Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
“We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was… Better, stronger, faster.”
I guess that I have lot to be pleased with about my running over the last two years, namely: training consistently without injury, getting close to a flat-3:30 marathon, hitting 60+ miles/week and smashing out a 50 mile ultra are not inconsiderable milestones.
However, one thing that has been a constant source of annoyance to me is my basic RUNNING FORM.
It has always pained me that whenever I see pictures or video of myself running, my form has been quite abysmal. Put very simply, various bits of my anatomy move in directions that they shouldn’t – some parts move too much, some not enough. I long to be a gazelle, but the reality is that I am a plodder. A very fit, ultra-aerobic plodder.
So, for some time I have known that I needed to improve my running form, but until recently I didn’t even know where to begin. Attempts to “mimic” what I see better runners doing felt awkward and unnatural… and the results were always slower.
How can it be more efficient if it feels so damn wrong?
So this winter I am going “back to good basics”. Actually, perhaps just “to good basics”, as I’m not sure I was ever there in the first place. The aim is to completely rework my running form and emerge next year as a better runner. At this stage of my development, gains going forward are going to be made more on the skills side rather than the fitness side.
This is a strip-it-down, build-it-up project that will take many months before it is presentable as a near-finished article that is anywhere near race-ready. That’s why I’m doing this only now, rather than attempting to do it mid-season or in the middle of a training cycle.
I have a confession to make.
I’m a voyeur. I secretly watch you out of the corner of my eye when you run past me. I closely examine your gait, and the quality of your movement. It fascinates me.
The cogs in my mind whirl around, and I try to work out what it is about someone’s particular physiology that makes them run in that particular way. Why does this man’s left leg keep flicking out, and why does that girl always land with such as straight knee? You get the idea…
Runners’ World etc are not short of “technique” articles. Be careful. Trying to improve your running form by consciously focussing on individual aspects such as footstrike, strides rate, hip extension, hip drop or arm swing that these random articles discuss is a bit of a mug’s game. It’s not that the advice presented is bad, per se, but that it conveniently ignores the truth that your body moves the way it does for a very good reason – that’s how it manages to get from point A to B with the least possible work, given the raw materials currently at its disposal.
To improve our quality of movement, we must address the fundamental issues that cause us to move sub-optimally, and just as a multitude of sub-optimal health and fitness conditions can be traced back to a poor basic diet, a multitude of running inefficiencies can be traced back to poor basics of functional human movement.
How many times do you see a runner where it is painfully obvious that they have read some advice or article forefoot striking, and so, like a good student should, they go out and practicing trying to implement the gist of that advice… running off their toes, with their heels (even in 10mm drops) never even touching the ground? I see it all the time. Leave these sort of contortions to the Ballet school, folks, and refocus on the basics!
When talking about running form, there are individualisation that are different for everyone, but there are also good fundamental principles that can almost be universally applied. Working with a good coach is a one of the best ways to at least grasp the basic building blocks of good running form, and understand the specific reason why your form exhibits the characteristics that it does.
Once you have a better grasp of some core principles around mobility, strength, flexibility, and stability that facilitate running or any other human movement and set specifically targetting improvements in those fundamentals, then most peripheral aspects such as failing limbs, heel-flicks, and valgus knees etc tend to self-correct without you having to think too much about it.
Going all-in on this running revamp requires that I do my own research. A fantastic resource is Physical Therapist and “mobility expert” Kelly Starrett. Kelly’s books include Becoming a Supple Leopold and his new book that I have just finished reading, Ready To Run.
RTR is primarily a book about the areas of functional movement that we need to pay attention to & likely improve as a prerequisite for becoming a well balanced, injury-free and higher performing athlete (of any type, not just a runner).
The core of the book consists of 12 “standards” for functional strength, mobility and stability that arguably every successful able-bodied human being – never mind athlete – should strive to attain.
The 12 standards he talks about are:
Starrett has a very high profile on the internet – he’s all over YouTube & the Podcast circuit, so if you are interested in finding out more of what he’s about, just do the usual searches. He’s a great interviewee and a magnetic personality. But by the same token that means he’s also fantastic at marketing himself, and it’s sometimes a little difficult to know where distinction between really useful info and hyperbole lies.
Nonetheless, as he says in Ready To Run, all he is asking is 10-20 minutes/day to work in some of the principles he has outlined. That’s not too much time at all to invest. Do it every day that you consider yourself an athlete. No Days Off.
So where is all this going? Well, your running form is a product of your physiology, which is shaped by your lifestyle.
Therefore, it’s clear that in order to improve to a more efficient running technique we should first focus and commit to undoing the aspects of lifestyle that contribute to our running inefficiency. That is what I mean from “ground up” – addressing primary causes, and not trying to band-aid the resultant outcome – Starrett’s work is a fantastic starting point for that.
It begins with undoing the harm that sitting at a desk 8hrs a day will lead to – that means implementing some of the exercises to combat and reverse this. Restoring full hip-flexor mobility should be priorities, 1, 2 & 3 if you are an all day desk-jockey like me.
If you think about the knock-on effect of having further along the kinetic chain, it it should be clear that the movement pattern of our limbs will be profoundly impacted by such a compromise in the pelvis as a result of shortened hip flexors caused by constant sitting. It’s estimated that at least 80% of runners have some degree of anterior pelvic tilt – and their running ends to be characterised by bending at the waist and with their arse sticking out.
For myself, this was a revelation. I call it “engaging the core” – when I engage my core, lots of good things happen – my coordination improves on all levels. I guess the easy way to describe is it that I look more like a gazelle, and less like an elephant.
Now, with a better pelvic position, you will automatically be striking the ground lighter and more towards the forefoot. Now, it is easier and more natural to use your glutes and hamstrings and the whole of your posterior chain to lift your recovery leg and “shorten the lever” through the swing phase of the stride. Your pelvis is still neutral, rather than constantly twisted, and your leg comes back through much straighter.
This is just the beginning of this journey, but already you can see the difference…
Ka-bam! Just look at the difference! When I engage my core, and then use the posterior chain to power my stride you can see the transformative effect it has on alignment and rotation of the limbs and whole body.
Learning new movement patterns is never easy. Without being mindful at all times, it’s easy to slip back into the old movement pattern. Plod. plod. plod.
That is why I’m taking a nuclear approach and committed to doing 100% of my running using the new techniques that I am learning.
In practice, that means, for the time being there will be no more mindless “long runs” just to put the miles in. The focus right now is not on aerobic development. The focus is on completely quality of movement.
So now my running will almost exclusively consist of of run-walk, starting at 2:1 intervals. 2 minutes of “new form” running, followed by 1 minute of walking. Rinse and repeat, gradually working up to longer intervals. Now I know how to run with better form, I only want to run with the best form that I can, or not at all.
Working on fitness is easy; working on technique is damn hard. It requires doing that which we find awkward and unnatural, and by definition stepping outside of our comfort zone. I imagine that most of my runs will be for no more than 30-45mins at a time, including my walk intervals.
And every day I’ll do my 10-20 mins of mobility work. No Days Off. By committing to this, I’ve taken the option of not doing it – and hence potential stagnation or regressing – off the table.
I hope that, come Spring, the hard work that I’m putting in now will show through.