If you want to truly understand something, try to change it. ~Kurt Lewin
“Eventually, I lost patience with the entire process and the Vibrams ended up somewhere in the back of the closet where they remained, until….”
…until I began, no, wait. Allow me to back up a bit in the timeline. Prior to resurrecting the Vibrams I was still searching for a way to run with less pain. The Vibrams weren’t doing it for me but they did make it agonizingly clear that I was doing something wrong. If the shoes were not going to magically correct my running motion I figured I would try a different device. A running coach. At the time I was not living in Birmingham. Thanks to Google, I found a Big, University Level, track coach who also condescended to work with us mere mortal runners for an hourly fee. I called him and explained my situation and he agreed to meet and work with me. He told me to meet him by the Track at the Big University Gym at 4:00pm the next day. I was excited and thrilled. I had never been a runner as a kid and certainly never been professionally coached. As for organized sports, I played softball and competed in martial arts. I was a pretty good athlete, but if you had told me to go run a mile just for the heck of it, I would have resisted. Running, or being told to take a lap, was punishment for a misdeed, not something you did for fun!
It wasn’t until I was 25 years old and in the Air Force that I learned to run for running’s sake. In order to pass our PT test we had to run a mile and a half in under 15 minutes. I had no idea about how fast that might be or whether or not I could even run that far in the prescribed time. A few months before I left for basic training, I got in the car, measured out a course of a mile and a half on the odometer and tested myself. It wasn’t pretty, but I finished in less than 15 minutes and that was all I cared about.
After basic training I found myself stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, in California. There was so much awe-inspiring scenery to take in and I had such limited time that I found myself running up and down the insane hills and along the waterfront just so I could take it all in. Looking back, I can easily say that my time in Monterey was when running ceased being punishment and became my personal delight. It wasn’t until recently, that mysterious, frustrating pain was causing me to reconsider the punishment aspect, which was why I found myself in search of a cure. So here I was, excited for the opportunity to be at a Big University Track hoping for some athletic enlightenment from a Big University Track Coach.
I met Coach Carl at the track and we introduced ourselves. He wanted me to warm up first. Rather than run around in circles on the track we took off slowly along the campus road. I had no idea where we were going and figured we would do a loop around and return to the track. Instead, we ended up at a huge open meadow that contained the Big University Soccer fields and practice area. Coach Carl had me run a lap around the perimeter of the field so he could watch my form. When I got back to where he was standing, he explained some running fundamentals to me and it all made sense. I was running completely wrong with respect to the way the human body was designed. I knew that much from reading McDougal’s book but had no idea what I was doing wrong or how to change it. We have a great shock absorption system, but it doesn’t work if it’s out of position. He explained it to me in much better scientific language than I will use here, but basically it was that the important components of running take place beneath and behind us rather than out in front of us.
Coach Carl showed me that my feet were hitting the ground way too far in front of my body, rather than underneath it. Or rather, he had me demonstrate to myself that my feet were too far in front. As I ran he told me to keep my head straight and level and to glance down by only moving my eyes. If I could see my feet when I looked down, they were too far forward. I peaked down.
Yep, there they were.
Time for a few drills. Each one had a purpose with respect to running form, but I was clueless. He made me skip. And skip some more. We did a lot of skipping.
Skipping was hard!
Jump, bring the front knee up high, let the back leg scoot and catch your weight underneath, over and over… until you don’t think you can pick your legs up anymore.
Time for a break.
That’s when he imparted the secret of “The Butt Kick”. He ran me through butt kick drills.
“When you run, he said, “Don’t think about sending your foot forward but focus more on getting your heel up off the ground behind you”. He sent me out for another lap around the field. First, I want you to skip slowly then pick up speed. When I thought I was about to pass out, he told me to slow down and add in
“The Butt Kicks”. In my mind I equated the heel height to a volume knob for my feet. The higher I cranked up the volume knob or heel height, the faster I went. I briefly wondered if it went up to 11. The more I thought about what needed to be going on behind me the less I found my feet out in front. I got about halfway around the field and he was yelling at me… That’s it! You’ve got it, you’ve got it”! “Whatever you are doing now, however it feels to you- just keep doing THAT! It was exhilarating, pain free and tiring as hell! I could push myself for hours to slog in poor form through the pain of a marathon, but a few minutes of running “properly” had me gasping for air.
I was beginning to see a pattern…Coach Carl’s advice dovetailed nicely into much of what I read about in Born to Run, but on a much more practical level for me. He didn’t care about the finer points of what shoes I was or was not wearing. His advice was focused at the gross anatomy level of running rather than the microscopic break down of what I put on my feet. I had to get the big things right in order for the little things to make a difference. I made the decision to focus on my form first. The Vibrams remained in the closet for a little while longer…