On any given run as I come upon another runner, the first thing I notice about them is their running gait or how they move and used their legs, feet, joints, hips, and muscles including their hands, arms and shoulders.
Why do I do this?
During the season of my life that I was a highly trained racing cyclist, I invested over 750,000 miles into just one task…. That was to perfect teaching my legs to push, press, and pull pedals in as perfect a circle to mimic the 360 degree mechanically circular orbit of the bikes pedals attached to the crankset. We called it spinning and cadence work. In the pursuit of perfecting one’s spin some of the things that had to also be examined was where one’s hips (the upper pivot point for the thigh bones to hinge from) sat in relation to both their height from the bikes pedals at the pedals lowest point in its circular path and how far behind the axle or center of the crankset when viewed from above. From there it was a matter of making the upper body – torso, arms, head and neck comfortable and relaxed and all that came down to width – height and reach out in front of the handlebar – stem for proper hand placement for proper weight distribution front to back of the bike for cornering, aerodynamics and attunement to the handling of the machine purposes.
Why do I share this?
Because of the amount of time and dedication required to become a highly competitive and ultra distance high speed cyclist, a lot of focus is put into optimizing form and efficiency for the least amount of wasted energy output and to optimize the sensation and effect of feeling effortless even at maximal power outputs.
When I transitioned back over to running about 8 yrs ago now after several decades since last doing any amount of running it took just a couple of weeks for me to become acutely aware of how inefficient each step felt over the span of any run beyond a handful of miles. Between the hot spots between my shoes – socks and feet, the compounding trauma of mile after mile of landing friction and load to my feet, knees and hips, and the feeling that even though I was day by day adapting well in some aspects of my training load while coming apart at joints, losing toe nails, aware of huge muscle tension and joint elasticity – range of motion on a right side vs left side of the body from shoulders to toes left me initially wondering if I was just really out of running shape or did I need a different shoe or insert in my shoes to stabilize all this mess of a body so it could adapt uniformly?
I over $120 a month in different shoes and inserts, moleskin and special socks looking for the Holy Grail of what made a difference. The running gear suppliers loved me. I was a broken runner with a shotgun approach to diagnosis of a pattern of problems and was willing to throw money at anything they suggested or I thought might be a chance to fix what ailed me.
After realizing I was not going to reach my goal of being comfortable running 20-30 miles per day 4-5 days a week (which I figured would pretty closely approximate in internal effect the 350-500 miles per week training load my body had been used to for over 2 decades of bicycle road racing) due to nagging right foot, shin, knee, hip, back and even shoulder injuries and pains, I got on the internet and started googling search terms like: “How to solve knee pains from running?” and “How to run 100 miles per week?” and “How to eliminate shin splints?” and “Why do feet need orthotics?”
As I explored every link that came up a pattern began to emerge…. Those that were reporting that they had become injury free and were running say a marathon or more a month as the testing grounds for their training mileage were illustrating that they had come to realize these core things about proper running form, mechanics and the need for ground level feed back….
- The number one thing that radically changed their injury rate and healed all their injuries was realizing that sustainable running was only achieved by honoring the biomechanical design of how the bodys suspension and energy storage systems work under optimal angles and ranges of motion that respected gravity and ground forces. In simple english this means that hyperextending the foot and leg out in front of one’s center of gravity which is in the hip joints creates a landing effect at the heel of the foot of braking no different from a pole vaulter sprinting down the runway only to plant his or her pole into the “pit” and sending all that speed and momentum into the ground and into flexing the pole while using some of that momentum to left the body up into the sky to hopefully fall over the delicately balanced vault bar (Hip Joints in running mechanics)
The net results, like the vaulter is to reach to apex or top of the movement only to have zero forward momentum left and to have to restart the whole process over again to end up with the same result.
In running this is what produces the “leaping into the air” like appearance of most runners who did not grow up running on their bare soles or at least a very thin sole with no padding added.
If one digs up video of any aboriginal tribes or even watches newly running toddlers in motion you’ll see that instead of hyperextending the foot out front they appear to be running in place with a slight forward lean at the ankle level only to cause them to “fall forward” while storing energy in the landed foot, Achilles and calf muscle on landing and during loading directly under their center of gravity.
We modern humans have developed the habit of stuffing young children’s feet into shoes far to early and too often for them to develop a proper sense of feeling through their soles so they can have the feedback of what is pain free and efficient movement across the land.
Think of anything that pads the soles from the ground as various thicknesses of blindfolds placed over the eyes. Perhaps some even had small pillows or super thick layers of fabric over their eyes. Now image all the creative and disastrous experiences that are likely to come out of this behavior if one is simply sent out the door like this… Since one is told that everyone must wear blindfolds and it’s normal and it’s unsafe not to and your even told it’s cool and such despite all the stumbling and your eyes being forced crossed or even cockeyed over time from the compression against them you stop questioning consciously but something inside you still makes you wonder why people adopted the practice?
Then after attempting to go down paths the masses don’t usually take (running) you realize not seeing is causing more problems than it’s supposed to be solving and you really begin to question it.
So via the Internet I started to connect with runners who were successfully running vast distances including world record holders, those running across nations and around the world. They all pretty much expressed that I needed to rediscover feed back from my soles which meant, stop buying shoes that blind my feet and open the eyes of my soles (pun intended).
I did… The first run with my shoes in hand was only about a mile…. But a joyous mile it was… I came home with a grin ear to ear as my right knee and shins had calmed down as they recognized I was finally listening to their call.
The outcome of that first run was the realization that without padding or constriction of the bones of the foot from laces or velcro I naturally landed on the front of the foot causing the foots natural arch to act as a spring which is what arches are designed for. That huge ligament called the Achilles and that extends down from the calf to the heel and on forward to the ball of the foot (called the Plantar ligament in anatomy circles) began to store energy momentarily and release some of that stored energy on liftoff. Due to my landing moving directly down and even back of my hip center of gravity there was more a “falling forwards” sensation as if I was on a treadmill and the Earth was moving under me and I was standing still. The amount of time that my foot was in contact with the ground was much less as the simple act of shifting my weight from right to left foot and back was much less taxing energy and trauma wise than the pole vaulting like effect of my prior running form. Because landing under my center of gravity takes so little if any momentum from my forward fall there was no longer a need to push-off after landing, loading the lifting off. Finally, I had found that “Sweet Spot” that I innately knew running was supposed to be! This I came to call “LandSurfing” – Thus the term I coined….
Great example of good running form:
Some of the top resources other than my own feedback through the soles of my feet that helped me dial this process in came from these two primary sites:
Proper Running Form: http://www.PoseTech.com
Barefoot Insights and More Form Tips: http://www.BarefootRunning.com
Best Minimalist Sandals Made: https://lunasandals.refersion.com/c/b17f6