To MESS with your Stride or Not to MESS with your Stride- That is the Question!
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Messing with ones natural stride is a taboo in some running circles. There is a train of thought that if you let an athlete run enough miles that he/she will find their natural stride. Problem is that many find injury before they find the perfect efficient way to get themselves from point A to point B. Yes the saying, "If it ain't broke then don't fix it", makes perfect sense for those runners who don't have injury issues, however check out this article from The New Yorker and you may change your mind when Alberto Salazar blames his poor form for ending his career early at the age of 26. Read on and you may then change your mind again after learning about Alberto's disastrous attempts to change the form of his running protege, Dathan Ritzenhein.
I read the acticle with interest because I chose to mess with my stride about 3 years ago. I didn't do it because I was prone to injury or anything like that. Besides I hadn't run enough to qualify for a case of runners knee or Achilles tendinitis at that point. I chose to mess with my stride because I was literally all over the place form wise and didn't know what the heck I was doing. Everytime I ran I felt like I was showing up at a dance recital not knowing the moves and having to fake it. Having a clear defined way to get my body from point A to point B simply took the mystery out of the running equation for me and gave me a clear vision of what I was trying to accomplish. I have had more injuries since I began messing with my form and believe the majority of my problems stem from my inability to master the simple act of running using the most efficient running form possible. Poor running form forces the body to over use some muscles and at the same time under develope others causing muscular imbalances which can lead to injury. Hence my long term problems with a stiff Achilles tendon, tight calf muscle, a 6 month bout of runners knee and a torn calf muscle which put me out of commission for almost 2 months this July and August.
But despite these injuries I have never thought about quitting. Why? Because I know that with each set back I am that much closer to figuring this running thing out. I have learned alot about what I need to do by recognizing what I have be doing...WRONG!! It's as simple as recognizing my mistakes and learning from them.
Recently one of the most effective tools I have used to help me recognize those mistakes and to perfect my stride has been a video camera. Sometimes what we perceive we are doing while running is not what we are infact doing and seeing it play out on a computer screen has given me a really good insight into what I still have to work on. The main points I am trying to work on are-
1) running upright with a slight forward lean while not bending at the waist.
2) landing with my foot under my body and not out in front.
3) retracting the trailing leg quickly with the hamstring and not leaving it behind.
4) leading with my pelvis(to keep me upright) and not my shoulders(makes me bend).
5) keeping my arms swinging straight and not across my body.
6) doing all of the above while not thinking about doing all of the above.
If you missed it then check out this video which accompanied the article I spoke of above. Plus a recent running video of me and my training partner Maryanne Takala who has a natural efficient running stride. I try not to talk to her about running form for fear that I will mess her up.