Ever notice how Olympic marathoners make running a 4:50 mile for 26.2 miles straight look easy? Well, we’re not going to tell you how to run a 4:50 mile (in this article, anyway), but we will tell you how you can optimize your running efficiency so that your best pace feels easier.
Written by Andrew McSwain with guest contribution by Cyle Sage (former Director of Training at the Ironman Institute)
1. Breathe from your belly, not your chest. Next time you go for a run, pay attention to how you inhale – does your chest expand or does your belly expand? If your belly expands, this means you’re correctly engaging your diaphragm in the breathing process (aka – “low breathing”). Why is this important? Through low breathing, you’re able to cycle in and out a much larger volume of oxygen and also relax the rest of your upper body. More oxygen in the blood means your body is able to fight lactic acid build up and produce more energy, which are critical factors in improving your running performance.
2. Maintain a high running cadence. Next time you’re watching elite runners on television, pay attention to how many steps they take per minute. You’ll see that each foot hits the ground at least 90 times per minute. Why is a high cadence important? First, it’s a more efficient way to run. If you minimize the amount of time your feet make contact with the ground, you’ll use less energy to propel yourself for each stride. For a long run, you want to conserve your energy as much as possible. Secondly, an added bonus is that it reduces your chance of injury. The less heavy contact you have with the ground, the less pressure you put on your joints. (Note: cadence of 90+ per minute is also a common goal for elite cyclists)
3. Do speedwork on a regular basis. Whether it’s on the track or just a few 50 meter striders (85-90% effort) at the end of a long run, training your body to run fast will help you run more efficiently.
4. Run tall. You have more power when you’re running upright, so don’t be a slouch.
5. Avoid excess body movement. Swaying your head or your entire body from side to side can waste energy that would otherwise be used to run faster. We all have tendencies that tend to emerge when we get tired, but remember to keep your form until you’re done running.
Here are two tips to help you control for form breakdown:
-Keep your eyes straight ahead on a horizontal plane. If you’re focused on the ground two feet in front of you (or even worse, two feet to the left of you), it’s harder to notice when your form is breaking down. Instead, try focusing on a target that’s out in the distance straight ahead of you, like a tall building or the guy with the mullet and full spandex suit that just ran past you.
-Watch yourself run. Find a treadmill near a mirror, buildings that have reflective glass, or have a friend video tape you. If you can see what you look like, you’ll be more aware of tendencies that emerge as you fatigue.
These are a few pointers to help you run more efficiently. It may be a lot to think about all at once, so try picking one goal to start out with, like “low breathing”, before focusing on the other areas. See you at the 2012 Olympics!!
Garmin Foot Pod – to help monitor your running cadence. Works with Garmin foot pod compatible devices, such as the Garmin Forerunner 210 or Garmin Forerunner 405cx(both also include GPS and Heart Rate Monitoring) or the Garmin FR60 (also does Heart Rate Monitoring).