Running used to be a simple sport. I remember times when all it took was a pair of sneakers – any kind that felt comfortable on feet. No one cared how their foot landed on the ground or how high their arms swung. All there was to it was building stamina to be able to run long and strength to be able to run fast. I’d lace up my shoes, the same ones I used for soccer, gym and going out, and off I went. Sony was yet to make the first Walkman, so runs were without music or other distractions to keep the mind from the fact that the rest of the body is working out. Marathons were for Olympians and the insane. A lot has changed since.
Today so much science is involved in running, creating an information overload that verges on being counter-productive. Before we even make a first running step, we are “assessed” for the proper gait, fitted with the proper shoes, sold a proper shirt and pants, instructed on proper hydration, hats and glasses. And we are taught the proper running form.
Personally, I don’t believe in the proper running form. To define it, sports science took a model of an elite runner, someone very fast and efficient. It analyzed all the angles, forces and momentum in his stride, calculated the minute deficiencies and corrected them with a theoretical model, then stated “this is the proper running form and every runner should strive to recreate it.” I must ask: how many of us are built like the models upon which the ideal running form is modeled? I wager it’s less than one in twenty. For the rest of us too tall, too heavy or too-something-else, this “ideal” form doesn’t work. Sure, it’s a great reference knowing that your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees, but if swinging your arms high across the chest is what keeps your torso steady, than that’s what you should do. Every one of us is built uniquely, and our form develops with time to accommodate our own unique deviations from the ideal. The form that makes you run long with ease is your proper running form. Even Paula Radcliffe, the women’s marathon world record holder, has a “glitch” in her running form: she nods her head forward and to the side with each step. Her record time of 2:15:25 is so far ahead that some wonder if it will ever be broken. Well, her form is perfect for her and, had she tried to correct it, maybe she’d never have set the record. There are countless examples of athletes consciously adjusting their running form only to end up running slower than before.
As we age our stride shortens and that changes our running form. It happens naturally in small adjustments the body makes to keep the same level of effort and avoid pain and injuries. The only time we should try to change it is in case of a recurring injury caused by the way we run. Otherwise, why try to fix what ain’t broken? If you land on your heel, so what? As long as your run ends with the smile on your face, you’re doing it right!