I will be honest. I am not a fan of long distance running. The most I could tolerate was running a half-marathon (back in 2008), and even that made me wanna go to sleep. The training was so monotonous and boring, with most of the focus on logging enough miles. Since then, my knowledge of fitness, including endurance training, has grown leaps and bounds. If I were to train for a marathon today, my training hours would be halved and I would see a significant improvement in performance as well. But more on that later. This post is about being a more efficient runner.
When I run, I run barefoot. This makes me more efficient than a version of me that wears shoes. I attribute my lack of injuries, better recovery, less tiredness to running barefoot. If you are a serious runner, look into it. It was one of the smartest things I did. Running shoes have a lot of spiel about “correcting pronation” and stuff like that. But that’s how you run naturally and shoes by correcting your stride often end up causing a lot of injuries. Shin splints, for example, are one of the most common ones. But a more generic issue that shoes cause is not giving you feedback when you are running poorly. All the padding, especially in the heels (why do you need so much heel padding if heel striking is taboo?), doesn’t tell you “Hey idiot! You keep landing on your heels”. Instead, this pain manifests in knee pain, shin splints etc. If you run barefoot and land on your heels, you know immediately. And you have no option but to run in a more efficient manner. But as I keep repeating, what worked for me need not work for you. Enough about me and enough about barefoot running.
I came across this video which packed a whole lot of information in 15 minutes. If you are a serious runner, take a look. Or if you are like me and zone out while watching videos, read the rest of this entry.
- Conventional wisdom says that East African runners are better because they are genetically predisposed to run better, run to school while they are kids, train at high altitudes. This video suggests that the truth is a lot simpler — they just run more efficiently.
- A marathoner takes 1000 strides per mile, or 26200 strides total. So, correcting an issue is going to go a long way. Or on the contrary, one small inefficiency is going to be multiplied with a huge factor — 26,200 to be exact.
- Bounce, Stride angle, Over-stride angle, Toe lift angle, Upper body torque, and Crossover angle — these are the 6 aspects that they get into.
- Bounce: The vertical distance you move, as your head bobs up and down while running. The runner shown in the image below is Ryan Hall, who was the first American to run a half-marathon under the 60 minute mark. So, this guy is not a random noob. He has a bounce of 4″, which multiplied by 26,200 strides is a whopping 2.6 kilometres! And when you bounce up, you have to bounce back down = 5+ vertical kms! So, not only are you doing a lot of extra work because of the bounce but the pressure you are putting on your body is a lot — as you are landing heavy all the time. This up and down motion is one of the primary causes of fatigue. So, reducing bounce will go a long way in improving your running and stride efficiency!
- Stride Angle: The maximum opening between the front and trailing leg. Every degree increase here leads to a 2% increase in stride length. Stride angle is a function of your hip flexibility. A poor stride angle leads to over-extension.
- Overstride: This is basically reaching out far in front. This is probably the biggest cause for knee pain and shin splints. You are reaching out, and landing ahead of yourself. Thus, your body puts pressure at an awkward angle on the knee and shins. Overstride also inevitably will lead to a heel-strike. It is imperative that you land under your body, and not in front. This is a common principle when you work with weights as well — when squatting/lifting, you always want the bar to in the same plane as your midline, or at least as much as possible. The goal in an overstride angle is to keep it as negative as possible. And the way to fix this is to increase stride angle.
- Toe lift: This is the biggest cause of shin splints. You can see the toe-lift in the previous image as well, that’s an angle of 23 degrees. In comparison, how does a 0 degree look?
- Upper body torque & Crossover angle: My knowledge of upper body focus in running was not to swing your arms across. This expands on that a bit. Twisting and torquing the upper body causes over-pronation in your legs and kees, as it is a compensatory action. Getting the crossover angle as close to 0 degrees is important.
- The video finishes off with some magic, where by improving flexibility, the stride angle etc is vastly improved within an hour or so. But hey, these guys made a really great video and they are obviously welcome to selling what they do.
An ultra-marathoner I used to run with once remarked that I had really good running mechanics for a recreational runner. And we got talking and in my case, it is a direct consequence of barefoot running. I have a poor threshold for pain, especially when it involves running, and once I minimized it — I automatically became a better runner. And now, I can see how I can take it further — coz I do a lot of running while playing Ultimate Frisbee. Quite honestly, I’ve been lax about working on my running but that’s been part-laziness and part-necessity, as I am trying to put on some mass. Once that’s done, I am going to start by getting back to practicing pose running — to better my running style and muscle use/distribution while running. Hill sprints, to work on speed. And flexibility, to work on the issues highlighted in this post. This post shows that a lot of these issues are interconnected, and if you get to the underlying issue and fix it, the improvement in results will be magnified several times.
And if you are serious about running — take some time off. Work on these issues. One big problem I have with running is the training involved — it is just too much time, and stress — miles upon miles upon miles of it. I think there are more efficient ways for that as well. But by working on being more efficient, you will become a better runner, and add a few more years to your legs. I hope this post has given you guys some food for thought.
This post got way longer than I intended. I wanted to get into pose running, and some drills but will save that for another post. Endurance training is another post I have in mind. Runners — video taping yourself along with your running buddies and analyzing the video might lead you to some awesome insights. And work on your flexibility and mobility. Have fun running!