Tag Archives: form

Yes, I’m Aware that I’m Not Aware

Years ago, I was out on a Saturday morning club run. Among the runners that day was my instructor from the Running 101 class I’d taken the previous year. That class got me into running regularly, and resulted in my first half marathon. She looked at me as I passed.

“You’re doing great!” she said. “Drop those shoulders.”

Sure enough, they were riding up. I knew I was prone to this under stress, such as while running or in a tough Aikido class, but it’s not something I readily recognize. Since then I’ve worked on being more self-aware during long runs, and to consciously remind myself to relax.

Learning and applying self-awareness has several benefits. For one, it forces me into the moment – “how am I really feeling right now” – and takes my mind away from how much time or distance I have remaining. And once in the moment, it’s easier to remain there, to appreciate that I’m doing something I love, and how beautiful a day it is, or how beautiful the trail is. For me, at least, an ultra is a great thing to have finished, but the memories are more important. I have distinct memories from every one of my 22 (so far) ultras, and replaying them, good or bad, is very much like being there all over again.

Feeling good at the 2014 Dances with Dirt – Hell 50K.

It’s also good to be honest with yourself when others are not. Race staff, volunteers, and spectators don’t want to discourage runners. So what comes out of their mouths are things like, “You’re looking strong!” whether I’m bounding along or shuffling like a zombie and they’re texting the county coroner to stand by. So the times when they’ve been honest with me really stand out, like the guy who told me my nose was bleeding halfway through a 50K, or the aid station captain who gently hinted that maybe I should turn in my chip because I looked pale and wasn’t sweating. All this means I have to be conscious enough of my condition to make good decisions – or to specifically ask for an honest assessment from someone else..

Here are a few things I do at times during a long run or race:

  • Check my breathing. If I’ve picked up the pace, or run hard for a while, my breaths can get shallow and less productive. No matter how fast I’m going, I switch to several deliberate deep breaths. Not so much to get extra oxygen into my lungs, but to get the excess carbon dioxide out. So breathe out to empty the lungs, then breathe in normally.

Relax! Breathe deep!

  • Check posture. Am I upright, back straight, leaning from the ankles, or starting to hunch over?
  • General body check. How is everything feeling? Is there pain anywhere I’m not paying attention to? Am I favoring one side over the other? Do I need water or salt? You may wonder that I have to consciously do this, but when you’re focused on a particular goal or milestone, such as getting over this last ridge to the aid station, you can lose touch with how your body is doing.

Then, of course, there are times it’s obvious how my body is doing.

Having run ultras for years now, it’s mostly second nature. Or so I’d like to think. And yet, this very morning I was out on a club run, cruising through Nichols Arboretum, and we passed a couple of people on the trail. I was the last one in the pack, and shortly after I passed them I heard the older man’s voice behind me: “Relax the shoulders!”

One of these days, I’ll learn. Maybe.

I Got Hurt. Was it the Shoes?

SO YOU’VE READ Born to Run, and you’re now sold on “minimalist” running. You rush out to replace your traditional, well-cushioned heel-mashers with sleek, low-drop lightweights. In your eagerness to give them a try, you head right out for a long run – and get hurt.

It must have been the shoes!

Throwback reference! Click here to see the classic commercial.

Throwback reference! Click here to see the classic commercial.

After all, you didn’t change anything else – not your form, your stride, or cadence. Why, you even listened to the same mix on your iPod. And therein the problem may reside. So before you call 1-800-SHYSTER (*), why not hear what the Running Fit panel had to say about how people can get hurt when switching running styles.

The panel from left to right: Parker, Jeff K., Kristen, Jef M., Trevor, Farra.

The panel from left to right: Parker, Jeff K., Kristen, Jef M., Trevor, Farra.

As I wrote in my previous post, the panelists had varied experiences when they took up minimalist running. Most were positive, like Jef, whose frequent injuries stopped when he switched shoes. But there are some caveats. Such as:

New shoes won’t fix bad form and posture

How did she know? (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

How did she know?
(Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Trevor, the Running Fit business manager, once had nagging back pain that wouldn’t go away. Training and stretching didn’t help, nor did changing shoes. Then he got a new desk chair, and within a week his pain was gone. His problem had been caused not by running, but by sitting.

I may have had this problem too. During physical therapy at Probility for my shoulder, my therapist noticed was that some of my vertebrae were twisted. We traced the likely cause to the way I sat at my desk. She corrected my spine and I corrected my posture, and not only has my shoulder improved, a bit of lower back pain I had also disappeared.

And one gender in particular has an additional challenge.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The appeal of these things will forever remain a mystery to me. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Panelist Farra Rust said that women often have calf issues due to wearing high heels, and they get more PF (plantar fasciitis). She also noted that the heel-to-toe drop in running shoes has quietly decreased from an average of 12mm a few years ago to about 8mm today.

But the way you run also matters.

Panelists Jeff Kong from Tri-Covery Massage and Fitness and Kristen at Michigan Rehabilitation Specialists see their share of runners with injuries, and they both said that bad form was a contributor. “Heavy heel striking or too slow a cadence are no good,” Kristen said, adding that pronating (excessive rotation of the feet) can hurt the knees and IT band.

Jeff encourages people to work on improving body mechanics. Tight hips or a tipped pelvis cause problems and over-compensation. “Run like a ninja,” he said, meaning to feel like you are skimming lightly over the ground.

One of the audience members said that he went from motion control shoes to minimalist. Then one day he put the motion control shoes back on, and noticed that he began to heel strike. Jeff Kong replied that, “shoes may not help with form, but the bad form is probably there without the shoes.”

And don’t overdo it, especially at first.

Farra, a “former minimalist runner” told a cautionary tale. “I ran a lot in minimal shoes and racing flats,” she said, including ultramarathons up to and including 100-milers. “But what I didn’t realize was that all that running was causing me to lose muscle mass and strength.” She stopped running ultras and took up CrossFit. “If we could get all runners to do more than just run,” she said, “there’d be a lot fewer injuries.”

Somehow this is supposed to help my running.

Somehow this is supposed to help my running.

“Run on a soft surface,” Jeff Kong said, “and go a little at a time.”

The Barefoot Runners Society audience member added that in his experience, overweight people often have better results than more fit people switching to barefoot running. The fit runners try to go too far, too soon, and can get hurt.

And then there’s . . .

“Ear buds,” Jef M. said. “Ear buds cause injuries.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

“People put on the music and tune out. They lose touch with the world, and with their bodies.” By not being aware of how your body is feeling and what it’s doing, he pointed out, you can slip into bad form or not notice the beginning of an injury.

Not to mention, I might add, you might not notice the cyclist or vehicle you’re about to run into. And several joggers wearing headphones are killed each year jogging on railroad tracks, apparently unable to hear the train’s whistle over their music.

So there you have it. If you want to move to lighter weight shoes, go ahead. But be sure not to do too much too soon, work on improving your form, and listen to your body. That should take you a long way toward staying injury-free regardless of what you’re wearing on your feet.


(*) This number appears to be an RV center in Texas. So don’t call. Unless you’d like a nice Class A to recover in, I suppose.

I’ve Got a Little List

Recently Kris at gorunagain.com invited several bloggers, yours truly included, to give him some tips for runners just starting out. His post has eight tips ranging from using a goal race as motivation, to planning for pit stops, and even (gasp!) running without music. It’s a good list that goes beyond the usual “see your doctor, buy the right shoes, don’t run too fast” rote of the typical list.

Read the GoRunAgain post: Eight Unique Running Tips for Beginners

Kris used two of the tips I came up with and it seemed a shame to waste the others, so I’ve put the rest of my list below. They all come from my own experience as a beginning runner, but I still apply them today.

#1 – Just Run

Doesn’t matter for how long or how far you go. What matters is that you put on the shoes, step outside, and get going. There are always excuses why you can’t run today. Overcome that inertia, and the rest will take care of itself.

I didn’t run at all until just a few years ago, and then just to supplement my other activities. A run of 2-3 miles was a significant accomplishment. Today I run 20-30 miles per week, take part in 20 races per year, and am training for my second ultramarathon. I never expected this to happen; running just sort of grew on me. But it started like everyone else – one mile at a time.

The 2013 Boston Marathon PR Fitness runners. :Like all marathoners, they got there by going out and running.

The 2013 PR Fitness Boston Marathoners. :Like all marathoners, they got there by putting on the shoes and getting out the door. (And with invaluable support from the rest of us, of course,)

#2 – Don’t Expect Instant Results

Quick, but not very satisfying.

Quick, but not very satisfying.

It takes time to build the physical and mental stamina needed for longer runs. Pushing too hard will get you hurt, and some people give up running when that happens. Not happy with your results? That’s okay, it’s all about improvement. Next time will be better.

#3 – Form Is Everything

Once you start running more than 2-3 miles at a time, or more than twice per week, proper running form is essential to preventing injury. Good form also feels better and helps you run farther. Work on correct footstrike, posture, and stride. Consider taking a basic class on running; the one took in 2010 covered form, shoe selection, running gear, and nutrition. And it got me into the habit of running regularly.

Improve your form, and prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse!

Improve your form at Running 101 – or was this the seminar at the Ministry of Silly Walks? I don’t recall.

#4 – Enjoy Each Run For What It Is

Whether it’s a race, training for an event, stress relief, socializing, or just for some fresh air and exercise, you’re out there for a reason. Breathe deeply and live in the moment.

Happy Runners

Footnote: A colleague of mine, who was an active runner years ago, has recently started again and ran 5K yesterday. He was pretty unhappy about his time and didn’t want to hear that “just running” was a win. (It’s true, but he didn’t want to hear it.) “Okay, so your first time out sucked,” I told him. “Next time will be better.”

“Now that’s something I can take away,” he said, smiling.