When I was younger, I ran shorter distances during the track & field season; typically, the 400 meter and 800 meter distance, so I focused on speed over form as these distances did not require as much endurance. As I got older and began to run longer distances, I simply kept pretty much the same running form but at a slower pace but realized these longer distances fatigued me greater than expected.
When I got serious about running longer distances, I joined a running group and had one of the more experienced members coach me up a bit. And, man did I realize how much my running form was limiting me in these runs requiring more endurance.
It took quite a bit of focus to change my running form, but I was able to boil them down into 8 simple Do’s and Don’ts and they made all the difference. It didn’t happen overnight, but with some real focus over a period of about 3 months I was able to run twice my normal distance without the normal fatigue.
Here are those simple Do’s and Don’ts, along with some advice on how to best implement them for success.
DO Shorten Your Stride
Many of us make the mistake of assuming a longer stride will make us a faster runner and, while this may be somewhat true at shorter distances, it has the opposite effect over longer distances. When you’re running longer distances, you want to conserve as much energy as you can and to do this you want to keep your stride low to the ground, land softly on your feet and focus on quick turnover.
In order to do this, focus primarily on your cadence or the number of times your feet strike the ground per minute; the general rule is the most efficient runners will strike the ground 180 times per minute. I recommend you start at this cadence while you’re building this new skill but over time, you’ll find the cadence that fits you best with practice and it will most likely be somewhere between 175 and 185.
The best way to do this is to take a few one-minute spans during your run and count the number of times your left foot strikes the ground; double that number, and you have your cadence. Do this somewhere in the early, middle and later parts of your run and train your body to stride low, land soft and maintain a quick turnover.
Bouncing up and down when you run, known as vertical oscilliation, your head and body are moving up and down too much and this has two negative impacts on your running. First, you are wasting a lot of energy you will need during the latter parts of your run.
Second, the higher you lift yourself off the ground the greatest the force of impact when you strike the ground which will cause your legs to fatigue quicker and increase your potential for injury.
Most running watches will track your vertical oscilliation (or vertical ratio), but if you don’t have one that does have someone video you run, and it will be pretty obvious if you are a “bouncy” runner. If you are, focus on the short stride, soft landing and quick turnover rules from above.
DO Maintain an Erect Posture
Maintaining a correct posture during your run will help you maintain your running efficiency, which will allow you to run faster longer. But what is the proper posture?
The proper running posture is to keep your head up (this allows you to breathe easier), your back straight, your shoulders level and your pelvis neutral (not leaning either forward or back). The best way to explain this is to think about when you’re at the doctor’s office being measured for height; typically, you pinch your shoulders back, keep your head up and look straight ahead to get the most accurate (and tallest) measurement.
So, when you’re running every now and then check your posture and ask yourself if you are “running tall”; if not, correct your posture until it becomes habit.
DON’T Lean Forward or Back
When runners get fatigued they tend to use a “lean” to help them battle the fatigue; some runners will lean forward into the run, while others will “sit” and lean back. Both will negatively impact your running efficiency, and will lead to greater fatigue as well as potential neck, shoulder and lower-back pain.
As you’re running, especially in the latter parts of your run check your posture and make sure you haven’t “leaned into” or “sat down” during the run.
DO Rotate Your Arms from the Shoulder
Your arms are a much bigger part of your running stride than most runners consider; if you think of your legs as the pistons of your running engine, then the arms are the levers that keep the pistons moving at the right pace. Said another way, your legs cannot stride any faster than your arms move as they are almost always in synch during your run.
In order to keep this piston and lever system working well, your arms need to rotate from the shoulder and not from the elbow; said another way, the angle of the elbow should always be the same and the drive of the arm should come from the rotation at the shoulder.
DON’T Cross Your Arms over Your Body
Your arms should be swing at your sides, parallel to one another; once you start to get tired, there is a tendency to begin swinging the arms across the mid-point of your body and toward the opposite shoulder. This will cause you to naturally slouch, making it harder to breathe and creating less efficiency and more fatigue.
During your runs, every now and then check in with your arms and make sure they are swinging parallel to one another, rotating at the shoulder with a consistent elbow angle.
DO Keep Your Hands Relaxed
Like the arms, the hands are important when you run; you want to keep them at your waist and maintain a “relaxed” hand. I’ve heard it described that a runner should consider they are holding butterflies in each hand, strong enough to keep the butterfly in their grasp but gentle enough to have a live butterfly at the end of the run.
Generally, without relaxed hands your tendency will be to move your hands toward your chest while your run which will cause you to fatigue easier and may even lead to tightness in your shoulders and neck.
DON’T Go out Too Fast
One of the worst things we do as runners is to go out too fast, allowing ourselves to get fatigued and then having our running form and efficiency crumble as we stumble through the second half of the run. The best way to do this is to focus on going out slow, even to the point where most of your runs are “negative splits”.
What’s a negative split? It’s when the second half of your run is at a faster pace than the first half of your run and by focusing on this, you force yourself to go out slow allowing you to maintain the proper running form during your run.
Finally, if you’re changing your running form (or some part of it) my recommendation is to take one or two of these rules and apply them over the course of a month until they become routine. If you’re totally changing your running form, this may take as long as 4 – 6 months to complete, but you’ll reap the rewards for years of running to come.
Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.