For those of us who have been running for a long time, our bodies have adapted to our running technique. I don't advocate that people make drastic changes to their running form, but here are some tips to help avoid injury and achieve optimal performance.
Look ahead. By looking about six metres in front of you, you will not only avoid tripping over speed bumps (it happens!) but you will also hold your head at the proper angle to keep your neck muscles relaxed. Looking straight down or gazing up at the sky causes stress and tension in your neck muscles, which will lead to stiffness after long runs.
Keep your posture straight. Distance runners have a tendency to roll our shoulders forward. When we do this, we restrict our air intake capacity by closing in our chests and we put extra strain on our upper body muscles. We don't have to run like Superman, sticking out our chest, but a good way to keep our posture erect is to roll back our shoulders on occasion during runs.
Swing those arms. Many runners and even more triathletes run with their arms very high, sometimes crossing their arms in front of their chest. This tightens up the upper body and wastes energy. For a proper arm swing, drop your shoulders, bend your elbows at roughly 90 degrees and swing your arms so your hand grazes your hip on each stride.
Run from the core. While running, the hips should stay in a straight line. When a runner has weak core muscles their hips will do more work than necessary, lifting and rotating, which will eventually lead to injury as other muscles compensate. Think of keeping your hips in a straight line as you run. Have a friend or coach watch to see if your hips are in line.
Drive with the knees. If you watch the best marathon runners in the world, their running form does not change much from the start all the way to the finish. For the rest of us, technique worsens as we fatigue, most notably by our reduced leg lift, also known as the marathon shuffle. Keep the knee lift in mind as you start to tire during long runs. Take a few steps with exaggerated knee lift to perk up your muscles.
Land lightly. The most difficult running motion to change is the foot strike. Some people land heavily on their heel, causing great stress up the leg and lower back and wasting energy. Others land on their toes, resulting in an inefficient bounce and putting extra pressure on lower leg muscles. The goal is to land mid-foot so that you benefit from natural shock absorption upon landing and then a strong take-off from your toes. Something to consider for either heel strikers or forefoot runners is to think of landing lightly as you run.
Check yourself out. Run in front of a mirror on a treadmill, or better yet, have someone videotape you as you run. Practise these subtle tips to gradually improve your running technique.
Nicole Stevenson is a running coach and the ninth-fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history. She is a long-time competitor in the Canada Running Series.