Preparing for your race by doing your weekly mileage is only half the battle won. You need to give attention to your nutrition and hydration, practice strength and mobility conditioning and follow a plan.
But there are also several overlooked areas such as posture, form and ways to make running more efficient. “Runners should put aside thinking exclusively about how much (mileage) and how fast (pace) and give more focus to how well they are running. Are you light on your feet, well-balanced and rhythmic in your movements? If not, you need to look under the hood,” says Ashok Nath, popularly known as Coach Ash - running coach, and founder of Catalyst Sports and Wellness.
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Running drills are the smart, practical way to develop efficient movement patterns that become ingrained into your muscle memory and come into play when running. According to Coach Ash, one can do running drills as an independent workout after a good warm-up, or as a preparatory prior to your main workout. “Given that drills activate your neuro-muscular system, they are a good fit before a brisk, intense run (speed or tempo) rather than a steady state (long run),” he explains. Form drills can be done on grass, road, or track surfaces. These may be segmented into basic, intermediate and advanced. The basic (and intermediate) can form part of pre-workout prep while advanced (and intermediate) should be a stand-alone session.
Running drills address agility, coordination, balance, being light of your feet (cadence) and improving springiness (stride). “Drills as a warm-up routine are very important before a run, workout, or race. This is going to prepare your body, get it warmed up, and also stretched out to be able to run fast,” adds Alyssa Lombardi, exercise physiologist, running coach, and founder of Alyssa RunFit Coaching. She adds that doing drills as a pre-run routine will help reduce the risk of injury if we have any tight muscles.
Drills are meant for everyone - no matter what the distance. Only runners who are injured, carrying a niggle or distinctively out of shape, may need to view running drills with some caution. “Personally, I advise that one be smart in choosing the right drills given your specific need, or handicap, and not blindly undertake all drills. For example, if having an ankle strain then skip (pun intended) any hops & bounding drills,” advises Coach Ash. “Observing a runner, and/or reviewing their running stats, I will allocate specific advanced drills to address their needs.”
However, according to Lombardi, the running form can change with speed. And since the speed changes with the distance you run, a marathon runner’s form might be different from a 100-metre sprinter’s form. For example, she says, the faster you run the longer your stride will be as well as running more on your toes. The slower you run, the shorter your stride and the more mid-foot running you will do. Trying to stick to one form can be difficult as well.
“A lot of times runners can either over stride or even run on their toes. I find a lot of people focus on not heal-striking. But as a coach I have seen much more injuries come from over-striding and running recovery miles on their toes,” says Lombardi. This is because over-striding puts a lot of stress on your hips and over-stress and excess work means an increased risk of injury. When you run on your toes for an extended period of time your calves and Achilles are stressed and work full-time. This again means extra stress and increased risk of injury.
Some of the important drills Coach Ash suggests are butt kicks, high knees, A&B skips and side shuffle (for basic drills). For intermediate runners, carioca (a side running drill), skipping (not the same as jump rope) and jumping lunges are useful while quick foot-cadence, bounding-stride and backward running coordination help the advanced. One can easily find videos of these on the internet.
Each drill also has a specific role to play. For example, butt kicks improve quadriceps and hip flexor flexibility while reinforcing high cadence while high Knees reinforce mid-foot landing, high cadence, and hamstring flexibility. A&B skips reinforce mid-foot landing and high cadence. Bounding strides works the gluteus muscles and improves coordination while carioca helps to improve coordination and increases hip flexibility.
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It is easy to think we don’t have enough time to add yet another technique to our training. But drills are not just recommended, they are essential. “Most runners have jumped several steps of their foundation phase. And today are relying on some strengths while neglecting their weaknesses. This chain has to break, one day, and the consequences are not pleasant for these runners,” warns Coach Ash.