Running Again

(I am in transit for several days and have queued up some items for this period. They don't have anything to do with the grim news breaking from Gaza and the ongoing BP grimness, as of the time I left early on Monday. More on those later.)

I mentioned several months ago my joy at seeing Actual Scientific Results proving that "fore-foot" running, where you land on the front half of your foot, is better for you over time than the "heel-strike" running I see all around me (now that I'm back in a place where you can run without choking) by people running in thick, heel-cushioned modern shoes.

Little did I know that I was aligning myself with a popular modern theory. At readers' suggestion, I read Born to Run and discovered that I had been "speaking prose without knowing it" -- that is, running since the olden days in a style that is now coming back into fashion. In the olden days (my first Boston Marathon: 1969) you didn't do "heel-strike" running because there were no fat, cushioned shoes and you would injure yourself if you tried. In these modern days, fore-foot running is recognized as being easier on the joints and suaver overall. So it says in the book!

Two reasons for an update. First, at one of my sons' urging, I've gone all the way and recently adopted the Vibram "Five Fingers" running shoes that enforce a fore-foot running style, since they're like running barefoot and have zero padding on the heel. I instantly love 'em, because to me running this way feels entirely natural. (Five Finger shoes on father and son -- hint, this is sort of a trick photo.)

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(Hint 2: You can see the effects, on calf size, of running this way over the years.)

The other reason is to open a discussion of the heartbreak of the Achilles tendon. I am of course very lucky that at this stage of life the main thing that's wrong with me (physically) is one very beat-up Achilles tendon. The technical term goes beyond the familiar tendinitis to the much grimmer sounding "tendinosis." My style of running: much easier on the knees, maybe harder on the Achilles. I didn't run in China for years because of the air; I have done only a little these past few months because of the weather and out of fear of aggravating this damned tendon, which doesn't hurt now but still looks bad. In hopes of a viable running future in barefoot shoes, I am trying one course of treatment at home, but am considering another, and I solicit advice from the running-injured public.

    - Home treatment: "dynamic stretching," as explained in great detail at this "Sports Injury Bulletin" site. This seems to help, but who knows.
    - Contemplated treatment: "active release technique," or ART, based on the theory that firm, external massage pressure to break up accumulated tendon-scar tissue will allow cleaner re-healing. Before I knew that it was an established approach, I had one such treatment by a friend-of-a-friend when visiting Seattle and felt better, at least that day. I have learned since then that this is a branch of chiropractic technique. The one bias that my small-town doctor dad drilled into his children was against the chiropractic world. For some reason, that seemed a really big deal to doctors in the 1960s. I don't really care but am looking for advice: has anyone solved the heartbreak of bad Achilles tendons with ART treatments? Or "dynamic" stretches like those described?

I will tally results and put them to use. If everyone says, "Give up," there's always biking, the rowing machine, etc. Or just having a beer. And meanwhile I love the new shoes.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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