Running has always been thought of as a natural thing to do. After all "toddlers run around almost as soon as they can walk - with no instructions at all - so it must be something we all do naturally - mustn't it?"
Well, that assumes that we all run correctly, that there's no noticeable difference in the way individuals run and that we all naturally find the most efficient method of running for our own physique. A nice thought but unfortunately it simply isn't the case, you see people who look like they are flowing when they run and others who look like they are struggling.
The difference between these two sets is simply technique, where the better runner has natural balance and timing and the not-so-good athlete doesn't. The good news is that correct running technique can be taught and all the skills can be learnt.
The problem with changing your running style is that your muscles have an inbuilt memory and the longer you've been doing a specific movement in a certain way the longer it takes to make another movement natural. So before you go out on a long run you need to practice technique through simple little exercises again and again, to re-train your muscles into the correct pattern of movement.
When you go out you need to understand that you can't start running a marathon on your first day. So start sensibly, perhaps by running a minute then walking for a minute and progressing slowly, increasing the time you run compared to the time you walk as you progress. Start like this and quite soon you'll be happily running a full 20 minute, half hour or full hour session. One thing is certain, you need a good warm up and drills, or you may be heading for injury and become demotivated by your rate of progress.
Some who start running believe that simply running for a certain time should be their aim and consequently run slowly for a long time. Unlike with swimming beginner runners often completely ignore drills. However, just like with swimming, drills isolate specific elements of your running style and careful use of drills can improve your running dramatically, reduce your chances of injury and increase your ability to run long distances.
It may sound odd but it takes far more controlled effort to run slowly than to run quickly and therefore only running at this pace may be quite tiring for your muscles, meaning your running form will suffer. So right from the start you need to build into your programme days where you aim to go out "Fast" instead of going "Far".
Sessions where you run a repeated 50 to 800 meters at a much faster pace will improve your running by leaps and bounds compared to just going out and running with no plan for speed. You will also find that sessions where you practice running up or downhill makes them even more varied and are very beneficial. These sessions can also be built around practicing drills that improve your running skill and together will make your running a far more fulfilling experience.
Poor run technique can cause problems, often leading to injury and joint pain in later life. This is as true for runners who do 100m sprints to those who run full marathons, so it's surprising that the only athletes you regularly see practicing drills to improve their technique are the sprinters.
They might take as little as 25 strides in the whole race and although they are putting out a huge amount of power that's not a lot of running. Compare that to 10k runners who might plant their feet on the ground 4000 times and as race distances get even longer stride length shortens, so a marathon runner might make 22,000 footfalls to complete their race. That's a lot of landings and if your technique is poor it means you are putting greater strain on muscles, tendons, connective tissues, cartilage and bones than you need to each time your foot hits the ground.
For triathletes this is even worse as you generally start the run already fatigued meaning that you need to conserve by using really good technique. But how exactly do you manage to run with good technique?
One thing is certain, to get good technique you have to practice it time and time again and the longer you've run with poor technique the longer you will have to practice before a new technique becomes "natural". Drills can become your best friend here as they are practices that isolate elements of a whole running stride. Using drills you repeat a movement time and again, either swiftly to gain use of elastic tissues or slowly to perfect muscle movement and consequently train your muscle memory so that running with good technique becomes the perfectly natural way to run.