5 Super Easy Tips For Better Running Form

People run ugly. It's sad, so this is my PSA, my one-man crusade to help you run beautifully. My form is far from perfect (I'll get to that later), but like a good literary critic, I don't necessarily have to write the next great American novel to recognize the next great American novel (it's Franzen's The Corrections, in case you were wondering), and recommend it. So, here are some quick and easy tips that will instantly improve your form.

1. Run Naked

Not completely naked, but strip the shirt off, or if you're a girl, strip down to a running bra. Believe me, very little of this has to do with enlightened self-interest. Most of us look better with clothes on, and I hate running with my shirt off, but a funny thing happens when I take it off. In a feeble quest to not embarrass myself, I'll do my best to make sure I'm running tall, with good posture, chest expanded and shoulders relaxed. I'm usually alone on the trail when I'm daring enough to strip down; I know nobody's watching, but I still feel the need to focus on my form and posture.

Give it a try and see if you feel the difference. People may give you funny looks, but you're a runner, people are giving you funny looks anyway, and if that morbidly obese couple in the minivan at the drive-thru snickers at your bare-midriff, let them, and channel your inner Ronnie Mund, T-O-P-L-E-S-S.

2. Just Smile and Wave

Seriously, stop grimacing. If you hate it that much, then don't run. Do something you enjoy, something that will hopefully fulfill your exercise (if not your masochistic) needs. When we get tired, our faces tighten up, and while it's not much, it uses up energy that could be transferred to the ground in the process of forward momentum.

So, next time you pass someone when running, smile and say hi, then use this as a trigger to help you remember to relax the muscles in your face, then work down, make sure your shoulders are relaxed and not attached to your ears, then keep working down, do a quick body scan trying to focus on any tightness you feel, and work on letting go of that tension. If you're an anti-social grouch, and don't want to make eye-contact with anyone, or if all your runs are on remote trails, set the timer on your watch to go off every 5 minutes, smile at the nearest happy tree, and do the self-check.

3. Cool Moss

When I was seventeen, a high school senior, my dad took my brother and I to one of Tony Robbins' seminars, and we walked across 30 or so feet of burning coals, so what, no biggie. Surprisingly, the one image from that night that has stuck in my head all these years (aside from the fact that the guy has a ginormous head) is "cool moss." That is what we said under our breath as we quickly crossed the coals, hoping that all of this mind over matter mumbo jumbo actually worked, or that chicks dig stubs.

You want to minimize the time that your feet spend in contact with the pavement or whatever surface you are running on. You also want to work on maintaining a fast turnover (the consensus is that your foot should touch the ground about 90 times per minute, whether you are running fast or slow). Saying cool moss over and over (and over) in my head helps me keep my feet light and fast. I have heard other methods of accomplishing the same thing, some people use a metronome that gives an audible click every .66 seconds (note to self: check the math). The drawback to this method is that whoever you are running with is eventually going to imagine smacking you every 2/3 of a second. Other people say tap-tap, or pop-pop as their feet hit the ground to remind them to keep a quick turnover. Whatever you do, listen to your feet, don't let them slap the pavement and camp out there waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop.

4. Photo Finish

If you really want to see some ugly running form, camp out at the finish line of one of those 40,000 entrant marathons. It seems like everyone wants to be on ABC's Wide World of Sports in their very own Julie Moss moment. So, even if you think you have perfect form, dig up a race photo. Those jackass photographers always conveniently position themselves a mile from the finish line with a goal of catching you at your worst possible running form moment.

I had no idea my right foot took this wide arc, flapping in the wind, until I noticed it in a race photo. That's kind of weird, I thought, the photographer caught me the one time that my right foot was perpendicular to the rest of my body. Then, it seemed like every race photographer caught the same thing. It got my attention and now that I'm conscious of it, I'm trying to fix it. The weird thing is, I have had ankle problems the last couple of years, just with my right ankle, and I'm willing to bet that it's from this weird little form quirk.

I think my foot sees something it likes among the cacti

Check your race finish photos for those hunched backs, tilted heads, high arms, and knocked knees, then you can get to work on fixing the problem, because like GI Joe says, "knowing is half the battle".

5. Drill, Baby, Drill

And not in that Sarah Palin, or Ron Jeremy way. Add these three drills to your running routine -- high knees, butt kicks, and skipping for height (the over-achievers can add a fourth -- the carioca). They make a good warm-up or cool-down routine. Ideally, you will want to do these on grass or a dirt track. You can even take off your shoes and ruin a pair of socks when you do these because all the cool kids are running barefoot. I like to do each drill for about 50 yards, then transition into a fast, but relaxed strider for 50 yards, then jog back 100 yards to the start to recover. Do each of the following drills twice, and try to incorporate them into one or two runs per week.

Butt kicks and high knees drill

Skipping drill


That's it...5 easy tips that are guaranteed to improve you form. Thanks for doing your part to run beautifully, because this is what it's supposed to look like:

Trail Thoughts -- Fear and/or Bieber

Ran with Jeff and James on Saturday. I needed to get in 24 miles, and they both joined me for some of the distance. We ran the trails around Lake Hodges and San Pasqual and covered most of the Lake Hodges 50K course (wish someone would bring that one back). We passed a high school football team doing a ten mile charity run. Some of these kids were carrying weights, and there was a group of what looked like O-Linemen carrying this thick rope over their shoulders.

A few miles into the run Jeff mentioned that one of his friends asked what he thought about while out on these long runs, and his response was nothing, there was just usually some stupid song stuck in his head, then talk turned to the Bieber and Ke$ha, and how horribly catchy they are, or as my 9-year old described it, pure awesomeness. It's true, most of the time I just zone out when running long. Sometimes a stupid song repeats through the miles, random thoughts come and go, things I can't recall after the run, which is probably a good thing, but sometimes something stays with me.

I'm not sure when it hit me, probably when Jeff turned around and I was running alone down the singletrack near San Pasqual. There were rabbits and squirrels everywhere. It felt like I was in a Disney movie, but then I remembered an email from the tri-club about the San Pasqual trails and how there were a ton of rattlesnakes down there, then I realized on some of these trails I couldn't really see where my feet were landing because they were so overgrown, then I started seeing the signs warning hikers and runners about rattlesnakes and mountain lions. And then I got scared.

I don't necessarily hate snakes, it's just that I would rather not be bitten by one. It would hurt, and I was about 7 miles from my truck and, from what I could see, 3 or 4 miles away from anyone else, and it would be a painful hassle if I did get bit by a rattler. I saw this huge snake skin in the middle of the trail. The skin was broken into two parts, and at first I thought it was some sort of agricultural netting, to keep the crop hairs from contaminating the soil or something, then I picked it up and realized it was a snake skin. So, yeah, at that point I was scared.

It wasn't an irrational fear. All fear is anticipation of future events, and there is no fear of the present, only action, only dealing with the task, or the crisis, or the emergency at hand. My mind drifted to something else I am currently afraid of. I am scared to go to Canada and run 78 miles in the Canadian Rockies, I am scared that it will hurt, I am scared that I will fall, and above all, I am scared that I will fail. I feel this fear in my stomach when I am being honest with myself, and I have felt this fear before. I remember feeling it before my first triathlon, I remember feeling it before my first 5K, the Carlsbad 5K in 1989, I remember it before the one cross country meet that I actually didn't feign illness for, I remember it before Ironman waiting to jump in the water, and I remember it well last year before the 50 miler. The funny thing about this fear is that when the gun goes off, or someone yells "runners, go," the fear goes away. There is still pain, there is still suffering, but in that moment, the fear vanishes.

Fear is useful and dangerous, it prevents me from taking risks, and sometimes that is a good thing as far as self-preservation is concerned, but it can also prevent pushing to the edge. That feeling of nerves and anticipation is also why I like to race and compete. If I wasn't afraid of that edge, it would take some of the fun, and some of the satisfaction out of the accomplishment. On Saturday, pushing through 24 miles, I was glad that the fear was there because it sure beat an annoyingly horribly catchy song on mental repeat.

Heading towards Raptor Ridge

Dodder, a beautiful parasitic weed

Snake skin; this is where I decided to turn around

"Protect them by protecting yourself"

Trail Weekend

I ran Mt. Laguna on Saturday with some friends, 20+ miles in the mountains, single-track through meadows, around lakes and among wildflowers. These runs don't come around too often, and they are good for the soul.

My last two long runs consisted of parking at the coast, running south to Solana Beach, meeting friends, then running north to Carlsbad. It's a beautiful run along the coast, running with the waves and salty ocean smells, but it's flat and it's pavement, and it gets old. Plus, it's at 0 elevation, and running mile after mile on asphalt was wearing on me. I could feel the fatigue and soreness in my legs; I was aching for the trails.

So, early Saturday morning I drove out to Mt. Laguna, considering myself very fortunate to be able to drive a mere 80 minutes and run at 6,000 feet elevation on single-track and on a short stretch of the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail.

I wanted to get some early miles in. The majority of the group was starting at 8, but Anders joined me for nearly six miles on the Big Laguna trail at 7. We joined up with the rest of the group and ran through the Laguna Meadow to Penny Pines and the Noble Canyon trail-head. We then crossed over to the PCT, then back to the Big Laguna Trail. Chris and I did another leg out to Big Laguna Lake and he pushed me the last mile or so, and I was grateful to be able to run with him. Either my fitness is really improving, or he ran the Leona Divide 50 miler 7 days prior (finishing an impressive 8th overall -- way to go Chris), one of the two.

It was a beautiful day, a great run, and I had a smile on my face for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday was a rest day, spent with my wife and our kids. We took the kids down to the Batiquitos Lagoon trail and had a nice Mother's Day hike. We saw lizards, blue herons, white egrets, funnelweb spiders, wild celery, fennel, and we squished lemonade berry between our fingers and tasted the tart residue.

Circle of Life

The hummingbird eggs are gone, and so is the mom. Circle of life, and all of that, but I'm still pretty bummed about it. Way more bummed than I should be.

I have been training hard, and busy working this week, so not much time for writing. I was doing core work the other day, including pistol squats to exhaustion and during the last few reps, I was trying desperately to support my body on one leg, and failing, looking like Molly Ringwald dancing in The Breakfast Club all shaky headed and 80s spasticity. Then, I thought about creating an 80s teen movie inspired workout regimen complete with holding the ghetto blaster pumping out the smooth stylings of Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes up over your head until you just can't take it anymore (the song, not the pain in the arms), mixing in some kickboxing ("ever hear of kickboxing, the sport of the future?"), and finishing it off with the Can't Buy Me Love African Anteater Ritual.

I've also been doing 400 repeats down on the Batiquitos Lagoon Trail during the heatwave. I haven't done intervals in a long time, and I tried really hard to push the first couple, and was disappointed with not hitting the times I was supposed to. I realized I was really trying to force the pace and was running with a lot of tension, I could feel it especially in my face and shoulders. So, I decided to relax and focus on a fast leg turnover and trying to run smooth and soft. It worked and I ran faster than I was supposed to, and it felt good.

Tomorrow I'm off to the mountains for 20+ miles on the trails.

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