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St. John, USVI

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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!


Slouch over…you know…like you do when your mom is nagging you about your bad posture.   Take a deep breath.

Now, stand up straight and take a deep breath.  Obviously a lot easier, right?  Let’s apply that same knowledge to your running stride.

When you run slouched over, arms flailing, head bobbling, butt sticking out…you are wasting energy and adding time to the clock.  So much for a kick at the end, right?  No energy left.  It’s all been wasted on fluffy, inefficient movement.

Run straight up, arms pumping up and down, knees raising, butt tucked in, core activated, and head not moving…well, you run a lot darn faster and have energy left to kick it in.

Need further proof?  Watch an efficient sprinter run the 100.  Not a whole lot of wasted movement, there, because they don’t have time to waste on it.  Now, watch an average distance runner run the mile.  What happens on lap 3?  The head bob, the arm cross, the labored face…ugh…

Distance runners have more time to focus on the pain, but a lot of times spend less time on stride and form efficiency.  Why?  Isn’t it almost MORE important to train your body to save energy during a mile or a 5K race than a 100M?

I have an easy step to add to your workout to help you fix your stride.  Build.  Work.  Float.  They’re strides, but broken down to help you perfect your stride and enhance your kick.  I did them in high school and college, and they really helped me improve on both fronts.

The How To:

First, pick a distance.  Ideal would be 100 to 150 meters.  Find your marking points at the 50, 100, and 150 M markers.


The first 50 meters you are going to build speed.  Starting out like you would a race, not a gradual jog.  By the time you hit the 50 meter mark, you should be at your top speed.


The second 50 meters are run at top speed.  Put your head down, drive your arms, get on your toes, and run as fast as you can.  If it feels ridiculous, you’re most likely doing it right.  Pay attention to your arms, and how driving them forward in an efficient motion (waste level, not with your shoulders invading your ears or criss crossing them over your chest) very quickly helps lead your legs to pick up the pace.  Sprinting on your toes allows you to go farther faster, which is important for training your fast twitch muscles.  When you put your head down, don’t put it down so far you’re tripping over yourself.  Just adjust it enough to carry your momentum forward.

Don’t think about the distance your sprinting…it’s so small it’ll be over before you can freak out about it.  The goal here is a short burst of efficiency, so as not to lose form.  You can get your endurance speed from 400 and 200 workouts.  This is speedy speed development were working on, along with your form.  It’s a lot to think about, right?  So is a race.  Training yourself to have good form in an intense burst of speed will help maintain good form during your race.  Not to mention, the fast twitch muscles that you are activating during Build Work Floats will be ready to activate again at the end of your race.  Are you going to be able to finish your mile, 2mile, or 5K on your toes with your head down?  Uh, no, unless you completely spaced on the rest of your race and ran too slow.  It will, however, make your kick faster that it was, and it will start to make your overall pace seem more manageable.

Float. At the 100, you want to begin decelerating.  It’s call float because you don’t want to injure your legs coming to a stop too quickly after releasing all that speed.  Runner’s shins don’t need to undergo anymore unnecessary pounding.  So, float…for the whole last 50 meters.

After your done, take a full recovery and do 3 more.  Do them every day that you have a workout…or every day after form runs, but before your distance run.  You want to do them on fresh legs.

When you ‘slow down’ to run race pace, you won’t be on your toes or leaned forward with your head down.  But, hopefully, your arms will be pumping efficiently (an action that stems from a strong core), relaxing your head (no bobble-heads), extending your knees and butt tucked under.  When you get to the end, you’ll be able to drive your arms knowing that your legs are capable of following them in for a great kick.  With your core activated, shoulders down and head not bobbling around, you’ve put some energy in the bank for the end.  Ahhhh.  Doesn’t that feel better?  It’s like breathing easier.  Now, go PR.

Good luck, and happy strides!

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