Form and Substance

Never underestimate form.  Just ask any Supreme Court law clerk who would only be too willing to summarily deny a petition for failure to comply with formal requirements.  I discovered recently that the confluence of form and substance is not unique to appellate pleadings;  it plays an important part in running as well.   

When I was a kid in the early 80’s, I remember that my Dad and Kuya (who were part of the running boom three decades ago)  were obsessed with the concept of pronation. Runners back then (and now for that matter) were so averse to the idea of overpronating such that it was often preached that one should make a conscious effort to strike the ground with the outer part of the foot first.  I could still vividly recall how the outsoles of their Brooks running shoes looked like – worn out on the outer portion of the heel pad.  (Heelstriking was still en vogue then)   That obsession with proper pronation stuck with me through the years.  Thus, I would always make it a point to strike the ground with the outer portion of my foot first. 

I first became conscious of my running form when I saw race photos from my Timex Run in November 2009.  These finish line photos will tell you why:

You don’t have to be eagle-eyed to notice that there is something terribly wrong with my right foot.  However, I didn’t think too much about it as, back then, I was more obsessed with setting PRs.  If I was getting faster, who cares about form right?

A year later, my bad form would haunt me once again.  After seeing my race photos from the 2010 QCIM, I thought to myself, “Holy crap.  There it is again.”   See for yourself:

Deja vu

On the same day of the QCIM, my brah also ran the Stan Chart in SG.  As was always the case, we traded race pics and this is what I got in my inbox:


My brah’s impeccable form as captured in the above photos made me feel worse about my own form.  From then on, I resolved to do something about it.  I analyzed my race photos and I thought that I should just make a conscious effort to make my toes point inward during my kicks.  This way, I could get rid of that “crooked” look.  In time, that became my natural gait. 

Then, disaster struck.  For the first time in my two-year running career, just when I was peaking in my HM training, I got afflicted with ITBS.   I thought it was just a case of over-use, nothing that 2 weeks’ rest would not be able to fix.  Thus, as the doctor ordered, I went on a short vacay from running.  Two weeks to the day that I stopped running, I decided to test the old ITB by biking from Marikina to Antipolo.  I also wanted to see if there was a significant drop in my fitness level.  The timing was perfect.  It was card-giving day at Assumption Antipolo and I thought it was an opportune time to get my rarely-used MTB covered with the right kind of dust.   

A must-have photo-op beside Valley's giant golf ball.

Arriving at my destination

I was happy with my bike ride to Antipolo as (a) my ITB didn’t act up; and (b) I was able to bike all the way up Sumulong Highway without getting a heart attack, indicating that my fitness had not totally regressed.  However, biking up to Antipolo is something that I don’t see myself doing again in the near future.  If the speeding jeepneys, cars and trucks won’t kill me, the pollution will. 

Having determined that my ITB was on the road to recovery, I decided to run the following day, a Sunday.  I did  an easy 5k at the track at 5:43 mpk.  It felt great to be running pain-free again.  However, my euphoria was short-lived.  The next day, my ITB hurt so badly that I couldn’t bend my right leg.  I immediately took NSAIDS in the hopes of accelerating the healing process.  I was so desperate that I even took salabat (ginger ale) in huge doses after every meal.  One of these remedies must have worked as I was fit enough to run the following Thursday.  I ran a brisk 6k (inclusive of 1.2k warm-up) at the track at 5:14 mpk. 

In that particular run, I discovered that striking the ground with the middle to inner portion of my foot did not put much pressure on my ITB. So, I just went with that gait/footstrike, even though in my mind, I knew that this would bring out the crooked form once again.  Boy was I wrong.

I ran a brisk 5k on the treadmill last night at 5:08 mpk.  I started with my usual (conditioned through the years) footstrike – outer portion first. As I was facing the glass walls of the gym, I could easily see my form. I noticed that my right leg still had that crooked look to it as I was running. But my left leg looked normal enough. After a while, I felt some strain on my ITB so I went back to the middle to inner portion first foot strike that I used at the track last Thursday.  Guess what?  Watching myself in the glass wall, I noticed that my form improved drastically! What I thought would make that crooked look more pronounced actually straightened out my right leg!  And the best part? Now I feel absolutely fine.  No strain whatsoever on my ITB. 

Form and substance.  Never leave home without it.


10 Responses to “Form and Substance”

  1. hurdler49 Says:

    Tama yan. Form is important! Do you do running drills?

  2. Running Consiglieri Says:

    Thanks man. Good luck with your training as well!

  3. Julius Says:

    Good to know that the old ITB is on the mend. As for me, my fingers are crossed and I’m praying that I get my own eureka moment soon. I can’t keep on getting shin splints everytime I do a long run.

    Hope to see you back racing real soon, bud!

  4. Nikejunkie Says:

    Next to form….shoes! Hahaha.

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