Saturday, December 3, 2011

Okay ... I'm All In, Kinda???

I just finished reading "Born To Run", by Christopher McDougall.  GREAT BOOK!!!  As many of you know, it was one of the key components that helped ignite the current barefoot and minimalist running "phase" that has swept the United States.  Although it glorifies dirty-filthy hippies a little too much for my taste, and is grounded fully in some half-truths and obscure scientist's THEORIES about how and why were're here today, I loved it!  Simply one of the best books I've read in a while full of great stories, and it was an fast-easy read!  I would highly recommend it!  And while I have NO intention of EVER running Badwater or Western States, traveling deep into the Mexican wilderness to chase a remote tribe, or publicly running barefoot ... it did cause me to reevaluate a few things about my running.

A few weeks ago, my wonderful wife - Michael of SlowlyTri-ing - commented, "My husband Jim very adamantly thinks the minimalist running thing is a fad, and maybe it is."  Oh Michael ... Sweetie, that's not 100% accurate.  It's not that I'm against minimalist running - or better stated, forefoot striking - by any means.  I just believe that shoe companies could market tin cans with shoe laces as the flavor of the month, and most of us would rush and buy them.  Minimalist shoes have exploded because they're the "latest & greatest" and look cool.  I'll bet about 50% of the folks who buy them have no idea why they're even on the market.

Truth is, I have been working diligently on my foot strike all year.  Long before I ever heard of "Born To Run", "Caballo Blanco", or "Barefoot Ted", I was trying to teach myself to stop heel striking.  Just a little research into the science of it all taught me that heel striking is not the way to go.  But this book really made me take a closer look and evaluate why it's not the best approach to form.  I don't at all buy into the book's message of "We evolved into runners to catch our prey", or "running makes us better people" mumbo-jumbo.  In fact, Chapter 28 (largely where the book's title was derived) is probably the most far-reaching, ridiculous, fantasy-land stretch of literature I've ever read.  But as I read, I couldn't get past one point the book repeatedly made ...  having a stronger foot will make us stronger runners!
(photo from The guy is heel-striking,
The girl is forefoot striking

I've been very fortunate with running and just don't suffer many injuries.  But this past year I really tried to analyze the gates of the world's best runners and mimic them as closely as possible.  I know that I'll never be in their class, but I figured that it couldn't hurt to try and pattern my running style after them.  I found that they are ALL forefoot strikers.  They land on the balls of their feet, not their heels!  And their foot strike is almost directly under their hips instead of out in front. So even though I ran fast enough as a heel striker to qualify and run in the Boston Marathon ... it got me to wondering just how much faster and more efficient could I get if I copied their strides?  Couldn't hurt, right?

As far as reducing injuries with this method, which the book really sells ... I'm not really sold on that either.  I think most likely as we shift to minimalist running shoes and change our strides to adapt, we'll probably just change the kind of injuries we have now.  I really believe that most injuries are unfortunately from poor genetics.  Some people just get hurt more than others.  I was a three sport letterman in High School (football, basketball, baseball), and played baseball in College.  After school, I ALWAYS stayed active in some sort of sport all my life. Heck, I was voted "Most Athletic" of my Senior Class.  (The point is, I've never NOT been doing something related to sports)  The ONLY injury I ever had was in a pickup basketball game at age 21, when I landed on another guy's foot after a rebound and sprained my ankle.   Knock-on-wood, I've just been very fortunate to this point.  But I also think my body is probably just wired differently than others who can never shake the injury bug.  So while I do see a benefit in forefoot striking by reducing the jarring force on your frame, and strengthening the foot by reducing some of the current shoe cushioning we've grown accustom to ... I think we will probably see the same amount (just different types) of injuries as people evolve into this style of running.  But maybe I'm wrong - we'll see I guess.

But all that being said ... I'm on board!  I kinda have been for a while now.  But for the past two weeks more than ever, I've focused on landing on the ball of my feet and not my heel.  I've also made a conscious effort to shorten my stride and lean forward a little.  I'm probably becoming a student of the POSE method more than any other.   Who knows, I might even shop for a pair of minimalist shoes this weekend.  But let's not get carried away! And seriously ... pick up a copy of "Born To Run" ... it's a great book! (And of course I was kidding, who doesn't love dirty-filthy hippies!)
... be great today!


  1. That book is great! Got me thinking too....but what really got me thinking was my neighbour telling me that her brother started using the pose method...really trained with it (with a coach) and he ran a 2:29 marathon at age 50!

  2. Well you know I buy in! And yes, I got injured with own fault though by doing too much, too soon. I really love that I have changed my stride. It makes such a difference in how tight, or rather not tight, my legs are. Whether or not I will ultimately be faster with it is yet to be seen, but I wouldn't mind it, I can tell you that!

  3. I read that book and loved it. The thing that I got most out of it was the delicious recipe that he shared from one of the Spanish ladies that made them flapjacks before their run. I have tried it myself and absolutely LOVE the combination of rice, cornmeal, oats, bananas, and milk (I didn't buy goats milk like called for) in my batter mix. I actually make this up in huge batches and cook it in the waffle iron and then freeze them and pull them out and toast them before a morning run. Sooooo delicious!

  4. I have not had the chance to read this book, but I share a lot of the same feelings with you. I don't think that eliminating shoes or cushion will eliminate injuries.

    Maybe that is just because I think that everyone has different needs. I think the problem is that we are trying to find one "master" solution to the injury problem when there might not be one.

    Everyone needs to find their own style in my opinion!

    But great book review, I might have to read it over my break.


  5. I've always thought that most injuries come from having a body that's not biomechanically perfect and then asking too much of it. But I do agree with moving away from the heel strike and increasing cadence rather than stride length to increase speed.

  6. I ran for 30 years as a heel striker and that all caught up to me over a year ago and landed me with the heel from hell injury for 18 months. I changed my heel strike to a mid-foot strike (and strengthened my imbalances) and no more heel pain. Traditional shoes will make you heel strike, minimalist (low heel-drop) give you a fighting chance to mid-foot strike. I'm not sure I'll be faster from this new foot strike (and it was NOT easy to adapt, took about 4 months and a lot of frustration before it just became natural) but my first half marathon after a year and a half off was pretty impressive (for me).

    Have you heard of Chris McDougall's "100up" ???

  7. I'm not sure what the POSE method is. How is it different from forefoot striking?

  8. I LOVED that book, including that fact that some of his stories were laugh-out-loud funny. As for shoes, I believe in mixing it up--I like running truly barefoot but only if it's on a nice glass and litter-free athletic field. I know there are advocates of barefoot running on concrete, but it makes my teeth grit just thinking about it. And while I'd like a pair of minimalist shoes, I know I mainly want them because they look cool. I do fine in regular shoes and I don't think I heel strike most of the time.

    Greg McMillan sent a sensible article about this issue in email last week. If you're interested, let me know and I'll forward it to you.

  9. I have not read the book yet. I tried Vibrams and did not like them, but have been wearing Newtons for about a year and a half. Still undecided how I feel about it though :D

  10. I enjoyed this book also, but I'm one of the old school "hold outs" This comes from my injury free running. The whole, "if it's not broke, don't fix it attitude." As long as I'm running healthy, I'm trying to stay with whats working for me.

    On the other hand, maybe if I had changed my form months ago, I would have run a few seconds faster yesterday, and PR'ed. (hee hee)

    never say never, but I'm still waiting for the long term outcome. I'll let others do the research and then decide. I'm never on the front end of the curve

  11. I'm still waiting it out, too...I'll be interested to see how/if you will work this in and what the outcome will be.

  12. I loved that book - I totally buy that a stronger foot = stronger runner...but I am just not ready to toss my sneaker yet either. I know tons of people who this worked for though!

  13. I really enjoyed the book and agree as far as foot striking and form goes.
    I am still on the fence as far as minimal shoes or even totally barefoot goes...
    It is hard to change form though...

  14. The book is great! I read it a while ago and got so much from it.

  15. If you are serious about forefoot running check out the 100 ups. Supposed to help, I have been trying this before every run recently. Not sure if it has helped but if nothing else it causes me to think more about my form as I run.


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