Practicing Good Running Form–Not just for newbies!

I hurt myself training for the 2009 Chicago Marathon back in the fall of 2009 when I first moved to Charlottesville. I hadn’t had any problems that whole summer, running about 25 miles per week. When I got to Cville, though, I needed to figure out two crucial things: 1) where to run my long runs and 2) where it was relatively flat (if that even existed here). After about 2 weeks here I stumbled upon my current long run route, out in White Hall. While it’s relatively flat there are still elvevation gains and small, but steep, hills throughout the route. For 3.5 miles one way it is all uphill. Then for the 3.5 miles back its downhill. Repeat that a few times over the course of a 20 miler and that can really impact a runner who is used to flat terrain (I mean, I couldn’t find a hill in the city Boston if I tried…I’d have to drive out and run in Newton or on the Boston Marathon course!).

I started having some major hip pain during one of my 18 mile runs, only about 5 weeks away from the race. To make a long story short I had some bad bursitis in that hip caused from tackling the hilly terrain too fast. My body wasn’t strong or ready enough. I did some intensive PT over the following few months, really working on a few major things. While everyone knows how to run, they might not know that good running form requires practice. These are things I think ALL runners can benefit from even if they aren’t injured. Some are pretty obvious, but I think runners should constantly be practicing their good form:

  • Land on the forefoot as much as possible. While I’m not totally into the barefoot running movement, I think there are good things to be learned from it. Like how our feet are supposed to work and handle the forces of running so we don’t get injured. Going along with this…
  • Make sure your plantar fascia (the muscles and tissues in your feet) are loose so that you can roll off the front of your feet. If your feet are like blocks, they’re also not adequately absorbing the impact of running…leading to injury. Best way to do this is just roll your foot on a tennis ball (feels so good!) and do some foot/toe stretches.
  • Increase your cadence. “Overstriding” is a major issue and I’ve worked hard to increase my cadence (how quickly my feet turn over) so that I reduce the chance of injury. Runner’s World says: “Some runners, particularly beginners, have the misconception that to get faster, they need to cover more ground with every stride. But for distance runners, that’s seldom the right formula for faster times. In fact, it can lead to “overstriding” and a greater risk of injuries. The real secret to improvement at distances from the 5-K on up is faster turnover, or cadence. Turnover simply means the number of times your feet push off during each minute of running. Most runners get locked into a cadence that feels comfortable. Unfortunately, if you don’t work to speed up your turnover (180 footstrikes per minute is considered optimal), that rhythm will slow down as you age.” I’ve been working on getting 180 footstrikes to feel natural when I run (so I hit it even when I don’t think about it for awhile). As of now I’m there. My doctor last week put me on a treadmill and said that it’s not a problem. But it’s something I will continue to work on. The most important thing to remember is an increase in cadence does not mean an increase in speed. You can work on your cadence easily by setting a treadmill to 5.6 or some really slow level and working on your foot turnover (I do this once a week and I know I look silly…but so what). You can check out the rest of the article and some drills here.
  • I’ve talked a bit about this, but here’s one of the most important things to do: INCREASE GLUTE STRENGTH. I have dead butt syndrome. This means my glutes don’t fire when I run. They are literally dead. That means my hip flexors and quads take the majority of the work. This type of imbalance has surely led to my injuries. It is so important for your glutes to do half if not a majority of the workload when you run (the hip flexor allows you to push your leg forward, the glutes and hamstrings allow you to pull it back). You can read about the importance of glute strength and some exercises, which I work on constantly, here.
So those are some really good things I think all runners–beginners and experienced alike–can work on. I will continue to work on them as well as some other things with a physical therapist to see if I can run normally with my knee. A few other supports are necessary too. I’ve always felt that running with any sort of brace is sort of BS. We should strengthen our bodies to run without any such supports.  But my doctor wants me to run with a Patellar Tendon Strap to distribute the load over my whole knee. So I went today to get one, even though I am still extremely skeptical that it will make any iota of a difference.
I’ve also gone back to the Superfeet. Back in the fall of 2009 I took out my Superfeet and even went to a shoe with less stability. Ya know, the whole “barefoot” philosophy that our bodies can adjust and handle it. And it worked for almost two years! But once again my doctor said to put the Superfeet back in, so here they go again    We’ll see if they make any difference! In other news: It’s FRIDAY! Not just any Friday, but the Friday before the first Saturday of College Football baby! Tis the most wonderful time of the year 🙂 
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3 Responses to Practicing Good Running Form–Not just for newbies!

  1. Carina says:

    I def need to work on my cadence. I had a coach who used to run with us and carried a metronome set at 95 I think and it was tough! I wish I’d kept at it…

  2. Sandi says:

    Appreciate this. I do my long run today so I’ll work on adding it in…thanks!

  3. Pingback: Keep Muscles “Loose and Strong” | Let's Go on a Living Spree

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