Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Road to Running

I have always been pretty active: lifting weights, rock climbing, rollerblading, etc., but running for me usually consisted of short distances - enjoy for a moment the mental image of someone who is now only 5' 5" running  hurdles in junior high school.  I’m great at running kickball bases (the adult version), but going 1st to home often left me more winded than I'd like to admit.  Becoming a runner would be a long road and I’d have to be patient.

On the journey to becoming a triathlete, running was my first stop (well, second sort of; I've had a road bike for years and dabbled here and there, but more on that another time); however, when I began running I had no thoughts of triathlon.  I had never enjoyed running and couldn't understand how so many people found it to be anything but boring and monotonous.  Anyone who knows me well will undoubtedly remember me saying at some point how much I hated running and following that up with a handful of reasons as to why - mostly I was just bad at it.  As I’ve gotten older more and more people I know run for fitness and pleasure, and it seemed to be a great way to stay in shape, so I figured I'd have a go.


There were several starts and stops to my running career. The first was in 2007 when I geared up for the Mercedes Benz Corporate Run in Miami. To get myself ready I used the popular podcast "Couch to 5K."  It worked well enough for me to complete the race in a reasonable time, but I soon fell off the running wagon.  I ran another Corporate Run in 2008, but I didn't really stick with running until the summer of 2010.  

Here's how it went down:
I was on a business trip to Philadelphia and had brought along my Vibram KSO Fivefingers so that I could work out in the hotel's gym.  The gym was pretty sad, so my workout left me wanting more.  What should I do?  My downtown hotel was located right on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, about a mile from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the famous Rocky Stairs.  Being a huge childhood fan of Rocky (had the box set on VHS - yes, it included the dreaded Rocky V), I figured I'd go for a run, climb the stairs, throw my hands up in the air, and yell "Yo Adrianne!" where the Italian Stallion once stood.

I had owned the Vibrams for awhile (I had them before they were in), but this was the first time I'd attempted to run in them.  After the first few strides in the Vibrams, I knew something was wrong, but was it me or my goofy toe shoes?  Whenever I had run previously, I was outfitted with a pair of overly cushioned, heavy, motion controlled, hi-tech running shoes - you know, the ones they tell you that you need after some under-qualified shoe salesman watches you run on a treadmill for 30 seconds.  In those shoes my long stride (long for me), which placed all the impact on my heel and the shock up my leg into my body, was compensated for by the heavily cushioned heel and sole.  In the Vibrams the lack of cushion led to an absurd pounding on my heel, which reverberated through my entire body.  Something had to give.

With no knowledge of the newer developments in running form, and the debate over how we are supposed to run,  I switched to a forefoot strike, with quicker turnover, and less bounce.  Things were much smoother now; the heel strike impact was gone, instead my entire leg was serving as a shock absorber for my body.  My run went great, as did my stair climb, and I went back to my hotel with a proud sense of accomplishment.   

And then...

I woke up the next morning and almost fell out of bed.  My calves were completed shredded and could hardly support the weight of my body.  I've since learned that you need to gently ease into this style of running as it puts stress on parts of your body that aren't used to it, particularly the calves, achilles, and plantar fascia.  The soreness lasted almost a week, but rather than give up, I got right back on the horse and ran again.

A few days after returning home from my trip I received an email from a local running shop; Michael Sandler, the author of a book called Barefoot Running, was coming to town for an evening lecture and follow-up clinic the next day.  How fortuitous?  I took this as a type of sign (although I'm not one to believe in fate) or something, and made sure to attend.  From Michael, I learned more about what I had experienced on my own in Philly.  I purchased his book and tore through it in just a couple of days.

From then I began running barefoot, no Vibrams, just the skin on the bottom of my feet.  I began a slow progression (following the book's advice) until I could comfortably run about a mile without shoes.  While the rest of my body was getting stronger, the skin on the bottom of my feet began to protest that ultimately ended in mutiny.  I was ready for greater distances but my bare feet disagreed.
I switched to the Vibrams for awhile and gradually increased my distance (I still wonder if I had been just a bit more patient maybe I could have continued on the barefoot path, but it was time to move on).  At some point in the Vibram running phase I decided that a pair of shoes were now in order.  I tested out the practically new running shoes that were sitting in the closet but immediately deemed them unsuitable for my new running style.  Their weight alone was enough to alter my stride, let alone the motion control built into the shoe.  After becoming used to having my foot so close to the ground, these shoes made me like I was wearing heels.  After some research about footwear, I settled in on a pair of racing flats (the large selection of natural running shoes now available were just starting to hit shelves at this time).  I ended up choosing the Brooks ST4 Racers.  They were light and fast and they helped me to keep finding the joy in running.  

From there I continued to run casually (and slowly), but regularly.  I read a handful of great books to help me hone in on my form.  Most helpful was Chi Running, and my follow-up clinic with a Miami-based Chi Running Instructor - and now coach of P.R.oject 305 - Bryan Huberty.  Bryan worked with me on a series of checks that I use to body sense during my run, and some looseners that I use at the beginning.  His clinic was invaluable and has helped make me a better runner.

I feel lucky that because I had no previous bad running form habits, I was able to develop my form from the ground up and find what works best for me.  Running became free and easy for me (still slow, but getting faster every day) and I began to appreciate what so many others enjoy about running: the freedom, the calm, and the connection to your environment.

Now it was time to ride.

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