Running really is an odd thing. I remember running when I was a kid or in high school and I hated it. My legs would feel like lead after a very short while, my lungs would burn and strangely enough I would often get a headache. The lead legs and burning lungs are easily explained by lack of fitness but what about the headache? As a new runner, one is often quite bouncy and uneconomical in their running style. That bounce coupled with glasses which didn't fit very well made my head feel like it was going to fall off. What to do about all this? Um. Not run! For years and years.
And here I am today. I easily run 8 miles before work and it feels comfortable and relaxing. So now I'm cardiovascularly fit which means I can comfortably breathe during an aerobic workout. My legs are strong and used to the demands I place on them and I don't bounce around when I run so no headache. No glasses either but that's a separate story.
I know I am a better runner now than when I was a kid (obviously) or even a few years ago. My running economy has improved drastically. Running economy? what is that? It's really not anything in particular that I can point to which has changed. It just happened and I think can be documented in race photos over the years.
Most race photos I saw of myself when I was a new runner always made me cringe because I just looked so crooked and off balance. It didn't look like I'd even be able to walk correctly let alone run. Now and really only in the past two years do I actually look like I am running in running photos. I don't really have any good shots of running from some years ago but I'd often look like I was collapsed to one side and had a sort of hunched look. Just call me Quasimodo!
Somehow in the past year, I actually like race photos. I look like I am running. I don't look like I'm about to tip over. This one to the left is from the Dallas Marathon Relay this past December. I'm at foot plant and look upright and not crooked.
What changed? I have better foot turnover, more strength to support my core and there are some form considerations which I keep in mind. I keep my head up, try and pick up my legs a bit (so I don't shuffle) and keep my arms moving. Making sure that I stay flexible in my legs, hips and my shoulders helps this as well. I dropped my orthotics this past year because I felt I had outgrown them as further proof that running form has changed over the years.
But how do I perceive how I run? Quasimodo here! I still feel like I lurch about.
This morning I ran Race #4 in the Super Jock n Jill Winter Grand Prix Series. This was a 2-mile road race where you had to predict your time and run without a watch. That often is challenging for me because I use heart rate data to help me push the pace and convince myself that I am not dying!
During the race this morning I had the oddest realization. I was using my breathing to gauge how hard I was going and listening to fellow runners around me to see how they were doing. I passed a couple people who obviously had started out way too fast and were paying a price. But then I started noticing that most people around me were running so effortlessly looking. They looked relaxed and graceful at the 7:15 pace we were running.
Um. I was running 7:15 pace too. And I very gradually passed people from .8 miles onward. Does this mean I look like I am running effortlessly and gracefully? Well? I can't quite say yes as I haven't seen myself running but all evidence is pointing that way.
This past year of injuries has forced me to change up my running by incorporating biking, rowing, consistent core and strength work and that has really helped my overall strength. It's made me more aware of form in running, in biking, in rowing and in life. Now that I'm back to more consistent running I feel stronger and faster on fewer miles and it just feels easier. Perception is everything. I am looking forward to this year of running.