Running 101 and Run for the Roses

After the crazy over-scheduling of last weekend, we are very fortunate to have an open and unscheduled weekend upon us.  It has been a great week of re-connecting with important people in my life.

I did have a little set-back on Thursday, however, when I met with the estate sale people and learned that there is not enough “stuff” in my parents’ house to warrant an official “estate sale”.  So, I’m looking at trying to have a garage sale followed by just donating most everything – or sending it to an auction house for pennies.  I’m not really expecting to sell anything for much money, but it is 40+ years of possessions and donating ALL of it is a little extreme.  So, I’ll have to figure out the most sensible path…  It just seems like I take a 2 steps forward and 1 step back – but at least I’m moving along.

My son had football practice early this morning, so I took him to the park then went down to the Runner’s Den, a locally owned running store in Phoenix, for a free clinic on proper running form.  The class worked out really well with my schedule and there were still openings, so I decided it might be a good thing to learn more about since I’ve long suspected that improvements in this area might help me benefit my running.  There were only 6 of us registered so it was a nice small group.  Our instructor, Barry, was very friendly and informative, although hobbled by a mountain bike crash several weeks ago and he could not actually run with us.  He talked to us a bit in the room and explained that very recent science-based evidence is disproving many of the beliefs that have been taught – even  as recently as a month ago.  Heel striking, cadence of less than 180, etc. etc. are not necessarily a “bad” thing any more.  They are finding that running form depends so much more on our own individual structure and, most of all, our ancestry/genetics.  He showed us images of various hip insertions/femurs/pelvises (pelvi?) on a variety of people and how the wide variation is going to make all the difference in the world as to the best way for each of us to run.  After that, we headed outside of the store to the front sidewalks and Barry set up an ipad on a tripod.  He told us to run at a “conversation pace” past the ipad 3 times.  The first 2 were warm-ups and the 3rd time he would actually capture the gait and form analysis.  So we each took turns running past the camera.  As it turned out, Barry tricked us and actually filmed us the 2nd time … he didn’t want us to change anything for the “camera” like we might have for the 3rd run.

Then Barry lined us up in front of the sidewalk and taught us 4 major “rules” of running form and we had to repeat them about 100 times.  The first was “posture” and he had us “reset” our stack, as he called it, by reaching up over our head with our arms touching our ears.  This should help align us and tilt our pelvis in the correct direction.  Many, especially those who sit at a desk all day, are really tight and tend to pull the pelvis down.  He wants us to start each run by reaching up and getting lined up correctly.  Secondly, he had us stand with our heels on the side walk and lean forward from our ankles, to the point where we were about to fall forward on our face.  That is how we are supposed to run – with a slight lean so that the momentum does a lot of the work for us.  Thirdly, “no straight leg” – by sticking our leg out straight, we are, in effect, putting on the brakes of this forward momentum and losing energy.  Finally, we should strive to keep the horizon as level as we can and not be bouncing up and down.  This can be achieved by keeping our head up and staring ahead, concentrating on keeping still and reducing our vertical deflection.  Finally, we did a few exercises against the wall to kick our legs back in an effort to get our glutes and hamstrings strengthened and to feel them activated.

We then headed out to the alleyway to practice this.  He took a metronome out with us and, because he couldn’t run, he stood in the middle of the alley so we could hear it.  We ran back and forth a few times, listening to the cadence (which was at 180 steps per minute).  He challenged us to get our glutes and hamstrings involved more and taught us a few drills, like dragging/scuffing our feet and kicking back as we ran, to push off better – an activity we can try for 100 yards or so (on grass so we don’t destroy our running shoes).

Back inside the store, we went through the video analysis.  He used a free app and told us that we could have someone at home film us, maybe once a month, so we could see if we are making progress.  By the way, the apps are called Ubersense Coach and Spark Motion Basic (he also added that the free versions are all you need and that there isn’t much value in the paid upgrades).  The first 2 runners actually had pretty good form so he was pointing out many things they were doing right.  Some of the group had issues with a slight twisting motion or swinging their arms across their body.  The biggest “offense” we were committing was the “running with a straight leg”.  When we got to my video clip (which was a bit horrifying) it was interesting to see that I was guilty of doing that too.  I didn’t think I was, but … I was.  I was also a bit more of a heel-striker than I thought too, but he didn’t call that to issue as much.  Anyway, the best advice they give to work on the straight-leg / “braking” form is to increase cadence by 10%.  Fortunately my Garmin captures my cadence so I do have some record to see what a typical cadence looks like.  I have worked on this in the past, but I find that increasing cadence causes me to run faster than I can comfortably maintain for any distance.  Really, it shouldn’t matter, I can increase cadence and shorten my stride.  The rapid foot turn-over should help me stop sticking my leg out straight.  He also noted that my arms were “too relaxed” which was interesting.  I try to not let my shoulders get too tense so I try to keep my arms a bit more loose (but not swinging across my body).  Apparently I should keep them at more of a 90 degree angle to help with pumping efficiency.  Finally, he determined that I have a large vertical deflection of at least 5″.  He told me that is pretty large and I’m burning a ton of extra energy with that – he said it was no wonder I was frustrated with not progressing with my running…and this is a big reason.  He noted that I had a lot of power in my legs/calves and that was shooting me UP instead of forward.  So, it was all very eye-opening and interesting.  And I was disturbed by how paste-y white and large I still looked on video, but I need to get over that!  Overall, it was really informative.  There are lots of things to keep in mind, and I’ll probably need to go back for a “refresher”, but this was a good start.  For more information, a link for the class website can be found here.

I came home and although the temps were starting to approach 90 degrees, I decided I would take a quick run around the neighborhood to try out the new things I learned – and get my mile completed for the day.  I noticed almost immediately that it was very windy and I was having almost asthma-like breathing issues.  I was wheezing and struggling for air, which hasn’t been an issue in long time.  My chest was really tight, burning actually.  I’m not sure what our air quality is right now, but I suspect that was part of the problem.  Anyway, I tried to use some of the things I learned – particularly working on cadence.  It was a tough run but I managed a 10:24 / mile.  It has been a while since I have run that fast – although my lungs did not appreciate it, at all.  I uploaded the run data from my Garmin and, just as I suspected, I had a really hard time keeping the cadence elevated.  According to my Garmin summary, I averaged 161 spm, and the max I reached was 171.  In order to reach my 10% increase goal, as suggested by the running coach to help eliminate the “straight leg” strike, I should aim for a 177 spm cadence.  So, I obviously have some work to do.  I think a 5% increase at a time is more reasonable, so I’ll target that first.  I can set a cadence display on my Garmin (and use a metronome app) to help with this.  The coach today said to concentrate on these changes for the first 2 minutes and the last 2 minutes of each run.  Then over time, increase this by a minute in the beginning and end until, eventually, the entire run consists of your new habits.  Seems like a reasonable way to attack it.  By the looks of the graph today, I made it about 1:30…


10313835_10203689512740867_2888041976559803923_nAfter showering, my husband and I gathered the kids and told them we were going to the horse track in Phoenix, Turf Paradise, to watch the local races and the simulcast of the Kentucky Derby.  I explained to them that since my parents were both from Kentucky, Derby Day was always a big deal in my house growing up.  I also had spent quite a bit of time at Turf Paradise as a kid – in fact, my parents would call me in “sick” at least once a year so that we could go watch the races on a week-day.  I really loved spending time with them at the horse track – we always had a fun day sitting in the shade of the grandstand, picking horses, eating hot dogs, and just hanging out.  I knew today would be a crowded zoo since it was Derby Day, but it seemed like a fun opportunity to take the kids and see if they liked it.  My husband had been teaching them about the different ways to bet on the horses (Win, Place, Show, Quinella, Exact, Trifecta) so they were already familiar with some of the terms.  They were a little hesitant at first, but after looking at the racing form on the drive there and laughing about the horses’ names, they were already picking their favorites for the day.  Everything worked out well at Turf Paradise too.  The 10269649_10203690770052299_1060430941813088033_ntrack has gotten a bit “seedy” over the years, but the crowd today was actually a bit different and many were there dressed nicely – not quite as nice as Churchill Downs, but there were dresses and hats and men dressed in pinstripe suits, etc.  It was a fun atmosphere.  The track had also made it very inviting for kids, with a whole “kid” area with inflatable jumpy things and a playground.  So, we bet on most of the races and I placed about 6 bets on the Kentucky Derby, which was simulcast from Churchill Downs around 3:30 pm Arizona time.  I went into the betting area to watch it on a crappy TV with about 200 other people.  10259921_10203690710370807_3279158775617753548_nIt was really loud and fun, although kind of hard to see what was going on.  I was close to having a winning ticket, but it didn’t happen.  I think only 2 of our kids actually won today – small bets, but it was fun for them.  For the last race we stayed for, we went down to the ground level and watched the horses at the rail.  It was really warm at this point (100 degree I think), but it is always fun to see them up close.  Overall, I think the kids enjoyed the experience and I would take them again.  Weekend days like this have been so rare – we are usually just trying to get everyone where they need to be, individually, and we don’t spend much time together as a family.  This was a nice change!



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4 Responses to Running 101 and Run for the Roses

  1. Thomas says:

    Looks like fun at the track! Also some really interesting stuff about form!


  2. Caitlin says:

    Very interesting stuff – thanks for sharing!


    • Thanks for stopping by, Caitlin. I tried it out today on my run again and I do feel better – maybe more powerful now. Definitely something I’ll keep practicing. He said we’ll probably get slower before we get faster when working through these new forms.


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