Blossom on the trees, the glimmer of sunlight and the murmur of birdsong from the trees, what’s not to like about embarking on a running regimen in spring! I miss running. The feeling of the wind in your hair and the power in the stride. The freedom of running fast, the oneness with self and the universe in general. On a warm day, there are few better feelings. Many a year has passed since I have run in earnest, but it was fun while it lasted, and it can and should be fun for you too.
It took me years to learn how to run efficiently and understand how mechanics, training and equipment were essential in the search for success. Understanding in this area has advanced greatly over recent years, and you should employ this when you start your running odyssey.
Programmes like couch to 5k are wonderful ways to start your running journey, but it will be more fun (& comfortable) if you consider a few important elements in your foundation running steps.
Humans are bipeds, meaning we stand and move on our feet. All the forces are exerted upwards through our feet, and when we run, these forces can exceed six times our bodyweight (over 15 times bodyweight doing the triple jump), which understandably can lead to the possibility of injury. What does this mean when I stumble and shuffle across the concrete? To start with, focus on your footwear and your foot biomechanics.
Nobody is perfect and this applies to our feet as much as any part of our body. The fastest man who ever strode majestically across this planet (Usain Bolt) has a scoliosis (curvature of the spine). As the multiples of bodyweight pass through our feet when we run, skip, jump etc, these forces dissipate and pass upwards through bones, tendons, muscle and sinew all the way to the head. Supporting, cushioning and guiding these forces starts with good shoes.
There are plenty of potential problems with the feet including but not limited to lack of natural sole pad cushioning, over-pronation, dropped arch (flat feet), ankle instability, history of foot or ankle injury, which if left unchecked will complicate your ability to enjoy running, and will most likely lead to injury.
Correcting poor biomechanics must be done gradually. If you have over-pronation, consult one of our physiotherapists for a biomechanical analysis or running assessment, and orthotic insoles may be recommended.
Asics, Saucony, Brooks and New balance are our recommendations for specialist, supportive running shoes. Fashion first brands tend not to be very functional, so we would recommend avoiding these as serious running options. If you are running more than once a week, you will need to replace your shoes every 6-12 months. Shoe fit is as important as support in correct biomechanics, so always go for a perfect fit. Shoe sizes vary per manufacturer so don’t be afraid to send an online order back if it doesn’t fit properly. Make sure you lace up well, as loose laces will allow the foot to move in an unstable manner within the shoe.
Book a running assessment with us today.
For a local (to Dulwich) option try Intersport Herne Hill and mention ESPH/FitFor for a discount.
Form & function
Whilst your shoes are all about the function and not form, your form is well, all about both.
How we strike the ground with our feet, when we run, has a major impact on running efficiency and speed, and also which shoe is the best option. You can be a forefoot, midfoot or rearfoot runner, and whilst for speed forefoot running is best, your personal style and technique is your own and must be adapted from that standpoint. Think about how you react to contacting with the ground. Don’t let the ground hit you, you must control how you strike the ground. To improve this element of your performance there are a range of dynamic exercises that can be done (read more below)
As you run, your body will be at a slight angle but try to run as tall as you can with the hips high. On a long run, you will fatigue naturally but remind yourself to keep your posture at regular times. Over-striding can kill your speed and forward momentum by blocking the stride. If you feel like you are reaching with your stride, lift the knees and shorten the stride. This will give the effect of running over your feet more and maintaining an efficient forward momentum. Avoid excessive trunk rotation and try to tuck the elbows in. Swing the arms naturally but try not to lift the hands too high. If you feel tension in the neck and shoulders, lower your hands slightly, pull the shoulders back and avoid tightly gripping a ‘fist’.
Forming a plan depends on your goals. There are plenty of online resources but these generally don’t take into account your starting point. If you are uncertain about how to start, help is merely an email, phonecall or physio session away.
Firstly – stand in front of a mirror in your underwear and make a note of your facing and side-on posture. Check how your feet, knees, hips, back, neck and shoulders look. Do you appear balanced, with neutral, optimal posture? Now try to assess the same points whilst marching on the spot and squatting. If your finding it difficult to maintain balance and movement, we would recommend a more thorough assessment. Our fitness fundamentals assessment covers this and many other elements of fitness.
Get fit to run first, not run to get fit… Training needs to consist of cardio-vascular training (obviously the running will cover this) but get your heart and lungs prepared first. Next we need to cover strength (stability and dynamic), movement and flexibility. Resistance machines, bodyweight and free weights are all good ways to achieve an increased strength capacity.
Include shorter, faster runs in your repertoire, this can be part of longer runs via a fartlek (intervals of sprinting followed by jogging). Try hill runs as a means to increase strength and power. Running drills like high knees, butt-kicks, kick-outs and quick feet as well as bounding, hopping and jumps will also help to develop your plyometric power which in turn will develop your stride length.
Running-specific training plans will be released shortly via the platform so please do check out our content coming soon.
Maintenance and injuries
Increase the load gradually and never increase distances or pace on consecutive runs in the early stages. Adaptation takes time, so phase your training in gradually and always have rest days. Your body will need time to get accustomed to the loading on joints, bones, muscles. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common effect on muscles that aren’t used to doing a particular exercise. Shin splints – a complex physiological change within the muscles and bones trying to adapt to the new load, can also be a common problem but getting the biomechanics correct will help to limit the chances of this happening. Plantar fasciitis, another common problem affecting the sole of the foot, is down to loading or how your muscles are being used. There could also be a neural element (reduced nerve fluency). Strains to muscles and joints in the legs and back are also very common.
If you are carrying excess bodyweight, and running is your means to manage this, that is great but be mindful that carrying that excess weight will increase the load through the body. Also be mindful of your body composition and focus on this more than weight. Muscle is heavier than fat, but is obviously functionally necessary. It’s the excess fat that is an unnecessary burden, so don’t lose weight at the expense of the useful elements!
At any stage, the body can be less than co-operative. Understanding the difference between a teething problem and something more serious can be a challenge but always seek help if you are in pain or unsure of the best course of action. Don’t sit on it!
There are a range of self-help guides, workouts, stretches and exercises to follow on the platform. Check out our growing range of options today.
Using equipment like rollers, myofascial balls, fit circles and others to help improve movement and flexibility isn’t a nice to have, it’s an essential, so if you don’t have these in your home-gym, you can get them onsite.
Mental health & wellbeing
The feelgood factor is strong with this one. Running is as natural an activity as we can do, and the sensation of achievement, enjoying nature around us, and the natural highs will give you a huge reward. In our line of business, exercise is medicine, and the best natural medicine at that. Following our guides above will help you avoid unnecessary pitfalls and injuries and help you to fully optimise your experience. I have met so many people who have told me they hated running, only to end up saying they love it after starting and sustaining a running programme.
Take care out there, buddy up for a shared experience or more security. We are here to help you, so get in touch if you are unsure about anything and don’t suffer in silence with a nagging injury. There is always something that can be done. Good luck!
The author is a Director and PT at ESPH and a former UK Decathlon champion. Due to the odd injury over the years, he doesn’t run much anymore but has promised his eldest son a race over 100m before hanging up his spikes and the last vestiges of his running pride for good.