Running faster, more efficiently, and injury free is what runners strive for, and having good running form is paramount to achieving these goals.
The simplest and easiest way I have found to find your perfect form and rhythm specific to you is to start slow and build. To start, the quickest way to adjust your technique is too utilize a treadmill. Starting at a slow walk, slowly increase the speed, noticing how your stride length gradually becomes longer as you increase your speed until you eventually break into a run while maintaining that long reaching stride.
This long reaching stride that forms out of your natural walking stride is what creates the heel strike and the unwanted impact forces that create the injuries that we sometimes succumb to with increased training. A good running stride is more similar to biking than walking and to create your natural cycling stroke reduce the speed of the treadmill to the original walking speed and at this slow walking speed break into a run forcing your natural hip switch and hamstring activation whereby you are essentially lifting your heel to your hamstring eliminating your low walking style leg swing. As this stroke pattern starts to feel natural and rhythmic slowly increase the speed of the treadmill until you settle into your normal training pace.
With this in mind start each run either on treadmill or outdoors by walking slowly, breaking into your running stride at the same speed and then ever so gradually increase your running speed with the same hip switch.
A key area of focus for force production is the speed at which the thighs are switched- as one thigh flexes into the swing phase, the other extends into the stance phase. This switching action is a key focus in cueing and enables maximum efficiency with the focus on extension and not flection with an erect truck and stable spine position.
Your foot should be prepared to land (system stiffness) and your cue to switching is the landing of your forefoot as your heel settles back and touches ground to allow for proper loading and vertical impulse. While foot contact is occurring there is what is called an extension reflex or switching in the air with the power coming from the hips and not from pushing with your toes. The hip should be thought to work in a piston like fashion. Once the hip is extended, the foot will come off the ground and the recovery cycle will begin.
The lower leg will lift off the ground and fold so that it comes close to your buttocks (how close depends on the speed you are running) then pass under your hips with the knee leading. Once the knee has led through, the lower leg will unfold and land close to the center of your body and directly underneath the knee.
For endurance sports it is very common to have a diet rich in carbohydrates and in Kenya for example, the vast majority of runners live on foods that are grown and produced locally. This means a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables, maize, milk, eggs, meat; natural, fresh and nutritious products. Alongside these fresh fruits and vegetables is a veritable smorgasbord of carbohydrates; the usual candidates of potatoes, rice (and pasta) make regular appearances but local favourite and by far the most common source of carbs is ugali.
However, as healthy as this diet sounds, they are not without their sugary treats. Kenyan chai tea, a drink made by boiling tea leaves in milk (sometimes half milk half water) and adding anywhere between three to eight teaspoons of sugar per cup. It is drunk exceptionally sweet.
The athletes get their energy from a very carbohydrate-rich diet which allows them to get through the high mileage training sessions. and they’re not afraid to pile up their plates either when it comes dinner time.
Most Kenyan athletes train in a fasted state on a fairly empty stomach. Often first thing in the morning with just a few sips of water and a cup. of coffee or tea. With a good meal of ugali and beans the night before they will have plenty of fuel for the workout ahead, to increase fuel efficiency.
As a general rule, marathon running is primarily an aerobic race. The aerobic metabolism burns fat as its primary fuel and is cultivated by training at lower intensities where your muscles have enough oxygen to produce all the energy you need to perform. To intensify this effect, training fasted or a ‘carb-less’ state, at slower speeds, assists in the bodies adaptation in using fat as its primary fuel source.
For marathon specific Simulation Runs and the Marathon itself it is very common to practice the Rule of 15 starting each Simulation Run or Race fully loaded and not getting behind in calories with a breakfast of coffee or tea and toast or oatmeal and a small banana.
For the marathon distance you would aim to consume 15 grams of carbohydrates every 15 minutes with 150ml of fluids and for the ultra distance you would practice the Rule of 20 aiming to consume 20 grams of carbohydrates every 15 minutes with 150ml of fluids.