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5 Simple Ways to Improve Running Form

Running-Form

How about a little truth, friends? I usually sort of roll my eyes at running form. I’m a long distance runner, after all. I’m not looking to shave seconds off a race time. And I mostly believe the best way to get better at running is to run. But I’ve been applying a lot of my yoga training off my mat (and in my running shoes) lately, and there’s a few things I’d like to share.

What I like about these tips is they don’t require extra time for an extra workout or any special skills. All you really have to do is bring awareness, or mindfulness, to your body while you’re already running. Even then, I would recommend focusing on your running form only periodically throughout your run. For example, for a few minutes at the beginning and end of a short run or at the beginning of each mile during a long run. During the in between moments, breathe, relax and enjoy!

Relax the elbows and the fists

I often joke that I try to do yoga with my jaw and run with my fists. Whether it’s the jaw or the fist, clenching uses up a lot of energy that can be put to better use somewhere else in the body. So relax those fists! Give them a good shake. And notice if that tension has seeped up to the elbows. Chances are something less than 90 degrees is doing more harm than good.

Roll the shoulders down and back

And while we’re focused on the arms, go ahead and roll them down onto the back a couple times. If this sounds like a yoga cue, that’s because it is. It helps to neutralize the spine, something that’s just as important in running. Do you run with a jogging stroller? Do this 10 more times.

Look up

If you’re running on a technical trail this might not work. But if the ground beneath your feet is fairly predictable, go ahead and look up. Relaxing the arms, rolling the shoulders onto the back and looking up opens the chest up to breathe. Looking up also has a psychological effect. For me anyway. It helps me focus less on the physical challenges of running and begin to appreciate the world around me.

Engage the lower abdominals

My belly likes to flop out in front of me and drag my pelvis with it. I blame my girls and their stay in my uterus, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Just to be clear – this has nothing to do with how much padding is on top of our abdominal muscles. Gently engaging the lower abdominals helps lift the front/top of the pelvis, remove any overarch in the lower back and reduces the stress on the lumbar spine.

If engaging the lower abdominals makes it harder to breathe or causes you to tuck the tailbone you’ve probably gone too far. So ease up a bit. All we’re doing here is bringing some awareness to the abdominals and the role they play in proper running form.

Activate the outer hip/butt muscles

I pulled my left outer hip/butt muscle about 10 years ago, and it’s always sort of lurking there in the background. I know my outer hip/butt muscles are weaker than my inner thighs. I also know this is pretty common. Inflexible inner thighs and weak outer hip/butt muscles can cause the thigh bones and knees to turn in while running and can potentially contribute to or aggravate existing Illiotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS).

Even if you’ve never experienced ITBS it can’t hurt to bring extra awareness to the outer hip/butt muscles while running. All you really have to do is think about them. The effect is shocking and feels almost magical, especially when running uphill. I feel like I’m tapping into a hidden reserve of energy. On flat ground I find it’s impossible to NOT speed up. The trick is to then slow back down to an easy pace without losing the activity in the outer hip/butt muscles.

What do you do to improve running form? If the answer is nothing, don’t worry. Getting out for a run is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Photo Credit: Happy running by bradhoc is licensed under CC by 2.0 / Cropped and text added to original

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The Poignancy of Mindfulness

Poignancy-Mindfulness

Turns out there’s more to mindfulness than joy.

When I walked into my mom’s house this afternoon she was in the kitchen unloading dishes. She heard me open the door and called out, “Well, should we just start crying now?”

“I told myself I wasn’t going to just walk in the door and start crying.”

“We might as well.”

*      *     *

I kicked off 2017 with a 24 hour cleanse. I didn’t really plan on doing one. This was the kind of cleanse that chooses YOU. My husband did it too. And then Baby Girl did it the next day. It’s been a rough start to the new year.

*     *     *

I started reading Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery. So far it’s incredible. Her writing is so beautifully raw. I want to write like that. I want to dig deeper and pull out more heart and more gut. I want to write more honestly, like Glennon. I think she may be my #2 hero. Second, of course, to my mom.

*     *     *

Brené Brown says we gold plate grit. “We like recovery stories to move quickly through the dark so we can get to the sweeping redemptive ending.” I don’t want to gold plate anything. Today during yoga I chose for my sankalpa, my intention: I am a Truth Teller.

Those who know me well know this about me. They are my safety net. I don’t have to keep myself together inside the cocoon they have built for me. But there is a hole growing in my net and I’m falling through. It’s time I let more of the world see me get messy.

Because right now I am a mess. I feel like I’m living in a world separate from the regular world. When I’m living in the regular world I worry about things like laundry and kindergarten registration, how many vegetables I’m eating and how many people my posts are reaching on Facebook. In the regular world people set New Year’s resolutions and build plans to reach their goals. I know this because I was living in the regular world just last week, before the news.

*     *     *

I came to a realization over the last few days. About mindfulness. That’s a trendy word these days, isn’t it? But what is mindfulness? I thought it meant something about being fully present in the current moment so I could appreciate it and feel all the joy. That sounds pretty nice, right? We should definitely practice this mindfulness thing. But we don’t because we rush through life worrying about things like laundry and kindergarten registration. We’re too busy and shallow to be mindful.

Except for I don’t think that’s the problem.

*     *     *

Tomorrow we’re having family pictures taken. It will be a special day. It may be the last day my mom is feeling good. It will almost certainly be the last day she doesn’t look sick. She will lose all her hair in 10 days of daily, full brain radiation. It’s possible the cancer has spread to her spinal fluid and she will also have to do more chemo. She has 4-12 months to live.

But tomorrow will be okay. Tomorrow will be good. Tomorrow my whole family will be there. My husband. My Mom. My Dad. My Baby Girl with that big goose egg on her forehead. The one she earned tonight tripping over a pillow and falling into the coffee table.

Big Girl will probably get upset about something, at some point, and refuse to smile or play along and we will get frustrated and angry. But we’ll work through it and she will say all the sweet things she always says. She’ll tell me she’ll never ask for a better Mommy and she’ll hug my leg and she won’t know that her beloved Grandma is leaving her.

And by the end of it we’ll have a set of photos to remember the day. Sometime in the future I’ll look at those photos and wish with a heaviness and desperation that I could go back. To a time when Baby Girl was still a baby and Big Girl hadn’t yet learned to grieve. I’ll wish that I could hold my mom’s hand, covered in wrinkles and prominent veins, cry while I tell her about my fears and revelations and be held in the safety net that she is.

Tomorrow hasn’t even happened yet and I already feel the loss of it. I am profoundly grateful for it because I am acutely aware of how fleeting it is.

*     *     *

“How can we practice mindfulness? How can we truly be present and appreciate the joy of a moment, without also feeling sad for the loss of it?” I ask my mom this afternoon.

“That’s the thing. You can’t.”

“I don’t think it’s a busyness thing. I think it’s too painful.”

*     *     *

We talked about a lot of things today, my mom and I. Marriage and children. What to wear tomorrow. What happens to a person when they die. The poignancy of mindfulness.

Today I’m choosing to be present in my life. I’m sitting in the sorrow and feeling all the joy. And I’m telling you about it. Right now. In the middle of this story. Before any fucking growth happens. Because I am a Truth Teller.

Photo Credit: Sad. by Jackie.Ick is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped and text added to original