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.

Run Smarter

There is a secret technique to running faster races that doesn’t require running any harder or training any longer; In fact, you can’t even practice this technique in most training runs!   It applies to any distance, and the longer or more convoluted the run, the more beneficial this technique becomes.

The nature of this secret will be obvious the moment I speak of it, yet when I watch races, the majority of runners seem unaware of it.  The secret: Don’t race any farther than you have to!

Before the “Duh!” reflex kicks in, allow me a bit of explanation.  Road courses are measured with a calibrated wheel that rolls along the shortest path that a runner can follow between any two points (while remaining within the traffic cones, on the route and/or roadway.)  A competitor on that course is taking extra steps, and extra time, whenever he or she deviates from the path traced by that calibrated wheel.  Sometimes those extra steps are necessary (as to avoid an obstacle or slower runner), sometimes they’re desirable (as when making use of a hydration station), but mostly, those extra steps are the result of habit, and of all of those training runs where you stayed on the path, sidewalk, or to one side of the road for safety.

On race day though, the full width of the lane or the full street may be available to you.  Do you make use of it?  It helps if you know every turn in the course route, but even without that knowledge, you can plan ahead rather than following a curving line in the middle of the road!  The smart runner can look up as far ahead on the course as can be seen, then plan to run a tangent — a straight line – towards that point.  At some point in that journey, you’ll be able to see a bit farther, and, at that point adjust your tangent to account for the new information.  Following this sequence of straight lines, you may find yourself going from one side of the street to the other as the route twists beneath you.  The more the road turns, the more time and effort this can save you.


Even a course as deceptively simple as that for Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race (just one left turn) will benefit from this technique.  If you need convincing, pull up a map (paper or on-line – either will do), and trace the route of staid, straight Peachtree Street from Lenox Square towards downtown.  By my count there’s a dozen turns in there before getting to 10th Street.  Each of those turns present an opportunity to take fewer steps, and save time over your less enlightened competitors.


Hello World


In computer programming classes, the first assignment in learning new language is often an exercise wherein the goal is just to get the program to put “Hello World” on the display – electronic notice that something new is on the way.  I am appropriating that concept for the first entry of what I hope to be a new, useful, and entertaining blog loosely centered on running.  My name is Brian, I live in Roswell (near Atlanta,) Georgia, and after many years of running, nearly as many years helping other people run, a bit of writing and a lot of helping to build a vibrant local running community, I’m hoping to extend that community on-line.

There is no shortage of advice for runners and running.  Some of it is amusing, some useful, and some of it bad enough to be dangerous.  This is not new — over 100 years ago, Mark Twain opined “Be careful about reading health books.  You may die of a misprint.”  In my own running, I’ve made enough mistakes to last a lifetime.  If sharing those mistakes can save others from the same fate, this is effort well spent for both me and the reader.  One unique aspect you will discover is my emphasis on spending your time and money wisely.  I took up running partially because it took little more than a suitable pair of shoes, and was productive exercise from the moment I stepped off my front porch until I returned.  Over the years, the time and money I’ve spent have increased, but I still try to get the biggest bang from every buck and the healthiest return from every drop of sweat.  For those less constrained by time or income (I’ve heard such folks exist, but not sure that I know any of them), I hope the information will be good enough, and the writing entertaining enough, to keep you coming back also.

Over the last decade, I’ve served as a running coach, run leader and facility coordinator for several training programs, including those run by the Atlanta Track Club.  Though I didn’t rediscover running until I was in my mid-40s, I worked my way into running at the local elite level and earned a spot at the starting line for the Boston Marathon in 2010 and 2011.  In the process, I’ve done some stupid stuff, rubbed shoulders with and learned from some other outstanding athletes, coaches, and sports professionals.  The brilliance of these other folks has made me acutely aware of how much I don’t know, while informing a training philosophy that has served me well, and helped hundreds of other individuals that I’ve had the pleasure to work with.  In these training programs I’ve helped to lead, improving participants’ running was actually FOURTH on my list of priorities.  Ahead of that was 1) Keeping our trainees safe and uninjured, 2) Keeping it fun, and 3) Building a sense of belonging to a community that would persist after the training period was over.  The order of those goals recognizes that broken people can’t run and those that don’t enjoy it won’t want to!  It’s a poorly-kept secret that running can be hard work and can be responsible for varying degrees of discomfort.  (One of the shirts that I wear to inspire and challenge those new to running says “My sport is your sport’s punishment.”) The payback has to be sufficient to make that time, that exertion, and that discomfort all worthwhile.  Among my goals here is to minimize the pain and maximize the payback!

Although running has a place in my life, it would be a mistake to think that running is my life.  Like most of you, I have other interests and responsibilities.  I have a family, other interests (including home brewing beer, music, and DIY home repair), a job, and other volunteer positions that compete for my time and other resources.  Juggling those demands is a significant task, all by itself – one that all of us have in common.

While this note is mostly about introducing me and this blog, future entries are mostly about you – your goals, your needs, your growth and your progress so I can personalize this blog to those concerns.  I can’t do that unless you talk to me.  Use the link below to send me your comments and questions.  Make this a conversation.  Send me your mistakes too.  Heaven knows that while I’ve screwed up more than my share, there are more mistakes out there, and each one has its own lesson that we can discover and pass along.  Go ahead, caller, you’re on the air!