A while ago I subscribed to a local women's running list, but I never got around to going to any of the weekly workouts held at a high school outdoor track. So the week before Thanksgiving when an announcement went out for a four-hour running clinic to work on form and prevent injury, I thought, "That sounds kind of fun." I decided it would be a good Christmas present to myself. So I dropped a check in the mail.
Today Mark took all the kids to swimming lessons and I headed out in the other car to a gym on the west side of town. I was wearing some of Mark's clothes as well as my own -- it had snowed last night, we were supposed to run outdoors for taking video, and I didn't have much stuff to run in the snow.
Seven other women and one man arrived for the clinic. They looked suspiciously ... buff. "Let's all introduce ourselves and say what our goals for today are."
Three marathoners hoping to improve their endurance. Three longtime triathletes hoping to use their bodies more efficiently in the running segment. One woman still sore from an Ironman a couple of weeks ago. And one kickboxer, wearing a well-used Israeli Defense Forces tee shirt, who said she hated running but was going to try a marathon this year just for the heck of it and didn't want to hurt herself more than necessary.
We got about halfway through the introductions when I suddenly felt an urge to hyperventilate and my mind was filled with one thought: OMG I paid $65 to take a gym class with these people.
I'm Erin. I'm a beginner. I just want to learn to run the right way so I don't become one of those people who just 'goes out and runs' and gets hurt."
(Mark scoffed at me later for the "beginner." "You've run three 5Ks!" he pointed out. "Yes, but I don't know what I'm doing. And you should have seen these women." )
(I just cannot wear a ponytail like that.)
Calm down, I told myself. You are here to learn.
We went outside and ran for the camera, then came back in to review the footage. "We're looking for a slight lean forward in the body, foot striking the pavement midfoot and not at the heel, a short time in contact with the ground, and no long legs out front or in back," the instructor told us. I felt a little better when she started pointing out everything that the other people were doing wrong. And then it was my turn and ....
....whoooooah. Take everybody's mistakes and put them together and you have me. I was like five inches shorter than the next person in the class, and I STILL had a longer leg out in front and in back than any of them.
Then she had us do a bunch of drills, most of them designed to correct the errors in heel strike and body lean. Some of them were not too hard: hop around the room landing properly on the midfoot, for example, or snap one leg up (stamping and pawing like a horse, I thought) so the knee came forward but the heel kicked up at the butt.
But then there was one where we were supposed to jog back and forth across the gym, only every fourth time we picked up a foot we were supposed to kick it high back -- kick ourselves in the butt -- and I was sunk. You may think I am pretty good with numbers, but I tell you I cannot count and do anything physical at the same time. I tripped and skipped around a few times until the instructor finally told me that the point wasn't to get the rhythm right, it was to kick the foot up once in a while. Randomly would be fine. I was better after that.
Until the jump ropes came out. Oh man. I had to remind myself that the other students didn't pay their fees for the purpose of watching me screw up. They were too busy paying attention to their own feet. Actually, I wasn't the only person who had trouble with the jumping rope. It takes a surprising amount of coordination to run and skip rope at the same time. At least, I think so; hard to tell, since I can't even properly jump rope in place. To run and skip rope at the same time, you have to turn the rope once per step; no matter how hard I try, even in place, I jump twice and turn once.
"The point of the jump rope is to shorten your strides," the instructor told us. "If your stride is too long, you'll trip over the rope." Well, I didn't have any trouble tripping over the rope with a stride of zero, so clearly I have a ways to go.
Then we did some fun (but socially exhausting) drills in pairs. One person stood in front of the other and leaned forward, her hips pressing into a giant rubber band held by the person behind her. Then the front person started running in place, against the resistance band, while the person in back braced herself and held her back. Then with a "Three--two--one--go!" the rear partner let go of the rubber band, launching the runner forward into a full run across the room. That was very fun. I found myself wanting to try this with Mark sometime. A similar drill had a partner standing in front, bracing the in-place runner with hands on her shoulders, then stepping aside to let her take off. You would think you'd get tripped on, but actually there is enough time to get out of the way. I still was worried I would not do it right, but I guess it went okay. (Except for that one time I went "Three--two--go!" I told you I couldn't count and do anything at the same time.)
At the end we all went out in the street again to take more video and then compare to see our improvement. Everyone had shortened their stride at least a little bit -- even me. And I had corrected my backward lean and was even leaning forward ever so slightly. I left with four weeks of "homework" drills (it'll actually take me eight weeks, as I can only run twice a week) and a feeling of real accomplishment, plus a lot to tell Mark back at home.
I'm still utterly exhausted -- some of it undoubtedly from moving around in ways I am not used to moving, but I think most of it is from the strain of going back to "gym class." Watching myself run on video is uniquely horrifying. Being around these "real runners" -- well, it has been a long time since I had this feeling at the Y, but I had such a palpable sensation of I do not belong here. I know better now though. I do belong here. It was not an "advanced" running class, it was an ordinary running class, and I am someone who needs to learn. And I was there to learn. And I did learn. So there.