Back to School – Running School

The Running School

Running is easy right? We all know how to do it. And after several years of running at club level, you’d think I would have mastered it wouldn’t you? Wrong. As Nick from The Running School said, “most people can run, but not everyone runs well”. My form, it turns out, has a lot of room for improvement.

I first heard about the Running School through a colleague who recommended them. I had heard of ‘running form coaches’ several times but had dismissed them as “only for people who couldn’t run properly”.  And I most certainly wasn’t one of them. I forefoot strike and everything! But after being out for almost four months with a slow to mend Achilles injury, I decided to take a look at my form. I knew I needed to address the weakness I knew existed in my glutes and hamstrings. I decided it was time to drop the ego, and seek help. Enter Nick, from the Running School.

First Visit

You will find Running School branches around the country. The branch I went to was in the City of London. The room I walked into looked like Willy Wonka’s Factory of running rehab kit. Lab grade treadmills, an anti-gravity treadmill, various coloured and numbered mats on the floor and every type of foam roller imaginable. Nick came over and introduced himself and made it clear that the analysis was nothing to worry about. In fact, it was going to be quite enjoyable. The session was going to be simple. On a treadmill in front of a white grid backdrop, Nick was going to film me walk and run for a few minutes at a time. At a jog, at half marathon pace and at 5k pace, for roughly a minute each.

It dawned on me that the era of “working on my form” being making sure I looked good as a passed shop front windows, was over. My form was about to undergo a thorough dissection. Under the honest illumination of slow-motion technology.

“Ok, we’re going to bring you down to a walk and then stop you. Time to have a look at the results”. But I hadn’t done the 5k speed yet?! “Is it that bad?” I replied, “Oh no, I’ve just seen everything I need to”. This sounded ominous.
running school
Side and front view of the analysis by Nick at The Running School 

The Diagnosis

Twenty fascinating minutes later and I felt like my running world made sense. Not only the Achilles injury made sense, but so did many more habitual aches and niggles that I get. And pretty much it all relates to weakness in my posterior chain.  Especially a lack of glute activation and over-reliance on quads and calves. A classic example of someone who sits down in an office all day. Work always get in the way of running! I had suspected this so it was reassuring to see it in front of my eyes on the screen. My two main issues were:

My two main issues were:

1. Overstriding:

My feet should be landing under my hips, not ahead of them (see pic above – side view). It is the glutes that should drive us forward. My glutes are not activating as they should and are weak. This causes me to compensate by overstriding to use my stronger quads. Overstriding almost certainly caused my Achilles injury. On impact, all the force goes straight through my ankle rather than my much stronger upper leg and hip muscles. Overstriding is not only causing me injuries, it is also slowing me down. The overstride is a break to forward motion and I am neglecting the most powerful muscle group – the glutes. The muscles that should drive us forward. Yes! I can go faster, this is music to my ears!

2. Stability in the swing phase:

Ever had kick marks on the inside of your leg at the end of a run? So do I, and these are caused by weakness in my medial glutes (outside glute muscle) and hip flexors. See the pic above (rear view) and you can see my right leg collapsing in as my leg swings through from behind me. Nick asked if I ever got aches or pains on the outside of me knees, “for years” was my answer.

Now, highlighting form weakness is one thing, fixing it is another. You can’t just fix your form overnight. In fact, Nick told me that if you over-think how you run, you can actually make it worse. It’s not just about glute and hip flexor strength either. I need to train my brain to activate these muscles after years of under-using them. This will be a process of gradual improvement rather than a quick fix. As with anything that is worthwhile.

Catch up next week when I return for my first session to start improving my form. In the meantime, I have a couple of exercises to do: single leg squats and, wait for it…brushing my teeth on one leg. Yep you read it right. Try it – it’s great for activating your leg stabilising medial glutes!

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