Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Oh, the pain!

I’ve been tinkering with my running form. I‘m making the transition from being  a mid-foot runner to a forefoot runner... which some experts call “natural running”. It’s been a couple of months now, and I feel as though I may have it down… almost. Admittedly, I still need some work…  and what I mean by “some” is “a lot”. Why the change? For every reason the pro-natural running community touts… easier on the body, running longevity, efficient bio-mechanics… but the most important reason for me… speed. For a slow runner like myself, speed is the goal.

I started picking up bits and pieces on “natural running” in different articles. The articles mostly talked about the barefoot strike and the inherently natural inclination for the foot to want to strike on the forefoot and not the heel. … coupled with a brief meeting with Crossfit Endurance Co-Founder Doug Katona several weeks back who preaches that the best runners are forefoot runners, I started to wonder, sometimes aloud, “Can natural running improve my efficiency and speed?” So I made the change to find out.

The changes have been slow and painful, which my calves can attest to. But I’m not certain I could blame the running form entirely as I also changed my shoes to a natural movement shoe… which for me was a pair of Nike Frees...

These shoes are a just a hair more shoe than the Vibram 5 Fingers, which I don’t think I can ever wear…  but these Nike Frees are light, airy, and offer almost no support… perfect for natural running.

Most of my runs were short runs of 4-6 miles. The first few times out, my form would degrade and I would catch myself landing with a thump. I wasn’t getting it. It wasn’t until I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougal did I start to understand how un-technical running could be and just how much easier it is to “run easy”. The books is about a hidden tribe of Indians deep in the Copper Canyons of Mexico that possess an ability to run hundreds of miles without rest or injury and a great race between them and some ultra-marathoners from the U.S. But the underlying point to the entire book is that we were inherently made to run. He calls it evolution… I call it God’s wonderful design… but I’m trying to prove that out a little by putting his knowledge to practice.

I can honestly say I see some improvement. I ran a 5K over Labor Day at a 7:55/mile pace. Not a blistering pace, but fast for me and a vast improvement over my 8:15/mile pace I had put up just a couple of months before. It was enough of an improvement to me that I figured I had it down… speed and efficiency was in my grasp. Fast forward a couple of weeks to the present and all I can do is wish that I could walk without a limp. Yes, an injury while using my new running technique has put my upcoming half iron distance race in jeopardy…

It happened at the Pacific Coast Tri this past weekend from my bike to run transition. I think I may have been a little over zealous in taking the run course on. Instead of a light easy stride off the bike, my pace was pounding and furious out of the gate… but close to mile 1 I felt a sharp pain in my Achilles. The pain soon took hold and my sub-23 minute hopes for the 3 mile run became a pedestrian 24:26.

So I’ve had time to reflect… time to regret a little as well… I don't think it was the form, but the practitioner... I don't blame the shoes, but I do blame the runner... but regret aside, all I can do is hope and pray that I’ll be ready to take on the 1.2 mile swim, 58 mile bike and 13.1 mile come September 25th… lesson for me this time? Ease into anything new… from new running form to running shoes… even from the bike to run transition… ease into it… after all, those few minutes I think I’m gaining really mean nothing when I’m  injured and laid up wishing I could lace up my shoes… and man, am I wishing I could go out for a run right now.

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