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Feets of Fancy

Learning the Techniques of Forefoot Running


“In my mind’s eye, I’m light and quick as a Navajo on the hunt,” writes Christopher McDougall of his running form in his best-selling book Born to Run. But after years of competing in marathons and the like, McDougall finally saw a video of himself in motion, and was hit with the harsh reality that he actually looked more like “Frankenstein’s monster trying to tango.”

I had a similar belief about my running — I was a gazelle, light on my feet, springy, and graceful. Why then, did it feel like my leg bones were splintering with each footfall, my ankle and knee tendons tearing with each jarring step? And, if I was such a natural, why didn’t I run — ever? Because it hurt my body, that’s why.

So when I heard about Killer B Fitness’s running clinic — where participants are filmed, taught running techniques, then filmed again and evaluated — I decided to sign up. Perhaps I could get my imaginary runner and real runner more in alignment. The clinic was a several-hour session with Bob Wilcher, owner of Killer B, and Kyle Visin, who oversees Killer B’s triathlon training program.

The day I attended there were about 15 people in the mix, including a middle school P.E. teacher, a high school long-distance runner, competitive marathoners, and non-runners like me. We gathered at San Marcos High School track where Visin led us through some warm-up stretching exercises. Then we lined up, and each of us was filmed trotting down a length of the track. I was all business as I trundled toward the camera. Light and springy, I thought.

Next, Wilcher and Visin explained the running technique they teach, which requires what’s called forefoot strikes rather than landing full force on the heel, which is the form most commonly seen — even among elite athletes. Both Wilcher and Visin described the injuries they’d sustained throughout their years of running “wrong” before they adopted the more efficient, less tissue-damaging technique of forefoot running.

We spent time practicing the new moves while Wilcher and Visin offered guidance. Then we were filmed again, this time employing the biomechanics we had just learned. The forefoot technique felt awkward and uncomfortable, but the concept felt right. The “before and after” tape I received confirmed that I wasn’t quite the nimble creature I had imagined, but I wasn’t that far off either in that I already had a mid-foot stride. And my arm positioning wasn’t too bad. There was, however, trouble with my leg movements before the lesson, and after they weren’t so good either. Wilcher and Visin were encouraging, though, and told me to keep practicing.

I still wouldn’t call myself a runner, but since the clinic I have visited the track several times to practice what I learned, and I have been heartened. I’m only up to a mile, but the last time I ran one, it was easier. My breathing was strong, and I had no pain in my bones and tendons. And I felt hope that one day I could incorporate running into my exercise routine. One day I would be light and springy — like a gazelle.

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Killer B’s next running clinic is Wednesday, September 5, 5:45-8 p.m. Call 225-3223, email killertri@gmail.com, or visit killertri.com/running-technique-clinics.

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