(Note: I wrote this some four years ago and it was published on a (seemingly defunct) running blog, but I’m putting it here for a couple reasons. First, it still holds true. Second, I am dead exhausted right now, and cannot write anything worth reading.)
Running always made sense to me. This is not because I’m particularly fast or strong or even a natural athlete. It’s because I’m impatient. I was always running everywhere as a kid, especially indoors, in a hurry to just get somewhere or to move on to something else. This is likely why I was always banging into things too. In elementary school, when I walked home I would usually run the last three blocks, so impatient was I to be home already. To be honest, I still did this in my twenties after getting off the subway from work. To be honest, I still do this. I mean, for whatever reason I am still carrying around that kind of energy. And it doesn’t even matter what shoes I’m wearing or anything. I am likely to suddenly break out into a run just to get somewhere faster. (The thing is, I once saw someone running up to the front doors of a supermarket – something that I have certainly done – and realized that it looked a bit…crazy. This hasn’t really slowed me down.) And the minute I start running I feel exactly the way I did as a kid, that pure joy at being able to move as fast as you can.
But running for exercise, as much as it seemed to make sense to me, never felt quite right. Running on a treadmill was totally wrong because you were getting exactly nowhere. Running outside was better, but here is where I made a crucial error: I took someone’s advice. Now the way I naturally run is on the balls of my feet. Seriously I don’t think my heels ever touch the ground. And that is exactly the way I was doing it when a friend of mine told me that no, you needed to run heel-ball-toe. Heel-ball-toe, I had to say over and over in my head, in order to force my feet to work that way. Running this way made my calves hurt and it always made me feel like I was somehow making more work for myself, slowing myself down. I couldn’t see any way around this. I went to a running shoe store and they filmed my feet as I ran on a treadmill (the idea that they have hundreds of hours of footage of this in their store is pretty great) and then gave me the shoes that they determined worked best with the way I ran. Which, I suppose, was a total lie.
Meanwhile, because my brain seems so convinced that running needs to get you somewhere my favorite way to do it was to get dropped off a certain distance (say, three miles) from my house and then to run home. I started doing this some years ago when I was actually training for a 5k race. It was so totally satisfying to just end up home after a straight run, no backtracking or anything. It was on one of these runs, while going down a fairly steep hill, that something simply clicked in, and I began to run exactly the way I used to run, on the balls of my feet. I could feel myself immediately getting faster, but even more so I could feel my entire body adjusting itself back to this. I was moving forward exactly the way that I wanted to. Now it made sense. Now I was getting somewhere.
And this is the way I have run ever since. I don’t have to think about it, I just do it. And of course since then I’ve been told that some people have started training to run on the balls of their feet because it’s been shown that you actually go faster that way. And a runner friend of mine even said that children naturally run that way, but that somehow people stop doing that at a certain point. And I think about that when I watch my younger daughter run, her hands balled into fists, her fierce determination to get somewhere. I love the way you run! I said to her once. And she looked at me with total surprise. What do you mean, the way I run? she said, as though there could be any other way to do it. And she was exactly right.