natural running

Barefoot Running (pt 4) – 10k race coming up

Hey, it’s been a while. Part 3 of this series was posted back in Sept 2009 and although I have not been blogging about my barefoot running since then I have kept at it. Slowly but surely making progress and I have decided to put my barefoot running skills to the test at the 10k Nike Prague Run on Sept 3rd, 2011. I know, it’s irony that it h appens to be a Nike event, the company that taught the world how to run wrong by introducing the cushioned shoe and the heel strike back in 1972. Anyway, the current trend is natural running and, as the fashion company they are, Nike is launching light shoes now, I guess this is when the expression “coming full circle” is appropriate!

The media coverage and the market for barefoot running has boomed since my last post 2 years ago and with that the vocabulary around barefoot running has evolved. It’s probably fair to credit Chris McDougall and his book “Born to Run” for being the pivot point for barefoot running taking off and therefore the whole idea of a running technique based on how the human is designed were refereed to as barefoot running in the “early” days.

Today, I would use natural running as the umbrella name for all things related to running as we were designed to. Barefoot running is to be very kosher about natural running by running barefoot (duhhh..) . Under the umbrella of natural running I would include POSE as one, and to my knowledge the most wide-spread,  methodology for teaching this. All the “barefoot shoes” that has come to the market in the last 2 years I would simply call “natural running shoes“.

So, back to my experiences with natural running.

I didn’t push it, I let it happen
First things first, I am not a runner! I am a CrossFitter, ex gym-rat, that enjoys running. This is important context information because I am not built like a runner (I am 95kg / 210 lbs) and I have taken the transition to natural running very slowly. A passionate runner would transition a lot quicker, maybe in 3-6 months.

In part 3 of this series I complained about my calves not being able to absorb the impact of all these kilos hitting the ground in every step and I reverted back to shoes with a little wedge and cushioning, my Puma LIFT. I did 5 to 15 k runs in those, averaging 25k per month, and by the summer of 2010 they were worn-out so I got myself a pair of Saucony Grid Type-A, a racing shoe. A fantastic shoe that I have been very happy with, very light and good ground-feel.

The key learning point here is that during the past two years I have run in lightly cushioned shoes but always trying to maintain natural running technique. In the beginning this was tough and I lost form and reverted back to more of a “heel-strike-ish” style after only 2-3 km but as I kept at it I slowly increased the distance before losing form. I believe that this slow but consistent conditioning of my “running muscles” has been very beneficial. I didn’t push it, I let it happen.

“Let the heel kiss the ground”
Second learning point. As I re-read my old posts I realize that I had got the technique slightly wrong, as one the comments correctly points out. I was taking too long strides and landing too much on the ball of the foot forcing the calves to not only absorb the breaking force of the long stride but always being tense due to my attempt to keep the heel off the ground at all times.

My 2nd eureka moment (first one) was when I saw a video with Brian McKenzie saying “let the heel kiss the ground”. Can’t remember which video this was but check out his new running series on CrossFit Journal for more on this and lots of other great tips and drills.

Keeping “heel to butt” in mind I started to run with less tension in the calves, placing the feet directly under my center of mass and letting the heel drop to “kiss the ground”. No more long strides, no more fighting gravity with my calves.

This made a world of difference for me and I found that I could maintain good natural running form for much longer distances. A combination of slow conditioning and getting my technique 90% correct, rather than 60% correct. Still need to fine tune it.

Enter TerraPlana’s Vivobarefoot Ultra
Getting more confident with my natural running technique I slipped on my Vibram FiveFingers Classic again. The VFF Classic is a great shoe but tricky to put on, too tight and sweaty and

reIntegrate - Eat clean, move freely, live consciously too funny looking for my taste, and I was curios to try one of the many new natural running shoes on the market. After some research I short-listed TerraPlana’s Vivobarefoot Ultra and I had opportunity to visit their store in London late June. Immediatly loved them and bought them.

I am now wearing these as often as I can get away with it. In the office (unless client meetings), as a casual shoe and of course when running. Now, in the summer, mostly without the removable “neoprene sock”, but I’ll probably use that through the autumn to spring.

But can I really call my self a natural runner?
I figured a 10k race would answer that question. Therefore, in about 6 weeks, on the evening of Sept 3rd I will let you know. If I manage a 10k run in my Ultras I dare to call myself a natural runner.

Fingers crossed and stay tuned.

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