With my recent upsurge in trail running in preparation for Western States, coupled with my corresponding upsurge in falling, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to HOW I run. To be a good looped-course, timed event runner, I have to run a lot of miles on flat surfaces. My main training focus is on physical efficiency, physical endurance and mental strength. Basically, I focus on how to run well when it’s long and boring.
This type of training has clearly not been an asset when it comes to preparing for Western States. Right now, I am training on some pretty technical (for me) trails, and the results have not been so pretty. I have fallen on about 50% of my runs, leaving me, thus far, with a torn hamstring and lots of cuts and bruises.
And up to now, all of my training has taken place during the day. What is going to happen to me when I am running at night?! I have a feeling bears are going to be the least of my problems.
Anyway, for every runner, it is all about finding the best stride for them for the specific terrain they are running on. For me, it has always been about efficiency. If I’m running for 24 hours, I don’t want to spend ANY extra energy bouncing up and down. I want to gliiiiiiiide across the road, thus minimizing effort and risk of injury from pounding. After years of running 20 miles a day, mostly on roads, I have naturally developed a very short, midfoot landing stride that allows me to run for a long time with less fatigue. It isn’t the prettiest stride, but it gets the job done.
Studies have shown that the least efficient strides that significantly add to your fatigue level are those that involve a heel-strike. According to Matt Fitzgerald, author of Iron War, “The greatest source of energy waste in running is the braking that occurs when a foot makes contact with the ground.
Those runners who brake the least when a foot lands spend the least energy trying to get back up to speed when pushing off the ground.” Basically, the most highly trained runners don’t have to regain their speed after each foot landing.
This means they are usually landing mid-foot or slightly forward, as demonstrated above. There is just less braking taking place when you land in the center of the foot (or slightly forward), and the result is more efficiency for the runner.
So, the question for me is, how do I retain my hard-earned efficiency while developing a trail-friendly stride so that I don’t die? I need a trail stride that is efficient AND safe. If not, I will have to run WS100 in body armor.
Do you have any special “tricks” to be more efficient? How about on trails?