I’m Not as Broken As I Feared

As I increased my mileage for the fall marathon training cycle, a new pain arose in my right arch. It would go away a mile or two into each run, but would announce itself whenever the foot was otherwise rested. I assumed it was the dreaded plantar fasciitis because, well, that’s the most common thing that matched the symptoms.

Wrong.

A pair of my shoes got retired today, and as I deconstructed them for clean-up and a new life with “Back on My Feet”, I discovered a tiny spot on the inside of the shoe that matched the spot where my foot hurt. The lining material had torn and bunched into a small lump next to the sock liner that was continuously pressing into the arch.

Small spot causes big pain
There’s the rub!

Lesson – most things that hurt you have a simple cause. Take the time to look for it and save yourself a lot of grief!

Posturing

One of the great things about running is that just about anybody can do it, and (as anyone who has chased a toddler can attest) we begin running at a young age. However, there’s a difference between running, and running well, and virtually everyone who has ever put on a numbered bib has a desire to do better.

One of the keys to running better requires paying attention to your running posture – something that likely didn’t come naturally when you took your first running steps. I’ll discuss the “how” first, and then the “why”, so that even those with short attention spans can get the benefits!

Shortest answer: Your mother was right when she told you to stand up straight – even if Mom knew nothing about running! Some coaches will advise their athletes to “run tall”, or “swim long” (different orientations of the same basic concept.) But what does that mean in practice, and what does it feel like when you do this correctly?

First, I want you to calibrate yourself – get yourself into the correct position and pay attention to what it feels like. This is surprisingly easy: From a standing position, I want you to reach upwards like you’re retrieving something from a high shelf. Now – two changes; if you’re standing on your toes, let your feet get flat on the ground. Next, holding everything else the same, drop your arms to your side. This is your “tall” position. Notice that your hips are rotated forward, your back slightly arched and your shoulders squared and thrust back. This is the position your core and torso should be in when you run. Feel free to repeat the high reach whenever you need to remind yourself what it should feel like to run with good posture.

Several years ago I memorized a couplet – a brief poem – to remind myself to hold this posture whenever I ran. (I don’t claim authorship or this ditty, but don’t recall its origin to give proper credit.)

Hips forward,
Shoulders back,
Keep arms loose,
Now run relaxed.

I’ve found that running this way engages my core and gluteal muscles so, at least initially, you can expect some discomfort in your butt and lower back as you first start working those previously under-utilized muscles. I now feel rewarded when I have post-run soreness in these areas as an indication that I am running correctly!

The information above is the most important aspect to running with good posture – the remaining items help, but aren’t quite so critical.
The posture above should be accompanied by a slight leaning forward at the ankles. Quite often, when I share this with my trainees, they incorrectly bend forward at the waist instead. Not only does bending at the waist undo the proper forward tilt of the hips and pelvis, but it also compromises the diaphragm, making it more difficult to take deep breaths. So remember, any bending happens only at the ankles!
What to do with your arms? Your elbows should be bent at a 90 degree angle and your arms swing back and forth such that your fingertips (NOT clenched fists) just brush the top band of your running shorts. The motion should be entirely front and back, not swinging left and right across your torso.

All of this serves to move your body’s center of mass forward, so your feet spend more time beneath and behind you. Not only is this where you can generate the most power, and recruit your largest gluteal muscles to do it, but it also makes it less likely that you will overstride and land on your heels with each forward step. (The negative effects of heel striking are bad and will be covered in another post.)

So, much as it pains me to admit it, Mom was right. Stand up straight! Channel your inner Elvis!  The results will make you a more efficient runner. You can then decide whether to use that efficiency to run faster, farther, or just more comfortably.