Thursday, June 16, 2011

Stride Stalker

Have you ever been sitting by the window in Starbucks or Chipotle and seen runners glance in the window as they pass by? You might be thinking that they want your latte or burrito, which may be true 50% of the time, but the other half of the time they are probably checking their stride and posture! My favorite store to run by for a posture check is Pottery Barn, which has 4 display windows for me to look in and no opportunities for protective glances from people thinking I’m going to swipe their food.

Since beginning barefoot running one month ago I have become obsessed with watching every runner’s stride and fine tuning my own. I watch strides when I’m in the car, the bus, and when I’m out for a run.  

What is so different with your stride when you run barefoot than when you run with shoes?

1. When you run with shoes, most people land on their heels because the shoes provide good padding there. If you were to always land on your heels when barefoot running it would hurt! That is why you naturally land on the midfoot or forefoot when running barefoot. Training yourself to land differently is tough stuff. At first I kept lifting my knees, thinking that was how you land on your midfoot better – but my quads got so tired. It wasn’t until I watched a slow motion video on Vivo Barefoot that I started to learn how to pull my feet back instead of lifting the knees.

2. If you keep a longer stride then you are leading with and landing on your heels – and we already covered why you don’t want to land on your heels when running barefoot. Running with shorter, quicker strides makes it easier to land on your midfoot and it is more efficient for barefoot running. Many people ask, but don’t you get tired if you run more strides? I have not found this to be the case – actually, I feel more in control and my legs feel like they get more continuous recovery time. When landing on your heels, most people tend to run about 110-120 strides per minute; barefoot veterans suggest that 180 strides per minute is optimal for barefoot running and landing on your midfoot. I haven’t timed myself yet, but I compare my stride length to other runners and pretend I’m doing the waltz. Basically you want to be counting 1-2-3 or 1-Mississippi every second. It’s not as fast as you may think – and counting in your head really helps shorten the stride and focus on the midfoot.

Looking back on my first month of barefoot running, I have to admit that I was so incredibly frustrated with my stride and initial awkwardness. I am now up to running 2 miles barefoot and 1.5 mile in shoes (without orthotics) and feel fantastic with no pain. I still have to check in with my stride a couple times each run, but it doesn’t require as much effort as at the beginning.

Side notes and warnings to the wise (or un-wise):  1.) Be careful running on new types of surfaces. I roughed up my feet on funky blacktop over Memorial Day weekend and had to take 3-4 days off between a couple runs before they were pain-free and back to normal.Only soreness, but still a set-back. 2.) Be careful running after a storm. Tons of small twigs and sticks were down after a storm here, making my runs on grass like land-mined obstacle courses. I got my first small bruise on the bottom of my foot from a hiding twig - but I didn't notice it for 2 days and it doesn't hurt to walk or run. It's really not as bad as it sounds!