Running is more technical than you think!

Balmoral CastleIn an attempt to get to love running I went on a running weekend up in Balmoral in Scotland.  Now this would have been fantastic IF I was able to run, however as my previous post mentioned the day I flew up there my sciatic nerve got inflamed preventing me from running which was most annoying.  But the weekend wasn’t a waste I still learnt an awful lot from the theory sessions and got to do a few walks around the castle – which in the snow was beautiful.

The weekend was organised by Run with Karen a running coach based in southwest London and the guides and logistics were provided by Neil from Running the Highlands.  There were 10 of us mad enough to want to spend a weekend running in the cold and snow.  We stayed in the staff quarters of Balmoral Castle – the queen is incredibly lucky to have such a stunning country retreat in such a beautiful setting.  In the snow, which decided to fall on our arrival, it became magical – the type of scenes used in Christmas cards.

The weekend consisted of two hour long runs and one long run around the estate grounds, workshops on pacing, technique and nutrition with 3 sessions on strength, conditioning and stretching (with particular focus on core and glutes) and topped off with a tour around the whisky distillery.  We had a great cook for the weekend – I really want the recipe for her courgette and raisin cake made with no fat – it was so moist and delicious I could have eaten the lot.

From the workshops I learnt quite a few things, for example 1lb of extra body weight adds 3seconds per mile to your time.  So by being just 1 stone (14lbs) overweight you will be 4.2mins slower over a 6mile/10km run!  That’s a lot – I had better get back on the diet again!

But the most enlightening bit was the running technique.  I have never been taught how to run before and I never knew how complicated it was!  There is a great free iphone app called ‘coach my video’ where you can video your running and then the app lets you slow it down frame by frame when you watch it.  This means you can really look at your technique in detail.

Running techniqueIt turns out I am an overstrider.  This means that my foot strikes the ground in front of my knee.  Biomechanically this is bad and means I will be prone to injury but it also slows me down as effectively I am putting on the breaks with every stride.    Effective technique means using your strongest muscles (i.e. glutes and quads) to cycle the legs and uses momentum to create most of the power and movement so means faster running with less energy – this sounds great and something I need to work on!  It is also a symptom of too slow a cadence.  Apparently we should have a cadence of at least 180 foot strikes a minute (3 a second!) – this will help to minimise bounce up and down – something which again slows you down as it is wasted energy.

The cycling technique means the heels come up towards your bum, your knees come up in front of you and then the foot goes down and strikes the ground level with the knee.  To do this it means leaning the body forward, engaging the glutes, core and pelvis.  When you first try this it feels really weird and while I thought I was leaning really forward – the video showed I wasn’t leaning far enough and my pelvis wasn’t fully engaged.

As this wasn’t confusing enough the other thing to worry about is your arms.  They should be at a 90deg angle and should move forward and backward in conjunction with the stride with the movement coming from the shoulders – the arms are what generate the extra power to enable you to run faster.  However if the arms are clamped too tightly to the body your body twists and loses power (oddly this only happens with my right arm!), the same happens if your arms are too floppy.  The head should also remain steady and not flop around Paula Radcilffe style.

So there is a lot to remember, I had never realised running was so technical before but I intend to work on it.  When I can run again (hopefully this week) I am going to focus more on my technique now I am aware of it.  I have also been reading a bit about the Alexander Technique and the FeldenKrais technique – both methods that focus on body movement – and their applicability to running more effectively. I will certainly consider further technique coaching in the future when I have had a go at changing my style myself.

If I can lose another stone and get my technique sorted I will easily meet my next target of running 10km in under an hour.  Then I’ll start to think about heart rate zone training – but I’ll work on technique first.

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One comment

  1. Great post and all very good advice that I’m still trying to incorporate into my running as well.

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