Saturday, 25 August 2012

Running books: Natural Running by Danny Abshire

I've recently read a number of running-related books. You'll probably enjoy a few of them too. I'll put my reviews in separate blog posts - better for searching later.

Here's the first...

Natural running: the simple path to stronger, healthier running by Danny Abshire with Brian Meltzer
This book was the prescribed 'textbook' to read before the Newton running workshop that I attended in early June. Danny Abshire is the guy who started Newton, the company that adventure racer Ian Adamson works for as the Director of Research and Education. Zola Pieterse (formerly Zola Budd) and her husband are the South African agents (and she's a Newton athlete).

There were lots of interesting pieces in the book but a bit too much repetition for my liking. I guess it is also that I'm a supporter of a 'natural running' style anyway so this book was a bit like preaching to the converted - again and again and again.

From a coaching perspective, I enjoyed the sections on running form. I've thought about this a lot over the past few years and I enjoy watching runners when I'm out on the road, looking at how they run.

I see this too in walking and it drives me absolutely beserk. My fingers tingle and I so want to tap them between the shoulders chanting, "Are you proud? Be proud!". There's much bad form and posture around, even in a shopping centre as people move badly, in general.

As part of the coaching aspect I also liked the section on common running injuries and how they arise.

When people take up tennis or golf or paddling, they'll seek out a coach to teach them good form and technique. Running? People lace up and head out and with their necks craned forward their feet literally pound the pavements. Doof-doof-doof, slap-slap-slap.

My athletics coach at school, Mr Long, was a good one on running form. I was a 100m and 200m sprinter back then - barefoot, not even spikes, for training and racing. From head position to arms and shoulders and body (thank you Mr Long). Efficiency. Good form goes a long way to happier running.

I do have a pair of Newton trail shoes and I've enjoyed them to a certain extent. They are not minimalist shoes (like racing flats) and they are not 'barefoot'-type shoes like Vibrams. They're not trying to be these either. They feel like the regular cushioned shoe that you're used to but they're zero lift (the heel does not sit higher than the forefoot - sole is 'flat') and they have Newton's forefoot thing, which encourages a forefoot strike. So, you'll feel your calves working more. Newton recommends a conservative adaptation strategy to get used to them.

Now, I'm a forefoot striker anyway. I can change between Newtons, my regular running shoes, minimalist 'racing flats' and barefoot-style shoes without discomfort (I haven't worked the Vibrams much - just here and there; I fancy them for forest running, not highveld trails). I've been running in the racing flats the most and I'm really enjoying them. "About time," coach Norrie Williamson would say. He recommended that I run in racing flats about... mmm... eight years ago.

What I do find is that with the Newtons I'm probably trying to get my heel down more than in any other shoes to kinda 'counter' the forefoot plate thing. It just doesn't feel right. It would probably feel more right to someone who is not already a forefoot striker?

Back to the book... There are some 'story' sections in the book, like how Danny came to arrive at developing Newtons (from a ski-boot fitting background) but the rest is a bit more textbooky. As such it is a bit more of a reference text that I'm sure I'll refer to should I need to.

While I whizzed over much of the repetition, repetition, repetition, my take home message from the book was more about the importance of good running form and how to achieve it - and to assist others in achieving good form, which is an area of beginner-runner coaching I'd like to move into.

P.S. Brian Meltzer is an adventure racer and journalist. He guided Danny through writing the book.

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