As I’ve hinted in my newsletters, my running has transformed completely over the last year. Long gone is the heaving, mouth-breather who struggled keeping to a pace and for whom running was too uncomfortable past the 5k mark. I’ve now completed my transition from the Asics-wearing, heel-striker city jogger into a get-out-of-bed-and-enjoy-a-run trail runner. And this shows in each new OCR race I complete as my performance improves.
Looking back there’s a few key things that led to the improved runner I am today. I’ll go over all of them quickly, linking to the ones we’ve already written about. My focus today is on correcting form and ending heel striking as that’s been the biggest game changer for me so far.
Step 1: Get your breathing right.
Whenever running becomes difficult, I know my breath has gone out of whack. Proper breathing is how you achieve flow and actually enjoy running. I bet that 90% of people who hate running or find it stressful / painful actually just don’t know how to breathe while running. I say this having been one of these people for whom running was a struggle most of the time. Check out this post for the technique I use to nail my breathing pattern.
Steps 2 & 3: Check your form and correct heel-striking.
As soon as I swapped my cushioned Asics for minimal Inov8’s, my form improved. It felt a bit like my shoes were inhibiting my potential for years. My first run in minimal shoes (albeit with a 3mm drop) immediately became my 5k PR.
So how did I choose my new shoes?
It takes time to wean off cushioning–to strengthen the glutes, ankles and feet especially–so I didn’t go for zero drop minimal shoes. Mine are the Innov8 F-lite 195 which have a 3mm drop and generally good reviews as being a transitional shoe to minimal running. They’ve been great for both running and lifting for me, and I plan to wear them in my next OCR which will be a (dry) stadium race.
For muddy races, I opted for Talons with a matching 3mm drop.
But new shoes are not enough.
As I said, it takes time to strengthen all the parts which were almost immobilised when I would run in cushioned shoes. So with V’s help and the help of Eric Orton’s book about effortless running which we reviewed, I started doing the following to strengthen these body parts:
- Training with a slant board as V described in this post
- Kelly Starrett’s 10-minute squat
- And more recently, I’ve been doing single-leg weighted routines like this kettlebell WOD
Before every run I make sure to engage my glutes, either by using the slant board or a resistance band + animal moves.
I now also place more importance on warming up. This can be a 5-min light jog or drills (e.g. butt kicks and knee-high kicks) with dynamic stretches (walking lunges, leg swings etc.). As V educated me, static stretches are for after the run, not before! If you don’t want to get injured, that is, or hurt your performance.
A strong core is also important for good running form, so I made sure to still get my core exercises in. These are usually circuits I do twice a week.
And finally — the running form.
The key, I’ve found, is to straighten your back. If you focus on keeping a straight back, correct leg and arm movement just fall into place.
Your arms should be swinging on your sides at hip level almost like a hinge. They should never be crossed in front of you, something that people who run with a hunched back frequently do. While you’re running, you should be actively using your arms to help propel yourself forward (especially helpful during sprints).
Now onto the legs. Well actually, the main running movement doesn’t come from your legs, it’s initiated by your glutes. You need to be engaging your glutes throughout the run. To be able to do this, you can’t overpronate – you should be making smaller steps so that your midfoot which strikes the ground is always below your hip and never past the knee. Smaller steps increase your cadence and higher cadence helps you become a faster, more efficient runner. Efficient meaning that you run further at the same heart rate.
You should hit the ground with your midfoot, rolling over to the toes on the outward of your frontfoot and finally tapping your heel lightly before you step off again. You’ll notice that your calf is a lot more engaged than in heel strikers, the calf helps to drive that push off the ground each time.
Keeping good form comes almost instinctively when I’m running in minimal shoes compared to before. It’s easier to maintain and as long as I focus on keeping my back straight and breathing deep, the rest of these techniques just fall into place.
Step 4: Train for your heart rate.
V wrote a good post about using a heart rate monitor. Check it out for all information, but in short – I vary my runs throughout the week to train at various heart rates (e.g slow and steady, tempo, sprint, etc.).
And whilst my transformation here is complete, I know there are still many ways in which I can further improve as a runner. So stay tuned because I’ll share them with you as time goes on.