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Running Mechanics: Run Faster with Less Effort

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The fastest endurance runners share the many of the same run mechanics and characteristics. Examine photographs of great distance runners and you will see similarities in their running form. Breaking down these characteristics and applying them to your running will make you run faster and more efficiently.

Application of proper running mechanics leads to less injury, and the ability to run a larger volume.

I had knee surgery in October of last year, and couldn’t run over 4 miles until mid December. Although I could swim and ride, my last long run was the month before surgery. By applying the following techniques to my running, in mid February of this year I was able to have a strong 25k race at a local trail run, pain free as well as run 30-45 seconds faster per mile with less effort than I was putting out before.

Running faster boils down to two things, lean and turnover.

A video with University of Oregon triathlete shows an excellent example of proper running form:


Lean

Let gravity do its work.

Stand with your feet together and then lean forward from the ankles. The point at which you fall forward is the lean you are looking for while running. The greater the lean, the faster you will run.

Turnover

Strive for about 180 steps per minute.

Just like cycling, while running, you are looking for a fast turnover. Even at a slower pace, keep your turnover high, but significantly shorten your stride.  A fast quick turnover is more efficient than long slower steps. The less time your feet are on the ground, the less load is placed upon your body. Slow and plodding, long strides shock load your running structure and is inefficient. A fast turnover takes concentration and mindful running. Use a watch and count your foot strikes regularly while running.

Arms

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Keep your elbows bent at about 90 degrees. Your hands should stay inside your elbows as they hang, but not cross the midline of your body. Free your shoulders and drive your elbow back, instead of driving your arm forward. Dropping the arms leads to slower running.  Drive the same side elbow back to the knee you are raising, like you have a sting attached to your elbow and someone is pulling it backwards. Rotation of the upper body should occur from about the bottom of the sternum.

Mechanics of the Stride

Land your foot under, or slightly in front of your hip with a slightly bent knee. Your leg is placed under load like a pogo stick, lean forward as described above to unload your leg through your foot. You’re not actually pushing off with your foot. You’re springing off of it.

After your leg is unloaded, lift your knee and raise your foot under your hip.  When your knee is at it’s high point, accelerate the lower leg forward until just before you place your foot. The energy you put into the acceleration will be returned when unloading your leg.  You want your energy to be in a linear, or forward motion, not vertical. Spring off of your foot through your toes.

Running faster means faster acceleration of the lower leg, and increasing your stride length. Remember that your turnover should not have changed.

Chest Up, Eyes Forward

Run proud.

Keep your upper body erect with good posture. Keep your chest out. Look forward about 35 feet. Avoid hunching up and dropping your chin to look at your feet.  Remember you’re leaning from the ankles, not from the hips.

Check Your Form

After a short warm up, have someone shoot video of you from the side, from the rear, and head on. Freeze the video just as your foot is landing, and as you are toeing off from the rear foot. Check your form and see if it matches what was described above.

Proper running mechanics take time and mindful running.  Apply the above mechanics to your running form. You will either run faster, or run the same speed with less effort.