Thursday, May 10, 2012

Running Form–It Matters

We hear it all the time: running is simple and basic. Lace up your shoes and go, right?

Not so much.

In theory, running should be simple. When I was a kid it was simple. I didn’t wear shoes all summer. I’d run out the front door first thing in the morning, only pausing for a second when my feet squished into a fresh, warm pile of dog crap. I’d run all day to friend’s houses and while playing kickball. I’d run all night (or until 9:00 p.m. when Love Boat came on) during a rousing game of Ghost in the Graveyard and Capture the Flag.

Running was a means to an end. A way to get places and to get there fast.  Running meant freedom and being alive in my body. It still does. Yet, it is no longer simple. As we get older, we forget how to run. We forget how to relax while running.

IMAG0032

My son at his recent track meet where
he finally broke 6 minutes in the mile (5:45).
Decent form I think – although the arms need some work. But what do I know?

Most things appear basic on the surface. Have you ever done a home improvement project? Usually you have your ideas of what is to be done, the supplies you will need and the time it will take. Always, you find out there is more to be done than you thought, more supplies to be purchased than anticipated, and that it takes 95 times as long as you projected. Or, maybe this is just how DIY goes in my house.

Running is kind of like that. When I started running 3 ½ years ago, I bought a good pair of shoes and a pair of running tights. For a long time, I did not purchase anything else (yes those tights got stinky). Then came the Garmin, the second pair of shoes, the gels, the race entry fees, the roller to roll my ass on, the massage appointments, the running books, the air fare fees to travel to races. You all know exactly what I am talking about. You need a part time job just to support your recreational running habit.

This brings me to today. If anyone told me 3 ½ years ago I would hire a running form coach, I would have laughed my ass off. Talk about random. Oh yea, and I also need someone to coach me on colonics and making rice that doesn’t stick. Why do a need someone to coach me on my form? It is perfectly fine. So what if I don’t look like some elite Kenyan runner? I never will and not just because I have shitty form.

 

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My first marathon in 2009. Talk to the hand. This shit is hard.

What I have discovered about form, however, is that if you run long enough and far enough with poor form, it will catch up to you. You will get injured. You will recover. You will get injured again. You will stop getting faster. You will be inefficient in your muscle and energy usage.

This is the hole I have dug for myself. In all of my joy about becoming a runner, I literally ran myself into the ground. Now I am having to slow way down, back way off and almost start over. Sometimes I think to myself, man if I could BQ and have shitty form, what could I do if I was actually running “right”? Or, maybe I’m just too old to ever do that again.

Today was coaching session #1 with Douglas. A lot of progress was made today. Perhaps the sweetest words ever spoken to me with the exception of “I do” and “It’s a boy (girl)!” were, “You will make some changes to your form, it might take some patience and time, but then you will be able to run as much as you want to.” I almost cried. For the past year and a half, I have felt so limited due to recurring pain. I have lost some of my confidence.

Here’s what we focused on:

  • Grounding my body – getting centered. Relaxing.
  • Leaning into the run at my ankles (think falling forward to get momentum). I tend to be very straight up, almost leaning back.
  • Landing under my center of gravity.
  • Relaxing my upper body. I am so stiff when I run from the waist up.
  • Using my core, not my legs, as my power.

{More info on running form HERE from Runner’s World}

Douglas rode in his car along side me behind a 7-11 with a video camera. Kind of like a creepy stalker who I pay to watch me. He would yell out things for me to focus on which really helped. The bottom line with making form changes, even if they are subtle, is that what you think  you are doing is not what you are doing. You need someone to watch and give you feedback.

Remember this picture? It’s true.

After the videotaping we went back and watched the videos. Ugh. Who hates having themselves videotaped, raise your hand. Mother shocker of all shockers - with this few gentle shifts in my form, I actually kind of liked how I looked. My cadence was quick and very light. I was landing under my hips. I really just need to work on leaning into the run and relaxing my upper body. It will take practice and diligence. It will mean slowing down and backing out of some races. The payoff will be huge.

Light at the end of the freaking tunnel. Feels good. I know this is not a panacea (that means “cure all” for all of you all drop outs out there), but it is a start.

P1120571

Yes, I’m on the stairs again. And my boob is glowing. Bite me.

In your gut, do you think you have decent form or that your form needs work?

Have you ever hired a running coach to help with form issues?

SUAR

64 comments:

  1. I TOTALLY need to work on my form. I attended a good form running clinic put on by New Balance last week. It's going to be a long haul...but the rewards will be great (at least they better be!)

    Melanie

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  2. I think I've always had pretty good form, but I also feel like it has changed over the years, for the better. I'm in lower, more lightweight shoes and that has helped too.

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  3. I need to lean more as well. I hired a chi running coach and that is all we worked on for a summer. I am better but always need to work on it. She moved to Virgina so it's hard to work with her now :(
    Great post!!

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  4. Awesome. Last year at the fitblogger conference with Sir Isaac he said to imagine yourself on a segway. Basically you lean forward to get it started. I have been doing that and it feels natural now and sounds like what Douglas wants you to do.

    Secondly, I run stiff from the waist down.....just had to say it.

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    1. I knew the TWSS wouldn't get by you.

      Sir Isaac knows it all.

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  5. I KNOW I look like that bottom picture when I run. I've seen some video and def photos from races and I hate them. I suffer from ongoing IT band issues and distances longer than 8-10 tend to be painful (but I still do them). I DEF need to work on my form. :/

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  6. I think (key words!) my form is fine. However, I am going to have my gait checked as I need new running shoes. The brand I have worn for years has a new model that is uncomfortable for me, so I think it's time to switch brands.
    If I could make changes, it would be to my face! I smile like an idiot when I run, and it's reflected in race pictures :)

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  7. Did you feel like a deer prancing in a field? When I forefoot strike, that's how I feel. It just feels off to me but at the same time it's doable.

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    1. I wasn't forefoot striking, but he did say I look like a show horse so I must have been prancing.

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    2. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? LOL I'm trying to learn here without a coach.

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    3. Depends who you talk to. My coach would say it's not as much how you strike the ground (heel vs. forefoot, etc) but more where you land (under center of gravity).

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  8. upper body is ok I think
    but I heel strike.
    I think my steps are too long also.
    I am working on it
    in training I know I make the effort and I do better..
    on race days...terrible...

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  9. I midfoot strike easily but I can't get the hang of the leaning thing. Also my arms are way too bunched up in every race photo I see of myself. I wonder if my funky arms have anything to do with my cranky calf and tight IT band...Good luck with your changes. :)

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  10. My form sucks. Every step feels like a fight. This could be because of or the cause of my injuries. Who knows...

    Probably both.

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  11. Thumbs up on the stairs, perfect form!
    Glad you're feeling better and hopeful!

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  12. So glad you have a little hope back and are seeing progress already! My form needs more improvement, but going to relatively minimalist shoes and paying attention to it has helped, I can tell from my race photos--no heel striking shots in any of the recent ones.

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  13. I need to get better form also. My Dr. (who is also in my running group) said that he has never seen anyone run so "upright" before. I don't know how not to. I read the Chi Running book and though I was applying all of the principles but still suffered a stress fracture after my second marathon. Ten weeks off now and still feel the pain...

    Would love to get a chi running coach. Not sure if there are any in Houston. But it would mean so much to hear that I could run forever...I would change anything.

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  14. I started using Good Form Running 2 years ago. Was a huge help as I had no one to "coach" me. Our local Running Club video taped us and helped with drills. www.goodformrunning.com. It's only (4) concepts to keep in your head. Watch the video, helps understand the drills. I keep the pic from the link in front of my treadmill at home and focus on 2-3 elements on roads/trails. Good stuff.

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    1. thank you for this link. It has really helped me!

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  15. I can't wait to hear and see how it works for you. I suspect I need some form help, and I've thought about a coach for other things and possibly for that, but haven't done it yet. There are also multiple gait analysis folks out there - how did you pick yours? Had appt w/ my chiro and ART person today - having shin and foot pain, PTT bothering me for first time in a long time. Chiro taped my feet to help me - been over a year since that last had to be done. Need to be fixed! :(

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  16. After recovering from reoccuring injuries due to bad form; I think I now have a decent form. I have been able to run pain-free for a few months now. I will know more once I complete my half-marathon on the 20th.

    I would love to hire a running coach but not sure if it is in the budget.

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  17. I have been concentrating on my form more recently. I see myself in pictures during races and always think, "What am I doing???" Of course, the longer the race, the harder it is to keep good form.

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  18. I hired a running coach after the umpteenth race picture that looked horrible. I figured that if I looked that bad, then I was probably running wrong. Boy, was I. So now I run much faster and stronger AND I have much better race pics! Win/win!

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  19. I think my running form is ok, my running pictures look ok...but I think my heelstriking is catching up with me. Plantar fasciitis and the dreaded stress fracture. I know when I get tired, I start to drag my right foot on the return. Weird, I know. The local running store has a biomechanics class that I was considering signing up for. But a running coach? My husband didn't talk to me for a day after I bought my road bike last month, I can't even imagine what would happen if I hired a running coach! Seriously, though, I'm going to turn 50 this year, and I think I need to start focusing on cross training a little more. Maybe swimming lessons (ugh!).

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  20. I love the positivity in your posts - "let's get this stuff figured out and move on!"

    I didn't specifically hire a running coach for form, but I do train with a group. I always knew I carried some tension in my shoulders when I ran (ok, all the time) but there's nothing like having two separate coaches tell you to relax your shoulders when you run! In some ways I feel like I don't even know HOW to do that but the less they yell, the more I think it must be sinking in and I must be figuring it out..

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  21. I was always fortunate enough for 35ish years to never have a running injury aside from a pulled hamstring and a twisted ankle here and there ... but then came the mother of all injuries - my foot. It took a really long time and knocking on many doors for someone to listen to me that my form was wrong and to have someone help me. It also took me a long time to change 35 years of heel striking to land midfoot and under my center of gravity, but eventually I was able to do it. I have proof in the wear pattern on my shoes. Hey, I think I'll do a post about it :). Wishing you continued progress with the form change, I know it will make a huge difference. And thanks for the form coaches links...I will definitely look into them this summer.

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  22. Too crazy...I have only been running about a year....this past month I have been concentrating on running (landing) on my forefoot/not quite tippy toe style rather than the heel. Boy, after 2 miles and really thinking about doing this my calves were KILLING me.

    And they killed me for 2 days...then I did it again...and again...and oh, my goodness the other day I found my feet wanting to hit the forefoot and not the heel and when I intentionally landed on my heel again my breathing was all hard and off.

    And its what you said...I actually used my hands and arms more and ran faster (ok just a tad but still it was faster ) and my core to run faster...oh what will the future bring me now???

    New shoes I am thinking....

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  23. i jsut found out i have morton's neruomas in both feet. i finsihed a half this past weekend, and the last 5 miles felt like walking on glass. the doc said i should have my form looked at. i think form is soooo important. i totally want someone to videotape me and anlayze me.....

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  24. Great post! Been thinking that if I run over 10k regularly, I gotta get me a running coach to provide feedback on my running form and get some tips on better running.

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  25. My form is definitely a work in progress. I've worked with a Chi Running instructor which helped so much. I still have to work on the lean from the ankles...but at least my ITB behaves now!

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  26. I need to work on my form. I had my gait analyzed and got this verdict: I am OK with my upper body and core, but I struggle with my heel strike and my cadence. When I really think hard, I feel and improvement. It is going to take time, and running outside. When I run inside, I feel like I tried to NOT thinkg about running so that I stay sane.

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  27. I thought I was leaning correctly until someone told me I was bending at the hips. All along I thought I was bending at the calves! Running stores should have a digital camera to tape you run (from the side) that you can pay $ for a small footage. They can totally sell admission to special form classes.

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  28. I think it's great you are able to get help with your form. I'm interested to learn how long it takes to make the form changes permanent and feeling natural. Does that make sense?

    I'm sure I need help with my form. I ran track growing up and in my mind I think I'm fine but I've got a weird hip issue and I think I tend to favor that side when I run. I would love to spend even a few hours with a running coach to get an opinion.

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    1. Good question. My guess is it is different for everyone and depends on how drastic of changes you need to make. I would say at least three months of a very diligent effort - at least until you don't have to think about it every second.

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  29. Yay, so happy for you! I hope it all works out! :)

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  30. Your son is looking good on the track, I just hope his arms are moving!!!

    Looks like exciting stuff, one often forgets that a coach doesn't only hand out a program and say go train, although that is all some runners want.

    Form is so importmant I really hope yours comes right and you running takes off again, Boston 2014!

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    1. Yes, he could get those arms pumping a bit more, huh?

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  31. Sam looks pretty good!!!! I need work on my form. I run like I'm in pain and in some sort of herky-jerky old time movie :P

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  32. I believe my form is quite good and as ultras are now my main goal I don't worry about it too much. I don't get injuries and get very high mileage out of my shoes. I prefer not to change this.

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    1. Yes, why mess with a good thing! If it's not broken, don't fix it, right?

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  33. Exciting!!! I know I 100% must have terrible form because I am relatively new to running :)

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  34. I'm sure my form is not where it should be either. I too run probably too upright and think that there's too much swing in my upper body going on especially when I get tired. I'm going to concentrate more on form too I think. It can't hurt.

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  35. FORM TOTALLY MATTERS!!!!! I know people can run with poor form and if their body can absorb all that shock then they don't need to change but most of us need to fix it and align ourselves properly.

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  36. I now think I have great form after reading your post! ALL of what you listed as "good form" is what I have been working on "mastering" for about 2 years now. Another good visual with the "leaning at the ankles" thing is this: Watch little kids run. They totally "fall" into the run and naturally fall forward at the ankles. Sometimes I start my run with this in mind. They are also "core" runners--their legs may be flailing around all over the place, but they also look like their midsection is solid. I've also learned to maximize my speed and energy on downhills by leaning forward, relaxing my upper body entirely, and letting my legs relax a bit while still being in control. I think form is HUGE. I started running at 39ish, and knew I needed to find the healthiest form, or this love-affair w/ running wasn't going to last long. I've had NO injuries.I'm not even kidding . . knock on wood . . .4 years and counting!

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    1. GREAT points about letting your legs relax and leaning into the run. And congrats on no injuries!! You must be doing something right!

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  37. I know my form sucks and it's sucked for years. I didn't run when I was a kid (I was a sprinter...and asthmatic), and so I found myself in basic training just trying to make my time without dying. My original TI ran with me a couple of times and tried to teach me what I was doing wrong. "Longer strides. You'll use less energy, and be faster." That was all fine and dandy as long as he was running with me, but then he got transferred to another squadron, and I went back to what could barely be called a jog. Maybe I should give the long stride another shot...

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  38. I KNOW my form needs work - I see it badly in every race picture taken of me. And then I think that I'm working on it and keeping my chest up better... and then I see the next race's pictures.

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  39. Big thanks to the poster above who mentioned goodformrunning.com!! Turns out the running store in my neighborhood puts on those clinics. Of course their next one is TOMORROW and I can't make it, but I'll be sure to make the next one!!

    And as for my form, I think it's probably okay. I have to say I learn a lot about form by watching other runners. I can't believe how many people I see totally slumped over when they run. Every time I see one of those runners I automatically lift my shoulders and pull in my gut.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Cool. Someone pointed out to me, so I had to pay it fwd. and share. Keep the "stick figures" in front of your treadmill or in your mind outdoors. 1. Posture, 2. Midfoot, 3. Cadence & 4. Lean. (Midfoot helped me as well as custom orthodics get rid of horrible case plantar fasciitis.) www.goodformrunning.com (in case anyone missed it before!

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  40. I really want to do one of the Chi Running workshops, but whenever they're in town, I'm always committed to another event or work. I know my form needs work, and I know what I should be doing. But I honestly don't know if I am actually doing it, or just convincing myself I'm doing it. Hmmm. Hiring a running coach sounds like a plan!

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  41. Thanks for sharing your running tips on form. I know my form needs some work. Hiring a running coach sounds like it would be a good investment to yourself and your health.

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  42. A few weeks back I was really struggling, feeling like there is no way I had ever done any of the miles I had. My running felt horrible and bad. I decided to run without music, GPS or anything and just relax. I could not believe how important relaxation was. I'm glad you touched on it; I took away some good advice on that and really appreciate it. My first Marathon is next Saturday and relaxation has been such a struggle because its hard to relax when you're determined.

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  43. Ok....I clearly need to work on my form. I've only been running for two years now. Only at the 10k's so far. But I have a 10k tomorrow and I must say that for the last week I haven't been feeling the greatest. I've had some pain in the arch of my left foot and not sure why. My husband says I run like i'm flat footed. I'm going to look at some insoles or something tonight but I really think you hit the nail on the head...I got bad form. I gotta look into that.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Mrs White
    http://bringingfurmanhome.blopspot.com

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  44. I am sure my form needs work. I would have to pay way too much to get some one to help me. So I think I will think about the few things you just posted and try those. I have a 5k to practice on this weekend. Thanks for sharing! Have a great weekend!

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  45. strangely enough I learned a lot about running form reading Born to Run!

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  46. Beth, as you know I've had a FNSF & a hip stress reaction in the past year, and until a few weeks ago, still couldn't run thanks to the stress reaction. Recently my acupuncturist analyzed my alignment, asked if I'd ever been in a car accident (YES! OMG the answer!) and suggested Rolfing. I read more & learned that if you get the same chiropractic adjustment over & over, Rolfing is what you need. Since that has been me for 10 years, I decided to go for it. I've been to 3 sessions and it's already having amazing effect. I learned early on that I walk on the outsides of my feet, and correcting just that has allowed me to run pain-free. I always thought of form as where you land on the foot from front to back, never side to side. So, no running form coach, but my Rolfer identified in less than 2 hours of treatment that may just be my key. I hope you find your key!

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  47. Thanks to my hip injury, I have had to make some significant form changes. Some changes happened naturally once my hip was properly aligned. It really does make a huge difference to sweep the ground rather than 'just run', or to focus on core rather than legs. Glad you like your coach!

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  48. Couldn't agree more than eventually all my miles with less than stellar form are what brought me to a hautl. I have tried to maintain the form tweaks i learned and relax about not always getting it perfect...yeah running is harder now than as a kid!

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  49. Thanks for sharing your tips on running form. Looking forward to your next post already :)

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