When running long distances, many factors can affect our performance and stamina.
- Running Form
- Running Pace and Rhythm
- Breathing Technique
- Mental Training
If you experience any of these symptoms while running or post run, that means you need to correct some of your running techniques.
- Do you experience any joint pains (knee, ankle)?
- Lower back pain after a run?
- Shoulder pain or tightness during a run?
- Loud landing steps while running?
- Pain in the lower part of the abdomen or hips- left or right side?
- Is your breathing technique irregular?
- Does your mind or motivation give up before your body does?
There are three basic factors which affect our running form:
- Foot Landing– Runners that experience pain in the heels, toes or calves is due to improper foot landing. For runners who heel strike, that means that their front leg is overextended and lands forward. Proper foot landing involves landing mid-foot and under the knee. Heel striking and landing forward will cause pressure on the knee, knee deterioration, joint pain, pressure on the ankles and hips. If the foot lands to far ahead of the knee, the front leg will not have the force to push forward.
- Body Posture– For a proper running form, the head, spine, hips must be in line with the foot landing point. With a natural forward lean, there should be a straight line from the head to the foot landing point. Runners need to run tall and look straight ahead, not down as this will put extra pressure on the neck. Runners need a strong core (abdominals, hips and glutes) to maintain a good running posture, it is important to keep the hips forward and be able to hold the pelvis level so the hips don’t drop side to side. With a strong core, when we push off, the force is transferred through the hips, pelvis, spine, neck and all the way to the head.
- Cadence– In order to be more energy sufficient when running, especially long-distance running, we need to make sure we don’t over-stride and keep a faster cadence. The recommended rhythm cadence is between 170-180 steps/minute. The length of our legs can increase or decrease the recommended cadence, we have to find our proper cadence and running rhythm according to our body type. Taking long strides will waste energy, put pressure on the knees and joints. For ultra-runners, it is very important to find your ideal and natural rhythm and focus on it during long runs to be energy sufficient.
When running, the head should be upright and look forward, the chest should be open, the arms should be at a 90 degree angle and swing close to the torso, the hips should be straight and levelled. We should use our core to lift the feet off the ground, not our hip flexors, while keeping a natural forward lean.
Proper breathing techniques can help long-distance runners to maintain their energy levels by increasing the oxygen in the bloodstream.
- Breathe through the nose- Breathing through the nose is even more important for long-distance runs; you get more oxygen into the blood, and you don’t want your mouth and throat don’t get dry. When running long-distance runs, excessive breathing through the mouth can lead to more stomach gas, and muscle cramps. When running short fast distances, breathing through the mouth can be more efficient and not have as many negative impact.
- Breathe from the belly– Taking short breaths from the chest doesn’t provide the body with enough oxygen, we have to breathe from our belly. Also, breathing from the upper chest will tire and tighten the shoulders even more. Practice breathing through the belly daily. Taking a few deep breaths through the nose regularly while running, increases our energy levels by providing more oxygen to the lungs.
- Find your natural breathing rhythm– Runners should find a consistent breathing rhythm (inhale and exhale). For long-distance runners, the basic breathing rhythm is 4:4- inhaling over 4 steps and exhaling over 4 steps. When running uphill it should be shorten to 3:3 and for downhill or sprinting 2:2.
Mental Training Technique
When an ultra-runner DNF from a race, it is often due to the mind giving up and not the body. If a runner experiences any strong physical issues then it is smart to listen to the body. But often after many kms, the mind wants to give up. For ultra-runners, the mental aspect of running is the toughest but most rewarding part of running. After running 50K, everything switches to the brain, the pain, the exhaustion, the inability, the weakness. The brain takes over. Ultra-runners need to train their mind to push themselves and support their body and strength.
Proper long-distance mind techniques:
- Focus on the race. Focus on your running form, pace, how your body feels, this will keep your brain busy with the right thoughts. Try to avoid running with your mind in a fantasy world, reassess your body regularly.
- Use checkpoints to break down the distance and motivate yourself to get there.
- When running in a familiar course the brain gets more comfortable and motivated, so if you can, make sure you recce the course to make the long run easier mentally.
- Keep reminding yourself that you are strong and can always keep going, especially when we go through some challenges during the run (weather, technical course, fall)
- Keep updating your refueling schedule, remind yourself what and when you’re supposed to eat and drink. Again, this will keep your mind busy and strong.
- Set your goals before the run, whether it’s kms, checkpoints, pace, it will keep your mind focused.
Train Hard, Eat Right, and Feel Great!