Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why am I running?

I'm on a brief medical hiatus from lifting. I pinched a nerve in my lower back in a dead lift on September 19. That was probably healing on a timeline of 1-2 months, but it felt so much better in 1-2 weeks that I resumed training. I actually thrived and broke some personal records for a few weeks before straining it again on something totally inconsequential in mid-October.

In the meantime, I have seen my orthopedist for a 3-yr checkup and have had a month of PT. The doc says I have good hips, good knees, and a little bulge in the L5-S1 disc. He said I'm getting old, and I strained my back lifting something heavy. Offered me drugs, which I declined, and asked that I see him next time I have a boo-boo in 3 more years (joking). So far, PT has gone well. I'm pain-free and beginning to bend again.  My therapist recommended I continue running, as it's probably training good posture.  So, outside of all the weight lifting and kettlebells, what finally got me into running?

I only began running a couple months ago, after decades of not trying and 3 years of being completely unable. I've needed a long-slow cardio for quite some time. Stationary cycling worked my knees, but there was no impact or balance and no active engagement of the foot itself. It never "felt right". I needed to bounce. I could creep into a squat and explode out of a squat, but I couldn't leap-frog through the squat. Every running stride, especially downhill, would stiffen my knee and send the whole impact up to my hip, which would seize up in a half-mile.

It took squatting and stairs to rebuild my running, which is interesting. My orthopedist and I disagreed strongly about squats, but he could not argue with my success. I supposedly had a partial ACL tear 3 years ago, and there's no evidence of it now.  What does squatting have to do with running? I needed to safely train my leg to drop me in and out of the "hole" without seizing up as a protective reflex. You can't train around a fear reflex under the full-weight burden that causes fear in the first place.  You train around that reflex with a fraction of that weight to regain movement and confidence.  I had to do deep squats, jump squats, and other movements that required and reinforced elasticity to rebuild elasticity.

The running motion itself required some study. I've had an interest in minimalist shoes and the type of running done by unshod and barely-shod billions around the world since long before Nike, Inc was born in 1972. I work out in Vibram Five Fingers, so I started testing my running motion in them.  Running doesn't hurt because it's unnatural; it hurts because you're doing it wrong. (That could be an article unto itself.) It is, rather, the epitome of "natural" human movement. My wife comments that I creep around in my comfy shoes but have this unusually heavy footstep in my motorcycle boots.  In bare feet, I'm the wind itself.

I found a few steps into my first run that I land on my midfoot, with a little roll from the outer edge in.  I found a few minutes in that I like a fairly high step and broad arc beneath me. I described it once like an ostrich, where the foot reaches forward and scratches the ground beneath the body. A lot of other natural running schools keep the feet basically below and behind the body. I reach forward by comparison, but I've figured out why.  That is the important point; I paid attention to what my joints needed. It's inefficient by any measure, but I run 30 minutes twice a week without pain.

Why would I go to all this trouble? First, there's an element of self-discovery and achievement. I'm not a licensed physical therapist, but I rebuilt a cripple into a runner and a weight lifter. Second, every pair of strides is a chance to check my alignment, my balance, the blown right leg, the left ankle I sprained in high school on an otherwise uninjured leg. The footfalls in those goofy plastic shoes on the treadmill give me constant feedback, and I can tell by their tone whether I'm landing on my heel or too flat or too pronated. I run around 850 pairs of strides in every mile, each one a movement screen.

Understand I've done maybe two months of running, with a couple years of conditioning work before it. I'm running in increments not of laps or minutes, but of 2-3 miles. Running is not an unnatural movement. Minimal shoes and bare feet are not dangerous. Squats are not bad for your knees. If I have learned any overarching theme from this long process, it is that my problem is probably not the activity but that I am doing it wrong. I deadlifted wrong, and I knew I rounded my back when I did it, but prior to that, I had added 50lb to my all-time max dead lift. I was rehabbing my knee wrong until I started squatting deep. I was running wrong, in expensive running shoes. I'm clearly blogging wrong, but thanks for joining me along the way.