After yet another season spent sidelined because of injury, I thought I’d explore why I was not able to make it through a season without calf tears, Achilles tendonitis, and hip pain. I’d read Born to Run (even met the famous Caballo Blanco at a lecture at QEH) and Natural Running by Danny Abshire (Newton Shoes), looked into some of the research and thought there might be something in it. So I decided I would teach myself a new technique.
I did drills, foot strengthening exercises and then went out for a run. Twenty minutes was all I was aiming for; I thought the brain power needed to concentrate for twenty minutes of a new movement pattern would far exceed the energy burned running. Twelve minutes later and I’m hobbling back home. The calves were screaming and the Achilles and knees were far from happy. It’s a good thing I haven’t got stairs at home.
A second attempt at a run a week later had the same results. What was going wrong? I decided to seek help. Despite years of working in a running shop and being a qualified triathlon coach, I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to learn. I made an appointment with The Running School to have my run technique shredded to smithereens by their bio-mechanical experts. Two videos were taken, one from the rear and one from the side. The rear view showed a low heel kick (weak hamstrings), and twisting of the torso (arms crossing the centre line to the front and putting pressure on the lumbar spine, hence the backache). From the side, the cause of the Achilles ache and sore knees was obvious. Although I was touching down on my toes, they were way too far out in front of my body and shock waves that a crash pad under the heel would normally absorb, could not be absorbed by the forefoot as it was in the wrong position to make use of the bodies ability to absorb the shock waves. In short, I had maintained my heel-striking gait but was putting my toes down first, still creating that braking action that is so destructive.
Okay. Now that I know what is wrong, how do I fix it? The promise of becoming a more efficient runner in six weeks was enough to make me sign up. On my first visit, my trainer Amy, put me through a grueling session on the treadmill for 30 minutes. But first, she broke down the correct run action into its component parts and we worked one at a time, over and over again. Intervals are short and intense. The Central Nervous System (CNS) is also included in this training, however, it tires after 15 -30 seconds. Once the CNS is tired, form breaks down and the muscles are not learning anything new.
We then spent 20 minutes finding out where my functional weaknesses were and going through the exercises to help strengthen to core, legs, and most importantly, the glutes. What I found to be most beneficial was the immediate feedback from Amy when I started to falter. When I tried to teach myself the new technique, it felt fine. But that was because I thought what I was doing was right from the start and it wasn’t because I couldn’t see what I was doing. A new technique will always feel odd, even hard because the new muscles are not yet trained and it is easy to assume that what you are doing is right because it feels good.
I still wasn’t satisfied though; I want to know why runners, me included, keep getting injured. It isn’t an simple answer, but one thing continued to stand out … technique, technique, technique. Just about anyone thinking of running goes out and buys a pair of shoes and off they go putting one foot in front of the other (in some cases quite literally which has its own ramifications for injury). However, if you wanted to learn to play golf, you would seek the help of a pro to teach you the correct way to hold a club and how to swing it. Or if you wanted to learn to play the piano, you would go to a teacher so that you can instruct your brain and muscles in the right way to play the notes. In other words, you would learn the technique. But as runners, we haven’t done that. We go out, see what others are doing and try to copy them; we try to go faster and when we can’t we blame it on our genes, and when we get injured we don’t investigate why.