Sunday, 21 October 2012

Am I a natural runner or do I run naturally?

Am I a natural runner? Do I run naturally?

This is a question I have just started to ask myself as a part of a journey I have been taking for the last four months.
Perhaps with luck I had been running in a variety of the 8mm drop Saucony’s for the last 4 years. In the last 12 months I had been in the ‘minimalist’ Brooks Green Silence and the 4mm Saucony Kinvaras. I saw it as luck as I had commenced becoming a runner with fairly minimal shoe support and gait correction.

In June I decided to ‘take the next step’ and try to work out why I was having heel issues and trouble with my calves and hips when I upped the kms in my weekly running.  I had a gait analysis done by the terrific crew down at Active Feet in Bayswater. Apparently I ran with a ‘midfoot to rear’ strike and slight over pronation. I was to be sold the Asics DS Race 9 to help correct my problems. So after trawling the net to find the best deal on these, no – one will ship to Australia at the price I wanted,  I decided to pop in to Runners World on High St in Kew. Neil there was fantastic. We had a chat, I told him my history and I was steered clear of the Asics. I was sold on some New Balance 890 v.2 These were a lightweight, minimal shoe similar to my Sauconys, but the foam padding was vastly different to what I was used to and after 9 or so km in each run I began to get sore feet – fore and mid sections.

This was the tipping point – do let the shoes correct me and forever rely on technology or do I learn how to really run and work through this the right way?
What was going on? 

I then put my mind to some research and though about that gait assessment. The shoe comparer bought Inov-8 to my attention. I did some reading on various blogs about these (Thanks Stan!) and my running form. After some barefoot sessions in the gym with Leigh from I was shown how I ran very narrow, almost landing on a straight line down the basketball court. I had quite good form but needed to keep the natural width between my knees as I run. With a few tweaks Leigh had me running better already. My mantra was now ‘drive the knees up and straight, light feet, knees up and forward, light feet’. I had tried the inov-8s at Runners World so I took a punt through In the meantime I spent the next few weeks completely cutting down the kms and focusing purely on finding that good form. I must admit, it became almost an obsession but I really enjoyed the running again. I started to feel better and the hips and feet were thanking me. A week later and the 233s arrived. These babies’s had even less cushioning than what I was used to, but all the light feet practice had paid off. I was taking the first real step towards that natural running form.

After a month I was ready for my 15km DE Castella run. This was the unknown. I was just going to run the run, focusing on my form and gait and see what happened. I went out with the leaders, thinking ‘cadence, knees forward and up, light feet’. This worked well and I soon settled into about the top 50, with a consistent effort but not going for broke either. As the rolling hills wore on people beside me began to drop and I kept on with my mantra. Fast forward to the finish line and I set a new PB over the recorded 10km and the race in 1:07:13 – Happy days! I finished 25 in my division and 45 overall!

With this little personal victory I hit the training track a little harder and began to push the pace on my training runs that little more. Soon I was a constant 4:27 km man.  3 weeks into the journey and I was ready for the next phase, the 3mm Inov-8 X-lite 155s. Reading Stan’s blog again and many other reviews on the web I had the confidence in myself and the shoes. I could do no wrong.  A week later and after a few 2 x 3km trial runs I did my first real 10km in them. They felt great, but I had a few niggles in the calves.
I continued the longer training runs, but was very form focused again and was consistently making little tweaks to my stride and landing. A couple of weeks in, and some alternating between the shoes and I was running stronger and the calves were much more relaxed. Possibly a lot of stretching each night also helped this process.

The moment of crystallisation came on a beach run. I wasn’t up for the distance but over analysed my footprints. I tried a few different gaits and found what felt best. Looking back at my prints and I was landing perfectly on the fore/mid foot area. I took a risk and flew back along the beach and then ran the last 500m along the road barefoot. Whooping and hollering quietly to myself I ran all the way back, no thumping of the feet or jarring of the legs, just a great feeling. The following day I cracked a 51 minute 12km, my best time ever over a flat course.

At this point I decided to enter the Two Bays Trail Run – 29km over trail and varied terrain. Much as I love the road series, they were not going to be doing this run with me. It was time for some trail shoes. Again I turned to Inov-8, why move from a good thing? I wanted to get the Trailroc 245 to continue with the 3mm drop to match the road shoes, but when Wiggle had 25% off ‘in stock only’ and there were no 245s, I took the gamble on the 235s – zero drop, ala natural running form.

They arrived and the first run was a fast and ferocious bash through the bush and along the trail. They felt great, I felt fast and free. I had to think about what I was doing with my knees and feet (knees forward and straight, light landing) again but I arrived home with muddy shoes and happy legs. The following morning was 3km asphalt run around the block near work and again I pulled up feeling great. I had a slight calf niggle along the way but minor adjustments fixed that. To finish I hit the tready and did 3 x 500m with 30sec rest. Again, wonderful (but I’m not as keen on the tready now!).

Finally, on Saturday I did almost 6km over rolling hills (including a 1.5km stretch up a 6 degree incline, and then quite quickly back down it!) over a mix of pavement onto trail in the zero drop Trailroc 235 and enjoyed the whole run. I could ascend and descend hills with ease and my feet felt great and my calves felt just as good as before I left. Even as I sit here now, the legs have no pain.

The hip trouble I had is gone and I’m enjoying it again. So my question is, am I a natural runner or have I learnt to run natural? 

When can I classify myself as a barefoot runner?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on just how much attention you pay to your form when running. Has it helped your love of running?
Cheers and happy feet, Lachie 

The Update!!! 6 December 2012

Well it's now been 2 months since this post and 5 months of Natural Running. 
I've since done over 90km in training including 2 x 10km races in my 'barefoot/natural/zero drop' 235 trailrocs. When I put them on I feel ready to fly. Running feels effortless.

I have run up to 20km in them with out foot pain or calf/Achilles problems that people warn about and I really enjoy the sensation of being able to feel the ground and be in-control of my running. I still need to work on my leg strength, as I do notice that my quads get much heavier when running with this drop. It's something I've not felt as much with the 155s that are off a 3mm drop. 

I'm now waiting for  my 155s to wear out so I can go out and purchase some of the bare x - zero drop road range sold by inov-8. 


  1. great post Lachie. And I'm glad I helped even in a little way in your choice of shoes.

    As for myself, I always pay attention to form when running. My biggest weakness is the late stage when my form gets sloppy and my right foot starts to heel strike as evidenced by the scuff marks on my shoe.

    Staying injury free and running well, I believe, is a combination of good form and proper shoes (or barefoot).

  2. I'm in the same boat Stan. I am in the habit now of always picking myself up on things, especially the focus on the straight knees. Touch wood my form is now pretty good and I can stay injury free for a while. I'm doing 2 x 10 - 12km a week and 1 x 4-8km on a hilly course or as a tempo run. After my 10km hill run on 11/11/12 I'll up it to 2 x 12 - 14km and a log 15-20 run on the weekend to prepare for the 29km trail run in Jan 13.