LOST IN TRANSLATION: The Beauty of Efficient Movement
About four months ago I started cooking. Life circumstances nudged me away from the kitchen for over 20 years, and current life circumstances have pulled me into this previously unfamiliar space in my home. I didn’t know what to expect when I first delved into the pots and pans, but what I found was an extreme pleasure in the creative process of cooking. Great cooking, or gastronomy if you will, is a complex mesh of food science and art: how do we properly utilize our knowledge of chemical reactions and nutrient interaction to develop the flavors integral to great tasting food? And the means to this end have infinite possibilities, as unique as each cook’s culinary acumen, cultural traditions and palette.
Yet, for as individual and endlessly varied as food preparation is, there are rules to the game: improvisation aside,
standards abound from cooking methods to levels of doneness and seasoning to appropriate storage procedures. “[It] must be admitted that understanding the scientific principles of boiling an egg will be more useful to many more people. If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly.” (Hervé This, Molecular Gastronomy). Still, the majority of us ignore the science. We assume the “composition and structure of food” chemistry and focus in on the craft of cookery – transforming and manipulating our groceries into delicious edibles. It’s almost as if, absent-mindedly, we put that steak onto the grill with knowing expectation that its composition will change into something we enjoy. The essence of great cooking can be tasted when inspiration meets knowledge meets skill – culminating in memorable and blissful indulgence. Who of us doesn’t remember each and every morsel of the best things we’ve ever eaten?
Running is no different. I’ve spent most of my blog space proselytizing the biomechanical side of it, trying to help you understand the kinematics behind running movement. You’ve read about everything from footstrike patterns to falling angles. You’ve heard all about my pet peeves with regards to the teaching of better running form, as I’ve tried to be a guidepost for your quest to move efficiently and injury-free. But what I neglected to remind you, through the preaching and research, is that this is also an artistic pursuit: great runners move so effortlessly and beautiful. Like eating, running is about transcending the science; here, by coordinating the sum of our physical parts beyond the over-simplified idea of “putting one foot in front of the other.”
Timing is critical. Great chefs have a “feel” for when things are done or should be added. Comparatively, great running technique is about sensing the proper time to act. The patience in letting a soufflé rise is akin to allowing the body to rotate precipitously – and trusting the outcome. We can’t control the science, the interplay of forces (external and internal) that dynamically create the movement impetus. But we can negate it’s effects by not following the recipe, by adding too much or not enough to the mixture: acting contrary to our anatomical design and basic human need.
So many of us cook without formal training – and it shows. We lack the accumulated know-how and finesse of an experienced chef. Why we’re blown-away by tremendous food quality, depth of flavor, presentation and clever cart du jour comes as no surprise. Eating well makes it difficult to do the alternative – just consuming calories for the sake of biological necessity (economics aside). However, we do it anyway. Grabbing something out of sheer hunger. In the same vein, substandard running (rife with injury and poor performance) doesn’t stop us. We have an appetite to move: stress relief, weight loss, competition, endorphin rushes. Artifices that motivate us to put on our shoes and head out the door. Are there times when these cravings should be ignored? When our urges obstruct our running precision? Where aptitude needs to be the precursor of refinement?