Four years older, one more baby, twice as busy, half as fit...yet running seems easier?
How is that possible???
I am training for my second half marathon, now at 35 years old, with two small children, while starting and growing my own business, carpooling to and from Kindergarten, and feeling as busy (or more) as ever...
In the last few years, I have not been exercising as regularly; I have less time for myself; yet somehow I feel like running has gotten easier and I am less phased by the distance?? I'm not too sore; nothing hurts; I don't stop and walk because of feeling out of breath; and I'm actually sort of enjoying the training. How can this be?
What I can attribute it to is learning "correct" running technique and focusing on proper execution of it.
Let me back up... I attended a running course several years ago for "continuing education" for my Physical Therapy license - and I learned about analyzing and improving running technique for optimal efficiency and performance. Professionally, I utilize this knowledge on a regular basis to identify abnormal mechanics through observation and video analysis. Then I teach modifications to improve technique and eliminate pain.
Immediately after attending the course, I decided to modify my own running technique. I started taking shorter strides and quicker steps, matching 180 steps per minute. I land on my midfoot rather than my heel. I keep my arms close to my body with elbows bent and shoulders relaxed. I imagine falling forward and "pulling" my heel, rather than pushing off and propelling forward.
It was difficult to change it first. It felt strange. I felt like it took so much effort to run the "correct" way because I was constantly thinking about so many components. When I got tired, I would quickly revert back to my old habits.
It's funny how things have changed. After some practice, it became more natural to run with a better technique. It doesn't feel foreign or strange to me anymore. In fact, I feel much more efficient and less fatigued overall. I don't feel like I'm thumping along with heavy steps - I feel light and fluid.
Even though it is easier (and less painful) to run the "right" way, it does not mean it's "easy" to do. The truth is that I am focusing on technique about 90% of the time (as long as I'm not distracted by my kids, dog, music, or interesting podcasts).
Prior to deciding to train for my second half marathon, I had not been running consistently. My schedule has been crazy with the family and growing my business...not to mention winter weather. Not that I can complain much - I live in beautiful, sunny San Diego, but it still gets "cold" in the mornings and evenings...and I don't "do" cold.
My training began with setting up a running program, starting 10 weeks prior to race-day. I analyzed various training programs online and developed my own, based on my lifestyle and my professional understanding of training progression and injury prevention. I am running 2-3 days per week with intermittent eliptical and stabilization exercises mixed-in throughout. On the weekend, I go for a longer run because my husband can watch the kiddos. Mid week runs have to remain a manageable distance (<4-5 miles) because I generally have my two-year-old with me in the stroller, wanting to get out and run - or stop and play.
As I mentioned, I truly focus on technique while I am running. The most repetitious cue that I emphasize in my mind is maintaining a cadence of 180 bpm. By this point, I have the rhythm established pretty clearly in my mind, so as long as I can hear my footsteps, I'm pretty close. To confirm, I use an app to hear 180 bpm - then I can match it. Although I like to listen to music or podcasts while I run, if I cannot hear my footsteps, then it is more difficult for me to maintain a consistent cadence.
I have been steadily lengthening my "weekend" runs and am currently up to 8 miles. The best part...No knee pain! Actually, I feel no pain at all! I occasionally have symptoms of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), a totally normal exercise-induced muscle soreness after increasing intensity of exercise. But no "PAIN"...The kind of pain that makes you want to stop training or question the reasons for setting an ambitious goal. Nothing like that!
If I sound surprised about not having any pain, it is because I trained for a half marathon 4 years ago and dealt with knee pain (patellofemoral syndrome) throughout... I had to tape both knees in order to run painfree. Luckily, this is what I do for a living, so I'm really good at taping and can achieve nearly 100% relief when the right strategy is applied correctly. This time around, I am feeling much better, physically, during running than I used to, even without any tape. So far, so good.
My goal is simple...and similar to my goal the first time that I trained for a half marathon. My goal was not simply to complete the distance, but to complete the distance without injuring myself or setting up a future or chronic issue. I achieved that - because I managed my knee issues along the way. If I did not have my experience and physical therapy background, then I could not have done it on my own. This year, I have the same goal, which is why I am focusing on technique, efficiency, and general injury prevention strategies from the beginning. And as a result, running feels easier than ever!
If you would like to follow along with my training, I am keeping a blog/diary. You can find it on my website by going to the drop-down menu, under Blog (or click here). The concept of the diary is to highlight what it's like for a super busy mom, business owner, and Physical Therapist to get through the aches and pains of training, the emotional roller-coaster, and the crazy busy schedule that a working parent manages. If I can do it, YOU can do it! Follow me on Facebook for more valuable tips for real-life issues - and reach out for help if you want to make running easier for you!
As always, I love getting your feedback. Have you had an experience trying to change your running mechanics? How did it go? Please leave your comments below.
Thanks for reading!