I have been running most of my life, well, except that large gap in the middle of life. As a young child, in Jr. High and in High School I ran on the track teams. I was never the top guy except once I did finish an unofficial 1st in High Hurdles at Sophomore State only to have it taken away and given to someone else based on a judges error and lack of support from a drunkard as a coach but that is another story.
After High School I pretty much gave up on running because I found it a major pain, literally, running was a pain. I would suffer all year from shin splints relieved that I could finally stop running at the end of the season and heal. Rarely did I enjoy running but a few moments and those were mountain runs. For some reason running in the mountains on trails was never a pain, it was pleasure.
Well, move the clock forward to 2003, almost 25 years later, and I start hitting the road again. Immediately I begin enjoying a run and feel like I just missed something for a lot of my life. Then I go buy a pair of corrective, support, stability, padded running shoes that were recommended by some “teenage expert” in the local running store and the shin splints are back. But I hang in there for another 4 years putting in a few short runs a week. This all changed around 2008 when I started to move towards Barefoot and minimalist running and injuries started to drop away. However I still have a few here and there and I attribute it to bad form. As I get comfortable with my form, I start getting lazy, over striding and end up in pain. Running Minimalist/barefoot was a god send for my running and now I need to take another step forward.
Yesterday I was running in my Vibram Five Finger KSO’s and I realized once again I was over striding. I worked hard to bring in the stride, land under my center of mass, increase cadence, be light and easy, Easy, light, yada yada yada and it was all intellectual, logical, not a “feeling” like it was working. Then it hit me, what if I close my eyes, what if I run blind and let my feet be my eyes?
I was on a long, flat straight and safe stretch of blacktop pathway where I could experiment so I closed my eyes. Each step I made an endeavor to feel the foot pick up off the road and sense the landing as close under me as possible. Each step I wanted to feel as much as I possibly could feel and become one with the road. And then I went off onto the grass and almost tripped myself. That is when I realized I would need to peek every now and then until I mastered running blind. Otherwise, I was going to run into a tree and that just wouldn’t be cool!
Next I closed my eyes again and extended my mind to my feet and after a few seconds realized they were landing out in front of me again and then pulling me forward sort of like Land, skid a little, brake, pull, kick off and push. Heck, no wonder I had blood blisters from last weeks race. I quickly made a correction and was landing under me again and then hit the grass edge. Crap, I opened my eyes and I realized I was veering to the right. I realigned with the path and closed my eyes, focused on the feet again and immediately I was over striding and reaching again but this time I noticed almost immediately and corrected. Then I felt the camber of the path, it was slight but I could feel it and then I hit the grass again on the same right side. With my eyes closed I was compensating for the camber that sloped away to the left and I veered right almost as if running away from the slope uphill. I corrected and closed my eyes again.
This process went on for over 2 miles. As time went on, I found many different issues with my stride. Pushing off, pulling, over striding, compensating for my sore ankle, compensating for landing on objects (good thing). I started feeling cracks in the path as I landed; I felt my foot pronate as it landed and rolled to the ball and realized I was pushing off not lifting. I found that in the beginning I was able to run 8-10 steps before needing to peek. Then it was 15 and then 20. I hope that someday I can pick a straight path and follow it for a minute blind using feet and ears as my guide.
My next Blind Run is going to be barefoot. I am healing some blood blisters I picked up in an 8K race due to sloppy form so that is why I headed out with the Vibram Five Fingers in the first place. I was determined to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. Running Blind Barefoot will be a real trip. I imagine that it will take a little recon ahead of time just so I avoid any glass or damaging surfaces. I encourage you to give this a try, the feeling was strange in the beginning and everything comes into play including trust, nerve, ego if someone sees you, trees, grass and fear but soon your feet become more than eyes, they become levels, grade sensors, compasses and instructors. I feel this might be the tool to take my running to another level.
Have fun Running Blind!