Change: Moving in Slow Motion

Watching myself in slow-mo, I felt like I was in a Monty Python skit.*

Last Wednesday night, I went to the UCSF RunSafe clinic. You might remember that I did the other part of the clinic, the VO2 max and lactate threshold training, back in December. I wanted to complete the program and learn how to run without injury.

At the clinic, there are four runners and four analysis stations: nutrition, strength/flexibility, footwear and one final station where they videotape you to watch you in motion.

My first station was the nutrition station. While there’s always room for improvement, my daily and running nutrition got rave reviews: I don’t eat much fast food or processed food, I’m not much of a carnivore, and in spite of my lactose intolerance, I know what dairy still works for me (hard cheeses, yogurt, lactose-free milk). My race day/long run nutrition plan is good, starting with a banana and peanut butter beforehand and finishing with some form of carbs at the end, plus a little protein in the form of more peanut butter, something that I’ve found to prevent the pre-lunchtime crash that comes from all carbs. Overall, I got a great review from the nutritionist. My confidence grew.

The second station was the strength and flexibility station. While neither has historically been a strong suit for me, I got a good report that was no doubt aided by years of Pilates. My abs stayed engaged when they were supposed to, my balance was decent, and unlike most people, I could touch my toes. Confidence continued to grow.

My running may not have been beautiful, but the setting sun made the Bay Bridge look lovely.

Moving on to the footwear station, I got the usual comments about how my choice of racing flats was unconventional, to say the least, but the fact that I had been running in them for more than two years with no running-related injuries made her reluctant to advise any sort of a change, although she did recommend a few shoes that were still fairly minimalist yet offered a bit more support to compensate for my pronation, but told me that if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Confidence was high.

The final station, for me, was the gait analysis station. Here they weigh you, measure your BMI and body fat percentages, and then cover you in pink dots before sticking you on a treadmill and videotape your running. Now, those who know me know that I have treadmill paranoia. I’ve never been comfortable on one, and I never feel like I get into a proper rhythm when I run on one. Knowing that I was being videotaped while running on one was stressful and made me feel even more awkward than I normally do.

What I didn’t realize when we started the process was that you don’t just cycle through the stations and go home to wait for your report. Oh no. They send you out to the lobby while they compile the results, and then they bring you back in, as a group, to watch each other run in slow motion on a giant movie screen.

Allow me to repeat that to emphasize the point: me, slow motion video, treadmill, 8-foot-tall video screen. This couldn’t end well.

Naturally, they started with the video of the guy that had the best form of any runner I’ve ever seen: strong, natural and awesome in every possible way. Then to the second guy who was almost as good. Then to the woman who was built like a compact, efficient runner. And then, last but not least, moi.

Now, it probably didn’t help that I was a full six inches taller than the rest of the participants, but when my video popped up onto the giant screen — the ass shot, of all things — it was… it was…. Well, have you ever seen a baby horse take its first steps? Knock-knees buckling? Long, spindly legs that don’t look like they can support the weight of its body? Drifting from side to side like a drunkard? Now imagine it eight feet tall and in slow motion.

If you can picture that, you’ve seen my running video.




Needless to say, there was a lot to discuss: my form; my overpronation; my shoes that clearly aren’t giving the right support; the weaknesses in every major muscle group; my knock-knees; my heel striking. I left feeling not like I’d learned something that would help me get better, but like I had no business running in the first place. I was utterly demoralized. Sure, they were going to send me a list of some exercises and recommendations to make me stronger, but a few exercises weren’t going to overcome a lifetime of piss-poor coordination and a serious lack of grace. They don’t have exercises for that.

After a couple of days of sulking and an emailed conversation with My Voice of Reason on the east coast (thank you, Voice of Reason), I realized that I was taking it all much too seriously. I went into this knowing that I was a far-from-perfect runner, and I wanted to learn how to get better. And if I follow their recommendations, in time I will get better. Sure, the video was a blow to my ego, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Not by a long shot. I’m now going out there as a more knowledgeable, smarter runner. And maybe, with a little bit of work, I can even become a better runner.

So I ask you, my lovely readers: would you want to know your deficiencies in your chosen sport, or would you prefer to live in blissful ignorance?

* Image linked from Wikipedia

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4 Responses

  1. misszippy says:

    You know what? I think you are doing just fine. You run in racing flats, which tells me you probably have a fairly good, efficient gait. It doesn’t have to look perfect to work for you. So seriously, don’t let it get to you.

  2. Alisa says:

    Thanks, Miss Zippy. I was actually surprised by how much it bothered me. Clearly, I have no illusions that I run like Shalane Flanagan, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have higher hopes for my *actual* form.

    Upon their recommendation, I have ordered a couple of new pairs of running shoes (road and trail) to test out. They’re still fairly minimalist, but they should offer some more stability to correct my overpronation, particularly in my left foot. I’ll test them out around the house and see if they feel better, worse, or just different. As for the rest of it, the exercises should slowly help me to compensate for my weaknesses.

  3. Anne says:

    My approach is generally to avoid asking questions that I might not like the answers to. 🙂 So your experience sounds horrifying. I’ve actually never run on a treadmill (never having gone to a gym) but I’m pretty sure I’d get thrown off like those cats in the YouTube video. I bet your gait is way better in a road-running situation. In any case, one can always improve! If you had perfect form like that first guy, you’d have wasted your money. I’d like to hear more about the “running flats” sometime, since I hate normal running shoes… I feel like I’ve got slabs of styrofoam between me and the road.

  4. Alisa says:

    Hi Anne! I assume that you don’t want to go totally minimalist, like Vibram 5-Fingers which is just a glorified sock, but rather something that’s a less bulky sneaker. There’s an entire class of “minimalist” shoes right now, someone of which are more minimal than others. For ultra-thin soles, there’s the Brooks Pure Project collection and the Merrell Glove collection, which are almost as thin as slippers on the bottom. Moving up to something a little thicker than that, there are the Nike Free, Saucony Progrid Mirage and Saucony Grid Fastwitch.

    There are a lot of options out there now that have a “minimalist” categorization, and even more that aren’t official minimalist shoes that have less thickness under the heel. If you need more info, send me an email and I’ll tell you everything I know!

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