The Art of Running

I managed to take a picture of Irvette Van Blerk (pictured above) at the 5k mark of the Dischem Half Marathon. She won in a time of 1.17.08. Note the drive from her right knee and the straightness of her trailing leg. Good running style.

Christine Kalmer was second lady in 1.21.57. I'm no guru (thousands may beg to differ), but I think she could be leaning forward a little with her shoulders a touch more in line with her hips. She appears to be leaning back slightly.

Which is a perfect segue into this post on running.

Many moons ago I used to play soccer (footie for my UK readers). And a lot of soccer at that. And with that came two traits which I carried through to my running despite my efforts to rid of them. Tight hamstrings and wide running elbows. The hamstrings were a result of the extensive kicking; the wide elbows - a defensive mechanism to fend off my opponents. After hanging up my boots (in some smokey pub which was home to Merton Rangers) and whilst running on a gym treadmill and staring at myself in front of a mirror, I realised two things:

  • I looked as though I was stashing invisible TVs under my arm pits.

  • the tightness in my hamstrings gave my the stride length of a hobbit.

Since that day in front of the mirror, I worked on a few things to make me look more like a runner.

I think of playing the piano every time I run. This relaxes my fingers which in turns relaxes my wrists which relaxes (and brings in) my elbows and helps prevent my arms swinging across my chest. It was peculiar at first, as though I was running passively and without sufficient aggression, but in time - with increased speeds - it appeared my strategy was going to plan.

As for my short hobbit stride, it appeared to me that this was caused by tight hamstrings which would be great for sudden quick accelerations on the pitch, but not necessarily on the road (unless you needed to sprint away from an oncoming van or ex-wife). So I thought of how you make pasta. The thick dough needs to be worked over with a roller until you have a long smooth piece of pasta. All the knots and tough bits need to be worked out. So I began a process of hammy stretching and, although it appeared to go against the obvious, shortened my stride even further. It made sense to me that my hammies were preventing me from really extending my stride. So I decided to give them a break and focus on running form: run tall, slight forward lean, relaxed elbows, legs extended out the back, and allowed gravity to do most of the work. This allowed my hamies to get comfortable with the idea of running and over time eventually allowed themselves to relax and be stretched out like the rollers on the pasta.

The pictures of the ladies shown above make me realise that my work is not yet finished. As a point of comparison, here are some running pictures from my last race.

Below I was transitioning out the water to the bike racks. This is me at a run-as-fast-as-you-can-without-hootching-up-your-breakfast pace. No-one overtook me here. Note (1) the hammy still looks tight out the back, and (2) check the weird angle of the right foot before it hits the grass.

Below is me going flat out. It's me at my absolute maximum output. At the time I was trying to outsprint Piers Pirow. That's as fast as I go. The trailing leg seems to twist out the back instead of going straight out. There is still work to be done.

A couple more observations from the comparative pictures: some people look better in two piece outfits than others. Either my tri suit is too tight or I'm getting a little chunky in my old age.

Time to skip a few pies,

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