I believe my metamorphosis is finally complete. I have finally adapted into a pretty significant tweak I was working on with my running form. It was not always easy and at times was quite painful. Like anything else ingrained in our lives’ daily habits, change can often be difficult. I had to remind myself to be patient, I remembered to listen to my body along the way, and I remained flexible to altering my path as necessary.
Before finding my natural running form.
A few years ago I made a major change to my running form by moving from a heel striker to a proper natural running form utilizing a fore-foot strike. I will not get on my soap box here right now about why running with a heel strike is so horribly, biomechanically incorrect for every upright walking bi-ped on the planet. The photo above is the result of trying to run 100 miles on very rugged terrain with very improper form.
It took me about 2-3 months of thinking about where my foot was striking the ground with every step I took. One day while enjoying a jaunt on the trail it just clicked. Last year I ran almost 4,000 miles in the shoes above completely injury-free thanks to my corrected form. At an average of 1,000 steps for mile this means that I logged 4,000,000 steps in these shoes.
There is only one problem with this. As good as these shoes were to me last year they have a major design flaw in my opinion: They have an almost 12mm heel-to-toe drop in the sole/cushioning of the shoe. Why does this matter? Stand on the floor in your bare feet. Your heel and your toes touch the ground at exactly the same level. Your foot has no drop. It stands to reason that your shoes should mimic this. More goodness on this topic at my friend Patton’s website HERE.
4,000,000 steps last year in a shoe with an elevated heel resulted in my Achilles tendon shortening from its natural length. So about a month ago 2 months ago I started running in Newton racers and a few weeks later in the Newton trail shoe. 4 years ago Newton came on the scene and turned established, conventional thinking about running on its’ head! I was so excited about my new Newton’s that I went out and cruised a 16-mile run in them day one. Big mistake! They felt great during the run, but after my Achilles was barking mad at me. My 80 to 125-mile a week regiment had just been brought to a grinding halt.
Once I figured out that some serious adaptation in my Achilles tendon had to take place I attacked this concept with zeal. My runs became shortened to less than 5 miles each. To compensate I would do multiple runs a day 6-8 hours apart when I could to try and keep some mileage up. One day I had to shut it down after about three miles and limp home the last 2 miles. That was a miserable feeling. Anytime I was sitting somewhere I had it elevated with a bag of ice. Foam rolling religiously. Lots of walking in my new 2mm drop shoes to let me Achilles elongate. All told it took 3-4 weeks.
There were moments I thought it would never happen. I jumped on the phone with Patton after the day I had limped home pretty dejected. I took away two additional mini-adaptations relative to my running form that proved to be very important to my success. The first was that I should be LIFTING my foot off the ground not pushing off the ground. More details on the why behind this HERE. The second was that I was flexing my foot as I struck the ground instead of landing with a very relaxed forefoot, allowing my foot pad and toes to spread out, and then quickly lifting off the ground. All of this should be done at about 180 steps per minute. That is fast foot turnover that is low impact and wildly efficient in many ways!
Guadajuko has perfect form. Check out his foot spread. Caballo Blanco's dog photo by the greatness of Luis Escobar.
All of these efforts to adapt and continue in my evolution as a runner culminated this morning on the trail. Last night around midnight we had a very severe storm flash across the Metroplex, leaving the trail very slippery. I was excited for two reasons: I love to run in the mud. There would be no one else out there but me slogging it out! My plan was to run the 8-mile loop 3 times at a very steady pace similar to what I would use in a 100-mile race. The trail was glorious to say the least. 75 degrees and the sky was an indescribable shade of blue that I can still see when I close my eyes. For 5 hours the entire 200 acres was all mine. If I had not run out of fluids I would have pressed on for another loop or two.
My patience and perseverance was rewarded today as my Achilles performed perfectly all day. There was not any swelling or tenderness later either! Another aspect of the day that delivered just as expected was in the area of mental clarity. 5 hours with nothing but the wind in the trees, my feet on the trail, and my soul soaring!