Know it all ... "How's the marathoning going?"
Me ... "Awe, pretty good - just running a lot."
Know it all ... "Your knees killing you yet?"
Me ... "No, I think I just have good genes. I really don't seem to get hurt much."
Know it all ... "But you haven't ruined your knees yet?"
Me ... "No."
Know it all ... "You will."
I think I just shrugged and said, "Hope not" before I quickly found somewhere else to mingle. But even though the only thing this oaf knows about running is his mouth, he's not definitely not alone in his general perception and engrained theory of running ... ANYONE OVER 30 + RUNNING = INJURY. And the more I run, I think he might be right.
In December of last year, I had just completed about 5,500 miles in 24 months. I was simply exhausted, and the familiar end of the year sore ankles, arches, and feet were setting in from the pounding they'd received throughout the spring, summer, and fall. I've always been a really healthy runner, and even though I put on more miles than most folks, I've just never really battled any serious injury. The main thing I struggled with was chronic tendinitis of my upper hamstring - the area immediately below my butt. But the more and more I read about snapped Achilles, broken hips, chronic Plantar Fasciitis, MCL & ACL surgeries, etc, etc, etc, it seemed like I was probably running on borrowed time and sooner or later, all of the miles would catch up with me. So at the end of 2011, I decided to make a somewhat preemptive strike and fix a potentially huge problem in my running ... the DREADED HEEL STRIKE!!! (ominous dramatic music here)
From my own experience, I gathered some of the facts about my current heel striking ...
1. If your heel hits the ground first, it's going absorb most of the impact of each stride
2. When your heel makes the initial contact, your leading leg is locked and rigid
3. When your leading leg is locked and rigid, it almost becomes a "braking mechanism" and slows you down
4. Because the heel gets all of the wear & tear, heel striking wears out shoes very, very quickly
People who changed to a forefoot/midfoot strike noted these facts about their running ...
1. Striking the ground with the center of your foot spreads the impact over a wider base
2. When your midfoot makes the initial contact, your leading leg is slightly bent at the knee
3. When the leading leg is slightly bent, each stride becomes more cushioned and "bouncier" like a shock absorber
4. Striking with the forefoot/midfoot extends the life of shoes since the heel is not the only thing receiving wear & tear
Making The Change
So there it was ... I would just snap my fingers and totally change the way I ran. But I soon found that making the transition from heel striker to forefoot/midfoot striker was not exactly that easy. In fact, it was A LOT tougher than I thought it would be. And honestly, I'm still not sure that it's for everyone. There are a lot of statistics that show most people attempting the change at some point revert back to their original running style out of frustration, or because they acquire a whole new set of injuries. Changing your running stride takes an incredible amount of time, focus, dedication, and discipline because it's literally a complete running transformation.
|The POSE Method, created by Dr. Nicholas Romanov, is a
forefoot or |
ball of the foot strike when you land, and then a quick "pull" of the leg
back toward your butt ... all with a slight lean forward while keeping
the back straight. It's meant to eliminate heel-striking, while focusing
on "energy loading" and using the muscles of the leg more effectively.
It essentially turns the full legs into more of a "shock-absorber" system
and meant to help you run more efficiently.
I quickly found that I couldn't do this effectively on my own. I did quite a bid of research and decided that if I was going to transition from a full-time heel striker to a forefoot or midfoot striker, I was going to use the POSE method. There are other similar running techniques such as the Chi Method, but I really liked the logical approach of the inventor of the POSE method, Dr. Nicholas Romanov. It just made the most sense. Plus, I was contacted by a fantastic POSE coach, Ken Schafer, who helped me through the initial stages and struggles. I would highly recommend Ken if you are making a change. I also received invaluable advice and coaching from Jill of Run With Jill. She really helped me with some strengthening exercises and talked me down from the "POSE Running Cliff" a couple of times!
Overall, the two most important things I did during the transformation were reduce my mileage and strength train (although Coach Schafer would probably argue that I didn't reduce my mileage nearly enough). I had to cut my mileage from about 70-75 miles per week to about 25-30 ... and it SUCKED!!! This was one of the toughest things for me to handle mentally. But I literally had no choice. I would go out for a run and either get tired or sore very quickly, and instead of creating a new injury by pushing on - I played it safe and called it quits for the day. But I soon found that strengthening my calves, hamstrings, and butt really helped with the process. I became stronger physically, which really carried over into holding this new form longer, and eventually as a natural stride.
With the popularity of the book "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall, also came the tidal wave of minimalist shoes. While the book is an fascinating and entertaining read about the evolution of running and the human body, in my opinion it's also a half-baked rant against shoe companies with dozens of years of scientific foot and shoe research. McDougall's personal struggles and failures as a runner inspire him in a blame game campaign against all running shoes with any type of cushioned heel, in favor of sock-like, paper-thin-soled shoes. You know the type ... they're flat, look a little like house slippers, basically missing their heel, and typically blindingly bright colored!
Looking for anything that would make this transition easier, I caved in and bought a couple of pairs. I was a little embarrassed to run in them because I think the whole minimalist running shoe thing is a passing fad that will be gone by this time in 3 years after a massive out-break of heel spurs. But I tried the Brooks Pure Cadence anyway. I love Brooks products and the Pure Cadence is a good minimalist shoe, but it just didn't have the same amount of cushioning that I was used to. Also, they were a little lighter than my normal shoes which was nice, but I just never felt comfortable in them and they really didn't work for me. I'm convinced that minimalist shoes work better for minimal people. I'm 6'-2", and about 180 lbs. Not huge by any standard, but slightly on the larger side for a runner. (For most races I qualify for the Clydesdale Division, although I've never entered as a plus-size runner.) The bottoms of my feet always seemed really sore after just a few miles in the minimalist shoes. And the few long runs I tried with them left my feet aching for about a day.
So I changed back to my Brooks with the big heels. I wear Brooks Ghost and Glycerin mostly. It was a little tough at first trying to land on my forefoot with a giant padded heel getting in the way. But that was because I was trying to prevent my heel from hitting the ground at all ... which is a mistake most runners make when they first change strides. Your heel actually is supposed to "kiss" the ground with each stride, even though your forefoot absorbs the initial impact. But now that I've figured that out, I run with a forefoot/mid foot strike in the Brooks Glycerin just fine.
|My Brooks Pure Cadence - good shoes - just not for me|
The tendinitis in my hamstring was a real point of frustration for me. It wasn't like it kept me from competing - typically once I got loosened up for a race, I could still go full speed. But I literally felt it almost every step I took from late 2010 until early 2012 ... about 16 months of it. It was so bad that I sought out A.R.T. (Active Release Therapy) for it - which if you know me, professional help is usually the last option. But changing to a forefoot strike forced me to shorten my stride and land on my forefoot, as opposed to lengthening it and over-striding and landing on my heel. And the over-striding was the primary cause of the hamstring tendinitis. It feels amazing to run pain-free again.
When you get to know me, you discover that I'm really a grumpy old man at heart. I hate change. I think most things "new and improved" are most often here today and gone tomorrow. I rarely do something because everyone else is doing it. And I over analyze every single detail of my life to the point of being annoying to everyone around me. Completely changing the way I ran really put these building blocks of my being to the test. I tried everything I could to disprove this "stupid forefoot strike" craze that everyone seemed to be so enthralled with. But after I evaluated it, exhausted every test I could put it though, and actually experienced results ... I can tell you that it has unequivocally improved my running like nothing else. After running 3,000 miles in 2012 ... I feel completely healthy and ready for 4,000 miles in 2013. Nothing aches. Nothing is preventing my from running my best. And I'm 100% satisfied with the transformation.
If you decide to make the transition, get ready for a long, sometimes discouraging ride. But if you're committed to it and really apply yourself, it will work for you too. I've recommended it to a few people close to me and it worked for all of them. If you have questions about changing your foot strike, I would happy to answer any that I can. I'm obviously not an expert, but I can share with you what worked for me. As always, feel free to email at anytime and I'll help in anyway that I can. Have a great New Years and best wishes with your running!
... be great today!