Running with less effort

As a software engineer, I try to get the most done with the least amount of effort. That approach has bled over to other things I do in life, including running. Ten years ago when I wanted to run  I would lace up the shoes, head out the door, and give little thought to form, perceived effort, recovery — I just ran as fast as I could, for as long as I could.  This stopped working about five years ago, when I started to get all kinds of running ailments. Plantar fascitis, hip/back problems, shin splints, etc.

This made me pretty sad because (a) I love to run, and (b) I love to eat even more. Without running, I was on my way to blimpdom, joining a long line of pasty geeks who started to resemble trapezoids as the years went on. Fortunately, before I threw in the towel, I decided to see if there was something I was doing wrong, biomechanically speaking.

Turns out there was quite a lot I was doing wrong. First of all, I was landing on my heel and rolling through to my toe. As powerful as that felt, it was actually slowing me down and stressing my lower legs. In addition to slowing myself down, I was also holding my arms out to the side as I ran, which would pull me off center because the swinging motion generated a lot of momentum, and it literally moved me over to the side that was swinging.

In short, I moved down the road like a slow, angry duck. Again, this didn’t significantly bother me until the injuries started mounting.

I stumbled on Pose Running checked out some of the videos, and decided those guys were freaky. I really think they’ve got something when they talk about form, but then they advocate running in extremely thin soled shoes to ‘feel the road’. I even read that one guy ran a 3:31 marathon in crocs claiming that it ‘wasn’t about the shoe, it’s about the running technique’. Maybe he’s right, but right now I have a hard time believing that I can run fast and injury free without some kind of padding…then I started reading about chi running. Normally I run away screaming from anything vaguely mystical/new agey due to having to deal with too many New Age people in Santa Fe, but the biomechanical advice Danny Dreyer was giving in the book was consistent with pose running and actually sounded like sound structural advice. Basically, he advocates (as do the pose running guys) landing on your mid to fore foot and maintaining a forward lean, so that you are essentially falling forward all of the time.  The leaning forward and midfoot strike have the effect of distributing the shock through your skeleton instead of your muscles/ligaments.

I ‘ve started to apply some of the drills from the book in my daily runs, and I’m finding that (a) I’m not getting injured like I used to, (b) my heart rate is lower when I run the same perceived pace, and when I run at the same perceived effort, I’m running faster, and (c) I’m enjoying the movement of running much more than I ever used to. Today I went out on a 6.5 mile run and just enjoyed the movement, kept my pulse in the recovery zone, and focused on leaning forward, striking in the midfoot, and letting my arms drop to my sides. This is the first time I’ve actually thought it might be possible to run a marathon, but I want to see if I can comfortably get some high mileage in w/o injury first. I’m going to target the usual Mercer Island 1/2 marathon in the spring — last year I ran it sick and averaged 169 bpm over the course, for a (very sad) time of 1:50. This year I would love to crush my pr on the course — 1:45 —  by running ‘easier’ :). Then maybe I’ll check out some of those shoes.

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