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29 October 2004

Injury-free runners are a bunch of posers

Running on grass isn’t the only way to limit the jarring on your joints. An expert has the latest tips.

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Ah, summer. Depending on where you live, your neighbourhood might get 18 hours of sunlight a day now. When the sun’s up early there can be few things better than slipping into a pair of running shoes and padding along quiet streets.

The air is fresh and still cool, some sprinklers are hissing gently and the birds sing as the lady in number 23 appears in her dressing gown and leans down to pick up the morning paper. It’s idyllic. For many people it’s the only solitude in the day – sitting in traffic doesn’t count, because it’s more of a group activity.

Running’s inexpensive and unrivalled as a fat-burner, but nothing’s more demotivating than a case of shin splints just as you’re starting to get fit.

You can run on grass, but you never know when you’ll hit a doggie landmine or a hole that’ll twist your ankle. If you’re just starting out as a runner there are some things that might help make it easier.

And if you’ve been running for yonks, it might have been a while since you looked at your stride.

Useful tips
The Russian sports scientist Dr Nicholas Romanov, has developed a technique he says reduces running injuries by cutting the impact of the runner’s feet on the road by 30 percent. It seems impossible that anything short of running with helium balloons could do that, but his so-called “pose technique” has been adopted by a number of athletes, including triathletes.

Dr Romanov told the UK’s Men’s Fitness magazine that his technique is a kind of controlled falling and that runners should think of their bodies as pendulums using gravity to swing forward, rather than a mechanism relying on muscular or mechanical power.

Here’s how it works:

  • When you learn the technique, you visualise yourself running on a hot surface and limit the time your feet spend in contact with the ground;
  • You lean forward constantly, to the point you feel that you’re about to tumble onto your nose. Your whole body leans and you don’t bend from the waist. The faster you go, the more you lean. As a result, you’ll be a couple inches shorter than normal when you run, but you won’t be hunched up;
  • Even when your feet hit the ground, your knees stay slightly bent and your back stays straight;
  • Your stride is so short that your foot lands under your body, rather than in front of it. Why? The further away from your body, the less leverage and balance it has. The closer, the better its strength;
  • You always land on the ball of your feet and never on your heels. Dr Romanov’s reasoning is that landing on your heels brakes you and breaks your momentum, so that you’re essentially stopping with every stride and then having to push yourself off again. And of course landing on your heel transmits the impact all the way up to your shins, knees and hips, and to the hands that believe they should be at home holding a beer and a remote control;
  • As soon as your foot hits the ground, your immensely powerful hamstring muscle flicks your heel straight back up toward your butt, just like the rubber band it essentially is. The trickiest part of this is learning not to push off the ground with your toes;
  • While your foot flicks back, it doesn’t kick up so far that you give yourself a back-heeler in the bottom with each stride. The faster you’re running, the higher it’ll kick, but it shouldn’t go more than an inch or two, because it’ll come right back down in a moment;
  • Now your foot travels in a natural arc and gravity lets the ball of the foot touch the ground again with minimum effort. Your foot has an almost circular movement of kick-back-and-release, kick-back-and-release.

Dr Romanov reckons around 190 strides per minute, more as you get fitter and faster. At that rate there’s hardly even time for the dog-do to stick, let alone for your feet to jar in the tar. - (William Smook)

 
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