Running Economy

Running economy.  How is your Run Economy? Simply put “Run Economy” means when you’re running, how efficient are you? Are you wasting energy when you run? Ideally you want to use all of your energy to move your body forward.

Any energy used that is not moving your body forward is wasted energy. Are you clinching your hands? Are your shoulders tight? Is your stride too long? Do you heal strike? Are your arms straight? Are your arms swinging too far or not far enough? Are you running with your head down, posture straight? What is your cadence, 180spm? Are you breathing correctly? Are you bouncing up and down on every step?  A 2″ bounce on every step is a lot of wasted energy.

A lot goes into your run economy. As we run, we are unknowingly training our body to  run wasting energy. Understanding what good run economy is and recognizing your run economy is the first step to correcting it.  If we can make small changes and save energy it can add up over 26.2 miles.

Keep in mind; your running habits have been formed over your  whole life. It might be hard to change. An old injury could make changes impossible. Don’t make changes if they are uncomfortable or if you feel pain that you normally didn’t have before the change. Only make small changes during your training runs. Never try something new in a Race!

#1 Body position.  Is the chest and pelvis aligned? What is your forward gaze? Proper biomechanics requires the chest and pelvis to stay in line, face forward, and be held together with core stability. The forward lean is generated from the ankles, not the waist. The forward lean angle of an elite runner is approximately 10 degrees forward and runners should strive to obtain this angle of forward lean. The forward gaze should look straight forward to a point on the ground approximately 30 feet ahead. The knee should be right over the toe and not ahead of the foot or to one side or the other. Once the proper body position is analyzed and improved, the second element should be addressed.

#2 Arm and shoulder usage. What is the elbow angle? How far does the elbow drive back? Do the shoulders rotate while the chest and pelvis stay stable and neutral? The elbow angle should be bent at 90 degrees or less to shorten the “levers” to conserve energy and reduce muscular fatigue. The longer the “lever” the harder it is to carry as it requires more energy. The body will respond by shutting the peripherals down first and a runner may feel the feet go numb, a pinky may go numb, etc before the Quadriceps give out. With the right elbow angle, energy is saved and the powerful elbow drive can occur. In order to aid in forward propulsion, emphasis must be put on a rearward pull of the elbow. The “swing” is timed with cadence to enhance propulsion. Elite runners have a cadence of 180 steps per minute. To increase cadence swing your arms faster and your legs will follow. Efficient use of the arms and shoulders aids in running economy.

#3 Foot strike, also called contact point. Where does the foot land? Is the body balanced? Is your running stride minimizing braking? the foot should strike the ground directly under your center of gravity (under the hips). This point of contact will minimize braking. The goal is create momentum with each stride by striking, landing and propelling forward (use your feet to claw at the ground like a cat digging in the cat box) Over striding and landing on the heel will break momentum with each step. As the body fatigues and duration of run increases, the body will naturally protect itself. Watch for a shift of the body as it becomes more upright to slow itself down. Focus on the lean from the ankle, quick cadence and shorter stride when fatigued.   Keep your feet off the ground, like your running on hot coals.

#4 Type of foot strike. Is the foot striking lateral mid-foot, forefoot or with the heel? Is the whole foot being utilized? Is there Supination or Over Pronation? As mentioned above, proper position should minimize braking, enable forward propulsion and lessen muscular fatigue. To do so, lateral mid-foot strike is best and most common amongst the best runners. It reduces braking and enables forward propulsion. On the other hand, forefoot landing should be avoided since running up on the toes will lead to calf strain.

#5 Running stride. What is the stride rate? What is the stride length? What is the extension at push off? How is the recovery? Stride rate, also called turnover or cadence, should be a function of “lean and push.” A quicker cadence takes advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle and allows for the recoil to propel the body forward with each step. A fast stride rate leads to less contact time and more efficient forward propulsion. However, a contrived cadence leads to injury so work to naturally and gradually increase cadence with proper mechanics and focus.  180 SPM, steps per minute (90 RPM revolutions per minute) is an ideal cadence for runners. If cadence is slower, fix the lean and push first and cadence will quicken with the contact point being under the pelvis. Focus on the “drop and spring” timed with the elbow drive to quicken cadence. When counting, start the cadence count with zero, one, two…and shoot to achieve 85 to 95 RPM, 170-180 SPM. It may take time to feel comfortable running with a quicker cadence, but with the proper lean and foot strike, running speed will increase and muscular fatigue will be reduced. To run even faster, stride length will increase. Stride length may vary depending on height, but, the faster the runner runs, likely the stride length will lengthen. Include hill running as it is an effective way to discover the right stride length as well as strengthen the body. It is almost impossible to over-stride without intentionally doing so when running up hill

So, while we all “naturally” start out running, we can see how complex running economically can actually be. With knowledge and application of the science and how to improve running biomechanics, we can systematically improve our body and our running stride to become more economical and less prone to injury. Good luck with your progression. Take it one stride at a time! Train Smart and Enjoy YourRun!


About Coach Bill

I am a 48 year old runner. Three years ago I ran my first half marathon and have not looked back since. I am married, have two grown son's. I work at Toyota motor manufacturing Texas building Tundra's and Tacoma's as a skilled team leader in the press department.
This entry was posted in Advanced Runner, Beginner Runner, Half Marathon Training, Marathon Training, Running Coach and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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