Thursday, May 31, 2012

Finding My Form

When I started running, I never really thought much about my running form.  It wasn't until I started training for Ironman that our coach at the time had me start doing running drills and working on my running cadence.  Apparently running off the bike was easier if you kept your turn over higher and your strides shorter.   The goal was to be as light on your feet as possible.  Given that fact that I was a heel striker and a shuffler, this was a challenge for me.  I tried and tried to get my cadence up to the ideal 178-180 foot strikes per minute range but I couldn't.  Not without spiking my heart rate.  So I continued my shuffling, heel striking ways until I found out about a company called Newton Running.   Triathlete Craig Alexander was one of the first supporters of the company, which is ironic given that he already has amazing running form.  But whatever, to have an athlete of that caliber wearing your gear is a huge coup.  The majority of triathletes I know are always game for gadgets and gear that will make them faster and more efficient so it wasn't surprising to see these flashy shoes on the feet of many an age grouper.  Newton claimed that their shoes aided your ability to run "more naturally.  You can read about their technology here.
Needless to say my interest was piqued.  It took a while for the shoes to become available in Canada and thankfully it was Running Free that ended up carrying them so I got a nice little discount on them.  I do believe that they are still the only place in Canada that you can get them.   I got my first pair for Christmas in 2009.  The Newton Motion All Weather.  I was so excited.  I wanted to go out and run in them right away but because they are so different than a regular running shoe, you need to ease into wearing them.  Newton has a list of instructions that come with the shoe and there are a multitude of resources on their site and on their You Tube channel. Much like breaking in a new pair of orthotics, you gradually increase your mileage in them until your body is used to them.  One thing I noticed immediately was that I felt lighter on my feet.  I wasn't shuffling anymore because I physically couldn't.  The shoes have lugs on the sole of the shoe at the mid-foot / ball of the foot area that force you to land there and push off, thus hypothetically eliminating the need to heel strike.  I say hypothetically because even though my running form has improved immensely since I switched to these shoes, I still find myself heel striking a bit.  I can see it in the wear on my shoes and I have photographic evidence from various races (see below...look at that!!)

So what's the big deal about heel striking?

Well, other than the fact that it's incredibly jarring on your body, it's like having the emergency brake on while driving.  In aerodynamic terms it creates drag.  Drag=more energy required to move forward.  This is not what you want when you're running, especially when you're racing.  You want your motion to be easy and fluid.  Don't get me wrong, there are some really fast runners who do heel strike but you if watch an elite runner, you'll see that their feet barely touch the ground when they run.  They are incredibly efficient. 

I don't seem to be slowing down any but I do have to wonder, if I could eliminate any heel strike, could I go faster?  Given that I won't start ramping up my mileage again until mid-July, I'm thinking now might be the time to take a look at fine tuning my form even more and banishing that heel strike from my running repertoire for good.  I've ordered Danny Abshire's book Natural Running and I can't wait to get it so I can work at finding my form.

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