Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Slow down, you're moving too fast


My calves, it seems, like to sing a little Simon and Garfunkel from time to time.

One of the principal challenges faced by most runners who embrace barefoot or minimalist running is the transition to a new running form. Barefoot running forces encourages a mid/forefoot landing coupled with quicker, shorter strides. This loads muscles and connective tissues in ways that the body is not accustomed to if one has historically used a longer, heel-strike running form. Ask anyone who has tried barefoot running, or read any blog on the topic, and you will invariably see some comment about muscle pain in the calf, and sometimes some tenderness in the tendons and ligaments in the foot. Even elite ultradistance runners who regularly run in more minimalist shoes experience the trademark burning calves when they switch to footwear that more closely emulates barefoot running.

The place where this becomes a problem is where the desire to push through the pain in search of ever better performance butts up agains the fairly immoveable timetable of transitioning to barefoot running. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, as Americans, we want everythign yesterday. (This is probably a fair characterization of most folks these days as we struggle with the "hurry-up" of modern day society, but I'll use this opportunity to take a few friendly jabs at my countrymates.) We tend to be very results oriented and have a tradition of "toughing it out" in pursuit of our goals. This is probably more true of those of us with more type-A oriented personalities, especially if the transition in running style comes as an individual is already at a high level of performance or is traning up for some competitive event. I remember reading a lifestyle piece in the Wall Street Journal where a guy refused to rest because he was training for an ultra. Not only did he miss the race, he ended up sustaining an overuse injury. 

My transition to barefoot running comes as I'm trying to get back into distance running. It's frustrating to struggle to push to such mind boggling distances as two miles. I'm not used to increasing my distance in 1/10th of a mile increments. But I try to remind myself that If I do it right in the beginning and take my time, I'll be rewarded in the long run. Next up, Dog Jog Madison!


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