I recently had someone on Instagram ask me about holding on to their running form over long distance races.
This person suggested they were competitive over shorter distance races but once it comes to going beyond the half marathon he struggles to continue his form.
Let’s first discuss why form breaks down
Fatigue sets in and your form primarily changes because your brain is attempting to give relief to expired muscle fibers by using more fresh ones.
Thus during a long distance hard run runners very commonly start with a more forward landing footstrike and progress (digress?) to a more rearward landing heel strike. Different foot strikes use and load the legs differently, so your body is doing this to bring in fresh muscles and reduce the load to other areas of the body.
You may also notice your cadence (step rate) decrease and/or your stride length increase.
What can you do to preserve your form over long distances?
There are a number of “simple” methods.
- Proper training.
- Specific Endurance is the name of the game, this is the ability to tolerate goal pace for the goal distance. Gradually extending your ability to run goal pace is one of the primary ideas behind my coaching methodology.
- Aside from actual running, doing strength work for 5-10 minutes daily will also improve how long your muscles will function well.
- Drills. This is when you’re basically practicing exagerated good running form. The classic high knees or butt kick drill, for example. You would never run with knees that high or tapping your butt with your leg, but doing so in practice with purpose helps your body “learn” how to do it naturally.
- Proper pacing
- Do not ever forget the 5P’s: Proper pacing prevents poor performance. Of course if you do the first 10k of your half marathon race too quickly you’re going to “hit the wall” and your form will completely fall apart. Running conservatively for the first third/half of a race will help reduce your fatigue so you can run better during the final stretch.