On the Run! · Training and motivation

Form-ula Run*

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Blimey, it’s been a little while, hasn’t it? A lot’s happened since we last spoke – tomorrow I start a brand-new job (So I’m a spike of excited-nervous energy); H and I’ve started the hunt for somewhere new to live (that isn’t an airing cupboard); there’ve been Mont Blanc-style highs and some real sadness to take on, so a busy old time. A lot of life admin filling in the gaps, all necessary and ageing. But the house is less scruffy.

Anyway, I’m digressing before I’ve even begun, because I am here tonight to fill you in on the merry dance I’ve been having with that e’er elusive runner’s idyll; the runner’s very own Room of Requirement –

– Yes, I’m talking about the imperfect search for the perfect running FORM.

Type ‘running form’ or technique into your search engine and you’ll find lots of articles on the subject with swathes of differing advice. In short, the more you read, the more confusing it becomes to know what you should be doing.

My particular fixation, along with many others’ I know, stems from reading Chris McDougall’s awesome book, Born To Run (check out the TED talk here.)

Born to Run tackles the gulf between Westerners’ fixation with costly motion-control shoes to support a wince-inducing, inherently ‘bad’ running habit, and the seemingly natural-born runner, embodied by the Rarámuri or Tarahumara people of northwest Mexico. Their kit? Leather sandals, love, a belly full of Chia and (at times) some home-brewed tequila. If that’s all these guys need for a 48-hour dart, McDougall writes, how are we making such a meal of it?

I’ve had my own fun with ‘form’. When I first started running nearly 4 years ago I wore my mum’s old squash shoes with no issues. Then I got some neutral actual running shoes, began upping my mileage, which lasted a good while. When time came to get my next pair, I paid a trip to the local running specialist, who took one look at my (unmoving) feet, and told me what I needed, to treat their diagnosis of ‘overpronation’, was the most supportive Asics on their shelves (circa £100+ a pop). These too, were fine; great even.

But when injury or illness stopped me from cracking my first half-marathon a third time, I decided to pay a visit to a podiatrist for a second opinion.

My funny legs are part of our family legend. The story goes that when my concerned young parents took me to the doctor as a toddler, worried that one of my feet were turning in more than the other,  the doctor’s reply was simply, ‘That’s just how she is’. So that’s just how I’ve been. It’s not something many people notice, but it’s there.

So when the podiatrist concluded one of my legs was longer than the other, and overpronation wasn’t the thing, things fell into place. Suddenly my shin splints, odd back aches while standing, and antipathy towards high heels made sense. I started wearing a slim orthotic in one trainer, and was hopeful things could change.

Then I discovered the arguments championing barefoot running and forefoot foot strike – that again, the Western fixation with ultra-supportive shoes is counterproductive for forcing us to land on our heels, when the most efficient, injury-free technique, is to ‘glide’ on your forefeet, bringing your knees up under your torso.

So over the last three weeks I’ve ditched my ultra-supportive shoes for my neutral pair, and hoiked myself up towards my toes. At first my calves felt the burn, and my pace slowed – but my strides per minute increased by 10 to 180-185, which I hear is a sweet spot to aim for. I’ve also read it takes a while to build pace and distance back up after making such a stark change – so maybe not the wisest move with a week to go ’til the Great West Run. Especially as I found, experimenting with fore-foot landing, that in certain shoes, my toes felt really bruised, and my shins, tender.

But I do feel lighter in my running, which has got to be the key, right? On my sage triathlonic uncle’s advice, I’ve also started foam rolling before I head out on the route, and it’s helped instantly.

Then today, four weeks after making the change; after four weeks of confusion, tenderness and tenterhooks, I glided. And I was me-quick. Whether it’s the start of a tough glide to marathon distance? Who knows. I hope.

*sorry. It had to be done.

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