Hey fitties ! I know this article has been a loong time coming, so I’m excited to say that today I’m going to cover running basics ! For a quick overview, I’ll give a rundown of equipment/running shoes, proper form/technique, foot stride and turnover, pacing, and overall fueling for before, during, and after your run. To be clear, this is all from my own experience/perspective; personally I prefer a barefoot/minimalist style of running, so that’s what I’ll be talking about. If this isn’t for you, that’s okay ! The only difference is my chosen footwear, and besides that, all content can be applied to any style of running 🙂 Enjoy !
So.. Why Barefoot ?
If you’ve found this article, I’m sure you’re well aware of the myriad of running shoe choices out there. Super cushioned, gel pockets, air soles, expensive orthotics. What’s funny is that the first “running shoes” were just your plain ol’ canvas shoes–flat rubber soles and uncomfortable fabric, but it did the job well. Then someone decided that he could make a better running shoe that would “protect” your feet, because obviously our feet are fragile and need support right ? Well, not exactly.
Your foot is a beautifully designed system. I won’t go into it here (for more info, check out my favourite book, Born To Run !) but suffice it to say that everything your body needs to run is already built into your system. Your foot is able to support and balance your entire bodyweight without any external help. However, with the addition of extra padded, cushioned running shoes, the structure of the foot changes: with less impact with the ground and all that extra fluff virtually cementing your foot into an unnatural state, the foot muscles are weakened from subconscious neglect.
With minimalist running however, your feet are forced to use more of their muscles which helps to build them, and can even alter the arch in your foot–more muscle use means bigger muscles, and once enough muscle mass is gained to better support your feet, the arch is naturally raised. Not to mention, once you become more accustomed to using your feet the way they were meant to be used, you have less injury and less pressure on other joints in your body; so I think it’s safe to argue that minimalist running is good for your entire system 😉
Choosing A Minimalist Shoe
While it may seem expensive to begin with, don’t feel discouraged–just know that running shoes in general are a bit pricey. It’s extremely important to invest in a great pair of running shoes that you can get a lot of use out of and won’t crap out on you after a couple months.
- My running shoe: Nike Free Flyknit+ (5.0, first gen)
I absolutely love this shoe. My very first intro to barefoot style running, it’s a perfect platform for transitioning from other shoes. I have the first generation of flyknits (5.0) which is no longer available on Nike.com (but you can still get them at other sports retailers !) I went from the Nike Flex running shoes to the Free Flyknit, and it worked out perfectly. It’s important to switch to a minimalistic running shoe in this manner to better accustom your feet to barefoot running, as immediately changing can cause injury. Once you’ve been comfortably running in a more supported shoe, you can gradually decrease the platform number to your liking (ex.: 5.0 to 4.0 to 3.0).
- Other Models:
I’m only familiar with my running shoe as it’s the only minimalist shoe I’ve purchased, but luckily I found an awesome link above that lists a ton of minimalist style running shoes you can check out. It includes comparisons on durability, lightness, and flexibility, and gives insight into the different models.
Getting Very Basic: Proper Running Form
Before you even take a step outside, you must understand proper form. If I’m being completely honest here: I deeply dislike people with improper form. I can’t stand it. Not only is it absolutely terrible for your poor body and posture, but you just look like you have no idea what you’re doing–which, let’s face it, if you really run that way you probably don’t.
But have no fear ! Trazy is here to help you. I really enjoy teaching running form, because it’s so important to start out right so you can develop those good habits as you go. If you have great form, footwear or terrain don’t even matter. Proper running form aids in core strength, less injury, good posture, eliminates stress from your lower back and leg joints, and of course makes you feel strong and tall !
- Step 1: Stand Tall. Make sure your head is up, chest is out, lower back is straight, and your shoulders are back and relaxed. There should be no tension in the shoulders, and your arms should rest at a 90 degree angle by your sides–make sure to swing your arms forward and backward, not side to side ! *Helpful Hint: if you feel your shoulders slouching, take a deep breath in to expand the lungs, and feel yourself straighten back up !
- Step 2: Foot Strike. Pretty simple in that your feet should land right underneath you, not in front. Think of it like jump rope: you skip on the balls of your feet–your toes–and your heels barely touch the ground. It’s the same with running–you really don’t need your heels to land, which decreases the stress on your knees and joints. If you do land them, make sure to strike the ground with the balls of your feet or midfoot first, then heels.
- Step 3: Keep It Light. My taller, more muscular friends always complain that “Oh, well I have more body mass than you so running is harder for me”. I love to dispute this, because it all comes back to form. While you might feel heavy when you walk (those heel stompers anyone ?), when you run you should land on the balls of your feet and lightly lift from your knee up and back down again. Don’t stomp hard on the ground, think light and smooth. Keep your feet and body as close to the ground as possible–you’ll naturally move a little, but try for less bobbing up and down to reduce energy spent. Keep your core tight and strong, knees bent, and move from your hips down. Your arms also don’t have to move much when you’re running at a comfortable pace–they should be relaxed at your sides and only slightly moving; when you want to speed up, then you “pump” your arms with more movement. It might feel odd at first, but I promise it makes you a much better runner.
- Step 4: Pacing. Pacing seems so difficult for new runners ! They always try to do too much too fast (myself included). What’s important about pacing is that you allow yourself to gradually get into a groove of running. Proper pacing means focusing on proper form, building heart, lung, and muscle endurance, and increasing strength at an easy enough pace without overworking yourself. Running is not sprinting. You want to be able to run longer miles, you take it easy. You should run at a comfortable speed for your fitness level–meaning you aren’t breathing heavily, and are relaxed enough to be able to hold a casual conversation.
- Step 5: Foot Turnover. You’ll hear this a lot in running jargon: it just means the number of steps you take while running, basically how fast your feet are. Everyone believes that to increase speed, you take longer strides. WRONG. So bad for you. To speed up, take more steps, or, increase foot turnover. You keep your overall form and all you do is take more steps per minute. Once you practice this you’ll definitely feel how much better a runner it makes you, and you’ll really begin to see results.
- Step 6: Think “Light and Easy”. When my runs get difficult, I always repeat these words to myself. With every other step, I say, “light” (step, step) “and easy” (step, step). Maybe it sounds silly, but it’s actually really beneficial. Eventually you do begin to feel yourself getting lighter, and the running is easier. It’s all about mindset: trust in yourself. Don’t fill your thoughts with negative ideas. Instead, begin to understand your body more, and train your mind to be tougher. Push yourself without overworking, and you’ll immediately see results. Running is just a mental sport, and we’re all crazy. 😀
Fueling Your Run
- Pre-Run: What’s important to remember before a run is that you need energy. To get this energy, you need to eat ! A good rule of thumb is to eat at least 30 min to an hour before, depending on the length of your run (this means waiting until you’ve gone to the restroom before you head out). Fuel yourself with something light and preferably containing carbohydrates and healthy fats. Some of my go-to pre run snacks are: toast and nut butter with fruit, chopped fruits and greek yoghurt, and nut butter and bananas. Also be sure to drink plenty of water ! At least a liter before you go.
- During A Run: Again, this depends on the length of your run. Strictly speaking, for longer runs, fueling every hour is important. Of course you want to bring small, light energy rich foods that are easy to take with you and easy to eat. This can be anything from pretzels, gel packs, sport jelly beans, carrots, small bean burritos, energy bars, you get the picture. Find something to your liking and bring it along with plenty of water !
- Post-Run: Crucial to proper muscle rebuilding is your post run meal/snack. You must eat within the hour (the “golden hour”) after your run in order to properly fuel your hardworking muscles. If I’m just having a snack, a lot of my post run favourites are actually the same foods I eat before a run, so those are always easy and ready to go (nut butter and bananas, etc.) For meals, refueling with plenty of leafy veggies and a side of lean protein is a good choice. If you’re into protein shakes, go for that, (personally, I am not so I probably wouldn’t know any good ones 😛 ).
- There are many ways to fuel yourself, so finding something that works for you should be simple. A good thing to keep in mind when “eating for energy” is to remember that simpler is better. Whole, unprocessed, fresh foods are your main source of every essential nutrient you need to properly feed your body, so try and include as many of these into your diet as you can.
There you have it ! I really hope you benefit from this, it was great writing. I’m happy to finally share this information with you all, and hopefully it helps you become a better runner. Please let me know if there’s anything you want to know that I left out, and I’ll happily oblige !
For more information and my main resource for this article, check out Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. Every runner should have this book in his/her running library. Thanks for reading and happy running !