If you want to hit your stride at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon 2014 this weekend, make sure you fix your form. Alberto Salazar watches as world-class runners (and recent Olympic medalists) Galen Rupp and Mo Farah knock out 300m repeats at Nike world headquarters near Beaverton, Oregon. The two men move with grace and efficiency. “It looks natural, but Galen and Mo work incessantly on their stride,” says Salazar, their coach. The same fundamentals that apply to Olympians also apply to you. You can run with fewer injuries, greater efficiency and ultimately more pleasure, says Salazar, if you follow the four simple rules below and do regular sprint drills.
1. Lean Forward
Aim for a slight forward tilt – about two or three degrees, says Salazar. You don’t want to lean too far forward or too far back. Too far forward and you shove your full body weight into the ground with each stride. Too far back, and you jam your heels.
DO THIS: To promote a properly tilted and aligned neck and torso, allow your eyes to guide you. Instead of looking down at the ground, let your gaze settle on the horizon. Keep your chin tucked instead of letting it jut out.
2. Take a Hand
“The typical runner never thinks about his hands, but in fact, they’re crucial,” Salazar says. “Your arms should swing back and forward, not across your body.” With each stride, bring your hand to the vertical midpoint of your torso, but don’t let your hand cross that midline. If it does, your body will rock side to side.
DO THIS: To release tension in your hands and arms, run with your hands forming a loose fist; imagine that each hand is carrying a pretzel that you don’t want to break.
3. Use Your Arms
The fourth key to a successful stride, Salazar says, is arm carriage. “Your shoulders need to be relaxed and sloping down, and your elbows should be slightly bent,” he says. “If you tighten your shoulders and let them point up instead, your arms start to flail and you lose that circular, forward-flowing drive.”
DO THIS: As fatigue sets in, your shoulders tend to lift and tighten. When this happens, briefly drop your hands and shake out your arms to relax your muscles.
4. Be on the Ball
“If you land on your heel, you’re almost certainly over-striding,” says Salazar. “You’re pounding your leg into the ground with each stride and increasing your risk of injury. When you land on the balls of your feet, you flow with your forward energy.” A recent study of Harvard runners supports Salazar’s theory, it found that forefoot strikers have fewer injuries than heel strikers.
DO THIS: Flick back your heel quickly after contact; visualise pawing the ground with the balls of your feet.