Guest Post by Radek Bulva
Year 2014 so far has been unlike the last couple of years. Since I was a kid I could have run whenever I wanted and wished so. Never mind that until a few years ago I barely did so. In early summer 2009 by a strange concurrence of events I bought a pair of running shoes and, even more strangely, started running more or less regularly. A few months later I registered for a half-marathon race next spring and since then I have been in it without pretty much any major interruptions. Until this year.
At the very end of last year I developed IT band syndrome on my right leg. What started as a minor pain in the final kilometres of one easy run, quickly turned into a major pain in the ass. Long story short, after trying to run with it for two months I decided to take a break from running for a couple of weeks and use the free time to try to figure out what had gone wrong. In the end, I tracked the origins of my problems down to my poor running form.
Mountains of paper (luckily, mostly digital paper) have been written about running technique in the last couple of years. With barefoot- and minimalistic-running being all the rage since the release of Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, most of the attention has been focused on proper foot strike, i.e., the way the foot hits the ground. In some quarters, almost a religious belief that the forefoot strike is the only right and proper way to go developed. Though not sharing the unconditional enthusiasm for it, after reading dozens of more or less balanced articles and posts on this topic, the forefoot strike seems to me to be more natural and efficient than the heel strike as well.
Nonetheless, what I find striking about the endless discussions about proper foot strike, is the amount of emphasis being put on its capacity to cause less/more injuries. For one, there is not a single rigorous scientific finding that would prove that either foot strike type leads to fewer injuries and all the arguments are at best backed by anecdotal evidence only. And for another, as anyone who ever struggled with a running-related leg injury and had the time to read up on it would probably agree, the origins of most of these injuries are to be found in disbalances in other parts of the body and are only rarely related to foot strike.
When this realization set in, it made me think and refocus my attention to the aspects of a good running form other than the foot strike, mainly to the correct body posture. While a decent amount of material on this topic is available, at first I found it frustratingly vague and confusing. Expressions like “run tall”, “lean from your ankles”, “keep your pelvis neutral”, “lead with your hips” did not convey much information to me and with hindsight I dare say at least some of them are if not misleading then certainly ambiguous. Anyways, I took a deep breath, summoned all my patience and gave it a go. At first, it felt awkward and unnatural, but after a while I started to feel some progress.
In the next couple of posts I would like to go through all the essential findings from my research on a proper running form and running in general and combine them with my own insights and experiences I have gained and all the lessons I have learned (usually the hard way) so far on my journey to a better running form.