Clever Training

Ask the Pros: How to Improve Your Running Economy

Ask the Pros: How to Improve Your Running Economy
Nicholas Chase
Indoor Cycling

Nicholas Chase is a 5th Year Pro Triathlete and has been Professionally Coaching since 2013. During his time in the U.S Air Force, he managed fitness levels for over 2,000 Airman, became and Elite Personal Trainer and USAT Level 1 Triathlon Coach. Additionally, he has spent 2 years coaching a US Masters team, developed 2 Professional Coaching Companies and currently works under Braveheart Racing. As a Professional athlete and Coach, Nick maintains the latest in technology and helps hundreds of athletes annually while they pursue their endurance goals.

Going out for a run shouldn’t be more complicated than lacing up your favorite shoes, grabbing some good tunes and then it’s just one foot in front of the other. However, there are also a lot of other things going on, many things you can control and a few you cannot. Let’s take a broad stroke at running economy. While there are many articles out there breaking down data after data, I’m only interested in getting you to think about the basic things every runner should know.

In my opinion, each runner should at some point, have videotaped themselves running. A well-versed coach or running expert should then perform a slow-motion analysis of this video.

Personally, I like to see at least 3 states of running:

  • A regular aerobic jog, where you could have a chat if you wanted.
  • A 100-meter hard effort, where you’re really giving it your best but not an all-out sprint.
  • The same 100m after a track workout of say, 10 X 400, at threshold with a 2-minute rest.

Why have 3 types of videos? Because believe it or not, your stride will change dramatically while you work through your gears and especially as you fatigue. When you’re fresh, you could probably even fake some beautiful, picturesque running shots if you know what you’re doing. However, it takes a true champion runner to hold that beautiful stride at the end of a 40k race. If you don’t have access to a coach, you can even record yourself running and look for some tell-tale signs that you’re a bit prone to injury or a slowdown, which I will cover below.

What determines Running Economy? In order to keep this basic, I’ll stick with the following:

  • Posture
  • Feet
  • Vo2 Max
  • Strength
  • Proprioception

Posture

Over the past few years with the utilization of standing work stations, it’s clear that those who sit for hours up on hours, day after day, develop some issues with their posture. Imagine developing a similar issue with your running, and the damage it can cause if you aren’t able to correct this issue over time.

Picture shoulders rolled forward, butt kicked out. Here is a test you can do to really understand how your hips play a major factor in how you lift your knees.

  • Stand up, feet together, shoulders over your hips.
  • Gently push your butt back, almost rotating your pelvis forward.
  • Try and lift your knee (remember how it feels)
  • Then with hips pressed forward, lift again. Note how much easier it is.

When your shoulders are rolled forward and your hips are rotated forward, it makes for a very restricted knee lift, which basically limits your running capability from the get-go. When I want athletes to really try and align their ankles, hips and shoulders, I have them complete this small drill before they start their run.

  • Stand tall, feet together, eyes forward
  • Press the hips forward slightly as if you’re being pulled from your belt buckle
  • Place your arms in a streamline position overhead
  • Raise to your toes
  • Gently fall forward from the pivot point (your toes), keeping everything tight
  • When you feel the need to step out and catch yourself, plant your foot, drop your arms and start your run. The initial position you start in should place your body in decent postural alignment for a proud-chested beat of a run.

Feet

"I have seen athletes spend over $200 on a pair of shoes, yet seem to have the same issues because they haven’t fixed the main issue."

Over the years, barefoot running and forefoot running have been all the craze and per usual, that stern belief has fallen back into the shadows and seldom will you see someone running around in Virbram 5 fingers, sandals or just plain old barefoot. The reason isn’t because it’s a terrible idea but after wearing shoes for so long, we just aren’t ready to be full-on running on such hard surfaces like cement or asphalt after years of cushion.

Our feet, in many ways, are just weak and if our feet aren’t strong enough, you’d better believe our knees and hips aren’t much better. Runners who grew up in places where running barefoot is considered normal are equipped to dominate this scene but if you’re ready to run your first 10k with your toes flying free, prepare for anything.

My personal thoughts on how your feet hit the ground come in two thoughts. It’s ideal for your feet to land under your hips, not heel first. That means you aren’t slamming on the brakes each time your feet land, sending a shockwave up to the knee. This means you can land with more of a mid-foot or even forefoot however I will say even if your heel seems to land first. Often, the load of the landing still hits mid-foot. My second thought is that after 30k at race-pace, sometimes we all tend to hit with what looks like heel-strike however, as long as we aren’t over-striding, keeping the feet under the hip, it’s still fast and efficient.

Along with your feet come the proper shoe. I have seen athletes spend over $200 on a pair of shoes, yet seem to have the same issues because they haven’t fixed the main issue. The chain of events that occur when you’re running from foot to knee to hip needs to be durable and in sync. If you don’t address the imbalances above the foot and develop some lateral stability, you’re also limited.

Anyway, back to your shoes. Make sure you don’t wear the old, worn out pair you’ve been gardening. Spend $50 to $110 on a pair you’re proud of with either light stability or just a firm sole. No doubt Clever Training and JackRabbit can help you out.

V02 Max

This metrics has been given large amounts of weight in predicting a runner’s potential. However, there are new ways we shoulder consider V02 Max when thinking about efficiency.

There is no doubt that having a higher V02 Max will add huge value to a runner’s capacity to produce speed but the truly, V02 Max isn’t the only term we need to think about. Instead, let’s think about how well you are handling your oxygen intake. How well do your muscles absorb and how long can you sustain your V02 Max at 100-percent velocity? Present day science has shown that even the highest V02 Max values don’t automatically mean a runner will break a world record. A consistent, measured running program can help a runner increase their oxygen processing power and develop more strength as they approach V02 Max. This number can only be found in a laboratory while hooked up to a plethora of hoses and breathing apparatus. You need to work on becoming better at processing and transferring oxygen efficiently as a runner. This change is evident when monitoring perceived effort vs. actual pace while using a heart rate monitor. Eventually, that same pace should feel easier and you should also see a lower heart rate if measured in the same conditions. Run frequently and follow a proven structure to improve this important aspect of running.

Strength

Your body needs to develop adequate strength over time in order to sustain the required load necessary for adaptation.

Your bones are supported by muscles, ligaments and tendons. How many people do you know who are, at this very moment, nursing a running injury? Injuries are often caused by running too much and too fast. This mean maybe you started your program off by running 20 miles in week 1 but then 60 miles in week 2. My point here is that your body needs to develop adequate strength over time in order to sustain the required load necessary for adaptation. This process takes years in most cases and if you’ve been injured, you know that you can’t rush this type of strength and durability. When running, your form will tell you whether it needs adjustment because well, you’ll feel a tinge that could turn to injury. The problem is, most running imbalances need to be fixed in the gym, not by running 20 miles with a new stride pattern. Even working from heel striking to mid-foot running can cause some pains or injury. The more durable you become via plyometrics, balance work and running drills, the more efficient you’ll become.

Just be patient with strength because you can overdo this part very easily. Start will some light hill running, maybe work on some drills before, after or in the middle of your run and finally, the gym is your best friend when used properly.

Proprioception

Think about walking forward with your eyes closed and you can almost see where you need to pin the tail on the donkey poster. Finally, you find your mark and stick the tail on the wall, window or mirror. The way we think about how we feel and the feedback loop connecting it all together helps us determine how our foot Is landing on the ground without looking. This is the final stage in running.

If you think you’re running with your hips forward but after you see a picture of yourself it looks like you’ve got your butt kicked out behind you, you're not intune. Having some video of yourself running is also a great way to see what types of changes you can make via a direct feeling and then review via video. A 1-degree pelvic rotation might feel like 10 degrees but on camera, they may look the same, hence the importance of look, listen and feel. If you aren’t able to feel or measure what’s wrong to begin with, making changes becomes more challenging - this is also why we do drills. Developing better balance, movement patterns and “feel” should be your number one goal. If you aren’t thinking about your imbalances or feeling for a change, you likely aren’t doing anything to improve your experience.


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