“Un-rutting” Yourself

Greetings. My name is Jennifer Katt, though I like Jen Katt best. Welcome to my new venture, “Surround Fitness,” and to my foray into blogging. I titled this inaugural post “un-rutting yourself” for two reasons, one personal and the other informational, or so I hope. 

 The personal reason is that I am embarking on a brand new venture to remove myself from a rut of sorts and do something new—de-emphasizing my role as a sci-tech writer to pursue a new career as a personal trainer/fitness instructor/nutrition counselor, mainly to help my fellow baby-boomer ‘sistas’ realize a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, working it from all angles—what you eat, how and how much you move, and where you put your energy. Thus the “surround fitness” moniker. My “vision” is still coming into focus: I have the passion, I need the training, which I’m ardently pursuing even while I maintain a career (for now) as a full-time science writer at NIH, where I write mainly about neuroscience and about how drugs of abuse exert their effects in our brains. I know it will come in handy. Meanwhile, I beg your indulgence as I write piecemeal about what I know and what I learn as it unfolds to me.  

 So, for the informational part, I want to share something I read recently and actually tried out on my 3-mile run today. May be you saw the article in Men’s Health Magazine, reprinted in my beloved commuter-friendly Washington Post Express a couple days ago, about the right way to run.  It basically conveyed advice about how to increase your run speed—if you really care about that.  But the tips, generally aimed at making runners more efficient, helped make my run more enjoyable as well. And I’m not a great runner—I keep at it because I do enjoy the occasional triathlon and, well, they seem to insist on the run part. It’s also an activity that my dog Cruiser (pictured here post-run) really seems to love, and he doesn’t seem to think he could possibly do it without me.


So, in a nutshell, here’s what the article recommended: first, increase your leg turnover, so instead of loping strides, move with quick light steps, aiming for about 180 strides a minute, with a strong knee lift and good forward movement. The writer recommended doing this to the beat of The Gaslight Anthem- “45” (which is actually 168 beats per min) but I chose Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” because it provides the perfect 180 beat—and I’m 53. I tried this faster cadence-lifting-the-knees technique, and I must say, I did feel faster (remains to be seen) and lighter, more nimble, the way my newlywed husband, a former cross-country runner, springs unimpeded over rocks and roots when we’re trail running while I tend to place each step in sprained-ankle avoidance mode.  Cruiser seemed to notice the new run style, too, as he deigned to pull on the long leash more than usual, both of us now able to nimbly dodge the rocks and roots of the wooded path through our Lake Ridge community leading to the scenic Occoquan Reservoir. I felt, if not quite like a gazelle, somewhat like a white tailed deer. It felt good.

 The other—and in my view somewhat lesser points—were to “quit swaying” and to “use arms correctly.”  Now, I don’t mean to minimize these other tips but I am so excited by the first one that it’s hard to give these equal import. I actually believe, based on advice I received in the early days from my triathlon coach, that using arms correctly helps to prevent body swaying. From the article: “Stop your arms from crossing over the midline of your body as this needlessly sacrifices energy laterally instead of directing it straight ahead.” Relaxing your shoulders helps, too, especially on long runs. It’s like during a meditation exercise when you’re directed to relax your facial muscles and you didn’t’ even realize they were tense, yet they somehow always are.

 So there you have it–step lively when you run, save energy by using your arms correctly and not swaying, and relax your shoulders — oh and good running shoes are a must!

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