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.

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