Friday, September 3, 2010

Bare Your Sole?

I don't think it's either just my imagination or that I'm reading different bloggers than before, but the last year seems to have seen an awful lot of people talking about barefoot running. For a time, I considered getting a pair of Vibram Five Fingers but decided that I need more protection where I run than the VFFs would provide.

One of the reasons given for running barefoot or in very minimalist shoes is that it forces you to run naturally, meaning less heel strike and more mid- or forefoot. Recently, I came across several blogs that seem, to me, to bring common sense thinking to this issue, and related issues. They're not anti-barefoot but talk more about footstrike and the results (benefits, negatives, neutrality).

  • Elite Males in Slow-Motion at the 2010 Boston Marathon -- video clips of Cheruiyot, Merga, Kebede, Kigen, Goumri, Keflezighi, and Hall at the same point (about mile 17) of the Boston Marathon. Hint, they don't have the same footstrike patterns and they are all very fast -- sub-5 minutes per mile.
  • Bare Your Sole? Just Shorten Your Stride -- talks about how to reduce stress on knees and hips (one of the touted benefits of barefoot running) by increasing stride rate or turnover which reduces overstriding.
  • On Running Form, Variability in Elites, and What it Means to You (and Me) -- using stills from the same video clips that he used in my first reference above, Pete Larson looks at footstrike, arm carriage, and body orientation (straight up versus forward lean) variability among elite runners.
  • On Running Form II: Where Should Footstrike Occur? -- this was the most striking of all the blogs. Larson addresses the question of footstrike occurring in front of the center of gravity, directly under the center of gravity, or even behind the center of gravity. He concludes that the optimum is ... well, check the blog.
On a personal note, I briefly considered trying a pair of very minimalist shoes -- actually one of the Vibram Five Fingers line. However, given the kinds of surfaces on which I run (really bad roads in Nairobi, Kenya), I decided to stick with my Etonic Jepara SC's.

After a really odd injury/joint condition (pelvic symphisitis) that hit me around Thanksgiving last year (late November, for non-US runners), I ended up not running at all for about 7 weeks. One problem, though, was that my appetite didn't diminish and I ended up gaining about 12 unneeded and unwanted pounds. When I finally was given the green light to run again, it was awful. Even before the injury, I was struggling with my endurance -- I think it had to do with both a greatly increased travel schedule and a period of near burnout. What I've discovered is that at 56 years old, it's much, much harder to lose the excess weight and it's much, much harder to regain one's fitness level. While I'm still running slowly (9-9:30 mpm), I seem to have had a break through this week. I've run farther and, on 2 of 3 runs, faster than in a long time. Today's run was the longest in Nairobi (i.e., at altitude -- >5,000 feet) since mid-November -- 4.6 miles at 9:36 mpm -- and, while a hard run, was very satisfying. So, maybe I'm getting back.

Run well, y'all,
Bob
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