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    A running resolution

I don’t know about you, but I made my New Year’s resolution back in May when I decided that I would take better care of my health. It was spurred by a comment a friend made one day after playing some games at the beach: “Kuya Jon, that was the first time I ever saw you active.” I was offended for a nanosecond, but then I realized that what she had said was entirely true: at the age of 44, I was an overweight couch potato, and while I was not morbidly obese, I was far from being in the pink of health. Right there and then I decided to take better care of myself.

It’s not that I hadn’t tried before. About ten years ago I took up running but ended up hurting my right ankle, right knee, and lower back. About two years later I took it up again, this time researching running techniques to avoid injury. After a few months, however, the same body parts began crying in pain again. Four years later I tried brisk walking, but – unbelievably – the same injuries recurred. I finally decided that the active life was not for me.

So there I was last May, deciding to get healthy but not knowing how to go about it, afraid even to start. Fortunately a Facebook friend posted something about barefoot running in his status, and while my initial reaction was an incredulous “What?” That would hurt a lot, I thought. But something in my brain clicked and brought me back to my childhood: When I was a young boy my mother often scolded me because I had the habit of ditching my slippers whenever I played outside. I think I was just more comfortable unshod, and I may have felt a little faster than my friends who I thought were actually hampered by their flip-flops flip-flopping as they ran.

I researched barefoot running and found out that I was doing it right as a boy, and that the reason I was injured when I tried running as an adult was that I was doing it the wrong way. Like most people, I ran and walked with my heels hitting the ground first, followed by the rest of the feet, ending up with the toes. I had little choice on the matter: heel strike is literally forced on us by the modern running shoe, which is designed with the heel as the biggest part. According to a study done by a team from Harvard University, this high heel “makes it easier to heel strike because the sole below the heel is typically about twice as thick as the sole below the forefoot. So if your foot would tend to land flat when barefoot, it will land on the heel when in a shoe.”

But the same study says landing on the heels when we run subjects our body to up to three times our body weight. This, the study says, is equivalent to – “someone hitting you on the heel with a hammer using 1.5 to as much as three times your body weight. These impacts add up, since you strike the ground almost 1000 times per mile!” Now imagine what that impact does to your back, knees, and the rest of your body.

So how should we run? According to the study, we must run with a forefoot or midfoot strike, the kind of stride we do when we run barefoot. The Harvard study says this kind of collision – “produces a very slow rise in force with no distinct impact transient. There is essentially no impact transient (highlight theirs) in a forefoot strike. The same is true of some (but not all) midfoot strikes.”

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of it (just read that Harvard study, but let me just say that running this way has opened up a whole new world for me. I had already given up on running (and brisk-walking) after injuring myself; now I am running again, and except for a few minor setbacks when previous injuries flared up again, I am doing it pain-free.

Of course when I say barefoot I don’t mean it in the strict sense: sometimes I run barefoot, but most other times I use my trusty Vibram Fivefingers (VFFs) that allows me to run as if I were barefoot, with the benefit of having my feet protected from nasty things that find their way to the streets, like broken glass, nails, and other stuff that can do serious damage.

Like I said, I made my New Year’s resolution back in May, but I need to refine it. For 2011, my resolution is to run a marathon by the end of the year. Will I make it? As we say in Filipino, abangan.

Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.

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