Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Where I am now and why - And what I am going to do in the future in running

I think I have arrived at a few conclusions about running, training as a beginner, and how and why I am where I am right now. I am currently getting over a long term injury. Here goes:

It is often said that good running form leads to less injury, and greater efficiency. The cadence for the best performing and most efficient runners is about 90-92 steps per minute. In general even in training the best runners approach this cadence. I think this is absolutely true, there is no doubt in my mind about these simple facts: The best runners tend to be both fast, have great form and have a relatively high cadence. Cadence is closely related to running efficiency.

Its often also said that all runners training for distance events should incorporate long 'slow' runs at a comfortable effort level to help avoid injuries, and work hard enough that adaptation and fitness gained is efficient. It is absolutely true that training at the right effort levels leads to great improvements in fitness level, while also helping to avoid common injuries and avoiding over training and excessive tiredness. That is you work hard enough to cause adaptation while also allowing room for efficient recovery.

Note that 'good running form'  from what I understand is one where the body is slightly leaning forward from the hips, head held with a slight tilt allowing eyes to see a point about 10 metres ahead, and most importantly little to no heel strike. The foot should strike the ground under or slightly forward of the hips. Its suggested that a mid foot to front foot strike is best. 

I personally have found that when I run 'slow' at about 5min-6min/km pace, I heel strike. I find it difficult and awkward to avoid heel striking when I am running 'slow'. When I speed up a little, around 5min-4:45min/km I tend to begin mid foot strike. And when I run at around 4:30min/km or faster I tend to get more onto my forefoot.

Better running form and mid to forefoot strike also tends to be related to cadence - the faster the cadence, the more likely you will be mid to forefoot striking. I did a bit of experimentation on cadence a while ago. I found it was difficult to avoid going faster when I increased cadence. I have read a bit about how one can improve their running form by shortening the stride length, which naturally leads to more mid-forefoot striking and a higher cadence. I found I could increase cadence and maintain a 'slow' pace BUT only up to a point. It would get uncomfortable when I tried to maintain a high cadence and short enough stride to reach what all the training pace calculators said would be my 'long comfortable' run pace for training ( AT the time around 5min10/km). I always naturally reach a pace of about 4min30 whenever I attempted a cadence approaching  90.

I have been told by my physio that the type of problem I have experienced tends to happen to people that have poor running form, where they heel strike. The action places greater flexing and strain on the Achilles insertion which leads to over use injuries in  that area. I have read that other injuries frequently experienced by 'heel strikers'  are shin splints, knee problems and apparently a higher chance of stress fractures.

What I have found with myself over the last few years of training for marathons and half marathon events, where I did a lot of fairly long distance runs, is that I felt much more sore and stiff after running when I have made a concious decision to slow down right from the beginning. Whenever I just let myself run to what was a natural pace (For me this is about 4min30/km regardless of how fit I am) I would be less sore after. I know this may be deceptive, ie I possibly just run faster when I feel good and thus feel better after the run because I was in good nick before hand. But I feel overall it is true - Whenever I decided to _slow down_ I ended up sore after the run, and when I run to how I feel I tend to finish up less sore.

My natural pace where my form  is 'OK' is about 4min30/km. At various stages of my training I may not be able to run very far at that pace, but its what feels natural to me. I found when I was at my best level of fitness I could run 4min30/km pace in training for at least 10-16km, cadence was near enough to spot on 90.

Now here is the problem - As a _slow_ running beginner, I think poor form is very common. I think heel striking is an almost natural thing to do when running slowly for some people. Slow running is almost a 'fast walk' for some people. Like me!!

I think when I run slow I heel strike. I did a lot of slow running at 5 to 6min/km pace and thus was exposed to a lot of distance where my form was poor and my Achilles area was over worked. I inevitably a problem with both heels.

From now on I will not run LONG and comfortable until my 'comfortable' pace  run is fast enough that my form is good. ie faster than 5min/km pace. In fact I am going to assume that 4min30/km pace is my comfortable, and until I can run 10-20km at that pace _comfortably_  I won't go the distance. This is a little arse about of course :)

I recal discussing training for beginners with an experienced coach. He told me he does not suggest anyone that is 'serious'  about marathons (wanting to run for pace and not just 'the journey' in a once off event) attempt training for a half or full marathon event until they are capable of running a 10km race 'flat out'. He clarified what he means by flat out and he explained that it was 'at or beyond 90% of their theoretical HR maximum the whole way'. He said that if anyone can do that they have their fitness and running adaptation at a sufficient level to take on HM and full marathon training, and likely achieve good pace.

I have it in mind to run marathons and HM's at a 'good pace'. Therefore I aim to get to the point where I can run 5 and 10km races 'flat out', before I swing back to HM's and marathons again.

I will break the task down to several milestones:

- 200 metres in 30 seconds - I used to do easily sub 25's in high school. With no specific training!! 

- 400 metres 65 seconds. In highschool I used to do easily sub 60's !!

- 1km - I feel a realistic pace is around 3min/km.

- The next goal is 2km's. Flat out. Goal about  6 minutes 40 seconds or so, 3min20/km pace.

- Then 3kms. Flat out. I did a good one last year 2011, and managed 11min flat, my best ever. I should beat that this time around because I will be working on speed more than ever before. My aim is for about 10minutes 30

- 4km flat out. This one I  aim for a time of maybe 14minutes 30

- 5km race - break 20 minutes is the first goal. And also run about 18 minutes flat eventually

- 10km - Ultimate aim is to break 40 minutes, with a goal of 38 minutes

All the above goals must be achieved before I ever train for HM' or marathons again!!

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