MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING
By Bob Schwartz
With much anticipation and excitement I finished my run, went inside and took off my shoes. The latter I’d done innumerable times before, but this time was different. This was the day of reckoning. After a month of my personal experiment, the results were about to be revealed. I grabbed the tops of my shoes and took a deep breath. As the suspense heightened I glanced towards my wife and requested, “Drum roll, please.”
Before revealing the results and what happened next, let me start at the beginning to provide some background. When the focus on running form became more prevalent, I didn’t think much about it. My motto was if it works don’t fix it. It was running for gosh sakes; this wasn’t a golf swing, tennis stroke or even a basketball jump shot. I recognized that form was significant for those activities and recalled honing my shot with a continuous recitation of “square your body, elbow in, bend your wrist, fingertip release, and follow through.” But running? The only cadence in my head was one foot forward, body to follow. Oh sure, I had my share of injuries over the years, but I never attributed those to form, but to a violation of one or more of the “too” principles. As in, too many miles, too much speedwork, too many fast long runs or the all too common double whammy of too much, too soon. All of which were too bad.
But then something happened. One of my running buddies told me his wife had seen me running and asked him if I was combating an injury, as it appeared that I was leading and leaning with the left side of my body and a bit choppy with my stride. The good news was I wasn’t injured but, then again, the bad news was I wasn’t injured (if that was the form I was exhibiting when healthy). Of course I quickly dismissed her recount, which led me to the only reasonable conclusion. His wife’s vision must lean to the left.
When I ran I felt graceful, fluid and nimble. Leading/leaning to the left? Really? All I kept hearing was Beyonce’s song “Irreplaceable” (“To the left, to the left, to the left, to the left”). I then realized that after 40 years of running I’d never actually seen myself run minus an occasional reflection in a storefront glass window. Sure I’d seen race photos etc. but never any actual ongoing examination of my running form. I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to how I ran, only that I ran. Maybe my form could and should be tweaked but, then again, what about many elite runners who ran fast despite quirks in their form? Such as, Paula Radcliffe running like a bobblehead, or Alberto Salazar’s shuffling stride, Kara Goucher or Meb Keflezighi’s heel striking or Bill Rodgers’ arm motion crossing his body. I then concluded that was all irrelevant because, guess what, I wasn’t elite.
So I read a lot about running form (upper body aligned, tall and relaxed; shoulders loose with forward lean; shorter stride/quick leg turnover; land lightly with mid-foot strike etc.) and decided I’d try and implement things for a month. Most importantly, I’d concentrate on avoiding my usual heel striking foot landing (inefficient braking effect and also producing more stress/impact) and aim for the mid-foot landing. Hence my experiment. The proof would be in the pudding or, rather, the substantiation would be in the sole.
After 30 days of concentrating on my foot landing, I examined my soles to see how the mid foot strike had changed my usual shoe wear pattern of the heels. Back to “Drum roll, please.”. I turned my shoes over and all I could say was “What the heck?” I was crushed. My wear pattern was pretty much the same as always! Go figure. Apparently, given my limited attention span, my powers of form concentration were not lasting longer than for about the first 600 yards of my runs.
I then took the next step, literally, and elected to go for a video running gait analysis at a local sports medicine clinic. I’d get to the bottom of this lean to the left thing. The analysis was designed to address biomechanical abnormalities that should be corrected to improve performance and efficiency and involved a clinical exam and a treadmill run examining the angulations, strength and flexibility in my hips, knees, ankles etc. It provided information of things below my knee but way over my head with terminology like my Q angle (I was feeling more obtuse than Q) and ankle equinus (limited upward bending of the ankle joint.) etc. The video also examined hip hiking (hitch hiking I knew but I learned the former was the lifting of one’s hip/pelvis on one side).
Early on in the process I sensed my belief of being a gracefully efficient runner was about to be shattered. Perhaps I was overly sensitive, but when the professionals performing the exam began raising their eyebrows, whispering to each other and subtly shaking their heads, I was getting a not so subtle clue to their opinion. After the analysis was completed, I was advised I had flexibility and strength imbalances, excessive shoulder and hip lateral rotation, pressed too hard on the ball of my right foot, had a contralateral hip drop and internal thigh rotation due to hip weakness, tight lower back and hip flexors as well as overpronation, overstriding and right arm overswinging. Eventually they were over with my various “overs.” I couldn’t help but then somewhat jokingly say, “Other than that, it’s all good right?”
One of them then added, “Oh, plus you lead with your left.” Great.
Eventually, I walked away with some exercises, stretches, and running drills etc. Over the next few months I did implement everything and was confident that concentrating on my running form had assisted with my speed, efficiency, and leg discomforts. Shortly thereafter, I was doing some cross training on the elliptical at the fitness center when my wife came by. She was looking at me for a bit and had a slightly quizzical expression as I pounded away, feeling smooth and graceful. Me and the machine in harmony. She then said, “Do you know you lead with your left?”
Oy! I wonder if there is video elliptical gait analysis?
Bob is the author of the best selling humor books “I Run, Therefore I Am – NUTS!” and the sequel, “I Run, Therefore I am Still NUTS!” Check out his blog: http://www.runninglaughsblog.com