Surprise #6 – Habits

Shoot from the glutes; lead with the hips; run tall! This post builds on posts on August 11, 2015 – It’s the Hips! and July 29, 2015 – Running Fast!

This is the 6th post related to my February fall resulting in rib surgery to plate four of eight broken ribs. The last post on this was May 7 and a lot of water over the dam since then. By now, I had hoped to report a full recovery. The reset is now for mid-August.

To recap, I took 12 weeks off from running.   I was hardly inactive during this time. After several weeks of walking, I worked back into StairMaster, deep-water running, and light weights.   I’ve now been running for 10 weeks, building up slowly in speed and distance beginning with weeks of 11, 14, 19, and 18 miles in May. In June the weeks were 24, 18, 24, and 26 miles.   The first two weeks in July have been 25 and 33 miles.

Wise or not, I ran three races in June: two 10Ks and a 5 Miler. Not pretty, but these were target races and a test of my fitness. Previously I had bounced back rather quickly from time off. But it’s been different this round. True, I’m five years older than the last gap, but I did not expect to be 40 seconds per mile slower than last October!

Generally a realist and an optimist, I’ve taken stock of what is going on by paying attention and asking questions. First, I can’t expect to be in competitive form on 20-mile weeks. I’m still building up. Two, it’s clear I was working harder on all my runs. That is what I’ve focused on and it came together at the track last week. We runners have a love-hate relationship with the track. But we can’t deny that it gauges our fitness. While the temperature and wind may vary, everything else is constant. So excuses are few. And there are usually others there too, which allows for observation of faster runners.

I noticed I was leaning slightly forward, bending at the hips, and my gait was slightly shorter and choppier. I went back to my mantra: “shoot from the glutes, lead with the hips, and run tall.” There was an immediate uptick in pace of ~15 seconds per mile! AND it felt easier. I was pumped! For the first time since the fall, I felt some glide, or flow as some call it. And applying this to my subsequent road runs, it’s making those faster and more enjoyable too.

This is really about geometry and physics. Let’s say my running muscle memory had faded and my lean was off 2%. Our stance starts with the glutes. They are the power pack that moves the leg forward. Strengthening our glutes is about more than just keeping them tight! Then the positioning of the hips takes over. If we lead with our hips, they very slightly precede the rest of the body. That pulls the leg further forward and adds perhaps an inch to each step (or two for a full gait.) In Running Fast! I include a tedious calculation suggesting a one-inch difference slows pace by ~7 seconds.   So two seconds is ~14, my difference on the track! The last correction is “running tall,” which is really straightening up so the hips can truly lead. This helps with push off, which keeps us in the air longer. All of it contributing to stride length.

We can develop bad habits or just forget good ones. Perhaps my experience has been a bit of both. I hope this correction helps move me forward so the September races resemble more closely times achieved last fall.

I’ll end as I started: Shoot from the glutes; lead with the hips; run tall! Good habits to nurture!

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