Thursday, October 31, 2013

How To Run (And Then Some)

I've been getting a few emails from readers asking me how to run. Honestly, I am never taught how to run. I just go out and do it. Growing up in a family with no sports background, it was not until school days I was exposed to sports via "Hari Sukan" or School Sports Day. That too, I was limited to weight-related sports as my body was, according to my teachers, not suitable for any type of endurance sports. It was not until joining Royal Military College that running became a must. Being at my teen prime age, I did struggled with only basic knowledge on running and it was more of survival in a military institution than a passion if I sit down now and think back. Fast forward to about 10 years back when I officially ran a race - a 10km event at PJ Half Marathon and the route brought us into housing area in Sungai Way (no kidding). Back then, running wasn't an in-thing. I ran with the same shoe I wear for Chinese New Year, into mountain biking in Kemensah, training in the park and even going to the market. 

I ran because I can.

That was how it was back then.

But those days, My fastest 10km was a 48minutes, and now I suspect it to be under-distanced (Subang Jaya 10km) or it could be a downhill route (around USJ). Even when I was training extensively for my triathlon races and notably the Ironman triathlon distance, running has never been my strong point. In the past years, I've had injury ranging from pain in the knee, which turns out to be ITBS in the making. Had a full blown Sciatica. Shinsplit was a norm (that numbing feeling in the front of your shin thinking you broke a bone or something) and chaffing was a good friend. So, I am about to make it easier for you readers that has just started running, about how you can bypass all the above and start building your running fitness and share the knowledge learn to others. 

As usual, my sharing is free. Pass it on if you find this useful Pay it forward.

It is about Efficiency
"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend." Bruce Lee on Power of the fluid

My running go-to person aka my (I appoint him as) sifu, Yip Weng Tak, which is my teammate in Team 2ndSkin has told me to read about Bruce Lee, not about the martial art but the way Bruce Lee see life as a philosophy. I've since tried to understand a few things and the above make most sense to me to a large extend.

Many of us fight the movement (running). The very basic of running is like fluid flowing. I was told that the Kenyans train on uneven road or in dirt road where the ground are softer. it is NOT to protect their joints but to make themselves work harder. Imagine running in a sandy beach as opposed to running on a hard tarmac, which is easier? 

Never fight the movement (of your legs), work it around the surface. And for this reason alone, I run in the trails whenever I can. 

It is about Injury Prevention
If you run in a way that will hurt your body, you are not in for the long haul. Many new runners started too fast and run too far. It is a common mistake as the running bug starts biting and the endorphin kicks in giving the "Runner's High" feeling. Bad running form due to bad advices, trying to keep up with others and even the daily food and diet will accumulate and catch up with you. Inadequate rest and over training will eventually seep into you and you will then give up running altogether. 

Many new runners and even seasoned runners failed to see the importance of correct running form and technique, choosing to be in denial and going with the general consensus and "trend". You may be fast now, but you will get hurt faster, and those shoes will be door stopper.

So How Do You Do It?
Posture, leg swings (high lift, high kickback), body position and going with the flow. This is the basic of running that no one can teach you unless you are willing to unlearn and re-learn.

Some seasoned runners say you can't change your running style. I beg to differ. I was a heel striker and running

Thank you Doke. Powerman 2013
Starting with posture, you make sure your body is upright. Our skeleton are build to take stress and to take off the load from the body when running. You have to make sure your body are aligned straight - as it allows the skeletons to work as it should and of course, to help open up your chest to allow breathing.

Too many I've seen slouch and bend at the waist when running, which effectively takes the load off the upper body structure and places the burden on the legs, and eventually, your joints.

Mid-foot Strike
May sound like some trendy way of running with inclusion of some specific shoes that "help you achieve correct running gaits". But let me share with you that there are truth in the claims - provided you are strong enough and has your legs developed to do this. This is where the unlearn and re-learn concept comes in. Bear in mind that it takes me close to 18-months to unlearn and re-learn how to run. It started with an very down-to-earth 7mins pace just to get the basics right.

Best way to do this is to lift your legs up high when moving forward, as it will then make your feet land right below or right behind you. Then you kick back as if you going to touch your butt with your heels - as this will cause your feet the shortest distance to move forward again. Think of it as shortcut, instead of taking a full circular swing (which will make you land on heel).
Body position, leg lift up front. Kick back behind. .Thank you Shanaz for the photo. 
Engaging Your Core
Some will say that it is a waste of time to work on the core muscle. Ever ran a LSD and felt sore in your abs and hips? That was because the core wasn't engaged and you are either running with your hip forward or your abs/tummy sunken in. 

Work on planking for about 2minutes each day and progress to longer planks. While some will say it's silly, planking and a strong core is the basis of a good run. A strong core will hold your hip/pelvis aligned against your spine. A strong core will carry the load of the upper body so your legs can do what it should - run efficiently. 

Going With The Flow
Many of us freeze the upper body and do not allow it to move when running. This results in many of us running like robot and wasting unnecessary energy. Learn to let your shoulder hang loose and your hands positioned in a relaxed comfortable position around or below your waist. Do not hold it up against your chest as it restrict blood movement and you will get numbness. 

Lean your body slightly forward and let gravity help you. Once your body is in a position "off centre", you will run easier (and faster). Put in the posture and mid-foot strike and you start kissing the slower pace goodbye.

I've written many blog entry on training. These may interest you and I find this blog entry to be a good depositary for all things running and to help running. Share this out if you find this useful, and as usual, let me know what you think.

On Injury and Prevention

On Understanding Your Body Condition

On Training Routine


  1. just when i am composing an email to you about rebooting my running training. you post this. perfect timing!

    awesome article.

    looking at your powerman timing make me want to burn my bike. :)

    1. THanks Khoo. As usual, you know where to find me offline anway. Ask away, always happy to share.

  2. Whoa! This is like a sign or something. Maybe I AM doing too much too fast :( Recovering from ITBS now. Zzzz... Thanks a lot for the tips! (Harum here by the way)

    1. Queen - ask me anything if you not too sure ;-)

  3. hi, refer to this "Posture, leg swings (high lift, high kickback)", i am wondering, running high cadence (90rpm), am i suppose to raise my leg lower in order to reduce the impact when i hit ground??

    1. If you do it right, your legs will automatically bend at the knee, thus allowing the skeletal muscle to cushion the landing. Problem arise when you heel strike where the knee is at the locked-out position and no amount of lower leg lift will be able to reduce the impact.

      Read my article on Barefoot running. It will shed some lights on the transient impact between heel and midfoot strike, which will explain how and why ruing correctly reduces injuries.

  4. Nice funky shoes in the pic, what shoes are those?

    1. GoMeb. You can find my write up under the REVIEW tab

  5. This came in just on time just when I needed it. Thanks for the write up. Very useful. Good to see you at Powerman. :)

    1. Celine - i hope me explaining briefly to you during 2XU helps. Sorry it can't be longer as it was raining and we were directly in front of the speaker. :D

  6. Thanks Stupe for the great article as usual. Will try hard to follow your advice.
    I find that strengthening core muscles is very important, not just for a runner but for someone who works in the office, staring at the PC as it will reduce the neck/shoulder muscle problems. My spine specialist told me this :)

    1. Ling - core is important. Those that took their core for granted will usually have bad backache and weak shoulder. :)

      Many thanks for the compliment on the article.