Thoughts on endurance running, form and technique

The best coaches in my area, most of them close to retirement, confirm that they can not train the modern athlete with techniques from 20 years ago. The modern person’s lifestyle constantly differs from his or her ancestors. Our lifestyle creates inflexibility and weakness, which is reinforced when running. Changing our ways requires better focus and frequent repetitions.

Not that we have to discard all we know. Rather, we have to be conscious of how the knowledge base change and align it with the changing needs of the runner.

What follows is a few tips for both novices and experienced runners.

General form
Good form will not only make you a beter runner, but also less injury prone.

  • Keep your head and chest upright. Relax the neck, shoulders and upper body. The upper body should be stable, but not tense.
  • Practice belly breathing. This will strengthen the diaphragm, which in turn aids running economy.
  • Relax your hands – imagine you are holding something precious between your thumb and forefinger. Clenching your hands will make you tense and tire your arms.
  • Work your arms – swing from the armpits to the hips in the direction you are going. No crossing over of arms or a boxing motion / chicken wings, this halters your momentum.
  • If you catch yourself clenching your hands or swinging your arms across your body, shake out your hands for 100 meters to fix it.
  • To improve posture and balance, run on a line in training, feet on both sides.

Speed training should be restricted and well balanced for endurance runners to restrict the buildup of ion molecules in the muscles. Failure to do so will result in enhanced levels of fatigue in races.

Too much speed training will also increase the proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers to slow-twitch muscle fibers (Jansson, Esbjörnsson, Holm & Jacobs, Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 1990), to the detriment of your endurance ability.

When you do speed training focus on your posture. Keep your head up, arms swinging in the direction you are going and hips extending and driving. Focus on eliminating unnecessary movements and maintaining balance and control.

Do not mess with your natural stride. Research shows this results in loss of speed (Brigham Young University study, International Journal of Exercise Science, 2017).

Be careful not to overreach in your stride. You will only hasten the onset of fatigue. The feet should strike under your center of gravity, with the hips extending and legs moving well out behind the center of gravity. Drive from the hips.

Improving energy storage and utilization
This is done with the long run in training.

  • Do not eat or drink before your run – this helps the body to improve it’s capacity to use fat. You should now and then experiment with staying off carbs for 12 hours before a long run – only if you had a good rest day before. Some French research suggest this not only improves energy utilization, but also boosts endurance performance by increasing aerobic capacity. Please note that for this to work your general diet should contain enough high quality carbs. You should also take some food during the run, otherwise it will effect the quality of the run and your metabolism may slow due to this semi-fasted state, resulting in fewer calories burned.
  • Do not start too fast or run too slow on the remainder. Start at recovery pace for the first few kilometers and then increase your speed to maximum 20% slower than marathon pace, moving to 10% slower than marathon pace, sometimes finishing at marathon pace. Make sure you cool down if you ran at marathon pace.
  • Do not eat, or drink carbs over the final 8 kilometers, only water – this also improves the utilization of fat.
  • Take a rest day before and a day after a long run – generally, not always.
  • In addition you can now and then run twice on one day on normal training days.

Running Economy
Running economy is typically defined as the energy demand for a given velocity of running, and is determined by the consumption of oxygen. In other words, the less oxygen you consume at a given velocity, the better your running economy.

You improve this ability by gradually increasing distance over time. This also helps your fast-twitch muscle fibers gain the positive characteristics of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Slow-twitch muscles enable our endurance abilities, such as distance running.

To improve your intake of oxygen, keep your head up and practice belly breathing.

Inhale and exhale smoothly and continuously through both your nose and mouth at the same time while running. On average you will inhale for three footstrikes, exhaling a bit faster, but this depends on your speed.

If you have trouble breathing during a race: lie down, relax, inhale slowly, fully expanding your lungs on the inhale, breathing from the belly, not pausing before you exhale. Do this a few times while focusing on staying calm and relaxed, because sometimes our problems with breathing is a result of race anxiety. A warm-up before the race also helps to stem that anxiety.

Strength Training
Strength training should be included at least twice per week in base training and should always be preceded by a gentle aerobic warm-up.

Do about 200 kilometers in new shoes before you use them for a race. This should include at least one long run.

Race preparation
When preparing for a race you should try to mimic the goal race topography on some of your routes.

Do not race more than once every third week – never longer than a half marathon.

The week before a race you should remember to hydrate properly.

During the race, stick to the racing line as far as possible. The racing line is the shortest distance between two points, as measured from the start.

Race nutrition is a matter of personal preference and you should experiment with it in long runs, not during goal races. General guidelines include eating 7 – 8 g of carbohydrates for every 1 kg of body weight in the week prior to the race and taking fluid and carbohydrates at certain intervals during the race. Try not to drink anything after the 40 km mark in a marathon.

(Thoughts on endurance running, form and technique first appeared on

About Author:

Quintus van Rensburg is an Athletics South Africa Certified Coach, registered with Western Province Athletics. He does most of his coaching in Bellville, South Africa. He competes in road running in distances ranging from 10 km to 100 km, with a focus on endurance events.

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