About two months ago I was trying to find information that would help me minimize the amount of injuries I was getting due to running. I looked over a number of articles that all told me that heel striking is bad and not the way we were meant to run. The way I understand it is our heel works more like a kick stand when we are not moving and helps us stay on our feet. When we are running we are meant to strike with our mid foot or on the ball of our foot with a nice straight back and slight forward lean at the ankles. At first I wasn't sure about the validity behind what I was reading but I kept on finding more good data to support it.
After reading I went in search of some running videos to see how this looked so I could try to do it myself. I found what I was looking for and I also found a bunch of videos that were linked to some of the articles I had been reading, which helped me get a visual of good and bad form. I decided to put new technique to use when I was able to start running again because at the time I was still injured.
About a week later while at the airport on our way to California I picked up a book to keep me busy on the plan. To my surprise the airport book store actually had "Born To Run" for sale. I had heard a lot about the book but never took the time to read until that morning. The book started out pretty slow. The writer spent a lot of time talking about his running injuries and a trip to Mexico to find this crazy... well not crazy but awesome tribe of running people. Once he finds them in the book gets good. I don't want to talk a whole lot about the book just in case you haven't had a chance to read it and want to which I highly recommend. What I will say is that the book touched on everything I read and more.
When I say it touched on more I mean it talked a lot about minimalist running and bare foot running. Now...I am not going to rip off my shoes start running bare foot. I did try it once on the road and I didn't like that to much because the road is rough and hard and my feet are not. I know there is at least one guy in Rochester I see at some races running bare foot and he is really fast but it's just not for me. I did try it in the grass and ran about a mile and I did like that and will continue to add it to my routine a few times each week as long as the ground isn't covered in snow. All of the researchers and running coaches say this is good for your feet. Running barefoot in the grass helps stranghten the muscles that our running shoes don't use. By making your feet stronger you should have few foot related injuries. Keep in mind that you shouldn't run out to your local park and bang out a 5 mile run in your bare feet. Take it slow and work into it.
Anyway, when Rose and I went for our first run in California I tried to make a conscious effort not to land on my heel when we went for both of our runs in California. Later the first day I didn't have any extra pain associated with my injury. That was the first time since the early spring of this year I could say that. I knew by the end of the trip I was on to something. For the last month I have run almost every day. At first I had to cut my mileage back some because this new technique was causing some calf pain but that didn't worry because me everything I had been reading said that this would happen.
What I have noticed is that my thighs don't get as tired on long runs, my pain is gone and my hip tightness is slowly going away. I went for 7 mile run trail run last week and really focused on trying to feel smooth. I didn't want to feel like I was bouncing down the trail but more like gliding down the trail. By the fourth mile I was starting to feel it and over the last 3 miles of my run I dropped a minute of my average pace and only saw my heart rate rise a few beats per minute. My legs felt great and by the end of my run I wanted to keep going but I had other things to do that day so I stopped and got in my car and drove home. What I noticed is that I had shortened my stride and leaned forward a little bit. I felt like my legs just reloaded when they hit the ground under me and kept me moving. This got me thinking more about one other change I have been thinking about making.
I don't want to run on my bare feet but a number of companies make a "zero drop" or minimalist running shoe. The shoes don't have the raised heels running shoes have had since the 70's. The goal of the shoe is to make you run like you were meant to run by landing on your mid foot or ball of your foot because you won't have all of the heel cushion. The shoe is also much more flexible and allows your foot to work like it was meant to work. I have not yet been to the running store to try them out yet because I am not ready for new shoes and if I like them I will want to buy them right away. I have done a lot of homework and I think I know what shoes I want to try out. The Vibram Five Fingers look pretty cool but I know they won't work for me. I have some pretty crazy looking toes. My toes are ugly enough that my older brother Todd would tell me to keep my socks on until I was married and one of the first things my wife looked at on our little girl was her feet to make sure she didn't have my ugly toes. Fortunately my daughter has nice normal looking feet. I am interested in trying what Saucony, Brooks and Merrell have to offer and would love to hear from anyone who has already tried minimalist shoes.
As soon as I try the minimalist shoes I will write more about them. Until then be safe and watch out for all of the people on the road who are not watching out for you.