What I Learned in India

I had a full week off for yet another Afghan holiday last week, and decided to sneak in some quality, low-cost outdoor time by flying over to India for a few days (no seriously, low-cost…it’s only a 90-minute flight from here).  Since I can’t run outside at all in Afghanistan (or bike, or walk, or do anything outside), I figured I’d see how my indoor training was stacking up to an outdoor, real-world environment.

Just 3 weeks ago, I quit running heel-toe almost cold turkey, and I wanted to see if my new form would make the grade when I didn’t have the controlled environment of the treadmill to keep me safe.  I started adapting my form by letting my body decide exactly how it would shape up, and all I would consciously change would be my strike – I would strike on the balls of my feet now rather than on my heels.  I found my body shifting forward, but not enough to compensate (at least on the treadmill) for the new angle of my foot striking the ground, and so I found my foot smacking loudly at every pace.

I DID notice, however, the following: with heel striking, I have major pain in the area of my bone bruise/stress fracture on the inside of my lower left leg after EVERY run (nagging for over a year now…), and long runs would put me out for 2-4 days (super annoying when trying to build volume).  BUT…with forefoot striking, all of that pain went away.  And I mean ALL of it.  Even on longer runs, I was ready to go again right away.   The only problem was the huge pressure that this new style of running was putting on my Achilles tendon – not something I want to abuse since I have a full season of treadmill running coming up (notoriously hard on the Achilles).

So what did I do?  I went YouTube shopping for a nice half-way solution that would (hopefully) give me the best of both worlds.  And what did I find?  Well, I think just that!  “Midfoot” striking.  Awesome.  Check out the video below that explains this form of striking quite well.

India was all about testing this out in “the real world”, and it worked!  The highlight was an 65 minute run at an 8:30 pace in which I tweaked and experimented – all just getting my body position and my foot striking where I wanted it, and all within the structure of “good form running” as described above.  Not only did I finish the run with zero pain on my chronically crappy lower left tibia, but the pressure on my Achilles compared to forefoot running seemed to cut way down.  A few subsequent runs taking advantage of the vacation from indoor training proved the same, and I was left to bask in the sunshine and natural beauty of Rishikesh well dreaming of a much-less-painful return to training.

Rishikesh, India...not a bad getaway, eh?

So all in all, I learned the following about my running form – and running in general:

COMPARISONS

  1. Heel strike running hurts my bones and jolts my lower back
  2. Forefoot strike running hurts my Achilles tendon and strains my calfs
  3. Midfoot strike running doesn’t hurt my Achilles nearly as much, but still takes the pressure off of my bones

BENEFITS of MIDFOOT STRIKING

  1. Leaning forward and focusing on striking my foot directly below my body provides an extra bit of seemingly “free” propulsion
  2. As this blog (LINK) points out, midfoot striking “lessens injury, because landing on your heel ‘opposes the natural way your foot lands when you run’. When you land on your heel, your ankles and knees have absolutely no chance of minimizing shock…When you run midfoot, your foot has a chance of minizing impact. Your calves act as shock absorbers. Your ankles and knees suffer less impact.”
  3. Reading on a few forums, the consensus seems to be that midfoot striking is faster.

WORDS OF CAUTION

  1. With forefoot and midfoot striking, I found that in the early-going, a loss of focus can mean slamming your feet with more of a jar to your bones than heel striking
  2. Going cold-turkey away from heel striking is painful – doing it again, I probably would have been more gradual about it (building up over 3-4 weeks maybe
  3. I am still trying to figure it out, but it seems that midfoot striking saps more energy than heel striking.  This may be a make-or-break at the Iron distance (or maybe just have to build strength there).
  4. Do NOT run with a banana through a gang of Langur monkeys.  Tried it, and I was left nutrition-less on my run because of it.  Next time, I’m sticking with Gu – much lower street value (I swear those monkeys had intimidating tats and brass knuckles).

See what I mean?! These guys are hard asses!!

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