It turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong. All those years I’ve been striding along, safe in the mistaken belief that I was running my way to immortality. I avoided injury for the most part, never overdid it, and always felt clearer in the head and ready to take on at least some of the world after a run—so I must have been doing it right, right? Wrong.
My belaboured hamstring was the first to down tools and launch a protest at my crappy running style. No longer willing to carry the burden of an overstretched stride that struck my heel against the ground with the force of a wrecking ball, said hamstring whimpered at first before emphatically and insistently maintaining a constant whine. Rest, Biofreeze and bandages numbed the edges somewhat, but they could not compensate for what was in essence a rubbish way of running.
Chris McDougall, he of Born to Run fame, is probably the most famous advocate of running as fun—not as a chore, but as something that actually feels good. He claims that he was able to put a long history of running injuries behind him simply by focusing on form. He points out that children run for fun; nobody tells them to strap on a pair of overpriced, over-insulated shoes and plod drearily for 40 minutes. So that is my aim: To leave my injuries behind me by running as lightly, easily, and happily as a child.
So far, it’s a struggle, but it seems to be working. I ran 18 miles last Friday, in preparation for the Lakes of Killarney Marathon on May 16, and made a point of making the run an extended controlled fall. In other words, I kept my back straight, leaning forward slightly from the shoulders and allowing my feet to frustrate gravity by gently lifting me forward to the next step before I hit the ground. In the past (i.e. last week), I would have strode forward from the hips, belting the ground with my heels and putting unmerciful strain on my thighs to propel myself forward.
I felt more than a little stupid, focusing so intently on something I had always taken for granted, and years of muscle memory had me slipping back into my heel-thumping stride more than once (a lot more…). The layers of insulation around my feet don’t make it any easier either, so I may be rethinking my choice of trainers once these wear out. Nonetheless, I finished my run on Friday determined to keep up my baby steps. And the best part? My hamstring seems happy too.