As runners, we are constantly bombarded with new technologies and methods surrounding how to train. We have tech to measure our heart rate, and a training style to go with it (MAF). We also have tech to measure different aspects of our run, from cadence to pronation, to a mess of other things that are beyond the average runner. Heck, we even have power meters for runners! All of these things propose to help us run more efficiently and - as the belief goes - injury free. The problem is, my stride is different than yours, and yours will no doubt be different than your neighbors.
If you've ever stood in a full body mirror, and attempted to stand up straight, and really examined your body, you'll probably have noticed things aren't symmetrical. We all have differences from one side to the next, whether they're inborn - such as leg length discrepancy - or came on later in life due to some trauma - think joint dislocation - things aren't the same. These differences help to create a different form for each runner. And so, if we all have different form, can there be a perfect form?
Sort of. There are certain things we should do, but they vary from one runner to the next and there is no blanket formula for everyone. Here are some quick generalities:
- Head up, eyes forward. Looking forward and not down at the ground (or your watch!) gives your body a direction to go. If you've ever watched a fighter, you'll notice that the body follows the head. Ideally your head should be a little forward of your torso, giving you a slight lean forward. A head up also means a straight back, which lends itself to a strong torso going forward.
- Arms. Yes, we run with our legs but our arms help propel us forward as well. Think inertia. Imagine your arms as a pendulum swinging. Do you want the plane of those pendulums to cut across the plane of your motion? Not really. As distance runners, our hands probably shouldn't be crossing the center line of our torso. (If you watch a sprinter there arms are pretty much exactly in line with their plane of torso motion.
- Foot landing. This is probably the most important part to running without injury. Often, heel striking is thought of as the creator of all knee injuries, and while it can cause injury, it's often coupled with a foot that lands a good ways in front of the body. When you land with your foot extended beyond your hips, it doesn't matter what part of your foot you land on your chance of injury goes up - even with big cushy heel-toe drop shoes. Ideally your foot lands under your hip, and when this happens, how you land on your foot becomes much less important.
There's a lot of talk out there about cadence and other parts of form, and while they can be useful in the long run, it's more important to get these three things down. Now the question is how do we get these three things down:
So many of us are stuck with headphones plugged into some sort of device playing music or some droning podcast. Unplug the headphones. Run with open ears and listen. Don't just listen to your body in the sense of injuries and overtraining, but actually listen to the noises. Control your breath, feel your hear beat, and most importantly listen to your feet hitting the ground.
Good healthy formed running is quiet. Your feet gently strike the ground as your body propels itself forward. Poor form running is a lot louder. Your feet shouldn't be slapping the ground. Think about hitting a baseball. When you strike a baseball solidly and change it's direction of movement, it's a loud solid thwack, now think about what a foul tip sounds like. There's some noise, but it's much quieter - more gentle. When we run, we're not looking to change our direction of movement, but rather glance across the surface of the earth. Quiet your running, and you'll be a better runner.
(And if of course you've been running without injury, just keep trucking.)