Thursday, July 30, 2009

I love to run. It's an activity that I basically abandoned after my early childhood and didn't pick up again until my mid-30s. I have been fortunate in that I have never struggled with my weight or with health in general - so I picked it up again more out of a general desire and awareness that I needed to be more healthful in my lifestyle. Once I began, however, it quickly became a source of stress-relief, relaxation, personal growth & challenge and even community-building.

I have never been athletic and am not so now. I don't expect to set any records in my running. But, as folks who know me will attest, I can become a bit obsessive about the things I get involved in - and I tend to read and research and think a lot about the things that interest me. This is certainly true with running. So while my genes may limit my ultimate potential, this doesn't, at least to me, detract from the seriousness I apply to my running.

I say all that to say that I do think a lot about why I run, how I run, when I run, etc. So, if for no other reason than to find a place to record these thoughts of mine for my own future reflection, here are the ideas and mantras I chant to myself as I head out on my runs that I have either learned from others, confirmed for myself or am in the process of proving/disproving. I hope they are helpful to others as they are to me.

Running with Good Posture

I do not by habit have great posture. No less so when running. Yet I know from my own experience that if my posture fails, I will be more inclined to have less energy on my run, more likely to experience soreness in my recovery, and in all likelihood have a slower pace. I ruminate and recite the following four ideas during my runs to ensure I'm keeping good posture. (The first two heuristics here are from my wife's Pilates training, but the ideas I use pre-date the terms I've applied here.)

(1) Back cleavage One of the key things I try to do in running is keep my shoulders down and back. This creates what I call "back cleavage". Running this way straightens the spine, helps keep the shoulders squarely over the hips, lifts the rib cage to ensure better breathing. I find running this way increases my energy and pace as well as avoiding back, shoulder and neck soreness after runs.

(2) Naval-to-spine. I've been asked how I hold my abdominals during a run. And watching the finish line of most marathons will inevitibly bring images of beaten-down-looking runners with rounded shoulders and clenched abs. Alternately, I focus on two ideas: pulling my naval in and arching my back - pulling my naval toward my spine. This posture compliments the shoulder posture mentioned above to lift the rib cage improving breathing. It also relieves stress on the lower back and, again, keeps shoulders-over-hips.

(3) Balloon from the chest. I picked up this tip from Runners' World. Simply imagine a helium balloon attached to the middle of your sternum. Envision how this balloon would pull at your chest as it lifts upward. Run with this posture. This accomplishes two things in concert with the tips above. First, it contributes to the shoulders-over-spine idea mentioned above. Second, it helps me with a specific posture problem I have of holding my head too far forward. I like to think I "lean into" life. But what I really do is extend my head & neck too far forward. Not only does this not open the airway for better breathing, but it can also contribute to additional strain in my neck and shoulder muscles. Holding my chin in is an important posture focus and the balloon idea helps to visualize how to do it.

(4) Grab the ground. I'm still working on this concept. As folks who know me know, I have struggled all of last year with plantar fasciitis and thankfully, seem to be past it now. However, I still feel that dreaded twinge from time-to-time and am determined to avoid it if I can. I'm currently reading "Born To Run" - which I highly recommend. In it, the author takes a lot of shots at highly-cushioned modern running shoes claiming Bill Bowerman essentially changed modern human running by the creation of such shoes needlessly (or, at least, in pursuit of a very particular running technique Bowerman believed in at the time, but later, according to the author, abandoned or partially recanted). The idea is that humans have evolved to run with a forefoot or mid-foot strike - not a heel-strike. The latter being possible only because of modern running shoes cushioning such landings. Further, that modern arch supports actually weaken a runner's foot (referencing the idea of the traditional stone-mason's arch - which grows stronger with downward pressure, but weaker with upward force) thereby creating injury potential. The author cites statistics and studies claiming to show that the per capita rate of running injuries has increased significantly since the invention and evolution of running shoes. The upshot of these ideas are not radically new as far as I can tell. Basically, the idea is to try to move your legs and feet as if you were running barefoot.

This posture has the following components:

(A) A short stride - if you can't land on your heel (which you won't if you're running barefoot for any appreciable distance on a hard surace), your foot will have to land very close to directly beneath your center of gravity - not in front of it. This means you will have to have a short stride. It was stride-lengthening Bowerman had in mind when he began creating heavily padded shoes allowing heel-strike landings.

(B) A high leg-turnover - to keep your normal pace with a shorter stride will require you take more steps to cover the same distance - an increase in leg-turnover. For distance runners, LTO has been a long-standing metric of performance.

Many amatuer runners - whose only experience may have been with running short distances or sprinting - mimic the longer, knee-lifting strides used for these burst-runs - not realizing their overall pace for any lengthy run will suffer. To visualize how to run this way, I think of my steps as trying to "grab the ground" with my toes - reaching out with the outside of my foot, pronating to the balls of my feet, then pressing down with the arch and heel at the landing and push-off. This is not a solid fore-foot strike, but somewhere between this and a heel-strike. The POSE method seems to be something of an extreme version, but it seems to fall short of taking advantage of the remarkable structural design of the foot arch.

Anyway, when I'm focusing on posture, these are the things I think about.

Motivation & Music

Time management, commitment, motivating thoughts, and visualization are all tools and techniques I use to ensure I keep running.

As much as I love to run, I freely admit that I not infrequently struggle to get motivated to get out the door. For my a part of this is the time of day. My peak energy level is between about 9am and 2pm. On almost any day, barring the stresses and obligations of life, I could charge out the door between these hours with little notice or preparation. Earlier than this or later than this require some self-motivation. So the first step in my motivation is to try to make time to run when I know it will be most appealing and easiest for me.

I like to run by myself. As you'll see later in this post, I most frequently run by myself and listen to audiobooks or music. But I also train with other people frequently. One of the greatest motivators in getting "out the door" is an obligation to meet a friend and fellow runner. Find a partner, join a local running club, etc. It's hard to beat the effectiveness of this motivator.

Obviously, a lot of the time, I don't get to control my schedule, so I end up having to try to run when I'm feeling tired or sleepy. This is sometimes tough. So I try to force myself to get out the door. If I can just get into my running clothes and get to the doorknob, I'm usually OK. I keep telling myself the run will feel good once I'm out there. I also keep telling myself that the worst run is the run you don't start. Just a little pep-talk to get me "over the hump" and out the door. After that (and, usually the first three-quarters of a mile), I'm doing great!

In addition to these tips, keeping a running magazine nearby, reading inspirational stories of folks who've pushed beyond their comfort zones to accomplish things, seeing yourself as a runner - are all powerful ways I've found to keep me motivated and excited about my runs.

Once I'm out the door and on the road though, I still need some motivation to go the distance. I love to run with music and I've found that the choice in music can make a big difference in my running. I can speed up my pace, add to my distance, improve my posture - in some part based on what I choose to listen to while I'm running.

If I'm doing a distance run, I prefer to listen to an audiobook. Getting caught up in the plot and rhythm of the story allows the future work of additional miles to drift from my mind and I'm only feeling the moment as the story carries me along. Podcasts, audiobooks or other narrative programs are very effective in helping me enjoy long runs.

For shorter runs (anything less than 6-8 miles) - or for tempo portions of longer workouts - nothing beats music to help me pick up the pace and get moving. I've written previously about how to select music based on your desired pace and the beats-per-minute of particular songs.

What follows below is a bit more subjective review of some of my recent favorites and how they get me moving. Note that my "casual" running pace is between 9:00-9:15, a tempo run is between 8:00-8:45 and a hard run for me is faster than 7:45.

A few of my current "top motivator" songs include:

Use Somebody by The Kings of Leon -This is a 8:15-8:45 pace song. The beat and energy are contagious.

Gives You Hell by the All-American Rejects - 7:45-8:15 pace. This song is just fantastic for a run. I cannot help but increase my pace when this song starts - and then it builds as the song progresses.

Sometime Around Midnight by Airborne Toxic Event - 8:00-8:30. Great piece of music here that grabs you gently but ramps up as it builds to a high energy jolt by the end.

Other great motivating songs include O.A.R.'s Shattered, Daughtry's Feels Like Tonight, Baba O'Riley by the Who, She's a Beauty by The Tubes, She's My Ride Home by Blue October, Lenny Kravitz' American Woman, and so on. These are all personal choices - as long as the BPM and energy level work for you, go with what moves you.

I work these songs into my playlists on shorter runs so I start off with one of them to get me going (but don't go out too fast) and one or more to bring me back in while keeping the pace up and my posture correct. I'd suggest you find the "driving" songs that appeal to you and use them to keep you moving at the right times in your runs.

Get out and enjoy your run!

1 comment:

Amy@RunnersLounge said...

Great post and tips!

Would it be possible to republish this on Runners' Lounge? I am one of the cofounders of this online community for runners and we love to add great post to our library of resources. Of course there would be link back and credit to you and your blog.