Run Focus

10k run today with barefoot technique. It was a bit ambitious to have ramped up the mileage so much within one week after returning from injury – but I was very vigilant regarding potential setbacks. The calves still had some recovery pain (doms) from having stepped up to 6k two days ago on flat shoes but the level was still tolerable given a long slow warm up.  
The main focus was to strike just in front of the heel – that is to aim with that part of the foot so that it would land directly under the body. It’s impossible to tell exactly which part of the foot actually strikes first without capturing it on video and slowing it down. The other way would be to run properly barefoot – but it’s just a little bit too cold for that at the moment. That’s my excuse at least. In the shadows along the banks of the river the cycle path already has some permanent ice which will probably be there now until Spring.
Avoiding an aggressive forefoot strike certainly seems to protect the Achilles tendon and to give the calves a much easier time of it in general. There is no loss in technique elsewhere. Despite all the current advice circulating that suggests that the only way to  land on a bare foot avoiding shock is though a forefoot strike, there was no discomfort at all. It’s not a heel strike but it’s not a forefoot strike either. The feeling is midfoot (which is naturally slightly on the outside edge) followed a tiny fraction of a second later by the forefoot and then the heel. Sometimes it feels like the forefoot strikes first but there isn’t much in it – either way the force dissipates without any shock or any strain on the calves or tendons. Previously I always tried to land on the forefoot – even when trying to strike on the outside edge – so this is a new feeling. It may or may not be as efficient as a forefoot strike but it certainly works for barefoot running.
The sore calves made sure that I kept the speed right down and focused on good form. The second protective thing to concentrate on was to ensure an active use of the foot, extending the ankle towards the end of the stride so that the Achilles contracts instead of stretches. This lengthens the stride too but also  maintains the constant height of the Centre of Mass above the ground as the body “falls” forward. It stabilises the C of M preventing excessive up/down movement – it’s not an issue of propulsion. The propulsion still comes exclusively from gravity and falling forwards. It’s interesting that the extension of the foot activates all the muscles in the foot and you can feel them working powerfully. This is the same as in cycling. Most beginners on the bike seem to let the ankle bend during the push on the pedal and so the energy is absorbed like a sponge. It seems to be the same with running unless you learn to activate the foot and ankle when extending the stride well behind. Amazingly it’s the same with skiing. Ski instruction generally informs people to bend the ankles but never explains why. Racing boots then come so stiff that bending the ankles is neigh on impossible. Bending under load when skiing takes place at the hips and knees – not at the ankles – and the feet muscles should tension if standing on the balls.
The next useful focus was on the core. Generating the power from the big core muscles instead of the smaller leg muscles. That only works properly if there is a good rotation in the spine and the hip is allowed to move freely backwards. It’s a great feeling with everything working, stretching and moving around a very active centre. This also lengthens the stride and you have to watch that it doesn’t slow the cadence at the same timed due to the greater reach. When I came to a hill suddenly the same alignment issue as for the bike just came into focus – using the pull through of the trailing leg you can turn the belly slightly towards the support foot and this places the weight more precisely on the ball of the foot. The power feels amazing for climbing – just as it does on the bike.
The final focus for the day was focus itself. It’s hard to stay focused on the power of the centre – it seems to be an emotional issue. It’s almost like there is an association with being sick in the stomach – it seems emotionally hard to work this area physically. Focusing is a mental exercise and continually re-focusing strengthens the mind. It both clears the mind of all chatter, relaxing it and at the same time strengthens it. Focusing on the core is good for this because it’s hard to stay on it for long and refocusing is never far away.

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