Some things never cease to amaze me. During my seemingly ever lasting battle with shin splints I have read many an interweb mind wandering on the subject. There seems to be a nary a solid cause from them. Causes that I have found include: poor running form, too much too soon, running on hard ground, running on uneven ground, the boogey man, under pronation, over pronation, poor diet, wrong shoes, the tooth fairy, running on hills -up and down-, muscle imbalances, and just general bad luck.

I have done my best to eliminate all of those. I have worked tirelessly on my running form, slowed down, shortened the distances, ate better food, avoided hills, checked for muscle imbalances, avoided to the best of my ability the tooth fairy and the boogey man, but when it came to running on soft surfaces but not uneven surfaces… well my search led me to never never land. Truth be told it actually lead me to a proper track to travel in circles like those jackasses in NASCAR.

Yesterday while at my gait analysis-to rule out footwear- I was quite surprised when Ryan -the podiatrist- told me to run on uneven ground. I mean right here in position number 2 under overload it states ‘Exercising on uneven ground’ as a cause of shin splints. Ryan went on to say that you aren’t even running on grass and trails for the lower impact surface but rather because it changes the muscle’s job from step to step helping to build stabilizer muscles and reduce repetitive stress -which is exactly what shin splints are.

With my personality this kind of bizarre contradictory information has led me back to the dangerous place that is the interweb. This lead me to an article by Paul Ingraham, a registered massage therapist in Vancouver who suggests that we should run as much as possible on uneven terrain. He says:

We [humans] have evolved miraculously complex reflexes and musculature that can keep us upright on virtually any surface, even shifting surfaces like the deck of a ship. To develop and maintain a well-rounded fitness, all of those reflexes and musculature need to be constantly stimulated and challenged!

Ideally, everyone should run “cross-country.” Your run should be on soft, constantly changing and unstable surfaces. If you live near the beach in Vancouver, you’re in runner’s Heaven: just stay off the seawall. Run on the sand and the grass. Hop over logs and benches, go up and down hills, scramble over rocks. This is perfect!

This is essentially what Ryan had told me, and honestly information that I actually knew myself. I feel kind of stupid for not putting two and two together, because in my ten or so years as ski coach I have spent a good deal of time helping athletes develop their stabilizer muscles. -Stabilizer muscles are the muscles responsible for balance, and not just vertical balance but the balance required while lifting free weights, or delicately placing a breakable object. It is fair to say that stabilizer muscles are the muscles responsible for making people athletic rather than just strong.- While training athletes stabilizer muscles we would do such activities as running complex courses at full speed on wet grass, sand, hills etc… while changing pace and doing various other drills with the arms or hand eye coordination.

Since I had been doing exactly the training that was recommended to me by Ryan then why wouldn’t I have the smarts to know that I should do it myself? Well the answer is probably that I either thought that sort of training would aggravate my shin condition or I just wasn’t thinking. Either way it is an interesting concept and certainly one that should be investigated over the next three weeks as I begin to ease back into running.