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'Pose running' technique helps runner's knee pain

Brom Hoban

About six years ago, local triathlete Spencer Conklin had a lot of pain in both knees when he ran. "I was hearing the word ‘surgery' come up a lot, and physical therapy wasn't helping," he said. "I was forced into finding something that would help."

That's when Conklin learned about "pose running" at a triathlon meeting. He learned the proper technique at a clinic, and his knee pain promptly went away.

And he became a faster runner, too.

According to Conklin, besides preventing impact-related injuries, the pose method can help runners increase their speed and efficiency. In 2008, Conklin won the 50-plus age group at the Capital of Texas Triathlon, and he placed second in that group in 2009.

So what is pose running? Dr. Nicholas Romanov, a Russian sports scientist now based in Florida, came up with the technique in the 1970s, and it has been gradually gaining followers. Most runners have been taught to run heel-to-toe, and 99 percent of the shoes designed for them encourage that form. Pose advocates say that approach works against gravity because of the braking action of the heel strike.

Using the pose technique, runners use gravity to their benefit, running with a slight forward lean and landing on the mid-foot before using the hamstring muscles to quickly pull the foot off the ground. And their cadence (foot turnover) increases as well.

While the pose method certainly has not been universally accepted by running coaches, the past year has seen plenty of interest in the technique.

Many in the media, propelled by Chris McDougall's bestselling book "Born to Run," have latched on to the new trend of barefoot running. Publications from Runner's World to Time magazine have gushed about the shoeless movement. And longtime pose advocates see that as validation, because barefoot running encourages a natural pose style.

"It's not that the normal default way of running is wrong, but running shoes promote a heel strike, and do not let people feel the ground and know when to pull their feet back. So the pose (technique) is pretty much the way people would run barefoot: falling forward and pulling your foot back the moment it touches the ground," said Conklin, who is a certified pose instructor.

The technique is fairly simple, and can be described as "falling forward" rather than pushing off.

"The most important phase is pulling the foot off the ground," Conklin said. "There are a number of drills to gain awareness of how that works, so runners can get a better perception of what they are doing."

Can the technique really ward off running injuries? According to South African exercise physiologist and researcher Dr. Timothy Noakes, "The pose has proven to have 50 percent less impact than regular heel-strike running. Nothing else does that."

"I had a lot of pain from a torn meniscus in my knee," said Austinite Marvin Jansen, 59, a longtime runner. "I'm preparing for the Paris Marathon, and needed to find a way to run without pain. After learning the pose, I was able to run eight miles the following week without pain. ... Before that I was a heel-striker and suffered a lot of injuries."

Responding to critics who believe the pose technique is not for elite runners, Romanov contends that the marathon world-record holder, Haile Gebrselassie, and Olympic gold-medalist sprinter Michael Johnson both are examples of runners who have a natural pose style.

Many people, including some well-known distance coaches, are reluctant to seriously alter a runner's natural form, and that's fine, but just learning about the pose technique might help runners simply by increasing their awareness of running form.

When retired six-time Hawaii Ironman winner Mark Allen first heard about the pose approach, he was quite skeptical. After attending one of Romanov's seminars, though, he changed his outlook.

"Its main benefit is that it gives you a checklist, a system of things you can think about to run better," Allen said. "And that's a good thing."

Austin runners can learn more about local pose running clinics at www.freetorun.net.