Now it’s not a question of knowing what to do, it is a matter of getting my body to actually do it. As far as coaching goes, this may be one of those “do as I say and not as I do” topics. Or, here is what NOT to do. Okay, okay, I don’t think I should give up too soon (because you shouldn’t either).
So, I decided to sign up for a free class on good form running. How could I not? I had been told that I have poor form on many occasions and I have seen the countless race photographs depicting my uncanny form in motion. At least I am a teacher and I know that if I want to help others learn I have to continue to improve as well. Therefore, I will share with you what I learned.
There are basically four important factors to remember when keeping good form during running: a straight posture, striking mid-foot, a slight lean forward and a cadence of about 180 steps per minute.
1. Posture: Stay relaxed, with your feet straight ahead and shoulders down. The elbows should be locked at 90 degrees and your arms should not cross your mid-section at any time. Your eyes should be focused straight ahead (okay, if you have tripping issues like me, then glancing down every now and then is reasonable). Always keep your knees slightly bent in order to absorb the shock of impact.
2. Lean: Lean from the ankles and not the knees. A slight lean forward allows gravity to help you and you don’t work your calf muscles as hard.
3. Land on your mid-foot: Do not land on your heel or your toes. The leg that is trailing behind should become parallel to the ground. If you keep your knees flexed and land on your mid-foot, then this allows the muscles to absorb the impact (instead of your bones). You should practice before you start running by marching in place.
4. Cadence: Try to aim for 180 steps for minutes. This takes time and practice to figure out. You can use a stopwatch and count the number of right foot strikes for 20 seconds and then multiply by 6. You should barely hear your feet hitting the ground.
So, they decided to videotape us before providing us with any of this information. Then we had to replay it for everyone to see so that the instructor could point out what we shouldn’t be doing. Just let me tell you that at least 90% of those folks were landing on their heal. A big no no! I was one of those people. Not only does this leave us prone to injury, but it slows us down (and causes other issues like my knee knocking and flailing legs). If you land on your mid-foot underneath your body, then you are better able to propel yourself forward with the momentum (and greater surface area touching the ground).
Another issue noted in the video was that the runners tended to crunch up their shoulders and keep their arms high. The shoulders should be relaxed and you should swing back and forth using your forearms (which reduces the rotation of your upper body… a movement that causes you to bounce too much so you put energy into going up and down instead of forward).
Yep, so there I was with all of this information wondering how I was going to put it together. It seemed to work okay when I ran alongside one of the instructors. I was actually pretty excited and thought that it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Then I said thanks and headed out alone for a 4-mile run. So there I was, focused on standing straight with a slight lean, swinging my forearms while trying to relax my shoulders, focusing on the mid-foot and counting my steps. Whew! Way too much to focus on at one time! I decided to try one step out at a time. First I would think about my posture, then I would move on to my arm swing, and next on to my feet… and you get the point. Well, I am not really sure how it worked out because when I returned back to the first step I think I was already back to my old habits. On top of that, I was going so SLOW and it was making me frustrated. I finally made it back to my car more tired than I have been in a long time.
Okay, so I didn’t see results overnight, but I am at least smart enough to know that it just doesn’t happen that way. I think I will try to work on one piece at a time over the next few runs. I would recommend the same for you. It was slightly embarrassing watching myself run on video (especially in front of the whole class), but I learned a lot about my running form. Now I find myself slowing down in my car if I see someone running down the street so I can check out their form (yes, I’m sure they think I am a stalker). I plan to videotape myself in about a month to see if anything has changed. If it helps, then great. If not, then it just wasn’t meant to be. It should always be about what feels right for you and leaves you injury-free… everyone is different.