It's been 11 months since I had my baby, and I still find myself saying, "I'm just getting back into running." Someday I'll actually BE back! But in the meantime, this is the perfect time to reset my foundation. You can reset at any time, but it's especially important to focus on form when you are learning to run or returning to running after a break of some sort - in my case, pregnancy.
There are a thousand things to think about, so to make it easy, I'm going to focus on two essential points: body position and stride rate. If you can nail these, your risk of injury will be greatly reduced which is the key to longevity on the roads and trails.
Body position: Grab two popsicle sticks!
I'm serious. Grab a couple popsicle sticks (Sharpies will do if you don't eat popsicles) and get ready to run with them! When running, your body should be in a relaxed upright position. Imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head and a puppeteer is constantly pulling you up toward the sky. Other than the fact that you are now thinking about creepy puppeteers, the key is that your body is tall and lengthened. A strong core will also help with this part - but that's another conversation!
Most of us can start out with good posture, running tall and relaxed, but as we get tired, signs of fatigue start to appear. The number one problem that people experience is either a slacking or tightening of the shoulders, followed by a slacking or tightening of the hands. If you run with your popsicle sticks, it will help you "set" your arms (hands, elbows, shoulders). You want your hands to be loosely clenched with your thumb slightly pointing up. Try to have slack hands and wacky shoulders if you are running with popsicle sticks – I dare you!
Stride rate: 90 Strides and Counting
Most beginners overstride. This means that they take steps that are too big and generally place their feet too far in front of their body. This is also called heel-striking and has the effect of actually slowing you down as you push yourself backward with every step! Overstriders generally take less than 90 strides per minute. If you run this way for too long, you will eventually get injured.
Check out some videos of elite runner and count their strides. You will notice that they all take somewhere between 85-95 strides per minute. Some of you are laughing and thinking, "I take like 120 strides per minute. I'm golden!" Hold on - I'm talking about one leg per minute - not both legs per minute!
When you first start working on this, it will feel strange, like a shuffle step. You should also feel more fatigue in your hamstrings and calves. This is good. Running is not only about the glorious quad muscles. The supporting muscles are just as important!
It will take time to correct your form. But it's never too late. Just be patient and take it one step at a time. Good form will help you for a lifetime!
Check out this video of me and my Skirt Sports family talking about running form: