Saturday, April 14, 2012

What Is Seen

I was shopping for shoes yesterday and saw this photo, and instantly could see this runner is a picture perfect example of poor running mechanics.  Before I delve into that, it reminded me of the classic scene from Kung Fu (the TV show) in which the blind, old Master Po asks a young Quai Chang if he can hear or see the grasshopper at his feet.  Quai Chang had not, and asks "How do you hear so much?"  To which Master Po replies, "Why is it that you do not?"  

It is a profound question to consider.  Why don't we realize what we are seeing and hearing?  How can we learn to see and hear that which passes our perception?

But aside from my own enjoyment of that show, I have learned that I could "see" someone running and now know what it was.  What is running?  Or, as Hannibal Lecter said to Clarice (Silence of the Lambs), "What is the thing in itself?"  

Running is falling.  We think of it, and therefore see it, as propelling ourselves forward using the muscles of the legs.  We don't notice, because it is ubiquitous to our experience of life, how powerfully gravity affects us (until we "fall down", but then we think of that as a different thing that running).  

The "runner" above is working much, much harder than needed.  First, the foot should only be extended forward if the runner desires to stop or turn.  Otherwise, placing the foot on the ground in front of the runner's center of gravity MUST work as a brake.  Folks in the running world argue about heel striking v. mid-foot running - the point is moot.  If you let the foot fall to the ground underneath you as you pull the other foot off the ground toward you, you will land on the mid-foot.  It's actually quite hard to heel strike if you are not in the habit of placing the foot too far to the front.  

Second, the runner is letting his back leg get way, way behind him - probably out of a sense of "pushing himself forward" with the rearmost leg.  It is very easy to feel how much harder it is to fall forward with a leg extended behind - just try falling with both feet underneath you, and then try again with the leg behind. The difference is significant.  Even with just these two basic technique errors, it's not hard to see how folks hurt themselves so much when running.  Then, if you watch such a runner in slow motion, you see how, in order to run this way, they have to drive themselves way off the ground and therefore come crashing back down with every foot fall - it hurts to look at ... once you can see it.

I don't know if ridiculous, human designed shoes led to poor running, or if living in chairs/cars and without strength in our hamstrings/backs made us too weak to run as we were built to.  However, shoes like these make it much harder to run well. 

I used to gobble up all the shoe marketing stuff about how this or that shoe would help one to run with more speed and less pain - turns out, it was nothing but marketing.  The study that would prove this shoe design or that one would improve running and/or reduce injury has never been done.  When the Army tested shoes, they found no benefit to running with any running shoe tested.  

Obviously, technique cannot make an unathletic person faster than an athletic person.  Indeed, the fastest runners in the world run with fair mechanics, they either never lost the ability or learned it instinctively through "body intelligence."  The folks that benefit most from working on their technique are those who used to run pain free, but no longer can.  Or, it's folks who never did any running.  Or it's those who lost some kinesthetic precision following a major accident/surgery.  I am one of the later.

After a 16 hour seminar with POSE Method founder Dr. Nicholas Romanov, and six months of drills and short training sessions, I am running with pleasure again.  I ran a short run the other day 3 minutes faster than my time from December.  I expect to repeat my "after age 30 PR" in the 5k soon.  I enjoyed running quite a lot, ever since I turned 16 or so.  I ran, mostly pretty slowly, in many states, many nations, and both hemispheres.  Finally, I have the answer to what I always wondered when I ran - "am I doing this right?" 

The answer is the same as with any high level skill based activity - "no".   That's OK.  "Better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today."
(Minor edits April 14, 2012, 2200)


  1. Thank you! FInally, someone actually THINKING about what we are having shoved down our throats. We were recently discussing this topic of efficiency and "falling" forward at my gym. It's really hard to break people's hardened perception on the what and how of running when big companies like Nike are telling them, even subconsciously, that this form is correct.

    Good read.


  2. Hi Matt, thanks for dropping by, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  3. great piece, Paul! I'm still working on my POSE :)

    1. Thank you Cynthia, glad you found it! I think I will be "working on the POSE" for as long as I'm running.