The iconic pic above is the vision of most budding endurance runners have about the ideal running form. Light on the feet, effortless strides, maximum returns with minimum effort, steely focus on the goal – climaxing in a brilliant finish time without breathing too hard !
But for every Mo Farah and Meb Keflezhi, I will show you a Paula Radcliffe (women marathon world record holder – 2:15:25). She is the anti-thesis of the so called perfect running form ! There is no one size fits all perfect running form…….buuut we can definitely pick up tips from the masters and improve our own.
First things first – what is the typical new running enthusiast looking for –
- Endless hours of enjoyable running….. emphasis on enjoyable and not painful.
- To remain injury and pain free.
- Improve endurance and finish times in the process.
- Look fantastic in race pics and hear the ultimate accolade from fellow runners, “You look so smooth and effortless”.
Google the term ‘Running Form’ and you are bombarded with information. Three techniques stand out – The Pose Method, Chi Running and Barefoot running. Without much ado, we recommend the Chi Running Method for the typical Delhi Runner. This comes from two years plus of painful experimentation ! While speed gains maybe comparatively slower, it will deliver on all counts mentioned above.
The basics –
Run Tall. The body must run as a one in total balance and harmony. Running tall is the key to that. The back should be straight, without any hunching over or bending, but also without being rigid. A mental exercise to improve this is to imagine that there is a thread attached to the top of your head while you're running, and the thread is pulling you taller. Look ahead (approx. 200m) rather than down at your feet.
Forward Lean. If you run perfectly upright, your legs push down, with little force being directed backward to provide propulsion. NOT and efficient way to run ! Stand tall, lean forward from the ankles and create a forward falling motion. As you lean forward, your legs push both down and backwards, providing greater forward speed. A 7 to 10 % forward lean is considered ideal. QED - Less effort, higher gain.
Overstriding. One of the main causes of running injuries. It occurs when the foot hits the ground ahead of the hips and causes a braking motion. A simple method to overcome this is to run with short quick strides, ie higher cadence. Ensure that your foot strikes the ground below your hips.
Cadence. Higher cadence (the number of times your foot hits the ground per minute) is a better way of increasing of increasing speed than lenghtening your stride. It automatically ensures shorter strides and tends to avoid heel striking. A simple method to do the same is to use a timer and count the number of times your foot hits the ground. 180 steps per minute is considered the ideal number.
Foot Strike. The debate on the merits and demerits of mid foot vs heel strike jury is still on. My take – don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Besides this, changing your natural foot strike is a difficult thing and may lead to injuries. Focus on the above three and your feet will adjust automatically what is best for you.
Arm Motion. A high cadence will naturally keep your arms high. Your arms should swing naturally, acting as a counterbalance to your running motion. Just let them move naturally and freely with relaxed shoulders. Your hands should be relaxed and neither bunched into a fist or overly straightened.
Follow the simple guidelines above and soon you will see the improvement in your running form – lightness of feet and easy flowing motion. Remember the mantra –
Improve your form – hold it over the distance – speed will follow automatically