As the numbers of coached and tested athletes at Applied Triathlon has increased, the range of experience of athlete has broadened. Therefore, we increasingly find ourselves trying to ascertain the most effective way of both establishing the most appropriate training for this widening range of individuals as well as redefining our justifications and explanations for delivering that training. Where running form is concerned, however, we keep going full circle. No matter how much we explore the current academic literature and coach education guidance, we become more concerned by the inconsistencies we find. Of course, we continue to make revisions to our coaching model as we discover more about this complex subject, and continuous learning certainly takes place. However, the more we read and observe, the more confident we become that our approach to Natural Running Form is heading in the right direction.
Running is often considered to be simple activity – what Olympian Ron Clarke once described as putting one foot in front of the other and repeat. It is generally understood that those with the best running genes who train the hardest are most likely to win. However, running can almost certainly be described as a skill and this means that there must be a right or most effective way to do it. Running is however a skill that is rarely effectively taught.
All runners have stylistic differences – coach education confirms this – but it is the similarities which are important. On closer inspection the best runners pretty much all do the same thing – foot contact, stance, toe off – with less able runners completing the same process but less efficiency and less effectively. Good runners are graceful; their running looks effortless and they (nearly) always look like good runners. Ancient Greek paintings of runners display a similarity of running form whether depicting fast or slow running which is very similar to how Mo Farah runs. There is an accepted link between consistency of training and performance but is there a link between consistency of form and consistency of training?
Conversely, less efficient runners look like poor runners and their running form often differs according to their running pace. Despite the development of modern running shoes, improvements in coach education (both in content and methodology) and increased scientific understanding, injury rates remain consistent across the endurance running community. Some of these injuries can be associated with differing form and therefore, is there a link with inconsistent form and increased risk of injury?
There are contradictory view points on what constitutes good running form, with opinion varying from “running style [being] ordained at birth” through to “stature and development” and thus currently there is no accepted (academic or coach) model of running that depicts good form. This lack of a model has resulted in the force production concept of running remaining in vogue in coach education for the development of endurance athletes. In simple terms, force is applied beneath and behind the runner to create propulsion. This application of force comes at the price of greater ground reaction forces however, and therefore modern running shoes are provided with appropriate cushioning to reduce the effect this has on the runner. This good intention of the added protection in the cushioned running shoe has however produced unintended consequences. It has restricted sensory feedback, increased muscular atrophy of the key running muscles and enabled maladapted people to allow running with a heel striking action. The increased impact transient as a result of heel striking is known to be a contributory factor in running injuries. Combined with the modern lifestyle, the modern running shoe has allowed us to exceed our biomechanical capabilities in the search of running increased distances and intensities.
The recent barefoot running trend (better described as the re emergence of the minimalist running shoe) was borne out of identifying the need to reduce the risk of injury for endurance runners. However, the trend is now pretty much gone, without establishing a legacy worthy of the initial noise it briefly made within the running community. Efforts by authors of such work as Running Form (Danny Abshire), Chi Running (Danny Dreyer) and The Pose Method (Dr. Nicholas Romanov), with additional research by evolutionary biologist Professor Daniel Lieberman, established a plausible case but this was perhaps undermined by academic researchers not finding sufficient supporting evidence for the barefoot concept within the laboratory.
It could be more strongly argued however that the failing of this movement was more in the inability of coaches and athletes to translate the drills and movements successfully into their everyday running without compromising their current level of performance. Or indeed risking injury, which was counter-productive to the initial objective of runners changing running form, especially by those who forced the pace of transition. Such impact as remains has probably been to encourage athletes and coaches to focus a little more on running form in training as opposed to outright performance, but it has been unclear which of the drills are appropriate for whom and how these drills are to be integrated into the actual process of running.
Lieberman states that it is becoming increasingly more certain that western society is suffering from two modern afflictions: a surfeit of highly calorific, readily available foodstuff and [leading] an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. For long-term well being, this is proving to be a deadly combination. Running remains the most easily accessible and potentially effective antidote to both. However, the misunderstanding of appropriate drills leading to the misguided coaching of running is not only unlikely to effectively support those who currently run, but is also unlikely to encourage those who really need to participate in this most natural of activities.
Therefore, we shall continue to try to understand which drills work and why and to offer an easy to follow, safe and appropriate model of running for our athletes and non athletes to follow. In time, with further understanding, there is no reason why running cannot be considered comparable to other skills. Runners could be taught to effectively tune into the process and learn to consciously control running until the new form becomes a part of the subconscious.
Here endeth the sermon for today! In other news, Applied Triathlon is now a Triathlon England registered triathlon club and all coached athletes can consider themselves to be club members. To take full advantage of this, please join Triathlon England as an individual member and annotate Applied Triathlon as your club.
We have events a plenty on the horizon, lots more athlete testing and analysis to complete and our Monday swim slot at Woodgreen Leisure open air 50m pool to look forward to! Please keep up the good training guys!