Blog Archives March, 2011

Chi Running

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a running enthusiast. If enthusiast is too strong a descriptor, you’re probably looking for ways to improve your time or maybe just enjoy it more. I’ve had my share of injuries. Years of gymnastics, dance and over-training will do that to you. I heard about Chi as I was searching for ways to enjoy running again. They had become painful, labored and with joint pain everywhere, I found it difficult to relax and settle into a groove.

Ultra runner Danny Dreyer and his wife Katherine founded Chi Running in 1999. Since then it has grown into a movement. If you haven’t at least heard of it, you may have been living under a rock! So what exactly is Chi? Chi is hard to define, but has been referred to as vital force, cosmic energy and biorhythm. It is our connection to the flow of the universe and the force within the human body. Chi is not just energy, it’s what gives energy the power to be energy.

Thanks for the lesson, Vita Girl, now what does that mean for my workout? By paying attention to your body and adopting this technique, you’ll minimize injury (at the very least) and start enjoying yourself. The key to Chi is good posture and relaxation. Form is emphasized over speed and power, as well as body alignment, arm positioning, heel strike prevention and maintaining a constant cadence.

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Clearing the Air

You know those runners whose minds go blank when they work out? The ones who say, “My head goes silent and I just concentrate on the road?” Well, I’m not one of them. If anything, I use the time to constructively work through the day’s events. For me, it’s cheap therapy. I go until I feel better, the problem is solved or I’m just too exhausted to worry about it anymore. So by the time the endorphin rush kicks in, I’m already halfway to Happy Land. Some of the best ideas of my life have come to me on long runs where I let my mind wander. The more there is to process, the faster the workout goes and the more refreshed I feel.

Adversely, I find when I “concentrate on the road” my workouts seem tedious and all-around unenjoyable. I become overly occupied with the click in my left knee, the tightness of my sport bra, my breathing, my pace and how much distance I should cover. I notice other runners on the road and feel compelled to compare our strides. To me, concentrating on the road is a lot like sitting at your desk on a Friday afternoon and watching the clock tick down to 5 o’clock. But I know this is what many do when they lace their running shoes.

No matter your preference: letting the miles fly by as you jam to your favorite tunes, periodically checking your watch as you pass pre-set road markers or letting the free time act as your therapist, there is no wrong way to enjoy your workout. Runners may take different routes, but we all end up at the same place at the end—better off than we started.

The Waddler, Shuffler, Dinosaur, Gazelle & Shi-Shi Runners

Everyone runs differently. The goal is to relax, fall into a rhythm and finish the race in a respectable amount of time. Right? For some participants, yes. For others, not so much. I realized this during the last race I ran. It was a long one, so I had time to make some observations. And let me tell you, you can tell a lot about a runner’s motivations by their stride.

The Waddler: Is this person even moving? This one is the easiest to spot. There isn’t much else to say. You know exactly who I mean.

The Shuffler: Similar to The Waddler, except they can make impressive headway. So why the shuffle? Maybe they’re injured and have adopted this stride in effort to minimize impact. Maybe they don’t like the idea of having only one foot on the road at a time. Or maybe they really, really enjoy tap dancing. Who knows. All I know is this type of form reminds me of someone walking over hot coals: shoulders up and tight, bottom clinched, feet working out a little soft-shoe action. They just don’t look comfortable.

The Dinosaur & The Paddler: Like a T-Rex with its short arms hanging limply in front as it forges through the forest, The Dinosaur is on a mission. Usually a fast-moving breed, they could improve their time if they only worked their arms into the race. I considered naming this type of runner, The Paddler, then realized it deserved a separate, yet related category. The Paddler is what The Dinosaur wants to be. The Paddler may let his arms hang down, but unlike The Dinosaur, he slaps at the air and pulls it behind him. The Dinosaur gets dusted by The Paddler, left alone and wishing evolution was a speedier process.

The Gazelle: The most beautiful runner on the street. Carefree. They lope through the course with the boundless energy of any number of forest animals, but only the gazelle shares this runner’s grace. I’ve often wondered if they were taught this form, because you tend to see packs of The Gazelle at cross-country track meets. But after years of trying to mimic this stride and failing miserably, I now believe they were born this way.

Like a UFO blasting into space, The Gazelle appears as a flash in the corner of your eye and then is gone. The next time you’ll see him, he’ll coolly be sipping Vitalyte and downing a banana as you cross the finish line.

The Shi-Shi: There’s a whole lot of prissiness going on here. Usually dressed to the 9s. They look like they know what they’re doing but are too concerned about perspiration ruining their outfit to really go for it. Their stride usually has some lateral motion, some wicked hip swagger and possibly some chest protrusion. The Shi-Shi/Dinosaur hybrid is fairly common. I’ve seen many. Next to The Gazelle, they are the prettiest runners, albeit for totally different reasons.

How to Make Exercise Fun

OK, Vita Girl, I’ve got the shoes, I know the yoga poses, now how do I make working out fun?

Many of us feel about exercise the way we felt about eating Brussels sprouts as a kid— an unsavory thing we have to do to get something we want. Back then, that something was probably dessert or pleasing our parents. Now, it’s looking and feeling good! But sometimes, against our best efforts, our exercise routines become downright uninspired. Boring. The boogey monster separating us from the couch and cocktail at the end of a long day.

Like eating Brussels sprouts, much of the dread associated with exercise can be traced to adolescence. If you ever played sports, you were probably made to run as punishment (a missed shot, poorly executed routine, etc). An unlucky (and forever scarred) few of us, were also forced to weigh in for events. Those memories are ingrained, no matter how we try to convince ourselves we’ve moved past them.

When I think of workout fun, I sometimes think of an old episode of Friends— the one where Phoebe and Rachel decide to run together in Central Park. Much to Rachel’s horror, Phoebe takes off sprinting with a type of form never before witnessed in the running community: legs kicking awkwardly, arms flailing, head bobbing side to side. At first, Rachel chastises Phoebe and refuses to run alongside her. Then she realizes how much fun it is and decides to adopt it.

I’m not saying you should act like a goof and alienate members of your running club. I am saying you should channel your inner Phoebe! It doesn’t have to be all serious and VO2 max all the time either. If you’re focusing on calories burned, counting down the time left on your run, or worrying if you look funny doing an exercise, you’re tossing the fun factor out the window and should switch up your routine.

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5 Ways to Get Off Your Hide and Find Your Stride

I’ve given a lot of attention to running in the past blogs. The reason for it is simple: 1) I love an excuse to get outside, listen to music and be alone with my thoughts; and 2) It gives me a high that’s comparable to eating a box of caramel turtle chocolates (minus the calories). But running isn’t for everyone. Some just don’t find it enjoyable. Others physically can’t because the impact aggravates join pain and old injuries. So what do you do if you want to get active, but aren’t sure how to get back in shape?  Here are 5 tips:

1) It isn’t forever. Think of exercise as a date, a date who needs to impress you. While sticking to a regime is beneficial, it doesn’t mean you just have to do one thing. Also, the benefits of switching it up are well documented and keep you from plateauing. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find something you want to do day in and day out, your perfect heart-pounding exercise match, the yin to your yang. Until then, let them court you. Don’t settle. Don’t get stuck.

2) Make it fun. Think back to when you were a kid. Running around outside, throwing the Frisbee, splashing in the pool, rolling down hills. You did those things because you thought they were fun. Remember? Hopping on your bike and riding to your friend’s house was an adventure. Right? So what’s stopping you from making it fun now?

3) Go it alone or make it social. There are pros and cons to each. A partner will push you. Or they’ll show up and reinforce your I-don’t-feel-up-to-it-today attitude. Ask yourself how you’ll benefit with a partner. Do you mind letting someone see you sweat? Will you be more self-conscious with or without one? Sometimes distraction is good (Wow, did I really just run 5 miles while watching that tv show on the t.v. at the gym?), and sometimes it’s counterproductive (Gee, you’ve been talking my ear off the last hour and a half and I haven’t even broken a sweat.). The decision is yours.

4) Make a game of it. Set small goals and document your progress. So what if you can only handle the treadclimber 15 minutes your first time out of the gate?  Or huff and puff the whole way through your first Body Pump class?  This will change. And you’re going to start feeling like a rockstar as your endurance improves.

5) Reward yourself. This is really, really important. Been eyeing that super snazzy pair of running shoes? Been dreaming of a big bowl of clam linguine all week? By allowing yourself an occasional indulgence, you’re more likely to feel good about working out– Like it’s less of a chore and more of an excuse to pamper yourself. And when it comes down to it, what could be more indulgent than the gift of health?

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