Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 17 Jul 1999 23:30:07 -0400

Slowing in Style

Stand beside a road sometime and watch a race instead of running it. You'll see in the passing parade what you might not have noticed from the middle of it.

Chances are that you aren't one of the faster runners, and you'll see how wide the gap is between their pace and what yours would be. Chances are even better that you'll notice how different they look from the runners like you.

I'm all in favor of slower running. I've spent more than 30 years growing slower and have made a career of writing about it.

I don't mind being a slow runner. I just don't want to look like one.

There's nothing wrong with slow runs themselves, but they do teach some bad habits that must be resisted. I don't need to watch a race to see form flaws in action. They appear daily at my favorite runner-watching spot.

The Amazon Trail is a one-mile sawdust course in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Runners come here by the dozens at all hours of the day and night, and this trail brings together some of the world's fastest runners with many of the slowest.

Not just pace separates the two groups. They differ even more in appearance.

The faster ones glide over the surface, brushing it quickly and quietly with each footfall. They run proudly, with back straight and eyes forward. Faster running almost demands that they carry themselves this way.

Slower pace doesn't make such demands, and bad habits can take root here. Slower runners are likely to pound the ground, not only spending more time on it but announcing their arrival with an audible slap or scrape. They're likely to run hunched over with eyes cast downward, as if slightly embarrassed to be here.

Pace places me firmly in the second group, but I still try to model myself after the first. Faster runners hold up a picture of what the best running form should be at any pace. Slower people naturally have a shorter and lower stride but still can model ourselves after those who look best.

This isn't just advice about looking pretty. If form were purely an aesthetic concern, I wouldn't bother mentioning it here. Running lightly over the ground, in good head-to-toe alignment is easier on the body than landing heavily and out of balance, a thousand times every mile.

Check your form with two tests:

1. Where do you look? The back follows the lead of the head. If you watch your feet hit the ground, you're hunched over. But if you raise your eyes to the horizon, your back naturally straightens and you come into more efficient alignment. Good running is straight-backed, tall running.

2. What do you hear? The feet announce how well you absorb shock. If you hear slap-slip-scrape-shuffle, you're hitting the ground too hard by not making full use of ankle flex and toe-off. The less you hear at footplant, the less likely the ground is to hurt you. Good running is springy-stepped, quiet running.

Whatever the pace, run softly, run tall.

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