The Basics of Running: Proper Running Form

As I was sitting here writing my recent post “The Basics of Running: Hills & Hill Training” there were points where I was talking about how runners need to maintain the proper running form. Then I thought about the article I wrote before that, “The Basics of Running: Speed Training” and the article “The Basics of Running: Finding Your Perfect Pace“; and how again, I talk about “the proper running form”.

Then I realized that over and over I talk about “the proper running form”; however, I have never talked about what proper running form really is.  (I am siting here hand slapping my own forehand at this point!) Learning to have the proper form while running will help you to achieve the best race results, help you run more efficiently, and more importantly will help you reach the finish line safely and enjoyably.

When runners maintain good body position — head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over the mid-foot upon landing and arms swinging directly ahead — you run with good form and use less energy to run faster. If your arms, shoulders or back hurt or feel tense while training, you need to adjust your running form.

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(Thanks New Balance for the photo above!)

Remember — to run farther, run faster and to run with less chance of injury and otherwise savor the joys of running require you learn the proper running form.  It will take attention, practice and patience, but you can do it!

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Running in the Rain

After getting out of work, going to a few personal meetings, the city’s Planning Commission meeting and finally getting home around 7:30 pm tonight — it was time for Mark and I to hit the pavement for our 3 mile run together. Since he works in the afternoon/evenings we rarely have the chance to train for our races together. During the winter months we only have one treadmill and during the rest of the year he runs in the morning before work and I run after work later in the evening. So, on his days off we love to take advantage of having time together and we try to always do our runs together. Training for a race — especially a long race — can be incredibly boring to do alone, so we love being able to run together once or twice a week.

Tonight as we as set out on our run the sky was dark and grey and a few light sprinkle were falling from the sky, but the temperature was perfect.  Not to cold — not to hot — not humid!  We took off at a great training pace and 25 minutes later — half way through our run — the sky opened up and it started to rain.  Wait, not rain — it started to out right down pour! Being 1.5 miles from home we had no choice but to finish the run.  It was a rough 1.5 miles since most of it was uphill meaning we had the water flooding down the sidewalks at us the whole way!  Once we got home, changed our clothes, I started to talk to him about how important it is to run in the rain when training for race.

Mark and I after our run in the rain tonight!

Mark and I after our run in the rain tonight!

I explained that for the first two years I ran I would avoid running in the rain, opting to run on the treadmill instead — that is until one year ago (to the week) when I was in Nags Head, NC for the Flying Pirate Half Marathon with my Dad.  I was hoping for amazing weather for our beautiful run along the coast line and instead I had the worst 13.1 mile race of my life in the rain! The whole 13.1 miles it rained. From sprinkles to down pours we experienced it all that day! Ugh! Talk about being disappointed! I can tell you from personal experience that running in the rain is different! Very different — and I looking back I really wished I had forced myself to run a few training runs in the rain to be better prepared.

Most races will not cancel the race for rain.  Now, extreme weather is a different story; however, in three years I have been running I have never had a race cancelled due to weather **knock on wood**! Any runner will tell you that should prepare a little differently and plan ahead if you are going to be running in the rain. So here are some tips for running in the rain:

Dress in Layers if it’s Cold Outside
If it is very cold (to me that is anything under 50 degrees!) and rainy, you may need to wear a couple of layers. The most important layer is the one closet to your body. Make sure you wear a shirt that is made of technical fabric which will wick water and sweat away from your skin. Your outer layer should be a wind and water resistant jacket or vest. You should try to avoid wearing a waterproof rain coat because it will trap moisture and heat and that’s not good!

Wear a Hat or Visor With a Brim
A hat of a visor with a brim can be your best friend while you are out on a rainy run. It will keep the rain off your face and out of your eyes so you can see! From experience this is a must!

Do Not Overdress
Let’s be honest — most runners would believe that the first thing they need to do when running in the rain is to layer up; however, this is one of the biggest mistakes that runners make when heading out into the rain for a run. Wearing more layers will not keep you warm or dry. Unless you are running with an umbrella (or like my husband suggested — a golf cart cover) over your head, you are going to get wet! Trust me! If you have a ton of layers on you will just be wearing more wet and heavy clothes. In Nags Head I tried dressing in a pirate costume over my running clothes and by .50 miles I had to stop to take off the costume because it was so heavy and wet from the rain. I felt 20 pounds lighter once I took it off and dumped it on the side of the road! Make sure you dress for the temperate as if it were a dry day!

Be Visible
This is a important point for anytime you are out running; however, it is specially important for rainy days when a drivers visibility is impaired. Make sure you select an outer layer that is brightly colored or has reflective strips on it. I have specific clothing that is florescent yellow which I have bought specifically for this purpose.

Use a Garbage Bag
If you are anything like me, you could be rolling your eyes here! The first time I heard about using a garbage bag was when I was about to run the Marine Corps Marathon a few years ago and it was cold and windy. I thought it was a crazy idea and told my Dad no way would I be seen with a silly garbage bag over my head! The next morning as I stood there freezing and he was protected with his garbage bag, I swear I would have done anything to have my own! If you have to wait outside in the rain, the cold or the wind before the start of a race, a big trash bag with armholes and a neck hole cut out of it can help you stay dry and warm. You can always take it off and throw it to the side once you get moving and warm up!

Wear Old Running Shoes at the Start or if Training
If you are running a race, keep your race shoes and socks in a plastic bag while you wait for the start. You can check your old shoes in your gear check bag, and put on your race shoes and socks right before you head to the starting line. If it has stopped raining by then, you will be able to run the race in dry shoes and socks. If gear check is not offered for your race and you have a decent pair of old running shoes with some miles still left on them — wear your old shoes for the race or training run. This will ensure your nice pair of running shoes remain that — a nice pair!

Try to Prevent Chafing
If you are running longer than three miles let’s be honest — you have probably experienced chafing at some point! (Don’t worry, I will talk about chafing at a later date!) If you are going to run in the rain make sure you spread Body Glide (or Vaseline, icky) on parts of your body where you would normally chafe or get blisters — such as your feet, inner thighs, underarms, sports bra lines (women) and nipples (men).

Training in the Rain Will Prepare You — Mentally
Running in the rain is tough — mentally tough. Your feet get wet, your head is soggy, your clothes are soaked to the bone — it is tough.  Finishing a run in the rain is a test of a runner’s ability to mentally push themselves towards their goals and finish what they started. It is great for a runner to experience the mental challenges of running in the rain while on a training run and not on race day! 

So, now I will leave you with one of thought which insipres me as a runner: “I run because it’s so symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles. You might feel that you can’t. But then you find your inner strength, and realize you’re capable of so much more than you thought.”  –Arthur Blank

The Basics of Running: The Importance of Rest

It is not an easy concept for new runners to understand.  The importance of rest for runners!

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that new runners make is not taking enough rest or “downtime” between long training segments or after races.  I understand how putting your training on pause may seem counter-intuitive after a great race or long training segment.  I am sure if you are likely myself — You want to capitalize on your fitness and continue to set new person records!  At the same time, if you are anything like my husband — after a disappointing race the last thing on your mind is resting — and all you are is focused on how you want revenge and you are anxious to get back on that starting line!

Many runners have Type-A personalities and taking an unnecessary day off — or worse yet a full week off — is about an enjoyable as a trip to the dentist for a root canal. Many runners have an irrational fear that missing a few runs will dramatically diminish their fitness and that take five to seven days off will completely ruin all the hard work they have put in over the past year or months.

Unfortunately, it is the mistake of not resting enough after a big race or a long training segment that can ultimately lead to plateaus in training and stagnant race results.  Not only does resting for seven to 10 days have little negative impact on your current fitness levels, the long-term gains you will see will enable you to continue to make consistent progress year and year without over training.

Why You Need Downtime & Rest After Races

It does not matter if your main training focus was a big marathon or if you just finished a long term training plan that included a variety of short races.  Your body needs an extended period of rest to fully recover from and absorb the months of training you have put in.  Failing to take the necessary downtime to fully recover will virtually ensure you plateau in your training.

Because shorter racing segments can vary from runner to runner, measuring the cumulative training effect and subsequent stress to the body is difficult. However, the marathon distance provides a constant variable that runners can use to measure how specific physiological systems are damaged during just one race.

The Science of Why You Need Downtime & Rest

Skeletal Muscle – One scientific study looked at the damage done to the calf muscles during a marathon race and concluded that both the intensive training for and the marathon itself, induce inflammation and muscle fiber necrosis that significantly impaired muscle power and durability. The study makes it clear that your muscles are undoubtedly weakened and they need extensive recovery before returning to full training.  Given this study also examined calf muscles during an extended training block, the need for downtime also applies to rigorous training plans.

Cellular Damage – Cellular damage post marathon is best measured by the presence and production of creatinie kinase (CK) – a marker that indicated damage to skeletal and myocardial tissue — and increased myoglobin levels in the blood stream.  One study concluded that CK damage persisted more than 7 days post marathon while another study discovered the presence of myoblogin in the bloodstream for 3-4 days post race. Unlike muscle soreness, these markers of hard training and racing are not always noticeable.  This is why you need to take downtime after a long training place or a marathon, even if you do not feel sore!

Immune System – Finally, studies have shown that the immune system is severely compromised after running the marathon distance, which increases the risk of contracting colds and the flu. A suppressed immune system is one of the major causes of over training.  Therefore, skipping a much needed rest period could lead to interrupted training down the road, which could significantly derail your overall long-term goals.

Why Taking Downtime Will Not Negatively Affect Your Fitness 

It is not hard to persuade runners into believing that a marathon or long training places are hard and difficult on the body.  However, it is quite another to convince that same runner that taking seven to 10 days off to rest up will not hurt their fitness.  While it may seam counter-intuitive, research has proven that resting for seven to 10 days will not significantly diminish their fitness levels. 

How Long Should You Plan to Rest

Most coaches and elite runners will suggest you should take off one week after a 5k training cycle, seven to 10 days off after a 10k or half marathon, and a full two weeks off after a marathon.  I know, I know — It might sound like you would be holding yourself back by being so cautious, but trust me — your long term goals and progression will actually benefit from the rest.

You should also work on incorporating rest into your training program.  The amount of rest you require will vary depending on a number of different factors.  Some runners find that taking as little as one day off each week is enough for them to allow their bodies to recover — while other runners find they need to take 2 or 3 days off each week in order to allow their muscles to recovery properly. Especially for newer runners, you will most likely find rest days are extremely beneficial the day after an extremely hard workout such a speed training, interval training, or hill training.

Good luck at your upcoming race and do not forget to schedule a little rest and relaxation time afterward.

Note: Thank you to Runner’s World & Active.com for help with some of the scientific data!