Focus on Five, fix your form, finally get faster…

In case you didn’t know, it’s ridiculously hot and humid in Florida pretty much 8 or 9 months at out the year but summer is the absolute worst. I got in as many long runs as I could this summer but I also took the time to focus on getting faster and I knew I wasn’t going to get any faster if I didn’t first, fix my form.

Something clicked for me this year because I did manage a couple of PR’s and I was running in the 8’s and sometimes the high 7’s which NEVER happens to me in the summer. I can only hope that I will improve throughout the winter and really hit some major PR’s this fall and winter. A few people emailed me and asked me what I was doing so I thought I would share with you, the five things I focused on to get faster.

Cadence

The more time your feet are on the ground, the more energy you need to go forward. If you increase your cadence, you’ll increase your speed. Focus on the amount of times your foot strikes the ground and not on your stride length. Optimally, you should be at around 180 foot strikes per minute. When I started this my foot strike was around 145 and I though 180 was cray cray, it’s now around 170, still room for improvement but I now see that 180 is doable.

No Heel Striking

Heel Striking can sometimes lead to injury and it also contributes to a slower cadence. When I started focusing on where my feet were landing, I was able to increase my cadence and therefore, my speed. Wearing minimalist shoes (Brooks Pure Flow 2’s) has helped me with this. You can also run on the grass for a short distance to get an idea of what your natural stride is. I ran on the beach a little bit and that helped me too.

Mobility + Momentum

Increasing mobility can be achieved through stretching. There are two things that I have been focusing on. First, you can practice yoga. Yoga is extremely beneficial for runners. I don’t always have time to go to the yoga studio but I do have a wii fit with yoga and it’s a great alternative. I was also fortunate to learn about Phil Wharton’s Active Isolated Stretching method. This has been invaluable for me. You can learn more about this method and watch one of the videos here. I highly recommend it especially if you, like me, are prone to injury.

Practicing forward momentum was a tough one for me and I’m still struggling with it. The idea is to lean forward from your ankles and keep your head level and avoid bouncing. I watch videos of some of the best runners in the world to help me learn this but I continue to struggle and I still bounce. If you have any ideas, I’m open to suggestion.

Relax the body!

Practice running relaxed. I know it sounds kind of silly but it was really hard for me to do, probably the hardest. I tend to have really stiff posture and running relaxed and fast has never been easy for me. I watched videos of Paula Radcliffe to try to learn how to relax and understand her form but the thing that worked best for me was practicing the following:

Keeping my elbows bent at 90 degrees, even in the back swing. Much to my surprise, this was hard, and something I still struggle with but I’m about 80 % better than I was.

Jogging with my hands on my head to learn to keep my core straight. (My neighbors already think I’m an idiot so I wasn’t worried about doing this one but you could do it in your backyard if you’re concerned. I wouldn’t suggest trying this on a treadmill though because I think it would be dangerous).

Shoulder raises at certain intervals while running. (You basically raise your shoulders up to your ears for a few seconds and then lower them). I started off doing this every ½ mile for the first few weeks and then every mile. Now I do it every 2 or 3 miles.

Practicing Speed

I accomplished this by adding in at least one speed session each week. It can be anything from running hills to fartleks or even a tempo run. Speedwork will definitely help you increase your speed.

I’m still working on it and I hope that with time and practice I’ll get better and better. Of course this would all be much easier if I had the new Garmin 620 which is like a Coach on your wrist. (Another shameless plug for #Garmin, are you listening Garmin?)

Do you have any suggestions for working on running form? Do you think better form helps increase your speed?

4 thoughts on “Focus on Five, fix your form, finally get faster…

  1. Cadence is remarkably important – and remarkably hard to focus on, sometimes! I usually run with music, and I have noticed that a nice fast beat helps me find and maintain my cadence. (I’m around 170, too, hard to hit that 180!) I have managed to mostly eliminate heel strikes, which is a really good thing…except that I have done it “wrong” for so long that making the adjustment brought about its own set of aches and pains, which are only now beginning to fade – but I have hope it will get even better.

    Raising your arms above your head is also a great way to relieve some neck/shoulder tension, which creeps up gradually, until you end up looking like a turtle with your ears sitting on your collarbones!

    Yoga is not yet my friend, because the videos and free classes don’t “coach and correct”, and my budget is not fit enough for anything better, yet (sigh)

    You really hit all the highlights, thanks for a great, informative post!

    • Thanks Nick. There are some great yoga videos on youtube for beginners that are very helpful…maybe worth a shot. I may do a post on that very thing next week 😉

  2. Good post. I’ve come to appreciate and respect yoga as a runner. It’s helped me come back from injury and now stay injury free.

    Good form is critical – especially when your body tires. This is where injury can happen. A few times on my run I will raise my arms over my head and inter-lock fingers to reinforce sound form (beneficial towards the end).

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