Training and Transition: The Sound of Running

by Editor on May 22, 2012

There are plenty of Minimalist Running articles that discuss the importance of running with little to no shoe. The main point typically can be summarized in three words: Less is more.

In today’s article, we’re still going to focus on wearing less when you run. However, we won’t be talking about shoes. We’re going to focus a little higher up the body.  Sometimes it’s more than just our feet that need to be set free.

Before you get too worried, let me provide a little background. Earlier this month I was in India for a business trip. I’ve been on a few other international trips for work, but never anything quite like this. I was completely unprepared for the population density, the pollution, and the humid heat. I live in the Northwest United States, so any day that hits 80 degrees is abnormally warm. In India, we saw highs of 102 and a low of 88.  I thought I was going to melt.

I had brought my Vibrams with me and was planning to get at least a few runs in during the trip. I quickly realized that I’d need to avoid the heat and stick to the treadmill in the hotel gym. It certainly is not my favorite way to run, but I figured it would work for a few days. I threw on my running gear and headed to the fifth floor where the gym was located.

Upon arrival, I learned that the air conditioning wasn’t working quite right, so running indoors was only going to save me a few degrees. It was almost like someone had pulled the treadmill into the sauna. I don’t think I had run 200 meters before I was sweating profusely. It was going to be a long, hot run.

About a half mile into the run, I could tell that something was different. I could very distinctly hear my feet dropping against the belt on the treadmill. It was like a rhythmic slapping sound that I was not used to hearing. Then it dawned on me…my iPod was still in the hotel room. No going back for it now, I am already dripping in sweat.

My first question: Do I always run this loud?

I thought I had learned to run light and quick, but this sounded pretty heavy. I guess I’ve gotten a bit lazy in my form. If I want to continue improving as a barefoot runner, I need to get back to the basics of running light and injury free.

My second question: What do I do about it?

First, I slow down.  I was on a treadmill, so it was pretty easy to reduce my kilometers per hour. Second, bend the knees. Over-exaggerate the natural shock absorbers between my hips and my heels. Third, increase my cadence. Lots of short, quick steps to make sure my weight is not pressing down at the end of a long stride.

End result was a much quieter run.  Admittedly, it didn’t feel natural.  That was a problem, because it was how I should be running every day.

The problem is, over time I’ve slowly moved away from ideal form and have become comfortable with a heavy stride. By filling my ears with music, I was unable to hear the audible clues that indicate a less than perfect gait.

Sometimes, it is not enough just to uncover your feet. Anytime we completely mask one of our senses, we miss an opportunity improve as a runner. I am not against running music. I still enjoy my iPod and do not plan to get rid of it. I do plan to make a few small adjustments to improve my training. Here is my plan:

  1. Run music free once each week. Probably on a shorter run. I can go 4-5 miles without tunes to focus all my attention on my form.
  2. Turn the music down. When the music is playing, I still want to be able to hear any loud sounds. Whether it’s a car or a foot strike, I need to hear the world around me.
  3. Bend the knees until it feels natural. Making a minimalist stride take lots of repetition. The only way to make it feel natural is to do it over and over again.

In the two weeks since India, I’ve been practicing these small steps. No major miracles to report, but I am happy to report that two callouses that have been causing me some pain are no longer with me.  Apparently my skin appreciates the reduced stress and pounding. Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference.

Final thought: Don’t be afraid to run naked, even if it’s just from the neck up!

 ~ Jordan Flowers

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ariele M. Huff May 22, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Love the “neck up” naked…so true.
I laughed because I’ve just recognized falling into a bad habit pattern too.
Post winter, I saw that I’ve let myself stiffen up–also a knee but hip too issue …like tensing against the cold.
Even with better weather, I was still doing it. Those sloppy habit patterns!
Appreciate the no music part of your piece. I don’t use music as I have some great nature places to run with bird or wave sounds , but you’ve given me another reason not to…also another report on India that makes it a great place to watch on Idiot’s Abroad, but not somewhere I’m eager to visit. ;-)

Jordan Flowers May 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Hi Ariele,

Thanks for your comment! Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to develop a bad habit?We’ve all heard the phrase, “Practice make perfect.” I remember a high-school coach who liked to remind me that “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes habit. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” The simple truth in those words has stuck with me for many years.


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