Sunday 15 April 2012

Chi running - I think

Sandy path for running
   Last Thursday I set out in glorious sunshine to do a nice bumbly six mile route around our local woods, listening to birdsong, striding out by the babbling beck, smelling the gorgeous blackthorn blossom, all at a nice easy pace - but it didn't quite work out like that. At the precise spot where I'd normally finish a two mile warm-up before launching into some serious intervals my old brain automatically switched into training mode so that I churned out the next 200m along a wonderful stretch of sandy path in precisely 44 seconds.
    Hmm, I thought, that felt good, perhaps I'll do a few more. So I did another eleven, enjoying the sense of speed, and was quite surprised to learn from my trusty Garmin that I was getting progressively faster without actually trying. From the initial 44's I got down to 42's with the odd 41 to finish. So I was happy with that and trotted home full of the joys of Spring - literally!
    Now, the surprising thing is I haven't run that particular set of intervals so fast, or so easy, for quite some time. Lately I've averaged around 48 seconds for each one and been happy to just maintain that pace - apart from the very last one when I'll put in an extra effort that inevitably leaves me gasping. So what brought about this amazing change of speed when all I'd set out to do was a relaxed run in the sun?
Will it really do all this?
    Well, all I can think is that for some weeks now I've been dipping into Danny Dreyers popular book, Chi Running, that's subtitled 'A revolutionary approach to effortless, injury-free running'. Without a qualified coach to correct my faults and explain the finer points my old brain is finding it difficult to absorb. As the saying goes, you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and dogs don't come much older than this one. But each time I go for a run I spend part of the time trying to put some part of Danny's theory into practice.
    What supposedly makes it 'effortless' is the use of gravity to propel you forward, rather than using muscles to push off with your legs. All you do is lean forward to a point when you have to stick your foot underneath you to prevent yourself falling flat on your face. Rather than wasting energy pushing off with your feet, all you do is lift them up and plant them down again. Speed and stride length are governed by the amount of lean - more lean, more speed - although cadence remains the same.
    It was that forward lean I was practicing while doing my set of intervals last Thursday and for once it seemed to work. Each run did indeed feel comparatively 'effortless', and when I increased my lean I found myself running faster without any extra perceived effort. I was enjoying myself and could probably have done another set of twelve without tiring. Problem was, I felt a bit self-conscious as bemused dog-walkers constantly had to move aside as I swept past. I really must get into the habit of running in the early mornings before things get busy.
    That's the theory of Chi running in a nutshell but, believe me, it's a lot more technical than that. I'm persevering, ever hopeful of learning the perfect art of running that's truly effortless and injury-free - before it's too late.  And hopefully without crashing forwards to the ground and giving myself another serious injury! 

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Easter in the Inner Hebrides

Running on Ulva
Walking a trail on Ulva, showing snow on Ben More
     I think it can be safely said without fear of contradiction from my wonderful partner that large lumps of our eight day Easter holiday in Scotland are best forgotten. For starters, we worried about ever reaching our planned destination. A petrol shortage due to a threatened strike by tanker drivers had precipitated panic buying so many of the pumps were empty. Garages that still had petrol were 'making hay while the sun shines' and selling at vastly inflated prices to needy holiday motorists, i.e. at £1.43.9 for a litre of Unleaded.      Notwithstanding, we reached the ferry terminal in Oban with time to spare and three hours later were setting up a wild camp at Loch na Keal on the west coast of the Isle of Mull. At night it rained, and rained, while thick clag descended from Ben More almost to sea level.
    The following morning, still swathed in mist and drizzly rain, we packed and moved to the island of Ulva for a couple of nights, farther away from the high hills where we assumed there'd be less precipitation.
At Whale Bay - before the snow
    We were right, and enjoyed a sunny 4 mile walk from the ferry to our 'secret camp' by the south facing shore only feet away from the sea. As usual, the seals were there to greet us, a solitary heron stalked the seaweed covered rocks on the opposite shoreline while greylag geese bugled back and forth across the bay.
    Out of the sunshine it was bitterly cold, in sharp contrast to the unnaturally warm temperatures of the previous couple of weeks. Instead of shorts and t-shirts we were back to winter thermals under various other wind-stopping layers. On a 4 mile morning run we were amazed to see Ben More, just across the water, plastered with fresh snow.
Beasties sheltering from the wind at Fidden Farm
    On a subsequent walk to Whale Bay hunting for otters we too were caught in a brief but vicious little snow flurry. And if that wasn't enough it showered us with stinging hailstones. But patches of primroses, a trail strewn with early violets and a thrush singing from the ruins of an old croft cheered us on our way.
    After three days we moved to an official campsite at Fidden Farm opposite the sacred island of Iona and once again pitched our tent in a delectable grassy spot only yards from the sea. But apart from another short run and a few bumbly walks very little got done due to wild, wet and windy weather.
Iona Abbey before the arrival of the pilgrims
    Unlike last Easter, the campsite was almost deserted, causing the lady owner to complain bitterly of the lost revenue. Lambing time had not yet begun so the lucky wee creatures were still tucked up in warm wombs. A herd of cows, along with their calves and a huge lumbering bull, spent an awful lot of time sheltering in the lee of the old farm cottage.
    Our last day was spent on Iona where a host of pilgrims had crossed the water for the annual Easter Day service in the Abbey. Between hundreds of Allelujas the leader of the Iona Community, Rev Peter MacDonald, preached a relevant message on the meaning of the resurrection, how it was so totally unexpected and how it dramatically changed the lives of those who witnessed it and all those, including us, who later came to hear and accept the astonishing news of the risen Christ. They were never the same people again, nor ever could be. We came away refreshed, uplifted and renewed in faith.
Sunset from our wee tent
Early birthday for 'Yours truly'
After the service we moved back onto Mull for an early getaway on the first ferry back to the mainland the following morning. That evening I was treated to a mouthwatering seafood meal and fruity wine at the Mediterranea restaurant in Salen which, I'm told, marked the start of my 80th birthday celebrations. My daughter, Sue, recently began her 60th birthday celebrations with cards and presents many days prior to the actual event. "I'm having a birthday week, it's brilliant" she said on Facebook. With a month to go I suppose the same can be said of mine.
    So, in spite of inclement weather, a soggy tent, chilled bones and other inconveniences we'd rather forget, I suppose it can be said that all's well that ends well. What can also be said, and agreed upon, is that we'll never take our tent to the Hebrides again so early in the year.