My Decision To Transition To Natural Running
This week is the second week of transitioning to natural running with the ever so bright and colorful Newton Running Gravity. With every run I’m more and more excited about my decision to change from a stability shoe to minimalist running and to focus on running form. I’ve been asked what made me decide to make the change.
A few weeks ago I went to a Natural Running Form clinic at a local running store. The expert on running form and performance was Ryan Smith, a nationally recognized Newton trained running coach and personal trainer, speaker and exercise physiologist.
We had the opportunity to try on the shoes, wear them for a run and go through several sets of form drills. The clinic lasted 2 hours and it was time well spent. What’s not to like about spending 2 hours learning and being with people that want to talk about running. By the end of the first hour I was fascinated by the whole natural running concept. It all seemed so logical and just made sense. By the end of the second hour I decided to commit to 8 weeks of training to transition to a more natural approach to running. It wasn’t only what I learned at the form clinic and the logic behind the concept that made me decide to do this. My decision was also based wanting to be a more efficient runner, wanting to focus on improving running form (which is something I’ve never really done in the past) and last, and certainly not least, not reaching my goal of a sub-2:00 hour half marathon this year. It’s frustrating to do everything you know to do and yet you still fall short of reaching a goal.
Something that really stood out for me personally is the fact that, clearly captured in photos, I’m a serious heel striker. Basically I learned that there is a less efficient energy return with a heel strike gait and it causes abrupt braking of forward momentum which, correct me if I’m wrong, is contrary to what you want when running. When heel striking (or over striding) the foot stays on the ground for a longer period of time which creates a slower stride turnover or slower cadence. Slower is definitely not my goal.
What about the stability shoes I’ve been told I need for over pronation and to prevent injury? The overbuilt heel crash pads and steep heel to toe drops of traditional running shoes encourage a heel striking gait and the soft foam midsole interferes with the body’s ability to relay information back to the brain about how the rest of the body should be positioned. The problem isn’t the over pronation. The problem is, very likely, less than optimal running form and a shoe that doesn’t allow the body to do what it is naturally built to do.
A few other things to think about:
- For stability and balance find your center. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, flex ankles and knees, hold your arms at your side with elbows bent about 90 degrees and look forward. Yes, it feels awkward at first but with practice and re-training my body it is slowly becoming less so.
- I thought this next point was fascinating and a different way to think about running form. The moment your forefoot hits and senses the ground, your brain uses that feedback and immediately positions your body to run efficiently and as balanced as possible. When running on a hard surface like a road, sidewalk or wood floor your brain reads the potential danger of the hard surface beneath your feet and naturally puts you in a position to run with very light foot strikes (this was most obvious when running barefoot) that will help you avoid the blunt force of hitting the hard surface with midfoot/forefoot landing and lifting your foot off the ground instead of pushing . I think about all of this while I’m running and it’s true. I can feel the difference of a light foot strike and lifting your foot off the ground instead of pushing.
- Also, get your feet under your body mass rather than out in front of your body. A foot strike that is in front of the body serves as a brake which prolongs the time your foot is on the ground and is valuable time lost from touchdown of the foot to the next stride. Try this, while you are running, glance down at your foot strike, if you see your landing foot, you are over striding. Then, try to shorten your stride, speed up cadence and lean from your center slightly. Feel the difference?
I realize natural running is not a running miracle, a quick fix or immunity to injury. If I train smart and gradually incorporate the transition into my weekly running, I have little to nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.
So, why natural running? Logic, improve form, a sub-2:00 goal, and becoming an efficient runner. Pretty convincing isn’t it?
Coming up next in the Transition to Natural Running series:
- a form and strength drill vlog
- an interview with Ryan Smith.
Have you ever attended a running clinic? Do you focus on form when you run?