Running Form, Distance, Speed
Last fall I signed up for a 60K trail run in Oregon, planning to train through the winter, but my running was affected as I spent more time taking care of our dying family pet. By March, I switched to the 30K option (which was really 20.5 miles). Our cat passed on, and we took a last minute vacation two weeks before the race. I didn’t get the volume I needed, but every run was quality, focusing on form and efficiency. It paid off.
The race was on a Sunday, and we drove down on Saturday, taking nine instead of six hours. I was ready to run as soon as we arrived! Race time was 9 am, so we were able to get plenty of rest. We were at 3500 ft, which didn’t seem like much, unless you are an altitude wimp like me. That can increase your running effort, leaving you winded. In addition, this was a very runnable race (not much climbing), so given altitude and distance, efficient running was key! My friend and I decided to stick together, take it easy, and enjoy the trail.
The first mile of running was a gentle uphill on a dusty forest service road. It was hard to get into a rhythm, between the uphill and elevation, so concentrating on cadence and relaxation really helped. Aid station number one appeared sooner than we were expecting, and I still wasn’t feeling the running love. We climbed a bit more, and I focused on using my obliques to get up the hills. This made running or walking uphill more tolerable. If I could only have done something about the altitude, it would have been perfect! Soon the next aid station appeared, and we were off on a lollipop loop and would be half way done at the turn. I was looking forward to this because it meant a gentle downhill, and my feet were starting to feel the lack of distance running training. We continued to take it easy, with a few walk breaks.
After the turn around, I took the lead a few times (my friend had been ‘pulling’ me along) and I picked different focuses, determined by what my body was telling me. If I felt wobbly, I leveled my pelvis and focused on the “C” shape. If my feet felt heavy, I focused on a tall spine and the upward direction. I also kept my stride length in check, which came in handy when running over rocks. My favorite running focus was one I learned at the instructors’ retreat last fall: engaging my core, I imagined that someone was facing me with their hands on my shoulders, and I would push them backwards, concentrating on using only my core. When I did this, my running felt effortless and I could really feel gravity pulling me along!
Cycling through these running focuses made the run go by quicker and I saw it as a challenge to hold on to the focuses for as long as I could. Chapter six of the ChiRunning book speaks about form, distance and speed as the three developmental stages of the ChiRunning technique. How long you can hold your form is the true test of ChiRunning, and speed becomes the by-product. While we weren’t speedy, we didn’t finish last, and I felt good at the end – good enough to do a four mile trail run the next day (in my Vibram Five Fingers). As I train to hold my form over longer distances, perhaps my next 50K might be a little faster!
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