Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's all about the Chi

I'm about a week into my ChiRunning adventure and I'm liking it very much. It seems to be all I talk about these days: posture, mid-foot strike, swivel hips. I'm preaching the gospel of Chi! (Actually, I'm just thrilled to be running again on a regular, if painfully slow, basis.) After 45 years of running on my heels, I feel sort of reborn. A mid-life re-birth of running.

The basic idea of ChiRunning, meticulously detailed in Danny Dreyer's book and oft repeated by yours truly in and around Mystic, CT is this: stand up straight with a long neck and neutral pelvis (held in check by your lower abdominals), lean slightly from your ankles keeping your "column" nice and straight (huge challenge for me), let your feet and legs relax (again, almost foreign) and break your fall with a soft midfoot stride. The idea is to let gravity do the work. The midfoot stride eliminates the "braking" process of the heel strike. You simply lift your foot and put it back down a little further down the road. Effortless! Simple!

The book has ten lessons to work through before you start adding distance or speed. A major tenant of the ChiRunning philosophy (not a cult, not a cult) is the idea of Gradual Progress. Because of my injuries, Gradual Progress is just what I need. Because of my obsessive running personality, Gradual Progress is difficult for me to embrace. You see the problem. I'm working on it.

I have spent almost a week on Lesson 1: Posture. My posture is terrible. I'm well on my way to becoming a bent over old lady. So this is good for me. Holding myself up straight takes a tremendous amount of concentration. It's borderline frightening how many times each minute I have to remind myself to pull my pelvis straight and lengthen my neck. And as soon as I do that, I start to heel strike again, then I forget to relax my lower legs, and by the time I've fixed my feet, my butt is sticking out well behind me. Pull the pelvis back in. Woops! the feet. Long neck. Heel strike. No!! Midfoot. Butt back under.......etc, etc.

After 45 minutes of this at something like a 12 minute pace, I'm exhausted.

But I am making progress. Each run feel a little teeny bit more natural. My foot and knee don't hurt at all while I'm "running." Every once in a while, for very small intervals, I get that effortless feeling, like my legs are just along for the ride, that Danny Dreyer promises me will in time become more of the norm. Though even he admits that he still has to think about this stuff while he's running.

It's a practice. Like yoga or something. Almost a meditation. I like it.

There's one exercise in the book you can do with a friend. Stand in your regular, everyday posture and have a friend pull down on your shoulders from behind. If your everyday posture is anything like mine, you'll slump like a ragdoll. Then get into proper ChiRunning posture (long neck, straight pelvis, neutral feet), and when your friend tries to pull you down you'll stand solid as a statue. It really works! I have been doing it to people at the gym, Other Mothers at birthday parties, friends and family. It's all I can do not to stop people in the grocery store and teach them how to stand properly.

I like how all of this fits into my everyday life. I practice my posture all day long. I run in place a little bit to try to figure out the ins and outs of the "lean," which still somewhat eludes me. I try to walk like a supermodel to get the swivel hips part of the run down. (Your supposed to swing your hips from the middle of your back to alleviate pressure on your hip flexors). I'm quite a sight to see, you can imagine.

I still can't tell if this is just a chapter in my running life, or if this will define the rest of my career. For now, it doesn't matter. I'm outside again, sort of running pain free, and I'm excited about it. Can't ask for anything more than that.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I feel like a prancing doofus

Brian's outside in his socks watching me run circles in the street until he's too dizzy to do it anymore.

"Back straight!"

"Back straight!"

"You're sticking your neck out too far."

"Back straight!"

"Look down."

It's my very first time Chi running and there's way too much to think about. But it's kind of fun. I'm running poker slow, mincing really, keeping my neck straight, hitting the ground with my mid-foot, peeling my feet up from the heel and kicking them out behind me, relaxing my ankles, woo hoo! Bye, bye Brian, there's no stopping now, I'm taking her for a spin around the block!

I have been reading Danny Dreyer's book ChiRunning for a couple of days. The number of people recommending this book to me reached a critical mass last month, so I interlibrary loaned it, and it finally came in. Looks like this one's a keeper. I've ordered my own copy from Amazon, should come tomorrow.

Brian is a good guy to help me with my Chi Running. He more or less runs this way naturally. He's a physics guy. Why fight gravity? Especially if you spend half your waking life thinking about it. The idea is to make your body a straight line, lean forward slightly, and fall into your stride. Makes a certain amount of sense. Especially if you're married to Brian.

So I'm giving it a whirl. As I (what do I call this?) trot, skimp, measle-weasle my way around the block I start to see people I know. Neighbors. My neck is high and straight, my feet slap the road, and my chest is way out in front of me. It's right about here that I start to feel like a prancing doofus.

But no one notices.

"Hi, Pam! Beautiful afternoon. Good to see you running!"

They all say stuff like that. I stop to chat with one neighbor who is thinking about getting a rescue dog. "Don't let me slow you down," she says.

Are you freaking kidding me? Any slower I'd be drilling through the pavement.

The thing is, when I run like this, nothing hurts. My foot feels fine. My knee feels fine. When I start to slump back into my old neanderthal running posture, the knee starts to hurt. For the first time this winter I am somewhat grateful for the bum knee. It's keeping me honest. It's letting the chi flow free!

Starting tomorrow I am going to begin with Lesson 1 and work my way through Chapter 5 of the book, "How to Learn Chi Running." DD very helpfully lays out a simple and gradual plan to get you running like a Chi master. It doesn't matter how long it takes. He is very kind.

I like this book because there's very little fluff. The text is useful and dense. He really breaks it down for you, and gives incredibly helpful analogies and body feel tests. I don't, as I do with so many sketchily written running books, feel the urge to hurl it across the room. It's well written, concise, and totally helpful. I don't find myself skipping paragraphs or chapters. I'm right with him.

Tomorrow I'll try ChiRunning for an hour. If I can concentrate for that long......

Saturday, February 4, 2012

90 mins of quiet

It's 5:45 on a Saturday night, but it feels more like 10. I swam for an hour and a half this morning, a lifetime ago. I spent the day at my kids' swim meet, in a hot, crowded, echoey pool ushering 8-year old girls to their many and varied events. I have been loudly upbeat and encouraging all day. I have smiled and high-fived and accepted several soaking wet hugs. It was a great meet.

But I have to turn around and do it all over again tomorrow. We have to be on the road to New Haven by 6:30 a.m., the three kids and me.

I must run. I will not get through tomorrow's meet with sanity intact if I don't have something besides Game Night and sleep to break up the relentless swim meets. So Brian plays games with the kids (Dominion -- our family fave) and I head out for a headlamp run.

O, glorious night. I love running in the dark.

My right knee (tendinitis) and my left foot (plantar fasciitis) are still a bit wonky. I have Super Feet insoles in my Kinvaras for a little arch support (goddamn high arches), and a Chopat strap on my knee. I have stretched (never stretch). I may as well be 80, bionic, but I'm heeble-hobblin' out the door.

I am not comfortable running in the woods by myself at night, so this is a road run. I'm lucky to have a gorgeous stretch of road, River Road along the Mystic River, easily accessible from the house. A mile and a half to River Road, 6 miles out and back, a mile and a half home. That's the plan.

The River is lovely. I'm used to running this route early in the morning with the sun coming up across the water. This is different. Darker. The highway is much louder in the distance. There are even a few cars on River Road. You rarely get a car at 5 in the morning.

I stop to stretch my foot against a telephone pole. It hurts a little. My knee feels pretty good. Being injured is surreal. Things hurt; they don't hurt; they hurt again. There's no rhyme or reason. Run through it. Stop. Keep running. Walk a bit. Stretch. Run. Ignore. Run.

You never know if you're getting better or fucking everything up. Run through it. Rest. Cross train. Run. Whatever.

My brain is all over the place. One minute I'm all healed up running the Vermont 100 this summer. The next I'm writing to the race director relinquishing my spot. Forget Vermont. Get healthy. This could be a building year. I'll run the Grand Tree series, short trail races. No, I'll be fine. I'll PR Vermont. Freaking Vermont.

I want to run fast. Back in October I ran a 5K in 21:02. That's less than a 7 minute mile. 6:48 or something like that. Are those days over forever? I'm barely holding a 10 minute mile here.

Maybe I could find a cool open water swimming event. Swim around Key West. I know a couple of people going down to do that. 6 miles around Key West. Who's in? Who's paying?? Maybe swim the Hudson River. Oil slick swimming. I'm swimming like a maniac these days. It's exhausting. But good exhausting.

The river is smooth, wide and very black. I hear but cannot see flocks of geese. Clearly they see me. Honk, honk. Good evening!

Home, ice, compression pants (Gretchen!). It's an oatmeal for dinner kind of a night. Some nights are like that.