Thursday, October 20, 2011

Revisiting Running

Every year or so, I decide to take up running again. I haven't turned into a very good runner, but I've been getting better at taking up running.

I ran track in high school, briefly, but with no ill consequences. I ran in college, sort of - I'd run to the gym with a friend of mine, lift weights, and walk back to the dorm. When I got more serious about dance, I mostly stopped. Not in a pointed way - I just didn't have a lot of desire for more aerobic exercise, after a full training load dancing. When I stopped dancing, I started riding my bike a lot again but didn't do anything with running for a while.

In August of 2008 (I know because the date's written on the side of my old shoes) I decided I was going to start running again. I was in Manhattan for another month or so before moving to Seattle full-time, and I'd already shipped my road bike. At that point, I'd been doing a slow, steady mileage build on the bike for months. My aerobic engine was pretty good. I was strong.

So I bought some new shoes and knocked out a couple of 3 mile runs at whatever pace. Whatever pace had me back at my apartment in well under a half hour. And, a few runs later, I was having bad enough ankle problems that I even had to skip a couple days of work. Some background here is important - I was working as a stagehand, and I'd done enough days on my feet on concrete that I was wearing work boots with fancy insoles. Basically, my ankles and arches were very well supported for almost every load-bearing minute of the day. This is not a great thing - in fact it's the basis of the whole minimalist running movement. And even for someone with strong ankles, going straight to relatively intense, relatively long runs like that is not indicated.

So aside from a few leg opener runs later in the fall, I gave it up.

I picked it up again in 2009 and 2010, with similar results. I went for a run with my brother in which he took me apart, all the while commenting that I was probably in better aerobic shape. I was making a lot of noise on the pavement, something neither of us thought could possibly be efficient. I tried to do some runs doing 5 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking, and shelved the project when pain and a change in my schedule interfered. I did a couple runs in the winter of this year, and then stopped again for similar reasons. At least I didn't hurt myself badly enough to miss work that time, though.

I'm doing some things differently this time. I'm trying to emphasize form. I actually considered getting some of those goofy barefoot shoes, but after talking to a few people and a shoe salesman, I decided that would be going too far for where I am right now. Of course he'd love to sell me a pair in about six months, but it's not like he was risking a sale putting me in something else for now.

My old shoes are Saucony Hurricane 10s. They're practically the definition of what the barefoot running movement is reacting against. They have a huge cushion. There's a fair amount of heel-toe drop. The medial side of the midsole under the heel and arch is denser, to correct overpronation. The upper is heavily reinforced for the same reasons. There's a stiffener in the sole somewhere. My form can go to hell and I can keep running, sort of, in these things. The next step is an air cast. Of course, I still weigh 153 lb, and 3/4" of foam isn't going to make that go away, even if it makes me think I can pound on my feet harder. In addition, I'd managed to wear out the gel, so they weren't absorbing all that shock I was delivering. No wonder I hurt myself! I'm a little surprised that I wore them out, but I guess I started and stopped enough times, over a long enough period, to add up to however many hundred miles it takes.

The new shoes are Brooks Launches.


They're a neutral shoe with very little architecture. No guidance this or anti-pronation that, and very flexible. They're even kind of close to my team colors! (Brooks, can you do me a pair with yellow laces, instead of fluorescent green? Thanks.) They also have a beveled heel, which is really cool - I'm trying not to heel strike anyway, but they at least don't generate a bunch of leverage to make me transition super-hard if I do. There's still a little arch support (really more that the shoe embraces my instep more than tries to make it do anything) and they're still shock absorbant shoes. They're also marketed as a competitive shoe.

So that's one thing I'm doing differently - shoes that don't hide my lack of form from me.

The other thing I'm doing differently is that I'm trying to be disciplined about following a conservative training plan. I'm doing the Couch to 5k. I'm not crazy about the name - I haven't been sitting on the couch, thank you. But whatever. I think if I can keep my form together, I can run without hurting myself. When I get tired, my form starts going to hell, and I get hurt. This plan starts with workouts alternating running and walking. I only run for one minute at a time, with eight intervals in the week one workouts. I feel a little self-conscious about "running" workouts that are less than 50% running, but I've been doing them in my street clothes, which is a little less bad - at least I look like a goober running in street clothes for eight minutes, instead of a goober walking in running clothes for the other twenty-two or so. I just completed week 1, and I'll actually be repeating it next week, but I can complete these workouts with no lasting ill effects, which is a big improvement over the previous attempts. It's a nine-week program that finishes with actually running for half an hour at a time. For my goals, I may not try to run any more than that.

I guess I can re-evaluate the minimalist shoes thing if I start over with someone else. My girlfriend is going on one run a week with me, and I think some will feature hers. Part of the goal here is to start doing the parcourse exercises around Greenlake; that might be another time to re-look at minimalist shoes, since I'll have built-in breaks to prevent me from getting too tired and running with the crappy form that can make these things counterproductive for some people. Of course, when I start getting more heavily engaged in the 2012 cycling season, I may peter out again. I'm okay with that, if I get stronger and better-rounded as an athlete this Fall and winter - I'm trying to cross-train, not switch sports.

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