Running like a ninja, not like a t-rex

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
If dinosaurs were better runners, they might not be extinct today.

Evidence suggests some dinosaurs ran by planting their heel first and springing off their toes. Many people run this way today. Those who run that way couldn't possibly get out of the way of a meteor fast enough.

But you know who might?

A ninja.

Growing up I learned a lot from my Dad -- like how to drive, throw a football and run. As a Soldier, my Dad ran a lot and shared with me his passion for the sport. While I didn't pick up on everything right away, I have since become quite enthralled with what is called "natural running."

Here's an example of what I mean when I say natural running. When walking around the house barefoot, do you walk heel-toe, or do you try to be stealthy and walk around on just the front part of your feet? The stealthy option is actually the healthiest with the least amount of impact on your joints. Now equate this same technique while running and you'll be stealthily flying around like a ninja!

Something I learned from a friend, (who may not be a ninja, but is knowledgeable nonetheless) who has been running the mid-strike for years said every time you land on your heel while running, four times your body weight is slamming into your knees and ankles. So imagine you are 150 pounds -- that's 600 pounds of body weight slamming into your leg joints with every heel strike.

Another issue many runners face is the question of what to do with their arms? Have you ever noticed people be-bopping along with their arms like a tyrannosaurus rex? These people are over working their legs and not effectively using their arms.

According to the Air Force's chief of health promotion, Dr. (Lt. Col.) Dan Kuland, your arms equate to nearly half of a total run. He suggests you swing your arms quickly from relaxed shoulders, elbows bent at 90 degrees, and thumbs and index fingers touching only slightly. Ensure as you run, your arms do not cross your body and remain at your sides. With your hands, you can also grasp at the air as if you were swimming, pulling yourself forward, as a momentum gainer.

Kuland also offered other tips:

− Fall forward from your ankles in order to enlist gravity.
− Run softly by imagining a helium balloon attached to your head.
− Look where you are going, not at your feet.
− Imagine being reeled in on a big fishing line attached at your belly button.
− Expand your lower abdomen like a balloon, then squeeze the air out.
− Keep your knees slightly bent, never completely straightening your legs.
− Land on the middle of your foot to reduce braking that would occur from crash landing early on your heel.
− Imagine running on hot coals with a quick cadence.
− Think of your foot slipping backward on a banana peel.
− Picture helium balloons lifting your heels.
− Move your ankles in little circle as if they are wheels.
− Wear minimalist footwear.

"When we run, our legs swing forward and back like a pendulum, landing on the backswing," Kuland said. "Without shoes, we would land on our mid-foot or toward the front of our foot. But the thick heels of common running shoes catch the ground early with our knee extended and foot out front, inviting knee pain and anterior shin splints. 'Minimalist' shoes with thinner heels allow more natural landings. Once you're on the ground, just lift your heel and gravity will pull you forward. Pushing off wastes energy and promotes posteromedial shin splints and Achilles problems."

A great resource for revamping an aerobic workout is found at the Natural Running Center's website: There are videos, blogs, articles, photos, emails, book suggestions -- you name it. Lt. Col. Mark Cucuzzella, Air Force Marathon medical consultant, Efficient Running Program subject matter expert and director of the website, also put together a video on YouTube providing visual cues for extra help:

There is a group of runners at Fairchild who meet every Monday afternoon at 4:50 p.m., in the Winner's Circle located at the Funspot. The group usually does a 3.2 mile run around base, but according to their secretary, Staff Sgt. Ceridwyn Wald of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, they've in the past gone for trail runs on South Hill and at Riverfront Park downtown. She also alluded to special runs including the famed "bikini run," super hero run and various hash runs.

Running naturally has improved my run time, increased my endurance and strengthened my leg muscles by leaps and bounds. But if my testimony isn't enough, consider this: no ninja has ever been eaten by a dinosaur.

[Editor's note: This commentary does not reflect Air Force or Air Force Surgeon General official viewpoints.]