Putting my best foot forward to embrace natural running
Understanding how a treadmill can help running technique is pretty clear but John Collins struggled to get to grips with how a broom handle could help
“There is no silver bullet, you can’t just buy something and put it on and run better,” explains Tony. “This [your foot] is the most complex piece of engineering, you just need to learn how to use it properly.”
We adjourn outdoors where the toe contorting begins. These old school drills – using broom handles to spread our toes or to support our heels as we squat – are the key to re-educating our feet and learning a new running style where we land flat-footed with the weight from our upper body evenly distributed. When I realise how stiff and hard to control my ankles and toes are, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to master this.
After lunch, there’s another classroom session giving us more of the theory before we finally get around to some running. Well, actually we start by jumping on one foot because, who knew, running is really just jumping from alternate feet.
John Collins's running workshop
Things are starting to click for me now as I suddenly realise I’m running in a far lighter, more upright style, than my usual heavy shuffle.
Soon we’re all standing in the sunlight getting ready to do our first barefoot run around a car park. Much to my shock, not only am I able to do it but it feels good. Another video recording confirms that I’ve lifted my upper body and am now striking the ground with a flat foot.
While Tony in particular makes a great argument for starting again from scratch and embracing natural running, I just haven’t made the leap. That’s partly because I haven’t had any significant injuries in the last couple of years and I’m not sure I want to have to start learning to run from scratch again. And, like many casual runners, while I like the romantic notion of barefoot running, to embrace it wholeheartedly still seems too extreme.
I have taken plenty from the class though – things as simple as lifting my head and leading with my chest – which seem to have made a noticeable difference. I recently ran my fastest 10k time ever outside of a race.
To see a version of this article, which includes a before and after video of John Collins’s running style, visit irishtimes.com.