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St. John, USVI

Need to relax? Hug a palm tree. St. John, USVI

“Relax!”

I remember getting in trouble with the Seniors my first year of high school distance running for being a heal stepper,  and for racing my teammates at the end of almost every run even through college.  Maybe I was just a crappy at setting a pace, but I just liked to get out and go.  Funny how it’s come to benefit me now as a mom.  I only have limited time each morning to run and stretch, so I just bust out my 2 mile route as fast as I can every day.  May not be the most efficient way to train, but so far I’ve gotten my 5K down to 20:10 that way.

Having only a little time to focus on training each day has helped my stride, too.  I’ve learned to relax.

It may sound out of the ordinary to tell runners to relax, but it’s the key element in stride efficiency.  The more relaxed and focused you are, the faster you go.  The more you fight your stride, the less efficient you’re going to be.

On race day, a runner’s mind is consumed with weather elements, hydration, eating, stretching, warming up, visualizing the course…It’s too late at that point to concentrate on improving your stride.  By the time you hit the start line, you should be able to depend on it just like those long Sunday runs you’ve put in the bank.

Training and practice are for just that…training and practice.  Not just for endurance and speed, but also to perfect your stride. Don’t have time for a serious training regimen?  Here are some time-and injury-saving tid bits I’ve picked up along the way.

Feet.

Obvious one, right?  Do the paper test sometime, and see if you need inserts or specialized shoes to straighten out your landing.  A straighter stride can pick up a lot of time in a race.  Maybe you over or under-pronate as many runners do.  Or, maybe you have fallen arches.  All of these things can be fixed by wearing proper running shoes and sometimes, if needed, shoe inserts.  It will really help, but beware…sometimes a change can cause a different kind of injury in your knee or hip.  This is because there are certain muscles getting worked out in new directions.  Decrease your mileage for a little bit to allow your legs to adjust to the realignment.

Ankles.

Maybe not as obvious as feet, but ankles can be a stride breaker.  I, for one, suffer from Trick Ankle Syndrome (yes I made that up).  Randomly, I’ll come down on the side of my ankle/foot instead of the bottom of my foot, sometimes causing a light sprain.  It’s not an uncommon injury amongst runners, especially those who take to trails or grassy cross country courses.  Wish that was my excuse, but it’s not…I trip on flat pavement.    To correct this, do ankle ABC’s.  Trace the alphabet with your ankles while you’re sitting at your desk or watching TV at night.  Strong ankles = less ankle injuries.

Shins.

We’ve all had them, but how do they affect your stride other than causing you to sit out your favorite workouts and hilly runs?  Strengthen them.  Tap your toes on the ground while you sit at your desk or watch TV.  When you get shin splints, be diligent about icing and stretching them.  Freeze some ice in a paper cup you can peel back and rub on your shins, as opposed to bags of ice.  It will cover the area more efficiently.

Knees.

Make sure you are stretching your IT band, the band of muscle that runs from your knee to your hip.  It can be excruciatingly painful when it gets overused, so pay attention to it before it happens if you can.  Standing up, cross your right leg over your left and lean to your right side.  Hold it for 30 seconds and then switch sides.  Another little trick:  when you stretch out your quads standing and holding one foot, be sure to hold your foot with the opposite hand to protect your knees.

Core.

It’s not just a yoga thing.  A strong core of ab muscles helps guide your stride, and decrease wasted movement when you are fatigued.  It’s not something you need to do a million crunches to achieve, either.  Concentrate on using your abs to guide your stride by picturing your legs and arms being anchored to, and controlled by, your core.  When you’re not running, concentrate on using your core to hold good posture while sitting, standing, and walking.  Crunches are good, too, depending on how serious your training regimen is.  However, not necessary for a strong core.  Try yoga a couple times a week, even just to pick up some good tips to carry with you and apply to your daily run.

Arms.

Arms weigh in huge on how efficient your stride is.  When you are running, your arms should be working just as hard as your legs.  Although not carrying the full weight of your body, as your legs do, your arms are guiding them.  They dictate speed and length of stride.  Lifting weights and doing push ups/pull ups are good ways of strengthening your arms.  Depending on how serious your training regimen is, you can give your arms a good enough workout on your daily run to stay tone.  Pay attention to them when you’re running.  What are they doing?  Fiddling with your ipod?  Drive your arms when you’re running!  Play around with them to find what’s most comfortable for you, and how efficiently they can speed up the rest of your stride when you increase your arm motion.

Head.

Besides housing the mental warrior that leads you to and through your next run, your head in the physical sense can be the biggest nuisance to your stride.  You can tell a struggling runner from a mile away by how their head is bouncing around like a bobblehead doll.  That’s a lot of wasted energy.  Calm down.  Relax your neck and look straight ahead (keep bumps and cracks in view…if you’re anything like me you trip over them half the time anyway…).

There.  Now that your feet are fixed and running straight, your ankles and shins are strong, your knees are stretched, your core is strong, your arms are driving, and your head is straight you can run more efficiently.  Simple as that, right?  Why else do we run so much?  Other than to gain endurance, it’s also to strengthen and perfect our stride.

Don’t accumulate junk miles.  Make every mile count.  Work on your stride.  I, personally, don’t believe in accumulating mileage just to say that’s how much I’ve put in the bank.  It has to be effective, quality running.  Sometimes running at a snail’s pace just to go further is hampering your overall stride.

Relax.  Find your own pace, manage your stride, and you can be successful without accumulating as much mileage as you think you need.

Happy Strides!

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