23 May 2012

Salazar's Technique.


57.18 min - 9.8 km - apple blossom everywhere, but patchy – this spring's wind and rain have done down much of its short-lived beauty.

The New Yorker has a piece by Nicholas Thompson The Running Life on the great American runner Alberto Salazar and his post-running success as a coach and also on how changing running techniques can improve running. It has a few observations that I found very close to my own running experience.

Thompson opens with this comment on the attraction of running:
The first sporting event that I remember caring about was the 1982 Boston Marathon. I was six years old, which is an age when most sports make no sense: the players wear masks, are freakishly tall, or contend with complicated matters like strike zones. But children know how to run and they know how to race. There’s little competition that’s purer than two men—Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley, in this case—racing side by side for 26.2 miles. Beardsley wore a white cap; Salazar wore red shorts; they ran so close together that they seemed like one.
Salazar now is one of the most successful distance-running coach in America. He trains Mo Farah, for example, who will be a favorite for a gold medal in this summer’s London Olympics.

The article then describes two of Salazar's recommendations, which, again, surprised me as very close to my own trial-and-error experience of improving my running and making it more enjoyable.
1. Part of Salazar’s success is that he learned to teach his runners to avoid the mistakes he made. When you watch Farah or Rupp run, they look like they’re gliding. There’s no wasted motion, and nothing seems forced. ... In 2010, Jennifer Kahn wrote a piece for the magazine about Salazar, explaining his obsession over how his runners kick their legs, swing their arms, and angle their thumbs. At the time, Salazar was training a running prodigy named Dathan Ritzenhein for the New York marathon. One of Salazar’s principal goals was to make Ritzenhein land more on the front of his foot than on his heel. The idea is somewhat counterintuitive. Why land on the thin, bony part of your foot instead of the large, fleshy part? Is it really good to put so much stress on your metatarsals, the little bones in the front of your feet? But Salazar was convinced.
I can vouch for this. I've had knee problems. At one point my GP even diagnosed me with arthritis. I've asked for a second opinion, and another doctor recommended circuit training, more attention to hydrating and the use of cod's liver oil, in tablets or as a food supplement. I've spent a long time training myself to avoid landing on my heels. When running uphill I hardly touch the surface with my heels. 

Thompson's second point is about 'barefoot running':
2. The search for the one best way of running is what drives Chris McDougall’s “Born to Run,” which came out in 2009 and has sold at least half a million copies since. The book tells the story of a group of larger-than-life ultramarathoners, with names like Caballo Blanco and Barefoot Ted, and the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, a tribe of men and women who spend their lives racing, in sandals, through canyons—except for when they come to the United States to win hundred-mile races. ...
In McDougall’s view, Americans have been duped by running-shoe companies, eager to sell us shoes with ever more cushioning in the heel at ever higher prices. Modern running shoes, McDougall writes, are sort of like plaster casts, inhibiting free movement, and pushing us into all sorts of bad habits, like landing entirely on those well-cushioned heels. He started researching the book because he wanted to know why so many runners—himself included—get hurt. The answer is that our shoes did it. ... You improve at running by running. Many of the sport’s injuries are chronic. And in those cases, there’s no question that a minimalist shoe, or running barefoot, can help.

Photo of Alberto Salazar by Cal Hopkins, 2008. 

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