The Dan Mulhare Column: Running fads - the ups and downs

The past eight days has seen four (Paris, Rotterdam, Boston and London) of the world’s major marathons. Every year these events inspire people to take up running for the first time, and re-ignite an interest some people may have had in running years ago.

The past eight days has seen four (Paris, Rotterdam, Boston and London) of the world’s major marathons. Every year these events inspire people to take up running for the first time, and re-ignite an interest some people may have had in running years ago.

There is currently a running boom all over the world. More and more people are trying running for the first time. It’s no coincidence that this running boom has coincided with the economic downturn over the past few years.

Going out for a run is free, and getting all the correct gear can be an in-expensive process. Running is a great way to relax, and with so many people stressed out in this day and age, it certainly helps many people through the weekly grind.

With all the newcomers to the sport, there are an awful lot more people being introduced to some common running injuries (shin splints, back pain, plantar fasciitis, runners’ knee, etc). All of the newcomers to the sports are also being dropped in at the deep end, as there have never been so many current running fads. Some of these running methods suggest that all running injures and pains will disappear once you try the method for a few days, weeks or months.

It used to be that you just went out your door and ran, however, now there are so many different experts, all ‘proving’ their way is best, it can be difficult to know what to do. I’ll try to go through some of the more common types of running, and some of the weird ones.

Chi Running

Catherina McKiernan, one of Irelands greatest ever runners, is a strong believer in Chi Running, and holds lectures and seminars all over the country trying to introduce people to the concept. She even states that had she been Chi Running all those years ago when she got World Cross Country Silver four times, she would have won gold, a bold statement to make considering there is no real evidence that it works, and it certainly won’t work for everyone.

The basic concept is that you would run on the footpaths most of the time and avoid cross country. The idea is that you keep your limbs very close to your body and use your core muscles more in order to control the rest of your body. As a result your stride length will be shorter and you won’t heel strike, like most people tend to do naturally.

While I’m not against the concept, I do think that if you were to try this method, and were serious about getting the benefits from Chi Running, you would also need to include a lot of core strengthening exercises into your weekly training program.

Trail/Off Road Running

As the name suggest, Trail Running says you should not run on the pavement at all. All you’re running should be over fields and on forest paths. It will help to reduce injury by lowering the impact of each stride.

I try to do most of my running on grass, and would suggest anyone starting running should too. Until your muscles and skeletal system become used to the force you put through them while running, they will be most susceptible to injuries, and so the softer surfaces are a way to reduce the likelihood of injuries in the first few weeks and months.

The downfall is softer terrain venues where you can practice Trail Running won’t have lighting, and so you will have to run during the day. This isn’t always convenient, and if you do try run in the dark, you run the risk of twisting an ankle.

There are specific Trail shoes you can get which have bigger grips on the sole and also give a little more protection to the toes in case you stub them while on forest paths. If you’re running around GAA pitches or parks, it’s really not necessary though, and regular running shoes will be fine.

Barefoot/Minimalist Running

Just as the name suggest, take off your shoes and run! This will have two immediate effects on your running style. You will automatically run on your forefoot, and will no longer heel strike, and your stride length become much shorter.

You will run on your toes, just like a child. It means your calves will have to work an awful lot harder. Unlike Chi Running and Trail Running, I would seriously suggest that anyone wanting to try Barefoot running start very slowly.

I try to do a little each week, mainly after a track session, as it’s convenient to run on the infield on a soft grass surface, and I would only do a maximum of five minutes. For beginners it really is imperative to begin cautiously and not over do it.

There are shoes which are designed to be minimalist, meaning they take away some or all of the cushioning to reduce the drop in the midsole from heel to toe. This makes you run slightly more on your toes. I use minimalist shoes for some of my runs, and would agree that it can be beneficial; I would also suggest that it’s not for everyone.

Forefoot Running

When you sprint, you will run on your toes, and so it is seen as the fastest way to run. There is no argument there, however to change your natural running style so your forefoot strikes first can be a challenge, especially for most western people.

East Africans can forefoot run without trying to. Most kids here don’t wear shoes, they walk barefoot, and so when they run it’s always on their toes, so they become so used to this once they wear shoes they still run on their toes.

This isn’t the case for most western people as we grow up wearing shoes, and so our feet become weak and we become dependent on shoes for cushioning and to prevent injuries.

It’s not like the shoe manufactures to miss out on a trick, and you guessed it, there are shoes which are designed to make you Forefoot strike. There are benefits to Forefoot running, but like all the above methods, it’s not for everyone.

Backwards Running

Yes, it’s hard to believe, but this was actually a common running fad that took off for a short while. Thankfully, I can report that it didn’t last long. There was no evidence that it did anything other than make you look stupid, and help you run backwards into a lot of things!

Hopefully that gives you a better idea of the current methods out there. Although without knowing it, you may already fall into one of the above methods; there are parts of all methods that can be useful, and parts that should be avoided.

The important thing to remember is never force yourself into a method if it isn’t comfortable and whatever comes naturally is most likely the best option for you.

Read Dan’s column first every Wednesday in the Leinster Express.

Questions for Dan can be sent to his e-mail address, danmulhare@yahoo.ie

Next week, Dan will be giving an insight into his mental preparation for races. Be sure to pick up your copy of the Leinster Express next week to keep up to date with all of Dan’s latest news.