Saturday, May 22, 2010

Running and familiarity with one's body...

I've been exploring a different style of running for about a month now in which one lands on the midfoot or forefoot instead of the heel with each step. Without getting into that too much, I wanted to post a response from this thread on a Minimalist Runner forum:

Pain, or sensation, is objective information about what's happening in our bodies. There are a rainbow of sensations that we can experience. The way we respond to each sensation depends on it's colour. By it's nature, sensation draws our attention, but the more familiar we are with the (colour of the) sensation, the better we understand it, the more control we have over how much awareness we put toward it.

Some sensations we are familiar with. Of these, we recognize some but put little thought into them unless needed. For example, the sensation of each step as we walk, we pay little mind to unless we are traversing rough terrain. Other sensations we are familiar with, like the sensation of a pulled muscle, we pay much attention to because we know (instinctually and logically) that antagonizing this sensation means we can do great or irreparable damage to our bodies. New sensations, we pay much attention to. We contrast them with similar sensations from other parts of the body, etc. New painful sensations certainly raise a flag saying that we need to figure out what's going on.

I, also, have been adjusting to running on the forefoot over the last ~month, and have gotten to experience all kinds of sensation from my body. To begin with, I get the sore calves during almost every run. They are getting much stronger, but the sensation of my calves getting tighter and tighter during a run has gotten very familiar. It is an indicator how how much more I can push my calves until they need to repair, so during a run, if they hurt a lot, I go easier. If they feel really good and I want to push, I do. After I run, I take a day off to let my muscles repair and I am stronger for the next run.

What you mentioned about the occasional joint pain during a run, I think I can relate to. Since many of the muscles I use running on the forefoot are underdeveloped from years of heelstomping, they tire out and begin to break down quickly, per the calf muscle paragraph above. As the sensations from these muscles become more intense, we naturally try to offload the stress from them to neighboring (auxiliary for the particular activity) muscles. This puts new stresses on our joints, etc. As my muscles get tired, my form gets sloppy, and my joints start to feel it. This is my body saying that it is too tired to push hard without possibly getting hurt. When I get to that point, I don't always walk, although there's probably nothing wrong with that, but I will change around the activity some until I get home. For example, I might increase the cadence of my footsteps and pay particular attention to how softly I step, etc.

:-) In short, you're not being an argumentative jerk, you raise an interesting point. In Born to Run, Chi Running (haven't read yet), and all over the minimalist running sites, they mention listening to one's body. I think this ultimately means getting familiar enough with our bodies that we know what each colour of sensation coming from them means. We learn to be in tune with what our bodies are experiencing, in addition to our own mental games while running. When we understand our bodies well, we know when we can push further and further without getting hurt and we also know when to stop. This allows us to run closer to our limits often in a controlled manner.

On a side note, you mentioned the blister thing. One a hiking trip, we had better pay attention to that blister or we're going to be miserable and risk infection if it gets bad. I've seen pictures of ultra-marathon runners coming home w/ huge blisters, but they are running races and are planning on taking the time when they're done to care for these wounds. If you want to keep running all week long, it's worth making the effort to not get the blister.