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FirstHealth personnel learn running tips from barefoot running expert

| Date Posted: 3/2/2010

FirstHealth personnel learn running tips from barefoot running expert
March 2, 2010

After a presentation on barefoot running to FirstHealth exercise technologists and physical therapists, writer and running expert Christopher McDougall accompanied the group on a barefoot run outside the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst. Pictured (from left) are Amelia Kirkland, FirstHealth triathlon coach and lab employee; Heather MacMillan, physical therapist; Ashley Goforth, trainer; McDougall; Donna Maguire, massage therapist and ultra-runner; and Michelle Rodriguez, physical therapy assistant and triathlete.

PINEHURST – At 6 feet 5 inches and 230 pounds, writer Christopher McDougall would be an opposing figure in almost any circumstance.

He is especially noticeable when he runs.

McDougall runs barefoot, and he wrote about the unusual running style he learned from a remote Mexican-Indian tribe in the best-selling book “Born to Run.” While recently in Pinehurst for the Foundation of FirstHealth’s Promise of Hope Lecture Series and events celebrating the 15th anniversary of the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst, he shared his running technique with FirstHealth exercise technologists and physical therapists.

John Caliri and Randy Ballard of the FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness and FirstHealth physical therapist Heather MacMillan attended that program and then accompanied McDougall on a barefoot run outside the Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst.

“It was really amazing to learn from him and to watch him run,” Caliri says. “He kind of floats. His feet are never on the ground for more than a split second. It’s almost like they’re not bearing weight.”

McDougall spent four hours with the FirstHealth group, demonstrating his style and encouraging them to use the forefoot strike and shortened stride of barefoot running. Caliri, the director of the Centers for Health & Fitness, has modified his own running style to one that involves less impact since becoming familiar with McDougall’s barefoot concept.

“It’s just common sense that the joints are more likely to hold up if they’re not getting pounded,” he says.

According to Ballard, who is an exercise technologist at the Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst, barefoot running changes the mechanics of running.

“Our cushioned running shoes allow you to land on your heel, which promotes bad technique and increases impact forces,” he says. “When you run barefoot on a flat, hard surface, like cement, you cannot land on your heel. You get the immediate feedback of pain if you land on the heel.”

On the other hand, Ballard says, proper running mechanics come naturally with barefoot running. “You don’t have to run barefoot all of the time, but you should do it enough to teach your body the proper mechanics,” he says. “I would recommend starting slowly with 5 to 10 minutes at a time and building as tolerated.”

MacMillan was among five FirstHealth physical therapists who attended McDougall’s recent program. All five are athletes, and each has dealt personally with running-related injuries.

“It was really interesting to us from the personal perspective,” MacMillan says. “You’re always looking for something that will keep you in your sport.”

While accompanying McDougall on the run that took the FirstHealth group to Pinehurst’s Rassie Wicker Park, MacMillan found it easy to follow his lead. She compares his running style to the landing pattern of an airplane.

“An airplane that is coming in gently touches down, then the rear wheels touch down,” she says. “You’re skimming along like an airplane lands.”

MacMillan says she already uses concepts that are similar to McDougall’s with some of her physical therapy patients. But, she says, his running style is not for everyone.

“He gave us some good, key things to look at, tips to make sure someone knows how running should feel,” she says.

Caliri feels the same way.

“The goal does not have to be running barefoot,” he says. “The goal is running healthy.  Barefoot running can be used as a tool to develop healthy running.”

For more information on the exercise and physical therapy programs offered by FirstHealth of the Carolinas, call 715-1478.


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