Out of the Track Gaits: RACING FORM

Out of the Track Gaits: RACING FORM

After months of aerobic pace training, I feel pent up in speed.  I have a vague doubt that my legs can go fast anymore–I have to get out there and see.  I sign up for a 3k to see what my current pacing should be.   I need to again start to track my marathon pace–what better place than the track.

I go to the neighborhood high school with my kids and their buddy.  We go around the track gates, mark out some meter distances on the black rubber–800, 100, 1600 and line up to do sprints.  We play around practicing for our races by getting into pretend racing gates.  The kids get serious as they banter about the kids races on the day of my race.  I race them and then do some serious pickups.

My legs feel slow, my speed form unpracticed, my breathing labored.  “How do you do this?  How do you make yourself go faster?” my son’s friend says more lamenting that really asking.

His question brings me to mentally consider and try to verbally articulate what I am trying to do with my body.  I try to move my arms, keep in my core, mentally tell my legs–go faster.  My Garmin reads a better number.  Man, this racing gait is rusty.

I don’t quite feel discouraged or disgusted.  [But then I'm not on an actual race course.]  Yet.

We continue practicing our gaits, continue to horse around in our 3k prep, chests heaving in the mid-day heat as my son and his friend focus on their heaving. “I threw up in my mouth,” my son’s friend says in disgust.

Thankfully none of us throw up during our own heats at our weekend race event.  The

tableside chit chat after the event is around this question of racing speeds and how the elites do it.  I refer to a running documentary and how elites legs go so fast they are a blur at a 5 minute mile.  How do they do it?  We all want to know.  I can get there but I can’t sustain it–For me the real question is how to sustain racing speed for 26.2 miles?

I find myself at the track again trying to pick up the pace, trying to really figure this racing speed out–how literally do I make my legs go faster?   It is taking a lot of mental focus, an incredible amount of mental effort to keep it fast.  I constantly check my Garmin, keep willing my legs to go faster.  I can’t do this for an entire marathon.  Do the elites?

Will the track pick ups really help?  I need to take this question with me out of the track gates and onto the road.  I try to understand the application of the track workouts to my marathon as I try out my new marathon pace.  How will what I experience on the track work to help my marathon pace, my marathon race, my marathon racing form when I try to perform?  I don’t know.

I find myself trying out holding my speed with what seemed to work best on the track–telling my legs “go faster,” checking my Garmin.  Ugh. I check my Garmin and it has only been 4 minutes.  I can’t do this for another 2 hours and 50 minutes.  I happen to come up behind a Boulder elite–I recognize him mostly by his racing posture.  I find myself studying his form.  I hold myself a little more upright.  I mimic his arm angles, but that doesn’t feel right for me so I stop.  Then I naturally shorten my stride just a bit (had I been over striding all this time?).

Then something clicks and realize “I found my speed form!”  I speed along behind him in a happy and effortless action.  This is so fun! I think to myself.  I look around, take in the view as I bounce happily along behind him.

He veers off and I go back into my internal mental place.  I remember my Garmin and sure enough, I have gone faster.  With less effort. . . . Aha!  It is a moment.  Racing gait isn’t so much about mental knowledge, but body knowledge.  marathon pacing isn’t about checking my Garmin 40 times a mile to keep myself in a speedy pace–it is clicking into a body form and movement.

My mind quickly goes to Pam Reed.  I have been emailing her about the Tucson Marathon, about pacing and what speed I want to shoot for at her marathon. Never having raced it, I wondered about corral options before I registered.

She makes a comment in an email about not having to think too hard about race pacing when you find the right distance for your body and it reminds me of the comments I read in her memoir on her mental state during a race.

Fingers practiced in research form, I quickly and easily find the passage in her memoir (enjoying the feel of smooth turned corners).

“My ideal mental state in a race,” she wrote, “is not thinking about anything.  If I can get into a zone where it all seems to be happening by itself, I don’t have to call on any special thoughts or feelings to get me through”1.

Nice to be an elite and not have to register, a thought at least, for a race–!

With Tucson and Pam in mind I hit the road for another marathon pace run.  My training plan says 6 miles of mp–can I do it?  I find myself out of the starting gates, laboring mentally then mentally click into a focus on form.  My stride shortens into that not-quite-a-hop that is, for me, probably more core and arms, but I don’t even really think about that.  I just enjoy the hop and what “speedy” feels like in my body.  I could stay in this kind of fun for hours.  Sure enough, I’m in a 7:00′s pace I can sustain without having to mentally register much of anything.  And, sure enough, I easily do 6 miles, in fact I pull of 9 at marathon pace.

At the end of my run when I am experiencing Pam’s “effortless”2 defined, I mentally consider the biomechanical details of what my body is doing.

How did I do it exactly?  [Are you asking?]

I don’t exactly know.  Still.  I just had to stop mentally analyzing and had to work it out for myself.

Working something out for yourself–how to put power into your core, into the moment, onto the road that is right in front of you–there is so much life application there.  And, according to a Runner’s World article about a resurgence in focusing on racing form3, there are many on the sidelines that want to know just how to do it.

Sure, you could mentally study the biomechanics and footstrike pattern in the form of people like Ryan Hall, trying to tell your body “. . . arms dropped . . . . palms half open . . . . . Opposite leg extends backward . . . .4

Or you could get out of tracking other’s gaits and get out on your neighborhood black top.

And your racing form . . . the application to the road and your own race, to your life road and life race . . .

[You will have to find it for yourself as I did mine].

For me, I take follow Pam’s form for my own application, registering this as one of those marathon times when “I felt like I was flying,” 5.

This I do know–it is fun to surprise myself in my training with speed, and sometimes races.  Admittedly, I haven’t historically enjoyed or seen the point of track work.

I have a gold Prefontaine necklace of a track that says “I love running.”  I feel like a bit of a hypocrite every time I put it on.  The only “track” running I have fallen in love with to date are single and double track trails, and I tend to do repeats around burms of trees out on the road versus a track.   Now, however . . .  I get the track benefits.  And I’ll continue, I know, to track more speed gait gains as I hop to it, doing more track pickups.

Finding my racing form–just the pick me up I needed heading into a new meso-cycle of training.  I have needed something fun to focus on in feeling mentally thrown up against a wall with Boston training.  I have felt really off.  The dream sort of rusting.  I’ve been trying to register fun with my September registration, but I am mentally burned out.   Now I am excited to just to play around with form.  I am tired of thinking too much about running–I just want to have fun in the doing of it.

Back on track.

© 2011 Lisa E. Jackson

***Just before my next pick up, the carpool kind, I was with my youngest son, an avid writer, at a coffee shop for “Writing Time with a Writer [i.e. Mom].”  I was finishing up this  post–feeling ill-at-ease with the speed in which I’m churning out my writing, my speed with progressing as a writer–and he was working on his latest creation, “Kids’ Bode [Body] Book.”  Before leaving I had him show me his progress.  He had moved from chapter 1 “Tome [Tummy],” through “[Breathe]”, “[Hearing]”, and “[Seeing]” to “[Writing]”.   “Writing?” I said?! surprised but quickly seeing insight and application.  Who knew that I would learn something from him, actually, about writing being simply a body movement–a learned body movement that you don’t have to overanalyze and figure out how to get faster at doing.  I heard myself move into repetitions–restating his message to him, what was really my own application for me “Yes, isn’t it true that writers need to just keep doing that body movement everyday and then something will click . . . .”

1.  Reed, Pam.  (2006). The Extra Mile.  Rodale, Inc.: New York, NY. , p. 147.

2.  Reed, Pam.  (2006). The Extra Mile.  Rodale, Inc.: New York, NY. , p. 147.

3.  Vigneron, Peter. “Does Form Matter?” Runner’s World.  June 2011, http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,56-238-267-268-13951-0,00.html.

4.  Vigneron, Peter. “Does Form Matter?” Runner’s World.  June 2011, www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,56-238-267-268-13951-0,00.html.

5.  Reed, Pam.  (2006). The Extra Mile.  Rodale, Inc.: New York, NY. , p. 147.

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