Friday, July 29, 2011

Running Blind

I have been running most of my life, well, except that large gap in the middle of life called midlife, you know, that part where you drink too much and do crazy stuff to your body. As a young child, in Jr. High and in High School I ran on track teams. I was never the top guy I just liked to run

After High School I pretty much gave up on running because I found it a major pain, literally, running was a pain. It was a love hate relationship. I would suffer all year from shin splints and was totally relieved that I could finally stop running at the end of the season, heal and get on with exciting sports like skiing and drinking beer. As much as I loved running, rarely did I enjoy it. But there were moments, and many of those moments were mountain runs. For some reason running in the mountains on gnarly trails was never a pain, it was pure delight.

Well, move the clock forward to 2003, almost 25 years later, and I decide it is time to drag my unhealthy fat butt out the door and start hitting the road again. Immediately I begin to enjoy a run and feel like I missed something for a lot of my life. Just when it was getting good and visions of marathons pranced in my head, I needed some shoes and some “teenage mutant expert” in the local running store talked me into buying a pair of corrective, support, stability, padded for a fat guy running shoes. Within two weeks the shin splints of youth are back. But being a very determined, I hang in there for another 4 long years putting in a couple 3 mile runs a week. This all changed around 2008 when I started to move towards Barefoot and minimalist running and injuries started to drop away.

However I still have a few issues here and there and I attribute them to bad form. After all, I can’t blame shoes if I don’t wear them, right? As I get comfortable with my form, I start getting lazy, isn’t that always the case? Running Minimalist/barefoot was a god send for my running and now I need to take another step forward.

The other day I was running in my Vibram Five Finger KSO’s and I realized once again I was over striding. I worked hard to bring in the stride, land under my center of mass, increase cadence, be light and easy, Easy, light, float like a butterfly, yada yada yada and it was all intellectual, logical, not a “feeling” like it was working. Then it hit me, what if I close my eyes, what if I run blind and let my feet be my eyes? It seemed crazy enough that it might just work.

I was on a long, flat, straight and safe stretch of blacktop pathway where I could experiment so I closed my eyes. Fear of glass and doggy doo hit me with each step I made in an endeavor to feel the road. I felt for each foot pick up off the road and sense the landing as close under me as possible. Each step I wanted to feel as much as I possibly could feel and become one with the road. Blind runner Zen or Nirvana, and then I went off onto the grass and almost wiped out. That is when I realized I would need to peek every now and then until I mastered running blind. Later I learned I had to peak now and then even after I mastered running blind. It is called common sense. Otherwise, I was going to run into a tree and that just wouldn’t be cool for the spectators or whoever might witness the wipeout!

Next I closed my eyes again and extended my mind to my feet and after a few seconds realized they were landing out in front of me again and then pulling me forward sort of like land, skid a little, brake, pull, kick off and push. Heck, no wonder I had blood blisters from last week’s race, all this chicken scratching that was going on below. I quickly made a correction and was landing under me again and then hit the grass edge. Crap, I opened my eyes and I realized I was veering to the right. I realigned with the path and closed my eyes, focused on the feet again and immediately I was over striding and reaching again but this time I noticed almost immediately and corrected. Then I started to feel the camber of the path, it was slight but I could feel it and then I hit the grass again. With my eyes closed I was compensating for the camber that sloped away to the left and I veered right almost as if running away from the slope uphill. I corrected and closed my eyes again.

This process went on for over 2 miles. As time went on, I found different issues with my stride like pushing off, pulling, over striding, and compensating for my sore ankle (another story), compensating for landing on objects (a good thing especially if it is dog poo). I started feeling cracks in the path as I landed; I felt my foot pronate as it landed and rolled to the ball and realized I was pushing off not lifting.

I found that in the beginning I was able to run 8-10 steps before needing to peek. Then it was 15 and then 20. I hope that someday I can pick a straight path and follow it for a minute blind using feet and ears as my guide.

So give it a try, Have fun running blind! If nothing more you will amuse other runners as they see you coming at them with eyes closed. Peak a little and when they are close say hello am I still on the sidewalk/road/trail or whatever works and then keep going.

You can read this and other original postings at StandingOnTop

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