Changing Your Running Form

2 Jan

*Disclaimer: I am not any sort of qualified expert in the area of running form. I can’t even pretend to be an expert with claims like, “Well I worked at a running store for a week and now know everything” or “I once took a course that one day discussed the importance of running form”. I speak merely from my own experience and reading the occasional Runner’s World article entitled Stop Heel-Striking or You Will DIE*

In my early days of running, I had no idea what I was doing. None. Not a clue. I played sports my entire life, but sports involving short bursts of fast running (basketball and track) or some alternate form of movement (hockey). To me running worked something like this: find old pair of basketball shorts, add old cotton t-shirt, throw in a pair of old sneakers, and GO!

So, not quite a recipe for running success. I endured a few injuries and general discomfort in my first few months of running. But, as I submerged myself in the running community my old basketball shorts were replaced by Nike Tempos, or running crops; the cotton t-shirts yielded to hi-tech, sweat-wicking gear; and the old sneakers scooted over to make way for Saucony Kinvaras and Brooks Pure Connects. My discomfort decreased, but injuries persisted.

I read avidly about how to avoid or at least decrease persistent injuries. I discovered the twisted pleasure of ice baths. I proudly donned my compression socks under my work clothes. I obsessively foam-rolled. But I was still dealing with constant shin pain, pressure in my hip, occasionally knee pain, etc.

It was only a matter of time before all the niggling, tingling pain ended in some dramatic injury. Just over two months out from my first marathon, I was sidelined with a stress fracture in my right shin. By some miracle I was cleared to run my scheduled marathon (with no time goals). And run I did. But to cross that finish line I endured some of the worst pain I’ve ever faced. Marathons are not supposed to be enjoyable or even pain-free, but I knew this was above and beyond normal marathon pain.

Changing my running form was the only thing left to do. I already foam-rolled, ice-bathed, and compression-socked. My marathon photos confirmed the desperate need for change. Just look at those feet:

heelstrike

Heel-strike much?

With a budget that lacked the room for “running coach” I took it upon myself to change my stride. Loads of aggravation, sweat, swearing and general frustration, were involved, but I was finally able to change my running form for the better. If you’re short on dough, or just don’t feel the need for a running coach, here a few handy tips to help change your running form.

1) Get fitted for running shoes. Even if you’ve been previously fitted, make a return visit. I was refitted before I started to actively change my stride, and I moved down from a stability shoe (Asics GT-2160s) to a neutral shoe (Saucony Kinvaras and Brooks PureConnects). Switching shoes made a big difference as the neutral shoes helped force me to change my stride.

2) Aim for a mid-foot landing. This is the best thing to remember when changing your form. Heel-striking or landing on the ball of your foot are both big no-nos. Aim to land on your mid-foot.

3) Run in front of mirror. I’m sorry. I know this means running on a treadmill, but it is one of the only ways to evaluate your form. It will also help you purposefully focus on your stride, which you’ll have to do in the early days of changing.

4) Focus on shorter distance runs (for now). It is much, much easier to focus on your form for 3-4 miles, then 10-11 miles. My focus would start to break down near mile 6, so in the early days of running with a new form I kept my runs under 5 miles. Now my new form feels natural and I’m able to maintain without having to constantly focus.

5) Recognize this will be difficult. Hate to break it to ya, but it’s tough to change your natural running form. The benefits are huge and it is totally worth it, but the process of making this new running form natural is difficult. Recognize it will take dedicated time and effort and you’ll ease some of the pressure on yourself.

If you’ve made the switch to a different running form, any tips for those trying to make changes?

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