Born to Run

Six and a half hours of running over the last 7 days, including two back to back 90 minute runs in the snow. It’s probably a blessing in disguise, having all this snow down – it’s forcing me to slow right down, and to really think about my running form.

One thing that’s been on my mind a lot this week has been the barefoot running debate, or at least the ‘forefoot running’ debate. A lot of the athletes in my Wednesday track group are really interested in the idea of changing their run form to try to become more efficient, and ultimately, run further for less effort, with less danger of injury. It's the 'less danger of injury part' that interests me the most.

I’ve been reading 'Born to Run' by Christopher McDougal (brilliant book, by the way – a must read if you like running) – a story of a ‘lost tribe’ of ultrarunners from Mexico who run crazy distances without modern running shoes. I’ve been thinking a lot about how he describes that way that the Tarahumara run – light on their feet – as I’ve been running through the snow. While I’m very wary of ‘trying to change the way I run’ – I’ve found that if I imagine I’m running barefoot, the way I run changes slightly. I seem to naturally move further onto the front of my foot and land lighter. Although I’m only doing it for short distances, it’s raised my awareness of how I run – and that has to be a good thing. It’s also reminded me of how it felt to run barefoot on the beach back when I worked as a windsurfing instructor in the USA – that seems like a lifetime ago, rather than the 10 years that it actually is…

I’m reminded of something that Rudi (EIS S+C coach) talked about on his Strength and Conditioning for Athletes course a few weeks ago – a lot of the ‘conditioning’ that he gives athletes involves them doing very simple barefoot exercises and drills, either in the long jump pit (sand) or on padded mats. His feeling was that our feet are brilliantly designed to take massive loads and impacts – but that, by wearing protective running shoes all the time, the muscles, tendons and ligaments in our feet get very weak very quickly. We don't need a lot of complication - simply being barefoot will help those ligaments and muscles regain the strength they were designed to have. His idea, though, made the most sense to me – rather than putting on Vibrams and heading out for a run barefoot, after spending all day wearing shoes, the best place to start strengthening feet is when we’re not running. Walking round the house barefoot would be a good place to start for most of us!

He told a few anecdotes about very good national standard athletes who’s injuries have flared up when they’ve been short of time (exam stress for university athletes, work or sponsorship commitments for older athletes) and the first thing that they drop is the ‘foot conditioning’ work – so that they have more time for the ‘real’ training session. In reality, as they break down almost immediately as their feet are just not strong enough to deal with the training load. It’s something that made me smile to myself, as that’s exactly what I do when I’m short of time!

So I’m sitting here in bare feet as I type, doing a couple of the simple exercises he showed us. I have to be honest – I can’t see myself ever spending £100 on a pair of Vibrams and going for a run in them. But, just having my awareness raised of how I’m running – what I’m doing with my body – seems to be working for me. 45 miles run last week, aiming for 55 this week – and I’m managing to run pain free for the first time since August. Maybe there’s something in this? J

Hope you all have a great Christmas. I’m taking a week off blogging next week as I’m visiting the family, but I’ll be back in the New Year.