French Bloke Runs

Shut up and run!

Tag: Running Technique

Running hills

When I started running, I dreaded running uphill and I did all my running on flats. To be honest, I still do most of my running along the thames but I have changed my views on hills. Lanky Pole once told me that I had to add some hills into my training if I wanted to improve – I just had to work with my arms. I later discovered in my training plan that I had to do “Kenyan hills” from time to time. And it’s true that running uphill will improve your leg strength and your running form as well as make your heart work out. Kenya being just a wee too far just for a run, I guessed the hills of Greenwich would do.

Greenwich park hill

Greenwich park hill photo by Francisco Antunes

The first time I ran there was horrible. I thought “why would people impose such a gruelling exercise on themselves?” but I did it anyway. I now have my little routine and I always take the same path, starting with the very steep ascent on the Maze Hill side and going down “The Avenue”. I’m avoiding steeper downhill slopes because running downhill can be dangerous and lead to ligament injuries when braking repeatedly. I usually repeat this circuit between 3 and 5 times.

Last Saturday I was supposed to do 3 laps, but I surprised myself, and arriving down the slope after the third lap I climbed again for a fourth lap instead of leaving the park and jogging back home.

I’m not saying I love doing that, but it is challenging and I find it rewarding to notice some improvement week on week. I also run the same circuit when I’m supposed to do fartleks, because I convinced myself that they’re the same thing (even if they’re not). That’s because running fartleks, you’re supposed to accelerate when running uphill, and also because I add a sprint when I pass in front of the bandstand.

So it turns out I’m not too bad at running uphill. I remember my race at the Olympic Park: I was always overtaking my competitors when going uphill and they would catch up on me when going downhill. When Lanky Pole learned that, he said: “Oh, you’re one of those”. I’m not sure whether it was disdain or jealousy, but I’ll go for jealousy. Anyway, even if he’s the one who encouraged me to run hills, he prefers running downhill – it’s fairly obvious when you read his tales of the Welsh Castles Relay and of the Green Belt Relay (2 fun reads).

The thing I really love though, is hiking uphill, like we did on the Jbel Toubkal. Walking or running uphill, the important thing is to remember to work with your arms. Whenever I feel slow on a slope, I pull with my arms as if I was pulling on ropes and it really helps. What about you? What’s your experience with running uphill?

Test: Free Your Feet (FYF)

On my path towards barefoot running, I think I have found the most minimalistic footwear one can imagine. It started as a Kickstarter campaign last year and I felt immediately attracted to those. I had read Born to Run not long before and I had ran completely barefoot a couple of times and loved it. I could only be seduced by the promise of the closest feeling to actual barefoot running ever (even better than Vibram’ FiveFingers) with the added safety and peace of mind of running with shoes.

Free your feet (FYF)

Free your feet (FYF) by the Swiss Barefoot Company

The FYF are some kind of super socks made of an extraordinarily strong fibre called Dyneema®. The Swiss Barefoot Company claims it is 15 times stronger than steel and I’m inclined to believe them. These super-socks are cut resistant (so no fear of glass shards), super resistant to stretching and they have some kind of grippy material under the sole. Unfortunately they are not really abrasion resistant (more on that later) and they are not puncture resistant (a stingy nail or a sea-urchin could still hurt you). Like the Vibram FiveFingers, they have 5 fingers allowing your feet and toes to fit snugly in them.

So even though they are not specifically for running, I backed the project. Despite the fact that the maker recommends the full size FYF, I couldn’t bring myself to buy those and become a live Swiss Flag so I bought the low-cut FYF. A good thing is that they promise other designs in the future, but I guess they have to fulfil their Kickstarter orders first, as well as the pre-orders they have received since, which could take a while considering they’re already 2 months behind their schedule (I was supposed to receive my pair in February but I only received it in April).

The day I received my FYF, I was so excited that I tried them on immediately. I ignored the recommendation against using them on the road and went off running. My first impression was that the feeling is great, very close to actual barefoot running, much better than any pair of shoes I had ever tried before, including all my minimalistic Merrell Road Gloves.

Freeing my feet with FYF

Freeing my feet with FYF

Of course I started running short distances to get used to them, as barefoot running uses slightly different muscles than running with shoes, even when running with the proper technique, but very quickly I could run up to 6 kilometres at an easy pace without any issue.

OK, I may be overly enthusiastic with these and there are some negative aspects to the FYF:

  • They are socks, so it’s not great running in them when the ground is wet (I actually hate the feeling of wearing wet socks)
  • They are not resistant to abrasion and the Swiss Barefoot Company is right: you should not use them on the road. My pair started having tiny holes after only 30 km. This is a lot compared to normal socks (which would probably be ruined after 500m) but some people have been using them for hundreds of kilometres on natural surfaces

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with them, even though I can’t use them on the roads (which accounts for most of my running), but once they have new designs, I’ll definitely buy a pair for trails or simply to run in parks.

A playlist to run fast and well

A while ago, I recommended that you change your running form. A good way of improving your running form is to try and have a faster cadence. If you run between 180 and 200 steps per minute, this will naturally force you to shorten your stride and to land on the middle of the foot rather than on the heel. And that’s already half the job done.

Listening to music at the right tempo will help you doing just that. Spotify used to have a bunch of playlists for running at a desired cadence but the maximum was 170 spm. Now the app detects the tempo to adapt the music to your running, but that doesn’t really help forcing your running to a new cadence.

So, I have the solution for you! I have created a playlist of 100 songs between 190 and 200 bpm, sometimes 95 to 100 bpm but you know how multiply by 2 don’t you? There is a lot of British and American music of course, but there’s also some French music (how surprising) that you’re allowed to skip, as well as music from Argentina, Serbia, Italy, Iceland, Sweden, Algeria, Spain, Ireland and I’m probably missing a few countries.

Some of it is weird, cheesy or noisy, but don’t worry, this is mostly decent music (and a few shit songs because I wanted to reach exactly 100). Anyway, this is not a playlist for listening idly in your couch, it’s a playlist for running, so listen in shuffle mode and enjoy!

Here are the links to:

Headphones

Headphones – Photo by Javierosh

How to run: the proper technique

By now, you probably know that I used to hate running and you must be wondering what made me change my mind. One important thing was to run at an easy pace rather than training hard all the time (more about that in a future post) but the main thing thing was to change my running technique. Of course, Lanky Pole was the one who gave me some really good advice:

  • Shorter strides are more efficient and put less strain on your body at each step, as a result you should have a faster cadence: ideally around 180 / 200 steps per minute (it’s easy: count 3 steps per second). But your speed should stay the same, and even improve on the long term.
  • Landing on the middle of your foot rather than your heel. Your foot must touch the ground under your knee, not in front of it for f…’s sake! Imagine that your knee pulls the rest of your leg, then it will come naturally (and so will the shorter strides). This will:
    • improve your efficiency by increasing your “bounciness” and set you ready for the next step rather than putting the brakes with you heel at each step.
    • greatly reduce the risk of injury by sharing the impact between your entire foot, your Achilles tendon, your calf (which is flexible and can be strengthened) and the rest of you leg, rather than putting all the strain on your heel and knee, which are bones and cannot be trained or strengthened.
  • Have a good posture:
    • keeping a straight back will allow you to stabilise your centre of gravity and improve your balance.
    • keeping your arms relaxed at a 90° angle will minimise the amount of energy they’re using, so you can have this energy available for your legs.

 

Bad/Good running forms

Bad running form / Good running form
Photos by Funk Dooby

Mr. Blue runs with long inefficient strides. Mr. Orange runs with short efficient strides.
Mr. Blue’s foot strikes the ground ahead of his knee, putting the brakes at each stride and risking injury. Mr. Orange foot strikes the ground under his knee so he’s already in position for the next stride and reduces risks of injury.
Mr. Blue strikes the ground with his heels: the impact will propagate straight to his knees through his bones and he’ll hurt them sooner or later. Mr. Orange strikes the ground with the middle of the foot: the impact will be absorbed by his foot, his Achilles tendon and his calf. All of which are “bouncy” and can be strengthened.
Mr. Blue swings his whole body from left to right, spends a lot of energy doing that and loses his balance at every stride. Mr. Orange stays straight, probably oscillates very little, and keeps his energy for the actual running.

 

I was a bit puzzled but I went with it anyway. Then, Quiet Roman showed me a video and all of a sudden, it all made sense. So here’s the magic video:

If you do all this and buy a good pair of shoes, you should improve your running efficiency, reduce your risks of injury and have much more fun! What is the catch? Well, striking the ground mid-foot will require more elasticity from your Achilles tendons and more strength in your calves, so you should expect a couple of months of pain there. All you have to do is to be careful and  patient during the transition, start running short distances at first (no more than 1 or 2 km, even if you’re already fit for way more) and increase the distance each week. It’s worth it, I promise.

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