Sunday, November 18, 2007

Form, Form, Form

It never fails: I am always jealous when I watch football. Be it college or NFL, I get a little sad when I realize that I will never win the Heisman (even if Neil reminds me that I still have four years eligibility remaining) and even more down when I see the way these guys can run. What form! What speed! What style!

We were watching the Buckeyes yesterday, so I had many opportunities to watch Beanie Wells float down the field. It’s really a thing of beauty:

How could I not have form on my mind when I ran today?

You’ll know by now that I have an intensity problem. And while getting a stress fracture (I don’t feel too much like a doof: I’m not the only one) should stop me in my tracks, I admit that it’s hard. I waited a month and a half to get running again, and now I have to slow down?

Well, my cure for toning down my intensity is focusing on my form, which needs some serious focusing. I wouldn’t say I run “like a girl” or like a guy, for that matter. It’s half way between soccer player and person in pain, I’d say. Before my injury, I was just getting to the root of my no-knee-lift form problem, but I’ve never quite been natural about my arms. I wouldn’t say I’m a big darn mess. But I’m pretty close.

On several occasions, I’ve thought I had nailed a good form—my knees lifted, my legs kicked back, my arms swung with ease. My shadow looked totally smooth! But I’ve never been able to take that form and make it something regular, something subconscious, something natural. I always sink back into my pokey form that makes running faster paces higher intensity than they need to be.

So, this was my first week back to running. I spent Monday, Wednesday and Friday focusing on distances and a little too much on pace. And as I extended my distances and envied previous paces, I felt like I was headed straight for disaster. Again.

Today I just took to the track and ran for 50 minutes with my eyes on warm-up, form and cool-down. For my 10-month running life, I’ve almost always neglected warming up and cooling down—even on race day. No excuse for it. But today I warmed up for about a mile at a relaxed pace.

Once I felt loose, I ran for about 20 minutes and then started working on form. First I targeted my knees. Obviously, I don’t need Beanie Wells’ knees, but my friend Melissa told me that my knee-lift was so lame-o (not her words; she was nice about it) that I wasn’t really reaching forward with my legs or taking advantage of my forward motion. It was as if I were afraid to reach out to the ground in front of me! So, I didn’t go for sprinter knees, just enough of a knee flex that I could reach my legs out and pull myself forward.

What's good form, really?With just that little tweak, I felt like I was cruising without upping my intensity at all. I admit that I probably ran a little faster than I should for several laps, but toned it down fast. Lucky for me: no pain.

Next: kick-back. I’ve always been pretty good about following through on my kick-back, but I don’t generally practice it, especially not with good knee-lifting. The follow through stepped up my turnover without much effort. And, again, I had to remind myself to slow down!

Unfortunately, I could only get my arms to not swing with the greatest of unease for more than a few strides. It’s one of those mental issues in which the moment I think about my arms, they start doing strange things. I’ve tried to swing my arms straight back and forth with my hands cupped, elbows around 90 degrees and thumbs whisking past my hips. And I’ll get it from time to time… until I realize what I’m doing and it gets all funky again. One of these days.

The real test will be to master a good form and then keep it up across months and months of training until it becomes as ingrained in my goofy running brain as my current mess of a gait is! I’m happy to report, however, that—fast or slow—my run today felt fantastic (to read more about form, check out "The Perfect Form" from Runner's World). No swelling or residual pain. And I think I cleared out some extra caloric space for Thanksgiving.

Next up: spinning on Monday.