Gait Expectations

As you may have gathered from the title, todays blog post is about the mechanics of running. More specifically, it’s about the fun you can have joyfully experimenting with different running styles and gaits. I very nearly went with the title “playing with myself” but thought better of it at the last minute. Though it would likely have tripled the number of visitors to my blog the extra readers may well have ended up feeling short-changed, and I can think of several better ways of spending my time than becoming a hate figure for hundreds of disgruntled perverts*.

Tonight’s run saw me heading out for the first time in nearly a week due to a back strain brought on by overzealous kettlebelling (real word). My runs have been improving steadily of late, with the longer distances beginning to feel more natural and less of a battle, and so it was perhaps understandable that these last six days have felt like months. To top it off there seems to have been some sort of impromptu week-long runners convention in town, because everywhere I looked I saw runners. Hordes of runners, all shiny and backache-free, laughing gaily as they glided back and forth in front of my house.

But none of that mattered, because as I left my house tonight and dropped into a steady rhythm, everything was back to normal and each footfall became my world. For once, I was possessed of some common sense, and I knew that after even a few days out of the game it would be a good idea to take things easy for the first run. The beauty of tonight’s run was that, because I wasn’t concerned about pushing my speed or distance, I could have a bit of a play. My gait seems to lend itself to colourful description, and much of the fun I’ve had writing this blog has involved bullying myself relentlessly. As I’ve already said, my runs have begun to feel much more relaxed and natural of late. More Enya, less Napalm Death. But even so, whenever I happen to catch sight of my reflection in a bus shelter or a car window, I’d struggle to describe my gait as anything more graceful than a baby turtle trying to climb the wrong way up a slide.

See? Seriously, I should have my own charity wristband.

Tonight, the thing that kicked off my decision to play around with my running style was when I caught a glimpse of my shadow, cast in front of me by a street light, and realised that my posture looked somewhere between a swastika and that funny skipping hopping dance that Morecambe and Wise used to do. Arms and legs flung themselves out in every direction, sometimes all at once, giving the general impression of a scarecrow being tasered.

In terms of footstrike, I’ve always been a heel striker up until exhaustion starts to kick in, at which point I often switch to a thudding flat-footed gait. I’d read a bit about the benefits of forefoot running, and had actually toyed with the idea of buying some Vibram Fivefinger barefoot shoes as they’re supposed to be good for that style of running**. So, half a mile into tonight’s run I decided to switch things up, and made a conscious effort to move from heel strike, through mid foot, and before I knew it I was running on the balls of my feet. I’d never tried this before but I have to say it felt much much faster (and my Garmin agreed) and at the same time less physically demanding. I say physically, because it’s the mental side of things that stopped me running like this for more than a hundred metres or so; as this wasn’t my natural running style I felt like I had to concentrate a lot harder than usual (i.e. a lot harder than Not At All) and soon felt myself slipping back into old familiar heelstrike territory. I enjoyed it though, and may risk the threat of searing angry calves in order to try it properly next time.

The next aspect of my running style on my experimental hit list was my knees. Due to the way I’m built, my knees will ALWAYS be close to the ground, but recently I’ve started to feel like I should be lifting them up more when running. My body tends to disagree with this mid-run because it’s easier to just leave them to hang down and let my lower legs propel me in their trademark shambling shuffle (or sometimes, if I’m feeling adventurous, a shuffling shamble). However, since I started to have knee twinges a few weeks ago I’ve found that by making an effort to raise them a little more (while resisting the urge to take it too far and pump them parallel to the ground in a Keystone Cops styley) it seems to open up the knee joints and relieve the pressure. An added bonus of knee lift is that it seems to add a fair bit of speed, so I might need to explore this a bit more, even if it means putting drawing pins inside my trainers.

I’m conscious that there’s less than two weeks (!) to go until the HM, so Sensible Me might have to sneak out of his cage and stop me from getting too experimental so close to the race.

This is the same Sensible Me who said that space hoppers, while not specifically forbidden in the rules, would be unsportsmanlike and a little bit stupid.

Sensible Me can be a bit of an arse sometimes.

*If I ever get fed up with my day job and decide to pursue a career in the folk-rap industry, I can think of worse band names than “The Disgruntled Perverts”.
**I decided against it in the end as I really don’t need any help looking stupid when out running. Some people can pull the look off, but I’d just end up looking like a sporty hobbit.

They actually look much more graceful and composed than I remember. Which means that in the world of running I'm still some way behind a pair of comedic national treasures who also happen to be extremely dead.

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One thought on “Gait Expectations

  1. Good, funny article and interesting points. I challenge any reader to not have a little experimentation with their gait after reading this. It could be like the Ministry of Silly Walks on the streets tonight!

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