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a pilates instructor hits the ground running

Our focus at Studio 26 is on using intelligent cross-training to enhance performance and keep a person moving efficiently and injury-free.  Pilates instructor Jeanette Alford shares her own story of applying Pilates to improve her distance running.
"It had been over 17 years since I ran for more than 30 minutes at one time; and that was part of my participation in high school gym class.  Here I was years later, simply a mouse click away from committing to running in the World Vision half marathon.  I would have eight weeks to prepare. I learned immediately that this would be a huge endeavor.  Running was so painful during the first week when I tried to run two miles without stopping. What had I gotten myself into?
As a Pilates instructor, I have worked with various types of athletes including runners.  I decided it was time that I personally put into practice all the discipline imparted to my running clients.  This brought me to consider the bio-mechanics of distance running and training for such an event.
As a person runs, her hip flexors pull the leg forward and the quadriceps are responsible for knee extension. As the foot strikes the ground, her “toe off” phase begins.  At this point, her hamstrings and the gluteals pull the leg back, propelling her forward. The action of running causes the body to move in the sagittal plane (forward and backward); the muscles that support the movement in the frontal (right and left) and transverse (rotational) planes are not employed as greatly.
Running long distances and avoiding injury depends on the stamina of various muscles that running itself does little to strengthen and balance. These frequent muscular imbalances in runners can translate to tightness and injury. I knew that if I did not concentrate on my core and rotators, I would not reach my goal of finishing the half marathon.  Luckily, my background in Pilates was there to support me!
I focused on strengthening my core muscles in order to maintain good posture and easy breathing. I also did a lot of side-lying leg work to keep my pelvis stable and to give my legs a solid base of support. Stretching became something I did during any free moment. Even my neck was tight until I gained strength and became a more efficient runner.  The foam roller became my best friend. I used the roller to release everything from my iliotibial bands (connective tissue that runs down the lateral edge of the thigh) to my serratus anterior (a muscle that lies under the armpit and wraps around the ribcage).
Incorporating Pilates workouts into my running schedule made it possible to complete the half marathon in an injury-free two hours and fourteen minutes. I continued to run and in September completed my second half marathon. I look forward to an even better racing season in 2011!"
Written by Jeanette Alford, founder of Self Centered Pilates, LLC