Friday, May 20, 2011

My Quest to Running Free

My Quest to Running “Free”
Rachel Nypaver
Lake Erie College
Professors L. Decato and C. Dicello
DN 216
                Running “free” is term used by several runners to describe running in a natural and seemingly effortless way to run.  It often coincides with “barefoot running”, running with no shoes on or minimal support.  By running free, you are also running with good posture and loose limbs, as well an uncluttered mind.  To most people, this sounds too good to be true, as in life we are often busy and stressed.  This leaves many humans and runners as tense, poor posture, and a racing mind…me included.  Knowing I wanted a long, happy running career, I figured I must fix my flaws and starting running how humans were meant to run.  Before I could start correcting my form, I had to look back into childhood to recall what my body has been through and start looking at my postural imbalances.
                To begin a brief overview of my body story, I’ll start with my birthday, June 28, 1988.  I should also mention that I am a twin.  Anyway, that makes me 22, almost 23, years old.  That is very, very young for an ultra runner, due to the high demands put on the body.  Still, I have always pushed my body farther than most.  As a young child, I was very active just running around my neighborhood with my neighbors, riding bikes, climbing trees…earning a few bruised here and there, earning the nickname from my dad “Boo Boo Ann” (I guess I was clumsy even as a kid).  Around age 5, I started playing soccer and eventually joined a travel team and stuck with until 6th grade.  By that time I was already playing basketball which I really enjoyed, and that became my focus until my sophomore year of college.  I didn’t just “play” basketball though, I worked hard.  I’d practice for hours a day, ran suicides on my own, ran before school, lifted, and was almost always the last one to leave the gym.  I suffered from a few minor injuries, like sprained ankles and a hard fall on my right hip which I went to physical therapy for, but nothing that ever kept me out for long.  Fortunately (I can say that now) I never had exceptional athletic ability, got stuck with some bad coaches, and stopped growing.  I finally accepted I didn’t have a future in basketball, so I started running (more than before) in 2009.  I ran a half marathon in April, than a full marathon in May.  I loved it, but it wasn’t long before I started suffering from some common running ailments.  In the past two years, I’ve dealt with shin splints, hamstring pain, IT band and hip problems, painfully tight calves, Achilles Tendonititis, and Planter Fasciitis, plus a nagging case of iron-deficiency anemia (common in female runners). Last year I got hooked to ultra marathons, or anything between 26.2 miles.  It’s hard enough to finish, let alone with good form.  Bad posture leads to injury, which can take you out at mile 50 in a 100 mile race.  I want to be able to run at the end of my next 100 mile race, so I needed to make the effort to look at my body’s postural flaws.
                By far, my most prevalent skeletal misalignment that my classmates and I found was my anterior pelvic tilt in the sagittal plane, which I believe is the cause for many of my other imbalances.  In the coronal plane, the right side of my pelvis was slightly higher, meaning my right his was in adduction and my left hip was in abduction. In the cross plane the right side of my pelvis was inwardly rotated, and the left side was outwardly rotated.  My anterior pelvic tilt also means that in the sagittal plane, I have lumbar lordosis (too extended), but the rest of my spine seemed to be okay.  Going all the way down to my feet, I pronated in addition to having flat feet.  Concerning my shoulders and scapulae, I inwardly rotated at my shoulder joint and had an elevated scapula.
                My main goal was pretty simple: I wanted to run better.  Now I think of this as running natural, or in chi running form, which I will discuss more a bit later on.  To be a bit clearer, I wanted an even stride and a stronger core and hips, which I now know directly relates to having a neutral pelvic tilt.  Furthermore, I wanted to become more flexible and have a wider range of motion.  This is all in hope that I would no longer suffer from so many nagging or even temporarily debilitating overuse injuries, which I mentioned above.
                Initially, my fitness plans, besides running, included moderate strength training, about twice a week and stretching for at least a few minutes after every run.  I also wanted to add some light massage, mainly using a foam roller, and include some 5-10 minute sessions of imagery or mediation. 
For the most part, I kept all of those plans up.  I ran about 6 days a week, averaging a little over 60 miles a week.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would do some strength training for about 45 minutes.  On Wednesdays and Fridays, I had Pilates for 1 hour.  I noticed when I stretched more, the tightness in my calves would be greatly reduced and my body would feel a little less tight later in the day.  I was not able to use the foam roller as much as I would have liked, but I plan on doing so more later in my training.  I had some trouble with imagery and mediation in a stationary position, only doing it a few days in the afternoon.  Now, I try to do a little bit before I get out of bed in the morning, which I enjoy.  On the other hand, I often use imagery in a more active manner when I am running.  This is a result of some of my major findings in my research on running form. 
In the first few week of Anatomical Kinesiology class, I learned many things about posture and alignment that were beneficial to running.  Then I finally had my big “Aha!” moment when learning about illiospoas.  I knew about the core, I knew about hip flexors, but I had never learned about the illiopsoas system before, so I never even knew of its’ existence! To me, the psoas muscles and illacus were amazing.  I realized this muscle played a huge role in running and added it to my research.  Soon after this, everything started to “click” and I was able to make large strides (no pun intended) in my running form.
At this point, I had learned 3 major things:  I had an anterior pelvic tilt, the illiopsoas system was essential in running, and I needed to work on my form if I wanted to have a happy and healthy running career.  I began reading “Natural Running”, a book that claimed to teach the reader to “run the way nature intended” (Abshire & Metzler, 2010).  This proved to be a great source for me during me research.  Just like we learned in class about how a person’s (poor) posture is developed through life, the same goes for their running form.  Modern shoes have not helped, which are built with high heel ramps, basically forcing a person to run with a heel-striking gait, which not only creates greater impact upon collision with the ground, but also throws the body out of alignment.  The correct form is described as this: core engaged, upright posture with a slight forward lean, compact arm swing, and low-impact footsteps near the ball of the foot.  Then came Prof. DiCello attempting to force my pelvis into a neutral tilt.   It wasn’t until after I released some of the tension in my lower back muscles that she was able to do this.  She then showed how by walking with a neutral pelvis that my illiopsoas muscles naturally helped propel my legs forward.  That made things so much easier!  I then read an article  “Four Simple Stretches To Correct Over-Pronation” that put everything together.  By having an anterior tilt, I also inwardly rotated my femur and tibia, forcing me into over-pronation at the foot.  Additionaly, the misalignment in my pelvis meant I shortend my lumbar spine, creating tight back muscles.  This left me failing to engage my core muscles and the illiopsoas, putting extra work on my legs, namely my hamstrings (I have been having on and off pain in my right hamstring for years). (Maund, 2005)
  Finally, I felt like I had found the answer to all my running ailments!
The past few week I have been putting what I learned on running form into practice during my runs.  It is a bit easier said than done after neglecting the illopsoas for so many years, so it was a bit tiring at first.  At the beginning of my run, I would actually place my hands on either side of my pelvis to put it in a neutral tilt.  The rest of my run, I would do by best to keep my core engaged, and visualized my lower back moving down while moving my pelvis up.  This definitley took some effort, but my running is starting to get easier.  I even ran a 50k a few weeks ago, and was able to run the following week without any setbacks. With the addition of strength training, Pilates, and  stretching, my running is not only becoming pain free, but I think my performance is starting to improve as well.
My next race is a 50 miler, but my goal race is a 100 miler at the end of July, which give me a little under 3 months to prepare and getting my running form down and natural.  My plan is to continue to run 5-6 days a week, having my peak mileage (besides race week) at about 100 miles during a week.  I plan to strength train every Tuesday and Thursday.  On Wednesdays I will add in some type of cross-training, and on Mondays and Fridays I will do some movement work, weather it be in the form of Pilates, Yoga, or simple mobilization exercises.  Saturdays and Sundays mainly be long run days.  After running most days, I plan on stretching for 5-10 mintues.
As I continue to move forward in my running career and life, I am excited to put forth my knew knowledge on postural alignment.  I think it will have a great affect on my body and let me enjoy my routes.  Already, I am running with a more natural running form and a clearer mind.  In other words, I am on my way to running “free”.  It may also help me in my other passion of helping others.  The majority of runners in America have bad form, so I will gladly share my knowledge with them as long as they will take it.

Abshire, D., & Metzler, B. (2010). Natural Running. Boulder, CO: VeloPress.
Athletics, U. K. (NA, NA NA). runbritain. Retrieved March 29, 2011, from runbritain:
Maund, C. (2005). Sports Medicine: Four Simple Stretches To Correct Over-Pronation . Runner's Web .
Murphy, S., & Connors, S. (2009). Running Well. North America: Human Kinetics Inc.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Things I Learned in College

Things I Learned in College

            College.  4 more years of school. 4 more years of “when the hell do I get out of here?”.  Not that I hated school…I always liked to learn and accumulate new knowledge that I could use to better myself and to better the world.   On the other hand, there were always three main things that kept me restless: 1) I can’t remember about 98% of what I learned, and 2) I never really fit in, and 3) I just wanted to get out there! (especially in my last few years).  Flipping back through old notebooks, half the information looks foreign to me (then again, part of it is French…All I can really say now is “Bonjour” now).  If you presented me with a stats test today, I’d most likely fail.  I can remember a few professors that left a mark on my views, and a few social science classes that alerted my thinking and got my brain reeling.

            With that said, I did learn a lot.   It’s just that many of those lessons were life lessons and resulted in much personal growth.  I entered college as a teenager and left as an adult.

Here are some of the things I learned:

·         To be happy, you must decide to be happy.  “Life is what YOU make of it.” With this knowledge, two other things have helped change my life: service and running.  Running has helped me get to know me (you might have to think about that, but it makes sense!) It’s shown me my strength, my weaknesses, and my inner self.  Service has helped give me meaning to life. 
·         My family and friends love me for me, NOT my athletic ability (or lack thereof) or other impersonal talents or shortcomings.
·         I love my twin.  I am not her, she is not me, we are different and so are out talents (or lack of mine).  Again, remember above bullet point.
·         There are no such things as mistakes, as long as you learn from them.  Mistakes make us better people for when we go Home.
·         Be comfortable in your own skin and mind.  I am a volunteer, endurance runner…and nerd.  Needless to say,  I rarely fit in at college.  (Drinking and partying would make those Saturday morning longs runs even more difficult than they already can be!)
·         My parents are not against me…they just don’t always understand me or everything I do.  (No, they haven’t been very involved/present in my ultra races, but they really just don’t understand them.  Ultra runners all know we are crazy bunch, and it is hard for outsiders to see why we push are bodies so far.  I can’t hold it against them they don’t get it.  But, my dad, mom, and stepdad, all took off work to see my receive my Red Cross Award, my mom and stepdad again drove out to my Honors Convocation to see me receive my Social Science and other academic awards, and they all could not have been more proud at my graduation.)
·         Changing your mind is perfectly fine and normal.  Afterall, if your learning and growing it makes sense!
·         Communication is key.  Normal people cannot read minds, so don’t expect them too, regardless to how obvious you think it might be.  Also, your ideas may be different than others, so express them. 
·         It’s okay to be shy…but don’t let that stop you from using your voice. 
·         Socializing/making connections and risk taking can lead to great opportunities.
·         Believe in yourself and others.  Sure, you might be let down once in awhile, but you might also be surprised. Either way, the latter is a much more pleasant way to live by.
·         Time is relative.  In other words, if you really want to do something, you can make time for it.
·         Relationships are the most important thing in life.  If you love others, others will love you and living will always be worthwhile.
(Just last year, I thought I HAD to move out west to be happy and fulfilled.  Now I am realizing how much the people in my life mean to me and how empty my life would be without them.  That doesn’t mean I won’t move eventually, but that I can be happy right where I am.)
·         Don’t compare yourself to others, you will never be satisfied.  Just be the best YOU.
·         Give yourself- it is the best gift we have to offer someone and always the most meaningful.  This may mean in service, to family and friends, or complete strangers.  Both sides reap the benefits.
·         Life is like an ultra- ups, downs, and beautiful.
·         SMILE- it’s infectious. 
·         Really, all that matters is that you try your best and that you’re a good person.

While none of those lessons are requirements for receiving my degree, they are the lessons that I will remember and take with me on the next part of my journey.

Never stop learning,


Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Trail Not Taken

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

I’m sure most of you are familiar with this poem.  It’s a beautiful poem with great meaning…and one that I have come in to question in a slightly different way.  If you look into my past blog about free-will or destiny, it may give you a little more background information into my thinking.  Regardless, I’m not sure what path to choose, because I really just don’t know which path, or in my words “trail”I am supposed to choose.

Now I realize this is a common predicament among those graduating from college.  However, I 100% on my career path; I want simply want to be a Difference-Maker.  Particularly, I want to work with children (sometimes better understood as “little adults”).  The next obvious path is finding a job, right? Well, maybe not…

 As I have found out, the trail chosen does not always lead you to where you thought it. I, a relationship skeptic (often looking down at the whole concept), was not planning in love this year.  I was planning on moving out west by next fall and working for Americorps or some similar employer.  However, after being turned down by a few, I kind of stopped looking.  I have had a 2nd interview at a YWCA in Columbus working in the Kid’s Club and being able to develop my own programs (essentially, what I like to do), I’m just not sure if it feels right. Additionaly, I just found out my internship supervisor at Forbes House, the Children’s Domestic Violence Specialist, is leaving and they will be looking for a replacement.  I mean it would make sense for me to work at either place…they’re both jobs in the area I want and could lead to further opportunities…but is that my trail?  (But in considering my background as an ultra runner…) Or is it a road 5k?  (Yes, I know 5k can suck too, but you get my analogy).

Hopefully I’ve explained things enough so that you can how I’m a little bit confused.   I thought I would be prepping for my final few months in Ohio then to be heading out West, and instead I’m in a very strong relationship with my boyfriend with no plans yet to get out of here…  But my ideas are flowing (I just can’t decide if I’m crazy or not…everything sounds good in my head, but then as soon as I say them out loud I feel a little foolish.

Okay, so on with my “crazy” ideas:
In my junior year of college I, with the help of my sister and guidance counselor, created the program “Empowering Youth through Volunteerism” and last semester I wrote a paper titled “Compassionate Kids” (see past blog “Little Adults and Big Kids: A lesson in Compassion”). When I created the program, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing it just to do it; I wanted to put it into action.  Then I must have gotten the notion that it would be too hard or very unlikely to work out.  (Obviously, that is still a nagging outlook I have.) Then again…

What is the BIGGEST way you can think of to make a difference?  Seriously, if someone wanted to change the world and make it a better place, what do you think the best way to make an impact is?  For me, the answer is obvious: empower our children.  This means working at prevention and not intervention.  Get to the children early, reinforce love, teach compassion, kindness, and let them know they have the ability to achieve their dreams.  In most cases, this may mean showing them what is out in the world (impoverished children are unlikely to have opportunities to see beyond their hometown and privileged children may not realize the need others are in).  Let them know, with service projects, they have the power to make a change now.  My theory is that if we instill children with compassion and empower them at a young age, they will grow up to be philanthropic adults, who will continue to spread compassion with the rest of the world. Here the possibilities get very large; as adults, they may be inspired into action of creating better solutions to America and world problems…maybe even figuring out a better way to settle a disagreement than having a war over a silly power struggle.

Because that is what war often is… A bunch of power hungry people who get very mad when they don’t get what they want and take it out on others… they are bullies.  They were probably bullies as kids then grew up to be one as an adult.  Recently, the bullying epidemic has come into view all over America.  Many schools are instilling bullying programs, but bullying is still going on.  I believe this is for 2 reasons: 1) the programs are started too late and 2) they are still focusing on the negative, bullying.   

Ideally, I would want to replace bullying programs with ones teaching compassion.  While this message should be instilled a birth, or in the education system at pre-k, I’d like to start my program between 1st-3rd grade.  Many of you who have been around children of this age know that they can be highly impressionable and easily absorb information.  (On a side note, one evening at Forbes House I was preaching about the importance of eating your veggies, and the children actually ate salad!)  The program would be year round, occurring once or every other week for at least an hour (and the message re-instilled by their teacher daily).

But where would I start?  This idea may sound great and all, but is it feasible? And a lot of work!  I’d probably get shut down by schools and organizations time and time again!  Plus, I have like, zero credentials.  I don’t even officially graduate college for another week!  Yup, off to the nut house I go…
or at least a job in the non-profit/service area.

I keep asking God for a sign, something, anything!  Well, actually that is a bit of a lie.  I need a sign that’s big so I REALLY know…like something to hit me in the head (I can be a bit oblivious).  Usually I do this prayer when I’m trail running.  (I was not asking for a sign when I saw the very large black snake a few days ago, thank goodness, because I wouldn’t know how to take that.)  As far as I know I haven’t got one, but there are these:
  • I have a very supportive boyfriend
  • I am currently reading the book “Race to Grace” about an “Iron Nun” (a nun that also happens to compete in age 80) who created her own path through her commitment to God, her travels, her races, and service to others.
  • I have been “rejected” by Teach for America, City Year, and several AmeriCorps positions.
  • I’m an ultra runner; I know how to work hard and endure, facing hardships but finding great benefit.

Anywho, to sum things up, I don’t know what to do.  I still have a want to travel out west, I loved Nevada when I was there in March.  Right now, I’m just a bit burned out from the past 4 years of college and everything else I done in the past few years.  This may sound lazy, but I need a break!  I kind of just want to relax, read, and run.   Until July 31, I really just kind of want to train for Burning River and let my mind recover (with of course some volunteering and exploring/researching some subjects I’ve never really had the time to do).  And this may really sound silly (there are a lot of very talented runners!)…but I truly believe that if I work hard and train right, I might be able to place at BR.  If I receive any money, I’d really like to go on a mission’s trip to Africa…

But I’ll stop there for now.  At least I know that if I follow the blue blazes I always be on the Buckeye Trail :).

Happy Trails,