Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How I Run

I have been a runner for my entire adult life. I have been a slow, bumbling runner, but what I have lacked in grace and speed, I have made up for in enthusiasm and consistency. I have completed the Honolulu Marathon, the Rock n Roll Marathon in San Diego, and--my favorite--the stupendously beautiful, tree-lined Avenue of the Giants. Each time, I placed at the bottom 5th percentile for my age group. That's the slowest 5%, mind you. :)

I have never been serious about running. My training fuels are not Power Bars nor gels nor GUs, but rather peanut butter on Pilot Bread, bananas, yogurt, and grilled cheese sandwiches. I do not keep track of my pacing at all, especially due to running with dogs. When they want to stop and sniff something, or scope out just the perfect spot to take a crap, I stop and grant them that. (I figure a lifetime of running for a sled team earns a creature the right to indulging distractions in retirement.) When they want to sprint for a bit, I speed right up and grant them that. Huskies are such wonderful embodiments of joyful running that I am not about to mess with their formula and make it conform to mine!

I'm not sure exactly why I run. In my family, weight control has never been an issue. I'm never going to be an Olympian. All I know is, running makes me feel happy and strong and cheerfully sane. I'm not vain, but I do enjoy knowing that my stamina is both a practical skill and a survival skill. If I am late for a meeting across campus, I can run to it without breaking a sweat, with my heart barely registering a tiny up-shift. That makes me feel capable and powerful. It is, after all, our ancestral form of locomotion, predating cars, bikes, and even the taming of the horse or dog. For me, running is a joyful act, and to run is nothing less than to claim our heritage, not as the physically weakest animal species, that survives by brain power at the cost of all physical abilities, but as hunters who have and still do run down game animals to exhaustion. Who, in chasing herds of wild animals, managed to populate every remotely habitable region of the planet, from valleys to mountains. On foot. Carrying babies.

Anyway, I am just finishing up an inspirational book called Born to Run. The author, a formerly bumbling, awkward runner like myself, was not getting satisfactory answers from the sports medicine community about why he had a persistent pain in his foot. He researched the history and frequency of running injuries in modern America, contrasted us against an isolated tribe in Mexico who run multiple-marathon distances on a regular basis, both for transportation and the sheer joy of it, and reached some interesting conclusions. This is neither a running nor a sports blog, so I won't go into the details, but the idea is that our heritage and our literal connection (contact) with the earth have been severed by overzealous (though perhaps well-intentioned) running shoe manufacturers who keep adding more and more cushioning and shock-absorption features to running shoes, at the tremendous cost of the natural bio-feedback mechanisms that would force us into a healthy, natural, sustainable gait. Overly cushioned running shoes, he argues, encourage and allow a runner to run with poor form, thus the rise in running-related injuries correlating with the rise in fanciness of running shoes.

I had used to run in cheap, minimally-padded shoes, and always ran with a mid-foot strike. However, when I joined the AIDS marathon team (whom I must point out that I adore, poor influence in running gait notwithstanding), almost all of my teammates ran with a heel-strike, and wore fancy, expensive shoes sanctioned by Runner's World magazine. Having never been a "real runner" before, I imitated them, to my loss. About a third of the way through the training program, my knees began to ache. However, by the end of the six-month program, the pain had subsided, so I conveniently forgot about it and carried on. I now believe that the pain was an early warning sign from my body, which I stupidly ignored in favor of my observations of what I perceived to be the experts. I was young (24) and able to overcome and readjust to the poor gait. But being young also means that you are naive and lack the confidence to trust your own body and instincts before what anybody else says or does.

This book has made me think about this. And a light bulb went off in my head.

Now I am readjusting my gait to the way I ran when I was a teenager, and I feel as strong as I did then, too. I am also reaffirming why I run in the first place. It's easy to explain to people that I do it just to exercise my dogs (you get a lot of brownie points for being such a devoted dog owner that way!), but then I conveniently neglect to point out that I ran before I had dogs, too. The truth is, I run for the joy of it, and it's fantastic to have joyful dogs who are just like me! And now I feel doubly empowered, reclaiming the gait that nature gave me!

Maybe we were indeed all born to run! I highly recommend the book.

Warning: Please do not take my little non-professional post as medical advice. This article sums up the pros and cons of the different shoe styles rather nicely. In it, the author says:

As Asics's [international research coordinator] Bartold puts it, "Elite runners can get away with a whole lot less shoe. But for someone who gets out of the office chair after 10 years and decides he wants to get fit, I think to go to a less-structured shoe has got disaster written all over it."

Note: Sorry about the time warpage on this post. My hand barfed and I clicked something I hadn't meant to, etc, etc...


Debs said...

Very interesting. I've never really been much of a runner (I ran for my school at 100m, 200m and was fairly good at cross country, but never kept it up when I left as I prefer either hiking or cycling, but you're right, a good run is great when you're fit.)

Maybe when I no longer have to carry a baby with me everywhere, I'll give running a go again. No chance of keeping up with my dog though, she's a saluki cross, who runs greyhound style!

mdr said...

It is good to do some "MILD" and "ROUTINE" exercise. Moderation is the key. Rabbit outruns turtle, but turtle lives longer. Take good care of yourself.

Rena said...

My friend used to joke that the fastest runners he knew in highschool weren't the track stars. Instead the fastest runners were the drug dealers!!

Yes, I've heard about that book and always meant to borrow it from the library. Just never got around to it. I was interested in running for about a year, but couldn't keep it up - it's fun if you keep it up, but if something comes up and you don't run for a while, oy vey! Guess that's true with everything, isn't it? Somewhere on the internet there's a picture of one of the Kenyans running the NY marathon - he's got ridiculous pronation - I mean good grief his feet ought to be running into each other with every step, and yet he's injury free and took first place. So yes, the "standard form" is not always correct.

Glad that you are running trails instead of pavement. I think the running surface has a ton to do with wear and tear on your body. And when you change it up with skjoring, even better.

mdr said...

I cannot thank Rena enough for being your caring friend and often sharing with you her thoughts and/or experience.

Rena said...

well....caring friend is true, but whether or not my thoughts/comments are valuable is debatable! Mudder, you ought to see how I handle raw chicken and let my kids play in wet clothes on a cold day like today, ha ha!

All I know is that I wish Arvay lived next door so I could spoil her doggies rotten. But if I can't have that much, then at least she keeps her webpage updated so we can all be up on the latest news, right?