The Cold, Street Running and Five Fingers

While yesterday Mumbai airport looked like Delhi with people sporting sweaters, blazers, coats and shawls, for the last three days, even the streets have started looking like Delhi, with people wearing earmuffs and monkey-caps. I hope the cold lasts for some more time…not because I have a sudden yearning for Delhi, but because it makes running even at 5.00 in the evening pleasurable, despite sunset being an hour away.

This week has seen another running controversy rear its head due to a New York Times article that discusses a recent study based on runners from Harvard whose injury incidence over the last four years was analyzed and correlated with their running pattern. The study found that those who run heel-first have twice the rate of injury if not more, as compared to those who do front-foot running.

Let me tell you how important this is!

I wrote earlier about how I had shifted to front-foot running before the Mumbai Marathon, while still wearing cushioned shoes. Overnight, my running speed went up and I was able to shave off 15 minutes from my 2010 half-marathon time. More importantly (though this was also partly due to extensive training) I had no cramps or residual leg pain after the run.

Immediately after the half-marathon, I shifted to a pair of Vibrams Five-Fingers. They look a little unusual because of the “fingers” into which the toes go and many people, especially kids often burst out laughing when they see you the first time…the “feel” of the Vibrams is worth all that unwanted attention. The Vibrams have a non-cushioned rubber sole that simulates barefoot running and forces you to switch to a front-foot style. Since the shift, I have become faster, and that too, without any increase in the effort involved. If you do plan to shift to front-foot running though, please do it slowly, one km at a time so that your muscles and body get adjusted to the new forces gradually, reducing thereby the chance of injury.

Running this way has become so much more interesting and pleasurable that I now run on the streets as well, on weekends, and pretty much go wherever my fancy takes me. One Saturday, I started out at King’s Circle and landed up 2 hours later in Colaba. Another day, I found myself near the Chembur Golf Club. On Republic Day, I went along all the arms of King’s Circle and back, to total a 12kms run.

You realize when you run early in the morning how well lit the main roads are. You could run at 2.00AM and you would still be able to see the road well.  The only rule to follow is to run against the traffic; what I find insane is how most people prefer to run with the traffic…which means you will never really know when someone comes from behind or from the side and hits you. When you are facing traffic, you are on high-alert and can take whatever steps necessary to avoid errant vehicles if you think they are coming your way. I also successfully use my elbows and arms both as shields and as weapons especially when people start blundering blindly into your path without looking.

If anyone says that there is no place to run in Mumbai (as I have in the past in this column), then that needs to be qualified. After 8.00AM it’s tough to find places to run in. But between midnight and 8.00AM, the whole city and its well-lit main roads…are one big running track!


  • Matungawalla wrote:

    I remember those days in the mid sixties during the winter months. The Ramas (Ghatis???) used to sit under the the street lamp. They used to collect dead leaves and dried twigs and make a fire to keep warm.
    Nostalgic memories of Adenwala Road, Matunga.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Many still do

  • Good read! I ran the half marathon for the first time this year. Used to have my practice runs in Lokhandwala, Andheri. The best part about our marathon is the time of the year. Running early in the morning in tempeartures in the early twenties feels so good! And I was a heel-first runner too! It was only after I read your article on running front foot, that I changed my style. Thanks a lot Bhavin! Keep ’em coming

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Thanks Piran. Good to know it worked out.

  • Prem Mahtani wrote:

    Hi’ Bhavin you must be a great athelete,god bless you,otherwise pretty fit at 56, but can’t run due to knee problem.wish you the best your post inspire me.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Thank you Prem. Hope it works out for you.

  • Abhijeet Pendharkar wrote:

    Hi Bhavin,

    Great to see your running exploits!! I know – it is a great feeling to be able to run any time of the day!! When I was in US and UK, the only thing I really used to cherish was being able to run any time of the day!! In Mumbai, if I have to work late in the night or do not sleep early, i end up missing on my runs – because they have to be early morning runs – given the heat and humidity! Am targeting to get to half-marathon this year!!

    Also, have you noticed that when you switch to “front foot”landing, the calve muscles get the kind of work out that you never experience with landing on heel? The calves remain sore for quite some time – but that is just a confirmation of the fact that the running form (landing front feet) is good.

    Happy running!!


  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    The calves will eventually settle down

  • My net was down so saw it only now. I want to know how can you, when you run, land heel first. It has to be toes and balls of the feet first. At least that is how I run (ran)Pl explain
    and what is this vibrams. will it help walking or is it only for running.

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    If you see the vast majority of runners wearing cushioned shoes – they run heel first


    Ya really Bhavinbhai, how do you run heel first ???

  • Bhavin Jankharia wrote:

    Sunit…they just do. If you observe you’ll see.

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