All of us hear often about efficiency and economy in sports. Basically the more efficient you are in your movements either the faster or longer you can utilizing the same amount of energy. The more efficient your swim stroke the less effort you will use to cover the same distance or to go faster. The more efficient your pedal stroke and body position the faster or longer you will go using the same amount of energy. And of course while on the run when you are feeling the most tired being more efficient will greatly increase your pace over any given distance.
So you have to think about the nuances of each. But the catch (isn’t there always a catch) is that it has been proven that while thinking about your swim stroke, pedal stroke or run form while racing the slower you go. Your mind has to stay in the game to maximize your results. I will only address the run here but similar practices and principles can be used in the swim and bike.
While actually running there are three areas you need to address to be more efficient: Eyes, Hands and Feet.
The eyes should be gazing about 10m or 30 feet ahead in a crowded field. In a less crowded field about 30m works good. Your chin should be level with eyes slightly down so you have a relaxed gaze, neck and face.
When I say hands I really mean arms but I will come to that in a minute. Your arms should be up so that only time there is a right angle at the elbow is when the arm is parallel to the ground. When the arm is either forward or back the angle should be less. Many people either open up on the backswing which minimizes the drive at the hips for going forward or hold the right angle which leads to upper body rigidity. And remember we are talking about arms not shoulders. The shoulders need to be relaxed and down.
When I refer to the feet I am primarily speaking about cadence. Everyone has a natural footstrike and that can only be changed a little. But almost everyone can improve their cadence.
So the conundrum is: if we think about everything while racing it slows us down, what can we do to go faster? Practice! In all your runs practice not making eye contact with other runners or looking around (like I do) and letting your eyes gaze ahead without dropping the chin. Do arm drills in front of the mirror (as all my school age runners do) and really work on pulling the elbows back while keep the elbow angle narrow. There should be a slight movement in the shoulders without twisting the body. For your feet do striders at least 2x a week to facilitate a change in stride rate/ cadence.
Now what can we do during the race itself when you start to fatigue. I have found the following mantra to help. In less than 10 seconds I can make all the adjustments necessary and I am always going faster afterwards at the same hr (more efficient running). I just say:
EYES … HANDs…. FEET
I immediately check my eyes for strain or lack of concentration and whether my chin has drifted upward or downward. Then glance at my hands to see if my arms have opened up too much (they always have) and check my cadence (which has slowed and lengthened). Once I relax my face and raise my arms back it is so much easier to shorten my stride to increase my cadence.
Ex. At two different half marathon road races in 2015 between mile 9 and 10 my pace had slowed by almost :20-:30 per mile. I checked my hr and it was slightly elevated. I consciously went through the 3 checks and made adjustments. In both cased my pace went back to my goal pace and my hr actually dropped a little. I was running more efficiently. And then I was able to concentrate again on the race at hand. No slowing from thinking too much about form. My athletes follow the same procedure to the same outcome.
Enjoy the Race!
I would like to thank Bobby McGee for first introducing me to these principles in a USAT clinic in Albuquerque in 2008. It’s taken much practice and teaching to become a more efficient runner. Every Thursday morning Coach can be found at the Vulcan Park Trail directing an early Sunshine Track workout for the local club. Join in when you can.