One of the most helpful and beneficial discoveries for me and my running was with my breathing. After running a lot, I naturally started to breathe in and out every number of steps. I would start the run breathing in and out every three steps (breathing in for three steps, then out for three steps), then I would switch to every other step when I got more tired (breathing in for two steps, then out for two steps). After a while, I breathed in and out every other step from beginning to end. Even though at the beginning of the run, breathing in and out every other step feels like a lot, I found I was much less out of breath during the run when I kept my breathing constant for the entire run. This greatly helped me in my running, and I hope it will help you too!
I have read a lot about running, watched DVD’s, talked to people, etc. in order to try to improve not only the performance of my running, but the experience of it as well. I’d like to start sharing some tips that have been beneficial for me. They are either tips I have read about or seen, or that I have discovered through my own experience. Here’s the first tip:
Though people often would tell me to take longer strides when I ran, research and my own experience has taught me to take shorter strides and more steps per minute when I run. It tends to be more efficient and decreases impact. A good goal is to have your foot land directly beneath you instead of in front of you. I’ve found this helps propel me forward with each step and keeps my momentum going.
Even though I am a skinny guy, I have never liked distance running. Growing up, I enjoyed sprinting, but running the mile in elementary school was one of the worst things I could think of.
When I hit my mid-20’s a few years ago, I started becoming more health conscious. I thought I would give running a try, since it was supposedly good for me. Probably three or four different times over a period of two or three years I started running, only to quit a few weeks later. I was simply unable, or unwilling to stick with it, to make it a habit. It was not enjoyable for me. It was tiring. It was painful. And it was just too hard.
In January 2009, I joined the Air Force, where running is mandatory. Over the next year, I became better at running. I ran more often, trying to increase my speed and endurance. But I still didn’t enjoy it and on top of that, I would feel sore afterward and get shin splints if I ran too often.
In early Spring 2010, I was running more and I decided to take it to the next level. Until then, I had been running two to three miles at a time. I wanted to push myself to run up to five miles at a time. I was pretty excited about this goal, because I felt that it was actually attainable. Not too long before that, I would’ve thought that running five miles was not physically possible for me.
So I began increasing the distance I was running. It wasn’t easy, or enjoyable, but I was doing it. After a few weeks, I started feeling pressure on the outside of my left knee when I it mile two or three. This pressure would persist for the rest of the run. I would also feel it the following day or two after the run. This persisted, and I was forced to cut back my running. This was very frustrating to me. I was improving and running farther than I ever had in my life, and was starting to reach my goal of five miles. Suddenly, this progress had to stop because of this pressure I was feeling in my knee.
That’s when I started doing a lot of research. I read numerous articles, watched videos, and talked to people. I started reading about running form, which was something I had never even thought about. I began to shorten my stride, take more steps per minute, land more on the forefront of my foot instead of my heel, and change the way my hips and knees moved. I would run while trying to remember what seemed like dozens of different rules to try and reach my goal of five miles pain-free. Even with these big changes in my running, the pressure in my knee would still come. I felt that maybe I would just have to be content running two to three miles for the rest of my life.
During my research, I looked at a lot of different types of running shoes. One shoe that definitely stuck out was a shoe called Vibram Five Fingers, which looked more like a glove for your feet. I thought this was a little extreme, and figured it was more for hippies than runners. But when I hit that wall, I considered giving them a shot. I was desperate for anything that might help. After reading some stories about runners who had switched to Vibrams and their knee or back pain disappearing, I finally decided to spend the $85, swallow my pride, and buy a pair.
When I first tried running in them, I was more concerned about what people were thinking when they saw me running in those crazy glove shoes than whether or not they would help my running. During the first two weeks, my calves were incredibly sore even though I would only run mile or two one or two times a week. But after the soreness subsided, I noticed a few things about my running. Firstly, I actually enjoyed running and I looked forward to running. This had never happened before. Also, a lot of the running tips I was trying to implement before would happen naturally with the Vibrams. My stride was naturally much shorter, I would naturally take more steps per minute, and when you’re wearing a shoe that has very little padding, you are not going to land on your heel when your foot strikes the ground. So I was landing more on the forefront of my foot.
Over the next few months, I was running about three times a week and gradually increasing my distance. Eventually, I hit the five-mile mark without any knee pressure or any pain. And I continued to increase my distance. By July 2010, I was running eight miles three times a week. I was amazed that I was running farther distances with less pain.
My then-girlfriend, Eliza, bought a pair of Vibrams, and we started running together. I deployed in September for six months, bringing the Vibrams to the desert and continuing to run. I got back from the deployment and in June 2011, Eliza and I got married, and we’re still running together.
It doesn’t take much research to realize that there are many benefits of running. It took me a long time to get to the point where I could run on a regular basis and actually enjoy it. And it was absolutely worth it.
This was my running story.