Saturday, 23 June 2012

Chi and me

This time a week ago, I was running up a hill in Edinburgh with no pain and a sense of running well-being that I haven't felt in almost six months.  I think that I am a ChiRunning convert.

The ChiRunning workshop, taught by the wonderfully patient and encouraging Nick Constantine, was a revelation.  I was quite nervous beforehand, in part because I feared that the other participants would all be elite runners who would stand around and sneer at me as I struggled to keep up but also because I was concerned that my calf wouldn't be up to it.  I needn't have worried on either account.  We were a varied bunch, ranging from someone who had never really run before to someone who has speedily run countless races of all lengths and who now has his sights set on an ultra-marathon.  There was lots of support from the other participants and, purely on a social level, it was a very fun day.

We did this, but in the wind and rain!
We started with learning to engage our core, level our hips, create a strong column (shoulders, hips, ankles all lined up), and to use our arms effectively.  We learned to lean from our ankles while keeping our legs relaxed and then to maintain this, as well as a strong column, while progressing from walking in place to walking to running in place to actually running.  We practiced running with shorter strides, landing with the foot under or just behind our centre of gravity, and used a metronome to up our cadence to 170 steps/minute. 

Nick videoed us before and after the training.  I don't know how the others felt, but I was completely taken aback by what I saw.  The 'before' video of me was nothing at all like what I thought that I was doing!  It immediately was apparent to me 1) why I keep getting injured and 2) why I'm so bloody slow.  I wasn't using my arms at all - they were sort of wafting semi-gracefully by my sides - and was heel striking with my knee locked.  And I shuffle.  This in itself wasn't a huge surprise but I was shocked by how little I actually lifted my feet from the ground.

What it's supposed to look like
The 'after' video showed improvement.  My posture was better, I was using my arms appropriately, my stride was shorter and quicker, and even though I still was heel striking, it wasn't nearly as pronounced.  Lots to work on, but even these small changes resulted in me running faster than I have in probably over a year, with less perceived effort than I make when I'm running 'normally' and - more importantly - not hurting with it.  I felt so good that I even partook of the short hill (well, medium incline) session.  And, again, nothing hurt. 

Keeping Adam's words in mind - 'What's important is how you feel the next day' - I was pleased that my calf felt completely fine following all of this.  Oddly enough, my ankles (the hinge bit where your foot attaches to your lower leg) were quite stiff for the next couple of days, which Nick put down to having too much tension in my lower legs but also to just using my muscles and joints in a different way.

I wasn't able to take my new form for a test run until yesterday.  It wasn't ideal weather - rain and strong wind, with the second half of the run being into the wind - but it was the first day since the workshop where I had the time to go out.  I had my metronome, my Garmin, my snazzy red Gore jacket, and optimism that I would actually remember what I had learned a week previously.

I ran 3 miles, stopping to walk for 60 seconds twice only because I suddenly worried that I might be doing too much, too soon.  I felt great.  Even with the walking and the wind, I finished in approximately 34 minutes and my Garmin showed that I was whizzing along at one point at a 10:30min/mile pace (before I got freaked out and made myself walk).

Maintaining my ChiRunning form is hard; it will take weeks, if not months, before this starts to become even vaguely automatic.  And even then, one of the main tenets of ChiRunning is being aware and in the moment with your running, not zoned out and distracted.  (What?! No more My Chemical Romance on the iPod???)  But based on how I'm feeling after this very small experiment with it, I think this could be what I have been looking for. 

Plus, I'll probably have to buy some new running shoes.  Oh, the hardship.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Of deer and gear

When I had a proper full-time job with a Big Organisation, I used to run in the early morning all the time because that was the easiest way to fit running into my schedule.  Now, however, being self-employed and semi-retired (as opposed to being too lazy to work any harder), my mornings tend to be much more leisurely.  I get up when I feel like it (or whenever the cat decides that she wants me to get up, whichever comes first), eat my breakfast while I catch up with the gossip on the Daily Mail website, drink a mug or two of tea while checking emails and Facebook, and eventually head out for a run by mid-morning.  Today, though, I had a work meeting at 9.30, so I was out of the house before 7am for a 3 mile run.

I began to walk up the farm track towards the main road but quickly came to a standstill when I spied a large blurry shape at the far end of the track.  I don't wear my glasses when I run - I can see without them, just not all that well - and I feared that the large blur was in fact one of the fierce hunting dogs that routinely escapes from the Big House to run rampant across the countryside.  I braced myself for it to fling itself on me and rip out my jugular...but then I realised that it was a deer having a forage, and felt more than a bit foolish (and very relieved).

I saw some wildlife towards the end of the run too.  I surprised a buzzard having breakfast by the old church; it gave me an annoyed look and flew away, a small rodent of some kind clutched in its talons.  It was very close to me, which is why I was able to see it.  I also saw Early Morning Walking Man, who seems to always take his constitutional at that time of day, and who always says to me, 'You'd better hurry, you'll miss the bus!'  I've run out of witty things to say in return.

A milestone in my recovery was reached today when I ran my first complete mile since The Injury.  It was planned, I hasten to add.  I comfortably managed 9 minutes running/2 minutes walking over 2.5 miles on Monday, so this was the next logical progression.  I still was sensible though; I ran the first mile in 12 minutes, then walked for a minute, then did two sets of 10 minutes running/1 minute walking.  I felt like I could have easily run the whole 3 miles, but better to go too slowly and feel like I could have done more than to go too quickly and embarrass myself by having to phone Adam for an emergency appointment.

Lovely, lovely red!
Gear update:  My Mizuno shell, which I've had and loved for over 6 years now, is nearing the end of its life.  The zip is majorly uncooperative these days.  I can do the zip up with a struggle and lots of cursing but it's a bit disconcerting to look down half-way through a run to find the jacket slowly coming apart from the bottom up.  So, when the email from Baxter's Loch Ness Marathon & Festival of Running came through to say that they had some Gore running gear on sale, I leaped at the chance.  I am now the proud owner of a new lightweight, windproof, water repellent (and red) jacket that was 40% off.  I've worn it a few times now and it's fab.  If you fancy some discounted Gore gear of your own, there's still some available here.  Sizes are running out, so be quick!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

It's not how you feel on the day...

it's how you feel the day after.  Or so Adam has been trying to drum into my head over the last couple of months.  What he means is that, even though I might feel fine during a run (or whatever form of exercise I am doing), how I feel the next day is even more important.  If there is pain, I've overdone it and need to back off a bit.  This is where being able to distinguish discomfort from pain comes in handy.

Take yesterday as an example.  I upped my run/walk ratio to 8min run/2min walk and my total time running from 27 to 32 minutes.  I would have stopped if it had felt too difficult but it wasn't, although my legs were quite tired by the end.  The back of my knee and my calf felt fine, but a niggle in my achilles made an appearance  half-way through.  Bastard.  It was minor discomfort, so I stopped to stretch and then walked a minute or so, which seemed to do the trick.  No more niggling during the run.  However, by that evening, my achilles was a teensy tiny bit tender to the touch which I'm sure had nothing to do with the amount of poking and prodding that I was doing to try to figure out if it was sore.

This morning, however, it's back to normal.  My knee and calf are still okay too.  Any muscle soreness that I have is the kind of soreness that you get after not using those muscles for a while.  Not discomfort.  Certainly not pain.  Merely a bit of aching that will be gone by tomorrow, when I get to do it all over again.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Advice to myself (part 1)

Stylish, and good form too.
Because I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, I've been giving a lot of thought lately to what I'm meant to be learning from my achilles/calf/hamstring/hip escapades.  Even though I've had injuries many times before, I've never taken as long as this to get better and I think it's finally sunk in that I need to change my approach if I want to continue running into my even-older years.  (My grandfather was still running three times a week well into his 80s, so fingers crossed that I've inherited his genes and not those of other, more sedentary family members.) 

Anyway, here's some of what I've learned so far:

1.  If it hurts, don't run on it.  Finally, I get it.  If I had taken a week off after my calf first popped, way back in February, I wouldn't be in the position YET AGAIN of starting from scratch.  And to demonstrate my understanding of this concept, I didn't run today, having stressed the back of my knee at the gym yesterday.  (I don't think it was the running on Wednesday that did it; it was the leg extension machine on Thursday, because I was too lazy to change the seat position.  I'm sure there's a lesson in that, too.)  The back of my knee is still a bit achey today, so better a couple of days off now than a couple of months off later.

2.  Learn to distinguish between discomfort and pain.  Discomfort (according to Jan the Physio, anything 3 or less on a 0-10 scale) is okay to run on, as long as it doesn't get worse during the run.  If it's lower level pain, stop.  Immediately.  Stretch, walk, try again.  If it still hurts, or if it gets worse during the run, or if it's BIG pain, give it up and walk home.  Or phone your husband.

3.  It's okay to ask for help.  As in, phone your husband if your calf packs it in.  See a physio.  See an osteopath.  Go for a sports  massage.  Sign up for a running workshop.  Listen to what people say, don't just nod your head and then do what you want.  And don't wait until you are in agony before you seek help; prevention is the way to go.

4.  Stretch, stretch, and stretch again.  Some runners are flexible.  You are not one of them. Stretching helps.  Really.  Do not forget this.

5.  Stretch some more.  Because you ALWAYS forget that stretching helps, especially when you start to feel better and therefore think that you don't need to do it anymore.  You are better BECAUSE you are stretching, not in spite of it, so make it part of your routine.  Even though it's so boring that you have to resort to watching daytime telly to get you through it.

6.  Listen to your body.  Don't be so focused on your training plan and on the race that you push yourself too far, too soon.  Losing a day (or even a week), dropping your mileage, or repeating a week will NOT send you back to square one.  Overtraining might.  And, even though it may not feel like it, there will always be another race.  (Unless it's the 2013 London Marathon, which might be your last chance EVER...)

That's enough self-improvement for today.  Future posts will cover other things I've learned, including issues pertaining to motivation, determination, and the importance of cookies in a proper training programme.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Getting better all the time

I haven't done any exercise at all since the Long Run five days ago.  Blame it on unexpected work commitments, fatigue due to Bess the Yowling Cat who wakes us up at first light, and migraine headaches.  Today, though, I had a small window during which I could squeeze in a quick run before my appointment with Adam so I dragged my tired self to the gym, telling myself that something is better than nothing.

And I was right.  I'm still sticking with run/walk but I kind of got distracted from watching the timer by my chi-focusing.  It was only when I glanced down and realised that I had been going for seven minutes - and feeling quite good with it - that I slowed to a walk.  It felt like I could have kept going and I was sorely tempted to do so, just to see what would happen.  But common sense kicked in; I am Slow and Sensible Woman these days.

I decided to do a 5 minute jog/30 second walk, which was an increase in total running time.  I also increased my speed a bit for a couple of minutes (yes, to see what would happen), and felt fine.  I went for 3.2km and was sorry that I had to stop. 

Adam expressed his satisfaction with my progress.  He couldn't find any scar tissue to speak of in my calf and said that, even after my run, my calf and hamstring were still quite relaxed.  Hurrah!  On the other hand (or, more accurately, on the other leg), my achilles and IT band apparently felt a bit tight.  The IT band was quite sharply sore when Adam dug his fingers into it, but he didn't think that I needed to do anything more than stretch it and foam roll it regularly.

This is all coming together at a good time because I have received confirmation of my place in the 2013 London Marathon.  It's all very exciting, if a bit daunting; what if I really am not cut out for long distances?  Then again, as someone pointed out to me the other day, the world is meant to end in December 2012 so perhaps none of this will be an issue.

I am going to be incredibly miffed if my training gets cut short.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Fire up the Garmin!

Today, I did a 'long run.'  This was on the advice of Julie the Physio who, despite her disparaging remarks about my gait, felt that I could be pushing myself a bit harder than I have been.  She even suggested adding in a couple of minutes of going faster during the shorter runs, which I haven't done yet because it makes me feel so anxious.  Logically, I know that Julie is right and that I am able to do more; I'm not sure, though, how to move past the lurking fear that I'm going to strain/pull/tear something again. 

Anyway, I looked at my data from the previous week and, taking a conservative approach, added 6 minutes to last week's longest total run/walk time, equivalent to approximately another half-mile and a 10% increase from last week's mileage.  I kept the total distance covered (including walking before and after the run/walk) to 3 miles and the run/walk ratio to 4 minutes running/30 seconds walking.  I also charged up the Garmin, which had become buried and forgotten under a pile of papers on the desk over the past three months.  Nothing like strapping on a proper sports watch to make me feel like a runner again! 

There wasn't a great deal of interesting data for the Garmin to track, but I was pleasantly surprised to note that my speed varied between an 11 and 12 minute mile.  I figured that I had been managing maybe a 13 minute mile pace, so that perked me up a bit.  My calf didn't ache, nor did my hip, which I put down to maintaining better form than I had been able to in the Shetland wind.  I really enjoyed myself and had more than a few moments where the running felt effortless. 

If I listen to my body (and to Julie), I think that I am ready now to go a bit farther, go a bit faster.  It'll just take my head awhile to get used to it.