Running As We Age, Moving From Skill To Force And Back Again, Or Getting It Right The First Time?

Rory cyclist and runner with knee issues.

Rory, who taught me how to deal with the pain of competition cycling, and with whom I hope to run one day – he has running-induced knee issues, but he’s not giving up. Photo by FitOldDog, with permission.

“Running form mistakes can aggravate injuries. The most efficient and gentle running form is a “shuffle.” The feet stay next to the ground, touching lightly with a relatively short stride. When running at the most relaxed range of shuffling motion, the ankle mechanism does a great deal of the work, and little effort is required from the calf muscle. When the bounce off the ground increases, the foot pushes harder and the stride gets longer, there are more aches, pains and injuries.” Jeff Galloway, Running Form Tips.

FitOldDog's dog's wake method

Willbe’s wakeup technique – the stare, combined, sometimes with wistful heavy breathing. Willbe doesn’t think about running as we age, he just runs. FAST! Got to chase those squirrels.

Injuries are a wakeup call, and they often wake you up less gently than our yellow lab, Willbe, who stands, with his head resting on the bed next to mine, and stares at me, until I let him out in the morning.

I wonder about the process of changing our  running technique with respect to running as we age, from adolescence to later in life, and whether we can reverse bad habits. I think we can, because I sure did, with the help of Danny Dreyer.

Do we unconsciously move from using skill to force to beat our rivals in our teenage years – I suspect it’s encouraged?

I also wonder why low impact running, combined with the study of body movement skill, are not more widely taught in high schools.

I wrote a blog post ages ago, entitled, “Are High School Athletics And Academics The Road To A Life-Long Love Of Learning?” I suspect that things won’t change in the USA, until the obsession with winning is replaced with a desire (that’s one’s offspring) just do the best one can, against the best available competitors.

Matthew, running

Matthew (yellow top) is the only runner I know, personally, who has fixed plantar fasciitis with Shockwave therapy, and he’s still running. Will he be able to run into his 80s (if he wants to, that is?). Hope so! With permission.

I proposed that high school students would be better served through training to enjoy sports for their whole lives, rather than competing solely to win, at the risk of permanent injury – I still don’t know how to solve this problem, as I hear one tail of running-injury woe after another, from people of my generation.

I think we start the running injury process as soon as we start to compete against other kids, in the absence of adequate body movement training. We really want to run faster, and beat the other kids, so force kicks in, leading to a more aggressive way of running, leading eventually to injuries in our toes (dead toenails), foot arch (Lisfranc injury), heels (plantar fasciitis, bone spurs), ankles (arthritis), shins (anterior compartment syndrome), calves (torn calf muscles), knees (bone-on-bone), thighs (ileo-tibial band syndrome), hips (pyriformis syndrome), and then all the way on up to the top of our head.

Brice soccer injury

Brice, really interesting guy, recovering from a soccer injury to his Achilles tendon, said, “I can’t imagine changing the way I run.” Maybe he’ll be luckier than Rory? Photo by FitOldDog, with permission.

It isn’t the force that gets us, it’s a random approach to how we run that causes all the trouble – which is why body movement skill should be taught in schools, especially by high school sports coaches.

If you watch young kids running, you’ll notice that they are really falling forward, which is the basis of Danny Dryers Chi Running technique that rescued me from further knee injuries (three surgeries was enough!).

I recently mentioned the idea that one might change one’s running style in the face of persistent injuries to a young, talented runner, recovering from an Achilles tear. He strongly resisted the idea – if you’ve been running, successfully, from early youth, I can understand why this concept might be met with skepticism.

Should change our running style from ‘striding’ to ‘shuffling’ as we age? I find that I’m being forced towards a shuffle run to avoid lower leg strain.

What  do real runners, who are still running in their 70s and 80s, have to say about this? Jeff Galloway obviously approves, and he sure knows how to run.

FitOldDog’s Running Tip (if you trust him): I find that changing my running style, throughout long runs, including brief walks (about 100 feet) about every mile, can shift the load from place-to-place, avoiding repetitive motion injury, with an emphasis on the shuffle. Pace is all about stride length and cadence, so if you can’t stride you had better hustle.

Keeping up our running as we age is certainly an interesting puzzle.

Happy Trails!


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.