Monday, January 13, 2014

The first shoe drops and I turn to the East

As I noted in my previous piece, I credit a commercial with being the impetus for change, with regard to my running and quite possibly my life, a commercial I saw near the end of 2013. Without further ado, here it is:


Yes, it's just a shoe commercial. But it intrigued me. I've run with a variety of shoes, Brooks, Nike, New Balance, Adidas, and ASICS, some of which were very good for me and others which seemed to only cause me problems or just didn't last. Currently, I'm running with a pair of New Balance 860v3's. I'm at about 250 miles into them (the better shoes tend to last me about 350 miles) and they've been great, really great.

However, the Altra Zero Drop commercial struck a chord with me. Something about what it was selling sounded right, so I decided to check out the product. The Altra website provided a list of stores that carried Altra shoes, so I searched for one in my area. The only one anywhere close to me proved to be Footworks in South Miami, which I was familiar with but had never actually visited. So off I went.

At the store, I quickly found the Altra shoes. They're actually kind of funny-looking, as--true to the commercial--the toe space is far larger than in a typical shoe. They're almost like duck feet, in this regard. One of the stores employees, who proves to be critical in my tale, asked if I needed help, so I proceeded to quiz him about the Altra shoes.

He was most emphatic that these were not just another pair of running shoes, that using them could cause problems for someone not accustomed to their style. But he also spoke highly of them, opining that if one ran the right way, these shoes would help reduce injury and help provide a far more natural feel to running. He informed me that he had a pair, but was currently training himself in their use, was still only using them on a limited basis in order to allow his body time to adjust.

Being someone who tends to know what he wants when he sees it, I immediately decided that I wanted in. I wanted to get these shoes and learn how to use them.

Of course, the Footworks employee was happy to sell them to me. But first, he insisted on looking at my running style, via a treadmill in the store that would allow him to record exactly how I moved, how I ran. I obliged and ran on the treadmill for a few minutes at a comfortable pace. What followed was unnerving, if not seriously disturbing, for me to say the least. The gentleman from Footworks informed me that my running style--to put it bluntly--sucked. I was running far too upright, far too stiffly, and in a way that promoted all sorts of problems and injuries.

My feet where striking the ground wholly heel-first and my left foot was turned slightly outward, indicating a possible need to see a chiropractor, as this pointed to a potential problem with my spine's alignment. He made it clear that until I addressed these issues, I should not run with the Altra Zero Drop shoes, as I would get no benefit from them and might very well suffer an injury of one sort or another.

I decided to buy the shoes anyway, to put them "on the shelf" and make an attempt to correct the issues that had been pointed out to me, to improve my running form and forget about time and distance. He agreed with me and to that end, provided me with several websites with videos and advice for improving my form. One of these was the Altra website, which in fact has some excellent "how to" videos and diagrams.



Another recommended site was ChiRunning.com, which as one can easily see, advances a basic theory of running like that on Altra. The primary practical difference between the two: Altra had a great deal more free content available in order to get people to buy their shoes, while Chi Running was more of a business website that was looking to sell the training. So I just watched some of the Altra videos and started to make some adjusts to my form.

There's no way to understate the consequences: they were AMAZING. Just by following some simple instructions from the Altra videos, everything improved, almost overnight. My time per mile dropped appreciably, I was able to maintain my pace longer before tiring, and I simply felt better after the run.

For close to a month now, I've been following these guidelines, trying to keep improving my form. And if you are looking to improve your form, the Altra videos will give you what you need, no question about it. I've even worn my Altra shoes a couple of times, as my confidence continues to grow.

But all that being said, there was still something missing for me, some aspect of the change in form that wasn't clicking. I understood the mechanics of the change well enough, but I was bothered by the disconnect between this new "proper" form and the way I had been running (upright, with long strides, which many people still say is the way to run strong). So I returned to some of the other sites that had been recommended to me at Footworks. And the one I already mentioned above--ChiRunning--drew me in.

My knowledge of Eastern philosophy and spiritual tradition is extensive. I've read all of the significant classics, from The Upanishads to Tao Te Ching to The Bhagavad Gita to many more, besides. I've also read the more modern takes on Eastern thought, like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But to be honest, I've never really put my knowledge in this regard to much use. As I delved into the ChiRunning website, I found myself revisiting my own past, thinking deeply about many of the ideas I knew and thought I thoroughly understood. And a little voice in my head kept telling me I was missing something, that I wasn't making an important connection between mind, body, and spirit.

So I broke down and ordered the book and DVD combo on the ChiRunning website. The book, entitled ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running, was written by Danny Dreyer, who has an extensive background in both running (including competing in Ultras) and coaching. They arrived in the mail yesterday and I began reading the book immediately.

It was clear to me that I had made a good decision. As effective as the techniques in the Altra video were, the book resonated with me from the start, insofar as it provided the mental background and justification I needed for my pursuit of a better way of running. More importantly, it promised to provide the missing connection I noted above, and in so doing help me improve my outlook on life and approach to living in a more general sense.

This is what I hope to see in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead. This my purpose in writing this blog, to not only provide help and support for people looking to improve how they run (or to even start running), but to also provide a record of my larger experiences, as well. I hope I enjoy the journey, and I hope you enjoy taking it with me.