Did you know that a louse (i.e., “kuto” in Filipino) once evoked a poetic insight? In 1785 the English poet Robert Burns chanced upon a louse on an otherwise fine-looking lady’s bonnet prompting him to write: “To see ourselves as others see us, it would from many a blunder free us.”
More than 200 years after it was written, Burns’ insight continues to resonate in the age of Spotify and YouTube albeit for an entirely different set of reasons. Thanks to the internet, virtually anything could be learned by anyone – from playing the guitar to cooking your favorite comfort dish, from mastering a language to mounting a grassroots political campaign. Notwithstanding the numerous things one can learn through the internet, it has its limitations. You may spend the requisite 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell popularized to master a craft yet still realize that your skill level is not at par with where you’d like to take it. You can pore over the various internet references for understanding the different words that comprise a language yet still feel frustrated about your seeming lack of progress. The missing ingredient? Critique in the form of feedback for us “to see ourselves as others see us.”
That is precisely why training programs that are deemed most effective are those which employ feedback to sharpen the skill level of the learner. The same might as well apply to runners who aspire to improve their game. You can do all the strength training exercises until you pass out of sheer exhaustion. You can run all the LSD and tempo runs that your body can muster. But without feedback, you deprive yourself of learning more about what you’re doing right and what you could improve on. One powerful instrument of feedback is video analysis. Competitive basketball teams use it. Aerobatic teams leverage on it. Elite units of the armed forces can’t do without it. Runners who aspire to continuously improve would do well to use this technology particularly in improving their form.
What attitude is to aptitude, form is to speed. More to the point, form is fundamental. Thus, the insistent admonition of many coaches to work on one’s form first. Then, you can progressively work on your speed next. Your form, after all, influences your speed or lack of it. Most importantly, form, is ultimately about efficiency which is a requirement of endurance. And endurance is what long-distance running is all about.
And so compelled by this insight and disturbed by a string of running injuries (i.e., most of which have since healed) which came in the heels (pun intended) of my aspiration to improve at the sport, I decided to invest in a form analysis session after accidentally discovering the availability of such a service. Thanks to certified ChiRunning instructor and The Dream Marathon Head Coach Lit Onrubia and his company called Forward Lean Running, I uncovered a number of valuable take-aways which I have no doubt will improve my running without risking even more serious injuries. These, incidentally, are the two important customer value propositions of ChiRunning.
Chi Running is “a revolutionary form of moving that blends the subtle inner focuses of T’ai Chi with running.” It was developed by Danny Dreyer based on “his study of T’ai Chi with Master Zhu Xilin and internationally renowned Master George Xu, and his 35 years of experience, running, racing ultra marathons and coaching people in intelligent movement.”
The first thing that impressed me about Forward Lean Running’s form analysis is the premium that it assigns to the diagnostic approach. As phenomenologists would put it, “first you describe, then you prescribe.” To find out what I’m doing right and what I could improve on, my running form was recorded at various speeds – from the warm-up pace to the comfortable race pace, from the comfortable race pace to the sprint race pace. In addition, various vantage points were used for recording upper body and lower body movements across the various paces. In the process, an overall pattern of my running form was established. This effectively served as the baseline of the form analysis.
Yet another thing that made me appreciate form analysis is its conscious effort to engage in strength finding instead of dwelling on errors and their attendant correction right away. More specifically, the form analysis session zeroed in on the various form focuses that I got right. Form focus are two intrinsically-related terms that Dreyer uses to describe the bite-size exercise that works on a specific body part that contributes to achieving the Chi Running form. This conscious effort to identify and affirm your strengths as a runner naturally builds a sense of confidence and fulfillment. When I was told, for instance, that I was actually observing the forward lean form as I was running, I was buoyed by the affirmation to all the more continue to seek to improve. I must have done something right along the way. The feeling is no different from the positive vibe that inescapably wraps you when you hear or read “Kaya Mo Yan” – the current Milo Marathon tag line – while you’re in a race.
From the very beginning, it was the possibility of chancing upon my areas for improvement that made me invest in form analysis. I’m glad that I was not disappointed. By uncovering the blind spots and red flags in my form and technique, it allowed me to set my sights on specific, measurable and achievable gaps that I could improve. Fortunately, most of my blind spots require mostly small tweakings here and there. Yet however small these tweakings may appear to be, their impact and effect on one’s efficiency are exponential once they are applied in actual runs. Cases in point are the corrections I was advised to work on with regard to the consistency of my forward lean (i.e., that I should maintain it especially when speeding up), the circular and rearward movement of my legs (i.e., that I should lift my right leg more) and my cadence (i.e., that I should constantly check if I’m over-striding by rolling my eyes downward.)
An unexpected plus that came my way after what I thought was the completion of the analysis is the quick-win application of insights that apply to my form and technique. Instead of being sent off to work on my development opportunities, Coach Lit actually directed me right there and then to integrate the necessary high-value adjustments to my form while I was actually running. My cadence involved one such adjustment. Months back, I experimented with various SPM (i.e., strides per minute) permutations on a running track. Based on my trial and error attempts, I thought that I would have to settle for 170 strides per minute which was at the extreme lower end of Dreyer’s recommended SPM. In the course of the form analysis, I discovered that I could comfortably do 175 or even 180 strides per minute by simply adjusting my stride length and synching it with the metronome. It was the adjustment to my stride length that I found most helpful. It really is one thing to read about things. It’s altogether a different matter when you apply what you read in real life.
Lastly, I left the session with a sense of hope and optimism that despite the fact that I only discovered ChiRunning after years of winging it with grit and tenacity, there is no way to go but forward now that I know what I know. This time around hopefully I could do so with minimal or even better, zero injuries. In the song “Betamax” popularized by the Pinoy band Sandwich, lead singer Raymund Marasigan enjoins the listener to keep moving forward: “Padayon! Ipagpatuloy ang agos!” Notwithstanding the original context of the song, its core message of forging on augurs well with how Dreyer envisions ChiRunning: “In ChiRunning, basic principles of T’ai Chi are employed to optimize the flow of energy in your body to reduce the use of force for moving forward, and thereby reduce the risk of injury.” (ChiMarathon by Danny Dreyer, p 13)