoes that felt the best.

Wasatch Running stands behind their fitting process.  I know.  I took them up on their guarantee last year.  It seemed the very feature I liked when I tested the shoes – support under the balls of my feet – didn't work so well on longer runs.  My toes went numb.  Wasatch Running not only took them back, but went through the entire fitting process again to get me into the shoes I just retired.

Only one caveat:  they ask you to take your first few runs in the new shoes on a treadmill.  So I am prepared for some treadmill time.  Not my favorite place to run.  Good thing Danny and Katherine Dreyer included some tips on treadmill running in their book.  I plan to devote my treadmill time to practicing posture, leaning, and keeping my lower legs relaxed.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chi Running Lesson 4 – Playing in the Sand

After practicing the passive lower leg, the authors recommend “taking it to the sand.”  By running in the sand and then examining your footprints, you can tell if you’re still heel striking or if you’re pushing off with your toes.  

It would have been much more fun if I had been able to run barefoot on sand in Hawaii.  But I live in Utah and it is winter here.  Finding sand proved to be a bit of a challenge.  I ran to the junior high school, where they have a great track but no sand.  I ran to the elementary school in hope of finding sand around the playground equipment.  Asphalt?   That won’t help.  I thought about trying the golf course, but most of the sand traps are more vertical than horizontal.

I finally found a sand volleyball court in a city park about half a mile away.  I ran to the park, focusing on keeping my lower legs relaxed and peeling my feet off the surface, and ran straight through the sand once I got there. 

The sand does not lie.  Every strike had a divot at the toe.  I’m pushing off with my toes.  Keep practicing.  Lift the heel and peel the foot.  Relax.  Relax.  Relax. 

The next run was better.  My left foot made beautiful, even footprints.  My right foot left divots in the toe.  I cleared the sand and tried again.  Same result.  I did this about five more times, and while my left foot has it right, my right foot is obstinately insisting on pushing off with the toe.  I may be the only person I know who has ever wished to have two left feet.

One of the key premises of Chi Running is maintaining balance.  I seem to have an out-of-balance condition between my right foot and my left foot.  I’ll have to focus on what’s different and work on making them the same.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chi Running Lesson 3 – the Passive Lower Leg

Lesson three is about relaxing the lower leg, lifting the heel and effectively peeling it off the surface and then putting it down in a mid-foot strike.  The authors recommended practicing this first while walking, so it took it for a long walk.

During my first half-mile of “peel” walking, I found myself peeling up and then “rolling” down – the peel in reverse, rolling from the heel to the ball of the foot as it came down.  I know that in running this should be a midfoot strike, but that’s really awkward walking.  It took until the second half-mile to figure out what I was doing wrong.  I was still reaching out with my step, and it’s difficult not to heel strike when you’re reaching.   I let my step fall under my column.  Problem solved.

I had the mechanics down enough to try this running, but I really needed to concentrate on relaxing.  An oxymoron?  Perhaps.  Concentrate is the wrong word.  It connotes the intense, furrowed brow that is anything but relaxed.  The authors use the word focus, which to me connotes more of a line of sight to a goal.  I took a deep breath, and alternated my mind focusing on the peel and focusing on letting go the tension in my lower legs.

The authors used two visuals that really helped me with this exercise.   The first was the wheel.  I found myself singing my own tweaked version of the Journey song, “wheel in the back keeps on turning” under my breath.  The second visual was the roadrunner – speeding along with his feet spinning behind him. 

I ran this way for 30 minutes.  I discovered that the more I relaxed my feet and ankles, the lighter my strike felt.  This could be a breakthrough!

Beep beep!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chi Running Lesson 2 – Stop trying to defy gravity!

Lesson 2 is learning to lean into your run.  Per the authors, leaning allows gravity to pull you forward.  Then, as you fall forward, the rearward force of the road pulls your support leg out behind you, allowing your leading foot to land under your center of mass to catch you from falling.  This leg then becomes the support leg and the process starts again.

Two forces – the force of gravity and the force of the road – collaborating to make me run more efficiently instead of conspiring to injure my feet and legs?  This sounds good. 

With column alignment in place, the way to start the lean is to focus on the bottoms of your feet, which should be hitting at the bottom of your column.  Then let the whole column fall, ever so slightly, in front of where your feet are hitting.

Today’s run was 5.5 miles.  I practiced running with a straight column and feeling my feet directly underneath, then tried the lean.  Just letting myself fall didn't work for me; I had to point my shoulders into the lean.  I immediately noticed that my stride had lengthened and was slightly behind my column.  I alternated the slight lean and running straight up several times along the course; pulling myself into the “C” shape each time I straightened up.  Yes, I still lose the lower abs from time to time, although I am definitely feeling them stay engaged more often than not.

There are exactly zero full-length mirrors on my running course, so I have no idea what my lean actually looked like.  I tried to observe my shadow on a couple of stretches, and it looked like I was in a slight lean with straight posture, but I think I’ll need to engage a more vocal observer – very soon.

An interesting observation – I had tried to engage the lean in a semi-walk in the house and it came out a very comical backward shuffle.  I was skeptical, until I tried it on my run.  It really does work when you are running.  I suspect the shuffle occurred because I wasn’t truly using the force of the floor.

I am still struggling with keeping my right foot and ankle relaxed.  Perhaps it’s because that was the foot I injured and I’m subconsciously not allowing it full range yet.  Good thing Lesson 3 – the passive lower leg – is coming up next.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Chi Running – Lesson 1 – Keeping the Posture

Today was a 4-mile run, which is my normal “baseline” run.  Before I started, I aligned my feet and legs, lengthened my spine, engaged those pesky lower abs, formed my column, pushed my hips back, re-engaged those pesky lower abs, and started off.

As I ran I not only concentrated on keeping the posture in the right place, but I focused on feeling my feet hit the ground all at once – the midfoot strike.  I kept the pace slow.

I did find myself losing the engagement of the lower abs – frequently – and having to re-engage my posture.  Of course, then I had to relax everything except my lower abs.  I have to confess – relaxing isn’t my strong suit.  Normally the word “calm” and my name are never used in the same sentence – unless of course, that sentence is a declarative addressing my lack of calm! 

Take a deep breath and breathe out.  Unclench the fists. Smile.  I’m running, and even with focusing on a new technique, running is something I love.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Chi Running – Lesson 1 – Engaging the lower abs

A key tenet of Chi Running is the ability to focus.  I did a two mile run focusing strictly on keeping my lower abs engaged throughout the run. 

The focus started even before my run.  I reluctantly dismissed my long-time running partner – my iPod – so that the music would not distract me from my focus.  I did my best to relax everything but my lower abs, and started a slow-paced run. 
It was interesting that, while I focused on my lower abs, I really didn’t pay any attention to what my feet and legs were doing – other than making sure they avoided any patches of ice left from the previous day’s snowstorm.  The air was clear and crisp and the run was really quite enjoyable. 

Tomorrow I’ll do the posture run the authors recommend, which includes keeping the lower abs engaged but also includes all the alignment work. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Chi Running Lesson 1 – Posture

Posture is foundational to the Chi Running technique and critical to building the strong core muscles needed to run efficiently.  I went through all six steps to getting my posture aligned for running

The use of the word “aligned” is significant.  The objective is to have as many of your body parts as possible moving in the same direction you’re headed.  Makes sense.   Back to the six steps:

Step 1: Align your feet and legs so they face forward.  No ballerina-style turnout allowed.  Check.

Step 2:  Align your upper body by lengthening your spine.  Yep, stand up straight – just like your mother told you.  Check.

Step 3:  Level your pelvis by lifting your lower abs.  Huh?  Until I read the book I didn’t even know I had lower abs.  OK – well, perhaps I ignored them the same way I ignore the rest of my abs.  Not a fan of crunches.   The authors go on to tell me I can feel my lower abs by faking a cough.  Cough – cough – there they are.  Now let me get this straight – I am supposed to consciously engage muscles I only use when I cough or sneeze to help me run.

That’s not all – I am supposed to do this without tightening my glutes.  (I do know where those are.)  The first time I tried to engage my lower abs, not only did I tighten my glutes, but every muscle up the spinal column up to and including pursing my lips.  Deep breath.  Try again.  And again.  And again.  Seems the best I can do is lift the lower abs and then try to relax everything else.  I’ll need to keep working on this.

Step 4:  Create a column that ensures your shoulder, hip, and ankle form a straight line.  After doing steps 1, 2 and 3, look down to see if you can see your shoelaces.  Nope.  Need to push my hips back to the rear.  Interesting.  The authors say that many of us stand with our hips too far forward and that making this adjustment will make us feel like our butts are sticking out.  That’s exactly what it feels like; but the side view mirror does not lie – I really AM straight.  Check.

Step 5:  The one-legged posture stance.  While maintaining the correct posture of steps 1 – 4, I practiced shifting my weight between both legs to feel what the legs and feet should feel like while running.  This emphasizes the midfoot strike, which really means the force of each landing is distributed equally over the full foot.  Why don’t they call it a “full foot strike?”  I may ask them someday.   Check.

Step 6:  The “C” Shape.  This is actually an exercise in quickly aligning your posture, or realigning it mid-run.  I practiced it several times in front of a mirror.  Check.  Practice is over – I’m ready to run.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Chi Running

I've hit what runners call a “plateau.”  I had been gradually increasing my distance while I was running at Hoop Lake, topping out at seven miles.  I thought that continuing this path would work just as well “down the mountain” but I've found that I can’t run any further than seven miles without my feet hurting.

I land on the balls of my feet.  I have since I started running again in my forties.  It just felt right.  This is probably a fallback from my “ballerina-wanna-be” days.  The good news – my knees are just fine.  The bad news – at about mile 6 the balls of my feet just ache and the muscles on the inside of my big toes hurt.  Weird.

This is not good.  I really want to run the Salt Lake half marathon next April, but as of now I can’t even run half a half marathon without pain in my feet.  What am I doing wrong?

Several months ago I read an article about a 70-year-old woman who was running ultra-marathons using a technique called Chi Running.  Chi Running utilizes your core muscles and leverages the laws of physics to make running more efficient and injury-free.  And while my problem may be as simple as needing to replace my two-year-old running shoes (I’ll do this anyway), the idea of a better running technique is intriguing.

So I got a copy of Chi Running by Danny and Katherine Dreyer.  I’m about halfway through the book and am ready to start incorporating their techniques into my running.  The authors recommend a gradual approach to learning the technique and have laid out ten lessons which they encourage both beginning and experienced runners to do sequentially.  So starting next week, I’ll start the lessons and log my progress.  May the chi be with me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I Voted

Today is Election Day – one of the most important days of the year when you live in a country where you have the privilege of electing those who will represent you in government.   I voted – and my vote counts. 

I grew up in a family where voting mattered.  My father was always active in local politics.  He served several terms on the City Council of our small town, and many years later was elected County Surveyor.  But my strongest memory of his political activity was the one election he lost. 
He was running for a position on the County School Board.  He campaigned hard, but his opponent campaigned equally hard, and when the counting was done, Dad had lost by three votes.  Yes, three votes.  And after he conceded the election, many of his friends told him, “If I had known it would be this close, I’d have voted.”  Can one vote make a difference?  You bet it can.

What do negative campaigning and telemarketing have in common?  We all hate it, but they keep doing it because it works.  That said, I will be so very glad when the results are in and the negativity is over – at least until the next election.  It is my fervent prayer that our newly elected officials will reach across the aisles, both nationally and in our respective states, for the good of our great country.  God bless America.