Over the past few months, I've continued working on my chi running technique. Some elements are coming along nicely - others, not so much.
For example, my "cadence" (footfalls per minute) has increased to something close to the ideal of 180, my core has gotten noticeably stronger, and, at the end of my long runs, my abdominals and hip flexors usually feel more fatigued than my legs. My biceps are stronger and more defined too - presumably as a result of changes in the way I swing my arms.
Still, there are some elements with which I continue to struggle - most notably loosening my hips so I'm able to extend my stride when running downhill or picking up speed, and being present enough to notice when things go awry.
It shouldn't be so hard to stay present. I deliberately keep distractions to a minimum. I don't run with headphones, I nearly always run alone and I do my best not to think about work. However, very often I can't resist "writing" while I run - developing themes for my next blog post or simply composing messages to friends and family.
A case in point: My long slow run last weekend was 33kms along a beautiful coastal road. The sun shone brightly but there was a stiff breeze compliments of Tropical Storm Irene. For the first half of the run, I did a good job of concentrating on maintaining my form while still enjoying the scenery around me. As a result, my body felt balanced and strong. At around the 26km mark, however, I suddenly noticed things had changed. My left shoulder was tight and had shifted forward and up, my neck and upper back were hurting, and my gait was lopsided. When had all that happened and why hadn't I noticed sooner?
The answer of course was that I'd become so caught up in composing my weekly update on training for the San Francisco Nike Women's Marathon that I'd forgotten to check in with my body at regular intervals. After 20-odd kilometres of running a hilly, windy route, fatigue had taken its toll exaggerating the weaknesses in my form and I hadn't noticed until the resulting discomfort became severe enough to interrupt my reverie. Once I was began paying attention again, I was able to concentrate on my form and re-align my body to some extent but I never managed to regain the smooth, balanced stride I had during the early part of the run. As a result, the last 6 or 7 kilometres felt much tougher than they needed to.
I've been thinking ever since about that run and what a nice analogy for life it was. Even when I think I've got all the bits and pieces arranged so that thing's are working smoothly and I can maintain my balance with minimal effort, things can unravel quickly when I fail to pay attention. Even when the problems that arise are not caused by me, the fact that I'm not present to deal with them means they usually get bigger than they need to and, as a result, take more time and energy to resolve.
It seems to me, then, that one of the tricks to both living and running well is to pay attention - to avoid being so caught up in any activity (work, writing, running, etc.) that I lose sight of the many other important aspects of my life. It's okay to be passionate about things and to bring great focus to doing them - but I still need to check in with the other things and people who matter to me from time to time to ensure that small problems don't become big ones simply because I failed to pay attention.