My running in 2019 took an unexpected turn, but a well needed one. As I wrote in my Running Transformations post, I intended to focus on shorter distances with the goal of setting personal bests from the mile to the half-marathon. Although I won my first race and usually placed top three for my age group, I set no personal bests. Going through the process of racing led me to evaluating my running form. It also led me to reading a lot about the biomechanics of running.
Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5k (2019)
By taking a lighter year of training, I could focus my energy more on form. I do realize that not a lot of people have the will to dig deep into making form changes. In fact, a friend actually commended me on my focus to work on strengthening and biomechanics. I began this process by choosing to take a step back in order to move forward to insure injury free transitions. Times were thrown out the window when racing as I concentrated on running fast without running hard. I made changes by focusing on one little cue at a time.
Although I am still a work in progress, I underwent a 12-week focus of reading and applying what I learned. The tweaks I made felt more natural after ten of those weeks. Concentrating on one of many aspects at a time, I went to work. I focused on propelling forward, as if someone was pushing me from the back while running. I worked on hip extension and passively dropping my foot once my knee lifted to its maximum height. Previous years saw me either land first with my forefoot or rearfoot, depending on the type of workout. When I jogged or sprinted, I generally landed with a forefoot strike. When I ran tempos or races, I landed more towards the heel first.
Sprints at Red Hook Track (Brooklyn, NY)
Foot strike isn’t the whole picture in the grand scheme of running. However, I switched from being an occasional heel-striker to more of a consistent forefoot and midfoot striker. I transitioned by simply letting my foot drop during the recovery phase of my gait cycle. As my foot strike changed from landing heel-first, I noticed that I conserved a little more of my energy. I bounced a little less vertically in the air, but my stride didn’t necessarily feel completely flat either. The change felt nice, though it did take time for my body to adjust for the different shock absorption duties with the changed foot landings. This is why I cut my mileage drastically and strengthened in the gym. My body needed the strength to handle the stress of these slightly different landings. Had I not strengthened and practiced movement, I surely would have dealt with injury.
Though beyond the scope of this post, I became quite aware of other aspects of running form that I’m continuing to apply. My technique has generally been ok in the past, but I believe that making some minor changes will help me excel in the future. I’m currently working for a longer and more powerful stride length without landing too far forward (increasing length from the back, not in the front). While I continue to develop my spring further, I’m developing my aerobic base. I’m happy with my cardiovascular health, as my heart rate is averaging consistently around 40 beats per minute or lower. My maximum oxygen uptake is still high. Now, I am more focused on my economy and movement going into 2020.
Some stats of training (October 2019)
One of the first tests for me will come in April as I prepare to run the New Jersey Marathon. God’s will, my 2020 season will be determined by my progress during the winter and spring. I still plan to focus on shorter-distances in the summer to see what times I can lower. Although 2019 hasn’t been the fastest year, I believe it has been a needed one for me to progress. It has allowed me to set the foundation to strive for excellence in my running. Like developing my craft in music, I needed to take the same steps with running in order to achieve my goals. Though I sometimes feel that I’m in a rough patch in terms of racing, I keep reminding myself of the virtues of patience. I believe in what I’m doing.
Running Resources Related to Biomechanics and Strengthening:
Steve Magness: The Science of Running (the last chapter deals with biomechanics and how to run)