August 11, 2011
So for the past few years I have attempted to become a runner. As a kid I ran a lot, as a teen I was in cross-country and track. Then I quit my junior year and did not run consistently until about 6-7 years ago. Even then, I only ran in the summers and the consistency was….well….inconsistent. This year I have tried again to be a more consistent runner again purchasing a gym membership so that I can run indoors during the winter(basically forcing myself with the knowledge that I have invested money into this now).
I actually enjoy running most of the time. As expected starting out is usually tough, I get frustrated with how low my endurance is and the sore muscles…but that does go away after a while. I just have to stick with it. Last week I began reading a book called “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. The basic thesis of this book is that humans are designed to run, but modern running footwear has destroyed our ability to run without injury or pain and creating the myth that the human body was never meant to run. He talks about a native tribe in Mexico called the Tarahumara who all run extreme long distances (we’re talking longer than marathons) with primitive sandals and no formal training regimen. If modern running shoes are the key to proper running, how could this tribe of people run 100 miles in leather sandals with no support? He argues that people should shed their bulky running shoes with orthotic supports for minimalist shoes or even no shoes and he has data to back this up. There appears to be physiological data to suggest that the human foot is elegently engineered to run, WITHOUT shoes! So he has sold me, I bought a pair of minimalist shoes and went for my first run in my new shoes yesterday. Here is a picture of the shoes – in chili pepper red of course!
Now leading up to this, I have been in conversations with a friend of mine about what proper running form should be. One should not ‘heel strike’ but should instead fall on the balls of the feet when running. I have been adjusting my foot strike for about 6 months now, but in my old running shoes. It took a little discipline because typical running shoes make it very difficult NOT to heel strike. But I did it. Yesterday in my new shoes it was almost impossible TO heel strike! The first few strides felt very different from what I was used to. It felt more natural to strike mid-foot with shorter strides. It felt great…for about a half mile. Then my lower calves began to burn.
I knew this would happen though. Because modern running shoes have so much support, you actually use fewer muscles in your foot and calves causing them to become more weak. Minimalist running shoes with no support (they feel like I’m wearing swimming shoes) force you to use these weakened muscles. It will take a couple of weeks for my body to adjust, but I am excited to see if I see the results that McDougall describes in his book – less injury, more endurance, a bigger passion for getting out and running.
So as an update, I ran a little over one mile yesterday in more pain than when I have run 3 miles in my old shoes recently. I plan to keep it up in the new shoes and am excited to see what the outcome might be. I was VERY sore yesterday right after my run and thought I would be walking around like an old woman today…but am actually not that sore which is a nice surprise.
I do recommend the book “Born to Run.” Even if you are not a runner or do not wish to become a runner, it is a fascinating story about people who run incredible distances (100 miles!) and gives a solid and strong argument for human beings being natural runners. I’ll keep posting about my progress with the new shoes and new running style (it really is quite different from running in my old shoes).