Learning and practicing proper run form and developing run economy will serve all endurance athletes well. Beginner to professional—this is one of the best ways to run stronger and longer while reducing the risk of injury.
Most athletes new to the endurance arena, namely runners and triathletes, overlook or discount the importance of learning the fundamentals of running. I suspect this may be the case for several reasons, but quite simply, humans are land animals. When we want to run, we run. Unlike swimming, where proper form has a major impact on forward movement and successfully swimming, you can easily fudge running for at least a mile or two.
While running a couple miles is great for most people, if endurance events (10K, half marathon, triathlon, etc.) are what you're interested in, the first couple miles are usually just the warm-up. As athletes train to run longer and/or faster, form and economy play an increasingly important role.
And remember, run-related injuries affect 60 to 65 percent of runners each year and are by far the most common among endurance athletes.
Let's go through the basics of proper run form as well as touch on three vital components of improving your run economy.
Proper Run Form and Economy
The biomechanics of running is the form component of running and good running biomechanics improves speed and helps prevent injury. Proper form enables running to be more enjoyable and helps improve your economy, allowing you to run longer and stronger while helping to reduce the risk of injury. In other words, proper run form and economy will increase your body's "miles per gallon" allowing you to go further using less energy.
Where Do Your Feet Land?
Your foot should land underneath you as opposed to out in front of you. By landing each foot fall under your center of gravity you will naturally be more likely to land on the forefront of your foot. The forefront of your foot is between your toes and heel, specifically right between the "knobs" of your foot.
This is the ideal place to land. By landing here your body will absorb the force exerted on each leg much more efficiently. If you only run a few miles a week you may never experience the consequences associated with heel striking, however, as you increase your mileage the risk of injury goes up.
TEST 1: Jump straight up in the air, about a foot off the ground, and land on your heels. OUCH! This is essentially what your body is absorbing with each stride you take when running if you're a heel striker.
TEST 2: Take off your sneakers and try running 100 yards. You'll probably notice that you naturally land on the forefront of your feet as you run; absorbing the force your body creates quite nicely. NICE!
Additionally, as a heel striker you're essentially putting on the brakes each time your foot lands. Think about this for a second...if you run this way, each time your foot hits the ground your heel digs in and essentially breaks or slows a lot of the forward movement you've created. Not only that, but instead of going instantly into your next step you have roll from your heal to the forefront of your foot to push off for your next step forward. Needless to say, this is not very efficient.