... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Born to Run: Minimalism in Running?

First off, I want to apologize for the long lag times between posts. I am scheduled to move to the Big Island on March 29th, just 6 days away, and the logistics have finally caught up to me. I am scheduling plane tickets, car shipping, job interviews, and hotel rooms as well as finding a place for my cat, packing, sending boxes, getting my car fixed, working, trying to figure out how to take a bike on a plane, and staying on track with my triathlon training because my first triathlon is less than one month away! I am doing my very best to keep up with posts on here but I'm afraid I am a little overwhelmed.

I am, however, very motivated to write because a couple of exciting things have happened. First, I finally got my 15 mile bike ride finished without tires going flat, wheels freezing in place, or any other debacles that result in me carrying my bike several miles home. (In addition, I now carry bus fare with me on every ride to avoid the long walk home if something goes wrong! Still don't know how to change a flat...) It went smoothly, and since getting there had been a three week ordeal, it was followed quickly by a 20 mile ride. Twenty miles felt awesome; I rode to Hanauma Bay, a world-class snorkeling spot, the entrance to which is poised on top of a huge hill. Riding up and up and up to reach my turnaround point was challenging but totally worth it when I turned around and got to soak in the beautiful view of Honolulu, Diamond Head, the mountains, and the ocean. It seems that 16 miles is the point at which I start to feel fatigue on the bike, but nothing that stops me or even slows me down.

Accomplishment number two was a swim all the way from one end of Ala Moana Beach Park to the other, measured on my very first day of swim training to be just over a half mile. I remember walking along the water that first day feeling uncertain and completely intimidated; swimming the entire distance with confidence and little fatigue was extremely gratifying.

Number three is the most interesting. Having read the running cult classic Born To Run for a second time, I decided to experiment with the techniques talked about in the book. For those of you who haven't read it, it follows a group of ultrarunners who travel deep into the Mexican mountains to race with a near-mythical native tribe called the Tarahumara. The story covers many things from ultra races to diet, but the overarching theme is that we have brought upon ourselves many grievous running injuries by way of modern running shoes and the heel-to-toe strike technique of running.

The book (and a significant number of running "minimalists") posit that human beings were in fact evolved for long distance running, and that our thirst for convenience has led us astray into our current crisis of sloth and obesity. A major culprit, says the author, is our fancy schmancy ultra-cushioned, wedge-heeled running shoes. Putting the foot into an unnatural position and allowing us to clomp over anything in our path without a second thought has moulded our stride into something it was never meant to be, thus causing injuries and inhibiting our natural running ability.

Now, I know that this book has become the "trendy" thing in running -- sort of like Twilight, but for crazy people who run two hundred miles a week, so I take its content with a grain of salt, but I must admit that my curiosity was peaked. Could a struggling ballerina be helped by chucking her fancy Mizuno's and reverting to cheap sneakers?

Today on my run, I focused on landing on the balls of my feet rather than the heels, keeping my hips forward (as usual), and taking shorter, lighter strides. Lo and behold, my breathing came more naturally, my legs felt lighter, and best of all, my knee pain disappeared. It felt somewhat awkward, of course, bounding along like some sort of deranged deer, but I think that slowly incorporating these changes into my stride and replacing my shoes with flat ones may be a huge help for my knees and distance-running abilities. I'm not going to go so far as to start thinking about investing in those ridiculous looking FiveFinger toe hugger shoes, but I admit that the author of Born To Run and his minimalist movement may be onto something.

More to come as I continue my experimentations...

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