True or False: Running is a Contact Sport!

If you asked me this question last week when I was face planting and rolling on the concrete, my first response would have been, “TRUE!”  If you asked my friend Brian the same question the night before, he would have said, “TRUE,” as he was also sprawled out.  Unfortunately, both of our falls were in front of people, which means that our pride was probably hurt more than we were.  Or at least mine was!  Trail runners would probably also say, “TRUE” because of all the contact with the ground, trees, bushes, rocks, mud, mountain lions, monsters, and whatever else we encounter on the trail.  Running in Forest Park in the mud in the winter has definitely brought some humor into my life with all of the wipeouts… Luckily, there’s no one else around when it happens though…

I recently started running “longer” distances of up to 5-6 miles.  This is the first I have done this since my surgery on January 21st.  I got off to a bit of a slow start, but I just decided to sign up for the Born to Run ultramarathon in May, to give myself a little kick in the pants.  I sat around for about 5 minutes when I found out about Born to Run, wondering if I should do it.  Then, I realized that the bigger question was, why wouldn’t I do it??  The Born to Run ultramarathon is in Los Olivos, CA, which is only about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Ventura, CA which is where I’m likely going to be living in May.  And think about who is going to be there!!  Christopher McDougall, author of best seller Born to Run, Barefoot Ted from Born to Run, and Caity McCardell of runbarefootgirl.com.  Three legends of the barefoot running world.  Not to mention, the race is directed by Luis Escobar, also appearing in Born to Run.  It looks like one hell of a good time, so even if I can’t run the whole thing, I’ll finish it somehow.  It might take me a while, but at least I’ll have the experience!

When I first started running after my surgery, I was having a great time with shorter distances of 1-2 miles.  When I finally got up to 5-6 miles, I was feeling disconnected, like a thundering elephant running down the street trying to put one foot in front of the other.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on!  It took me two to three runs of this distance to figure it out.  It was during one of these first longer runs when I was really focusing on my form, when I saw a hooded man walking towards me.  I am a creature of habit, so when I’m running at night and I see any kind of figure approaching me, I immediately try to act like I am bigger and badder than whatever it is.  I even read something recently about what rapists look for in potential victims.  The main trait they look for is weakness, someone who avoids eye contact and looks like they won’t put up a fight.  So ladies, this is something to file away for your personal safety.  However, please don’t do what I did in this specific instance.

So, hooded man was walking towards me wearing headphones.  I gave him my best mean mug and looked him straight in the eye as I confidently ran past him.  I probably took two steps past him when my toe hit some imaginary object on the sidewalk and I immediately hit the deck, rolled and sprang back up in hopes that he didn’t see/hear me eat concrete.  Wild-eyed, yet feeling like I had succeeded in my graceful roll back to my feet, I quickly turned around to assess the situation.  Did he hear me?  He was wearing headphones after all, and I didn’t want to give up the impression that I intended to give him with my mean mug and cool confidence.  No chance.  “Holy crap!! Are you ok?” he cried while pulling his headphones off.  He was crouched low to the ground in a wrestler’s stance and frantically looked around in a paranoid state, as if some creature might lay him out on the sidewalk too.

“I’m fine!” I tried to yell cheerfully although I was painfully aware of my knee throbbing. “Sorry…” I muttered to him for some inexplicable reason.  I was so embarrassed, I guess it’s the first thing that came out of my mouth.  Sorry he had to witness my idiocy?   Needless to say, I only made it about 3 miles that night, but I intended to run further.  I guess the combination of the thundering elephant and the throbbing knee didn’t exactly scream longevity.

On the bright side, I finally figured out what the problem was.  It took a couple 5 mile runs over the next few days, but I finally realized that I was having a hard time with longer distances because my deep abdominal muscles were fatiguing. When I had surgery, I had four incisions, all of which went through my deep abdominal muscles.  I had a very difficult time getting out of bed in the beginning, so you can imagine that during any longer runs, I would not be able to maintain my pelvic and abdominal stability.  One aspect of barefoot running that I found out early on, was that the pelvis plays an important role in running form.  In order to maintain proper positioning and stability of the pelvis and thoracic area, a strong transverse abdominis and obliques are important.  This gentle, active, sustained contraction is considered by some to be called abdominal bracing.  We’ve all heard that a strong core is important for runners right?  The transverse abdominis (TrA) is the deepest abdominal muscular layer, whose job is to hold all the innards together, to put it one way. Additionally, the TrA reduces vertical compression in spine, so strengthening exercises for TrA are widely used in rehabilitation for stability of the lumbar spine.  For  runners, strong TrA and obliques connects the pelvis and thoracic area, which is important for power in running and proper alignment.  During running, think about a gentle sustained contraction of the abdominals by bringing your belly button in towards the spine and leading with the pelvis.  Here is a good video for aligning the body during running.  I really don’t know much about Chi Running, but I do like this video.  

In addition to remembering proper running form, a variety of core exercises should be utilized in order to increase strength.  I am a huge advocated for Pilates, and finding a good instructor is vital when beginning a Pilates program.  I also love body weight exercises in the form of planks, stability ball exercises and bridging.  I really probably just need to do an entirely separate post about core and stability exercises.

So, the moral of the story is, be safe when running, and if you want to avoid looking like a thundering elephant, increase your core strength and endurance!  If you’re going to mean mug someone, make sure you know what’s going on on the sidewalk or on the trail to avoid faceplanting.  Here are some battle pictures:

Brian's hands

Brian’s hands

IMG_0814

Brian’s knee

IMG_0813

Leigh's Knees

Leigh’s Knees

Categories: Barefoot Education, Running, Running Stories | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “True or False: Running is a Contact Sport!

  1. What an entertaining post! It’s great you can post honestly about funny / potentially embarrassing moments when out running! Good for you on entering the Born to Run ultramarathon, how exciting! It sounds like a lot of fun. I hope your training goes well for it.

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