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  • Writer's pictureMary Brooking

Running checklist: head to feet

My running checklist got its first outings during December's festive popups where I used it to structure the focus of the intervals within the sessions but I thought it might be useful to share it again.

8 things to think about from head to feet.

It's a handy list to have in your mind. If you are feeling fatigued, or your self talk is turning negative (often a sign of fatigue and/or under-fuelling) then work your way though the list. It will give you a focus, help you hone in again on an awareness of your running and keep your mental chatter positive.

I've included some cues that may be familiar from the chalk messages in the park and some  sciency bits behind why I think they are important too.

Look ahead not down.

Cue: Grapefruit under your chin. 

Clearly you need to make sure there aren't hazards by your feet but this can be done by glancing down with your eyes rather than having your head bowed. Keeping your gaze ahead is a key part of maintaining an ideal running posture of being tall with a neutral spine.

Relax shoulders

Cue: Llama neck/get shoulders away from your ears/ show off your dangly earrings.

It's much easier to breathe diaphagmatically when we relax our shoulders, as opposed to using our upper chest and back muscles to breathe. This means we can oxygenate our body better, powering performance and means our core muscles can focus on keeping our running posture stable rather than getting fatigued through unnecessary tension and breathing.

Drive arms back: fingers to pocket

Cue: Hammer the nail with your elbow.

Our arms play a huge part in our running. They help maintain our cadence, build momentum and act to counter the rotational forces of foot striking. Drive them forward and backwards to optimise all these roles.

Engaged core

Cue: Upright partner plank feeling

The amount of core engagement needed for running varies with the intensity of the effort. For max velocity sprinting its dialled up to 10, for an easy run way less engagement is optimal. Whatever speed we are running at we benefit from a stable core or torso to provide the foundation for the movement of our legs and arms and to maintain our tall running posture, so that means those core muscles need to be switched on at some level.

High hips: run tall

Cue: Imagine string or helium balloons pulling you up from your head

Our legs can swing below us much easier if we run tall, with high hips so we can have a longer stride (with more leg extension at the end of the stride not over-reaching at the front of the stride) which helps our running efficiency.

Knees apart

Cue: Chocolate orange/easter egg/tennis ball between your knees.

A narrow step width where there is no daylight between the legs places higher stress on the knee joint than a wider step width and can also mean the glutes engage less effectively. Keep a fist size gap between your knees or try to ensure that your feet land either side of a line rather than landing directly in front of each other.

Pick up foot and keep ankle flexed

Cue: Bicycle legs

A bent knee shortens the lever of our leg and means it takes less muscular energy to move the foot through the air compared to when our foot stays very close to the ground. A flexed ankle means the potential of the achilles tendon to store energy and release it is maximised, helping reduce muscle effort required and postpone fatigue onset.

Is your cadence what you want it to be?

Cue: metronome or spotify playlist

A cadence of 170 steps/minute (spm) or above is a great guide to aim for. It will be a bit lower on slower runs than on faster runs, but 170spm should be somewhere in your spectrum. A cadence at this level will help reduce the risk of over-striding where a long stride is achieved through the foot landing in front of the knee (ideal landing is with a vertical shin) which places high braking forces through the leg. It also increases the liklihood of short ground contact time which optimises the use of stored tendon energy, reducing muscular input required.

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