Fitness Article – The Science and Art of Running Part II (Final)

If you run 100 miles a week, you can eat anything you want — Why? Because
(a) you’ll burn all the calories you consume,
(b) you deserve it, and
(c) you’ll be injured soon and back on a restricted diet anyway.
–Don Kardong

First off, humans are great when it comes to running. Author of the ground breaking book – Born to Run explains (Do take a few minutes to listen, if you are a runner this will benefit you immensely).

You are more than what you think. Far greater.

Running – Our latent potential

Running causes overuse injury and somehow we link running long distances to a sure ticket to chronic injury and pain. Yet if we were to go back 10000 years, running injuries were unheard of. And marathons according to some prehistoric tribes (which currently still exist) were no big deal when they were doing 100 mile runs for hunting and gathering. An exerpt from wiki pedia on our latent athletic prowess – Do note that the Tarahumara still exist as a tribe in North-western Mexico.

“The Tarahumara also use the toe strike method of running, which is natural forbarefoot running. The long-distance running tradition also has ceremonial and competitive aspects. Often, male runners kick wooden balls as they run in “foot throwing”, or rarajipari competitions, and females use a stick and hoop. The foot throwing races are relays where the balls are kicked by the runners and relayed to the next runner while teammates run ahead to the next relay point. These races can last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days without a break.”

Why aren’t we great runners ?

In short we have awesome and kick-ass latent stamina. More so than we think we are capable of. So why do we huff and puff after a run down a block of steps or a short jog to catch a bus ?

Avoid running injuries, strengthen your feet

Because we don’t have to run in modern society and the pain we associate with running. Imagine in school when you were forced to run, in whatever gait possible under a certain timing which you never trained for in your sedentary years as a student, This would probably shape your perception of running, its painful and extremely tiring. And most of us would not run unless we are forced to.

Our  tendons and muscles are not developed from young, so our bodies are not well developed for distance. Running on concrete in high-tech shoes can change our biomechanics in running, increasing the risks of injury, so a marathon in heavily cushioned shoes and concrete floors with a weird heel-strike gait using heavily cushioned shoes is a sure ticket to messing up your body. This explains why we are not great runners, we are not trained and equipped to run long distances. So ……

Throw away your shoes

Have you ever seen a toddler walk, they probably would walk with a mid-foot strike, meaning that it would be the most natural form of running. Traditional running shoes create a problem of ineffective gait.

Yes, Nike and Reebok pulled a fast one on you. Their impeccable studies on running has actually led them to conclude that to protect the feet they decided on stiff soles and arch supports. Stiff soles and arch supports are great in encouraging heel strike and weakening your feet. Weak feet and heel strikes promote crappy running posture, when you land on the heel you over-pronate, it causes rotation on the tibia and causes pain on the knee (In layman terms heel strike causes you feet to rotate and grind your knees to injury).

There’s tons of literature on the evils of the heel strike. Yet, Nike, Reebok and Adidas are making tons of money promoting shoes that are meant to make running comfortable but end up making it very painful in the long run. That’s commercialisation for you, with expert knowledge thrown around like Godiva announcing that mil choclate reduces weight.

The advantages of throwing away your shoes or getting minimal shoes are many. Which include

Stronger feet especially in the arch. A healthy foot is a strong foot, one that pronates less and is less liable to develop a collapsed arch.

Develop strong feet and grace But try not to balance on your feet like that.

Less energy used. as the forefoot strike uses the natural springs in your foot and calf muscles more to store and release energy. Instead of pounding the muscles and making them act as suspension for the impact, use your body as a spring to efficiently recycle energy from each stride (its like bouncing on a ball).

Minimal forces on your feet, running actually becomes more enjoyable. Shoes weigh a lot, multiply it by the number of times you lift your feet and the wasted energy from heel strikes and it makes running like swimming with a tugboat strapped on you.

In conclusion, you do not need cushioning for your feet, when you barefoot run, you automatically reduce the impact that your feet makes with the ground (or your will learn minimise the impact to because its very painful). Forefoot running is optimal in reducing impact by using natural mechanics of your body provided you have sufficient protection from abrasions (use minimal shoes if you are not a sucker for pain, otherwise developing hard calluses is a painful process).

Perfect your form 

Essentially running as about cadence, posture and technique. Perfected running technique has been described as effortless, fun and playful. It is almost an ART-form and a beautiful expression of our physical prowess (No we are not born cubicle dwellers, we were once proud hunter gatherers who now dominate the world). Anyone seeing a ballerina dance would easily identify the grace that efficient and effortless running entails.

Cadence - I mentioned previously about cadence, which is important because if you take less strides per minute, you would probably be placing more force and friction on one leg, to minisie it, increase the speed at which you move your feet and minmise your stride.

Posture – Its important not to slouch because unless you are looking for a back injury, a arms relaxed shoulder blades back and straight posture would benefit you more in the long run, it also opens up your lungs when you keep a straight posture enabling you to breathe deeper.

Technique – Mid-foot strike leaning in to generate momentum. Running should feel more effortless as you perfect this (and you should feel like you are running on springs).

Here are a few good sites to learn more about barefoot running

Good Form Running – Intuitive and easy to understand, all in one diagram-type of explanation. Recommended.

Beginners guide to long distance running - A good and sensible approach to running when you are starting out.

The Human Body is built for distance - On why we are the most kick ass runners, and why people running on sandals had less injuries than us when they did twice the distance.

Balanced Running – Learn more about running from a professional physio. Sensible advice.

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