Last updated: 09-Feb-19
What is this article doing on www.runultra.co.uk home of the ultra athlete, compendium of the experienced and dazzling distance runner, community of the genetically blessed, you may ask? And, to heap insult onto injury, written by the Editor, who should surely be a consummate running performer?
Before you swipe away and leave RunUltra forever, just hang on a second. This is written after spending two days with Shane Benzie of www.runningreborn.co.uk and if his techniques are good enough for Elisabet Barnes, Sondre Amdahl, Kerry Sutton and the GB 24 hour team not to mention Tom Daley (but I digress) then you may find it of interest.
Shane Benzie is passionate about movement. He flew over to Morocco to coach me and when I caught up with him on day one he was busy attaching sensors to the acrobats who perform in Essaouira square.
His mission is to make us run like animals and he hangs out a lot with “natural” runners: The Kenyans, Mohammed Ahansal’s crew, the Ethiopians – in fact he has even been known to put his sensors onto racehorses.
The basis of his theory is that we need to tap into our elasticity to improve our running. “Look at a cheetah or a hare,” he says, ”they run by extending and then contracting. They use recoil. They don’t have enormous leg muscles but they use the tension in their bodies to propel themselves forward.”
Our bodies have bands of fasci throughout them which cover the muscles and by using these, we can go faster and run better.
The first thing we did was go through the theory using models and diagrams as well as some fantastic video of really good runners running so I could see what it should look like. Watch Ayoub Ahansal doing it properly here.
Then it was straight down to it and Shane got me to run up and down and videoed me.
Photo credit: Johnny Logan.
I know I am a horrible runner and I was ready to be told so, but it was even worse than I expected. “Alice,” Shane asked quietly, “What is the difference between running and walking?” Apparently, what I had thought of as my efficient long-distance trot was technically a walk.
I was committing a number of sins:
- My head was down and my shoulders were leaning slightly towards the ground.
- I was heel striking.
- I wasn’t getting any air.
These are all pretty major ones, but you may be surprised if you video yourself, how easy they are to commit without realising. Shane explained that I was basically putting the brakes on myself with every stride by doing the above and that until I changed, there was going to be no joy in running for me.
We tried again with some very basic and easy instructions:
- Stand tall and open and imagine that you are the figurehead on a ship, slightly open your chest and let gravity move you forward.
- Don’t let your head drop.
- Think of your foot as a tripod made up of your heel, and your toes at the front and land on it flat so that it can balance you and the arch can flex and absorb the impact.
- Let your foot fall under your body and then propel you forward then let it go back.
- Try and get some air under your feet.
- Push your elbows sharply back from your body and then back to your side, not in front.
- Breathe independently of your cadence so that you don’t end up panting as you go faster.
I gave it another go and although it felt very awkward as I was trying to remember a lot of things and change a lot of things simultaneously, it also immediately felt better.
With a few more turns, I felt more natural and that I was tuning into myself. The video showed a massive improvement in posture to match the feeling which was very encouraging.
Even more encouraging was the data. My stride had lengthened by nearly 20% and my cadence had gone up by 5%. On the downside I was out of breath very quickly.
On day two, we tried it out on the hills. Of course, going uphill I immediately bent forward, as it seems intuitively to make sense. But, again I was corrected. Shane got me to do something very simple, he got me to lift my knees up high, marching on the spot, and then he got me to do it again while I was bending forwards.
The penny dropped – it was so much harder. Keep good high posture and an open chest and lean forward going uphill too and use your body’s recoil, just as you would on the flat. I tried again and it began to make sense and feel good.
While Shane was with me, I could feel myself doing it right and that my running style was actually better. But, I had two questions for him: how was I going to cover any distance given that I was now out of puff, and how was I going to keep myself honest when he was gone and not just fall back into old habits.
The answer to the first one is just practise and starting off with a run walk which feels very strange but getting used to the new form is going to take a little time, so I am prepared for that.
For keeping honest, Shane gave me some really useful tools:
- Use a metronome to increase cadence so that I can reach the 175-185 which is the ultimate frequency to make best use of my body’s elasticity.
- Put a piece of Kino tape at the base of my skull, quite tightly stretched so it will pinch if I drop my head.
- Focus on the foot tripod and using recoil and get someone to video me so that I can see I am maintaining it and not slipping into heel strike or toe strike.
- Use the data on my watch to measure my stride length, cadence and oscillation (distance off ground) At my level these should all be improving.
I have been on my own for several days now and am absolutely trying to learn how to run properly. One of the things Shane said has stayed at the forefront of my mind.
“Learn to love the ground. Don’t think of it as something that is your enemy or is rough or jarring. It is the ground that propels you and creates that recoil and tension in your body that makes you run. If you can change the way you think about the ground, you can change the way you run.”
For workshops with Shane, check out his website.
For a detailed look at the biomechanics, read this.
Part two will follow in a couple of months when we see how I have progressed.
All images Shane Benzie.