In their early experiences with the sport, neither Jamie Lynn nor Brian Miller ever particularly loved running.
During high school and college athletics, Lynn described running, “as a means to an end,” and in 1994 she stopped running after an injury in a half-marathon.
Miller ran cross country in high school, “but I wasn’t fast and it was annoying to me,” he said. He began running again later in life to stay fit, and recalled wondering to himself, “If running doesn’t feel good to me, why is it good?”
Then, in their separate ways, Miller and Lynn discovered different techniques that fundamentally transformed their perceptions of running. And it would eventually lead to the two offering clinics throughout the Flathead Valley teaching these alternative methods to like-minded runners who also wish to derive more enjoyment, and perhaps less pain, from their sport.
In 2004, Lynn learned the “Pose Method,” which focuses on a stride where the runner’s forefoot strikes the ground first, instead of the way most people run, where the heel is the initial part of the foot to make contact with the ground, bearing the brunt of the impact.
“I was hooked,” Lynn, a wellness coach and personal trainer, said. “I could run for a long time pain-free and effortlessly – and never had a running injury.”
Around the same time Miller, a co-owner and physical therapist at Advanced Rehabilitation Services, read a book on “Chi Running,” a technique focused on form.
“That book radically improved my speed by increasing my efficiency,” Miller said. “A way of understanding the efficiencies of form became a new passion for me.”
“It made complete biomechanical sense from a physical therapy standpoint,” he added. “It made sense both intuitively and intellectually.”
Since a mutual friend introduced them, Lynn and Miller have taught five running clinics together, attracting students through word of mouth, emails and the occasional flier passed out at a race. The clinics are structured into two three-hour segments, with the first half focused purely on developing better form, and the second on training, recovery and more technical aspects, like running up hills. Students can choose to do only one level, but Lynn and Miller encourage taking both.
At its core, Lynn and Miller teach a running technique focused on efficient cadence and form, striking the ground with the forefoot or mid-foot, and leaning forward from the ankles to shift the body’s center of mass forward, thus increasing speed.
“Think about a heel-strike runner: You’re always stopping your body,” Lynn said. “When you forefoot-strike or mid-foot strike, your body is always in front of your feet.”
“There’s minimal force,” she added. “With that change in body position, your body is your gas pedal.”
These techniques have allowed Miller to go from running marathons in four or four-and-a-half hours to finishing in three or three-and-a-half hours. Not only has his performance improved, but his pleasure in running has increased as well.
“I’ve started running 50-milers incorporating these concepts, and it’s amazing, that’s all I can say,” Miller said. “It gives you a new focus in running; it gives you a new purpose in running.”
The theory behind running in this “barefoot style” is that the human body has evolved to run this way, landing lightly on the front of the foot and generating less force, and doing so can reduce injuries potentially caused by the way people have recently learned to run with heavily cushioned, highly-supportive running shoes.
“It’s easier on your knees, it’s easier on your hips, no back pain,” Lynn said. “You tend to feel it in your calves and your hamstrings a little more strongly.”
“For me, I don’t have the pain that I used to have from heel striking,” she added.
Nor has it hurt that the running world is currently undergoing a transformation that dovetails with this running philosophy after the publication in 2009 of, “Born to Run.” The book, by Christopher McDougall, tells the story of the isolated Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who can run extraordinary distances without injury, and enjoy great health.
McDougall helped ignite the barefoot running trend, evidence of which can be found in most sporting goods stores, where prime running shoe display real estate is now dedicated to the unusual-looking Vibram Five Fingers toe shoes, or the minimalist-style running shoes introduced by other brands.
Lynn and Miller acknowledge the current popularity of barefoot running is in many ways a fad. As a result, they say, many runners new to the technique are running too hard, too quickly, and potentially injuring themselves in new ways.
“This fad will taper down after we get enough injuries,” Miller said. “You have to build up the muscles, build up the tendons, build up the connective tissue that holds your foot together.”
It’s a misconception, he added, that wearing shoes with minimal support can solve a runner’s problems: “It’s not the solution; it’s what it does to your form that is the solution.”
Once the novelty eventually fades, Miller maintains barefoot technique will have fundamentally changed the sport of running, and the sports medicine that studies it.
“My goal is to say, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,’ there’s some good stuff here,” he said. “It is now refocusing the medical profession to realize that over-support of feet isn’t always the best solution.”
Trendy or not, for Lynn, the technique’s worth is proven every time she and Miller reintroduce the sport to someone who thought an injury prevents them from running again.
“There are too many people who have been told, ‘No, you can’t run anymore,’” Lynn said. “It was such a shame and we realized that if you did change your form, that often times you won’t have that pain anymore.”
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