The other day I went out for a 3 mile run. I had done 7.5 miles the day before and was keeping to my mode of not overdoing it even though I’ve turned the corner on my transition to a natural style of running. About a mile and a half into the run I decided not to turnaround, but to keep going on the 5 mile route. The temperatures were in the mid-fifties and the skies were sunny. What better reason do you need to keep running? So I did.
As I turned the corner to the home stretch with less than a mile to go, I realized I had been smiling almost the entire time. Not a big goofy smile, but a satisfied grin that I couldn’t take off of my face. The energy was all around me and I was happy to be human. Happy to feel my body strain a little while I cruised up hills in a smooth glide I had just discovered.
Running is fun. It is what we were born to do. Even though I have always liked running, it has taken my conversion to natural style to help me discover the joy in just getting out there, no worry about times or distance.
What’s it all about? Let me show you two pictures I pulled from avatars on Twitter.
Don’t Be a Heel
I love the background on this shot, but look at the heel strike. Follow, in your mind, the flow of the shock that will go in a straight line from the heel all the way up to the hips and through the back. The work done at Harvard by Lieberman and by Davis shows that the amount of force in that strike is 2.5 to 3 times body weight. Running at a clip of 160 footfalls per minute, that is a lot of shock going into your support structure.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
In keeping with nice backgrounds, this one is like a dream. Look at the bent knee and the forefoot strike. The impact of that footfall is, first, going to be absorbed in the arch of the foot as first the forefoot then the heel both touch down. Due to the bent knee, the rest of the force is going to be dispersed away from the hips and torso.
The same testing shows that the shock from this type of running is a little more than the body weight. That is a huge difference in wear and tear on your body and explains how man evolved and succeeded as a running animal.
The Jump Test
I read an explanation once that asked how you landed when you jumped off a step or a chair. The natural landing is on the forefoot with slightly bent knees to absorb and diffuse the shock. Think of running as jumping from one foot to the other at 180 steps per minute. If you jump, you land on your forefoot so it should be the same for running.
It’s Still in the Knees
When I run I pay attention to a lot of things. Observation is the occupational hazard of a writer, although I started observing before I started to write. That’s a whole different discussion. When I observe I try to tie things together. That’s how I discovered that using the thumb-over-fist grip and lifting the knees slightly kept me in good form. I’ve logged over 150 miles in natural form now and those two actions bring me back if I drift.
Wrapping Your Feet
I’ve used some different minimalist shoes, too. There are a lot of good ones out there, but I keep coming back to my Luna Sandals. When I run in them there is the slightest difference than running in any other form of footwear. Don’t get me wrong. I have used Stem Footwear for cold and wet days and added Toesox for warmth and protection.
That said, when my bare feet are in the sandals I have a slightly better form. My observation is that the sandal, much like true barefoot, is very good at communicating through feel. If your form is right on target the sandals feel natural and “fit” your footfall perfectly. You start to waiver in your form and the sandal seems to slip off the foot a little. It doesn’t really. I looked to make sure. I’ve purposely changed footfall and foot direction and feedback from the sandal is immediate, although very subtle.
I love simple technology that works. Maybe that is why I am totally amazed at how well suited sandals are to running. My skepticism when I first tried them has totally evaporated. To be fair, there are a lot of good sandals out there. I’ve haven’t tried them all, but many have similar reviews from satisfied runners as the Luna’s I wear do. I do plan to try others out as spring emerges and my style is wired in.
What About the Feet?
I’ll admit I am a typical guy when it comes to skin care. My feet, being the furthest extension of my body, get the least amount of care. Maybe that’s why I wore socks and shoes almost all the time. Out of sight, out of mind. Kind of.
I’ve found that running with exposed feet does require you pay attention. Nothing serious. I put my feet up for a little bit at night. Before a run I will use some a light coating of Vaseline or Aquaphor on the toes to ease any friction. BTW, on cold days Vicks VapoRub is a great warmer for toes when you are starting off. I learned that one for the NY Marathon.
If I remember I’ll put some lotion on the skin at night. I’ve discovered dry skin gets irritated when you run exposed to the elements. Duh! Shoes let me avoid all of this. There is a metaphor there for how shoes mask sensory messages, but I’m as much at fault for ignoring the obvious.
Climbing and Falling
My form uphill and downhill is improving. The funny thing is that a bit more crouch is what makes each work better.
Trying to smooth out my uphill stride, I adjusted my crouch so it felt like I was maybe 1/4 to 1/2 inch lower at the hips. The effect was to force me into back and forth, scissor-like stride, almost like skating up the hill. It smoothed everything out and made the hill much easier to climb.
On the way down the other side of the hill I kept the slight crouch and concentrated on the crossover step. You don’t really crossover, but you use the “model on a runway” swagger. When it hits just right, and you up our cadence and work with gravity, the downward move feels natural and under your control.
I kept waiting to fall out of my sandals running downhill, but it hasn’t happened. If anything, I’ve had to learn to not tense up and just go with the flow. I don’t lift the knee as much and shorten the step a little, even though I am covering as much or more ground per stride because of the downward motion. I don’t launch up off the step, but move straight out into the natural fall. It is the downhill version of the scissor step I use for uphill.
My leg and foot muscles are still adapting, but it is a build-up, not a tear-down feeling now. For those who have built up to a long distance run, you know that each ratchet brings some new, positive strain with it. That is where I am at now. The pain of growth. Each run is better.
Each mile makes me smile. Cold, wet, sunny or dry. It’s all the same. I’m running. I am so grateful that I can run. Each step a celebration. A tie to the most ancient of my ancestors. An homage to my genetic code.
I’ve got a half marathon coming up. And I’m looking at some nearby trails to try some off road work. Stay tuned for more updates!