Bipedalism, Human Evolution and Running

I will eventually go into more detail later, but here is an introduction to this topic.

Our ability to stand and ambulate on two legs is arguably THE thing which makes us human, and certainly separates us from our primate cousins. I believe our ancestors’ move toward bipedality went hand in hand, so to speak, with our desire or need to carry things from place to place.

It is helpful to understand this if one wants to perform tasks involving bipedality-walking, running, even standing-efficiently and comfortably.

Perhaps imagine the types of things early hominids may have carried. What would be the most comfortable way to hold such objects for relatively long periods? Understanding this can help us function better as a two-legged creature, I believe.

Uh Oh, Here We Go…

One of the great things about running is that you can eat a ton and still not gain weight. I’ve talked before about going gluten-free and how that has seemed to have helped my running. I still occasionally eat bread and stuff with gluten, figuring that it won’t hurt as long as I don’t make a habit of it. So I’ve obviously been somewhat conscious of my diet.

I’ve never been a huge meat eater, but have always thought that meat was a necessary part of a healthy diet. I mean, you gotta have protein, right? However, in doing a bit of research, it seems to me that meat and dairy might not be necessary at all. I have to say that during the stretches that I have gone without any animal products, I have felt great, and my running seems easier. That has been surprising, because I always assumed being vegetarian would mean that you felt weak and tired all the time. That is not the case.

I’m in a period of total veganism right now, and will stick with it for a while until I feel a great urge for a pizza or something. I know that most people think that it’s impossible to get enough protein and other essential stuff with this diet, but I don’t know if anyone has ever been admitted to a hospital with a protein deficiency. However, every day, millions of people suffer from heart disease, strokes and untold numbers of other ailments caused by diets high in animal fat. Some of the most healthy populations on the planet are poorer ones that eat mainly rice, beans and other staples, with a bit of meat or fish thrown in occasionally.

I have a couple of free days coming up and I’m looking forward to running. I’ve run a bit during this meatless stretch, and have felt very good. It will be interesting to see if I continue feeling good eating like this. There are a growing number of endurance athletes who are going vegan, without any ill effects. In fact, all of them claim that their performance has improved dramatically without meat or dairy.

Want Good Form? Can You Balance On One Leg?

I don’t run a lot these days. I’m very busy with work and kids, and the weather is not so great. When I do run it’s mainly on a treadmill. Yet my performance has stayed the same for the past few weeks. I run an hour, with a six minute cool down period at the end where I do three or four 45 second stretches at a faster pace (between 6:27 and 5:55). I always end up going 7.5 miles during that one hour and six minute time. I never feel stiff or achy afterwards, even if I haven’t run for several days before the session.

Of course, I’m convinced that it is my good form that keeps me consistent and injury-free. During my days off, I often do the one-legged balancing exercises I’ve mentioned before. Can you remain still when balancing one one leg? Do you feel the small muscles in you feet and ankles working really hard to keep you from falling over? Is it easier to balance on one leg than the other?

If you answered yes to these questions, it means that you will more than likely also be slightly off balance with each step when you run. I worked to correct my imbalances when standing on one leg. I’m sure this has helped me be a more efficient runner.

When working to become more balanced, it’s helpful to notice how changes in your posture, arm carriage, position of the shoulders and other aspects of your body affect your balance. You may find that advice you’ve been given or read about to improve your running is actually not helpful in improving your balance. Figuring out what makes you more balanced and efficient is better than sticking with some supposedly good advice you may have received.


Where Have all the Barefoot/Minimalist Runners Gone?

Back in 2012 when I started really getting into running, there were many barefoot and minimalist running blogs and other resources. Of course, this was not long after the release of Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” which introduced many of us to the idea of running long distances in minimal footwear, or no footwear at all. I am sure that without this approach, I would have never been able to run 5 marathons, along with many other races and training miles in my first full year of running.

Since then, I’ve stayed relatively injury free, and have come back quickly from lay-offs caused by pain or laziness. I used to go on about what a crappy runner I was, but I can now say that I am actually pretty good at it and think of myself as very knowledgable about the subject.

What’s most rewarding is the feeling of flow I get during most runs, and that feeling of satisfaction and sometimes elation towards the end. That often happens at the gym, where the contrast between my approach, and the approach of those around me is clear. I often do my runs in minimalist shoes, or just socks. I can see the looks the other people sometimes give me, and I have had a couple of people come up and remark about my lack of footwear. I also had one guy inquire about my seeming ease during a long treadmill run.

I always enjoy talking to people about the benefits of going minimal and concentrating on good form. I don’t merely enjoy showing off–I think it would be cool if others could transform their running like I have. I don’t see the point of slogging away, hunched over on the treadmill, forcing yourself to endure a workout session.

It doesn’t look like that trend will change anytime soon, though. Apparently, the message about barefoot and minimalist running fell on deaf ears. Practically no one is talking about it anymore. Shoe companies have discontinued their minimalist lines, and are even stopping production of many minimal racing flats. Shoes like the Nike Free will endure, but there is no substitute for running in super minimalist footwear, or no shoes occasionally. Ironically, it is this lack of “protection” which allows those of us who are not as biomechanically blessed (and that’s probably actually the majority of runners) to achieve our full potential.

Quick Posture Reset

The best way to avoid running injuries is to run with good posture. Proper posture can remedy a whole host of seemingly unrelated problems in the legs. If we are slightly off balance, we will place too much pressure on certain areas of the lower body with each step, leading to foot, knee and ankle pain.

A couple of years ago, I saw a short film called “On The Run” that was about the running scene in New Zealand in the 1970s. At one point a female runner warming up before a race holds her arms outstretched at her sides for a few moments. I don’t know what she believed the purpose of this was, but when I tried it, I noticed that it drew my spine and torso up into a more poised position and made me feel a little taller and more balanced. It seemed to instantly correct my posture.

I have found that to retain this posture while running, it helps to keep the face and eyes relaxed, dropping the gaze without dropping the head. As I’ve said in the past, we want to keep our head back a bit, balanced atop the spine. I have tried lowering my head to keep my gaze downward, but have found that this puts the weight of the head too far forward, eventually leading to problems. Again, the face and eyes should be relaxed, without letting the head drop.

Don’t Call it Running…

Hey, how’s it going? Haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve still been running. I’ve done many races and had one injury. I was experimenting with something different with my form (I don’t remember now what it was) and my entire right leg started hurting. I joked with my son that my leg was painful “from here (pointing to my ankle) to here (pointing to my hip).” I rested it for a month, but it still hurt after that time. I started running again anyway, paying attention to my form, and the pain disappeared after a few days. This approach of “therapy through good form” seems to work for me.

So what does this title mean? I think that too many people think of “running” as something that involves effort and straining. That’s why so many people kind of dread going for their run, and have to force themselves to train, and then suffer through the big race they signed up for. I never wanted running to be like this. I figure, if it feels bad, why do it?

I think we need to rethink how we describe what we do when we go out for our run around the neighborhood, and even how we describe what we do in races. Most people would probably describe two basic types of upright human locomotion: walking and running. I think there is a third type in between the two.

Running should describe what we do over a relatively short distance to escape danger, or perhaps to chase someone or something in order to catch them. You could also call it sprinting. This activity involves a rapid expenditure of energy, which cannot be sustained for very long. It may also cause the form to become sloppy and wasteful in an effort to gain more speed.

It has been helpful for me to think of what I do as “trotting.” It seems like a simple thing, but just thinking of it this way helps me automatically adopt good form. We can all imagine the sort of “clip clop” cadence of trotting horses. This is the kind of gait they can sustain forever, and obviously differs from a true running gait, yet they are still moving along fairly quickly. Certainly much faster than a horse wandering around a field. So thinking of it like this, those three types of locomotion are clear.

Thinking of going out for a trot instead of a run automatically makes our steps quick and under our center of mass, preventing the dreaded overstriding heelstrike which puts the brakes on a little with each step. Trotting helps keep our movements compact, preventing wasted motion in our gait.

People used to call this jogging, but that term has fallen out of favor, I guess because it doesn’t sound cool enough for most people. Anyway, jogging is also a good way to think of what we do, because again, it prevents us from thinking we need to “run” and try too hard. I think I’ll stick with trotting, though, because it seems to work quickly to correct any feeling over overexertion. And I’m all about easy, of course. In order to really train properly, most of our runs should be in the easy effort range anyway.

I may write more about this later. I think I’ve done enough for now.