Posted by: cctracker | April 12, 2012

Run Tall, Run Light!

This is a phrase I’ve probably yelled a thousand times to the distance runners I’ve coached over the years. I might add “elbows through!” if I thought I really had their attention. The fewer words you use that reach brains in ways that change bodies, the better. These really did seem to work. They still do for me now that the only runner I’m coaching is me.

Photo from SLUH XC archives

As a coach I believed in teaching running form. Many coaches don’t and they aren’t necessarily wrong. Unless you’re really willing to commit to it and build a lot of conceptual and drill support for helping runners actually improve, you might as well leave it alone. You could do more harm than good and even end up injuring an athlete.

I feel the same way about the “barefoot craze” sweeping the running world. I’ve read Born to Run. It made quite an impact on me, even after 27 years of coaching and, in fact, of teaching most of the mechanical principals author Chris McDougall advocates. But he did send my thinking to the next level in terms of how essential the forefoot strike really is and how active the whole foot ought to be on every stride. “Run light!” is great advice.

After about two years of really working on engaging the foot and staying on on the forefoot–I was always a forefoot striker most of the time– I can run 8 miles at a decent clip and almost never pound the pavement.

Photo by skeletonheb

But what if you are a heel striker or just a runner who runs and doesn’t think all that much about what your feet are doing? Should you try to get up on your toes and take off your shoes? Or perhaps just trade in your conventional trainers for one of the new “minimal” shoes?

I’d say the answer is a flat “no.” If you are into this stuff a bit, or if you are interested is seeing what a good, balanced, well-researched and reasoned piece of writing on any topic looks like, take a look at the recent NYT piece here.

It not only explains my answer but is one more example of the ever-present human temptation of  being sucked in to the posture of  “evangelistic faith” in a bold or simple truth when the actual truth, though there in the flesh and blood of experience, is complex, difficult to absorb and to apply.

“Elbows through!”


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