Learning to Run

Learning to Run

Written by Miller Hollstein

“Even if I told you, you wouldn't believe me.”

Dedicated to middle school Miller

As a youngster, I was a baseball fiend with a big problem.

I wore the signature braided Phiten necklace, my pants were tucked just right, and I chewed sunflower seeds faster than anyone I knew. 

The sport resonated with me and I knew the game in and out. I was even decent at the fundamentals. I could hit, throw, and catch grounders with ease. These two things alone made me start above some kids that were clearly better than me. 

But, I had one downfall: my running. 

I was the king of RBIs (runs batted in) because it didn't matter if you made it safely to first or not. And if you can see what I’m implying… I didn’t make it safely to first very often.

I hated running with a passion. And I was slow.

Like painfully slow. 

It was very evident. My parents knew it, my coach knew it, my teammates knew it, I knew it. 

But, by this point, I had just accepted that I was slow. Plain and simple. I tried my best to run harder, but I never thought that maybe the answer was to run smarter.

I switched to lacrosse in high school after the “new” sport came to my town and I realized how boring baseball actually was. I studied the game of lacrosse and improved fast, ultimately leading to a scholarship and a starting position for a collegiate program.

Fast forward to my senior year in college. 

I sported two distinct features: a mullet (before it was cool) and a partially torn ACL. 

I played all season with this injury, terrorizing the inside of my knee, cartridge and all. 

But one life-changing thing came from it: I decided to tweak my running form.

Although I had a constant limp, rather than sit out my last competitive year, I decided to play through the pain. However, this required some adjustment. 

I noticed that whenever I stepped wrong and felt the lightning bolt explode in my knee, my body instinctively took the next few steps on the ball of my foot. Hmm. 

Something clicked in my head and I began intentionally running on my toes. And with less impact, slowly, I morphed from a “heel-toer” to a “ball-of-the-foot” striker. Maybe the running form I had been taught my whole life wasn’t the proper technique for me…

Although the pain remained throughout the rest of the season, I noticed how much my body could absorb the shock when I did it just right. The wheels were turning.

For years after school, I avoided running. I blamed my knee injury and my genetics for the discomfort that came whenever I tried. “I’m just not meant to be a runner.” And with my final surgery, I figured I would be done running for good. 

But, as my legs strengthened and I set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, everything changed. 

After watching some ultralight trail runners quite literally floating on the trail, I decided I wanted to give trail running a shot. I convinced myself that maybe it was road running that I didn’t like. 

But running on trails looked awesome! Maybe the constant variation of trails could keep me engaged, relieve me from the repetitive impact of flat, paved surfaces, and give me an excuse to go out in the woods. It had promise.

And then I read Born to Run

If the Tarahumara tribe from the book could run how they were described; fast and forever (both distance and until old and gray), why was I falling apart in my 20s? Something was wrong. 

I dissected the book and downloaded the information from videos into my brain. My suspicions about foot mechanics were confirmed. Heel-to-toe running is not how the body was made to run. “Maybe that is why my knees have always been so messed up?”

Slowly, I began to realize that maybe… it was up to me to figure out what worked for me.

As I kept digging, I learned about body position and hip placement, stride length and arm swing, breathing and mental benefits. I couldn’t get enough!  

Inspired by progress and results, little by little, I tweaked my running form until I finally landed on the form that suited me. It has taken a long time and hours of unsuccessful adjustments, but when you find your form, running actually becomes fun.

And now, running is a staple in my life. I feel smooth and light. Strong and powerful. 

It is no longer a chore, but an activity I can’t wait to do every day. Talk about full circle.

That middle school kid who could never steal a base would be absolutely shocked to hear how much he likes running now. He never would have believed the words I just wrote. 

From frustration and hopeless acceptance of mediocrity to a bright outlook of endless potential. Heck, I am doing my first marathon this fall and have plans of a 50k trail race next year.

And all because I decided to take learning into my own hands.

Whether it is your diet, career path, mental health, or running form, you have to find what works for you

Don’t simply accept the norm or what is generally taught. Make sure it resonates with you. And the only way to test this is by acting upon it, examining the results, and adjusting. 

Learn all that you can about the subject that interests you, take what sticks and what works for you personally, and then do away with the rest. Examine, Optimize, Evolve. 

You will be shocked where it can lead.

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