running


This post is an update relating to a few of my other running-form related posts during September of this year.  The subject has been about shifting form.  After some time off for an unrelated injury, getting going again has prompted me to again focus on how best to “think about” this targeted form:

My left footImage via Wikipedia

a) toe-heel foot strike, rather than heel-toe, just toe, or even flat
b) stride shortening
c) foot plant is below, rather than ahead of, center of gravity

At the outset, I primarily focused on the plant being toe-first, but noticed that this was difficult to do with a typical reaching stride.  This led to focusing on shortening stride in order to enable the toe to plant more easily.  This too felt odd until adding to the mix a slight shift forward in the center of gravity, and it all seemed to come together.

An illustration of the process of finding the ...Image via Wikipedia (finding center of gravity)

With these three things in mind, along with a 180 stride per minute cadence as a guide, the new form has been feeling more natural.  To keep things interesting, I am still alternating between my normal (Asics) treads and my newly acquired Newtons (Sir Isaacs).

The question then becomes whether one needs the altered shoe, if the mind can be trained to follow the more barefooty form.  Ultimately, perhaps not – but that remains to be seen.  For now, the Newtons allow doing it with much less thought.   With all else being the same, there is still an opportunity for subtle differences (and a mental leap) in the plant – just slightly flatter than toe-heel – even if ever so slight.  And it makes a very big difference.

When things become more second nature, I may throw in some focus on how the height of knee-raise, as well as of heel kick, impact how the form feels and performs.

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Statue of Isaac Newton at the Oxford Universit...Image via Wikipedia

The plan for Newton run #3 was to just “not think about it, and just let the shoe do the work”.   The reality was that I ended up focusing on how the strike compared to my normal one – and since, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not much of a heel striker anyway, it felt almost normal.  A little too normal.  So I became more deliberate about the toe-heel plant sequence.  Near the end of this run too, I was getting the moonwalk / wheels spinning in reverse sensation.

As with my other Newton runs, I followed with a few Asics Cumulus miles, intentionally trying to keep the same toe-heel strike order.  This wasn’t all that difficult to do, (at least relative to being deliberate about it in the Newtons).  The real test will be what happens in the Asics after this placement is more the norm in the Newtons, and happens without thinking.   This, of course, prompted some wondering about whether the change will really come from the focus, or from the shoe.

Run #4, though, was to be all about short stride length and increased turnover (to 180pm), with the only attention on plant to be about its location – directly beneath me, and not at all in front (with zero attention on the strike order).  The result, because of the mechanics of this movement, was that the strike was more toe-first, regardless. Followed again with a few non-Newton miles, continuing to focus on stride and plant-location, the strike did continue to be in the forefoot.  I’ll keep up the comparison to see what happens.

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Felix, Foot-Dragging Again?Image by william c hutton jr via Flickr

Ok, I’m still not able to “just go, and not think about it” with these new treads.  Just to review, I’m trying these out to assist in changing my form, though I think I was doing a pretty good job with mid-foot plant.  The idea with the Newtons is that they’ve got reduced heels, and thickened mid-foot – so there is more likelihood of the foot planting front-first than with the typical built-up heel of today’s running shoes.  The built-up forefoot is in the form of lugs that are supposed to depress into spaces in the sole, and spring back out in concert with your own, more springy turnover that would result from shortened stride and increased turnover.

But something strange did happen this time out – at about the middle of this second run.  It is a little hard to describe, but what comes to mind is a combination of a) doing the moonwalk, and b) the illusion of wheels spinning backwards when they’re clearly going forward.  The wheel illusion has been referred to as the wagonwheel or stroboscopic effect, attributed to position of spokes and the timing of film frames.  In this case though, the feeling seems to derive from trying to conceptualize the movement – and since the brain is so used to feeling heel first and then toe, encountering them in reverse may just be sending the signal that this must be backward motion.  The strangest part is that it makes it feel as if the foot is pushing forward through the plant  We’ll have to see if this wears off over time.

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This is a third post in what is turning out to be a series related to running form, and trying out some Newton running shoes (the Sir Isaac model – or Newtons on training wheels).  The objective in this little experiment is to try to shift my form to be more efficient.  Beyond shortening stride, it is about a deliberate toe-plant, with the intentions being to not only reduce impact and body wear, but to increase effectiveness of horizontal propulsion – and therefore speed and endurance.

Forefoot WearImage by Morten Liebach via Flickr

First run: Recommendation is to start out with short runs, so I did a couple of miles on them, and threw on my basic asics.

For starters, if you’re going out intending to change your form, you’re going to find yourself thinking really hard about things you normally just do automatically.  That’s exactly what was happening – thinking toe-plant, roll back, spring back – and every other element of your body movement comes into question.

The sensation of having lugs under your forefoot is certainly odd – and by the end of the first couple of miles, I was thinking that the balls of my feet would be aching later in the evening.

Cover of Cover of City Slickers

After watching City Slickers years ago, and liking the Norman character (that was the cow), I swore off eating veal.  Well that first run reiterated this sentiment; I kept being reminded of this decision for the next day or so by my screaming calves.  (I was given fair warning to expect this, and this is part of the basis for easing into wearing these shoes).

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So many fit folks that I talk to have had to give up running due to worn out knees, saying “doctor says I’m done”.  There are certainly times that I’ve felt like I was “done”, and I didn’t need anyone to tell me that!

A series of gait graphs, in the style of Hilde...Image via Wikipedia

Some of the basis for my past running thinking and experimentation has been about performance and efficiency, while some has been about longevity and wear-and-tear prevention, and some has just been about comfort and/or curiosity.   But thinking a bit more about about the mechanics of foot plant, stride and gait has me thinking I might dig in and make a go of some longer term, deliberate exprimentation – with enough time to unlearn some old habits and get beyond the awkwardness of shifting form.Here’s the text I posted to a running forum to see what thoughts and opinions might get thrown back:

Dilemma with mechanics and fitness

For context, at present, my running is not about races, performance or competition, but more for fitness (both physical and mental).  I’m also very analytical and enjoy considering and observing the differences that variations in mechanics can provide.

I am on the fence about trying out the Newtons, as I appreciate their mechanical potential, and have tried the pose method with ordinary shoes with no success (albeit likely with too little experimentation).  So here’s my question:  Given the improved biomechanics that can achieved with the:

  • reduced ankle roll motion potential of non-heal strike,
  • reduced compression of the quad on extension,
  • reduced arm swing (since the stride length is shortened)
  • and overall reduced heart rate resulting from all of the above,

If one’s objective is physical conditioning (vs competitive performance), would use of the Newtons reduce the ability to achieve the cardio and circulatory benefits sought (without having to double the time and distance of my running).

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Fox and Haskell formula showing the split betw...Image via Wikipedia

I was glad to receive one thoughtful response pretty quickly, saying “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”.  I can certainly understand where they were coming from – but I do think that if you’re doing something that has been shown to break it over time, you might want to think about fixing it even though it hasn’t broken anything yet!  Also, my question was really more to the point of objective – that is, if you get more of a workout running inefficiently, and you don’t care about winning or beating anyone else, does it make more sense to keep doing it inefficiently and get a better workout, or could you still make a case for making the change.

I’ve emailed the company that makes the Newton to get their thoughts on my question, but in the meantime, I’m probably going to grab a pair and try them out.

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Picture ? in robotic gait sequenceImage via Wikipedia

Not quite sure where I’m going to go with this, but along the way, I’m going to take some notes.

Running is something that I’ve long done, but without having given it a whole lot of thought.  Let me restate that: it is something I’ve done without analyzing it as much as I might ordinarily analyze things.  Let me try that again: … without having talked as much about my analysis of it.  That’s probably because most of the analysis has been something to keep me busy on longer runs, and has been in my head (and mostly without a spreadsheet being involved! – noted emphasis on “mostly”, rather than on “without”).

The thinking has generally been around foot plant, leg movement, energy and efficiency, translation of forces, performance… It really all began when making subtle shifts in center of mass and body angle, in order to give tiring parts of me a break – so I could make it all the way home. This evolved to trying out variations of foot-plant; softening ankle, knee and hip joints on impact; and even to deliberately reaching for heel plants to see if beginning some backward foot motion just prior to impact might give some pull-power (the way toe-clips for biking enable capturing the upward leg movement when driving the pedals around, to contribute to forward force and movement.

The experimentation wasn’t particularly scientific, and the most memorable observation was of a different kind of tired (specifically in the hamstrings). Next up was a little reading about Pose and some deliberate forward tilting and intentional toe-heel planting.  Beyond being a little awkward and almost confusing to the subconscious, I recall the lower legs taking quite a beating from that experiment.

Over time, I’ve evolved to a quiet and soft, mid-foot strike which seems to have served me well.  But I’m thinking more about what’s being left on the table.

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Morning FogImage by Nick Chill via Flickr

I have a tendency to think on the edges or outskirts of domains – in the interstices – where domains overlap with one another.  When the morning fog clears, I typically get brainstorms that result from word plays that bridge multiple domains that may be on my mind.

For example, while attending a meeting this week on Usability in the context of Agile development, I had the thought that there ought to be an application of the methodology within the realm of cooking – and the Scrum component of agile could be referred to in this context as “Scrumtious”.

Another of these hit me while walking out of the grocery store, and no doubt subliminally having picked up “low cal” while thinking about communities and marketing within them, that a calorie conscious faction could refer to their region as a “Low Cal Locale”.

On the heels of my wife’s latest marathon (her fifth), I’m thinking there ought to be a womens’ triathlon called the “Iron Maiden”.

The Scrum project management method. Part of t...Image via Wikipedia

If I had a nickel for every one of these wordplay thoughts, my pockets would bulge each day! My kids tend to be my reluctant test-subjects for these sometimes painful ideas.  As I trust their untainted minds, they are sometimes the end of the line; sometimes though, in the spirit of Agile development, they’re the beginning of an iterative process.

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relayImage by matsugoro via FlickrI talk a lot about the most interesting parts of life being where things connect – where seemingly distinct topics run into each other.  Not so much that they abut, but in their doing so, they reveal or allow tendrils of overlapping elements to lap out to one another.

This past weekend, I filled-in on a team that was running 92 miles across the state of New Jersey, in the 13th annual River to Sea Relay.  The day was the embodiment of connecting:

  • Each 7-person team came together through any number of connective threads – around family, work, geography, life, death, marriage… (one team was called “Runaway Bride” – I guess this was their idea of a bachelorette party).  We were the “Village Idiots”, and while we could easily have passed for the sister team to one called “Beauty and the Beasts” (we had plural of the former and singular of the latter) I think our name served us well.
  • Each team handed off to their next runner with a swipe of the hand or high five (or waive across a busy road) – connecting step-by-step, and hand-off by hand-off from the western border of the state, on the Delaware river – to the beach on the eastern side of the state.
  • Every runner ran two of the 14 legs that comprised the course – getting back out there after having a few hours to stiffen up on their way to their second leg, while chasing and supporting their teammates.  Since most of us don’t run twice in one day, each person connecting their two runs provided a unique opportunity to see how it feels and to realize that you can in fact do it.
  • A hundred separate teams came together around one “basic” objective (and many unique ones), and greeted each other with competitive spirit and supportive friendliness.
  • At interchanges, people from different teams discovered they knew each other through someone else, had gone to college together, had worked at the same place, that their daughters are in the same singing group at college – that they share another common element (and a swig of water, thank you, or directions at a turn…) besides just being a nutty runner/adventure seeker.

When you take a trip like this, as I did with these six women (yes, my wife knew – in fact she was one of them) who made up the rest of my team – a 29 hour adventure, including a road-trip, hotel stay, dinner out, sleepless night coupled with a really early morning, countless switching back and forth between chase cars, 14 back-to-back legs of running with all the interchanges and support encounters, a finish at the beach, something to re-nourish yourself at the end, and the trip home – you discover you’ve gained, (groaned), learned, (ached), enjoyed (maybe griped).  I won’t repeat what I heard one runner say, because you get to say things out there knowing that they won’t be repeated – “honor among nut-jobs” and all.

Everyone worked hard – really hard, dealing with the heat, sun, each other, silence (course rules prohibited use of music players), rain (on two legs, the sky opened up), lightning…  As the race director summarized, “Despite a short howling storm that raced through central Jersey at around 12:30pm ( thunder, lightning and ferocious rain ) for about 20 minutes,100 stalwart teams-of-seven successfully navigated [the] 92 mile course from Milford on the Delaware River to Manasquan at the Atlantic Ocean. Teams started [on a staggered basis] from 6:00am to 10:15am…”.  The fastest team (not ours) was going at a clip of 5:18 per mile!  Teams took anywhere from eight- to fifteen hours to finish the course.

People connected – with each other, with each others’ ideals, with group and individual goals, one border to another – town-by-town and county-to-county – even connecting with elements of yourself along the way.

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As usual, last night’s NY Semantic Web Meetup was a pleasure, with presentations from/on Hakia and DERI (Linking Open Data), a lively group, and lots of conversation.

In one of my side-conversations, we dug a bit into the concept of “traversing”, not just to travel across associations, but to applying patterns of associations to people and situations that exhibit subsets of those same patterns, to expose opportunities. To the business, this is cross-marketing, to the analyst, this is pattern recognition and application. One participant in the conversation voiced the sentiment that this may be a key gateway to leveraging semantics for revenue generation.

Speaking of running for the money – and in the spirit of traversing, my wife is doing a little of her own “connecting ideas for the creation of value”. She’s run a few marathons before, but by dedicating her upcoming Boston Marathon run to something that matters to her, (her story about what/why… starts half-way down her page) she’s threaded across otherwise disparate areas of interest. While not everyone who has contributed is a runner, she’s clearly (judging by the numbers) tapped threads of common interest in cancer research.

Ultimately, powerful leveraging of semantic capabilities will enable greater networking and cross-connecting, or traversing, to occur in ways that are more graceful (perhaps less personal, but hopefully not) than were used in the example above, but in any case, toward the end of connecting ideas and creating value.

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