April 19, 2011

Birth of a Minimalist.

It began a couple of years ago. I had the urge to start running again. 

Over the years, running has always been something I enjoyed but rarely stayed committed to. The monotony of it all...the injuries that would follow; it was too much to keep with. The routine (and the lack of results) just didn't motivate me enough to continue the day-in-and-day-out pounding. For one reason or another, I would fall off the running bandwagon, only to try it again at a later time with little change.

During my running tenure, I have worn countless shoes from just about every company.  Nike Air Huaraches, Saucony Shadows, the Asics Gel Nimbus... these are just a few of the brands I laced up over the years.  Some of these were my favorites at the time, giving me months of enjoyable running (well, enjoyable may be too strong of a word).  But none of these models could ultimately spare me from the eventual injury that would sideline me for days or sometimes weeks. 

In all candor, many of my injuries were most likely caused by user error; not stretching enough, increasing mileage too quickly, no measurable goals, bad running form, etc.  So I am NOT blaming the shoes; at least not directly.  It's on this point -- bad running form -- that I want to dwell for a bit.  Because all things being equal (and I know they're not), the shoe itself can only do so much.  It can cushion, it can stabilize, it can protect, it can minimize. But it can not make up for poor running form.  No shoe -- no matter how expensive or loaded with whiz-bang technology -- can overcome the strains put on a body from poor running form (or being slightly overweight).  Worse, shoes can actually hide issues or inherent weaknesses.   Shoe company catchy slogans and marketing fluff will never change that.

Two years ago I caught a glimpse of something that held out hope of transforming my running, and my enjoyment of it.  It was a concept called Minimalist running; also called Barefoot running.  There is a distinct difference, to be sure, but more on that at a later date.  For me, it was simply a revolutionary concept that held out the prospect that running could once again be a joy; a painless joy.

So I started.  As I do with many things, I researched a great deal before tossing out my running shoes and hitting the pavement unshod.  I read reviews, articles; anything I could find to help me understand this new (to me) way of running.  It sounded intriguing.  And if I could experience even half the benefits of this running technique, I was in.  I was at least going to give it a try.  So I started by purchasing my first pair of Vibram KSO Five Fingers, and with little or no prep, out the door I went.

It took me a while to change my running form, but it was not awkward.  In fact, it was comfortable; I found movement and momentum more natural and freeing.  In essence, over the weeks that followed, I had rediscovered running.  Or more likely, for the first time. Yes, a "barefooter" was born. 

The experiment is now almost two years old.  To date, no significant injuries, aches or strains. Will it last? Time will tell, but I am enjoying stronger legs, calves, feet and ankles.  And that can only help my running.

So what is good running form?

Stay tuned.