Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Enjoying the movement

Today was my third time out for a run since my shoulder strain forced me to take a break from my regular yoga practice. And it was…informative. The run itself did not feel good—in the slightest, because I pushed too hard.

The first time, felt fantastic. I didn’t bring my watch—I didn’t have anywhere that I had to be and I wasn’t timing myself, so there was no need to bring it. I didn’t run on the jogging path, I ran on some trails through the lightly wooded area near the jogging path—I love trail running AND it’s easier on your body. I took breaks during the run—there were absolutely no goals, time or distance; I was just going out to enjoy the movement. It was also the perfect day as far as weather—sunshine, temps in the 50s, light breeze; perfect. After the run, I spent plenty of time enjoying some post-run yoga, took a shower, iced my foot and then went to a “yoga for runners” class. The class was really good and included just about everything that I did on my own after my run—which was very encouraging to know that I was thinking on the right path.

The second time was pretty good. I had to leave for work no later than an hour and a half after I started my run, which made me feel a little rushed, but it was ok, I wasn’t going to go far. I brought my watch because I needed to know how much time it would take me to do my run, that way I knew how much time to leave myself for future pre-work, morning runs—but I was not timing myself, as in aiming for a specific finish time, I didn’t even look at the watch except to note what time it was when I started. I stayed on the jogging path and, this time, I decided I would see how far I could go without stopping. I wasn’t aiming for any specific distance, but I was going to make an effort to go as far as could, without putting too much strain on my body, and just get a benchmark for how far that was. The feeling of the whole run was really good: I was working, but not straining. I could have gone faster, but I wasn’t just casually strolling either—really good balance between “effort and ease,” with the focus on keeping the breathing steady and as easy as possible. And I surprised myself—I completed the whole path (1.5 miles, the most I’ve run since my foot surgery last October). I looked at my watch to see what time it was and was even more surprised to see that it had only taken about 12 minutes to run the whole path. 12 minutes?! That’s an even 8 minute/mile pace—only 30 seconds/mile off my old easy distance run pace! I was able to fit in a little over an hour of a post-run yoga practice. I was still kind of feeling out what to do without a teacher guiding me or having a set sequence of poses to do (like in my Ashtanga practice) but I just started moving and relaxing in the poses that felt really good and that felt like they were undoing the not-so-pleasant side-effects of running (tight hamstrings, hips, etc). It was so hard to get myself into the shower because what I was doing felt so good. I kept resetting my timer for “another 5 minutes” because I didn’t want to stop; I wasn’t done yet, lol. I left for work roughly on time, but not in enough time to eat breakfast before I left. Funny thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t immediately feel hungry after I go running. And it kind of feels like my stomach can’t really digest anything big immediately after a run.

Anyways, the second one felt pretty good too. Not “perfect” like the first one, but really good. But, I kept thinking about the 12 minutes…I had really run that 1.5 mile jogging path in only 12 minutes—without having been running consistently in a long time? It didn’t seem accurate. Maybe I had remembered my start time incorrectly. It kept nagging at me all throughout the next day. Then this morning, when I finally convinced myself to get out of bed, I decided I was going to go down and run it again. Except this time I would time it with my stopwatch—no mistaking the start time there. I went out with the goal of hitting that 12 minute time again. I started running and I immediately felt tired. I thought, “Ok, this is just the morning tiredness burning off, I’ll fall into the stride later.” I kept running, trying to hold the pace. I didn’t feel like I was falling into the stride. I felt tired. My breathing felt very labored—I wouldn’t have been able to talk to someone if they were right next to me (benchmark for determining if you’re running too hard). My upper back felt tight, my throat was starting to feel tight and to burn as well…nothing about the run felt good. This was not a casual, easeful jog, I was racing myself. I finally accepted about half-way through that there was no way that I had run that time on Monday if I was this tired right now and that early into my run. I let myself relax a little bit to a pace that felt slightly more comfortable and kept running. Coming up to the last stretch of path before the end, I picked up my pace a bit, to finish strong just like the old competitive runner in me does for every run—not just the races and ended my run with my lungs and throat burning. I looked at my watch: 11 minutes 23 seconds. Roughly a 7 minute 30 seconds/mile pace—a.k.a, my old “easy distance” running pace. First thoughts: holy crap, I didn’t think I was hitting that time. Immediately followed by, that was too much. Yay, I surpassed the time I was trying to hit. Glad to know it’s still in me. But it did not feel good. There was nothing enjoyable about that run. I went home, unrolled my yoga mat and put my feet up the wall—which is becoming my go-to first pose of my post-run yoga practice. I just lay there on my mat; arms splayed feeling very deflated and beat. D-O-N-E.

I will say, however, that there was something really good that came out of pushing too hard—it provided a lot of information about how to structure my post-run yoga practice. The first thing I wanted to do once my breathing returned to normal wasn’t to stretch out my legs—it was to unlock and decompress my upper body. I don’t think I ever really noticed before exactly how tight and compressed your upper body gets from running. The focus is always on the legs and hips getting tight but it literally feels like your upper body gets squished. So, the majority of my practice was spent reversing that effect. Matsyasana (a.k.a “fish pose”) feels AMAZING after a run. Or, at the very least, lying on your back with a rolled up mat, block, blanket or whatever underneath your shoulder blades and letting the head hang back. Opens the throat and the upper back. You know what else also feels particularly great after a run? Laying belly-down over a rolled up mat—for those who don’t know, the rolled up mat is in between your rib cage and pelvic bones. It feels really uncomfortable at first but then I could feel it decompressing my back and opening up the front side of my body. I know from seeing previous photos of myself that I don’t have a significant sway back when I run, but I know I have a little bit of it—so the compression in the opposite direction feels heavenly. I can’t remember the exact sequence of the things that I did, but it focused heavily on lengthening and decompressing my spine. AFTER that is when I shifted my focus into the legs. Prasaritta Padottanasana (standing wide-legged forward fold) is becoming one of my favorite poses—stretches the hamstrings, inner line of the legs while simultaneously lengthening out the back. I was just starting to move into some slow Classical Sun Salutations—with an exaggerated focus on getting a stretch deep into the hip flexors—and starting to move into a flow when my timer went off. 7:30 a.m. Only 30 minutes to shower, get dressed and get out of the house. Again—there was no time to ice the foot or to eat breakfast. It’s almost as though I need 3 ½ hours to myself in the morning: run, yoga, shower, ice & breakfast.

Either way, it’s a work in progress and the routine is starting to feel really good. When I’m not going crazy and pushing myself too far beyond where I’m at, the running feels really good. To quote my friend, it wakes up my brain. I’m loving the added ease I feel in walking and going up stairs that I get from my leg muscles getting stronger. Plus the movement just feels so good—when you do it right ;-) The information and direction its providing to my yoga practice is also really nice. Since injuring my shoulder that has been one thing that I really missed— my morning practice. Not even so much just the Ashtanga—I just missed having my own practice. It feels nice to have it again—no matter how short it is. It’s interesting; my running informs and gives direction to my yoga practice via the tight muscles. And my yoga practice informs and guides my running practice—when I go out with the intention to just enjoy the movement and simply BE wherever I’m at, whether it’s slow, fast, tired, whatever, then the run feels better and my body isn’t stressed as much. Ignore that and push it, then the effects aren’t as pleasant, even if the time is good. Which is an interesting change in itself. It used to be just about improving my running times—now the focus is on the movement being pleasurable.

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