Does running technique matter?

Is running technique important? This is a surprisingly controversial question; many commentators and coaches would have you believe that it’s not possible to change your technique.  The reason being, they say “that we evolve into the most efficient running technique for our own body.”  It’s a nice simple idea, but not one that stacks up to scrutiny.  I’d challenge any person to name an elite high profile sport where technique isn’t considered vitally important. But surprisingly, middle and long distance running seems a long way behind sports such as swimming and cycling.  At the elite level of running I can understand a reluctance to think about technique as a means to improve performance or avoid injury – the main reason being that these runners already exhibit very good technique, they wouldn’t be elite if they didn’t.  Having said that, I’ll circle around on that idea later on this blog because it also warrants challenging.

If elite runners are so good because they combine excellent technique, giant hearts and lungs and killer psychology what can we learn from this?  We might not be able to do much about our cardiovascular tank or train so hard we vomit, but what about technique?  To me the most important thing a normal everyday jogger or club athlete can do is make sure they have a serviceable, basically sound running technique.  This was my stepping off point for writing a book about running technique and launching this website.  I’m a runner from my early teens, but I gave away the sport for fifteen years because I kept breaking my body, not only that I couldn’t get any faster than when I was 14 years old – very frustrating for someone who is driven and competitive.

I came back to the sport about four years ago determined to make amends.  I armed myself with all the right information about how to train and had another go at making things better.  It was somewhat successful with a few best times at longer distances, but ultimately the depressing cycle of injury returned.  Not only that I couldn’t run any faster, by this I mean my 5km pace was more or less the same as my 15km pace.  If I tried to run faster my body felt out of control.  Ultimately after analyzing my technique and beginning to think about why it was that more talented runners ran better, I decided to correct my broken running technique.  After 13 weeks of training I stepped on the track and lowered my 5km personal best time by more than a minute to 17.56.  A few weeks later I had this down to 17.42.  More importantly I was uninjured and enjoying running without pain. It wasn’t easy, but it convinced me that it was possible to take someone with a terrible technique and improve it.  My running technique is far from perfect even today, but it has improved and if I can do it off a low base, anyone can.  So running technique does matter and there is something you can do about it.

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