Running Form

As January comes to a close, I am, for once, very happy with how training is going. I have run more miles this month than in any month since I started running, and I’m feeling really good on it – none of the usual annoying niggles I normally have in the run up to a marathon. With the Tralee Marathon just 6 weeks away, I am hopeful that I can, for the first time ever, complete an entire marathon training sequence without suffering any injury setback.

I am positive that the reason my legs are holding out better is due to the vast improvement in my running form gained through ultra training. I have gone from a long, slow, heel-striking stride, to a short, fast, mid-foot strike, and it has made a huge difference to my running – especially the LSR (long slow run). I used to suffer badly with foot pain and numbness, especially behind my toes on long runs, and it got really bad at times – that’s gone with the improvement in my stride. One of the places I can really see this is when I look at my runners – my runners from a year ago have the heels worn away, with little wear anywhere else – the runners I’ve bought since then show no heel wear at all (see below). It’s also obvious from race photos – I don’t slump to one side any more!

During the week I decided to try out metronome running – where you listen on headphones to an app that “clicks” at a certain rate, to which you match your footfall. I set the metronome to 85bpm, which is generally thought to be a really good strike rate for one foot, and set off – I quickly discovered that my natural footstrike at the moment is almost exactly 85bpm – a sure sign that my running form is where it needs to be.

The funny thing is, this improvement in form wasn’t a conscious thing – I knew my form was poor, but wasn’t sure where to start to improve it. Then I started training for ultras, and, in a relatively short space of time, my form began to improve of it’s own accord. The very slow, very long-distance runs we did in preparation for the ultras just seemed to force my form to improve. My stride shortened, I began to land my foot under my body rather than in front of it, and I naturally stood up straighter. At first it was quite painful – my calf muscles would ache for days, the soles of my feet were bruised, and, strangely, my shoulders and upper arms would be sore. But as I got used to it, all these pains went away, and now I feel considerably better after long runs than I used to. I would always suffer badly from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after every long run, but now I don’t – no more knee or foot pain, and I feel great after long runs.

Yet another reason to run ultras!

Though I think there are probably easier ways to improve your running form. In the past couple of months I’ve been reading a lot on running form, and I am surprised by how much of the advice I had already been inadvertently taking on board purely through having to do it to survive the longer distances.

Books I would recommend include Eat and Run by Scott Jurek, and Chi Running by Danny Dreyer.

Note the heel wear on the older runners on the left - the runners on the right have done around twice the mileage, but no heel wear through improved running form.
Note the heel wear on the older runners on the left – the runners on the right have done around twice the mileage, but no heel wear through improved running form.