What Makes a Good Runner?

Fall is typically running season.  Triathlon season is winding down for most folks, and there are lots of great local runs – everything from 10k’s to marathons.  Even if you don’t run road races (or cross country races, for that matter), running by its very nature is integral in triathlon.  Remember – swim, bike and RUN.

The thing is, though, that many of us a likely not good runners.  To be good by most folks’ definition today means that we can run a mile/kilometer at X pace.  Or perhaps that we’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon.  By those definitions, I’m not a good runner.  Well – maybe I used to be a pretty good runner…way back in high school.  I ran track and cross country – and while not the fastest kid around, I could run a sub 5-minute mile on the track, and went about 18 minutes for a 5k.  I can’t even approach those speeds today.

But I don’t necessarily define good running by pace alone.  I think that you can be a good runner who runs a 10 minute/mile pace.  Likewise, you could run a 7 minute mile and be a bad runner.

Exactly what do I mean by this?

It all boils down to form.  Essentially, it’s about HOW we run, not about HOW FAST we run.

There’s a plethora of information out on the internet and from coaches regarding proper form.  Should you be a mid-foot runner?  Is heel striking OK?  How should I hold my arms?  Do I need a special shoe?  Should I run barefoot?  You could almost achieve paralysis by analysis if you devoted hours and hours to reading material.  The crux of all the debates, in my mind, all boils down to high run cadence drives good form.

Here’s an example of really superior running form:  Miranda Carfrae.  Just last weekend, she won the Ironman Hawaii race by setting course records in the marathon and overall.  Her form is awesome – even at late stages of the run.  Don’t take my word for it:  check out this video

 

Rinny does a spectacular job keeping her cadence really fast – and that seems to be a common thread among really good runners.

Faster cadence (or leg turnover) is usually more preferred than slower, loping run styles.  What seems to matter less is how your foot lands when you’re running.  By that, I mean that it doesn’t seem to matter so much if you are a heel striker or a mid-foot striker so long as your cadence is high and your feet land generally underneath you – and not stretched out in front of you.

Common thought is that a run cadence around 90 steps per minute is optimal.  How do you know what your cadence is?  Simple enough – set your watch for a 15 second countdown.  Hit start, and count every time your right foot hits the ground.  At the end, multiply that by 4 and you’ll get your cadence.

Mine is generally in the low 80’s.  Way too slow.  I am a heel striker – and I tend to take too long strides – which effectively act as brakes with each step I take.  Long strides could also drive the impact force in ways that might lead to injury – I suspect that this may be a factor in my year-long bout with Plantar Fasciitis.  Remember, 90 is the optimal foot turnover number.

Luckily, there are drills that can help you improve your leg turnover – and I’m hereby committing to start doing these again (I did them back in the day in high school…now I know why).  Some drills you can try are quick foot drills, high knees, butt kickers and skipping.

I found a really awesome video series today called “Ambushed – Extreme Running Makeovers” starring pro-triathlete & Olympian Joanna Zeiger and Brandon Del Campo.  Essentially they spent an afternoon in Boulder going up to random people and offering to help them with their running style.  There are two videos so far – and they are both really great.  Check out episode 1 below

 

To see other videos, check out Joanna’s website.  You could also just Google drills for high running cadence.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about Joanna, check out a “Ten Questions With…” interview I did with her back in 2012.  You can read that here.

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One thought on “What Makes a Good Runner?

  1. That video series looks like allot of fun, love it. There is another video from kona a couple of years ago that compares gliders to sliders in style. If you get a chance find that and watch it, its interesting analysis.

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