I have zero proprioception. That’s fancy-talk for saying I have no concept of what my body is doing in space. Prime example: Since college days, rowing coaches have been telling me to drop my shoulders, which are supposedly scrunched up around my ears. Try as I might, I can’t make the change because I don’t feel it. According to my internal wiring, there’s plenty o’ space between my head and my shoulders.
So two weeks ago, when I was fortunate enough to get some in-person running advice from Andrew Kastor, coach of the High Sierra Striders and husband of 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor, I was skeptical I’d be able to implement his suggestions. I worried it would go in one ear and out the other (if they weren’t blocked by my hunched shoulders, that is). One nugget that stuck with me: I overstride. I need to swing my bent arms faster and take shorter, quicker steps. Andrew told me if I could make that small change, I could cut 5 to 10 seconds off each mile with no extra effort.
As grateful as I was to his advice, I skeptically thought, “Uh, yeah, that ain’t happenin’.”
I tried to swing my arms faster, doing strides on a slight downhill on Andrew’s recommendation, but no miracle makeover to my running style. Then, flipping through Runner’s World, I spotted a gait analysis saying a runner can eliminate the braking that happens when she lands on her heel by landing on her midfoot instead. Just one of the countless bits of minutiae I took in that day; it got filed away without much consideration.
Or so it seemed until I did speedwork the next morning. On tap: 4 x 1-mile repeats on 7:25-7:35 minutes. My legs felt stiff and sore when I got out of bed and creaky on the 20-minute warm-up jog. My first mile: 7:31. Jogged a lap, then launched into the second repeat. As I circled the back corner of the track, nearing the 600-meter mark, all the random puzzle pieces fell into place. It was a running-form epiphany. Inside my brain, it played out like a scene from a sci-fi movie—I heard Andrew telling me to not overstride; I thought about RW tip to land midfoot; and from some deeper, unknown source, I leaned slightly forward.
By subtly getting my weight up over my feet, my who-knows-what-it-does-in-space body needed to take shorter, quicker steps to prevent falling forward. I visualized the RW line-drawing of a midfoot strike, concentrating on landing like the little illustration. I felt capable of making all these minor changes happen because it only felt like one change—leaning slightly forward from the crown of my head to my pelvis.
I hit the midpoint of the mile four seconds sooner than I had on my first repeat. As I continued around the track, the effort didn’t seem any harder. It didn’t even seem all that tough to maintain my new posture. When I pressed the button my Timex and looked at the digits, I heard Andrew’s words echoing: “You’ll shave 5 to 10 seconds off your time...”
7:21. Ten seconds faster. Right on! The next mile was 7:24, and the final one I cranked out in 7:15. Maybe I was wrong about my lack of proprioception.
Do you find it tough to make technique changes to your running form?