Saturday, July 26, 2014

Learning to run

Running those loops were endless, it seemed, back in the Grade-school days before I knew what running gear was or even that running was a thing to do outside of school-time Participaction. Our gym/Grade 5 teacher sent us off on that 2.2K loop around my school and I now wonder what kind of running shoes my parents bought me, more likely acquired when my mom visited the local Bi-Way -- she was, after all, famous for scourging sales, the dregs from the the discount bin where she could mysteriously find matching outfits for my brother and I just in time for school pictures.

The loops that we ran on random mornings was part of "training" for our meagre cross-country team. I was third and also the slowest of my group of boys. The loops didn't prepare me for race day that saw me try to crest a stupid hill -- there are hills and grass in cross country?  I had advanced through the first set of local races and found myself toeing the line of a city-wide cross-country race where for all but me it was really a run until my fitness was compromised. To this day, I remember distinctly the hill, trying to run to the top it and realizing the best thing next to starting a run at a full sprint was taking a walk break.

How did I come to run? Who made me do this? How do I do this running thing anyways?


They say that running is what we are meant to do. They also say that running with shoes is against nature, just ask anyone seeking a refund from Vibram what natural running really is. In truth, we like to say that if you want to see someone run without abandon, watch a kid run, and while that is good enough to see what type of joy you can have on a grassy field, do we really know how to run?

I've been asking myself that more recently as I pound out year after year on asphalt, trails and concrete. I've been wondering why -- talent and effort aside -- are others more efficient, why do elite runners look so perfect when we do not.


Those 'learn to run' or couch to 5K programs. These clinics focus largely on how to ramp up your cardio, how to dress for a run, how to pick shoes, how to race, set goals and think bigger (distances, speed). Those of us who progress quickly migrate to longer distances, aiming to get faster. Over the years, we ditch cotton for singlets, supported shoes for minimalist, ballcaps for headbands. While we swap out a wristwatch for a Garmin and crack open one of the hundreds of running books about the better marathon program or yet another guide to losing those last 10 pounds, we don't talk a lot about how we actually run.

I've read many form tips, about running tall, about arm movement, but it wasn't until I started training with a group did we actually start to talk about how to run. In the past two months, I've been working with the Runners Academy and their building better runner program, and to my surprise, there was a lot to discuss, things I've never considered before. 

We all have something we could potentially improve, as it turns out, when it comes to how we run. And it's not only about how move our legs. My main takeaway after a few classes with some of my teammates was this:

  1. We tend to walk fast because running is more like jumping
  2. Cadence, or how many strides in a set time, and stride length (how far you leap) can determine your speed
  3. Our footfalls can work against us, not for us
  4. We are weak -- weak in the hips, glutes, core -- and that hits our running
All of this was a revelation for me when I look back at my comeback in running -- it was fuelled by improving diet, doing core and upper body, running harder, faster, smarter. But I was essentially running the same.

Here's the thing -- everyone is different. Some people have perfect footfalls. Some people have no problem with cadence, as I famously can crank out 200 strides per minute while others barely crack 170. Some people land on their forefoot or heel, losing energy with every step or actually braking. All of these needs improvement.

For me, learning how to run meant to look at lot less like the roadrunner and thinking of running as jumping. That meant knee lifts, it meant that every step down was a step for power, it meant that running drills (As, Bs, Cs) were actually meaningful.

So it's all a work in progress. I have to turn myself more into a hurdler than a power walker. I need to continue the core work but work on the hips and the glutes. I now own a rubber band and I head to the park to tie myself to a gate while I work on knee drive while others wonder what the heck I'm doing. I'm still learning how to do Bs and not look like a dork (or less dorky version of a dork).

And it's making small strides, in a weird way, even just adjusting the cadence, to focus not on leaping forward with every step but instead to think about how I'm driving down to create more lift.

And it's as if I've found a hidden gear, challenged unlocked, mystery unveiled, lesson imparted. And it's beautiful.

Below is a GIF of the before on the left, and after on the right. I'm starting to work on 'jumping', slower cadence. The heel is starting to revolve, the knee a little higher. I'm bouncing more or, rather, I'm doing something that feels more like running.

The before/after -- left to right. Right side, more bounce, higher knee lift, fewer strides

Learning to run, after logging 10 years worth of long distance miles. I shake my head in near delight about the possibilities. I've always considered running the thinking person's sport and prescription of things I can work on fits that. The other part, the craft of running -- where it's about heart, meditation and will you can will yourself to go, that's there too.

I look back at the loops I ran as a child and realize that there was something to that repetition. Or the progression we make from run No. 1 to run No 10,000. Each time, you learn a little more, your body adjusts to that feedback, and you push yourself in a new direction - either it's choosing a new path or choosing how to get to the next place. I'm now zeroing in on each stride -- lessons to be learned there, I'm not sure, but the process and the product has been rewarding.

Running is like that -- you run in circles to end at the same place, but what you find during and at the end of each run is more than the distance gained. It's what draws me back to the roads every day and what makes me yearn to run those boyhood loops, following in my own footsteps.

1 comment:

Arcane said...

We're thinking along similar lines. I even have a video too! I'm trying to increase my foot strike rate though. Wow 200, is a lot.