Recently I did a little sketch of a male and female runner together. While drawing it, I was thinking about the runners I know that have the best form, at full speed. As a lifelong artist, I have always enjoyed doing sketches of runners, and can recreate good running form through all phases of the running stride.
I envisioned these two runners finishing a race at full stride. Both exhibit a slight forward body lean. Both are using their arms in constructive fashion, bent 90 degrees at the elbow and depending on the relative physique and strength of the runner involved, slightly different arm carriage as the wrist reaches the midline of the body at times.
While I’ve coached some runners over the years on form, I’ve also watched certified run coaches put their proteges through running drills to teach them “better” running form. Sometimes these runners get a little too mechanical in their form. They are taught not to vary it too much from what their coach might consider the “ideal form.”
That’s both good and bad. Sometimes running conditions, especially when competing on hills or trails or roads with a steep camber can require you to adapt your form to conditions that basically throw your form out of whack. There’s nothing wrong with that! You don’t have to hold picture-perfect form when you’re trying to deal with odd conditions or even the elements.
There are times, for example, when it truly pays to cut your stride length down. Cold conditions can require that, especially if you’re caught out there in shorts with a cold wind or chilling rain. Trying to use your full stride in those conditions can result in cramping of calf or hamstring muscles. So you compress your stride, increase the stride rate and go into a speedy shuffle. Make do with what you have.
But you still need to understand the basic mechanics of your ideal stride in order to know what variations are acceptable, or correct.
When you run past a full-length reflection of yourself in a window next to a city sidewalk, do you take that opportunity to glance at your form? You should. Because it’s not vanity. It’s practical feedback.
- It can be enormously helpful to watch your stride in real time for 25 meters. Study how you plant your feet, what your knee lift is like (or not) and how you carry your arms.
- Look to see if your arm carriage is “even.” Is one arm coming up higher than the other? That can indicate a leg-length discrepancy (one side longer than the other) or conditions related to hip weakness or imbalance.
- Also, take the time to find a window you can approach directly while running. Look for indicators in arm carriage. Does one arm swing out from your body? That can be a sign of leg-length differences or hip/pelvis imbalance.
Of course, some of this can be done as well using a smartphone to record your running motion. If you have never seen a video of yourself in motion, it is high time. It’s quite revealing.
The end goal, however, is to build a “vision” of yourself that is both instructive in how to run and confidence-building when you need it most. A runner that knows how to get into the most economical and efficient form when fatigued is a far more confident runner over the long haul.
It’s not vain to study yourself in a reflection or to make a video of yourself running. It’s quite the opposite, because most of the time the first time you see a running video of yourself in motion it is humbling, not some ego trip.
In any case, don’t be shy about it. Learning what you look like in motion can help you run more efficiently, identify quirks that indicate body flaws or running mechanics issues, and help you think all the way through the process of finishing strong.