How to Run 50 Miles: Part IV – Proper Biomechanics

Read first: Part I, Part II, Part III

I had my running form analyzed last year to debug the cause of a nagging pain in my hip. This photo clearly shows a "hip sway" probably caused by weak glutes that comprises my hip, knee and foot movement. It also puts undue pressure on my lumbar spine. Not a good thing! I never would have known this was happening had I not had video analysis done. Obviously you should get this done by a professional, but you can also have a friend videotape you running on a treadmill and play it back in slow mo to see what is going on.

The third principle I adhere to is that bio-mechanical efficiency is absolutely key. You can fake it for shorter distances, but the longer you run (both in terms of distance and number of years) – your mechanics will either wear you out or build you up. Hopefully it is the later and not the former that happens! Small inefficiencies in form are greatly magnified over long distances.

Research shows that 2 out of 3 runners are injured at any given time. This is ridiculous. The injury may be a nagging thing like knee pain or a severe thing like a tibial stress fracture (I’ve had one!) that sidelines an athlete for months. I truly believe that we were born to run. Each and every one of us. Doesn’t matter if you are 7 feet tall or 4 feet tall. 300 pounds or 90 pounds. Humans were made to move long distances. It has been necessary for our survival and we’re finally tuned endurance machines. Somehow in the modern time we’ve  forgotten this birthright and been duped into thinking we can’t run far and need all kinds of fancy shoes and supports to be health. It isn’t true.

With the assertion that we were born to run, one would then assume that we should not see the majority of runners suffering from injuries. I know ultra marathoners that run 100+ mile weeks and seem to never get injured, they just get stronger with more training! I also know weekend warriors that are constantly injured and running with all kinds of knee braces, orthotic shoes and other sorts of crutches. Personally…I’ve suffered tons of injuries in my past 15+ years of running and racing (2 stress fractures, shin splints, hip pain, knee pain, etc.) despite not doing super high mileage and spending lots of time on soft running surfaces like trails. Why is this the case? It’s almost like some people are naturally gifted to run and others are not. This is a myth, as we are all gifted as runners.

There are some great articles written about biomechanical efficiency, and for any runner (weekend warrior to competitive athlete) they are worth the time to study. I’ve spend the past couple years re-learning how to run. It’s been a long road and taken effort, but I now enjoy running more than I ever have, and my nagging injuries are starting to heal and I’m feeling stronger than ever. In fact, after coming back to running after a year-long hiatus, I ran a marathon and two 50K trail ultra-marathons…with just a month gap between each event. Most people would think I am crazy to run distance events that close together….but  I recovered pretty quickly and never got injured, in fact I felt stronger with each race.

How did I start learning how to run? A few years ago I started running in Vibram FiveFingers a few times a week (just a mile or two) and walking around at work in Nike Free’s to strengthen my feet. I focused on landing more towards the middle of my foot and less on my heel. That was pretty much all the running I did, with most of my other exercise coming in the form of yoga and hiking. Just wearing more minimal shoes helped a lot.

Vibram FiveFinger "Sprint's"

After re-starting run training late last summer, I ditched my old training shoes that I used for most of my mileage in favor of Brook’s Green Silence shoes – that are ultra-light with a fairly low “drop” from heel to forefoot. I rotated using them with a pair of more built-up cushioned running shoes (Mizuno Waverider’s). I built up to the point where running 20+ miles on pavement in my Green Silence is no big deal! The low heel drop helped my feet to naturally land more towards my mid-foot and forefoot. From there…I progressed to track workouts and consistent awareness on landing light and keeping a higher stride cadence (as Barefoot Ted teaches!).

My advice for improving your biomechanics is to:

  1. Study: Read voraciously….spend time on youtube….read blogs…educate yourself. So many people have “seen the light” and rediscovered the joy of running over the past few years. A lot of the learning is posted online…spend some time on Bing and learn what works and what doesn’t…then do try for yourself! If you haven’t read the book “Born to Run“…do it and a lot of what I am talking about will make sense 🙂
  2. Diagnose: I had my form video-taped and analyzed by a sports doctor (as per the image above). This was incredibly useful! I learned that my hips were “swaying” from side to side, causing all sorts of issues with my knees and hips and feet, even through my foot strike itself was OK. The cause? A weak butt! The solution? Building a super strong ass with one-legged squats and kettlebell swings.
  3. Transition: Take your time to transition. It may be a year-long process. Start by alternating new shoes (if you decide to go the minimal route) with your regular running shoes until your feet get strong. Changing things too radically can cause injury. If you don’t practice yoga, I recommend 2-3 power yoga classes per week, it will greatly improve flexibility in your achilles tendon, hips and hamstrings. This will help you run more effectively.

Here are a two other resources that I’ve found super helpful:

How to Run: Running with Proper Biomechanics by Runblogger: Steve is one of the all-time fastest high school milers and takes a scientific approach to analyzing running mechanics. This post is a great read and you can continue reading his other posts to learn more tips about how to run well.

Pose TV: POSE is a method or learning functional movement. I’ve watched all these videos and they are incredibly helpful. In fact, the way Dr. Romanov teaches running technique is so simple, that within minutes of watching the videos I went out for a run and felt instantly faster. One of the best tips was not to focus too much on landing on your mid or fore-foot but instead focus on pulling your heel quickly up to your butt once it passes under your hips, while keeping your stride cadence high. I’m doing a POSE running clinic next week and will write up my experience then.

Happy running!

Published by Ravi Raman

Executive Coach + Yogi + Endurance Athlete

10 replies on “How to Run 50 Miles: Part IV – Proper Biomechanics”

    1. Hi Rainee, my physical therapist happens to be trained in gait analysis. I also have seen some running stores offer gait analysis…I highly recommend it. Just watching yourself run can be enlightening as well. Have someone video tape you and then play back in slo-mo.

      1. Thanks Ravi, I’ll check with my local running store to see if they can recommend someone. I’ve been poring over your archives and feel very encouraged and inspired. Thanks for writing.

  1. “I truly believe that we were born to run. Each and every one of us… Humans were made to move long distances. Somehow in the modern time we’ve forgotten this birthright and been duped into thinking we can’t run far and need all kinds of fancy shoes and supports to be healthy. It isn’t true.”

    With all due respect, how come you’re using all kinds of fancy shoes, and taking advantage of all kinds of fancy support technology?

    I don’t agree that humans are born to run long distance. If they were, they wouldn’t have to train to run long distance. I don’t believe that human survival was ever dependent on possessing such an ability.

    However, I don’t believe that humans have to ever get injured (or ill) either. It’s my view that ALL of that is in the head, and is subconsciously sought, based on prior conscious emotion. Basically, people feel they should get injured or ill (due to one thing or another, usually involving a certain amount of self-pity and fear), and then they do. It’s all an extension of the “child falls, looks to mother for direction, IF seeing alarm on mother’s face, starts blubbering” syndrome.

    Fancy shoes and “alignments” won’t stop that. One decision will. Well, a series of decisions, actually, but they all lead to and support the main one. Do you suppose Spartans got carpal tunnel syndrome from all that sword-wielding?

    No, human beings were born to THINK for survival. Somehow along the way, they have corrupted that faculty, by allowing emotion to routinely hold sway over reason, until it has become a weapon of self-sabotage.

    1. “Do you suppose Spartans got carpal tunnel syndrome from all that sword-wielding?”

      ….and Spartan warriors were incredible runners btw.

      1. In Sparta, new born babies were examined for physical defects and weakness, with those considered to be less than fit thrown into a chasm. I’m guessing, therefore, that to become ill or injured in Sparta would also have been considered weakness and, therefore, shameful. I’m further guessing that neither state (along with being overweight or depressed or allergic, etc.) was considered in any way normal.

        Apply the same thinking in your own individual case (you don’t have to consider others’ illness and injury at all) and you’ll eliminate the self-pity and subconscious desire for coddling, etc., that causes illness and injury. Stop revering medical ritual and paraphernalia, and reveling in having an authority figure speak to you in a caring tone (he’s not the daddy you always wanted, he’s in it for the money). Stop buying into the pharma-myth that the human immune system is somehow anything less than an IMMUNE system. And never, ever own to having a “MY DOCTOR” or a “MY ILLNESS” or ANY hereditary link to any weakness, or allow anyone else to accuse you of having those things unchallenged. Your subconscious is always alert and looking for clues as to what you want it to bring you. Strictly control what others are allowed to say, unchecked, around you. Tell everyone who will listen that illness and injury don’t exist FOR YOU. Expect hostility in return for your heresy.

        Don’t expect to ever get injured and you won’t. That includes unexplained injury and accidents. Accidents don’t exist. They are always subconsciously attracted events. Your conscious mind says “I need attention” and your subconscious supplies the means of gaining that attention, by way of an accident, an injury or an illness. Sometimes, it overshoots the mark and creates a tragedy. The subconscious also acts to cover its tracks, to spare our egos from discovering the truth about ourselves and our motives. So, we rarely become automaticaly aware of the complete chain of events that led to the accident in question. We blame things, circumstances, the gods, but never ourselves.

        Become an attention Spartan.

        Deny the existence of unexplained illness FOR YOU, and you’ll never suffer it. All illness is chosen.

        The same goes for aging (or, more properly stated, senescence), although as the conditioning has been more thorough, the reconditioning may be a little more complex. If your subconscious has been instructed to help you “belong” in society, it will act to switch on the genetics that will assist you in that endeavour, taking its cue from the appearance, actions, body language, dress, apparent frame of mind and speech of what you’ve told it is your peer group. Retire to Florida at your peril.

        It still boils down to the same thing, though: Deny its existence FOR YOU, and it won’t exist FOR YOU. Nothing can exist for you, if you don’t first admit its existence.

        As a man thinketh, so is he. If quitting is an option, that option will be exercised as soon as it appears profitable (to the subconscious) to do so. If creating an injury provides an excuse for quitting, when the going gets tough, an injury will be created. Your subconscious, like an over-enthusiatic servant, will follow around behind you with a chair, if you give it prior instructions to do so. If you tell it to switch off the lights or push the fire alarm when you look like you’re losing the fight, it will. If you’re Elvis, your subconscious will be Mary Jenkins Langston (go Google).

        One day, you’re sitting on a couch in awe of marathon runners. Next, you’re running marathons and beyond as training for 100 milers. All that really changed was the thinking. What are you actually thinking going into your 50 miler? What instructions have you given your subconscious?

  2. HI Ravi, this is a great blog. Well Done. I love all your entries. I need your opinion about the Vibram five fingers.

    I have done a few 21K in regular cushion shoes. Once i tried a pair of Vibram Bikila 3 months ago, i have been running in them since. I love them. The furthest i have done is 12k. I am wondering what is your opinion if i decide to run a 21k in them. What do you think from an experienced runner point of view ? Do you think my legs will be better protected by wearing a regular cushions shoe than Vibrams for long distance races? ( I also owned a Nike Lunarglide2)


    1. I would recommend building up gradually to prevent injury.

      For example, use your cushioned trainers for longer runs and slowly build up until you are sure your feet can handle the minimal shoes for longer distances.

      I know it’s tempting to junk the standard running shoes right away, but gradually phasing them out is the safest approach for injury free running in my opinion.

      Even for me, I’ve been using Brooks Green Silence racing flats for most of my training now, but did a few 50Ks last fall in Mizuno Waverider (cushioned trainers) just since I didn’t think my feet were not ready for that distance with the minimal shoes.

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