Running For Dummies, Idiots, Nitwits, And Other Normal People Like You And I

A Quick Primer On How Running Is Supposed To Be + A Short Exposé On How To Run Properly

male runner

All right. Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not saying you’re a dummy, but I am saying that some runners, out there, do dumb things – but not you! We cool? Cool.

Now, let’s face it. Running is a pretty simple activity. Just put one foot in front of the other, as the old saying goes. But somehow we’ve managed to severely over-complicate this fundamentally-human, natural movement skill. And we’re paying the price for it – in spades. No matter what research you look at, injury rates among runners are at absolutely absurd levels – to the point where I actually catch myself doubting the brilliance of the human race. But I don’t dwell on it, and fortunately, there is other evidence out there to the contrary. Thank God.

Now, if we could travel back to science class, something we learned is that pain is an indication that something is wrong. And running injuries are almost always a sign that something has been wrong for a long time. And so, it could be argued that 50-90% of runners have been doing something wrong for a long time. And this tells me that there are some serious flaws in how we approach running, in general, in our culture – basic, fundamental flaws that are undermining our health, fitness, performance, and chaining our self-confidence, self-worth, and literally disabling people physically and mentally. I know. Serious stuff, right?

Note from the editor: run-on sentence FTW! Carry on…

How Running Is Supposed To Be

Obviously, many of us are going about this the wrong way, and few people actually get this whole running thing right. In fact, being a pain-free, injury-free highly-fit, high-performance runner is an extreme rarity these days. Heck, just finding a runner who doesn’t deal with nagging pains and recurring injuries is a rarity. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

You see, running is a natural human movement skill. In fact, it’s inherently human to run. Unfortunately, optimal running skill does not come naturally to most of us. We aren’t born with it. Sure, most kids seem to run around without any problem at all, but appearances can be deceiving. And how many adults do you know who are the same way? Suffice to say, running needs to be practiced like every other athletic skill, as do the other elements of a runner’s lifestyle.

And when we treat running like a skill to be learned, developed, refined, and mastered, it opens up a brand new perspective of how running can and ought to be. Because running isn’t supposed to hurt us, and proper running habits never will. Running is meant to be a health-promoting, fitness-enhancing, restorative (even therapeutic) activity that we get to joyfully experience all throughout life – and well into old age, if we so choose.

I know what you’re thinking… “So says the 20-something runner. Bah humbug!” But if you knew my back-story, and that I was told twice that I would never be able to run again because of injuries I sustained from running, then you might be singing a different tune.

The Current State Of Runners

As mentioned before, the current state of the running community as a whole, is pretty depressing. So many people get injured because they’ve been doing something (or things) wrong over the long term. And let’s not forget what kind of an impact pain, injury, and chronic problems can have on a person. If you’re in pain or you’re injured, then you have a health problem, but your sub-par health is only the beginning. If you’re injured, then chances are you’re also weak in some or all of your body. You may have imbalances, too, and an ongoing injury may cause your body to start changing how it moves in an effort to restore equilibrium, which will inevitably perpetuate the problem.

These issues don’t just affect our skeletal structure, muscles, joints, and connective tissues, though. They affect the entire body – every system – but not just that. They affect our minds, too. Qualities like passion, determination, perseverance, and self-discipline slowly erode into lethargy, carelessness, pessimism, and self-pity, among other things.

But more importantly than any of that, when you’re in pain, you hold back on yourself out of necessity. And this tends to cripple us emotionally, which also weakens us physically – and on and on the cycle goes. Self-confidence goes out the window. Any sense of empowerment – gone. And eventually, it becomes so easy to get sucked into a downward spiral of apathy, depression, and worse. Granted, most of us don’t turn into complete space cases, but we do tend to fight an ongoing losing battle with ourselves, and we rarely, if ever, gain ground.

So, what do we do about it?

How To Run Properly In 100 Words Or Less

You need to run with excellent technique most of the time. You need to follow a customizable, intuitive running program based on your unique needs and goals. You need to rest and recover as much as necessary to support your running habit. You need to feed your body with the right foods to enhance your health, fuel your runs, and aid in the recovery process. You need to account for non-running factors and habits that may contribute to poor running habits (e.g. sedentary lifestyle, muscle imbalances, negative thinking, high stress levels, etc.). You need to do the necessary cross-training and injury-prevention techniques to help account for the over-specializations that develop from running regularly. And finally, you need to design your lifestyle to support your running habit.

The Bottom Line

OK, so that was a little more than 100 words. I tried. Now, if I could relay the same message in just seven words: it’s going to take everything you’ve got. I know. I’m real subtle like that. The good news is that I know and YOU know that you can do it, especially if you approach running as a skill that takes time and practice to develop, refine, and eventually master. If you’re willing to practice a little patience, too, and perhaps imbibe a little humility, then you’ll be much more likely to succeed.

You see, becoming a healthy, successful, strong runner is a process, and the best way to instigate and follow-through with that process is to incrementally address the various areas that require attention (instead of trying to change everything at once). If you take enough baby steps and ensure constant improvement – no matter how little – eventually you will go out for that perfect run and look back with awe on not only how great you feel, but how far you’ve come. And if you’re like me, you’ll be ecstatic about all that is waiting to be explored in the future.

Now, if you’d like a little help from someone who’s been there, then you can read a little bit more about how to make this transition the smart way in my article here: The 7 Building Blocks of Becoming a Strong, Resilient Runner.

Further Reading:

An Unconventional Guide On Strength Training For Runners

How to Supercharge Your Long Distance Runs with the new Anti-Comfort Zone Paradigm

100 Lessons I’ve Learned From 10 Years of Running

5 Ways to Run Effortlessly Using Lessons From Persistence Hunting

The Definitive Guide for Transitioning to Barefoot Running

The Holy Grail of HIIT

Interview With Jason Fitzgerald About Strength Running

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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach

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P.P.S. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/miguel77/

3 Responses

  1. Hey John, first of all great article like always I wish I could write (almost) a book out of each topic on my site. Anyway, I have a question for you. I understand that a proper running technique is composed out of different factors but is there any “perfect” or better said optimal running technique in terms of length of steps or the way you hit the ground,…? Those things probably depend on each person but still I wonder if there is indeed “the one” technique. I’ve found a few googeling around but they are all a bit different and I would rather trust your opinion than others. Thanks in advance and keep up the good and inspiring work!

    Cheers

    • Hi Martin,

      It’s not a black and white issue, but my opinion is that there is no one running technique that is better than all the others in ALL cases. It depends on the person and the environment in which you’re running among other things. For example, a change as simple as grade (running uphill vs downhill) will alter your running mechanics. So, will a different pair of shoes – or not wearing shoes. Many factors influence what could be considered optimal running technique.

      But that said, in general, here is a good baseline to start with from running coach Lee Saxby. See the video here (scroll down on the page): http://physicalliving.com/learn-the-skill-of-barefoot-running/

      That would be a good general primer that will at least show you what efficient running technique looks like.

      You can also check out the running category here: http://physicalliving.com/category/running/

      And especially the barefoot category here: http://physicalliving.com/category/barefoot/

      Lot’s of good stuff in the running archives.

  2. Thanks for the quick response and the links as you have so many articles that its almost overwhelming because I want to read them all;) Will check them out now. I might even follow your 1 year barefoot transition plan. I am currently in Australia and here it’snot unusual to walk around barefoot so they don’t look at you like an alien as they would in many other places;)

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