Monday, May 16, 2011

Learning How to Run Again - from Boxer to Penguin

A couple of weeks before ironman Coach Dave saw me run for the first time.  It wasn't a pretty sight.  Well, it probably wasn't such a bad sight, but like all aspects of ironman, there's always room for improvement.  And in my case, a lot of room.

"Did you know", he said, "you run with really tight shoulders?"

Look how high those hands are!
"Yep", I replied.  "I run like a boxer."  High shoulders, arms tight and swinging in front of me, my hands actually rub against my front as I run.  It's been my strange way of trying to conserve energy for those long runs and I've done it that way for my entire running career.  I'd been aware that I should probably try to relax my arms and drop them down a bit but somehow I had never been able to manage it and, truth be told, the incentive was never there to do anything about it.  I had managed before, have 11 half marathons and 2 marathons behind me and so why change?

Things are now different, though.  Now I want to run better so I can achieve this goal of taking 45 minutes off my marathon time in 2012.

So it was off to the park with Coach Dave and St Pete for some running drills, video analysis, and a complete rejig of my running style. 

The focus is now on keeping my elbows bent at 90 degrees and perpendicular to my body so they swing parallel to my legs rather than swinging across my body. My hands, instead of brushing my chest, need to be brushing my hips.  To start running I hold my elbows behind me, rise onto the balls of my feet and fall forward, starting a process of bouncing on the balls of my feet rather than a step initiated by a heel strike.  The stride length is shorter but the running cadence is faster and you lift your knees more.

The first time I tried it, we ran about 50m across the park and Coach Dave asked me how it felt.  My first reaction was that it was like I was running with a plum in my mouth.  I felt very stiff, and prim and proper!  However Dave was like a kid at Christmas, he was so excited.  He took an "after" video and played it to me, talking about how my chest was much more open (allowing me to breathe easier) and my overall technique looked much more relaxed.

Tell me, how can something that feels so stiff look so relaxed?!!

However I am persevering, and have been at it for a couple of weeks.  And it's been hard.  Really hard.

The level of concentration required is huge.  And concentrating so hard on your technique is exhausting.  The first time out I'd be stopping and restarting every kilometre or so just to reset my positioning and get back into the right mindset.  I found that my left arm was more stubborn than my right arm in trying to swing in front of my body.  And I figured out that it was wanting to do that because it was overcompensating for my left leg which wasn't doing as much work as the right leg.  So changing my arm swing exposed the natural dominance of my right over the left. 

Things are slowly improving though.  Overall I have graduated from running with a plum in my mouth to running like a penguin.With this new technique I am running slightly faster and on Saturday I did my longest "new-style" run at 10km.

 Old habits die hard, but I've got plenty of time to knock this one on the head.