My little running self-experimentation.

Like most occasional runners I pick up the odd injury here and there. Twinges in my ankles, sore shins, aching knees and even lower back ache. Thankfully not all together but at least once or twice in a year I would suffer from all of them at some point. I assumed it was just a hazard of running that you had to accept. Change your trainers often, rest, stretch and don’t over exert yourself and hopefully you keep the injuries to a minimum.

But why can some people run a 100 miles week on week and seem as if they never suffer from injuries? Has luck would have it, I stumbled on a book about running. When I finished reading all I could think about was a scene from the Matrix:

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

I felt like I had taken the red pill and my eyes opened. But let’s not get carried away here, this could just be a load of codswallop! (Love that word). Even if it were true it might not be for everyone.

Let’s do a little experiment.

First I needed to look at my own running style. That didn’t go well!  It seems like I am a heavy heel striker, I have long strides, slow cadence, I lean forward and my shoulders wobble! The good news is that I keep my head still!

What do I need to change? Pretty much everything!

  • First I need to concentrate on a forefoot or mid foot strike. A heel strike sends shockwaves from your heel bone and up through your shins and knees. Your toes and the arch of your foot are able to absorb the impact of running so that the shock wave doesn’t reverberate up your leg.
  • Next I need to shorten my stride. By over reaching your stride you are putting an incredible strain on your knee. Instead I need to shorten my stride so that my knee is directly above my foot when my foot hits the floor.
  • Because I am 6ft my stride has always been long and slow. The ideal cadence is around 180 steps per minute. To achieve anywhere near this you have to shorten your stride. This helps maintain a good posture, reduces impact levels and makes you a faster runner!
  • My posture must improve. I need to keep a straight back as this puts less pressure on the lower spine. I often get lower back pain after a long run, which I now know could be a result of me leaning forward far too much. A straight back should also stop my shoulders from wobbling.
  • The last thing I need to work on is the butt! This rather large muscle, especially in my case, needs to be utilised more during running. It will help me keep my posture and also pull my legs back like an elastic band.

So, not much to do then. Not sure how I am going to remember to do all that as well as run and breathe.

This was 2 weeks ago, so how am I getting on….

I think therefore I run: Why am I the way I am.

Where’s this book been hiding all my running life? I picked this book up because it seemed to touch on both anthropology and running.  It was fascinating that there could be a reclusive tribe in Mexico, but throw into the mix that they were elite runners had me totally hooked.  As it happened any runner, of any ability, should read this book and then sit back and see your view of running change forever.

The book tells the story about a journalist who also happens to be a runner with your typical runners injuries. He goes on a journey to try and understand why he was getting injuries and others did not, especially ultra runners who would put their bodies through unbelievable tests of endurance.  In the process he learns about the almost mythical Tarahumara tribe that live in the dreaded and remote Copper Canyons, a scorched and hilly landscape where murderers and drug runners hide out.

The author finds himself on a journey to find the elusive ‘Caballo Blanco’, a supposed American who turned his back on modern day society and went to live in the Copper Canyons and learn the secrets of the Tarahumara.  Along the way we meet other runners such as Scott Jurek, probably the greatest ever ultra runner, Barefoot Ted and Bill and Jenn the new young party going kids on the block. The journey culminates in the greatest ultra marathon the world never even knew about. The best modern runners in their high tech trainers, modern training and nutrition against the Tarahumara who are naturally gifted athletes that run in sandals.

What I do love about this book is the tangents it goes off at times. Much like my mind tends to do on a daily basis.  But when you look back you actually realise the tangents make perfect sense in trying to understand our own bodies when it comes to running. The chapters on modern day trainers is an eye opener and suddenly makes you stop and question why do we buy expensive trainers? Why do we insist on having multiple pairs that we rotate through? Why do we change them after 500 miles or so? When the shocking truth emerges that running injuries have not really declined with the introduction of modern day air/gel cushioned trainers, why then do we insist on having them?  What benefits do we draw from them to justify the rather high prices we pay?

The most intriguing chapter for me was when the author in his quest to understand his own running injuries looked at the human body and what did it evolve into actually doing. To me, if you explore the purpose of the human body and what certain parts of the body were obviously designed to do, you then get that almost eureka moment.  I do think the author made a slight mistake in this section.  What I think he meant to say was that humans can take multiple strides to one breath, rather than what he actually said which was multiple breaths to one stride.  The former is correct running practice, the latter would feel like you are hyperventilating and have collapsing on the ground in minutes.

I will leave the exact details as a surprise when you read the book, but as you gather from this books title we evolved and were born to run but not how you may think.

The book culminates in the almost mythical race which is a perfect way of ending the book. Who wins? Well you will just have to read the book and by the time you get to the end you will realise that it isn’t really important who wins, it’s about running. The last person in is cheered and celebrated just as much as the first person to finish.

The race was back in 2006 and the book was published in 2009 so I had a quick look to see what has happened to some of the people mentioned in this book. The elusive Caballo Blanco died whilst out running in 2012, which you’ll understand from this book is how he would have wanted to go.  Out in the wilderness doing what he loved.

Barefoot Ted is still out there running all over the world, in bare feet and you can keep track of his adventures at www.barefootted.com or @BarefootTed.

Billy ‘Bonehead’ Barnett lives a quiet life in Hawaii, where he surfs and still runs on occasions. He publishes poetry and photographs on his blog from time to time, www.billybarnett.blogspot.com

The Brujita, Jenn Shelton, still trail runs but now has other priorities in life. @SheltonJenn.

Scott Jurek is still a phenomenal ultra runner and you can follow him at www.scottjurek.com or @ScottJurek.

Finally the Tarahumara continue to be a shy and reclusive people, but the race that Cabello Blanco started still continues and was renamed in his honour to the Ultramarathon Cabello Blanco. It is still dangerous to run, the 2015 race was cancelled due to drug related gang violence in the area. But then the people and the location is what makes this the ultimate race.