Learning to run on my midfoot

I have a confession to make: I’m a heel striker. Rather than landing gracefully on my midfoot, I crash into the ground heel first on every stride. Okay, not when running uphill. And it’s probably not that bad when I’m just out for a slow jog. But the faster I run, the more exaggerated my heel strike becomes.

Heel striking may have contributed to my injury in early April. I was in the best shape of my life and I figured I was capable of running a 1:17 half marathon in Vancouver. I did an amazing workout on a Thursday morning, and on Friday my left knee barely permitted walking. It is impossible to know exactly what caused my injury, but suffice to say it was the accumulated stress of not only the mileage I was doing, but how I was doing it. I ramped up my mileage two weeks before I got injured. Maybe that was a mistake. Perhaps I wasn’t doing enough stretching or strengthening?

After a few days of denial and torturous debate with myself, I decided to pull the plug on Vancouver and focus on recovery. Every runner knows how painful it is to make that choice. My decision was made easier on account of up coming travel plans. I will spend June and July at Lornah Kipligat’s High Altitude Training Centre in Iten, Kenya. And I don’t want to show up hurt!

In preparation for my trip I read Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn, a fantastic book documenting the author’s experience in Kenya. In his book, Adharanand describes how he transformed from a heel striker to running on his forefoot. His primary technique was running barefoot.

A week into my recovery I decided this is my opportunity to rebuild, rather than just recover. Like Adharanand, I too want to arrive in Iten with a proper running style. I hope my new technique will reduce injuries and improve my running efficiency. I am currently in the fourth week of my rebuild. I initially experimented on the treadmill running only a few minutes at a time. My calves screamed with the unfamiliar stress. My rebuild will take patience. Too much too soon and a torn calf muscle is surely the consequence.

Last week I got frustrated with not being able to run longer than 15/20 minutes at a time. So I laced up the old trainers and did a few 10/15 km runs. And that was a mistake. My pea brain can’t handle both running styles. So from now on, only barefoot running until I have built up the required lower leg musculature. Only then will I introduce racing flats, and then progress to heavier trainers.

Yesterday (Sunday), I did 5k in the local school yard and I had no residual calf soreness this morning. Since today is a school day I decided to relocate to a grass/dirt trail near my house. After 1.5k of running I landed on a sharp twig and it hurt like a sonofabitch. Fortunately no damage was done. Not wanting to risk acute injury, I decided to complete my run on the adjacent asphalt path. That got a bit uncomfortable on the soles of my feet which aren’t sufficiently calloused to handle the friction of pavement. So I put my socks on. And I think I have discovered what may be the best minimalist shoe on the planet: a $1 pair of sport socks. I managed 5.5k, and as expected, I finished with tight calves.

A strong head wind picked up near the end of my run today. Leaning into the wind, my legs turned over effortlessly. For the first time in a month I felt like a champion.

The experiment continues.


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