My first race was a half marathon. I had started running 6 months before, I finished the race in 1:53 and was certain of two things: I can actually run and I am good with long distances, not short and fast ones.
Five years later things have changed. This is how I run these days:
1. Short & fast
I have become a Crossfitter, a boulderer (is that a word?) and a swimmer and I don’t run long distances anymore because they take up so much time and there are so many things I want to fit into my days! Once in a while I do feel like a longer run so I do 15km and enjoy it, but most of the time I run 10km on Wednesdays, 5-6km on Thursdays, various 100m – 800m runs at Crossfit, and that’s all my running these days.
This months’ Women’s Running magazine had an article about different types of runners, 5-10km distances are apparently best suited for people who are naturally more muscular and tall, whereas half and full marathons are suited for those who are slimmer and shorter, and ultras are for those who are thin, light, lean and like to talk a lot.
Based on that it makes total sense that I like 5-10km races these days – I’m taller than average, have muscles and a bigger frame in general, I’m in no way light and lean, and I can totally live without talking much at all.
Yesterday I took part of my first Park Run with MrB and our oldest son. Now that I know how these things work and now that I don’t officially hate 5km races, I think I will do the park runs as often as I can. The plan is to change the kids’ rock climbing lessons back to Sundays so Saturdays can be running days. Yesterday I finished in 22:55 even though it was super crowded and one of my shoe laces came undone. My husband and son ran together and finished in 28 minutes.
My 5k PB is 21:04 but for that race my Garmin only measured 4.7km so I consider my best 5k times to be anything less than 22 minutes. Of course there are plenty of women who run 5k in less than 20 minutes and that’s my goal, but 21-23 minutes is pretty speedy as well, especially for someone who for the longest time thought she was a slow long-distance runner.
2. No music
I haven’t listened to music while running for a couple of years now. Firstly I haven’t had the motivation to put together a playlist that doesn’t mess with my cadence and secondly, the armbands for carrying phones are a bit annoying and in the summer they rub my arms.
3. Small steps
Instead of listening to music, I focus on my steps and on my breathing. Ever since I had my running form analysed at Vivo Barefoot, I have been running with smaller steps than before and now my average cadence for a fast 5k run is 180 and max is over 190.
Running with smaller, faster steps is good for so many reasons, the main ones being less force when you step down so less force on joints, etc. and also smaller steps mean you do not reach very far ahead of you with your leading foot, but your foot touches down more underneath you than ahead of you, ensuring that you don’t break yourself with every step but you sort of push yourself forward instead. If you can’t visualise what I’m talking about, here’s a picture:
2. Alternate breathing
Alternate breathing means that you inhale for one step longer than you exhale. Why it’s good for you – always landing on the same foot when you exhale means that one side of your body continuously absorbs the greatest impact force of running and makes you vulnerable to injury. You can read more about it in this Runner’s World article.
I start out with a 5 step inhalation and a 4 step exhalation. As my speed increases, I change my breathing to 4 and 3, and only at the end of a very fast run (e.g. last 2km of a fast 5km), I break the pattern and breathe 3 and 3.
Some people find counting your breath (or your steps in a second) mind numbing but for me it’s totally zen – I’m in the moment, I’m focusing on Right Now.
Often, of course, the pattern becomes automatic, especially if I’m just doing an evenly paced 10-15k run and then I stop counting and let my thoughts wonder. The best moments in running are in fact those moments when you’re so far away with your thoughts that you’re only vaguely aware that your body is moving.
4. Arms like you’re skiing
Efficient use of arms and upper body makes a big difference in speed and running efficiency. I make sure my elbows are tucked in close to my body and that they move in a way that mimics cross-country skiing. Every time I speed up and my upper body wants to start swinging from side to side, I bring my elbows in and make sure my arms move in the direction that my feet are going. So it may sound weird but when you run – think about your arms.
5. Eyes up & smell the roses
Part of good running form is leaning forward but looking ahead and not to the ground. Sometimes the ground needs to be observed, especially when you run off-road, but in general I try to look ahead to just enjoy the scenery. It’s just more fun like that :)
And those are the main ways I’ve changed as a runner. I am not yet a fan of watchless running and I will probably run with music again from time to time, but at the moment I’m enjoying my short runs and pushing my speed and just chanting one-two-three-four as I inhale and one-two-three as I exhale.
Have you changed as a runner? How?