Like most of you, I'm guessing, I'm a sucker for a good running specialty store. Walls of bright shoes that just scream for miles; racks of clothes so cool, my mind swirls with potential finish line photos; colorful accessories, hundreds of flavors of nutrition, rows and rows of cushy socks and....bears, oh my?!
Running stores are my version of Dorothy's yellow brick road.
So last week, when the Boulder Running Company opened the country's biggest specialty run store, square-footage-wise, in nearby Cherry Creek, I pointed my minivan straight towards Oz. And while I could've spent hours perusing the racks, I beelined for the Saucony Stride Lab, a research-grade treadmill and lab that documents your stride—and, more importantly, your body's positioning and movement as you run—in microscopic measurements.
Your left foot goes just a smidge wonky before you touch down? The four cameras, positioned in the front, back, and on each side of you, will catch it. Right hip droops just as the right foot pushes off? The cameras shoot hundreds of pictures a second, so they'll find that too. One shoulder is consistently in front of the other? It can't hide in the Stride Lab—and that's a good thing.
Shoes can support, cushion, cradle, protect, guide, adorn a running store wall, and make you drool as you gaze at them, but sadly, they're mostly about your feet. (Yep, feel free to insert a Waaah! Running is hard enough and life's not fair! here.)
Shoes can't keep your hips level, your core engaged, your stride light and easy, your alignment in order, the rest of your body running efficiently. You and your (hopefully) badass mother runner muscles have to do that. Problem is, you don't always know if they're flicked on like they should be. Injuries are one way to know if sleeping on the job, but I don't recommend this method. A better way is at the Stride Lab, the only research-grade treadmill available for us normal, average runners to try in this whole world. (All the other ones are located in universities or companies.)
I got to take the treadmill last Friday, while Spencer White, Head of Saucony's Human Performance and Innovation Lab, was putting on the finishing touches on the set-up. He was also instructing Sam, who will be in charge of $100,000 treadmill, and Meital, a physical therapist with In Motion Rehab, which has an PT office in the flagship store. (Read: you get your stride anaylzed, and then Meital gives you exercises and techniques to get stronger and improve. Pretty sweet BOGO.)
I had already pitted out my top before I arrived: I had visions of a VO2 max test—think face mask + extended, intense effort—but I shouldn't have worried. After we talked about my running (20+ years) and injury history (too many to count), as well as my current goals (1. Stay injury-free; 2. Keep injuries at bay; 3. Push myself, but only if I don't hurt myself), I ran for just a few minutes at an easy effort while the cameras shot me from all angles, which is about as flattering as it sounds, especially when it involves cellulite in super-slow-motion.
Then I stepped off, and the four of us checked me out.
The whole process took about 30 minutes; it could've been shorter if I hadn't asked so many questions, and it could've been longer, if I were trying on different shoes. (Nope, not straying from my beloved Virratas.) Although the trio pointed out a few things that are slightly off balance as I run, nothing is particularly significant or a predictor of future issues. Phew again.
Of course, the form I have during a few minutes of fresh running isn't exactly what I look like 11 miles into a half-marathon. So we talked about all the ways that I—and any runner—can keep optimal form when that breaking-down feeling comes on a run: maintaining a strong core and (pretty) good posture; taking lighter, more frequent steps; and visualizing the foot landing under the body to minimize impact on the joints.
Oh, and you can never do enough planks, says Meital.
At the end, Spencer pronounced my current stride durable—a word that connotates longevity and strength. My stride isn't speedy or super efficient or admirable, but it is, according to close, expert anaylsis, durable. And, at this point in my running career, that is the best adjective ever.
The Saucony Stride Lab at the Boulder Running Company Cherry Creek is currently free; local runners can call 303-RUN-WALK (catchy, huh?) to make an appointment. We will also set up free appointments during our Mother Runner Denver party at the store on May 6, and will send out an email to those RSVP'ed once we have sign-ups available.