Sunday, September 13, 2009

How to School Someone with Good Running Form

During my 10 mile run today I was surprised to have a guy pacing off of me for nearly two miles. I was simultaneously flattered and a little annoyed. He was clearly a pretty experienced competitor and I do not presume to say that I am faster; he definitely would have beaten me in a race. It could be that he was trying to be conservative with his pace on the way out.

Although, it was annoying because he tended to stay on the edge of my peripheral vision. I would have preferred it if he stayed behind so I wouldn't have been conscious of him. Every once in awhile he would pull forward. That was worse because watching his form just tired me out. It was like he was muscling himself forward with his upper body strength. Maybe he was a triathlete? His stride was long, slow and loping. As soon as he pushed ahead it was a matter of moments before I would easily pass him again. Eventually he left me behind when I took my GU break.

I felt comfortably quick while he looked like he was really working hard. His gait was so laborious, I couldn't help but think how much of a happier time he would have if he tweaked his form. Judging by his knee brace his body likely felt the same way.

Somewhere along the road I became completely obsessed with form. Perhaps it was the dance training when I was a youngster or time I spent as a personal trainer, but the importance of form is always paramount in my mind for good performance. I can't help but constantly check in with it.

This is what I tend to think about when I'm running; it's taken from so many sources I can't site them all but if you've read ChiRunning you'll recognize some things:

First, the upper body should be relatively relaxed like it's sitting on a conveyor belt enjoying the ride. The head is lightly balanced on top, no tension in the neck. Eyes straight ahead, focusing on the horizon. The swing of the arms can be largely propelled by natural momentum. They can define your tempo because what your arms do your legs will follow. So I think of light quick taps with my elbows behind me like there is a boxing instructor back there with pads. Arms at 90 degrees with the hands lightly clasped.

I imagine my core is hard like a classic marble statue with a six pack. It has to be strong because that's where the fire is that is propelling me forward. Everything is alignment from my ears to my shoulders to my hips to my knees to my ankles.

The legs are like shock absorbers on cars. They take in the movement of the road, but with control so it's a smooth ride. In fact the impact of the feet against the road should be soft, quick and light. I try to imagine leaving flat foot prints in the sand so that there isn't more pressure on either the heels or the toes. Also, the feet should land directly below the center of gravity.

Of course, I don't succeed in the perfect form all of the time. I have many race photos clearly showing me landing on my heals. I can feel definite improvement the more I practice.

Still, with all of that in mind, my real secret weapon is 180 beats per minute. When I am training I make sure all of my running music mixes are at that tempo. It forces you to keep a short quick stride. The short stride makes it easier to stay in alignment and not bouncing up and down too much. Then as you get stronger you can open up that stride with a bigger kick back that doesn't disrupt your upper body. I really wanted to lean over and tell that to the guy pacing with me today. With the beat to hold onto, I knew I could stay consistent what seemed like way too easily.


John at Hella Sound said...

Great write-up on the points of good form. I'm totally form-obsessed, too. I saw some janked up form this weekend--vicious heel strikers, people that did really awkward assymetrical movement, and the herky-jerky chimpanzee thing it sounds like you're describing above. And granted, some people have anatomy issues or problems, but I also think some people just let themselves get into bad habits. And bad habits like that seem to turn into knee braces and whatnot over time.

I really have to finish the ChiRunning book; I started it but then put it down.

Lady Southpaw said...

Thanks John! It's crazy, there's a pretty significant school of thought in running coaching that says not to mess with a person's "natural" form. Yet you see people all the time who go out running and could use a couple pointers. It's like driving a sports car with the parking break on.

Oh by the way, during that whole two mile clip I was listening to "How To Turn Around a Bad Day"
It really helped a lot to keep my focus :)