Sunday, March 9, 2008

Shifting Gears

Over the past couple of days there has been a sudden and dramatic change in my running. It all started when I read one runner's take on the whole "Chi Running" thing. Chi Running is something I have heard about but haven't investigated more thoroughly. However, I read this and decided it sounded like something simple enough to apply to my own running:
"...most runners need to lean slightly forward from your ankles - keeping their running posture intact - to position the center of gravity in front of your body rather than the center of your body. (Note: Do Not Bend At Your Waist!) You are then using gravity itself as a propellant to move you forward rather than your legs. You should keep your legs and hips (and, really, your entire body) relaxed and loose. You then move your legs under your body - instead of "reaching" forward with them - and work with the natural gravitational forces to move your body forward. Your legs will kick out the back more whereas in Power Running your knees rise up higher in front of you."
All right, I thought, that sounds easy enough. So yesterday morning when I set out for my run, I put it into practice.

Holy crap! All of a sudden I felt like I was flying. My legs were just kind of chillin' out, going along for the ride, as I zoomed along the sidewalk. When my Garmin beeped at me to signal I had gone one mile, I looked at it and to my surprise and pleasure I had completed the mile in 8:19. I wasn't even breathing hard. OK, I thought, perhaps there is something to this Chi Running after all...

I didn't keep it up continuously for the remainder of my run yesterday; after all, it was just supposed to be an easy spin around town. I ended up doing mile 2 in 10:03 and mile 3 in 9:13.

Then I found myself pondering something I heard on an old episode of the Dump Runners Club podcast. He claimed that the key to running faster lay in one's turnover and not stride length. The more times one could strike the ground in a given length of time, the faster one's pace would be. I decided to combine both of these-- Chi Running and a faster turnover-- and apply them to my long run this morning.


I started with a mile warmup in 9:01. Then I fired it up.

Mile 2: 8:37
Mile 3: 8:45 (dirt road, still snow-covered in places, footing not the best)
Mile 4: 8:10 (I looked at my Garmin and yelled, "Oh my God, what the hell?")
Mile 5: 8:11
Mile 6: 7:53
Mile 7: 7:44

Total: 7.0 miles, 58:23, average pace 8:20/mile

I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at my Garmin after I finished. A 7:44? What the bloody hell is going on here? I seem to have stumbled onto some magic key to speed, crossed some invisible line into a land I haven't visited since I ran cross-country in high school. And the best (and strangest) part is that I didn't feel like I was stressing myself. OK, so yeah, maybe that last mile wasn't quite as easy as the previous six; I knew I was going to have to work for it to keep my pace up. And work I did. My average heart rate for mile 7 was 156 bpm and I reached my max heart rate of the whole run-- 163 bpm-- shortly before I finished. But Matt from the aforementioned Dump Runners Club talks a lot about "finishing fast," and that's what I wanted to do. And did. With a little extra effort.

I think there are several factors at work here. One, the speed work I have been doing and training in general. Speed work is supposed to make me faster, and gee whiz, it seems to be working. Two, the Chi Running technique. Three, concentrating on my turnover.

I went out this morning not really intending to blaze through seven miles in under an hour. This was supposed to be my "take it easy" day, my Long Slow Distance day. But as I went along...I realized that I just felt awesome. Everything was perfect: the weather, my stomach, my iPod, the road surface, everything! I just kept going faster and faster and I thought to myself, gee, I feel REALLY good right now! I felt like I was gliding; my feet were barely touching the ground. I didn't back off, I just kept going. And going. And the next thing I knew, I ran a 7:44 mile.

All of this has me EXTRA excited for my next race, which is coming up in one week. It's the Running Fit Shamrocks and Shenanigans 5K in downtown Ann Arbor on March 16. I'm going to run in the "competitive heat," for people who intend to finish in under 27:00. Well, people, if you've read my blog for any length of time you should know that I am seriously gunning for a sub-25:00 5K time. My last 5K was a bit of a disappointment in that department. Suffice to say I am going on a tear with this next race. I am going to BURN UP that race course. I am going BALLS TO THE WALL now that I know the speed of which I am capable. If I can crank out two sub-8:00 miles in the last stage of a long run, I should be able to do the same or better in a measly 5K.

In other news: I think I cracked a tooth, I have to report for jury duty tomorrow, and I weighed 159.2 lbs this morning which is a HUGE improvement over last week.


Fritz said...

Awesome! Pretty soon, if you keep this up, you'll be leaving me in the dust!

Good luck at the race! Just don't go out at your VO2 max pace at the beginning, okay? Run hard, but run smart!

Nitmos said...

The whole Chi running thing is interesting isn't it? I'm seeing some results with "speed" but not so much with the "injury free" thing. Still early though...

Good luck with your race!

Laura said...

Wow, that is fantastic! I need to try out these techniques for myself.

dirtdawg50k said...

Based on your bottled up rage from the last 5k, I am predicting 24:12 for your race. Good Luck!

kara said...

I tried Chi running after reading his book. And couldn't figure it out. Guess I needed to run in front of a big mirror.
Gave the book away...
Nice blog!

Anonymous said...

I have had Chi Running on my bookshelf for a year. Have never cracked it open... it's true about turnover vs stride length... sounds like you had flow on your 7-miler for sure.