How to Run Better for the Perfect Run: 5 Things That I Do Differently Now That I Know Better

run happy
Running should be a joyful experience, not a boring or exhausting workout.

Today, I went for the perfect run. Why was it perfect? Because I utterly enjoyed it, and I know that it was exactly what I needed today. That’s how training should be – our desires should line up exactly with our needs.

Not only was I eager to get outdoors and run, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to practice the perfect run and know that when I was finished I had done something right and good for me. Allow me to elaborate.

I ran Fall cross country, Winter Track, and Spring Track and Field in high school, and my events were the long distance events. I put a LOT of miles on my body in three years. So many miles, in fact, that I overtrained into injuries that ultimately led to almost three years in physical therapy, which was terminated early because I had maxed out the funds my health insurance was covering. I won’t bore you with the details.

It’s probably too obvious to say that I approach long distance running with caution these days. In fact, I remember saying that I would never run again. That’s what the doctors and specialists were telling me, and I eventually believed them for awhile. I’ve learned a lot about running since then, including many things that I would do differently if given the chance to return to the past.

Today, I definitely will not allow myself to stumble back into the running methods of my youth. I approach each run in a very different manner than I used to, and I want to share some tips about how to run better with you.

How to Run Better: 5 Things That I Do Differently Now That I Know Better

1) My lifestyle is much more balanced and supportive of a running hobby than it was when I was in high school. I eat better foods. Drink only water and tea most of the time. I’m not sleep deprived or over-worked. I have plenty of time to take care of my health. Going for a run today does more good than harm.

Running used to just add to the laundry list of stresses in my life, instead of being an avenue for stress-relief as it is today. If you’re already over-stressed, then it’s counter-intuitive to add to that stress by going for a physically demanding run.

Another aspect of this is that I have active recovery practices programmed directly into my lifestyle. Exercise is no longer simplified into work times and rest times – training days and “off” days. Every day is an opportunity for physical activity, and the best way to sustain physical activity is to adopt a daily personal practice that will help to PREhabilitate your body. I primarly use the Intu-Flow Longevity System for this purpose. If you don’t compensate for the physical work-related activities that you do regularly, then your body will eventually adapt to them and will always lead to imbalances and worse over time. Look at anyone who trains for endurance sports if you need proof.

2) Methods of warming up for a run have changed drastically. I used to jog for a bit, which I’ve now learned is an inefficient stride for energy conservation. After a 5-10 minute jog, I would do a full body course of static stretches, holding each one for 15-30 seconds until the muscle relaxed (read “lengthened” or “deformed”). After the stretching, I would begin the run.

Today, my warmup is comprised of much different methods that have been contributing to my injury-free, and thus, pain-free running hobby. I use joint mobility exercises instead of static stretches – working from head to to, and core to periphery. I also skip the initial jog, and just progress slowly into my run – walking, trotting, then running with occasional sprints interspersed throughout the run. Jogging is a thing of the past!

The program RMAX Powered Running really helped me learn how to fine-tune my joint mobility warmups specifically for running. I consider this the best resource for runners that wish to train long-term without injuries:

RMAX Powered Running

3) I run differently than I used to. My running technique has changed subtly in the past year, but the minor changes have made a huge impact on how well I run and how good I feel afterwards. I used to feel awful when I finished a run, just beat and exhausted with achy joints all over. It’s not like that anymore, and a huge reason for that is because my stride has changed out of necessity.

I’ve been adopting a “less is more” philosophy, and especially when it comes to footwear. In fact, I’ve been going barefoot all year, as often as I can, including during my runs. Naturally, taking off your shoes will change the way you walk and run. If you’re like me, upon first trying barefoot running, you’ll be hopping around like you’re walking on hot coals every time you step on a pebble – but your feet will toughen up quickly. In fact, running barefoot may even naturally improve your running technique in-and-of-itself.

When you take off your shoes, heel striking is no longer an option. As it turns out, heel striking is one of the major causes of joint injuries in the knees, hips, and spine, among other places. Try heel striking while barefoot and your intuition will tell you it’s a bad idea. You’ll never do it twice, trust me. Instead, you will want to land on your forefoot, or “mid-foot.” This will help you to “catch” your weight and absorb the shock throughout your body – instead of having over-engineered shoes do it for you. This is where natural running technique starts, and it will progress into more efficient and effective running from there.

If you want more information on this running technique, research the POSE running method as developed by Dr.Nicholas Romanov.

4) I now include an effective post-run ritual. When I was done with my runs in high school, that was it for the day – I was just DONE. I’d put everything I had into each run, and a proper cooldown routine just wasn’t employed regularly. Sometimes, I would “walk it off” to catch my breath and maybe do some stretches, but I was inconsistent at best. When I was finished running, I was finished exercising. That’s what the warmup was for, right?

WRONG!

The cooldown portion of your run is arguably one of the most important aspects, and if you want to stay injury-free, you better pay attention to that short window of opportunity following your runs.

I have a very specific cooldown ritual that I follow after every run, with some variance here and there depending on what my intuition is telling me. I ALWAYS do some full body vibration drills as soon as I’ve finished my run and the “cooldown walk.” Just shaking out my legs, arms, and torso really helps to alleviate some of the stored tension throughout my body and restores bloodflow to my muscles and synovial fluid to my joints. The RESET program was a great resource for learning how to do this effectively.

After shaking out, I’ll usually walk on the outside and inside edges of my feet for about 50-100 small steps. This helps with the prevention of shin splints.

Other than that, I’ll usually do some biomechanical exercises from the BodyFlow program to relieve some deeper tension in and around the joints in my legs, hips, and spine. This is always intuitive, and each day is a little different.

I always finish with either Forest Flow from Prasara Yoga or a 4 Corner Balance Drill.

The 4 Corner Balance Drill

5) I enjoy every step of every run I take today. For me, running used to be a challenge. It was hard work that I did for the purpose of bettering myself. There was an element of fun to it, but it was more pain than pleasure. The end always justified the means, and so it wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been. I would stress over shaving off an extra second or two from my 1600 meter race, and it wasn’t healthy or sustainable long-term.

Today, running is a pure joy. The fact that I CAN RUN is a blessing and I don’t take it for granted. I make it a point to enjoy every moment, and stay away from the competitive running mindset that led to injury in the past. I can already run pretty far, and a decent pace, and I can sprint fast enough to surprise most people. Sure, I could probably increase my speed a little if I changed my running technique to include heel-striking, but since I’m not in a hurry or running for my life, I’ll content myself with a slightly calmer pace. If I ever did have to run for my life, I’m sure I’ll use the fastest method possible then.

I guess you could say that I’m taking a “Slow Fitness” approach to running. I’m in it for the long haul, and I’d like to run well into old age. There’s no point trying to push to the limit, or exceed my potential every single run. I’d rather progress slowly over time and keep my gains, than progress quickly and have to quit due to injury.

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The Perfect Run Through My Neighborhood

Today’s run was perfect because I incorporated all of the above tips. To top it off, I had my dog, Ronin, trotting by my side. I got a chance to say hello to three children and have them pet my dog. Ronin and I even got chased down the street by a fiesty German shepherd dog. I smelled and felt the wind, and I wasn’t exhausted when I was done. It was exploratory, it wasn’t a race – nowhere to be, nowhere to go, just running. When we got home, we both drank from the hose in the backyard!

More Running Resources:

The Definitive Guide to Going Barefoot

John races his dog Ronin in a barefoot sprint contest (video)

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – I’ve heard nothing but positive reports from people who have read this book. It’s number three in my book reading queue. My review is forthcoming.

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional and Running Enthusiast

5 Responses

  1. Pretty cool post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say
    that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts. In any case
    I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon!

  2. Interesting, very interesting. I’ve been getting shin splints lately! I tried landing mid foot, and they got worse. I tried landing toes first and they were even worse!

    Running is a chore to me. I don’t find any joy or happiness in it beside the fact that I’m burning energy, achieving something physical and beating my distance every time.

    I’ll definitely try running barefoot down at the oval for a while and see how that goes.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I’m glad you enjoy the site!

    FitNews,

    Like anything else, you can’t just jump into a mid-foot stride when running if you’ve been heel-striking for awhile. You need to work up to it gradually. Right now, your body is conditioned for the running technique that you have adopted in the past and up until this point. I can understand why you would feel more pain when trying to suddenly adjust your technique, especially if you already have a condition that is causing you pain. It may take several weeks or months to recondition your legs and feet.

    A good first step may be to get some minimalist footwear that will help your feet recondition themselves. I’ve heard from many sources that the Vibram Fivefingers are the best choice for this job. If that’s too “primal” for you, then there are many other good choices in my guide for going barefoot:
    http://johnsifferman.com/blog/the-definitive-guide-for-going-barefoot/

    Also, you may want to try going barefoot every now and then – not running, of course. That would be a step too far, at this point. But maybe try going barefoot around the house for a week or two, and then progress to soft surfaces outside like grass, sand, dirt, etc. If you build up your feet gradually to the idea of going barefoot, then over time your feet and legs will recondition themselves to a normal mid-foot landing and stride.

    A mid-foot landing is just the start of proper running technique, but it’s an important start, and a much better alternative than heel striking.

    Best regards,

    John

    PS – I have struggled with shin splints in the past, too, but I haven’t had shin splits since going barefoot.

  4. Ahhaha… Another great article! Thanks John!!!
    PS I drink from the hose with my dogs too ;)

  5. I always thought that constant heel striking when running would do damage to your joints. Running bear foot is good too, but choose where you run.

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