In this first article of the series, we introduce you to Tina Dubois, first Canadian coach for Lee Saxby's Natural Running method. I had the opportunity to meet her recently, while on her first national tour to promote the "mastery of the barefoot running skill".
Before we go into a detailed description of the method and an analysis of my running posture (anything for the sake of science!), let's get to meet the woman, a Western-Canada runner and blogger who decided to leave her old running ways - and injuries - behind and focus on technique.
FL - What brought you to natural running? What’s your running background?
TD - I started running in 2000 and was a perpetually injured runner. In my first 8 years of running, I suffered from occasional shin splints, patellar-femoral pain (AKA runner's knee), IT-band strain, as well as sore hips and SI joints. I chronically suffered from low back pain and plantar fasciitis. I always ran through the pain and ran several trail races including the Canadian Death Race relay and 5 Peaks Trail Running Series, as well as a few road races and a couple sprint-distance triathlons.
In 2008, I read "You Walk Wrong" by Adam Sternbergh where I was introduced to the idea of wearing minimal shoes as a way to strengthen your feet and improve your posture and walking gait. I bought my first pair of minimal shoes in May and the chronic pain in my low back that I endured with every step was gone and I was a minimal shoe convert. From a full-time orthotic wearer, I slowly transitioned to walking, and eventually running, solely in minimal shoes. I started reviewing minimal footwear in 2009.
In 2011, VIVOBAREFOOT offered the Certified Coaching Program and I was lucky enough to attend the first Training Clinic in New York City. I learned how to run naturally from Lee Saxby at the Coaching Program and how to teach it to others. Now I run injury-free and hope to teach this form of running to as many runners as possible.
FL - Why choose Lee Saxby’s method? How did you find out about it?
TD - I found out about the Coaching Program from my friend, Barefoot Angie Bee's website, as she was invited to the same Training Clinic.
Lee Saxby's method identifies three forms of running: heel-striking overstriding (or jogging), forefoot-striking overstriding (or unskilled barefoot form), and what I call Natural Running (what he calls skilled barefoot form). As a coach, we are taught how to identify the three forms in our clients and how to change their form into natural running using specific exercises and functional coaching cues. Although there are many running coaching methods available (POSE, ChiRunning, Good Form Running, etc.), Lee's method breaks down the skill of running into microskills (posture, rhythm, and relaxation) that the runner can focus on individually and uses coaching cues that improve these skills, by feeling what good form is rather than thinking about what good form is, making the transformation to natural runner extremely quick and maintained through practice.
FL - Did your running form need a lot of improvement?
TD - Before the Coaching Program, I ran with unskilled barefoot form or a forefoot-striking overstriding form. This form is extremely common in runners who ran with a heel-strike and switched to running in minimal shoes or barefoot. When your body receives sufficient proprioceptive feedback (ie, sensory information about how you're hitting the ground), people will usually switch from landing on their heel to landing on their forefoot but all other aspects of your form remain the same. I learned to run with a faster cadence and land under my centre of gravity (rather than ahead of it) with a medial forefoot landing (between the first and second toe on the ball of the foot).
TD - It took half a day to relearn how to run (in a group of 10 people). If you're wondering how long it took me to regain my mileage using the new form compared to the old form, I'd say about 4 weeks. How long a person takes to transition and reach their previous mileage depends on A LOT of factors including what their previous form was, what their mileage was, what level of strength a person has in their legs, what their injury history is, etc.
FL - Did you benefit from your transition? How so?
TD - Absolutely! Before the transition to natural running, I ran extremely slowly and found running to be a lot of work, even after I switched to running in minimal shoes. If I ran any faster than my somewhat-faster-than-walking pace, some part of my body would hurt, so I never ran fast and was content with my level of pain-free running. Now I can run MUCH faster with MUCH less energy and have no pain.
FL - In your opinion, what’s the strongest point(s) in Lee Saxby’s method?
TD - Lee's Coaching Program teaches what injuries are caused by which forms of running and why based on human physiology and biomechanics. His method teaches the most biomechanically efficient and safe form of running that humans can achieve in a way that achieves this form in around an hour. Then all you have to do as a runner is practice a few exercises and remember certain aspects of those exercises while running. The strongest points of Lee's method are its biomechanical basis, ease of learning, and simplicity in practice.
FL - What are your goals as a natural running coach?
TD - I want to share the benefits of Natural Running to all runners so that they can experience the most efficient and safest form of running we can achieve. Basically, I want to help all runners learn to run pain-free.
FL - Do you think there’s a single right way to run, or are there natural variations between individuals?
TD - The principles of Natural Running are based in basic human anatomy and biomechanics. I think there is an 'optimum' way to run that maximizes efficiency and minimizes injury based on these principles. Variation between individuals is caused by different levels of skill.
FL - Do you consider yourself a barefoot advocate? What’s your take on the whole shoe debate?
TD - I advocate being barefoot as a tool to gain strength in your feet and use barefoot running as a tool to increase proprioceptive feedback (ie, awareness of how your feet hit the ground) while learning the skills of running. When I run, I wear a minimal shoe that is appropriate for the terrain I'm running on and type of running that I am doing. My position on shoes is that I choose to wear footwear that allows my feet to move naturally with as much proprioceptive feedback as possible for the terrain and temperature conditions whether I'm walking or running.
Our next article will present the Natural Running method and include a hands-on example using my own, self-taught running barefoot running form. Tina has recorded a video of my posture on the treadmill, then advised on a series of exercises and body awareness. We recorded a second video to try to see if the exercises and advice had any impact on my posture.
I invite you to participate to this series by sending feedback and asking questions to Tina, who is following the conversation on my blog (in case you're reading this from somewhere else). Make this your chance to have a conversation directly with a certified coach :)