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.


>Ten Questions With…Professional Triathlete Mandy McLane

>You may not have heard the name Mandy McLane much before…but trust me, you will.

Mandy has only been a triathlete since 2008, but quickly rose to the top of the charts in the age group ranks.  This season, Mandy is racing her first as a professional triathlete.  She saw unparalleled success as an amateur – winning a World Championship at the 70.3 distance, a USAT national championship, and several victories as an elite amateur.  Basically, she’s one hell of a good athlete.

Not only is she a successful athlete, but Mandy is also a successful businesswoman.  She owns her own company, called Freedom of Speech.  She’s a Speech Language Pathologist – what some of us might call a speech therapist. 

Juggling a professional career with professional triathlon seems like a huge challenge, but we’re confident that if there’s anyone out there that can do both, it’s Mandy.

So today’s version of “Ten Questions With…” is with pro triathlete Mandy McLane…..


TM:  You’ve only been participating in triathlon for a few years. What compelled you to take up the sport?‬

MM:  Post college I was just running to remain fit. I was getting bored with the monotony of running day in and day out. I had swimming and running background, so I figured I had a foot in the door already. So with the suggestion from a friend I decided to try triathlons. From my very first tri, I fell in love.

TM:  In college you were a track athlete – a pole vaulter and a heptathlete. For those who don’t know, heptathlon is 7 events: 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin, and 800m. Which of these events was your favorite and why?‬

MM:  I really loved the high jump. I naturally had a descent vertical leap necessary for high jump. I also really liked the fact that there was a bit of a technical component versus just running to get faster. I liked that as my technique and speed improved, I would improve. It wasn’t solely dependent on one component.

TM:  How did you make the leap from being essentially a sprinter to a long-distance endurance triathlete?‬

MM:  I’m still making that transition. Having a background as a sprinter has been nothing but helpful though. The running mechanics that have been drilled into my head are being carried over to my endurance running. I have also developed fast twitch muscles over the years. It could be advantageous in a scenario where I need to sprint out the finish. However, I have struggled a bit with not going out too hard and keeping to my pace. Just because I can hold higher paces doesn’t mean its the best idea for endurance races. Too many times I have had to be held back during training to make sure I’ll have what I need to finish up strong and feeling good; relatively speaking.

TM: 2010 was a huge year for you. You excelled as an elite amateur, won a world championship for your age group, and decided to turn pro. What was the best part of the year in your opinion?‬

MM:  the best part of the year was growing as an athlete. Realizing that I have what it takes to compete at both olympic and half ironman distances. Another area of success is nutrition. I have been working hard in that department and I feel like I have a fairly good handle on it. Looking back on 2010 race season, I couldn’t be more proud of standing up on the podium as a national and world champion; what more could one ask for?!

TM: What thoughts go into making the decision to turn pro? How difficult a decision was it for you to decide to turn pro?‬

MM:  I have been playing around with the idea of turning pro since then end of 2009 race season. That was another great year of racing. For me many factors went into my decision. First and foremost, I didn’t want to be just another pro. I wanted to make a rookie pro year one where I continued to progress but also podium a few times; ideally at both distances. I also wanted to make sure I was ready mentally. Being that ones thought and mental mind set plays such a large role in training and racing, I needed to make sure I was ready to handle the pressures from others and the ones I place on myself. One could have all the talent in the world, but if they didn’t have the confidence needed to succeed, odds are they wouldn’t.

TM: What are your main goals for the 2011 season?‬

MM:  I would love to stack up to some of the best of the best in the sport of Triathlon. To podium a few times throughout the year in both distances and to continue to make improves. I would be thrilled.

TM:  Like so many athletes, you balance a “non-triathlon” career as the owner of your own business – a speech and language therapy company. How do you find time to balance work, training, recovery, “Mandy time”, etc?‬

MM:  Its a constant battle. However, I have always said, even if I had extra time on my hands, I would some how manage to still fill each day down to the min. The more I have to do, the better organized I am and more motivated I become. Not to mention the fact that I’m doing what I love. To be involved with two passions of mine on a daily basis is a dream come true. Don’t get me wrong, there are days I am stressed with trying to fit it all in. Those are the days I try to remind myself why I doing this.

TM:  What “non-triathlon” sorts of things do you like to do?‬

MM:  Dinner, movies, family vacations, and mostly any outdoor activity. Winter: snow boarding, summer: rafting, etc.

TM:  Do you have any “go-to” rituals or superstitions that you follow before you race?‬

MM:  I have the same pre-race routine, same dinner the night before. There have been some things in the past, but currently no tangibles that are my good luck charm.

‪TM: You went to an ACC school. Football or basketball, and why?‬

MM:  Unfortunately I don’t have much of a preference. If there were games I would go to them all with friends. To be brutally honest though, I was much more of a participant not a spectator.

Check out Mandy’s website here.
You can also follow Mandy on Twitter here.