I just got back from a six miler. It felt good, but I was tight. You know, like maybe the muscles needed some rest. My mileage the last couple of months hasn’t been too heavy, but I’ve been on the road for several weeks on business during that time. I think the travel and sitting in airplanes for five plus hours at a time kind of got to me.
I’m not complaining, though. My travels took me to San Diego and I was able to log morning runs before work most days. One particular run came to mind as I was stopped to look at a nice view on my run today. Let me tell you about it.
I woke up in the hotel room to discover that a soft, soaking rain had graced the San Diego valley overnight. The street surfaces were wet and shiny. Still dark and with no coffee in the room I walked over to a convenience store to get my caffeine fix. I filled up a tall coffee and felt the air temperature in anticipation of just how much to wear for the run. Just before sunrise I made my way out along the road at a slow pace to warm up. There was a trailhead about a half mile away that the woman at the front desk told me about. I had run the trail the day before and enjoyed being out of traffic and closer to the natural beauty of the area. There were two paths running parallel along the trail, one was a paved bike path the other crushed granite that was muddy in areas along with puddles from the rain.
As I hit the trail the sun rose and gave the path a brownish-orange glow. The granite surface had a wet stickiness and muddy sections were hard to discern in the early sunrise since the glow of sunrise and the color of the mud were of the same hue. Along the way I waved to other runners, walkers and cyclists. Part of enjoying a run is being friendly. It is clearly an unusual activity in San Diego since most of my fellow movers along the path seemed startled to be waved to. They all responded, but the return smile was often a fraction behind their recognition of my salutation. That’s a sorry state for the oldest sport known to man. And a topic for a post at another time.
Today I want to talk about form. I learned a lot on that trail following that muddy sunrise.
Out on the trail I decided to take a detour. It was one of those “paths less taken” moments. There was a branch off of the trail that had a gate that was very easy to go around since there was no fence. It was a steeper and muddier trail. Much more inviting and clearly no one had been there since the rain. I don’t know how long the path ran, probably less than a mile judging by the time it took me to get to a dead end.
Running took some concentration to keep the correct form while trying not to slip and slide. I used a trick I learned in cycling. I looked where I wanted to go – about 10-15 yards ahead – not where my feet were moving. Your brain is really good at carving the path you envision. The corollary is to look at where you want to land, not at what you are trying to avoid. It is actually easier than it sounds. And very dependable. Trust yourself.
At the very end of the trail there was a nice rise and it got pretty sloppy. So much so that even the sides of the trail were pretty mucky. I stopped and turned around to take in the sights. The sun was up full now, warming the branches of the trees and bushes, the scent of waking flora filling the air. I took out my iPhone wanting to capture the visual and noticed my footprint in a puddle of mud. I walked over to it and snapped a shot while I smiled and whatever hormones that make you happy flowed into my blood and stimulated my neural networks.
I was smiling because of the shape of the footprint. Minimal style is all about treading light and easy. Two things about the imprint hit me right up front.
First, it is a balanced impression. At least it looks that way to me. You can see the arch of my foot clearly and the forefoot has an even pressure to its impression. The heel is not as deep as the forefoot, which is good.
When I ran in regular shoes I was a heel striker. Muddy imprints then always had very little forefoot impression and I ran on the outsides of my shoes. It was amazing to see how the outer edges of my shoes wore out first. In my Luna sandals, the impression in the sand looks very much like a stamp pad impression, kind of like on a birth certificate. It also says that the huarachis are very much contoured to my feet and have great flexibility. A nice even imprint in mud. How cool. Then I saw the second thing.
Notice that there isn’t a cluster of mud kicked up at the heel. It is as if the foot was set in the mud and then lifted right out, like they would do with a movie star at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. And that is exactly what it means. A light touch. No pushing off with the forefoot like you do when you are shodden. You step and lift. The desire is to minimize the amount of time your foot stays in contact with the ground.
To keep the minimum contact you have to run light. You have to run easy. You need to be smooth. You focus on your body moving forward, not up and down. Lift your knees, don’t push off with your foot. If you concentrate on how your feet hit the ground you’ll get all fuddled up. Just let you foot fall naturally while you just think of lifting your knees right after each pace. Not high, like in a marching band, but enough to let your forward momentum give you speed. That is also one of the reasons your cadence is up in the 180 or higher range, Quick, light steps. Don’t push off, just lift up. With your body in straight posture you’ll have a natural forward momentum. Just let it roll.
All along the route back to the gate I saw imprints of my running. All of them looked that way. Even in the slippery mud. If your touching down light, there isn’t time to slip. It was just a great feeling to have my form confirmed in such an clear way.
I’m not 100% yet. I still have aches in my ankles and calves. It takes about a mile of running to loosen them up and then I am good to go and enjoy myself. The muscles are still adapting, but I’m in the gaining stage.
How are you all adapting? Are you feeling the strength develop? Do you feel more comfortable in the form? Are you wrestling with some issues? I’d love to hear, good or bad.