While the title is in jest, I thought I’d post some random musings based on a conversation I recently had with my High School coach, Coach Stewart. We covered a range of topics from barefootin’ to stretching to the importance of an active lifestyle, so I’ll briefly highlight the points.
As any coaching nuts would, our conversation quickly turned into a discussion on some of the latest topics in the running and coaching world. I thought a few of the points that were made were thought provoking enough to post on here.
Where have the Milers gone
Once The African invasion of distance running began, the only true distance event that remained within the american/european’s grasp was the mile. Not going too far back we had the like of Wes Santee, Dyrol Burleson, Jim Ryun, Marty Liquori, Steve Scott, and Jim Spivey. Similarly, across the pond they had Steve Cram, Steve Ovett, Seb Coe, and Peter Elliott to name a few. Add in the Spaniards like Catcho and France’s Mehdi Baala and things looked pretty good. But, if you scan the top 1500 and mile lists, with the exception of Alan Webb’s 3:46 in 07 and Baala’s 3:28 a couple years before that, the times of the great European and American runners in the 80’s remain king. So, what happened? Why little progression in the mile?
Fit lifestyle=prerequisite for running success
Instead of posing questions, here’s an answer. While not all african runners run to school (although research has shown that the ones who make it to international level tend to run more to school, about 70% of them do.) its impossible to argue that there lifestyle is a very physically demanding one. Back in the 60’s and 70’s the guys out of New Zealend and Australia (Cerutty’s group in particular) also grew up with physically demanding lifestyles, as I’m sure the American runners did too.
Fast forward to present day and some of the most successful runners seemed to have an active youth. Whether it is Alan Webb being a hard core swimmer, or Ryan Hall living in Big bear and running like 13miles on his first run, many of the best Americans have had such a lifestyle. Similarly, if I remember correctly (it’s been a while…) recent sub 27min 10k runner, Chris Solinsky used to bail hay or something crazy like that in the summer.
Is it a rule that you have to be active? No, there are exceptions. But the point is that perhaps this active lifestyle is increasing the general physical fitness base during their formative development years. Then once they begin training they have a bigger base of fitness to call upon. Combine this with our recent developments in genetics and epigenics that demonstrates that genetic change can occur rather quickly, their lifestyle or their parents could have supplied them with a nice foundation off of which to build.
We both agreed that stretching before running seems like its losing favor and that I finally have an excuse for doing absolutely zero stretching in High School and beyond, and that after all this years “the mags stretch” (sitting in a stretching position but doing nothing) was correct.
There was a recent article by Matt Fitzgerald about barefoot running (here) and how elites weren’t doing it, and it doesn’t necessarily make you faster, so why join in on the fad. He quoted a bunch of elites and such to make his point. But he forgot something and made the mistake that many barefooters and barefoot haters make:
Barefoot running is a tool to use to improve your running form.
Barefoot running without changing your form does little. Fortunately barefoot running makes it easier to run right. The point is that you can watch a video of Ryan Hall running in slow motion and guess what, he lands midfoot correctly with no problems. THAT WILL MAKE YOU FASTER. Instead of asking Hall and other elites if barefoot running will make you faster, ask hall if landing like that or landing heel first is faster. Same thing with Salazar’s group who Fitzgerald quoted. I know for a fact that Salazar changes running form so that athletes don’t land on their heel.
So, no, barefoot running won’t make you faster, but it is a very good tool to use to improve something that will make you faster. Does every runner need to run barefoot to change their form? No, not at all. But most don’t have a good coach who actually knows what he is talking about running mechanics wise (there are very few out there) to help them change their form. Which brings me to my last me and coach stew point:
No more barefootin’=heel striking
Back in the day, people walked around barefoot when growing up. I’ve heard plenty of stories from my dad, his friends, Coach Stew, and others of similar age. It’s what was done. If they weren’t growing up barefoot, they had some crappy minimal shoes on.
Taking it back to the active lifestyle, growing up with active feet also plays a role. We came to the conclusion that kids used to grow up strengthening their feet by running around playing barefoot or with some shoe that had no fancy cushioning. There feet developed and strengthened. In addition, they learned how to run correctly.
With growing up in shoes, none of that occurs. Why? Because there is no feedback going on. As Coach Stew put it, if you go run on the track barefoot, you’ll learn real quick not to slam your heel into the ground because it hurts! We had one horrible heel banger on our team, and the only way coach Stew could get him to not land on his heel was have him run barefoot on the track. The point is that, you never learn the consequences of running wrong. How do we learn when we are young? By feedback and consequences. You quickly learn not to touch something hot after touching the stove for example. With all the fancy cushioning and stability junk in shoes, there are no consequences for slamming the heel into the ground.
I’ll give an example, when my sister was very very young, she ran right. How do I know, because she’s 11 years younger than me, so when I was in HS changing my form, she would hang around and Coach T would video tape her. She did some things wrong, but she ran okay. As she developed, she ran more and more like everyone else, meaning heel straight into the ground. Fortunately for her, she’s a tennis player so it doesn’t matter. But my point is, it’s my contention that wearing running shoes causes developmental changes in our gait. We never learn the consequences of running wrong.
Thus, there’s a reason why there are all these injuries popping up and you have stuff like achilles tendonitis and plantar fascitis, which were never heard of 50 years ago.
So, there ya go. Those are some random musings from my conversation with Coach Stew. I hope you find some interesting or thought provoking.
More interesting info to come as soon as I finish finals.