I started running as a beginner without a coach or any kind of training. Just like that, one day I decided to see how I would fare as a runner. And it’s been an incredible experience so far.
But running, just like any other sport, has certain techniques that prevent injuries, postures that conserve energy, making it more enjoyable as the distances get longer. I picked up most of these techniques from observing other runners, reading about them, researching and experimenting these on myself to see how they would work on me. While I run, I’m super conscious about my posture and following all of these techniques so I can constantly correct any deviations. To this day, I refuse to run with music just so that I can pay close attention to the bio feedback and make sure that my body is doing all the right things. When I ran the San Francisco Half Marathon, I was somewhat shocked to see runners that were grimacing in pain, limping or just not having fun. Sure, 13 miles is a long way for your body, but if you don’t relax into it, things get worse pretty quickly.
I’ve never tried running in shoes (minimalist or not), so I don’t even know what it means to heel strike. But I’ve read about so many runners getting their knees hurt and getting plantar fasciitis especially after they switch to Vibram Five Fingers or minimals. Heel striking promotes over striding which passes on the impact stress further up your knees and onto your back. My only suggestion to this would be to go barefoot for just a minute and run down a sidewalk as if you are a kid. Your body will automatically lean forward, shorten your stride and use either forefoot or midfoot strike. And your body simply won’t let you heel strike even if you try, because it hurts!
Forefoot vs. Mid-foot strike
I read about both of these in the first three months and didn’t pay much attention. In retrospect, a lot of my ankle pain came because I was running too much forefoot and possibly overstriding. Once I relaxed and dropped my heel just a tad bit most of my ankle pains went away. Of course a lot of this depends on your body mechanics, but mid-foot strike seems to work for me the best.
Neck and Head
Many runners tend to look down while running. You want your head to be looking straight, firm without bobbing with peripheral vision soaking up the environment around you. It’s the same rule when you are riding a motorcycle, rollerblading or skiiing. Keep your head up and have your eyes scan 15 to 20 feet in front of you. And if you are trail running, don’t forget to look around and soak the scenery! There’s a reason why you ran so far to get up to the vista point. Might as well stop and think about how great it is to be out there and feel alive!
Shoulders and Neck
Relax your shoulders instead of hunching them up. After running a while, my shoulders tend to tighten up and I have to consciously pay attention to relax them. Bend your arms at right angles at your elbow and as you run simply move your arms back and forth parallel to each other. Not too high and not too low. The movement is just slight and enough to feel like it’s driving your body forward.
Hold a Butterfly
The very first week of my running experiment, I was on the treadmill suffering through my miserable 10 minute run when someone came up to me and said “Pretend that you are holding a butterfly. You don’t want it too tight to hurt it, nor do you want it too open that it flies away”. I thanked the stranger and was a little puzzled by this unsolicited advice. Later on I found out that he regularly runs the Boston Marathon! And I still remember this advice while on a run. Clenching your fists has a number of bad side effects. Your arms tend to tighten up affecting your shoulders and then your posture. So remember the butterfly. Don’t crush it and don’t let it fly away.
When you run perfectly straight, you end up working against gravity too much and this will cause you to push up your knees resulting in fatigue and over exertion. Instead lean just a tad bit forward on your ankle and you will find that gravity becomes your friend. I tend to lean in a little more than normal during hill climbs, shortening my strides and pitter pattering up the hill.
Bend your Knees
This feels unnatural at first but is a great little technique to absorb all the shock of your entire body coming down on the pavement. With bent knees, I find that the impact is significantly reduced and running barefoot on pavement is actually fun. With the Achilles tendon acting as a rubber band returning a big fraction of my energy back to me, the harder the surface I run on, the easier it gets.
Land Under Your Body
Running barefoot really helps you master this technique and helps prevent overstriding. Overstriding is a huge source of injuries that promotes heel striking and passes the impact stress starting with your feet, moving up to your knees and back. When your feet land under your body with knees bent and leaning forward, you are actually doing less work to run. In the early stages, I am pretty sure that I was running too much forefoot and overstriding a bit, resulting in sore ankles.
Run from your Core
Sit on a chair with your back straight and your feet firmly on the ground. Now lean forward just a little bit. Feel those abs? Just to be sure, cough a little bit. The muscles that tighten up in your abs – that’s your core. When you run, lean forward on your ankle and run from your core. While tough to do at the beginning, practice on getting this right. When your tired, your core usually gives out causing you to slouch over and get all sloppy.
These are some of the techniques that I used when I first started running and found that focusing on these simple techniques tremendously improved my posture.
You might also like these other blogs on running tips and techniques: