Sunday, July 25, 2010

Striving for an Improved Stride

It's odd that both serious and recreational athletes of seemingly all other sports than running are encouraged to continually improve their technique, often spending tens of thousands of dollars and a significant amount of personal time in doing so. Perhaps the consensus thinking is that by adulthood our running-specific neuromuscular patterning is too ingrained to be effectively altered.

Opening my eyes that improvements in stride can be
very beneficial is the observation by an excellent international distance coach, Jack Tupper Daniels. He studied a range of top Olympic distance athletes across all distances, and found their running cadences were amazingly consistent, regardless of the athletes' height, at 180 steps per minute (spm). Also encouraging are two recent Science of Running posts (i.e. #1 & #2) describing several successful efforts to change runners' biomechanics, and advice from my Kenyan Way coach, Sean Wade.

With this in mind, some time ago I had measured my cadence, and found it to be 165 spm. 
Despite knowing that I should therefore target a quicker stride cadence, my subsequent attempts to do so felt a bit awkward and were generally unsuccessful. This began to change with purchase of my first pair of Newton running shoes about a year ago. Newtons are very lightweight, have a reduced heel and slightly elevated mid-sole landing area, and thereby encourage the runner to avoid heel-landing by instead landing with their mid-foot or forefoot, using a somewhat shorter stride and more rapid cadence. Immediately gratified by seeing my finishing times significantly improve I became a Newton shoes convert, and continue to use them as my prime racing shoes.

However, owing to the Newton's comparatively high cost per mile I have been reluctant to wear them routinely in training.  W
hen I grow fatigued while not wearing the low-heeled Newtons, I often lose concentration on my running form and revert to an inefficient and slow cadence heel-landing stride. To avoid this, I've begun a gradual and - I hope permanent - change in my running form to a shorter and quicker stride with a forefoot landing via:
  • My purchase of an excellent DVD, Evolution Running: Run Faster with Fewer Injuries. After viewing the DVD and following its exercises I highly recommend it as the system is well communicated via the informative videos, dialog and explanations. Please see this post by Coach Mierke on the importance of running turnover and form.
  • My download of the excellent Podrunner audio tracks for use on my iPod while running. Simply by listening to the rhythmic and percussive techno and progressive house tracks my stride automatically synchronizes. With a faster and slightly shorter stride, combined a slight forward lean from the ankles and relaxed shoulders I find an efficient new stride has quickly emerged! Over a period of four weeks I gradually - and successfully - transitioned to this faster (180 spm) stride cadence by listening to faster Podrunner tracks while concentrating on the key running form elements. One should not attempt to increase one's cadence by more than 3-5 strides per minute per week, however. Thus, in my first transitional week I ran at 169 spm via listening to identical beat Podrunner tracks, followed by 173, 176 and finally 180 spm.
When not racing in the Newton's I train in comparably light-weight - though significantly less expensive - training shoes, the Nike Free Run+and the Brooks Mach 12 Cross Country Racing Flats. Through gradually increasing my running distance in these shoes I find they help strengthen the muscles in my feet, and have allowed me to transition to the Vibram Five Fingers for a portion of my runs.

Here's a good video from
Harvard's Dr. Lieberman regarding forefoot/mid-foot running:

Cautionary Disclaimer:
Thanks to fellow running bloggers Pete
Joe and Flo I found the following super slow-motion videos of the elite leaders and Ryan Hall during the 2010 Boston Marathon. Fascinatingly, you'll see the full range of heel-landing, mid-foot and forefoot landing techniques represented, though from my perspective Ryan Hall's stride appears closest 
to perfection:

Elite Men in the 2010 Boston Marathon - Super Slow Motion from Runblogger on Vimeo.

Ryan Hall Super Slow Motion - 2010 Boston Marathon from Runblogger on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Run Wild 5K Race Report

Earlier this morning I ran the Run Wild 5K. The skies were clear, there was no breeze, and the temperature was between 77 to 81°F with a very high 74°F dewpoint (i.e. 90% humidity).

My expectations for the race results were relatively low, both owing to the high heat index, and as I'd not tapered at all! Instead, with a couple of marathon-focused running friends the prior day I had run 15 tough and hilly miles in Conroe, Texas, to build my endurance for the Chicago Marathon. As with my other races since the Boston Marathon, I was racing solely to gauge my fitness level and to improve my pacing.

Nevertheless, solely out of pure competitive instinct, as I lined up near the start line I looked around to identify any likely age-group competitors. Not seeing any through the race, after finishing with a 20:35 (6:40 average pace), I was surprised to see the age group results. Had I run only four seconds faster I would have improved my fourth place age group position to second place! Nevertheless, I was happy knowing that I'd held my pace relatively constant, that only 16 seconds separated me from a personal record, and with a more appropriate taper I would have done much better.

Overall, the Run Wild 5K event and its organization were excellent. The race supported a good cause, the Special Olympics of Texas.  Most importantly, recognizing the potentially dangerous hot and humid conditions the organizers routed the course through the adjoining shady subdivision, provided plenty of cool drinks, misting fans, and showers. I hope other warm weather race organizers follow this lead!

The Blues band performing afterward was terrific, and everyone had a great time. I highly recommended the Run Wild 5K!