1 - Prevent future injury and fatigue to my aging body
2 - Improve speed
3 - Improve endurance
And after about six months of everything from dabbling in the POSE technique to full-court press break down & rebuild, the whole evolution from heel-striker to forefoot/mid foot striker has resulted in mixed reviews. Plain and simple ... it's been frustrating. And I'm not completely ready to give it a ringing endorsement or highly recommend it. But there have been some solid principles that I've taken from it that have made my running better.
1. My legs feel better than they have in 3 years!
Usually by May, I'm praying for warmer weather because winter has left me a little dinged up. But this year, despite the ongoing minor case of tendinitis that seems to continually plague my right upper hamstring & lower butt - I feel pretty good. My ankles are stronger and healthier. My balance is noticeably better. And I just don't have the overall dull leg ache that typically sets in after long runs. The more "bouncy", "cushiony" style of the forefoot/mid foot strike has definitely reduced the jarring on my body and improved my overall running health.
2. Hills are easier!
If you're a heel striker, take note of your stride the next time you take on a steep hill. Your body will naturally lean forward a little more than normal, and your forefoot and mid foot will absorb quite a bit more of the strike. When you begin training your foot to strike like this all the time, hills naturally become a lot more manageable. Since I've changed strides, instead of "swinging" my legs through from front to back, I lift them a little more from my butt and hamstrings. It can be thought of as slightly simulating more of a "running up hill" motion at all times. Like most runners, I still don't relish the thought of giant hills during a run, but they are definitely more manageable than ever.
3. My overall form is better!
You can learn a lot from a race photo. And I am the word's biggest race photo cyber-stalker. I always look up the race photos of folks who win these races or finish ahead of me to try to pick up tips from their form or running style. And there has always been a huge difference in their running style and mine. But it's becoming a little more evident in my recent race photos that I'm beginning to look like a "real runner" - like maybe I know what I'm doing. Most notably, my front landing leg was usually straight & stiff, with toe up, ready for my heel to take 100% of the impact. But in recent photos, I've noticed that my front leg is slightly bent, absorbing the shock of the strike, and I've been landing more mid foot. And although I'm bent a little too much at the waist in the two photos on the right, the overall leg position is getting better. (I breathing pretty hard in those photos at about a 6:15/mile pace in both - a little too fast for me and my form was starting to break down a little) I obviously still have a lot to learn, but it's encouraging that I'm seeing results.
1. I'm slower!
Regular readers of this blog know that this fact alone has made me really question the whole change. I've second guessed this transition over and over and over. I just feel like I've changed to a completely slower style. After all, I don't remember ever being passed in a race by a barefoot runner or someone wearing the glove shoes. (It might have happened, I just don't remember it) I'm too competitive, too concerned with the clock, and frankly too arrogant to run at a slower pace in every race. I know this will be lost on some people, but if there's a timer and they're tracking where people finish, I'm gonna run it hard. Sorry - it's just the way I'm wired. For shorter races it seems like I've built back up some of my speed, but sustaining it has been the issue - which leads to the next point ...
2. I hit the wall!
Over the past couple of years, I felt like I could run for days. 75-85 mile weeks were not at all uncommon. But since the change, I seem to really get fatigued and hit a wall at about 7 or 8 miles into a run. Now, I'm not overly concerned with this issue. I'm sure it won't last forever, and this summer I'll build my mileage again. But is it frustrating? Heck yes! It's most likely because I'm using slightly different muscles than in the past that just aren't as strong as they need to be yet. Plus, when you make this change, you have to start slow. You can't just jump right in with the same mileage base as you're used to. You'll flat out kill yourself or severely screw up your legs. So the reduction in miles during the winter has probably had an effect too. But to tell you the truth, I'm tired of being tired so early in a run.
3. I don't enjoy running!
This is by far and away the toughest thing to deal with. Changing to this new style was supposed to be a more efficient & enjoyable way of running - but it has been nothing but flat out work every time I lace up my shoes. I frequently dread runs, and I've never done that before. I think about my stride literally every single step of the way, instead of just relaxing and enjoying it. And usually by mid-run, I'm ready to be done. I frequently have the "runner who just changed everything's" version of buyer's remorse. Most of the time I wish I could change it back. But I've come this far so I'm just gonna stay with it. Most of me believes the change was best. But when I don't meet a personal expectation in a race, or training is simply not enjoyable, a ton of doubts race through my mind - almost daily.
So there it is - an honest evaluation of how the change in running form has gone for me so far. There have been some really great positives. But to be truthful, would I recommend it to anyone? Probably not! I think it has some great benefits, especially if you're someone who's injured all the time. But I really just never struggled with serious injury, so changing something that was working relatively well has been frustrating. I'm in no way an expert in forefoot striking, and certainly not the POSE technique - so I'm probably doing a lot of the training incorrectly. But all in all, the whole experience has probably been a little more negative than positive for me. But hopefully with more work and consistency, I'll turn those negatives into positieves and be back to my old running self in no time. Hope your running is going well!
... be great today!