I have three specific issues with my running stride.
The first is the most obvious. I bounce. When I run, I take unusually high steps and I have a longer hang time than any of my coaches have ever wanted. Several of them tried to work with me to change it, the idea being that any energy I'm spending to go up is not being used to go forward. There were several exercises we did to try and keep me closer to the ground, but it only slowed me down, as I was fighting against my basic motions. Eventually, each coach decided that it was too much trouble to change me, and they just made me run faster the way I already did. Essentially, this one doesn't bother me at all.
My next issue is a little more annoying. My left foot comes in too close to my right leg and often makes contact mid-stride. It's not enough that it throws off my balance or anything like that, but it's enough force that any design on the inside of the left shoe scratches at my leg. I don't even notice it until I get in the shower post-run and feel the unmistakable agony of hot water on missing skin. I'm sure there's a reason why I do this, but I haven't figured it out yet.
The final issue was something I didn't even realize until yesterday when I was reading a Runner's World article about the debate on perfect form and how much it actually matters. What caught my eye was a little sidebar about arm movement. In ideal running form, the arms should move only forward and backward, not sideways across the body. As I was reading it, I thought about my stride, and was sure that this did not apply to me. Within my first half mile, to my surprise, I found out that I was wrong.
My arms were crossing diagonally across my chest. This creates a twisting motion, putting undue stress on the hips, and wasting energy. Where vertical movement of arms adds to the body's forward momentum, lateral movement takes away from it and could very well cause injury.
Shocked as I was to find that my arms were so wrong, I felt this was a great time to do some real training. As much as I could, I focused on keeping my arms and legs moving forward, not side to side. The trouble here is that as soon as my mind wanders away, which it does frequently, my form immediately reverted to its usual self, but I was quick to readjust as soon as I recognized what was going on. And the craziest part of all of this was that it absolutely worked.
When I changed my arms, my legs followed, avoiding lateral movement and, perhaps most interestingly, moving faster. At my one-mile mark, I checked my watch to see 6:30, and I wasn't even breathing hard yet. I was shocked, especially given the 85 degree sunshine that was bearing down on me. My final time was downright amazing, and I credit it entirely to my new focus on form.
These things don't happen overnight, of course, and certainly not in one five-mile run, so it's only natural that I would drop back into bad habits when my mind wanders. For the next few weeks, though, I'm going to try and watch my form for these little changes, and hopefully they'll be well-established in my body by the time the race comes along.
If only I could stop bouncing.
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