Monday, 16 July 2012

Practical shoes

If I spent as much time running as I spend obsessing about running shoes, I'd probably be a lot further along my rehab road by now.  Although I logically know that shoes (no matter how beautiful) do not possess magical powers and that running form is more important than any pair of shoes could ever be, I still have a teeny tiny bit of hope that The Right Shoes will instantly make me a sub-8:00 miler and that my aches and pains will be a thing of the past.

I say this because I did not entirely warm to the lovely neon Kinvara 3s and today returned them to their home at Run4It.  It wasn't really their fault.  I did like their flashiness and they were very comfortable for walking but I came to the conclusion after several sessions on the cross-trainer and a very brief jog on the treadmill that it will take years before my achilles tendons and calves relax enough and are strong enough to tolerate running in 4mm drop shoes.  And, given how impatient I can be, I didn't trust myself to resist the Kinvara temptation and to not push things faster than was good for me.  Plus, the toe box was a bit big and I needed to tighten the laces so much that I created a big puckered crease of shoe.  Very unsightly.

 Triumph 9, currently on my feet
I'm not giving up on the idea of running in shoes with a lower heel-toe drop.  A bit of research directed me to the Saucony Triumph 9 (8mm drop) and the Inov-8 Road-X 238 (9mm drop), which are more reasonable choices for me at this point.  My local Run4It doesn't carry this particular model of Inov-8s but have ordered them for me to try.  I did a quick test run on the treadmill in the Triumphs, though, and didn't notice any difficulties with them, so I handed over the Kinvaras and took possession of the Triumphs.  And here's a photo of them, so that you can admire them too!

Friday, 13 July 2012

There's a first time for everything

I am a fidget, physically as well as mentally.  If jiggling my legs, swinging my foot, squirming in my chair, and hop scotching from tangent to tangent inside my head burned calories, I'd be able to eat cake to my heart's content and still be able to fit into my skinny jeans.  As an antidote to my fidgetiness, I've briefly tried yoga and mindfulness meditation but moving that slowly or, indeed, just sitting without doing anything else makes me want to scratch my eyes out.  

I did take a couple of tai chi classes several years back, reasoning that at least you get to move so maybe that would suit me, but no.  My confusion over left and right meant that I was always moving in the opposite direction to everyone else and my uncoordination meant that I struggled to make my legs and arms do what everyone else's were doing.  Plus it was SO SLOW.  (I learned later that that class got to do fighting with swords after they got more proficient at the moving slow bit, which sounded like fun, but I probably would have ended up skewering myself or someone else.  I suspect that a lucky escape was had by all.)

So when Pilates - with its emphasis on core strength, flexibility, and slow, precise movements - was mentioned in the ChiRunning book and on the ChiRunning course as something that could be useful for running, I was intrigued but sceptical of my ability to engage with it.  However, because I will do things for running that I wouldn't do under any other circumstances, I decided to give it a try.

Today, then, was my first Pilates class.  I had a 1:1 session at the beginning of the month where I was shown some basic postural exercises and told that I had a very weak core and some muscle imbalances.  Quelle surprise.  Sigh.  I signed up for a series of six mat work classes which should be enough time for me to know whether this is for me or not.

Basic level, but it still froze my brain.
I'm the only beginner in the class and, while the instructor did a good job of keeping an eye on me, I still had virtually no idea what I was doing.  I quickly gave up on matching my breathing to my movements; in fact, I had to remember to breathe full stop.  I managed the physical movements okay when we had to just use our arms or just our legs but, when we had to combine the two, my brain short circuited and I could only lay there motionless until my neurons untangled themselves.  The instructor assumed that I was tired and I didn't correct her. 

I didn't hate the class, I hasten to add.  I had to concentrate enough that I didn't find it boring.  I felt a bit looser afterwards and I certainly noticed that my legs were tired when I did a quick cardio session at the gym afterwards.  And I've been much more aware over the couse of the day of keeping my pelvis level.  I think that I see potential in this.

I can't wait, though, until we get to fight with swords...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

A lovely achilles

Happy calf!
I have been given the all-clear by Julie the Physio!  My calf hasn't bothered me in weeks, aside from some very minor and very occasional twingeing which I just ignore, so I was not surprised to receive official confirmation that I am All Better.  There was no pain at all when Julie dug her fingers into my calf (aside from the actual pain associated with someone digging their fingers into your calf), and she couldn't feel any adhesions at all.  Hurrah!

Also a lovely Achilles
 I asked Julie about the achilles tendon soreness that I've experienced during and after the last couple of runs.  She had a good feel of both tendons, including what felt like sticking her fingers behind them.  Best not to think too closely about that...Anyway, there was no pain, tenderness, or even discomfort, no matter how hard she poked.  In fact, I apparently have 'a lovely achilles.'  Huh.  Who knew?  I was very pleased to hear that, after all of my various achilles problems over the years, the tendons are still smooth and slender with no signs at all of lumps, bumps, or scarring.  Again, hurrah!

This helps to confirm my hypothesis that the various niggles that I'm feeling are related to my new Chi way of running.  It will take time for my muscles, tendons, and even joints to adapt to being used in a different way and I need to be careful not to do too much, too soon.  Patience patience patience.  Blah blah blah.  As long as it all comes together in time for the Aviemore Half Marathon on 14 October, I'll give it all the time it needs.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't

 I read somewhere that, when you start to change your running form, it can feel for a while like things are not quite fitting together.  If that's true, then I definitely must be doing something right because my last couple of runs have felt...not crap, exactly, but disjointed.  Like my body isn't working as a whole anymore.  I don't necessarily see this as a Bad Thing because, when I allow myself to fall back into my usual way of running, I'm aware of how much worse that feels than the new awkwardness.

Take my last Shetland run as an example.  It was too windy to hear my metronome and, what with the wind and the hills, I really struggled.  I knew that I was overstriding, heel striking, and shuffling - just like I have for years and years - and I had the achilles and hip pain to prove it.  My next run, once I was back home, was fine.  I kept my cadence up, focused on good posture and a strong core, and let my legs relax.  However, I got carried away and ran too fast; by the evening, my achilles tendon was tender to the touch.  Too much, too soon.

Today, I was back to struggling again.  Sore achilles on and off for the first mile and a half, not able to keep up with the metronome, slouching, overstriding...and then, for the last mile and a half, it suddenly got better.  And I had an epiphany.  I might be evolving a more healthy, sustainable, and efficient running style, but I still have the same body.  I still need to take a substantial amount of time to warm up, I still need to stretch before I run, and I still need to go slow for at least the first mile, none of which I did today.  ChiRunning is about observing, listening, and adapting according to what one's body needs on a moment by moment basis, not having a plan that must be followed at all costs.

So, here's what I've learned over the past week.  Relax.  Warm up properly and stretch before each run.  Initially turn off the metronome because I need to go slow until my body loosens up and because I find it really hard, at this stage anyway, to run slow enough with the metronome for that to happen.  Slow down even once I'm warmed up; the speed eventually will come but, for now, it's more important to allow time for my tendons and muscles to get strong. 

Sigh.  This is going to take FOREVER.  And learning lessons about 'patience' obviously will be for another week.

Kinvara 3 in white, citron, and pink
Gear update:  Ever on the lookout for opportunities to purchase nifty new shoes, I bought a pair of Saucony Kinvara 3 running shoes today with the hope that they will assist my transition to mid-foot striking.  They are between what I have always run in - stability shoes with up to a 12mm heel-toe drop - and minimalist shoes that have a drop of zero and that essentially mimic barefoot running.  The Kinvaras have a 4mm drop which, given my tight achilles tendons and calves, I'll be lucky to manage.  Still, the Chi way is all about slow and gradual changes, over years if need be, so I'll have even more to be patient about.  Hurrah!  In the meantime, I'm happy to just sit back in the moment and admire the neon citron loveliness of my new shoes.