Thursday, January 26, 2012

Natural Running Coaching

I am sure by now if you are following the barefoot movement, you have heard the debate and commentary for and against barefoot running coaching. There are those who say that to run barefoot without injury all you need to do is ditch the shoes and listen to your body. Others say that while ditching your shoes can be good, it is more important to learn to run with proper form with a coach. Both schools believe that form is important. Trust me if you have ever heel striked in bare feet you know that form is important. Ouch! When I first began to run without shoes I really felt like all I ever needed was me and my feet and the information that the ground gave me to help me run injury free. Unfortunately I live in a climate that really only allows for complete barefoot running about 5 months of the year. At least for me this is true. I know there are some hardcore barefooters out there who would run all through our nasty winters without shoes, but I just don't see me doing this. So after a few weeks of blissful barefoot running I had to put on some shoes to keep my feet warm and safe. For me keeping my feet warm is crucial as I have Raynaud's phenomenon so when my fingers and toes get cold I experience a lot of pain. Not so good for running without shoes in Canada. So I started running in minimalist shoes, first vibrams then in water shoes. The difference in my running form was slight but significant. I began to experience tightness in my calfs and running became less fun. If you look back here you can see that I was less than thrilled about running. It seemed like so much work, trying to get my form right and dealing with pain when I couldn't. This is when Kyle and I decided that a Natural Running Coaching session could really help. See it is quite hard to get the feedback from your feet when your feet are covered by thick wool socks and shoes, no matter how thin those shoes are.

So after that long introduction about why we chose to get coaching, let me tell you about my experience with it. Tina sent us a video of the basic mechanics of running. It detailed that there are 3 main running forms. Heel striking over strider, Forefoot striking over strider, and the elusive Natural running form.

The heel striking over-strider is the form most shod runners, and some minimalist runners use. The heel hits the ground first way out in front of the body and then the trail leg follows. There is a large distance between the front and back leg. 

The forefoot striking over-strider is where most barefoot and minimalist newbies fall. This is where I was. basically I was landing on my forefoot but reaching to far forward with my feet thus not landing under my body.  As you can see in my video I was leaning way back. I was my way of being sure I was leaning forward but like with many things I took it too far. The coaching helped fix somethings immediately but I was very disconnected with my body and I had a hard time adjusting and doing the things Tina told me. I couldn't for the life of me tip my hips in the right direction. I was disappointed after the session, not with Tina or the coaching but with my inability to 'fix' my running form. I may or may not have a problem with not being perfect at the things I do. I wanted to be a natural runner without needing to change anything.

Thankfully, Tina sent me home with so exercises to do and some ideas about how I can get my hips and feet under me. In the next weeks I practiced and practiced and I noticed my running form was getting better. I could figure out where my hips should be and I was able to shorten my stride. I still have to work on my cadence, I am a little slow. Every time I up my cadence it feels like hard work and I stop doing it. I really love running but I don't like running to feel like hard work.

Kyle and I met up with Tina at Martin Parnell's Right to Play run in Cochrane on Dec 31st. She offered to tape us running again. I was so surprised at how much better my form was.

My feet were under my body, I wasn't leaning and my cadence was getting better. I am so thrilled!!!

I now understand that Natural Running Coaching isn't a one stop fix it. It is a lesson, a tool to use in this journey to natural and barefoot running. I would do it again and probably I will check in with Tina every now and then to tune up any sloppiness that I am sure will come. I recommend getting a coaching session at some point in your journey. It is amazing how great running feels now. I am injury free and I feel like I am flying again when I run. An added bonus, I am faster now too, without really any added effort. How cool is that?

I highly recommend Tina and her coaching. She is offering coaching in person right now and I have heard a rumour that she may be adding some online coaching as well. Check her out, you will love her, I know that I am thrilled and so happy that we jumped in and had our coaching session. If you have had natural running coaching, did you like it? Did your form change? If you get a hold of Tina for coaching I'd love to hear how it went for you.

Take care,


  1. Great form and footstrike! I do get confused about the lean though.

    In your before video, the lean back is pretty evident and in your after video, you look pretty upright and your strides look smoother.

    But I hear (and read) from some that we should have a slight lean forward and our feet should land slightly in front (~10cm) of our center and not directly underneath it...and that's what I've been doing (or trying to do anyway).

    Having said that, I am self-taught so maybe it would be good to find a coach to help me out.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Hi Stan,

    I too had read that there should be a slight lean forward. I am not sure, when I am running and looking completely upright I feel like I am leaning forward, maybe that is what people mean. I have found that how something feels and how it looks is so different. With the foot landing I try and keep my feet as close to my body at all times, I notice that when I let them drift forward my toes hurt more and my joint take more of a beating. That said I know that truly you can't land directly under yourself, that is running in place. :) So I am sure that there is some amount of distance between my body and where my feet land. I think the concept is that as your foot lands your body has moved over it so that you are squared up.

    Thanks so much for the comments, I am so new to this but really loving every second.

  3. Like Stan, I'm self teaching myself... but its really hard to have any idea of what my form looks like. Guess i should set up my camera and run back and forth in front of it.. I'm almost scared to see how goofy I might look! But I love the idea of a natural running coach.. While barefoot running should come naturally, I am pretty certain it doesn't for the vast majority of runners... some constructive feedback would be great.. I would love to run fast with less effort! Let me know if you get more info on online coaching.. thanks!