Improving your run efficiency with better biomechanics can dramatically improve your triathlon run performance and reduce your injury risk. In this episode, Coaches Jeff Raines and Elizabeth James dig into run biomechanics and discuss running cadence, arm swing, body lean, breathing patterns, vertical oscillation, stride length, and more. Learn to identify inefficiencies in your run form and how to incorporate drills to improve your mechanics.
TriDot Podcast .023:
Improving Your Run Efficiency with Better Biomechanics
Intro: This is the TriDot podcast, TriDot uses your training data and your genetic profile combined with predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize your training, giving you better results in less time with fewer injuries. Our podcast is here to educate, inspire and entertain. We’ll talk all things triathlon with expert coaches and special guests. Join the conversation, and let's improve together.
Andrew: Welcome everyone, I am super excited the you've joined us today. We have a great show lined up, talking through how to improve your running biomechanics. I know a lot of you out there are probably like me, and you're a runner before you were a triathlete, or maybe you're triathlete and you're a runner, and you want to know like “how can I improve my form, how can I improve my technique, how can I get more efficient as a runner?” And this episode is for you, my 1st guest joining us today is Coach Jeff Reigns, Jeff has a master's degree of science… and Jeff has a master's of science in exercise physiology, and has qualified for Boston multiple times. He has over 30 Iron Man event finishes to his credit, and was D-One collegiate runner. Jeff thanks for hopping back on the podcast to talk “running.”
Jeff: Thank you Andrew, glad to be back, I'm excited to hit the ground running, and dive deeper into my favorite “the run discipline.”
Andrew: Well, I'm like guaranteed now, I'm just learning that every time Jeff is on the podcast, there will be a bad pun right out of the gate, like every single time. You have not let me down yet. Next up hopefully without a bad pun, is pro triathlete Elizabeth James. Elizabeth is a Kona and Boston Marathon qualifier, who has a recent marathon PR of three hours and 59 seconds. Elizabeth is on a quest to complete a marathon in all 50 states, and with 18 states down is already well on her way. Elizabeth, Thanks for joining us today.
Elizabeth: Well, thank you so much the run is definitely my favorite discipline. So anytime we have the opportunity to sit down and talk about running, I am all for it.
Andrew: And who I am? I am your host; Andrew, the average triathlete, voice of the people and captain of all of those in the middle of the pack. Today, we're going to start talking about Iron Man race locations, then we'll roll into the main set, where I hope to cover all of the questions we as athletes have about running biomechanics. Then we will cool down by hearing a TriDot athlete shared a story about his 1st Iron Man, it's going to be a good one, let's get to it.
Break: Time to warm up, let's get moving.
Andrew: Whether it's a 70.3 or a full on 140.6, it feels like Iron Man has been adding more new races than ever before. For today's warm up, if you were in charge of picking the next location for an Iron Man in what city would you most want to see Iron Man add a race? Elizabeth I'm going to start with you, if you are in charge, 100 percent selfish reasons, you don't have to consider anybody else in your thinking, if you were going to go do a brand new Iron Man race, what city would you want that race to be in?
Elizabeth: Gosh, those that know me well, know that geography is not my thing.
Andrew: Did I stump you? did I give you an impossible question?
Elizabeth: Maybe so, I might need your help with what city this can be. I know you know the details of the course I want. I mean I want a non-wet suit legal, down current river swim, a one loop bike course with some slightly rolling elevation, minimal turns, and then like a challenging and hot run course. I'm pretty indifferent with location, maybe that's just because like I said geography is not my thing.
Andrew: Elizabeth is there to race and win, she's not there to take in the sights.
Elizabeth: Alright, yeah, I mean it's about the race, not the vacation there, but I had… I am not quite sure where that would mean. So you know maybe our triathletes can help me out with that, tell me what location that would qualify for.
Andrew: If Elizabeth description fits a town or a city near you, let her know. Find her on Facebook, find her on Instagram at Coach_EJay. Elizabeth, This is where you need the race.
Elizabeth: There we go, they can help me out with a location.
Andrew: Let's put Jeff's geography skills to the test a little bit, Jeff do you actually have a city in mind when I ask this question?
Jeff: Selfishly I would love Austin Texas, it's my backyard, the Longhorn half iron man used to be there, moved to Waco, great venue but gosh I would love for half or full Iron Man event to be Estes Park Colorado.
Andrew: Beautiful vacation place. How many times have you been at Estes Park Colorado?
Jeff: I have been there two times, I just loved it, loved it, and I would love to be out in that scenery crystal clear mountain water. Just amazing-amazing… [crosstalk]
Andrew: Is that one of those Colorado cities that's like at elevation, like would that be like part of the difficulty of racing there is low enough?
Jeff: No, it's intense. Yeah, it's going to be at altitude.
Andrew: That would be super cool, I know for me, I thought long and hard about this, and I really wanted to pick something like exotic, like in the world, but what I have to go with my family lives in Florida, and I did an Olympic distance race in Key West Florida. And it was really a cool course, and the whole time I was out there, I just kept thinking to myself it will be so cool if there was a half or a full Iron Man in Key West Florida. I mean they could market it as you know bottom of the country. Come and race an Ironman in the bottom of the country, it's the southernmost tip of the continental United States down in Key West. And the road that takes you to Key West, it's just… it's just a one lane road that goes all the way from the southern tip of Florida through all the keys and there's just multiple bridges that are just constantly connecting these little island to island to island.
And so the whole 112 bike course could literally take you through all of the keys, and back, and you'd just be over the ocean the entire time. There literally is not a spot on the island of Key West Florida that does not have a view of the ocean, and so whether you're biking around it, running around it, swimming out in it, just a really-really unique island down there to one visit and race in. And so I really enjoyed my time doing an Olympic there with my dad and the whole time it was like man, it will be super cool, there was a longer race here and I feel like it's a little bit of a challenge to get down there and fly to Miami and drive down, but it's worth the travel. And that's will be my pick is Key West, but you know in the spirit of us already wanting people to help Elizabeth. How about this, how about if you're out there listening, you're part of our viewership, you're part of a triathlete family, just by listening to podcasts, we want to hear from you on this.
Ok, So Elizabeth she's looking at me right now, she's going to go on social media, she's going to go on the triathlete Facebook, the triathlete Instagram page, and post a question asking you guys where you would want to see Iron Man put a race. You can pick your backyard, you can pick that scenic destination race in Europe or the islands or the beach where you've always wanted to go visit, you can pick wherever you'd want to pick and we would love to hear from you and maybe someday on the podcast, here in the near future, we will pick a few, and we'll share some of the… some of our favorite choices that you guys did. So go find us on Facebook, go find us on social media, and let us know where in the world you want to race an Ironman.
Break: On to the main set, going in 3, 2, 1.
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All right hypothetically, say the 3 of us are not in studio recording a podcast right now. Say we're in Boston or Chicago or Houston or New York on the day of a marathon and we're watching some elite runners go by, you both turn to me as running experts and you say “hey, Andrew look at that runner, check out that beautiful form, look at the stride.” What do you see in their biomechanics that would make you point out a runner and just gush about how great their form is?
Elizabeth: Ok, well this doesn't take a whole lot of imagination because I think both Raines and I would say that when watching runners, that's one of the things that we look at quite a bit. And we do gush over and just go “oh gosh, their form, like that's fantastic.” I mean, really it's kind of how the body interacts as a whole. So beautiful form is kind of you know easy running, those proper biomechanics just make running look effortless. Some trademarks of that effortless form are you know kind of a good upright body position with a slight forward lean, you know high cadence, minimal vertical oscillation, just kind of you know that that stride that looks effortless.
Andrew: Jeff what about you?
Jeff: You know it's funny, because I'll notice an athlete, and I can tell who they are before anyone else standing beside me on the sidelines can.
Andrew: You mean like the pros, like the elite?
Jeff:Yeah, and just anyone, my athletes, stud runners, you know people that I'm looking for out on course or who I know are in the race, before I can notice their face or their kit, or something like that, I'll say “Oh, that's Andrew Harley over there.” You know I can notice and tell people by who they are.
Andrew: Jeff, when we run together, are you inwardly critiquing my form?
Jeff: I do it, I can't help it, I can't help it, I do it to everybody. I'm driving to Walmart or the grocery store or whatever and I see someone running on the sidewalk, and I'm like oh they're in the Brooks ghost shoes, 12 millimeter drop. Or that right arm is doing something funky. You know I just can't help it.
Andrew: I do that with my wife, we've been driving on the road and there's a lot of parks where we live, like near the lake that we live near and I've seen people running and I'm not nearly as nuanced as you are, but if I see something obvious like someone just is really like picking their feet up unnecessarily high, like a crazy kick or a crazy arm swing, like “oh man that girl’s really got a lot going on with their arms, like I'll make little comments. You can't you can't help but not notice it. Right, like if you see somebody that is going to a “Friends” reference, but you see somebody “Phoebe Buffet-ing” it down the road, you can't not notice. And if you don't get that reference, please go on YouTube and find it. I'm sure it's on there somewhere, because it's hilarious. But anyway, so what are you looking for when you're looking for good form Jeff?
Jeff: Just like Elizabeth said, that effortless kind of calm, cool and collected style. Somebody who looks like they're running fast, but it looks like they're also you know out on a joyride or a joy run. And it's even kind of like swimming sometimes, you look at someone and you're like man they're so calm cool and collected, they're not swimming that hard but they're on world record pace. You know what I mean?
Elizabeth: You look at the time clock, and you're like “whoa.”
Andrew: Yeah, the people that fly by me in open water swims, like it looks like they're just gliding, right it's crazy, and so running is much the same way you're saying.
Jeff: Yeah, there's an efficiency aspect that you can just tell, I mean there's a million things to look for. You know arm carriage, stride length, body lean, you know the amount of sound or you know that amount of sound you hear from pounding, from breathing, ground contact, you know over-striding. There's a ton of things that you look for when looking or assessing somebody’s gait, but that just overall beautiful form, just something that you can tell they're running fast but they're not laboring that hard. They could hold that all day at least it seems like or looks like they could.
Andrew: So most of us are not at the place of the hypothetical marathon runner, we're talking about that would cause you guys to just gush over their form. Most of us have significant room for improvement in our running form, so how can someone diagnose what they might be doing wrong in their running biomechanics?
Elizabeth: You know running is one of those things that some athletes think that they really don't need any guidance on. You placed one foot in front of the other and you just keep going, I think there's even a really funny “How I Met Your Mother” episode about this to when Barney decides to do a race, so you know as we're going with those “Friends” references. Gosh, this is another good one too to look up.
Andrew: Lots of TV running episodes, I’ll throw another one out there. In “New Girl”, the character Schmidt is always out going for a run and then Nick joins in once in a while and gets sweaty really fast, and anyway, yeah.
Elizabeth: I mean you know you place one foot in front of the other, you keep going. But there is a lot more to it, than just that. And you know proper run form will not only make you a more efficient runner which means a faster runner, but it's also going to keep you healthy and in the sport a lot longer. So for athletes that are looking to improve their run form, I highly recommend doing a run form analysis. Feedback from an expert coach is going to be very valuable for diagnosing areas for form improvement. I know that we're going to you know talk through some of those areas here today on the episode, but certainly the best feedback and my advice would be to get a formal run analysis.
Jeff: Yeah, you know I think so many people… I hear them say, “well, I'm just not designed to be a runner or you know my parents didn't give me genetics that are in favor of me being just a one of those runners.” You know being an efficient runner, and being a world class athlete are two different things. You don't have to be super super fast but you can be very-very efficient. So a lot of it depends your goal, are you just trying to go out and finish that 5k. So you may not be as interested in correcting or improving on your biomechanics, but everybody's goal should-should be to prevent injury, to be a little bit more efficient.
Andrew: So I know this can vary from runner to runner, and problem to problem but in general what are some of your go to drills for improving your running form?
Elizabeth: Ok, so this is perfect because for all of the TriDot athletes listening, the go to or tried and true run drills, those that are really going to help improve your run form, those are already included in the run workouts.
Andrew: In the warm up portion, is that what you're talking about?
Andrew: So people don't skip those. Right, when I first got… [crosstalk]
Elizabeth: They’re there for a reason.
Elizabeth: And those are a critical part of your workout.
Andrew: When I first started on TriDot, I would see those and I think I'll just you know just to save time, I'll just replace those with just 2-3 minutes of just jogging warm up, and I won't go through all those. They feel in a way kind of elementary, like you know all the different skips and the downs, and then I went to a camp, and at the camp they had a coach kind of walking us through some of those and you know talking about the importance of those, and it made me realize like oh those are really for a reason. So I started doing that, not every time I go for a run, but like I should. But most of the time I take the time to go through those warm ups, and it has really made it a big difference in the way I'm driving my knee through my stride and all that. So I think it's a great point.
Elizabeth: And I think that a lot of athletes are in that same situation and you know even if they see them there, are they really doing them? This is something I challenge my coached athletes all on frequently. Have you done your run drills? Ok, let's make a challenge this week, everybody like chime in, once you've done your run drills, like let's hear about it, let’s see some pictures, you know encouraging one another that this is an important part of your run training as well.
Jeff: I encourage a lot of my athletes. If you're pressed for time, cut your main set in half. I would rather you get that warm up session in and even foam rolling recovery after. Don't cut the recovery off or the warm up, just because you want to see 180 heart rate and get that main set in. Sometimes you will become a better runner in the long haul, the long run if you focus on these keys aspects.
Andrew: Some of those drills, are very tiring. I found myself getting sweaty and a little out of breath doing some of those warm up drills.
Jeff: I would say probably once every month at least. I will completely negate and skip my run workout for that day. And I will literally go to a football field or a track, and I will spend 30-45 minutes just doing drills.
Andrew: Well, so what are a few of those drills? Like people who are wondering we keep saying that, and obviously people that if they've looked at their TriDot workouts, they've seen some of those, but what are a few the key ones Jeff that you would recommend people do on a day like that or before they go for a run?
Jeff: There's a huge database of drills, you can Google it, you know everyone's heard of high knees and butt kicks. But before we get into a couple specifics, I want to… I want to really touch on something, there are tons of different ways that you can warm up your body before exercise, you could heat up your muscles, and create more elastic a better range of motion muscles by sitting in a hot tub. Right, you can warm up our bodies, we could do a 100 pushups, you know we there's a ton of things that we can do to heat up and warm up our bodies. So why do essentially all the sports out there use run drills as their warmup regimen?
Andrew: Yeah, that's all we did in soccer and tennis, when I was an athlete doing now as it was running warmup drills much of the same things we do with TriDot, it was what I did as a tennis player.
Jeff: Yeah, because every sport involves movement, knowing your body, being in tune with your body. And so if all of these sports have kind of a run specific entities to it or aspects to it, doing run specific drills kind of enhance and exaggerate good aspects of your run form. Ok, and they're designed to kind of over attenuate those good aspects, and hopes to kind of reprogram neuromuscular your improvements in gait and run mechanics. So if we exaggerate good movements, and we do them regularly before and after, every time we run. Hopefully, we are neuromuscularly relearning these good aspects, and it's spilling over into our workouts. You know drills not only just warm you up but they promote quick turnover, shorter strides, higher cadence is key and crucial, especially for endurance. But longevity, efficiency, gosh injury prevention, success building mileage or increasing into longer and longer distances. So all of these drills promote good aspects of your form, when doing all of those things. So what are a couple of good go to ones? A skips, there's ABCD skips. A skips is one of my go to drills.
Andrew: Also known as Andrew skips,
Jeff: Andrew Skips?
Andrew: Yeah A for Andrew there, obviously.
Jeff: It's more of an arm swing drill, believe it or not, and the focuses a little bit on the knee drive, but all of these drills really promote landing on the ball of your foot, attenuating your arch. You can do let's just say the… everyone knows high knees, the drill. Try doing those on your heels. Right, that quick turnover, that big high knee drive and landing on your heels, one it hurts, two you'll go backwards, you won’t move forward, you will go backwards. Right, so all of these drills promote really-really getting the most out of that elastic return of the attenuated arch. Right, that forward propulsion efficient spring like motion using our arches doing so. Wind mills is a good drill. Really wakes up the hamstrings and that elastic return of the push off, that kind of third and fourth stage of the stride, that flight phase. Is kind of how you propel, and use the you know what they call ground reaction force to your advantage or to your favor.
Shakeups, I call it penguin run, you put your hands behind your back, and you lean forward and you run straight legs. It’s kind of neat, but it focuses on body lean. C Skip is a drill that focuses on hip flexors, skipping for height is a drill that focuses on kind of pushing up and off that big toe, not kind of bailing out and pushing off of that pinky toe, bounding like a deer, those are drills that prepare you for hills or big efforts. I mean every drill has a specific aspect of your form that it's kind of waking up getting ready for that future workout.
Andrew: So I know both of you have worked super hard over the years to hone in your own running form, and in a lot of ways you still are. What was maybe a bad habit that you worked to fix in your own running stride?
Elizabeth: So yeah, when you say you know what have we worked on or are we still working? I'm definitely still working a lot on my run form, and particularly working on my cadence. I know that you know still when I get tired I go back to bad habits, my stride gets really long, my cadence gets pretty slow. My husband is such a great supporter of all my racing and he'll often get videos of me as I am nearing the finish line. And when I go back and watch those videos later, it kind of makes me cringe. I'm looking at those final strides, and it really highlights that this is still an area of improvement for me. So working on my cadence is kind of a big thing, that's also going to kind of translate into another area of improvement for me which is my vertical oscillation. So kind of like my cadence deteriorates at the end of the my race I bounce kind of up and down a whole lot more, and I need to be using that energy for forward motion. So yeah, I mean it's you know a continual learning progress. And those are a couple things I'm still working on.
Andrew: So it's working on taking the good form you have honed down the track, and just being able to continue it all the way through the duration of your race.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I mean it's going to take a while to break some of those bad habits and when I am very focused on my running form, I'm able to kind of put into practice the things I've been working on but I can tell that as I get near the end of an event, and my focus is not on necessarily my running form as much as it was earlier or as it is in my training sessions, then I still kind of revert back to some of those older habits. So I'm still working to make that a part of my you know race form as well.
Andrew: And that's a great thing that to keep in mind. I think people forget that when you are working on very mindfully, very intentionally, working to improve an aspect of your running stride. You know you can work on it in your training sessions, it feels like Oh in a few sessions, I've really… I've really worked on this, I've really accomplished something, I'm really doing better. But it's not just enough just to practice it two… three… four… five… times, it's really got to get where it's second nature or in the later stages of your race it is going to start breaking down. Jeff what something that for you that you really worked on your own time?
Jeff: First of all have to add to something Elizabeth said earlier that as the those race photo pictures you get the week after a race, you know the first four or five, I'm smiling, I’m happy, I look good.
I'm having a good time, and…
Andrew: I’m shooting little finger pistols at the photographer and giving him peace signs, and high fives.
Jeff:And then here comes the second half of the photo reel, and I look like Rocky Balboa at the end of a fight. My face is just in agony, I look horrible. one of my weaknesses, I hunch, I lean forward, the shoulders roll forward, you know I look like I'm kind of pushing a walker. And I just look very inefficient, I hunch over, I lose that good erect just kind of that good you know center of mass aspect or form.
Andrew: So is there anything you do in your own run training to try to improve upon that or is it just the later stages of a race it's just bound to happen?
Jeff: Yeah what I'll do is I have to earn more miles to my long run.
Jeff: And so I look at a lot of my data at the end of a long run and if my cadence is falling and some of these aspects we’re about to dive into, if my data is bad the second half of the run, then I'm not allowed to add two miles to my long run next week or the one thereafter. I have to have good data at the current distance that I met before I have earned more volume.
Andrew: So adding quality miles, and not just adding miles?
Andrew: So I often see people argue over what is the perfect running cadence, you guys have both touched on cadence just a little bit. So tell me this is there such thing as the perfect running cadence?
Jeff: You know you would think so, based on everything you see online, I definitely have my input on this so. If you were to Google right now perfect running cadence, 180 is probably the number you're going to see. 90 steps per minute on one foot, so the total steps taken in a one minute period on average the route the duration of whatever run you're doing. 180 tends to be the norm, you know just like gosh not everybody will race. Let's just say you know Google will even say Ok you're training for a half ironman, so you'll race approximately 80 percent of your FTP for that 56 mile bike portion. Well just like not everybody is going to race exactly 80 percent, you know if there's hills, what if there's wind, not everybody has the same fitness level.
Not everybody should or could achieve a perfect 180. I find that a range is the norm based on my experience. The range being 160 to 180, so 80 to 90 steps per minute with one of…
Andrew: So if the athlete is landing in that range, that becomes a… Cadence isn't an issue for them, you're saying that if they're in that range they're doing a good job with their cadence?
Jeff:They're doing a good job yes, but the goal is always to have… like the Long story short, I'll say the secret to running a shorter stride higher cadence.
Jeff: So what is that cadence Why not 200 why not 190 we're going to touch on it in just a second but 160 to 180 you're doing an efficient job, the goal should always be on the higher end of that range. Now I'm a decent runner, you know for what it's worth but I averaged a 168 cadence in the Houston Marathon recently and you know I'm a run coach and if you see 180 everywhere, you know the higher end of that range which would you would think 170, 180 right, it's the top half of that range. Why am I okay with the 168? Well a lot of it depends on your personal physiology. Really-really tall athletes tend to have a hard time in cheating higher cadences, really, really short athletes tend to be able to hit that 180, 190 pretty easily without having to think about it or work.
Now I'm 5,9. I'm not tall I'm not super short you know why-why am I still okay with that with a 168 average for a marathon. Well, a lot of that is your unique torso to-to kind of leg height or leg length ratio I have a very tiny torso, very little body, but I have really long legs.
Andrew: Kind of like you have the legs of a much taller guy?
Jeff: Yeah maybe my body thinks I'm 6’6” I don't know but I have a very long stride, I have a very long legs compared to my torso. And so 168 you know knock on wood I've been injury for injury free for 10 plus years, I have some decent personal best for me at least. So that 168 range tends to be where I fall for those really long distances. So just kind of make sure that you're also taking into account acceleration changes, you know what if the eight mile loop… Let's say that you ran was really hilly or there were a lot of headwinds, maybe there are a lot of turns, cornering, changing your speeds a lot inside of that run. All these things, terrains, environmental conditions they all have an impact on kind of how you fluctuate inside of the ranges of your cadence.
So you've got to think about all of that there's always a story you know how are you feeling you know maybe what shoe are you in did you run with hydration backpack or belt, did you add weight to your body all these things will affect your cadence.
Andrew: So that range is kind of the sweet spot and within that range if you've a body type that can get close to that 180 then that's what I want to strive for but if you're in there you're probably doing a good job is kind of what we're saying?
Jeff: Yes, if I had to put a number on it, and you know 160-180 is the goal, and we'll dive in a little bit more later.
Andrew: It's knowing your body, kind of the things you pointed out whether you have longer leg shorter legs, and it is something you mention to that I want to expand a little bit more on is that speed you're talking about because when we were racing you know the especially the longer the course. You know when we’re probably trying to hold a pretty steady effort but there's times in races, where we're going to surge a little bit there's times or maybe we're doing a local Sprint, and we're holding a fast pace and we get to the last half mile, and we've got some gas left in the tank and we want to speed up to hit you know a certain time or maybe this Jeff, maybe I'm out on course and I see somebody pass me and on their leg, they are my age group. And so I want to urge to keep up with them and maybe pass them back. So if we're changing speeds within our races does our cadence also change along with it or are we trying to keep a similar cadence?
Jeff: The good old speed versus cadence debate or $1,000,000 question, does cadence change as speed changes? It's a yes, and no. It is a little bit of a trick question, if I had to pick one of those two, I would say the answer is no. Your cadence should not change as your speed changes, but let me explain, when you accelerate, when you go from a slower speed to a much faster speed, your cadence will increase, it will raise a little bit. Now once you're at that top speed or that goal speed you want to attain, that will settle back down into that 160-180 range.
Jeff: So for example let's say you went out and you ran a 12 minute mile you should stay you know or average let's say in between that 160-180, maybe closer to 180 is the goal. So maybe you're shooting for 180 cadence, let's say a slightly slower 12 minute mile, you would think though that if Ok, well now you know Coach Jeff wants me to go run a nine minute mile track.
Andrew: My leg should speed up to hit that nine minute mile.
Jeff: Yeah I have to speed up, I have to work harder, I have to run faster to achieve a nine minute mile instead of a 12 minute mile. You should still take the same amount a number of steps to achieve that mile.
Andrew: So am I just taking longer steps of that point and leaning farther forward how much even that speed amount raising my cadence.
Jeff: You're hitting the ground harder, but you are traveling further within each step. But you should still take about the same amount of number of steps. So you would think that running a 12 minute mile, you achieved 180 you know steps per minute. But if you were to go run a faster nine minute mile would you take 200 steps per minute to achieve because you're running faster, so you would think that but the answer is no. Now I find that it's a trick question because does your speed change? As a cadence change as your speed changes yes, and no, the real answer is No. but I find that you shouldn't see more than about a five to eight cadence increase or differential from that baseline from that kind of nine to 12 minute mile.
Now it is kind of deemed that going to 6:30 - 7 minute mile or faster you know, those guys running four minute miles, their cadence will be a little bit higher. That's not an endurance so to speak a long distance all day long pace but for the most part of that seven minute mile to 15 minute mile, your cadence should not change much for sure. No more than five to eight as your speed changes.
Elizabeth: If I could I'd I would just love to interject here for a second, I saw this fantastic demonstration that my run coach did a couple years ago. And it was just exactly what we were talking about here, what happened was he kind of gathered us all around a treadmill, he set a metronome to 180 and then he you know started running, he varied the pace on the treadmill, so kind of like grains of sand he started at a 12 minute mile and was able to keep that 180 cadence. And then he increased the speed and he showed us Ok, you know I went from a 12 minute mile, now I'm here at a 10 minute mile, cadence hasn't change still right on beat with a metronome. And again, he went you know all the way down to gosh, I think it was like a 6 minute mile or something. And the entire time keeping the same cadence and you know here and there, there was maybe a little fluctuation with the acceleration.
Elizabeth: But then always was able to settle in exact same cadence, and just really was a fantastic demonstration about it no matter what your running pace is you can still have that high cadence.
Andrew: You know, you’re moving your legs any faster, you're pushing a little harder, but you're not going any faster, that's super interesting. So let's move on this one though, let's talk for a minute about arm swing. Now I've heard it's good to use your arms to kind of help propel you forward but I've also heard it's good to kind of keep your arms more tucked in, so that you're more efficient, you're saving energy. What should we be doing with our arms while we run?
Jeff: We definitely want to use that arm swing as a kind of a momentum and balancing aspect but you know lower relax shoulders in very calm arm swing is key. Now, if I had to put a number on it I would say kind of an 80 to 90 degree arm swing with at the elbow flexion. So that 90 degree elbow angle is recommended for most, 80 to 90 degrees we swing at our shoulders not at our elbows I use the analogy of a kind of like a rusted hinge, our elbows are a rusted hinge, we swing more from the shoulders. And I will say that in the sport of triathlon, triathlon a lot of people will… you know and some coaches even coach to stay on the narrower or more acute or inside of that arm angle range.
Andrew: To have your arms more tucked.
Jeff: A little bit more tucked, because we have already swam, we've already biked, we’re fatigued right. We may want to over lean a little bit, we're tired, we need to stay erect, we want to keep our shoulders low, and relax but a lot of traffic will close the arms, just a little bit kind of inside of that ideal 80 to 90 degrees, to keep their upper bodies more erect when they're fatigued going into a long run, but for the most part 80 to 90 degrees is ideal. Running you know uphill versus downhill, you know uphill they’ll close a little bit, downhill the open a little bit. But something I want to talk about as far as arm swing. When I want to coach kids especially, I’ve done this before, I've brought marbles, I have them grab a marble and put it in the fist, they make a fist and they hold a marble in the you know in the palm of their hand. Now I get this question a lot, as far as arm swings, so we know we want more of an 80-90 degree arm swing, low relax shoulders and all of that stuff.
But how high does the fist come up? How far does the fist go in the back and you know yeah towards your hip, pass your butt and you know in the back of the arm swing? So I use this analogy, all right so if you put marbles in your fists,
Andrew: Or energy gel, you know it might as well have it be something useful on your run.
Jeff:The highest point at which you would want that marble to come up if you're maintaining an 80 to 90 degree arm swing throughout the entire stride on arm swing phase, we don't want that marble to come up higher than the breasts line, you know I think textbooks kind of that zyphoid process the hard collection of bone there, just below the lower breast line.
Andrew: That’s what that’s called?
Andrew: If I have learned anything today, it's that that's what… say that again the little hard part kind of in the middle of your sternum, is the what?
Jeff: Zyphoid process, say that five times fast, but anyways we don't want that marble to come up higher than that lower breast line, you know we're not punching ourselves in the chin, punch in the sky, and that's kind of…
Andrew:So we do want our arms to help us strive for but if we're going above that line you're probably going… you're doing it you're going overboard with that?
Jeff: Correct you're not using the full effect of that forward momentum. So we don't want the marbles to come up kind of higher than that lower chest line, breast line. We don't want the marbles to go further back then maybe our pocket. I've heard people say kind of eat that cookie, get off me. Famous run coach down in Austin says that.
Andrew: Eat that cookie being?
Jeff: Bring that cookie up closer to your mouth, get off me, throw that elbow back. So just kind of encouraging that 80-90 degree arm swing is kind of what that means. Now we know that the marble doesn't come up higher than our lower breast line, but worst case scenario we don't want those marbles to twist or across that front center line, but the upper body will twist a little bit. So that arm will come up in across the front of the body a little bit as that spine twists. But worst case scenario kind of we're draw a vertical lines kind of on our nipple line, our breast line. We don't want the marbles to come up higher, than let's just say that nipple mark or inside of that mark. But worst case scenario, the midline we don't want the marbles to cross through that mid line. Now up hills, the arm carriage will be a little bit tighter, you are mentioning going to bring in that arm swing in being a little bit more efficient on an uphill. We're hurting, we want to get up to the top as fast as we can, so that arm carriage will be a little bit tighter and slightly higher with the fists as we're running uphill. And then downhill they might be a little bit lower, so for steady state, flat terrain, those are pretty much the textbook norms.
Andrew: Now earlier you mentioned body lean, is there an ideal amount that we should all be leaning forward into our stride, and how can we know if we're doing that right while we're running.
Elizabeth: So this is going to vary a little bit as to kind of what your purpose for that run session was, or if you're racing. So that forward body lean is going to look a little bit different if you're doing a steady state long run versus your speed work, or you know if you're making accelerations. I mean think about Usain Bolt coming out of the blocks on his 100 meter dash, that is going to look a whole lot different in terms of body lean.
Andrew: That dude’s lean is halfway to the finish line.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I mean that looks completely different to me on my long run, two completely different scenarios there. You know if we had to put some specific numbers on it for a reference point, you know about four to eight degrees of forward body lean, the elites tend to be kind of on the lower end of that spectrum but everyone is going to kind of reach closer to that six to seven degrees or so, while on the ground kind of transferring that energy for their forward proposals.
Andrew: Another huge aspect of all the sports to do in triathlon, swimming, biking, and running but really on the run, especially the way we breathe can be super helpful, we've got to get oxygen to our muscles, got to get a good oxygen pumping through our body, you know we've got to stay in control of our breath. Is there an ideal kind of way or method or approach to breathing while we're running?
Jeff: You know, I think that we've heard a lot growing up in sports, even pee wee, football and baseball, you know I've heard of you know breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Now that's probably recommended for more zone two kind of a longer slower steady state runs, our heart rates aren't super high, we can get away with breathing out of kind of a straw versus a garden hose. But what I recommend as far as breathing, a purse lip exhale. Ok, letting that exhale be a longer duration, than the inhale. If I was to jump out and startle you and clap and you could gasp in and scream like a little girl, maybe Andrew, you can maximally inhale in a split second. Now, I could slowly let that breath out 20 seconds, 30 seconds, maybe even 45 seconds. So a purse lip exhale enhances endurance performance. How does it do that? By doing that longer, and again this is more steady state zone two. But it gradually relaxes your diaphragm, it promotes you know more efficient fat burns, kind of that slow burning candle so to speak. So at those types of efforts, we want that longer slower pursed lip exhale into the nose out of the mouth.
Now as we start transitioning into in more intensive workouts, zone three, especially zone four, zone five, more anaerobic energy systems are being utilized, respiratory rates are going higher. At that point and higher heart rate zones kind of that maybe 160 or even higher 180 heartrate, breathing into your mouth and out your mouth is key. You know why breathe through that straw when you can breathe through a garden hose.
Andrew: That point is less about keeping your composure and more about just getting oxygen.
Jeff: Yeah I mean breathe how your body's telling you to breathe, I used to think that if I kind of held my breath a little bit it might kind of calm my heart rate down.
Jeff: And then you could argue will hey you know my buddy of mine, or that rival, let's say is coming up next to me or I'm coming up on him, I'm going to calm my breathing down or almost hold my breath a little bit. So I let them think that, you know it's like I [inaudible]
Andrew: You got to psych them out.
Jeff: Yeah psych them out. Yeah, I'm cool I'm not tired I'm not hurting at all, but really on the inside, I'm screaming but I used to think that kind of holding your breath and quietly breathing Don't be afraid to breathe how your body is telling you to breathe just don't hyperventilate while doing it.
Andrew: Now runners can be identified as heel strikers, mid foot strikers, or fore foot strikers, and when we go out look for our next pair of running shoes, sometimes you'll see you know people talk about you know this shoe is good for this, and this shoe is good for that. And what identified is that based on where your foot hits the ground, during your stride, is one of these landing styles better than the others?
Elizabeth: So that's kind of a tough question and I think kind of the best way for us to approach this is by talking a little bit about those different landing styles first. So to kind of go through the entire running cycle you know starting with where the contact is made with the foot on the ground, so the foot contact should occur kind of on the outside edge of the foot, and depending on the speed either at the mid foot or the fore foot. So what we see with a heel strike results in a higher braking force which reduces the elastic energy storage, and has a prolonged ground contact time by hitting with either the fore foot or the mid foot, that braking action is minimized, and kind of that initial impact peak is also reduced.
Jeff: Yeah, you know, I think that heel striking has gotten a bad rap. I will say a majority of runners are heel strikers.
Andrew: I was in a race one time, it's funny you say that, because I was racing just a local Sprint and I remember like about halfway through the run, it was just 5k. But there was this guy who was just crushing it and like a hit he was loop two, there are some of us at loop one, and he goes flying by and one of the runners next to me like yelled out at him, like hey man a great job, you're still on your toes you look great. Like it is glorified to like run more on your mid foot or toes, and people I think that land on their heel it's kind of looked down upon right, as oh I'm just a heel striker, and it's got that reputation.
Jeff: It does have that reputation and it's gotten a bad rap now let's say that you're really late in your run career, you don't want to switch to that ideal mid foot strike. Heel striking is okay, mid-foot striking is ideal, but Heel striking is Ok.
Andrew: Any idea why? Is it that much more efficient, is it just that your foot is on the ground, less time.
Jeff: It's called ground reaction force.
Jeff: But there's an equal and opposite reaction up your tibia, your shin bone. So whatever angle that tibia is at, when your foot impacts the ground, that loading phase that Elizabeth was referring to, whatever angle that tibia is at, at that peak impact period, there's an equal and opposite reaction. So if I'm overly reaching my stride, and I'm overly heel striking, and my heel or my foot is your instep or your arch, but the mid foot wherever that point is, if it's too far reached out in front of your center of mass, that's a no-no. So we want that impact to be under our plumb line center of mass.
So if we were to freeze frame our bodies running in from the front of a camera, from a side view, and we drew a plumb line, that plumb line should hit 5 main points of contact on the body. The head, the chest, kind of the belly button, hips, we don't want there to be a huge gap between that plumb line and our belly button, we want to run erect.
Andrew: So all those things should be in alignment basically.
Jeff: Yes. You should be able to draw a line and kind of in the front of your body and your forehead hits perfectly on that plumb line, your chest, your hips, your belly button, your knee, and then ideally your mid footer that in step, right? And so if where… if we're reaching too far out in front of that and where whether we're heel striking or mid-foot running at that point, if it's under the center of mass plumb line or just a few inches out in front. We'll get to that in a second, but goal ideal is that foot strike that impact should be under that center of mass plumb line.
Andrew: So that the goal really is less that the biomechanical sin so to speak is less about landing on your heel and it's more about landing with your foot far out in front of that plumb line.
Jeff: Yes. Now let's… It's called gazelles versus gliders, you can be a heel striker and still be fast, you can be a heel striker and still be injury free. Mid foot running will give more of an attenuator arch, but to be fast as a heel striker, you would have to increase your cadence above that 180. Let me give you a quick example, there's a video on You Tube… It's amazing, Mirinda Carfrae versus Chrissie Wellington and they're both Kona winners female.
Andrew: Top notch renowned runners.
Jeff: Yes, if you've been in the triathlon world more than a day, you've probably heard those names, but they have both won Kona many times, they have both won with a 2:52 marathon. So Mirinda Carfrae would be that kind of gazelle that mid-foot runner, that beautiful Kenyan-esque type of gate. She would be that ideal triathlon a mid foot runner. Chrissie Wellington looks like she could be a little bit in pain, looks like she's running slower than she really is, but she has also run a 2:52 Marathon at the end of an Iron Man, and has won numerous times. So you know that kind of proves I guess so many ways, that you can still be fast you can still be world class injury free.
Andrew: You can still be more of a heel striker.
Jeff: Yes, you're going to have to have a shorter stride and higher cadence while heel striking to be injury free and to be that fast. So just as long as the cadence is there, heel striking is fine. But mid-foot running is ideal.
Andrew: So when we get tired you know our form really starts to break down naturally. And Jeff, you touched on this earlier, you know it's an issue for you, you start slouching a little bit, and Elizabeth you know that for you start slowing down that cadence, and lengthening out that stride. And so let's maybe leave everybody with this, because we all get in our races. And you know maybe where we're going through our drills and our workouts and so we're improving our form, and our forms pretty good when we're mindful of it or when we're early in a race or when we're late in the race, and we're getting tired and our form starts breaking down, what is maybe that tip you would give an athlete for retaining your form through the later stages of a race, when you start getting tired?
Jeff: There's a couple quick things you know that can kind of bring back that pep in your step, I like to think lift –lift-lift, it’s just that simple. It's that simple, well first of all, the last thing I'm thinking of in the middle of a race is “oh man, is my body leaning that you know kind of you know two, you know four to six, you know am I over leaning, you know is my arm…
Andrew: Is it seven percent or nine percent of the lean?
Jeff: Yeah, I mean you know is my arm 80 to 90 degrees, is my cadence you know this? Those are the last things you're thinking about. Yeah, I'm thinking about hey so at the finish line, I'm thinking about laying on that couch, get me out of this agony, right. But you know in a nutshell, some things that can you know really.
Andrew: So thinking lift lift-lift, that's just is that kind of lift your head, lift your body up, you know keep your… try to keep yourself feeling light, or is that lifting your knee and continue to drive it, or is just all the above.
Jeff: It can be all of those things, you know just thinking lift will keep that cadence high That's the biggest thing shorter stride, higher cadence. When you get tired, you over stride, it's human nature to reach out and grab more distance, overreaching is that from the knee down, that lower leg reaching out and grabbing more distance, everyone does it. The second half of the long run, so thinking lift will lift those knees will increase the cadence it will keep me more erect I'm not going to hunch forward all of those things. Now if I had to kind of. You know put it all in just a quick like what is perfect running form just-just in 10 seconds, what is perfect running form, or what can I at least think of in the middle of a race to bring me back right?
You know if I had to write a book about it, if I had to put numbers on it all, I would say 80 to 90 steps per minute as your cadence, right now 160-180 with two feet, 80 to 90 degree arm swing. So 80 to 90 steps, 80 to 90 degree arm swing. Two to four inches of vertical oscillation, we don't want to be greater than 10 centimeters or approximately four inches, that's wasted an upper movement. Kind of the same idea two to four inches, we don't want our foot to reach out and land more than two to four inches worst case scenario in front of that center mass plan line we were talking about. So two to four is easy there for a vertical oscillation, and center of mass we got the 80 to 90 rule there we just talked about.
Andrew: And all these numbers, I mean there are specific, and if you're not very-very nuanced you know runner, who's loose used to diving into those numbers that you hear that you're like what. But people in their eyes, if you look on your Garmin, like those numbers are there for you to kind of analyze after your workouts. And so if you start paying attention to it you can kind of start learning “Oh, I can… I didn't realize that my vertical oscillation was greater than four now, and after hearing Jeff Raines talk about it I can work on not bouncing as high when I run.” And so those are great tools to kind of look on Garmin and kind of see what you're doing.
Jeff: Yeah, after you do a workout you go home when you look at your data and there's tons of numbers and things on the lower end of those screens that most people have no idea what they mean, how to interpret. So having a coach interpret that and giving you some of those you know those feedback tidbits are priceless.
Andrew: And when all else fails. Lift lift lift.
Jeff: Lift lift lift, ninja feet, you know quiet feet, you know pursed lip exhale, low relaxed shoulders . So hopefully some of these things that we repeated over and over again stick with you guys. Hopefully some of these tidbits help.
Break- Great set everyone, let’s cool down.
Andrew: For our cool down today we're going to do something that we called the TriDot top 10, where we make or share a fun list of 10 things from the multi-sport world. Today we want to give a shout out to the top 10 countries listening to the TriDot podcast. Look when we first started this thing we just hope that it would be helpful, just for everyday triathletes all over the world, and guys we have been overwhelmed with the response since launching the podcast, at the time of this recording we have listeners from 90 countries worldwide.
And we don't have time of course to call all of them out by name, so I just want to say that wherever you are, thanks so much for being a part of the podcast family, we are glad you are here, we value you, and if your home country isn't called, maybe you know share us with your friends and see if you can get yourself into the top 10 next time. After all right now the difference between 10th and 11th on the list is just three downloads, three downloads. All right, let's get to the top 10.
The United States is the number one country that is downloading the TriDot podcast, so shout to the US of A,Elizabeth what is number two?
Elizabeth: All right not a surprise here either, Canada comes in number two.
Andrew: A lot of triathletes, go up in the Canada for Mt Tremblant, and some of the races up there I personally have a couple Canadian TriDot friends and so thank you Canada for listening. Jeff what is number three?
Andrew: The Aussies! Everybody loves the Aussies. Number four right next door is New Zealand, My first half Ironman was half Ironman New Zealand. So for all of our Kiwis out there, I visited Auckland, I visited Taupo, I visited some of the towns in between on that drive and man just absolutely of my time in New Zealand, so thanks so much for listening. Elizabeth what’s number five?
Elizabeth: Number five is the UK.
Andrew: The UK, wonderful. Jeff what about number six?
Jeff: United Arab Emirates.
Andrew: Number seven is Spain, Elizabeth number eight?
Elizabeth: Also a neighbor here for us Mexico.
Andrew: Mexico, Jeff we get in the Europe for number nine as well right?
Jeff: Yes sir, Germany.
Andrew: Jeff and I… this is a quick side story, Jeff and I at IMAZ met a German athlete, we were filming some shot athletes on the bike course getting ready for the race and a guy Yokim, came from Germany came up and was like do you mind taking a couple pictures of me on my bike while I'm here, and we did and we have a new friend from Germany. So if he's listening, shut out to Yokim. Number 10 on the list is France, so all the French athletes who are listening to us in the podcast, thank you so much. And we value all the countries that listen in and so guys before we go I want you both to give a shout out to another country on the list, not in the top 10. This is kind of some bonus mentions, Elizabeth what is another country in our 52 country listener base that you want to give a shout out to?
Elizabeth: Well for me it's Switzerland, been there before, it’s just beautiful. So when I saw that on the list, they were going to be my shout out.
Andrew: Wonderful! Swiss athletes thank you so much for listening. Jeff what who do want to give a shout out to?
Jeff: Cambodia, we have listeners from Cambodia, I thought that was great.
Andrew: The kingdom of Cambodia, I do want to distinguish, we use a platform called simple cast to host our podcast episodes and simple cast refers to it as the kingdom of Cambodia. So the one I'm going to pick and I picked it for the same reason, simple cast is Greece and on Greece it calls it the Helmick? Republic, now I thought that was super awesome, that it wasn't just Greece, it was the Helmick? Republic. So all of my Greek listeners, I have been to your country, I love your country, your food is my favorite and that's all for now. So moving on, a big goal for us is to share more athletes stories on the podcast and we would love to have athletes from our worldwide audience outside of the states also join in to tell us their tri- stories. If that sounds like fun to you head to TriDot.com/podcast and click on submit feedback and let me know where in the world you are from and what you're thinking on the podcast. We would love to get some more athletes on the podcast soon.
Outro: Well that's it for today folks, I want to thank TriDot coaches Jeff Raines and Elizabeth James for giving us some clutch information about improving our running biomechanics. Have any triathlon questions or topics you want to hear us talk about, head to tridot.com/podcast, to let us know what you're thinking. We'll have a new show coming your way soon. Until then happy training.
Thanks for joining us, make sure to subscribe and share the TriDot podcast with your triathlon group. For more great tri content and community connect with us on Facebook, YouTube, & Instagram. Ready to optimize your training, head to TriDot.com and start your free trial today. TriDot, the obvious and automatic choice for triathlon training.