This week I got an email from a runner and physio who asked:
Will the day ever come when I can run 20km and not think about my form? At times the thinking is more tiring than the running!
It’s an excellent question, and the answer goes to the very heart of what it means to work effectively on your running form. Here are my thoughts:
The day ought to come when you can run without thinking about your form all the time. If thinking is wearing you out, you may be analyzing when you should instead be feeling.
It should be optional to think about your form but when you do choose to tune in the “thinking” should feel interesting, playful, and helpful in dealing with terrain and fatigue. Occasionally you’ll have an “off” day and your running will feel lousy and you won’t feel like you can do anything about it, but it should be pretty rare, and when you feel that way I suggest a “reboot,” meaning you stop running completely, stroll to a standstill, and start over. Sometimes that’s the only way to get out of a bad form rut, since the leeway you have to change a cyclical activity while it’s ongoing is limited.
All the elements of good running form should reinforce each other — it shouldn’t feel like you’re trying to keep track of a multitude of different elements. Your form should be one single whole-body action that you do; if it doesn’t all fit together it may be that one of the pieces you’re trying to assemble is in fact wrong.
It’s not enough for your form to be healthy; your learning process should be healthy too. You should be depending mostly on exploration, experimentation, and attention to what you’re feeling as you run rather than focusing on trying to run correctly or, heaven forbid, trying to force yourself to run right. When your process of working on your form is healthy, the experience you have is that more and more of your movement is brought into the light when you run, or that you can feel what you’re doing better and better. And it should feel enjoyable to be aware of what you’re doing, not distracting or tiring or annoying.
At its best, being aware of your form means being totally immersed in the act of running. It’s not a process of analysing and correcting your movement, but a process of feeling yourself at one with the movement. In fact, you can approach the challenge of improving your form that way around: without preconceptions, just run and seek to make the movement easier, more fluid, and more comfortable. Any changes you make in your form as a result of seeking out those sensations are almost certainly the right ones.