Good posture, 180 cadence, and efficient arm carriage lead to a 6 and a half minute PR. 3:31:14.
I said “probably” because I’m not 100% certain about any of my advice, but I can tell you from my own experience, and from watching lots of runners that I think my advice works.
You see people doing all kinds of different things with their arms. Some hold them quite low. Some hold them out from their body. And of course, many experts tell us that we should swing them only forward and back. As distance runners (meaning anything from 5k up to the marathon) we need to find a way of using them that helps us conserve energy, while aiding our forward locomotion. Sprinters like Usain Bolt need to generate lots of power quickly over a short distance, so naturally they will swing their arms quite a bit. We shouldn’t do that.
Let’s start with getting our arm carriage correct. Stand with your proper posture (within yourself, eyes down and ahead 10 ft. or so) and let your arms hang relaxed against your sides. Don’t hold them out from your body at all. Then simply bend your arms at the elbow until your hands are right in front of you chest (nipples). This should feel relaxed. Too many people hold their arms out from their body, and over the course of a race, this adds to fatigue.
Now when we run, we should focus on sweeping our hands down in front of our chest–the left hand sweeps down over the left lung, and the right hand over the right lung. This is much more efficient than thinking of moving our whole arm forward and back. Watch the great Ethiopian runner, Bekele, demonstrate in this video:
So after a night of almost no sleep, I went out and ran a half in 1:37:34. I was 28th overall and 6th in my age group (It seems like the 40-44 year old guys are a pretty competitive group. I would have gotten a top 3 finish in most other age groups). Still not blazingly fast, but half an hour faster than I ran the same course last year. A co-worker who had signed up last year injured his foot and let me take his bib, so I ran under a different name in 2012.
I felt strong the whole time today, and passed so many people during the last few miles. Only one speedy younger guy came from behind and passed me. I’m feeling good now, after the race, too. Seriously considering running a full next Sunday. I think I’m gonna have to do it…
I said I would talk about using your arms, but I’ll start with the hands first.
You see people doing different things with their hands- maybe clenching them in a fist or deliberately holding them open so their fingers stick out. I’ve heard a piece of advice several times about the hands that I agree with.
I think it works best to imagine that you are holding a large potato chip in both hands. You wouldn’t want to crush the chip, so naturally you won’t clench your fists tightly, which might cause unnecessary tension. Also, this will keep you from opening up the hands the way many runners do. The open hand position can also lead to tension, because one has to flex the muscles of the hand to open it. The potato chip hand position ends up being the most natural, least forced option we have.
Here’s what happens when your posture is wrong (gaze focused up and out, pelvis not level, core not engaged) and you don’t use your arms properly (held too low and not moving efficiently). You get a nice crashing heel strike in front of your center of mass, which is like putting on the brakes a little with each step:
I mentioned the arms, and I will get to that. I have to keep this short today, though.
So I was just on facebook, and saw this picture posted by a couple of running pages:
OK, first of all, we can see where his gaze is directed, and it’s not 30m directly in front of his head. His form looks good, and you can see that he certainly appears to be “within himself” looking down in front of him a few feet.
1, 3, and 4 are typical gobbledygook that never help anyone. However, I’ll be willing to bet that his cadence is pretty high because you can see that he won’t be heel striking in the next step.
And now we get to one of the biggest fallacies in running- “The arms must pump straight forward and back!” When viewed from the side, it does indeed look as though runners are only moving their arms forward and back, however, when viewed from the front, it’s apparent that something much different is happening. Before I give away the answer, look at this video from an earlier post of the great runners Bekele and Gebrselassie (he’s the one leading until the end). Since his form is so good, pay particular attention to Gebrselassie’s arms when you see them from the front. Do they merely move forward and back like a stiff robot, or is something else going on?
Running at a higher cadence makes the runner take shorter steps that land more underneath the body as opposed to longer, slower overstriding steps that land in front of the center of mass. The foot also tends to contact the ground more towards the middle or front. Here are a couple of pics:
Though it looks as though the runner in the top picture is overstriding a bit, his center of mass will be over the foot when it touches the ground. The bottom photo is me at about mile 20 of a marathon last May. You can see I am not about to heel strike, which is much different than the picture I posted last time. Many experts claim that foot strike is something that can’t be changed, and that some people will always be heel strikers. That is obviously not necessarily true.
When you run at a faster cadence, instead of reaching out with your foot and crashing on your heel, your feet kind of spin underneath your body. This is more efficient and requires less effort and straining. People who have a pronounced heel strike will find that it is less with a faster cadence. All of this adds up to a more efficient and less injury-prone runner.