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Every Wednesday in “Rookie in Training,” beginner triathlete Jason Devaney will share training advice he learns as he trains for his first half-Ironman.
Many runners, especially beginners, think that buying any pair of running shoes, and then running with what they feel is the correct form, is all that’s necessary to become a true runner.
And for newer triathletes, running is only one piece of the puzzle so it doesn’t need any extra attention, right?
That couldn’t be more wrong.
While it’s true that the run leg of a triathlon is shorter than the bike leg, it is just as important—and maybe moreso, given that most athletes are running on tired legs supported by a tired upper body.
It is this fatigue that often leads to poor running form, which, in turn, yields slower times and injuries.
This is why having good running form—or, if nothing else, better than poor running form—is crucial.
“Better run mechanics will help to improve running economy—the ability to use oxygen at a given pace—as well as possibly lower a person’s risk of getting injured,” said Juda McGannon, a regional educator for Newton Running. “I believe that even small changes can lead to greater efficiency as well as improvement in a person’s ability to run further or faster.”
I could go on for pages and pages about how to build better running form, but that would just seem boring and watered down for most of you. One important key to this cog, one that many amateur runners are not aware of, is having a strong upper body. More specifically, the core.
Every movement our bodies make starts in the core, so having a solid foundation is important. Things like push-ups, planks, and a variety of strength training exercises can help you get there.
And then there are the actual mechanics of a running stride. Whether you land on your heels or on the middle of your foot, everyone can always improve their mechanics.
“There are several skipping drills which reinforce different aspects of the gait cycle, and working with a metronome will help with cadence,” McGannon said. “It’s best to do drills for a short period of time, but regularly, as this will help to reinforce more efficient movement patterns.”
Let’s say you have great running form. Your knees and hips are aligned nicely and you land on the middle of your feet every time, and then you explode up off the pavement instead of letting your foot linger before picking it up again.
Do you think that after cycling for 15 miles, 30 miles, 56 miles or 112 miles your running form will still be like that? If it is still perfect at the start of the run, chances are it won’t be the same in the latter half.
This is a battle every triathlete wages. How do you keep your form going when your legs feel like jelly and you’re energy system is quickly depleting?
“The simplest thing a person can do is look forward rather than to look down at the ground,” McGannon said. “I also encourage athletes to check in with their form regularly throughout the run, by doing a short drill such as skipping to reinforce better mechanics. It may seem a bit funny in the middle of a marathon to skip, but it helps bring a little spring back in your step.”
So let’s recap. Better running form starts with a strong core and ends with solid running mechanics. What can get you there is strength training, along with increasing your cadence, doing form drills such as skipping and butt kicks, and, like anything, practicing.
And if your form starts to fail late in the race, there’s no shame in breaking into a skip. Your competitors will envy you when you glide past them when you return to a running stride.
Jason Devaney is a freelance contributor to Triathlete.com, VeloNews.com and Competitor.com. A resident of Virginia, he spends way too much of his free time training. When he’s working, he’s typically dressed in either sweatpants or a cycling kit. Follow him on Twitter @jason_devaney1.
Looking for a triathlon to sign up for this year? Check out our partner, the TriRock Series. Their eight events feature a fun atmosphere for triathletes of all levels.