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11 Brainy Miles

June 21, 2010

Note: this video, a homemade comparison of Vibrams, Newtons and Nikes, will make more sense once you read the post. FYI: debut effort at a video blog. No Oscar nominations coming my way, but it’ll only get better from here. I promise.

11 miles this week. Three on Sunday, 3 on Thursday, 5 on Saturday. Physically, those 11 miles were pretty fine. Not amazing, but not as painful as they’ve been. Mentally, though, I feel as though I’ve run at least 400 miles. Those 11 miles are some of the most concentrated, thoughtful miles I’ve ever run. And my brain hurts.

As I’ve mentioned before, I basically need to change everything about how I run in order to get across the NYC Marathon finish line in one happy, whole piece. Well, not quite everything. Just: head up, left hip up, quick steps, land softer, land under, not in front of, body, pump my arms, lean forward, breathe deeply, engage my abs, stand tall. Oh, and relax.

Actually, maybe that is everything.

Like most of you, I presume, I was never taught to run. I started running in my late teens, and my form, if you can call it that, just organically developed and I never questioned it. No need to, when everything seemed to work fine, even if one treadmill video exposed me as a glorified racewalker. (I was “running” but both feet–one heel, and one toe–were on the belt at the same time. Translation: giant, injury-producing strides.)

So when my body couldn’t handle the huge strides anymore and rebelled accordingly, I looked everywhere else–physical therapy, chiropractic work, coaching, acupuncture, orthotics, foam rolling, Advil and other assorted drugs–except at the way I clodded down the road. Sure, my form was mentioned in passing during lengthy conversations about the psoas muscle and hip alignment and fascia–conversations that that more often than not left me confused, I’ll be honest–but strengthening my glute medius, and rolling my IT band and icing were certainly going to be the fix. No need to worry about what happens on the road.

That strategy, I now realize, is akin to changing the windshield wipers, upgrading the sound system and getting sweet plush seat covers when what the car really needs is a new chassis.

So, like a good running geek, I spent last Saturday night at the Newton Natural Running Symposium, where both Danny Abshire, co-founder of Newton, and Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, one of the most analytical and passionate runners I’ve ever heard, deconstructed form.  They had tons of charts and graphs and analogies to make their arguments, but what I walked away with is this:

Shoes with built-up foam, cushiony soles promote a heel strike, followed by a push-off. During heel strike, your quads naturally put on the brakes, and then for the push-off, you have to fire up your muscles. The Newton design, which has four built-up fingers under the midfoot, encourages a lighter, midfoot strike and, in doing so, allows you to capitalize on the energy you’ve already got going.

Or, more plainly: in typical running shoes, it’s like your jumping rope, and stopping cold between each jump to reload; in Newtons, you jump rope like a springy coil, landing lightly and efficiently.

Obviously, the point of the night was to convert to Newton, but even if you never changed your shoes, their points can apply to any runner and any shoes:
Be conscious of how your feet are landing, and how that landing ripples through your body. The lighter, the better.
Think about how your body is positioned. Find your wasted energy and send it forward. Everything motion possible should go forward.
—The form you use to run on trails and up hills–small, quick steps, strong arms, a slight forward lean–is the form you should aim to replicate on the flats.
—As much as I pains daydreamer me to type this, don’t tune out during a run, tune in.

I ran in Newtons once while training for the Nike Women’s Marathon, and didn’t have much background knowledge before I took off. (Good reporter doing her research, huh?) A few days later, I got a stress fracture in my heel, and subconsciously, if unfairly, connected the two events and decided no new technology for me, thanks.

I dusted those 3-year-old shoes off last Sunday, after the symposium, and gave them another whirl, trying to use information I absorbed the previous evening. I ran for 9 minutes, doing my best to do a jump-rope run. Then I had to walk. My body felt resilient, but I could feel the seams on my brain splitting open. I knew I’d lose my form if I kept going.

I’ve repeated that pattern–run, very slowly, for 9 minutes, then walk for 1 to let my brain drag its cursor to the circular refresh button–for all 11 miles this week. It feels like the physics homework I never understood. It’s draining and hard. It doesn’t make sense yet. I dread doing it, mostly because I haven’t felt like that floaty sensation I usually do, post-run. I mostly have a brain freeze, like after eating ice cream too fast.

But the tangle of muscles and nerves on my left side feels slightly less knotted, so I’m taking on the challenge I’ve been avoiding for years: working my brain harder than my body.

In doing so, I hope I finally get to see what this mother–and body–is capable of.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2010 6:21 am

    This is all fascinating to me and I hope you can modify your form enough to make it thru NYC and beyond. I am a natural forefoot striker…to a point…about 18 miles. After that I get fatigued and my heels come down.
    I had an unfortunate run-in with the Isaacs (too many miles too soon=achilles inury) but loooove their other shoe for speed work/tempos.
    Good luck!

    • June 21, 2010 8:51 am

      Hey Marcia–I’ve definitely heard you have to go slow on the Newton break-in. Thanks for your thoughts…and maybe if we melded your footstrike and mine, we’d have the perfect one?

  2. June 21, 2010 6:51 am

    Hey Dimity, this was so interesting to watch. Because I’m a 40-something newbie runner, i’m studying the whole midfoot strike/Chi Running in the hopes that I can continue this new found love of running.

    I find myself doing mental checklists as I’m going as well, trying to keep that form, and trying to relax at the same time.

    I’m liking my new Newton’s, but on a weekend run, I felt tight in my heel and I’m thinking maybe i pushed it a bit too far, distance wise.

    I like the idea of having a hubby video clip and I know the author of Chi Running says it’s a good idea to watch yourself so you can see your form and make corrections.

    I just hope my hubby can add such a charming voice over. ; )

    • June 21, 2010 8:47 am

      Hey Cathy–I also bought Chi Running, but will write about that in another post…didn’t need this to be a novel. 🙂 My calves felt super tight after 5 miles on Saturday–just feeling better on Monday morning. Definitely a slower break-in with the Newtons. Take it slow and easy and relaxed. 🙂

  3. June 21, 2010 7:01 am

    I try to use chi running form–I don’t know if I am doing it right, but whatever I’m doing is keeping me from getting hurt.

    There are hot pink Newtons.

    • June 21, 2010 8:48 am

      Katy: I’d love the hot pink Newtons, but my feet/water skis are so big, I have to wear men’s sizes. I’m also trying to do Chi running–I definitely think there are some really good points in there.

  4. Christine W. permalink
    June 21, 2010 7:42 am

    Awesome. Love the video. I agree, all this is so fascinating to me. But, I would be scared to death to wear the Vibrams. So good on ya! After foot surgery for a very very painful neuroma last year, I need my cushion. I’m willing to try the Newtons but only if my budget magically expands.

    Mostly, I want to comment on thinking so much while running. I’m right there with you. Just finishing 8 weeks of PT for low back pain, I am constantly checking in to make sure the TA is engaged. Pelvis tucked, shoulders down. 10 strides, TA engaged, pelvis tucked, shoulders down. 10 strides, TA, pelvis, shoulders. And on and on. It’s tiring! And I fear running with other people would have me forget all this and send me back to the PT. So for now, it’s solo and controlled running. And when I’m tired or going too fast, I pretty much fail all my checks. Oh to be a natural runner! But then I wouldn’t be running like a mother…

    • June 21, 2010 8:50 am

      Christine: I hear you on the running solo. I turned down a group run this week because I know if I start chatting, I’ll stop thinking about what I need to do. It’s amazing: I’m still listening to music, but the volume is much lower and I barely register what song is on…no more of that fast-forward, fast-forward to find the perfect song. My brain is too occupied to care. Way to keep running like a mother!

  5. Terzah permalink
    June 21, 2010 10:53 am

    This post is interesting to me as my left side (low back and now hamstring–ugh!) also has been bugging me on and off for 3.5 years (my children’s age!). Maybe I should try Newtons??? I’m right in their hometown (and I saw some runners this weekend wearing Newtons T-shirts bravely soaking their legs in icy Boulder Creek–I imitated them after my own slog–SOOOO COLD! but I think my hammie hurt less). Anyway, I’m always self-conscious having someone watching my form, I admit–brings back jr. high gym days when all the girls would compare skin fold numbers and mine were the highest.

    • June 21, 2010 12:54 pm

      Hi Terzah: Newton has running clinics every Saturday morning at 9, I think, in Boulder: check out their website @ Oh, and no skin fold test required. 🙂

      As I said, I’m not sure brand new shoes are necessary, but I am sold on the idea of running smarter. And the age of your injury + age of your child isn’t a coincidence, in my mind. That’s when all my problems started. Hips totally out of line from hauling them around on my left hip for way too long.

  6. June 21, 2010 1:48 pm

    Great post! I actually just bought a pair of VFF Bikilas and started incorporating “barefoot” running into my training to help with my form. I really think there is something about it that just makes sense to me. So far I really like them. It’s slow going, but I think they will be great in the end. I really hope you’re able to figure out your form so that you can run pain free again.

    • June 21, 2010 9:16 pm

      Thanks, Aimee–totally appreciate your pain-free sentiment. Glad you’re liking the VFF.

  7. JnetRuns permalink
    June 21, 2010 2:32 pm

    I was real interested to get your feed-back on Newtons as I’ve been wearing them for over a year now and really loved them, (did my first half-mary in March in them with no problems) but now I’ve got a really bad achilles tendon problem which the Newtons exacerbate, so I’ve switched to an older pair of Nike Shox that I haven’t worn much and it finally seems to be getting better. Yay.

    I’m planning to go to a Fleet Feet store some distance from where I live just to get a running gait analysis done so I know for sure what type of shoes I should be wearing and find out if I’m a forefoot or mid-foot striker, not sure which I really am right now.

    I’m with you on the difficulty of staying tuned-in to your body, it’s so much easier to tune out!

    • June 21, 2010 3:06 pm

      Hey–Sorry to hear about the tendon problems…definitely an issue, I think, when you spend a lot of time on your midfoot. One thing I learned @ Newton to ask when you go to FF: make sure they videotape your whole body running, not just your knees down. Your hips may be contributing to your problems, or you may pronate because your glute muscles (just examples…not saying that’s the case). Looking at how the whole body runs as one (or not) will make it easier to dissect your feet problems.

      • JnetRuns permalink
        June 21, 2010 7:44 pm

        Thanks for the advice on getting the whole body video-ed not just the lower legs. Also the glutes and/or hips could be a problem as I’m getting up in years (50) so muscle tone is getting less and less even though I keep trying to do more weight work (and pilates and yoga etc., etc.)just to keep ahead. Before much longer I’ll be spending my entire life working out 😉

    • Val permalink
      June 21, 2010 4:52 pm

      Hey check around if there is a PT who can analyze gait as opposed to the guys at the running store. My last visit was pretty unimpressive. I am a PT myself and the experiences I’ve had at the running stores is that they can be somewhat helpful but their knowledge can be very limited based on their own personal experiences. If there is someone who can truly evaluate you that specializes in gait and feet, that would be ideal..

      • JnetRuns permalink
        June 21, 2010 7:49 pm

        Thanks Val, I’ll see how I go at FF and maybe try to find a PT in my area who specializes in runners’ gait, especially if this tendon problem doesn’t go away.

  8. Rhonda permalink
    June 21, 2010 3:25 pm

    I read Born to Run and attended a Chi Running clinic a few years ago. I’m a definite convert. I’m doing a couch to 5k program, so I change shoes (from cushy NB 883 to almost minimalist NB 790) for one interval. Everyone says to break in slowly. I don’t know if Newtons are for me–I have a sore Achilles right now (I love those new Earth Shoes that I bought but they are making everything worse!). I also try to walk barefoot around the house, and use minimalist shoes, to strengthen my foot. I can’t wait to read more comments and to read your post about Chi Running.

    • June 21, 2010 9:19 pm

      Thanks, Rhonda. I looked into a Chi Running clinic in Denver, but the dates conflict with plans I already have. Good for you for taking such thoughtful care of yourself as you train for a 5k…don’t let that Achilles get worse! I don’t know what Earth shoes are, but I do know that huge changes to previously “babied” feet will definitely have your whole body standing up to take notice–a good, albeit sometimes painful, thing.

  9. AshleyR permalink
    June 21, 2010 4:37 pm

    I have suffered through 3 bouts of IT band problems. During my 2nd IT band issue I tried shortening my stride and making adjustments but it clearly didn’t work. Finally after the 3rd I decided to work in some barefoot running (did research first on form.) The small amount of barefoot I do has helped me understand what the length my stride should be and the need for better form. I’m happy to say that my IT band problems are almost gone. I think I’ll be paranoid about it for a long time, but for now I’m thrilled at what a little change in form and stride has done for my ability to continue with my running obession.

    • June 21, 2010 9:21 pm

      Hey Ashley–I think your perspective would be helpful to many people. A small amount of thoughtful barefoot running on grass or a soft surface, just to cement better form, seems pretty invaluable. So glad–and a little jealous–that all your IT probs are gone. Fingers crossed same thing happens to me.

  10. Val permalink
    June 21, 2010 4:47 pm

    Hi! I used to be a regular heel striker and seemed like I was always injured – stress fractures, shin splints, other niggly pains (and I was never a real long distance OR fast runner)…and I finally read about the Chi running and made the switch. I understand the mental fatigue…AND the physical fatigue too! Using muscles you aren’t used to using so much (helllloooo calves) is painful and difficult! But the good news is, after a slow start with much walk/running and tons of persistance I am now, years later, running without thinking a whole lot about it. 🙂 And it feels great. Sure I have to check myself every once in a while about tucking abs, shoulders back, quicker strides – but then I can go right back to daydreaming again and it’s all good. Granted, I am running super low miles and the most I’ve ever done in a forefoot pattern was 7 miles at a time. I’m slowly getting back up there again and trust that I now know how to listen to my body and make the appropriate corrections to succeed injury free. All this to say – hang in there! It’s the hard part now but it will surely pay off later. (For what it’s worth, I’m in the Asics Kayano right now. However, I have Morton’s Neuroma on the right and wish I could find a shoe with less of this built up heel stuff but plenty of forefoot cushioning….I haven’t searched extensively….but I may….). Good luck!

    • June 21, 2010 9:22 pm

      Val: you give me hope. I do think in about a year, it’s all going to pay off, but in the meantime, I’m ready for a kind of fatiguing ride. And yes, I echo your thoughts: HELLOOOO calves. Haven’t heard from you in a while, and now you won’t shut up. 🙂

  11. June 22, 2010 8:20 am

    Hi Dimity…
    Love the video and the shoe testing, I hope you find the solution you’re seeking to improve your form. I am a heel striker and am certain I have developed a small crack on my right foot. No more stability shoes for me!! But I have a friend who is a toe striker and he has calf problems constantly, even was not able to finish Denver marathon two years ago because his left calf cramped up so severely. His solution is massage therapy once a week, and it has helped him and no more cramping, but most of us can’t afford it once a week. So I’m not sure what the answer is, but I love hearing new ideas and thoughts from others so I’ll be certain to check back with you on your shoe testing journey. Oh and my friend, Maureen Roben (you should google her, she’s an excellent running coach here in town) always told me when running hills (up or down)to repeat the mantra: short, sweet, light on your feet. I said that over and over and overandoverandoverandoverandoverandover… when I ran my first BQ marathon. It does help to focus on your form when you’re fatigued to keep you from falling back to your old habits (mine is I lean forward too much and list to the right, when I’m tired, and thus my back starts screaming). Happy Trials!

  12. Tuba permalink
    June 22, 2010 10:12 am

    Dimity – great video and review! It made me wonder, though, how your usual stride looks…..

  13. June 22, 2010 10:22 am

    Thanks for the great share! I am starting to run longer miles with my Newtons and I’m loving it. Hope you’ll find the IT soon. Happy running!

  14. June 23, 2010 9:00 am

    THANK YOU so much for this post. I know my form is partly to blame for putting me on the injured list…and I know I’m going to have to follow your example in order to recover and get back out there. I will be VERY interested to see your progress. I’m signed up for a running form clinic in a few weeks. I can only hope it’s as helpful as it sounds like the Newton Symposium was for you. Please keep us updated.

  15. June 24, 2010 7:47 pm

    I finally watched this – again and again and again! I too want to see the old stride. And will be giving you even more things to think about – specifically, letting your shoulders hang instead of hitching them to your ears when you are using this stride. Remember, as tall as you can be little one! And you don’t need to post this – for your eyes only! I also read the decision to NYC post finally – and I’m intent on being part of the net!

  16. June 26, 2010 2:46 pm

    Great way to show us how the different shoes felt for you. My running partners loves her vibrams and credits her sore-less knees and great calves to them. 🙂 After my last marathon, my knees were sore for weeks and I decided I need to try something different. I need to work on my stride and how I land but have also considered vibrams or at least a less cushiony shoe.

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