mixing it up & welcome back, Zumba

Saturday: 3 hr hike near Government Camp

Sunday: long run (11.6 miles)

Monday: Zumba (I’ve missed it!)

Ah, I love long weekends. And I love when I don’t overplan my long weekends. This one was all about sleeping in, cooking meals (I made pancakes, people), drinking wine, hiking, reading and spending time with some good people.

I’d planned to do my long run on Saturday, but when I found out that Cheryl Strayed would be reading from Wild at a book shop near Government Camp, I took it as a sign that I should go to her reading and then go for a hike.

I spent a few hours on Hunchback Trail, aptly named for its steepness, and took some pretty pics:

hike pics

Gimme a hit of that nature.

Solo hiking is … good for me. When I start, I always feel a little unnerved and restless, even spooked. But once I get in a rhythm, I end up really enjoying it — and working out some mental sh*t that I don’t think I’d otherwise give enough time to.

I also tested out my new hiking tanks, er, boots. I typically hike in running shoes, but I’m going on a trip in the fall for which I’m told boots are sorta required. So I bought them in advance to break them in this summer.

Take a look:

hiking boots

Right, those are *my* feet, not a 6’5″ man’s feet.

If you’re well-versed in hiking boots, you probably think these look standard. For me, it’s a leap into the world of traction and ankle support and … heft? They’re not that heavy, afterall, but they took some getting used to. Kind of like having SUVs strapped to your feet. I didn’t slip or skid or trip at all, so I think their traction tires worked. ;)

On Sunday, I headed out for my 11-12 miler:

long run, orange socks

Shiny five-head! … I’d just put on sunscreen. (Go me.) And I’m wearing neon orange compression sleeves on my calves, in case that looks like a neon orange tan.

I haven’t been doing long runs, well, long enough, and so I don’t know what to expect from them. For now, I’m just happy to complete them. I have to remind myself that it really wasn’t that long ago that I’d get knee pain around mile 3.

So, it’s a victory that I can run almost 12 miles now and only experience a small, manageable amount of hip pain (that I can easily treat afterward with stretching and icing).

But … I’m sheepish to admit how slow my pace is. Like almost 2 minutes slower per mile than my tempo pace. Is that normal?

And my pace also varies wildly over the course of the long runs. I’ll look at my Garmin and be shocked that I’m going :30 slower than when I looked before, even though it feels like I’m running at least moderately consistently.

It’s odd.

Anyway, I’m trying not to sweat it too much. It’s easy to get in my head and worry about whether or not I’m making progress quickly enough, or whether or not I’m pushing myself hard enough, and then I remember that I’m doing this because I want to be a lifelong runner. Not because I want to be a lifelong racer. Not because I want to be the world’s fastest woman. And certainly not because I want to run myself into an injury.

So I’m going to be satisfied with slow and steady.

And, then, on Monday, after a much-too-long hiatus from Zumba, I took a class and Zumba’d my heart out. I have to say: I love Zumba instructors. Every one I’ve ever had (that would be three of them, ha) is so full of energy and joy and encouragement. Where else can you go where someone wearing (what amount to) neon Hammer pants shouts at you to LET YOURSELF GO and you totally, willingly obey?

I forgot how much I love it — and being surrounded by people who don’t care how awkward and silly they look.

I think all runners should have to take a Zumba class every once in a while. It reminds us to relax and not take ourselves so seriously and get swept up in the fun (without being attached to pace times and outcomes).

I’ll be back later this week with post 5 & 6 in the form series.

form focus (4 of 6)

Wednesday: 40 min run on treadmill

Thursday: 30 min elliptical & weights at the gym

Friday: rest day, with a 40 min brisk walk at lunch

I’m still trying to be consistent without over-taxing myself or naively believing I can increase my running mileage in leaps and bounds each week. So, though I want to be running more regularly, I’m sticking to 3 or so runs per week and cross-training or resting on the other days.

It’s kind of odd: while on the elliptical on Thursday, it felt so easy. Even when I upped the incline and tried to push my speed. It’s just a walk in the park compared to running. I can’t believe I used to do the elliptical as my main form of cardio (and it wasn’t just in the last couple years, but for the last 10 or so years). Don’t get me wrong — if you’ve got injuries or if it’s your main form of cardio, it’s still better than no cardio. But it’s just not the same intensity and doesn’t take the same mental toughness that running does. My advice? If you’re a worshipper at the temple o’ elliptical, branch out and try to mix it up with a spinning class, boot camp class or run outside.

Okay, let’s get to the fourth form focus of Chi Marathon: pelvic rotation.

(It bears repeating that I’m only scratching the surface of the book’s form focuses. If you want more details, including diagrams and pictures and such, buy the book.)

I mentioned that the lower body focuses are challenging for me, but pelvic rotation is the most challenging of all. Here’s the gist, according to Chi Marathon:

Pelvic rotation is when you allow your pelvis to rotate around your central axis with each stride. If your legs swing only at the hip joint, your range of motion is limited by the amount of flexibility at your hip. When you allow your entire pelvis to rotate along with the swinging leg, you prevent your legs from ever swinging beyond their own safe range of motion. This adds inches to your stride and allows you to run faster without working harder. Additionally, the rotation of your pelvis allows the hip to safely absorb any shock from the road as the foot lands, because it moves rearward with the force of the oncoming road, not against it. If your pelvis does not rotate and “soften the ride,” the force of the road will be absorbed by your knees, quads, hips and lower back. This impact is one of the causes of runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, IT band syndrome and many other lower body injuries. To allow your pelvis to rotate, release your hip when you feel your foot strike the ground and let it be pulled rearward by your leg.

Well, it sounds straightforward. But it’s hard for me to tell if I’m doing it correctly or enough (or too much). It takes conscious effort for me to rotate my pelvis, and I nearly feel like I’m over-rotating when I try. Then, when I get into mindless-running mode, I tend to stiffen back up and not rotate at all. And a bit of hip pain forces me to remember to release and focus again.

Further proof that I’m not doing it quite right? I still suffer from runner’s knee and IT band syndrome. It’s certainly better than it used to be, but not completely cleared up.

I need a little running elf on my shoulder who rings a bell or cracks a whip — or threatens to take away my post-run snack — when I’m slipping away from proper form. That’d teach me.

How about you? Do you find it mentally exhausting to think about your form all run long? How do you stay on top of it?

speaking of foam rolling …

You know how I said I’d gone a week without foam rolling? Well, I got down with my foam roller last night for about 45 minutes, and I have proof:

foam rolling

I’m no-headed. But at least my IT band is getting worked.

And, speaking of foam rolling, one of my favorite fitness bloggers, Gina of Fitnessista fame, just published a post with some good foam rolling pics & tips. Check it out, and get yourself a foam roller stat. Your legs will be soo much happier once you do.

form focus (3 of 6)

Monday: Hip hop boot camp class

Tuesday: Stretching & foam rolling & massaging with Penetrex

After my long run on Saturday, I did a bad thing. I was late to an appointment, hopped in the shower and left the house. Which means (head hung in running shame): I didn’t stretch a lick. I felt okay on Sunday playing kickball, and I was kind of smug. I must be in great running shape! But I didn’t run on Sunday — except around the bases — and then I woke up on Monday, and it was like, OH. There are my legs. 

I felt a lot of tightness in my ankles and hips and IT band. I stretched and went to boot camp, but I woke today feeling kind of … worried. I want to be running today & training for my upcoming half marathon, but I’m such a rookie. And I’m worried about over training and fatiguing my legs. SO. I’m not running today. I’m using Penetrex (kind of like Icy Hot) and foam rolling (for the first time all week) … Why do I forget to make foam rolling a priority? Because it hurts like hell. But I know it’s good for me. I should bring it to work with me and set an alarm and roll during the day. (That wouldn’t be weird at all, right?)

Okay, enough of my whining about soreness. Let’s get back to form!

To catch you up to speed, here’s what we’ve covered so far:

  1. form focus one > posture
  2. form focus two > the lean

Today I’m covering lower body focuses. Specifically, how to move fluidly without over-taxing your leg muscles.

Chi Marathon says you want a passive leg swing. That means:

  • Your legs are used for support, but not propulsion (your lean propels you instead).
  • Your legs are relaxed. (I’ve gotten in the habit of shaking out leg tension when I’m waiting at the crosswalk.)
  • Your knees are low (reserve high knees for sprinting, not distance running). You knees bend and float behind you after each stride; they don’t lift. (I’m still working on this float concept.)

Wait, there’s more. And these ones are pretty challenging for me:

  • Your feet should be pointed forward. (I’ve been working on this one for a long time, even before I knew much about running form, because I knew it didn’t feel good when my left foot splayed out. I still have to keep my eye on lefty.)
  • Your feet movement should resemble wheels, not pendulums. Chi Marathon says to think circles with your feet. If you peel your foot off the ground correctly and let it float behind you, you’ll have the circle shape. (Since I have trouble with the float, I think my feet don’t raise behind me enough — and I’m doing more of the swinging pendulum thing. BUT. I won’t really know until I can get someone to videotape me. Yes, I’m going to take videos of my running form. It’s getting serious around here.)
  • And, finally, though I’ve mentioned it before: a midfoot strike. Stop striking with your heels, people!

Tell me: Do these lower leg focuses come naturally to you? If you’ve got the wheel-style foot movement down, how do you do it without expending too much energy?

I don’t have any running photos today, but I do have this, er, exciting photo of me in a work outfit (taken in front of my entry area, of course):

work outfit

The shorts are new and from H&M. Everything else is old, old, old.

I’m not super obsessed with clothes. Except for my workout clothes, which are *very* fashion-forward. ;) (More like very neon.) But I do try to put myself together every now and then. So, what do you think of the look above? Leggings with shorts? Too I’m-trying-to-look-younger-than-my-own-good-and-cutesy? Or actually cute?

form focus (2 of 6)

I’ve been busy and have fallen behind here. Let’s catch up on runs and then hop to the next form focus.

Monday (of last week): 25 min fast run (in Chicago)

Tuesday: 5.6 mile tempo run (back in Portland)

Wednesday: Physique 57 (30 minutes)

Thursday: speed work (warmup, 4 x 400s, cool down)

Friday: rest day

Saturday: 10 mile long run

Sunday: kickball (so, er, a rest day)

Some thoughts on the week’s runs:

  • The good: I did my long run without too much soreness (a little bit of hip pain at the end) and not a lot of boredom (I wondered if I’d be over it at any point). And I pushed myself a lot in the tempo run on Tuesday — huffing and puffing, but still moving more or less as quickly as I could.
  • The bad: My pace for the tempo run was a lot slower than I wanted it to be. I can’t figure out if I’ve sort of hit a plateau for the moment or if my legs are fatigued or what.

Want to see a before & after from my long run (pardon yet another photo of me in my entryway)?

before and after

Ok, this wasn’t exactly *after* the run, but after a shower and a cute outfit. :)

So, let’s talk form. (As a reminder, I’m sharing form focuses covered in Chi Marathon and adding a bit about my own running habits.)

In the first post, I wrote about posture. And I suppose you’re thinking that running with good posture is a given. But, have you checked out joggers on the street lately? There’s a lot of shoulders-up-to-the-ears and butts-popped-out and duck feet going on.

Today’s focus goes hand-in-hand with posture: it’s the lean.

Here’s how Chi Marathon explains it:

A slight forward lean from your ankles is enough to allow gravity to assist you in falling forward. As your column falls forward, it passes over the foot that’s on the ground. The oncoming force of the road sweeps your support leg out behind you, allowing your leading foot to land beneath your center of mass, in a midfoot strike. This leg then momentarily supports your weight as your column passes over it and the whole cycle happens again. If you’re running at a 180 spm cadence, the cycle happens three times every second.

And here’s how I’m focusing while I run:

  1. Leaning forward with my whole body (not just bending at the waist)
  2. Striking with my midfoot (goodbye, heel strike)
  3. Keeping my feet beneath me (not over-extending way out in front of my body)

The lean is also supported by your arm swing. Did you know you’re supposed to swing your arms to the rear as you fall forward?

And, finally, relax your lower legs, feet and ankles. Again, this sounds kind of obvious, but I realized that I used to run with a lot of tension in my feet. Sort of like bracing myself for each stride, versus just letting myself lean into the stride and letting my feet float beneath me. (Float is a stretch, but you see what I mean.)

Without a doubt, of all form changes I’ve made, the lean is making the biggest difference. Midfoot striking is helping to minimize my IT tightness, and the lean really helps to conserve energy (letting gravity do some of the work for me). I can’t tell you how much energy I used to waste when I ran upright and nearly hopped straight up and down. Now the movement is all about going forward and relaxing. It feels gooood.

Tell me: What’s your foot strike? Have you tried leaning into your run? How do you relax while running?

Up next: lower body focuses

Chicago, I love you!

We still need to catch up on runs/workouts (or lack thereof) from last week …

So, I’m going to put my next form focus post on hold (you can see the first post of six here) and tell you about my Chicago trip instead. I don’t really talk about my life outside of running & working out here, but I’m going to make an exception for Chicago. (I fall a little bit more in love with that city every time I visit. I only sort of appreciated it when I went to college there.)

Friday: 8-9 mile run in Chicago neighborhoods

Saturday: nothing (Does dancing at a blues bar count?)

Sunday: nothing (Does practically-competitive pancake eating count?)

Well, at least I got in a long-ish (for me) run on Friday. I started at my cousin’s apartment in Roscoe Village and headed east toward Lake Michigan, past Wrigley Field.

Wrigley Field

This picture is kind of postcard-worthy, IMHO. (Minus the truck darting in from the right.)

The weather was gorgeous. The sort of sunny, slightly breezy Chicago day that tempts me to move back. And then I remind myself of December – March days and change my mind.

I continued until I hit the lakefront, then ran south through Lincoln Park toward downtown.

Chicago

Hello, beautiful skyline. (Yep, this photo is Instagrammed.)

My Garmin was going strong for the first 4.5 miles of the run or so (I didn’t care about my speed, but did want to track my distance), and then it gave me a Low Battery message. About 3 seconds later, it shut off. (Well, my, thanks for the fair warning. Guess I know now that I need to keep it basically fully charged at all times. Low Battery means no battery.)

I forgot what a running city Chicago is. There were so many runners, bikers and roller bladers along the lake. And even a guy wearing Air Kicks Anti-Gravity Boots (I kid you not — I wish I’d gotten a picture).

runners

Running along the lake with lots of people = instant energy boost.

After I’d gone for what I thought might be around 5-6 miles, I looped back toward my cousin’s. I would’ve liked to see exactly how far I ran, but I’m guessing it was around 8-9 miles. (I cut through and did a bit of a shortcut on the way back, so I know I didn’t do another 5-6 miles after the first.) With my first half marathon in 5 years coming up in just over 3 weeks, I know I need to put more mileage in my long run this upcoming weekend. I’m slightly nervous about that.

How come I didn’t run on Saturday or Sunday? Well, I was busy hanging with these girls:

in Chicago

That’s cousin Hannah on the left and cousin Emma on the right. <3

We did some Big Time Eating and some Big Time Cocktailing. It was fun. And lazy and gluttonous and just what a vacation should be.

Here we are at Blokes & Birds:

Blokes & Birds

Bubbles and cheesy grins

And at Kingston Mines:

Kingston Mines

I never go to clubs — I was feeling faaancy. (I even wore jewelry.)

And at Walker Bros. Pancake House with Aunt Pat on Mother’s Day:

Walker Bros.

Happy to all be together — and full from our share of omelettes and pancakes.

And in Pat’s backyard:

in Pat's backyard

Emma and I look a little under-dressed compared to Hannah’s high fashion. (Show off.) (Kidding. You’re adorable.)

We took A LOT of pictures. I’ll spare you the rest.

But I will tell you that if you’re in Chicago and looking for meals that you’ll be thinking of long after you return home, you should definitely eat at Mia Francesca (sit in the little courtyard in the back) and Twist (get the goat cheese, corn cakes and chocolate pie). I’m feeling nostalgic about those meals already — and wishing I didn’t leave my prosciutto pizza leftovers in Hannah’s fridge.

Up next: back to Portland and running technique (perhaps not as fun as chocolate pie, but fairly important for the goals & races at hand).

form focus (1 of 6)

Hello! I’m back from a trip to Chicago. It was wonderful. I love vacation.

Sigh.

Shall I catch you up on my running? (There’s been less running than I would’ve liked …)

Wednesday (of last week): 5 mile easy run

Thursday: nada (on planes all day)

(More on last week’s runs in the next post.)

On Wednesday, I did an easy run (mostly flat, some gradual downhills) with my friend, Julie, who just ran her first marathon (in Eugene). I’m kind of in awe of her performance: 3:54. Under 4 hours! Did I mention it was her first marathon? I’d like to be so lucky (and tough!) when (if?) I run my first marathon. (But let’s conquer the half first.)

Speaking of marathons and half marathons, I just finished reading Chi Marathon, which focuses on how to run with proper form to eliminate injuries — and how to relax to conserve (and smartly use) energy. The idea is that if you run properly, it’ll become effortless. I like the idea of that.

The book covers lots of other things, like sensing your body’s needs, setting goals, preparing for race day and more. But the biggest revelation for me was the section on technique.

In the next six posts, I’m going to focus on six aspects of running form, as covered in Chi Marathon. I’ll go through them very briefly and talk a bit about how they relate to my running. Of course, if they pique your interest or seem relevant to your running, you should read the book yourself. Or consult a coach or physician. I am not a doctor, trainer or nutritionist, and you shouldn’t take my word for any of this running stuff! (Have I covered my a$$ correctly with that?)

form focus: posture & alignment

This first form focus is one that seems kind of obvious at first. Duh, you should be running upright. But there is so much more to running with proper posture. So much, in fact, that it can be overwhelming to think about while running — and hard to tell if your posture is actually correct because you can’t see yourself. (Lately, I’m doing a lot of checking myself out while I’m running past big windows. And I’m trying to get in touch with my body and feel how my posture shifts as I run on flats, up hills or when I change my speed.)

According to Chi Marathon, there are two aspects of your stride that require proper posture and alignment:

  1. The support phase, when your body is supported by your feet hitting the ground
  2. And the flight phase, when you’re not in contact with the ground

Your posture is most significant when you’re in the support phase (from the time your foot hits to the time it rolls off the ground), and it’s also during this phase that the most injuries happen (especially if you’re a heel striker, which we’ll talk about in a later post). Think how many times your feet hit the ground. If your hips are misaligned, if your foot faces a funny direction, if you’re slouching, you’re putting tons of pressure on your muscles to do extra work.

Chi Running tells you to think of your body — from the very crown of your head to the bottom of your arch — as a column, and each piece needs to align with the next: align your feet with your legs (feet point straight forward, not splayed out), lengthen your spine (with knees always slightly bent), engage your core (without tensing your glutes), shoulders should be over your hips (not behind them) and, finally, your entire column should mimic a very slight C. (The C shape is kind of hard to describe without pics, but basically, you want your booty tucked in, not popped out — and no arch in your back. Also: eyes forward with no neck tension.)

Sounds easy enough, but it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us. Especially if we’re sitting at a desk all day, shoulders slumped (guilty!). Or if we did gymnastics or ballet for years as a kid and learned to stand in first position hour after hour (guilty again). Or if we have a cheap ass mattress and sleep on our stomachs, contorting our necks (you get the idea).

Of course, running posture isn’t just important while you’re running. You’ve got to practice it all day long so it starts to become natural while running.

So I’m giving myself posture check-ups throughout the day and practicing the little exercises in the book. And thinking about how I need to do yoga more because it always makes me feel three inches taller afterward.

***

That’s posture in a nutshell. Stand tall, runners. And tuck that booty.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the lean (and I’ll share some pics from Chicago … get excited). Because, even though you’re standing tall and relaxed, it’s not quite how you should run. (You probably know that already, but I realized I was wasting tons of energy with my upright bunny-hopping version of running. That’s no longer happening these days.)