JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Recent gait analysis evaluations of 20 Airmen at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Health and Wellness Center revealed a potentially large Air Force problem: incorrect running often goes unnoticed and can lead to fatigue, decreased performance and serious injury.
Karl Leonard, HAWC exercise physiologist, arrived at JBSA-Randolph in August and hit the ground running by analyzing and assessing walking and running forms of military members - a cost-free service to them and their dependents Leonard said few know about.
"My goal is to assess a handful of people a day and teach them proper running techniques, which they can share with others," Leonard said. "An objective is for Airmen to run efficiently and injury-free so they can pass the physical training test and avoid unnecessary injuries and surgeries."
Improper running form, most commonly identified as heels striking the ground first, can create a "kinetic chain of events that radiate from the feet up the body," meaning the knees and back are at risk for damage, Leonard said.
"The majority of people we've seen are bad runners, and they're in shape too," Leonard said. "This is important for our young Airmen, especially those coming out of basic training, who may be put on profile (limiting or prohibiting physical activity) from improper running."
When improper running persists for long periods, "the body will only tolerate so much the older we get," Leonard said.
Master Sgt. Brenda Greer from Air Education and Training Command, who's been on profile for seven years since she's been at JBSA-Randolph, was evaluated by the HAWC Sept. 4.
Based on a customer satisfaction survey response, Greer discussed her gait evaluation.
"The information provided was new and relevant," she said. "I prefer to be shown how to improve my technique rather than be told I cannot perform an activity."
Greer underwent plantar fasciitis surgery, but said she "could have graduated off of a profile and remained physically limited" had she addressed her improper running years prior.
What Leonard hopes to achieve is a mindset shift from running as fast and far as possible to running the right way.
Senior Airman Jessica Aulenbacher, Air Force Personnel Center Air Force training quota manager, who runs five to six miles every other day and up to eight miles on the weekends, ran into a health issue shortly before summer began.
She ran until one day she could barely walk due to pain in her right foot.
"I was really stubborn about the pain at first," Aulenbacher said. "When I had my foot examined by a doctor, I learned I was tearing microfibers in my Achilles tendon. I had to completely stop running for two weeks and was close to being put on profile."
She pleaded not to be put on profile in order to continue physical activity - something she loves to do.
"Before the injury, I was more concerned with distance and pace than running mechanics," Aulenbacher said. "Now I'm thinking about how I run differently."
Leonard's self-described motto is "prehab before rehab" - practicing correct running before pain strikes - "which can start as simple tendonitis and then lead to larger issues like meniscus tears, arthritis and disc herniation in the back," he said.
An ideal running form is landing on the ball of the foot with a slightly forward lean at a pace of 180 beats per minute, Leonard said.
"At this cadence, stride length is shortened," he added. "A metronome can help reinforce this quick cadence and landing on the balls of your feet."
A tell-tale sign of erroneous running is loud foot strikes.
"Runners should not be heard," Leonard said. "Running should sound like 'tap, tap, tap,' not 'thud, thud, thud.'"
Footwear plays a major role in how people run, Leonard said.
"The majority of shoes in the market have elevated heel lifts, which cause the person to land on the heel," Leonard said. "The flatter the shoe is the better."
By correctly altering running form, people usually experience sore calves, Leonard said, but that's OK because they are conserving energy in the long run.
During an Air Force study while at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., Leonard discovered Airmen who participated in a running program that evaluated their gait and educated them on effective running shaved two minutes off their PT test.
Real-world results in the form of injury prevention, improved performance and better runners are what Leonard plans to bring to the JBSA community.
The HAWC is scheduled to host a running clinic Oct. 30.
Initial gait evaluation appointments at the HAWC last about an hour.
For more information or to set an appointment, call the HAWC at 652-2300.