The Skill of Running Slowly With Great Form
Recently I’ve been working with a real influx of Ultra runners, and athletes looking to progress to longer distance challenges (both running and triathlon) as well as those of course wanting to perform better over tried and tested distances.
Given the nature of my approach to run coaching – optimising an individuals running biomechanics for injury rehab and/or performance benefits – the conversations with each new client quickly turn to running form. Usually the question goes something like:
I understand the basic principals of not overriding, increasing cadence, utilising effective upper body movement and improving muscle balance. But what is the best running form for me, given that I’m training for ultra marathons / ironman etc… Rather than 5km races, for example?
I’m reminded of a quote from Chris McCormack at last week’s MaccaX Training Camp I was helping out with the coaching for…
Macca was asked about optimal bike position for Ironman racing. Intuitively he said that the best bike position for any Ironman triathlete is the most aerodynamically and biomechanically efficient position you can comfortably maintain for 112 miles… Which often isn’t fundamentally the ‘best’ overall position you can get into for shorter TT races.
The same can be said for running form…
I’ll stop short of saying that anybody can run well when running quickly… because that just isn’t the case! However, often people’s running form does tend to improve with increased paces. By the same virtue running form often tends to deteriorate as pace becomes slower and steadier – the type of pace which makes-up the majority of volume in most longer distance training plans.
I commonly see endurance athletes who have become frustrated in tying to apply their perceived general concepts of good running form to long steady, slow paces. They sometimes present with a consciously high heel-lift, disproportionately exaggerated for their desired easy running pace, or with an awkwardly forced looking forefoot strike that you just know will probably revert with fatigue as the habitual heel strike takes over (more on this here).
The reality is that we as athletes and coaches should ditch the idea of aiming for ‘perfect’ and instead look to encourage the combination of ‘better and sustainable’ in terms of changes to running form.
The best general advice is to treat cadence, stride length and foot strike as variables that should all change with different paces.
The determining factor in the sustainability of any given running form over a long distance is strength endurance of the athlete, particularly in terms of the posterior chain muscles from bottom to top.
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Some Simple Running Cues to Work On:
Having directly worked with and observed ultra runners and ironman athletes across all levels I can certainly see a number of commonalities in the more experienced and successful athletes…
- Maintain a running cadence that feels quick enough to achieve a responsive feeling upon foot contact, but not so quick that it feels forced.
- Initial contact should feel like it occurs beneath a gently flexing knee, rather than ahead of the knee
- Gently lift your foot as it passes through swing phase, so that it feels less like the swinging leg is ‘dragging’.
- Stay aware of posture and maintain a feeling of holding your hips high, close to over the landing foot.
- Maintain a gentle arm swing, driving elbows backward (particularly uphill). The rhythm of the arms will help drive cadence of the legs when fatigued.
Form will of course change when running uphill and downhill, but nailing the fundamentals is a great start!
Image via Deanna YoungLast updated on March 2nd, 2021.