Marathon PR Today

Good posture, 180 cadence, and efficient arm carriage lead to a 6 and a half minute PR. 3:31:14. 

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Probably the Best Way to Use Your Arms

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:

Why I Race So Much

Racing can be stressful. Most people don’t sleep very well before their races, and they get nervous in the days leading up to them. I do too. I think I’m used to a certain level of stress in my life, and seek it out during my leisure time as well. The great thing about races is that, no matter how kinda cruddy you feel before the race, once you get going, and your blood is pumping and your body is moving, it starts feeling good. I also think it’s really fun.

While I think training is OK, I get a great deal of satisfaction seeing improvements in my performance during races. Since I race a lot, sometimes my PRs aren’t that big, but I still enjoy setting them. Any long runs or fast times during training are forgotten after a while, but racing PRs are recorded and offer almost tangible proof of your improvement.

Wow, Lookin’ Good…

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:

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I mentioned the arms, and I will get to that. I have to keep this short today, though.

More Crap Advice From “Experts”

So I was just on facebook, and saw this picture posted by a couple of running pages:

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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?

Posture

Being balanced is of utmost importance when running. Imbalance leads to injury. Proper posture helps keep us balanced.

Ideally, our bodies are in a sort of neutral position when we have good posture. By this, I mean that the head is balanced atop the neck and shoulders in such a way that we aren’t fighting gravity or straining in any way. Over time, gravity and old age conspire to make our posture less than ideal. The head is thrust out a bit on an outstretched neck, and the back is hunched.

Proper posture is achieved by having a poised sort of positioning of the head and neck. To practice this, it is a good idea to first take off your shoes to eliminate the possibility of interference by footwear. While standing, pick a point on the ground about 15 to 20 ahead of you and relax you eyes and fix your gaze on that spot. This should have the effect of bringing your head back on your shoulders and lowering your chin a bit.

This sort of posture is clearly evident in the lead runner from the last video, Haile Gebrselassie. We also see this posture in children, as you’ll see in this video: