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How You Plant It

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Eleven years ago, my wife made me move to the suburbs. I wasn’t crazy about the idea, in fact, I was quite content living in our Cambridge MA condo. More than anything I hated giving up the familiarity I had with the running community and the running life I’d set up for myself around Boston.

But mostly in my life change is good. Once I got down to Hingham, I quickly realized that nearby Wompatuck State Park offered a resource that would rejuvenate my running. In Cambridge, truth be told, I was getting hurt a lot. Although, I loved heading down to the Charles River or over to Fresh Pond, whenever I did so, I was always surrounded by lots of other runners. Being a competitive freak, I was compelled to race everyone within sight and (surprise, surprise) invariably got hurt from too much up-tempo work.

So, Wompatuck offered me first and foremost solitude. Running on single-track, you rarely come across other runners particularly during the winter months. Thus, freed of my competitive impulses, I actually started going easy on days I was supposed to and saved the speedwork for the days when it was scheduled.

The other great benefit I received on the trails was a change in my running stride. Physical Therapist Peter Stone had told me once way back in the nineties that my opposing hip/knee tendonitis was a direct result of overstriding. He suggested that I take the measure of actually tying a string around my ankles to limit the length of my stride. Being a hammerhead and a lazy one to boot, I didn’t take Peter up on his suggestion and decided to just think about not overstriding instead. This new mindset lasted about 30 seconds into my next track workout when I started falling off the pace on a mile repeat. The injuries continued, my stride remained the same.

But running on the trails actually forced me to make the change. For anyone that’s ever spent some time running in the woods, one of the first things you’ll experience is a rolled ankle. I’ve been out there now for several years and still, just about every week, I have one exquisitely painful moment as my foot tries to wrench itself free of my leg. Stones and roots are the usual culprits and the only effective way I’ve found to combat them (aside from paying attention to where I’m planting my foot) is to land on my midfoot rather than my heel. This reduces the time my foot’s on the ground and eliminates the vulnerable phase of a footstrike when there is a transfer from absorbing the shock of the heel to toe off. For myself, this transfer has always provided a serious opportunity for my ankle to get rocked. By landing on my midfoot, I’ve noticed two things: 1) my foot is in a better, more aggressive position to react to a dangerous misstep and 2) my stride is shortened because I’m not going for the full extension employed with the heel strike. The shorter stride keeps my weight over my core and also gives me much better balance when I do have an awkward encounter with the terrain.

Anyway, for years, I’ve had this theory that the midfoot strike was making me a healthier runner because since I started in the woods, I have never again experienced the knee/hip complex that really sidelined me for a good portion of every year. Now, my theory seems to be getting some substantiation in a recent movement in the running world. Here is a link to the current thinking (by some) of how footstrike might be a good thing to consider when working on your running. It comes from the March edition of Running Times, which for my money, is the premiere running mag out there.

One comment on “How You Plant It

  1. Jay says:

    I did an hour Sunday evening in Wompy! See you on your next visit.

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