By Scott Prater
More than 30 running enthusiasts showed up for Schriever’s Natural Running Clinic here Monday and Tuesday. Hosted by the Health and Wellness Center, attendees were promised a fresh perspective on running technique and equipment use.
Judging by runner’s responses following the clinic, host, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, did more than meet expectations.
“I learned so much,” said Rob Ladewig, a veteran of more than 20 Ironman triathlons. “I’ve been doing this (running competitively) a long time and I’m afraid I’m a poster boy for everything that’s wrong. As a result, I’m going to make the transition to more natural running shoes and experiment with them during my training and events this year.”
Cucuzzella, the Air Force Marathon Team’s chief medical consultant, put a heavy emphasis on “natural” running technique during the 12-hour clinic, which included classroom instruction and interactive hands-on training.
The prevailing thought in the running and medical industries during the past few decades has been to cushion and stabilize runners’ feet through shoe technology. Conversely, Cucuzzella and some of his contemporary colleagues argue that runners can improve their performance, their health and prevent injuries more effectively through minimalist shoe technology and solid running technique.
“I have an Achilles heel injury and my doctors have told me I need more cushioning, more stability and orthotics,” Ladewig said. “Based on the knowledge I’ve learned here that’s the wrong way to go. That technology takes the spring out of your foot and makes your muscles and tendons atrophy more. As far as I understand Dr. Cucuzzella’s concepts, the idea is to get your body back to moving like you did when you were a kid.”
Maddy Schmid, a local running-shoe retailer, said the knowledge gained at the clinic will help her explain concepts to her customers.
“We see a lot of kids come in who have great form but their parents worry that they don’t have enough support in their shoe,” she said. “This was the most intense and informative course I’ve been to. We learned the principles of natural human movement but we also got the science to back it up.”
Seth Cannello, Schriever Sports and Fitness director, saw the clinic as beneficial as well, but said runners need to exercise caution when attempting fundamental changes to their running habits and equipment.
“I hope people don’t hear about this trend or take a class and then try to hop right into five-finger shoes [shoes that mimic the bare foot],” he said. “Dr. Cucuzzella makes it clear that runners who want to transition to more minimalist equipment need to do so as a gradual process. We’ve spent most of our lives in regular shoes that have a heel lift, so we need to gradually go back down to a flat sole. Your body needs to be trained to go back down.”
Deena Ellin, health promotion director for Air Force Space Command, transitioned away from traditional running shoes to a flatter sole after attending one of Cucuzzella’s clinics a few year ago. She said she suffers from the well-known affliction of plantar fasciitis, but has been injury free since going to the flat-sole shoe last year.
The clinic and the information presented are gaining momentum. Cucuzzella has hosted it at 11 Air Force bases thus far. He has another scheduled for Scott Air Force Base, Ill., next week and Eglin AFB, Fla., in the near future. He’ll also speak prior to the Marine Corps Marathon later this year and at a large running retail event in Austin, Texas in December.
“We’re expanding at the grass-roots level, I think, because people want to understand the principles behind something as opposed to just getting the specific methods,” Cucuzzella said. “Air Force people are smart people, they want to know the basic physiology of human movement and human endurance.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the ideas and concepts of natural running can find information at naturalrunningcenter.com.