Get “Up”!June 23, 2012
Anyone can be a runner. Lace up some sneakers (or not) and put some bounce in your step. It is that easy, right? We agonize over everything from footwear to underwear to nipple-wear. Hydration, nutrition, and compression are meticulously prepared. The problem is that we rarely stop to think about how we are running. It is easy to focus on tangible things- objects that can be acquired and then strapped on, taped up, or rubbed over various body parts. When injuries still occur, it is easy to blame a faulty or worn out product. Not to worry, we all do it. I do it plenty.
This is not to suggest that those things are not important. They are all crucial in their own ways. What we need to realize is that once we start calling ourselves runners and logging increased mileage, we also have to pay attention to the mechanics of that motion. Even a novice runner should be able to notice differences in posture between the start of a run and its end. Form can change throughout a run, and throughout a lifetime. Runners should try to focus more on their movements than on what their GPS watch is displaying. Paying attention to form has the potential to reduce injury, maximize efficiency, and increase speed.
The importance of form in running is why I recently started doing the 100-Up exercise. There was a challenge that began in mid-April 2012, hosted by a Richmond store that specializes in minimalist sneakers and natural running. Folks from all over joined the aptly-named Natural Running Store to find out whether performing one drill for 30 days could change the way they ran. For me, this repetitive motion exercise would focus on better posture and leg motion. It would also help teach my legs a better technique for how to land on my feet. With plenty of recent knee and Achilles pains, I had my share of skepticism. But having read the New York times article by Born to Run author Christopher McDougall that supported the exercise, I was optimistic about the potential to help my form.
It only took several viewings of the short instructional video before I was confident enough to try the exercise on my own. Additionally, the original 1913 text of The 100-Up Exercise, by W.G. George, is available online. This book also has plenty of comedic value for a 21st century reader (see the outfit on page 13 for a good laugh). Even after much research and when done properly, this drill can still appear a bit silly. It looks something like a stiff-backed military march in place, only more exaggerated and without a cool uniform. Fortunately, most runners have very little dignity to begin with, so this is a perfect exercise. You also have the variability to choose between the “major” and “minor” modes depending on personal preference and goals. The “major” simply adds a bit of bounce to the original set of motions. Most importantly, the 100 Up syncs your whole body motion and teaches balance.
After a month of the 100 Up exercise, I do feel like my form has improved. It has increased my knee drive, producing more power as I run. I remind myself of those motions at the base of every hill. When fatigue sets in, my body immediately fights back with its 100 Up muscle memory to keep the wheels turning. Think of it as the same principle that guides a basketball player to take hundreds of free throws, or a baseball player to spend hours in a batting cage. Doing something over and over again will help your body naturally find that rhythm even at times of physical or mental stress.
At some point in the middle of this month-long experiment, I was asked in which part of my form did I notice a bigger difference. Was it the landing or the lift? For me, it was a quick and easy answer: the lift. I was feeling stronger bringing my legs back up and was better about keeping my posture straight going into each stride. During a recent group run, long after the end of this challenge, I got into a conversation with another runner about form. He asked very generally what I paid the most attention to in my own form. His inquiry started me on the importance of how being in tune with how I raise my legs after each footfall has improved my overall running.
There are plenty of related drills out there, and every runner will have a slightly different form that works best for them. The 100 Up exercise is quite simple, yet challenging and effective. It is quick and can be done before a run as a warm-up, or afterwards to remind your body of good form. This is a straightforward way to start being conscious of how you move. Plenty of variables can be problematic during a run, like weather, elevation, and (in)digestion. By practicing better form, we can all hope to take one of the most potentially dangerous downfalls out of the equation and move smoother, faster, and healthier.
So what do you think? Do you want to get “Up”?