Experts teach March Airmen to run injury-free

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kevin Chandler
  • 452nd Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, the medical consultant for the Air Force Marathon, and Ian Adamson, an ultra-athlete and three-time record holder, shared information on proper techniques and methods for injury-free running during two, three-hour running clinics June 12 here.

Dr. Cucuzzella, an associate professor of family medicine at West Virginia University and an Air Force Reserve flight surgeon stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, told those in attendance the primary concern for runners is their feet.

Feet are "critical to movement" and can be a source of injuries for many runners, he said. In fact, it was a toe injury that led the doctor, who won the 2006 Air Force Marathon, to re-evaluate his running form.

After examining the running technique of successful Kenyan marathoners, the doctor said he realized his training regimen needed some modification. He developed a 12-step plan for running, based on the barefoot style of running Kenyans employ and Western children enjoy, but eventually abandon as they grow up.

The plan focuses on developing proper form and posture to ensure runners are using the natural engineering of the foot to absorb shock from impact and keep the runner's hips and knees from bearing too much strain and ultimately sustaining injury. Dr. Cucuzzella played a short video on this technique, which featured him running barefoot on a highway.

Mr. Adamson said he is also a proponent of barefoot running. Despite his numerous races and years of training, he said he never experienced a running injury until he transitioned from barefoot running to wearing his sponsor's shoes.

While barefoot running is growing in popularity, a recent article in the New York Times cautioned that barefoot running can lead to new injuries, due to the body's inclination to keep striding as if the feet were still in shoes. People who are used to walking barefoot tend to impact the ground at the mid-foot, while those who are used to wearing shoes strike more with the heel.

Dr. Cucuzzella acknowledged this fact and cautioned that retraining your feet to adopt a natural stride should be done gradually to avoid harm to foot bones and tissue.
He also advised those runners trying to improve their aerobic conditioning to run slower.

According to scientific research, by maintaining a pace that keeps the runner's heart rate in an aerobic zone, the body taps into fat stores instead of burning glucose, allowing the runner to go longer distances. Additionally, as time passes, that target heart rate will become more difficult to reach, causing the runner to increase their pace.

Mr. Adamson agreed with the doctor and said he only used long, slow runs to prepare for The Badwater Ultramarathon. The 135-mile race is widely considered to be one of the most grueling runs, due to the change in elevation throughout the course and the scorching heat at the race's starting point at Death Valley in California. Mr. Adamson credited his aerobic conditioning for allowing him to finish the race.

After the classroom presentation, the running experts escorted the attendees outside to practice these techniques. All attendees removed their shoes to try running barefoot for a short distance, and they learned some new drills to increase their strength and stability.

"I'm glad I came,"  said Staff Sgt. Jose Marin, from 752nd Medical Squadron. "Next time I run, I'll use this." 

Although he said he was skeptical about attending the clinic, Sergeant Marin said he enjoyed the attention on running basics and fundamentals.

Others in attendance said the clinic taught skills that could be easily incorporated into training plans.

Tech. Sgt. Michelle Menogue, from 752nd Medical Squadron, said the clinic was very informative and had lots of pointers she will use in her training runs. Sergeant Menogue said she is confident she will see improvement in her running after attending the clinic.

Capt. Adam Walker, from the 336th Air Refueling Squadron, put his new running skills to the test June 13 during a six-mile run on base.

"I really enjoyed the seminar," he said. "I have run all my life, yet I have never learned so much or corrected as many misconceptions as I did in those four short hours. I'm excited now about running more, faster and with much less injury."

Dr. Cucuzzella said these improvements and enthusiasm about running are what their clinics aim to provide Airmen.

"We're trying to not only improve (physical training) scores, but the state of overall health in the Air Force," he said.

A total of 90 runners attended the two sessions.