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Tweaking Running Form

March 22, 2010

L-to-R: Andrew Kastor, SBS, our pal Lindsey, and Dimity

I have zero proprioception. That’s fancy-talk for saying I have no concept of what my body is doing in space. Prime example: Since college days, rowing coaches have been telling me to drop my shoulders, which are supposedly scrunched up around my ears. Try as I might, I can’t make the change because I don’t feel it. According to my internal wiring, there’s plenty o’ space between my head and my shoulders.

So two weeks ago, when I was fortunate enough to get some in-person running advice from Andrew Kastor, coach of the High Sierra Striders and husband of 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor, I was skeptical I’d be able to implement his suggestions. I worried it would go in one ear and out the other (if they weren’t blocked by my hunched shoulders, that is). One nugget that stuck with me: I overstride. I need to swing my bent arms faster and take shorter, quicker steps. Andrew told me if I could make that small change, I could cut 5 to 10 seconds off each mile with no extra effort.

As grateful as I was to his advice, I skeptically thought, “Uh, yeah, that ain’t happenin’.”

I tried to swing my arms faster, doing strides on a slight downhill on Andrew’s recommendation, but no miracle makeover to my running style. Then, flipping through Runner’s World, I spotted a gait analysis saying a runner can eliminate the braking that happens when she lands on her heel by landing on her midfoot instead. Just one of the countless bits of minutiae I took in that day; it got filed away without much consideration.

Or so it seemed until I did speedwork the next morning. On tap: 4 x 1-mile repeats on 7:25-7:35 minutes. My legs felt stiff and sore when I got out of bed and creaky on the 20-minute warm-up jog. My first mile: 7:31. Jogged a lap, then launched into the second repeat. As I circled the back corner of the track, nearing the 600-meter mark, all the random puzzle pieces fell into place. It was a running-form epiphany. Inside my brain, it played out like a scene from a sci-fi movie—I heard Andrew telling me to not overstride; I thought about RW tip to land midfoot; and from some deeper, unknown source, I leaned slightly forward.

By subtly getting my weight up over my feet, my who-knows-what-it-does-in-space body needed to take shorter, quicker steps to prevent falling forward. I visualized the RW line-drawing of a midfoot strike, concentrating on landing like the little illustration. I felt capable of making all these minor changes happen because it only felt like one change—leaning slightly forward from the crown of my head to my pelvis.

I hit the midpoint of the mile four seconds sooner than I had on my first repeat. As I continued around the track, the effort didn’t seem any harder. It didn’t even seem all that tough to maintain my new posture. When I pressed the button my Timex and looked at the digits, I heard Andrew’s words echoing: “You’ll shave 5 to 10 seconds off your time…”

7:21. Ten seconds faster. Right on! The next mile was 7:24, and the final one I cranked out in 7:15. Maybe I was wrong about my lack of proprioception.

Do you find it tough to make technique changes to your running form?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 22, 2010 9:38 am

    Nice job on the repeats, Sarah! I was inspired by your FB post about them and had to hustle myself down to the track that week and do some for myself. I love speedwork.

    Form, yeah, I feel like I’m constantly telling myself to do ‘something’ different with my body. After reading Chi Running by Danny Dreyer this year, I think about my ‘lean’ alot. The most relaxed speed workout (which sounds like a total oxymoron), was just after I read about the leaning, mid-foot striking, arm-swing-to-the-back focus. Hard to think about more than one thing, but at some point the pieces fell into place. One thing he said that hit home with me was to relax my face. If I can start there and just be a limp-lip, the rest of my body follows and I can feel there is less effort, less tenseness, more room to breath and, viola, I’m running a bit faster.

  2. March 22, 2010 11:34 am

    I do have a hard time implementing changes in my form. I find that I tend to get in a zone and I don’t really pay attention to what I am doing. I really need to work on this. Up til now I have been focused on just doing it, making time to run and increasing my endurance. Now I really want to get faster. FOrm and speed work will likely be what helps most (as well as stretching and strengthening exercises!)

    Thanks for great tips!

  3. March 22, 2010 1:33 pm

    That’s so great that you’re finding ways to change your form. Like you, I have so much trouble implementing the changes that people suggest, because I can’t “feel” the differences. I tend to hold a lot of tension in my neck, and can always tell when I’m not loose because I get tense, tend to hunch my shoulders, and get some numbness/tingling in my arms. I’m going to really try to work on this. Maybe the advice from Laura about relaxing the face might help. So much to work on!

  4. March 22, 2010 1:59 pm

    I am having a trouble due to the fact that I am pushing the jogging stroller…all the time! Ugh. My biggest error is in not leaning forward and getting my weight off my heels. I do a great job of hitting mid-foot most of the time, fatigue destroyes that at times. Hopefully the day will come when it all just clicks and becomes something I don’t have to think about to make happen!

  5. March 22, 2010 3:57 pm

    I love this post, Sarah! I looked at the picture & wondered what it must have been like to have been there with Deena & crew!!! Wow. How awesome to have her hubby give you pointers! I actually used this morning some of what was in the book…my 4th grader’s class earned the day off, so when I asked her what she wanted to do, she wanted to go to Red’s, our health club. Long story short, I pumped my arms harder on my fast laps and it really made me run faster! And, I paid attention to running in a “taller” position. I felt benefit from both. Being that my girl was there to run with me on slow laps was really nice, but didn’t allow me to fully focus…wouldn’t trade the day, anyway, but I know I’ll have some new things to try during my next speed attempt!!!! And to Shelly, that jogging stroller gives a great upper body workout!! 🙂

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