The photos show the change in my running achieved in six weeks from Ironman Western Australia (left photo) to Challenge Wanaka. The key thing was moving to forefoot striking from this I feel my cadence increased, I got lighter on my feet, worked my calfs less and stopped cramping at all in my calves.
This entry has been prompted by a few questions and comments on my persistent use of vibrams for running. It certainly made me think. Putting my use of vibrams in context I hope will help show that they are not some silver bullet where you put them on and suddenly everything is right. They certainly helped me but it’s not as simple as starting to run in a pair and suddenly you will run with good form.
Many years ago, in my late 20s, I played a lot (A LOT) of badminton and did some running just to keep fit for badminton. I buggered up my knee and had 5 years where I couldn’t run, could hardly ride a bike, had 3 surgeries and went through periods of getting physio treatment (sometimes 3 times a week). At the time I remember my consultant asking what I would view as success to which I replied “ being able to ride my bike”. At that time, my late 20s, I seriously thought I’d never be able to run again.
This taught me patience.
I had no hurry to return to running. It wasn’t running that had caused the problem so once I could run again at least I felt it wasn’t going to bring the issue back. I ran for pleasure. No heart rate, no accurate measure of distance, I just got out and ran. I got in to fell running and a little later I got in to triathlon. My goals were always just to see what the limits of how far I could run were … I ran steady but ran long. I must have gone 2 years, at least, where I didn’t do a single interval or speed session. I worked hard up hills but otherwise I could always chat, and often did, on my runs. Unbeknownst to me I effectively followed the Phil Mafetone method which is something I now use extensively with my athletes.
I was patient, I wasn’t concerned about performance … well not in terms of speed. When I started triathlon and ran in competitions it was awesome that barriers I’d not broken in my earlier running days seemed irrelevant. Sub 40 10k happened immediately and I went well below it. Fast halfs and marathons. I’d not done the patient running with the intention of getting faster but it did put me in a position to run fast when I added a little speedwork.
Then I snapped my FHL tendon. This was just over 2 years ago. Once I was able to run again I decided that I was not going to rush my running. I would take my time. I think it was Scott that said to me around this time that we’re in this for the long haul. He’s right, I plan to racing in 20 years time. In that time frame what does it matter if it takes a couple of years, even 4 or 5 to get back to running form.
It was a good job I was happy to be patient as it’s been slow. Immediately on getting on to my feet I started wearing vibrams. Initially just for walking in order to strengthen my feet. I had various issues due to the surgery which required inserts which didn’t work with vibrams. I was however, determined that they wouldn’t be a permanent fixture. This meant for short runs I’d run in FiveFingers. This definitely helped me get over those issues. The main one being I was pushing off with my toes rather than my big toe. This is almost certainly due to a combination of lack of strength following the surgery and something subconscious trying to protect that tendon. The FiveFingers gave the feedback required to be able to sense what I was doing.
I also believed that there’s no way I’d be heel striking in vibrams. Throughout my running since my knee surgeries I’d never believed in all this heel striking, pronation control, orthotics. The latter almost certainly are needed in a small percent of cases but I get the feeling a lot of the experts probably think the majority need them. This meant I’d done all my running in racing flats or fell shoes. I’ve been wrecking my brain trying to remember if I heel struck back then … some friends have told me I couldn’t have been. I don’t know.
I was heel striking in vibrams.
The picture above proves it. There was a picture at Kona and a comment about it on a forum that finally made me realise. I looked at the wear on my vibrams and it was clear. I needed to fix it.
Enter Helen Privett from Ten-Point Tri in Amersham. She has been my savour. She really knows her stuff. I never asked what her qualifications were I didn’t need to. Every bit of advice worked, she explained things about niggles I’d had over the years that made sense for all of them. She also pointed out I needed to learn to forefoot strike. Sticking vibrams on doesn’t make it happen straight away.
After I qualified at Busselton I decided I should sort it out. She told me to be ready to not feel like a runner. Thank god I was patient. I was back to running 5 mins round the block every other day. Somehow in six weeks I was racing Wanaka, even splitting the marathon for 3:42. My move to forefoot running was surprisingly quick … don’t expect it to be that quick for you.
I was now running properly but needed to build up endurance. I was still concerned though that the injury had been caused by running and that rather held my hand. At last the final piece fell in to place when I remembered how badly I cut the ball of that foot at Helvellyn Triathlon.
So now… I feel I’m running well and I can build my training. I’m excited but I’m not rushing it.
At Ironman Austria I’m hoping to PB and dreaming of sub 9. If I’m honest my running won’t be up to it. I’m not rushing to get ready as my eyes are on longer term goals. Goals like to be running in my 60s. Goals like sub 9 at Roth and / or Busselton next year. For this I need to keep my mind longer term. My running needs to build slowly through this summers races and Kona. I need next winter with a run focus. Hopefully ending with London Marathon. Throughout all this I am still using vibrams. They are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever run in. It’s flattering that some people seem to think that if I stuck some ‘normal” trainers on I’d suddenly be running like my old self. If only it were that simple … like with most things my lack of performance is due to lack of work. I am working at it but I just need more time.
Patient running is whats required.