In line with my ongoing efforts to improve my fitness, I've recently began running. Well, run/walking, or, some days, walk/running. I've been alternating days between a shorter run of interval sprints and a longer, slow jog.
Never haven been much of a sprinter, I'm finding the fast days really challenging. I think it has something to do with the length of my legs. They're too gangly, messages take too much time to travel the length. By the time my feet get the notice to speed up, the thighs are already well into the run and my feet end up desperately trying to make sense of the sudden violent assault by asphalt. Think of a long train that begins to accelerate from the front engine where each subsequent car is jerked into motion. Not tremendously graceful or comfortable start up. And then think of that extended train trying to come to a sudden stop, with the back cars shoving up on the front until the whole shebang comes to a painful screeching halt, fifty feet past where the cow stood on the tracks. This is me doing sprints.
I've been marking out my sprinting distances using power line poles placed just far enough apart to seriously wind me. The method is to sprint one length and walk two (briskly). That is two whole lengths to dread the inevitable arrival of the fourth pole that indicates it's time to sprint again. To any casual observer, I must look like I suffer from some muscle spasm condition, tragically triggered by proximity to power poles, which causes me to awkwardly race forward a whole fifty feet before I am able to regain control.
But those are the good days.
The slow days are especially trying. Not more tiring, per se, though I do do a pretty good job of wearing myself however slow I go. Still, once I hit my pace, which is an admittedly slow trot that is the school zone version of a run, I can pretty much go forever. On these days I take a leisurely, lung-straining trot around the neighborhood and end up at the outdoor fitness park where I proceed to make my quads scream. It's actually quite idyllic, in a sweaty way. Well, most of it.
The problem, my friends, is that I can't run in a straight line. I'm forever falling off the curb or just barely grazing a tree. I seem to have the spatial awareness and grace of a berserker robot. It's not only dangerous to be suddenly taken out at the thigh by a low hedge three feet off the sidewalk into some body's yard or to run directly into the grill of a parked car, it's also embarrassing. Especially since I have spent significant amount of time practicing track awareness. It's one thing to be knocked over by another player while playing derby, but to find myself ass over teakettle because I veered into some one's garbage can is another thing entirely.
It's taken me awhile to figure out why I can't run straight. When I walk I hardly every trip over things (barring small children, who are sneaky and move like tiny ninjas and deserve whatever they get) and am generally not clumsy. I also sprint while staying to the center of the path and have yet to run into one of my power pole markers. So why, at medium speed, do I run like I'm chasing a fly around the room?
I had a hint one day when I was once again tripping down a curb, worried that I was going to sprain my ankle and fuck up derby, when I noticed that my head was cranked right around and I was looking in the exact opposite direction that I was running. As I correcting my course back on the sidewalk, I noted that I glanced over my left shoulder, and then my right, and back over my left. And all the way down the block, left, right, left, right. I never looked ahead of me at all. Practically running blind.
This seemed familiar, all this head turning. Almost like my head was... on a... swivel...
Where have I heard that before?
Ha! This mid-pace run takes about the same effort as maintaining pack speed. Derby instinct kicks in and I put my head on a swivel. It's the same derby instinct that causes me to throw my hip towards any person that leans into me suddenly. Generally, on the track, I don't crash into trees or parked cars, but I have been known to run into a person or two. What saves me when playing is that I'm looking all over the place, keeping my eye on everybody. On a run, not much is going on, and I space out into my zen place. I'm not terribly motivated to look all around and the head swivel goes on auto-pilot. I just do what I've been drilled to do. Left, stride, stride, right, stride, stride, left, stride, stride, parked car - crash!
If chances of collision is going to continue being high while running, perhaps I should be wearing my pads and helmet. I certainly could use the knee pads and ankle support from my shin guards. That would also help my 'neighborhood character' reputation that has been rapidly growing since I've started running. Because walking out of my house three or four days a week wearing booty shorts and carrying a bag big and heavy enough to hide a body in isn't enough.
After being almost exclusively involved in derby for awhile, trying new activities is about as disconcerning as switching from driving a standard to an automatic transmission. I find a part of me hovering over the metaphorical missing gear shift and clutch, thinking I should be doing more. I realize how intense derby is, not just physically, but mentally, and how much of me is engaged in the game. Running may be good for my body, but the lack of mental focus has me running into the street, apparently looking for ways to hurt myself.
Or maybe I just need a buddy or three to jog along with, who can wall up with me and keep me on the right path. Just heaven help any race walker who tries to pass us.