More recently McGregor coached a pretty decent runner capable of finishing his 10K’s in 32 minutes and change. While shopping at his local running specialty shop, this guy fell under the influence of a “stride expert” who analyzed his stride and recommended some changes. The runner deemed the expert credible and went all-in on making the changes. He was extremely enthusiastic about the results and raved about his improved running to his coach.
Now, it so happens that Stephen McGregor’s primary research focus is running stride analysis. He tests runners in his lab constantly. And it so happened that McGregor had tested this particular runner before he changed his stride, and he tested him again afterward. McGregor found that the runner was less economical with his “new and improved” stride than he had been with his old stride. Yet, despite clear evidence that tinkering with his stride had made him a worse runner, this fellow continued to cling to the belief that his new stride was better.
McGregor’s research on the running stride has taught him that there is no single correct way to run. Rather, each runner’s optimal stride is as unique as his body. Therefore each runner has to find his optimal stride on his own. “Running performance doesn’t fit any one model of the ideal running stride,” he says. “I can’t predict how economical a runner is simply by watching him run. For that reason, I know it would not be a good idea to try to make a runner more economical by making his stride look a certain way.”
This is different from arguing that every runner already runs with the best stride he can possibly achieve. To the contrary, McGregor’s research findings suggest that improvements in running form are at least as important as gains in aerobic capacity in relation to a runner’s long-term performance advancement. But these improvements cannot come all at once through consciously forced technique changes. Instead they must be earned over time through an unconscious evolution that is stimulated by simply running hard, often.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that no conscious stride modification could ever result in better performance,” McGregor says, “but even in the best case, the improvement would be minimal, and it’s far more likely to result in a negative effect on economy.”
Another athlete client of McGregor’s improved his 10K time by two minutes under McGregor’s guidance. He did so without attempting any overt fiddling with his stride or doing any drills or technique work of any sort. McGregor simply pushed him with challenging training. And, McGregor notes, “This was a guy who knew how to push himself.”
That’s how it’s done.
To learn more about how to improve your running form unconsciously, check out Matt’s book, RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel.