I squinted, the rising sun limiting my vision. While I couldn’t see clearly, I could tell another runner was headed straight for me and a coworker accompanying me on a run through south highlands earlier this week. Even with the visual handicap, I knew exactly who the runner was from several hundred meters away. Her running gait gave it away.
It’s a fun game to play: guess that runner. The more you travel area roads and get to know the frequent runners, the better contestant you will become.
At this point, I could pick my closest running friends out of a running lineup two football fields away. Wallace Robertson. Jeff Thomas. Cameron Jones. Elizabeth Tamplin. Slight inward movement from the left knee. Slight forward lean with head tilted back just barely. Knees driving forward, on tiptoes, and running with purpose (like the finish-line beer is about to run out). High arms with elbows back, bouncing along.
I could go on and on. But I’ll stop here to avoid offending anyone.
When I started running, I obsessed about my running gait. I read every article I could find about running form (there are a lot…). I read Born to Run, which made me think I needed to be barefoot and discover the perfect gait.
The reality isn’t absolute. Your running gait is like a fingerprint. Unless you commit a crime or need to change your identity, those aren’t meant to be altered.
I spent so many miles trying to be perfect. I sped up my cadence (trying to hit the professional prescribed 180 steps per minute). I tried to lean forward slightly at my ankles instead of my waist while keeping straight posture in my back. I made sure I was lightly closing my hands instead of clinching fists, a move that was promised to keep me relaxed and relieve stress from my arms, neck and shoulders.
But no matter how hard I tried (and I did improve some of those areas slightly), I didn’t feel like I was running naturally.
So while there are some noticeable commonalities when evaluating and comparing elite runners, everyone is still different. It’s possible for multiple runners to go the exact same speed and distance in completely different ways (stride length, rate, etc.).
I’ve stopped obsessing and concentrating on trying to achieve what I perceive to be the perfect form (good example here). Instead, I try to run like myself. Just the best version of that possible.
To anyone else thinking you have to achieve flawless form, relax. Work to improve problem areas — hill sprints are a great way to work on form — but be yourself. Embrace your unique carriage.
And, for anyone looking for the dead give away for picking me out from afar: ninny wrist (as seen above from last year’s Firecracker 5K).