I had an amazing day in the company of Nick Constantine, @soulsinmotion to Twitter folk. Nick is a Chi Running and Walking instructor as well an Iyengar yoga person and he was my coach for the day. I've been mentored, but never been coached or had a personal trainer (unless you count being yelled at whilst learning to swim a breadth at primary school) but I'd read Chi Running; tried it in practice and knew that to get it right I needed some face to face coaching. I was right and Nick was perfect for me.
Nick started off by running me through the basics, getting my head into the right place and then off to the beach. First Nick assessed my current running form. Now I thought I had quite good form, guess we all do! But in the critical gaze of Nick's IPad, I saw a slow loper with her bum sticking out, her feet dragging and her head down. I really hadn't tried to be perfect, but I'd been quietly confident I'd get a good mark. My footprints on the sand were a testament to a runner heavy on her feet, who pushes off quite hard. Nick was several stone heavier than me and a heck of a lot taller, but my footprints were much much deeper than his, and that told the story.
Faced with the evidence and with Nick explaining to me what I was doing, we set about getting me re-programmed. I decided to go barefoot and I am so glad I did. I love to walk barefoot on the sand and I am an olympic level paddler, but I hadn't run barefoot on sand since I was a child. There was something about my feet hitting the sand that helped me take it in and focus on my feet and what they do when I run. Gradually I began to learn how to get my posture right; how to just start running without pushing off hard like a sprinter. I saw how my asymmetry affected my running and gave me a lazy side I need to tackle.
I began to understand how the way I ran was putting a lot of strain on my legs and lower back. No wonder I got injured as I began to test myself with marathon training at an age when things are losing a bit of their youthful elasticity! Marathon training is pretty good for finding out your weak spots, but if you don't know what they are, you can't handle them.
As we chatted over a lunchtime bowl of soup at the Scottish Seabird Centre, I asked loads of daft questions, and Nick helped me make sense of my experiences that morning, including that how I run is very much like how I live my life - too much, too quick, too big a rush, always looking and planning one step ahead. Yup, that's me, even if it's largely imposed on me at the moment. I saw my video and looked at some other folk before and after chi training. I saw hunched up bouncy people becoming relaxed smooth movers. Was I going to be able to do that too? I so wanted to be one of those chi runners, they looked so good.
I was eager to get back out and learn some more so I could be a Chi runner and be one now! The tide was in so we headed off to the grass bank, but I kept my shoes off. Now for some more running practice. Nick likened it to swimming lengths and how swimmers practice by getting their form right by doing it over and over. He also taught me I have an 'edge', a point up to which I can hold my form, and over which things go belly up. I need to focus on extending my edge, not speed, not my distance, not racing, but extending how long and how fast I can hold my form. That tapped nicely into my Pilates head and made a lot of sense.
I learnt a lot of amazing, transformational things that afternoon. My favourite was the importance of running at a fast cadence - 175-185 steps per foot per minute. Running at round 180 reduced my overstrike, helped me lift my feet and helped me keep light. It felt effortless, in the zone; I lost that slow draggy feeling I get when I have to run slowly. It also satisfied my need for speed but without the damage that I'd been doing. One of my big problem areas is my shoulders and the need to keep my arms and hands relaxed - I really hunch up, I need to run tall. I am going to have to focus on the basics for quite a while before I start to go up the gears a bit, I am going to have to take this seriously.
At the end of a great day over a much deserved cup of tea, I felt enthused and inspired as Nick summed up what I'd achieved, what I'd learnt and what I had still to do. This is a way of running that feels great, that has pace, that will challenge me lots and will help me run forever. I know this is what I want to do. My biggest challenge though is going to be me and the way my mind works. Next morning the video, technique tips and notes arrived and I'll be sending Nick a video or two of my progress to get feedback over the next 6 months.
I've got a decision. I could just pick up where I left off and try to get back to running normally integrating Chi techniques. I could build distance and then work up the speed, do my marathon, and hope that the Chi stuff has stuck. But what a wasted opportunity and somehow that doesn't feel like the right thing to do. I have a very strong sense that my injury demands that I start to do something different about my running if I want to run long and strong for the years ahead.
If I am going to commit to running better, I am going to have to give up, at least for now, a focus on a marathon and focus simply on how long I can hold my form for. That is going to mean heading to the beach when I can and practicing barefoot. It probably mean pulling out of the Edinburgh half in April and not running a marathon this year.
I have to say I am a bit torn, surely I could just do the marathon and then sort my form out? Well I might get away with it, but I probably wouldn't, and if I am honest, I know that. I know what I need to do. Have I got the mental discipline to do it? I hope so. I really really hope so.
So thank you Nick for helping me get onto the right path for my running journey, helping me set my goals and how I might get there. I'm looking forward to your next video of me showing a relaxed and confident Chi runner!
Lots of halves, 20 milers and great running this week our there in the Twittersphere. Whatever you're up to, be great, run strong!