It’s mid-February as I write this, and many northern hemisphere runners are currently training hard for a spring marathon. Given the nature of being an injury rehab specialist focused on running technique re-education, I often get injured runners asking the question of when is the best time to work on form, and how to best work on technique while during your marathon training plan.
I do firmly believe that the most appropriate time for a runner to modify running form is in a period of low volume run training – such as the period coming back from injury, or the off-season.
However, I’m also a realist! I obviously know that runners who are in the middle of their marathon block are going to be unwilling to scale back significantly on weekly mileage.
In my experience, there are however a number of running technique focuses any runner can work on during their marathon training without sacrificing their training load..
1: Everything Starts With Posture
…and running posture begins with pelvic position, and hip mobility.
Dynamic pelvic control is essential as the foundation to good running form. This isn’t simply a case of having adequate hip mobility, but also dynamic control and proprioception.
Check out the video of Holly above for some exercises to practice to improve abdominal (and thus pelvic) control as you run.
I’m talking about running cadence (stride frequency) here, rather than learning to dance!
We’ve most likely all felt it – as significant fatigue kicks in during a run, one of the first elements of form to slip is cadence (stride frequency, leg sped). If you’re running at 8min/mile for example, as your cadence decreases, you naturally increase your stride length to maintain the same 8min/mile pace, otherwise you slow down. Inevitably this leads to a runner over striding.
Given that many runners over stride when ‘fresh’ this first break-down in running form that comes with fatigue is only going to exacerbate the problem.
More info on running cadence can be found here. It is fair to say that there are two areas which many runners need to work on with regards to this:
Hill running is a major component of many marathon programs, and builds run-specific strength like nothing else. I remain adamant however that hills can make or break runners.
What do I mean by that…? If a runner maintains good form running uphill, the effect of the incline serves to reinforce the movement pattern and further develop their technique. However, if a runner’s form is poor in general, hill running is going to magnify this and potential lead to injury quicker than a similar training load on the flat.
It’s not just about ‘working hard’ during your hill sessions – focus on execution and form. Below is a video I shot discussing hill running form and one simple tip to make your uphill running easier.
Check out these two articles on hill running form:
I love the easy feeling of getting my run pacing right during my long slower run in the week. I don’t however so much enjoy the feeling of having ‘slow legs’ that these long slow runs sometimes leave me with immediately after the run, sometimes carrying over to the next day.
Over the years I’ve become a fan of adding a brief set of strides to the end of my long run…
Traditionally used as part of a warm-up, these very short, faster efforts focus the fatigue mind and body on technique and leave me feeling really sharp at the end of my long run. An example of this looks like this:
14mile zone 2 steady run
6 x 60m gentle accelerations up to 5km race pace, 1min waking recovery
Cool down and stretch
5: Technique Focused Intervals
As well as being a great means for developing speed, interval training is a fantastic way of reinforcing running form. The work:rest:work nature of these sessions allow you to focus on technique for a given relatively short time period, then rest both mentally and physically, before repeating the process.
This is particularly useful for runners who are new to practicing a certain element of running form, and are thus yet unable to maintain the given change for a longer more sustained run. From a learning point of view, maintaining good form for 10 x 400m, is much better than struggling to maintain good form throughout a 4km tempo run.
Your technique cues also give you something to think about when the intervals inevitably start to hurt!
6: Strength-Endurance in The Gym
Hopefully followers of our blog and podcast will be familiar with the importance I place on strength training for runners, triathletes and endurance athletes in general.
From a running technique point of view, I’m always quick to point out that you can learn the correct movement patterns relatively quickly, with the correct coaching. However, it’s the strength-endurance of key muscle groups (and mobility in others) that dictates how well you can maintain this good running form into fatigue – and fatigue will be there in abundance during marathon training and racing!
I can’t reiterate the importance of regular strength training enough! In my opinion, the little-and-often approach is particularly effective for time-poor working athletes who may struggle to get to the gym.
Having trained as a sports rehabilitation therapist, James now works exclusively with distance runners, helping athletes from beginner to pro to run stronger and pain free. Check out James' marathon training plan for beginners [PDF]. Formerly a professional rugby player, James’ route into endurance sports coaching hasn’t exactly been conventional. His transition into distance running has taught him what his body is capable of, a process which is ongoing! Read more...