Day #36: Sure Footing

As distance runners, we place our feet in all sorts of places in all kinds of situations. I have sloshed through puddles in Prague, slipped on the frozen Baltic Sea in Helsinki; I have glissaded down snowfields in Alyeska, Alaska, and have done my best to run up Bavarian ski slopes in summertime. I have even “missed” a step on one memorable night years ago when I stepped in a hole but somehow caught myself as my opposite foot luckily found its footing. But one particularly notable step had the longest lasting effects of all of the hundreds of thousands of steps I have run. In looking back, I now see how important how we step and where we step is to our longevity as long distance runners. If we would go long, we better be careful one step at a time.

A quick aside about the number of steps the committed runner takes over the course of his career. At a 6 foot stride length, a runner will make roughly 3,500 foot strikes in a 4 mile run. Many runners aim for 1,000 miles in a year as a good standard of dedication. Given this typical 6 foot stride – which of course will vary depending on height and running speed and other variables (but is a good average working number) – this same runner will hit the dirt, pavement, river bed and sand an astounding 875,000 times every year. And each of these strides could cause an injury if caution is not taken. Now it seems absurd to be focused so strictly on such a repetitive motion, but, hey, it’s a fun and eye-opening exercise…:)

Back to the point of this post: on one balmy Easter Sunday in a resort town in Honduras, I took a step which came back to bite me all these years later. And my encouragement to you is to heed my story so that you can avoid a similar potential injury. I made the silly mistake of running down a creek bed and leaped into a bubbling shallow pool of water. I soon realized the peril of bubbling brooks as my left foot landed on a submerged, slanted and slippery rock, and all my weight came down on an exposed and torqued ankle. Moments later, my ankle ballooned with swelling and – lacking any real option of medical attention – my friends and I did the best we could to treat the injury: ice (scarce in Honduras, by the way:), elevation and rest. Needless to say, my running was on halt for weeks.

I was sure, though, once I could walk again and then eventually run, that I had had the good fortune to pass through that injury none the worse for wear — until 10 years and thousands of miles later when my left foot problems arose and culminated in a partially torn Achilles (mentioned in My post on Day 34.) One of the orthopedic surgeons who helped to treat me agreed that the trauma of that ill-taken step a decade before was a likely origin of my present woes.

All this is to say, make every effort to have sure footing in every stride of every one of your runs. Such attention to detail will pay big dividends in healthy running down the line of your career. (You might also avoid running down creekbeds…. In Honduras….)

By the way, by my estimates, I believe that I have run somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 miles. At the same stride length noted above, that’s 35 Million steps! (minus one;)

All the best! And keeping striding out,

~Coach Reed