Monday, October 8, 2012

A New Sensation

[Usually, I write this italicized, bracketed portion after the entry, but this time I do so before.  I am going to write a prose version of what I realized and performed today, though a better version would include drawings to illustrate the "issues" one would have being me.  Much in this post may make much more sense after some serious post reading contemplation and then maybe a re-read.  Well, that is if I get down what I intend to.  The first section or two will set up today's revelation giving some needed background, both recent and personally historical.  Here it goes.]

Written of many times before, my transformation (or metamorphosis, as I prefer) all began after I changed my walk.  I was certain that being a "toe walker" was bad and tried to change it, hoping it could improve my situation, having no idea just how much it would end up changing me (obviously including the 1 1/2 inch in height increase).

This was at least a few years prior to ever hearing of "barefoot running" shoes (which I have now worn for the last three years).  My focus was on not using my toes, and as written of in a very early entry, using a predominance of vertical pressure rather than horizontal.  An object in motion stays in motion, after all.

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Over the years, my focus points have changed with physical changes.  Most recently, I have been focused on my core.  I had been doing the most basic of physical rehabilitation exercises designed to give the core a base, a place to begin actual stomach crunches, for almost two years now, only having successful crunches in the last 3 or so months (though I am nearly certain they are still not "correct" from an internal perspective).

Last week, I started trying to keep my core "crunched" or clenched while jogging, the first time while doing the 1 1/3 mile from the local pool to my home (it's somewhere between a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half).  That attempt felt very successful, creating much movement (or "adjustments") in my hips and shoulders afterward.  So, I tried doing it in all subsequent jogs, and even during my swims (this proves difficult to maintain in the buoyant environment). 

Again, there was much improvement and subjective success, so much, in fact, that I tried to write multiple entries about it over the last week.  Unfortunately, I was unable to maintain concentration on prose, however, as adjustments, soreness, and pain won out.

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Now, during those swims last week, on a few rare occasions, I had a feeling of correctness about the manner in which I would push off of the wall with my feet.  Again, these were rare.  I have been doing 2,000m of workout in the pool, and maybe 3 or 4 of the 80 push offs would provide the feeling.

I knew they were right, these feelings.  I also knew them, somehow.  They were familiar in some way, but I could not put my finger on them.  It was quite maddening.  I knew if I could picture the sensation, identify it in some way, I could be more successful in repeating it.

Then, today, I had the realization.  My calf-to-ankle-to-foot pad had become like a prosthetic running leg.

Once realized, I was able to have replicate the action and sensation in push offs at a rate near 80%.  I was correct.  It was easier to duplicate once I had the mental picture.  Important to note, I was most successful when my midsection, my core, was at least partially clenched.

I am sure you have seen them.  A man even ran with them in the recent Olympics held in London.  Here is a picture of one such device below.

As you may suspect, I tried to incorporate the sensation into my calf-to-foot pad on the jog home.

The result, for my last quarter mile or so, was that (I believe, at least, for now) I correctly "ran barefoot" for the first time ever.  I was almost entirely on my foot pad, my heels barely touching the ground. 

This is a true breakthrough.

*     *     *     *     *

What follows is important, but I do not know how to best articulate it.  First, I will back up, again.  Then, attempt to compare where I was to where I am (hopefully) going.  Then, return to where I was to give a sense of just how screwed up I was, and to a certain extent, remain.

*     *     *     *     *

I've written plenty about having been a toe walker, but little about why it never occurred to me that it was wrong.

Simply put, I thought I was special in some way.

I ran track with decent results in high school.  My best 400m was  53.4 seconds, not too shabby even if I did trail 6 guys by 4+ seconds at the MHAL track finals in my senior year (I wasn't last!).

More special in my mind was that I had "hops" in high school.  I was under 5'10" and could dunk a volley ball on an indoor basketball rim, a basketball on most outdoor courts (tending to have a little angle on the rims).  This was a point of pride because very few others in the school could do so.

People would ask how tall I was, and even go back to back with me to confirm my height afterwards on a few occasions.

And of note, all of this was done with an emphasis on pushing off with my toes.

*     *     *     *     *

So, what I realize now, I mean truly realize, is that the foot pad is the correct point of focus, the point of frictional contact, with the tension (or stress) needing to be like that of the prosthetic running leg.  Important to note, I do not believe it should feel this way, necessarily, to people with proper posture.  Rather, it feels this way to me because this action is entirely new to my muscles.  It is a new sensation to me, but it should just be normal to one that moves properly.

To oversimplify, the new sensation, the muscle utilization I now need to encourage, is like the backwards C of the prosthetic, pictured above, from my foot pad touching the ground through my ankle and into my calf at the top.  In fact, shortly before I achieved the (I believe more proper) foot pad running, I had moments where I intentionally focused my jog using just my thighs, as if I were running on the prosthetics.

*     *     *     *     *

Now, back to the way I would run and jump in high school.

Imagine the above pictured prosthetic, but instead of being connected at the knee, it was connected in the ankle.  My leg movements were all designed to get into the proper position to maximize the tiny but powerful spring of that was my foot.

Realize, then, that this spring, a backwards C (from foot pad to knee) in most people at rest, was a U (my toes to my ankle) for me at rest.  [I really wish I had a backwards C character, I realize this makes it tougher to envision.

Consider the implications of this U for a spring when at rest.  When running, everything must be rotated 90 degrees.  That is to say, the torque, what gave me "hops," was the result of being more tightly wound, almost literally.

The tension on my calf was significantly greater than that of a person with proper form.  This extra tension, this torque, would thereby also affect the muscles and angles of my upper legs, into and around my hips and even to my core.  It is as if, where proper posture has three joints using two springs (abdomen-thigh above, calf-foot pad below), I had squeezed in an extra spring that didn't fit.

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And so, though poorly articulated above, you can now possibly imagine what my every step has been like these past several years, though in truth it is every moment, at rest or active.

I have logically deduced goals, like the limited horizontal friction while jogging or walking, and I have some sensations that feel right or correct.  These, I try with difficulty to maintain.  Every moment, muscle memory wants to preserve the status quo or revert to previous form.  Every moment I lose mindfulness, every time I relax, my body reverts to at least some extent, usually resulting in pain.

*     *     *     *     *

Yet, I am undeniably optimistic.  I know how to create new synaptic connections.  I know habit.

I have undoubtedly changed so much on this path to The Path.  For all I know, I may be 95% of the way there.  I do know I am getting close.

I may not be able to get there should a physical obstacle, some tangible kink, block my way, but I am overwhelmingly optimistic I will at least reach that kink if I do not reach my goal.

[Yes, I veered and wrapped up quick at the end.  I am exhausted.  This was too long for me to maintain focus throughout.  I tried breaking it into parts as best as I could.  I hope it makes some sense.  It is very close to what I hope to articulate overall.  Unfortunately, I know what I'm trying to say.  A reader more likely than not will not be taken to that perspective, which is my ultimate goal.]

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