Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Running - only barefoot style


Following a break from running for two months In 10 days I’ve reduced the time for a 5km run by 10 minutes and appear to be relatively “doms” free already. The doms seems to be more related to distance than to speed. Once I’m sure there are no doms in the days following a run I’ll start to increase the distance incrementally and try to maintain or increase the speed. The Etape du Tour over a month ago now had left my lower back a bit fragile and aching – due to being forced to switch from chi-cycling mechanics to the opposite (follow through with the hips) to switch muscle groups and avoid crippling cramps. Running seems to help the back to recover more quickly and I feel noticeably better after each run. I’d entered the Etape race with only 1000 miles (1600 km) of cycling in my legs this year – which I now believe was the core reason for my struggles. You really want about 2500 miles (4000 km) to be well adapted for such an event. I’ll ask them to move the event until September so that more people can have the opportunity to be properly ready. The Tour of Spain will be on in September – perhaps they do an “Etape du Vulelta”?


Working on technique to avoid calf muscle doms meant focussing on a midfoot landing but without the foot coming ahead. I’ve noticed that with Vibram Five Fingers the foot only gets hurt on a stone chip if it’s allowed to get slightly ahead of the body. The pain in the foot is not caused by standing on the stone chip but because of the deceleration of the body cause by the foot landing too far ahead. This deceleration multiplies the impact load of the body on the ground and drives the stone into the foot. Once you realise this it becomes great feedback for correcting the stride. When you are attentive to the stride – working to avoid the foot going ahead – there is never any pain under the foot – even running on gravel chips.

Along with stride form I remembered to get the cadence up to around 90 strides per minute. This might seem to rapid a stride, but at slow speeds you just take shorter strides and this then helps any work on avoiding over-reaching. Eventually the pace was increased by lengthening the stride behind the body and using a strong core (psoas) to recover the leg from behind. When the core is used correctly and strongly you feel a rotation in the spine but more than that you feel the muscles of the lower abdomen and midsection becoming the centre of the whole action. You need to relax the hips and use gravity to fall forwards – avoiding any unconscious tensing up – then just use the core to recover the legs and with the upper-body and arms countering the rotation and contributing to the internal action. It’s a combination of harnessing gravity and removing internal resistance. Most energy is wasted due to fighting both against gravity and against yourself.

Christiane has just re-started running after a two month break and seems to have forgotten everything she had learned about technique. That surprised her but not me. Our default “mindless” approach to activities such as running comes from a delusional assumption that such things are so natural that we just do them instinctively and don’t need to  learn. In contrast you wouldn’t expect to play a guitar very well if you hadn’t touched it for two months because there is no way to play well without an obvious amount of learned skill being involved. The interesting thing about running for me now is not “performance”, but skill and awareness plus the fact that this involves an endless process of development and personal discovery. I see people out with the local running club and all manners of running are apparent. What’s clear is that there is no awareness or even any attempt to work in this direction – each person just running however it happens to come to them – all different. Their focus is on distance, speed, intervals, power, acceleration – but issues that involve skill, perception and awareness don’t get a look in.

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