Last week I ran with a friend who had fabulous form – still, quiet, elegant, efficient. I asked Virginia towards the end of the run what her thoughts were on form and she gave my a fabulous synopsis of the Alexander Technique in action, saying she released the neck muscles in the upper back by squeezing her shoulder blades, activating the entire spine and lengthening it from pelvis to skull thereby allowing the limbs to move freely. She also uses “vitarka mudras” to engage the upper back. In my runs since I integrated these suggestions with other understandings brought about in my work this fall, with the result of very easily and effortlessly dropping 30-60 seconds off my time. I may reduce my next full marathon end of February to a half to allow full incorporation of these changes before my June marathon – while negative splits on rolling hills is lovely, I know my musculature and breathing apparatus need more time to adapt to this new pace and form.
Pictures from Barbara Conable’s books “What every musician needs to know about the body” and “How to learn the Alexander Technique” had already helped me map the leg structure properly (the legs moving from the side of the pelvis, and weight bearing through the sitbones or legbones without a kneecap assuming any of the load). Shawn had curiously mentioned my right femur tended to protrude forward when we met and work with Andrew McCann and a massage therapist helped me understand how off balance I was mechanically (particularly for having moved to marathons from triathlons and taking on 3 in one year). Asking my right leg to be the driver and the left the directional leg has given some relief to periformis-type issues on the left side, as has strengthening the hip muscles and releasing from the neck and ankles to start movement. Hiking this summer reinforced that since childhood I have relied on the left for support (particularly when climbing, and as a gymnast in starting any movement).
Those realizations came together on that run with Virginia, and the full body connection and energization that resulted from her process of connecting with the spine and bony structure has been nothing short of amazing. Back muscles and nerves my massage therapist indicated needed to come online are doing so in a big way, particularly in the lower back and near the right scapula, an area that has been compromised since a collarbone break a few years ago. In yesterday’s run a new friend graciously commented “you look great” within a second of my re-engaging into proper form: it must be visible, and he was a very good egg for keeping up with the quicker pace that resulted. Feeling the pelvis as a level, weighty block with the legs dropping below the same, the “rear chain” muscles being able to push up against and the arch of the foot responding lightly to each footfall feels right and good. I can now feel when the pelvis is tilted, the right side “loose” and bouncing around, and look forward to continued practice in maintaining that solid yet floating/rolling form that results from the easy lengthening/gathering of the spine. I recall the first time I walked this way in AT lessons years ago. In running, for now, my intent to free the neck continues to be realized most easily with a brief spine massage at the shoulderblades and/or a side-to-side release of the neck.