Friday, July 9, 2010

Born To Run

I just made it home after a long, 11-hour ride back from visiting famIly and friends in Georgia. 1600 miles and two books on cd later I am back in Indiana. I had a great time visiting family, celebrating the Fourth of July, and visiting a friend I haven't seen in a year and half. I also made a point not to think about or do anything work related. But, after almost completing "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougal I had more blog material churning. I Recommend "Born To Run". The book is a story and an interesting investigation into the question "were we born to run?" If so, why do 80% of runners end up injured each year. The book is a little slow at the beginning, as McDougall sets the story, but if you stick with it, it gets pretty interesting in the second half. I was even inspired to run for a half-hour tonight partly from sitting all day in the car and partly by this book.

I put on my Vibram Five Fingers at dusk and hit the park next to my home. I started off slowly on the grass with my some warm-up drills. Then, moved to 100-yard sprints. As the sun was going down and after a handful of sprints my legs were loose and feeling good. I felt light on my feet, like I weighed 110 pounds, not 210 pounds. I did five more 100-yard sprints and decided to hit the road with my Five Fingers (essentially barefoot). I had only run once on the road with the Five Fingers and went rather slow. Tonight, I was feeling good and was inspired by the book. So, I set off and kept my mental check list while I ran on the road:

Stand tall
Back straight
Drive with elbows
Feet under my center of gravity
Pull heels through
Land on outside of mid-foot and use the foot and legs to disperse forces.

I moved along smoothly and effortlessly. I gradually upped my pace as I kept reviewing this checklist. Soon, I was at 8-9 mph, but felt like I was simply power-walking. I glided over the ground without any bobbing up and down, thus minimizing the impact on my feet and legs. I was feeling great, running effortless with only 7mm of rubber between me and the road.

McDougall concludes that there are many factors to why we get injured, inspite having a body that is designed to run long distances. The big two are biomechanics and musculoskeletal strength. Both of which are severely affected by modern lifestyles, running shoes, and our 'quick results' mentality. I agree with him on all of these points.

We all knew how to run when we are five years-old. We were all good runners and regularly ran at top speeds. However, a sedentary lifestyle with lots of sitting and weight gain have led most people to have an atrophied and weakened body (especially the muscles of the foot). These bodies can't handle the extreme forces driven through our feet and legs with each stride, especially with improper running mechanics.

Modern running shoes (invented by Nike in 1972) have allowed many runners to use improper running biomechanics (long strides, significant heel strikes, and lots of bobbing up and down). Rarely do people learn proper mechanics to minimize driving forces over 1000 pounds through their joints with every step. Unfortunately, we are under the false presumption that cushy, engineered running shoes will absorb this force. In reality, and I love the way he puts it, the feet are "searching for stability." They will hit the ground harder with the cushy sole versus barefoot, thus causing higher ground-reaction forces.

The last point I think is so true of not only current-day running, but of all current-day fitness. The "quick-results" mentality is a recipe for disaster. We want everything to happen quickly. We have no patience. We want to run a half marathon, but have been sedentary for years and have poor biomechanics. Twelve weeks is not enough time to expect to train for this race. You are fooling yourself. Another line that I liked, that was used in this context was "expect nothing from your running, and you will get more than you ever imagined." Great line.

The human body, with it's rubber band-like achilles tendon, arched foot, efficient cooling system, and large lung capacity, is designed to run. We are born to run, but unlike cheetahs and horses, we are not designed for speed, but endurance. Unfortunately, the most basic exercise for humans ends up being the most problematic. Not because it is a foreign movement, but because we attempted to fix something that wasn't broken.


Janet said...

Are you saying I shouldn't buy Nike for my next running shoes? Let me know now, because I'm getting new shoes next weekend.
Also...I am a cheetah :)

Dan Hubbard, M.Ed. said...

The shoes are just part of the issue. There are many other variables that go into foot health and running mechanics. Just realize that fancy, expensive running shoes will not help your feet any more than a $30 pair. I would recommend a thinner sole without an elevated heel.