I’ve had many runners lately inquire regarding their running fitness and how they can improve.  While the holidays and off season will likely set us back a bit in our fitness, we can improve running form easily and start the training season right.

I’ve yet to have a runner with an injury throughout my years of coaching.  While I may be lucky as a coach, I believe in a simple training regimen and strict adherence to the basics.

Running Form

There are innumerable debates regarding running form.  Do we heel strike or not, what types of shoes to wear, orthodics, bare feet, etc.  I fall into the mid sole striking category.  I’ve found that it, combined with a running cadence of 180 bpm allows for the best form for injury prevention and easy speed.  I recently had an athlete complete a 5 hour marathon before coming to me for advice.  Once I completed his VO2 max assessment and performed a rudimentary running form analysis, I recommended two things and had him try it out on the treadmill.  He was a heel striker and had a very low cadence of around 120 bpm.  The long stride and poor form not only caused him to run slower, but let to early muscle fatigue in endurance races.

Once he corrected those two things, he was easily able to run 8 min miles for long durations with only 2 weeks of adaptation.

The easiest way to correct the deficiencies is to download a metronome app on your phone which beeps at 180 bpm.  While you’re changing your cadence, you listen to the beeps.  It will amaze you at how much different you feel and how much more solid you run.  Running at that cadence almost forces you into a mid sole strike as well.  There are three examples I use when training mid sole striking.  The first is imagine that you are running up a steep hill, or even try it if you have one close to you.  The body is forced to mid sole strike when running up hill.  The second is placing your body against the outer wall of a building, then lean forward until you have to take a step.  That first step is where you should be striking.  Notice how the body naturally exhibits proper form :)  The third is to have someone tie a rope around your waist and pull while you are running.  You will also be forced to mid sole strike.

Keep in mind that mid sole striking uses a different set of muscles.  So a period of 2-4 weeks of reduced running distance to allow the muscles to adapt is essential.  You will utilize your calve  (gastroc) muscles much more along with the supporting tendons and muscles.

If you want extra credit, core strength is key.  I always prescribe plank sessions and 8 min ab workouts for my athletes.  Core strength will allow you to run with better form naturally.  You know that feeling you get when  you’re in your bathing suit and someone is “checking you out?”  Immediately you tighten your abdominal muscles.  That is the same feeling you want when you’re running.  A moderate tightening of your core transverse abdominus muscles (abs).

 

 

Proper Equipment

This section is geared towards the runner who is not in optimal condition, or 95% of us.  I find that the choice of shoes is also critical in coaching distance.  For any distance less than 5 miles, regular running shoes may be worn.  Any distance greater than that I recommend Hoka One Ones.  I’m not sponsored by Hoka, nor do I have an interest other than the health of my athletes.  Hoka’s have a small drop and large amount of cushioning.  I call them cloud shoes.  The facilitate the mid sole strike and save your legs, hips, and supporting muskuloskeletal structure from the impact stresses inherent in long running.  Before I started running in Hokas, running was an exercise in pain tolerance.  After, there was no pain.  In fact, I began to be able to focus on my cardiac fitness and saw immense improvement.  I also credit the shoes largely for the success in eliminating running injury from my many Ironman and ultra endurance athletes.

It is also helpful to have a heart race monitor so that you can understand how your body is responding to your training.  As the GI Joe saying goes, “knowing is half the battle.”  Biophysical feedback is essential in understanding yourself as a runner.  It also helps gauge your progress over time.

With the advent of all of the running apps on our cellular devices, it is now easier than ever to monitor our pace and distance.  The only way to run faster is to “run fast.”  Altering your pacing and monitoring your heart rate are necessary to improve speed and run fitness.

 

Training Program

I simplify running  training into 3 main workouts with everything else as filler.  You want a strength, speed, and endurance workout once a week.

Strength is characterized by hill repeats, stadium runs, or incline treadmill runs (5%+).  As you continue your training you extend the duration or rep count of whichever strength activity you’re engaged in.

Speed workouts are typically tempo or track workouts depending on your desired race distance.  You have your comfortable pace.  Then you have your tempo pace, which is typically 1 min/mile faster than your easy pace.  Marathon pacing is somewhere in between.  I subscribe to the Jack Daniels Running Formula and have used it with much success.

Endurance workouts are long and steady workouts at pacing appropriate to your goal race distance and pace.  Typically, these runs are aerobic and improve your cardiac fitness and create the necessary adaptations for you to go the distance.

If you have the desire to run more than the three workouts highlighted, then you are looking at active recovery.  Run at an easy, conversational pace.  Aerobic.  Make sure you feel like the running is slow.  It should be.  Your active recover will prepare you for your key workout the next day.

Word to the Wise

Running strong is not rocket science.  It’s all about consistency.  Those who run smart and follow healthy behaviors will, in the long run, be happier and more confident in their abilities and may have a life filled with the joys of running.