Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Do you stomp or sweep?

I used to be a stomper.

Who learns to run?  Unless you are gifted and talented and part of a high school or college program few of us are able to get the coaching needed to develop proper running form.  Since college I tried running on occasion and was in constant pain.  And because of that pain I never saw running as a joyful activity.

There was even a buddy I went to school with from kindergarten through 12th grade that I could hear running from the end of the block.  I was a thin dude but he stomped like he weighed four hundred pounds.

So I read Chi Running (that again?) and began to get my form in order.  Then I read Born To Run.

The interesting thing about BTR is the multitude of points a reader may take away from the book.  It is a great "story".  It had anecdotal information regarding running form and running shoes.  It even has modern day investigations into our ancestral development as running people.

But for the purpose of this blog and my run this morning my thoughts today went back to BTR and the retelling of the 1994 Leadville Trail ultramarathon.  An American runner was pacing a Raramuri racer though the late stages of the one hundred mile ordeal and noticed something so slight that most people would never perceive its presence.

While running as a pair for several miles through the dark of night along wilderness trails the American noticed that the Raramuri's stride had a very easy wisking sound to it.  As if his feet were brooms sweeping gently across a floor.  For miles nothing but "wisk, wisk, wisk" and the sound of breathing.  However, as they progressed through the night the American became aware that the wisking sound was replaced by a slight crunching sound.  The Raramuri had developed a knee pain and altered his stride ever so little, but it was enough to change the sound of his foot fall.

This can happen to any of us.  Most runners (and I was one of the masses) adopt iPods and earphones as mandatory running gear to survive a run.  The noise (my word) is required to drown out the sound of our breathing.  The sounds of traffic.  The unwelcome conversation of other runners.  And the plaintive cries of our own mind to cease this ridiculous endeavor and go find the nearest air conditioned (or heated) couch.

The problem is that your body is urgently trying to communicate with you.  It has vital information to relay about the terrain, stride length, form, and energy levels.  Ignore or miss any of these cues and you may be heading down a blind alley to disaster.  Don't fear the sounds you make when running.  I like to run as silently as possible.  One guy I ran with briefly in my marathon said I was like Bigfoot drifting soundlessly through the forest.  A compliment I suppose.

My goal with each run, regardless of planned distance or desired pace, is to be a sweeper.  I must be light.  I need to smooth.  I have to run easy.  If I run outside of my best form my feet began to slap the ground and suddenly I'm on my heels and setting the stage for any number of setbacks.

Be a stomper and pound your body to dust.  Be a sweeper and clear away the debris to increase the odds of running pain-free.  When running we use sight and touch to navigate through the world.  Add the sense of hearing and discover where running takes you.


  1. I'm a sweeper! I was INCREDIBLY aware of this when I ran last week with a girl basically the same size as me, and all I could hear was her every footstrike. I never realized what "sweeper" I was until then!

  2. interesting post. i think i finally get what the mid-foot strike means now. i'll listen for it. thanks.

  3. This is a great post, but it still challenges (confuses?) me in the same way that Born to Run did. Caballo's advice is just to run light, smooth, and easy. I'm not exactly clear what he means by this. I think I've probably interpreted it the same way you have -- basically just try to avoid any clomping or scuffing (from braking) sounds. But beyond that I'm a little unclear. I'd be interested in ready your take on what exactly it means to run 1) light, 2) smooth, and 3) easy.

  4. To me light, smooth, and easy means the following:

    Light - Run upright. A slight spring but not bouncy. Imagine yourself to be weightless. "light" has nothing to do with the body weight you are carrying but how you are carrying the body weight you have.

    Smooth - Again, no bouncing. Just be efficient and smooth in your stride and overall running form. This cannot be overstated. If you have "a hitch in your giddyup" your body will eventually rebel and shut down your running for you.

    Easy - While getting comfortable with light and smooth your running should be "easy". Don't push the pace too hard. Settle into the distance, whatever that may be. And enjoy it.

    If you can't get light, smooth and easy your running will be a chore. You may not achieve all three at the same time, but 2 out of 3 at any one time is still pretty good.