I love watching young children learn how to walk and run. You must have seen how eagerly they start moving toward whatever interests them at the moment, little arms and legs pumping away, eyes on their goal.
The next time you see a toddler running, notice how her knees—not her feet—move ahead of her. In this photo you can see the little girl effortlessly sending her knee forward, rather than her foot. She doesn’t care that her foot is suspended in mid-air. She instinctively knows that she doesn’t have to make a conscious decision about it—it will land softly on the ground without stressing out her back. Take another look at the photo—where’s this little one’s head? You could draw a straight, vertical line between her head and her leading foot. Her foot and her spine are perfectly balanced in opposition to each other. Now that’s poise! And what’s more, no one had to teach her how run this smoothly.
As the years go by, somehow we forget how simple and easeful running can be. Maybe you’re thinking of making it to the finish line, or just getting a tedious training run over with. Some runs are better than others. Even though we love it, sometimes stuff just happens.
When you go for a run, try to keep your mind open and observing. Don’t try to evaluate or judge—just notice what your legs are doing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a heel striker or a forefoot runner. (I’m a forefoot runner myself, but I’m not here to judge you either.) Do you send your feet way out in front? Do you feel your back getting jarred with every step? Think about sending your knees forward first, rather than your feet. Think of moving lightly rather than pounding the ground. You can practice this kind of motion at home or outdoors: Use a wall or a table for balance, lift one foot a few inches off the ground so that your knee is bent, and and swing your leg gently from front to back. You should notice that your knee moves forward, and your foot hangs down.
Remember what I said in my last post about using your eyes? See if you can put that together with how you’re using your legs.
If you have any comments or questions about this, I’d be happy to hear from you. Meanwhile, happy running!