I was never a great runner. Hell, i was never really even a good runner. My frame is not built for running, but i still do it anyway. As we learn to train our weaknesses to make them strengths, running well (along with pull ups or a 500lb deadlift) can be learned. Running efficiently though is the key- which comes after you find your form, good shoes and build up a good cardio base. Today’s fitness world is like no other. The running craze of the 70’s propelled people like Pre into stardom. It brought running from an obscure activity into a true, well known Olympic event and favourite pastime of many that still run just for the heck of it. But running, like any other exercise modality, is a trained specific function of fitness.
Look at what’s happening at obstacle courses all around the country as well as the boom of triathlon and Crossfit: people from all walks of life are now adding a run component to their overall training regimen. Running can be a singular event, or it can be a main course- it’s all relative to what you are training for. As i have said in the past, training is different from working out. A Work-Out is a single event during a planned schedule or”periodization” of an overall fitness program. Even so, running for some (like me) can be a challenge. If you look at distance runners compared to sprinters you see an uncanny resemblance from the “endurance runner” to the “power runner” and how the endurance runner has little to no body fat with small muscles (to remain light and efficient during long runs) whereas the sprinter is built more like a strength athlete (with more muscle and also low bodyfat) to move more explosively and faster for shorter distances. It is the design of the body that usually motivates a person to either become a runner: distance running or a track sprinter. As the definition of fitness changes, the requirements do so as well.
Me? I’m somewhere in between.
For the focused runner, lifting weights is an off season activity that helps bring the alignment and strength back to baseline levels and helps repair damage caused from a racing season. For people that train functional fitness, running is usually done along with a weight training or resistance training regimen as well. Training multiple facets of fitness concurrently is a hard task because you are trying to improve strategic attributes of fitness at the same time.
Attributes of fitness:(updated)
- Range of Motion
- Power Endurance
- Strength Endurance
This is where periodization comes in. If we look at periodization for a specific athlete, we have to analyze what the end goal is (running a marathon, completing a triathlon, stepping on a stage to pose, or being a law enforcement/military person that needs an edge) and create a program based upon time to completion for a specific date. This is what basically becomes a training map-how to get from here to there in x weeks (months, days etc). If you have no specific date, then you really haven’t set a goal. If you haven’t set a goal, how can you improve anything without knowing baseline levels to which to measure against?
Back to running-specifically running as a facet of a comprehensive overall fitness training program and regimen. More often than not, i see people that use running as a way to build a base so that they can then “get in shape” or run as part of single workout designed around a specific goal for that workout (ie 10 pull ups, 10 deadlifts followed by a 100m sprint). While there are benefits to this, there is also an increased chance of injury especially if the person is not a regular runner. We are all built with the innate ability for fight or flight, and running is part of the flight mechanism. Yes, i know we could all run to danger (military, LEO and Firefighters) but if you are not trained properly you will develop bad habits which are hard to break. Bad habits lead to muscle imbalances and ultimately injury. And we all know when the shit hits the fan, we fall back on our training to survive.
First thing we need to do is analyze gait. Any reputable running store should have an expert on staff that can put you on a treadmill and watch you run while looking for gait, stride length, imbalances and possible physical abnormalities. This is one of the most important things you need to do, because this is how shoes are chosen (which coincedentally is the second thing). Having the right shoe for the specific activity is shall we say “where we start from toe to head”. Too many times people see ads for some new kicks and want to run out and by them and just decide to start training for a marathon or 5k. Not only is this dangerous, it is a downright uneducated decision. Now i know what you are thinking “i have been running my whole life this way and i feel fine” but unless you truly know if you are flat footed, have a high arch or over-pronate you will never know if you are actually running efficiently. Compare running in the wrong shoes to weight training in flip flops. Can it be done? Yes, but just as you would use a screwdriver for screws and a hammer for nails (they both fasten things together) lifting or running in the wrong shoes is akin to using a screwdriver to put nails in wood. It can be done, but it is not efficient. Efficient running is defined as using the least amount of energy to produce the most/fastest forward motion over a specific time. Running itself is the body’s ability to move faster than 3-5 mph, anything under that is considered walking/jogging, anything over that is considered running, and anything over 13 MPH is considered sprinting. (up for debate, I’m just using this comparatively so save me the hate mail).
Interesting Article: The Animal Kingdom’s Top Marathoners
Usain Bolt, the fastest human being on record ran 27.79 MPH (44.72 KPH) for the 100m, whereas Haile Gebrselassie ran the marathon in 2:03:59 which is 12.7 MPH; you can see the difference between the 2 clearly.
Even though both of these athletes are “runners” they both have a different look about them, their biomechanics are set up a little diferently and the engines on which they run on are “set up” at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. I would argue that a sprinter doesn’t need to train distance (outside of building a base), but a long-slow-distance (LSD) athlete does. Why? Because even though the marathoner is running a much longer distance, they still need to train the sprint capacity of their bodies in order to increase the rate at which they run at a slower pace but faster and using less resources (fuel) which is by definition, efficiency. Sounds ironic? Yes, yes it is. But even in all my years training for triathlon the best year i had is when i hired an actual triathlon coach and included sprint/track days for my run training. Not only does this increase anaerobic endurance, it also trains the fast twitch muscles needed for extra bursts of speed for switcing from aerobic to anaerobic engine levels during a race. Same thing holds true for military training, fire and police or other sports that need bursts of speed to perform better or complete a task faster. You can have an aerobic base all day long, but if you plan on competing at anything that includes running (distance and short courses) you need to be able to switch gears when the body and race pace demands it. Once you have proper footwear, two things can happen from here. First, you could take your new shoes and just go pound pavement to get some miles in. While this is not a bad decision, a better one would be what i am about to suggest.
Second, you could hire a running coach or even try to enlist the running store expert to critically analyze your gait and suggest changes in running form specific to you, your body and goals. It could be anything easy like moving your hands more or leaning forward, or to changing your gait from heel-toe striking to Pose or another running method altogether. I had a personal breathrough when i came across a guy at a race that had these shoes on with lugs on the forefoot. I asked him what was the deal (at the time i was a horrible heel-toe runner that over-pronated and ran only in the Brooks Beast or combat boots-which coincendentally ruined my aspirations in the military) and he explained to me basically the same thing i am going to relay to you. The human body is built for upright movement though it hasn’t always been that way.
If we look back over time (ok, the infographic is a bit exagerrated) we see how we went from bent over to a more upright posture. The ancient man had yet to discover ergonomics or kinieseology and we think that he had a more curved spine which led him to “lean forward” more. But as silly is that graphic is it truly does show how we as a species keep evolving. For more info, check out my post on the posterior chain and computer syndrome
So now take a human that probably has a desk job or sits at a computer for long periods of time and we see how easy it is for the body to resort back to it’s bent over posture. I personally am not too sure where our obsession with “standing tall and straight” came from. If we still have some tendencies to “slouch” is that such a bad thing? That answer is for another post, but for my inner runner, it all made sense. I was stuck trying to control my motion by using super instep supported shoes and orthotics. While i truly believe in orthotics, the more i researched Pose and other forefoot running methods i noticed that i was trying to fight nature- something we will always lose at in the long run. So instead of continuing to log painful mile after mile, i decided to take some time off and re-learn how to run.
I called Newton and spoke to a woman that seemed to really know her stuff. Their website at the time had a bunch of studies posted on it (in support of their product yes,) but i also dove into the treasure trove of information now on the WWW and spoke with coaches that taught Pose and forefoot running. After purchsing my first pair of Newtons i never looked back. Not only did the shoe teach me how to run better, i became more efficient and my times went down while my distances went up. I was in running heaven. I even went to the local running store here and at the time they did not carry Newtons. I had a reassessment and Scott and his team told me that I had found the right shoe for me and that my gait was much improved from their standpoint. They didn’t even try to sell me anything else, i was ecstatic.
The process in which i changed my running method took a little time to get used to, but everything made sense to me. I also learned from the mistakes of others on shoe buying and gait manipulation, which i hope this little article helps pay it forward. I went on that year to place 4th overall in my triathlon group for the South Carolina Traithlon Series and had completed my first half-Ironman on my way to a full. Fast forward to today and back to the topic- how to become a better, more efficient runner. Everyone’s path is different, just like how all of our bodies have small bio-mechanical differences. If you are looking to become a better runner either for sport specific reasons or just for fitness, the truths remain the same:
- buy the right shoes for you (and orthotics if necessary)
- analyze your gait and make changes accordingly
- build an aerobic base
- develop speed by incorporating track workouts
- Log your miles
- develop a training plan (periodization included)
- train all facets of fitness (strenght, power, speed, endurance) accordingly for your goal
- put miles on those new shoes
- have fun
My case for forefoot running
We were all taught at one point that in order to run we needed to land on our super cushioned shoe heels, roll off through the mid foot before propelling ourselves off from the toes. While this basic, rdimentary and seemingly “natural” strike pattern seems logical, it is everything but natural. By landing on your heel you send forces that are multiplied by gravity (6.8% x body mass) up through the heel all the way through the joints by using the bones as a shock absorber. A Harvard study shows the difference in barefoot running by comparing heel strike to forefoot strike:
Here we focus on the difference between heel striking and forefoot striking (see bottom of page for more on midfoot striking which is often intermediate). In heel striking, the collision of the heel with the ground generates a significant impact transient, a nearly instantaneous, large force. This force sends a shock wave up through the body via the skeletal system. In forefoot striking, the collision of the forefoot with the ground generates a very minimal impact force with no impact transient. Therefore, quite simply, a runner can avoid experiencing the large impact force by forefoot striking properly.
Compare that to forefoot running, you only get to 1.7% x body mass!
As you go about your training plan for whatever goal you have, think about all of the aspects of sport traits and facets that need to be trained and/or addressed. Get professional help if you don’t feel you are progressing as fast as you think you should be. It is always good to have another set of eyes look at your training log. For running, assess the basic needs, create a plan to raise your competencies (strengths or weaknesses) and put focus on what you will be doing 80% of the time (i love the 80/20 rule). If you are running a marathon you need lots of distance work and the ability to go long without bonking; for obstacle courses train the run portion for the set distance of total running expected (example if your race is 5 miles with 10 obstacles, chances are you won’t be running all that much but it all depends on distance between obstacles and frequency and length of obstacles) and for triathlons make sure you can switch from the bike to the run efficiently and complete the run distance comfortably in training.
And always remember, WTSHTF, you always fall back on your training.