Are you in good form or is your running form good?

One of the more curious expressions in the running vernacular is the concept of being in good form. It’s normally a term you’d associate with skill based sports such as golf, cricket or basketball. Critically in these sports the notion of being in good form is closely linked with touch and feel as it is with correct technical execution of the skills involved such as batting, driving a one iron or shooting free throws.

If you go to the track or watch some rarely televised athletics you’ll hear people talking about athletes having been in good form or looking in good form. Usually they are just passing comment on recent good performances but could good form in running be anything like these skill based activities?

I think it is, but you’d expect a guy who has written a book on Running Technique to hold that point of view. Here’s a few snippets to try and win you over to my kind of thinking.

Thanks to Erica Sara Neuman for the great photos from NYC Marathon 2011.

It just wasn’t my day

So you’re gutted, your favorite athlete has just tanked and is giving a forlorn interview to their country’s home broadcaster. How many times have you watched this scenario and heard athletes talk about it being not their day or things just weren’t working for me out there or usually they just don’t know what went wrong.

So what’s the story? Everyone has a bad day or bombs out every so often, but brain fades aside could there be technical explanations? I wonder how many athletes and running coaches take the time to review the full video tape of a race that went wrong to spot if there was anything amiss with the runner’s technique?

This is where having some video of previous good performances is very handy – was there anything different? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s worth looking into. Harder for everyday runners no doubt, but with a bit of encouragement, friends and family can be roped into taking some video of some of your races and training.

Recent injuries can also take a toll on your running mechanics, another reason to allow time for adequate recovery and rehabilitation. When you’re getting back into solid training it is worth double checking that you have not developed any subconscious bad habits, such as favoring away from the side of your body that caused pain of discomfort.

Feel in running

There’s little doubt that feel plays a big part in running. There are going to be days when you execute better than others. Being tuned into the environment and knowing what your best running feels like is pretty critical.

One freak performance isn’t what you’re after, what you want is to be able to string together consistent efforts that are at or about your best (when fully fit) on most occasions.

Consistency in training and being consciously competent in the execution of your running technique will help iron out big differences between your best and worst races.

Factors such as footwear also play a role, moving carefully towards lighter, flexible shoes with a bit less and firmer cushioning seems to help. Read a bit more about the benefits of minimalist running shoes and how to begin making a safe transition in this article.

Variability

You certainly want to be able to reduce variation in your running technique during your races. The phrase all over the place is not one you want applied to your running, although it’s often been appended to mine over the years. The way to find your sweet spot for powerful and efficient running is by training for it.

This is where training for pace is all important. The confidence and training benefits of completing scheduled work-outs at different training intensities with good technique cannot be under estimated.

Tempo pace training

When we work with runners looking to improve their technique one of the key elements of training that is emphasized is tempo pace running. This just under your aerobic threshold training is brilliant for practicing holding good technique together for sustained periods.

In the first instance we suggest breaking these tempo running sessions into smaller chunks or intervals of 800 to 1000m or 3 to 5 minutes of running depending on the ability level of the athlete. You can even do shorter tempo pace intervals than this of 2 minutes or 400m if you are a slower runner.

Strength training

Regular readers of this blog will know by now just how important I believe strength training is in developing and sustaining good running technique. The longer you can run with strength the greater the delay of dipping deeply into you cardio reserves and blowing up! Hopefully you can get to the point where you can complete your target distance without this happening to you. Being stronger is a big help.

Executing on race day

So what can you do to make sure you pull it all together on race day to give yourself a good shot at a competitive and fast performance? One clue is to capture your metronomic stride in the warm up, instead of striding faster than goal pace, run your tempo (10 – 15k race pace) pace for three minutes as was discussed in this article by Alex Hutchinson.

The other simple but often overlooked step is to run with a plan to click off very even and slightly conservative lap or kilometer splits. Let the early pace setters go and just focus into getting into a good rhythm, you may find the rabbits coming back to you rapidly in the later stages of the race.

Conclusion

While inconsistent performance can be caused by a number of different factors it’s worth considering changes or variations in running technique as a possible cause.

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4 Responses to Are you in good form or is your running form good?

  1. Steven March 30, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    Another great article! What a great website and resource, Brian. Congrats.

    I was thinking about this “form” thing last weekend when I had one of those horror runs when inexplicably everything feels off and one really struggles. During the run I tried to analyse why – the only thing I could come up with was a lack of self-awareness on the day. That is, I seemed to lack feel for what my body was doing – my stride pattern, footstrike and all that stuff. Almost like I was a passenger in someone else’s body running along, a bit clumsy and out-of-control! Not sure if that is just me, or applies to other runners, though! 🙂 Cheers

    • Brian March 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

      Thanks Steven, much appreciate your feedback. There’s been many a race where I’ve felt as you have. Many factors could contribute to a bit of a shocker, but there’s no doubting being a bit stronger and self aware can help minimise these types of races. Of course we’re all humans and not machines so some days it’s just not going to happen and you have to just roll with the punches. Brian

  2. Lori Bufka February 2, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Brian,
    This is a wonderful article. I think that as runners we can all benefit from reflection and study of both the good days and the bad days of competition. As a runner, I know I often obsess over the bad performances, but I often neglect to reflect on the good performances. Spending a few minutes to reflect on what it was that was done right in a good performance and how it felt is probably at least as valuable as dissecting the poor ones if one wants to duplicate the “flow” of the great race. I guess we often don’t think about technique when it is working, but being able to replicate that technique is the key to consistency, as you say above.

    I like your comment about video and pictures of races as a piece of evidence for everyday runners to examine. I am not sure which comes first the looking “off” in running technique or the bad day, but it is definitely evident in the race pictures. One of the tip-offs to my recent awareness of form problems was the combination of a picture from a recent race that was on my desk which got compared to a picture of a race from a few years ago where I had an outstanding performance that dropped out of a book I picked up . One would not need to know much about running form to know which runner had the better day.

    Actually one of my goals in reading your book is to see if I can get back to the type of form I showed in previous pictures. Even though I am only a few chapters in, I feel like I have finally found a way to move in that direction. Thanks for the info. Keep it coming!

    • Brian February 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

      Hi Lori, thanks for the comment and feedback! Yes it is a bit chicken and egg wondering what caused the ‘bad day’ but unless you look at all the possibilities it’s difficult to ever pin down the root cause. I think the key to consistency is being able to execute a few basic things well every time you run, learning more about your form is really just about that higher level of self awareness of how you’re moving. Keep my updated with how you progress. Brian