Monthly Archives: August 2013

The mesmeric middle miles

Hypnotic tarmac?

Hypnotic tarmac?

I’ve noticed a couple of things when I’m on my long runs, the 15 to 20 milers. Actually, I don’t think I view anything less than 15 miles as a long run. In fact, what is the definition of a long run? Is there an ‘official’ definition? Mine clearly self-defines at 15+ miles. Anyone else?

That wasn’t what I was going to write about at all. One of the more encouraging things I’ve noticed about the long runs is there is a period of time that just sort of disappears. The miles go by in an almost unconscious manner.  Is this what it’s like to be in the zone? A place where the rhythm of running takes over control of the body and the running just happens? What goes on there? Anyone else get this?

I don’t know how far in to the long miles they start, and I think it may vary. Indeed they don’t always happen at all. I don’t know how long they last, though – sadly – they seem to stop as soon as I realise I’ve been running mesmeric miles. I also don’t know if I’ve kept up pace during these mesmeric middle miles. I kind of think I have, though I base that on no conscious knowledge.

There’s no awareness in those mesmeric middle miles. Which means, of course, there’s no pain. That’s the point.  That’s the wonderful point. Well, and that time and miles pass without me having to consciously tick them off. I’ve never (yet) got lost, i.e. gone off route, so maybe there’s a running core that keeps unconscious control. But running just happens in those miles – the hypnotic effect of rhythm, perhaps?

Can one really concentrate and zone out (zone in?) at the same time? What if those mesmeric middle miles last just a few miles? Can one train to lengthen the mesmeric middle miles? Wouldn’t it just be great to be mesmerised for say 20 of those miles, and just have truly conscious focus for a few of them? How cool (and pain-free) would that be? As long as the pace is kept up, whatever pace it is you’re aiming to be running at.

At least I do know they exist. For a short while. Maybe for a middling while. Something to work on once I’ve imprinted a new breathing regime.

I also know the mesmeric middle miles are different from what I call steady-state running. I’m fully aware during steady state running, chugging along feeling quite positive thinking, yup, I’m doing this, I can do this, the pace is decent, everything’s working well enough. Steady state running typically doesn’t last so long either. I need to focus on lengthening steady state running too.

It’s not all positive … next time … the curséd killer kilometres!

What does a runner look like?

Ready for the London marathon 2013

Ready for the London marathon 2013

A growing handful of people are telling me I look like a runner. I’ve so far failed to explore what they mean by that. I must challenge the next person (if there is one) who makes such a comment.

Do runners have a particular physiognomy? Watching the World Championships in Moscow you’d have to say not. There are lots of different shapes and sizes out there.

Do runners have a certain form?

I might have one clue … two years ago and more no-one was telling me I looked like a runner … and I wasn’t one. I only started running – or jogging in reality, then – not quite 14 months ago.

Me in 2011

Me in 2011

Random breathing

Look at all that air to breathe

Look at all that air to breathe

Breathing seems to have come up a lot in various conversations recently, and magazine articles.

My last visit to the magical Michaela for my shoulder got me thinking, as she was talking to me about breathing to help my shoulder. It seems the shoulder is related to lots of other bits – the diagonally opposite hip for example, interestingly it is my weaker leg side. Spooky, maybe she’s right!

And maybe my shoulder issue is related to breathing too. She was describing the difference between breathing into one’s upper chest, and breathing more into the belly. I’m an ex-smoker, so talk of ‘cigarette-breathing’ made perfect sense – it’s all in the upper chest as you pull a drag on that fag.  But proper breathing, apparently, is about breathing into the abdomen as the diaphragm contracts downwards in that direction. Diaphragm down, air drawn down into the lungs. I may have a very simplistic interpretation of breathing mechanics here, just to warn you.

So I’m trying to think of my diaphragm as a separate muscle (which it is, obviously) and bring its movement into conscious control. I’m imagining my ribs are like the gills of a fish. As I breathe in the diaphragm contracts (moves downwards to the bottom of the ribcage), so I’m imagining my ribcage expanding  sideways, with the spaces between my ribs getting wider, in gill-flapping fashion, as I pull what I think is my diaphragm downwards towards my abdomen.

Apparently it’s also called yoga breathing, which to be fair, I’ve failed to get the hang of in more than ten years of yoga. It seems much more important now. I shall ask the jubbly bubbly Jyoti Pai (who’s now called Jyoti Harvey) for details on proper ‘belly breathing’ next time I see her.

I remember the first time I managed to complete 13 miles. In fact it was so notable, I did – September 16th, 2012. My chest and lungs hurt. Really hurt. Really, really hurt. I could only do very shallow breathing the next day.

Anyway, on my next long run I thought I’d try to achieve such chest/lung pain thing again, as proof that I was using some different musculature than that which I’ve become accustomed to using. I tended to remember about the breathing when I was going uphill, but that’s OK. There are plenty of hills around Winky to allow enough opportunity to practice new breathing. It kind of worked. Well something was different. Ribcage feels a bit sore; lungs feel a bit more hollow.

The weird thing is that because it was a different pattern of breathing, less, somehow, my running cadence was all over the shop. Normally I breathe in, in, out, out, or in, in, out, out, out (or something). A different, deeper, breathing pattern is going to require me to change how I link breathing and leg movement. Oh well, so be it.

I tried this ‘deep breathing’ in swimming too. That’ll need more practice, bit scary. Bit more difficult to achieve in the water, for me.

Then the lovely Lou was talking about mitochondria – things in cells that create energy, using oxygen. Ergo, more oxygen in, more energy creation. Muscles work more effectively, more efficiently, more economically. Well maybe not all of those. Well maybe all of them. I don’t know enough yet. More research needed.

But for now I’m focused on rib-gills breathing. Maybe it’ll improve my running, and my shoulder…

Club running vest

WADAC club vest

WADAC club vest

Ooh. I have taken the commitment plunge. I am now the proud, and really rather anxious and daunted owner of a club running vest. I get to wear my own colours of danger!

No more of this half-hearted, give it a go, borrow a vest, sort of mentality. I’ve made the commitment. I properly belong to my running club now!

No idea when I’ll next wear the vest, i.e. run for club. But it is compulsory attire when racing, so at least I’m sartorially prepared. To complement the top, black seems to be de rigueur on the bottom half. Maybe I’ll try to find something yellow (although I’m told the colour is gold…) to strike a different pose. Always want to rail against conformity, me. Or at least try to raise a smile, somehow.

It’s still hanging on the outside of my wardrobe, reminding me of what I’ve done. Stomach feels a little pit-like every time I catch sight of it. I really ought to put it out of sight, ergo out of mind.

Soon enough.

Leg drills

Legs gotta work harder

Legs gotta work harder

Now I can swim (!!!), I vaguely recall saying I can start to focus on form, function, technique and whatever other techy words there are to describe swimming better.

I have to say focusing on one aspect was rather forced on me due to my shirking shoulders. The magical Michaela instructed me to rest for two weeks (three as it happened as I was on hols), so no swimming and no tennis. Running was allowed, thank goodness, I’d have gone a little stir crazy otherwise.

Anyway, I still went to the pool, but just did leg drills. It’s amazing how much time one can spend doing just leg drills. It’s amazing how wobbly one’s legs are afterwards from all the exertion.

I did more of the usual leg drills that the marvellous M has had me doing all along, e.g. lying on back, hands on chest, leg kicking up and down the pool. Repeat with float on chest. Repeat holding float to knees; lying on front with float out front, kick up and down the pool. How come it’s so much easier doing the kicking drills on one’s back? I seem to go faster, marginally, on my back (ah, see below).

I’ve got a couple of books on swimming now, so I found some more drills:

Standing on the bottom step in the deep end is a good drill, I’ve found. Sideways on, one foot on step, other leg hanging loose, arm firmly hanging on for support.  Hips/pelvis fixed. Kick back and forth, relaxed leg. All the effort coming from hip, well, and the glutes, I noticed. Kick wider than you would when swimming.

Kicking on one’s side is another good one. Need flippers. Kicking up pool on side, bottom arm out straight, head looking down (apart from when you need to breathe!), top arm lying down top side.  So far I’ve been doing the whole length on one side, yet to progress to making one stroke half way and finishing the length on my other side. Too much shoulder rotation for my shoulder three-week rest period. I’ll try it soon. This drill is supposed to help with body position and rotation too. I’m beginning to think I don’t rotate enough, having previously thought my body was supposed to be fairly still and horizontal. I’ll leave that for thought evolution (well, reading), and a future post.

I’m still figuring out how to do the leg kicking thing from the hip, i.e. with straight or nearly-straight legs. Knees are not supposed to be involved really, so I gather. Definitely avoid ‘running horizontally’ in the water, i.e. bending knees – apparently this causes drag; no wonder I used to feel I was going backwards, I probably was. Knees should be ‘loose and relaxed’, bending only ever-so-slightly during the kick. Sounds like I need to move my shoulder mantra from running to a knee mantra for swimming. I can do that.

It’s all about the flipping glutes, I’ve concluded. Need to max my glutes for multi-discipline proficiency. I reckon I’ve got a new cross-sport (run-swim) mantra: core and glutes, core and glutes (imagined in a silly parrot voice). In fact I’d already decided to build myself a core and glutes strength training programme to do once a week in front of the telly. I tried one for the first time the other day.

I would just say, don’t – necessarily – do a hefty core and glutes programme for the first time the day immediately before the long run… ouchy, ouchy, ouchy.