Back to Basics: Running Form 101

Thursday, January 8, 2009

To start year 2009 right, I decided to go back to basics. I bravely - if not foolishly - set as goals the completion of marathons, duathlons, aquathlons and triathlons for this year. To increase my chance of success, I have to do things right. So the first week of January, it was back to basics for me.

Running Form 101

Early in December I discovered I have been running with a weak left foot. Everytime I ran hard or fast, I suffer from sore left heel afterwards. It turned out I have a low-arched, weak left foot incapable of doing a midfoot strike and absorbing the brunt of my still being overweight. My left heel has been taking all the hit. For most of December I slowly taught my left foot to land midfoot. Slowly I strengthened it and said good-bye to sore heel thereafter. I was so elated with the initial results I curiously and bravely did a 36K LSD mid-December using my newly-improved running technique. It was a long, slow distance indeed but I happily finished it with just a very slight limp on my left foot.

Having survived the 36K distance relatively unscathed, I attempted a repeat just a week after. This was the start of my undoing. With my new-found confidence, I brushed aside the fact that my limping left foot is not yet fully recovered and strengthened, and I attempted to run the same 36K a little faster. While in my first 36K I was continuously watching my form, in my second attempt I only focused on running a bit faster. I paid for my indiscretion and negligence with signs of pre-cramps at about km15. I managed to correct my form and finish till 24K, but mild damage has been done to my left midfoot. I spent the last days of December trying to recover from that mistake.

I realize several things from that mistake. First, strengthening takes time; you cannot rush it. While I may be capable now of doing minute long, one-legged, forefoot stands with my left midfoot, (something I could not do prior to December 2008), subjecting those midfoot muscles to long distance runs is a different matter. While my lungs, heart and the rest of my body are already trained to endure, my left foot muscles still have to catch up. I am only as strong a runner as my weakest muscle group. For a marathon, all parts of me have to be conditioned.

Second, I may have exaggerated my midfoot strike. In an effort to protect my left heel, I might have been exaggeratingly arching my left foot, tensing up my left foot in the process, making my midfoot take all the brunt, and avoiding heel contact with the ground at all costs. Well, the cost was a hurting midfoot that caused me to limp when I walk. Pain was written all over the outer, middle, side of my left foot. Yes, I avoided sore heel and plantar fasciitis, but I am endangering my metatarsals (delicate midfoot bones) and foot ligaments. I was also afraid of Achilles tendinitis as I was feeling some mild pain in my achilles tendon, presumably from consciously preventing my sole from hitting the ground. I was running away from plantar fasciitis only to meet Achilles tendinitis. Ayoko na itis! The sore heel goes away in 24hrs, but I may limp for life if I damaged my bones, ligaments and tendons.

For my recovery runs in January, I relaxed my left foot a bit. I figured the right form for me is somewhere between my heavy heel strike and my exaggerated midfoot arch. Where that optimal balance is, I hope my body will eventually tell me. Initially I allowed my heel to touch the ground again. There was some very slight pain again in my heel, although not as bad as before. I actually welcomed the pain; it meant I was actually making the adjustments I wanted. The midfoot pain subsided and I was not limping after the runs. The latter fact is important. I need to be able to recover fast to continue with this experiment. Pretty soon I hope I can learn and master the basics.

(Next: Back to Basics: The Breath of Life)


Anonymous January 8, 2009 at 1:11 PM  

Rico, my instincts in December was to go back to basics and things are paying off.

Good thing that it's working for you. Take care and have a good weekend!

Nora, the golden girl January 8, 2009 at 11:47 PM  

Rico, I pray that you'll discover your best running form soon inorder to prevent any injury in the future.

Palagay ko, kailangan mong bawasan ang pagkain ng taho (sa akin mo na lang ibigay hehe . . . )

See you Jan. 18!

South Park January 20, 2009 at 3:05 PM  

interesting blog especially for a newbie like me.

mind if i link it at my blog?

Rico Villanueva January 20, 2009 at 11:21 PM  

Hi South Park. Welcome to my personal crib on the vast cyberspace. Just link ahead :-)

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