Your body is extraordinary. It’s ability to move & perform acts of amazing feats (like running!) is due largely to the underlying complexity of your nervous system. One particular aspect of this is your sense of touch. Last week, strike pattern and a lot of mechanical influences on your gait were in the spotlight. Today, we’re going further into the incredible capacity your body has to sense change, and thus make important changes (while running). To keep things from getting overly broad and complex- three main concepts will be addressed:
- Your running surface (treadmill, cement, limestone trail, grass, dirt, snow, rain, etc.).
- Running variability (incline/decline) and angled surfaces.
- Your footwear.
…all specifically in regards to tactility: your body’s capacity to sense external input and proprioceptively (body position).
I recently listened to my dad share a story from snowshoeing in Colorado. Besides the great descriptions of adventure, beauty, and fraternity that came with his trek- one thing particularly stood out in our conversation: “My hips didn’t hurt at all. As a matter of fact, they felt better after 6 miles of snowshoeing than simply walking before.”
Now why is that? There’s probably a few factors playing a part here, but one major piece of the puzzle is the surface that my dad spent multiple hours upon. Snow is softer, it sinks, and it moves more than, say, concrete- that makes your body adapt so that you can accomplish the task at hand. In my dad’s case: snoeshoeing 6 miles with a good friend.
When we run, our surface can dictate how we respond. Anybody who’s run on snow or ice knows the difference. It matters! And that’s the lesson with running surface: whether you’re on cement, grass, dirt, on a wet limestone trail, sand, or some other spot of land, it’s going to influence your gait. The best part? Knowing that gives you more strength, and the ability to *change your style* according to your goals and needs. Not only in your feet, but up the chain to the knees, hips, and upper body- being able to change the style of your run for a period of time will cause you to engage more proximal parts of your body.
Your feet are among the most “nerve rich” parts of your body. It’s said there are hundreds upon thousands of receptors in your feet- similar to your hands and your mouth. Why? Because our feet are made to feel for us. Not only our feet, but trails and other surfaces change angle, it creates a necessary need for us to adapt…this is a good thing. Variability in running mechanics is good for you. As we noted last post, there’s more than one way to strike, and being able to adapt makes you a stronger runner. The unpredictability of the surface changes create a constant, subconscious effort on your body’s part to create and recreate different strategies. If you have a good balance of variability in your training, you’re less likely to have a high injury rate.
I say this a lot to runners that I work with: running is dynamic. Because a lot of the time it’s just you and the road, often it’s forgotten that running has multiple facets, ways of change, and isn’t just “putting one foot in front of the other” without good discernment (more of that down the road).
Have you ever heard of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)? Look it up. Neuropathy? Look it up. These, among other nervous disorders are related to a nervous system’s sense of touch losing it’s capacity to do what it ought. There are a lot of factors that change your sense of touch, or diminish your sense of touch. In relation to running, let’s get things straight: shoes alone do not cause injuries to runners. But shoes do influence everything you feel (and do) when you run. Whether your shoes are highly cushioned, or minimal in support is going to alter your sense of touch.
Did you ever play the game “Telephone” as a kid? Saying a message in someone’s ear, and passing that on through ten, twenty, or thirty people. By the end of the line, something that started out like “Nebraska is a great state.” can end up being “I’ll ask you for a steak.” The foot is the messenger between you and the ground. Just like muffled messages, if you cover your hands or your feet with marshmallows, they will have a hard time ‘getting the message’.
Does this mean cushioned shoes are bad for everyone? Absolutely not. Are minimalist shoes the best thing out there? Not for everyone. But facts are facts: firm surfaces provide better feedback than cushioned ones. The foot is a sensory organ. If you cover it up all of the time, it will lose it’s ability to do that. But that brings an important point up: shoes were made for your feet to be better at what they are made for. If you’re a runner looking at changing shoewear, it’s important to assess your goals, and your feet.
Head over to the STRIDE Running Shoe Selection and other resources for some tried-and-true advice on picking out shoewear. “Follow the F’s” is a good format when seeking out running shoes.
So there you have it. Your ability to sense with your body- especially your feet- has a massive impact on your body’s tactility during running. For some good drills to master to increase your capacity to do so, stay tuned, or reach out with questions as usual.
For digging a little deeper, here’s some literature and further reading for those interested: