Well-being for the Open-Minded Sceptic #83 – Running, Feet and Gait
I started running when I was 18 years old. My first attempt, I was able to run a block and then I had to walk a block. Each day, I was able to run a bit longer and walk less. Run-walk intervals, when you are learning, is a great way to ease into the sport safely and stay motivated. Eventually, I was able to run without walking in between. I loved the freedom of being able to put on my shoes and go. I found that it was great for stress relief, mental clarity, and my fitness improved overall. Now that I live in Tassie, I still run casually most days, mainly on trails or at the beach. I run because I enjoy it. It is a form of meditation for me.
It has not always been a bed of roses though. I did experience some injuries before changing my gait and discovering the Gokhale Method. Posture work has influenced me in changing my running style and given me tools to help prevent further injuries. I still get the occasional sore muscles, but that is usually because I’ve overdone something or run different terrain without proper warmup or cool down. Having a better understanding of how the body is meant to work, can open doors and possibilities if you are considering running.
Let’s start with the feet. In most instances, unless you’re running barefoot, good shoes that fit your running style are important. For me, finding the right shoes has been a journey. Engaging and strengthening my feet has been a game changer.
In running, your feet are the first point of contact every time you hit the ground. Strong feet are important. Issues that can occur in people with weak feet are inflammation, plantar fasciitis, bunions, neuromas, and even stress fractures in the feet or shins. Working on foot strength can help improve your natural elasticity allowing you to be springier when you touch the ground. Strong feet are also less likely to experience an unhealthy level of pronation or supination.
One of my favourite GM concepts is kidney beaning the feet to help with stability. You start with your feet parallel about shoulder width apart. Imagine that your toes are taped to the floor. Keep the toes in place and lift your heel just a little bit. Now swivel the heel in gently without moving the toes. You will notice this shortens the foot and increases the inner arch of the foot. When you get the feet right there is a whole positive chain reaction up the leg into the hips. Kidney beaning the feet, helps keep the inner arches from collapsing and it externally rotates the leg. The external rotation of the leg in running assists in opening the hip joints, it can help prevent IT band pain and patellofemoral (runner’s knee) pain.
Many runners land heel first instead of landing on their forefoot or mid foot as our ancestors did. That is exactly what I was doing. It was causing excessive collision force on my heel and a lack of spring in my overextended stride. The result for me was a case of Plantar fasciitis and knee pain. In running, heel striking which usually goes along with over-striding, is like someone hitting you on the heel with a hammer two to three times your body weight. If you do this long enough it will wear on your joints. In the Gokhale Method we teach landing on a bent knee when walking to soften the impact when touching the ground. The landing knee in running should be bent for the same reason. I find this easier with a mid or forefoot landing.
Foot strengthening and stretching exercises have helped my feet become stronger and more flexible. You can find a lot of these online. Sometimes if I am running a trail and there is a raised root or rock, I will stop for a moment and stand on it. It feels great to have it under the arch of my foot to help stretch the planter fascia. I will also place the front of my foot on it, with my heel on the ground then lean forward to stretch my calf muscle. When the leg is straight, it stretches the gastrocnemius and bent knee will stretch the soleus. Calf stretches can help to reduce the risk of injury or conditions such as Achilles Tendonitis, Plantar Fasciitis and Cramp.
Today, whenever I feel a bit of niggle in my knees or tightness in my Achilles, I focus on engaging my feet more as well as my glutes. That resolves the issue for me. (Glutes are another lesson.)
To find out more about posture in general, join me for a free 1.5-hour workshop- 10am on 22nd September, St Helens Neighbourhood House
Written by: Michelle “Mickie” Ball , Massage therapist and Gokhale Method Teacher 0428 223 271