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Experienced runners say total body counts toward better running form

Upper extremities should be kept relaxed for better endurance
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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A lot more than just lower body strength is at play for runners who are all about going the distance.

An awareness of what the body is doing from top to bottom can help even novice runners develop endurance and longevity. John Trent, president of the board of trustees for the Western States Endurance Run and 10-time race completer, said one of the best things a runner can do is catch a glimpse of their reflection mid-stride.

"Every once in awhile it's not a bad idea or a vain idea as you're running by a store with a big window to pay attention to your reflection and see if you look like you're about to topple over or if you're running tall and strong," Trent said. "It's those types of things where you can pick up on something you might want to work on."

Carey Williams with the Auburn Running Company likes to keep in mind that reducing the impact on the body from running is the key to a productive form.

Though it is common to hunch or swing the arms more aggressively later in a long run when the legs might be wearing out, Williams recommends staying as relaxed as possible with unclenched fists, loose shoulders, and arms that swing to the side and not across the body.

"You don't want to look so constricted, it should look sort of effortless to a degree," Williams said.

As for the lower part of the body, stride should be considered when it comes to the distance at hand. Trent said for ultra runners, like those who finish the 100-Mile Western States Endurance Run, strides should be shorter with a 180- to 190-stride-per-minute average.

Craig Thornley, the incoming director of Western States, has finished the 100-mile race eight times, but is trying to get back into running shorter distances on a track.

That means changing from a pace that averages a 9 or 10 minute mile to a pace of 4 minutes 40 seconds, he said.

"That's been kind of shocking because my body is not used to running that fast, but it feels good on my joints," Thornley said. "My body always feels better with a little stress on it."

As a 48-year-old who is trying to get back into running on a track instead of a trail, Thornley said to take it slow and to make time at the end of long runs for some sprints or runs at a faster pace.

"Sometimes it just feels good to throw down the water bottles and just run," he said.

The way the foot strikes the pavement and pushes off is another aspect of running to pay attention to. Williams said runners can either over pronate, meaning the foot rolls in with each stride, or they can under pronate, meaning the foot rotates more to the outside. Other runners can have a neutral, heel-toe or forefoot strike.

Under or over pronating can be addressed if it is recognized by a runner before it causes any damage to knees or other joints. There has also been a push for barefoot running, which encourages more of a forefoot strike, eliminating any worry about over or under pronating, but Williams said that type of running can take a lot of getting used to.

"Luckily, we're talking about a sport that creates products to correct things that need to be corrected, so it's extremely important to be conscience of what you're working with and how it can be addressed," Williams said.

Such was the case when Barbara Ashe, of Lotus, ran the most recent Western States Endurance Run. Ashe was aware of a previous injury to her third metatarsal and the added pressure it caused the surrounding area, so if it started to ache during the race she would take it a little easier.

By the time she finished with a time of 29 hours, 16 minutes, Ashe had run the last nine miles of the race with a broken foot. She says she intends on trying to get into the race again next year, but prepare for it accordingly.

"I'll just start out slowly. It's like starting from scratch again and it's really hard," Ashe said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.