“If we taught swimming the way we taught running, there would be a lot of drowned kids.”
That was the standout line from the recent talk on running technique Ben Le Vesconte of We Run gave London City Runners.
What does it mean, though? Ben says running is pretty much the only sport where people are not taught the proper form or technique before they begin. In every other sport, you need to learn how to swim the strokes or ride a bike correctly before you are left to your own devices. But people have the idea that running is natural to humans – you only need to lace up your trainers and get out the door, because you instinctively know how to do it. Right?
Ben was here to rid us of misconceptions that he says have been popularized by the media, which say that anyone can follow a generic training plan and run effectively.
In Ben’s view, how we run is massively important because we are all individuals and therefore, we all have our own unique running style. This means that the standard training plans we can find in places like Runner’s World magazine or by doing a quick Google search won’t apply to most people as training plans need to be specifically tailored to you, your lifestyle, and how you run.
And if you don’t tailor the plan to yourself? According to Ben, possible injury. Apparently, up to 79.3% of runners stop running due to injury, and technique and floor strike play a major part of this – heel strikers are 26 times more likely to get injured than a fore or midfoot striker.
But why do so many of us feel pain when we run, especially as running is considered to be a natural human activity? It’s the body’s way of telling us we are doing something wrong.
To fix the pain, Ben says we need to go back to the beginning. The human body evolved to run, and our ancestors would cover six to nine miles per day, and once or twice a week, up to 20 miles in a day. And something else? They weren’t wearing shoes.
According to Ben, the only purpose of footwear is for thermal protection, to guard our feet when we step on sharp objects and for grip. Modern footwear distorts our feet to fit the shoes and thus many of our feet have lost their natural shape – they should be widest at the toe, but fashionable footwear has compressed many people’s toes inward. The foot also needs feedback from the ground to respond appropriately, and our shoes, especially overly-cushioned running shoes, can impede the foot’s natural function. Thus, Ben is a big believer in barefoot shoes, shoes that are thin enough that your foot can respond to the ground naturally. Of course, as most people are used to running in the typical cushioned trainer, it takes time and care in order to work your way into barefoot shoes.
Ben analyzing the foot function of one of our members
Of course, improving your running isn’t just as simple as making the transition to barefoot shoes, and for many people may not be practical. Thankfully, there are a myriad of other ways in which we all can improve our running, for which Ben has provided a helpful acronym – S.T.R.O.N.G:
S – Strength. Squats, especially overhead squats – mastering these will help you to significantly improve your running form.
T – Technique. Posture is vital, both in running and your daily life. Make a concerted effort to focus on it and have someone film you running to see what your form really looks like.
R – Rhythm. Your cadence is important when you run. You should be aiming for 180 steps per minute, which is 3 beats a second. Quick feet don’t leave time for poor posture, so Ben says if you focus on one thing from this list, make it your rhythm. Practice with a metronome!
O – Ontogeny. Science says the maximum benefit you can reap from training is with 90 minutes, so really make the most of your time.
N – Nutrition. In history, people ate mostly vegetables and little meat. In other words, you can’t overdose on vegetables! Don’t forget that rest is a crucial part of training as well.
G – Gratitude. We are lucky to be here and lucky to be able to run, so enjoy it! Be patient with yourself and have fun.
I know I’m not the only person who left the talk with lots to mull over. In the following few days, I really tried to focus on my form – good posture, with the ever-so-slightest forward lean, and a fore or mid-foot strike. I believe that it’s something that really does have the potential to change your running game for the better, but it’s certainly not easy to alter something so ingrained!
What experiences have you had trying to change your running form, and what worked for you, or what didn’t? Let me know in the comments!
About the Author
Natascha abandoned sunny California for London in October 2016 and has been a proud member of City Runners ever since. She loves a good 10K, but enjoys signing up for marathons so she can eat whatever she wants. Therefore, she is very much looking forward to running the Berlin Marathon this year (and hopefully snagging a new PB along the way!).