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One More Way To Improve Your Running

Date: 
04/12/2018 - 18:40

By Carolyn Mather
As I am in my 40th year of running, one would think there are really no new tricks to improve our running. But as I have become more age challenged I attempt to pick those things that will help me continue running for another 40 years!

I must admit that running has changed very little for me over the years, except for the fact that I no longer set personal bests, but personal worsts. But I keep getting up, putting on my shoes and travelling out the door every morning for my running fix. Although I continue to do way too many miles, I actually enjoy every run and find running has kept me sane in these years of drastic change. I do not use a GPS watch or listen to music. I do not own a treadmill and actually treasure the change of weather and seasons as I venture through north Georgia. I will say the clothing available today definitely beats the gear of the past. You can find clothing for any type of weather or temperature. And the clothing is very comfortable.

But I digress on the topic of this column. Last month I encouraged you to try yoga. This month I am going to give you a few reasons for adding a pilates routine to your training. When I finished the Las Vegas Marathon about a decade ago, my dear husband was taking photos and commented that I looked like a little old lady crossing the finish line. Needless to say I was not amused but when I saw the pictures he took I was totally horrified. I was hunched over just like a very old lady. It is a wonder that I could even move forward so bent over.

As I discovered watching marathon finishes for the non professional runners, I found many runners were also struggling with the same problem. And many of them were not age challenged! I called my chosen daughter Colleen DeReuck, who also happens to be a four-time Olympian and a personal trainer. She immediately diagnosed what appears to be a common problem. My core was weak, and as I got tired during a marathon it began a slow collapse leading to the "old lady" look. Now if you will take a look at the professional runners, you will see that they all have the "six pack" appearance in their mid-section. This does not come through genetics or magic but is a result of very extensive work to strengthen their core muscles.

Your core is a dynamo. All the muscles in your core are work to stabilize your spine, which in turn keeps you stable and upright. A weak core definitely causes you to hunch over, ultimately leading to inefficient running form. You cut off efficient breathing, and drain your energy reserves trying to fight bad posture. Once you strengthen your core, you’ll have a lot of extra energy because you’re not fighting gravity.

Thus you should consider adding Pilates. Each Pilates move targets not only the “six-pack” ab muscles (namely, the rectus abdominis and obliques), but also the glutes and the deep core muscles that support your spine. As a result, you build greater core strength and control, which leads to improved posture and a more efficient running form. Runners with weaknesses in the deeper core muscles that support the spine also tend to have lower back pain over time.

I bought a Pilates DVD and began doing the Pilates exercises. I was absolutely amazed as I began developing my own Yoga/Pilates routine. Within a few weeks I was "taller" and stronger in my core. Over the years I have fine tuned my routine and I am back to taking yoga and Pilates classes twice a week. My very next marathon, Steve noticed a marked difference. My spine was straight as I finished and I did have more energy as my breathing was not being impeded.

I know you have limited training time, but do Pilates moves for five to 10 minutes before you run. Pilates is so intense and focused, you can do a lot in a short time once you learn to do the moves properly. This is where a class comes in handy as you need to do the exercises with good form. Believe me your back will begin to feel much better and your running form will improve.

I took one of Colleen's classes in Boulder last spring and she was amazed how well I could keep up with her gym rat athletes who were all in their 20s and 30s. Pilates is similar to yoga but emphasizes your body’s core -- the abdomen, obliques, lower back, inner and outer thigh, and buns. Pilates develops much of what runners need -- strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination, balance, and good posture. The discipline emphasizes correct form instead of going for the burn. With so many exercise variations and progressions, you may have a hard time getting bored with Pilates. You also utilize breathing to do pilates. As I stated previously I have developed my own yoga/ pilates routine and I attempt to do it every day. Many of the moves were inspired by yoga or patterned after the movements of zoo animals such as swans, seals, and big cats.

There are many pilates routines online, so find what works for you. Or take a class or get a DVD. You truly will be amazed how much difference you will see in your running form. I still am upright at the end of races and I am continually aware of my body. Thus I have found a few new things over 40 years that have markedly improved my running and kept me injury free.

Carolyn Mather, R.N. PhD. lives and runs in north Georgia and is a member of the Atlanta Track Club Elite. She can be reached at carolynmather@tds.net. This article appeared in the April issue of Running Journal.

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