26th Birthday - 26.2 Miles
Last year I ran a marathon on my birthday! I didn’t actually have the idea until 2 weeks prior to my birthday, so I hadn’t trained very hard in preparation. However, I decided that on the morning of my birthday I would wake up, go for a run, and perhaps achieve this goal. Reflecting on how the marathon went, I have the Alexander Technique (AT) to thank for my success. I truly cannot imagine succeeding without having used the knowledge I have of AT, and applying it to my running.
Using AT means actively practicing the skill of observation in combination with knowledge of human anatomy. As I observe my movement in motion, knowing how I am designed to move helps me understand where I am interfering. When I run, I use the elasticity in my body to work for me and not against me. I am able to move forward easily and quickly without discernible effort. It feels as if I am tapping into the ease and joy of my four year old self, running about effortlessly, never considering it to be difficult. That being said I still find many challenges when I am pushed to the limits of my abilities. In this blog I will recall the process of practicing AT during my marathon.
The first few miles passed without significance as I am accustomed to running 3-10. When running, I utilize the elasticity of my Achilles tendons as a spring to propel me forward. The moment my heel strikes the ground is the moment my tendon is stretched out like a rubber band and released, springing me forward. Ideally, my foot strikes the ground in this order: toe first, metatarsals (ball) next, and then my heel. I allow my legs to extend completely behind me, which increases my stride, without straining to do so. I always check in with my torso and arms, not only acknowledging where there was movement, but what is not moving. I have a tendency of holding in my shoulders and pelvis, so bringing my awareness to those areas allows me to let go of any tension that might be present.
Throughout the beginning of my marathon, checking in with my movement and facilitating changes seemed fairly easy. However at mile 18, it was much harder to focus and continue to use my body well. I discovered, due to the fatigue of my body, I shifted my focus from specific movements to wondering where I was over-exerting effort. With the simple AT direction of “I can do less,” I felt the ease of my muscles that were holding. I also felt it was really important not to fixate on the end goal, but to continue to devote my attention to the process. As my leg muscles became increasingly tired, I continued to think about directions for freedom, while simultaneously enjoying the beauty of the world around me. I also thought about the freedom of running and how it is a natural, intuitive movement for all humans and animals. As one of my teachers always said, “We aren’t taught how to run -- that comes pre-loaded.” However, I can observe and discover where I am interfering.
Miles 20-23 were extremely difficult. Not only did my body feel fatigued, but I had a harder time thinking about my movement. My brain didn’t want to register anything but my sore muscles; my ribcage and torso seemed extremely tight. Stopping was more painful than running, so I found a stride that I could maintain. I continued to observe myself as best I could, and I found that I desperately wanted to let go of the holding in my quadriceps, but desperately trying to let go only made it worse. At mile 24, instead of trying so hard to make that change, I left it as a question: “I wonder if I could do less?” As I started thinking in this way of un-doing instead of doing, most of my discomfort left. As my muscles began to ease and lengthen I could run faster. I felt free flowing again with easy rib movement and before I knew it, I had run 26.2 miles!
After the run, it felt just as important to continue to utilize AT for my recovery. During my post-running stretches, I continued to use my awareness and thoughts to direct freedom and ease, instead of the holding that my muscles so wanted to do. Throughout the rest of the day and following days I continued to think of my muscles easing and lengthening. I felt completely recovered by the second day post marathon. I attribute my success to AT, for it has taught me the understanding of how to move my body while utilizing the important principles of thought. Alexander Technique is really quite simple, after all, it is just learning how to think.