A few weeks ago I had the good fortune of attending the SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships at my home base, the University of Georgia’s Spec Towns Track in Athens, Georgia. I was particularly interested in watching the men’s and women’s 10,000m and 5,000m distance events as they most closely relate to the run leg of sprint and olympic distance triathlons. I was also interested in analyzing the form of some of our best collegiate runners against what we know to be effective in terms of biomechanics and efficiency.
Most of us would agree that the run leg of a triathlon is not easy; we are tired from pushing the pedals and by the time we’ve exited T2 were are often more concerned about getting through it than being efficient. If you turn that thought process around, you’ll see that greater efficiency will make the run leg of your next race all the more pleasurable and most likely faster. With practice, small adjustments to your running form can make a big difference in racing and training. If you spend less energy on movements that don’t help you (and even work against you), you can dedicate more energy to the movements that do help.
What does proper running form look like?
Listen and you will hear this question over and over again: which running methodology or approach is best for me? Pose? Chi? Barefoot? We are asked this question over and over and quite simply we haven’t put a label on it, but we do enforce characteristics of each style along with the running philosophies of top coaches such as Bobby McGee. To keep it simple, we instruct runners to do the following:
• Overall posture: Athletes should “run proud” with their chest lifted and open, keeping their eyes on the horizon. You should implement a slight lean from the ankles (not the waist) and your pelvis should remain neutral throughout your stride. Your hips should not drop from side to side but should remain level — this is where core strength is crucial to proper running form. As we fatigue, the stabilizing muscles in our core are necessary to keep us from putting undue stress on our back, hips and legs. Your knees and feet should stay in line with your hips; feet should face forward and should not turn out upon impact or during your kick.
• Arms: Your arms and shoulders should be relaxed with your shoulder acting as a pendulum; do not lift your shoulders or crunch forward but instead drop your shoulders and open your chest. Your arms should remain bent at 90 degrees throughout your stride with an emphasis on driving the elbow back (almost parallel to the ground) and not forward. Your hand will clear your body as you swing forward and move slightly inward, however you should not cross your body with your arms or intentionally drive your arms forward. Your hands should stay relaxed at all times as though you are holding a feather or egg.
• Legs: You should engage your hip flexors to lift the leg and drive the knee forward which will set your lower leg and foot up for proper positioning on ground contact. As your foot prepares to meet the ground, your leg should be perpendicular (approximately 90 degrees or more) to the ground with your foot parallel to the ground. Your foot should land underneath your body setting you up for a strong and powerful pop off the ground. On contact your mid-foot should meet the ground and move you forward, resulting in full extension of the leg behind you and followed by a kick and completion of the cycle.
In the photo taken during the men’s 10,000m race, look at the blue arrows and notice their gaze is directly forward (toward the horizon) and not down on the ground. This positioning keeps their chest open and their shoulders relaxed and back. The yellow lines follow the athletes’ overall positioning; notice the elbows bent and driving backwards, the position of the leg and foot as it prepares to make contact with the ground, and the push and extension of the back leg to complete the stride.
Of note is the difference in verticality between the three athletes (note the pink height markers). All three runners are in about the same point in their stride (the front runner is slightly ahead) but the vertical height of the rear runner is excessive. That’s a lot of up and down movement over the course of 3 miles (and a lot of energy) spent that isn’t helping his cause. If that movement were directed in a more horizontal motion this athlete would surely see a decline in fatigue rate and impact on his body.
What does this mean for you as a triathlete?
Most of you have access to a coach or physical therapist that can record your running style and analyze your gait. Any money spent on form analysis is well worth the improvements that you can make in your biomechanics as your times will improve, you’ll be able to run with greater efficiency (less fatigue) and with a decreased risk of injury. At the very least, have a friend videotape you on a track or treadmill using a camera that records at least 30 frames per second (most high end point and shoot cameras will suffice) and view the footage frame by frame in QuickTime or other video viewer. You will be able to see flaws in your body positioning that are not noticeable by the naked eye in real time.
Once you have a good idea of your areas of weakness, implement drills that will correct the deficiencies and help reinforce proper biomechanics. Drills are an excellent way to train the body to perform an act correctly and should be a regular part of any running session and training regime. Watch the following for a good explanation and demonstration of drills and stay tuned to TriCrowd for additional ways to improve your running mechanics.