Debug Your Stride
Sprinters have long put their form under the microscope, but the conventional wisdom for distance runners has been that you only need to be in top shape. Such logic is changing. Wunderkind Alan Webb, the 18-year-old from Virginia who, this past May, broke the 36-year-old high-school record for the mile, works on running biomechanics six days a week. Webb has even logged hours training on a treadmill in front of a mirror to eliminate an inefficient swing in his left arm.
Achieving a picture-perfect gait is something Jeff Galloway, 56, 10k runner in the '74 Olympics and author of Galloway's Book on Running, has long espoused. From his home base in Atlanta, Galloway videotapes runners to help them identify problems in their stride, focusing primarily on three that commonly plague amateurs: poor posture, over-striding, and bouncing. No Handycam? Check your reflection as you run past a store window (like you've never done that before). Are you leaning forward? If so, you're asking for, or already have, neck and lower-back fatigue; try running "taller" and more relaxed. Are your fists clenched, arms swinging across your body? Lift your thumbs, turn your open palms inward, and relax your shoulders so your arms stay loose, moving in vertical planes at your sides. Do your feet land in front of you, where you can see them, rather than out of sight beneath you? Your stride's too long, which saps forward momentum as your foot hits the ground. "Most people are within an inch or two of their optimal stride length," says Galloway. "The problem is that when you get tired, you need to maintain concentration or your form goes haywire."
Last but not least, if you're coming to running from sports that demand short, intense sprints--soccer, tennis, Roller Derby--your muscular development could be causing you to bounce (springing too high off your toes with each stride), particularly on downhills.
To maintain an efficient gait, even when fatigued, Galloway recommends the following cadence drill twice a week. Warm up by jogging at a very easy pace; then set your stopwatch and run at a comfortable pace on flat terrain for 30 seconds, focusing on correct posture, arm position, and stride length as described above. Count how many times your left foot touches the ground. Walk a few minutes and repeat. Your goal: to add two strides to the count of your original set (that first count will probably be around 45 left-foot strikes). "Once you get in the habit of trying to pick up your turnover rate," says Galloway, "then you will begin to intuitively do that when you get tired in races or on long runs."