4 techniques to run faster and stay injury free
March 10, 2013
Recently I ran a 5K and Carolyn took a picture of me as I neared the finish line. I was horrified. Well maybe horrified is a little strong, but mildly concerned just lacks the drama I want. My form sucked. I was over-striding. Not much, but enough that it caused a heel strike. I felt that the Apocalypse was upon me.
So I signed up for Runners Den’s form clinic taught by Ron French. I know Ron a little and have tremendous respect for his opinions so I was an eager student. There were nine other people that signed up on my day. He video taped each of us which upon review confirmed I was over-striding. Like I thought, it was not too much, but it was clear I needed to improve.
Ron promotes a mid-foot versus a heel strike and that spurs much debate, especially when it comes to marathon running. One thing though that is pretty much agreed upon, there is no such thing as a bad mid-foot strike, but there is certainly bad heel striking. But the counter is a mid-foot strike does not hold up for longer distances. Even the great Haile Gebrselassie, altered his foot strike from mid-foot to a heel strike when he made the transition from 10,000 meters to the longer distances. All he did was set world records in both the half marathon and marathon as a heel striker. So what to do? Well the one thing that seems universal, try landing with you foot as flat as possible and 90 degrees to your shin. This will maximize efficiency and reduce the braking effect, regardless of mid-foot or heel strike. To see if you are over-striding look at yourself on video or a picture and see if you have too much toe pointing up and your leg straightens ahead of your body as you land. If so, you need to focus on your foot landing under you not in front of you.
So the first key is to not lose sleep over if you are a heel striker or a mid-foot, but to keep from over-striding. Have your foot land beneath you with your knee slightly flexed. Simple.
The second thing Ron had us focus on was to run centered. Essentially most people, especially novice runners, tend to lean forward and some even backwards. The key is to have your hips, shoulders and head all aligned over your natural center. To locate your natural center stand straight up, hands above your head with knees slightly flexed (slightly means slightly, not like you are ready to squat or play shortstop). Lean a little forward from the ankles. The point right before you start stumbling forward like a drunk is where you want to be. If you look at your profile you will see your weight is centered above the balls of your feet. Once again simple.
The third technique to focus on is staying level. A lot of over-striding will result in you bouncing or dipping with each step. All this excess motion up and down inevitably will result in fatigue as you go along. The longer the run or race the greater importance this efficiency is. You take approximately 33,000 steps in a marathon and a dip of just two inches per stride results in over a mile of wasted motion. Run in your natural center and keep those toes down and most of this excess motion will disappear. I would say this is simple as well.
The last thing Ron talked about was cadence. Some call it turnover but the definition is the same – the number of steps per minute. It seems that runners are all different heights, speeds and abilities and therefore cadence would be a highly personalized thing. But regardless of all of our individuality, we should all be running at a the same cadence of 180 steps per minute. I can’t figure out how that is possible, but people a whole lot smarter than me have done studies and graphs that prove it. Who am I to argue? To find out your cadence set the timer on your watch to a minute and count your steps. For me it was easier to count just my right foot and multiply by two. Sure enough I was running less than 180 and that is the easiest explanation of why I was over-striding. I tried running faster but that wasn’t increasing my turnover, it was just making me tired. So I took Ron’s suggestion and downloaded a metronome on my iPhone. I set it at 180 beats per minute and set out. It seemed far too rapid but the brain is an amazing thing. I just focused on the incessant beep and my stride automatically adapted. I ran three miles at a 180 pace without any incremental effort. To test it out on my run the next night i timed my cadence 5 times and every single time I was exactly 180. I even tried running faster and slower and each time it was 180. So, adjusting your cadence is not so simple on your own, but download a metronome and it is beyond simple. The hardest part is listening to that constant beeping without going nuts. My plan is to every now and then time my cadence confirming my change is permanent. If not, I will bust out the metronome and simple.
I have been focusing on these four techniques the past two weeks and I have to say, there has been a difference. I am running about :15 faster and more importantly, there has been a noticeable reduction in stress on my body. Usually I am tired during the final stretch and trying to hold on to my pace, but lately my final mile has been my best mile. It is easy now but we will see how it holds up when I train for my next marathon and am doing some long runs.
So want to run faster and more efficiently? Focus on these four tips and you will improve.
- Don’t over-stride
- Run centered
- Stay level
- 180 steps a minute