Sunday, May 29, 2011

Do I Need Fixing?

Don't ask my wife that question! [rim shot] But seriously folks. . . I should be a good runner. I'm 6'1" and about 165 pounds. I've always been pretty athletic and somewhat fast/quick. Other than a bout of adolescent foot pain (which I now think was plantar fasciitis) that knocked me out of one soccer season, I have never had any issues running. It was just part of something I did while playing sports.

When I started running, I had a (possibly somewhat flawed) theory that basically had 2 parts. Part 1: Running efficiently means your energy is going forward and not up and down or side to side. Part 2: To run as fast as possible, every muscle (at least the ones in your legs) must be "engaged" in trying to achieve maximum speed. While there is probably some truth to both of these, I have started to learn that running fast and efficiently is much different when you are talking about a mile (or even a few miles) and longer distances (for me 10k+). Running efficiently means using the right muscles and using them in a way that they will last the whole distance.

So that is the source of my latest running conundrum. My apparent flaw in Part 1 is that by getting my energy moving forward, I was running very upright (too upright by popular convention) with had a very long stride (over-reaching) which caused me to heel strike. This was all part of my "plan" to roll my feet to keep my head nice and steady (like when I was in marching band only faster). My problem with part 2 was that I was giving each stride a little extra push forward off of my toe (when I had the energy to do so). The result was almost constant calf soreness and, when I was running longer distances, "runner's knee". I just assumed the calf soreness was a sign that I was building up the strength I needed and the runners knee was unavoidable due to my age and the mileage needed to train for marathon distance. The calf soreness wasn't too bad and usually went away after the first few strides of my run.

Now I "know" a little better. I know that heel striking can place extra strain on my joints. Along with the rolling action I was thinking was making me more efficient, was most likely slowing me down due to the deceleration during the heel strike and the lack of recoil from my achilles tendons sapped more speed and caused me to use more energy. I "know" this. I have bought into these aspects of running science as sound scientific theory with good physics behind it.

So here is my question, how much do I "fix"? I have switched to a shoe with a more natural sole alignment and have been working on landing on my midfoot. This is something I can do without making drastic changes to my form. However, I still tend to run more with my hip flexors than my quads (picture someone on a NordicTrak) and when I do engage my quads I feel way too "bouncy" and even though I think I am faster and it seems to take less energy, I still don't like all of that up-and-down movement. There has to be an in-between right? There must be a way for me to run the way I am comfortable (both physically and philosophically) and still be running "right", right?

For now, I am going to just keep putting in the work, trying to stay injury free, and let the form work itself out.

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