Running: The Imperfectly Perfect Science

Running is a skill.  To master any skill, it helps to understand good technique and the science behind that technique.  But which technique and which scientific theory, and how can I measure the skill so I can get better?  The answer is never simple, and choosing the wrong approach or wrong mix can lead to injury and disappointment.

The definition of running reveals why running is hard to measure.  The technical definition of running is locomotion (movement).  That's it.  You have locomotion when both feet are simultaneously off the ground.  What?  It doesnt say anything about how fast, how hard, what part your foot you land with, or anything of the things we generally think are essential to good running. 

After studying 85% of the population of runners at MVPT and after spending over a hundred hours gaining running specific continuing education from national and world renowned running experts, I've learned one thing is very clear: The more we learn, the more we discover how much more there is yet to know.  That does not mean there are unsolved mysteries about human locomotion. It means there are a lot of variables that can scatter the details for each individual.  There are some baseline running principles that apply to most and are very important to manage, but ultimately most of the uncertainty is tied to the HUMAN variables.  Humans are imperfectly perfect.  No two people are exactly alike.  What works for one person may be the worst thing you could do for another person.  That is why there are hundreds of opinions on every facet of running from equipment to form to training.  And that is why injuries in running are so common.  Unfortunately, there is no "one approach fits all" when it comes to making YOU the best runner you can be.

Have you ever heard of the yips?  The yips is a term golfers use to describe a movement error during the golf swing they cannot feel or describe.  The swing feels right, but the ball lands in a place they cannot control and they get frustrated.  They need an extra pair of eyes to see the swing flaw or movement error, usually a golf pro who teaches movement.  The pro identifies the movement error and immediately has the golfer do some new drills to remove it.  Usually, after a few rounds of practice balls, the error is ironed out and the game gets better.  But then something new happens: A NEW swing flaw creeps in!  This is normal in any complex movement oriented task, and it's part of the reason golf is so challenging and also rewarding.  Was it the golf pro's fault that he could not anticipate the next swing flaw?  Of course not, but you hope the pro you've turned to can identify the flaw quickly and teach you how to get rid of it.  The more times the pro handles that tricky swing flaw, the better prepared the pro and the golfer will be.  Wouldn't you like to meet the running version of that pro?

When rehabilitating runners, triathletes, or running sport athletes, there are many factors that can influence what the athlete feels, cause running flaws, and contribute to injury.  There are both external factors and internal factors.  An external factor may include nutrition, footwear, training program, running surface, contact/non-contact, whether you are jumping or cutting, and so on.  Internal factors are range of motion of the joints, muscle strength, flexibility, coordination, pain, biomechanics (how the person is using those factors), and most importantly the mind.  The more variables at play, both internal and external, the more possibilities for error.  After all, we do call it “practicing medicine or practicing physical therapy” because there is some trial and error involved. 

Most of us want a quick fix, but if the running errors started long ago, it may take time to erase old habits and develop new ones.  There is no magic wand.  A commitment to changing behavior or movement patterns for the long term is the way to become an injury free and highly performing runner.  But again, with so many variables and so much information floating around the Internet and running circles, it's hard to know where to turn.  To add to the mix, coaches, doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, personal trainers, and athletic trainers are all educated a bit differently and bring different (often conflicting) perspectives.  Not to mention, your practical experience may influence what you are educated in.  The take home message is….who the heck knows what is going on? 

Who should I listen to?  Where is my Running Pro?

For the last 8 years, I have increased my patient load to ½ runners without the need to market my specialty whatsoever.  Word of mouth from improved athletes is sending runners and related athletes to MVPT for help.  My passion is helping down and out runners restart the fire for running.  Since opening the doors of Maximum Velocity Physical Therapy 7 months ago, 86% of the evaluations I have performed have been on runners, triathletes, or other running related sports.  Of the 124 evaluations to date only 4 have come from a doctors referral.   

As a supplement to my formal PT education, I have taken over one hundred hours of continuing education on the science and physical therapy (the medicine of running).  I was an assistant coach at UNLV for 2 years and helped several athletes reach NCAA regional competitions, including qualifying and nearly running at the United States Olympic trials in 2012.  My time at UNLV was focused on the cross country and distance track and field teams.  I was able to pick the brains of world class coaches who were multiple Olympic games competitors themselves.  These coaches are the leaders in run training, and I continue to collaborate with them.  Along the way, I have coached athletes on the side from distances of 800m to marathon and several triathletes.  

I'm excited about a new cutting edge resource I now have access to that will help runners accelerate their improvement.  The physical therapy department at UNLV has installed a world class biomechanics (or gait) lab to study running.  The gait evaluation documents and measures the unique running components of each runner and can help reduce running injuries and improve performance. The track team at UNLV will use it for training and injury prevention.  I am collaborating with UNLV, and I'm bringing the science gained to my clinic.* 

MVPT is the only running specialty clinic in Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada.  We are committed to helping runners of all ages and skill levels reduce injuries, build strength, improve form, and reach their goals.  If you have any pain that is keeping you from running or preventing you from running better, or if you simply want an evaluation to make sure you're not on the path to injury, schedule an appointment today. 

For more information, please head over to my website at or call 702-998-2900.

*Please note, due to the popularity of the in-depth gait analysis, advance scheduling is required.