Forefoot or Heel Strike? The jury is still out…

I had a quieter weekend by Brazil standards. Which meant I ate a lot, slept a lot, drank a little less but then some and RAN twice over the weekend! I am proud of myself.

After the terrible caipi-run-ha, I need to do another run to comfort myself and my bruised runner’s ego. I tried to go after work on Thursday and was even planned to bring my clothes and shoes to work. But no one in the office thought it was OK to change into shorts and go running in the park behind. I thought they were joking but no, dead serious. So Igave up my running shoes for Rodizio sushi (all you can eat for fixed price, but they bring selected varieties to your table) and 2 cups of sake at Hakka Sushi near the hotel with a couple other expats. It’s awesome, you don’t have to figure out the menu, you don’t have to struggle in Portuguese. Have you ever felt stuffed like you’re going to explode on sushi? Yes, you can do that in Brazil with Rodizio. They Rodizio everything from barbecue (think your local churrascaria like Fogo de Chao, classic Rodizio) to pizza to sushi. This is one thing I would LOVE to import into the United States. It’s beautiful!

Friday night we got a taste of some Italian in SP. Supposed to be the best Italian outside Italy. The verdict was mixed. We ate at Nello’s where the 80 year old rambunctious and garrulous owner regaled us in part English, Italian and Portuguese with stories of his youth, some too much for my PG-13 blogsite. I wanted to retire early on Friday night and not drink much (had about 3 glasses of wine) so I could wake up in time for my run with Quarke.

I slept badly with a terrible cough and the usual stress I feel before a Saturday morning run (no clue why). Woke up in time and caught a cab out to Universidade do Sao Paulo (USP or oospy to Paulistanas). It cost a princely R$25 to get there and I found Rodrigo, one of the running coaches. Oospy was amazing on Sat AM. It was filled to the brim almost with runners and bikers. I felt like I was in Austin! There were several Ironman hopefuls training and I was drooling at all the amazing road and tri-bikes. Runners of all ages, abilities were running and the whole campus is well marked (in terms of folk knowledge) into 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 km courses. Rodrigo had me run the 6k loop and he ran with me all the way to check my form.

So I learned a lot of things during the run as we conversed in halting English. Rodrigo has a sports degree (in fact something related to Neuroscience of sleep and activity). First, I complained to him about my left foot cramping (the usual one on the side). He said my running form was not right. I should not be running on my forefoot, but instead strike heel or mid-foot first. He said, that research showed that unless you’re sprinting OR running really long miles, heel strike is better than forefoot. Maybe it was because I wasn’t spreading the weight onto the entire foot and just running on the balls of my feel. But I must say, as soon as I changed the running form to strike heel first two things happened: one, the cramps disappeared. Two, it felt like way more effort – I could feel my calves, my hamstrings doing a LOT more work. So I figured he might actually have a point.

I ran hard for the 6k. I think my speed averaged at 8km per hour, sometimes going up to 9.5 km per hour. 8km is about 12 minutes a mile, which is my average speed. On my time trial I averaged about 10 minutes/mile which is probably the fastest speed I have ever logged. So yes, it definitely feels great to have gotten much faster than when I started.

When we finished the run, I asked him if I should stretch and he surprised me with another nugget. He said (and I’d heard this from João also), that stretching right after a workout has been shown to lead to injury often. Now, it’s not that stretching is not recommended but ideally, athletes should do stretching exercises every day, perhaps twice a day, but separately. Not after or before a work out. He also recommended that I do weights to strengthen my leg muscles but seriously, I’d have to quit my job to do everything they recommend.

So two pieces of advice contrary to everything I know about running – heel strike is better and don’t stretch after a run but stretch separately to increase flexibility. For sure I need to do that because when Rodrigo acquiesced to help me stretch my pulling my leg around to stretch the ITB muscles, the calves and the hams I was screaming in pain. That’s how tight my muscles are and running hard on these muscles is what leads to all this soreness.

Saturday night I was ready to let my hair down – we went to a gorgeous little jazz bar in Vila Madalina (a darn cute, bohemian neighborhood that I totally fell in love with) and I threw down a lot of red wine, Malbec to be precise (my favorite). So when I went to another neighboring park to run on Sunday, I was dehydrated like hell. Cut my losses, did a few crunches and put myself out of my misery AND rewarded myself with a super refreshing doze of Acai, followed by an hour of sun-bathing by the hotel pool. I’m still glad that I ran because that afternoon I had the most incredible Amazonian meal at Tordesilhas, one of the well-known SP restaurants for Brasileira cuisine. Satiated to the core with a fish called Filhote (Amazonian fresh water fish that my Bengali taste buds were crying with joy) and Pirarucu (the largest fresh water fish in the world, which tasted exactly like Bhetki the Bengali’s pride and joy), went back to the hotel, swallowed a Nyquil and went to bed at 8pm. After that meal, I couldn’t think of anything else that would top the weekend, so I caught on 12 hours of sleep.

Now I’m excited that my friends Arun and Karthik are going to visit in 2 weeks, so I’ve already begun making plans for that weekend!! Woot!

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