Reflections, Shades of Light and Running Style

The sun's rays highlight the beauty of this farmAs the days are getting longer, I am now enjoying running in the daylight again. Many of my training runs take place in the early evening and for the winter this has meant in darkness. One of the experiences I have missed over the past four months is to enjoy the sunset while running.

As I was running a few days ago, I recognized how much my love for running sprang from the experiences I had in my early evening runs last summer. The vibrant and clarity the sun’s rays highlights the beauty of the world present during running. As often is the case when the sun starts to set, it provides illumination in spots based on how it filters through the trees and bushes.

By appreciating the way the light cast onto the trees, grass and  bushes, the mindset that naturally arises set the stage for a very satisfying run. The process I started was to simply mentally note the clarity of the land — the glowing land — all around me. By focusing on a general area of the path in the direction I was running I was able to appreciate it for what it is. I gently allowed the inner dialog to subside and to simply be in the present moment. This provided a great place from which to practice running samadhi.

It was so very nice to experience the glowing world as I enjoyed my weekly easy run.I was able to continue to test some of the running techniques I have used as once the space for mindful running is opened it is quite easy to gently move the focus to the motion of running after the sun has set. Over this past weekend I completed a 1/2 marathon simulation of 6 miles easy, 5 miles fast and 2 miles easy. At the end of the run I almost matched my previous Chilly 1/5 Marathon race time with a fraction of the effort required.  My new schedule is proceeding well and I am enjoying the structured intervals I have added to my training.

Recently, I was quite interested to see video of Haille Gebrselassie that shows how his hips do not drop when running (see the analysis at around the 2:00 point in the video).  As I have been slowly returning back to the way I ran when I first started I found this video to be quite interesting indeed: I am now trying to contact the the ground directly underneath my body on the front of the foot. In the video there is one point where the commentator points out that Haille’s hips do not drop when he runs. In the last two weeks I have been experimenting with how this impacts overall efficiency of my running and I am quite happy with the results so far.  It seems to really make a difference when running with a level pelvis but it clearly requires strong abdominal oblique muscles . The goal I have set for myself for the Mississauga 1/2 Marathon coming up in just under 2 months is to be able to run a 1/2 Marathon in this style of running by turning over my feet at a faster cadence so the actual force of the body is no longer striking the ground as hard while maintaining a level pelvis. This style makes for some very quiet running.

In past runs I tested the theory of actual actively pulling the abdominal obliques in conjunction with the running movement with limited success and too much mental focus required. What I discovered is that when the pelvis is attempted to be kept level, the abdominal obliques seem to be naturally worked more then when the pelvis is allowed to drop. This creates a chain of strength throughout the body and it really made a noticeable positive difference in the overall effort level required to maintain a fast pace. I am thankful for the video of Haille Gebrselassie which help me be mindful of this important running technique which seems to be better able to take advantage of the abdominal workouts I have been doing for the last year.

By attempting to keep the forward momentum moving with as little impact as possible it seems to really be making a difference for my training. My 1/2 marathon simulation on Saturday the 20th of March 2010 of 8K (5 miles) at race pace was started with some trepidation due to a slightly sore knee but it ended with a big smile. I have been suspecting the shoes I have been using for the past 2 months have been  negatively impacting the motion I learned to run with when I first started. These shoes were sold to me in a running store due to an overpronation of my foot which is supposed to provide extra structure when running. By changing the dynamics of how my foot is able to strike the ground, I believe I am now experiencing some of the initial negative consequences of a shoe with more support.  I have recently switched back on alternate runs to my neutral shoes to test this theory and so far I believe the results support my initial hypothesis.

I am quite excited to report that even after several runs, I am much happier with the level of impact felt on my body.  This has been noticed after my run and event the recovery time needed to return back to normal after each run. While I am certainly not qualified to recommend this as a solution for running injuries, for me it seems to be working well. I believe the fact I am feeling much better after a long run in the areas that felt the most impact is in part due to my foot no longer being forced into a restricted motion.

To continue to test this theory, I ordered from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) a pair of the Vibram fivefingers KSO shoe which have arrived today. I plan to phase these in as a training tool to begin with. As I have already shifted back to a midfoot/forefoot strike when running, I hope this may help even more develop this technique but I am going to phase this in to provide ample time for my calf muscles to continue to strengthen. I am interested in being able to better feel and hopefully control the momentum developed when running and at the same time limit the strike force created with each step taken.

In addition to the above experiments with my running style, I have also recently recognized the necessity of keeping my muscles more limber and have been including more stretching into my training plan. This will be the focus of a future post about the importance of having muscles with a wider range of motion.  I hope this post in part helps other runners investigating the most efficient way to run.

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