Today’s question comes from a newbie runner who has just started using the “walk to running a 5K” plan from your book The Gift of Running.
Question: How do you find your perfect stride?
P. Mark’s Answer: I will give you the same answer that I give to experienced runners. It is a bit unorthodox, but it is very effective. In fact, I have to work on my form from time to time and I always use this method.
The quickest way to find good form is to run barefoot.
No, don’t run your entire workout barefoot. Just find a nice clear path on some concrete or asphalt/blacktop and jog a few hundred feet. Don’t sprint. That might do some damage to the bottom of your feet. Just start to jog and gradually pick up the pace – just for a few hundred feet, relaxing your body as you stride. That relaxing is highly critical. This will not work if you are not relaxed.
We choose a hard surface for a reason. Your body will naturally tend towards moving in ways that protect your feet and knees, absorbing the impact as best that it can. We are counting on that. Its called Good Form.
As you begin to pick up the pace, pay very close attention to your barefoot form:
1) How is your foot is making contact with the ground (footstrike)?
In your relaxed barefoot jog, you should find that your foot will begin to contact the ground very lightly on the front of your foot, as if you were testing out the ground. As you shift your weight onto that foot, however, you will gradually place your entire foot flat on the ground. This distributes the weight to ALL parts of your foot: a little on the front, a little on the heel, and a lot on the middle part of your foot. You should find that:
- Every part of your foot made contact with the ground in a gentle way.
- No part of your should foot take more weight than it can hold.
2) How long is your stride?
In your relaxed barefoot jog, you will probably find that you have shortened your stride. The majority of runners have strides that are too long. The consequences of overextending your foot too far ahead of your body are large: sore knees and other joints, heavy wear and tear on your body, and a slower pace. Yes, sticking your leg to far forward actually puts the brakes on. You can run faster with the exact same amount of effort and a shortened stride. You will find yourself moving to a faster cadence as well. In perfect form, with your new shorter stride, the number of steps you take during each minute of the run will tend to be somewhere close to 180. That is true of newbie runners and elite runners. You can actually find playlists of songs for runners in which every song keeps the beat at 180 beats per minute.
3) How is your body positioned in this relaxed running state?
In your relaxed barefoot jog, you will probably find that you have very erect posture. The most common mistake made by runners is to lean forward at the waist when they are trying very hard. This actually slows you down and takes more effort. You do need to lean forward a little to run faster, but you lean at the ankles, not the waist. In other words, you don’t lean the top half of your body, you lean your entire body. From your ankles to your head, your body should be fairly straight.
I have found myself doing short barefoot runs at least once a week, either on rest days or just before a run. It reminds me of good form, saving me energy and saving my body from injuries caused by bad form.
Check your form frequently. Be good to your body and it will be good to you.
Enjoy the run!
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