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.

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Burlington 2010 Chilly 1/2 Marathon Race Report

Stopping midway to say hi to the familyPart of what makes running so much fun is that it provides unexpected challenges and from that learning opportunities which stretch far beyond the field of running. On the Burlington Chilly 1/2  marathon race held on March 7th, 2010, the weather and conditions could not have been better for this time of year.

The clouds started to thin out as the race time approached and the energy of the runners waiting for the race to start was infectious. Despite efforts with Oregano Oil and other means to ward off the seemingly inevitable chest cold impacted my race day! I took a 12 hour decongestant 14 hours before race time to at least give me a running start and in the morning I felt as though it might be gone. Wishful thinking I suppose. I practiced positive thinking to the point of not being willing to admit to myself what I was fighting for 2 days was not gone. I felt so good at race time that I decided to aim for a sub 1:50 time.

I have previously met this pace in similar runs with active effort but little discomfort for me. As this is my first 1/2 marathon race, this seemed a good starting point allowing for plenty of improvement going forward while still challenging me at my current fitness level. It was such a beautiful day that it seemed a perfect way to welcome the onset of spring; retuning to the trails with no snow/ice, shorts and t-shirts,  sunshine, and life beginning anew.

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How each step is received makes a difference

As I prepare to run in the Chilly 1/2 marathon tomorrow, I have been enjoying a period of a bit more rest to ensure I am fully ready for the race. The weather could not be better for this time of year with the forecast expected to be a high of 9’C and sunny tomorrow. During this week of maintenance running, I was thinking about how my mood has a big impact on the way I experience a run.

If I am in a bad mood, the running typically seems more laboured and requires additional focus and energy to maintain a set pace. Conversely, if I am in a good mood, the running is usually relatively easy and often feels effortless. Part of the reasoning for such a discrepancy seems to be how a particular mood filters how the experience is received. In simple terms it is like having many different shades of sunglasses, each with its own ability to colour the experience in a negative or positive light.

When I start out for a run on a cold day, sometimes I find that the feeling of the cold is not welcomed. When this happens, the cold is seen as a negative stimulus. Conversely, if the same cold is embraced and welcomed then it can be quite a positive experience. It is becoming clear how predisposed we really are to seeing the world though our filters. When the experience is not welcomed, which often happens when one is in a bad mood, it make the experience less likely to be one which is positive. If the experience is embraced fully, it can become quite positive.

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One step, One Mind. Quiet Steps, Quiet Mind.

Footsteps in the Sand - Photo by Dan FoyI was discussing with two running colleagues about their how training was proceeding on my run Saturday February 20, 2010. One of the points that seemed to be most prevalent was the necessity of personal experience to determine what works best at a certain point in training.

One runner mentioned that he found the advice on running techniques can be very specific to a certain training level. The focus of his point being that advice may or may not be of value to another runner and the experience of what is most helpful is necessary. It reminds me of the necessity of experience as a basis to running samadhi, especially the teachings of Nagarjuna are easier understood through the study of mindfulness. The determination to complete the race is quite the same as that needed to sit in Zazen for long amounts of time.

Since I am in the final stretch of preparing for the Chilly 1/2 Marathon in Burlington,I have taken some time to reflect on the different techniques I have worked with to help improve my running speed and style. It has become clear that the mind has a very important capacity to support or deter progress on the road. When doubt is allowed to be in the forefront of the mind it can have a very negative impact on performance.

In watching the mogul freestyle skiing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics a number of athletes were asked the questions about what they were thinking and doing just before their turn and while they were going down the hill. Most of the questions attempted to find out more about the experience and their state of mind before their winning run.One common answer was the individual was focused on getting into the proper  mind state for their performance which included using music. The next answer which naturally followed was to focus on what needed to be done. Much like in running one step at a time, the process of the event was broken down into elements making the entire process not so  daunting.  Lastly, the confidence level exhibited by the winning athletes was clearly evident and doubt was not.

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Blueberry waffles and grits to Power my first 1/2 marathon

Brussels WafflesOn Sunday January 14, 2010,  I started the morning still feeling uneasy from my illness which started on Friday and left me reeling on Saturday.  As I did not eat much the  previous day, I decided to make a big breakfast to start the day off right. This consisted of home made waffles, a good helping of grits and a few veggie sausages. Combined with some fresh orange juice this together represented a power breakfast.

As the grits and waffles were high in carbs it helped to fuel my body for the rest of the day.  In my blueberry waffles I included a whole range of healthy items which was based on a recipe from the cook book The Joy of Vegan Baking.I took my time to eat the meal and found about 1 hour later my energy levels were starting to return to normal. By avoiding the dairy in the recipe, I am able to prevent the mucus / clogging effect it has in my body.

As I was feeling much better, I decided to go for my weekly long run scheduled  to be an 18K  long run. I began at a slow pace and took a number of trails which had a covering of snow and made my way down to the harbour to enjoy the scenery. There were many ducks, geese and swans at the beach protected from the waves and the roads and trails were fairly quiet.

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Running to the Beat and Drumming with your Feet

I have been enjoying music as part of my runs lately. This has been a investigative personal running journey to weigh the impact of music which has a good beat which is fast enough to match the cadence. The goal I have been working on is to find the best songs for me to run with. I have found that music can clearly help to aid in performance while running. It is another tool for a runner to help control the mind.

Lately, I have been using Banshee Media Player in Ubuntu to help determine the beats per minute (BPM) within my music collection. I have found certain songs help to encourage a quick pace which is supported by various research on-line. The songs with the highest beats per minute usually have a positive impact when working to find a good running pace. Since I started with this I have found numerous studies supporting the positive of running with music when practiced safely.  During my on-line research I found a company named Audio Fuel which provides high paced running music. I am in the process of testing this out as part of an overall investigation into what type of music works best for me.

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Pulling your way along the road to the Chilly

Chilly Half Marathon 2010 PosterI have recently decided to add in some spinning to help increase my cardiovascular fitness level. My plan was to drop one training run a week to mark the 1 month before race day. So this means I am moving from 4 to 3 runs per week and I will add in an extra high intensity cross training class per week. The level of intensity in the spinning class after 40 minutes is quite remarkable. Additionally, I suspect the fast action will further the development of the ‘fast-twitch’ muscles in the legs which I started to work on with down hill running. I hope this is the case as it might aid in increased running efficiency and speed.

My thinking was to start lessening the impact of running on my body with the extra running “rest” day. This is to get my body fully rested and ready for the Chilly 1/2 marathon race. It would be a shame to push a little harder on the roads in the last month and risk injury. Incidentally, in a healthy state I am already able to reach my original race pace goal so the extra mileage on the road seems unnecessary.

I have been told that as a runner you need to figure out what works best for you.  There is certainly a real degree of truth to that statement and I would add that the process of trying different techniques help develop the runner’s mind. This is as important or probably more integral to develop then the body. I point out my descartian simplification of mind and body makes it easier to explain this process of being mindful of pulling while on a run but in reality they are one.

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Energy level and -16’C cold weather

Yesterday, I went for my Saturday long run with running group in training for the Chilly half marathon. I went on a 12k run and I found it was much harder then usual to complete. Afterwards, I was trying to determine why this run in particular was such a challenge and I came up with two main reasons.

We started out at 8:00 am with the sun rising above Lake Ontario. It was serene to run along the shore and see the effect of the cold on the lake. The sky was mostly clear and it was -16 degrees Celsius outside. The sun was shining bright. Suffice to say it was a very cold morning for a run. Incidentally, this is the coldest run I have taken so far. During the run I was reminded of a winter camping trip I took to Algonquin Park in similar conditions. So far I have yet to repeat that trip and wonder if the same goes for this run.

I had the opportunity to chat with a few members of my group to see how they experienced the run. The vast majority of the replies were in sync with my experience. The run felt way harder then it should have and one fellow runner even remarked that it felt more like a 20k run.

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Training one day at a time

The training is going along nicely with a little soreness. After a long run on the weekend of 18K I found I could have used one more day of rest as my feet were still a bit sore. I ran to my schedule instead of how my body felt and I found it was not a very good run yesterday so I ended it at 7K.  Another lesson learned.  After my run,  my feet were a bit sore so today I decided to get some more Active Release Techniques (ART) treatment.  I was able to go on my hill run later on in the day as it really helped loosen up the area in my feet which was very tight. This is only the second time I have used this treatment and I have to say it is quite remarkable.

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Room for Doubt in a Runner’s Journey?

After my 12K hill run last night I decided on renting the documentary “Running the Sahara” as it came highly recommended by a good friend. This documentary was very touching to see how they positively impacted the lives of the people with whom they encountered on their run.  Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin ran for 111 days straight across the entire Sahara desert for a total distance of 170 marathons – 6,290 kilometers (4,300 miles). They did not take a complete day off in all that distance!

As I watched the video I could not help to think about my training for a 1/2 marathon as quite infinitesimal to this unparalleled  expedition.  I decided to watch the movie for two reasons. The first reason was to pick up some tips which might help me with my training as a runner. The second was to get a glimpse of parts of the world seldom seen on television in such an intimate manner.

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