As someone who’s been injured more than a few times, running form is something I’ve heard a lot about.
When I was in elementary school, we had a unit in gym class that focused on teaching us how to run. I missed that unit. No, seriously – I was sidelined in a full-leg cast that spring. My mom always joked that I couldn’t run well when I was younger because I missed that unit – but I think there’s a fair bit of legitimacy to that. Not so much the elementary school part, but the learning to run part.
It’s widely assumed that anyone can run. Got two legs? You can run. Got a prosthetic leg or two? You’re good to go, too. Baring that, got a wheelchair and two arms that can push? You can compete in the wheelchair division (helloooo, wonder woman Tatyana McFadden!). All too often, that’s kind of the beginning and end of the road for many runners, especially amateurs.
It’s always astounded me that in running, we tell people to run first, and work out the kinks later. As anyone who has had to unlearn a bad habit knows, old habits are hard to break! We don’t expect swimmers to learn good form on their own – so why do we expect runners to do so?
The main debate for several years was about foot strike – something that can certainly have an impact on form and injury rate, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Cadence? Okay, that’s got some meat to it; but again, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. You can have a really fast turnover but still have poor form.
This is something that I fully intend to address when I coach this summer; running form, as much as speed and distance, will be a cornerstone of my coaching philosophy. I substitute-coached for a friend’s 10k group the other week and discussed this with them briefly before sending them off on their speedwork – something which one of the participants told me afterwards was one of the best things she’s learned about running in a long time!
This is something that is in the forefront of my mind right now as I focus intently on correcting my running-form sins and (hopefully) building myself up to be a more efficient runner who can avoid trips to the ortho and PT in the future. I know it’s vital to spend time perfecting form, especially at speed and when tired at the end of long runs, but let’s be honest – I’d really rather be focusing my energy on speed and endurance right now.
Yes, we all know how to run. But when we take up running as a persistent activity, when we begin to log dozens of miles week after week, it’s integral to our longevity in the sport to work on the finer points before injury, rather than trying to re-learn them later. Yes, the body may get more efficient as you run more, but why not give it a head start on the process? I think it’s high time we respect beginner runners enough to help them out, setting them up for long-term success, and focusing on how to run properly.