I never gave too much thought to my running form. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
But now that I am broke, or at least my foot is, a recent Facebook post about a good-form running clinic at Phoenix’s Runner’s Den was irresistible.
I was really looking forward to going until 8 a.m. Saturday morning came. All I wanted to do was stay under the covers in my jammies, but I finally tore myself out of bed, cooked up a breakfast of coffee and migas, laced up my shoes and headed out, not really knowing what to expect.
This is Nathan. He teaches the Good Form Running clinic at The Runner's Den.
I was one of the first to arrive at Runner’s Den, and there met Nathan, the clinic’s instructor. Nathan said he ran competitively in high school and college and attended and taught the first good-form running clinics in the nation, at a running store near Michigan State University called Playmakers (the best running stores in the nation, Nathan told me).
Before Nathan learned good form, he told us that he constantly dealt with injury. After he learned good form? Not at all.
I also noticed Nathan was wearing Vibram Five Fingers of “Born to Run” fame. I own the book and have to admit, Chris McDougall makes a pretty compelling case for minimalist running. I probably would have given it a try at the time but I hadn’t experienced injury and figured I shouldn’t mess with what seemed to be working for me.
So back to the clinic. Runners slowly trickled in until there were seven of us.
Nathan began by finding out how long each of us had been running, what our next goal was and if we ever had any injuries. He took some notes and soon after had us outside lined up by some cones.
Nathan filmed us running with our shoes on and off.
Over the next hour after filming each of us running in our shoes and barefoot, Nathan taught us the four keys to good running form: posture, foot strike, cadence and lean. I’ll explain each in a nutshell.
Good posture: Feet forward, knees slightly bent, hips squarely above the feet and arms bent 90 degrees at the elbow. While running, the arms and hands should never veer across the body, above the nipple or below the waist.
Good foot strike: Nathan said runners should land on their mid-foot, rather than the heel or the ball. Landing on either of those puts unnecessary strain on various parts of the body, such as the knees. Also, the feet should land under the hips, not ahead of the body.
Good cadence: 180 footfalls a minute, which all of us in the clinic were under.
Good lean: Eyes on the horizon, head not too far back, not too far forward, and the body leaning slightly forward, not straight up.
And ran us through some drills.
Nathan demonstrated to us various ways of integrating all of these into our running, and helped us practice each with drills. Each new method he taught us made perfect sense, and I found myself repeatedly thinking, “Of course!”
When Nathan showed all of us our videos later (they were taken before he taught us what good form was), it was clear we were all pretty off. Every one of us was landing on our heels, our feet were landing well ahead of our hips, and a lot of us were too straight up, as opposed to leaning slightly forward.
Then Nathan showed us the video where he had us run barefoot. In that video, our feet naturally hit the ground more with our mid-feet than when we had shoes on. Nathan said that’s because our feet are used to so much cushion, that we allow ourselves to strike the ground with our heels; barefoot, and our bodies can’t take the impact and naturally lead us to hit the ground with our mid-feet.
Not that Nathan was urging us all to throw our shoes away and hit the pavement barefoot. But, he said: “We’re a running shoe store that advocates some barefoot running.”
He showed us what we were doing right and wrong, analyzing each of our running techniques by looking at us in slow motion.
Nathan said even running barefoot for 20 feet before a normal run with shoes on will help us strike at the mid-foot.
Before the clinic I was thinking of taking a couple of weeks off from running because of my foot pain, but talking a bit more with Nathan and my excitement in general about learning good form made me change my mind. I decided to rest for a couple of days and get back out there on Tuesday with this new knowledge.
I can’t wait to see if my foot holds up better and how these techniques feel on the track.
In the meantime, here’s a good article from Running Times Magazine that explains good running form and its history in more detail: http://runningtimes.com/Print.aspx?articleID=21511
And YouTube has an excellent video that runs through good-form running in about one minute: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q51W7dKaY94
If you’re interested in going to a good-form running clinic, Nathan said every state has one. Call your favorite local running store and ask about it. If you’re in the Phoenix area, you can sign up for a clinic on the Runner’s Den’s website: http://www.runnersdenaz.com/.
This is what more than 1,000 miles does to shoes. The right shoe is more broken down, and that's the side where my stress fracture was.
I’m a flagrant supinator.
My new orthopedist delivered this news after telling me I had a stress fracture.
What this means is I walk and run on the outsides of my feet. A lot. And that may have contributed to my stress fracture. That, and the fact that my running shoes were a year-and-a-half old and easily had 1,000 miles on them.
Besides telling me I have big feet (and that must mean they’re really big, since he deals with male pro athlete feet), the doctor told me that I might benefit from orthotics. A couple of weeks later, another doctor took my bare (and did I mention big?) feet in his hands and put them on top of what looked like a foot-high piece of blue Styrofoam. He pushed down on my knees, and my feet squished down, leaving behind an impression.
Sometime between that appointment and the day I picked up the thick bright blue shoe inserts, someone poured plaster into those impressions and remade my feet, allowing them to make customized orthotics. (I got to keep my sizeable plaster feet, too.)
My big plaster feet.
These things are supposed to correct the odd way I walk, but wearing them feels like walking on footballs. I was ordered to wear them an hour a day for the first two days, then two hours a day the next two, and so on until I was at four hours a day. The idea was to get my feet used to the orthotics so I don’t get injured in a whole new way.
Once I reached four hours, the doctor said I could start running on them.
I followed his advice until just after my two four-hour days. Then I stopped wearing them because they hurt like hell.
My foot had been feeling better, but all of a sudden it was hurting again in a different spot. I gave the orthotics a chance, but it felt like they were making my foot worse, and I was too scared to try to run with them. If they were so uncomfortable just walking, a 2-mile run or more would be killer.
My foot is still hurting, now more than ever. I did a 4-mile run last night in my regular shoes with my regular inserts and kept it to an 11-minute pace to take it easy, but that didn’t seem to help at all. My foot hurt the whole time and is now throbbing.
Part of me wonders if orthotics are just another way for doctors to make money off runners by prescribing them something that’s not all that helpful but costs more than $1,000 (insurance covered all but $30). I also bought a boot from my other doctor before the orthotics business, and that was about $400 (insurance covered two-thirds of it). The boot also seemed to make my foot worse.
I’m at the point where if I have another bad run or two, I may order myself to rest the foot, at which point I don’t know if I try the orthotics again or what.
Any advice out there would be much appreciated.
It was at mile 13 or so when I knew something just wasn’t right. It was at mile 15 that I finally stopped, 1 mile short of my goal and in tears.
I thought maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to run a full marathon, that I was weak. And, my foot hurt a little.
The next day I could barely walk because the pain on top of my right foot was so intense. I knew then that it wasn’t because I couldn’t cut it that I didn’t finish that 16-miler, the longest run so far in training for my first full marathon. It was because I was genuinely hurt.
Turned out it was a stress fracture in my second metatarsal. It laid me up for five months and still is bothering me.
I did what I suspect a lot of us crazy runners do _ push it too far.
You set a goal, and if you don’t meet it, you feel like a failure. So you do everything you can every run, often despite pain, so you can be proud of the work you put into it. I also was running on shoes that had at least 1,000 miles on them. (Hardest way to learn about the importance of responsible shoe replacement, by the way.)
I still struggle with how far to push it, but I have realized just how devastating injury can be.
During those five months off, I just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t getting the physical and mental release that I had found at the track. And now that I have it back, I’m even more afraid of losing it.
I worry that my foot is hurting because I’m overdoing it or because these orthotics that one of my doctors gave me might be doing more damage than good, or because my fracture still hasn’t quite healed.
I worry that I’m making it worse, but I’ve seen two doctors (one of whom treats the Phoenix Suns and has performed surgery on Amare Stoudemire) and had an MRI that showed I was healed but had some calcium buildup.
It’s hard to know where to go from here, dealing with a doctor’s all-clear and what can be intense pain. For now, I guess the plan is to keep trying for three runs a week, all under 6 miles, and see how I feel.
I also plan to follow guidelines I recently read on active.com on how to run injury-free. Jeff Galloway writes that runners should stick to three outings a week, go slower on long runs, take strategic walk breaks, not stretch if they have pain or injury, and be careful with speed training.
His last tip I will choose to ignore for now: “Never push through pain.” If I weren’t doing that, I wouldn’t be running right now, and that’s just not OK with me.
Read Galloway’s full article at http://www.active.com/running/Articles/How_to_Run_Injury-Free.htm?cmp=17-1-579.
It started in January 2009 with a headache that didn’t go away. Ever.
And when I say headache, I really mean a strange, unrelenting pressure in the middle of my forehead that felt unlike any other headache or migraine I had ever experienced or heard about.
The headache was always with me, but was worse at night. It was worse when I didn’t get enough sleep and was pretty bad at the office. Aspirin and pain medication did not help.
As I began going to doctors to try to get a diagnosis and searching Google for “constant headache,” other strange symptoms began. I was sensitive to light and had to wear sunglasses in the office. My memory was getting so bad I’d forget entire conversations. I had brain fog and difficulty concentrating. Sometimes my vision would go blurry and my heart would race. And I was always exhausted.
I went to so many doctors who had no idea what was going on, so I had to start eliminating the possibilities and go to specialists. I went to an ear, nose and throat guy who ruled out sinusitis, I went to a neurologist who basically thought I was nuts, I went to an internist who ran all sorts of tests on me and couldn’t find anything abnormal.
Meanwhile, the headache was so bad that I’d just come home from work, lie on the couch and hold my head. Many nights and mornings I would just cry with frustration, pain and fear.
When I did get the energy to go out and see friends, I pretty much just got drunk because only then could I forget about the pain a little.
Over time as I continued punching in my symptoms online, I noticed a few things came up several times: fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and Lyme disease. Sometime in June when I was complaining to a friend about my symptoms, he said it sounded like it could be Lyme.
I hadn’t ruled that out yet so I found a Lyme specialist in Scottsdale and went to him. Five minutes into the appointment, he told me I was a classic case and was experiencing the same symptoms as the rest of his patients. He gave me a list of foods that cause “flares” that I should avoid and put me on an aggressive antibiotic treatment.
I had a tough time believing he was right, after all I had been through, but it didn’t take too long for me to improve after I began the antibiotics. Shortly after that is when I began running, with no real confidence that it was something I’d be good at or would enjoy enough to continue after running a half marathon.
But as it turned out, running made me feel great. There was a while during my six months of searching for a diagnosis that I thought I’d never feel good again. And not to be overly dramatic, but a part of me wondered whether I was dying, that’s how awful I felt.
As I really got into running, I found that I was getting faster by the week. Literally every run would be better than the previous one, and I found that I didn’t need to stop for breaks after that first week or two. I remember getting up to 5 or 6 miles for the first time and being amazed that I had run an hour straight. The idea would have been ludicrous to me just a few months before, or even a few years before that when I was perfectly healthy, but rather lazy when it came to exercise.
In December, 11 months after getting Lyme and five months after my diagnosis, I ran the Las Vegas half marathon in 2:16. And I was so psyched about that I thought, hell, I might as well run the P.F. Chang’s Rock and Roll half marathon in Scottsdale about six weeks after that. I did that one in 2:09, and had lost about 25 pounds by then without ever setting out to lose weight.
I continued running on a regular basis until November, when I got a stress fracture. And five months of mostly rest has proven to me even more that running is key to my well-being and keeping my Lyme symptoms at bay. I started experiencing insomnia for the first time in my life and extreme tooth pain that felt like electrical currents running in my mouth.
My dentist said there was nothing wrong, but my Lyme doctor told me he believed I was experiencing a flare because I had stopped running. He said running is an amazing thing and does all sorts of good for people, especially those with chronic disease. “It gets the circulation going, the blood pumping,” he told me.
He put me on another round of antibiotics (I had stopped taking them in September because I felt so good), and I began running again in the first part of April after my doctor said my fracture was healed.
My tooth pain is all but gone, and while I rarely sleep more than six hours a night at best, I haven’t had nearly as many full nights of zero sleep as I did in February and March.
In short, it feels like running has saved my life. Not literally (Lyme disease is rarely fatal) but it has helped me feel not just normal again, but better than ever.
“No turning back.”
“From it she fled.”
“You better run.”
Deep down I think Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over” is probably a sad song but I don’t care.
The singer is escaping something that she’s afraid of _ love, happiness, whatever. The point is, she’s escaping, by running fast.
I cannot slow myself down when this song comes on. I subconsciously run faster and (get ready for embarrassing admission), it kinda makes me burst with joy.
It feels like I’m escaping. Not from good things but something as simple as the day’s worries. My incredibly stressful job most likely. And it makes me feel powerful, like I could run to Alaska.
It’s probably geared more toward women, but you should give it a listen on your next run and see if it could be your next power song.
Here’s the YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWOyfLBYtuU
In Florence, Arizona yesterday and today, thousands of people paid good money to go on a 3.4 mile “run from hell” known as the Warrior Dash.
A company called Red Frog Events organizes a Warrior Dash once or twice a month across the country and parts of Canada and Australia. I learned about the Florence dash a few days before it happened and decided to go see why the hell someone would sign up for this.
Runners have to make it through a bunch of obstacles that I hear are not really difficult. They have to climb over cargo nets, cross over and under some staggered logs, jump over some fire and crawl through some tunnels. But the signature obstacle of all 13, and really why everyone shows up, is getting over or under barbed wire over a long, waist-deep pit of mud.
I watched at least 100 people go through the mud pit.
Some showed up dressed as Superman, many guys just wore tight underwear, and others had on sombreros, pink tutus and viking horns. Some tried to slowly wade in the mud and delicately duck under the barbed wire while others dove in head first, popping up to reveal big white smiles shining through the muck.
I talked to a few of the racers out there, and none I met were avid runners. They were just out there to have fun, get covered in mud, drink beer and eat turkey legs and corn on the cob.
Here's one of the mud divers. Totally covered.
Here's one of the timid ones, trying to keep the damage to a minimum.
The dude in the sombrero is my very favorite. He definitely had a fiesta in the mud.
Is there anything greater than two confident guys wearing coconut bras? No. There isn't.
This gentleman's name is Rich Hoffecker, a 37-year-old of Phoenix. He caught my eye with his lucha libre mask. Rich says his wife got him into running recently and that they mostly stick with 5Ks. Rich said the Warrior Dash sounded like a lot of fun and that he was attracted to it because "it's not something you do every Saturday." His strategy for the mud pit was to float and glide through it, which he found faster than trying to walk it. He said the obstacles were easy and that running sucks until that great feeling afterward. So that hour-and-a-half drive and all that mud _ was it worth it? "Oh hell yeah," Rich said.
- Meet Criss Moosman, Keith Ulm, Jodi Maslowski and Anita Cervantes. They said they thought the dash sounded like fun, and their favorite part was by far the mud. “It feels like chocolate pudding,” Keith said. They said the race wasn’t at all hard, although the mesh net climb was a little tricky. Their plans for after the race? “I’m gonna sit around in my mud and drink beer,” Keith said.
It’s 7 a.m. on a perfect Arizona Saturday. I’m standing outside Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe with 22,000 other people filled with race-day anticipation. We stretch. We fidget with our iPods. We double-check our laces. We size each other up.
Three weeks before today, the doctor cleared me to run again. A stress fracture in my right foot in November had healed after a torturous few months of rest, and experimenting with a walking boot and crutches (cringe).
Three weeks before today, I never thought I’d be running my first race since my fracture. But here I was, race No. 10951 pinned to my shirt, hair pulled back and mind racing _ a familiar and good feeling.
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