Wednesday’s group run with Coach Richard was wonderful, and not just because of the great form tips he gave me. I got to meet more of the O2EA crew, and I immediately felt like I belonged. And each person in the group is inspirational in their own right. There was another Julie, who’s lost over 100 pounds and is competing in Olympic triathlons. There’s John, who just became a grandfather and has lost his own 120 pounds. There’s Kelley, who battled obesity and won only to be diagnosed with cancer three (!) times (including a terminal diagnosis nine months ago), who has race-walked her way to the finish line of three half marathons to date. And of course there’s Carlos and Richard, who made sure I felt welcome and motivated me every step of the way. While Carlos led the veterans on a lap of Sloan’s Lake (the beautiful lake above, with a great view of downtown), Richard took me aside and we went over some form and mechanics while he got a look at my running.
Here are Richard’s five form basics, which should be familiar to the veteran runners out there (I’m still a “noob”):
1. Posture. I definitely roll my shoulders forward and compress my torso when I run. I know this because within a couple hours of a long run, my lower back will be in a ton of pain. But the position of my shoulders also affects my lung capacity; rolling my shoulders and folding in on myself compresses my lungs so I can’t breathe as efficiently. Running upright with my chest forward and shoulders back is definitely at the top of my “things to work on” list.
The position of your hands also plays a role in your efficiency – clenched fists drain power from your legs to your upper body. Of all the components of good form that Richard brought to my attention, this is the one I was most familiar with previously and have worked on significantly. I’ve heard that your hands when running should be holding everything from imaginary eggs to imaginary squirt bottles filled with a poisonous gas. The fear of decimating an entire population in my head because I squeeze my hands too firmly when I run is surprisingly motivational. Richard’s analogy was a kindler, gentler mental picture – I have Lay’s potato chips between each thumb and forefinger, and if I want to eat them at the end of a run, they need to stay in one piece. Turns out the way to good running form is through my stomach.
2. Striking. If you’re hitting the ground with your heel, you heel is taking all the force of your running and sending it straight up your legs and back. Change to a midfoot or forefoot strike allows you to disperse the force more evenly through your body because you’re hitting a part of your foot that’s naturally springier and meant to absorb more shock. Richard suggested I practice walking on my toes, even around the house, to get used to striking more forward than normal. Honestly, I felt like I was prancercising. But I agree to feel a little ridiculous if it means I can avoid injury.
3. Lean. You shoulders should stay back in relation to your torso, but if you want to propel yourself forward, you need to lean forward. And by lean, I mean your whole body. No bending at the waist. This also gets the added benefit of making sure your feet are striking underneath you instead of in front of you and increases the likelihood of a midfoot or forefoot strike. And on the flipside, leaning back when you run is an “easy” way to slow yourself down. You’re like a human Segway, honestly.
4. Cadence. This was another one of those things I had heard elsewhere – 180 steps a minute is the “ideal” running cadence. And this is another one of those things I’ll have to work on, because I’m a relatively slow runner. But ideally, my cadence would always be 180 and my stride length would be the thing that changes to speed up or slow down my pace. And one perk of a faster cadence is that you spend less time in contact with the ground. So you run more efficiently, and you’re not sending as much impact force through your feet and up your legs to the rest of your body. Hip pain? Plantar faciitis? Shin splints? Might just be your cadence.
5. Breathing. The general principle is that as you fatigue your breaths get smaller and the CO2 in your lungs gets trapped in there because your exhales are too small to get it all out. So, per Richard, every so often you should take in as big a breath as you can and then quickly blow it out to help clear out your lungs. Every time you pass a tree on the left, or take 20 steps, or think about how sweaty you’re getting between your boobs… take a big breath and blow it out.
Richard ran with me on a loop of the lake (conveniently almost 5k all the way around), cueing me to take my big breath while I focused on making sure my shoulders were back and I wasn’t hunching over. I mentioned to him how my feet scrape against the ground when I’m tired, and he suggested trying to bring my knee higher up when I bring my foot forward on each step so I can land right on top of the ground and take quieter steps. It completely worked, it actually felt comfortable, and for the rest of the run all I could hear was how loudly everyone else ran. Success!
The next morning, I was scheduled for a 4-5 mile training run. Since I’ve never run consecutive days before, I thought I’d hit the treadmill instead of the trail system because it would be easier on my legs. HA! That’s so funny. I’m full of funny, right there. I barely made it two miles, and I hated every second of it. I have to say, I love my gym. LOVE. Love with lots of Lisa Frank rainbow heart stickers. But after running outside for a while now, running inside is just not doing it for me. I didn’t feel tired or winded; I just couldn’t get in a groove. To salvage what was left of my workout time, I jumped on a stationary bike and pounded out a few miles. Lesson learned: stay outside to run whenever possible.
Cycling is definitely my preferred cross-training method of choice. I delighted myself with visions of finishing a triathlon this summer, before the logistics of getting in open-water swimming practice left me curled in the fetal position in front of my computer, so I’m comfortable doing 10 miles or more inside. I typically start at about 60% effort and increase my resistance every 60 seconds until my heart rate hits 150 bpm. Then I slow back down to 60% effort and ramp up again. With this cycle, 10-11 miles take me about 45 minutes. Not slow, but not racing fast either. I’m definitely good and sweaty afterward – the perfect condition for lifting weights! I go back and forth between free weights and machines, and lately I’ve been doing a lot of leg presses (in the vicinity of 100 reps of 150-160 pounds) to help strengthen my knees. They audibly click when I do just about anything, so I’m worried they’re going to be my running point of failure.
Because, like I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for a gimmick, I signed up for the Proskins SLIM 28-Day Challenge. Essentially, thanks to super-duper special fibers, these leggings promise to help you lose inches, banish cellulite, keep you cool in summer and warm in winter, and leave your skin nice and smooth. They also have bits of silver woven in, so you can wear them for days without washing and they won’t stink (which – COOL! And also, GROSS). I’ve had them for all of a day at this point and am not svelte just yet, so I can’t speak to their magical powers of slim-ification. But they’re insanely light and comfortable – like completely opaque tights, without constriction – and they definitely have kept me cool (I’ve worn them to bed, to the gym this morning, and under my jeans today at work, and it’s not exactly cool out). I’m thinking of getting more just because they’re *gasp* really good leggings. They’re not compression leggings, so running with them might give me too much of the jiggles, but for just about everything else I’d wear them. They’re also perfect for layering under a tunic or dress, because they’re not shiny like typical workout leggings but they’re not super-matte either. They’ve got the legging version of an eggshell finish.
I’m supposed to wear them for eight hours a day for 28 days straight, and I took my beginning measurements yesterday to verify (or debunk) their efficacy when it comes to smoothing and slimming. Because I know you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting for the results of my little experiment – I promise to keep you posted.