Learn to love running by doing it right
I have an opportunity to write about something I am very passionate about, running. Specifically, running form. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy running, there has been a lot of buzz about this topic. There are now books, blogs, videos, and courses we can utilize to learn about proper running form. Some people may scoff and say running is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I would totally disagree. From experience, I have found practicing natural running techniques has enabled me to perform beyond my wildest dreams. Once I began to run with proper form, my pains and niggles no longer plagued me. I was able to feel good running from start to finish – even after 26.2 miles! I was feeling so good I decided to come up with a goal for 2011 that would be a testament to natural running’s benefits. My goal is to run at least a marathon a month. Since January of 2011 I have run 14 marathons, a 30k, and a 50k. Does this sound crazy? It might, but because I am diligent about my form I have not had any issues with my running.
Running Injury Free
I am aware that not everyone has the desire to run that far or race that frequently. But I do know lots of people who would like to run without pain or injury. I am delighted to share some tips with you that can help you achieve this type of running enlightenment. To prevent being overwhelmed, I might suggest focusing on one form modification at a time rather than trying to do a total overhaul on your first attempt.
Just Say No
Just say no to heel to toe. I still have people look at me with shock as I share this gem with them. Landing mid foot is best as that is where your body absorbs shock most efficiently. To prove this, stand up and simulate jumping rope. Notice where you land? That is where you should land when you are running. Try ‘jumping rope’ on your heels. Feel the difference? Impact injuries are typically a result of heel striking when running. It jars your ankles, knees, hips, back… These aches are not isolated to running. If you have a strong heel strike when walking, you can also suffer impact pain. I know this firsthand as I used to heel strike walking and running. My back hurt all the time and I can recall marathons I’ve finished in tears because I was in so much pain. Now I finish with a smile and a spring in my step!
Practice alignment with relaxation. As you become fatigued, you may find that you begin to compromise your posture. This basically adds more work to your already fatigued body. (Stand up straight and jog in place, now hunch over and jog in place – feel the difference?) As you run, frequently check in with your posture to be sure you are staying efficient. On occasion, I will place one hand on my sternum and one hand over my belly button and then try to create as much space between my hands as I can. I find this is an excellent way to keep me running tall.
Pushing the Limits
Too far, too fast or too soon and you might meet your doom. In my experience, I have found most stress fractures and injuries have been the result of one of two things, running too far or running too fast before the body has been properly prepared for these added stresses. To train properly, apply the 10% rule. That is, don’t let your weekly mileage increase by more than 10%. As far as speed, start your speed training conservatively. When I coach my athletes, I may start them off by simply running the straights on the track and walking the curves. Multiple mile repeats should not be the first speed workout. Finally, give yourself an easy 5-10 minute warm up before any intense workout.
Keep your strides short and sweet to maintain those happy feet. The best technique to focus on to avoid injury is to simply shorten your stride. When you do this, it is nearly impossible to heel strike, you can run longer with little or no pain, and you can react to obstacles easier – definitely useful in trail running! I recall watching a video of an interview with Scott Jurek and he said, “Take short strides, and then shorten them up even more.” Aim for approximately 85-90 strides per minute. The best way to practice this is either to use a metronome set at 90 beats per minute or listen to songs that are about 90 beats per minute. I didn’t own a metronome but I found a free app for my iPhone, here’s the link http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ludwig-metronome/id413743609?mt=8
I use this all the time for coaching technique. To give you an idea of some great songs to learn proper stride rate, I have created a playlist of some of my favorite songs to run to.
1. Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked, Cage The Elephant
2. Scar Tissue, Red Hot Chili Peppers
3. Down, 311
4. Bouncin’ Back, Mystical
5. Paper Planes (DFA Remix), M.I.A.
6. Good People, Jack Johnson
7. Big Yellow Taxi, Counting Crows
8. Blister in the Sun, Violent Femmes
9. Country Song, Seether
10. Drive (and or) Wish You Were Here, Incubus
As you listen to the beat, let your dominant foot land in time to the beat of the music. I found this was the most effective way for me to improve form. I wasn’t overthinking every movement – just listening to good tunes and letting my body follow along.
Sync your mind and body
Be present and connect your mind and body to what you are doing. If you start to feel discomfort, try to think about where your form might be lacking and adjust accordingly. Sometimes a mantra can help. My friend, Steve Rink, uses the mantra, “Fresh and Loose”. Find something that works for you to keep you in sync with your running.
There are some people who refer to running as a ‘practice’, much like yoga is a practice – a continual effort to improve. I believe in this, I feel I am constantly improving on my form. We practice golf swings, swim strokes, martial arts – why wouldn’t we do the same with running form?
One of my biggest thrills in life is meeting other happy runners. I hope these techniques can help you run stronger, and longer, but most importantly – with a smile on your face!!
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