Natural Running

Call it what you will – Chi Running, POSE Method, natural running, etc.

I’ve been running (or, as I like to call it – lumbering) pretty regularly for over a year now.  I’m still doing pretty low mileage and I still walk more than I’d like and I’m the slowest guy on the trail, but let’s call me a runner now.  Not a good runner, just a runner.  I was recently thinking back on my previous attempts at running and can always remember them failing due to some sort of running related injury.  And, I don’t think they were just injuries related to me being fat and out of shape, as they only seemed to come up when I tried to run and not when I was doing other things like biking, racquetball or weight lifting.  Usually, the injuries were pain in my shins, pain in the top of my foot and lower back pain.  I’m not talking about the good pain like you get from a great workout, I mean pain that prevented me from running and occasionally had me walking like crippled old man.  So what’s different now?

I think I can point to a couple of things.  First, I really started out short and slow.  I’ll probably post more about that sometime, but I think what really helped me was doing a lot of research about some of the lower impact running techniques such as Chi Running, The Pose Method, barefoot running, etc.  Basically all of the running approaches that could be called “natural running”.  There are differences in all of these, but what I really got out of them was that I was running with a definite heel strike.  All of these approaches encourage a more mid- or forefoot strike, with the idea being that landing toward the front of your feet allows your body to absorb the shock of each step more easily than landing on your heel.  I was a little torn on this at first.  I always thought that running was a pretty natural thing and that I just run the way I run.

I think that idea has a lot of validity, but I also think that in my past I had a lot of sketchy advice that caused me to change my running technique from what my body naturally wanted to do.  What I mean is that I learned somewhere along the way that I should stride out in front of my body and land on my heels when I run.  I even remember reading an article in a running magazine talking about why you should wear sport specific shoes where it pointed out that the elevated, protruding heel on running shoes was designed cushion and align your heel as it strikes the ground.  But, my research told me that maybe that isn’t the way it should work.  I read plenty of books, magazine, and websites and watched way too many videos.  But, I thought of how my kids ran when they were young and just doing what came naturally.  So, I tried to incorporate more of the natural running approaches into my own running.  I think I’m striking much more toward the front of my foot now.  I say I think because, believe it or not, it’s hard for me to tell for sure.  But, when I do things like look at the wear pattern on my shoes or look back at my footprints on a wet trail, they seem to show more of a mid- to forefoot strike.  Along with the more forefoot strike, I seem to be shortening my stride and increasing my turnover (RPM’s, basically).  And, when I do increase my stride, it’s starting to feel a lot more natural to extend it to the rear than the front, which allows me to avoid heel striking even with longer steps.

The end result?  I’ve been running now for over a year with zero injuries and hardly any discomfort when I’m running.  To be sure, landing on the forefoot is a change and I’ve had other areas become sore, but I haven’t had any pains that made me want to stop running.  In fact, I haven’t had any shin splints, knee pains, foot pain (other than shoe related, which is a whole other conversation!) or back pain while running in over a year.  In the past, I was done with my new running program within a couple of weeks, but this one is still going strong after many months.  I have a ways to go and will probably take a clinic from a certified instructor soon to try to refine what I’ve learned from the videos and books, but so far I call this natural running thing a winner. If you are like me and really want to run, but haven’t been able to due to various aches and pains, give natural running a shot. It may work for you.