Coach Mike Mead

October 2011

Running mechanics revisited

Autumn has arrived and it means we’re heading into serious distance running season. This is the prime time for cross country and marathon racing. When one runs and races longer distances it is important that one’s running form is efficient as possible.

As a coach, I find many runners who have little deficiencies in their running mechanics and form. Whether it is weak running posture, poor arm carry or ineffective stride length, correcting these deficiencies can make the difference of shaving seconds off a 10K or minutes off your marathon time if you are willing to do the drills.

We’ve all been told that it takes X-amount of times to correct a bad habit. Many runners go for years not correcting a minor aspect of their running mechanics that can make them faster if they would only focus in on the deficiency. So, to correct bad running mechanics it is going to take a concerted amount of time and effort to overcome running form deficiencies.

The most common running form deficiency that I observe is the way many runners carry their arms. I teach runners to keep their elbows “locked” at 90-degrees and gently pump their arms back and forth from their shoulders. The mental cue I tell runners to use is pretend that a string is attached to their elbows and they are being pulled back and forth – not sideways! When I give young runners these instructions, they tend to move their arms from their elbows rather than from their shoulders.

It is also important to keep shoulders relaxed. Too many times when runners get tired their arms flail from side-to-side and they become more like a washing machine that gets out of balance. The arms, if used properly, help to propel you forward and keep you in an efficient rhythm with your legs. Another simple way of correcting this problem is running with coat hangers.

Poor running posture can affect the way one takes in air and negatively affect stride rate. If you tend to run hunched over, you may prevent your lungs from working to their maximum. In a race like the marathon, less oxygen results in a slower finish.

My long-time assistant coach, Hugh Toro, is always reminding our runners to “run tall; shoulders square.” Another cue I tell runners to try is recall the feeling when trying to go fast on a bike that you stand on the pedals and stroke as fast and even as you can. Well, that same feeling should be going on when you have a good running rhythm going where you have just the right knee lift, stride length and proper running posture.

Whatever your form issue, spend the time to improve your efficiency and you’ll make surprising gains without having to increase your training load. It’s one of those details worth improving. Good luck!