More Efficient Running

I hope you geeks out there do any sports regularly despite the common prejudices. I do and I am getting a lot in return. Moving your body in a skilled way running, cycling, swimming, playing whatever is a form of intelligence, gives you new energy for your work, clears your mind and sometimes even delivers unexpected inspiration too.

So, I would like to share a very interesting ‘life hack’ with you in order to have more fun and less pain running and improve distance, endurance and speed at the same time.

What happened: One year ago I simply started running, bought myself a basic set of running gear and exercised once or twice a week – without any training or professional advice. My distances increased during the first months from 2km up to the point where I could run around 10km. My average pace was 6:30min per km at that time (very slow like a power walker). I thought I needed to be as slow as that in order to make the 10km.

Then I registered for a half marathon and tried to increase the distance to 20km – I thought this would just be as simple as getting from zero to 10km. But I couldn’t. It was so exhausting to run 10km or maybe sometimes even 13km. The complete crash came, when I bought myself new running shoes – you know, not the ugliest and not the cheapest ones I could jog around the local running store without thinking that they do not fit well…

Honestly, I frequently read some running magazines and books but never ever came across the things I really needed to know to be able to run a half-marathon without hurting myself.

After the first exercises with the new shoes distances decreased and I felt more and more pain the day after the exercise in my left knee. This must have been the point where most people stop running and do something else! Despite the pain I forced it and got very frustrated. Sometimes it happened, that after 5/8km I made a clumsy step on uneven ground and BANG I had to stop and sometimes take the tram or a taxi or at least take a shortcut and walk back home. Distances I could run decreased rapidly. The last run was just some 100 meters and BOOM. What a mess!

So I went to a doctor, seriously concerned. 5 weeks before my first half-marathon event. This was the first time I heard about pronation and supination and about how this incredibly built foot absorbes the shock from each of your steps when running. The doctor asked me that type of runner I was and I had no f#$%&ng clue what he was talking about. It turned out, that I bought just the wrong shoes for my anatomy. Shocks went directly into my knee causing direct damage there and in my lower back too. Diagnose: irritated knee. Prescription: 2 weeks pause and painkillers. Advice: Beginner, buy yourself the right shoes and make your homework before you ruin your health! The doctor gave me a contact to a good physical therapist and urged me to do some training sessions with him.

A long story, but important to understand where I came from. I would like to share with you geeks what I learned about running and running equipment and I hope to save you from experiencing a similar disaster:

  1. Buy yourself the right running shoes: Make your homework and understand the terms pronation and supination. This describes if your foot tilts to the inside or the outside when it hits the ground while running. Check (search for ‘running pronation supination’) for some very good explanations. Go to a good store that can make a video analysis of you running along a track wearing your new shoes. Watch your steps in slow motion with the sales assistant and let him make a definitive recommendation for a pair of shoes. Ensure that the store takes the shoes back if you have any problems in your knee or back, even after some weeks of training. The color of the shoes is absolutely no factor.
  2. Learn how to do forefoot running: Watch yourself running or videotape yourself. Make your homework what a good posture looks like and how your feet push the road behind you with every step without braking when you step ahead of your point of balance. The whole mystery boils down to two points: Avoid heel strike, practice forefoot running. Again check (search for ‘forefoot running’ and ‘running heel strike’) for the details. It will take some time to understand the real difference between a good running technique and your old, intuitive bad one. Be aware that this changes a lot: You need to have stronger calves and do regular ham string exercises. Otherwise they will be the new parts that hurt. Start to increase distances and speeds again from zero. Do not expect to extend your distances like in my case from 10km. Start over when you change your running technique. Forefoot running increases the speed and step length and you will get tired more quickly. But this is just when you start. So, start with shorter distances and do not overpace – like I did, since I had to be ready for the halfe marathon in a couple of weeks.
  3. Join a running group: This is an optional part but can help a lot if your group or class consists of some experienced runners with a proven track record – multiple iron (wo-)men or the like. There you can learn a lot and the stories you hear may also push you forward.

I really hope, to save you from the pain and frustrations I experienced. In the end I finished with the official time of 2:20h on my first half marathon and it will not have been the last one.

Update: Finished 5th (half-distance) on 30.10.2011 in 1:58:40.

Have fun running!