Being a Better Runner: What You’re Doing Wrong

Over the weekend a huge local running event took place. 14,000 people got their running shoes on and ran 6.5, 10, or 21km in the Round the Bays run. I didn’t run the race but it got me thinking about all the people training and pushing themselves to get fitter to run further, or faster to improve their race times.

The struggle

It’s not just about completing the race. Remember that burning feeling in your lungs you had on your first jog. Or the exhaustion at the end of that half marathon. Or just watching other people pass you by as you plod along at a ‘steady pace’. We’ve all been there and it sucks. As you watch the race leader bounding their way back from the half way point or fight the urge to stop and walk I know you’re thinking one thing. I’ve had that same thought. Why can’t I run faster?!

Chances are you’ve tried. You increased your training from 5km runs to 10km and then eventually built up to 15, maybe 20k! You ran more often. You buy some slick lycra shorts to stop the chaffing. And you probably made some improvements, but you still want to be faster, run further. It’s human nature after all.

Even with all the progress you’ve made, I’ve got bad news for you. You’ve been doing at all wrong. All that mileage. All those hours. Wasted.

The ugly runner

No doubt you have seen someone who runs ‘a bit funny’. You may even be that gangly, awkward runner who gets a few stares. But is it really so bad?

The biggest issue with running, and running, and running… until your legs fall off is one mechanics. If you run incorrectly you are just reinforcing bad running technique. Any built-in inefficiency gets engrained.

Just like any skill, you should be striving to learn the best way to run before hurling yourself into an intensive 12 week periodised training program. Take the time to learn about correct foot strike, posture, and cadence.

Like the artist who takes time to perfect their brushstrokes, or the entrepreneur that is constantly innovating. You have to look at what you are doing and ask yourself – “is this the most efficient way to move?”

The science

Back when I was studying the gold standard measure of aerobic fitness capacity was VO2max. And it still is. Your VO2max measures the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use. As you get fitter this number typically increases. Therefore if you want to be better at running you should increase this right? Wrong!

Take a look at a study done on perhaps the best ever female marathon runner, Paula Radcliffe:

The study shows three things over her 11 year career:

  • VO2max remains relatively stable from 1992 to 2003 (,
  • Her oxygen use at a speed of decreases, and
  • Lactate Threshold increases.

This shows something very significant. Over the course of her career she didn’t train her body to use more oxygen, she got better at using it. She became more efficient.

Lactate Threshold: This is a point at which your body cannot clear the lactic acid from the muscles fast enough and you start to get the ‘burning’ or ‘jelly legs’ feeling.

As stated in the study:

“While a high VO˙ 2 max is a prerequisite for success at the highest level, factors such as a low O2 (and thus energy) cost of running at sub-maximal speeds and a delayed accumulation of lactate in the blood, are also of great importance and appear to be responsive to training both in the short term and over the much longer term.”

Run Better

With all this in mind, you can switch your focus from running endlessly to accumulate distance and know you aren’t missing out. But how do you do it?

To run more efficiently focus on the points mentioned in the natural running article above:

  • Run with an upright posture and a slight forward lean.
  • Strike the ground below your hips and not in front of them to reduce braking. (Wearing lightweight, low-to-the-ground shoes with minimal midsole cushioning helps reinforce this stride.)
  • Strike the ground at the midfoot, not the heel or the toes – the actual impact area will vary based on body type – and allow your heel to naturally settle to the ground.
  • When starting a new stride, develop the habit of picking up your leg instead of pushing off the ground.
  • Use a compact and fluid arm swing, keeping your elbows bent at an acute angle and your hands close to your chest.
  • Keep your head upright and steady and your eyes looking forward.
  • A key to natural running form is high cadence with short strides, regardless of pace.

Train Your Lactate System

When you push yourself to the point where you start feeling that lactic acid burn your muscles figure out pretty quickly that they need to learn to get rid of that stuff. If you expose yourself to this more often you can improve your lactate threshold rather quickly. A great way to do this is using interval style training.

Try this workout 1-2x a week instead of your usual jog for distance or time:

10x 200m Sprint w/ 30sec rest

Then rest 4mins and repeat.

Total distance is 4km and total time is about 15mins.

This style of training is becoming more and more popular because it uses less time and it really works.

Try it for yourself.


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Also, if you are in the Wellington area and want some more information on this type of training and more come and see me at Instinct Fitness.