Back to Basics

Part C: Form and Determination.

Running well is a matter of having the patience to persevere when we are tired and not expecting instant results.
-Robert De Castella

There is one week a month where I just slow down, and I have no choice about it.  Then I have to work around the fatigue and focus on just getting it done. I suppose I could just do yoga or ride. But I want to run, so I do.

I took some extra days off last week, so I am not cutting myself any slack this week. Today I decided I needed to take a long run, having not done anything over 3 miles for several weeks. Oh, it was tough; 4.1 miles, and I didn’t take an easy route. Four hills on the way out–which I got to run down on the way back ūüôā –and another three on the way back. What was I thinking?

Well, that is when determination comes in. I am truly not¬†sure how I kept going the last mile, my legs wanted to walk but I just wouldn’t let them. I had decided a turn around point ¬†before I started, but I had to keep making deals with myself.

The humidity had gone down (yay!), but it was still nice, sunny and hot out. I told myself if I got to the top of a particular hill, I could turn around. But, then I would be going downhill, so  I might as well keep going. When I was sweating, if I just got to that next patch of shade, I could go back. But then it was cool and breezy, so I might as well go a bit further.  I did that all the way to my original goal; but, boy, was I glad to turn around.

Everyone has their own level of determination. And it grows with each success. A couple of years ago, I would have turned around the first time I thought of it. But by pushing myself, I know how good I feel about it afterwards. And that adds to my determination for the next time. How do you decide to be determined? The answer is in the question: you decide.
The dictionary defines determination as: The act of deciding definitely and firmly; firm or fixed intention to aachieve a desired end.

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.”
-Tommy Lasorda

Don’t confuse it with motivation, because they are separate entities. Motivation is a¬†“motivating force, stimulus, or influence; incentive; drive.” Motivation is what makes you want to ¬†exercise: weight loss, endorphins, that upcoming wedding, whatever. ¬†Determination is you deciding to get out of bed and go running, and then making yourself do it. Or deciding on a 4 mile run and completing it. No matter how slow the miles might have been.

Now, you are determined, and keep running those slow miles. How do you make it through? We all develop our methods, or we stop. I have one friend that loves aerobic HIIT sessions, but gets bored running. She doesn’t run that much because of it. I never get bored.

First, I love the outdoors and the miles pass under my feet as I gawk at the pretty pond or the marvelous shape of that tree. Second, I write. ¬†Specifically today, this post and then a story I am working for my other blog, FictionWriterwithablog (shameless plug, there). That works very well to get me up the hills: while I am working on a particular turn of phrase I don’t pay attention the hill.

And when that doesn’t work, I focus on my form. ¬†I love running with the sun behind me so I can see my shadow. Running with good form that I can see reflected in my shadow encourages me.¬†There are several benefits to working on form. First, you are much less likely to strain something as when you are tired form is usually the first to go.

Have a sore lower back after running?¬†¬†Strain is placed on the back when you don’t keep your tailbone tucked, which makes the core support you instead of your back, particularly up a hill. It’s the reason that I do so much core work, since I am prone to lower back issues. And usually when I am tired and going up a hill, I have to make sure my tailbone is tucked. This also makes you use your thigh muscles more going up the hill: thus my drills.

Another issue I have found recently is my arms. I don’t know why, but I find I am developing “zipper arms:” my arms cross my midline (or zipper) while running. This is a waste of energy, plus the twisting motion is not good for any part of your torso. ¬†A good fix for this to cup your hands loosely, and turn them up (like you are catching water with each hand) or turn them down. Personally, I find turning them up is better. If I turn them down it tends to make my elbows stick out to the sides, which puts more pressure on my shoulders with each swing. ¬†I cup my hands with my thumb and forefinger (my yoga background is showing), with the palm facing up. That generally straightens my swing out–I just have been having to fix it a lot recently.

As I have said before, everyone finds the balance for them that makes good form. But there is a basis to work off of that will help you find it; and prevent injuries while you are finding that form.

The fastest way to hate running is to hurt yourself. ¬†And there are definitely things you don’t want to be doing:

thanks to running.about for the quotes.



Think Raquel Welch, ladies

This was my mother’s call as she gave us riding lessons when I was young. She gave dressage lessons as a side business, and I often took them with some of the riders near my age. What she meant, of course, was shoulders back and chest out.

I find this transfers across many sports, but particularly running. While every one’s form for running is different, there are a few constants. I actually have several different “forms”: for running uphill, running downhill and just plain flat running. Figuring out your optimum form ¬†will help when you get tired or running a race. I had a friend on cross country in high school ran with her arms straight down. ¬†She also spit instead of swallowing. I don’t recommend that. If nothing else, you don’t want to be dehydrating yourself.

But when I get tired, I will run with my arms down to relax and it always makes me smile and think of it as “Becky running”. ¬†I ¬†usually run off the balls of my feet, keep my tailbone tucked in, shoulders back and arms relaxed as possible. Running off the balls instead of your heels provides spring for the next step. Keeping your ¬†tailbone tucked engages the core and ensures your back doesn’t hurt after a run. Shoulders back helps support you and makes it easier to breathe.

Let’s talk breathing. If you can’t control your breath, you are doomed to a long, unbearable run. I know we all pant when we first start training, or when we increase a pace. But generally, breathing at a even regular pace is necessary. ¬†I would love to run breathing through my nose like I do in a yoga practice. But for now, I am happy if my breathing is even and quiet ūüôā

Darren Treasure, a sports psychologist, encourages his runners to log 10 minutes of controlled breathing each day. His thought is that if you become anxious (say, before a race) “your breaths become very short and shallow, which actually precipitates more anxiety.” I would take it one step further, saying that starting a race breathing that way would make it exceedingly hard to find your pace. I find that cramps usually start if I am not breathing deeply and when my shoulders fall forward, slumping my middle. Straightening up and getting the air in helps rid me of the cramp. In my 5K the woman I was running next to said she had cramps so I gasped out “straighten up, deep breath, hold it then let it out”. Later she told me that really helped her, which is good as I thought maybe I was being obnoxious giving orders!

Going up a hill, if I find myself breathing shallowly, I need to be able to pull in a deep breath and hold it before breathing out. For me, yoga has taught ¬†me deep breathing and makes it easier to pull in that breath. Learning yoga is not a requirement. But I think Darren’s idea of practicing deep, relaxing breathing can have many benefits. Try it before going to sleep–it will probably put you to sleep faster!

Going uphill, my heels don’t even hit the ground. I use the spring from the balls of my feet to propel me into the next step. Kinda feels like running up stairs. This is where high knees drills can definitely help your running. Leaning forward (just a bit!) lets the weight of your upper body pull you into the ¬†next step as well. Again, it’s important to ¬†keep the upper body straight and the core engaged. Keep the tailbone tucked, or you get a “swayback” ¬†feel to your back, and that can hurt later in the day. I do my “Becky running” up hills a lot, relaxes the arms and lets me focus on the legs.

Going down a hill, I like to feel loose and limber with a definite bend in my knees. I do this to prevent shock to my knees. I use my heels and roll my foot forward with each step. I actually go downhill slower than uphill or going across a flat. I’m a bit of a klutz and I don’t want to land on my face.

Usually running on relatively flat ground I try to keep my form as I described above. ¬†Form is always in flux, always needing minute adjustments. ¬†I am always finding my shoulders coming up and I have to slide them back down. ¬†It depends on how you feel that day, how fast you are going and what the purpose of your run is. But finding your optimum form, the one where after you run you don’t feel like anything was pulled out of ¬†place and there are no aches other than the good run aches, will help you focus when you need to pull that last mile out.

When I’m tired and I want to stop, thinking about my form helps me reset. So I keep thinking about my form, pull it together and I get the next quarter mile down the road. It gives me something to focus on besides whining about being tired, and it gets me home.

(Darren Treasure’s other comments can be found in Sept 2014 Runner’s World)