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Monday, January 9, 2012

like water for running

I've been thinking about some running stuff lately. I do that a lot. Especially when I'm running. This particular line of thought links running to both the flow of water and the flight-line of airplanes. It's also related to trail vs. road/sidewalk. Everyone says trail running is better for your joints and such. And clearly there's a lot of sense in that because it provides a softer landing for each step/impact thereby sending less of a shock wave up through the body. And your toe-shoes help with that too - greatly reducing massive heal impact. But there's an additional factor that gets overlooked a lot. It has to do with minor variations. Minor variations in the surface on which you're running, I think, do as much for you as the softer surface of the trail. When you're running on a perfectly smooth and flat sidewalk or road your body is repeating almost the exact motion thousands of times over. Which seems would lead to a lot of stress being focused on very specific points in the body. Bringing on, essentially, a repetitive motion injury. I used to, on long runs, do some very short periods of sideways and backwards running to sort of shake out the body enough to try to get rid of a sort of repetitive motion induced body freeze. And in track practice in Oregon we used to due a lot of what we called form running which was also various drills like sideways, backward, high-step, long-stride, lunge, etc. running. I guess it sort of goes along with the idea of cross-training. If you're a runner or a cyclist or whatever it's best to do other things besides your specific discipline. It makes you a better, stronger performer even though it takes away from time focused on your chosen activity/sport. Getting back to my recent thoughts about running, on a small scale, trail running, even if it's just a dirt path with no obvious obstacles, provides just enough change in the surface with each step that it spreads the foot-fall impact over a greater area of the joint and body, reducing impact on any one specific point and including a slightly different combination of muscles use. Down in the Arroyo the path is mostly, seemingly, flat. But there's a lot of variation from sand to rock to little rocks to bigger rocks to ruts and sticks and the occasional fallen tree to climb over (an outstanding muscle mixer-upper). And there's a small amount of water down there. Some of the water is from rainfall, some from residential and equestrian center runoff. So, in places, the path takes on the form of a dry riverbed which is even more varied - the flowing water sorts the various sizes of river rock and sand. And it leaves a distinct path within the Arroyo path. A little dry riverbed. And, of course, rivers down travel in straight lines. They meander. They follow the path of least resistance. In Shinto, the attributes of water are much revered. Be like water, they say, I've heard. Water is patient and flexible and flowy and yet still powerful. It, water, seems to be the original follower of the saying, walk softly and carry a big stick. Lately on my Arroyo runs I've been seeking out these little dry rivers within the path. They tend to be more gravelly than the surrounding, higher layers of the path, the smaller sand and sediment particles having been washed away by the quietly powerful trickle of water. I follow these little rivers and it does two things for me. Maybe three. It forces me to pay attention to what I'm doing, where I'm stepping - each step becomes very real and in the moment. And it forces me to step well, with intention and proper form - landing poorly in gravel is not pretty. Or maybe it's four things or more. It also lifts my knees a little higher through the stride into a horse-like prance which adds to the slight change in joint/muscle usage. And, by following the river, I meander along with it. No more straight lines. Winding, winding down or upstream. It's this winding, this being like water, that really shuffles the run and stride and promotes a healthy non-repetitive style. So straight lines no good. But airplanes. What about the planes? They look to be flying straight across the sky. I can see their contrails, perfect vectors from here to Atlanta. Yes, maybe, on average. But there's these foot pedals down there in the cockpit, too. What the hell are those? Planes don't have a clutch, do they? No, but they do have a tail with a vertically aligned rudder. And while I'm no pilot, I believe that those pedals control that rudder. Or at least some similar mechanism that allows the plane to sort of drift left or right. Maybe it's more of a twist. I've noticed this a lot at airports and probably tv and such. Whether it's those pedals that cause/control this or not I'm interested to know but really doesn't make any difference to this thread because what I do know is that airplanes can/do drift/twist in midair. The tail kind of takes it's own line offset from the nose. It's kinda crazy and neat/rad to see this. Even those jumbos do it. So, back in the Arroyo, I find myself running along, maybe following the little dry riverbed and I notice that I'm drifting. My tail is on a different line than my nose, so to speak. I’m running forward but at a slight angle, one hip taking the lead. For a long time my first inclination when noticing this was to correct it. To straighten up and fly right. But now I believe, as I've learned from water and cross-training exercises, that allowing this drift to continue can be of benefit. We humans are not robots, are we? Each leg is a little different. One stronger, one longer, and the same with our entire body - we're not perfect; we're not mirror images left to right. There is no such think as running straight forward. You can't, or I should say, shouldn't bother trying to, perfect your stride to such a degree where everything is precision. Let yourself drift - at least sometimes. Now, as I'm writing this I'm remembering plenty of effort I've put in to perfecting stride over the years and I've even posted about it here before. I'm not trying to go back on my word as I think that is an important stage in the development of a runner, too. Both-And as a teacher used to say. When you get to the point in running when you're ready to work on aligning your stride, do it. And when you get to the point in your running when you're ready to let yourself drift, do that. Right now I'm "teasing out" (same teacher) this both-and practice in my running and it’s beginning to feel a lot like play as perhaps running should… with water and airplanes and robots and horses and the Arroyo as my guides.

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