Improve running with attention to pace, form
October 9, 2013
The most widely practiced and recognized form of cardio is running. It was probably your first means of real play as a child. The military requires it for those not limited by temporary or congenital illness/injury.
Over the years, I routinely heard those who hated running say it had nothing to do with their ability to perform military duties, for they never ran "to" or "from" a fight. But my experiences were those uniformed warriors who could max or exceed their service fitness tests, or post stellar distance running times often were mentally and physically tough as well.
I focused a number of years on running distances from the 5K through the marathon, and loved it. The mental toughness and ability to manage pain while regulating paces made me a better athlete, and it was something I could do anywhere, anytime and in any environment. But most view it as something they have to endure.
Nothing in this column will make you like it if you don't already, but we can explore some of the reasons why many people hate it and ways we've used to help those new to running (or just returning after injury) improve.
Most who run think of two things for this pursuit, that being pace and distance. Those two items are self explanatory, although I would submit most who don't like running make a crucial mistake in regard to pace. While my best times were someone else's slow runs, I ran an Army Physical Fitness Test at a pace that would give me 100 points in accordance with the fastest standard at the time. A fellow cadre member took off ahead of me, peeling off quarter miles at a pace roughly equal to 5:30 per mile, but then at the 1.5 mile mark they had to walk with .50 miles left. When asked why they did that, they said they hoped staying ahead would infuse them with extraordinary energy to sustain that pace. Instead they fatigued out.
While training techniques for run improvement include fast sprints and intervals, taking off at a pace you are not conditioned to sustain will just result in early burn out from lactate threshold (where your blood feels like it's turning to battery acid). Most people do this, making their run a miserable experience and seemingly a fight for survival. A better technique is to take off moderately then improve upon your pace throughout the distance.
Additionally, many fail to focus on form. Most people think they should just run faster (and longer), but forget that running has a form.
The minimalist footwear movement is predicated on trying to wean generations of runners who have relied on excessive cushioning, especially in the heel, to not "heel strike" (first making contact with the ground on the heel of the lead leg) which essentially causes a braking effect and can send shock waves throughout the body. This is why we see so many injuries in those generations who ran in boots using the "heel to toe" method. Although a few elite runners heel strike, most of us need to focus on mid- or forefoot striking.
My thoughts are rather than relying on a materiel solution, why not just focus on form? It takes concentration, and requires constant attention, which is anathema to the "dissociate and just let the exercise occur" approach many are used to. Along with heel strike are arm swing and carriage. Are your arms crossing the center of your body? Are they swinging too high causing excessive energy expenditure?
Carriage refers to one's posture when running, and is the easiest to ignore which is why people run with their shoulders rounded and head down! Wouldn't you want to maximize the body's ability to upload oxygen? But most new to running or those viewing it as something to endure just to lose pounds don't focus on those form elements. This inadvertently leads to them training struggles vs. effort. Effort is not painless, but improves the athlete mentally and physically vs. struggling just to complete the endeavor.
I would encourage anyone in interested in improving their running to consider form and pace. Using paces well beyond your capacity results in form breakdowns or simply exacerbates already poor form and is a surefire route to failure, burnout or injury.
Don't allow this incredible form of exercise to turn into an agonizing event that detracts from the elation one can feel when training or racing.