Running to Work

In this post I’d like to share some thoughts on the pleasures of running to work and the development of a sustainable running form. I’ve been running barefoot to work daily for nearly 1 ½ years now, I started with a 22k round trip but since moving house a while back it’s now a 26km round trip four times per week that amounts a little over 2 ½ hours running per day.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I began barefoot running a few years ago after having a barefoot running lesson with Carl Dewhurst. At that time I’d been running for a few years but had been injured several times, and although I loved running, I was becoming frustrated with injuries associated with knees and shins. Since I began barefoot running I’ve remained injury free which has allowed me to commit to this daily commute to work and back.

A primary focus of the small community of barefoot runners I’m involved with (Carl, Scott) is the commitment to a sustainable form. To me, form and technique mean that you develop a running style that allows you to maintain a regular running schedule without injury. We are in constant communication sharing tips on technique that help with the development of a natural running form, and through this regular contact with friends about technique, I feel that I’ve been able to develop an approach to running that I don’t think I would have arrived at in isolation.

It seems that a lot of people who want to run are very focused on speed, length of run, diet, shoes, socks …but in many cases the question of HOW TO RUN is not in the foreground. In the past, when I was running with shoes and getting injured a lot, I would change shoes after recovering from an injury. Instead of looking at my form and how it could be improved, I would seek out better gear that I felt would somehow protect me from further injury. Since the switch to barefoot, the primary focus has been how to run as there is no shopping list of gear that can help my running (except paw paw cream).

Also, through chatting with runners during long runs, I’ve found that a lot of runners like myself (people who run for fun, not competing, just trying to stay fit) feel that talk of technique and form is for serious runners only and is not a concern for general runners. In many cases I’ve noticed people doing fitness training, sprints, and long runs without paying any attention to technique, just focusing on completing each exercise without giving thought to how one should go about doing it. This may result in an unsustainable approach to running that could lead to an injury.

Once you commit to running to work then the primary focus is developing a natural running form that allows you to commute indefinitely, that is low impact, sustainable, and efficient in terms of energy use. With the development of a natural running form, a daily running commitment feels very doable and there is no longer any need to find time for runs in your spare time. Also, a low impact natural form allows one to really process the day whilst running, like a kind of meditative space where you arrive at work and home feeling refreshed, energized, and in my case, free of anxieties.

So here’s a few tips that have really helped me with developing form.

1. While working on form take a break from listening to music whilst running. A huge part of barefoot running is hearing how hard you land on the ground. When your form is solid, the sound of your feet landing on the ground should be barely audible, like placing a cushion on the surface…very quiet, no striking, just feet curling around the terrain with each step. If you are a heel-striker who listens to music whilst running, turn off the music and take a moment to really listen to how hard you’re hitting the ground.

2. Work on your upper body posture. If you lift slightly from your upper chest you’ll feel your lower spine extends a little…like you’re taller (not pulling shoulders back…just imagine that your upper chest is pointing slightly skyward). Slouching can lead to a kind of controlled falling that makes it hard to breathe, hard to sustain, and encourages a harder landing on your feet. Also, a strong sense of upper body posture allows you to sink into your core. For barefoot runners, a focus on core is a vital component of form and helps one maintain a light step.

3. Take off your shoes in the house and run slowly on the spot with your knees slightly bent. Feel how your forefoot pad lands slightly before your heel, and how the foot remains flat on the floor after landing on the floor. Notice how your toes slightly grip the ground when you land, and then your achilles acts like a spring that pushes your feet upwards for the next step. Also, notice how little the feet need to lift off the ground…no need to kick your bum, just lift your foot slightly off the ground.

It feels like there is a common misunderstanding about “heel strike” and “forefoot strike”. Forefoot landing is a complex chain of events that can be confusing if simplified to a single term without explanation. A sustainable step requires a full body focus (posture, core focus, legs, feet, toes) and cannot be developed by just thinking “forefoot strike” (I sometimes wonder if shoe companies should be pressured to include an instruction manual with running shoes that provides a thorough explanation of how they think you should run whilst wearing their product).

4. Move forward…Try moving without your legs landing in front of your chest. Imagine that your chest is the most forward part of your body and your feet are landing just beneath you. For me, there is barely any difference between running on the spot and running forward. It seems that when we run we add things to a very natural activity that should be very simple and efficient. When you run on the spot without a lot of leg lift, it feels very sustainable. This is a nice starting point in the development of a natural style..very simple, low impact practice that focuses your attention on micro aspects of running without any thought to speed or distance.

5. Ask other runners how they approach form. I’ve learnt so much from talking with other runners about form and breathing. If you live in Sydney and see me running around (funny legionnaires hat and no shoes) please feel free to stop and have a chat..

Of course, if you want to run long distance to work and back, you need to be training well beyond running on the spot but I find that a natural running form is a combination of very simple ideas that you maintain a focus on all the time.. posture, knees slightly bent, landing softly either flat or forefoot slightly early, heel resting after landing, toes slightly gripping and an awareness of the achilles spring.

So if your a runner like me who wants to be able to carry on with a running commute indefinitely, forget the clock and work on form. I find running to work to be hugely beneficial to every aspect of my life, and my running form has really developed into a sustainable natural style due to necessity and a shift in focus from running as exercise, to running as the primary transport to and from work.

Originally posted on Simon’s personal site: http://sbdriftwood.tumblr.com

Profile photo of Simon Barker
I'm a drummer (and obsessed barefoot runner) based in Sydney, Australia.

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