Tuesday, September 23, 2008

In praise of the mid-foot landing...

In the world of health and wellness, there's some great information out there that can increase quality of life and, therefore, enable us to go about our daily tasks and callings with increased energy and vigour. We recently discovered, for example, a fascinating way of understanding the nature of movement - through Chi Running and Chi Walking. This is a training program that focuses on walking and running more efficiently - and becoming less prone to injuries, a factor that can really impinge on the enjoyment and practice of self-propelled outdoor activities and sports as we transit our middle and older years. Trust me, I've had one repair job on a torn meniscus following an over-enthusiastic (careless?) run down a steep Canmore hill! Thanks to the good work of an awesome local orthopaedic doc, that injury is history now.

Danny and Katherine Dreyer, the developers of "ChiRunning" have written two books on the subject, one on running and the other on walking - choose whichever one appeals - they are really worth a read! The principles of Chi Running/Walking are borrowed from the ancient practice of T'ai Chi - and from my own lay perspective, the principles taught simply make a lot of sense!

Anyway, we were so intrigued that we sighed up for a Chi Running workshop in Seattle which turned out to be a great day. (Hey, the Pike Place Market really is a cool place to hang out!) Anyway, the workshop began with a focus on posture and learning how to allow the bones, ligaments, and tendons, which are inherently strong, to support our weight instead of the muscles - which are not always as reliable! In our age of computer related work and, therefore, often sedentary occupations, posture has become a bit of an issue. We all know that poor posture can lead to painful and unnecessary stress on joints. It can also limit movement - not much fun if you enjoy activities requiring movement! There were lots of tips, exercises and the workshop concluded with a group run where we attempted to put to practice what we had learned - not easy but worth sticking at!

One of the important lessons had to do with how our feet land - something to which I had never really given much thought. Most of us land on our heels and push off with our toes - just check normal shoe wear. We then wonder why we tire so soon or end up with sore muscles. After it was explained that landing our our heels is like "putting the brakes on" and pushing off with the toes (unless you're a sprinter) puts undue pressure on leg muscles, you really begin to understand why the "mid-foot" landing makes so much more sense. I did an experiment on a local beach and you can check out the results in the pics above. On the left, you can see heel landing and toe push off - clearly lots of energy going into digging up the sand. The pic on the right shows a mid-foot landing - pretty light on the feet, eh? That's why this way of running and walking promises better performance and fewer injuries. I rather like that idea!
Till the next time, from the beautiful Cowichan Valley, peace and balance.


  1. I shall check out my foot print the next time I am at the beach!
    It is raining something awful out there ....might have to just stay put today!

  2. I just got back from a run and I was thinking about this blog while out. In my recent half-marathon I found myself being consistently overtaken by people going down the hills (people who I had overtaken going up the hills, I might add). I've started to be quite cautious going downhill after reading (in Outside magazine, as I recall) that shin splints come from over-striding going downhill. But, really, would the Winter Start run in Banff have been half-way as much fun if we didn't tear down that hill??!! Ah, but now we're smarter (and older). So, anyway, I see your point about focusing on the way one places one's feet. I find that flat-footed approach difficult though (I did try it for a moment or two). I know, I know, I have to work at it and practice. Sigh. Why can't there be any easy solutions?

  3. Seems strange me advising you about running technique, Andy, given that I'm the one that had to have surgery to repair an injury and you're the one who has always made it to the finish line first - by a long shot! Having said that, the bio-mechanics mentioned in the blog don't mean running "flat footed" - rather, it means not overstriding (dorsiflexing)which increases tension from the feet up. Of course there's more to the technique and, as you say, it does require patience and practice. I'm sold, however, and it may indeed be the easiest solution given that the alternative may be to invite and succumb to injuries and not run at all. Horrors! J's and my experience has always been similar to your your last half-marathon - we're always overtaken on the downhill but on the uphill, we actually speed up. The Great Lake event a couple of weeks ago was a case in point. Alternating walking and running on the last half turned out to be relaxing to the legs and running the uphill segments increased our standing significantly. We made lots of tactical mistakes but learned from them. Incidentally, GU Rocktane delivered the energy it promised! If you do another half or full give it a try. I'll be stocking up on it for the endurance paddle!