Why I'm glad I'm bad at running...

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Last week I found out I'm bad at running. I did a 3D gait analysis and I basically was told I'm bad at running. Don't get me wrong, I'm still fairly fast...but fast doesn't necessarily mean good at running. Here's what I mean:
There are basically three major factors of endurance sports: economy, efficiency, effectiveness. 

  • Effectiveness is your overall speed/power. How quickly are you getting to the finish line?

  • Efficiency is how hard you are working at a given output level? What is your heart rate and how much energy is coming from carbs/fats?

  • Economy is your technique/pattern of movement. Does your brain tell your body to move in the correct way?

Most endurance coaches and athletes focus on effectiveness and efficiency. This is understandable as they are highly correlated with performance. We start with the basics - how quickly can you get to the finish line? From there some of us realize that efficiency plays a big role, especially in longer races. Teaching your body to draw more energy from fat by slowing down and targeting different intensity zones can drastically improve your ability to execute your race plan all the way to the finish line. Unfortunately, most of us stop there. I get it. It can feel futile to work on your form because drills don't correlate to racing, at least not directly. It's also exhausting having to be fully present, focusing on each and every stroke or stride. I'd much rather zone out and swim 3000m than focus on my form for 1000m. And to top it off, it's also challenging because it requires someone else's analysis (or objective self analysis) to tell us what we're doing wrong. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror, or in my case the 3D gait analysis software, and painfully watch as we realize the thing we do that we pride ourselves on being good at is actually pretty bad.

However, I'm glad I'm bad at running!

Having poor mechanics means there is something we can improve without having to work harder. Yes, it means that pre-workout drills and strength and mobility work have to become more intentional, but it also means that there is potentially a whole 1% we can improve just by thinking about it a little bit more. The funny thing is, I'd have to work insanely hard for almost a year to improve by 3 minutes in an Ironman run leg...but if I can run a little smoother and not waste as much energy by going up and down (aka vertical oscillation) or kicking my legs back instead of driving them through, then I could potentially save 1% of 3 hours. The same is true in the swim. 1% of an hour and a half is 1.5 minutes! This stuff is easy to do...but it is even easier not to do! Luckily when we think about how it helps us improve by 1% we are more inclined to put it into action.

The first way improved economy helps is through the decrease in injury rate. Athletes are often described as being "fluid" because the impact that their movements create flows more evenly to the parts of the body designed to handle it. For instance, one of my changes in my running form I need to address is my right knee. My gluteal muscles aren't stabilizing my knee so it knocks in 3x more than my left. When I think about the impact from the ground traveling up my leg, having my knee swing inward creates a temporary stop where that joint to takes on more force than needed. This is evident in my right knee pain that I get from time to time. While I've learned various recovery methods to deal with this, they don't address the source of the problem. Decreased injuries means an increase in training consistency, which is one of the biggest predictors of performance!

The second way it helps us improve is by using less energy. This brings us closer to the efficiency section, but it's slightly different. Efficiency deals a little more with intensity zones and perceived/actual exertion. How high is your heart rate at 7:45/mile pace? The reason this is important is because when you're below your aerobic threshold, you burn a much higher percentage of fat to fuel your effort as a opposed to your limited supply of glycogen! When we think of economy, it is less about certain paces and power outputs and more about aligning our legs and arms so that our exertion decreases at ALL intensity levels! Bringing it back to my knee coming inward - even though it is a waste of energy, it is still taking energy to move it in and out. Same with my excessive vertical oscillation - spending energy bouncing up and down doesn't exactly help me move forward.

On the whole, I like to think of my endurance economy like employee training for my nueromuscular system. The training might not feel like I'm getting much done, and I'm certainly not producing any new workouts, but when I have smarter alignment and firing patterns I'm much more efficient and effective all around.

I'm excited to run this experiment with my triathlon team to see how much they improve over the course of the year! I would challenge you to the same - how much would a 1% improvement be and how could you go about improving your economy?

Happy training,

Coach Griffin


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