November 17, 2014 by scratchtype1
Yesterday, a recent and tiny goal tumbled. Since I began injecting the hill sprints, form drills, and more fartlek style running into my weeks back on October 15th, I’ve had a sort of speed test that I’ve done one or two times a week. It goes from a telephone pole to a mailbox and the GPS has consistently measured it as being .17 miles, although if you look deeper into the GPS data you can’t say that it’s all that close about agreeing on many yards I’ve run. I understand that it’s the nature of the beast, GPS is really only approximation of position by satellites, so short little intervals like that .17 miles are going to have some sizeable margins of inaccuracy. But, on the other hand, so long as my hitting of the start and stop button is fairly close, at least the time measurement is being fairly consistently done. Although I can’t claim it is anywhere near perfect.
But October 15th, the first try at it, saw me clock this short burst at 1:21.21, about 7:58 pace according to the Garmin. I wasn’t anywhere close to full out on it, I was just trying it for the first time and getting a measure of the distance, and a measure of how it would feel, and a measure of how the hip would handle it. A more earnest effort followed 2 days later, 1:13.71, about 7:14 pace. October 26th I ran one pretty well full out and recorded 1:02.79, about 6:10 pace. I wasn’t surprised at the rapid improvement, I had been waking up the muscles responsible for faster running, plus I was getting a better feel of how to pace myself from that telephone pole to that mailbox.
The next 3 times I ran it were slower than that best effort on the 26th. A couple of times may have been because I hadn’t had as long of a break between ending the run I had finished earlier or the fact that I had done a fartlek style run with some half-marathon pace effort earlier, so the legs had been used up some. As you may imagine though, I had been thinking about how it would feel rather good to beat 1 minute. Surely it couldn’t be too hard to do so, right? I was only a few seconds off. But all those times after the 26th I had not.
Then yesterday — a good mid-length run of 7.6 miles, felt pretty good although the legs didn’t have full spring because of Saturday’s running, hill sprints and form drills. Note to self — do not this last Saturday’s workout this coming Saturday, that’d be stupid. Tomorrow will be the last day of hill sprints and form drills. When I first finished the 7.6 miles, I kind of thought that I wouldn’t do the .17 mile burst. But as I walked along and the legs felt itchy, well, the decision was made. So I ran it. I started off good and quick. I had known that sometimes I wouldn’t start off fast enough and give up some speed and time there. Not yesterday. I also felt around what the body was feeling. What are the glutes doing? Ahh good, they’re firing away. Use them — they are my speed here. How are the shoulders? Relaxed, I can feel my arms hanging freely, the hands slightly brush the hips back and forth (that’s become one of my cues to keep my shoulders relaxed). Am I breathing? Oh wait, no, I’m not breathing. I relax that and feel the lungs begin to expand and contract like they should. Good. Run. Hard. Fast. There’s that mailbox. Drive through it. Stop.
59.39 seconds. About 5:50 pace by the Garmin.
So there’s a little more speed now in my legs. I’ve been feeling it also when I run easy-pace. If there’s one thing I’ve slowly come to realize it’s just how terrible my body used to be about using the glutes while running. But now usually when I check how the body feels while running, I can find a sensation that the glutes are firing when the foot touches the ground. That’s so important, because it is a crucial part of the human running stride. If your glutes aren’t doing so, you’re running with other muscles and missing out on using the biggest muscles of the human body. I strongly believe that this dormancy was caused by as a kid I wore shoes and those shoes prevented me from learning how to run. With the shoes on, I could throw my legs out in front of me, land on my heel and run poorly. I thought to be faster I needed to throw the foot out even farther forward. That style of running would fail to trigger the glutes properly. Then you add in a life where like many of us here in the United States often sit in chairs, I had glutes which were dormant.
As it turns out, deadlifting and squatting won’t necessarily fix that either. I have a couple of times in my life worked up to being able to deadlift more than 2 times my own bodyweight. Maybe not hugely strong, but stronger than most people around me. I could probably deadlift more than 1.6 times my bodyweight today if I gave it a go. So the glutes were no longer weak. But that doesn’t mean that the body knows how to use that strength. To some extent, strength training is kind of specific. Of course it’ll have carryover, but single-max deadlifts don’t really have much resemblance to the running stride. Those glutes need to be trained to fire while running.
So how to do that? That’s where I think the hill sprints and form drills come in. At least for me, they’ve been doing the trick. Oh yeah, something else. Barefoot running. Use the nerves of the feet to guide you into the natural running form. My form is not perfect yet, I still have lots of years of bad running form to erase from the movement patterns that shoes taught me. But barefoot running has helped to guide me along. The trick is to be considered and careful and slowly work on the improvements and avoid injury. I failed on the avoiding injury some this year, when my left hip went bad. I think that was because I hadn’t done the work with hill sprints and form drills, so that even though I was running with better form thanks to barefoot running, I still wasn’t getting enough activation in the glutes. Other muscles were compensating, especially the left hip flex which got very angry.
These are reasons why I believe most all runners should do at least some amount of barefoot running. I don’t think it’s impossible to run with good form while wearing shoes (just look at elite runners, they may be wearing shoes, but their form is beautiful, feet landing nearly under the center of gravity), but it interferes, and maybe especially with us mere mortals.
ETA: As is often the case, I had thought of one thing to write about when inventing the title, and then wandered off elsewhere while writing the post. Perhaps the next post will be titled How To Run and I’ll talk about the why of it.