Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Barefoot" Half Marathon

First run on flatter ground today. There was no plan but it turned out to be my first barefoot style half marathon. My legs still hadn't fully recovered from Sunday's hard and long bike ride and there was still a big blister on the foot from the previous run. After about 5km the blister was painful and tiredness was already apparent in the calf muscles - so a very long run didn't initially seem to be feasible.

The pains turned out to be useful for helping to focus on technique. One year ago just running over a kilometre barefoot style would have destroyed my calf muscles - so it would be interesting to see if maintaining good form would permit a complete half marathon. In fact the calf muscles improved during the run and the blister didn't worsen after a while. I became very aware of the need to avoid any hidden tendency to "push off" with the feet and this seems to have been what spared both the calves and the skin. I'd protected the skin with anti-friction cream so that probably helped to to some extent.

In terms of performance, with tired legs and being unaccustomed to running on the flat at higher pace and at this distance the performance was never going to be great - so at 1hr 56mins for a first barefoot half marathon with no real preparation I'm quite happy. There were no signs of strain or injury (other than the blister). The final three kilometers saw a real drop in pace but I expected that. 

During the run I worked on avoiding bringing the knees high and the feet too far forwards. Just placing the centre of mass perfectly so that it drives the forward momentum is an incredibly subtle thing. It wasn't until close to exhaustion near the end that the core coordination started to work properly - it eluded me for most of the run and I could feel an internal disconnection that just couldn't be corrected. Suddenly on a small hill it came together. Avoiding the knees coming too far forwards permits all the extension coming from the hip joint to be used in a manner that avoids braking. If the knee is too far ahead and the femur sloping forwards then there is an internal braking action. I also worked constantly on keeping the feet muscles active and so preventing any unwanted rotations or over-pronation. This appeared to help protect the calves and skin. There might have been issues with the calves feeling tired and some blistering, but there was no real discomfort - just an overall tiredness with the increased distance and pace on the flat ground. Increasing distance like this with standard "heel" impact running and powering with the quads - would have been much more traumatic on the body - probably leading to injury.

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